1998 Sailing to the Tanimbar Islands, Indonesia


A photo-journal of a sailing voyage from
Darwin to the Tanimbar Islands Group, Indonesia
August 1998

001 location
Above: The Tanimbar Islands are located 300 nautical miles almost due north of Darwin, NT.


In September 1997 the Sailing Vessel (SV) Lowana IV left Darwin on a sailing trip to Indonesia. The yacht visited Kupang in Timor, passed through the islands to the north and returned to Darwin via the eastern end of Timor. She covered some 1278 nautical sea miles (2364 km). It was a successful, interesting and memorable trip but typical of sailboat cruises, it was marked with its own particular problems.

004 lowana iv
Above: SV Lowana IV is an 8 tonne, steel cutter-rigged sloop, with a beam of 3 metres and a draft of 1.2 metres. Her motor is a 2 cylinder, 25 hp Volvo diesel. She was built in New Zealand in 1979 and received a total refit in 1995. She carries 4 crew comfortably and is a solid seaworthy vessel, with many international and Australian coastal cruising trips under her keel.

There were two that stuck out. One was a problem with official paperwork causing subsequent delays. The other was a distinct lack of ability by the boat to point up into the strong easterly winds. This was a result of having to remove pre-existing bilge keel fins from the underwater hull. Unfortunately these two things meant less actual sailing, less time to relax at places and look around, and more motoring.

The lesson was learned. Lowana IV would no longer attempt to cover a lot of ground when there is a limited timeframe. It was resolved that future trips to Indonesia would concentrate on only one or two groups of islands, and spend more time relaxing and exploring.

Much work ensued over the following year. Fellow yachties on the internet from all over the world provided copious ideas and opinions as to causes and effects of the boats poor ‘pointing’ ability. Gradually by trial and error the boat was properly trimmed and balanced. It required the addition of 400kg of lead, together with numerous adjustments to the alignment and rake of the mast to match existing sails.

On the day that the Ambon Race sailing fleet left Darwin in 1998, Lowana IV was there to see them off. To our delight the yacht sailed as close as 40 degrees to the wind, achieving over 4 knots in 10 to 15 knot winds. She was even able to continue to make way as close as 30 degrees to the wind! This was a vast improvement.

The stage is now set for another trip in 1998. This year Lowana IV will be going to the Tanimbar Islands group, and may also go to the Kai Islands group further north if time permits. The Tanimbars are situated roughly 300 km to the north of Darwin. There are 62 islands in the group providing ample opportunity to explore and requires only a short open water voyage to get there.

002 route
Above: The route taken to and from the Tanimbar Islands.

The following is a photo-journal based on notes taken in diary form by myself, the skipper of the vessel. It contains events and incidents of interest from trip preparation to return home as well as some navigational data, sailboat cruising notes and other information that might later be useful.

Russ Swan – Skipper
Delma Swan – Registered Nurse
Martin Langdon – Self Employed (decd.)
Ann Sanotti – Registered Nurse

003 crew
Above: From left – Russ, Martin, Delma, Ann (seated).

End Jun 98
Crew members finalised. An application for a sailboat cruising permit called a CAIT is submitted to Peter Dermoudy, the Commodore of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club -DBCYC. He then submits the application to appropriate agents in Indonesia. We also need to get Visa’s since we will not first be visiting an area where there is an ‘Immigrasi’ office. But first we must get the all important CAIT. And unlike last year, this time it must have all the proper rubber stamps!

Last years application had been sent to agents in Jakarta, so we decide this year to send it to the Bali agents instead. The cost of the permit is A$350.00. With this permit we should also receive a ‘Sosial Bedaya’ letter, a sort of sponsorship letter. Very handy to have when dealing with Indonesian officialdom.

Early Jul 98
Take the life-raft in for servicing only to have it condemned. Seems the oxygen valve has failed and the raft will not inflate. Nothing wrong with the raft. Just the valve. No spares available and this particular valve is no longer manufactured. Dealer will not use a different type of value. No time to start looking around to acquire another valve. Consider options. Decide to bite the bullet and buy a new raft.

13~24 Jul 98
Bring the boat onto  the careening poles at DBCYC.  Add 400 kg of lead to the keel at the appropriate places. Some new shelving is installed and some instrument electrical work done. A persistent engine oil leak problem is sourced and fixed. Add extra insulation to freezer box. Some minor chipping and painting makes the boat look a bit prettier.

