February 25, 2013

Raja Ampat: lingering with friends

I suppose if we were determined to tick the boxes of "things you are supposed to see and do" in Raja Ampat, we would have left our teacup anchorage after another day. But it's friends who make a place memorable, and we are having too much fun with our friends on Nalukai and Muscat to contemplate a move. Our days blend together.

The children run and swim and hours of freestyle playing and exploring, just as they should. There are endless jaunts between the boats and a small beach where they have set up camp, complete with hermit crab forts and sand castles. They can jump right off the boat to swim around to the coral garden, or just to paddle around. Siobhan provides a ferry service to Willow in her new SUP/kayak style.

Siobhan paddling Willow

A bird of prey (sea eagle?) treats us to wheeling and diving right behind the transom. He misses this one, but caught others.

missed that one!

Around the corner from our little nook, there's a beach with a few shelters used by itinerant fishermen (and the odd foreign kayaker, it turns out). It is the perfect spot to kick around in the afternoon.

There is a swing, and a line of patient children who wait their turn.

waiting patiently to swing

Fiercely competitive bocce ball breaks out.

Serious bocce game

The beach is nicely shaded for much of the day: a bonus in this heat. We string up a hammock to make the most of our pretty spot.

Swinging in the hammock

The snorkeling just off the bay is spectacular, and this side of the island is just outside the conservation area- so spearfishing is ON.  The grouper are large, and at least initially, are unfazed by our presence- excellent dinners are procured. Jeremy is a spearfishing newbie, but proves lethal. Jamie lands some beauties. I still can't reload the spear on my own- that's a problem that needs fixing!

Fish, hours from the sea, cooked on a beach fire. It doesn't get much better than that.

Fish on the grill

The firepit has a rough table and bench; with a few camp chairs added, it's the perfect place to get together for dinner. A bag of marshmallows is found in some corner of the bilge, and the kids get to have a roast.

beach bonfire

We're joined on our last night by a fisherman who paddles into the beach. He's hard for me to understand because he doesn't have many teeth, but we get that he'll use one of the shelters overnight, and is pleased to share the spot. We share our dinner with him, and Muscat give him some gas for his outboard. It turns out he's quite a long way from home but had been paddling to conserve fuel. With the generosity of those who have little to give, he insists on giving us a beautiful fish from his catch.

Visitor

Beautiful


February 23, 2013

Raja Ampat: now THAT'S what we came for

It happens. Our next anchorage, which becomes referred to as "the teacup" for it's wee size and general shape, is such a slice of heaven that we decide to stay for days and days. We scout it out, then lure Nalukai and Muscat to our position. It's not too difficult.

Nalukai
Nalukai anchors all the way inside; lines to shore help keep us both in place

Tucked between two islands, it's a deep cut that makes it hard to effectively. The shoreline is about fifty yards on either side of Totem, and the water is around ninety feet deep- so even putting out all 400 feet of chain, we don't really have enough scope given the squalls that roll through most afternoons. Besides, once that all that stretches out- we end up on the rocks. No thank you! We still drop the hook, but secure lines to shore as well.

While Jamie and Jeremy are fiddling with lines on Totem and Nalukai (there is an aborted attempt to create a raft), Niall and I decide to just get our heads in the water already, and dive in. We meander around the perimeter of our teacup. The sides are very steep-to, and drop to the bottom of the basin in just a few yards. The coral looks like it was the victim of dynamite fishing- disappointing, although we're not sure.

As we get around the point of our little anchorage and turn the corner into the channel that opens to the sea, everything changes. It happens so quickly, we can't believe it. Niall and I are having a massively exuberant "conversation" underwater without actually saying anything to each other, but with may wild gesticulations and ecstatic expressions. Quite simply, we are blown away. We decide on the spot that this is the most dramatic coral reef we've ever snorkeled. That is a massive statement, and I'd back off somewhat with the heat of the moment in hindsight, but it truly is awesome and certainly among the best.

