Passage to Kupang

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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.

MORE TO FOLLOW

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