Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finally Back in the Water

After nearly 6 months "on the hard" at Holiday Oceanview Marina, Samal Island, Mindanao, Philippines, we are back in the water. During the time we were hauled out, we spent 2 months working really hard on maintenance and improvements. The rest of the time we were traveling, including short trips to Hong Kong and Seoul South Korea, nearly 3 months in the US, and a 3 week trip to Cambodia and Thailand.

Headed Back Into the Water at Holiday Oceanview Marina

The primary impetus for the haulout, so soon after our last one, was continuing problems with the lower half of our SD20 saildrives. When we bought the boat, the saildrives had evidence of pretty severe galvanic corrosion, but we loved the rest of the boat so much that the alarm bells didn't ring loud enough. (We did get 3 years of use out of them.). But when we were in Indonesia last year, we continued to struggle with issues related to the corroded lower assemblies.

Dave thought that we could just buy the outer aluminum housing, and that would fix our primary problem. But Yanmar doesn't sell just the outer housing. So in September we bit the bullet and ordered 2 SD20 full lower assemblies. After checking with the Yanmar dealer in the Philippines, and pushing for a quote and delivery for nearly 2 weeks, we finally got a price (outrageous) and delivery "we don't know when we can deliver them". So, we finally ordered 2 new units from Mastry Engine Center in Florida, the SE USA Yanmar dealer.

We ordered the heavy bulky items to be shipped to my sister's house in Atlanta, so we could immediately arrange to ship them sea freight, so they'd be in the Philippines when we arrived back in December. But the customs laws were changing in the Philippines, and in September, when we arrived in Atlanta, it was uncertain whether we could ship them duty free. So then we decided we'd have to take them back in our luggage!!

By December when we arrived back at my sister's house to organize ourselves to fly back to the Philippines, we had received clarification on the shipping issue and decided to go ahead and ship them sea freight rather than trying to get them there in our fly-in luggage. In the end, they arrived in the Philippines intact, at a very reasonable rate, no duty required. But it took nearly 3 months for them to reach us in Davao. (We knew this when we made the decision to ship vs carry).

Meanwhile we had other projects to keep us busy. The biggest was "transom extensions" (aka enlarged swim platforms). We cruised last year in Indonesia with Ocelot, who had done this on their boat. Because we are "over design weight", the steps down the aft end of our two hulls are lower in the water than designed. The bottom step was always "a-slosh" resulting in rapid algae growth. No matter how often we scrubbed the top surface of the bottom step, it was always very slippery (and looked frightful too).

Original Stern on the Port Hull

So Dave and the marina carpenters designed and constructed a 1 foot extension on the stern on each hull that raised the lowest step to the height of the next higher step (about 6"). This did two things--make a nice wide, flat "landing area" on the stern; and raised the bottom step around 6", so it is no longer "a-slosh" when sitting at anchor in normal conditions. It also extended our waterline length another foot, but I'm not sure this is significant in a catamaran. It also added buoyancy to the aft end of the boat, so we weren't "dragging ass" so much.

The extensions were fashioned from boat construction foam and honeycomb, plus a little fiberglass and epoxy. The result was a very professional looking job and fabulous in form and function. Here is one picture of the end result:

Finished Swim Platform on the Port Hull

For a full set of photos of the extensions under construction, see this photo album: Aft Step Extension

A third major project we completed in January, while waiting for the saildrive parts to show up, was to build a big sturdy "helm seat" from the leftover foam we had from the extension project. The boat came with a low-end post-mounted wobbly plastic captain's chair. It wasn't high enough for me to see the bow of the boat (or ahead of the boat) while sitting down, and it was uncomfortably wobbly in a sea. That meant that I'd have to stand while driving (or sit in cheap wobbly plastic chairs we have on the wing deck). We had already done emergency repairs on it to make it last as long as it had.

Our friends on Tackless Too had a nicely crafted stainless steel "captains chair". custom made by a welding shop. It was gorgeous, but expensive, and heavy. Dave knew the marina carpenters could make us a great chair with our leftover foam. And they did!

Our New Spiffy Helm Chair

It was designed to be wide enough that the two of us can sit there comfortably and see what's going on at the same time. It is a fabulous addition to both comfort and safety underway. And though it looks very heavily built, the construction foam makes it very light. Plus we designed in ample storage for all our cockpit "stuff".

Meanwhile, my job was "Chief Purchasing Officer", "Expediter" and "Technical Research Officer". I spent a bunch of time on the computer sourcing both parts and information, arranging shipping, and tracking shipments. Of course, once the saildrives arrived, we found we were missing a couple of critical gaskets. So I had to find a source for them and get them to the Philippines "quickly". We ended up with 3 "rush" shipments in the end, for which we used a Philippine company called Johnny Air. They have offices in NY and California where you can send a package, and they handle the Customs clearance in Manilla and get it to us in Davao in a timely fashion (about 10-14 calendar days, usually). Neither DHL or FedEx are recommended for rush shipments of goods into the Philippines, as stuff gets tied up in Customs, sometimes for weeks and for hundreds of extra dollars in Customs and agent fees. Not sure how JohnnyAir manages, but they do.

If Dave needed to know how to do anything on the engines, or other projects, I searched online forums and Youtube for just the right information, and collated it all for him to use.

