Welcome back, readers. At the end of the last episode, I had just arrived in Bali after a surreal journey from Australia. The goal was to pick up a newly purchased Lagoon 450 sailing catamaran and deliver the vessel to Southport Queensland and the first-time boat owner.
When landing in Bali I found the airport busier than expected but still a far cry from the heady days of the jam-packed underbuilt facility of pre-Covid days. Off the plane, we all had to immediately show our previously acquired negative PCR test in a hastily set up check-point area. What had not changed was the inability of the local population to understand the mechanics and civility of queuing, especially in the context of the new norm of “social distancing”. However once past the checkpoint and in walking through to the car, the airport was a picture of ease and as uncrowded as I had ever seen. What would normally be a one-hour trip to the boat location in Serangin was traffic-free and took half that time.
I had not been in Indonesia for 18 months but the chaos of boats and boats at anchor in Serangin had not changed. In fact, the chaos had intensified given none of the charter boats were working and the little inlet which inadequately posed as the main harbour for private and charter boats in Bali; it was fuller than Dumbo’s sock with boats!
The 45ft Sea Turtle 2 catamaran I was to sail to Australia was moored on the Sanur side of Serangin. It was sobering walking down the 400 mts cement jetty and viewing the mass of water craft and sad to think about the personal costs to owners and crews the complete shutdown of the tourism sector in Indonesia was causing.
In complete contrast to this vision were the two 70mt superyachts stern to moored to what by their international standards was a rundown set of floating pontoons. For us yachties, the primitive floating facility was serviceable but for superyacht Owners and Captains… I am sure they were dreaming of the Mediterranean and the Med’s stern to moorings.
I had called ahead and the Sea Turtle Owner had come to fetch me in the boat’s 2mt rubber tender. This was the first time I had met Owner Steve in person, only having spoken to him a few times in the lead up trip planning by video call. Steve had arrived to Bali three days ahead of me to finalise the settlement of the sale and get the boat prepared for our voyage. His eyes gave away the pure joy and excitement of that of a new boat owner and of someone who was clearly experiencing an adventure of a lifetime. In his mid-forties, Steve was handsome and fit and his demeanor was one of a man in charge of his element and of methodical planning and control. My internal alarms bells were ringing. Steve was everything I was not. It could be an interesting voyage ahead.
Getting on board the Lagoon 450 was a pleasant surprise. On my first look through, the boat was in good condition and well looked after. Like most catamarans it was wonderfully spacious with head room all throughout. As the hand-over Captain walked the Owner and myself through the boat the pleasantries continued. A newly installed full set of electronics including upgraded auto pilot and chart plotter was a taster for the fabulous surprise on the fly bridge of electric winches. These two factors suddenly made the shorthanded nature of our upcoming delivery trip much more positive.
We then took the vessel for a handover sail out of the harbour with more detailed handover inspections of all of the machinery, electrics and systems on the vessel. This was quite the luxury. Most, if not all of the deliveries, I have done in the past were a matter of getting on the boat and being handed the keys to the vessel and the person wasting no time getting off the boat with a big smile and a “good luck” wave. Certainly after the day’s introduction to the vessel both the Owner and I were very pleased with the condition and functionality of the boat.
The next three days were spent with the Owner finalising all sale documentation, final payment, fuelling, snorkelers cleaning the underwater surfaces of the hull, engine checks, oil changes and the many and various other tasks required to ensure boat was ready for the upcoming 3,400 nautical mile journey.
Our original plan was to motor/sail the vessel roughly 1000 miles from Bali to the island of Taninbar, the eastern most island in the Indonesian archipelago and closest to the Torres Strait, our destination target before heading south down the East coast of Queensland.
