March 6, 2013

South to Misool

Our route is planned to take us through islets in the southern portion of Raja Ampat. We have a week and a half before Dan flies out of Ambon, 350 miles to our southwest, and want to make the most of it. First, though, we simply have to get away from New Guinea and down to the islands! Because charts are terrible and all navigation must be visual, the trip is divided in two parts: our first day takes us through the channels of waterways south from Sorong; the second day will open up into the Seram Sea and take us across to the islands off Misool.

Motoring through the windless channel that runs south and west from Sorong, we skate cleanly through a line of afternoon squalls. The kids wait very, very patiently but they know they have a host of goodies sent from the states in Dan’s luggage. Finally- we are through the rain and tackle the duffel. It’s like Christmas, but bigger! Their grandparents have sent a treats from books to games to clothes.

Gifts from home
Dan's here! Southbound from Sorong, hanging out in the cockpit

The charts are bad and the nights are inky, so towards the end of the day we pick a spot to anchor overnight. There's a quiet spot well outside the channel, although the one or two fishing boats that pass by per hour don’t constitute much in the way of traffic. Some of them swing closer to Totem to check us out.

South of Sorong
I'm the king of the world!

Every once in a while, a village emerges from the mangroves. I’m so curious to know more about them. Who lives in there- are they Papuan, or transmigrated populations? Are they primarily subsistence lifestyles or is there some commercial work here? It’s hard to imagine what, other than a few signs of the (un)natural extraction occurring.

South of Sorong
The occasional small village with homes like this on the water...but not many people

The current through here gets strong: thankfully, we haven’t had too much against us yet. Unfortunately, we expect foul current for most of the next the morning. It’s a new moon, but even if we had full moonlight we wouldn’t travel through here at night. There are no navigation lights and the charts are inaccurate. With the shallow bottom and shifting shoals here, it’s not worth the risk. Rows of subtle buoys strung by the hundreds from a pearl farm around the bend remind us why we only want to continue on with good visibility! So we drop the hook, and enjoy a sunset while current swirls in whirlpools next to Totem.

South of Sorong
On the move in the morning, we manage to avoid the worst of the current by staying toward the sides of channels. Back eddies sometimes even give us a little push. We worried that the distance we need to make before our rather uncertain anchorage could start to push daylight hours, so it’s a relief not to face much foul current.

It turns out we are grateful for the extra daylight hours to anchor. We explore several islets and bays before finding a manageable depth. It’s frustrating to see a picture-perfect bay, with the crescent curve of gorgeous white sand beach - fronted by tropical blues of the reef, backed by the lush green mountainside. But it’s very deep, too deep to anchor- until the bottom comes up rapidly to… much too shallow! It’s a challenge to find a spot but the exploring is fun, and we scope out several spots to return to by dinghy…and rest.

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