Senses of Bali

Bali is definitely a destination for the sun-seeking tourist. Luxury spa hotels with cushioned deckchairs line the white sandy coastline and pink faces can been seen bobbing around in the turquoise waters. Tourists from far and wide are greeted with a big warm welcome and there’s plenty here to see and do.

Most of the locals are familiar with tourists arriving by plane and staying in a hotel. Our taxi driver the other day could not understand why on Earth we wanted to go to a supermarket to buy 5 cases of beer and then be dropped off on a beach, at night. Alex and I explained our whole voyage and life to him. Three times! After which his response was “No. I think you stay in hotel”. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

In other news, we met a wonderful couple (Brad and Claudia) who are sailing their bright pink 32 foot monohull around the world on a huge culinary mission. They are both trained chefs and Brad is currently in the process of setting up the next big online presence in the world of cheffing. He will soon be filming for an exciting new YouTube series uncovering stories behind strange and exotic foods in remote destinations all across the globe. He’s currently focusing on Indonesia. Indonesia is renowned for its delicious cuisine and although we were able to dine at some of the luxury resorts once or twice, we frequented the local street food stalls much more often. Brad was extremely keen to drag us down the dingy narrow streets, away from the resorts, to the local street food stalls and restaurants so that we could get a taste of ‘true’ Indonesia. It’s one thing to experience the smells and tastes of a local dish, but to be able to fully understand the history of the dish and the delicate cooking processes was even more amazing! This is what Brad is offering on his upcoming series – A Nomadic Chef. I know that some of our followers are keen ‘foodies’ and I would highly recommend subscribing to his website. It might be a little while before he publishes his first video but it will be worth the wait. Trust me! I’ve seen some short snippet previews 🙂

This is the gang chowing down on some delicious Balinese street food.

Yum!

Babi Guling is a roast suckling pork dish where they spit roast a whole pig and turn it into a medley of delicious foods.

Babi guling – the pig is used to make crackling, pork scratchings, pulled pork, a ‘chorizo’ style sausage, roast pork slices, stripped pork with chilli and vegetables, crispy pork and pork soup, served with a plate of rice. This is a carnivores dream!

We also tried Kopi Luwak coffee, where the coffee beans are first eaten by an Asian palm civet and undergo fermentation in the animals intestines. Their faecal matter is then collected, processed and turned into coffee. Yes, it’s basically coffee that’s made of poo! But it actually tastes very very good. Plus the Asian palm civet is so incredibly cute and was waiting to meet us on the table at the cafe – how could I possibly resist!

Indonesian coffee marketing at its best!

The civet wasn’t the only creature to draw our attention, we also visited the Ubud Monkey Forest which is a sanctuary for the Asian long tailed monkey. Surrounded by forest and ancient temples the monkeys are fed and looked after by the locals. This site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Bali. The local Hindu religion has a principal known as the Tri Hatta Karana which encourages three paths to reach spiritual and physical well-being. These three ways are to create a harmonious relationship with 1) other humans; 2) the environment and 3) with the Supreme God. Monkey Forest aims to achieve this by welcoming visitors from all over the world, promoting access to nature and encouraging prayer in their temples.

We’ve done a LOT of work on the boat since arriving in Bali which Alex will probably talk about in a later blog. The labour and material costs are just sooooo cheap here that it made sense to give Bob a few upgrades. Unfortunately it meant that we haven’t been able to do as much Bali sight-seeing as we might have liked. I couldn’t leave Bali, however, without spending an afternoon at a spa. So Alex treated me to an early birthday present and bought me an afternoon ‘ritual’ at the second-best spa in all of Bali (according to trip advisor). It was honestly the best spa experience I have EVER had! The ritual included a 60 min massage, foot spa, body exfoliation, body wrap, full facial and a rose petal bath! By the end I felt so beautiful in my skin that I think I honestly could have walked out into the street stark naked….. perhaps with some rose petals covering vital areas. The whole experience was amazing! Also, I’ve never had a facial before. They really work! The skin on my face has not felt so firm and soft since I was in my early 20s!

