Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Arriving Palau Today

We had a good time at Helen Reef. More on that in another post.

After a great 2 days of downwind sailing, we will be arriving in Palau this afternoon. It has been a fairly fast sail, with wind on the quarter or directly behind at 10-20 knots. In these conditions we make 6-7 knots easily. The weather has been very settled...sunny tradewind conditions, with nearly a full moon at night.

Last night we had our first squall of the passage. The winds gusted to about 35 knots. We had 2 reefs in the main and about 1 reef in the jib. In one gust, surfing down a wave, in a wing-on-wing configuration, we hit 15 knots!!! At sustained winds of 20-25, we were regularly doing 9-10 knots. All of a sudden our ETA concerns (trying to time our arrival during normal working hours to avoid overtime fees) went out the window.

It has been nice having additional crew on board. Liko and Claudia have been helpful and cheerful, and have been learning "the ropes" quickly.
At 8/15/2016 11:51 PM (utc) our position was 06°48.89'N 134°24.04'E

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ghost Town at Ayu Atoll

We had very limited information about Ayu Atoll. Our friends on Brick House had stopped there are few years ago, but had not said much about their experience. They were uncharacteristically unenthusiastic however. They stayed 2 nights and we had waypoints for their anchor spots.

Ayu is a long daysail from the N coast of Waigeo. The strong winds of a few days before had died down, and we anticipated light southerly winds, and maybe a little following current. So we got going early, just after daybreak, so we would arrive at Ayu in good light. Conditions as we left the anchorage were not promising. The squally conditions we had experienced for the previous week had dissipated somewhat, but it was still 100% overcast.

As we approached the southern end of Ayu's reef around noon, we hooked a good-sized mahi mahi. (woo-hoo, fresh fish tonight!!) Also, a boat was approaching us from the other island just SE of Ayu. This boat looked like the typical "excursion" boat from Raja Ampat. At first we thought they must be divers, but on closer inspection, they were all neatly dressed men, locals. They came by and we waved, but we didn't stop. We were in the open ocean and Dave didn't even want to attempt to have anyone come alongside. They waved back, but didn't speak or make any motions to us. As always, it's tough to communicate at all with no Indonesian on our side and no English on their side. They trailed us for about 5 minutes as we fought the mahi, and then eventually peeled off and headed for Waisai. We are guessing that they were some kind of official delegation (they looked like tourism officials).

Once we got close enough to Ayu's reef to see that we could see, we decided to proceed into the reef. We did have a pretty good Google Earth chart of the atoll, and the overcast was thinning. The conditions were light, and we could see well enough to confirm that what we were seeing on Google Earth. We even felt confident enough that we took a shortcut channel down to the island that Brick House had first anchored at.

We were surprised on entering the main channel, to see another low sandy island ahead to the east that looked chock-a-block with small houses. Brick House had never mentioned other inhabited islands. The island they had anchored behind was much higher than the rest. As we sailed by on the outside of the reef, we could see a few houses, but not so many as this one low island. It was too late in the day to spend time exploring, so we proceeded as originally planned to the "main" island in the middle of the atoll.

Coming in the alternate channel from the obvious main channel (it cuts off toward the main island earlier), we had least depths of about 4 meters, avoiding the obvious shallow coral heads, but it was usually around 10 meters. The main channel was even deeper. There are anchorable spots if you arrived at the atoll late in the day and didn't want to proceed further in poor light.

We found the village the Brick House anchored off of, with a very big concrete pier, a church, and many small houses. But it was curious that only one person came out on the pier as we nosed around. Normally we would expect 10-15 kids jumping up and down on the pier waving and yelling "Hello Meester! Hello Meester!" We anchored a little ways from the village in about 10 meters mixed sand and coral. We were relieved not to see any boats launching from the village to come say hello. We had saved our mahi carcass, and when an old guy in a fishing canoe came by on his way back from the reef, we gave it to him. He smiled and waved and thanked us, but again, the language barrier.

We could see a big house up on the ridge--it looked sort of like a resort from afar. But on closer examination--maybe not. So in the morning, we took the dinghy in to say hello and look around.

