Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue

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Darwin - it's cool today, is it below 30 ?

Finally the time arrived for us to leave Australia.


We had spent 18 days in Darwin but as usual it was not long enough to get all our last minute jobs done. As well as the boat jobs, provisioning and socializing, we also had to organize our paperwork for leaving Aus. Our visit to the Indonesian Embassy was interesting – at payment time we handed over 3 fifty dollar notes for our Visas expecting change of $30. We waited patiently for a minute or so but were ignored by the officials. Eventually one looked up and said, ’All finished, you can go now.’ When we asked about our change he made a big show of being flustered and asked us how much we had given him. He finally went out back and returned with our change. Handing it to us not a word was spoken..... the rip-offs had already started even though we hadn’t left yet! 

 

 

 

Above: Darwin Wharf - built for the 6m tides !

  Above: Amanda, Greg and Rog rafted up to us on Jupiter Express for some 'sundowners'

 

Whilst in Darwin, we were able to catch up with a couple we had not seen since Latrobe University days. Amanda and Greg had just moved out of their apartment overlooking Fanny Bay and were living aboard their yacht in Cullen Bay Marina. Greg generously gave us the use of his car whenever we needed it and this saved us the hassle of hiring a car for all our running around. In fact, hire cars were very hard to find as some of the other yachts had already booked them well in advance. We were also able to catch up with several friends who happened to be touring around in their 4WD’s and this also helped us out as time became more pressing and the job list didn’t seem to be getting any shorter.  It also gave us an excuse to join the crowd in the Darwin Sailing Club for happy hour – a place where not only your beer and champers are cold but the red wine is also kept in the fridge!

 

 
 

 

Nyree flew in and stayed for a week and it was great to be able to spend some time with her before we headed off overseas. We were a bit concerned at how she would cope with the rolling at anchor, especially at the turn of the tide but some seasickness tablets in the beginning helped her to get her sea legs. I am not sure how much she enjoyed the cold showers ashore at the Sailing Club but I am sure that the view of the sunsets from the lawn whilst sipping sundowners certainly made up for it.

 

 

Provisioning was interesting as how does one estimate how much is needed for four + months? We had been told that some market-type items were available in Indonesia such as carrots, green leafy vegetables, taro and eggs – but that dairy products, olives, good coffee and powdered milk were impossible to find. The pile of provisions waiting to be stashed in the hulls was an amazing sight – as were the multiple rolls of toilet paper for we had also heard that quality loo paper was not available and this was one commodity we weren’t about to compromise on!

 

 

 

 

A fellow yachty, who happened to come aboard during the stowing procedure,  commented that Mandolin Wind should be renamed the ‘Mother Ship’ as when the other boats ran out of supplies they only had to come to us! Naturally Sue replied that she could always be pursuaded to trade in exchange for a bottle of champers!

The tides in Darwin are legendary - up tp 7m (all the marina’s have loched entrances) and if the timing was not suitable it meant a long drag of the dinghy across wet sand. At low tide this could be a much as 150 metres – plus another 50 metres through shallow water before we could start the outboard. And all this in a bay where they trap and remove over 250 crocodiles a year! Our AquaPro plastic wheels did not ‘cut it’ and quickly became bogged, making the job even harder. My bad knee certainly didn’t like the added pressure and I had to be extremely careful not to strain it. Some long time cruisers had massive wheels attached to the rear of their ‘dinks’ which certainly helped but  sourcing anything like that in Darwin is a real challenge so we had to make do. 

 

 

 

 

Above: our inadequate dinghy wheels

 

With the massive tidal range we took the opportunity of ‘careening’ the boat to scrub the hulls – but also to raise the anti-foul a further 1 inch. This proved to be a nerve racking experience when, despite the mini keels that allow the cat to be beached,  the rudders sank into the soft sand as the water receded and the sail drive legs were only centimeters above the sand !.  A quick dash to the sailing club and we were able to source some jacks to prop up the stern. Luckily we had finalized our boat insurance the previous day – a story in itself as it is very difficult to find a company who will insure private sailing vessels offshore with only two on board. Suffice to say it cost an arm and a leg but at least we have cover.

 

 

 

Above: a cheap way to touch up the anti-foul

  Above: Jacks supporting the stern

 

Over the 18 days we were in Darwin the bay in front of the Sailing Club gradually filled up – and soon it was a challenge to find our mast light amongst the 120 or so rocking lights as we made the 15 minute dinghy ride in the dark. Eventually, we found a Bunnings hardware and bought some solar garden lights which we place on the rear corner of each hull. This certainly helped – particularly when we had forgotten to turn on the anchor light before leaving the boat – yes, we still had not learnt that lesson!

 

 

Above & Right: Party time - Rally functions

 

 

 

On the Friday before departure day, Australian Customs spent the entire day at the Sailing Club clearing the 135 boats. This involved paperwork only as they did not need to board the vessel. In their words, ‘We don’t care what you take out of Australia, we are only interested in you when you return.’ Perhaps this was just as well as we had gone halves in a case of Bundy Rum with another boat (1.25 litre bottles at $22 a bottle) plus we had purchased other supplies of champagne and wine casks. This, added to the stash of spirits we already had on board, would certainly have blown out any alcohol allowance limit. Of course, the trouble could surface as we checked into Indonesia if the Customs Officers searched through our ‘Ships Stores’ but we’d take our chances. Luckily there are a lot of hidey holes aboard a yacht – particularly a catamaran.

