Below is an account of a voyage taken by Bob Hobman, Nick Burningham and myself from Benoa, Bali, to Darwin, Australia via Ende, Flores in 1978.It was a dramatic voyage highlighted by blown out sails,monster swell,dragging anchors and a leaky boat that had to be continuously pumped out - manually!
Here is Nick's story.
Darwin to Bali
Meanwhile, Bob Hobman the erstwhile co-owner of SIOLA TAU had heard, from Peter Walker, of a lambo [a type of Indonesian sailing vessel] for sale at Benoa which sounded like a good deal. He began collecting loans from acquaintances to implement his plan — to go up to Benoa, buy the lambo named Tunas Harapan ("Bud of Hope"), load a cargo and sail down to Darwin before the wet season westerlies faded. He generously offered to pay fares and expenses if I wanted to go. He also took Rick Hoskings who had sailed with him on Siola Tau and had the distinction of being the only one from Siola Tau’s crew who had not been hospitalised after any of their voyages.
We flew to Bali with charts, sextant and compass, and in a day or three Bob had bought Tunas Harapan. She was a good looking, low sheered, Butonese lambo, obviously quite old but well-built. She retained a tall gaff riggers mast with only a short masthead above the hounds although she had been rigged with a gunter mainsail for a year or two.
I cut a new mainsail and jib, some local sailors made new standing rigging cable, laying up galvanised fence wire by hand — a new fashion on Indonesian perahu at the time. The hand laid fence wire cable looked bad because you could never get it completely straight but it was strong and durable.
We ballasted with sand bags and started loading large terracotta pots, stone statues, cane furniture and all sorts of stuff. An old acquaintance from previous visits to Benoa turned up. Professor Adrian Horridge of the Australian National University, had published a number of monographs about Indonesian perahu, including one about the perahu lambo. I didn’t agree with all of his conclusions but we corresponded regularly. He asked to join Tunas Harapan for part of the voyage as far as Ende on the island of Flores where Bob intended to stop.
We also met up with Dr Colin Jack-Hinton, director of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, another distinguished scholar of Southeast Asian maritime culture. He and Bob discussed the finer points of Asian maritime culture over twenty or thirty cold beers while Rick and I got on with the loading and caulking the decks. Colin agreed to purchase Wayan Kerig’s jukung for the collection of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Darwin if we could transport it to Darwin. It was a bit awkward. The jukung was about seven metres long, and so were its outrigger booms, while the outriggers themselves were ten metres long. We strapped the jukung and all its bits to the starboard side of the cabin where it completely blocked the side deck and meant that one had to climb outboard to get to the running backstays which was decidedly awkward, but not impossible. Since the jukung weighed at least a quarter of a tonne and was carried as deck cargo it was fortunate that we had plenty of ballast and cargo.
We sailed from Benoa at about the end of February. The wet season westerlies were blowing consistently with plenty of westerly squalls. We got a good offing and sailed south of the Lesser Sunda islands. Professor Horridge proved to be prone to seasickness and perhaps that was why he always tried to make Tunas Harapan self steer when he was given a trick at the helm. He said it was an experiment but as I told him every five or ten minutes, a sloop rigged lambo with its great long main boom sticking out one side doesn’t self steer when running down wind.
Bob enjoyed a reputation as a man who appreciated a few stiff drinks, even in Darwin where nearly everyone has a thirst like a suction dredge. However, at sea Bob very properly restricted himself and his the crew to a single cocktail taken during the cocktail hour before dark. Bob always mixed the cocktail himself following a simple recipe of his own devising.
1 Tip a litre bottle of rum or Dutch Genever into the coffee pot and top up with fruit juice.
2 Decant into three very large enamel mugs.
Bali to Flores
The first couple of days out, as we ran south of Lombok and Sumbawa, the wind was moderate with just a few windy squalls. On the evening of the third night, as we left Sumba strait, the weather astern looked very black indeed. Gradually the wind increased . We kept running with it and running before the wind didn’t appreciate its full strength. We hung on to the mainsail for too long. When the squall hit hard we had to let Tunas Harapan round up into the wind in order to drop the mainsail and as we did that the jib flogged its clew to bits . The foot of the main got damaged too. Once the main was approximately furled we had to furl the torn jib which gave us a hard fight. With the wind screaming from astern, the jib, with its foot laced to a boom, kept ballooning full of wind and trying to run back up the jib stay. It was all I could do to lock my arms around the jib, and my legs around the bowsprit while yelling for Rick to get a gasket round the sail. Though he was only a couple of metres away he couldn’t hear me. It was easier to get the jib furled when Tunas Harapan came round broadside to the weather.
