The Lumpy Indian

Almost one and a half thousand miles sailed. Two and a half thousand left. The moon has gone from a Cheshire Cat smile to a large white blob, with either a man or a rabbit in it depending on which cultural legend one follows.

The Indian Ocean is living up to it’s reputation. Three separate sets of swells are converging and making things very lumpy. Bob lurches and rolls like a drunken man in unpredictable ways, knocking the wind from the sails and re-filling them with a bang on a regular basis. It is easy to understand why sailors are traditionally superstitious; it seems like all is calm and well until one of us dares to mention that perhaps the sea state is improving. Then, we immediately get picked up and tossed somewhere, and the sounds from the deck of banging sails and lines and the shaking of the rigging reproach our sentiments smartly. I have substituted 1/2” nylon in place of all of the sheets and preventer lines. The stretchiness of the nylon reduces the shock loading considerably and makes a big difference to our sanity if nothing else. We just have to watch out for chafe even more than usual, since a moving, bowstring-tight piece of nylon will cut itself through in a matter of minutes if given anything to rub against. We need it to last at least three more weeks, and hopefully longer.

Despite our occasional discomfort we continue to make good time, with daily runs around the 140-mile mark. In the early hours of yesterday morning we passed the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands some twenty five miles to our South, and there is now no more land on our route until the Agalega Islands over 2,000 miles away.

Homeward Bound

The antipodean point to Bermuda is Perth in Western Australia. That is, the point that is on exactly the opposite side of the planet. If you could dig a hole straight through the center of the Earth from Bermuda and hop through it that’s where you’d pop out.

We didn’t visit Perth but we did, as you know, visit Bali, which is directly north of Perth and on the same line of longitude. In fact, our anchorage, at longitude 115 15 E was exactly 180 degrees from Devonshire parish, Bermuda. Finally, after two years and ten months, we have reached the other side of the world, and every mile sailed will take Bob one mile closer to home rather than one mile further from it. It’s a nice feeling. Somehow it feels like we’re sailing down-hill, and that Bob knows she’s going home.

This illusion has been helped along no doubt by some of the unusually high daily runs that we’ve clocked up over the last few days, despite sailing quite conservatively. We have some very favourable currents to thank for that.

The oceans of the world are actually higher at their western sides than they are at their eastern sides. The relentless trade winds and great ocean currents heap up the sea against the continents. Going from the Atlantic to the Pacific we cheated by dropping several metres through the Panamanian lock system. But the transit from the Pacific to the Indian doesn’t involve any locks or sophistication. Neither does it involve a solid land mass with an unbroken coastline for thousands of miles. Instead, the Pacific squirts through to the Indian through the shallows of the Torres Straits and through the myriad of islands of Indonesia. This ‘equalising current’ runs generally from East to West and has been helping us along for the last month or so, often quite spectacularly. Approaching Bali we regularly saw GPS speeds of over ten knots!

Those currents have significantly reduced now but Bob keeps on bobbing along. We struggled for wind for the first few days but it seems to be a bit more consistent now. We’ve got a solid 15 to 20 knots of breeze on the beam and are making about six and a half knots under a double-reefed mainsail and half of our big 150% genoa. Christmas Island, an Australian territory, is 180 miles to our East North East and we haven’t seen any other marine traffic for the last three days, which suits us just fine. The days are starting to roll together. We’re still eating fresh food for now, though the tomatoes have started to sprout and the green stuff is looking a bit sorry for itself. There are a series of sea mounts coming up in a day or so so I’ll probably stick the fishing lines over soon and try my luck.

Our destination is Northern Madagascar, still some 3200 miles away, or about four weeks of sailing. Our original intention had been to visit a little island called Rodrigues just to the East of Mauritius and then head directly from there to South Africa, but based on the look of the weather charts and the advice of a meteorologist-sailor based in South Africa we decided to opt for what we hope will be an easier route around the Northern tip of Madagascar. Besides, Sarah wants to see the Aye Aye, her favourite animal (also one of the ugliest I think!), in the wild and that is the only place they live.

Senses of Bali

Bali is definitely a destination for the sun-seeking tourist. Luxury spa hotels with cushioned deckchairs line the white sandy coastline and pink faces can been seen bobbing around in the turquoise waters. Tourists from far and wide are greeted with a big warm welcome and there’s plenty here to see and do.

