I remember reading something about a bronze bust of Willem III ensconced in a shady courtyard of the Dutch colonial governor’s former residence now gone to seed with benign neglect. I have no idea where this mansion might be but it’s said that the courtyard is attached to a barracks and I just might know roughly where that might be.
Soon we were met with kids of all ages goose-stepping through the dusty streets of Banda. I have to say that goose stepping without helmets, gray uniforms, and shiny black boots looks a little silly, like a Monty Python skit. Once again I had to lower my voice and say, “Marce, somethings going on here.”
After finding the bronze bust we wandered through the mansion and found what has to be a framed canon ball hit. I don’t know about you, but is it art?
We paused outside to watch the rehearsal of an elaborate flag ceremony and that’s when Marce said, “Aha, they’re practicing for Independence Day.” From who, I wouldn’t know…anyone?
(Side note from Marce: I have an old Samsung phone and have assigned as the sound for incoming messages and notifications the distinctive crack of a bottle being opened and the cap falling to the table — svftt plink tinkle tinkle. I hear this sound a lot all day long. The flag ceremony rehearsal had accompanying music that must have been bluetoothed to the speakers from someone’s phone because every minute or so the music was punctuated by svfft plink tinkle tinkle. Again and again we heard the bottle opening sound and suppressed our giggles as we watched the students practicing their solemn faces. svftt plink tinkle tinkle. Many of them, like us, couldn’t keep a straight face.)
The kids on Banda are normally a happy cheerful lot, somehow managing to be happy and cheerful while goose stepping in school uniforms through town. I hope this year we can see something of the celebration because last year we arrived in Bali too late to see how they celebrate Independence Day.
Most of the history and clashes between the Dutch and the English in the spice trade occurred on the nearby islands of Ai and Run, within easy eyesight of each other. So why pile into a 30 foot long narrow twin outboard for a rollercoaster spray-filled hour and a half when you’re already well aware of what happened there? Turns out I never pass up a chance to touch history.
By the time we cleared the anchorage our skipper leaned over the 40 horsepower screaming outboard he was using to pull start the 40 hp outboard beside it, setting it to full scream. He locked the engine straight ahead while making course corrections with the original engine. Careening from wave to wave we did a close drive by of Ai on the way to Run. They really are very small but steep little islands, tiny specks out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a mystery to Yours Truly how they ended up with such unique flora and is it a blessing or a curse?
The approach into Run was reef strewn and incredibly shallow, causing our boat to crunch on the crushed coral and bounce occasionally. It’s true what the old salts say that you can smell Run before you even get there. We had to bail out over the transom, squeezing passed the two outboards and into the water. We walked maybe two kilometers along a sinuous path.
You really can see the difference the spice trade makes in their everyday lives. Their houses are nicer, their villages are nicer, even their cats are better fed. They complain that with so many competitors it’s hard to make any money in the spice trade but over time nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon have been very good for them, that is when the Dutch weren’t trying to kill them.
The governor’s house was turned from ruin to rubble as was the fort in the 1988 earthquake so our guide said we weren’t going up there but I still had that tingling sensation, let’s call it a profound sense of history, when walking through the village.
Run, after all, had the nutmeg seed trees that most of the world’s nutmeg is descended from and knowing the Dutch mania for spice trade monopoly, the Brits got them to throw in Manhattan as a sweetener during negotiations at the treaty of Breda, including a twin of the Fort Belgica whose walls were eventually paved over in Manhattan, and are now called Wall St.
With every turn we were met with the sweet perfume of cloves or nutmeg drying spread out in the sun. Heady stuff.
On the way to Ai we stopped on an uninhabited little islet called Neilaka for a picnic lunch on the beach right off of Run.
The routine was different on Ai where they let us off at one end of the village but picked us up after our stroll up and down through town.
Ai’s fort was Dutch built but appropriated by the Brits who, with the natives’ help, held on against persistent Dutch attack for quite awhile.
On the way down we were shown our guide and boat driver’s beautiful guest estates. I may be in the wrong business.
We all clambered aboard between the twin outboards and quickly collided with the wind blown waves and spray.
