AUSTRALIA NT - DARWIN KUPANG RACE



July 22, 2006

We arranged to traverse our way through the Cullen Bay lock at high tide and returned to Fanny Bay where all the yachts were congregating for the start of the race at 11 am. It was quite a sight to see so many boats all packed into one area.



The warning gun was fired and everyone hoisted their sails and jockeyed for position, although none of us were too clear on where the start line was! Some of the more avid ex-racers took the exercise very seriously while most of the more timid cruisers just hung back waiting for the crowd to disperse.

And we were off! Colorful spinnakers were hoisted but mostly boats were just trying to avoid contact with each other. The cats quickly pulled to the front of the pack  and soon we were all spread out. It was a wonderful day for sailing, gentle 10 knot breeze behind us, flat seas and blue sunny skies.

Professional photographers were busy snapping pics and a  great feature photo of Ascension urned up in the center of the glossy Southeast Asia's Sea Yachting Magazine (Vol 1, No 6, Sept-Oct 2006).



Due to the smoke from the constant practice of slash and burn (both Australia and Indonesia) the sunsets are fabulous!. It was not too long before the wind died and most boats had to motor through the night. The first night out was like sailing in the middle of a small city, with lights from the other boats all around us. We were about middle of the pack.

It was a peaceful moonless cool night, despite hot days being 10 deg from the equator. By the second day out, the nearest boat to us was about 5 miles away so we had the ocean to ourselves.  Gord saw a huge green flash from a meteor (twice!). We were on careful watch for the oil platforms (some abandoned) and the numerous Indonesian fishing boats. Some boats were unlit and, being wooden, didnít show up on radar. Some of the Indonesian fishing boats we encountered were brightly lit, covered with as many colored lights as possible. But these Christmas trees had no actual coded navigation lights so you couldnít tell if they were coming or going. Fishing nets were laid out near these boats with dim lights (lanterns) flashing to mark their position but they were hard to see until you were very close. One boat got their prop tangled in a net and our advice is not to run the engine at night.

We were kept busy with the formal  check-in Rally radio nets on SSB twice per day as well as the informal chat nets where we discussed tides, weather, hazards, positions, whale & dolphin sightings (we did not see any) and everything else.

July 24-25

We had attempted to sail much of the night but it was very slow going and the wind during the day was extremely light. Then there was no wind at all and we were forced to motor but were against some current. We were getting very frustrated with the slow trip.

On day 3 the wind came up. But now it was 25 knots and the sailing would have been terrific but we needed to SLOW the boat down because our timing to the pass would land us there in the middle of the night. Again, much frustration as itís harder to slow a boat down than to speed it up!

Albeit our best attempts to time our approach, we reached the mouth of the pass several hours before daybreak. We found ourselves amidst a large group of boats milling around, some hove-to, biding time and waiting for sunup. Finally it seemed pointless to be apart of the ever increasing number of boats that were forming a bottleneck in the pass so we decided to take our chances with the fishing boats and current and proceed toward the pass in the dark.

We rounded the corner of Timor in 25 knots under reefed mainsail and realized that a pack of about 10 other boats were coming along behind us. Once clear of the fishing boats we could see on radar we entered the pass, the wind subsided and the seas flattened considerably, so the sail down the strait was most enjoyable as the dawn's light of daybreak slowly revealed the Indonesian scenery. The Timor coastline is relatively arid, much like northern Australia, with sparse vegetation surviving along rolling hills transforming into cliffs cut along a shoreline spotted with beaches.