Komodo National Park
On Sunday morining we finally leave Labuanbajo. We decided against a visit of the Komodo Warans, as I already saw them 25 years ago and Reto feels its to much touristic bustle. Therefore we engine straight over to Gili Lawa Laut in the Komodo National Park, there the diving is supposed to be the best. Once there the park rager help us so we can attach to another boat which leaves an hour later and we get our own mooring.
Dangerous diving in Komodo
In the meantime we prepared our die gear and the tide table tells us that slack tide is approaching. We know that this is not the best moment for seeing the big fish, but it is safer and more comfortable for us because of less current.
When we hop into the dinghy we also see that only one out of the 5 or 6 dive boats is left at the Crystal Rock dive spot. Good, that‘s better anyway, we think.
Once there we need a while to check out the direction of the current, then dive down with our dingy in tow on a long line. Like this we have the security to always have access to the dinghy no matter where the current might take us.
Diving down we see a huge group of divers who just start to do their safety stop on the way up. We slowly dive around the rock in very little current when after 20 minutes I feel a strong pull on the line. Luckily Reto sees it luckily straight away, grabs the line and pulls strongly on it a few times. But it doess‘t help, the pull on the other side doesn‘t stop.
We start to get dragged up and even though I give out the 10 meter of line that I was still holding in my hands we feel that it is way too fast. Between 6 and 4 meter I watch my dive computer counting 30 seconds, then we up on the surface. We see that our dinghy is next to the tender of the only diveboat around, shout them a few curses and go back down to 5 meters to repeat our safety stop.
Once back up the boat comes up to us and the first question of who seems to be the person in charge is „Do you dive with a dive center?“ which we decline. „What, alone? – This is not allowed!“ is his answer which I counter with „ Don‘t tell me such a bullshit, we just bought our dive tickets from the park rangers one hour ago…“
Angry and dissapointed we get back to SHE SAN, we still cannot believe what just happended to us. Luckily we only hyperventilate because of the agitation and we don‘t have any serious injuries, but we are well aware that this could have resulted in a serious dive accident. By the way, our friend John identified the dive boat as belonging to „Azul Unlimited“ operating from Labuan Bajo…
Mantas in the Shotgun Alley
The next day we stick to snorkeling, where we have the surface activity under control. We snorkel the two passes between the Gili Lawa Islands and Komodo and on the second spot called „shotgun alley“ we are in between hundrets of divers and a minimum of 10 boats. One diver is still floating on the surface while his group has disappeared into the depths, also this doesn‘t increase my trust in the dive operators around here.
Next to groups o large Napoleaon wrasses, trevallies and other huge fish we also spot why everyone is here: there are huge mantas hanging around in the pass, we enjoy them in awe from the top and go back and forth to „fly past“ them again and again.
In the afternoon we want to hike the hill at the ranger station, but we are too late, the rangers come back from their round, and call us to come back down the mountain . „It is prohibited to climb up since some tourists have made fires in the past…“ we are told. Grumpy we tell the ranger from our experiance the day before, he gets angry and promisses to speak to the responsible boat…
Our private Manta ray in Gili Banta
Well, we‘ve seen it, we sail 15 miles further west to Gili Banta where we anchor in a big bay on 3 meters of sand, but a long swell takes us up and down. We do one dive in the bay, it is quite pretty but we do feel that we are spoiled from Raja Ampat, our expectations are quite high. Then we get super lucky, our private Manta ray turns up just in front of us, turns and floats directly at us with the elegant movement of his huge wings, I hardly dare to breathe…
After a rather shakey night we move to a bay in the south of Gili Banta, where it is a lot calmer. Also the coral banks are very pretty and healthy, but we don‘t have much time available.
Our hulls need urgent cleaning and the engines some more servicing. We also realize that our port alternator is not charging the batteries any more and as it is impossible o open it without breaking something mechanically we don‘t dare to do so, otherwise we cannot use the engine any more. Now we just hope that the starboard alternator on which Reto soldered in some new diodes a few months ago will keep on running…
Let’s go to Sumatra via the Indian Ocean
Then the winds for the next 10 days look good, time to start our passage to Sumatra. We have chosen this route around the South coasts of Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali and Java and up the West coast of Sumatra having the feeling that there should be more wind and especially to avoid the Malacca strait where night sailing is not recommended due to a lot of traffic and fishing nets every where. In the south of the Selat Linta the trade winds start to blow and the first few hours we have wind against current and hop around like a horse on meter high but very short waves. Now imagine that the horse has 12 tons…
After a few hours the sea calms down, we have a normal wave from behind, enough wind to comfortably sail and no squalls at all all the way to Sumatra.
The fish hook in the hand instead of the fish
On the 7th day in the morning when I take over the watch a fish bites, but we loose him again. He has bitten a large part of the lure off, so Reto puts a new octopus skirt on top of the lure. I watch critically and tell him „pay attention“, but it already happened. The hook sticks in his hand and thanks to the large barb he cannot just take it back out again. While I get nausea and hectically look for the first aid box he turns the hook back and forth until it finally comes out again.
Looking for the tiger in the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation Park (TWNC)
The following morning we steer into the bay of Balimbing in the Southwest corner of Sumatra. Here is the Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation Park, which we want to visit.
We are welcomed by the manager Mr. Teguh and Mr. Agung who is guiding us around and translating and agree for a visit of the park the next day. Right away we are invited to join them for lunch and Reto‘s wound is professionally inspected and cared for by Dr. Adam.
After an awesome dinner with BBQed fish and chicken we learn about the main tasks of the park, which was founded by Tomy Winata and the Artha Graha Peduli Foundation as a part of the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
As we understand the biggest problem comes from illegal deforestation and hunting and the park supports by reforestation, patrols and education and support of the people living in the area.
