Sailing through Indonesia & Timor Sea
Early in the morning Thursday the 8th of April we threw off from Puteri Harbour and Malaysia. Course southwest. We left Malaysia with one extra crewmember on board. While we were in New Zealand in 2007 we got to know Christopher Blake. His father, Tony Blake, is the Captain of Thelma, the 100+ year old 72 feet gaff rigged yacht we were lucky to crew (when we stayed the hurricane season in New Zealand).
Christopher started this journey crewing on the American yacht Bahati. We met Bahati first time when we were in the Galapagos Islands in 2007. Also Bahati’s plan had recently changed. Their voyage towards South Africa was postponed. Instead of Christopher being “ship less” we invited him to join us towards Australia.
As usual there was heavy traffic in the Singapore Strait. We crossed the Strait and got over in "one piece". Crossing the Strait can be compared with running across a high way with continues traffic of heavy vehicles. We were lucky when we sailed east in the Singapore Strait. Most of the time the tide in the Strait sets westward. Not this time. With the tide we motored east along the Indonesian side of the Strait and rounded south with Batam Island on starboard.
During the afternoon the wind picked up. Sails where hoisted and the course set towards the Java Sea. During the night a message about sea robbery 200nm north of us came through on the Navtex. 200nm is a little more than a day sail away. Even though a distance of 200nm may sounds safe we got a reminder of being on alert!
9th of April at 14.15 local time Empire crossed Equator – for the 3rd time since leaving Norway in 2005. Also this time King Neptun came on board for a visit - and we all celebrated with a toast of real “3times Linie Aquavit”.
The two first days out of Batam we passed lots of drifting nets. In the dark it was almost impossible to see the nets before it was too late. After passing over a few nets without any incidents, the self-confidence grew. We aimed between the drift net buoys instead of trying to avoid the nets. Luckily we did not catch any net - neither on the keel, sail drive or the rudder…
The winds were stable for three days before easing off and finally disappearing. The Volvo Penta got enough to do in the coming days.
One night we sailed through a big field of anchored squid fishing boats. They were lit with enormous strobe lights. We were glad that we had experienced a similar fleet of fishing boats on our way north, so we knew that it actually was possible to sail through…
Because of all the engine hours, we found it better to get some more diesel. During a 4 hour pit stop anchored at Lovina Beach on the north coast of Bali we got an extra 200l diesel and some fresh vegetables on board. We also changed oil and oil filter on the engine before continuing east along the northern side of the row of Indonesian Islands.
Again we met the typical Indonesian fish traps – bamboo sticks tied together to a raft, floating just in the surface. Around Bali we saw several creative rafts with different decorative straw animals on top. The rafts were definitely easier to see - in daylight – than the ones we had passed earlier. But in the dark they were all difficult to spot. Luckily we did not hit any of them, but we were pretty close a few times.
We were not short of time towards Australia. Still we did not want to spend too much time. When Heidi was pregnant with Eirik she got terribly seasick after the 5th month – even when the sea was flat. One thing is to be seasick – we will assume, since neither of us normally get seasick - to be seasick with a little one inside you makes it feel extra bad. We hoped to get all the way to Australia before the seasickness eventually would start bothering Heidi again. Therefore we aimed to sail directly to Australia without further stops.
Christopher quickly tuned in to Empire`s rhythm and we enjoyed his company. Passing through the huge fields of anchored fishing vessels, it was also a good thing to have “6 eyes” on watch!
The wind came and went as we sailed east on the northern side of the Indonesian islands Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Rindja, Komodo, Flores and Alor. First after rounding east of Timor heading south toward Australia the wind picked up. Across Arafura Sea, the sea between Timor and Australia, we finally experienced nice winds for many days.
On our way across the Arafura Sea we decided that Gove would be our first port of call in Australia – this time. We anchored a few hours on the western side of the Hole in The Wall to wait for the tide to change – instead of sailing around the group of islands blocking the way. Before anchoring we called one of many Customs aircrafts passing, on the VHF radio to acknowledge that we actually were allowed to anchor before checking in. The answer was positive – “Throw the anchor as often as you like, but do NOT get in physical contact with other yachties or residents. To not get in touch with residents was no big problem north in Australia, since the settlements are pretty few.
Anyway, Customs called us every time they flew over us when we were under way. A couple of days Customs passed over us as many as three times. Every time the Customs officer asked the same questions. If the officers had known that Heidi was pregnant, Eivind`s answers would have made more sense to them: “We are still only four persons on board…”
Lightning and thunder, and no fish
We often experienced electrical storms around us through Indonesian waters. To our satisfaction they kept some distance. Our friends Kate and Rob in the Canadian yacht Aries Tor suddenly found them self in the middle of one of these storms, when they (and we) were heading north. They told us that it was NO fun at all. Luckily the lightning did not strike their yacht...
We trawled two fishing lines behind the yacht after leaving Singapore Strait. The only things that hooked on until we rounded Timor were garbage and seaweed. Not even a single fish bite. We were starting to think that the many Indonesian fishermen empty the sea for whatever is in it…? As soon as we were in the Arafura Sea the fish started to bite on our hooks again. Luckily for us – the fridge was long time ago emptied for fresh dinner options.
Australia in view
Our first glimpse of Australia was New Years Island north of Northern Territory. The last 250 nautical miles toward Gove was smooth sailing, except through The Hole in The Wall where we this time found it better to use the engine. While anchored waiting for the tide to change to get through, another sailboat passed about one nautical mile away. This yacht was also heading for The Guarapara Rip, another name for the narrow passage.
When we in the dark were able to see Gove Harbor in the distant, we called the Harbor Master to tell about our arrival. He knew from Customs that we were arriving and welcomed us to “his” harbor. He told us to anchor somewhere in the bay – and that Customs would find us sometime next morning.
As promised the Customs officers showed up in the morning. “Check in” was done without too much trouble. Though, the Customs officer in charge had to call his boss to acknowledge that they did not have to look in the few bottles of alcohol that exceeded the allowed amount. This was the first time during our voyage that any Customs officer actually looked through cupboards and closets. When we arrived in Australia in 2008 the Customs officers only looked into every cabin. Nowhere had customs done that either…
Finally back in Gove – 8 months after our previous (and first) visit we found our friends in s/y Kaylie anchored in the same spot. 2251 nautical miles sailed during the 19 days from Puteri Harbor in Malaysia.
The sailboat passing us near the Hole in The Wall turned out to be Stardancer, an Australian Beneteau with Andrew and Anna on board. They had also sailed from Asia to Australia - against the wind and weather. The ocean is big so we had not seen or known of each others existence while we were under way.
Worth mentioning is that Gove is definitely not the centre of the world. Stardancer and Empire were the second and the third boat to check in to Gove from overseas this year.
We looked forward to further sailing along the Australian coast. We knew that from here and on we could expect wind most of the way when heading south – on the nose…