Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue

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'Argh..There be dragons !' - Flores, Komodo & Lombok

 

The 36hr trip across ‘the paddock’ from Sulawesi to Flores began benignly enough but the seas and wind gradually built until we were battling 15knots on the nose and a 2½ metre short chop. An unpleasant slog followed, during which time we gave up all plans to go to the galley to cook dinner and settled instead for dry biscuits and liquorice Allsorts. At around midnight it calmed slightly and the wind and seas moved to give us a perfect 60 degrees sailing angle and we had some of our best sailing ever. By 2.30am we were racing along at 9+ knots in only a 1/2m sea  – conditions that lasted through till 10am the next day when the wind died completely and we were back to the iron spinnaker.  

 

Having made such good time we arrived at Labuan Bajo with plenty of light left to find a suitable anchoring spot amidst the many rally boats already settled. There were several local boats lined up expectantly and no sooner had we killed the engines when one of them came alongside displaying the usual wide grin. In an admirable display of friendly competition, the local water taxis had agreed between themselves to fairly divide the rally boats between them.

 

  Our ‘helper’ was called Efan and he quickly offered us fuel at 70 cents a litre and quoted $5 for a return trip to town for both of us. These prices sounded suspiciously inflated so we checked with other yachts before ‘beating’ him down to 50 cents a litre for the fuel and $2.50 for the taxi ride. He then tried to sell us a wood carving of a Komodo dragon at $AU31. After a lot of haggling we settled for $AU11 but threw in an old snorkel and mask!
     

Just before dusk we could see Two Up in the distance as it rounded the last headland before entering the anchorage. With classic bad luck, they managed to find the one isolated rock lurking just beneath the surface ( the charts are up to ½ nm out in this area ) and with a resounding shudder hit it hard at 7 kts.  A sickening sound of splintering fibreglass followed and they soon discovered water seeping into one of their hull compartments and surmised, correctly, that they had badly holed one of their sacrificial keels (sited below the real hull but containing a water tank). The force of the sea water as they moved along was pressurising the tank. Luckily the leak into the main hull was found to be only the top inspection hatch so they were able to stop it by tightening the screws to anchor successfully and delay inspection and repairs until first light.

Early the next morning an inspection dive confirmed that the mini keel was indeed badly crunched with a 300mm tear in it as wide as your fist and much ripped fibreglass.  It was very lucky that this part of the boat was sacrificial and not part of the water tight structure. (Mandolin Wind is built the same way) Aboard Two Up a discussion was held to decide the best way to patch the keel.  

 

Plans were made and the required items and tools collected from various boats. It was decided that the fix only needed to keep the force of the water from pressurising the tank until a more permanent repair could be done when the boat was lifted out of the water. To this end a thick rubber sheet was used with copper strapping bent over the edges. This was screwed into the good fibreglass every 50mm front and back and 100mm at the sides. Using an air hooker system, two of the boys spent most of the day underwater. Drilling pilot holes under water was a tough job but by 4pm they emerged tired but confident that their temporary solution would suffice until the boat could be hauled out at either Bali or Singapore.

 

 

 

Above: Underwater image of repairs to 'Two Up'

 

To add to Two Up’s  woes, they had also discovered that there was an inherent flaw with their rigging design and the mast had ‘jumped’ forward by about 25mm. So whilst the hull repairs were being carried out, Martin and Eric (from Morning Star VII) set about finding a way to re-position the mast.  After much scratching of heads, they managed to successfully relax the main stays and reseat the heavy mast with the help of ropes, winches and a trusty sledge hammer!  Two 10mm stainless steel bolts were then drilled and tapped to hold it in place on the inner locating ring until a more permanent remedy could be sourced once the original rigger was contacted back in Aust.  A new and modified ‘mast locator seat’ has now been sent by the rigger to Bali for pickup when we get there.

 

During all this ‘blokey’ drama the girls escaped to town via one of the water taxis. Compared to the pleasant villages that we had encountered so far in our Indonesian travels, this place was very dirty and noisy. Rubbish was strewn in rotting piles near the arrival jetty and the potholed road that led past the shops was littered with more refuse. The Sail Indonesia temporary office had been setup in a restaurant called ‘the Corner Cafe’.  

