Monday, January 28, 2019

A Few Days in Biak

January 18-21, Biak

So we arrived in Biak, the far eastern check-out port for Indonesia, on Friday mid morning. But we couldn't check out yet, as we hadn't checked in to Indonesia yet (had been coast hopping down from the Philippines in remote areas). So our first job was to get checked in.

We dropped anchor off the port, and were the 4th boat to be anchored there. It was deep, there wasn't much room left, and the conditions were not nice, with an onshore breeze opposing current, and the offshore reef not breaking much of the wave action. But we had been told that this was the designated anchorage for dealing with officials, and best for doing town business like groceries, fuel, and laundry.

We had a quick lunch aboard and beached our dinghy on Julius's beach (first small beach and houses northwest of the Ikan Pasar (Fish Market)). From here it's a short walk to Immigration and Customs, plus a gas station that will pump good diesel into your jugs (not always easy to find in Indonesia). Julius speaks pretty good English and is helpful. Look for the Dive Biak boats on the beach.

Immigration was easy--we didn't plan to stay in Indo for more than a few days, so the 30 day non-extendable "visa on arrival" worked for us. That is all you can get in Biak, unless you have previously arranged for a Social Visa (see procedure for doing that prior to your arrival in Indonesia, in the Indonesia section of our Files page).

Customs was easy also--we had (after 4-5 attempts) successfully completed our arrival information online on the Yachters website maintained by Indonesian Customs, just before we left the Philippines. We just had to confirm that info on their computer, and then have them come visit the boat for an arrival inspection. We made an appointment to pick them up off the Fish Market pier at 4pm.

Quarantine (Health) was a bit of a problem... they used to have an office at the Port, but now they are most of the time only found in their office out of town. Someone had told us to go to Quarantine (Plants) and they would call them for us, but ultimately we ran out of time to deal with Quarantine because of our approaching appointment with Customs.

It was getting rougher in the anchorage, and when the Customs and Immigration guys showed up, after the dinghy ride out, they were looking a little green. That enabled a quick inspection, with the Customs guys taking pictures of all the boat equipment listed on our arrival paperwork (they then are supposed to verify the equipment is still aboard when we leave, making sure we have not sold anything while in Indonesia).

Just at dusk, Dave ferried the guys back to the pier and we pulled anchor immediately to move to a more protected anchorage, 2 miles north of the town pier. Fortunately we had several cruiser's tracks and good satellite charts, so we had no trouble finding our way to the northern anchorage in the dwindling light. This anchorage was WAY better than the town anchorage.

Unfortunately, by morning, the wind had switched to W-SW, and the reef that protected us when the wind was NW was no longer protecting us, and the winds were up to 25 kts. It didn't take us long to search the satellite imagery and find a spot that looked better protected in west winds. We were the first to move, but our friends on Berserker and Indigo soon followed us as their anchorage got worse and ours was better. (Anchorage details are in the Indonesia Compendium, Biak section).

We had planned to head out first thing in the morning on a diesel run, but opted instead to hunker down and wait for the weather to get better. By late afternoon, things had calmed down enough that we decided it might be possible to drop people at the ferry pier just behind us. Indigo, avid "birders" had been talking to a recommended birding guide, and asked if he would taxi us in with our jugs to get diesel. I dropped Dave and Indigo on the pier with the jugs--they had to scrambled up to the high pier over the back of a (derelict?) fishing boat. On their return, I positioned the dinghy under the pier and they lowered the jugs down with a rope. Diesel-done! Dave also dropped our laundry off where Indigo was picking theirs up.

We had heard there was a WWII-era Catalina airplane that made a nice dive. Dave contacted Julius, the guy recommended to guide us, and arranged for a Sunday dive on the Catalina for 5 of us. Fortunately the weather was nice by Sunday morning, and Julius turned up on time with a fairly decent dive boat and 10 tanks. We had 2 nice dives (pictures to follow later).

When we were discussing logistics for Monday--we needed to go check out of Indonesia, and the others needed groceries and diesel--Julius offered to be a water taxi for us. So Monday morning, he picked us up at our boats (not so promptly on time), and brought us to his house. From there we started the rounds of officials... Quarantine, Immigration, and Customs.

