Altair checked out from Thursday Island, Australia on July 10th, heading for Kupang, Indonesia. We heard about earthquakes in Indonesia as we were leaving, but everyone assured us that there are always earthquakes happening there. For most of the passage we had great sailing and arrived early morning on July 17th. We anchored off Kupang with several other Oysters and heard our first call to prayer from the local mosque.
With over 261 million people, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim majority country. The Republic of Indonesia is located mostly in Southeast Asia with some territories in Oceania. 735,358 square miles. It was a Dutch colony. Japanese occupation during WWII ended Dutch Rule, and independence was declared with the surrender of Japan. This is a very simplified synopsis. It is a spread out country, extremely diverse, and we will only scratch the surface during this trip.
The Customs/Immigration/Biosecurity people boarded Altair and were friendly, curious, and fast. Too fast. We tried to stall them by showing them family photos, taking their pictures around the boat, and offering snacks to stall them until SY Vela pulled in and dropped anchor.
The first day in Kupang was spent learning the lay of the land. Currency, phone sim cards, fuel, etc. and where to buy what. Really a challenge here because of the language. (Most of the languages spoken in Indonesia are from the Austronesian family – there are many dialects and each village has slight linguistic differences). Thank goodness for the iTranslate app.
The dinghy landing in Kupang was horrendous, but made possible by some local entrepreneurs. Guys would grab the tender as we surfed in on a wave and drag us up on shore, shore being a small beach covered in rubbish and broken glass. For 50,000 rupiah a day ($3.29) they catch you and help you in, watch your dinghy and then help you launch off the beach. Worth every penny! While we went ashore, Harry straightened things out on the boat.
So we explored town, provisioned as much as possible and organized a fuel delivery. The fuel was done by pooling all our jerry cans, filling them with diesel on shore and then ferrying them out to each yacht. Then carefully pouring the fuel through a filter into our tanks. It is fantastic how resourceful our fleet is and how well everyone works together to solve problems. Kupang is not a place you want to hang out, so as soon as possible we did an overnight to Kroko Atoll.
Overnights along the Indonesian coast are not recommended because of unmarked hazards, such as FADs (fishing attraction devices), small vessels without AIS, some without lights, etc. As we headed for Kroko Atoll we were in big shipping lanes most of the time and had no problems, just a lot of big ships. Views of fiery smoking volcanic activity in the distance, sky glowing. We arrived at beautiful Kroko early morning and were rewarded by a gorgeous pristine white sand spit, clear beautiful water. Diving, snorkeling and sundowners on the sand spit. Pretty much everyone agreed that was the most beautiful anchorage we stopped at in Indonesia.
From Kroko we started working our way around the eastern tip and down the north coast of the island of Flores. Flores is a long island with a mountain range running down the center. Flores was names by Portuguese explorers. As a result Flores is predominantly Catholic. And yet there are mosques everywhere we go, loud speakers blaring the call to prayer.
The fleets is using Cruising Guide to Indonesia. As our small group (Altair, Vela, Sea Flute, Tianelle, and Unconditional) discussed anchorages over the radio we started referring to page numbers instead of trying to pronounce the island names. Lots of spinnakers out as we went along, I kept thinking: Spindonesia!
Nothing exciting to report about anchorages. We stopped in a few places just to sleep for the night. Every harbor with a village has at least one mosque, usually green with a silver dome, easily spotted. Call to prayer over the loud speakers five time a day, starting at around 4:45 am. It is a foreign sound to us, of course. Why are so many Indonesian mosques green? Traditionally the color green is associated with paradise
One of the main reasons for the route we were taking was to visit Komodo National Park. The Park consists of about 17 islands and is home to the infamous carnivores, the Komodo Dragons. The dragons can be found on a few islands in the park, but there are only two locations where you can go ashore and walk around to see the dragons in the wild – with a guide. If you go on your own . . .
We stopped in Riung for a couple of nights. When the cruising guide says “restaurants” and “resorts” we have learned to temper our expectations. Snorkeling, fruit bats. More fish with rice. Shacks with dirt floors and wide screen TVs.
One night stopover was in Lingeh Bay where we were able to see the local squid boats up close and “hang out” with some of the very curious kids who came out to meet us. All friendly. Two tiny villages with three mosques. Stereophonic call to worship at dawn.
Most of the fleet stopped at an anchorage near Maumere that the guide referred to as Sea World Resort. The Oysters totally overwhelmed this small lodge with our eating, drinking and transportation requests. We had a great time going out on the local boats for a dive trip and then taking a road trip to a village. The local ladies demonstrated their traditional weaving process. And of course we had to buy something.
