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The Final Crossing: Sabang to Langkawi

We left Sabang at sunrise, all set for our 3 day / 2 night sail to Langkawi. We’d plotted a course that hugged the Sumatran coastline, crossed the shipping lanes the following afternoon, and then caught the predicted southerly winds up to Langkawi. The winds were expected to be light, the moon was full, and sporadic thunderstorms were only expected on the second evening.

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Our planned route

Unfortunately our plans were immediately thwarted and we headed into a strong 3-4 knot current as we left the Sabang bay. It took us a lot longer than expected to actually leave Weh island and make it back to the Sumatran coastline, but we made up a bit of time in the afternoon when the breeze picked up. There were a lot of fishermen about, as well as floating FADs (fish attracting devices) which are such a hazard for us. They are basically big polystyrene “buoys” that are anchored to the sea floor, even at a depth of 600m, and may have a variety of nets/ropes attached to them. We really didn’t want to foul our propellers, so headed further offshore for the night and only used one engine at a time. The sea was pretty choppy and uncomfortable, and I had a bad headache, so the night watch was quite difficult for me, but fortunately the wind and weather were mild. Marco was on watch until 1am, I did the shift until 4:30am and then again at 7am.

As the sun rose we spotted a number of FADs between us and the horizon, many with a local fishing boat nearby. So much for avoiding them 20 miles offshore! We were extra thankful that we hadn’t had any incidents in the night. A couple boats were curious and came right up to us, or followed in our wake for a while before heading off back to the fishing grounds. With all this activity around, we had to have someone constantly on watch.

Given our initial delay, our planned route would have taken us through the shipping lanes at night. To try and avoid this we left the Sumatran coastline at lunchtime and headed directly north – perpendicularly across the shipping lane, intending to then turn east again at night once we were across. Again, our intentions didn’t work out as planned. To our west I spotted what looked like a line of breakers in the middle of the ocean. It turned out to be a line of current that we would eventually intercept. As we reached it the sea became very choppy and rolly and it was very uncomfortable on the beam, so again we changed plan and headed east, this time in the middle of the shipping lane – running parallel to the traffic.

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Our actual route

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Now the fun began. Our chartplotter looked like a computer game – up to 20 ships all around us, going in various directions, and we had to weave our way between them all. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds when you have the modern tools available – our chartplotter warns us of a possible collision course based on current speeds and bearings, gives us time to collision and expected passing distance. All the big ships have this technology too – so we would have been showing up on their AIS, and hopefully they would be monitoring it. What’s quite freaky is that you often can’t even see the ships that may hit you in half an hour – they travel so fast! It was quite interesting to spot them in the binoculars, check their bearings, deduce whether they’d pass in front or behind us, and possibly call them on the VHF to confirm that they were aware of us. The size of these giants is mind-boggling – up to 380m in length, 60m wide and a draught of 20m! One was on its way to Saldanha Bay – probably to pick up iron ore that had travelled on our Elands Bay train.

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We’re the red circle – the triangles are other ships
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Massive container ships – we’d look like a little dot next to them

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Night fell and we kept manoeuvering between the ships, with our AIS becoming the main navigational aid. Clouds were gathering, and we got the mainsail and jib down just in time before we were hit with 30 knot winds – fortunately from behind. Marco wanted to put the jib up again to give us some extra speed, but the wind was so strong and it didn’t unfurl properly – leading to a tense moment with me frantically winching it in and Marco trying to control the boat in howling winds. Then came the thunder and lightning, probably the closest an electrical storm has passed by us. Our biggest concern was that our instruments would go down if we were struck – which would make us invisible to the many passing ships. Thankfully the thunderstorm was fairly short-lived, and after an hour or so we could breathe easier. There was quite a bit of rain, and we were amazed at how even light drizzle reduced our visibility to zero. A couple big ships passed within half a nautical mile of us (900m) and we couldn’t see any of their lights – and they are pretty well lit up. It was quite unnerving knowing that a massive ship was so near and yet totally invisible, and we just hoped our chartplotter was right!

The rain cleared after an hour or so, the moon came out and the number of ships eventually reduced as we finally exited the shipping lane. The shipping lane does seem to be a suggestion more than a rule, as there were still many that we had to watch out for later on, but the official shipping lane is definitely where most of the traffic flows. I was quite pumped up after all the action and managed the night watches without too much strain.

The final day was quite uneventful. We realised that we weren’t going to make Langkawi by sunset, so deliberately reduced our speed to arrive just after sunrise. The wind was predicted to strengthen and turn south from midday, but remained variable and light the whole way. The final evening was so beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky, a beautiful full moon and a sea like glass. We motored slowly and just enjoyed being out in the ocean for one final night.

I was on watch as Langkawi came into view. We had been warned to look out for bamboo fishing traps, but the water was clean and free of hazards the whole way in. The island looked beautiful – tall pointy mountains provided the backdrop, with lower jungle-clad hills in the foreground. We had decided to anchor in Telaga Harbour, and slowly motored into the shallow anchorage in front of the 2 man-made islands. A bank of clouds had appeared behind us early that morning and suddenly blew in over the anchorage, and we had to hurriedly find a spot and anchor in strong winds and driving rain! A bit of a dramatic end to the whole journey! We took advantage of the squall to sit down and enjoy a hearty breakfast of eggs, potato griddle cakes and a tomato/kangkung relish, and give thanks for the safe crossing.

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Approaching the Telaga Harbour anchorage

We had decided to move into a marina as it would be much easier to sort and clean the boat that way, rather than at anchor. Marco just wanted to sleep, but I convinced him to take the dinghy into the Telaga Harbour Marina to check it out. We also had to officially “check in” to Malaysia, part of which could be done at the marina. The marina entrance is flanked by an old stone lighthouse (supposedly a replica of the original), and the buildings in the harbour precinct are grand and stately with an old-world charm. We motored around the marina itself and were really impressed with the cleanliness of the water, quality of the pontoons and general atmosphere. It’s such a beautiful setting, surrounded by big mountains and quaint buildings – and was apparently the setting for the movie “Anna and the King”. The marina staff were able to find us a berth (which was quite lucky as they were pretty full), and we immediately returned to the boat and brought her into the marina. We had to dig out the mooring lines and rehearse our docking procedure – we hadn’t been into a marina since March and were so used to anchoring!

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Entrance to the marina
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All safely tied up

What a wonderful feeling to be tied up to a dock and to be able to step off the boat! To me it felt like we were at a hotel! There were showers and shore power and ample running water, what a treat! And restaurants nearby, paths to walk on and people to talk to – all accessible, without having to lower the dinghy, motor to shore, find a good beaching place, secure it and then walk to the activity. To not keep checking co-ordinates and wonder if we’re dragging was an extra weight off our minds too. It’s hard to explain, but coming into the marina felt so marvellous and well-earned after the months and months at sea. Marco said it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He had been subconsciously bearing the pressure of keeping me, the boys and the boat safe. It’s not easy going to sea with a bunch of novices when there are so many things that can go wrong. We feel so thankful and blessed that we had no major problems, that we were all healthy and that the boat functioned well and was safe.

After checking in with Immigration (which was a minute’s walk away) we celebrated our arrival at the nearby Indian restaurant – lamb Rogan Josh, butter chicken, mutton breyani, chicken tikka masala, wonderful flavours that we hadn’t tasted in months.

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What an Indian feast!

We were awoken the next morning by the clock tower playing an eastern-sounding tune and chiming 8 times. This was to become our time-keeper, as it strikes every hour between 8am and 8pm. We caught a taxi to Kuah (the main town) to check in with the Harbour Master, and then to Customs at the airport. Each visit was super-efficient – under 10 minutes each, rather different to Indonesian formalities! We also started sampling some of the renowned Malaysian food – delicious!

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The timekeeper
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Let the Malaysian feasting begin

We had a big task ahead of us in the coming weeks – sort, pack, clean and get the boat ready for sale. We decided to take a couple days’ break – which would also coincide with our 16th wedding anniversary. There are so many hotels in Langkawi, but I didn’t want to spend money on some bland non-descript place. Eventually I discovered a place called “Kunang Kunang” (meaning “firefly” – just like our cute cottage in the rice paddy in Ubud) with beautifully restored heritage villas. Our villa was a complete work of art and a real treat to stay in – from the texture of the walls to the rustic shutters, the wooden bathtub to the batik bathrobes, the sunny lounge to the cosy reading nook, every detail was artistic and so good for the soul.

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Our gorgeous little villa
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Sooo good to have some down time

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We had numerous baths in the cute bathtub, spent a lot of time reading and sleeping in the villa and relaxed by the unusual floating pool. It really does float – the bottom is soft and held up by a couple of buoys. The kitchen staff were off in the afternoon, but were quite happy for us to concoct our own milkshakes – so Marco got creative and whipped up a storm.

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The floating pool
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Marco the Milkshake Man
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Rub-a-dub-dub
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Cheeky monkey
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Josh found the writing nook

Most importantly of all, we raised our glasses to 16 years of marriage and the end of our epic sailing adventure. What a journey it’s been – with many highs and the inevitable lows, but such an amazing experience. We’ll always remember this special time we spent together, how we got through the tough times and relished the gems, the wonderful people we met and the stunning places we visited. Cheers to the future, whatever it may bring!

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Cheers – to the Captain of my heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The final Indonesian leg: Banyaks, Simelu, Aceh and Sabang

After Nias we had to keep heading north. Our visas had been extended for the last time, which meant we had less than 30 days left in Indo. We were aiming to check out in Sabang, Indonesia’s most north-western town on Weh island just off Sumatra. After starting in the south-east in July 2017 and traversing north-west through the archipelago, it felt like a satisfying place to declare the mission accomplished. We would be able to day-hop until the north of Simelu, and would then need to at least one overnighter to get to Sabang.

Map

The Banyaks are the next island chain north of Nias. We sailed in convoy with Todd and Lati, reaching the Bay of Plenty just before sunset. Todd, with his local knowledge and many years’ experience, led us past coral bombies and deeper into the lagoon than the cruising guides suggest, which meant we had a glorious swell-free anchorage, away from the charter boats that pulled in from time to time.

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Bay of Plenty at sunset

The Bay of Plenty is fringed by an extensive shallow coral reef, with a couple of waves at the entrance to the bay. The swell was fairly small whilst we were there, but the waves were perfect and clean, and the boys had some amazing sessions surfing there. I enjoyed SUPing along the reef, and spotted many stingrays, a jumping spotted eagle ray and a couple of turtles. The jungle is thick and verdant, and I was convinced I could smell blossoms as the sun set. The next day I went to investigate and found that some of the trees were in fact covered in fragrant lilac pea-like blossoms, with an army of wasps greedily feasting on the nectar. I couldn’t stay too long, as the sandflies had detected my presence and followed me almost all the way back to the boat.

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Games on the SUP

The Bay of Plenty is connected to a neighbouring bay via a little inlet that winds through the mangroves, and we went to explore it on our dinghy. It’s mind-boggling to see all these beautiful calm undeveloped bays and inlets – like a lost paradise.

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Exploring the inlet

We left Todd and Lati at the Bay of Plenty and set off for Bangkaru island, about 15 miles away, where the wave “Treasures” is situated. Unfortunately it was onshore, but the anchorage was stunning, surrounded by rainforest and teaming with birds. Marco and I took the dinghy along the shore to get a view of the jungle from up close – the myriad of plants growing on and around each other was incredible. We followed a little river inland under low branches and vines, stopping only when the passage became blocked by fallen trees. Sea eagles and other raptors were hovering at the rivermouth, possibly waiting to catch an unsuspecting fish that swam downstream. A local fishing boat anchored near us, and Marco was able to buy a pretty sizeable Spanish mackerel from them – yummy!

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Such a beautiful rainforest
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Exploring the river
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Spanish mackerel bought from the boat behind

Next stop, Babi island, 30 miles away, but a long tedious journey due to fierce currents pushing into us. We had full sails up, 2 engines on and only managed 3.5 knots at times! The anchorage is not overly protected but was calm in the light westerlies we had. The water is so clear and we could see the anchor and chain all the way to the bottom. The boys went to play in the “almost-wave”, and Marco and I went for a walk and had a sundowner on the beautiful white beach.

