1120hrs: Good work by crew in getting underway. Change the #2 jib for the genoa. Shake all reefs out of the mains’l. Motor off and under full sail at 4 knots. Glorious day. Wind puffing and variable mainly from ESE. Boat gliding comfortably through the water. Feeling the bite of the sun though. Will just have to sit in the shade of the sails when not taking a turn on the tiller then. Life’s tough.
1200hrs: Approaching southern side of Nustabun Island before doglegging to the our right (westwards) to pass between Nuyanat and Anggormasa Islands. Olendir Harbour is situated on the northern side of Selaru Island towards the middle.
1400hrs: Passing between Nuyanat Is and Anggormasa Is. The latter looking a bit like a crocodile from a distance. Roughly 12 miles to go. During the last couple of hours we have used the time to run out the anchor rope and mark it with cord at 10m intervals. This is to work out the ratio of anchor rope to depth of water when anchoring.
Right: Leaving Saumlaki. Looking aft from the bow. Head of the staysail is in the foreground and the tip of the headsail can be seen at the top of the photo. Radar reflector under crosstree top right. Mast has steps for climbing to the top … if necessary.
Wind has been variable both on and behind the beam. Try to goosewing the sails but not able to keep the headsail filled on our course. Averaging 4 knots. Roughly half way there. Breeze fades in and out. Glorious sail.
1430hrs: In clear waters and try goosewinging sails again. Immediate results up between 5~5.5 knots. Wind coming off port quarter.
1500hrs: Off Pt Torimtubun which is the NW point of Selaru Island heading west.
1530hrs: Wind follows us around the coast as we turn SW keeping a good 5 knots. Just magic. Haven’t had to touch the sails.
1600hrs: Reach our waypoint. Some careful navigation required now as extensive offshore reef areas here. Sails down and motoring in carefully at 3 knots. Heading towards the village of Namtabung. Water in the main channel quite deep at 22m.
1630hrs: Sneaking in towards shore carefully watching the depth sounder in 20m depth at 1.5 knot to maintain steerage. All crew up front with polaroids reef spotting. Depth sounder shows bottom coming up at about 70 to 80 degree angle… FAST! No time to reverse. Put motor into neutral and slam the tiller hard over. We turn tight to starboard in our own boat length but immediately in only 1.5m of water. Order all crew to the rails on starboard side quickly as the boat draws just 1.4m draught. Complete the turn, straighten up and start to head back out to deeper water. Keel bumps on the reef once then the rudder touches and we’re clear. Whew!
1700hrs: Have been heading further east into the harbour where the bottom shelves more gradually. Will have to anchor further away from the village but that suits us anyway. Take great care circling the chosen anchor site taking soundings. Anchor down and set it.
Big bushfires to the east and lots of ash coming down on us. Sure we can smell a pigsty somewhere. Quite strong. Chainsaws going ashore. Nice enough spot though. Reminds me of Masson Point in Turnbull Bay back in Bynoe Harbour west of Darwin. Flat and low country. Will wait and see whether we go ashore tomorrow or take off somewhere else.
Anchor off Namtabung village, Selaru Is. Posn: 8 degrees 07.83’S, 130 degrees 57.14’E. Namtabung village is situated on the SW side of the harbour. Anchored in 22m of water. There is a wide fringing reef all along the shore, but which indents slightly on the northern side of the village allowing closer access to the village.
Caution: There is an uncharted and unmarked shallow reef standing alone and running parallel with the shore from Namtabung some distance easterly. This is the one which surprised us despite having 3 pairs of eyes wearing polaroids on the lookout.
Particular care should be taken here as there is no discolouration of the water to indicate reef, particularly at High Water. This is usually the case where reefs jut straight up from the bottom as is so common in Indonesia.
To get closer to Namtabung you should approach at Low Water and aim to the right of the village as you approach it, and come around the side of the above shoal. The ideal method would be to have a dinghy out the front leading the way in.
Total engine hrs 533.8hrs. Completed 25 miles in 6 hrs. Wind hardly ever above 10 knot but got a tidal push heading west through Egron Strait.
1745hrs: Temperature is 29 degrees celsius, barometer 1005hp. Erect the canopy and start making sundowners. All in all a bloody great days sailing. Very pleasant and easy. Tape of “Fine Young Cannibals” playing.