What makes it so amazing? It seems to have everything. There is a great variety of corals: hard corals creating the architecture of the reef, with soft corals adding a flow on top that is alternately gaudy and gauzy. The colors are amazing. And the fish- oh, wow, the fish. It starts with a few large racoons- OK, interesting. Then there's the school of curious barracuda that follows us. Cute! And then the explosion occurs, when we come just around the bend to see more than we can really comprehend or take in at once. Swirling schools of tiny baitfish, a group of bumphead parrotfish (with a big 4-footer in the lead), anemones with cheeky clownfish popping in and out, schools of some kind of fan-tailed trigger we've never seen before, and just masses of colorful reef fish. I cannot begin to describe it well.

It is such a shame that our underwater camera died prematurely. I have mourned it throughout PNG and I'm really mourning it now. But the good news: after we left Sorong, we learned that we'll be having a visitor from home- soon! Orders are hurriedly placed, and the promise of a new camera is exciting...but I regret not having a chance to capture this early impression of the amazing Raja Ampat region.

February 21, 2013

Nudging north in Raja Ampat

Getting ourselves out of Sorong (finally). We have almost a month to play in Raja Ampat, which sounds like a lot, but we already know it's going to be impossible to see as much as we would like. So every day we don't leave Sorong is a day we don't spend in the beautiful islands. Not to put a negative spin in it, but we're motivated to get ourselves along.

We're in company with Nalukai and Muscat. They're great fun and we decide that rather than make tracks to some of the more distant (but famous) spots in the region, we'll enjoy our time with them. The level of awesomeness here is all in little degrees of difference anyway, and with waning days to spend together (they are planning to head north toward the Philippines and Malaysia, while we'll be going south to continue through Indonesia)- we want to make the most of our time.

Dawn light
Glassy anchorage. Bev and I had the most amazing yoga practice in front of this view!

The first spot is ethereal. It appears to be a jungle-clad shoreline, spiked with inlets, but as we get close we realize it's actually a maze of islands. It's hard to tell where the "main" island is and which are just the fringing islets- there are so many! Waking to see our new surroundings in the early morning light, rising mist helps provide definition. 

misty anchorage
it's still impossible to discern the extent of the maze of islets 

Later in the morning, I take the kids for a kayak paddle to explore. The water is very clear, and we can see beautiful fish and corals below. It's so exciting to have our first peek at this famous area! We decide to go around the backside of the islands closest to Totem, only to realize that there's not just one row of them. There are islands after islands after islands. You could get lost in there!

In the afternoon, we blaze out with Nalukai to a dive site called "the passage" at the western end of the bay. We're all really excited to get underwater, and it's fun to be pulled through with the current, but a little underwhelming. A few fields of pretty soft coral, streaming in the flow of the water, but not many fish and not a great deal of variety of either. The underwater gardens that Raja Ampat is famous for are still ahead. 

Back at the anchorage, a dugout with a family on board stops by. The Papuans are from a village around the corner of the bay. They'd like some gas. I ask if they'd like to trade- do they have any fish? No, they don't have any fish- can we give them some anyway? We have full jerry cans on deck- I point out that these are diesel, and we don't have a lot of gas. But we give them a bit anyway, it seems like the right thing to do. That, and we'd rather stay on good terms. It also helps open the good opportunity to ask a few questions, through which we learn that there are crocodiles here. He tells us not to worry, that as long as the sun is up overhead, there is no danger. I'm thinking that he and I have different scales for evaluating danger.

Between the crocs and the coral, we'll be moving on in the morning.

February 19, 2013

Too long in Sorong


Sorong is a necessary evil. OK, not evil, but it’s not a terribly interesting place- yet it’s on the edge of the very spectacular Raja Ampat, which we can’t wait to get into. But we have to stop here for a few reasons. First, there are required passes for tourists in Raja Ampat, which are purchased from the office in Sorong. Then, we need to fine propane. We haven’t refilled our LPG bottles since we left Australia, and are probably getting close to cooking on fumes. Not to mention- if I don't get to a market soon, we won't have much to cook anyway!

oh hai there squall
Creepy looking squall? We must be coming into port.

As is our theme lately, we arrive in a nasty squall. This is a trend we would really like to break! The harbor is packed with boats, from the large ferry at the terminal, to a few container ships, to the masses of fishing and dive charter boats in the harbor. We learn later form the tourist office that more than 40 liveaboard dive boats are based here during the peak season (December to March, when the clarity is best).

