Homeward Bound

Sunday October 13

Sorong in August was a trouble spot with civil rioting resulting in internet shutdown and big security issues. Fortunately everything seemed to have settled down by the time we arrived.  We had been in touch with Wick Alliston from Heleana Marina way up the Warman River, Serikoberi, just south of Sorong and quite isolated. Our original plan was to leave Gemini Lady there while we flew to Perth for Danni and James’ wedding.  Our new plan was to get to Thursday Island in time to fly out for the wedding and our friend David Spencer would fly up to babysit the boat.

We had heard from Wes off Sarabande that Wick had just opened a new facility at Tampa Garma. This was an old Resort with a large protected pond suitable for about 20 boats moored med style to a concrete wall. It was a bit north of town but the security appealed to us all so we checked in. The pond is deep enough but lots of rubbish in the water meant taking care running engines and generators.

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A bonus is the 50m Olympic size pool on the property which is still well maintained and available for use for a small fee.

Psycho Puss and Sharman were already in and had organised transport for us the next day to do our clearance. We caught a Bemo into town and dropped off laundry and reprovisioned at the large Sega shopping Mall. There was a good selection of Western goodies but prices were expensive.

Monday October 14

Lea was up early for a 1km swim. She gave the pool boys a nice tip for allowing her to use the pool so early. The 2 cars and drivers arrived on time and we stopped in at Wicks house first to drop off our Jerry Cans. First official stop was the Quarantine Office. This took over 1 hour which is particularly frustrating as the ships Green Health Book is supposed to be unnecessary for yachts.

Immigration was next and another hour of officials doing bugger all as our paperwork was shuffled about the office. Eventually our passports we stamped for departure tomorrow.

Customs was next in a lovely new building overlooking the bay. Even free tea and coffee which was just as well as we waited for another hour for more paper shuffling. Sharman had forgotten their Vessel Declaration Form which caused a problem for a while. However, Customs were coming to inspect all the boats (God knows why for departure) so missing paperwork could be dealt with then but no clearance could be given until after the vessel inspection. Customs encouraged us to go to the Harbourmaster to get our Port Clearance but of course the Harbourmaster refused to do anything until we had our Customs Clearance.

So it was back to boats, picking up our laundry along the way. Customs officers duly turned up and we had to take them out to each boat. Fortunately, we thought, there were 2 teams for the 4 boats so it shouldn’t take long. However, there were further delays when I asked the same question of both team leaders about the documents that would be required by the Harbourmaster and got different answers. They then argued amongst themselves for a while and more paperwork was required. Finally they were done. Psycho Puss and Sharman had had enough and decided to finish the process tomorrow. Not to be beaten Gemini Lady and Kittani jumped into a Bemo and headed back to the Harbourmaster. We finally finished with paperwork complete by 1800 hours. 10 hours full on to get it done.

KFC and much alcohol aboard Sharman to finish the day.

Wednesday October 15

Another morning swim as we waited for the tide to begin flooding and carry us south. Our route was Southwest down the narrow channel out of Sorong then turn East along the Southern Coast of West Papua.

We stopped for a night at Seget at the bottom of the channel then on to Palau Sabuda. Then inside Palau Pandjang, past Fak Fak and up through the narrow gap between Palau Semai and the mainland. This was a tight passage and only navigable with the help of Satellite imagery.

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Spent the night at Weri Bay. Psycho Puss had caught up with us after being delayed by anchor winch repairs.

Another highlight was the waterfall near Sanggala Bay which falls directly into the sea. We anchored quite close and explored by dinghy.

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The nearby anchorage in a gulch near Mommon proved challenging but eventually we were all settled and next morning, in the dark, Psycho Puss and Gemini Lady went out through the narrow channel giving us a head start on Sharman. it was a long slow morning with tide against us but as we turned North East towards Triton Bay we enjoyed a great reach into the town of Kiamana. Here we caught up with Kittani. The plan was to go   ashore to fill Jerry cans with fuel and reprovision. It had been a 6 day trip.

