02/11/2011, 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.
28/10/2011, 08 33.114'S:125 34.670'E, Cape Fatucama - giant Jesus, Dili Harbour, Timor Leste
Just a quick post to let you know we arrived in Dili this morning after a dream run across the Banda Sea. Only 10 hours of motor noise during the whole 3 days and most of that was to up anchor. re-charge the batteries, and cool down the fridge. Got the dinghy unpacked and back in the water once anchored opposite Palacio do Governo, and headed off to immigration, customs and harbor master this afternoon. All stamped and processed - no problems. Now looking forward to pushing up some zeds... more news as soon as brain cells recharged.
23/10/2011, 03 43.497'S:128 08.528'E, Amahusu Beach, Ambon - Pulau Ambon
Saturday 22 October, 2011 We are slowly learning to time our arrivals a bit better. We had worked out that the Hitu-Lama-Port Ambon leg would take around 12 hours, and we didn�'t want to arrive in a busy, notoriously difficult-to-anchor-in, sea port in the dark. Chalkie had told us about all the yachts dragging when he was there, and anchorage notes all warned about the holding and the currents, and old half submerged piles. We decided we would need to leave at around 2.30am, to ensure we arrived, worst case scenario, by 4pm-ish. Given we were only metres off a reef at Hitu-Lama, and we could hear the anchor chain sporadically growling across the bottom, getting out of there early seemed a great idea.
Waking at 1.30am I nervously considered my responsibility to get the engine in gear and to steer the boat in the right direction, AWAY from the reef, while Tony pulled the anchor up. Sounds easy, and it actually turned out to be ok, although I ran over a mooring buoy line in the pitch dark and had to quickly get the engine into neutral as we passed over the 30mm floating line which momentarily hooked up on the rudder! Half the fishermen of Hitu-Lama seemed to be out that night, their dark outlines turning into frantically waving torch lights. We shone our torch back to show them we had seen them. Many of the FAPS (fishing assistance platforms) were, thankfully, lit up, as the men deployed the nets below them. Once the half moon rose at 3.00am, we could see those that weren�'t lit even more clearly. A huge log bobbed into sight and passed us by with feet to spare an hour later. Logs at night are a bit like half sunk containers really, you don't have a chance of seeing them, so best not to worry about them unless you have to - just run the gauntlet!
Breakfast was very early that day, so once we were cruising along the western shores of Pulau Ambon I wasn't surprised when Skip Tone started making noises about lunch at 9.30am. We have two copies of the Pardey's "The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew�" on board (2nd & 3rd Editions) and I have been mining them regularly for provisioning and meal ideas. Larry's Favourite Cabbage Salad is rapidly becoming Tony's favourite too. Several villages cling to the shoreline between Tanjung Wairole and Tsnjung Lia, reminiscent of Italian hill towns. Rainforest covers the steep hills that rise sharply from the sea. The beautiful rugged coastline made the perfect backdrop for lunch, the time was irrelevant.
The name Ambon is known to many Australians, not only as the finish line for the Darwin-Ambon Race, but also unfortunately for bouts of sectarian violence. After weeks of navigating according to the minarets of the local mosque it was strange to see huge crosses fronting several churches on the coastline. We really knew we were returning to civilization when the roar of an approaching jet forced our eyes skywards. The runway was on the only bit of flat land on the island, to our port, and we had sailed right under the flight path. We are now less than 500nm from Darwin, as the crow flies, nearly 2/3 of the way 'home'. The realization that there are even connecting flights from Ambon to Australia caused a wave of homesickness to momentarily wash over me (sorry about the nautical metaphors... hard to get into another paradigm!). At the same time we both felt sad that our time in Indonesia was drawing to an end.
Coming up Teluk Ambon we felt the flaccid sails start to pick up with the first decent breeze of the day. However, collisions seemed imminent with several fast moving ships (thanks again AIS! - the automatic identification system that warns about shipping in your vicinity, and even tells you their name if you are lucky). Today our eyeballs could tell us the ships were there, but the AIS also works out the vectors and how many minutes you have to collision time! This info, along with a rapidly approaching thunderstorm meant we had to reluctantly drop sail, turn on the diesel and get out of the shipping lane. Skip Tone had decided to anchor at Amahusa Beach, 2.5nm south west of the port of Ambon. This is the actual finish line for the race and where, in July, many yachts would have been 'parked'. Today there is only one boat, but it's a multi-million dollar sea-going motor vessel, virtually a ship, complete with jetski and BGAN satellite dishes (Broadband Global Area Network, equals expensive!) Using our routine of motoring slowly in and circling around to get a feel for the depth, we found a reasonable patch near the Hotel Tirta Kencana, just north east of a small creek, in 17 metres. Twenty four hours later and several turns of the tide it is still holding, and no nasty dragging noises.
Today, Sunday, we were woken by church bells, and later the faint singing of the congregation. Tomorrow we head off into Ambon city to go through the immigration, customs and quarantine clearing out process. Next stop - East Timor!