We were ready – toilets were in working order (well, 2 out of 3), tanks were filled and food and water on board. Our plan was to sail across to Nusa Lembongan, an island about 15nm off the eastern coast of Bali, and test our engines, sails, winch, water-maker and other important parts of the boat. It’s quite a popular island to visit, with some good surf breaks, and we were looking forward to a couple days of rest and relaxation before the longer voyage to Java.
Just before we left we realised our windspeed indicator wasn’t working. In fact, it wasn’t there at all! It’s a little rotating set of “paddles” that rotate in the wind at the top of the mast (called an anemometer), and convey information about wind speed down to a panel at the helm station. It wasn’t critical for this voyage, but was something we needed to get before heading off across Java.
We retraced our path out of the Benoa Marina, and felt a very slight jerk on the starboard engine when we reversed at one point. It seemed to be working fine though, nothing appeared entangled in the propeller so we didn’t give it too much thought. We motored out of the Benoa channel, again dodging the speedboats and banana boat riders and hoping the parasailers wouldn’t end up wrapped around our mast. We were again amazed at how a buoyed channel into a fairly major port could be so overrun with watersports. Into the Lombok Strait we went on a calm sunny day.
The wind was gentle, reaching 10-15 knots at most, and we were able to hoist the foresails and main sail to test them out and inspect them. Marco was satisfied with the state of the sails, blocks, lines etc – yay!
The engines sounded good at this stage, although Marco thought there seemed to be a little more smoke coming from the starboard engine. I was at the helm, making sure we stayed on course and looking out for boats and debris in the water. It slowly dawned on me that things were not adding up. Our boat was heading straight towards Nusa Lembongan – but the chart plotter showed us heading parallel to the island. How could this be!? I thought the charts might be out, but then double-checked on Google Earth (which we had overlaying OpenCPN at the time, with our AIS connected) and this confirmed that we were heading parallel to the island! Hello – the island was right in front of me, how could we be heading along it!?
Then the penny dropped – the currents! We knew all about the strong currents in the Lombok Strait, and had gone to great pains to make sure they wouldn’t be a problem when we crossed to Bali from Lombok, but we hadn’t really considered them for this trip given that it was such a short distance. We were caught in a fierce current – and although we were pointing at the island, our trajectory was actually sideways – and at this rate we’d miss the island completely!
What we needed was more power. Marco rev’d up the engines to try and make headway, and we changed our bearing to the sea south of the island. This seemed to work for a while – until our starboard engine had enough, overheated and we had to shut it down. Just marvellous – caught in the Lombok Strait in huge currents and 1 engine. We hoisted the sails (again) to try and get some more forward momentum, and spent about an hour fighting against the currents and seemingly heading into the deep blue sea. The boys didn’t know what we were doing – they were sitting at the bow and hadn’t been privy to our confusion and lightbulb moment, so kept giving us confused glances and gesticulating towards the island to the north.
After making headway at maybe 1 knot, we eventually moved into gentler currents and our heading miraculously turned towards Nusa Lembongan on the chartplotter. I was really pleased to make it into the anchorage. So much for a “quick” sail to the island!
Anchoring was not as easy at we’d thought. There were mooring buoys in all the best places, and coral heads scattered around. The current was also still pretty strong in the anchorage, and it wasn’t that easy to move around to find a good spot with one engine. We eventually tied up to a mooring and thought we’d reassess the next day. Whew – what an ordeal!
The boys wanted to get into the water and check out the surf spots, and I was keen to check out the island. Marco dropped me off in the dinghy and then took the boys out to Lacerations (which was fairly small and luckily didn’t live up to its name). They had a great time, but had to stop when the tide went out and the lacerating ability of the reef became evident!
I enjoyed walking the path along the main beach. The southern part is where the fancier hotels are located. I was happy to discover that they are still quaint and built in a local style (no high-rises, thank goodness!). I chose to head north towards the local village, passing numerous homestays and warungs and soaking up the vibe of the place. It’s definitely touristy but is beautiful. I found a funky little café and enjoyed a cold Bintang, watching the shopfronts illuminate in an orange glow as the sun set, with Gunung Agung as a majestic backdrop.
The next day was not very exciting. Marco decided to tackle the starboard engine. He thought that the impeller may have been worn, so had to take the whole saltwater pump out (which is another of his favourite fiddly jobs). He was disappointed to see that the impeller looked in good nick, but changed it anyway. He also tightened up the belts and gave the engine a general once-over and fine-tuning. It seemed to run well when he tested it, and we thought the return journey would give us another chance to test it fully.
The boys and I got down to some schooling – made sense to get this done being stuck on the boat for the day. We were totally amazed to see the transformation of the bay during the day – from quiet, peaceful solitude by night, to crazy tourist waterpark by day! Each morning, these huge fast-boats would arrive from Bali, bouncing to cheesy tunes and jam-packed with very excited tourists (mainly from China, apparently). The boats would moor next to these huge floating pontoons, complete with their own waterslide and restaurant – like a floating theme park. Out poured the tourists – and they’d spend the day slipping down slides, flipping on banana boats and oohing at the underwater life from the glass-bottomed submarine. 6 hours later, off they’d go – with a tiny percentage having actually set foot on Nusa Lembongan. They really did seem to have fun though, judging from the constant screams of delight we heard. A lot more fun than Marco in the engine-room, that’s for sure!
