Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pantsing Our Way Around Indonesia

As every storyteller knows, there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create beautiful outlines, fill in details, do research, and refine their story arc before they even consider writing sentence one. Pantsers pull out the keyboard and start writing, usually with no destination in mind and certainly no idea of how to get there - they fly by the seat of their pants. The concept can easily be extended to Real Life; we all occupy a position along the plotter-pantser continuum.

We began our cruising life as plotters. We consulted guidebooks, mapped out routes, and chose anchorages down to the meter before ever putting up a sail. We were organized. We knew what we would find ahead of time, and surprises were few.

We were also sailing in places that had been so extensively travelled that the unknown didn't exist. Thousands of sailboats had done the hard work for us, charting routes through the tricky reefs in the San Blas Islands, ferreting out the best cheese stores in the Marquesas, warning against rolly anchorages and poor holding and towns with inadequate bottle shops.

But then we started to visit places outside the guidebooks. Places our charts barely admitted were there. Certainly places we had no waypoints for or information about. And that meant pantsing. Oh, we tried to be as methodical as possible - entering unknown reefs when the sun angle and tide were right, using a spotter on the bow, wearing polarized glasses and so on - but, in the end, we were relying on our own observations and the depth sounder to get us through. As often as not, the electronic charts would claim we were sailing 100m inland. We needed to stay on our toes.

We fell back on our plotting ways through Australia. But coming to Indonesia put us squarely in pantser territory. For reasons unclear, not a lot of cruisers seem to come here, so advance information was thin on the ground. Oh, we have redundant charts for Indonesia, paper and electronic. And we have a cruising guide. But the names don't always match up. And, for our first month here, the guidebook didn't include any of the places we want to go. So in the end, we gave a mighty shrug and decided we'd figure it out as we went.

We left Cairns with half a plan. That is, we marked our route in the chart plotter up to the Torres Strait. As we passed that point, Erik and I looked at the chart again.
Erik sipped his coffee. "I guess we should figure out where we're actually going. Where are we supposed to check in, again?" he asked.
"Tual," I said. "In Maluku." I drew big circle around Eastern Indonesia with my finger. "Over here somewhere."
We looked at the various islands of the Molluccas, but didn't see it.
"Hold on," I said. I pulled out my computer. "I'm pretty sure one of the rallies checked in there. I might have a map." Sure enough, I had a low-quality cartoon jpeg of Indonesia. A flowing arrow cut across the country from east to west, showing the rally route. Sadly, place names were lacking, but you can't have everything.
Erik and I peered closely at the map. "Yep," Erik said finally. "That's about where I thought Tual should be."
"Me, too," I said. "And if it's the wrong place, we'll either try to check in anyway or ask for directions."
"Done," said Erik.

And our pantsing worked. Since Tual, we've been on our own. Our cruising guide is a little light (read: silent) on this area of Indonesia, so we're back to choosing likely-looking spots on iffy charts, then eyeballing our way around in good light. Pure pantsing. And we've found some gorgeous spots this way.

So if you'll excuse me, I have to hop in the dinghy and do some recon. We want to find a better way out of this reef for our departure this afternoon. We may be pantsing our Indonesian adventure, but we're doing it as safely as we can.

Pinky swear.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Checking into Indonesia

Ahhh. We're spending a comfortable breakfast anchored outside Pulau Godan in the Moluccas. A whale just swam past our boat, puffing breaths into the sky and flipping its tail to dive. The water is clear as gin, and the kids have hardly been dry since we arrived here. Indonesia, you are a cruiser's paradise.

But first we had to get here.

We managed the 1300 NM trip in just under nine days - sometimes travelling at 10 knots, sometimes at 2 knots. We dropped anchor in Tual in Indonesia's Kai islands early Tuesday morning, and Erik and I shared a high five. It was an excellent passage for everyone, with a minimum of gear destruction, seasickness, and the other downsides of bluewater sailing.

