End Of Life For This Raft

It seemed a good idea to have the ship’s life raft inspected prior to setting off from Los Angeles in 2003 to cruise the world. When the present owners purchased their sailboat in 2001, it came with an Avon 6-person life raft, mounted in a hard canister on the back deck.

In Malaysia, when opened, there was no moisture in the canister and all looked promising.
At the inspection station, the stainless steel retaining straps were released and the top of the hard canister removed. When opened, it was discovered to be a Pandora’s Box.  The Avon raft was sitting in a mass of black muck, incubated from water that had somehow intruded into the canister.  The putrid raft was rolled out on the inspection floor and inflated. To every ones surprise, it grew into a life raft and retained air.  Since mildew, algae, along with extreme heat, can degrade the fabric of a life raft,  the most prudent thing to do would be to replace it.  The owners were so impressed with the toughness of this Avon, they decided to replace it with a new 4 Person Avon.


The new 4 Person Avon, in a canister, was purchased and mounted on deck in 2003. Five years later, the raft was inspected and repacked in October 2008 by USA Services, Inc., a certified Avon repacker, in Norfolk, VA.. The owners were not present for the repacking.  In February 2013, the raft was shipped overland from Whangerei, New Zealand to Wilco Marine Services in Auckland, another certified Avon repacker.  At Wilco Marine Services, the raft owners were again not present for the repacking but it was inspected, vacuum bagged, repacked and again took its place on the deck of the owners boat.

Spraying hair shampoo to look for leaks.
On 26 January 2017 the now 14 year old life raft was taken to an inspection station in Penang, Malaysia.  At this licensed station, but not certified by Avon,  the vacuum bag was removed and the raft was rolled out on the floor, then  inflated.  The raft was quickly losing air. It only took a minute before the inspectors spray bottle, of diluted hair shampoo, was squirting the surfaces around the most common leak area, the inflate nozzle. But no bubbles developed. Moving around the life raft, both upper and lower chambers were wetted.  This left a startling trail of large bubbles, little bubble and lines of small white bubbles.  At this point, even the inflated canopy support, which gets its air from the upper chamber, was wilting.  Nearly all the corner seams of both upper and lower chambers were leaking.  Clearly, some of the long streaks of foaming bubbles were leaks at the folded areas when the raft was last packed.  It was a catastrophic failure which fortunately happened in an inspection station and not in a terrible situation at sea.

Long lines and spots of leaks.
According to Practical Sailor magazine “Avon was acquired by French competitor Zodiac in 1998. Zodiac stopped making Avon liferafts in 2004”


Information still on the Avon website recommends their rafts should be brought in for  “servicing within 3 years of date of manufacture then every 3 years. Boats that operate for hire or sail in tropical waters remain subject to an annual inspection.”

An annual inspection for a life raft on a long range cruising boat is simply not physically or economically practical. It makes sense, for marine use, a life raft should to be exceedingly reliable even if specified and used for near shore use.

Leaks everywhere.
No tests were done to determine exactly why the raft so thoroughly failed. However, it was the inspector’s opinion that the best material for life raft construction is neoprene, coated on both sides with urethane. The Avon’s literature says their rafts are constructed with “the unique Avon butyl fabric”.  This material, Avon likes to link to the aviation industry. Even if aviation life rafts use this material for construction, aviation standards do not require the ruggedness and durability that is set for the marine industry.


Avon used several manufacturers around the world and it was not determined from which plant this raft came from. During the failed servicing, the inspector pointed to the terrible looking glued joins and said heat sealing is far superior.


In the world of life raft repacking, there is a debate about how to best protect a large deflated object which has been severely compressed into a small capsule or set in a soft valise. The question arises with vacuuming bagging. Vacuum bagging a raft may give added protection from moisture but adds additional compression on the folded creases which could cause  porosity in those areas with resultant air loss.   However, according to the old Avon literature,  “All Avon Ocean and Coastline life rafts are now vacuum sealed in special plastic envelope, before being packed in a valise or canister.”  So the vacuum packing of the raft when serviced in New Zealand was the manufacturer’s preference to which, the owners had complied. Additionally, if a severely compressed life raft is sitting on deck in a tropical sun, temperatures of 160 degrees can be reached, further affecting the already stressed material. But one would think life raft manufacturers understand this and use that certainty as a component of their construction, the same as an architect specifies proper building materials to stand against U.V., wind loading and temperature changes.  (See the February 2013 issue of Practical Sailor, “Life Raft Inspection an Inside Look”) If a life raft manufacturer thought sun shining on a deck mounted life raft to be a significant problem, then a sun cover would be suggested. In any case, the owners always had a sun cover shielding the raft.

