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Martin & Sue

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Northern Sulawasi - Massages and doggies

 

We had timed our arrival at Bitung, on the top of Sulawasi, for mid morning. There were already several boats at the anchorage and they warned us that the tidal swing was unpredictable and to allow plenty of space between anchored boats. However, this was not easy as the bay was already crowded and spots with depths of less than 25 metres were very limited. Finally, after anchoring in 20 metres, we had time to take note of our surroundings properly. What we saw ashore amazed us.

A purpose built facility had been cut out of the hill and setup just for the Rally boats. It included a small jetty and floating dinghy dock plus a bitumen road winding up to benched areas where several small wooden houses had been built alongside a large temporary marquis. Once ashore, we were able to fully appreciate the amount of work that had been completed in preparation for our arrival. There were even three security checkpoints along with dozens of ‘polisi’ and officials.

 
     

They had even provided wireless internet although this proved to be very slow and unpredictable so one of our first tasks was to find an internet café. At the checkpoint nearest the road a very friendly polisi flagged down an official looking car. The driver was more than gracious and happily dropped us off outside the entrance to the Port where he indicated there was to be a big parade. Not really sure what was happening but happy to follow the crowds, we wandered through the Port gates towards the loud music and the huge red and white flags flapping in the breeze.

 

We were soon waylaid by an official looking man who turned out to be the Chairman of the Seaman’s Mission. He spoke reasonable English and confirmed that, yes, the parade would start in one hour. ‘Plenty of time, I take you in my car, show you the Mission’. In next to no time, we found ourselves bundled into his car and within 5 minutes we were indeed at the Mission – a hotel-like complex complete with a swimming pool set up solely for the use of sailors from all countries. Our new friend, Danny, was very proud of the Mission and insisted that we sign the Visitor’s book before posing for photos. After about half an hour, during which time we struggled to find things to talk about, we piled back into the car for the trip back to the Port – at least, that is what we thought! ‘Detour, just show you Navy base’ and before we had a chance to answer we were entering a different set of gates to what we expected.

 

Above: Phil ( Southern Mist ) doing a spot of karaoke.

  We pulled up outside several display stands with lots of attendants but no one but us to visit them. It appeared that a huge exhibition and entertainment area had been setup as part of the celebrations for the ‘Sail Bunaken’ festival – but no one had bothered to inform the rally fleet! As the only visitors we were made more than welcome as Danny importantly took us into one stand after another. It was starting to look like we were cornered for the night – a suspicion confirmed when the band started playing and Danny grabbed the microphone for a spot of karaoke. It was Phil’s turn next followed by various officials. In order to avoid being trapped in perpetual ‘Karaoke Hell’ we made a pact to stand up at the end of a bracket and look like we were moving on. Luckily Danny took the hint and drove us back, where he graciously dropped us off as we thanked him for his generosity.  
 
 
Above: choose your own fish   Above: then point to your side dishes

Of course, by this stage the parade had come and gone so we made our way into the city centre where we found a great night market serving barbequed prawns and toasted our escape with not so cold bintangs! Overall, a very interesting experience - and it shows the incredible efforts the population has gone to in order to ensure we feel welcome.

 

Left: A shared table with some locals

 

 

Next day we set off once again in search of an internet café and, after several false starts, finally found one with wi-fi that had the speed we needed to upload our web pages for the first time since leaving Darwin. We returned to the boat just in time to participate in a big ceremony to launch an environmental strategy involving the planting of 200 mangroves to restore shorelines. Hundreds of officials were on hand and after a few speeches we found ourselves being photographed by the press as we dirtied our hands planting a token mangrove.

 

 

Above and right: centre of attention at the Mangrove planting

 

Several free tours had been organized during our stay in Bitung so at 9am the next day we presented ourselves at the bus for a trip to a nearby national park to ‘see the black monkeys’.  Expecting an easy day, most of the trusting yachties turned up dressed in casual footwear such as 'crocs' or thongs. Most, like us, only had a small bottle of water and no food as we had been told we would be back by 12 pm.

