An Easy Passage to Indonesia

We start this note at sea, at 9:30 a.m., thirty miles or so from the coast of the island of Rinca, in Indonesia, on passage from Darwin, Australia. Paul is the author, with Sima asleep just coming off watch.

Wait. On reflection, it’s actually not 9:30 a.m. It’s 8:00 a.m. We’ve come through a time zone and a half, but have not yet adjusted the clocks to local time.

We are posting this through our short-wave radio, so pictures will come later.

The oceans have been relatively calm, although a little bit bumpy, and not like the mirror flat we had on the passage from the Louisiades to Darwin. We motored for six days, with a half-day interlude of some finicky wind in between.

We passed through a portion of Australia’s oil fields en route. One night, we saw a fiery orange glow on the horizon. We were at about 11 50 S, 126 38 E, and placed the glow at about 11 06 S, due north at the same longitude. We figured it was one of two things. It could have been a new volcano in the open ocean. We’ve seen volcanoes in the distance before, and it certainly had that look. This seemed unlikely though, as there were no active hot spots in the area. It was more likely an oil platform on fire. Before we left Darwin, a leaking oil well had been big news. In trying to extinguish the leak, the platform had caught on fire. We read in the newspaper on the day we departed that they’d put out the fire and capped the well, which was in a different location anyway. But I think we also read or heard on the radio that another one was ablaze. Perhaps this was it. If anyone has access to the Internet and could tell us what we saw, we’d be pleased to know.

This was generally an easy passage, although slightly stressful in a different way than others. Usually, we’re concerned about wind. On this trip, rather than strain our ears listening for slight changes in the weather, we instead listened for slight changes in the sound of the engine. Mostly, we listen for any odd sounds from the replaced alternator and its new bracket configuration.

Yesterday, at about Noon, we heard a frightful screech from the engine. Such noises make your stomach drop, you know. Paul rushed to the engine room, and Sima throttled down. We took a second before we shut down, so that we could try to identify the noise. Paul stuck his head in. The engine is loud, and it is hard to place sounds sometimes. It didn’t seem to be either of the alternators, nor any of the fan belts. This was a relief, as the fan belts seem to be the weak link in the engine chain.

It was coming from the back. What’s there to make such a noise? Oh no! The transmission? Who the heck knows how to repair that? It seemed to be coming from that area. Paul leaned in closer. It wasn’t.

Looking up, he saw the problem. A pair of oversized hose clamps holds the heat exchanger to the engine block. One had broken, and had splayed open inside the body of the engine where two large gears meet up with the transmission. The design is really, really, really stupid, having hose clamps actually pass inside the body of the engine. These hose clamps had broken on prior occasions too, and the offending hose clamp can usually just be pulled away. Whew, we thought, no big deal

Sima shut down the engine. Paul leaned in with a pair of pliers. Ouch! Be careful not to lean against the hot engine block. The hose clamp wouldn’t budge, despite Paul’s pulling. Sima started up, to see if spinning the engine’s gears would cause the hose clamp to come loose. No, and in fact smoke began to pour from the area. Uh oh. Maybe this wouldn’t be so simple. We shut down the engine again.

Paul pulled some more, but the hose clamp wouldn’t budge, and was probably caught in the teeth of the gear. An idea – Sima started again, while Paul pulled. With a sigh, the engine relaxed its jaws and released the hose clamp from its teeth, Paul falling backwards with a pliers-full of clamp, not unlike those old Three Stooges episodes where Moe falls away with one of Curly’s molars in his grip. We restarted, and all was back to normal. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

But what a colossally stupid design flaw? It needs to be put back together, but we haven’t yet figured out how.

A day earlier, the bilge pump had also died, but we were able to identify the problem pretty quickly, and swap out the broken one for a replacement that we had without too much effort. In a flat ocean, such repairs are relatively painless.

