Australia to Indonesia
After a six-month stay in Mooloolaba, Australia, Sea Witch and her crew headed off again to explore and experience the new adventures awaiting them.
Great Barrier Reef
Our first stop was at Lady Musgrave Island. This ended up being a two day motor due to a very dirty boat bottom. We found that poor Sea Witch was slogging along due to many additional pounds of underwater delicacies that had attached themselves to her bottom. She was a much happier lady once we cleaned her all up. Jeff had to use one whole scuba tank just to clean the propeller. It was a lot of work but we were extremely happy to be back at sea.
On up the eastern coast of OZ we headed. With many miles to cover and not a lot of time to do it in, we moved pretty quickly. The anchorages were almost all rolly and somewhat uncomfortable so being under way was often a better option anyway.
Navigation took on new meaning as we worked our way in and out of the reef systems along the inside of the Great Barrier Reef. Between the ships, shallow water, and the reefs we were constantly on alert. One night we had a much too close encounter with a large ship that kept changing course. It was dark and raining with Gail on watch. The constant sail changes and lack of visibility made it difficult to decide where to go. Jeff was woken from a deep sleep and arrived on deck to find a large tanker a few hundred yards ahead. Not the best way to wake up. Turning away from the ship we quickly started the engine and motored away as quickly as we could. All the while Jeff, looking up at the side of the ship, watched to make sure we were clearing. Hate when things like that happen. The whole experience left Gail shaking and Jeff had a sleepless night calming her down.
In Cairns we stayed a few days in the marina to do some work on the teak decks. Not too much fun in the heat, but it went quickly and without any problems. We lifted up the starboard side deck and put it back down. The more we do this, the quicker and better we get. We seem to be getting plenty of practice.
After Cairns we did a short hop to Port Douglas and made our way up the river a few miles before anchoring. 6 of us jumped in the dinghies to do some Crocodile hunting. We didn’t see the actual beast but we did find a number of sizable claw prints going up the riverbank.
Further north we made a stop at Lizard Island for a couple of days. Here we loaded up Sea Witch with our friends from Tatanka and Northern Summit and took a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef to do some diving. It was a perfect day. We got in a couple of dives. Our second dive was at the world-famous Cod Hole where we actually were able to pet the giant critters. While sitting at anchor the Australian Coast Watch plane flew over and took some pictures of us. We are still hoping they might send us a copy. Not often you get aerial pictures of your boat sitting at such an incredible place.
By the time we reached Indonesia, it had become commonplace for us to have a low flying plane buzz us nearly every day. Shortly after they would fly by we would get a radio call from them making sure we were indeed supposed to be where we were. The Ozzies keep a very close watch on their waters.
North Coast of Australia to Darwin
We made another short stop at Thursday Island which is really Friday Island but some bureaucrat got things confused back in England. Thursday Island is the Northern most point of Australia and also the place where we had to make the big left had turn. There’s no turning back now. It looks like an around the world adventure for us.
Across the top of Oz we stopped at Darwin so we could take an inland trip into Kakadu. For five days we traveled by four wheel drive into this beautiful outback World Heritage Area. We did a lot of trekking, swimming in rivers and waterfalls, and crocodile hunting. We were treated to some amazingly beautiful scenery, Aboriginal rock art and thousands of the giant 12 foot high termite mounds.
Roti & Seba Islands, Indonesia
Darwin was our jumping off point from OZ and Indonesia would be our next stop. Our new spinnaker paid for itself during a light wind passage. Traveling in a six boat flotilla made us feel more secure as we sailed into a Muslim country. Thus far, however, we have not experienced any difficulties. The people we have encountered have been very welcoming.
At our first stop we were the guests of honor at a children’s dance competition. This is when we first noticed a big culture change. The music of gongs, chanting, and the costumes have changed dramatically from anything we have seen in the South Pacific.
