Monday, July 17, 2017

Website Back Up!

Sorry everyone, my web host upgraded their servers and broke the web server that served the svsoggypaws.com 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.

Sherry
Tidore, Halmahera, Indonesia

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

5 Weeks in Triton Bay

May 5-19, May 28-June 10, June 22-28

Because of the need to renew our Indonesian visas every 30 days, we made two trips to Tual, 100 miles away 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.

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.

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 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.

After a few days diving on our own, Ocelot and us 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.

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.

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!

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.

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 PacificWrecks.com 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...)

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. 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).

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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
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Banda to Triton Bay

May 2-4, 2017

We finally had a weather window that looked good to make the 2-3-day hop eastwards to Triton Bay. It had been nearly dead calm all the previous week, so we enjoyed Banda while waiting for a little wind to show up in the forecast. The forecast showed about 10 knots of wind from the SE for the next 2 days, with little rain. Just the forecast we were looking for, for an easy trip. Ha!

First, where is Triton Bay? It is on the south coast of the western end of the island of New Guinea. The western end of New Guinea is actually part of Indonesia, commonly called West Papua. It is/has also been called Irian Jaya. A few friends (Brick House) and future friends (Ocelot and Gaia) had made it all the way to Triton Bay for diving. It is about as out-of-the-way in Indonesia as you can get. It is part of the four areas of world-class diving outlined in the fantastic diving guide called Diving Indonesia's Bird's Head Seascape. (the western end of New Guinea looks sorta like a bird's head).

Triton Bay is best known for it's whale shark dives. Whale sharks are huge members of the shark family, but they eat only small baitfish, so they are fun, and awesome to dive with. Unfortunately, we found out that we arrived too late in the year to dive with them! But there is a lot of other fabulous diving in the Triton Bay area.

Our first day of the trip from Banda, my logbook says "We motored out in flat calm for several hours. A big ugly black cloud is to the south of us." Then, a few minutes later, I wrote, "Finally some wind! We had 15 kts for about 15 minutes, then 25-30 kts!" That pretty much summed up the whole 3-day trip. Rather than a peaceful sail in 10 knots, we either had almost no wind, or too much wind. And the direction was never a steady SE, but sometimes E and sometimes S. And we had current against us most of the way. At times we were making only 3.5 knots even with one engine on!

Because the wind would occasionally go to 25-30 kts, we had 2 reefs in the main on the first day, which meant that when the wind went to 10 kts, the mainsail was not doing much for us. And the wind shifts, when we did have wind, drove us crazy. We actually tacked a few times, on the wind shifts. Usually only to find that the shift was short-lived and we'd have to tack back.

On the second day, the wind spent more time at "less than 10 knots", and we actually shook all the reefs out of the main by mid-day. We put 1 reef back in the main at sunset, to make handling weather overnight with one person on watch more manageable. We always have big discussions on board about these "safety reefs". I want to keep enough sail up to make sure we can sail in the conditions we are in, Dave wants the sail small enough so that we don't have to reef down in the dark with the wind up, and would rather motor in the light air than worry about putting in a reef in the heavy air.

Thankfully Dave prevailed this time, as we went through a squall line about 8-9 pm, and the weather stayed nasty for several hours. The person on watch (me at the time) keeps a careful eye on the sky--at night you are looking for areas where the stars are blacked out, and/or flashes of lightning (rare in this area). Without lightning flashes, it's hard to tell at first, whether that black area in the sky is one small cloud up close, or a huge thunderhead, a bit further away.

Once we notice a black area in the sky that looks like it will get near us, we turn on the radar, which can "see" rain out to about 8 miles. Our radar is the old style-a 10 year old black and white Raymarine model. A black splotch on the radar could mean (a) another boat (b) an island, or breaking waves (c) rain. So you have to know where you are, and how to interpret the black splotches to guess what that black splotch represents. And then there's the task of figuring out which way the splotch is moving.

Traditionally, you used to have to set up a plotting board and plot the splotch's range (distance) and bearing (compass heading away from you), over the course of 10-20 minutes, to figure out where the splotch is heading. It's complicated by your boat's movement and any changes in direction as you get tossed around on the waves (and/or dodge other things, or tack). But our radar has a marvelous feature called MARPA, where you can denote a particular splotch with the cursor, and tell the computer in the radar to track signal and figure out what speed and direction a given splotch is moving. It works really well when the target is a ship, because the signal is usually strong and constant. It only works well on clouds when the clouds are really concentrated. Normally tropical squalls grow, morph, and die within about 20 minutes. So the MARPA feature struggles with figuring out where the center of the cloud actually is, and when the center has moved, is that really movement, or just the cloud morphing into a different shape.

