The Java sea around here is strewn with FADs (fish aggregation devices although we reckon the A stands for aggravation) made at best from a raft of wood with a prominent flag or palm branch and a light but often consisting of a few long lengths of fat bamboo tied together, the only indication there is any obstacle in the water being a few small birds standing atop of one end. During the day there may also be one or two smaller fishing boats nearby trolling lines around the FAD. All this combined with the big boats and their lengthy nets plus tugs towing empty barges from Java towards Kalimantan calls for keen eyed watchkeeping both night and day. No longer are Temptress’ crew able to sit and read undisturbed for hours on end as we did on our long Pacific passages.
If you wonder how effective a FAD is then this morning’s encounter may help. We passed close to what appeared to be a lump of polystyrene wrapped in a tarpaulin anchored in some 64m of water. No bigger than a large barrel it was being circled by a huge marlin the tip of whose dorsal fin stuck at least 30 cm out of the water. Obviously the marlin had decided this was a good spot for a midmorning snack! Thankfully it didn’t chase after our tatty pink trolling fish lure as the lure would have surely been lost for good.
The local small craft are unique – about 8-10m long, sleek wooden boats, white painted often with a shade/rain cover aft over the engine box and a yacht like bow that curves upward to keep the worst of big waves out of the boat. From a distance when not fishing they appear to have a mast but it is actually two trolling outriggers that can be lowered on either side of the boat, though as most also have a small sail wrapped around a set of spars the outriggers may do double duty as a mast when their engine fails. Often in the well of the boat there are a few fish traps too. Indonesia has a 180 million population and we are coming to think there are as many boats!
Saturday dawned grey and stormy skies. It rained hard during the skippers last watch of the night but he did manage to sail for an hour or so on the winds induced by the thunder storms going on off to the east and the west. Less than two hundred miles to Belitung. All this motoring is tedious and the heat generated by the engine is not only warming the water in the cold tanks either side of it but also making the boat uncomfortably hot too. Preparing meals has become a sweaty chore. This morning’s rain was a bit of a relief, cooling everything down temporarily. We flogged the clocks to Western Indonesian time UT-7, they’ll have to go forward again when we reach Singapore.
A thundery wet night for odd things
Heavy rain was the theme for the night watches on Saturday through to Sunday morning though first we had the weird experience of another inventive form of fishing; anchor your large fishing dhow/sampan in thirty metres, light it up like the Blackpool Tower with all the illumination stretching bow to stern pointing downwards and suspend poles from the stern and from the bow like a huge bat. We couldn’t figure out what was hung from the poles – prawn nets, tuna lines or something else entirely? As darkness fell we became aware of possibly a couple of hundred of these floating lights around us. The loom of their orange lights on the stormy clouds above were like footlights around the rim of the circular stage Temptress was traversing. As we left some behind rows more appeared on the horizon ahead. Oddly we hardly had to alter course for any but the first couple. Their crews like us were in for an uncomfortable dark dank night as downpour after heavy downpour of thundery rain moved across the Java Sea from Borneo south to Java. The sea surface in these relatively shallow waters became a choppy mess.
Lightening lit the saloon as the bleary eyed new watch scrambled into their clothes and oilies. The off watch came down dripping from yet another torrential soaking, grateful for a dry bed in the warm. By dawn we had reached the far side of the ASL (archipelagic shipping lane); the skipper drew the short straw so getting to play chicken with a couple of supertankers and a barge being towed by a tug in the course of thundery heavy rain that seriously reduced the visibility. His solution was to turn the boat down wind to wait the ships out resulting in rain being blown down the hatch, forming puddles on every companionway step.
As the daylight returned the thick black thunder clouds moved off leaving Temptress motoring (yes we have motored most of the hundred plus miles from Bawean) in drizzly rain with the occasional rumble of thunder off to port (Java). In the stormiest moments the wind rose to a good force four, ideal sailing but with the wind angle variegated almost by the minute as each downpour passed and between the rain hardly any breeze at all. Coping with such variation would have required both of us on deck all night trimming sails and there is still a long way to travel before we can relax and make up for lost sleep.
