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Cruising on Diomedea
Diomedea is a Van de Stadt Tasman 48
In Kalabahi
David and Andrea
25/08/2014, Kalabahi, Pulau Alor

After an afternoon siesta we felt somewhat revived and caught up with the other yachts. We enjoyed Southern Star's hospitality and were able to reciprocate by crewing for them to get their boat fuelled at the town dock. This dilapidated and dirty concrete, yacht-eating wharf was approached with great trepidation but we managed a damage-free tie up. Prolonged negotiations lasting several hours failed to result in any diesel appearing so we returned to the anchorage. The next morning we tried again and this time the diesel appeared, only to be withheld by officialdom for some hours. Lots of men in various uniforms stood around smoking and endlessly examining the sundry yacht documents. Finally, some invisible signal was sent and the diesel flowed. We dumped the first flush as it was full of gunge. Southern Star required about 2.5 tonnes of diesel whilst our needs were more modest at 240 litres. For us it was jerry jugs in the dinghy back to the boat for manual filling. The town of Kalabahi is remarkably dirty with canals full of litter and patrolled by pigs. The canals drain into the harbour so there is a continual stream of garbage (and worse) floating around. However, on the plus side, the town has actual formed sidewalks so you don't get run over, and nor do you break your ankles. There is an excellent produce market (Pasar Kadela) and Andrea had a guided tour of the offerings. The guide then gave Andrea a cooking class and she learned to make a real sambal, cook local mustard greens and water spinach, and how to add "red" onion (shallots), "white" onions (garlic), chilli and chicken stock to all dishes. In large quantities. Dissapointingly, not a single gram of the classic spices of the area were used. Later we had lunch at the outstanding nearby restaurant Resto Mama's. Actually it is the only restaurant in town. It served excellent meals at very cheap prices. It was cool and breezy.
To get around, one rides in small people mover vans with gaudy decorations and subwoofers that liquefy your intestines, once you are aboard. One should wear a hat to avoid catching lice from the carpet which lines the ceiling of these vans. Alternatively, one can ride pillion on one of the many scooters. Some of our group actually hired scooters for a self drive day tour, and nobody was injured thank goodness. Obtaining petrol however was problematic as there seems to have been a drought of this substance on Alor. Banks were available for financial needs.
The fiord leading to Kalabahi produces a 15 knot westerly seabreeze during the day and is quite reminiscent of Marlborough Sounds in that regard. At night the breeze shuts off completely and the anchorage is still. Insects were not a major issue. Pesky children in dugout canoes were.
Much to our delight we found a dive outfit in town run by a chap from the former East Germany. For just over 1 million rupiah (A$100) we had two nice dives on steep coral walls, and freshly cooked trevally for lunch. Sadly, large fish on the reefs seem to be virtually non-existent and the bamboo fish traps are full of tiny Damsel fish and other species.
Our final night in port was made enjoyable by an official reception at the function centre, given by the Regent of Alor. This rank equates to mayor on steroids I think. We were entertained by traditional dancers and had some good food. They gave us information handouts which would have been very useful at the beginning of our stay. Such is the organisational capability of this country. The speech by the Regent referred to beautiful Alor, like Heaven on Earth. The group experience really was counter to this description, but we dutifully applauded.



