Raja Ampat to Wanchi Wanchi

I had to leave Ah Ma behind at the Meridian Marina for a week or so. I had to visit a dentist back home to reconstruct a 40 year old filling. And of course I also had to go and see Linda who was busy arranging a lot of stuff for family and friends back home.

The transit from Wasai to Macau was quite an expedition. First a 2 hour ferry ride across to Sorong. Then a night in a hotel to catch a flight to Jakarta the next day. In Jakarta an awful long layover to take a red-eye flight to Hong Kong. From there the bus to Macau. All in, around 48 hours door to door. The route back was similar, but I did manage to get a connecting ferry from Sorong to Wasai on the day of arrival.

My crew went exploring Raja Ampat together. They got a motorbike and went off to find some homestays and hidden paradise. When I came back to the boat Alma and Roo were waiting for me, scrubbing like crazy. The birds in the Marina ate some red berries or fruits, and their droppings left nasty red stains on the Bimini and deck. But with a lot of elbow grease and a bit of help from powertools and the pressure washer we managed to clean it all up.

We made the boat ready for departure, filled up the fuel tank with triple filtered diesel. But all plans came to a halt when we found rat droppings in the galley. An emergency cleanup commenced and we went to the town of Wasai to find some rat killing gear. I ended up buying some glue mat. And with a little peanut butter as bait, we caught the rat the next morning in the deep fridge. Killing it off was unpleasant, but necessary. We had to leave the Marina in a hurry, in between the rats, red poo birds and ear damaging squeaking docks it wasn’t a pleasant place to park your boat.

We set sail on the 20st of August, into a gloomy and rainy horizon, But soon the skies cleared and the blue below and on top showed itself again in all its glory. Our destination, Pulau Penem. The island is one of the poster islands for Raja Ampat. A beautiful blue lagoon filled with dozens of small rocks and islands The sail was a slow one in light winds without having our code0 to help us along.

Finding an anchorage was a challenge. The only feasible spot was taken by a dive liveaboard boat. We scoured the shore trying to find a reasonable depth. But eventually we settled for dropping down all the chain in 50 meters of water. Luckily the winds were calm so this should hold us in place for the night.

The next morning we launched the dinghy and went ashore for an expedition. We visited the viewpoints of the bay which were breathtaking. We had the place to ourselves. The dive boat had left and there were no other visitors.

We dinghied around in the bay for a bit looking for a cup of coffee and possibly some breakfast or lunch. As we pulled into a floating dock on the west side we found a couple of small homestay style cottages. The friendly owner invited us to his beachside table. Here we had some tea, coffee and bread with jam and chocolate spread.

The next morning, August 22nd we pulled anchor. This was easier said than done. The chain was fouled and with 100 meters of chain out, we could impossibly pull it by hand to release the tension. But after some McGuyver thinking, we used one of the sheet lines hooked up to the chain. With this I used a sheet winch to release the tension on the chain. With the tension gone the foul was easily sorted. And soon after all 100 meters of shiny chain was back in the forepeak.

It was another glorious daysail up to the next bit of paradise. The island of Wayag. Another poster child island in the Raja Ampat archipelago. I pulled the boat into a gorgeous bay completely protected from all angles. We were surrounded by islands in our own private lagoon. The water was flat as a mirror. This place should be famous for incredible underwater life. So the moment the hook dropped, Alma jumped in the water to scope things out. It was rather disappointing. Not much fish life or corals. Still, the environment was breathtaking.

The next day we used the Dinghy to explore further into the archipelago. It was often too shallow even for the dinghy, so we had to thread our way in between sandbanks and coral reefs. I beached the dinghy on a picture perfect white sand beach. Here too the underwater life was disappointing. Not much fish nor corals. Strange for an untouched nature reserve that only receives a handful of visitors each year.

Later that afternoon another boat pulled into the bay. Our private lagoon was now occupied. We dinghied over to see who these intruders were. It was a boat named Champagne, also part of the sail 2 indonesia rally. A friendly couple of guys whom invited us over for a couple of Bintangs and a meal. But as they clearly started to make advances on Roo we decided to head back to our boat, and continue our evening laughing about the amorous advances that clearly would have never touched base.

As pretty as the islands of Wayag were, we had to make way towards an island with an Airport, as Roo needed to fly out, back to Australia. The nearest convenient point would be the Island of Wagi Wagi, some 500 miles south west. So still quite some days to go.

On the evening of August the 24th we reached the shores of Pulau Gebe. A shrill contrast to the natural beauty of Wayag and Penem. The island is completely being stripmined in the search for nickel. Gotta love those electric cars right. We crawled behind a reef far from the town. It was just a stop for a night, so no need to get ashore. The Next morning would be a long sail. 70 miles. And from the looks of it, into the wind.

