1997 Darwin to Timor, Indonesia

A photo-journal of a sailing voyage from Darwin to Timor Island Indonesia and islands to its north September 1997

01 Voyage Map


Early July 1997 marks the end of a successful two year refit for S.V. Lowana IV. She has been virtually rebuilt and is now ready for sea trials.  During this time she has been stripped down, completely sandblasted inside and out, repainted, rewired and the motor rebuilt.

Confirm with Martin Langdon as crew for forthcoming trip to Indonesia. I’d first met him during a previous trip to Indonesia when he’d been a crew member of another yacht.  Martin was an experienced sailor and fluent in Indonesian Bahasa language so counted myself lucky to get such a valuable man to my crew.

Thurs 10/7/97

Lowana IV is craned back into the water at DBCYC – Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club. As she begins to float with the incoming tide, careful checks are made for any leaks.  With the motor started more checks are required for further leaks and proper alignment of the propeller shaft with the stern gland where the shaft penetrates the hull out to the propeller.

The next two weeks or so is spent attending to a seemingly endless list of things to do, both in minor improvements and adjustments with the boat and in preparation for the trip.

02 SV Lowana IV 04 Lowana IV craned off the dock
Above: Lowana IV being lifted by crane onto a flat-bed trailer. Above: Being craned down into the careening area to wait for the tide.

Mid July 97

Advertise at DBCYC and Darwin Sailing Club for additional crew. Barbara and Paul respond to the ad and eventually get taken on as final complement of crew.  Total now four crew plus Cap’n Teddy – Martin’s mascot who has travelled with him for most of his voyages

08 Cap'n Teddy sits besides the compass Crew List:

Russ Swan (Skipper) Martin Langdon (2IC) Paul * Barbara *

* Names have been changed due to possible privacy concerns of the individuals concerned.

Left:  Cap’n Teddy sits next to the compass where he can overseer everyone on watch.

03 Cap'n Russ 05 Martin
Above: Cap’n Russ.  Photo taken later in Indonesia. Above: Martin relaxing in his favourite position during a cocktail hour.
06 Paul 07 Barbara
Above: Paul on watch. Above: Barbara making a round of coffee in the galley.

Mon 18/7/97

Money and application sent for an Indonesian cruising permit known as a CAIT to agents in Jakarta by Peter Dermoudy of the DBCYC on behalf of Lowana IV and another yacht Chelsea Morning.  This is a most important document and must be in our possession before leaving Australia.  To arrive in Indonesia without one could potentially result in seizure of our yacht, which has actually happened to other yachts before.

August 1997

Persistent apparent overheating fault with the yacht’s engine being a 2 cylinder diesel 25 hp Volvo. The motor had been virtually  rebuilt except for the crankcase. Temperature gauge fluctuating back and forth across the dial. Unable to locate the cause and involving a considerable amount of time and effort. Fit new thermostat and temperature sender switch.

Also fit a new temperature gauge showing the actual water temperature so at least I will know whether the cooling water is too hot or not. Drill two 1/8 inch holes in the face of the thermostat to help move the heated water out of the engine a bit faster. Never detected any overheating from the telltale outlet afterwards, despite what the temperature gauge was showing.

Most disturbing is a severe humming noise and vibration throughout the boat above 4 knots. The cause is traced to a rudder pintle being loose in its housing. The pintle is where the foot of the rudder is attached to the hull.  This at least is fixable and a metal sleeve fashioned around the pin fixes that particular problem.

The other cause was found to be bent bilge keel struts.  The bilge keels are little fins which protrude from the hull out to the side of the main keel. They support the boat in an upright position when sitting on the ground and the struts serve to brace the fin to stop it from folding under the hull.

09 Lowana IV getting some last minute checks Left:  Lowana IV at DBCYC careening poles with her bilge keels removed.

The bent struts are cut off and new ones are welded into place. Although this reduces the problem the vibration and humming continues at above 6 knots. Careful measurements find that the fins themselves are bent out of shape by 3 mm. This would probably have been due to standing on the hard stand for two years. No way they can be straightened without a foundry in Darwin, so reluctantly decide to cut the fin keels completely off.

Doing this solves all the vibration and humming noises and greatly improves the speed and handling of the boat. Unfortunately it also reduces the boat’s stability. The boat is now more easily affected by wind and waves. She wobbles more easily from side to side or bucks rather than glides through frontal waves.

The list of things to do seems as long as ever. As things are done new stuff is added to the list. Manage to complete an overnight sea trial to Bynoe Harbour with Martin and then do a day sail with Paul and Barbara. Also do a day sail with Paul, Martin and some other friends at the start of the Darwin to Ambon Race late in August.

Sat 23/8/97

My wife Delma joins the crew for a ‘No Excuse’ party up Woods Inlet overnight. This is a local yachty’s social event where numerous yachts gather around an old timber power boat” called Mulga. Unfortunately the electronics on the Mulga blows up so the amplified music and floor show that had been planned is not able to continue

10 the crew up Woods Inlet Right:  Anchored up in in Woods Inlet, Darwin Harbour. From left, Barbara, Paul, Martin and Russ. Delma taking photo.

Instead, most yacht crews dinghy over to the Mulga later in the night. Standing room only. Serious eye problems with some of the people on board as few seem able to focus properly. Strong acrid, funny smelling smoke may also have something to do with it. Make sure our dinghy is tethered way out on the edges rather than against Mulga,  as those next to her hull steadily filled with lubricant from inebriated party go-ers.

Mon 25/8/97

Crew shop for non-perishable foods while I get all the boat spares and boat consumables e.g. fuel filters, fuses, silastic and the endless bits and pieces needed once out at sea. Our original intention was to leave by tomorrow but so far our CAIT has not arrived. Peter Dermoudy contacts the agents in Jakarta and is told the application will go up for approval tomorrow. Our departure is put back.

Wed 27/8/97

Peter Dermoudy breaks the news that our CAIT application has not been received by the agent in Jakarta. This is contradictory to what Peter had been told Monday. They admit to getting the money but not the papers for either Lowana IV or Chelsea Morning. In the meantime here we are ready to go except for Customs and buying of perishable food stores, but no permit. We can’t go to Indonesia without it.

The agent Mr Kustarjono Projopolito of the agency Kartasa Jaya says he can rush a permit through in 10 days. Our documents are faxed to him straight away. We ask for a letter confirming receipt of the application and if possible the projected CAIT official number. We reason that if we can have such a letter we at least may be able to get ashore at Kupang in Timor, even if the CAIT original doesn’t reach Kupang in time for us. They promise to do this tomorrow or Friday.

Thur 28/8/97

The letter does not arrive. Cancel our Customs appointment and duty-free fuel delivery for today and re-schedule for next Monday. New plan is to go and spend the weekend at Bynoe Harbour and get cleared from Customs next Monday, providing the letter we asked for has been faxed to Peter Dermoudy. Our plan is to then go to Ashmore Reef for a few days to fill in time before getting to Kupang. This would allow time for the re-submitted CAIT to be approved in Jakarta and faxed to Kupang.

Fri 29/8/97

Sail to Bynoe Harbour. Depart DBCYC pontoon at 0700hrs and sail to Bynoe Harbour. We enjoy excellent sailing during the day hitting up to 8 knots at one point but more often around 4 to 6 knots.  Anchor up in my usual spot in a creek at Turnbull Bay at 1530 hours. Ring Peter Dermoudy later in the afternoon but he’s not heard anything from Jakarta. Why does that not surprise me?

Sat 30/8/97

Crew go ashore at Masson Point for a walk and a look around. Beautiful day but a tad blowy and the wind is building up. I get busy with some last minute work around the boat. Crew return around midday. Have lunch and a lazy afternoon getting settled. Paul and I go fishing later on. Not a bite except for the sandflies and return to the boat empty handed. Paul keeps fishing after dinner and catches a nice salmon. We have it for dinner 3 days later and it’s delicious.

Sun 31/8/97

0600 hours: Early start. Have a cup of tea or coffee, stretch and a look around. The new canopy is really proving its worth with the benefit of a dry deck in the mornings.

0700 hours: Anchor up and returning to Darwin. Lovely sailing northerly out of Bynoe Harbour but run out of wind around Charles Point before turning easterly towards Darwin Harbour. Seas are flat but it’s a beautiful day nevertheless. Motor sailing.

1300 hours: Motor off. Initially sailing around 3 to 3.5 knots but the wind slowly builds until we are reaching between 4 and 5 knots.

1500 hours: Norm the Skipper of Chelsea Morning tells us by radio that our CAIT has arrived at DBCYC. Loud cheer from all crew. Much relief but it later proves a bit premature.

1600 hours: Drop anchor at Fannie Bay in Darwin Harbour.

1700 hours: Martin, Paul and myself go ashore and walk to Martins place.  Martins sets a cracking pace. He then drives us to DBCYC where we collect our respective vehicles. The office is closed. Paul drives his truck to my place then returns to the boat.

Mon 1/9/97

0800 hours: Crew gathers on the beach at the Darwin Sailing Club and make final arrangements. Perishable food shopping done and some laundry. Pick up the CAIT from DBCYC. A cast bronze rudder is also handed over to us for delivery to a boat in Kupang. Complete photocopying of official documents.

1200 hours: All crew back on board. Stow gear and food away. Motor down to Cullen Bay pontoon to take on our duty free stores, fuel and Customs clearance.

1400 hours: Clear Customs and stow duty free stores away. Have to wait to take on the duty free fuel but the Lockmaster is too busy to give us our fuel at this time.

1515 hours: Lockmaster runs down but is still unable to give us our fuel. Martin goes and speaks with the Manager. This results in the Lockmaster turning on the pump and us doing our own refuelling. It was worth the wait because at only 50 cents a litre it saves us 29 cents a litre. Boat is now carrying 385 litres of diesel giving quite a good cruising range.

1630 hours: Finally away from Cullen Bay pontoon. Stop in Fannie Bay to hoist the dinghy up onto the davits and lash down all jerry-cans of fuel and water up on deck.

1800 hours: Clear of Fannie Bay near the #6 Buoy and on our way!

Tues 2/9/97

Overnight: After weeks of continuous SE winds it’s now coming from the WNW, directly from the direction we want to go. It continues all night so we’ve been motor-sailing and being forced northerly, closer to Melville Island than I want to be. Very strong tidal counter current running up to 2 knots. It got a little bumpy during the night for a while otherwise no real problems.  It just slowed us down a bit.

0800 hours: Can see Cape Fourcroy at Melville Island off the starboard beam. Beautiful day and calm seas with just a ripple on the surface. Quite warm already. Sill motor-sailing. Can’t quite get as westerly as I want but hitting up to 7 knots with the help of a tidal push. Not working the motor hard keeping it at around 1300-1400 rpm.

1200 hours: Wind dies down to 5 knots. Still motoring and seas are flat. Brilliant day.

1800 hours: Virtually no wind at all except for apparent wind on the nose. First full day completed. Distance made good 100 miles – approx 180 kilometres. Distance travelled due to tacking 108 miles. Average speed 4.5 knots. Everything running well except for an intermittent amp light coming on but I can’t find any charging fault.

Weds 3/9/97

0600 hours: Completely still overnight with no breeze at all. Seas flat. Situated 150 miles WNW of Darwin and still averaging 4.5 knots. Maintaining 1300-1400 rpm on motor for economical cruising. Plenty more revs there if needed. Still getting tidal effects up to 1 knot even this far out.

0900 hours: Another brilliant day but the sun is starting to bite already. Seas are flat and oily looking. Flag hangs limp on its staff. Motoring with only the mainsail up and sheeted in hard. Keeping a direct course for Kupang.

1300 hours: Sight a yacht heading westerly off our port quarter. Call them on the radio for a chat. The lady who responds sounds Dutch or Belgian. She tells us they’re the Magnum Bonum also going to Kupang.

Lunch: Barbara makes an excellent lunch of wafer biscuits, tomatoes, anchovies, spiced sausage, tuna and other stuff.  We actually get to sail during our lunch, enjoying the quiet whisper of water against the hull, listening to a Johnny Cash tape and peaceful conversation.

