Dolphins and Hard Bashes

074 Yamdena Strait map

Thu 17 Sep 98
0700hrs: Everyone up. Today marks the start of our return home via Selu Island located at the most SW point of the Tanimbar group. This anchorage had been recommended by a friend although it looks a little steep-to and exposed to southerly winds. The pilot book also reports heavy tide rips can occur in this area. We’ll just have to take a look and if the conditions aren’t right, we’ll push on.

Wotap Island – Selu Island

0800hrs: Take up the anchor and start navigating out through the narrow channel to open water.

0900hrs: Wind not up in any strength yet. Expecting stronger winds like yesterday so put up the #1 jib and full mains’l for the time being. Motor off. Wait and see what happens. Lots of fairly good sized flying fish skimming over the blue water. Wind from ESE at about 5~10 knots.

112 doing it hardLeft: Under sail with a full mainsail and #1 jib. The girls are taking it easy for the time being. It’s a hard life but somebody’s gotta do it. Selu Island can be seen in the distance at left.

0930hrs: Wind seems to be dropping. Located 5.5 nm WSW of Wotap. Speed down to 2.7 knot at times.

1200hrs: Positioned 3 nm north of the NW side of Wuliaru Is. Winds variable both in strength and direction. Trying to maintain a course of 250 degrees True but the heads’l is being blanketed at times by the mains’l. In order to keep the heads’l filled we are being forced more southerly than we want go.

Mains’l taken down and I ask the crew for a change of headsail to the genoa. A little mix up occurs as to which sail has to be put up and a bit of tension surfaces among the crew. Some sharp words are exchanged. Not anyone’s fault in particular. The slightest and silliest things can sometimes arise when people are confined together for fairly long periods. It’s over almost as soon as it starts.

In a little while we’re 11 nm from our waypoint with the genoa heads’l giving us more flexibility in a direction to steer. Getting between 3~4 knots and sometimes a bit more with some puffs as they come through. Getting cloudy. Pretty hot and humid.

1245hrs: Down to around 2.5 knots. Pole the genoa out for immediate results up to 4~5 knots.

1315hrs: Half way across the gulf between Wuliaru and Selu islands. Seas are disturbed. A few waves smacking the side of the boat. Waypoint is 6.75 nm away. Getting between 3.5~5 knots with variable winds still.

1500hrs: Reach waypoint off Nita Island which is off the NW coast of the larger Selu Island. We have to round this island to get to the western side. Turn southerly to 185 degrees True. Take down genoa pole. Bumpy waters off the headland.

1530hrs: Start motor and take the genoa down. Have selected a couple of sites from the chart to try for an anchorage but it’s very steep-to country here. Depth is over 1 km deep just 1 nm offshore. Sounder is supposed to pick up the bottom at 400m yet we don’t get a reading until we’re just under half a mile from the anchorage waypoint.

Spot the ‘mother’ ship again with all its little red dinghy ducklings out fishing.

Sound out the first anchorage site. Although feasible I don’t like it much as it’s quite exposed out from some low lying land behind. Hit the MOB button on the GPS in case we need to come back to it and move on further south to check out the next spot.

Note: When punched, the Man Over Board (MOB) button on the GPS records the precise latitude and longitude and provides bearings to return to that position.

1700hrs: There is a little village at the head of a little cove where there is a deep channel between the reefs. Sound out and measure the area carefully to allow for anchor swinging room. Drop the anchor.

Anchor barely hits the bottom and we’re still paying out the anchor rode when a red dinghy comes up. We gesture for them to keep clear but they ignore us and keep insisting ‘navy’. Surprised to learn that two of them are Navy personnel and want to check our papers. Where have they come from? They persist in attempting to approach and board us and finally some of the men grab onto the stern davits.

Martin and I are both getting annoyed. They simply will not keep clear. It’s bloody bad manners not to mention poor seamanship if not stupidity or sheer inconsideration to get in the way of someone trying to anchor. All sorts of things can go wrong and they would simply make a suddenly bad situation worse.