The next day we headed for the south-western tip of Simelu (Matanurung). The current was slightly weaker, there was almost no wind and the water was like a mirror, so was a glorious crossing. We anchored deep inside the finger-like bay – yet another wonderful anchorage. The guys surfed the wave on the point, where Marco had surfed 25 years ago. There is now a surf-camp right on the point, as well as numerous homestays and losmens in town. The boys got quite frustrated with the local kids paddling round and taking all the waves, but still managed to have some fun.

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The big blue
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Anyone could “sail” in this!
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A good excuse for a swim – Paul rescuing our jerry can of water that fell overboard

Paul left us in Simelu, where he could get a flight back to Medan and then Australia. It was so good having him on board again, and great that he could enjoy some cruising and surfing time on the boat rather than only the hard slog he put in at the start of our trip!

After collecting the boys from their sunrise-surf at the point, we set off on a day’s sail to northern Simelu. We passed a number of reefs far offshore with big breaking waves – I wonder how many unsuspecting sailors of old had run into these. Todd had told us about a great anchorage tucked inside a lagoon, and it was lovely and calm. We were probably as close as we’d get to the epicentre of the earthquake that unleashed the devastating tsunami in 2004 – it couldn’t have looked more peaceful when we were there, and it was hard to imagine how different the scene must have looked back then.

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Don’t leave us behind!
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Post-surf rinse off
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Big breakers on the offshore reefs

The next morning we set off on our overnight sail to Calang on the Sumatran mainland. Thankfully the weather was good the whole way – in line with the predictions, and no localised storms. Even doing night-watches for 1 night was pretty easy after the big crossing from Bali to the Mentawais.  Sumatra looked very different to the offshore islands we’d been frequenting – the flat sandy islands covered in palm trees were replaced by dramatic mountains, lush rainforests and black volcanic soil. What a nice change! We arrived the following lunchtime, in time to get into town to stock up on fruit, veges and diesel.

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A couple of localised storms on our crossing to Sumatra
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Lots of time to read
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Even the skipper could take a break
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Lots of time to rest …
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… in weird positions
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The boys love sailing their little peg-boats out the back
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Calm crossing meant they could also do school – yay!
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Stunning sunsets at sea

Calang is in the Aceh province, the most staunchly Muslim part of Indonesia. It is law for all local women to wear a jilbab (headscarf). Foreigners are exempt, but I didn’t want to offend anyone – so got all covered up in my long sleeves, pants and glamorous butterfly scarf. How the Acehnese women wear so much clothing in this heat is beyond me! I was in light cotton and sweating intensely, but many of them wear heavy polyester fabrics and don’t seem to be uncomfortable. I suppose it’s what you get used to.

We were met at the dock by very friendly people and immediately whisked off to the petrol station in a pecak – a motorbike attached to a home-built sidecar contraption. We’d seen these all over Indo, but hadn’t as yet travelled in one, so it was quite a novelty! Our driver had a noteworthy moustache and an interesting AK47 T-shirt. Noah sat behind him on the motorbike with his legs in the sidecar, Josh and Marco sat on a metal bar next to all the jerry cans, and I had one butt-cheek on a metal bar and the other resting demurely on the handle of a panga. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too bumpy, or I could land up with a panga in a very unfortunate spot. The pecak was pretty solidly built, but was still slightly disconcerting to see the road whizz by between the gaps in the slats, and the little bicycle wheel spokes madly turning next to me. I must have looked particularly glamorous with my butterfly headscarf billowing behind me in the wind – kind of like those stylish ladies in cabriolets, just Indo-style.

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Calang harbour
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Aceh glamour
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Our friendly AK-47 driver

We bought fuel without a hitch, and our driver then took us to some lovely fruit and vege markets. The people were super-friendly and welcoming, but I battled to understand them at times as they speak Bahasa Indonesia with a notably different accent. The boys discovered a stall selling “chocolate milkshakes” – well, more like a sachet of chocolate powder, flavouring and other delights that are whizzed in a blender with ice. It was surprisingly good, as was the slogan on the cup – “you glory, we happy”. We found some amazing bungkus so I didn’t have to cook, and got back to the boat to enjoy it before sunset.

From Calang we headed to Seudu, further up the Acehnese coast. This is a lovely place to wait for the right weather and tide to cross the tip of Sumatra. The anchorage is again in a protected lagoon, and a colourful town is spread along the one side. We didn’t go ashore as it was really rainy and we just felt like catching up on sleep after our overnight crossing.

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Seudu
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Seudu fishing boat

There are 2 main routes across the tip of Sumatra – the Aroih Cut and the Aroih Raya. The former is narrower but can have fierce currents – up to 8-10 knots. The Aroih Raya is a little longer but wider and gentler, and the one I obviously opted for. We chose to cross at neap tides and Marco was tempted to go through the Cut – but we erred on the side of caution and took the longer route. The wind was behind us, current was negligible and was pretty much a non-event. There were a lot of Acehnese fishermen in their traditional pointy fishing boats. They don’t look particularly functional or comfortable, and Josh was wondering how they see out the front with the bow curving up to high. Tradition is big in Indo though, so if you’re Acehnese, these are the boats you use. They make great subjects to photograph though!

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The Acehnese fleet heading out at sunset

Once across the Aroih Raya we turned east to Lampageue where we anchored for the night, before setting off for Sabang the next morning. Weh island is pretty big, and it took a while to sail around it to the port of Sabang on the north. We decided to anchor alongside a small island, a short dinghy ride away from the town and away from the main traffic. A Customs boat followed us to our anchorage, and patiently waited for us to secure the boat before coming aboard and checking the necessary documents. They were friendly and polite, and gave us the run-down of which offices we’d need to visit to check out of Indo.

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Sabang harbourside

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Once we’d gathered our documents we headed off to the town in the dinghy. It’s usually a little challenging to find a good spot to tie up the dinghy – but here we found a sturdy plastic pontoon right outside the Harbour Master’s office, perfect! We tied up, collected our stuff and walked to the end of the jetty. Oh dear, not so easy after all! There was no bridge from the jetty to the land, only a rope or two and a 2m gap of rather grimey litter-filled water. Marco wobbled across the rope and got the admin going at the Harbour Master’s office whilst Noah dropped Josh, me and the bags off somewhere else before retying up the dinghy and clambering across the rope.

Clearing out involved visiting Quarantine, Immigration, Customs and the Harbour Master. Quarantine was probably the most meaningless – in the end we were given a certificate that says we are declared “free of international health concern”, and they kept numerous other forms in triplicate, all needing Marco’s signature and our very important boat stamp. We could have had a highly contagious disease, no-one’s health was actually checked, but hey. Customs was pretty easy – we just handed over the documents, waited 15 mins and got what we needed. Immigration wanted us to check out on the day we would actually be leaving so that the passports would be stamped correctly, so we had to go back to them on the 21st. The Harbour Master was the final visit, and he gave us a Clearance Certificate which we will give to the officials in Langkawi.

With all these office visits we got to see a fair bit of Sabang, sometimes by pecak (but a slightly fancier version than the one in Calang, with actual seats). Apart from Surabaya on Java, it’s probably the neatest and most organised town we’ve been to in Indo. There are real pavements (without gaping holes), a lovely tree-lined street/promenade that runs at the top of the town and overlooks the bay, and a central town square with bandstand and arena seating. We found some delicious Acehnese food and a good selection of fruit and veges, so could stock up for the final crossing to Malaysia.

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View of the bay – we anchored to the left behind the small island

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Transport via pecak – this time with seats

And so we say goodbye to Indo. What an adventure it’s been, with so many amazing experiences and memories. We covered a few thousand nautical miles, visited so many different islands, and met so many different groups of people. The common thread, though, has been the openness and hospitality of the Indonesians, how they welcomed us and always had time to help, chat and laugh. Sampai jumpa lagi Indonesia – until we meet again.

Nias

We were waiting out some strong northerlies in the Telos islands, but needed to get to Nias to extend our visas for the last time. The challenge was to find a weather window in which to make the 60 nautical miles. Weather predictions seem to be pretty useless in this area, and we were aiming to leave on a particular Saturday, giving us Sunday to make arrangements to get to Gunung Sitoli (the capital of Nias) on Monday. We woke up at 5:45am, made some tea and coffee and waited to see what dawn sky would reveal. It was horrible – big cumulonimbus clouds and isolated showers all around us, and a black ominous northern sky. The decision was easy – back to bed to wait for more suitable weather.

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Dawn rain squalls surrounded us

The following morning looked a little more hopeful. There were no obviously threatening clouds and the northern horizon looked mild. We headed off into a light north-wester, and had to motor until lunchtime. At around 2pm the wind turned more west and we could get the sails up. Unfortunately there was a strong south-setting current, so with engines and sails we only managed to do about 6 knots. We crossed the equator along the way – pretty much a non-event, apart from trying to capture the moment our chartplotter displayed “00° 00 000 N” on camera. It is quite amazing to think that we started our journey in Mooloolaba at 28 °S and have actually worked our way to the northern hemisphere!

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A much friendlier sky this morning
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The equator-moment

A pod of dolphins joined us at the bow for about 20 minutes, which was wonderful – it’s been a while since we’ve had dolphins visiting us! We arrived in the lovely big Lagundri Bay just as the sun was setting. There was only one other boat anchored there, so we had loads of space and could pick the perfect spot amongst the floating squid platforms.

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Our beautiful Lagundri anchorage

 

Marco headed off to Gunung Sitoli early the next morning. It’s a 3-hour journey by road, and he still had to get to shore, find someone to take him and act as sponsor, get to Immigration, fill in the endless forms and submit everything by midday. He managed to get everything done, but with lots of crazy Indonesian moments along the way. When they were about half an hour away from Gunung Sitoli, they could go no further. An old bridge across a river had been demolished and the new bridge was under construction. The expected delay was 3 hours. He obviously couldn’t wait that long, so walked across and found someone on the other side with a motorbike who was willing to take him the rest of the way (in the now pouring rain), plus organised a new sponsor. He managed to fill out the 12 forms (all in Indonesian – something I usually do, being the admin-person in the family), get a sponsor letter typed and printed at an internet café, find the required stamps for the forms, make the required payment at a bank, and get back to Immigration with the whole bundle of goodies by closing time! By this time his original driver and sponsor had made it to Gunung Sitoli, so he could at least get a ride back with them – but then had to find a fisherman to bring him back to the boat in the dark (as there are reefs and breakers everywhere along the shore, difficult for the boys and I to pick him up with no clear visibility). He was pretty exhausted when he got back – but in good spirits from a day of joking and laughing with all the guys who helped him along the way. He was really humbled at how willing strangers were to go out of their way to help, and just “make a plan”.

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Bridge under construction finally open again

Our first couple of days in Nias were really rainy, almost the most incessant 3 days of rain we’ve had in Indo. The anchorage was surprisingly rolly too – even though we were tucked deep into the bay. The wind blew from a direction that positioned the boat side-on to the swells, and there was a continual sideways rocking that drove me a little crazy (and queasy). We eventually moved deeper into shallower water behind the reef, where the rolling was less noticeable.

We managed to get to shore and hired motorbikes on one of the drizzly days and explored the countryside. Nias is very mountainous and rocky, and there are many traditional villages perched up in the hills. One of the old traditions in Nias is lompat batu (stone jumping) – where young men jump over 2m tall stone monoliths (probably as a test of manhood or some sort of warrior training). We did spot some of these ancient stones in the village squares, but didn’t see anyone leaping over them. We stopped to chat with many friendly villagers who were quietly sitting at their windows watching the world go by.

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Lagundri surrounds
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Exploring Nias
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An old traditional village
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The peaceful life in the village
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This scene HAD to be photographed
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Josh making friends with the baby

The Lagundri bay has 3 main villages along it. Sorake is where the famous wave is, and is packed with homestays, losmens and restaurants. Most visitors to Lagundri stay in Sorake, and the locals are very used to tourists and their money. Given this, we were quite surprised at how rudimentary the accommodations were, and how unappealing the restaurant food was. The local food just down the road is delicious, but the special “tourist food” in Sorake is pretty unimaginative. There was a lot of activity in Sorake in preparation for the Nias Pro, one of the WQS events that was happening within a couple days. Truckloads of beach sand were being raked over fill to create a smooth white beach, and new roads and paths were being built. It was interesting to see how the reef had been raised by the 2004 tsunami that wreaked havoc in the bay. A huge area that was once underwater is now exposed, and the wave is hollower and gnarlier – especially on big swells.