Our stay in Bali was short but sweet. Now we have upped anchor and are currently sailing to our next destination – across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar! This will be our longest passage yet and we expect to be at sea for about a month. We’ll keep you updated of our progress using the satellite phone to post the odd blog from time to time. See you on the other side!

Oceans of Plastic

This is a blog that I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Indeed, some of our past blogs have briefly mentioned the problems we’ve seen with plastics and waste management in general, but I feel this is a topic that deserves a bit more focus.

We’re all aware of the problems associated with plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and that a large proportion of them end up in our oceans and wreak havoc with the wildlife. We’ve heard of the Great Pacific Gyre and are probably aware that there are similar gyres in all the other oceans of the world. There are also some pretty neat ideas about cleaning it up. The Ocean Cleanup Project has received a particularly large amount of sensationalist press, not least because the guy who came up with the idea and presented it at a TEDx talk was 17 at the time. In fact, the whole idea was spawned from a school project. Things like this have great potential to put a good dent in the amount of plastics that are already in the oceans, but I wonder how many people appreciate how easy it could be to tackle the problem from the other end – where the plastics first go into the environment.

Just twenty countries are responsible for 80% of total plastic waste that ends up in the sea. See the graph below for who they are:

 

Waste estimates from the top 20 countries in 2010 by mismanaged plastic waste (million metric tonnes per year). Data is taken from Jambeck, J. R. et al. (2015) “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Oceans.” Science, vol. 347. No 6223, pp. 768-771.

But it gets better than that! The vast majority of these plastics are carried to the sea via rivers, each of which may pass through several countries. In fact, a whopping 90% of the total global plastic waste that ends up in the sea comes out of just ten rivers, and eight of them are in Asia. This is great news, because it means the solution doesn’t need to be global. All is not lost! We just need to focus efforts on those rivers, which, conveniently, aren’t even all that widely-separated on the planet.

The plastic waste that litters the seas around Indonesia is, quite frankly, disgusting. We can’t run our water-maker in port. We tried, and it sucked up a plastic bag and blew out the gasket on the boost pump (I replaced the pump with an old domestic water pressure pump so we’re back in action now!). We know when we’re approaching a town or village because we literally start sailing through plastic. At around the time that we arrived here and were confronted with this sad situation I happened to glance at Facebook and came across a series of posts written in relation to someone who had thrown some beer bottles overboard from a boat during cup match in Bermuda. The kick-back from the community was huge. That person was shamed, his father was shamed, his friends were shamed and a great deal of anger was generated over this one incident. Rightly so, perhaps, but for me, reading about this incident really impressed upon me just how good we are in the Western world at waste management and how great the general anti-pollution mentality of the populations is. Plastic waste in Bermuda doesn’t last long, because someone will pick it up. My grandfather used to have a nail in the bottom of his walking stick so that he could pick up the odd bit of trash that he encountered on his morning walk. Many times when out in my boat in Bermuda I have picked up a bit of floating plastic that I’ve spotted bobbing around, and most other boaters can say the same. If I did the same thing here, I would never do anything else and the inflow of plastics is so great that my efforts would count for absolutely nothing. My point is that we in the Western world deserve a massive pat on the back for how we manage our waste. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s very, very good.

Another point I’d like to make is that it is not necessarily the fault of the people who live in these places. We were appalled in the islands of Polynesia to see widespread mismanagement of trash and extensive littering. But think about it – how long have the people living in these places had to deal with plastic waste? Perhaps a couple of decades at the most. Prior to that people ate foods that were packaged by Mother Nature. You eat a banana and you leave the skin on the ground. The same goes for coconuts, papaya, breadfruit and whatever else you are eating. There was no such thing as waste management because there never needed to be. How, then, can the populations of these places be expected to miraculously effect a paradigm shift and spontaneously develop effective waste management strategies just because their food now comes wrapped in a different material? Of course they can’t. They never leave their islands. They don’t see how it could be done, they have no-one to teach them otherwise and many don’t have the resources or infrastructure for proper management in the first place.

