It was time to leave Sumbawa and head to Lombok. Unfortunately we couldn’t take our time, as we needed to extend our visas (again – 30 days go by so quickly!). We needed to get to Mataram, the capital of Lombok on the west coast. Our plan was to sail along the south of Lombok and then zip around the south west corner into the calm protected waters of the southern Gilis – a group of tiny islands nestled off Lombok. From there we could get a taxi to Mataram and do the necessary admin.
The Alas Strait between Sumbawa and Lombok was quite choppy and the swells were bigger than we expected. It was impressive to see the local fishermen out in their one-man wooden boats, unperturbed as they disappeared in the trough of the swells. The stark sandy-coloured cliffs of southern Lombok came into view, and we negotiated our way through them into Ekas Bay, our first anchorage.
Ekas was filled with fish attracting devices (FADs) – floating wooden platforms that are used to attract fish and prawns. Some have little “cabins” where a generator is kept, and lights are switched on at night to really excite the prey. They are quite a sailing hazard, as they often have buoys and ropes hanging off them, but there was a distinct FAD-free channel where we could travel.
Ekas Bay has a couple of good surfing spots, but the swell was small so the boys didn’t make it into the water. We went for a short walk up to the resort on the nearby hill, took in the views, and watched a spectacular sunset.
The following day we planned to anchor in Gerupuk – the next bay along the coast, also known to have good surf. What a crazy bay to try and navigate in! If we thought Ekas was full of FADs, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Gerupuk was completely out of control! Not only was it full of FADs, but also many individual buoys and lines of floating plastic bottles holding up fishing nets. It’s a huge bay, but there was no clear channel, so we zig-zagged around the hazards, plunging deeper and deeper into the floating maze. Marco eventually called a halt to the madness – the risk of fouling our propellers on fishing line or rope became too great. We had sufficient time and decided to head for Belongas, about 25 nautical miles away.
The entrance to Belongas was pretty impressive, with a giant foreboding black rock jutting out in the middle. It’s apparently a world-class diving site, full of hammerheads and other sharks. There were many FADs in the bay, but fortunately grouped to one side, so we were able to enter and navigate around another rocky outcrop before turning to starboard into the right arm of the bay. The anchorage was huge, calm and protected – perfect!
Belongas has 2 surfing spots, one of which is a reform as the wave wraps around into the right arm of the bay. Unfortunately the swell was too small and the wave was breaking on the reef. We went for a little ride in the dinghy so the boys could “ooh” and “aah” about its excellent shape, and then headed back to the Ark for a good night’s sleep.
We were now at the south-west tip of Lombok, and needed to head north up the Lombok Strait (the passage between Bali and Lombok). This Strait is where most of the water drains from the north of the Indonesian archipelago to the south, and is known for its fierce currents. The current is generally south-setting, but can be a little unpredictable depending on the tides, phase of the moon, wind etc. Our aim was to get there at slack tide, and then hug the coastline where there is sometimes a northerly-setting current.
As we left the protected waters of Belongas, we headed into a strong southerly wind and pretty rolly seas. I was a little anxious, as strong southerly winds and biggish swells colliding with a strong southerly-setting current can produce big standing waves. Well, we were committed and there was no reason to turn back yet. The sea started churning as we entered the Strait, with white frothy peaks looming up behind us. We soon realised that the strong southerly wind and current were actually working in our favour, literally pushing us up the Strait. With our genoa out and both engines on, we surfed down the swells at around 9 knots, with 4 knots in between. This gave us an average speed of around 6 knots, which wasn’t bad going, given the 4-5 knot current we were heading straight into. As we neared Desert Point, the wind and swells reduced, and thus our speed, but we made it to the nearby anchorage at Bangko-Bangko with a couple hours of light left. We anchored in deep water, finally out of the relentless current.
Desert Point needs no introduction for surfers. It’s rated as one of the top waves in the world – when it’s working. Marco and Noah headed off in the dinghy the next morning to check it out. The waves were big and gnarly, so Noah stayed in the dinghy while Marco caught some smokers. I think Noah had his own adrenaline rush though – he said he was worried that big sets would break on him, or that the anchor wouldn’t hold and he’d get dragged into the breaking waves. They both came back exhilarated!
One more leg before we could rest – Bangko-Bangko to Gili Gede. This was an easy sail, in the mostly current-free, calm protected waters between the Gilis (meaning “islands”). Our destination was next to “Marina Del Ray”, not really a marina but rather a number of swing-moorings set up at the southern end of Gili Gede. There were 10-15 western boats moored there, and we were hopeful that this might be a safe place to leave the boat for a couple of months during the rainy season. Little did we know what “adventures” we would encounter in this place! For now we could drop anchor and get our visas sorted.