Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cruising and Exploring Pulau Pulau Tanimbar

It was a relief to be sailing again. The quiet, the lack of people. Such a hypocrit I am! After all the complaining I did while cruising Northern Territory, that I was so lonely and wanting more human contact, here I was trying to get away from it after a week in Indonesia. I feel so drained from the constant photos and attention. From trying to speak Bahasa Indonsia and never getting enough sleep due to the very rolly anchorage of Saumlaki. After all my paranoia of trying to stay super healthy (avoiding eating ice or local foods that seem risky, sterilising my hands and keeping away from animals), I'm the only one who ends up with the dodgy belly and weird itchy rash. I'm so paranoid because I know how terrible it is to get Giardia (it got me bad back in 2005 in Thailand and it took me years to fully recover). So, this first day of sailing, I try to rest and recover. It's a fantastic day for sailing – reminding us of the Whitsundays – protected waters free of swell, good winds of 15-20knots and currents helping us along our way. We had arranged to cruise in company with Kellie, Youngie and their daughter Indi from Malonga but somehow don't manage to meet with them due to communication problems (they only have a handheld VHF). We anchor at Kolan Fanoter with two other yachts just in time to log into the radio sched that a few of the participants on this rally have set up on HF radio. We discover that a strait Rene was keen to sail up is in fact not safe for a boat our size. We all enjoy a normal meal of pesto pasta and watch David Attenborough.

Youngie with his Malonga

We leave early next morning and head for the mouth of the strait where Malonga had anchored – we need to warn them not to go that way! Getting close, we can't spot them and have to tack away for fear of shallow water. Today is a day of tacking. R2detour decides to die and we have to use Aries instead. We cut up one of my old hot-pink stockings to go over the steel frame Rene built. It works OK but is much more attention-seeking than R2. We sail out around the bottom of Seira island and try to head in between it and a small islet, Pulau Yeyaru. I'm inside making lunch when Rene says 'Um.. I don't like this...can you come up here?'. I'm up there like a rocket, at the helm and turning hard to starboard as Rene quickly changes the sails and we do the quickest tack ever to get out of there! We got down to 2.3metres of water and could see the coral beneath us. I'm shaking from the adrenaline. Our chart-plotter says we should be in 11 meters! We decide to take an alternate route and to go the long way around the few small islands in the vicinity – giving them a very wide berth to avoid their reefs. Pic of chart and our course. Malonga was by now sailing with us and we enjoyed sailing with them as we both tacked back and forth up the bay towards Welutu village anchorage. Frecinet was in communication with us as we approached and at one point we'd decided to push on, avoiding the village (we'd heard that some yachts had been asked for alcohol). The wind was against us though and so we turned in and anchored with everyone (1 Kiwi yacht and 5 Aussie's). James from Frecinet collected us (he used Azzan's powerful 15HP dinghy which he thought was 'orgazmic') and we had a relaxing evening onboard Frecinet having a couple of sundowners and catching up.
Aaaaargh - sundowners!!
Azzan came over to our boat afterwards so that Rene could fix their navigation software on their laptop and they ended up staying for dinner. It was nice to spend time with other yachties. The village generator went all night – we had mobile reception and so I texted my Mum twice. The second message I feel bad about – I told her of my itchy arm-rash thing and asked her what she thought it could be. By morning the generator was off and we had no reception again – I know she'll be worrying about me and I feel terrible! Regarding the generators, everywhere we visited in the Tanimbars had power only from generators. In Saumlaki, there were timed outages to supply power to everyone. In one store we opened a fridge to buy bottled water to find it completely warm.

Everyone sets out towards Wotap Island (nick-named 'Wombat' after a mix-up on the HF radio by me). Lady Kay is there already and has been tempting us with their explanation of the place – no village, clear water and snorkelling. Just what we all want for a rest.

Keeping the log as we sail
Rene insists that we pull up anchor without the engine and we sail the whole way. Everyone else used their motor and we think they all must have motor-sailed because they are so much faster than us! Penny enjoys learning to sail and I enjoy writing up the blog.  We opt for the longer, safer route around the north of Wotap which looks free of reefs. Everyone else takes the shorter passage to the south, through a series of reefs and bommies. We had enough of that yesterday and are happy to spend the time sailing and relaxing rather than worrying about hitting a reef. It's so lovely to be cruising in company again. To share information, resources and experiences.

