Home via Babar Island

Standard

1400 hours: Rain clears. Some sunny patches. Course 183 deg True to next waypoint about 200nm away. Waypoint is between a lump of rock called Nil Desperandum and the volcano island of Nila. Nil Desperandum is only 6 ft high, about 1/2 nm wide and is not lighted. Hopefully it’s accurately marked on the chart. Nila is 2550 ft high about 4nm in diameter and extensive reefs on the northern side. Only getting about 220 deg True but that’s okay. Reaching 5 to 5.5 kts and good sailing. Plan to motor overnight using ‘Norm’ to get back to our waypoint rhumb line. About 8nm SSW of Banda in about 2000 fathoms of water.

1530 hours: Squalls around. Pattering rain. Winds pick up and seas bigger. Taking some greenies over the front. One goes right over the wheelhouse. Drop mizzen sail and reef mainsail. Lots better and still getting around 6 kts.

2000 hours: Weather moderates. Stars come out. Moon shining. It’s been reasonable sailing and the mizzen is raised again. Tack a couple of times. Course required 183 deg True. Easterly tack unable to get above 090 deg True. Southerly tack unable to get lower than 220 deg True. Have dinner then takes down mizzen and headsail. Start motoring with mainsail sheeted on course 170-178 deg True to get us past rhumb line then get a good days sail tomorrow. Taking it easy at night as usual as there are only 3 of us watch-keeping. Find another rip in the mainsail at the first reefing cringle.

Weds 2/8/95
0800 hours: Slow going overnight making 2.5 to 3 kts. Back on the rhumb line. Sails back up. ‘Norm’ at work again. Cloudy but a nice day. Moderate winds about 20 kts. Lumpy seas very rolly poly. Climbing around boat instead of walking. Rip in the mainsail is bigger but stable since at least 0100 hours.

1100 hours: Change to hand steering. Going faster about 5 kts but laying off our course to the west. Very bumpy.

1130 hours: Catch a dolphin, the fish not an actual dolphin for tea. I don’t have any but I’m told it’s delicious.
72 dolphin fish
Left:  Don holds out a dolphin fish.  These live in the open water and tend to hang around anything that is floating on the surface.

1500 hours: Seas slight. Sun shining. Sails down and motoring at about 2 kts. Heading eastwards again as we’ve gone too far west under sail.

1800 hours: No change. Nice to relax. All get some sleep. Position is 27 nm to the waypoint to clear Nil Desperandum rock. There’s about another 70nm to Babar from there.

Thurs 3/8/95
0700 hours: Uneventful night. Very, very slow going. Only made 13 nm in last 9 hours. Motor off. Headsail up. Mainsail being saved because of the rip. Getting around 5 kts. Overcast day and quite blowy. Seas big with some really big swells hitting us. Nil Desperandum restricting our options on a way to go. Still 7 nm from our waypoint. Very frustrating.

0900 hours: Getting too close to Nila. Tacking port to the NE. Big waves hitting us abeam.

1000 hours: Tack southerly again.

1100 hours: Course made good 195 deg True at 5 kts. Position is 10 nm south of waypoint and the southern end of Nila is 5nm to starboard. Finally free of it.

Late p.m: Good sailing all day. Sun coming out at times. Seas around 2m to 2.5m. Making course between 210-220 deg Magnetic. Plan is to go past Babar and tack back sharply to the NE.

Fri 4/8/95
0400 hours: Tack port. Direction to next waypoint 069 deg True. Getting 070 deg True at about 5 kts. Looking good. 30nm to waypoint.

0500 hours: Wind shifts. Have to change course to 055 deg True. Moving northerly away from waypoint again. Getting around 4 kts. Autopilot ‘Norm’ gets caught on a wind shift and doesn’t react in time. Sails get back-winded and we do a 360 deg turn causing our trailing fishing line to wrap around the propshaft. Tedious trip.

1130 hours: Overcast day. Position 10 nm NW of Tepa, the main village inside Babar Harbour. Sail down and motoring at 2 kts. Very slow going. Covered 28nm since 0400 hours.

73 approaching Babar IsRight: Approaching Tepa village on Babar Island.  Good anchorage here.

1610 hours: Anchor off Tepa village. It has taken almost 5 hours just to motor into the harbour. Pull up and chat with crew of Rampage on our way to shore. They had arrived a little earlier than us. They are all looking pretty buggered and trying to catch up on sleep. One of the crew named Martin has cut his lower leg and it’s become infected looking all purple and angry looking. Marge who happens to be a nurse, went aboard later and had a look at it.

75 Tepa Village main streetLeft: The main street of Tepa village. Robbie’s place is the two-story building on the distant left. 

