[151108, 0721 UTC, Kabui Pass, Gam Island Indonesia,00°25.38'S / 130°34.33'E]
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When we last wrote, we were anchored off the city of Tobelo on the NE coast of Halmahera in Indonesia. Tobelo is a bustling and dusty town of gray and gritty volcanic ash that still bears the scars of a civil war from the time of the turn of the last century. One of the interesting people we met there was a young man named Edo, who shared his tales of this horrible time. Edo is an example of the generous people we have met in eastern Indonesia. Through hard work and his positive attitude, Edo attended university and even won a full scholarship that allowed him to study at the University of Hawaii for a whole year. Now he is a lecturer in hospitality and enthusiastically helps all visitors to his home regency, particularly if the visitors are from "America" as the USA is known here. We met Edo at immigration where he was helping a German couple with complex paperwork for establishing a dive resort. For the duration of our stay, and even after Edo returned to Manado, he helped us in many ways, always responding quickly to our text messages, providing information and even intervention (in his native tongue) when we needed answers or assistance.
The friends we were traveling with benefited even more from the help of a whole long list of sincerely nice locals when they turned back to Tobelo on our passage to Raja Ampat with a presumptive head gasket failure (it was). Since that time, we have been traveling alone in Raja Ampat, only encountering a few other private yachts in this large area. Our rally group dissolved weeks ago, and in the end, we only encountered three of them and one of these was just passing Carina going the opposite way on passage.
Our friends, David and Suzi of Sidewinder were the ones who were going to bring an IMAX film to Raja Ampat to share with the villages and individuals who were instrumental in its production. It is a beautiful movie with a powerful marine conservation message, and it was going to be fun to help to make this happen. The failure of Sidewinder's head gasket made their sojourn impossible, and we became their emissaries. By the time of this writing, we have shown the movie at the tiny island of Arborek, to the village of Friwin with the help of Menos aboard the conservation education boat, Kalabia, that is featured in the film, and directly to the boy, Jawi, who was its main character. We tracked Jawi down in Waisai where he is in the 9th grade with the help of an English teacher. Still to be done is to share the movie with a young radio broadcaster in Sorong who was instrumental in producing its soundtrack.
We actually left Tobelo later than we had planned. Human error resulted in our diesel tank becoming contaminated with water and Carina's engine stalled just before our anchor left the bottom. A little angel was looking out for us that day because the engine could just as easily have died when we were in the channel between reefs leaving Tobelo. Again, the wonderful people of Tobelo stepped forward to help us; in particular, Yus, our friend and tour guide.
Our passage from Tobelo to Raja Ampat was to windward and against a current of about 2 knots across the Halmahera Sea, which is littered with tiny islands and shoals. Winds rarely exceeded 20 knots and we had small seas, but it was a trying passage. Carina flew through the water at speeds up to six knots but, due to currents, we averaged only 2.5 knots over the passage. And we tacked. And we tacked. Westbound tacks were short because this is when the current was (almost) favorable, eastbound tacks were slow. And the passage was to the southeast.
On the third night, we finally were close to our destination, the group of uplifted limestone karst islands known as Wayag, and tried to heave to. Currents again challenged us and instead we had to sail as slowly as we could directly into the current to reach a stop. Eventually this strategy failed when we were suddenly being pulled north towards a shoal and away from Wayag, so we took off sailing again, tacking back and forth. At daybreak, we were just a few miles from the entrance to the islands, but we needed to round its west cape into 20 knots of south wind and steep seas at 2 second intervals. Carina's little diesel struggled as we motor-sailed and we gritted our teeth as we watched the waves to leeward slapping up against the amazing cliffs of Wayag. It was a slow and stressful washtub arrival, and you can imagine we were thrilled to be stopped and safely at anchor deep inside the island group, unconcerned with strong williwaws tugging at Carina. South winds actually increased and remained strong for over a week and delayed our departure for points south, where we were expected at the Festival Bahari in Waisai, the capital of the Raja Ampat regency. In the end, we missed the festival due to weather and did not arrive at the site until nine days after it closed. Resigned to missing the festival, we took our time coming south into winds and through swirling current which was actually more enjoyable than if we'd tried to bash through. We kept our daily mileage short and lingered when we found a place we really liked.
At uninhabited Wayag, we explored the amazing archipelago each day by dinghy, trying to get in and see its underwater beauty on each excursion. Individual limestone, dunce-cap islets dot the water, their bases eroded away to the extent that landing ashore on any of them is impossible. Being alone makes you a wee bit more cautious than we would be if we had other yachts nearby. That being said, we saw most of Wayag, except for places where wind waves made crossing large patches of water too rough. Ironically, the one day we had the outboard fail was when we were well downwind of Carina and winds were screeching between the islets. A mega-trawler trailing two tenders and two jet skis we tried to row past barely glanced our way, and certainly offered no assistance. Finally stopped dead by wind gusts, we tucked into a little cove and Philip was able to get the engine started and we limped home. Intermittent stalling of the outboard continued to plague us though Philip feels he has finally identified and fixed the problem: a semi-clogged fuel line.
Liveaboard dive boats, most of them large graceful wooden former-sailboats with masts carrying no sails, would come and stay sometimes overnight, sometimes just for hours. They always stayed out near the entrance on mooring buoys and we rarely saw them or their guests. We did get the chance to meet a couple of young rockclimbers on a Wharram catamaran, a Kiwi and an Irishman, who were doing a circuit through Indonesia climbing and surfing. They were interesting young men and it was nice to share a gabby gam or two after spending so much time alone.