Most of the locals are familiar with tourists arriving by plane and staying in a hotel. Our taxi driver the other day could not understand why on Earth we wanted to go to a supermarket to buy 5 cases of beer and then be dropped off on a beach, at night. Alex and I explained our whole voyage and life to him. Three times! After which his response was “No. I think you stay in hotel”. Oh well, you win some you lose some.

In other news, we met a wonderful couple (Brad and Claudia) who are sailing their bright pink 32 foot monohull around the world on a huge culinary mission. They are both trained chefs and Brad is currently in the process of setting up the next big online presence in the world of cheffing. He will soon be filming for an exciting new YouTube series uncovering stories behind strange and exotic foods in remote destinations all across the globe. He’s currently focusing on Indonesia. Indonesia is renowned for its delicious cuisine and although we were able to dine at some of the luxury resorts once or twice, we frequented the local street food stalls much more often. Brad was extremely keen to drag us down the dingy narrow streets, away from the resorts, to the local street food stalls and restaurants so that we could get a taste of ‘true’ Indonesia. It’s one thing to experience the smells and tastes of a local dish, but to be able to fully understand the history of the dish and the delicate cooking processes was even more amazing! This is what Brad is offering on his upcoming series – A Nomadic Chef. I know that some of our followers are keen ‘foodies’ and I would highly recommend subscribing to his website. It might be a little while before he publishes his first video but it will be worth the wait. Trust me! I’ve seen some short snippet previews 🙂

This is the gang chowing down on some delicious Balinese street food.

Yum!

Babi Guling is a roast suckling pork dish where they spit roast a whole pig and turn it into a medley of delicious foods.

Babi guling – the pig is used to make crackling, pork scratchings, pulled pork, a ‘chorizo’ style sausage, roast pork slices, stripped pork with chilli and vegetables, crispy pork and pork soup, served with a plate of rice. This is a carnivores dream!

We also tried Kopi Luwak coffee, where the coffee beans are first eaten by an Asian palm civet and undergo fermentation in the animals intestines. Their faecal matter is then collected, processed and turned into coffee. Yes, it’s basically coffee that’s made of poo! But it actually tastes very very good. Plus the Asian palm civet is so incredibly cute and was waiting to meet us on the table at the cafe – how could I possibly resist!

Indonesian coffee marketing at its best!

The civet wasn’t the only creature to draw our attention, we also visited the Ubud Monkey Forest which is a sanctuary for the Asian long tailed monkey. Surrounded by forest and ancient temples the monkeys are fed and looked after by the locals. This site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Bali. The local Hindu religion has a principal known as the Tri Hatta Karana which encourages three paths to reach spiritual and physical well-being. These three ways are to create a harmonious relationship with 1) other humans; 2) the environment and 3) with the Supreme God. Monkey Forest aims to achieve this by welcoming visitors from all over the world, promoting access to nature and encouraging prayer in their temples.

We’ve done a LOT of work on the boat since arriving in Bali which Alex will probably talk about in a later blog. The labour and material costs are just sooooo cheap here that it made sense to give Bob a few upgrades. Unfortunately it meant that we haven’t been able to do as much Bali sight-seeing as we might have liked. I couldn’t leave Bali, however, without spending an afternoon at a spa. So Alex treated me to an early birthday present and bought me an afternoon ‘ritual’ at the second-best spa in all of Bali (according to trip advisor). It was honestly the best spa experience I have EVER had! The ritual included a 60 min massage, foot spa, body exfoliation, body wrap, full facial and a rose petal bath! By the end I felt so beautiful in my skin that I think I honestly could have walked out into the street stark naked….. perhaps with some rose petals covering vital areas. The whole experience was amazing! Also, I’ve never had a facial before. They really work! The skin on my face has not felt so firm and soft since I was in my early 20s!

Our stay in Bali was short but sweet. Now we have upped anchor and are currently sailing to our next destination – across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar! This will be our longest passage yet and we expect to be at sea for about a month. We’ll keep you updated of our progress using the satellite phone to post the odd blog from time to time. See you on the other side!

Oceans of Plastic

This is a blog that I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Indeed, some of our past blogs have briefly mentioned the problems we’ve seen with plastics and waste management in general, but I feel this is a topic that deserves a bit more focus.

