Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue

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'Close encounters' with sea-life in Western Sulawesi!

 

Our decision to take the westerly route from the top of Sulawesi southward afforded us the opportunity to explore some of the world renowned dive sites that scatter the coastline.

 

Right: The red line traces our 700nm trek around Sulawesi

 

 

In crystal clear warm waters we meander amongst the offshore islands – many hosting low key resorts sited beside traditional villages. This side of Sulawesi is strictly Muslim and at first we are apprehensive about visiting the villages, unsure of our welcome during Ramadan. However, we needn’t have worried, for the villagers continue to astound us with their friendliness and hospitality.

One such place was Gangga – a small village that managed to retain its rural character despite being sandwiched between a huge phone tower and a classy resort. With the binoculars we were amazed to see a bikini clad resort guest wandering along the beach in front of the village – was she totally oblivious to the reaction she was causing amongst the local boat builders as they leeringly followed her slow progress? Our visit ashore was somewhat more modest – and for our troubles we were rewarded with a guided tour of the village by several teenage girls who were keen to practice their halting English.

 
     
 

 

During the night one of the boats near us had an ‘interesting’ encounter with local sea life. Having arisen in the night for a glass of water, the female crew member stepped down into the galley – and felt something squishy underfoot. To her horror, it proved to be a black and white banded sea snake! Her estimate of size put the creature at ‘over a metre long’ – however, given that most sea snakes of that type do not grow that big, we perhaps need to allow for a bit of artistic license! Her mate, awoken from his slumber by her screams, spent the next hour trying to coax the by now very angry snake into the cockpit so he could pitch it overboard. The theory is that it made its way onboard via the anchor hawser. The next day during the regular radio catch up with other rally boats two others reported a similar experience and another related the story of the stowaway rat they had picked up when moored against the jetty at Ambon. We are not sure how we are going to 'snake proof' Mandolin Wind but we have now purchased some extremely large plastic funnels to place on our lines to prevent any unwanted ratty visitors!

 

 

 

 

Above: one of the larger fish traps to avoid

 

Our days started to form a routine of long passages, usually including an overnighter, followed by a day relaxing and snorkelling in picturesque anchorages. Most days we are visited by dolphins and even whales. The overnighters prove to be fairly stressful due to the many unlit fish traps, large logs and other menacing unidentifiable structures floating in the water.  As well, the wind for some inexplicable reason kept finding its way onto our nose! However, other than a few nasty bouts of wind that chopped up the seas for a time, the weather remained mainly calm, which meant we burnt a lot of diesel as we made our way further south. Luckily clean fuel is available at 55cents a litre.

 

As we slowly edged south, our biggest hassle proved to be finding a suitably shallow anchorage for overnight stays. One morning we arrived at our chosen destination after a tiring overnight passage – only to find it totally unsuitable for anchoring. On the C-Map it looked a delightful, picturesque bay surrounded by reef but shelving to 10 metres on sand at its peak. We spent two hours circumnavigating the large bay, trying to get the pick to set. The coral looked magnificent in the clear water but dropped off to sheer underwater cliffs at the edge, making it impossible to anchor in its 70 metre chasms.   Eventually we gave up and headed off to the dive resort of Dongalla – an 8 hour sail away.

 

 

  Above: C-Map is not very accurate in Sulawesi!
 

 

Luckily, Dongalla had enough shallow, sandy patches around the reef to allow our pick to set. Being close to a Resort had several pluses. Firstly, the local boats did not bother us with constant visits – plus we could take advantage of the facilities offered by the Resort. The next day we headed ashore and organised a car (with driver) to ferry us back and forth to town for supplies. The distance was only 3km but the road was in poor condition so it was a slow trip and by the time the boys had done it three times in the heat with their diesel jerry cans they were starting to question the price of paradise!

The girls hit the local market which consisted of very narrow, boarded laneways with tiny stalls overflowing with produce on each side. No one spoke English but we managed to purchase mangoes, papaya, pineapple, bananas and avocado. Recognisable fresh vegetables proved harder to find but we sourced some tiny tomatoes, carrots and small eggplants.

 
 

Loaded up with our purchases we waited under a shady lean-to for the car to return. After quite a wait it finally arrived with a young crew from one of the other rally boats. As the occupants spilled out of the car we were stunned by the apparel worn by the two girls – skimpy shorts along with halter neck tops showing a generous amount of cleavage and midriff.  Apart from offending the locals, this attire was ‘asking for trouble’. We heard later that they experienced a lot of pushing and even pinching from both men and women as they mingled with the crowds in narrow, crowded laneways.

That night, after a few vodka cocktails on board to celebrate another equator crossing, we went ashore to the Resort for an enjoyable $AU5 buffet dinner.

 

 
     

We headed off at 1pm the next day after enjoying some great snorkelling on the reef. Late the next afternoon we had the choice of stopping at a rather average anchorage or continuing on for another 20 hours to an atoll island 40 nm north of Makassar. As the winds were light and the seas reasonably calm, we chose the latter. Our biggest problem during overnighters continued to be the danger of hitting objects in the water. Amazingly, despite being over 30nm offshore, and in depths of over 1000 metres, unlit fish traps continued to cause us problems. It was a very dark night and we had to rely on our radar as a means of alerting us to any obstacles. Southern Mist had a scare when they heard a bump – then saw splintered logs on one side of their hull and 44 gallon drums roped together on the other side! Luckily we managed to avoid similar incidents – and to our surprise the radar manage to pick up some traps in our path that we were able to detour around.   

 

The atoll proved to be our most pristine anchorage so far and after we had settled in 20 metres we could clearly trace our anchor chain across the sandy bottom. The reef was close by and snorkelling here was like swimming in a fish tank – the sea life and variety of fish was amazing and surrounded us in schools as we floated above the colourful coral.

 

 

Above: as we approach Makassar, the tropical islands lose their appeal!   Above: One of the many mosques in Makassar that broadcasts the call to prayer from loudspeakers from 3 am!

 

We would have liked to stay for several days – but alas we had to press on if we were to make our next rally commitment at Rinca to see the Komodo dragons. So the next morning we pressed on to Makassar and by 1pm we were anchored off this large, busy city (the third largest in Indonesia).

Again, our stop here is brief – just enough time to refuel and have a quick look around – then we are on our way again.

 

 

Above: The girls in the water taxi in Makassar   Above: our Water Taxi pilot, Sempo

 

  I
Next stop is Labuan Bajo on the north west corner of Flores where it is a short hop over to the Komodo National Park. Our trip around Sulawesi has given us only a very tiny glimpse of what this amazing island has to offer – and only served to whet our appetite for a return journey at some future date for additional exploration. But for now, we need to focus on the 36 hour passage ahead of us. The weather forecast is for perfect conditions – but we shall see!