“The cruising life is not always a leisurely Sunday afternoon, but it is Never a Monday morning”
We arrived safely in Indonesia after 18 days at sea, 2520 nautical miles, 1 ocean (Pacific), 3 seas (Tasman Sea, Coral Sea, Arafura Sea), and the Torres Strait. No Dramas, no breakages, nothing fallen off. Fantastic passage. Boat and crew all well and happy. Now with the long passages behind us, it will be island hopping through this colourful archipelago for the next 4 months. Can’t wait. If you want to read about our passage getting here, read on.
MONDAY 9TH JULY Day 1
Indonesia, here we come.
With the diesel tanks full, we motored the 15miles from Noumea and out through the reef at Dumbea Pass. We motor-sailed until late afternoon when the winds started to pick up. We reduced sail, had dinner of market roasted chicken and Brussels sprouts, then began our watch routine, 3hrs on, 3hrs off.
While here in New Caledonia we decided to stop at Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, rather than go to Port Moresby. The best passage from here to Torres Strait is via a pass in the Great Barrier Reef called Raine Island, and we have excellent charts and directions for this area. We entered our way point for Raine Island, 1600miles away.
This route brings us 250 nm closer to Tual, our final destination for this leg of the voyage and our check in port for Indonesia.
TUESDAY 10TH JULY Day 2
Last night was one of the worst nights I can ever remember. The winds were blowing between 25 and 30 knots, which is not too bad. Our double reefed main and Yankee were the right sails, but we could do nothing about the sea state. It was short, very steep and confused, smashing into and breaking over Mai Tai relentlessly. It was so uncomfortable being thrown about, I got horribly sea sick, and Lane got very little sleep through the night.
Our wind vane steering does not do well going directly downwind, and since we have no intention of steering all the way, it is impossible to keep a direct course for Raine Island. So, we do a few zig zags, gybing along the way, keeping clear of the huge Chesterfield Reefs that are right in our path.
WEDNESDAY 11TH JULY Day 3
The seas calmed some leaving us with just the gentle ocean swell passing beneath our keel. The skies were ablaze with bright stars, not a cloud to be seen. We changed our watch schedule last night so we could each get a decent sleep, doing 4 hrs on instead of 3.
We did 154 miles in the past 24hrs and we have less than 1200 miles to go. Still no ships in the vicinity so no positions back home for friends following our progress.
I wasn’t up to cooking, so Lane prepared one of the Back Country dehydrated meals. It was a Shepherd’s Pie. We were hungry and tired so it went down a treat, but I wouldn’t want them too often. Good to have as an easy backup though. Why they add sugar to these sorts of meal, I have no idea.
I haven’t felt like getting into another book as yet, but last night I started “The Mountain Shadow”, the sequel to Shantaram, which I enjoyed. That should take care of a few night’s watches.
During the day we got the perfect sailing conditions, calm seas with just a few puffy clouds in the blue sky. I finally managed to get some yoga stretches. Up until now it has been far too rough.
THURSDAY 12TH JULY Day 4
Tonight, we had to watch our navigation carefully as we were passing between 2 reef patches around midnight. With all this huge ocean surrounding us and we have not spotted a single ship in 3 days, However, we saw 3 tonight while we were in the narrow pass. They were 2 fishing vessels that were just 2.5 miles away, and a huge cruise liner that was just 1 mile off to starboard. He was on a collision course with us so Lane called the captain on VHF to confirm that he had indeed seen us. He promised he would take care to avoid us!!!! Nice. I love our AIS and Watch Mate.
Navigators, these days, both commercial ships and cruisers, have become totally dependent on our electronic navigation systems. We do carry paper charts on which I still mark our position daily, and we have a compass aboard, but we no longer have our sextant. Celestial navigation is becoming a dying art amongst cruisers. Lane and I imagined what chaos there would be if the global satellite systems were shut down. Everything would come to a halt. Even us out here hundreds of miles from land, although we could live independently for several weeks or so (maybe months living off fish) but we would have great difficulty finding our way back through coral reefs and into any port safely without our chart plotter and GPS.