I read a book recently that contained an account of a government-sponsored beach cleanup day in El Salvador. The government approached the villagers along a stretch of coastline and said “we’d like to clean up your shoreline and we’d like you to help”. The villagers were really keen. They all went off and spent a day collecting ‘trash’. When the government trash truck turned up at the end of the day they were dismayed to discover that the villagers had picked up all the palm fronds, all the dead branches of trees, and left the plastic waste right where it was. They simply didn’t view it as being ‘trash’. The government educated the people and told them that it was the plastic that they wanted, not the palm fronds. The villagers went off again and they transformed the coastline, removing every bit of trash. The government officials were so impressed that they decided to reward the villagers. They sent trucks with food. Unfortunately the food was wrapped in plastic……………

We’ve seen a very similar mentality here in Indonesia. Below is a photo of an idyllic-looking waterfront:

The people clearly take pride in their living spaces. The houses and boats are beautifully-painted. The people are clean, and clothed well. We even saw evidence of trash disposal in the form of no less than three fire pits. But this is a very dry island. They can’t grow crops and they don’t have enough water. When the majority of your food and all of your drinking water is packaged in plastic, and you have 1,700 people living in a close-knit village perched at the base of a mountain and hemmed-in by the sea, you can’t burn it all. If you tried you’d have people getting ill from the fumes. So this is the inevitable result:

We are nearing the end of the dry season now, so this river is very low and the plastics debris nearing its worst. As soon as the monsoon rains start some time in November all of this will be washed into the sea. For me, the thought of that is horrible. For the villagers, though, it must be a huge relief. But the truly shocking thing is that this is Komodo Village, right at the heart of Komodo National Park. It is considered a global conservation priority area due to the unparalleled biodiversity of its terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

 

Even if the countries in this part of the world all had waste management plans on par with those in the Western world it wouldn’t solve the problem. When I talk about plastic packaging you are no doubt thinking of the over-packaged food you buy at your standard Western supermarket. A bag of frozen peas wrapped in plastic. A pre-cooked microwave meal in a plastic tray, covered in plastic film and wrapped in a plastic-coated cardboard container. It’s pretty terrible, but that’s in countries where the producers know that people are, at least to some extent, sensitised to the evils of plastics. What the producers do in Asian countries, where people don’t view the plastics as a problem, or at best see them as a necessary nuisance, is far, far worse. The pictures below were taken back in January when we were in Thailand. This is TYPICAL of packaging not just in Thailand, but all over Asia.

There’s also one more aspect to this. Population. I don’t think most people realise that 60% of the population of the planet lives in Asia. That’s over 4.5 billion consumers all jammed into 30% of the world’s land area. No wonder this is where the heart of the problem is! But it’s also convenient. All of the people whose mentalities regarding plastics and waste need to change are all in the same place.

So, all is not lost. Well done Western world! Now let’s focus on changing the practices of those Asian countries and really make a difference at the source.

The realm of dragons

The hairs on the back of my neck have been standing on end during every snorkel, dive and dinghy ride since arriving in Indonesia. Despite being surrounded by vibrant coral reef and fish aplenty, there was always something hidden in the distant blue that distracted me from the usual underwater wonders and made me very uneasy- the savage salt-water crocodile! Many Indonesian islands are home to this elusive species and I’ve heard horror stories about the brutal loss of life at the jaws of these reptiles. You’d think that my all-consuming fear of death would have stopped me from entering the water, but the ecologist inside just couldn’t help herself. I was desperate to experience the world-class diving that Indonesia has to offer and part of me would secretly love to see a ‘salty’ in the wild… at a safe distance of course. Fortunately (or unfortunately as my internal ecologist would say) we never came across one during our dives, and once we arrived in Flores the threat was completely negated as the crocodiles have been hunted to (local) extinction.

This is Bob anchored off the north coast of Flores.

This island has a healthy and vibrant coral reef with a plethora of fish.

Crocodiles are not the only large, intimidating reptiles to inhabit these Indonesian islands. There is another deadly creature which, over the course of history, has been responsible for many a human death. I’m sure that you have already guessed which creature I’m talking about – the infamous ‘Komodo dragon’. There’s only one small area of the world that houses the last 3000 of these dragons, and lucky for us, Alex and I happened to be sailing right past it.

