The year 2015 started with Downtime in a remote anchorage in Sorong, Indonesia in the NE part of Indonesia with me flat on my back with some rouge flu virus trying to kill me. I was alone on the boat anchored a half mile from shore and in between a crew change with a soaring fever, unable to move far before the debilitating effects of this unknown virus would make my head spin and force me to get horizontal again. This as close to death as I ever felt I had ever been. I was lying in a pool of sweat actually trying to remember if I had ever felt so bad and what if anything could I do about it? Getting to shore seemed out of the question because I knew if I left the boat unattended I would surely be robed and come home to an empty shell. Next was the doubtful possibility that there was even a doctor ashore that could do anything for my situation.
Finally after the third day of sleep and 1st day of self administered antibiotics my fever broke and I turned the corner onto the road of recovery. Thank God because who knows how long it would have taken someone to find me if I did take a turn for the worse.
After a week of being horizontal I was back on my feet but nursing a hacking chest cold and somewhat ready to greet the new crew that were due to arrive on the 8th and 9th.
Richie (Grasshopper) from New Zealand arrived ready for an adventure with surfboard in tow hopping to find a wave to ride along the way Richie’s sailing adventure started with a provisioning run with me to town that morning.
The fish market was located on the main wharf and the first and last thing we walked through going into the city. The catch varied from day to day except for on No Fish Monday because everyone took Sunday off. The prices were cheap and the fish fresh and we loaded up on a nice chunk of Marlin, fresh Prawns and squid that were each just a few dollars US a pound.
With the freezer full of fish we headed to the supermarket.
I bet you are thinking: “Ohh, the fish market is where the fresh catch is displayed on beds of crushed ice in a refrigerated glass cases right? “ Wrong! This market is a simple roof covering concrete poured in place tables next to the bay with vendors displaying their catch in grungy ice chests that most likely have never had a scrub with bleach and soap or laying on the rough concrete tables. Thankfully they do have ice to keep the fish cool that is available in huge 100 pound blocks.
You would think there would at least be a water faucet to wash it all down after a long hot day of selling fish, but no they simply place the suction end of a pump in the ocean and spray it all down with water that I would not dare swim in! Needless to say I only bought fish that were whole and cold to the touch or fresh out of the coolers.
When you leave the fish market and walk towards town you pass by large screens that are on frames built a few feet over the ground used to dry sardines. Underneath these screens is an uneven dirt floor with pools of water from the daily rains and the ground is literally moving with thousands of maggots. One good whiff of this and you are ready to gag so you take a big breath before you get there and walk as quickly by as possible.
I have to say that just simply walking in these third world countries is dangerous. There are no building codes and simple things like step hight’s and sidewalks without huge holes to trip you is something we rarely even think about back in the states. Here sidewalks can have holes that you not only trip on but could fall completely into and stepping off a simple curb the height can vary fro m from one inch to a 2 foot drop. After my first face plant back in Fiji I have learned to pay attention and watch where I was stepping.
After a mile walk through town we arrived at the supermarket where things were just a little cleaner than at the fish market, but not by much finding dust covering every thing in the store . We shopped quickly and soon most items on the list were checked off. An hour later we had filled three carts full of various food items and two more full of toys to be given away down the road. The four foot long tape from the register at the checkout lane at looked like I had just landed on Park Place with four hotels on it playing Monopoly showing something like $1.2 million Rupia!.
The conversion rate here is $1200 Indonesian Rupia to $1 USA and subsequently you find yourself with money that has lots of extra zeros printed on it. The conversion rate is so bad that when you ask the question who wants to me a millionaire most people just shrug their shoulders and laugh. I had a few million in my pocket but when the 4 foot register tape finally got done printing and I saw the number it made my heart flutter just a little. I pulled my wad of Monopoly (Indonesian Rupia) money out and began counting in nice big piles of 100,000 Rupia ($80 US). A few minutes later I dispensed all but $10000 Rupia of what I had in my pocket. I told Richie at this point, now there is a good shopping lesson go in and spend all your money in your pocket but don’t go over! We had just enough left for a few ice creams on the way back to the boat.
The heavy items like beer and fuel were delivered to the boat and by the end of the day we had the boat fueled and with enough food aboard for the next four weeks.
Daniela from Germany (Wind Woman) arrived the next morning toting her kite gear and all we had left to do was simply clear out and set sail. Well this sounds easy doesn’t it?
We found out in Indonesia clearing out is like getting on a bad carnival ride and watching a monkey Fu%ing! a football at the same time! Our first stop immigration found us waiting an hour for the agent to show up for work, late (island time). then it was off to customs to fill out more forms. finally to the port captains office where I was informed it was disrespectful not to ware pants. It took no fewer than 4 cab rides back and forth across town and one trip back to the boat to put pants and shoes of all things on the increasingly grumpy Captain.