FRIDAY 13TH JULY DAY 5
We had a busy day today. I am trying to think all that we did now, but we seemed to be going all day long. Actually, we had motored all through the night as the wind dropped to nothing and did not pick up until midday. We had expected this to be a light air day and that’s what we got. It picked up in the afternoon so we continued sailing, still with our Yankee and reefed main. A couple of rain squalls announced a slight change in wind direction, so we gybed and took a second reef in the main for comfort through the night.
While filling our water tanks today with our engine driven water-maker we each had a long hot shower. What luxury not worrying about water consumption. We just kept the water maker running an extra 20 mins to complete the top up. Clean dry clothes and a shave. Wow!
It really is quite amazing to think that we have a lovely warm cosy home that we can sail across the world. We have everything we need for our safety and comfort, as long as we keep the boat running smoothly.
SATURDAY 14TH JULY DAY 6
French Bastille Day
Lane has put out the fishing line. Should be good around here with all the reefs around us. I won’t prepare anything else for dinner yet. We have also spotted quite a few commercial fishing boats in the area.
1700 hrs. No fish, so it will be Piperade Basque tonight to use up my red peppers with a nice French cheese from Noumea.
This afternoon, our AIS showed us we had 6 ships all around us, all at one time. Some were too far away to see but one passed us at half a mile away. Later that evening, soon after I had gone down to bed, Lane saw the lights of another boat coming straight towards us. He did not come up on our AIS, so it was difficult to know what we should do. He must have seen us at that point so only then did he turn on his AIS system. It showed us he was a fishing boat, travelling at the same speed as us, and we were on collision course, our paths meeting in about 20mins. We thought of changing course to pass behind him, but if he was trawling fishing nets we could be in serious danger??!!! We saw the name of his vessel was Assassin. Of all the names!!!! He acknowledged our call on the VHF radio, reassured us he was not trailing nets, then offered to speed up to pass in front of us. That was too close! So, it is all very well having the AIS but we must still remain vigilant for boats who either do not have one installed, or who don’t bother to turn them on. Many of the fishing boats simply do not want to have their position known. How great it is to have all the details, the direction and speed, type of vessel, name, and be able to communicate by radio with the captain. So far, they have all spoken some sort of English and have been very nice to us.
With that crisis averted, we were now sailing along at 7.5 to 8 knots. It was great but we were heading straight for a reef called Marion Reef, which we had calculated we would reach early tomorrow morning, but at this speed we would hit it during the night. We put a third reef in the main but then decided we should gybe to sail well clear of the reef tonight. It was midnight. Black as!!! Normally we try to avoid doing any manoeuvres on the foredeck at night.
The seas were fairly calm but we were still sailing along at around 7 knots. I hate these night time manoeuvres. It’s pitch black, you can’t see a thing, the sky was overcast so not many stars and here we are gybing the boat across to the other tack. This involves undoing the windvane steering, going to amidships to release the preventer from the boom. Lane then comes back into the cockpit and pulls in the main sheets to keep the boom more controlled as it comes across, while Kay takes the helm to point us in new direction. Over we go. The main goes across, Lane lets it out fully, then we gybed the gib across. All fine so far until Kay gets us off course and we gybed back again, this time with all the force behind a released main as we hadn’t got the preventer back on yet. Back we go again, a little more controlled this time, Kay still at the helm, and we find the preventer had come loose and was trailing in the water from the end of the boom. Lane retrieves it with the boat pole and resets it correctly. Then he comes back to set the windvane steering again for our new course. It is fiddly setting it up normally, but in the dark, it is so much more difficult. And dangerous. We take great care
I get quite anxious during all these manoeuvres thinking of all the worst- case scenarios. So many things can go wrong. One of us could get injured or get knocked over board, the boat could suffer damage or gear breakage.
