4 August 2012 - 19 November 2012
Fiji, Vanuatu, North Indispensable Reef (Solomon Islands), Louisiades (Papua New Guinea), Torres Strait (Australia), East Timor, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand
Written in Phuket Thailand, February, June, July, & August 2013
©2008 Brooks Palmer www.clutterbusting.com
How much stuff do we need? A question we constantly ask ourselves -- both in terms of our own required (or imaginatively required) items aboard, and those needed by the people we meet along our way. We feel an obligation (rightly so), to help those less fortunate than us. I don't say that condescendingly in the least. Living an upper middle-class life in the USA, surrounded by abundance, it's easy to forget how little so many people in the world have access to. But we don't believe we know better than those we visit. Just giving them our stuff doesn't mean their lives will be improved. We don't want to fall into the flawed roles of the past thinking charity without understanding will uplift the fallen. And who determines who the 'fallen' are? Yet I cringe at appearing selfish given our relative wealth. We've decided the best approach is to give to schools and medical clinics and we trade with everyone else.
We trade what we don't need, or believe others want. We trade for what they have to give. Or are they trading what they think we want? It can be a confusing business.
Do we need more stuff? Do the locals on this atoll? Or the millions of inhabitants of Singapore? The owners and crew of the 70-meter megayacht anchored next to us? And what do more possessions bring us? An abundance of joy? Or simply the heaviness of real and figurative weight?
We were scheduled to visit an abundance of countries during our voyage to Thailand. The weather in Southeast Asia is based on the two monsoon seasons: Northeast and Southwest. That's the direction from which the wind blows. The Southwest monsoon (June through September) is wet. The Northeast monsoon (November through March) less so. The transition months between the monsoons are marked by heavy thunderstorms, especially in late November and December. To benefit from the winds and avoid the worst weather, we wanted to be in Thailand by the beginning of November.
No more lazing around the tropics; we had 6,000 miles to sail in 3 months. But we were determined to experience as much as possible of the many countries we'd be travelling through.
On 4th August 2012, we set sail from Fiji, having spent time in the fancy malls of Suva as well the seemingly ignored atolls of the Lau. Now we were headed to where there were not only no malls, but hardly any stuff at all.
A new country. A new people. A new language.
Most people probably haven't heard of the Republic of Vanuatu. It's a nation comprised of 83 islands spread between New Caledonia to the south and the Solomon Islands to the north. It was managed by both France and England (when it was called New Hebrides) until it gained independence in 1980.
After 4 days at sea, we arrived at Aneityum
It was clear immediately upon our arrival that we were in a different island nation.
Different styles of houses and boats.
The official languages of Vanuatu are French, English, and Bislama which is a creole:
a language created by mixing two parent languages. Most of Bislama comes from English.
Gudfala is "good fella" & means "especially good". Toilet pepa is obvious. Blong Yumi means "our" (belong you me)
Just off of Aneityum is tiny Mystery Island. Every month or two a cruise ship anchors in
the bay and thousands of passengers spend a day on this tiny atoll. They aren't allowed
on the island of Aneityum. These visits are the main source of income for the islanders... and very profitable.
In preparation for a ship's arrival, the beach
is raked -- can't have bits of coral creating
ADR messes up the beach.
Why do tourists always have to take photos
like this? It's pretty damn silly. Besides the
ridiculousness of the obvious stereotype,
cultures that practiced cannibalism didn't
have the technology to make big metal pots...
Everything ready for the cruise ship. On the day it arrives, this very long hut will be
stuffed with souvenirs.
For all the strangeness of Mystery Island, it is a beautiful place.
We spent just two days at Aneityum because the place we really wanted to visit was only a day's sail away.
says ADR: Aneityum
TANNA, MAKING NEW STUFF
The island of Tanna, 40 miles north of Aneityum, is the location of one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world: Mt. Yasur.
Longtime readers of Migrations know that we love volcanoes. We've climbed or visited active volcanoes in Guatemala (#6), Ecuador (#8), and New Zealand (#17). But what we'd heard and seen of Mt. Yasur had us looking forward to this visit for years.
On our way to Tanna, Alene coated all the
stainless on the boat with metal wax to
protect it from the volcano... just in case.
Approaching Tanna. See the volcano's plume?!
We anchored in Port Resolution on the east side of Tanna. It was named for his ship by Captain Cook in 1774. He was the first European to visit the island having been attracted to it by the glow of Mt. Yasur.
Upon arrival we immediately had visitors
out for trading. They offered papayas in trade for
repairing their shoes (which we did with some
strong glue we had aboard).
In the cool of the morning, the steam vents
around the anchorage added to our excitement.
We went ashore to the village of Ireupuow. Definitely not a lot of stuff here. It was surprising given the number of sailboats that come through. There is some tourism: a very tiny restaurant and a few bungalows near the beach. Everyone lives simply. They were very kind people and enjoyed teaching us the words to their local language. Nearly everyone is trilingual: speaking Bislama, French, or English, and their native language which may not be be understood in a village only a few miles away. Vanuatu is considered to have the highest density of languages per capita in the world, with an average of only about 2,000 speakers for each indigenous language.
Some of the houses in Ireupuow village at Port Resolution. Notice the deck hatch
from a boat used as a window in the lower right photo.
Which piglet thinks he's the top dog?
No matter how hard I try, I can't get the
proper Vanuatu tam-tam (totem) posture.
An old Singer sewing machine still working hard in the village.
Very cute kids. Notice the one on the left is holding a knife.
PLIS NOMO KATEM FLAWA OKAY?
EYES ON BUT HANDS OFF.
TANAK ASOR. (Thank you.)
Pumice on the beach; there are signs of
volcanic activity everywhere.
