Jakarta and beyond

With my sister Jules having already spent a fortnight onboard over Xmas and my father ending a 5 week stint on the boat as our official ancient mariner, we were only one person short of a full Nolan reunion; which we achieved this week ith the arrival of my other sister Biddy from the UK. It’s a rare thing for us three siblings to get together with our father, and this time we only had 24 hours together in Jakarta (lounging in the luxury of my sister Jules’ glorious house), but of course it takes alot less than that for formalities to fall away and each of us to revel in the mostly-unlimited banter of a childhood spent together. Wonderful to see you all. Dad and I had flown to Jakarta a couple of days before Biddy arrived, having heard that the single prop plane from Tual only flew when the pilot was sober and this was, apparently, a rare event. But despite a 4am start with Rebecca uncomplainingly driving Dad and me to land in the dinghy in the dark through a 30 knot squall, we’d found the flight running on time, and our connection in Ambon as slick as any international airport. So we arrived in Jakarta with a couple of days to spare, which provided the opportunity for a huge shopping spree.

For many travellers, a short visit to Indonesia’s capital might present more culturally educational opportunities, but for us this is the last decent shopping opportunity for the next 8 months, knowing as we do how very limited the shops are in PNG and Vanuatu, so I spent two days flying around town sourcing stuff we needed. This ranged from the necessary new freshwater hose, tie-down straps, fins, etc to the truly extravagant muesli, decent teabags, cheese, booze, etc and we returned to Tual with all bags topped up to their very maximum weight allowance. I even managed to find marshmallows, which fall into the necessary category (for roasting over beach fires of course).

This was the first time I’d overnight’ed on land for over 6 months, and thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my sister and her family it was a pretty smooth transition. I reckon I could get used to daily showers and no midnight anchor watches! Jakarta is a huge city hosting some 15 million people, and the traffic is astounding, at best a slow crawl and at worst a complete gridlock. Hosts of two-stroke motorbikes weave between trucks, cars and three-wheel tuk-tuks, while pedestrians take their lives into their own hands on each zebra crossing. As in Ambon, the rules of the road are utterly indecipherable, but somehow the system works with few accidents or at least, few serious ones, the damage limited by the slow top speed the congested traffic allows. Unlike most cities I know, the Indonesians seem to operate in this environment without raised voices or road rage, smiling their way throughout.

I traveled back to Tual accompanied by sister Biddy and nephew Nico, to find Rebecca and the boys in good shape. They’d weathered two or three days of strong winds and wild waves, a couple of cases of infected skin ulcers (from unattended cuts and frequent saltwater dips), but otherwise a happy boat with the boys rising to the challenge of looking after their Mum. This apparently took the form of breakfast in bed every day, and an unprecedented non-quibbling over daily boat jobs. Well done, boys!

So we’ve reprovisioned, and headed up to the Northern Kei island of Pulau Drannon to spend a week with sister and nephew. So far the weather has been lovely, and we’re enjoying anchoring off one of the Kei Islands’ famous white sand beaches with lovely coral. Last night the boys went into the beach early to prepare a bonfire on the beach, and after an early supper we all headed in on the dinghy. This wasn’t our first beach fire we’d had one when my father was here, but at the time we’d been away from the port for a fortnight and were running short on basics, so with no bananas or marshmallows to roast on the open fire, the boys had to pretend with leaves on sticks…poor deprived souls. But this time we were making no such mistakes, arriving at the beach loaded down with beers, bananas, and marshmallows; we even had sparklers that my sister had brought out as a present. So the boys went wild in the dark, dancing in deranged fashion around the roaring fire fueled with the sugar rush of caramelised marshmallows and hot bananas…a great night out!

The fate of the crab and the ancient mariner

Since posting the last update, I’ve received several comments along the lines of…”so what happened to the crab?”  It hadn’t occurred to us that there were so many people riveted by these updates (you probably need a life), or perhaps so many secret crustacean-fanciers, but I clearly need to provide what our American friends would call “closure” on the whole sorry episode.  I say “sorry”, because what we may have failed to mention was that my father was still with us, and hadn’t been directly involved thus far.   As a retired Naval officer and former diving specialist, of course he knew exactly what to do with the unruly crab and I hadn’t involved him in the hope that “we could cope”…which we clearly couldn’t.

