I returned to Downtime after another hectic summer of traveling in the states in mid October. I had left the boat for a second time in the safety of Ocean View Marina, a small marina just south of Davao City located on the small island of Samal. This marina has the capacity for about 100 boats and is surrounded by a concrete wall that keeps all but the feistiest northern storms out except for when waves get big enough to actually go over the 8 foot wall. The 60 mile long bay is surrounded by 3000 foot mountains and the area is protected from the many typhoons that the rest of the islands in the northern Philippines encounter several times a year.
There were just a few things on the repair list before we set sail and one was to haul Downtime and have fresh antifouling paint applied to the bottom. It had already been over 2 years since the last time I had done this way back in New Zealand. The old paint had lost it’s ability to fight of growth and now the bottom was covered with thousands of barnacles that seem to thrive in marinas.
Hauling Downtime is a delicate process and having the right equipment in the form of a proper cradle that fits under her bridge deck is a must. Needless to say this had to be manufactured custom to fit Downtime and took days of welding 12 inch I-beams to a marine railway at the right height and distance apart to perfectly fit under the boat and serve as a temporary support while the bottom was painted.
Having a guy like Tjartan the marina manager in charge with years of experience made the whole process look easy.
I simply pulled Downtime up to the railway and and within minutes we were being slowly pulled out of the water by a massive winch up the railway.
Once out of the water the work began. In other parts of the world a pressure washer would have blown the barnacles to king dome come, but here labor is so inexpensive that all things are just done by hand. It took six guys two days to get the bottom ready for the fresh paint. It took a just few hours to scrape of the barnacles but much more time to sand off the cement they excrete to attach themselves with.
With the guys busy working on the boat we headed to the market to buy the first of many loads of provisions. There is no one stop shop to buy it all and we spent days looking through 4 different markets for all the things on our list. On our big shopping day we hired a cab for the afternoon and had him drop hundreds of pounds of shopping right next to the boat.
The next thing on the list was to fill the fuel tanks. A simple task in most parts of the world but here there are very few fuel docks and most fuel is carried to the boats in 5 gallon jerry cans. I was as close as I was ever going to be to a fuel station and the process of hauling 250 gallons of diesel painfully began by shuttling fuel hauling just 35 gallons a trip. Even getting this small amount the fuel station ran out 3 times in the next few days but I finally managed to get the boat filled.
With the fuel tanks full and the bottom paint applied we took sunday off and rented a motorcycle to cross the island and relax. We took the long way to the south end of the island chasing signs that should have taken us to a small dairy farm just a few miles away. We never did find the dairy but must have rode 20 miles across a 10 mile long island. In the end the we found this beautiful resort where you can sleep in a tree house 20 feet up in the air! The resort was quiet and had just two other guests at this small resort and it was nice to relax after a busy week.
The last job to do before we launched was to simply apply a fresh coat of wax to the topsides. I had the crew ready to apply a coat of wax, a job they obviously never done before from the looks of it. They all looked up at the boat 10 feet up in the air and thought I was crazy thinking they could reach that far up. It took several minutes to explain we needed scaffolding and to get them to carrying barrels and blocks to support beams to stand on. It was painful to watch the slow process but the last wax was being buffed off an hour before we launched the boat.
Back at the marina we wrapped up the last few trips to the market stocking up on produce and the last things we would be able to find in the civilized world. By Wednesday the forecast looked promising and we set sail for Sangihe just over 200 miles to the south. In this part of the world I do not know why I even bother with weather forecasts since most times it would just be easier to put the wind strait on the nose and start the engines and we would be going the right direction 90% of the time anyways.
At least I remembered about the 3 knot current that I fought going north last season a current that hat runs along the east coast of Mindanao and I set course for Cape St. Augustine. This is where the free ride south would begin after motoring 60 miles down the bay with little or no wind.