10b wheelhouse Left: View of wheelhouse with a second steering position for use during bad weather. To the left is the companionway leading down into the saloon area.

1800 hours: Breeze swings around to easterlies after lunch but not enough for us to want to sail with and it changes back to NW. Another still  day. Breeze doesn’t pick up much above 5 knots or so. Distance made good last 24 hours was 110 miles and distance over the ground the same. Not too bad considering there’s been no wind to speak of and just motoring the whole time. We have steadily closed with our original rhumb line Darwin to Kupang, and located just a few miles above the line on the chart.

1945 hours: Sailing again. Wind puffing and getting between 3 to 5 knots under sail.

2045 hours: Wind gone and motoring yet again. Have to grab the wind when it comes if we want to do any sailing.

Thurs 4/9/97

0100 hours: Sight a trawler engaged in fishing. It has low lights set out with long lines or a net. These things can be a pain as you can’t be entirely sure what they are, whether they are moving or in which direction. Magnum Bonum catches up after trailing behind all day. No doubt inadvertently, she’s managed to squeeze us between the trawler and themselves. Call them on radio about it and they veer off to port to give us more sea room.

0400 hours: Quite a bit of activity with trawlers. All of them outside the Australian Fisheries Zone limit which we crossed before midnight. Don’t know who they are but they look to be pretty sophisticated operations.

0800 hours: Crew report a hairy sea monster is aboard ship somewhere. Not sighted yet but clearly heard when Martin or myself are asleep.

0900 hours: Note the intermittent amp charging light fault doesn’t seem to come on as much when the engine is running below 1400 rpm. Batteries definitely not overcharging so not unduly concerned about it.

1030 hours: Sight first confirmed Indonesian vessel fishing the continental shelf with their crew grinning and waving at us.

10a Indonesian trawler Right:  One of several Indonesian fishing trawler working on the fishing grounds near the inter-continental shelf between Indonesia and Australia.

1800 hours: Day 3 completed. Distance made good last 24 hours was 105 miles. Distance over ground the same. This has been another totally still day with just no wind at all.

1830 hours: ‘Bertram’ the booby bird lands on the pulpit and spends the night up on the bow.

10c Bertram the booby Left: Bertram the booby sitting up on the bow rails settling in for the night.

2230 hours: American yacht Wild Rose skippered by Steve Bonney catches up with us. Also heading for Kupang. They had left Darwin the next morning after we left. Probably a bit over 12 hours behind. Had a good chat on the radio.

Fri 5/9/97

0730 hours: Wind picks up northerly at 10 to 15 knots. Change to sailing using the genoa and mainsail. Perfect sailing weather giving us 6 knots average.

1000 hours: Listen to the High Seas Forecast from Darwin Radio over HF radio on Channel 5 (4126 MHz) at about signal strength 3. Forecast for Timor Sea is 10 to 15 knots, slight to moderate seas, NE to SE winds. Great!

1100 hours: Winds northerly to north-easterly. Good sailing at average 6 knots. Autopilot functioning perfectly the whole trip so far, but all crew having a go on the tiller to get the ‘feel’ of the boat under sail.

1600 hours: Wind comes round to ENE putting it behind us for the last few hours.  Have been running before the wind with goose-winged sails. Good sailing all day. Just 15 miles from our waypoint which marks the entrance to Roti Strait between Roti Island and Timor Island. Expect landfall any moment but there is a very heavy land haze. Getting a bit rolly poly but still averaging 6 knots. Genoa and mainsail taken down. Change to a Number 1 jib to steady the boat.

This haze persists for the whole of the trip. Later find out there were huge bush fires in Indonesia affecting the whole SE Asian region.

1800 hours: Really great sailing day!  Covered 124 miles over the last 24 hours and most of that has been since 0700 hours this morning. Seas getting bigger and wind is picking up. Boat starting to pitch and yaw fairly hard with the following seas. Approaching the entrance to Roti Strait and its getting dark. No radar aboard so relying on GPS waypoints, charts and a careful lookout.

1900 hours: Reach our first GPS waypoint in Roti Strait which has a reputation for bumpy waters but we don’t find it all that bad. In fact seas are moderating. Jib taken down and motoring under bare poles due to unfamiliar waters. Pitch black outside.  Can’t see a thing except a coastal light on Timor Island. No sense in taking risks if you don’t know the area. Feeling our way in under GPS guidance only.

2300 hours: Almost total blackness. Barely able to make out any land at all. According to GPS we are located midway between Timor Island and Roti Island. Heading towards our next waypoint being an anchorage on the southern end of Semau Island. Intend to get some sleep for the final run up Semau Strait to Kupang in the morning. Seas smooth for the last couple of hours. Calm conditions.

Sat 6/9/97

0015 hours: Reach intended anchorage at Semau Island but unable to get any reading on the depth sounder and unable to see any land due to the dark. No local knowledge of the area by anyone aboard. Don’t persevere in attempting to anchor up; an onshore wind is picking up and this place is likely to become a lee shore.

0040 hours: Heading for another anchorage on the NW side of Roti Island where it should offer better shelter from the wind.

0200 hours: Creep into the selected bay under GPS guidance and hoping the chart is correct. It’s so dark can barely see the land. Can make out just one small light on shore but difficult to judge distance let along see any obstacles in the water. Depth sounder has definitely packed it in and simply won’t give a reading. Pull out a small spare Eagle brand portable depth sounder. Hook it up to power and place a suction type transducer over the side of the boat. It works once then decides it doesn’t want to play either.

We’re in calm conditions out of the wind but can’t tell how deep the water and it’s pitch black. Not sure about any reefs, fish traps or other obstacles that might be in the area. There is another small island nearby as well which complicates movement.  Can hear a small surf running and voices coming from the shore but still can’t find the bottom with a lead line.  Eventually decide to leave the area after a couple of tries at it.

0330 hours: Back out in Roti Strait and decide to head leisurely towards Kupang. So far everyone has been catching whatever rest they can when it has been possible to do so. It hasn’t been much.

0500 hours: At the entrance to Semau Strait. See lots of lights but at this distance cannot make out what they might be. Could be anything. Decide not to risk trying to get up through the strait. Anyway, we’d prefer to see the sights up there in the daylight. Turn back out to sea to await first light.

0600 hours: Heading back towards Semau Strait again and still pitch blackness outside. Huge bloody ship comes up astern from around the back of Semau Island and turns into Roti Strait. Whichever way we go it seems to be coming directly at us.  Causes some consternation for a while until it finally heads easterly out of Roti Strait into the Timor Sea.

0740 hours: At entrance to Semau Strait again. Watch the sun come up big and red over Timor Island. Definitely worth waiting for daylight to see this

11 Paul at dawn Right: Paul at dawn with the sun rising over Timor. Photo does not adequately capture the scene. 

1000 hours: Motoring past Ternau Harbour and the traditional boat harbour. Trip up the strait has been worth waiting. Plenty to see. Very strong tidal push had slowing us down quite a bit . Have to bump up the revs to about 1700 rpm to make reasonable headway.

1030 hours: Arrive Kupang Harbour.

12 Kupang Harbour
Above: Part of Kupang Harbour to the left of anchorage.
12 old buildings Kupang 3of3
Above: At left are the foundations of what was fort Ford Henricus which now has local housing built on top of them.  To the right is a sloped beach where yachties come ashore.
13 steep beach Kupang
Above: At the far right of the same beach is a military barracks. The landing beach is quite steep and with a bit of breeze blowing can be an adventure trying to get ashore in a dinghy through tumbling waves.  The main town square complete with clock is centre photo. It’s also the main Bemo depot. Teddy’s Bar is an ex-pat meeting place and is among the palm trees.  “Cholera” Creek enters the harbour just to the right of Teddy’s Bar.  Above that is a historic site now used as an Army Depot. There are caves down in the creek that lead up inside the old fort. The traditional boat harbour is just around the corner to the right.

1030 hours:  Pleased to see yacht Angelique anchored nearby. She’s owned by an old friend Jeff who’d done a lot of carpentry work on Lowana IV during her refit.  He immediately comes over in a dinghy to guide us to a good anchoring spot in about 5 metres of water.  Adjust ship’s clocks to 0900 hours local time. Darwin is 1.5 hours ahead of Kupang. Not long afterwards the chap wanting his rudder also comes over to get it.  Found out later this one got broken too unluckily for him. From where we are at anchor we can see what was once fort Ford Henricus built by the Portuguese Dominican friars in the 1500s, to guard against Moslem attacks. It was later captured by the Dutch in 1653 but the walls collapsed in 1663 during an earthquake in nearby Solor Islands. All that remains of the old fort are the foundations and lower walls built right on the waters edge. The stones of the rest has likely been carted away over the years for use elsewhere, and  the locals have simply been building housing units on top of them ever since.

The Dutch built another barracks further to the right of the harbour on a rocky point, which is still the site of a military barracks today. Captain Bligh arrived here in 1789 after being set adrift in a small overcrowded sailboat with just a sextant and pocket watch after the HMS Bounty mutiny in the South Pacific. Pretty good effort for him and his small crew to get here.

13a barracksRight:  The military barracks is built on the site of a rocky point overlooking Kupang Harbour. “Cholera Creek” is off to the left out of photo and is likely to have been where Captain Bligh landed.

Captain Bligh is not the only one to have been received here. In 1791 a group of 9 convicts and 2 children heard about Bligh’s achievement and stole a small government dinghy in Sydney NSW. They arrived in Kupang 10 weeks later covering a distance almost equalling Bligh’s. They were locked up. Various explorers such as William Dampier also called here during their expeditions.

1230 hours: A local man named Jimmy comes aboard to offer his services and arrange Customs matters. He works for the Jakarta agents mentioned previously through whom we got our CAIT.  Jimmy has a rather slippery reputation and recently got an official reprimand from Jakarta about overcharging for his fees. The present rate is A$50 but he has been asking up to US$75.

Jeff also comes aboard to have a gander at how the boat finished up after her refit, and to watch over arrangements being made with Jimmy. Jeff runs a sailing charter business from Kupang and is very good with the language. He’s also familiar with Jimmy’s rather dubious methods. Luckily Martin is also fluent with the language and can ask for more details when I don’t understand Jimmy’s accented English.

At the conclusion of our discussion Jimmy offers his house for bathing and laundry, but being a bit suspicious about what it would cost politely decline.  Jimmy leaves assuring us that all will be well with the paperwork.

Afternoon: Everyone goes ashore.  Paul and Barbara decide to stay at a hotel overnight. Martin and I head off to a laundry behind Teddy’s Bar, which is an Australian ex-pat meeting place and watering hole. Have a mandi (wash) and leave our laundry there to be picked up later.

Have a late lunch at the nearby Karang Mas Restaurant sitting on the verandah in one of those fort like buildings overlooking the harbour. From here the yachts can be seen quite clearly. All the boats are hobby horsing in the afternoon winds. Lowana IV looks quite comfortable sitting out there. Have a few drinks and a catch up conversation with Jeff but he has to leave soon.  He’s got some paying guests flying in who he is to take to the surf beaches at Roti Island.

Take a little walk around. Half the shops are closed being Saturday arvo. Beeping bemo’s everywhere that can be heard clear out into the harbour. Come back to Teddy’s Bar and watch a couple of boxing bouts. Apparently it’s a youth club run by the military.

Late Afternoon:  The rolling surf on the beach is now gone and the bay is quite calm. Return to Lowana IV with Martin who by now seems quite content with the world after some Bintang refreshments.

Evening: Both of us quite tired after last night. We sit and talk while we listen to the city noises and activities. Go to bed early. It’s been a big day.

Sun 7/9/97

16 Dawn at KupangLeft: Dawn over Kupang Harbour looking to the left of anchorage. Local fishing boats anchor off this point.