The raft canister was always covered with a light colored sun shade.
Attempting to reach Avon, the raft owner tried sending an email to them at info@avon-inflatable.com which is listed on an Avon website. The raft owners received the following automated response:  “Due to the amount of spam received, we will not read your e-mail. If you want to get in touch with us, please contact us through our website contact form.” Others who tried this site were directed to a German language site which had nothing to do with life rafts.

On the www.avonmarine.com website,  the raft owner found a contact form under the “Find a Dealer” link, and  tried several times to send a message using that form, but  kept getting the following: “Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact the administrator by another method.”   

Certainly the raft owners would like feed back from Zodiac/Avon now known as Zodiac Nautic. But it gets even more confusing as there is another brand of “Zodiac”  liferafts owned by SurvivetechZodiac. Over the years operations have been spun off, bought and sold or acquired by other companies.

Avon literature on the internet states the 4 Person Avon life raft is guaranteed for 12 years. But a guarantee term is not considered an expiration date. A reasonable person would expect this raft to be serviceable for many years past the guarantee date.  This is a wake up call for the owners of all life rafts to take nothing for granted.

The raft was purchased on  March 12, 2003 and the cost was $2,922.75.

Raft serial #AVBOA983L203

As a postscript.  When this Avon raft was manufactured,  Zodiac had contracted the manufacture of Avon  liferafts to several companies in different countries.  Apparently the quality assurance was not consistent.   Working through a liferaft dealer, the raft owner was able to get a response from Zodiac and Zodiac was willing to sell the owners a new raft at cost. When the owners agreed to this proposal and tried to arrange shipment of the raft, they lost all communication with their contact at Zodiac.  In the end, they bought a Lalizas raft.

Some of this information was used in Practical Sailor articles March 8, 2017 and Features April 2017 Issue

Fishermen Punk

For our friends on the west coast of Malaysia, we stopped for the night at Pulau Bidan, 14 miles north of Penang (Lat 05 44′.6N Lon 100 17′.4E). In the morning we woke up to a fisherman anchored across our anchor and with a fish line draped along our hull with a float about to tangle in our rudder or prop. Of course this is the often used ploy to say we caused the anchoring problem and now we owe the fisherman money. In no uncertain terms I told him to move, which he did and then we were able to leave. The strange thing is, an hour later when we were about 7 miles on our way to Langkawi, he showed up along side us well out to sea. He motored along, motioning with his arms like we needed to give him something. I won’t bore you with the whole story but after 45 minutes, I tired of him and his unsafe maneuvers across our bow and off our stern so I fired a flare into the sky. That pretty much solved the problem for a while…..but he came close again. When I started taking pictures with my telephoto lens, that seemed to have the best effect and he disappeared for good heading back to Bidan. He burned up a lot of gasoline for nothing. I am attaching some pictures in case someone in Penang keeps track of these things. The Red Bull insignia on the side of his boat is distinctive.

After arriving in Langkawi, we made a report to the Marine Police. They were very interested in the situation and it seems they are not fully aware that this sort of thing is common place against peaceful cruisers. More cruisers need to take pictures and make a report. The big learning point from this experience is to take pictures early on and from all angles. I should have taken a picture of the bow of the fishing boat where the registration numbers are for Malaysian boats. Without such definite evidence, the police can do little. We have one cruising friend here in the marina at Langkawi who has dealt 3 times with this sort of thing. He has never paid anything but they keep trying.









