Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Karimunjawa to Mentok

The forecast for a few days was for light winds from the north, so we wasted no time getting out of Karimunjawa to head north for a checkout point of Indonesia.

Skies were squally with thunder and lightning around the islands, but as we left, our course kept us just upwind of an ominous storm cell. Our first hour was a nice sail to windward through a few islands, then once out in the open, the winds died so it was motoring as expected. We kept our fingers crossed for 2 days of light winds which would get us to the lee of islands to the north - and we were fortunate to get what we wished!

As we got close to the channel between Bangka Island and Sumatra Island on our port but still about 30 nautical miles offshore in open waters, we noticed a larger fishing boat anchored in strong current. The depth was about 15 metres. Jordan was concerned about running short on fuel before our next available fuel stop so we pulled up to the fishing boat to see if they could sell us some diesel.

Our communication was by signing. Jordan held up a jerry jug, hollered "Solar?" and showed them some Indo currency notes, and we got a jolly affirmative.

Even though there was only a moderate wind, the tides created short steep waves, so tying alongside was not an option. They tossed us a line and we tied off on our bow. Another messenger line was floated back using a big clear inflated bag which Jordan then tied around a jug and they hauled it back for filling. We did that twice, to yield us about 37 litres (10 gallons).

Jordan put the cash in the float bag to be sent back to complete the transaction. Judging from all the crew spectating and then waving goodbye with big smiles, this no doubt was a pleasant and rare interlude to their mundane sea life.

The money's in the bag!

We had to battle increasing winds and tides to get up into the channel and relented for a few hours by anchoring (S03°20.082' E106°38.024'). Once the tide changed enough to lay down the seas, we started up again and the tighter the channel got, the more the water flattened and gave us some calm motoring. But we had been experiencing periodic motor rev increase that was worrisome. Could it mean clogged fuel filters or worse, a slipping tranny? We carried on though.

The channel we were heading up through was a busy shipping route. Small freighters and big tugs were ever present. At times, we would pass real close and exchange pleasant waves.

We noticed a funny practice by the local small fishing boats that Jordan dubbed "Indo remoras" (a remora is a fish that suctions itself to larger fish for a free ride). The fishermen would sneak up behind the barges being towed by a tugboat and hook onto the barge for a free ride. Jordan and I looked at each other. "Hmmmmm, should we?" But we chose not to be likened to a parasitic fish! LOL!

Indo remora

The land on either side of the channel was low lying and the waters were shallow for a long way out so we maintained a close watch on the depth sounder especially when we cut the corners.

We got pelted with rain and threatened by lightning as we wound our way north but were happy to be in protected waters. Our next anticipated stop was at the north end of Bangka Island at a town called Mentok (aka Muntok). Just a few hours short of that stop, we were getting an increased smell of diesel that was puzzling and the periodic motor rev increase was increasing. We increased throttle, but that didn't provide any more power. So we decided to anchor and try to find out what it was.

Once the engine compartment was open, Jordan found a leak from a crack in the #1 injector line right at the injector. It was late so we decided to both get a good night's sleep then tackle the problem (S02°14.545' E105°36.876').

The next morning, it took some ingenious jury fabricating using bits and pieces, taping and drilling till Jordan got a leakproof fitting of the high pressure line. Then we were off for a short 6-hour run to Mentok. As we rounded the last point before the town, we got a stiff wind which we at first beat into until we were close enough to the lee of the land to motor the final short distance.

The charts showed rather shallow bottom that diminished up to the shore. That was the last place of protection before one would meet the open seas beyond and the force of a north wind sea. For a couple of kilometres along the shore, other commercial boats were anchored.

Watching our depth sounder, we slowly moved towards the shore for a suitable anchoring depth. But something weird was happening. Our depth sounder indicated an erratic bottom - 8 metres, 90 metres, all over the place. The geography was low and flat and predictable; the charts showed the bottom was a constant but slowly increasing depth further out. We thought the depth sounder was giving up the ghost.

So Jordan got out the fishing rod with a weighted line and sounded, and sure enough, the sandy bottom was extremely irregular and to add evidence to it, in the running tide we could see a swirl in the water with muddy variegation. What we learned later was that this area has been dredged for tin leaving an unnatural irregular bottom. But we felt secure, and once anchored (S02°04.723' E105°09.494') at 18:00 on January 14th, relaxed with a good holding bottom.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Just before leaving

Still nestled in the group of Karimunjawa Islands of Indonesia, we once again went ashore to check internet as we waited for our weather window. Through several online sources, Jordan determined that we should leave today.

