Wednesday, August 20, 2008

11 August 2008 Monday

11 August 2008

Happy birthday Dad! Unfortunately we’re out of mobile range so I can’t make any phone calls. A sailmail later when we don’t need the navigation tools might be my only option. Whenever we transmit on HF, we lose all steering and the boat does a sudden 360 to the left. It was very unsettling the first few times it happened! If we have to use the HF radio we turn off nav instruments and hand steer. So we try to send sail mails, which are transmitted through HF radio, when we’re at anchor.

Last night we rafted up with Lothlorien at the village of Sengga, and were immediately swarmed by dugout canoes full of little boys. The youngest must have been about four years old, but he handled his canoe like he’d been born with a paddle in his hand. They sat on Lothlorien for ages, as clearly the presence of Patsy and I in Malaika’s cockpit meant ours was the women’s boat. The girls of the village stood in a little group on the shore watching their brothers having all the fun, until Ali rowed over in the dinghy and brought some of them back. They were very tentative at first, slipping quietly into the cockpit and accepting a biscuit, and answering our halting questions with giggles and hands over their mouths. Meanwhile Ali was still in the dinghy, rowing the boys around and having a great time. The girls decided this was too much fun, and joined in. There were laughing screaming kids falling and pushing each other in and out of the dinghy – at one point Lex counted 18 in the dinghy at one time. Lucky they float well! It was a wonderful picture - the dinghy full of a swarming pile of kids, and surrounded by more little boys (and some girls) in dugout canoes, also jumping in and out of the water. At one point one boat capsized and looked like it was sinking but it just floated half underwater, with its unconcerned crew floating with it. Because this is a Muslim village, we’d assumed that the girls wouldn’t join in the fun, especially when they were all left ashore at first. But it was clear that they could use the canoes – and handle them well – and were allowed to play amongst the boys in the water.

Richard caused great excitement when he asked to have a ride in one of the canoes, and then enormous hilarity when in the process of stepping aboard, overbalanced and tipped into the water. A larger dugout was brought round to the back of the boat and he climbed into that, dignity intact but soggy, and was taken ashore, where he disappeared out of sight for the next hour or so. He was shown all around, and had coffee with some senior men of the village before bringing them back to the yachts for a visit. We were told there were 60 people in the village, 40 of them children. There is a mosque right on the waterfront, and a large school at the back of the village. We could hear the calls to prayer played over a loudspeaker, probably a recording, as it’s such a small village and probably wouldn’t have its own muezzin.

Rafting up of course meant an opportunity to get together. Jim cooked dinner on Lothlorien and brought it over to our cockpit, as we have a larger and more protected sitting space. Some serious damage was done to a couple of bottles of scotch, not to mention the red wine with dinner.

So this morning we are underway again. A local ferry playing loud strange music – sounds like a combination of Chinese and Greek! - steamed in around the corner just as we pulled out of our anchorage, and did a bit of a loop of the harbour and followed us back out. It’s overtaken us, waving and smiling, and headed for another, larger village on the opposite side of the inlet. Not sure what to call this body of water between all these islands. The water is flat calm, (which is how I’m able to sit with the laptop on my knee in the cockpit and write this) and we’re surrounded by lots of small islands, many with a little village visible on the waterfront. It’s so intensely green, and the hills are thickly forested, with an occasional red scar of landslip. There must be a forestry industry here because many of the hills have been planted in rows with large trees, and across the water we can make out piles of logs beside one village, and the first road and trucks we’ve seen since we left Ambon.

Latitude is 0 degrees, 14 minutes, so not far to the Equator now! We’ve got a ceremony planned, which Richard is organizing in secret. There’s even a cold bottle of champagne in the fridge to mark the occasion. None of us have ever sailed over the Equator before, apart from Brian who recently delivered a yacht to Darwin from the UK.

What’s the collective noun for hermits? Jim just described the huts we can see in the hills as probably belonging to a mob of hermits. Two hermits would make a mob, I reckon. We’re in constant radio contact with Lothlorien, who are coming along just astern of us, and there’s a relaxed friendly chatter about what we’re seeing. It’s very pleasant! This is more like what I expected sailing to be like, rather than the more tense and fraught stuff we’ve experienced so far! But you have to take the calm with the crazy I guess. The plan now is to continue to Ternate, which means an overnight sail and no more stops along the way. Cruise Missile just informed us that there is a dinner planned for us tomorrow night in Ternate, to do with the Ambon rally, so we’d better get along to it. From Ternate we head for Manado, where Richard and Patsy’s mate Bob Hobman is staying, and also where Jim’s wife and son are meeting him.

Latitude 00 degrees, 00 minutes

This is the Equator! We crossed it at exactly 2.30 pm, Monday 11 August. About a mile before the line we rafted up with Lothlorien, and prepared for the crossing, which was duly celebrated with champagne and silliness. Jim dressed up in a crown made from a Chux, a Bintang can and a dust mask, shaving foam beard and a trident made from a fish net, while Richard played King Neptune, with a wig made from teased out old rope, and a trident created from a Bintang can and the paddle he bought at Manatahan. He read out his Neptune speech, and handed us all certificates proclaiming us to have graduated from wetbacks to Shellbacks. Then we drank the rest of the champagne, and jumped off the boat to float around and swim around it for the next couple of hours. (I think I’m sunburnt for the first time in years…) The water was completely flat and calm, with the barest of current running. (and YES someone did stay on board while the rest were in the water…)

I don’t think I’ve felt so relaxed and untied in years. We just floated around in 440 metres of the clearest water, perfect temperature, totally calm water, totally calm people. THIS must be why people go sailing! We wrote a song about Lothlorien and her crew and sang it to them over the radio before we rafted up. This is FUN!

Incredibly there was reception from a mobile phone tower on a nearby island, and I was able to phone Dad from right on the Equator for his birthday. Also managed to reach Shaun, but not Callum. It’s quite incredible to think that you can be on the Equator, on a yacht miles from anywhere, and be able to tell someone in Melbourne about it on a mobile phone!

We’re now sailing very slowly, no wind, towards the spot where we’ll anchor tonight, anticipating a very early start tomorrow and a run to Ternate. Half our crew has jumped ship and gone across to Lothlorien, while her first mate has come over to us for a change. Good news for us, because as soon as we started our engine to get the mainsail up, smoke billowed up the companionway and the alternator light came on. More of the same problems – another shredded alternator belt. BUT the first mate off Lothlorien is an engineer, so he’s helping Lex repair it, as we move forward at about half a knot under all our sails. Inspite of these problems I’m feeling pleased because the watermaker has finally filled our tanks, right at the Equator (we have Equator water in our tanks now) which means I did get the de-pickling and everything else right after all. The watermaker is my particular job on board, but I had doubts about my prowess in that department. Thank you Callum for your tuition. I must have paid more attention than I thought.

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