Again, no one greeted us on the pier, and the village with 20-30 houses looked completely deserted. It was eerie. We finally found a man on the other side of the village, getting ready to launch his big panga. We said hello, but again the language problem. I fortunately remembered the Indonesian word for "walking around" (jalan jalan), and we got a big smile and a wave at the path leading inland.

We had the weirdest walk. We found a concrete road leading inland, and it looked like someone had platted out the land adjacent to the road. There were lot numbers spray painted on the concrete. Piles of rubble and some flat places indicated they had been preparing to build more houses. But every house was locked up and deserted. The large building up on the ridge turned out to be a school, locked, decaying, with one room packed with student desks. We found further on, an administration building, locked and decaying (obviously unused for at least a couple of years). Alongside the road someone had planted (and someone was still tending) various food-bearing plants...coconuts, bananas, melons, taro and several other kinds of root vegetables. We found a full-up Telkomsel (the local phone company) remote installation, with a tower, satellite dish, solar panels, etc. It was dated 2012, but looked abandoned. We had previously checked for Telkomsel signal on our cell phones and got nothing.

There was a second very small village (group of houses) on the other side of the island from where we anchored. There we found a 3-room schoolhouse, unlocked, and it looked like it had been used recently (a date on the chalkboard was May 2016). But we didn't see anyone as we poked a bit around the group of houses.

As we went back through the village where our dinghy was, two pre-teen kids had a few coconuts on road, obviously harvested for us (but no machete in their hands to open the coconuts for us). I hadn't thought to gab any gifts other than a small sack of candy, so I gave that to the boys. We could see 3 other adults sitting in the shade by one of the houses, and they waved and thanked them. Again as we walked through the village, which looked like 50-100 people should live there, we only saw a handful. There was a really nice solar array by the church--20 or so good-sized solar panels and 2 big metal boxes, one marked "batteries" and the other marked "inverter". It didn't look like the inverter was functioning.

There were 3 men on the pier working on making fish cages (4-6 poles upright in the water, surrounded by netting... sort of the local version of a refrigerator for their catch).

I am not sure what was going on on that island--a huge migration to jobs in Waigeo? A foreign church-building project that had petered out and the foreigners gone home? A government aid project that fizzled out? Some kind of plague that wiped out the village? Or people temporarily visiting another island for seasonal fishing reasons?? Maybe a huge wedding or funeral on another nearby island? I would love to have had a chat with someone who spoke english about what was going on. I'm definitely going to Google a little about Ayu when we get internet. Apparently the island or village is named Abidon, as that was on several signs, on the church and the school.
At 8/09/2016 10:34 PM (utc) our position was 00°30.20'N 131°07.89'E

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Heading for Palau

We checkout out of Sorong, Indonesia on Wednsday, and left Sorong on Thursday morning. We spent Friday doing some boat maintenance on a shallow beach on the north coast of Batanta.

Early yesterday (Saturday) morning, we left that pretty anchorage to head north and east toward Palau.

Our first leg was planned to be 45 miles to an anchorage on the southeast end of Waigeo. We had originally envisioned this leg to be the typical Indonesian drift (motorsail). However, a strong monsoon trough moved in a couple of days ago, and we had big winds from the SSW. This made our planned anchorage untenable, but also gave us a speed boost, so we ended up going about 62 miles, going on around the east end of Waigeo, and found a nice anchorage on the north coast.

We had 20-25 knots most of the day, and with the main down to the 3rd reef, 2 reefs in the jib, and the wind aft of the beam, we were easily reaching 7-8 knots. It was good experience for us all--it had been so long since we actually sailed that we needed a refresher. And the new crew are soaking up the terminology and the sail handling.

None of our friends have been in this part of Waigeo, so for the first time, we had no waypoints or tracks to follow! But thanks to GoogleEarth and SASPlanet, we had some usable satellite photos. Good thing, because the chart is vague and way off in this area.

