Sailing The World's Oceans

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I started this update quite some time ago and have just recently been able to find the time to finish it.  The crux of this story was all written well before the latest developments of my course change and the “now” extended separation from Hokule’a.  While reading through the earlier parts of this recently, I have found it to be a strange foreshadowing of how things have unfolded here in Malaysia.  Not just from the choice to separate from Hokule’a but also from my feelings of being perpetually behind and pressed for time as well as my struggle to find my own pace along with sought out inputs from Renée.  I mention this so that the reader too will have the knowledge that much of this was written well before “The Decision”(as John likes to refer to it in the same vain as LeBron James) to take Solstice’s talents north.  Also check out the photos that go along with this update.  They are in the Darwin to Kupang section of the photo gallery.  Anyway, here it is:  Enjoy the read (and photos).

Darwin, Australia to Kupang, Indonesia Passage - 470 nautical miles

My two weeks in Darwin went by in a heartbeat.  There was no time for sight seeing and my days were spent getting Solstice ready to sail across the Timor Sea, provisioning and visiting friends.  Time was also spent with rally related things, which included meeting new people and boats, talking about logistics and proper protocol in Indonesia as well as figuring out which of the 13,000 plus islands that make up Indonesian archipelago to visit, a daunting task.  As we all dove into research of places to go and things to see there was talk on which “rally route” to take.

The Sail Indonesia Rally is a paid organized rally that helps guide its participants through the islands of Indonesia by working jointly with island villages and another Indonesian government sponsored rally called Sail Komodo.  Sail Komodo actually gives money to villages throughout Indonesia to help them put on events for their sailing guests as they move through the islands.  The idea is to entice tourism to these more remote parts of the country.  When we signed up for the rally months ago, the organizers required that each boat declare which route they wanted to take because they wanted to have a boat count so villages could have an idea of how many people to expect.  When you leave Darwin there are two different destinations in Indonesia to choose from.  There are actually three different rally routes but the initial landfall into Indonesia is for one of two destinations.  You can sail west-northwest to Kupang, in west Timor or you could choose to sail north-northeast to Saumlaki.  When we signed up Hokule’a, Kite, Elizabeth Jane II and Solstice had all decided to take the most popular route that sailed to Kupang.

For the 2013 rally, 87 boats had registered to participate; only 11 of the boats had decided to travel north to Saumlaki.  Because of that the organizers wanted to get more boats to go to Saumlaki.  The Indonesian villages that participated in the rally had spent months preparing for their “guests” who had sailed from all parts of the world to come see them. 
The last thing the rally wanted was for nobody to show up to some of the villages that had worked so hard getting ready.  Villagers had spent tireless hours practicing music and dance.  They had organized parades, shows, tours and feasts all for these yachties that were coming to see their islands and their homes.  In hopes of getting more people to take the Saumlaki route the rally started to offer incentives.  300 liters of free fuel, 50% off dive trips, use of resort facilities (where there were resorts) were some of the many incentives the organizers used to entice more boats to go to this less-popular, less-traveled and more remote route.

We all researched the different routes and what each had to offer.  It became clear that this less-traveled route offered some amazing things for diving and snorkeling as well as the opportunity to visit some remote villages that don’t get many tourists.

Elizabeth Jane was the first to change their plans.  They decided that Kupang was not for them and that they would instead go to Saumlaki.  They loved the idea of more remote places and the incentives offered made it worthwhile.  It wasn’t soon after EJ had decided to take this route that Kite also changed their original plan and decided to go with EJ.  Jack and Zdenka (Kite) as well as Katie and Hugh (EJ) then took it upon themselves to encourage Jake, Jackie and myself to change our plans and to go with them.

One of the best things about getting to Darwin was reconnecting with Hokule’a, Kite, Inspiration Lady and Far Star.  It was also great being there with EJ and Bonaire who I had already been traveling with.  Far Star and Bonaire, were not part of the rally.  They were headed to South Africa.  Inspiration Lady, was part of the rally but was set on going to Kupang with the majority of the fleet.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  It has always been in my nature to go the road less travelled.  But there were specific things about the route to Saumlaki that made me weary from a single-handed standpoint.  The sail to Saumlaki was 300 miles to windward compared to the 500 miles downwind to Kupang.  That wasn’t a big deal but after sailing across the top of Australia in 30 knots of reinforced trades with building seas I didn’t relish the idea of bashing back into anything like that.  The bigger issue for me was that once I got to Saumlaki that route required multiple passages that would be 2 or 3 days travel time between islands.  On the Kupang route there would be maybe 1 over nighter after getting there as most of the islands were close to one another and day sails could be made from one anchorage to the next.  That in and of itself was very appealing.  Also the majority of the fleet was taking the Kupang route.  One of the reasons I joined the rally was the social aspect of meeting and being with a lot of new boats and like minded people.  The idea of expanding that circle of friends was enticing.  But there was something else going on that was beyond any reason that I could comprehend.  It was an inner feeling, an inner voice speaking up.  There was something about going the route that Kite and EJ were going that felt wrong for me.  I don’t know what it was or where it came from; I can’t explain it.  I just had a deeper seeded feeling that said that that route was not the one to take.  But my head said stick with your friends and go with the people you love.  I was torn in what to do.  Jake and Jackie took a long time too in deciding what they were going to do but I could sense early on that they were leaning towards going with EJ and Kite.  It was three days before we were to leave when Jake called.

“Hey Willy.  (Jake calls me Willy for some reason I’ve never known)  Jackie and I have talked about it a lot and we’ve finally decided to go the Saumlaki route”, he said.

“I kind of figured that’s what you guys were gonna do,” I replied.

“You should come with us.  The diving’s supposed to be amazing and we’ll be going to places that get almost no tourist.  Besides that we’ll all be together,” Jake said.

“I know,” I said.  Everything Jake said was true and made sense. 

Jake’s phone call left me a little down.  I now knew if I listened to my inner voice and went to Kupang I wouldn’t be sailing with anybody that was as close to my heart like Jake and Jackie as well as Katie and Hugh and Zdenka and Jack.  Needless to say, the last three days in Darwin were spent with a lot of urging from all of them for Solstice to join their flotilla.  I was in a quandary.  On one hand I felt I should stick with them, on the other I felt that they were the ones that shifted everything and abandoned our original plan to sail together to Kupang.  I decided I wanted some input from a couple of friends.  Not just any friends, two special friends.  Two very different friends.  One of them I’ve known for a long time; the other I had met only a couple of years ago, both were close to my heart.

I’ve known my dear friend Renée for over 23 years.  Renée and I worked together at Disney soon after I moved to Los Angeles back in ’89.  Instantly we became close friends and we’ve grown closer every year since.  She’s a great confidant for me in that she’s always encouraging and supportive but she is not a “yes” person.  She speaks to me from a higher consciousness of truth, love, compassion and understanding and she speaks from her heart.  I knew she’d tell me what she felt.  I went out on the beach in Fanny Bay as the sun was setting and gave her a call.

“Hey You!  It’s me,” and I went on to tell her about my dilemma.

“I’m hearing everything you’re saying,” she said.  “All I can tell you is what is resonating with me when I hear you talk.  Bill, if you go the Saumlaki route, you’ll regret it.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow,” she started to sound like Bogie in Casablanca. “but in the end you’ll wish you went the other way and that going to Saumlaki would’ve been a mistake.  I feel without a doubt that’s what will happen”, Renée can be clairvoyant at times and this felt like one of those times.

The problems of one little man and his boat don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, is what I wanted to say.

“I hear you loud and clear, Renée.  Thank you.  I’m getting that same sense too,” is what I did say.  “Enough about me, what’s happening with you?” there’s nothing like catching up with an old friend.

An hour later I hung up the phone and I felt that sense of warmth that comes only from sharing quality time with a great friend.  Her words hit that same chord deep in my heart that my inner voice had been saying all along.  “Go to Kupang.”  What she said was true. But there was a perspective that was missing from her.  Renée is not a sailor.  I wanted a sailor’s perspective.  Not just any sailor, a fellow single-hander.  Somebody who knew what it was like to be on the ocean alone.  Somebody who cared about me.  I wanted to talk my friend Kennedy on Far Star.