I also had a number of maintenance projects in the sewing arena. Our dinghy cover first purchased in Colombia in 2008 needed some more TLC. The sunbrella is good as a cover, but it does't hold up to the rugged use of the dinghy. Lots of plastic chafe protection added in various places, plus I had to completely rebuild the aft end of the tube covers. I also completely rebuilt/reinforced the mainsail cover/Stackpack. It needed a new 20-foot zipper plus needed a flap to cover the zipper so the UV doesn't get to it. And patches and restitching in several places. I added a second layer of cloth on the top flap of the stackpack, to provide more UV protections, and some reinforced drain holes in the bottom, so rain water wouldn't stand inside the cover.

My biggest project, which I put off and put off, because I knew it was going to be very difficult to do a good job, was to finish the cockpit enclosure I had started the year before. Before, I had done the easy part--roll-down sides--straight lines--easy peasy (but still took 2 weeks to finish). And the year before that, I had adapted the original front "window" part to our new hardtop. What was missing was the corner pieces. The way our cockpit is, there are complex curves in the corner everywhere, and I just couldn't figure out how I was going to shape the thing. It was a daunting project. But it had to be done, and there is no "canvas place" in Davao that I could hire to do it. Fortunately, my sewing friends on s/v Carina had told me that I should be using patterning material for jobs like that. So one of the shipments we got from the US was some more clear vinyl for the windows, and the patterning material and double-sided tape. Wow, that stuff is so easy to work with--after watching a 15 minute video by Sailrite, I was an expert. My corner windows turned out really well (for an amateur job).

Fortunately for me, because my sewing list was so long, there's a nice Filipino tailor with a sewing machine near the marina, and Dave gave him all the easy projects (the smaller stuff, covers, etc). Ariel the Tailor does great work. He did the cushions for the helm chair (above), as well as new covers for our Man Overboard Module, and the rope reel hanging off the stern rail, new windlass cover, and a "line bag" for the reefing lines under the boom.

Dave and his Filipino helper, Alex, also took the lids off all 14 hatches on the boat, and cleaned up everything, checked the locking handle mechanisms, checked the gaskets, and fixed the two leaky hatches.

Dave and Alex also replaced the 8 below-water through-hulls. The old bronze and stainless ones were looking pretty shaky, and a friend on another St. Francis warned us that his had crumbled in his hands when he tried to remove them. A couple of ours did the same! We replaced them with new composite through-hull and ball valve fittings from Tru-Design in NZ (sourced via Defender and shipped via JohnnyAir).

Old Corroded (Crumbling) Through Hull

Dave and Alex also did a bunch of preventive maintenance on the Yanmar engines, including rebuilding the raw water pumps, and mounting a matched set of new alternators with fancy electronic alternator regulators (designed to be compatible with a Lithium battery bank in the future). They also rewired a bunch of the start battery circuit to add an "always on trickle charge" mechanism for the start battery.

So, it was a very fruitful haulout. We were scheduled to launch March 15 during an appropriate high tide window. But we didn't get the final gaskets until a couple of days before that, and Dave and Alex still had to put the engines together!! Amazing that we could go in on the 17th, just 2 days late!! (Dave is AMAZING).

Whew! It's great to be floating again!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Panama Canal Costs - Updated 2018

We just had friends complete a Caribbean to Pacific transit of the Panama Canal, and they did a great post on their transit costs. Thought I'd put it in here for the record. Bottom line was just over $2,000 USD, including some crew visa costs now eliminated. Their boat measured out at just under 50 ft, just like ours did.

Totem's 2018 Panama Canal Transit Costs

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Rice Wine for "Out There" Cruisers

This is for our friends cruising in the Bahamas, central South Pacific, Indonesia, and any other cruising grounds in remote places without reasonably priced stocks of wine.

Another cruising boat we met last year, Gaia, from Holland, gave us this recipe, which they passed on from another cruising boat. I include below the original recipe, and then what we did that worked for us.

I had previously looked into "making wine" a bunch of times over the past 10 years of cruising. But the instructions always seemed so complicated. For example...there was a huge debate on the forums about which esoteric wine yeast to use. It always put me off. And who had wine yeast aboard when you got desperate for some wine? And, didn't it take 2-3 years before the wine was drinkable?

This recipe is diffent--so simple--and 2-3 weeks to yield drinkable wine. For a bottom-shelf wine drinker, with no other recourse to wine, it's a pretty good solution--extremely affordable, and the ingredients are probably already on your boat.

Why would we make our own wine? When we were in Tonga, a TERRIBLE bottle of white wine was $25 USD! (if you could find one). In Indonesia, at least in the outer islands, you can't find wine, at all. In the Bahamas, liquor is not bad, price wise, but beer and wine is outrageously priced. So here goes.. original "sailor's wine" recipe, and exactly how we brewed on Soggy Paws last year in Indonesia.

Sailors rice wine recipe (original recipe)

Rice wine recipe makes 10 litres
1 kg white rice, washed and skim off the bugs
2.6 kg sugar
12 litres water
2 teaspoons yeast

Add options:
2 handfuls of raisins
2 lemons thinly sliced

Other add options:
Cranberries instead of raisins
Cherries instead of raisins
Oranges instead of lemons
Pomelo (sweet grapefruit)

You have to find out the quantities and flavours you like best.