With this plan we would use the port town of Samlaki on Taninbar to refuel and internationally check out of the country. However, our plan was thwarted from the get-go with the conditions of the sale of the vessel which stipulated the new Owner be formally acknowledged in that role and be reflected in the International check out documents from Bali. In retrospect this, along with many other factors during the journey (highlighted as the journey unfolds), turned out to be a godsend for us. Given this development, a day out from our planned departure date was spent buying provisions, getting the required PCR test as part of check out protocols and providing to the ships agents all necessary paperwork and passports for our Port and International clearance.
The later task was made infinitely easier by using Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia. Whilst we were definitely not a superyacht, our previous connections with this group and the team’s willingness to help made this reasonably complicated task far easier than trying to do it unaided. In addition to the normal protocols of Immigration stamping us out of the country, Customs inspection of the vessel and local Harbour clearances, the boat needed to be exported. This is a process related to the three year cruising permits Indonesia now grants for foreign flagged boats wishing to cruise Indonesian waters.
As it turned out the three year permit for Sea Turtle to stay in Indonesian waters was about to expire in early July, a fact I am assuming precipitated the previous owner’s very compliant and supportive nature to see the sale closed in a better than timely manner with the new owner recognised as exactly that, and us underway.
Sea Turtle’s Sanitation certification had expired and given it was not a good idea to turn in Australian waters without one to get a certificate issued there, we requested APS Indonesia organise. This was duly completed, combining this inspection with the final Health and Quarantine inspection, a timely use of resources and logistics. While the ship’s paperwork was now successfully in process we, the crew, had two tasks; the departure PCR test and provisions shopping, both in their own right adventures.
Having recognised previously there were clearly some personality differences between myself and the Owner, these were quickly noted when we went on what I thought was going to be a quick and painless provisions shop. Me? I would rather go to the garbage tip than go shopping. I have a saying I drum into my kids when I have the unfortunate chore of shopping with them, “good shopping is quick shopping”.
Having provisioned for many boat trips, my first and best instinct is to buy goods by the box rather than individual products and certainly price checking is never part of the process. Seems Steve and my wife share one common trait, the need to pick up every item they intend to buy, look at it, check its price and then look at every other comparable product on the shelf. This was no more evident than at the very first item Steve and I decided we needed.
Sunscreen. I did my usual quick look, grab the item and throw into a trolley; a tube of Sports, a tube of 50+ and a tube of waterproof all weather, on the assumption that at each of these products would work well. In case one worked better than the others, we would have our skin cancer bases covered. “Whoa, wait up!” exclaimed Steve, busily retrieving the items from the trolley as he started to carefully weigh up the comparative prices of each tube. Can you imagine his shock when one of the products was 10,000 rp [75cents US] more? Back onto the shelf it went.
Now it is important for readers to understand Steve was the sponsor of the whole delivery event and paying for everything in relationship to the trip. By this virtue I was but a polite passenger and at this junction had to suppress my natural leadership tendencies and acquiesce to the role. The next three hours was a wonderful exercise in what was going to be a raft of instances where I bit my tongue and provided what best I could conjure up as a support role in the painfully slow process to fill one shopping cart for what was looking like a voyage of twenty days at sea. At the check-out I made a mental note of two things; there was now a lot of pressure on catching fish along the way, and self-enforced days of fasting along the way were going to be of necessity rather than of choice.
Compared to the provisions shopping, the PCR test went well in an Indonesian sort of way. Whilst it was a bit of a process, sure enough the E-mail with negative results arrived that evening, six hours after the tests’ administration and in comparison, far more timely than any Australian testing I had been put through. The E-mail confirmation was then sent to our agent for submission to Immigration, Customs and Quarantine officials in order to be ratified for our immediate departure the next day.
So, there we were on the boat for last night in Bali, all preparations done. It was time for me to give my, what has become a fairly well-rehearsed speech to folks who have not done many sea miles… ‘The emotional phases of a long distance boat trip’. This seemed even more appropriate given Steve had not apparently done many [*see later in this story] sailing trips , this was a shorthanded crew voyage and he was a new boat owner. As would be the case, my words became somewhat of a prophecy to the reality that unfolded.
