Opening strokes for the Indonesia’s one and only adventure-yacht-race-cruise are a nonstop 70nm south trip to Pulau Sikeling (aka Neptune Island) for the Racing divisions, and the same for the Cruisers but split by a halfway stopover at Pulau Karas Besar, overnight.
It just wasn’t picture postcard weather for the 0900 start, but a good northeasterly breeze sent all boats away on a reaching start towards the corner of Batam and the right hand turn down into the Selat Riau. Walawala (Steve Manning, Sydney GTS43) and Kukukerchu (David Ross, Ker 40) crossed the line joined at the hip and stayed that way for a great deal of the race. The wind held good until the leaders were about to enter the Selat Pengelap where the ferocious overfalls have given the area the nickname ‘The Cauldron’. A big squall packing winds of up to 35kts gave everyone a good soaking and then sucked away the breeze. And then the two leaders could do nothing but sit and watch as the pressure filled from the north, bringing Rikki Tikki Tavi and Sea Bass up under spinnaker, with pace.
It was all sunshine and smiles for the run past Pulau Pompong and Neptunes Knuckles, but this was the end of the afternoon and there was still 20-odd miles to go. First boat across the line, in the dark at 2053h, was Kukukerchu with Walawala still snapping at her heels and finishing just 8m 33s behind. By the time the paperwork was done, and just to prove that breeze from behind deals the cards into the hands of the back markers, it was last-finishing Sea Bass in first place then Rikki Tikki Tavi, Walawala and Kukukerchu – the perfect reverse of the finishing order.
'This is seriously good fun,' said VOR skipper Ian Walker (Green Dragon and ADOR Azzam). 'I reckon we flew the A2 today for more hours than we did in the first four legs of the VOR on Green Dragon. I want to do more regattas like this. We didn’t win today, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The squall re-shuffled the pack, but we can’t complain about that. Have another rum punch…'
Then the Multihulls started to arrive. 70nm is a long way on a Corsair Dash 750, the babies of the Racing Multihull fleet, but it was Alice Lim’s The Dash that finished first at 2223h, with intrepid Discovery Channel presenter Angela Kan on board. That’s a strong introduction to sailing – 70nm, 13 hours, a major storm, and arriving in the dark as a minimum-facilities island pretty much in the middle of nowhere but, coming ashore to the Neptune Island bar, Ms Kan seemed quite unfazed by it all. Credit where credit is due and all that. The Dash and the rest of the multihulls finished on handicap in the same order that they finished on the water.
Neptune Island (Pulau Sikeling) is a tricky place to land when the tide goes out. There is a barrier reef in front of the beach, dry at low tide. Over the last two years different methods of safely getting crews ashore in the dark (at low tide) have been tried. This year’s design involved a duckboard walkway across the rocky stuff, but it was taken away by a big blow the night before the boats arrived. The ever-resourceful Royal Marines shore management team – very much a part of this event - came up with a rope ferry from safe water and a runway through shallow water marked with lightsticks. If organisers were concerned that this was all a bit too much for tired sailors gagging to get ashore for a drink and some food from the field kitchen, the fears were unfounded. The boss of Jebsen Marine Hong Kong, Olivier Decamps declared the proceedings to be ‘the best sailing adventure I’ve had in ages,’ and Jamie Boag was just happy not to lose his hat.
Up at the Equator Bar (P. Sikeling is just 8nm from the equator, but more of that later) the beer was cold and the Mt Gay punch was perfect. Over at the canteen the chilli con carne was first class. If you know of any other sailing regatta in the world that takes you beyond the Black Stump to land you at a fully catered campsite after a trip through the jewelled islands of a tropical archipelago, please let us know.
Many (most) of the sailors we know have almost forgotten what a starry sky looks like – unless you actually go to sea. One Neptune participant described it as 'doing an offshore, and going ashore every day.' On Neptune Island you can lie on a sugar-white sand beach and reach out and touch the Milky Way, with a Mt Gay Rum punch to hand. At Neptune Island you can get back to that same beach after a day’s windward-leeward racing and loll about in gin-clear water while you wait for the cold beers to be served (ask a friend to fetch one from the bar – it’s only a few yards away). At Neptune Island you can zonk out in a tent with a sea view, go to sleep after a good feed of Irish Stew, and wake up again to the sound of waves breaking on the sand and the prospect of bacon sarnies for breakfast. It’s not 5-star travel (sorry, no butlers), but it is probably a 6-star adventure holiday with sailing thrown in. Like they used to say in the travel adverts – 'Where the b****y hell are you?'
1. Sea Bass
2. Rikki Tikki Tavi
1. The Dash
2. Manao Express
3. Dash Boot
by Guy Nowell, Sail-World Asia
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4:14 PM Thu 14 Feb 2013GMT
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