Friday, July 30, 2010

The Captain's blog

At last, to finally be given the position in society I so richly deserve.

After an interesting 3 day voyage from Darwin to Banda which involved a perfect reach out of Darwin in 15 knots with kite up passing everything in sight including all but 2 of the Darwin to Ambon yacht race entrants we settled in beside Convergence, a 22m cat rigged mono owned by Randy the owner of Westmarine, the biggest chandlery in the USA. If I was to turn to the dark side and go back to monos this would be the boat.

We sailed due north up the side of the Tiwi islands for around 95 miles then out into the Arafura Sea. Around midnight which is always a great time for the wind to build to 30 /35 knots and the swell to increase to 3 to 4 m with a 2m sea on top and on the beam . We had 3 reefs in the main and about 5 square metres of headsail out and were struggling to keep the speed below 10 kn. Waves were coming over the top and straight through the cockpit so the only option was to drop the main and sail under a tiny bit of h/sail which brought us down to 5 knots - a bit slow but much more comfortable.

After about 30 hrs we entered the Banda Sea and the swell started to abate. Unfortunately a lot of the boats we passed the day before passed us during the night so it was time to stick up some sail and get going. During the day as the conditions improved we increased sail until we were with full main and h/sail , wind on the beam and power reaching between 9 and 13 knots.

Just when things are going right the shit hits the fan again. The reacher halyard jammed in the sheave block at the top of the mast and would neither go up nor down so I had to climb the mast and physically remove the block to enable us to drop the reacher on the deck.

A full day and night of perfect conditions and by 07.30 the impressive site of the volcano Gunungapi came into view. Quite a contrast from the red dirt and flat scrub of Arnhem Land and Darwin to high volcanic peaks and jungle-covered islands.

Entering Banda Harbour was an amazing site. Possibly one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world . We were expecting a quiet entrance but the town had pulled out all stops with large Kora Kora canoes (20mtr with 30 paddlers all calling out and racing up and down the harbour, but wait there's more. After clearing in with customs, Quarantine, Immigration, Harbour Master were next(which involved 6 boats coming out to Anui with a variety of very impressively uniformed officers who all, by the way, addressed me as Captain with much hand shaking and official nodding.) I was most impressed with what seemed to be my new high position in society. From there we went to shore to visit the town.

After 3 days at sea with about 6 hrs sleep it was like being in a James Bond movie. Exotic locations and people and we were the celebrities. Everywhere we went people wanted photos taken with us and all referred to me as Captain Sir!.

The next day we were instructed that THE NINE CAPTAINS a name given to the Skippers of the first nine boats to arrive (I was Captain Sir number 7) were to be picked up by the harbour masters vessel at 08.00 to be taken in to be welcomed formally to Banda .Women and children were instructed to go in separately as this was very important official business. By this time I'm starting to think there needs to be some adjustments to the hierarchy in the Armstrong residence to bring it more in line with the Indonesian system. The boat arrives with much more hand shaking,saluting and by now everyone's calling everyone Captain. The nine agree we will no longer answer to anything other than our formal title especially at home. As the boat nears the dock things got a bit more bizarre.

There were literally a thousand people on the dock including several high ranked government officials,Minister for the region, King of Banda, all of the village chiefs and more security than a Barack Obama visit to Afghanistan .The band played as we were paraded around to shake hands and have photos with just about everyone. We were ushered on stage to be presented with gifts and entertained by dancers from groups all over Indonesia. We were then taken in a procession down the road which was lined with the whole of the Banda population in traditional dress or uniform to a feast with the dignitaries and chiefs. All closely followed by about 50 paparazzi. It was an amazing day & I have never met such friendly people. It has now been declared that I will be addressed as Captain and a band will break out to announce my entering or exiting the room. I'm also considering getting my own Admiral uniform with epaulettes and several shiny gold badges.

As a side note, a man came up to me at the presentation and introduced himself as Raymond. He was following the Head Minister around closely so I asked him what his job was to which he readily replied 'I am Secret Police, here to guard the Minister.' Guess the secret's out. During the presentation I asked him if he’d seen Sarah and the kids who had been mobbed by locals and paparazzi due to the fact they thought Finn was the most interesting thing they had seen in years. In 1 minute he returned with a position report and continued to do so every 10 minutes for the rest of the day.

All hail the Captain

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salam from Banda

28 July 2010

Have you ever stepped into a place and feel like you have landed on another planet? - a planet far more colourful and friendlier than the one you left? Arriving in Banda Naira has been like that for us the past few days. A magical, beautiful island dominated by the Gunung Api volcano.

Our passage from Darwin took 3 days and nights, with us arriving in Banda early in the morning of 27 July. We were escorted in by the harbourmaster and showed where to anchor. Then followed a few hours of paperwork, with various officials boarding the boat – immigration, quarantine, customs and the harbourmaster who all brought their entourage and folders of forms. Everything was well-organised and courteous. The men in uniforms all cuddled the boys and took photos of them; a couple of them accepted coffee and were all smiles even when we said we had no whiskey or cigarettes for them.

