Would you believe that we’ve spent over a month at sea in total since leaving New Zealand back in July and we still aren’t even at the half way point of this voyage. In fact, the half way point is still another 500 miles away! After which we have just 9 months to navigate the other half of the world back to Bermuda. Are we crazy?… Most likely!
As many of you know I have battled with sea sickness for most of this voyage since moving onto Bob back in February 2016. The prospect of this final year and spending so long at sea has sent worrying chills down my spine. I’ve literally had nightmares that I’m living inside a washing machine only to wake up and find that my nightmare is a close approximation to reality. The good news is that I think I might, finally, be getting over it. We’ve had some bumpy passages since leaving New Zealand. During the first one to Vanuatu I felt the usual pukey twinges, but that was expected after 6 months on land. Since then though, I’ve felt ill only once and that was in the few days coming into Papua New Guinea. We were heading dead downwind in 30 knots with steep swells that made Bob violently roll back and forth through what felt like an angle of well over 90 degrees! Since leaving Papua New Guinea (about 15 sea-days ago) I haven’t felt a single twinge of sea sickness. Not even a little one! Yay, go me! I must admit, I haven’t taken into account that since arriving in Indonesian waters we’ve been blessed with super calm seas and never more than a zephyr. We’ve had just enough wind to keep us sailing, which has kept the seas lovely and flat, and while Alex has been disappointed with our less-than-speedy progress, I’ve actually been enjoying ocean sailing, finally! It only took two and a half years!
In other good news…. the Indonesian authorities let us into their country. Even though the whole procedure took 4 days to finalise, we managed it without any unforeseen problems and without paying too much money in fees or bribes. Checking out in Bali might be a different story, but certainly checking-in in Saumlaki appears to be one of the easier ports for cruisers to complete the immigration formalities.
We expected Indonesia to be very different from the other islands we’ve previously visited and our first impressions proved this to be correct, at least superficially. The town has a large bustling population; the buildings are ornate and colourful, as are the local long boats. One downside is the huge amount of single-use plastics, many of which have found their way to the ocean. In many ways this place reminds me a little of Thailand, for the good reasons as well as the bad.
Saumlaki is one of the busiest towns in Indonesia and even though there is a port here and the island has an airport, it is seldom visited by tourists. Alex and I stood out from the crowd like a glass of milk in a cola stand. Most people would stare as we walked past them, many would follow us down the street, some would talk to us and some would even ask for our photo to be taken with them. I suppose this is what it must feel like to be famous. If it is, I’m very happy that my childhood dream of becoming a famous singer never materialised. I don’t cope at all well with excessive attention and even if I did, you would rather listen to a dying cat than to my singing, trust me! That’s not to say that all this attention didn’t have its perks – a few locals who spoke a little English were happy to show us round the town and barter at the local market on our behalf. The market here is superb. Full of locally grown fresh fruit and veg and piles of fish caught that very morning. They’re similar to the markets we’ve visited in other islands but with even more choice and at a fraction of the price!
We were lucky enough to meet 4 Aussie guys and one ‘sheila’ who had sailed from Darwin for a few weeks holiday. It was interesting to meet sailors who weren’t ‘live-aboard cruisers’. Although we had plenty in common from a sailing perspective, the conversation was able to divert away from the usual subject into something a little more refreshing. There were two groups – the first was a lovely couple who live in a house in Darwin but decided to sail their 34-foot boat the 250 miles to Saumlaki for a well deserved break from their respective jobs. The second was a group of 3 retired friends who sailed a 32-foot monohull across for a week away. Between them they have a collective age of about 225 years! But their energy levels were comparable to an age of at least half of that! It really goes to show that age is in the mind and really you are as young as you feel. I was grateful to make friends with these wonderful people who knew the area well, this being their regular sailing-getaway spot. In a town as busy and overwhelming as Saumlaki, I was happy for them to take the lead and show us some of the sites.
We stayed in Saumlaki for almost a week before heading west with the intention of stopping at Flores and Komodo before ending our Indonesian visit in Bali. On the forth day at sea the winds died out completely so we decided to stop in at an island called Pantar, anchored outside the village of Kabir. Not because we’d heard great things about the tourist/cruising grounds here, but because it simply happened to be in a convenient position for us to spend a night or two. This island is visited even less frequently by tourists than Saumlaki and is much less built up. In fact, everything about this island is so similar to those islands of the Tropical Pacific that we could be back in Vanuatu or another such archipelago. Basic shelters made from woven bamboo or simple concrete blocks make up the bulk of the houses. Children can be seen fishing, canoeing and playing in the sea and the community in general help each other with various jobs from building works to growing and foraging food. As is typical of our adventures so far, the people here are enormously generous and friendly. Having spent just 5 minutes on shore the other day we got talking to a group of ladies who invited us to sit with them for a while. With the help of Google Translate and a poor cellular internet connection we were able to communicate that we were trying to find the local hot springs which we’d recently read about online. A few moments later the locals were whisking us away on their scooters, excited to show us the sights of their homeland. They expected nothing from us in return, they simply wanted to make us feel welcome and for us to enjoy their island. Despite knowing us for less than half an hour, one lady even offered us a bed in her house for the night. What a lovely offer.
We’re now underway once more and motoring to a small island just off the northern coast of Pantar, to a spot which apparently has world-class snorkelling and diving. The locals tell us that salt water crocodiles are not a threat here – I hope they’re right!