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Sorake shoreline
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The wave with exposed reef

The Lagundri village is a little further into the bay, and is predominantly Muslim (the other 2 being Christian). We spent a fair bit of time here as it provided one of the few spots where the dinghy could be landed safely. Hiliamaetaniha (yip, try saying that) village is on the eastern side of the bay, and is where Marco’s driver and sponsor lived.

We were quite surprised at the rivalry between the 3 villages. Various people we met urged us to buy fuel from their village. We were anchored near Lagundri village, but Marco was told in the water that he should contribute money to Sorake because he was surfing Sorake’s wave.

So onto the wave – the guys had a great time surfing, with a decent swell most days. Unfortunately localism is rife, with the Indonesians paddling round or dropping into any wave they choose. The boys had more luck on the inside, especially on big days – whilst Marco handled the pros and rude locals on the outside.

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Lagundri

We did eventually buy fuel from the homestay owner in Lagundri (as a “payment” for keeping an eye on our dinghy when we were ashore). Unfortunately, when our load of jerry cans returned many of them were half full! There was a lot of debate and huffing and puffing, but eventually the guy agreed to measure out the diesel and petrol and charge us for the actual litres measured. He didn’t trust the 20L mark on our jerry cans. So there we sat, patiently measuring out 78L of diesel and 72L of petrol (which had been sold as 120L of each!) in 1 litre measures. To this cost, the guy added a random “transport” cost, then wanted a higher price per litre of diesel (“premium” diesel, apparently) – and instead of refunding us the final difference, sped off to fill one more jerry can. Only in Indonesia does the guy desperate for your business make you feel like you’re doing him in when he tries to rip you off! Obviously the guys we knew from Hiliamaetaniha tut-tutted and shook their heads when they heard – typical Lagundri villagers.

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Measuring out our fuel

We all decided to make the trip up to Gunung Sitoli to fetch our passports. I was keen for an outing and to see a bit more of Nias. We would also be fetching Paul, who was coming to spend some time cruising with us, and we wanted to stock up on food. The countryside is beautiful, with lots of farmland in between high mountains. It must have been rice and corn-harvesting time, as huge tarpaulins full of rice and bright orange corn were spread out in the sun to dry. Brightly coloured washing was flapping from every house. Although there were clouds around, the locals obviously knew that it wouldn’t rain. I figured that this would probably be a better weather predictor than our sophisticated satellite prediction models – set sail when the grain and washing are out!

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Hopefully safe to cross?

We collected our passports in minutes, and then found an amazing Padang-style restaurant where we ate copious amounts of delicious food. Paul met us at the restaurant, and it was great catching up with him and filling him in on our travels since he left the boat in Kupang.

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Brightly coloured Immigration office in Gunung Sitoli

We ran out of time to buy food, so went to Teluk Dalam the following day. The driver must have taken us to little places owned by his friends and family, and I scraped together some rations from the rather measly produce. Eventually I complained that I needed more – surely there must be a market? He mumbled something about it being small, and then reluctantly drove us to an amazing market full of fresh produce! Finally armed with food and fuel, we were ready to set sail again.

Our next stop was the Hinako Islands off the west coast of Nias – Bawa and Asu in particular. Bawa was Marco’s favourite wave in Indonesia when he was here 25 years ago. It had apparently been affected by the tsunami, and he was keen to see the set-up after all these years. We anchored there just before lunch, and Marco and Paul went off for a surf. The wave is still powerful but has been broken into different sections, and has definitely lost some of its glory. The reef has raised up to 2.5m in places, and gnarly brown sections stick out along the shore.

We headed off to the tiny island of Asu in the afternoon, where the anchorage is more protected. There is a lovely small resort run by Mama Sylvie and her family right on the beach, and we had a homecooked candlelit dinner on the beach that night. She knew the lady that Marco stayed with all those years ago, and they had lots to chat about. Asu was also lifted by the tsunami, and she told how they suddenly had all this extra beachfront! The guys surfed the next morning, and we then headed to Afulu on the north-western coast of Nias.

Afulu is a lovely place to anchor – we entered the narrow channel and then found ourselves in a large sand-bottomed lagoon, totally protected from wind and swell. There were 2 other cruising boats already at anchor, and we got to know the people on board over the next couple of days there. Todd and Lati from “Gone Surfin’” have been sailing this area for over a decade and were super-helpful with information, advice and anchorage co-ordinates. We also met the first mate from the Maverick boat – a South African named Andrew, and we shared many laughs and stories together.

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3 boats at Afulu anchorage (us in the middle)

The Afulu headland is cut by a little inlet which can be SUP’d at high tide. I really enjoyed paddling here at sunset with the colours reflected in the clear waters, the calm lagoon behind me, the roaring waves ahead and jungle around me. Todd also told us about a jungle path that led to the long white sandy beach nearby, and we spent a couple of days swimming in the crystal clear water, relaxing in the shade amongst the bushy shrubs and then charging through the jungle to avoid the mozzies on our way back.

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The Afulu wave from the lovely long beach
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SUPing down the inlet

Marco and I took the dinghy up the river to the village of Afulu one afternoon. He had spent a couple of weeks in this village 25 years ago, and was keen to see if he’d recognise it. The river wound through the thick vegetation and reflected the jungle with such clarity that it was hard to make out where reality ended and reflection started. It was totally wild and felt like we had gone back in time and would stumble upon a long-lost Amazonian tribe. We tied up to rudimentary jetties and found a path to the village. Todd had told us about Darus who has a restaurant, and we tracked him down and sat chatting to him whilst his wife whipped up some bungkus (takeaways) for us. Darus listened to Marco’s reminiscing, and was convinced that he and Greg had stayed in the house he now owns, just round the back of the restaurant. It has since fallen into disrepair, but Marco did remember a double storey and the badminton court nearby. Darus then went off and came back beaming – he’d looked in the “visitors book” and found the names “Marco Valentini” and “Greg Clow” written in the book in 1995!

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Beautiful dinghy ride up the river
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Reflections
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Where Marco and Greg stayed 25 years ago!

The swell was pretty small whilst we were at Afulu, but increased slightly before we left. The boys loved surfing the wave at the entrance to the lagoon, and would paddle there most mornings for a couple hours’ surf. The main Afulu wave is on the southern end of the long beach we’d walked to, and the guys enjoyed a couple of sessions there towards the end of our stay. The tsunami made its mark here too, and a sharp treacherous reef is exposed along the shore, making the wave risky to ride to the end. Somehow Marco lost his wetsuit pants on one wave and ended up with a scratched bottom – in the shape of the Monster Energy drink logo! That’s what you get for not keeping your pants on!

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Afulu with it’s gnarly exposed reef
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Marco catching a bomb

After a lovely week in Afulu we had to get going. Lahewa is a biggish town on the north of Nias, with another perfect anchorage in a mangrove lagoon – and was a good place to stock up on fruit and veges. Todd and Lati were also keen to head north and we motored/sailed in convoy. We arrived in time to do the necessary shopping, and found a good range of vegetables but sadly little fruit (except bananas). That would have to do and see us through our time in the Banyaks until reaching Sumatera.

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Todd and Lati behind us en route to Lahewa – spot their boat beneath the looming storm?
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Big expanse of exposed reefs at Lahewa

Nias provided me with lots of time to relax, read and paint. I’d been working on a painting since arriving in the Mentawais, and finally finished it in Afulu. I also became a little obsessed with clouds and couldn’t stop noticing the interesting forms and patterns in the sky. I think my next painting will have to be a cloudscape …

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My “surfing” – work in progress
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And finally finished

Map

The Telos

The Telos (also known as the Batu Islands) are the next island chain north of the Mentawais, about a day’s sail from north Siberut (the most northern island of the Mentawais). We left at sunrise and enjoyed a relaxed sail at 6 knots, with time for a swim in the ocean en route. We arrived at Pastis on the south eastern tip of Tanahbala at around 4pm, and anchored at the head of the long bay.

Immediately some villagers paddled out in their canoes to say hi, and we proceeded with the usual chit-chat (we’re from South Africa, yes it’s very far, the boys are 12 and 10 years old, yes they’re handsome, we live on the boat, we’ve been in Indo for 1 year, the boys do school on the boat, I’m the teacher … etc etc). I’m quite good at saying all of the above in Indonesian, as I’ve probably repeated it 100 times on our trip! Ashley, the boys and I jumped in the dinghy to stretch our legs on the beach just as the rain started bucketing down. We got completely drenched, but it was good to get off the boat after a day’s sailing.

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Our anchorage in the bay at Pastis

The swell was pretty small initially, so the wave (Pastis) was not really surfable for the next couple of days. Marco and the boys paddled around trying to catch some little peaks, and I explored the land. It’s a lovely big bay with a beach right around, with a small group of houses on each side. The kids were very excited to see me – but many of them asked for “ole ole” (meaning “gifts” or “souvenoirs”), which was a little disappointing. After a couple days of being swamped by them every time I set foot in their village, I told them off in very broken Indonesian – and tried to explain that I’m actually a person not a money tree. I’m not sure if I made any sense at all, but they were more restrained after that. It’s the flip-side of well-meaning tourists dropping off clothes, toys and knick-knacks – breeding an expectation that tourists will give things. The villagers don’t really need “things”. We’ve been in countless villages where they are totally content. They may seem materially “poor” but have what they need and are rich in ways that the west lost long ago (like strong community and family values, time for each other and strangers, genuine friendliness, hospitality, generosity).

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Coconut walls

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There is one resort in the bay (Surfing Village), run by a group of super-friendly Brazilian guys Mario, Paulo and Fernando. They invited us for tea and lunch, showed us around their beautiful cabins and gardens, and were really great to hang out with. Mario is married to an Australian, Michelle, and they have 3 gorgeous kids. They’re about to head off sailing around the world, so were really interested in our experience. They came to visit us on board one day, and the boys rediscovered their Lego after all the interest shown by Mario’s kids!

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Surfing Village resort. The cottages are an artwork inside!
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Paulo keeping the kids enraptured with card tricks
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Playing Lego with Mario and Michelle’s kids

We were also able to order some food through the resort, which was awesome! We finally got some wholewheat flour and sunflower seeds, so can bake wholewheat bread after months of white bread (which can be a bit stodgy). In keeping with the Brazilian-food, we also ordered tortillas and red rice, and enjoyed wraps with humus, fresh salads, beetroot and grated cheese! I also managed to get some plain yoghurt – which is probably the one thing I miss the most in Indonesia.

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Wholewheat bread, yeah!
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These sarmies may look normal, but were a real treat for us!

When the swell increased we took the boat round to Hilibafunua (about 4 nm away), where there is a gentle fun wave (called “Monkeys” by tourists). The boys had fun whilst Marco got harassed by a 21-year old from the village who demanded money for surfing there. He had no authority and it was pure racketeering, but he was extremely persistent and quite forceful. Eventually Marco agreed to buy coconuts from him in addition to a small “fee”. It could have blown into a big argument, but Marco thought we should keep the peace since we were staying in the vicinity for a few days. The wave at Pastis became really fun for the boys too, although never showed its true colours due to lack of swell.

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Small waves mean time for surfboard repairs

We said goodbye to Ashley at Pastis. He stayed in a losmen (bungalow run by a local Indonesian) right in front of the wave for a couple days, and then headed back to Padang on the resort’s fast boat. I think the trip was an adventure and quite an eye-opener for him – he mentioned that he had no idea how much work a boat was. It is hard to understand until you live it.

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Ashley going tribal – adios amigo!
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Ashley’s losmen right in front of the wave

From Pastis we headed north through the channel between the 2 main islands of the Telos group (Tanahbala and Tanahmasa). The charts are way off in this area, and our chart-plotter showed us going over land for a lot of the way! Visibility was good and it was a beautiful clear day, so we were able to spot reefs and sand bars quite clearly. It was a beautiful trip, and we arrived at the anchorage on the south-eastern tip of Sipika in the early afternoon.

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Thanks Navionics

From far off we spotted an enormous superyacht anchored at Sipika, as well as another charter boat. This was quite unexpected, as it’s a really remote place and not really on the charter boat route. As we got nearer I could make out a helicopter on the back of the superyacht, along with jetskis, various speedboats and big hoists to lower the various toys into the water. Marco joked that maybe it was the owner of Google, ha ha. It turned out to be true – and the smaller “charter boat” was actually full of bodyguards! They left shortly after we arrived – I think we brought down the neighbourhood (or maybe it was the boys’ skinny-dipping).

