July 23, 2005
Sometimes the most difficult aspect of cruising can be saying farewell to friends we’ve met and places we’ve visited and come to enjoy along the way. This was certainly the case with Darwin.
We had spent just a little over two weeks in the lovely little Tipperary Waters Marina, just outside of town, and really enjoyed some of the locals we met, especially the harbour/lock master Peter Dermoudy. Peter was really fantastic, helping us in so many ways as we arrived into a new town and prepared for the rally to Indonesia. On the evening before we and a dozen other rally participants departed the marina, Peter threw a big barbeque farewell party on the large deck at the top of the marina. We also enjoyed the company of some of the Darwin Sailing Club members like Donna and David, who put so much energy into the rally organization, giving us lifts here and there, providing us with a huge bag of limes for our caipirhinas (they cost a buck each in Oz), and in general helping to make our stay enjoyable. Darwin exceeded our expectation: we were able to get almost everything done on “Moonshadow” that we wanted, we found the local stores excellent for provisioning, and there was even a bit of night life to be had in town.
Darwin has a tidal range of more than eight meters (26 feet), so all the marinas are kept at a constant level of about 7 meters above datum and are accessed through a lock. We locked out of the marina Friday afternoon, full of provisions, with two added crew, good mates Graham and Todd from Auckland, and a favourable weather forecast for the passage. We, and many of the other rally participants spent Friday night on the hook out in Fannie Bay near the start line, enjoying a quiet evening before heading out to sea. The afternoon sea breeze died and the evening was dead calm.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology had predicted the southeast trade winds would fill in at about 15 knots for the start of the rally at 1100 hours Saturday. They got it wrong again!
We ran the start line on starboard tack and then hardened up for an excellent start under full sail in about four knots of breeze with an outgoing tidal current. We sailed for awhile while most of the rest of the fleet of sixty-odd yachts motor-sailed past us, with engines revved up and diesel fumes billowing. When the breeze dropped off to less than a knot, we furled the headsail, fired up the cast-iron genniker and started heading towards Indonesia with a bit of pace on. Within half an hour, we were enjoying the view of the entire fleet – from over the transom.
With the breeze hovering around the 1-2 knot mark, we were forced to motorsail for nearly five hours till the tradewinds filled in to about ten knots from the southeast. We equaled the engine-on time, flying the spinnaker till just after sunset, when the wind again dropped down to nearly nothing. The engine carried us on through the night on eerily smooth waters.
Just after I started watch at 0500, the breeze suddenly filled in again to about 11 knots. I woke up Merima and we set the kite again and have been enjoying some quiet (if not slow) sailing ever since.
The morning radio schedule showed us to be in front of the fleet, with the next yacht – our friends Pam and Tom on Imagine – behind us by about seven miles, but still in sight and biting our heels.
Just after the morning “sked” the silence was again broken by the sound of the fishing reel going off. We landed a nice wahoo weighing in at about 5 kilos, so we can put the chicken back in the freezer.
As of 1100 hours today, 24 hours into the rally, we’ve covered 181 nautical miles, and the computer says we have 288 nautical miles to go to Kupang which should get us there sometime Tuesday morning.
The weather forecast looks good, with more light winds ahead, the seas are relatively calm, and all is well on board.
Well it seems as if we had just gotten settled into life at sea when we spotted the island of Timor 60 miles ahead on the horizon. Todd called “land ho” just before lunchtime today.
Our second full day at sea has been pretty uneventful. The fluky winds have teased us into hoisting the spinnaker a few times, only to fade away, causing us to kick over the engine once again. We’ve spent 80% of the last day motorsailing. It’s not all bad, because the seas have been calm, making life aboard very comfortable and easy, and with a 60% power setting, we’ve been able to average 9 knots of speed over the bottom. Between sailing and motorsailing, we’ve covered 207 miles of the course in 24 hours. As of 1100 hours, this left us about 80 miles to go to Kupang, which should get us there in time for a late dinner and a few bevvies.
