27 September 2012 | Bali, Indonesia
Gary & Tara
We had a long sail up the coast of Australia to Thursday Island, where we finally cut the strings with Australia and jumped into another world. The winds were high and coming directly from astern but fortunately the seas were relatively calm due to the protection from the 2600 km long Great Barrier Reef, which runs all the way up the Queensland coast. The Great Barrier Reef was beautiful to cruise through, but incredibly busy with huge tankers and cargo ships churning down the coast. We would be notified of our closest point of approach to these behemoths though our onboard Automatic Identification System (AIS), but with a 900 foot tanker barreling towards us at 20 knots and weighing in at over 200,000 tons, even being informed that it would come within half a mile, felt too close at times. We knew that the rules of the road in this area are: the biggest ship has the least maneuverability and smaller ships get the hell out of the way. Needless to say it would make for some tense moments, watching them approach in the middle of the night, knowing that we would meet at a narrow point, not quite 5 kms wide, and have nowhere to move should they deviate from their track. They don't turn on a dime! Once, we were sure an approaching tanker, with a closest point of approach of less than half a km, would have to turn in order to avoid a reef. They were heading for the reef and we were in between both. We waited for them to turn into safety. The closest point of approach once showed us on a collision course. It was heading right towards us. It held its course and we held our breath. There seemed to be nowhere safe to turn. We finally had to make an evasive move towards the reef. At a snails pace we were inching out of harms way. Finally, it altered course, our closest point of approach started to increase rapidly and we quickly headed back to safety. Finally, after a week of sailing, we were clear of the reef and open seas were ahead of us [TRL: no more jibing (turning the boat) every hour!]. Next stop, Indonesia!
We arrived on Tanimbar Island on the eastern edge of the Maluku Island chain, historically known also as the Spice Islands. Although the majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim, the eastern islands are predominately Christians. I guess it was tough for the missionaries to get to the over 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia. Now we had to check in and we had heard that it was a exercise in patience to do so, but we were fortunate when a local, named Wito, paddled up and helped me locate some authorities on shore; unfortunately, not the right ones. They don't have Customs, Immigration or the Navy present on Tanimbar Island [TRL: contrary to a Presidential Decree from Dec 2011 that states it is a full international arrival port! Aaahhhh I love the third world], so a proper check-in would have to wait. Wito was getting married the next day, so we joined him for a celebration with his friends the following evening. It was fun to share sopi (a wine derived from the coconut flower) and fried fish with his friends. When we arrived, one guy had already passed out in the corner, so the party was well underway. The next day Wito took us around the island to the open markets and villages, which specialize in carvings, and also the small village, which is the major manufacturer of sopi for the island. It was a lot of fun.
As we sailed along the northern coast of Flores Island, we were treated to the rugged volcanic beauty of Indonesia. Often while sailing by a volcanic island (and there were plenty) we'd see large plumes of smoke arising from the crater. It was erupting. What a sight! The days were sunny and the stops along the way beautiful. We stopped into a small, secluded bay along the way and were greeted by a nice little boy from the village named Rian. He rowed out in an old dugout canoe. We wondered how he could manage it, but it is their way of life. Everyone paddles and they start them young. He didn't know much English, only coffee, sugar, and pens. I'm sure they're some of the words the family knows in order to trade with the few sailboats that come through annually. We have a small translation book, so we enjoyed an hour or so of putting together words and sentences to communicate. His two older brothers joined Rian the next day, and the process of communicating began again. They brought out coconuts and we gave them some t-shirts, hats, pens, pencils and of course, the precious coffee and sugar. It was a great interaction filled with lots of laughs.
We finally made it to Komodo Island and were excited to see the world's largest lizards known locally as Ora. Komodo dragons grow as big as 3 metres long and can weigh up to 100 kgs. We found a guide at the park and he walked around with us carrying his pitchfork type stick should he need to fend off any dragons. He was very informative and shared a lot of information on the Komodo dragon, including a scary story of how he was almost killed 3 months earlier when one of the larger males attacked him, taking him down by the ankle and then going for his throat. He was lucky and got away and was able to climb a tree and wait for over an hour until help finally came. He spent the next ten days in the hospital getting pumped full of antibiotics while fighting off infection. The Komodo dragon generally does not kill large prey, such as deer and water buffalo, instantly. Their saliva contains 57 different strains of bacteria, and the ensuing infection brought on by the bacteria, is what eventually does them in. The Komodo dragon then tracks the prey down dues to its keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 kilometres away. Needless to say, after hearing his stories, we kept our distance....mostly (see photos).
Eventually we made it to the Bali Island area and we were immediately submerged in a frenzied mass of tourism and fellow cruisers. We had escaped it for as long as possible while sailing through Indonesia's more remote islands, but Bali is where it finally starts. We plan on renting a car and getting into some remote areas so we can truly enjoy the culture! Hopefully the next blog wont take over a month and a half to post. I do enjoy them, but damn, I can be so lazy sometimes.