An Indonesian Atoll

Or an every day tale of sailing folk….

30 Aug – 3 September

Reports from Field Trip of a beautiful lagoon approximately halfway to Sulawesi followed up by a bit of online research which showed pictures of pale aqua water over white sand decided us that Maratua was worth a visit. Even if it was only half as good as the reports it would be a nice spot to spend a few days tidying the boat, doing the laundry and catching up on a few maintenance tasks. The problem was the wind; on a grey Friday morning we motored out of Nunukan into the rain and wind in the company of half a dozen or more boats.

On the positive side the spring tide was sweeping all along with it adding several knots to our speed but the force four or five from the SE kicked up a frightful chop over the shallow muddy orange waters. Deciding to save diesel, we unfurled the gennie, tacking first more south then back slightly north of east. When the wind headed us, we tacked again heading south of east almost pointing at our first way point, an isolated lump of rock or coral called Karang Banda that has a light on it. It was lumpy and slow going almost like being in the English Channel on a grey day but much warmer.

Once out beyond Banda the Celebes Sea deepens, the water finally turns blue as the river water is diluted away and with the tide slackening and the wind easing, conditions became calmer on Temptress. The Celebes Sea! A name that conjures up images of pirates and daring do. This  patch of water lying between Indonesia and the Philippines, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean is extraordinarily deep at several thousand metres, I looked it up and discovered it’s the remains of an ancient ocean lost in the movements of the earths crust! And how do you pronounce it; Celebs, Ce-le-bees or C-lee-bees?

Eventually the engine had to replace the gennie as the wind all but died away. Lunch was brown rice pasta (yes that’s right, fusilli made with rice flour) with fried salami, green pepper and garlic. The afternoons amusement was pulling the log to clear out whatever had taken up residence, a couple of barnacles it turned out. Suddenly our speed through the water improved immensely to over 4 knots! Then we panicked as the depth sounder showed just three dashes or flashed up twenty something metres briefly. The skipper racked his brains and checked connections to no avail for an hour or two until the penny dropped. For the first time since the instruments were replaced after the lightning strike in 2017 Temptress had sailed out of soundings. These new Raymarine instruments unlike previous ones don’t display ‘deep’ or the last depth flashing when the transducer can’t find the bottom!

As the sun started to go down we caught a big fish but sadly it broke the line, taking with it our newest rapala. A few masts are still in sight to the east, the AIS shows one to be the big catamaran Sharman, no other AIS transmissions except a couple of shore stations show up. Occasionally we hear one side of a VHF transmission, rarely both as boats closer to each other chat. For now Temptress’ crew are alone with our sundowners as a tasty sausage, potato and pumpkin supper cooks in the oven.

The idyllic lagoon

The night was uneventful, three or four ships crossing the Celebes Sea to or from the island port of Tarakan in Indonesia. The wind was up and down but usually on the nose so no opportunity to save fuel by sailing. The tide pushed us along which was useful. As the sun rose the yachts at the front were on the radio discussing the pass and anchoring inside. Before 9am Temptress was securely anchored in the lagoon at Maratua too. The scenery idyllic and turtles abound. The pictures were not lying!

After a second coffee we started our tasks; snubber on the anchor, anchor ball and light raised, cleaning the heads and sweeping and washing the cabin sole, laundry soaking. Two hours after we arrived, Temptress was smelling sweetly of lavender thanks to Redmart’s floorcleaner whilst the unwieldy teak grating from the forward heads was launched off the stern into the outgoing current for an extra rinse tied to ‘big red’ our all purpose ex-spinnaker sheet. The current created a bow wave on the triangular monster. I set to with the Sailrite to administer some repairs to the sailcover, a task that has been waiting almost a week during which I’d become heartily fed up of moving the untidy bundle of canvas every time we needed something out of a locker in the saloon. It was soon patched with seams resewn and back on the boom by lunchtime. Whilst the machine was out I repaired a pillowcase for Charmaine (Sharman).

Gathering crowd

In the anchorage by now were Il Sogno, Sharman, Gemini Lady, Kittani, Javerne, Ganesh, Umbra Luna and Psycho Puss. Mai Tai struggled in after 11, the by now strong current a bit too much for her engine as she made just 1 knot against it. After lunch two more arrived, Esoterica and Umbra Luna, all in all we are twelve boats –  seven Aussies, one each from the USA, New Zealand, France and Switzerland plus ourselves – an international company.

What are the chances of two Francophone boats meeting where both couples are Corinne and Michel and for the husbands to have birthdays on successive days at the end of August? This is Ganesh from France and Javerne from Switzerland who met at the start of the rally. On Saturday evening they held a potluck supper on board the catamaran Javerne for all of us to hep them celebrate the birthdays. It was a night to remember.

Sunday – more boats, more repairs

Sunday morning another batch of rally boats arrived – Field Trip, Ananda II, Illimité and Aquabago; all from the USA. Whilst others went off snorkelling, on Temptress we concentrated on getting the little jobs done so she is ready for the big trek to Langkawi and Thailand. A leaky forehatch received the skipper’s patent fix with silicone sealant, much easier than scrapping out the old seal and putting in a new one. We’ve been carrying round a replacement for years but it can wait a little longer. The guard wire rollers that help our big genoa pass over the guard wires when sheeted in were either replaced or returned to their proper positions with new tape applied to keep them there. The split pins at the gates were retaped with self-amalgamating tape to protect fingers.

