By Gus Browning, printed in 73 Magazines in 1967-02reprint by PA0ABMGus Browning story, Part 20Back to MahéIn the last episode I was back at Aldabra Island for the second time, but business was not as brisk as before since I had over 7,800 QSOs the first time there a few months before. There must be a new crop of DXERS every few years because I QSO many fellows right now who tell me they still need Aldabra. The second stay there I had something like 3,500 QSO the few days I was there, most of them saying, "Thanks for the new one!" I guess most of these boys must have been on the second and third layers the first time there. I wonder how many were on the fourth and fifth layers? I guess every three or four years any place becomes rare if there is no activity from it during that time. So many fellows keep saying they need this or that even after thousands of QSOs and at times right after I had left a place too. This second trip to Aldabra was for the purpose of bringing supplies, loading up copra and hauling back "live turtles" to Mahe. This was a pretty fair size ship this tripAfter loading up dried fish, copra, exchanging a few island workers we were ready to finish loading up the boat from stem to stern with those big turtles, live ones at that. They were loaded on the ship by a small crane and placed upon the deck upside down and covered with wet coconut and palm branches. These branches were to be kept wet all the way back to the Seychelles to keep the turtles from drying out. It was quite a mess trying to walk around the deck with all these turtles everywhere, Usually you ended up on tip-toeing between them, but at times you had to walk smack on top of them. This did no damage to them since they were tough old critters and it took a lot more than walking on them to kill them. Anchors were lifted and we were again on our way to VQ9 land. The mood of the sea was not very good, because the South East monsoon was in full swing and the date indicated we were in about the middle of the monsoon. You just cannot expect a nice smooth sea at this time of the year in that portion of the Indian Ocean. The weather was like it was supposed to be— rough seas. My /MM operating position was up on the "Poop Deck" right beside the big wheel, and strapped down good and solid. We were about 25 or 30 foot above the water and this more or less multiplied the tossing of the ship. The chair was fastened down good and solid too, or I would have slid all over that little room. Radio conditions were excellent. They always seem to be when you are at sea, I still think the world's best operating place is in the middle of the ocean with that beautiful ground all around you. I think its even better than the QTH of W5VA and W3CRA. I bet if a fellow had a full kW and a five element beam on a ship out in the middle of the ocean "no one" would trample on him. He would always be on the top of the pile. After being out from Aldabra only 2 days I was up in the little poop deck operating away about SAM and out the corner of my eye watching the young fellow at the wheel who in turn were watching the big compass keeping the ship on course many sea birds were all around the ship, a few porpuses were parading pass the ship taking their morning's tour I suppose, and even a few schools of flying fish were seen taking off when the ship caused them QRM. Plenty of activity is always seen at that early hour when at sea, we were getting our second cup of that strong coffee from the galley boy and we were just taking it easy as no big pile was on hand on the bands. I was just enjoying myself and I think the fellow at the wheel was doing the same. We two and one fellow in the engine room, I think was all that were up out of the sack, everyone else was sound asleep waiting for the six bell signal for them to get up. I then noticed the fellow at the wheel was doing a little straining at the wheel which was very unusual because generally he could could turn the wheel with two fingers and never any strain whatsoever. About five minutes later I noticed he was really trying to pull the wheel with both hands and it was not moving at all I pulled off the phones and asked him what was wrong? He said there was some trouble with the wheel or rudder. Alter he had pushed and pulled on the wheel a few minutes it suddenly started "free wheeling" and that's when he said, "we have some bad trouble somewhere". Down he went to wake up the captain and the ship turned broadside to the wind, the engines were turned off and all sails let down. Seems like everyone on the ship suddenly woke up when the ship turned broadside to the wind and began to really toss and pitch. The captain and all the rest of us went to the rear of the ship to look at the rudder, there it was turned up at about a 45 degree angle and right when we all were looking, it dropped off the ship and sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean, We were at least 200 miles from the nearest island and a lot's further than that from Mahe, drifting with the wind and currents. The