Blog 38. Friday 19 July, Arafura Sea, heading for Debut.

David Batten
Mon 22 Jul 2019 09:20
Sunday, WW2 Heritage Tour. This was not a cheap tour, but very worth while doing. The Tour Guide was one of a couple who have made it their life’s work to restore the major features of the Allied Defence Forces occupation and the men and women who served there have had an opportunity to revisit the site and remember. Horne island was the second most bombed target, Darwin being the most bombed and its defence forces included the highest number of Torres Strait Islanders volunteers, all anxious to protect their islands.

JPEG image

One of the original guns, which has been restored and put back into position.

JPEG image

A slit trench, also restored

JPEG image

The biggest termite mound on the island, with our guide in the foreground to demonstrate its height

With many other members of the Wonderful Sail to Indonesia Rally being on the tour, the background chat was all about when to set sail to Debut, with the majority of boats leaving Monday or Tuesday. FOMO to the fore, we reviewed our plans for departure on Thursday and decided to see if we could check out tomorrow or Tuesday.

Monday, busy, busy, busy. Off to TI by ferry first thing Monday am and we were lucky enough to be able to check out all bar completing the form for reclaiming tax on fuel and purchases over $300. Skipper’s wife and Ship’s Boy hit the laundrette while the Skipper and Bill went to explore the possibility of filling one our European gas cylinders. No luck on that front. Back to the boat to top up the tanks with jerry cans ferried by foot and dinghy and then back to TI in the afternoon to complete check out, plus a last minute visit to IBIS, the supermarket and the very good butcher. Back to the boat for stowing, showering etc and then dinghy to Horn Island again for a farewell get together. We all have FOMO now and there is quite a fleet leaving tomorrow at about 8.00am to catch the tide and clear the shoals and shallow waters in the Torres Straight.

Being at sea has been a bit more eventful than usual. First of all, exiting the Torres Straight through the shallows and reefs to join the northern shipping lanes and relative safely. Most of our courses have been dead or nearly dead down wind, so the possibility of an involuntary gibe was a constant threat or we have to steer the angles and sail further. We had a cracking sail to start with and thanks to hand steering rather than using the auto helm, we made excellent progress, with only one involuntary gibe. All good until Wednesday evening supper time when we were passing a fishing vessel, we thought at a suitable distance, when the boat spun up to windward and stopped. We had run into a net. We did know that there were drift nets well offshore of Indonesia, but we did not see any of the fishing net lights in the rough seas and we were not tuned onto the need for constant searching for flashing lights, some at least 5 miles out from the mother ship.

This fishing boat had AIS, clearly obtained from a catamaran at some stage, as it was described as a “pleasure craft” with almost square dimensions. We tried in vain to call them up on channel 16 to no avail, we tried using a red hand held flare and we eventually put out a “Pan, Pan” call to elicit help. Only after a cargo ship heading our way intervened and spoke to the fishing vessel who had called the cargo ship up to warn them of the nets did we get any communication. The cargo vessel officer on watch explained that the fishing vessel did not have any English speakers on board, but insisted that the vessel respond to us. Once in touch with the fishing vessel, Hylite, another boat on the rally came to the rescue, as their skipper’s wife spoke some Indonesian and translated on our behalf. We were told that the fishing vessel would haul their nets in and sort us out at daybreak, so we might as well get some rest. As it happened, within about an hour, the fishing boat was heading straight for us, much to our alarm. Were they going to ram us or help us? In the event, they motored round us, threw us a line for us to attach one of our lines for a tow and towed us out without damage to the rudders. This was quite frankly a miracle and said much for the skill of the fishing boat skipper. Furthermore, when we pulled our rope back onto Alcedo, it had a sack of fish attached to it. The Skipper’s wife by then was trying out a few words in Indonesian on the radio to see if they could give us a safe passage out of the nets. We had already escaped from net only to get caught in this one and they appeared to be laid out in a series all around us. We failed to understand his reply. After a nerve wracking slow motor looking for flashing lights, white, to be avoided, neon blue and red, to be identified and approached with extreme caution to ascertain which side was clear of nets, we eventually motored clear.

JPEG image

Ship’s Boy lit up by the fishing vessel as it went by us to throw a tow rope. Ship’s Boy decided she would prefer to be in a gale round Cape Horn than in such close contact with an Indonesian fishing vessel.

Then followed 36 hours of constant vigil searching for and avoiding nets. We caught up Hylite and another yacht, Tuvalu and it was Tulavu who bravely went first between an armada of fishing boats and 2 slightly separated ones. We have none of us ever seen anything like the number of brightly lit vessels, possibly fishing for squid, apparently in a line and quite relentless in their business. We passed safely only to see a loom on the horizon that looked like the lights of a town, but turned out to be another armada. Luckily we passed well in front of this one.

So today we continue to keep a sharp lookout as we have been close to yet another net, requiring slow approach and big alteration of course to avoid it. We should reach Debut tomorrow all being well and barring any incidents.


Sent from my iPad