Anyway, it's always a guessing game at night, even with the help of the radar, and you can't tell when that cloud is going to spin up a bunch of wind, or maybe just take all the wind away. And, as a cruising couple, we are trying NOT to wake the other person to deal with the situation. So, better to reef down at dusk and have to motor through the night if necessary. If we were too poor to buy fuel, or didn't have access to fuel, the argument might go another way. But for us, it's best to be conservative, and turn on an engine if the wind dies and we need a little more speed.

The squally weather persisted through the night, and dawn of the 3rd day found us motorsailing ENE, with the closest protected harbor 25 miles directly to windward. We were bucking some current too, so with the wind in our face, both engines on, and having to motor-tack, we weren't making a lot of progress. We were worried we might not be able to get to a protected harbor before dark. But finally we got close enough in to Adi Island, that we started to get protection from the waves and current, and some abatement in the wind.

We were talking daily on the radio with friends on another boat who had cruised the Triton Bay area twice before, and getting tips and information from them. We had their tracks and their anchor spots to use as a reference. But they had only cruised there during the north wind season, and we were in southerly season. So it turned out that most of their anchor spots were not useable in a southerly wind. To make matters more interesting, Eastern Indonesia is poorly charted, and what charts exist can be off by as much as a mile. But we had lots of good Google Earth charts to help us out.

We ended up anchoring in a beautiful bay in the NW corner of Adi Island. On our chart, the bay is not named, but the point next to it is called Blumpot Point, so we have called the bay Blumpot Bay. We found a beautiful long beach, lots of palm trees (it looked like a coconut plantation ashore), and good protection from North through East and South. We found the bottom sloping up slowly, and not much coral to foul the anchor. The bay is so easy to enter (no barrier reef to the west) that one could arrive or depart this bay in the dark easily. We used this anchorage several times over the next month for jumping off to other places. There are two sets of huts on either end of the beach, but we anchored in the middle and never had anyone hassle us. Anchor spot 04-09.68 S / 133-20.62 E

Miles this trip: 239, at an average speed of 4.7 knots.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Week in Banda

April 23-May 2, 2017

Ever since I read Nathaniel's Nutmeg, a book about Europe's "Spice Race" to Indonesia in the early 1600's, I've wanted to visit Banda. The Dutch and English wrangled over exclusive access to nutmeg (primarily). During one of the plagues in Europe, some doctor declared that nutmeg would protect one from the plague... and the race was on.

Eventually the Dutch muscled out the English, and the peace settlement resulted in the British trading one of the Banda islands (the only one not already owned by the Dutch) for a scruffy little island that the Dutch owned in the New World (Manhattan).

So, arriving in Banda was like stepping into a history book--one I'd recently read.

As we wandered the narrow streets the first afternoon, we could see the relics left behind by the Dutch... Dutch architecture, cannons laying in the streets, and two old forts. We spent an hour or two in the so-so museum (Closed unless you ask for it to be opened, and the lightbulbs burned out over the exhibits, so we had to use the light from our cell phones to read the captions on the displays).

We spent the week stern tied to The Nutmeg Tree hotel & dive shop (just N of the big hotel on the water) in Banda. Reza has only been in business for 2 yrs, so he hasn't been mentioned by other cruisers. But we really enjoyed our stay. At one point during the week, we had 3 40'+ catamarans tied stern-to The Nutmeg Tree "wharf". Location: 04-31.38 S 129-53.86 E.

The Blue Motion dive shop mentioned by other cruisers has moved out of the big hotel and is one business north of The Nutmeg Tree, so there are two dive operations to chose from, side by side. We didn't really investigate Blue Motion--because we were tied to The Nutmeg Tree, we felt a little obligation to dive with them. Watching the busy Blue Motion Dive center, with it's gaggle of divers, we were happy with our choice. We all dove essentially the same sites, except we only dove with a couple of other people all week.

