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!

The Dragons of Komodo


We arrived in the thriving city of Labuan Bajo for one of the highlight moments of the trip so far, visiting the famous Komodo National Park on the western edge of Flores. For most of my life growing up I had heard of this place and its namesake Dragons, the gigantic lizards of unbelievable size that seemed the stuff of story books and myths. Of course these expectations are embellished as only childrens’ fancy can be, but even knowing that did not diminish my excitement as we rounded the point and saw the magnificent national park laid out across the bay from us. 


Labuan Bajo sits in a wide open bay along a hillside facing west, and from it you can see the major islands of the park (Komodo and Rinca) across the water. Our anchorage was one the easy, wide-open sandy bottoms that have been so rare in Indonesia and afforded us both easy access to a wonderful beachside resort (who graciously allowed us to use their pool for the price of a few beers) and phenomenal sunsets every night. The town itself is a bustling center of tourism; planes land regularly and tourists from every corner of the globe from backpackers to superyachting millionaires arrive to take advantage of the sights and world-class diving. Local shops offer hand-carved dragons and other artwork, and several different styles of restaurant (even Tex-Mex!) can be found. After a few days of lounging poolside, some quick provisioning trips, and a day spent butchering half a pig and lots of fresh beef ribs, we decided it was time to do what we came to do, see the dragons. We decided to hire out a boat with a few friends of ours (from Por Dos and Exit Strategy) to take us into the park quickly for a day, to the island of Rinca (pronounced Rin-CHa) where the majority of the giant monitor lizards reside. 


Leaving at 7:30 that morning our first real treat was the early sunshine boat ride into the blue waters of Komodo National Park, a journey to Rinca of about 14 nautical miles. The climate is arid, and the landscape of black volcanic stone crested with yellow-gold grass and green-capped palms is unlike anywhere else in the world. The deep blue waters around these islands are peppered with bright turquoise reefs and swirling currents where manta rays and sharks reside much to divers’ joy. Ospreys, hawks, and white-bellied sea eagles soar and wheel with frigate birds on the thermals from the midday heat. Its easy to see why this beautiful place is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Arriving at Rinca, we disembark on a wooden dock to signs warning us of crocodiles in the water and a hilariously serious sign proclaiming “Don’t feed the animals!” Monkeys chittered to the side of our short walk to the Ranger station, and deer could be seen lounging in the shade nearby as well. At the ranger station, we saw very quickly a small dragon just wandering around, perhaps three to four feet in length and completely unphased by the gawking tourists all around. We arranged our park permits, procured a guide to take us on a short hike, and off we went.


A bare few hundred yards walking through the scraggly trees brought us already to a grouping of five or so dragons lounging in the sun. I was shocked at how quickly we found them, the guide quickly explained that while the rangers have a presence on the island this is “the home of the dragon, not us” and they try very hard to have a minimal impact on restricting their habitat. Three of the dragons were full grown, monstrous reptiles about 10 feet in length and (according to the guide) about 20 years old. Other smaller dragons roamed around in the brush nearby, much more active than their larger friends. They are altogether astonishing in their size and their apparent laziness, but watching their deliberate and sinuous movements shows the deadly power of these apex predators. Between taking a ton of pictures and keeping my jaw off the ground, I managed to hear some of the information about them that the guide was providing:

  • Komodo Dragons can live up to 50 years old.
  • Large dragons can be longer than 10 feet in length and weigh well over 50kg.
  • They are born in clutches of about 30 eggs, guarded by the mother who lays them in a big burrow. About 30% of the eggs hatch.
  • Baby dragons are mostly tree-dwelling, surviving on insects and small prey while they mature.
  • Eggs and baby dragons are preyed upon by snakes, birds of prey, and mature dragons.
  • Adult dragons have no natural predators but themselves; they are cannibalistic.
  • They can run in bursts of up to 20km/h.
  • Their bite is deadly, but the mechanism of this whether bacterial or venomous is still debated.
  • They swallow meals whole or in large chunks, like snakes, and regurgitate the bones and cartilage. Sometimes they only eat as frequently as once a month.
  • They can smell prey from over 4 miles away, tasting the air with their forked tongue.

After the lesson and the initial awe over the creatures, the guide took us up to the top of a hill where we could see the waters of Komodo National Park spread out beneath us in blazing sunshine. After the hike we returned to our boat and left Rinca more than thrilled with having seen these rare and unbelievable animals. 


