Friday, August 10, 2012

Helen Reef

Craziest thing.     Helen Reef maybe gets 4 or 5 visiting yachts per year and we show up on the morning with another yacht arriving from the opposite direction.     The caretakers came down to the opening to lead us through the maze of reefs and up to Helen Island where we anchored.    Good thing, as our charts did not accurately reflect the reefs here at all.    The other yacht, a mega yacht, anchored outside of the lagoon while we were lead inside to a mooring.    Fine, we thought.  Nice, calm, peaceful.     For two days, then all hell broke loose.    The SW monsoon regularly breeds super squalls and we got 3 of them over two days.   We were up all night for two nights, fighting boarding waves, dragging on the mooring, which we finally dropped just before hitting the reef, and then the next night dragging on our own anchor.    The squalls were like pit bulls on acid, ferocious, packing 50 knots in front of them.    Jim and I both thought for awhile we were going to lose the boat on the reefs.      Unlike me, Jim is skilled and keeps his head during these things.    While I was screaming as loud as the squalls, Jim managed to get us re-anchored in unimaginable conditions.  
Other than that, Helen Reef was an amazing stop.    The caretakers, Hercules, Frano and Petra, were very welcoming and invited us ashore to see the turtles laying their eggs and be a part of the releasing of the babies. 

 They came by the boat with gifts of fish and lobster and pointed out the best snorkeling spots.    Every time we went in the dinghy we saw turtles and rays swimming in front of us.   

  Three types of birds call the tiny island home and there are thousands of them with hundreds of fresh hatchlings every day.  

Turtles come in every night to lay their eggs and dozens of baby turtles are picked up by the park rangers every night to be protected and then released when they are able.  

The island is small and getting smaller.   It has moved east over the past 10 years and according to one of the caretakers, Frano, who has come here a lot over the last 20 years, the island is only 1/4 of its original size and he predicts it will be gone in 10 more years.

Here's some more underwater shots I took while snorkeling.   I'm using a Canon G12 with a housing.  It's a great camera and highly recommend it.   

Cruising notes:    DO NOT GO HERE WHEN THERE IS A LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM ABOVE PALAU!!!!!!!     Anchorage ((02 52.504N; 131 43.841E (entrance))(02 57.9N; 131 48.5E (mooring).  There is room to anchor in sand rather than take the mooring.     Beautiful spot and can swim to snorkel on at least 3 reef sections.    Walking around the island is great and you can watch the turtles being released or stay into the night to watch the big turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.    Caretakers welcome visitors and appreciate any gifts.   We left them a bunch of DVDs.

Palau Pef (Raja Ampat)

Paradise found!!!!    Palau Pef is formed from small limestone islets.   There is a new eco-resort here, built and managed by Maja, a Swedish woman.    Bungalows on the beach, cooled by sea breezes, sinks made from a solid stone, everything as natural as you can possibly get it..   We arrived for the two week maintenance closure as our luck would have it, but Maja was very welcoming. 

   When we arrived we were directed to go anchor behind the resort in a cove that is not shown on the charts.    We entered the cove between two rock monoliths and anchored in 80 feet with perfectly still water and quiet except for the chatter of jungle birds. 

 Jo, of Island Time, and I snorkeled the reef in front of the resort and we both had to say it was the best snorkel ever.     The reef system in Raja Ampat is almost pristine and the variety of hard and soft corals and fish is just awesome.  

  The weather soured on us but even on the worst day we dinghied around the coves, under mangrove arches into small lagoons and snorkeled again on a protected reef.   Could not have been better and we could have stayed there a week at least.    But duty, as it were, called us and we had to get to Sorong on Papua, Indonesia, for checkout before our visa expired.

  And here is a great way to do your work......

 As always, it's hard to say goodbye to new friends.  Hopefully, we'll see Matt and Jo of Island Time again when we get to New Zealand next year. 