Sunday morning coffee rantings
Making an early morning coffee I sought out a pack of gingernuts from the ships stores fancying something to tide me over to breakfast. The front of the Australian packet declared “Now may contain tree nuts” in capitals with the latter two words in bold, in black rimmed circle – has the manufacturer deliberately added a new allergen or is this some faddish new ingredient I should have been desiring? Reading the allergy advice on the back it seems it is the former – a warning that my morning biscuit may be contaminated with tree nuts… tree nuts? What’s wrong with the single word “nuts” and why the promotional style wording in the white disc on the front of the pack? “All new – get your strychnine here!” Australia you seriously should think where you are heading!
Sadly and more seriously I also realised I have bought a product containing palm oil and though the ginger nut packaging declares “contributes to the production of sustainable palm oil” it doesn’t make it clear what the biscuits contain. As the certification of sustainability is so misused I try to avoid even products that claim it. The haze we have experienced as Temptress has sailed through Indonesia has not been as bad as that we suffered in Singapore last year but we have seen enough burning hillsides to know deforestation by burning is still happening on a huge scale; destroying animal habitats and almost bringing to extinction the orangutan. I for one try to avoid purchasing anything containing palm oil in any of its guises whether it’s biscuits, snacks, shampoo or shower gels. If in doubt a product usually doesn’t make it to the shopping basket. Could be why the skipper doesn’t like shopping with me!
The wind began to rise as it did so the mainsail leech decided to flutter, not a good thing as it can destroy the trailing edge of the sail. It’s easily fixed but as it requires someone to leave the cockpit to tighten the eponymous leech line where it comes down the luff (mast) edge of the sail the offwatch needed to be woken from his lie in at 08:00. The leech was quickly fixed but the weather now looked ominous. Within half an hour the wind was gusting occasionally over fourth knots. Time to take the main down.
Temptress was turned up to windward, Kevin let the halyard go whilst I climbed the mast step to pull the last of the main down onto the untidy heap now piled in the lazyjacks. Then the two of us worked quickly together to tie everything to the boom. Job done we retreated to the shelter of the bimini just as the rain came in with a vengeance. Over an hour later it was still raining heavily with visibility down to probably half a mile when we saw the ghostly outline of a ship pass in front of us. A near miss no thanks to us, rather belatedly the radar went on but apart from now being able to track Temptress’ progress through the heavy rain nothing else was seen. A rogue ship just north of the ASL served as a reminder not to be complacent.
The rain eased a little and the sky brightened long enough for the skipper to produce a tasty Sunday brunch of fried potato, fried bread, fried eggs and baked beans then we heard the rumble of thunder and the rain closed in again. Fifty miles to our waypoint at the north east corner of Belitung and some twenty miles from the tiny islands scattered along its eastern shore. Hopefully somewhere amongst them we can find a quiet anchorage to sit out this weather and if tomorrow is clearer make our way round to Tg Kelayang tucked away among the reefs and granite rocks on the north coast where we hope to find fuel replenishments and perhaps a little Indonesian cafe. We may even be able to visit the 130 year old Palau Lankaus lighthouse.
It was half past three when we finally spotted land, still raining but the clouds had lifted just enough for the outline of a corner of Belitung to appear as a dark smudge. It has never really got light today and despite the heat feels much as a dreary wet November’s day in the UK usually does, damp, depressing and miserable. Temptress crew were less than enthusiastic about life in a steamy damp Java Sea. I retreated to the saloon for most of the afternoon to read a travel story about a trio of women backpacking in Peru. The skipper attempted to top up the fuel tanks struggling with a recalcitrant filler cap and then a can of what appeared to be more water than fuel. He gave up as a job for the morning. We concentrated instead on finding a spot to anchor safely for the night.
We dropped the hook off the island of P Bukulimau just outside the mass of dozens of moored fishing boats. These craft had huge outriggers suspended from a pair of stumpy masts, hanging from the wooden framework were lamps and sitting atop of it privative wooden capstans for rolling nets or lines, the massive outriggers dwarfed the colourful slender craft that supported them. The skies cleared as darkness fell, finally Temptress’ decks began to dry. Ashore the tiny island was lined with blue walled houses built on stilts dotted about with dark green trees, a restrained iman made the dusk call to prayer; the whole place appears very exotic even for Indonesia.