I guess when you’ve got the only trees in the world growing “golden fruit” the next thing you’ll need is a way to stop people from taking it. For centuries the Arabs, Chinese, Javanese, and Buris merchants queued up to do business with the Bandanese. Using these middlemen Venice amassed vast fortunes reselling nutmeg as a preventative for the plague, kind of a snake oil scam, along with cloves and cinnamon.
Trouble started when the Portuguese and Spanish arrived in 1512 and decided that wouldn’t it be nice to monopolize the trade? Then came the well-armed Dutch, with their own dreams of monopoly and forced 40 tribal elders to sign an exclusive contract, then paid a few Japanese samari assassins to behead them all. The Dutch sailed away thinking that was done and dusted.
Several years later they sailed back, furious to find the English doing a brisk business in Pulau Banda Besar and had, in an especially cheeky move, established forts in Pulau Run and Pulau Ai. The Dutch played cat and mouse with the English, but in 1621 the VOC, under their new governor Jan Pieterszoon Coen, ordered a virtual genocide of the Bandanese thinking to replace them with enslaved workers. Just a few hundred survivors escaped to the Kei Islands, nearly 200 miles east.
Fort Belgica is the largest historic fort in Indonesia. Construction began in 1611 high above Little Bandaneira because it became apparent that the lower bastion of Fort Nassau was well within range of Bandanese fire arrows from the heights above.
Evidence of the power struggle is all around you on these sleepy isles. Each of the dozen or so bow chasers scattered about Bandaneira represents a ship on the bottom.
The Dutch and English were at loggerheads for years, culminating in 1667 with the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch gave New Amsterdam (Manhattan) to the English in exchange for Run, finally giving the Dutch their long sought monopoly.
The English eventually solved the problem of how to successfully transplant nutmeg to India and their West Indies colonies, most notably Grenada, where we first saw nutmeg growing and processing.
We measure time and distance differently on a sailboat. Getting to far flung Banda Island became a difficult calculus due to distance and the uncertainty of the velocity of the trade winds. Our goal was to reach Banda with just one overnight sail but the distance was on the edge of what we could safely cover in 36 hours. We scoured the charts for an interim stop to knock the mileage down and found two possibilities, one with a somewhat dodgy anchorage some thirty miles away and one at Pulau Tayandu which would take just twenty miles out of the 190 mile journey, but seemed to have a secure harbor. You really don’t want to be running around these reef strewn waters at night so we’ll see how far we get and pull in for an overnight rest stop.
Once again the steady trades were dead downwind so it was jib to the left and mainsail to the right, wing and wing, which EV does so well even in these strong trade winds. While most of the monohulls gybed back and forth, keeping the wind near 150 degrees, we just left it near 180 degrees right on the rhumbline, and had a cuppa Joe. Yours Truly is a rhumbline kind of guy, not as fast but so refined.
While rounding Pulau Tayandu we had a look in and Marce said, “good enough,” so we poked about trying to find bottom that we can reach with our anchor and finally just decided to do as the locals do and sidled up to whatever these are and anchored in thirty feet.
None of the locals speak English so it’s difficult to find out why they do this but a cruiser that was anchored here said they had a big wedding yesterday, but my money’s on camouflage to fool fish into thinking the boat is a just a pile of reeds to hide under.
At first light we weighed anchor with a long way to travel to reach the famous Banda Islands. There were quite a few boats anchored in another bay south of us so suddenly the chart plotter was alive with AIS targets. Should be interesting at night. Occasionally huge rollers would hiss across our downwind course and smack EV with a staggering blow on her flanks leaving the autopilot with a heavy load to right our course, but for the most part conditions were tolerable while making 5-6kts.
Our chart plotter gives us a running ETA and the next day as we raised Banda through the mist, old Ray the autopilot swore we would be in the Spice Islands by 4:00 pm. After a good long sniff around this very deep harbor we decided on 35ft. on the edge of a scary reef just next to the huge Welcome to Banda Naira sign which has the added benefit of watching the party lighting change colors close up.
I’ve been reading and dreaming about the Spice Islands since I was a little kid. It always seemed to me that so much global history and wealth beyond measure was played out on the most unlikely of stages on a tiny speck on the other side of the earth. I can’t believe I’m actually here. We’re now part of the view. Somebody pinch me.