Turtle Swim

Scores of stingrays swarmed around us, their soft smooth bodies slithering around us and obscuring our vision in a cloud of gray.  That was in only 6 feet of lagoon water on the north side of Moorea, the island just west of Tahiti. Tourist boats come daily to feed the stingrays and give their snorkeling guests a fun in the water experience, up close and very touchable.  But I never would have guessed the same could be done with sea turtles. 


Here on the north side of Redang island, in Malaysia, boats come in the morning full of snorkeling tourists and chopped up fish and squid.  The turtles had a fascination with the silvery glint in my camera lens. When they approached too close, I had to turn it away or they would bite at it. Once when I was not looking, a turtle came up from my side and bit down on the camera but catching more of my pointer finger. The turtles are not used to their food pulling back so he let go without much of a struggle but leaving a slightly bleeding laceration.  The tour boat drivers are constantly warning the snorklers  not to wave their fingers around in the water. 

There are people who would be disturbed to hear turtles have become a tourist attraction and are hand fed. Feeding wild animals is not always a good idea but for sea turtles, I agree with the Malaysians;  the turtles  have been decimated by over fishing, egg poaching and disappearance of habitat. They need all the help they can get, including some extra grub.  Plus, the encounter gives the tourists a better understanding of what cool animals they are and so, are more inclined to help with their conservation.



IMG_1533IMG_1522  This morning, the white beach had fresh turtle tracks leading to the brush line. There is where the turtle spent a lot of effort digging a deep depression then burring its eggs.  Even though I was on the beach at first light, human foot prints were already planted around the new nest. I couldn’t really tell if the nest had been disturbed.  It would be helpful if we had a heavy rain to wash away the tracks and help obscure the newness of the nest.


Kudat Haul Out

Kudat Marina(Small)

One of the worst places to haul a yacht out of the water is at Serangan, south east Bali. Avoid that place at all cost. It is expensive and the operators are pirates. But just 1,200 sailing miles to the north, on the north end of Borneo, is the small Malaysian city Kudat. In the well protected, but small, harbor is the Marina Jetty, Kudat. The marina has comfortable docking but very limited power plug ins on the two docks. Water on the dock is free and safe to drink without adding chlorine. The normally expected shower amenities and a small restaurant are in the two story facilities building. https://www.facebook.com/Marina-Jetty-Kudat-506851892774691/ It is a 20 minute walk into town. This is not a modern city like Kota Kinabalu or Miri but rather “traditional”. A bicycle is a big help for getting around but stand by the road and very soon a person in a private vehicle will stop to take you into town for R2 (U.S. 50cents).TravelLift

Next to the marina is a military contingent with plenty of small patrol boats. When we were there, well armed men, dressed in black and flack jackets toting M-16s made daily trips along the coast and did not return for 3-4 hours. A much larger Coast Guard boat left the harbor about every other day but always returned the same day. So even though the Philippines are only 70 miles to the north, where the bad guys live, we felt safe in the harbor of Kudat. The east coast of Borneo is also a no go zone for yachts.

We actually came to Kudat for the haul out facilities called Penuwasa Sdn.Bhd. penuwasa@gmail.com . A lot of heavy wood Philippine fishing boats come here to haul out so the Travel-Lift has to be big. It has a capacity of 150 tons and can take a boat 26’ wide so most catamarans are not a problem. In January, 2016, the lifting straps were nearly new and quite the overkill for a 14ton sailboat. They used far more straps than necessary doubled over or, on some sailboats, set side by side. This was one time I had no worries about our boat being dropped. The Travel-Lift is so big, we did not have to remove the head stay. To service the bent prop shafts and torn up propellers of the fishing boats, there is a full machine shop with 304 and 316 stainless available. If they are to busy to take care of your little job there is another machine shop about 2 miles away. IMG_0451 (Small)

To support boats on the hard, they use big concrete blocks which are normally used to build sea walls. Set with a forklift in 4 spots, large wood wedges are then driven between the hull and concrete to support the boat. Two wedges are used at each block support so when painting or sanding is done, one wedge can be removed at a time.IMG_0499

They have a real pressure washer to clean the hull. To get the pressure up they use a zero degree rotating tip and it does a good job.IMG_0348

For our 40’ sailboat, It cost us $250 for the haul and relaunch plus $15 per day to be on the hard, including electricity. We were stored in the dirt area which made cleanup not a question. We just picked up sanding discs, plastic etc although the Philippine fishermen seemed to have a competition who could leave the biggest and best scattered trash behind.