Stir daily.
Cover with cloth or wrapping plastic with an elastic. So air can go out if necessary, but not in. Fermentation takes +/- 2 weeks.
Siphon into sterilized bottles. Let sediment settle for several days till the liquid is clear. Siphon into serving bottles.

To sterilize the bottles:
Just 1 or 2 drops of Betadine(Iodine)in a cup of water. Just let it in the bottles and container till you start using them. Use more water and Betadine for your container.

Here is what we did on Soggy Paws last year in Indonesia.

For a gallon jug (US Measures)
1.5 cup rice
4 1/3 cup sugar
water to fill gallon jug
2 tsp plain old bread yeast
1 slice lemon or lime (or ~ tsp or 2 of some bottled lime or lemon juice)
7 cranberries or raisins mixed

Don't cook the rice, just rinse it enough to get the bugs out (if necessary), and throw all the ingredients together in your brewing container.

I brew in a 1 gallon apple juice container, with the cap on very loose, and sitting in the sink in the head. WARNING: Big problems if you tighten the cap too much--it definitely needs to be able to off-gas! I did have a one gallon jug that we tightened up the cap, and it got a little too excited and sort of exploded and made a mess in the head. The jug and fermentation is much more volatile early on, and then tapers off. So if you are sitting for a week, good time to start a new jug.

I brewed in my jug for 2 weeks exactly (I tape a piece of blue tape with the due date). I tighten the cap, shake the jug well, and then loosend the cap again, at least once or twice a day.

My Rice Wine Brewing Kit

When it came to "siphoning off" to bottles, I did that one time with a proper siphon hose and decided that was too much trouble. I ended up just pouring my 2-week-old fermented rice wine from the gallon jug into the "clarifying" bottles, gently, using a funnel, and leaving the sludge in the bottom of the jug. I did filter what I poured off through a fine-mesh plastic filter (a plastic filter, a little cotton cloth, or a paper coffee filter might work also). What I used is the red "filter" in the foreground in the picture. I labeled my clarifying bottles 1, 2, 3 because the first one was easier to keep the sludge out than the last one. The #1 clarifying bottle generally had a little less "sediment" in it, and took less time to clear up. (In the end, for a thirsty person, it didn't matter).

Once the very fine sediment falls to the bottom of the clarifying bottle, the wine looks clear, and looks very much like white wine. Then siphon or pour gently off to your serving bottles. It takes at least 3-4 days for the stuff to settle to the bottom of the clarifying bottles, and the milky wine to turn clear. But if desperate, you don't have to wait that long! Chill well, and it's a decent substitute for that evening glass of white wine.

I have found that I have quite a bit of left over rice in the gallon jug, which I rinse and re-used for the next batch, adding a bit more rice to make up the difference. I keep meaning to email Gaia to see if they do too, and whether that means I didn't do the ratios right, wrong rice, or whatever (but what I did worked, so...).

Also, my wine ended up a little sweet, almost like a dessert wine. But it is OK if you don't have anything else!! But while I had any other wine left, I mixed the rice wine with my remaining wine. Sometimes a brew was sweet enough that I added a little water. It always helps to chill it really well. But in my opinion, it was totally drinkable, and certainly better than paying $25/bottle for terrible wine.

My wine would probably be less sweet if I let it age a little, but it never made it that long...

Once I ran out of the wine I brought with me, I started making a 1 gallon jug every week or two. By the time I decanted it the gallon jug into "clarifying bottles", this turned into three 1 liter Paul Masson clarifying bottles. Once decanted to 750 ml "serving bottles" (leaving sludge in the bottom), it would make about 4 standard 750 ml wine bottles. With 2 1-gallon Jugs, and 3-4 Paul Masson bottles, I always had enough to share with my (also desperate) friends.

I never bothered testing the alcohol level--it was a good enough facsimile to wine that I wasn't worried about perfection.

I did use the Betadine method to sterilize the jugs and bottles.

Try it, and see how it works for you!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Updated Tuamotus Current "Guestimator"

Many thanks to both s/v Brindacier and m/v Starlet who both updated the tide tables in my old "guestimator" and sent in a copy. Both are included in the zip file, which can be found here:

Cruiser's helping cruisers--I love it!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


We're in the USA from mid September to mid December, and one of the things at the top of my TO DO list is to renew my USCG 100 Ton Master's license. It's quite a process and includes having to document my "at sea" time over the last 5 years (and make sure it adds up to 360 days or more). Fortunately, I have remembered to make a photo backup of our logbook for each year. So I had all the info I needed at my fingertips. If you don't have enough sea time, you have to take a class instead. Fortunately, our roaming around SE Asia has produced enough sea time to qualify.

In addition to the 5-page application and the sea time documentation, I needed to get a physical and a drug test, pay the US Government $140, and explain why I didn't need a Transportation Worker ID Card. Quite a process. Anyway, today I emailed the whole package as a PDF file to one of the USCG's Regional Exam Centers. This starts the process.

Last time I renewed, my package was rejected for several reasons and it took me nearly a year and several submissions to get my license renewed. Hoping I did a better job of preparing the package this time.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Doing Fine - Back in the Philippines

I keep meaning to get on with the remaining blog posts on our time in SE Indonesia, but we are back in the boatyard in the Philippines with a long list of projects, so I haven't got around to it yet. Hopefully I will soon.