I have been learning how to make satellite charts from SASPlanet--it's not hard but something I haven't done before. Doug on Rigel gave me his SASPlanet program with about 4GB of cached sat photos, which have much better photos of this part of Indonesia (Nokia DGSat). I had made a few maps a week or so ago, so when I blithely tried to make a few maps of the east and north coast of Waigeo, I was surpised to find some problem between GE2KAP and SASPlanet. With Paul (the GE2KAP creator) and Terry on Valhalla's help, I tried a few things, but haven't solved it yet. It may be a Windows issue.

Fortunately we already have good cartography of the stops we plan for the trip to Palau. Our plan is make the jump to Ayu Islands (about 60 miles north of here) tomorrow. This is an Indonesian group of atoll-like islands. I think there is one village. I am sure we will be welcomed for a day or two stop there. The next stop after that is a single overnight NNE to Helen Reef, a tiny atoll at about 3N 132E. This atoll is owned by Palau, and is staffed by 3-4 rangers who live there and protect the reef from poachers (usually Filipino and Indonesian fishermen). If we have good enough weather, we hope to spend a few days there, diving and snorkeling. The final leg is a double overnight NNE to Palau. So we think we won't be in Palau until around 18-20 August.

It looks like the monsoon winds are dying down today, so we are hoping for only 5-10 knots behind us for our first leg tomorrow. We'll be leaving at the crack of dawn to give us an early afternoon arrival, as we've got about 5 miles of reef-strewn passage to get from outside the reef to the anchorage inside the reef.
At 8/7/2016 7:55 AM (utc) our position was 00°08.52'S 131°14.39'E

Beaching Soggy Paws

Yesterday we did something that we never could have done with the old Soggy Paws... we beached the cat on a nice sloping beach and did some maintenance on the underwater side.

High and Dry Doing Underwater Maintenance

It's new moon time, and the tidal range is bigger than normal, with higher highs and lower lows than other times of the month. High tide was supposed to be at 8am, so we got up early and started watching the tide mark we had set at high tide the previous evening. As soon as we saw the tide definitely going down, we started getting ready to go up on the beach. At 0810, we started engines to pull our anchor and head for the beach.

Snuggled Up to the Mangroves

We had measured depths of the water in the sand spot we had picked out, and knew we would have to nose right up to the bushes on the beach, to be in shallow enough water. We tied a rope onto a strong bush on shore and brought it out into the water, secured with a dive weight and a small buoy, to be ready to tie a bow line to.

As we slowly headed in to the beach, we dropped a Fortress anchor from the stern. This whole maneuver would have been difficult with just two of us, but we have 2 crew for the trip to Palau, and they made it easy. With Sherry driving, Liko on the stern with the stern anchor, Dave on the bow with the bow line, and Claudia in the water with a mask and snorkel, we carefully positioned Soggy Paws a few inches above the sand in as level a spot as we could find. We had to nudge the bow over a little to level things out, and tied a 3rd line off to the side to maintain our position.

Claudia Updates Dave on How We Are Positioned

So we touched the bow to the sand, and then just waited for the tide to go down. Claudia started positioning boards under our keels, to keep us from sinking in the sand too much.

Claudia Positions the First Set of Boards

Liko and Dave with the Last Board

We had tried to buy a sheet of 1/2" plywood in Sorong for this purpose, but none was available. So we ended up with a 1x8" plank, cut in 2 ft segments. We used 4 boards crosswise along the bottom of the keel.

And we picked up a little more wood from the beach to brace up underneath the rudders, which ended up sitting about 1 ft over the sand. By 0915 we had all 8 boards in place and the front end of the keel was firmly grounded. An hour later and the boat was nearly completely out of the water, and we started on the maintenance tasks.

Boards Buried in the Sand Under the Keel

Supports Under the Rudder

While we were out, we did the following:

- Changed the zincs in the saildrives
- Repaired a few nicks in the saildrives with epoxy
- Painted the new prop blade with antifoul
- Checked and adjusted the angles on all the prop blades
- Scrubbed the waterline
- Changed the oil in the port engine

One Of the SailDrive Zincs, New and Old

Claudia and Liko got a chance to break away while Dave was working on the saildrives, to go snorkel in the reef nearby, which we had previously seen.

We had an early dinner, and just waited for the tide to come up. At 7:30pm, the first board floated free, and by 8pm we had pulled ourselves backward via the stern anchor and were fully off the beach.

