A Fabled Lobster and Bubbles

074 Yamdena Strait map

Sun 13 Sep 98
0700hrs: Conditions completely still. Boat has swung northerly with the tide around midnight. Arc of swing .05’N and .04’E which is about 90 metres.

Barbuara Island – Yangur Rual Island

0900hrs: Anchor up and motoring. Heading for the little island of Yangur Rual. There are actually two very small islands marked on the chart in this channel between Wotap Island in the north, and a larger Wuliaru Island to the south. They are Yangur Rual and Yangur Raa.

1015hrs: Reach our waypoint to the south of Yangur Raa. The island is not where it’s supposed to be. Charts have been known to be incorrect so proceed with care, depth sounding as we go. The island is finally found as per the chart but it’s only just visible on the surface. Turn northerly to 310 degrees True.

 100 watching sounderLeft: Russ and Martin in the cockpit intently watching the depth sounder. The sun is very hot. Note the limp flag even as we motor along.

Caution: Yangur Raa Island. Despite what any pilots books might say including the ones we had on board, and in contravention to the chart which marks it as a proper island, Yangur Raa actually disappears at High Water. When exposed it is simply a sandbank with a heap of birds sitting on it – if you’re lucky. The sandbank extends further west than that shown on the chart but the channels are quite deep at 40 plus metres.

1045hrs: Approaching Yangur Rual from the SE. Start sounding the area.

101 yangur rualRight: Yangur Rual. The small island of Natrool off to the left. Large island of Wuliaru in the background at left. Darker patches in the water around Yangur Rual are reefs. The shore rises quite steeply.

1105hrs: Drop the anchor at Yangur Rual. Posn: 7 degrees 23.45’S, 131 degrees 12.05’E. Anchored in 26m of water between 200-300m due south of the island. The island is situated on a sandbank which is fairly steep-to on the SE side but is well discoloured. There is a good channel 20m-25m deep between the island and a 3 fathom shoal marked on the chart further south. Extensive reefs on the western side negate using the island for a lee shelter from NE to SE winds.

Distance Barbuara to Yangur Rual Island was 7.5 nm. Total engine hours 551 hrs.

1130hrs: This would have been the stillest day we’ve had on the whole trip so far. The flag almost hanging limp. Just a breath of breeze. VERY hot. It’s 36 degrees celsius INSIDE the boat with the fan going.

Water is crystal clear. Can see the anchor rope disappearing into the depths for a long way. There is a fish hanging around the back of the boat about 10m down. Water reflecting glare like a mirror. Horizon has vanished in the heat haze blending into the sky to the NW. A bit weird not being able to see a horizon.

Yangur Rual is like the proverbial cartoon tropical desert island. It consists mostly of sand with some sparse pandanus trees at one end. No coconut trees and only clumpy vegetation otherwise. It’s a beautiful beach surrounded by cool clear green water.

1230hrs: How quickly things change. The afternoon breeze kicks in and the sea becomes choppy with widespread whitecaps. Our trip to the island is postponed for the present so Ann takes a swim beside the boat.

1300hrs: Holding position perfectly. Winds not too strong at between 10~15 knots. Lots of chop and whitecaps but not heavy. Quite pleasant actually, even if we are confined to the boat. A Zodiac rubber-duck dinghy would be nice to have right now so we could get across to the island. Unfortunately our little 8 ft fibreglass dinghy doesn’t have much freeboard and is not safe for these conditions. Especially now we’re having cooling problems with the outboard.

1500hrs: It seems a little calmer so make a move to go ashore but another fickle wind comes through causing slight seas and scattered whitecaps. Decide to wait. Breeze is just lovely though and the setting is excellent. Decisions, decisions … sleep or read?

1600hrs: Try again. Ferry everyone across in 2 trips taking it really easy on the outboard. Seas still quite bumpy but no real problems. The island has clear green water and clean sand with black patches on the bottom. These patches turn out to be rocks with the occasional brown spot betraying a coral bombie sticking up near the surface. It’s easy enough to work our way around these. Shore is fairly steep so it’s necessary to spin the dinghy stern-to shore and face the waves as we land. Otherwise we might get pooped. Don’t have any problems though.

Explore the island. Some really beautiful sea shells. Find a half scallop embedded in dead coral which will make an excellent table centrepiece and functional as a dip plate. Do some snorkelling. Large variety of tropical fish. Nothing really big but some beautifully coloured small ones. Lots of brain corals. There are good sized clams that are embedded in cavities in rocks, but without jemmy bars we’re not going to be able to get them out.

