Monday, 5 September 2011

The Komodo Islands and Sumbaya

Our next main destination was Bali where the Sail Indonesia Rally 2011 had announced another ‘Event’ – and we were assured that this one was definite! We much prefer covering the distance in day-hops as it allows us to get some sleep during the hours of darkness and it gives us a chance to see out of the way places.

There are several small islands lying to the north of Komodo Island and a choice of anchorages. The fleet by this time was thinning out, many had already left and some were still in Labuan Bajo. We chose to set sail and made for Komodo Island. P1150227A beautiful inlet on the north coast called Gillilawa Bay. Sailing a mile or so down into the head of the bay revealed two mooring balls – one each for Sal Darago and Ellida! Absolutely blissful.

The next day was just right for a little snorkelling. Taking the dinghies to the mouth of the bay, there was an outer island and a pass between the two land masses. [You have to understand that Indonesia has tides and currents that are strong and are difficult to predict. There are rules and guidelines that are well documented involving the seasons and the state of the moon’s phase, but basically it’s a crap shoot, you find out when you get there]. 

We dropped into the water and discovered that the current was taking us out through the pass. Towing the dinghies on long lines we had a wonderful, no …better than that …fantastic, drift snorkel. Just let the current take you past all the under sea gardens and brightly coloured fish. What an experience. Arriving at deep water on the outside of the islands, we hopped (I hope that doesn’t make it sound like an elegant process) back into the dinghies and fought the current towards our anchorage.
If you find there is a current that can be of help – take it!  Taking the big boats through was a bit ‘heart in mouth’ but it all passed without incident and there followed a very short trip to Gilli Lawa Laut which was just a couple of very small islands north of our last anchorage.
P1150252-55(4)Here we found commercialism and tourism again. It is obviously a good diving spot because several tripper boats were already here and had occupied the mooring buoys, so we searched for a suitable anchoring spot. Space was limited and what we actually found left us rather close to each other at times. We had one of those nights, when you get up every hour to check that all is well and sometimes it is.  There was good snorkelling there, but from the traffic to and fro from the tripper boats to an offshore sunken rock we guessed that the prime site was accessible only to the gas bottle brigade.

A sail of less than 10 miles had us in Batu Monco (Batu Montjo) another deep indentation on the northwest point of Komodo. Another idyllic spot; a sailfin leapt out of the water as we sailed in and we picked up an anchoring spot – ahead of Sal Darago for once! Only one other occupant in the bay, a small catamaran called Decoy, who we had seen before and we made contact. It proved to be good snorkelling before lunch, then a walk ashore in the afternoon. No dragons.

Time to make the last of our island hops before heading to the much larger island of Sumbawa. This time it’s another offshore island named Pulau Banta (Pulau means island) and the recommended spot is a very deep indentation in the southern coast. The chart shows shallows on either side and as we have learned not to trust the charts completely, we keep a fair distance from both shores as we enter and watch the depth gauge very closely. Finding a suitable place did involve a fair bit of trial and error, but eventually we settled and were quite happy with the location. The real drama came the following day when we tried to leave.

Obeying all the rules and guidelines as well as checking a few goat’s entrails, we calculated that the tide would be taking us North as we crossed the pass in a northwesterly direction for the northeast tip of Sumbawa. Thus is was with confidence that we set off and rounded the south coast of Pulau Banta to meet a south flowing current of sufficient speed and set that we were facing north, but travelling south!  Aaaaaarrrgh!  Turn about! We returned to a tiny bay close to our original anchorage and regrouped.

We thought that a couple of hours delay would see a change in the tide and therefore we resolved to wait until midday before trying again. Before the two hours were up, we spotted three rally boats sailing on our proposed route. Lupari 2, Greg and Sue’s bright yellow 40 footer was unmistakable, so we called them on the radio to get there estimate of the current. “It’s just a little bit against us.” was the reply. Fine, that’ll do, so we brace ourselves and set off for a second time.

This time it went according to plan and we had a good sail over the top of the northeast point of Sumbawa and just 10 or so miles west to the open roadstead of Teluk Wera.
IMG_9812There were several rally boats already at anchor, so many in fact that anchoring was tight, but there’s always room for another one or two and we fitted snugly into gaps that were a little tighter than we would have liked, but we felt that they would do. The village of Sangiang was wonderfully visible on shore. It is famous for boat building and two massive traditional style wooden vessels were in advanced stages of build on the beach. We resolved to have a closer look the next day.

