Indonesia, West Kalimantan, Penebangan: Cruising couple lose their yacht but find kindness from local villagers

Here a more up to date report from the couple themselves, following an unfortunate incident in Indonesia that resulted in them losing their yacht but made them many good friends. As reported by ABC News.

Published 9 years ago, updated 5 years ago

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An Australian yachtsman who lost a treasured boat at sea has described his rescue off a remote Indonesian tropical island as a “sweet and sour experience”.

Cairns man Shaun Sims and his French crew member, Lovise, ran into trouble last week while sailing off the coast of the province of West Kalimantan. Mr Sims has been a recreational yachtsman for 35 years and was on a mission to sail his boat, Australis II, from Borneo to Australia. The duo was sailing through the Java Sea when the boat developed a tear in its sail.

“Not a problem. You’re constantly stitching and sewing little tears and bits and pieces on sails,” said Mr Sims. “So we looked for a small island that we could shelter on for a day [to] put a patch on it and sew it. And the island that came up for us was Penebangan.”

Mr Sims was sailing closer to the island when the boat’s rudder locked up in some fishing nets and would not budge. As the pair tried to save the boat, she made a “horrible, sickening” sound over submerged rocks and started being washed to shore.

“It was a pretty undramatic accident, but one that happens to a lot of yachts,” he said.

They eventually abandoned ship with their personal belongings in a life raft about 400 metres from Penebangan. “We had no idea whether there were any inhabitants on the island.”

Help arrives from fisherman

Mr Sims said he was “feeling gutted” as they washed up onto the island and started to settle in for the night with a fire underneath their dinghy. Then a small boat appeared on the beach.

“Three Indonesian fishermen who didn’t speak English jumped out,” he said. “[They were] quite concerned, came up and between us we managed to assure them that we were fine. They said ‘we’ll take you back to our village’.”

By this stage, Mr Sims had made contact with marine search and rescue services, who instructed him to stay near Australis II. Mr Sims told the fishermen he could not leave his boat, so they stayed by his side on the beach throughout the night.

As low tide approached in the early hours of the morning, the fishermen stripped down to their underwear and tried to help Mr Sims salvage his yacht. “The guys were just fantastic. [They went] backwards and forwards. They’re using all their own fuel,” he said.

“But eventually I heard this crack and went below… and there was this big split up the side of the keel and water starting filling the boat. Reluctantly I said to these guys, in broken English and what little Indonesian I knew, ‘give up’,” Mr Sims said. “And they didn’t want to give up. They said ‘no, no, no, we stay Captain Shaun’. And I said ‘the boat is gone’.”

After the boat was lost, Mr Sims and Lovise went back to the fishermen’s village.

“It’s a village that has barely anything,” Mr Sims said. “But they welcomed us with open arms, families came out, gave us dry clothes, cooked us a meal. They were just fantastic. The kids, who could speak quite good English, were interpreting for their parents, and we spent this magical day with this community who had just risked everything at the drop of a hat.”

Mr Sims said he did not want to leave Penebangan when Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Basarnas, arrived on early Friday evening. “We were sort of hoping that they wouldn’t pick us up for a couple of days.”

The duo said goodbye and was taken back to the mainland, where they were given a late supper with the governor of the West Kalimantan region and his wife. “And through an interpreter, we told them the story,” Mr Sims said. “We talked about this community that had given everything to support us and you could tell he was just beaming with pride.”

The governor called a fisherman on Penebangan and reconfirmed Mr Sims’ wishes that the community could keep everything on board Australis II.

Joy in an emergency situation

Mr Sims arrived back in Cairns several days later.

“I’m still a bit disorientated. I haven’t had a whole lot of sleep,” he said.

“I’m trying not to think about the boat as it’s all a bit sad, but life moves on. We were looking at the photographs of the villagers and the kids and there’s a lot of joy in it. We met some fantastic people. People who surprised us. The poorest of the poor, suddenly opening up their hearts to welcome and look after total strangers who just showed up on their beach.”

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