Passage to Belitung 2

Part 2 of our four day passage from Mamuju, Sulawesi to Kelayang, Belitung

Navigation challenges and more colreg offenders

Day 4 – Wednesday 

The first mate was rudely awoken towards the end of her 10pm to 1am off watch by a large ferry Bahari Indonesia (and yes it really was a similar name to yesterday’s offender), calling the skipper and asking what Motor Vessel Temptress’ intentions were as he was overtaking us! Kevin was patient with the guy pointing out that three times already the big ship had altered course towards us as they came up behind us forcing Sailing Yacht Temptress to alter course too. By then the ship was shining a laser light at Temptress which Kevin asked them not to as it was killing his night vision. Eventually the Bahari accepted the skipper’s request that they turn to port and as I finally gave up any pretence of sleeping and came on deck, the ferry headed off to about a mile south of us before resuming a parallel course. Another ship with no idea of the colregs with regards to motor vessels versus yachts (the motor vessel has to give way) or what to do if overtaking (the overtaking vessel has a duty to keep clear). 

Finally we seem to have a clear patch with no fishing vessels too. The wonder of the large Indonesian wooden trawlers is that you see none during the day then at night you find yourself surrounded by their lights of which they have many and varied. A loom of yellow usually stretches around the horizon as far as you can see. Closer too they often have dazzling deck lights brighter than their navigation lights plus a variety of flashing colours. Fortunately these wooden leviathans, whose closest relative is probably a trading dhow with a similar high curving bow and a wide solid stern, move slowly so avoiding them Is easy. Occasionally we come across one in daylight anchored in impossibly deep water, the crews’ laundry flapping from lines strung between bow and the big steering house. They are usually painted in pastel blues or greens with detailing in reds and yellows. Though essentially a trawler the cabin top may be piled high with fish traps or spare nets, the Indonesians are expert at means of sieving the sea.

Mid-afternoon, as we approached our waypoint south of the Fox sand banks which in turn are off the south west corner of Borneo a myriad of fishing boats appeared. These sandbanks extend some forty odd miles offshore so we were a bit surprised. Drawing closer we counted at least two dozen, all at anchor in over 30m of water and bucking like broncos. Judging by the arrays of lights and bamboo poles sticking out like spiders legs they fish for squid but not at present; now it seems the crews were entertaining themselves with drunken singing on VHF16. Eventually we either passed out of reach of their radio or it ran out of battery. Peace reigned once more. 

Clear of the sandbanks, the wind wouldn’t really permit Temptress to sail the course we planned.  Having agreed there were other routes through the islands and reefs off Belitung we bore away around ten degrees on a starboard tack towards the west. This was as much as we could without being dead down wind which could lead to an inadvertent gybe as Temptress slide off a wave. It was still a good angle to the seas and only a few degrees off course. Plenty of miles to go before we need to alter course or install wheels. 

We are making excellent progress, if we can repeat today’s noon to noon run of 175nm, Temptress could arrive off Kelayang tomorrow afternoon as there’s only around that sort of distance to go sailing the direct course. However sailing is rarely so predictable for a number of reasons. First the monsoon wind is not permitting us to head directly to where we want to go, ten degrees difference over 90 nm would be along way off course. Second I’ve no idea which direction the current that is giving us an extra knot sometimes two, will head once we are clear of Borneo or it might disappear completely. Thirdly as we come out beyond the end of Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo) will the monsoon turn more east as it blows up the gap between Borneo and Sumatra? The final variable is that once we reach the north western corner of the island of Belitung, land will lie between us and the monsoon meaning we will be sailing slower, may be motoring.

Day 5 – Thursday

By the early hours of Thursday, some answers were becoming clearer. The wind had become more easterly and there was less of it. The best course we could sail was now due west and with the reduction in speed it seemed unlikely that we will reach our destination before dusk today. At the 1am watch change we decided to wait until daylight to gybe onto a more northerly heading. One good thing with less wind, the wave size had shrunk a little so life on board Temptress was a little less rolly, a little more comfortable. 

At the previous watch change the skipper had had to go on deck to re-attach the lower end of the inner forestay, which when not in use is attached to the forward shroud plate. The inner had been clanging around for half an hour or so, bashing the spreaders, I’d thought it was simply loosening it’s adjuster but a close inspection revealed the strop that tied it down had rotted through. Under its anti-chaff leather cover, it was literally hanging by a thread. A simple task to replace the string but not so easy when the deck is bucking around and the only light is a head torch. (We always wear life jackets and are clipped on at night and our boat rules also state no going out of the cockpit without the other person being on deck too). Another job for the boat list will be to make a new strop.

We’d crossed the busy shipping lanes that run between between the South China Sea and the Sunda Strait during the early evening without incident. From here few ships would be following us into the waters off Belitung’s east coast which are dotted with rocks, reefs and islands and I might add subject to a chart note that essentially says they are also poorly surveyed. An additional challenge is that most navigation aids in Indonesia bear no resemblance to those charted, hence the light supposedly visible for twelve miles on Karang Batuan simply wasn’t at 3am when Temptress was seven miles away. 

Eventually we gybed at 05:30 between the reefs and onward. Then at 09:59 I looked from my crochet and off to port was the unmistakable grey smudge of a hill in the distance. Land Ho! was muttered quietly for the skipper was sleeping.  Quite shortly after, the hive mind that is Temptress’ crew both decided it was time to gybe again as we worked our way through the off-lying islands and reefs. We left the gennie where it was then, furling it for the following gybe and didn’t bother unfurling it. The wind slowly became lighter. Eventually when the speed dropped to five knots we finally moved the pole back to the port side and poked out the gennie again. When we’d done moving lines and pole and sail Temptress was almost sailing the course to the next waypoint! Who needs a gym when you have a sailing boat.

On the east coast of Belitung is a little oil terminal (palm oil?) close to a bay Teluk Pering. From the chart it looked a likely spot to spend the night. Sadly as we approached in the early afternoon it was obvious from the pale colour of the water that the bay was shallower than the chart indicated. It looked rough in there too with white caps on the pale stuff so a couple of miles out we abandoned the idea of a stop over and motored out again. Motoring back towards deep water with the main up and some current gave us a good eight knots over the ground. After a quick calculation we realised we were in with a fighting chance of reaching Kelayang before nightfall, and we did arriving at six thirty pm! 750nm in four days and eleven and a half hours of great sailing. Incredibly we have now covered 1300nm since leaving Tawau at the end of August.

We were just getting into the stride of watches and life at sea (I’d even managed a shower yesterday, sliding around on the seat in the heads endeavouring to keep the bottles of shampoo and shower gel under control whilst cleaning off the salt and sweat) and now slightly regretfully we’d be back to harbour life. Even so it was wonderful to drop the hook tucked up behind the massive pink granite boulders and feel everything stop. Just a gentle rocking with the little swell that is working it’s way into the bay slip slapping at the stern. Lovely to see En Dian and Javerne already safely here and speak to their crews on the radio, we will catch up tomorrow. Pleasant to devour a Lamb Dopiaza for supper and feel the cool breeze. Time for a few days rest before the deciding where the next leg will take us.

Ships log: Mamuju to Belitung 750 nm