Our current location is Holiday Oceanview Marina, Samal Island, Davao del Norte, Mindanao, Philippines, and we are fine and healthy. We had a great time cruising Indonesia--they have made amazing progess in making it easier for small private yachts to cruise their beautiful islands. The new boat performed exceptionally, well even in the leg from Halmahera to Bitung, N Sulawesi, where we were close-hauled in 40 knots of wind with opposing current. The new Soggy Paws is a dream to sail, though much less rugged than our CSY.

Blog Posts I'm missing so far:

- Coast hopping from Triton Bay to Misool
- Misool back to Bitung
- Bitung to Samal Island, Philippines

Our original plan was to spend the summer in Raja Ampat again, but in June we discovered that the new seals that Dave put in the saildrives were leaking, and the leak got progressively worse. To fix the problem, we'd need to haul out somewhere, and there isn't a reasonably-priced haulout yard in Eastern Indonesia. And Samal was only about 800 miles downwind, plus we could get much better provisions in the Philippines than in Indonesia. So we spent late June and July coast-hopping back to Samal.

We emailed the Oceanview Marina yard in early June and requested a haulout as soon as they could accommodate us near the end of July. The yard is chock-a-block (though the marina is not), but they managed to juggle spots in the yard to haul us out a few days after we arrived. We have pulled the saildrives apart and are now trying to source parts.

There is a Yanmar dealer in the Philippines, but they mainly sell tractors and not small yacht engines/saildrives. So after 3 weeks of trying to get some technical questions answered, and get a quote and availability for our saildrive lower units, we gave up.
We got the quote with "If the parts ship from Singapore, they will take 10-12 working days to arrive, if they ship from Japan, they will take 15-20 days to arrive, but there are none in either Singapore or Japan." WTF? After finding they'd have to ship the parts we needed from the US, we have decided to buy the parts from a US dealer. Due to the fact that the Philippines don't acknowledge "yacht in transit" status for duty, they may well come back with us in a suitcase! Note: Primary reason we are contemplating replacing the whole Lower Housing Assembly (aka Lower Unit) is that the aluminum housings are pitted from galvanic corrosion. We tried to repair them on our last haulout, but the pitting is bad enough that the seals weren't sealing well. Since we like to do the "far from everywhere" cruising, we feel it's best to replace rather than keep dealing with the issue, and risk a major problem somewhere where we can't deal with it.

While back in the marina and hauled out, Dave also decided to get the excellent fiberglass workers in the yard to make a 1 ft extension on our sterns. This is primarily to raise the bottom step. With a little too much weight aboard, our bottom step on the sterns were always wet, and grew slippery green slime at an amazing rate, making the step very dangerous. We are raising the bottom step to the level of the next step up, plus adding a foot, which will hopefully add some buoyancy back there. And it will make large flat landing area--good for a dive platform. The yard guys are nearly done with the project. Pictures soon!

I am meanwhile working down the fairly extensive list of canvas repair items and upgrades (bleah! I hate patching old canvas) Plus sourcing parts, googling for troubleshooting tips (Raymarine Wind Inst and Seatalk / PC connector), making travel reservations, updating Compendiums, and keeping in touch with our wide world of friends at home and in the cruising community. It's a full time job!!

We head home to the US in mid-September for a 2 month visit, with plans to try to see all our family, and catch the SSCA Annapolis Gam, Annapolis Sailboat Show, and Melbourne SSCA Gam (by car).

For several reasons, we have also decided to alter our 2018 plans. We will put our PNG/Solomons trip off for another year, waiting for a compatible buddy boat to make their way east from Malaysia to go with us. And it seems a shame to blast away from the Philippines without having actually cruised here. After watching our friends on Mokisha work their way through the central Philippines (on Facebook), it rekindled our interest in cruising and diving there. Plus there is a lot of "inland touring" in SE Asia we still haven't done. So our loose plan is to try to see maybe a little of Australia, and some of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam by land, and cruise central Philippines by sea.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Website Back Up!

Sorry everyone, my web host upgraded their servers and broke the web server that served the website. The site was down for several days. It seems to be back up now. Thanks for those who let me know.

I am still trying to update the backlogged posts and organize pictures to add to the posts Ive already posted on our eastern Indonesian adventures in the past 5 months. We are currently in Ternate (actually anchored in the neighboring island of Tidore), and leaving this morning for an overnight passage to Bitung. We plan to check out of Bitung in a few days and head north back to the Philippines, where we'll leave Soggy Paws for a trip home this fall.

Tidore, Halmahera, Indonesia

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Waterfall Bay, West Papua

We finally left Triton Bay, headed north, on June 29.

Waterfall by the Sea

Our first stop was "Waterfall Bay", 45 nm northwest of our jumping off point of Blumpot Bay in NW Adi Island. Friends had told us this was a very cool stop, because you can anchor right next to the waterfall that falls down into the ocean. Because it was SW monsoon season, this "off the waterfall" stop was probably not a viable overnight anchorage. But we had a potential anchor spot scouted by Ocelot, tucked up in the point near the waterfall.