"Tual port captain, Tual port captain, this is sailing vessel Papillon, Papillon, please come back." Erik listened for a reply on VHF 16, but no answer. Well, it was only quarter past eight. Plenty of time to sort out our check-in to the country. We gave a phlegmatic shrug and began to clear lines from deck.

By my count, this is the 14th country we have cleared into with Papillon. And while every country wants the same basic things - a piece of paper from the previous country you visited, a passport for every person aboard, and assurance you aren't carrying weapons - they all have their quirks. Some insist you email paperwork ahead of time, radio in when 24 hours from port, and will fly over you while still 20 NM out at sea to demand who you are and where you think you're going. Others create a multi-day tour of local government offices for your enjoyment. Certain countries want four photocopies of your passport and full boat documentation for each office - copies you need to make yourself ahead of time. And some just want to share a cold Coke in the cockpit before giving your documents a smudged stamp and sending you on your way. But easy or complicated, quick or time-consuming, the only reasonable strategy is to smile, relax, and go with the flow until you make it out the other side of the process.

Indonesia overhauled their cruising permit system in February, and not many people have gone through the new system yet. I ground my way through the online forms and dutifully printed the results. But I couldn't find much about what office to contact or where to start once we actually arrived, other than the strict and universal advice to stay aboard until an official knocked on the hull. Again the phlegmatic shrug. We would sort it out on arrival.

Mid-morning we tried to hail the port authority again. Silence. In fact, not a single channel had any traffic on it, which was odd. I knew the VHF was working because I'd used it the night before to talk to another boat. Erik and I kept on shrugging, and kept on cleaning up.

In the meantime, a plethora of banana boats skimmed past the hull, their smiling inhabitants waving and shouting loud greetings. We smiled and waved back. This is just what I remembered from my trip to Indonesia twenty years ago; Indonesians are as friendly a group of people as you could hope to meet.

After lunch with still no joy, Erik and I prepped the dinghy. If our big yellow quarantine flag couldn't attract officialdom, we'd just do it ourselves.

Captain Erik toodled off while the girls and I stayed home to do school. About an hour later, I spotted our dinghy in the distance. Sure enough, there was Erik, returning with a guest.

The friendly man from Immigration sat with us in the cockpit, inspected our passports, filled out forms, and finally pronounced us clear on his end. Smiles and handshakes all around, then back in the dinghy.

"The Port Captain wants to see us tomorrow," said Erik. "I'll try Quarantine next."

And half an hour later Erik was back on Papillon, this time with three officials from Quarantine. More paperwork was completed and another fancy certificate added to our boat documents. Then came the all-important request for selfies with the girls. (I'm always of two minds about these things; on the one hand, it's an innocent bit of fun to take photos with exotic-looking foreigners when said people are such a rarity in your town. But there is a disturbing subtext of veneration for white skin and yellow hair throughout the South Pacific. One pregnant lady we met kept touching Stylish's hair and then her own belly as though effecting a magical transfer. But I digress.) The group happily mugged for the smartphone in various combinations.

This important business concluded, the head officer asked, "When are you planning to leave Tual?"
"On Thursday morning," said Erik.
She nodded. "Then you have to come back to our offices tomorrow to get the check-out paperwork. You'll need that at every port."
Ah. I'd heard about this. Indonesia likes you to check in every step of the way… but only in proper ports. They have no problem with you staying on random tiny islands without informing anyone, or even anchoring up just outside of town for the same reason. But if you enter a harbour, you check in and out. And if you don't want to, just stay out of the harbour.

The next morning, we trooped up the hill to Customs. The officer took a stack of our documents and disappeared into a back room. In the meantime, one of his colleagues brought us fruit and water and set us up in front of the TV. We watched the National Geographic channel and snacked on papaya while the real work went on in the background.

Eventually, two officers emerged from the back rooms. They were ready to inspect the boat.

Back in the dinghy, back over to Papillon. The officers made a thorough check of our various cupboards and hidey-holes, and produced a sheaf of documents to sign. Then came the expected question: "When are you leaving Tual?"
"Tomorrow," said Erik.
The officer nodded. "Good. Then come back to our office this afternoon to check out."
Erik and I couldn't look at each other. I rolled the absurdity of this concept around in my head: check in in the morning, check out in the afternoon.

