The danger of night sailing in Indonesia

Sailing dangers of Indonesia

Although only 130 nautical miles, a relatively short passage by cruising standards, we were heading across a hazardous sea, to a place few yachts visit. With no internet and no boat services for hundreds of milesthe sailing dangers of Indonesia were very much in the forefront of our minds.

Togean Archipelago

The Togeans are another set of southeast Asian rainforest-covered tropical islands. Their obligatory fringing coral reefs run right up to their white sandy shores. They are the kind ofNirvana all cruisers are searching for.

The danger of night sailing in Indonesia
Anchored alone

We had never heard of them until a local guy who’d worked there told us about them when we were in Tolitoli. He begged us not to miss them, and when he said no-one goes there, we were sold.

The danger of night sailing in Indonesia Problem is, this tiny archipelago is in the middle of the Gulf of Tomini, which is quite literally on the way to nowhere.

It was going to take us right out of our way.

For tourists without their own boat, it’s one helluva commitment to get there because it involves multiple flights, car journeys, and ferry rides. This can take several days (and that’s just from Bali)!

It was a challenge we couldn’t resist.

The danger of night sailing in Indonesia
Drinking from a freshwater stream in the Togeans

Of course, the current winds seemed to be, on the whole, against us. And adding that threatening swell into the mix, it would mean having to choose exactly the right time to make the 130-mile crossing. Not a problem in itself, except we didn’t have the most accurate weather forecasting.

The other big problem was having to make the crossing at night. This is not normally a concern for us, but the sea in the Gulf of Tomini is crowded with rumpons (the local word for Fish Aggregating Devices, aka the notorious FADs). They lie silently in wait to trap you in their lines and floats. Even more dangerously, their solid floating platforms, sometimes made of disused steel canisters, can put a hole in your boat.

What are FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices)?

With the obvious annoyance, even danger, these rumpons are a big discussion among sailors.

We’ve seen anchored FADs in shallow water before, but the water around Sumatra is deep, often 2-3000m. The platforms and home-made buoys don’t seem to be moving, so we wondered if they are attached in such deep water. And if so, how?

sailing dangers of Indonesia
It’s all going on beneath the floating hazards

After chatting to the local people we met, and doing a little online research, we discovered these FADs are actually deep-anchored.

  • On the surface, you see some kind of platform (it might be a simple polystyrene block, or a steel cylinder or a bamboo raft).
  • On top of it will be a post: usually a bamboo flag pole or simple branch.
  • Often they have a solar-powered light, and, on some, there’s even a small hut for shelter.
  • Suspended beneath, anywhere from 20-50m, will be the “attractors”, usually palm-tree fronds.
  • Sometimes they are held in place by metal cages.
  • Finally, a combination of wire and polypropylene rope with connectors, sinkers and swivels descends to the seabed.
  • There it’s held in place by several huge concrete blocks. And even an anchor.
What’s that knocking noise?

We first noticed a new noise when we left the last anchorage. But it was getting worse.

sailing dangers of Indonesia
What is causing that sound?

Jamie checked the fittings between the gearbox and prop, everything seemed normal. The prop itself was working, the shaft appeared to be running true and the flexible coupling was doing its job. There didn’t appear to be a problem with the engine. At this stage, the only theory Jamie could come up with was a bearing issue in the coupling, but whatever the problem was, it wasn’t going to be fixed with Esper in the water.

There were still another thousand miles to go, and some of that against prevailing wind and current, this realisation made Jamie more anxious than ever.

Watch the full story unfold…

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