15/11/2011, Darwin - Australia
So, yes we made it to Darwin! We arrived on Thursday 10 November and needed to stay at the Quarantine berth overnight to allow the marine pest inspection treatment to take effect. Since then we have been busy getting the boat tidied up, going through the customs and quarantine importation process, readying the boat to be left up here for the cyclone season and organising our return to Brisbane. More news and photo updates soon!
08/11/2011, 10 51.461'S:129 07.877'E, Timor Sea
Tuesday 08 November, 2011
The sound of Sade wafts up to me at the bow from the cockpit. Skip Tone must be really frustrated, he's been driven to put some music on! Up until now we seem to have preferred the silence of sail or the gentle purr of the diesel. But after several days of frustratingly short bursts of sail followed by an hour or so of flukey winds we are a little tired of the sound and smell of the diesel (always pleased to hear it start when we need it though!)
At stages throughout this trip we have bobbed about for hours going nowhere fast. We have fooled around with various sail plans, headsail in, headsail out, but no wind is no wind. There's a limit, for progress oriented deadline driven westerners, as to how much 'hanging' around you can take. And now that we are a mere 140nm from Darwin, we seem to be doubly keen to keep moving - will we EVER get back to Australia? How did our great great grandparents cope on that long sea journey out from England? No wonder the doldrums also means a period of stagnation or depression, in addition to its specific reference to the calms of the equatorial regions.
The calms are amazing however, and preferable to scarily high winds or storms. This morning with the boat stopped (and actually drifting back to Timor Leste!) we topped up the 'wind' in the iron headsail, had a refreshing swim, and enjoyed a quiet, still, cup of coffee - with toast and marmalade. Swimming in the clear open sea water is a treat, although this time it was was only 96 metres deep. Now that we are back on the Australian continental shelf the steep, deep drop-offs we have got used to in the Indonesian archipelago have disappeared, with miles of shoals and stretches of shallow waters, some patches only as deep at 10m, all the way to Darwin.
Our ETA into Darwin is not till Thursday morning 10 November at this rate. As we don't want to arrive at night there is not much point revving up the motor and arriving at midnight. So, for now, we are happy to bob in the light/next to non-existent winds and catch up on a bit of housekeeping. One of the 'chores' yesterday was to have a shower. On Irish Melody we have a deck shower, and there I was, all in the buff, shower gel and flannel in hand about to take a shower, when Tony muttered "Here's the custom's plane, you better get below". I didn't hear him properly, but also simply didn't have time or wits to grab a towel or sarong, so before I knew it, there I was squatting ignominiously in the cockpit trying to cover me wobbly bits, as the Australian customs plane flew virtually at sea level past the boat. I am not sure if they photograph boats as part of their routine surveillance, but if so, there will be an embarrassingly frank photo of an ageing sailor gracing their collection! Just hope the flyboys are different to the blokes who will come out to the boat when we reach Darwin! (Assuming they will be men, so far the people we have spoken to on radio have all been male.)
We have now had three contacts with Customs since crossing into Australian territorial waters. Twice the plane has flown over and contacted us by VHF, and a patrol vessel came close by late yesterday afternoon and asked us a few more questions over the radio to verify who we were. So they are certainly onto any boats arriving! The reassuring Australian accents wishing us fair winds and following seas for the remainder of our trip to Darwin were much appreciated, especially after more than two months of struggling to communicate in each new port. Darwin will be a new port for us, but at least they will be speaking English!
Photo Note: Becalmed at dawn, Timor Sea. PS The well wishes for fair winds worked, we are loping along with 12kts of wind! Engine OFF!
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.