Even a dusty town can be fun. We scout out some excellent food with Nalukai, and stuff ourselves on chicken & noodles while making a new friend.

Bakso for lunch
Lunch at a Rumah Makan with Muscat, Nalukai, and our new best friend Major Andre. OK, don't know if he's really a major...

I fall in love with the town market, which is a covered rabbit warren of tiny wood stalls and probably a massive firetrap. But it has nice fresh produce (even if a good portion of the offerings are unfamiliar), and friendly vendors who are eager to connect. It’s not part of Papuan culture to bargain, so asking price is generally “harga biasa” – you aren't expected to counter with a big discount, although you might need to if you're quoted an inflated buleh (foreigner) price. I'm happy to postpone bargaining for later in Indonesia- I know it's coming!

Sorong fish market
Joking around with the guys in the fish section of the market. Oh boy, even if I couldn't speak Indonesian, they would have cracked me up.

Some of the people I meet are too friendly: I’m pulled into conversations by Papuans who want to tell me about the rebel movement in Papua, and how Papuans are mistreated by the Indonesian government. My desire to listen to their story is outweighed by my need to keep my family safe, and so I beg off or pretend not to understand them. This is painful.

We meet an enterprising local guy, Victor. His family has a large equipment business, but that doesn’t give him much of an outlet for the excellent English skills he honed going to University in Australia. He shuttles Iona (Nalukai) and I around to grocery stores and favorite restaurants. We are pleased to have a shortcut to excellent Padang style takeout to bring to the boats for dinner! Victor is immensely helpful with everything from laundry to grocery runs to propane, and a really pleasant guy to hang out with in the bargain.

It takes much longer than we expect to accomplish our Sorong punch list. The big sticking point is propane. We still don’t have a proper adaptor, but a system has been jury-rigged. It’s far from failsafe (and the hose ends up blowing up under pressure before we can use all the gas) but it gets at least one of our tanks refilled.

Goal: 2-3 days. End result: 5 days, but lots of good food and good memories.

February 18, 2013

Oh FAD it! Or, the SE Asian marine obstacle course


There’s a special boater’s hell in Southeast Asia in the FAD minefields. FADs, or Fish Aggregating Devices, range from something just larger than a bathtub to football field sized platforms with living quarters on top.


fish aggregation
device
This is the big daddy of fishing platforms- look for the guys on top for scale. Photo by sv Nalukai.

Most of what we’ve seen in Indonesia so far looks more like this.

A small FAD

Even the smallest are generally made up of a few drums lashed together, some styrofoam or other floatation, with a rebar rod or three on top. They would be devastating to hit at night. But they’re not lit, and they don't show up on radar, so doding them is a little tricky.

The really monstrous sized platforms are at least well lit. I suspect that’s part of the strategy, though- bringing fish in at night. They’ll show up on a radar, not that the Christmas-tree lighting helps them require any more distance identification.

In Cenderawasih Bay, just below where we anchor in Biak, these platforms have become interesting for another reason- they’re home to massive whale sharks. The sharks feed on smaller fish under the bagan. Thankfully they are considered good luck by the fishermen, and not threatened.

But the little FADs… these are more of a worry. Most of the FADs are near shore, which helps us avoid them, but they have no lights, they don’t show up on radar, and they would be nearly impossible to see at night. As we prepare to spend a couple of nights out on our passage to Sorong- it’s still something I worry about.

February 16, 2013

Playing Tourist in Biak


We go to the market in the morning look for a ‘bemo’ (the minivan/bus system that operates as public transportation all over Indonesia). The public market is a de facto bus terminal, and we’re quickly able to secure a car and driver for the day. It’s nice to be in a country where this is readily affordable- split between three boats, it’s downright cheap- we’ll end up spending about $10 each for our day of being driven around.

Our first stop is a large cave where thousands of Japanese soldiers hid during World War II.

WWII relics, biak
WWII artifacts are strewn around the grounds of the museum

It eventually became their tomb, when allied forces attacked the site. We’re caught in a squall during our visit, and lightning into the caves adds a spectacularly eerie touch. I decide to wait until after we exit to point out how close the bats were swooping to the children’s heads. Creepy. It’s impossible not to think about the lives that ended here- the cave opens up with a gaping hole above, where allies bombed and killed all within.

