“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


The Perfect Storm

24 May 2015

The Perfect Storm: Setting Sail for Bunga Bunga

20th – 23rd April 2015

April 20th

     Jono took a look at his ringing mobile. The call was from an Australian number and Storm was at the other end of the line. He apologised for not getting in touch sooner but delays at work had knocked his plans back a few days. Storm was due to land in Denpassar at around 6pm that very afternoon along with his good friend Josh and asked if we were still keep to join them on the voyage we could meet up at Linga Longa Bar (a now regular watering hole) in the evening. Relieved that our prayers had been finally answered we agreed to ignore our planned flight to Darwin in favour of meeting up for beers (Liverpool FC were playing that night anyway, so we didn’t want to miss that). 

     Storm touched down at 6pm and me us at Linga Longa two hours later. As skipper Storm introduced us to fellow crewmember and joint owner of the Strikly Bizness, Josh. In typical Ozzy fashion Josh broke the ice immediately by asking “How’s it going you pom bastards”. Naturally we responded with the typical riposte of “not bad you filthy, inbred, convict” and from that point we knew here was a crew we would get on with. Despite the naturally sporting conflict (which we were always going to lose thanks to the current state of English cricket) one thing we have noticed with Australians is that unlike our American cousins they have managed to retain that old British sense of sarcasm and piss taking which means that neither party takes offence no matter the extent of line crossing. The evening of April 20th 2015 will always bring up memories of celebration and hope for us. The uncertainties of the previous day had dissipated and in our beer filled stupor both of us knew we could well achieve what seemed impossible a month ago. The boat was pushed out (excuse the pun) and to compliment the alcohol Storm arranged for a real Balinese meal. The dish of Babi Guiling is listed in the Lonely Planet guide as cuisine to try before leaving the island and needless to say the spiced suckling pig roast was the perfect feast on our last night in Indo. For once Jono never needed to use his now familiar and overused catchphrase of “I’m still hungry”. Oh yeah the only low of the night was that Liverpool lost, typical.
The Strikly Bizness anchored at Bali Marina

 April 21st:
     On the day our visa extension officially expired we vacated Yulia 1, said farewell to the resident “guard” dog, had some breakfast at the Swastika Restaurant (I really think the name isn’t doing the owners any favours) next door and grabbed a cab back to Bali Marina. Storm & Josh were already supervising the clean-up operation in preparation for immigration and there was plenty to do. The Strikly Bizness had been at anchor in the marina since January and the previous owner had kindly left the ship with a plethora of perishable food stuffs which ultimately meant we had the joy of clearing a cockroach infestation. Josh and Storm left Jono and I, now known as the “soap dodgers” to the cleaning while they set to sorting out the important immigration paperwork. 

     With the guys away we also had the opportunity to settle into our new living quarters which consisted of a cramped bunk bed. To be honest this was the best we could hope for as our room was the only part of the ship void of the resident roaches and I kind of reminded us of the cabin room we lived in for five days on the Trans-Siberian. The way we saw it was we were only going to use that room to sleep in and we were likely to spend most of the day on deck enjoying the view and sea breeze.
The marina would be a picturesque place if it wasn't for the islands only landfill located on mangrove habitat.
     Storm and Josh returned a few hours later looking a little pissed off. It turned out the Indonesian authorities would not be able to let us leave due to some bullshit about a new form, meaning we were unlikely to set sail early the next morning. Conveniently the delay’s meant that we would have to pay a day more for our visa overstay and Storm would have to pay additional fees too and although the officers assured us they have a no bribe policy, they couldn’t confirm where the fees were going. I’m not Sherlock Holmes but I guess the final destination of that cash would probably be their back pockets. Sadly delays are something all travellers have to expect in Indonesia and we had little choice but to except it and move on.

     At days end the final member of our crew arrived. Ben, a good friend of Storm’s would be the 2nd in command during the voyage. Like Storm, Ben has also circumnavigated the world sailing and would talk us through the daily tasks on board. Ben had been on holiday with his girlfriend for the last week but decided to take the more exciting and enjoyable route home. He also showed unnecessary praise and interest in our own travels. For the first time on our travels our boasting rights seemed a little flimsy with two round the world sailors and adventurers on board but the guys were kind enough to acknowledge our travels as an achievement few people strive for let alone complete. I was beginning to think that the celebrations were a little premature as we still had quite a big barrier to cross.

