Vanutau, Austarlia, Darwin, Timor, Indonesia, Alors, Flores. Komodo, Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali
Vanuatu to Bali - November to January 2002
This is an exceptionally nice area with great cultural interest, very friendly people, superb diving and wonderful scenery. You could describe it as a place of extremes from highly westernised tourist areas, to ancient civilisations, primitive villages and wilderness, while the mountains, volcanos, forests and rice fields create a stunning backdrop. There is plenty of wildlife to see above and below the water from monkeys, buffalo, deer and komodo dragons the famous 3 meter monitor lizards.to dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays and turtles . The main islands to visit are quite close by and include Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Rinca and Flores and Java. I intend to charter here from March throught to September and the move on to Thailand for their dry season and I may well return here again next year.
I have now completed my voyage from Vanuatu to Bali and had a very enjoyable 4000 mile sail. We left Vanuatu at the end of October and enjoyed some superb trade wind sailing on the way to Gove and Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia. There was very little wind on the passage from Darwin to Timor. Most of the time the sea was almost mirror calm with a slight oily swell which was hardly enough to rock the boat. In the mornings the sky was quite clear with small puffy white cumulus clouds and plenty of blue sky. As the days progressed thunder storms developed with huge towering white anvil cumulus underlined by dark rain clouds and a skirt of rain. Most of these storms did not produce much wind and lasted just an hour or two. The storms didn't seem to travel in any logical direction and certainly did not seem to be driven by any gradient wind so their direction must have been dictated by an upper wind level. They moved relatively slowly and I watched for hours as they approached, keeping a close eye on the sea conditions as the got nearer to see how the waves developed and this would give me an indication of their strength and the direction of its wind. The storms provided the only opportunity to sail so it was with some care that I tried to position the boat to catch some wind and set sail in order to get a bit of a ride on their backs. When I was lucky I got a few hours of sailing at up to six knots in the right direction in a relatively flat sea - when not the wind was on the nose and the sea, a short sloppy chop thrown up by the down drafts which just reduce sped to 2 or 3 knots. Sailing along the North coast of Timor was slow and tedious as the wind had turned westerly, right on the nose and the adverse current was also throwing up an uncomfortable chop which sometimes reduced my speed over the ground to as little as 2 knots. It is also a fairly busy shipping channel so I had to maintain a good watch and sail a reasonable distance offshore. It took five days to cover the 450miles from Darwin across the Timor Sea, round the North Eastern end of Timor and get to Dili, the capital of East Timor. It was a very slow trip with virtually no wind and I had motored almost continually using about 60 gallons of diesel. Still I never complain when the conditions are light - its far better than the other way round!
Dili in East Timor had some internal problems some time ago and the town still bore plenty of evidence of the violence with burnt out buildings standing close to the water front and in many other areas. The UN were very conspicuous and there were hundreds of serious looking white color workers and troops walking and driving around. The locals were very friendly and relaxed, and although obviously poor mainly happy. This was in stark contrast to the UN who seemed to be very aloof and unsmiling even though they were reported to be getting $100 US a day expenses over and above their salaries. The harbour was reasonably protected so I spent nearly a week catching up on sleep and getting more charts and information about where to go next. There were several yachts safely anchored and some of the crews were working in town. Sailing West into the afternoon 20 to 25 knots breeze was fairly hard going so I elected to turn North and head up the Eastern side of Alor and see if it would be calmer on the Northern side of the Islands. This channel was obviously one of the main shipping routes and several ships passed quite close requiring me to keep a very good watch. I only managed to get a few snatches of sleep here and there.
