Kawe – Equator Island

There are other islands and land masses that the Equator passes through. This island is on our path and I had a desire to straddle the Equator, standing in both hemispheres at the same time. In Fiji I straddled the International Date line having one foot into today and the other into yesterday. Who knows, it could have been one foot into today and the other tomorrow. I guess it depends on perspective. 🙂 Nothing miraculous happened. Not lighting, no moments of wisdom, I didn’t rise up to the heavens, nor was I sucked down to the nether world. It was only something I wished to do. And for a few moments I stood there.

After leaving Pef we motored; yes again, north to Kawe and anchored in the Northern Hemisphere. We hadn’t had Elysium in the N. Hemisphere for 8 years. Cruising in Raja Ampat we would cross the equator a couple more times.

It was an easy motor until we reached the water between Equator Island and PNG. There we experienced the most current against us we’ve had in our travels. I had hoped it was temporary and caused by a large bay emptying into the passage. It was not. About 4 knots against us making our forward progress the speed of a baby’s crawl. What ought to have taken one hour required 4 more. All the time listening to the drone of our motor.

We arrived behind True Blue V and attempted to drop the hook in 5 meters with what the cruising guide written by Andy Scott described as a sand mud bottom. I don’t like that this guide has been wrong more than right. 🙂 The anchor slid around the bottom like it was on concrete. When I raised it to re anchor I snagged a piece of coral.

Two years earlier a Croc was reported to be hanging around this anchorage. I wasn’t keen on entering the water to free the anchor. We didn’t see the Croc and as luck would have it we broke the anchor free and I hauled it aboard. We moved to deeper water on the other side of True Blue V.

Kawe Anchorage
The bottom all through here is like concrete

There again I felt we had dropped the anchor on concrete. But this time I had enough chain down such that I felt the weight alone would act liker a mooring. There was no wind blowing through this bay. And we did hold for a good 24 hours.

The following day True Blue V left for Wayag and we hung around. There was an Equator marker on another chunk of land here. That was the place I could be in the N and S hemisphere

Position Marker
Marking where the Equator passes on Kawe

simultaneously. After breakfast W/ and I would head over in our dinghy.

It wasn’t perfect, the weather. A swell was beginning to roll in and finding a place for the dinghy ashore was a bit of an issue. We were not planning on spending much time here. A quick trip to the marker, some photos and back. Where we left the dinghy with a building swell could be problamatic. W/ didn’t want to climb up to the marker for her own “ah ha” moment. It was then back to the dingy and back to the boat.

As the swell began building, launching the dinghy was a bit tricky. We needed to get it out to deep enough water, drop the engine, start the engine keep the bow into the waves and avoid any breaking water. I pushed and pointed it off shore while W/ jumped in. As one almost breaking wave passed under us, I jumped in dropped the motor and pulled the cord. We got it started in time and were moving away from the coast and marker. It was close. But; we made it. Back to the boat for a lovely afternoon. It was not to be.

At the boat the winds started building and cresting over the Western side of the harbor. We set the anchor watch and I used various markers on shore to watch for dragging. We moved, but not a lot. And we were moving down the middle of the fairway. We would stop, swing, move a bit repeat. At some point it appeared we stopped moving. We could hear the chain dragging across the “fake” mud sand bottom. That meant is was a hard coral bottom with some bommies here and there. Finally with the boat stopped my anxiety went down. Anxiety was not zero because tomorrow we planned head over towards the high lite in Raja Ampat, Wayag. I knew a bottom with some coral could mean a problem raising the anchor.

Now to be fair, we’ve been in many places that had coral bottoms. And while we don’t like to anchor in coral there are times it is impossible to avoid. Had I been a bit smarter I would have stayed near the narrow end of the harbor and tied lines to both shores. But I wasn’t and here we would pay the price. Usually as we raise the anchor the chain can get stuck on some coral pieces. We wiggle the boat, heading left or right and 99/100 times the chain pops off and we continue to pick it up. We were in 50’ -60’ of water and things were going pretty well. We had a brief scare and the chain broke free and I continued to bring it aboard. All until the last 20 m (60 feet). I tightened the chain up and W/ inched the boat forward and backwards. She moved the rudder to starboard and then to port. Nothing seemed to affect what we had caught on. Now we have a problem.

Yanking on short chain is a sure way to break something. I’m not interested in breaking anything! And I don’t want to break the chain and leave our anchor and chain there. One thing left to do. Get wet. Yuck!

In the past I might have been able to free dove to 20 meters but I’ve not been diving much and 20 meters is a long, long way down. We did think ahead a few years ago and purchased a hookah unit. That is a compressor that allows us to dive one atmosphere or around 10 meters deep. We can then hang around down there for long periods of time. I usually use it when I clean the boat bottom. At least I can get down far enough to see which way we need to go to untangle ourselves. We haul out the system and set everything up.

I get my mask, fins and snorkel on and jump in. W/ passes me the hose with the regulator and away I go. Hand over hand I go down the anchor chain. Now I’m not worried anymore about a possible croc hanging around. I don’t know if Crocs like bubbles or if I could keep the anchor chain between it and I. In the end I doubt I would even see one coming. Crocs can be sneaky. But, crocs are now not my major concern.

I use the chain to descend and at about 10 m I see how we are stuck. The anchor is laying on the bottom but the chain has sliced a nice groove into a piece of coral that hangs out like a petal of a flower. It is an effective chain hook. No matter which way we pull, the chain hook seems to be holding. I surface and discuss with W/ what I saw. We can’t move the boat any direction as it will still be in the coral chain hook. I’m not happy but I’m getting some boosts of adrenaline.

The plan: I’ll dive to the limit of the hookah. Take one last good breath and free dive the last 10 meters or so. There I’ll try to pull the chain out of the coral chain hook. I do that. I fail. Returning to the surface exhaling all the way. I exhale all the way because I was breathing compressed air at 10 m. The last thing either of us needs is for me to get an air embolism. Why I didn’t stop at the regulator and slow down I don’t know. Again we discuss the situation.

The next thing we choose to do is to run a line down and around the anchor. Then put it on a winch and haul the anchor off the bottom. We hope pulling on the anchor will free the coral chain hook. W/ digs out an old halyard and hands me the bitter end. The halyard is about 45 m. She lays out line so I have enough to run down around the anchor and back up to the boat. I slowly descend along the chain again. At 10 meters I leave the regulator and free dive the last 10 meters, run the line through the anchor and back up to the surface. If you have never been 20 meters underwater just know that it is a long way down and up. At the surface she takes the bitter end and runs it back to a winch. She cranks on the line putting tension on it lifting the anchor off the bottom. I grab the my regulator and descend to see the results. I’m not down long. As she lifts the anchor off the bottom the weight of the chain is no longer locking it into the coral chain hook. I can’t believe it, the chain simply falls off the coral and we are free. I ascend and; she would say yelling, tell her to hit the switch to retrieve the chain. Once the chain and anchor are well off the bottom I swing back aboard to finish the job.

We were lucky there was no wind or significant swell running into the harbor. The rest of the retrieval was routine.

Moving again W/ and I alternated packing up, putting stuff away and moving to our next Anchorage. Wayag! The top of Raja Ampat.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long