Anyway, we tried to drown the poor thing in fresh water overnight, but the crab had managed to lever itself up out of the water and continue breathing happily, thus was still alive and pretty threatening in the morning.  It was at this point that Dad started to appreciate the depths of our incompetence and took over.  We drowned it properly, cooked it and wolfed the whole thing down with fresh bread for lunch.  Yum.

My father left the yacht a few days ago after more than 4 weeks of cruising around the Kei Islands and a sad farewell, and we were left without the sage advice of our “ancient mariner”.   Thank you, Daddy, for putting up with us for all those weeks, and providing such a fantastic influence over us all.   Have a safe trip home.   xx

Scarce anchorages and scary crabs

Coordinates: 5 degrees, 55 South, 132, 41 East, Kei Islands (south end of Kei Kecil).
We’d been warned that this month was the worst for weather in the Kei Islands, which has turned out to be code for wind and rain. But for us, after several months of no wind and very little water, both were pretty welcome. We’ve been able to replenish our water tanks most days, and enjoy the lower temperatures that the rain squalls bring. With my father now onboard the boat was freshly replenished, in fact groaning under the weight of fruit, veg, diesel, water and petrol. We’d even treated ourselves to the local laundry service, and lain blissfully on clean sheets for a night or two. We were ready to start exploring the Kei Islands. No cruising guide to direct us, and armed only with the Lonely Planet guide, our planning for anchorages was haphazard at best, so it was really a question of getting out there to see what we’d find.
The Kei Islands are known for their beautiful white sand beaches and we figured it shouldn’t be too hard to find a settled safe anchorage off one of them. How wrong could we be? The following week became a litany of frustrated plans, as we moved from one potential anchorage to another with no success. Pearl farming and fishing has taken off here big-time, and many islands are fringed with line upon line of floating buoys supporting a network of underwater lines. We asked one fisherman what the lines were for, assuming they were either pearls or fishing nets, but came away utterly perplexed by his insistence that they were for “pudding”. “Pudding” he repeated, “pudding”. Oh-kaay. Whatever their purpose, they made it impossible to get close to the beaches so we moved on. For some, the off-lying reefs were so extensive that we couldn’t anchor closer than 1/2 mile offshore, and a couple we tried threw up horrible cross-wind swells that had the boat rolling away all night, making sleep impossible. Phew…this was proving to be harder than we thought!

The supply of suitable islands was starting to dwindle, so it was with huge relief that we rounded the corner of one of our last island options to find a gorgeous little beach, no off-lying reef, no buoys, and good protection. Yeah! The cynics onboard had a nagging doubt that this seemed too good to be true, and sure enough within an hour we were visited by some very stern-looking army officers who tramped up and down the yacht in their combat boots and announced that we had to move on. It transpires that we’d anchored near a prison, and the beach was considered dangerous. Bugger.
So we’ve worked our way down the whole Western side of the main island, explored all off-lying islands, and have finally settled on a bay in the South that seems good. At last!
But it seems that someone has switched on the rainy season with a vengeance, and it hasn’t stopped raining for several days. Usually we’re the first to welcome rain, but we’ve run out of buckets to store the stuff and we reckon it could stop, anytime now…

In the meantime though, we’ve explored a couple of the villages in the bay, and been approached by canoes paddled by hoary old fishermen with their gorgeous kids. Our first village visit, one Sunday afternoon, brought a crowd of some 50 excited villagers to crowd around and follow us as we walked around. No electricity in the 300-strong village, and only one beaten up old car for them to share, but they all seemed to have cellphones that they insisted we pose in front of for photos. As usual, Jakey’s blonde curls prove our most popular drawcard. The 2nd village, actually no more than about 5 homes, has introduced us to some lovely families who’ve sold us coconuts and crab.
The crab is enormous, and arrived one evening tied up in twine. This was to be our first taste of crab, so twitching with anticipation we boiled water in the pressure cooker and prepared to cook. But as soon as we started to snip off the twine, this crab became ferocious. I tried to grab it with a pair of pliers, the thing snapped with frightening speed, grabbed the pliers off me and wouldn’t let them go. Yikes! This beast has a right hook faster than Sugar Ray Leonard. One pair of pliers down, but still a pair of monkey wrenches and an adjustable spanner to go. We weren’t sure quite how wimpy we were being, but it was pretty clear that this crab’s claws could break a man’s finger, and the number of volunteers willing to tackle the prehistoric monster into the pot was dwindling fast. After much hesitation and the usual Nolan wussy carry-on, we elected to try to drown the poor thing in fresh water overnight, and tackle the problem tomorrow. In line with my personal yacht maintenance motto, a problem postponed is a problem solved (for now, at least).

