Robots at school

Rebecca was walking through the market, valiantly remaining polite in the face of heated and vigorous sales pitches from neighbouring stalls, when a young girl approached her and said in perfect clipped English Good morning, let me introduce myself to you. My name is .., but people call me .. and I live at … street, and with that she took off. Impressive, given how few Indonesians here speak English, but slightly odd too.
During our meal out the other night, we’re approached by a smarmy and unusually pushy teacher from the local primary school who, having asked if we’d like to visit his school, then insisted that we set a date and wouldn’t leave until we do. So we make the arrangement, and the following morning Luca and I meet him by the waterfront and are whisked away to the school on the back of a motorcycle each. We’re shown round the school and asked to present to several different classes. The teachers and kids are very welcoming, the latter impeccably dressed in shorts or skirts and beautiful batik shirts, clean as as clean thing of course this being Indonesia (however filthy the streets, streams and beaches, Indonesians take huge care in their clothing) and sitting patiently at their desks while we whittled on about the family, the boat, the trip and our home in NZ.

Luca is both nervous (standing in front of the class) and embarrassed (standing up there with me), made worse by my fielding as many question onto him as possible, but our double act gets slicker as we work our way through four classrooms. At one point a student stands up and asks us what is your favourite animal?. Taken somewhat off guard, I kindly pass this onto Luca who is even more wrongfooted by the question, and stares around the room hopelessly for inspiration, his gaze falling upon a poster of animals at the back he says monkey, and is greeted with hoots of derision and aghast surprise, leaving us with the distinct impression that monkeys may not be high up the preference ladder here. I swiftly follow up with dolphin and from the reception to this it seems I’ve manage to restore a semblance of credibility.
The final classroom is run by our host who had introduced himself as man, which of course led to the amusing title of Mr Man from all the kids. He seemed less interested in hearing from us and more in getting his students to address us in English. He instructed the first student to talk, and suddenly the mystery of Rebecca’s market encounter was revealed. The boy stood up and recited word for word the same pitch Rebecca had received in the market, but rather than finishing with their home address he went on to say …I learned my English from Mr Man. Mr Man is our English teacher, he is a very good teacher at our school before sitting down amidst vigorous clapping from the rest of the class, led firmly by the teacher. This continued verbatim for several other kids, delivered in robotic tones by most, to the hugely proud attention of Mr Man who seems immensely pleased to have been repeatedly praised by his kids! After a while he invites us to say a couple of words, and in the process of explaining where we come from I mention New Zealand and ask the class whether they knew where this is. With clearly no idea whatsoever, most of the class immediately reply yes (this being the correct answer to most questions), simultaneous to Mr Man saying yes, in Europe. In the pause that follows, I’m caught between keeping the teacher’s credibility and leaving 20 students hopelessly misinformed, or nailing the guy publicly; but by now a picture is starting to emerge about his teaching method and I choose the latter. Mr Man mutters ah-ha, of course of course as I correct him, not in the least bit embarrassed by his geographical gaff.

We’re approaching the end of our visit with this class, and there’s a boy near the back that is clearly the teacher’s pet, repeatedly raises his hand and insists on talking. Mr Man invites him up to the front to sing us a song, and we’re subjected to a remarkably high-pitched warbly rendition of the most cringe-worthy kindergarten song you can imagine good morning, good morning, we’re all happy in our happy family, we love you, you love me…etc. I’m sure most self-respecting 12 year old boys would have rather set their hair on fire than sing such a song in their native tongue, so perhaps the English makes it palatable. Luca and I dare not exchange glances and manage to suppress the urge to collapse into helpless giggles. This concludes our visit, and we depart with much to discuss about how schools are different between NZ and here. But there’s no question that the kids think we are much more bizarre than us them.


We’d spent 10 days anchored off Pantai Lanutu, the one bay that’s shallow enough for us and very beautiful it is too, although every evening brought on a battle with the midges, a seemingly endless attempt to reinforce our mozzy-net defences to plug gaps. We decided it was time for a change, and planned to move the boat into the main Banda Islands town.
The town sits on one side of a bay sandwiched between it’s own flat island on one side, and a towering volcanic island on the other, not currently active but as recently as 1988 erupted and scoured one side of the hill and the surrounding waterfront with black lava. Interestingly, this eruption wiped out the coral on that side, but it has since regenerated and is considered one of the fastest regenerating coral gardens around. This volcanic mountain sits on the prevailing wind side (during the current NW monsoon) of town creating a topography that results in massive squalls in the bay normal sized winds hit the mountain and drop down the backside, gathering speed to arrive in the bay with astonishing force and unpredictable angles. This presents some anchoring challenges, as you can imagine, further exacerbated by poor seabed holding.

