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Wetar to Romang

Sat 20/9/97

70 map 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.

71 motor sailingRight: Early morning and the wind not up yet. Heading northerly towards the NW coast of Wetar bound for Romang to the east.

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.

72 under sailLeft: Under sail and getting up to 6 kts. Note the flag which shows a good breeze, but it gets pretty hard going not long after this.

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.

Sun 21/9/97

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.

Mon 22/9/97

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.

73 Angssa Bay aheadRight: 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.

Solath Village

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.

74 village gate Left: The main entrance to the village of Solath. There is a small park just to the left of the gates complete with flowers, shrubs and shaded seating areas.

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.

75 village church. 76 david's garden
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.

Tues 23/9/97

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.

80 David and familyRight: 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.

 81 palm frond sailingLeft: A villager lad sailing a canoe using a palm frond for a sail. Actually making way quite well too.

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.

82 sv andrewRight: The prahau Andrew right beside the reef and our boat Lowana IV centre right. The lighter areas on the water are reefs which expose at low water.

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.

Weds 24/9/97

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.

83 above angssa bayLeft: 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.

84 dinghy repairRight: The dinghy hauled up onto the beach for repairs after holing it on the reef. The local men taking an intense interest in the use of fibreglass resin and matting.

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.

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