Indonesia
The Damage Done
David and Andrea
18/08/2014, Kalabahi, Pulau Alor

The fleet is starting to suffer, and so are we. One yacht, a catamaran, has had one of its rudders sheared completely off after hitting something in the ocean. Normally such an event would be very serious due to flooding of the hull but somehow this has not occurred fortunately. However, the steering system has been badly damaged and the boat is now in a relatively remote place needing to do major repairs, which will be very trying. Another yacht had a forced entry with locals breaking a window with a winch handle to gain access to the interior whilst the crew was ashore. A UK flagged yacht is aggressively hassled to give diesel to a local fishing boat and are forced to up anchor precipitously to get away from the demands. An unplanned overnight sail to another island results. Diomedea is subject to a corrupt demand for money by a harbour master in Hila. At least four boats have had net entanglements. And the rally is only beginning.
After a guided tour of Hila during which we taste a local sweet wine made out of palm flowers (possibly) and buy local honey, the crew of Diomedea readied for the trip to the island of Wetar. There are only two anchorages known on this big island, with the first being rather tenuous. The second is more than 100 miles away necessitating an overnight sail. After a romping sail across the paddock the SE tradewinds are replaced by northerly sea breeze for some hours into the night before a total glass out. Diomedea motored around to the tempting Hot Springs anchorage on the west coast. A blood red waning gibbous moon rises at midnight, made so by smoke haze. Labuan Air Panas( 07 51.177S, 125 49.59'E) is quite pretty with clean white sand and good holding, against a rugged mountain backdrop. Sadly, our desires for snorkelling were thwarted by the presence of a large crocodile cruising the beach. We dinghied ashore to inspect the fairly desperate village. Some boats are being built on the shore using very traditional methods in a design that has probably not altered for centuries. Water buffalo loaf in billabongs, goats scamper about and dogs give early warning of the crocs approach. The houses are all elevated on platforms as they are barely back from the high tide mark. Why the croc has not been turned into handbags is unclear. Of course, this day was supposed to be one of gaiety as Indonesians celebrated Independence from the Dutch, declared by Bung Sukarno in 1946. Our chosen village remains semi-comatose. Not even a flag out.
So, without fanfare it was on to the next island, Pulau Alor. The trip was hell. Good tradewind sailing was complicated by massive currents pushing us south as we tried to crawl to the north coast of the island. Soon, vast areas of overfalls ensnared Diomedea making real sailing impossible despite good breeze. Diomedea bucked and reared through the maelstrom as we approached Tanjung (Cape) Babi. The island is gargantuan. It rises to 1800 metres altitude from depths of 4000 metres just off the beach. Of course the tradewinds are blocked by the massif. We fought our way around the cape against 2.5 knot current only to find that the promised anchorage was completely untenable. After 60 hard-won miles, we were bitterly disappointed, angry, and already very tired as dusk settled. We started talking about a good sailing angle to the west coast of Australia. It is amazing to think that this country of islands has very few useable anchorages. The next one was 50 miles away in Kalabahi and it is to there we headed as the sunlight vanished.
Nets!! By midnight we found ourselves trapped inshore of a 10 mile long line of nets. Marked with hard to see party lights, it was impossible to determine how close they were. Fortunately, we were in a small convoy of yachts led by Robbie in his gorgeous Nordhaven motor boat. It has fantastic imaging systems, a spotlight that can pick up satellites in space, and a very elevated view of the world so they plugged on ahead of Diomedea. We plotted their course with AIS and clung to their wake precisely. The wind eventually faded away, but the adverse current remained and we motored into the inky blackness of the constricting Selat Pantar, along the west coast of Alor. I took the luxury of five minutes of sleep only to be awoken by Andrea as a maniac fishing boat closed with Diomedea. The final run up the narrow gorge to Kalabahi was complicated by fish traps at irregular intervals. By the thin moonlight of 4am we were at the anchorage only to be greeted by wildly gesticulating locals in a fleet of fishing canoes. Their calls sounded aggressive and we hesitated, shattered and demoralised. What to do? To our rescue came another cruiser already anchored. He told us of a reef nearby and it is this that the locals were probably warning us about. Finally, our anchor went down in 28m, and a whiskey went down shortly afterwards. The muezzin's calls to prayer from the nearby mosque went unheeded as the new day dawned.

Indonesia
20/08/2014 | Al
Sounds like you are having all the fun.
20/08/2014 | Peter
"My moma says life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get" Forest Gump.
Keep smiling P & V
21/08/2014 | Suzie
Hold cow that is one helluva journey. stay safe & have fun!
27/08/2014 | Jen
ahhh ... fishing boats, fishing nets, fish traps ... welcome to Asia!!!
Westward Ho!
12/08/2014, 07 35.085'S:127 21.951'E

