Monkeying around in Mauritius

Wednesday 17th October 2018

After so many weeks either at sea or on quiet islands, emerging into the bustling town of Port Louis was completely disorientating. A cacophony of noise from the huge building works on the Waterfront assaulted my ears. People and more people, cars and bikes blocked my every move and the mishmash of roads that looked nothing like the grid layout on my map , hid my destination. Finally locating the supermarket, dazed I fought my way through the crowds. Doing my best to translate the French labels, I scrabbled together enough items to get us through the next few days.

Sailing into Port Louis

Luckily it didn’t take long to adjust and on Mauritius’s plus side, we have found nice cheese and baguettes, an ATM that gives us money on our first attempt and in the restaurants the food has been good and the wine served in thin stemmed glasses, a real luxury.

At the weekend we hired a car to explore a bit further and visit some of the tourist attractions. Escaping the traffic and chaos of the town’s took a while, Mauritius turns out to be much more built up than we expected. The busy roads, crowded pavements and ramshackle buildings of much of Port Louis and the towns of the interior are a world away from the serenity of the expensive resorts that line the rest of the coast, our previous experience of the Island. The real Mauritius is a truly multicultural society. Christian churches sit next to ornate Hindu temples, while pray call from the mosques fills the air. Over half of the population is of Indian decent, but there are also a large contingent of Africans and Chinese all muddling along together.

We first travelled north to the Botanic gardens, famous for its pond of Giant Amazonian Lilies and 80 varieties of palm trees. Created over 260yrs ago, avenues of mature trees link the formal lilly pond to the more naturalistic ponds of lotus flowers.

Victoria Amazonia Lilies and Lotus flowers and seed pods.

Sunday we headed South to explore the mountains of the Black River National Park. First stop was the sacred lake at Grand Bassin, mythically linked with the Ganges it is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India. The proof of its popularity are the huge car parks and walkways that lead to it. The air was thick with the scent of incense and although nobody seemed to mind us wandering amongst them taking photos, we felt rather like intruders. Dressed in their colourful Sunday best, families had come to be blessed in the holy waters, making offerings of fruit, vegetables and flowers and then visiting the temple and praying to the brightly decorated deities that sit at the waters edge.

Ganesh the elephant deity

We drove further into the park stopping at view points and waterfalls. Unfortunately the dry season had turned the waterfalls into trickles and with cloudy skies the no doubt often spectacular views to the south coast were misty and flat. Troops of monkeys that had collected to scavenge from the tourists leftovers became the main attraction.

Monkeys high up in the Black River National Park

Descending through sharp hairpins the mountain road led us down to Chamarel and it’s peculiar dunes, La Terre de Sept Couleurs. The seven colours have been created from basalt rock rich in Iron and Aluminium. Ferrous oxides giving the reds and browns, aluminium oxides producing blues and purples.

The Seven Coloured Earth

Back onboard Raya we spent a couple of days in limbo, waiting for the ok on a spot in the marina in Reunion Island, our next stop and where Richard leaves us to fly back to the UK. The Oyster Rally a week ahead of us is occupying most of the space, but with the arrival of the World Rally boats to Port Louis, things are getting pretty tight here too. Berths for individual yachts such as ourselves are becoming few and far between. And with the weather not looking good for a departure to South Africa any time soon there is becoming a bit of a yacht bottle neck.

Thankfully yesterday Regine the Oyster Rally coordinator kindly negotiated us a spot tied up with the Oyster fleet, we leave for Reunion this afternoon.

Turbulent Indian Ocean

Finally Internet, see two blogs below

Friday 5th October 2018

We have just reached the halfway mark of our sail from Cocos Keeling to Mauritius. The Indian Ocean continues to be lumpy and uncomfortable, tossing Raya back and forth as she speeds onward. Bigger waves roll in every ten minutes or so, looming over us then picking us up, when we reach the crest for a moment we sit perched high above the ocean, before with much spray and noise, we surf downwards to await the next ride.

Waves up to five meters high persisted for most of the passage.

Our friend Richard who joined us in Cocos Keeling has fitted in well with our routines and so we are now all getting a bit more sleep, even with the rolly conditions. The half moon however that lit our way for the first few nights, has waned and with quite a bit of cloud obscuring the stars our night watches are very dark. Sunrise is as always welcome.

A pink sunrise

We have seen very few other ships, a few tankers have passed us but most only spotted on the chart plotter as AIS targets, just a couple pass close enough to spot on the horizon. Even the dolphins have been keeping their distance it is unusual to be at sea for this long without spotting at least a few.