1800hrs: Tiga rowa comes out with 4 men aboard. One climbs on and introduces himself as Higins. His English is pretty good. He says he worked in the Tourist Commission at Ambon for 3 years and knows several yachts from the annual race there. Amongst others he knows are Our Philosophy and Enigma from Darwin.
Higins tells us the bushfires are lit to hunt pigs and that there are many pigs here, which explains the offshore aroma. He says the lighting of fires to hunt pigs is traditional. Higins’ 3 companions came aboard and sit quietly in the cockpit. All adult men and friendly though little or no English spoken.
Higins is an agent for some Dutch company which sounds like a tourism thing. He is currently staying at Namtabung with his family and is having some problem with his wife and not allowed home. He shows us his name printed in a Dutch magazine as an Indonesian contact. He is trying to build up a diving business and is in partnership with some other partners in Ambon. Higins reckons there is excellent coral diving and snorkelling here.
Seems there is lobster, crabs, pawpaw, seashells, sweet potato, limes and even ICE available here. We hope he isn’t just saying ‘yes’ to every question he’s being asked. Higins promises we’ll have a party tomorrow ashore. He offers to guide us around in the morning and give us lunch. He asks if we can bring some cassette tapes ashore for dancing tomorrow night. Also loads of sopi available (an alcoholic drink made from coconut). This village has around 1000 people.
We ask him about the 3 Australian soldiers buried at Nustabun Island. He tells us they had been killed by Japanese aircraft. The story changes a bit but eventually it seems they were actually airmen who got shot down over Selaru Island. They’d then been collected by local natives and buried at Nustabun. Selaru apparently had been a very large Japanese airbase in WW2. The Japanese probably used the airfield as a base from which to bomb Darwin and other places across Northern Australia.
Dusk: Higins and his mates depart leaving us buoyed up for events tomorrow. Have a lovely dinner of stew consisting of lentils with desert of fresh pawpaw and long-life cream. We’re all full as a goog.
2130hrs: Fall asleep waiting for the weather broadcast.
Thu 3 Sep 98
0900hrs: Our new friend Higins comes out with a cousin and another young man. Says there will not be any lobsters as time is too short to arrange it, but he has some mud crabs ready to cook ashore. He goes back. We have breakfast.
1000hrs: Have a swim around the boat. Water is just great. Temperature inside boat is 30 degrees. Barometer 1008 hp and rising. Wind picking up slightly. Small wavelets in the bay.
1100hrs: All jump into the dinghy to go to shore. Little bit squeezy in our little 8 ft boat. There’s about 3 inches of freeboard. Have to imitate the Indons by bailing out water when it’s choppy.
Once ashore some kids show us the way to the Orang Kapala – Headman. Meet Higins on the way. The Headman is away so we’re taken to meet the 2nd Headman who doesn’t appear interested. Quite an interesting village. It has electric power and an almost new church. Streets are wide and clean except for various dollops of dog, pig and goat shit. An ever-present gaggle of noisy, gawking, attention seeking kids again. Most gather around the two girls like bees to a honey pot.
Lunch: Walk around the village for a little bit. See several satellite dishes around. Everyone looks well fed and clothed. Fairly prosperous looking place compared to Adaut. Lunch is at Higins’ aunties place. Feast on 5 big full mud crabs, sweet potato, pumpkin and rice. Yum yum.
Afternoon: Wander around almost aimlessly for a while before being taken to one of the houses. We’re met by two senior Ibu’s – ladies. With displays of toothless gums and tobacco plugs they show how they turn raw cotton into thread. They pull out a sample of their weavings to show us. Takes them about 2 weeks to make a cloth large enough for a coffee table. Unfortunately we’ve already got some weavings.
Right: A demonstration of how locally grown cotton yarn is made. The women sharply spin wooden dowels while pulling raw cotton out of the little woven containers. Quite skilful. Their dresses are an example of traditional weaving using natural dyes.
Take a walk along the beach. Higins shows us where a concrete bunker had been built by the Japanese in the war. Sit under a tree on the beach and rest. Forget about any privacy though. The entourage of children stick to us better than Super Glue. They do however make themselves useful. We each get a coconut to drink the milk and eat the meat. Further down the beach Martin is being fed sugar cane and being groomed by the village kids. They’re fascinated by his long hair – Indonesian males here don’t wear long hair.
