Sunday, 19 November 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 8


It’s a hot and sultry Sunday morning on 22nd October as ‘Envy’ motors out of Nongsa Point Marina, on Indonesia’s far northern Batam Island, into a haze shrouded Singapore Strait; this busy waterway is infamous among cruising yachties who have to weave their way through the huge amount of traffic that plies these narrow shipping lanes, reputedly half the world’s shipping.

We started our crossing in smoke haze and finished in a thunderstorm downpour, but had to dodge only three large ships, (well that’s all we saw in the rain and haze) before reaching the sanctuary of Singapore’s highly rated ‘Raffles’ Marina, with its restaurants, bars, hotel, swimming pool, gym, chandlery etc, situated at the western end of the island.

After the first two days catching up on never ending boat jobs, it was time to rediscover Singapore. The Marina offers a free bus service to the railway station, from where quick clean electric trains can deliver one to most places of interest around Singapore. Often referred to as a garden city, this modern, bustling island is like a big lushly verdant, manicured parkland. Greenery and shops are everywhere, and the city-state is famous for its smooth efficiency.

Most afternoons bought thunder and heavy rain, and a cooling respite from the tropical heat. But the weather didn’t dampen our exploration of Singapore, mostly using the modern MRT rail system, as we shopped ‘til we dropped in all the marvellous malls and stores, visited their world famous Zoo, got seduced by a variety of Asian food, indulged in the sights, colours and smells of Little India and Chinatown, or simply relaxed in the pool and spa at the Marina.

Raffles is a name synonymous with Singapore since founded by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1819, and the top-class Raffles Hotel is not only a local icon but a timeless symbol of colonial luxury. Regrettably, we never did make it in for one of their well known ‘Singapore Slings’, but that’s something to look forward to next time around.

Then Audrey’s mother, Lavinia, flew in from Brisbane for a hectic week’s visit, as we tried to make the most of every day. She and Audrey had a good time electronics shopping in Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square, and window-shopped much of the town, while Lavinia visited some Art Galleries as well and generally soaked up the sights, shapes and colours of Singapore as future subject material for her painting and other works of art.

We were impressed to see the extent of government backed modern high-rise housing development and were told that by the mid-1990’s Singapore had the world’s highest rate of home ownership. Other local observations were the extent of mobile phone usage – it seemed every second person had one, and every third person had a cold, of which malady we also became participants.

Following three months in Indonesia it was a real treat to find supermarkets with a larger range of product, systems that ran like clockwork, order and cleanliness that, by comparison, bordered on sterility, drinkable water straight from the tap, clean crisp paper banknotes, and the widest range of state-of-the-art electronics anywhere, several items of which found a new home aboard ‘Envy’.

Singapore was the starting point of the associated “Sail Asia” rally, a continuation of “Sail Indonesia”, with the fleet sailing and sightseeing its way up through Malaysia to Langkawi Island, just below the Thailand border. Following the usual Rally dinner and briefings, the 3rd November marked the start of this section of the Rally as participating yachts headed out of the Johore Strait, in windless conditions, for the cruise northward up Malaysia’s west coast.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 7

Indonesia - Farewell

For reasons not understood even by ourselves, but certainly unrelated to the bombings or personal safety, we’d been indifferent about visiting Bali, but having now spent 12 exciting days there, our feelings perfectly epitomized the old adage ‘we came to jeer – but remained to cheer’! With a hire car at our disposal we travelled extensively all over this small but beautiful island, enjoying the scenery, the people, the ambience, the food, the shopping – ‘the everything’ – simply wonderful!

The early post-dawn twilight of 26 September finds “Envy’ departing Bali’s Serangan Island anchorage and hugging the shoreline with its favourable counter current up through Lombok Strait, enroute to the Kumai River in southern Kalimantan on Borneo. Two ‘day-sails’ and three ‘overnighters’ in good winds, with stops at Raas and Bawean Islands, comprise our eight day 494 nm return crossing of the Java Sea.

On coming ashore during our two day stopover on Bawean Island, a tiny isolated spec in the Java Sea, we met a 32 yo local, Supaji, who teaches English at the local High School. Supaji was eager to practise his limited English so took me island touring on his small motorcycle, then to his house to meet his wife Yayun and baby twin sons. They were poor, generous and lovely, so after my crab soup lunch (they didn’t eat since it was during Ramadan fasting) we invited Supaji aboard ‘Envy’ – he’d never seen a yacht before – and sent him off home with gifts of clothes, books and other treasures, including baby clothes, for which they Supaji and the twins were so grateful.

With pork taboo for Muslims, and beef’s availability and affordability beyond most, fish is the staple protein throughout Indonesia. Accordingly, coastal waters everywhere host an abundance of small fishing boats, fishing nets a km long, floating long-lines of similar length, floating fish traps, bamboo fishing platforms, mostly all unlit at night, and a sailor’s nightmare. We were forever dodging this plethora of floating fishing paraphernalia, (except during one moonless nightwatch when I saw a 5 m² bamboo platform rub down the side of the boat - Oops!). One of the main subjects of radio chatter amongst the fleet was the regular warnings of this paraphernalia and general flotsam.

Having survived for weeks’ previous, and within striking distance of the Kumai River, yours truly relaxed his vigilance and was amply rewarded with his biggest fishing strike yet – a kilometre long floating fish net caught in the small gap between keel and rudder. It’s 0800hrs, sails full with both wind and current from astern, a shallow 15 feet deep choppy sea, and I don’t know whether I’ve caught it or it’s caught me, but we’re jerked to a sudden halt like a jet on an aircraft carrier, and we’re not going anywhere ---- Bugger!!

After a tense hour or more of futile free diving attempts, I finally donned my scuba gear and, in water with visibility of less than an arm’s length fuelling my fear of getting snagged in the nearly invisible nylon net, I finally cut and freed it from where floats had jammed tight on either side of the gap! I shudder at the thought of the scenario had it happened at night.

With nerve and pride shaken we motored 17 miles up the Kumai River in Indonesia’s Kalimantan Province, southern Borneo. I recall tales as a small child about the deep jungles of Borneo, and here we were, in the little impoverished village of Kumai, 2½° (160 km) south of the Equator, to where we’ve come especially to see Orangutans (Malay word meaning “forest people”) in Tanjung Putting National Park, 60 km from Kumai. Orangutans are found only in Borneo and Sumatra and are suffering from habitat loss like so many other wild animals. The jungle here looks very similar to any tropical Qld rainforest, but with a few more thick vines.