A small front came through our second night in Port Resolution. There wasn't much wind but the front was enough to swing what there was around in a complete circle. Which meant that for part of the night the ash was blowing directly from the volcano toward Port Resolution and Migration.
It took three hours of dipping buckets in the sea and running the saltwater washdown pump to get rid of most of the ash. But we
were still finding it in corners three months later.
That evening we'd made reservations with the locals to hire a truck to take us and several other cruisers up to Mt. Yasur. The weather didn't look great but we were assured that it would be fine. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
Not only was there very little volcanic activity,
but the summit was completely fogged
in and we couldn't see a thing.
Our disappointment was extreme (see my face above). We were pressured to keep moving toward Thailand but we just couldn't leave Tanna without seeing the volcano. We decided to wait until conditions improved. It was a great decision as we had two excellent days of other types of adventures.
Kids with no stuff, except a dilapidated mooring buoy. We gave them spinning rides
with our dinghy.
Using Plover to make a mooring merry-go-round.
We, and the other cruisers, were invited to a circumcision ceremony the following day. The people on Tanna are known for keeping the old customs and this ceremony is one of them. When boys reach 10 years of age they are circumcised (often with a stone knife). Afterwards they spend one month living in the forest away from their mothers. This is when the men of the village share the stories and knowledge of the village. After the month is up, they return to a big celebration. This is the ceremony we were invited to.
Preparations to feed lots of people.
The procession into the village.
The three boys on the left are returning to
the village after a month away. The older boy
on the right is part of the ceremony because
he had just begun shaving. (photo by s/v Tenaya)
Guests from neighboring villages brought
great piles of food as gifts -- especially taro.
The yachties bunched together to watch the
Part of the ceremony consisted of these
people dancing in a circle.
Everyone was in a good mood.
Except maybe the cow that was sacrificed. We were given hunks of meat (that had
been a cow an hour before) as departure gifts.
We'd been told in advance that we should bring a gift for the boys. We brought fishing
gear, sunglasses, and baseball hats. Everyone waited in line to lay their gifts in the
pile, congratulate the boys, and greet the village chief. (right photo by s/v Tenaya)
After the ceremony we all ate (good food!) and then there was singing and dancing. The photo on the left is of the
people from the John Frum village that is not too far away. We didn't have a chance to visit but you can Google it to learn
about another fascinating aspect of Tanna.
John Frum singers and a view of many of the attendees.
The next day dawned bright and clear;
Mt. Yasur was calling!
Excited at the entrance!
This sign displays the various levels
of volcanic activity. Level 1: Normal activity,
approaching the crater may be dangerous.
The road up to the crater. Notice the steam
vents up ahead.
From the jungle to this.
As we ascend, I am considerably happier
than last time.
And suddenly, there we were!
It... was... awesome! Oh, how fantastic and frightening. We walked to a point without many people and just stared for a several minutes. There is nothing for a long time, then steam and smoke and ash... and BOOM! a great explosion with flying lava!
The south ridge of the crater.
Mt. Yasur eruptions during the day.
After a while we walked along the crater's rim to the south side. It's a very thin ridge; on the outside you tumble down a thousand feet into the jungle. Slip inwards, and you slide all the way to the bottom of the crater. But it was worth it. From here we could see right down to the actual hole at the bottom of the crater. This is where the earth is making new stuff: molten rock is ejected high into the air... sometimes above our heads. We heard guides warn you not to run away from a big eruption. Rather, watch where the lava boulders are coming down and then run.
We stayed until the sun went down... our knees shaking with each eruption.
These photographs say it all
Actually, this video says it all! Watch it.
Visiting Mt. Yasur was definitely one of the most exciting things either of us has ever done. If you ever go to Vanuatu, you must see it. We could have gone back every day for a week, but we had a schedule to keep (that sounds so strange!) so we upped anchor and continued on.
Our farewell view of Mt. Yasur as we sailed away. Just the day before, we were standing up on that rim!
PORT VILA: CROISSANTS ARE IMPORTANT STUFF
The capital of Vanuatu is Port Vila on the island of Efate. We covered the 135 miles from Port Resolution to Port Vila on a fine overnight sail with the wind at our backs.
Before independence, Vanuatu was one of the few examples of a condominium government that worked. A condominium used in this sense means an undivided political territory that is governed by two or more nations. As the New Hebrides, the islands were administered by France and Great Britain from 1906 until independence in 1980. Port Vila shows a good deal of French influence.
We benefited from Alene's fine French language
skills in Port Vila.
We last saw the Bali Hai supply ship in Nuku'alofa,
Tonga in 2010.
Though the largest city in Vanuatu, Port Vila isn't huge -- only about 50,000 residents. It is the main
port of the country and an important provisioning stop for sailboats.
We were so happy to find pamplemousse in the market. We hadn't eaten good pamplemousse for
years -- not since French Polynesia.
Love those tropical flowers.
This was the first place we found lettuce strung on long thin reeds. All that lettuce
was only about US$1.00!
We had a list of chores to do -- like checking things
at the top of the mast. While I worked hard, ADR
was chatted up by passing yachties.
We made time to see some of the great Ni-Vanuatu art. Ni-Vanuatu refers to the peoples of Vanuatu
-- from the French "née Vanuatu". It is also used as the adjective to describe their art and customs.
We took advantage of the French influence:
morning cafe au lait and pain au chocolate.
Alene has had an interesting project involving the police over the last few years. Turns out police officers like to trade patches with other departments all over the world. So, at the request of the police chief in her hometown in Ohio, she's been visiting police stations to trade Glendale, Ohio patches for patches from... wherever.
