RoRc Report from Mackay Marina, Queensland

RoRc Report from Mackay Marina, Queensland

S/Y Kinabalu waiting for Tropical Cyclone Penny to come and go!

By Bob & Judy Howison - 24/01/2019

It was early September and we had some beautiful sailing in SW breezes up to 18 knots as we left Nunukan, Borneo and headed for North Sulawesi. The anchorages in Pulau Derawan and Maratua Atoll were in crystal clear water with some interesting snorkeling and island exploring. We sailed overnight to Toli Toli and were met by the highly enthusiastic Een Hendra who introduced us to our guides, and we were whisked off on the back of their motorbikes. We found it a little disconcerting at first in the face of the erratic Sulawesi driving, but we soon relaxed into the incredibly hospitable culture and enjoyed the school tours, small farms and a visit to a unique Buddhist village with the people living harmoniously in a predominantly Muslim island. They had been transported from Bali as part of a transmigration programme to resettle there and farm!

The North Sulawesi coastline has many good anchorages and very hospitable villages and once we reached Saronde we took a bus to Gorontolo on the southern side of the peninsular to swim with whale sharks! What an beautiful gentle giant and what an experience to swim with the largest fish in the sea!! Further along the coast we anchored in a bay at Kima Bajo to enable some of our small group to go diving in the Bunaken National Marine Park and for us to drive to Manado for provisioning.

We were then on a mission to get to Raja Ampat off the north western end of Papua, still part of Indonesia but with different ethnic groups and cultures. This took much longer than expected, and it was two weeks before we were to arrive in ‘paradise’, Pulau Wayag, quintessential Raja Ampat with conical karst islands and sapphire seas. It was crossing the Molucca Sea with two reefs in the main and a heavy jib in S winds up to 30 knots and a heavy beam sea that shook us out of our comfort zone. And once we had reached the northern tip of Halmahera it would surely be an easy ride from then on? But it was not to be! The Halmahera Sea is subject to volcanic activity and a series of submarine trenches can cause the seas to whip up in strong winds. We had 25 knots SE on the nose and everything went wrong! The autopilot gave way, lazy jacks broke and there were splits in our old mainsail and jib.

So we turned tail and sailed downwind to the remote island of Morotai, formerly the strategic base of the Allied Forces during the Second World War. We were again welcomed by friendly locals and were able to effect repairs and took a bentor, a form of modern Asian transport with a seat at the front and a motorbike pushing from behind, for some basic provisioning and to sample a delicious avocado shake. It was when we were in Morotai that news started to come in about the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Donggala Regency of Central Sulawesi. Our new best friends in Toli Toli and Buol lost loved ones there and we remain connected with them via social media. On our second attempt to get across to Raja Ampat we hugged the east coast of Halmahera finding delightful little anchorages in this sparsely populated area.

What can we say about Raja Ampat? Still unspoilt and a cruiser’s dream, it is an archipelago of huge ethnic diversity with the tribes-people being of Melanesian heritage. There are uninhabited islands mostly cared for by National Park rangers with anchorages that leave you spellbound. Fantastic diving and snorkeling and our first experience of ‘muck snorkeling’! The city of Sorong in West Papua serves the diving and charter boat industries, and folk are collected from the airport and taken to liveaboard traditional Phinisi schooners or to be transported by high speed launches to homestays or small resorts on the islands Raja Ampat. We had family to see in Australia and so we contacted the newly appointed OCC POR for Papua, Warwick Alliston (Wick) who attended to all our needs! Wick’s man, Capt Dahlan met us close to high tide to escort us over the shallows at the mouth of the Wamon River, and 4.5 miles upstream we came to Helena Marina, a jetty built along the river bank! We were able to leave Kinabalu there for two weeks and had no problems — good security and friendly staff.

Our next report will detail our voyage from Papua to Gove, Gulf of Carpentaria, and the importation of S/Y Kinabalu in Cairns, Queensland.

Photo: Bob and Judy with Anna and her husband in Pulau Morotai.

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