This years crazy Weather

This year’s crazy weather is causing us all a lot of headache.
Learn what is happening and why »

Setting the
gaff main sail

I found these instructions on how to set a gaff main sail in an 1820’s handbook for sailing cadets. It is just as valid today as it was then.
To learn more »

Beware of that famous "STAR TO STEER BY"

I doubt there is anyone reading this who has not heard the famous poem by John Masefield (1878-1967) that goes,”And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”. I just wonder how many have tried it and found that steering by the stars can be more difficult than it sounds?
For more about this interesting skill »


Banda was not all-hard work and no play

The water there is so clear you can see the bottom in 10 meters and alive with such a variety of marine life it defies description.
Read more »
View some images »

Rules of
the road

This old ditty was used to teach rules of the road up until at least 1923. Thought you might find it interesting and even useful.
Read more »

Vitamin Boosters

Meggi’s Culinary Delights have become a regular feature of this newsletter. We have had a number of emails thanking us for publishing her hard-learned tips and tricks for improving life at sea. This months delight is home made passion fruit juice and juice concentrate.
Learn how to make it »

The Captain’s Log

July will be remembered as the month of the Banda Islands. We set sail from Dili on the 8th of July sadly leaving behind quite a few new friends. We spent a lot of time in East Timor simply because we could accomplish so much for the people there. In the end it was difficult to choose which of the many projects would best benefit the normal rural population in the most direct and meaningful ways. Those that requested educational and medical supplies or the basic tools for people to start earning a living were top of our list.

The short 330 Nm trip from East Timor to the Banda Islands, Indonesia should have been one long pleasant close reach across the gentle monsoon winds, but this year the weather patterns are all messed up so instead of South East winds at about 15 knots we had North East winds at 25+ knots and some pretty rough cross seas with almost constant rain, usually on my watch of coarse. It was only on the final morning that the skies cleared as the famous Gunung Api Volcano with Banda Besar and then the main island of Banda Neira appeared from below the horizon.

The Banda Islands are a small chain of volcanic islands located in the middle of the Banda Sea. These small islands of only about 40 sq/kms can truly be said to have changed the entire coarse of human history. Read more »

Important navigational notes on the Banda Islands. If you plan on sailing to the Banda Islands please be sure to read and remember these notes. Read more »

Provisions and other practical matters.
There are a few drawbacks to staying more than several days in these wonderful islands. They have nothing to do with the people, but more to do with available supplies and provisions. Read more »

Children’s education is the basis from which all long-term community development grows. Read more »

The health services on the Banda Islands are struggling against many difficulties not the least of which is there isolated location far from the government centers of Ambon and Jakarta. Although many important improvements are being made by the time budgets reach them little is left. Now thanks to JOTUN Paint of Indonesia some of those problems have been solved. Read more »

Thanks to JOTUN Paint - Singapore we were able to provide many of Banda Besar’s elementary school children with exercise books, and other supplies they need, but many cannot afford. Read more »

In case you didn’t know last year was an El Nino year, but what may come as a surprise is that this year it flipped directly from an El Nino to La Nina with almost no delay between the two. It was going full El Nino on one end and started doing a La Nina on the other end before the El Nino even finished. This is a very unusual climatic event that has never before been recorded. An event that has many weather guessers buying industrial sized packages of Valium or taking up residence in their local pub.

During the past decades the time between El Ninos and La Ninas has been getting shorter and shorter. Going from an average of several years to the present no delay at all. To say it has the weather guessers scratching their heads would be a real understatement. As one professional met officer told me, “This should simply not be able to happen”.

The real problem messing up weather patterns all over the world (global warming aside) is a complete lack of time this year for the climate to adjust between the two events. That is why everything is in such a mess with some places having El Nino weather and others La Nina. What is happening between the two is simply anyone’s guess. We had weeks of North East winds in July and the South East Monsoon has never really settled in this year. East Timor had three different floods, and I mean real houses-washed-away floods, during what should have been the driest part of the year.

A look at the surface pressure charts shows long chains of tropical waves one after another parading across the map from East to West where the isobars should be smooth and straight. So, when you are making your plans for this years cruising be sure to factor in a La Nina weather pattern and you should not be too far wrong. Then again, when I asked a professional weather guesser with 28 years experience in this region what he expected his learned response was, “Buggered if I know mate. Best advice I can give you for this one is to have lots of beer on board”.


