My wife Gerdi got on the boat again a few days ago. Because she didn’t like the long cruise from Bali to the southwest coast of Java, Indonesia (600 + nautical miles, eight days and eight nights of sailing), she spent some time at Bali with a friend and then took a bus, train, and taxi to the coast to meet me on Faule Haut again. The communication via internet and WhatsApp helped to make the family reunification easy. We both had our smartphones equipped with cheap Indonesian SIM cards. However, we could only communicate, when I was sailing close to the coast line. That was not always the case and we lost track of one another. Close to the coast was too little wind, that’s why I moved further away (10 – 20 nm) from the shore to catch some more wind, thus loosing the network connection.
But I had another reason to stay away from the coast and keep a proper distance from the shore – namely the FADs – the Fish Aggregating Devices, smart Indonesian fish traps. I had been warned about those FADs via the internet before, but I expected these FADs to be CLOSE to the shore, but not 7 or 10 nm off the coast.
All over Indonesia it is forbidden to trawl with dragnets. Therefore the smart fishermen here have found a way to circumvent this law. With bamboo they built floating platforms and moored them to the seabed with ropes. Those are called FADs.
Underneath those FADs they stretched nets which they pull up every one or two hours to catch the fish and bring it up. This trick makes fishing legal and thousands of fishermen have erected and are working on and with these FADs. They do the fishing only at night time. To attract the fish, these FADS are equipped with very strong lights, directed strait down into the water, powered by gen sets or batteries.
In the night from the 28th to 29th of July, I was singlehand sailing on the southern coast of Java at a distance of about 10 nm. I caught good winds and was sailing close to 6 knots. Having sailed for five days and nights already, I was mentally worn out because of sleep deprivation. During the nights, I always have my alarm clock set to wake me up. Depending on the area or the traffic, this can be every 15, 30 or 45 minutes or every one or two hours. In that night, I set my alarm at every two hours. Every two hours I got up, stepped on deck, checked the horizon for some lights, checked my course and adjusted the autopilot when needed, and went to bed again.
Short before two o’clock a.m. I woke up by some noise, coming from a motor. I was sailing and so I was well and fast aware that this was not coming from my motor. My adrenaline level superseded my blood level and I jumped out of my bed. Within seconds I was standing on deck and saw a fishing boat crossing my way just about 15 m in front of me, directing its bright lights right into my cockpit, illuminating it like a Hollywood stage. Instantaneously and fast, I turned the steering wheel to starboard to avoid a collision. When I just noticed that it wasn’t too late and that the fishing boat would cross my way without touching my boat, I also noticed that I was standing there in the spot light with my nude butt, beaming towards those prudish (probably more prudish like the US Americans – if this is possible?) muslim fishermen. I hit the autopilot button to lock the rudder, ran down the companion way and jumped in my pants and got back on deck.
But what I saw next blew my mind and it took me a few seconds to figure it out. I was surrounded by lights at different distances. For a few seconds I thought that I got off my course and and had sailed into a closed bay, misinterpreting those lights from the FADs with shore lights. But then I noticed that the majority of those lights came from these FADs and about one tenth of them came from fishing boats (I counted 78 lights, of which only three were shore lights; the rest came from these FADs). The FADs were all manned but that would not have helped me, because they were moored to the seabed and would have been unable to move to avoid a collision with the Faule Haut.
Shortly after I got daylight again, I found myself sailing through another field of FADs.
This time I had to change my course five or six times in order not to collide with one of them and I realized that I just missed another catastrophe during the night.
On this cruise I passed well over 300 FADs.
Not hitting one of them, is equal to hitting the jackpot at Las Vegas.
I do have my own explanation for not running into one of these fish aggregating devices:
During that night, while I was sleeping, someone turned off my autopilot and took over the steering.
And I know it was not the hobgoblin/Klabautermann.