Monday, July 23, 2012

Darwin to Dili, East Timor

Breaking news........................................


Welcome back to our blog dear readers and you may need to put the kettle on for this one because a lot has happened and there is much to tell, but, I’ll keep it tight. Well.......where should we start?

The last week in Darwin was the culmination of months of planning and preparation and I won’t bore you with the details. You would not believe the myriad of STUFF that has to be done, a lot of it paper work to do with visas, final clearances, duty free and then there was Motley’s contribution of shots and final vet checks. Her paper file is nearly as thick as ours. Still, we have done everything asked of us in terms of her transit through SE Asia and so far so good.  The final briefing at Darwin Sailing Club from Anne Kemp, the rally organiser, was thorough and she left the room buzzing with excitement. The barbecue that followed was excellent and the speeches short. We were wished well many times and with a big sail looming most crew headed back early to our out posts in Fannie Bay for our last sleep before the 11 o’clock start next morning.
Checking through the aid that we transported to Dili

The winds were light and after enduring continual south easterlies for the past months, today it decided to shift north west, you guessed it, right on the nose. This proves the fact that the windex on top of the mast is there not only to show wind direction but preferred course. Still, it was light. The Doc had a minor incident when on raising the main (yes RJ, I know what you’re thinking) I saw that the slides had slipped out of the track and needed to be pushed back up. This means holding a big main up with one hand while slotting slides in with the other and then pulling halyard up with your third hand. DIANA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So there was The Doc, sitting into the wind with no one on the helm, seconds from the start with the main slowly reaching skywards. We got it up OK with time to spare and then we turned out attention to the start. A quick look at the clock down below confirmed it was indeed 11 o’clock, if not a tad past said hour, so we eased her bow across the line, gave the media/start boat a loud farewell and we were off on a 435 nm sail across Timor Sea and into the safe harbour of Dili, Timor-Leste. We are not known for our competitive starts and what the hell, we were in the cruising division.
Glassed off start line
Flying the flag

OK, how to summarise a 4 day, 4 night sail in a few words. No wind, 40kt 2hour storm cell, 25kts from behind and 3.5 seas, no wind, short rain squalls, 25 knots and finally variable 5-15 knots from behind with a 2 knot current against us for the last leg from Jaco Island along the north coast of Timor-Leste to Dili. Your first thoughts even for those non- sailors out there would be, gee, a mixed bag of conditions and yes dear readers, a mixed bag pretty much sums it up. Mixed bags are not ideal sailing conditions and this was not an ideal sail. With such shifting winds it was impossible to get your allotted 3 hours off watch sleep as we both needed to be on deck to drop this sail, put up this other one, turn motor on turn motor off, stow everything down below before storm the hit, check for shipping in this busy sea way and generally have two sets of eyes and hands at the ready. As the days wore on and sleep deprivation set in, things became harder and dreams just a little surreal.
It's a tough life cruising
First sunset

The Storm Cell

Before we left Darwin we had fitted a new, state of the art, radar and chart plotter system and it earned its 10 boat units price tag this night. The wind had dropped out and the main was doing its slip slap slop routine and to those familiar with this thwack, shudder, slam boom symphony, they will also know that sustained exposure can lead to unhealthy thoughts concerning just how long it’s worth living. We dropped the main and the silence was like 2 Panadol on a pumping headache. Ahhh, peace....but not for long. Suddenly, our radar screen started showing patches of yellow vomit signifying squalls that were drifting nearer and nearer our boat. The first two seemed to float past and we sat and stared and sighed in relief. Then, just on the edge of the screen a faint shape that filled the whole screen began to move in from the right of the screen. It started out whitish blue but soon turned that lurid yellow and there it was a massive storm cell that was 9 miles long and 2 miles wide. There was no escaping this one. Suddenly a voice comes through on the radio.

“Securite, securite, securite.  This is the yacht Babar, we are currently experiencing 40 knot winds and torrential rain with this storm cell. Advise all yachts to reduce sail and prepare wet weather gear.”

Thanks Dan. We had dropped our main and just had the headsail out, had wet weather gear on and had stowed all gear with wash boards in place. Motley didn’t think it was too serious so she just snuggled deeper into her cushion under the dodger and watched through the window. Diana went below and I squeezed into the corner of the cockpit and watched as it went over us. The funny thing is that the stronger the wind the better the conditions. The peak of the gusts actually blew the sea flat and with the pouring rain it was like sailing on a lake. The Doc topped 9.8 kts at one point and it was like we were floating over the sea. I watched the radar like the shipwrecked watch the horizon and slowly this big ugly yellow splotch lurched and spilled itself sideways and off the screen. It was now about 0300 and with no moon the only light came from the phosphorescence off breaking waves and these seemed to be getting louder and longer. Welcome to the 3.5 m following seas and 20-25kts that came in the aftermath. With only the headsail up, we dipped and lurched into every trough and then soared down the following face. We desperately needed some main up but it was unsafe to go forward and it was now I wished we had a furling main. Still, we were making reasonable speed at 5-6 knots and the autopilot, something we both speak about with religious reverence, was taking it well.