The rest of the day was spent hopping from one idyllic beach resort to the next for snorkeling, swimming, and a few beers. After we had exhausted ourselves, and given our fantastic tour operators a well-deserved round of applause, we were dropped back at Huck in time for dinner and another beautiful sunset. So far, Labuan Bajo and the Komodo National Park has been one of the highlights of Indonesia, and I would recommend anyone to come, visit, stay awhile and see the dragons if you are ever offered the chance. Now, we set sail for the tourist centers of Lombok and Bali, which will be adventures of a different sort with their thriving surf and party cultures and beautiful rice fields and beaches.

Debut and Tual Island, Indonesia

Six days of sailing across the Arafura Sea has brought us to the magnificent Kei Islands in southeastern Indonesia! Pulling into the anchorage was delightful, the entirety of the rally fleet tucked up in front of a small town called Debut on the island of Tual. Smiles and happy faces greeted all the boats as they arrived, everyone thankful and happy to have the hook down after passage. The shoreline is dotted with varicolor homes, churches, and mosques flanked on all sides by tropical forests, and throughout the day you can alternately hear the Catholic church bells and the Muslim calls to prayer. The national and local tourism bureuas have provided some necessary amenities and translators for the arriving yachties, helping to arrange for Indonesian SIM-cards for cell and internet signals, diesel and gasoline deliveries, laundry, and information about things to do in the area. 


Children from the local school came and participated in the ceremony to welcome us.

Debut

Debut is a delightful little town and an amazing first exposure to Indonesian culture. Initially the most striking thing is that as westerners almost all of the yachties are very rare sights in such a remote part of this country, and as such the children and locals are very excited to meet all the visitors and share everything they can about their town. For the first few days it was hard to walk around without stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked (especially if you’re blonde!), and walking around you often have an entourage of giggling children shouting ‘Hello Mister!’. You almost feel like a celebrity! 


Drums used in the welcome ceremony

The town organized a welcome ceremony for the fleet, hosting us to lunch, performing traditional dances, and blessing us by asking for their ancestors’ protection that we might be safe while we explore their islands. The people are incredibly helpful and welcoming even when they don’t understand anything we are saying, and as a whole they are amazingly hospitable and happy to have us all here.



Where we ate lunch in the city of Langgur

Difference in Culture

One of the most evident differences that we notice arriving in Indonesia from Australia is unfortunately that it is incredibly dirty. There is no expectation of keeping the ocean or environment clean and even just sitting at anchor near the town you can watch large amounts of trash and debris floating past. Walking around town and closer to the vibrant surrounding forests shows plastic in every bush and littering the roadside. Stray dogs and cats wander the towns often uncared for and in pitiful condition and to my shock we learned that parts of Indonesia use them as food sources. When we pulled anchor to set off for our next anchorage we spent fifteen minutes cutting off a mass of garbage that had gotten wrapped around our chain, a mass of plastic, shoes, cord and other detritus that litters the harbor floor. As someone who grew up in a place of astounding natural beauty with a constant expectation of caring for it, this is heartbreaking to see and somewhat difficult to stomach, but I try to see past it and enjoy the beauty that the Islands have in spades.


Goa Hawang

Goa Hawang

The highlight of my time in Debut was our trip to some caves nearby to our anchorage named Goa Hawang. A naturally formed cave system with spring fed clean water filling them, they are about an hour’s walk from Debut Harbor through the surrounding villages and countryside. Tucked back into a hill, if you didn’t know they were there you would almost walk right past them. A red brick stairway leads you down to the waters edge underneath overhanging dripping stalactite where you can peer into the small cave system. The water is as dazzlingly blue as it is clear, you can see straight down to the bottom easily and is plenty clean enough for a swim, which we indulged in to cool off after our walk there. A beautiful and memorable experience!


Goa Hawang

Breaking Away

Most of our rally’s boats are continuing north to the islands of Banda, but we have elected to forgo the northern route for a southwestern path along active volcanoes and isolated islands aptly named the Forgotten Islands before finally rejoining the rally path on the island of Flores. We will be joined by only a couple boats on this path and hopefully we will see some things that few ever do! Cheers!


Goa Hawang


Life on Passage

    A passage is a difficult thing to try to explain to someone that has not done one, much less someone that hasnt sailed at all. Its a sort of suspended lifestyle where everything that is normally a day-to-day activity is put on the backburner while all hands work towards keeping the boat sailing comfortably to a far off destination. 


A bird that decided to hop on for a rest stop(upper right). We dubbed him ‘Little Buddy’

    Leaving at daybreak the first morning everyone is all smiles over morning coffee as weeks of planning and preparation begin to give fruit. A delicious and hearty ‘normal’ breakfast is made while we ride the outgoing tides out of a protected, comfortable anchorage, and we escape out into the open ocean. Afterwards we begin to settle into our ‘passage life’ for the next six days, which is our schedule that allows for at least one person to be awake and on watch at all hours of the day and night. With distances of hundreds of miles between course changes (while Huck averages about 150 miles a day) and a programmable autopilot to keep us on track, theoretically the boat requires very little assistance and mostly just a watchful eye for any unforseen events, other boats, and wind shifts.

