to Gove (15 - 31 October 2007)
1400 nautical miles
14 (15 October 2007)
This morning I feel that the new antibiotics are not having much of an
impact. I don’t like it and decide to go back to the doctor. She
assures me it could take a little more time to start feeling the effect,
but just in case she gives me another course of antibiotics as security.
In the meantime we are still getting ready to leave. We are fueled up
and John is clearing us out. By the time he gets back I’m down with
another migraine. We’re not leaving today.
John: Having spent most of yesterday clearing
in, my task this morning is to clear out! So off I go to the same five
offices I visited yesterday, only I need to start with immigration because
they were closed yesterday and I didn’t manage to check in with
them. After perusing my documents the immigration official suggested that
it might be best not to bother with all the troublesome paperwork and
visas (that we don’t have) so he won’t stamp our passports
in or out. I guess he expects this favour to be graced with a gift of
some kind, but like I said, I’m too stupid to realise this. He does
ask if I have anything to drink, like whisky, but I do a quick search
of my document folder and there are no bottles in there. I promise to
bring some Jack Daniels on my next visit. At the Navy office they take
a fancy to my Oakley sunglasses and I am obliged to hand them over for
them to try. They ask where I bought them and how much they cost. Answer,
the USA and too much. I guess I’m lucky to get them back.... Finally
I get done and return to the boat, to find Caro collapsed in the cockpit
with another migraine.... That’s it for the day, I guess!
15 (16 October)
I’m feeling a bit better and we’re ready to go at the best
time to get the most out of the counter current. At this time of the year
the current between Bali and Lombok is always running south. We experienced
it ourselves coming down doing 11 knots. Fortunately, for a few hours
every tidal cycle there’s a counter current when you stick close
to shore. John worked it all out and it was great. We could clearly see
the line where the two opposing currents met and stayed in the helpful
current all the way to the most eastern corner from where we cut across
to Lombok. At exactly this corner the wind which had been very light started
picking up and soon it was blowing 20 knots nearly from the stern. We
made great speed, but it got bumpier and pretty rolly as the sea picked
up to match the wind. It’s exhilarating sailing, but also nerve
wracking. As we make our way into the shadow of Lombok the wind and sea
calm down a bit.
John: OK, so this morning we really do plan
to leave. We’ve been here the maximum allowed three days, and there’ll
be all sorts of trouble and strife if we don’t push off today. Besides,
we’re ready to go and need to make some progress east. We refuel,
and again I fail miserably to prevent a diesel geyser that is the bane
of my refuelling life. I did manage to avoid soaking the deck. This time
it spurted all over the galley. Hardly an improvement! After a tense departure
(getting the boat out of a tight spot in some wind) we head off out the
channel to see if we can hug the coast and find the fabled counter-current.
Amazingly, it not only exists but carries us up beautifully to the NE
corner of Bali, so that we can cut across the channel at 4 in the afternoon.
Then things started to get stressful. The sea got very lumpy and the wind
got up and started hammering the boat. Caro wanted a second reef in, but
I wanted to keep the power on so we could reach the shelter of Lombok
before the sea built up any more. Caro prepared dinner in pretty challenging
conditions, and we had an hour of dishwasher-hell before reaching a more
sheltered track. While I was off watch in the aft cabin, Caro struggled
with sail management before giving up and getting me out of my bunk to
help around midnight. The wind changed every half hour all night and kept
me busy, but Jocara romped along at 8-9 knots the whole night.
16 (17 October)
During my night watch the wind just would not settle down. It was busy
and exhausting and I started feeling my lower abdomen again. I got John
up to help with the sails and take over. Before turning in I showed him
these strange orange lights on a mountain side on Lombok. They didn’t
look like any other lights and we decided it must be lava.
John: Lombok had this line of red glow, like
a thousand bitumen torches on a mountain track on a moonless night. After
watching it for a long time, the most likely explanation is that it was
lava. Cool! We powered on all night, making 100 n.m. in 12 hours, but
Caro was in bed the whole time, exhausted. Come dawn she asked if there
was somewhere to anchor and I picked out this little island just to the
north of Sembawa which looked like it would offer some shelter. I pulled
in shortly after dawn and set the anchor, exhausted after nursing the
boat all the way through the night in changing winds.
