It looked as though it was a gift from the weather gods. The forecast was for a week of south east winds at 10-15kts that stretched all the way from Lombok to Singapore in the north. It was an opportunity we couldn't pass up so the decision was made to depart Lombok early on Saturday morning after spending nearly a week down at Gili Asahan we were ready to go sailing on Spirit again.
First days forecast was for lighter winds which wouldn't really fill in until we were a good 40-60nm away from the volcanoes of Bali and Lombok which seem to mess with the local winds Iike nothing else. At nearly 4000m in height you can understand why they have such a strong local influence on the weather.
The anchor was raised early and we motored out of the bay and into the Lombok straight. While the sun was low we ate breakfast then hoisted the full main sail and large reacher. Spirit powered up in the light winds and heeled to one side and slowly accelerated towards the horizon.
We made great time across the straight and managed a couple of 14kt bursts in the fresh breeze of around 10-12kts true. The conditions were incredible with flat calm seas a clear sky and wind angles that sent us flying along the rhumb line towards Nongsa Point where we hoped to be able to get to before the north west winds came back into play.
The scenery around this part of the world is truly magic. To see peaks of volcanoes popping out of the clouds thousands of meters high makes you question whether what your seeing is truly real. These small islands that are sometimes only 80nm in length and breadth have peaks that compete with the Alps!!
As Bali dropped off to our south and the volcano top became one with the sky the wind continue to give us good pace and direction. The sunset slowly sank into the horizon and bought with it the magic of the Indonesian sunsets. The wind slowly dropped as the sun melted into the ocean upon the horizon.
By 1900 the sun had sunk below the horizon and the sea had become oily and slick and without breath of wind it looked like a sheet of glass reflecting everything above. The residual waves were making Spirit flop from side to side so we dropped the sails and made the decision to let the ocean carry us in the direction she wished, without wind we were happily at her mercy. The full moon made the night seem like day and you could see it's reflection upon the ocean like a mirror.
It wasn't until around 2am that the breeze filled again to something of enough strength to get us going again. As Claudia was sleeping I unfurled the large reacher, which was still furled on the prodder and left the mainsail down. With the little wind there was we started to move and increase our apparent again.
The day light brought with it a cloud bank to the east that showed signs of strong winds. With the binoculars I could make out a water spout below one cloud that was trying to form. For the next few hours I watched closely as the dark clouds passed us and moved off to the west. We didn't see anymore than 20kts of true wind but we were at the ready to furl the reacher should it change.
By noon we had a settled easterly wind of around 14kts which gave a great pace just using the large reacher. We'd put up the sun awning earlier before breakfast and had settled into the cruising program we normally adopt of one forward sail. It's incredibly easy for us to manage when on watch alone and makes for a safe and fast passage even without the mainsail we still sit on anywhere from 8-12 kts in the puffs and it allows us to run very deep downwind angles.
As the afternoon came upon us the free power provided by our 548 watts Solbian solar panels filled the lithium batteries and gave us the power needed to run the water maker. Claudia prepared an awesome soup for dinner and after that at about seven I decided to put my head down for some much needed deep sleep. We had ships and fishing boats all around but Claudia has proven to be a keen watch-keeper and is happy dodging these dark shapes in the night.
An hour later I woke to the gut wrenching noise and feeling of Spirit driving up upon a reef. That first moment of consciousness brings with it so many instant fears. The noises and shudders that Spirit made were as though we were either being run down by another vessel or driving up upon something hard. I dragged myself from sleep instantly and was on deck quick enough to see what it was we hit drift off the stern. Claudia called out to me upon contact startled just as much as I by the strike. It felt like a rock but it was a large tree that had struck the centreboard. With a quick inspection we concluded Spirit to be sound and found no signs of damage. We had put the centreboard partly down for this reason as anymore speed and a direct hit to the rudder could have been a lot worse. We were doing around 8kts when the tree struck.
After inspecting Spirit as best we could Claudia carried on her watch while I tried to get some more rest. With boats everywhere it's reassuring that Claudia feels confident handling Spirit on her own. I often wake and we are on opposite tacks with her gybing and furling the sails on her own. After doing the passages from Airlie Beach and up through Indonesia she has become more and more at ease with the sail handling and she's making the best crew member and partner you could ask for. I'm very proud of how quickly she's taught herself and how much effort she puts into learning.
Throughout the rest of the night we dodged ships and made our way to the south coast of Kalimantan. Claudia called me around 1am for my watch, we were surrounded by fishing boats and as I wiped the sleep from my eyes she explained what each was doing and who to keep an eye on. The morning hours were amazing, and with the full moon off the bow Spirit was gliding down a silver lit highway supplied by the glimmer of the moon off the water.