Even in the best of times plumbing is a curse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You can’t expect that fitting to mate with this fitting, pal. That’s an NPT while this is an NPR with a twist.” (I made that last bit up, so don’t try this at home.)
So it’s never going to mate, Mate, and it’s always going to leak and blow your butt to kingdom come! So you’ve got Imperial, which sounds rich; metric, which is boring and involves counting teeny tiny little increments; and then you’ve got US stuff which as far as I can tell somebody just made up a long time ago. As if that isn’t bad enough I give you LPG tank fittings. I’ve been chasing the correct fittings halfway around the world. It got so bad in OZ that I had to make a beeline to a marina in Gladstone because Escape Velocity’s propane system, which admittedly was about as Rube Goldberg as it gets, started to leak and I simply could not stem the flow with the bits I had on board. In my defense I’d like to say that Australia makes some of your more bizarre propane tanks without regard to any US standardized dimension or design. So a lot of in the field adjustment was necessary just to connect the gas fitting (which we’ll call a POL) to the tank. Of course those Aussie jokesters use backwards internal threads while the US uses a POL with external threads with a modicum of reverse compatibility. You should have seen the look I got from that hardware store kid when he showed me that you just stick it inside and it’ll screw right in. “How long you been down here, Mate?”
Now, Yours Truly has insisted on having three 20lb propane tanks aboard. One to show, one to go, and an extra one to reach for when everything else goes pear shaped. Things go pear shaped with alarming regularity out here. EV has a nice molded-in fiberglass LPG tank compartment right beneath your feet as you steer the boat. Have I mentioned that your humble skipper lost the discussion with the powers that be about why the hell do we need three 20lb propane tanks on board when we have never needed the extra tank? Yes, but I’d call that sound weight management.
So after 750nm we pulled into Debut, Indonesia, dropped anchor, and unexpectedly ran out of propane. That’s a concern because, of course, Indonesia uses a tank fitting that is unique in all the world and they don’t want you buying an Indonesian adaptor, which would make it an Indonesian to Aussie POL and it is illegal for them to fill Aussie or US type tanks regardless even if you’d had the foresight or eyesight to read the fine print and found a rare Indo adaptor. Just don’t look for one here.
So where was I? Oh yes. Up to the bow locker to lug the only other 20lb tank back to the propane compartment, and this is a full one judging by its weight. Out of the hole with the spent tank and in goes…it doesn’t fit! It will not go down into the compartment, which means you can’t stand or really even sit comfortably at the wheel and steer! After ruminating over my options and measuring this fat boy tank I realized that a 41 1/2″ tank will not go into a 40″ compartment. Luckily another boat volunteered their bespoke Aussie POL to Aussie POL assembly with a nice stainless reinforced hose to connect them.
We will decant the gas from the tank that doesn’t fit to the tank that does.
After prying Fatboy out of the compartment I suspended the donor tank upside down from our jib halyard and our empty tank was placed in a trug filled with water and covered with wet towels to keep a temperature differential. I will say that a lot of gurgling and sloshing commenced, sounding for all the world like a terribly upset stomach, as soon as the valves were opened. That might have been my stomach. I rigged a fish scale, yes I have a fish scale, to Fatboy and watched as it got lighter and lighter so I knew the LPG was going somewhere. We gave it four hours and the tank felt kinda full so I lowered it right down into the compartment and Bob’s your uncle.
Now we’re cookin’ with gas!
Of course that only solves today’s problem and we will need propane in about three months and only have one usable tank. But kicking the can down the road is a kind of victory, but with a twist.
Sometimes in springtime a young man, maybe even occasionally an old man, is overwhelmed by a certain sensation. It’s the combination of a number of factors like an awakening warming trend, gentle rain, bright green shoots poking out from under last years dead debris, and one can sense a general rising of life affirming sap all around you. It’s kind of nice but it makes you want to get…busy.
Even Yours Truly is not immune.
Down here in Australia things are not so subtle. Last year about this time, as we approached Lady Musgrave reef I began to notice large coagulations of what looked like really nasty bilge water, like maybe out of an old ore carrier. We were making water at the time so I ran down to the reverse osmosis water maker and turned it off while we passed through the horrible looking goo. Turns out it covered acres and acres but eventually we passed through. A short while later, after I’d gotten the water maker up and running again, I could see the signs of more goo coming over the horizon. It was a massive…spill, but what was it? Rusty beige in color, particles roiled and swirled around in the soup. I also couldn’t explain the wonder I felt as mile after mile slid past Escape Velocity.