In contrast there have been plenty of flying fish, one morning Richard cleared 26 that had accumulated on the deck over night. During the day we watched them skimming the waves all around us. On one wave, right next to us, about 50 small fish all took to the air at once. Catching the sun as they leapt, fins beating rapidly, for one magical moment they looked just like a band of fairies appearing from the deep.

So each day goes on, we eat, catch up on sleep, read and gather for the 4pm crossword. We’ve had good winds and we are sailing fast, there is much debate as to whether we can maintain these high speeds and make it to Port Louis the afternoon before our estimated arrival on Friday 12th. The next few days, with a forecast drop in the wind and possible drop in speed, will be the deciding factor. Unfortunately if we lose pace then we will have to slow up for the rest of the voyage to avoid a night time arrival.

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Thursday 11th October 2018

On day eight calmer weather did arrive, the sea settled, the sun shone and the fishing rod came out. Luckily we still had a reasonable breeze and could keep our speed up. The fish however were disappointedly not biting. A fish supper would not only have been delicious but would have helped our dwindling fresh food supplies. Almost everything I bought in Cocos Keeling has not lasted well, the fridge is looking extremely bare. We have all been fantasising about our first meal ashore, with chips of course and a large glass of wine.

Boys putting out the fishing rod, no bites this trip sadly.

The Indian Ocean hadn’t finished with us yet however, two days out from Mauritius and the winds built again along with the swell. It was back to bracing against the tipping from the waves, each task taking twice as long as it should. We have found this Ocean particularly fickle, winds often gusting from 18 to over 30kts every few minutes and the sea state varying, seemingly randomly, from slight to rough.

For the second half of the passage we saw many more tankers and cargo boats, all thankfully happy, on request on VHF, to let us maintain our course. About 200nm out we began to cross the shipping lane for boats coming up from the Cape of Good Hope heading towards East Asia. A sharp lookout was required.

And then the squalls came. Ominous black clouds would appear on the horizon, the wind would drop and back. The arrival of a downpour would be accompanied by a blast of high winds that only gradually returned to their presquall direction and strength. Each squall required us to reef the sails and frequently change direction, the cockpit and crew were frequently soaked, sleeping off watch almost impossible, if we hadn’t laughed we would have cried.

Squalls rolling in over the Indian Ocean

To add to our woes, a seam on our Genoa started to split, the sails have, like us, done a lot of miles. Luckily they are very strong and held together with a network of spectra, miraculously the sail maintained its integrity and didn’t appear to effect our performance.

A split in the Genoa

But we made it, in more or less one piece and are now tied up to the wall near the customs office in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. Although not our favourite crossing it has been our fastest, arriving 12hrs earlier that expected and averaging 7.8kts. The usual ‘ got here beer’ was delayed slightly by the extremely efficient check in procedure. An hour of form filling later, it was three very weary and slightly wobbly sailors that clambered over the railings to the restaurants conveniently located right next to us.

Second ‘got here beer’

Cocos Keeling

Thursday 27th September 2018

Coral garden Cocos Keeling

Sitting atop a sea mount rising from the sea bed 5000m below, Cocos Keeling is 600nm SE of Java and over thousand miles NW of Australia, it is the very definition of the middle of nowhere. Two stunning coral atolls comprising of 27 white sand islands, topped with palm trees and of course surrounded by turquoise seas.

The anchorage off Direction Island

For such a remote spot we have discovered it has a lively history. The inside of the Southern Atoll has provided, in the aptly named Refuge Bay, protection for passing ships for centuries and we in that long tradition are anchored in its lagoon off Direction Island. It was first put on the map by a whaler from the Scottish Clunies-Ross family, who in the early 19th century settled here, bringing in hundreds of Malay workers with whom he set up a successful coconut plantation.

At the beginning of the 20th century things began to change. As telegraph communications become more important, in 1901 a cable was laid from Perth in Australia to a repeater station on Direction Island and then on to Singapore and Mauritius providing a link from Australia to London. With the coming of the World Wars the islands strategic position became even more clear to the Australian government and in the 1950s, it would appear rather underhandedly, the Governor of the the time John Clunies-Ross was accused of practicing slavery, shamed and bankrupted. Cocos Keeling became part of Australia.

Oceana House the grand family home still stands on Home Island. After years of neglect it was bought by an Australian couple Avril and Lloyd and just in time its expansive teak panelling, wooden floors and ornate terraces are beginning to be restored.