We walked past several large quacking ducks with weird bumps on their beaks and children gleefully yelling out "Hello Mista" and giving the high-5 as we passed the ubiquitous mounds of refuse on our way to market with our trusty guide Hussein.

No smiles today for the camera

Regrettably, this was the poorest market we have ever been to. There was a severe lack of products and what was available was old, wrinkled, and shrivelled. Several pared down heads of cabbage full of worm holes and 1 bunch of ripe bananas covered with unappetizing white spots were a couple of the few choices. No fruit was available but Hussein had given us 8 Jambu that he'd picked from a tree earlier...

Jordan doesn't care for them as he finds them to be bitter tasting but I enjoyed them with a texture and taste similar to a pear.

Wood carving is a popular pastime at Karimunjawa with many beautiful samples displayed. There are 3 local types of wood and the people believe that each has a different symbol and meaning. Hussein's family sold me a very unusual wooden ring with an inlaid shell.

We pulled anchor at 14:00 as we motored once again. During our brief stay, we were disheartened that we did not have time to explore the white sand beaches, blue lagoons, and nearby islands. But being here during the off season means we must take advantage of every available weather window.

Hussein's pink boat in the foreground as we leave...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014


We had successfully made our 2nd attempt to escape beautiful Bali and were just about ready to anchor at Karimunjawa (Indondsia) on January 8th, when a young man named Hussein approached Sea Turtle as we scouted the area and directed us to a free-standing wood pier across from the long and large 1-year old concrete main pier that was too high for Sea Turtle's bumpers. He was a very take-charge kind of man but also very obliging as he became our guide.

The wooden pier was ramshackle with boards lying atop but no longer nailed down and with big gaps between many of the boards. The supporting structure seemed sturdy and safe enough. (As instructed by Hussein, we tied alongside but Jordan later Med-moored/tied us stern-to.)

Flimsy floor but solid piles

We went to town with Hussein and were shocked at the non-stop profuse layers of garbage right behind the shore homes and throughout the town. How could they stand to live next to smelly garbage? Hussein's care-less-attitudinal-response was that it would all 1 day be covered with soil. It was such a pity that the locals abused the otherwise pristine archipelagos. This beautiful group of 27 islands is a National Marine Park.

Nice backyard??

Our goal during our brief sojourn was to take on fuel and check the marine weather forecast, but everywhere we asked, we were told "No internet." Fortunately, Hussein's friend (wearing a cool sea turtle T-shirt!) offered his computer for a fee as he could receive Wi-Fi with his plug-in USB stick that connects to the cell phone system. This is what we had used in other places such as New Zealand and Vanuatu for internet.

Next we had to refill our tanks with diesel (called solar here). We have done so much motoring and will probably continue to do so before reaching Malaysia. Hussein put Jordan in touch with a woman that he could purchase the required fuel from. She sold it out of big plastic jugs of suspect cleanliness.

We visited with a vacationing couple from Jakarta (Indonesia) at a restaurant and then walked over towards the sounds of loud music and singing from a visiting pop music band. The area was filled with parked motor-scooters, stalls selling cheap toys and trinkets, and locals sitting on the road from 1 edge to the other in front of the stage.

The stage was  full of bright flashing lights and the Asian singers wore very short miniskirts and very high stilettos. Sadly, the singing was pretty atrocious so we did not stay long, much to Hussein's disappointment. We made our way over to an internet shop that is only open at night as that is when the electricity was turned on. The man at the shop took pity on us and kindly gave us the password and let us check weather and email.

We then returned to Sea Turtle for a quiet night's sleep.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

2nd attempt

For our 2nd time in Bali, it would be to regroup before we would make our 2nd attempt to run northwest to our Indonesian checkout point just beside Singapore.

A problem we were now facing was the seasonal persistent northwest winds were filling and beating into headwinds for the distance we needed to go and would be too much. Winds would be NW the next few months with some rare short spells of light winds. We had to wait for the latter. We consulted with Bob McDavit, a weather guru based out of New Zealand who would give us weather window predictions for departure.

We also had to address the failing backstay problem. Bali harbours a service a wide area of marine commerce where rafts of mainly large fishing boats offload and do repairs. But we soon realized that sophisticated and advanced rigging technology in this neck of the seas consisted of lengths of cable, galvanized if you were lucky to find it, looped back on itself, and secured with a couple of bolt clamps.