The family who has the cave on their land has built a small museum. Spread all around the lawn are bombs (unexploded?!) and shells by the dozen. The shell of an old car rusts next to a stack of equally aged fuel drums- there’s even a partial airplane fuselage.

Inside the closet-sized museum (truly, we can just fit in a few bodies and turn around) is an astonishing collection of artifacts. Everything from belt buckles to award medals, knives, guns, watches, glass ampoules (of what?), and Japanese currency- to a hanging rod of original uniforms. There are even a few swords, the brutal reminder of an execution method of choice.

Niall has become very well informed on WWII, reading everything he can get his hands on since we left Australia. The wrecks in PNG fed his interest, but these small relics are entirely different category than what we’ve seen to date. He’s so excited, he runs around photographing it all for memory- that's one of his photos above.

The skies clear somewhat, and we head out to a bird park. The famous Bird of Paradise is endemic to this area, but tricky to see in the wild- we expect to settle for peek at the caged version.

Unfortunately, the park is closed. What happens next is completely typical. Instead of accepting defeat, our driver says he’s pretty sure the guy with the key is in the village just down the road. I have no idea if he really knows this or is just hoping, but we go trundling off and sure enough- 10 minutes later, we’ve found our keeper. He’s happy to jump on his motorbike and come back to the park to open it up for us.

I should have remembered how depressing zoos can be. The birds are segregated by species, and none of the cages seem quite big enough. They are stunning, to be sure. Ironically, the lone Bird of Paradise is the least interesting of the bunch. It doesn’t’ sport the famous tailfeathers, so really just looks like a fat white pigeon. We’re quickly getting munched by mosquitoes.

We head back into town, and I get a run at the grocery store. Our driver is a huge help. He comes with us, helps carry bags, and helps find things that I can’t locate. It’s the most efficient stock-up in a long time.

In an effort to promote hero status when we get back to the boat, we pick up dinner to bring back. I had found a street vendor selling on my first jaunt into town to track down the harbormaster after our arrival and am pretty sure this will be a slam dunk- and entertaining enough to hold the kids while we wait for them to be prepared.

Buying martabak
Hungry kids are so patient waiting for their martabak treat!

Martabak is a pastry generally filled with a mixture of eggs, onions, and meat (street vendors usually make just one, but the storefront restaurants offer sweet and savory). The drama comes with the vendor takes his golf-ball sized lump of dough, then flattens and pushes and eventually spins it- picture pizza dough spinning- into a large, whisper thin sheet. It is lowered by one edge into a large flat wok, which the vendor folds as he goes, then pours in the egg-veggie-meat mixture until it’s a rectangular pillow around the savory filling within. Each one is cut into pieces and boxed to go. They are so nuclear, that even when we get to the boat and all collect on Nalukai for a sundowner and our martabak about half an hour later, they’re still very warm to the touch. Little savory pillows of Indonesian heaven- for about $2.50 each. We might have to go back tomorrow…

February 14, 2013

Chasing fuel in Biak

Although we've made most of the westing that stretched ahead of us just a couple of months ago, there’s still a good distance to get across the rest of the top of Papua- so after just a few days in the Padaidos we move on. Conditions are fair, which means we still have to motor, but at least it is board flat and we don’t have to fight adverse current. It’s starting to become apparent why one of the cruisers in company with us on this leg switched from sail to power for their second ‘tour’ of Southeast Asia… this is motoring country!

Resting in Biak
At anchor in Biak... board flat water

It’s tempting to continue straight through to Sorong, but we’re curious to stop off in Biak first. This is a big island at the top of the large bay , roughly halfway across the top of Papua. It was a site of some significance in World War II, and gives us a chance to see a small town without the pressure of Jayapura. We also need to try to get propane, and top of diesel if we can.

Fueling in Indonesia is tricky. We can’t legally purchase fuel directly. Fuel also can’t be transported in jerry cans, but there aren't any fuel docks we can use either. The jerry can limitation doesn’t make sense- diesel isn't terribly flammable, but this is a legacy of the Bali bombings, and logic doesn’t always play a part in regulations anyway. It all serves to complicate our access to fuel. The basic approach is to just start asking around, and eventually you’ll be hooked up. There’s often an enterprising person who will approach a foreign boat to help.