Morning: Leisurely morning. Run the engine to cool down the fridges and just generally relax. Dip the main fuel tank. We’ve used 120 litres of diesel on the trip over. Total distance 508 miles including the back and forth travelling in Roti Strait. Fuel consumption averaging 4.1 miles per litre. Engine has been run for 127 hrs averaging an economical 1 litre per hour.

Late Morning: Jimmy aka Jimmy The Weasel comes out to boat and tells us we are now cleared into Indonesia but cannot leave Kupang due to a discrepancy in our CAIT. He says that not all crew members are listed on the CAIT and Immigration are holding onto our passports.

This is a shock. According to the information we got from Peter Dermoudy the CAIT was for clearance of the vessel and its Skipper only. Accordingly I had only included myself as the Skipper. I was confidant about that because the CAIT application was also accompanied by a complete Crew List with photocopies of passports.  I had also understood that Visa’s would be given to each crew member including the Skipper on arrival at Kupang.

All this paperwork had been faxed again later on. This is sounding like bullshit and I begin to suspect Jimmy might be trying to scam us.

Jimmy now tells us there is another problem with the CAIT.  It seems that all the required clearances have not yet been granted. The missing clearances were the Indonesian Navy and the Dept of Sea Communications. Jimmy says I will have to go out to the Navy Offices tomorrow with him. He assures me it is simply a formality and that an updated CAIT will be faxed from Jakarta tomorrow.

Jimmy’s assurances do nothing to convince me this will be sorted out quickly, and indeed it gets even worse.  Jimmy now tells me that even if a properly approved CAIT is received tomorrow it will cost an additional A$20 per crew member not listed on the CAIT…uh huh!  This fee is allegedly to be paid to Immigration. We will not get our passports back until this ‘fee’ is paid. He tells me bluntly that if it is not paid then the crew will have to fly out of Indonesia, and I will have to sail the boat away by myself.

We later learn that similar things have happened with other boats too. Andy of Wraith of Galbraith had 9 extra backpackers aboard and allegedly cost him A$180. Dave and Shea of Wanita Merah are believed to have had two extra persons and apparently it cost them something too. Although it appears to be a rort, I believe it’s more likely there is simply a loophole in the paperwork that is being exploited to squeeze out a few extra dollars from visiting yachties. Whether they can justify it or not doesn’t help us at this point. There is not much that can be done about it except pay up. If we push the point we will only be held up more than we already are.

Early Afternoon: Take the dinghy across to the beach and meet up with Paul and Barbara. At Martin’s suggestion we have lunch at the Cafe Surya which serves Padang food. Padang food involves the laying out of several Sumatran dishes, and only charging customers for the food they actually eat. It’s ridiculously inexpensive costing Rp18500 – approx A$9.00 for 4 people. Current exchange rate is Rp2018 per A$1.00.

Martin decides to head back to the Karang Mas Restaurant across the road while the rest of us take a walk along the traditional boat harbour to look at the fishing boats and some of the older style traditional vessels. While looking at the boats we manage to talk to some of the people and get mobbed by crowds of kids. Carrying a camera is a sure-fire attraction. Further on we watch as a traditional prahau fishing boat is being built just back off the beach.  Nothing elaborate here, they just use basic tools and most measurements are done by eye.

14 Barbara at Kupang 15 old foundations
Above: Barbara poses along the sea wall with part of the old fort Ford Henricus in the background. Above: Old fort foundations with housing built on top.
18 traditional prahues 19 fishermans house
Above: Part of the traditional boat harbour. Many are anchored close into shore and the fishermen wade out to them. They don’t use dinghies here. Above: Typical of the housing along the beach used by fishermen. Repairs to boats are carried out right on the beach.
20 laying a keel 21 joyful children
Above: Just getting started on a new boat. The plank on the right hand side is shaped and just about fitted even as we watch. Designs are still traditional but they use power tools to construct them. Above: Paul with a bunch of kids. They like to get their photo taken.
24 loaded up 23 boat harbour at low tide
Above: These people would be going to nearby Semau Island. Not much thought given to overloading. It is fairly common that if you git a bum on a seat, or even just stand in a boat then you can travel on it. Above: Low tide and the boats are left high and dry . They can clean the keels and do whatever other work they want at these times.

On the way back we stop to watch a game of volleyball. One of the people is the Harbourmaster of Ternau harbour. Pretty important chap. Paul has been a volleyball player and is invited into a match with them. He soon proves he’s quite good at it. Seems the team is the #1 team in this region of Indonesia.

Late Afternoon: Head back to the Karang Mas Restaurant and stay there for a while with Martin until Paul and Barbara show up after the volleyball.

Evening: Go back to the boat, re-charge the fridges, watch Indon TV, check the navigation charts for the next leg and read a book. Crew comes back on board quite late – and vocal after having been at Teddy’s Bar. Paul had been disco dancing there but I understand there’d been a shortage of available females to dance with.

Mon 8/9/97

0730 hours: Sun has been up for last two hours and crew having a late sleep in. There is a large, thick shoal of fish hanging about the boat.

1000 hours: Paul and Barbara go ashore for a 4 hour tour of the city. I have a shave and dress up, then also go ashore where I meet up with Jimmy as arranged yesterday to go out to the Navy Offices.

Jimmy makes a phone call to Jakarta and we take a bemo, both of which I am asked to pay for. At the Navy office we are taken into some back office where I speak to a fellow in civilian clothing with Jimmy translating. At first the fellow appears rather non-committal. Knowing the Indonesian deference to military and police I manage during the general conversation to introduce my Police Badge and casually mention that I was ex-military. Am not entirely sure but am fairly satisfied that this makes a suitable impression on our naval chap. With displays of big cheesy grins and thumbs up he promises my clearances will be granted by the Navy and the approved CAIT will be faxed from Jakarta tomorrow… uh huh-heard something like this before!

Jimmy assures me, and I must admit he’s good at it  that Immigration and the Harbour Master clearances will not be a problem. We will be able to leave Kupang tomorrow by lunchtime. He generously explains that he will pay the Immigrasi ‘fee’ and I can fix him up with it later.

On the way back into town, the Weasel makes a passing comment that we must have some small amount of whisky or rum aboard. I’m not sure what he’s thinking when I tell him I don’t drink and that I can’t speak for the crew. However it’s interesting to  note that later on the Immigration ‘fee’  went up to A$25.00 a head.

1100 hours: Return to the boat. Apart from the sour taste in my mouth this is just a glorious day. Have a nap and generally relax on the boat with Martin.

17 shoaling fishRight: Not a particularly good photo but is meant to show a small part of a large school of fish in residence around the boat. The white blotch roughly near the centre photo is one of our dinner plates on the sea bed after it had blown overboard.

1500 hours: Our resident shoal of fish is considerably larger and thicker now. No idea what’s holding them around our boat except for protection from predators. There is quite a bit of splashing around the boat from time to time.

Late Afternoon: Go ashore. Collect laundry then book into the Timor Beach Hotel for the night. Get a double room with shower, air conditioning and TV for Rp30500 (approx A$15.00) but only because I argue that the TV in the single room doesn’t work and the air conditioner is noisy, plus I threaten to leave.

Evening: Have a shower, then dinner on the restaurant terrace overlooking the harbour. Beautiful view especially with the big red sun going down over Semau Island. Dinner is excellent with steaks, chips, egg, rice, gravy on a sizzle plate, and a plate of green veges with red peppers for Rp8500.  Go for a walk, return to the room, read the Jakarta Post newspaper (In English), watch some Indon TV and go to bed by 2130 hours.

Crossing Ombai to Alor

Tues 9/9/97

0730 hours; Leave the hotel and return to Teddy’s Bar. Troops must still be out on the boat and therefore uncontactable. Have 3 cups of kopi (coffee) and have a chat with some Americans off Watermelon who have been cruising for 11 years now. Also pick up my laundry from the wash shop.

Morning: Dave and Shea from Wanita Merah arrive with 2 crew and anchor not far from us. We’d brought some duty free sheet music for them which was later delivered. Quite a surf running on the beach with 1 metre waves making it hard for yacht dinghies to get on or off the beach. Jimmy turns up promising we can leave later in the day. Our updated CAIT is supposed to be faxed to arrive by 1000 hours today. He indicates he will pick it up and that Immigrasi and the Harbour Master clearances will be no problem. We can leave after lunch.

Crew comes ashore. Give them an update as to what’s happening then head out to the boat, drop off my laundry, change clothes and return to the beach. Have some lunch at the Karang Mas Restaurant and then return to Teddy’s Bar to await Jimmy.

Afternoon: Still no sign of Jimmy and not likely to now. Hear that he is off doing something else, so Paul, Barbara and I catch a Number 10 Bemo out to the museum for a look. It’s pretty ordinary in my view but the trip and scenery is good. Lot of new houses going up out there.

25 service stationRight: Your average corner service station . Bring your own containers. Quality of diesel fuel in Indonesia is usually good but must be filtered for impurities. Care must also be taken to guard against water in the fuel.

Late Afternoon: Back at Teddy’s Bar kicking our heels waiting for Jimmy.

1900 hours: Jimmy finally turns up but hasn’t even checked if our fax has arrived yet. Doesn’t see fit to apologise for the delay or even to explain why he has held us up. He goes off at my insistence to do it now. I am definitely trying my hardest to be nice and keep my cool.

1930 hours: Jimmy returns. Fax has arrived but this ‘updated’ CAIT has a stamp from the Navy but no clearance number. AND it is still missing the Department of Sea Communications stamp. Disappointment and annoyance at this further setback. We are still stuck here. Will this incompetence never end?

Evening: Talk to an ex-pat named Bob who does yacht charters from Kupang. He tells us about lots of officialdom problems for yachts this year. He says there has been something like 8 yachts at one point earlier in the year all having problems. Mr Teddy Tanonef who is the owner of Teddy’s Bar comes over to our table.  Bob speaks with him in my presence stressing the bad effect this sort of thing will have on tourism, especially the visiting yachts who normally anchor off Teddy’s Bar. He’s left in no doubt about how bad news travels fast and wide amongst the cruising yacht fraternity.

Without a doubt Teddy is quite influential in Kupang. He listens to the sorts of things that have been going on then questions Jimmy at some length about my situation in particular.  He tells Jimmy in my presence that he has to take some responsibility for the inefficiencies that have been going on. Teddy finally asks me for a letter of complaint and he says he will talk to the Governor.

By now I’m feeling decidedly pissed off, return to the boat, have some dinner and go to bed.

Wed 10/9/97

0630 hours: Sail cruising is interesting in that you never quite know what each day will bring. However, I am without my usual air of expectation today. This thing has already cost us over a weeks delay. We are no longer have time to visit the Solor Island group. We may also have to cut off our visit to the Damar Island group as well.

0730 hours: Row over to Chelsea Morning and give them an update as to what is happening so far with us. They are in pretty much the same sort of situation. They have to meet with Jimmy to go out to the Navy Offices at 0900 hours today.

Morning: Since I don’t have a drain tap on my main tank, I spend a little time making a fuel suction device using clear hose and a rubber priming bulb. I want to use it to suck up fuel from the bottom of the main fuel tank to check for the presence of water and/or any black sludge. It proves to be a simple but reasonably effective system. Top up the main water tank. Clean up, secure stores and trim boat.

Afternoon: No change with getting a clearance today. Paul and Barbara go ashore for a swimming beach out of town and will be staying somewhere overnight. Martin and I relax and have a little nap.

1830 hours: Jimmy comes out to boat telling us everything now in order and we’ll be able to leave tomorrow... uh huh again!  Finding it hard to believe anything this man says.

1900 hours: Go ashore for dinner. Hand Teddy my letter of complaint that he requested yesterday. Hopefully the situation will be improved for future visits by yachts but I won’t hold my breath. Was going to do some shopping at a Toku Mas (gold shop) but they’re closed by the time we finish dinner at 2030 hours so return to boat. Martin stays ashore but comes out later on.

Thurs 11/9/97

0730 hours: Martin tells me that Jimmy saw him ashore last night and told him we now have clearance from Immigration and that only the Harbour Master clearance remains. Crunch time coming as to how much this will all actually cost us.

