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.
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.

At 4/16/2017 11:10 PM (utc) our position was 03°54.31'S 134°06.99'E