Home island, a very wet 2nm dingy ride away from the anchorage, has that sleepy island feel that we have found in many isolated ocean islands. It is home to the majority of the Muslim Malay population and with only short distances to travel in their small town they get around slightly incongruously in golf buggies. There is a small museum, a supermarket, island administrative buildings and a brand new cyclone shelter. But our destination is almost always, the pavilion, here overlooking the beach and lagoon is an internet hotspot, every couple of days we sit, dripping from the journey, catching up with our emails and downloading the weather.

Connecting with the rest of the world

West Island, that forms a large part of the western lagoon edge, houses most of the Australian residents, a further supermarket, a cafe and the airport. Saturday our friend Richard was flying in from the UK to join us on the leg to Mauritius and Reunion. With the demise of our Bimini and sprayhood earlier in the year, we also had a large box of replacement canvas work, very efficiently supplied by Dolphin sails in the U.K. to pick up. Add on the fact that fresh groceries had arrived on the island that day, which I with seemingly the rest of the population, rushed to snap up before stocks dwindled, meant it was three very ladened sailors that made the convoluted trek back to Raya. First step was to take a shuttle bus from the town to the ferry dock, then it required two ferry crossings from West Island to Home Island, one for people and one for cargo and then being too loaded down for the dingy, we had to arrange a water taxi back to the boat. It took a while but we made it and Richard is unpacked, the new sprayhood up and the fridge full.

As we wait for the rather windy weather to calm down before we head off on the two week passage to Mauritius, we have been enjoying this rather special place. As well as learning about the islands history we have been following trails through land thick with palm trees, socialising with the World ARC boats that have gradually being filling the anchorage and snorkelling ‘The Rip’.

The Rip is a channel cutting through the coral at the end of Direction Island, the current runs at about 3kts and it is full of large grouper, trevally and white tip sharks, all enjoying the fast flow of nutrients. The coral walls either side provide overhangs, crevasses and bommies crowded with smaller fish. The dingy firmly in tow it made for a great, if rather quick, drift snorkel.

Inhabitants of the Rip

Today the wind is stronger than ever, the fetch across the lagoon forming white horses, we have put on our swimmers to make the crossing to the pavilion and are temporary connected to the world.

No Pain, No Gain

Thursday 20th Sept 2018

Hanging on, precariously against the messy seas and high winds, a masked booby taking a rest from the buffeting of these gusty conditions, perches on our dingy. I, in a similar state, sit huddled in the corner of the cockpit, his presence breaking the monotony of my night watch. The predawn sky gradually lightens to reveal another day of rough seas. The best thing that can be said about our passage from Lombok to Cocos Keeling is that it’s been fast, we covered the 1141nm in just a few hours over 6 days.

Masked Bobbie resting on the dingy

You would think that after 25,000nm, the milestone we reached a few days ago, that we would be better at reading weather forecasts and that we would realise that 12kts really means 8kts ie not enough to sail by, which is what we had for the first two days and that 20kts actually means well over 30kts, producing the rough seas that plagued us for the rest of the journey.

It’s not that these rough seas were scary, even as large waves loom over us, Raya copes with these conditions as if they are all in a days work but it is really uncomfortable. Eating and other essential tasks become difficult and sleeping is near on impossible. On our off watches we roam the boat, steadying ourselves between handrails, dragging a quilt, trying to find the best place to sleep in the current conditions. Some times diagonally across the main bed works, or perhaps wedged into a bunk bed with a lea cloth or maybe the best spot is in a nest of pillows on the sofa. Often there isn’t anywhere that works and it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to get what rest you can.

The captain clinging on while he catches up on some sleep

The big waves also brought us less welcome visitors. Flying fish flew on to the deck and into the cockpit in shoals, their frantic flapping leaving scales all over the place and making them impossible to pick up and throw back into the sea. One hit Rick square on the head, others bounced off the Bimini which must amazingly be 4 or 5m above their watery home, while others we found caught in the halyards on the mast.

We left Marina del Ray last Thursday for an anchorage away from the islands and pearl farms that surround Gili Gede to make for an easier get away the next day. We wanted to tackle the strait between Lombok and Bali in the lighter, early morning, breezes. It was still a challenge to avoid the worst of the overfalls but the 5kt current whisked us quickly out from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, we really are on our way home now. With only seven or so weeks left before the cyclone season hits this area and with nearly 5000nm to cover we will for the first time on this trip be sailing for as much as we are at anchor. As we watched the turbulent water around us, discussed whether it was worth fighting the elements to make a cup of tea or sat through a chilly, drizzly night, the prospect of weeks at sea didn’t really appeal.