Turns out we were in the middle of one of earth’s magical mysteries. Every year all the corral of the Great Barrier Reef, I guess the only word for it is “ejaculates” millions upon millions of spore into the waters surrounding Australia. All in synchronicity. It must be seen to be believed. It makes one kind of giddy.
On our forced march up Australia’s East coast it’s happened again. Seas of coral spore surround us. All this life. It’s like hope.
Editor’s note: Yes, we know it’s autumn Down Under. The skipper has earned an Advanced Poetic License.
By 08:30 our lines were eased and the morning sun began to peek out from behind Manly’s early morning dissipating clouds. The reason for such a civilized departure time was our goal just 25nm up the coast, still in Moreton Bay. Not without its hazards, the bay is huge but shallow with lots of things you can fetch up on if you’re not paying attention. The weather report looks good for sailing but we’ve heard that before.
First we thought we’d serpentine around Green Island and run the pass at St. Helena under power, where the water can get a little thin. As soon as we cleared St. Helena the breeze met us and we rounded up into the wind. With all standard sail flying I switched off Charlize, feeling that little tingle I always feel when the press of sail takes over.
This is just glorious in 9-15 kts of SE breeze doing 6-7kts. Soon we passed Mud Island and, in a first, we sailed right past the Brisbane ship channel where we usually turn and head up River to Brissie. Just a lazy sail past Bramble Bay in 25 feet of water now so no worries. Too soon, giving Castlereagh Point a wide berth, we entered Deception Bay where it gets seriously shallow very quickly.
Now Yours Truly doesn’t particularly care for creeping up closer and closer to a beach watching the depth sounder numbers get smaller and smaller and you’re never really sure about the state of the tides around here so at a certain point my courage ran out and we dropped the hook. With weather moving in we knew we hadn’t bought much protection from the expected 30kts of wind and the inevitable swell but I’d had enough. The problem is it’s said that waves will curve around a headland up to 30 degrees but my experience has been it’ll do more than that.
That night the squalls got well into the high twenties and we definitely weren’t in far enough to escape the worst of the swell so in the morning, after a rocky night, we decided to sneak in closer to Scarborough Marina, which friends in Manly told us was doable. Sometimes when they dredge out a channel they deposit the spoil right beside the channel, so if we approached the area in the channel, near where we wanted to anchor, we might not be able to cross over that suspected spoil area.
We came in beside the marked channel as far as we dared and dropped the hook, not as close as several catamarans had, but all that day we could hear it blowing but it hardly affected us. Like Bert Lahr used to say, “What have they got that I have not? Courage.”
Conflicted, I walked up the side deck, slipped the safety hook off the anchor chain and stepped on the black rubber UP button for the windlass. After stopping to retrieve the anchor bridal I settled into the oh-so-familiar weighing anchor routine. We have the chain marked with colored plastic biscuits every 25 feet, done up in five fashion forward colors. Every time I see a color approach the windlass, I have to stop, reach into the chain locker and move the chain castles away from the hawsepipe to keep the chain from jamming up the works. So I’m busy, but there’s time to look around a little and ruminate.
Boat Works, I notice, is already yanking them in and out of the river. I’ll really miss this first world access, make that 1-1/2 world access to boat parts. It’s not all about the bass, it’s all about parts! It always feels like we accomplished a great deal at these work stops, and we did, but the same old irritants are still staring at me. Mind you, there are very few world cruisers who can look you in the eye and say everything is sorted in A1 condition, and if he does he’s probably lying. I try to concentrate on the positives like the new clothes washer and Charlize, the new silky smooth diesel engine.
The anchor arrives at the surface encased in a ball of crushed shells and mud, requiring ten minutes of washdown hose work. We complain about the mess when we anchor in muck but the truth is this kind of sticky bottom means the holding is good and we don’t worry about the anchor dragging.
Back in the captain’s chair, I slip Charlize into gear and take a sip of hot steaming coffee out of my favorite red mug from The Black Dog café in Martha’s Vineyard commemorating our very first offshore passage in a friend’s boat nearly twenty years ago. With the early morning sun glinting off the muddy river we begin to glide down the Coomera River.