During our previous visit to the town via longboat we’d been approached by a local man who ran a dive operation associated with one of the waterfront hotels, and he’d shown me where yachts from the Darwin-Ambon rally anchor – it all seemed easy. Thus, lulled into a false sense of knowing, we set off. Now I could easily have double-checked this against some info Rebecca had previously gleaned from the internet, but just when you’re starting to rest on your experienced offshore cruiser laurels, complacency creeps in and bites you hard on the bum. And so it was with our arrival into Banda Neira.
We arrived late afternoon, motored to the previously-arrange spot just off one of the hotels, to find a large number of men waving us in and insisting that we drop anchor and run a couple of lines ashore. This we then attempted to do in a strong cross-wind (a nightmare to manoeuvre in), and continually dragged our anchor. Setting the anchor on Tonga Moon is not a trivial affair, the anchor weighs 80lbs and the chain probably nearly a ton, so setting and retrieving all this metal takes awhile. We set our anchor unsuccessfully three times, along with ludicrous attempts to throw a line ashore, run it ashore in the dinghy and generally fend off neighbouring buoys, with the hotel men throwing out unsolicited advice & thoroughly enjoying the debacle. Eventually we decided to ignore their insistence of lines ashore, and attempted one more swinging anchorage in the same spot. A vicious squall swept across the bay, and sure enough the boat dragged again. Enough was enough.
Rebecca’s somewhat exasperated reminder that we did have an alternative source of info prompted us to take a look at it, and it transpired that a previous yacht had suffered the same difficulty and discovered that the hotels put yachts under a lot of pressure to anchor off their waterfront in order to sell them their wares. At this point, and it was now dusk, we decided to flag the whole area and motored across the bay to find a more secure spot on the other side, finally finding a place in the dark amidst other fishing boats. Phew! In our defence I could say that it’s hard to resist the enthusiastic offer of assistance from locals, but ultimately the boat is ours, and so it’s safety can only ever sit with us. Trust your instincts and bugger the advice is a refrain that comes back to haunt me at times like this. Anyway, we’re now safely anchored across the bay, the anchor firmly dug in by the repeated 30knot squalls that come shooting down the mountain onto us – we’re starting to get almost nonchalant about the squalls!

Last night we left the boat to go ashore for a family meal at one of the guesthouses; a welcome break from the inevitable pasta or noodle dishes served most nights onboard, and an opportunity for Gabriel to further his already impressive reputation for consuming vast quantities of spicy food. This is a boy who happily chillis, garlic and ginger raw for the sheer joy of it! The meal is a wonderful spread of fish, satayed aubergines, curried tofu and prawns served buffet-style in the candle-lit watergarden out the back, surrounded by pools of carp and catfish, with a tame parakeet whistling away behind us, the ambience further enhanced by the distant wailing call-to-pray from a mosque round the corner. The Nolan family tends to be tested by buffet meals, the question of how many times you can politely go back for more hovers over us natural gluttons like a unspoken question mark, one we seem to be pretty good at ignoring.
The meal is rounded off by a green gloopy liquid served in wine glasses, introduced with a flourish as what sounded very much like avocado sick. This gave us all pause for thought, but undaunted by the unappetising name we discover an oddly refreshing avocado smoothy. Sounds revolting, I know, but it works! So we stagger out of the place like overstuffed turkeys, back for an exhilarating night-time dinghy ride across the bay back to the yacht. We’re anchored near a couple of fish processing ships, where teams of sweating men finish nightshifts under blazing lights on the deck, filleting and packaging fish brought to them via a steady stream of canoes and longboats. We pull alongside on our way home to take a look, and find an enormous tuna, at least 6 foot long, laid out ready for cutting, the wiry old fishermen standing around in their rubber aprons all whooping and hollering at the unexpected attention whilst we take photos. A great finish to a good day.

Black Magic

The story of … black magic! A legend from Asanvari village. – retold by Luca Nolan

One day, a man* was walking across the beach where a great filthy devil was hiding in a bush. The devil did a type of enchantment that was known as black magic! An invisible force started eating his shadow. He was sent immediately to the doctors on the closest island that had a town in it. However, there was no cure, no escape from death! However, the man got his revenge. When he was dead in his coffin, a friend came up, put a dagger in the man’s hand and said “you don’t need to lie down, you can fight back!” and every one who was responsible for his death (who had helped the devil) inexplicably passed away!

