What a nice way to finish out this passage with good wind in the right direction all night and through our arrival in Langkawi about 12:00 today. Our nice friends on S/Y Path were waiting to welcome us and, once we finish with the clearance into Malaysia, I'm sure there's a cold beer waiting for us all somewhere! Congratulations to all of us on Feelin' Good for pulling off a fantastic season despite our late start. Indonesia was absolutely amazing and while the passage through the Strait of Malacca was challenging it was handled perfectly by Team Feelin' Good!
- Distance (nm)
- Average (kts)
What a great time we've all had in Bali however, this is the last stop we have in Indonesia for this season. We're moving onto Malaysia to rest up for a number of months before pushing on across the Indian Ocean. Langkawi is a great stop as it's a duty-free zone so parts can get shipped in far easier than any other place. Although not as exciting of a location as Auckland, there will still be many new experiences for everyone. We'll each take some time off to return home to visit with friends and family over the holidays and we look forward to seeing some friends on other yachts that are staying in Langkawi too.
Our passage is about 1500 nm so it'll take us about 9-10 days passing through the rest of western Indonesia, Singapore and transiting the Strait of Malacca. Langkawi is located near the northern most border of Malaysia near Thailand so we have quite a ways to go before we get there. If we are lucky, we'll get some wind but, being this close to the equator, we expect to be mostly motoring.
While I'm writing this on 16-Oct we expect to depart of Friday of this week depending on weather conditions.
Just to pass along that we are motoring now with the occasional use of the genoa when the wind angle and speed are advantageous. Mostly we motor into a current that has been pretty steady at 2.5 to 3.5. kts against us. I'll have to read more about the currents in this part of the world but it seems like the Indian Ocean is working hard to get to Indonesia as we've been fighting this current ever since we arrived in Tual back in August. Regardless, it won't keep us from reaching Langkawi sometime later tomorrow (Saturday our time zone). This will be our last night on passage until next season. Elke has a lasagna going in the oven, yum!
The downhill run, yep, our destination is less than 24 hours away. The anticipation onboard hangs in the air like the smell of Elke’s cookies baking in the oven—almost done. Smiles come more easily as we give each other encouraging nods. The first thing I noticed this morning was that the red and white Indonesia courtesy flag had gone missing, and in its place flies a yellow quarantine flag above the one for Malaysia.
We’ve been dodging lots of weather, and since we converged on the Malacca Strait, we’ve dodged more ships than it is possible to keep a running count of. Night watches are a busy time, but the full moon has been a blessing. The AIS signals on our nav screens are thick with tangled layers of little black triangles. The sky is gray, the sea is gray, the air smells icky, but spirits are high.
The sheer scale of the industry in this part of the world is stunning. There are no small ships here, no quaint wooden fishing vessels, no small local craft plying the waves to get from one tiny island to the next. What we’ve seen instead are enormous fleets of jumbo oil tankers, super-sized container ships, and every other sort of oversized transport: coal, LPG, iron ore... Yes, there is a trend—most carry some form of fuel. I thought I had seen a lot of tankers in Panama, but here, within this narrow channel, there are thousands.
That said, I can’t shake the feeling that what I am witnessing is not so much peak oil, as peak tanker. Or something close to it. With all of this incredibly tedious consumption taking place on such an inhuman scale, I can’t shake the idea that something better is poised to supplant it. It’s just a feeling. But I look at these things as we sail past them: the ships, the seemingly endless complex of refineries, the drilling platforms, and it all appears to me as, well, antique. Like seeing London in the 1890’s. Like the whaling industry just prior to the introduction of the kerosene lamp.
What leads me to this thought is the shear, ridiculous irony that the seawater that all of these ships use for transportation contains more energy (in the form of hydrogen) than all of the coal, gas, or petroleum that could ever be mined or drilled from the earth in a millennia.
Couple this with the fact that the technology to fully exploit hydrogen powered transportation has been waiting in the wings for decades, and I can’t help but think that carrying barrels of oil across the sea inside huge ships will someday be looked upon with the same puzzled disdain as those whaling ships are now, at least, that’s my feeling, and it’s a good one. Cheers.
Singapore is a massive oil refinery with a city attached to it. That said, I am sad to report that even though this marks my third passage through Singapore (the first two via the airport) I have yet to actually see Singapore. I’m sure it’s lovely, and I know absolutely the food there is astoundingly good (even the airport food), but the optics as one sails past are rather unpleasant.
I could go on about the hundred or so oil tankers anchored nearby, the offshore oil rig platforms, the smog, the rafts of garbage that drifted by our hull, the forest of skinny pipes burning off plumes of excess gas like some sort of eternal flame to capitalism, but I’d rather talk about our equator crossing ceremony. Which happened yesterday, but who cares, it was really great.