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The neighbours in the ‘hood

Sipika is a really beautiful anchorage – calm and protected in a vibrant turquoise sea. There is a long wave on the point, and when the sections connect produces a long fun ride. Marco and the boys had many good surfs over the 4 days we spent there. The beach was lovely – soft white powdery sand, with a gentle drop-off, and we would play skimball and swim in the late afternoon to wash off the heat of the day.

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Sunset swimming in Sipika

I was quite taken with the clouds in the Telos. The boys and I have been learning a “cloud of the day” for the past 2 weeks or so, and the weather in this area seems to produce all the different cloud-forms. Huge volumous cumulus clouds build up from early in the morning, producing pileus formations and huge arched anvils. Puffy altocumulus with undulatus and mackerel-sky formations produce amazing sunsets, and cirrus provides an artistic backdrop of brushstrokes. I’ve never seen so many types of clouds in the sky at one time. Maybe 2 years of seeing sea, islands and palm trees have made me look up and notice something else, or maybe the sky at the equator is extra-special.

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Cloud and weather-watching has become quite important as the various weather prediction programs we use have become almost meaningless in this area. There seem to be so many unpredictable localised systems that dominate and affect the wind direction, speed and rainfall. As we were nearing the end of our stay in Sipika, a strong north-westerly system pulled in and blew hard for days. The prediction was light southerlies, 5 knots. In reality, we encountered 15-20 knots from the north-west, gusting to 30 knots, and lots of rain. We needed to get to Nias to extend our visas one last time, but the weather was not playing along …

Social times in the Mentawais

Cruising the Mentawais has been surprisingly social! Marco bumped into some old university buddies whilst surfing Backyards – and it turned out that they were staying at Bilou Resort, along with the Buttons family who we have known for years from Elands Bay. We went round for a braai – yes, a full-on braai with lamb chops! The boys could hardly contain their excitement! It was great to catch up with everyone and enjoy South African culture again.

We also met a family from Hout Bay that has been living on their yacht for 8 years, along with their 18-year old son. They’re based in Langkawi a lot of the time, so we could get some good info from them (Langkawi is our intended final destination).

We joined the whole Bilou crew for a walk around Awera island one morning. I thought it would be a short 1-hour amble, but turned out to be almost 4 hours – which was wonderful! We started off in the mangroves, then along pristine beaches, jumping over fallen palm trees and stopping for a quick swim in the sea. We then headed into the jungle, and popped out on the wild side where the coral was chunkier and the waves battered the island. After a looong beach walk, we were back for a much-needed lunch.

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Exploring Awera
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Wild beaches
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The South African crew

We bumped into everyone at various surf breaks after that. It was great for the boys, as they had other kids to surf with, and they definitely started feeling “at home” at some of the breaks.

I always enjoy exploring the land – so we hired motorbikes one day and headed off into Sipora. The main road is quite developed, with lots of shops (with ice-creams!) and government buildings, and we took a couple side-roads to get off the beaten track a bit. We motored on jungle paths, found some little villages, climbed a few hills and ended up in a huge expanse of rice paddies where the road ended. A number of families were working there together, and we spent some time resting in their wooden shelters, holding the cute baby and finding out a bit about life in Sipora.

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Exploring Sipora by bike
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The boys getting their baby-fix

We backtracked and managed to find a road that led to Telescopes. We clunked over a wooden bridge and then over a row of rickety poles and ended up at a small artsy coffee shop on the beach. The bay is huge and sheltered, and the boys enjoyed a swim while Marco and I relaxed on the shore.

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View of Telescopes from the land
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Clunky bridge
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Clunkier bridge
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All leading to this little spot on the beach

A friend of ours, Stefan (who has a house behind us in Elands Bay) jumped on board with us for about 5 days. He’s super-enthusiastic and full of positive energy, and we had a great time around the Tua Pejat area. He kindly did a shop for us in Padang, so our hard-to-get items were replenished.

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Welcome aboard Stefan!

We found a new anchorage inside the lagoon enclosed by Silabok island. The entrance is very narrow and bordered by shallow coral reefs, but provides a beautifully calm, protected anchorage once inside. We spent a couple nights there, and took the dinghy out to get to the various beaches and surf breaks during the day. I really enjoyed SUP-ing between the mangroves in the lagoon, and even spotted 2 lionfish. We got completely drenched the one afternoon as we were coming back from Tikus/Aloita in the dinghy. A big storm blew in and the rain bucketed down – I now fully appreciate what a “white-out” is. Luckily we were not far from our anchorage and it wasn’t cold, despite us being sopping wet. We must have looked a sorry sight though – and one boat did stop to ask if we needed help.

We hung around the Tua Pejat area until our friend Ashley arrived. He came armed with a stack of awesome South African goodies – like biltong, red wine, Amarula, rooibos tea and rusks! What a treat! After spending some time with him round the local surf breaks, we victualled the boat so we could start heading north.

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Wonderful sundowners provided by Ashley
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Incredible sunsets provided by the Creator

We said goodbye to Stefan and Tua Pejat, which had been our base for almost a month now. It offered a bit of everything – wonderfully protected anchorages, huge variety of surf spots, beautiful unlittered beaches, warungs offering delicious takeaways (ayam bumbu, ayam curry, risoles), decent fruit, veges and general provisions, laundry services, internet connection, and some welcoming resorts. Definitely one of our memorable spots in Indo!

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Bye Stefan!
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Tua Pejat

Our first stop heading north was Playgrounds, where we’d already spent a fair bit of time. We arrived on a day of massive swell – 8-12 ft as per the predictions! We were happy that we had been there before and knew how to approach the anchorage, as it looked nothing like before! There were waves breaking everywhere, and it was hard to spot the channel. As we entered between Rifles and A-Frames we had white-capping waves following us in – looking too much like breakers for my liking. A little hair-raising! The anchorage was awash with waves and swell, and we decided to head around the Karangbat reef and anchor a little north to get out of the churning. Surf-fever was definitely in the air! There were 6-8 charter boats in the area, and waves firing in all directions. From our anchorage we could see Karangbat Lefts and Rights really well. It looked perfect and uncrowded – and manageable for the boys, so they all headed out there and had many hours of fun.

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Big swells following us into Playgrounds (photo: Ashley)

Ashley and I did a walk around Karangmajet island one morning. The beach on the wild side is full of dead and fallen tree trunks, which makes for good photos. A friendly guy near Kandui Villas was chopping coconuts and must have thought we were in need of sustenance. Nothing beats fresh coconut on a hot day!

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Karangmajet driftwood
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So refreshing! (photo: Ashley)

After a couple days in Playgrounds we headed 15nm north to E-Bay, on the west of Masukot. The swell was still huge and the waves were thundering onto the south western tip of the island as we passed. There were a couple of charter boats at E-Bay as we arrived, but Marco still managed to get some smoking waves. The anchorage is pretty rolly and exposed to north-westerlies, which seem to come and go without warning in these areas. Marco had previously obtained waypoints from a charter boat for a protected anchorage on the south of Siberut, as well as the passage between Masukot and Siberut (which apparently has many shoals and shallow patches). We left E-Bay well before sunset and motored through the narrow channel, arriving in a beautiful isolated and protected anchorage. There was a tiny island just to the south of us, Siberut to the west and north, and Masukot to the south and east, so was almost completely protected.

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Our anchorage on S Siberut (photo: Ashley)
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Local traffic

Map

A rain squall hit as soon as we had anchored, and the guys all rushed out with soap for a free fresh-water shower. As soon as it had started it cleared again, and we enjoyed Amarula and biltong while watching the boys catch the tiny swells peeling down the nearby island on a longboard/SUP.

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Boys enjoying a sunset paddle/surf

We stayed in this anchorage for 2 more nights. The boys surfed nearby Eret, which was a fun barrelling wave. We also went round to E-Bay and BengBeng for the day. BengBeng was a little intimidating for the boys (very shallow if you don’t kick out in time), but Marco and Ashley enjoyed it. I went for a long walk from BengBeng all the way to E-Bay and back. Masukot is a stunning island, with an array of trees lining the beach (not just palms) and lots of rockpools and reefs to clamber over. Unfortunately none of the resorts at E-Bay could provide lunch, so my lunchbox of monkey nuts had to do.

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Coconut drying stations in the jungle around E-Bay
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Tucked away little home in the jungle

We needed to stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables quite urgently. A local guy in a dug-out canoe told us about his village (Toloulaggo) on Siberut not far from the anchorage, and Marco and Ashley headed off in search of food. They came back with some provisions and raving about the village, and so we all headed back there the next day for a proper village experience.

We were welcomed by all the village kids and some of the moms, and the boys went straight to the soccer field for a free-for-all soccer mania. We went to the house of the shopkeeper, whom Marco and Ashley had chatted to the previous day. After a drink and chat, we were led around the village by all the children, who all jostled amongst each other to hold our hands. First we checked out the church, then the school, and then wandered amongst the houses – which were simple but neat and cute, built out of wood from the forest. We stopped to chat to a guy we’d met at Playgrounds, and ended up buying some beautiful wooden carvings from him. It’s a gorgeous little village set in what could be called “paradise”, and live simple but fulfilling lives. The little girls that had flocked around me were so cute – like little dolls, and I was quite sad to say goodbye.

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Soccer craze
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The local church
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The kids were proud to show us their school
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Ashley the Pied-Piper
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Such innocent faces
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Visiting the wood-carver

We now faced a longer sail than we’d had for ages – 60 nm to Sikabaluan, near the north of Siberut. We left at 6am in a 15-20 knot south-easter, and had good constant wind the whole way. We sailed using only the jib and averaged 5-6 knots. The entrance to the anchorage is a little complicated and involves lining up various islands and sand cays, following particular bearings and then avoiding drying mud flats. It looked like we were heading into a deserted mangrove-enclosed lagoon, and is supposed to be a “busy commercial port”. As we rounded the last bend it all came into view. I think “busy” is a bit of an overstatement, but there were a couple of large boats, a proper big pier and a fair number of buildings at the wharf. The anchorage was lovely and calm, and we had a wonderful night’s sleep after a delicious chicken rendang which Marco and Ashley found at the wharf.

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Getting some local knowledge about Sikabaluan (photo: Ashley)

The next day we hired scooters and headed off to Sikabaluan town, which is 7km away from the wharf. We stocked up on more substantial items, and explored the town and villages along the way. Siberut is really a beautifully lush island, and the locals are very friendly and chatty. Apparently 60% of it is still virgin rainforest and has been declared a National Park – quite special in Indonesia! It’s possible to do jungle treks to meet some of the people living deep in the interior, who live untouched and unspoilt by the world. So good to know that places like this still exist!

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Provisioning
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Stocking up on some fish (minus entrails)
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Friendly local fishermen

And so we say goodbye to the Mentawai islands as we head to the Telos. I was expecting the Mentawais to be far more commercial and crowded with charter boats, so was really pleasantly surprised at how isolated it still is. The surf is obviously legendary, the mozzies are not prolific, the beaches are clean and beautiful and the people generally friendly and welcoming. A great time after the huge mission it was to get here!

Cruising the Mentawais with Alex and Xan

Finally the time was here. The boys had been counting the days until our friends, Alex and his 12-year old son Xan, would join us on the boat. They arrived in Tua Pejat on the fast ferry, after a nightmare trip surrounded by violently seasick passengers. The “tourism police” were quick to spot the surfboards they brought, and demanded the Rp1m “surfing tax” that the Mentawais have creatively instituted. It was then off to the yacht to introduce them to their new lodgings, and where Noah and Josh were spoilt with some South African (ProNutro, Bar Ones, Iced Zoo biscuits, the latest ZigZag) and RYD surfing goodies!

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Here they come!
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Reunited!
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Spoilt with pressies from South Africa!

From Tua Pejat we headed to Telescopes, a 15 minute motor around the north-western corner of Sipora. Telescopes is one of the A-Grade Indonesian waves, but still great for everyone on board – it has a smaller inside section that the boys enjoy when gets too heavy, and a bigger outside section that barrels and draws the crowds. It can get pretty crowded if a couple of charter boats pull in, but fortunately there weren’t many people that afternoon and they all had a great time. We anchored just off Awera Island for the night, and enjoyed an Indonesian feast bought previously from the warungs in Tua Pejat. Xan did his best to avoid chilli, but that pretty much left rice.

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Xan and Josh waiting for waves at Telescopes (drone footage: Alex)
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Josh riding inches away from the reef
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Indo-chow, yeah!

