Sunday, 31 July 2011

Kupang

July 26 – July 31

Like most of the world’s third most populace country, Kupang is a bustling place with over 700,000 people living in the city and surrounding countryside. It has an interesting history with both a Portugese and Dutch heritage and was one of the very first western settlements in the region. Through the early European missionary influence, the population is predominantly Catholic with only 5% being Muslim, however we are still greeted at 4.00am every day by the local Muftis representing the two competing franchises of Islam on shore trying to sing over the top of each other calling the faithful to morning prayers over a very, very loud PA systems.



Capt Bligh landed his longboat here after the Bounty mutiny
The creek that our beachside bar haunt sits beside is the very spot that Captain William Bligh came ashore after being set adrift in the Bounty’s longboat after the famous mutiny. In an astounding piece of seamanship, Bligh navigated the overcrowded 23 foot (7m) open boat 3,618 nautical miles in 41 days from the mid Pacific, through the Torres Straight to Kupang with no charts or compass and only a sextant and a pocket watch.

Being part of the Sail Indonesia Rally has many distinct advantages for sailing cruisers with many aspects of officialdom streamlined for participants. The organisers even had representatives of Telkomsel, the Indonesian phone company, on site at the bar for four days selling local phone sim cards and wireless internet modems. I was able to get three months unlimited internet download, and a truckload of sms and talk time for my i-phone for the equivalent of $11.50Aus a month. No wonder Telstra and Optus are making so much money at home.



Timorese music
The downside of being part of the Rally is that with all of us in town at once the businesses and “fixers” make hay while the sun shines and all the prices go up. Talking to some of the locals we were able to get an idea of the differences. A car and driver for the day more than doubles to $50. Funny thing is it seems if you’re Australian it’s $50Aus, American it’s $50US, New Zealander it’s $50 Kiwi, so on that basis us Aussies are, for the first time in decades, the losers in the currency wars. Diesel that sells locally at 4,500 rupiah (50c Aus)per litre is suddenly 7,500 for the visiting yachts. Even the Bintangs have been hiked to 30,000 rupiah ($3.20Aus) for a 750ml bottle at the bar. With a main meal at the beach bar costing us a whopping 25,000 rupiah $2.65Aus – Oh woe is us.

Karen celebrated her birthday on the 28th so we marked the occasion by hiring a car and driver and toured around the region. Highlights included a visit to a village where the people earn their meagre living by extracting palm sugar from high up in the trees twice a day and boiling it up to produce a very sweet brown toffee like product they sell at the markets. We then went to see traditional musical instruments being made and played. Consisting of musical strings of different tuned length arranged around a round piece of wood with a shell like fan of dried sugar palm leaves to amplify the sound, these unique instruments produce an incredible volume of very melodious sound. We were even treated to a rendition of Waltzing Matilda by the musicians. At just $3 to purchase a small example we were very tempted but stuck to our guns of not buying “stuff” because we need to travel as light as possible.


Karen in shower heaven on her birthday
A trip to the regional museum was particularly underwhelming. It was very, very run down and a great example of how many things in Indonesia are often established very well but then receive no upkeep thereafter. We escaped from there pretty quickly and headed to the mountains for a refreshing swim at an incredible series of waterfalls. Standing under the cascading water of the largest fall was absolutely fantastic after many days of very quick splash and dash showers to conserve water on board. Karen was very difficult to extract from the water but eventually emerged prune like but happy.

The way back to the harbour was a drive along the sea front road with a stop at an area of caves inhabited by hundreds of monkeys. As soon as we pulled up on the side of the road they swarmed down from the trees and rocks looking for a free feed of peanuts. In other places we have visited such as the monkey forest in Bali, the monkeys have been quite aggressive in the pursuit of a handout, climbing all over you and fighting each other. These we were very polite monkeys who waited to be offered food and would happily take it from your hand. Combined with the playfulness of the young ones, this made it a very, very enjoyable monkey experience.

That night we lashed out for a slap up dinner, $6 meals instead of $2 ones, and Bintangs again at the beach bar so by the time Karen collapsed in our bunk back on the boat she’d enjoyed a particularly memorable birthday.

