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.

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