We spent the next 4 days or so enjoying the area around Tua Pejat. There are so many waves around, lots of great day anchorages, sheltered night anchorages and access to supplies and food in the town. Alex had brought a drone along, and got some amazing footage of the area and surf sessions. It gives such a different perspective – and the footage of our boat at anchor amongst the islands looks like an advert for a fancy yacht charter! I expected to see us sitting on the deck in beautiful clothes with cocktails in our hands, “living the dream”!

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Our favourite anchorages and waves
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Xan “living the dream” (drone footage: Alex)

I can’t really elaborate fully on the surf sessions – and have left it up to the boys to describe in more detail in their own blog (hopefully coming soon). They surfed at least once a day, at the best place based on the wind and swell.

Backyards was a firm favourite. It has a perfect form and handles pretty sizeable waves, but can get quite shallow on low tide. The kids had such fun out there, and pretty much just came in for food before heading out again. The one day we were there on a fairly big swell, and Marco and Alex caught some sizeable waves. To Josh’s dismay he wasn’t allowed out that day due to the huge volume of water moving, but Noah and Xan caught some small inside sections. Good to get the adrenalin pumping a bit.

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Backyards (drone footage: Alex)
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Backyards with Telescopes in the far distance (drone footage: Alex)
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Marco cheering Alex on
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Alex
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Marco
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Marco
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Our day anchorage right next to Backyards

Tikus is a lesser known, slightly more mellow wave, off the north-western corner of Silabok Island. Whilst the boys surfed, I walked along the beautiful beach and came to Aloita Resort owned by Fabrizio, a very welcoming Italian. He invited me to explore or relax in the lounge area, and I treated myself to their buffet lunch (complete with homemade ciabatta and an amazing mango panna cotta for dessert). Marco joined me later on, and we enjoyed sitting on the charming deck sipping what could be the best smoothies we’ve ever tasted!

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My happy place

When the boys eventually wandered up to the resort after a 4-5 hour surf, they were exhausted and starving. I think Fabrizio could see the starved look, as he brought out 3 plates heaped with the buffet leftovers – on the house! Feeling rejuvenated, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing table tennis and pool, and drinking copious volumes of Chunky Monkey (banana, peanut butter, date and coconut cream) and Dragonfruit smoothies.

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Starving boys enjoying the feast!
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Beautiful swimming off Aloita resort (drone footage: Xan)
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Silabok Island – with our anchorage circled in the distance (drone footage: Alex)

Noah and Josh were keen to share Playgrounds with Alex and Xan. When the weather seemed good we headed off on the 3-hour trip, and anchored alone in our usual spot, next to Snake Island. The boys immediately jumped in the water to surf Four Bobs, their favourite wave in the area. Alex got some amazing drone footage of their numerous surf sessions there, and they pretty much dominated the wave for the next couple of days. Xan pulled off a stylish floater, Josh zig-zagged across the wave and worked on his “layback turns”, and Noah pulled some off-the-lips.

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Noah
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Josh
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Xan
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Josh (drone footage: Alex)
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Noah (drone footage: Alex)

Unfortunately a strong south-easterly arrived and blew relentlessly for over a day, making the anchorage unpleasant and the waves blown out. We spent an afternoon on the lee side of Snake Island, playing beach bats and skim ball. Time was running out, so we decided to head back to Tua Pejat where there are more options. The sail back was not that pleasant as we were heading into a 20-25 knot wind, and had to tack many times to avoid rain squalls and threatening clouds up ahead. I think Alex and Xan got a real taste of sailing!

Our time with Alex and Xan was filled with lots of surfing (no kidding), laughing and joking (3 boys – no kidding), eating (no kidding) and … “Pirates of the Caribbean”. It became a kind of tradition to watch “POC 1/2/3” each evening, and then repeat the lines ad nauseum the next day. We had some hilarious discussions around the table at night – particularly about girlfriends and the like (although Noah just pulled up his nose). “Cheat” was the favourite card game, although Xan’s iPad was a bit of a magnet for my Apple-deprived boys. A lot of ProNutro, Marie Biscuits and pancakes were consumed, as well as Magnums, Cornettos and Snickers when we had access to town.

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Boys in charge of breadmaking
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Marco bought some tuna from the neighbouring fishermen

The boys were so thrilled to be able to share this adventure with a good buddy from Cape Town / Elands, and I’m sure they’ll have many stories to reminisce over in years to come. Alex and I even caught up on work issues whilst he was here – not a bad backdrop for more serious discussions. Thanks for joining us guys – it was so special and totally made our trip!

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Exploring the Mentawais: Playgrounds

We’d made it to Sikakap, one of the main towns of the Mentawai island chain. We now headed further north to Tua Pejat on the north of Sipura, where the fast ferry docks. As usual, it was time to extend visas – but instead of the 15-hour sail to Padang, Marco took the fast ferry (3 hours) and got an agent to do the extension for us there. This was so much easier, and avoided more night sailing (yay!).

 

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Seeing Dad off

 

 

The anchorage at Tua Pejat is really protected – in a little inlet passed the ferry terminal. We were a little nervous at one point as the inlet gets quite shallow, but then deepens and widens again, providing a big calm 15m-deep anchorage bordered by mangroves. The town itself was really quiet when we arrived, as it coincided with the last week of Ramadan. Fortunately, we found one warung that was open and could gorge on some protein again – delicious coconut-spiced chicken and beef rendang. The boys realised to their detriment that they shouldn’t eat the beans – most things that look like beans are actually chillis!

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Beautiful calm anchorage

 

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Celebrating our arrival in Tua Pejat

 

Tua Pejat also holds the title of being the only place that we’ve had anything stolen from us in Indonesia. Nothing serious, fortunately – just some little kids that distracted the boys whilst surreptitiously helping themselves to some chocolates in our nearby packet of shopping. Unfortunately for them, we spotted them numerous times after that – and Marco gave them a stern talking to. Some Indonesian adults heard what was going on and joined Marco in reprimanding them. Stealing is really frowned upon in Indo – there is generally a real respect for property (and life), something that has really impressed us. We’ve pulled our dinghy up in front of (materially) poor villages, with our outboard, fuel tank, oars etc left in – and the villagers have been so protective of our stuff, even chasing their kids away from the dinghy. I think it would be a sense of shame for them if something went missing in their village.

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The calm waters provided a great place for some skurfing

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Once Marco was back from Padang, armed with a box of imported food (Weetbix, cheese, cream, butter etc), we were keen to head off and explore. The Mentawais is a chain of about 70 islands, with numerous surf breaks all over the place. We weren’t keen on moving around too much, so headed to Playgrounds, a group of small islands about 15nm to the north, between Sipura and Siberut.

 

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Our anchorage with all the nearby waves

 

Playgrounds was so named due to the abundance of waves in one spot, from gnarly barrels (like “Kandui” and “Rifles”) to gentler breaks (like “Four Bobs” and “Karangbat”). The anchorage is right in the middle of it all, and is surprisingly calm and protected. Charter boats come and go, but we were alone a lot of the time. We were anchored right next to gorgeous “Snake Island”, deserted apart from hundreds of sea kraits. Sea kraits are extremely poisonous but not aggressive, and there are hardly any recorded deaths from a bite (maybe “recorded” is the key word here?). Apparently they go on land during the day and sleep in the undergrowth by the trees – so we just stayed on the beach when going ashore. Fortunately we didn’t see one – just lots of evidence of them!

 

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Our picture-perfect anchorage – with Rifles behind

 

 

The boys surfed a myriad of waves. Their favourite was probably “Four Bobs” – a fun right-hander right in the front of the floating deck. “A-Frames” was just south of our boat, and peeled around the southern side of Snake Island. It had a perfect peak, but the wall fizzled out a bit. “Karangbat” was also nearby and was often less crowded than “Four Bobs”.

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A-Frames
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Josh styling on Four Bobs
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Noah top-turning at Four Bobs

There are 2 resorts on Karangmajet island – Kandui Resort and Kandui Villas. We were hoping to be able to get lunch at one of them, but unfortunately they only cater for resort guests – so it was up to mom’s cooking and dwindling vegetable supply the whole time. Marco paddled over to some fishermen one afternoon and managed to buy some fresh fish, so we had a protein boost again.

The guys at Kandui Resort were very friendly though, and we got to know them and the guests quite well. There were a number of families from the US staying there at the time, which was great for everyone – the boys had other kids to surf with, and I had some moms to SUP, walk and chat with. There was a sundowner deck strategically moored right in front of “Four Bobs”, and I spent most late afternoons there chatting to the guests and watching the boys surf. One evening we were visited by a sea krait which slithered up onto the deck, right by my feet (obviously). I did the usual girl-thing (screamed and stood on a chair), whilst the guys gently prodded it and picked it up by the tail to throw it back in the sea.

 

Karangmajet encloses a large lagoon on the eastern side, and it’s quite interesting to explore on the dinghy. It is bordered by mangroves, and has numerous little inlets and hidden waterways. We meandered through them to Kandui Villas and went for a walk on the beach on the northern side of the island, where the Kandui wave is. The beach was dotted with dead tree trunks and fallen palms – not sure whether it was damage from a big storm or just the general wear-and-tear of the island.

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Exploring the mangroves
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Beautiful reflections
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Northern side of Karangmajet

For a change of scenery, we went for a short walk through the jungle and up Tsunami Hill. We were interested to learn that many of the trees around us were clove trees. The cloves themselves were still green and not ready for harvesting, but if you crushed the leaves they let off a delicious clovey scent. It’s crazy to think how many battles were fought and how many people killed for these spices! Right at the top we stumbled upon a wooden cottage being built by a friendly Frenchman (Sasha) and a small team of Indos. He was building a little getaway where he could surf, spearfish and escape – and it offered lovely views over the jungle and mangroves down below.

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View from Sasha’s cottage
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Looking down into one of the inlets in the mangroves
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Cloves!

Marco surfed a lot of the more mellow waves with the boys, but also had a few more challenging sessions. Kandui is a really fast hollow barrelling wave with a shallow inside section, and he had some heart-pumping rides. We were sitting watching from the dinghy (along with some boats from the resorts), so had a front-row seat of the action. Unfortunately I didn’t have my big lens with me, so couldn’t get decent footage.

 

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Marco getting barrelled at Kandui

 

Sasha picked Marco up a couple mornings (at 5:30am, in the dark!!) and they headed off to Hideaways, a great wave a 20 minute dinghy-ride away. They had it to themselves until a charter boat pulled in with lots of very enthusiastic surfers fresh off the plane.

I had good social times with the ladies from the resort. They would SUP over to our boat and we’d then head off to Snake Island for a walk, snorkel and general chat whilst wallowing in the turquoise shallows. Unfortunately the snorkelling wasn’t very good – there were quite a few fish, but the reef was pretty dead and looked like it was covered with a beige furry growth. Marco and I also enjoyed a few late evening walks on the island – and saw some spectacular sunsets.

 

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Snake Island walk

 

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Dramatic cloudscapes from Snake Island

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The weather was quite unpredictable during the 10 days we were in Playgrounds. The general prediction was for south-easterly winds, but we encountered numerous squalls out of the north-west, the worst reaching 30 knots. Our anchor had “dug in like an Alabama tick”, but we still spent many nights up watching our co-ordinates and monitoring our position – something I really don’t enjoy! Dragging anchor wouldn’t have been fun, due to the big surf breaks on all sides.

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Stormclouds a-gathering
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Rainsqualls out at sea

Playgrounds was a great place to relax and just have fun after all that sailing we’d done to get here. We would have liked to be able to stock up on veges or grab a bite to eat somewhere, and internet would have been helpful (for weather checks and keeping in touch), but we all enjoyed our time and were keen to come back. For now, we had to head back to Tua Pejat to meet Alex and Xan who were going to be joining us for 10 days. To say the boys were excited is a complete understatement!

The Big Crossing: Bali to Mentawais

It was time to start the big crossing to the Mentawais – 1 100 nautical miles across the south of Java and north along the south western coast of Sumatra. First we needed to extend our visas – again. We thought we’d do the extension in Bali, giving us enough time to get to Padang on Sumatra for the next extension. Unfortunately the Bali immigration officials seem to have gotten onto the tourist band wagon, and charge an “expediting fee” (aka bribe) to get the extension done in 3 days. Given the numerous upcoming public and Hindu holidays, we would’ve had to wait 2 weeks to get ours – so reluctantly paid more so we could set off as planned.

