Apprehension throws a solid: "It's a good practice to add 10 knots to the weather reports and expect bashing into unexpected short steep waves that halt you in your tracks."
On the defensive, Enthusiasm counters with: "So what's the worst, we have to tack an extra day for the first leg."
Apprehension: "The longer you postpone your leave, the better the seasonal strong winds will abate, so just wait."
Enthusiasm: "But our friend Sam told us that the latest up-to-date news was that the supply ships, after being weather bound for so long, were now heading out because it was calming down considerably."
Undeterred, Apprehension lands a solid 'one-two': "Did you forget already getting beat up trying the passage from Kalimantan or that horrid night trying to make the last 10 nautical miles around the point to the Bali harbour."
The battle seemed close at times but, in the end, the optimism of undefeated Enthusiasm won the match, making it now 26 & 0.
This is a battle that plays out in the fickle minds of more than just this sailor. I've seen world class sailors in various ports permanently hunkered down, frozen with the fears from their last rough passage blinding them of the remembrance of those good ones.
So the late afternoon of February 4th, I spent stowing and lashing and sending off emails giving notice to loved ones that I would be severing Mentok's hold early in the morning. Judy was home in Canada giving some support to parents so I would be solo sailing, a 1st for me.
The 1st day would be the breaker. If I made that open stretch okay, the rest should be much easier.
Shortly after I pulled anchor, I was around the point and heading into the wind that was coming directly down my rhumb line. It was about 12 to 15 knots, just enough to make waves the size and spacing that stopped Sea Turtle if she tried to go directly into them. So I fell off about 35° and motorsailed to keep it as close as possible into the wind, tacking my way north across this 50 nautical miles of open sea.
Not more than an hour out, the auto pilot started to act up and then quit completely. I spent an hour troubleshooting and determined it was unfixable by me. I could hear Apprehension mumble something from the corner of my mind. I ignored him and undeterred I attached the self-steering windvane rudder and kept going. The windvane requires a certain amount of wind for it to function adequately and that I had for the 1st day and night.
It took tacking back and forth all of that 1st day and night to make it across the 1st open stretch. It was not unpleasant at all. "Take that Apprehension!" I am fortunately wired so that I can fall asleep within 15 seconds of putting my head down. So with a timer placed close to my ear and set for 17 minutes, I woke regularly for my checks throughout the night.
I enjoyed greeting the early morning dawn rested, and perked up with a cup of java. On the north side of the open sea area that I had just crossed, and close to my planned route, the charts showed a wreck. There are many wrecks noted in this part of the world but almost all are below water, however this was noted as parts above water. Sure enough, there it was, a not too old freighter sitting mostly out of the water with its back broken, slowly being recycled by nature. I wondered what it was like on the bridge at the moment she ran aground.
It was on the charts...
Captain to 1st Mate: "What was that rumble?"
1st Mate: "I don't know Captain. Maybe you should check the charts."
Captain: "Ahhh, yes Mate, good idea...where do we keep those?"
My route from that point on took me mostly on the west side of a string of islands or between them. The wind predictions were 10 to 14 knots from the NNE, so with a little of lee from the islands, the wind was that or much less most of the rest of the way. But the windvane needs a stiffer breeze that that and likes it more on the beam, so I was hand-steering for the rest of the way.
Hand-steering didn't require constant vigilance behind the wheel as I had feared. I mostly sat under the dodger reading my Kindle e-book and only occasionally making slight adjustment to stay the course. I was even able to pop to and from below to make meals, etc. while making way.
The 2nd night, I was able to find a nice anchorage (S00°39.8' E104°20.5') at the south end of Singkep Island around 05:30 and was able to watch a movie before retiring for a full night's sleep. Up at 05:00. Coffee on. Check engine oil and clean up bilge. Up anchor and off at 06:00.
About 07:00, I was passing a settlement where I had marked my charts as the anchorage our friends used 1 night on their passage. There I noticed what looked like cell phone towers so I pulled closer to shore to see if I could get reception for my cellular Wi-Fi. Even though reception was the speed of sap in winter, I was able to get and send a couple of emails and even get a Buoy Weather report. The forecast was still good. The site track cost me an hour but it was worth it.
The tide/current was with me all morning and I noticed it mostly passing between islands. However in those conditions where I was encountering current against even the slightest winds, it created short, steep, little waves that would bounce Sea Turtle causing the bow to pound into the face of each wave, almost stopping her at times. Once out in more open waters though, it was easy going.
The skies were hazy in the mornings but clear and sunny during the days.
At 17:35, it was another milestone for Sea Turtle. We crossed into the Northern Hemisphere on February 6th. Sea Turtle had been cruising south of the equator for 2.5 years (crossed southbound off the coast of Ecuador on August 16, 2011). I celebrated alone in the warm velvet evening setting sun by cracking open a cold beer and downed it in quiet but happy contemplation of the places this good little ship had carried us. Those moments were almost perfect. Almost, because I was missing my 1st Mate.
Later that evening, I dropped anchor (N00°06.65' E104°19.25') on the lee side of an island for another peaceful night. Rarely do I come in to anchor in the dark, but before the evening light faded, I could see the island's features and then with radar and depth sounder, I very slowly moved in safely. Again, I noticed a cell tower. Weird for such a remote place. I tried Wi-Fi again and actually got some emailing done as slow as it was.
Early in the morning, I pulled out for the next day's journey. Shortly after getting underway, I noticed some other sailboats at an adjacent island. This was a curious sight as very few cruise these waters at this time of year. I radioed but got no response.
I was in an area of beautiful islands with hilly topography and sandy beaches. Definitely a great cruising area. I thought maybe that was why I was seeing other sailboats. Maybe Singaporeans down for some cruising?
Singapore is an island country that punctuates the bottom of the Malaysia Peninsula. My destination was a marina still in Indonesia on the Island of Batam, just across and on the south side of the Singapore Strait which runs east and west. I would have to go up another strait between Batam and Bintan Islands that run north and west. My last night anchoring (N00°48.6' E104°21.3') was in that later strait.
At that point, I was seeing not only other sailboats, but increasing marine traffic. Also very evident was development. I was leaving remoteness behind. Again I was able to slowly get and send some emails.
Up and away at 06:00, it was my last jaunt. Going up the Strait, I was constantly dodging small fishing boats as speedy passenger ferries were constantly dodging around me as they transitted back and forth from the 2 bigger islands. The further I got up the channel, the more commercial traffic - either coming or going or at anchor or at the port's piers.
The last 8 nautical miles gave me good gap winds on the beam, so I extinguished the purr of the Perkins for a pleasant 6-knot sail right up the entrance of the Nongsa Point Marina (N01°11.8' E104°05.8') on Batam Island on February 8th. I pulled in along with sailboats who were returning.
It had taken a relatively comfortable 4 days + 5 hours - including my 3 nights at anchor - and covered 275 NM to make our destination. So take that, Apprehension!