This reef system hasn’t been poisoned but there are signs that they’ve used explosives at some time to catch fish. Unfortunately this is another Indonesian method of harvesting fish. Grab what you can with no eye to conservation.

There’s only one makeshift grass hut and a couple of small overnight campsites. Lots of bird life and crawling shell fish on the beaches. Picture postcard stuff. The idyllic tropical island except it doesn’t have any water. Would be nice to camp ashore but the yacht is anchored in a position exposed to strong winds and a long fetch of water east and west.

1900hrs: A strong current running westerly makes it hard work for our small 3.3 hp outboard getting back and forth, but everyone is finally brought back onboard. The wind has picked up instead of dying down at sunset as it usually does. Boat is gently hobby horsing to the swells. Martin has somehow managed to kick and cut his still rather tender half a toe on some coral. He’s sterilising and dressing it.

2200hrs: Listen to the forecast. No problems in our immediate area but moderate seas in the north Arafura Sea where we will be next week. Hopefully they’ll have abated by then.

Mon 14 Sep 98
0130hrs: Ann is woken by rain coming through the front hatch. Very quick shower which Martin sleeps through up on deck. Part of his mattress extending out from under the canopy f’ard of the mast gets wet.

0230hrs: Dinghy laying slack beside boat. Anchor rope slack. 3/4 moon is up giving lots of light. Tide is changing. Have to get up to a call of nature. Decide to keep watch for the time being just in case the anchor rope decides to snag something underneath the hull. Very peaceful.

0315hrs: Boat has swung 180m to the east and about 30m toward the north. Almost a full half circle towards Yangur Rual. Plenty of room though. Slight breeze is keeping the boat fighting the tide. Anchor rope floating around slack but boat is keeping position fairly well at about 25m depth.

0900hrs: Some fishermen working in our area. Wave them in and buy 3 live fish for Rp5000 and a packet of barley sugar lollies. One fish is a parrot fish complete with beak. It has the most incredibly tough skin I’ve seen in all my years of fishing, possibly even shark. Also buy a tricky-snapper and an unknown orange and white barred thing not seen before. Finish filleting them and Delma immediately cooks them for a most refreshing breakfast.

These fishermen have a mother ship that they return to at night which is about 60ft in length. It’s quite distinctive with grey superstructure and black hull. Actually looks almost like a naval vessel.

These blokes use leased boats from Hong Kong. Quite distinctive dinghies with purpose built water wells which access the sea in the bottom in which to keep their catch alive. They use boards to cover the wells and keep off the sun. The dinghies are equipped with small outboard’s such as 4 hp Mariner or Yamaha which push them along quite well.

We’d first noticed the mother ship and dinghies back at Wulutu village, and since then we’ve seen them working around each area we visited.  They haven’t paid much attention to us until now. Must be hard for them though. They’re out in the sun and weather every day from daylight to dusk.

0930hrs: It’s Annie’s birthday today. Delma presents her with a Birthday Girl tiara with instructions to wear it all day. Martin says that to mark the occasion she should be promoted in the foredeck party and be the first to pull the anchor up.

102 birthday girlLeft: Ann’s birthday today. She’s presented with a birthday tiara and instructions to wear it all day…which she mostly forgets to do.

1000hrs: Wind and tide still in competition with the boat not knowing which way to go. Lovely breeze.

Yangur Rual Island – Wotap Island

1030hrs: Anchor up. Motoring again since we don’t have that far to go. Heading towards the western side of Wotap Island just to the north. First we have to go NW on course 305 degrees True for 2nm to clear the extensive reefs on the western side of Yangur Rual. We then turn NE on 040 degrees True for the SW bay on Wotap.

Isn’t long before the land shelf drops off to over 250m. Fairly uneventful trip. Heading northerly with the tide trying to carry us back into the channel. Have been applying 10 degrees of leeway but it’s not enough. The depth sounder alarm goes off at 30m at which it had been set, so we turn west again for a while. Those reefs off Yangur Rual really do come out a long way!

1130hrs: Looking at the SW bay of Wotap Island which is now abeam. Doesn’t look like anything special. In fact looks a bit mangrovey further in. Could be wrong. Decide to check the next bay further north. It has a small cliffy island in the centre of the bay which looks interesting.