There is a concrete area a boat can be stored on and that cost $25 per day which can be a big advantage in the rainy season.

Each hauled boat is assigned their own shower/bathroom space with a lockable door. But the block of bathrooms assigned to the concrete area are much larger and better decorated than those used by the dirt area. The function is the same but the larger bathrooms do afford a degree of off the boat storage.

The Helper labor rates run R60 per day equals U.S. $15. About the same as at Vuda Point, Fiji.

This is what the yard charges for their help and they pay the help around $10 per day. We hired an “outside” helper and ended up paying the yard a small amount per day. We paid our helper Wan the full $15 plus several sodas during the day. Since he was there, Wan was gifted a lot of clothes, tools, and odds and ends which were no longer needed on Brick House. Wan made out quite well for himself.

Like anywhere, you have to tell the help that since they are working for a European, 8AM means 8AM, not ten after and quitting time is 5: not 4:30 or 4:45. Our man Wan understood this and did a fine job for us for the month we were hauled out. We expected him to work 7 days a week and most weeks he did.   Be sure to supply safety equipment for your helpers, Tyvek suite, respirators, safety glasses, ear plugs etc. We gave all that equipment to Wan when we were relaunched. IMG_0363

One of the best things about hauling in Kudat is that the haul out facility is not there to pounce on your wallet at every opportunity. After setting our boat on the hard, I finally decided the aft keel support needed to be moved 18” forward. It took 5 of their men, hydraulic jacks and a forklift, to do the work but there was no extra charge. And if you are launched and find there is a leak or other problem which means you have to be set back on the hard, all is done at a reduced rate.

Polyester resin and some epoxy resin is available plus cloth and painting supplies are available at the chandlery but it is far better to bring all supplies with you.

If needed, we would travel a long way, out of our way, to haul again in Kudat.IMG_0567

      The ladies in the office who keep things running.


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Tiga Island. “Survivor Beach” is just to the right of the north central hump.
I only watched the first episode of that silly TV show “Survivor” because Richard Hatch was a contestant. He lived not far away from us in Middletown, RI. It was filmed on Tiga Island, off the north west Borneo Coast. He went on to win the show and the million dollar prize. But not paying income tax on his winning landed him in court. Hatch was to find BSing on a TV show is quite different from trying to BS a real judge. Off to jail he went for a new survivor adventure.

We stopped at Tiga Island. In Malay and Indonesian, “tiga” means the number 3. Locally, the island has more recently been referred to as “Survivor Island”. In reality, Tiga Island is not very remote. The large city of Kota Kinabalu is less than 30 miles away and less than 10 miles away are a number of towns all with boats to run tourists out to Tiga for a day trip or a multi overnight stay.

All of Tiga Island is a national park. On the south side is a government operated hotel. A short walk along that south beach takes you to a commercially operated resort. While the “survivors” were dropped off by boat on the north shore to make it appear that this is a remote part of Borneo,   200 production crew stayed at the comfortable resort while additional Malay workers stayed in bungalows at the park facilities. It is about a 15 minute walk from the resort, north on a jungle trail to get to “survivor beach”.

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Unless the producers had a special arrangement with the Park Service, it is punishable by heavy fine and jail time to destroy any trees or kill any animals. Hmmm “Survivor, Malay Prison” could be an interesting game….Even one practiced in survival skills might find it difficult to live off the land on Tiga Island. There are no indigenous coconut palms and only one seasonal fruit that grows on trees. Other than some small chameleon lizards, there are a few macaque monkeys and some birds living on land. Food gathering would be extremely difficult. We swam the coastal waters around Tiga; fish life is sparse. On shore there is no fresh surface water. One could possibly dig a well.  For water, the production crew dug a pit in the jungle and lined it with plastic then carried in containers of fresh water to fill it.  Apparently there was a map that if the Survivors could read it, they would find the water pit.  During filming, the island was closed to tourists for 6 months. Police boats kept the curious and deep water fishermen out of filming view. After the filming of Survivor, a British filming crew showed up to do their Survivor series.PICT4221 (Small)


That was all just a hokey game show. The frightening thing, in an area on the east coast of Borneo and especially in the southern Philippines, just to the north of Borneo, a real life and death “survivor” takes place every day. There is no BS and the play is ruthless.