The Nutmeg Tree Dive Center is a small operation, but they had good reliable boats, and good rental dive equipment. We liked our dive guides, and the places they took us to also. Reza gave us a good price for diving--since we brought another boat in with us (since departed), he offered his standard rate less 20% (ends up being Rp400K per dive). We took our cell phone and got GPS waypoints and notes on the dive sites, but it would be difficult to do most of the sites on your own--on the walls you'd have to have a surface boat standing by, between currents and no place to anchor. It's been pretty good here. Not much macro but the coral is in great condition, and lots of fish, fantastic walls. There are a couple of nearby dives you could probably do from a dinghy (Lava Flow and the Lighthouse).

Reza was very welcoming and does not charge for yachts to tie up to his place (though, if you plan to stay there and not dive with him, you should consider some monetary arrangement so he continues to be welcoming to yachts). He has free wifi at his hotel which he will let you use, and will take your trash. One of his guys filled our diesel jugs for us (for a tip). You could probably get water from him too (but we had enough rain while there to keep us full). Reza speaks excellent English and several others at his place do too. And he will serve meals if you want a break from cooking. Everything in Banda is within easy walking distance of his place.

There is a fresh market, and a fish market, side-by-side in town, within close walking distance of The Nutmeg Tree. But only little shops for your other supplies, so don't expect to do a big provisioning here.

We ate out almost every night, including at The Nutmeg Tree, experiencing the buffet at the Cielu Bintang Resort (much-mentioned for their support to cruisers visiting during rallies), and the very nice but small restaurant on the corner--with signs and menus in English and a big No Smoking sign on the porch.

If you really MUST anchor, you CAN go around the south side of Banda Neira and anchor between Banda Neira and Banda Besar--the depths are reasonable there, and there are a number of fishing boats anchored in the area. But if approaching from the south, you cannot get into the harbor with your big boat--there is a power line strung across between Banda Neira and the other island immediately west of it, at the southern end. But if you want to anchor out vs be stern tied to the sea wall, the southern anchorage may be the best bet. The "4 moorings" inside the harbor were not to be found, and whatever moorings might be there were continuously occupied by 1-2 large local fishing boats. (They must kick those guys off the moorings when the rally comes through, and renew the moorings).

The only problem we had in Banda was with cash--the only ATM on the island (BRI) didn't like either of my Visa-backed debit cards from two different banks. Ended up using a Mastercard credit card which worked OK. The manager at Cielu Bintang will also do a cash advance on a credit card, for a 2% fee.

We loved Banda and could have easily spent more time there. As we found in Triton Bay, the area resorts go into "off season" mode from June-September. Friends who stopped in Banda in June found Reza gone and The Nutmeg Tree dive operation shut down. And the ferry schedule changes (few flights and ferries from Ambon).


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Sherry & Dave

Cruising West Papua, Indonesia. Due in Sorong for July 27th visa renewal
At 6/29/2017 8:30 AM (utc) our position was 03°55.27'S 132°48.91'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ambon to Banda

April 22-23, 2017

The leg from Ambon to Banda is only 120 miles. You can shorten it to about 100 nm by motorsailing east along the south coast of Ambon to an anchorage east of Ambon City, which also gives you a slightly better angle on the wind. But that anchorage is exposed to the current SE winds, so we opted to go straight from the Amahusu moorings to Banda.

Our friends on Va'a Nui had finally completed their checkout late in the afternoon yesterday, and they left anyway, at dusk. We thought they were crazy, but with 4 people aboard, they didn't mind making it a 2-night trip, if they could sail more.

When we rounded the SW tip of Ambon Island around 8:30am, the conditions were typical Indonesia--glassy calm with current on the nose! According to the forecast, we were supposed to have more southerly winds during the day, switching to more easterly during the night. So we were planning a tack east on the southerly winds and a tack south on the easterly winds. Well, that was the theory anyway. The winds never got strong enough to actually sail. With the nearly 1 knot current against us, and light SE winds, tacking and trying to sail at 2-3 knots would take us forever to get there. So we ended up motorsailing the whole way.

(I was surprised to maintain data connectivity on Telkomsel for a couple of hours out of Ambon).