Tuesday October 22

After spending the morning with a great Bemo driver who made life easy for us with a sequence of stops starting with an ATM, then the market, post office and finally the fuel station. We even found the hardware shop selling frozen chickens that we had been told about. It was a nice town.

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We moved off in the afternoon and had a tough motor into wind against tide until we could turn the corner and head for Namatotte Strait. We anchored in the northern end of Strait and Peter, Marianne and Lea were soon off for a snorkel. We were hoping to swim with the whale sharks here. They came each morning to be fed by the local fishing platforms (Bagans). For a fee snorkelers can buy a big box of bait fish to attract and feed the whale sharks.

Wednesday October 23

Up at 0500 for first light and off to find Ikan Besar(big fish) Pete had a plan for us to divide up and each go to a Bagan and wait for a whale shark to show up then radio the others. Sharman’s Bagan was the first to find one so we zoomed over there with Kittani. We swam with this huge fish for over an hour. The fishermen kept chumming the water with Ikan Bilus(small fish) while we snorkelled close by.

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The whale shark swam off a few times but would then arrive out of nowhere very close giving us a fright. It was an amazing experience.

After breakfast we headed of for Triton Bay Divers Resort on Aiduma Island but  first we explored Raf Bay, anchoring there to check out some ancient rock art.

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As soon as we anchored a boat with 7 men aboard pulled up. They wanted money but we gave them some of Lea’s lemon slice instead. They still wouldn’t go so we gave them a bottle of soft drink. That seemed to do the trick and they moved on. The rock art was easy to spot on the pale limestone

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Then on to the Dive Resort. Delaney and Fiddler VI were already there.

Thursday October 24

Busy day getting the hull scrubbed and the boat ready for the Arafura Sea. Chris off Delaney was downloading GRIB files by satphone so we had a meeting to discuss weather.

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All set for an early departure tomorrow. The next leg was to the entrance of Selat Muli, the channel between Palau Dolak and the West Papua mainland a distance of about 350Nm.

Friday October 25

We left the Dive Resort around 0400 and took the last of the ebb out of the channel. From then it was a long motor sail. Late Saturday night Sharman reported multiple 5km long nets ahead. They thought they had found a break in the nets but anchored up in the shallow water to wait for better light to see their way through. We altered course to the south to clear the nets. As dawn broke on Sunday morning the breeze filled in so we decided to tack north of the entrance to Selat Muli in the hope of picking up the forecast easterly off the land. We had a much more comfortable time than the others who continued to bash straight into the 13 knot South Easterly. We ended up 13Nm north of the Selat entrance but we got a great lift as we tacked and the wind went east. We also missed having to punch into the 2 knot Ebb current that was running. As soon as we were into the channel we dropped anchor and let the others catch up.

Once the tide changed late afternoon we all moved a further 13Nm up the Selat until dusk.

Over the next few days we worked our way through the Selat. Authorities at a major village tried to get us permission to come ashore for provisions but the phone tower was not working so no permission could be obtained from higher up. The weather window we were seeking was not appearing. without internet access the HF and Pactor modem gave me access to Grib files. Chris on Delaney was frustrated at finding the satphone unreliable. Sharman tried Bob McDavitt the NZ weather router but he could detect no window either.

I fixed the generator lift pump again, replacing the piece of 5/8inch heater hose I am using to replace the cracked plastic annular ring under the fuel inlet valve. We traded for a bit of fish and fruit from locals but with fresh supplies getting low we decided to head east 95Nm to the port of Merauke.

Friday November 1

Chris off Delaney managed to track via AIS a vessel crossing the bar and gave us a set of waypoints. It was a difficult and unpleasant trip beating to windward. Sharman bore away for the coast.  A 30 degree wind shift during the night at 20knots put us 20Nm north of the Merauke entrance. The others dropped sail and just punched into it. We sailed up to the coast and dropped anchor for some sleep.