We left early and made good time for about 3/4 of the way, but finally the wind died and we had to motor in. Fortunately, we arrived mid-afternoon and had plenty of time to look around. The potential anchor spot recommended by Ocelot was too constricted in our opinion--in a cut with fast flowing current in fairly shallow water. We backed out and started looking around. We ended up spending about 2 hours poking around. Everything we found was (typical in Indonesia), either too shallow or too deep, or too constricted by rocks/reefs. To complicate matters, there were a couple of fishing boats anchored around, and being by ourselves, we were a little leery of anchoring too close to them (security issues).

Indonesian Fishing Boats

We ended up anchoring at 03 55.27 S / 132 48.91 E in about 65 ft of water. There was some current here, but not too intimidating, and usually flowing out the cut, so we hung toward the west. We backed down hard because our stern was in about 10 ft, and there were a few coral heads nearby. But we had pretty good swinging room. The wind was pretty calm, so we felt pretty safe in these tight quarters. In NE wind season, anchoring outside, to the west of this spot, would be a better anchorage, as there's a big sand spot there. There is no cell phone signal in this bay. And the fishermen never bothered us--they seemed to anchor and sleep during the day and leave to go fishing at night.

All the Fish Around Our Boat, Teasing Me

There were tons of small fish swimming around our boat. I tried fishing for them with some shrimp on a small hook, but they always managed to steal the shrimp and not get hooked. But kept me entertained for awhile.

We spent the next two days enjoying the clear water and exploring around the bay. While Dave did maintenance, I scrubbed the bottom of the boat (something we didn't want to do in the potentially crocky river waters). We took Soggy Paws over to the waterfall and anchored in a beautiful sand spot just off the waterfall (03-53.45 S / 132-29.30 E), and then dinghied over to the waterfall and snorkeled around.

Waterfall Anchorage

We also explored in the dinghy along the wall SE of the waterfall, and found some nice snorkeling and some caves.

Exploring Caves

Then we picked up anchor and went looking for the "World War II Gun Emplacement" waypoint that someone had given us. We needed to make water, so slowly motored around the rim of the bay. Dave even took off in the dinghy for a half an hour while I motored around in racetrack mode waiting for him.

Alas, when we arrived at the bottom end of the bay, there was no gun emplacement there. We later discovered that this whole set of waypoints for the Misool area that a friend had given us was mostly inaccurate (whether deliberately, just sloppily done, or whether taken off an inaccurate chart, we don't know). After an hour of slowly poking around in Soggy Paws, we finally anchored the big boat and set out in the dinghy.

Bushwhacking Around, Looking for Gun Emplacements

After carefully combing the shoreline, and doing some bush-whacking, we finally found some remnants of a WWII gun, but only the carriages--looks like someone had carried off the barrels of the guns.

The Gun We Found

The Other Gun Carriage

This anchorage (03 57.32 S / 132 50.65 E) is in fairly shallow mud/sand and well protected from the E, S, and W. If you were expecting a big blow from the south, this would be a good hidey-hole.

Nice Protected Anchorage

But go in slowly, and not too far, as there is a very shallow hard-to-see reef in the very bottom of the bay. I think we were in about 10-15 feet. Even for a WWII buff, these "gun emplacements" were not very exciting. We almost spent the night here, but were a little worried about bugs and no wind, so we scurried back to our original anchorage.

The next morning, we headed further north.

Friday, June 30, 2017

West Papua River Adventures

1 May 13 - Tombona River, Triton Bay
2 June 5-7 - Lakahia River Basin (near Triton Bay)
3 June 22-24 - Karufa River, Kaimana Area
4 June 25-28 - Kamrau Bay River System, Kaimana Area

Our River Explorations in the Triton Bay Area

So far, we have been up 4 rivers in the West Papua region of Indonesia. West Papua is actually part of the large island of New Guinea, but the western half of New Guinea these days is owned by Indonesia.

The largest city in the area is the town of Kaimana, which should show up on any map reference you search for.

#1 - Tombona River

The first river we explored is listed on our CMap chart as the Tombona River. The river mouth is located at 03 45.76 S / 134 07.52 E, near the tiny town of Lobo. It is approximately 22 miles ESE of Kaimana, as the crow flies.

(Important note on place names in this part of the world... the lands here have changed hands several times over the past 500 years, and various cartographers have made charts of the area, many times not bothering to get the correct local name for the river/point/island, etc). And even if they did get the "correct" local name, the locals have their local dialect, and then there's the common "Bahasa Indonesia" language that is the official language of Indonesia. Many names are misspelled, or the same-sounding name is spelled 3 different way. So names on charts, for the same location, vary wildly from chart (ie CMap, vs Navionics, vs paper Indonesian, vs GoogleEarth). The names I am using are from our CMAP chart

The Tombona River exploration was an easy one for us. We were with our friends from s/v Ocelot, who had been up the river by dinghy 2 years previously. So we knew where to anchor the big boats to be near the mouth, and approximately how far up the river we could get by dinghy. We anchored at 03 45.733 S / 134 06.944 E during the day, to be near the river mouth, but then moved to 03 46.157 S / 134 06.028 E before nightfall, to get a little more protection from the southerly winds. First anchorage was in only about 10 feet, and you must approach by coming in toward the town of Lobo along the western side of the bay, and then heading east toward the waypoint. There is a huge shallow delta straight off the river. Our nighttime anchorage was fairly deep (60 ft) but more sheltered than the shallower water off Lobo.

