1995 Sailing to Ambon, Indonesia

A photo-journal of a sailing voyage from
Darwin to Ambon Island, Indonesia
19th Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race
July 1995
01 Area Chart
Above: Chart of the voyage area.
01 SV Jasmin Left: The 45 ft ketch Jasmine

Crew:  Don – Owner/Skipper *
Marge – Wife *
Clark *
Sean *
Darren *
Russ Swan
John (joined later at Barba Island *

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

Mon 10/7/95
1900 hours: Attend briefing with skipper Don at ‘The Tank’ in Darwin High School. The briefing covers the race start, finish, customs, immigration, immunisation, health risks, OTC and race communications.

Thur 13/7/95
Crew get together at DBCYC – Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club to clean Jasmine’s hull.

03 SV Jasmin on the polesLeft: Jasmine on the careening poles at DBYC with working party.

Fri 14/7/95
Collect duty free grog and complete customs formalities at the Darwin Sailing Club.

Sat 15/7/95
0800 hours: Meet Don at DBCYC and crew are ferried out to boat. Move out of Sadgroves Creek about 0900 hours very carefully and find HMAS Woolongong ringing a bell. Really thick fog over Darwin. Worst I’ve even seen in the harbour. It lasts right up to about 1100 hours.

1100 hours: Large number of boats still coming around from Fannie Bay. Race postponed to 1200 hours. Fog is lifting and some clear patches starting to show. Find the Indonesian warship at the other end of the start line.

06 joining the fleet 07 Mark and Gavin
Above: Coming out of Sadgroves Ck into Darwin Harbour. Sean standing at the bow. Above: Clark and Darren at the stern.
08 Darwin Wharf on foggy day 09 SV Young Endeavour
Above: The Wharf Prescint in Darwin Harbour partly shrouded in fog. Above: SV Young Endeavour being helped away from the wharf by a tug.
12 SV Sojourn 13 fleet underway
Above: SV Sojourn with its red sails. Above: Sean with big cheesy grin. Fleet is underway with140 yachts taking part including about 90 to Ambon and 50 to Bali. 

1200 hours: Set MPS sail in very light airs. Have to start motor to avoid drifting into the Indon warship. Takes a long time to tack out of the harbour.

1533 hours: First position report at 1223S, 13048E. A lot of the fleet ahead of us. Many have already retired from the race and motoring in the Rally Division. Wind from NW at 10-15 kts. Steering northerly.

1830 hours: Made 11 miles in last 3 hours. Position 1212S, 13047E making 6-7 knots at times and passing several other boats as we sail.

1900 hours: Tack to port trying to get a SW heading.

1930 hours: Unable to get progress westward and find ourselves back at the 1830 hours position. Don decides to retire from race and enter Rally Division. Motor started. Set course for waypoint 5 nm – nautical miles clear of Cape Fourcroy. Seas slight. Wind approx 10-15 kts.

Sun 16/7/95
0030 hours: Position 1203S, 13025E. Have made 24 nm in a general NW direction. Bright moonlight. Have passed several more yachts who are still trying to sail rather than use the motor. Seas smooth.

0430 hours: First sighting Cape Fourcroy light using binoculars. Seas smooth. Wind about 5-10 kts. Lots of other yachts about indicated by their navigation lights. Count 13 in our area alone. Pass several and have to dodge around a couple.

1200 hours: Position 1135S, 12953E. Beautiful day getting 6 kts at times under sail. Seas slight. Winds easterly.

Mon 17/7/95
O’night: Seas remain slight. Some small swell. Beautiful sailing under ¾ moon and getting 6 kts. Clark catches a trevally on a trailing lure. He’s been trailing a lure since early yesterday. Auto pilot plays up in the early hours. Has to be turned off and start hand steering.

0900 hours: Getting around 4 kts on a beam reach. Promised south-easterlies don’t eventuate. Wind pretty fluky between north and east. Depth drops off to about 160 fathoms at the 10 degree latitude line about 12 nm from here. We are currently in 34 fathoms.

p.m. Good sailing. Wind from east at 10-15 kts. Very light spit of rain once or twice.

Tue 18/7/95
O’night: Sail all night at times averaging 7 kts. Easterlies gusting to 20 kts. Auto pilot packs it in again and put us back to manual steering. Boat hard to steer and requires concentration. Only has wheel steering and is slow to respond. All of us are over-correcting and making harder work of it than it should be. Don giving lessons as we come on watch on how best to maintain a straight course. Making excellent time. Enjoyable sailing.

a.m. Passing lots of boats whilst under sail. Start motor only to charge batteries. Making fairly good time. Hard work steering though. Taking 1/½ hours turnabouts on the wheel with 2 persons on watch at a time.
15 Dolphins

Right: Lots of dolphins seen, often in large pods.

0900 hours: Sermata Is on port beam at 30 nm. Too far away to see anything of course.

1245 hours: Position 0752S, 12922E. Babar Is to starboard. Very mountainous looking about 10 nm away. We’ll be coming back here later. Still getting good easterlies.

1400 hours: Clear the island of Sermata and Babar. Wind drops off so turn on the motor for a couple of hours.

p.m: A little sea bird decides to visit for a while. It stays within hands reach of the helmsman’s position for several hours before leaving. Don finds him dead in the dinghy up on its davits later on. Seeing the occasional school of flying fish skimming over the dark blue of the sea. Dolphins also occasionally visit and play around the bow. At night they can be picked out by their phosphorescent wake in the water. Some big ones amongst them. Still making excellent time getting 6-7 kts under sail. Auto pilot only working with lots of grinding and grating noises.
18 Little Visitor
Left: A little visitor who sits shaking and twitching. Eventually dies up in the dinghy.