 

The drive up the mountain was through magnificent rainforest but it was difficult to enjoy the scenery from the hot, sweaty bus as it crunched its gears along the narrow, windy road. On arrival, we were ushered down a dirt track to a gate into the National Park. Luckily for us we decided at this point it might be wise to purchase a large bottle of water from an enterprising local hovering near the group. We were then divided into groups of 10 and sent off with a guide and told ‘... you be back in one hour’.
At first the path was well defined and reasonably flat but gradually the gradient increased and the jungle started to encroach and block our way. Soon we were stumbling over roots and fallen logs and trying to avoid being spiked by the prickly “wait a while” plants jutting from the sides of the track. As we climbed higher and higher there was no sign of any monkeys and we began to think that it would be impossible to spot them anyway through the rivulets of sweat half blinding us. ‘Soon, soon’, our guide replied, to the unspoken question of ‘Are we there yet?’

 

 

 

Finally, after an hour and a half, the last half just bush bashing, we spotted the elusive troop of monkeys. There were perhaps 30 of them, large and small. At first they tried to move away from us as we tried to get closer for the ‘perfect shot’ – but very soon they became bored with us and just got on with feeding and playing.

 
 
 
     

 

 All the sore feet and scratches were momentarily forgotten in the excitement of seeing such amazing creatures in the wild – but after about half an hour we were soon marshalled back to reality by the guide’s insistence that we needed to head back. ‘At least it will be downhill’, someone muttered as we dutifully formed a line and followed our guide as he strode through the matted undergrowth. The path had all but disappeared and we all hoped he knew where he was going.  Eventually we found a downhill path – but instead of being easier it turned out to be very steep and covered in dried leaves – making it extremely slippery. And to make matters worse, the prickly bushes on the edge meant that the jutting branches could not be used to steady our descent. Sue’s knee, by now well ‘over it’, was severely tested by the terrain and the pace slowed as she tried to ensure that no further strain was put on it. But at least we had water – the other members of the party had long since exhausted their supplies.

It was a very bedraggled group that finally spotted the Park entrance gate after 3½ hours of trudging up and down fairly trying terrain in aforementioned footwear.  So much for a 1 hour easy walk! We were finally deposited back at the boats at 3.30 pm. Tired and hungry, it took a few days for us to conveniently forget the hardships of the trek and to only recall the excitement of seeing the black monkeys in their natural environment!

 
   

Above: Hot and bothered in the jungle

 

 

The anchorage proved to be every bit as erratic as Banda with fickle winds and currents pushing the boats in multiple directions, often all at the same time.. We had been in port for nearly 4 days and had managed to stay clear of all other anchored boats – so we thought we were safe. However, one afternoon we were ashore having a late lunch when we noticed Mandolin Wind ‘sailing’ forward as if the engine was on. Next thing we saw a neighbouring yacht fending us off – we found out later that the wife was having a shower at the front of the boat when she heard a loud bang – which was their pulpit hitting our crossbeam. Luckily there was no damage but we quickly upped our anchor and promptly moved. Note the direction of all of the boats !

 

By this stage, of course, suitable anchoring spots were severely limited and we were forced to drop our pick in 25 metres and to feed out all of our 100 metres of chain. Even this new spot proved to be a problem when a large, rusty hulk that had anchored amidst the fleet swung alarmingly close to us during a tidal shift, forcing us to re-anchor yet again.

 

Right: the view from the roof as we swing on our anchor perilously close to a rusty hulk

 
  Yet another Gala Dinner was organized – and a rumour spread through the fleet that there were at least 7 speeches organized. Groan…. We duly took our seats in the huge marquis and expected the worst. However, after a 5 min welcome speech by the Minister for Tourism we were let loose on the feast and the free Bintangs. Things were looking up. We left just as the karaoke looked like winding up a notch – there are not many noises worse than the ‘singing’ of a drunken sailor!

 

That night the band kicked off at 10pm and, to our dismay and annoyance, did not finish until 2.30am. As our yacht was now close to the shore we received the full blast of the bass. After trying earplugs without success Martin retired to the cockpit to stargaze and Sue worked on the computer until they packed it in. We found out later that Donna, from Two Up, actually dinghied ashore and found that the audience had disappeared and the band had angled the amplifiers seaward. They ignored her complaints until she threatened to lodge an official protest – which is why they finally stopped playing at 2.30am. Thanks Donna!

