A Typhoon Adventure
November 1967 --- A true story!

Written by Susan, Bill's eldest daughter, this is a story about Bill's first shipwreck, which occurred in 1967, near Manila, Philippines.  (Susan took the story originally written by her mother Elsie Covell and added her recollections).

In 1960, when I was about five years old, my family, the Butler family, left our home in Havana, Cuba for our new home in Manila, Philippines. General Electric, the company my father worked for as an electrical engineer, moved us out of Cuba soon after Fidel Castro took over, when it became evident that Cuba would soon be a socialist country, unfavorable to US business. My father had been born and raised in Cuba, and hadn't planned to leave. He and my mother had just had a brand new house built from the ground up. With regret, they packed what they could and piled us onto a plane bound first for a brief stay in the US, and then on to Manila.

Over the years in Manila, our family grew from a family of five to a family of seven. When we arrived, the family was just myself, Susan, and my younger brothers Bill and Jim. In 1961, my sister Sally was born followed in 1965 by my brother Joe.

The Philippines is a beautiful country, full of smart, friendly and industrious people, who after fighting side by side with American soldiers to rid their islands of the imperialistic Japanese of  World War II, loved Americans. We roamed the streets of our neighborhood freely, going to the neighborhood parks, visiting friends up and down the street just as other American children did all over the US. I joined Brownies and Girl Scouts and my brothers played on a local little league baseball team. We all went to the American School, a wonderful school attended by many of the Americans that lived in Manila, and many Filipino children whose parents wanted them to be prepared for American universities.

Perhaps most important to my dad in our new home was that he was able to continue to pursue his favorite hobby of sailing. He quickly joined the Manila Yacht club, where all the sailing aficionados in Manila came to sail, drink beer, and have parties. The boats were all tied up to buoys placed throughout the yacht club's small boat harbor. Soon after we arrived in Manila, my dad purchased his first boat.  Els Bels (named after my mother, Elsie), was a 110 class sailboat. After Els Bels, came Monsoon, a bigger (about 30 ft.) boat with a small cabin. But all the while, my dad had his eye on a bigger, sleeker boat owned by another member of the club, the beautiful "Mysterious".

He finally convinced the owner to sell and managed to purchase the beautiful old boat. After overhauling her and renaming her "Siboney", he put her back in the water and began to have some real fun. Siboney, a 38-foot sloop, was a nice sleek all wood boat and my dad loved nothing more than sailing her. He spent every weekend down at the Manila Yacht club. If he wasn't taking us out sailing, he was down in the cabin of Siboney varnishing, painting and tweaking the boat's engine. I remember him spending hours with just his feet sticking out while he was under the engine adjusting here and there.

When he took us sailing, we would usually just sail around Manila Bay. The Yacht club sponsored many races and he enjoyed racing the sleek Siboney against the other sailboats his friends owned. My brothers and I took sailing lessons at the yacht club and had fun racing against other kids in the leaky two-person sailboats they used for the lessons. Every once in awhile we would capsize or run the boats aground, but that was all part of the fun, and there was always someone there to rescue us.

Siboney was just right for sailing off for several days of roughing it and every once in a while, my dad would convince my mother to go off with him for a weekend family outing. The cabin had an ice chest, which we filled with dry ice so we could have cold drinks, and several bunks. It even had a small gas stove we could use for cooking and a fold down table. We could only use the table and stove if we were stopped somewhere, since the boat leans way over to one side when the sails are full of wind.

In November, 1967 the American School had a nice long weekend holiday, so my family decided to enjoy a nice long trip to some isolated Philippine islands in the South China Sea. Aboard Siboney as we sailed out of Manila Yacht Club that dawn were my mother, Elsie Butler, my father Bill Butler, and my brothers Billy (11) and Jimmy (10). Oh, and also myself, Susan Butler. I was 12 at the time.

With almost no wind, we sailed slowly through the early morning down the 30-mile stretch of Manila Bay out to Corregidor (a famous World War II battle sight) and turned out into the beautiful South China Sea. My brothers and I helped sail the boat. My brothers helped put up sails and pull in the sails with the ropes attached to them. I sometimes helped steer the boat. To steer the boat, you would just pull on the long wooden stick near the back of the boat called the tiller. Oh, and yes, since I was a girl and this was 1967, I was expected to help with the cooking and the dish-washing.

