So what do we do on a charter? Well that is very much up to the individual guests. Of course it depends a little on the weather and the area that we are in but mainly it depends on how much people want to relax or go exploring ashore or underwater. The following is an account of a 3 week cruise for two regular clients. This is Brenda and Tony's fourth trip with me. They qualify for their pensions these days, they are great fun and game for anything. Now they have become great friends and I have been looking forward to their visit for some time. Even though I always check people's personal preferences for food and drinks, I know most of the things that they like and this makes provisioning much easier. Over the last week I have been preparing Meniscus to be as self contained as possible for the next 3 weeks and we have maximum capacity fuel, fresh water, dry stores and of course the freshest vegetables and a good stock of frozen vacuum packed meat on board, not to mention a good supply of their favourite wines. Starting from Bali we have a rough plan to sail for Komodo, Rinca and Flores. The plan will be adapted at any time depending on how everyone feels. The main attractions will be quiet secluded anchorages, for Brenda to paint, some good snorkeling, some great views of the volcanic scenery and the local flora and fauna. We are especially planning to see the Komodo Dragons on Komodo and Rinca. These carniverous monitor lizards are the largest in the world, growing to 3 meters. They will hunt and attack anything including humans and buffalo. Their bite is so toxic that any wound would probably result in death.
"H" arrives first with a load of dive gear so that we can give Tony and Brenda a dive on their first day. I have organised the diving especially as our guests have only done a basic resort course and they want some one to one instruction to give them more confidence. As soon as the gear is stowed Tony and Brenda arrive, we raise the anchor and are away by 10am for a 3 hour sail across to a small island called Nusa Penida and a beautifully secluded bay with absolutely magnificent coral and fish. It is of course just another beautiful day in paradise as we cruise out from Benoa harbour. Bali's volcano makes a splendid back drop as we cruise North East in a gentle force 3 breeze. We are pleased to see that our destination is nice and calm with just a gentle swell. "H", who runs Global Aquatic Adventure Tours, briefs the divers and takes them down one at a time guiding them along the reef and back again. Then it's our turn and we swim along a gully and under over hanging rock. We surface inside a cave and look up. Bats are hanging from the domed roof and the whole cave is lit in an eerie way by beams of light shining down from fissure in the rocks. Afterwards we fin slowly along the reef and see a kaleidoscope of colourful corals and a profusion of fish, some of which I have not seen before. We find a lobster and a stone fish, a moray eel and huge puffer fish. Once the diving is over we relax on deck until i'ts time to dine under a canopy of stars in the cockpit. The next morning we are up early and drop "H" in Lembongan so that he can get back to the main land and we continue North towards the Gillie Islands off Lombok.
Our plan is to sail as much as we can in the first few days and then cruise back taking our time to find those idyllic anchorages. Another beautiful day as we sail North, the Volcanoes of Bali close to Port and Lombok looking misty and mysterious off to Starboard. We pass a large school of dolphin basking in the sun and five duck and dive beneath our bow wave. Later we spot a flock of birds diving into a shoal of sardine that are thrashing the surface into a boiling froth and not far away are a fleet of sampams with their brightly coloured triangular sails filled and they fly across the water outriggers lifting then dipping into the waves. As the sun sets we are sailing well at 7 knots but as the sun meets its fiery death it also kills our wind. Not a bad thing for our first night out at sea and we motor on keeping watch under a clear star lit sky and the last meniscus of this moon. It has taken us two days to cover the 310 miles to Komodo and we passed Lombok and Sumbawa and a host of smaller islands with their jurassic volcanic scenery rising steeply from the oceans. The wind has been fairly light but given us some good sailing and we made good time averaging around 6 knots.
