Monday, December 11, 2017

'Ere there be dragons...

We had an unexpectedly nice time in Dili with its friendly harbormaster and lovely foods and then stopped in along the coast at Oe-cusse. Whilst looking this area up, we stumbled upon a guardian article about their political and economic situation titled 'Timor-leste's big spending: a brave way to tackle economic crisis or just reckless?' Which really helped us understand what we then found there.

Oe-cusse is part of East Timor but in a separate enclave further west along the North coast of the long wriggly Timor island. This place really stands alone under the surrounding mountains and has a very strange air about it. Wandering around, it appeared mostly deserted. We couldn't find a veggie stall or anyone to chat to; but as the tumble weed blew, after it scuttled a uniformed worker diligently trying to sweep it up.

The busiest scene we found. A construction worker handing out raw meat from his handlebars at one of the many government investment sites. Out of shot is the big billboard saying what it cost and the security guard looking on. As you can see the streets were overbuilt and well maintained; quite different from neighbouring areas especially Dili. The orange people are the ever lurking ninja Street sweepers.

The cafe bar on the beach appeared frequented only by a few Europeans sipping their espresso with their heads deep in paperwork. They hardly raised a smile when Ravi went to town removing and replacing rocks from the fountain, creating quite the mud bath.

The less said about Kupang, our next stop on Western Timor the better. We were continuously hounded by touts with their 'hey mister' wanting to arrange everything for us: Fuel, water, taxi, clearance, drugs, women... By far the best policy was to give them all a wide berth and arrange things ourselves. We have since heard many stories of rip offs and bad experiences so our instincts served us well. Some form of transport was unavoidable since the offices we must visit were a long way. Taxis were cheaper as we walked away from the Anchorage and bartering was a must.

After long and tedious complications we managed to come out with not only the visa we wanted but it extended too. Customs, quarantine and the harbormaster were all easily done without interference from the agents who were unpopular with the officials we spoke with. They are trying to reduce corruption but it suits the touts and agents to encourage it so that visitors will feel that they need their services to negotiate their way through. So at the end of a day and a half of beaurocracy we were the happy holders of clearance and three passports stamped with 60 days worth of visa.

Duncan did many water and fuel runs both of which were much cheaper going in person to the vendor rather than through the offers of the touts. We caught a 'bemo' (minivan transport) to the mall, stocked up and let Ravi play in the ball pool as a reward for his patience at being dragged around all those offices then happily we could leave Kupang behind.

Kupang definitely looks better from the boat where you can't make out the heaps of rubbish, traffic and chaos...

Flat calm again we had to motor the whole way to Flores then were able to sail on to Rinca our first Komodo national park island. There, it wasn't long before we saw not only wild boars but the famous Komodo dragons prowling amongst the plastic. This one was about 2m but they can grow to three metres and 70kg. We saw at least two if not three different ones whilst at this beach and not again in the rest of our time within the national park.

The plastic on the beach, local boats buzzing around and unusually cold water conspired to make us disinclined to dive where our guide book said was good. I wish we'd been braver but we thought there would be many more opportunities. Of course we can only dive one at a time these days so our already conservative adventuring has gotten even more cautious. There are so many considerations when diving without a local guide; currents, depth, other boats, getting to and from the dive site without an outboard...

Our next stop was an enormous bay/inlet area with many little coves and long mangroved cut throughs called Lehok Ginggo
where we had a lovely time. We explored by kayak and saw lots of unusual birds and monkeys. Ravi found his ideal beach; accessed through a cave usually by kayak it was shaded most of the day and had beautiful sand and modest waves.

We then met up with friends we'd last seen in Fiji. Two boats, a trimaran with a kiwi and Dutch couple and the other a family from Belgium, Scotland and London. These guys on the catamaran Rehua (link to their blog) are still with us now and going the same way. Ravi loves having two big boys to play with, the space to scamper about and what we'd never realised; a lovely shady space to swim in the sea under Rehua's belly. We think they're fun too!

Pink beach, Komodo

Makassar reef, Komodo, too deep to anchor and possibly prohibited anyway so we drifted whilst snorkeling one at a time. (Photos by Rehua)

Gili Air, Lombok has no motorised traffic so was a great place to introduce Ravi to the joys of cycling. The Rehua crew hired some very cheaply too so we regretted putting ours through the wear and tear of the salty sand loose paths. The island is a popular backpackers haunt so our cycle ride inevitably turned into a pub crawl; half the gang preferring the cycling and half more focused on the the next establishment.