The afternoon was spent motoring and hoping for wind...and sailhandling... put the Code Zero up, take it down, etc. Between midnight and dawn, we had a number of black clouds come up, with accompanying wind. I spent the tail end of my watch motorsailing, tacking to avoid the blackest part of the clouds (using the radar to help pinpoint the actual centers of the clouds). Dave's watch was pretty much the same. At 0530 the clouds looked big and black enough that he woke me up to help put 2 reefs in the main. Generally the clouds only hold about 20-25 knots of wind, but you never know, and at night it's just safer and easier to be conservative.

By dawn we were about 15 miles north of the island group, with not much wind. So we decided we had enough time to see the islands of Run and Ai on our way into Banda Neira (the main island). As we approached Run, the westernmost island, we saw Va'a Nui there on a mooring outside the reef. They had arrived at midnight, and a fisherman had directed them to the mooring (which they ended up paying for).

We motored in close to Run and exchanged a few words with Va'a Nui. Then we motored close along the west coast of Run, around the northern tip, over to the west coast of Ai, around the northern tip, and into the north end of the harbor at Banda Neira.

Around 3pm, we motored past the big volcanic swath into the sea, from the 1988 eruption of Guning Apo (Fire Island). Pretty spectacular! (Later we dove the "Lava Flow").

We motored into the harbor, hoping to find an available mooring. There are supposedly 4 moorings set up for yachts in the very deep harbor. But where the moorings were supposed to be were 2 fishing boats, and no other moorings. The other option was to med-moor stern to the quay into one of the hotels, where our friends were last year. As we were milling around trying to decide what we were going to do, a guy on the seawall was motioning us in to his place. This turned out to be Reza, the owner of The Nutmeg Tree Hotel and Dive resort.

There was already one catamaran backed up to his place, tied on to a huge yellow mooring ball. So we tied in next to that catamaran and Dave took some lines ashore to The Nutmeg Tree, while it motored in reverse to keep us in place. I LOVE having two engines. We are so much more maneuverable that I don't mind driving the boat in tight places. (Before, I would make Dave drive into the tight spaces).

More on Banda and The Nutmeg Tree in the next post.
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At 4/23/2017 05:05 AM (utc) our position was 04°31.38'S 129°53.86'E

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Week in Ambon

April 15-22, 2017

Ambon was just a stepping stone to our goal, Triton Bay, in the far SE end of Indonesia. But... since it was the end to the famous Darwin to Ambon Race, we were looking forward to seeing what it was about. It is also one of the ports in which one can renew a Social Visa.

It took us a lot longer to actual get into Ambon than we expected. We had both wind and current on the nose for the last 20 miles, and for a little while we were only making 2 knots toward the harbor! The wind, which had been less than 10 knots for the last 36 hrs, piped up to 20+ knots going around the point into Ambon Bay. So we ended up t-t-t-tacking. We kept the engines on, or we would have never made progress against the wind and current. We were anticipating a nice sail up the bay once we rounded the point, but of course, the wind died as soon as we rounded the point!

We had several waypoints for anchorages, and we chose to stop first at Amahusu, on the southern side of the bay about halfway in. The "inner anchorage" that several cruisers commented on, was another 2 hrs further up inside the bay. They had completed a bridge across the bay since the last cruiser report we had, and one cruiser in 2015 had commented that they had been chased out of the inner anchorage (but they didn't know why). So rather than go all the way up there, and maybe not be able to get in or to stay, we decided to stop at Amahusu. This turned out to be a pretty good decision. Later we were told that the bridge WAS high enough for average cruising boats to get in, and it was possible to anchor in there.

Approaching Amahusu, we could see black mooring balls, and saw one cruising boat on a mooring. But not knowing who's moorings they were or what they were made up of, we decided to anchor between the moorings. Just as we were getting ready to drop our anchor, a dinghy roared up to us, and told us we could pick up any one of the moorings. This turned out to be Bertie and Nico from the Amahusu Sailing Community. They are trying to revive the area as a sailing destination and to again be the endpoint for the Darwin to Ambon Race (scheduled for August this year). They offered to help us with whatever we needed, including advice, water, diesel, transportation, etc.

We arrived on Saturday of Easter Weekend, and so didn't expect much happening until Monday. But Nico invited us out to dinner at a friend's place on Sunday night. This turned out to be an informal "friends and family" gathering to celebrate a young boy's confirmation. We got to see a short jam session, including a guy with a Hawaiian ukelele. On the way back, Nico drove us through town and showed us the local fresh market, where the bemo (local route mini-busses) terminal was (Terminal Mardika), and what number bemo's we needed to take to get to Immigration, and back to Amahusa. A very helpful intro to Ambon!

