We left Bali a week ago and have made overnight stops at Lembongan, Gili Air (above), Kangean, and Bawean. We are heading north to Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to hang out with orangutans. It is our next big adventure.
I would love to be able to tell you that we successfully made it out of Bali without encountering any problems, but I cannot. Unfortunately, one of us came down with “Bali Belly,” a local disease involving water-born parasites that can get inside your system and ruin your vacation. But it wasn’t me that picked up the hitchhikers, or Jenna, or Leo, or Hazel.
It was Sophie.
Our first sign of trouble occurred last Monday afternoon when we started up the engines and pulled the anchor in order to leave Bali and make the 12 mile trip over to Lembongan. The propellers felt like they were covered in seaweed or plastic and were not working well. Our anchor chain and anchor bridle, the 10 meter length of 1″ nylon rope we use to attach the point of each hull to the anchor chain, were covered in barnacles. And when I say covered, I mean COVERED.
We had been anchored in Bali’s Serangan Harbor for three weeks, and the harbor has a reputation for fostering marine growth, but I had never seen our anchor chain encrusted with so many barnacles. We quickly raised the rest of the chain, and after alternating each engine in forward and reverse gear a few times, the propellers seemed to be working again. I assumed we had successfully knocked off whatever was hanging from them. I had no desire to dive under the boat in that harbor, whose muddy water flows from Bali’s primary landfill. Lembongan has much cleaner water, and I figured we could explore the problem when we got there.
I did so two hours later, and I was shocked with what I had found. The entire metal surface of both propellers and their saildrives (the device that looks like the bottom half of an outboard motor and connects the propellers to Sophie’s engines) were completely encrusted with barnacles. Each hull had over 1,000 barnacles growing on it as well, with one located about every 3-5 inches along the entire length our catamaran.
We had visited Lembongan three weeks earlier, and when I checked the boat at the time I saw that the propellers, saildrives, and hulls were completely free and clear of marine growth and barnacles. This didn’t surprise me, because we had hauled Sophie out of the water a year ago in New Zealand and had painted her hull with antifouling paint and her propellers and saildrives with PropSpeed, all with the goal of retarding this type of growth.
What happened during the three weeks in Serangan was a complete and catastrophic failure of our boat’s chemically-derived underwater immune system. Sophie had Boat Bali Belly, and she had it bad. It was time to go to work.
I grabbed my mask, snorkel, fins, and a plastic scraper, and then went to work on the propellers. I normally like to use plastic scrapers underwater in order to avoid damaging the hull or the antifouling, but I immediately broke the plastic scraper on the metal propeller while simultaneously cutting my hand on the saildrive barnacles while trying to steady myself. The barnacles clearly won Round 1.
I then had Jenna get me my Kevlar gloves (which I used to wear back in the days when we cruised in waters where people could actually catch fish) along with a metal putty knife we had down in our bilge stores. The combination of these two tools worked much better, and after 2 hours of underwater aerobics I succeeded in getting both propellers and their saildrives completely clear of banacles. Round 2 went to me.
The next morning we fired up the engines, dropped our mooring line, and headed northeast to Gili Air, which is 50 miles away. Unfortunately, that 50 miles is through the Selat Lombok, the strait between Bali and Lombok that connects the Indian Ocean with the Java Sea. During this time of year it can have a 5-8 knot current flowing south, and we were initially making 2 knots of boat speed with both engines running at 2600 RPM against the current. We were following a course recommended by a local ferry captain that was published in the Noonsite cruising website, but that strategy clearly wasn’t succeeding, so we turned back to Bali and crept north along a countercurrent flowing right next to her eastern shore. We made it to Gili Air by late afternoon and picked up a mooring right off the beach. Hazel jumped into the water and continued to practice standing up on Leo’s surfboard – she has become obsessed – while I attacked the barnacles on the hulls with my 10 inch plastic scraper.
Fortunately, these barnacles would come off with a single scrape. I assume they had a difficult time establishing a strong purchase on Sophie’s antifouling paint. Unfortunately, Sophie has a lot of underwater surface to cover, and I spent another two hours clearing off the port hull. Also, I wasn’t wearing a shirt, and I realized later that night that every time I leaned my forearm against the hull, the barnacles would scratch my arm. The next morning I woke up to find red, cat-like scratches covering my arms and shoulders, scratches created by landfill-fueled super barnacles that had attacked our boat. Round 3 went to them as I bathed myself in Neosporin.