The town of Naira is delightful – much more to tell than in this brief blog. The people are so friendly and welcoming – we have to stop every few metres to have photos taken, to say our few polite words of Indonesian and have people practice their English. The Indonesian government has spent millions getting ready for the Sail Banda event and everyone is so happy to have visitors that will spend some rupiah and find their island beautiful.

Today the welcoming ceremony for all the yachts (there are so far 20 here) took place, with Scott being one of the nine chosen Captains who were invited to represent the foreign visitors. There were traditional dances and speeches from the Minister of Marine Affairs and the Governor of Maluku. Scott shook a thousand hands and the boys were cuddled and had their cheeks pinched many times. The ceremony was followed by a huge feast – delicious – and the final of the kora-kora (long boat) races. We had to come back to the boat for some down time, but will go back for more this evening. We have to arrange some diving for the next day for Scott with his new mates from the secret police (who don't appear to be very secret) and to meet our smiley guide, whose wife is doing our washing! There is a fort from 1602, built by the pillaging Portuguese and a volcano to climb. We are meant to move on from here in two days' time but it is very tempting to stay....

Scott wants to write his own blog entry – no doubt gloating over his Captain status. He is getting a little above himself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The night before

Well, the boat cannot accommodate a single other thing. We are stocked, set up, provisioned to excess! There is food stashed in every available space. There are bottles of wine next to our bed; there is a chocolate cache and I am not telling anyone where it is...

Scott has pointed out that people do actually eat in Indonesia and I guess we will soon find out that we could probably have lived without that large jar of Vegemite or that extra sack of flour.

Darwin has been great, but really hectic (thank you Lyn and Rudy!!) and the boat ramp has been a constant stream of people loading up their dinghies and taxis reversing down to get as close as possible to the water. We have seen dugongs and dolphins around the boat every day. Tomorrow we are set, with 103 other yachts of all shapes and sizes, to head North - half of us are heading to Kupang and half (us incuded) are going to Banda. We'll take a few days and nights to get there. Banda sounds like an amazingly beautiful place.

Once we get to Indonesia this blog might appear to be neglected but only for lack of internet access. Will be in touch as soon as we can update you all. For those of you in Australia, my first article will be published in the next edition of 'Multihull World' and hopefully there will be more to follow!

Don't forget to check us out on the chart by going to the following address -

Monday, July 12, 2010

Darwin in the dry

We've been in Darwin for a few days now, anchored in Fannie Bay with a hundred other boats, most of which will be leaving en masse on 24 July. Today is Finn's 5th birthday! We had a great day with our friend Lynette who took us the the wave pool and were then reunited with the Hardman clan who arrived in the top end for a holiday.

There are lots of jobs to be done here. Our reacher is at the sail-makers being repaired, we've had to run around everywhere getting spares and bits and pieces; we are getting a technician in to look at the HF radio. Every other boat here seems to be doing much the same thing - there are dinghies whizzing around from dawn til dusk and the provisioning hasn't even started yet. We are working out ways of storing as much food as possible, including nets for fruit under the cockpit roof. The markets in Darwin are fantastic with amazing Asian vegetables and food stalls. We can walk for miles in any direction.

From what we've been told by our friends here, Darwin is a city that comes alive at this time of year, 'the dry' and hibernates during the wet. Currently it is wonderfully warm with cooling sea breezes - wouldn't want to be here in summer.

Still watching out for crocodiles. Around 200 'nuisance' crocs are removed from Darwin waterways each years!

We've met quite a few of the other families sailing to Indonesia with us and the kids have started to hang out together a little. There are plenty of boys around both Seth and Finn's ages so they are both happy about that. More soon!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Finn's first blog

Hello it is Finn here
I saw a big brown crab with snippers on the beach the other day and lots of other crabs running around. I played on the sand hills too and falled down the hill. I am telling mummy what to write.
Today we did painting. I painted a garden. We are going to be in Darwin soon and it will be my birthday - I will be 5.

In the middle of Arnhem land

Hi, it's Seth here

We are at North Goulburn Island, which is in North West Arnhem Land. We sailed overnight to get here.

Yesterday when we went on the beach we played on the sand dunes and saw these really strange birds. One of them was small and one of them was tall. The big one had a duck-like tail and the small one had skinny little legs. We also saw crocodile tracks where they had slid out of the water with their tail trailing behind, made a nest and then slid back into the water. We were there at high tide so they wouldn't make the big journey across the sand flats when we were there because the water was about 20m away. So we played on the sand dunes, I fell down the sand dune, landed on my bum and slid down more.

The photo at the top is of me and Finn fishing at about 5.30 a few days ago and the other one is of us reading. We'll be in Darwin in a few days time and we might go to a crocodile show.

PS If there is anybody reading this in 5H, say hi to Mrs Headon and the class.