So Jordan bought a length of cable that was claimed to be stainless steel (but soon as sea proved otherwise), and some bolt clamps and a turnbuckle that were in fact stainless steel, and installed a supplemental backstay that would to the trick until we could get a real replacement for our backstay.

A nice interlude was a surprised dinner visit with our Bali friend Joel.

Beautiful Bali? Yes, Bali is indeed beautiful, but why does the dinghy dock have to be such a disaster, falling apart and littered with garbage...

After 5 days in Bali, Bob gave us a "go", predicting about 5 days of light winds for the area we needed to head into. Another dilemma. Our visitor's visas at that point would expire in about 2 weeks and it would be highly unlikely that we could expect 10 days of light winds needed to make it all the way. So we were faced with the decision of renewing our visa while in Bali, at least a week-long process (which would give us another 30 days) but would mean missing our weather window and then having to wait who knows how long for the next light winds, OR, making a run for it and paying whatever penalties for the overstay.

We were all fueled up and ready except for a quick prop cleaning dive and a last minute run to the supermarket. Go? Stay? Go? Stay? We decided to go. (Note to the uninitiated: Always leave with a clean prop because the slightest growth will drastically disrupt the aqua-dynamic flow over the blades which significantly reduces your "speed" for lack of a better word and which is not really an appropriate word to use to describe sailing progress!)

So our 2nd departure from Bali was at 16:00 on January 3rd. Choosing a different route this time, our route took us around the south tip and up the west side. We were motoring in calm seas when we rounded the point. A good start. In the middle of the night while Jordan was on watch, he heard a thump and detected a momentary slowing of RPMs. Something solid enough to feel it and contact with the prop makes one anxious.

In a moment, he had the powerful handheld searchlight on and didn't have to scan far to realize there was a massive collection of flotsam on the tide line that stretched along our course. The rains wash all sorts of debris off the islands including natural and manmade. There were trees, the ubiquitous plastic garbage, and Jordan said he even saw about a 2-metre long dead alligator.

After a course alteration, it was back to a relaxing watch. Well, for a short time that is. Soon we encountered 1 of a few faintly lit small open fishing boats at the end of nets that stretched across our path. There was a predictable maneuvering pattern. Spot the lit boat and pass to the right, because the nets stretched away in the other directions. We would close enough to exchange a friendly "Hello Mista" to break up the lone fishing boat's monotony.

Bright and colourful!

As soon as the sun was up, Jordan stopped Sea Turtle and drifted while he dove on the prop to clear a bit of plastic. It's always a strange feeling to be in the water drifting along with your boat while out in the open seas.

We then were approaching the narrow pass between Java to the west and Bali on our starboard. Our tide table indicated that our timing was good, but it could be out as much as 2 hours, and if we hit it wrong, full power wouldn't yield us any progress. But as it was, the tide was in our favour and the only concern was the busy commercial traffic that was transitting the pass and the 2 ports on either side of the channel.

The 2nd day was pleasant motoring, as much as motoring can be pleasant that is, in clear skies until evening when the convection clouds developed into thunderheads that turned the skies dark, producing copious amounts of rain and dire lightning displays.

On the 3rd day of January 6th, we motored past oil well platforms. At night, the lights of these goliaths can be seen for many kilometres away.

The winds, on Sea Turtle's nose of course, gradually picked up by the afternoon so we started to sail. As we made long tacks, we kept passing a tug with its barge that was heading in the same direction. It became a game in our minds to see if we could gain enough ground to make the next pass in front of him. Eventually we did!

As we approached the islands of Karimunjawa at nightfall, the winds died. We needed to make a stop here for fuel and check our weather guru on the internet to see what we could expect for the next few days. but the village anchorage is reef strewn and entering at night too dangerous so 5 nautical miles off, we turned on our anchor light and drifted, occasionally checking for traffic and our position to make sure the tides weren't taking us too far.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The tempest transit

We hoisted our anchor on December 21st to leave Kumai (Indonesia) where we had spent 3 fabulous days with the orangutans, an experience we will never forget!

It took 2.5 hours to motor down the long river before reaching the expansive and shallow bay. About 3 nautical miles offshore under a brisk sail, we heard a solid thump. Jordan immediately thought it was a log from the river. But no log was visible. Then again, a thump, thump. He rechecked our electronic charts which showed extreme shallows a half mile to our starboard. We knew then that the charts were off that much and we were bouncing off the rubble bottom. We immediately turned away and escaped a grounding!

