Leprechaun Attack!

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Earlier this week, Leo and Hazel spent an afternoon constructing a leprechaun trap out of Lego bricks. They built a chamber that was open on the top, filled it with all of their gold, and then positioned a flashlight to shine on the gold. They believed that the leprechauns would climb up the ramp, the ramp would then slip away, and the leprechauns would spend the night trapped in a Lego block prison.

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Their plan was a spectacular failure, because we all woke up on the morning of Saint Paddies Day to find an empty leprechaun trap, no gold, and a completely trashed boat. The leprechauns apparently grabbed the gold and then wrecked havoc on Sophie, overturning chairs, scattering schoolbooks, and dumping flour and spices everywhere in some sort of mischievous Gaelic frenzy.

The children think it is awesome that we still live in a world where we need to be careful about incurring the wrath of magical elves. The parents? Not so much.

Later that night we all went to an Irish bar in Sanur, The Wicked Parrot, to celebrate with green beer and mashed potatoes. The place was full, but none of the retired Ozzie tourists dared compete with Leo and Hazel in the dance contests, and they won all of the prizes.

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The local Indonesians who played in the Irish pub band thought they were pretty cool, though.

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We are still in Bali waiting for the Indonesia social visas for Jenna and the kiddies to be renewed. In all of our other ports, we’ve been able to renew visas with 2-3 visits to the Immigrasi office, but in Bali it takes 10 business days and the renewal has to be handled by a paid agent. We probably will not get their visas back until next week, and then we will head north to Kalimantan to visit the orangutans. This will be our last stop in Indonesia before we move on to Singapore.

Since I flew back to the US in January, I am traveling on a different type of Indonesia visa, the 30 day “Visa on Arrival”.  It can only be renewed once, and after the second 30 day period you have to leave the country in order to get a new visa. So yesterday I boarded a cheap flight to Singapore, spent 90 minutes at Changi Airport there, then returned to Bali on another flight.

There were a lot of stores selling purses at the airport there, and I think Jenna may need to up her handbag game when we spend time in that country. Especially since we will be staying at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, which seems a little more swank than some of the places we’ve been staying at since we left New Zealand a year ago.

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I was able to get a shot of Serangan Harbor as my flight gained altitude yesterday. Sophie is one of the dots to the right of the harbor.

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We did get a new neighbor yesterday, and I do believe this a private yacht. I could picture myself driving this back in Seattle if our unicorn ever comes in. We could install a zipline between the mast and the crow’s nest!

We’ve also spent some time over the last week exploring Bali. It’s been fun watching Hazel go around using her camera. She did a nice job framing the entrance of a typical family dwelling in the center of the Bali.

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The same family has lived here for 30 generations.

She also took some shots of their livestock and nailed, in my view, what it means to be a pig.

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She also got a nice shot of a temple on the west coast, where hundred of Asian tourists where taking more pictures of her than of the temple.

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From a cruising perspective, Bali represents a mixed bag to me. It has an incredibly interesting Hindu culture and history. It has excellent restaurants, water parks, and zip line rides. They sell cheap, delicious beer EVERYWHERE. It’s safe. The people here have a sweet and loving nature.

On the other hand, their are no quiet, secluded anchorages where you can swim off your boat. It is very crowded. You need to take a US$7 cab to go anywhere. The downtown area near Kuta is the most touristy place I’ve seen this side of Vegas.

I’m looking forward to being here for Balinese New Year this weekend, including the day of silence when EVERYTHING shuts down for 24 hours. And the night before we will watch the Ogoh Ogoh parades, where villages carry around giant paper maché statues of evil spirits, and then burn them on the beach.

After that, I’ll be quite ready to go offshore again. Time for the next adventure.

Anchorages in Komodo

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Here is a quick post with the waypoints for where Sophie stayed during our visit to the Komodo area. It’s intended for boats following in our footsteps. And as you can see from the above picture of our anchorage in Rinca, our new Navionics charts are still off by up to a quarter of a mile! Either that or a dragon picked up Sophie in the middle of the night and flew us to her nest.

Labuan Bajo – 08.30.380S 119.52.341E
We anchored a mile south of town off the beach in front of the La Prima Hotel in 50 feet of sand. It was quiet and sheltered, even in a westerly. For our first few days we left our dinghy at the beach in front of the hotel but then switched to the more convenient dinghy dock on the north side of the harbormaster’s jetty in town.