Then there’s the matter of determining price. Locally, diesel and gas are sold at Rp 4500 / liter. Because we cannot purchase from a station, there are inevitably hands and effort along the way that add a markup- like a hand in uniform that is allowing it all to happen. It’s highly unusual (although not impossible) to find someone who will sell direct from a bowser for the market rate.

When we fueled up in Jayapura, we joined forces with Sea Glass to sort out an order. We needed two drums- about 100 gallons. They needed 2 or 3 times that. Between acquiring the drums, bringing them to the waterfront, and decanting them into jerry cans- which were then shuttled to the boats, one load at a time- it was a full day’s work for his crew.

So when a fisherman comes by in a dugout painted with splashy colors within minutes after the anchor is set, we let him know we’re looking for fuel. The enterprising fellow tells us he can help us, and quotes us a good price- Rp 6500 (about $0.65) per liter. Great! We tell him how much we’d like to get, and he paddles off.

If he can pull it off, he’ll make some nice coin for the effort. Unfortunately, we never see him again. He probably wasn’t able to line up a source, and it’s not like we traded phone numbers with him. No big deal- we just keep asking.

Next, Jamie heads over to a neighboring boat, one of the rusty-crusty looking cargo boats that play waters around the area... same one in the photo above. Normally I get the translation/interpretation duties, but I’ve made him a small phrasebook for Christmas, and he’s determined to tackle this independently. He comes back having struck a deal- yes! I’m only needed to help clarify the details. One of the requirements is that they want to do the transfer (from their drums into our jerry cans, which we then shuttle in the dinghy back to Totem) after dark. Oh, right, this isn’t legal!

While we wait for darkness, Jamie tackles the LPG question. He gets together with the guys from Muscat and Nalukai, and they go off in search of hardware and gas. It’s easy enough to buy LPG, but they aren’t able to decant the gas into our bottles- the Indonesian fittings lower the pressure too much. They use gravity and try icing the bottle to get gas to flow, but it doesn't work. We need to find a fitting that will allow a higher pressure transfer.

A search of hardware stores is fruitless, so this particular task will be put off for another place. Getting one out of two tasks accomplished here- well, that’s not bad. We’re happy enough to roll with this, enjoy a little touristing in Biak, and then get along to the west again.

February 13, 2013

Keeping the peace

This month's raft-up topic looks into relationships on board and asks the question: how do you make a relationship work on board?

me & my sweetie
Exhibit A: the happy couple... or are they?!

Among the more common questions we get asked by non-cruisers is how we manage to live together in such a small space. At 47 feet, Totem is a middling-to-somewhat-above average size for cruising boat- but it's smaller than the master suite in our land home, and carved up into three sleeping cabins, two heads, and our "main cabin" area. It's snug by many standards.

Warning
This is a sign that the creature in the V-berth probably needs her space for a while

I suppose that the truth is different for every couple, for every family, based on individual personalities involved. Maybe we're lucky, but the transition for us from sprawling house to compact boat was pretty easy. If we weren't suited for this kind of life, we probably wouldn't be here- and one of the big reasons we're out cruising is because we wanted more time together as a family. But meanwhile, I think that the occasional relationship tension or family problems that crop up have pretty much nothing to do with the fact we live on a boat. They'd almost certainly happen if we were back in suburbia, too- just with different window dressing.

Jamie and I have joked that cruising adds dog years to a partnership. With more time together, the opportunity to figure out how to make things work- or not- happens faster than it might otherwise. We've seen some partnerships weaken, and others grow stronger.... just like we would have at home. It's a mistake to think that going cruising can resolve relationship problems. It's not an antidote for a troubled relationship; the work to fix it still has to happen.

We all need different things to keep our souls at peace. Expecting harmonious togetherness all day, every day, isn't a realistic expectation. I need girlfriend time and exercise, so long walks with my friend Diane from Ceilydh before we left Mexico in 2010 were a helpful place to vent any emotional or physical steam of pre-Pacific crossing stress. When we were living at home on Bainbridge Island, my dear friend Tracey would have been the one to help me re-center on one of our morning runs: we worked through everything but world peace in those misty trots. Ultimately, though, being able to talk to your partner about issues, and understanding when they need space, is an important skill weather you live afloat or ashore. Jamie loves to get off the boat for some spearfishing. I love to tag along and try my luck, but realize this is sometimes a fun thing for him to do "away" with friends as well.