We are on the boat and ready to roll. Whilst it seemed like an eternity to the waiting clock watchers, the final ship’s paperwork arrived and in Indonesian time context, it arrived in a timely manner. With stamped passports, completed ship’s papers and the yachts export certification we were able to drop the mooring and head of Serangin harbour. It was midday and slack tide. We had lost the morning incoming tide that would have propelled us in our required northerly direction at an extra two knots.
At average depths of over 5000 mts, the strait between Bali and Lombok is a notorious body of water with huge upwelling currents and treacherous tidal convergences which can spin a boat of any size in 180 degree sweeps. As I write this, I learned of an Indonesian passenger ferry that sank making the crossing last week, losing fifty poor souls.
We motored out of Serangin and into the main strait. There was a nice 12 knot South Easterly wind that easily accommodated a full main sail and genoa on a nice reach. In the glow of pride with his purchase and the elation of finally having his new craft sailing and heading [roughly] to Australia, one could see Steve’s realisation of all his dreams, as I thought to myself, “..let’s see how long this lasts!”
I didn’t want to break his mood but thought it pertinent to prepare him for what was going to prove to be a short lived euphoria. This was a story of when I was an Indonesia cruising guide for the late Paul Allen’s wonderful boat, the 414 ft Octopus. Now the Octopus very heavy with a cruising speed of 15 knots and on one of the occasions we were steaming towards Benoa harbour Bali we were hit by not one, but two of these legendary tidal convergences. You can imagine the exclamations of the highly professional bridge officers and Captain of Octopus when the off course alarms started sounding and the big ship was swung around like a pretzel in the wind.
Withstanding this recollection, we were having a nice sail north at 7 knots with the sun out, a trolling line set. Still high on his mood Steve thought a vodka & tonic was in order whereby I lead a dry life anyway as past horrors have taught me alcohol free delivery passages are the only way to go. As it will show soon, I chose to bite my tongue and let the owner have the owner option.
It was at sunset and with the tide in full ebb south the journey started to lose its holiday-like ambience. The breeze had swung off the top of Lombok to now be Easterly and we were running into a 2 knots tide making the waves stand up and become, what we were about to experience, as an all too common feature of our trip. Additionally, right on sunset the trolling line started to sing off the reel. So with flapping sails, a boat thumping up and down on the spot in bathtub-like waves and a fishing line to be retrieved, the joy of shorthanded sailing was right in my face. I will not go into too much detail about the ensuring next few hours but needless to say it was a harbinger of things to come.
Now let me be clear here; whilst the next pages are going to be a lot about Steve, it should be noted he is a very nice fellow and as the journey progressed it showed him to be a man of stamina, fortitude and courage. Never the less, being my only subject matter other than the ocean and the boat, some of his other characteristics and quirks were comedy gold and the story would lack authenticity if I did not highlight them.
The first night fighting our way around the Gili islands in north Lombok illustrated to Steve one important lesson; how slow time and a catamaran against the wind and tide moves at night. At certain times during the night the bobbing boat was making a mere 3 knots. We were running the duel Yanmar sail drives on 2,800rpm, a speed the handover Captain had mentioned a few times in his briefing and a stat, that for some reason, Steve had embraced like the holy grail of engine use.
In subsequent days I found that this insistence on running the engines at this rpm was further rooted in Steve’s inexperience on two counts. First, running engines at higher revs more would overwork the engines and cause more maintenance costs than needed; and second, this trip was going to have a strong sailing component to it and burning too much fuel was also a cost that his mindset did not want to accept.
It is a sad reflection to today’s society but much of Steve’s sailing and general marine experience was ‘achieved’ from watching YouTube posts about all and sundry subjects, what the channel has in spades. Somewhere in this learning curve was ‘how catamaran owners progressively used less fuel the longer they owned their boats’. Possibly a real phenomenon but certainly not one to cut your teeth on the first 3000 mile against the wind delivery trip. I am happy to say that we had a breakthrough with both of these aspects as the trip got rougher and longer.
