Moving South. Whales, fishing and a problem with diesel fuel.Sorong to Darwin 02-25 October 2012.



Safety First!!


There are a few ways to get home to Australia from SE Asia on a little boat. You can go across the top of New Guinea, through the Samarai Strait in the east and down through Torres Strait, maybe under New Guinea to Cape York, or you can go in through Darwin or Gove and then head east across Arhhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria. There were this year around 13 boats out of Morotai headed for Gove in something of a fleet movement and the three of us Gadfly, Metana and Breakaway (Allan) ultimately headed into Darwin. The initial plan for us and Metana had been to go direct for Cape York but plans, plans and then whatever happens!! In this case from Sorong on we had so much trouble with fuel that staying in company to Darwin proved the best option.

Jerry’s preferred bar!!!

In Indonesia when one buys fuel on the islands the standard operating  procedure seems to be for the fuel being sold to be stored in open drums (no lid at all) and for the seller to scoop the fuel out of the drum with a measuring device and pour it into your container. These guys also have special measuring devices where one Indonesian litre equals about 90 % of the normal S.I. measure we are familiar with; no weights and measure certificates here. They do this with petrol as well, open drums of petrol and diesel stored next to each other and they do like smoking their

Metana and Daryl.

cigarettes!! Anyway aside from the potential pyrotechnic nature of their commercial practices, what actually passes for diesel may have commenced it’s career nowhere near an oil well but rather growing on an oil palm or maybe as part of a coconut. Of course the potential for getting adulterated or contaminated fuel is more than high and we had considered ourselves lucky to have got so far and so long without really shite fuel and the associated filter blockages and engine stoppages that result.

There had of course been some minor issues with our rebuilt engine, a major oil leak, new fuel solenoid that gave up and yet another heat exchanger drama. Does occasionally tend to focus ones attention on all things mechanical, like spending 5 hours getting an engine to start, when in the middle of nowhere and the closest village has police officers with machine guns visiting the night before asking if we had any beer or cigarettes for them. After much considered thought we realised that yes we had a fuel issue and staying in company with the other boats may be a wise move, so it was to Darwin we were to go.

Breakaway, Tom, Daryl and Allen.

After the Selat Sele we headed through the maze of islands north of Pulau Misool day hopping down to the north coast of Ceram (big island south of western New Guinea) then east and south on a night crossing over to the Kai Islands and our clearance port at Tual; this put us 90 miles west of Aru and from Aru it’s 300 miles to Cape Don on the great south land. An issue however all through this area and north of Ceram is anchorages and trying to find somewhere shallow enough to anchor and not on coral. One location in a Selat between P. Ginyamato and Ketimkeno near a pearl farm was perfect though but what with pearl farms and security, we had the obligatory visit from the assault rifle equipped police wanting to know who we were and where we were going. These guys were pretty friendly however and even passed their weaponry up onto our boat for us to have a closer look at it. On the north coast of Ceram we spent three nights off a village by the name of Ingelas buying some food, water and suspect diesel. Not too many tourists pass through here although the place was on the list of obligatory stops for the Gove bound flotilla. We sent Jerry on a mission here to find somewhere for us to have a night out and meal ashore and after yet more chicken-curry we went to have a beer at what turned out to be the local cat-house. Interesting place with couches lined up picture theatre style for the Video and Karaoke but the beer was cold and the girls pretty. We were leaving before the festivities kicked off and as the locals started to arrive for their night out and they did seem bemused to find white guys drinking at their local knock-shop. The local police captain was especially curious about us when he arrived for his evening of Karaoke.

Very big whales. Do not hit!!!

The problem with moving south and east from Ceram and down towards Australia is that as you move away from the equator you become progressively more exposed to the south-easterly tradewinds, sadly coming from where one needs to go. The trick is to pick lulls in the breeze after the passage of high pressure systems across Australia and use the two or three days of variables or no wind to move as quick as possible; in a yacht in such conditions not that quick really. It became a bit of a slog getting down around the corner of Ceram and the next day as the weather was light we headed straight across for our overnight run into Tual. This became mostly a motor and in very light conditions but we did catch fish and almost ran over whales. On the first day out we saw more whales in five hours than we had seen since leaving Australia two years earlier and they were big. Great big whales with long wet backs that looked like islands appearing all over the shop. Angel and Jerry were especially excited about the photo opportunities when a whale came right under our bows, Trevor was more concerned that if we didn’t change course somewhat quickly we would hit the thing and it did seem to be twice the length of our boat. Happily the whales later retired somewhere else for the evening and that night there were no things that go bump in the dark. Next day just before dusk we slipped into Tual and went on the pick for our last big shore run in SE Asia before heading back to the great south land; ah yes and more dodgy fuel.

Tual and the tired fishing boats.

More suspect fuel.

In trying to go south-east into Australia the trick is to claw eastings whenever the weather lets you and in the process try and get enough angle on the wind to be able to sail or at least motor-sail hard on the breeze and get to where you want to go. In other words go east and then go east again. The other option of course is to tack and sail as close to the wind as you can but this will normally take twice as long as taking the more direct route. To give ourselves the best angle into Darwin we decided to go another 90 miles across to ‘Aru’, a long and flat island east of Kai on the same latitude. The only problem here is that the wind went more east than anything else and even with a midnight start for the 90 mile crossing, getting in before dark was becoming progressively more unlikely. We actually got in half an hour after dusk and the fuel dramas again got the better of the engine when a mile short of our anchorage it stopped and didn’t behave again until morning and after three hours of changing filters and bleeding the fuel system. The cost of Aru lends itself to engine breakdowns however, shallow, flat, sand or mud and in the lee of the south easterly trade winds. There are a few little villages along the coast of Aru and we did try to buy more fuel here sending Angel off on a local boat with our jerry cans. He declined however when the litre measure here turned out to be closer to three quarters of a litre. We had since leaving Morotai stayed in touch via the HF with the other Australia bound boats and also with Thyme by now back in Sorong. All the boats were here following Simon’s progress with what was apparently malaria. He was at this point in hospital on a drip leaving Amanda on the boat by herself in Sorong harbour. Not an enviable situation and one of those things that can happen when travelling through such places on a boat. Bit out of touch at the moment and hope they are okay.