We spent a couple of days doing the necessary things... groceries, money, and diesel fuel. Dave and I spent an afternoon seeing the local sights (museum and WWII cemetary) by bemo. Then we lined up a dive day with Blue Rose Divers. Their shop is on the water directly across the bay from Amahusu. We rounded up the crew of Va'a Nui, and the 6 of us went diving on a Blue Roase dive boat, outside the bay. The wall was so-so, and the guide was not that great. (At least compared to the great guides we had diving with Bastianos in Lembeh, Biodiversity Eco Resort in Raja Ampat, and Palau Dive Adventures in Palau...we've definitely been spoiled recently). To be fair, the best diving in Ambon is supposed to be "muck diving" inside the bay. But none of us was interested in diving in the trashy bay.

Getting fuel in Ambon was a real exercise. At first it seemed easy... hand our jugs to the Amahusu Sailing Community people (Bertie) and sit back and have it delivered. However, when they told us the price was going to be 14,000 per liter, we balked at that. The "unsubsidized" diesel price in Bitung had been 7,400 per liter, and we'd hired a guy with a truck hanging out near the port for Rp100,000 (and split that 3 ways). So 14,000 seemed like a real rip-off. It turns out that there was no profit in that number for the Amahusu guys... that's the price the Pertamina station would deliver it for. After whining a bit, Nico agreed to take us and our jugs personally in his car down to the only gas station in Ambon that sells unsubsidized fuel. Two of the 3 boats didn't have enough jugs to handle their needs in one trip, so Nico ended up having to make 2 trips. It's an hour round trip to the gas station!

It turned out that the unsubsidized diesel price at the Pertamina station in Ambon is 9,500 per liter, and the gas station manager tacked on a Rp10,000 per jug additional fee, jacking the price up by another 400 per liter. Plus we needed to compensate Nico for his time and the use of his car. That was another Rp150,000 per boat. Nico wasn't available for the first run until 9pm, so Dave was out decanting fuel into our tanks at midnight, to be ready for the next run the next day. We did eventually get our 100 liters of diesel, at about 11,400 per liter. So all our gyrations and effort saved us about Rp260,000, about $20 USD, for 100 liters.

There are Pertamina stations all over every Indonesian city we've been to, but only one that is set up with an extra pump to sell "unsubsidized" diesel. There is talk of de-regulating some or all of the fuel subsidies, which would make things much simpler for foreign vessels to get fuel. We have never seen a "fuel dock" in any part of Indonesia that we've sailed in, so all the fueling has to be done by jugs. It makes it tough--especially since in most of Indonesia, the average wind speed is about 5 knots.

We did go find the Immigration office, to ask if they would extend our visa early. (Directions: take an inward bemo towards Terminal Mardika and get off at Gareja Rehoboth (Rehoboth Church), cross the road and pick up a #12 bemo to go up the hill to Immigration. Sometimes your inward bemo will deviate from their route to drop you off at Immigration for a small fee. Most drivers know where Immigration is.) The young lady at the desk spoke excellent English, but said she couldn't extend our visa so early (we were asking for an extension 5 weeks early). She led us to her boss, who DIDN'T speak much English, who basically told us he could only extend 2 weeks early, and that we should be happy that we still have 5 weeks. We tried to explain that we were going somewhere for 2 months that had no immigration office, but he didn't understand. So, no extension. Our friends on Va'a Nui, who had less than 2 weeks left on their current visa, DID get an extension, and it was essentially ready the next day. The Ambon Immigration officials seemed very nice.

Groceries...besides the big open air market at Terminal Merdika, there are two Hypermarts in town. One is at the Maluku Mall, near the base of the big bridge. The other is further away from Amahusu, in the Passo area (near where the inner anchorage is). We stopped at both of them, and the Hypermart at Passo had better stock and fresher vegetables. But both had some Australian cheese, had both a frozen and fresh section, and sold Bintang beer in cans and bottles. Getting back from either mall, you had to cross the street to catch bemos going the other way, and keep asking for Terminal Merdika. We took a Tantui (#22) bemo both times and managed to find our way back to where the Amahusu bemos staged for departure.