It's a great way to meet people. The police are always so friendly. We assume it's nice to have foreigners walk into their office with nothing to complain about.
The police patches from Glendale, Ohio were a big hit.
Sailing through Vanuatu
ZERO LAND, ZERO STUFF
We could have spent a year exploring Vanuatu, but after only 12 days in the country, we sailed northwest, again with the southeast trade winds at our back. It was fine sailing.
A nice tuna on the line. A thoughtful shark decided
to taste it for us.
In this part of the world we hardly ever saw a ship.
So what were the chances that this large fishing
boat should be dead in the water directly in front
of us. If we hadn't changed course we would have
Our log for this passage was filled with comments like "Gorgeous sailing DDW wing & wing all day" and "Divine sailing, still wing & wing." In just under four days we'd covered 600 miles and found ourselves at our next destination: North Indispensable Reef.
There are three Indispensable Reefs (South, Middle, and North). We had decided stop there because they weren't far out of our way and, as readers of Migrations know, we have an affection for uninhabited reefs. The Indispensables are the southernmost part of the Solomon Islands. There is no land; they are just submerged coral atolls (like Minerva Reefs).
Having no accurate chart, we were originally misled by the Google Earth image of North Indispensable which showed what looked like a pass on the south side. Approaching it slowly during our morning arrival, the breakers announced that there was no pass at all. We sailed to the west end and very carefully worked our way in, anchoring in the indentation just south of the pass.
What looks like a large pass on the south side of
North Indispensible Reef is just missing data from
the Google Earth photo. We entered via the pass to the East.
You can make out the inside of the reef if you
click to view the large size of this image.
We'd expected fantastic snorkeling in such a remote location, but were surprised that the coral was in such poor shape. That evening we were happy to be anchored safely as a front came through and the reef provided us adequate protection.
The next morning we left the same way we came -- very carefully -- and continued west toward Papua New Guinea.
The weather had deteriorated and, though it wasn't
too stormy, it was rainy with many squalls.
All those thunderstorms made for less-than-ideal conditions. Lots of sail changes
were required as we approached the Louisiades Archipelago. Diligence in navigating
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: LAND OF LITTLE STUFF
LOUISIADE ARCHIPELAGO STUFF-O-METER: 10%
Papua New Guinea is comprised of the eastern half of the large island of New Guinea (the western half is Indonesia) plus over 600 islands scattered to the north and east. The Louisiades are an archipelago extending southeast from the mainland -- 200 miles of islands, reefs, and lagoons. Papua New Guinea (or PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries with over 800 local languages. The majority (80%) of its population of 7 million live in rural areas.
The Louisiades are rural. No supply ships visit. Farming and fishing provide food. Though there are some outboard-powered boats, locals also move between islands by traditional outrigger sailing canoe. This is a land of very little stuff.
The Louisiade Archipelago is just under and to the left of
the words "Solomon Islands".
Our entrance into the Louisiades wasn't the easiest. We weren't completely confident in the accuracy of our charts and the weather was unsettled with thunderstorms making visibility poor -- not great conditions in an area with numerous reefs. Because of this, we diverted from our original destination (a tight reef entrance) and made for Bagaman Island which had a wide-open bay with easier anchoring.
The day after our arrival the weather cleared.
Bagaman was beautiful.
Because the people of this part of the world have so little, they are very keen to trade with passing boats. We had been informed by other cruisers that the desire to trade can be off-putting at times because there are always canoes hovering around the boat. We were happy to hear this as our goal was to do a lot of trading. Since we would be emptying Migration of all of her contents when we arrived in Thailand (in preparation for her refit), the more stuff we could get rid of, the better.
We had visitors almost immediately.
Examining the woodcarvings and trying on glasses.
Our first full day of trading was incredibly busy. We didn't even have time for lunch. There was a
constant stream of visitors; most whom we invited aboard and offered juice and cookies.
The next day we called a halt to the trading so we could get some work done on Migration and also make a visit ashore.
Canoes and sailing outriggers are the main form of transportation.
We'd heard that there was malaria here so, for the first time ever, we wore long sleeves,
trousers, and socks. It was very uncomfortable.
Traditional houses built on stilts and the school sign. The motto is a bit of a downer.
FACES OF BAGAMAN ISLAND
STUFF FOR STUFF
After some exploring on shore, we resumed trading. It was very intense and, at times, difficult. The locals didn't always say what they needed... though they needed almost everything. Never had we met people who had so little. Wood carvers came with their carvings, others came with woven bags or bagi necklaces made of cut and polished coral. Still others came with fruit or vegetables. If they had little, they brought little -- perhaps two small tomatoes and a single chicken egg. We had so much to give away but we also wanted to be fair. We longed to have some innate wisdom that would tell us what was mutually and culturally acceptable. We did our best and muddled through. Eventually, because our days were completely dominated by the trading, we stopped inviting people aboard as it just took too long. We had food, clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, and a mélange of scores of other items to trade. The children's clothes were much appreciated as well as fishing gear and tea. Batteries for flashlights were in great demand as there is no electricity. But even an empty peanut can would be made good use of. Our school and medical supplies were donated to the clinic and school.
The trading continued. If the children asked for candy, we asked them to sing a song in exchange.
One of the locals we met was Taben
who was visiting from the neighboring
island of Pana Umala. He invited us to visit,
so we did.
After 3 days at Bagaman we sailed an hour and a half to Pana Umala. The trade winds were blowing hard. The anchorage was protected from the seas but the gusts came fast through a saddle ridge on the island.
