An Eclipse and a Bash to Wetar

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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.

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