 

 
Above: one of the local fishing boats!  

Above: Showers MASH style! - Eric and Yvonne from Morning Star VII

 

 

Buses were offered the next day for the 1 ½ hour trip to the large nearby city of Manado. Billed as a ‘shopping expedition’ the boys naturally baulked at the idea but the girl’s decided that a HFD (Husband Free Day) was warranted after so long aboard.

 

 
   

Above: the 'flying jesus' overlooking Manado (mainly a Christian area)

 

As Chris and I had planned our day around food, drink and pampering, we were relieved to see a sign advertising a Beauty Treatment Salon whilst infusing our initial hit of caffeine – our first western-style latte since leaving Darwin. We opted for a one hour traditional Thai massage ($10) after the attendant described how painful the alternative Shiatzu variety could be. However, 5 minutes into the treatment from the rather hefty masseur very quickly put paid to our naïve expectations of a relaxing hour. From the neighbouring curtain covered cubicle I could hear alarming sounds of ‘ooohh’, ‘aahh’, ‘ouch’. My question of ‘What’s going on in there?’ elicited gales of laughter from the attendants  and the curtain was swiftly drawn back to reveal Chris face down on a massage table being pummeled by bare feet as the masseur swung from a horizontal pole attached to the ceiling! Chris managed to gasp out between stomps, ‘You need to tell them about your sore knee.’ As my attendant spoke no English, she could not understand my sign language so she fetched the receptionist who translated for me. So luckily for me I missed out on the worst of the pummeling whilst poor Chris got the works and her constant gasps of, ‘That’s enough of that one’ kept intruding into my half-sleep stupor!

 

Our complaints of our ‘massage mauling’ drew little sympathy from the boys who had ferried jerry cans of fuel all day and had their own aches and pains to moan about!  Mandolin Wind had to load 300 litres of fuel from 20 litre jerries,  5 at a time. The routine… take them to shore, walk up a substantial hill, drive 5km to the servo, fill them, come back , hump them down the beach and into the dinghy, traverse 500m of choppy water, unload them on a rocking  boat and finally  pour them into the tanks…. Multiple times !!!!!     At least the diesel was cheap and clean at 40 cents/ litre !!


That night a meeting was held to discuss the planned ‘Sail Past’. This was to take place in two days time and the Indonesian organizers were worried about how few boats had registered their intention of participating. Our concerns centered on the lack of safe anchorages available since the ‘Sail Past’ was scheduled for late in the afternoon and would require us to anchor in the dark. We only agreed to be part of it after details were provided of a suitable bay a short distance ( 2hrs sailing ) from the sail past site. Although it did not influence our decision, they also offered a ‘carrot’; a top up of up to 100 litres of diesel on our return to Bitang. This was based on the fact that it was a 160nm round trip and most of it would be motoring due to lack of wind on the lee side of Sulawesi.

 

This ‘carrot’ was only the last of many gifts the Indonesian Authorities had offered to the rally yachts. With the President of the Republic of Indonesian the guest of honour there would be a huge ‘loss of face’ if not enough yachts took part in the Sail Past. On arrival at Bitung we had already been reimbursed our $500 rally entry fee and, along with several free t-shirts and hats, each boat had been given a personally signed ‘coffee table’ photographic book of Northern Sulawesi. All the paperwork for our visa extensions had also been taken care of, allowing us to stay beyond the usual social visa time limit of 60 days.