Whilst waiting for our visas, we got into the rhythm of Jimbaran, where we were anchored. There is a real energy here – with brightly coloured fishing boats coming and going, fish being offloaded and hauled to the bustling market, and (mainly Javanese) street vendors selling interesting and delicious food. I discovered Rujak Lontong – rice cakes, crunchy greens, cucumber, tofu and bean sprouts, all mixed together in a delicious creamy spicy peanut sauce. Amazing!

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Colourful Jimbaran
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My favourite food van
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Rujak Lontong

The boys enjoyed watching the constant stream of aeroplanes, and got a closer view when they surfed “Airport Rights”. They also played with some of the local kids – Josh enjoyed beach soccer games, and Noah was fascinated by their homemade kites (and promptly made his own on the boat). Marco sourced a couple of spare parts and gave the boat (and particularly the engines) a thorough once-over. He also chased up Julia, a lady who was making a cover for our dinghy. She did great work in the end, but was rather difficult to make arrangements with, and required a lot of patience on his side.

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Plane-spotting

 

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Waiting in the line-up at “Airport Rights”

 

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Our completed dinghy cover – with Julia and her team

With visas in hand, we were ready for the big crossing. We had tried to find some extra crew but nothing quite worked out, so it left Marco and I to share the night watches. There are not many safe anchorages along the way, but we planned to stop at those we knew of to rest and recover:

·        Leg 1: 1 day to Grajagan (50nm)

·        Leg 2: 3 days and nights to Cilacap (320nm)

·        Leg 3: 3 days and 2 nights to Panaitan (260nm)

·        Leg 4: 2 days and 2 nights to Enggano (200nm)

·        Leg 5: 2 days and 2 nights to Sikakap, Mentawais (250nm)

Map

First stop: Grajagan, where we’d been before with Matt and Jade. The sail coincided with Marco’s birthday, and we celebrated en route with presents (including new boat towels!) and boat-made cupcakes (using half a block of our precious butter). We even caught a birthday-fish in a similar area to where we caught that lovely big mahi-mahi – but this one wasn’t quite as impressive.

Marco was able to enjoy a birthday surf at G-Land just before sunset, and woke up to a humungous swell (8-10 foot) pounding down the reef the following morning. It wasn’t possible to get onto land as the waves were closing out across the channels, but the boys managed to get a surf at 20-20. The following day was my birthday, and the boys had gathered a range of thoughtfully chosen goodies from Bali. We unfortunately weren’t able to get to a surf camp for lunch due to the thundering waves, but Marco did get us onto a beach where we played beach bats, swam and enjoyed a change of scenery.

 

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My turn to be spoilt

 

Leg 2: Grajagan to Cilacap. There wasn’t much wind, so we motored / motor-sailed most of the way. We were glad to be leaving at full moon, so had good visibility at night. We passed a number of fish-attracting-devices (basically big buoys/drums drifting out in the open sea), and narrowly missed an unlit unmanned wooden fishing boat that was tied to one of them. We could see the lights of a couple of fishing boats on the horizon, and hoped and prayed that they would all be lit so we could avoid them. I really battled to stay awake that first night, and the hours just dragged by. The second night was much better – probably as I’d slept during the day, and also decided to be proactive and do things during my watch, rather than sitting and staring at the chartplotter. I dug out a whole lot of worship music and sang under the starry night, which was amazing. I also finished “Anne of Green Gables” on Josh’s Kindle, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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Sunrise coffee

 

After our planned 3 days and nights we arrived at Cilacap. It’s quite an industrial town with oil refineries and cement factories, and is centrally situated on the south coast of Java. We approached the beaconed channel and were dwarfed by many anchored tankers and container ships. In true Indo fashion, we had to skirt around fishermen with their nets out right in the middle of the channel – and then followed the leading lights in to a surprisingly beautiful anchorage.

 

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Tankers and dolphins at our arrival in Cilacap

 

 

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Impressive tug-boats in Cilacap

 

The anchorage was right next to an island covered by virgin rainforest, away from the busyness of the working harbour. This island is apparently the site of a number of maximum security prisons, and is where the infamous “Bali 9” were executed. You’d never think it, as it looks like an unspoilt national park! It was wonderful to be able to rest and recover, without constantly being on alert and watching the horizon.

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Anchorage between the 8 and 10 port beacons
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Beautiful unspoilt island

Marco and the boys took the dinghy with our empty jerry cans and went to fill up on fuel. The place they were directed to was tricky to get to on low tide, and the boys had to jump out into the shallows at the end. Marco said they were horrified to find themselves knee-deep in black sludge! The place was disgusting – full of rubbish, oil and fuel, but that didn’t stop curious children from wading out to meet them. They got fuel at a ridiculously low price, loaded the dinghy and rushed back – straight into the shower.

The next day Marco and I braved the sludge again as we needed to stock up on fresh fruit and veg. We tied up next to another boat, and clambered across to avoid the filth. It was rather interesting for me to get down off this high wooden boat, and the villagers all stood watching as I hesitatingly slid down a make-shift bamboo support and onto a rickety chair. We found a driver who took us to some lovely markets, where we even found oyster mushrooms! Fully loaded we headed back, the villagers watched me do my boat-clambering trick in reverse, and off we went.

Feeling rejuvenated, we were ready for Leg 3 – across the western half of Java to Panaitan Island. All was going well, until we caught a massive fish … which turned out to be a shark (probably a black-tip reef shark). It was pretty tired out by the time we reeled him in, so Marco was able to dislodge the hook and release him. I’m not superstitious at all, but that shark seemed to be a bad omen (compared to dolphins, that seem to bring blessing).

Not long after that, we decided to put the main sail up. As usual, I was at the helm and Marco was at the mast winching the sail up. I turned into wind, and battled a little to hold my course. Noticing that I was actually in neutral, I went into gear and accelerated … bad move. We had fishing lines off the back, and I’d unknowingly motored over them – and accelerating just sealed the deal and wrapped them tightly around both propellers! The lines snapped and then the penny dropped. #%^@*!

As you can imagine, I was not very popular. Also, as Murphy would have it, the sun was just setting. Marco jumped overboard with a snorkel whilst I held our emergency light underwater, pointed down at the props. He pulled off what he could, but there were many metres of line tightly wrapped around the shaft and right under the propellers. He managed to get enough off the port prop to enable it to turn, but with a lot of resistance. The starboard prop was a mess. We couldn’t do much more until morning, but needed to get as far away from land as possible. We were 8nm off shore, but prefer to be 25nm offshore at night – and didn’t want to drift into land now that we had no engines to get us out of trouble. Thankfully the wind picked up and we were able to sail out to sea, and make some progress in our intended direction.

The next morning we heaved-to, and Marco scuba-dived under the props to attempt to remove the remaining fishing line. He loosened the props from the shaft – which is a 3-step process, involving loosening a safety bolt with a spanner, then loosening the fittings with an allen-key, and then using a ratchet to loosen the actual prop. Now imagine doing all of this whilst under the water, with big swells coming through so you can’t stay in position, and having to be ultra-careful so as not to drop a tool or any part of the propeller. It looked almost impossible – and the tension of watching made me feel totally nauseas. Marco was amazing. He managed to do it all on about 60% of a tank of air, and got enough line off so that the props could spin freely. There was still a tiny bit that he couldn’t get out, but it didn’t seem to impede the props and he felt that we could use the engines when necessary.

The rest of the crossing to Panaitan was painfully slow. There was very little wind, a 2-3 knot current running against us, and we didn’t really want to use our engines. We ended up sailing at 2-3 knots a lot of the time, and took 4 days and 3 nights to make the crossing. It was long, boring and tiring, but uneventful – thank God.

Panaitan was a welcome paradise after our ordeal at sea. It’s a crescent shaped island that’s part of the Ujung Kulon National Park, with a number of beautiful anchorages and many epic surf spots (including the famous “One Palm Point”). Our anchorage was picture perfect – in a large sandy patch with turquoise sea and a lush jungle in front of us. It was also steamy and hot – so we immediately dived into the sea for a refreshing swim and to wash off the stress of the journey. After catching up on some sleep during the day, we took the dinghy to the beach in the late afternoon and were amazed at the huge trees with low spreading branches covered in ferns, mosses and creepers. This was more like the Indo jungle I’d been expecting all along!

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Stunning Panaitan
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Boys returning from One Palm Point
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Gorgeous jungle beach

 

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Mom’s happy!

 

The following day we took the dinghy to a stunning white beach further along the island, where a couple of fishermen came up to meet us. They seem to be the only people that periodically visit the island (and the odd surf charter) – and confirmed that there really are saltwater crocodiles in the area. They all wade in the shallows to catch fish though, and laughed when we asked if the salties are dangerous to humans. Apparently these ones only eat fish! Later on they gave us 3 fish, which we braaied on the beach – perfect. We strung up some hammocks and spent the afternoon relaxing in paradise – until my hammock strap snapped and I tumbled down onto a piece of bamboo, coccyx first. No boat injury after the thousands of miled we’ve sailed – but a sprained foot from tripping on a pavement in Labuan Bajo and a bruised coccyx from a hammock in Panaitan, how’s that!?

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Blessed by fish
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Exploring the beach and amazing trees
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The dodgy-hammock
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Fish-braai time!

The boys found a couple good waves to surf. The first was fast and hollow, and Josh got the hang of grabbing his rail and almost pulling into the barrel. The second was right near our boat – and was pretty heavy. The boys were out there for hours, and Marco said they handled themselves really well. The swell was too small for One Palm Point, but the potential was evident – Marco reckons it’d be amazing when it’s working.

Marco did a thorough check of the propellers in the lovely calm water, and felt they were working pretty much perfectly. He replaced the belt for the starboard salt-water pump (which always seems to come loose), and did another all-round check of the engines. We would have loved to stay at Panaitan longer, as it’s definitely one of the most pristine places we’ve been to, but had to get going.

 

Next leg: to Enggano, the southern-most island off the west coast of Sumatra. We were hoping the current would ease as we left Java, but no such luck. We fought it the whole way to Enggano, and this, together with light wind, made our progress very slow. We started noticing the build-up of clouds each afternoon, and encountered a couple of rain squalls – typical of the equatorial region which we were now entering. Our radar started becoming really useful at night as it picked up patches of rain and we were able to get the genoa in and close up the boat before the rain and stronger winds hit.

By this time we were all longing to get to the anchorage, get off the boat and explore the island. Imagine our disappointment when we came into the anchorage – it was rolly, windy (marvellous, the wind finally picked up) and onshore, with a gnarly reef about 100m away. It really didn’t feel very safe, as we’d have little time to react if the anchor started dragging. We monitored the situation during the morning whilst resting and relaxing on board, and then headed to land for the afternoon. We found a little rumah makan near the ferry terminal that had a delicious range of dishes, including beef – what a treat! Marco chatted to the owner and he managed to organise 2 rather dilapidated motorbikes for us. On we jumped and headed off into the interior.

The villages were amazingly cute! Tiny little wooden cottages with ornate doors and windows, like dolls houses, with bright green manicured lawns in front and rows of potted plants on the patios. Very unlike any other village we’d seen in Indo, they seemed to take an extra pride in their homes, and there was significantly less litter around. It was such a delight riding through the countryside, which was lush and a mix of jungle and farmland. Unfortunately Marco’s bike died a quiet death, and we ended up trying to fix it with a friendly brick-maker from the nearby village. It was getting late and we needed to get back to the boat before sunset, so left the bike there and all climbed on mine. We looked like a true Indonesian family – 4 people squashed onto one bike, Josh squeezed behind the handle bars, next Marco controlling the bike, then me with my legs held outwards so as not to touch the exhaust, and then Noah hanging on the back for dear life! I would have loved a photo of that scene!

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Definitely not the cutest house on Enggano – but the only one I have a picture of!
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Motorbike blues

The night at the anchorage was horrible, as we kept waking to check our position and monitor if we were dragging. Our drag alarm went off just before sunrise, but we were actually still secure. Either way, we decided to up anchor and use the strong wind to get to the Mentawais. I would have loved to explore Enggano more – the little we saw was amazing, but we’d need a better anchorage.