The goal for our first day out is a conservative distance to a popular anchorage called Tipplers Island. As we turn into the passage we see a lot of activity, on shore and in the water. This is a real party spot and it’s a long holiday weekend so the merrymakers are out in full force. There are campgrounds, resorts and even a café. We have trouble finding enough room to anchor Escape Velocity with float planes, ski boats, motor yachts, runabouts of all descriptions, wallabies on the beach, and the ubiquitous Ozzy Mozzies, jet skis.
The next the morning, after the party crowd leaves, we find a floating dock and an almost deserted island to walk around, and when the café opens Yours Truly finds Eggs Bennie on the menu. This is already a good day.
We woke up in Southport rocking to the wakes of frenetic Aussies determined to have a good time at seven on a Saturday morning, sounding for all the world like a plague of giant mozzies screaming around on their colorful but annoying jet skis. We decided to head up the Coomera River to the famous Boat Works Marina which we’ve been hearing about since we arrived in Oz. We’d been warned that it’s particularly crowded and without a reservation it might be tough but we’ve always believed in special dispensation for spunky fools, so we upped anchor and ran right into a healthy two plus knot current. Without the services of the “Evil Twin” (the starboard diesel) this may take a little longer than anticipated.
We eventually wiggled our anchor into an unoccupied spot just off Boat Works and slowly it dawned on us that they are closed for the weekend. Marce busied herself ordering a replacement clothes washer that she’s spent months researching. We are not fooling around here, and they deliver! The watery details of the delivery we’ll leave to personal charm, charisma and a positive attitude, or just refer to the spunky fools paragraph.
We dinghied over to the dock determined to hit the ground running, and immediately ran into friends from Sea Wolf whose advice on a good diesel mechanic is to talk to someone named Craig who Grant says is the only one he trusts with his engines. Fortunate because this is a vast complex with multiples of each trade and getting a personal recommendation is golden.
By Tuesday the women in the office, after a lot of boat jockeying, found dock space for Escape Velocity at, let’s just call it slip 9 3/4. It’s not an actual slip, just a walkway, and there’s no access to water and no electricity, just 3 cleats we can tie up to. I’d be embarrassed to tell you what those three cleats cost per week but that’s cruising. In the meantime plan A with the washer worked when a small but wiry guy showed up at the marina and we lugged the thing down the ramp, down the dock, and up onto the deck of EV. This has been a long time coming.
Later I charmed a soon to be ex-friend, using beer, into carefully manhandling the washer down four steps, through three doorways with doors removed, twisting, turning, tilting, straining everything, but we did it. I didn’t mention that the complicating factor with replacing the washer was that our boat is wired for North American electricity, 120v, and we are in the 240v part of the world. Our new 240v washer required me to install a 240v inverter. This is a pretty common solution among the North American boats we meet on this side of the globe. I think this means we are now truly international.
We’ve spent serious “boat units” on our starboard Volvo over the last year. (1BU = $1k) The mechanics we hired did everything but fix the problem, persistent smoking and running hotter than the port engine. I’ve been managing this thing since day one and we’ve decided that we will leave here with a permanent solution. Our new best friend Craig said he’s got the right guy who can start on the Evil Twin the next day. You can see how this works…this “spunky fools” thing. I admit now that I have great foreboding about where this Evil Twin fix is going.
Ok, the new guy is very young but he soon gains cachet with me by finding smoke coming out of the small coolant overflow tube. There aren’t many ways for that to happen, none of them cheap. Within a half hour we were looking at a shocking crack in the cylinder head. Well at least it’s just the head and not the whole engine. Volvo being Volvo, a new head shipped from Sweden costs double what a new Chevy V8 costs and will require us to cool our heels for weeks waiting for it to arrive. Turns out it’ll be cheaper and faster to buy a whole used D1-30 Volvo and my new best friend “J-Rod the kid mechanic” found two right here in Boat Works, with working alternators which is more than you can say about our engine. Now we start to imagine what this project will mean. J-Rod went over the two available engines and chose his favorite which has only 2,300 hours on it and he compared our old engine with the new engine, using the best bits from both.
