Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pantsing Our Way Around Indonesia

As every storyteller knows, there are two types of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters create beautiful outlines, fill in details, do research, and refine their story arc before they even consider writing sentence one. Pantsers pull out the keyboard and start writing, usually with no destination in mind and certainly no idea of how to get there - they fly by the seat of their pants. The concept can easily be extended to Real Life; we all occupy a position along the plotter-pantser continuum.

We began our cruising life as plotters. We consulted guidebooks, mapped out routes, and chose anchorages down to the meter before ever putting up a sail. We were organized. We knew what we would find ahead of time, and surprises were few.

We were also sailing in places that had been so extensively travelled that the unknown didn't exist. Thousands of sailboats had done the hard work for us, charting routes through the tricky reefs in the San Blas Islands, ferreting out the best cheese stores in the Marquesas, warning against rolly anchorages and poor holding and towns with inadequate bottle shops.

But then we started to visit places outside the guidebooks. Places our charts barely admitted were there. Certainly places we had no waypoints for or information about. And that meant pantsing. Oh, we tried to be as methodical as possible - entering unknown reefs when the sun angle and tide were right, using a spotter on the bow, wearing polarized glasses and so on - but, in the end, we were relying on our own observations and the depth sounder to get us through. As often as not, the electronic charts would claim we were sailing 100m inland. We needed to stay on our toes.

We fell back on our plotting ways through Australia. But coming to Indonesia put us squarely in pantser territory. For reasons unclear, not a lot of cruisers seem to come here, so advance information was thin on the ground. Oh, we have redundant charts for Indonesia, paper and electronic. And we have a cruising guide. But the names don't always match up. And, for our first month here, the guidebook didn't include any of the places we want to go. So in the end, we gave a mighty shrug and decided we'd figure it out as we went.

We left Cairns with half a plan. That is, we marked our route in the chart plotter up to the Torres Strait. As we passed that point, Erik and I looked at the chart again.
Erik sipped his coffee. "I guess we should figure out where we're actually going. Where are we supposed to check in, again?" he asked.
"Tual," I said. "In Maluku." I drew big circle around Eastern Indonesia with my finger. "Over here somewhere."
We looked at the various islands of the Molluccas, but didn't see it.
"Hold on," I said. I pulled out my computer. "I'm pretty sure one of the rallies checked in there. I might have a map." Sure enough, I had a low-quality cartoon jpeg of Indonesia. A flowing arrow cut across the country from east to west, showing the rally route. Sadly, place names were lacking, but you can't have everything.
Erik and I peered closely at the map. "Yep," Erik said finally. "That's about where I thought Tual should be."
"Me, too," I said. "And if it's the wrong place, we'll either try to check in anyway or ask for directions."
"Done," said Erik.

And our pantsing worked. Since Tual, we've been on our own. Our cruising guide is a little light (read: silent) on this area of Indonesia, so we're back to choosing likely-looking spots on iffy charts, then eyeballing our way around in good light. Pure pantsing. And we've found some gorgeous spots this way.

So if you'll excuse me, I have to hop in the dinghy and do some recon. We want to find a better way out of this reef for our departure this afternoon. We may be pantsing our Indonesian adventure, but we're doing it as safely as we can.

Pinky swear.

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