The sunrise came and in the in the east, directly in our face, as was to happen every day and it was special. The night had been a long wave slapping against the hulls affair. To Steve’s surprise we were still seeing Lombok to our starboard. It had been a slow night doing alternating three hourly shifts each on watch and I think for the first time he was beginning to understand that whilst an island looked relatively small on the chart plotter, in reality they were large and three dimensional.
Amongst the small talk we were making in between rest periods that day, I was giving some insight into the psychology of night passages and asked if he had encountered the same on any of his previous night passages. His reply set me back; “Jimmy last night was the first night passage on a boat I have ever done!” Given this then, Steve had done very well. And as the trip transpired he grew in statue and learning in the lonely art of single handed night watches.
As mentioned at this point our first milestone destination was Port of Samlaki on Taninbar Island some 900 nautical miles onwards from our present position. I had budgeted we would cover 120 miles in a 24 hour period with 13.00 [1pm] each day being time and motion review. If we achieved my planned daily mileage we would be pulling into Samlaki in another eight days, give or take.
On our first 24 hour period since departing Bali we were approaching our trip time/check. The island Moyo was on our starboard, where I had lived and worked for seven years. But that is another story for another day though, needless to say, the terrain was very familiar to me.
The day was glorious with flat seas, not much wind and certainly nothing to sail with but we were making a nice five knots. I was a little optimistic that despite getting tide locked on north of Lombok we may have made a few more miles then budgeted. In fact at the 13.00 time check since departing Bali we had made 114 miles. A progress I could live with.
And it was as if the Weather God had felt my satisfaction as she sent us a building 15 knots directly out of the east, slowing us down considerably. With this I aimed the boat’s track as close to the land as I could to try to get some breeze break up from the mountainous land. As the afternoon wound past so did Moyo and in the shadow of a magnificent sunset we were hugging the Sumbawa coast with my overnight target being the view of the volcano of Sangean at the entrance of the famous Komodo strait by morning. In my normal life I use a saying often, ‘Men plan and God laughs’. This was certainly to be one of those instances.
As the evening unfolded the wind directly in our face got stronger and as we got closer to the northern entrance of the Komodo strait there was a distinctive strong current pushing against us. I had gone off watch at the usual 22.00 [10pm] and went quickly to sleep, a nap which lasted about an hour and was disturbed by sails flapping, waves thumping the hull and a strong wind whistling through the rigging. The breeze had kicked into a solid 25 knots and it was clear the boat was in a tidal vortex of standing waves and swirling current.
A quick look at Steve’s face as he held the wheel for all it was worth brought the realisation of how little he had sailed, indeed how little he’d been on the ocean. First order was get the sail down and in, which I did. Main sail to the deck and head sail furled. With these out of the way I was then able to try to ascertain our current position and try to work out a plan to get us out of this washing machine-like sea we were in. We were still 40 miles from the entrance of the Komodo strait but it was clear we were in the throes of the famous currents this region produces.
With the greater island of Sumbawa on starboard we had just passed the city of Bima, some 20 miles to our aft quarter. As I looked at the chart I saw a bay 40 degrees off our current course which could provide the much needed shelter to get us out of these winds that were currently so adversely affecting our forward progress.
As I explained to Steve we really just needed to get out of current location and to some shelter where in the morning light we could regroup and reset our passage course, taking into account the effects of the Komodo strait tidal rushes. It was clear Steve had quickly advanced to the stage of ‘just get me out of here’ in any long boat passage process. From this point I drove the boat under motor until 7am that morning where by this stage we were in the lee of the still blowing winds and out of the waves.
Even where we were now in what could be described as remote Indonesia, the reality of how populous a country Indonesia is was in evidence. Trying to find an uninhabited bay to anchor and rest was not easy. Eventually doing so, I got the anchor down and so to my head for 2 hours sleep before being back awake, clearing the deck and getting sails in order checking tides and weather and plotting the course for the ongoing journey.
