neptune’s locker

neptune’s locker

The build up
Indo-where? Indonesia is in South East Asia and comprises some 17,000 islands strung out from continental Asia down towards Australia. For all sorts of geo-political reasons it hasn’t featured much on the yachting radar screen to date, there is the successful Darwin-Ambon Rally and more recently one of the Clippers found the real location of a poorly charted reef the hard way, but there’s not a whole lot else to talk about yachting-wise.

A couple of years back we were sat at the bar in Singapore’s Raffles Marina (www.rafflesmarina.com.sg) and the notion of a race from Singapore (approx N01˚ 15’) to the Equator and back was born. “Brilliant idea! It’ll never work!” The nay-sayers were many and so it remained bar talk almost a year. Then up stepped Welshman Tudor John (SA handle Neptune’s Slave) who basically said “bollocks we’re doing it anyway.”

The Recces
A recce trip was carried out in Feb 2010, anchorages were chosen and once the review was carried out the consensus was that you’d have to watch your navigation, but otherwise there was nothing ‘scary’ to stop us.

 ‘The Beach’ on the southern shore of Pulau Sikeling, Recce Jan 2010

Received wisdom insisted that Singapore’s Maritime Port Authority would never sanction yachts racing across ‘their’ Straits, so rather than bash our heads against the wall we simply removed Singapore for the equation (for the time being at least) and based the Regatta out of Nongsa Point Marina (www.nongsapointmarina.com) in Indonesia, a short ferry ride from Singapore’s renowned Changi Airport.

Committee meetings were held to canvas opinions from interested owners and the website was born, complete with in-depth back-end analytics so we know who’s visiting us and how ‘you’ found us… important stuff when it comes to getting sponsorship. Weather and tides were researched and a full recce report detailing concerns over charts and tides was compiled. The NOR was posted in June and by then it had already been decided to include a motor yacht rally as part of the Neptune Regatta to do our bit to get away from the ‘us and them’ nonsense that all too often prevails.

A second recce trip at Halloween saw us meet up with and garner the support of the villagers on Pulau (Malay word for island) Blanding and gain their permission to base ourselves on the neighbouring Pulau Sikeling, soon renamed Neptune Island. Plans for a high water jetty were sketched out, we already had Jerry Rollin onboard as our PRO and as Christmas approached, plans went into overdrive. Left, Tudor (SA handle Neptune’s Slave) with village chief Mr Umar, Recce Oct 2010

Here we go…
SIs were finalised and published… and then amended… hey, cut me some slack, it was our first time 😉 and before we knew it we were in Nongsa with 2 days to go. It rained… non-stop… for 48hrs… during which time the advance party of Tudor, 2 of his ex-Royal Marine Commando colleagues and Aussie and a Frenchman (there’s gotta be a punchline in there somewhere) had to ship 7 tonnes of gear via an Indonesian naval vessel (herself apparently much in need of repair) and a flotilla of small village fishing boats to the island and set up camp before we arrived. Needless to say it was anything but a holiday for them.

With them out of the way, I set about registering entrants and giving the skippers’ briefing (very odd to be on the other end of one for a change!).Ferret’s first Skipper’s Briefing from ‘the other side’

The Fleet
It was an intentionally modest fleet; we wanted to keep this inaugural/proof-of-concept(/dare I say guinea pig?) year fleet small and primarily amongst friends. It was likely that there might be logistical features we’d overlooked or didn’t get right so better to stick with folk we knew this first year.

Five boats in IRC… in IRC order:

  • Windsikher – Sidney 40MOD
  • Aquavit5 – Beneteau 45
  • Kukukerchu – Ker 32
  • Men At Work – Archambault 35
  • Power Partners – X99

Four boats in PY…

  • Rainbow Dream – Lavranos 35
  • Mico Verde – Westsail 32
  • WYSIWYG – Ericsson 28
  • Sirius – Staysail Schooner 62

Four Motor Yachts…

  • Mantra – Pershing 80
  • Hooligan – Custom 71
  • Something Special – Sunseeker Manhattan 60
  • Nehaleenia – Sea Ray 47

Plus four committee boats.