Komodo Nature Reserve

Komodo Island and its surrounding waters are part of a world famous nature reserve where it’s possible to get up-close and personal with unusual and charismatic species. The marine life here is second-to-none and the terrestrial habitat is home to many plants and insects that support a whole host of larger species – the most famous being its exceptionally large reptilian inhabitants.

We wasted no time at all and hired a local guide for the afternoon to take us through the bush so that we might safely catch a glimpse of this renowned creature.

The infamous Komodo dragon – the creature we were attempting to track down.

The bush habitat is surprisingly well established for such a dry island and there were plenty of places for a Komodo dragon to hide. It’s scaly skin is perfectly coloured to blend in with its surroundings. All it has to do it wait. Wait to pounce on unsuspecting victims innocently passing by.

Alex and our guide, Rahman, scouting the bush for dragons.

Komodo dragons are carnivores and fierce hunters. They are capable of taking down very large prey. Deer are their main food source here but they also eat wild boar, buffalo, smaller Komodo dragons and even humans. The last time a tourist was attacked was in 2017. The man (in his 50’s) suffered very severe leg injuries as a result and was lucky to escape with his life. Others were not so fortunate.

The Timor deer make up the bulk of the dragon’s diets. We saw many deer on our trek. Lots of prey equals lots of DRAGONS!

A hungry dragon hides out and waits for unsuspecting prey to pass nearby. Often, it ambushes the ill-fated animal and attacks with its powerful jaws. It secretes venom in the form of toxic proteins which cause paralysing pain, excessive bleeding, extreme swelling and lowering of blood pressure. This ultimately leads to shock, loss of consciousness and death. Impressively, these reptiles often bring down prey much larger than themselves in less than 30 minutes.

Teeth are often lost during attacks and it’s possible to find this evidence of recent meals while wandering in the bush. Each dragon has almost 60 of these in its mouth.

Teeth weren’t the only evidence of nearby dragons. This pile of faeces is less than a day old. We know it’s from a dragon firstly by its size (unsurprisingly) and secondly, by the white colouration of uric acid produced with the usual pile of brown waste.

This is a track left by a Komodo dragon. You can clearly see the wavy line left in the dirt by the dragons tail scoring the earth as it waddled along. The guides are so skilled at tracking them they are able to tell which direction they were going.

Young Komodo dragons spend their first few months in the canopy of trees. Here they feed on invertebrates, birds and small reptiles while avoiding the cannibalistic nature of the adult dragons. When a juvenile braves the ground to eat the remains of a dead carcass, they have been known to roll in the faeces and intestines of the dead animal in an attempt to deter hungry adults. The young have a slightly more vibrant and metallic colour pattern, presumably for camouflage purposes.

We were exceptionally quiet during our trek and were fortunate enough to sneak up on a juvenile who had ventured to the ground. Our guide told us that it’s extremely rare to see a dragon so young in the wild as they remain so well hidden. We were the lucky few.

Finally, at the end of our trek was a watering hole that was surprisingly devoid of animals. This was the only watering hole for many miles and normally it would be bursting with life as the nearby animals came by for a drink. The reason for this eerie absence of life soon became apparent…

This huge male Komodo dragon was lurking just a few meters away. It might look like we were able to sneak up behind him without him noticing, but he has good eyesight, good hearing and an exceptional sense of smell. He is able to detect the scent of a carcass from over 5km away! Luckily he had recently had a meal (they feed only about once a month) so wasn’t interested in making a meal out of us. Surprisingly he wasn’t at all bothered by human presence. He knows who’s at the top of the food chain!

Pink Beach

There are wonders in this realm of dragons other than its scaly inhabitants. Any Bermudian reading this will not like what I’m about to say. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we have achieved the impossible – we’ve actually found a beach that tops those in Bermuda. Even Alex admits that this beach is the best he has ever visited – and that’s coming from a person who has an unintelligible dislike of beaches.