Art was fantastic in the roll of Neptune, even if his trident was constructed out of flimsy cardboard and foil, and even if his crown hooked the dodger during his entrance (it wasn’t as bad as Janet Jacksons ‘wardrobe malfunction’). Like a true thespian, he held character during the entire debacle so that none of these minor details hindered his ability to fulfill the roll.
Danni and Elke proved themselves more than worthy to cross from the Southern Hemisphere to the north, with Neptune’s blessing. Some boats like to put first-timers though some horrible hazing ritual (which only serves as a justification for vicious bullying IMHO) We like skip all that stuff, and instead, we just go right to popping the Champagne.
After a few rounds of toasts and speeches, we stopped the boat right on top of the equatorial line: 00.00.00 and everybody but Thomas jumped into the sea. The water was hot, like bath water, but Gin-clear. After a quick swim we were back on board and on our way again—we are feeling good!
Hot, very hot and extra hot. That's what's going on today. The seas are completely flat with not a breath of a breeze. Early this morning Daniele and I had the last bit of sailing before we ran out of wind and turned the engine on. We'll most likely have to motor all the way from here to past Singapore and well into the Strait of Malacca before we see any breeze big enough to put the sails up again. In the 'Days of Old', sailors might get stuck in the Doldrums for weeks waiting for enough wind to move them past the Equator. Theses days we are fortunate to have engines which can take us through areas of no wind effortlessly.
Still... we are a sailing yacht and it's no fun to motor (anyone can push the throttles forward and engage the autopilot). So, we'll resign ourselves to enjoying the down time, read books, watch movies and keep a very sharp eye out on watch for the many freighters, tankers, cargo ships and barges all going the same place we are (or coming from there). The Strait of Malacca is a choke point for thousands of ships that every year take the same path we are on from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. It's one of the busiest stretches of water in the world. I've gone through the English Channel before but I expect this to be way more busy.
Tomorrow morning (about 06:30 our local time) we'll reach the Equator. We have some plans to celebrate (oh yes, there will be champagne!) and introduce our newest crew members to Neptune as he is in charge of keeping all ships safe in their passage through his domain and proper respect must be paid. We'll have more news on this in tomorrows post.
In the meantime, did I mention it's HOT!!!!!
The wind has died. This is how I know we are nearing that harsh dividing line between the hemispheres. This, and the charts, but a more significant indicator is the steadily rising temperature. We sail north toward the equator, and as we gradually progress north, the sun grows hotter and hotter, but also, and in seemingly perfect congruity, what little breeze there is will gradually vanish.
This is the bane of sailing the planet’s outer girth, and it’s called the doldrums for good reason: with each new day the seas grow calmer and calmer, the wind arrives less and less, forward progress slows more and more, and during this entire stagnating experience you will roast as you never have in your life.
We began our journey under full sail and in good wind. But that was days ago. We are now under motor and we will most likely remain under motor for the duration. The crew Bimini, again, I can’t believe the first two times we crossed the equator we endured the doldrums’ oven-like heat without it. The first time we crossed the equator was in the South Atlantic, the second was after our transit through the Panama Canal and en route for the Galapagos. All of that now seems like so incredibly long ago.
This time we will cross in the South China Sea, near Singapore. And as in times past, this time we have rookies on board. We have amongst our crew a pair of young sailors who will be required to persuade Neptune of their worthiness to pass. It’s a special right of passage for sailors to cross the equator, and our two guppies: Elke and Danni, are in for a treat. We have special activities planned, and it’ll be fun, but not only that—what a remarkable part of the world to do it in.
Today we spotted a large brown sea snake. Thomas was on helm when he picked out the poisonous sea serpent navigating the waves and we all stopped to look. How this lone, air-breathing snake managed to be out so far is a mystery. Of all the thousands of square miles of ocean all around us, and in fifty meters of depth, how is it that this slender meter-long reptile winds up so close to us? What are the odds? Sea snakes or Krates, as they’re known, normally like to live much closer to shore. They prefer to hunt shallow reefs by day, and then at sunset they slither ashore and bed down in their burrow for the night, but not this snake, this one was on a mission.
The sea is full of surprises. In addition to our lonesome reptile, we also passed by a massive fleet of wooden fishing boats. We’ve seen lots of them anchored out alone in the open sea, some with crew on board suffering the horrible, ceaseless swell. Other boats appear abandoned, left to roll unattended until they eventually break their morning and drift away.