Back to shore, proceed to the Port Captain. We were ushered into a small office filled with overflowing boxes of paperwork and three desks. At the first, a woman typed busily at a computer. The second belonged to our current host, who lit endless cigarettes and wandered in and out of the room. At the third an older man watched internet TV at top volume on a small laptop.

Here, too, our business was eventually concluded, complete with a discussion of all the ports we might expect to visit between here and the end of our trip. As we were leaving, we asked about the possibility of an internet café nearby. Our host scoffed at the idea, pronounced the internet in Tual "terrible" (no doubt because his elderly colleague was using the town's entire bandwidth), and promptly handed over the codes for the office wifi. Erik and I were ushered to comfy sofas to check our email while a scrum of ladies surrounded the girls for a fresh round of selfies.

A quick lunch later (fried chicken and rice - a meal Indy pronounced her "second-favourite lunch ever"), it was time to commence check out proceedings. Back to Customs for a new certificate. Back to Quarantine for same. Yes, the system is Byzantine, but the people in it are kind, friendly, and straightforward.

And now we're lounging on the reef, in no hurry to get back to a town. If someone could just arrange to drop off tomatoes and oranges every week or two, we would be perfectly content with our coral and whales, and never see a harbour again.

Checking into Indonesia - a summary for cruisers (Tual, Maluku; September 2016):
Ahead of time: Complete the online forms (https://yachters-indonesia.id/), and print 2-3 copies of the final pdf to hand out.
On arrival: Fly the Q flag, as per normal. Go ashore; visit 1) Immigration, 2) Quarantine, 3) Customs and 4) the Port Authority, in that order. Have all of your boat documents and passports with you. Take photocopies of your official boat registration, your passports and your visa for Indonesia (if arranged ahead of time)
When leaving port: Visit Customs, Quarantine and the Port Captain to clear out to your next port.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hanging The World

For years and years, we had a small inflatable globe aboard. It was a $6 impulse buy from a toy shop along our route, and you could tell. Place names were frequently misspelled, and colour fills didn't always match their intended borders. But we had drawn our route on the globe, and it was fun to twirl and look at where we had been.

Alas, our $6 globe was only $6 worth of robust, and developed a leak. It was now a sad deflated thing, sitting in a corner and waiting for me to consign it to the Great Map Collection in the Sky.

And now I can.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reassuring the Boat

Something strange is going on around here.

First, the SSB/modem system wouldn't work, despite pretending all was well during frequent troubleshooting sessions. Then the inverter/charger began to charge erratically or not at all. The new lifelines wouldn't fit through the stanchions. The bolt for the bail on the mizzen was too short. Erik found a dubious spot way up the main. Some of these were little problems, some of them enormous. All of them were suspicious. Being a methodical sort of person, I sat down with a cup of tea and pen and paper to figure out what was going on.

Possible culprits for recent issues on Papillon
1. Ghost.
2. Saboteur.
3. Ghost-saboteur
4. Small-and-unusually-nimble crocodile escapee from the neighbouring mangroves
5. Angry Australian bird, likely deadly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sailing Around Pluto and Other Changes

Greetings, friends, from tropical Cairns! Let's take a look at how far we have sailed in the past two months. Hmm. About 850 nm. We're not exactly setting the world on fire. I can't say: "We've sailed a tenth of the way around Australia," - it has no zing. We need to reframe this whole discussion.

Lucky for me, Australia is a similar size as Pluto.
(Pluto-on-Australia photo credit: David Murray.) Waypoints added by yours truly.
"We've sailed a tenth of the way around Pluto." Aha! Much better. Henceforth, Australia is now Pluto, because I have deemed it to be so.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lost in a Sea of Cheer


Yes, you. Come closer. I have to whisper; someone might overhear, and I'm not really sure what I'm allowed to say around here.

