After our misadventures near Rote and city life in Kupang, we decided to stay a few days when we found an idyllic spot to anchor between two islands in the Savu Sea. There was not another boat or another human to be seen anywhere and we enjoyed the peace and natural beauty, and pods of dolphins swimming by!
Joe kayaked to the shore with me and Greg swimming behind him. The salt and pepper sand beach was warm, and the crystal water like a bath.
Greg hiked up the side of a hill to get the photo below, with Cocokai anchored out and me and Joe on the beach with the kayak.
After exploring the beach we headed back to the boat, but this time swimming against the current. Flowing between the two islands the water created quite a drag, and not in the direction I wanted to go! Got a bit of a workout.
It was at this spot that we snorkeled and I saw a lion fish! Spectacular coral of every color and shape you could imagine. Truly like a disney movie but real! Giant brain coral, huge orange fans, purple thorny star fish that must have been a foot wide!
Greg, who has been diving and snorkeling around the world, put it in his top three. In the WORLD!
I’ve sailed across an ocean now. Ok, it wasn’t the Pacific or the Atlantic, but I‘ve sailed across a sea. Ok, we mostly motored, but still.
I’ve floated above a mile of ocean below me. On the boat we’ve raced dolphins and listened to whale song. I’ve been amazed at the ever changing beauty around me, fascinated by the constant movement of the sea. My mind has been blown by the depth of space above me in the night sky. I’ve seen pristine reef with every color, texture, and shape of coral, where alien looking sea creatures make their homes. But really, what’s all this adventure without being shot at? So that’s what we did.
After the frenetic city atmosphere of Kupang, we were glad to be heading up the coast of Rote, looking for surfing waves a couple of Ausie expats had told us about. Greg wanted to teach me to surf (unlikely considering my lack of upper body strength and general clumsiness), but I thought I’d give it a go. The first night we anchored in a lovely and peaceful estuary with a very small village close by. The only sounds were gently lapping waves on the hull and bird song from the mangroves.
In the morning we continued North West, passing white beaches and an occasional very low profile resort here and there. After an all day sail we approached the lee side of a close by island to anchor. We hadn’t found the surfing waves, but thought in the morning we’d look around in the dingy.
It was a lovely anchorage with a fringe of white sandy beach, and a view of other pretty islands. Other than one large building, there was no sign of human life. I was just saying that this was my favorite anchorage so far, when two guys showed up on the beach and started waving their arms at us. Really, we didn’t pay too much attention to them, we didn't understand the language. Until a shot was fired.
I asked for the binoculars and saw two men in shorts with camo tops, rifle type weapons in their arms. Military? Drug runners? Security to guard some private enterprise on the island?? They obviously had no boat to come out to us. They didn’t respond to radio call.
And they weren’t giving up.
After more shouting and a couple more flying bullets we needed to make a decision about what to do. Greg was loath to leave; there was no where else to anchor and we were tired from the all day sail. Two more men arrived at the beach and I heard the high pitched hyena laugh that comes with young men in group mania (think that crazy cobra kai dude in The Karate Kid).
There was no point in staying. We upped anchor and started turning the boat around. Three more shots were fired and this time it seemed they were shooting AT us. The three of us ducked instinctively. Really, if they wanted to hit us they would have shot while we were hauling up anchor, but why keep shooting? We were leaving!!
Everybody is ok, and as far as we can tell the boat wasn't hit. We took off into the beautiful sunset, with good wind behind us, and made the two day sail to Rinca. We missed the surfing waves, but found a beautiful deserted anchorage with the best, most pristine reef I've ever seen.
Soon to come: Komodo, land of the dragon.
We were leaving Lizzard Island in a beautiful pink and gold sunrise, with good wind, when we noticed a bird in the upper shrouds. Greg said some birds like to hang out, and tried to shake her off so she wouldn't poop on us. Soon it became clear that the poor bird had her wing broken around the shroud. Just hanging there, helpless and suffering.
That was the day I found out my mother was dying.
Now, as I sit here in Darwin's harbor, the anchor lights from the other boats like a constelation in the darkness, I wonder at the timing of it all. You have your mother for your whole life, almost 45 years, then, the day you venture across the world she goes to the hospital and is told she has weeks, maybe months to live.
The stars light up the night sky and wink at me.
After a four and a half day passage, with almost no wind, we finally arrived in Indonesia! Visits from pods of dolphins, nice temps, and good company made the motoring easier. Worked on our turk's head knotted anklets. We're a tribe now.