Cast off the tyers from the mainsail;

Hook on the peak halyards;

See that the gaff goes up between the topping-lifts as you hoist up on the throat and peak halyards keep the gaff level; hoist up on the throat until the luff-rope is straight;

If the sail has a slide on the boom, haul out on it till the canvas is just straight and smooth on the foot;

Too hard a pull will throw a heavy strain on the diagonal, from the end of the boom to the jaws of the gaff, giving a bad after leech when the peak is swayed up;

Next sway up the luff pretty taut;

It is not necessary to top the boom up to too great an angle out of the crotch;

Man the peak halyards and hoist on them until the after leech is so lifted that it spreads and stretches every square inch of the after angle of the sail;

As soon as the peak begins to lift the outer end of the boom, the mainsheet should be made fast (unless the boom extends so far over the taffrail that it would bring an undue leverage on the boom and spring it to breaking);

Now sweat up the peak halyards until the stretch is entirely taken out of the halyard canvas;

If the peak is hoisted beyond its proper angle, it puts an undue strain on the diagonal, from the end of the gaff to the center of effort of the sail, the consequence being a nasty gutter just inside the leech, which gives rise to the groundless complaint that there is a tight cloth inside the after leech.

It should be remembered that the trouble lies in stretching the head and foot of the sail too taut, and oversetting the peak.


Steering by the stars at night is one of a sailors oldest tricks. You pick an easily identified star more or less directly in front of the boat and head for it. You align it with a stay, shroud, or other convenient reference point and then by careful steering keep them aligned. It is a great way to steer and you will soon notice that even the smallest deviation from your coarse is noted by your stars movement much faster than by the compass. When you really must “steer small” at night this is the way to do it. But that old trick is also fraught with traps for the unwary.

First, the star you choose should not be too high in the sky, no more than about 45 degrees. The higher the star, the harder it is to notice deviations from your coarse. To understand this imagine how a star right over your head would appear not to move at all no matter what coarse you steered; where as one just above the horizon would respond to the slightest change in heading. So, lying on your back looking up at the stars while steering is completely out me hardies.

Next, your intended heading has a lot to do with how accurate your star will be for steering. If you are going East or West then all you need consider is how long before your star sets or gets too high to be useful. But, if your are heading North or South – and not using the pole star or Southern Cross- the stars appear to move from East to West as the night progresses which means that over 4 hours you can see up to 60 degrees of shift. I think there are still 15 degrees to an hour. One can never be sure in this fast passed age of electronics. In any case the drift can be up to 5 degrees every 20 -30 minutes. More than enough to put the skipper in a passion after a 4-hour watch. How you compensate is up to you. Some pick a star on an East or West heading, something more or less off the beam and use that. Takes a bit of practice but it works just fine. Others are more exact and demand a new star every time the coarse shifts by 5-10 degrees. Myself, being a typical lazy sailor, I just shift my bottom a bit to compensate for the stars movement as I see the coarse drifting on the compass. Bring the boat on the proper heading and then scoot your butt over a bit until your star seems to move back to where you wanted it to be. Saves a lot of headache and gives me a good excuse to move around a bit.

On most charts of Indonesia the Banda Islands are lucky if they manage to resemble a flyspeck lost in the middle of the Banda Sea. Yet these small islands changed the entire coarse of human history for these were the only source of nutmeg, cloves, and mace so eagerly sought by most of the world’s population. Spices so dear that often they were valued at much more than their weight in gold.

All the great explorers from Columbus through Magellan and more were seeking a route to these little islands. Mighty empires were discovered and destroyed by explorers searching for them. Wars were fought to guard the secret of their location yet ships that did find them often returned with cargos worth over 1,000 times the entire expeditions cost for these were the fabled Spice Islands. Today they languish in obscurity. Their small population of roughly 15,000 is surrounded by constant reminders of their islands once important place in history.

C-Map positions are off by almost .5 Nm. Our GPS position at mooring in a well known fixed location was shown as .49 Nm S.E. of our actual location. On the MaxSea we were shown as being moored almost exactly in the center of the town. This is a place where the MK-1 eyeball and careful pilotage are important, so be warned. The paper chart we had was not much better as it seemed to show a coast line that bore little relationship to what we saw around us. The best entrance is the one from the North between Banda Neira and Gunung Api. You will see two on the chart, one to the East and one to the West. The eastern entrance is well lit with red and green light towers but remember those towers are on the reef or well in on the land. The clear entrance runs almost exactly half way between the two lights on a North – South heading. I used the paper chart to calculate a heading then positioned us to follow that heading through the center of the channel. Least depth we saw was about 16 meters.