We’re all aware of the problems associated with plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and that a large proportion of them end up in our oceans and wreak havoc with the wildlife. We’ve heard of the Great Pacific Gyre and are probably aware that there are similar gyres in all the other oceans of the world. There are also some pretty neat ideas about cleaning it up. The Ocean Cleanup Project has received a particularly large amount of sensationalist press, not least because the guy who came up with the idea and presented it at a TEDx talk was 17 at the time. In fact, the whole idea was spawned from a school project. Things like this have great potential to put a good dent in the amount of plastics that are already in the oceans, but I wonder how many people appreciate how easy it could be to tackle the problem from the other end – where the plastics first go into the environment.

Just twenty countries are responsible for 80% of total plastic waste that ends up in the sea. See the graph below for who they are:

 

Waste estimates from the top 20 countries in 2010 by mismanaged plastic waste (million metric tonnes per year). Data is taken from Jambeck, J. R. et al. (2015) “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Oceans.” Science, vol. 347. No 6223, pp. 768-771.

But it gets better than that! The vast majority of these plastics are carried to the sea via rivers, each of which may pass through several countries. In fact, a whopping 90% of the total global plastic waste that ends up in the sea comes out of just ten rivers, and eight of them are in Asia. This is great news, because it means the solution doesn’t need to be global. All is not lost! We just need to focus efforts on those rivers, which, conveniently, aren’t even all that widely-separated on the planet.

The plastic waste that litters the seas around Indonesia is, quite frankly, disgusting. We can’t run our water-maker in port. We tried, and it sucked up a plastic bag and blew out the gasket on the boost pump (I replaced the pump with an old domestic water pressure pump so we’re back in action now!). We know when we’re approaching a town or village because we literally start sailing through plastic. At around the time that we arrived here and were confronted with this sad situation I happened to glance at Facebook and came across a series of posts written in relation to someone who had thrown some beer bottles overboard from a boat during cup match in Bermuda. The kick-back from the community was huge. That person was shamed, his father was shamed, his friends were shamed and a great deal of anger was generated over this one incident. Rightly so, perhaps, but for me, reading about this incident really impressed upon me just how good we are in the Western world at waste management and how great the general anti-pollution mentality of the populations is. Plastic waste in Bermuda doesn’t last long, because someone will pick it up. My grandfather used to have a nail in the bottom of his walking stick so that he could pick up the odd bit of trash that he encountered on his morning walk. Many times when out in my boat in Bermuda I have picked up a bit of floating plastic that I’ve spotted bobbing around, and most other boaters can say the same. If I did the same thing here, I would never do anything else and the inflow of plastics is so great that my efforts would count for absolutely nothing. My point is that we in the Western world deserve a massive pat on the back for how we manage our waste. It’s not perfect of course, but it’s very, very good.

Another point I’d like to make is that it is not necessarily the fault of the people who live in these places. We were appalled in the islands of Polynesia to see widespread mismanagement of trash and extensive littering. But think about it – how long have the people living in these places had to deal with plastic waste? Perhaps a couple of decades at the most. Prior to that people ate foods that were packaged by Mother Nature. You eat a banana and you leave the skin on the ground. The same goes for coconuts, papaya, breadfruit and whatever else you are eating. There was no such thing as waste management because there never needed to be. How, then, can the populations of these places be expected to miraculously effect a paradigm shift and spontaneously develop effective waste management strategies just because their food now comes wrapped in a different material? Of course they can’t. They never leave their islands. They don’t see how it could be done, they have no-one to teach them otherwise and many don’t have the resources or infrastructure for proper management in the first place.

I read a book recently that contained an account of a government-sponsored beach cleanup day in El Salvador. The government approached the villagers along a stretch of coastline and said “we’d like to clean up your shoreline and we’d like you to help”. The villagers were really keen. They all went off and spent a day collecting ‘trash’. When the government trash truck turned up at the end of the day they were dismayed to discover that the villagers had picked up all the palm fronds, all the dead branches of trees, and left the plastic waste right where it was. They simply didn’t view it as being ‘trash’. The government educated the people and told them that it was the plastic that they wanted, not the palm fronds. The villagers went off again and they transformed the coastline, removing every bit of trash. The government officials were so impressed that they decided to reward the villagers. They sent trucks with food. Unfortunately the food was wrapped in plastic……………

