Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bombs, Bottles, and Bats

Current Location: Batu Boga East, Indonesia
Current Position: 08 28.24' S 121 57.34' E
Next Destination: Maurole, Flores Island, Indonesia

Bombs, Bottles and Bats. That pretty much describes our last two anchorages.

First there was Teluk Hading; a lovely spot, where we anchored just a bit too shallow (at low tide we were in 7.8 feet, with a shallow bommie right behind us -we had to pull in some chain to avoid hitting it until high tide). The water clarity was great, but there wasn't much to snorkel on, except the three lion fish hanging out under a piece of coral. Later in the evening two local fishing boats came in and anchored pretty close to Billabong. One of the boats came over to say hello (and ask for cigarettes of course). We were just getting ready to go over to Island Sonata for dinner, so after saying our hellos we were wondering how to then politely say goodbye, when, KABOOM ... and with the loud bang the entire hull of Billabong shuddered (I thought we had just hit the bommie). KABOOM, it went again. The three fishermen hanging on to Billabong excitedly looked up, pointed, and said goodbye as they tore off, just as a third KABOOM sounded and both Chris and I saw a huge flood of water explode from the sea. And now we understand why we aren't catching any fish in Indonesia - the locals are stunning the fish (yes, with live, exploding bombs), and then diving in and scooping them up! Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of one getting an easy, full meal, but isn't that just a tad-bit overkill??? What we have heard is that they are getting the bombs from old war dumps (usually underwater). After they salvage the bomb, defuse it and remove the "good" bits, they create a waterproof wick by wrapping it in aluminum foil. Then they take the entire thing and wrap it in a papaya, before tossing it overboard, from their dinky little dugout canoes. Afterwards they scoop up the fish with nets, or divers using Hooka hoses! I have to imagine that the mortality rate for fishing is higher in Indonesia than other countries! It's so bad that even the sea birds and bigger fish come running the minute the bombs sound and scoop up whatever they can.

We left Teluk Hading, with plans on attempting to enter a fantastic looking lagoon Chris had spotted on a satellite photo. We were ready to do some serious navigation; maneuvering around and through the reefs. What we didn't expect was to come around the corner and spot thousands upon thousands of floating bottles! Not only did we have to navigate the reef but we also had to weave our way through the numerous seaweed farms! Imagine driving through Nebraska when the corn is sprouting, and seeing row upon row of husks - it was like that, but with bottles on water instead of stalks on dirt!!! We managed through okay, but finding a spot to anchor wasn't easy, as the seaweed farms occupied all the shallow spots. Then, just as we were dropping our hook, the mangrove's stirred to life and thousands of fruit bats (also known as flying foxes) swarmed to the air, and streamed out, crossing over Billabong's bow. It was a site to see, and for the remainder of the day and throughout the next day, we would continue to be entertained and awed by the quantity of flying foxes. We even ventured into the mangroves on the dinghy, stirring the bats to life (and praying we wouldn't wind up covered in bat dung!)

All in all they were two great anchorages, each with something just a bit unique!!!

Additional Anchorage note for following cruisers:

You can enter the lagoon, which is on other side of the hill as Tanjung Gedong, through one of three main channels. There is a northern entrance to the east of the very small island (it starts slightly north west from there). The outer edge shoals depending on the previous years monsoon activity so be careful and enter only in good light, we only saw a cat do it. The southern edge has a very deep main channel (90') due south from the gap between the two main islands. The channel is navigated based on location of the seaweed farm bottles and is kept clear for ships collecting all the seaweed. There is another southern channel to the East (40') but you need to navigate more bottles and weave in front of a village to find the main lagoon. We were surprised to have a slight swell from the southern side (as there is really no fetch).

The anchorage is on the northern edge of the lagoon, tucked in off the reef near the sandy beach with mud flats in front and the mangroves to the north. It may fill up with seaweed farms in the future but there is always room in the middle (70'). We anchored in 50' Coral and mud but other found less depth. It was VERY calm despite people getting rolled out of the other anchorage the night before we arrived. If you squint just right the main peak reminds us of Bora Bora. We did a bush hike to the top of the hill by the anchorage but had to fight very tall grass and stickers. There is no trail!!

