Leaving Indonesia for Christmas Island

We are on our way to Christmas Island, where Tully is hopeful that it will be Christmas every day.  It may not be Christmas, but it will be Australia again and therefore we can stock up on more supplies before the long passage to Mauritius.  We will spend a few days on Christmas Island and then go to Cocos/Keeling which is also part of Australia and will also have good supplies.

We left Lombok 3 days ago in light winds at the start.  We put up our sails, crossed the start line first, then dropped the gennaker and motored for several hours.  Due to lots of activities on Lombok, and a change in crew (Tyler and Larissa are gone, Carl is with us through Richards Bay), I was still catching up with all kinds of tasks and was more or less oblivious to the sailing side of things.  I do recall looking out and seeing a calm sea and knew that we were motoring with wind on the nose.  Maybe an hour after that, I noticed more movement inside and peeked out.  There were massive waves and substantial wind.  What?!?  We were traveling between Lombok and Bali so not even in the Indian Ocean and conditions had deteriorated.  I had been dreading the Indian Ocean for some time for this reason but didn’t expect it quite so soon.  I decided to confront my distress head-on and stared at the waves for a good half hour before we established a truce.  They would leave us alone and I wouldn’t let them bother me.  Within two hours, we had glassy seas and no wind again.  Joe said it was probably the current against the wind that had raised the waves. 

Leaving Lombok with the fleet in calm winds

Joe put up various sails and finally settled on our new workhorse, the spinnaker we bought from Danica.  It might have been two nights ago when Carl was on watch and I was making dinner and noticed Charm picking up speeds out of her normal range.  Like 15 – 18 knots!  Auughh!  It’s like being on a roller coaster that never ends.  She sails along nicely and then catches a wave and we’re off – spray flying off both bows, sinking down into the water, feeling like we’re out of control and then, she’s back, sailing along nice and pretty until the next wave comes and we’re back up at 18 knots.  I tried to pretend it wasn’t bothering me but I was thrilled when Joe came up from below and said he was going to put a reef or two in the main to slow her down.  Yay!  Back to “normal” 10 – 12 knots.  Since that night, the conditions have been quite consistent and pleasant.  We’re clipping along most of the time but no more uncomfortable speed sessions.

Swimming during light winds on crossing

School is back in session and we are trying hard to be consistent with all the things we neglected before.  That means all the musical instruments were out when we caught up with Lunatix (ARC boat that joined in Australia) this afternoon.  Joe likes to keep things interesting when we see another boat.  Granted, he spends many more hours on watch then I do and therefore needs something to break up his day.  As we approach the boat, he studies it and analyzes its every move.  Then he tries to raise them on VHF.  If they don’t respond, the actions he has observed take on a sinister cast. 

On our way to Darwin, for example, we came across Nor’easter, a boat we didn’t know before then.  They turned into the wind just as we approached, which a boat underway would normally not do.  Joe was certain that they needed help, probably because of an electrical issue, and that they were signaling us the only way they could.  They didn’t answer their VHF and Joe was making plans as to how we would approach to help them.  Thankfully, they returned our call on the radio and told us that they hadn’t responded because they were trying to land a fish they had caught and had turned into the wind to slow the boat so they could catch it.  Ah.  So, we moved on.

Today, Joe watched Lunatix for several hours as we slowly approached.  Being able to catch them was Joe’s first indication that something was wrong.  We were flying our spinnaker and he knew that they had four in their sail locker.  So why were they under white sails?  Then they made a few turns that made no sense based on the destination that we share.  He called repeatedly on the VHF.  No response.  He tried the SSB.  Also nothing.  VHF again.  Maybe they’re napping.  Joe told me I should be prepared to put away all the musical instruments at a moment’s notice if we needed to help them.

Perhaps they got boarded by one of the fishing boats, were being held hostage, and the fishermen didn’t know how to sail.  This theory seemed most likely to Joe given the erratic path Lunatix was taking.  He sent an e-mail to Lunatix via satellite then went off to take a much-needed nap, requesting that I continue to call them on VHF.  I reluctantly agreed and was just about to call when they called us on VHF.  Freddy, the skipper, told us that he had received Joe’s email and was calling to tell us that all was well. He also said they were surprised we were flying our kite (another name for a spinnaker) with our children on board (spinnakers are notoriously difficult to fly).  Cobin, who answered the radio, told him that kids like flying kites, and Charm’s kids were no exception.  Freddy told us that since he had no children on his boat (although his adult daughter, Inga, is on board), he wasn’t flying his kite.  We offered up our kids for a future leg and he laughed and signed off.