Once in between the islands the water is quite deep, up to 100 meters, and very steeped to. Take a heading that favors the Eastern shore to avoid an outlying rock on Gunung Api and make directly for the town. Closer in you will see several piers and well kept buildings to the north of the town. The best position is just behind the Laguna Hotel with two anchors out ahead and tied snugly to palm trees on the wall ashore. Ya-Ya, the hotels manager, is very friendly and will gladly help you tie up. His English is good but hesitant sometimes so just be patient on the phone and everything will work out just fine.

People in the Banda Islands are very relaxed and friendly. They always make you feel welcome and there is none of the typical “Tourist Hustle” you get in places like Bali. In fact it takes a while to realize that the people coming up to you to talk are honestly interested in meeting you, not out to see what they can get you for. Even the local tourist guides are friendly and try their best to provide real value for money.

Fish so fresh it tries to jump off your plate can be had almost all day long in the market for very reasonable prices. The yellow fin tuna is always fresh caught and a real bargain, as is red snapper. The local Almonds are another speciality that add flavor to any dish. Go and visit Aba at the Mutiara Guest House for a delicious buffet dinner featuring eggplant a la almond, if you are lucky you might get the secret recipe from his wife Dilla for her magnificent almond sauce. If you want a sauce that simply has no rival with fish or chicken this is it. The vegetable selection at the market is a bit limited but always fresh and reasonably priced. Bread is another thing you may miss. The local bread, called roti, is a small sweat loaf that although quite enjoyable and cheap is not exactly the thing for sandwiches or garlic toast. Of coarse spices such as nutmeg, cloves, mace, and cinnamon is everywhere you look either still on the tree or ready for use.

Such things as toilet paper we strongly advise you have plenty of when you arrive. Also onions, potatoes, things like that are best brought along. The local onions are really shallots great for some things, but after a while you will start wanting a good old fashion white onion for the salads or stews. And finally do be sure to bring along enough Indonesian Rupia, as there are few places to make change. Because of the difficulties they have re-exchanging the rates are not always that good and as of August still no ATM service. (although we were told that was coming soon, along with wireless internet). Fuel can be had at pretty reasonable prices, just ask around for Hussein the fuel man. Everyone knows him.

Helping small schools, providing teaching materials, and training have always played an important part in Vega’s Mission of Mercy. This year in the Banda Islands thanks to support from ModuSpec B.V. in Singapore we were able to make a major contribution of teaching and training aids for a full range of subjects ranging from advanced computer training programs for the local high school to elementary English spelling books and advanced science text for the middle and elementary schools. The best part was we could also provide the teachers with an opportunity to up grade their own skills through training and special Teachers Planning books for science, math’s, and public health. Thanks to the kindness of JOTUN Paints (Indonesia) we were also able to provide paint for one of the islands neediest schools.

The islands teachers are making heroic efforts, but without the proper materials to work with it is a very difficult battle. Imagine a computer lab with no practical software to learn on, teachers with little or no practical experience learning along with their students. Or imagine teaching English with no English textbooks or publications to work with. On the poorer islands the children lack even the most basic exercise books, pencils, or pens. Teachers do not have chalk or white board markers. We have lists of what they need to do their jobs so if you are in a position to help out let us know and we can help you target the most needed items, or select a school or even a specific teacher and class to help out.

If the capital of the Banda Islands, Banda Neira, is considered isolated then Banda Besar must be one of the most isolated. A lack of anchorages, or should I say accurate charts showing anchorages, kept us from visiting the famous islands of Run and Ai that are even more isolated. It is interesting to note that although mobile phone reception has reached the islands, it is only available on the main island of Banda Neira.

The two small health posts on Banda Besar were in a sad state of disrepair with giant black mold stains everywhere you looked. When I ask Dr. Hendra what his most important need was he said, ”Paint”. Mind you he did have quite an impressive list of other things his small clinic needs, but paint was top of his list and one we could help out with almost right away. Thanks to the socially responsible corporate attitude of JOTUN Paints (Indonesia) we were able to facilitate refurbishing the neglected clinic and health post on Banda Besar by providing all the paint needed for a proper job.

In general the clinics are short of almost everything and have given us a list of basic medications and equipment they need to improve the health services. These are not complicated lists, but very basic things most modern clinics take for granted. If you are a medical professional in a position to understand their needs and help them please do contact us and I will send you along their list. As always we will be more than pleased to pick up your donation and deliver it in your name.

When you make the equal of only a few dollars a day it is often hard for rural families in isolated places to provide their children with the basic materials they need for learning. Often just the cost of transportation to and from school can be prohibitive for some. On the island of Banda Besar people do not have a bad life. Almost everything grows there and there are fish in plenty available at no great effort. The problem is procuring things that need to be purchased with money. Everything must be imported by sea and transportation costs are high. School exercise books, pencils, pens, erasers, and the like are 3-4 times more expensive than they would be in Jakarta. This means many children from poor families often go without.