Continue reading "Bombs, Bottles, and Bats"...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Welcome to Indonesia

Current Location: Inside the Lagoon, Parmahan Island, Indonesia
Current Position: 08 27.3' S 122 25.3' E
Next Destination: Maumere, Flores Island, Indonesia

Our time in Kupang was great, but as suspected upon arrival, the upbeat pace was tiring. The tours put on by the Rally were outstanding (more about those and more details about Kupang will be posted on our website at a later date). The anchorage however lacked appeal, but thanks to the full days touring and exploring Kupang we were hardly ever on the boat!

While most boats departing Kupang were headed for the next rally stop, Alor, we decided to head towards Lembata (the third rally stop), opting for a bit of time "alone" before rejoining the rally. Of course with 100+ boats around, one is never really alone! We ended up about eight nautical miles from the town of Lembata, near Adunara Island.

The area is beautiful. Some of the dramatic cliffs and landscapes remind us a bit of the Marquesas Islands, only here, huge Mt Fuji style mountains emerge, some still blasting smoke, others lying dormant. From the anchorage we could spot at least five volcanoes at various points around us.
When we first arrived we were pleased to find only one other boat in the anchorage. The next few days were paradise. The anchorage was extremely flat, the water clear, and the snorkeling terrific. We were both recovering from various illnesses, so it was terrific to enjoy some true R & R and we loved getting back into the slow days of the cruising lifestyle. We also enjoyed a few sundowners with Sundance (the other boat).

There are two sand pits that appear and disappear with the tides, both of which were terrific to walk along at low tide. The water clarity was amazing; one could easily see the bottom of the channel, 80 feet below! The corals were fantastic, both soft and hard, some of brilliant colors. Surprisingly, for the amount of coral we didn't see as many fish as we thought there should be. Even so, we did spot a juvenile black lion fish, swimming about in the open - very majestic looking. Plus a school of gigantic Longfin Spadefish, I've never seen them so big, and they weren't scared of us at all (I swam within touching distance of them and they barely flinched). We also spotted a fantastic anemone, encased in a blue soft covering (almost like a plastic bag). On our first pass the anemone was fully open, the blue "bag" barely noticeable, but when we returned the "bag" was closed and only a tiny bit of the anemone stuck out. It was really quite cool. Unfortunately there were also a large number of huge Crowns of Thorns, and bleached coral.

It didn't take long before the anchorage began to fill up, boats arriving both from Kupang and Alor. The anchorage was still quite pleasant, but fifteen boats are never as serene as two! With the additional boats we enjoyed a few happy hour drinks on the sand-spit, noting that it was perfect to get off the boat for the few hours when the north swell came rolling in.

In total we spent about one week there before finally motivating to move on. Instead of going into Lembata for the rally events we decided to move westward slowly, with a plan of rejoining the rally in Maumere. And so it came to be that we found ourselves in Tanjung Gedong, Flores, around three in the afternoon. It is a small anchorage and already four boats (plus two local boats) were anchored there. There was just enough room for us, but we'd have to tie a stern line ashore and squeeze between two other boats. As it was late in the afternoon we didn't want to move on, hunting for another anchorage. This was a first for us; a stern line to shore, over a coral shelf (deep waters quickly shelving up to shallow waters), in a tight spot. And all, of course, in the audience of the curious locals!

We dropped our bow hook in about 50 feet (choosing the deeper water as to avoid destroying the coral of the shallow shelf). Before the hook even touched the bottom at least three local canoe boats approached to greet us. Luckily I had learned how to say "Just a minute" in Indonesia, so we were able to hold them off while we figured out how to get a stern line ashore. Of course, who know "a moment" would end up being two (very comic) hours!!!

First off, Chris quickly hopped in the dinghy with our hand-held depth sounder to make sure there was enough room over the shelf (for when we swung around with our stern line), and also to scope out a potentially spot for our friends on Island Sonata. He couldn't figure out why his knees were getting wet until he realized he'd forgotten to put the plug back in the dinghy - he was sinking!!! He came back to Billabong with one of those 'oops' grins and asked me to hand down the plug!