Now on a starboard tack, and on a lighter note, it means the head (toilet) is on the leeward side of the boat, and I can sit on it in relative security and I won’t get catapulted off with each wave that hits us. You see, my feet don’t touch the floor, so it is all a balancing act. On this tack, I use the wave motion to help me get off the loo, when I am ready. The lid stays up and doesn’t come crashing down on me, and I can descend from the throne in a controlled fashion. Such trials and tribulations of this life that is the envy of many!! If only they knew!!!!
SUNDAY 15TH JULY Day 7
Uneventful day today. Sometimes uneventful is good.
Lane put the trawling line out again. We must have got a hit as the small line had broken and neither of us even noticed. Oh well, we’ll try again tomorrow. The one that got away was surely huge!
We were both pretty tired after last night’s adventures so we took time to take a nap during the day.
We will stay on this tack until we pass the next set of reefs which we will pass during the night. No more gybing tonight.
MONDAY 16TH JULY DAY 8
On a long passage the sea is constantly tossing us about, even in reasonably calm conditions. Then there are the big rogue waves that pass beneath the keel throwing the boat all over the place. They always catch you unawares so you learn to never move about the boat, outside or in, without hanging on to something solid. The rule is that there should always be 3 points of attachment at all times. Two feet and one arm, one leg and both arms, two feet and your hip or bottom, just to keep grounded. As I was passing through the salon earlier I felt like a chimpanzee swinging through the branches, one hand after the other, from hand rail to hand rail, then sitting down to do what I need to do. In the galley while preparing food or doing dishes, I lock myself in leaning hard against the opposite bench and stairs. Mai Tai is well designed for this with a relatively small galley, but I have used a galley strap in the past where you literally pass a strap around your buttocks to hold you safely and leave 2 hands free to work. You have to be so careful not to be thrown on to a boiling pot on the stove or have something come flying over you. Most boats will have their stove on gimbals but a huge wave can still upturn pots from here.
Comfortable in our sea berths in the main salon, lee cloths in place, our 3 hrs off watch at night, and the cat nap we may take during the day, are the only times we get any respite from the constant tossing around.
TUESDAY 17TH JULY 9TH DAY
Today turned out to be a glorious day and we continued sailing with our same course and sail combo. That is 3 days in a row now. The sea still tosses us about but there is lovely, warm and pleasant breeze blowing us gently nor-westwards.
A quarter moon paves a silvery path over the water, right up to Mai Tai.
WEDNESDAY 18TH JULY 10th day
The strong trades of 30 to 35 knots winds came back, bringing the most horrendous seas. Vicious, short, sharp powerful waves that attacked from all angles, swamping us and constantly throwing us way off course. At sunset we put the 3rd reef in the main and doused the Yankee on the deck, continuing sailing through the night with mainsail only. The waves crashed on the boat with such force that we wondered how much more Mai Tai could take before something gave.
Mai Tai was like a boxer dancing in the ring, taking the punches graciously and coming out the winner with only a black eye. Half a dozen broken wire ties attaching the side curtains to the aft railing, that’s all. The force of water on a sheet of canvas could be enough to bend stanchions or lifelines. It is for this reason we use the wire ties so they snap before damage is done. We certainly have confidence that Mai Tai can handle these conditions beautifully.
Today the rally fleet leave Thursday Island for Tual, the first check in point in Indonesia, a 700mile sail. We won’t be ready to leave Thursday Island until at least Sunday 22nd or Monday 23rd, which puts us about 5 days behind. We discussed sailing straight through to Tual, without stopping in Australia at all, allowing us to catch up with the others. I analysed our fresh food provisions to see if I could make them last another 5 or 6 days. I am certain we can do that and we really don’t have any other good reason to stop, so that is what we might do. We will decide once we get closer.