Slash and burn land clearing practices for Oil Palm plantations are the primary cause of habitat loss, and every dry season, as it is now, a smoke haze extends hundreds of kilometres from Borneo to Singapore and Malaysia, both of which governments complain bitterly to Indonesia without apparent success to curb or control this annual practice. Most mornings until 9 or 10 am we couldn’t see yachts 100 metres away, and even as the smoke partly dispersed during the day, we sailed continuously in hazy conditions for the next month all the way to Singapore, seeing virtually nothing of the coastlines that we passed close by, (or whatever else was out there that we couldn’t/didn’t see!)

Arrangements were made for our trip to visit ‘Camp Leakey Orangutan Reserve’ situated within the Nat Park, and the next morning we are collected from ‘Envy’ in the 8am haze by a speedboat with a driver and guide that will take us on the 2½ hour fast ride up the Kumai, Sekonyer and Camp Leakey Rivers to the Reserve. The ride itself was a thrill worth the money alone, as we sped through the narrow upper reaches of the river, hardly wide enough for two speed boats to pass in places, seemingly daring fate around every tight blind bend, as we brushed aside tall reeds only a metre from the banks.

We arrived at the Reserve around midday. Structurally, Camp Leakey’s dozen or so modest buildings reflect their age, dating back to 1971 when a 24 year old Canadian girl anthropologist commenced her primate studies there alone in totally primitive conditions. The basic though very well illustrated and informative Museum excellently chronicles its history, by way of background and development over the years, to its current status as the premier Orangutan authority of the world.

Momentarily, I can’t recall the lady’s name, but she subsequently married and the front cover of a 1980 National Geographic shows her baby son sharing a wash basin bath with a 2 year old baby female Orangutan, named ‘Princess’. Now 26 years later we’d heard that the beloved “Princess” was a mum again and often came in to the feeding platform, so we hoped to make her acquaintance.

As we approached the 2pm feeding station following a 1½ km walk ‘deep in the Borneo jungle’, there was ‘Princess’ and her baby ambling along in front of us. Perhaps 12 or 15 Orangutans came in swinging through the jungle canopy to the elevated feeding platform for a treat of bananas and sweetened powdered milk; During our hour or so there, they moved around and about us, sometimes as close as at arm’s length, until big’ Tom’ the alpha male arrived – no one got too close to him. It was a really wonderful ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience, and for us well worth the A$125 cost. And on the river ride home to ‘Envy’, we capped it all off with a couple of “G & T’s”. Cheers!

The next day we’re off again with a nice breeze on a 3 day 250 nm non-stop passage to Serutu Island, with much smoke haze all the way, arriving in the 2am darkness. After a day’s rest we depart Serutu in company with three other boats on another 145 nm overnight sail; the next morning, at 0915 hours October 11th, we watch our GPS count down to 0°.00.000 as ‘Envy’ crosses the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere. Seven miles north lay Pejantan Island, where we all stopped to celebrate the occasion with the customary ‘equator crossing party’, which raged on all afternoon, and continued ashore the next day with a beach BBQ. King Neptune was totally appeased!

We left there at 3am next morning motor-sailing in the dark on another 170 nm overnight passage, through the ever present smoke haze, with barely a mile’s visibility, up to Batam Island, enjoying the thrilling entertainment of 15 dolphins performing their aquatic opera around the bow of the boat.

Batam Island is at the top of the Indonesian archipelago, only a stone’s throw across the Straits from Singapore, and would mark the end of the Indonesian component of the rally. We stayed here in the Nongsa Point Marina, our one and only marina experience during the 2653 nautical mile (or 4913 km) voyage through this extensive chain of islands. (Indonesia has only 2 marinas, here & at Bali.) What a pleasure to have water and 240v power at the boat, plus its wonderful swimming pool, easy access to town and shopping, and the camaraderie associated with meeting old friends or making new ones.

In summary, Indonesia proved bigger and better than we’d imagined. People everywhere were so very friendly – never did we feel unsafe; the lack of wind meant more motoring but gave us smoother seas and calm restful anchorages; distances were vast, though diesel fuel and the cost of living quite cheap. Our time in Indonesia was during the ‘dry season’ up here, and dry it was. There were only 6 partly wet days during the 93 days between Darwin and Singapore.

On the flipside, we noted pelagic fish were few and far between, safe drinking water comes only in plastic bottles, and the myriad of plastic bags, flotsam, jetsam and rubbish everywhere, both on land and in the seas, is a sad reflection on the culture. Nevertheless, the organized Rally functions gave us quick and easy exposure to the people, their traditions, culture, and some excellent cuisine and, though the pace was ‘full on’ for much of the time, it was certainly the way to go.

After many weeks of hanging on the anchor, we enjoyed marina living too much as most yachties do, but did catch up on many boat maintenance jobs, before ‘clearing out’ with Customs and motor sailing 40 nm across the shipping lanes of the Singapore Straits to a new and vastly different experience.

Happenings 2006 Number 6

Central Indonesia

Rally destination #5 was the old trading port of Makassar in southern Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes) 290nm north of Riung. We island hoped there over five days, making landfall at Tana Beru, centre of the largest wooden shipbuilding community in eastern Indonesia, where we saw more than 20 boats from 8 to 40 metres being made right on the sandy beach, supported by flimsy bamboo scaffolding.

Makassar’s a large city of 2 million, and the venue for the annual Sandeq Race Rally of large outrigger sailing canoes, which come from all over Sulawesi, and which coincided with our rally itinerary. The city also has a history dating back over 600 years to when it was the hub of the far eastern Spice Trade, and one of the most important trading ports of the world in those times. Substitute the word Spice for Oil in current times and you’ll get an understanding of its then trade value and importance, and why the Portuguese, Dutch and English fought bitterly over the centuries for its control.

The Indonesian Navy invited rally boats to berth at their Makassar Naval Base and, for a small daily fee, we had access to electricity and water, plus the privacy and security offered within the compound. When doing routine maintenance on the anchor winch here I discovered some nylon bushes were broken. Getting them sent from Oz would be time consuming and costly, so I took the broken pieces to the naval workshop and had new replacements that afternoon for less cost than Oz postage. The Navy also provided several free courtesy cars with drivers and guides every day to take us shopping, sightseeing, etc anywhere around the city for our week there. Absolutely great!

Following a chance meeting in a supermarket, Noel, an ex-pat Victorian businessman married to a local lady, invited 20 of us Aussies to his home for Sunday cocktails round the pool. What an eye opener! The recently built place more resembled a palace with its marble construction and grand sweeping staircase, exquisite floors and luxury appointments. It all went so well that cocktails progressed to a BBQ that evening, followed by return visits by Noel to our yachts during the week.

Dating from 1545, Fort Rotterdam is a well preserved, harbour-side historical site of numerous buildings within its high stone walls, providing fortification for Makassa during the spice trade skirmishes through the centuries. We sailors attended a Seafood Festival there, as guests of the Mayor, culminating in a feast of magnificent lobster, fish, prawns, shellfish etc; what a treat!