When anchoring has been done to my satisfaction, only two persons are permitted on board, these being the alleged two Navy men. Both are in civilian clothing and neither presents any identification. Another dinghy of fishermen arrive alongside.

Everyone except the two aboard are told to stay in their own dinghies. Martins stands by to ensure this occurs while I take the two other men downstairs into the cabin where they are handed photocopies of all ships papers. It must be said they behaved politely once on board and did not linger any more than necessary to establish who we were and what we were doing.

By the time the Navy blokes get off, Delma’s mouth is watering. Each dinghy has big live tricky snapper swimming around in the wells. Bargain for one fish from each dinghy at Rp10000 per fish (A$3.30 for both). Quite big fish too, each being around 60-70cm in length.

We are pretty sure the Navy blokes went back to the ‘mother’ ship and we start to wonder about the black and grey colouring of that ship. Strange …

Anchored Selu Island. Posn: 07 degrees 32.38’S, 130 degrees 50.06’E in 32m of water. At the end of the anchor rode of 120m of chain and rope the boat is sitting above 48m of water and holding directly out from the shore. Positioned directly in the lee of a 207m and a 211m hill. At this location I’m not prepared to put out a bigger anchor scope than 4:1 due to vicinity of reefs and swinging room required. Decide a second anchor will be put out if need be. Conditions remain good and it’s not  required.

Distance Wotap to Selu was 26nm. Engine hours 557.4 hrs.

1820hrs: I clean and filled the fish in the cockpit then the girls prepare the fillets. Also keep a big lump of roe from one of the fish. We’re having Thai Curry tonight! Martin cleans and disinfects the cockpit. All is well with the world. Thankful that we’re able to anchor up safely and not have to do a night-sail.

113 tricky dinnerRight: One of the two tricky snapper sold to us by fishermen after the Navy fellows left.

1830hrs: Winds are dropping. Water is smooth in the lee of the low hills.

Evening: A succulent meal. Even just the entree of crumbed fish pieces is almost enough to fill everybody. Wait for a couple of hours to let that lot settle before we attempt the next course – which is just as great. Nothing much short of a genuine pig-out …

2200hrs: Listen to the High Seas forecast and hear a call from Darwin Radio saying they are anxious to talk to Lowana IV. This pricks up my ears but I’m unable to respond due to our burnt out radio tuner. This incident starts to cause a bit of worry as to why they want to talk to us ‘so anxiously’. Make some calls to any ships on the VHF Ch16 and 27Mhz radios, but as expected no responses.

Discuss options. To get back to Saumlaki we will have to leave very early in the morning, but it’s still a good 50nm windward run to Saumlaki through the strait and various islands with possible adverse tides. There are also the unlit fish traps in the night in Saumlaki Harbour to consider.

Final decision is to push on as originally planned and overnight at Latdalam again.

Fri 18 Sep 98
0700hrs: Boat rousing. Dinghy from our neighbouring ‘mother’ ship comes past eyeing us off.

Note: Boat swung through an arc of 198m north to south lying almost parallel to the southern shore in the morning with an incoming tide. Tides set north to south here.

Selu Island – Latdalam

0800hrs: Pull up the anchor and start motoring out to clear the southern headland. Will put up sails when a look can be taken further outside. Water calm, almost mirror like. A little breeze. Overcast with fluffy-wool type clouds.

0900hrs: Wind maybe 15 knots from SE. It’s been pretty near easterly this whole trip but today when we want to go SE the wind is from the SE. Never mind. Put up the #2 (small) jib and mains’l with 2 reefs in since I’m expecting higher winds later. Especially when we cross Yamdena Strait and the bight between Seirra Island and the SW coast of Yamdena.

Run the sheets to the small jib inside the shrouds to try to sail closer to the wind. Intend to keep motor sailing at this time and see how we go. If we can keep a good enough speed we might even try for Saumlaki. It would be nice to know what message awaits us from Darwin. However we’ll need to do better than the 4.5 knot average so far on our present close hauled course of 160 degrees True.