While sailing, my brothers and I would either fish, or just kick our feet overboard and feel the fast moving water. Sometimes, if it wasn't too windy or rough, my dad would throw a rope off the back of the boat and let my brothers hold on and get pulled by the boat. I preferred not to do this activity. (I knew there were sharks in the ocean around there. My brothers didn't seem to care though). We would often see a school of dolphins jumping playfully. They loved being around people and their boats and would stay with us for an hour or more sometimes.

It took about eight hours to get to White Sands Beach, a beautiful spot in the South China Sea. We anchored near the beach in a peaceful cove along with about eight other boats from the Manila Yacht club. Most of the boats were other families with their children. We got into the little wooden dinghy that my dad kept roped to the top of the cabin and paddled to shore. Once there we met up with other kids and spent the rest of the day exploring the beautiful beach, rock climbing, snorkeling, and collecting beautiful sea shells. This tranquil island routine continued all day Thursday. After a great dinner Thursday night, we had a peaceful night, sleeping on deck under a beautiful starry night sky.

Waking up early Friday morning, we decided to sail over to Fortune Island, an isolated and uninhabited spot that was off in the distance, out of sight of the other boats at White Sands. We spent most of the day exploring, looking for sea urchins and collecting shells. When we finally sailed back and got to White Sands beach, we noticed that none of our friends' boats were there anymore. Thinking that they too had gone off to explore, we anchored and got ready to cook up a nice dinner.

But ... after we had been there about 10 minutes, a Filipino man in a small boat came over to give us some very important information. "Sir, haven't you heard that a terrible typhoon (the Southern Hemisphere version of a hurricane) is headed straight for this area and that is due to hit Manila within 24 hours?" What a shock! We hadn't even turned on our radio all day, preferring the peace and calm of the beautiful surroundings. We turned the radio on then, and the radio confirmed that yes, a typhoon named Welming (Emma) was headed straight for us.

Since we were anchored in a cove unprotected from the West, we were practically in the open sea. My father decided that we must make a run for Manila. Since it only took eight hours for us to reach White Sands Beach, he figured that it wouldn't take too much longer to go back the other way. At this point I remember a lot of commotion. My mother told my father "No way am I going sailing in a typhoon with my three children". At that point my father told her that she and I could stay in the house on the beach (he knew the owners) and that he would head back to Manila with my two brothers. After mulling that one over for about a minute, my mother answered: "If you and our two sons are sailing this boat to Manila, Susan and I will be aboard"!

All five of us worked furiously as we prepared the boat for the night ahead. The awning was taken down, the cushions were stored below, ropes were tightened, and sails were put up. As we lifted the dinghy, it seemed to weigh a ton, and we somehow managed to knock a hole into it, but we finally got it secured over the cabin. (With a hole in it, though, the dinghy would be very useless as a lifesaving device!)

By the time it was dark, we were out in the middle of the South China Sea. My dad followed his chart and shined his high powered search light on shore to make certain that we are far enough from land to miss the projecting reefs (There were reefs all over this area, and the Siboney's keel was at least 20 feet deep. He wanted to make sure we didn't hit a reef or run aground).

The night was suddenly extremely black. We passed close to a small fishing boat and my dad yelled "Typhoon". The word "Appreciate" echoed back across the waves as we moved on. We always wondered about that Filipino fisherman and hope he made it safely to home port before the storm hit.

By about 8 p.m. we are out of the South China Sea and trying to enter Manila bay. However, we had trouble making it around Limbones point. The wind was coming straight off the point. We couldn't sail directly into the wind, so we had to make a series of "tacks", sailing diagonally from one side to another, trying to make forward progress. We lost precious time tacking back and forth, but finally made it around Limbones point.

At the mouth of the bay, near Corregidor, a small island used by the American and Filipino forces during World War II for a last effort to fend off the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, Siboney was suddenly hit by a strong gust of cross winds and actually spun around in a complete circle --- out of control. The winds in this spot are always mean, because they funnel down from the mountains of Bataan, but my dad had never seen them this mean. Right after this happened, my dad ordered me and my two brothers to go down below, put on life jackets and stay there for the rest of the night. He was afraid one of us would fall overboard and disappear into the black, shark-infested waters.

As we finally made our way into Manila Bay (about 9 p.m.) the stars were still in the sky overhead and the lights of Manila were visible some thirty miles in the distance. Gradually the city lights faded as rain and black clouds covered the sky.