0930 hours: Martin and I go ashore. Cup of coffee at Teddy’s Bar and then go shopping. Buy a gold necklace for Delma for our 25th wedding anniversary. Cost of gold is Rp32000 per gram in Kupang at moment. Take a long walk to the market but don’t particularly see anything we fancy except for some sugar, coffee and eggs. Get bread from a bread shop and collect some more laundry.

1130 hours: Back at Teddy’s Bar and find Jimmy waiting for us. Everything finalised and clear to go.  At last!  Looking out into the harbour I can see Chelsea Morning has already left. Jimmy hands us our Pratique clearance for Australian Customs and our passports. Pay his A$50 fee and the extra A$75 for the crew, even though I have high reservations that this money is actually not an Immigrasi fee but I just want to get out of here.  He doesn’t ask for more and I won’t give it to him if he does Then in a spirit of bonhomie he has the gall to tell me he will look me up when he comes to Darwin so that I can show HIM around … yeah right!

1200 hours: Back on board waiting for the rest of the crew who will be arriving soon. Take down the shade canopy and start stowing gear ready for sea.

1300 hours: All crew aboard. Hoist the dinghy and secure it. Weigh the anchor and start heading out for the town of Kalabahi on Alor Island. Good following winds help push us out of the harbour.

Kupang to Kalabahi

26 Kupang to Alor map

1600 hours: Clear Monkey Island and Kupang Harbour. Starting to get strong gusts constantly changing direction which keeps us busy working the sails. Seas lumpy.

 26 sailboatsLeft:  Leaving Kupang Harbour and passing Monkey Island. These two boats are fishermen doing it the way they’ve probably been doing it for centuries.

1845 hours: Have reached 11 miles off Kupang after doglegging around Monkey Island. Winds are more steady in direction. Sails have been goosewinged and are giving us perfect sailing in a northerly direction. Lots of moonlight. Seas about 1.5 metres swells. This is just great – hitting up to 7 knots.

2000 hours: Seas getting lumpier and swells a little longer. Change course to NNE towards Alor. Take down goosewings and set sails for a beam reach which steadies the boat immediately. Speed reduces to 6 knots but the sailing is really enjoyable.

2400 hours: Ombai Strait is the stretch of water that separates Timor Island from a chain of islands to it’s north. We’re out in Ombai Strait proper and the wind dies right down dropping our speed to 1 knot or so. Turn the motor on and start motoring with only the mainsail up. Strong head current is holding us back but this is usual for this time of year according to the pilot book.

Fri 12/9/97

0530 hours: Still not enough wind to sail. Only made 7 miles in the last 5.5 hrs due to the strong head current and no wind combination. Positioned 49 miles NNE of Kupang. Sumlog shows 60 miles telling me that the head current has held us back by around 11 miles.

0600 hours: Daylight. Still motoring. Jib now up and making slightly better time. Heading directly for Alor Strait which separates Pantar Island and Alor Islands.

0900 hours: Motor off and put up the genoa. Speed still only 1.5 to 2 knots. Plenty of time to kill anyway as we don’t want to enter Alor Strait before daylight tomorrow. We want to be able to gawk at everything.

1315 hours: Speed has picked up slightly to between 3 and 3.5 knots. Seas are still calm. Lots of big ships passing by from time to time. Current crew situation is – Paul has a head cold, Barbara is seasick, Martin keeps farting and I’ve just had a sleep.

Have travelled 24 hours and positioned 71 miles NNE of Kupang. We’ve covered 75 miles actual distance over ground averaging a little over 3 knots with the sumlog reading 85 miles.

1600 hours: Have been sailing along at roughly 2.5 knots but the wind has died down again. Only getting 1 knot under sail so started motoring slowly, mainly for the refrigeration and to put some charge back into the batteries.

1950 hours: Waypoint off the entrance to Alor Strait is 18 miles off. Wind has picked up very slightly to about 5 kts.  Decide to heave-to. Backwind the staysail and lash the tiller over. Making about 1.5 kts leeway roughly 030 degrees which is only 10 degrees to the west of our intended waypoint. Boat steady and gently bobbing. Coast of Pantar Island is in sight at 14 miles. I don’t want to close the land at night so we’ll just be maintaining night watches throughout the night.

Sat 13/9/97

0215 hours: Coast of Pantar Island only 4 miles away. Start the  motor and head slowly to a new waypoint 10 miles further east for a safety margin. Need to kill some more time before entering the strait. Making about 2 to2.5 knots on ENE course towards Alor Island.

28 Alor Strait map

0500 hours: Sky lightening up promising the usual red sunrise. Turn towards our primary waypoint off Treweg Island lying in the middle of the entrance to Alor Strait. We will proceed past Pura Island then turn right into Kalabahi Sound, which leads to the township of Kalabahi.

27 sunrise 28 good morning martin
Above: Sunrise over Alor Island. Strong smoke haze caused by large fires elsewhere in Indonesia. Above: Good morning Martin! Treweg Island at left. Alor Island at right.

0630 hours: Reach primary waypoint and the sun is already biting. Country around here is very mountainous. Quite pretty.

0730 hours: Treweg Island abeam on our starboard (eastern) side. Heading northerly towards Point Tobileumong which marks the entrance to Kalabahi Sound. Distance to Kalabahi is 23 miles and getting 5 to 5.5 knots.

29 motoring 30 waypoint
Above: Alor Strait proper. Heading for the gap between Pura Island and Alor Islands. Above: Closing towards the end of Pura Island before turning right into Kalabahi Sound.

31 hillside vilageRight: A village perched up high on Pura Island. The dark area is a rather high sheer cliff. Some of the village houses off the photo to the left are actually right on the lip of the cliff.

1000 hours: Strong 3 knot current against us between Pura Island and Alor Island. Approaching lighthouse at Point Tobileumong which is 4 miles off. Making 2 knots headway.

32 outrigger1 33 outrigger2
Above: Point Tobileumong in the distance where we turn right into Kalabahi Sound. The canoe off our starboard bow seems unconcerned about us. Just steers his merry way right across our front and we’re lots bigger than him. Above: Typical dugout canoe with outriggers. The lateen sail design reflects the centuries old Arab influence in this part of the world.

1230 hours: Wind picked up an hour ago from astern which gave us 5 kts under sail using Number 1 jib. After turning into Kalabahi Sound the wind shifts and starts belting right down on the nose. Take the sails down and start motor-sailing with mainsail sheeted in.

34 pointing 35 fish trap
Above: Motoring into the wind. Martin pointing to something of interest onshore Above: Characteristic bamboo fish trap throughout this region of Indonesia. This is a small one but some are quite huge. Can be a navigation hazard as they are not usually lit at night.

1330 hours: Strong winds up to 40 knots against the tide making the seas quite choppy.  It’s a bumpy ride in this final and narrowest section of Kalabahi Sound. Engine revs pushed up to 1700 rpm but only giving 2 to 4 knots. Lowana IV is pitching heavily over successive waves slowing our headway and sending stinging spray over the bow.  No actual waves have come over as yet. Seas quite sharp and hitting us with a thump. Yuk!

36 passage 42 alor6
Above: Kalabahi Sound looking back towards Pura Island which can just be seen in the distance. Above: The main ferry terminal and Harbour Masters office at Kalabahi. Its actually closer than it appears here. The gap in the hills to the right is where the wind funnels into the bay before it belts up the strait. It’s good anchor holding ground but the anchor has to be well set with a good scope of chain.

1430 hours: Arrive Kalabahi and see another yacht already here with an American flag. It’s named Tally Ho.

Pull out the spare Eagle depth sounder and it works just fine this time. Able to locate a patch about 35 ft deep in which to anchor. Anchor digs in quite well when it’s finally dropped.

Whew!… what an effort to get up that last 10 miles!

1440 hours: Tally Ho calls on the radio and invites us over for a chat later when we get ourselves settled.

1530 hours: Martin and I go over to Tally Ho. Just the two of us as we think the Skipper might only want to tell us something about the local officialese situation. Always important news in Indonesia but it turns out to be a social invitation. Meet the skipper Bob and his crew Jack and Diane who had sailed Tally Ho from Queensland. Bob and Jack are both WW2 veterans. Hard to judge Diane’s age, maybe 40 or so. All looking pretty fit and agile, and very friendly.

37 alor1 38 alor2
Above: Looking to the left of our anchorage. Above: The buildings at the back are open covered areas and used as terminals and play areas by the local kids.
39 alor3 40 alor4
Above: Part of the foreshore which dries at low tide. The distances to the shore are actually closer than they seem here. There are a few small shops along the road. Above: Looking towards the main business area of the town. Some of the water buses in the foreground. The hotel Adi Dharma is at the right of photo amongst the trees. A mosque can be seen between the two front boats.

1630 hours: Take Diane ashore and return to our own boat. Several kids are arranged about Lowana IV in canoes and other small boats.  Shoo them away back to shore.

A local guide named Achmad comes out and sells us on a day tour tomorrow. Sounds interesting. He asks if we’d like our laundry washed promising to return it tomorrow.  Also tells us he can deliver diesel, oil and water to the boat on Monday. Seems like a handy and reliable enough bloke.

1730 hours: Having a welcome mandi (wash) at the local Hotel Adi Dharma and a change of clothes costs Rp1000. A mandi consists of standing beside a tub of cold water and ladling it over yourself.  There is no hot water or showers here.  The hotel is only about 200 metres or so away and right on the waterfront overlooking the various boats.

A meal at one of the restaurants costs Rp32500 for the four of us including three bottles of Bintang and coffee. My meal choice is Sate Kambing (goat sates), a soup and curry rice which only cost Rp6500 (maybe A$3.25).

45 waterbus1 48 ferry
Above: Lowana IV at anchor in the background. A typical water bus or transport vessel in the foreground. Perfectly still day at the moment but it can get windy, especially in the afternoons. Above: One of the island ferries you would catch from Kupang if coming here without your own boat. Kalabahi has some really good diving sites and they get tourists on diving charters come here. Lowana IV can just be seen in the distance.

2200 hours: Martin decides to stay ashore for the time being. I think he is looking for some arak being a distilled coconut milk sort of alcoholic drink. Probably so alcoholic as to be almost toxic I think yet he manages to get back later in the night.

Totally still night at odds with the strong wind conditions today. Watch the local fishermen towing in a huge bamboo fish trap structure. They’re using pressure lanterns for lighting and happily sing away as they bring it in and put it on the beach. Interesting that I am able to pick up two of the local TV stations whereas I was only able to clearly pick up one in Kupang.

Sun 14/9/97

43 dawn at Kalabahi 44 fisherman
Above: Dawn at Kalabahi anchorage. Shows the smoke from large fires blazing out of control elsewhere in Indonesia and PNG. Smoke like this even reached Darwin at one stage. Above: This young chap gets out here in his dugout canoe every morning trying to catch a feed. He usually stays for a couple of hours. Never actually saw him catch anything though. The water is quite clear and you can easily see the bottom.

0630 hours: Getting ready for today’s tour. Wave goodbye to Tally Ho as she starts making her way out of the anchorage to their next stop at Flores Islands. We go ashore to meet Achmad but he doesn’t show up for another hour. Seems he had to take his Dad to hospital.

Morning: Our first stop on a bemo bus organised by Achmad is the village of Ketjil on the northern entrance to Kalabahi Sound. Achmad explains some of the local customs and takes us to the house of the Mr Java the village headman.

49 Ketjil 1 50 Ketjil 2
Above: At Ketjil looking south down Alor Strait. Reportedly there is excellent swimming and diving. The usual dugout outrigger canoes on the foreshore. Above: Typical fishermen’s huts at Ketjil. Fishing nets hung out to dry.

