July is a the start of long school holidays, beautiful weather and beach holidays for many but for the crew of Damai II and me, the Operations Manager, the story is very different as this is the time for Dry Docking in the (not so) beautiful Javanese Port of Surabaya.
As the final set of guests depart with cheerful waves at the dock in Bali, behind the scenes, preparation is already well underway down in the engine room.
We have just two and a half days to get the dive compressors off, serviced and returned. air conditioning units cleaned and serviced and a huge pile of soft furnishings to be taken off for laundering and cleaning. Then we have to make this luxury cruising vessel into a work space for the upcoming time in Surabaya. Docking is a dirty business, and everything has to be packed up and stored securely. TVs and electronics are stored or covered in plastic, floors covered in cardboard and furniture draped with tarpaulins and plastic sheets. Most importantly it all has to be inventoried so that we can find it all again at the other end of the docking when it is time to get ready for the first trip with guests. Finally we do our annual fumigation of the vessel before she sails for Surabaya on the lunchtime high tide.
It’s a 36 hour journey to Surabaya and by the time I fly in two days later Damai II is already perched on wooden blocks, held in place by impossibly thin poles, as they pump out the water. The next morning the dock is dry and we can walk around to inspect the hull, checking for leaks and damage to the wood. All seems good, but we already know we will have to replace a single plank of wood that is cracked and leaking. This is a highly specialised job carried out by two carpenters from the ship building town of Bira in Sulawesi. The plank in question is not small; it is 6m long, 30cm wide and 10cm thick, no hand saw for cutting wood like this, only a chainsaw will do!
Meanwhile the engine room is buzzing. The main engine is already in pieces and a new gear box has been manoeuvred close by ready for installation.
Contractors work on the below-waterline fittings that keep the vessel supplied with sea water for cooling engines, rinsing decks and flushing toilets. Another team work on releasing the propeller shaft from the gear box before moving underneath to remove the propeller and rudder. Meanwhile I meet with a contractor with the unenviable task of physically climbing in to the fuel tanks to clean the build-up of sludge that accumulates over the course of a year at sea.
The work continues apace and the deck crew are focused on one of our major tasks for this year, replacing both of our masts. The sea water has taken its toll and both are showing significant areas of rot. In Surabaya our aim is to remove the forward mast and most of the stern mast. We will install the new ones in Bira when we sail there at the end of our time in Surabaya. This is no small task. Each mast weights in excess of 800kg and nothing is rushed. A carefully thought through plan is executed to remove all but the final bolt and gently lower the wood horizontally to the deck. Nothing will be wasted as the good wood from the old mast is taken off and cut in to planks for future use.
Inside there is a team of 8 Javanese carpenters working in the rooms and restaurant. We have several tasks here, starting with cabins 1 and 2 where we are extending the second day beds to become a full length singles. Elsewhere, in cabin 5, we are installing some windows at the rear to enclose the balcony whilst up in Cabin 7</h3></p> <p>18 sq. metres. Double or twin bed (200x200) a desk, direct access to the sun decks, reading lights and bed side tables. Fully air-conditioned , flat screen TV within a centralized entertainment system and of course en-suite facilities.</p>">Cabin 7 we are relaying the floor and carrying out some cosmetic modifications around the air conditioning unit. Throughout the vessel we are fixing leaks from shower floors, repairing the floor grills and addressing leaks from the decks to the cabins and restaurant.
Safety is always a big concern for Damai and this year we have spent many thousands of dollars on both boats for new safety equipment, radios, radar beacons, depth sounders and more. A major safety project is the installation of a new fire pump and hydrant system which supplies high volumes of sea water to our two fire hoses. This is pretty important when you have a wooden ship!
The tender boats have also been out of the water; hulls being repainted and engines being serviced. They are now returned to the water where they will stay for another 11 months. It takes two days to get all the metalwork and engines reattached as they should be and make them ready for charter.
Seven days passes oh-so-quickly when you look back on it, but each day is a series of major and minor tasks all of which require materials, parts, manpower and direction to keep moving forward towards our very tight deadline. I consider myself lucky to have an excellent team in all areas and as the end of the week approaches and my stress levels increase there is always an underlying confidence that everything will be fine… won’t it? On the 7th day in dock, and exactly on schedule the dock is flooded again and Damai II floats up off the blocks to be towed out and tied up alongside two other ships in the floating dock area. She is still not under her own power as the main engine needs two more days of work before we can plan to depart., on the afternoon of 24th July she sails, just 8 hours behind schedule due to a last minute problem with the steering, and I can head back to Bali, recover and plan the next phase of installing the masts.
I fly to Makassar in Sulawesi and instead of catching an onward connection on to the boat, as so often is the case, I am picked up by a driver and taken on the 5 hour drive to Bira which is the true home of Damai vessels. Both of them were built on the beaches here.
The vessel is running late…turns out by 30 hours. A problem with the alignment of the new gearbox is the problem, combined with rough seas, and this has meant the vessel can only make a very reduced speed. So my fellow Damai manager, Gusti, and I sleep in a beach hut for the night. Next morning we are there to welcome her when she finally arrives. No time for wasting though, we have lost one third of our allotted time for installing the two masts. A team of 14 carpenters, led by our own Pak Udin, swarm on to the deck and soon huge pieces of wood are being moved around the deck in a well-choreographed series of movements, each one of which brings the masts closer to being installed. They work late into the night and the skill of these experienced boat carpenters cannot be overstated. At times I can hardly believe my eyes as they walk effortlessly up the rigging cables in bare feet. These men having little or no formal education, show immense ingenuity and resourcefulness in their rigging of blocks and tackles around the points of the boat to create the correct leverage and pivoting to lift huge pieces of wood 16m, 50 feet, in to the air and place them exactly where they want them. Truly awesome to watch.
Meanwhile our indoor team of housekeeping and restaurant crew have joined the vessel and are working hard to restore the vessel to guest readiness. Washing every room with soap and water twice before they can even think about opening bags of duvets and cushions. The engineers have their work cut out making the problem with the gearbox disappear but our engineering manager, Ishak, declares himself happy by Sunday afternoon and assures me the trip to Komodo the next day with be a good one mechanically. And so Monday lunchtime approaches which is also my stated deadline for departure from Bira. We are pleased to note the improvement in the weather and even more pleased when the carpenters announce themselves satisfied that all is ready, so we sail on the lunchtime tide as planned, this time I join the vessel for the planned 24-30 hour trip south to Labuan Bajo, Flores.
Our trip is uneventful (just the way I like it) and we arrive ahead of schedule, but still only 22 hours before the guests arrive with plenty to do to make the vessel ready! One of the great things about working with our crew is that they are experienced Everyone picks up brooms, mops and scrubbing brushes as the final two hour countdown commences. Guests have checked in to their flight in Bali, the clock is ticking! Thanks for all the hard work everyone!