 

The enterprising owners had installed a pizza oven and were obviously geared up for westerners. Although the prices were inflated we could not resist the smell of the food so we took a seat and salivated as we waited for our pizza to arrive. The menu might be different but this is still Indonesia where things take a long time to happen – and 2 hours later we were still waiting! Unfortunately, this delay meant that when we finally found the bank (hoping to change some Aussie dollars) we discovered it had decided to close half an hour earlier than the advertised 3pm. Our disappointment continued as, armed with the small amount of rupiah we had left, we went in search of a place to buy fruit and veggies. The dried up, limp produce was totally unappealing and the store owners were rude and unpleasant. We wondered if this is what we can expect now we have returned to the touristy areas – but hoped it was just a one off.

Despite our stories of the unappealing nature of the town, the temptation of pizza for lunch was too much for the boys so the next day saw us once more seated in the Corner Cafe waiting for food. Luckily, the staff broke all records and our pizza arrived in 1½ hours giving plenty of time to get to the bank before closing time. Frustratingly, this proved to be another fruitless visit as, despite advertising the exchange rate, the teller informed us that they no longer exchanged money! Luckily, after trying at 3 different ATM ‘s, we finally found one that worked and managed to withdraw enough rupiah to get by. Next stop was the well run and helpful office of the Komodo National Park service to purchase our 8 day cruising permits and park entry which set us back $US30 per person. We did not begrudge paying this since, in theory, the fee contributes to the maintenance and preservation of the park, but we secretly wondered how much of the revenue actually made it to its proper target!

Another Sail Indonesia welcome dinner was held that night and again we were treated to entertainment before being let loose on the buffet table. Although the food was delicious, the event somehow lacked the spontaneity and warmth of the previous presentations we had attended and by the tenth rendition of a very loud western song by fairly average ‘karaoke’ singers we were looking at ways to make our escape without drawing too much attention to ourselves!

 

 
Above: a wild ride  

Above: Contrasts caused by the tidal rip

 

All in all, we were glad to up anchor the next day and point our bows towards Komodo and Rinca. On our way, we passed several barren islands whose landscape created a sharp contrast to the luscious tropical vegetation we were used to. That first day we were not too particular about checking the tidal streams and we had 6 knots of tide with us, making for an exciting ride as we sped along at 13 knots against a 25kt wind.  The excitement was further enhanced by the boiling water, standing waves and whirlpools pushing us sideways and sometimes at right angles to the direction we were steering.    

 

 

 

Rinca Island proved to be just as parched and desolate as the rest of the landscape – but this lack of greenery was more than made up for by the sight of Komodo dragons and monkeys wondering along the secluded beaches. We also saw plenty of dragon food in the form of deer and buffalo along with many animal skeletons.

 

Left: Dragon tracks on the beach

Below: Anchored at Rinca Island - where are all the palm trees?

 

 

 

 
 

One late afternoon we braved the wildlife and enjoyed a BBQ on the beach – although we were a bit skittish everytime we heard rustling in the undergrowth behind us. Luckily, Pete kept his machete close by in case he had to protect us from any hungry dragons!

 

  Below: The boys practice their attack sequence !!

 

After several days of taking it easy we found ourselves at the Ranger station where we organised a guide for a 3 hour trek. Like ‘mad dogs and Englishman’ we crazily timed our tour for the middle of the day and since most of the trek was through arid, exposed terrain it was a hot and sweaty group that dragged their feet behind the young guide.

 

 
Above: perhaps we won't ask him to clear the path!   Above: Camaflauged under trees, Dragons are hard to spot

 

Having seen the size of the Komodo lizards, I kept close to the guide who was ‘armed’ with a long, forked stick in case he had to fend off any stray dragons.  As a means of protection this weapon did not fill me with confidence –but with accidental foresight maybe we had timed our trek correctly after all as the lizards are slow and docile in the heat of the day seeking out the shade!

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Still licking the blood off his jaws after a nice tasty lunch of some poor animal ( or tourist ?? ) !    