The rescue of the Sumatran tiger is another focus of the TWNC and we are of course especially courious about this part.
The following morning we climb on top of a jeep with which we are driven around the National Park.
Here the 360 picture to look around 😉 we take these pictures with our 360 camera – here the link if you also want to buy one: Insta 360 one x (With this link it is not more expensive for you but we’ll get a little provision ;-))
We visit the village and the farm where vegetables for the humans and pigs for the tigers are grown and we stop at the stations where the rehabilitated tigers were released in the past. As we understand only those tigers who are not too curious about and not too much depending on humans have a chance to be released into the wild again.
Of course the highlight for us is the visit of the tiger rehabiliation station where a tiger named Petir is in a rather large cage. Well, large for us, because of course he is right in the middle furthest away from us possible but probably not large in the opinion of the tiger… Unfortunately we are there at lunch time, he only twice shows himself briefly before lying down again in the grass. But I am lucky, my camera has captured the short moment and looking through the pictures in the evening we are surprised how wild and proud he looks at us.
We are a bit dissapointed that we also cannot see the other tigers who are in some smaller box cages, but apparently they should not get used to having too many humans around.
In the late afternoon we do another round with the jeep where we see a whole range of deer and water buffaloes and visit the highest (78 meters) light house in Indonesia, the Vlakkenhoek lighthouse built in 1879 by the Dutch.
After dinner the hightlight of the day – together with Mr. Teguh we go on night safari. Everywhere around we see pairs of eyes shining in the dark, with the flashlight we spot they belong to mouse deer, deer and also waterbuffalos. Teguh also spots some very fresh traces of claws on a tree, but the tigers themselves of course don‘t hang around until we approach in our car ;-). Being very tired after a long day we happily give up the search at 10 pm!!
The next morning while we say our good byes to our hosts on SHE SAN we are surrounded by whole groups of turtles at the same time, what a beautiful good-bye!
We loosen our lines from the big park mooring and set sail for Enganno, but with the strong southerlies we don’t trust the open anchorage there, so we change course to Bengkulu 2 days further up on the coast of Sumatra.
It is just before noon the friendly immigration officer in Bengkulu welcomes us, takes on our papers and sends us to come back after lunch. Edmon, another officer, sees that we are looking for something and takes us to his favorite lunch place around the corner. We profit from his company and pay for two portions of the veggies with peanut and chilli sauce (the local warm and spicy version of „gado gado“), a plate of aubergines with tempeh, 2 pieces of chicken and rice a total of USD 3.50… After half the food we are full and have the rest for dinner!
Back in the office we fill out each two application forms, wait for their processing and just miss by a bit the opening hour of the car below where we can pay our fees. We come back the next morning and get our passports within 10 minutes, Reto cannot believe it after the fuss we had in Labuanbajo a few weeks earlier.
Actually we like Benkulu and would like to explore more, but every time we go on land we are more than wet from landing in the surf on the beach and we have to tow the dinghy in the sand (no dinghy wheels yet).
When Brendo joins us with his sailing boat in the anchorage, he tells us about the island of Sanding in the South of the Mentawai Islands just 90 miles further on. That is just enough as the wind will take us before dying again, so we follow him there the next day.
Sanding is an uninhabited island (except for the occasional fishermen or copra worker) with coconuts and endless beaches, we enjoy being out in the nature and having Brendo as company who supplies us with fresh fish while we supply him with beer 😉
Three days later the wind sets in again, we sail overnight to Tua Pejat, the Capital of the Mentawais. We want to anchor on the other side of the village and there is supposed to be a dive spot as well, but the moment we arrive there are half meter waves in both and we have toanchor behind the village in the mangroves…
Equator the 4th !!
After a short visit in the village we continue our sail up north to Lagundi in the South of Nias. Just before we cross the equator for the 4th!!! time we catch two Mahi Mahi, one rather small but the other one is huge (1.5 meter) and has the most massive head of a Mahi that we have ever caught.
Since Lagundi bay is very wide and wthout any reef dangers we dare to approach in the dark for a change. But what is this? The spot that is described as calm in our cruising guide is everything else than calm in reality… We drop the anchr anyway, spend a shaky night and flee the next morning again. The following night off Pulau Asu is a bit calmer but still rather an anchorage for surfers than for sailors. One more hop to the north brings us to Lahewa, where it is completely calm, finally… We both have a cold, we are exhausted, we need a rest…
Well, while I spend the next day writing an article for marina.ch, Reto spends 7 hours at our neighbor yacht Hilma fixing their alternator before they leave for their passage to Mauritius.
Lahewa is a nice little town with some little warung (Indonesian restaurants) and several veggie and fruit stalls.
But when we finally take our time to explore the surrounding area a huge afternoon downpour surprises us and we get stuck at Wati’s house surrounded by a flock of children. In the end we go back during the rain and end up soaking wet and when we arrive back at SHE SAN the sun comes out again…
Without wind to Aceh, Pulau Weh
The weather forecast promisses wind for Sunday, only on Sunday morning this promiss is gone, too. With no wind in sight for the next 3 weeks we leave anyway and indead count the hours sailing almost on two hands. During the nights the situation ist worst. Sqalls with a lot of lightening around us make us feel humble and fragile, welcome to the convergence zone on the equator!!
In order to avoid another night out in between the thunderstorms we do the rest in two day hops and spend the night at anchor in Calang and Lhok Seudu.
The last day we even have wind again, so we really enjoy the 25 miles sail through the Aroih cut and the up to Pulau Weh. In between a lot of tourist boats our anchor drops in Iboih, now we are curious what the dive sites here have to offer!!!