With a new moon phase we were currently experiencing the tides were in the larger spring differentials typified by this moon phase. As we saw in the previous night, this needed to be planned around given the nature of the catamaran’s inability to make meaningful way in direct head winds, even under motor.
Coming out of the sheltered bay now I had chosen a north easterly course that would take us north of the Sangean volcano and more off shore firmly into the Flores Sea. This would keep us away from the tidal influences of the Komodo strait and allow us to take advantage of any south or easterly winds which may occur, given the wind had died of completely.
As it turned out the winds stayed flat for the next 36 hours, allowing us to make solid progress in the direction we wanted and the only interrupt was 2 x rope on propeller. Now motoring with auto pilot in flat seas, Steve’s spirits picked up and, as it proved for our entire journey, he brought his considerable culinary skills to the fore.
An excellent cook, in these quite sea moments he produced some wonderful flavourful meals. The ever trolled fishing line was not yielding any results despite my changing lures on numerous occasions. Having lived and fished these waters for 20+ years the alarming decline in fish stocks in Indonesia was no surprise to me. Certainly the complete lack of fish action and birds now in the Flores Sea really accentuated how bad things had become in this part of Indonesia.
We were now into day four of our passage and still motoring along in the Flores Sea. The conditions were glassed out and we were making nice progress under motor at 5 knots despite what I could feel was a one knot ocean current against us. Our plan was to squeeze between the Indonesian island of Wetar and relative new country of Timor Leste, sharing its island mass with West Timor yet still Indonesian territory.
We were now starting to clear the land shadow provided for us by Sulawesi in the north and there was a North East swell starting to bear down on us from the Banda Sea to the north. This was creating short, sharp uncomfortable waves that for the catamaran and what was to be accepted during the trip – the loud tunnel noises of the waves hitting the hulls in the middle gap between them.
To add to the deal, after lunch the wind out of the east picked up to 15 knots and before we knew it our five knots forward progress was now down to three, with the boat ‘hobby horsing’. This is a motion which sees the hulls go in an up and down motion instead of going through the waves, very much affecting forward progress.
It was at this point I decided to change passage strategy and slip the boat down a strait between the Eastern end of Flores and the island of Alor, then resume our easterly run in the swell shadow of Alor and the wind shadow of Timor Leste. The idea being that we could get out of both the swell and the headwind and again resume solid headway speed whilst still making our way to our destination of Taninbar island. And in retrospect not a bad plan.
That evening was spent running south with the tide through the narrow strait between Flores and Alor, punctuated by a great deal of cargo boat traffic through this busy sea way channel. Once through the channel the tide turned and slowed us considerably and Steve struggled with the time and motion concept of the passage. For someone who clearly lived a fairly fast paced life, the idea of moving at between three and five miles in one hour was not easy. For me, it was this very element of being on the ocean that I loved.
I am not a religious person but consider myself a spiritual person. It is these times of being at one with the sea in a remote environment with vastness around me, it allows me to find inner peace and a serenity that I cannot find in mainstream land life.
Talking to Steve in these terms was clearly having no effect. He was land driven by timetables, schedules and things he ‘had’ to do once he got the boat to Australia, a perplexity that would haunt him later. It wasn’t until later in the journey that I really had to explain forcefully to him that he should not have scheduled a boat delivery against the prevailing weather patterns if he had all of these things to do. “Men plan and God laughs!”
Morning saw us in the body of water between Alor and Timor Leste. The day was nice with light winds and we were making moderate progress depending on the tide and currents either working with us or against us. The day was made more special by two humpbacked whales playing and breaching relatively near us.
There were no other boats to be seen, the fishing line was still virginally dragging along behind us and all was going well until by around 16.30 [4.30pm] when we were approaching the channel triangulation of Alor, Wetar and Timor Leste.