With over 70 boats at anchor in the bay, the beach area in the centre of town is a hive of activity with dingys coming and going all day and night. For the locals it’s the perfect opportunity for commerce. First there’s the valet parking. When you arrive in at the beach, a group of likely lads descend on your dingy, hold it while you alight and then physically lift the thing shoulder high and walk it up the beach. In exchange for 35,000 rupiah (a bit under $4.00Aus) you’re handed a ticket which covers you for as many coming and goings as you like that day. When you want to go back out to your boat they simply relaunch the dingy and give you a shove on your way. If you have brought your rubbish ashore they take that off you as part of the service. We’re not too sure about their disposal arrangements though because we’re sure we’ve seen some of our refuse float back past the boat next morning. The boat boys can even arrange to have your laundry done, $15 for a large bag washed, pressed and returned to the beach for collection. If you want a taxi, hire motorcycle, tour, buy beer or just about anything else, there’s people on the beach competing for your business, all at inflated prices of course.

Local public transport is provided by thousands of mini van Bemos with bench seats in the back arranged along the sides instead of across so more people fit. Every Bemo seems to have its own musical horn tune, used almost continuously, and is brightly decorated with huge stickers and signs, many of which keep us shaking our heads in disbelief. You’ll have the “ Jesus is Master” Bemo decorated in a last supper theme driving down the road followed closely by the “Love Sucks – Sex is Good” Bemo plastered with Playboy stickers and images of half naked girls. They certainly provide constant entertainment while walking the streets.


This dancer became a rock queen later in the night
Friday night saw the first of two official welcome dinners for the Rally participants. Held open air by the beach, this one was hosted by the Governor, who was obviously a busy man and didn’t actually turn up but had his official speech read by a local tourism official. Read first in Indonesian it went for what seemed like twenty minutes. The MC then read it in English which lasted all of three so we feel something may have been lost in translation somewhere. Speeches were followed by some traditional Timorese dancing which is very different to other parts of Indonesia we’ve been to. Once again the local food provided was very, very good but the biggest surprise was the after dinner entertainment. First off, the absolutely beautiful lead female dancer in full traditional dress walked up to the microphone and started belting out western rock and roll numbers. When she took a break she was replaced by a lovely girl in Muslim headscarf who launched into pop and country rock songs. If there was ever a case of the image reaching the eyes not matching up with the sound in the ears this entertainment program was it. By the time the beach bar owner joined in the vocals with a Beatles melody the place was really rocking on with the cruisers up and partying big time with the locals.

Having survived the Governor’s welcome dinner we then backed up the following night for the Mayor’s welcome dinner. Like the Governor, he is obviously also a very busy man and didn’t actually turn up either. However all us yachties gladly devoured the free feed he so generously provided on behalf of the city and were again treated to an eclectic program of entertainment.

Sunday was spent topping up the boat’s fruit and vegetable provisions from the local market, picking up our laundry from the beach boys, haggling with the local money changer about the exchange rate and generally getting ready to go back to sea tomorrow. That evening, we attended Trish's (Brittish cruiser from the yacht Curious) birthday party held on Further( one of the very few motor boats on the rally) and then in the morning headed for our next stop on Alore Island off the eastern end of Flores.

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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Darwin to Kupang, Indonesia

23 – 26 July 2011


Alan and Noi on Rogue flying their parasail leaving Darwin
Nae Hassle escaped through the lock at Tipperary Waters at 9.15am on Saturday and headed to sea for our passage to Kupang Indonesia and beyond.  76 of the boats on the Sail Indonesia Rally were heading to Kupang while the remainder of the fleet were taking the more northern route to Ambon. Unfortunately the wind was very light and we had to motor all the way out of Darwin Harbour to the open sea before turning west and heading for Kupang. With the breeze still only reaching nine or ten knots Colin elected to set our cruising parasail which at a monster  2,200 square foot soon had the boat zooming along at a nice 8+ knots despite the light winds.
 


Brian and Isabella on Wasabi ahead of us into the night
The trip from Darwin to Kupang is 490 nautical miles of open ocean with only a few oil platforms in between so it is very easy sailing – if the wind plays the game. Unfortunately it tended to be very light much of the time and was often just on the wrong angle to push us on the heading we wanted. Most cruisers are happy to be pointed roughly in the direction of their destination and,  depending on available wind, gibe or tack to adjust course later when they’re closer in. Milin however loves her GPS chart plotter and once the course is set doesn’t seem to like deviating too far off the rum line. So we spent a fair bit of time on our four day passage changing or adjusting sails to try and stay right “on course” and if that didn't work the engine went on.  We ended up arriving on the Tuesday morning roughly in the middle of the fleet so we certainly wonder if we would of been better off flying the big parasail more even if we were five or ten degrees off rum line. It’s certainly much more pleasant sailing than having the main flogging around with the wind up your bum – but that’s part of being crew and not owner. They make the calls and we’re lucky enough to go along for the ride. We did end our trip with a great morning’s sail up the passage between Rote Island and Timor. The wind was up to 20 knots with no swell at all in the sheltered water and we had fun trying to chase down Brian and Isabella on Wasabi ahead of us.