The beach inside of the Amahusu moorings (between the hotel and the dock) was a safe place to leave our dinghy. The tide is a factor, so we would put our wheels down and haul the dinghy all the way up above the high tide line. If you anchored your dinghy off the beach, you'd find your dinghy a swimmable distance off the beach, or high and dry on the beach. The dock would be a better place to tie off, but there's no ladder to get you on and off the dock at low tide.

We ate both lunch and dinner at the restaurant (Tirta Kencana) at the hotel where the moorings are. It was a decent meal, but tourist prices as you would expect. The Bintang was cold.

Ambon would be a great stop, if there just wasn't so much trash in the water. As the tide comes and goes, long strings of trash float past the boat, so the water is trashy for 4-5 hours per day. It's very sad. I don't know if the inner harbor would be better or worse (probbly worse). As soon as we got the next weather window to head SE to Banda, we took it.

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At 4/16/2017 11:10 PM (utc) our position was 03°54.31'S 134°06.99'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Arriving Ambon Today

We're not quite there yet, but we're close enough that we're receiving a 3G signal! Hopefully we'll be anchored somewhere in Ambon later this afternoon. Still not sure exactly where we are going, but we'll figure it out.

Yesterday while motoring, we ran the watermaker and topped off both water tanks, and Sherry did about 3 loads of laundry, while Dave worked on fixing things. We finally have the Port Engine starter problem solved. After finally swapping in our "spare" starter, we found it didn't work. Taking both starters apart, Dave found that he had put the spring in wrong when he re-assembled the starter after doing some preventive maintenance while in Samal. The "spare" looked new, but the solenoid was bad. Dave took it apart and PM'd it (putting the spring in RIGHT this time), and so hopefully we have a good spare ready if we need it.

We spent last night motorsailing close-hauled trying to get out of the 2-3 knot current on our nose. At one point our speed was down to 1.9 knots!! We finally tacked east and managed to shake the current, but the wind was so light (and mostly on our nose) that we kept the engine on all night.

On approaching the pass between two islands on the NW side of Ceram around midnight, we could see a big tanker approaching the pass as well, on AIS. We called him several times, and did talk to him, but never did make him understand that we were ahead of him going into the pass and would stay close in to stay out of his way. He kept saying "OK, we pass green to green", meaning he apparently thought we were coming OUT of the pass. It was a little worrying. Obviously he didn't see US on AIS and didn't speak English. But we hugged the coastline and he slowed down, probably trying to figure out where we were (as we disappeared around the corner).

Just after we went through the slot, we saw a French-registered sailboat also approaching. It turned out to be Va'a Nui, whom we met in Bitung. They are headed for Ambon too. And they had just seen our friends on Java, who are also headed for Ambon in a day or two. Small cruising world here in big Indonesia!!
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At 4/15/2017 1:28 AM (utc) our position was 03°41.53'S 127°53.19'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Friday, April 14, 2017

Still On Our Way to Ambon (Day 3)

We had a great first day, with the wind coming up earlier than forecast and stronger than forecast. It was mostly on the beam, and the seas were quite calm for awhile, so we had an exhilarating sail, with winds almost 15 knots NNE (that's a lot of wind for Indonesia near the equator). We did 6-7 knots all afternoon.

Fortunately, the winds quieted a little at sunset, and we had a beautiful night, still sailing with full main and full jib. The sunset was nice and the full moon rising an hour later was even nicer. Around 8pm we crossed the equator. This being our 6th or 7th crossing of the equator, I DIDN'T go flush the toilet to see if the water ran the other way :; I splashed a little rum in the sea to thank Neptune for another great crossing of the equator. Dave never woke up.

About 6am the wind died out completely, as forecast, and we reluctantly started the engine. 24 hrs later, we are still motoring, but the wind is finally starting to come back, a little. Only problem is, it's right on our nose! Fortunately, it's only 6-7 knots. We are motor sailing for now, but assuming the wind does as forecast, we hope to be able to sail on a close reach in light winds sometime today.

The other factor we're dealing with is current. There is a ripping (up to 3 knots) of current coming up through the slot between Halmahera and Sulawesi (the two big funny-looking islands in eastern Indonesia, that we are sailing between). So we have been using FastSeas.com's routing to try to balance the wind and the current. We have done pretty well so far, mostly staying out of the current, and sometimes having helping current. But at some point we're going to have to head out into it, and get across it. The tactic at that point will be similar to the Gulf Stream, cross it at 90 degree angle as fast as possible.