Around 5 am the sky behind became red as the sun started to approach the horizon. The seas were calm and wind light as it has been most of the passage so far. In the cockpit I listened to music softly and dreamt of stopping and having a swim at the next island. Out of the corner of my eye Sprout flew down and landed beside me. He'd obviously been woken by the daylight creeping into the sail where he had found his new home.
Sprout was our new pet, some type of swallow or finch. He'd hopped onboard a few miles out from Bali and probably thought it easier to adventure around Indonesia onboard a trimaran. And too right he was! he was being feed each day with seeds, sprouts (hence the name) and anything we had left over that took his pallet. He was becoming a very friendly little fellow landing on me while sleeping in the cockpit and even venturing inside the cabin to see what he could eat. He learnt to fly in and out of the hatch as well and the companionway and was right at home sitting next to either of us in the cockpit while the three of us sat and ate. Who knows where he plans to jump ship for the moment it's great having his company.
The third day at sea bought with it a magical sunrise, smooth seas and again light winds from dead astern. Always the way but hey we are cruising and happy to sail directly downwind. It maybe slow but it beats the noise of an engine and motoring any day!
We still had up the big reacher but it was having trouble holding itself in the light and dead astern breeze. So just before lunch we put up middy one of our favourite assymetrical spinnakers. He's very stable and loves those deep down wind runs. He's even happy to be on the same tack as the wind something not many sails can claim. We continued to ghost along at 5-7kts towards the NW with ships and fishing boats passing us closely all day long.
Claudia prepared an amazing stir fry chicken with noodles for lunch that tasted delicious. With the batteries full by noon we decided to top up the water tank and to fill our drinking water container at the same time. We have been so impressed with our Solbian solar panels and new Victron regulators. We are using around 20% or 60Ah of power each night and this is topped up by 1100 most mornings even today with some cloud it had them filled the before noon.
To give you an idea of what we run at night, there's a fridge, VHF, B&G instrumentation, Nav lights, autopilot, chart plotter, stereo and Furuno GPS. With all this running our total draw is around 2.8 amps. When the fridge drops in it goes up to around 9 amps total but this only runs for 2 minutes every fifteen. It's taken some work and monitoring but we've been able to get Spirits power usage right down and to a level where we can easily survive off solar alone. Everything we have onboard that requires power or charging is well thought out before it's purchased. We buy things that are powered by USB so we hardly ever use the inverter, which is a very inefficient way of making power and charging items. It's amazing the things you can purchase now that can be powered by USB, such as electric toothbrushes! All our torches and headlamps are run by rechargeable batteries that are charged via USB and so on.
The third evening at sea bought with it a softening breeze from the ESE and virtually no traffic. We had some fishing boats that were made obvious from the illumination and glow that you could see well over the horizon. The local boats here seemed to have there own interpretation of navigation lights and it was often hard to tell what direction they were travelling. You just have to monitor them. As they travel slowly or not at all we found it pretty easy to dodge and go around them.
The moon was just passed full now and had started to wane. It still cast a shadow over the boat when it went behind the sail it was that bright and the sea shimmered from its reflection. There's nothing quite like sailing with a light warm breeze, smooth sea and full moon it's an incredible experience and brings with it a surreal feeling of peace.
The pace of the evening and early morning was slow. With the true wind anywhere from 6-10kts Spirits speed maintained a steady 5-7kts over the ground. We kept Middy up all night and he pulled us along reliably as he always has even from the moment we first used him over six years ago he's been a great sail for strong and light conditions. We have had him up blasting downwind along Australia's east coat in 28kts of true breeze surfing waves at 16-20kts and now here we are ghosting along in 7-10kts of wind. He seems to enjoy all conditions and is a versatile sail to have on a cruising boat.
Off to the south there were flashes of lightening in the cloud tops. The forecast was for some rain in the early morning but for now there were no signs of clouds or rain only flashes to the distant south.
Our fourth day at sea was a busy one. Claudia had plans for making some fresh biscuits, replenishing the rice milk and also topping up our ginger tea. It's incredible what you can provide for yourself with a bit of thought. Claudia is very much into eating healthy, wasting little and doing as much of it as you can yourself. She makes our own rice milk with the thermomix and boils up the ginger tea on the stove. To make the biscuits we use the gosun solar cooker we have onboard. It does a fantastic job and can cook just about anything an oven can cook.
We had great conditions to do all this cooking in with a steady 8-12kts throughout the day. It seems to pick up a little more in the mornings and then drops off again in the afternoon. Not a lot just a few extra knots as the sunrises. Tonight however we are sailing into fresher breeze with a stable 12-15kts from the SE.