The night proved to be eventful as the wind and current changed at irregular intervals and we were anchored next to a catamaran. I friendly Australian couple that we had met before, but catamarans tend to lie in accordance with wind conditions and are less affected by current, whilst the maxim for monohulls like us is, ‘when tide competes with current, current always wins’. We very nearly collided with our neighbour in the darkness, but as we were both up on deck, a little judicious line twiddling and he was kind enough to lower his daggerboard which made him more responsive to the current and it all settled down.

The following morning we did visit Sangiang and we invited to look around the boat building project. It was thoroughly enjoyable and a joy to see them working in the old traditional manner using adzes to shape the timbers and making pegs, boring holes and driving in pegs to hold the planks instead of bolts, rivets, screws, nails whatever is the modern equivalent. And of course there was an army of workers assigned to the task – a jolly bunch.

We then walked the village just taking in the sights; the neat streets formed of hard packed earth, the large and geometrically precise drainage which probably meant that they have severe water problems when the rains come. There were of course mosques, and other public buildings, small shops that were more like kiosks which to our eyes all seemed to offer the same goods for sale; biscuits, benzene, cheap brightly coloured fizzy drinks and sweets.
P1150321P1150323P1430598P1430601P1430610P1430614It was wonderful to see the laundry being done in communal fashion around a water supply and animals sharing the proximity of the family home. People were friendly, eager to exchange works and eager to be on our photographs. We had a wonderful few hours just wandering the town before returning to our dinghies to find that they had been guarded by the harbourmaster and his friends.

Time to resume our journey and a perfectly reasonable sail of just over 18 miles around to the township of Bima. Which was unexpectedly huge. We found an anchorage not far from the town quay, cheek by jowl with a variety of local boats and not too far away from GOSI and HAVEN two friends from the rally who had arrived earlier and chosen a spot further out (where it was a bit windy).

I woke early the following morning. No particular reason, I sometimes do when on board and never regret seeing the dawn.

The sights of Bima coming to life were wonderful and mystical, but before long the silence of the early light was broken by the arrival of workers by ferry from nearby communities. Health and safety regulations don’t apply around here and the way little boats are overcrowded just amazes us. We did notice that the ladies seem to have the interior accommodation whilst the men-folk take the roof. Are the men letting the ladies have the shelter against the sun or are they grabbing the seats that are most easy to escape from (in the likely event of a capsize) for themselves. We wondered.
Budi arrived and made himself known. He had some English – well lots of it actually – but not all easy to understand. He was quite a small and slight man but was accompanied by a large and silent friend, his aim was to assist in any way that he could. He could supply diesel, petrol, water, arrange for laundry, offer guided tours and anything else that we could possibly need. His charges were very reasonable and we availed ourselves of a top-up of diesel to be conveyed to and from shore by him using jerry cans. This arranged, we went ashore to explore.
P1150380P1150384P1150387P1150389P1150391P1150397P1150398P1150403P1150404P1150407P1150408P1150409P1150413P1150414P1430681Bima was just a P1430684stopover – we thought. But a brief foray ashore and we were all convinced that it deserved more attention. It is a very large town – in fact a city, the largest city on Sumbawa with a population of just under 150,000. The language is not Bahasa Indonesian like most of the country, but uniquely Bahasa Bima (or Nggahi Mbojo in native language) it is clearly a Moslem majority and like all Indonesia in our own experience, amazingly friendly.
It was a long hot walk into town, but we wouldn’t have missed the experience, life was going on at breakneck pace all around us, but with such colourful variety. Motor repairs, a flour factory, schools, horse drawn taxis a veritable feast of experiences.
In the centre of the town there were shops galore, of course. But we also found a highly complex set of markets, a fabric market, a fruit market and a meat market all large and all separate. Hundreds of temporary stalls covered with low hanging sun (or rain) covers which both Jeremy and I found awkward as a ‘safe’ height was deemed to be about 5’6”.
The Sultan Salahuddin of Bima left his name to the city mosque and also to the sultan’s palace, an impressive stately pile which by dint of good timing we were able to visit and har a demonstration of drumming. Then a return to the boat by horse drawn cab. Not the very best of experiences as we felt the poor animal was overstretched by our weight.
We could have spent longer at Bima, but we chose to keep up the pace and headed off to Kilo, just 28 miles to the west. P1150455An awkward anchorage, either too shallow near to the tiny village’s shoreline or too deep outside the shelf. However we found a limited patch of rock flecked sand and dropped the hooks, it was fine for an overnight anchorage. We did get a visit from children in boats. It was a good paddle in their dugouts, probably over a mile, but they were all smiles and so we obliged with a few small toys that we kept for such an occasion.

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