Diomedea sped out of Saumlaki as massive rain and wind squalls chased us for the reach down to Selaru Island, only 25 miles away. The black veils obscured Tanimbar island from view but ahead of us was sunshine. Excellent. The entry to Labuan Olendir (08 07.71S:130 58.59'E) was made difficult by a line of nets across the entire bay, something to which we are becoming increasingly accustomed. Good anchorage was made in 12m with solid holding and soon some other yachts joined us in the delightfully flat water of this place. Strong winds and rain raked the bay making dinghy travel quite an experience. Locals boarded our yachts uninvited so we had to make a call to our agent Raymond to liase with the village headman to curtail this activity. We traded some fishhooks for coconuts, instantly transporting us back 300 years. A mad dash of 70 miles took us to the undescribed bay in the lee of Masela Island (08 11.065'S:129 49.21'E). The chart was a fantasy and we soon disregarded its contents completely, relying on the Mark 1 eyeball instead. Coral and rubble lay strewn over the seabed, and upon up anchoring the next day, a large fan came up with the chain. Interestingly, we were hailed by Masela Radio. This was quite unexpected as the village appeared to have no power at all. One boat elected to stay to do a tour of the area whilst the rest of our small band set sail for the 150 mile run to Romang island. It was a fabulous sail with wung out jib in 15-20 kt tradewinds. We saw dolphins and an extremely large blue whale which came up right next to Diomedea. At least as big as the boat. If one reads Coleridge, the poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner refers to the end of the day in the tropics stating that: At one stride comes the night. This most certainly was not our experience. The sun set right on the bow in a gorgeous fiery blaze, followed by lingering twilight for almost an hour. No sooner had the last light faded than the full moon rose dead astern to give us magnificent illumination for the night. Diomedea sped on under reduced rig with the Southern Cross low on port, as we timed our arrival for daybreak. Romang’s rugged 700m peaks appeared with dawn and Diomedea gybed around the point to glide the final miles up to the nicely indented bay with the village of Hila at its apex. The anchorage is remarkably steep to. Less than one mile from the shore the water is 2000 metres deep. Our hook went down on the reef in about 12 metres but the boat ended up in about 40m once the chain was out. Whilst there was very little swell in the bay, the presence of a col directly above the harbour ensured that bullets of wind swept us as the trades accelerated over the pass. Not only is the bay a wind factory, but the village appears to be a baby factory as well. Children of all ages were just everywhere. The Catholic church is obviously doing a good job, even if its building is smaller than the more obvious Protestant church up the hill. Walking through the village one is overwhelmed by the scent of cloves. Mats of drying cloves are spread out all over the place. We saw corn fields, paw paw, and something that looked like lemons growing but no other vegetables were seen. A few tiny stores sold cigarettes, soap and small packets of junk food. So far in these remote islands of Indonesia we have not seen a single obese person. Almost all people are whippet-thin so presumably food is not in abundance. Nor are there any old people to be found. We are guessing that at 50 your time is up. A supply ship curiously called The Miami came to the large concrete wharf which was not on anyone’s charts. On our regular morning radio sked we found that other rally yachts are scattered over the archipelago, with some to the north in Banda, one in Sulawesi, one in Babar and the rest around Leti to the south of us. Presumably the rally fleet will reunite at some point along the island chain.

Indonesia
15/08/2014 | Jen
great blog as always! look forward to reading your Indonesian adventures. Now back home following Phuket Race Week then two weeks sailing Stockholm archipelago out to Aland Islands (Finland) and back ... so beautiful! No surprises, loads of Swedes have been to Australia, some only just returned ;-) take care & happy sailing Jen & Charles
In Saumlaki
08/08/2014, Saumlaki, Indonesia