Due to the woeful provisioning we decided to press on to Labuan Bajo, a large town. Here we could receive a shipment of fresh food flown in from Bali and do some diving. We planned to provision and head out to explore Komodo Park. To make a long story short, we found a great resort, Puri Sari, to use as our base. They let us land our dinghies, arranged transportation, helped up find fuel, etc. The staff very welcoming, with a decent restaurant and a simple spa. And a nice little pool! Next we found a terrific dive shop, Blue Marlin. They’d come right alongside our boats to take us out diving.
As we spread out over the Komodo Park Blue Marlin would come to whatever harbor we anchored in to pick us up. And the diving was fantastic. I apologize for so many photos, but they don’t even begin the show how great it was!
So as we sat in the Puri Sari restaurant one night we felt a slight tremor. The staff turned on the TV and we saw there was a tsunami warning in effect. Go back to the boat or run for the hills? The warning was shortly taken down and we returned to the boats for an uneasy night.
Altair and a few other boat set out to see the dragons. First we visited Rinca, which is one of the places you can see the dragon in the wild, with 2 guides carrying big sticks. This anchorage is very popular with the local tour boats, some tried to raft up with us. Ha.
One of the most beautiful anchorages we stayed in was Pulau Besar. We did a great little hike up a hill with the Tiggy’s and had an amazing view of the gorgeous islands, the impossibly varying shades of blue water and, of course, our boats.
We headed over to Komodo Island to look for some more dragons. With Harvey, Sue, and daughter Grace from Safiya we hired guides and managed to see some larger dragons. From the top of a hill we were able to watch several dragons feasting on a deer they had killed. By the time we hiked down the hill the dragons were gone and the deer was reduced to a skeleton.
Back to Labuan Bajo for another shipment of fresh food and to wait on the arrival of Laura and Matt! Were we crazy flying our children into a country being rocked by earthquakes and threatened by tsunamis? Yea, but we hadn’t seen them since Christmas. And even as the death toll grew from what seemed like daily earthquakes and aftershocks in the Lombok region, life went on around us. The owner of the new Marina Del Ray south of Lombok sent daily emails assuring us they were open. Please come, we need customers, we need to work.
Despite a canceled flight which cost us a day, the kids finally arrived. None the worse for wear as they had spent the lost day on the beach in Bali. They arrived carrying two big ass heavy suitcases filled with boat parts for us and a few other Oysters. After a very brief discussion about the day delay they decided to skip the dragons and press on for a temple visit in Bali before catching their return flight.
After revisiting the beautiful Pulau Besar for a hike we continued on, doing an overnight and another long day. We discovered another very cool anchorage, Potopadu. Altair pulled into the shallow, narrow entrance of this harbor with the guidance of local fishermen - who promptly ran their nets across the entrance, trapping us in the harbor. After asking us for liquor and beer (Ken told them we were Mormon and had none aboard), they settled around their fire on the beach. A big tremor in the night woke us all up. Early the next morning the fishermen waved us through, and we were able to continue on to Gili Air.
Gili Air was hit hard by the earthquakes, with the tourism they depend on disappearing. We went ashore to walk around the village. People were happy to see us, but nothing was open. Neat piles of rubble, families sleeping out in tented platforms for fear of their houses collapsing, the dome of their mosque sitting precariously halfway off it base. Sad, but the town was immaculate, the people were cheerful and determined to be back open for business soon.
From Gili Air we sailed to Gili Gede in the South Lombok area. The owner of the marina assured us that they were fully functioning, no worries. This is a brand new marina, still under construction, so all the facilities may be available in the near future. The staff was kind and eager to help. I think we were one of their first big groups, and the Sail Indonesia Rally was coming in right after us.
We traveled to Bali via ferry to stay at the Ayana Resort so we could visit a temple before Laura and Matt were to fly out. The resort was beautiful but obviously catered to Chinese tourists. So there was a lot of food photography, selfies everywhere and the occasional spitting. Yea.
The Uluwatu Hindu Temple is one of the six key temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars. It is a gorgeous place perched on cliffs hundreds of feet above the sea. Before entering the temple grounds, we donned sarongs supplied by the guides (note the Hobart College colors).
It was difficult to say goodbye to Laura & Matt, knowing we wouldn’t see them again until Christmas. We had a great time. Little did we know that more earthquakes and a terrible tsunami would be hitting Indonesia shortly after our departure. It truly is heartbreaking. The Indonesians we encountered were cheerful, kind, helpful, proud of their country and eager to share it with us.
Back at the Marina, Ray, the owner, threw a party for the Oyster fleet with local food and entertainment. We celebrated Meteorite Andy’s 60th birthday party as well. With another shipment of fresh food on board we were ready to head out. Altair departed from Lombock on September 7th, headed for Cocos Keeling, Australia.