We went to Pana Umala because we'd made a very important trading deal. Aboard Migration we were still carrying the original sails she came with 22 years ago. Also the wire rigging that we'd replaced in New Zealand, plus various lines and ropes no longer needed. We'd been hauling them around the Pacific for years waiting to find the perfect place to get rid of them. And this was it. Taben's brother owned one of the bigger sailing canoes. Sail cloth, wire, and line are all incredibly useful here... and practically impossible to get. We made a deal with Taben that he could have everything in exchange for 3 things: some fruits and vegetables, a dance, and a ride on his brother's sailing canoe.
The sailing canoe approaches. The crew was impressive; doing an excellent job dropping the sail
and drifting alongside Migration.
Off we go! As we cleared the anchorage the wind picked up.
Woohoo! We were flying. The boat creaked and flexed as the water streamed past, but the
ride was surprisingly smooth and dry.
A lot of muscle is required to steer and handle the sail.
It takes at least 4 men to sail one of these. Changing direction is a fascinating operation. These canoes are proas which means one hull -- the canoe -- is big and the other -- the outrigger -- is small. The outrigger is always to windward so to tack the crew must move the boom from one end of the boat to the other while the helmsman moves the steering paddle. The angle of the mast is changed and off you go in the opposite direction with the bow now the stern and vice-versa.
It seems to be a requirement to have a couple of boys along to bail. They were busy.
We were having a great time and the crew was enjoying showing off in the high
winds. Unfortunately they pushed a little too hard and the steering paddle broke
(see video below). Our sail was cut short.
What a great experience!
Back aboard Migration. There's the crew --Taben, Frank, Sota, Gulaia, Raymond, Alfred, & Moses --
happy with the sails, lines, and rigging they'd earned.
We spent three days at Pana Umala. It was a nice place. Everyone was friendly and, being smaller and less-visited than Bagaman, the inter-village politics didn't seem so disruptive.
Kids followed us everywhere we went. We gave them
The school here had a more positive slogan:
Striving for Betterness!
Pana Umala wood carver.
Notice how clean the village is.
On this shack was a notice from the tax collector. We thought it was amazing that the government
would collect taxes from people who had so little.
When we were back on the boat, the trading continued.
Enjoying the fruits of our trades: drinking coconuts, some kind of leaf which was delicious sautéed (we never did find out what it was),
and fresh papaya and bananas.
A sailing rally (a group of boats travelling together) was coming to visit this area in a few weeks. It was a big event for the village and the children were practicing their dance performance. Since part of our deal was to see a dance, we attended the full-on dress rehearsal.
The kids were very excited and we were happy to be their audience. We took lots of photos and videos of the performance. Afterwards, we brought in our portable generator and video projector so they could see themselves. Most had never seen a movie on a big screen, or a moving image of themselves. It was a big hit with lots of laughter.
While we waited for it to get a little darker, I
entertained the kids with some music.
The kids' mothers were especially happy with the video.
It's not the most exciting dance, but the costumes are interesting.
We'd gotten peopled out, so after a few days we moved north a mile to a lagoon surrounded by uninhabited islands. The Blue Lagoon gave us a little peace and quiet and some nice hiking and snorkeling.
Taben hadn't had a chance to deliver the fruits and vegetables he'd promised so he paddled two miles in the rain to keep his word to us. We invited him and his friend, a fellow woodcarver, to stay for dinner and sleep overnight so they didn't have to paddle back in the dark. I gave them each one of my wood chisels. I knew I could easily buy more; but here, these tools are highly prized.
After only 10 days, we pulled up the anchor and began the long sail out of the reefs of the Louisiades. It had been an enlightening -- and exhausting -- experience.
Sailing through the Louisiades
During the next three days of sailing south of Papua New Guinea, we never saw the 'mainland'. The skies were overcast and we had occasional rain squalls. But the wind was at our backs and we made good time.
Sailing from the Louisiades to Torres Strait.
GOOD BYE, PACIFIC
The Torres Strait is the (relatively) narrow passage between Papua New Guinea and Australia. Shallow and dotted with hundreds of islands, it has ripping currents and a fair bit of ship traffic. The shipping channel starts in the northeast of the strait and exits nearly 200 miles later to the southwest. It takes some time to transit the strait. We'd been hearing negative reports from other cruisers who had poor experiences with Australian authorities: high fees and bureaucratic headaches. Fortunately, Australia allows one to anchor in the Torres Strait without checking into the country -- as long as you don't leave the boat.
We entered the strait at the upper right and exited at the lower left.
A few days after leaving the Louisiades,
the foot and leech of our jib began to come
unstitched. Pretty upsetting since we bought
this sail new from North Sails NZ in 2010.
Read more here about our experience with,
and opinion of, North Sails.
We removed the jib and used our gale sail
for the next few days.
Every day Alene stitched while I sailed. At night we anchored behind an island. It was
nice to sleep and not have to stand watch.
About this time the big bunch of bananas from
Taben started going ripe. Alene was busy baking
Ships passing in the strait.
It was windy on the fourth day so we sought
shelter behind Tuesday Island in order to
hoist the jib. The current was ripping.
Here is our speed while anchored... 3.5 knots!
The jib restitched and back on.
Through the Torres Strait
With the jib repaired, we sailed the last few miles to exit the Torres Strait and enter the Arafura Sea. This felt momentous. After 7½ years sailing the Pacific, we were saying goodbye. Although it's not actually clear where the Pacific Ocean ends and the Indian Ocean begins (various sources put it at different locations), the obvious delineation at the west side of Torres Strait made sense to us.
More importantly, with Papua New Guinea, the islands of the Torres Strait, and the continent of Australia blocking the trade wind-induced swells from the east, the water was flat, the wind was fair, and the sailing superb.
We'd forgotten how delightful long passages
can be when conditions are perfect.
Hello, Indian Ocean!