With the wind at 15+ knots on our nose and the boat continually hobby horsing with a huge tidal convergence in play, we started going backwards. And I mean backwards. It is most dispiriting when one looks on the chart plotter and sees the boat going back over the track previously registered on the screen. In complete contrast another pair of whales (or perhaps the same two from the previous encounter) were back close to us, playing in the tidal streams.
The only way out of this situation was to try to sail out of this area; wh to this day. I hoisted the main to 2nd reef, unfurled the head sail to 3/4 out and set off on a beat 90 degrees to our expected course and directly perpendicular to the coast of Timor Leste, some 25 miles on this beat. Despite the crashing waves sounding against the hulls the short sloppy seas generated, the sunset was spectacular, beaming right in between Alor and Wetar islands to the West over our shoulder.
Evening turned to night as we sailed onwards to the Timor Leste coast; its capital Dili being on our current course trajectory. I had never been is these waters and had heard mixed stories about Dilli before we left Bali that CV-19 was rampant there. Punctuated by most to our trip to date I was surprised there was no boat traffic whatsoever in and around Dilli.
As we sailed right in close to the coast the depths were over 400 mts deep still even four miles from the shore. By this stage the waves action had lessened considerably. While we could not sail in this direction any longer we had the choice to: a) tack back onto a tack that would see us make ground in the direction we needed to or b) pull sails in and motor following the coast not directly on our required path but in sea conditions a lot more comfortable than in the passage.
Steve most definitively opted for the latter option. The rest of the night and the following day saw us hold this strategy and follow the Timor Leste coast which eventually turned to the east and back in the direction we needed to head. It was still blowing 15 to 20 knots and right in close to the show we could stay out of the wave action this was producing.
At around 1pm (13.00) I was doing some navigation for the upcoming night. We had been doing a reasonable speeds of 4 to 5 knots all day but still the previous evening tack out of the tidal streams had seen us only do 100 miles for the 24 hour period.
I had calculated that from this location we still had 250 miles to go to Taninbar and the winds were going to be still full in our face easterly for this entire period, and even after that we were looking at another five days of head winds and big waves to follow our original plan to Torres Strait.
I have to say as much as I love the ocean and ‘sailing’, even for me this prospect was daunting. Even the potential three days nonstop of open ocean beating to Taninbar was going to be a mental and physical slog.
It was at this point it I knew we had to readjust our plans. I did the distance calculations and angle of sail needed for destination Darwin. In theory once we cleared the north eastern tip of Timor Leste it would be a three and half days sail to Darwin. Now I realised that this was going to require a complete rethink for Steve in relation to the two Quarantines we had originally planned for Cairns and on ward journey planning, something I knew he would struggle with given he had a fairly rigid schedule in his mind.
Surprisingly though once I presented the two options to Steve his appetite for the slog to Taninbar was far less than mine. He agreed to the new plan, realising we would be in Australian waters in a far more timely manner than beating on to Taninbar and Torres.
Whilst the plan was good and again, in retrospect turned to be a very good move for the longer view of the delivery, the reality of the next four days was very testing for Steve’s lack of sailing experience. This ultimately carried over to me in managing the fear and uncertainty for him.
First part of the plan; get around the north east tip of Timor Leste. Easier said than done. Once Steve had approved the new delivery course we had 40 miles to clear Timor Leste. With the wind still 15 to 20 knots from the east (sound familiar?) by the time we were about to round the tip it was sunset. It was clear the tide was against us with large standing waves pounding us, a combination of the open ocean generated swells and the localised tidal streams.
The boat was hobby horsing wildly with the tunnel noise a constant cacophony as we again found ourselves making no forward progress. This time there was no respite to put the sails up and try to sail out of this. One tack would have taken us straight into the land five miles to our starboard or the other taking us north and on a route that would see us having to just come right back to the point where we were now.
