Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Bali to Borneo

We did one of the most dangerous things in a S-E Asian country – we ate the bar snacks while watching rugby. Touched by a zillion germy hands. No excuse, we knew better even at the time. And so it was that we left Lovina with a mild sore throat which steadily got worse over the next few days and developed into a head cold with lots of coughing, sneezing and rheumy eyes.

We had a head wind from Lovina to Menjangan Island so we motored all the way. Robert had spent time re-aligning the engine mounts and it was much smoother and less noisy. 

We dropped anchor in the channel between Menjangan Island and the mainland with two other yachts coming in shortly after us. It was low tide and we saw monkeys foraging on the mud flats and deer on the shore. The area is part of the West Bali National Park.

The absence of small fishing boats led us to think that perhaps the no fishing zone in the national park is actually enforced here. We were not disappointed when we went snorkeling. The corals are mostly dead but there were so many different coral fish it was fabulous – we had not seen anything like this since Gili Banta (a remote island near Komodo).

Apparently it ranks 3rd on Discovery Channel’s The World’s 10 Best Places for Snorkeling – and probably the least crowded as we almost had the place to ourselves. It just goes to show that if over-fishing can be controlled in Indonesia, the fish stocks are plentiful. We suspect that this is already too late in many areas as we’ve seen fishermen with very fine nets trawling over the reefs catching very small fish.

We were invited to one of the boats for sundowners and enjoyed the company of fellow sailors in this lovely spot, even meeting an ex-South African from Witbank!

Despite our sore throats, we snorkeled again the following day, probably not a wise move but we were making the most of this opportunity. The other two boats left and we decided to linger another day – the wind howled all day and we stayed on the boat nursing our throats and coughing away. Among our arsenal of medicines onboard, we found some meds to ease the discomfort.

On our 3rd day we were lucky enough to see a family of deer swimming across the channel at low tide to reach the opposite shore. Bambi at the back lagged a bit in the strong current but made it across. Absolutely amazing in 30 to 40 metres depth.

Our next leg was a long 65 miles to Raas Island. We started off in good wind and happily moved along between 7 to 8 knots. After 3 hours the wind dropped and Robert put up the spinnaker.

After more than 11 hours we arrived at Raas. It’s a shallow muddy anchorage surrounded by rocky reef so we anchored very far from the shore. Just as well as I spotted an abundance of mosques through the binoculars. The distance muted the loudspeakers. We were approached by a couple of fishermen selling “lobsters” - more like giant mud prawns. We declined as they are not suitable for boiling, only frying and we’re not keen on cleaning them and doing a smelly fry up in the small galley.

We stayed a full day at anchor to rest and get over the worst of our colds. We binge-watched Years and Years. 

Robert fixed another puncture on the dinghy. We haven't been able to find the correct Hypalon glue and have had to resort to using epoxy resin, which works but it is difficult and messy!

Our next destination was Bawean Island about 150 miles away which meant an overnight sail. We hoped to cut the length by first overnighting at Slopeng on Madura Island. Robert had seen a reference to it on another blog by someone who had sailed along the north coast of Madura. It was an unknown anchorage but on the charts it seemed suitable if the wind was from the south. We checked the Windy app – yes, wind from the south and the next morning we set off. Except the wind was from the east and so were the swells which were building up.

By the time we reached Slopeng the swells were big and there was very little protection on the straight coastline. We crept into shore as close as we could and dropped anchor in about 4 metres. Slopeng doesn’t get many yachties and Pegasos was clearly a curiosity as some of the local boats came out for closer inspection. Their fishing boats were very different to the ones we have seen before so we were equally impressed.

We stuck it out for 3 hours rocking and rolling and being thumped by the swells. It was too wild to take the dinghy to shore. The wind didn’t appear to ease off as forecast by dear old Windy so we upped anchor and set off for the overnight sail to Bawean.