*the chief of Asanvari village, chief nelson told this story about his son’s death. The man in the story is actually one of his four children! (All boys.) He was quite tearful about the whole thing. (He is not the only one who believes that black magic. There were loads and loads of eyewitnesses that saw the shadow eating happen and a lot of proof about it.)

Spice up your lives

Completed the overnight trip from Ambon to the Banda Islands – the fabled Spice Islands where nutmeg was first grown, and the site of colonial battles between the Dutch and British – arriving at our 1st choice of an anchorage amongst these 5 or so islands early morning after a quiet trip. The charts we have are pretty scant in detail or some cases just plain incorrect, and we have no yacht cruising guides at all, so we’re relying on the Lonely Planet Guide which, although very good for land-based travel, doesn’t of course have any info on anchorages, provisioning, passage hazards and all the sort of stuff we cruisers need. We were delighted to find a beautiful sandy beach, but disappointed to find the bay extremely deep all the way close up to a very shallow craggy coral reef, making anchoring simply impossible. Shame.

In anticipation of this or other problems with our first bay, we’d devised a plan for checking out a 2nd or 3rd choice, found each one the same and ended up setting off on what then became a full circumnavigation of the islands. Sadly this showed the same depth patterns, and explained why the only cruiser we had heard from who’d visited the Bandas had anchored off the main town Bandaneira and did day trips from there on chartered long boats. Feeling demoralised but determined not to be beaten, we finally found a lovely beach with 35 metres close to, and have now attempted our first deep water anchorage. We only carry about 70 metres of chain, actually less than we’d ideally have liked, and with a minimum safe anchor chain length of 3:1 (3 metres chain to 1 metre depth) we’re restricted to <25m depth. We’d prepared extension ropes and we’re now sitting in 45 metres with endless ropes hanging off the front. Could make for an exciting time if we start dragging in a squall at night, and Lord knows what we’ll do if the anchor is stuck when we come to depart, but we’re here and we’ll stay for awhile. The bay is exposed to the SE, but in this NW monsoon season they’re unlikely, altho’ a heavy squall from any direction is possible here so night-time wind increases invariably mean an anchor-watch. Given how hard we’ve dug that anchor in (in our nervousness at deep water anchoring), we may be here for good!

The bay is lovely and provides beautiful snorkelling. The coral is colourful and fish plentiful. Rebecca takes Luca and Jakey for snorkelling along the coral, camera in hand; and Fred goes off with Gabriel to find supper off the point. This part of the drop-off has many large grouper and coral trout on the bottom at about 10 metres, which is about the freediving limit for Fred. So he times his dives at low tide, and despite the tide advantage still finds the fish elusive.

This place is not as off the beaten track as other islands we’ve visited in Solomons and PNG, a small but steady inflow of travellers fly here and stay in a number of guesthouses in town, taking day-trips around the islands in longboats. The villagers are a bit more cynical about westerners, so we attract less interest than before. The islands are also Muslim, which is neither here nor there really except that Rebecca swelters somewhat with her shoulders covered, or attracts the scandalised stares of fishermen who happen to pass by and catch her unprepared with shoulders revealed.

Having had enough of dirty ports we’re determined not to anchor in town, so this morning Luca and I walk into the nearest village and hitch a longboat ride to check the place out. We left shortly after 6am to make sure we’d reach the public longboat in time for it’s departure, and are pleased we did so as the walk turned into an hour marathon from one bay, over the hill, through a couple of villages. The villages are made up of narrow dirt paths between whitewashed brick buildings, each with it’s own elegant and expensive-looking mosque, perched on steep hills down to the sea, we meandered through the villagers’ waking hours when most are outside their houses sorting out their day, so lots of “salamat pagi”s (good morning) to be dispensed. This region of Indonesia does not used the formal prefix for greetings that other parts do, nevertheless we tried adding “ibu” (old lady, a term of respect) to our greetings for every grey-haired women as an experiment, and this seemed to invoke huge smiles and grins of encouragement. Gabriel tried using the same term on Rebecca back on the boat later that day, but received a somewhat cooler response. I think he’s learning that women can be funny that way.

