0545 hours: Early start. Dinghy up, secure the gear and winch the anchor up. On our way by 0630 hours.
0830 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Right: 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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
Right: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Left: 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.
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.
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.
0600 hours: Coming out of Angsa Harbour and heading anti-clockwise towards the western side of Romang Island.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
|Above: The crew at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht club on completion of the voyage: From left Russ, Paul, Barbara and Martin.|
Delma and I go out to the boat to get my own personal gear and have a general clean up inside.
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.
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.