Karen watching for fishing nets chasing Wasabi into Kupang
We were anchored up in Kupang Harbour by 11.30am and after tidying up the boat from the passage we then sat around until late afternoon watching the quarantine/customs guys  zoom around to boat after boat in no discernable order until they finally dropped in on us for our arrival inspection and much form filling in and paperwork stamping. They were also many not so subtle questions and comments seeking something extra for their hard work and assistance and after we made a gift of one of our bottles of wine they were on their way.  Immigration formalities were to be completed onshore next morning but we were now permitted to land in Indonesia and the cold Bintangs (beers) at the beach side bar, which is yachtie central for the week, were most welcome as were the absolutely brilliant meals.
Darwin to Kupang - 490 nautical miles - 76 Hours - 4.75 knot average - No fish, not even a bite.
 
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Friday, 22 July 2011

Darwin and the NT.

July 8 – 20
The first two days in the marina after 16 days at sea were busy as you’d expect with Colin and Milin taking care of a mile of administrative issues while the crew, Karen, Mark and Rob, set to cleaning down the boat from top to bottom, making two weeks plus of rubbish disappear in the marina’s industrial bin and making more than a reasonable sized donation at the Laundromat to get all our washing done.


Nae Hassle as seen from the masthead 70 feet up

There was also a trip into the CBD to meet with Australian Customs regarding our checking out procedures when we leave on the 23rd and a visit to the Indonesian Consulate to organise our special 60 day visas and the boats CAIT (Cruising Permit). We topped up our fishing supplies and then while the owners caught up with some friends it was definitely time for the crew to hit the nearest Pub and enjoy a fairly long, lazy lunch, all the while ensuring we conditioned ourselves to Darwin’s warm weather by keeping up our fluid intake all afternoon. We also took the opportunity to plan a side trip to see some of the sites of the Northern Territory.
Saturday was spent on some more boat maintenance including Rob going up the mast in the bosun’s chair to tighten a loose radio aerial. He also took the opportunity to get some great photos of Nae Hassle and the marina from 70 feet above.


Darwin's love of beer & thongs combined at the beer can regattta.

On Sunday the crew abandoned ship for a while. We three crew grabbed a hire car and started checking out the tourist highlights. Very conveniently, Darwin’s annual Beer Can Regatta was being held at Mindle Beach which, combined with the nationally famous markets, made a great first stop. Plenty of fun and unbelievable food. The huge, fresh oysters in particular were absolutely outstanding. Marc was specialy interested in the P.A. announcements for the upcoming Lady's Thong Throwing Competition until we burst his bubble explaining that in Australia a thong is a form of rubber sandle rather than a tiny item of lady's lingerie.
Darwin was Australia’s frontline in WW2 and many people don’t realise that the Japanese actually dropped more bombs on this northern city than Pearl Harbour. There are many reminders of the wartime activities around the Northern Territory but the Military Museum and gun emplacements at East Point are definitely a must see for anyone visiting Darwin. The museum has a huge range of items, exhibits and audio visuals that dramatically portray the city’s wartime experiences.
We finished a great day with dinner and drinks sitting over the water on the famous harbour jetty.


Small termite nest beside the highway

Next morning it was up early to head south on the Stuart Highway. First stop Adelaide River and a stop at the War Cemetery where the graves of the 350+ killed in the first air raid on Darwin were interned along with many, many more from subsequent actions in the region. Particularly moving is the separate section that holds the graves of the Darwin Postmaster, his family and staff who were all killed by a direct hit on the Post Office which cut the vital telegraph contact with the rest of Australia.
A quick stop in Pine Creek provided a glimpse of the area’s gold mining history, with shafts everywhere and a view from the lookout of the now water filled open cut mine.
The Northern Territory used to have no speed limit on its highways but in these days of political correctness and  the nanny state, there is now a 130kph limit. While this should of still ensured a reasonably rapid trip it didn’t work out that way –BLOODY GREY NOMADS AND THEIR CARAVANS.  The Territory in July clearly has the highest concentration of these mobile chicanes travelling at 50 kph UNDER the speed limit in closely bunched convoys ever assembled in the nation’s history.  We are talking literally three or four hundred  in the three hundred kilometre stretch to Katherine. Definitely bad for the driver’s blood pressure. Buy a boat and get off the roads you bastards. No forget that idea stay on the roads and leave the seas to us.


