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.

1000 Nautical Miles

A little while back I passed a milestone on this journey. I’ve now traveled more than 1000 miles so far, and that might not sound like much except that they are nautical miles, which makes them special. Nautical is one of those magic words that does funny things to the stuff it describes, similar to marine. However, where ‘marine’ has an odd tendency to multiply the cost of what would otherwise be everyday items, ‘nautical’ has an ability to change the time and space involved with things. Nautical miles are longer, for starters, than standard American miles by about 15%. Not only that, but nautical miles take tremendously longer amounts of time to travel than normal ones due to the specialized craft needed to traverse them, called boats. In fact, since we average about 5 nautical miles per hour while most cars move along quite easily at 60, some basic maths will tell us that 1000 nautical miles are roughly equivalent to about 12,000 landlubber miles!


     So now that I’ve illustrated how much more impressive nautical miles are than normal ones, what all has happened along the way? My tan has progressed from white to a much darker off-white. We’ve swam with sharks and had staring matches with crocodiles. I’ve unironically used the phrase “off our port bow” and had quite serious discussions about pirates. I’ve learned that sailors will often spend a lot of time trying to make the slowest form of travel on earth go as fast as possible. ‘Mikado’ has shown me that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line, but sometimes a protracted series of zigs and zags. You can catch fish galore, but only if there are no bananas on board. A muppet is an insult and a barney is a fight, much to my childhood’s dismay. You can make instant friends over goat stew and have a lifetime of experiences in two months time. Altogether it’s been a magical thousand miles, cheers to a thousand more!

Adios Australia

We’ve rounded the famous Cape York, the northernmost tip of mainland Australia, and are now sitting comfortably at anchor off of Horn Island just across the channel from Thursday Island which is our checkout point from Oz. Two months and 1,200 miles of sailing have all led to this point, and there was definitely an air of accomplishment as we rounded the last channel markers into an anchorage filled with about 40 sailboats. Picking our way through the anchorage to find a spot we saw many boats and people that we have been sailing with for quite some time now even if we haven’t officially met, and friendly waves and smiles greet every new arrival to this tiny island in Far North Queensland.


A turtle sculpture on Thursday Island

Thursday Island

Thursday Island is part of a cluster of islands sitting just within the Torres Straights off the northern tip of Australia. It has been many things over the centuries from a base of operations for whalers and pearlers to its current status as an official Australian port of entry. The indigenous culture here is still very much alive; many local businesses are owned and operated by them. It seems that the town is not quite used to such an inundation of yachties, very rarely are there this many sailboats in the anchorage at one time. The locals seem happy and hospitable though, offering advice on where to eat and friendly attitudes abound even though yachties can be a fussy bunch. 


The meter long Walu we caught on the way here

     Eating lunch on Thursday Island before our meeting to check out of the country was exciting as of course we ran into old friends ‘Mikado’ at the pub as well as meeting a few less familiar faces like Norm on ‘Dreamcatcher’ and some new ones like Richard and Jennifer on ‘Our Rose’. It’s evident from all the easy smiles and demeanor that everyone is just as excited to be done with the long push up the Australian coast as they are to begin the 700 mile passage to our destination port of Debut in the Kai Islands of Indonesia. The anchorage and towns on both sides of the waterway here bustle with all the international boater traffic toting everything from jerrycans and grocery bags to entire Honda generators.


Harvesting fresh oysters and learning to tie a one-handed boline on Huck

Fair sails Mikado!