Fri 24 Jul 98
Take boat off poles and out to her usual mooring up Sadgroves Creek. Spend half the day tuning the mast and standing rigging again.

Fri/Sat 24~25 Jul 98
Delma, Ann and myself over-night onboard Lowana IV in Fannie Bay, Darwin Harbour.  In the morning motor around with the Ambon sailboat racing fleet to the race starting line, and then sail out with the fleet of about 50 yachts to see them off. Some incidents at the start. One yacht slams into a Navy Patrol boat at the start line. Another goes aground on a sandbar off Emery Pt. Lowana IV’s performance has improved seriously better. Excellent!

Week 1~Aug 98
Check with Peter Dermoudy re progress of CAIT. He states there have been delays for CAIT’s through Bali taking between 6 to 8 weeks to come through. He doesn’t know when we might get our permit. Shades of last year again.

Some excess bitumen putty used when installing the additional lead to the top of the keel has made its way into the bilges. The putty is starting to block up the bilge pumps. This is removed and bilges degreased. Awful job.

Mon/Tue 10~11 Aug 98
Bring the boat back to the careening poles again. Clean and antifoul the hull.

Engine oil leak still persistent. The usual diesel mechanic comes back to fix it. Horrible grinding noise in engine turns out to be a bearing in the hand crank assembly. He’s able to fix this overnight with no drama. Also fits a vacuum gauge to the diesel fuel inlet line to give a visual indication of blocked fuel filters. Pretty handy when using Indonesian fuel.

Have to call an electrician back to finish his previous work. Pretty hard to get this bloke to turn up. There’s a setback with the refrigeration. A blockage in the system is preventing flow of refrigerant. Will look at this later.

The new life-raft arrives. The initial  idea had been to repack the new 4 man raft into the old 6 man container and add extra rations, water, flares and emergency gear. This won’t work. Existing deck chocks have to be modified to fit the new plastic life-raft container, which is surprisingly flimsy compared to the old solid fibreglass one.

Purchase a new stainless steel BBQ. The deck canopy is put in for recutting to fit properly and our Australian flag is also repaired. Find some holes in the side of our small fibreglass dinghy. These have to be sanded down and fibre-glassed over. Some other minor repairs and painting of the dinghy completed.

Install new batteries including a 130AH solar ‘house’ battery. Am using a 90 AH wet cell battery as the primary ‘start’ battery. Check the solar panels for proper connection and operation. Minor problem – the autopilot ram motor is broken. The two small brass connecting pins at the back have broken off flush. Unable to connect electrical wires to it. We’ll just have to hand steer. Do some more work on the freezer box.

So much still to do. The list seems endless. Every job seems to be turning out to be both complex and time demanding. Take the boat back out to her mooring.

Thu 13 Aug 98
Take a fridge mechanic out to the boat. He replaces a blocked filter/drier and re-gasses the system. He convinces me to install a pressure switch rather than keep relying on gauges that have a tendency to leak and cause system failure.

Peter Dermoudy advises that our CAIT is approved but has not been received back yet. Later that evening all the crew gather together. Fill out Visa application forms, discuss food requirements and make plans.

Fri 14 Aug 98
CAIT and Sosial Bedaya arrive from the agent in Bali. Visa applications passed into the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin. Cost of Visa’s is A$100 per application. Processed Visa’s expected back by Tuesday next week as Monday is Independence Day, a public holiday over there.

Sun 16 Aug 98
My wife Delma sorts out existing food stores onboard Lowana IV  while I tidy up the pieces of gear into some semblance of order after all the preparation work.

Mon 17 Aug 98
All crew take boat to Cullen Bay Marina. Final preparations e.g. loading and stowing stores will be carried out here. We are given a handy berth just inside the lock gates. Turns out to be the marina owner’s private berth. Some small mix up over rates but the owner agrees to the price quoted by the Cullen Bay office. It cost A$120/week. Crew elects to share this cost, agreeing that final preparations are best done here than by having to travel back and forth by dinghy back out on the mooring.

005 berthed cullen bayRight: Lowana IV berthed at Cullen Bay.

Fridge mechanic arrives and fits a pressure switch to fridge compressor. This switch theoretically allows the compressor to cut in or off automatically whenever the engine is running. Supposedly it will keep the fridges at their maximum coldest while the engine is running, and we shouldn’t lose any more gas due to leaking manifold gauges.