We’ve seen a very similar mentality here in Indonesia. Below is a photo of an idyllic-looking waterfront:

The people clearly take pride in their living spaces. The houses and boats are beautifully-painted. The people are clean, and clothed well. We even saw evidence of trash disposal in the form of no less than three fire pits. But this is a very dry island. They can’t grow crops and they don’t have enough water. When the majority of your food and all of your drinking water is packaged in plastic, and you have 1,700 people living in a close-knit village perched at the base of a mountain and hemmed-in by the sea, you can’t burn it all. If you tried you’d have people getting ill from the fumes. So this is the inevitable result:

We are nearing the end of the dry season now, so this river is very low and the plastics debris nearing its worst. As soon as the monsoon rains start some time in November all of this will be washed into the sea. For me, the thought of that is horrible. For the villagers, though, it must be a huge relief. But the truly shocking thing is that this is Komodo Village, right at the heart of Komodo National Park. It is considered a global conservation priority area due to the unparalleled biodiversity of its terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

 

Even if the countries in this part of the world all had waste management plans on par with those in the Western world it wouldn’t solve the problem. When I talk about plastic packaging you are no doubt thinking of the over-packaged food you buy at your standard Western supermarket. A bag of frozen peas wrapped in plastic. A pre-cooked microwave meal in a plastic tray, covered in plastic film and wrapped in a plastic-coated cardboard container. It’s pretty terrible, but that’s in countries where the producers know that people are, at least to some extent, sensitised to the evils of plastics. What the producers do in Asian countries, where people don’t view the plastics as a problem, or at best see them as a necessary nuisance, is far, far worse. The pictures below were taken back in January when we were in Thailand. This is TYPICAL of packaging not just in Thailand, but all over Asia.

There’s also one more aspect to this. Population. I don’t think most people realise that 60% of the population of the planet lives in Asia. That’s over 4.5 billion consumers all jammed into 30% of the world’s land area. No wonder this is where the heart of the problem is! But it’s also convenient. All of the people whose mentalities regarding plastics and waste need to change are all in the same place.

So, all is not lost. Well done Western world! Now let’s focus on changing the practices of those Asian countries and really make a difference at the source.

The realm of dragons

The hairs on the back of my neck have been standing on end during every snorkel, dive and dinghy ride since arriving in Indonesia. Despite being surrounded by vibrant coral reef and fish aplenty, there was always something hidden in the distant blue that distracted me from the usual underwater wonders and made me very uneasy- the savage salt-water crocodile! Many Indonesian islands are home to this elusive species and I’ve heard horror stories about the brutal loss of life at the jaws of these reptiles. You’d think that my all-consuming fear of death would have stopped me from entering the water, but the ecologist inside just couldn’t help herself. I was desperate to experience the world-class diving that Indonesia has to offer and part of me would secretly love to see a ‘salty’ in the wild… at a safe distance of course. Fortunately (or unfortunately as my internal ecologist would say) we never came across one during our dives, and once we arrived in Flores the threat was completely negated as the crocodiles have been hunted to (local) extinction.

This is Bob anchored off the north coast of Flores.

This island has a healthy and vibrant coral reef with a plethora of fish.

Crocodiles are not the only large, intimidating reptiles to inhabit these Indonesian islands. There is another deadly creature which, over the course of history, has been responsible for many a human death. I’m sure that you have already guessed which creature I’m talking about – the infamous ‘Komodo dragon’. There’s only one small area of the world that houses the last 3000 of these dragons, and lucky for us, Alex and I happened to be sailing right past it.

Komodo Nature Reserve

Komodo Island and its surrounding waters are part of a world famous nature reserve where it’s possible to get up-close and personal with unusual and charismatic species. The marine life here is second-to-none and the terrestrial habitat is home to many plants and insects that support a whole host of larger species – the most famous being its exceptionally large reptilian inhabitants.

We wasted no time at all and hired a local guide for the afternoon to take us through the bush so that we might safely catch a glimpse of this renowned creature.

The infamous Komodo dragon – the creature we were attempting to track down.

The bush habitat is surprisingly well established for such a dry island and there were plenty of places for a Komodo dragon to hide. It’s scaly skin is perfectly coloured to blend in with its surroundings. All it has to do it wait. Wait to pounce on unsuspecting victims innocently passing by.