The attack we are familiar with came near 11:30 on the evening of 22 Sept 2015, two Canadian cruisers, a Philippina, and the best marina manager in the world, who is originally from Norway, were herded up the floating dock ramp as they were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group (now formally members of IS) at the Holiday Ocean View Marina, on Samal Island near Davao City, the second largest city in the Philippines. All four are now being held for millions of dollars of ransom in the remote jungles of “Oriental province, a hotbed of Maoist and Islamic rebels.”

We had spent months tied to a dock at Holiday Ocean View Marina.   It was always thought to be a very safe place. There is a young pistol toting guard at the head of the road leading into the marina and another armed guard near the docks. Other than keeping out a late night local crook, we never could really see much use for the guards. But then came the overwhelming force of bad guys toting weapons flooding onto the dock where Brick House was once tied…we had departed nearly a year before. Our American dock mate, and his Japanese wife, bravely fought off the bad guys but wound up at the local hospital to sew their head wounds together. Other friends defied the bad guys and were aided by their two wildly barking dogs so the bandits did not come onto their boat. The thieves were in a rush and took people they conveniently grabbed out of their bunks. This is a link to a report and security video of the abduction: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/canadians-abducted-philippines-1.3237997   . Although we have friends who are still at that marina, we have changed our mind and will not be returning to explore that area of the Philippines.



IMG_0467 (Small)
Rebecca, Our German Friend, and our Swiss friend, Claudia. The three sailed Our Friend’s boat a long way into safer waters.
On the northern end of Borneo while Brick House was hauled out of the water in the city of Kudat, we met a women who just a year previous was released as a hostage in the south west Philippines. At the time we promised not to mention her name on the internet as once a paid ransom secures your release (nobody knows if one was actually paid), but if so,  you become that much more valuable as a second time recycled hostage. The bad guys will troll the internet looking for people to capture or recapture.  Kudat is only 70 miles to the south of the Philippines. Our Friend has long departed the area on her sailboat so now we can safely speak about her ordeal. But her74 year old cruising partner is still in Germany, much much older and very traumatized.

She and her cruising husband, both Germans, were quietly anchored in a bay south of Puerto Princessa in the southern Philippines, when one evening they were overwhelmed by a boat load of men wearing T-shirts with “Police” emblazoned across the chest. They were held for 6 months before the German government paid a 5 million dollar ransom. The bad guys traveled 300 miles to snag their captives then returned to their stronghold of Jolo Island in the south west Philippines. A German publisher has orchestrated a ghost writer to put Our friend’s account into a book, to be published this year. http://www.dw.com/en/german-hostages-freed-in-the-philippines/a-18002313

There is a B grade movie you can watch on iflix or maybe Netflix, called “Captive”. According to our new German friend, it is a very accurate representation. Our Friend commented that our captured Ocean View Marina friends in the Philippines are most likely experiencing the same thing she and her husband experienced, and the same thing that this movie depicts.

We are often asked about pirates. So far nothing has been stolen from our boat although we know others who have had big losses. So now we know people who have been hostages and people who still are. Hauling out in Kudat, Malaysia, on the north coast of Borneo, put us within striking distance of the bad guys from the south west Philippines. But in the harbor at Kudat is a military and Coast Guard outpost. The patrol boats go out often, at all hours of the day, so we felt somewhat safe there. Still, we felt much safer once Brick House had put a distance on and retraced our steps down the coast.

So now Brick House is in good sailing shape to continue on to Peninsular Malaysia then Thailand. But now I have a medical snag of needing a root canal. That will hold us up for several more weeks in the city of Kota Kinabalu. But since MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) endoscopies and other medical work cost about 1/3 as much as in the U.S. we will take the opportunity to treat our health as good as we treat Brick House before pressing on to areas where the natives come to us looking for medical supplies and treatment.