17 (18 October)
After a days rest I’m feeling a little better, but still not up
to doing anything. The doctor emailed that I should stop the antibiotic
I’m on and start the other one. It’s a perfect stop for rest,
very quiet and peaceful.
John: Not a bad place to stop and take a rest.
At least I get the chance to take care of some jobs on board. I have this
list, about 100 items long, and I get to tick a couple off each day that
I have to work on the boat.
18 (19 October)
I’m improving at a snail’s pace. I still have no energy and
just lie around all day taking naps. I guess I just have to be patient,
it’s been only one day on the new antibiotics. It’s a nice
place to be and John is getting lots of jobs taken care of.
John: I put the kayak in the water today and
went exploring. The buoys we see nearby turn out to mark a seaweed farm.
The beach is glorious, deserted. Some goats. A few people do live on the
island, it seems they have their houses on the other (southern) side.
19 (20 October)
Finally I feel a definite improvement. I have more energy and start to
do little things. We should be back on our way tomorrow.
John: More jobs, and we’re thinking to
leave tomorrow. Right on cue, the wind starts to blow out of the NE, the
perfect wrong angle for us. It hasn’t done this in the three days
we’ve been here. Let’s hope it blows out by tomorrow morning.
20 (21 October)
Well, ready or not, it’s time to move on. We nose our way out of
the protective embrace of the little bay that has provided us shelter
for the last 4 days and set off east. We’re in luck, the Gods give
us a gentle sailable breeze all day, keeping the stress low and Caro on
the right side of healthy. Even so, it seems a crime to know that we’ll
be passing less than 40 n.m. from Komodo, of the famous dragons, which
we’ve wanted to visit for the longest time, and yet we’re
Caro: It feels good to be on the way again and
it’s lovely to be sailing. We’ve left the Java Sea behind
us and are now in the Flores Sea. It does seem different. We see a lot
of birds that look like boobies to me, but they don’t come close
enough to be sure. John catches a little fish, we think it’s a wahoo.
Makes a nice change for dinner. All day we’re just a few miles of
the coast of Sumbawa. It’s an impressive island of steep mountains,
some 3000 meters high. Observing through binoculars I spot a few villages,
but nothing much. This is a very different part from the overcrowded Indonesian
21 (22 October)
Up to now, the NOAA weather predictions have been routinely underestimating
the wind on this trip, a tendency we’ve noticed before. Right now
they say we’ll get 1-5 knots for the next three days and guess what,
that’s pretty much exactly what we have. Oily seas and motoring
all day. Still, rather this than beating our heads against 20 knots on
Caro: Somehow, today feels like this trip, just
getting to Gove, is endless. Still so far to go and we’re going
so slow. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re too far of land to
see it today. Motoring in a flat sea and it’s too hot to do anything
but lie motionless in the cockpit.
22 (23 October)
Both Caro and I got a decent night’s rest, with no wind and few
boats to disturb our cat-naps, both of us sleeping in the cockpit. We
did have a little bit of excitement when the newly-installed bilge alarm
went off. It took a while to realise what was happening (we’re not
yet familiar with the sound and warning light) but then, sure enough,
an inspection of the bilge showed that we were taking on significant water.
Oh no! Not again! We quickly found the cause; the saltwater pump line
to the engine heat exchanger had burst it’s hose clamp and was happily
spraying salt water all over the engine like a geyser. Yet another single-hose-clamp-below-the-waterline
wonder from our engine rebuild.
Caro: We’ve got bits of land to look at
again. That’s much better. In the afternoon we even get a little
unexpected breeze and we can turn the engine off for a few hours. We’re
now passing Flores island which also looks interesting with volcanic mountains.
One day it would be good to take the time to see these islands.
23 (24 October)
I’m starting to feel we’re getting somewhere. We’re
approaching the end of this long string of islands that started with Bali.