April 22nd:
     We all awoke bright and early to crack on with the remaining tasks. After a marina breakfast we cleared the ship of unnecessary, rotting and pest ridden crap before heading out for the BIG SHOP. Judging by the final array of shopping items it seems the old stories of sailors surviving for months on mouldy bread & rum weren’t complete bullshit. Sure there are a few modern comforts today to complement the rum and bread such as pot noodle, beer, eggs, vegemite, bacon, tea, coffee and water but the foundations still remain. 

Finally setting sail even if the sails aren't set
    With the big shop complete and on board Jono and I had a little bit of time to relax whilst Storm, Josh and Ben set about completing the necessary immigration forms, again.  Once again we thought it would be a quick and painless procedure but naturally it took around six hours. In the end it wasn’t our expired visas that was the issue. It was the yacht documents apparently. For a second time in two days the guys had to negotiate a fine based on pure guess work even though there are listed fine’s online. The problem is that because the fines are never listed at the immigration offices the staff can play fast and loose with the truth claiming recent changes have occurred. Finally though after almost a whole day of delays with the “clean” cops paid off we were given the all clear to set sail at around 1700 hours. This meant that our planned day voyage to Lombok in the sun was now an overnight trip. Not ideal when you have no sailing experience but at least the guys had the experience to help us through.
    We had around an hour of sunlight left as we edged out of the marina and the day’s heat was slowly beginning to die, although with virtually no breeze you hardly noticed. With Storm at the helm Ben and Josh issued everyone with their lifejackets and talked us through the safety briefing and ship rules. The ship rules were pretty simple:

1.       Do as Storm and Ben do.
2.       Try not to fall in the sea.
3.       Drink and eat as much as you like, when you like.
4.       Make sure you stay awake when on watch (probably strongly linked to how much you follow rule 3).
5.       Have a laugh and enjoy the trip.

     The safety briefing really brought the trip into perspective and kind of added to the slight sense of danger. I strongly feel that adventure is very closely linked to the extent of risk in a journey and that is the real difference between overland travel and taking flights. On flights the safety briefing is carried out by permanently tanned hostesses waddling around pointing unenthusiastically toward the exits because they know that the majority of passengers aren’t paying the slightest bit notice. The passengers are reading newspapers and books bought from the newsagent’s, others are enveloped in a game of Angry Birds or Candy Crush, some are just asleep or wondering how long before they can order a gin & tonic and it’s because there is no sense of danger or excitement. Sure there have been a few high profile incidents of flights crashing or being shot down but these are few and far between. In stark contrast our safety briefing was just as simple but we both hung on every word because at the end of the day if you ignore the rules or failed to listen you inadvertently put the lives of other crew members at risk. We all hoped that the voyage would be calm and without incident but after ten months of relatively straight forward public travel this shit was getting real.
With the sunset behind us we set course to Bunga Bunga land
    Once out into the between Bali and Nusa Pendia and with the setting sun bathing the island in a golden sheen Storm finally announced the watch rotation. Storm and Ben would rotate together to ensure there was always an experienced sailor on watch. Josh, Jono and I were on a four hourly rotation in the following order:

Josh: 10 -2 (am/pm)
Jono: 2-6 (am/pm)
Ross: 6-10 (am/pm)
    As it was early evening I took the helm first alongside Storm whilst the other cooked up some dinner and cracked open a few beers. It was an easy watch really. In this part of the world the weather is generally calm early evening and with no breeze we were forced to use the ships engine. Our course towards Lombok meant we sailed around the southern shore of Nusa Pendia hugging the intimidatingly steep and high cliffs. The calm conditions changed as the ship passed the southern tip of Nusa Pendia as we hit a northerly breeze and strong current which pushed the Strickly Bizness south away from our goal. Unable to head straight against the elements we had to zigzag a little to edge forward.  
 By the time I handed the helm to Josh and settled in for the night the ride worsened. With waves splashing onto the deck we were forced to shut the window hatches to the dorms. The motion of the yacht combined with stuffy, diesel fumed surroundings needless to say my first night at sea was a little unsettled but a lack of sleep was nothing compared to Jono’s first watch. The poor sod had the graveyard shift from 2am to 6am and had to work hard to fight against the tide. His only one consolation was that he and Strom managed to reach our first anchorage point at around 4am on April 23rd on the shores of Bunga Bunga bay in South-West Lombok.