We lay ahull for a while, broadside on, and the weather did not improve at all. We were drifting towards a headland and calculated that if it kept blowing just as hard all night we might be smashed into the cliffs of the headland before dawn. We had no serviceable sails bent and in those conditions we could not bend spare sails.
We got Tunas Harapan running under bare poles and found that she could be steered about 20–25º degrees from straight downwind and maintain steerage, but I was the only one who could judge the course and avoid stalling her in the black night with no visual clues to give the course. The binnacle light had failed so I steered nearly all night judging the course from the wind direction. That was the easy job. You face dead ahead and the wind tearing past your ears should give you an accurate indication of wind direction relative to heading.
I was glad to be steering. Once we got Tunas Harapan running on a course clear of the headland, we closed up the aft companion way because waves were breaking over the aft deck and slopping through the companion way. Then the bilge pumping started. In any sort of breeze Tunas Harapan needed a couple of hundred strokes on the bilge pump at the end of each three hour watch. This time Rick and Bob pumped for about an hour before the pump sucked dry and then had to pump for forty-five minutes in every hour for the rest of the night. About 4:00 am the weather had improved a little, but we were running slower and more seas were breaking over the aft deck. Bob issued very large tots of whisky which were delicious beyond belief and kept us going. At dawn Bob took the helm and Rick and I started repairing the jib clew.
At no time during the night had we seen Adrian. He must have had a terrifying night, shut in the cabin in complete darkness with a lot of water coming in and deafening noise from the wind and sea.
Repairing the jib was going to take an hour or two, so we set the main deep reefed because it was more or less intact above the reef band. We got the roughly repaired jib reset a little later and we were sailing again, running for the shelter of Ipih bay to the east of Ende. During the day the wind gradually eased. At dusk we rounded the volcanic headland south of Ende and sheeted in to sail into Ipih. Under the lee of the volcano the wind got lighter and lighter. It was hopeless trying to tack up to Ipih with the mainsail deep reefed so we had to bring out the spare mainsail. We'd never tried to set it. It was a polyweave sail and was said to be smaller than the mainsail we were using, but it turned out to be larger. With the gunter spar set as high as possible the boom hung down to the aft deck. Each time we tacked we had to lift the boom and carry it over the boom crutch, but it was a good sail for tacking in light conditions.
It was well after midnight when we felt our way into Ipih and dropped an anchor somewhere near the other anchored perahu. We shared a bottle of spirits and fell into deep sleep.
I woke an hour or three later and noticed that Tunas Harapan was rolling beam on to a surprisingly large chop. On deck I found that we had dragged our anchor out of the shallows of Ipih bay and it was now hanging straight down. We had drifted a couple of miles back out to sea. I called the others and we wearily hauled the anchor up and got under sail again. Even if your hands are hard and caloused, they can be very sensitive to hard ropes when you're fatigued. We anchored again at dawn.
During several days at Ipih we recut the polyweave mainsail and straightened out the rough repairs to the jib. We tried to stuff a bit of caulking in the most obvious above-waterline leaks. Adrian Horridge went ashore and immediately hospitalised himself for no obvious reason. Rick retained his record of being Bob’s only crew-member (other than me) never to have been hospitalized after a voyage.
In Ende we ate a very delicious oven-roast suckling pig thanks to a friendly Chinese shop keeper, Edi Setiawan, and his hospitable family.
Flores to Darwin
Then we went back to sea. We sailed across the Sabu Sea towards the southern tip of Timor and found ourselves a little too close to the lee shore of Semau island in the night. It was a moonlit night with quite a lot of cloud scudding across the sky and the wind was freshening, it was from the west and backing slightly south of west, so instead of broad reaching past the end of Semau into Rote Strait we were increasingly sheeting in and beginning to find ourselves clawing off a lee shore in a rising wind. At times in the moonlight we could see the breakers and the white sandy beaches of Semau. If the wind had got much stronger we would have had difficulty beating away from the shore, but it was a short-lived worry. By dawn we were slipping past the end of Semau and running through Rote strait to the Timor Sea. Our crossing of the Timor Sea was easy but the northwest wind was gradually diminishing. Sun sights and radio direction finding showed that we were being set very strongly to the north as we approached Beagle Gulf and in the lightening wind conditions we had to make a larger and larger alteration to our rhumb-line course to avoid being taken north around Cape Fourcroy.
As we sailed up Darwin harbour the winds were very light and just before dawn, as we approached the Port of Darwin anchorage, a slight squall came from the east — the first easterly of the year. We were lucky to sail all the way to Darwin before the southeast trades started to argue with the monsoon.