Komodo – 08.34.363 S 119.30.398E
We anchored at the top of the bay in 60 feet of sand near the cruise ship pier, which was empty. From the boat we could see deer wandering along the beach, and it was a quick dinghy ride to see the dragons, which were 200 meters from the dock. It was also a 2 mile dinghy ride to Pink Beach, which was an excellent place to snorkel.

Rinca – 08.39.220S 119.42.835E
Despite what you see in the above photo, we actually anchored in 30 feet of mud in a small bay near the National Park dock. It was a very, very protected anchorage. We were also told that crocodiles lived in the mangroves, so no swimming!

Palau Mauna – 08.33.631S 119.38.061E
This is the uninhabited island where the kids spent an afternoon playing on a beautiful pink sand beach and where Jenna and I saw a family of lionfish. We anchored off the southeast tip of the island and watched with great interest as Sophie swung back and forth in the converging currents. We wouldn’t spend the night here, but it was a wonderful day stop.

Gili Banta – 08.25.66S 119.19.557E
This was an overnight stop for us 32 miles west of Labuan Bajo. We arrived at sunset and left at sunrise. We anchored in the northernmost finger bay on the east side. The steep hills covered with grass made us think we were back in New Zealand. Very protected.

Gili Air – 08.21.948S 116.04.932E
30 hours later we picked up a mooring off the tourist beach in Gili Air. The approach from the north in the channel between Gili and Lombok was straightforward, and it was easy to follow the tourist boats through the break in the surf into the anchorage area. A guy on shore charged us ~US$5 to use his mooring for the night, which seemed like a better alternative than trying to anchor in the crowded harbor.

For all of these anchorages, we use Google Earth photos via the OvitalMap iPad app to complement our Navionics charts. It would be quite difficult to enter these anchorages for the first time without the satellite photos. The Google Earth/OvitalMap combination has become an indispensable navigation tool for us.

 

Bali Time

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It has been a very busy two weeks for us on Sophie since we arrived in Bali. Our goal was to get here from Labuan Bajo in time for “Girls Week”, a mini vacation here in Bali for Jenna and two friends who flew out from the States for the party. We had a gentle overnight passage from Labuan Bajo to Gili Air, where we spent a night on a mooring near the beach resorts. On the next day we covered the remaining 56 miles to our anchorage in Bali in about 5 hours, thanks to a strong current in the Selat Lombok.

I’ll leave it to Jenna to document what happened during Girls Week in a future post. Needless to say, the ladies had a great time.

Sophie is currently anchored in Serangan, a relatively quiet fishing harbor on the northern end of the Benoa harbor area. Our current location is 08.43.127 South, 115.14.853 East. Garuça Cat is right next to us, along with 50 other boats in the harbor. Most of the boats are used for tourism.

To the immediate north of us is Sanur, a relatively quiet tourist city with waterfront hotels and a strip of restaurants and tourist shops. On our first few days here, we took our dinghy up to the Sanur beach to visit the area, but soon became victim to a big swing in tides.

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At one point while pushing the dinghy across 150 yards of muddy salt flats, the dinghy wheels buckled under the motor and failed.

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This happened to us a year ago in New Zealand, and we had had the aluminum wheel struts reinforced by a welder to prevent this from happening again. Oh well, no more using the dinghy to get to Sanur.

This wasn’t the only dinghy problem we encountered on our arrival to Bali. During our stopover in Gili Air, the motor stopped working. We could start it, but it would die as soon as we applied any gas. It became worse in Serangan, because by the time we got there the motor wouldn’t start at all. No motor on our dinghy could present some problems for a Girls Week where Sophie will be at anchor. I have to admit I was a little stressed and spent 5 hours working on the dinghy motor. I changed the plugs, fuel filters, and cleaned the carburetor as best I could with no luck. I finally bought a new tank of gas from a local, and that seemed to have solved the problem. But I still had to run the motor on the new gas for an hour to get it running smoothly. I have never had a problem with bad gas before, but that seemed to have been the problem in this case.

