We untied the dock lines from Bali Marina at 5:30 am on Friday the 13th and sailed into the red sky in the morning, our bananas dangling from the stern (hanging bananas are considered by some to aggravate the Gods of Good Passage!).
Despite our attempts to sail hugging the reef bearing shoreline, we had current against us the entire length of the Bali coastline, sometimes we were unable to exceed 1.8 knot speed over the ground. There was very little wind in our favor and with the back eddies and whirlpools even our new auto pilot was challenged keeping a course. We were bound for a roadstead anchorage 65 miles away, hoping to get there before dark.
Sailing in Indonesia is the most perilous of anywhere when it comes to dodging obstacles in the water. There are numerous fishing boats of every description imaginable, some powered with outboards, some with sail, and some with only a sole paddler very busy bailing as fast as he can. None of these have lights.
Sailing close to the coastline we were amazed at the thousands of canoes with outriggers that lined the shore, packed like in a tin of sardines, taking up every square inch of available beach and crammed side by side for miles and miles (see top photo right, background). Just before sunset, hundreds of these water spiders headed out to sea, crossing our path in a jig jag fashion and coming within inches of Ascension. They really do sail like they drive, no rules and with daring abandon. They would wave lackadaisically as they skimmed past our stern almost capturing our fishing line as we were desperately trying to retrieve it. Their primitive, holey polypropylene sails, ratty and torn, probably don't make maneuverability easy.
The horizon was soon freckled with these little triangular sails all headed out for a night of fishing and creating a landmine of obstacles to avoid in the blackness.
Worse than the boats, who could get out of your way, were huge unusual fish attracting devices (fads) consisting of a bamboo platform, and sometimes marked with a couple of dried palm fronds. Many of these sat just below the water and were hard to see in the daylight, never mind at night as they are not lit. And since they are wooden, they do not show up on radar. When we could still see, we passed row upon row of these ominous things, spaced only a couple of hundred meters apart. They are all over the place, even 20 miles off shore.
We saw all manner of water craft and many variations of sail configurations.
And then there are the numerous oil platforms. These look like cities all lit up at night but the surrounding buoys shadowed and invisible in the darkness and camouflaged by the water make formidable obstacles
Late afternoon we finally got some wind and were able to sail, albeit slowly, but it was nice not to have to use what little fuel we had. We reached the destination where we thought we might anchor just as the sun was setting a few hours later but the wind died completely just before we got there. We started the engine but knew immediately that we had a problem. Superstitions aside, it looked like we were doomed for leaving port on a Friday, our plight reinforced by all the other bad luck omens we chose to ignore.
The engine immediately overheated as there was no water coming from the exhaust. We quickly shut the engine off but with no wind and current against us, dangerously close to shore, we did not want to risk trying to anchor in the roadstead anchorage that was unprotected with a rough rolling swell.
It happened to be time for our scheduled net, where we regularly talked to Stardust and Gone with the Wind who were waiting for us at Bawean Island, some 300 miles away. We told them of our predicament and we discussed several options but in the end our only choice was for Gord to dismantle the water pump and try to fix the problem underway. We were not keen on drifting around in these waters, especially with all the numerous hazards around us. With no wind, the current was pulling us backward!
After 3 attempts at taking the pump apart, replacing the impellor, blowing out lines, etc. nothing seemed to make a difference. And now it was black in the moonless night...we were afraid to turn on any lights because we needed to conserve our battery for radar.
We were drifting too close to shore so we were forced to start the engine again, but this time the sound was different. The engine was back to its old self, running fine. We had no idea what the problem was but we were very relieved when the ordeal ended.
We decided to sail on into the night and pray that we didn't hit any of the water clutter as we made our way offshore toward the Razz Island Group. But punishment for our blatant disregard for the rules of passage was not over yet!
A half moon appeared in the sky around midnight, at least providing us with a little bit of light. We had been motoring through a mine field of lighted lanterns, canoes, oil rigs, ships, tows with tugs and fishing boats, when suddenly we heard a thump, thump and scrape along our hull. We immediately shut off the engine and watched an unlit float bob up to the surface behind us, one that likely had a net attached to it. We were hesitant about starting the engine again but were able to continue along with any apparent impairment.
A Whale Tale
Oct 15 Day was just breaking when I awoke from a sound sleep by a horrid crack and shuddering to the boat and was up in the cockpit to join Gord in a split second. I thought we had hit a reef! Gord happened to look over the stern just as a huge whale's tail slapped the surface and descended to the depths below. We had struck a whale perhaps sleeping on the surface, or he had run into us! Either scenario, we made terrorizing contact.
You can't imagine how relieved we were to round the corner of Bawean Island towards the anchorage. And even more impressive was the reception committee, Bob and Liam, who roared out in the dinghy to meet us, pulling up beside us and boarded Ascension as we were sailing along at 5 knots.
We had a wonderful reunion in the anchorage with hugs, kisses and of course, cocktails. It was so great that our wonderful true friends, Annie and Liam from Gone with the Wind and Bob and Becky from Stardust, had been waiting for us for so long. It reaffirmed that our trio would not be broken...2 dogs and a cat, friends forever!
