BY BRIAN MOORE
A GROUP of West Cork friends who are sailing around the world have been telling their tale of dodging pirates off the coast of Borneo.
Their adventures up to recently on the high sees had been plain sailing, but a recent problem with their engine left the lads adrift in the Celebes Sea, extremely close to pirate-infested waters.
The group of friends, Gerald O’Sullivan from Bantry, Damien Collins from Durrus, Eoin Dennehy from Castlehaven and Paul Ryan from Rossmore, along with six other friends, were all working, literally ‘down under’ in the tunnels in Sydney, when they decided to buy a 44ft, 11-bunk, sailing yacht for ,000 in Malaysia.
‘Basically the northern tip of Borneo from Kudat to Tawau is under the jurisdiction of ESSCOM (Eastern Sabah Security Command),’ Damien told The Southern Star. ‘They direct the various marine police and navy patrols in the area, because of piracy issues. We had to submit a passage plan for this trip and get it approved by ESSCOM before going through.
‘We were heading to Tawau (Borneo) to stock up before making our way to Sulawesi in Indonesia when the engine packed in half way between the two towns, so we were over 100 nautical miles away from where the pirates mainly operate, so the risk of seeing pirates here was low,’ he explained.
Nonetheless, they did take some standard ‘Irish’ precautions.
‘We had read a lot about the area we’d be travelling through online, and had spoken to many other sailors about what to expect,’ Damien said.
‘We were approached by a vessel one night and we all went on deck armed with a spear gun and our hurleys, but it turned out to be a fishing boat. As our engine was still not working, we asked if they could tow us to the nearest port, but they refused. However, they did give us a fresh 1m-long catfish and later a bucket of crabs.’
The West Cork lads finally got the engine repaired just in time as they were drifting dangerously towards some rocks.
‘We weren’t oblivious to the potential dangers and we were in continuous contact with ESSCOM updating them with our location, so they could keep track of us and inform us of any potential problems nearby,’ Damien said.
When we spoke to the lads at the start of their journey in July, they told us they had named their new home An Seanchaí because, as Damien said, ‘the boat will definitely have plenty of stories to tell before we’re finished.’
Another member of the crew, Mark Kenny, amused readers when he admitted: ‘We bought the book ‘Sailing for Dummies’ and spent weeks rattling off all the lines and buzz words. And we put our heads together and each read different chapters!’
The lads are currently in Raja Ampat in Indonesia, where they say they have seen ‘some of the best stuff so far’.
Damien added: ‘The anchorages here are beautiful and the marine life is class. We saw some black tip reef sharks, turtles and huge manta rays only a few days ago … so the adventure continues.’
Follow them at seanchaiatsea.com