We ended up having to hire a shared taxi to take us out to Quarantine, as the Q office on the docks were closed. Looking at the Google Map for their location, I mistakenly told the taxi driver "near the airport". Well, it's NEAR the airport but on a completely different road, and not near the main airport terminal. A half hour and 2 stops for direction discussions (in Indonesian, and we don't speak any), we finally got dropped off at the Quarantine (Health) office. We had 3 boats' worth of paperwork, all with different plans of when they were actually checking out, plus a fourth boat (Indigo, who was on their birding tour) who was planning to check out but wasn't there. So it took an hour to sort out all our paperwork. The end result was that Quarantine had to pay us a visit on the boat before they could process our paperwork. *sigh*

Immigration was again easy, as we had just checked in on Monday. All they had to do was stamp our passports and put another stamp on our crew list.

Customs--we visited our now good friend Noel in the Customs office, and he said they needed to visit the boat to check us out (they had just been there on Friday!!). So we arranged for Customs and Q to come out at 4pm for a boat visit. We convinced them that conditions up at the ferry pier at the north end of the reef were much better, and arranged for them to meet us there, rather than on the Fish Market pier.

Then we made a mad dash for the grocery store, picking up our laundry on the way. For cruisers familiar with Sorong, the grocery store, Hadi, is similar to Saga in Sorong, but not quite as well stocked. Imported fruits, frozen chickens, cases of beer, and typical Indonesian dry goods were what we were after.

Then we rushed back to Julius's place with all our stuff (3 boats' worth of shopping, laundry, and some diesel jugs), so we could be back aboard in time for Customs and Quarantine's visit.

It was an exhausting but productive day. Though, we found out when the officials visited, that their visit was not the end of our formalities. We needed to stop back in town the next day to get our final, signed paperwork before we could leave.

The next day, Soggy Paws left Biak. We had a date on a nearby beach at low tide to fix one of our saildrives.
Sherry & Dave

Cruising SE to PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu
At 1/28/2019 2:15 AM (utc) our position was 01°13.32'S 144°17.96'E

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Checked out of Indonesia, Headed for PNG

We only stayed one full day in Wayag :( Our buddy boats that we were trying to meet up with were in Sorong and getting ready to go, so we agreed to hustle out of Wayag and meet them on the SE tip of Waigeo Island. It took two long days of motorsailing in almost no wind to make the 100 miles to the meeting place. Fortunately, most of the time we had some current helping us out.

A couple of hours after we dropped anchor in Momfasa Bay, Ocelot and Indigo II arrived from Sorong. The next day, Beserker arrived from Waisai town. We had one big potluck on Ocelot, and took off headed east for Biak, 300 miles away. Biak would be our last official port in Indonesia, and where we check out.

With 4 boats, we had 4 different thoughts about the best way to do this route. One big consideration was to avoid sailing at night, because of the constant problem of unlit fishing boats, FADs, and nets. Also, since we would be close in to a coast with many rivers, we were worried about running into big logs at night. So Ocelot and Soggy Paws decided to try to break the trip up into 50-mile day hops. This mostly worked...

The first hop was almost exactly 50 miles, and we managed to squeeze 4 boats into a narrow protected not-too-deep and not-too-shallow shelf at the SE corner of Mios Su (aka Pulau Su and Pulau Amsterdam). We choose our anchorages based on whatever waypoints and tracks we've been able to gather from other cruisers, and with the help of GoogleEarth / SasPlanet charts. The winds were light NW, and the swell about 1 m from the NE. This was an OK anchorage. The trip was long and hot, as we were pretty much going downwind.

The next morning we all pulled out together. Ocelot and Soggy Paws were aiming for a tiny little hook in the land 50 miles away, but Beserker and Indigo decided to go on ahead and get it all done in 2 overnights, hoping to sail some rather than having to motor to keep speed up to make the next anchorage.

Our next stop was a tiny hook in the coast that looked like we could tuck in far enough to get out of the swell. It mostly worked. At high tide it was a little swelly. Not too bad for a catamaran, but would have not been fun for a monohull.

Jon on Ocelot had picked the next night's stop, another 50 miles down the way. It looked protected from the NW winds, but the reef provided no protection from the NE swell. It was an even worse anchorage than the previous nights. But with light winds and only 1.5m swell offshore, as long as we stayed out in deep water it was just rolly, not dangerous breaking waves. I wouldn't anchor there again.

