Sailing with nothing but the wind
Mis à jour : 13 sept 2019
Darwin to Dili
The first leg of my trip was from Darwin, Australia to Dili, Timor Leste. On 13 July I sailed for five days, participating in the Darwin2Dili race. This is the story of how I found a boat, sailed the sea and started my trip.
Finding a boat
I only found out 10 days in advance, when my trip would actually start. The only way to leave Australia without a plane, is by boat. I wasn’t planning on swimming or kayaking and I didn’t own a boat, so I offered myself as crew on sailboats. Luckily I had learned basic sailing skills when I was living and working on a boat in the picturesque Lyttleton, in New Zealand. Finding a boat to crew on is a matter of getting the word out as much as you can. It is helpful to join as many sailing related Facebook groups as possible, to post on sailing forums and to hang up posters in sailing clubs and marinas. Besides this, you ought to create a profile on crewbay, crewseekers and findacrew. These platforms are perfect for connecting skippers with potential crew and allow you to filter as much as necessary to find the perfect match and to satisfy the needs of both parties.
You do all the necessary preparations, you talk about your plan to as many people as possible and then you wait. You wait patiently until somebody needs you, knowing that it might not happen. I had already announced my plans online a couple of months in advance and I arrived in Darwin around the start of June to get the word out in person. I could not leave Darwin before July 8 because me and my friend were still organizing a Zero Waste event as part of the Fringe Festival. As I waited for response, I had set a deadline. If I was still going to be in Australia in September, I would give in and take a plane to the next stop. Luckily this was not necessary.
I received a text from Peter and Cindy. They decided last minute to participate in the Darwin2Dili race and needed additional crew. They had seen my ad and wanted to chat. We met for a drink, asked each other some questions and checked if we were going to be a good match. The conversation felt good and I trusted to sail with them. They had plenty of experience and they knew what they were doing. Now, the main question was if they were going to take me, someone with only basic sailing experience. They were going to let me know the next day. It felt as if I had just been to a job interview and I did not know if I was going to be taken. Fortunately, a few hours later, they gave me early relief and confirmed I was accepted. I was part of their crew now. A couple of days later there was a barbecue with all the participating boat owners and crew members. It was a perfect way to get to know everyone. There was only some paperwork to fill out and we were ready to go. Oh, I also had one week to sell my car. I managed to sell it on the day before we left. I guess I like deadlines.
Start of the race
We got supplies for a week at sea, prepared Anastasia, the vessel for the race, and sailed to the start of the competition. During this race, no boats, except for one division, were allowed to use the engine or auto-pilot. Green travel? Check! This also meant constant manual steering and sailing with nothing but the wind. This made the take off for the race slightly chaotic. Five boats trying to cross the start line without hitting each other is a bit harder without using the engine. All went well and we took off in the direction of Timor Leste. At first, we could see all the other boats, both physically and on our GPS. Once a boat was more than 7 miles away they disappeared behind the horizon and from our tracker. It was obvious which boats were in other divisions as we soon lost sight of them. The only boat we could occasionally see was 'Red Knot', our main competitor. After two hours of sailing, Australia had completely disappeared behind the horizon and the trip could not have felt realer.
On the boat
Since this was a race, it was not going to be a laid back pleasure trip. It was going to be hard work. We would work in shifts, switching between sleep and watch every three or four hours. One person at the wheel and one or two people to look for obstacles or other vessels, but mostly to keep the helmsman sharp and awake. Whenever a big manoeuvre was necessary, everyone had to wake up instantly so we could work all together.
At first we all stayed up together, chatting, eating and drinking. When dusk was upon us, we started to stick to the schedule. During my first night watch I got the opportunity to steer and I stayed on the wheel for almost the full shift. It feels quite magical to sail the ship into the wind, surrounded by only water and stars.
When I woke up for my second shift, the poetic feeling of stillness on the water had to make place for the rougher, more powerful side of the ocean. The ship was moving heavily from one side to another, we were speeding at 12 knots and we were surrounded by 'monster waves' as Peter loved to call it. The owner was loving this. There were twinkles in his eyes and a cheeky smile on his face. It was like a child who played with his favorite toy. It was beautiful to see. As heart warming as it may have been, my stomach was not so relaxed. I had never been seasick before and I had even taken a preventive seasickness tablet the night before. It turned out I didn't take the correct tablet and I had to be on watch for the next four hours. I was holding on to whatever I could as all possible pigmentation left my face. I could not have been any paler as I was fighting the sickness. I was told to look at the horizon to feel better. This was pretty hard, since the horizon was hardly visible and we mostly just saw waves everywhere. Eventually the inevitable happened. I lay down and held on to the rails, so I wouldn't fall into the water as we rocked heavily from side to side. My face almost touched the water. I did what had to be done and regained some color in my face. I felt better. The sea did not agree with me and decided to get even rougher. Three hours later I had to go for round two. I felt weak. I also felt bad for the owners, since I was worthless now and I did not want them to regret their choice to take me on as crew. They offered me an actual seasickness tablet and I went to bed. I woke up 16 hours later.
A neck to neck race
As the days went on, we kept on seeing 'Red Knot' on our radar. Sometimes they were ahead and other times they were behind. It was a real neck to neck race. Most of the time we were going at the same speed, so every detail mattered. We carefully considered every move and were determined to win. Every time we woke up for our shift, the first question would be about the position of our main competitor. When I woke up on the last day I had to ask another question though. Why were we not moving? There was no wind. We were just floating around, trying to catch some breeze. We moved one inch at a time and so did Red Knot. Sometimes the current even pushed us back. The finish line was within three hours reach, but it did not look as if we were going to reach it any time soon. You feel really small when you are just dependent on the wind. All you can do is wait and hope. A couple of times we caught some wind, only to lose it again 20 minutes later. Sometimes Red Knot moved and we didn't. Other times it was us who got lucky. Eventually we both arrived half an hour from the finish line and the wind was picking up again. We knew the other boat had a slightly better sail and would win if we went the same way. We went for another route to reach the marked finish line at another point. We gave it all we got, while continuously scrutinizing the GPS. The finish came closer and it looked like we were going to cross it first. Half a mile, a couple of meters and YES we crossed it. We were first in our division! We turned the engine on and started to motor towards land. We were quite euphoric as we had been on watch all together for the last 12 hours, managing every detail. We went over some of the paperwork when we were almost in East Timor, only to find out we had made a mistake. The finish line we had put in the GPS was too much North and thus not correct. Our verdict would be 'DNF', also known as 'Did not finish'. All our efforts to beat the competition were in vain.
Arriving in Timor Leste
It was not possible to reach land yet, so we anchored and rested for a couple of hours until sunrise. On the radio we heard that Red Knot had been stuck a couple of meters from the actual finish line for the last hours. We had a laugh, prepared the dinghy and went to land. We received a warm welcome, went through customs and were free to discover the country. The first chapter of the adventure was over and the next one was about to start.