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Yacht Wreck!

12 August 2015, Kupang, Southern Indonesia

Rugged, dry interior of Timor outside Kupang
Rugged, dry interior of Timor outside Kupang

Dear Friends and Family,

Welcome to Kupang, on the SW corner of the island of Timor, just north of Australia.

We sailed here from Timor‑Leste to join in the beginnings of the Sail Indonesia Rally, which has 40 boats participating this year, so we had many new people to meet!

The regency and the tourism departments of East Nusa Tenggara put on 2 welcome dinners for us.  They were long evenings of local dances, speeches, more dancing and speeches and finally big buffets of Indonesian specialties such as gado‑gado, curried fish or chicken, fried rice, and a sort of fruit soup for dessert.  After all the official events there was open dancing, and we got to participate in some wild Indonesian‑style line dancing.  Very fun.

Fish vendor shows off dried fish, Kupang
Fish vendor shows off dried fish, Kupang

Kupang itself is a big city with many small "bemos" (mini‑buses) that can transport you thither and yon.  We found our way to a colorful local fresh veggie market, the big "hypermart" and another mall on the outskirts of town.  Luckily we had done most of our provisioning in Dili because the choices here were not great.

One day we and 4 other couples hired a guide and bus to drive us 5 hours into the hills to a traditional village, Benteng None, where we were introduced to the thatch "beehive" meeting houses and learned about the warrior preparations and the local weaving.  We also visited a beautiful multi‑tiered waterfall.

After 5 days the rally was ready to move on, with some boats going north to Wakatobi (SE Sulawesi) and others west towards Bali.  Our intention had been to travel north to see parts of Indonesia we hadn't yet visited, but our engines had other plans for us.

Awesome Oehala waterfall, Timor
Awesome Oehala waterfall, Timor

As of our last newsletter we were in Dili, Timor‑Leste, trying to fix the cooling systems on our engines.  The casting‑plugs (aka freeze- or Welch‑plugs) had started rusting through months ago in Triton Bay.  We'd temporarily patched some of them with underwater epoxy putty, but then one behind the injector pump rusted through and Jon couldn't reach it.

Luckily, we found an excellent Aussie mechanic in Dili.  We didn't want to disable both engines at the same time, so Jon would strip an engine down as much as he was comfortable doing, then Aussie Chris would spend a full day removing and replacing all 22 plugs, and Jon would put the engine back together again and start stripping the other engine.  Lots of work, but it felt good to make a (relatively) permanent repair.

But on the way to Kupang the head‑gasket blew on port engine.  <sigh>  Concurrent with enjoying rally events we found head gaskets for our engines in Jakarta and had them couriered to us.  Then the fun began.  The port engine had to be stripped and the head removed, the old gasket replaced with the new, and the engine put back together.

Kupang waterfront is lonely when the rally leaves
Kupang waterfront is lonely when the rally leaves

With the help of an Indonesian mechanic, we finished all that and sailed away, just 2 days behind our friends going north to Alor and Wakatobi.  But that night, Jon realized that we should have done more work.  We don't know why that gasket blew, but perhaps it was because the engine got hot when the coolant ran out in Triton Bay and the head warped slightly.  We're heading out into the wilds of Indonesia, and we won't see a town like Kupang until we get to Bali in 2 months.  Better to do the job right the first time than risk being stranded out in the back of beyond.

So we sailed back to Kupang and ordered more head gaskets.  This time we took the head to a machine shop and had them make sure it was flat.  We also had them grind the valves and adjust the injectors.  And we did all of that to BOTH engines, just to be sure.  Jon did ALL the engine work on Ocelot himself, a huge effort, and we're now cautiously optimistic that the engines are reliable and happy.

So we left Kupang (again) just today, traveling with a pair of Kiwi boats, a power boat and a monohull, who also had mechanical issues in Kupang.  But we've had to change our plans.  We're too late for most of the Wakatobi events, so instead of rushing north we're planning to cruise leisurely along the northern coast of the southern island chain.  This will let us visit Komodo and several other places that we love, and re‑join the rally in Lombok, just before Bali.

Fair Winds and Calm Seas -- Jon and Sue


28 August 2015, North coast of Flores, Indonesia

Cruising boats anchored near Kroko Atoll
Cruising boats anchored near Kroko Atoll

Dear Friends and Family,

We left you last in Kupang, at the SW tip of Timor Island, Indonesia, having (finally!) finished a LOT of difficult engine work.

We left Kupang with 2 other Sail Indonesia Rally boats from New Zealand.  They also had mechanical issues which had delayed their leaving.  We sailed together 50nm up the coast of Timor, anchored for the evening, and then left at 2am for the crossing up to southern Adonara, 80nm NNW.  It was a nice passage, with lovely sailing winds during the day.  We even saw a pod of small whales cavorting near the island.

The next leg, up the Boleng (Boiling) Straits on the east side of Adonara, is difficult because of strong currents and rips between the islands.  So we discussed the best times (based on the tides and the meridian passage of the moon) with our friends and planned our departure for the next day.  Ocelot left a bit early because we wanted good light to go up the narrow channel to Kroko Atoll off the NE corner of Adonara, one of our favorite spots.  Despite the sometimes boisterous 4 knot current, we made it safely up the channel and anchored in paradise.  Several other boats joined us later in the day.