 

The trek proved less arduous than we had feared and we were lucky enough to see several dragons lazing about – including a few females guarding their nests containing as many as 40 eggs buried in mounds of dirt. Other wildlife was also in abundance, including monkeys, water buffalo and megapods (large flightless birds). Luckily, we were spared the excitement of seeing any spitting cobras – although our guide told us that a week before a group of Japanese tourists had been privy to a head-arching snake dance which elicited many happy clicks of the shutter. Personally, this was one photo opportunity I could do without! The trek was a highlight and seeing so much wildlife was lucky as sometimes very little is spotted.

 

 

 

 

   


Early next morning we were astounded to see a water buffalo walking on the flooded reef before spending another 30 minutes swimming through deeper water in seemingly aimless circles. We pondered whether this was a ploy to rid himself of pesky insects as there seemed no other explanation for his purposeless wonderings.

Our plans for the next few days comprised of slowly meandering westward across the top of the Archipelago towards the renowned Gili Islands (off the north west coast of Lombok). Our ‘101 Anchorages of Indonesia’ listed some spectacular secluded bays enroute so we planned our passage around these stopovers. The first – an island off the northern tip of Komodo Island – proved to be a very popular dive spot amongst the local charter boats and we found out why after snorkelling with turtles, rays, lion fish and other varieties of fish in all colours and sizes. Fortunately we saw nothing too big – although the dive boats informed us that early morning was the best time to view the shark’s feeding frenzy off a deep water bommie!

  
    Below: dead calm before the 30 knots arrived

Our wonderings included a long hop of 140 nm that would take us to a place called Pulau Medang at the top of Lombok. The wind quickly established a pattern that ranged from absolute calm in the lee of the land, to 30 knots and steep seas as we hopped across the 10-20 nm gaps between islands. At times during the night we were flying along through uncomfortable seas at 9 knots under a reefed headsail alone. Two Up were braver than us and hit 14.5 knots during a particularly vicious patch that saw 36 knots of true wind!

 

By early morning, we were more than happy to anchor in a sheltered, picturesque bay for a 24 hour stopover before tackling the last 40 nautical miles to Lombok. During the afternoon we were visited by a lone fisherman who wanted to swap some eggs for fishing gear. Unfortunately for him he dropped the eggs as he was negotiating the deal so we ended up with only 3 eggs in exchange for some fishing line and hooks!


Ever the optimists, all 4 yachts headed westward at 8am the next day – only to discover the conditions even more trying than any we had experienced to date. Initially we were motoring in flat seas – but by midday we were punching into steep 3 metre chop with winds gusting to 35 knots. To make matters worse, we had 3 knots of adverse tide at times so it was slow going towards our destination. The tide along this part of the coast is never with us, just less against us..grrr ! After several hours we gained the shelter of Lombok and it was like someone had flipped a switch and turned the wind off. Back to the engine again !!

 

Below: Lombok with its distinctive volcano in the background
 

Everyone was very pleased to drop anchor that night and a stiff shot of rum was certainly needed to restore battered spirits. Luckily, we were expecting calm seas the next day as we knew we would be sheltered by Lombok as we travelled the final 40 miles to the renowned Gili Islands.

Wrong again! Unfortunately, a 5.30am departure plus lots of optimism does not guarantee a smooth passage. The island of Gili Air was in sight when it started to blow 30+ knots on the nose, whipping up the seas with it. We were following Southern Mist who had their 70hp engine at full throttle, determined to escape the chaos as soon as possible. Disappointingly, on arrival at Gili Air, Phil reported that the anchorage had limited protection from the strong southerlies. An alternative anchorage on the mainland of Lombok was quickly decided upon and, since we were actually abeam the new location, we made a quick u-turn and wound our way in roly seas through the scattered reefs into the protection of Mantram Bay.  

 

 

Above: Southern Mist rocking and rolling!

 

There were 30 boats already sheltering in this lovely bay. The villagers, thrilled with so many visitors, were paying local boats to give them a tour through the fleet – and as we anchored several crowded vessels slid by with all the occupants waving, smiling and calling a welcome.

 

  Oh well, we may not have found serenity but we were certainly pleased to be settled in such a lovely calm bay, with its swaying palm trees, white sandy beach and turquoise tinted water. Just the tonic to erase the memory of those challenging passages. Lucky sailors have such short memories!