Indonesia: Collision Ends Aid Voyage and Circumnavigation Dream

After sailing more than half way around the world, bringing aid and medical assistance to some of the remote places they visited, Italian sailors Max and Paola Vechiette’s aid mission came to a sad end last month in Indonesia after a frightening collision with a container ship, east of Batam Island. This is their story of the end of a dream.

Published 1 year ago

Leaving Pulau Belitung on February 2, 2023, we had planned a route that in three to four days would get us to Batam, Nongsa Point Marina, for our exit from Indonesia. We hoped that the sea and winds would be in our favour.

We planned our route with great care, aware of the presence – especially from the middle of the route onwards – of natural obstacles, such as reefs and small islets, as well as the cartographic presence of shipping and navigation channels, in a very busy area!

Fortunately the forecasts did not betray us and the sea and wind were kind to us. Patchouli II made good progress.

Night Shifts

We had planned the night shifts to begin at 2200 and end at 0600. We chose four-hour shifts per couple: one rests in the cockpit, the other at the wheelhouse and is on watch for two hours, then change; the person who slept comes to the helm and the one going off watch can sleep in the cockpit.

After four hours, at 02.00, the first couple goes to rest and the second follows the same pattern until 06.00 when everyone has breakfast!

By the afternoon of February 3rd we were close to the end of our voyage to Batam. The wind dropped significantly and shifted to angle of about 15 degrees from our port side. This meant we could only keep the mainsail up and motor-sail.  Occasionally there was some rain, but it was a moonless night. 

Early on the morning of February 4th, at approximately 0415, my wife Paola and I were on watch. I was at the helm and Paola was resting in the cockpit. We were in a shipping channel running in a SE/NW direction, sailing, with all the lights on – both on the main mast and on the deck.

Huge Shadow

I did not detect AIS nor any lights nearby when suddenly, a huge shadow appeared on our starboard side and a hellish noise enveloped us! The mainsail fell towards the stern and the mast broke, remaining out of the water supported by the moroccan, which does not break. The mizzen tree resists, remaining upright, but the starboard side of the boat is devastated and most of the rail is torn up.  The bowsprit is torn from the fall of the Gennaker and the Genoa is wrapped and breaks through the bow.

The vessel that hit us was running with no lights and no AIS signal. It was a full container ship about 120 meters in length.  The incident took place approx. 35 NM south of Batam Islands at approx. position of 0°  48′ N  104°  20′  E.

Thankfully we were all unharmed, a miracle really since the ship that rammed us showed no signs of slowing down and dragged us for about two miles.

In the meantime Mattia, my 17 year old nephew, rushed up on deck and began to fire off hand held flares.  He had to release almost 10 before someone on the ship noticed us. The ship then slowed down and dropped their port anchor.

Stuck Between the Ship and the Anchor

Patchouli II then became stuck between the bulb of the ship and the ship’s starboard anchor.

Unfortunately the DSC signals of the VHF were useless (the antennas were demolished) and clearly the hand held VHF did not have any “distance”.  In any case, I was attached to the little VHF calling MayDay constantly, above all hoping that they would hear me from the ship’s bridge.

We feared that we would be sunk!!!

It was then that I activated the EPIRB, the only way to make someone notice us, and then – finally – the cargo ship stopped.  A few minutes later we were contacted by the Italian Cospar Sarsat system to which we passed all the information.

We were told that they also warned the Indonesian Coast Guard (but we still have not seen any of the local maritime authorities).

After more than one hour after the event, five sailors came down from a ladder onto Patchouli II and they managed to free the rigging and sails from the ship’s starboard anchor.

Around 07.00 we tied down everything we could and slowly made our way the last 30 miles to enter Nongsa Point Marina (Batam Island) and to moor safely – under a violent downpour!

There is apparently no damage under the waterline, but water enters everywhere from the fractured deck. Unfortunately, the surveyor of our insurance have decided that the cost to repair the boat is too high, so our dream ends at Batam Island.

Max and Paola Vechiette
SY Patchouli II


About the Voyage of Patchouli II

Patchouli II (AMEL Supermaramu) sailed from Marina di Loano (Italy) in May 2019, to go around the world with two purposes, the first for tourism and the second for solidarity, under the aegis of the Italian Red Cross and the ETS Drops In The Sea.

The crew: Massimo, a 74-year-old retired doctor and his wife Paola (73).

The boat was equipped like a small hospital with a defibrillator, electrocardiograph, basic surgical instruments and a well-stocked pharmacy.  

Their first stop was the “Pillars of Hercules”, then the Canary Islands, then Cape Verde where they carried out the first medical project in a small community on the mountains of Mindelo.

After crossing the Atlantic to Martinique, they sailed on to the Dominican Republic where they were stranded in 2020 by the COVID epidemic. During this time they brought school supplies and T-shirts to two schools located in very poor areas within the large island of Hispaniola.

As soon as it was possible, they sailed on to Haiti and carried out a medical program on the children of  “Ile a Vaches” – Port Morgan.  Subsequently, they crossed the Caribbean Sea and landed at the San Blas Islands. This area was still closed, but they were able to navigate and assist children and the elderly people in the various indigenous communities. 

Then to Panama and in March 2021 they crossed the Pacific Ocean with a quick stopver at the Galapagos Islands to fill up with diesel.

They landed in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas Islands and cruised French Polynesia visiting the Tuamotus and finally the Society Islands.  In Mopelia, the last atoll of French Polynesia, they visited and cared for the very few resident inhabitants.

As the Cooks, Samoa and Tonga were still closed, their next destination was Fiji, followed by Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. From here they sailed north to Papua, Hetmit Islands and into Indonesia with entry at Biak.  It was a short passage to Raja Ampat and then, with stops in various islands, towards the south west islands of Lombok, sister of Bali.

Their plan was then to leave from Indonesia to Batam, Malaysia to Langkawi then Sri Lanka, Northern Maldives, Socotra, Djibouti, Red Sea, Suez and return to “Mare Nostrum”, with the end of the trip at Marina di Loano, their port of departure.

However, that will no longer be possible, and their circumnavigation ended in Batam.

Read Massimo and Paola’s personal blog on Facebook (in Italian: il viaggio di Patchouli attorno al mondo)


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or World Cruising Club.

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  1. January 31, 2024 at 11:38 PM
    Stephen Wawn says:

    Having radar would, in all liklihood, have avoided this collision.