The starboard engine stopped dead at 3 a.m. in the South Java Sea while I was on watch. A physical inspection of the plastic, transparent diesel tank showed it was completely empty while the gauge showed 50 litres remaining. Further scrutiny of the water gauge proved that the water levels remained at over 300 litres independent of our actual use.
Luckily, we were within a day of Bali but we did not possess the proper visas to enter the port nor did we have any information on how to enter the port. By quickly sending satellite emails to our land-base family, we were able to determine where and how to enter the port. Unknown to us, it was a national holiday which explained why no one at the port answered our VHF calls. While struggling to maneuver around the well-worn Bali International Marina, a scruffy, bearded sailor rowed his wooden dinghy to us and provided phone numbers and directions to the local agent who could aid us in getting water and fuel. Within 48 hours, Ruth, the local agent, helped us organise customs and finish provisioning diesel by 10 litre bottles and water by 50 litre bottles, all ferried to our boat by dinghy.
Onward from Bali our surroundings were completely foreign to us. Sky Pond would move through the sea by day, hundreds of miles from faint outlines of land masses which we knew were Indonesia and Malaysia, but we knew nothing of the ports, people, or are surrounding environment as this was a delivery, not a cruise, so no stopping. The oceans were hot and filled with colourful, iconic fishing boats lashed together by day while the sailors rested, and hundreds flooding the sea with stadium lights by night to net unsustainable quantities of fish. The fisherman owned the seaways and the airways played local music on VHF channel 16 throughout the night.
Sailing required constant vigilance at the helm, monitoring navigational systems to avoid collisions with enormous cargo ships, small erratic fishing boats and tons of floating flotsam which threatened our props. There are rules of the road while at sea and large commercial ships are very predictable and for the most part, professionally sailed. Learning how to read their navigational lights and react accordingly under many different circumstances was somewhat frightening at first, but later became less of a concern as compared to dodging fishing vessels who had far less regard for such practices. Their only interest being to lay their lines in a cris-cross pattern throughout the day and for us to divine their next move and where their nets were spread.
Navigating our vessel at night initially required a leap of faith: the nearby boats navigation lights are sometimes invisible and at other times nonexistent. Lights can be distorted by the boat’s distance, reflection on the water or rain. They can be confused with lights on land and with other boats that are in the same visual plane. As novice sailors, Carl and I had to quickly acquire and develop skills to master the set up and interpretation of our radar and AIS systems to safely make our way in foreign waters where adherence to standard boating practices is rare. We learned how to identify weather patterns, set up radar and AIS guard zones, interpret and evaluate approaching vessel information, and make modifications to our route on the fly. We also quickly became comfortable in hailing vessels who spoke unknown languages to coordinate navigations.
During the weeks of sailing to Darwin, Carl and Alec worked through the commissioning process by identifying and solving technical and mechanical problems. Carl maintained comprehensive spreadsheets of warranty items while working with Seawind’s outstanding and responsive customer service team via satellite email. There were times when it was so strenuous and intense Carl had to remind me that our cruising life would be much more enjoyable and that the delivery phase was not indicative of our future cruising lifestyle.
We had made this a delivery – not a cruise, but I did find the valuable time to reflect, which sailing can afford. Like many other women, sailing around the world wasn’t my dream, but continual learning and achieving goals is crucial to remaining agile and vital to our health especially as we age. As much as I had prepared and studied sailing materials on land, it wasn’t until we were at sea where I could read user manuals and apply our delivery skipper’s instructions that I became more confident and capable. Today I look back and laugh at a 400 point quiz Carl developed to evaluate my skills – yes really. I didn’t think it so humorous at the time. We are still learning something new every day and building upon what our skipper taught us in those first weeks. The promise of sailing away together was a prerequisite to codifying our relationship.
On March 21, 2016 we arrived at dawn in Cullen Bay, Darwin, Australia completed the commissioning and first leg of delivering Sky Pond, our new Seawind Catamaran.. The previous three weeks of sailing from Vietnam to Darwin is a blur of intense tedium punctuated by moments of beauty, exquisite peace and some fear. As we approach Cullen Bay the sun is just rising and I’ve completed my watch but haven’t returned to bed – it is customary to arrive as a team so that we navigate the beacons together and enter the bay. I’ve been awake for 36 hours. I am exhausted and emotionally brittle. I don’t know if I can tolerate the intense heat, humidity and strain much longer though we need to get our boat through the locks and into the marina at the height of the seven meter high tide.
Arriving in Darwin, I had no idea what to expect. The tide changes alone are mind boggling and require precise planning for entry into the marina’s locks. It’s difficult to grasp traveling along the edge of a continent for hundreds of miles. Since exiting the Java Sea we have known the location of our sailboat relative to the land mass of Australia, but have no concept of what that land is like. the deep scent of the vegetation and earth is an unexpected sensation. It reminds me that our earth is alive and not just the land we populate. Every land we passed while sailing through the China Sea, Java Sea and the Timor Sea exuded its own characteristic scent. The delivery of Sky Pond to Australia stands out to us as a significant feat given our experience and skills.
It didn’t take us long to begin our first proper cruising adventure and soon after arriving in Darwin we set off for Vanuatu. My first report comes from the rim of a volcano on Tanna that was absolutely amazing. We were so close to the lava which was exploding from a clearly visible huge hole in the base of the crater. I got some cool pics but internet here is hard to find so we couldn’t do much until reaching New Caledonia. Named Mount Yasur, the volcano has been continuously erupting for almost 3 years – reportedly with several eruptions per hour.
Just as the sun set we left Ranvetlam, Ambrym for Vanihe, Ambae, and as it got dark and as the black sand beach disappeared from view, the orange glow of Ambrym’s volcano lit up the top of the island. Later, as it got pitch black, the orange glow was along side the Milky Way, silhouetted by the outline of the island – most spectacular.
Next stop is the island of Ambae. And as we found in Ambrym, there are said to be powerful sorcerers living on Ambae. So we kept a low profile, relaxing in Vanihe, snorkeling, reading, listening to music, and just taking in the majestic scenery. So different from the delivery trip, and with confidence soaring we are now truly experiencing a lifestyle shift. Towering cliffs reach 150m high, forming a dramatic backdrop as they rise out of the clear blue waters and black sand beach. We’re the only ones here and there’s no access to this bay from land, so it’s quiet. Tomorrow we’re off for Asanvari, Maewo…
Vanuatu is remote. And it is also refreshingly tribal – locals dancing the Rom dance where male dancers are clad only in “mambas”, a woven sheath that covers only the groin and is attached to a wide bark belt holding it straight out or erect, while women dance only in grass skirts. Ash from the volcano falls like snow on the boat.
We have now arrived at the island of Ranon, Ambrym. We got a small tam tam wood carving from chief Joseph, a master carver and chief of a village of amazingly friendly, curious people.
Reflecting on the initial delivery, although it was difficult to take delivery abroad while learning the boat at the same time, we gained more in personal way than I expected. Predictably we have improved our sailing and seamanship skills. Unpredictably but more importantly, Carl and I have grown as a team and grown as a couple. Witnessing indescribable natural beauty, developing a circle of lifetime sailor friends and gaining insights of foreign cultures have broadened our perspectives and mutual joy. Solving problems jointly have given each of us a new appreciation of each other’s abilities and strengthens our relationship at its foundation. It meant that the first real “cruising” was well within our capabilities, and as mentioned earlier confidence is high. And if you are reading this, then I can reassure that after nearly 8,000 miles in our first nine months of blue water sailing we are still convinced that the characteristics of the 1160 catamaran – and of Seawinds in general, make this the perfect bluewater boat for us.