06/11/2011, 08 27.132'S:127 22.801'E, Yako Island, Tip of Timor Leste
We have just rounded the tip of Timor Leste and set the course which, wind and currents allowing, will take us across the Timor Sea to the entrance to Darwin Harbour in a few days time. It seems incredible that our journey is coming to an end even with 300nm still to go. As with much of the trip, my good intentions to blog as often as possible have not been realised, pushed aside by the realities of being in new places. So much to see and do, and then there´┐Ż's the heat and the recovery time needed before and after each long sea leg. (We're not getting any younger!)
The good winds across the Banda Sea made for a vigorous crossing, with little time (or calm waters) to reflect or write up our experiences. The current conditions as we head into the Timor sea, oily and smooth, may allow more time - we shall see!
Dili is an edgy place. We arrived at what should normally be the start of the rainy season. The city is hot and dusty, and desperately waiting for much needed rain after what has been an unusually prolonged dry season. According to the Dili weekly (www.thediliweekly.com if you want to take a read) more cases of people with upper respiratory tract infections are being registered at the local medical clinics, bought on by the dusty conditions and the traffic fumes from the city's amazingly congested streets. When you add a quiet underlying concern about the 2012 elections, 50% unemployment (conservative numbers), unreliable water and electricity supply, and children needing to sell icecream, tourist goods and other trinkets on the street so as not to go hungry, one begins to understand how this young nation can turn quickly from uneasy peace to frustrated violence as happened in 2006.
It is not surprising that people turn to a range of methods (including, sadly for us, stealing petrol from our dinghy) to make ends meet. We caught one of the thieves red handed, and were able to talk him into looking after our dinghy for a few hours for a small payment instead. In hindsight, we think petrol had been taken at several other anchorages, right from the start of our travels in Ternate, but not knowing the usual consumption of the outboard, had not cottoned on. In the short time we were in the Timor Telecom office a woman came in to get a new mobile and sim card, because hers had been stolen. There are several 'boat boys' working in Dili harbour looking after the anchored boats, and we used their services for a small fee whenever possible. However, because of the public holidays the week we were there, they were not always available.
Numerous UN vehicles contribute to Dili's traffic problems. Poor town planning - there currently isn't one, the ongoing urban drift affecting most of SE Asia, and the burgeoning population growth (families of 10-12 are still common) exacerbate the infrastructure problems. Power cuts of up to 5-6 hours a day are common, and the overburdened telecommunications system is struggling to cope with demand for both sim cards and internet band width. Having said that, coverage is extensive and strong, we could get mobile coverage right up to 5nm off Jako island.
During our short time there we were lucky enough to spend some time with people working/volunteering at a range of NGOs in Dili and their hospitality and insight gave us a broader perspective. A special day spent snorkeling at a nearby beach revealed the tourism potential for Timor Leste, with the small reef we explored equal to the Whitsundays. Diving is becoming more popular and eco-resorts are beginning to attract Australian and European visitors. A lovely evening meal on the beach at a restaurant south of Dili, with the water lapping gently on the shore reminiscent of the Mediterranean, capped off what had been a fascinating, tiring, but very stimulating week.
Photo note: Dinner on the beach, Dili. Realise some of the photo links have not uploaded, will fix when we get to Darwin.
06/11/2011, 08 11.076'S:126 38.268'E, Selat Wetar, North Coast, Timor Leste
Sunday 06 November, 2011
It is early Sunday morning, 1.30am, and we are approximately 60nm out of Dili. The moon is back with us tonight, and just as well, as there is very little else - no wind, no whales, but also - no waves. Calmer seas at least make for easier reading, cooking, and sleeping. We are tick tacking (mainly ticking) our way up Selat Wetar, the straight between Timor Leste and Pulau Wetar. Motor sailing gives us the illusion that we are not using half the oil reserves in the Timor Sea just to get home. I eye up the jerry cans on the deck and re-calculate for the umpteenth time their capacity versus our consumption - should be fine even if we have to motor all the way back to Darwin! (According to the weather reports, that is looking highly likely - Skip Tone is grumpy but resigned - any sailing we get will be a bonus.)
I listen to the gentle purring of the diesel keeping us on track in the light winds, before checking the engine temperature. It's good, which is a surprise given the sea temperature is 27.3 degrees and can't be doing much to cool the engine, which has now been ticking over for more than 15 hours.
Thunderstorms are flickering all around, and at 2.00 am the moon disappears behind an ominous bank of clouds. It was due to set at 3.00am as it is not quite full. Already I miss its friendly face in the sky. We even saw what looked like a moonbow during one evening thunderstorm, a perfect grey semicircle, shaped like a rainbow but in monochromatic greys. A few weeks earlier, on a bright full moonlit night, I marveled at how much we could see, and at the depth of the shadows the moon cast. Is it possible to get moonburnt? Even though the thunderstorm ahead is more Sturm und Drang than actual wind and rain, I need to tack. I'll leave you to google whether you can get moonburnt and moonbows - can't believe I would be telling people one of the things I miss about home is the ease of access to google!
Post script: Been sailing (engine off!) for 5 hours with 8-12kts of wind since midday, TM very happy. Photo Note: Afternoon moonrise - Irish Melody's mainsail!
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.