Two days ago we left the Pacific behind us and entered the Arafura Sea, which leads into the Indian Ocean a few hundred miles further West. The Pacific has been very special for me in particular as it was the lure of that huge, wild ocean that provided the impetus for this whole voyage. We have seen some incredible places, met some amazing people and been treated to countless exceptional experiences over the last couple of years. Polynesian and Melanesian culture is underpinned by the attributes of generosity and friendliness. The languages of the people are diverse but all share common themes such that the sounds of the words, which seemed so alien and unpronounceable to us at first, became perfectly natural. The diet has shifted bit by bit but has remained stapled around the same basic home-grown or self-caught ingredients. We have become accustomed to a diet of fish and coconuts and can now count ‘snake bean’, breadfruit, coco pods and giant (head-sized!) grapefruit among our favourite foods. Now, however, we are leaving all that behind. We don’t really know what to expect when we reach our next port but we are anticipating a huge cultural shift along with a change in ideals, diet, language and the general way in which people go about their lives. One thing is already clear, and that is that we are moving from a place of practicality to a place considerably more chaotic.
We don’t actually know where we are going yet because the Indonesian pre-clearance formalities are so complicated and illogical that they are proving impossible to complete. Ostensibly one may register their yacht online, enter all the required details and receive clearance in advance. In reality the online registration system doesn’t work (and has not worked for at least a month), the information requested is often impossible to provide and there actually isn’t any official legislation or set of procedures that can be followed and which will be accepted at the port of entry. It all depends on who you get when you arrive and whether they are having a good day. We do know that there are no official fees for entering but that we will be expected to haggle over the size of the ‘gift’ to be presented to the immigration and customs officials. This modus operandi is something that I have experienced a little of in my travels but am certainly not familiar or comfortable with. We have been forced to hire an agent to help us smooth things over but we haven’t heard from him in nearly a week despite daily emails from me and have no idea whether we will actually be allowed to enter. We gave up in the end and set sail from Papua New Guinea because the weather forecast was favourable but looking to deteriorate if we left it any longer.
Fortunately we have options. It seems that Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) is capitalising on the impossibility of entering Indonesia by making their entry procedures as simple as possible. Apparently it’s a nice place too, now that the bloody civil war which ended with it’s independence from Indonesia in 2002 is over. So, if we can’t get in to Indonesia we can go there instead, or at least be a little further along while we keep working on the Indonesians.
I had been quite nervous about transiting the Torres Straits – the area of shallow sea strewn with reefs, islands and strong, unpredictable currents that separates Australia from West Papua and the Pacific from the Indian Ocean – but in fact it was nowhere near as bad as what I was anticipating. The winds were kind to us, shipping was exceptionally light and even the infamous Australian border force were polite and un-hindering to our plans. We even managed to anchor overnight and get some rest without being told-off, which I’d heard might be a problem.
We had a bit of a hiccough when one of the seams on the genoa blew out (rotten stitching – the sail came with the boat and is probably twenty years old) just as darkness was falling two nights ago. Rather than switch out the sail at night we ran under main alone and then I spent most of yesterday sewing it back up again. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before another seam goes but for now the sail is up and we’re moving……….. kind of. Our average speed is 2.8 knots and the sail is banging back and forth as Bob rolls with the swells in her characteristically sharp, violent manner. It’s the reason we’re using this rotten old blown-out sail in the first place. We’re following the example of the grain ships. They would switch out their full suite of sails four times on their voyage to Australia and back – old rotten ones for the tropical trade winds, where the sun would beat down on them day after day and weeks could be spent doing what we’re doing now, and bright, new, strong sails for the higher latitudes, where you needed to be able to rely on your gear in the hurricane-strength winds of the Southern Ocean. With crews of perhaps fifteen, thirty or so sails and some of those sails weighing well over a ton it was a gruelling task that took several weeks to complete. A day spent sewing Bob’s old genoa is peanuts by comparison, and I even had a pod of dolphins up at the bow to keep me company for a while.
Position as of 0830 (UTC + 10), Wednesday September 5th is 09 51’S 138 54’E.