After the fridgie leaves I install the stainless steel BBQ to the starboard aft rail, connect a ‘T’ valve at the gas bottle and a freezer temperature gauge on the galley wall above the freezer.

Tue 18 Aug 98
Some more bitumen putty is found in the bilges. Clean it out. Dirty bloody horrible job. Put emergency spares in aft engine compartment e.g. storm boards, tiller, bulky or heavy engine parts and other ‘might be useful’ spares. Also sort out remaining boat stores and locker stowage. Put up a list of where everything can be located. Two new life-rings are produced courtesy of Ann and fitted to the side-rails. I’m grateful but a little concerned at the extra expense for Ann.

Pick up passports and Visa’s from the Indonesian Consulate. No problems there. Delma and Ann go shopping for non-perishable foods.

Wed 19 Aug 98
Morning: Go to start engine to run the fridges. Engine coughs and kicks. Loud bang and water starts gushing out of the engine block – unmentionables here... This is a major setback. Contact the mechanic. He’ll come down later. Sit down and sort out the many marine charts. Go to the doctors to obtain a supply of Doxylin 100 (Doxycycline) tables. These are for malaria prevention but have side effects. Also want an emergency malaria treatment course and prescription antibiotics to put into ships stores, plus a Doctors Certificate to authorise possession of them. The Indonesians are very particular about drugs.

006 broken motorLeft: The engine with the cracked cylinder head block removed. The alternator is hanging loose at the front. At the top right is the new vacuum gauge fitted to the diesel fuel filter.

Afternoon: Our mechanic comes down after lunch and confirms one of the cast cylinder blocks had cracked. After some searching eventually finds a new one in Adelaide. Arrangements made for it to be overnight air freighted to Darwin. Estimated cost about A$1300.

Groceries arrive at the boat. Delma and Ann pack it away. All vegetables and fruits are individually wrapped in newspaper and slung into netting in the forward berth area. Worth taking the effort. We were to throw some of these away 5 weeks later as no longer required, even though they were a bit sorry looking.

A different lifting and securing system for the dinghy up behind the boat is worked out. The system proves to be a much quicker and secure method than previously used.

Delma checks and selects a number of cassette tapes for the trip in the evening. The ‘Lombada’ is first on the pile. Bob Marley is second. Go to bed in an anxious frame of mind thinking about the motor.

Thu 20 Aug 98
Morning: Lots of running around by everyone fixing up last minute personal details. Do some shopping for ships stores e.g. fuel/oil filters, grease, light globes, fuses, glue, shackles – the list is exhaustive. Delma and Ann do some more shopping.

1600hrs: The mechanic arrives with the new cylinder block. The barrel turns out to be undersized by 30 thou/inch. It’s only now I recall that oversized barrels had been fitted during the engine rebuild just two years ago. No matter. Work starts changing the old piston over and fitting the new one, which comes with its own new barrel.

1630hrs: Eldest daughter Karen comes down to say goodbye. Delma finally turns up after shopping.

2000hrs: Installation of engine finally is completed. Should have been done earlier but had to spend an hour looking for an important dropped bolt. Even cleaned the bilges out again to try and locate it. Finally found it mysteriously caught up under the engine. While the mechanic is here we install some asbestos lagging to the exhaust elbow so as to prevent burns when working on the engine, and reduce engine compartment heat. Run and test motor. Seems okay. Turn on fridges. Eutectic tanks are getting colder. Seems okay.

2030hrs: Youngest daughter Lydia and her boyfriend, and some of his family arrive at the boat to say goodbyes. Have some farewell drinks. Last minute tidying up.

2115hrs: Finally get away from the boat for the night to get some well earned rest. Feeling tremendously relieved. We’re going to make it after all.

Fri 21 Aug 98
007 getting fuelRight: Taking on fuel. There are about 20 containers of extra fuel and water lashed down around the boat.

0630~0700hrs: Down at the boat. Some more squaring away of gear. Getting ready. Everything seems to be okay.

0700hrs: Head out through Cullen Bay lock with 3 other boats. Motor across to the fuel bowsers to get duty free fuel. Take on 120 litres of diesel for A$58.00. Duty free stores arrive and are taken on board.

0800hrs: Customs arrive and give us our clearance. No problems.
We are now free to leave Australia.



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