It was time to head for the smoking volcano! We left Gili Banta, our last island in the Komodos, heading for Wera, our first anchorage in Sumbawa. This route took us right passed Sangeang Api, one of the most active volcanos in the Flores Sea. We were quite excited!
Sangeang Api is actually defined as a “complex volcano”, and we could make out two peaks, one of which had smoke wafting out, the remnants of a recent eruption (July/August 2017!). It’s situated on Sangeang island just off Sumbawa, and the volcano pretty much makes up the whole island. The peaks are just under 2km high, and are covered in cloud most of the time. Fortunately for us, the clouds parted at times, and we were able to catch glimpses of the smaller crater. The land looks so fertile and green, as it would when it’s periodically drenched in lava, and there is a small village on the one side of the island. The currents around the island were pretty strong, and the water was bubbling like a cauldron all around us, but we were able to sail quite close and admire this wonder of nature.
It was then a short sail to Wera, which is apparently known for its wooden boat-building. We spotted a couple of half-built boats along the shore from the anchorage, and decided to dinghy ashore to check them out. The first thing we noticed was the beach sand – pitch black and almost metallic and shiny, undoubtedly a result of the neighbouring volcano. Really unusual for us, who are used to white or beige beach sand. We were immediately surrounded by friendly, chatty children, many in headscarves. Sumbawa is quite a conservative, Muslim island, and we noticed many more women in headscarves and men wearing a “fez”.
The kids were keen to show us the boat (which doubled up as their jungle-gym). Marco and Josh went off to see if they could find a “snack” for us, whilst Noah and I hung around at the dinghy. Some older teenage girls joined us too, and couldn’t stop remarking about how “ganteng” (handsome) Noah is. As usual, they asked if they could take selfies with him, and he was obliging as always. I couldn’t believe how they draped themselves over him, almost kissing his cheeks and striking various seductive poses – particularly one girl in strict Muslim attire. I wonder whether her father would approve! Anyway, Noah didn’t approve, and after putting up with it for a little while he squirmed out of their clutches and ran the meet Marco and Josh, who had finally come back with some food. Josh had apparently endured a similar ordeal at the warung – he was encouraged to kiss the baby during the photo-sessions there!
We suddenly heard a loud “boom” and everyone looked alarmed. I thought it was the volcano, but was reassured by one relieved lady that they were just bombing for fish. We couldn’t believe it – you hear about this happening, but to be there at the time was horrible – especially after seeing the destroyed reefs in Gili Banta. The whole village pretty much waded out to collect their share of the stunned fish, like it was the most normal thing in the world. There probably wasn’t a reef where they bombed – but it still seemed wrong. Later that evening a friendly old man brought us 3 little fish as a gift. They were baby tuna, probably 15-20cm long. We’ve seen so many of these juvenile fish being caught – and it doesn’t bode well for the future fish stocks.
We woke up at sunrise the next morning, greeted by a clear view of Sangeang Api with the trail of smoke from the now visible, bigger crater. We had a big sail ahead of us, 60 miles west along the north coast of Sumbawa to the village of Kananga. There seemed to be a strong current against us at times, and although the wind was good, we ended up having to motor-sail the whole way to make it before sunset. The north coast of Sumbawa is very green and mountainous – the most fertile island we’ve seen so far. We could see a massive cloudbank over Mount Tambora, responsible for the biggest volcanic eruption on record (greater than the more well-known Krakatoa). It erupted in 1815, and the top third of the mountain actually blew off in the explosion. Rock and lava shot 40km up into the sky, and the ash cloud affected skies worldwide for a year. In Europe, 1816 was known as “the year without summer” due to the constantly obscured sun, and William Turner captured some of these effects in his paintings.
We anchored in front of the gorgeous Kananga village, with its colourful houses, huge verdant trees lining the beach, healthy vegetable gardens, and with the now visible flat-topped Mount Tambora as a backdrop. There seemed to be a celebration of sorts on the beach, and we later heard that a nearby village was visiting.
Just across from Kananga is a little island called Satonda, which is actually the remnant of an extinct volcano. It’s basically a ring of land, with a lake in the middle where the crater was. We’d heard it was a great place for a hike and swim, so we set off in our dinghy the next morning. It’s actually a National Park now, and a ranger greeted us and requested the visitor’s fee ($10 each). It seemed a little crazy to pay to explore this completely deserted island – but then again, I didn’t mind supporting any efforts towards conservation. Quite an effort had actually been made – a little jetty provided to tie up the dinghy (high tide only – unlucky for us!), rubbish bins provided in various places, footpaths cleared and well marked, a small warung set up, and very little litter on the beach.
We headed for the crater first. It’s now a huge salt-water lake, with a higher salt content than the sea, about 80cm above sea level. It’s so tranquil – you can lie back and float, listening to the sound of birds and insects, with lush trees and vegetation all around. We then followed the steep path up the one side of the crater, to some beautiful viewpoints looking down into the lake. The path then wound its way down the hill to the beach. We stopped when we heard lots of screeching and squealing coming from the trees – and noticed thousands of huge fruit bats all hanging upside down, fanning themselves with their black umbrella-like wings. I’ve never seen so many bats in one place before – the trees were black with them! We ended up on the beach, and walked back around the island to where our dinghy was. It was a really enjoyable morning, and so good to get some exercise again (especially for the non-surfer)!