     So life begins in a pattern of up on watch and down to sleep, mirroring the up and down motion of the boat in the swell as we sail steadily onward. Simple though this may seem, this is still a rather draining lifestyle over the long term. The constant 1-3 meter swell rocks the boat vigorously, pitching and rolling the floor underneath your feet, the bed while you sleep, the kitchen while you cook, your entire life constantly as much as 17 degrees from either side of center. Just laying down in a stable position on passage is an abdominal workout all its own to stay still, and everything you do entails a constant struggle to stay balanced or stabilized. As a result you burn alot of calories during passage with this constant motion, which would seem a good thing if cooking were not so difficult. Boiling water or hot oil present serious dangers like this, as you’d imagine, and stabilizing knives, chopped veggies, or anything you could cook with is a herculean task. Fortunately for Huck, Heidi is amazing at cooking on passage and determinedly cooked a fantastic and much appreciated hot meal once a day, but even so a large portion of our diet on passage consists of easy to eat/prepare and high calorie, carb-packed foods like ramen noodles, cereal, granola bars, boxed mac and cheese, and simple fruits like apples and oranges.

     Days on passage are typically pleasant and enjoyable as without the ability or energy to do much maintenance on the boat the entire crew is often in the cockpit together chatting and laughing as everyone pitches in small bits of effort to get things like snacks, keep watch, and adjust sails. Often you wake up to flying fish that have inadvertently flown onto the boat, or cuttlefish that have jumped onto deck and leave puddles of black ink everywhere. Birds, hundreds of miles from shore, often land exhausted on the boat to hang out with us for awhile.
 A flying fish that flew up onto deck the previous night

    Nights on passage are a mixed bag of stress and calm. Alot of times it can be difficult to sleep while you are off duty due to the noise of the boat, violent rocking, and the smash and shudder of waves crashing into the hull on occasion. No hatches or portlights are open due to the waves so the interior of the boat can be quite stuffy and hot. So after the sun sets and you tuck in for some sleep if you can catch it, its time to come up for your watch. Some watches are restful and easy, where the wind stays mild and steady, the swell stays calm, and every fifteen minutes your visual 360 degree sweep of the horizon yields nothing but empty, dark expanses of water. Some watches are stressful and work-filled, as many were this last passage when the night sky was lit up as though from a city by fleets of fishing boats numbering in the dozens, each dropping or trailing monstrous nets (that are miles long and irregularly marked if at all), and none with any radio contact nor AIS (a collision warning system) to track them with, leading to frequent and abrupt course changes to avoid them and their nets. The weather also plays a big factor. During our last night of passage a torrential rainstorm came upon us, dropping visibility to zero, pulling all hands on deck for lookout, and bringing us and all the nearby boats in our rally fleet to a standstill for fear of now-invisible fishing boats and nets. That night no one got much if any sleep at all, and all the rally boats clustered together to heave-to or drop sail and drift to wait out the rain until we could see again.
     Passages are not without their upsides though. Theres a sense of community that develops between boats travelling in a vicinity of each other and everyone shares useful information and checks up on each other throughout the journey via VHF and SSB radio. Though some boats had issues on the passage, the community of boats around and ahead of them rallying to assist in everything from anchoring assistance to crafting makeshift rudders and search and rescue is nothing short of inspirational. You get to watch the dawn every day knowing that you are hundreds of miles from any landfall, a self-sustaining, wind-powered island traversing the vast ocean, which is a thrill all its own. It’s exciting to watch the miles melt by day after day with the knowledge that you are getting closer and closer to a faraway exotic land, to places that few outside its native populace ever see. Some nights you wake for your watch and climb out into a night of crystalline clarity, where the innumerable and uncontested stars in the sky cast the sea in soft starlight. Phosphorescence in the undulating midnight waters causes waves and their whitecaps to glow and sparkle while the wake of the boat leaves an illuminated trail of glittering diamond stardust to rival the skies above. Those nights I particularly treasure, and are some of the most tranquil and beautiful that I have ever seen.

Our first sunset in Indonesia. 

     Then after all the days and nights sleepless or otherwise, after the drenching rain, after the horrendous and exhausting dance of dodging fishermen and their nets for days on end, after six days and seven hundred miles you finally see the dark silhouette of land on the horizon. The elation, relief, and excitement are immeasurable after having crossed safely, and the gray overcast morning that we dropped hook in front of the bright colored mosques and churches of Debut, Indonesia was a beautiful day indeed. Cruisers often say “passage is hard,” but everything worth doing or having always is.