It is hard to imagine any body living in a country within 10 degrees of the equator even owning pants when the lowest temperature are in the mid 80’s. By noon the temperature on land reach the century mark most days and today was no exception! It was HOT damn HOT!
Four hours and a sorry excuse for a lunch ashore later we walked back into the Port Captains office, this time Downtime’s Captain was wearing pants forcing a smile while the crew waited quietly outside in the heat. We had just spent the last 2 hours clearing out of Customs and Immigration and had about enough of the run around. When I walked back into the Port Captains office to find the only other guys on the island with pants on sitting in front of the cranked up air conditioning smiling at my pants, patiently waiting to do my paperwork.
It must be a status thing wearing pants in the tropics to show others you work in an air conditioned office?
We set sail at 4 pm with calm seas and set our course due east, a course we would maintain for the next 2000 miles.
At first I felt something was very wrong because the wind was not in my face and that I was actually going with the current. This was a big change from all the miles I had done in the Philippines where the wind and current seemed to always be going the wrong direction. After a few hours of motoring we raised the main sail and set the jib as the predicted winds filled in.
There is only a few months out of the year that you can safely sail east in the south pacific and it occurs in January right after end of cyclone season when the winds are still blowing out of the north west. As long as you miss the last cyclone you can cover the eastward miles sailing downwind before the easterly trades set back in late march. The plan is all good until that surprise cyclone pops up as you will see later.
Our first stop in PNG was Ninigo Island 750 miles and 4 days later. When I said the winds filled they really filled and they blew 30 plus knots on the aft quarter for three days strait. With the big 1700 square foot head sail up Downtime was flying downwind, sometimes surfing down waves at over 13 knots! We covered 630 miles in 3 days which by the way is an all-time distance/time record on Downtime. We were being pushed east by winds feeding a small tropical depression (cyclone) southeast of us.
When the wind is blowing this hard and the boat is going this fast it is a sailors dream or nightmare if things go wrong. With that kind of force continually being applied to the boat by the huge sail you just hope there is not a weak link and the boat stays together and continues doing what it was designed for.
Anything over 8 knots is too fast to fish but just before arriving at Ninigo the winds let up enough to furl the Headsail and slow down and wet a few lines. We sailed along the Western reef and it did not take long to get our first strike. We landed a nice Giant Travail just before the pass into the atoll and but lost two others who swam away with $20 baits in their mouths.
In the morning the winds were down to 15-20 knots and there just so happen to be a perfect place to kite surf on the end of the island. Wind Woman the other kite surfer aboard and I got out our gear for my first session of the year PNG style! The locals lined the beach with wonder in their eyes having never seen such a crazy thing as people skimming over the water being pulled by huge kites ever in their lives.
These islands surrounding the atoll are like many of the islands we had visited in Micronesia, small low-lying islands surrounding a lagoon. The islands are covered in coconut trees and are rarely more that a few hundred yards wide or a few miles long and less than 50 feet above sea level. The lagoons are usually turquoise blue water with white sand bottoms and shallow enough to anchor in(less than 100 feet).
As soon as we had set the anchor the locals began arriving sailing their outrigger sailing canoes out and we traded the fish we caught for some fresh banana’s and paw paw (Papaya). One guy who paddled up even offered to take Richie lobster fishing the next morning and they came back smiling with 5 nice lobsters!
On these remote island the locals come out and ask for all kinds of things from clothes to batteries and whatever else they think you might have to give away. I usually have lots of spare everything to give but having left from Indonesia left my trading stores were limited. Had I known the big need for children’s clothes I would have bought hundreds of kids shorts and tee’s in the Philippines where you can buy bundles of second hand clothes for pennies a pound. the other thing they need is any kind of soap and hygiene products from tooth brushes to hand lotion. Deodorant and soap would be a good idea but how would you start caring this many supplies…..
These outer island have very little contact with the mainland and have very limited medical supplies and runny noses and pink eye are a big problem. Even a small cut can turn into a big problem in days without proper care here and most people just wrap whatever cloth there is available around it to keep the pesky flies at bay.
We give away as much as we can but know at the next island it will start all over again and there is only so much one person can do.
It has been my experience with this crazy sport of kite surfing that I can either have the perfect place to kite or just enough wind to sail out on the ocean, but rarely both. Well, here I was again with the perfect place to kite but not enough wind ….So up went the sails and we continued motor sailing east in light following winds.
Our next stop will be in Hermit Island so stay tuned,