We are still 120 miles from Ambon, and with current issues and wind on the nose, we MAY make Ambon tomorrow sometime. But even so, we are having a pleasant passage, even if we are having to run one engine. We have enough fuel to motor all the way to Australia, if we had to (if we were going there!). Our consumption on one engine is a paltry 1.3 liters per hour. And we know we can get fuel in Ambon if we need it.
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Sherry & Dave

In Indonesia til at least September!
At 4/13/2017 11:50 PM (utc) our position was 02°30.30'S 126°50.83'E
http://svsoggypaws.com/currentposition.htm

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Underway South from Bitung

Still have some posts to backfill, but let's talk about the Here and Now!

We have left Bitung, headed for Ambon, 385 miles SSE from here. We'll be crossing the equator again sometime today!

Port checkout yesterday was easy, because our friends on Ariel IV paved the way for us several days ago. Sequence is Immigration, Health/Quarantine (don't forget your Green Book!), and Port Captain. We hadn't checked IN with the Port Captain on our way in, but that didn't seem to matter. We gave them a copy of our Customs Port Clearance from Davao (I made an extra copy just for this, because we hadn't checked out with the Port Captain in Davao). I know that Noonsite says we shouldn't have to do this port clearance stuff for internal movements, but they sure seem to like doing the paperwork! Didn't cost a thing, just hours of messing around in town.

We had a nice last dinner at Bastianos Resort, and said goodbye to the manager, Thomas, last night.

We pulled anchor around 7:30 and set off south through the port. Garbage everywhere, as usual, so the helmsman had to be very vigilant. But once clear of Lembeh Strait the garbage had died down.

We had to motor the first couple of hours in no wind, but the wind has just come up and we're doing over 7 knots!! Wheee! I love sailing our catamaran!
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At 4/12/2017 4:13 AM (utc) our position was 01°08.60'N 125°15.05'E

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diving in Bitung / Lembeh Strait

A great resource for divers in N Sulawesi is this website:


Keep following the linked pages as there is a ton of information about the islands from Sangihe to Bitung, including Manado.

Another dive information resource I recommend is Wannadive.net.  They now have an app for your smartphone with all the dive site info on a map.  They had all the dive waypoints in Lembeh and Bunaken (and all the ones in Palau, too).

If you have your own equipment you CAN dive Lembeh Strait on your own.  There are two or three bays on the north/west side of the strait that have good sand plateaus to anchor in with the big boat, and from there, the dive sites are easily within dinghy distance.  (Check this one:  01 29.46N / 125 14.25 E).  Watch where the dive boats go.  In spring 2017, there was an Eco-Divers boat anchored off the south side of Serena Besar that would fill tanks for $3 a fill, so getting fills when anchored there is easy.

We ultimately opted to dive with Bastianos Dive Resort, as recommended by our friends on s/v Sirius. They had great guides and we got a package of dives, so the dives only cost about $35 USD per dive (with our own equipment).  We got so much more out of a guided dive than trying to do it on our own out of our dinghy.  So many times our guide pointed out something that looked like harbor trash only to find it’s a rare/weird fish/invertebrate.  We photographed a ton of new-to-us creatures in the 3 days of diving we did with Bastianos.  

If you’re new to “muck diving” I’d definitely do at least one dive day with a dive operation.  That said, diving in Lembeh isn’t for everyone.  If you’re looking for blue water or coral, go to Bunaken instead, on the other side of the peninsula.  But I’d definitely recommend a day or two of diving in Lembeh for any diver.  The creatures are amazing.


As a 10th Wedding Anniversary present to ourselves, we had Bastianos arrange a visit for us to dive at Bastianos Bunaken.  We got the transfer to and from Bastianos Lembeh to Bastianos Bunaken, 3 nights in a superior a/c room on the water, all meals, and 7 dives for two of us for around $1,500 USD.  It was a great short getaway for us.  Bunaken is the exact opposite of Lembeh…big coral walls, lots of (small) fish (some big), turtles, etc.  We enjoyed diving both places equally, for different reasons.

Photos to follow soon.