It was horrible to be trapped in the cockpit knowing that a double reefed main would steady the boat and allow The Doc to sail as she does so well. I ventured forward on one attempt but found the slides had come out again and the halyard was tangled around the spreaders and so crawled back to the cockpit. Conditions improved a little and I got it sorted on a second attempt and with the reefed main and full jib. The Doc started to sail at last instead of lurching from one wave to the next. She seemed to pick up speed immediately as if to say, “When will you two learn”?????”
First sight of Timor

A lot happened on this sail and mindful that blogs should be short (yeah right) I’ll move on. The sail along the north coast of Timor- Leste was stunning. As the day broke, low cloud hung in white shrouds against the deep blue and purples of the steep faced mountains that make up most of this island. We had a fickle following wind and occasional rain squalls and a 2 knot contrary current, so we dropped and packed the main away, put on the motor and ghosted along with the headsail nicely filled. We’d had enough. No proper sleep in 4 days makes decision making almost comical and possibly dangerous so we put The Doc in auto mode and enjoyed the ride. There was some mention of a spinnaker but as is always wise when you think spinnakers, it never got any further than a mention. (You had to be there RJ)  It really is a spectacular island and we loped along all day and into the night chewing off the miles towards Dili harbour. We finally got in at 0515 and picked up a mooring in the tiny and crowed anchorage.

Tradition on The Doc is that any arrival is celebrated with a beer, no matter what time of day. Out came the cold cans and we toasted to our first international sail and a successful completion of a long and arduous trip. We were in the mood and so a glass of wine was next, mine a fullish red and Diana’s a crisp white. With these two quickly downed you would think sleep would be calling like a soft lullaby but no dear readers; there was one final brain dead moment to come. With my red almost finished Diana declared we are too close to another boat and we need to move moorings NOW. OK, I’ll go forward and throw off the mooring line and we can SIMPLY motor over to that other one. Mooring line off, I’m standing on the bow and we are slowly drifting back away from the long tailing line. Let’s speed things up. Try a little reverse, I say, and before the words are out and before gear lever has been touched I know this will end in tears. It does. The mooring wraps itself firmly around the propeller and we are hanging precariously by the propeller shaft in a tiny crowded anchorage.

In my sleep deprived and possibly half drunk state of mind I am determined, obsessed even to remedy this NOW. Before you can blink, I am in Speedos (it was dark, OK) face mask fitted and dolphin torch in hand with knife wrapped around the other. Over I go and the water is balmy warm and the clarity excellent but it’s still pitch black. With dolphin torch tucked up under neck and one hand secured to prop I start to unravel the line but it’s tight so I cut off the float to allow more room. It pops to the surface and I retrieve it and swim it back to Diana who is quietly thinking through insurance possibilities and range of coverage if found to be under the influence of alcohol.....??? I go back down and it slowly begins to loosen and the tail is getting slowly longer. Suddenly a zodiac appears and two Timorese guys come over and I tell them my tale. One asks for a mask and within seconds he is over and under with me and we manage to free the line with no loss of mooring or damage. I get back on deck and dry off when suddenly I hear a cry from another boat,

“Don’t you know there are crocs in the harbour?  A 3 metre one lives just over by the wall.”

I don’t have mental faculties to actually deal with this information at the time and have no reply other than to stare back and smile like an idiot. And so ends the sail from Darwin to Dili. We have been here about 5 days and have just finished the formalities of the rally. The Doctor finished second overall on handicap in the cruising division (well done skipper) and picked up a fine trophy and $900 in prize money, half of which we have given back to a University scholarship program which sponsors Timorese students through university education. It costs just $40 per student so we are pleased to be able to help in this small way.

Dili is a bustling city full of contrasts from palatial government buildings to the dusty shacks of the poor. Yellow taxis fill the streets and bargaining a fare is in itself half the fun of the ride. Food is cheap and the locals friendly and helpful. It’s the contrasts that linger when you try and paint a picture of this city. There are roads and they are usually full of traffic, mostly motorbikes of all sizes with a smattering of newish four wheel drives. But mostly people just walk or sit around under shade with no particular purpose in mind. The roads are fine, in places, but then they deteriorate into what you would call road works in progress. There is one set of traffic lights that we have seen and they are more of a hindrance to traffic flow than a help. There are no road rules here, you just go with the flow, show patience and make ample use of the horn. There are street sellers everywhere but they are not too pushy. Perhaps the most memorable moment so far was our visit to the Independence Museum, an old restored Portuguese building dedicated to the Timorese fight for independence. We had a young guide who talked us through the pictures, timelines and written documents and he had lost family members to the Indonesian oppression. The Indonesian army, he said, would knock on a front door, enter and remove a father, a son or an uncle for no apparent reason and these people would never be seen again. He spoke of the real terror, the real fear and heartbreak these people have experienced in their fight and the more he spoke the more I sensed what it must have been like to live through these times. He finished quietly and gave us humble thanks for being there and listening to his story and just for a moment I glimpsed what a nightmare military oppression and brutality must be and what profound damage it causes. The building is a monument and a celebration to the Timorese struggle and their courage to endure and for me it was a profoundly moving experience. Today is our first rest day after numerous festivities since arriving, and we are catching up on blogs, sleep and “little jobs”.  We will head over to Atauro Island next week for some diving and exploring and then head towards Kupang, our clearing in spot for Indonesia. So stay tuned for the next instalment from Kupang. Bye for now, Rob  
Darwin Dili Rally Headquarters

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic writing Dianna, just cannot stop reading about you wonderful adventures!