The Equator, Gearboxes and Trust

My plan to sail offshore the Sumatra coast has stalled, run out of wind and at the same time acquired too many headwinds — and has now sunk. I knew that sailing the doldrums without an engine would be hard but I was not prepared for the amount of work and frustration. Between squalls, winds are light and variable. I am constantly watching the wind to keep the boat sailing. The wind is mostly from the west and I am often close hauled, sometimes pinching if the wind decides to go north a bit, and if I don't watch it the sails backwind and I am forced to tack. Then I work to pick up speed again before tacking back onto my course. It happens over and over again.

When the squalls arrive the wind speed goes up, sometimes from nothing to 30 knots. Only once was I caught with all the sails up and it was pretty hairy. The autohelm was overwhelmed so I had to steer by hand making it impossible to do any sail handling. All I could do was sail as close to the wind as I dared.

So now, every evening, I put three reefs in the main, even though it slows me down. There is no light at night other than Anjea. There is no moon, no stars, no navigation lights, and no other ships. There is no horizon and it is easy to lose orientation completely. The squalls descend out of total blackness, out of nowhere, without warning. I cannot afford to get caught again so I reef the main as darkness descends in the evening. I may travel slowly between squalls but at least I can control the boat when they hit.

I have a fairly nasty tear in the jib from the flogging it got in that bad storm where I didn't reef. I need to get it down and repair it. I've also got a bucketful of other issues: the watermaker stops for no reason I can detect, the windlass won't go down (but I can still anchor by freefalling it), the monsoon rains have found all sorts of ways to get inside, the fridge is on the blink (again). half my solar panels have died... so I am getting nervous.

Ahead of me are two capes that I need to round. If this westerly prevails they will be in my lee. The current sets onshore here — it's a surface current driven by the wind — so without an engine it could be very hard to claw off if the weather is against me.

I've decided on another plan. I will pull in to Teluk Dalam at the southern tip of Nias, secure Anjea and take the gearbox to Singapore for repair. It will be costly but it is safer, more comfortable and allows me to renew my visa so I can explore Sumatra more after Anjea has had a bit of rejuvenation.

I pull in to Teluk Dalam (Deep Bay) and anchor. The next day is Sunday and I spend the day pulling the gearbox out — an exercise that succeeds by millimetres after getting help on the Cruisers Forum from a wonderful expert somewhere in America.

Next morning I go ashore to find the tuan pelabuhan (harbour master). It takes a while to sort the confusion of two separate ports in one harbour but eventually i am confronted by a very important looking uniform with a non-smiling gentleman in it. We shake hands and introduce ourselves. My few words of Bahasa and his few words of English are supplemented by Google Translate. The tension goes up as I describe my situation and that i need to leave Anjea at anchor. It is going to cost Rp 10m, about AUD1,000 to do that. I am outraged but keep my cool. Eventually, we negotiate a more reasonable figure and I come to realize that he is suggesting a local captain to stay on Anjea while I am away — now I am on board! And we part with smiles all round.

This afternoon, the Harbour Master visited Anjea with the captain who will look after her while I'm gone. Taufi is quiet and confident. I am instantly at ease with him. I show him the boat, he asks a few questions and the deal is done. He will stay onboard while I'm away.

The Harbour Master, Dodo, tells me he is travelling to Jakarta on Wednesday and would I like a lift to the airport. That's a really kind offer and I accept instantly. We need to leave at about 4am so he suggests that I stay at his house overnight.

That night we eat fish at a local restaurant and I discover that Dodo's fancy uniform and the house he lives in are the big perks of his job. On the way back he detours through the suburbs of Teluk Dalam where many houses are being built. They are  slightly bigger and newer than his house in the city centre, but still small by Australian standards, and the streets are so narrow that when two cars meet one has to back up a driveway to let the other past! He tells me that he could get a loan to buy a house here but then he would not have enough money for food. I tell him that many Australian households have two working parents in order to afford the mortgage.

We are up at 3am and on the road after a cup of hot sweet black coffee. It is raining off and on and the road is good by Indonesian standards. That means only one bridge has been washed away and the rest are ok. There are unexpected roadworks everywhere and no street lights or hazard warning lights. The washed out bridge has been replaced by a temporary affair that we access along a bumpy, muddy side track. I drive part of the way and am terrified. The maximum speed I feel a little bit safe at is 60kph between villages; passing thru the villages requires me to slow to half that. I am very relieved when we approach the airport.

I part company with Dodo here as I am on an earlier flight. I do not trust people in uniforms easily, but Dodo has gone out of his way to help. My mistrust has been misplaced.

After spending the day on various aeroplanes I am now in Singapore with my gearbox but nobody to fix it. The names I was given are either out of business or not interested! I told one dealer the model number and he just said sorry, no. No reason or explanation. So now I am worried that I have spent all this time and money getting here and cannot find someone to fix it. So I have sent out emails to everyone I know who might be able to provide advice or assistance and hopefully someone will have a contact, or I will take the gearbox elsewhere. Maybe Langkawi, maybe even Australia.

I had a picture in my mind that Singapore was a hub of marine engineering and it would be easy to find someone. But after slugging me $168 import duty to bring the gearbox into the country I am so far unable to find anyone to fix it. I think this was a case is wishful thinking on my part: I imagined Singapore to be other than it actually is.

Finally, I have found someone to fix it. PAMarine are a faily large company involved in various marine activities including military, oil and gas and leasure. Eric Tang who runs it is a dynamic but careful man who instantly appreciated my situation and has come up with a solution. The bad news though is that it will take two weeks to get the parts needed from Europe. So I will leave the gearbox with him and he will ship to me in Indonesia.

I have booked a flight back to Gunung Sitoli tomorrow, from where I will get a lift to Teluk Dalam. My Singapore soujourn is over. Now I must place my trust in Eric and his team to repair the gearbox and ship it to me. I need to trust the shipping company to get it to Tekuk Dalam, and I need to trust that Anjea is still there.

There are some photos in the gallery.


  • Gravatar Image

    Dear David,
    I wish you good luck!

  • Gravatar Image

    Dear Dave! Don’t give up!

  • Gravatar Image

    Hey Dave, goodness this brings back loads of memories! Especially re the squalls, aren’t they amazing? Keep it up, the hard bits pass and the rewards are many! Helen x

  • Gravatar Image

    Next Slog will be full of exellent news. Keep on "Coddiwomp'ling".

  • Gravatar Image

    Dear Lesley and David I haven' checked on you for a while but see you are having an interesting time to say the least! Pt Hacking remains the same Best regards Dick Branson

  • Gravatar Image

    Wow Dave, what an adventure! You've really covered some sea miles. Sometimes frustratingly, the weather is not what we'd like, it's just something we have no control over. Got to just take it as it comes.

    I'm hoping for you that the people you now have no choice but to 'trust' come through.

    Good luck. Fair winds. Clear skies.

  • Gravatar Image

    Hi Dave,
    I've been wondering whereabouts you are. Sounds like quite an adventure you are having, albeit not quite what you would have been hoping for.

    That said you would never have met Dodo if events had been different and as is so often the case it is these unexpected encounters which provide treasured memories.

    Teluk Dalam looks like a place I'd happily hang out in for a bit. You should try and get to the "Somali swimming hole and rapids" -

    Keep us posted on the Gear Box etc. I'm sure everything will work out fine in good time.

    - Neville & Cherryl

Add a Comment