Today, all day, we’re passing Alor just a few miles offshore. It’s
a very crinkley island dotted with houses around the edge and everywhere
we see fires to clear bits of land. Looks like they’re trying desperately
to grow some crops in this dry difficult land. The sea here looks productive,
we see birds and dolphins and even a pod of pilot whales in the distance.
But not many fishing boats.
John: Actually sailing through this vast region
east of Bali impresses by the shear size of it, the number of islands
and the expanse of a chunk of the planet that has obviously been labelled
as ‘not-much-going-on-here’ in my brain, and hence drastically
misrepresented in perceived size. So many interesting-looking islands.
So few people, it seems.
24 (25 October)
I slept quite well through all the wind and waves. This must mean I really
need the sleep, because normally I don’t sleep well at all when
the boat is moving. We’re now motoring along the coast of East Timor
which looks wild and inhospitable and sparsely populated. About half an
hour after I’m thinking the sea seems so devoid of life here, the
area around us explodes in a feeding frenzy. Suddenly there are hundreds
of birds everywhere divebombing the surface which is riddled with fish
trying to escape their hunters from below. Dolphins are on the chase and
we see many big tuna leaping clear of the water in their pursuit of the
fish. Wow! To be in the middle of all this frantic activity is thrilling.
Then it gets even better as our lure goes off. One of those tunas made
a mistake and is now on the end of our fishing line. I’ll let John
take over here.
John: Right, yes, well it was on the cards that
if we towed our lures through that mahem we’d hook up on a tuna,
and sure enough, the reel exploded into life and the line went screaming
off the reel. I cranked down the friction as far as I could, and still
it was screaming off the reel. Then I remembered there’s a kind
of emergency friction setting, where there’s a button to push in
and you can get some extra, but obviously at the risk of breaking something.
That slowed him down. I got to the point of standing well back so I wouldn’t
get slashed by the line when it snapped, the rod bent seemingly almost
double. A big fish for sure! Eventually he ran out of steam and little
by little we reeled him in, but by this time Jocara was romping along
at 7 knots and it was as much as I could do to pull this tuna through
the water at that speed. Then finally we got a sight of him through the
water, a huge light patch glimmering under the surface. It looked unbelievably
big. Caro thought we might have a Manta in tow for a moment. Or a shark?
We got him within a few metres of the stern of the boat and saw that he
was the answer to all our prayers, a beautiful fat yellow fin tuna. Absolutely
the best on the planet for making sashimi. Then we hit a problem. We don’t
have a gaff anymore, the big stainless steel cutting hook on the end of
a pole that we use to hook up our catches... Must have got lost in the
refit. In any event, we’d need to spear him to get a strong line
onto him to haul him on board. The speargun is in it’s usual place,
stored away, where it hasn’t been used since 2005. Oops! It takes
some effort to get it back into commission and then ‘’bang’
the steel leader wire parted and the fish was gone. Don’t talk to
me about upset! Upset! I was screaming livid! That was our last Tuna!
A Yellowfin! Then a sense of intense sadness, that we might have killed
him, and for no purpose. We really hope he recovered and makes it. Such
a beautiful fish.
Caro: The island that looked so uninviting from
a distance, dry, boring, unexciting, turns out to get more beautiful the
closer we get. It reveals an atmosphere of pristine wildness and pleasing
rocks, trees, and caves at the waterline. We get treated with an incredibly
beautiful sunset with reds, blues and greens lingering for a long time.
There’s a crispness to the sky and the air seems so clean, I could
imagine the earth being like this all over in times past.
25 (26 October)
I enjoyed the night at anchor and feel ready for the haul to Gove. We’re
well protected at the anchorage, but we can see the whitecaps out at sea.
It might be a rough ride. However, once we’re through some funny
currents around the island we get a lovely sail most of the day at a pretty
good angle too. As I’m inspecting a nearby island through the binoculars
I suddenly see two thin tall fins slicing through the water near the boat.