Tual the final frontier

OK, so I was stuck for a title on this one, but Tual, in the Kei Islands, is the final frontier for us as our final stopping place in Indonesia, before we begin the journey back to PNG… and it is pretty frontier-like. We arrived here a few days after a quiet 2-night passage from Banda, motoring all the way across glassy seas. Tual is the capital of the Kei Islands, a large archipelago at the South Eastern end of Indonesia. It’s not easy to get to via plane or boat, not often visited by tourists, so once again we find we’re one of the only whities in town, and attract the sort of attention you’d expect.

Early days for us here, but we’ve already made some interesting friends. On the day of our arrival we were approached by several long boats and canoes, the first of which was driven by a dark-skinned, gnarly Indonesian called Mr Eddy, who seemed to ply his trade (whatever that was) from his boat up and down the bay. It seemed he sold everything and anything: diesel, petrol, water, his own grandmother. We entered into a vigorous negotiation for diesel, and finally settled on a deal that was some way short of his outrageous opening offer, with still enough margin for him to feel pretty pleased with himself (the Indonesian government subsidise diesel for their fishermen, and there’s a roaring black market trade from making a margin on what we happen to know is the very cheap price locals pay for it). This deal seemed to establish Mr Eddy, at least in his own mind, as our official host, and he proceeded in bringing out boatloads of other interested friends and family to hang off the yacht and check us out. Rebecca took agin Mr Eddy somewhat, after he’d leered unashamedly at her one morning when she’d been raising the anchor, thinking that she’d be able to get away with wearing only skimpy knickers and a short vest up on the foredeck because it was raining. My Eddy timed his drive-past perfectly, waving a friendly arm to me and my father in the cockpit, and promptly motoring past the bow to take in Rebecca in all her uncovered glory. She subsequently branded him a dirty old man, but Dad and I argued that this was probably the best thrill this particular muslim had got since his Mum confiscated his last Playboy magazine, so perhaps we should give the guy a break. She’s not convinced.

We also met the boss of the local Navy, Mr (Lieutenant) Zen, who’d come to the rescue of the only other yacht in town, a group of apparently clueless Aussies who’d sailed into Indonesia with no cruising permit or visas. Given the difficulties we’ve experienced with Indonesian authorities with full valid documentation, it seemed likely that these guys would be toast, but Mr Zen cowered all local authorities with his military bearing and smoothed their way. He was clearly a man to know, so we invited him onboard and were reciprocated with many offers of help.

Actually, our one request was whether he could arrange for us to visit to a mosque, a challenge that he leapt upon and arranged for later that day. Indonesia is about 80% Muslim, this fact driven home to us by no less than three competing mosques within hearing distance starting their call to prayers at 4:30am, each one quite beautiful in it’s own hauntingly Arabic way, but together a discordant cacophony to wake the dead. And of course each with a crappy loudspeaker system that ensures the dead were not just wakened, but blasted by distorted speakers from the roofs of their onion domes. There’s a long history here of Muslim-Christian tension, some quite recent, and we were keen to give Luca a taste of this religion.
Rebecca had gone off on another errand with Gabriel, so that left David, myself, Luca and Jacob as the family. We meet Mr Zen on the docks, and he and two of his Naval colleagues whisk us away on the back of their motorbikes to a nearby village, where we’re allowed to wander through the halls and fire questions of the local Iman. Fascinating visit, I hadn’t realised that Indonesians use Arabic for most of their services. It seemed that Christians visiting mosques was uncommon, and the usual crowd gathered to take photos and generally check us out.
For the boys though, the most memorable thing was probably the bike ride, Luca hanging on grimly to his driver as they zoomed down dusty roads, and Jacob sandwiched between me and my driver, leaning out precariously every minute or so to shout comments to his brother. Not a helmet in sight, needless to say.