Clearing into immigration and customs was quite a process! Everyone wants money and it's hard to know what's a bribe and what's a legitimate fee. Fixing Rocco (the autopilot), getting fuel delivered, visiting the ATM (last stop for cash), and visiting the night market, we walked and walked. And also got around by moped which was fun.
In what would be a fateful decision, we decided to alter our rout a little and head over to Roti for snorkeling and surfing, when we left in a few days.
After about a week in Darwin we prepared to leave for Indonesia. I wished I had had more time in Australia, but the country is huge, and Greg's visa was running out. We had to continue the journey.
After we set off we got what turned out to be a daily buzz from Australian Air Force flying above us asking by radio who we were, where we had come from, where we were going. Very polite, very efficient.
As soon as we left Australian waters all the fish we had been catching vanished. Greg said Indonesians make a practice of fishing with dynamite and huge nets which deplete the sea of fish. Alarming.
There was not a breath of wind for much of our four and a half day passage, so we motored a lot. Visits from dolphins and whales, and the sighting of an occasional sea snake, made things interesting.
I step up into the cockpit, trying not to lose my balance as the boat heels over. It's very dark, but as I turn towards starboard, gripping the rail in an attempt to not go flying, I feel my eyes widen at the sight in front of me. A mountain of water is moving away from the boat and has left a trough behind it, the boat leaning into it. The side rails go under as the boat sways sideways, pushed by the full sails, white moonlit foam flying by. My face breaks out into a grin! The wind rushes past my head creating a roar in my ears. I catch my breath as the boat rights itself smoothly, only to heal over again after the next giant wave rolls under us. We are speeding along at 9.3 knots, the moon is almost full and this is my fourth solo night watch.
It has been two weeks since I landed in Cairns, met Joe and Greg on CocoKai, and went sailing up the coast of Australia. The weather's been a bit dodgy, the Australians very nice, the stops brief, and the sailing intense for a novice like me. Our one Island stop was at Lizzard Island for a day and a half. Beautiful beach, no town, and stories of monster tiger and bull sharks in abundance (we jumped in anyway. Greg feigned shark attack as me and Joe laughed). Below: Lizard Island
The men had given me, what I considered, the easy shift: 9pm-midnight. I was nervous at first, on watch by myself. What if I steer us into a freighter? What if the wind changes suddenly and I don't know what to do? What if an unidentified submerged monster pops up on the radar?? But Greg is sleeping just a few feet away, and says I can wake him anytime.
If a ship is getting close shine your headlight into the mainsail so they know we're here, he says. That's it?!
The equipment is new to me: Autopilot (named Rocco), radar, chart plotter, GPS. Speed, depth, wind.. I cursed myself for not memorizing the meaning of navigation lights that I could see on other boats in the distance. The Great Barrier Reef in a shipping lane. On my first watch ever. Alone.
But I grew to love it. The Milky Way so bright it lit up the sails. Shooting stars and constellations that were new to me. The solitude and sounds of wind and waves. The smooth movement of the boat, slicing through the sea and healing with the wind.
And wind there was. We made quick work of the Coral Sea, racing up the coast of Queensland. Many days we sailed right on through the night, but one evening we wanted to stop and anchor. There wasn't a good choice for anchorage along the sparsely populated, and rather straight coastline, so we found a little sand bar and anchored on it. Seems kind of crazy now.
Along the way we got to know each other.
Joe was 62, a real estate professional from the bay area, prone to seasickness, into bodybuilding, and a very nice guy. He had a bit of fear of the sea and said he wasn't a very good swimmer. I was surprised that he wanted to crew on a sailboat knowing this, but admired his determination to learn. In the months that we sailed together Joe never lost his cheerful enthusiasm. He could, and would, eat anything I put in front of him and would bring me a blanket if I was cold. He had just gone through a divorce and seemed to very much enjoy being away from his regular life.
Greg had been sailing on Cocokai since 2006, when he and Jennifer had participated in the Baja Haha down the coast of Baja Mexico and kept going to circumnavigate. I saw pictures of their adventures in the South Pacific, and many other places, and knew that in the years since he had had the trip of a lifetime.
He seemed to know everything there was to know about boats including sailing, engineering, plumbing, electrical, and everything else.
And did I mention fishing? He could hook a fish easily, with just a line and a gaff. Along the coast of eastern Australia he caught many mackerel, wahoo and tuna. We grilled it, sautéed it, and ate it raw. Greg was also skilled with a knife, and could fillet like crazy.