With the stress of the repairs out of the way, we were able to reflect on the fact that we’re turning a corner here. We really are out of the Pacific, and into Asia. We’re leaving island nations that had been dominated by Christian missionaries and entering lands where a good portion of the folks pray facing Mecca. We’re also approaching the half-way mark for our trip, and sense that we’re not the only ones who are looking west, rather than east, to see Europe and the Americas. We realized that we were closing in on Turkey when we saw the local word for market – Pasar – close to the Turkish equivalent, Pazar. And the time zones roll away. New Zealand was 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (also known as UTC) , Vanuatu UTC + 11, PNG + 10, Darwin + 9:30, and now eastern Indonesia at + 8:00.

We’ve heard mixed things about Indonesia. “Rampant” piracy, said one writer, is “a thing of the past.” What’s the opposite of “rampant?” “Controlled?” “Localized?” “Contained?”

Poverty is supposedly stark, in places, and population centers dense. Others have told us about Bali being a not-so-pleasant tourist trap with hawkers aggressively accosting non-locals at every turn. Others say that in other more quiet areas, no sooner is the anchor down than locals come in small boats “pestering,” as it is called, for handouts.

There was an episode of Star Trek where the crew comes to a planet suffering from over-population. There is a scene where they suddenly turn on a monitor to show what is just outside the window, and in a scene right out of the Twilight Zone, one sees hundreds of hopeless faces, pressed together and staring blankly towards the window. Would Indonesia be like this?

And the clearing in process is supposed to be somewhat of a crap shoot. Depending upon where you enter, and whose reports you believe, you could pay $0, $5, $200, $250, or be pressed to deposit a “bond” equal to 75% of your boat’s value. One option, suggested by others, is to move through Indonesia without visiting any of the main harbors, where the more corrupt customs tend to congregate.

We’ll go this route, trying to skip across the islands of Indonesia like a well-thrown stone on a calm lake. But we have visions of being boarded by an Indonesian patrol boat at gunpoint and being made to pay a hefty “fine.” Another couple told us that this happened to them. Ah, the fear of the unknown.

But fear is never boring.

With all these thoughts competing for our angst, we were perhaps understandably jumpy when we had our first close encounter yesterday, after having entered Indonesian waters. We had turned off the radar alarm momentarily, because it seemed to be going off for no reason. We looked closely, but could find nothing on the screen.

But scanning the horizon with the naked eye, we saw a power boat closing quickly, perhaps two miles off. A patrol boat looking for our first bribe? Someone with bad intentions?

We watched through a port hole from below as the boat approached. It was flying some sort of a pennant, and two men stood at the helm, peering at Leander. Menacingly? The boat passed about 100 yards off of our port side, and then we lost sight as it disappeared behind us – we have no portholes facing backwards. Was it turning towards us? We went to the starboard side, waiting for the boat to re-appear from the blind spot behind the boat. It did, and motored off into the distance.

Of course it did.

Others who have been cruising in Indonesia will chuckle at this, as no doubt we will looking back at this in a week or so. The local fishing boats out and about are supposed to be as countless as the stars, and are fishing for fish, and nothing else. We know that now, rationally, but sometimes fears can be irrational.

So now we’re here, arriving during the time that it has taken to write this note. Or almost. The islands around Rinca are making themselves distinct against the haze that had been the horizon, dull blues changing to gray, and then features appearing with browns and black and green.

Surprisingly, they appear more dramatic than we had imagined. Volcanic and craggy. Perhaps it was the blandness of Australia that has set us up. Maybe Indonesia won’t be so bad.

An addendum: Two hours later, we have arrived. We dropped anchor 100 yards off of a sandy beach separated by two rock outcroppings, tucked in a narrow, curving inlet between Rinca and a small island to its south. Rinca is a national park. There is no one here! No boats, no tourists, no locals, no national park guides. No nothing.

Well almost no nothing.

With the anchor down, we looked to the beach and saw what seemed to be a family of four cats strolling across in single file. But what awfully long tails they have! We pulled out the binoculars and they resolved themselves to be macaque monkeys.

We have no plan, now. We had figured that there’d be some type of guide to show us around, or harass us about clearing in. Our plans didn’t call for complete nothingness. We want to explore, but the 10 foot-long komodo dragons are supposed to eat people every once in a while. And the current looks a bit strong.

Perhaps we’ll jump in and go exploring anyway. Fear is never boring.

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