Our first anchorage is on the NE corner of Komodo in a deep and sheltered fjiord. The water is a little cloudy but we spend the afternoon snorkeling over an array of brightly coloured coral. The hills around the bay are a verdant green, dotted with trees and copses fill out the valleys. As the afternoon draws on, deer hop down onto the beach and amble along the waters edge. A dip in the cool water before we set off sailing south spotting turtles, manta ray jumping and a school of dolphin who give us a spectacular display of high jumps and barrel rolls. As we arrive and anchor off Komodo Village it starts to rain and cools us down. Almost as the anchor touches the bottom we are surrounded by dug out canoes full of boys trying to sell us carved dragons, masks, and pearls. I do my best to keep them off the boat but it becomes almost as bad as a sharks feeding frenzy. Once we show the slightest interest in anything the bargaining begins and the vendors jostle for position sometimes kicking and punching each other out of the way. Brenda and Tony buy some nice carvings and we manage to repel the invasion. After lunch we go ashore for an afternoon stroll around the village. Its houses are built on stilts in lines along three streets. It seems quite primative and there are no obvious signs of electricity or tap water. Many of the women are carrying jugs of water on their heads and walking from another small village just across a river bed. Everything appears to be very traditional and the people are obviously muslim but the most incongruous sign of "civilisation" are four satelite dishes dotted around town. As we go we exchange greetings in Indonesian with many of the villagers and have longer conversations with a few people who can speak English. Inevitably we meet some carvers and examine some of their crafts and it isn't long before the word spreads and the boys appear again for another fully pitched bargaining battle. Brenda is pleased to do a deal for a nice string of pearls and then we beat a retreat back to the boat, a well earned drink, avocado salad and Greek style kebabs for dinner.
I have always wanted to get to the place on the chart that bears the legend "Here be Dragons". Today is the day and we are up early to motor around the headland and anchor just off Loh Liang, the rangers station for Komodo National Park. On shore we almost trip over a deer hiding in the long grass and pass a large Komodo Dragon before we even get to pay for our tickets and meet our guide Aggi. We walk out through the forest spotting orchids, crows, yellow crested cockatoos, green imperial pigeon, as well as a green tree viper. We see several Dragons although these look pretty lethargic but maybe thats because it is overcast and fairly cool. Our long walk has earnt us a cool swim so we motor a short distance out to Pink Beach, so named because the local red coral has turned it a delicate shade of pink. We lunch on Balanese style spicy satayed chicken and salad before going ashore to stroll the beach and snorkel along the reef. A couple of Sea Eagles circle overhead and occasionally swoop down to pluck a fish from the sea.
The Island of Rinca is our next stop and we pick up a nice breeze as we leave Pink Beach, round the small islands and plow into the overfalls that rush between the two islands. A pleasant sail takes us around the Northern tip of the Island then south into a deep bay where we explore the remains of an old pearl farm. There are plenty of signs of life around including a couple of dragons, some deer and a number of fruit bats inside the old buildings. We complete the day by anchoring just off the ranger station at Loh Buaya and make a quick reccie ashore to arrange the following days expedition. As we walk the path we disturb two dragons who are basking in the sun but fortunately decide to lumber away as we approach. Then as we cross some salt flats with the ranger station in sight, a buffallo comes stumbling through the brush directly towards us - we freeze - after all these are supposed to be one of the most dangerous animals (aren't they?). Fortunately it seems more intent on blundering into a shallow mud pool and rolling in the mud, than it did on charging us, so we continued on our way. Well we found the station, a group of huts huddled together and as we marched up we almost walked staright into three dragons who were hidden by the shade of a tree but were intent on fighting each other and stood rearing, glaring and hissing at each other. We were glad to arrange our trip for early the next morning and wend our way back to safety aboard Meniscus. Our walk the next day is fairly unaventful by comparison although it's very pleasant taking us through forest and up a hill to give us a great vantage point across the valley befow, as well as our anchorage. We see more dragons some of which are hiding out in the savannah grass waiting for unsuspecting prey to appear. We also see wild boar, the nests of the orange footed megapods and a large group of monkeys eating the fruit from the cactus plants and hiding amongst the trees. We say good bye to the guide and head back along the path to boat. As we reach the landing stage there seems to be much excitement, a group of local boat boys are leaning out of the open sided hut, shouting and waving their arms. As we get closer we can see that they are all but under seige and a large dragon is warily pacing around the entrance. They wave to us to stay back. Then one takes a fishing line with a fish hooked to it and threws it into a tree where it hungs with the fish about 3 or 4 feet from the ground. The dragon is attracted and stands rearing beneath the fish snapping at it while the boy keeps jerking it out of reach. This give us our chance to nip through the shelter onto the jetty and quickly into our waiting dinghy. This dragon is pretty animated and keeps snapping at the dancing tree fish until he eventually gets it. Then he's back to the old game of chase the locals, charging at them, sending them yelling down the jetty, several jumped onto their boats and others seem almost as eager to jump in the water. He eventually gives up and goes off to look for something more tasty to eat - after all he knows that Indonesians only taste like chicken! Never let it be said that we don't find a bit of excitement on our travels!