We were dreading the checkout.   I imagined we would be hung up for days, arguing with officials about the export documents and dealing with corruption.   Nothing could have been further from the truth.    The customs officials actually picked us up, took us to their office, had the documents ready, even working overtime to make a couple of corrections, and then took us to port authority for clearance.   Everyone was above board and completely professional and helpful.   We were out in under 2 days.    But as we left the harbor, I noticed the boat wouldn’t go where I wanted it to go and in fact we were heading in the path of an oncoming ferry.   In this part of the world, ferries rule, and they don’t slow down or change course.   The wheel did complete circles…..the steering was broken.   Jim hurriedly went down to see what happened and quickly fixed the problem but only temporarily.    From there for the next 500++ miles, Jim had to go down every hour  and tighten one screw.    

Cruiser notes:   Anchorage at Palau Pef  (00 26 542S; 130 26.639E) 80 feet.   This place is magic, deep in a cove with jungle sounds around you.   There is a dock where you can land your dinghy, then walk on the boardwalk through the swamp to the Raja4divers resort..   Maja was closed for maintenance but welcomed us anyway, even offering us employee meals.   Jim and Matt helped her solve a radio issue she had so she gave them beers and cokes.     Internet available even.     Nice walks around the area and QUAD A snorkeling, the best ever.    Dives available at around $60 per dive.     The rooms are beautiful.  Cost to stay at this resort would be about $450 a night all inclusive (3 dives per day).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012



Located on W. Halmahera, Labuha’s harbor was pretty open to the SE swell.    We opted to anchor about 2 miles away near a resort island along with 2 of the other boats, while everyone else anchored in front of town and then abandoned their boats PDQ due to the rolling and headed to the hotel being used as rally HQ.     

The town officially greeted us the next morning with, you guessed it, more kids, traditional dances and dignitaries.     We were told there was to be a parade but learned that we were the parade when they loaded us up in becaks (small pedicabs) and pedaled us around town and neighborhoods. 

 One of our group, Barry, totally won over the community when he switched places with the pedicab driver and pedaled him around town with the group.    We were taken one day to an elementary school where the kids just swarmed us wanting their pictures taken and getting our autographs in their little exercise books.     They sang for us and we sang a little ditty for them and everyone was thrilled. 


Iksan, our guide here, took us out to an abandoned rubber plantation and lunch again with the regent.    The last night here we had dinner at a seaside restaurant  and it wasn’t long before the dancing broke out again, a  little mix of rock and roll and traditional, all good fun.

I have to hand it to the Maluku tourist boards in the various towns we were in for doing their best to show us a good time and hopefully encourage other cruisers to come to this area.   Raymond Lesmana has been with Sail to Indonesia for over 10 years and has led many cruisers through Indonesia.   He's an expert at it and a great source of information and help.

 It was definitely a special time that we won’t forget and for us, a chance to be with other cruisers as we so often travel alone and this was a great group of people.   We have made some good friends in just the few weeks we were with them.   But, as cruising goes, everyone has their own plans and we spent one last evening in a small bay with a potluck on the beach to say our goodbyes. 

 Most of the group headed South for Darwin while we were going back North to Palau.  Another boat, Island Time, was with us for a few days before they headed east to PNG and we went to Sorong for check out.  On our way we passed two whales.

Cruiser Notes:   Anchorage at Labuha (0 37.795S; 127 25.892E).   We managed to get propane here which is kind of a rigamarole as it is regulated.   We had to get a large tank, decant it to our smaller ones and do it surreptitiously  as that is illegal.     Bank on the main street just behind the ferry docks.

Ternate (2) and Guru Ici

 Ternate (2)

Back again and this time we anchored near the grand mosque which has a poorly constructed minaret that is collapsing into the sea.   


We were met once again in style with fruit and treats and dancing kids.     A bus was provided again and we went on tours around the island, including a very nice stop at a park dedicated to the volcanic eruption of Mt. Gamelama in 1997 which sent a lava flow down the mountain and destroyed a town. 

We had a very nice hosted buffet lunch at the Florida restaurant with this view of Tidore and Maitara islands.  Later we were driven 17 miles across the bay in a posh jet boat and spent a nice sunset on the terrace of the governor’s palace complete with the gov himself.     We also went to Sulamahada beach for a very pretty snorkel in the cove.