From Gili Air, we had a safe distance view of the volcano rumblings of Mount Agung on Bali. With an eruption forecast as imminent we thought we'd edge forward after checking we'd always be just out of the evacuation zone. Nothing came of it as it happens so we carried on unscathed.

Mount Agung, Bali from the Lombok strait with a fisherman from Gili Air in the foreground.

So on we've been sailing together, through the Komodo islands, along the top of Sumbawa, Lombok and on to Bali. We've been having much more difficult weather than expected, more about which in the next blog.

Sailing with Rehua between anchorages in Bali we had a rare nice easy trip and they were able to snap some photos of us in full sail with our big Genoa out for the expected light winds. We were going from Lovina to Teluk (bay) Banyuwedang, a lovely enclosed bay on the north west tip of Bali to avoid some more bad weather that was on its way.

Nappies flying and getting the odd salty splash, Ravi was inside having a doze.

Ravi is turning into the inevitable water baby he was always bound to be. This was a resort pool you could use if you bought a few beers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

We'd got complacent after renewing our Australia visa and temporarily forgotten that time and tide wait for no-one. We found ourselves in Cairns with the realisation that there wasn't space in the season to do all we'd hoped to. Our visa for Papau New Guinea had arrived but there simply was not enough time to go to the reputedly glorious Louisiade archipelago. Yet another thing to go on the 'next time around' list.

What's the rush? Well for one thing it's cyclone season in this part of the world from December. For another, the South East trade winds die off and once further North turn into a North West monsoon making our progress more difficult as we head towards the Malacca straits and Malaysia beyond.

So better late than never we are now rushing along. the barrier reef blurred as we sailed along inside it day and night. We stopped a few times for a snorkel and then for a few days at Lizard island where there were a couple of hills to stretch our legs and a marine research station to look around. Much of the outer reef had suffered bleaching and cyclone damage in that area so though the snorkeling on Lizard island was interesting with the biggest giant clams we've ever seen, we had perhaps already seen better around the Whitsunday islands and further South. We did miss some famous dive sites so can't comment on the whole reefs health but what we saw was nothing like what I (Ruth) remember when I visited in 2002.

We aren't going to win any awards for our underwater photography yet, but we've all got to start somewhere!

It was here at the top of Lizard island that captain cook gazed out to sea attempting to find a way back out through the maze of reefs. Having already stove in and repaired his ship he wanted to be free on the open sea again. We followed the now well trodden path for nothing more than some photos and exercise as the day was too hazy to be able to discern much of the outer reef.

Ravi sleeping as he so often does in the carrier both out on walks or around town.

Rounding Cape York and in to Thursday island was thankfully benign since we'd gone to the trouble to get the tides with us. Thursday and Horn islands were hot and blustery with a rather apocalyptic feel where bush fires were raging. Ravi had his inoculations and we sorted our paperwork to clear out and notify Indonesia we were on our way.

Since leaving Australia Ravi's route map has developed a few extra kinks. The passage started out with three days of fair trade winds but then all traces died out. For the next three days we drifted and tacked against all kinds of light variable winds before finally giving in and changing our plans. It was too far to be able to motor to our planned destination of Kupang so we decided to aim for Saumlaki on the nearer island of Yamdena. We motored the whole way there as the only wind that came was the lightest of North Westerlies (less than 5kn) so it was a good decision.

Some cruising friends gave us nylon for the job so now our flags are looking much more professional. Indonesian flag.

Saumlaki is a very different place. The entrance was a delight of traditional boats and big convoluted fishing trap/ stations. Even before we anchored we'd caused a stir with people in dugouts usually with outboards buzzing around the boat taking photos of us and shouting out. This continued around town where Ravi was particularly popular. Whole families would stop their scooter jump off and rush over to take 'selfies' with us and especially if they could hold him. He got pinched from every direction and whisked away whenever they could, so after a bit we needed to find a quiet spot to give him a break!

Saumlaki port with a Dutch influenced Christian Church behind in the early morning. This was the pretty part, the town itself was a hot, busy cocophony of rubbish, dust and scooters.

At the port captain's we found out eventually that all the officials we were waiting for had gone to visit an island and wouldn't be back until late afternoon. 'No problem, tomorrow'. But we knew that the officials wouldn't like us just wandering about without clearing in so we found a quiet spot in a hotel and let Ravi have a sleep. We had lunch at a street stall where Ravi, revitalised, enjoyed his attention and his satay mixed rice and veg. Lots of photos were taken to squeels of delight from the scarved ladies.

