Monthly Archives: September 2018

Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy

At any normal rally stop the host community entertains the fleet with cultural presentations, banquets and other tours or activities, all aided by the Department of Tourism and other civic groups. In the case of Lombok, suffering as they are from the recent disasters, we cruisers wanted to keep our footprint and burden as light as possible. Once again force-of-nature Kimi floated the idea of us yachties paying for our own banquet food and adding enough more so that the local community could join us instead of watching the cruisers eat from the sidelines, something we all feel uncomfortable with. We readily agreed and opened out pocketbooks to contribute as much as we could.

The rally organizers reported weeks ago that our hosts said they might be down, but they could still dance, and could they ever. On the big night we had to remind ourselves that most of these folks are likely living in tents, makeshift shelters or with relatives, and yet they paraded to the marina grounds in gorgeous costumes, dancers, drummers and musicians leading the procession of women carrying the dome-covered food trays we’ve become familiar with in Indonesia in the tradition of “eating together.”

The trays of food were spread out over the lawn and we each found a spot to sit and share the generosity of these resilient folks.

After we ate the performers put on a beautiful show of traditional music and dance. We’ve been treated to so many stunning performances and it’s remarkable that each island, each community we visit presents a different style of movement, different traditional costumes, slightly different rhythms and musical riffs.

Indonesia is more varied than we imagined before we came, and seeing this diversity is the best part of joining a rally. Traveling on our own we may have chanced upon some unique celebrations, but having our host communities show us what they’re all about is a privilege.

Kimi gave a speech at the end, in Indonesian no less, thanking the community for welcoming us even in their troubles. Our own traveling community of cruisers could have no better representatives than Kimi and Trevor; mere words can’t express how much we admire their big hearts and generous spirits.

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Eye to eye with the man of the forest

Scuttlebutt has it that the Lombok Wildlife Park is barely hanging on after just reopening and could use our support. Like most people we have mixed feelings about zoos but we want to support Lombok in its rebuilding effort. Plus I’d heard that at certain times a day they bring out an orangutan for a kind of close encounter and knowing that we’ll be seeing orangutans in the wild in a few weeks I’m really excited about that.

We found the park to be in surprisingly good nick. Picture a stroll through a forest path surrounded by tall shade trees and periodically coming upon an exotic bird or animal.

It’s small and intimate but the variety of birds is remarkable and many seem to not be in cages. They just hang out on perches waiting for you to walk by.

At the appointed hour they brought out Hugo, spent a few minutes grooming him and there he sat waiting to meet new friends. Staff motioned for us to step onto his platform.

We soon learned that he his certain preferences. He doesn’t like hats on you, or shoes and he is quite facile at taking them off of you.

Another foible is that he’s very OCD about sitting position, likes his friends around in a circle with a particular pattern of legs and feet and he doesn’t take no for an answer. Aside from that he’s a happy jovial kind of bloke, likes to wrestle, not much of a ladies man, and when he holds you by the arm you can tell he’s feeling deep into your muscles, tissue, and tendons. He never stopped gently squeezing my arm, probing with his finger tips. Yes, it’s a little disconcerting but what a magical half hour we had with him, one on one, eye to eye, man to, and I have to say it, man of the forest.

The head animal keeper walked with us for a while and told us how the animals became very unsettled before the first tremors and when the quakes started they grew quite stressed and all the birds flew away. The keeper’s own house was “finished” when the big one hit and he moved his family into a tent in the park for safety and so he could be there full time to help calm and comfort the animals who he thought of as his extended family. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he told of his joy when the birds came back one by one, and although the park needed extensive repair the animals were less stressed with his family there. 

The park has a calm peaceful atmosphere, like taking a magical walk under a canopy of shady trees, but at least for a while we could forget the struggle going on just over the hill in Medana Bay, and I’ll always remember being eye to eye with the man of the forest.

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As visa runs go this one looked easy peasy. To navigate the circuitous path through Malaysian bureaucracy we’ll hire a car and driver to take us to Mataram, the capital of Lombok, about an hour and a half away.