On the outskirts of the city is a failed tourist attraction known as ‘Old Makassar’. Built about 15 years ago but now closed, the complex comprises a variety of architecturally old, traditionally styled and built houses, a few of which are privately occupied with the remainder lying idle. A German expat associated with ‘Sail Indonesia’ and the Sandec Race, Horst Liebner, rents the large “King’s House”, and he gave a few of us a private tour through his house and the complex, including its old clothing and artefacts museum. So many superb buildings sadly going to waste.

It was now time to start off towards the next rally destination at Bali so in the company of two other yachts we headed south westerly for Lombok, day hopping 312 nm in the Flores Sea between tiny islands that are too small to be shown on most charts, anchoring nightly behind a pinprick island, a coral reef, a sand cay and in a lagoon before reaching the comfort of Gili Aer Island, one of three satellite islands just off the NW coast of Lombok.

Everyone loves Gili Air (as it’s commonly spelt). This tiny island with its scenic waters and white sand beaches is only about 2km around, and totally tourist oriented with inexpensive cabin accommodation and restaurants, pretty much aimed at the backpacker market, all very low key. There are no motor vehicles, only ‘Tuk-tuk’ pony carts for transportation. Like all of Indonesia, Gili Air people are very friendly, but severely feeling the effects of low tourist numbers. The so called restaurants are a collection of beachfront shaded platforms with bamboo slatted floors covered in cushions, where one can relax and enjoy the sea breeze and view over a meal and cool drink, and view the wares of the numerous hawkers selling jewellery and clothing.

We spent seven lovely restful days at Gili Air before sailing down to Bali’s Serangan Island anchorage, doing the 56nm in record time with assistance from the strong current that runs down Lombok Strait.

Bali is a totally different cultural experience. It’s quite ‘westernised’, wealthy and modern by comparison to the rest of Indonesia that we’ve visited, and being predominantly Hindu as opposed to the sombre Moslem majority elsewhere, has a totally different architectural style and holiday atmosphere. Tourism ranks a close second after agriculture in the local economy but it has suffered significantly since the bombings. In addition to it being the next Rally destination, we needed to extend our Tourist Visas for a further 30 days, and Bali is the place to do that.

So here we are in Bali where Bruce revisited Kuta Beach again after a 33 year interval, and didn’t recognize any of it. Even the long sweeping surf beach seemed different, and most of the buildings new since then. By comparison with other places Kuta Beach seemed full of tourists, but aggressively competitive deals in accommodation, souvenirs, clothing etc were everywhere to be had. The locals tell us that tourist numbers are again on the upturn.

We hired a 4 door Toyota Kijang (small Landcruiser) very cheaply at A$15 p/day and shared a 3 day trip with another sailing couple up through central Bali seeing silver jewellery being made, wood carving, weaving, art galleries, and more, in Celuk, Gianyar, Mas, Ubud and the wonderful lake and mountain scenery around Kintamani and Bangli in the North.

We decided to take advantage of the heavily discounted accommodation market and treat ourselves to some unusual luxury (for us) for a change, so stayed the first night at Ubud’s upmarket Sahadewa Hotel with its grand appointments and four poster beds at only US$50 per room. The following night we moved up into the foothills to the even more exclusive La Subak Villa Resort where the 4 of us took an enclosed twin villa with own pool etc for US$145 p/day, reduced from US$400! Simply grand, as was the one hour guided exercise trek around the surrounding picturesque rice paddies before breakfast the next morning.

During the last seven days we’ve seen a lot of this island, but you could spend months here seeing something new every day. Last night we went to Jimbaren Beach just south of Kuta to eat Bar-b-que seafood at one of the several open air, candle lit restaurants that spread for a km along the sandy beach. Superb fish, prawns, etc for A$12 each.

Today we return the hire car, then go on the last free Rally sightseeing trip culminating with its farewell dinner tonight, before departing tomorrow (Tuesday) morning for the 5 day Java Sea passage North again to Kalimantan (Borneo) to see Orang-utans in the wild up the Kumai River. We’ll keep you posted. Until ‘H-7’ ex Singapore.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 5

Eastern Indonesia

As Audrey and me continue our Indonesian odyssey I’ve become aware that 3616 nautical miles (that’s about 6700 km) have slipped under ‘Envy’s’ keel since departing Brisbane mid May, with 1000 nm already in Indonesian waters. At six weeks we’re now halfway through our 90 day visitor’s permit, but not yet halfway distance-wise through this sprawling country, with plenty of sailing before us.

Being of volcanic origin, and some islands with still actively smoking volcanoes, the land is mostly steep to, dropping away sharply to unanchorable depths only metres from the shore, raising stress levels when seeking an overnight anchorage late in the afternoon. But the seas generally are much calmer than Oz and, with the wind and swell generally fading away at night, we often anchored in very exposed areas and found ‘sleepable’ conditions.

Following our entry at Timor, ‘Envy’ sailed northwards (or more often motor-sailed in the ever prevailing light wind conditions that are synonymous with near equatorial latitudes) to reach the islands of the main archipelago.

Two days and nights later we arrived at Pantar Island, anchoring in the small Moslem village of Balangmerang where a local fisherman, Abdul, paddled his little canoe to ‘Envy’ and sold us 3 mud crabs for 8 Aussie dollars. We went ashore to the overwhelmingly friendly welcome of both adults and masses of noisy children, all of whom begged to be photographed and shrieked enjoyment at viewing their digital images, a practice that proving consistent everywhere we went. The village comprises predominantly small, single level slab base dwellings of bricks and mortar, set in swept, bare dirt grounds. Grass lawns simply don’t exist in any of the villages we’ve visited, so being a lawnmower salesman anywhere in the eastern archipelago would be a fast-track road to ruin.

However, an interesting insight of Balangmerang ingenuity was our observation of the locals making Popcorn. Sitting in the dirt of a front yard, a group of young boys were hand turning a crudely made airtight cylinder inside of which corn was popping whilst being heated with a blowtorch, and which let out a thunderous explosive roar when opened, bringing peals of laughter from the children as it spewed its contents into a sack, but the popcorn was good!

Next day we moved on 32nm to Kawula Island where we stealthily negotiated its fringing reefs before anchoring in 70ft water in front of Balurin village. From our anchorage we enjoyed the imposing view of nearby Mt. Wariran, a sky scraping 4754ft active volcano smoking its head off, as it has done for the past thirty years. Out came the usual horde of inquisitive children in their leaky dugout canoes, one to paddle, one to bail water out, and the customary one or two ‘observers’.

