Through the Sunda Strait

Tue 10 May 2011 08:59
Tuesday, May 10th
Current Position, finally back on the Ocean!
Recent anchorage, P Peucang 6:45.1S 105:14.23E
The Sunda Strait is the narrow gap of sea between Java and Sumatra: the South China Sea sluices up and down it, mixing with the South Indian Ocean. It is also a major shipping route. For 'Fleck' it is the gateway to the open ocean after our long trip through South East Asia.
I left Jakarta at dawn on Sunday, keeping my fingers crossed on a falling tide as I crossed the shallows at the Marina entrance. But more than half a metre to spare! Took the 'Inner Channel' to the Strait entrance. It's only 40 miles, but I was distracted by some sailing wind half way, so hoisted the sails, sailed for 60 mins, then flat calm, and everything had to be put away again: lost a couple of hours in the process. Being Sunday the entire population of Jakarta seemed to be on the water, fishing, and the passage was quite convivial. I don't think that they ever see sailing yachts here. I havn't seen any yachts since Singapore. A the half way mark I was invaded by large black flies: like the ones we get in our homes in the autumn these days, but frisky. They seemed impervious to flyspray, and in the end I left them alone; after 48 hours they had all disappeared. Reached my anchorage (P Panjang) at dusk, and cooked supper and rested for an hour awaiting the tide down the Strait.The tides are diurnal: ie they ebb and flow for twelve hours at a time; so the aim is to get through the Strait on one tide. S--- Law was that tide for me would start at 8.30pm! The area has a bad reputation for unpredictable tide rips, squalls and so forth. At least my new 'Total Tide' computer program enabled me to find the expected tidal streams. The first part was busy: the whole Java shoreline is built up, and therefore illuminated, with a huge power station on the most prominent headland. This made it difficult to pick out the lights of the anchored shipping: I passed (sometimes quite closely!) a dozen or more tankers and freighters. Finally there were many ferries plying across between Java and Sumatra. As soon as they got into mid channel they were easy to spot, but against the shore lights: impossible! Another somewhat unexpected plaything was a headwind of up to 17 kts: probably an acceleration effect as the airstream moves into the gap between the islands. So, very busy to start with, and no chance to sleep off my supper. As the Strait widened the wind dropped and our speed improved. By dawn the next day we were back on schedule and reached P Peucang anchorage, at the end of the Strait, by midday, and on the very last of the outgoing tide. Strictly speaking I should not have anchored here, as I had already cleared out of the country. It seemed very quiet however, and I found a nice patch of clear sandy bottom, miles from anywhere, so down went the hook. After a snooze I spent the afternoon on little jobs, particularly sewing repairs to the sprayhood, which is badly feeling the effects of five years in the tropics. I had intended to leave after supper, but heavy eyelids got the better of me, and after a very restful night, I set off a dawn into the South Indian Oceam. A long time since I have 'enjoyed' an ocean swell, but it is very slight, and its good to find deep blue sea under the keel again, after the muddy green of southeast Asian waters.
The temperature in the cockpit is impossible during the day, even with the awnings erected all round it. I am sitting below, with an umbrella errected over the companionway, as a double sunstop, and all the cabin windows have reflecting silver foil over them. Still, plenty of power from the solar panel for this computer! Sitting outside in the shade causes sunburn after five mins or so, if I wear clothes they are drenched with sweat in minutes.I'm looking forward to five oclock when the sun starts to go down, its cooled off a bit, and there are some evening colours about.
Oh, and the wind. It has been kind so far, 7 to 9 kts is as expected very light, but the direction gives us a close fetch which just enables the sails to fill, and remain full as we roll about. The engine has been switched off for 6 hours now: he must be thinking that I don't love him anymore! We have this forecast for the next three days. If we could manage three continuous days sailing that would be wonderful, but improbable! It is going to be a trying time, but I realise what I do is merely shuffle my anxieties about: the boiling batteries are now bottom of the list, it's the chaffing sails, and the inadequate supplies of diesel that now crowd my little brain.
Looking back, my 'retreat' from Langkawi has not turned out badly. As I near the end of 'War and Peace', and I'll just repeat that: As I near the end of 'War and Peace', I realise once again what a lucky stroke of luck it is that I am me, and not for instance, one of Napoleon's soldiers trying in vain to find his way home, with his brass coatbuttons frozen to destruction.