2400 hours: Have been under sail for several hours.  The volcanic island of Tuen is abeam. See some lights ashore. A large boat maybe a ferry of some sort on our port side heading easterly towards Tuen. They seem determined to keep their course although we legally have right of way according to the international rules. It keeps blasting its horn and flashing lights at us. We end up having to take a 360 degree evasive action.

Wed 19/7/95
0700 hours:  Have been back on the motor and its surging between 1700-1800 rpm. Radio sked is due. Several boats reporting positions within 10-20 nm around us. Have achieved 40 nm since midnight averaging 5.8 kts. Wind and waves pushing us along. No headsail. Wind still around easterly. Change to sail after the radio sked and speed jumps to about 7 kts. Ambon is 155 nm NNW. Some light rain and local squalls about.

1034 hours: Spend the morning dodging a large rain squall. It passes across our front. Winds veer to NE forcing us to close reach and lay off our course more to the NW. Feeling relaxed, sun shining, seas slight, making 4.5 kts.  Boat has been opened up to air it out, music tapes going, the smell of steak cooking on the stove, cold coke in hand… life’s just a bitch!

p.m: Great sailing for the rest of the day up to 2100 hours. Large squall appears as an inky black blot against the night sky. No moon and hard to see what’s happening out there in the night. Put a precautionary reef into the mainsail and set it up for a second reefing if it is required. Unfortunately there is no internal compass light and no working torches left so have to use the cabin light to steer a compass course. Squall moves around a fair bit. Thought we had outrun it by 2400 hours but it just gets bigger. Being forced on a northerly bearing by the south-easterlies gusting rather heavily. The course we want is more to the NW.

2400 hours: Gusts get worse. Seas not too bad but sloppy and making the boat pitch and yaw hard. Can’t see the sea from inside the wheelhouse. Keeping 2 man watches taking ½ hour turnabouts on the wheel again. Keeping a staggered watch system of 2 hours on, 3 hours off. Everyone tired and getting a bit irritable. Steering groove very narrow from due north to 330 deg. Have to err on the northerly side to keep up speed and prevent back-winding of sails.

Thurs 20/7/95
0500 hours: Winds abated. Now getting only about 3 to 3.5 kts. A big come down from the last few days. Steering groove still very narrow for the conditions.

0700 hours: 13 miles off course out to starboard. Unable to make any course in a westerly direction. Course to Ambon Harbour is 329 deg True. Can’t get much lower than 340 deg True. Elect to drop headsail and use motor. It takes a few moments as batteries are flat.   Am a bit worried but then Don pulls out a small Honda generator.  Motor finally kicks into life. Shake the reef out of the mainsail and find a top section seam has come apart. Pull mainsail down and secure it. Raise headsail and motor-sailing. Still unable to get a direct course to Ambon. Plan is to continue north and east of Ambon for the moment and see what happens later in the day.

0800 hours: All the boys have run out of smokes. Some of them rolling Lipton teabags and smoking them. You have to be desperate. Averaging about 4.5 kts in the last hour with motor off and sailing just with the headsail. Wind veering again and only getting 351 deg True but above 5 kts by 0830 hours.

1300 hours: Motor dies. Continue to try making Ambon on headsail. Achieving 5 to 6 kts but not able to get a direct approach to harbour entrance. Darren climb into engine compartment getting covered in diesel and oil. Finds the fuel filters are dirty and blocked. The reason for the surging revs now explained. Clean the filters, bleed the air from the motor and eventually get motor going again about 1500 hours. Pull down jib and put up the MPS sail which Don calls the ‘big fluffy one’. Getting 6 kts.

1630 hours: Turn into Ambon Harbour.  The boys have been having quite a little party all day.  Some tempers getting a little short.  Harbour very misty and overcast looking.  Clouds covering the hills.

20 Ambon Harbour entrance 21 The Western Side
Above: Approaching the harbour entrance to Ambon Island. Above: The western side of Ambon Harbour.

1800 hours: Cross finish line and anchor in the designated Customs quarantine area. Race Control making arrangements with Customs. The boys getting a bit impatient to get ashore. Don goes to bed and stays there. Customs eventually comes out about 1900 hours.

19 Armahusu map
Above: Ambon Island showing harbour entrance from the south.
24 the finish line 26 anchored boats
Above: The finish line opposite the Tirta Kencana restaurant. Above: Boats already anchored stern-to the shore outside the hotel and restaurant.
28 centre-north of anchorage 32 southern side of anchorage
Above: More boats to the northern side. Above: Looking to the southern end of the anchorage.  Tirta Kencana restaurant centre left with green roof.

1930 hours: Clear customs. Pull up anchor and move to another spot. No moonlight and can only make out things against the back drop of the shore lights. Shore is steep-to being about 70 ft deep just 100m offshore. It then drops to around 150 ft then another 50m or so further out. Most boats have dropped anchor in 15 to 25ft water and run a mooring line from stern to shore. Very strong tidal current about 2 kts and a fairly large tidal range has to be considered. Boats everywhere. Unable to find a spot between boats and a bit off-putting groping around in the dark. Drop anchor in 46ft water and try to run a line to a large catamaran tied to shore. This is unsuccessful so instead set a very heavy Danforth stern anchor out.

p.m. It seems like ages but finally get ashore. Don and Marge stay aboard. Help a couple of blokes back to their boat while Sean, Darren and Clark disappear, probably into town. There is a welcoming ceremony under way involving traditional dancing and singing. Costumes very glittery and colourful. It’s really something to watch. Dancing is skilful and entertaining with the drums and shouts of the dancers. Get a lift back out to the boat leaving our dinghy ashore for the troops.



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