It was pitch black out--no moon, no stars, and a low overcast. But we had the anchor waypoint marked, so maneuvering "on instruments", I was able to get positioned over the anchor spot. It took 2 tries to get it right--the first time we ended up a little too close to the reef on one side. Too far out, and we're in 80-100 feet, and too far in, we'd swing over the shallow reef. By 8:30pm we were safely anchored. Long day, but worth it to get the zincs changed.

At 8/5/2016 12:40 AM (utc) our position was 00°46.78'S 130°44.82'E

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cleared out of Indonesia

July 27-Aug 5

We spent a few more days playing and exploring along the north coast of Batanta, and then on July 31, headed for Sorong, about 30 miles away.

The plan for Sorong was to (a) pick up crew that were going with us to Palau (b) get re-provisioned and fueled up and (c) clear out of Indonesia.

Liko Loading Into the Dinghy

Liko and Claudia, our crew, met us on Monday afternoon, having taken the ferry down to Waisai. Liko was the instructor at Biodiversity Eco Lodge when we made our 20 dives there, and had August off. Claudia, his Chilean girlfriend, who has been traveling the world for the last year, had joined him to make this trip with us. We only knew Liko a little bit, and had never met Claudia, so we had a few trepidations about taking them on a 3 week trip. But it seems to be working out well.

Claudia is on a Grand Adventure and is always smiling and interacting with the people. Everyone wanted Selfies with Claudia!

Waiting in Line at the ATM

In the Taxi

This Taxi Driver Wanted Her Phone Number

Our biggest worry with officialdom in Sorong was our Customs paperwork. Under the new rules, we should have been able to get a 3-year "temporary importation paper" (TIP). But, we discovered when we renewed our visas a month ago in Sorong, that because we entered Indonesia via the Rally and via Sangihe (NOT an official port of entry), we only got a 3 month TIP. And there was some question whether our TIP expired on 7/27 or 8/5. Both dates were on the form, but the form is in Indonesian and Google translate helps, but is not perfect. But after several emails with ASWINDO, the agency that sponsored the Rally, they assured us that we were good until August 5. The second problem was that the Customs guy had told us that we had to have our agent contact Manado Customs (who oversees Sorong) and have our paperwork forwarded from Manado to Sorong.

So our first stop on Monday was at Customs, to make sure that all our paperwork was there and in order. The Customs guy was very nice and spoke very good English, and he said we were good to go. We made an appointment with him for Wednesday morning.

Dave Handling the Immigration Issue

The next worry was about adding two crew who had flown in to Indonesia on tourist visas, to our crewlist to check out with us on the boat. One cruiser 2 years ago had had problems doing that. He ended up essentially leaving in the middle of the night, without properly clearing out. He told everyone "Immigration doesn't want people to go out a different way than they came in." However, after further investigation--talking with another cruiser who knew the details--his problem was because his crew had overstayed their visas! I also posted on several Facebook groups for this area asking about crew flying in and leaving on the boat. Nobody had had any problems. We had talked about trying to get an agent (or local "fixer") to help us grease some palms to make it happen. But we decided to wait and see if we ran into any problems before trying that avenue.

Selfies In the Market

I spent Tuesday teaching Liko and Claudia about provisioning for 3 weeks away from civilization. We made 2 trips to the Saga supermarket and the Robinson's supermarket. Provisioning in Sorong is better than we've seen for a couple of months, but still very "out island". For example, it's difficult to find any fresh meat except chicken. Whatever imported goods are there, are VERY expensive. We did find fresh lettuce, but it was about $3 for a small head. And some "luxury" veggies like brocolli and bell peppers, as well as some CHEESE!! I just ignored the prices and stocked up on what we needed.

We also found the Telkomsel office got topped off on cell phone minutes, dropped our accumulated laundry off to be washed/dried/folded, got cash from the ATMs, and scoped out a place to go in for dinner. All of this is more difficult than in most countries we've been, because our Indonesian is almost non-existant, and very few common people speak English. Between smiles, gestures, Google Translate, and sometimes a helpful bypasser, we managed to get everything done.

