Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue


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Heading home - Heading South from Moratai


We headed out of Moratai on the 17th September in company with several other Australia bound boats. With just over 4 weeks left on our Indonesian Visa’s we still had plenty of time to explore the many islands between Moratai and our checkout port of Tual.

For the first few days the winds were not very favourable and so it was a hard slog as we headed down the West Coast of Halmahera into headwinds. Perversely this coast had very strong afternoon sea breezes but the nights were relatively calm so the group decided on a couple of overnight sails rather than bash into the waves during the daylight hours..


We have mentioned before that the prevalence of unlit fishing boats and fish traps in these waters requires extra vigilance when travelling at night. Luckily the conditions were clear and the seas slight – but with no moon we were very reliant on our radar (although this is not perfect as small dugouts and traps do not always show up on the radar). So despite constantly scanning the horizon and examining the radar we were still ‘almost’ caught out a couple of times.

As it panned out both incidents happened during Sue’s watch.

The first ‘surprise’ happened during the ‘graveyard’ shift (2.30am – 5.30am). Up top and looking ahead trying to identify any stray lights on the horizon the sudden noise of an engine starting shattered the silence and a small dugout crossed directly in front of Mandolin Wind – the outline of the fisherman shaking his fist only just visible as he passed by the side of the boat yelling abuse. Of course, he had no lights at all so it is difficult to know how he expected us to see him in the dark.


Below: The fish trap we narrowly missed in the night
Above: After leaving Moratai we travelled down the West Coast of Halmahera to Ternate and then on to the small island of Obi

  The second incident luckily happened just before dawn when the faint light of dawn showed up ‘something’ ahead. A quick course correction and we narrowly missed a large fish trap – made entirely of bamboo and impossible to pick up on the radar. A quick warning and GPS position report on the radio alerted the boats travelling behind us to be on the lookout.


The approach to Ternate in the early morning was visually dramatic as the Island’s ‘cone-shaped’ volcano dominates the landscape.  Mount Gamalama last erupted in 2011 when air traffic was disrupted due to Ash emissions that reached over 2,000 metres high.  




The main town proved to be fairly large with over 200,000 people and sported several elaborate mosques and even a shopping centre with reportedly a very good coffee shop! However that was for another day for after sailing all night we were looking forward to breakfast followed by a good rest. But first we had to anchor…..and this proved to be a bit tricky as the bottom was covered with sea grass that our faithful Rocna anchor decidedly disliked for it took us several goes to get the anchor set. Finally, after 8 attempts we finally found a sandy patch and were able to bed in to our satisfaction.
Below: finally anchored securely at Ternate
Below: The view from the boat of Ternate

Many of our volunteers from Sail Moratai actually lived on Ternate and whenever we ventured ashore they were ready and waiting to assist us with any problems or questions – including fuel, laundry, medical etc. They also organised a free bus tour of the island which we thoroughly enjoyed – for Ternate has a very interesting but bloody history due to its natural abundance cloves – a spice much sought after and fought over during the bitter ‘spice wars’ of the 16th and 17 centuries. We were also able to have a close up view of the volcano and the magnificent crater Lake Tolire situated at its base. Luckily we only viewed it from above as it is apparently infested with crocodiles!

Above: Two of our helpful university student guides
Above: Local Trimaran!
Above & Right: Closer views of the volcano - including the croc infested crater lake

Having lost a filling a few weeks back Kay from Bach and Byte was in need of a dentist so the girls headed off on the back of motorbike taxis in search of the local hospital and dental clinic. This proved to be an interesting experience! The hospital was very crowded and very basic – but they quickly assisted the ‘white people’ and soon Kay was sitting in the dentist’s chair trying to explain via a combination of sign language and diagrams which tooth had lost its filling! Naturally there was some concern about sterilization of instruments so we were very insistent that Kay wanted ‘no injections’. A temporary filling followed – the quality of which was questionable as it fell out within a few weeks and had to be redone in Aus!

Below: Crossing the Equator just before Palau Lilai
Below: Equator Party! Crew from Braveheart & Cilantro




Our next stop, Pulau Lilai, was conveniently situated on the equator so was a perfect spot for a King Neptune Equator party. Fortunately it was also a picturesque anchorage with very handy viewing platforms strategically place for spotting the large manta rays that the area is famous for. These platforms proved perfect for our party – and as a base for snorkelling and generally socializing.