Then we endeavoured to find the immigration office which turned out to be the guys house who by then had returned from the island jaunt.

Here's where we found our problem. There are three visa options in Indonesia. A free 30 day non renewable one available to citizens of most countries, a visa on arrival which you pay for which also gives 30 days but is extendable once only - the one we wanted, and a cultural visa which must be applied for out of the country with an Indonesian citizen 'sponsor' who guarantees your good will and good character which is valid for 30 or 60 days but then extendable monthly up to 180 days.

However we had not realised that this middle visa is only available in seaports which are near international airports. Saumlaki's airport is domestic only and so though it is clearly advertised as one of the 19 available inward and outbound clearance ports of Indonesia's 16,000 islands, it is not possible to get this particular  visa there (nor is it at the next nearest one Tual).

So we were scuppered. There's no way we could get through the whole of Indonesia within 30 days. It would be around 2,500 miles with wind and current against us for the last 800 and probably quite light winds all the time. Even if we checked out wherever we got to after 30 days, there was a high likelihood we would need to stop for water and fuel on our route onwards.

There was no budging the immigration guy though, he just couldn't give us the visa we wanted. Our only option was to take the free 30 days and accept that we had to be out after that. After a bit of deliberation we decided to get the issue sorted now whilst we had options of other countries to visit with Indonesian embassies. Darwin, Australia or Dili, East Timor. One was much more on the way than the other and according to a little online research should be perfectly possible.

We looked around a bit over the weekend, bought some water and fuel then cleared out on the Monday. Saumlaki was a difficult town to really like. The people were friendly and fun but the heat, poverty, dirt and noise were an assault on the senses. We found it particularly galling whilst nosying about to see tiny empty hovels with families living under incomplete rooves and behind broken walls whilst the cities' many churches towered above them opulent, air-conditioned; pristine.

The people living there not only have to buy drinking water but also have to buy in water which is unfit for drinking from tankers in order to wash with; that's those who have tanks. Most don't. Most have no access to hygeine nor space to breath with their tiny spaces squashed in. We see many different kinds of poverty on our travels but poverty of space with no access to drinking water is really basic need. For sale along the market street the fruit and veg supply was meagre. Onions were shipped from Java and so cost four times the price of those in Australia. We bought some eggs but they were almost all off. In the shops were mostly soap and biscuits. Life here for these people really is a daily struggle.

So on we needed to go to Dili, Timor Leste which is where we are now. We managed to sail much of the way here though the winds were often light we only motored when we dropped below 1.5 to 2kn. Mostly in the early hours of the morning when there might not be a breath. We had some variable northerly wind as we sailed along Timor Leste in the early hours of Friday, so it was nice to have peace and quiet to savour the sounds of the invisible whales nearby.

Ravi greeting the sunrise and another new place

Christo Rei overlooks Dili, Portuguese influences abound though Timor is certainly independent now and only the elite and older educated Timorese speak the language. The local tongue is a mixed dialect of indigenous language with some Portuguese words dropped in for words that were missing. Most can also speak the main Indonesian Bahasa language.

Harbour entrance mark at Dili with an early morning fisherman

Clearing in here was easy in comparison to Indonesia though we did have to pay $30 each for a visa though it was advertised as free for Europeans: UK and a few other European countries were not included.

The flag of Timor-Leste we didn't worry about hemming it since we'll be here less than a week.

We still haven't quite decided which visa for Indonesia to get here since there are costs and complications with each and we need to rush on in any case. We shall see what the weekend brings and decide on Monday. This afternoon we are enjoying a glass of Porto with some blue cheese and cured meat courtesy of the Portuguese influences here. Tonight there is Portuguese music in a nearby bar so Ravi is having a long afternoon nap under a fan to prepare for evening revels.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ravis' World at One...

Wow, Today Ravi turned one. A whole year old. He is currently fast asleep after a fun and busy day as I write this blog at almost 10 o'clock at night. Its been a year of learning for us all, as all new parents know. Last night at this time he was still scuttling around our feet laughing hysterically. The most recent lesson being 'don't give your soon to be one year old the cake mix bowl to lick too close to bed time.

