Saturday, October 17, 2009

Across the Bali Sea, the Java Sea and part of the South China Sea

We departed Serangan on southeast tip of Bali at 0800 on Thursday 8 October at beginning of slack low tide in order to catch the counter-current that sometimes runs northward along the shore. The counter-current only runs at precisely Upper Transit or Lower Transit of the moon, or at precisely Upper Transit or Lower Transit plus 10 hours. Since we do not have a nautical almanac we had no way of knowing when UT or LT of moon cycle would occur, but we WAGged it and just happened to guess right. (WAG = wild ass guess) Our friends were using a different tide program and according to them we were leaving at 2 1/2 hours before high tide. But according to the tidal information in Maxsea we left at precisely the beginning of slack low tide. Whichever timing of the tidal cycle it was, it worked beautifully.

It was calm motoring out to the edge of the reef where we turned northward through some very strong eddies that twisted us about a bit. After getting through the eddies we picked up the counter-current near the shore and were able to ride it all the way up the island. In the counter-current there was only 1 1/2 to 2 knots head current against us, as opposed to the 5 to 7 knots of head current (south-setting current) that is normally in the Lombok Strait during the SE monsoon season. October is a transition month from SE monsoon to NW monsoon. Once the NW monsoon season is fully established then the current in Lombok Strait will reverse and become northerly-setting. The current always runs opposite direction of the prevailing winds for some strange reason. The day we left there was a good SE wind and we hoped that it remained from that direction until we reached Singapore.

No one told us about the current in the Bali Sea and there was no indication on our charts! There were lots of warnings about the strong currents in the various straits, but no one had mentioned that we would face a 1 1/2 to 2 knot head current all the way SE to NW across the Bali Sea. The wind died down and we were forced to motor all day and night. As we neared the island of Pulau Raas the seas became like a washing machine during agitation cycle. But once we entered the pass between the islands that separate the Bali Sea from the Java Sea, the water instantly calmed. Once through that pass we immediately picked up a westerly-setting current. Yeah!! A current in our favor for a change! We decided not to stop at Pulau Raas and pushed on toward the island of Bawean.

That night off the northern coast of the island of Java we passed through at least 50 small fishing boats -- all lit up in the craziest manner. None of these craft were lit with the conventional lighting scheme of red on port side, green on starboard and white on stern. These little boats had flashing green lights or flashing red lights or flashing white lights or sometimes all 3 colors. Very few had static lights, almost all were flashing brightly. Christmas lights off Java in October. It was impossible to tell which direction any boat was heading. And every once and awhile one of those very large Indonesian ships would pass us by. Also the normal cargo ships, but at least those had AIS and correct lighting. Made for a very stressful evening.

About 9 p.m. I realized that I had fever because it suddenly seemed very cold. And there was no way that it was really cold in this hot area. Sure enough, the thermometer read 103. I really wanted to stick it out and let Bill sleep until at least midnight, but he woke up at 10:30 and saw that I was sick and he took over. Good thing he did. I was down for the count. A fever that high wears a person out. Bill had been telling me for 2 days that my face was very bright red, but it is normal for my face to be red when I get hot; so I just figured it was the heat. Should have listened to Bill and dug out the thermometer sooner. Bill stayed on watch for the rest of the night and until we reached the anchorage at Bawean shortly after noon. I started taking Cipro. Had no idea what was wrong, but this area of the world has a number of common diseases: dengue fever, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid and yellow fever -- just to name a few. We had vaccine updates for typhoid and yellow fever last February in New Zealand, but dengue or malaria or encephalitis were possibilities. We had tried to wash our hands every time we touched the dinghy painter because the water in the harbor in Bali was so dirty. Who knows what we had been exposed to in those crowds at the temples we visited. Figured that taking the antibiotics might not help but it surely wouldn't hurt, regardless of what ailed me. Fever remained high grade for 2 days, then diminished to low-grade fever for another several days. By Monday I was feeling good enough to press on toward Singapore. After all, all we do on passages is sit in the cockpit and I could do that with a slight temp.

BTW, Bawean was a great anchorage. Nicely protected from sea motions and had good cool breeze coming down off the high hills. Just had to ignore the caterwauling call to prayers from the loud speakers at 2 villages several times daily. This probably would not be a pleasant anchorage during NW monsoon but was great during the SE winds.

Monday morning we set sail across the Java Sea. We had decided to skip Borneo, or Kalimantan as it is currently called. Most everyone else planned to visit Kumai on Borneo and make a trip up the river to see the orangutans. This rates right up there with those Komodo dragons on another Indonesian island. Houston has a wonderful zoo. We have seen orangutans and were not interested in making a trip up a river where I would likely be eaten alive by insects (which never seem to bite any other people around me). Since I was just getting over being sick (possibly from an insect bite), we saw no reason to push our luck. So we set sail from Bawean headed NW across the Java Sea to Pulau Karangraya near the Karimati Strait. This is west of Borneo and is where the Java Sea joins the South China Sea.

It was great sailing with 20 knots winds from SE. Large lumpy quartering seas made for a lot of movement, but nothing uncomfortable. It would have been great if this weather had continued but that was not to be. The winds died and we were soon back to motoring. Highlight of crossing the Java Sea was sighting 2 extremely colorful boats with curving high prows. How exotic! Will try to post photos when we get internet access.

One night we motored an enormous field of anchored fishing boats. These are the strangest things. They had long poles sticking out in every direction all around the boat, with nets on the poles. They would anchor the boat and lower all the poles and turn on these extremely bright lights. From a distance beyond the horizon these bright lights looked like a city. As we approached each boat it looked like a small oil platform. But these were fishing boats. I counted 39 in one patch one night.

Each island has its unique way of building boats and of fishing. Off the northern coast of Bali we had seen hundreds and hundreds of those water spider type boats that could be affixed with lateen sails. The first photo with this blog posting is of that mountainous part of Bali. On the beach in that photo are hundreds of those spider-looking boats dragged up onto the beach. That area was also plagued by wood and bamboo rafts, each with A-frames built on top and with a single palm frond standing upright like a mast. We have no idea what the significance of these rafts might be. But, later, at Bawean we saw a different type raft. These were much more crudely built, but still had a single upright palm frond. Maybe these things are to attract marine life to encourage fish to congregate beneath the rafts. Who knows! Maybe there is some religious significance. All we know is that they are a hazard to boats like ours. Those rafts could sure mess up the gel coat on our boat. And it was positively impossible to see these rafts at night. We were very glad to get far enough out to sea that there were not any more rafts still floating.

We decided to skip stopping at Karangraya. Instead we went around that small group of islands and took the Karimata Strait into the South China Sea, then northwest up toward Singapore. We stopped yesterday afternoon at Lingga island. There was no breeze there so we motored today up to the island of Kentar and anchored at latitude 00.03.64N longitude 104.45.77E We plan to stay here a few days. Do laundry and rest up. We have covered 940.2 miles since leaving Bali and have about 90 miles left to Singapore.

Did you catch that latitude in the previous paragraph?

Yep, we crossed the equator again this morning shortly before noon. We are again in the northern hemisphere. And, let me tell you, it is very hot and very humid on this spot of the equator!

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