Friends, we seem to have landed in a most strange and unfamiliar place. Let me explain.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Micropost 2: Overheard on Passage

"It's starting to rain."
"The wind swung; time to jibe."
"We've got gusts to 32 knots, now."
"Wind changed again. Jibing."
"This swell is the pits."
"Wake up - we need to jibe."
"Probably sailing through that freighter anchorage in the middle of the night isn't a great idea. Let's jibe."
"Is it raining again?"
"Here come more gusts."
"Is the wind swinging again?"
"Time to jibe."
"Your seasickness meds aren't working very well this time, are they?"

But we eventually reached the Whitsundays, where it never ever rains.
Anchoring up in Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wahoo, where they never have troubles. At least, very few.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Micropost 1: Lady Musgrave

We've had an exciting few weeks aboard Papillon. Sadly, the internet here is shocking and our normally-reliable SSB has decided to pack it in, so I am rather behind in my updates to you, dear readers. To that end, I'll post a few quick snippets over the next few days to get you up to speed.

After the rain (rather RAIN) we experienced in Mooloolaba, we were dying to get to Lady Musgrave. It is a lovely little coral cay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, with a small island, a zillion turtles, and some nice snorkelling. Perfect for the tropics-loving Papillon Crew.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Like all good moms, my screensaver scrolls through my photo folder. And since I've taken a thousandfold more pictures on this trip than I did in all the years that preceded it, most of the pictures that flicker past are boat-related.

It would be easy to slide down into the caramel-coated Pit of Nostalgia every time I see how utterly adorable the girls were when we started out. I mean, look at this:
Smashing the squee-meter

But, lately, those early-day photos remind me of what a huge mental adjustment we had to make to succeed as cruisers. Erik was coming off years of constant travel and round-the-clock work. Stylish was in school full-time. Indy and I darted between swimming lessons, music group, library storytime, and all of the other activities that fill a city toddler's days. In short, we were people with a schedule, and we knew how to keep it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Park It

I spend a lot of time with the kids at the park. But I'm the first the admit that "going to the park" isn't always as fun as it sounds. On a good day, it means the kids and I trek out to New Farm Park for a half day playing in the two-storey spider web among the banyans. On a bad day, it means we steal half an hour on the sad scrap of undeveloped land squeezed between the dock, the parking lot and the marina office.

Lately, Erik and I have been beset by Guilty Feelings regarding the kids. For although one of our family mottoes is "You Get What You Get and You Don't Get Upset,"* let's be fair. We're six weeks behind schedule. The girls are stuck in a marina with a total lack of other children, an excess of biting flies, and two increasingly cranky parents. The odd outing to New Farm isn't really cutting it anymore.

And so Erik hatched a Cunning Plan.

Friday, May 6, 2016

You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue

First, a very happy belated Star Wars Day to you all. May the Fourth be with you! We celebrated by watching The Empire Strikes Back. (We try to observe the most important days in the calendar. Raise the kids up right.)

Once again, I've been slow to blog. And I have heard your complaints. I submit two reasons for my poor performance, namely a) we have been working nonstop to get the boat ready and I just don't have it in me to write after ten long hours of manual labour, and b) I have been following the principle of If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Don't Say Anything At All. We have spent the last two weeks wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. Everything broke. Nothing worked. A horde of tiny biting flies invaded. I reached epic levels of crabbiness. You would not have wanted a blow-by-blow.

But now, finally, we're getting there. Sure, the cockpit is still cushionless and full of junk, but Erik has built new shelves to stow all that stuff and new cushions sit below, awaiting only a clean surface on which to rest. The salon overflows with milk crates, but the new tool bench will absorb most of that. And so on. We have reached that point in the refit journey when we can crack open one eye to peak at the future. To ponder sandy beaches, clear snorkelling and our next port of call. To break the seal on the guide books.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Getting in the Water Again, Again

Last week, the marina Travelift parked around Papillon. The operators adjusted the straps, picked up the boat and drove her to the water's edge. We climbed aboard and were lowered into the murky Brisbane River. And once we splashed down, Erik and I inspected the boat.

We found four leaks.