A NEW NEW COUNTRY
EAST TIMOR STUFF-O-METER: 25%
Timor-Leste (East Timor) can be considered one of the newest countries in the world. It was ruled by Portugal for centuries until 1975. However, after independence was declared, Indonesia invaded and a violent and brutal occupation lasted for 25 years. (Sadly, the Indonesian invasion was accomplished with military and political support from the United States.) The UN eventually sent peace-keeping forces in 1999 and independence was restored in 2002. However, over 100,000 had died and the country's infrastructure was destroyed. The UN, many countries, and dozens of NGOs have provided aid and the country is slowly recovering.
After a week of mostly fine sailing through
the Arafura Sea, we approach Timor-Leste.
We found some excelleent snorkeling at Jaco Island off the eastern point of the country.
The first people we met in East Timor (at
Jaco Island) were some Korean aid workers
having a picnic.
Alene with our very small Timor-Leste flag.
We sailed on to Dili, the capital. It's a ramshackle place. The aid organizations
make for some interesting signs.
After over a month away from any town or city, we could finally get rid of our trash.
Not too much stuff for 33 days. We also reveled in the availability of fresh produce.
And ice cream, too! Note the name: Dung Dung!
(I'm eating it under the crocodile clock).
Bananas for sale. They also make
nice wall decorations.
Life in Dili.
Alene traded patches with a large contingent
of the Dili Police Force.
We only stayed a couple of days in Dili. Saw a few sites, shopped for fresh foods, got pick-pocketed, and dealt with checking in and out.
INDONESIA STUFF-O-METER: 20-60%
The island of Timor is divided in half. The east half is, of course, East Timor (Timor-Leste). The west half is part of Indonesia. We left Dili and sailed overnight along the north coast to the city of Kupang. As our first stop in Indonesia this is where we had to clear in to the country. Given the Indonesian regulations, this can be quite complicated and practically impossible to do by yourself. We had already arranged for our Cruising Permit (CAIT), but we hired a local agent to handle the actual paperwork with customs, immigration, and health.
Kupang has about 400,000 people. A busy, noisy city on the outskirts of Indonesia.
Our agent, Napa, arrives with paperwork in hand.
We had a lot to do. Provision, fuel, get money, clear in, find a
SIM for our phone, learn some Indonesian and, of course, eat!
We LOVE the Pacific islands. We were missing them already. But Pacific Island cuisine is not the best in the world. In fact, since leaving Mexico, we haven't encountered any outstanding cuisines. Of course, there are a few excellent dishes in the Pacific -- poisson cru, for example -- but most of the food is forgettable. And neither is New Zealand high on our culinary list.
But now we were in Asia!
Every afternoon this street is closed off and
the food stands roll out in preparation for the
night market where all the locals come to eat.
Indonesian food is fantastic.
The Indonesian rupiah has an exchange
rate of 10,000 to $1 US dollar.
says ADR: Kupang
SCENES OF KUPANG
No, not a steam punk cycle. Those are rebar
anchors on the back. Do not tailgate.
Indonesians are serious about their rice, chilies, and dried fish.
Cute kids at the market, a visit to the police, and friendly people everywhere wanting to practice a few words of English.
Our dinghy launching crew complete with
musical accompaniment (note the toy guitar).
We've visited many countries and seen many levels of poverty. What is poor? The dictionary defines it as "having little or no money, goods, or other means of support." We've met many islanders who meet or nearly meet that definition. They certainly had little money and goods. However, they supported themselves by growing food and fishing. They built their homes from local materials. They were not hungry. And they didn't seem deprived of what people need to live without distress.
But Indonesia (and East Timor) were different. Kupang had some very poor people living in very poor conditions. The houses we walked between on the way from the beach to the street felt as though deprivation lived in every room. Still, the one-legged man who guarded our dinghy always had a smile (and remarkably, was very efficient at helping us pull the dinghy ashore). The children followed us and laughed and loved to have their picture taken.
This is all to say... what? That people can put up with a lot -- or without a lot -- and still smile. Having few possessions on a Pacific island is very different than urban living when you are truly poor.
We left Kupang after only 2 days -- glad for the experience and thankful that we don't live there.
DRAGONS! (and Dregs)
250 nautical miles west-northwest of Kupang is a place that we'd heard of all our lives. You have, too.
Komodo. Home of the Komodo dragon. We were going there. We'd known we were going there for months. But now, we were just days away. It was very exciting.
No, it's not a wicker man on a raft, it's a
floating fish attractor used by fishermen
to, yep, attract fish. Either that or it is an
unlit sailboat obstacle.
Yes. That is definitely what it is.
Some fine sailing (and a bit of motoring) brought us to a dawn arrival at the south end of
Rinca (pronounced Rin-cha), one of the two main islands that make up Komodo National Park.
As we approached the anchorage we noticed
something on the beach. Could it be? We
jumped into the dinghy and rowed closer.
Yes, it was! A 2.5 meter dragon sitting on the beach.
It was so exciting to arrive and immediately spot a dragon. We'd seen many photographs of them. And plenty of nature documentaries. But there was one just 15 meters away from us. The only part we didn't enjoy was the trash. Notice how much you can see in the photo above. The whole shore was covered. This was our first taste of what would be a common sight throughout our travels in Asia.
By the way, if you aren't familiar with the Komodo dragon, it is the largest species of lizard in the world growing up to 3 meters long (10 ft.). They are carnivorous and sometimes hunt as a group, attacking deer and water buffalo. They don't usually attack people but it has happened.
The big dragon wandered away and then this little
1 meter-long youngster came walking down the beach.
After they both left, we felt it was safe
to go ashore.
We climbed a steep cliff on the point overlooking the anchorage. We felt safe way up here.
