We had been in Bali, Indonesia for three weeks when it came time to push on for Borneo and then Singapore. We laid out the charts on the saloon table and carefully measured the distances. It was going to be right on 1,000 miles from Bali to the Changi Yacht Club on Singapore’s eastern coast where many cruisers hang out.
Our route would take us northwest across the Java Sea to the Kalimata Islands off Borneo and then west through the Kalimata Strait to the Singapore Strait. Along the way we would cross the Equator and traverse the Intertropical Convergence Zone. Other than squalls, we didn’t expect much wind and had to be prepared to motor most of the way.
Aboard Clover, our Mason 43, we carried 100 gallons of diesel in the tank and 20 gallons in four, five gallon jugs. With our 75 horsepower Volvo diesel ticking over at 1500 rpms, we could make six knots in flat water while burning 0.666 gallons of diesel per hour. When you are out cruising for a while, you get to know these things about your boat intimately.
So the calculation looked like this: At six knots it would take us 166.66 hours to get to Singapore. Add in a 10 percent margin of error and we should plan on fuel to last for 183 hours. At 0.666 gallons per hour over 183 hours we would burn 121 gallons of diesel to reach Changi. It would be close and there were no places to take on fuel along the way.
We departed Denpasar, Bali and headed across the Java Sea. We had just over 700 miles to reach the Kalimata Islands and no wind. We were traveling in company with our friends John and Francine on Baron Rouge and every time a zephyr would ripple the sea, we both hoisted our spinnakers and throttled back to see if we could sail. But it was fruitless to sail at two knots with so many hundreds of miles to go.
We reached the islands on the fifth day and found a remote but delightful village to visit while we serviced the engine and took on water. Among our new friends, we met two sick children who needed cold medicine and one fisherman with a septic coral cut who needed antibiotic cream and sanitary bandages. We were able to help and were rewarded with basket loads of fruit.
With fingers crossed, we set out for the final 300 miles to Changi and again found no wind, even in the heavy rain squalls at the Equator. Two days later, we approached Singapore on a gray, rainy dawn and turned up the Changi River with only five miles to go. And, there, we ran out of fuel. With no wind to drive the sails, we dropped the anchor at the edge of the channel, launched the dinghy and motored into Malaysia, with no visa, no clearance and nothing to prove we were legal. A friendly fisherman met us on the beach and welcomed us to his country, although he spoke no English and we had no Maylay. He loaded us into a pickup truck and drove us to a filling station a mile away. There, with one jerry jug and a $20 bill, we were back in business.
An hour later, we were moored to the fuel dock at the Changi Yacht Club having motored 1,000 miles and burned not 120 but 121 gallons of diesel. It was that close.