River rafting the Vaka Hop’e

Have you ever been river rafting? I did one time long ago. We started in our rubber rafts in a wide and placid part of the river, but as we slowly drifted down, the river became narrower, the rocks on our sides taller and the rapid stronger. We were in a gully with no way out but moving with the rapids down the river until we reached the other side. That was how it felt like when we were to maneuver the Vaka Hop’e through the Kabui Passage. It was a wild ride!

It was our last day in Raja Ampat but we were hungry for more adventure as we started to head towards Sorong in West Papua. On the charts I had seen a super narrow passage between Gam and Waigeo Island called the Kabui passage. It looked like a river and it ended up in some cool looking islands. By the limited information we had, it seemed to be a dangerous passage, best attempted on slack tide. As I looked at the tides in our area I was sad to see that the tides were not in our favor and it would be best to skip it and take a more safe route. However, the cat was out of the bag and the team was very keen on going there. So I relented and off we went, planning to anchor outside the passage and wait for the tides to be in our favor the next morning.

It was only a short sail to the entrance of the passage and after two hours and navigating a huge pearl farm covering the entire sea, we were getting close. The winds had picked up and the waves were building. It would not be a pleasant night sleep at anchor if we were to wait for the slack tide next morning. By the information I had, the currents were supposed to be against us and I figured it would be a good idea to check the passage. If worst came to worst we could just turn around and get out of there, or so I thought.

As we approached the passage, I noticed that the current was going with us, not against us. I don’t know if the tides are not reported correctly or my understanding of the currents were off. I choose to continue, and as we enter the passage two boats are coming out. That’s a good sign, and we tried asking if it was okay for us to continue. We got some thumbs up and many smiles, so we figured it would be okay.

The water in the passage was moving slowly. 1 knot at the most. It was like being in a wide placid river. But as we rounded some corners, the passage became narrower, the rocks on our sides became taller and the rapid became faster. We were in a gully and suddenly I remembered the time I was river rafting in Norway. It looked and felt exactly the same. I started seeing back eddies outside the main stream and I focused on keeping us away from those. Back eddies would spin us around and could spit us out the wrong way. That would not be good.

The steering capabilities of the Vaka Hop’e is very limited. Our turning radius can be as much as 50 meters. I kept the engine running to keep our movement faster than the rapid, helping us to steer, but as we approached one really tight turn I lost steering completely. We had ended up in a back eddy and it was sending us sideways straight towards a cliff. I throttled up and down, pushed and pulled the rudders, but nothing helped. I hoped that as we got into the main stream the rudders would catch and point us in the right direction. Those were two very long seconds and all of us held our breath.

In the last moment, we came back into the main stream and the rudders pointed the boat in the right direction. A few more turns and we were out. The experience felt very intense, especially for me who was at the helm and responsible for the safety of the boat and crew. I don’t know how strong the rapids were, but I would guess maybe around 3-4 knots at the fastest. It could definitely be worse than we had it, but it could definitely be better as well. However, soon we are rewarded for our efforts and we enter the most magical bay any of us have ever seen.

Many small islands that seems to sit on pedestals surround us. The vegetation is green and lush with many palm trees. We decide to take a slalom run between the islands as I fly the drone to capture the scene. I look in my screen as I fly the drone up into position and suddenly I see palm trees. Right in front of the drone, and sure enough in the back of the drone too. The drone crashes and I can see it tumbling down. I had crashed my drone into the nearest island. That island was much taller than the ones in front of us.

I have never before crashed the drone but I was determined to try to rescue it. I found a menu on the controller that could activate sound and lights to find my drone, and it was almost fully charged. We could do this! We all dress up with shoes, ready to scale this tall pedestal island. In the dingy we see a landing spot on the side of the island and we go there. It is a wall of crumbly limestone that meets us. There are also some trees growing on the side of the cliff. Sammy and Paul would rather find another spot to climb up, but I wanted to give it a try.

I hold on to the first tree in the cliff face. Sure, the cliff was crumbly and loose, but the trees felt solid! I climb up one, then another, and suddenly I find myself in a spot where I would rather keep climbing up than down. I reach the top of the cliff and decide to continue scrambling up the side of the island. I left the remote control with Naomi as I climbed and I needed her to activate the beeping so I could locate the drone. She then had to go back into the boat so they could have connection with the drone. I can hear the beeping faintly, but it is hard to decide if the drone is over me or below me. I keep scrambling, up and down. It’s reminds me a lot of climbing mountains in Norway. Finally I can hear the drone above me and I find myself almost on the top of the island with the drone unharmed.

I pack the drone in the backpack I had been carrying and scramble back down. I drop the backpack into the boat as they move below me and I then just jump off the cliff into the water. By now the sun was setting and the whole crew was eager to explore this wild area by dingy before the light was fading. Personally I had had enough action for one day, but I yield to their request. And now that I have the drone back safe and sound I decide to fly it to capture some of the amazing islands we are surrounded by. And just as a last drop in my excitement cup, we nearly lost the drone as we were about to land because I had drained the battery too low. I got the message: «Battery low. Returning to home in 10 seconds». A few frantic moments later and I get the drone back in safety. Now I have definitely had enough excitement for one day!

What can we learn from these experiences? Sometimes we end up in difficult situations that are outside of our control, like when we broke our rudders. Yet, sometimes we end up in difficult situations that we could have avoided if only we were to be more cautious. Either way, it is always about perseverance and keeping the head cool which will get us through. I am thankful to God for the skills and mind he has given me, and I am so happy to have experienced this and come out the other side a bit wiser than I was before. I do believe God had his hands of protection over us, and even when we don’t pray He still sees us. He cares for us and actually enjoys giving us adventures! And I am so thankful to be in this one with the Vaka Hop’e and it’s crew.

English EN Norwegian NO