Guru Ici

After all the events with dignitaries, dancing, dinners, and duties, we thought we had a couple free days at the beautiful spot of Guru Ici, a small group of islands south of Ternate.     But early in the morning we received a message from Raymond to present ourselves at the dock within the hour.    Groan……we rescheduled for an hour later and then showed up en masse to more greetings by dancing kids who then pulled us into their group to dance with them. 

 We watched some of the town ladies making baskets and then had a nice lunch on the beach and
  later a dinner of fresh grilled fish along with a beautiful sunset.   


 The next day was truly a free day, at last, and we all enjoyed some snorkeling over the reefs and a pot luck on the tiny island nearby.    Some of the guides showed up as well and we got to try  out one of the little local boats for size.   Size small, I can assure you, and very tippy.  

One morning we were taken on a speedboat ride to look for manta rays.  At one time over 100 manta rays would come to this area to feed, but once that fact was discovered, fishermen descended on the place and the rays were soon gone.    We wanted to snorkel with them, but saw only one when it flipped out of the water ahead of us.

Cruising Notes:    Anchorage at Ternate  (0 47.1N; 127 23.5E).     Anchorage at Guru Ici (0 1.3S; 127 14.8E)



Here we met up with the other 7 rally participants.    They came in en masse for the most part and rafted up in front of town.   We had chosen to anchor out a bit as the town sight was not deep enough for more than one boat to swing.     It seemed like a good group and soon we were in the thick of things with happy hours on deck and tours and events on land.    Our first duty was to attend the opening ceremonies and listen to a couple hours worth of speeches before the dancing would begin. 

Jailolo was celebrating the spices and the history of the spice trade in these amazing islands.    The festival lasted a week and we were carted around the island to see the nutmegs being harvested, separated and dried.   I did not know this before, but the nutmeg is a seed in the middle of a fruit that looks like a peach.    A red “cloth” covers the seed and that is mace.     We would also see cinnamon, cacao and coconuts. 

We even met the Sultan of Jailolo who, unlike the Sultan of Brunei, is titled, but not the least bit wealthy and lives humbly in a cement house.  


We were invited to a cultural fair in Akediri,  a small community that pulled out all the stops for us.    We were met at the gate by the town dignitaries and then led around to different stages where the locals were demonstrating their crafts such as making brooms, thatch and ropes and lots of music and dancing and food.    They were obviously very proud to show us their customs.  

   Right after that we were driven to Gamtala for a gala dinner with the regent of Jailolo.   No one can do anything until the regent arrives and is seated so dinner was on hold for an hour and we had to stay in the cramped little bus while waiting for his regentness.    The dinner was held in the traditional meeting hall, a rumah adat.   

Many of the small villages along the road have beautiful flower gardens.

 Jailolo celebrates their fishing livelihood with a 6 kilometer long barbeque of fish and we were invited to help ourselves to fish, cassava and veggies as much as we’d like.     And through all the choking smoke from the fires, our pictures were taken by locals with cellphones about 100 times each.    They really enjoyed getting their picture taken but really got excited about taking our picture with them.  

 The closing ceremonies were pretty high on the wow scale with the whole community taking part in the story of the spice islands done in a musical extravaganza.  

 From a distance the costumes seemed elaborate and one had to wonder how this community could get the funds together for the sets but on closer look you can see the cleverness of the construction from simple materials.   Here the “mace” kids are wearing helmets made from painted soccer balls.

 This charming little lady was not the least bit shy and sat on my lap for the ceremonies.   All in all a wonderful week in Jailolo with some very lovely people.

Cruiser notes:  Anchorage at Jailolo  (01 03.38 3N;  127 28 36.3E)   There's not much for getting stocked up here in Jailolo.  Best to do that in Ternate.  There is a ferry that goes back to Ternate several times a day.
One bank with an ATM a bit of a walk up the hill or ask a taxi to take you up there.