This photo was taken on a cloudy day and I only wish I could have witnessed the sun beaming down on its turquoise waters and lustrous sand. Pink Beach in Komodo not only contains one of the best snorkel sites that I have ever experienced, it also has the comfortable warm waters of tropical climes and, of course, the sand is PINK 🙂

It’s not just that pink is one of the worlds greatest colours, there’s a lot that goes into the formation of a pink sand beach. Tiny marine creatures called foraminifera create a pink or red calcium carbonate structure as a protective case. This forms part of a more complex structure of shell or coral and once the animals die, natural forces break this up to form the thousands upon thousands of pieces that make up this pink beach.

Manta Point

Finally, I couldn’t finish up without showing you this short video of my time swimming at Manta Point. I swam with manta rays before in the Marquesas Islands over a year a ago now. It was one of my all-time favourite wildlife moments and I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience it twice. Manta Point provided beautiful clear waters to watch and swim with these magnificent rays. Alex doesn’t appear in the video because I left him on the boat driving around in circles in the pass, waiting for me. I might, possibly, have felt a twinge of guilt, but it didn’t last long.

Celebrity status in Indonesia

Would you believe that we’ve spent over a month at sea in total since leaving New Zealand back in July and we still aren’t even at the half way point of this voyage. In fact, the half way point is still another 500 miles away! After which we have just 9 months to navigate the other half of the world back to Bermuda. Are we crazy?… Most likely!

As many of you know I have battled with sea sickness for most of this voyage since moving onto Bob back in February 2016. The prospect of this final year and spending so long at sea has sent worrying chills down my spine. I’ve literally had nightmares that I’m living inside a washing machine only to wake up and find that my nightmare is a close approximation to reality. The good news is that I think I might, finally, be getting over it. We’ve had some bumpy passages since leaving New Zealand. During the first one to Vanuatu I felt the usual pukey twinges, but that was expected after 6 months on land. Since then though, I’ve felt ill only once and that was in the few days coming into Papua New Guinea. We were heading dead downwind in 30 knots with steep swells that made Bob violently roll back and forth through what felt like an angle of well over 90 degrees! Since leaving Papua New Guinea (about 15 sea-days ago) I haven’t felt a single twinge of sea sickness. Not even a little one! Yay, go me! I must admit, I haven’t taken into account that since arriving in Indonesian waters we’ve been blessed with super calm seas and never more than a zephyr. We’ve had just enough wind to keep us sailing, which has kept the seas lovely and flat, and while Alex has been disappointed with our less-than-speedy progress, I’ve actually been enjoying ocean sailing, finally! It only took two and a half years!

The photos above are a few shots of the sunrise I was enjoying during one of my watches on the sail to Indonesia. I don’t why, but in this part of the world the sunrises and sunsets are some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen!

In other good news…. the Indonesian authorities let us into their country. Even though the whole procedure took 4 days to finalise, we managed it without any unforeseen problems and without paying too much money in fees or bribes. Checking out in Bali might be a different story, but certainly checking-in in Saumlaki appears to be one of the easier ports for cruisers to complete the immigration formalities.

We expected Indonesia to be very different from the other islands we’ve previously visited and our first impressions proved this to be correct, at least superficially. The town has a large bustling population; the buildings are ornate and colourful, as are the local long boats. One downside is the huge amount of single-use plastics, many of which have found their way to the ocean. In many ways this place reminds me a little of Thailand, for the good reasons as well as the bad.

Even 10 miles away from the nearest town I counted 6 pieces of plastic in the water in less than 3 minutes.

Almost everything is sold in single-use plastics, including the local moonshine. This is a drink called sopi. It tastes like rosé wine but is twice the alcoholic strength! And I bet you thought drinking boxed wine was un-classy!