It has been over a week since we started and supplies are lasting well but Labuan Bajo is nearby and it will probably be the only place where we can stock up with fresh vegatables before we get back to Lombok so we head there taking most of the morning to get to the group of small islands just offshore. We anchor there for lunch and a swim before finally anchoring just opposite the harbour. We are just in time to take a short walk up the hillside to visit Ingrid and Judith and Golo Hotel where we can take in the magnificent view and watch the sun set over Komodo in the distance. A couple of beers are just what we need before walking back down the hillside amongst a cloud of fireflies lighting our path to Meniscus and our dinner of avocado salad followed by some juicy rare steaks and a bottle of Merlot. The next morning we make it ashore nice and early and Tony and Brenda set off to find the post office while I jump in a bemo (bus) and head for the local market to see what I can buy. I am soon laden with avocados, papaya, beans, squash, oranges, bananas and aubergines and I head back to town and my next chore which is to get onto email. Email is still very hard work in this part of the world and after nearly two hours of trying I give up and go and collect the crew and we set off again for NE Komodo and our first anchorage on Komodo. This beautiful spot is so tranquil and quiet that it made an excellent place to hole up and take a well deserved day of relaxation catching up on reading, a bit of painting, soaking up some rays and swimming in the cool water before setting off on the slow return leg.
First port of call - Banta Island which is a very peaceful uninhabited island. It is just a three hour sail and we arrive there in time for a quick dip before lunch. Then we take the dinghy and motor out to a small island at the head of the bay and go scavenging for shells on the beach. Into the water, towing the dinghy, to drift back on the current over a superb array of turrets, towers, columns, huge tables and every conceivable shape of coral imaginable. It is about as good as it gets and we spend over an hour in the water before the current eventually delivers us back to Meniscus. As we wanted to get back to Sumbawa and Lombok to explore some of their offshore islands we set off for another overnight sail. The wind was a perfect force four and we set off on a beam reach making a steady 6 knots. for most of the day. Dolphins came and swam with us as we approached Sumbawa. We tried our hand at fishing and caught a Baracuda which made us a tasty lunch. During the night the wind proved a little more fickle and we alternately sailed and motored through the night until we reached Pulau Medang for lunch. We anchored on the North side in a quiet secluded bay and enjoyed some more snorkelling.
Our next stop is Labu Badje a small fishing village on the NW coast of Sumbawa and we anchor there late in the afternoon. No sooner than the anchor is down than we are surrounded by a fleet of canoes. Our visitors are mainly boys who are curious and want to practice their English, one telling Brenda "I love you!". This seems like a good spot to go ashore and forage for some more fruit and veg so I leave Tony and Brenda who are content to read and paint and dinghy ashore. I obviously creat something of a sensation here as a crowd soon gathers around me all smiling and greeting me. As I set off in search of a market I was followed like the Pied Piper. The children running around me calling "Hello Mister" and dissolving into shrieks of laughter every time I answered back. The whole gang are laughing and jabbering away and even start cheering as we walk along. Well there is very little in the village but I soon find a motor cyclist willing to take me to the next town. So I jump on the back and off we go through rice fields full of coolies to find the market. We crossed a big suspension bridge and arrived in a town. The market is quite large but the fruit and veg is rather limited although I manag to buy a pineapple, some beans and a cabbage which will stretch out our supplies a little and vary our diet.
Back onboard we sail for Pulau Saringi. Anchoring for lunch behind the reef opposite a small sandy beach we go ashore and find the beach covered in shells of all types and sizes. Another sail in the afternoon takes us to Pulau Namo and we hook into a sandy spit on the NE side. We explore the beach again and meet a local fisherman called Andy cooking small fish on an open fire. He later visits us and we give him some rice.