Houses on the Tombona River

Our CMap chart shows only the mouth of the river, with no depths. And, like most of West Papua, the chart location is offset nearly 1 mile to the west (or east?) of where it actually is. Fortunately, between Ocelot and ourselves, we had good high-resolution GoogleEarth charts of the river (thanks to GE2KAP). I loaded a set of GE charts on my smartphone running OpenCPN, and we grabbed our hand-held depth sounder, and off we went in the dinghies.

The tide was pretty high at the time, so we had no troubles going in over "the bar". And in fact, we could have brought the big boats quite far up the river. The lowest depth we saw going over the bar at high tide was about 10 ft. On the way in, we saw a small settlement about a mile inside the river, with a new road being constructed, presumably going to the town of Lobo, nearby. There were a few huts placed on high spots along the river, and a few people watching the crazy "Bulay" (white people) going up the river in their funny boats. About 3 miles in, we finally reached the rapids that we had been told about. The water was high enough that we couldn't see any rocks, but we noticed some ripples on the water, and the current was running very fast against us. Sounding with the hand-held sounder revealed that we were in only 4 ft of water. We didn't attempt going higher up the river--the water was running so fast that we'd need to plane with the dinghy, and we didn't want to be going that fast with unknown depths. So we turned our engines off and floated down with the current.

Drifting Down the River in the Rain

We saw some kids hanging out on an over-water hut--but no one swimming--this is crocodile territory. At another spot in the river there were several trees with a few fruit bats hanging in the trees. Once we got down toward the mouth of the river, the current slowed down, so we fired up the outboards and sped back down the rest of the river and back to the boats.

#2 - Lakahia River

Once we explored this river, Dave was hot to see some other rivers. He queried Lisa from Triton Bay Divers about the big river to the east of Triton Bay. This is actually a system of rivers. We will call the whole river adventure the Lakahia River Basin, named for the Lakahia Bay which leads into the river system.

Andreas Grew Up on the Lakahia River System

Lisa told Dave that one of her boat drivers had grown up in that area, and she would ask him if he would guide us up the river. Well, Andreas said he would. However, Andreas's English was about as bad as our Indonesian, so we took Lisa along as interpreter for a several day trip up the river. We were fortunate that it was off-off season at Triton Bay Divers, and Lisa felt she could get away for a few days.

We could have spent a week or two gunkholing up in the Lakahia River System, but since Lisa and Andreas could only get away for 3 days, we did the whole trip in 3 days. Day 1 we made our way from Triton Bay Divers to the mouth of the river, where Andreas's family still lives.

Soggy Paws Anchored off Andreas' Village

A Pretty House In Andreas' Village

Curious Kids Meet Us On the Quay

Day 2 was up the river to the very end, and then back a little to anchor in a tributary off the main river. Day 3 was back out the river and back to Triton Bay Divers.

Headed Up the River

With Andreas assuring us that the river was deep enough, and providing guidance in a few places, we made it 35 miles up the river, to the very end. Andreas spent the whole night up looking for crocodiles when we anchored overnight in a tributary. Unfortunately we never saw a crocodile. But Andreas regaled us with a tale of a 27-ft crocodile that men from his village saw when he was growing up. (The official world record is 24 ft, but in order for it to be an official record, you have to measure the beast from tip to tail. Try doing that from a dugout canoe with a 27 foot crocodile!). We did see the White Dolphins that Andreas had told us about.

Navigating Up the River

Dave On Watch

We Finally Reach the End of the River

The Town at the End of the River

The Entire Town Turns Out to Say Hello

After we dropped Lisa and Andreas back at Triton Bay Divers, we said goodbye to all our friends at Triton Bay, and headed out for another visa renewal in Tual.

An Unusually Calm Sunset At Sea On Our Way to Tual

Blumpot Bay

On our return to the Triton Bay area, we first dropped anchor at the NW tip of Aiduma Island. This is a great late/night arrival bay, as most of the bay is free of coral reefs, and the water shallows slowly to a nice sandy bottom. Our favorite anchor spot was 04 09.694 S / 133 20.6412 E. There are two small fishing camps at either end of the bay, but in the three times we anchored there, we were never bothered by anyone.

#3 - Karufa River

The next day, we set out to see the 3rd river, the Karufa River. For some reason, other than a small village outside the mouth of the river, we saw no signs of habitation at all up this river. We spent 2 nights on the river, and went as far up the river as we could get.

Sherry Watching the River

The End of the River

We still had 8 ft of depth when we turned around, but the river was getting so narrow we feared we would have trouble turning around.

Fruit Bats in the Trees

Fruit Bats in the Trees

There wasn't much to see up this river except lots and lots of fruit bats. There was a half mile stretch of river in which both sides of the river was lined with trees that were black with bats. We could hear the bats before we saw them--screeching and chittering in the trees, and then flying off in a big cloud when we got close. We opted to make our way a little further down the river for our second overnight.

Thousands of Bats!

On the morning of our last day on the Karufa River, we were surprised to wake up to a heavy fog. We were anchored in a fairly narrow part of the river, but we could barely see the shore on either side. We had a long way to go that day, so we couldn't wait around for the fog to burn off. So we crept south down the river with a lookout on the bow. The fog soon burned off.