THURSDAY 19TH JULY DAY 11
What a night that was!! One of the worst that Lane and I can remember. In fact, the wind didn’t settle down until late morning, and the sea gave us little respite from its vicious attacks. We put up the small staysail to balance the boat a little better with the triple reefed main. We are still moving along comfortably at around 6 knots.
With just 164 miles to go until the pass at Raine Island, we look forward to the calm water once behind the reef. We should make it by tomorrow evening. Yeahh!!!!!
Around 1300 we had 3 ships on our AIS. One freighter and 2 fishing boats, so hopefully the kids will get an update on our position.
Each evening, whenever possible, we do try to take time together for drinks and nibbles in the cockpit. This evening, while listening to Mark Knoffler, we were witness to a most stunning sunset. Bright yellow/orange skies to the west, fare welling the huge golden orb as it sunk below the horizon, while the eastern skies showed off every hue from blues to pastel pinks, airbrush strokes of wispy clouds indicating their wind direction. The show of continuous subtle scene changes lasted for about half an hour until all became black, and blacker, the sea and the sky becoming one. The half- moon shines directly above.
Also enjoying the setting sun was a sea bird who had been hovering around Mai Tai for an hour or so. Dipping and playing with the surface waves, trying to get a school of flying fish to take flight and thus make a tasty morsel for dinner. Then he would circle Mai Tai again as if looking for a place to land. He eyed the stern arch for a while, keeping clear of the spinning blades of the wind generator, then attempted to make a landing on one of the solar panels. He skidded to a halt, surprised at how slippery it was, tried to regain his balance, then took off again. Then he spied the spreaders waving about aloft and after several attempts made a safe landing there and hung on, preening himself for about half an hour. I wonder if he goes back home for the night? The nearest land is over 100 miles away.
In the morning after a night passage, it is not uncommon to find flying fish stranded on the deck. One morning we found 19 of them.
I just finished my book today called The Mountain Shadow, by Gregory David Roberts. It is the sequel to Shantaram which I read some time ago. Both books set in India and the character gets involved with the Indian Mafia, gangs, drug dealing etc, but the poetic way it is written describing every aspect of his colourful life and the people he meets, make it such a good read.
FRIDAY 20TH JULY DAY 12
At 1900 hrs we sailed through the passage at Raine Island, after 1665nms since Noumea. We could see no landmarks at all, no signs of breaking reef, no light. This was, for us, such an important milestone, but it was a virtual spot on our chart plotter that represented this spot out in the middle of the ocean. Without the modern navigation systems, and chart plotter, we would never have attempted a night time approach.
Thursday Island is now 136 miles away, through a minefield of reefs and underwater rocks, so we progressed with caution, following closely the planned route of way points we had entered ahead of time.
It was 1900 hrs when we passed Thursday Island, 24 hrs since entering Torres Strait. We saw a cell phone tower so we took the opportunity to connect with the kids via What’s App.
As we neared the island we called Australian Customs on VHF, channel 16, to say we had changed our minds and were no longer stopping in Australia. “Thank you, Mai Tai, for letting us know. Enjoy your sail onwards to Indonesia”. Over and out. As simple as that.
In the afternoon Lane caught a lovely Bluefin Tuna. I pan fried some and served it with a sesame seed, cabbage and zucchini stir fry. Then in the relative calm waters we decided to do a laundry, using our new washing machine for the first time. It only takes small loads but what a pleasure. We ended up doing 6 loads, each load using 20 litres of water. So, we were making water with the water-maker (which fills our tanks at 120 L per hour) at the same time. Amazing! After all that washing and lovely hot showers, we ended up with full water tanks.
A sleepless night ahead for us as we navigate our way through the rest of the infamous Torres Strait and into the Arafura Sea.
SUNDAY 22ND JULY 14th day
It was 0500 hrs when we were finally clear of all the hazards and into open water in the Arafura Sea.
We set the sails enjoying the ride and each of us took the time to get some sleep, throughout the day. Clear blue skies, warm temps with cooler evenings.