1700hrs: The tide is right out by the time we get back to the village. No matter. There’s many willing helpers to carry the dinghy through the shallows to deeper water. Make our way back to the yacht. We had intended to stop for a snorkel over the reef but there’s a bit of chop running in the bay. Am able to make out a long shoal running parallel to the beach which is unmarked on the chart, and which we found with a certain amount of excitement yesterday.
1800hrs: Back at the boat notice that an old T shirt used to sop up excess water is missing. Delma says she thought she saw one of the kids named Dominic wearing it before we left. Have swimmies around the boat again and drink hot cuppa’s. Just relax and enjoy a bit of privacy for a while.
Discuss the possibility of checking out the old Japanese airfield which is situated further inland. During the day Higins had given us some more info about it. It’s apparently bigger than the Ambon airfield today but is disused. He says that if we go there we will be the first visitors, and that there’s still old machinery and airplanes next to the strip. Seems the Japanese had also dumped vehicles into the bay around the corner and can be viewed by snorkelling in the clear waters.
The bay Higins mentions would have to be SW from here and called Labuan Lemian. The pilot books don’t have a lot to say about the place. The airfield is allegedly a cross country walk to a place called Lingat about 5 km away. There seems to be a little bit of disagreement between Higins and his cousin as to how long this will take so it doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. My impression of Higins is that he is a nice fellow but is a man with big ideas, a lot of talk and not a lot of knowledge about the island on which he is now was living. After checking the chart and discussing it we all decide we won’t go there and check it out.
Dusk: Everyone into the dinghy again for the trip back to the village. Take it very carefully over the reef feeling our way in using our oars to test the depth, as the tide hasn’t come in sufficiently yet to be sure of clearance.
Evening: Almost pitch black once ashore. A fire has been lit to guide us in. Even though the village has electricity there is virtually no street lighting and the village is set back from the trees on the shoreline. Higins finds us almost immediately and takes us to his cousins place. We’re seated while we wait for dinner and we watch copra being bagged by a young lad for shipment to Saumlaki.
Eventually some huge cooked mud crabs are brought out, still hot. Another feast of mud crabs, spinach, spiced fish and rice. Watched by crowds of people. Higins opens the crabs and extracts the meat for us before joining in himself. No one else joins in. A little discomforting eating so well with so many watching.
Afterwards some cassette tapes we brought along are put on. The music resounds up the street through amplified speakers attracting even more villagers. Someone with a big stick draws a large circle in the dirt outside the house, which the villagers aren’t allowed to cross. Martin is able to sit outside in the cool air like Lord Jim holding court reasonably unmolested, enjoying sippies of sopi, while being the subject of intense scrutiny by the villagers.
Meanwhile the girls have been inside enjoying a regular tipple of sopi. Young Dominic (of rag T shirt fame) is all dressed up now and encourages Delma to get up and dance. She accepts and goes straight into a routine which involves swinging of the hips and flattening your dancing partner. Dominic is barely able to keep his feet much to the utter delight of the onlookers. They’re literally almost falling about laughing. Ann is persuaded as well to join in.
The evening wears on and the “dancing” continues. Dominic gamely stays on his feet and makes a few counter attacks of his own. The crowd outside swells as the laughter and music attract even more villagers.
Finally the girls come outside for fresh air. The line is redrawn in the dirt and one of the men threatens the villagers with a stick to stay back behind it. Our two shameless lasses start again and try to get a Samba line going but the concept must be too strange and very few join in. Maybe they are just too shy but a sea of grinning white teeth and shining eyes follow the two white ladies having some fun. There probably isn’t much in the way of entertainment here, so this night will probably go down in village memory for a long, long time.
All good things must come to an end and the party-pooper has to be the skipper. I would like to be able to get the crew back to Lowana IV while they can still sit reasonable straight and still in the dinghy.
2200hrs: Lovely trip in the full moonlight. Slow down to admire the reef through the clear water as we pass over it. Spectacular stuff. The moonlight lends an unreal quality to it.