It seems that taking the public longboats is not a common tourist pastime, as our presence attracts much talk. The boat is an old 20 foot traditional wooden longboat, high prow preceding a low cabin which you can choose to sit under in a claustrophobic hovel out of the sun, or on top exposed to the sun and spray. Luca’s presence prompts the driver to mention Justin Bieber to his mates and a large number of women seating inside the cabin beckon him in, so he wisely decides to ride on top, seemingly the right decision as it becomes apparent that this is where the guys’ all sit. And they’re a friendly bunch, but sadly our burgeoning friendships are thwarted by our limited bahasa, a great frustration for us.
The town of Banda Naira is a little mini-me of larger Indonesian cities, with one small market, a bustling path with covered stalls selling fruit, veg, food and stuff, and elegant backstreets where old colonial brick buildings are now converted to government buildings or guesthouses. All the usual Asian smells, dirt, noise and heat are here but in a smaller, more manageable package, one that you can stroll through over the course of 2 hours to belt out of within 20 minutes, depending on your mood.
Registering with the local Police is good practice, in fact failure to do so can lead to unpredictable consequences, so this was our first objective. Finally locating the Police station, we sit around trying to explain the reason for our visit until they helpfully summon a translator, actually a local taxidriver, who explains that they’ll provide me with a letter of permission to visit the islands and this will cost us 100,000 Rupia. This all sounds OK, and we wait around for ages for the letter to be produced, placated by a series of explanations,”the Chief of Police needs to sign it and isn’t here” followed by “the computer’s broken down” and we get the idea that this could be a long wait. Our translator suggests that we leave it for him to collect the letter, that he’ll find us near the market later that day, and we finally agree. At this point, the translator asks me to pay the Police fee to him outside. “No” I insist, “I’ll pay the Police Officer I’ve been dealing with, thanks all the same” but it transpires that since arranging the fee, this Officers’ boss has joined us, and the transaction isn’t to be visible. Ha! This has to be the most obvious example of the corruption Indonesia is known for we’ve encountered thus far, and Luca is horrified to see me handing the taxidriver the money in a dark alley round the corner. But what are we to do? Sooner or later, you need to trust someone. I complete the transaction with a very cynical heart, but all faith is restored when, two hours later, the translator comes shouting after us in the market, brandishing the aforementioned document. Ah good, legal again.

Snorkelling experiences

Rebecca’s Snorkelling Experiences:

Snorkelling with adults floating, floating, gazing quietly, occasional dives deep down to look at the beautiful coral, and check out any hidden fish. Floating, floating, peace and quiet..

Snorkelling with Gabriel kicking, kicking, watching G with his lethal weapon, rechecking my leg to make sure I have that knife to cut him loose when he gets tangled in the line of his spear-gun, close to death… don’t be a silly mother, relax, relax, look at the fish, G pointing out ones I would never have seen, ooh there’s a pretty one, quite big, oh there it goes, frightened away by the pursuit of the hunter-gatherer at my side..

Snorkelling with Luca kicking, kicking, momentarily distracted by a beautiful fish, oh where is my dive buddy, completely disappeared miles away, kicking, kicking, kicking to catch up with him, watching him doing somersaults and dives, having a ball, swishing the clams and anemones, up and down, round and round, chatter chatter squeal through the snorkel.

Snorkelling with Jacob holding hands, kicking gently, looking around, sudden SQUEALING through J’s snorkel. Is he hurt? No, just pointing out that fantastic Nemo fish more shouting and yelping with excitement at every new amazing sight. Settling down again, gentle kicking and floating. Suddenly pushed under by a body clambering onto my back and round my neck, some seriously fast fin work to keep us both afloat snorkel emptied of water, mask readjusted, back by my side, wanting to be held around the tummy this time, kicking hard, breathing fast, more yelps and screams..

Our boy, Justin Beiber

Much discussion onboard surrounds our regular ETA sweepstake, where we record bets on arrival time for approx. 24hrs before each landfall. Somewhat surprisingly despite the skippers’ natural navigational advantage, Fred is yet to win the sweepstake even once, illustrating either (as he maintains) the intrinsically unforecastable nature of ocean sailing, or perhaps just incompetent navigation planning on his part. Either way, once the bets are recorded there is inevitably some suggestion of rigging, as the stakes are high (3 lollies and 3 nights off washing up duty). Rigging can theoretically take place by adjusting the sails and/or engine to speed up or slow down our progress, but tampering is vehemently denied by the skipper, who after all is the one most likely to do it. If he is tampering and still not winning, well, you’d have to challenge his whole skippering mastery, me thinks.

