Papa McHenry came to visit in March, and proved that you can teach an old dog new tricks. His perspective on the yachting life:
Brief Overview of a Visit with Ian and Adam
On March 2nd, Ian was waiting to welcome me—to my great joy—at the airport near Gunung Sitoli on the island of Nias off the southern coast of Sumatra. He had gotten transport up from Taluk Dalam, a town on the southern part of the island where the boat was anchored. After a brief wait while the driver and his assistant sought additional passengers, we headed south over a road which needed considerable repair. It was dark when we arrived, but we met Adam, had a Padang-style meal in town, and took the dingy through the darkness toward the flashing light on the mast of the boat which had been the center of many weeks of their adventures. After ten days of experiencing a bit of sailing, a small taste of surfing and snorkeling, a number of good meals on board and on shore, and marveling at the ability of Ian and Adam to solve countless problems associated with their travel, I left them in Tua Pejat on Palau Sipora, one of the Mentawai Islands, and took a ferry to Padang on the “mainland” of Sumatra. While they sailed on to Jakarta, I went overland, and by ferry between Sumatra and Java, to Jakarta as well and met them there a week later. Ian came down to the place at which I was staying and took me up to Kota, the old part of Jakarta, and Sunda Kalata, the old port of the city. We had an enjoyable afternoon and met Adam at the Batavia Marina “club,” near the place their boat was docked a day or so before my departure from Jakarta and return home. So many things happened during my visit that I thought I would try to summarize some of what I learned, including as illustrations some of the events which took place.
Nine Lessons Learned about “Sailing” during my Visit with Ian and Adam:
Lesson #1: “Sailing” involves much more than simply being on the ocean. Although life centered around the boat, considerable time was spent on land. For example, the morning after my arrival, they sailed to Pantai Lagundri where Ian and Adam did some surfing. Yet, it was necessary to return to Teluk Delam to get back some papers from the Harbormaster and to formally “check out.” Rather than sail from Lagundri back to Teluk Delam, they decided that it was better to go by local land transport. The vehicle we took was crowded, but room was made for me on one bench. After we got underway, I turned around only to find that Adam and Ian had disappeared! Left alone, my anxieties rose until I realized that they were riding on the roof of the vehicle because it was so crowded. In addition, in various places along the way meals were purchased ashore, supplies were obtained, and help was sought. “Sailing” combined shore time with sea time.
Lesson #2: “Sailing” does not mean isolation from the local population. Both Adam and Ian interacted with many Indonesians and, to my surprise, had a wonderful mastery of Bahasa Indonesian. They might dispute the word “mastery,” but they were able to communicate in situation after situation. One obvious consequence was the good rapport they had with Indonesians who clearly appreciated their efforts to speak the language. Yes, there were periods when they were at sea where human contact was limited to the three of us, but there were many other times where there was repeated contact with others.
Lesson #3: “Sailing” involves more than the skillful use of sails. It soon became clear to me that the winds don’t always blow very strongly in March in the ocean south of Sumatra, so the boat’s engines had to be used frequently to keep us moving. And, engines seem to have a greater propensity to break down than sails. As a result, both Adam and Ian had become mechanics. They were often sprawled out on the floor of the cabin, one working through the side opening to the engine located in Ian’s sleeping room and the other working through the front opening accessible when the steps to the deck were removed. The whole time I was with them, the alternator was broken, so the engine could not generate any electricity to recharge the batteries. The batteries were essential for navigation, lights, raising the anchor and a variety of other tasks necessary for “sailing.” To cut down on electrical usage, they unplugged the refrigerator and tried to limit other uses. What saved them was the fact that they had installed an array of solar panels that kept essential electrical systems working. But, there were other engine problems like overheating. They were constantly working on the cooling system. In Tua Pejat they located a mechanic who tried to repair the system the first night we were there. As Adam and Ian have indicated in an earlier blog, the mechanic seemed to have found and fixed the problem. Yet, when they tried to start the engine the next morning, the engine would not start. After considerable discussion between them, they found the problem and solution: The complete removal of the broken alternator had left the engine ungrounded and all seemed well once grounding took place.