Sea Cadence is also anchored up. Get ashore and meet up with her crew. We had spoken to the skipper earlier on the radio and he’d been ashore to organise some cold Bintangs and a couple of rooms for the night as there is no hotel on the island. It was through them that we met a local man named Joseph. Joseph organised things and translated for us. He likes to practice his English which is very good and he even has an Australian accent, being exposed mostly to Aussie yachties. He doesn’t ask for any payment but accepts any gifts or donations for his services. He makes a living otherwise by teaching English at Rp500 a lesson and making rubber stamps. He keeps his own vegetable garden and fishes sometimes. Our group and some of Sea Cadence group have a few Bintangs, coke and peanuts at the back of Robbies.

Robbies is one of the shops on Babar. The building would be the largest in the village and from the boat we thought at first it may have been a hotel. Apparently Robbie is trying to get it set up as one. In any case we sit out the back where Robbie supplies the Bintangs out of a really old model fridge. Joseph shows us where we can wash without charge, so we all take a wash and freshen up a bit. His wife Anne, his daughter and a niece turn up looking for him. They join us for a couple of soft drinks.

1900 hours: Joseph takes us to our homestay house and introduces us to the family supplying the rooms. Our host’s nickname is Chung and his wife’s name is Mary. Rooms are clean and we have access to washing and toilet facilities which seems quite okay use. The rooms cost Rp10000 (A$6.50) per room for the night.

76 homestayRight: Chung and Mary’s homestay.

1930 hours: Joseph escorts us to the restaurant although you wouldn’t recognize it if you weren’t shown. We sit in the ante room for about ½ hour talking to the locals who leave before it comes time for us to move into the next room for our meal. The food is different but tasty and filling. It consists of black fish chunks (tuna or mackerel), a cold soup, 2 bowls of vegetable and noodles, rice in coconut oil and ordinary rice, very hot chilli, fried eggs and boiled eggs. It’s really nice and cost about Rp20000 (A$13.00) which fed 4 of us plus Joseph, his daughter and niece.

77 mandi 79 restaurant
Above:  Typical Indonesian bathroom with toilet. Washing is done by dipping a pannikin into the tub to wet yourself down. The toilet is a squatting job. Above:  The restaurant.

Anna waited outside. There was still some food left over. The old lady thinks it’s a big joke when we tell her she’s a good cook and chuckles away for some time. After that we head off to bed. Unfortunately there is a TV in the street right outside our lodgings which blasts out at full volume and a large crowd of locals gather to watch. I’m pretty tired anyway and manage to drop off to sleep despite the din.

Sat 5/8/95
Pre-Dawn: Lots of locals moving around already. They seem to have the same early rising habits in Ambon too.

0800 hours: Pay for the rooms and leave for the markets with Don and Marge.  They buy some coconut oil for cooking and some vegetables including a mystery root which has a rough bark appearance. Probably a cassava. Anyway it turned out to be quite bland. Vaguely tastes like a sweet potato when cooked in a stew. We visit the local shops and do some shopping. Buy some material, T-Shirt and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes. The carton costs Rp20000 (A$13.00).

Also get a couple bottles of the local coconut wine which is poured into Bintang bottles out of a water dispenser at Rp2000 (A$1.30) a bottle. They seal the bottle with pieces of plastic bag and rubber band. Believed to be 50% proof. Darren comes ashore and fills a water jerry with local water for emergencies. We later used the water in cups of tea and coffee and no one got sick. The local Harbourmaster named Idress (?) catches up with us to go to his office for clearances.

0900 hours: Head to boat via Rampage. Martin says  his leg is much better. John Smith from Rampage comes aboard with us for the trip back to Darwin due to personality conflicts on that boat. Don, Marge and Darren return ashore to see the Harbourmaster. John and I set a second reef in the mainsail to cover the rip and generally potter about getting the boat ready for sea.

1300 hours: Dinghy and anchor up and secured. Under way again. The boys have had a couple of final Bintangs ashore after the formalities. Our next waypoint is Cape Fourcroy which lies SSE of Babar Island. The plan is to go clockwise around Babar and head as far east as possible to get a reasonable angle on the wind direct to the waypoint without having to tack. It’s positioned right on the 130 deg longitude line about 5 miles west of the cape.

1400 hours: Coming around north of Babar under full sail. Nice day but overcast. Good breezes with some gusts getting 6-7 kts. Seas still smooth. See a pod of dolphins maybe 60 or more. Some of them leaping completely clear out of the water.

1700 hours: Going well getting 5-6 kts and wind gusts. Approaching Dawere Island. ENE of Babar and will pass to its north. Dawere is on the 130 deg longitude line. Any progress east from here is a bonus but being forced a little northerly as well.

Sun 6/8/95
O’night: Good sailing all night between 4-6 kts. Have been hand steering with the usual 2 man watches pulling 2 hours doing ½ hour turnabouts on the wheel, then 3 hours off.

