Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Beauty of a Passage

Passages come in every flavor. Some are dreadful; you are never comfortable, never dry, or never warm. Fighting currents, wind, dodging fishing boats and floating debris and massive squalls, you are constantly on alert and you don't get much rest, let alone time to pull out a book.

But some passages are gifts from the gods. These are the ones you remember, the ones you cherish. These passages make up for all the bad ones and keep the balance, making sure you remember why you chose to go sailing around the world in the first place. This most recent passage from Ambon to Flores turned out to be one of these, a real gem.

After clearing the Ambon entrance currents once again, this time with nowhere near the confusion of standing waves and squally rainy conditions when we arrived, we set a SW course with a reefed main and unfurled our full 130% Genoa. For the first two days the wind was fairly consistent at 12-25 knots from the SW to the SSW and we had a nice beamish reach with seas only 2-4 feet, our Monitor windvane holding the course easily. Fluffy high-pressure cumulus clouds danced around the sky and the mighty golden orb of the sun kept the heat on in the day. At night it cooled off considerably, our first time reaching for the cockpit blanket to curl up with on watch since, I think, the passage from New Zealand to Fiji over a year ago. At night the stars beamed revealing Saturn, the Southern Cross and Alpha and Beta Centauri, and the huge constellation of Scorpio off to our southeast. The waning moon rose late but had plenty of light still for half the night to illuminate the liquid world we sped through.

Our passage lasted 4 ½ days and was roughly 520 miles in distance. The last half of it we traveled more west then south, heading along the northern coast of Flores, passing through another time zone and entering more of the local fishing areas. The wind grew more spotty and we chose to motor sail off and on, but the seas stayed small and made the trip downright comfortable no matter what our sail plan. We each read two books and listened to plenty of "This American Life" podcasts, great stories to sink into when you can't stare at a book page any longer, especially in the middle of the night.

The last night was our busiest with fishing boats. They seemed to be everywhere and I even had to change course around a set long line with blinking lights everywhere for the net's marking poles. An hour later I was on a collision course with a small fishing prahu boat that was too small to pick up on our radar. We got to within 500 yards of each other and I turned on the spreader lights to light up our decks and show them we were a sailboat, sailing, and instantly he stopped and changed course. Unfortunately, this technique doesn't work with the freighters.

The last day the wind came up strong at 20-30 knots, but we were fighting a 2-knot current against us as we watched the daylight hours tick by trying to arrive at our intended anchorage. In the early afternoon we fought through the even stronger currents to enter the passage through the reefs, but once through, everything mellowed. The winds dropped and the current was nearly flat. We had just rounded the western point of Flores and were now piloting around a group of islands just offshore from the mainland, an arid desert-looking landscape of dry grasses, sandstone and volcanic rocks, and big white sand beaches. Many small fishing villages dotted the shoreline and fishing outriggers and prahus were tacking all over the water.

We rounded the corner in the lee of Pulau Sabibi, anchoring at 8˚22.1' S, 120˚01.0' E in 45-50' of water surrounded by coral reefs and in front of a large sandy beach. A couple of fishing boats were tied up to mangroves close by and another dugout was spearfishing the reef off the point. We were told monkey's lived on shore but we didn't see any.

We had arrived in a whole new world. Dry, hot, and cool at night, not a squall on the horizon. In fact, we didn't see a squall the whole passage and not a drop of rain! So strange. We are so so so very used to getting hammered by at least one thunderstorm or massive rainsquall every day or two, sometimes all day long, that with the absence of that reality, it feels like we have left the tropics. It's sure nice to stay dry and be able to keep our hatches open, but the downside is our boat is coated with a layer of salt and we can't catch rainwater anymore. The latter being the big bummer.

We are happy to be here, ready for new adventures in a new region of Indonesia. Blessings to the sea gods and cold Bintangs for the kids as we stretch out in the cockpit and watch the heat of the sun sink away into the western Flores Sea.

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