We had to just take the bash here. As it turned out it lasted two more hours before the boat started making ground around the Cape we needed to clear and the night darkness fully upon us now adding to the intensity of the moments. The further we did clear the Cape the more the open ocean swell and a true 20 to 25 knots of wind came to bear on us squeeing the boat closer to the shore we were desperately trying to clear.
We finally got to a point where I could put the sails up. I hoisted a main with 2nd reef and the head sail half out. The best angle of sail I could get in this location to a roughly Australian shore direction, was direct south which would have put us in North West Australia. This was irrelevant at the time as I just needed boat speed and to clear the choppy crazed waters of tidal currents and reflection waves bouncing off the open coast of now the southerly coast of Timor Leste.
I had been at the helm for seven hours by this stage and knew I had a ways to go before I could hand it over to Steve. I needed to get the boat settled into a sail direction and course that would get us through the rest of the night now we were officially in the open waters of the Timor Sea.
Once we did clear the effects of Timor Leste land mass, on a SE 1 to 2 metres ground swell with the wind still blowing 20 -25 knots in more of an ESE direction, I was able to trim the boat into a comfortable 6 to 7 knots beat and brought our course into a more favourable direction for us to be adjacent to Bathurst island some 250 miles away, if these conditions held.
I was exhausted by this stage and handed the helm to Steve explaining the strategy and expected conditions of which he needed to be aware. I could tell from his face he was well into the delivery phase of “get me off this boat, I don’t want to play anymore”. To his credit he bravely persevered and though in a situation totally foreign to him, was stellar in getting the boat into the day’s early glimpse of dawn. As it always does, the light of day made things seems far less daunting the nights.
Once the boat was settled she actually performed beautifully on this course and I was hopeful of some rest, until I went below into the main salon and was battered by a series of noises over and above what had been generated up to this stage of the passage. I was shocked at the multitude of incredible sounds coming from inside the hulls and it was then I realised why Steve had not looked comfortable at helm hand over.
This was the first time we had the boat performing in a real ocean sea way and with a sail pattern working hard in solid winds. There was clear fibreglass on fibreglass “scrunching” coming from four locations throughout the boat. And to the untrained ear this could have been misconstrued for the boat falling to pieces. It did not sound good, but falling to pieces it was not. Clearly there was some inner structural issues in what sounded like framing. I listened to the noises until I could not keep my eyes open any longer. Whatever was causing them would have to wait for a later examination.
I awoke to a new day. Steve had done a manful four hours on the helm. The wind was still blowing hard, the boat still sailing well and the orchestra of frame noises still as loud as the night before. To add to the complexity of our day we were now getting rain filled squalls sweeping in, the first hitting just as we were handing over steering duties.
In the front of these squalls were wind gusts up to 30 knots. I didn’t mind these. The boat and sail pattern we had could clearly carry them and they were giving us a 15 degrees lift on our desired course. Lifts that would hold us in great stead to get closer and closer to Bathurst Island over the next two days.
Clearly the framing noises below were affecting Steve as the boat owner far more than I. As a delivery crew I always adopt the ‘all care no responsibility’ attitude in these moments. Whereas Steve, being the boat owner, had visions of his boat breaking to pieces from the inside out.
It seems that before he bought the boat Steve had been watching YouTube and noted that Lagoon catamarans had a pervading characteristic of the bulkheads and frames coming unstuck. Despite having had this boat checked over with Steve’s explicit instructions to check the bulkheads by a Surveyor in Bali, it seems that unless the boat was under full sail in proper sea way conditions these bulkhead defects could not to be detected. This was something the otherwise thorough Surveyor report did not include.
Even though he himself was dead tired, Steve went about removing wall and floor panels throughout the hulls and to his credit, eventually found the location of all the fibre on fibre rubbing. He was able to rest once noted all of these were not going to affect the integrity of the boat as we sailed on at a solid 7-8 knots. The issue of the ‘floating’ and cracked bulkheads would keep Steve very busy over the upcoming two weeks quarantine as he unwrapped the liability and potential medium term repair options for these.