Then Alene saw this. What the national park rangers
later identified as... dragon poop.
Guess we weren't that safe.
We spied another dragon on the opposite beach. We were getting a little nervous so we headed
back to the dinghy.
Hurray! We're almost back and we aren't
We sailed against the currents to the island of Komodo. The next day was my birthday. What a great place to celebrate.
First we hitched a ride to the ranger station to pay our park fees and arrange some guided walks --
you are not allowed to hike without a guide in the national park due to the danger from the dragons.
An interesting ride for a number of reasons. These boats all run on single-cylinder diesel engines
which can be heard from very far away. You'll hear it in the video. Also, check out the cute little
wheel. This was on my birthday which is a clue to what I'm saying...
Then we went snorkeling at Pink Beach. We had no idea the snorkeling would be so spectacular!
We anchored Migration closer to the park headquarters and then dinghied in for our afternoon walk.
No reason to be worried about the dragons...
the rangers carry forked sticks like this one.
That dragon doesn't seem to care that
it's my birthday.
Oh, yes it did. He had a celebratory drink.
Sorry about the strange man who blocks the view near the end.
There's more than just dragons on the island. I'd hate to be a deer on Komodo...
Komodo was striking with the same stark beauty of Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.
That evening we had a champagne and birthday cake get-together with the one other boat that was
anchored nearby. What a great birthday.
Early the next morning we set off with our guide for a hike across the island.
No, it doesn't say "DANGER", it
Because the guide is carrying a stick, we felt
confident enough to pet a dragon.
Beautiful snails in the trees.
We hiked high up into the hills. It was hot and dusty but very interesting. That's Migration just
past the ridge in the left photo.
Our guide gave us a parting gift -- a dragon's tooth!
From the eastern side of Komodo we hired a boat
to take us back to Migration.
We found incredibly clear water and strong currents on our way back.
As soon as we returned, we left Komodo Island and motor-sailed with ripping currents to Gili Lawa Laut at the northern end of the island group. We spent a couple of days there doing some awesome diving... truly fantastic.
says ADR: Gili Lawa Laut
Komodo is an incredible place. We could have stayed a month instead of only 6 days.
We hated to leave.
Our track through Komodo.
BALI: ANCIENT & ARTISTIC STUFF
Indonesia is an enormous country; an archipelago of over 17,500 islands straddling the equator and stretching across 3,000 miles. As the world's fourth most populous country, it also has the largest Muslim population: 87% of Indonesians follow Islam.
Nearly in the center of this vast country is the small island of Bali, an enclave of Hinduism and a trove of ancient arts and culture.
Bali lies nearly in the middle of the long east/west stretch of Indonesian islands.
In hopes of finding wind, we made the decision to sail in the Indian Ocean along the south coast of the island of Sumbawa rather than through the Flores and Java Seas to the north. Unfortunately, we found strong currents and only some wind. Two days of mixed motoring and sailing brought us to Bali where we anchored in the far south off of Serangan Island. It was certainly not the most beautiful anchorage we'd been in, but we hadn't come for the ocean views.
We'd met cruisers who hated Bali. Don't bother, they said. But Alene had been here years before and loved it. I had heard so much about the culture and art. What was to hate? On the the southwest coast of Bali is the tourist district of Kuta. This is where some of the cruisers had spent their time. That equates to judging the Hawaiian Islands after a visit to Waikiki. We went ashore excited by what we'd find.
We found religion. The Balinese incorporate their religious beliefs in so many aspects of their lives. From an altar in a supermarket to
simple woven spirit offerings on the pavement outside a store or home.
Bali felt exotic. Everything was interesting. The baskets containing live chickens and the towering decorated bamboo poles called penjor.
What I loved about Bali is that everywhere I looked I found art. Down a side street. On the sidewalk. The roofs of the buildings. The place had an awareness of aesthetics that permeated everything. It was beautiful and inspiring.
Beauty was also to be found in the shops.
Even the little boats were artistic.
We hired a car and driver so we could visit Ubud, one of the art and culture centers of the island.
Lunch with our driver, Ketut.
Ubud was surprisingly nice given how many tourists visit. The highlight for me was walking in the beautiful rice paddies surrounding the town.
Gorgeous greens and the serenity of flowing water. The light in the afternoon was magic.
Even the ducks thought so.
"He's taking our photo, you know."
"Yes, they all do. We are so beautiful."
We attended a traditional Balinese dance performance with gamelan orchestra. Fascinating... though I wouldn't want to go every day. The atonal nature of the music makes it an acquired taste.
We also attended a wayang (shadow puppet) performance.
We had anchored next to a daytripper beach and the small villages on Serangan Island. Though there's a good bit of tourist traffic, life in the villages seemed unaffected. It was interesting to see 'normal' life in Bali.
Gathering at sunset to flirt.
That's a bicycle under those bags.
Odd art on a cart.
Alene had two very successful visits with the police.
While buying chicken satay at a street stand, Alene met Nyoman, a nice woman who spoke English. She invited us to her home and we met her entire family. The next day we went back for dinner. Since Nyoman was the only one who spoke English, conversation with the rest of the family was limited.
Notice the altar in the middle of the house.
We continued our exploration by car. So much to see...
Pura Luhur Batukau; one of the oldest temples in Bali.
We drove a wildly potholed road to world-famous Jatiluwih. The beauty of the rice fields and terraces was so alluring.
The rice fields of Jatiluwih.
says ADR: Touring Bali
We rented a motorbike one day to run some errands. That was an exciting experience -- dealing with the amazing traffic was a bit like being in a video game. The most interesting part was that no one honked. In Kupang it seemed to be a requirement to lay on your horn at any opportunity. In Bali, the serenity of the culture and environment seemed to pervade even the driving habits.