Once in the southernly current the boat speed picked up the predicted 3 knots and we actually found a breeze to sail with. With full sail we were cruising along at 10 knots over the ground in a 20 knot breeze. The only downside was that the wind was blowing strait back over the current and causing the waves to standup and knock us around. Then later just a few hours after the sun went down nasty squalls began , pouring down rain every few hours and the boat speed would fly up over 14 knots with 25 knots of wind in the sails. Needless to say the motion inside Downtime was very uncomfortable but we were making miles and it made no sense to further shorten sail.
The low pressure system passed and in the past 20 hours the wind clocked 160 degrees and what started as a starboard tack finished off the trip on the port side. Then just 40 miles out the wind turned strait out of the south back on the nose and it was time to finally put the sails away and burn a few more gallons of diesel to make port before dark.
We entered the harbor and were welcomed by our friends Paul and Lisa on Lorelei. Friends we last saw in the Marina in the Philippines and would be sailing this season with.
The harbor in Sangihe is open to the west and had temporary moorings placed for a rally that was just here a few weeks before. Mooring scares me and always makes me wonder what is actually attached to the ocean floor? From the looks of the rope they scrounged together it would not take much of a storm to break them and it took us 3 tries to find one with a proper attachment to tie off to. We spent a few restless nights on the mooring tossing and turning before I got fed up worrying we would break off during the night and finally went across the bay and dropped the anchor in much calmer conditions.
This is my first time visiting Indonesia and my first impression was how friendly the people are. There is a continual greeting of smiles and a “Hey Mister, how are you?” as you walk down the road in a place were very few Americans have traveled before. Life here in the small town revolves around the local markets where a limited variety of fresh fish and produce can be found. There is no shortage of tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes and fish. But delicacies like pineapple, watermelon or other fruits can be hard to find, not to mention anything green to make a salad with?
We had planed to stay just a few days and be on our way but then we got news of a paragliding festival coming to town that would offer rides off the 3000 foot mountain the following weekend. 150 flyers were arriving on Thursday for a exciting weekend of paragliding and we patiently waited for Saturday to arrive so we could experience the rush of flying though the air on a paraglider
The weekend finally arrived and the ramp was built to launch the kites and then the rains began. Only one lucky jumper made the decent by kite while the others totally frustrated re-packed their gear for a long 20 hour trip back to Jakarta by ferry.
With the rains came the west winds which churned the anchorage into an uncomfortable slosh. It was even uncomfortable on Downtime but the mono hulls had masts pitching 60 degrees making all but impossible to live aboard.
This was our motivation to leave and we set sail on Monday for Mahengetang.
Mahengetang is a small island just 30 miles further south that is known for a dive site with an active volcano spewing bubbles from the ocean floor. We anchored of the east of the island and did 3 dives on this 400 yard long mound of rumbling rock. We never saw the bubbles but we sure heard the rumbles of the volcano under us!
On shore was a small village of a boat building community. They were in the process of building what looked to be a 60 foot ship trimming one board at a time with a small chainsaw. at the rate they were going it looked like it would take about a year to complete the project with 3 guys actively working.
30 miles further south is Siau and yet another island with an active volcano. This 6000 foot grumbling monster spews smoke continuously and last erupted in Aug 2013. At night you can see the orange glow lighting up the smoke clouds spewing off the top. The anchorage here is right next to town under the volcano and the kids on shore are waving “Hello Mister” every time they see you. Unlike the last anchorage the Catholic churches here out number the mosques and on Sunday I had front row seats to the amazing choir singing familiar hymns.
One day I had a bunch of kids swim out on the original swimming noodle (bamboo) to say hello. I let them on the boat gave them an oreo and some juice and then they all pointed to SD and wanted a ride back in the dink. I loaded 8 screaming kids in and roared off to shore with a boat load of laughter!
The Indonesian government realizes the value of tourism and provided us with a english speaking guide who showed us all the places we could inject money into the local economy. He brought us to the capitol building to meet the governor and took us to the best places to eat which in this economy only cost $5 US per meal.