 
     
 

Interestingly – or perhaps not surprisingly, knowing human behaviour – all the ‘freebies’ did not compare to the free slabs of bintang being handed out at the dinghy dock. ‘One per boat’ was the rule – yet free beer tends to bring out the worst in some people. The next morning on the radio sched came the following complaint from one of the boats: ‘All those yachts who took more than their share of the free beer – please return it as several boats missed out. That includes the boat that used false names and took 9 slabs.’ Wow! (The beer was actually returned ! )

     

On our last night in Bitung before the Sail Past we had a pasta night on board with our good friends from 3 other boats. After all the fuss that had been made regarding our participation, we were all looking forward to being involved – especially since we would be following fairly closely behind several war ships from all over the world – including the George Washington – a massive US Aircraft Carrier. It was an 8 hour sail around to the rendezvous point near Manado and, given that there was likely to be little wind, timing our arrival was a bit of a logistics exercise. If we had had a crystal ball we would have been able to foresee that only 2 of the 4 yachts represented on board that night would actually make the Sail Past at all and a third would only just make it!

 

The first casualty was Morning Star VII – a problem with their engine raw water pump meant that they were a no-start for the trip to Manado.  For the remaining yachts, the trip around to the rendezvous point was uneventful and we were soon organized in formation behind our lead yacht – an Indonesian tall ship. 

 

As we rounded the corner into Manado Bay towards the pre-sailby marshalling area we could see the shimmering outline of the war ships as they approached from the north in their own convoy. It was an imposing, if not frightening, sight. They were led in style by the George Washington and it was obvious that there was a fairly large exclusion zone around the aircraft carrier for the next three warships were all from the US and there was quite a gap after that to the other warships. As well, helicopters buzzed around to make sure all was in order.

 

 

Below: 'George Washington'

 

 

Above: Here come the warships

 

Things started to slide off the rails when our guide ship realized we were ahead of time for the marshalling.


‘All yachts – please slow down. We must let the warships go first.’ We dutifully slowed to a crawl – which was fairly tricky given that we had sail up and there was a light breeze.


‘All yachts – we are too close to the George Washington.  All yachts turn to port – repeat, all yachts turn to port.’ That put paid to the neat convoy and chaos reigned as the 30 or so yachts turned and started milling around at differing speeds.

 

The radio again – this time with a tinge of panic in the voice – ‘All yachts, we are still too close to the George Washington. Veer more to port….’

I started to have visions of the fire power on the George W being pointed towards us in case we strayed into their exclusion zone!


Just then it started to bucket down with rain – the first decent drop we had had since our arrival in Indonesia. Great - just when we need to avoid our neighbours, our visibility gets reduced!  During all these antics, the warships continue to get closer – a menacing presence filling the horizon and looking even more intimidating due to the shrouding effect of the filtering rain.

 

 

‘What a shame’, we echoed, thinking that things couldn’t get any worse for the organizers. Well, we were wrong - next thing there was a sharp crack and a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky. We quickly turned off our navigation computer and collected our loose electrical gadgets to stow in the microwave oven.  Fortunately it was the one and only.

 

 


Luckily the squall eventually passed by – but unfortunately for the thousands of spectators lining the shoreline, not in time to give them a clear view of the aircraft carrier as it launched several planes from its decks.

 

 
 

‘All yachts ….the government vessels must go next. Please let them by.’ By now, there seemed to be yachts and ships everywhere but we did our best to slow our drift even more as we watched a massive Australian Customs trimaran zoom past us.

 

 

Just when we were a ‘green light’ to begin the sail past route, the radio crackled into life again. ‘Mandolin Wind, this is Two Up. We have a major problem. We have hit something in the water and there is oil everywhere in the engine bay! We are going to try and limp back to the anchorage.’
‘Do you need assistance?’
‘Negative. We will run on one engine only. Suspect we have cracked a sail drive casing. ‘
There drops boat number two of our friends!

 

Finally it was our turn to ‘Sail Past’. With our flags flying from our spinnaker halyard, we stood on the deck and raised our caps in three cheers for the President. Flashes popped from the direction of the viewing box and it was all over.

 

 

I

 


Well, not quite over. Only just at the end of the sailpast route, why was Southern Mist waving to us from a stationary boat?


‘We’re dead in the water – have broken a coupling between the prop shaft and the gear box!’ What nice timing – right in front of the officials! There goes boat number three!

