Location: Biak, Indonesia
The definition of Adventure:
an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
Exciting yes, Hazardous no!!!!
In our quest to explore some of this amazing planet we set out on what we named Adventures. Man, did we get more than we bargained for.
Naively, I did not think that an ‘Adventure’ meant hazardous. Probably should have checked the dictionary before we left.
We have just survived the passage to Indonesia, it was the very definition of an adventure. I know my last blog was all about passages, so I apologise if this is a little repetitive, however this passage was very different.
The first 3 days was as expected, I mean hey we are so close to the equator I can almost see the dotted line. We are in the doldrums.
The definition of Doldrums
an equatorial region of the ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds.
Go ahead and read that last line again LIGHT unpredictable winds.
Days 1 -3 were exactly as predicted, light winds requiring us to motor 24/7. This is a passage of 888nm, and we had prepared the boat to be able to motor the whole way. This involved the additional purchase of 200L of diesel now strapped on the deck around the boat. This is in addition to the 140L of extra diesel we already carried and the 200L (2 x 100L) tanks in the boat.
Thats a whopping 540L of diesel (a pretty healthy amount for a SAILING boat). We use 2.2L per hour and motor at about 4-4.5nm per hour. Based on our calculations we had enough fuel and a decent buffer.
So back to the passage, days 1-3, wind still, glassy and hot, making 4.5nm per hour! Perfect. We see a huge pod of pilot whales which played around the boat and had a visit from a huge whale and baby, which Jamie got to snorkel with briefly. This sailing stuff is amazing.
We are sailing with our friends Chae, Anneliese and their 3 kids on their catamaran Waterhorse. They sail and motor faster than us and at this stage are about 60nm ahead. We are in constant communication with them via sat phone and all is going well.
About half way through the passage (distance wise) we start to encounter a headwind, oh well, time to start tacking, so we head slightly north and motor sail, things are going ok, I mean once you start tacking you add considerable miles to the journey (you are no longer going straight line but up and down), and it slows your forward progress, but we’ve got food and time so no problem.
The waves start to pick up (also slowing the boat) and our progress forward slows quite a bit. It’s still safe though so all good.
By day 5 things are starting to turn, and not for the better. We now have 15-20 kn of wind and its all over the place but predominately from the west (the way we need to go). The seas are much bigger (3m) and very messy, its like being in a washing machine and we frequently take waves over the boat up to the saloon windows. Lookie (our pet name for our boat) is trying her best, but she is struggling in these conditions as every time she hits a wave her boat speed slows to almost zero. We spend the day tacking uselessly back an forward in increasingly frustrating and scary conditions. It seems what ever direction we attempt the wind changes to make it impossible. 10 hours later and we have ‘sailed’ 66nm and made the grand total of 4, yes 4 nm in actual progress towards our target. Its very rough and we are worried that this relentless pounding will start to damage Lookie.
Anneliese and I text very frequently, it is difficult to quantify the amount of comfort and support I received from this amazing woman who while enduring the same psychological torture as I was still highly entertaining, immensely vulgar and very honest in sharing her own emotions. It made the world of difference to me
Waterhorse are having exactly the same experience, we have caught up to them and they sound equally frustrated. They start looking at options to anchor somewhere overnight. It’s just not safe to be out in this. Technically, you are not allowed to anchor ANYWHERE in a country until you have officially checked in (however if you or your vessel are in danger you are normally excused). We figure we are at that point and Waterhorse have an additional issue, they are very low on fuel.
We discuss a few options and settle on a wide river that we think will provide some protection.
A river, I hear you say, that sounds lovely and protected, and yes it is…….. once you get through the surf zone at the mouth. Surf is great for surfers, but very dangerous for boats. On the way in your boat gets picked up by waves and you loose steering as you surf through, it’s uncontrolled and scary. You need to commit, there is not turning around when you are in the surf zone (which lasts for about 5 minutes) attempts to turn around can see your boat be hit by a wave side on - and lets not discuss what happens at that point, but its BAD.
With our sphincters all puckered up real tight and Jamie urging me not to look behind (I can’t help it I need to see what’s coming) we get through, legendary steering from Jamie! As we start our way down the river we look at each other, we are both shaking.
Anchor down, we are safe - for now at least (we have to get back through that fucking surf zone tomorrow). Now we wait, Waterhorse are heading through the same surf zone, conversation is stilted as we can hear the tension and concentration in their voices - whew, they are through as well. We motor over to their boat. We all feel like we have been through the wringer. I step on board and we all hug (for a very very long time), so relieved are we all that we are alive and afloat.
The evening allows us to have a massive debrief, there is nothing so bonding as a shared nightmare.
We have a lengthy chat about fuel. Both boats fuel gauges are dodgy at best (it’s fairly typical of boats that the fuel gauges are at best a guess), we think we have 60L left in total (including 2 x 20L jerry cans), normally we would top up our tanks, but we are not sure if Waterhorse are going to need some of our fuel, so we leave the fuel in the jerries as a buffer for both of us. All for one and one for all!!!
We head out through the surf in the morning, it is just as ‘adventurous’ and with waves that crash onto the boat we are all relieved that we make it through. And now the pain begins again. The weather has settled a bit, but it is still rough and windy and we start our tacking again. Slightly better today and we make glacial but forward progress. We are solely under sail now to conserve fuel.
The nights, are as always, the most challenging, you are alone, its dark and often very disorientating. Our planned route requires a lot of tacking which you need to do by yourself as the other person is sleeping. Tacking in these conditions is fast, violent and noisy (and that’s when you get it right). Morning comes, still no relief from the roughness but we are making headway and we put together a plan for the final few days, we decide to head north around the last group of islands that we need to avoid, in the hope that we will be able to get a wind assist for the final leg.
In the meantime we do a mid sea transfer of fuel to Waterhorse of 1 jerry. It’s a lot like a James Bond movie and involves Chae lowering their dinghy into the rough seas and zooming to our boat, he pulls alongside and we literally drop 20L into his dinghy and he zooms back. Always high tension as so many things can go wrong.
The final night, we get a small win, then wind is indeed now from a nice sailable angle and the conditions alongside Biak island are fairly calm, motors on only and we glide through the final miles.
Waterhorse are very thankful of that extra 20L as it allows them to motor that final leg. Anchors down at night (0400) and we all head to bed.
These are our thoughts
We are so thankful that we made it
We are so impressed with Lookie who is totally uninjured
We are wondering why the fuck we are doing this?
THIS IS NOT FUN
Addit: We are so incredibly grateful to friends and family at home that received our twice daily reports regarding our status. Their support, humour, and conversation seriously got us through.