There are eight formal Rally venues associated with ‘Sail Indonesia 2006’, with each destination endeavouring to out perform the others, not only for the prestige and associated tourism and financial rewards, but also to ‘sure up’ their hosting status again next year, for these eight venue appointments are most coveted and hotly sought by several other destinations. So it’s a mixed pleasure situation for we participants; we enjoy the various performances, but at the expense of endless speeches by every local official, spoken in native Bahasan none of which we understand, and an overloaded schedule which allows insufficient time to smell the roses along the way.

There’s no rest for the weary since we have timing obligations to meet for the next scheduled ‘Rally’ function at Lembata, 30nm away in Lebaleba Bay on Kawula Island, where we arrive the following afternoon. The next morning we attended the Governor’s Welcome at his downtown Regency Office.

We had thought we were going to see a procession but as it turned out, we yachties were the procession as a cavalcade of 10 Becaks (bicycle pedicabs) and 80 motorcycles took us from the anchorage on a 5 km tour of the small town to the welcoming venue. The streets were lined with friendly waving locals - made one feel like royalty, returning their waves and greetings as we slowly becaked there and motorcycled home, all at slow bicycle pace. It was a very memorable introduction to Lewoleba City, and one of the highlights to date.

A bunch of us (16) walked around the small town that night and ate traditional food at a roadside café; our dinner incl beer was only A$ 4 each.

The next day we topped up Envy’s fuel tanks with diesel purchased from the local fuel depot. No pumps here; both diesel and petrol poured out from pipes thru the wall into separate drums on the floor where men ladled it into our jerrycans with 1 or 2 litre used jam tins! At 4650 Rupiah/ltr (A.80¢), the cheapest fuel we’ve found in Indonesia. That evening there was another be-costumed traditional dancing concert at the waterfront stage, followed by another free Gala Dinner after the usual obligatory speeches.

Our fourth day at Lembata finds us on a bus tour to Kolontobo Village with its attractive beachfront location. Traditionally dressed dancers meet us in the street and, after a ceremonial welcome of slashing the palm frond “gate”, we are led by the dancing troupe down to the shaded beach where a huge buffet banquet from several cooking stations has been laid out for us. After more traditional dancing by individual groups of men, women and children, we enjoy a marvellous lunch of local meats, fish, vegetables, fruit and cakes; then we went swimming and cooled off with a few local beers. A wonderful mixture of food, culture and friendship - it doesn’t come much better.

In Indonesia clean drinking water doesn’t come out of taps as it does back home, and in the current dry season there’s no rainfall to catch so many yachties, including us, have to buy treated water in 19 ltr plastic bottles, costing about A$1 per bottle.

Five busy days and a few hundred photographs later sees ‘Envy’ depart Lembata for Sagu Bay on Adonara, the next island westward, where we drop the anchor after a short 20 nm hop and take advantage of a few free afternoon hours to passage plan our route ahead.

Onwards ever onwards - we’re up next morning at 0545 hours for a 42 nm eight hour crossing to Hading Bay on adjacent Flores Island. We anchor in a pretty, unnamed cove over a shallow sandy bottom with a few of our friends, and all gather on the small sandy beach late afternoon for drinks, then a Barbeque, followed by a sing-along around a large bonfire near the water’s edge. Again, it doesn’t get much better!

As I’ve previously mentioned motor-sailing is common in these light wind Latitudes but for a while the next morning we have better than 30 knots gusting across the deck with ‘Envy’ smoking along at 7 and 8 knots, but then it died as quickly as it came and the ‘iron sail’ is again doing its unwelcome job.

Mid afternoon we are anchored with more than 30 other rally yachts outside Sea World, a Dive Resort midway along the top of Flores Island, where we plan to rest for a few days. The resort comprises a number of thatched roof bures of traditional design, and like most holiday places we’ve visited, very low on tourist numbers. We’re told it’s presently the ‘off season’ but general opinion points to the aftermath of Bali 2002.

Nevertheless we enjoy Sea World’s friendly laidback ambience, its attractive sandy beach location and its convenience as our stepping stone to the large commercial town of Maumere 15 km away, with its ATM machine, from which we drew a few million Rupiah. A million Rp is about Aust $155 and most of our money is spent buying Diesel fuel… (and Bintang beer) oops!

Further westward along Flores north coast is the small, non-wealthy village of Riung, the next (unlikely) official Rally destination, but whose praises were sung by all of last year’s fleet and where, after an uncomfortable roly night between two reefs in Nangarujong Bay, we arrived in its well protected anchorage two days later. One immediate benefit was a floating pontoon which made dinghying ashore a pleasure, and so Riung was again off to a good start.

Thursday 17 August, the day after our arrival at Riung, is Indonesian Independence Day (1945), so the village was colourfully dressed with flags, banners and bunting (as were Maumere and all other places recently visited) which added some aura to these otherwise austere Muslim areas.

The next surprise attraction was not simply the presence of a large local ‘Phinisi’ sailing ship laying at anchor amongst us, resplendently dressed in the national colours of red and white, her flags and pennants flying, but that an open invitation was extended to all rally yachties to go aboard that evening for an Independence Day celebration party, food, drinks, music and outdoor movie all ‘on the house’ (eh-boat). “Silolona” is a newly constructed 50 mtr replica of a traditional Phinisi, beautifully made and luxuriously appointed, with opulence everywhere, five king size cabins, and works the top end of the charter market out of Bali with a crew of 15 locals. It is owned by Ms. Patti Seery, a Bali resident of 20+ years, and formerly of the USA.

In like fashion to the other venues, Riung offered an organised tour at A$24 each which combined both sea and land transportation to include visits by boat to an huge flying fox colony, a Komodo Dragon enclosure, and pre lunch swim at a picture postcard turquoise sandy island, and then to two villages, one for lunch and the other for – you guessed it, more traditional dancing. Believe me, by now we’re just about danced out!!

That night Riung hosted its gala dinner, which was excellent both in content and variety. Whole grilled fish, beef dishes, shellfish and other seafood, chicken dishes, excellent vegetables, rice, soups, sweets and other local delicacies and, being self serve buffet, one could choose precisely what suited one’s palate. Then each of us was presented with a traditional hand woven Ikat scarf by, and with compliments of the Governor. It was a wonderful night with excellent musical entertainment, both local and western. Riung’s good reputation lives on.

Happenings 2006 Number 4

Timor - Indonesia

Greetings from the ‘Envy’ crew here at the doorstep to the Orient, and the start of our real S/E Asian adventure, where every day brings a whole new cultural world of sights, smiles, sounds and smells.

As one of the participants in the 2006 "Sail Indonesia Rally”, ‘Envy’ crossed the start line in Darwin’s Fannie Bay at 11am Saturday 22 July, one of 98 yachts, a blaze of colour and action - some with spinnakers flying, finally departing Australia and heading out to sea, destination Timor, Indonesia, some 472 nautical miles away, where we arrived at Kupang, West Timor after a slowish but trouble free four day passage.