Ocelot planned to do 3 more anchorages before Biak, but we had a little wind in the forecast, plus bigger unpleasant wind in the following days forecast. Also, we were going to be further offshore, and we hadn't seen hardly any fishing activity along this coast. So I convinced Dave to make an overnight direct to Biak.

It actually turned out to be a beautiful sail. The wind stayed at 7-10 knots all night long, just aft of the beam. Since we were didn't HAVE to make 5 knots to make it in by dark, we could ghost along at 4 and enjoy the sailing. About midnight, the wind dropped off briefly and I went to start the starboard engine, and it stalled every time I put it in gear. Dave thought we probably had something wrapped around the prop. Neither one of us wanted to go swimming at night, so we just kept sailing. Fortunately the lull was temporary and we had a beautiful sail the rest of the night.

In the morning, we took the sails down and sent Dave over the side. We found a whole banana tree jacknifed around the saildrive, and part of the sinews wrapped in the prop. Once we cleared that, the engine was fine. (Note: the port engine is inop because we've found water in the saildrive gear oil--it still runs, but Dave doesn't want to use it except in an emergency).

We made it into Biak port around mid day on Friday, January 18.
At 1/22/2019 8:08 AM (utc) our position was 01°18.71'S 136°22.75'E

Monday, January 14, 2019

Enroute to Biak

After a scant 1 day at Wayag, and 2 days motorsailing east along the north coast of Waigeo, we finally arrived at our rendezvous anchorage at the east end of Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat. 00-18.00S / 131-19.06E in about 25 feet of mud/sand.

Here, we were joined by our friends on Ocelot, Indigo II, and Berzerker. Sadly, Songbird is still in Samal waiting for their new LiPO4 batteries to clear Customs in Manila. (We hope our Songbirds will eventually catch up).

We all spent yesterday prepping for the next hop--275 miles to Biak, an island in the middle of Cenderwasih Bay. The route takes us along the top of the "bird's head" that sits at the western end of West Papua, Indonesia.

On Soggy Paws, Dave discovered milky oil in the Port saildrive. This means we've got salt water mixed with the gear oil. Not a great situation. Dave thinks they may have pinched an o-ring when they re-assembled the saildrive. Ideally, we'd need a haulout to remedy the problem, but Dave thinks he can do it on a beach with a good high tide. Right now the tides aren't right, or we'd head down to Batanta where put Soggy Paws on the beach in 2016 to change the oil. Looks like the 23rd has the right tides, so we'll be looking for a beach near Biak. Meanwhile, he sucked as much of the milky oil out and replaced it with new oil, and we'll try not to use the Port engine unless we have to.

We all left the anchorage this morning around 7:30, heading east. The wind is light NW and the seas are slight, so it's not an unpleasant motorsail. There's a high overcast so it's not too hot.

If we went direct, it would take 2 1/2 days at around 5 knots. But I think we'll stop tonight at a tiny island called Pulau Amsterdam (aka Mios Su). We are worried about motoring at night with big logs in the water--washed out to sea by the rains. Stopping tonight means we'll cover more of the coast near the rivers in the daylight.
Sherry & Dave

Cruising SE to PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu
At 1/11/2019 4:30 AM (utc) our position was 00°18.00'S 131°19.06'E

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Oh Lovely Wayag, Again!

We left the marina on Samal on New Year's Day, and anchored overnight in a lovely bay on the SE corner of Samal Island. From there we left early the next morning, and motored south for Indonesia, 186 miles away.

The Gulf of Davao is almost always calm in the morning and we motorsailed all day in light winds. Our GRIB files promised a fair wind from the mouth of the bay all the way to Talaud, and that is what we got. We had a fast sail with following current, overnight to Talaud Island. As per normal, my watch was busy--winds up and down and light squalls required constant sail trimming. At one point I logged "Crazy hour! Wind shifted to the nose and died, engine on for 10 minutes. The wind is back but way east and now we are hard on the wind!" Dave's watch was not much different. In all, it was a good overnight--no fishing boats to dodge and only one ship on AIS.

We arrived at Talaud in another squall. The anchorage someone else had given us looked too exposed to the current wind, so we went further in to the south coast and found a nice protected spot. 04-00.00N / 126-41.71E in 45 ft sand. It rained all afternoon and evening, but was nice in the morning.