The morning is very clear and bright and we can clearly see the volcano on Lombok even though it looks misty and mysterious. The view proves irretsistable to Brenda who is up just after dawn painting away. A fisherman happens along and he sails up, hitches his boat to our rail, hops aboard, says hello, sits down and watches Brenda paint. After half an hour or so he hops up, gives her the thumbs up, a big smile and off he goes. Very strange? I can't help wondering what would happen if we marched into his house and sat down?
Its another glorious day and we take a short sail across Selat Alas, the straits between Sumbawa and Lombok and head for the Rotsige Islands. We set the anchor in the sandy bottom just yards off the coral sand beach of a tiny atol not much bigger than 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, The water is crystal clear and it is perfect to swim and cool off in the turquoise waters. We also take the dingy out along the fringing reef and do another superb drift dive back to Meniscus - actually we enjoy it so much we just have to go and do it again. All this island needs is a palm tree or two and we would have become latter day Robinson Cruisoe's for sure. Unfortunately our anchor dragged later on so we moved to a more sheltered Island close by and found a little fishing village tucked into the side of another of these small islands. It was a picture that had to be painted and it wasn't long before the thatched huts nestling under the trees and the rows of brightly coloured outrigger canoes were captured for posterity. A perfect day ends dining on deep fried Brie with rasberry conserve and Spaghetti Carbonara, washed down with a chilled Sauvignon while we watch the sun go down over Lombok.
Our next stops are the two Islands, Gillie Sulat and Gillie Lawang and we spend the day cruising along and stopping for exploratory snorkels. Unfortunately the reef has been blasted and most of it is dead. Whilst we are swimming there is a loud bang and we see a plume of water close to a fishing boat three hundred yards away. This practice is banned in most places now but obviously not here and it is very sad to see the devastation to the reefs around. As we sit in the cockpit doing the usual sun set ceremony clutching our cool drinks we are overflown by hundreds of fruit bats obviously all heading on for their noctural activities on the mainland of Lombok. Somehow I am reminded of commuters, all in their dark suits, rushing along the platform at Waterloo to catch the 8.42 to Bank.
We make an early start for a long day sail back to Gillie Air. The fishing lines go in early and it doesn't take long before we have a good sized Bluefin Tuna trying to catch us up, so to save it the effort we haul it onboard. Mmmmmmmmm nice lunch, poached, served with mustard sauce and salad - you can't get fresher than that. We arrive at Gillie Air in good time and are able to get ashore for a cool beer and a walk before sun down and dinner. Yes it was Tuna! Seared in black butter sauce with garlic and a twist of lemon.
Our next day is pretty much taken up with communication with the outside world after so long away from "civilisation". We also make an exceptionally concerted effort at relaxation but we did take the dinghy out snorkelling on the reef later. We move a couple of miles to Gillie Trewangan and anchor there and take the dinghy out for a drift dive along the shore of Gillie Meno and swim along with some turtles and some very large surgeon fish - pop back for lunch and then dive the southern reef of Trewangan seeing another turtle and a number of large fish. Returning to the boat we prepare for a night on the town and head ashore for a ride round the island in a pony and trap which is a traditional form of transport here. It proved much more exciting than I expected as the pony kept stopping and refusing to budge until its owner gave it a few flicks with the crop and then it went carreering off at full gallop for a while and making sure that the wheels went over every boulder on the path. I get the feeling that it would be much nicer to walk and let the pony get home to its dinner.
Off we go on the homeward leg to Nusa Penida and a nice breeze springs up early morning and we soon arrive back in Crystal Bay enjoy a cooling swim. A trip ashore to explore reveals a Temple beside a coconut plantation and canal flowing down to the beach with a resevoir. The hillside is terraced and cropped with casava, bananas and coffee amongst other things. The final leg back to Benoa proves a little more lively than we expected as a fairly big swell had built up and but we got back to the harbour in record time and were soon in the Marina, waving goodbye to Tony and Brenda..
What did Tony and Brenda think to the trip?
"It was the best trip we have ever done! Roll on next year when we see you in Thailand!"