A TANIMBAR EXPERIENCE
The cruising yacht Lowana IV goes on a 5-week sailing voyage to a remote group of islands in the far-eastern region of Indonesia.
The story depicts the skipper's often humorous view of the journey in a 30-foot cruising yacht with four crew members, two of whom have no open-water sailing experience.
The pace is hectic with a near disaster that threatened the voyage right from the start. Hard sailing in heavy winds, knockdowns, close encounters with invisible reefs, secluded villages with sumptuous feasts is capped with ancient history and interesting local cultures. The description of a savage storm at sea makes the book hard to put down.
SV Lowana IV anchored off Saumlaki, the provincial
capital of the Tanimbar Islands
Read an extract:
In the pre-dawn hours our position is 155 miles north of Cape Don, and about 45 miles from our GPS waypoint off the entrance to Egron Strait. It’s pitch black outside so we can't see the waves, but we can certainly hear them coming. The seas have become even lumpier. Some are quite sharp faced and hit the side of the boat with solid thumps. Successive waves come from different places making Lowana IV pitch and yaw hard and there is water coming aboard and going out the scuppers.
A loud roaring noise signals a particularly big wave coming. It catches us abeam and we lurch straight into a hard roll as it passes underneath. The mast lies almost flat in the water one side, then immediately comes up before dipping into the ocean again on the other side.
It's not hard to lose one’s bearings whilst occupied in furiously grabbing hold of something. As the boat settles back upright I’m disoriented for a second or two, but that's all it takes. Even as I am checking the wind-vane, the wind gets behind the mainsail and it gybes. The boom comes thundering across and the whipping mainsheet catches and knocks over the barbeque with a loud bang. The boat and rigging shudders violently as the boom slams against the restraint of the mainsheet.
Lowana IV is at risk of being rolled as she lays over exposing her belly to other large curlers coming through. The boom must be brought back quickly to get us back under control, but since I can't see anything it will need good timing. With heart in throat and a certain anxiety about any damage already in the rigging, the gybe is managed reasonably smoothly and the boat brought back on course.
By now everybody is out of bed having been rudely awakened with a dose of adrenalin. No one wants to go back to bed. It seems they don't feel tired any more. Luckily we sustained no apparent damage and the barbeque had been tied to the rail in its own bag, so we didn't lose it over the side.
Not wanting to push our luck it’s decided to take the mainsail down and run under the small #2 jib only, at least until daylight. Our course is also altered to the northwest to bring the waves in more from the starboard aft quarter. Before long we are again running at a more comfortable speed of three and a half to four knots. Although the tiller is a little stiffer and the boat is still yawing heavily, it’s not as hard to handle as before our little dose of excitement.
After breakfast the GPS waypoint is only 26 miles away. The wind has moderated slightly so the mainsail is put back up. With the second reef in place, we are still making four to five knots in a breeze that comes in bursts of 10 to 15 minutes before a lull. Large sets of waves come through regularly causing Lowana IV to pitch and yaw fairly heavily still, giving the person on the helm some work keeping her on track.
There is a bet on just after midday, with only nine and a half miles to our GPS waypoint. Capt'n Russy, a title dubbed upon me by the ladies, eventually wins a double coke for the first sighting of land low on the horizon in a smoky haze. After lunch Ann and I raise the Indonesian flag and Quarantine signal flag to the mast crosstrees.
A few hours later we’re entering Egron Strait into relatively calmer water, giving us a nice easy run. After passing the headland of Point Asutubun, we can see the township of Saumlaki about five miles away further into the harbour. There are some small craft around but they are no real navigational problem. We watch them with interest as a light spit of rain gives us a mild but pleasant sun shower.
We soon reach the next waypoint and make our final turn towards Saumlaki. The wind conveniently bends around the land here, and the same angle of the wind to the sails is maintained during the turn. There’s no need to even touch the sails any more all the way in until the final stages of approach.
A little over an hour later sees us off the township of Saumlaki. The motor is turned on and the anchorage is carefully depth-sounded, taking note of the wide fringing coral reef and how steep the face of it is. We’re going to need a lot of anchor-rode but are prepared and have plenty of rope and chain ready for the job.
The anchor is finally dropped and set in, and once I’m satisfied the boat has sufficient room to clear the reef, turn the motor off. The first noticeable thing is the relative silence. Even under sail, there’s always a certain noise level. But there are things yet to be done. We have to square the boat away, changing it from a sailboat to a floating habitat at least for the next few days. Sails, halyards and other sailing items are secured or stowed away. The women crewies present the men crewies with a gold tinfoil medallion on a pretty ribbon, and we settle down for a couple of celebratory drinks to enjoy the atmosphere.
Just after dark, the ladies serve up a lovely dinner before the mattresses are brought up on deck ready for bed. It’s not long before another shower comes through, with just enough rain in it to dampen the mattresses, but not our spirits. The shade canopy and some other deck covers are put up and shore clothing is laid out ready for the morning. While some jolly music plays on the tape deck, we sit on deck and look with anticipation at the twinkling lights of the township.