The next hop was another overnight, 140 miles to Rau Island, Morotai, N Halmahera. Our friends on Java were there, and had procured an Indonesian sim card for us, so we could have internet as we coast-hop through NE Indonesia. We first met Java in Ecuador in 2009! Rau is a surfer spot, and there's some nice NE swell in this area right now. So there were a couple of other boats, all surfers. We anchored next to Java at 02-17.41N / 128-10.39E in about 40 ft of sand. This was a pretty anchorage with a nice beach. The new Telkomsel tower on the SW corner or Morotai was serving up 4G internet at times (and 1G at other times!).

From our previous experience going from Morotai to Wayag, we knew we couldn't make it in one overnight. Java had recently stopped at an anchorage on the NE tip of Halmahera, and said it would be a good one in the current conditions (northerly winds and a big swell). The only downside is that it was 67 miles away--a long day even for a catamaran. We hauled anchor at the crack of dawn and kept pushing all day, sweating arriving in an unfamiliar anchorage after dark. Fortunately, we got more breeze than forecast, and we had a fast sail across the north coast of Halmahera, and made it into the anchorage just before dark.

The next hop was 130 or so miles to Wayag. The only tricky part of this one is a ripping northbound current. The weather routing from, produced a route that went down the east coast of Halmahera for awhile before cutting across to Wayag. This added about 15 miles to the direct line route. When we rounded the first point and headed south, we were already bucking a 2 knot current. So we ended up doing a modified version of what FastSeas recommended (a dogleg SSE and then ESE), and did end up with low current for quite awhile, but later had about 2 knots of current on our nose for a number of hours during the night. It was a typical tropical passage with a few rain showers, squalls and calms. The only other exciting part was (finally) noticing the small notice on the chart indicating "for 35 miles surrounding this point, volcanic activity has been reported and sounding are not reliable." It was dark by then, and there was nothing to do but to trust the Garmin soundings (which looked much more accurate than was was on our OpenCPN CMAP chart). We were not that worried about running on a new volcano, but the swift current combined with underwater pinnacles makes a rough ride.

We had put up our Code Zero, a light air sail on a light furler on a removable bowsprit, in anticipation of all the light air sailing we had expected. But reality didn't match the forecast...during the day we had too much wind to use the Code Zero. In fact we ended up on my watch with a double-reefed main and jib and still doing about 7 knots with an ETA of 3:30am!! By the time the wind lightened up, the wind was too far aft for the Code Zero to do us any good (and I wouldn't be happy about flying that big sail on a moonless night with a few squalls around, anyway). At one point, even with the engine on, and a little wind behind us, we were doing only 3 knots over the bottom.

Then, just after dawn, bang! a fitting on the bowsprit broke and we had to do an emergency takedown of the (thankfully furled) Code Zero. The winds were now 20-25 kts and it was raining. I went from a deep sleep to dancing with the sail on the foredeck in my underwear in about 30 seconds. Nothing went over the side, and fortunately, Dave thinks the broken part is fixable.

Having been into Wayag before, we had tracks and waypoints, so entering on an overcast day was not a problem. We wove our way into the inner bay with ease. We were a little surprised to find 3 cruising boats already here, but it's a big area and there's plenty of room. We're having happy hour on Soggy Paws tonight!!

The clouds are clearing and it's time for a swim...
Cruising SE to PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu
At 1/8/2019 1:10 AM (utc) our position was 00°09.68'N 130°02.03'E

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Underway! New Year, New Cruising Grounds

We left our friendly Holiday Oceanview Marina on Samal Island, Mindanao, Philippines on New Years Day to set out on a new adventure--seeing Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

We will be hurrying south and east until June, when we hope to be all the way down south to Vanuatu. Then we'll turn around and cruise back. We are "making time" to the east along the offshore islands of the north coast of Papua New Guinea while the NW winds are blowing. Then we have to get south to Vanuatu before the strong SE trades kick in in June in Vanuatu.

Right now we've made about 400 miles toward the SE in 2 long hops... Samal to Talaud, and then Talaud to Morotai. We are underway leaving Morotai to hopefully go overnight all the way to Wayag in northern Raja Ampat. But we won't linger there, and plan to continue east to the major Indonesian port of Biak, where we plan to check in, refuel and reprovision, and check out for PNG.

I swear I'm going to blog regularly this year! So stay tuned--many adventures ahead.

Sherry & Dave

Cruising SE to PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu
At 1/3/2019 4:54 AM (utc) our position was 03°59.98'N 126°41.70'E