The Route
The plan for the first year was to K.I.S.S. and so a there-and-back again route from Nongsa on the Singapore Strait southward was devised. That said, with the ‘there’ being a gorgeous kite run down and the ‘back’ a full on beat into the N.E. Monsoon the chances of competitors getting concerned with repeating themselves was unlikely.

Produced for the Indonesian Tourism Ministry for the 2011 route and anchorages.

IRC would do W/Ls on Days 1 & 5 at Nongsa with long passage races down (79nm straight to the equator) and up (69nm from Buaya northward) on Days 2 & 4. These passages races would be split in two for the PY & Motor Yacht classes on Days 1 & 2 and 4 & 5 respectively with over night anchorages on nights 1 & 4 at Pulau Karas Besar (directly translated as Island Stiff Big and therefore the fleet safely anchored in Big Stiffy Bay). On Day 3 the whole fleet would complete the Equator Sprint Race from the Buaya group anchorage into Neptune’s realm and back again.

We are already considering round the islands routes in and around the Buaya group (~40nm) as well as a 140nm route eastabout Pulau Bintan in the full bore of the N.E. Monsoon for yachts able to complete in a day (TP52s?) once the fleet grows and we can split the IRC fleet and spin-off extra safety boats. Volunteers please!

The Racing
Four full Race Reports are available here (http://asianyachting.com/news/Neptune11/0.htm) courtesy of Capt. Marty so I shan’t repeat them (still trying to catch up with the day job I’m afraid). Suffice to say that the IRC racing was incredibly close… two boats on equal points going into the last race and that being decided by just one second on corrected.

Men At Work too close for Kukukerchu’s comfort

Windsikher with weight on the rail. Doldrums? What doldrums?

Some of the PY fleet struggled to complete a number of races (not least in the northward beats) and so Raja Muda (www.rmsir.com) style ‘Use of Engines’ will also be reviewed for future years. Thanks to the respective PY skippers for bearing with us on this… all part of the learning curve.

The Stinkpots
Huh? Stinkpots in a sailing regatta? How’s that ever going to work? In retrospect we tried to be a little too clever by creating a regatta ‘Class’ for the Motor Yachts and so over time it morphed into a Motor Yacht Rally that shadowed the PY fleet and this worked phenomenally well. Separate ‘Rally Instructions’ in less legal tone than regular SIs were produced to explain what they could expect and what was expected of them.

The co-owners of Rachel Marie eventually leant her to the race committee and she proved invaluable as a mark and press boat. Thanks to Todd and Andy.

All four M.Y. owners willingly assisted in transporting either supplies, equipment or committee personnel up and down the course; a godsend in hindsight and a good heads up on the full transportation needs we’ll have for future years.

The owners of Hooligan (Drew) and Something Special (James) each spontaneously hosted onboard pot-luck dinners for the PY & MY fleet at the overnight anchorage in Big Stiffy Bay… extremely generous of them both.

Something Special, with kids onboard, flew helium shark-shaped balloons the whole way and also produced en route a ‘King Neptune Regatta’ banner from some cloth and a box full of buttons. Their effort was rewarded at the prize giving with the Spirit of Neptune Award.Crew of Something Special together with new friends proudly showing off the trophy, hand crafted from equatorial driftwood.

The Locals

Quite frankly, we were impressed. During the Halloween recce we commissioned them to build us a 60m long high water jetty to facilitate getting gear onto the island. What we got exceeded our expectations… a sound and sturdy structure that will serve us for years to come.

Low brush was cleared to create a campground and fishermen waited at sea for hours in the teeming rain as the supply ship chugged south.

Prior to our Halloween recce we’d had high-minded ideas of aid work and ‘helping the kids’ etc. Having seen where and how they live, we have held back as we don’t wish to come across as condescending. That said, the island they are on (Pulau Blanding) only has brackish well, with fresh water needing to be brought in daily from the larger neighbouring Pulau Buaya. One thought we have is to work with them to provide reverse osmosis plants to filter their well water… but this (if appropriate) needs to be done carefully as it may put folk who current bring in fresh water out of work.

On the first evening at Neptune Island the villagers treated us to a cultural dance show complete with songs written in our honour. This led to a hiccup in that ferrymen who would bring us to shore were themselves ashore watching the show, with crews temporarily stranded at the anchorage waiting for their return… improved communication required next time. Here. they are ferrying crew to and from the anchorage. Note the ‘enlisted’ islanders in their orange Beach Crew shirts to aid identification.