Kennedy set sail on his own circumnavigation from Fairhope, Alabama in December of 2008.  He left behind loving (adult) children and a happy life in Alabama because he had an adventurous heart and wanted to sail the world.   Like a lot of sailors I heard him on the radio months before I ever met him.  His southern accent pierced the airwaves whenever he said the name of his boat “Fahrr Stahrr”.  His persona followed the same southern influence of his accent.  Kennedy is open-hearted, thoughtful and ready to lend a hand to anyone at anytime.  He is the quintessential southern gentleman.  His home (or boat) is your home and it’s permeated with laughter.  When you’re with Kennedy he treats you like family.  Kennedy embraces every part of the world as he moves through and in return, the world embraces him.  He is well known and loved by many who have been fortunate enough to be in the same anchorage as Far Star.  I first met Kennedy in Tonga and then again in New Zealand.  But it was in Fiji where we found ourselves together in multiple anchorages during our months there.  It was there our friendship was forged and where we shared quality time and talked story about the trials and tribulations of sailing, single-handing and life.  Kennedy was quick to point out how my “perceived” struggles of single-handing were just part of the adventure of it all.  He was one of the prominent solo sailors that helped me embrace single-handing and was a catalyst in showing me the freedom and joy of it all.  Like all of us sailors out here he’s had his share of breakages, malfunctions and struggles.  But Kennedy tends to see the laughter in situations and marks them down as part of what he signed up for when we embarked on his voyage.  Needless to say, we became good friends with a mutual understanding of what being on the ocean alone was all about. 

Kennedy had been through so much during his travels and he was a wealth of knowledge.  I’ve learned a lot from Kennedy.  And like Renée, he cared about me and would tell me exactly what he felt, not what I needed to hear.

Kennedy had invited me to get together for a drink with him and our other solo sailor friend Stuart, a Scottish gentleman on Beyond.  Stuart looked like he could’ve been Robert Louis Stevenson’s brother, tall, lanky with short cropped graying hair and an even grayer thick mustache.  He also had piercing blue eyes that reflected a deep warmth and kindness from his heart when he looked at you. 

“The three of us will get together in the spirit of Evi,” Kennedy said.

Evi was our mutual friend that went missing on Niña, the American vessel that set sail from Opua, New Zealand last June en route to New Castle, Australia and never arrived.  Evi was a single hander who volunteered to help sail Niña to Australia.  Whenever she arrived in a port on her boat Wonderland she would seek out the other single handers and invite them all over for dinner.  Such was Kennedy’s inspiration for the three of us to get together.  One of the last times we all saw Evi we were together with her in Fiji.  Stuart was also a friend of not just Evi but with the family that owned Niña.  Beyond and Niña had spent time sailing together in the pastStuart, like Kennedy, was headed to South Africa.  So this was an opportunity for us all to get together and say goodbye as well.

A couple of hours before I was to get with Kennedy and Stuart I received a call from Jake saying that he and Jackie along with EJ and Kite were going to meet at the Sailing Club and they wanted me to join them.  I figured it was an hour before meeting Kennedy and Stuart so why not.  Before I met them and after talking to Renée I felt assured about what decision I was going to make.  But it was during that hour with them that I became even more confused.  Aside from my relationship from Jake, Jackie and I share a strong special friendship.  When I met with Hokule’a, Kite and EJ I got the hard sell from all of them as to why I needed to join them.  It was the reason they asked me to meet them.  They wanted to convince me to join their merry group.  They did their best.  I brushed it off with laughter and “we’ll see” and “I’m still deciding” replies to their urging.  It was really great to be so wanted by such great people but going that route still didn’t feel right for some reason.  I got more confused when I got up to go meet Stuart and Kennedy.  As I turned to leave, Jackie pulled me aside and gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear. 

“Bill, I really hope you decide to come with us,” she said.  As our embrace broke she looked at me sternly with those brown eyes of hers and squeezed my hands warmly, “We haven’t sailed with each other much lately.  It would just really be great if we were all together again,” she said.

It’s rare for Jackie to talk to me like that and her words hit me right in the heart.  Just when I thought I had made up my mind, I suddenly found myself unsure of what to do.

How could I not go with them?  I love these guys so much. And they love me.  Jackie’s right, it would be great if we were all together.

Those thoughts were running through my brain as I headed off to see Kennedy and Stuart.  It was a beautiful late afternoon and the sun was just beginning to settle over the bay.  I don’t know what it is about the atmosphere in Darwin but the sunset each night there seemed more spectacular than the day before. 
“Ha, ha, haaaa!”

My gaze shifted from the sunset to the sound of a warm boisterous laugh that I had heard many times before.  Kennedy was sitting at a table with Stuart when he caught my look.

“Hey Mate!  Come sit down.  We’ve been waitin’ for you,” Kennedy’s southern hospitality boomed across the Darwin air.

“I’ve been holding on to this for a special occasion,” he said as he pulled a 15-year old bottle of Glenfiddich Scotch out of his backpack and set it on the table.  That was followed by a bottle of water and three tulip shaped glasses.

“Wow, fancy Kennedy.  Real glass,” I said.

“I said this is a special occasion,” he said.  He leaned in and whispered, “The glasses are from the bar.  Ha, ha, ha,” his smile lit up the evening.

He opened the scotch and filled each glass with a generous pour.  He then opened up the bottle of water.

“I like mine with just a little water, it opens up the flavor,” he said as he poured just a splash in his glass and then turned to me and asked with his eyes and a gesture if I wanted water too.

“You’re the expert,” I said and he put a splash in my glass.

“Aye no water for me Kennedy.  I’m a Scotchman,” Stuart said with a stern nod.

Kennedy put the cap back on the water bottle and raised his glass.

“To Evi,” he said.

“To Evi,” Stuart and I replied followed by the clink of our glasses.

We talked about Evi and Niña and it was then that I learned how close Stuart was to most everybody aboard.  He shared his feelings and theories about what he thought may have happened.  Based on his experience from sailing with Niña and his knowledge of the boat and the conditions he felt that a large wave at the wrong time could’ve indeed sent Niña to the bottom in a hurry.  Stuart was no novice when it came to boats and the sea.  He had spent his career as a cargo ship Captain and had sailed in most every sea in the world in addition to sailing on his own circumnavigation from Scotland on Beyond.  Stuart had seen some formidable seas in his travels and he knew that the weather Niña had been caught in was bad.  The conversation was serious and sobering.  The scotch was not.

It wasn’t long before we began to talk about lighter things and laughter again filled the mood.  We shared some of our more interesting stories about sailing up the Aussie coast and I told Stuart about almost being run over while talking to the ship’s pilot for a good half-hour before the “drive by”.  It was interesting to get a cargo ship Captain’s opinion. 

“Pilot error on both sides,” he said.  “But you didn’t get run over and you’ll mark this down on what to do different next time,” he added.

“I will indeed,” I affirmed.

Eventually Stuart had to leave to head to a barbeque and I found myself alone with Kennedy along the beach.  Kennedy re-filled our glasses and I told him how fortunate I had been to meet him and how I was going to miss him.  And we both promised that this was just a “see ya later, Mate” and that Solstice and Far Star would some day be anchored next to each other again.

“Aye, aye,” I said to the clink of our glasses.  “So Kennedy, I need your advice,” I began.

Kennedy immediately gave me his full attention as I told him about my route-planning dilemma.

“I don’t know what to do, Kennedy,” I finally said.

Before we got together I speculated on what Kennedy would say.  I thought he’d tell me about the importance of sailing with close friends when you are single-handing, especially when you’re in unfamiliar waters and unfamiliar countries.  I thought he’d say how great it is to be near those you love and for them to be close to you.  I expected he’d talk about the security and comfort there is in knowing that there are friends nearby looking out for you and how that helped ease the mind when you laid down to grab some much-needed sleep.  What I thought he’d say and what he did say were completely different.

“Well Mate,” the word mate always sounds funny to me when said with a southern accent.  “I’ve sailed a lot of miles with Kite and Hokule’a over these past two months.  It’s not easy.  Don’t get me wrong; I love those guys.  They’re wonderful.  But both move too fast for a solo to stay up.  It is so much easier when you have crew and they just don't understand the solo game plan.  They don’t know how hard it is on us.  That’s why Stuart and I anchored for a night before continuing on to sail through the Gulf with them.  Stuart and I were exhausted.  We couldn’t sail for another 10 miles let alone the 100 still to go.  So we dropped out of the flotilla and stopped.  Hell we’d get somewhere and they’d want to go out and I’m like, you guys go out, I’m going to sleep for about 12 hours.  By the time I got up they’d be talking about leaving the next day.  Ha, ha, ha,” his laughter rippled warmth over the entire conversation.

“If you go to Kupang you can sail at your own pace and schedule.  You’ll get more rest because you’ll be island hoping.  It’s safer.  Plus you’ll be with the majority of the fleet.  It’s a no brainer when you think about it,” he said.  “You’ll regret it if you go the other way,” he echoed Renée’s words exactly. 