1230hrs: Arrive at the NW bay and decide to anchor up. Very pretty place indeed. Make our final approaches through the northernmost channel into the bay around the small island at the entrance. Progress is slow as we move from side to side of the channel to find the deepest water. Extensive reefs around every bit of land to be seen though there’s plenty of room.

1300hrs: Anchor up. We like the look of this place and will probably stay here a couple of days. This particular bay has a couple of nice looking beaches and reefs to explore, and that island smack in the middle just begs somebody to climb up to the top. It’s cliffs look pretty steep faced but we think we can see a couple of places where we should be able to get up without too much difficulty.

Anchored Wotap Island in 25m water. Posn: 7 degrees19.13’S, 131 degrees 13.91’E. Wotap is situated about 2/3 of the way up the west coast of the Tanimbar group. It’s a fairly reasonable sized island of about 5 to 7 square kilometres with its biggest mountain feature at just 618m. The NW bay provides a well protected anchorage for winds from the NE to the SE.

Note: Nearly all the islands on the western side of the Tanimbars have low mountains in the 600 odd metre range except for Laiboban Island which is 1281m high. It can clearly be seen about 8 nm away poking up in a blue volcanic cone shape. Some islands at the northern end of the Tanimbars reach up to 800 plus metres and are quite steep sided.

Distance covered Yangur Rual to Wotap Is was 8nm. Engine hours total 554hrs.

104 wotap north viewRight: Inside the northernmost bay of Wotap Island on the western side, looking towards the northern shore. Excellent swimming and oysters here. Most of the distance to the shore is shallow reef.

1340hrs: Ann is served a birthday banana custard sprinkled with crushed nuts. Martin wishes it was his birthday so he could get crushed nuts too. There’s an opening for a comment or two there somewhere.

105 wotap south viewLeft: Looking towards the southern end with an island in the middle of the bay.

1830hrs: Another relaxing day on board. Bit too blowy to venture ashore. No one probably inclined to do it anyway. Besides we have to limit the use of the outboard motor now as the water pump is getting weaker. If it fails we’ll be rowing everywhere.

Have sundowners. Enjoy the scenery and the birds working the schools of fish along the reefs. A couple of fish schools boil on the surface near the boat but am not ready with the fishing rod. Too bad … Our fishermen mates from this morning were supposed to meet us here to sell us more fish, but haven’t turned up. Too bad …

103 deck drinkiesRight: Martin, Ann and Delma not very active, relaxing on deck having a little ‘sippies’.

Rolling stones tape, sun setting, atmosphere on board is just great. Running short of dunny paper though. There might have to be a rationing!

107 banda sunsetLeft: Sunset over the Banda Sea.

Evening: Very gentle breeze and smooth water. Nice. At one stage we see extraordinary phosphorescent small sea creatures beside the boat. Really interesting. During the night Martin hears a pretty loud wallop nearby that sounds like something big.

Tue 15 Sep 98
0700hrs: Wake to the depth sounder alarm going off. It had been set at 15m but is suddenly showing just 8m depth. Strange … calm water, not swinging. Landmarks all okay. Turn the sounder off then back on again. All okay. Wonder what caused that?

Sun coming up behind the hills of the island. Depth sounder goes off again same as before at 8m depth. This time notice lots of bubbles breaking the surface of the water around the boat. What the hell’s that? Bubbles disappear and the sounder shuts up again.

Later figure out that it was densely packed schools of fish passing underneath, probably being herded by dolphins. It was to become a nuisance with the sounder.

0715hrs: Couple of blokes from a village about 2km away turn up in a dugout. They’re going fishing and want to know if we will buy any. Is the Pope a Catholic? Away they go after getting the almost obligatory cigarette from Martin, who’s the only smoker on board.

0945hrs: More visitors. A man and a woman with a 5 year old boy in a dugout come alongside. Woman is done up with her best makeup being white paste smeared over her face. This is quite common in Indonesia especially in poorer or remote areas, at least in the Molucca region of Indonesia. It’s supposed to make them more beautiful or attractive. Culture thing possibly similar to the way western women use lipstick, rouge and eyeliner.

The man promises to provide lobster tomorrow at Rp50000 but agrees eventually to Rp30000 (A$4.90). The size of the lobster remains to be seen. He has to go back to his village and get his diving glasses.