Anyway, we made a nicely-timed arrival in Ambon a couple of days ago after 2 nights at sea, the 2nd of which saw a quiet 10 knots of NW monsoon winds, a beautiful clear sky and full moon, giving us excellent visibility to negotiate the outlying islands on our way in. This was much appreciated as we were somewhat diminished as a crew, Gabriel having passed on his stomach bug to most of the rest of us. He and Luca were finally recovering but still weak, and Rebecca now enjoying the full glory of sickness at sea, poor thing. We arrived in Ambon around 10am in a sorry state, even the remaining fit crewmember knackered after 2 nights of limited sleep, and definitely didn’t feel in the right frame of mind to tackle the noise, heat, smell, dirt and general struggle of a fully-fledged port.
We motored slowly around the city’s waterfront, trying to summon the energy and figure out where to anchor, to no avail. Just then, as so often happens, something comes along to sort things out for us. One of us remembers a small note in one of our guides, mentioning a resort a few kilometers south of the city that had hosted last year’s Australian yacht rally, so we head off in search of it…and discover the village of Amahusu, the resort actually a basic but friendly waterfront hotel with a lovely and very cheap restaurant overlooking a quiet anchorage. Aaaahh, we heave a sigh of relief, spent the rest of the day checking out replenishment options and the whole boat is in bed by 8:30pm for a full 11 hours kip.
Much recovered, the following morning we discover that we can get very cheap bemos (local minibus) into town for supermarket runs, drinking water can be bought from the resort, diesel from across the road and, perhaps most amazing of all, we can get free internet access anchored in front of the hotel. So that evening we enjoy a wonderful Indonesian meal out, with Gabriel daring himself to each raw chilli after chilli and Luca still refusing to accept that drinking water is not the best method for cooling chilli-mouth!

The replenishment trip into Ambon, usually undertaken by Rebecca, is this time done by Fred and Luca to give R more time to recover. All goes smoothly but once again the boys attract a huge amount of attention, on this occasion Luca gets shouted at, fondled, and kissed by several women as we wind our way through the market. And I mean literally kissed…at least two women grab him by the neck and plant kisses on his cheeks! Above and beyond the usual inescapable attraction the boys seem to generate from men and women here, it seems that Luca reminds some Indonesians of Justin Beiber (yes, I know it’s abit of a stretch). We’ve known about this for awhile, and of course as parents it’s something we’re thoroughly proud of. I mean, Beiber’s a good looking lad who’s followed by millions of adoring fans worldwide, and has made a mint for his folks. So what’s not to like? But unbeknownst to us, Justin Beiber is deeply uncool amongst our boys’ age group, so the humiliation is doubled for poor old Luca. Tripled, in fact, by the endless stream of quips this enables his parents to make at his expense. We’re discussing this phenomenon in the bemo on the way back to the boat, and I ask him how he feels about it (the attention, not the Beiber thing). In reply he asks me how would you feel if women came up to you in the street and tried to kiss you?, to which the obvious reply has to be well, of course it depends on which women; and I’m pleased to note that our boy’s still innocent enough to miss the joke.

We’re now on our last overnight passage for some time, on our way to the Spice Islands the Banda Island group to be accurate where we intend to stop for some time and hang out. Coordinates: 4 degrees 0 South, 128 degrees 34 East.

Things that go bump in the night.

Coordinates: 03 degrees 03 South, 127 degrees 44 East, approaching Ambon.
Indonesian waters are busy. In the 10 days it took to sail from NZ to Vanuatu I don’t think we saw a single other ship, and in the miles we’ve covered up to the Indonesian border we may have passed 2 or 3 other boats and virtually nothing else. Here we have to remind ourselves daily how many people live in Indonesia. Just tonight on this passage from the Kofiau Islands to Ambon we’ve passed 10 ships, one of which tracked alongside us for an hour before overtaking us and stopping right in front, forcing us to divert out of their way. Odd, and slightly unsettling behaviour for a ship out of sight of land, but who knows what’s going on at their end?
Not only is the shipping traffic a lot higher, but the waters here are full of stuff. Floating logs, unmarked FADs (fish attracting devices), huge empty drums and general debris, much of this some distance from land. The logs alone are a topic that can keep your average sailor in conversation for a good couple of hours. We see them everyday, some of them huge freshly-cut trees, and in terms of hitting them our grand tally is 4. During the day we keep a log watch and can usually avoid them, but at night you just have to take your chances. Generally it’s a small knock and the bow pushes them away, but we’ve had one that whacked hard against the bow and tracked all the way down the keel to surface behind us in a cloud of anti-foul paint. Fortunately no damage so far, but this is one of the reasons we’ve installed removable watertight(ish) bulkheads into the front of each hull.