gang was worried to say the least. We just drifted a few hours while the situation was discussed, the captain did not seern to disturbed about the situation as much as the ship's crew. They were concerned. As for myself I took the attitude that it was not my ship and if it sank it was no money out of my pocket The radio gear was insured, so Ack said, so nothing to worry about there, and I had a good life insurance policy so I figured the one to really worry was my insurance company not me! I decided since I had no intention of diving overboard to try to find the rudder that I would just head back to the poop-deck and do a little hamming and get my mind off the situation. The little putt-putt was again cranked up and a CQ sent, I had quite a few good ragchews with the boys and did mention to some of them about our rudder being missing. Some said. "That tough Gus". Others said "Sure hope you all find it." (Who was going to dive to the bottom of that Indian Ocean?-NOT ME!), Some W5 said, "Well I'll be doggoned if that ain't tuff, Ole Buddy" Someone asked me over the air what was I going to do, and I said "nothing". Had a FB QSO with some EP2 station in Tehrein and told him the whole story , he said he was going to do what he could for us! He was very interested in the whole story, our exact QTH and all other details about the whole thing. The captain wanted me to try to get in touch with Harvey Brain— VQ9HB in Mahe so he could get a message to the ship's owner— Mr, Teemoulgee, the big merchant in the Seychelles, I told him I would have to get the message to Harvey thru (5Z4GT Leny or George 5Z4AQ) that evening. That evening about 6 PM local time I did get a QSO with George 5Z4AQ, and he said "My God" when I told him of our troubles without a rudder, broadside the high winds, water slashing over all the decks and everyone starting to worry— except the Captain and me. I am one of these fellows who thinks when his number is up, it's up. Or else I am crazy enough to just not worry about something that was out of my control, and something I could not do anything about. I gave George all the details, our QTH, directions of the winds, number of people on board, etc. I found out later that since George was working for Kenya Radio that all this info was put out thru the Cable and Wireless and broadcast world-wide for all the news services to pick up. It was picked up in Orangeburg, South Carolina and broadcast probably by all three of the broadcasting stations here. My wife heard this broadcast and this started the ball rolling, all the children was called home, our local Baptist minister was called to our house, lots of weeping and carrying on around the Browning house. Someone suggested contacting Ack, this was done and Ack assured them that we were not in any immediate trouble (I like that word immediate!). So they quit worrying (I think) and things calmed down at home. Things did not calm down on the ship, oh not by a long ways. Everyone was discussing our troubles and making suggestions. The captain had his own opinion as to what he was going to do. He had decided to use a cabin door to replace the rudder. The largest cabin door was removed and large rope attached to it, no hinging was possible, it was going to have to be controlled by pulling ropes, A big "V" groove was sawed in the rear portion of the boat, this was where the Cabin door was supposed to fit in so it could be swung back and forth. Now you picture trying to mount this thing on the rear of the ship and remember those large waves and high winds trying to keep you from doing this. Now Buddy I could see that we had problems and I mean big ones. This cabin door was supposed to be held in place by those % inch ropes being tightened by pulling in from both sides to hold it in the center of the *V" groove. Everybody grabbed their ropes and they edged the cabin door towards that "V" groove, bang, a big wave hit it, it went sailing off across the water, back it was pulled by the ropes. The men were excited, and a number of them were almost pulled overboard. It sneaked down into that little *V groove again, it gets pretty close this time, and away it goes again, a few little cuss words here and there, a little hair pulling, more discussions and try again, this kept up hour after hour, The Captain showing no signs of discouragement. Everyone else agreed that this task was absolutely impossible and asked me to get a message to Mombassa for a towing ship to be summoned so we could get back to Mahe! We took a position "shot the next morning and found that we had drifted about 150 miles towards Africa, kind of towards 601 land or maybe FL8 land. I was thinking of the money I would save if we did drift all the way to Africa because that was the general direction I were heading when I left the Indian Ocean and this would be a cheap way to get there. I asked the captain if he wanted me to summon a towing ship and he said, "absolutely no". The Captain was the only one on board who thought this cabin door could be mounted so it could be used for a jury