However this morning the sea had calmed a little and with just 10nm to go we spotted the last of the Oyster rally fleet leaving the atoll of the South Keeling Islands. Our spirits rose as we chatted on the radio to our friends on True Blue who gave us their top tips for enjoying our stay. And as we rounded Direction Island and entered the lagoon we were greeted with clear, calm, turquoise seas and three small black tip sharks. We were promptly checked in by the friendly Cocos Keeling police, washed our salt covered decks and drank our ‘got here beer’. This life’s not so bad, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Motoring in to the lagoon off Direction Island

Lombok, Marina del Ray

Thursday 13th September 2018

As we secure the last few lockers, finish a raft of maintenance and cook enough meals for a week at sea, around us the marina has emptied of Oyster rally boats and then refilled with boats from the World ARC.

Raya and 20 World ARC yachts.

Making the best use we could of the few quiet days between the rallies, we managed to refuel, get the laundry completed and take a trip into town to provision. Town is the capital of Lombok, Mataran, which is 20miles and an hour and a half drive away.

This was not a prospect we relished with memories of the hot bumpy rides we have had so far in Indonesia. Saturdays journey started with a short boat ride over to the mainland and here we immediately realised Lombok was a bit different from the other islands. The ever present scooter drivers were actually wearing helmets, our driver put on his seat belt and the road was smooth, newly laid tarmac. The views from the window however were chaotically similar. The first third of the journey we wound around the turquoise coast dotted with a few small resorts and passed through ramshackle villages and farms.

Farm buildings for cattle and goats

We entered a more built up area, a beggar sat on a stool in the middle of the road, perilously close to the traffic, school children filled the pavements and horse and carts risked life and limb cantering between the cars and scooters. We crossed a tumble down bridge in the middle of being replaced, mosques appeared around every corner and as we entered the city rice paddy fields incongruously filled the land between buildings

Schools out, half days on Saturday

We turned into a large car park and suddenly the noise and bedlam of Mataram disappeared. The large, western style shopping centre, shiny, quiet and modern felt like it had been dropped from outer space. It took a moment to get over the culture shock and then it was straight to the supermarket to stock up for the next couple of weeks.

Water taxi delivered us and our shopping back to the marina

With all the boats on the dock there has been a friendly atmosphere, everybody helping each other out. We were recommended a restaurant over the hill. A short walk, with a steep section over rubble and mud, followed by a badly crumbling path but it was well worth the effort. Perched on a slope, draped in bougainvillea it was completely charming, the food was good and the prices reasonable. Just don’t forget your torch for the walk back!

Crumbling path to the restaurant

And so our Indonesian foray comes to and end, we have after a few days of delays our exit papers and tomorrow we will set off on the first leg across the Indian Ocean. We should reach the remote atoll of Cocos Keeling in 6-7 days time.

Volcano Adventures

Friday 7th September 2018

pBrightly painted wooden boats sit underneath the volcanoes on the dark black sand

We have arrived in a Gili Gede, an island in the South West of Lombok and are tied up in the half completed Marina del Ray. After over a week of day hop sailing, covering 300nm and 2 months with just the odd drop of rain. It feels good to not be rushing off at the crack of dawn, to be able to sleep with the anchor alarm turned off and to get some fresh water to wash down the decks.

All the islands from Java to Timor make up a volcanic arc that sits on the boundary of the Australian and South East Asian tectonic plates. Being on the extreme western edge of the so called ring of fire, a geologically active area that surrounds the pacific, it has active volcanoes and suffers from frequent earthquakes. Unfortunately demonstrated by the strong recent quakes in the north of Lombok Island that sadly killed around 500 people. Thankfully we haven’t been effected and nor has the south of the island where the marina is located, so we continue on as planned feeling that the best way to support the island is to visit and spend our tourist pounds. We sail past hundreds of cone shaped peaks, some rising to over 3000m straight from the sea.

Gunung Sangeang

Leaving Komodo our route took us along the north coast of Sumbawa. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, in the shadow of the huge volcano that is the Island of Sangeang , sits the village of Wera. A centre for traditional boat building it appeared that the whole village was on or around the black sand beach, either building, repairing, playing with or sailing boats. The boats are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, made entirely from wood and ranged from the kids built toy boats, through the common long boats, up to a 30m long fishing boat. As we walked along the sand, regrettably again dodging piles of rubbish, we were mobbed by hundreds of children and encouraged by the obviously proud boatmen to photograph their handiwork.