Kennedy was right.  It was a no brainer.  He reminded me of all the reasons I stayed behind in the Whit Sundays.  And what he said was true.  I had been through it with them already too.  Kennedy picked up with Hokule’a where I had left them in the Whit Sundays.

“And you said yourself you have a feeling that you need to go the Kupang route,” Kennedy added.  “And when you have a feeling like that, you have to listen to it.  That’s King Neptune talkin’ to ya,” he said with a wink and a smile.  “Besides what’s happening
here is you’re finding your own rhythm, Mate.”
“You’re right Kennedy.  Thank you.  Kupang it is,” I said

“Kupang,” he assured me.

I raised my glass “And to safe crossings for both of us,” I said.

“Aye, aye, Mate, I’ll drink to that,” he said and we clinked our glasses again.

A sense of relief washed over me and I felt a heaviness lift off my entire being.  The pressure of leaving and what to do suddenly all went away.  The choice was made.  A huge happiness filled my heart as I headed back to the boat.

“Kupang, Solstice,” I said as I climbed aboard.  “We’re going to Kupang.”

The hard part would be telling Jake and Jackie the next day.

There was a farewell BBQ for the departing rally boats the next night.  I met up with Jake and Jackie a couple of hours before and told them my decision.  I told them how from the vantage point of single-handing it just made more sense for me to go to Kupang where I’d have less travel time between islands.  They were disappointed but they understood.  And when I told them again about what my inner voice was saying they both agreed that I had to listen to that.

The rally departure was set for Saturday morning on July 27th.  A mock race start was scheduled with the boats jockeying for position all vying to cross the line at exactly 10am when the starting cannon was fired.

This was my first rally and the “mock race” aspect of it all seemed silly to me.  I checked with customs officials and the rally organizers and I opted to not leave on Saturday with the fleet but instead to leave the next morning on Sunday.  My main reason for this was to have a day’s distance between Solstice and the other 72 boats that were headed for Kupang.  I wanted to be able to lay my head down out there without worrying about all the boats around me.  The extra day also gave me time to take care of some last minute provisioning and to fuel up after the rush of boats had left the fuel dock.  Hokule’a and Kite had planned to ride the outgoing tide out through Van Diemen’s Gulf which required them leaving at 2:30 am on Saturday, well before the starting gun at 10am.  Elizabeth Jane was waiting for boat parts so like me; they’d miss the start and leave after their stuff arrived in a few days.

“Even if I wasn’t waiting for parts, I wouldn’t be getting up at 2:30 in the morning to catch that tide, I’d wait for the afternoon tide,” Hugh confided with his Aussie smile.

That morning before the start I was sleeping peacefully when my radio burst to life and woke me up.  When I’m at anchor, I always leave the radio on so that I’m privy to anything unusual that may be happening around me.  For safety really.

“Kite!  Kite!  Hokule’a” Jake’s voice broke the stillness of the quietude aboard Solstice.

“Hey good morning, Jake.  How are you guys doing?” Jack’s voice was wide-awake and cheerful.

“We’re doing fantastic.  We just got underway…” Jake continued while the sound of his engine roared away in the background.

I rolled over and looked at my watch on the nightstand.  It was exactly 2:30am.  They were right on schedule.

“Jesus.  Shut the fuck up, you guys,” I said out loud.

They both sounded way too cheerful for such an ungodly hour.  I got up and groggily went over and turned off the radio.  The return of silence brought back a welcomed peace and quiet that was so rudely interrupted.  I lay back down and thought about them leaving.

You totally made the right choice, Bill.  There’s no way in hell I’d want to leave at this hour with them, I thought to myself as I drifted back asleep.

My last errand before I left Darwin was to top-off Solstice with fuel.  There was a fuel dock nearby that wouldn’t be too difficult to get in and out of.  As soon as Kennedy learned I wanted to get fuel he offered to lend me a hand.

“Ah no worries, Kennedy.  I can handle it.  It looks pretty easy,” I assured him.

“I know its not that big a deal getting in and out of there, Mate, but it’s easier with two.  I’m going with you,” he insisted.  Kennedy understood all the nuances and details of single-handing even when it came to the simple tasks.  “Besides I’m not doing anything right now and we’ll get to spend some more time together and I’ll get to take a little ride on Solstice,” he continued.

“Alright, Kennedy.  Sounds like a plan,” I said.

Kennedy was standing in his dinghy tied off to the back of Far Star as I approached slowly with Solstice.  I pulled up alongside and he easily pulled himself aboard.  We pulled into the dock with no dramas.  I didn’t have to run from the helm, grab dock lines and secure the boat with nobody at the helm to act if needed.  Instead I stayed at the helm, got Solstice positioned just right, put her in reverse and throttled up just enough to bring her to a stop.  Kennedy stepped from the boat with the dock lines in hand and casually secured Solstice to the cleats.  He was right; it was much easier with two.

It took about 30 minutes to get to the fuel dock, 45 to fuel up and another 30 to drop Kennedy back off.  It was great, not just because of the extra hand, but because I got to spend a couple more hours with my friend from Alabama.  We laughed and talked about life, listened to country music, shared single-handing tips and laughed some more.  I was going to miss him indeed.

We motored back to the anchorage where we had prearranged with Hugh for him to come by in his dinghy and pick Kennedy up.  Before I knew it I gave Kennedy a big hug, told him I loved him and he and Hugh were skipping over the waves waving goodbye as they headed back to Far Star.  In that moment, I realized it would be a very long time before I’d see Kennedy again.I also realized that I may never see Australia again.  I turned back to the horizon and pointed Solstice northwest and headed for Indonesia. 

Immediately there was a different sensation about this passage than previous ones.  I was on my own, no boats to sail with, nobody nearby to hail on the VHF and no pressure to sail at a certain speed in order to stick with a neighboring boat.  I just sailed.  I found my own pace and my own rhythm.  I relaxed into that feeling of freedom you get when you’re upon the sea alone.  It was just me, Solstice and the sea.

There was little wind.  That was fine because I needed to give the batteries a good charge.  I motored for the first 8 hours.  The breeze picked up a little as the sun dipped over the horizon.  I rolled out the headsail and tried to sail.  If there was only enough wind to keep the sails full and me moving that was okay too because I didn’t want to burn through too much fuel right out the gate.  I had heard my share of stories about the poor quality of fuel in Indonesia.  I was determined to conserve as much as I could and avoid taking on fuel as much as possible.  I even had the thought that if I sailed as much as possible maybe I could make it all the way to Singapore without having to get fuel.  So sailing in even the lightest breezes was okay.  As long as I could sail.  That in and of itself was something I never did while traveling with other boats.  With the exception of Elizabeth Jane who was always content to sail even when doing less than 3 knots.  3 knots was my unofficial cutoff speed from sailing to motoring.  If it dropped below 3 knots, then I’d fire up the engine.  Inevitably the “cutoff” speed always gets challenged no mater where it is.  If I say 3 knots then it will hover around 2.9 for a while and occasionally pop up to 3.1 or 3.2 before dipping back down to 2.8.  If 4 knots is my cutoff speed then we’ll hover around 3.9 knots and then go up to 4.1 or 4.3 before dropping back below 4 knots.  King Neptune likes to mess with sailors’ psyches and this is on the games he likes to play.

That first night was calm, quiet and peaceful.  Solstice ghosted along beautifully between 3 to 4 knots, her hull slid effortlessly atop the smooth water.  It was slow but I was content as long as we kept moving.   The sea was flat, the air warm and the sunset lit the horizon.  A burning mosaic of yellows, oranges, purples, grays, blacks and whites scattered atop a background of tinged crimson.  It was a beautiful sunset.  As the sun faded dusk beckoned and gave way to a black night that swept over the lingering colors.  The light slowly slipped away and so too did the wind.  I set my AIS and radar alarms.  I also set my watch alarms for every 30 minutes and attempted to get some sleep and take advantage of the calm conditions.  I drank two large glasses of water and went below.

The sea state was remarkable in that when I laid down on the settee it was so flat that I swore for a moment Solstice was tied up in a marina.  I couldn’t believe it.


30 minutes later my watch woke me up on schedule.  I got up looked around, the wind was still just enough to keep the sails full and Solstice moved along straddling my 3-knot cutoff zone.  We weren’t making much speed but it was so peaceful I didn’t want to interrupt the moment with the rumbling of the engine.  I drank another large glass of water and laid back down.  30 minutes later…


Got up.  Looked around.  All was well.  2.8 knots.  Pounded another glass of water.  Back to bed.

By midnight, the speed had dropped below 2.5 knots and the jib struggled to stay full.  I gave up the peacefulness and lack of speed for a roaring engine, a vibrating cabin and 7 knots.  Solstice motored well in the calm conditions and we made good headway.