Lesson #4: “Sailing” in the right direction requires more than modern navigation tools. Of course, sailing involves moving from one place to another, avoiding rocks, getting into harbors, etc.—all of which involve navigation. Ian and Adam had a modern navigation system installed and had GPS available on their I-phones—at least, that was my understanding. The problem was that those systems were not always accurate. For example, as we approached the island of Sipora, the location of Tua Pejat was not obvious. So, they anchored the boat off a town, went ashore, and used their knowledge of Bahasa Indonesian to get directions from local residents. When we finally reached Tua Pejat and anchored off shore, the navigation system indicated that the boat had managed to “sail” across many streets and over many buildings and was located in the middle of that town. Fortunately, they did not rely solely on the modern navigation system.
Lesson #5: “Sailing” requires diplomatic skills. When the boat arrived at any “major” town, either Adam or Ian had to contact the port officials, or the port officials would contact them, in order to establish that they had “official” permission to be there and on several occasions to provide the local officials with some “extra funding.” In a previous blog Adam mentioned the “extra funding” demanded in Teluk Delam. I watched them negotiate with officials at Pua Tejat. Adam did an admirable job and in the end, no payments were demanded. But, on leaving the table where the “negotiations” were being held, the chief negotiator asked for Ian’s dark glasses. He, presumably thinking about the consequences for all of us should he refuse, agreed but with the qualification that the young official give him in return the leather necklace he was wearing. The official accepted the request and the exchange seemed to seal the diplomatic agreement.
Lesson #6: “Sailing” involves sleeplessness for the “crew.” Every time I had gone long distances on a ship, I slept well because I knew the captain and crew would take care of any problem. It was the same for me on Adam’s and Ian’s boat—but not for them. Because their boat would go only 5-6 nautical miles per hour, night sailing was essential if they were to travel the distances they wanted to travel. Since Ian and Adam were the captains and there were no other crew members, they had to run the boat at night. What they did to avoid the problem facing U.S. air traffic controllers in the last few months was to alternate responsibility for piloting the boat in 3 hour shifts. Getting enough sleep under those circumstances was not really possible. Of course, being a passenger and knowing nothing about navigation I was not subject to the continuous change of guard at night. Yes, being an ignorant guest has its advantages.
Lesson #7: “Sailing” is not for the weak. The thought that all the work in sailing is done by the wind or fuel is not quite accurate. There are all sorts of tasks that require a level of strength those of us who are elderly probably don’t possess. Large containers of fuel and water must be carried from shops on shore to the dinghy and then brought on to the boat. Yes, the ship’s spinnaker halyard could be used to lift the dinghy onto the boat when getting ready to move from one anchorage to another, but even that task requires strength to position the dinghy. Before the dinghy could be hoisted, the outboard engine had to be removed and brought on board. Either Ian or Adam would remove and lift the engine from the dinghy, while the other would take it and lift it into its resting place on the starboard rear side of the boat. Again, this was a task which seemed much more suited to youth with strength rather than those of relatively old age with a lack of such strength.
Lesson #8: “Sailing” necessitates continuous problem-solving. As many of the “lessons” described above suggest, there are problems after problems that need to be solved every day. What sails should be put up? How should they be adjusted when a sudden shift in the winds occur? Where should we drop anchor? What route should we take to avoid too shallow water? What should we do to avoid an “explosion” of overheated coolant when we turn off the engine? Is this wave a good one for surfing? How should we approach this official for permission to anchor? Given the trials Ian and Adam have faced over the many months of their travels, it amazed me to see how they worked out resolutions to the many problems they faced with such a high degree of cooperation.
Lesson #9: “Sailing” makes accessible sights places and sights us land-bound people normally don’t get a chance to visit and see and experience. Among these are dolphins leaping out of the water beside the boat, a menacing water spout not far away, snorkeling to see beautifully shaped corals and wonderfully colored fish darting here and there, white coral sands (mixed with plastic debris of far off industrial societies) on relatively deserted beaches, attempting to surf in places recognized as among the best in the world, mangrove “forests” on the fringes of isolated islands, skies that seem to highlight clouds and stars and sunrises and sunsets, and other more subtle emotions.
Thanks to you, Ian and Adam.