0500 hours: Reach a point about 60 nm east and 35 nm north of Babar Island position 0720S, 13037E. Course to our waypoint is 186 deg True from here which we think we can achieve. Can’t go much further east anyway because of the Tanimbar islands to the SE. Tack starboard and getting course 190 deg True which is reasonable.

1430 hours: Overcast day with slight seas earlier today. It’s now cloudy with good sunny patches. Sea still slight. About 35 nm east of Babar and 7 nm south of Tepa village latitude, so we are actually making progress towards home.

1500 hours: Cross 8th latitude. Average 4 kts since tacking.

81 hard slogLeft: Fine weather sailing needs to be enjoyed while it lasts.

1800 hours: Nice afternoon, sun shining. Take down mizzen sail then later the mainsail.

1900 hours: Turn ‘Norm’ on and using headsail only. Getting 6 kts beating to windward. Nice day’s sailing.

Mon 7/8/95
0630 hours: Cross 9th latitude. Expected a sunny day but not to be. Overcast but fine. Getting 4 kts on headsail alone. Still on autopilot. Seas slight and good comfortable sailing. Going a bit too far westerly though. Have done 68 nm since the 8th latitude making an extra 8nm as a result of being forced to the west. Hoping for a wind shift more to the east later otherwise will have to tack back. Position is 8 nm to the west of our waypoint longitude 12952E and 24 nm west of our rhumb line. Babar Island is 60nm to the south. Good progress overnight though.

0830 hours: Wind and seas pick up and seem to be building. Getting 5 to 5.5 kts.

0915 hours: Hear a loud bang. Headsail halyard has snapped at the coupling swage dropping the sail. Set up a rope halyard and raised sail again. Recover remains of the wire halyard.

1200 hours: Seas still rising. Waves as high as the boom or even higher at times. Some big greenies going clear over the wheelhouse. Wind has swung around to a favourable 175-185 deg True. It only lasts a few hours.

p.m.: Heavy seas all afternoon. Sea Cadence reports changing to storm sails. Occasional waves thumping the boat and others breaking over the boat. Look out cabin window to see a boiler about 10ft away level with my eyes just before it thumps the boat and breaks over it. The sea is alive with breaking crests. Spray being driven from the tops of them like sleet. Probably 3m or higher seas and 30 kts wind at times. Boat handling okay though and no cause for concern.

1930 hours: Cross 10th latitude. Also cross the deep drop off from 180 fathoms to about 80 fathoms a few miles back. Seas have moderated but still lumpy following today’s flow. Very few white horses about. Good sailing. Brilliant moonlit night. Sea Cadence has been behind us to the NW about 17 nm for most of the day. They are now tacking eastward.

Tues 8/8/95
0900 hours: Cross 11th latitude. Made progress steadily overnight. Wind picked up again and got a bit bumpy in the early hours but has moderated since. Cloudless day. Continue to get occasional small wind shifts which allow a more southerly course of 180-185 deg. Mostly we are only getting 190-220 deg True and steadily moving westwards. Position is 35 nm to the west and 50nm to the north of our waypoint. Listen to Darwin Radio issuing a strong wind warning for our area but as he said, we probably already know about it anyway. Seas to about 2.5m at the moment. Expect to be in the Beagle Gulf tomorrow morning. Plan to tack port hoping to get an easterly course towards Aspley Strait between Bathurst and Melville Islands.

1300 hours: Wind drops right off. Flags starting to droop and losing speed. ‘Norm” unable to cope with the slow speed. Raise the mainsail and mizzen getting about 2 kts. ‘Norm’ put back to work.

1500 hours: No change. Creeping along at 2-2.5 kts. Beautiful day. Sun shining and no clouds. Cool breeze what there is of it. Done 8nm last 3 hours.

1530 hours: Start the motor. Dip the tanks to make sure we have enough fuel. Heading direct for waypoint.

1700 hours: Loud grinding noise from engine room. Check reveals the shear pin has come out. Stop the motor and put up the sails again.

1800 hours: Sails down and drifting while repairs are being made. Drifting on 305 deg True at 1.7 kts. Interesting tide run for this area. Heard an emergency signal over the radio. Listen to Darwin Radio report the barge Kepple Trader has capsized with 2 persons on board vicinity 1415S, 12857E which is SW of Port Keats. Vessels in area requested to assist. Too far away from us. Learned later that one person was saved. Never found out about the other but understand was lost.

1900 hours: Repairs complete. Raise the headsail and off again.

Weds 9/8/95
0100 hours: Level with our waypoint but 50nm too far west. Average course made good last 5 hours was 212 deg True. Wind has shifted more easterly last 15 mins so should get a more southerly course. Radar reflector decides to abandon ship and drops from the mast over the side to King Neptune. Still got about 40nm south before we can get a run at Aspley Strait.