     Today we sadly say goodbye to some close friends. At the current tally we have known ‘Mikado‘ for only a month and a half having met them at Middle Percy Island sometime in the latter half of May, but somehow it seems like so much longer than that. Its like saying goodbye to family, and seeing that blue-hulled Beneteau in many anchorages up the coast of Queensland has helped Australia seem more homey and inviting. Many of our best memories from the last couple months are set with a backdrop of the kids’ smiling faces (Josh’s more shy and Sam’s totally exuberant) and good-natured sarcastic teasing from both Natalie and Chris. We gladly accept all blame for their new addiction to the card game Cabo (pronounced Kaboo), and the cultural blending we all have shared has led to the hilarious addition of such phrases as “y’all blokes” and others to all of our vocabularies. They are about to leave as I write this, heading off west towards Darwin while we strike once again northward to grand adventures in Indonesia. Bittersweet though our goodbyes were, we all know that our paths will cross again someday and more than anything we’re grateful to have met and spent the time with them that we have.


Thursday Island

 We’ve packed our dinghy and stowed the motor, provisioned and provisioned some more with supplies we fear we may not find again. We stashed our last carton of my favorite Australian beer One-Fifty Lashes for celebration on the other side. My parents, having been in this wonderful country for nearly 20 months, are much more ready to leave than I after such a short two. Australia is a magnificent place, her people friendly, her waters and vistas as beautiful and lively as they are dangerous. I’ve been so lucky to see just this picturesque little strip of it along the Great Barrier Reef, but like a sip of beer underneath the blazing Australian sun, one taste begs another and in that regard I will leave thirsty. Sad though our goodbyes may be to this place and its people, our friends, my only regret is that I could not see more of it. However one of the greatest joys of sailing is that no matter how nice the water is where you are new friends and adventures wait across every new horizon, and I cant wait to set sail tomorrow with the rising sun.

     

Lizard Island

As we reach our final 10-day countdown to exiting Australia the feeling in the air is getting more and more exciting. We have pulled in to Lizard Island, probably the last destination anchorage this far north, at the least the last one where you can swim, snorkel, and paddle board freely thanks to crocodiles on the mainland. We’ve only been here for a few days but a lot has happened. Dozens of boats have arrived here to wait out the wind and rain that drove everyone north from Cairns, and a large number of them are also participating in the rally to Indonesia with us. Still others, like ‘Exit Strategy‘, are old friends of my parents’ having crossed from Mexico together 4 years ago. So the atmosphere for us has been one of reunion and making new friends and acquaintances. The radio chatters daily with boats organizing friendly events from hikes to snorkeling and tours of the island’s research center, and it’s quite a fun and happy time as boats that will spend the next three months in close proximity start to get to know one another. 


The 4th of July party on the beach

     Happy 4th of July!

     There was even an impromptu 4th of July celebration on the beach ‘organized’, such as it was, by one of the four American boats in the anchorage. It was a hilarious and jolly evening with Canadians parading around in umbrella hats plastered in their red, white and maple leaf flag while children from at least three different nationalities raced up and down the beach, sparklers in hand. Someone gave the kids gummy bears to roast over the fire in the absence of marshmallows (to mixed results) and in true American fashion people from all over the world gathered to meet, drink, and laugh together. The night was by far the most multinational and in some ways the most American celebration of our independence that I’ve ever seen and on a tiny island half a world away. It was a fantastic time and speaks to many more happy memories in months yet to come.

The view of our anchorage from Cook’s Lookout

The precarious, rocky path up to the top of the mountain.

     Cook’s Lookout

     Almost two and a half centuries ago the famous Captain James Cook of the exploratory vessel ‘Endeavor’ landed on this island due to its high peak from which he would be able to see the surrounding reefs for miles in all directions. He named it Lizard Island due to a preponderance of lizards he found here, only a small amount of which I’ve seen here mostly in the form of little goanas scurrying about when the sun shines. Today there is a steep, rocky trail that one can take to the top of the mountain to the same vantage point Cook looked out from so many years ago, and my two young friends Josh and Sam (from ‘Mikado‘) and I decided we wanted to see the view. It took about an hour of scrambling up sheer rock faces and narrow gullies in slight misty rain, but about 359 vertical meters (~1100 feet for my American friends) in roughly 3 kilometers of track later we summited to stunning views of the island, surrounding lagoons and reefs, and every islet and weather system for many miles in all directions. At the top are several informational panels detailing not only Cook’s visit but the significance of the mountain to local Aboriginal cultures going back more than ten millennia. Next to one of these panels overlooking the expansive ocean is a gigantic, 2.5 meter (~7-8 foot) tall cairn to which it seemed traditional to add a stone when reaching the peak of the island. In a small wooden box next to the stone pile is a guest registry in a watertight box which people over the years have signed and left notes, flags, and mementos in on this historic mountain, and we happily added our names to the list of successful hikers. It is truly a great and one-of-a-kind hike.