The only other yacht to appear in Sorong, a very smart 60ft Jeanneau skippered by an Australian guy Greg who happily wanders around on deck in tight underpants during the day (naturally, now referred to as budgiesmuggler Greg), managed to hit and ride up onto a massive tree South of Biak, and got stuck there for several hours. They only managed to free themselves by having crew standing on each end of the tree that was sticking out over 20 feet either side of their yacht, and rocking it like a seesaw. Smashed propeller gears, a bent prop shaft and some hull damage was the result and these poor guys had to divert to fix it all up, a costly business. No amount of budgie smuggling was going to pay for that damage.

Not sure what New Year’s Eve means to your typical Indonesian, but as experienced on the day itself it clearly means lots of noise, partying, and fireworks. We’d seen firework stalls by the Sorong waterfront road, so before the big day Luca, Nico and I had hopped in one of their cheap yellow taxis to grab a few. A dazzling array of different fireworks awaited us, with hardnosed stall saleswomen pushing us hard to buy theirs. A tight budget meant careful choices were required, but of course we had no idea what each one did so we settled for a handful of small ones and two whoppers. Just as we concluded our negotiation, one stall owner insisted on selling us a ridiculous cardboard chicken mounted on a board, a fuse sticking out of it’s mouth and a deflated balloon out its rear end. We couldn’t not, now could we?
The boys were enormously excited, but NYE itself was thwarted with heavy rain and what with one thing and another we didn’t get around to our own little fireworks display until our last evening at the Kofiau Islands. We’d anchored in a shallow patch of water between a small mangrove island and a sandy cay (I believe this is the term for a tiny islet of sand sticking out of the middle of nowhere), the cay being a perfect fireworks launching spot, so Gabriel and Fred set off to erect the display late afternoon, returned for an early supper and in the falling light the family stood off in the dinghy, awaiting darkness. It was a magical evening with a bright red sunset highlighting myriads of birds gliding silently onto the cay, each landing at their spot for their nighttime snooze with their own unique soft call. Indonesia is known for its birdlife, and this was a great example with ducks, herons, swifts and other assorted unidentifiables flying around us. Little did they know their sleep was soon to be violently disturbed.
The display itself went smoothly. Fred, having found some translated instructions on one of the fireworks, loyally followed each one including…step 8: light the fuse, and step 9: get away which he did with his usual dignity and poise, legging it over the dune in a mad scramble rarely seen since Dunkirk. The boys offered vocal and unsolicited advice from the dinghy, each of them mysteriously now experts at lighting fireworks. Each time a firework went off, the assembled birdlife would tutter and twitter like a bunch of disapproving old housewives, but resolutely stayed to their nests.
We were all a bit unsure what to do with the chicken, it barely seemed worth launching from the cay, so we brought it back to the boat and Fred somewhat recklessly announced that he’d light it from the back step, much against Rebecca’s better sense but to the boys’ glee. We’d assumed it would simply let out a spark or two, the balloon would inflate out of its bottom and an egg would be laid, and Luca and Gabriel assured us that they’d seen these sold in NZ and that’s all they did. Ha! Not quite. The wretched thing emitted a huge jet of sparks all over our precious gelcoat, and after one horrified second of inaction Fred dealt it a swift kick into the water, where it sizzled briefly and went out. Clearly Indonesian chicken are not to be trifled with.

Help…my wife’s a bloke!

Coordinates: 1 degree 15 South, 129 degrees 40 East, anchored off Pulau Sina in the Kofiau Island group.
We’ve waved off the last of Jules’ family after a lovely Christmas and New Year extended family hook-up, and said farewell to Sorong. Our plan is to sail to Ambon, make this our base for the next couple of months and cruise the Banda (Spice) Islands from there. But the trip to Ambon is a few days long, so we’re breaking it up with a stop-over in the islands of Kofiau, a marine reserve known for fantastic diving and marine life. Gabriel is deeply bummed at not being able to fish, hopefully the snorkelling will make up for it.