Chris dug to the bottom of our cockpit storage, pulling out a huge wad of line (which got a few "oohs" and "aahs" from our local audience). He attached it Billabong's stern, jumped back in the dinghy, and headed ashore. Only there wasn't enough line. I couldn't back in (to get us closer) because with Billabong's port walk I couldn't get her straightened out before hitting the boat next to us. Unable to communicate, with Chris onshore and me aboard, he came back to Billabong and we decided to try going in nose (bow) first; our theory being that this would get us close enough for Chris to reach shore, where he would attach the line, and then pull it, thereby spinning us around, stern to shore. All seemed to be according to plan; Chris made it ashore with enough line, and we were more or less centered between the two boats. However, there were no rocks large enough to tie the line to, and the trees were another few yards up the beach (too far with the current line). We went back and forth trying a few things, before Chris finally gathered up the line and came back to Billabong - getting a few chuckles from the locals when he slipped on the rocks getting back into the dinghy.

Now, you have to keep in mind that while all this back and forth is going on at least five canoe- style boats are hovering around Billabong with the locals smiling, laughing, and staring, literally watching every move (and every blunder). Probably wondering how these two white fools ever made it anywhere! After all, when they anchor their fishing boats, they just drive them right up on shore! Within the first five minutes I had exhausted all of my Indonesia and they had pretty much used up all the English, so we were left to smiles and waving!

Anyway, out came some more line, and away Chris went again. This time we ran the line from the stern, through the bow (to keep us straight), and Chris didn't try to actually pull Billabong. Once ashore he tied the two lines together and then disappeared into the trees to attach the line. When he reappeared he was urgently slapping at his legs, back, stomach and head. I knew then that something had gone amuck. Again, the locals thought it was grand entertainment, and there was much laughter! When he finally made it back to Billabong he informed me he was 'attacked' by green ants and that they "had gotten in my underpants!" Well, luckily his efforts were successful, as now that we were attached to shore we could easily pull in the stern line (having released it from the bow), and swing Billabong around to lie neatly between the boats, bow out. Perhaps it doesn't sound so bad, but this process took a good two hours, long enough for the locals to get bored; by the time we were finally anchored everyone had returned to shore! As evening fell we noticed that one of the fires on the rocky shore was bigger than it had appeared earlier; wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake - if the fire traveled closer to our stern line and burned through it!

Of course that didn't happen. And we enjoyed an extremely pleasant and peaceful night. One wouldn't think there would be a lot of 'firsts' left after 3-1/2 years of cruising, but apparently there is always something left to learn!

We know that next year, and the years following, another crowd of cruisers will be traveling through Indonesia, and so, when relevant, we will throw in some additional information to hopefully assist those coming in the next years (such as what follows).

Additional anchorage notes for following cruisers:
Adunara Anchorage: In the "101 Anchorages" book it states there is room for 4-5 boats in 10-12m. We think about 3 boats in 12-15 meters is more accurate along the tongue of shallower water that runs off the SW edge of the sand spit. However, there is plenty of room for additional boats (we saw up to about 15) if willing to anchor in deeper waters (about 16m - 20m) either south of the pearl farm or along the NE channel. Be aware that a strong current can flow through the anchorage, and around the NE sand-spit (especially during the spring tides), this results in some interesting boat swing, and caused a few boats to have to re-anchor and/or come mighty close to other boats. Also try not to anchor too close the pearl farm buoys or shacks, as the locals will come out and ask you to move. We would typically get stronger S/SE winds during the night that switched to NE sea breezes in the early afternoon, so don't anchor on the shallow shelf off the northern side of the channel or you'll end up parked on the sand spit at midnight.

Tanjung Gedong, Flores Anchorage: The center of the anchorage is deep (100-200 feet), and it shelves up quickly. As noted above, when we arrived the boats had used stern lines ashore, this allowed them to be bow out to any swell that might enter, and allowed for more boats to fit. If you want to avoid throwing your hook directly onto the coral (always a good thing to avoid), plan to drop in 40-50 feet. Once the stern line is ashore you will fall back (towards shore of course) and be in about 20-30 feet. We imagine a pretty good swell could enter the bay, however on our night there it was extremely peaceful and flat calm. Local fishing boats (the larger ones) anchor in the deeper parts as well, so it can get crowded. None of the boats in front of us (nor us) could find the shallow waters described in "101 Anchorages" but we figure you could easily fit nine boats if all committed to tying stern to.

Continue reading "Welcome to Indonesia"...