The boys were able to get out for a surf in the afternoon, and I went for another walk on the island – this time to the south, to Mushroom Bay. I found a little path that headed up the cliff and ended up between villages and farmlands. Luckily Google Maps was able to steer me towards a road that then led down to the main beach, with some lovely clifftop views along the way.
We all met up for dinner at the little café I found the day before – called Bunga Bungalows (or something similar). The Thai Green chicken curry was amazing, and we even shared a pizza to start. Awesome décor, glowing lighting, and a fun end to a rather boring day.
Our dinghy ride back to the boat wasn’t quite so easy though. As usual, we left the beach at low tide (thanks Murphy) so had to row pretty far to get beyond the coral and rocks. Not being all that familiar with the bay, we ended up heading too far north, and only realised this when we heard and spotted breakers in front of us, and a beautiful coral reef under us. There wasn’t supposed to be an offshore reef between the beach and the boat!? After much debating, arguing, explaining and gesticulating, we thought we’d figured out where we were (well, Joshua and I reached a consensus). We then “took the reins” and rowed us to where we thought the channel should be, which thankfully was correct. Seems we need a chartplotter on the dinghy too! In our defense, the boat was moored really far away from the beach, and there was no moon that night.
The following day we decided to find a mooring a little closer in and out of the strong currents. We set off early before the carnival arrived – I was at the helm, and was surprised to find it particularly hard to steer. In my mind I put it down to strong currents. We got to the new mooring, but I battled to get the boat in the right place for Marco to pick the mooring up (and I’m not usually THAT bad a driver). After much frustration he took over at the helm, and confirmed that something was wrong with the steerage – in fact, there seemed to be little thrust coming from the starboard engine. We did manage to manoeuvre the boat and pick up the mooring, and then Marco dived down to check the propeller … to find that the propeller had GONE!
How on earth does a propeller just disappear!? We were flabbergasted. We hadn’t hit anything, it just dropped off by itself! Later on, we read that it is not uncommon, as propellers can work themselves loose, especially in reverse. The slight jerk we felt in Benoa could have been a loosening of the propeller – and it may have finally dropped off when we reversed in the anchorage. Marco and Noah took the dinghy and retraced our path between the 2 moorings looking for a propeller on the sea floor, to no avail. This sea trial was turning into a real headache!
In the meantime, the big boats were pulling in and we were asked to move to another mooring. The guys who owned the mooring were very friendly and helpful though, and came on board to help us pick up the next mooring, given our one-engine predicament. Now what!? We didn’t really want to cross the Lombok Strait with only one engine, but knew we had to get back to sort things out. We alerted our insurance company, and Marco set about organising for us to be towed back.
One thing about Indonesians is that they are always ready to make a plan. Marco spoke to the captain of one of the big party-boats, who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone … who could tow us back the next day (for a price, of course). They wanted to leave early as the currents would apparently be most in our favour then (one never really knows with the unpredictable Lombok Strait), so we were up at sunrise. The boat was fairly small, but had 4 powerful engines. We attached long ropes to our main beam (nicely protected with our ever-handy loose carpets and dirty “lappies” that drive me crazy) and they were fastened to big cleats at the back of the towing boat. Before we knew it we were off, racing across the Lombok Strait at 10-12 knots. The current was definitely with us, and we made it across in about 1 hour! Who knows, we could have maybe crossed with one engine after all.
They had agreed to tow us to Serangan rather than Benoa – the officialdom of Benoa seemed to put them off, and I was hoping that these guys knew the Serangan channel well. I’d entered waypoints into our chartplotter, and was relieved to see that they followed them to a T – but without any visible navigation equipment. We found a mooring buoy in Serangan, sorted out payment with the guys and they were off back to Nusa Lembongan for breakfast. How’s that for a quick buck! After assessing the bay, we decided to anchor a little further out nearer the surf and away from the traffic. With the anchor down, and we could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Sea trial complete – verdict: failure.
Marco was not in good spirits. Since we’d arrived back in Bali, it’d been one problem after another, and it’s hard to keep feeling positive and energetic when there’s always something new to beat you down. I believe that things always happen for a reason, even though it may not be apparent to us at the time. Maybe we were meant to stay in Bali, maybe we weren’t meant to head to Java just yet, maybe dealing with these problems now would prevent an even bigger problem in future, who knows. All we can do is commit it all to God and trust that he will lead us on our journey, and give us the strength and perseverance to get through the trials and difficulties, and hopefully learn and develop through them too.
Either way, we’re now back in Bali with a couple obstacles to overcome. I’m really thankful it’s Bali we’re “stranded” in though, as it’s a place I’ve really come to love …