With incredible energy and resourcefulness we somehow exorcized the Evil Twin from Escape Velocity and even more remarkably installed the very smooth running “new” engine. Of course this level of spending has to stop and with both engines we can actually maneuver well enough to leave the dock and stanch the financial hemorrhage.
Bobbing at anchor again off Boat Works we accepted that several important projects like a haul out and bottom job will have to wait for South East Aisa. In the meantime I’m really going to enjoy having two reliable engines.
Life in Coffs Harbor was relatively easy after we negotiated a protected T-berth inside the marina. We must be getting soft, nevertheless we still unfolded the bikes and saw a little of the town. The seas were impressive and pounded the exposed massive granite blocks that make up the jetty wall, vibrating Escape Velocity and the marina water all around us. Sometimes spray would even shoot up over the jetty walls. Ten or twelve times a day huge trucks lumber down the jetty access road, wait until you’re not paying any attention and then, when you least expect it, tip the truck bed filled with those monumental stone blocks making a sound straight outa hell, scaring the bejesus out of Yours Truly every time.
So where was I? Oh yeah, several times a day we’d ride along the beautiful surf beach on the other side of those giant blocks and marvel at the very large waves curling in towards shore and, under our breath saying, “Glad we’re not out there.” Because that’s what we really are doing here. Waiting. Waiting for the North wind to switch to South and whatever’s causing all those combers to just cut it out. It helps that there are a lot of boats waiting for the same thing.
Marce, who feels compelled to read every sign and flyer pasted to every light pole, found a concert and foodie festival in a park near the marina. Just because you’re waiting out a Norther doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.
We really need two good days of South wind and reasonable sea state to make it up to Southport where we will see to some long deferred maintenance on EV. Southport Bar has a bad reputation for wrecking boats trying to enter the bar in anything but benign conditions. Trying to sneak through in deteriorating conditions would not be wise. Finally our singlehanded berth mate, Mr. Mojito, dropped lines at 04:00 with a planned stop at Yamba and we followed suit at a more respectable 08:00, favoring an overnight to Southport. Clearing Coffs jetty we found a decent SE wind so with all the laundry full and by we shaped a course north.
All and all we were having a good sail and at dusk our ETA at Southport, all things considered, would be quite early. Not an option against the tide. We reefed the mainsail for night running and when I came on watch at midnight the breeze was getting fluky. By dawn we were motor sailing and running into the stiff East Australia current further reducing our progress to barely 3 kts. With conditions deteriorating at Southport and precious little progress against the current, our ETA, barring some kind of miracle, would be well after optimum tide and in the middle of the night. We began to cast about for a plan B.
Finally we decided to turn around and tuck into Byron Bay, seven miles astern, where with any luck at all we might avoid the worst of the wind and building waves. As we sailed closer to the beach we could see five fishing trawlers anchored on the 30 foot depth contour. Good news or bad, we did the same. These two days we spent at anchor, waiting out the blow in rising seas were not restful. We’ll just leave it at that, but someone posted this photo on line asking who was this anchored off Byron Beach. Yeah, that was us.
We’d had enough of Byron Bay and Southport tower said “maybe” on the entrance to the bar. We said close enough, and we were off at dawn. Once again, as the day wore on, the tower said the entrance was iffy so try for late afternoon, closer to slack tide. By the time we arrived the tower was non-committal and no one was going in or out, but the later the better. Yours Truly has found that there are times in this life when you just gotta say fuck it, and jump in with both feet. One of my chief concerns was that the evil twin Volvo was not behaving and would only be available to the cause for brief emergency duty and there were breaking waves arriving at the entrance from several different directions. On the plus side we’d gone over the bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador and lived.
The tower gave us the southern vector approach which meant making a 50 degree turn after clearing the jetty wall. That’s about when I saw a breaking rogue wave coming across from the north. I was able to kick the stern around into the breaker avoiding broaching and manhandled EV the rest of the way in. As we turned to find the channel markers the tower called up and said, “That was a very nice crossing!” I actually got an atta-boy from the tower! Maybe I should retire. It’s always such a relief to glide into protected water and splash the anchor in peace and quiet with a “coldie” in hand, it’s hard to remember what you just went through. Which is probably a good thing.