0930hrs: Located 5 nm due south of our overnight anchorage on course to our waypoint off Seirra Island. Pointing into the wind between 25-30 degrees which is probably the best Lowana IV has ever done. Motor sailing and getting up to 5 knots. The log and GPS read the same so no apparent assistance from tide or current. Lovely day. The wind is about 10 knots now that we are away from the land. Seas slight. Very light clouds, overcast and glary.

1030hrs: Off the west coast of Seirra Island. Average over the last hour between 4~6 knots. Exactly on course.

1200hrs: Take all reefs out of the mains’l. Very bumpy seas with waves 1.5m-2m. Quite choppy and close together. The sea bottom has shelved up from 100m or more to between 20-30m within a short distance. Good enough reason for the water to get disturbed. Wind is also at about 15 knots which is making it worse. Take at least one wave over the bow but will get more seeing they’re so close together.

Tickled pink at the boats performance to windward, especially considering last years poor performance. Still getting 3.5~4 knots in the conditions. Put a reef in mains’l again just before the waypoint as we’re a bit overpowered and getting a bit of a lean up.

Change course to 180 degrees True and belly out the heads’l to help keep momentum going when we jolt into the waves.

1255hrs: Very bumpy now. Waves have spaced out a bit but are much bigger. Whitecaps everywhere. Long rolling cresters some of them. Tack eastwards to seek smoother water under the lee of the land. It will also take us closer to Latdalam where we will definitely be anchoring tonight.

1310hrs: Big pod of dolphins arrive around the boat. Dozens of them are swimming under the boat and back and forth across the bow. You can see them taking a look at the silly humans bouncing around above the water. These are not the larger dolphins as in the Banda Sea. They’re only around 1.5 to 2m with  a lighter coloured belly and grey topside. Occasionally there’s a bigger one. Very playful.

1320hrs: Dolphins still hanging around when I need to call for a second reef and spoil the fun. By the time the reef is put in the dolphins are gone. Boat handling and speed much smoother although we’re still slamming into the waves, which seem to be building.

1500hrs: Only averaged 2.75 knots last hour. Still heading easterly but slowly coming under the lee of the SW coast of Yamdena. Water is much calmer. Sun is much bloody hotter and the wind is backing towards the E from SE forcing us sail a more northerly course away from our destination. We’re presently on 070 degrees True but only just able to hold it, but I hope to make one more mile to clear some shoal water before tacking southerly again.

1510hrs. Not to be. Wind suddenly swings forcing us to go to 050 degrees True, which is too far north out of our way. Tack southerly. New course 130 degrees True will take us back out to the rougher water. Oh well …

1630hrs: Make 4 nm southerly to clear another shoal then tack easterly again. Trying to get back into calmer waters. Hate being tossed around, we’re supposed to be cruising!

1700hrs: Pass the 20m depth line but still a long way off the shore. Just 4nm to Latdalam as the crow flies but it’s directly to windward. Decide to try and motor toward it. Take down heads’l, sheet in the mains’l as hard as a board and start motoring directly toward Latdalam. Wind springs up on the nose almost immediately and speed drops back almost to a standstill. Seems this anchorage just doesn’t want us to go there. Back to tacking. Belly the mains’l a tiny bit to try and get some lift then start tacking toward our anchorage at about 2 knots or so.

1900hrs: After consistent strong, last gasp headwinds we finally manage to arrive at Latdalam and get the anchor down. Have been heading to the same GPS position from our last visit, but we pass over an underwater reef which suddenly juts straight up almost to the surface. Thankfully I don’t have a heart pacemaker – I’m not sure it would have stood the strain. Turn back out a little further and find a good patch about 16m deep and anchor there.

It’s been a long, fairly hard day bashing to windward. Quite bumpy in places especially off the western end of Sierra Island. Good to be able to stop and rest. Look at the sea and am thankful we’re not still trying to get to Saumlaki.

Anchored Latdalam. Posn: 7 degrees 56.07’S, 131 degrees 05.69’E. Distance travelled 36.4 nm. Engine hours 568hrs.

1920hrs: Wind dropping. Canopy has been put up. Hot cuppas and nibblies.

