Beautiful Belitung 

This post is long overdue, but I did not want to make two for the same place! A five day passage through armadas of Indonesian squid fishermen, oil fields, and some slight sickness amongst members of our three person crew has seen us anchored happily on the northwestern coast of beautiful Pulau Belitung. 

A large island off the eastern coast of Sumatra and more than 500 miles northwest of Bali, Belitung is easily one of our favorite places so far. The anchorage is calm and relatively uncrowded, and bordered by long beaches of white sugar sand. The water at times is calm and clear enough to see the bottom perfectly even in twenty or more feet of depth. Small islands bursting with greenery and tropical foliage extend out into the water not far from the main island, and local tour boats putter around daily taking groups of tourists to the nearby lighthouse and many excellent snorkelling locations.

Gigantic formations of striking white granite extend out of the water everywhere and mark the coastline from a long ways off. The prehistoric-looking boulders shelter some of the best coral reefs that we have encountereed in addition to creating a landscape (or seascape?) that compares to nothing I have ever seen. The warm waters are also home to dolphins, gigantic and crazy-looking jellyfish, and a thriving population of hawksbill sea turtles. Morning paddleboard trips across glassy calm, clear water can provide sometimes more than a dozen turtle sightings, some of which will swim right underneath or surface right next to you. 

Our time here has been relaxed and easy to enjoy. We arrived in time for a gala dinner provided by the local community to welcome the rally to Belitung. This featured an amazing show of local dancing backed by a band playing drums, violins, and large ornate guitars among other instruments. Dinner was a selection of local delights, from Mie Belitung (a local variant of the omnipresent Mie Goreng that incorporates shrimp and shrimp stock) to Bakso soup (filled with unique meatball/dumplings made from beef and tapioca flour). The next morning we had the pleasure of being shown how to make some of the food we had eaten the night before and were fortunate to taste some of Indonesia’s fine coffees grown and roasted on Sumatra and Sulawesi.

We also had a fantastic trip to the lighthouse with friends Exit Strategy, Por Dos, and Taka’oa. Though the lighthouse itself was impressive, built in the late 1800s by the Dutch, we could unfortunately not go higher than the third floor. This was easily offset though by the beautiful setting and subsequent trips to nearby little islands to snorkel, swim, and marvel at the granite monoliths that make this place so unique. The rest of our time has been spent enjoying quiet morning coffees in the scenic bay before watching the daily thunderclouds roll over the island bringing magnificent rains, as intense as they are fleeting, that help to keep the temperature bearable and beautiful. These in turn give way to marvelous sunsets, the scattering rainclouds turning the sky into a canvas which the setting sun paints in staggering reds and golds, oranges and pinks. One of our evenings saw us watching one of these from our dingy, floating along with friends, freshly baked bread, wine and cheese while turtles surfaced and appeared all around us in the fading evening light of the granite-ringed anchorage.

The wildlife here is amazing as well. Belitung is one of few places in the world (all in Southeast Asia) that the tiny and adorable Tarsius Monkeys call home, as well as deer the size of rabbits. At some times during the day looking up from our boat there can be dozens of great, soaring Frigate Birds or sometimes a White-Bellied Sea Eagle, and tiny bats squeak and wheel overhead at night ashore. One of the islands that ring the bay where we are anchored hosts a turtle conservation facility, where you can go and see hundreds of little baby hawksbill turtles swimming about excitedly in the sheltered pools where they live until they are older and larger. After they reach about three months of age they are released into the ocean with much less threat of predators than when they are newborn from their eggs.

Belitung has been a peaceful, amazing anchorage for us, and though it came late in the trip it sits high on the list of our favorite places in Indonesia. Our time in this country is drawing to a close as we have officially checked out of Indonesia from Belitung and we have only a handful more stops before we cross the straits towards Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula. 

Lombok and Gili Trawangan

We have spent the last week or so in beautiful Medana Bay Marina on northern Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok is a massive, mountainous island with much to offer and Indonesia’s second tallest Volcano, Mt. Rinjiani, dominates the sky wherever you happen to be. Its home to great surf breaks along with some of the most ‘western’ (as much as Indonesia can imitate them) style markets and restaurants we have encountered so far. Lombok is a breath of fresh air and a slight relaxation of the stark cultural differences of Indonesia to the developed West. Lombok also is the home of the famous Gili Islands off its northeastern coast, and this is where I chose to visit for a few days in my first sojourn off the boat.

The Gilis consist of three small islands. Gili Meno is a quiet, idyllic sanctuary with low visiting population, beautiful sandy beaches, mellow resorts and a small lake. Gili Air shares some of each of it’s siblings’ DNA, being equal parts relaxing resorts and delicious restaurants with a few bars thrown in for just enough nightlife to keep things lively. Gili Trawangan is the party island, and the one that I chose to spend three amazing days on. 

‘Gili T’, as everyone fondly refers to it, is the largest and most populous; backpackers, travelers, and adventurers from all over the world arrive here in droves every day. Bars and restaurants line the beach for several miles, along with shops where you can purchase sorongs, drinks, groceries, and local art. Bean bags and swings can be found on the beach the whole island around for visitors to lounge on, shacks by the main road sell milkshakes that contain psilocybin mushrooms, and live music and beach parties thump into the early hours of the morning every night. The islands host easy access to some of Indonesia’s great diving and snorkeling, and while they are an artificially large population it is still magnificent to snorkel and swim with dozens of Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles or see the babies at the island’s hatchery.