Finally we could hoist the sails and get some speed. It seemed like the current disappeared north of Enggano, so we averaged 6 knots with the genoa up. However, now we had another stress to worry about – electrical storms. The sky was constantly flashing and flickering, lighting up ominous looking clouds, and it was quite spectacular to see. Being in a yacht with a huge lightning conductor reaching up into the sky does make one rather nervous though. A lightning strike could fry all our electrical equipment – including navigation, autopilot, depth sounder, and possibly engines and batteries. At worst it could blow a hole in the boat, or shock us if we’re holding anything metal (like the tiller). We put rubber-soled shoes on and tried to stay away from anything metal. We had our paper charts out on the table and manually plotted our position every half hour, and also put our waypoints into our handheld GPS as a backup. Most of the lightning was quite distant, but we did sail closer to a couple of storms and saw bolts hitting the ocean in front of us.

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Stormy skies dwarfing the big ferry
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Traditional chartplotting as a back-up

The wind died after the first day and we ended up motoring the rest of the way. Thankfully our engines seemed to be in perfect working order, and we arrived at Sikakap soon after sunrise after our planned 2 days and 2 nights. Sikakap is on the south of Pagai Utara, on the narrow channel that separates Pagai Selatan and Pagai Utara. It was wonderful to gently motor into the calm protected channel and know that we were finally in the Mentawais!

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Sikakap town
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Peaceful calm anchorage

What an ordeal! I can honestly say that I do not enjoy sailing for days and weeks on end – especially with the stress of electrical storms and entangled propellers. The endlessness of it gets to me – we go pretty much at a fast-walking pace, and time becomes a neverending mundane blur. We really felt that we deserved a Bintang in Sikakap that evening, and are so looking forward to being at anchor at a beautiful spot near a perfect wave – and staying there for weeks on end!

Cruising with Matt and Jade

After 1 month of boat work in Bali, and with a thumbs up from Marco, we were finally ready to cruise again. We were thrilled to hear that our friend Matt and his lovely new wife, Jade, were keen to join us on the boat. They were in Nusa Lembongan (on their honeymoon!), and we decided to sail across the Lombok Strait (again) to meet them (and hopefully confirm that all boat systems were running smoothly again).

After the previous eventful crossing to Nusa Lembongan, we did our homework and got some information about the best tide and route for the crossing. We were advised to head north along the Bali coastline, and cross to the island at the narrowest part of the channel. We hit very strong tumultuous currents as we left Serangan, and by the time we had the main sail up we had been sucked south of Benoa by the current! Here we go again! However, we slowly made progress north and after a couple of miles the current eased, and we maintained a decent 5-6 knots for most of the trip.

We had decided to pick up a mooring at Nusa Lembongan rather than anchor, but were chased off the first 2 moorings we chose. The Cruising Guide says that moorings are for rent on a first-come-first-served basis, but the tourist operators seem to claim certain moorings and it’s not really clear who has the rights to them. In the end we decided to anchor, and Marco swam around with a snorkel looking for the perfect sandy patch amongst the rocks and reef. I had the job of manoeuvring the boat to where he was – although each time I got there we’d all drifted in the current and had to start all over again!

Leaving Matt and Jade to enjoy the last of their “alone time”, we spent the next day making water. As usual, there were some issues to sort out as the watermaker had been packed away and stored during our 3 months in South Africa. Fortunately they weren’t insurmountable (impellers and squashed hoses), and we were able to fill our tanks with lovely clean water again. We cleaned up the boat as best we could, prepared the “honeymoon suite” (Noah’s cabin) and then jumped into the dinghy at sunset to meet the lovebirds for supper.

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Welcome aboard lovebirds!

We were keen to enjoy and explore Nusa Lembongan a bit, since our previous visit had been pretty disastrous. Matt and Jade were the perfect tourguides, having spent a week on the island already, and we decided to hire scooters and go exploring with them. First stop was Devil’s Tear – a dramatic rocky cliff-face where the waves smash and rebound in a frothing spray from the depths below. It was pretty wild – and a number of unsuspecting tourists were almost swept off the rocks. No railing to keep the tourists back – one has to rely on good old common sense here. We had to chuckle at the number of flip-flops that were bobbing in the sea below, and then understood the ingenuity of the lady selling shoes at a stall on the way out.

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It looks calm doesn’t it …
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… until a wave smashes in …
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… and the thundering rebounding spray

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Next we headed off to Nusa Ceningan – a smaller island next to Nusa Lembongan, connected by a long yellow (narrow) bridge. You have to keep your cool and look straight ahead when passing an oncoming motorbike on the bridge! There are lots of beautiful warungs along the beach, but we headed up into the hills to Matt and Jade’s favourite spot, and feasted on delicious burgers. We even tried the black rice pudding with coconut cream and mango.

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Lunch spot on Nusa Ceningan

Feeling satisfied, we headed further upwards, reaching a high point where we could see Nusa Penida and the narrow channel between the 2 islands with a fierce current running in between. Nusa Penida is very undeveloped and pristine, as the Balinese believe it’s where the evil spirits live. It was a good place to relax, enjoy a fresh coconut and swing out over the channel.

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Viewpoint – looking out towards Nusa Penida

We also enjoyed time on the water at Lembongan. Marco and Matt paddled out to Shipwrecks, but I think the most fun was had when everyone surfed together at Playgrounds. Jade was whooping on every wave, Matt was glowing with pride, the boys were styling, Marco was powering through on a SUP, and I paddled nearby on a SUP (away from the waves) – with a beautiful sunset in the background.

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Back from a fun surf

After all that fun it was time to leave Nusa Lembongan, and introduce Matt and Jade to sailing. We decided to head for Jimbaran Bay, as this would reduce the distance to Grajagan. We sped down the Lombok Strait (for the last time, hooray!), and rounded the southern point of Bali. We had a fair amount of wind, so could switch off the engines and enjoy the peace and quiet of being out in the sea. The swells were pretty big, and Jade, Josh and I felt a little queasy at times, but it was a pleasant sail overall. It was interesting seeing the cliffs of Uluwatu from the sea, and trying to identify places we’d been to in Bingin and Belangan. The wind picked up as we neared Jimbaran, and we sped into the large anchorage with a couple hours of light to spare.

Jimbaran Bay is filled with colourful fishing boats – different to those we’d seen at any of the previous Indonesian islands. Most of them come from Java (called Slerek), have large tapered points at both ends, lots of flags and sometimes even an ornate “chair” high up on a pole (presumably for spotting fish). We anchored amongst the fishing boats, and then jumped into the dinghy for the renowned “ikan bakar” (fish braai) that is offered all along the Jimbaran beachfront.

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Javanese Slerek
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Some of our neighbours

The dinghy beach landing was not that easy, as the swells push into the bay and dump on the beach. Marco sussed out the least dumpy spot, timed it well and delivered us to the beach in style. We picked the nearest warung, sat at our candlelit table on the sand and relished a cold beer. The food was rather average and overpriced, but the setting was wonderful. There was even entertainment – a Chinese marching band in bright yellow suits, with rather militaristic drumming and strange operatic yodelling. Probably the most bizarre beachfront entertainment we’d ever seen!

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Ikan bakar
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Beachside entertainment?

Our exit from the beach wasn’t quite as stylish as our entrance. Being dark by this time, we couldn’t see the dumpers until they were right on us – and unfortunately Jade and I had already climbed into the dinghy when we were swamped by a breaking wave. The trip back was spent bailing water in sopping clothing and debating who’s idea it was to get into the dinghy in the first place! Luckily all our valuables/electronic devices were in Ziploc bags and drybags, so nothing too serious.

The next morning we caught a water-taxi to the jetty (much safer) and checked out the Jimbarin fish market. It’s pretty impressive – so much fish, including massive mahi-mahi, dorado, tuna, barracuda etc. We spotted a huge marlin the following day – it must have been about 2m long! I was impressed at how hygienic the market was too –  everything on ice and hardly any flies.

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Negotiating the jetty’s stairs
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Jimbaran fish market

Unfortunately we couldn’t buy any as we had to get Marco to the dentist. He had cracked a tooth (or filling) whilst eating popcorn, and had made an appointment at a dentist in Kuta. The dental practice was very professional, run by a German and a team of local dentists. The main dentist examined Marco and then organised one of the local dentists to do the filling. The procedure was efficient and professional, and only cost about $70! Marco was thrilled (albeit numb).

With medical complaints seen to, we could now leave for Grajagan. Grajagan is situated on the south-eastern point of Java, in the Alas Purwo National Park. It is most famous for G-Land, a fantastic left-hander that thunders down the point, rated as one of the top ten waves in the world. Grajagan is 55 nautical miles from Jimbaran, and we expected the crossing to take about 10-12 hours. We had good east-south-easterly winds and were able to sail most of the way. The swells were quite big, hitting us on the port beam, and we spent most of the day lounging around, trying to keep any queasiness at bay.

That is, until we caught a fish – and not just any fish, the first fish we have caught in Indonesia and the biggest fish we have caught to date – a 15-20kg 1.3m mahi-mahi! We put it down to the blessing of having Matt and Jade on board. I was so glad that Matt was there to help land the beast, as it flapped around viciously and was quite a battle to subdue. The rest of the journey was spent cutting up the fish. Everyone had their preferred cutting style – Marco was into thick steaks (cross-sections chopped right through the spine), I asked for fillets (which are quite tricky to cut properly), and Matt tried out a fancy-schmancy butterflied-fillet method that turned out to be brilliant!

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Our massive mahi-mahi
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Matt teaching Noah his fancy filleting method

With our fridge and freezer full, we rounded the headland and entered Grajagan bay – and the boys all started frothing at the sight of perfect barrels roaring down the point. The anchorage was spectacular – a beautiful virginal forest headland, big sandy beaches and a huge bay with no other boats to be seen. Marco, Matt and Noah paddled out for an epic sunset surf and we then all tucked into a feast of pan-fried mahi-mahi, rice and vegetables, washed down with some rather “interesting” red wine we found in Bali.

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The dream sight

The next day we went to explore the land. It took us a while to figure out where to land the dinghy, as the coastline is dominated by pounding waves, but we spotted a small channel between 2 waves that could be crossed at high tide. First stop was the ranger’s station. He had visited our boat earlier that morning whilst the guys were surfing, and it seemed that we had to pay an anchoring/surfing fee. He agreed to only charge for the 2 main surfers ($30 per day), but we still thought it was pretty steep given the lack of any facilities, and the comparative price of accommodation in Bali. Matt and Jade went to check out some of the surf camps, and we went in the opposite direction – into the jungle. It’s so cool amongst the trees and clumps of bamboo, and the ground was damp and smelt of leaves and earth. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long exploring as the tide was receding and we needed to get through the channel before the reef was exposed, but I was keen to go back to explore further.

I had my opportunity the following day, when I walked 2-3km along the jungle track, ending up at Tiger Tracks, an intermediate wave where the boys were surfing. The track followed the coastline, and I passed a number of rudimentary structures set up near the beach with a lone fisherman gazing at the sea. They were always friendly and keen for chat, amazed at how we were actually from Africa (not black!) and lived on a boat. I didn’t spot any animals, apart from the odd cheeky monkey who would gaze longingly at my backpack.

Tiger Tracks is at a stunning part of the bay – out of the wind, with crystal blue water and a beautiful white beach, fringed with low-branching trees. We suggested to Matt and Jade that we spend a day there – and they were keen. They had gone exploring around the point to the southern part of the headland, and were disappointed to find that it was wild, rocky and more barren. We packed a picnic and spent a wonderful day at Tiger Tracks, swimming, surfing, taking photos and relaxing in the shade. Noah and Josh wouldn’t get out the water, and really got the hang of the wave. Jade caught the “wave of her life”– so was super-stoked. I was thrilled to finally have my camera on land so I could capture some of the beauty!

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Paradise

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Tiger Tracks
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Feeling the stoke

On our last day we headed to one of the surf camps (Bobby’s) for lunch. We met up with some people Matt knew from Hawaii and enjoyed substantial burgers. Noah and Josh played pool and table tennis, and enjoyed watching the staff chase the monkeys away with their catties/stuffed leopard.

We spent a total of 4 days in Grajagan, and had such a good time. Finally, this is what we do all the boat-work for! We were particularly blessed to be able to share it with such an awesome couple. They were so enthusiastic, never complained and were game for everything. We filled our tummies with mahi-mahi (Jade and I even tried out a beer-batter recipe and did pretty well at it), spent many evenings laughing over board games, had more serious discussions about marriage, life and God, and joked about the crazy things that pop up in boat-life (like blocked toilets and disgusting towels). Spending time together on a boat creates a bond that takes much longer to develop on land – thank you for sharing part of your honeymoon with us guys!