Far in the distance, near Manila, my mother spotted a moving light and asked my dad what it was. He said "It's a ship." We have always been curious about that vessel. Perhaps they were the ones who gave the report that they spotted a sailboat between Fort Drum and Cavite about 10 p.m. that night. That was exactly our location and we seemed to be the only sailboat in the bay that night --- Manila Bay was empty otherwise --- we were all alone. This ship might have been the Japanese freighter which sank that night near Manila harbor.

My father and mother took turns at the tiller, the long wooden stick attached to the boat's rudder. They aimed for Sangley Point's light. Sangley, a US Naval base about six miles from Manila had a strong beacon. The problem was that Sangley's light kept disappearing under the bigger and bigger waves. When they could spot the beacon again, after it was blocked by waves, the boat had often been turned in another direction.

As my mother steered Siboney that night, she prayed like she had never prayed before in her life. She asked God to see this family safely through the storm and home again. She prayed that the wind would change course. It was coming straight out of Manila. If only it were to come from in back of us, we could go flying home! The wind continued to blow straight out of Manila all night! My mother prayed for the typhoon to veer away from Manila. Many do. But this typhoon maintained its rigid course. She spoke to God all night long while sitting in the cockpit of that boat, bouncing around on Manila Bay, and God didn't seem to hear a word she said!!

Meanwhile, my two brothers and I were spending our time bouncing around the cabin. It was very dark, very wet, and extremely scary. I couldn't believe what was happening. One minute we were in a nice calm bay, and just a few hours later we were in the middle of our worst nightmare. My brothers were both laying on the bunks on the other side of the boat from me. We had put up the slats on the bunks so that we wouldn't fall off the bunks. I was holding on for dear life and sometimes felt like I was going to bounce right out of that bunk. My brother Jim actually did fall out. When we hit one very hard wave, he rolled very hard and broke the slat, fell out and hit his head. There wasn't anything anyone could do. He managed to get back into the bunk and hang on. He and my brother Billy were both very seasick too. My mother and I had taken a seasick pill, and didn't get physically sick, but Bill and Jim were sick most of the time.

The waves were now about as high as the mast of our boat. Outside everything was very dark and very windy. The waves pounded the boat so hard that the normally dry cabin was soaked. Waves would lift up Siboney like it was a small raft and then drop it so hard that I thought the boat would break into pieces. I think my mother's prayers worked that night, if only to keep the boat in one piece.

About midnight, the wind was too strong for our sails and the auxiliary motor. For every three feet gained toward Manila, we were pushed back 2 feet toward the South China Sea. It became very clear that we would not be able to reach Manila. We couldn't even get in as far as Sangley Point. My mother asked my dad "Could we try to sail across the bay and reach Esso's dock? (Esso was a big oil company). "Not with this wind", my dad replied. There was no place to go and our only hope was to sail up and down Manila Bay in a triangular or box like pattern until we got a wind shift --- or to ride out the typhoon. We had to stay away from land. Land is a great enemy during a storm since a boat can be broken into pieces if it hits rocks or reefs. We also had to watch out for Fort Drum, an eleven foot thick fort built by the United Stated during World War II and located in Manila Bay not too far from Corregidor. Fort Drum had no light, and this made it even more dangerous.

Suddenly, in the dark of the night, a flapping, banging noise came form the bow. Howling wind ripped our brand new, dacron Yankee jib sail horizontally into three pieces. My dad came down into the cabin and got another jib, then fastened with his life-line safety harness, he went forward to the bow to take down the torn jib and put up the new one. My mother was left handling the tiller and tried to miss the bigger waves, but my dad was doused by waves more than once. The second jib went up; it lasted an hour or so, when it too was ripped to shreds by the wind. Our last storm jib must have been put up at about 3:00 am, but it too came down, this time after less than an hour.

The worst part of the night was from about three a.m. until dawn. The motor went dead and water in the boat's electrical system caused all of the lights to go out. The sky was a roof of blackness, the moon completely hidden by the clouds of Typhoon Welming (Emma). Rain lashed down upon us. The wind, which had begun as a soft, low whistle, then increased to a moaning wail over the waves, was now howling and screeching all around us. Siboney rode over the crest of one giant wave, through another, then wallowed in the trough of the next.

If dawn would only come. Surely everything would be better if we could see something besides black, angry waves....