9 June 2015

The Perfect Storm: Deserted at Desert Point

23rd – 24th April 2015

Bungs Bunga Bay

I had never heard of Bunga Bunga Bay before, in fact I’m still sure the guys had the name mixed up with a Servio Berlesconi party. Despite the area having a name that a UKIP politician would give to any African nation the scene that greeted the crew at sunrise after a pretty rough first night was pretty special. The bay itself was enclosed by vegetation rich hills on three sides. The shallow natural harbour gave the sea a beautiful opal tint and the sound of small fishing boats motoring on out to the open sea comingled with the sound of the sloshing tide. The spot would have been a nice place to waste a day if it wasn’t for the unsheltered western flank. The decision to lay anchor here was solely to provide rest bite from the swelling tide and sadly the shallow bay was not all that suitable. The Strikly Bizness uncontrollable swaying left Storm no choice but to change his plans and search for a more suitable site of anchorage. After consulting Ben and Josh our colleagues set course for Desert Point on the South Eastern tip of the island.
Anchorage close to Desert Point
It took perhaps an hour to relocate and satisfied the ship was not going to capsize Storm set out the day’s agenda. After a hearty fry up with vegemite (naturally) we lowered the dingy o explore desert point. The area is famous with surfers for some of the largest waves in Lombok and as keen surfers Ben and Josh was keen to get stuck in. Sadly the conditions were not favourable due to changes in the tide but we were able to make use of the snorkels and fins. We had last snorkelled in the Gili Islands where we had a great time exploring reefs overpopulated by tourists. The great thing about Desert Point is that although the reefs are in no way as large as in the Gilis, they are pristine and untouched. Being landlocked in central England for our entire lives certainly made us feel inadequate amongst the lads who thrived on or in the ocean. Storm, Josh and Ben are all used to free diving which enabled them to get up close with the reef life.  After a few hours we returned to the small bay where the Strikly Bizness was waiting and made landfall for the first time since leaving Bali to grab a bite to eat in a small fishing village. The locals were pretty surprised to see tourist which was nice to see. When we visited the island after the Gili’s we were restricted to the tourist traps and never really felt we saw the “Real Lombok”. After a bit of asking around we managed to find a nice elderly lady willing to cook up some fish and rice. As we tucked into a ”nice” meal of un-gutted fish served with rice and banana fritters Josh caused a bit of a stir when he paid with a 100,000 IRP note. Awestruck by the payment the locals offered to put on a cock fight with their prized chickens and even let Josh spend the night in the village with the elderly ladies daughter (which left Josh a little awestruck too). Sadly we were on a mission and therefore a tight schedule and as the evening drew in we all knew it was time to move on.

Getting ready to snorkel at Desert Point

Consistent with the prior evening he heavens opened as we left Desert Point which once again left us with a shite night passage. The only consolation was that the trip around the South Eastern tip of Lombok to Blongas Bay would only take a few hours tops. Confident I would avoid the call up for watch I set about making the most of a slightly calmer sleep in my cabin. The cockroaches were final starting to recede now that the bombs were doing the job and I had final found a way to wedge myself in the bunk with some spare clothes. stale, warm air remained pungent and uncomfortable and there was no way of removing it as the bad weather meant all hatches had to remain closed but despite this I managed a few hours of uninterrupted rest. That was until I realised I was time for my watch and we hadn’t laid anchor.