The rain squalls were coming through every six hours of so as we continued sailing on the same beat through that day and ensuing night. One could see them as a big grey cloud masses on an otherwise blue and clear skyline. Other than the noises the boat was handling well.
Steve had relaxed into the groove of familiarity with the wind speeds, the rain and the overall situation and even more than satisfied that we were making good progress towards Bathurst island and ultimately Darwin. This, vindicating our decision to change the overall plan and head to Darwin.
We were into our 3rd day sailing since we had left Timor Leste behind us. Our sail track was currently going to see us 70 miles to the west of Bathurst Island when the wind started to drop and the squalls disappeared. By lunch this day the winds had dropped to the point of not holding the sails and whilst I left the main up for a little stability in what was still a 1.5 mts ground swell, I was able to start motoring directly for Bathurst island. We were in Australian waters and were buzzed by the regular Border Force plane patrol for the first time.
I had not been trolling the fishing line when we were hard under sail as the last thing we needed to slow us up was dealing with a fish on the line. However on this fine flat afternoon I did run the line and straight away picked up a nice big eyed tuna. Wow! Our first fish.
As mentioned previously Steve’s culinary skills, even in a galley rocking and rolling, were exceptional. He had produced some wonderful meals for us during the Timor Sea crossing.
With the tuna on board I filleted it and we had an excellent plate of sashimi. Steve then took to the deck BBQ and served up beautifully cooked fillets with a hastily prepared but delicious salad.
The fatigue of the trip to date and the brightening weather saw Steve and I slip into an on watch/ sleep, rest routine that didn’t involve too much chat. On a normal day on land or on boat I am not a big talker but knowing we were only a day and two nights passage out of Darwin I was even more introspective than usual.
Steve’s OCD was starting to get on my nerves but I just accepted it and largely try to ignore. It got firmly in my face the second time we caught a fish. Tuna being a high energy fish tend to bleed out a lot and of course, the blood was going on the deck to which Steve started jumping up and down about before I had a chance to get the fish dressed and filleted. After that I slowed down on the fishing I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. Darwin at this point couldn’t arrive quickly enough.
And arrive it did. We had a very uneventful motor past Bathurst Island and into the last night leading into Darwin. The morning of our 10th day since departing Bali saw us at the outer leads and well-timed arriving into Darwin harbour on a rising tide.
We made our way to the yachts anchorage in Fannie Bay in front of the Darwin Sailing Club and anchored. I then checked in as required with the Port of Darwin control. They outlined for us the arrival protocols which included registering on line with NT heath app and then organised for us the required Border Force, Quarantine and Immigration inspections.
For this we needed to retrieve the anchor and make our way to Cullen Bay jetty. Once alongside there, three Border force officers and one Quarantine offer came to the boat. The three Border Force officers had to stay on the jetty while the Q officer interviewed both Steve and I separately before giving the boat a thorough going over culminating in removing from our fridges all of the food they deemed we were not allowed to keep. These food items were bagged and dumped in a bin on the jetty.
Once the Q officer had finished his work and signed off on the boat as safe and CV-19 free, Steve and I were then interviewed by the Border Force team who were still standing in the hot sun. As Two Turtles was registered and flagged American it was going to have to be imported. Steve handled this, as he did with them for the booking and reservations we had to make at Howard Springs Quarantine centre. We were to be transferred to the centre immediately after we had returned the boat to anchor at Fannie Bay.
I sign out of this episode leaving the reader with the surreal mental images of us returning the boat to anchor in Fannie Bay… exhausted. Fully masked NT police in their brand new aluminum patrol boat picked us up from Two Turtles, dropping us back to the jetty where we were escorted by an officer to a mini bus. The bus with masked driver and a police car as escort took us on a 30 minute drive to Howard Springs Quarantine centre for the next two weeks, a phase of our journey that provided the opening for my next instalment.
Until then thank you for being with me thus far.