0300 hours: Cross 12th latitude at longitude 12902E. From near Babar our intended course to waypoint was 186 deg True. We have averaged 199 deg True putting us off course by 53 nm. Distance between the latitudes in a direct line was 240nm due south. Haven’t calculated the actual distance travelled but it will be much higher. Darwin is 95nm directly ESE at this time which is where the wind is coming from.

0600 hours: Beautiful sailing overnight. Brilliant moonlight. Average 5 kts and even getting a few eastings back on course 170 deg True average. Moon has gone down and it’s pitch black. Lost my cap blown over the side in a gust of wind.

1000 hours: Still pushing steadily in Beagle Gulf on a southerly tack to clear a couple of shoal areas when we tack easterly. Seas and winds built up. Boat being pummelled a bit heavier than anything previously. Spray being blown strongly from the tops of waves. Long foam streaks in the water. Activity choices are sleep, read, sit around, keep watch or sleep again anyway. ‘Norm’ doing all the driving which is a big break and so keeping watch means just that. Only one person on watch at a time needed.

1200 hours: Still a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight. Tack to port and getting 025-030 deg True. Unfortunately too far northerly for our purposes but can’t be helped. About 110 nm WSW of Darwin getting around 4 kts on headsail only.

82 Beagle Gulf sunsetRight: Beagle Gulf sunset begins the last night at sea.

1900 hours: All sails set. Got 24nm in the last 7 hours on course 022 deg True. Strong current pushing us westwards. Very light variable winds in the late afternoon.

1930 hours: Start motor. Drop headsail. Steering easterly under motor, mainsail and mizzen. Beautiful night. Full moon, no clouds, slight seas. Motor temperature a bit high so top us the heat exchanger with some of our limited remaining supply of drinking water. Virtually no food left.

Thurs 10/9/95
0200 hours: Make excellent progress due east. Motor starts surging badly so filters are changed again. Dip the fuel tanks and find the fuel level low so stop the motor. Will have to sail from here on until we reach Darwin.

0400 hours: Large wind shift to the east forcing us up to 050 deg True average. Seas getting lumpier. Getting 7-8 kts at times.

0630 hours: Fine day, big seas again. Heavier than anything else so far probably due to the relatively shallow water and wind against tide effects. Some waves very short and sharp.

0830 hours: No change. Take down mainsail for an easier ride. If we can get far enough east and if the wind stays the same we might get a southerly tack into Darwin Harbour sometime around midday.

0930 hours: Being forced onto a northerly course. Tack starboard trying for a south easterly course.

1130 hours: Travel due south for a while with the current pushing us back. Wind starts to veer allowing us to come slowly around in a big arc towards Darwin. Course now 175 deg True. First sighting of Australia in the Charles Point area. Have picked up the incoming tide change and getting around 7 kts.

1330 hours: Wind still veering. Charging along getting 130 deg True since 1130 hours. Now on course to clear Charles Point and have a direct line to Darwin Harbour entrance. Winds have abated during the morning. Sea is choppy, wind 15-20 kts or less at times but continues to drop.

1430 hours: Contact Customs on VHF Ch16 who instruct us to go to Cullen Bay pontoon. Start general boat tidy up and filling in paperwork.

1630 hours: Have an excellent run into the harbour across the top of the Cox Peninsula getting between 6-7 knots. Have to wait for a fishing dinghy to get out of the way and then tie up to the pontoon for Customs. Rampage still miles out to sea and apparently having problems with their rudder, engine and broken cap shroud.

1645 hours: Customs bloke comes aboard followed a little later by the Quarantine guy.

1745 hours: Formalities completed. Cast off the pontoon and leave Cullen Bay.

1830 hours: Moor up on Don’s mooring in Sadgroves Creek. Boat secured. Go ashore for a couple of drinks with crew. Good to be ashore!!!

Lessons Learned:

1. Don’t motor directly into wind and waves if progress is going to be too slow – say below 2 kts.
2. Conserve fuel and collect rainwater when you can.
3 Take plenty of fuel filters and engine spare parts.
4. Get fuel in Ambon from the navy and strain all fuel before putting into tanks.
5. When beating to windward, if the boat is laying over too much try using just the headsail only. It should make for a more comfortable ride and shouldn’t lose too much speed. It might increase the pressure on the helm though.
6. Consider trying a big tack e.g. 100nm or so especially if wind direction likely to be constant.
7. Carry plenty of strong mooring line and good anchors.
8. Make sure all hatches and portholes are watertight.
9. Carry covers to keep the rain off when moored.
10. On coming home from Indonesia tack east at every opportunity e.g. calmer seas or favourable breeze.
11. Don’t carry packets of food. Keep it all in sealed plastic containers otherwise it can be invaded by pests such as cockroaches or weevils.
12. Carry a small portable generator.

THE END

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