2230hrs: Hot chocolate drinks for everyone and bedtime. We observe that these people have expended a considerable amount of money on us so far and we haven’t been asked for any money to pay for it. Where could you get that sort of hospitality in Australia? You could not imagine owing a fairly large amount of money (relatively), and being allowed to just leave without paying. Especially out to a boat which could just depart in the night if we were low enough to do so.
Fri 4 Sep 98
0930hrs: Temperature 29 degrees. Barometer 1006 hp. Everyone still slugging out lying in bed reading books. Each waiting for someone else to get up and put the kettle on.
Morning: The terrible trio go ashore in the dinghy with the snorkelling gear. Tide is going out slowly. The coral reef goes a long way off the beach, so the dinghy is used as a base from which to snorkel. Ann takes some underwater pictures of one particularly nasty looking bombie rising up almost to the surface. The swimming takes up the rest of the morning and early afternoon.
1430hrs: On shore looking for Higins as arranged. No sign of him. Kids running all over the place to find him. In the meantime we’re invited into the front room of someone’s house while waiting. The bloke there proceeds to tell us about how good a boxer he used to be. I don’t know why he chose that particular subject.
1510hrs: Higins arrives on a push bike and takes us to his cousins place again. We indulge in yet another feast of more huge mud crabs, yellow rice, spinach and spiced fish which everyone comments on as being just too delicious.
Later on we take a walk along the beach. Each of us with an attendant party of youngsters. Our two girls walk right out to the point with their kindergarten hot at their heels. Some hang around Martin who gives English and bullfrog singing lessons. One of the village lasses declares her undying love for him.
Meanwhile I talk to Higins but then get mobbed by the hordes. I look around to see they’d deserted Martin who has waded out into the water. Good plan because with his long crane legs he can get further out without getting his clothes wet. I’m reminded of how a fox gets rid of fleas!
1800hrs: Escape back to boat for some peace and quiet plus a bit of privacy for personal comfort requirements without staring eyes. Have a cuppa and rest for a while.
2000hrs: Back to shore for our promised lobster meal. No sign of Higins again. Wait at his cousins house and are served dinner. No crabs this time. No lobster either. Basically the same fare we had for lunch. Quite nice though. Cold Bintang and soft drinks are also provided. Higins later turns up. Says his lobster men had still not returned and mumbles something about being angry with them.
2230hrs: Finalise our bills. Higins cousin wants Rp10000 per plate. That’s Rp40000 (A$6.50) to feed four of us. Total cost of food for 4 meals for 4 persons was Rp160,000 (A$26.20). Higins is happy to accept whatever commission we want to give him. We pay him Rp50000 which would be about 2 weeks wages. Drinks of 9 beer and 6 soft drinks cost Rp142,000 (A$23.30). All up the cost for food, drinks and Higins commission cost Rp352,000 (just under A$60). Higins presents us with an embroidered piece of cloth as a parting gift.
Higins now takes us to his mothers where some traditional baskets Delma had asked for yesterday are now completed. These are fairly large baskets with a strap which the native woman hang on their foreheads. They are woven out of palm leaves and are quite strong and well made. She also buys a woven palm hat. The hat and 2 baskets cost Rp20000 (A$3.25).
No limes, bananas or pawpaws available. Tonight ashore is a much more subdued affair. Still a lot of kids about but not as many as last night and few adults. They must be starting to get used to us.
2330hrs: Make the trip out to the yacht uneventfully across the reef in the moonlight. Drink hot chocolate and other drinks with the strong smell of pigsties providing atmosphere. Pooh!
Sat 5 Sep 98
Have decided to start heading up the west coast of the Tanimbars. One option is to go direct for Yamdena Strait but that would be in excess of 40nm. We’re looking for an easy day sail so we’ll head for the village of Latdalam on the SW corner of Yamdena Is and overnight there.
0830hrs: Observe two levels of cloud. Tufty cirrus up high and cumulus below. Looks like we’re in for a weather change. A small sun shower comes over lasting about 30 seconds. Barometer 1005hp. Keeping an eye of the barometer to watch for any pressure drop.
0900hrs: Getting boat shipshape. Have breakfast. Hoist the dinghy. Wash down the bushfire ashes off the decks. Quick swimmies next to boat.
MORE TO FOLLOW