The highlight of this otherwise uneventful crossing was the sighting of a very large cattle transport ship overtaking us all on the same course, and the antics on the VHF radio as several yachts took evasive measures to avoid being passed downwind of this very, very smelly ship. Apart from the ship and two huge, well lit offshore oil platforms, passed in the distance at night, the Timor Sea was ours alone.

Initially Indonesian entry formalities and now organized rally activities keep us going non-stop both day and night, so we've played truant from all of that this ‘arvo to stay aboard and make a start on this ‘H-4’ report. Both boat and crew are well, but a 'day off' would be most welcome.

Sorry about the silence over recent weeks, but indeed "Happenings" 2 and 3, complete with photos had both been written for some time, but my 9 year old laptop sadly died enroute to Darwin, and having finally retrieved its hard drive, we hope we've been successful in sending 'H-2' and 'H-3' from an Internet Cafe in Kupang. These articles are much too large for our onboard Sailmail (email) capability, and furthermore, Sailmail connections have been quite difficult since leaving T.I., often going several days between contacts.

Kupang, in the southwest corner of West Timor is the capital of East Nusa Tenggara Province which comprises much of Indonesia’s far eastern archipelago, and is home to about K300 people; it is very friendly, very old, very dirty, very interesting and generally very poor, and our Aussie dollars go a long way here. A good basic meal can be got for A$4, so not much cooking on 'Envy' at the moment, and we were guests at 2 ‘Gala Dinners’ hosted by the Governor and the Major. Excellent food, and plenty of it.

A huge temporary stage on the beachfront beside Teddy’s Bar entertains us nightly with unbelievably loud music performed by talented artists from Jakarta, even as we lay in bed late at night, willing sleep!

Teddy's Bar occupies the prime beachfront position where all the rally yachts are anchored, and where local boys look after our dinghies day and night for $2, while a couple of hundred yachties from about 15 different countries chat boat talk over quite inexpensive local ‘Bintang’ beer. Teddy is a very friendly part Chinese local who spent 15 years in the Sydney Taxi business, then returned to Kupang where he owns the waterfront Bar, a Hotel behind it, plus Buses and Taxis, so he’s quite a big shot around here.

Kupang's streets are tight and narrow in the old downtown area; traffic is totally chaotic day and night, there are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings whatsoever, just millions of small motorbikes and colourful mini buses, the ubiquitous ‘Bemo’, somewhat of a discotheque ‘on wheels’ blasting out deafening pop music as it runs its set route around town, but not many cars.

Both bikes and Bemos speed excessively with horns blasting continually as they ‘dare al’ in modern traffic jams, and merely crossing the road is akin to playing Russian roulette! But they are skilful drivers with good traffic manners, and drive on the left here, same as in Oz. Far more women ride these low powered motorcycles here than in more advanced countries since motor cars are far beyond their economic lifestyles.

Timor is one of the few Christian enclaves (over 80 percent) within Indonesia, a Portuguese legacy, and the people are both friendly and welcoming, though only a few speak English, so our language phrase books get much use. The countryside around Kupang comprises mainly undulating rocky volcanic soils with odd pockets of fertile farmland, growing vegetables and rice, and becomes steeply hilly away from the coast. It is currently the 'dry season' throughout all these sub-equatorial regions so daily humidity and temperatures are pleasant, and nights quite 'sleepable'.

The coast around Kupang is predominantly steeply rising rock face of volcanic origin, interspersed with sandy areas, and quickly falling to deep water very close to shore.

Both housing and commercial buildings are of concrete construction, mostly unpainted and drab, quite modest by western standards and simply built, and the old buildings along the town's rocky waterfront rise sharply up 3 or 4 storeys from the water's edge in Mediterranean style. Electricity serves almost all, but town water is sparse or non existent. Local food is typical Asian style rice or noodle based with vegetables, fish and most meats, very tasty and inexpensive to us.

Kupang is not generally considered a 'tourist destination' and few western tourists visit here, so the arrival of over 300 visiting sailors is quite a inquisitive novelty and a boost to the economy. In this land of ‘Haves and Have Nots’, the locals see all tourists as wealthy ‘haves’, so there are often two prices for goods and services, one for ‘haves’ and a lessor one for the locals. Nevertheless they are very approachable, friendly, happy and full of smiles, living life to the fullest. The children delight in greeting you with “Hello Mister”, their total English vocabulary, and love to be photographed.

English speaking university students were arranged as our guides & interpreters, so it was a win/win situation as they relished the opportunity to practise their English and we got to understand more about Timor customs and culture. The rally fleet collected 10 million rupiah to start a university scholarship foundation for exceptionally bright but financially underprivileged students in appreciation of their friendly services.

We enjoyed visiting the (late) last King’s Castle, a grand old Dutch style residence still occupied by his widow, which supports an ‘Ikat’ textile weaving group who make the colourful fabric synonymous with this region, and much of Indonesia. They hand spin locally grown cotton, hand dye it with natural dyes, then weave it by hand on small, complicated looms. Audrey purchased a nice piece.

Then on to a traditional musical instrument maker, where we enjoyed hearing a recital by these instruments, an artefacts & carvings museum, and town tours in the little ‘Bemos’.
In keeping with the Rally schedule we departed Kupang after 6 hectic days and motor sailed in little breeze to an anchorage up the Timor coast, where sandy coconut lined beaches rose very steeply up a few thousand metres to jagged tops, and only 100 metres off the beach the bottom plummetered straight down over 200 metres.

Envy is now at 8° South and being close to the Equator there is little breeze so we have to motor-sail everywhere, which is a slow, expensive pain in the butt, but it’s all part of the experience.

It’s been a hectic but most interesting introduction to Indonesia, and every day brings something new. We are still eating our way of discovery through the local culinary delights of the many locations along our route, enjoying the friendliness of the people, and trying to learn a little of their language. It’s all part of ‘the big adventure’.

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 3

Gove to Darwin

Around 50 miles west of Cape York there is a convergence zone of currents in the Gulf of Carpentaria where the Coral and Arafura Seas met and mix in what is succinctly know as ‘the washing machine’; these rough confused seas extend for many miles across the top of the Gulf, and are cautiously respected by all cruising yachties, bar none!

We got tossed around in the usual manner and the autopilot had difficulty maintaining its course, but on the positive side the 20/25 kt breeze made for a fast passage and at 0715 hrs on day two, ‘Envy’ achieved her fastest ever speed of which I’m aware, an amazing 12.3 kts surfing down a swell. Man - we’re smoking!!

