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Steering gear foul-up
But meanwhile back to the scene of misery at the Gum Gum Creek!

“Tundah, you will walk down the track to the main road. You will get a lift to Sandakan on the first passing vehicle. You will find our driver. You will go with him to Chap Huat’s garage. You will find their outboard mechanic. You will bring him back here to fix the engine.”

“Baik, Tuan,” said Tundah cheerfully. He departed. Ah Chang climbed out of the Pekaka and squatted silently on the jetty with his Chinese umbrella over his head.

“Is this your first trip to the Labuk?” I asked.

“First time on boat,” he said succinctly. I was pleased that he was not a talkative individual. I retreated once again under my towel, not to sleep, but into a state of suspended animation.

Hours later, Tundah returned in the Land Rover with Chap Huat’s mechanic. I heard them muttering and banging behind me. Eventually there was a welcome, deep-throated roar, first from one engine, then the other. Ah Chang again climbed into the boat. This time the driver and the mechanic took the precaution of waiting until Tundah had run the engines for a full five minutes before they disappeared back up the bumpy jungle track in the Land Rover.

“Tuan,” said Tundah “I will stay back here with the engines. Can you take the wheel?” Reluctantly I emerged from under my towel and took my position at the steering-wheel. The engines sounded healthy. I throttled them down with the remote control, put them into gear, then pushed the throttles open. The Pekaka surged forward, its nose slowly sinking, as it started to plane.

The Gum Gum was a narrow twisting creek. Just downstream from the jetty, it swung to the left in a sharp hairpin bend. It was a tight turn but I had navigated it before. I spun the wheel round smartly to the left.

To my astonishment, the speed-boat swung to the right. We smashed at speed into the mangroves. The engines stalled and silence descended once more on the Gum Gum. We extricated ourselves, pulling bits of mangrove from our hair. Tundah poled us back to the jetty.

“I forgot to tell you, Tuan” said Tundah, “I had a little problem with the steering yesterday afternoon but I managed to fix it. Only now if you want to go left you must turn the wheel to the right.”

I looked under the front deck at the steering gear. The wires, which connected the steering wheel, through a rather complicated series of pulleys, to the outboard engines at the rear, were twisted together, like a nest of copulating snakes. There was no way that we could risk going out into Labuk Bay, with our steering gear in this perilous state. A feeling of black despair descended on me once again.

“Tundah, you will walk back to the main road. You will get a lift to Sandakan on the first passing vehicle. You will find our driver. You will take him to Chap Huat’s garage. You will find the outboard mechanic again. You will bring him back here to fix the steering.”

“Baik, Tuan,” said Tundah with undiminished cheerfulness.


 

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