Eight hours later, we’re still within easy sight of Lunatix, but their behavior is no longer troubling Joe, who is sleeping peacefully in the salon.  We’re looking forward to the next boat sighting and what possible disasters might befall them before we come into communication range.  I can’t wait until my mother comes back on board.  Between her and Joe, no boat will be safe from imagined dangers or our vigorous desire to save them.  To Joe’s credit, these delusions always, always, involve a willingness on his part to drop everything (including music class) to help someone else.  It could be worse!

Apart from the excitement of a potential rescue at sea, the passage has been fairly calm.  Carl, an American ex-pat living in Belgium, brought Cobin a much-anticipated ice cream maker that plugs directly into our French boat’s outlets.  Cobin made his first batch of ice cream today to go with apple pie that the girls helped me make.  The ice cream quickly dissolved after contacting the hot pie but it was delicious nonetheless.  We’ve also had an assortment of flying fish make their unusual appearances around the boat.  One slipped in a port somewhere and took up residence in some clothing that had fallen onto the floor.  Joe had the pleasure of staring into its dead fishy eyes when he picked the clothing up to put it away.  Carl saw one leap out of the sea and over both bows before swimming away on the other side.

Oh – and the most glorious thing happened that is one of those things that I only believe happened because I was there.  On my watch two nights ago, the seas were calm and I was working on our meal plan or something.  I got up from time to time and checked on things but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, towards the end of my watch, I took a break and looked out and noticed that the sea seemed a different color than normal.  Or rather, a different luminosity than normal.  It looked like a swimming pool lit up at night.  I had to look a few times to make sure it wasn’t just the sun setting late or the moon rising early.  When Carl came out to relieve me, he agreed that the sea was, in fact, glowing.  As far as the eye could see.  Warm liquid green below, star-studded sky above.  With tiny sparkles of bioluminescence that we see regularly but against a background of the same green phosphorescent color rather than against the normal black waters of night.

Since I couldn’t photograph it, I am putting another amazing photo in here instead that Carl took early one morning.

I’ve only seen something similar to the bioluminescence one other time.  I think it was somewhere in the Caribbean in the middle of the night and I saw creatures swimming through the sea, dragging trails of phosphorescence behind them.  I almost ran down to wake the kids to see it but was afraid that I would miss it.  This time, I decided to wake them.  I went to the girls first because Cobin is extremely difficult to rouse. 

Marin is always interested in anything I want to show her so I tried waking her.  She opened her eyes and I told her the sea was glowing.  She tried hard to move but her eyes rolled back into her head and she was out.  Hmmm.  I decided it was worth waking Cobin despite my failure with Marin.  Tully looked way too asleep to even try.  Surprisingly, Cobin woke quickly and started to get out of his bunk.  I told him I had to turn off the light so he wouldn’t be blinded and he could just stick his head out the window.  He muttered something like, “Cool” and said other things that showed me that he was impressed.  I encouraged him to stick his head all the way out so he could see the sparkles but he didn’t seem interested enough to do that.  I couldn’t see him in the dark of his room but I figured it was enough that he had seen the glow.

I was thrilled that at least one of the kids had shared this amazing moment in the natural world and went to bed.  The next morning at school I brought up the glowing sea and how happy I was that at least Cobin had seen it.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said he hadn’t been awake when I came down.  Apparently, he has a well-developed subconscious that keeps him sleeping even while making the appropriate sounds and movements to fend off invading mothers in the middle of the night.  All of the kids were disappointed and admonished me to try harder to wake them the next time. 

I’m very curious about what causes the sea to glow and hope to find an answer when next we see Niobe.  They have a marine biologist from the UK as crew on their boat and she may have an idea about it.  It’s not the run-of-the-mill bioluminescence because we see that almost nightly.  Whatever it is, I would like it to come back!

NOTE: I never found out what caused the bioluminescence and, if not for Carl, would think I had dreamed it. The kids still give me a hard time for not forcing them awake.

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