By late day 2 with 165 nm to Gove, averaging 6+ kts, the washing machine has eased somewhat but still blowing a light gale, and day 3 sees our arrival having averaged 6.3 kt for the 358 nm passage in 56 hours. We had another “sleep of the dead” that night after two sleepless nights in the uncomfortable conditions and the usual sleep deprivation of the first few nights of a sea passage.

Gove is in eastern Arnhem Land on the western fringe of the Gulf. The Canadian company Alcan operates a large open cut Bauxite mine there, and together with its support township of Nhulunbuy also established in the early 1970’s, both are thriving oases in an otherwise red wilderness. They are extremely isolated from everywhere, with 700 km of dirt road which is impassable during ‘the wet’, and everything comes in by sea or air. Since Ansett’s demise, Qantas is the only carrier and airfares are reputed to be astronomical.

Alcan Gove runs a free mine tour of which we partook, and we were interested to hear about the wages and conditions of employees. Virtually any unskilled worker earns $800+ p/week, many others much more, and many get free return air flights home Australia-wide every 5 weeks for 10 days’ leave. Alcan is always short of staff, and we mused about how much money could be earned and saved if one worked there for a few years and stayed off the booze and smokes. You’d be set for life after a few years investing.

The Gove Yacht Club has a picture postcard setting amid its lawns and palms running down to the sandy beach, and is renowned for its hospitality to cruising yachties. During our 4 days here, in addition to the Mine visit, we caught up on chores, had BBQ’s ashore, and were introduced to the famous ‘Darwin Stubbie’, a very large bottle of Beer. Fresh provisions and a la carte dining were had at Nhulunbuy, 15km away, to where everyone hitchhiked and usually got a lift with the first vehicle along. After 4 days’ rest in Gove it was time to get back to sea and on our way again.

The next bit of excitement was to be our passage through the Gugari Rip, a deep, fast running narrow passage at Raragala Island in the southern Wessels Group. More infamously known as the “Hole in the Wall”, it’s a geological fault only a few boat widths’ wide and 25 metres deep where the tide races through at 6 to 7 knots, and which can only be safely negotiated running with the tide and having enough additional hull speed to maintain steerage. ‘Envy’ zipped through it at 11 kts, feeling somewhat like a roller coaster ride sideshow alley.

Across the top of Arnhem Land are scattered several aboriginal communities which require individual permits to visit, and which we applied for in Nhulunbuy (Gove). We were to collect them the next day, but since the aboriginal lady in the Land Council Office had won a $14,000 jackpot at the Club ‘pokies’ the previous lunchtime, she and her winnings went ‘walkabout’ and we never did get our permits.

Nevertheless, after a long 156nm overnight passage and two more nice Mackerel in the fridge, our small squadron of four yachts anchored at South Goulburn Island, another closed aboriginal community. We all voted on taking ‘a sickie’ from our daily work of sailing, so our party of five dinghied ashore to check out the locals.

Equipped with a litre bottle of outboard motor fuel in our backpack (the local kids steal outboard fuel for petrol sniffing), we hiked 4 km up a dirt road to the community and, though permit-less, no one challenged us at all as we walked around the few blocks of the settlement, which contains about 240 aboriginals and three permanent whites.

But the filth did! The locals live in quite modern lowset houses with town water and sewerage connected, that appear totally neglected and/or abused; the unkempt yards, footpaths and streets are a maze of filth, littered with plastic, paper, bottles, cans, broken glass, tins, bags, rags, discarded clothes, kids and scrawny malnourished half-dead dogs. Little wonder access is made difficult to us outsiders.

But you can’t blame the dreaded booze, as this and many other Northern Territory aboriginal communities are ‘dry’, since alcohol was banned some 10 years ago, and Fijian Kava was introduced in its place. The NT government bought Fijians out to teach the locals how to mix this gritty, mildly intoxicating brew made from powdered kava roots and water, and still oversees its importation and controlled distribution within Arnhem Land communities.

Happy Hour that evening was aboard ‘Envy’ where, after a few ‘Sundowners’, we enjoyed Pork Stir fry with fresh Cabbage purchased that day from the Community store on Goulburn, and acknowledged the comment “to enjoy” since we wouldn’t see too much pork in Muslim Indonesia!

It’s back to work again next morning as we sail off to our next island anchorage, each day inching closer to Darwin. But it was a double whammy sad day; I caught and lost two more fish off the troll line, and my beloved laptop computer, which runs our electronic charting at sea, finally succumbed to old age after 9 faithful years since its purchase in Florida in ’97. Fortunately we have two more laptops aboard.

Another 53 nm passage (and another big Queenfish shared and eaten fresh that night) finds ‘Envy’ at anchor in Port Essington, with its large Stone Monument at the entrance which helped those long ago navigators identify the port when it was the Territory’s first European settlement prior to Darwin.

Subsequent nightly anchorages at Alcaro Bay and Cape Hotham followed, before our 3am start to catch the all important tide into Darwin, where we arrived safe and sound, with only minor breakages, on Wednesday 5 July, after 54 days and 2240 nautical miles out from Brisbane. A fast trip with fresh following winds all the way, saw ‘Envy’ averaging around 6 knots, with mostly clear sunny skies. All in all, a very good passage - the stuff memories are made of.

Ninety six yachts had entered the “Sail Indonesia Rally – 2006” and with limited space available in Darwin’s three Marinas, berths were at a premium and only the early birds got their worms. Fortunately we were one of them and got an excellent berth at Darwin’s best marina at Cullen Bay, from which it was easy and convenient to explore the town, do maintenance, reprovision etc. whilst most boats rocked at anchor wherever they could find shelter, and had to dinghy ashore.

‘Envy’ spent 16 wonderful days in Darwin, our first visit, and both Aud and I are singing its praises. We never got to see Darwin pre cyclone Tracy, but whilst much of its old charm and character (so we’re told) was lost that 1974 Christmas Eve, the new Darwin is modern, vibrant and most attractive, and still very much on the move.

It has great maritime environs, and notwithstanding the humid ‘wet’, the present ‘dry’ season is cool and very comfortable. With no water restrictions everything is nice and green, and densely planted tropical gardens are popular.

In shades of colonial USA, you could do much worse than “Go West young man, to Gove, make your quick-(ish) fortune, and invest it in Darwin”. What’s this talk about unemployment and the ‘dole’!

We have good N.Z. yachtie friends now living in Darwin, who spoilt us nicely with fine dinners, laundry and shopping transportation, so to Bruce & Kate we say many thanks.

Between sail re-stitching and other urgent boat repairs and maintenance, the usual requirements of clearing Australian Customs, obtaining Indonesian Visas and Cruising Permits, (which all take ‘Indo’ time), Rally briefings, information sessions and socialising, doing Tax Returns, arranging Offshore Insurance, the usual obligatory shopping, writing this ‘Happenings’ Report and taking a couple of “work day sickies”, we just haven’t stopped, so now I will, until we met again, hopefully soon, in “H-4”.