This year the children of at least one elementary school on Banda Besar have been well provided for Thanks to JOTUN Paints (Singapore) who not only donated materials for the students, but also other basics educational materials needed by the teachers as well.

Looking over the boats side through the cleanest water I have seen since the Caribbean many years ago it was easy to imagine what our world must have been like before we began to spoil our seas with over fishing, pollution, and using them as a convenient trash dump. The seas around Banda are alive. Alive with such diversity it boggles the mind. Just taking a quick snorkel around the boat was more rewarding than many places elsewhere claiming to be diving “Hot Spots”. 5 meters from our stern we found a whole family of the elusive Mandarin fish, or as the locals call them the Ikan Banda, fish. Bright blue starfish, Blazing orange corals, bright colors abound everywhere you look and it is all very much alive and quite healthy.

Meggi and Joanne spent hours off with the dingy snorkeling. Since we have two masks, one set of fins, and managed to borrow a snorkel the equipment base was less than optimal. Oh, and I forgot Joanne’s bright yellow “floatie”, an integral part of her diving kit. One of the best places was just off the “new” lava flow, from 1988 where the sea must have been boiling during the eruption as molten lava poured from the volcano into the sea. Most scientists’ say it takes centuries for a reef to recover, but here it has completely recovered and done so in just over 20 years.

Places like Banda bring out in stark contrast the degree of damage done to the worlds maritime eco systems and the great loss that damage has caused. If you have never seen a truly pristine sea, alive and unspoiled, then it will be hard for you to imagine what Banda is like. If you want to see one it is well, well, worth the effort getting there just to see and enjoy it. In the next issue I will be listing other attractions of the Banda Islands and some useful contacts should you be tempted to visit this small surviving piece of unspoiled paradise. As Meggi said when we were leaving, “That is the most beautiful place we have ever been.”


It has never been easy teaching newbie’s the basic rules of the road.
This little mnemonic was used for years on the old sailing ships.

"When both sidelights you see ahead,
Port your helm and show your red.
Green to green or red to red,
Perfect Safety -- go ahead!

If on the port tack you steer,
It is your duty to keep clear
Of every close hauled ship ahead,
No matter whether green or red.

But when upon your port is seen
A stranger's starboard light of green,
There's not so much for you to do,
For green to port keeps clear of you."

There is another part of this little ditty that was more common among the forecastle hands that survived until today
- it goes something like this:

"When you see two lights in front
Full ahead and sink the c**t.
But if the mate should shake his head
Try green-to-green or red-to-red"

There is something very special about an iced glass of fresh fruit juice. Not only is it refreshing, but also full of vitamins and fruit sugars for quick energy. Now, couple that refreshing boast with being hundreds of miles from the nearest land and you have pure luxury. Meggi makes fresh juices for immediate consumption when we are ashore and juice concentrates that store well for long periods and keep us refreshed even weeks out from our last land fall. The best part is that it can be done easily and quickly with no special equipment or additives. As with most things she feeds us Meggi’s juices are completely natural with no numbers or chemical alphabets mixed in.

Passion Fruit Juice

To make fresh passion fruit juice start with 2 kg fresh Passion Fruit, preferably the big yellow kind,
4 l water,
Sweetener or sugar,
Big pot for boiling water,
Big wire mesh strainer
Large rounded wooden spoon for working the juice and pulp through the strainer

1. Cut Passion fruit into halves and remove pulp with spoon
2. Boil 2 ltrs of water, turn off flame then add the passion fruit pulp and let soak for 15 minutes, press the mix though a sieve.
3. Pour the remaining 2 ltrs of boiled water over the pulp and through the strainer, so that at the end only the seeds remain in the strainer.
4. Sweeten to taste, fill into bottles. Juice can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Passion Fruit Syrup

Serve mixed with water as juice, or undiluted over pancakes, waffles and ice cream.

4 cups passion fruit pulp
1-cup water
3/4 cup light-colored corn syrup
1/4 cup sugar

1. In a saucepan combine fruit pulp and water. Bring to boil for 2 minutes, press the hot mixture thought a sieve until only the black seeds remain.

2. Return the juice to the pan and combine with the corn syrup and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and boil until reduced to 2 cups. Store syrup in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or deep freeze for longer storage.

When I make the syrup I usually make a lot of it and store it in 1 ltr. bottles. If you are going to freeze it for long storage it is best stored in plastic bottles taking care not to fill them all the way to the top. This leaves room for the ice to expand without breaking the bottle.