 

 

We quickly did a u-turn and grabbed the towing line that Phil threw to us so we could move them away from the path of the remaining boats. Once clear, we rigged up a proper bridle to reduce the load on our rear cleats. As the light faded and the warships gradually disappeared into the distant sunset, we slowly turned our nose towards the anchorage.

 

 

 

During the two hours it took to travel to the bay, Sue decided to disappear into the galley and fry up some spices in preparation for a vegetarian curry for dinner. Unbeknownst to us, the scents of the heated spices wafted enticingly back into the towed boat.

 

Right: Southern Mist under tow

 

 

‘What’s for dinner?’ Phil asked Chris – who by this stage was totally over sailing and boats in general!
‘If you’re lucky, baked beans on toast.’
‘Hope the ‘mother ship’ is cooking enough for the four of us!’


Half an hour before anchoring, we were able to drop the tow line as the problem on board Southern Mist had been fixed (thanks to a good spares cache!) So, despite the darkness, anchoring proved fairly straightforward.
On the ‘mother ship’ we were, of course, unaware of the ‘baked beans on toast’ discussion that had occurred on Southern Mist.  So we were not to know until much later that our radio call of ‘There’s heaps of curry here if you want to come over for food’ elicited a high five from the invitees!

 

The next day we all headed off in convoy to ensure that Two Up made it back safely to Bitung. Once we turned the corner into the South Easterlies we had an unpleasant beat into choppy waves. However, we all arrived back safely and in time for an official Thankyou Dinner with the Mayor of Bitung – where all the yachties took to the stage and sang their own rendition of Waltzing Matilda – much to the delight of the seated officials! Back at the boats we were surprised when two more slabs of Bintang were delivered in lieu of the 100 litres of top up diesel that had been promised (the logistics of getting the fuel to us was all too hard)!

 

 

 

The next day the boys pulled the offending engine away from the saildrive unit on Two Up expecting the worst but to their relief found that it had blown the main oil seal along the shaft and this was where all of the oil was coming from. It proved to be very poor design as nothing holds the seal in place but a friction fit and it is under some pressure. Lots of loctite later they had it re-assembled and humming away smoothly with sighs of relief all around. Morning Star's new raw water pump had also arrived from New Zealand by DHL couriers. ( The world is such a small place now !!! )

 

We now had to decide whether to return south via the Eastern or Western side of Sulawesi. The Eastern route was preferred as this was 200nm shorter and allowed us to stop at the renowned diving sites of Wakatobi – the next official rally stop. Several  other boats left and headed south via the eastern route – only to return 8-10 hrs hours later after bashing through unpleasant seas and making a total of 11 miles towards their destination! Not what we wanted to hear so we decided to wait a while and see if the conditions improved. Apparently winds have been particularly blowy this year due to El Nino over the Pacific.

 

 However, this gave us the opportunity to do yet another free bus tour – this time to an ancient cemetery where the dead were buried in hollowed out rocks above the ground in the shape of mini houses. These were kept at the back of the traditional family home. The practice was outlawed 200 years ago by the Dutch as the smell was apparently overpowering until Aunt Mabel had rotted down sufficiently. 80 years ago many of these 'houses' were collected and placed in the one central area. Many are 800 years old.  

 

On our way to our next stop – a pre-fab builder that specialized in traditional wooden houses (we saw a 3 bedroom one that was being exported to Brisbane and cost $AU30,000 plus $AU8,000 shipping) - we stopped for an ‘all you can eat’ $2 lunch featuring local snails and dog as part of the buffet!  The food in general was fantastic and we tried both of the above but stopped short of asking for a ‘doggie bag’ at the end !

 

 
Above: pick the Dog curry!   Above: Display homes Sulawesi Style!

 

Finally we had had enough of waiting for the wind and seas (3-4m down south ) to abate – I thought we were supposed to be in the calm Tropical Convergence Zone? – so we made the decision to head back around to Manado and take the Western route across the top of Sulawesi and down to Makkasar. We will then head across to the Indonesian archipelago to see the famous Komodo dragons of  Rinca and Komodo islands.

At least the diesel is cheap as I think we will be doing a lot of motoring on the leeward side of the island but it is better than 700nm of pounding into it!  We shall see.