Darwin, July 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 2

Escape River to Gove

The jewellery world has long had a romantic obsession with Pearls; indeed they are one of the primary reasons for early European settlement of the top of Cape York & the Torres Strait, and with depletion of the original natural beds, a cultured pearl industry now flourishes throughout this area.

It’s late afternoon after a blowy 70 nautical mile passage as ‘Envy’ enters the Escape River, a day’s sail from the ‘tip’, and the river’s muddy coloured waters appear totally covered with thousands of seemingly impenetrable round black floats. Caught in the late afternoon glare we cautiously edge ‘Envy’ through this maze of floating balls several hundred metres wide and obscuring the narrow channel, our first of many Pearl Farm experiences, to seek the sanctuary of a sheltered anchorage 2½ miles upstream. Each float suspends a wire cage holding six pearl shells which have been artificially seeded to grow a pearl, harvested after 2, 4, or 6 years depending on the size of pearl required.

Since the morrow will see us past the tip of Cape York, Audrey and I reflect over a ‘Sundowner’ what we’ve seen cruising this vast Queensland coast. The Great Dividing Range influences much of the coast south of Cooktown, with some wonderful mountainous skylines interspersed with lower rolling hills & valleys, and savannah grasslands; the Peninsular then offers the contrast of mostly lower undulating country with extensive areas of coastal sandhills, much of it covered in low scrubs.

On the other hand are the scores of islands, a mixture of sandy cays or the peak tops of a long since buried continental shelf with their odd and sometimes spectacular mix of scenic bays, beaches and rugged rock escarpments. North of Cairns the Great Barrier Reef sweeps in to claim some of the action adding additional beauty and navigational challenges, though the channels are well marked, and offers somewhat protected waters which make for pleasant sailing.

The following day would see the culmination of a wish since early childhood. Less than 20 miles northward lay the site of old Somerset, in Albany Passage almost at ‘the tip’, to where my pioneering great-grandfather Frank Jardine, led the first European overland expedition to reach the tip of Cape York in 1864/65, and had the Jardine River named in his honour.

With the tide in our favour ‘Envy’ scooted into narrow Albany Passage and all of a sudden we were in Somerset Bay, a very lovely sandy beached inlet with steep rocky headlands at either end. As a child I studied the large old oil painting, which hung on the lounge wall at Chelmer, of Somerset Homestead atop the hill overlooking this very same spot where ‘Envy’ now rested at anchor, out of the tidal race.

My first reaction is that this snug little bay, perhaps 400 metres wide, was much smaller than I had imagined from the painting and numerous family photos, but far more tropical and attractive. It had taken me 62 years to get here, so with pride, anticipation and excitement Aud & I dinghied the 100 metres ashore leaving ‘Pea Green’ under a shady coconut palm on this tropical sandy beach where once had stood the boardwalk to a substantial boatshed and jetty, while we set about exploring my family’s roots.

In its heyday Somerset settlement held a small garrison of English Redcoat Soldiers, in addition to administration personnel, the government residency, hospital and barracks, plus other buildings, and was fully surveyed as a township. When the government relocated its FNQ administration centre from Somerset to Thursday Island in the late 1870’s, Frank Jardine, who had been the Government Magistrate, purchased the property and made Somerset his home.

Steeped in a colourful history for those times, including Jardine’s Samoan Princess wife Sana, his seabed discovery of silver coinage subsequently made into engraved sterling cutlery, his pearling and grazing exploits and their gentry lifestyle notwithstanding such isolation, Somerset today sadly lies overgrown and neglected.

Little remains since the old homestead burnt down 40 odd years ago, other than Frank and Sana Jardines’ beach-side graves, plus two others, and a monumental cairn with its brass plaque honouring my father, which stands over a metre tall beside the two ship’s cannons and flagpole at the historic hilltop site of the old residency, some 7 minutes walk up through the rain forest from the beach. The extensively cleared residency site offered 180° views across to Albany Island and the fast flowing 500 metre passage between.

My grandfather H.G. Vidgen, another true son of the North, married Jardine’s eldest daughter, Alice in 1899. My father was born at Somerset in 1901 and subsequently purchased the property in 1925 following Frank Jardine’s death and it became our family home until 1948, when father sold the property back to the government. The rest of the Vidgens of that era lived either at adjoining Muddy Bay, or on Thursday Island (affectionately known as T.I.), where my parents also had a ‘town house’, which still stands today.

So that’s today’s history lesson folks, my apologies to those of you who have suffered it all before.

We could afford only a short visit at Somerset, since we needed to work the tide to our favour for the 25 nm run to Thursday Island, where ‘Envy’ subsequently dropped anchor at neighbouring Horn Island, 1km across the channel from T.I., which is exposed to southerly winds. Since strong weather was forecast for the next several days we wanted to be comfortably tucked up, in the company of eight other yachts, with T.I. a $9 ferry ride away.

Bruce’s twin brother John lives at Thursday Island where his work takes him through upper Cape York and the islands of the Torres Strait. Four days were spent with John in his hillside apartment with its panoramic maritime views, while it blew 30/35kts and rained a lot, an unusual occurrence during the North’s ‘dry season’. He tells us there are no privately owned rental residences on T.I., with all rental accommodation owned by the government and in short supply.

Together with cruising friends Trevor & Joan Long off ‘Been-A-Long’, we got comprehensive tours of the Island, and enjoyed meals together, including some yummy BBQ’d fish out of ‘Envy’s’ freezer. Thursday Island is only 2½ km long, has a very picturesque waterfront Esplanade, and two dominant hills, one at either end of this small northern outpost. ‘Millman Hill’ has a wind farm with two huge wind generators that are seen from miles away, while ‘Green Hill’ overlooks the main shipping channel and has an old military Fort, now an interesting Museum.

The wide main street still has a few old colonial buildings, it’s far from modern, and most housing, being government owned, is of a good standard. Local Torres Strait Island people far outnumber all others, and many commute daily in their small aluminium dinghys from several neighbouring islands.

Horn is a significantly larger island but much smaller township; it has the local airport, a very good Museum reflecting Horn’s major WW2 war effort, and Vidgen Creek which ran through Uncle Gordon’s butchery holding paddocks back in the old days.

It’s a long way from Cape York to Darwin, starting point for the “Sail Indonesia Rally 2006”, and it was time to go, so ‘Envy’ and ‘Been-A-Long’ returned an energetic farewell to John as he waved to us close by from the Hospital grounds right there at Vivienne Point, after seven exciting days at Thursday Island, as we raced close by the point doing 9.6 knots with the swift current.

