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March 16, 2023
A ship's log from the Indian Ocean - Part 3
In this third instalment from the Calypte ship's log, Aiyana Powell describes the journey she’s sharing with her partner Torren Martyn as they settle in to life on the water in Northern Sumatra. needessentials will continue to bring you updates as Torren and Aiyana make their way from the southeast Asian tropics into the Indian Ocean.
We were welcomed to Northern Sumatra with a good run of swell, light winds, extreme heat and zillions of mosquitos. We explored chains of tropical islands bordered by coral reefs and, of course, waves. Most of these islands are uninhabited, wild and beautiful and laden with thick, green jungle. It was a nice feeling to be able to slow down for the first time after such a long journey, to spend our days surfing new waves, and our evenings listening to the sounds of nearby land (birdsong and cicadas sound strangely loud after a few days at sea, and land seems newly vibrant, chaotic, alive).
The waves were like something out of a dream with the ocean rising up in walls of shimmering turquoise, sending rainbows of opaline sea spray, breaking onto shelves of colourful reef. Indonesia is the type of place where your eyes hurt from looking out. It can feel like a short circuit in your brain, like the palm fringed beaches and the spitting barrels and the blue skies can’t possibly be real, but they are.
The 35 foot sailing boat Calypte [Hummingbird] is Torren and Aiyana’s home for the year
The author Aiyana Powell enjoying the spoils after the long slow journey into the Indian Ocean
In the three or so months that Torren and I had spent on the boat so far, we were slowly starting to feel more confident. Little things which had seemed daunting at first, like anchoring, had become routine. During our first few weeks in this remote Island chain, we spent time seeking out protected anchorages and getting a handle on where the predominant weather would come from and how to avoid it. It was a constant game of cat and mouse; we wanted to be where the waves were, but we also wanted to avoid the storms. Sailing and surfing together is tricky like that - big swells often coincide with weather events, and we were quickly learning that the days of blank staring in a sunburnt stupor post-surf were over.
Torren and Ryan relax after dropping anchor at the end of a long day
Boat life is a life of constantly being on your toes, and one evening in a small bay we made our worst mistake yet. In an effort to gain some protection from a squall heading our way, we pulled our anchor and headed through a maze of coral heads, deeper into the bay. A local guy had come up in his boat and told us to follow him to a spot where he thought we would be protected from the storm. On his suggestion, but against our best instincts, we followed his advice and motored towards the spot that he told us to anchor. With horror, we realised that we had trapped ourselves in a treacherous zone, only a few meters deep, with reef all around us.
The wind was picking up, and we were losing daylight quickly. My stomach dropped out as I felt a visceral crunch; the bottom of the boat had hit a big coral head and we were aground. Not good. After what felt like an eternity but was probably only about ten seconds, Torren used a gust of wind to push the boat off the coral and reverse us off the reef and back into deeper water. We dropped the anchor in a better spot, and dove under to assess the damage. With hundreds, if not thousands, of miles between us and the nearest boat haul out we knew that it wouldn’t be possible to dry dock the boat or fix any major damage for a long time. I was literally praying to any and all gods that there was not a hole in the hull. Luckily, Calypte is strong and has a full keel. It was the best worst-case scenario, with only a small chunk out of the bottom of the keel. Torren put some waterproof epoxy on the damage and we lived to sail another day. We felt like major idiots, but it made us feel slightly better to tell ourselves that nearly every seasoned yachtie has their own story of going aground. Maybe this was just another way we were getting our sea legs. Maybe going aground made us way more legit. Maybe…One way or another, we learned a few important lessons from our mistake, and were confronted with the reality of how remote an area we were in and how self-sufficient we needed to be. A week or so later, low on food and water, we headed about 50 nautical miles from the remote island chain to a larger island with a local village to re supply.
Torren pretty happy to still be afloat.
Anchored up for the night
Torren fitting one last one in before dinner and dishes
The nearest port, and easiest place to re-fuel and provision, was in a small village with a deep natural port. Entering the harbour is relatively easy, you navigate a few reefs and passes and the little bay provided the perfect anchorage - about 10 meters deep with a muddy bottom. We dinghied into port and from the moment our feet touched the ground, were surrounded by laughing, yelling children and friendly locals calling “hello mister” to us from every direction. After long days alone on the boat, with only each other for company, the sudden warmth and excitement of land and other people felt really good. It was like coming in from the cold and sitting in front of a warm fire; the kindness and openness of the community in this area was deeply comforting. Often as a traveller, there is a baseline level of fear that simmers in the belly, just below consciousness. Especially on a boat, where in order to not sink it is crucial to be vigilant and hyperaware, there is an inevitable constant of slight unease. This feeling of pushing out of your comfort zone is a captivating and rewarding aspect of any adventure, but it can be exhausting. For me, the mob of enthusiastic, giggling, joking children that surrounded us basically every moment of our time in this village, acted as a tonic. We had little kids swimming out to our anchorage and pillaging our cupboards for cookies and chips, kids doing flips off the deck into the water, kids in the dinghy, kids yelling at us from the shore. On land, mobs of school children helped us carry our groceries, joking and laughing as they paraded through the charming, bustling village. It felt good to be there amongst these kind and genuine people, to feel filled with the contagious enthusiasm of happy children. We made a lot of friends during our time on land ate a lot of bakso(a traditional meatball soup with a rich, spicy broth). After four or five days we had filled our diesel tanks (diesel was delivered by canoe in dirty jerry cans in the middle of the night), refilled the water tanks with 400 liters of fresh water (Torren had to carry this in ten litre bottles one by one in the dinghy), and stuffed the fridge full with as much food as we could carry. Filmmaker Ishka Folkwell and needessentials founder Ryan Scanlon joined us for the next leg of the journey. It was great to have a crew on board and we waved goodbye to the village as we headed for some remote islands over the horizon.