A comment is made about another yacht recently who bought some lobster from him. This would have had to be Farr Star whom we met at Saumlaki and who told us about this place. All the while our man admires our snorkelling gear on which we keep a careful eye until he leaves

Morning/Afternoon: Take the dinghy over to the beach on the northern side of the bay. Cross a very extensive reef. Spend the day exploring the coral sand beach, swimming, snorkelling, exploring some small caves and rocks along the shore. While not doing that we prise up and eat oysters or relax and read – or sleep.

108 exploringRight: The tide is in so we have to wade around the rocky foreshore. Often find patches of oysters which need tasting.

Another man and woman with a young girl arrive on the beach in a tiga rowa. They sell us some coconuts and sit by as we drink the milk and eat the coconut meat. They want 500Rp each but having no money with us we ask if they can come back to the boat later today. Turns out they have to leave before the tide drops so that they can get back to their village.

109 suggestive rockLeft: No prizes for the name we gave THIS rock.

I’ll need to go back out to the boat and get the money to pay them. They follow. Give them Rp5000 but they also indicate they want T shirts. Give them an old pair of shorts and khaki collar shirt out of the rag bag. They take them without comment and seem happy with it. They look like they need them anyway. Barely make it back ashore over the reef as the tide fell.
 110 coconut sellers
Right: This family sells us some coconuts. The lady is very pregnant but still does her share of the rowing in their tiga-rowa. Mean looking machete that fellow has got!

Back at the beach another man arrives. Sitting in his dugout is a long awaited, almost fabled LOBSTER. Quite good sized too. One of the painted lobster variety i.e. multi-coloured. He talks at a loud volume indicative of divers who have blown ear drums telling us he wants RP10000 for it.

 111 lobster for dinnerLeft: At last our long awaited lobster! We’ve been looking for a lobster dinner for so long …

He also has a good sized trepang (sea cucumber) in the dugout but he isn’t producing it. Not that we want it. He agrees to come out to the boat later on to deliver the lobster and get paid. He thereupon goes back out on the water and sits in his dugout near our boat for several hours waiting for us to return. We hope he’s keeping that lobster cool!

The beach and rocks are alive with crawling shell fish of all kinds. The snorkelling is not particularly good. There are clams around but once again they’re all imbedded in reef requiring a jemmy bar to prise them out. The clams are good sized at maybe 30-40cm in diameter. Would make a good meal in themselves.

Dusk: Return to boat. Our mate with the lobster comes over and gets paid his Rp10000. Lobster seems okay still. He also wants a T shirt so we give him an old one. Wants a smoke and some lollies for his kids. Okay … and we give him a couple of Woman’s Day magazines. He goes away seemingly satisfied promising to return tomorrow with 2 lobsters.

Evening: The afternoon wind hasn’t kicked in all that much. Boat sitting fairly still in the water. Delma cooks our lobster which we have for dinner together with biscuits, salsa and noodles. All in all the meal is filling and the lobster delicious even if a bit rich.

Weds 16 Sep 98

0700hrs: Depth sounder goes off again. Turn it off. A little bit of breeze about.

0800hrs: Wind building up. Small wavelets.

0930hrs. Wind really going now. Moaning through the rigging. Whitecaps everywhere. Boat canopy catches the wind causing boat to yaw around. Take it down.

1200hrs: Blowing pretty hard at times. No sign of any locals in canoes or sailboats. Little wonder. Boat is swinging through an arc of around 100m but holding firm in position. Getting hot without the canopy up. Conditions too strong for our little dinghy to take ashore again. The situation underlies why world cruising boats tend to be 40 ft length or more. They have more storage room and are able to carry a decent sized dinghy. There are some limitations with a 30 ft boat.

1700hrs: Spend the afternoon sitting around on deck waiting for the wind to die down. It’s now showing signs of it but still getting strong bursts. No chance today of exploring the little island. We had wanted to get to the top of it to take some photos. Never mind. You take the good with the bad when cruising by sail. Today must be penance for such a good day yesterday. Either that or the God of Lobsters is angry with us.

1920hrs: The wind at last dies down enough to put the canopy back up again for the night. Sun has set, no moon yet. Our friendly evening star planet Venus is shining brightly and reflecting on the water. Can see the two pointers of the Southern Cross low on the horizon to the south, but the cross itself is hard to make out on the gathering gloom on the horizon.

The girls are busy in the galley making salmon patties with green beans. Sweet potatoes and pumpkin chips are cooking on the BBQ.



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