We are shown a few of the regionally famous moko drums and listen to a long story about them. They are true antiques in the real sense of the word being hundreds, if not thousands of years old and believed to have originated in Vietnam. The locals buried them during WW2 when the Japanese came. Not all of them were found again but Mr Java says one or two are dug up from time to time. The highly prized bronze drums are an essential bride-price in a regional custom. Achmad shows much deference to the headman and I notice a folded piece of paper is  passed in a final handshake. No doubt payment for the visit.

51 collecting water 52 moko drums
Above: Villagers from miles around come to this well for fresh water, sometimes making the trip twice a day. Some villagers carry the water in the traditional manner using bamboo tubes. It’s apparently a bit of a social event. Note the white painted faces of the young females. This is their version of make-up. Above: Antique bronze Moku drums which tradition says originally came from Vietnam. These things are centuries if not thousands of years old.

On the way back Achmad stops and buys a live chicken. It sits and cackles quite happily in the front seat until we reach Achmad’s home where it makes the final journey to Happy Chicken-Land. The chicken will be prepared for our dinner later when we return from touring the countryside. We sit for a while and get served the usual kopi with multiple sugars and condensed milk for those that want it.

Takpala is a traditional village further along the north coast of Alor.  Villagers trot out their cloth weavings, baskets, bows, arrows, spears and other handcrafts for us.

53 Takpala 1 54 Takpala2
Above: The entrance to the village of Takpala on the NW coast of Alor Island. It’s fairly high up the side of a mountain. You can make out the coast to the left of photo. Fresh water has to be manually carried up from below. Above: A raised area is used for ceremonies and other communal meetings.
55 Takpala3 57 Takpala4
Above: Local church behind the communal area with decorative thatching. Other thatched huts are used as storehouses.  This region of Indonesia is predominately Christian. Above: Handicrafts laid out for sale.

Their houses, or perhaps huts would be a better term, tend to be square, three-tier structures.  The men use the bottom tier and women and children the middle tier. The top tier is for storage.

62  traditional house2 62 traditional house 3
Above: One of the smaller huts under construction showing the three-tiered system. Above: A completed house/hut for a smaller family.

58 Takpala chatRight: Inside one of the huts. Note the stone fireplace.  Achmad in the purple shirt and white cap does all the translating while the village lady hawks, spits and sniffles.

Cooking of meals is done in the middle tier using a stone based hearth. They’d have to be really careful about fire in here. The smoke from the fires keeps the bugs out of the corn and whatever else is kept up in the top level. The food they live on is usually a mixture of corn and beans. Not much variety.  We’re given a taste of the meal but it’s a bit bland to my liking.

62a tree climberAfter leaving Takpala we travel along a really rough track. At one point a local tribesman climbs a coconut tree and throws down a green coconut. He knocks off the top and offers it to us to drink the milk. It’s delicious. A bunch of kids appear out of nowhere all intent on hitching a ride.  There must be 8 or 9 of them in the little bus with us.

We finally arrive at a small creek in which boiling water steams out of the ground under pressure. Achmad puts some eggs and bananas in the water to boil them. He mentions there are several of these volcanic holes in the area so we take a short walk along the creek bed.  At some places steaming water is spurting out of the ground accompanied by various noises and a nasty sulphuric smell.

60 volcanic hole 1 59 volcanic hole2
Above: Our guide Achmad at one of the volcanic holes in a creek bed. Above: Small geysers of scalding water coming out of the ground.

Late Afternoon: Return to Achmad’s home for a really superb meal – chicken of course. For the final leg of the tour he takes us up the mountain behind Kalabahi to a lookout over the harbour. Beautiful view showing the narrow Alor Strait along which the wind can really blow hard.

61 traditional house1Right: A different traditional house design.

There aren’t many people around when we arrive at another village. Apparently these villagers also have to trek about 5 km twice a day down the mountain to fetch water. I guess they don’t bath much up here. Return to Achmad’s, collect our laundry and return to the harbour.

Evening: Paul and Barbara stay ashore overnight in one of the other four hotels in Kalabahi.

Martin later goes ashore for dinner while I check the charts, watch TV, read a book and go to bed early Am pretty tired after our long day-tour. It’s been an interesting day but a lot of travel in the back of a bemo over rough roads. Still it’s worthwhile to do these things I think, even if just to get off the boat and recharge yourself for the next leg of your trip which may or may not be a hard one.

Mon 15/9/97

Morning: Meet up with Paul and Barbara. They tell me the hotel where they stayed last night is right alongside the mosque. They’d been treated to the full benefit of an amplified call to prayers at the crack of dawn which could probably have been heard right across to the other side of Alor.

Dip the water tank and find we’ve used 145 litres over the last 14 days. Also dip the fuel tanks. Used 60 litres of diesel from Kupang to Kalabahi being a distance of 150 miles. Pretty heavy but probably explained by having to bash against strong winds and current near Pura Island and inside Kalabahi Sound.

47 martin rowing Right:  Martin returning to Lowana IV. Prefer not to use the outboard motor due to numerous coral bombies.

Achmad comes down to the pier with a bemo and collects our empty fuel and water jerry containers. He comes back an hour later with the first lot but has to make another trip. In the meantime I get busy changing the engine oil and fuel filters with assistance by Martin.  Following the strong advice of other cruising sailors the diesel fuel is strained through pantyhose into the fuel tank.

It’s a blessing that Achmad has turned up to help this morning. On checking the motor I find oil in the bilges. Obviously a a leak somewhere.  It looks like it might be coming from the join between the motor and gearbox but the motor seems to be running perfectly anyway. Even so I’m using more oil than expected and I’ll have to get Achmad to go shopping with me for more oil.  We’ll also need a new grease gun and I don’t have enough oil filters either.

The following should give an idea of what it’s costing. Fuel cost is Rp450 per litre and water Rp420 for 25 litre.

180 litres diesel fuel and 145 litres water Rp100,000 (A$50.00) 3 x oil filters Rp38,000 (A$17.00) grease gun Rp37,500 (A$19.00) 6 x 5 litres diesel oil Rp63,500 (A$32.00) Achmad’s services Rp40,000 (A$20.00) Bemo hire (3 hrs) Rp35,000 (A$18.00) Food (at market) Rp15,000 (A$7.50)

Without the services of Achmad I doubt everything would have gone anywhere near as smoothly as it did.  It’s all over by midday including the running around from shop to shop looking for the oil filters, grease gun and suitable diesel engine oil.

Eventually we’re fully stocked up and ready for sea once again. All the refilled water jerries are marked for later purifying then stowed away and lashed down.

Lunchtime: Paul and Barbara head ashore to buy some ikat weaving, Martin also wants to change some money and I want to make a telephone call home to give an update on our movements to Delma. We only plan to be only a short while.

1330 hours: Totally unsuccessful in getting through on the phone. Unable to contact Darwin by HF radio either. Wind is gusting up to 40 kts or maybe more in the harbour. This anchorage is proving to be a good holding ground as we haven’t moved an inch with these strong winds funnelling down from the mountains. Decide to hang off our departure for a while for it to die down. Tide is on the way out having just changed an hour or so ago but we can’t wait too long though.

1600 hours: Wind still gusting 30 kts or more. Too late to clear the straits and islands before dark. Consult with crew and we decide to leave early tomorrow morning before the winds get up.

1700 hours: Dinghy down and we all go ashore for dinner. Take a last walk around.

2000 hours: Tour guide named Joseph from the Hotel Adi Dharma tells me international access by phone is only available during certain hours from Kalabahi. And the access dial number is 001 – not 0011 as advised by the local Telcom office. Bugger!

In any case I try dialling again using 001-61 (#61 being the Australian code) and get straight through. Unfortunately I only get our answering machine but leave a message with our proposed itinerary on it for Delma. Hopefully it records okay as it sometimes plays up. The call costs Rp18500 but at least I’m a little relieved at being able to get through and leave a message.  We’re going to some out of the way places now which will mostly just be villages without power or outside contact e.g. phones.

2100 hours: We meet up with a couple from Holland who have come to Alor for some scuba diving. Apparently this is supposed to be amongst the best areas in the world for it and there is an Australian agent working out of Kalabahi. The water is certainly clear enough.  You can even see small tropical fish swimming around Lowana IV. We talk about Holland which attracts Paul’s interest as a first generation Aussie with Dutch parents, and all his relatives in Holland.

2200 hours: Return to boat and have a cup of tea then go to bed ready for a big day tomorrow.

Alor to Wetar

Tues 16/9/97

0545 hours: Early start. Dinghy up, secure the gear and winch the anchor up. On our way by 0630 hours.

63 Map to Wetar0830 hours: Have done 8 miles on the log but 10 miles over ground per GPS so a little bit of tidal assistance. Lots of smoke haze still. Turning the corner northerly into Pantar Strait. Big freighter is coming in from the south but he won’t be bothering us. Ferries run back and forth in the strait packed with people like sardines. Pura Island to port side heading for Reta Island northwards.

0930 hours: Wind picking up already. Put the 1st reef into mainsail and put up the staysail.

1000 hours: Wind blowing hard. Put a 2nd reef into mainsail. Also put a reef into the staysail. That’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it.

1100 hours: Tacking now. Hard to make headway. Have travelled 15 miles over the ground but not yet at first waypoint which is still 5 miles away to the north and clear of the islands. Taking some spray over the bow. Ternate Island off the port beam. It’s known locally as ‘Crocodile’ island due to its shape when viewed from a distance.

1400 hours: Only made 3 miles northerly over the last 3 hours. Have completed 3 tacks trying to get out into the open sea. Strong winds estimated 30 knots with higher gusts on the nose. The big bow on Lowana IV giving lots of windage and simply won’t point up into the wind. Obviously a problem we’ll have to live with since we have tried several different sail rigs. Winds seem to be getting stronger at times and we’ve even tried the storm jib but no good. In fact if we put up any kind of headsail we get pushed off course to leeward. Unable to clear Ternate Island at this time. Best available courses are about 350 deg (NNW) True to 120 deg True (SE) giving a sail angle of 130 deg and even then only barely making headway.

1500 hours: Give up using any jibs but have made almost 3 miles in the last hour heading in a NNE direction with the mainsail sheeted in hard. Clearing the NW corner of Alor Island and finally getting away from Ternate Island which by now has a more uncomplimentary name given by the crew. Wind appears to be moderating and backing around easterly, allowing us to follow it around a little bit. Waves still pretty lumpy but no dramas, just a bit uncomfortable. Getting mostly spray over the bow with just one or two waves actually just dipping over the bowsprit. Reasonably dry boat in the conditions. Making steady progress 2.5 knots to the NE.

1700 hours: Gained 6 miles in 2 hours to the ENE. Steady progress. Getting back to our rhumb line towards Wetar Island our next stop. Seas mostly long low swells with the occasional big wave. Wind is 15 to 20 knots on the nose.

2300 hours: Situated 9 miles north of Point Babi light on the eastern end of Alor Island. Slow progress.

Weds 17/9/97

0030 hours: Seas very rough. Getting hit by strong wind gusts which started when we came out of the lee of Alor Island. Have tried every sail combination possible to make ground but windage on bow just too high to maintain a reasonable course towards Wetar Island. We’re just being blown sideways through the water. I am going to have to put more ballast into this boat and maybe deepen the keel after I get back.

In the meantime our only tactic is to reef the main, sheet it in and motor into the seas. Maybe we can get enough of a wind angle to keep the boat as steady in the conditions as possible. If the wind will only drop slightly it may be enough to put up the staysail and gain maybe half a knot.

0300 hours: Making barely 1 knot and positioned several miles to the north of our course. Lots of heavy shipping which tend to come too close to us for our liking. Beginning to wonder if our radar reflector is working properly or not.

0630 hours: Distance travelled last 24 hours was 65 miles. Still have 45 miles to go. Witnessed a full eclipse of the moon last night. Maybe it had something to do with the high winds? Can still see the coast of Alor to the SW.