The next morning the calm conditions continued enough for me to make a leisurely breakfast without worrying about things flying about the galley.  While finishing my coffee I realized that the wind had picked up just a bit.  I throttle the boat down and put her in neutral.

Maybe I can sail. 

We had 7+ knots on the starboard quarter at the most.  I rolled out the jib.  The sail struggled to stay full.  I let it out, pulled it in, and trimmed the main in and out trying to harness the wind I had.  It just wasn’t enough to sail well with the sail configuration I had.  Then that little voice from within spoke up.

Spinnaker, Bill, these are perfect conditions to fly the spinnaker.

To be honest; the spinnaker intimidates me.  Since I’ve owned Solstice I’ve flown it maybe a half a dozen times.  Since I left California, I’ve never flown it.  And never have I tried to fly it while sailing alone.  It’s a lightweight asymmetrical spinnaker that I really can’t fly in more than 15 knots of wind.  I’ve struggled to get it down in 20+ knots more than once, and I’ve only flown it about 6 times.  One time it almost pulled me up and off the foredeck.  Maybe that’s why it intimidates me.  I’ve never been a racer and I’ve never had the opportunity to fly a spinnaker a lot on any boat.  I’ve never grown comfortable or familiar with it because I haven’t used it much.  Instead, I’ve grown content to leave it tucked up in the anchor locker in its sail bag.  Don’t get me wrong; my intimidation of the spinnaker should not be confused with my joy of flying it.  In the right conditions I love the way the boat moves when sailing with the spinnaker.  I’d venture to say it might be my favorite sail if I wasn’t intimidated by it so much.  And a sailboat isn’t any prettier then when she’s flying downwind under a beautifully colored full spinnaker.

Bill, if you don’t fly it now, you never will.

I sat in the cockpit for a long time and assessed what I had to do if I was going to fly it.  I wasn’t even sure how to rig it.  Not being able to sail well, I started the engine, rolled in the jib, and went below and pulled the Chapman Piloting & Seamanship book from the shelf.

I opened it to the “flying the spinnaker” section.  Long dormant brain cells that held some knowledge of how to rig and fly it awoke as I read.  About 45 minutes later the wind was still perfect and I had a game plan.  It was time to give it a try.     

I pulled the spinnaker from the anchor locker and shoved it up to where I could reach it from the hatch on the foredeck.  I went topsides and pulled it up through the hatch and emptied the bag and secured it so it wouldn’t go overboard.  The one thing that was nice about doing this alone was there was no pressure.  There was no race to rush things, no boat next to me who had already set theirs so I’d have to hurry to get mine flying before they sailed away from me.  Instead, I took my time and laid out all the lines.  I attached the sheets and blocks where I thought they should go and I double then triple checked everything to ensure there were no fouls.   There was no rush or need to be hasty.  And there wasn’t 10 different opinions about of how to do this or where to put that and why this line should go here and that sheet should run this way and that block needs to clip here and another over there.  I took my time, thought things through and went about the job carefully.  That was a good thing.  The hard part was, well doing it alone.  Like all single-handing jobs it took a lot longer.  There wasn’t an extra hand to assist in things.  Even getting the sail out of the locker up through the hatch took two tries.  I had to prop it up in a way so I could reach it from the deck once I got topside.  In my first effort I hadn’t propped it up well enough and by the time I got out of the boat and up to the foredeck the sail had fallen back down to the floor where I couldn’t reach it.  I’ve learned to stay patient and not get pissed or frustrated.  I’m not always successful in practicing that but I am much better than when I began this adventure.  I’ve also learned that if something isn’t working then change something in your efforts on the next attempt.  Instead of risking a second chance for the sail to fall again I made sure I’d be able to grab it.  I tied a line around the bag and tossed the line up through the hatch.  Then I pulled the bag up with the line to where I could reach it.  Yes, everything takes longer when you’re on your own.  I then got busy untangling lines and laying out the sail.

Hoisting the sail also proved more challenging than if I had help.  With somebody else aboard I could hoist the halyard on one end while on the other somebody guided the sock up and helped keep it inboard and free of fouls as it rose up and around the rigging.  Instead, I hoisted it a little, cleated it off and went to the bow and pulled in any portion that was trying to go overboard.  I made sure all was free and clear and went back to the mast and hoisted it up a little more.  Up to the bow, back to the mast, up to the bow, back to the mast, that was the routine.  Finally I got it all the way up and cleated it off.  The big snake like sleeve swayed in the breeze.  The sail waited to be unveiled.

Solstice has an asymmetrical spinnaker in what’s called a “sleeve” or “sock” which makes it easier to hoist and fly than a classic or traditional spinnaker that uses a pole.  With Solstice’s spinnaker you run your sheets haul up the halyard and lift up the sock and away you go.  Well it’s a little more complicated than that but it’s easier than flying a classical spinnaker because it utilizes less parts and lines.  The “sock” is basically a long sheath or sleeve of thin fabric that is attached at the top of the sail and slides down and covers the entire sail in a big cylindrical tube.  The bottom of the “sock” has a metal hoop that is sewn into the fabric.  A line is attached to the hoop and runs up the outside of the tube, through a block on the top (or head) of the sail and then back down inside the tube where it is tied off to the hoop.  The purpose of the sock is so that the spinnaker can be hoisted without deploying the sail because it’s covered and inside the sleeve.  When you are ready to deploy the sail, you hoist the hoop and unveil sail.

The moment of truth was here.  The sock was up and the sail waited to be unleashed.  I went to the foredeck, grabbed the line on the sock and pulled.  The hoop rose.  About a third of the way up the hoop began to rotate and twist and it bogged down.  I tugged on it harder and the hoop released and sprung up all the way to the top of the sail.  As it did the wind filled the spinnaker and…


It burst free with a snap as the sail caught the wind and rose up high and full.  I had forgotten how bright and beautiful the red and blue colors were.

“YYYEEEHHHAAAWWW!!!”  The moment required a rebel.  I was excited.

I cleated off the line and hurried back to the cockpit to trim.  I let out on the port sheet and loosened the starboard sheet (or tack) too.  The sail soared up and out in front of the boat.  They call it “flying the kite” for a reason.  Solstice’s bow lifted up and I could feel her come to life as she surged forward.  The sea rushed past her hull with a hiss.

“6 knots! Ha Ha!” well it’s not super fast but a big change from the high 3’s I was doing.  I was happy.

Then something strange happened.  The iPod was on random and an unexpected operatic song burst forth with drama and intensity.  It swelled and filled the air in the same way the wind filled the spinnaker.  A woman sung with a glorious, powerful and elegant voice that was angelic and sent shivers up and down my spine.  It was so fitting that I felt like Solstice had requested it.  It was perfect.  I went below and turned it up.  The song was “Cuor Senza Sangue” (your pronunciation will be better than mine) by Emma Shapplin.  I have no idea what she was singing about; it was in Italian.  But it was sensual, passionate, majestic and emotional.  It pulsed and overflowed with a beauty that is the foundation of nature and life.  The song swelled and was joined with classical instruments and a choir that all melted together and carried with it a fierce force that resonated throughout the boat and over the surrounding sea.  It was a glorious vibration of sound and color.  Solstice had been waiting for this moment ever since we left California.  She sprung forth in a glorious burst of sail and song.  She overflowed with joy.  She was singing along under sail and I soaked it all in.

The music rose in a crescendo of driving drums, classical instruments and voices lifted together.  I imagined myself soaring a hundred feet above the boat riding the same wind currents as Solstice and the albatrossI took flight and I hovered off her starboard beam and watched her spinnaker fly in all her glory.  I plummeted back towards the boat and slipped over top the mast to the other side before rising up again.  The spinnaker shimmered in the sun and together we soared with the gentle sway of the sea, wind and music.  I’ll never listen to Emma Shapplin again and not think of that moment.  It was magic. 

The wind held and we sailed beautifully for the next 8 hours.  It was the longest I had ever flown a spinnaker at one time.  The autopilot kept us right on course and the sail stayed full.  One rule that I have had that I’ve never had to implement until now was “Don’t fly the spinnaker at night”.  The wind was so perfect that I was tempted to leave it up.  But I knew better and so before the sun settled down for another night, I released the sheet and pulled the hoop down.  The sail came down easily.  I packed it away and stowed it below.  I put it on the forward bunk instead of back in the anchor locker where it would be easily accessible.