I think they must be from huge tunas, they’re definitely from some
kind of fish. Then nearby we see some blows and dorsal fins of small whales.
But before we can get a better view they’ve all disappeared. It’s
wonderful and frustrating at the same time. I love seeing wildlife but
really wish I could get a better look at it.
John: We pulled in to the island just for a
decent night’s rest before heading into whatever the crossing to
Australia has to offer, and to spend a little time cleaning the hull to
reduce the chance that the Australian Quarantine will insist that we haul
the boat at our expense and have her bottom cleaned and antifouled (they’re
worried about foreign mussel species and such). It turned out to be quite
a bewitching place with a wonderful pre-historic wilderness feel and amazing
skies. Come this morning, I’m not keen to leave, and the sight of
all the crazy water and whitecaps outside the bay is not inviting. If
Caro had said she wanted to wait another day to rest up, I’d have
agreed at a moments’ notice. I’m tense and have a sense of
foreboding as we up anchor and motor out, but after a short stretch of
bumpy stuff the sailing turns really good and we have an excellent day,
capped by sightings of a pod of (probably) pilot whales and these two
amazing thin fins slicing through the water. I was so lucky to have seen
them too, like a couple of small submarines going by, fins lazily carving
curves through the water surface.
26 (27 October)
The wind is very light now and we’re just motoring directly to our
goal and making good progress. It’s all sea and sky we’re
the only boat around. There’s life in the sea and flying fish are
almost continuously flying away as we approach. Late afternoon as I stand
on the bow I see something white from the corner of my eye. When I look
I can see clearly it’s a manta ray approaching the bow and then
disappearing into the depths. Who knows all the life that’s under
the surface that we cannot see that come to check out this boat.
John: I guess I should have been expecting it.
The high-output alternator quit today. Almost certainly a victim of the
hot salt-water fountain that burst over it a few days back when the hose
clamp failed. This is the second time it’s been messed up by saltwater
due to the engine rebuild (the first was when the boat partially flooded
after another broken hose clamp) and even though it was brand new for
the 2007 refit, it’s already been rebuilt after that disaster. Now
again. A real pain.
27 (28 October)
We’re continuously motoring in an almost completely flat and oily
sea. It’s also very hazy which makes everything kind of unreal,
a strange other-world. I feel very isolated, but in a privileged sort
of way. I feel at peace and happy to be here. We’re now on the Australian
continental shelf and in shallowish water, about 100 meters deep. Surprisingly,
there are little brown crabs swimming at the surface. The more you look
the more life you see in what seems at first glance an empty sea. I am
getting more attuned to my environment. I now wake up with the sun and
start getting sleepy a few hours after it’s gone down. At night
I know about what time the moon comes up. It’s full at the moment
and very gorgeous. Through the binoculars you can really see the craters
and textures. When the moon is not up there are so many stars, you can
clearly see the milky way. I’ve really missed this connection to
John: While I might prefer to sail rather than
motor, I’m not complaining. We are making good progress and the
going is easy, as they say. That’s the point, to get Jocara to New
Zealand with the least pain, and this leg could have been a lot more challenging
than this. So I’m grateful, and rather enjoying the unreal hazy,
lazy, droning on through the oily sea, like crossing the no-man’s
land between worlds (what was the name of the ferryman who took souls
across to the afterlife?).
28 (29 October)
Another day motoring, but we’re getting there. There’s a weird
optical effect at the horizon which makes the ships we see look like they’re
floating just above the sea. It’s getting hotter every day, about
33 degrees today. We see no more flying fish, but a lot of biological
growth on the surface, in some patches it looks as thick as pea soup.
John: Now we’re within a day of Gugari
Rip, the ‘hole in the wall’ that pierces the island string
off the northern coast of New Territories, the real outback. It feels
like we’re really getting there. The sea is shallow, there’s
this biological bloom and the colours are changing. Small brown crabs
and jellyfish just below the surface.
29 (30 October)
This morning as it gets light there is land in sight. This is Northern
Territories aboriginal dream land. Vast empty low desolate weathered land.