We plan to buy a new dinghy in Malaysia or Thailand, most likely an aluminum hulled Swift like the one our friends on Nalukai drive. Our Walker Bay has served us well for 7 years, but its plastic bottom is beginning to wear and the Honda outboard is showing some age. EVERYONE out here uses a 2 stroke Yamaha outboard, and a 25 horse Yamaha coupled with the new dinghy will let us get up on a plane with 7 adults on board.

While working on the engine I was also doing laundry, cleaning toilets, and getting the boat ready for 2 guests, each in their own cabin. Jenna was running Sophie School. By the time Elizabeth showed up on Friday, I was exhausted!

Jenna and the ladies then pretty much disappeared for the next 5 days, and I took over Sophie School and overall kid management. I am proud to say that we got three full school days in. Hazel even had the chance to enjoy some extracurricular reading.

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When we weren’t doing school, the kiddies and I had the chance to explore a little bit of the local scenery. We went into Sanur so I could buy a new paddle for my paddle board. While there I saw one of the sweetest rides I’ve seen on the trip.

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I want one. Badly.

The kiddies and I enjoyed one epic day where we went to a water slide park, an open market, and then to a mall were we ate at Tony Roma’s and hung out in a video arcade.

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I am glad that Jenna got to enjoy a mini-vacation, because she has been with the kiddies pretty much non-stop for two years. Leo and Hazel had fun hanging out with me.

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A couple of milkshakes a day doesn’t hurt morale, either. Daddy daycare rules!

We even got hit with a nice squall. Thankfully it happened during the day, and the three of us were on the boat. Wind gusts hit 48 knots, and visibility disappeared. I turned the motors on as a precaution, but thankfully there is thick mud in the anchorage and Sophie didn’t budge. Our neighbor Guta was alone on Garuça Cat, and she was pretty scared at the time. We later learned that a couple of people in town had trees fall on them during the squall. They died. Scary stuff.

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Have I mentioned yet that Bali is unlike any place we’ve visited since we left on the trip? I haven’t yet had the chance tour the interior or any of the Hindu cultural sites — we’ll do that as a family next week. But so far what I’ve seen is some weird mixture of Vegas, Disneyland, and a tropical spring break.

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The city areas are very crowded, and we have to take a 10 minute taxi ride to get anywhere. Thankfully the rides cost around $5, and we now have apps on our phones we can use to order cabs.

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There are thousands of tourist restaurants here, and some are ridiculous. But most of the ones we’ve eaten at have been quite good and reasonably priced.

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Most of all, people seem to come here to PARTY! Round trip flights to Bali from Australia are as low as $150, and there seem to be bars on every block. This is a far cry from Jayapura, our port of entry into Indonesia. There you heard the Muslim call to prayer on loudspeakers throughout the day, Jenna had to cover shoulders and legs while in town, and there were three places where you could buy a drink.

Dorothy, we’re not in Papua any more.

Anyway, after 5 days exploring Bali, the ladies joined us on Sophie and we motored 15 miles to spend the night at Lembongan, and island in the strait to the east of Bali. We were able to pick up a mooring and enjoyed watching the mostly Chinese day tourists being towed around on inflatable hot dogs, oftentimes right next to Sophie. But the daytrippers were all gone by 3:00 PM, and we then got a quiet harbor to ourselves. We were able to swim, paddle board, and eat line-caught yellowfin tuna for dinner.

We returned to Serangan the next day and spent a long weekend celebrating HAZEL’S SEVENTH BIRTHDAY. The weekend involved three birthday dinners, an afternoon at a resort, and a return trip to the water park.

We held a birthday brunch on Saturday, where the Girls Week ladies, Guta and the Sophie crew enjoyed some homemade lemon cake, courtesy of Jenna.

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Hazel then enjoyed opening gifts from around the world, wearing her flower girl dress from her cousin Caroline’s wedding last summer.

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The festivities ended on Sunday night, when Hazel was invited behind the grill at a Japanese barbecue.

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Jenna and I gave her a camera for her birthday, and like any kid she started out by taking some pretty goofy pictures.

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She also began to explore distance and perspective.

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Before we knew it, she was framing some excellent photographs.

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She is obviously her mother’s daughter.

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The camera even has a button that automatically frames Leo in different perspectives. I think Hazel will be using this with great impact as we continue our trip.