Chocolate brownies the cake in question. Just over a year ago we sailed past and then later briefly met the Del Viento family. Ruth was on the verge of giving birth. Before they left the anchorage they kindly made us some chocolate brownies. They left them in the cockpit of Impetuous as we were out at the time. Infact we were out at the hospital embarking on what turned out to be the quite lengthy process of having a baby. So when I got back to the boat it was dark. Indeed it was still dark when I left the following morning.

I'm not entirely sure how long they had been there when I finally discovered them. They had clearly been through a few melt cycles but they were gooey, crunchy and delicious and it was quite an effort for me to save some to take in for Ruth; for whom i'm sure they were really intended, still languishing, knackered in hospital trying to persuade the doctors and nurses that they were ready to come home. So when it came to making some sort of cakey thing to celebrate Ravi turning one the chocolate brownie came to mind.

We are currently in Cairns having just spent the last few days stocking up and organising before we head up towards the remote Thursday island on the North East tip of Australia. Of course as well as provision we've been keeping an eye out for a suitable one year old present. Suitable for a sailor.

We stumbled on an environmentally conscious toy shop in Cairns thinking a little wooden trinket or nice little book may be the thing. There we were blown away by all the beautiful wooden toys, books, recycled plastic toys but one thing after a perusal leapt out. 'Hugg a Planet'. We turned it over marvelling at the detail particularly of obscure islands; some we've been to, most we'd like to one day and the lovely huggable squishiness of it. In our standard style we resolved it was very lovely but a bit pricy, perhaps we'll have a bash at making one ourselves and paid for the little dancing dinosaur we'd chosen.

On our way about town we discussed how we'd never manage the level of detail and accuracy on the globe and it would take ages... hey what about the money for Ravis birthday your parents sent. They'd love us to splash out on something nice for him, so back we went and here it is. Ravi's globe.

Last night after we'd all finally gone to bed, Ruth sewed on his route thus far; from Fiji, to New Caladonia and the east coast of Austraila and Tasmania. We will keep updating it as we sail from country to country. Lets face it, it's quicker and more fun than a traditional log. Our next stop will be Indonesia so there will be a little more sewing on passage as well as our new courtesy flag needed. 

Birthday splashes whilst his parents felt apprehensive about crocodiles...

Wrapping paper Impetuous style...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Drifting up the East coast; migrating with the whales

Actually it hasn't all been entirely laid back. Certainly we have had some enjoyable lazy days of slowly drifting along, hoping an offshore breeze might pick up later. But we have also had some stonking southerlies that have slalomed us up the coast.

The general run of the weather has tended to be against passage north, until, with some ferocity, a southerly change arrives. After an initial surge, the wind drops, dies and changes then the system repeats.

The trick lies in not being out when it howls with antarctic shrill nor still being out when the lumpy seas remain but all traces of wind have gone. Suffice to say our timing still leaves a little to be desired, but so, for that matter does the forecasting...

Kangaroo grazing with a seaview near Iluka

We see whales almost every day as they too migrate north, but have given up on trying to capture their feats on camera and have resolved to enjoy their displays instead. Sometimes they even come over after we've anchored and have a nosey around like snuffling huge but slow dogs.

We were sad to leave Sydney in our wake. Its a fantastic city which suits the sailor. We had made various friends in Tasmania and further afield who we could now meet on their home turf.  The anchorages and public moorings are all over the city and free. Right at the end of our stay we found some amazing free hot showers laid on for the swimmers of Balmoral. If only we'd found them sooner the tourists at the fishmarket would have had less of an eyeful of us showering in the cockpit.

It's hard to explain what was so lovely about Sydney.  Everything seemed to work and feel positive.  Getting around to far flung suburbs for engine parts and services (boring fuel injection pump) was easy, speedy and affordable between google and our opal card (prepaid transport card).  There was more cultural diversity than other parts of Australia and we felt welcome, interested and at home. Plus of course it's a stunning harbour where there is almost always some wind for a sail.

Whilst there we also splashed out on three very different treats.  The first was a fancy feathering propeller which we'd heard about whilst at the wooden boat festival in Tasmania.  George the boss had sent his apprentice Jake down to do a little touting and he managed to talk us round.

Since grinding our original fixed blade prop off on a reef in Fiji we have thought that this would be a good opportunity to buy either a feathering or folding propeller. When researching from Fiji however we couldn't find one that we liked which would fit in the  space between our hull and rudder, so at the time we ordered a replacement fixed blade from New Zealand in order to get moving again.