Traditional boat being built in Wera

Continuing our journey we spent one night in Karanga. As the early morning haze began to clear it offered us a backdrop dominated by Gunung Tambora, the volcano that in 1815 erupted with such force that it filled the air with clouds of dust. This dust spread across the planet and was so thick it partially blocked out the sun, plunging the world into “a year without summer”.

Unfortunately a swim in the green seawater lake nearby, in the Caldera of Saltode Island, wasn’t possible, the anchorage was too rough to risk leaving Raya or dinging ashore. We moved on to the island of Moyo and managed a snorkel and a visit to the beach but the continuing choppy seas thwarted our plans to eat at the resort across the bay.

It was time to find a calmer anchorage and a more tranquil spot couldn’t have been wished for. Hidden behind a sand spit at the marvellously named Potapaddu Bay we found still water.

Raya anchored in the calm of Potapaddu Bay

We had a pleasant snorkel on the coral wall on the outside of the spit and as the afternoon wore on fishing boats started to appear from the village. Eventually they overcame their shyness and came across to say hello and see if we had any gifts. And we did. We had read that the villagers of Sumbawa were very poor but Wera had been too crowded to start giving out things and at Karanga it was a bit rough. The half dozen boats that crowded around us here were much more manageable. We gave away T-shirts, fishing hooks and line, toys and the ever in demand pens and paper. However the most popular gift was perfume. Penny had bought with her two boxes of tiny perfume samples and when we demonstrated what they were and let them smell my wrist, their expressions of delight was a picture. For your Istri (wife) we told them, giggling they added them to their stash of goodies .

With only a few days left of Penny and Stephens holiday we needed to push on and our next challenge was the narrow strait between Sumbawa and Lombok. We had another early start to try to get as far through the passage as possible before the winds filled in. We stayed as close to land as we could winding through the small islands and reefs, Mount Randi towering over Lombok in the distance. As we entered the channel for real, Penny was first to spot the overfalls, with 20kts of wind against us and 5kts of tide with us we knew eventually we would have problems and a line of white on the horizon was fair warning. We avoided as much of the turbulence as we could but eventually decided that 3hrs more of this discomfort wasn’t worth it and dived into a deep bay to spend the night before venturing on early the next morning.

Mid-morning we enter the protected natural harbour at Alang, heading for the lovely beach at the Ekas anchorage. We were glad we had entered in good light the bay was full of fishing platforms, apparently they are farming lobsters. An intense half hour ensued as we gradually worked our way through the hazards.

The beach here is named Heaven Beach and despite a rather difficult dingy landing, there is a surf break here, we had a pleasant stroll. High on the cliffs sat a small resort that was a one hour drive to the airport, so it seemed a good place to drop Penny and Stephen.

Heaven Beach, Ekas, Lombok

While they enjoyed a day of spa treatments before their long trip home we pushed on to Gili Gede. Again we had to face a tough sail, this time the channel between Bali and Lombok. For two hours we fought against a 5kt current but although frustratingly slow at least this time the waves were behind us.

We arrived at the marina in high winds to a chaos of Oysters, the Oyster rally were preparing to leave. We dropped the anchor for the night, it would be easier to tie up in the morning after most of fleet had departed. Ashore we had a quick catch up with our Oyster friends, we may see them again briefly in Cocos Keeling.

Komodo,

Friday 31st August 2018

Wednesday morning we got up at daybreak and armed with just water and our cameras we went to find our guide to go dragon hunting. Komodo National Park is home to the infamous komodo dragons, a giant lizard of the monitor family they can grow up to 3m in length and weigh up to 90kg. They kill their prey in a particularly grizzly way. Laying in wait they ambush their victims by hiding in the undergrowth, they attack using their large clawed front feet and sharp shark like teeth. If their prey escapes this first onslaught the dragon retreat and watch, their saliva contains a rich mix of bacteria, so most bites become fatally infected. The dragon stays close by until the casualty slowly fades and becomes too weak to defend themselves, at which point the dragon strikes again. They are carnivores and will attack large water buffalo, deer, wild pigs, smaller dragons and occasionally humans. It is recommended not to explore the islands without a guide.