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So great to finally have some female company!
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The dudes

We were a little apprehensive about the return sail to Jimbarin as it was into wind – the first time that we were planning to sail against the tradewinds. Fortunately the wind was moderate and the swell small, so was not unpleasant at all. The crossing took about 10 hours and we anchored right near our previous spot, just in time to see the Javanese Slerek fishing boats heading off to fish for the night.

Boat Repairs: Life in Serangan and Sanur

Due to a combination of unfortunate events, we now found ourself back in Bali and anchored in Serangan. We had lost our starboard propeller, and needed to decide on a plan of action. Marco wanted to inspect the propeller and check what was missing – and also check that the shaft and other bits and pieces it attaches to were still working. We really had 2 options – either haul the boat out at the haul-out facility in Benoa, or beach it in Serangan. Going to Benoa would involve being towed (again), and higher costs. We weren’t sure if the total costs of the whole operation would exceed our insurance excess, so didn’t want to clock up a fortune if we could help it. We thought we’d explore the Serangan option, seeing as it was close by and was an option used by many western boats.

So off we went to Warung Sunrice (not “sunrise”) to meet Made, one of the “agents” who organises beaching. Overly a leisurely lunch (giving new meaning to the term “slow food”), we got to examine crocheted turtles, woven anklets, shells and numerous other trinkets collected by “Mary make nice” – one of the most insistent ladies we’ve come across in Bali. Incidentally, she earned her nickname by giving Marco an unexpected neck massage during lunch, and repeating “Mary make nice … Mary make nice …”. Unfortunately her massaging fees were double that of proper studios in Sanur – so although Mary might make nice, Mary don’t make nice price!

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Mary making nice (photo by Josh)

Anyway, back to Made. He seemed likeable enough and said he could organise a team of guys to help us get onto the beach, secure the boat and sandbag the keels if necessary. They would also antifoul the boat whilst Marco worked on the engines. After some discussion it was agreed – for a price about a fifth of the cost in Benoa.

Coincidentally we also met a yachtsman (Mick) from Australia in Warung Sunrice. He had just lost a propeller and had recently ordered the exact propeller we needed! Unfortunately, he had decided on our brand (Kiwiprop) as he’d heard they don’t fall off – and so he wasn’t thrilled to hear about our experience!

Just before the next spring tide we made our way through the bay towards the sandbars. The moorings and boats seem to get closer and closer together the further in you go – and Marco wasn’t keen to try and weave a 7m wide catamaran between them all with only 1 engine. We followed a course just on the outside of the moorings (which we’d been told was possible) – and had a couple of heart-stopping episodes when the depth dropped from 7m to 1m without warning (our draft is around 1.1m). We actually thought we were stuck at one stage, but Made’s team of guys were wading around the boat and managed to dislodge us and guide us onto the sandbar where the boat was to sit. Unfortunately the tides weren’t quite high enough to get our keels out of the water, so over the next couple of days they edged us forward with each rising tide, until we were sitting high and pretty at new moon.

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Slowly edging onto the sandbar

Serangan is a pretty gross place. It’s a big estuary that could be quite beautiful, but in reality is polluted and full of rubbish. A lot of boat work happens in here, and all the waste, chemicals and pollutants just flow into the lagoon. Add plastic and general litter into the mix, and you get a bit of a dump. Not a place that we wanted to live in – so we headed off to nearby Sanur to find a nicer place to stay whilst the boat work happened.

As usual, the Lonely Planet was on the mark. I had honed in on “Yulia Homestay” – which was supposed to be a lush little oasis in the heart of Sanur, and great value for money. Although their website said they had no availability, we took a chance and paid them a visit. They were so welcoming, had an airconditioned room available, and were more than happy to bring in an extra bed so we could all fit in one room. Wonderful!

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I love the rooftops of Bali – view from our room
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Comfy airconditioned room

And so began our life for the next 4 weeks – the boys and I spending our days at Yulia, whilst Marco travelled to Serangan every morning to work on the boat. The day would start with a delicious breakfast tray brought to our balcony – piled high with colourful fresh fruit (including buah naga – dragonfruit, my favourite) and toast, butter and jam. Marco would then trudge off to his hired scooter for a day in the saltmines, and generally meet us back in Sanur for supper.

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Good morning!

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Off to Serangan

The boys and I were pretty busy though. Yulia had fast Wifi, which made it possible for me to work. This was really great, as I was able to recoup the boat costs and pay for the extra expenses that we were now incurring – all in a beautiful environment. We were surrounded by a lush garden and constant birdsong, as the owner of Yulia keeps numerous birds and enters them in bird singing competitions (which are apparently big in Bali).

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Not a bad view from the “office”
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Green everywhere!
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Filled with birdsong – unfortunately many in cages

There was also a wonderful swimming pool, which provided refreshment and breaks in between work and school. The boys did get lots of school done – finished their first Afrikaans workbook, learned about sound energy in Science, studied mollusks in our Sea Creatures topic, finished “The Broken Spear” (a novel set in the times of the Great Trek), did lots of Maths (of course), amongst other things. They have also taken to documenting all the funny little episodes/characters we meet – Noah in 3-frame comics, and Josh in a journal.

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My little monkeys
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Loving the pool at Yulia
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Josh writing his memoirs

Every lunchtime we’d head out in search of food. Luckily for us, Yulia was situated right next to Warung Little Bird, which became our all-time favourite eating spot in Sanur (which is saying something, since we ate out for 4 weeks!). It’s run by a group of young guys who all share the cooking, serving, jamming and joking – and make an awesome range of fast, fresh, healthy dishes whilst they’re at it! Noah discovered the Mie Kuah, a chicken-noodle soup packed with crunchy vegetables (which was particularly nourishing when I picked up a slight cold). Josh alternated between the Nasi Goreng and beef burger, whereas I tried out a range of their dishes and was never disappointed (their Cah Kangkung was amazing and packed with fresh garlic). Best of all, the average meal cost $3-$4! It was also a great supper-spot, often with live music – and we’d often meet Marco there and try and cheer him up after his day of slog.

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Some of the fun guys at the warung
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Great live music and vibes

Yes, Marco was slogging it out in the heat and grime of Serangan. He spent a lot of time inspecting and testing the starboard prop-shaft. Luckily, it seemed like the shaft was fine and we therefore just needed a new propeller sent from New Zealand. He spent many hours at DHL and Customs trying to get information about how best to import the part into Indonesia – all with varying answers and suggestions. In the meantime, Made’s team were antifouling the boat – but Marco needed to be involved, making sure they first cleaned and prepared the boat properly, applied the correct number of layers, supported the boat adequately etc. He also removed and replaced the rubber diaphragms that fit over the saildrives, and started investigating possible causes as to why the starboard engine had overheated.

Luckily, the team he worked with were really great. They spent a lot of time laughing and joking together, often teasing Marco when he’d “lose his cool” when something went wrong. It’s amazing – in Indonesia, no-one raises their voices or goes “bos” when there’s a problem, they just laugh about it and carry on. Quite an example to us! Marco also made friends with a Russian guy (Alex) who was working on the boat next door. He was really knowledgeable and helpful, and nice for Marco to have someone to bounce ideas off.

The propeller arrived in Denpasar about 4 days after being sent from New Zealand – pretty impressive really. The trick was to get it released by Customs. Apparently they are not supposed to charge anything if the item is going to be installed on a visiting yacht – but the process is a bit of a nightmare. You can either go through a whole hassle of filling in a variety of forms, dropping them off at the relevant parties and getting Customs to inspect your boat (for a fee), or you pay an upfront amount and then claim it back (ja right). After feedback from Mick (our propeller-less fellow yachtie), we went the latter route and just wrote the amount off. He had started the process of trying to claim the money back – and had almost spent more in fees than the amount he was due. So we ended up paying a 25% import duty – we figured it was the cost of sanity.

Marco could now fit the propeller! Seems easy enough – but the thread where the bolts go in was caked with scale and scum. This meant hours of painstaking and careful cleaning – whilst wallowing in the dirty water with his head at an inhuman angle. Anyway, eventually it was done, the propeller was fitted, secured and tested – perfect! Now to sort out the overheating problem.

Marco was able to take the odd weekend day off, which meant a bit of surfing. Sindu Reef at Sanur was the boys’ favourite, although turned onshore if they arrived too late. We hired a car and spent a day in Uluwatu, after spending 1.5 hours in the horrendous traffic to get there. The waves were huge and powerful – too powerful for the boys, and too big for Marco’s 6’6, but still good for him to be out there. I decided that I really didn’t like Uluwatu much after all – too touristy, too many pushy ladies trying to sell you sarongs and massages, no free toilets and not much for non-surfers to do.

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Pumping Ulu’s

We then went on a bit of a road-trip to Belangan, which is probably only 10km away from Uluwatu as the crow flies, but 1 hour away through the windy dirt tracks. Belangan is a tucked-away bay with big gnarly waves, backed by a tall cliff covered in brides, grooms and wedding photographers, and a smattering of ramshackled warungs on the beach. It was too late to surf, but we enjoyed a meal at one of the warungs served by a chatty waiter – who as it turned out, was one of the crew from the ill-fated Concordia! He didn’t want to set foot on a boat again – and we couldn’t really blame him!

 

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Belangan beach

One exciting event was that we experienced our first earthquake! Ok, it thankfully wasn’t a major one – measured 5.5, with the epicentre in the sea north of Bali. It was 6pm and I was just finishing off a report for work when everything started vibrating – sort of like when a big engine is idling. I immediately thought “earthquake”. It lasted about 10s and was over – but was documented later on the internet, and confirmed by people all over Bali. Just a reminder that we are in the Ring of Fire!

Sanur was becoming a bit like our “backyard”. It’s touristy, but still fairly laid back. There do seem to be an unusually large number of old overweight western men – generally wearing a “Bintang” vest, and with a young Balinese girlfriend in tow. Many of them seemed to enjoy having an English-speaking white lady to speak to (at the pool / warung), and I seemed to be the sounding board for their many aches and pains (and sometimes vast knowledge of natural health remedies). The main street is full of restaurants – from small warungs to fancy 5-star places, and the beachfront is lined with big hotels and “vendors”. What we enjoyed though, is that there are gems hidden all over the place – you just have to know where to look. Great value warungs with more authentic food, genuine shop owners who see you as more than a dollar-sign, sweet massage-therapists who don’t force themselves on you, awesome wooden carvings and bright clothes and sarongs. The trouble starts when you show interest – we got quite good at quickly checking things out, and then scurrying away before the shop-owner came to “sell” it to us. Noah really hated being hassled by the “looking looking” ladies, and discovered that if he spoke a different language they tended to leave him alone. His favourite line was “die volgende bladsy” – obviously something I say a lot in our Afrikaans lessons!

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Exploring the neighbourhood by bike – and ending up at Warung Kecil
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I loved this nasi campur at Warung Pengkula

One of my favourite spots was Ganesha Bookshop (which was also right next to Yulia Homestay). It has a great selection of books on Indonesian culture, food, travel memoirs, history etc, as well as general English novels. I had to control myself each time I went in, and could have blown the family fortune there!

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Just a couple of the books I bought

Marco had been struggling to get to the bottom of the overheating problem, and had also noticed that the flow of water coming out of the engine cooling system was much reduced on the starboard side. He had checked all the pipes, replaced filters and oil and done what he could, but eventually asked a mechanic to help him get to the bottom of it. The guy was really knowledgeable and found that the pipes inside the heat exchanger were caked with scale. After cleaning these (which is fiddly and requires special instruments), the water intake reverted to normal. They took the boat out for a spin to test and strain the engines – no overheating, no smoking! Verdict: problem solved!

It was a joyous day when Marco phoned to tell me the good news. He was positive and upbeat – which was awesome after 4 weeks of setbacks and slog. What an ordeal it has all been – especially for Marco. I lost count of the number of times he’d wanted to sell (or sink) the boat, or the number of evenings he’d come back filthy and demoralised. My prayers were for perseverance and guidance – and I’m thrilled that it seems like all systems are go (for now anyway). Alex (his Russian friend) had a birthday bash on his boat on that same day – and Marco got to celebrate our success with all those who helped work on the boat … and a bit of Russian vodka too.

So now, we’re looking forward and planning for our next voyage. The boys have been so patient, understanding and flexible through all these changes in plans – so we thought we’d take them out for a day of crazy kitsch fun. Bring on the Bali Waterbom!

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