My stay was some of the most fun I’ve had anywhere. I stayed at a hostel (except for one night asleep on the beach) with an amazing cast of people even though the staff was somewhat rude at times. It seemed the whole of Europe had invaded! Brits of every variety, Germans, Swiss and Dutch, even a couple Spaniards thrown in for good measure. I soon learned from the hordes of Germans and Brits in the hostel that it seems to be a vacation period for them of sorts. So I spent my days sauntering around the island, swimming and sleeping on the beach, eating hamburgers and pizza that I’ve been craving for months. My nights were spent dancing, chatting, and lounging with new friends from half a dozen nations. 

I came away from the experience soaked with enjoyment and maybe a little too much alcohol. There’s something beautiful in the fact that one can meet kindred spirits from the whole world over on a tiny little island in Indonesia, and that is the magic of Gili Trawangan.

When I arrived back at the marina with the equivalent of $0.42 in my pocket, I discovered that my parents had gone off gallivanting with their own Brits, Por Dos (confusing, I know…), to the Lombok Elephant Park. There they saw much amazing wildlife including tons of amazing birds and took all the amazing pictures you see here. While I had a fantastic time in Gili T, perhaps it’s better that I don’t have any of the photo evidence 🤙🏼. 

Now I sit in Amed on North Bali, and tomorrow we will arrive in Lovina Bay, from whence I will depart on my next adventure to Canggu and Ubud to surf and experience Bali!

Sea Legs

    The first few weeks in Australia were spent laughing, drinking, catching up with family, and becoming sunburnt at a truly alarming speed. Evidently the hole in the O-zone layer is over Australia, who knew? Now though my cousin has left back for the States, and we have begun moving along the coastline of Queensland. 

     The coming weeks will be filled with small day-sails and little jumps with a couple overnight or multi-day passages as we gradually move north toward Cairnes and eventually Thursday Island, which will be our final stop before the sail to Indonesia. This period of time is my chance to familiarize myself with the workings and machinations of a sailboat, and I’m glad my father and stepmother are such capable and patient teachers! Thus far I’m finding new things to bang my head on every day, and seem to have an amazing capacity for sitting right on top of something vital to the current task on the boat. I am however learning, slowly, how to move about while the boat is moving, as well as the differences in true and apparent wind and their bearings on which sail pattern to use. 

     As a former ski bum I am no stranger to checking the weather every day, though the difference now is that the sheer volume of weather information is an order of magnitude more. Additionally, the decisions you make with that large volume of weather information have a very real effect on your comfort for the next 24 hours and sometimes further! Certain anchorages (places where boats can drop anchor to rest or take shelter from inclement weather, typically places where a landmass blocks a portion of wind or current) are quite calm when the wind is from the north, but might offer no protection at all from a southern wind, for example. Swell, windspeed, current, tides, water depth, and of course storms all interact with each other in myriad ways that change entirely based on nearby land masses. This is even before you factor in the many varieties of boats and their different capabilities for handling these conditions. It is from this chaotic, ever-changing and sometimes unpredictable mass of information that sailors must make educated decisions on where and when to put themselves to minimize possible risk and (as in our case) maximize time spent in comfortable, beautiful places. 

Sunrise just outside of Bundaberg Port Marina

     We are only at our second stop of the journey north, but both places have been magnificent. After leaving Bundaberg Port Marina shortly before sunrise Tuesday morning, we struck out towards a small place called Lady Musgrave Island. Roughly 50 miles from Bundaberg, Lady Musgrave is a Maritime National Park of Australia in the Bunker Group of Islands, a wilderness reserve where the only ‘amenities’ are a few picnic tables and a small wooden lighthouse. It is also a coral cay (a small lagoon protected from the outlying swell by a ring of coral), making it a beautiful, calm anchorage under light conditions. While these coral cays are evidently quite common along the entirety of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave is one of extremely few that are navigable by boat, making it quite a unique experience. However, the lack of significant protection beyond the coral means that in larger swells and winds the anchorage becomes quite uncomfortable, and the passage out is narrow and can seem treacherous in these conditions. With the weather report calling for a few days of thunderstorms, we decided to be thankful for our one perfect sunset at Lady Musgrave and make for Pancake Creek, an inlet along the mainland where we would settle for a few days to wait out the wet weather.

The water at Lady Musgrave island is a marvelous shade of blue.

Sunset at Lady Musgrave Island

      A short 36 mile jaunt from Lady Musgrave saw us pulling into Pancake Creek, a large picturesque river with a narrow passage upstream that offers excellent protection from the swell and winds of the open water. Dropping anchor behind the point, we were greeted by a tremendous amount of birds that call this area home, including one of Australia’s massive pelicans which dwarf any I have seen in the U.S. by a large margin, and a majestic White-Bellied Sea Eagle. Fortunately there are no saltwater crocodiles here, though that will become a concern soon further north. Heidi sliced up a bluefin tuna that we caught on the short trip here, and we spent our first evening eating a mound of fresh sashimi and drinking wine under a staggering amount of stars. 

The view that greeted us at Pancake Creek

Sunset at Pancake Creek

     These last two days here have been somewhat dreary with the predicted storms rolling through, bringing the rain but not the thunder that the forecasts called for. Altogether it has been nice to simply rest and relax out of the sun for me, as my tan is not ready for days upon days of Australian sun out on the water, though hopefully it soon will be. We leave tomorrow morning for Great Keppel Island, our longest jump thus far. While I am by no means in a hurry to leave any place as beautiful as Pancake Creek, I am excited to see more of this wonderful coastline and keep attempting to be slightly less than dead weight on a sailboat. Cheers everyone!