The Missing Boat - the 'Lapita Anuta' voyage so Far
Thu 4 Dec 2008 09:16
Last night at 10pm we crossed the Equator. Finally a beautiful night sail,
the sort you dream about, with the new moon over to the West and the
constellation Taurus and Pleiades to the East, sailing along at a sweet 3.5
knots on a calm sea. We drank some rum to the occasion and hoped that now we
had entered the Southern Hemisphere the weather would be nicer, a fresh
It has been a hard month since the launching in Panglao. As is usual with a
new boat the weather and sea Gods set out to test her and the new crew. We
certainly got a testing. That first night has been described before, it was
horrid, James and I had never experienced such rough, lumpy seas with such
relatively light wind before. With the decks like a skating rink with the
coating of coconut oil, the new sailrig and steering paddles, it gave us and
the boat the best testing we could have asked for, though it did leave
everyone shattered. It showed up every little problem that had to be solved
before setting off offshore.
On Lapita Anuta we had changed to the small mizzen early and had angled the
foremast leaning forward, which gave a better balance and made stresses on
steering paddles and the crew less. By morning we knew we had to make
harbour and reassess the boat and find out how Lapita Tikopia had fared. We
were able to sail due North straight to a wonderful little Philippine
fishing harbour called Luay on the South coast of Bohol. We sailed into the
river mouth and moored in flat water near many local fishing Bankas.
In Luay we started to make Anuta our home. We improved the sun awning with
shade netting extensions. We started cooking on deck as the tiny galley
below was too hot and dangerous with the temperamental primus stove. I
designed a 'cookbox' and sent the drawing to the boatyard, where two of
these were produced in record time. The box also has a storage compartment
for the dinghy outboard motor.
The crew on our boat were James (the 'Admiral'), myself (the 'skipper'),
Matt (freelance TV producer and now bearded, hard-working crew) and the
fourth was a Filipino scientist from Manila National Museum. He had been
invited to sail with us only the week before the launching Ceremony. Dr.
Eusebio Dizon (better known as Dr. Bong) is a highly respected underwater
archaeologist, who has written many papers on the ships found round the
Philippines. He is also an experienced field worker and though he had never
sailed before, made a wonderful crew on our boat. That first horrid night he
stayed calm and happy in spite of being doused in seawater in his bunk. Once
in Luay he quickly settled into our primitive boatlife, helped with the
sewing of the awing, was an expert at lighting the primus stove to make cups
of tea and got up in the early morning to arrange buckets to collect
While Matt and I travelled two days by bus to Panglao to help with work on
Lapita Tikopia, James and Bong had a continuous seminar, discussing seagoing
Mankind from thousands of years ago to the fascinating finds of ships
carrying Chinese ceramics from the 14th Century. We were sorry Bong had to
leave us after just one more nice day sail along the Bohol coast. That nice
daysail along the coast and the day after were the only nice sails for the
next two weeks.
Our attempt to reach the town of Surigoa on the North tip of Mindenao was a
huge struggle against contrary winds and current. After two days with
squalls and rain and getting close to the Mindenao East coast, we were
driven back by wind and current and it took us another 24 hours to reach the
little bay at Pintuan. It did give us a lot more experience in sail handling
and sail changes.
The only option to get round the North tip of Mindenao and through the
narrow straights was to find a tow, or we might have to wait weeks for a
favourable wind, for which we did not have the time.
In Surigao we arranged a tow by two Bankas (the double outrigger canoe of
the Philippines. The word Banka has the same root as Wanka, Waka, Vaka,
Va'a, all meaning boat/canoe in Polynesian languages.) We also devised a new
tightening system for the steering paddles, using a 'Spanish Windlass' along
the side of the cockpit. This has proved itself and allows us to pull the
lower part of the paddle in really tight, even at speed. This prevents
chafe, as soon as there is some slack in the rope it starts to chafe, but if
pulled up tight it does not.
Within a few hours of being released by the towing Banka into the Pacific
Ocean swell, we met our first squall to which we dropped all sail and lay
ahull, then a spell of hardly any wind and so it went on. After 24 hours one
rudder was suffering chafe and we made a new knot, the Spanish Windlass
worked well to retighten the system, by mid day on the second day we got a
really hard wind squall and again dropped all sail, the boat again drifted
beam on. We did some work on the rigging and as we were about the hoist sail
again, another worse squall came in, we tried to hoist our little storm
sail, but even that was too much, the rain beat down on fierce, rapidly
increasing waves with big white caps, so we lay ahull hoping it would
I checked the GPS position and found we had been set closer inshore by the
last squall and with this wind would not be able to clear the large reef off
the coast just to the South of us. We made a quick decision that the only
prudent move was to head straight West into Bislig Bay and find shelter.
Bislig Bay is like a 5Nm deep rectangle cut into the coast, we ran under
tiny stormsail before the Easterly wind with huge waves following. The
visibility was bad, rainqualls obscured the coast, but we could see the long
manmade harbour wall behind which we intended to anchor. We sailed into
shelter and dropped anchor by some little fishing Bankas.
It rained all night and next morning, we cooked food under the awning which
we had set really low over the deck and cookbox. A tot of rum cheered us up
and we were very pleased to be in shelter. At least all the water containers
were refilled by morning! We were worried about Klaus and Lapita Tikopia and
hoped they were South of the reef by the time the squall/gale came in. The
next morning we get the message that they had arrived safely, but exhausted
at our arranged meeting point further South.
We left Bislig Bay in the early afternoon (20/11) while the wind was blowing
from the West and the tidal current was favourable, still raining. That
following night the weather got better and we had a more peaceful sail, the
next day even better and we were able to air all the cabins and wet clothes.
Towards sunset we were close to the bay where Tikopia had sheltered. They
set off to join us on our way south.
Soon after they set sail we lost contact and we did not hear from them again
until we have arrived in Ternate nearly 400Nm later.
These 400Nm took us five and a half days non-stop, approx. 3 knots average
speed, we had very changeable weather with lots of rain and squalls and very
dark nights as the moon is now waning fast, it was hard and tiring sailing.
To our surprise we found we were the first to arrive in Ternate, a not very
glamorous town, with lots of little kids swimming a screaming round the boat
all day. We were glad to hear Lapita Tikopia was close by and to see her
sail in at sunset. They too had been very worried about their sister ship.
Now with a new crew we coasted down the West side of Halmahera and have
begun the long passage to West Papua. The schedule is still very tight!
A View From the Cockpit
In November there were a few times when I was tested. Two weeks ago a bad
day turned into a God awful night. The driving rain was falling so hard the
surface of the sea was white spray and it did not let up as night fell. We
got just a fleeting glimpse of the setting sun before the moonless night
fell. The wind that had been gusting up to force 7 during the day dropped
down to a 4-5, but we were still being hit from all angles by the 3m swell
and random chop that had built up after days of storms. During the day it
was exhilarating, fun even, steering the boat through the chop, surfing the
swell going your way and avoiding the white-capped waves threatening to
break over the boat. At night in the pitch black it was a different story. I
knew these tough catamarans would simply ride out the swell, but I was still
unnerved sitting there in the cockpit, your arse 80cm above the sea waiting
for the next unseen wave to swamp the cockpit. It was a night to brake out
the safety harness.
But for the time being we are in easier waters. Today we made it through the
currents whirlpools of Selat Patientie passage to the edge of the 'Spice
Islands'. The shocking weather and problems we had in the Philippines now
seem far away. For the time being Indonesia has brought us better fortune,
so we toast each new glorious sunset and keep our fingers crossed. We haven't
had it this good since the heady days of beers and bars on Alona Beach.