Alex and our guide, Rahman, scouting the bush for dragons.

Komodo dragons are carnivores and fierce hunters. They are capable of taking down very large prey. Deer are their main food source here but they also eat wild boar, buffalo, smaller Komodo dragons and even humans. The last time a tourist was attacked was in 2017. The man (in his 50’s) suffered very severe leg injuries as a result and was lucky to escape with his life. Others were not so fortunate.

The Timor deer make up the bulk of the dragon’s diets. We saw many deer on our trek. Lots of prey equals lots of DRAGONS!

A hungry dragon hides out and waits for unsuspecting prey to pass nearby. Often, it ambushes the ill-fated animal and attacks with its powerful jaws. It secretes venom in the form of toxic proteins which cause paralysing pain, excessive bleeding, extreme swelling and lowering of blood pressure. This ultimately leads to shock, loss of consciousness and death. Impressively, these reptiles often bring down prey much larger than themselves in less than 30 minutes.

Teeth are often lost during attacks and it’s possible to find this evidence of recent meals while wandering in the bush. Each dragon has almost 60 of these in its mouth.

Teeth weren’t the only evidence of nearby dragons. This pile of faeces is less than a day old. We know it’s from a dragon firstly by its size (unsurprisingly) and secondly, by the white colouration of uric acid produced with the usual pile of brown waste.

This is a track left by a Komodo dragon. You can clearly see the wavy line left in the dirt by the dragons tail scoring the earth as it waddled along. The guides are so skilled at tracking them they are able to tell which direction they were going.

Young Komodo dragons spend their first few months in the canopy of trees. Here they feed on invertebrates, birds and small reptiles while avoiding the cannibalistic nature of the adult dragons. When a juvenile braves the ground to eat the remains of a dead carcass, they have been known to roll in the faeces and intestines of the dead animal in an attempt to deter hungry adults. The young have a slightly more vibrant and metallic colour pattern, presumably for camouflage purposes.

We were exceptionally quiet during our trek and were fortunate enough to sneak up on a juvenile who had ventured to the ground. Our guide told us that it’s extremely rare to see a dragon so young in the wild as they remain so well hidden. We were the lucky few.

Finally, at the end of our trek was a watering hole that was surprisingly devoid of animals. This was the only watering hole for many miles and normally it would be bursting with life as the nearby animals came by for a drink. The reason for this eerie absence of life soon became apparent…

This huge male Komodo dragon was lurking just a few meters away. It might look like we were able to sneak up behind him without him noticing, but he has good eyesight, good hearing and an exceptional sense of smell. He is able to detect the scent of a carcass from over 5km away! Luckily he had recently had a meal (they feed only about once a month) so wasn’t interested in making a meal out of us. Surprisingly he wasn’t at all bothered by human presence. He knows who’s at the top of the food chain!

Pink Beach

There are wonders in this realm of dragons other than its scaly inhabitants. Any Bermudian reading this will not like what I’m about to say. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we have achieved the impossible – we’ve actually found a beach that tops those in Bermuda. Even Alex admits that this beach is the best he has ever visited – and that’s coming from a person who has an unintelligible dislike of beaches.

This photo was taken on a cloudy day and I only wish I could have witnessed the sun beaming down on its turquoise waters and lustrous sand. Pink Beach in Komodo not only contains one of the best snorkel sites that I have ever experienced, it also has the comfortable warm waters of tropical climes and, of course, the sand is PINK 🙂

It’s not just that pink is one of the worlds greatest colours, there’s a lot that goes into the formation of a pink sand beach. Tiny marine creatures called foraminifera create a pink or red calcium carbonate structure as a protective case. This forms part of a more complex structure of shell or coral and once the animals die, natural forces break this up to form the thousands upon thousands of pieces that make up this pink beach.

Manta Point

Finally, I couldn’t finish up without showing you this short video of my time swimming at Manta Point. I swam with manta rays before in the Marquesas Islands over a year a ago now. It was one of my all-time favourite wildlife moments and I never thought I would be lucky enough to experience it twice. Manta Point provided beautiful clear waters to watch and swim with these magnificent rays. Alex doesn’t appear in the video because I left him on the boat driving around in circles in the pass, waiting for me. I might, possibly, have felt a twinge of guilt, but it didn’t last long.