MONDAY 23RD JULY 15TH DAY
This has been an incredible journey, so far. I have had my blue moments, for sure, but sharing this adventure with Lane is absolutely wonderful. We work well together in everything we do. We discuss boat manoeuvres in advance, considering the dangers or issues there may be, and then do what needs to be done in the very safest way possible. We try to avoid night time manoeuvres on the foredeck. If I am looking anxious, Lane gives me his lovely reassuring smile and says we are doing great. He is so happy to be out here, on Mai Tai, at one with the boat and the sea. I have to agree, it is a magic feeling. Mai Tai is loving taking us on our magic carpet ride.
Today, we were on collision course with a fishing boat, out in the middle of nowhere. He was laying nets. Kilometres of nets marked with a series of floats trailing behind him. We couldn’t call him on VHF, (as he either didn’t have AIS or didn’t have it switched on) and neither of us could manoeuvre easily. Lane took the helm off auto pilot, and when our paths crossed, we were barely 100metres away. Whew!!!! The dozens of crew manually throwing the nets over the side, gave us a wave as we sailed by.
We found these nets were everywhere. They are marked with a flagged buoy at each end and at intervals between. They are almost impossible to see until it is too late. We did run right over the top of one of the nets, not realising until we saw it passing from beneath our stern. We didn’t feel or hear anything. Fortunately, we didn’t have our engine running or it may have caught in the prop.
Then, not long after that, our AIS indicated another ship (a 200m freighter) was heading our way on a collision course. Once we could see his lights, Lane called him on channel 16, told him we were a sailing vessel with limited manoeuvrability, and the captain agreed to alter course to pass astern. It takes a really long time for a ship this size to change course, as well, so we were thankful to have been able to avert the danger in plenty of time.
TUESDAY 24TH JULY 16TH DAY
The Arafura Sea is only 40 to 50 metres deep and is a light blue colour which makes it appear shallower and the wave patterns are short and sharp. It has been a pretty uncomfortable ride ever since we left Torres Strait.
Another interesting thing we saw tonight. On the horizon was a wide stretch of illuminated sky, what you would see when approaching a city from a distance. But this was in the middle of the ocean. Not even an island nearby. It didn’t appear to be moving and at dawn the lights had gone. Weird.
WEDNESDAY 25TH JULY 17TH DAY
By early afternoon we altered course to head directly for the Tual channel. We will be sailing all night and arrive tomorrow during the day.
We may have discovered the origin of the lights on the horizon. There in the distance in front of us was a line of literally hundreds of ships at anchor. It was difficult to see whether they were freighters or fishing boats, but they were stationary. This was out in the middle of the ocean over a hundred miles from any land. We must find out the story behind them.
THURSDAY 26TH JULY 18TH DAY
We reached the beginning of the channel by 0700 as planned, so we now had another 35 miles to go. Perfect. The whole channel is strewn with little open fishing boats. No lights on them so you can’t see them at night. We only hope they will paddle away smartly as we approach.
The other thing is the Fads. A Fish Attracting Device, built out of wood, with thatched roof and a wee sleep out. They are not lit either, so can be a real hazard as they are everywhere.
By midday we turned the corner and headed to the bottom of the Bay at the township of Tual. After 18 days at sea, we were so glad to finally stop. As we neared the township we were surprised we couldn’t see any other cruising boats at anchor. After all there are 40 boats doing this rally. Where on earth are they? It turns out they were all anchored at another bay on the other side of the island. Because we had been at sea for 18 days, we had no way of knowing the change of plan. Had we stopped in at Thursday Island, we would have found out there. Never mind, we did catch up with everybody and look forward to carrying on the rally with the fleet.
The rally organisers had arranged for the customs, immigration and quarantine officials to meet all the boats in one place which did simplify an otherwise rather complicated procedure. They love lots of paperwork, stamps, and anything that makes their job look very important.
Does it sound like we are having fun? Well, we are.