We gave historic Booby Island Lighthouse a safe margin (where early sailing ships left and collected mail from ‘post office’ cave), as we headed out into the shallow and rough Gulf of Carpentaria to commence our ‘over the top’ passage.

Next landfall will be in Arnhem Land at Gove, a hard three day passage away, and as “Envy’ settled into its sea going rhythm I reflected on the previous ten days of excitement, pleasure and discovery as Audrey and I at long last retraced my family roots up here at the top end of Australia.

Remember, a bad day’s sailing (almost always) beats a good day at the office!
Gove, June 2006

Monday, 19 June 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 1

Brisbane to Cape York

Saturday, May 13, twenty nine days ago, Audrey and I left Brisbane to commence our 2006 cruise to S/E Asia, and for 19 of those days “ENVY” has been screaming up Queensland’s stunning island dotted and reef studded coast, with hardly a spare moment to stop and smell the roses.

Hotly pursued by brisk Southeasterly trades for most of the trip so far, it certainly has been a dream run, sailing ‘wing to wing’ (with a sail poled out either side of the mast) achieving seldom seen daily averages (for our cruising yacht) of 6 & 7 nautical miles per hour, though not surprising considering some gale force gusts over 35 knots at times. But it hasn’t all been beer & skittles, with some hard work heavy-weather sailing, middle of the night sail changes, and associated sleep deprivation.

Leaving Brisbane, we made non-stop overnight ocean passages until we reached more protected Barrier Reef waters, from whence “ENVY” commenced day hopping between sheltered island anchorages, with most of these ‘day sails’ being fairly long hops of from 50 to 80 N/Mls, so it’s a full days work, with some early pre-dawn starts.

Time off rest days were enjoyed at Great Keppel Island, The Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, and then four days in Cairns. There’s just enough of ‘old Cairns’ left to show what an interesting old frontier town it was, but now it bustles with young foreign backpackers here to discover the reef. “Rusty’s”, the local fresh food and crafts market is one of the best we’ve seen anywhere, with its excellent, well priced produce. Both fruit and vegetables were awesome, so we stocked up.

Next rest stop was 2 nights at Lizard Island, one of the prettiest and best anchorages anywhere in Queensland, but more historically famous for its hilltop site to which Cptn Cook climbed to search for a passage out through the Barrier Reef, after repairs to the “Endeavour” at Cooktown. He gave the island its name because “All I saw here were lizards”, and they are all that we saw too.

We made the pilgrimage up 1100 ft high rocky hill to enjoy the great 360º views from the summit. The climb is no Sunday stroll in the park, having to often scale large boulders, wet rock face and slippery granite paths. There is a 3 metre rock pile at Cook’s Lookout, where traditionally each new visitor places another rock, which we did. The view back down to Watson’s Bay beach and the Resort in the next bay is picture postcard stuff.

Lizard was also the home base of beche-de-mere fisherman Robert Watson, whose young wife Mary, in his working absence, escaped attacking aboriginals with her baby and Chinese servant Ah Sam, in a steel ship’s tank in 1881, only to perish from thirst on a nearby island.

Today, Lizard Island boasts one of the more exclusive Tourist Resorts of the GBR, and a young employee we met up on Cook’s Look told us rates ranged from $700 to $3000 per night. (Bloody expensive sleep as far as I’m concerned).

We also had a great day with other yachtie friends at the “Cod Hole” 14 miles from Lizard at the outer Barrier edge, snorkeling amongst the coral and a myriad of colourful schools of fish. We’ve seen it a zillion times before, but never tire of its beauty.

Once you leave Lizard you find yourself in true far north tropical waters and even though its winter, days, nights and sea temperatures here are all noticeably warmer, with boat fans running all night as we sleep.

Another place of interest is Cape Melville, where the land is comprised totally of huge round stones and boulders, and where the wind reputably ricochets off the hills in frightfully strong bullets, so we had been warned; but it was OK when we went round.

Today is Saturday 10 June as I write this note at sea just north of Cape Grenville, from where we and 6 other yachts departed in pre-dawn darkness this morning enroute to the Escape River, a 71n/m run to the north. Another large southbound ship is about to pass us, one of several we’ve had to dodge in these narrow shipping lanes between the reefs, and the radio is crackling with traffic as yachts and the ship’s bridge discuss dodg’em tactics. Audrey’s in control so we’re in good hands!

For a sailor come fisherman, who absolutely loves eating fish, I’m a strange animal indeed. Even though fish is a favourite, I seldom troll a line because, well, frankly, I’m scared I might catch one!!

They only ever seem to strike a lure when it’s blowing a clacker, the yachts heeling heavily and if you’re lucky enough to get the writhing, slippery thing on board, thrashing wildly to escape from the hook in its mouth, then as you fillet and skin it there’s blood and guts all over the ship; ugh, where’s the nearest fish shop please!

Anyway, our mates Trevor and Joan Long on ‘Been-A-Long’ caught a nice mackerel recently and, being the good friends they are, gave us half the fillets, enough for two large meals. We devoured them with delight and, like a busted alcoholic, that was it. I had to have more! So out came the trolling gear with a bright coloured lure, and that afternoon in came a big Tuna. Being late in the day and red fleshed Tuna not one of our favourites, it happily returned to the deep, after being photographed, very much alive and unhurt.

The next day bang on noon, with a bright new silver spoon lure following at 6 knots, my trolling reel sang as it flew out at great speed. What a strike! It was big, and very hard work reeling in the line, but finally a truly magnificent 1½ mtr+ Spanish mackerel was on my gaff, the biggest and best fish I’ve ever caught. As Audrey bent down to lasso his tail, he gave one almighty flick and was gone, without even a photo to show you ‘doubting Thomas’s’. I don’t think there are enough tissues on board to mop up my tears!

But this morning at 0700 I proved there is a God when, in light airs and friendly seas, at 11º 43 S x 143º 04 E the Alvey trolling reel sang its sweet song again and in came another brilliant Spaniard. Though not as big as the previous Houdini, a fine mackerel nevertheless, and already in the freezer.

There’s anticipation & excitement in the air for us these past few days as ‘Envy’ edges northwards.

We’re only a tad of a day’s sail away from the tip of Cape York, 20 miles tomorrow, to the Vidgen and Jardine families Australian roots at Somerset… my middle name… and I’ve never been there yet in all my 62 years. A monumental cairn to our parent’s memory sits at the old Jardine residency hilltop site, overlooking Somerset Bay and Albany Passage. My father purchased Somerset from his uncle Chum Jardine, and lived there until he sold it in 1948.

Twin brother John now lives and works on Thursday Island, so it will be good to see him again also. But they are other stories for another day.