Our next stop was at Moyo Island, which is known for its diving and snorkelling. We arrived just after sunset and anchored using one engine, as the port engine wouldn’t start. Marco fiddled around with it a bit, and got it going again – he thought that no fuel had been getting through. We anchored in the huge bay next to a large boat called “Seawolf”. It looked like some sort of surveillance or exploratory vessel, but after Googling I discovered it’s been converted to a massive luxury superyacht (with it’s own catamaran on board).
The next morning we headed further west to a place called Potopaddu, a tiny little estuarine inlet in the middle of nowhere. Our Cruising Guide warned us that the entrance appeared narrow – and it certainly did! Marco wasn’t actually sure he wanted to attempt it at first. As we got nearer we could see a channel in. It was 10m deep, but reduced to a width of about 35m in places. It was here that we came across fishermen in their wooden canoes, fishing nets, lines and buoys completely blocking the entrance. Fortunately there was no wind, so we could wait while the fishermen moved the nets, and could then motor the last stretch into a calm protected little estuary. What a wonderfully peaceful anchorage!
All the fishermen paddled over to our boat – some of them mainly to ask for things like cigarettes, medicine, Coke, Bintang (beer) and stationery. It’s the first place in Indo where we’ve been asked for things. I had bought some extra stationery for this purpose, and we were happy to help out with some antiseptic powder – but sorry, no cigarettes or Bintang. It was also the first place that we had to close the mozzie nets on our hatches at sunset.
We left the next morning and could finally turn the corner and head down the west coast of Sumbawa into the Alas Strait. There are a couple of epic (although fickle) surf spots in the south-western part of Sumbawa, and we were headed that way. We encountered strong currents in the Strait as the tide went out. The water was churning and bubbling around us, and we only managed to make 3 knots with full sails and both engines on. The current reduced as we headed into the huge bay near the wave known as “Northern Rights”, and we anchored amongst a myriad of waves.
Northern Rights is in an isolated deserted bay, with only a couple of guys combing the reef and a sprinkling of farmlands ashore. There were a lot of trucks coming and going though – and we later found out that they’re busy building a road to link the 3 main surf spots in the area. The boys hopped into the water for a late afternoon surf, joined by 2 Norwegians who’d driven across from Bali.
We spent 2 days at Northern Rights, enjoying some down-time after sailing every day for about a week. Marco and I went for a lovely long walk on the pristine beach, and climbed the foothill which offered beautiful views of the bay. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me, so couldn’t take any photos.
Our next stop was Scar Reef, quite a legendary wave when the swell pulls in. Although the prevailing winds were supposed to be south-east, we encountered a really strong south-westerly, pretty much head on. We figured that this could be a funnelling effect as the wind blows between the mountainous Sumbawa and Lombok. It was quite unpleasant sailing, and the waves were quite choppy. Marco wasn’t sure the anchorage at Scar Reef would be safe, so we pulled into Labuan Lalar, a wide protected bay en route.
We had intended to give Labuan Lalar a wide berth. Why, you ask? They are apparently big into dried fish, and the beachfront is full of fish laid out on wooden platforms, drying in the sun. This attracts … flies! Our Cruising Guide specifically mentioned the flies, and being a passionately fly-hating family, we were put off. Regardless, the weather had other ideas and we were forced to seek shelter in the fly-pit.
As we entered the bay I was standing on the bow, and remarked on how beautiful it was – the village looked quaint, set against green lush hills, and the bay was calm and clear. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all! Well, that was until we walked inside the saloon – somehow the flies had found us while still kilometres offshore, and were infiltrating our boat. We quickly closed all the mozzie (fly) nets and hoped for the best. It didn’t stop hundreds landing on the outside of the boat, but at least we had a finite number inside to deal with.
Dealing with them was another story though – we had no fly-swatter, and dishcloths had a really low kill-rate. After going slowly insane for a couple hours, we decided to rather face the weather and continue to Scar Reef. Fortunately the wind had died down, and the anchorage was useable, if a little rolly.
I had hoped that the sail would have swept the flies off of our boat. No such luck – they basically camped out on/in the boat for days, just moving from cabin to cabin as we chased them around. I’d walk into the galley and see 10 flies lift off from the dishes, or we’d have them crawling on our legs in the saloon while trying to do school. What a complete nightmare! It made me completely mad. I can maybe endure them outside, but in my “home” is another story! We spent about 3 hours non-stop trying to get rid of them, and eventually constructed the “black hand of death” using a spatula and a rubber surf-glove. That seemed to do the trick, and we were slowly able to kill the horrid stowaways (over the next few days).
Scar Reef is in a really beautiful bay, with a couple of resorts along the shore due to the popularity of the wave. We ate a delicious meal (“Ayam Taliwang” – chicken with a peanut/coconut/chilli sambal sauce), washed down with a couple beers at Myamo Lodge, in their laid-back beach-villa atmosphere. I felt we really deserved it after the fly-ordeal! We also organised to be taken to the nearby village (Jereweh) to stock up on provisions, as we’d run pretty low. I’d been forced to be pretty creative – our last meal was a stew/curry made with soup mix and cabbage (gross). Marco and the boys had a couple of surfs at Scar Reef, but the swell was small and it wasn’t really working properly.
And so ended our travels through Sumbawa. It’s definitely one of the most dramatic landscapes we’ve seen, with soaring volcanos and lush fertile valleys. There are some beautiful anchorages – but we did not find the people to be as warm and genuine as on the previous islands we’ve visited. We felt that some of them saw us as dollar-signs and were more interested in trying to get money/things out of us than trying to connect with who we are as people. It just made the people on Rote, Sabu, Raijua and Flores seem so much more special.