Robert took first watch as it involved dodging various fishing boats and larger barge type boats crossing the route. Further out to sea, there was very little boat traffic on my watch. The moon was only a crescent and the inky blackness did nothing for my night blindness. It wasn’t a comfortable sail as the swells were still big but at least in approximately the same direction we were sailing. It was too bouncy to make food or boil water so we had biltong and cooldrinks for supper.

We saw quite a few fishing boats and FADs on the north east corner off Bawean Island and the wind blew strong enough for us to surf down the swells at over 9 knots.

We were happy to reach our anchorage after a bouncy night – a big wide bay on the north of Bawean at Labuhan beach. It was an easy anchorage but the wind blew strongly for days.

At first we were the only rally boat, with some tugs and huge barges off the entrance of the bay waiting for the sea conditions to improve.

We watched two men fishing off the beach with a net. Their typical catch seems hardly worth the effort – very few tiny fish is all that is left in many areas.

We snorkeled on a nearby reef – great corals but the water was a bit cloudy. 

We hired a scooter and explored the area to the south and the small town of Sangkapura.

Stopped for a cool-drink ...

99% of all vehicles on the island are small motor cycles of some sort.

This is a petrol station!  Petrol gets sold one liter at a time in used plastic bottles. Note all the mangoes on the tree. Mangoes everywhere.

A few days later some of the other rally boats arrived and it was great to have company again. We hired a car with another couple and took a drive around Bawean Island – there is only one main road all the way. After some tricky very narrow winding side roads through villages we found the deer reserve – these are endemic hog deer, a highly threatened species found only on this island. Apparently there are only about 250 left so we were happy to see several fawn in the group.

The very friendly islanders are delighted to see westerners and we were often asked to be included in their photos. Andy and local girls:

In chatting to some of the older men we found that many older Bawean men had worked on cruise ships and cargo ships for MSC and Maersk and had been to ports all over the world including SA. There seems to be an active recruitment drive for Bawean seamen and so many men work elsewhere that Bawean is often referred to as the Island of Women. The people are devout Muslims and the island is totally dry – not a beer in sight. We guess that friendly teetotaler crew are an advantage on cruise ships. 

We had some pretty unusual ice creams ...

We got caught up in the "Wonderful Sail to Indonesia" yacht rally and the festivities organised to welcome them by the local tourist authority. It was all very bright and colourful with balloons and dancing girls and cheerful soldiers and the local governor and even Miss Tourism Indonesia. We were treated to a "Gala Dinner" with a great spread of giant prawns, lobsters and fish.


We left Bawean Island at first light for the southern tip of Borneo in a group of about 10 rally boats. The swells were high for about the first 12 hours and not very comfortable. Then as night fell, the seas settled and it wasn't too bad except for a tug boat that took an interest in us and came too close for comfort. We did a full 180 deg turn to move away from it but it seemed to move closer and shone a light at us. Annoying but the rest of the night was uneventful. Lots of fishing boats. The rally boats spread out over the Java Sea with the bigger, faster boats way out in front. We kept up in the middle and were glad to see these other boats on AIS. We took turns keeping watch and listening to audiobooks. The next morning the boats were strung out even further apart. We reached the wide mouth of the Kumai River and moved up the long river until we arrived at the town of Kumai. Over 32 hours later mostly motor sailing all the way. We dropped anchor next to the river bank opposite the town looking onto thick forested jungle. Hello Borneo!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Salamat Pegasos – we’re back in Indo again!

It took 4 flights to get from Cape Town to Lombok and an hour long taxi ride before we eventually got to Medana Bay with numb bums.

The staff at the marina welcomed us back warmly. A really lovely group of people.

We were delighted to see Pegasos looking much the same as when we left it on the hard stand at the marina. We got to work immediately, hosing the dust and sand off the deck and opening hatches, unpacking, putting up the cockpit tent and sails and washing dusty surfaces and cupboards. Luckily there was no mould. Robert got busy installing fuel filters and reconnecting engine bits, etc. We arranged for the hydraulic lift to lift the boat even higher to paint the dropdown keel and bits that were under the supports. A team effort!