The winds were favorable and Ah Ma was barreling along at 8 to 9 knots making short work of the 70 mile passage. It took us some time to find an agreeable depth, but before 5pm the metal hit the bottom in 35 meters of water north of Pulau Dadawe. An idyllic little island with not much going on other than a few fishing huts.

The days flew by, as did the miles. We are all in our rhythm. Alma can sail the boat by herself and needs little to no explanations. Roo is an excellent crew, she thinks ahead and helps out without having to ask her anything. I am blessed with these two, and could sail with them all the way to Thailand if they had the time. Unfortunately they did not, and neither did I. That ugly thing called ‘work’ had shown up on the email. A disadvantage of having starlink aboard. From the looks of it, my presence is required in the Caribbean come October or November. Ah well, it fills the cruising kitty.

A short 30 to 40 miles hop turned into tacking back and forth and beating into the wind and waves. The southern tip of Halameru, Pulau Babi, threw in an unexpected surprise. Suddenly our depth gauge showed 7 meters and the waves were stacking up like crazy. I threw the boat 90 degrees eastward, getting more distance between the shoreline and ourselves. As we got further out the sea calmed down and depths returned to the normal ‘too deep to measure’.

After this little wake-up call we headed back northwest to find shelter at Pulau Damar. We were welcomed by strings of nets. But the friendly fisherman guided us into their lagoon, where we had a lovely calm anchorage for the night.

The next day was a day of motoring. No wind to speak of, and on the nose. We anchored on the North end of Pulau Bisa that afternoon. A short trip to a calm anchorage. The next leg would be an overnight passage as we would try to reach Wachi on Wakatobi. A three day sail if all goes as planned.

But of course as with everything sailing, nothing goes according to plan. The wind on the nose was very uncomfortable, Ah Ma was banging into the waves making sleep for everyone impossible. We decided to change our plans and dive behind the islands of Mangoli and Taliabu. A long island stretching from west to east. Here we would be protected from the swells, and the winds would be more favorable. But going completely around the island would make a large detour. So I aimed for a passage between Mangoli and Taliabu.

Everyone was knackered, so in the afternoon of the 29th of august we dropped the anchor in 20 meters of water near the passage between the two islands. In the light winds behind the islands we had to motor a bit to make our anchorage before nightfall. Ah Ma was starting to complain.

The Volvo threw a fit and some sensor alarm started to go off. An annoying beep, and no way to turn it off. Well one way, I took the display out and ripped the little speaker out of it. No more noise, but still a strange sensor alarm. We tried resetting every sensor cable we could find on the engine, to no avail.

Young fishermen welcomed us into their bay. They came aboard for some photos, but politely left when we explained that we were all very tired. They invited us to come further up the bay, closer to town. But for us this spot was good enough. It was calm, quiet and a place for a good rest.

When we told the boys about the plan to leave the next morning through the passage they warned us of big waves on the other end. And boy were they right. As we motored through the channel and out of the exit it was like motoring into a big surf. Sets of 3 meter breaking waves bit our bow and the depths were scary shallow at times. But Ah Ma did well, stubbornly plowed through the waves at 3 or 4 knots.

At the end of the surf laid a smooth sail towards Wakatobi, still beating into the wind, but with considerably better seas. Our suffering was rewarded with a sighting of a small pod of what I believe to have been sperm whales. Straight ahead of the bow, two Adults and two young ones. Three disappeared quite quickly when they noticed Ah Ma coming down their path. But the fourth, probably the male, stuck around on the surface for a while, checking us out.

I was half asleep up top, Roo or Alma had watch over the boat. Everyone was tired from the beating into the winds. Something or someone told me to open my eyes and look. And as I did I was just in time to avoid a couple of floating fishing buoys. Divine intervention, the Boss was looking out for us.

That would be the last surprise of this passage. Many more fishing buoys passed us, but we all saw them in time to adapt our course. On the afternoon of the 1st of September we pulled into the little Marina of Wanchi Wanchi. There were a couple of boats there. Some from the rally. They invited us to join some rally for lunch or dinner. But none of us had interest in joining the Australian tourist association. We followed all the messages on the whatsapp group about lunch here, coffee there, dinner there. O so cute those locals do a dance for us. Just not our cup of tea. The couple on the boat next to us, Swedish I believe, had the same feelings.

We would stay in Wanchi Wanchi for a couple of days. Alma had to renew her visa here, and Roo would leave us here. On to her next adventure..

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