A ship's log from the Indian Ocean - Part 6

It's been a few weeks since we have enjoyed reading Aiyana Powell's latest entry in the Ship's Log of the 35ft sailing boat Calypte. In this sixth instalment Aiyana describes the journey she’s sharing with Torren Martyn as they make their way down the Indonesian Archipelago. The pair have been heading south and over the next few weeks we will share images and stories from their long journey home.
Heading South - Homeward Bound

By December, Torren and I had been living aboard Calypte for over 8 months, traveling slowly down the west coast of Indonesia. After a few months bobbing around the Mentawai Islands, it was time to undertake the last long leg of our journey: 1,200 miles down the coasts of Java and Bali before reaching our final destination at Lombok Island. A friend and filmer, Milo Ingliss, joined us for this leg, his first real time on a sailboat, and we were all pretty nervous about the sheer magnitude of what we were about to do. I don’t think it made Milo feel super confident about his decision to join us on Calypte when he watched Torren and I horrifically misuse the spinnaker pole on our first little passage, fumbling like idiots and talking about how we wished we had internet so we could google “how to downwind sail.” I remember  glancing over at Milo as our headsail flapped around and Calypte violently rolled down big open ocean swells. The look on his face was some mixture of amusement and horror. I don’t think he quite realized how little we knew about sailing when he signed up to join us. Poor Milo. 
Not sure who’s in charge here but at least the boat is pointing the right way

A nice anchorage

Our first week or so moving south, luck was on our side with nothing but clear skies, hot sun and really good waves. Christmas Day was one for the record books. We woke up at sea, and arrived midmorning to a little bay in the southern Mentawais. It was a day without wind, the kind of glassy where it’s hard see waves coming, a mother of pearl ocean. The waves were perfect - mechanical Indonesian lefts. We spent all day in the water with almost no one else around, soaking in the magical gift of surf. For the next few days, all of us surfed until we were sore and very, very sunburnt. Torren had lost his hat and burned his face so badly that big flakes of skin peeled off his nose and forehead, leaving him blistered and looking rather sad. Poor Milo spent most of the day filming on a little wooden platform, barfing between waves from either food poisoning or heat stroke, on what would’ve been one of the hottest days of the year. Still, we were all ridiculously happy - long, reeling waves with schools of fish moving through them, clear water, sea turtles, birdsong, no clouds, the bluest skies. Eventually, of course, our luck had to change. A couple of cyclones sat out to sea, and we knew bad weather would come eventually. And it did, at about 10 pm a few days after Christmas. All night, Calypte thrashed and bucked like a rabid beast. We clung to our bunks, muscles strained, half asleep but never fully. The pitching of the boat seemed designed by some malevolent god; every time I was about to drift to sleep, a swell would lift Calypte and shake me awake again. The storm lasted through morning, coming in big gusts and bucketing down torrents of rain. Each drop sounded heavy as it hit the hatch above my bed, and I marveled at the overwhelming calm I felt as I lay, listening to the steady drip of leaks into the cabin.

Aiyana speeding along a pristine wall

At one point, a huge cockroach crawled out of our food stores and wandered across my leg. I felt a strange kinship with him, bunkmate and crew, and remained in a weird comatose haze as he crawled across my sheets. Nine months ago, I would probably have leapt from my bed screaming. I would have felt frantic to get off the boat. Over time I have become, I guess, much more accepting of whatever gets thrown at us because out here there is no other option. The weather is what it is, and the only solution to a miserable night is to change your outlook on it. To lay in a fragrant daydream, to befriend your cockroach buddies, to imagine the rolling of the boat as sort of fun or tender (the ocean as a womb or a rollercoaster). Learning this acceptance, allowing time to pass without resenting it, has been, for me, the hardest part about living on a small sailboat but also so rewarding. Of course, the logistics of it have been difficult. Learning how to sail, to read the weather, to react to things going wrong, to tie knots, whatever…none of that has compared to the mental side of living completely at the mercy of the weather. My ability to be accepting remained fractional and odd; there were moments when I felt desperate to control my surroundings, to get off the boat. There were lots of moments when I wanted anything but to have to sit alone with my thoughts and the endless horizon, when I craved the distractions of life on land. But there were also times when all the challenges - the storms and heat and oil leaks and tangled lines and lack of food - felt not just okay, but like a wonderfully complete reality. That night, uncomfortable and wet and rough, I felt okay about it all, couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in fact. 
The calm nights are a big contrast to the rolling and rocking of a windy, stormy night

Aiyana dropping anchor in the dinghy ready for a paddle

The next day we pulled out of the bay as the storm raged on. The ocean was grey and white-capped, and the next 25 or so miles were truly miserable as we rode up big 6-foot swells and crashed down, the engine working in overdrive, all of us tired and sore and sunburnt. Eventually, we made it to a remote village with a calm anchorage, a wild-west style pirate town deep in the southern Mentawai archipelago. Approaching the village from the east, we weaved through mangrove corridors and past jungle-fringed islands, where plumes of dark smoke rose from thatched huts and fishermen cast nets into green water. Tucked between islands, we finally found refuge from the relentless northwesterly winds. 

This time of year is the wet season
A glimpse through the slats of a remote village window

Bad weather forced us to stay in the anchorage for almost a week. The village itself was quite romantic - like a place lost in time, lawless and filthy and beautiful. Thick walls of jungle towered behind a maze of haphazard buildings, half built, rusted, and painted in bright, sun-streaked hues. The town followed a single road, cluttered with roosters and food carts and scooters and gangs of giggling children, the air thick with aromas of ginger, garlic, old garbage and tobacco smoke. We spent a good chunk of our time in the village sitting in a little warung overlooking the ocean, feasting on plate after plate of mie goreng. On New Years Eve, the extremely sweet and friendly owner Adi surprised us with an enormous plate of lobster, chargrilled over open flame and seasoned with sate sauce, chilli, and huge chunks of garlic. “Free of charge” he said as we sat, shell-shocked, before the glorious platter of food. We spent the rest of the night thanking the little family profusely, muttering to each other ‘in what world does someone give you free lobster!’ We all felt very thankful to end 2022 in the wild world of jungle island Indonesia, drinking warm beer and eating handfuls of fresh lobster.  Around us, locals built huge bonfires, chain-smoked thick cigarettes, blasted local music, sang and danced. Milo traumatised everyone by performing a disturbing karaoke rendition of 'Just the Two Of Us' by Bill Withers, and the next morning we prepared to set out to sea again.
A friend with a few lobsters
Getting supplies in the local village

From this remote village, we moved south towards the Sunda Strait, the heavily trafficked channel between Sumatra and Java, stopping at a few remote islands along the way. Just offshore of one island, Torren speared a few big fish, and we ate well. On another, we provisioned fresh fruit and vegetables. Mostly, we ate rice or noodles. We traveled about 600 nautical miles to finally reach the Sunda Strait, where we spent the night before pulling away from Sumatra for the last time.
Keeping up the fresh food supply is a whole other adventure

 Calypte and Torren in their respective happy places