As I headed towards the anchorage in the south east of Billiton the wind started to die. I was only 10 miles away. Should I use the engine or continue with the purity of the trip so far and sail in? I opted to continue sailing at 2 knots - less than walking pace. I should have been more pragmatic. With engine assistance I could have avoided the drenching in the now familiar morning thunderstorm. I'd seen the dark clouds massing behind me, but chose to ignore them, instead focusing on the welcome sight of the islands ahead, the prospect of a calm anchorage and the chance to sleep. The rain brought another problem, the islands vanished as my visibility was reduced to a small rain-swept circle around the boat. This forced me to slow-down further to wait for the storm to pass. Fortunately the storm's boundaries are well defined; one moment you're in a tropical downpour and next blue skies. With normal visibility restored, I motored into the islands and towards the waypoint I'd pre-entered, passing an outer island and what I thought looked like a perfect anchorage in its lee. Instead I pressed on toward my chosen anchorage and 15 minutes later found myself attempting to negotiate some shallows, anxiously watching as the depth gauge plummeted; 5m, 2m, 1.5m, 1.1m, 0.8m, 0.2m, bump, aground. Cursing myself for not trusting my instincts, I turned around and anchored at the spot I'd spied half an hour before.
The anchorage was perfect. Swell-free, with good-holding and a view of a perfect tropical island, complete with the sounds of cicadas emanating from the dense interior. Sadly the only thing on my mind was sleep.
Waking up in the late afternoon I tried and failed to summon the energy required to explore ashore. The prospect of launching the dinghy and fiddling with the newly-temperamental outboard, felt like too much work, especially without the help and enthusiasm of another. Instead I studied charts of the area ahead of me, trying to pick-out as many anchorages as possible en-route to minimise the number of sleep-impaired night sails I'll have to undertake.
The next morning, refreshed, I headed up the coast of Belitung towards an anchorage in the north of the next island, Bangka. It was 210 miles, which given the calm conditions would mean at least two nights at sea. However the course took me along the shore of Belitung and then up the coast of Bangka, which given the frequency of shallows and rocks I figured wouldn't be used by large shipping. I'd much rather deal with the well-charted danger of rocks, wreaks or shallows than the random approach of large freighters.
So far the plan has worked well, with good progress the first day up the coast of Belitung, followed by a calm night close to shore and away from the shipping. The following day I crossed a shipping lane between Belitung and Bangka, altering course twice for ships closing on me a little too close for comfort. Then last night propelled by a gentle breeze I made slow but steady progress up the coast of Bangka again clear of major shipping.
With true dedication to the cause I've finished off the last of the wahoo. The fishing line is out again and my diet returned to its usual variety.
The days follow a similar pattern. Little wind first thing, followed by strong winds from various directions caused by thunderstorms passing to the north, south and directly overhead.,
That said the sailing can be quite exhilarating. Suddenly we're speeding along at 7knots in-front of a storm across a flat sea - sometimes even with a free shower.
The VHF has started to come alive with English voices. A couple of yachts passed me yesterday and we briefly chatted on the radio as they motored off into the distance. I've been trying to minimise the amount of motoring, as without the electronic steering I need to be at the helm all the time the engine is running. It seems easier to let the wind-vane steer, even if we're only making 2 knots while I can cook, catch-up on some sleep or even write a blog entry.
From time to time I forget I don't have crew. A couple of times I've only just managed to stop myself calling into the cabin when there's something exciting to see on the horizon. I've just chatted with another boat, but briefly thought I shouldn't as it would wake the sleeping watch. Before talking I glanced over towards the sleeping form of the crew, only to have reality rudely impose itself as the space is currently occupied by a pile of Malaysian charts I dug out yesterday.
Anchorage off Belitung: S3deg 03.7' E108deg 17.7'
Position @ 8.00am (GMT +8) 20/10/2008: S1deg 43.4' E106deg 30.8'