On The Boats……Up The Creek With The SAS (Part 5: Also known as Eight Men In A Leaky Boat)

April 2, 2015


Either way this was going to be dodgy….very dodgy.

I had managed to snap a shear-pin on the port outboard during a high rev gear-shift and it would need to be replaced if we were going to make it back to Rhodesia before first light.  It was pitch-black now and we needed to make a decision.  Firstly whether to attempt to replace the shear-pin before exfiltrating Zambia, or alternatively use just the remaining engine on its own to snail-pace it back home.

The problem with the first alternative was the lack of light.  The moon was long gone and there were no stars.  Shear pins are small components and working on an engine in the dark (and crocodile infested waters) would make things quite tricky.  Changing them in the daylight was pretty straightforward but we had not tried this at night.  The second option seemed feasible except for the fact that should there be a second engine failure we would simply become passengers in a boat going to nowhere.

There was of course a third, unspoken option available and that was to row back.  All of our boats carried two oars for loss-of-power events and our current predicament fell into this category at least half-way without a doubt.  However we had already crossed this option off the list as being impractical due to the distance involved and also because we were a pair of lazy bastards.

We settled on the shear-pin replacement before exfiltration, figuring it to be the best of a bad set of possibilities.  The procedure for replacement is quite simple really, it was just the environment we were in that was going to make it challenging.

We first made sure the boat was tied up as securely and close to the bank as possible.  It was quite shallow where we were and it was possible to stand on the muddy and slippery river-bottom.  Unseen things brushed against our legs, bringing thoughts of snakes and crocodiles to mind in a flash.  With the few tools and spare part we needed shared between us we moved to the stern of the boat.  She bobbed silently up and down.  Something big splashed not too far from us……probably a crocodile entering the water from the far bank.  At least that is what goes through a mans mind.

We needed to get the damaged motor out of the water to work on it.  While one of us released the motor locking catch the other tilted the entire engine upwards until ut was at an angle of about 45 degrees.  It was then locked into position again.  Like this we could get to the propeller where most of the work would take place.  We now needed to get the propeller off by removing its retaining nut.  This is locked with a cotter-pin which we needed to remove first after straightening it.  These usually break as well so we had a spare with us.  We could just about see what we were doing in the dim light but to our surprise managed to get the propeller off quite quickly.  Feeling up the now exposed drive-shaft we needed to locate the shear-pin hole and having done so pushed out the broken pin.  Taking the new pin we tapped it gently into its hole and then reassembled the propeller components in the reverse order.  Having dropped the engine back into its operating position, we untied the boat from the bank and climbed aboard.  It was only then that I realised how cold and miserable we both looked but for the first time in ages we both laughed at ourselves.

Outboard shear pin

The above picture shows the shear-pin (top) and the split-pin (boatsportandtackle.com).

The picture below shows how the motor is set at 45 degrees on land (fibreglassics.com).  We had to do this in the water.


I got myself back behind the wheel and checked that Tony was ready to start the motors.  He gave a thumbs up and I set the throttles to the start position.  Tony primed the carbs, and ensuring both motors were in neutral, started them one at a time, pulling them to life with an old piece of rope wrapped round the flywheels.  We were slowly drifting backwards towards the Zambezi but to our complete satisfaction both engines had fired up sweetly.  Smiles all around and the tension seemed to disappear as I gently shifted the two motors into forward gear, pushed up the revs and bought us round so the bows were headed for the Zambezi…….we were going home.

The trip out of Zambia was uneventful and seemed to take less time than going in.  I was probably giving it a little more gas than Tony did on the way in and we were soon at the Mulola mouth and headed west.  It was still quite dark although our eyes were by now well-adjusted and I could make out shapes all around.  The high sides of the Zambian bank still towering over us, seeming to want to take us back.

Tony had moved to the front of the boat now and we sat in silence, each with his own thoughts once again.  The engines were looking after themselves now, singing a metallic melody to the starless night.  There was still a way to go though and we were weary too but both needed to stay switched on now.  I moved us gently through the double S-bends that would bring us out close to Msuna and then on to Sibankwazi.  In my dreams I was hoping for a full English breakfast served up by the Member-In-Charge.  Hot sweet tea made with condensed milk, and steak and eggs crossed my mind.  I could imagine the aroma of fried onions.

Msuna was behind us now and we would soon be approaching Sibankwazi.  Their guards should be able to hear our engines by now.  Tony switched on our small VHF radio and checked in with the police, letting them know it was us and requested a strobe flash for direction.  We both strained our eyes looking for the strobe and when it came we were almost opposite the camp.  I swung the boat round 90 degrees to port and headed for our safe-haven……..we were home.

Please also have a look at my website dedicated to Rhodesian and South African Military Engineers.  Join us on the forums by using the following link:



© Mark Richard Craig and Fatfox9’s Blog, 2009-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

12 Responses to “On The Boats……Up The Creek With The SAS (Part 5: Also known as Eight Men In A Leaky Boat)”

  1. another good one Mark maybe call you Wilbur.?? ha ha thanks.

  2. Eeben said

    Sorry to have delayed my visit to your blog, Mark. I have spent some time elsewhere for a while.
    I thoroughly enjoy every episode of your march through the army and encourage you to keep it up. It is not always easy to do but hang in there! Not only for your readers’ sake but also for the sake of a history that is being lost.
    Best rgds,

    • fatfox9 said

      No problem Eeben and thanks for dropping in. I know you have a busy time. Delighted to see you back though and to be really honest with you I always think of you pushing me on this mission. It is not easy as you well know but I am going to see this to the end and finish the job. I know you will be with me when you can. All the very best and stay safe.

  3. Joe Borain ex 17 Field Squadron 2 Field Engineers Regt. said

    Absolutely riveting reading and enjoying it thoroughly. Compared to other personal experiences this is tops.
    Sapper Joe

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks Joe. It takes time and there are sometimes long periods when I just dont get to it. The kind of encouragement that you have given me however makes it all worthwhile. I will do my very best not to disappoint. All the very best, Mark

  4. j.mrandall@bigpond.com said

    Really enjoy your writing, please keep them coming.



  5. Stephen Rich said

    Always a good read Mark,
    reminds me of some of the miss adventures I’ve had with assault boats in the NZ Army

    • fatfox9 said

      Thanks Stephen. Be good to add some of your personal experiences to the blog. Stay well and good luck in the World Cup…….the Boks will take it.

  6. hermann Thormahlen said

    Mark very nice reading, you should really think of writing a book and getting it published, especially as you haven’t even touched your time with 32. I will be the firs one to buy your book, well done my friend.

    • fatfox9 said

      Thank you for the kind comments Hermann. You are absolutely right……..there is still a long way to travel with this story. I am contemplating the book angle. Far too many peole asking me to do this lately. Perhaps I will make a start this year. Take care of yourself Brother.

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