Saumlaki is one of the busiest towns in Indonesia and even though there is a port here and the island has an airport, it is seldom visited by tourists. Alex and I stood out from the crowd like a glass of milk in a cola stand. Most people would stare as we walked past them, many would follow us down the street, some would talk to us and some would even ask for our photo to be taken with them. I suppose this is what it must feel like to be famous. If it is, I’m very happy that my childhood dream of becoming a famous singer never materialised. I don’t cope at all well with excessive attention and even if I did, you would rather listen to a dying cat than to my singing, trust me! That’s not to say that all this attention didn’t have its perks – a few locals who spoke a little English were happy to show us round the town and barter at the local market on our behalf. The market here is superb.  Full of locally grown fresh fruit and veg and piles of fish caught that very morning. They’re similar to the markets we’ve visited in other islands but with even more choice and at a fraction of the price!

Here are some of the local children having fun swimming by some colourful long boats in the town. The one on the left (which the children are standing on) has recently sunk.

We were lucky enough to meet 4 Aussie guys and one ‘sheila’ who had sailed from Darwin for a few weeks holiday. It was interesting to meet sailors who weren’t ‘live-aboard cruisers’. Although we had plenty in common from a sailing perspective, the conversation was able to divert away from the usual subject into something a little more refreshing. There were two groups – the first was a lovely couple who live in a house in Darwin but decided to sail their 34-foot boat the 250 miles to Saumlaki for a well deserved break from their respective jobs. The second was a group of 3 retired friends who sailed a 32-foot monohull across for a week away. Between them they have a collective age of about 225 years! But their energy levels were comparable to an age of at least half of that! It really goes to show that age is in the mind and really you are as young as you feel.  I was grateful to make friends with these wonderful people who knew the area well, this being their regular sailing-getaway spot. In a town as busy and overwhelming as Saumlaki, I was happy for them to take the lead and show us some of the sites.

Above are a few shots of an ancient stone ‘boat’, supposedly it signifies where their local ancestors first landed the island – but no one really knows for sure.

Steps from the stone boat lead down to the water beneath.

Our reward for climbing down all those steps… a stunning beach which appeared (thankfully) to be plastic-free.

We stayed in Saumlaki for almost a week before heading west with the intention of stopping at Flores and Komodo before ending our Indonesian visit in Bali. On the forth day at sea the winds died out completely so we decided to stop in at an island called Pantar, anchored outside the village of Kabir. Not because we’d heard great things about the tourist/cruising grounds here, but because it simply happened to be in a convenient position for us to spend a night or two. This island is visited even less frequently by tourists than Saumlaki and is much less built up. In fact, everything about this island is so similar to those islands of the Tropical Pacific that we could be back in Vanuatu or another such archipelago. Basic shelters made from woven bamboo or simple concrete blocks make up the bulk of the houses. Children can be seen fishing, canoeing and playing in the sea and the community in general help each other with various jobs from building works to growing and foraging food. As is typical of our adventures so far, the people here are enormously generous and friendly. Having spent just 5 minutes on shore the other day we got talking to a group of ladies who invited us to sit with them for a while. With the help of Google Translate and a poor cellular internet connection we were able to communicate that we were trying to find the local hot springs which we’d recently read about online. A few moments later the locals were whisking us away on their scooters, excited to show us the sights of their homeland. They expected nothing from us in return, they simply wanted to make us feel welcome and for us to enjoy their island. Despite knowing us for less than half an hour, one lady even offered us a bed in her house for the night. What a lovely offer.

This is the beautiful view of the sunset from our anchorage in Pantar. It’s not a bad life.

This is Alex at the local hot springs. A warm river runs into the sea and it’s the local hangout for the village kids. They loved posing for photos and enjoyed borrowing our mask and snorkel to see the interesting sea life.

The kids enjoyed fishing and paddling round in locally dug-out canoes.

Even on this remote island we were treated like celebrities. A man in this group asked if he could take a photo with us and half the village ended up getting in the shot! What a great photo 🙂

We’re now underway once more and motoring to a small island just off the northern coast of Pantar, to a spot which apparently has world-class snorkelling and diving. The locals tell us that salt water crocodiles are not a threat here – I hope they’re right!

Hopefully this will NOT be the last thing I see. I can’t image it would be a nice way to go. The photo of this salty was taken at the Nature Centre in PNG and well out of biting range.

A New Ocean

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.