Marc, Rob and Karen at about to cool off at Edith Falls

We needed a stop at Edith Falls to cool off.  What a gem of a spot. We elected not to jump in the huge swimming area near the car park but took the 2.4k walk to the upper pools. What a good decision. The trail crosses beautiful billabongs teeming with birdlife before climbing up the escarpment to provide unbelievable views of the country side and the falls themselves. Diving into the rock pool at the base of one of the falls was refreshing to say the least.



Cutta Cutta Caves - Katherine

In Katherine we caught up with Alan and Noi from the boat Rogue who were also off playing tourists and we had a great feed and a few Coronas in what the barmaid at the pub had assured us was the best place in town. She was spot on, so if you’re ever looking for a place to eat in Katherine, don’t go past the Chinese takeaway in the main street.
Next morning we headed south past Tindal RAAF base to visit the Cutta Cutta Caves. Well worth the drive. We’ve been in a number of limestone cave systems but this one is different because it’s almost totally dry for much of the year. Cutta Cutta is local dialect which translates to “many, many stars” and with its high quartz content mixed with the limestone it definitely sparkles like the inland sky.



Katherine Gorge boat cruise was amazzing

On to Katherine Gorge for a climb up to the lookout at the mouth of the Gorge and then back down for a two hour boat trip up the first two of the fourteen sections of one of Australia’s most incredible geographic features. Later in the dry season you can canoe and swim in the Gorge but the National Parks and Wildlife Service hadn’t quite finished their surveys and audits to make sure there were no Saltwater Crocs left in the Gorge that had made their way upstream during the wet season.  Each year they trap and relocate the salties after the wet and the rocky rapids then act as a natural barrier to them until the next year’s flows.
All of us were simply in awe of this ancient paradise. The Northern Territory’s tourism slogan of “You’ll never never know if you never ever go” is actually right. If you haven’t been here and don’t currently have Katherine Gorge on your bucket list, add it NOW.


 Kakadu rock art - legend says he was a very naughty boy.

Next morning we headed back north but this time through the legendary Kakadu National Park. Although it’s better to visit this area before the wetlands dry up and recede after the rainy season, it was still very humbling to walk through caverns covered with rock art produced over the thousands of years of human occupation of this area and marvel at the natural rock formations and incredible escarpments. You really would need to spend a week to even scratch the surface of the natural and ancient man made marvels of the park – but – we were in a hurry. We had to be back in Darwin that night and the jumping crocodiles of Adelaide River were waiting.

5.5 metre Barabos the croc likes his buffalo meat

A quick dash through Jabiru to Humpty Doo saw us board a small aluminium boat made famous the day before by a photo of a huge 5 metre croc leaping out of the water on the front page of  Darwin’s daily newspaper. While so called experts around the world debated the photo’s authenticity we found out first hand it was definitely ‘the real thing”. It was incredible getting so up close and personal with these living dinosaurs. 25 years of tourism have the crocs in this stretch of the river well conditioned to leaping for lunch as they are offered lumps of buffalo meat. When Harry, the skipper, lured a five and half metre specimen off the mud banks we all felt a little insignificant as it was as long as the boat and bumped around against the hull eyeballing us at it waited for its next morsel. Very cool! Marc had his Croc encounter ticked off and that night we were back on Nae Hassle in Darwin with plenty of crocadile stories to tell all and sundry over sundowners.


Time to go sailing

Next morning Rob headed back for a flying visit home Ipswich to complete his last motor racing commentary event. He had announced his retirement as of the annual Winternationals event in June which is Australia’s largest drag race. Unfortunately the last two days of the race meeting had to be postponed until July due to rain and Willowbank Raceway elected to fly Rob back from Darwin to “finish the job” for his final appearance. Unbelievably rain re-appeared on the Sunday afternoon with only a few semi-finals and the finals remaining to run and his final work in commentary was unfortunately announcing the abandonment of the event to the waiting crowd and racers. Bugger! The raceway’s President, John Winterburn, made a lovely  presentation to Rob on the startline during the first weekend of the event and Lex Swayn wrote a great article in “Dragster Australia” magazine which Rob really appreciated.
As disappointing as the weather was it was a great opportunity for Rob to catch up with the family though, particularly all four grandkids, and good to celebrate daughter Yasmin’s 25th birthday with her.
We’re now all set to head to Kupang, West Timor with the Sail Indonesia Rally on Saturday 23rd and are booked to head out through the marina’s lock at 9.15am before joining with the 109 boats on the rally for an 11.00am departure from Darwin Harbour.