0830 hours: Only 10.5 miles since 0300 hours. Average 2 knots or just under. Still 39 miles to go. Seas seem slightly calmer and we may be picking up speed. Getting back fairly well on course being just 5 miles north of our rhumb line. Currently steering parallel to our rhumb line as close to the wind as possible. Mainsail has 2 reefs and sheeted in hard. No jib. There is enough windage on the bow to balance the boat so no weather helm to speak of. Tried putting on the storm jib up again last night but it just pushed us off course to leeward about 20 deg, and we didn’t pick up any noticeable speed either.

1100 hours: Wetar Island is 31 miles off. Made 5.5 miles in the last 1.5 hours. Have picked up speed averaging 3.6 knots or thereabouts and holding a good course as we come further into the lee of Wetar Island. Take out 2nd reef leaving the 1st reef in the mainsail. Still no weather helm. Seas still lumpy but not so bad. Autopilot handling it perfectly. What a human energy saver those things are! Barbara is asleep. She’s been seasick nearly the whole way and has lost a lot of fluids but doesn’t complain.

1130 hours: Wind coming around. Small jib up and finally under full sail.

1400 hours: Wind dies down allowing a change to the genoa. Tried to catch the breeze but it only lasts 15 mins. Not enough wind to get more than 1 to 1.5 knots. Motoring again with 20 miles to go. Seas still a little choppy, clear skies, hot day. Now in the lee of Liran Island on the SW side of Wetar Island. Travelling ESE.

1430 hours: Wind back to NE. Genoa put back up. Under full sail again and getting up to 6 knots. Seas slight. We can hardly believe it after what we have been through. Need some sleep but can’t bring myself to go below. It’s just too good.

1600 hours: Still sailing averaging 5 knots. Wetar Island in sight but not clearly due to haze. The sailing is really nice.

1800 hours: Almost dark and within 6 miles of our intended anchorage. Decide to heave-to and wait for the full moon to come up above the haze. Have some noodles to eat and a hot drink before going in.

1830 hours: Very carefully approach our waypoint at Labuan Air Panas – Hot Water Bay. As the name implies there are hot springs here. Can’t see land.

2130 hours: Inside the bay but hard to judge distances. Can’t get a reading on the depth sounder until close in then it suddenly shows 197 feet. Have to get Paul to watch the transducer suction cup as it keeps coming away from the hull.

Attempt to anchor in 35 ft of crystal clear water. We can even see the bottom by halogen torchlight. It proves to be too rocky to set the anchor and the boat drags towards the shore. Martin somehow sustains some fairly decent long scratches along his forearm from the anchor chain. I assume he was trying to hold the chain when the anchor grabbed on a rock at some stage and then let go. The sea bottom is very steep-to and by the time the anchor actually caught something, the rocks onshore are pretty damn close so I decide to get out of there.

A villager comes paddling about while we’re looking around for somewhere else to anchor. He indicates a place about 100 metres away. After checking it out it proves to be a suitable spot and get ourselves anchored successfully.

2200 hours: Two locals came out in a tiga rowa – dugout canoe with 2 outriggers. Give them a New Idea magazine and a couple of smokes. Eventually show them politely but firmly off the boat so we can get some sleep. Martin carefully cleans and dresses his forearm. He’d once experienced a poisoned leg from getting scratches on a boat.

Thurs 18/9/97

Ashore at Wetar Island

Wetar Island is one of the “Forgotten Islands”, an archipelago of undeveloped and remote islands running from Timor to West Papua. It’s about 120km by 30km wide, mountainous and a very small population of people. It’s also recorded as one of the world’s hot-spots for cerebral malaria. The bay we are anchored in gets its name from a thermal hot springs nearby to the beach.

67 lowanaRight: Lowana IV at anchor in Labuan Air Panas, Wetar Island.

AM: Fuel tank reading 235 litres. Used 50 litres for the 110 mile trip which quite surprises me. I had thought it would have been much more. Engine had been run for 32.5 hours. Fuel consumption 1.53 litres/hour. Not bad considering we’d been punching hard to windward most of the way. Had been keeping the revs below 1500 rpm though. Distance over ground 112 miles plus some miles tacking out of Pantar Strait. Sumlog shows 110.3 miles and chart distance 105 miles. Average fuel consumption over ground 3.5 miles/litre.

Late AM: Relaxing morning on board. Everyone still tired from trip over. Scenery is breathtaking. Photos don’t do it justice. Typical idyllic tropical island scene straight out of a magazine. Can see the sea bottom in 20 feet or more of water. Watch some locals working the rocks on shore.

One visitor comes out in a canoe looking for medicines, smokes and dry-cell batteries. Communication has to be by sign and body language since he doesn’t seem to speak the national Bahasa Indonesian. Pretty remote place this.

65 canoeLeft: A visitor in a dugout canoe. This poor fellow has a large, angry-red, apple-sized lump at the base of his neck.

1330 hours: Get through to Delma at the Hospital in Darwin on HF radio Radphone facility using the 8 Mhz frequency. Communications are scratchy but workable. Give her a rough itinerary. Telstra only charges me for 2 minutes due to the scratchiness of the signal. Good to be able to have made contact from the boat !

Afternoon: All except Barbara want to go ashore since she’s still feeling a little weak getting over her seasickness. Explore the camp of the locals here. It’s not a village, just a collection of huts. Looking around there appears to be four families. Some attempt has been made after the last wet to plough a field but it’s still unfinished. Two Timor ponies are being led along the beach. They are used for heavier work and transporting gear around. Give some more New Idea and Woman’s Weekly magazines out to some of the people.

68 timor ponyRight: Timor ponies are used for heavy work. There’s no machinery.

The village itself is about 7 km further inland apparently. We won’t be going there. I suspect the people living here near the beach are sort of like pioneers. Two small trader boats pulled in earlier and loaded some stuff up. No idea what it was, but at least they seem to be able to get outside services via these boats. Look to be extremely poor though. Subsistence living only.

A young lad takes us to where the hot springs are. Don’t get to the head of it but the water is about as hot as a very hot bath. It’s anywhere between 1 and 3 metres across and knee deep in places. Coming back tomorrow for a longer stay

63a hot springs 69 hot feet
Above: A lush tropical valley between the mountains marks where the hot springs are. Above: Checking out the hot springs with Martin.

Evening: Paul catches a nice mackerel while casting from the boat. We have fish and chips for tea and it’s delicious. Later on some strong offshore winds get the boat rocking and skittering around a bit, but the anchor holds really well in the sand bottom.

Worried about Barbara. Still complaining of being sick. Have run out of travel/motion sickness tablets. She sleeps up on deck overnight in the fresh air.

Fri 19/9/97

AM: Barbara feeling lots better. She goes off with Paul to do some fishing in the dinghy and they catch a stripey and mangrove jack.

Martin and I top up the fuel and water tanks and complete other routine maintenance tasks. Tweak up the stuffing box a bit as it started leaking for the first time during this last leg. Redistribute the weight around the boat to get her trimmed level. This makes more room available in the V Berth up forward so some of the water jerries lashed up on the deck are brought down and stowed under the beds. This helps to get more weight down low to reduce rolling in the bigger seas. Check water. Have used 40 litres Alor to Wetar.

66 wreckLeft: Washing day at the “Bay of Hot Water”.

Afternoon: Paul and Barbara do some washing ashore at the hot springs and dry them on a line strung from shore out to a wreck off the beach. They talk to the locals and bring some handicrafts back, baskets mostly. Strangely enough the locals aren’t all that interested in bargaining. We learn these people are really quite well self-sufficient when you look around. Plenty of mango and banana trees too. They say that tourists come from Bali now and again for the hot springs and the locals earn some money from them. The wreck off the beach is a holed prahau. It looks like it had hit the rocks on the southern side then run up onto the beach. The locals say they’ve only been here a year so it’s possible this happened when they first come here. Apparently the prahau belongs to some people in Dili who are expected back in 3 weeks to refloat it.

64 wrecked prauhauRight: The wreck of the prahau at left sits high out of the water at low tide but submerged at high tide. Visiting coastal boat at right.

It must be miserable here in the Wet Season. Lots of swampy areas about. No wonder its officially reported as an unhealthy place to live. Wetar Island is well known as a place for cerebral malaria for which there isn’t any cure. We’re taking every precaution and don’t stay ashore after dark.

Martin and I re-attach the radar reflector which came loose after a shackle pin worked it’s way out. We listen to music, read books and just laze around enjoying the tranquillity of the it all.

Late Afternoon: Visit the hot springs for a bath which was hard to drag ourselves away from. Watch the sun going down from the beach. Don’t see or hear a single mossie so assume the worst of it must be during the wet season.

PM: Have dinner, then a kind of sing-a-long wishing I had brought the guitar after all and get to bed by 2100 hours.

Wetar to Romang

Sat 20/9/97

70 map wetar to romang

0400 hours: Arise, get a cup of tea, prepare the boat for sea.

0430 hours: Anchor up and mobile again. Quickly reach 4 knots while clearing Hot Water Bay. Bright moon. Still water. Navigation quite easy on a straight run out through the middle of the bay.

71 motor sailingRight: Early morning and the wind not up yet. Heading northerly towards the NW coast of Wetar bound for Romang to the east.

0730 hours: Abeam of Reong Island off the starboard bow heading northerly around the NW coast of Wetar. Averaging 4.5 knots and hitting up to 6 knots at times.

0830 hours: Turn NW corner of Wetar. On course for our 2nd waypoint off the NE corner of Wetar. Beautiful day making 4 to 5 knots. Very pleasing start and making good time.

72 under sailLeft: Under sail and getting up to 6 kts. Note the flag which shows a good breeze, but it gets pretty hard going not long after this.

1030 hours: Have been getting 6 knots following the coast in a SE direction. Wind has picked up to 20 knots and more with gusts. Take the jib down and change course to ENE towards our next waypoint. Lumpy seas and wind right on the nose once again pulling our speed down to between 3 and 4 knots.

Marine Note: Note: Reong Island off the NW coast of Wetar is incorrectly marked on the chart approximately half a nautical mile to the west.

1330 hours: Seas building. Am following the coast of Wetar in an ESE direction averaging 3.1 knots for the last 3 hours. Starting to get squeezed between the NE winds and the coast. Having to put in northerly tacks.

1850 hours: Autopilot packed it in during the afternoon. Everyone is required to take a turn on the tiller. Very hard going. Seas are rough. Made only 10 miles NNE over the last 5 hours working as close to the wind as we can get. Tacking SE again.

2000 hours: Wind has changed to SE. Our course is still roughly east but slow progress.

2300 hours: Making reasonable progress in the conditions but seas up to 2 metres or more and getting rougher.

Sun 21/9/97

0400 hours: Seas bloody rough. Starting to feel the effect of stronger SE trade winds coming around the eastern end of Wetar. Taking solid spray into the cockpit which is unusual for Lowana IV. Clawing our way forward between 1 and 2 knots. Very uncomfortable on board. Strong winds are howling through the rigging.

0430 hours: Abeam the NE point of Wetar about 8 miles away. Was hoping to be close to Romang by this time but it’s still 50 miles away. Might as well be the moon at this stage. Clear skies. Seas horrible. The pilot book wasn’t kidding when it said this area had heavy seas in bad weather. I would hate to see what they call bad weather here.

1000 hours: Still heading towards the NE. Course made good has been 62 degrees true to Romang. Need to get around more to the SE but haven’t been able to do it because of the direction of the heavy seas and wind. Both the sea and the wind appears to be  moderating a bit now though, possibly due to the influence of Romang 35 miles away.

1200 hours: Seas have definitely moderated a little. Still plenty of white caps around but at least it’s fairly comfortable on the boat now relative to what we’ve had. Made 3.5 knots last 2 hours. Have been able to swing around a little and the course made good has been 95 degrees true taking us closer to Romang. Sky very overcast and wondering if we aren’t going to get a storm on top of everything. Set the barometer to watch the pressure. Hopefully it will drop a bit to give us a wind shift to the north.  That would blow us to Romang but maybe it’s wishful thinking.