Picking Up the Anchor in the Fog


Once out of the river, we headed for Kaimana, just to see the place. I had an opportunity when we were hanging out off Triton Bay Divers, to go in to Kaimana with the TBD supply boat one day. But Dave had never been there. Our friends on Ocelot were not real fond of the place as a cruising stop. There is no real good place to put your dinghy--the locals use a very sharp rocky seawall, or a beach that slopes gradually for 100 yards at low tide. The town is really spread out, with the market a long way from the main part of town. But there is an ATM, a pretty good cell signal, and a fairly decent fresh market.

Anchored Off Kaimana

We couldn't figure out why there were so many fishing boats in port, until we realized that today (June 25) was Eid al-Fitr (aka Idul Fitri), the day that signals the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of prayer and fasting for Muslims. Most Muslims in Indonesia fast from sunrise to sunset every day for the entire month of Ramadan. So the end of Ramadan, the end of getting up really early to eat and then starving yourself all day, is a BIG DEAL, with lots of feasting and partying.

With no good place to leave the dinghy, we enjoyed watching the end of Ramadan festivities from our cockpit. Fireworks, singing, and a parade of cars all decorated. Since we had just provisioned heavily in Tual less than a week before, we didn't really need anything ashore. So after catching up on email with the 4G data in Kaimana, the next day we left to see our 4th and final river.

#4 - Kamrau Bay River System

Again we're not sure of the proper local name for the river, and again it is complicated in that several rivers merge into one bay. Unlike the Karufa River, this bay had a number of villages indicated on the various charts we had, and visible on GoogleEarth. We also could see a road running from Kaimana along the east side of the river.

Sunset Happy Hour on the Foredeck

We spent 3 nights poking around in the lower half of the river. Finding a good anchorage was complicated by the great depths of the river, but also because of a fairly strong current. The first night we anchored, we did some exploring ashore along the road to Kaimana. We could see signs of a massive road construction project.

Massive Road Construction

We only got halfway up this river. We had planned to go further up the river than we did, but the increasing current as the river narrowed, plus the increasing signs of habitation, caused us to turn around before we reached the very end. As we slowly motored into the 3-4 knot current, we could see into the upper part of the river, and were shocked to see lots of boat traffic.

Fishing Boats on the Upper Kamrau River

Not an upriver wilderness adventure at all! So we turned around and shot back down the river with the current.

As we came out of the Kamrau, we for once had a good wind behind us, and made great time heading west. We made it all the way out to Blumpot Bay again, just before sunset. This positioned us in a good place to leave early the next morning for the long leg to our next destination--a waterfall you can anchor next to!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

5 Weeks in Triton Bay

We were diving in the Triton Bay area May 5-19, May 28-June 10, and June 22-28.

Triton Bay Dive Resort

Because of the need to renew our Indonesian visas every 30 days, we made two trips to Tual, 100 miles south in the Kai Islands, while we were in Triton Bay. We'll detail those passages, and our fun in Tual in another post. We also made explorations up 4 different rivers in West Papua, in the Triton Bay area. We'll detail those adventures in yet another post.

Tracks of Our Time in Triton Bay

The Diving

The diving is what we went to Triton Bay for. It is another of the four world-class diving areas detailed in the guide created by Conservation International, called Diving Indonesia's Bird's Head Seascape. CI's interest in publishing this book is to create a sustainable eco-tourism business in this thinly-populated area of Indonesia. The idea being that if the eco-tourism business is thriving, then the logging and mining interests will be held at bay, and this area will remain a pristine and protected area. They started something wonderful, as the Raja Ampat area we visited last year is really getting going, with more and more diving resorts and live-aboard dive boats, plus small village-based "home stays" for the adventurous budget traveler.

THE Raja Ampat Diving Guide

In Triton Bay, however, the development of the eco-tourism business has been MUCH slower. There is still only one dive resort, Triton Bay Divers, and no liveaboards dive boats are based there. A few liveaboards make stop in Triton Bay on repositioning cruises when the seasons change. For us, that's not a bad thing! That meant that we had all the great dive spots all to ourselves.

Once in Triton Bay, we finally met up with our friends on Gaia and Ocelot, who had already been in Triton Bay for a couple of months. Plus Ocelot had made two other visits to Triton Bay in prior years. It was Ocelot who encouraged us to hurry down from Bitung to catch the tail end of the diving season there. From June through August in southeastern Indonesia, the SE Tradewinds from northern Australia brew up big waves, and sometimes big winds. So the Triton Bay Divers resort shuts down from mid-June to mid-September.

We Had Fun Exploring Triton Bay with Ocelot

We arrived in the Triton Bay area on May 5, and spent the first few days dinghy-diving with Gaia and Ocelot. There is a lot of current in the Triton Bay area, and so diving has to be timed as much as possible for slack current, and sometimes it is still prudent to have a surface boat. In spots where we knew we would be diving in current, one of us would volunteer to stay with the dinghies on the surface, and be available to pick people up as they surfaced from the dive. Other times, we picked a spot to dive in that is out of the current, and could just anchor our dinghies and everyone could dive together.

Dinghy Diving with Ocelot and Gaia in Triton Bay

After a few days diving on our own, we and Ocelot moved and anchored in front of Triton Bay Divers. This anchorage is exposed to the SE, and if a big SE wind comes up, it's not a very comfortable anchorage. But for the nearly two weeks we spent there in May and June, it was mostly fine. The winds, if they come up in the afternoon, usually die out by nightfall. And it is only 2-3 miles back to our very protected anchorage if we felt we needed to escape. But in all the time we were there in May and June, the wind never got bad enough that we felt we needed to move.