The short trip had meant the agreed watch schedule had changed and after giving me the desired bearings Storm left me at helm with Ben. Neither of us were keen to be up. The precipitation was the kind that was neither heavy nor cold but retained an undying energy that crushed all prayers for even the slightest break in weather. We gritted our teeth and bared the misery for a whole hour and half before the rain began to die. The unpopulated coastline in this part of Lombok made the night feel much darker than during my first shift but even with the vale of shadow it was still possible to make out the silvery reflection of moonlight on the cliffs and headlands. As we turned towards the mouth of Blongas Bay our vision was helped by the electric lights on the wooden pontoons laid out by the local seaweed and lobster farmers. Satisfied we had a clear path Ben picked out a path towards safe anchorage and pressed our vessel forward while I set about sticking to course using the light between the sails to hold the line without looking at the compass. No sooner had the ship reached parallel with the two headlands Ben and I suddenly spotted an object floating amongst the gloom on the Portside. “What the hell is that?” Ben said. It kind of looked like a box or a chunk of floating Styrofoam at first but slowly grew into a much larger structure. Suddenly aware of what it was Ben suddenly turned to me and screamed “pontoon portside, hard turn to starboard”. As he hastily moved to my side I turned the helm as quick as possible away from the obstacle whilst Ben slowed the engine down to allow the ship to idle along. By this time the others had quickly woken from their unsettled sleep and assumed positions at the front of the yacht to relay information to Storm. It took over an hour to creep into Blongas and by the time we found safe anchorage away from any pontoons I was well and truly knackered. If we had hit just one floating platform it may have had devastating consequences to our voyage and even resulted in injuries to the rest of the crew but taking the risk to attempt such ventures and overcoming challenges is all part of taking the step away from convenient, tedious travel.

Leaving Desert Point
As with Bunga Bunga Bay, Blongas retained that same Lombok feel. The early morning mist burns away quickly here as the intense beams of sunshine highlight the beautiful turquoise bowl. The pontoons that caused so much stress to us the night before were now occupied by the local seaweed farmers. Storm and the gang were still keen to find a decent surf spot on Lombok’s south coast and despite the hype Blongas didn’t really cut the mustard with this group of beach bums. The harvesting of the seas fruits meant that many of the breakers were either obstructed or not large enough for decent surfing. Once again this meant another short stay as our sights turned to a bay that we were familiar with Gerupuk, East of Kuta. Exiting Blongas in daytime was a hell of a lot easier and by 3pm we had passed Kuta and arrived in Gerupuk bay. Jono and I had visited Gerupuk briefly a few weeks before when we explored the region on scooter. We knew the area was exceptionally good for surfing but had also informed Storm that like Blongas the bay would not be the easiest to find safe anchorage due to an even greater mass of pontoons. Thankfully we had a secret weapon as a good friend of Ben’s was in Gerupuk and knew the region like the back of his hand and after an hour or so of dodging buoys, pontoons, shallow sand bars and small boats we finally made landfall outside a bar with Ben’s mate Dane waiting with the booze.

9 June 2015

The Perfect Storm: Sun, surf and Swedes

24th – 25th April 2015

The Convicts: Dane, Josh, Storm and Ben

Our first night in Gerupuk was one of fun and feasting. Dane and the guys treated us to beers as we enjoyed our shore leave. It turned out that Dane has been living in Lombok for a few years now and coordinates a few of the surf guides in town. Gerupuk is popular with backpackers due to the cheap surf schools and range of surf on offer. Breaking waves appear all around the bay from small white waves on washing over hidden sand bars to giant green waves slamming close to the rocky headland at the mouth of the bay. Dane and his Lombok son were kind enough to introduce us to a group of Swedish birds who had been having lessons in town for a few days and we made plans to meet up for a surf session the following morning.
Plenty of obstacles in Gerupuk Bay

The sheltered bay offered something of a rarity an interrupted night’s sleep and after a swift breakfast we regrouped with Dane and the girls for some surfing. Sadly a slack tide meant the conditions were pretty crap in Gerupuk on this occasion so Storm offered to treat our party to a day trip to Ekas, a bay East of Gerupuk which promised to offer true Lombok tranquillity away from any tourism.
All set for the surf session

