Poled out genoa

Passage to Belitung

15 – 20 September

Hunting down the monsoon

So what was over our four and a bit days at sea like? Here is part one of the trip….

Day 1 – Sunday

Having left Mamuju as planned at 7am on Sunday 15 September our first challenge was to find some wind. To that end the skipper set a course more south than west almost parallel with the Sulawesi coast. During the morning wind off the mountains gave us 40 minutes or so of sailing but it wasn’t the monsoon tradewind we were looking for and quickly died away. All day we motored, slowly shaping our course south-westward towards the waypoints. With a good knot of current in our favour sometimes two Temptress made great progress. Our next challenge was crossing the Archipelagic Shipping Lane or ASL, busy with empty ships heading south to Australia and full ones north to the Philippines and China. 

Passing well to the south of our first couple of waypoints Temptress finally found what she needed, ten or fifteen knots of SE monsoon around sunset. With some of the gennie out she kicked up her heels and took off at over six knots. By the time we came to change over watches at ten pm it was time to drop in the second reef. We were sailing flatter but with little reduction in speed.

Day 2 – Monday

A full moon and a warm breeze over a fairly flat sea made for pleasant night sailing. However it didn’t last, despite the forecast the wind died away and we were back to motoring. During Monday the crew tried a couple of times to unfurl the genoa and sail but the wind was definitely not with the programme. As we neared Pulau Laut off the south east tip of Borneo suddenly the skipper’s phone began to chirp, it had a signal and was busy downloading WhatsApp messages. Javerne had found themselves far too far west and with renewed engine problems had decided to skip Lombok in favour of Belitung, could we send them the coordinates for our planned anchorage there please? We forwarded that plus those that roughly described our route. 

A second message from them indicated that on Sunday morning they’d been approximately where we currently were so we motored over to peek in the little bay on the west side of Pulau Karayaan. No sign of Javerne. The Mutiara Sentosa II, a large passenger ship or may be a ferry crossed behind us and hailed Temptress. It’s been a while since a friendly radio operator wanted a chat. Switching to VHF10 we exchanged pleasantries, he asked where we were headed and wished us a safe passage. I responded with a ‘good watch’ and the ship carried on slowly north up the strait. 

Later as the first mate was busy in the galley cooking supper the monsoon wind finally decided to show up, finally we became a sailing boat. By nightfall a few furls in the gennie were considered prudent and at 5 am on Tuesday we dropped in the second reef. For the next few hours until daylight we were content to head twenty or so degrees south of our proper course, anything closer could risk an accidental gybe, too dangerous a risk. 

The night under the full moon proved a little chilly, an extra layer is needed. A thin long sleeved cotton shirt over my t-shirt and shorts suffices. Down below it’s possible to sleep without a fan blowing a cooling breeze, a tropical first. 

Day 3 – Tuesday

Once the sun was up and coffee drunk, the skipper took a lump hammer and WD40 to our recalcitrant spinnaker pole jaws to free them from the salt. Then, fixing the pole in place off to port with an extra guy, we altered course to starboard fifteen degrees, bringing the gennie through the forestay so it was held out like a wing on the opposite side to the main sail. Goosewinged and on a course closer to the bearing to the waypoint (BTW, commonly called butt-er-wuh by the crew), life was at a much more comfortable angle to the waves. 

The Java Sea is not wide enough for an ocean swell, rather it has a large half a metre to a metre high chop predominantly from the south east but with plenty of other directions going on too. Sailing with it coming up behind is fine; on the beam as it had been most of the night it’s horrid, rocking the boat and everything in it every which way. Tea-towels, oven gloves and pan holders are now stuffed in odd corners to stop rattling bottles and jars, rather than hanging from their hooks. The spirits rack is full of beach towels!

In the early morning light the sea is a rough surface of steely blue, flecked with the white of breaking wave tops. Beaufort classified the wind that makes this as a Force 5, a wonderful sailing wind. The sun rises into a pale blue sky dotted with cotton wool clouds. This is our world, warm with a cooling breeze as we lounge in the shade of the bimini. Every so often a larger, out of step wave heaves up the port quarter causing Temptress to lurch to starboard. Just as it seems we’ll not return to vertical, the wave, faster than our six plus knots, slides away to starboard, righting the boat and breaking into nothingness with a muted roar. We slip forward into the flat water left behind with a rush. Down below in lockers things clatter and clink as the boat rolls. Somehow through it all the square melamine bowl with a few citrus fruit and the last apple stays firm on the saloon table, the centre line of the boat rarely tilting more than a few degrees. Passage making is solitary but never silent or still. 

Almost halfway, making good progress with a knot or so of current pushing us onward on top of our boat speed. With 400nm to go, we hope to arrive on Friday, may be even Thursday though we will have to slow down at the present rate as we won’t make a landfall in the dark. Saturday morning seems good to both the skipper and the navigator. The rhythm of life at sea is settling in, three hour watches between dusk and dawn or rather at the current ships time (GMT-7), seven pm to seven am. We thought about switching to western Indonesian time, an hour back, but decided to wait til we land in Belitung. 

During daylight hours we take it turns to snooze in the cockpit, prepare meals, boil the kettle or refill water bottles. Yesterday I finally finished Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name Is Red’, a great story but at times a convoluted read that I was determined to complete. Then I picked up Sinead Moriarty’s ‘Secrets and Lies’ which Karin had left for me. Another great story but in complete contrast a very easy beach-lit read, finished by nightfall! Two more real books left in my book pile then back to my Kindle reading list. 

Looking back through the ships log this morning, Tuesday, I was amused to see Temptress is due south of Miri Marina where we were back in late June! Also we are 108 nm north east of Bawean where we anchored on our way through Indonesia in October 2016. 

Sometimes you wonder about a ship’s watch keeping. The Bahari 21 (callsign PORH, MMSI 525000010) appeared on the horizon on our bow, doing about the same speed as us so we’d meet in less than ten minutes. With her course almost a reciprocal to ours, we would pass too close for comfort. The skipper tried to raise them three times using the handheld VHF then again three times from the main set, no response. We altered course to cross their bow and pass the small cargo ship port to port. Whilst putting the kettle on for a late elevenses I tried them again, nothing. Are they really steering on autopilot with no one on watch? Or are they arrogant enough to think that colregs don’t apply?

Tuesday noon saw one our best noon to noon runs at 169nm! The POS Logistics 1, a huge and in ballast, bulk carrier passed us heading east and acknowledged the skipper’s call advising them of our intentions. Later it was our turn for poor watch keeping when we realised that the fishing boat we’d assumed was steaming away from us, got very close, very quickly. They were hauling their trawl net and effectively stationary though bucking up and down in the swell as if they were moving faster than Temptress. A quick alteration of course kept us clear but at eight knots the gap had closed quicker than either of us had expected. A lesson to keep a closer eye on things. The rest of the day passed without incident. I started and finished another weepy book M L Stedman’s ‘The Light Between The Oceans’. Tomorrow I really must do something other than reading before I run out of books!