They had arranged a fabulous dinner for us aboard GWTW, complete with cake and sparklers! And Annie had sacrificed a bedsheet to make us a "Welcome Home" sign! We partied until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer.
It was hard to get a good sleep-in as not one, but 5 mosques were all trying to outdo one another with their loudspeakers of Calls to Prayer, every 5 hours. Problem was, none of these started at the same time. So there was a constant loud inharmonious wailing all night long!
There were many interesting fishing craft coming and going from the anchorage. Many fishing boats had a different sail shape than we had seen before. We went over to investigate an unusual craft painted with wild abandon in multicolored psychedelic designs on the hull. They did not speak any English but were proud to show us the small shark that they had caught.
Walk to the Village
The island was really beautiful with lush volcanic hills and palms ashore. Annie and I went to shore to visit the village, a 3 km walk away. All along the road, people wanted to stop and talk and the kids cried out "Good Morning", although it was by now afternoon.
We passed lush gardens, mini plantations and rice fields as we headed for the orderly little village. Everyone had a smile for us. The town was neat and tidy and the homes much different from most we had seen before, being made entirely of tile with decorative wood trim around the windows and doors. Each yard had ornate ironwork fences and gates.
We were invited into one of the homes. It was spotless inside, not much furnishings, apart from a beautiful wooden credenza that held a television set. We met the family and took photos before continuing on down the street.
We passed numerous mosques and woman, all with their heads covered, who were just returning home from prayer. We wandered into a few supermarkets because the local market had ended. Inside we laughed and joked with the locals, who tried to teach us some Indonesian words.
On our walk back, the school teacher pulled over his motor bike for a chat. He taught 230 children grades 1 to 10. It being Ramadan there was only school for part of the day. We were sorry that we didn't have any English books left to give him.
That evening, we had sundowners on GWTW, back to our usual routine!
Oct 17Kalimantan (Borneo)
We all set sail at first light for our overnighter to Kumai Borneo across the Java Sea, where we would sail up the Kumai River for a trip to see the Orangutans. No one goes to Kumai to see Kumai. The Orangutans are the attraction.
We had great 15 knot winds, although the sea was a little unsettled. We were making great speed and were about 60 miles offshore when the autopilot quit working. What now..... No matter what we did it kept shutting itself off. Our windvane had not worked properly since before we got to Bali but we decided that perhaps trying to fix that underway was an option. Gord spent the majority of the next several hours clinging off the back of the boat, his legs wrapped around the swim ladder, the waves sweeping over him, as he dismantled the wind vane. But with every attempt to fix it, Captain Horny would only steer the boat into the wind until we stopped. This frustration went on for most of the afternoon as we hove-to 5 times and tried to resolve the problem. Finally in desperation we unloaded all the items stored under the helmseat, liferaft, numerous bins, 200 ft hawser, etc. and got under the floorboards to take a look at the linear drive, suspected to be the offending culprit. Sure enough Gord found a loose wire and once reconnected, everything was working once again.
Fires of Borneo
As we approached Kumai Bay at dawn we suddenly sailed through a wall of smoke and completely lost sight of GWTW who was less than half a mile in front of us. It was just like the dense fog back home.
Being the dry season, the fires in Borneo, from slash burning from the logging industry and from the burning of rice fields and old plantations, are uncontrolled as many farmers abandon the fires to let them smolder on their own accord. Presently a national concern, the fires are the worst in years. Surrounding countries were trying to force the Indonesian government to deal with preventing the lighting of all the fires at one time. In particular Singapore was protesting the fires as the smoke drifting from Kalimantan is a major health concern to the city.
Attack of Flies
Almost immediately we were inundated with hundreds of flies in the cabin. All of the boats had the same issue as we swatted our way up the river, using waypoints and radar to take us the 15 miles up the river because we could not even see the shoreline.
Dodging ships, ferries and a cat's cradle of fishing nets, marked only by small chunks of Styrofoam, strung across the river as well as shallow shoals, we reached Kumai.
Kumai is a major fishing port and ubiquitous brightly colored seagoing vessels of all types were moored along the banks. We cruised by the port community and marveled at the ramshackle unpainted wooden houses on stilts clinging over the water, each with a fishing craft tied alongside rickety wharves fronting the river.
Views of portside Kumai through the smoky haze
The town is one long main street running parallel to the river and has 13 (!!) mosques which blasted the tuneless intrusion 24 hours a day. Because it was Ramadan...The "singing" we could hear coming from the mosques 24 hours a day were people reciting form the Koran. One person leads and the others follow. We heard many woman's voices and all levels of tunefulness. And it's all amplified and played from the speakers at the top of the minarets. The "calling to prayer "usually just 5 times a day, sounds like they have a roster of some sort, and the ability to sing doesn't come into play.
We approached the shoddy yellow building with corrugated tin roof, Kumai Yacht Services, when a speedboat came alongside and directed us across the river to anchor.
Once secured in the good holding mud, Harry's sidekick came onboard and arranged for our tour of the Orangutan Research Stations for the follow day. Shortly we were joined in the anchorage by Stardust and Gone with the Wind.