By midday the following day I reached the NW tip of Alor and pulled into a large bay and started reef dodging to try and find a suitable anchorage. There were also numerous bamboo boat like craft anchored out in deep water that must be some kind of fish trap. Eventually I managed to nudge in close enough to get the hook down in about 6 meters on the edge of a reef. No sooner done than the wind got up and started blowing hard down the bay. It wasn't long before the anchor had dragged off the reef into deeper water. I had every good intention of going ashore for a look around but decided to have a snooze first and then could not wake up enough to get up again - besides I reasoned I should stay aboard with all this wind blowing. A man came out in his outrigger sailing canoe to inspect us and brought several young children with him. The triangular sail was very simple made from a plastic woven material but cleverly rigged to a short mast with a boom top and bottom. It certainly seemed to give him a good turn of speed although I doubt if was great to windward. I awoke at about 11 PM and decided to euphemistically check the anchor, as I came on deck all bleary eyed I could see the lights of a town on the eastern side of the bay. "That's funny I thought I don't remember seeing all those buildings" - then I realised that there were literally dozens of fishing boats all with their own lanterns and all spread from one end of the bay to the other.
The long sleep was a blessing and I woke fully refreshed at dawn ready for the next leg and sailed on to Pantar Island. I had spotted a very well protected bay right in the middle but as the weather seemed to have settled down with the wind and sea very calm I decided to chance an overnighter on the Northwest corner saving me about 15 miles sailing. I pulled up in the lee of a large hill and approached the shore. I don't think I found the bottom at around 160 meters until I was 200 yards from the beach. Then it rose almost like a cliff. I crept in gingerly watching the sonar until I was in about 10 meters just 100 yards from the slight surf. I dropped the anchor and dived over the side to see how it held on the bottom. The bottom was almost flat rock and the anchor just slid away over the edge of the cliff. Back on board I motored us back until the anchor caught again and then turned the bow sharply to starboard pulling the chain over to one side and dragging it across any rocky boulders lying on the bottom. The anchor was caught in the cliff and now the chain wrapped itself like a burr on a blanket around several small rocks. We held fast and now settled in 7 meters of water about 60 yards from the surf line but very close to shallow water. When I awoke again at first light the tide was out and we sat not 20 yards from the now exposed reef beside our starboard side as the outgoing tide streamed underneath at 2 knots. On our port side the water was swirling and boiling up from the much deeper water below. "That's useful" I thought as we sailed away - we were getting an extra 2 knots current sweeping us around the headland and off towards Kawula.
As I rounded the headland I could see an active volcano smoking away on Kawula and not long after another cone out to sea was letting off a huge white cloud of steam. As I sailed along the north coast of Kawula a third huge cone came into view and I was to spend the rest of the day watching it grow larger as I gradually got closer. At first I thought it was just cloud around the top but it soon became obvious that it was steam and sulphur pouring out from time to time. There were also whitish streams running down its sides which also raised clouds of stream.
Finally just before sunset I reached the bay of Sabu in Adunara and coasted into anchor besides a fleet of local fishing vessels just in time to watch the sun turn the sky and sea all the pastel colours of pink meouve and turquoise. The Mullahs started calling everyone to prayer casting a mesmerising spell with their chants and the town itself seemed to huddle down deeper into its valley as clouds of smoke from the cooking fires drifted lazily in a haze above it. Several local boats came to visit me, mostly just to gaze at us (Meniscus and I) as though I was an alien and Meniscus my UFO. One man stood in his canoe looking at the boat and kept tapping the fibre glass hull and rubbing the strange material. One fellow, called Ismail, could speak English and immediately wanted to be my guide/procurer to get food and Solar (diesel) in the morning. I declined the offer and decide to fend for myself. Early in the morning I went ashore to explore the village. The buildings were are in orderly lines and constructed from woven bamboo and palm leaves. Some of the houses near the sea front were on stilts and some had a fairly solid fence around presumably to keep out the sea or spray. Its primary income was obviously derived from fishing and there were long lines of fine mesh netting laid out with Whitebait type fish being dried in the sun. As I strolled along many people called out "Hello