The Dinghy Dock and Fuel Dock at Sorong (Behind Navy Boat)

Meanwhile, Dave was working on getting diesel fuel and gasoline, to make sure we were completely full when we left Sorong. The guys at the fuel depot behind the navy boat were very helpful and friendly. We jugged 4 25-liter jugs twice to get topped off on diesel. And a couple of jugs of gasoline.

Dave also took one of our air compressor filters into EON Engineering to be re-packed with new filter material. Wick, an Australian, tests, repairs, and refurbishes dive tanks and dive compressors.

Wednesday was checkout day. We started at Immigration, crossing our fingers that we wouldn't have any issues.

We dressed conservatively (everyone complaining about wearing long pants, collared shirts, and closed toe shoes, because of the heat). See sign at Immigration, right.

We made sure we had plenty of copies of crew lists and copies of the passport picture pages. It took about a half an hour, and we had no problem at all, nor any questions about where our crew came from. Dave double-checked every passport that we had been correctly stamped out.

Sign at Immigration

Sign Left Over from Ramadan Celebrations

At that point, we split up, and Dave headed for Customs, and we headed for the fresh veggie market. Here we stocked up on several bags full of fresh local veggies. Claudia saw a table selling beetlenut (a plant-based drug that the locals chew in this part of the world). She had always wanted to try it, so she bought a trial bundle of all the stuff needed, and got someone to explain how it was to be used. (she hasn't tried it yet).

The Beetlenut Table - Available Fresh or Dried

Dave ended up spending nearly all day trying to get finished with our clearance out. Customs wants to come out to the boat and take pictures (to make sure the boat we are clearing out is in fact the same boat that cleared in, and has all the expensive gear still aboard). Then he went to the Harbormaster, only to find out that Customs had forgotten to give him a piece of paper he needed. So back to Customs... then back to Harbormaster, only to be told that he needed to clear out with Quarantine, which is halfway across town. It was nearly 5pm before he came back to the boat, exhausted. But we had accomplished everything we needed... except for one thing.

When we were in Batanta, Dave had found a nice beach with only a slight slope, that dries at low tide. He wanted to beach the boat on the upcoming New Moon tide, to change the zincs in the outdrive. And he wanted a piece of 1/2" plywood, about 2 feet wide, to help keep the keels from sinking in the sand. So Dave called our friend Victor, a guy who speaks really good English and has a construction equipment company, to see if Victor could tell him where to get the plywood. Victor offered to get the wood we needed, and cut it to size, and deliver it to the boat. Unfortunately, Victor couldn't find 1/2" plywood anywhere. So we adjusted the requirement to 8" wide boards, cut in 2-ft lengths. Unfortunately, Victor's guys misunderstood the discussion, and cut the 8" wide boards into 2" wide strips!! So instead of delivering our wood on Weds afternoon, Victor called apologising, and said he'd get the correct wood to us in the morning.

So instead of taking off for Batanta and our haulout place at 8am, we were stuck waiting around for Victor to deliver the wood we needed. That gave me a chance to have one last crack at Saga, to pick up a couple more heads of lettuce, and a batch of fresh shrimp.

Finally Underway

Finally we were away at about noon, with the wood onboard. Now we were worried about getting to our anchorage 32 miles away before dark. But for once, we had uncharacteristically good wind, on our quarter, and later on our beam. With a double-reefed main and a single reef in the genoa, and a little current behind us, we were making 10 knots over the bottom in 22 knots of wind. Wheeee!! Everyone onboard had a blast, and got a little sail-handling experience, and a turn at the wheel. We arrived at our anchorage well before dark, and had a chance to do another recon of the beach that we were planning to beach on the next day.

It was nice being at anchor in nice calm clean water again! (Sorong is a fairly dirty harbor and has a nasty chop when the wind opposes the current).

We go into the beach on the high tide tomorrow, and will spend the day beached, scrubbing the bottom and doing saildrive maintenance. Then we'll be off toward Palau (doing day-hops around the E end of Waigeo for a couple of days).
At 8/5/2016 12:40 AM (utc) our position was 00°46.78'S 130°44.82'E