I find it quite beautiful with its interesting sheets of rocks and little
trees. A few hours later we’re at the Gugari Rip, also known as
The Hole in the Wall. Very aptly named. It’s a narrow straight channel
about a mile long through two islands and the current can do up to 12
knots in it. As we arrive the current is trying to pull us into the channel
and we anchor near the mouth to wait for slack tide. We don’t have
to wait long and as soon as the orange peel test shows there’s no
current we enter The Hole.
John: The electronic charts gave us tidal height,
from which we guessed when we’d get a slack tide. They were spot
on, and we didn’t have to wait long before the boat swung into wind
and it was time to up-anchor and shoot the gap, a 60m-wide slit in the
rock about a mile long that generates up to 12 knots of current and vicious
rips and whirlpools if you’re there at the wrong time. We nose our
way gently into the gap and Caro starts taking photos. She wants to go
slow so as to have time to video and photograph. About half way through
I find I’m increasing the throttle to keep some progress, and suddenly
we realise that we’re against about 3-4 knots of current already
and that we’d better get a move on or we might not make it through
to the end before the flow exceeds our motoring speed. Sudden panic, full
throttle, then it becomes clear we’ll be fine and I can ease back.
The ‘slack’ only lasts 20-30 minutes or so, after which the
gap begins to roar. Further on, there’s a larger gap between other
islands and we’re sailing happily along when the wind increases
and a current starts to haul us across the gap and things get pretty exciting.
We end up with a reefed main and a few turns in the Genoa, doing 8.5 knots
through the water at 30 degrees heel, 11 knots over the ground, through
a not-so-large gap between rocky islands. Wheee! Too far to make it into
Gove in the light, we seek out an anchorage to spend the night. Unfortunately,
the one we picked on the chart has lots of buoys and boat action, and
since we’ve not checked in yet, we want to stay out of trouble,
so we opt for an open-roadstead that looks OK when we get there but turns
into a rolling nightmare for half the night when the wind dies and she
turns to lie a-hull to some NE swell.
30 (31 October)
Our final motor into Gove, with a little added excitement as my last fan
belt shreds and leaves me with few and precarious options (e.g. using
a very worn belt) for the last miles. The belt shredded because it’s
the wrong size and type (another engine rebuild legacy item) and I reconnected
the regular alternator (since our high-output one went belly-up) to keep
the batteries charged. There’s no end to this game is there! Finally
at anchor in Gove, the customs and quarantine people come on board and
give us no trouble, the paperwork being all completed in a hour or so
with no unpleasant surprises. They even let Caro keep some of our food.
Quite a relief, after some of the horror stories we’ve come across
about cruisers having a hard time checking in to Australia. Time to put
the dinghy in the water and see if the outboard runs. It does, and we
go ashore for a meal and a stubbie at the little yacht club. We stroll
back down the beach (wondering about box jellyfish and crocodiles lurking
in the moonlit waters lapping the shore) just in time to find our dinghy
lifting off on the rising tide and turning to float away. We don’t
have to drag it down the beach, we just step in and motor off. Back to
Jocara for a nightcap and a decent night’s sleep, in Oz at last.
Caro: That was a rotten night. She was really
rolling badly and I’ve hardly slept. That’s the thing about
traveling by boat; it can change so quickly from being absolutely wonderful
to horribly awful and sometimes really scary too. Gove is not far and
it feels good to have made it this far. I had been worried about what
the quarantine people might take away. We’ve been eating a lot of
meat the last few days because there’s still a fair bit in the freezer.
Turns out they’re pretty relaxed. Sure, we lost the eggs and fresh
vegetables (I didn’t want to eat that cabbage anyway!), but they
only take our mince and leave the sausages and chicken. Not sure I understand,
but I’m very pleased. We’ve been in Gove before 12 years ago,
but we don’t remember the place, the yacht club looks totally unfamiliar.
It’s nice not to cook for a change, just sit there waiting for the
food to arrive whilst drinking a beer. That’s the other thing about
cruising, you don’t take the good things for granted so easily.