Male Komodo dragons collected around the Rangers housing

Having picked Penny and Stephen up from the airport Monday afternoon, the next morning we left Labuan Bajo and wound are way through the countless reefs and islands that make up the west coast of Flores. We anchored down a narrow creek, Loh Buaya on Rinca Island. There is a Rangers station here where you can pay your park fees and join guided tours to see the dragons. We booked in for an early morning walk the next day and then settled on deck to watch the chaos of tourist boats that crowd into every available space, everyone in search of that komodo dragon moment.

Tourist boats fill every available space

As the sun dropped and the bay thinned out, a dingy safari revealed the Island was home to much more than the dragons. We spotted the bright turquoise of a kingfisher perched in the mangroves, a large heron waded in the shallows, birds of prey soared above the hills, a couple of deer wandered through a clearing and monkeys foraged and squabbled on the sandbanks.

At 6.30 the next morning as we followed the path from the dock to the Rangers station, more monkeys skitter across our path, a large water buffalo wallows in a small almost dry water hole and deer graze under the trees. Water buffaloes struggle during the dry season as there is little water around and no fresh grass . The whole island was in fact very dusty and brown, the only green provided by the trees growing in the valleys. Dried river beds snaked along beside our path and scorched hills towered above us.

Penny and Stephen on the parched hills of Rinca Island

We met our guide and armed with only an ineffectual looking forked stick, he leads us off in search of dragons. This turned out to be easier than expected, despite assuring us that they didn’t feed the dragons a group of about seven lolled, labrador like, in a cluster outside the Rangers housing. This of course guarantees that everybody gets to see a dragon and is an easy place to snap some photos, but it is difficult to accept they are not encouraging them to stick close by in some way. Luckily, during our 2hr walk, we also saw a young male stomping through the undergrowth and a female guarding her huge nest. Easily visible were two hollows, one a decoy nest, the eggs, up to about ten, were laid in the larger hollow which was about 3m long and 2m deep and were covered with soil and leaves to protect them during the 8 month long incubation period.

Female dragon guarding her nest

Returning to Raya the creek was beginning to fill up again, we motored off to find a quieter bay and do some snorkelling, as the National Park is also renowned for its crystal clear waters and stunning coral. We have had some marvellous snorkelling in Indonesia and off the north coast of Komodo Island and again off Banta Island the reefs didn’t disappoint. Especially impressive here was the amazing variety of soft corals and brightly coloured sponges. In the exceptional visibility and midday sun the extensive coral garden at Banta was stunning.

Coral gardens off Banta aisland

There is however a continuing problem with plastic rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. It is a tragedy that some of clearest waters we have experienced are also the most polluted.

Labuan Bajo

Sunday 26th August 2018

Sitting in a calm bay, with hardly a ripple to disturb us, this anchorage is perfect to spend a week catching up on paperwork, doing some regular maintenance and preparing for our next guests, my sister Penny and husband Stephen. We have arrived in Labuan Bajo, a once small town on the west coast of Flores. It has grown rapidly over the last ten years or so, to support the tourist trade centred around trips to nearby Komodo Island with its giant lizards and the amazing diving that is available in the clear waters and coral drop offs. It has an airport, crowds of backpackers and hundreds of tour operators.

Traditional style phinisi awaiting the next group of tourists.

We originally sailed to a bay south of the town and near the entrance to the harbour. The Puri Sari Beach Hotel opposite the anchorage has set itself up as the go-to place for visiting yachts, helping with everything from laundry to organising transport into town. They have a small pool you can use and a nice restaurant. However we found the bay rather busy, a constant stream of passing tourist boats churn up the murky water, the dark sand beach and water are strewn with rubbish and there is no dock for easy crew pick up.

So we have moved a few miles north to Wae Cicu Beach, a pretty curve of sand backed by more resorts but there is less traffic, there are dingy docks available and the water is clean enough for a cooling swim.

Raya anchored in Wae Cicu Bay

Ashore an unfinished road curves steeply up and down the coastal hills. The streets are full of overloaded trucks with precariously perched cargos, a selection of cars most of which are way past their best, rickety buses and a million scooters dodging between it all. A trip into town is a hair-raising experience. I hold my breath as I watch a tiny girl trying to cross the road, a group of old ladies stumble as they tackle the uneven, half completed pavements and to further confuse things a school band marches across the junction. Noise, heat, dust and a strong smell of drains.