Jamie & Mike's catch of the day
Jamie and Mike bringing home the fish-bacon, South Pacific style

Does it help that we all have space we can retreat to when we need alone time? Maybe. There's not a cabin per person on Totem, we share three between the five of us, but anyone who needs a quiet corner can find it. I know there are bigger families in smaller boats, but three cabins was our magic number: the girls share one, Niall has one, and Jamie and I have one. It means that when someone needs a little alone time, there's usually a place to disappear for a while and find some peace. When we're passagemaking, we actually see less of each other, since we divide keeping watch- but that's only a small fraction of our time.

Living together in a small space may have changed the way we communicate and interact. We haven't lived ashore since early 2008, but in 2009 we left Totem for a couple of months during the hurricane season and drove around the US. In my parent's spacious summer home, I remember noticing that we often stayed bunched together, or at least in the same room/area, when there really was no reason to be within touching distance- especially with all the fun and games on offer at the spread, from sandcastle building to hammock swinging or going for a walk to see the horses. So maybe, the bigger question for us will be how we'll manage to live together if we move back ashore someday.

Overwhelmingly the root causes come down communication, and aren't boat specific: being able to listen, being able to share what you need, and working through any differences.

Once upon a time on some pretty Polynesian beach, I asked my friend Christine from Stray Kitty how she and her husband managed to avoid relationship tension while working together in the consulting business they had before cruising. We'd already been cruising for a couple of years at that point. Really, from someone who spends all day (and night), seven days a week, in shmushed togetherness with her family- what was I thinking? Sorry, Chris!

February 11, 2013

Taking a break in the Padaidos


Once the hook is set in our little spot at Mios Manggwandi, there’s little we'd like to do more than have a nice long nap. When we left Jayapura for all we knew we’d be sleeping off some island anchorage that night- not continuing through three nights of passagemaking! But the right thing to do is launch the dinghy and immediately go ashore to ask for permission to anchoring off the village, so that’s exactly what we do.

Boats

On shore, we’re told the kepala desa, the village leader, is away in Biak. He’ll be back in another day or two. The people we meet are reticent- a complete contrast to the exuberant “Hey Mister!” vibe in Jayapura- but we’re welcomed, and told it’s no problem to anchor here.  We ask a few questions – are there crocodiles here? (yes, but not this part of the island- it’s safe for swimming) What are those floats off the reef?  (fish traps / holding pens for some, reef markers for others) We’re offered help to come inside the reef and anchor inside the very flat, and amply large, inner bay in front of the village.

The next day, we’re visited by Paul (which sounds more like “powell” in the Indonesian pronounciation). He is entirely unassuming, so it takes us a while to figure out he is, in fact, the kepala desa.  We spend some time talking in the cockpit, sharing stories. Jamie has been towing kids from Totem and Nalukai in the dinghy behind what we have fondly come to know as “the biscuit”- a big inflatable cushion that induces all manner of squealing and hysterics for the kids pulled behind. Paul doesn’t think twice about the invitation to join, just jumps in the dinghy, then hoots and hollers with the best of them while the boat does doughnuts in the bay.

Later, he brings us the Buku Tamu- their village guest book. A handful of names are written for each year. Most are Indonesian officials of one sort or another, but two Aussie researchers were here a couple of years ago. Paul is especially impressed because one of them is proficient not just in Indonesian, but the local Biak language. We have to go back several years before we find another boat listed… a reminder we’re well off the usual path here.

It’s nice to get here and just relax. We’ve been pushing to get west for months now. We wanted to get ahead -well, catch up anyway- with the seasonal winds and currents, and try to avoid contrary conditions. Between debris, traffic and less friendly villages we'd not been looking forward to this stretch across the top of New Guinea, even with the recommendations and waypoints for safe harbors from our friends on Elena and Anui if we had needed to stop each night. But it’s draining overall. Here in the Padaidos, we know we could jump almost halfway across Papua in a single shot- the rest is achievable. Meanwhile, we have earned a break! The long leg before we can turn south feels within reach now.