Saturday November 2

Psycho Puss was out all night  punching straight into the wind and were the first to enter the Merauke River entrance. A boat load of officials were aboard before they even anchored. We knew from other reports that we were in for a very officious time.

We motor sailed all morning to get south to the River Mouth and arrived dead on low tide. Fortunately it was a 2.8m low so we had enough water. We were requested to anchor near Kittani and Psycho Puss and soon had 15 officers in inappropriate footwear all clambering aboard as soon as the anchor was set.

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They were asking questions, taking photos of all our documents, us and the boat including inside cupboards. We had Immigration, Ports, Police, Army and Navy. They were friendly enough but very intrusive.

The officials formulated a plan for us to get fuel and provisions:

1. A person to remain aboard at all times.

2. Go ashore as a group but only with an escort.

3. Only one visit ashore

We were happy to agree and grateful for their assistance.

Customs came a few hours later to look through the boat.

Great internet so we were back in touch with the world. Pete’s wife Cathy had rung Australian Border Force as we had been out of comms for a while and she was told that Border Force were aware of our position via aerial surveillance. in Selat Muli. While they couldn’t identify or name the boats they assumed it was us. Nice to know they were watching out for us.

Sunday November 3

Quarantine arrived to check our Green Books. The Quarantine guy was great and organised a trip ashore immediately for those who were ready. 4 of us went ashore and I took our Jerry Cans. We managed to get some fresh food from the market but no diesel. Our escort got a phone call and he was in serious trouble for taking us ashore so our trip was cut short.  Apparently it was Immigrations responsibility to escort us ashore.

Sharman and Gemini Lady wanted to leave tomorrow as the weather suggested a doable but hard windward beat to Thursday Island. This caused more problems as the officials said we couldn’t leave without a proper clearance. A few tears from Charmaine in front of the officials helped to get that sorted. To cover the others if we scarpered we copied all our documents and wrote a letter authorising Pete off Kittani to be our agent.

Thankfully we received clearance to leave over the radio that evening. The others were staying another 4 days for a better weather window. Chris was very annoyed as Delaney was hung up on a wreck. He managed to get off during the night fortunately.

Monday November 4

Up anchored at 0500 with a brilliant sunrise behind us. The Indonesian Navy called us up to wish us well. Sama Sama!

Our forecast was fairly true with ESE 10Knots. Good motor sailing. As the afternoon wore on the wind headed to the SE and we were pointing at the middle of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The engines were off by 1500 and we were sailing well. We put in a 20Nm tack to make some easting then reefed the main down for the night.

Tuesday November 5

A tough night with wind on the nose but Gemini Lady sails well to windward and we covered 120Nm in 16 hours averaging about 7.5 knots. It was a beautiful clear night with lots of stars. The wind dropped late morning so we motored east, heading for Booby Island, just off the Prince of Wales West channel entrance. A Border Force aircraft spotted us at lunch time and called us up to give us the usual lecture about not going ashore.

The wind came back from the ESE and we were sailing again but below our preferred course. The wind increased so we reefed. Late afternoon we reefed again and the seas were getting steep and uncomfortable. I pulled in the genoa a bit tighter as Lea luffed up a little. The sheet suddenly exploded with a big bang then a flogging sail. We sorted that and got it furled. We also dropped the main and motored straight into 20 knots plus and steep 2 metre seas. Green water over the bows and slow going. We gave up on Booby Island and headed into the lee of Prince Phillip Island. Finally got there a bit after 2000 and anchored up for a very pleasant calm night. A bottle of wine to celebrate was very much enjoyed.

Wednesday November 6

Motored through Friday Passage and up to Thursday Island. All cleared in by 1100. Great to be back in Australia. Across to Horn Island to catch up with Sharman. Party night!

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