Once out of the bay, the light was fading and the wind was building. We were on about a 500-nautical mile (925 km) passage to Batam Island, our Indonesian checkout point, just across the channel from the Island nation of Singapore. The route would first take us along the south coast of Kalimantan (Borneo), then out to the open waters of the South China Sea.

The first night, the seas were implacable. We were fighting strong winds mostly on the nose and intense squalls and lightning from storm cell after storm cell. We were making maybe 1 knot to the good and paying the price for it.

As we were approaching the last point before open seas, we decided to take refuge behind the point but still somewhat exposed. We anchored (S02°55.268' E110°30.250') at the southwestern end of Borneo in the inky black of the night to wait it out.

By dawn, we had a few hours of peace and sleep. The winds and rain seemed to have died a bit so we pulled anchor at midday and started our tacking out of the expansive bay. Soon we came upon rows of fishing boats with nets stretched across our path. The first boat frantically waved and directed us away around his net line which lost us valuable distance-made-good.

Then another fishing boat's line required us to tack. After about 4 of these encounters, Jordan said "The heck with it. I'm going right over them." Our hull shape is cut-away, transitioning into a full keel with an attached rudder so we knew the line would slide over the bottom and out the back. Still a nervous move not only for us but you should have seen the excited waves and shouts of the fishermen! We just waved back and continued. "Crazy sailors!"

Once around the point and heading out to the South China Sea, the winds picked up to a full gale, again right on the nose with short steep waves. To get a good angle, we motor-sailed with tight reefing. But the bashing was taking its toll. Finally Jordan said to me "This is really not a good decision."

We were just starting the open waters and this weather could last for days. At that rate, it would take us 10 days of bashing. We decided to turn around; a move that proved even wiser when soon after Jordan looked up and saw a broken and unravelling strand of wire at the top of our backstay. He relieved the pressure of the vulnerable stay with affixing the running backstay with a strong cinch and kept the reefed mainsail in a bit more. We were still in a gale but running with the wind and waves made all the difference in the world. Things calmed down and we could semi-relax a bit.

The next morning at one point, we heaved to for about 15 minutes till a tempestuous squall passed before continuing our downwind run. We were heading back to Bali. It was a 4-day backtrack and a tough but only option as we had to regroup. At this point, we also had to address our soon to expire Indonesian visitor's visas and Bali was the closest practical place to do this.

Around 10:00, we could see a freighter coming up from behind and it became evident that we would be on converging paths. Our sail and rigging were set so Jordan made calls to the freighter to change course. No reply at first but finally in broken English "I see you. No problem. I change." We could see Barent Sea change course slightly to pass behind us and the Captain came on the radio "Sea Turtle, can I take a picture?" Jordan replied "Of course!"

That was an unusual request we thought. A sailboat is common in these waters and not that much of a novelty. But then we realized we must look pretty vulnerable in the gale's high seas. When we stood in the cockpit and watched as at some points our line of sight to the freighter bridge disappeared behind the height of the waves, it gave us a gauge at just how big the seas were and it must have been impressive to the freighter observers. But Sea Turtle was not taking it well and we felt safe running downwind.

As we approached the big Island of Bali from the north end on December 26th, the winds died. So we started the Perkins at 10:30. Our destination was around the far south side of the Island and our course would take us through a pass between Bali and Lombok Island to the east. These passes between islands here are notorious for strong gap winds and very strong currents. Add to that, this particular pass is on a main path for international sea traffic. We saw a number of behemoths transitting past.

At midday on the 27th, we came to the east point of Bali. Our destination was almost in sight. Close, but it would prove to be far. As we rounded the point, we were hit with winds from the direction of our destination and an opposing current. We motor-sailed into very short waves that stopped us abruptly. The GPS ship on our electronic charts showed 0 knots. We spent a frustrating 14 hours making about 9 nautical miles (16.6 km), bashing and tacking.

The one pleasant thing was the beautiful sunset. For the last couple of hours to the entrance of the harbour of our destination, the winds and current died to give us a final relief. In front of the harbour's tricky entrance, we drifted for an hour or so until the sun came up for a safe entrance.

Finally we picked up a mooring ball at 05:45 on December 28th (S08°43.185' E115°14.434') back at the Royal Bali Yacht Club (a malapropos misnomer). These weary sailors were so relieved to have this arduous passage behind them. "Tell me again, why are we doing this?" But we knew the next day would put it back in a balanced perspective!