We did 4 dives with the local shop that when we purchased two dives he gave us two free with our own gear and showed us our first of many species in Indonesia including a frog fish! Macro diving is new to me and focusing on tiny critters is like a long game of wheres Waldo. Paul and Lisa did a great job finding tons of critters and took these amazing pictures and were nice enough to share them with me.
It was a sad day when Deb finally got the results from a mole she had removed in Davao. She would need further tests and have to fly back to France to get this procedure done and endure the 30 hour plane ride to get there. To make the trip even longer the day she was set to travel the high speed ferry to Bitung broke down and she found herself on the slow boat that would triple the time of the trip and arrive at 5 am for a 6 am flight! She made it by 15 minutes !!
Continuing South the next stop was another volcanic island of Roeang. We anchored on the east shore next to a fairly recent eruption (within the last 20 years). The diving in front of this lava flow had some of the best coral we had seen and had a slow tidal current that let us drift dive between the two dinghies.
On our third dive we were 20 minute in and 80 feet down when what sounded like a large ship rumble started and progressively got louder. I kept looking up wondering why a ship would be this close to land and saw nothing? Then the roaring pulse got even louder and we had to cover our ears to protect our eardrums. At this point we concluded it was not a ship but an earthquake and saw huge boulders bouncing on the ocean floor below us. Several huge 4 foot around sponge corals that we had just swam past began tumbling down the wall towards us almost landing on Paul! I was swimming next to a vertical rock wall and quickly backed away when debris started tumbling down. Paul shot to the surface and thought the volcano was erupting but to our relief he signaled that it was not. The water clouded quickly from huge amount of debris that tumbled down the wall and our next concern was the possibility of a tsunami since it was obviously a large quake. Thankfully this did not occur at our location because we would have had no chance getting to the boats in time.
The quake we later found out registered 7.3 on the scale and was centered just over 100 miles north of us. Through the rest of the dive we heard small tremors but nothing like the roar of the original quake.
While we were having fun diving this boat pulled up and 8 guys hopped out and began making small rocks out of big rocks with sledge hammers. The guys who did not get the hammer duty were filling sacks with the black sand. It took them a just few hours to load the boat and while the captain hauled the first load of sand and gravel to the main island the crew stayed prepared another load. I joked with Paul that we are lucky we got here early because the island will be gone in a few years!
I did not want to look like a lazy sailor while they were busy bust rocks so I got out the grinder and polished the dive tanks.
Another quick hop of 36 miles put us at the Southern tip of Bangka in a calm bay in front of “The Pain In The Ass Resort” The bay was over a mile across but the only place to anchor as a few hundred feet off shore on the east side close to the “Pain in the ass” resort since the rest of the bay had a choppy swell or was to deep to anchor in. We dropped the hook and were settled in and a small boat came out “The pain in the ass crew” and asked us to move because “Big Ship” coming in tomorrow. We tried the other side but when the wind picked up we found ourself 20 feet off the windward side of a shallow reef, not a place to get a good nights sleep! We moved back over to the resort side and were greeted agin by PITA crew but this time we negotiated and said if the ship arrives and we are in the way we will pick up anchor and leave and this seemed to be a agreeable solution. The next morning we woke to a boat moored between us slightly larger that Downtime and safely 100’s of feet away.
While Paul was filling dive tanks Lisa and I went to the island test flew the DCMI Drone to make sure it survived the many flights on the boat. The drone flew perfectly and we found out the pilot (Me) still has a depth perception issue when I unsuccessfully tried to fly around a coconut tree 80 feet away!
After a few more dives and a wake board session we headed south to Bitung and the Lembeh straits where more diving awaits!
We will be staying in Bitung and diving the many dive sites for the next few weeks and you can follow up on Lorelei’s blog for some amazing pictures of what we find diving together.
Out here still enjoying the dream! Peace, Capt. Pedro