Downtown Labuan Bajo

Despite all this we rather like Labuan Bajo, it has a friendly feel and everyone has been incredibly helpful. The market, a bit out of town and off the tourist map, was very ‘local’, large bags of rice and other unidentifiable grains line the entrance, a buzz of flies comes from the fresh fish stalls, rows of clothes and plastic goods fill makeshift shops and the fruit and veg stalls are bursting with goods. I swoop on a pile of broccoli, a rare delicacy for us and fill my bags with melons, mangoes, tomatoes and much more.

We have also managed to find some high quality diesel and someone set up to bring it out to us. Fabio, a ‘cool cat’ with long hair and flashy sunglasses, with some helpers came to Raya, his boat piled high with Jerry cans, he pumped 500l through a filter and into our tanks

Unfortunately, it would seem that was not the only thing they delivered, the next morning I found a small snake on the galley floor. After much girly squealing Rick came to my rescue and trapping him under a bowl tipping him overboard. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a rather good swimmer because today he reappeared, washed out of a deck drain on the swim deck as we cleaned the stern. Rick caught him again and this time flung him with the boat hook about fifty metres away. We watched incredulously as immediately he swam back to us. We then tried to get him to stay in a bucket so we could take him into shore but he was getting rather cross and aggressive, unsure of his identity we sadly felt we had no choice but to dispatch him more permanently.

An unwelcome and determined visitor

Still squirming slightly and convinced snakes would appear from every crack, it was back to work. We’ve got a lot of sailing to do over the next few months, Raya needs to be in tip-top condition.

Balancing precariously, replacing the rusting SSB aerial connector

The Great Cap Giveaway

Sunday 19th August 2018

Dipping further off the rally radar, we have had some lovely quiet days in a couple of anchorages in the NE corner of Flores. The dry northern coast of mountainous Flores is very different from the jungle clad islands we had visited to the north. Ever increasingly high hills turn monochrome as they disappear into the haze that cloaks the centre of the island.

The 48hr sail south from Hoga was slow in the light winds and where normally we would have motored to keep our speed up, we persevered under sail to save fuel, fuel of the right quality is difficult to find here. Slow, however, turned out to have its advantages. Even with a good look out, in daylight, we barely avoided the hazard of, seemingly drifting, small fishing attraction devices or FADs. How many near misses we had during the hours of darkness is best not contemplated.

6ft high bamboo FAD

As we approached our first stop Bari Bay, the wind completely died and we had, eventually, to turn the engine on. As we motored in calm seas, accompanied by dolphins, we came upon a fleet of small fishing boats. The frantic waving of one fisherman alerted us to his net that stretched across our path to another boat half a mile away, it’s top marked by tiny almost invisible floats. We immediately turned off the engine but stopping a sail boat takes time and even in full reverse we only just made it..

It was therefore with relief we put down the anchor in pretty Bari Bay to rest overnight. The village here is very basic and with midday low tides making things difficult, we decided not to go ashore for a visit, this however didn’t stop the village visiting us. Our first callers were four teenagers who paddled out to say hello and ask to come aboard for the enevitable selfie. As with all the kids we have met here they have a few set phrases in English – ‘how are you?’, ‘my name is’, ‘where are you from?’. They are always extremely polite and delightfully excited to be picturing themselves, with us, in various poses around the deck. For the past few months every rally meeting and every information pack has contained a peaked cap, we had gathered quite a collection. So Rick found four and gave them one each, ‘cool’ they smiled.

Word obviously got around, as gradually more children paddled their canoes out to us. Despite the language barrier I can happily report that ‘can I have a hat please’ was easily understood. By dusk our large cap selection ran out.

The kids from Bari Village loved the caps we gave them

The next day we were again motoring in very light winds avoiding more small fishing boats. The glassy seas a perfect palate for the flying fish that draw lines with their tails as they take off to skim the water for sometimes hundreds of metres. The route took us between the reef systems that line this coast and we were glad yet again of the satellite photos from Google Earth that clearly identifies them, making avoidance a lot easier. We slipped through a small break off Bodi Island and dropped the hook in a beautiful anchorage on its west coast.

With its white sand beach, shallow lagoon and turquoise, crystal clear water it really was stunning. We swam off the boat, snorkelled the reefs and wallowed in the shallow lagoon with a cold beer.

Anchored off Gili Bodo

The island itself is uninhabited, so as we sailed into the bay we were surprised to see smoke rising from behind the hill. As the light began to fade and the wind direction changed, rather disconcertingly, lines of flames started to appear over the ridge and spread down towards the beach. Luckily as it smouldered through the night the wind took the smoke away from us and it appeared to burn itself out.