Again we tore ourselves away from a place we longed to stay. After only 5 days, we headed north.
Picturesque views along the coast of Bali...
GILI AIR & LOMBOK
Just 25 miles to the east of Bali is the island of Lombok, a developing tourist destination known for many of its traditional crafts -- wood working, pottery, and weaving. As in many other parts of Indonesia, resources are stretched due to the population, and many people live in poverty, though it wasn't evident to us during our short visit.
Just off Lombok's coast are three small tourist-destination islands. Alene had visited Gili Trawangan 23 years ago. It was a backpacker party stop then and still is now. We bypassed it and anchored off of Gili Air.
Sailing past the scene of her youthful adventures
at Gili Trewangan.
Scenes from Gili Air.
Gili Air was a bit too touristy for us (though you can't tell from the above photos), so we headed over to Lombok where we hired a car and driver to see the island.
Our guide, Ali, was fun and friendly.
Meeting the monkeys.
Lots of beautiful art on Lombok as well.
Traditional crafts of Lombok.
Modeling the fabrics made on the backstrap loom.
As we made ready to depart, we pulled Plover up
onto the deck. Something fell on my foot...
A sea snake had been hiding in the dink. Eeek!
THE JAVA SEA
It was the middle of October and we'd come a long way, but we were still 1,500 miles from Thailand. We decided to do a couple of long passages to eat up the miles. We weren't sure where our next destination would be -- it depended on how much wind we found at sea. The Java and South China Seas are notorious for fickle winds. Migration only carries enough fuel to motor 400 to 500 miles.
Over the next five days we split our time between motoring and sailing. We were nearing the transition period between the Southwest and Northeast monsoons which meant huge thunderstorm systems were developing throughout the area. We tried to avoid the worst of them.
Our 16-year-old main was definitely getting a workout because
our 5-year-old North Sails main had blown out in Fiji in 2011.
Alene had to repair the second reef point during this passage.
Our time was spent dodging thunderstorms and ships. And there were so many fishing boats! Nights were especially difficult with some boats lightless and others lit up with daylight-bright squid attractors.
A couple of interesting (and loud) Indonesian fishing boats.
On the fifth day out we received an email from some friends on their boat in Singapore who told us that other friends were currently at Manggar on the island of Belitung. We needed fuel so we decided to stop. This led to one of the strangest 24-hour periods we've had in a long time. One that really makes us wonder what the hell kind of life we are leading. It's a long story and you can read it here: 14 Hours in Belitung.
The river entrance at Manggar.
Migration anchored in the river.
Lots of trips back and forth. See 14 Hours in Belitung.
By now we had lost all perspective on STUFF. Traveling through the waters of a country of 250 million people, we saw huge ships, derelict fishing boats, riverside shacks, and free meals and diesel for visiting cruisers. The Pacific seemed so simple in comparison.
One thing we definitely didn't understand was how there could be any fish alive in the Java Sea. There were so many fishing boats! We motored north in little wind. The calm water made for excellent dolphin viewing.
We love dolphins!
Truly windless conditions.
If you would like a little diversion about now, you can check out the photos on my BOATS OF ASIA page.
On 25 October 2013, at 0035, we crossed the equator. After over four and a half years in the Southern Hemisphere, we were back in the North. That evening we docked at Nongsa Marina on the north end of the island of Batam. The marina was excellent and handled our checkout from Indonesia. We stayed the night and left in the morning. Singapore was 15 miles away across the busiest shipping lane in the world.
Sailing through Indonesia
SINGAPORE STUFF-O-METER: 100%
If there is anyplace we've travelled to that is the opposite of a remote tropical island, it is Singapore. It is an island about the same size as Hawaii's Molokai (274 sq miles), but with a population of 5.5 million. Basically a city-state that thrives on commerce. It is the shopping hub of Asia. I wonder if anyone has counted how many shopping malls are in this city. To me it seemed like it was one continuous shopping experience. There are great things about the city: the infrastructure, the lack of crime, the forward-looking city planning. But it seems to come at a price: limits on personal freedoms and freedom of speech. A topic that makes for great conversation over a couple of beers -- but I won't go into that here.
Our crossing of the Singapore Strait was uneventful. We just looked out for the big ships and stayed out of their way.
Singapore in the haze.
AIS showing nearby ships. I have it set to filter
the 100 ships that are not in front of us.
It's a port! It's a city! It's two, two, two multinational commerce centers in one!
Singapore has great markets. You can get anything. Especially bananas.
And in the supermarkets, anything for a price.
Ben and Jerry's for $14.35 SGD (over $11 US).
You can also buy awesome t-shirts that will help you learn to speak English.
The city is a fascinating mixture of old and new architecture.
A country with harsh fines for bad
behavior makes for very clean subways.
Do not forget to pick up your dog's poo.
And muzzle that dogo argentino.
Over 80% of Singapore residents live in public-assisted housing.
The HDB flats are usually part of an entire complex that includes
restaurant stalls, markets, clinics, and other shops.
The city is a mix of many cultures and religions. There are lots of beautiful temples.
And temples to commerce as well. Here's a fancy
mall complete with gondolas along with every
expensive boring name-brand store you could
The city planning is exceptional. There is a huge area called Gardens by the Bay with biodomes, themed gardens, and these interesting structures called supertrees.
Posing with North American fall-themed displays.
We haven't had a photo of ADR doing a cartwheel
for a while. So here you go.
STRAITS OF MALACCA: JUNK-O-METER: off the scale
Three full days of Singapore was plenty for me. We left the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, checked out at the immigration anchorage, and motored between hundreds of ships to the Johor Strait which separates Singapore from the mainland of Malaysia. We were headed to the new Puteri Marina to fill up with diesel. (Like everything else, fuel is cheaper in Malaysia than Singapore.)