We’ve noticed some subtle changes since we left Darwin. First off, its hot! The temperature has slowly increased along the way, especially when there’s not much breeze. The water has gotten much clearer and there’s even a bit of bio luminescence. We spotted a small pod of dolphins yesterday afternoon, but they were a bit standoffish and didn’t come over to swim near us. There are heaps of flying fish, which we haven’t seen since we sailed across the Coral Sea last year. Last night we sailed by a group of offshore oil rigs in the middle of the Timor Sea. In addition to lights resembling a small city, they had some pretty wicked tiki torches burning.
Merima has assumed the role of snacktician with a vengeance. While the boys have been plying with the spinnaker, driving and trimming, she’s been putting the galley through its paces. On top of some great meals, the between meal snacks of scones, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, baklava, etc. have prevented any weight loss during the passage.
As of the morning sked, we were out in front of the fleet about 18 nautical miles ahead of the Farr 58 Imagine. The third place boat, Lady Emma from Auckland, was a further 9 miles behind.
If you happen to be in West Timor, come on by the Moonshadow as there will be a bit of a party on board tonight.
After an excellent day of sailing in good breeze (finally!), we arrived safely in Kupang about 2130 hours last evening. After a few rums, dinner on a relatively motionless table and a nice bottle of wine, we all fell into our berths, exhausted.
As we made landfall earlier in the day, Timor Island’s dramatic landscape provided a welcome change to the low-lying and flat topography of the Northern Territory of Australia. We reached Oisina Point on the southwest tip of the island just after sunset and were challenged by the last leg of the trip, a northeastward run up the Semau Strait. Semau Strait is wide, deep and well charted, so it would normally be a no brainer. But throw in darkness before moonrise, an unfamiliar patch of water, confusing lights on the shoreline and literally hundreds of local fishing boats working the channel, many with poor or non-existent lighting, and it gets a bit interesting. With Todd and Graham spotting from bow and stern, Merima on the chart plotter and radar giving me ranges and bearings of our course and targets, and me making almost constant course adjustments on the autopilot remote, we managed to weave our way through this fishy Indonesian minefield to the finish line at the open anchorage off the city of Kupang.
We were expecting a quaint little village; Kupang is a full-on city. In fact, there are some 2 million Indonesians on the island of Timor. So, we’re back in to bright lights, noisy vehicles, pollution and all those other wonderful things we thought we had left behind. At least it’s warm, and apparently the beer in Indonesia is cheap.
As we anchored, we were welcomed on the radio by Rally Control, a guy on the radio with a distinctively American accent, who invited us ashore for a cold beer. We declined for the moment in favor of a rum and a late dinner.
This morning we awoke refreshed and waited on Indonesian Customs and Immigration for clearance. They apparently start at 0800, but we were the first boat to be cleared, starting at, oh, about 0930-ish. The entourage of ten boisterous officials in two tenders boarded us, some with sharp uniforms, some with tattered remnants, but all with very dirty shoes and feet. I’m glad we hadn’t cleaned the boat yet. While they were very polite and friendly, they couldn’t have been more disorganized and confusing. We filled out the paperwork, and, of course, stamped it with our obligatory “official stamp,” then allowed them to search the boat for contraband. After opening a few drawers and lifting a few seats, they were satisfied that were not part of an Australian drug smuggling ring and shuffled off to check in the next boat. The last of the group, a little man with a scraggly beard and a very old uniform, quietly asked for beer or whiskey. I politely indicated that the boys had consumed it all.
We completed the 470-mile rally course in 58-1/2 hours for an average speed made good of about 8 knots. All in all it was an easy and gentle passage, and it was nice to be the first boat to arrive. The wind gods were not entirely cooperative, so we ended up motor-sailing about two-thirds of the way.
Meanwhile, as we were cleaning up today, the rest of the fleet continue to arrive, and about half of them are now in Kupang. Guess there will be a big party tonight at Teddy’s Bar on the beach. It’s time for us to clean up and be social.