rudder as he called it. You try sleeping on a drifting boat in the Indian Ocean monsoon and you find that it's tough to even stay in the bunk, much less sleep. I don't think many slept on board the few nights we were tossing all over the place. Remember all the decks were loaded and completely covered with those large turtles when all this was going on, no place for a fellow to walk and all those fellows scampering all over the place, trying to not step on those turtles, and no place to step, and after all the decks got wet those turtles started slipping all over the place. Even a few slid overboard too. Some died and began to smell Oh yes we were having a time on that boat. These turtles have been known to take a bite out of a leg now and then, so no one hestiatcd while walking over and between them, needless to say. I was on the air of course most of the time telling the boys about things as they were. We were in daily contact with VQ9HB on Mahe, and a number of times the captain talked directly with the owner of the ship. Even the ship's owner asked the captain if he wanted a tow vessel sent out to tow us to either Africa or the Seychelles, To this the captain always said "no"* This captain was as hard as nails and like a bulldog. He was not going to give up as long as there was any hope of getting that cabin door mounted in place of that rudder. He was the only one who thought this was possible* Everyone else had a long time ago given up this as out of the question and impossible to be done. Even I had now given up. After three days the turtles really started to smell Q5-S9+ 50 DB, but still they were back there fighting that rudder. And at long last they got it mounted kind of all of a sudden and I think sort of by accident! We were back in business and a ship with a rudder was again on its way to VQ9 land. A message was sent to the ship's owner on Mahe and back came a message telling us a champagne party was planned for all hands upon our arrival to Port Victoria. Back went a message from me saying, "Make Mine, Cokes, please!" Back came a message to me saying, "It's Cokes for you, Mr. Browning". A letter or news item from Harvey Brain was sent to their local newspaper which was very interesting to read. Oh yes ? There was a hero in the article you can bet Guess who? The cabin door proved to be not quite large enough and to keep the ship on course the speed of the engine became the directional control. The usual speed as I remember it was about 250 RPM, but to hold us on course it was reduced to about 175RPM. But we were headed towards VQ9 T so everyone was happy. I would say a few drinks were consumed on board that night by everyone except me since there was no Cokes on board by now. They had long ago been drunk. It took us about 10 days to reach Port Victoria, with quite a lot more dead turtles on board. We were a smelly crowd when we arrived there. The local police band were on hand to welcome us back to VQ9 land, We were the heroes of the hour. Cases of Champaigne were brought aboard and one full case of Cokes for me with plenty of ice. I sort of would say maybe a few fellows got drunk that evening on the boat while it was docked there at the "long pier" 1 at Port Victoria. At least that was another one I walked away from, and one more portion of a DXpedition salted away. Back I went to my little thatched hut that's called a hotel room on the north east side of VQ9. The old antennas were put up and on the air as VQ9A again I went. Hie very first QSO I had was with that fellow in EP2 land— he was some high official in the U. S, Embassy or Consulate there and he told me a very interesting story. He said there were some U. S. destroyers in Zanzibar on some sort of tour down in that area and he got a message to them to sort of stand by with helicopters on board to be ready at a moment's notice to be able to take off the ship in case we got into any difficulties and in danger of sinking. I for one was glad we did not have to call on him for help. I am sure Peggy and the kids felt that same way, and especially the insurance companies. It did sort of worry me to think that the insurance companies were worrying. I did not want our DXpedition to end up here because it was just getting started, you might say. There were lots of places to go to yet and operate from. After operating from V09A for about a week while QRX for a ship to take me to Mombasa, Kenya, I sort of hated to leave VQ9 land with all the beautiful scenery around there. But you know the DXpedition must go on ? and this one was not about to stop yet. Everything was taken down, carefully packed, everyone told <tf good bye" etc. No customs troubles at all. (There is usually none when leaving you know), I was off to Mombasa and then into Africa on the next leg of my trip. More on that next month. Gus
Gus Browning, W4BPD
Hams - W4BPD - Gus Brwning 02
5Z4AQGeorge Dent of Nairobi, Kenya. 5Z4AQGeorge was chief engineer of the Kenya state owned TV system. First licensed in 1931, he held the calls: VQ4AQ, VQ4GJD, ZS6AM (homecall).