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We are all looking forward to the day when Hazel publishes her own blog post here, sharing her favorite photos with the world. Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later.

Well, this post should give you a sense for what we’ve been up to for the last couple weeks. Our current thinking is that we will stay in Bali through March 18th for one last visa renewal, then head up to Kalimantan to hang out with the Orangutans before heading up to Singapore.

The luck keeps rolling, we keep learning new things, and we keep meeting new friends, in this case a dragonfly in Bali. She seems to like Sophie.

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Komodo National Park

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Last week we had the opportunity to explore Komodo National Park, a small chain of islands off of Flores Island in the East Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia. We set out from Labuan Bajo on Sophie and motored two hours to Komodo Island where we anchored in 60 feet of mud a few hundred yards from the park entrance. We had purchased park and snorkeling passes in Labuan Bajo, but on site at Komodo and Rinca, there is also a modest local tax and ranger fee for the guide who will accompany you and protect you in case of an attack. Our Komodo guide spoke excellent English and we were surprised to learn that dragons were just a couple hundred meters from the ranger station. I had envisioned a long mountain trek with the promise of catching only a glimpse of one or two if we were lucky, but they were all around the camp. My heart started pounding as we walked down the path.

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These dragons are big! We were all pretty scared as we approached the first one. It looked like it was sleeping, but our guide explained that was part of its “camouflage” and that it was alert, just waiting for prey to wander by (that includes us). He encouraged us to approach it from behind for some photos. The kids were incredibly brave as we crept closer. Note, our guide crawled a few feet closer when he took the photo of me than I did for this shot of him with the kids.

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After this first encounter, we continued along the camp path towards a bunch of dragons hanging out near the kitchen. The guide says they don’t feed the dragons, but we suspect they taste some scraps. Jamie and our guide wielded forked walking sticks for protection in case one of them attacked. Luckily they never had to use them.

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The dragon tongue is remarkable, like a long, flat, forked stick of chewing gum. At one point, this one stuck its tongue out repeatedly and then looked in our direction. Our guide said it was a sign of aggression and moved us out in a hurry. The kids are studying food chains in Sophie School science right now, and we couldn’t have asked for a better hands on lab. Dragons eat deer, pigs, monkeys, water buffalo, wild horses, other Komodo dragons, and of course they are known to bite people.

Here are a few other things we saw on our tour:

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The deer looked so innocent walking right by the dragons. Komodo Island.

A macaque, our first monkey sighting in Indonesia! Rinca Island

A macaque, our first monkey sighting in Indonesia! Rinca Island

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This water buffalo wasn’t so lucky.

There are about 2,500 dragons on Komodo Island and another 2,400 on Rinca Island, which means they outnumber humans by about three to one. Dragons have been known to walk into houses and climb up through open windows, so people have to lock up as a precaution. On Rinca our guide explained that dragons have climbed up the side wall of the guest cabins and can make it through windows that begin seven feet above the ground. Despite all of this, neither guide has ever seen a dragon kill and eat its prey. Apparently they typically eat first thing in the morning, if at all. They just sit and wait for an animal to walk by and then attack. They aren’t venomous, but sport 60 types of bacteria in their mouths, one potentially lethal. The Komodo Island group reminded us of the landscape in New Zealand. If it weren’t for the thousands of carnivorous dragons about, sheep would love the lush green hillsides.

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To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we started with a family snorkel at Pink Beach on Komodo Island. The reef at Pink Beach had some of the best fish we’ve seen anywhere in Indonesia, but I didn’t bring my underwater camera with me. Every once in a while it’s fun to just enjoy the experience. After lunch we motored over to Rinca Island, the other home of Komodo Dragons, and dropped a hook in 50 feet of mud near the park entrance.

As if Komodo Dragons aren't enough of a danger!

As if Komodo Dragons aren’t enough of a danger!

After we paid the head ranger, “Uncle,” and had a quick safety debrief with our guide, we set off on a short trek that promised the best chance for seeing a dragon. We were not disappointed. Like Komodo Island, a handful of dragons hang out near the camp kitchen. Although it’s not quite the same as bumping into one way out on a trail, we couldn’t help being impressed and fearful of the hungry dragons. We also learned that the rangers spray aggressive dragons with red paint so they can keep an extra close eye on their behavior. Our guide said they only do this after a dragon has tried to bite a human. We kept our distance from the big red painted one in the back of the group.