Mr" or merely waved. A mosque was standing at the far end of the village and the Mullah called me over and engaged me in a friendly conversation. He spoke excellent English but also addressed some others seated close by in Indonesian and was obviously making some joke at my expense anyway no doubt it proved how stupid westerners were and kept everyone entertained for a while. I found the market and had a look around at the selection of fruit and vegetables and fresh and dried fish. There were a few stores which stocked the basics like rice and flour and a couple which also had solar (diesel) so enquired the price by getting the old man to write it down and found that it was a little dear at 1250 rupiah or 12.5 cents US a litre instead of the usual 10 cents. Oh well I was getting quite low to hell with the expense!! I went and collected my containers and was able to motor almost to the shop door in my dinghy. This caused and instant distraction as numerous people came to inspect the inflatable dinghy. The shop keeper full of smiles proceeded to fill my drums using a metal jug or measure. He was quite adept at tilting it and covering the top with his arm so that you could not see whether it was full or not. By the time he had half filled my second drum I could see that the measures were definitely starting to get light so I said, with a smile, in English. "I'd say that those measures are getting just a tad light mate!" and surprisingly he immediately put the jug back in the diesel and filled it up - fantastic how everyone can speak English - what? When all my drums were topped up we got to the total so I got him to write it down again - 80,000 rupiah. "Uh ha!" said I and then wrote down 1250 x 60 = 75,000. He banged his forehead with the flat of his hand and looked up to heaven. I'll never know the direct translation of what he said but it must have been something like "Bugger I thought I had him". Even so 5000 is only 50 cents and the whole bill for 15 imperial gallons $7.50 about £5.
The next island was Flores and I sailed between a few interesting looking island and the mainland before arriving at a resort called Sea World close to Maumere. Run by Pastor Bollan it proved to be a safe friendly and hospitable stop. I took a walk along the road to the next village with its market for a look round. The market was quite quiet but still had all sorts of fruit and vegetables for sale. Many of the women were chewing beetle nut and had bright red lips and gums. I was walking back and someone stopped on a motor bike, introduced himself as Leonard, asked if I was going to Sea world and offered me a lift on the back of his motorbike. The lane was quite narrow and the motor bikes and bemos (small mini buses) weaved around each other to get passed each other. The following day I set off for Maumere to try and send some email and jumped on one of the local bemos which stopped outside the market and did not leave again until it was full. This time the market was throbbing with activity and there were even pigs and chickens for sale as well as mountains of fruit and veg. People piled into the bemo with all their purchases. One man had half a dozen chicken hanging from a piece of string around their feet and deposited them under a seat. As I watched another Bemo loaded up to go in the other direction, it soon filled up inside and the half a dozen bags of rice were slung on the roof followed by 12 people who then perched on the bags of rice while another 4 people clung to the sides. With a horns blaring the van rocked and rolled out of the market almost completely covered with people. Well I didn't have any luck with the email and was surprised that I only saw 5 tourists. When I left Maumere it was flat calm but that afternoon the wind picked up and I was soon motoring into a very sloppy sea. I spent a difficult night trying to catch snatches of sleep but getting nowhere as I dodged between rain squalls.
The next day I decided to pull into Riung in order to get some shelter and let the conditions improve. The light conditions were not good and it took me some time to maneuver between the reefs and around a small island to anchor amongst some local prowes near a jetty. I decided to take a look around and see if I could get more diesel. There where a number of bamboo houses on stilts built out over the water and this area seemed to be a very original fishing village. I enquired at a small kiosk about the diesel and found that it was an extortionate 1500 rupiah per litre or 15 cents - as it was not very close to the water I decided to give it a miss. In stark contrast to the fishing village I was soon on a tarmac road and walking between more modern buildings some of which even had windows. Some of the buildings were obviously government offices. The place seemed to be shutting up and there weren't many people about and those that were did not appear to be interested in me that much. I made a brief stop at Reo because the weather remained poor before getting round to the western end of Flores to a little port called Labuanbajo.