The sail to Ekas was easy enough as the sea remained calm and the weather warm. The famous rugged coastline continued and as someone who always enjoyed Geography and Geology I couldn’t help but be impressed by the range of weathered natural structures. As we sailed close to the isle of Ekas it became apparent to all that Dane had not overestimated the area. The scar on the landscape that are so prominent on the western side of the island are non-existent leaving only small scale farming of rice, livestock and sea life. The hotels and guesthouses that can be found all over the region are nowhere to be seen although as from what Dane told it wouldn’t be long before the developers move in. What we witnessed was a scene that few outsiders ever get to see and it was all due to the Strikly Bizness. Despite the lack of tourism our first surf spot was a little crowded as the local lads wasted the day away. After my briefly successful surf in java I was confident I could move up to a hard board. It’s amazing how a combination of beer and trying to impress some chicks makes you forget your limitations and in my case it’s that I have possibly the worst balance of anyone on the planet. That being said I’m pretty confident I can face plant better than most. Whilst Ben, Josh, Dane and Storm spent the afternoon showing off their skills developed over a lifetime of living by the coast I spent the same time working on my impression of a sock in a washing machine and was quite pleased when the call finally came to return to the yacht after being pommeled amongst the shallow, rocky shoreline.
Our gang of stowaways

With the surfing finished for the day and the sun setting we sailed slowly back to town with the Bintang flowing and without a care in the world. After all the sleepless nights it was nice to finally see what all the effort was for and I can truly see the appeal of purchasing a yacht and the freedom it gives you to explore (if you have the money). For Maria, Frida 1, Frida 2 and Laura the day was a nice trip towards the end of their Indonesian holiday.
Nice end to a good day

Our last night in Lombok was a good time to reflect on the last few days and I’m truly thankful that fate and luck gave us the opportunity to return to the island and give it the second chance it deserves. Lombok remains Bali’s sleepy neighbour and I really hope the rate of development for tourism doesn’t take away the tranquil, relaxed pace of the island. Backpackers don’t visit this region for huge piss ups, foam parties, McDonalds or western influences they come for the nature, relaxation and slow paced lifestyle and I really hope that continues for many years to come.

9 July 2015

The Perfect Storm: 20,000 leagues over the sea

26th- 30th April 2015

Our last day in Southern Lombok was a real treat and symbolised the end of the pleasure cruising part of our voyage. What lay ahead was a four day slog across the Indian Ocean to Australia. After a short surf session and a final farewell from Dane and the girls Storm finally gave the orders to hoist anchor and ease the Strickly Bizness out of the congested bay for one last time. It was slightly peculiar that after almost a week of hugging the coastline and moving from one visible island to the other our co-ordinates now led us out into an ominous, crystalline desert.

Surprisingly Storm’s planned one more excursion to the agenda in the form of the rolling shoals which apparently is one of the best fishing spots in the world and would hopefully add a little variety to the monotony of heading in a straight line to Broome. Josh and Ben decided that catching our own grub would now be on the cards since we were outside waters quote “screwed over by dynamite fishing fly swatting bastards” and set about rigging up some rods to trawl from the rear of the ship. 

Consistent with most of the trip so far we were unable to utilise the sails due to the warm, calm weather although to be honest using the engines didn’t bother us too much. If Storm had given me the choice between death by carbon monoxide fumes or drowning in a tropical storm at least the first option offered a nice peaceful, dreamy drift across the veil. Our spirits and banter were high (perhaps due to the beer or fumes. I couldn’t tell) and as the evening set in at the end of the first full day Mother Nature treated us to an incredible starscape for the 3 hours of my shift on helm and as I handed the reins to Jono and settled in to my bunk, cloudy with exhaust fumes I had no idea that the clouds were gathering on the horizon.

