Thursday, July 26, 2007

Passage Journal: Darwin to Kupang

Current Location: Kupang, Indonesia
Current Position: 10 09.49' S 123 34.46' E
Next Destination: Alor, Indonesia

Kupang, Indonesia Anchorage

Darwin to Kupang
Departing Darwin with a group of 100 boats was just a wee-bit crazy! We've never traveled with such a large group before - on average IF we are traveling in a 'group' it tends to be under five! There was an official starting 'line', which, being anchored in the back of the Darwin fleet, we were nearly anchored at! As I (KT) don't much like sailing nearby other boats we hadn't intended to actually start at the 11am go-time, rather we were going to start either a bit early or a bit late (while I didn't want to be in the masses, I did want to see what 100 boats sailing in the same general area looked liked!). I guess we got caught up in the moment and energy of the boats around us, because we ended up crossing over the start line at 11:03am, right smack dab in the middle of all the craziness! I told Chris that the word must've gotten out about me, because I swear a number of boats came right at us! But I managed to keep my cool and didn't even pee my pants (or as Chris likes to say "Shit a twinkie")! Actually it was terribly exciting, and quite an experience to be surrounded by boats, sailing with a fleet of varying shapes and sizes!

That first day felt like a party, boats everywhere on the horizon, and the VHF continuously going off with all the chatter. I'm glad that coming up the coast of Australia we had a chance to use our spinnaker; getting used to hoisting it, bringing it down, and jibing it - as it takes some getting used to and learning while sailing in a large fleet would not have been good! Just before nightfall, Chris and did a horizon count, and we could see at least 86 boats! I had thought we'd be more spread out after the hours of sailing, but duhh a hundred boats aren't going to disperse in just eight hours! As the sunset set and navigation lights came on, it was like a city coming alive over the ocean. Red, green, and white lights twinkling all around us! We were surprised to find how few people run proper navigation lights. Some had their anchor lights on, some ran both mast and deck lights, and nearly NOBODY ran a steaming light (when motoring)! It made it a bit more difficult when boats came near, but everyone seemed to be on good watches, so there were no close calls (for us at least).

With light winds over the night, the fleet spread out quickly (some boats motoring right away, others not at all), so that by the following afternoon we only counted about twenty boats on the horizons.
The first and third days of the trip were the best. Both days we ran our spinnaker and the seas were somewhat flat. On the other days we couldn't sail the spinnaker either because there was too much wind, too little wind with too much swell, or we were trying to slow down in order to time our arrival into Kupang. We had actually started the third day without another boat in site, but after flying with our spinnaker up (we do between 6 to 9 kts with it) we quickly came across (and passed) around five other boats.
We sailed most of our fourth (and last) day without another boat in site - which, after the previous days, felt lonely! As tends to be the case with us, when we try to slow down, the wind picks up! We didn't want to anchor in Kupang at night, so were trying desperately to slow down, sailing with a very reefed jib and no main. Every other night the wind had nearly died, so we didn't think we'd have a problem going slower, but of course the last night, when we wanted to go slow, the wind piped up to 20kts! Oh well!

And of course what's a passage without fishing? This trip, our freezer still full from traveling up the coast of Australia, Chris didn't put a lot of effort into fishing. He did throw a line in on occasion and we snagged three small fish - all of which we threw back; Chris says if he's going to clean a fish it has to be a least two meals worth of meat!

While we would've preferred to enter the channel into Kupang during the day, however a number of boats a head of us reported it wasn't too difficult at night, so we went ahead with a night entrance. We stayed near the center of the channel, thinking that would be the safest bet to avoid buoys and fishing nets. We couldn't believe the number of fishing boats (thankfully all well lit), or the city lights. While we knew over 200, 000 people live in Kupang, we still thought it was going to be a small town, not a lit up city! We managed to avoid all the fishing boats, but some were hard to spot against the lights on shore. We arrived just outside the anchorage an hour before sunrise, so we idled around, keeping watch for fishing vessels, waiting for some light. We were less than a quarter of a mile from the anchorage, but couldn't tell anchor lights from the lights in town!

About half the fleet had arrived the previous day, so finding a spot to anchor wasn't easy, and we aren't very impressed with the anchorage - which is open to the wind and swell. But we ended up in a pretty decent location, and the wind/swell seems to be dying. Our day was spent putting the boat 'away' and waiting for customs. By 4pm we were ready to head ashore.

I love arriving in a new location, especially a new country. The way your senses are immediately overloaded with new sights, sounds, and smells when you step ashore for the first time. It's a lot like being a small child, looking around with eyes wide open, trying to process everything around you, thrilled at the discovery of something new, but yet perhaps a bit timid about how you fit in, or what your role is, in this new environment.

Kupang is a bustle of energy, and the addition of 107 visiting yachts seems to push it over the top! At first glance it reminds us a bit of Mexico, with its street vendors selling everything from cigarettes to jewelry. Like Mexico it also appears to be a bit run down, old, and dirty. Walking the streets are a hazard, between the huge holes (more like cavernous pits) in the sidewalks and endless number of speeding motorbikes, one has to keep a careful eye out when touring the city! But what it lacks in styles it makes up for with its friendly energy. The vendors aren't pushy, easily accepting a no thank you when they approach, and everywhere people smile and say 'halo'. The exchange rate is crazily out of whack, one US dollar equating to over 9,000 rupiah! A large Bintang (local beer) is only 25,000 (about $2.50) and I bought a black pearl bracelet (from the Komodo islands) from a vender for $60,000 Rph  all of $6 US! And while they are the imperfect pearls, they are real! We enjoyed a fantastic dinner out, with drinks and all, at about $13 US per couple! It is so inexpensive we will probably end up getting carried away and over spend!!!

We have barely touched upon Kupang, being ashore for only a few hours. I look forward to our future explorations and discovering what lies beneath first impressions.

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