Sam, Josh, and myself after conquering the climb, 359m high

     Lizard Island Research Center

     The Lizard Island Research Center is one of four such facilities located along the length of the Great Barrier Reef. The narrowness here of the reef and the shelf on which it sits, as well as proximity to the mainland without many detracting factors such as river runoff and lack of detritus from any major urban centers make this site as ideal as it gets for studying coral reefs. As a result much leading edge research regarding reefs is done here, including the much publicized bleaching events, effects of climate change on the coral, and the entirety of coral reef ecosystems. Established in the early 1970s, the facility maintains an impressive 70% occupancy rate of its 37-person capacity year round, most of which consists of research teams doing field work from all over the world, while we were there a group was visiting from Switzerland. However, many filming groups (such as the BBC) also use the Research Center frequently for documentary-type work, and student groups from both high schools and universities also come to make use of the island’s ideal location along the Great Barrier Reef. This is all supported, amazingly, by a full time staff of only four people; two directors and two maintenance personnel. One of the directors, a very friendly man named Lyle, was kind enough to give a large group of us visiting yachties a tour of this great place as well as tell us a lot about the important research that takes place there. This amazing and educational experience would have made the windy anchorage worthwhile all by itself, and I’m grateful to have seen it.

The Director Lyle holding and explaining a Crown of Thorns starfish, one of the most deadly predators of coral reefs.


Lyle explaining coral reef bleaching to us.

     Up and out of the Land Down-Under

     So we’ve spent a few wonderful days learning about reefs, snorkeling, hiking, and meeting friends both old and new. We have seen turtles, giant clams, a view that has been sacred for thousands of years, some of the prettiest, most inviting beaches thus far on the Queensland coast, and we drank and laughed in celebration of a holiday a world away. Tonight we leave with familiar friends for another overnight passage up the coast, pushing once more upwards towards Cape York and Thursday Island. If Cairns was a staging area, then Lizard Island has been a send-off, a glorious celebration and bookend for our time here so far that is drawing so rapidly to a close. In only a little more than a week’s time, I’ll be writing you all from the northernmost point of Australia before we leave for Indonesia, but for now just know that if you ever get a chance, Lizard Island is worth a visit. Cheers!

A thunderhead moving across the ocean.

Another view from Cook’s Lookout


The aptly named Blue Lagoon

Stocking up for the Winter

A rainbow Lorikeet 

What a strange and wonderful world it is that I live in now, one where winter means shorts, sandals, and tans. It’s been an interesting time here in Cairns, Australia this last little while as we get all our ducks in a row for Indonesia. We are now just about two weeks from leaving Australia, and while I don’t feel for an instant that I’ve seen enough of it it’s hard to explain how excited I am to see the world’s largest archipelago.

The Cairns bus station

A trawler named ‘Prawn Star’ in Cairns, serving beer and fresh seafood.