Enjoying a nice sunset as the swell gradually increases
By the time my watch started again the next morning the dynamics of the weather had changed drastically and it was clear that a storm had hit Storm’s night shift. The deck was strewn with the dead carcasses of flying fish that seemed to be the most common species populating this section of the Indian Ocean. I had seen pictures of them as a kid but having a chance to see them close up was a nice feeling although the books never explained how oily the things are. Although I was told they don’t make good eating I’m pretty sure if push came to shove they would make good signal flares. It was like shaking hands with someone who works at the grill in Mc Donalds. Stronger winds now meant that the sails were finally set and I could already see Storm and Ben’s enjoyment as they could begin to put the Strickly Bizness through its passes. For Jono and I it was also our first experience of large swell. We were now in waters thousands of meters deep and the stronger winds kicked up the previously stagnant water which in turn tossed the 40 foot vessel all over the shop. The rest of the crew were used to the ships motions as if they all have a built in gyroscope but for us we hobbled around the place like extras in an old sci-fi film when their space craft has just lost power to the shields.

enjoying a brief break in the weather

The crap conditions continued for a whole night and the following day with no sight of any other ship. Not even a dodgy immigrant carrier which seems contrary to most media articles but the truth is we were in truth lonely mariners. It also turned out that steering a ship takes a lot more skill than I initially thought. Sure on the calm Lombok coast we had both managed with dodging obstacles but sailing in a straight line in the open ocean with no obstacles to worry about was impossible. Our skills were so bad that it was almost possible to determine who was steering when on the GPS tracker. Storm seemed to be there just to get us back on track as our attempt looked more comparable to someone attempting to draw a circle on an etch-a-sketch pad. The poor weather conditions now meant that our plan to fish in the rolling shoals was now a no go. The favourable winds would get us there no problem but we would have to struggle again the breeze back to Broome. Oh well all best laid plans and such. 

Set course for Broome Mr Spock
During my night watch we had our first sighting of another vessel since leaving Gerupuk and it was a close shave. Those who live landlocked lives like Jono and I probably don’t know that all ships should have lights on the flanks to tell others which direction it is travelling (Red = Port and Green = Starboard). If you see a red light you know the ship is heading on a potential collision path so you steer accordingly to avoid each other. We could tell that the object appearing from the gloom was large as the white light around the object extended at least seven levels, but there were no red or green lamps. Ben told me it must be a platform of some kind and I should change our course but this only seemed to bring the object closer. A few minutes and a few hundred feet closer we could tell the ship was some kind of cruise ship. It was going to dwarf our vessel but it had no operational warning lights. It was at this point that Ben began to search around frantically and decided to inform me that we might have to wake the others up and prepare for collision if we can’t get this larger ship to change course. It turns out that most of the cruise and container ship masters only notice things on their radar and as our ship was so small in comparison they wouldn’t necessarily notice it or even be looking out of the window for it. Ben decided to take out a few head torches, set them to a red flashing strobe function and point them towards the cruise ship to make it seem like we were having engine difficulties or something. Five minutes we danced around the deck lighting up the endless darkness like an illegal sea rave before the larger ship change direction. A slight reminder that even something as small as not having a light working can have large consequences on the open sea. I suppose it’s a little like driving along a country road at night without the headlights on. 
Finally  break in the weather

In the early hours of the fourth day the weather finally subsided and made way for cloudless, deep blue skies hanging above turquoise seas. The swell seemed to disappear as quickly as it had arrived as Storm pointed out it was due to us entering much shallower waters only a few hundred meters deep (still sounds pretty deep to me). All the signs signalled that we had crossed from International to Australian waters and a few hours later at around breakfast time we received our first of three separate fly overs by the coast guard/boarder authorities. It was all a little bit “24” with radio calls to the ship, heat seeking cameras and a plethora of questions to determine our legitimacy. I guess they have so many illegals attempting to make landfall they have to be a little bit bad cop, bad cop. The authorities arranged safe moorings for us close to Broome so we change our bearing and estimated an arrival time early that evening.
A family of flippers

As we approached the pearling capital of Australia and after four days of seeing only flying fish we received the best welcoming party imaginable in the form of a huge pod of dolphins. The 20 to 25 strong group raced the Strickly Bizness for 30 minutes battling each other for the lead a playing to the cameras. It was a great end to an amazing trip and as we settled in the deep sea marina awaiting the immigration authorities we both felt like we had achieved something special for the first time since leaving home.

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