We passed a lot of squid boats today. They seem to work in groups and one large group we passed had about ten boats anchored resting before their night shifts started. It's strange to see boats 100's of miles from shore on anchor but in the area of the Java Sea it's shallow around 30-50m for the most part allowing boats to anchor easily. The squid boats here are incredible. They look more like giant spider webs of lights, poles and nets all strung out over the water to catch their precious cargo of squid. At sundown we were amazed by the loom of the light that they produce. It was as though we were surrounded by cities on ever side as the sky drew darker.
We are now closing on Palau Belitung, which is about two thirds of the way to Singapore from Lombok. As we approach the east coast around at 0600 we hope to find some phone signal so we can get a weather update. Our last forecast four days ago had the weather changing as we approached Nongsa and Singapore so the latest update will supply us with a more detailed projection to make the decision of whether we proceed as planned or pull in for a few days rest while we await a better forecast. From what we have been able to read Belitung looks as though it's a magical spot with beautiful and well secure anchorages and friendly locals so neither of us would mind a short break. We'll allow the weather to decide as it's something we don't argue with onboard Spirit.
As we approached the morning brought with it picture perfect weather. The seas reduced to small wavelets and the wind was light. It was superb gliding along in such calm conditions as we approached. The island is large but not overly high about 500m at the highest point. The phone started to vibrate with messages and we were back into the realms of society and all it brings with it. After days of nothing. It a near snails pace of life things hotted up quickly with emails being sent thick and fast and weather being downloaded.
The latest forecast was spot on with light winds continuing for the next two days, which would get us into Nongsa by Friday afternoon we hoped.
We slowly ghosted past Biletung and after a few quick calls and emails it was back to the normal life onboard with Claudia preparing some bread and lunch while I fitted a new fan above the bed and and changed a small pipe on the water maker.
As Biletung faded into the distance the wind increased to a very comfortable 12-16kts and Spirit settled into her groove of surfing wave after wave at speeds of up to 15kts. It was ideal sailing and we were making great miles in the right direction. A cloud front formed to the west and slowly approached with towering thunderheads above but far off westwards. As I neared and passed us the breeze filled in and swung from SE to S and increased to 18kts. Spirit was in her element and took off down the small waves. It didn't last long however and within two hours we were back to our normal plodding along in under ten knots of breeze.
We had some soup Claudia prepared for dinner earlier and I took a few hours sleep while Claudia maintained the watch. It was around 1900 when I got down to bed and the rest was deep especially now I had fitted a fan above my bed. The last few nights had been got down below with little breeze and the stifling temperatures you get from being near the equator.
I woke around 0130 to clear skies and a full moon once again. The wind was still incredibly light anything from 7-10kts and Spirit was gliding over the waters surface. It's fascinating how well she moves in such nonexistent conditions. The seas totally calm you can only just feel the 4kts of apparent wind but somehow we are being propelled at anything from 4-7kts from 170 degrees true on the port side. It's crazy how this little boat make her own wind and moves so fast and effortlessly through the water.
It was an uneventful evening with no traffic of any kind to be seen. We passed within 5nm of some chatted shoals. I wasn't game to go any closer as the chart warned of their inaccuracies. If we can keep up this pace we should find ourselves in by Friday afternoon. With the wind increasing most days just after sunrise we should be able to put a few miles under us today.
Things didn't turn out as we'd hoped. The wind was awful today. At around 0900 we had our first squall pass us after watching the black clouds roll in from the east. We were having a great morning sail but it was clear from a long way out it wasn't going to last long. As the cloud approached the wind veered to the SW and increased. Heavy rain feel reducing our visibility to zero. We had dropped Middy our assymetrical beforehand on seeing the approaching clouds and had unfurled the jib. The rain was blinding and with it came 30kts that with our speed of 10kts was forward of the beam. Spirit took off and we hung on for the ride Claudia keeping a close eye on the wind strength while I did my best to keep watch and hold the job sheet ready for easing should it rise above 30kts.
It passed quickly and left with it a horrible residual swell and wave that shook Spirit from side to side slamming the floats each time she was flung about by the waves. There was little to no wind to help stop this so we were unable to do anything apart from hold on and watch our poor girl shake.
It took hours before any wind came back in by which time we had done three head sail changes trying to get the boat moving. The waves are a real killer as they put an end to sailing in anything apart from a strong breeze. We needed power to hold Spirit to one side and onto her float but there wasn't enough wind. There was wind but the rig flying from side to side made it inefficient and impossible to sail in light airs. If we had a calm sea it would have been wonderful.