At the next island, we had wanted to find and view an animist village. We had an obscure reference in a cruising note to a teacher that spoke some English and could take us there. We walked through town asking at a lot of places but couldn’t get any information. Lots of people misunderstood us and helped us with things we weren’t asking for. We found someone somewhere that knew of someone else somewhere else that might know about the teacher. So, Jeff ended up on the back of this guy’s motor scooter and disappeared with him. A long time later we started wondering what happened to him. But, he returned with a teacher that could help us. We also inherited another “guide” and headed down a dirt path. A short while later, a heard of water buffalo came down the path guided by a “guy who herds water buffalo” (don’t know what to call him) in one of those pointy round hats that you see in the rice paddies.
We finally arrived in the animist village. They still have elders that speak to spirits. Very interesting people (we’ll get the pictures on the website when we have access). We were asked to share betel nut with them. Betel nut is considered the Peacemaker. You chew on a piece of betel nut, dip this green plant called siri into a white powder (lime) and chew without swallowing. First your mouth, teeth and tongue turn red. Then everything starts going numb, and you start drooling which you are supposed to just let roll out of your mouth. If you make it this far you probably have not started gagging due to the awful taste. Whatever you do, don’t swallow. After all this, they warn you to be careful when you talk not to bite your tongue. Who knows what all this does to you. We did notice that most of the adults in the village had very red teeth and mouths and walk around constantly chewing something. Gail and Teri looked like mad dogs.
Onto Rinca Island, home of the Komodo Dragons. An uninhabited island - except for the dragons, deer, boar and monkeys - all of which we could watch from our boat as they came down to the beach to feed at low tide. The deers standing on their hind legs would feed from the trees. The boars and monkeys would venture to the exposed reef to find treats, and one can only guess what the dragons were into. The dragons would often walk down the beach. We spotted one and hightailed it across the reef wading up to our waists to approach the beach ahead of the dragon and not scare it off. Jeff made it into the bush where he was able to hide behind trees and walk only feet from the dragon snapping pictures and taking video and herding him towards our friends waiting down the beach. Now and then the dragon would see Jeff, hunch down, stare at him and decide whether to attack or not. From Gail’s point of view, they were having a stand off. From Jeff’s point of view, the dragon was no in charge. Remembering that a Komodo dragon can swallow a whole goat and travel quite fast, the plan to herd him towards our friends was quickly abandoned.
At Rinca, we were also treated to one of the most spectacular scuba dives we have ever experienced. There were more species of underwater life then we have ever seen. Not only was there such an incredible variety it was the sheer mass quantity that made it so overwhelming
At Lombock we went on a short tour to experience the local ikat and sonkat weaving. Young girls start as early as 7 years old learning this skill. In one village they believe that if a woman does not know how to weave she will not be able to go to heaven. It is a life-long job for most of these women. In Lombock, we received our first lessons in negotiating prices. Everything - trinkets, pearls, transportation and even hotel rooms - is bargained for. In most cases you start by offering 20% of their initial price and settle for half or less. By the time we got to the pearls we were becoming experts. Sometimes it was fun and sometimes trying. Jeff did find it annoying to have to negotiate the same ride with the same donkey cart driver two times in the same day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
That brings us to where we are now - Bali. A quick ride into two for dinner convinced us that renting a car and driving around would be much more dangerous than sailing Sea Witch through a hurricane. So, we hired a van and driver for $24 a day. Yes, twenty-four dollars! That included fuel. We took three days to tour the temples, rice paddies, and palaces, saw the arts and crafts of the people of Bali - weaving, wood carving, basket weaving, puppet making, and painting – and were able to get a glimpse of the local people going about their normal daily routines. We even saw a cremation ceremony and the offerings they take to the temple after the ashes have been sent out to sea. The attire for ceremonies and funerals was colorful and quite beautiful.
The vendors can be voracious and, if you make eye contact, look at any of their wares, or, heaven help you, touch something, you will be engaged in a fierce bargaining process for something you don’t want. Two women “captured” Jeff and started putting clothing over him as he tried to walk away. Unless you are willing to drop their stuff on the ground you can’t get away. We are now experts at the bargaining process and are quite good at “running gauntlet”.
We stocked up on DVDs – a bargain at $2 each – and did some work on the boat. The locals work for $12 a day polishing and cleaning. Apparently this price is considered high by some of the local boat owners but the workers have formed a “union”.
Tomorrow we will start passage to Kalimatan, Borneo, home of the orangutans.
Jeff & Gail