February 8, 2013

Sharing our experiences: Totem's IWAC interview

The same month that we were in the throes of final preparation to depart from Mexico for the Marquesas, a very cool undertaking called “The Interview with a Cruiser Project” was started up. This brainchild of cruiser Livia (of SV Estrellita 5.10b) began as a way to organize the responses of experienced cruisers to a series of common questions asked by pre-cruisers. She has accumulated dozens of interviews that cover a broad spectrum of approaches to cruising from veterans- some still out there, some finished, all thoughtful.

It's brilliant, really, and is exactly the kind of site I would love to have drawn from during our years before departure- when I had a lot more questions than answers. We've had fun reading it while we had better internet access, and are pretty tickled that she asked us to do an interview, posted this week.

It's interesting to see how different cruisers respond to the same question- a good reminder that we all approach cruising in our own way, and there aren't always "right answers." 

Livia has been on hiatus for a while and isn't adding new material regularly- just a few stragglers like us- but there is a wealth of knowledge to mine in the archives. So if you're thinking about cruising, check it out! And if you're already out there, well, you should still check it out- we can all learn from sharing our experiences with each other.

February 7, 2013

Across the top of Papua: Jayapura to Biak

We had been anticipating a challenging journey across the top of Papua. It is the “wrong” season. Wind and current are likely to be adverse. Because of the logging in Papua, there are many trees and logs reported in the water- so many that boats were required to slow their speed. It was impossible to see every log in the water and hitting at least a few was inevitable, and best not done while screaming along. They stopped all night travel because it was impossible to see logs in the water. This is further complicated by the fact that it’s a rough coast of roadstead anchorages. It is expected that you will get permission from the adjacent village ashore, and some have not been terribly friendly (such as requesting exorbitant fees for anchoring). Rather than set the precedent of paying a ransom to anchor, boats simply move on. But this takes time, since it’s a bad practice to anchor in the dark.
Totem at Mios Munggwandi
Totem at rest off Mios Mangwandi, in the Padaido Islands

Our first goal is to get from Jayapura to the Padaido Islands, just southeast of Biak. We know our speed will be slow, whether as a result of the wind/current or a deliberate action based on logs, so expect it will take a few days if we can press straight through- but easily more than a week if we determine we can move during daylight hours only.

After the bright lights, floating garbage, and mosque megaphones of Jayapura- the coastline to the west is almost eerily wild. Once again, there are no lights- just the occasional firelight flickering, although soon enough we're not close enough to see even those. In fading evening light, the coastline screams upward into mountains, lush and densely green. Clouds obscure the top, reaching with misty fingers towards the sea. We crack bad jokes about returning to Jurassic Park, but still half expect to see a pterodactyl overhead.

Most of our worries do not play out. We bump into three logs in the first hours out of Jayapura, where a relatively confused sea state makes it difficult to see and anticipate any impact. But conditions soon mellow out, fewer logs are seen, and ultimately we decide we feel entirely comfortable continuing overnight. Every day we watch conditions and re-evaluate.  The current is generally neutral, with periods of a slightly foul flow. The debris in the water isn’t significant, even as we cross in front of rivers. There’s a considerable amount of large boat traffic, but it’s all four to five miles offshore- we stay about eight miles out and have a clear path. Unfortunately there’s no wind for sailing, and the passage is almost entirely a motorboat ride. We get just enough to motorsail a few times. It’s a big help for fuel efficiency, but we’d rather just be sailing.

We experience an anomaly: at one point, our transducer reads a water temperature that suddenly dips from around 90 degrees down to a cool 68. It lingers there for a few minutes, then pops back up to near 90 again. We’re near a trench and assume it’s part of an upwelling. Ideally this would translate into a great place for fishing, but our lines are empty.

It’s not until the last morning- our fourth calendar day out- that we get some truly snotty weather. Ironically it is just as we in the final 15 or so miles coming into the islands where we hope to anchor. This has been something of a theme for us in recent months: squalls that hit just as we are in the home stretch or entering a harbor. Not the best timing, but it’s all fine, and Totem soon rests peacefully in the lee of a sweet looking island.