Saumlaki is a medium sized regional centre. It looks a lot like small towns in Nepal or India with infrastructure maintenance at about the same standard. In fact Saumlaki has the dusty, dry, slightly dirty odour of Nepal so we felt quite at home. The sidewalks are mostly non-existent so one has to do battle with the legions of scooters and other vehicles. The markets were extensive with good produce. The fish market was best visited early in the morning before the sun had too much effect! There were many other stalls selling an incredible array of colourful things of uncertain origin or function. The town has two big cathedrals and is predominantly Catholic, rather than Muslim. Catholicism was originally brought here by the Portuegese and then the Dutch introduced the Protestant faith. Muslims are in a minority and the mosque at the waterfront looks like a lawn locker in comparison to the massive and newly consecrated Santo Matias church. The port is home to a collection of rusty ships, most of which sit around doing nothing. Wrecks were common in the shallows. A RORO ferry visits periodically and there is an airstrip with supposedly one flight per day. Our land base was the Hotel Jarapan Indra which again reminded us strongly of such establishments in Kathmandu. Clean but basic. Its saving grace was that it was built out over the water and had dinghy access around high tide. And it sold the local Bintang beer which helped with group bonding. We had a number of informal soirees and think tanks in the beer garden. At low tide the alternative dinghy dock was a set of poorly constructed wooden steps down the seaward side of the harbour breakwater. With the medium sized swell rolling onto this area constantly, dinghy landing there was nightmarish at best and frequently dangerous. Of course, our real issue was the net still attached to our rudder. We quizzed the locals as to the likelihood of crocodile and shark attacks in the bay and were reassured that such things were infrequent. Nonetheless, David teamed up with Steve from Almacantar for the scuba dive. Steve rode shotgun to fend off any unwanted attentions whilst David busied himself slicing away the rope and net from the skeg. It was embedded in the bottom bracket and was never going to release itself. Whilst in Saumlaki the rally was treated to a bus tour to the nearby village of Tumbur, famous for its wood carving. Our group of yachties was given a fabulous greeting by a party of singing and dancing women and then we were blessed with the mark of the cross on our foreheads by the village elder. We had lunch and partook of various festivities before parting with some cash for the items on offer. During the ride back to town our group stopped at the Stone Boat Church which commerorates the arrival of some fearsome looking Dutch missionaries in the early 20th century. A tour of the local school of 300+ students followed the next day. We were marched to the school behind a contingent of 30 enthusiastic drummers. The school seemed centrered on trades-level education which is probably good for survival in this place. One of the rally participants is a blond 12 year old lad from the UK. In the rather uniformly dark brown of the school yard he was something of an exotic creature. He was kissed, fondled, caressed, patted, cuddled, groped, and had his face licked. And that was from the local boys as well as the girls. He took it stoically. The visit to Saumlaki was rounded off by an official farewell dinner with speeches, singing, live music, and Bintang. After waiting another day to obtain the necessary harbour clearance documents from the harbour master, Diomedea finally weighed anchor and set off west to explore the remaining 16,999 islands of Indonesia.

Indonesia
On to Indonesia
03/08/2014, 07 58.5'S:131 17.24'E

Daybreak revealed that the ropes and floats all remained attached to the hull and so a plan was made to try and determine the point of attachment. We have previously used a GoPro camera mounted onto the boathook to obtain underwater images of the hull without going in the water ourselves. To achieve this task the boat has to be parked mid-ocean, done by heaving to. Diomedea heaves to nicely with a backed staysail, helm down, and sheeted main. The video is turned on and the camera pushed over the side on the pole. Downloading the video afterwards showed that the rope was around the rudder skeg, not the prop, much to our relief. Due to the rough conditions, we did not consider going into the water to cut it away. The remainder of the trip was uneventful but we were again intercepted by Customs. Around 1030am on day 4, the low hills of Tanimbar appeared in the vapour haze. We gybed around the point and sailed into the Saumlaki harbour. Not being able to run our engine to anchor, we requested dinghy assistance from the other cruisers and so the last 50 metres were done with the motive power of an outboard. As we dropped the hook, Diomedea was welcomed with a call to prayer by the muezzin of the mosque on the shorefront. An incredibly atmospheric arrival. Customs and quarantine came aboard and soon we were admitted to Indonesia. In retrospect, if one were considering sailing directly from Thursday Island to Saumlaki, we would recommend staying within the EEZ until Gove on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then sail north to Indonesia. We feel that this would virtually rule out any possibility of getting stuck in the nets which can extend in one length for up to 15 miles. Out of our fleet of 22 yachts, a total of 3 had close encounters with nets and many other up close and personal contacts with fishing boats themselves. As Saumlaki is essentially dead downwind from TI, most yachts gybed back and forth across the rhumb line for the 650nm. There is a significant amount of west setting current, and we had up to 1.5 knots with us for the last 18 hours or so. Chafe on running gear was an issue for many with one boat breaking two headsail halyards, and another blowing its jib sheets which were led out through the whisker pole. During this trip we think we used about 60L of diesel, almost all of that being for the genset to recharge our battery bank. Probably the most fuel efficient passage we have ever done.