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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On to Darwin _ and the State of Origin Saga

Wednesday July 6th  – Thursday July 7th
We timed our departure from Port Essington at 9.00am to arrive at Cape Don just before the turn of the tide to get a tow towards Darwin. While the sea state was still fairly bumpy when we cleared the shelter of the headland we only had a lazy 10 – 12 knots of wind which was directly astern so this became a motor sailing day. We had set out with a reefed mainsail but soon decided to bring all the main out to make the most of what wind there was. In the process the traveller on the boom chose that particular moment to jettison all its ball bearings and detach itself from its track leaving the main to flap wildly.  It was quickly hauled in, the state of affairs analysed and Rob scored max brownie points for coming up with a very effective jury rig option that soon had us back sailing as usual.


Desperately seeking phone service
Of far more importance was the impending State of Origin decider to be played in Brisbane that night. We weren’t going to reach Darwin till next morning so seeing the game was out of the question but would we be close enough to get a phone signal for sms updates from the our football made family? Since passing Port Douglas shortly after leaving Cairns only Rob has been able to get any sporadic phone service at all. His i-phone4 defied the breed’s alleged reputation for weak reception and often popped up with a signal in the strangest of places strong enough at least for text messages and sometimes internet and email. This occurred much to the disgust of Colin, Milin and Marc, all of whom tried everything with zero success despite all of us being with the same Telstra service.
We rounded Cape Don in the late afternoon and out came the i-phone, no service. Two hours to kick-off, no service. One hour to kick off, no service, building rugby league withdrawal symptoms and increasing anxiety levels for Rob. Then like something out of a TV soap opera script, up pops a single bar of service on the phone five minutes before kick off so to cover his bases, Rob texts both Rod and Felicity with a request for sms updates through the game. Both reply in the affirmative so all is good.
17 minutes later the good news arrives from Rod, Inglis scores for Queensland – Thurston converts. Felicity sends the news,  26 minutes into the game Thaiday scores for Queensland followed by Smith minutes later. Qld 18 – NSW 0 and looking hopeless. Rod messages that Yow Yeh is in at the 35 minute mark and we lead 24-0. Life is good –until the signal drops out. Wave the phone around, point it at Darwin. Point it at the lights in the distance at Melville Island. Try one arm in the air and tongue out. No go and it must be half time by now. BUGGER! Fifteen minutes later the phone buzzes with an sms from Felicity says that Inglis just scored the first try of the game Qld 6 NSW 0. What the?
More silence, no signal again. Damn! The game should just about be over by now. Surely the Maroons couldn’t lose from 24-0, but this is Origin. Waiting, waiting, – stupid Telstra – waiting, waiting stupid i-phone, waiting, waiting. Suddenly the phone goes mental as a sliver of service is found and almost twenty messages from Rod and Felicity pour in, all totally out of time order. After decoding the mess of information,  Queensland has won our sixth Origin series in a row 34 – 24 in the most confusing game ever witnessed – well from this end anyway.
So Rob survives his anxiety filled shift across the open waters of the Gulf and goes to bed happy at the end of his 9pm to Midnight watch leaving Karen to steer Nae Hassle on towards Darwin, around the shipping, through the reefs and shoals on her 12 to 3am shift all with the tide changing and the wind swinging from astern to near on the nose. No stress there.

Sunrise over Darwin City
Later we experience an incredible sunrise over the high rises of Darwin as we approach the harbour. Absolutely stunning and a great welcome to Australia’s northern gateway. After doing a number of circuits of the harbour waiting for the lockmaster to let us in we’re tied up in Tipperary Waters Marina by 8.30am and stepped ashore for the first time in 16 days.
Port Essington to Darwin -  147 nautical miles – 23.5 hours – average speed 5.78 knots – No fish but a 6th State of Origin Series win in a row – Queenslanderrrrrrrrr!
Cairns – Darwin totals = 16 Days marina to marina - 1267 nautical miles – 9 days 3 hours sailing – average speed 5.8 knots.

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