On top of all that, the Indonesian Navy in the shape of “…Indonesian Warship, Indonesian Warship, Indonesian Warship…” K.R.I. Kalahitam (Black Scorpion) was on hand throughout and (to the complete surprise of the organisers) had thrown a 20nm exclusion zone around our fleet as it moved north and south… now that IS service! Full credit to radio operator Handy who virtually talked me hoarse by requesting continual updates on where the lead and tail end boats were together with their ETAs. It soon got to the point that he would recognise my voice over the VHF  and would jump in on the conversation, no matter what boat I was on.

The Sailing Grounds

I know I’m biased, but in a word – stunning. Plenty of navigational challenges to get one’s teeth into too:

Whilst squeezing through a narrow gap with reefs either side to shave a mile and a half off the rhumbline… Windsikher Navigator: "Whatever you do, DON’T come up"
Windsikher Helmsman: "Can I gybe?"
Windsikher Navigator: "NO! Do NOT gybe, whatever you do DON’T GYBE!!" They got line honours. Here Kukukerchu on the equator between the sprint legs with K.R.I. Kalahitam close at hand.

The usually chatty Men At Work crew fell silent in disbelief as they traversed the ‘Cauldron’, an area of confused cross tides, overfalls and whirlpools that can throw up 2m seas in an otherwise flat calm.

Feeling your way back to an anchorage in unfamiliar waters after a night time finish on the equator on a moonless night with nothing, absolutely nothing in view but the committee boat still on station behind you.

To give a famous quote, “I counted them all out and I counted them all back in again”. The only minor casualty was WYSIWYG who attempted a short cut entry to the marina where there isn’t one on the last day and had to be pulled clear. They were all smiles afterwards and that they had a bunch of bananas hung from the bimini all week is a statement of fact not judgement. 😉

Neptunus Rex
Of course, you can’t mention the Neptune Regatta without mentioning King Neptune himself. The Day 3 Equator Sprint is intentionally designed in two halves: You race south to a committee boat (to be rounded to port) anchored on the equator with a buoy laid either side. This produces a southbound and northbound gate. As yachts pass south, their time is taken and their elapsed time is frozen. As they pass through the northbound gate, their time is taken and the elapsed time starts ticking again.

Any time spent in the southern hemisphere does not count. This was instigated to allow every yacht to spend as long as they wished (with an 1800hr time limit at the finish) ensuring any and all Slimy Pollywogs can thoroughly inspected by his Royal Majesty and inducted, if deemed worthy, as Trusty Shellbacks into his Royal Court, without this negatively affecting a boat’s race time.

The Pollywogs aboard El Oro about to quaff a ladel of ‘Neptune’s Blood’ from the bucket and be ‘washed clean’ of their nautical misdemeanours. (Disclaimer: Any passing resemblance between His Royal Highness Neptunus Rex, dressed in engine rags, off cuts of sailcloth and old rope and a certain Capt. Marty known throughout the S.E. Asian circuit is of course purely coincidental. I was sat at the companionway myself throughout the proceedings taking yacht times and can vouch for the fact that Marty was below when King Neptune appeared and did not come back on deck until King Neptune had departed.)

Yes that can lead to a tactical advantage one way or the other should the wind change while you’re waiting… so do your homework ahead of time.

At the final night prize giving, all yachts received a lightweight plaque to be installed onboard commemorating the yacht’s crossing of the line and each crew received a Shellback certificate to prove they are no longer Slimy Pollywogs.

So, at last, it’s been done.

The concept has been proven and we already have more boats wanting to enter next year.

I haven’t had room to mention all the yachts personally, nor the team of volunteers that made it happen. You know who you are and you know you have my respect and gratitude.

For myself, my ‘moment’ was on Day 2… Having motored through the fleet on a committee boat, I looked back to see kite after colourful kite strung our literally to the horizon. After all the talk, after all the planning and anguish, here they were sailing south through waters they’d never seen before and would likely never have seen otherwise.

It just made me wonder how many kites I’d see next year…

Neptune Regatta