Water has been the topic of much discussion onboard of late, with our first months in the tropics offering very little in terms of rain. Indonesian water is not drinking quality, so in the absence of rainwater we’re faced with either ferrying endless jerrycans of drinking quality water from a reverse osmosis business, or taking a tankload of dirty water and treating it ourselves. Having tried the former, we recently decided to take on dirty water and put our water treatment system to the test. For anyone interested, this consists of a 20 micron filter prior to filling, a dose of hydrogen peroxide (“Pour’n’Go”) for each tank, then a 0.5 micron filter to remove the dead bugs and make it taste ok. This system was the compromise that Rebecca and I reached after deciding that we couldn’t afford a water maker of our own. This has been one of the very few areas where R & I haven’t entirely agreed, and for sometime it’s looked perilously like Rebecca’s position (bugger the cost, buy the watermaker) was the right one, dammit!
Of course we’ve used this system since we started, but we haven’t knowingly taken on dodgy water before, and so decided that someone should be the guinea pig. A drawing of straws might have been the fairest method for choosing the victim, you’d think, but the application of logic prevailed (i.e. couldn’t be Rebecca, as she needs to be well in order to identify and treat early signs of e-coli, cholera etc; shouldn’t be the boys because, well, they’re children; which really left only one person..). So muggins here downed several glasses of home-treated water, and the family sat back to watch the result with toilet paper at the ready. Five days later I still seem to be OK, so we’re all tucking into it. But sadly poor old Gabriel has gone down with some type of 48hr bug, so we’re all hoping he isn’t the first of a wave of water-induced ailments. Probably not, we think.
Fortunately, this dryspell seems to have broken, and we’re now collecting good quantities of rainwater from the daily squalls that pass by. This involves lots of running around in the rain adjusting tarpaulins and decanting buckets, but it has the benefit of being the only time we actually experience the sensation of being a bit cold, which oddly is something we find ourselves missing.

Unfortunately we suffered a broken jib roller furling top swivel during this trip, and we’re still working through how to repair or replace it within the constraints of Indonesia’s non-existent yachting support structure. This is a crucial piece of gear for us, so will need to be sorted before we start our passages out of the tropics back around Easter. In the meantime we’re without a headsail, which is far from ideal; but the equatorial weather is generally motorsailing conditions, so if it had to happen anywhere I guess this may be the least disruptive place.

We’re trying to learns some basic bahasa Indonesian, and have had fantastic help from my sister and nephew over Christmas. Sadly my ability to memorize vocabulary is no better than it was at school learning French, new words enter one ear and promptly exit out the other. Progress is slow. I was quietly encouraged to see that even my sister Jules, a legendary linguist in her own right, managed to get confused and ask one village chief for permission to walk through his coconut (similar word to village), so there’s hope for us yet. However, when I mention my learning difficulties to my nephew and suggest that perhaps it’s easier just to mumble Indonesian-sounding words under your breath when confronted with a group of locals (“salamat..bahasa..saya..aga..kelapa..”etc) in the hope that they might think you do speak the language but they just can’t hear you properly, he just looks at me pityingly.

Most Indonesians don’t speak any English, but they all seem to know the phrase “Hello mister” and it’s common to be followed by groups of kids chanting it. The Lonely Planet guide actually describes Sorong as the Hello Mister capital of Indo, which is no mean feat given how often you hear it everywhere you go. A couple of days ago Rebecca and Luca walk past a group of men by the roadside, one of whom shouts out “Hello Mister” to Rebecca, and is immediately corrected by his better-informed mates “Missus, Missus!” they shout at him amongst much cackling and ribald pisstaking. Is this the first time my wife has been mistaken for a bloke, I wonder?

The festive season survived

A very different Christmas awaited us this year. With an extended family of 9 on board, we anchored within Hidden Bay on the uninhabited Penemu Island in the Raja Ampat region, the only boat for miles around within this beautiful coral-reefed lagoon. We buried a mangrove tree in a bucket of sand, tied it up in the cockpit and decorated it with silver foil and cardboard cut-out stars and balls. Santa managed to find us, land his sleigh and creep around the boat filling stockings without waking anyone, and Christmas morning saw us eating coconut rice for breakfast, followed by a short church service held on the foredeck under a temporary sun awning in order to make the most of what little breeze there was. As I understand is traditional at sea, in the absence of a parson the skipper leads the service, so there was a strong element of the blind leading the blind, spiritually I mean. My sister Jules recited her own version of the Christmas story, Luca read out his own Christmas poem and I provided a short prayer, all interspersed with carols bellowed out across the water.

In the build-up we’d been listening to a CD of cheesy organ Christmas carols and much discussion the previous day had settled on 6 of our most traditional carols, led by my sister as the musical director. Hidden Bay has many high peaked rock structures amongst several interlinking bays giving a clear echo across the lagoon, and the carols rang out with a wholly-tropical cathedral effect across the water. Lord knows what any local Indonesians would have made of us that morning, but fortunately there were none around. The great thing about being a visitor in Indonesia is that they already think you’re strange, so it doesn’t much matter how oddly you behave – it’s pretty much open season for eccentricity. After all, we’re all orang gila to them (translated as crazy foreigner).