The friendly locals helping load supplies to the boat in a remote port village on one of the larger islands in the area
It's not all fun and games, the realities of sailing your own boat often means having to problem solve and work out tricky situations in remote places. Torren and Ryan working through an engine issue late into the night
needessentials founder Ryan Scanlon guiding his 6’8” Navrin Fox surfboardssingle fin into a remote Indonesia reef
It was exciting to have Ryan and Ishka aboard. Ryan has spent a lot of his life on cruising sailboats, and it was a welcome relief to finally have someone on Calypte who actually knew what they were doing. I don’t think I lifted a finger while Ryan was around. It was lucky timing that they arrived when they did, because for the next few days little Calypte got absolutely smashed by weather. Our crossing out to this remote group of islands was treacherous, with 45 knot winds and rain. After nine or ten long hours, we made it safely to a protected anchorage near some really fun waves, and woke up to clear skies and a beautiful day of surf.
In the afternoon though another, even bigger, squall hit. We were anchored at the mouth of a small bay where a big left-hander broke on one side of the entrance, and a right hander broke on the other side. Inside of the bay from our anchorage lay another reef with a left breaking off of it. When the storm hit, the conditions went from glassy and calm to psychotic within a matter of minutes. Big waves were breaking all around the boat, and the wind was blowing at 50 knots. We didn’t know how long the storm would last, and we weren’t sure if our anchor would hold, or if we might get blown towards the reef and waves. The boys discussed whether or not to wait it out or pull anchor and head for the other side of the island, where we would be protected from the prevailing winds. Ryan decided that it would be best to pull the anchor, and as he did big wind waves were breaking over the bow and he was getting blown all over the place. Torren was freaking out and screaming ‘I hate sailing! I hate the boat! I don’t know what I’m doing!’ as he steered us out of the bay. Ishka was curled in the fetal position and weeping. Just kidding, he was filming. The wind was so strong that even with the motor running at full blast we moved slowly, very slowly, praying that the engine wouldn’t fail us here. A small sail was put up to help with our headway and eventually we made it safely out of the bay and around the island. It was a very dramatic end to a day of surfing, and we all slept well that night as the wind gave us a welcomed break from the local mosquitos.
Torren, Ryan and Aiyanna navigating through some tricky reef passages with storm force winds and rain.
Ryan enjoying a fun right between swells. 6”8” Navrin Fox single fin.
A remote gem comes to life with just the right conditions between storms
Ryan and Torren on watch
For the next weeks the weather continued to improved, and the boys spent every waking moment chasing surf. One day, Torren and Ryan surfed a big, shockingly perfect right that broke off a small island coated in palm trees. Torren dropped Ishka and I off on land before they went surfing, where we were greeted by the island’s sole inhabitant, a sparsely toothed lighthouse keeper who seemed as though he hadn’t spoken to another human in years. Ishka set up his camera and I wandered along the beach to look for sea shells, careful to avoid falling coconuts. The man kept me entertained, telling me things I couldn’t understand in rapid Indonesian and cracking himself up with his own jokes.
All day, the waves kept getting better and better. It was a truly spectacular display; huge, blue-green barrels, crystal clear water with fish jumping, a deserted island cared for by a lonely spear fisherman, a white sand beach littered with cowrie shells. After a long day of what Torren described as the best day surfing of his life, we left the local man with a big bag of food, and said goodbye. It was a day to remember, a far flung and majestic day on the ocean, without storms and only one or two minor mishaps (Ryan broke both his boards, I got taken out by the ankles when a fallen coconut tree got washed in by the surf). Everyone was quite happy, and we even had a freshly caught fish for dinner.
When 50 knots of wind hits and you're anchored in a narrow bay things can get tricky trying to get an anchor up and sailing out into deeper and safer water. A boat can be wrecked quickly with one wrong move. Ryan wrestling the anchor up while waves break over the bow.
Ishka Folkwell on the other side of the Lens.
Torren’s fishing skills helped keep the dwindling food supplies on the boat restocked - dinner preparations.
Torren gliding into a mid-morning slice of Indian Ocean
The weeks flew by, full of long, sunburnt days as we wandered around in circles on the boat and sailed back and forth between islands. It wasn’t long before it was time to head back for more supplies and say goodbye to Ryan and Ishka. Our crossing back couldn’t have been more different from the way there. We sailed on a beam reach across a large south swell, with the current, at 6-8 knots the entire way. It was a dream run, and we reached the small village where Ryan and Ishka would leave us from, in no time at all. Sailing into a new natural harbour in this part of the world always has you second guessing things. There are no channel markers or lead lights to guide you just the trusty GPS, and as we arrived we picked a tight pathway through a large swell between the narrowest of reef passes. Another chapter of the journey felt as though it was coming to a close, and the boat was very quiet after the boys left. Torren and I settled into life at anchor, which felt positively domestic after moving around so much, and took some time to explore one off the larger offshore islands of North Samartra
You don’t get anywhere quickly on a sail boat. Moving at the speed of a fast walk you really have to adjust to the slow pace of it and settle in for the long run.