Everything is about to change. Australia is a new and different place for an American, but even so there are a lot of cultural similarities and a common language. Locals still root for their sports teams, bars and clubs still fill up on weekend nights, and friends still tease each other relentlessly. It’s quite easy to become comfortable, and knowing that it was just a first stepping stone I hadn’t done incredibly extensive research on the place before coming here. 
Indonesia is an entirely different sail pattern. The country covers a huge geographical area, encompassing about 18,000 different islands, more than 100 active volcanoes, and quite literally hundreds of unique cultures and languages. It’s been a Dutch colony, the source of now-everyday spices such as nutmeg and cloves, and a major base for allied operations in the Pacific during World War II. It’s a country that holds within it major populations of three of the worlds largest religions (Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism) as well as significant amounts of native animistic religions and traditions. World class surf breaks and diving locations are peppered throughout the islands at all times of the year, and some of the rarest animals on earth call Indonesia home such as the Sumatran Tiger, Orangutan, Komodo Dragons, and the nearly extinct Javan Rhinoceros. There is so much to see that one could easily spend a lifetime exploring there and never see all of it, and we have only 3 months. 

The night markets in Cairns, with our friends from ‘Mikado’ in the foreground.



So how do you prepare to enter and live in a place so foreign and vast? Contact with the government of the country you’re traveling to is always wise, and in this case necessary in order to enter. Doing this as part of a group also alleviates a large stress point of traveling somewhere new, as you have at least a number of people that will be going through the same processes as you are. As I’ve mentioned before, we are going as part of the Sail 2 Indonesia rally for this exact reason, and there is an added major benefit of having a familiar group to travel with in such a different place. In the case of sailors, rallies provide a schedule and a point of familiarity and stability around which to plan your trip. That being said, there are many places off the beaten path that we on Huck wish to see and while we will undoubtedly be linking up with rally locations throughout our time in Indonesia our goal is to see what we want to see. After all, what’s the point of going to a fascinating, foreign place if you don’t step outside your comfort zone every now and then?

Our Indonesia map in early planning stages, with rally destinations marked with pink post-its.
So after you have a rough outline of your trip, in our case already provided by the wonderful folks organizing the rally, the next step is research, research, and more research. What’s your ‘can’t miss’ list? What cell provider should you use? Where can you get fuel, money, or food and water? How safe is it in those places? What things can you take in or out of the country? Will English suffice, or do I need to know some other language to get by? I could make an entire blog post just asking all the questions that need to be explored, you really can’t know too much when you’re going somewhere new. In addition to the resources provided by the rally, we’ve picked up a language app, an Indonesian language book, a physical map of the region, and have been referencing a copy of Andy Scott’s “Cruising Guide to Indonesia” to help plan our trip. 

‘Huck’ organizing 3+ months worth of provisions, even before we picked up meat and produce.

The last real step is to take care of anything that you can’t once you’ve left. ‘Western’ quality yacht supplies and marinas are few and far between in Indonesia so we’ve taken care to replace or back up important things like engine start batteries, marine varnish, and others. Red meat, wine, and cheese are all either rare, nonexistent, or of poor quality so we’ve stacked our freezer and fridge high with as much as we could, and stashed away wine in every available corner of the boat in the hopes that it will last for a whole season. 

These trees seem common in Australian cities and though I dont know what they are they are pretty magnificent. 

I sit now writing this post in the deep hum of our engine warming up to leave Cairns and the ‘western’ world behind, and I am equal parts apprehension and excitement. Australia is a beautiful place that I will miss and was in many ways an adventure all it’s own, but I can’t help but feel that it was preparation, a staging ground for the exotic world and voyages we are about to embark on. This is the step from the familiar into the unknown, and no amount of research or preparation will make it any less exciting or thrilling, and I can’t wait to begin to see this new strange world.

The Joys of Cruising


The only thing of note at Cape Bowling Green, the sunrise.

Getting a taste of a new lifestyle is quite an intoxicating experience. Cruising is a world far removed from mountains and snow, and even what I know as work in restaurants is not the same in other parts of the world. Every day is a new adventure in a very literal sense as more often than not we wake up in a different place than we were before, and I’m finding that there is a lot of truth in the cliche, “the more I see, the less I know”. 


