Double Rainbows and Downwind Sailing
02 November 2011 | 08 33.114'S:125 34.670'E, Dili Harbour, Timor Leste
Thursday 03 November, 2011
Apologies for not posting sooner, it has been very hot and busy since arriving in Dili, and we have not been able to get internet connection sorted. Each time we visit the Timor Telecom office they advise their internet connection software is not working. For the short amount of time left, even if they get it sorted today, we won't get connected as we will be leaving Dili on Saturday. This week there were also two major public holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, with 90% of the city shut down to celebrate these religious holidays. Sunday is also still a special day in Timor Leste, with families gathering at their church, sometimes walking up to 4 hours each way to attend. On All Souls Day people visit their ancestors' graves, tending to them, so we saw many large groups loaded with baskets of flowers and cleaning equipment. Later in the day, we passed several cemeteries where fresh coats of white wash and paint had been applied to the once again lustrous graves.
Our arrival in Dili came after an excellent 4 day 3 night crossing of the Banda Sea. Just as we were leaving Ambon, we saw half a rainbow, valiantly trying to be a full rainbow. It then turned into half a double rainbow. Not sure if you have seen the u-tube video of the ode to a double rainbow, but this image had us laughing in the cockpit as we sang the tune - guess you had to be there! We had 10-15 kt winds all the way, some of it even following, and sometimes rising to a steady 20kts. We only had to use the engine to get out of Ambon, into Dili Harbour, and a couple of times during the crossing to power up the autopilot. Skip Tone was very happy!
By the 3rd day we were well settled into a routine, although a bit tired as no matter how hard you try, sleeping on a constantly moving boat can be difficult. By late afternoon, the Indonesian island of Wetar, just off the coast of Timor was visible in the hazy distance, and I was off watch trying to grab a few hours rest up on deck where it was a bit cooler. I heard Skip Tone call out there was a huge log coming our way, bringing me out of a half doze. Over on the port side he pointed to a dark round shape in the water, which appeared to be 'smoking', or 'blowing' water. We looked again, it couldn't be smoke, maybe the log was hollow and the water was spuming out of it with each wave action. By this time we were only 30 metres away but it looked like it would just drift by us. Then it moved, and blew more water and we both realized it was a whale! For a whole range of reasons, (lack of time to research being one of them!) we had never considered this region as having whales! Being sleep deprived we even wondered if we were imagining it. Like us, the whale seemed to have been dozing, before our little yacht had come along and woken it up. The 'log' came to life and swam lazily into the next wave - we could see its bulky shape moving in the water, changing direction and propelling itself in a way no log could, it was definitely a whale! As he/she came astern it breached, heaving its huge body out of the water before falling back with a monstrous splash. The archetypal whale tail disappearing into the deep definitively identified that this was no imaginary creature! We saw it surface and blow a couple more times, one more leaping splash, and then it was gone. We were both wide awake now, how many more might be in our path! With the sun just setting, any others would be impossible to see.
We could see the loom from the lights of Dili now, one more overnight sail and we would be there. The maps and electronic charts we had showed several reefs to be avoided, and we needed to slog through the dropping fluky winds and variable currents as we approached the headland of Pulau Atauro. We must be getting to be sailors, preferring the dangers of the open ocean/sea to the pitfalls of approaching land!
Four other yachts were already anchored in Dili Harbour, and the fishing fleet was also rafted up. Several wrecks could be seen on the reef, and even on the harbour's rock sea wall. What looked to be a recently marooned ship, with people still living on it, was also firmly wedged on the reef. We later found out that the ship had come to grief in a storm two months earlier. Over the course of this week we have seen them welding and working on deck, maybe hoping to refloat it during the next spring tide. With the weariness of the crossing making it harder to concentrate, we edged our way around, dragging and re-pulling the anchor twice before finding somewhere very close, it seemed, to the reef and several other boats. A local came out in a dinghy and called out to us that this would be ok, telling us to drop more chain. After a rest and waiting a few hours to make sure the anchor was holding it was time to unpack the dinghy and go ashore. Roger, an Australian on the yacht next to us, kindly dropped over to say hello and give us directions to the immigration and port authorities. He had also dragged several times and had two anchors out. "You see that roof that looks like it has had a shell go through it, well that is what has happened to it, don't think they've had time to fix it yet, that's where you need to go...."
Taking our ship's papers, stamp, port clearances from Indonesia, passports, money, and the one page cheat sheet of Tetum greetings, we clamboured into the dinghy to find our way to the harbourmaster's office.
Photo note: Dili, from Dare War Memorial - in the hills behind the city.