Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Passage to Lamakera Straits

It's been a trip of two halves. We started from Nemberala with a decent 15-20 knot SE trade, anticipating a straight-forward, fast overnight sail to cover the 150 miles to the Lamakera Straits. Initially the conditions were perfect; a calm sea and a strong wind allowed us to make good-time. By mid-afternoon the sea had started to build and Ina suffered from an upset stomach - not sea-sickness - we suspected our fish lunch which we'd bought in Nemberala, then again it could have been the large quantity of birthday cookies consumed, though unlikely as I would have suffered a worse fate.

I finally seem to have cracked our power generation. I think it's important to mark the rare moments when you feel you're one-up on the seemly endless maintenance a cruising boat requires. The cause of my elation was the battery monitor still pegged at 100% capacity after a couple of days in harbour. I fixed the wind-generator and resited the solar panel in Darwin, which along with the highly insulated fridge I built in New Zealand and LED lighting seems to allow us to generate more than we use - that is providing the sun shines and wind blows.

Back to the trip. The wind increased at dusk and after some procrastination we decided that for the sake of a more comfortable night we (I) should put a reef in the main. The moon is making a later and less significant appearance at night which added to the challenge of working the lines at the mast in the dark - but I enjoy that kind of thing. While I was groping for the reefing lines a wave broke over the bow and deposited some of its contents around the mast. Now, this might sound like I'm heading towards some tale of pulling through while bravely battling against the elements, but you'd be wrong. Instead I found myself transfixed by a stunning, luminous, blue streak which the wave had deposited on the main-sheet; I've never seen such vivid bioluminescence at such close-range out of the water before. Stunning.

Inevitably after reducing the sails the wind-dropped through the night, but nocturnal lethargy meant I only got round to shaking out the reef when our speed dropped below 2.5 knots; "the wind might pickup again", being my poor excuse for inaction.

Our near silent progress (drifting) the next morning was broken by the "put-put-put" of a local fishing boat in the distance. After a few minutes it was noticeably louder and a few minutes more it was clearly heading for us. Thoughts of pirates momentarily filled my mind, but it was a small fishing boat with an engine that sounded past its prime. With our engine on, we could easily outrun it. They pulled alongside us and cut their engine. Peace again. Perhaps I was still unnecessarily apprehensive, and not as welcoming as I could have been, which probably contributed to the shortness of our encounter. They repeated something in Indonesian sounding like "flat flat", I responded with "salamat pagi" - good morning - and we all looked a little bemused as they drifted behind us in their brightly painted boat. Shame, I'm sure we could have made more of the meeting, even perhaps trading for some more stomach-churning fish.

With our speed not much above 2 knots and still over 70 miles to go to the anchorage we decided to motor until the wind returned. Unfortunately the sea remained calm all day, almost without a ripple. At times the darting of the flying-fish across the surface of water was almost the only disturbance.

Despite the best efforts of the engine, we clearly weren't going to make it to the anchorage before dark. Just before dusk we could make out the outlines of mountains on the islands ahead. According to the chart and the description in the pilot book, the anchorage was large and clear of obstructions so we decided to try for a night entry. Using radar, the chart and night-vision we finally dropped anchor in the bay just before 10pm, anticipating daylight to discover our new surroundings

Anchorage off Kamula island: S8° 30.5' E128° 13.6'

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