Despite having two GPS waypoints to follow into the anchorage on Wotap, I climb the mast and sit at the first cross-trees for a good vantage point to see the fringing reef and channel entrance. This anchorage is pretty spectacular. I wish we'd fixed the inflatable kayak already so I could explore! Instead, after anchoring, we work at washing our clothes – as I've mentioned before, a very time-consuming and laborious process by hand. Before we've finished this chore, it's time to go over to the catamaran Lady Kay for sundowners along with everyone else at the anchorage (Sharita, Just Magic, Anwin, Freycinet, Azzan, Kelolo and Veedon Fleece). We agree to only trade with the locals rather than simply giving them handouts – we don't wish to set a precedent for future yachts visiting here. We all stay for hours and have a fantastic time – this is what cruising is about!

Trading at Wotap

Early next morning we're woken with the sound of loud 2 stroke engines putt-putting around the anchorage. Soon there is a wooden prahu alongside us and a voice calls out 'hallo Mr.... hallo Mr'. The boat contains a father and his three small girls. He asks us for clothes, books, pens and lollies. We explain (in broken Bahasa Indonesia) that we will only agree to trade (dagang). He sends his two small sons off in another carved wooden boat and they return 20 minutes later with 8 freshly picked, green (Queen) coconuts. While waiting for the boys to return, Penny and Rene do their best to communicate with xxxx while I continue to wash our clothes. We eventually complete the trade, giving them a bag of children's clothes (thanks to Dee from Townsville!), a blank exercise book and a pen each. They leave, delighted and Rene sets to work on the coconuts, retrieving the delicious juice and young flesh.
Little girls at Wotap
 This first interaction was the best. What followed was another 4 boats with different men all asking for a variety of things. We traded 4 golden (King) coconuts for another bag of clothes to one boat, then two guys who were from the Islamic village of LeBobo, hung off our boat sliding their eyes over Penny and I as we did our washing. He tried to climb aboard numerous times and we had to keep shooing him off. We got a really bad vibe from him as he kept checking out our boat and not showing any respect to us, our personal space or our requests for him to go away. Eventually Rene gave him an old fishing hook and he took off, not saying thanks, like he was expecting more. This is the first negative interaction we've had – and it's a shame that it just happened to be with a Muslim! Yamdena island is predominantly Christian – a rarity in Indonesia. Then we had a guy who spoke some English. He sat on a long boat filled with a white seaweed that Rene things is Agar. We traded him a handfull of the stinky stuff for another bag of clothes.  
This seaweed is used to make sweets!
Then he told us his sister was really sick, she was vomiting 'yellow and red'. Could he please have some medicine? This illness sounded pretty bad so I went inside and dug out some electrolyte powder for him. In the meantime, he had asked Rene for rice, swimming goggles, books, pens, the sunglasses from his face etc. He took the medicine and promised to return with some bananas for us but never did (we found out from friends that stayed another day that he returned the next day). The final guy wanted to trade some fish teeth for pens. In the end, we gave him a pair of prescription sunglasses we were given at an Optometrist in Maryborough. We tried to explain that the glasses were for someone with sick eyes but as soon as this guy tried them on, he was off. Probably to show his mates his new cool look. These transactions amounted to the better part of the day. It was after midday by the time they'd left us alone long enough to eat breakfast.

I went over to Freycinet where they kindly let me type an email to Mum (they, like many other yachties, use an email service than runs through their HF radio). I also discovered what to say in future when the locals try to board our boat uninvited, 'Maaf tidak boleh' (sorry, not allowed). We plan on using that phrase along with a few others next time.

Water sports at Wotap - first swim for all of us!
The afternoon melts away on the beach with everyone for a BBQ and swim. I'd mentioned previously that we are on a tight budget, and so when we rocked up to the pot-luck BBQ with coconut flesh and seaweed, some of our fellow cruisers must have thought we're really doing it tough! The coconut is really nice grilled (even better fried) while the seaweed is inedible. A bunch of us had our first swim since Lizard Island – the water was incredibly salty but cool and fun as we threw a ball around and generally had a good time chatting and relaxing in the sun. 
Our unique BBQ contribution :)
Yachties gathered for a lunchtime BBQ
Back onboard Anima, we busied ourselves preparing to sail to Banda.
Sailbirds at the helm in the Banda Sea.

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