Mosquitoes were the only slight cloud in an otherwise idyllic Christmas location, but fortunately we had Richard (Jules’ husband) with us, who proved to be an even more effective mossy-magnet that Jakey. The poor guy suffered the ultimate frustration of lying alongside his wife at night being eaten alive, whilst Jules slept blissfully undisturbed next to him.

Snorkelling in the afternoon showed sharks, turtles and bump-head parrotfish, which led onto an evening of thorough over-indulgence. Pimms smoothed the way towards excessive portions of fried spanish mackerel. Jules’ boys (Nico and Thomas) had travelled from England to be with us, bringing with them Christmas pud, blue cheese and the makings for brandy butter. There was some talk of needing a Roman-style vomitorium to make space for biscuits and stilton, but everyone soldiered on to the traditional and utterly unnecessary round of whisky and chocolates. Phew…. this was going to take some working off. We eventually retired to our respective cabins with an almost palpable sense of relief that the consumption was over! Another Christmas successfully completed. Huge thanks to all the Cods for putting up with us, and bringing such a wealth of goodies to supplement our stores.

If we thought Christmas was abit unusual, New Year’s Eve stumbled into the bizarre. We’d dropped most of Jules’ family off with just Nico remaining with us for a few more days, and had anchored off a small village of Andui, about 5 hours’ sail from Sorong. A relatively sophisticated village, they had a large church, most houses had solar panel-driven lights, and they lived off a fish farm in the bay. On requesting to meet the chief, we sat through a peculiar audience with a very glassy-eyed chap who tries to hit us up for 400 litres of diesel or the equivalent in cash. Nico speaks pretty good bahasa Indonesian so he was handling most of the chief’s requests, and after polity declining we beat a retreat. Walking along the village to buy coconuts, we’re then told by a man who turns out to be the village pastor that the chief is a wino and just trying it on, to ignore him. Okaay.

New Year’s Eve, and we’re invited to come to church in the evening with the promise of a celebration of drums and flute at midnight. Our arrival in the village is delayed by a tropical downpour, so by the time Nico and I get in the church service is nearing it’s end but we’re welcomed in amid the large congregation. By this time we’ve befriended a student Vera back from Sorong University to stay with her family, and an unusually camp guy with a manicured thumbnail two inches long. The service runs until 10pm, when Vera invites us to her folks’ house, and we’re formally sat down in their living room and offered soft drinks and cake. With still an hour to kill before midnight, the rain starts again and we take shelter near the church with our two friends, and kill the remaining time trying to make conversation. Despite his language skills Nico seems abit short on subject matter, and I’m completely useless at the language and resort to the most feeble topics to try to shorten the silences. Explaining to my friends why my headtorch flashes (because it’s a bike torch) tops the bill as fascinating topics de jour, and Nico is quick to take the mick. Anyway, midnight finally rolls in and we force our friends to stand in a circle and sing auld langsine (sp?) much to their bemusement.

As it turns out, we’ve peaked too early and midnight in fact starts 10 minutes later, heralded by a headsplitting racket of bells, fireworks and general whooping and shouting emanating from the church. From the dark emerges a procession carrying large wax torches led by someone holding a cross with flames lit at each end. We’re only a couple of peaked caps away from a fully-fledged KKK convention. Large groups of kids intersperse the parade throwing firecrackers and assorted rockets as they go, and every few moments there’s a massive boom which can only be dynamite (sadly, used by local fishermen). The place is suddenly transformed into what feels like a warzone, Nico and I are offered torches and off we go with the procession, cracking up as we go at the sheer lunacy of the operation. The final nail is a chainsaw, that fires up suddenly and seemingly just to add further noise to the din. Nico shouts at me some suggestion about this as a suitable acclimatisation for our forthcoming visit to Ambon (the scene of Christian-Muslim violence only a few years ago). Reassuring, Nico, thanks. The parade walks the length of the village, and we watch several kids around us chucking firecrackers and other fiery projectiles into the doors of any houses silly enough to leave their front doors ajar. And once the village has been sufficiently terrorised, we reassemble back at the church steps where all procession celebrants hold hands in a circle and say quiet prayers…. the racket continuing on around us. We retired back to the boat around 2am (some 4 hours later than any bedtime I’ve had for several months) feeling like we’d seen the year in well. What a hoot.