We have had so many nerve-wracking experiences in Indonesian waters of getting fishing nets and ropes and other plastic rubbish caught in our propeller  that as an emergency backup we now have a small outboard engine hanging off  the side. We hope that we will never have to use it. 

After a few days Pegasos was ready to go back into the water.

We crossed our fingers and did a test sail out to sea and back. All went well.

We filled the water tanks, hoisted the flags and were ready to go!

Passing through the marina heavily loaded local boats carry garbage back from the tourist resorts on the Gili Islands.

An unexpected strong northerly wind started blowing with big swells and we decided to do our first short hop to the nearby Gili islands. It was a good move as we later heard a boat broke free from its mooring and a few other boats dragged on anchor at Medana Bay.

We passed a fisherman in a typical spider boat whose sail seemed to be made from advertising posters.

We’ve been to the Gilis a few times and always found a mooring buoy. This time we first went to Gili Trawangan, picked up an unmarked buoy and half hour later a glass bottom boat operator came along and insisted it was his buoy. We motored among all the buoys but didn’t see another free buoy and the wind was picking up. We moved off to Gili Air and picked up an unmarked buoy in gusts of 25 knots. Along came a dive boat and said no, and pointed out another buoy. We picked up the indicated buoy and waited half hour and along came another glass bottom boat to claim it. Sod it – we moved off and anchored instead close to the reef. This meant keeping the anchor watch on all night in case the wind direction changed.

We got up at 4.30 am and motored off in the dark following our tracks around the reef and out to the Lombok Strait, moving along the moonlight path on the sea. The Lombok Strait is notorious for strong currents and choppy waves and it was a rollier than we would have preferred but not as bad as anticipated.

We reached Ambat Bay on the east coast of Bali by mid morning. The bay is littered with FAD’s and we picked our way closer in to the town of Amed.

Amed is a small sleepy town with black volcanic beach sand and warm water.

The sea shelf rises steeply and the swells roll in to thump right on the shoreline making it tricky to get in and out on a dinghy. We anchored on the narrow shelf. It was very rolly. We braved the dinghy dump onto the beach and went ashore and found a restaurant with good food for lunch. Ricotta and spinach cannelloni - ‘tis good to be back on Bali! We swam off the boat, caught up on some sleep and went back to shore for dinner lounging on bean bags close to the water.

We were up at sunrise the next morning.

The active volcano of Mount Agung is the highest point in Bali and a dominant feature on Amed’s landscape. It was quite a sight to see the rosy sunrise lighting up the volcano.

After the strong wind on the Gilis we had no wind at all for the next leg and ended up motoring all the way to Lovina – 10 hours of motoring! As always we saw a few tiny local fishing boats out at sea.

Lovina was a welcome sight and we found it to be a pleasant laid-back town with colourful warungs and restaurants.

Lovina is famous for its dolphins which are often spotted just out of the bay and every morning little motorised outriggers take tourists out to see the dolphins.

Lovina has a mix of Hindu and Muslim inhabitants (we didn’t escape the mosque loudspeakers).

Mostly the Hindu influence is more noticeable.

On the day the Springboks played the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, we found a tiny pub showing the game with a motley collection of French, Kiwi and Brit patrons and one more South African on holiday. It’s a bit surreal watching rugby amongst Hindu statues, flower garlands and incense.

We provisioned at a nearby supermarket which was very well stocked with mostly pricey imported items – so happy to find butter and cheese again! Dairy products are very difficult to find on other islands, especially those off the tourist paths. Meat is generally not good quality and the fish is scarce – thanks to over-fishing by the locals. It’s mainly on heavily touristed Bali that meat and fish is available of decent quality. Lamb almost non existent. It’s easier for us to go a bit vegetarian out at sea – all good for my cholesterol and of course the planet...

Among the Lavina tourists were the passengers of the Star Clipper, a huge sailing cruise ship.

There were several other boats anchored nearby and most evenings we met up ashore for drinks and dinner. The best part is meeting other sailors from all over the world (ok, mostly Aussies) and making new acquaintances who we may or may not see again. Interesting people with wonderful stories and experiences add to the pleasure of our cruising adventure.