Flames spreading across the hill side

The next day with the flames gone, we were excited to see monkeys on the beach. They walked along the tideline presumably in search of food. We jumped in the dingy to get a closer look but at low tide the shore was unreachable across the surrounding reef. Even with the telephoto lens capturing a photo of them was impossible. More easily photographed were these amazing feather stars in deep crimson and brilliant lemon that we found while snorkelling on the edge of the reef.

Colourful feather stars

Hoga Wall

Monday 13th August 2018

We have just snorkelled off a coral wall, the edge of the encircling reef around Hoga Island in the Wakatobi National Park. Wow! Thousands of reef fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. A mix of healthy soft and hard corals, nudibunch, feather stars and dazzling giant clams.

The edge of the reef – Hoga Island

The prize of snorkelling this reef however has been hard won.

Last Tuesday we started to raise our anchor from the deep waters at Banda Island. Not the quietist of windlasses at the best of times, this morning it started to screech and strain horribly. We let the chain back out, a day of boat maintenance was obviously in order.

For the rest of the day Rick, with me as his plucky assistant, disconnected, stripped and cleaned the windlass motor and gearbox. It, encouragingly, looked in pretty good condition, one oil seal had disintegrated, could this be our problem? Could we find a replacement?

Unbelievably for a small town, with seemingly nothing recognisable for sale except cheap Chinese plastic goods, the hardware store turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave and actually had the exact required part.

Innards of the windlass motor and gearbox

With the windlass back together, the noise gone, we went to bed happy. The next morning however under the strain of trying to pull in 80m of anchor things didn’t look so good, every 30m the motor would overheat and cut out. Our time in Indonesia is limited, there are so many places we want to see. We could of course let the anchor out easily enough, so we decided to carry on with our plans. We gradually coaxed the anchor up and set off for Hoga, we would tackle the problem again with a different view from the cockpit

I, and a lot of the rest of the fleet, had had a cold while in Banda, miraculously Rick seemed to have avoided it, unfortunately, a few hours into the journey Rick started to feel unwell. It was a long 48hr sail, with Rick trying to maintain a brave face and me doing as much as I could of the watches. Luckily Friday he began to feel better and by midday we were anchored off Hoga Island.

No rest for the wicked however, having worked out a plan of how we could raise the anchor on another of our winches if necessary, Rick had one more thing to check. He hadn’t looked at the drive shaft that runs down the centre of he windlass, so back he went into the cramped anchor locker.

Not the most comfortable place to work

The shaft was almost completely seized, after a bit of encouragement from a hammer, another oil seal replaced and a good clean up, he put everything back together yet again. We had originally anchored in the cruising books suggested spot, through a pass in the reef, into a lagoon. However it was on the windward side of the island and gave little protection in the brisk SE winds and at each high tide the fetch was breaching the reef, making things a bit uncomfortable. So nervously we tested the windlass, the chain came up quietly and efficiently we breathed a sigh of relief, then motored back through the pass and anchored off the reef in a less windy position.

The edge of the reef clearly visible

The reef drops straight down from one to thirty metres, we are anchored very deep yet again but the coral wall here is spectacular. With my ears still a bit suspect from my cold we haven’t dived but at low tide we have drift snorkelled along its edge, the variety of corals and fish just 100m from the front of the boat is amongst the best we’ve seen anywhere.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of wonder as you dip your mask into the water and the coral garden comes into view. With the sun high and bright in the sky the colours are at there best, pinks, purples, blues, whites and yellows shine back at you. All the normal reef characters are here from tiny turquoise damsel fish, through white and blue puffer fish. Multi patterned yellow angel fish, royal blue and yellow striped sturgeon fish and incandescent blue, fork tailed, redtooth trigger fish. A shoal of black sturgeon with a pink tail and sheer white fins passes by and a pair of black and white striped, yellow finned oriental sweet lips pose for a photo. I hear Rick yelp, he has almost bumped into a sea snake, at a metre long it is by far the largest one we have ever seen. The wall drops straight down fading into the depths. A 3ft grouper emerges briefly from the blue and larger shadows suggest life beyond our vision.

A clown fish, the sea snake, a colourful puffer and two sweet lips.

A small dive resort sits ashore, a large dive boat overnights one day and our friends onboard Il Sogno, another oyster 56, joined us yesterday, but for most of our time here the only people to be seen are the few locals in their motorised dug out canoes. We donate swimming goggles and buy bananas but decide not to attempt the mile and half choppy crossing to the village. Stocks of fresh food are getting low however, time to move on.