We have wind! We don’t care if it’s on the nose, we’ll tack our way to Sorong if necessary. Anything to avoid using the engines (and all that oil). However, we discover this is the least of our dramas on this passage….
Our first day sees us beating into moderate WSW winds which means we have to diverge from the rhumb line and go more south. As night falls the wind backs more to the NW and increases to 20 kts – woohoo, we’re going fast and now we can head up past Manokwari, a large shipping port on the tip of the mainland. It’s got a reputation for not being a very safe place so we’d like to get past it as soon as possible. But with the dawn the wind dies. Damn, nothing for it but to put a motor on. We alternate the motors – 2 hrs on, 2 hrs off. American football teams have ‘water boys’ – on Toucan we have an ‘oil boy’. Bruce spends most of his time jumping from one engine bay into the other topping up the oil in the gearboxes.
By mid-morning we’ve rounded the tip of the mainland past Manokwari – there’s a zephyr of a breeze so we decide to give the motors a rest and drift along at 2-3kts. We’re closer inshore than we’d like – this is FAD territory (Fishing Aggregrate Device). Our cruising friends have warned us about them – basically they’re platforms, usually made of bamboo, tethered to the seabed and rarely lit at night. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them look alarming and we duck and weave around them, hoping to get further offshore before night falls. “On watch” takes on a whole new meaning…
We’ve been seeing a lot of local ‘banana’ boats with powerful outboards – most are friendly fishermen who wave as they pass by. But then one boat is coming fast towards us from the shore. I wave as usual but he doesn’t wave back or answer my greeting. Instead he circles the boat and then comes alongside. He starts asking questions – where are we from, how many people on board? These are questions we get a lot, so I naively tell him, assuming he’s just a curious fisherman. But then he drops back and gets on his phone. I’m confused – is he an over-zealous local official or a potential pirate intent on robbing us? The phone call worries me – is he calling an accomplice? He hasn’t identified himself as police or customs and he certainly isn’t wearing any official uniform. I’m imagining the conversation he’s having: “yeah, couple of old dudes, easy pickings, come on out” . He comes back alongside and wants me to throw him a line. Yeah, buddy.. AS IF!!! He’s still on the phone to his mate. This is getting scary. We start the engines, to hell with using up all the oil.
We don’t carry firearms onboard (it’s been a hot topic of conversation between us, and I’m now rapidly re-thinking my point of view). All we have is a flare gun and a spear gun. Not much chop really, but desperate times call for desperate measures. While I’m trying to dissuade our visitor from coming aboard, Bruce brings the flare gun into the cockpit and nonchalantly but obviously lays it on the table in sight of him. Suddenly our would-be pirate seems to have a change of heart. ‘OK, OK” he says, raising a hand in the internationally-recognised sign of surrender and he drops back and away, heading for shore. Crisis averted, but my heart is thumping and my knees are like jelly even though he failed to get on board. Was he intent on doing us harm (or at least robbing us)? We’ll never know for sure, but we’re glad as hell he’s gone. We spend the next hour anxiously looking behind us as we gun the engines (Oil? What oil?!).
The rest of our passage is FAD-free, pirate-free, and we motor-sail the rest of the way to Sorong. Two and half-days after leaving Biak we’re at the entrance to Sorong harbour. It’s the middle of the night (REALLY? Again??!) so we dodge around all the pretty little orange lights on the water which turn out to be fishermen in canoes (at least they’re lit) and drop the anchor off the ominously named Doom Island. Let’s hope it doesn’t live up to its’ name. It’s a relief to get here in one piece with the engines still working. Now all we have to do is find a mechanic and hope we can get the leaking gearboxes fixed.