Dawn finally arrived, and with it --- the full force of the typhoon. All of our jibs were gone. We had only the rudder to steer by. My parents were both sitting on the floor of the cockpit, wearing safety harnesses that were tied to the mast with heavy ropes. Gigantic waves went over the entire boat. One wave I will never forget. A force from the sea beneath seemed to go under the port side tilting us to 80 or more degrees. The 40-foot mast dipped further, further toward port; then a solid mountain wall of water came thundering down from starboard like a direct broadside. Siboney hung suspended on her side for 20,30, 45 seconds. I don't know how long --- it seemed like an eternity.... and while the boat is hanging half in and half out of the sea. At this point my mother remembered thinking about a story she had read about Chichester (he sailed solo around the world). In an Australian typhoon he rolled to over 130 degrees. She thought "If old Chichester can do it, we can too." Soon, Siboney was back upright, thanks to her heavy keel.

It looked as though the situation were hopeless. It was obvious we were not going to last much longer in the midst of this mighty storm. My father came to a decision. "I'm going to beach the boat. Go down and prepare the children", he shouted to my mother. She wasn't sure how to interpret this command. "Prepare them for what?", she thought. This seemed the end. The shoreline, we knew, was all coral reef, rocks and jungle. She thought the boat would hit a reef too far from shore, break up, fill with water and all would drown. She also figured there were long lengths of rope in the cockpit. Perhaps my father could tie one around his waist, get to shore some way, and she could send each child down the rope later, monkey style.

She then made her way down to the cabin, telling us to hurry and check the life jackets, making sure they would inflate. My life jacket wouldn't inflate on the right side. We found another one & they helped me put it on. My mother explained to us that we were in the middle of a terrible typhoon (duh?), that my father was doing his best to save us, and that we must obey any command instantly without question or hesitation. She also explained that it was possible that not all of us would live, that perhaps this was part of a Greater Plan which we could not now understand. With that, she recited the 23rd Psalm and the Lord's Prayer, told us to pray and quietly turned everything over to God. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteouness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Then she sat down with us on one of the bunks.  We waited.  After a few minutes, as we were looking out through the small porthole we saw --- coming up fast --- a white sandy beach and a small cement house. It was a miracle. With the mainsail flapping and only a wooden rudder to guide us, my father was bringing the boat in toward the shore perfectly. The waves, which were behind us now, were giving us big pushes toward the shore. We were surfing closer into shore with each wave. Hitting the sandy beach with a soft thud, the boat continued on another thirty or forty feet before it finally stopped almost out of the sea. We climbed quickly out of the cabin and jumped from the bow of the boat into no more than waist deep water. A few local people from a little barrio saw the boat coming in, and a Filipino man help out his hand to help me ashore. Dripping with brown dirty Manila Bay water all over our faces, hair and life jackets, we looked like drowned rats and all five of us were joyously happy to be on solid ground.

Soon we were invited into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dionisio Guilbert. Mr Guilbert was Superintendent of the School of Fisheries where boys are taught fishing as a livelihood. The Guilbert family gave us dry clothes, hot coffee and sheltered us all of Saturday night until we were able to leave Sunday noon. I don't remember much about our stay with the Guilbert's. My family spent most of our time sleeping, we were so exhausted from our typhoon experience.

Sunday morning the weather was very calm and we went out to see the boat. She was laying on her side on the sandy beach, looking like a giant whale washed ashore. One side was badly damaged by the pounding surf. It turned out that we had been lucky indeed. We hit one of the very few stretches of sandy beaches in the bay and this path could not have been more than 200 feet wide, surrounded on each side by a long row of jagged rocks. A Filipino man said it well, "This was a Miracle. Your Guardian Angel must have led you in."

Mr. Guilbert asked one of his friends, who owned a motorized banca (small boat) to take us back to Manila. While we were on our way back we saw a plane circling overhead. It was my dad's friend, Dick Bartlett, who had lost the roof of his house in the storm, but was out searching for us.

The banca brought us all the way back to the Manila Yacht club in only an hour or so. When we pulled into the yacht club we were spotted by a throng of friends who had been there waiting for any news about us. We went home to a reunion with my youngest brother and sister and were soon inundated with phone calls from friends and newspaper reporters. The story about the missing Butler family had been broadcast far and wide while we were riding out the typhoon. Even my father's parents in Miami, Florida had heard about the situation and were waiting for word from us.

A couple of days later I was back in my seventh grade classes as though none of it had ever happened. For a few days, I felt like quite the celebrity with all the teachers and kids wanting to hear all about our experience. Looking back, it was an exciting experience which has given me an appreciation for life and how easily you can be thrust up to the edge between life and death.

Where is Siboney now, you might wonder. Well, it just so happens that she is on the ocean floor in the Pacific ocean somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica … but that's a story for another day!