The next day it was off to Australia with a 300 mile passage to Cape Don at the entrance to the Dundas Straight, about 90 miles short of Darwin. The good thing here was with our eastings we got to sail most of the way and in the Gadfly reaching for the first half at 6 to 7 knots in 15 to 20 knots of wind.  Of course for the last 90 miles it glassed out and we motored into Alcaro Bay to have the engine die as we were arriving, this was becoming habitual. Next day we got the engine going only to have it die again and Daryl towed us for twenty miles while we changed our fuel supply (by this time a hose hanging out of a jerry can) and then headed down to Cape Hotham. Next day it was through the South Channel between Melville Island and the big island, into Cullen Bay for our

He wouldn’t sell us his overalls! Now the weapon maybe???

clearance then over to Fanny Bay for beers at the sailing club. The next day fisheries came to inspect our bottoms, worried about things sticking to them they are, then we headed around into Tipperary Waters Marina and the place to fix fuel delivery issues. On November 03 we head east again for Gove and Cape York.


The trade winds (also called trades) are the prevailing pattern of easterly surface winds found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the Earth’s atmosphere, in the lower section of the troposphere near the Earth’s equator.[1] The trade winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere, strengthening during the winter and when the Arctic oscillation is in its warm phase. Historically, the trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world’s oceans for centuries, and enabled European empire expansion into the Americas and trade routes to become established across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, hence the name “Trade Wind”.

In meteorology, the trade winds act as the steering flow for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic, Pacific, and southern Indian Oceans and make landfall in North America, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar and eastern Africa, respectively. Trade winds also steer African dust westward across the Atlantic ocean into the Caribbean sea, as well as portions of southeastern North America. Shallow cumulus clouds are seen within trade wind regimes, and are capped from becoming taller by a trade wind inversion, which is caused by descending air aloft from within the subtropical ridge. The weaker the trade winds become, the more rainfall can be expected within neighboring landmasses.

The term trade winds originally derives from the early fourteenth century late Middle English word ‘trade’ meaning “path” or “track.”The Portuguese recognized the importance of the trade winds in navigation in the Atlantic ocean as early as the 15th century.The full wind circulation, which included both the trade wind easterlies and higher-latitude Westerlies, was un-known (to Europeans) across the Pacific ocean until Andres de Urdaneta‘s voyage in 1565.

The captain of a sailing ship seeks a course along which the winds can be expected to blow in the direction of travel.[5] During the Age of Sail the pattern of prevailing winds made various points of the globe easy or difficult to access, and therefore had a direct impact on European empire-building and thus on modern political geography. For example, Manila galleons could not sail into the wind at all.

By the 18th century the importance of the trade winds to England’s merchant fleet for crossing the Atlantic Ocean had led both the general public and etymologists to identify the name with a later meaning of ‘trade’, “(foreign) commerce”. Between 1847 and 1849, Matthew Fontaine Maury collected enough information to create wind and current charts for the world’s oceans.


As part of the Hadley cell circulation, surface air flows toward the equator while the flow aloft is towards the poles. A low-pressure area of calm, light variable winds near the equator is known as the doldrums, equatorial trough,intertropical front, or the Intertropical Convergence Zone. When located within a monsoon region, this zone of low pressure and wind convergence is also known as the monsoon trough.Around 30° in both hemispheres air begins to descend toward the surface in subtropical high-pressure belts known as subtropical ridges. The subsident (sinking) air is relatively dry because, as it descends, the temperature increases but the absolute humidity remains constant, which lowers the relative humidity of the air mass. This warm, dry air is known as a superior air mass and normally resides above a maritime tropical (warm and moist) air mass. An increase of temperature with height is known as a temperature inversion. When it occurs within a trade wind regime, it is known as a trade wind inversion.

The surface air that flows from these subtropical high-pressure belts toward the Equator is deflected toward the west in both hemispheres by the Coriolis effect.These winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere.[14] Because winds are named for the direction from which the wind is blowing, these winds are called the northeasterly trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere and the southeasterly trade winds in the Southern Hemisphere. The trade winds meet at the doldrums.

As they blow across tropical regions, air masses heat up over lower latitudes due to more direct sunlight. Those that develop over land (continental) are drier and hotter than those that develop over oceans (maritime), and travel northward on the western periphery of the subtropical ridge.Maritime tropical air masses are sometimes referred to as trade air masses. The one region of the Earth which has an absence of trade winds is the north Indian ocean.


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2 Responses to “Moving South. Whales, fishing and a problem with diesel fuel.Sorong to Darwin 02-25 October 2012.”

  1. hilary Says:

    Great reading your blog and catching up with where you’ve been. Some fantastic photos x

  2. baileyboatcat Says:

    Wow! Fantastic adventures! Love the picture of the whale! Hope your troubles with the fuel are all over.

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