 

 

We also claimed back the GST on the new camera we had purchased – an Olympus E620 Digital SLR – plus tax paid on our chandlery purchases which, as usual, added up to more than the $300 limit. One thing we did not know about was that if we had spent more than $300 on wine we could have claimed back the Wine Equalisation Tax plus the GST – amounting to over 40%. Unluckily for us our wine bill had come in at $297 – wouldn’t you know it!

 

 

With our papers stamped, our provisions stowed and our grog hidden, and the boat yet another 5 cm lower in the water,  we were ready to go. It was time for a final celebration at the Sailing Club where Greg and Amanda, holding an ice bucket with chilled champagne, joined us for a farewell toast. They also gave us parcels to deliver to a friend they had made in Saumlaki during their own sailing adventures to Indonesia. The gifts included 2 folding chairs and a crockery set, gifts chosen because when they had been invited into the house of their friend, Damianus, they had witnessed firsthand his Spartan living conditions.  Their stories of the generosity of the Saumlaki people, despite their lack of wealth, made us doubly excited at the prospect of arriving there in only a few short days.

 

The rally start was scheduled for 11am but only the brave of heart hit the start line at that time. Several of the American boats, not appreciating the effort that the Darwin Sailing Club had put into the rally, had departed several hours earlier hoping to get a more favourable tide. We were happy to join in the spirit of things, dressing the ship with flags and ourselves in our ‘Shark Shirts’ – our racing outfit for Hamilton Island. However, the thought of dodging 134 other boats on the start line between the sand spit marker and the start boat did not appeal to us. We had a long way to go and a few minutes delay would not make much difference. At 11 we started to up the anchor, and with Amanda and Greg aboard ‘Jupiter Express’ paralleling us, we hit the start line at 11.10 and waving to the crowd on the spectator boats, we were on our way.

 

 

 

There were two alternate routes around Melville Island; east or west. Having discussed the options with Greg and Amanda, we bowed to their local knowledge and took the eastern route. We also advised several of our friends as well who all changed their plans at the last minute. By far the majority of the boats followed the western path – more on the outcome of this decision later. The eastern route saw us backtrack and following our entry path as far as Cape Dom. As usual, we had tide against us but once we cleared the Cape at around 5.30am the next day we made good time.  The seas were rolly – coming across our starboard rear quarter until we crossed the edge of the continental shelf where the depth increased to nearly 3km and the seas calmed down. The wind was hovering around 20 knots so we put a reef in and sailed along nicely at 8-9 knots.

 

 

 

Not many people realize how close Australia is to Indonesia. From Cape Dom it was only a 27 hour sail to Saumlaki. So close but worlds apart in lifestyle and culture – as we were soon to discover.

 

 

During the second night we had two interesting encounters with ships sailing East-West towards Singapore. We were sailing amidst a group of about 12 yachts but only 3 had AIS ( Automatic Identification system ) transponders (ourselves included). The first ship, the Cielo Lucio, was travelling at 12 knots on a direct path through the fleet. One of the other AIS yachts called the Captain and warned him that as well as the 3 yachts on AIS, there were at least 10 other yachts in close proximity, all under sail. The poor Captain became rather flustered and advised he would turn to starboard to try and pass in front of the fleet. After carefully monitoring his progress, it was obvious that we were on a collision course. We were just about to radio him when he did an abrupt 180 degree turn and headed south, eventually passing behind us. We thanked him – then advised that there were another 120 yachts en route further west and understandably he did not sound too happy!

 

30 minutes later the Pacific Navigator was confronted by the same obstacle but he chose to plough through the middle. When it was apparent that he was going to pass very closely in front of us, we contacted him via radio:
‘Which one are you?’, he asked. We put our spreader lights on and he veered north to avoid us.
‘Are you sure you are under sail?’ he asked.
‘Romeo to that.’
‘OK, otherwise I wouldn’t have altered course!’ 

 

   

At daylight on the second morning we had our first glimpse of the islands of Indonesia and within 3 hours we were entering Saumlaki harbour. About 25 boats were already anchored but there was plenty of room and we were soon flying our Quarantine Flag along with our Indonesian Courtesy Flag.

As we awaited the officials to board us for clearance we listened to radio chat between some of the boats still making passage via the western route. They had fought strong head winds once they rounded Melville Island and had had a very nasty trip. This added about 12 hours to their total trip time. How glad were we to have had local advice about going east! Several of the yachts we had encouraged to change route from west to east called us and thanked us for the good advice. ‘We owe you a Bintang Beer once we get ashore.’ Sounds good to us – and a good way to celebrate arriving at our first overseas destination. 

 

 

 

   

 

We had finally joined the ‘Blue Water Cruising Club’ and it felt good!  (Apparently only one of the 14% who purchase blue water cruising boats actually take them offshore! )

Checking into Indonesia was the next step and that is a story in itself !!