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The aggressive one also looked the most sedate, better at waiting for prey to get close before making a move.

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If staring at you and sticking a tongue out is a sign of aggression, we saw plenty among the group by the kitchen.

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We carefully circled around them to start our hike up the hill. Our first stop was a dragon nest where the females lay eggs once a year, then wait for a couple months for the rainy season which brings a layer of mud to cover the eggs. Although this sounds like a protective parental instinct, it turns out the biggest danger to newly hatched dragons is the mother herself, who will eat any she catches. Up on the ridge, we stopped to take in the view and catch our breath.

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All of a sudden, we spied a dragon in the bushes near the trail. I thought it was a small one at first, but as it moved realized it was as large as the other adults we had seen in the camp.

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Our guide kept his stick handy to make sure it didn’t come any closer to us, and we were quite relieved when it turned up the path instead of heading straight towards us. It’s surreal to be out in the wild with these creatures.

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I figured our dragon sighting was finished at this point, but as we climbed the trail back down to the camp we spotted another dragon directly in our path.

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We passed the kitchen on our way back and watched some commotion as something small fell out a window. Our Rinca guide was more forthcoming about the lax scrap feeding policy by the kitchen.

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As we headed back to the boat, we came across a few more dragons. The first was a baby komodo dragon that scurried up a tree as soon as we got close.

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It was quite a relief to see a dragon that couldn’t and wouldn’t try to kill us after all the fully grown ones. Baby dragons live for up to three years in trees to keep away from adult dragons. We also spotted a young adult who our guide said was too small to attack us. We didn’t get too close, but were a lot more relaxed around this guy than the previous encounters.

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The kids had fun sketching the dragons and taking notes for school. They are both writing reports on Komodo dragons and Hazel made this painting.

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Feeling completely satisfied with our Komodo dragon adventure, we said farewell to our guide and the park.

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After two days of dragons, we were all ready for some quality beach time. We stopped at a little uninhabited island halfway between Labuan Bajo and Komodo fringed by soft pink sand and turquoise water.

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We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day.

WP_20150215_025 (1024x572)A handful of sand revealed countless red flecks of coral, the pinkest sand we have ever seen. We came across a wall of coral art and contributed a few more pieces to the collection.

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The kids played on shore while Jamie and I snorkeled. We have been so fortunate to experience the abundance and variety of sea life in Indonesia. Our underwater highlight here was a group of lionfish.

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For our last night, we anchored at Labuan Bajo and enjoyed a relaxed dinner at the Mediterraneo Restaurant, sharing fondue, crème brulee, tiramisu and chocolate carpaccio for dessert. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

Hazel Won the Race!

I just heard from Jenna in Bali. Hazel saw a doctor last night. All of her tests came back negative. She’s fine and will enjoy a day relaxing by a hotel pool with her mother and second cousin. It’ll leave it to Jenna to post some photos.

Whew!

 

 

The Race to Labuan Bajo

IMG_4799Later that night after our first day on Sand Dollar Beach, I noticed that Hazel was burning hot when I started to carry her to bed after she fell asleep watching a movie. We checked her temperature, and it was 102.5 F. Earlier in the day she had complained of headaches and neck stiffness. All of this set off alarm bells for me and Jenna, because a quick search of the internet showed that these could be signs of meningitis.

So we did phone consultations with my daughter Sara (nurse practitioner in Boston) and Jenna’s sister Julie (pediatric resident at a children’s hospital in Philadelphia), and they both suggested we do some physical exams to test Hazel’s nervous system. She passed. So we gave her children’s ibuprofen and put her to bed.

The next morning Hazel’s fever was down to 100 degrees. She still felt soreness in her neck. Holly (DPT in physical therapy, works at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle) conducted one of those eye exams where Hazel had to follow Holly’s finger, and Holly noticed a flutter in Hazel’s eyes. We discussed this and decided that it made sense for us to get closer to a hospital. It was 10:00 in the morning, and our plan had been to slowly motor to Labuan Bajo overnight in order to conserve fuel.

