Motoring along West Papua

We have been motoring nearly every day for the last three weeks, all the way from Raja Ampat to Papua New Guinea, crossing the width of West Papua along the north coast. We have had nearly no wind, for most of the time. Maybe a slight breeze from behind, causing no air moving across the Vaka Hop’e. We are moving along the equator now and we get to experience the dreaded doldrums. I am so glad we have a motor, because without it we would be stuck. Instead of making good progress towards our destination of Solomon Islands, we would be bobbing around somewhere along the Birds Head Peninsula.

The fact that we have a working engine is a small miracle in itself. Before we set off, we were having major difficulties in getting our Yamaha 9.9 high thrust outboard motor running. In the end we had to take it to a mechanic to get it fixed. When we got it back we got ready to launch, and after four days of assembling the boat we pushed off into the sea where the motor would take us further out to anchor. It didn’t start. It was as if all the old problems were back. After hauling ourselves out into deeper water by using two anchors and some troubleshooting of the engine, we finally got it started, but it didn’t run well. I was hoping that it just needed to run a bit to get back in shape.

Next day, the day after we launched, we set off on a little test run with the motor. Just to get around the corner. We got it running and it was running well until 5 minutes later. Suddenly it stopped. No warning, what so ever. We had not been moving far, but we were at the mercy of the winds and the currents. Eventually we got ourselves to anchor by using our small tender with its 2 hp outboard, but now we were stuck. Nothing I did would make the motor start.

We sailed/paddled back to where we started the next day. We needed internet to troubleshoot the motor and to order parts or a replacement. Finding a replacement outboard motor in the Philippines proved nearly impossible. All Filipino boats use inboard motors. We talked about converting the Vaka Hop’e to be using a local inboard motor, but I decided that my efforts would be best spent trying to fix what we already have. By using the official service manual from Yamaha I deduced that the CDI of the motor, the «brain» that is sending electric impulses to important parts of the motor, was malfunctioning and ordered a new one.

As I was trying to seek wisdom from the mechanic, he said he doubted very much it would be the CDI. He would have time to see us next week. I also sought counsel from others who also doubted but at the same time allowed it to be a possibility. But I was quite sure in my case, and we didn’t have the patience to be waiting until next week for the mechanic, so we got going, sailing from Samal island to Toril south of Davao. I had put all my bets on the CDI being the problem, and if it was not the case I doubted very much if we would be able to set sail at all towards the Solomon Islands this year. Time was running out for our weather window to go.

We started preparing for departure, even without the motor working. Provisions, medicine and last minute items needed to be bought. Then finally, 11 days after the motor died, we had the new CDI unit. I installed it and tested it. At first crank it didn’t start, but the second time it started so smoothly we could hardly believe it. The engine was working and we could go! The very next day we set off to the city wharf and the day after we were officially checked out of the Philippines, on our way to Indonesia.

On our sail south to Indonesia we had wind most of the time, but we used the motor either to supplement our speed in low winds or to get past «dead patches» behind islands. It proved very useful, but not completely necessary. As we started heading east, we got in the wind shade of Halamahera and had to use the engine for a couple of days to get ourselves back into open water to find the wind again. But after Raja Ampat, the wind just died. Without the engine, we would be stuck.

The idea of the journey is to use the Northwest monsoon to get favorable winds to transport us from the Philippines to the Solomon Islands. This was done by the Lapita Voyage 15 years before us, and I am in many ways following in their footsteps. But our departure from the Philippines is much later than theirs and we are now in the transition period between the Northwest monsoon and the Southeast monsoon, where winds are usually light and it rains way less. This has given us the benefit of nice weather and we have avoided much strong winds by doing it this way.

My goal is to make this journey as safe as possible, and with the motor we are doing it well. But I have by no means planned this all out. I am only following how God is leading me, and things work out for good. There are so many points along the way where I could or should have given up, but I choose to have faith in what God is calling me to. And many more times do I see God answering the prayers and difficult situations I am in and it confirms that I am on the right path.

So I count myself blessed as we motor along the coast of West Papua. Looking back to where we started, it is amazing to how far we have come. During these days we crossed our halfway mark to the Solomon Islands. Every mile from here on will bring us closer to our destination than our departure.

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