Our day went on like this with the wind slow increasing and the seas flattening out. We were finally able to sail for the last few hours of the afternoon but it didn't last long. As we approached the southern end of Palau Lingga the waves calmed seas reduced and we started to ghost along at more than wind speed, which was only around 4-8kts maximum.
The sun started to set in an amazing red ball that was cut by thin clouds making it look more like a Japanese painting than a real life sunset. It was beautiful and Claudia and I were lost in its awe until it disappeared below the horizon. Once the sun dipped so did the breeze. It fell out to nothing and we sat there going nowhere fast.
We had done nearly 5,000 mm since departing Australia after the refit but we still didn't have a good solid test of our fuel consumption and range as we hadn't used more than a quarter of a tank on any of our passages. So with the calm flat seas and no wind we thought it a good time to test and see what we could do. So down went the tohatsu two stroke and away she purred. We put the revs up to a good cruising speed of 4.5 kys and checked the fuel level. It was 1900 and we have three quarters of a tank.
I was awoken by Claudia at 0230 and the breeze had just started to fill in again giving us 8kts from the 160 true. Perfect our apparent was 90 degrees and the little reacher was up an furled ready to go. We checked the fuel and I was surprised to SE that we'd done around 35nm on half a tank!! Not bad that gives us a range of around 140nm in calm conditions as 4.5kts pretty good I thought for 40lts and a two stroke!
We rolled out the assymetrical and away Spirit went going from 4.5kts up to 7kts in the light breeze. It's incredible when the seas are calm how easily driven this little trimaran is. She is so happy to drift along in next to no wind it's the seas that are a killer as soon as that rig gets flung from side to side and looses efficiency we are going nowhere.
As we closed on Nongsa the traffic started to increase but with it we got calmer conditions as we sailed into the lee of the Riau Islands. This part of the world has an incredible amount of history dating back thousands of years from being one of the main stops in the Asian trading routes. It was held by the Portuguese, Dutch and a English at different times and is now the last stop off point in Indonesia for anyone heading further north to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Around 0530 some dark clouds approached from the west bring a fresher breeze. There was a low line of black behind us that looked as though it was dropped some serious amount of rain with it. In front we had a clearing to the west but more dark partches of cloud just in front us as that looked as though it had passed. As the cloud bank closed on us the wind got colder and freshened up to 28kts. I had rolled up the smaller reacher earlier upon seeing the cloud approaching and had fastened the mainsail to the boom along with the lazy sheets and lines laying around the deck. You can never be too prepared for what a squall can bring. We were lucky though as it passed us and left no hint of rain but that we could see on the radar well astern. Once the breeze dropped to 20kts and the sky cleared and became light with the sunrise I unfurled the small reacher and off we took again hitting 20kts at one stage. We were reaching fast so I took the tiller and helmed for an hour surfing and playing in the small waves and fresh breeze.
It didn't last long though and by 0900 we were back to the normal drifting in 4-8kts of wind. The angle wasn't bad just aft of the beam so I put the mainsail up and hoisted the larger reacher we have onboard. The extra power provided Spirit with enough speed to bring the apparent forward to give us 10-12 kts SOG which was a blessing as we were pushing now to get into Nongsa during daylight hours. It was still 60nm away and the wind was proving to be far from reliable.
The islands of the Raui group were upon us by 1100 and we could clearly make out palm trees and beaches as passed Palau Pangkil in the steaming sun. With the sails up we had very little protection so it was an easy decision to drop the main once the wind died and to put up our awning. It was so hot the decks were reaching 70 Celsius and were just about to hot to walk on, I felt as though I was melting!
Good friends contacted us just as we were sailing through the Raui group and they were 30nm behind. An easy decision was made to stop early for the night and next day so we could catch pup with them and enjoy a nice dinner together onboard. We found a suitable anchorage just behind Palau Chemara about 20nm from Nongsa. It had good all round protection and looked like a nice place for a few days rest after the long passage up.
You couldn't have asked for better weather as we approached. A small very dark cloud had appeared between us and the island about 3nm out. It was nothing just your average cloud until we had reached the bottom of it. Then all of a sudden that cloud seemed to grow in intensity and drop what felt like a years worth of rain upon us. Within two minutes Spirit was clean with not a speck of salt her and we were wetter than wet. Our clothes had been a washed along with the boat in what felt like an open car wash.
We rounded the Island and dropped the sails motoring slowly into the anchorage. The charts here are far from reliable so we used google earth to spot any obstacles as we entered the bay under engine. We were joined by our friends on Rotor the following day and spent nice evening catching up on the past years we hadn't seen each other.
The following day we set sail early to Nongsa Point. Even though there wasn't much wind we enjoyed the nice cal sail with the jib to Nongsa.