Indonesia
07/08/2014 | Peter & Vicki
Sounds like the Arafura sea is a target rich environment for those yachties tyring to improve their net stocks. Back home now after 1700km bike. Hope all are well & boat is happy. P&V
Running the Gauntlet in Torres Strait
01/08/2014, Arafura Sea, 133 longitude

Our challenges came immediately, even before leaving our anchorage in fact. The anchor brought with it some harbour floor hardware in the form of metal piping. Thus it was time for boathook manoeuvres to free the fouling and enable us to move. This was certainly a promise of things to come as you, dear reader, will see. We chose our departure from Thursday Island to coincide with the westward setting flood tide and, wow, did it set to the west. Diomedea was spat out of the Normanby channel with flow rates of more than 5 knots, and the flood continued into the Arafura sea for quite some hours, although at reduced rates. With 20 knots of breeze from behind and very confused seas for miles, it became clear that we had passed the point of no return. The only way home to Sydney now would be anticlockwise around Australia. Diomedea romped along with poled out jib making exceptionally good pace until we noticed some ominous looking clouds racing up astern. No sooner had we commenced preparations for reefing than one of the yachts behind us reported gusts of 50 knots. Yikes!! We got the sail down just as 40 knots swept through. Lucky. Somewhat chastened by this experience we kept the boat well reefed down for our first night at sea. Now, I want you to find a Google image of the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone along our northern coast. This is important. Have you got it? You will notice that there is a notch which sort of corresponds to the Gulf of Carpentaria. By late evening, Diomedea had sailed out of the EEZ into this notch of international waters. This turned out to be a really bad move, because in this patch of water there lies a vast fleet of Asian/Chinese/other fishing boats. With attended and unattended nets strung across the ocean. The fishing boats dare not enter the EEZ as it is regularly patrolled by Australian Border protection planes. The strategy of the fishing boats is to more or less blockade the entry/exit to Torres Strait for fish (and yachts). We spent our first night dodging many fishing boats, none of whom have AIS devices, nor respond to radio calls. Finally dawn came and our spirits lifted. Particularly when a small immature but inquisitive Sooty Tern appeared on our deck having a nice rest. Clearly he was separated from his flock and was probably exhausted. He left a number of calling cards naturally but in his short life he failed to learn one of those immutable laws of physics. That law states that small birds should not fly anywhere near the rapidly spinning blades of a wind generator. The poor little fellow was probably doomed anyway but it at least it was a very quick death. We had been warned about the location of some of the big nets by yachts in front of us so we kept a good lookout. To no avail. Just before dusk we ran over one net which scraped and rattled under the hull but separated and disappeared astern. Looking even harder into the gloaming we failed to see the second one which had only a small unlit buoy marking its location. Diomedea was brought to a sudden stop whilst running downwind as the net entangled itself around our hull appendages. We were held stern towards 25 knots of breeze and the accompanying seas by this anchor. Waves crashed over the back of the boat saturating the cockpit and us. As darkness descended, frantic efforts to bring the lines up the surface with the boathook were eventually successful and we could then chop through them and Diomedea began to move. However, we could clearly see a banner of lines, net fragments, and floats streaming out beneath our transom, definitely still attached to our hull. But to what exactly? The first concern was that the lines were wrapped around the propeller which would by now be damaged or partly avulsed by the large loads placed upon it. Was the prop shaft about to be ripped out of the hull altogether? Checking the prop shaft internally revealed no changes and the prop could be turned by hand without impediment. That was a good sign, but not enough to allow us to start out engine. We sailed into the night in a very heightened state of anxiety, resigned to having no recourse to the engine for the remainder of the passage. We steeled ourselves to keeping a sharp forward lookout in the dark, moonless night and monitored the radar closely. Looking forward proved very confusing because the intense bioluminescence of the breaking waves gave the false impression of lights everywhere. Our anxiety was not helped when, at 2am, a string of remarkably bright lights suddenly appeared right in front of the boat, as if out of nowhere. Close to panic as to which way to turn the boat to avoid this net, I realised that the lights were rising rapidly in the sky. They belonged to an Australian Customs plane which flew low enough that I could almost see the instrument glow in the pilots cockpit. Customs came on the radio and made it clear that we had re-entered the EEZ. We were out of the notch and back in the relative safety of Australian waters. The night grew ever darker, the fishing boats were gone, the radar screen was blank, and Diomedea was alone.

Queensland
01/08/2014 | Barbara McKay
OMG David and Andy - What a night - and we were all sleeping soundly in our beds even here in England -anxious to follow your next actions- Love
02/08/2014 | Al
What a trial! Please note my email address is BIGPOND.NET, get it? You are but a small fish and still on the net internet that is.
Its safer here among the Dreaming Spires of Oxford.
15/08/2014 | Jen
Welcome to sailing in Asian waters! You often pass through a night-time armada of smaller fishing boats featuring very bright lights and non-existent port/starboard lights ... all night!! Hard to believe any squid / fish are left after one encounter let alone night after night.

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