Living on a boat in Indo in the rainy season isn’t that much fun. It’s unpleasant to sail due to poor visibility, stormy conditions and frequent rainsqualls and thunderstorms. It’s also not that exciting being at anchor, as it’s difficult to get out and explore, and quite humid and stuffy on board with all the hatches closed. We were keen to leave our boat somewhere safe, and spend some time on land – possibly a combination of South Africa, Australia and Bali – and then continue our voyage once the rains had stopped.
Our little jaunt to Bali had helped us decide on a safe place to leave the boat. Although the marina in Benoa was expensive (for what you get), we felt that it was a far safer option than leaving the boat on a swing mooring – especially after all the dragging incidents! Now all we had to do was sail to Benoa and tuck Noah’s Ark in, safe and sound.
Sailing from Lombok to Bali isn’t a piece of cake though, due to the tumultuous Lombok Strait which needs to be crossed. We had already encountered the fierce currents and whirlpools in the Strait when rounding the south-western tip of Lombok, and decided that careful planning would be necessary to make the crossing relatively pleasant and doable within daylight hours. A fellow cruiser had encountered strong north-setting currents and taken 15 hours to complete the 45 mile journey!
We wanted a combination of neap tides, light winds, small swell and no thunderstorms – factors that did not align very often at this time of the year. Fortunately, one such day was predicted (with thunderstorms predicted later in the afternoon though) and we made plans to leave from Bangko-Bangko (Desert Point) early that morning. We would sail from Gili Gede to Bangko-Bangko the afternoon before, to cut an hour out of the journey. Plan A was to sail west towards Padangbai, then hug the Bali coastline down to Benoa. If progress was slow, Plan B was to anchor in Padangbai overnight (if possible) and head south the following day. Plan C was to anchor in Nusa Lembongan – an island between Bali and Lombok, not an ideal anchorage due to being exposed to the prevailing winds at this time of the year.
We left Gili Gede, our home for the past month, and wove our way through the Gilis towards the Bangko-Bangko, where we anchored for the night. The afternoon thunderclouds had built up and Bali was hidden from view. We woke up at first light and then realised that we’d neglected to consider a fifth factor … Gunung Agung! This mighty volcano in the north-east of Bali had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a few months now, but seismic activity had been reducing in recent days. We had just recently sailed past it in the ferry to and from Bali, and although it stood proud and tall above the clouds, it looked tranquil and unthreatening. The sight that greeted us now couldn’t have been more different. An ominous cloud of dense grey smoke was rising out the top, almost obscuring half the volcano, and had formed a dense bank of smoky clouds from one side of the horizon to the other. This was no little “puff of smoke” or “letting off of steam” – this was clearly a full-scale eruption!
Now we were in a quandry – should we sail on, which meant initially heading straight for the volcano, or should we turn around? Turning back would mean more waiting, possibly for weeks or months, but sailing on could be disastrous! Could there be a tsunami if there were earthquakes? Would the marina be covered in ash? I had no strong feelings and left the decision to Marco – he felt we should continue. We could always turn around if we felt conditions were becoming dangerous.
So off we sailed, or motored rather, as there was very little wind to speak of. The currents were negligible too, and we glided across the silvery glassy water in an almost surreal dream-like state. It was weird and slightly unsettling – so peaceful, but heading towards such a powerful cataclysmic force! Suddenly in the distance we spotted figures jumping out of the water – hundreds of them, breaking the silvery gleam of the water with their dark bodies. Dolphins! I’ve never seen that many dolphins together – there were literally hundreds of them, covering a huge area around us. Some of them joined us at the bow for a while, before returning to their mates. It was such a special sight, especially in Indonesia where we hadn’t seen such prolific sea-life, and I took it as a sign that our journey onwards was being guided and blessed.
Our journey was truly blessed! We hardly noticed any counter-currents, and the sea was as flat as a lake. We zoomed across in no time, and turned to head south towards Benoa, finally heading away from the continually erupting volcano. The entire trip took us about 8 hours, and was one of the smoothest crossings we’ve ever had! So much for the treacherous Lombok Strait!
The channel to Benoa Harbour is well buoyed, but was a little difficult to navigate for a more unusual reason. The channel had become a parasailing playground, and was full of screaming, whooping, mostly-Chinese tourists hurtling around behind powerful speedboats that continually cut in front of our path. We took our time and eventually made our way through the maze of parachutes, and arrived at the marina entrance.
Made, the Marina Manager, was there to greet us and direct us towards our berth. The boys and I busied ourselves with tying the fenders on, and completely forgot that we needed to tie the lines on too! It was Josh who finally pointed this out and there was a mad scramble to get the lines on before we reached the berth. See what happens when you’re away from a marina for 6 months!
Marco spent quite some time tying and retying all the mooring lines. The marina is a little grotty, with rubbish floating past on the high tide, but the walkways and cleats seem solid enough, and it’s perfectly positioned in a very calm inlet. Our berth is very convenient – close to the amenities (restaurant, showers, toilets), right in front of the 24-hour security guard and next to where the Police moor their boats. 2 superyachts are moored nearby, as well as a number of other western yachts. People come and go, and yachts are being cleaned, maintained and fixed. There are also some charter boats that dock nearby, with music pumping and tourists singing. All in all, we feel that the Ark will be safe here, and that there are enough eyes on her to spot any potential problems. Most importantly, she will be covered under our insurance policy whilst we are away.
It seems we made the right decision to leave Lombok, as the north-westerly winds initially blew the ash cloud from the volcano across to Lombok, rather than to southern Bali. The skies around the marina were clear and sunny, whereas Lombok airport had to be closed due to ash. Now that we’d finally found a shelter for our boat, we could focus on our trip. Where to go, and how to get there? With Gunung Agung still furiously erupting, just getting anywhere would be quite an adventure …