South of Wayag, we stopped in a bay on Kawe, just east of an abandoned nickel mining camp. The snorkeling here was disappointing which was a surprise, as we'd heard it was good. It was likely because we didn't launch the dinghy and swam from the boat. It appeared to us we were seeing destructive evidence of the (now outlawed) practice of using dynamite for fishing. Coral was all very small and there were large craters everywhere. Being near an abandoned settlement can be a wee bit creepy, so when unlit or barely lit boats began arriving after dark and heading to the dock, we felt vulnerable. But we had no trouble and left in the morning for Alyui Bay as we had already planned to do.
Alyui Bay extends deeply into the west coast of large Waigeo island (one of the "king" islands of Raja Ampat which means "four kings") and there is little anchorage. Cliffs plunge into the sea and depths are 150' or so right up to the shore. Friends has told us of a mooring buoy about two miles in, south of the a favorite dive site at a pearl farm dock. Thankfully, the mooring was free when we arrived and we tied off and watched the sobering current sweep past. Having been designed for liveaboard dive boats we were fairly sure the mooring would hold little Carina. It was while on this mooring we believe we had a tsunami roll through. At 0700 that same morning, there had been a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in Vanuatu, about 2500 nm away. At about 1515 local, with a strong westbound current pulling on the mooring, Carina suddenly sailed eastbound and ran over the mooring. Having mooring lines on both sides, our lines were suddenly all twisted up with the 55-gallon drum-sized mooring. We removed one line and Carina untwisted herself and moved back, only to sail against the current and past the buoy again! Very strange. We re-attached our second mooring line and fed it through the same hawse as the first, which solved the problem of entanglement for the rest of the day.
The following morning, just as soon as we could see and with exotic bird song echoing off the cliffs, we dropped the mooring and rode these same strong currents back out of Alyui Bay. To have waited, would have meant we would have had to push against them. Our passage this day was short, only about 7 miles, and we were at anchor at Minyaifun well before 0900. The following day we would have to leave very early, wind our way through reefs into the blinding morning sun using only satellite photos, and motorsail into the dying southerlies, on a reasonably long passage (for us) to Pulau Yangello on the edge of the Dampier Strait, so we thought it wise to spend a relaxing day at anchor.
Yangello is a tiny island that sits just west of Gam Island, forming a narrow pass between the two. The pass is a favorite dive site and we had to be conscious of bubbles (divers) as we approached. To our surprise, the VHF suddenly came to life and we heard, "Carina, Carina this is Sirius". Sirius, with Jules and Michael aboard, knew us and knew of us, but our memories had faded a bit and we were a bit chagrined. They graciously moved a wee bit forward in the tiny, deep anchorage and allowed us to tuck in. The "shallow" spot at Yangello is about 60' but we dropped our anchor in 80' to be closer to the middle to allow us to swing and miss both shores. We spent a wonderful evening with Sirius and learned of their close relationship with our good friends in the Solomon Islands, John and Lillian Ruka of Roderick Bay. Roderick Bay Hideaway is the place we stayed so long and where Philip suffered a heart attack. We also acquired local knowledge and discussed options for sailing to the US west coast, a goal of theirs after sailing to the Philippines. We will certainly now keep in closer touch with these interesting fellow cruisers.
Yangello is almost perfect, despite its depth. Ancient mangroves adjacent to pristine coral and amazing birdlife. Each day at Yangello we snorkeled its north east coast where we discovered, amongst its vibrant sea life and in clear clean water, two large bommies on which hundreds of brilliantly-colored christmas tree worms lived. We would only find out what they were later when we showed our photos to the crew of Furthur, a rally boat we met at Arborek, our next stop.
Tiny Arborek island is about 1/3 of a mile long, encompasses 48 acres and sits less than 6' above the sea in the middle of the Dampier Strait where currents often exceed four knots. An ebb generates swirling waters and intimidating current right in the "anchorage". A flooding tide generates much less current and since we were there at the full moon, currents ran exceptionally strong, so it was only during the flood when we snorkeled at the popular dive site under its piers. Arborek is absolutely pristine and tidy, a condition supported by government tourism funding and by local conservation groups, including Barefoot Conservation, the NGO that set up their projector so we could share the IMAX film with the village (though we had to buy 3 liters of fuel for their generator).
The following day, we set out east up Dampier Strait, knowing the ebb would soon turn against us. We had planned to try to stop at Sawinggrai, Jawi's home village, but as we were passing nearby and were squeezed between a reef and Gam Island, we were almost never going more than 1 knot with the engine wide open against the ebb and burning more ancient dinosaurs than we care to think about. Also, there was no place off the village to seek shelter or drop a hook, so we pressed on. At one point we hit a whirlpool and went from 1 knot to 4.7 knots -and sideways - only to go back to about 1 knot about 30 seconds later. The distance we would travel this day was going to be short, just under 16 nm, but it seemed much longer as every inch was into a strong ebb current. Six hours after we left Arborek, we rounded the NW corner of Friwin, motored past the eco-education ship, Kalabia, and dropped our anchor in 70' just east of the dock at Friwin. We felt that we had finally found shelter from the Dampier Straits amazing current, but we were wrong.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake
At 11/6/2015 and 4:23 UTC (GMT) our position was: 00°25.38'S / 130°34.33'E