The next morning Hazel went back out for surfboard practice, and I went back out to finish the job. This time I was wearing Kevlar gloves AND a long-sleeved shirt. It took another three hours but I removed all of the barnacles from the starboard hull and even used a large screwdriver to auger out all of the throughhulls, the openings in Sophie’s hulls where seawater is pumped in and wastewater is pumped out. Sophie has a lot of throughhulls, but I go the job done. Hazel loved being on the surfboard when the high speed ferries carrying backpackers up from Bali passed right by us, throwing up a big wake with a nice break. I think Instagram has 100 new photos of a little elf in her stingray suit hanging 10 while tethered to a French-made mothership.
It was good to be back in the water.
Gili Air is a cute tourist island that is a mile across and has a ban on gas-powered cars and motorcycles. Instead there is a fleet of pony-drawn carts that haul freight and tourists around the island, and it reminded the kids of their visit to Michigan’s Mackinaw island last summer. Just imagine Mackinaw filled with surfers, surrounded by coral reefs, and blanketed with beachfront bars serving 2-for-1 happy hour cocktails for $4 to Russian backpacker tourists in bikinis. In other words, it was just like Michigan.
The 2 nights in Gili Air marked the end of our 2 months in tourist country, the first tourist area we had visited since Fiji last August. It was nice being in a place where we could see couples from China posing for wedding photographs on the beach at sunset …
… along with ridiculously-named boats that pulled tourists on inflatable toys.
I could have spent at least another week in Gili Air, but we had to leave the next day if we wanted to get to Kalimantan to see the orangutans and then to Singapore before our Indonesia visas expire on April 18th.
But our departure from Gili sparked a bit of a soulsearching conversation between me and Jenna: are we going too fast?
It seems that with every country we visit, we seem to be falling in love with it just as we rush out the door and head for the next country. This is happening right now with us in Indonesia. We love this place, and we are leaving in three weeks. Why aren’t we slowing down?
I don’t know the right answer. It’s been 2 years this month since we left San Diego. In our first year abroad, we visited six countries: French Polynesia, The Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, and New Zealand, where we spent 6 months. In our second year of travel, we visited five countries: Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia, where we have stayed for five months. This year also included a 6 week visit for all of us back to the US. For our third year, we plan to visit four countries on Sophie (Singapore, Maylasia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka) along with four countries via land (Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.) We can envision doing five countries in the following year: Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. So over a four year period, that is averaging around 6 countries a year. On paper, that seems slow. When your are in the middle of doing it, it seems way too fast.
There is, however, one area where I will plead completely guilty when it comes to going too fast, and that is when it comes to shopping for groceries. The morning we left Bali, I was responsible for going to the store and doing our provisioning. Jenna had recently taken a Balinese cooking class with the kids and carefully prepared a shopping list of ingredients she wanted from the store that she could use in preparing the new recipes she had just learned. I confused her list with a list of everything we needed for 10 days of passage making. So we are week into our current trip and have a great supply of things like tumeric root and fresh shallots, but we are out of things like bread, fruit, meat, and juice.
I’ve been going through our larder as a result and realized I have a mustard problem. I grab a jar every time I go to the store. We now have a year’s supply on board.
Fortunately I also discovered (in Bali, of all places!) the perfect passage-making food for boats going offshore: jars of German sausages.
I never knew that these existed! The kiddies look at them as if they were jars of crack cocaine and have even volunteered to clean toilets if I promise to open up a jar.
In addition to mustard and sausages, we still have 30 meals of frozen fish left on board along with lots of pasta and rice and some remaining greens. So we should be able to make it to Kalimantan in 2 days without starving. We will be staying there in the port of Kumai, where there is supposed to be a good market and some grocery stores. We should be all set from a food perspective.
From a weather perspective, we are definitely in the transition period between monsoons. That means very light air, and now that we are away from big islands it seems we haven’t seen a rain shower or squall for a week.
Jenna took this picture of a small cargo vessel yesterday. It passed our stern as it slowly chugged north from Java to Kalimantan. As you can see, the seas are like a mirror and there is no wind. Clearly we would prefer a nice 15 knot tradewind blowing behind us, but we are not complaining about covering ground in these conditions, either. We are averaging 5 knots while running just one engine at a time at 2000 RPMs. It helps that Sophie has a clean belly. :-)
We have another 180 miles to go before we see the orangutans. We hope we have enough fuel. We know we have enough mustard. The crew is in good spirits. Leo and Hazel are doing great in school and have even found the time to start memorizing lines from Gilligan’s Island. We know we are going too fast on our journey. We know there is so much more we want to see. We know we could (and increasingly think we will) spend a lifetime doing this. We know we are running out of time. And yes, we know how lucky we all are.