Manado – The adventure gets technical

Thursday, September 19, 2013
Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Originally, if we had been given permission to land on Boracay Island and not the "adjacent" Romblon, the plane was to exit the the Philippines, enter Indonesia via Manado, and then continue on to Ternate Island for two nights. Knowing though how long the boat ride to Romblon was going to be, that wasn't in the cards. The new goal was just to make it to Manado, Indonesia after exiting the Philippines in Iluilu.

Our boat ride was considerably calmer than the choppy speedboat ride we had on the way Romblon . This larger boat accommodated everyone, but was considerably slower. The captain also wasn’t sure where he was going; fortunately for him every one of us had at least one iPad or GPS to show him the way. I don’t think he’d ever seen an iPad, much less navigated by GPS moving map before. I think he was actually a bit astounded that it was accurate.

The boat docked literally adjacent to the runway, not 50’ from the threshold. It was too funny as we walked literally from the “dock” on to the airstrip, all the while trying to kick away as many rocks from the runway as possible. We saw again that the first 2000’ was going to be fine, but after that it was going to get bumpy. We also had a pretty impressive crosswind to deal with. It was going to be an interesting takeoff for sure.

Sure enough, the takeoff was memorable for both us and those that observed it from the ground. Up until 2000’ all was good, but as soon as it became choppy we got a bit of air, even at just 55 knots . We hopped around a bit and then got in to ground effect before able to pull up passed the trees. As long as the propeller is okay, I’m happy ;-).

The flight to Iluilu was short, and the controllers were overwhelmed. I’d be surprised if 9 planes depart from Ramblon per month, let alone within 30 minutes. We were stacked and some were put into random holding patterns. We thought we were smart being slow and taking off 3rd, but that of course just put those that couldn’t pass us into more holding patterns. Regardless, we got the ILS down in cloudy but stable weather.

Refueling and immigration went without a hitch. It’s after that, that things got interesting. We’re in the plane, turn on the ignition, and then… nothing. There’s not enough juice to turn the prop over. Everything was fine during the first flight, now there’s nothing. Great. Just great.

We get the cowling off and Jan measures to see if there is power coming to alternators and to the starter . The we check the battery. Indeed, our battery is dead. Fortunately Jan and the Cheyenne crew hadn’t left yet so we were able to use Marissa’s Philippine expertise to organize the ground crew in to getting us a battery to jump start Maggie. She started over fine with the jump start, although it was interesting bolting on the access panel once the prop was blowing.

So now what to do? How we do fix the problem? And where do we fix the problem? We had to get to Indonesia before 9pm local time or else customs would be shut, so we stuck to the timetable of heading to Manado. Once there we’d check the battery again, and if they were still dead we’d have to find a replacement or another way to jump start Maggie in order to continue. Now it was getting adventurous. So far we’d had very few technical issues. Things were, knock on wood, going great. At least this was just a battery issue and seemed solvable. We’d see…

We largely avoided clouds on the flight to Manado until the sun went down . Then of course in the soup we went. It was choppy only for a bit, and we were assured by the planes ahead of us that 40 miles from Manado the skies were clear. It was hard to believe that others really had a full moon, clear sky approach when we were getting rained on.

Indeed though, about 40 miles out the skies did clear. We could make out the runway from 20 miles out, lit up like a Christmas tree amongst the dark hills. To the approach controllers amazement, we asked for a straight in approach from 10,000+’ up but were granted it. We dropped like a rock as opposed to taking her plan of various vectors and descents in a holding pattern, and then had a smooth approach in to Indonesia.

Once we landed, we checked the battery and indeed it was just as dead as when we tried to start in Iluilu. Everything else was fine, just the batteries wouldn’t hold a charge. This of course wasn’t great news, but seemed solvable . We could either get a ground power unit the following morning to at least depart to Ternate, or better yet we could get a replacement battery. The only problem with a replacement would be that it 1) has to be 24v and 2) has to be either aviation rated or else we’d risk having the battery boil over as we flew to higher altitudes.

We knew it was going to be an interesting day the following morning as we tried to tackle the problem, but first we went to the hotels for dinner and drinks. The group was excited to see us and helpful in giving us tips on what we could do. All this banter of course happened over many, many beers. At the end of the night the wait staff was too confused to know how to divide up the bill. One group took the drinks and I, just to make life easier, said to bill all the food to my room. If there’s ever a place where you want it to be your turn to buy a round or pick up the food tab, it’s Manado, Indonesia. Good food for 15+ people at a nice hotel cost all of $50 total ;-)


From Romblon (RPVU) to Iluilu (RPVI): CABAL KLO IOO at 7000’. Everyone got to know the ILS 20 approach intimately with all the makeshift holds ;-)

From Iluilu (RPVI) to Manado (WAMM): NANAS.3D B472 COT R590 PEDNO BONDA MNO at 10,000’
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