1500 hours: Tracking southerly for the last hour. Average 2.5 knots and making 203 degrees true. Our sailing angle is roughly 065 degrees E to 203 degrees S. Quite a range in the big winds. Hope there will be a weather break. Barometer has dropped from 1007 to 1004. Normal fluctuation for the time of day. Taking staysail down and taking as direct a course to Romang as possible.

1545 hours: Slow down so as to run the fridge and top-up the engine oil.  Haven’t been running the compressor for the fridge because it takes up power from the motor.

2000 hours: Still 20 miles to go. Heading directly to our waypoint under motor with the mainsail sheeted in.

2400 hours: Seas getting a bit easier. Slow down so as not to reach the waypoint before dawn.

Mon 22/9/97

0430 hours: Current has picked us up and pushing us along. Only 5 miles from the coast so heave-to to grab a little rest. Making leeway to the north about 1 knot.

0530 hours: First light. Winds have picked up and the seas rising already. Heading directly to Romang again. Can see the outline of Angsa Bay which is our intended anchorage in the distance.

73 Angssa Bay aheadRight: The coast of Romang Island. Angsa Bay in the distance seen through the rigging. At the head of the bay is Solath village. About 300 villagers live here with a small Naval Marine detachment. An extremely pretty place with friendly people.

0730 hours: Enter Angsa Bay with Solath village at its head. Coral reefs everywhere. Paul climbs up the mast to the crosstrees to get a better view and direct progress. Spare sounder working well with the transducer over the side and secured to a board lashed to the rails. The reefs are very steep coming almost straight up within one or two boat lengths. However we’re able to get a reading down to 300 feet which should give enough warning provided our speed is kept slow.

Taking our time to look around and take soundings. One reef comes up suddenly to just 11 feet even as we do a tight turn around. A villager comes out in a dugout and he’s calling and waving urgently to us. He then directs us to a spot in 65 feet of water in which to anchor. The spot has a good clear swinging circle. The villager paddles alongside as we prepare to anchor and introduces himself as David.  His English is quite reasonable and he tells us this is where all visiting boats anchor.

Make up an anchor of 150 feet of silver rope rode, 90 feet of 8mm chain and a 35lb plough anchor. Anchor up successfully. This anchor combination proves to be more than sufficient to hold us in place against the wind ‘bullets’ which blast down at times from the mountains.

This last leg would have to have been as hard, if not the hardest sailing leg I’ve ever done. Took 52 hours to do 105 miles in big seas. Pretty much hard to windward the whole way. At times boring and mostly frustrating and uncomfortable.

Solath Village

0830 hours: David climbs aboard and proves to be a wealth of information. He offers to do our laundry and arrange for the purchase of some diesel. Tells us about an Australian gold mining prospect in the hills being run by Ashmore Mining. It is beautiful here. Mountains, palm trees, some sandy beaches and reefs. Lots of turtles and lobster apparently. Idyllic South Pacific Island except that we’re in the Banda Sea. Give David some magazines for his wife plus some Aussie coins for the school children.

Morning: David stays on board for a while talking with us. He can get his point across quite easily in English, and his comprehension is extremely good. Later on David takes Paul in his dugout to look for lobster but returns later sans lobster. From David we learn the locals have been poisoning the water for fish and as a result the reefs are in a sorry state. However there are some pockets of re-growth.

Afternoon: Try to get some sleep. Paul visits the village for the rest of the day. Martin checks out the beaches for a likely spot for us to camp ashore tonight. On return tells us the tide covers the whole of the beaches and there are no flat enough spots available for camping. Too bad!

The dinghy goes adrift from the boat. Have to don lifejacket, flippers, goggles and a teaspoon of salt to guard against cramp to swim after it across the shallow reef. Manage to catch it eventually and with the help of a local in a sampan who arrives on the scene, am able to climb up into the dinghy. Pause for a while to get my breath then take the dinghy back to the Lowana IV.

Paul turns up with a crowd of people in a huge dugout, all wanting to come aboard. Martin and Barbara fob them off by telling them the Captain is asleep – which is what I was trying to do. I am feeling a little off by this time not having had much sleep since midnight.

74 village gate Left: The main entrance to the village of Solath. There is a small park just to the left of the gates complete with flowers, shrubs and shaded seating areas.

1830 hours: Martin and I go ashore to meet up with Paul.  David and his wife Rachel are also there and take us to their home.The place is really clean and it looks like new curtains have been put up. Tremendously friendly hosts. They seem relatively well to do. David says he is a farmer and Rachel is a guru – school teacher.

We have a dinner of smoked fish, mashed kasava which is a sort of taro or yam, salad of tomato, chilli and mint. The chilli is hot enough to literally burn my mouth. The crew get liberally doused with sopi being an alcoholic concoction from coconut juice. In return we give a A$10 note to David and a A$5 note to Rachel for their foreign money collections, some Doxycyclin malaria tablets, a pad of paper, pencils and biros.

75 village church. 76 david's garden
Above: The local church for the Christian villagers complete with bell. Not all Indonesians are Muslims. Above: Part of David’s vegetable garden. Look at the steep, rocky ground he’s growing it on! Water has to be hand carried up the hill for the plants.

David assures us we will be able to get all the diesel fuel we need … no problem. For David everything is simply no problem, a problem or trouble. Eventually leave our hosts for a very careful paddle over the reef back to Lowana IV which we achieve without incident.

Tues 23/9/97

0800 hours: Barbara feeling very sick. Has a temperature and tummy problems. Finds it hard to keep her medicine down being diarrhoea tablets and fluid replacement drink. She starts to feel better later on.

Check the auto pilot but find the fault is inside the black control box and therefore unfixable. At least by me anyway so it’s going to be full time tiller work from here on.

Today is the day we originally planned to turn southerly towards home. Ideally what we need is a good weather window for a quick run straight to Darwin, but we need at least one more rest day before going on. Especially with Barbara being sick.

1000 hours: Dip the fuel tank to read 210 litres. Sumlog reading 119.6 miles. Engine has been run on last leg for 54 hours from Wetar to Romang. Have used 65 litres for 120 miles averaging 1.8 miles per litre. This is the heaviest fuel consumption yet but not surprising. Change fuel filters.

Marine Note:  Coordinates at 7 degrees 30.40’E and 127 degrees 23.59’S. Anchor on the SE side of the bay. Do NOT go on the western side as there are dangerous rocks. Depth to anchor is around 65 feet. Reef is exposed at low tide and rises sharply. Daytime entrance only.

1100 hours: Take Barbara ashore as she’s still feeling uncomfortable on board. Go to David’s place to see about getting the diesel fuel. He goes off to talk to someone.

On David’s return he offers Barbara a bed for the night. He argues that maybe if she spends a night ashore off the boat she might get better. Barbara is fetched from under a tree where she’s sitting in the park near the village gates. Rachel puts her to bed where she stays for the rest of the day and night.

Afternoon: Go with David down to the beach where he meets up with a man standing next to a large plastic drum of diesel fuel.   David syphons out 100 litres of diesel into our 5 jerry cans. This cost us R700 per litre – roughly $0.35c. Normal cost in Indonesia is roughly R450 per litre but we want the fuel, and its still below the duty free price in Darwin. David gets several gobfuls of diesel during the syphoning but doesn’t seem to mind, and refuses to allow me to do it.

Load the dinghy up with fuel and we all head back to David’s to check on Barbara. She’s resting okay now. One of David’s friends named Roy comes back with me to the dinghy only to find it gone. AWOL again. We grab a dugout, rescue it then ferry the fuel out to Lowana IV.

After the fuel containers are lashed down onboard Roy is given a couple of beers, magazines and soft drinks, and stays quite a while for a chat. It’s good that Martin can speak the lingo. Turns out Roy is a Marine in the navy and although we don’t know his rank he is definitely the authority here. We get an invitation to inspect the Naval Station but time prevents us from doing so.

Back on shore we fetch David and his family Rachel, Jane and Ralph out to the boat.  At first we find David to be a little miffed that we’d spent so much time with Roy. Out on the boat we serve beer, tea, lollies, soft drinks and milo. A cassette tape plays in the background which 4 year old Ralph especially enjoys. He’s also a bit sick too poor little bugger but has good spirit. Give David some more Doxycyclin for malaria which he seems to want very badly. Try to explain it is only a preventative medicine and not a cure but I don’t think he wants to listen. “Malaria is big problem” he says, and you can only agree.

80 David and familyRight: David and Rachel with their children Jane at right, and Ralph with the blue shirt. David can make himself understood quite well in English although Rachel doesn’t speak it. She is always smiling, prepares excellent meals and does everything she can to make us welcome. A large prahau SV Andrew anchored closer inshore in the background. Solath village is directly behind it.

As we sit entertaining a large prahau appears at the harbour entrance sporting a big spinnaker out front. Nice looking boat about 65 feet or so. It proceeds into the bay and we watch it for a while. David thinks his mechanic friend might be on board and he hopes he will fix the village generator which is broken and stripped down.

The prahau anchors right on the edge of the reef about 100 metres from us but closer inshore. They use three admiralty anchors with no chain right on top of the reef which holds it fast. David says it It has 10 crew and carries timber which it collects from various places like Solath. He cautions us to lock up before leaving the boat.

 81 palm frond sailingLeft: A villager lad sailing a canoe using a palm frond for a sail. Actually making way quite well too.

Evening: David again invites us back to his place for dinner. Don’t particularly want to, seeing that all of us have been a bit soft in the belly region today, but accept because we don’t want to offend. Paul gathers a load of food items and medicines to take ashore plus bits and pieces for Barbara. She and Paul will be spending the night at David’s.

82 sv andrewRight: The prahau Andrew right beside the reef and our boat Lowana IV centre right. The lighter areas on the water are reefs which expose at low water.

Beautiful meal of Nasi Ayam – friend chicken, salad and smoked fish. David’s quite gregarious by now as he’s been entertaining another friend ashore this morning, plus the several Melbourne Bitters in our company aboard Lowana IV, not to mention the ubiquitous sopi. He tells us the mechanic friend of his was not aboard the prahau. Apparently he’d gotten off at the previous island.

Check Barbara’s temperature a couple of times. It’s steady at 37.2 degrees celsius both times. Still has an upset tummy. David and Roy start talking about malaria which gives us a little cause for concern so we watch her temperature fairly closely.

Late Evening: Martin and I negotiate the reef in the dark at half tide once again with no worries.

Weds 24/9/97

AM: Check the charts. Darwin is 355 miles from here heading around East Timor. This would put us head-on into the SE trades and its strong winds once more. The alternative is to go east to Babar Island as planned but that adds another 75 miles overall to the trip home. Now that we have all our fuel, water and food well stocked, the only reason to go to Babar Island is for seasick pills, which might not be available anyway.

Finally decide on a direct run home. We should get a reasonable reach for about 50 miles at the start if the present easterly winds hold in. And we have sleeping pills for Barbara which can be used as a last resort if she gets really sick.

Lunchtime: Martin and I take off to one of the headlands for a look around. We get back to the boat in time to listen to the 1215 hrs weather broadcast from Darwin on HF radio. SE to NE winds at 10 to 15 knots in the lower Timor Sea. Sounds like we have our weather window. Winds have moderated here as well and we aren’t getting as many ‘bullets’ off the mountains.

Afternoon: Some of the crew from the prahau come over in a dugout for a visit. Captain’s name is Yusef and the prahau’s name is Andrew. He tells us it’s 119 tons and he navigates only by compass and the stars plus local knowledge. He does not use charts and has no idea of distances except in terms of how long it takes e.g. Ambon to here is 3 days and 3 nights. That’s about 500km roughly. I give him a photocopy of an Eastern Indonesian chart complete with our ships stamp on it. He seems to really appreciate it and he and his crew spend some time poring over and discussing it.

After Yusef and his crew leave us, Martin and I head off to shore. Our run of luck finally runs out and I manage to bump into a coral bombie putting a small hole in the bottom of the dinghy. Meet up with Barbara and Paul on the beach. Barbara feeling much better and when told of our weather window agrees to the direct run home idea.