The next 24 hours passed much like the previous.  I sailed as much as I could until the light winds faded and I fired up the engine.  I motored the rest of the night and by the time I was done with breakfast the breeze filled in enough to get the spinnaker out again.  By late morning the wind had filled in enough to keep us moving in the 5 to 6 knot range.  I was starting to feel really great about flying the spinnaker.  Around lunchtime I saw the first sail on the horizon since I had left.  It was about 2 miles off my starboard and Solstice was slowly passing her.  I was looking at them through the binoculars when a British accent came over the VHF.

“Hello the boat with the spinnaker off my port.  Hello the boat with the spinnaker off my port, are you listening?”

I went below and grabbed the radio.

“This is Solstice, do you want to switch to one, seven?”

“One, seven,” he said.

“This is Solstice, go ahead.”

“Hello Soliss, this is Julian on Tropic Bird.  We hadn’t seen anybody in a couple of days and when we saw your sail my crew wanted me to call so they could say hello.  Say hello crew… HHHEEEYYY!” a chorus of voices filled the airwaves from the background.  I recognized Julian’s voice and boat name from the radio net and from hearing him while in Darwin.

“Wow, sounds like you guys are having a party Julian?  It’s a lot quieter over here.  It’s just me aboard.  I’m Bill and I’m on SOL-STICE.  Like the summer Solstice,” I said Solstice’s name slower and clearer.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you and Soliss, Bill.  We’ve got 8 crew aboard here and me.  I could lone you a couple if you want,” he stated.

“Oh thanks for the offer but I’m doing fine, Julian,” I replied.

“Alright.  We’ll try to not take that personally then.  Are you headed to Kupang?” he asked.

“I am, like you guys, I’m in the rally but I didn’t leave until Sunday,” I said.

He explained how they had left with the rally on Saturday but he didn’t like to run the engine so they floated around during the lulls in the wind.  So they had fallen behind.

“It was calm enough at one point that we all went swimming,” he said.

“Well you’re more patient man than me, Julian.”

“Okay well we’ll see you and Soliss in Kupang,” he said.

“Okay, see you there.”

A couple of hours later Tropic Bird’ssail slipped over the horizon astern.  The wind started to die at the end of the afternoon as it had the day before and I ended up motoring for much of the night again and into the next morning.

The Rally folks set up a radio net where all the boats checked in once a day.  It was their way of keeping track of everybody’s progress while also making sure all boats and people were safe.  It also served as a forum to exchange information like weather or anything else others deemed pertinent to the fleet.

coast.  More and more conversations filled the airwaves and boats exchanged information and their experiences upon their arrival.  It became clear that after arriving and requesting clearance with customs that a long boat filled with 10-15 “customs and immigration officials” were coming up and boarding boats.  Some people reported that items that had not been put away had been stolen and “officials” had removed alcohol or other things they wanted from some of the boats.  In all the countries I’ve been rarely have I been boarded for an inspection and when I had it had been by 1 to 2 people, 3 at the most.  This was a reminder that I was indeed headed to an unfamiliar land where things are done differently and with seemingly no rules.  But it wasn’t just the boats that arrived that were having unpleasant experiences some were still at sea.

My friend Wendy from Juliana II was next to check-in on the radio.  Juliana II is a big beautiful Jeanneau 54' and Wendy and her husband Stefan keep her immaculate.  I met them first in Moorea in French Polynesia when they invited me over for happy hour.  Since then I had run into them now and again traveling across the Pacific.  The boat is Australian but he is from Sweden and she was an Ozzie.  Like most of the cruising community they were in their mid-60’s, retired and seeing the world.  A beautiful couple on a beautiful boat.  They have a relaxed and calm way about them.  This morning, however, Wendy’s usual carefree relaxed voice was filled with stress.

“Yes!  Good morning net.  This is Wendy… from Juliana Two,” she spoke slowly and her words seemed to stop and start abruptly.

“Stefan and I have had a strange experience that I wanted to share.  The last twelve hours or so… we’ve had big fishing boat following us.  Each time we turned or tried to move away from them they would also turn and follow us.  Sometimes coming very near.”

“Yes.  Yes.  We are fine.  Just a bit unnerved as we don’t know what they want.”

“Are they still following you, Wendy?”

“No. No.  They are gone now.  Stefan thinks they were just curious.  But it got me quite unnerved.”

Wendy went on to detail the experience and how the fishing boat would seem to be leaving only to turn back around and come near them again and again.  You could hear the nervousness and anxiety in her voice that it had caused her.  Other cruisers joined the conversation and tried to make her feel better by telling her that they’re just fishermen and nothing more.  We had all heard stories about kidnappings, boardings and even killings.  Some of which had happened in and around the waters we were now entering.  Even upon our checkout from Australia, the Australian customs people handed out flyers of “suspicious” boats and told us to be alert of anything unusual.  Wendy’s recounting highlighted how vulnerable we are out here on the sea.  Suddenly I wondered if waiting an extra day to be behind the fleet was a good idea or not.

To get my mind off of it I got the spinnaker up again.  The wind was not nearly as fresh as the first two days and I struggled to keep it full.  Every now and again it would lose the wind and the foot would sag into the sea.  I tried trimming it several times and even changed my point of sail with hopes to get a better wind angle.  But the wind continued to settle out, the spinnaker would flog and then a gust would come and snap it full again.  It would fly great for 20 minutes and then sag down when the wind lulled.  Suddenly she’d fill again and we’d be off for another 20 minute run.  Then it happened.

The wind spilled out of the sail and when it went slack the tack and clew entangled around one another and when the next gust of wind came the spinnaker wrapped around itself and hour-glassed.  When a spinnaker “hour-glasses” it’s just like it sounds, the sail gets twisted and tangled on itself and is suddenly in the shape of an hourglass.  The wind billowed the sail out in the upper and lower sections of the sail while the middle was helplessly twisted and tangled on itself.  I ran to the bow and grabbed the sheet and pulled as hard as I could and tried to pull the twist free.  It would not budge.  The wind picked up more and pulled the twist tighter.  I had to get the sail down.  I pulled on the hoop line.  But it too was tangled within the mess of the twist and the hoop only came down a short distance before it stopped.  I pulled harder but it was stuck.  The breeze rose more and so did my heart rate.  Solstice’s speed increased.  I was afraid to pull too hard on the line as I felt that I might rip the sail in the process.  But I had to get the sail down.  I ran back to the sheet and let her loose completely. 


The sail flogged wildly and banged the rig.  Solstice hated it.  So did I.  The front of the boat shuddered and shook and I knew I was in trouble.  I ran back to the bow and I thought I could pull the hoop down now with the loose sheet.  I pulled hard but no luck.    The line was jammed.


If I didn’t get the sail down something was going to break.  I hurried to the mast and grabbed the halyard.  I hoped I could drop the sail slowly and pull it on deck.  I uncleated the halyard and brought it to the foredeck.  The sail continued to flail and thrash about wildly.  I tried to control it the best I could.  The halyard jerked and pulled and tried to free itself from my grasp.  I did my best to lower it slow but the wind, sea and King Neptune had other plans.  They wanted the sail.  The foot of the sail immediately dropped overboard and into the water.  I hurried and grabbed the sail with one hand and held onto the halyard with the other.  I struggled to wrestle the sail from the sea.  Another gust blew hard and hit the top of the sail and jerked the halyard from my hand.


A long strange moment of silence filled the air and things slowed down for an instant while I watched the halyard run towards the top of the mast.  Then…


Sound flooded back into my ears and the entire sail crashed hard into the sea.  The bitter end of the halyard ran the rest of the way up to the top of the mast, thru the block and hurled itself away from the boat and into the water.  Solstice raced on under the mainsail alone.  The end of halyard snaked back atop the water and was pulled back alongside the hull of the boat.  The head of the sail followed the halyard and the passing sea swamped and pinned the line and sail along the waterline next to the boat.  Solstice forged ahead dragging the wet mass with her.  The thought of the halyard and sail slipping down under the boat and wrapping itself around the prop was immediate.  The engine was off but even under sail Solstice’s prop spins.  I was frightened.

Hand over fist, I grabbed big portions of where I could reach the sail and pulled.  A little came in.  I lurched forward and grabbed more and heaved.  More came in.  I flung myself forward again and took a hold of a bigger section and pulled mightily.

“AAAAHHHH!!!!”  I yelled as I pulled more aboard.

I lunged forward and collected more.  And pulled.  Again forward scooping as much sail as I could gather.  Again I heaved back.  My arms ached as I struggled with the waterlogged sail working as fast as I could.  The next heave proved easier as I got closer to the head.  I heaved again, again and again.  The more sail I got out of the water the easier and faster it came out.  I got to the head and pulled the last of it aboard.  I reached the top of the sail and grabbed the halyard where it clipped to the head.  My hands worked quickly one over the other and I pulled the line in as fast as I could.  Saltwater flung into my eyes and I squeezed them shut to force out the sting.  Finally the bitter end of the halyard came flying up over the rail and hit me square in the forehead.  Everything was out of the water.  I fell atop the wet, mass of the tangled lines and sailcloth.  I was exhausted.