Chart (left) shows Pacific Lily (bottom) is safely in the channel. But our satellite KAP files show the charts were way out.
Chart (left) shows Pacific Lily (bottom) is safely in the channel.
But our satellite KAP files show the charts were way out.
Our track (yellow) is 730 feet (220m) NE of Pacific Lily.

At this point you should probably fire up Google Earth to have a look at this area.  Search for "Adonara Island, Indonesia" (or possibly Adunara - it's spelled both ways) and go up to the NE corner to see the reef system and the narrow entrance channel from the SE.  Go ahead - we'll wait.

Our cruising companions, a wooden trawler (Pacific Lily) and a monohull sailboat (Vianica), waited a day, so they weren't with us.  The trawler's AIS wasn't working, so nobody could see where they were, and their (ancient, steam‑powered, Vista) computer, with our extremely accurate Google Earth KAP‑files on it, wasn't working either, and they wouldn't let Jon fix it.  They were depending on their chart‑plotter to go up the 600' (180m) wide channel.  The Navionics charts on their chart‑plotter had been accurate in Australia and even in Kupang, but once they got off the beaten track their charts were not accurate enough to go up that channel - no charts that we've seen for this area are, except our KAPs (see comparison, at left).  Since they were going into the sun, reflections made it difficult to see into the water.

Pacific Lily aground off Adonara
Pacific Lily Aground off Adonara

At 2:30pm we could finally see the AIS signature of the monohull, and saw that they were approaching the narrow channel, coming towards us.  We called them on the radio and were shocked to hear that 30 minutes earlier, the trawler had gone aground on the reef, 160 feet (50m) south of the channel and about 3nm from where we were all anchored!  They had not put out a radio call for help.  Jon radioed our neighbors and within minutes the cruisers with us at Kroko got organized and were racing for the trawler in fast dinghies.  But the tide was falling and the trawler's stern was already 1 foot (30cm) out of the water, so there was no moving her.  We tried to prop her upright, but didn't realize how important this was (we're a cat, after all, so we don't think about leaning over).  We really should have ripped out the fridge (or something), filled it with rocks, and stuffed it under their hull to keep the trawler upright.

We came back at 9:00pm, just before she was supposed to float, but she was still heeled way over, hard aground, and now had water in her bilges.  Despite big pumps and mad bailing, she wouldn't budge, and the water inside was only about 6" below the rising tide, which pointed to a big leak (or a sprung plank, since she was wood).  Then the surf broke the painters of the 2 other dinghies and they drifted away.

By 10:30pm, water was coming in over the rails along the side of the trawler.  There was nothing we could do and it was getting unsafe, so Jon piled all 8 people into Tomcat (our big dinghy) for the long, slow trip back to the anchorage.  Luckily we had several big spotlights, and were able to find and recover the 2 errant dinghies.  They were full of water, but at least we'd recovered them.

Cruisers help with salvage on Pacific Lily
Cruisers help with salvage on Pacific Lily

The next morning, at low tide, we all went out to see what we could salvage.  The trawler was heeled over at more than 30 degrees and the decks were slick with diesel and salt water.  After 3 hours of hard work, the tide and waves were coming up and we had to abandon the effort.  We wanted to help get more stuff off the next morning, but the owners felt it was unsafe and asked us not to.

The owners are now on their friend's boat, with most of the salvaged stuff.  Ocelot's carrying 6 big 60‑cell solar panels, but we couldn't remove the expensive controller.  The owners are, of course, extremely traumatized by all this.  Not only had they put a lot of time, effort, and love into their cruising home, but our boats are much more than just our homes.  We depend on them to take us safely across oceans, so we develop very real relationships with them.  We can not imagine what they're going through.  But the last time we talked to them (they're now several anchorages behind us) they were talking about getting another boat, which certainly makes us feel better.  [Edit: Their fly‑by‑night, South American insurance company eventually refused to pay, so their cruising dreams have been shattered.]

So that's our sad news.  We're currently making our way west along the north coast of this southern island chain of Indonesia, much as we did in 2006.  We're traveling with several other rally boats that didn't go up to Wakatobi (a group of islands SE of Sulawesi) so we have good company.  Our friends up in Wakatobi have been having a WONDERFUL time with all the extensive rally events, so we've told them they have to have double the fun for us!

Fair Winds, Calm Seas, and Friendly Reefs -- Jon and Sue

Indonesia Letters: Up | Triton Bay 2017 | Baliem Valley | Raja Ampat & Kofiau | Through South Indo | Yacht Wreck! | To Dili, East Timor | Triton Bay 2015 | Whale Sharks! | Banda | Ambon | Raja to Balbulol | Xmas in Raja Ampat | Raja Underwater | Raja Ampat | Crossing the Equator | Arrive Raja Ampat | To Morotai | To Sulawesi | Jungles of Borneo | Beautiful Bali | Dancing & Diving | Venting Volcanos | Indonesia Arrival | 24 July 06 | 22 July 06

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