I dug out the hide we bought in Morocco back in 2013 to make new covers over the guardwires where they join the pulpit at the bow. These stop the genoa catching on the fastenings. First though the leather needs washing to get rid of the excess dye which would otherwise rub off on the sail, I found out the hard way back when the sail was relatively new and the marks are still there. I made a new pattern from the tatty, worn through old pair as I couldn’t remember where I stored the original pattern. Once the leather had dried, it was a simple and quick task to cut out new shapes and hand stitch them in place using a Speedy Awl. Very satisfying.

The job list is still long with several tasks that can only be done from the water. The current where we are anchored is very strong for most states of the tide as well as coming from a variety of angles that make the boats dance around. Not a suitable spot to scrub the bottom or try to clean the topsides. Posting these blogs is also a challenge as the internet varies between no phone service at all and Edge with the occasional flash of 4G again depending on the tide and wind.

Starting to say farewell

Eventually the boats we have sailed with for the last few months will begin to part. On Monday we said goodbye to Ganesh who turns north from here to the Philippines. The weather has turned cloudy here after a windy night. There is a low building to the east of the Philippines, predicted to move northwards and strengthen over the next few days. It might just mean a spell of northerlies later in the week for us but for now it means winds are from the south so ideal for Ganesh’s passage. We wish them fair winds and Bon Voyage.

Late morning we finally got off the boat and took Sheila on an exploration. South of us across the reefs is a small island with a posh dive resort. In some shallow aqua coloured water in the lea of the island we had a bit of fun recreaing an image we’d found online of a lady suspended above the white sand on a lilo nearby. Afterwards we walked the ‘sand bar’ only to discover it is rock with a thin covering of sand as it is scoured by the fierce currents that race across it every tide. Sadly for the skipper the resort’s dive trips are priced beyond our frugal budget but we enjoyed chatting to the owners and some of the other crews who are going diving with them. Many of the dive sites around the atoll are on the outside so inaccessible by yacht or a small dinghy, the resorts larger long boats are ideal.

Turtles galore

Back in the dinghy we headed up the shallow channel beyond the island and spotted some turtles. A snorkelling opportunity we thought, however the turtles had other ideas and scarpered the moment we got into the water. Eventually we simply drifted over them in Sheila counting over forty! Carrying on round through the increasingly shallow water we disturbed several rays too. Eventually we’d circumnavigated the resort and returned to Temptress for a late lunch of bread and Sabah Honey. Today’s loaf was one of the best I’ve ever made, light and fluffy, possibly because I had been busy moving photos from cameras to the pc and forgotten it was rising.

As three of us – Javerne, Mai Tai and Temptress – are planning to sail down the west coast of Sulawesi in company we headed over to Javerne, the Swiss cat to discuss possible routes. Having asked Corinne if she could trim my hair she said ‘ Oui, why not now?’ So I found myself sitting on a stool on the back of the cat swathed in a white gown having my haircut with a glass of wine in my hand! Afterwards Corinne cut Charmaine’s hair too. It’s great to be neat and tidy once more and my neck is relieved to feel a cooling draft again. Meanwhile Geoff had a visit from some local uniformed officials including the Tourism Officer who was wearing flipflops with his khakis. Apparently we are all invited to a wedding at 9pm on Wednesday!

Projects completed

Tuesday was hot after the previous few cloudy, cooler days. The sun blazed and Temptress crew were indolent. The skipper screwed a few things back together; the boat job list is at the shortest it’s been for months. Most of the remaining 16 tasks require the purchase of something impossible to get in SE Asia so can wait until Temptress reaches Langkawi where we will order them in from overseas. I completed the narrow, pale green, irish lace shawl I’ve been knitting since April, then hung it from a washing line with loads of clothes pegs to block it. It was an enjoyable project but I’m glad it’s done.

More boats arrived – the big motor Australian boat Fiddler closely followed by two more Australian yachts, Halo and Our Odyssey. In the opinion of those who’ve been here a while they are anchored in the ‘wrong’ spot, though opinion is divided as to whether they’ll find the sand too shallow over the rock or whether the crazy tidal flows will send them dizzy, either way we are betting they’ll be moving to a quieter spot shortly, especially if it becomes windy overnight again.

A bunch of the crews finally headed off on a trip to swim with jellyfish trapped in one of the world’s few salt lakes. The boats had been booked for Monday but after hanging around for an hour it was postponed until Tuesday morning. We opted out and mixed reports came back so we were happy not to have expended any of our precious rupiah. Hopefully we’ll find an ATM somewhere down the coast before we need diesel. Side trips like this are often pricey for a frugal cruiser, tourists on holiday by comparison have almost limitless funds which are tapped efficiently by the locals.

Time to start south

Having originally looked at the weather forecast and decided Thursday was a good day to sail onward wind-wise, the collection of boats heading south then vacillated – Wednesday looked good too, then it was settled on Thursday a few hours later, until finally Lane suggested on Tuesday evening that Wednesday was a good day to motor south to the lee of the Borneo coast as there was little of the SE’ly monsoon most of the day. Then we’d be sheltered as we motored along that coast in a SSE direction before dropping off and across Selat Makassar to Pangalasiang island (referred to by all as that Panga-something place) on the Sulawesi side. There might even be a chance of some slightly more westerly wind to sail that last leg overnight. It was a plan that the skipper’s and navigators liked. We arranged to up anchor when the tide started to flow out of the atoll at around 8 am on Wednesday morning. Four boats are leaving – Il Sogno, Javerne, Mai Tai and ourselves. Two heading for Lombok or Bali and two of us for Langkawi.

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