Solstice sailed along.  Eventually I rolled over on my back and stared up at the empty spinnaker block at the top of the mast.  Any comfort level that had grown from the previous two days of flying the spinnaker had vanished.  I was thankful it was down, and thankful nothing wrapped under the boat.  All was okay except for my damaged ego and the mess before me.  I went back to the cockpit and started the engine. 

Back on the foredeck, I grabbed the spinnaker bag and crammed the sail in.  I’d worry about untangling it some other time.  While putting it away I looked up and was shocked to see a big long wooden boat with a prow that swooped up high in an arch with a huge house-like structure on the stern coming towards me.  The stern quarters looked like a rickety old shack that you’d find in rural Virginia.  It seemed like any big seaway would find the structure sliding off the deck of the boat.  It was as if it was lifted from the woods and plopped on the stern.  The middle of the boat swept down low to the water before the deck rose back up high again.  The entire vessel had the shape of an Aladdin shoe.  I’ve seen pictures of this style of boat before but never had I seen anything like it on the water.  Its unusual look and close proximity evoked an ominous mysterious feeling. 

The men on the rail stared at Solstice as we past each other.  They looked tired and worn out.  Younger men stood up near the bow amongst fishing gear and nets piled high on the deck.  Older men were gathered near the helm in the aft structure.  They all kept an interested eye on Solstice as we glided by.  Some had cigarettes dangling from their lips, others fishing gear in their hands.  All were motionless and stood and stared.  Perhaps Solstice and I were as odd looking to them as they were to me.   They were weather beaten and joyless in their dirty clothes.  The boat was as weather beaten and dirty as the men and looked about as seaworthy as a ceramic bear claw bathtub.

A couple of hundred yards after we past the boat crossed my stern and turned back in my direction.  They seemed to throttle up and closed the gap between us.  About 15 minutes later they were a couple of hundred yards off my starboard rail.  They slowed down and matched my speed.  The men had moved to the opposite rail where they continued to gawk at us.  They traveled along paralleling my course and matching my speed.  Immediately I knew how Wendy had felt.  This was a big boat with a lot of men aboard that obviously was coming over to get a closer look.  Their presence made me uncomfortable and I felt vulnerable.  They rode alongside Solstice for about 45 minutes.  At one point I waved over to them.  Half the men smiled and waved back.  The others did not react at all.  Eventually they turned towards Solstice and I was relieved when their turn continued and they made a one-eighty and headed back in the opposite direction.  Some of the men began spilling a large net off the stern and into the sea.  They were indeed fishermen and a feeling of relief enveloped me as the gap between us grew.  During that feeling I realized that not only had I felt stressed and vulnerable but that I was now in waters that were unlike any I had known before.  I don’t know if it was the ominous look of their vessel, the hardened appearance of the men or the actions of them following me; probably a combination of all three but I had felt vulnerable in a way that I never had before.

The sun hung low in the deeper blue of the sky…


A whale off my port beam broke the surface about 50 yards away.  Suddenly I felt a lot better.

“Thar she blows!” I yelled.


A second whale surfaced.

“ARRRRR!” I hollered.  Arrrrr was my way of telling them Aloha.

There were three of them altogether.  I took it as a sign that all was well and to stop worrying about spooky boats following me. 

I was nearing the coast and after a quick calculation I knew I had no chance to make it before nightfall.  Once I made it to the coast I still had another 17 miles to go through the west Timor Strait to Kupang.  Kupang was on the northwest end of the island.  I had no intention of going up the strait at night.  I picked a place on the chart about 5 miles out where I’d have enough drift room to stay away from the nearby islands.  I slowed down and took my time.  It was 10 o’clock at night when I got to my spot.  I put the boat in neutral, turned the helm hard over into the wind, locked the wheel and killed the engine.  I had only the main up and it was blowing about 15 knots.  Solstice sat still comfortably.  I was amazed how flat and calm it was.  Solstice drifted between .2 and .5 knots per hour.  There was no traffic.  It was a perfect place to stop and wait.  I still had 8 hours before sunup.  I was exhausted but paranoid about lying down and falling asleep for too long and drifting up on a beach somewhere.  I set my watch alarm for every 30 minutes, just like when I was moving.  I set the depth alarm, AIS alarm and a wider perimeter for the radar alarm.  I drank 3 big glasses of water and laid down.

It was hard to sleep.  I was tired but awake.  Too tired to sleep.  Too paranoid to sleep.  Like most nights the sun couldn’t come up soon enough.  Thirty minutes later I got up, went to the bathroom, checked on everything, drank another big glass of water and laid down again.  Eyes open staring at the ceiling, listening to the gentle sounds of the boat drifting on a tranquil sea.  A calm wind hummed.  The wind was enough to keep the boat in position.  A couple of times I felt I got too close to the coasts.  I fired up the engine, drove Solstice through the wind and hove too on the opposite tack.  The boat then drifted back out into deeper water.  It wasn’t a perfect hove-to because we still were moving but only slightly.  I was okay with that as long as we stayed away from anything.

With the exception of a couple of hove-to course changes the night was uneventful.  Eventually I got a little sleep but not much.  An hour before dawn I got up and went on deck.  The sky eastern sky above the island started to turn from black to a dark teal.  I put on some coffee and fired up the engine.  Once the coffee was brewed I set a course for the West Timor Strait.

“We’re headin’ in Brody…  Thank Christ,” I recited one of my favorite movie line exchanges as I took the helm.

Every now and again I like to steer.  This morning was one of those times.  I had a cup of coffee, the air was warm and I wanted to watch the sunrise over Indonesia from behind the helm.  The dark outline of the low-lying islands became more defined with each passing minute.  The dark teal turned to deeper purple and then rolled into a reddish pink followed some greens and blues.  Soon the horizon was aglow and Indonesia revealed itself.

Asia, I thought to myself and then…

“Land ho!” I yelled.

I had almost forgot to yell “Land ho”.  I was excited to see my first glimpse of the largest continent on earth.  The sun broke free from behind Timor and spilled out over the ocean.  It was the birth of new day and a new land was before me.  I’ll never forget my first sight of Asia.  The islands were flat and the foliage appeared to be nothing more than low cut coastal scrub brush and grass.  I could see the break in between the islands where the Strait was and settled on a course.  I turned on the autopilot and went below to make breakfast.

Boats are loud.  And within the cacophony of eclectic sounds each boat’s noise melts into a own voice.  I know Solstice’svoice well.  I’ve spent so much time aboard that I know it like my favorite song.  Even with all the instruments playing together I know when a new one chimes in, a strange beat emerges or when an instrument falls silent and drops out of the orchestra.

I decided an egg sandwich would be perfect for this final part of the journey and started to pull out the necessary ingredients from the fridge.  The engine was running and being right next to the galley it was loud.  But after a few minutes I realized and instrument in Solstice’s song was missing.  The familiar sound of the autopilot whirring away in the background wasn’t breaking through the beating noise of the engine.  I stopped what I was doing and popped my head outside into the cockpit.  The autopilot display was on and we appeared to be on course.  Still I heard nothing.  Solstice’s autopilot is under the bunk in the aft cabin.  I went back there and lifted the mattress and put my ear close to where I should easily hear the motor running.  I heard nothing.


This was not good.  I went back to the cockpit and tried to make a course change with the autopilot.  I turned the course knob a few degrees to port.  No response.  I turned a few more degrees to port.  No response.  I turned a few more and….


Solstice turned hard over to port.  I turned off the autopilot and took the helm.  I got her back on course and turned the autopilot back on.  I watched carefully and Solstice seemed to hold course.  I put my ear back down below near the motor.  Again I heard nothing.  I went back up top again and we still appeared to be holding course.  I figured maybe I could finish breakfast and deal with this afterward.  I got breakfast made and all seemed well, though I heard no happy whirring from the autopilot.  Something wasn’t normal.  I should be hearing an intermittent whir, whir, whir sound as the autopilot steered the boat.  There was nothing.  I was about halfway through my sandwich when…


Solstice turned hard to port again.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” I screamed thru a mouthful of egg and bread.
I turned off the autopilot and straightened the boat.

“It’s always freakin’ something!” I yelled again.

I was exhausted, I still had 17 miles to go and now I was pissed.  The last thing I wanted to do was hand steer for the next 3½ hours.  I had trouble shot the autopilot many times over the years.  90% of the time the problem had been a wire that had vibrated loose.  I knew what to do and where to find the problem.