Go up to the Navy hut up on the hill to pay our respects. Magnificent view. Take a photo with Lowana IV in the harbour. Have a chat with Roy who shows me his radio gear. Turns out he is a Sergeant as I suspected he was and aged in his mid thirties. He also acts as local police such that it is.

83 above angssa bayLeft: The village of Solath on Romang Island, roughly 100 nautical miles north of the eastern end of Timor Island. The reefs in the bay can easily be seen. The cleared area is for parades, sports and ceremonies.

Get some fibreglass repair materials from Lowana IV. Back on the beach we seal a fibreglass patch with resin onto the dinghy under the curious gazes of some of the locals.  Much serious shaking of heads and expressions of tsk tsk and other solemn teeth sucking. They’ve probably never seen fibreglass let alone fibreglass repairs.

84 dinghy repairRight: The dinghy hauled up onto the beach for repairs after holing it on the reef. The local men taking an intense interest in the use of fibreglass resin and matting.

Eventually make our goodbyes to David and Rachel. Lots of people on the beach waving us goodbye. Mainly kids though as we dinghy back to Lowana IV.

PM: Decide not to eat two lobster caught for us 2 days ago. They smell all right but decide to be on the safe side. Don’t want any more stomach problems at this stage especially at sea. Have dinner and go to bed.

Thurs 25/9/97

0500 hours: Everyone up and about and preparing for sea.

0530 hours (0700 hours Darwin time): Lift the anchor and mobile again. Lots of  Salamat Jalans –  have a safe journey, called from the prahau Andrew as they wave goodbye to us. It’s unreal how friendly these people are. Everyone on board seems to be in high spirits. There is a certain amount of jollity aboard.

84a map romang to darwin

0600 hours: Coming out of Angsa Harbour and heading anti-clockwise towards the western side of Romang Island.

85 headland 86 sunrise
Above:  Leaving Angsa Bay. Just turned left heading towards the western coast of Romang. The distinctive headland on the right marks the eastern entrance of Angsa Bay.
Above: Turning the NW corner of Romang. The sun coming up over the western coast. A big beautiful orange sun and sky greets the day.

0900 hours: Heading southerly along the west coast. Nyata Island is abeam on the starboard side. Watch a huge pod of dolphins rounding up and feeding on schools of fish. The dolphins are particularly active with lots of spectacular leaps clear out of the water and splashing.

87 watching dolphinsRight: Paul and Barbara enjoying the spectacle of scores of dolphins feeding and playing near the boat.

Making 3.3 knots against the current. There is a tidal set of just over a knot. Mainsail is up. Not much wind but what’s there is on the nose again. Made just over 8 miles so far. Running motor at 1400 rpm.

1200 hours: Off SW corner of Romang coming out of the lee of the island. Seas slight. Wind 10 to 15 knots coming from … guess where! Lovely day though with just enough wind to steady the boat but not to sail with at any sort of speed against the current. Only getting about .5 to 1 knot under sail. Continue to motor rather than persevere with sailing. Am trying to make the best of our weather window and don’t have the luxury of time to just relax and let the wind do it’s thing. Apparently there’s a big high pressure system coming towards SW Australia. It could potentially could give us more wind than we want here. There is also Barbara’s seasickness to consider. Almost on course at 150 degrees True.

1850 hours: Still on SE tack and about 20 miles from the bottom of Romang Island. Slight to moderate seas and averaging about 3 knots. Seas last couple of hours making us pitch a fair bit but not rolling much. Can see Leti Island light way off in the distance. It’s located 22 miles to the NE of the eastern end of Timor Island. Tacking southerly to come around Leti light on our port side and then out into the Timor Sea.

Fri 26/9/97

0215 hours: Abeam Leti Island light. Taking a SE tack towards Cape Fourcroy on Melville Island.

0700 hours: Have recorded 78.7 miles on the log in the 24 hours to this time. But have covered only 68 miles over the ground giving a current set back of about 10 miles. Distance made good as the crow flies to Solath village is 59 miles. Not outstanding but there has been tidal effects around Romang Island and bumpy seas to the NW of Leti Island.

Distance to Cape Fourcroy is 245 miles to the SE. Course required 143 degrees True. Seas flat and oily looking. Nil wind to speak of. All very quiet. Making around 5 knots motoring and sheeted-in mainsail. Better than belting into a 20 knot SE trade wind.

0900 hours: Refrigeration stops working. Find the system is out of gas due to a connection working loose. Have some spare gas and re-gas the system which takes a couple of hours. Very slow process requiring the motor to be just idling.

1100 hours: Re-gassing refrigeration completed. Looks all okay now. Hope no other leaks as the R134 gas is expensive. Seas still flat and virtually no wind.

1215 hours: Unable to pick up the High Seas forecast. Check engine oil. Thirsty bugger! Takes 1.5 pints. Engine has been leaking oil the whole trip but not from the cylinder head as far as I can tell. So much for the rebuild it’s just had but the situation is not serious. Head compression seems okay and the motor seems to be running happily enough, though the bilges are putrid and thick with diesel, oil and grease. Stuffing box seems to be working well, just needing a few pumps of grease every few hours depending on the state of the seas.

1300 hours: Fairly well on our rhumb line averaging just over 5 knots over the last 6 hours. Distance to Cape Fourcroy is 218 miles.

1900 hours: Distance made good last 12 hours is 60 miles averaging 5 knots plus just a little over. Seas still flat. Wind up to 5 knots with small gusts maybe 8 knots or so. Barbara not getting seasick and actually seems to be enjoying this leg and doing a great job on the tiller.

Sat 27/9/97

0100 hours: Threading our way through and past 4 fishing trawlers. Don’t know if they are Australian or Indonesian. Am confronted with a long line of blinking lights forcing a 90 degree course change to get around them. The lights indicate a set long-line or net and have a very bright trailer light which at first can be mistaken for another trawling boat. As I’ve mentioned before these things are a bloody pain especially if you don’t have a radar onboard.

0830 hours: Almost at the Australian Fishing Zone line about 5 miles away. Seas slight. Wind has picked up slightly to maybe 10 knots or so and swung from ESE to SE. Trying to maintain a more easterly than southerly course in case that high pressure system comes through. Haven’t been able to pick up anything on the radio.

1200 hours: Wind has been backing easterly and building slightly to around 10-15 knots. Able to maintain course under sail so turn motor off. Seas light with some white caps around. Well inside Australian waters so the Indonesian courtesy flag is taken down.

1530 hours: Coastwatch flies past and challenges us whilst under sail. Have a small chit chat with them and they give us a weather forecast which is really helpful. They tell us we’re, “Looking pretty good down there”.

Until now we’d been getting between 4 to 6 knots under sail but the wind has stopped abruptly. Not enough even to make way. Keep the sails up and start motoring.

PM: Wind disappears for the rest of the day and night so have to keep motoring. Seas calm. Mainsail sheeted in.

0930 hours: Waypoint off Cape Fourcroy 22 miles off. Wind has risen from the NE so set the genoa headsail. Motor off and sailing 5 and up to 6 knots as puffs of wind came through. Cloudless sky.

1130 hours: Wind dropping again. Covered 10.5 miles in the last 2 hours sailing. Waypoint 10.7 miles away. No sign of land due to land haze. Melville Island is low lying anyway. Speed down to 4 knots.

1200 hours: Not a breath of wind and motoring again. Frustrating …

1400 hours: Reach waypoint off Cape Fourcroy. Can see it 5 miles away towards the east and low on the horizon. Can also see a couple of beaches. We will be maintaining our course for the next hour to clear some shoal patches to the south of the cape.

1700 hours: Sailing again and located 50 miles from Darwin. Have been averaging 5 knots for the last 3 hours. Variable winds and getting between 4 to 6 knots with the occasional puff.

1830 hours: Still sailing. Has been quite reasonable even if we’ve slowing down to 3 knots at times in the lulls. Wind has backed to the NW so change the sail pattern to a goosewing rig. Change course from 120 degrees to 100 degrees and swing the goosewings around to take best advantage of the available wind.

88 booby birdLeft: A guest who stays the night, “Look mate just push me out of the way if I get in the road okay?”

A booby lands on the foredeck for a ride. It’s totally unafraid of us to the point of standing comfortably at our feet around the mast base while we tend to the sails. Makes no attempt to peck even when I gently try to move him out of the way with my foot.

2300 hours: First sighting of Charles Point light marking mainland Australia situated at the entrance to Bynoe Harbour just to the west of Darwin.

Mon 29/9/97

0400 hours: Uneventful night sailing the whole time mostly around 3 knots. Have been timing ourselves to arrive at Darwin Harbour at daybreak. Very pleasant indeed so far. Take the genoa down as we’ve picked up the incoming tide off Cox Peninsula pushing us along at 2 to 3 knots.

0700 hours: Reach the #6 buoy which is our Darwin Harbour waypoint. Contact Darwin Customs on radio and awaiting call back to confirm timings for clearance. Shoo away the booby still sitting quite comfortably in the same place. Seems reluctant to leave then looks a bit puzzled as it flies off. Finally gets its bearings and heads back out to sea.

0800 hours: Darwin Customs advise us to be at Cullen Bay pontoon at 0830 hours for Quarantine and Customs clearances.

0830 hours: Notify Customs that we are still 20 minutes away.

0900 hours: Tie up at the Cullen Bay pontoon. The Quarantine guy comes aboard and we start going through the formalities. The same Customs lady who cleared us out also comes aboard. Everything goes off smoothly. Quarantine take away a few wooden items which have borers in them, but which Paul can collect later. Quarantine charges us $114 for the privilege.

0930 hours: Clear Customs and Quarantine and leave the Cullen Bay pontoon heading for Lowana IVs mooring in Sadgroves Creek. Crew in high spirits being back in Darwin again.

89 final leg 90 on mooring
Above: Customs completed and back in Darwin Harbour heading around to Sadgroves Creek. Above: Lowana IV at her usual place on the fore and aft mooring in Sadgroves Creek. She’s served us well and safely on this trip. An excellent sea boat. She just needs a little mast and rigging tune up to fix her pointing problem.

1030 hours: Secure the boat on her fore and aft mooring up Sadgroves Creek. Martin removes all his personal gear from the boat. Paul and Barbara decide to come back out later in the day to collect their gear, clean the fridges and divide up the unused groceries.

1100 hours: Meet wife Delma ashore at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht club where we have a final cup of coffee and divide the remainder of the cash ‘kitty’ which had been used for boat expenses. We had all contributed to this kitty before the trip started. Each person got back about $100. Eventual cost per person was $500 for the month away including CAIT  and Quarantine fees (together $464.00), plus food and boat consumables including all diesel/petrol fuels, engine filters, oil, gas, kero etc. It all adds up when you list it.

91 the crew
Above: The crew at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht club on completion of the voyage: From left Russ, Paul, Barbara and Martin.

Tues 30/9/97

Delma and I go out to the boat to get my own personal gear and have a general clean up inside.

Wed 1/10/97

Martin and I go out to the boat, top up the main fuel tank with diesel, give the motor a degreasing and clean up around the outside of the boat. It had rained overnight saving us from having to also wash it down.

Take some of the sails and shade canopy off for washing to a friends place in a nearby suburb, where we scrub and lay them out to dry in the grounds of a local school behind the house.

Thurs 2/10/97

Back to the humdrum of work. Still more sails to take down and scrub, plus there are some things such as the autopilot and motor oil leaks to be checked. These aren’t particularly urgent and can be done in slow time as part of the usual ongoing maintenance.


Lowana IV is a very safe and fairly dry sea boat for a 30 footer. She performed beautifully with the exception of being unable to make reasonable headway under sail against any strong head winds.

In our case this wasn’t a problem by using the motor, but if the motor had failed we would have been out there for a very long time trying to get back.

It’s hard for just about any boat to travel into the face of 20-40 knot headwinds and matching seas, but at least a headsail can usually be set to help pull the boat forward without sacrificing excessively in course direction. This wasn’t the case with Lowana IV and a problem I am going to have to look rather long and hard at.


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