Evening: Have a sumptuous canned food dinner of sausages and onions and vegies.  Unfortunately I eat so heartily as to get the hiccoughs.

Must be hundreds of pan sized fish swimming and plopping around the boat. Must be attracted by the cabin lights through the portholes. In the morning Martin tells us they were still plopping around out there to about 0300hrs.

Sat 19 Sep 98
0530hrs: Awake to the sound of a mysterious rattle. Unable to locate the source. Boat rocking gently to small wavelets coming up the coast from the south. Have a scratch and go back to bed.

0700hrs: Crew slowly starting to move one by one. Reports once more of a hairy sea-monster which has been heard on or near the boat on this and other trips. Never been seen and only gets vocal whenever Martin or myself are asleep. If the truth be known it’s probably not just the boys. A petite sea monster can be heard when Delma is asleep too sometimes.

0730hrs: A lone dolphin cruises past the bow whilst we are still at anchor.


Latdalam – Saumlaki

0800hrs: Start making our way slowly westwards back out to sea. Lots of underwater reef right throughout this area. It would be a fisherman’s paradise as the area is alive with fish on the sounder. Reefs range between 6-18m as we pass over them.

0900hrs: Approaching first waypoint at 1 nm away. It’s located between the SW coast of Yamdena and Anggormasa Island at the entrance to Jasi Strait. Motoring only at this stage. Wind directly on the nose. Waiting to see what the situation will be after we turn the corner into the strait and start heading eastwards.

0850hrs: Small pod of dolphins trailing us off our starboard aft quarter. One of them dives playfully under the stern and out the other side.

Enter Jasi Strait.  Like all narrow straits it funnels the wind and tide. We’re lucky enough to get some tidal assistance but the wind and waves come at us constantly head on. Put up the mains’l and sheet it in. Motor sail back and forth tacking across the 1/2 mile wide channel at an angle to the waves.

1015hrs: Have got through Jasi Strait at an average between 2.5~3 knots despite the conditions, and back in deeper water again. Am now bearing the brunt of seas coming directly from the Arafura Sea at the bottom of Yamdena Island. Wind is up 15~20 knots. Spray whipping off the crests of waves. Heads’l up and tacking roughly SE and NE. Another bumpy water day.

1130hrs: Approaching the northern end of Nustabun Island where there’s a very narrow gap  and I’m not sure we’ll be able to get through here. Take down heads’l and sheet the mains’l in again. Will try the same trick as before. If it doesn’t work we’ll have to go south and go around the bottom of Nustabun before coming back up towards Saumlaki.

Able to get a bit closer to the wind without the heads’l, and getting a little lift from the mains’l by loosening it slightly. Tack back and forth across the channel until clear of Nustabun though have to work a bit harder to get through this one. Water gets calmer as we travel easterly.

1230hrs: Clear of Nustabun Island and almost at the northern end of Matakus Island. We’ve saved at least a couple of hours by going through the northern passage. Put the heads’l back up and tack northerly to avoid a big 12m shoal area.

114 yamdena ferryLeft: A coastal trader boat passes between Nustabun and Matakus Islands.  There’s quite a heavy chop going and it’s very windy still.

1245hrs: Getting 5 knots. Lots of rain activity about and we actually get a few drops. Want to dodge these isolated storm pockets as the wind can gust up a bit in and around them. Heading up Saumlaki Harbour. Bumpy ride again but making good time.

1300hrs. Turn off the motor. Sailing up Saumlaki Harbour under 2 reefs and small jib at up to 5 knots. Just HAD to get SOME sailing in on this leg.

1400hrs. Just about ready to drop anchor and a rain shower comes through reducing visibility. Wait for it to finish and the sun to come out so we can see the fringing reef. Know where it is but just want to make certain.

1420hrs: Anchor up okay. We’d been through some fairly slow stretches through the straits and out in the bigger waves so we’re glad to get the hook down again. Sun has come out. Lots of clouds but it doesn’t look like any more rain about.

Anchored Saumlaki. Usual position. Distance 19 nm. Engines hours 574.5 hrs.



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