I can fix this quick, I thought.

I wolfed down the rest of my meal, put he boat in neutral and got to work.  At least it was flat enough to work.

The control box for the autopilot is mounted inside the engine room on the door by the galley.  I opened it up.


There’s nothing like working next to a running diesel engine in a small space.

I took off the control box cover.  Inside was a computer board with a plethora of tiny wires running into various connector terminals.  I got my tiny screwdriver, a flashlight, my crappy reading glasses (that I have to wear now because I’m old) and crammed myself on the floor between the engine room door and the stove.  I began my search for the problem.  I checked every wire.  One by one.  About halfway through I found a loose one.


I pulled it out, checked it and put it back its terminal and tightened the screw.  I continued down the line and got to the last two, which were the positive and negative power wires.  The hot side was loose too.  When I pulled it, it sparked a little.


I hadn’t seen that before and didn’t like it.  I tightened the screw and seated it back in its terminal.  Tugged on it gently.  It seemed fine.  Satisfied I went back top, put Solstice in gear, got her on course and turned on the autopilot.  This time I tried to turn her to starboard a few degrees.  I slowly turned the course dial five degrees.  No response.  I turned her five more degrees.  No response.  I turned it….


She went hard over to port again.  I hurried and shut it off and straightened the boat out. 

This time I didn’t yell or get upset.  I was too tired.  I just wanted to be there.  I figured the more time I wasted out here trying to get this sorted the longer it would take me to get in.  I put the cover back on the control box, left the autopilot off and decided I’d hand steer the rest of the way. 

I’ll fix it when I get to Kupang.

I was too close to keep messing with it out here.

The conditions were calm enough that I could lock the wheel, run below and do quick simple things like get a glass of water or grab a banana.  If I needed more time to do something I would put the boat in neutral and stop.  Once I got into the West Timor Strait it was even calmer.

As I turned and headed up between the islands a strange fleet of fishing boats was headed out.  They were long narrow wooden boats that had lateen-like sails.  The sails were rigged up front near the bow of the boat.  One sail looked like a traditional jib except it was attached to a boom along the foot.  The second sail was more like a mainsail but it was in the shape of an inverted triangle tilted at 45° angle.  It was attached at a mast-like pole on the leading edge and a boom on the longer aft edge.  But because of the angles neither looked like a traditional mast and boom.  It looked bizarre and unbalanced.  There were several of them and they paraded past on their way out to sea.  The hardened men on each boat looked remarkably similar to the men I saw on the bigger boat the day before.  They stared at me and I stared back at them.  With each boat I made a point to give a big wave hello.  Most of the men smiled and waved back.  A joyous wave is a universal sign of goodwill.

Further up the strait there were small open boats along the coastline.  Most had one man some had two.  All were working pulling nets out of the water or setting them.  There were also wooden fish traps sporadically sticking up out of the water.  They consisted of big sticks that stuck out of the water on end about10.  They were shaped in a circular pattern making a cage-like enclosure.  They were a navigational nightmare, especially at night.  Occasionally one had an open boat with a single man checking it.

When I got close to Kupang, I turned the VHF to channel 77.  That was the scheduled channel for the rally.  When there was a break in the chatter I checked in.

“Indonesian Rally, Indonesian Rally, this is the sailing vessel Solstice do you copy?”

“Hello Bill, where are you?” I was surprised John, the head of the rally, answered so fast and remembered me from Darwin.

“Hello John, I’m about an hour out.  Should I wait and call customs after I anchor or before? Over,” I asked.

“Wait until you get settled, then give them a call,” he said.  “Now Bill, have you heard about some of the problems some boats have had?” he asked.

“I have on the net. Over,” I said.

“Well we’ve tried to talk to the officials here who are aware of the problems and they’ve told us that when they come to your boat that you must insist that only1 or 2 people board your boat,” John was serious.

“Okay, how do I do that John?”

“Just be firm with them and insist that.  Be firm,” he emphasized the word “firm” each time he said it.

“Aye, aye.  Be firm.  Go it,” I replied.

The anchorage appeared as the bluff slipped out of my line of sight.  A cluster of boats was anchored just west of the pier. The brown dusty city of Kupang with sand colored streets and buildings filled in the backdrop.  Some of the buildings looked half built or deserted.  Some had torn and tattered awnings blowing in the breeze, others had busted out windows and shutters.  It was hard to tell from my vantage point but it appeared like hundreds of people lined the shoreline and a series of tall colorful flags stood on the beach pulled tight by the breeze.  The masts in the foreground swayed back and forth like giant metronomes counting out between 40 and 50 beats per minute.  A clear sign it was a rolly uncomfortable anchorage.  I didn’t care.  I just wanted to get the hook down and rest.

As I approached the anchorage I noticed a man in a small open boat.  He waved at me.  I waved back.

Friendly people here, I thought. 

As I got closer he gave me a bigger wave.  I returned his with an even bigger wave and slowed down.  Solstice was doing about 4 knots.  I wanted to pass near him so I could take his picture.  As I neared I heard him yell.


He pointed about 50 feet in front of the boat.  Tiny dark floats about the size of ping-pong balls were barely visible and dotted the surface in a long line that followed around in a huge circle just outside the anchorage.  My heart jumped and I spun the helm hard to starboard.  Solstice did a one-eighty right before the bow plowed through the line.  Her bow swung around and so did her stern, both just missing the hidden net lurking beneath the surface.  The man in the boat smiled broadly and gave a wave and the okay sign. He pointed in the direction of a safe path I should follow on the other side of him and away from the net.  I waved okay, smiled and clasped my hands together at the palms and bowed to him in gratitude and thankfulness.  I then noticed hidden in front of the hulls of the boats at anchor were about eight other little open boats each with a single fisherman minding a different section of their deployed net.  Why had these fisherman decided to deploy a huge net right by the anchorage is beyond me.  But one thing I was thankful for was that that fisherman knew the English word “Net” and that I was at the helm and not on autopilot. 

I drove around the anchorage for another 20 minutes searching for a good spot to drop the hook.  It was crowded and I was mindful of not anchoring too close to anybody.  I found a spot just outside the last row and dropped the hook in 55 feet of water.  Deeper than I liked but I felt it would do.  I put the boat in reverse and backed down to set the hook.  Solstice slowly backed up.  Her all chain rode stretched out.  I watched attentively as she backed towards the boat in the last row.  Solstice started to slow and the chain tightened.   She got closer and closer.  The owner of the other boat got up from his cockpit and walked to the bow that was pointed at my stern.  I recognized him and his boat.  A friendly Aussie named, John and his boat Delphian.  I gave him a wave.  He didn’t wave back.  Instead he put his hands on his hips and watched.   

Solstice was about 50 feet from his boat when the anchor pulled tight and she stopped.  John continued to stand there.  I pulled the throttle back and revved the engine up to 1500 rpms.  Black smoke belched out of the exhaust and the rode pulled tighter.  John watched and Solstice didn’t budge.  Her hook was set.  20 seconds later I felt secure, throttled down and put her in neutral.  The rode slackened and the chain pulled Solstice forward another 15 yards towards the anchor.  I started to get the bridle ready and noticed John was still standing on his bow.

I went back to the aft deck and cupped my hands around my mouth.

“Hey John!  Are you comfortable with me here?” I hollered.

“Well… When the wind blows you’ll get pretty close,” he said.

“She set pretty good,” I waited for a reply that didn’t come.  “But if you’re uncomfortable I’ll move,” I said.

“Maybe you could move up another 75 feet or so?” he asked.

Seriously? Solstice doesn’t drag.

I was exhausted.  The last thing I wanted to do was reset.  I felt like there was plenty of room between us.  But I’ve also learned that when you’re in an anchorage it is best if everybody is happy.  And if you’re the last boat in, then you need to move to appease those who are there before you.  It is the Corinthian way.  But sometimes, the Corinthian way sucks.

“Not a problem, John.  I’ll move up,” I said.

I got busy pulling hook back up.  It was a pain because I had to jump down through the hatch to the anchor locker every 35 feet or so to flake the chain and I was exhausted.  Finally I got the hook up, motored out to about 70 feet of water and dropped it.  A lot deeper now than I liked but we had a lot more room between us.  After I got it set and secure, John smiled and waved.  I waved back and he went back to his cockpit.