All of these boats are traditional wooden vessels, with tall deck-houses, high pointed prows, squared sterns and masts for sails. They’re often brightly painted in bold green and red, with intricate decorative designs traced along their hulls in orange and yellow. What made the “fleet” we saw today unusual was that these boats were under motor, and very close together. An armada of one hundred gaily painted wooden ships, now that’s something you don’t see every day. We are feeling good.
Seventy miles south of Borneo. Let me think on that for a few more seconds, we are currently sailing seventy miles south of the island of Borneo. Seventy miles from a place I once only knew as pictures in the pages of the National Geographic. And now, at this very instant, if it were possible for some friend or relative to Skype, I could say something like, “hey, guess where I am at this very moment?”
The island of Sumatra isn’t all that far away either, nor Java, or any number of, what for us, are extremely exotic places. Of course they are not exotic at all to the hundreds of millions who live in this part of the world, but that is, in itself, the nature of travel. This is the reason we travel, and what we hope to come away with long after we’ve returned home—a revelation that can be summed up in a single word and that word is, perspective.
Ironically, we will most likely not be able to view Borneo, or Java, or Sumatra, other than as a pale outline on the distant horizon. We are on passage, you see, we are working to get our vessel and her crew safely from point (A) to point (B) on a nautical chart; from one location to another, and all while traveling a great distance at low speed over vast stretches of open water—this is sailing.
Right now we sail the Java Sea, but a little while ago we were sailing the Bali Sea, and before that, some official somewhere at some point drew lines on a map and claimed that particular patch of ocean for their government. Other than as an aid to navigation, I don’t see the purpose, but here we are.
In these waters one thing is certain; it’s necessary to keep a close watch for what lies ahead. We’ve all taken turns looking out for the unique types of hazards floating around out here, the most significant being the tethered fishing huts. Sometimes there is no hut, per-say, but only a tied bundle of floating bamboo attached to a fixed mooring.
There’s often a little sliver of fluttering black fabric attached to a slender stick—this is your only visible warning. Easy enough to pick out by day, but at night? Night is a different story—cross your fingers and hope for the best. Fortunately we are not a power boat traveling at high speed, but a slowly sailing vessel in gentle wind.
This part of the world does have its own special characteristics, the most prominent being that it is very, very hot. I don’t know how we could’ve held up this long without the crew Bimini, or the ice machine. It’s my conclusion that cold is much easier to remedy than heat; to a point, yes, but even if you find yourself lost in a snowy forest you can at least set something on fire. With heat you just have to put up with it, drink water, and sweat, sweat, sweat.
Cold sandwiches today for lunch—thank you Elke. In spite of the oppressive conditions, Elke is stubbornly coaxing her bread-dough to rise, and last night she made a fantastic beef curry. I don’t know what she has planned for dinner but I don’t particularly care, whatever it is will be wonderful. Spirits on board are high. We are only days away from the close of our sailing season, and with that, the closing of distance, however small, between ourselves and our home port on the far side of the world. We are feeling good.
We had a slow start to the passage, then a lot of wind and then back to 18-20 kts. The main was back up with no reefs and we used the genoa to get a really nice forward speed directly to our next waypoint. Our SOG has been great with a top speed of 17 kts! Mostly we were doing over 10 kt so the progress was very welcome from our meandering around of yesterday. Later on we had the A3 up for a while but eventually the winds shifted and we were making good progress... but in the wrong direction. So, another gybe and we put up the A3 again on the other side to see if we can continue to make some forward progress. Ah, the life of a sailor!
We were able to depart on time (about 10:30) and headed to the north around the east side of Bali. The current was very strong on the way in and was just about as strong today. Since we had some pretty nice wind we put up the sails and immediately realized we had about 5 kts of current right on the bow. Our SOG (speed over ground) was only about 4 kts and we just slogged along until the winds veered us too much to the east. Time to furl the genoa away and motor for a while in the correct direction. Eventually the winds came back up gusting over 30 kts and we put in our 2nd reef, adding in the staysail and have enjoyed spectacular sailing for the past 3-4 hours. We expect this wind to continue at least until tomorrow morning. Eventually, the forecast is for the wind to completely drop off and we'll be motoring most of the way. So, better enjoy the wonderful wind while we have it!
In a few hours we'll be leaving Bali to begin the passage to Malaysia. Elke has been putting together 'passage meals' for a few days now and the guys have been preparing the boat and checking everything to make sure we have a great passage. We're all excited to make this passage as it's going to present a lot of challenges. I'll update this post every day and hope to be able to stay in touch better as we will be passing along the coast of Sumatra and Java (both Indonesian) so I hope to have access to internet from our tethered phone rather than depend on the Iridium satphone.