The benefit of anchoring off the resort was first, a little internet--with few guests in May and June, the resort was willing to let us use their satellite-based wifi. (It's 40 miles to Kaimana town from Triton Bay, where the closest Telkomsel tower is). Another benefit was dinners ashore! Again, in the off season, we could ask if we could come in for dinner a day ahead of time, and if they had enough food to accommodate us, we could. Only once did we have to loan them a few veggies so they could make dinner for us! The TBD chef was an amazing cook, and a very charming young man, too. Finally, it made it easy to go diving with the resort. As in other spots, it being off season, we were able to negotiate a dive package of 20 dives at a good rate.

Soggy Paws Anchored off Triton Bay Divers

The dive boat would swing by our boat in the morning and pick us off the boat. We usually did 2 dives in the morning, and get dropped back off on our boat for lunch. The surface intervals between dives were always spent on a gorgeous white sand beach with palm trees. We left our gear in the boat, and the dive staff would rinse all the gear in their fresh water basins, and have it ready for us the next day. Pretty posh diving for us! In May, we were nearly always diving with 2 other divers staying at the resort. In June, we mostly had the boat, a boat driver and his helper and at least one dive guide to ourselves. Either way was good, as we enjoy interacting with other travelers and divers.

Dave on the Gorgeous Beach Between Dives

Dave got really hooked on "muck diving" in Lembeh strait--the search for tiny critters usually buried in bottom debris. So his favorite dives were the "critter" or "macro" dives.

A 2-Inch Long Cuttlefish

But Triton Bay has a number of "coral and fish" dives as well. But this time of year at least, the frequent rain and the nearby rivers kept visibility low. Taking good "coral and fish" pictures underwater in low-visibility situations is difficult. We'll post a few of our best pictures when we get a chance. (I'm writing this while motorsailing slowly NW on an expanse of open ocean, in almost no wind, getting ready to cross the equator again).

The Whale Sharks

On our last day before our first trip south to Tual to renew our visas, we scheduled a whale shark dive. The whale sharks congregate around fishing platforms scattered in the narrow stretch of water between Namatote Island and the mainland. The fishing platforms have nets draped underneath them, and shine big lights to attract the fish, then lift the nets. The whale sharks hang out around the platforms because the fishermen believe them to be good luck, and feed them handfuls of fish. People wanting to dive or snorkel with the whale sharks just need to find a platform that has a whale shark hanging about, buy a bucket of baitfish from the fishermen, and jump in. The pictures we've seen are amazing.

Alas, by the end of May, the whale sharks have headed for other waters. Our dive boat checked with every fishing platform (called bagans) in the strait, and no one had seen a whale shark that day (probably not for several days). Bummer! Well, another time, another place, perhaps. We did see some "wall paintings" left by ancient people on the sheer cliffs of the strait. With changes in water levels, the wall paintings are now 20-40 feet overhead. Pleasant boat ride, but not what we were hoping for!

Visa Renewals

Everyone's cruising schedule in Indonesia, after the first two months, is dictated by the need to do monthly visa renewals. Gaia's date was a week ahead of ours, and they were headed for Banda and then to Ambon to renew their visa, so they left in around the 10th of May. Ocelot's renewal date was only a few days ahead of ours, to they took off a few days early for Tual. We stayed and did a few more dives with Triton Bay Divers.

The Fabled Japanese Plane

Dave had heard rumours of a "Japanese Plane" sunk in the bay at the southern end of Aiduma Island. Ocelot said that they had snorkeled the area the year before and not found anything. On our first trip to Tual, we left on a day with no wind. That bay, which is normally exposed to the SE wind, was flat calm. We motored into the bay and looked around, but didn't find anything. But it piqued Dave's interest, and on our next visit to Triton Bay Divers, he kept pushing Lisa, the owner/manager, to find out more information from the locals about the plane. Finally, just before we left for our 2nd trip to Tual, the weather forecast looked good, and Lisa arranged for one of the local boat drivers to come show us exactly where (he claimed) he had seen the plane with his own eyes. We were sure we could use our plane searching techniques to do an organized search for the plane.

The conditions were perfect for a search--visibility was good and the waters relatively calm. But in two hours of criss-crossing the bay in an organized search pattern, we found no sign of debris anywhere. Even if the entire plane had been dragged away by the SE winds/waves, some debris should have remained (heavy engines, etc). The locals described the plane as being big, with the tail standing straight up in the air about 15 feet. We did a little search on the internet and found one account on about some planes on a mission to bomb Kaimana being shot down, but no specifics. The locals told us that it was an Allied plane, only the pilot survived, and he was eventually handed over to the Japanese in Kaimana, and no one knows for certain what happened to him. We can only surmise, if the locals have the location right, that the plane, and ALL the associated debris has either been buried in the sand, or maybe was a wood and fabric plane, and it is just gone. (Still, we think we should have been able to find some fragments of engines and heavy metal parts...)

Cruising West Papua, Indonesia, slowly headed northwest toward Bitung
At 7/11/2017 7:50 AM (utc) our position was 01°47.33'S 129°39.19'E