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.