We were therefore ripe for persuasion when Jake showed us their design which fits, is simple requiring little maintenance, adjustable in pitch and affordable. We are delighted with our find, made locally in Sydney by JBC engineering; the Hydralign. They were extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and whilst there we were able to introduce Ravi to the untold delights of engineering shops being shown around by guys who genuinely loved their jobs and were thrilled when we all showed interest.

The next came from a seed sewn whilst Sally was visiting us.  She happened to mention the number of British acts on bill boards and that she'd even seen a poster with Billy Bragg on it.  A few weeks after she'd left us that thought crossed my mind so we had a look at what was on... there he was, Billy Bragg was playing the main theatre at the Opera house and in just a couple days time.  How could we pass that up? We urgently went on a baby ear defender chase since the ones we'd used in Hobart had been inadequate.

The third was not to be available in Sydney but we ordered ourselves an inflatable kayak online and had it delivered to our friends in the hills above Brisbane.

Just a stones throw up the coast and a gentle drift for us was the inlet of Broken bay, a confluence of estuaries, many surrounded by native bush. Quite the antidote to the city life we had been leading.

After a day of chundering crew, a stop in Port Stephens seemed a logical but unplanned choice. It also gave me the opportunity to catch up with an old friend I had gone to school with decades ago. Surrounded by our children, its sobering to reflect that some of the offspring were only a little younger than we had been when we first met.

After a brief pitstop in a horribly rolly Coffs harbour we pushed on principally under motor to arrive at the delightful Clarence river prior to another northerly change.

What has made these passages so pleasant has been the ever positive charm of the Australians; many like us making their passage north to the tropics as antipodean winter takes hold. Indeed we have always; since arriving eight months ago; been  5°C too far south.

Bolstered by wine cheaper than anywhere we have known it, everywhere we go it is easy to find good anchorages with water available and when we need them, easy to find shops a nice walk away. In every mainland destination there has been another playground we can take Ravi to and now it's getting warmer the waterparks abound.

Brisbane offered us the opportunity to catch up with our friends from Fiji who had taken delivery of some books, toilet and gas parts and our lovely new kayak. They were pleased to show us their unusual and beautiful self built hilltop home so we spent a rare night ashore. We also met not one but two previous Alajuela owners; one having bought his when they were new years ago before setting off across the Pacific.

Ever conscious of the days ahead when we wont have shops close to hand, we stocked up from the Indian shops that we found within the city. We think this should last a while, semolina and dal being some of Ravi's favorite dishes, though to be honest he chomps on everything we feed him. Clearly a product of his parents.

Fortunately though we are now past Brisbane so with luck have returned to the trade wind belt. All whiffs of baby vomit have been vanquished from our pillows and bedding. We're looking forward to a return to trade wind sailing whilst nestled behind the great barrier reef.

We have pressed on up the coast visiting various anchorages behind the sand islands of both Moreton and Fraser. As well as Mooloolaba where we missed another friend from Fiji and her two children by a few days, they had returned to their floating home.

Wild dingos at Fraser island

Then it was on to the slightly odd sugar farming town of Bundaberg with it's wild west feel. One of the tasks we had set ourselves was to have our chain re-galvanised so it would no longer drop its rusting debris on to our foredeck. Getting it off the boat, ashore and in to the back of a hire car was the first task; fortunately its return was easy enough, everything being that bit nearer.

Google helps us to track down farmers markets at each stop. Plenty of pesto since Bundaberg!

For some reason our fishing in the colder climbs had been less successful but once more our freezer and bellies are full. In the last few weeks we've caught 5 tuna, one of them a prized yellowfin.

Next we commenced our barrier reef crawl at Lady Musgrave island which is a coral atol. Quiet, isolated and beautiful, though slightly busy with boats... until that is strong winds were forecast.  Then we knew our two remaining neighbours were more our kind of people.

Lady Musgrave with our brilliant new inflatable kayak

Since then we've been creeping up and up and are now at the edge of the Whitsunday islands.  Fringed by coral with sandy beaches these national park islands offer plenty to explore.

We are enjoying Australia so much we have extended our visas giving us plenty of time to explore just a small amount of the barrier reef and to get the boat more ship shape before pressing on. Ravi continues to thrive, develop and keep us highly entertained though we're determined to be stricter with ourselves and get some more boat jobs done whilst amongst the beautiful Whitsunday islands.