That plan was quickly thrown out the window. We pulled the anchor and cranked both motors at 2600 RPM. We also had both sails up. The weather was hot and the seas were flat. It was like motoring in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in August except now we were on a mission. We were low on fuel, and if we ran out I was prepared to pull the boat up to shore, dinghy the girls in, and have them grab a car into town. We were also racing the sun.

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It turned out there was no need for an emergency beach stop, because we covered the 80 miles to Labuan Bajo in 9 hours. We did blow past schools of large jumping tuna without stopping. This was serious business. We made it into town and anchored in the mooring field in the dark. Hazel spent the afternoon watching movies and eating mac and cheese. She was in good spirits and had lots of energy.

INDO0418This morning Hazel’s fever was gone and she remains in good spirits. We had to move the boat because it turns out we had anchored in a shipping lane. We are now anchored off a beach in front of a hotel.

Jenna and Holly were planning to head over to Bali tomorrow to spend a day there before Holly flies on to Seattle. Instead all 3 girls are heading over to Bali today. They have some excellent hospitals there, and Hazel has an appointment with a doctor this afternoon. They will then hang out in Bali, lounging by the pool and perhaps hitting a spa. We’ve heard that Bali can be fun for groups of girls who hang out there together. Hazel is quite excited to go off on a mini adventure.

INDO0434We are sharing this with all of you to keep you up to date on what is going on with us. Hazel is fine, but airplane tickets from here to Bali cost $60, so it makes sense for her to see a doctor. In the meantime, Leo and I are going to hang out on Sophie where we will clean the boat, do Sophie school, watch war movies, and drink beer.

I’ll let you know more as I know more. Lucky luck lucky.

Iceberg!

IMG_4780Last night during my shift I watched the movie “Titanic.” At one point in the film, the captain wrote down the coordinates for the location in the North Atlantic where the Titanic hit an iceberg. 41.46 N, 50.14 West. I entered that as a new waypoint into our chart plotter and saw that it is on a latitude south of Boston. It is also just 8700 miles from Sophie’s current position. Since we have already covered over 1200 miles since we arrived in Indonesia in November, the spot of Titanic’s sinking doesn’t seem that far away to me right now. We are currently thinking about crossing the North Atlantic in the summer of 2017. It would be really sad if we hit an iceberg. But that is a worry for another day.

IMG_4797The only ice we like to think about these days is the ice that goes into our passage enders, like the run and coke I enjoyed after we dropped an anchor at noon today in the Riung island group on the north coast of Flores, 250 miles and 50 hours from our starting point in Hoga.

We had no squalls over the last 24 hours, and the wind died out at sunset. We motored throughout the night directly towards our destination in order to give Holly a day of beach time. We wound up running both engines and cruised along at 7 knots through a glassy sea.

IMG_4777Flores greeted us this morning with a rosy sunrise and a string of active volcanoes. It was pretty cool. I did the 2:30 AM – noon shift to give everyone else the opportunity to sleep in and then have a productive morning of Sophie school.

Our morning was interrupted by a fish ball encounter. We saw some birds working a disturbance in the water, and as we got closer we saw a school of large tuna arcing into the air. Some of these were big fish, and they were jumping high. We already had a tuna lure and a Rapalo in the water, and I quickly added another big marlin squid which doubles as a teaser. We drove through the school multiple times, all with no luck. We soon learned why.

IMG_4789In the middle of the action was a line of dolphins lined up like armored knights on horseback in a Peter Jackson film, marauding through the tuna like they were a band of overmatched Orcs. Here are two of them, all business. The odds of those tuna hitting our lures were equivalent to the odds of my stopping for a pastrami sandwich while being chased down an alley by an armed gang. Or a line of armored knights on horseback. It just wasn’t going to happen.

IMG_4787The action did get everyone out of the cabin and into the sunshine. Holly and Jenna got some good photos. Everyone had fun.

IMG_4798Our anchorage in Riung is spectacular. We are nestled up against a small island surrounded with beaches, one of which Leo named “Sand Dollar Beach.” The rest of the crew paddleboarded in and explored the island while I enjoyed a post-shift nap.

We will spend two days here enjoying the serenity of Sand Dollar Beach and then motor the 80 miles overnight to the port of Labuan Bajo, where Holly will catch her flight back to the US. There is no wind forecast for the next few days, and I am pretty certain we won’t have to worry about icebergs. We have been pretty lucky in that department so far.