Our new friends ‘Mikado’ against a sunrise cloud bank

A sailboat is a lot of work to live on in the sense that there is always something that needs doing. Our grill is stowed away and requires some fair effort to deploy whenever we want to grill steaks, veggies, or burgers. Getting to shore after a passage is preceded by 10 minutes of wrestling the dinghy off the foredeck and then wrestling an outboard motor into place on the dinghy.  The small space is not much effort to keep clean, but it is a persistent effort on all three of our parts to keep it tidy. Stainless steel always needs polishing (my restaurant friends are familiar with this) and woodwork always needs sanding and varnishing. Even just general organization of things in and on the boat is always an ongoing process of tweaking and refining baskets and storage spaces, and there is an entire wall space devoted to post-it notes with various larger scale tasks that need doing that I have not even mentioned. 


Paddle boarding in the rain with myself (front), Nat (right), and Heidi (left)

The work pays off tenfold though. There’s a pride in living on something you actively work to keep beautiful, and when someone compliments how good your boat looks it’s hard not to beam knowing you had a hand in it. All the maintenance and projects keep us moving to and from dozens of tropical paradises each more beautiful than the next, and I’ll be damned if the work of putting the grill in place doesn’t make the food taste that much better. Reeling in and cleaning fish in the middle of a sail is quite a messy task, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re eating piles of bluefin tuna sashimi two hours later. True to all walks of life, you truly get back all the effort you put into this lifestyle.


Me trying desperately to not dunk Josh and myself into the water, 2 people on a board is hard!

The best part of it all though is the people. Even though I’ve only had a combined total of about 3 and a half months of “cruising experience” over the last three years, the people you meet and the stories you hear are the richest reward. The cruising community is small and everyone is bound by the same weather constraints, so you end up seeing the same boats repeatedly even if you don’t ever meet the sailors that belong to them. Inevitably though you end up at a nothing bar on a nothing island with some of the neighbors you’ve shared anchorages and marinas with for days and weeks on end, and sailors being a generally agreeable lot with all the same problems and similar dreams friends are made quickly and happily. 


Natalie handled her passenger much more gracefully than I did

This was the exact case with our new friends Chris, Nat, and their two boys Josh and Sam on Mikado. A quick meeting on Middle Percy Island a couple weeks back has led to smiling friendly faces at several anchorages since, and it’s wonderful to have curry nights and paddle boarding expeditions with new friends. They also are excellent at translating and teaching all of the Aussie slang that sounds so bizarre to my American ears (a barney is not a children’s TV character, but rather an argument, for example). Of course, eventually our paths will split as we continue north towards Indonesia and they round west from Cape York towards Darwin. But that’s the nature of Cruising as well, you meet fantastic people along the way and you share different pieces of your journey with different people. Everyone is a beautiful chapter in someone else’s story, but the length of that chapter in no way impacts its value or the stories and memories made therein.


The rainbow lorikeets are extremely friendly

This life is perhaps more centered around enjoying the present moment than any other lifestyle I’ve experienced or encountered. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of planning and forecasting involved, but the purpose of it all is to make now as beautiful and enjoyable a moment as possible. So it teaches you not to be sad about leaving a gorgeous postcard landscape or close friends behind, but rather to look forward to the next vista, the next ocean, the next beer and the next step with as much excitement as possible. If you’re always excited to move forward, you won’t ever be sad looking back.


Currently we’re anchored for our third day at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island (which confusingly is in no way Magnetic beyond its jaw dropping landscapes) off the coast of Queensland, preparing to move north once again. This time we are moving towards the Hinchenbrook Channel and Island, by some accounts one of the most beautiful places in Australia. The coastlines have grown less mountainous and more tropical by the day, and the weather and water gets warmer even though we can’t swim much after this stop due to Crocodiles, but who can complain from paradise? Cheers everyone, I’ll talk to you again from Cairns!


Closer shot of ‘Mikado’ under sail.