Chugging up the South China Sea, or, 'Slow boat to China'?

Fri 10 Sep 2010 05:03
Friday, 10th September, Midday.
Last Anchorage 5:47.85S 110:20.46E P. Menyawaken, Karimunjawa Group.
Current Position 2:30.6S 108:19.3E
Which should show that we are of the NE coast of Belitung Island: a mysterious place that receives no mention in either the 'Lonely Planet', or my Cruising Pilot. I do have electronic charts of the area, but the detail is poor, and on balance I'm going to avoid it. So next stop is now the Riau Islands, either an anchorage in the south, or straight to the Marina at the North end of Batam Island: where I check out for Singapore. Some way yet, and this is a very long and rather tiresome leg. Firstly we are now in the 'transition period' between the Region's weather patterns: the Monsoons. So calms and squalls are the norm, and indeed what I have had to put up with for nearly a week now. Constant motoring, and a bit of concern now that the fuel will not last out: just a little extra to add to my anxiety list!! Between squalls there is not enough wind to sail, during each squall the wind rotates through 360 degrees over a period of an hour or so, blowing at 25 kts to start with, then easing away slowly. This makes it very difficult to hoist, reef ,and control the sails, so generally I don't bother, just use some forsail, which is easy to let out, when the wind is blowing from a favourable direction, and to stop us being blown off course too much. Horrid lumpy seas build quickly, and are or course slow to dissipate.
The squalls occur mainly at night, often with thunder and lightning, but none too severe yet, and touchwood! So I have become a nightshift worker, which is a little disorientating, and my kitchen timer works overtime to wake me at 30 min intervals. At dawn I sleep for several hours, weather permitting.The other interresting thing about the nightime is the appearance of fishing boats: often dozens are visible at any one time , lighting up the horizon with their brilliant illuminations, designed to stir up the nightlife, squid, prawns, and I guess fish as well. Some boats use multiple fluorescent tubes, dozens along each side of the decks, others use 3 or 4 huge and dazzling spotlights. Close to the effect is very odd. During the day the boats melt away, as daytime visibility is much reduced, but they remain at sea, the crews, like me, resting. It seems they stay out until their holds are full, or perhaps, given the temperatures out here, until the catch threatens to rot! It stands to reason that there is just as much risk of collision by day as by night, but when the night sea looks like ironed out christmas tree illuminations, it is difficult to ignore the threat. Fishing boats have right of way, of course, and you wouldn't want to argue with these things, wooden but substantial, about 40 feet long at a guess, and often with exaggerated prows annd sterns like Roman galleys. How they manage to fish through these thunderstorms I have no idea, for a while visibility is zero, so you have to make a note of where the ships are before the lights go out. For sure I get to see their bright lights before they would get to see mine, but I don't imagine that for one moment anyone is looking out for lone yachtsmen. I havn't seen another yacht since we left Bali. Most days are cloudy, but you still burn if you spent too long in the cockpit. I have taken down the bimini, as it rattles something aweful during the squalls
Refuelled at a posh 5 star resort in the Karimunjawa Islands, the Kura Kura Resort, (have a look on the internet), having almost given up trying to locate the place given the sketchy directions in the Pilot Book. The hotel owns the entire Island, so no problems with Local Officials, Vilage Headsmen, Harbourmasters, etc, and their staff were really helpful and kind, and I got a 'free' mooring for the night if I had supper at the restaurant: how do you refuse after three nights of thunderstorms? Plus, the 'local dish' menu option was just about affordable, and delicious: Thai Spring Rolls, but nothing like you get in Bromsgrove! Excellent Snorkelling as well, so a really successful stopover. Just wish I had had one more empty jerrycan for fuel available.
Other good news is that my imodium requirement has diminished very considerably: this means that the toilet roll stock is no longer under such tight control as the diesel supply.
Back to the grindstone then!