Below: We didn't see any Manta Rays but we did spot lots of Lion Fish
Below: what a beautiful anchorage Palua Lilai turned out to be!

We would have liked to stay a week at Lilai but with fine winds forecast we decided to press on as we still had a long way to go before checking out of Indonesia.

  The scenery as we wound our way through the island chains of eastern Indonesia was stunning and as a bonus we also came across several migrating whales.
Below: xx



Above and Right: again we were struck by the contrast between the luxury resorts and the simple existence of the local villagers
Below: School children at the village of Sindapa

Our jumping off point before heading off towards the Obi Islands was the small village of Sindapa on the southern tip of Bacan Island. The village clearly received very few western visitors as we were certainly a novelty with the locals when we ventured ashore to purchase fuel and fresh produce. Luckily we could see the yachts as we walked back from the market along the dusty track that wound its way through the shacks dotted along the foreshore for 2 of the boats dragged in the strong winds and had to make a quick dash back to re-anchor. Fortunately for us our trusty Rocna proved again its value and despite Mandolin Wind being one of the largest and heaviest boats in the fleet of 8 yachts we were snugly hooked and stayed put.


Above & Right: a busy day at the market at Sindapa


We crossed to Obi in very calm conditions although we but did manage to sail for about 2 hours! The villages anchorages on Obi were set in small picture postcard bays - and the villagers were very private. This was one of the few times where we were not surrounded by dugouts as soon as we anchored.
Above: Heading off at Dawn for Obi
Above: An islolated fishing village at Obi island!
Below: Here's cheers to calm anchorages!
  From Obi it was an overnighter to Ceram where we discovered more beautiful anchorages as we moved slowly east along the top of the Island.

Above: we found several small fishing villages with perfect anchoring protection and friendly locals. We could even buy fuel (from open 44 gallon drums)
Above: exploring a mangrove creek with Jim and Kay (Bach and Byte)
Below: Another boarding by officials. Why do they always come to the largest Catamaran??
Below: another small village
Above: when the local fishermen heard we were going ashore for a BBQ to celebrate Tim's birthday (Rubicon Star), they lit a fire for us and brought along fish. They also climbed and collected coconuts to mix with our Rum!

On the Eastern tip of Ceram we had read about a passage between islands that was reportedly very rough in wind against tide conditions. Despite some apprehension as we approached the white water frothing ominously in the distance, the passage proved to be very easy and we were soon anchored in a very protected bay on the south of Ceram ready for a long days sail to the Banda islands.

Below: Of course there were lots of lovely Sunset opportunities
Above: Despite some nervous moments the passage round the Eastern Tip of Ceram proved to be easy going

About half of the boats in our group decided to bypass Banda and head straight for our checkout port of Tual. However, having visited and really enjoyed Banda on our trip up through Indonesia we were happy to go the few extra miles out of our way to pay a return visit. As it happened, despite worries of strong winds and nasty seas the wind dropped out totally and we ended up motor-sailing most of the way in calm seas.

Above & Below: Views of Banda - historic buildings against a stunning backdrop
Below: Original gates - note the date -1602
Above: getting water the hard way!
Above & Right: It was great to see the children so happy!

As anticipated, Banda proved to be a real highlight. Our welcome by the locals was as friendly as ever and we really enjoyed revisiting the historic village and the nutmeg plantations on the surrounding islands. In particular the food, a lasting legacy of Banda’s heritage of Portuguese colonisation, made a welcome change from the rather bland offerings of Nasi Goreng that typifies meal offerings in Indonesian villages.  


After 6 days a good weather window opened so we upped anchor at midnight so that we could time our arrival at Tual for dawn the following day.  Despite the occasional squall it was a fast comfortable passage and we dropped our anchor as per plan 30 hours later with just 2 days to spare on our Indonesian visa.

It was time to prepare for our trip across the Arafura Sea to Australia and this was our last chance in Indonesia to stock up on food and fuel supplies. Although this would not be our last stop in Indonesia, it was the last town that we could guarantee supplies of Diesel. From this point, our route would take us in a South Easterly direction through some of the most remote islands and villages in Indonesia.

But that's another story!