The last thing to do before I could relax was to check-in with customs and immigration officials.  I heeded all the warnings I had heard on the radio.   I made sure all valuables were put away, nothing was lying about and that Solstice looked clean and kept.  I put on a collared shirt, long pants and shoes.  Proper dress was a sign of respect to the Indonesians; and I wanted to come across that way.  They also like stamps with boat names and labels on things.  My dear friend Tony gave me a shirt that says “Captain Bill s/v Solstice” on the breast.  It’s not in my nature to wear something that labels me as “The Captain” but for the Indonesian Authorities I felt it was appropriate.  It’s a nice light blue polo style shirt and went well with my tan pants so I put it on.  I looked good for being 6 days at sea.  I got out my Solstice boat stamp that I hade made in Darwin along with my Solstice emblazoner that Jake and Jackie gave me with Solstice’s seal.  I was ready to stamp and emblazon documents to my desire or should I say theirs.  I was official.

I was on the aft deck when I saw a long fiberglass boat coming towards me at top speed.  They were on full plane driving right through the anchorage.  It snaked around one boat and headed right for Solstice.  I hurried to untie some fenders from the rail.  Before I knew it, they blew right by Solstice.  As soon as the realized that had blown past the last boat in the anchorage they stopped.  They turned around.  Immediately the boat leapt back on plane and came right for me.  Moments before they got to me they throttled

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said as calm as could.

“Mind the teak.  Lets get these fender’s in here,” I said as I handed them over and dropped a couple between the boats.

There were 10-15 people on the boat.  As soon as they pulled alongside 4 jumped aboard Solstice.  I started to protest but they were helping fend off their boat from hitting Solstice so I shut-upOthers tossed over a couple of lines, I secured one to the stern cleat and one of the guys secured the other to the bow.  As soon as the boats were tied up about 6 more started to climb aboard.  I held my hand up.

“Hey is it okay, if we just bring one person aboard at a time?” I asked.

They stopped and looked at me confused.

“I am only one,” I rose my index finger and then pointed at my chest, “I am only one.  And you are many,” I said.  “Only one or two people come aboard,” I insisted.

They still looked confused.

“Just one person at a time?” I asked.

They looked at each other and then…

“HA, HA, HA, HA,” they all laughed together and stepped aboard Solstice.  I don’t know for sure how many there were.  They were all men and one woman.  Only two men had on uniforms, the rest were dressed in street clothes.

“You must fill these forms out and we must come below,” one of the officers insisted.

“Okay.  My name is Bill and this is Solstice,” I said.  “Nice to meet you,” and I stuck out my hand.

They seemed a bit confused at this too.  I did my best to make this civil and let them know I was a person.  Not just a boat.  I shook hands with everybody and traded names and we moved below.  The two officers, the girl and a third man came below.  One of the officers and the girl gave me some paperwork. 

The lead officer began to explain while Solstice rocked back and forth in the rolly anchorage.  I was happy fenders were between the boats and the hulls weren’t slapping together.

“You must fill these out,” he began “And then the forms from her..”

I was only halfway paying attention because I was trying to keep an eye on the other uniformed man who had started opening cabinets and looking inside.  He opened them one after the other and looked quickly inside each.  He then started to speak in Indonesian to one of the street clothed guys who had come down below.  Street clothed guy, then started to open other cabinets.  Inside the second one above the port settee he found my chocolate stash.

“Ohhhh.. blah, blah blah,” he said in Indonesian to uniformed cabinet dweller guy. “Blah, blah, CHO-CO-LATE, blah, blah, blah” he continued.

“CHO-CO-LATE?” the uniformed man seemed disinterested.

“Sir, then you must fill out her forms,” the other uniformed man tried to get my attention back.

clearing-in instructions as the same time but it was impossible.  Instead I felt like I was in a surreal dreamscape and I couldn’t pay attention to anything or anybody.

“Her forms,” the uniformed man said again and gestured to the girl sitting on the settee.

I turned to her and she out the papers towards me.  Her eyes were sort of spinning and she looked terrible.  I took the papers from her and sat down, realizing it was a lost cause to try and keep an eye on everything. 

“These are mine,” the uniformed non-cabinet dweller guy said.  “I am from Immigration.  He is from customs,” he pointed to the uniformed cabinet dweller guy, “And she is from Health,” he finished. 

“And who is that?” I asked and pointed to street clothed guy.

“He is my cousin,” said uniformed cabinet dweller guy.

I didn’t really care, I didn’t have anything to hide, but I did feel these guys were taking advantage and were rude and I didn’t like they way they were going about things.  They were abrupt and rude by American standards.  Even the Aussie’s custom officials asked

“Is it alright that I check a few of your cabinets, Mate?” in a polite congenial way. 

I began filling out the paperwork.

“Where is your beer?” uniformed cabinet dweller guy asked.

“No beer,” I said.
“No beer?” he was shocked.

“Yep, I have no beer aboard,” I answered.
He furrowed his brow, not happy with my reply.  It was true though.  I had zero beer
aboard.  Plenty of wine, zero beer.  I started to look at the health papers.

“What should I put here for…” I looked up to the health official girl.  Her mouth hung open, she was breathing heavily and all the blood seemed to drain out of her face.  “Are you okay?” I asked.

She slapped her hands over her mouth, stood up and looked around wildly looking for somewhere to go.  Then it hit me.

“Here, here, here!” I yelled, grabbed her arm and hurried her towards the forward head.  “Outta the way,” I said and we shoved uniformed cabinet dweller guy aside.  I put her in front of me and desperately tried to reach over her to lift open the toilet seat but…


Vomit flew spewed out from all sides of her hands as she tried to keep it in her mouth and sprayed the walls and floor.


That was my emotional scream inside that nobody heard.

I reached more abruptly over her and got the toilet seat up and pointed.

“HERE, HERE!” I yelled.


 She didn’t get her hands out of the way fully this time either and the second burst went on the sink, mirror, the floor and some into the toilet.  She fell to her knees and put her face by the toilet.


All of this burst made it into the toilet.

The rest of the group just sort of stopped and stared dumbfounded.

I ran back to the galley and got a wet towel, a glass of water and a roll of paper towels.

“Huh, huh” the immigration official laughed sheepishly, “This is her first time on a boat,” he said.

“Boats aren’t for everyone,” I assured him and ran forward to help her.

“BBBBUUURRRAAAHHHH!!!” She continued to barf in the toilet and I handed her the glass of water, which she reached for gingerly.  I then gave her a wet towel to wipe her face.

“I sorry!  I sorry, Sir” she was embarrassed.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I tried to calm her.

“BBBBUUURRRAAAHHHH!!!” she threw up again.

“I think you guys should get her off the boat,” I told the officials.  “She’s really seasick.”

They others still stood there stupefied, not knowing what to do.  Uniformed cabinet dweller guy was holding a 2.5 liter bottle of Diet-Coke that he had pulled from one of my cabinets.

“Can I have this?” he said and held it up.
couldn’t believe it.  Here’s this person part of his team throwing up in my boat and he’s still looking for stuff to take from me.

“Sure,” I said.  “You’re welcome to it.  But you have to share it,” I said.

“Oh it is not for me.  It is for my children,” he said.

“Good,” I said.

bottle of Diet-Coke then I got off better than a lot of other boats.
he girl rushed back past us and up into the cockpit.  Everything seemed to be done after that.  The men said that they had the information that they needed and that I could come to shore tomorrow and finish everything then.

On some level, the girl getting sick made everything easier and sort of made them feel bad enough to leave me alone.  We all went topsides and the girl felt much better as soon as she was on deck.

“I sorry, Sir.  I sorry.  I dirty your beautiful boat.  I sorry,” she was the only genuine, sincere person in the group. 


“It’s okay, I said.  It’s okay.  You’re not the first one to get seasick on the boat,” I assured her.

They all started to get on their boat.

“Hey, you guys, can I get a couple of pictures?” I asked.  “You are my very guest aboard in Indonesia.  I’d like a picture,” I said.

I realized immediately I said a magic word.  I’d come to learn, Indonesians LOVE to have their picture taken.  Those that weren’t in the boat came back.  They laughed, we shook hands and took pictures.  They then asked if we could take pictures with their cameras.

“Sure,” I said.

Soon phones were being past around and up from the boat and phone cameras were snapping pictures.  Afterwards I thanked them, they thanked me and I got a few more “I sorrys”.  I untied them.  They hit the throttle and off they went on a full plane through the anchorage.  I watched.  Uniformed cabinet dweller guy stood at the back of the boat clutching his bottle of diet-coke waving at me as they sped away.  They didn’t have a care in the world.

I went back below and stared at half of my cabinet doors open and the mess that needed to be cleaned up in the forward head.  My brand new head rug that I had brought back from the states covered in barf.

“I sorry.  I sorry, Solstice,” I apologized to my sweet lady.

“Welcome to Indonesia.”

Much Aloha,








Solstice Log