Tuesday, 25 October 2011

To Kalimantan (Borneo)

As we’ve found before, it’s very easy for people who have been sailing the same boat for nearly a decade to become complacent when it comes to detail so we were pleased when on board Atlantia for the first time as part of the crew, we were shown all over the boat by Will and given a good briefing on what was where and how everything worked including all the safety gear. It was a very pleasant change to what we’d been used to when he also took a few minutes to explain to us the passage plan he’d put together for our 330 nautical mile sail from Bali to Kalimantan.
Our destination was actually an anchorage up the Kumai River which is very winding and quite shallow in places. With this in mind Will had planned things to arrive off the mouth off the river early in the morning to head up with good light and a rising tide. It meant a lunch time departure from Lovina Beach with two and a half days and three nights averaging 6 knots over the distance. He explained what and where the hazards were we would come across in the way of reefs, shallows and a relatively narrow channel between islands. We worked out our watch roster with us all sharing duties during the day, Karen on watch from 21.00 to 24.00 hours, Will 24.00 to 03.00 and Rob doing the dawn shift to 06.00. Just before Midday we raised the anchor and said goodbye to Bali yet again and motor-sailed with a weak south easterly wind north towards our meeting with the orang-utans.  
Karen made the most of the calm seas to make a thorough recce of the galley and ships stores. It’s not easy when you hadn’t been involved in the provisioning of the boat for a passage to work out a plan to get us through to Kumai with three meals a day but as usual Karen did a great job with Will being particularly happy not to have to worry about food.
The 51 ft Ketch Atlantia that we are sailing with skipper Will Rudd
The wind swung to easterly and built through the day and by the time we enjoyed another stunning sunset we were sailing very nicely and feeling pretty relaxed about everything. Too good to last of course as after seeing almost no nautical traffic all day, peak hour was just getting started. Literally hundreds of local fishing boats, tankers and container ships, tugs towing huge barges and even a giant oil drilling rig being moved all kicked in to keep things interesting.
Atlantia is equipped with radar but also AIS (Automatic Identification System). This is a fantastic aid we’d never sailed with before that provides an onscreen display of all AIS equipped shipping within range. It provides all sorts of information about a vessel including name, destination, size, course, speed, bearing and, most importantly, Closet Point of Approach (CPA). With AIS you know there’s a ship approaching well before it appears on the horizon and you also know, if both you and it maintain current courses, how far in front or behind you it will cross your path or if you’re on a collision path. After spending many nights straining with binoculars to see a ship’s navigation lights trying to work out which way it was heading and if collision was likely, AIS is a miracle worker.
That’s the good news. Now for the sad news. International convention now requires all ships over 300 tons and all commercial passenger ships regardless of size to be fitted with AIS. Unfortunately we’re not sure anyone has told the Indonesians. We came across numerous large inter-island ferries, tugs and huge barges, small tankers and freighters and even some very large container ships that had no AIS operational making the job of keeping a sharp watch with old fashioned Mark 1 model eyeballs extremely important.

The tugs are lit at night but the barges usualy aren't.

The second piece of sad news is that, like maintaining watch and looking at their radar, it appears the crews of many large ships are equally lax at monitoring their AIS. In other words, they’re not going to know you’re in front of them if they don’t look out the window or at the screens. At least if you have AIS you know the name of the vessel approaching and can call them up on the radio by name. This normally has a better response rate than hailing ‘Big ship, big ship, big ship positioned at such and such latitude and longitude’.
However the quality of the response can not be guaranteed. An example is this exchange we heard ourselves between one of the rally yachts and a container ship, the names of both we have changed to protect the innocent and guilty. ‘Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, Mythical, Mythical’ – no response - ‘Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, Mythical, Mythical’ – no response. The process was repeated four or five times before - ‘Container ship Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, Mythical, Mythical. You are on a collision course with us. You are on a collision course with us please respond’ – no answer - Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, Mythical, Mythical. You are on a collision course with us. We are the stand on vessel. Alter course to avoid collision.’ – repeated twice with no response - ‘Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, Mythical, Mythical,  nothing heard we are altering course to port to avoid collision.’  - no response. As the yacht passed close to the stern of the container ship ‘Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, Asian Explorer, this is sailing vessel Mythical, thank you for avoiding collision by doing absolutely nothing’ – at last a response- ‘Sailing vessel calling Asian Explorer, you’re most welcome.’
When it comes to local fishing boats it’s all more akin to Russian roulette. Proper port and starboard navigation lights are an extreme rarity probably in the range of one in ten thousand boats. If a boat is lit at all, the norm is some form of flashing coloured light bought from a dodgy hardware store mounted somewhere on board. It can be any colour or combination of colours and provides no indication at all as to the direction of travel. Many just have a normal white light so they can see what they are doing but many literally display no lights at all until you’re about to run over them. On one dark watch, Karen came within two metres of a small boat which she never saw at all until they turned on an almost flat flashlight as we passed. We’ve even been told of other yachties who’ve narrowly avoided locals whose only illumination were cigarette lighters.

One of the larger local fishing boats. Most are much smaller.
Seeing the fishing boats at night isn’t the only problem. If and when you spot them you then have to work out if they’re line fishing or have a net out. If you think it’s a net, then you have to work out where it is. Now to make things even more interesting, in this part of Indonesia a common practice is to lash three or four long lengths of bamboo together and anchor it to the sea floor anywhere and in any depth. The fisherman then tie one end of their net to it and the other to their boat to do circles around the tethered end catching whatever might be around. One boat may have numerous bamboo tethers all over the ocean floor and move from one to another at different times.
Over three moonless nights on the way to Kalimantan we did manage to avoid the oil rig, all the tankers, ore carriers and container ships, the tugs and barges, the large fishing boats down to the one man canoes but we did hit one off the bamboo tethers in the darkness. Luckily it was a side swipe and did no damage despite scrapping down the starboard side of the hull. One boat we talked to later hit one dead centre at 90 degrees with the four or five meter lashed together bamboo passing right under his boat but fortunately not damaging his prop or rudder.

Atlantia making her way up the Kumai River

Overall the trip to Kalimantan was very enjoyable with lazy days spent reading and moonless nights well away from the lights of any population centre resulting in spectacular displays of more stars in the sky than either of us have ever seen in our lives. Alternatively we motored or sailed in everything from zero wind to 25+ knots at various stages and were able to slow down or speed up as required to keep to our schedule. As a result we found ourselves entering the mouth of the Kumai River on Kalimantan at 06.30 on the morning of September 28 right on cue and made our way up to our anchorage opposite the township of Kumai. Click on the link to see a satellite photo of the location - http://www.findmespot.com/mylocation/?id=65AFK  Life is good on Atlantia.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen & Rob, Thanks so much for your wonderful, interesting, descriptive blog allowing me to keep track of my brother Marc. Hoping you have wind in your sails and a glass in the hand! Cheers Jo (Marcs sister)


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