For the first time since leaving Dili I found signs of the outside world with a number of small hotels and plenty of diving and boat trips around the local Islands. It was a pretty spot and I spent a few days in a sheltered anchorage reorganising myself and having more attempts to contact the outside world but I still could not make the local phones connect me to the Internet. I would have loved to spend more time here but I decided to push on as I could not make contact with anyone. I sailed down to an island call Rinca, then to Komodo and then to Banta. The scenery was beautiful, lovely beaches and clear water, and I saw several turtles, dolphins and manta rays jumping. The islands would have made a perfect place to stop a few days. I had hoped to see the famous Komodo dragons but I had some bad advice and could not find the right place to find them.
My next stop was Moyo Island just north of Sumbawa and I stopped at the Amanwana resort which is one of the most exclusive and secluded resorts in the world. There weren't very many guests and I was able to safely moor Meniscus close by and go ashore for dinner on Christmas Day which was very civilised and made a great treat after spending so long in out of the way places. It was a superb setting and we sat at tables laid up along the beach and lit by the moon, the stars and dozens of candles and dined on barbecued steak and giant prawns. The following day I took a walk into the forest and was picked up by some of staff who were off to the rubbish dump in an old world war 2 jeep. Rubbish dumps aren't normally that interesting but this one was being foraged by a 2 meter monitor lizard which unfortunately scuttled away pretty quickly. I walked back along the sea shore and found a nice bit of beach near a head land and decided to take a snorkel. There wasn't a huge amount of coral but I found a nice cliff face and was hanging in the crystal clear water which seemingly dropped off into infinity and watched some good sized reef fish teeming below. There was a fantastic assortment and pretty large too. Then I noticed some sort of movement in the distance. The deep sea blue seemed to blur and move out in the distance. I looked again - a huge bulk seemed to move like a shadow and then it started to take form. A colossal shape, a huge blunt head tapering into the body of a shark. Its blue colour and white dappled markings perfectly matched the surrounding water and made it hard to see at first but its body and fins soon became more focused and the ridges running the length of its body became defined. It didn't appear to move at all but yet it moved with an amazing grace and speed that took it right beneath me and on into the distance again. Its motion was apparently effortless and there was no disturbance as it passed less than 5 meters below me. It was enormous and if compared to the underneath of Meniscus it appeared far larger and must have been a good 12 to 15 meters long and weighed several tons. With my heart in my mouth I slowly finned back to shore passing a 2 meter white tipped reef shark which now seemed pretty insignificant. This was a very unexpected and unforgettable surprise and I was very privileged to see this Whale Shark which is the largest fish in the sea and is quite harmless being a plankton eater - I only wish I had had the foresight to dive and catch hold of a fin and go for a ride.
I pushed on for Lombok as I was also beginning to worry that the rainy season might start and cause me more problems. I anchored at Gili Air and looked around the island meeting some of the local characters. Finally the last leg to Bali and I set off at crack of dawn to catch the current and ensure that I made it before dark. The straights between Lombok and Bali are fairly notorious and current was racing in different direction and swirling around. There were times when I had between a knot and 2 knots with me and then it changed against me. I could see white water off to my port so I headed for it and was soon enough I was amongst white breaking waves - sure enough I picked up 4 knots in the right direction. It was late afternoon by the time I approached the harbour mouth and rain squalls started to form along the land and head out towards me. I wasn't long before I was enveloped in rain clouds and had to resort to radar to keep an eye on the reef which was now close to starboard and the ship behind me as well as the ferries. The entrance to Benoa harbour is also notorious and I have heard lots of tales about it - it was unusual for me to have a packet of cigarettes on board. I opened the pack and smoked them all one after the other as I slowly crept in. Eventually I was able to make out the channel markers and weave my way into the marina, tie up alongside and then get a welcome drink.
I had a wonderful trip getting here and I am looking forward to cruising the islands so come and join in I am sure that you will have a wonderful time
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