Unfortunately, my fuel calculations were slightly off and we ran out about 6 miles short of the marina. There wasn't much wind and the current was against us so we anchored outside of the shipping lane. We launched the dinghy, mounted the engine and Alene sped off to Raffles Marina on the Singapore side of the strait. This was, technically, illegal since we had already checked out of Singapore. But her expedition was successful; she was not arrested and returned with a jerry jug full of diesel.
The next morning we continued to the marina, spent the night at Puteri, fueled up, and were sailing out past our anchoring spot the next morning.
It was November and we wanted to get to Thailand. Though we had heard great things about some of the stops on the west coast of Malaysia (especially the historic town of Malacca), we pushed forward. We'd been warned about the dangers of transiting the Malacca Strait at night due to the ship traffic and the incredible amount of debris in the water. Luckily, we didn't hit anything... at least nothing big.
At Puteri Marina, we made friends with a Japanese
cartoon character. (Who we later identified as Doraemon.)
A common sight during the day. Big ships everywhere.
Another common sight: thunderstorms.
Another common sight: crazy fishing boats.
And the most common sight: stuff in the water -- including very large and dangerous bits.
I took this video the morning after an overnight passage.
It's amazing we didn't hit anything big in the night.
One day we had an interesting visitor. A tern decided to land in the starboard cockpit and take a tour through the pilothouse.
He hopped right up on Alene's foot. She gave him a lift out of the pilothouse into the port cockpit.
Eventually we picked him up and put him on the aft deck and he flew away. Just wanted to see
the boat, I guess.
We'd spent nearly four days heading up the strait -- 2 nights underway and 2 at anchor. We were nearing our destination: the island of Langkawi where we would check out (well, check in, too) of Malaysia. At midnight before our arrival, a boat suddenly appeared on our stern, following us but not approaching. It was pitch black and we could only see his lights. It made us nervous. I grew up reading about the intense pirate activity in the Malacca Strait. Though there is still some activity on the Indonesian (west) side, we had heard that the pirates were gone from the Malyasian side. The boat circled around, left, came back and then, with a roar, sped away at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour.
The next morning after arriving in Telaga Harbour on Langkawi, we spotted the Malaysian boat below getting fuel.
When it started its engines to depart we recognized the sound. This was who had followed us. It's obvious why pirates no longer operate in Malaysian waters. But it would have been nice if they'd told us who they were in the middle of the night.
In Langkawi, we met up with friends Michael and Gloria of s/v Paikea Mist whom we'd last seen in NZ. They had rented a car and invited us along for a tour of the island.
We had a good time.
Through the Straits of Malacca.
Because we were going to Thailand for the big refit, we knew we wouldn't be 'cruising' for quite a while. We decided to stop at a few islands on this last leg. We travelled to Koh Rok and Koh Muk with Paikea Mist and Gordon and Sherry on s/v Serenity.
A snorkel into a hong: the Emerald Cave on Koh Muk.
says ADR: Koh Rok & Koh Muk
Celebrating our wedding anniversary with friends.
Our last leg was across the bottom of Phang Nga Bay with classic views of its many islands.
We dropped the anchor in Chalong Bay at 1619 on 10 November.
A celebratory drink in Chalong Bay, Phuket, Thailand.
We made it.
5,919 nautical miles, 28 anchorages, and 10 countries in 98 days.
Compared to the life we've lived cruising the Pacific, we'd been in a different world for months. And Thailand was even more distinctive. So many people, so many boats. Thailand is the first country we've visited while sailing that uses a different alphabet. And, surprisingly, even in touristy Phuket, most Thais speak no English.
We began exploring the area and making plans for Migration's refit.
Crowded and busy Chalong Bay.
The bane of a good night's sleep: the Thai longtail.
Images of Thailand
Renting a motorbike was a great way to get around... just remember where you parked.
Before we left Phuket, we launched two sky lantern (Khom Loi)
off the aft deck of Migration.
After a week checking out the boatyards -- and discovering that things had changed since we'd left New Zealand (more about that next time) -- we headed back across Phang Nga Bay to a marina near Krabi on the mainland.
More beautiful views of the Thai islands.
Our last night at anchor.
Heading up the river to Krabi Boat Lagoon.
Migration at her temporary home.
We spent 3 days working hard getting Migration put to bed. Migration deserved attention and a rest; she'd taken care of us over many miles.
And then we flew to the US for the holidays. Talk about stuff... no rants, enough said.
You may have noticed that this update is a bit rambling and the theme comes and goes. That's because I'm writing it a very long time after the fact and, more importantly, it's a difficult subject. As I said before, figuring out how to deal with our relative wealth in the societies we visit, how to share, how to trade, how to present gifts, how not to insult, is a challenge. Identifying need versus greed -- in others and ourselves -- is not necessarily easy. It's no surprise, I guess. We just want to do the right thing and that's not always clear.
As our friends Philip and Leslie of s/v Carina recently said in response to a discussion about trading, "Go with an open mind and generous spirit and you will not be disappointed."
Good advice for life as well.
Be Good. Be Safe. Have Fun.
Where we've been since
5.964 nautical miles traveled this period.
36,350 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but
in having few wants.
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than
anything else, that prevents us from living freely
Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to
desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot
afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And
every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we
can be counted as rich, however little we may
If you get rid of something, you never lose it;
You always have the memory.
Those that much covet are with gain so fond,
Anything you cannot relinquish when it has
outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this
materialistic age a great many of us are possessed
by our possessions.
This site was last updated 11/22/17