We expect to see more evidence of earthquake damage, then up into the mountains for alto buena vista photos, to the west side of the island, where we are promised mechanics and boat parts, some local sights and the Immigration Office where, with any luck at all, we can dress up pretty like we own the joint and renew our visas.

Our driver arrived first thing in the morning and in company with the crew of Erie Spirit we were on our way.

“How is your family?”

“They’re ok, thank god.”

“And your house?”

“Finished.” It’s getting to be more than I can take.

Leaving Medana Bay we found more damage but in a more or less random hit or miss fashion.

In the mountains the only signs of the earthquakes were hastily patched road surfaces to bridge the gap where the roadway no longer matched the level of where it was before the quake. Disconcerting, but nowhere near the devastation of the quake zone.

Mark found a sympathetic mechanic who puzzled out how to repair the problem with his in-mast furler system.

This huge mosque had only slight damage, or is it just a maintenance problem?

Our driver found another temple featuring the ever popular Island Temple in a Large Lake motif.

Of course this would have been even nicer if they hadn’t followed us around asking for more money.

Turns out that before one enters the Immigration building of visa renewal, the guards insist on proper respectable traditional clothing.

The guards would not take no for an answer. Personally I feel that I haven’t got the legs for this kind of look anymore but what the hell. They insisted. I think of it as a when-in-Rome kind of thing. 

All things considered the visa renewal went surprisingly smoothly.

The last stop on the way back home was a deli rumored to have blue cheese, unheard of in Indonesia, and our driver knew right away which place we were talking about. We were impressed right off the bat but as I wandered over to the deli counter, I bent over and could not believe my disbelieving eyes. I know it’s impossible but that looks like apple pie.

“Is that apple pie?”

“Why yes, that’s apple pie.”

“You couldn’t make it á la mode could you?”

“Why yes, we make all our ice cream right in house!”

I tell you, dear Escapees, it was a religious experience. I even think the second piece was better than the first.

You know how the way back home always seems to go quicker? This outing was no exception, tempered by what we knew was waiting for us back in Medana Bay, that feeling of impotence in the face of an overwhelming task while aware of the privilege of knowing we can sail away from this seemingly impossible situation.

As soon as we get back we’ll pitch in again at the school build. Kimi and Trevor and the rest of the core crew continue to put in long days and are starting to look the worse for wear. I don’t know how they do it.

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Forget the hand wringing

While many of us were feeling daunted by the rebuilding task facing the earthquake victims, there are no-nonsense coiled springs in the rally fleet who leapt into action almost as soon as their feet hit dry land. By the time Jack and I arrived in Lombok, Kimi and Trevor of Slow Flight and a core team of other movers and shakers saw that while the big relief entities had most primary and secondary students studying again in makeshift classrooms, the kindergarten children and their parents were left out with no where to go. In no time they decided to build a temporary schoolhouse for the area’s little ones and the effort was well underway when we arrived.

Cruisers with engineering and building experience put their heads together with local experts in native building techniques and in no time they had a design, got the site cleared, the perimeter laid out and materials ordered and delivered.

While Trevor coordinated the builders, Kimi guided the volunteers who showed up day after day wanting to pitch in.

The buzz of activity also spurred the surrounding community to make headway on their own daunting task of clearing the rubble from their homesites in preparation for rebuilding when relief funds become available. Streets and laneways that were impassable gradually got cleared and defined again. A daily walk to the building site was almost like watching time-lapse photography, so quick was the pace.

All of this comes at a price, of course, and Trevor and Kimi organized a fundraising night at the marina. Cruiser musicians provided the entertainment and all of the boats donated what they could to help pay for materials.

Many of us also lent tools to the effort, and there was a secondary call for donations of food, clothing, and personal care items for some of the more inaccessible villages that haven’t yet been reached by the big relief organizations. Every day we cruisers, aware of our privilege and bounty, brought bags and bags of canned goods, rice and other dry goods from our boats, along with clothes, diapers, and toilet items and whatever else we thought might help, like flashlights, batteries, rope, tarps, and so on. The donations piled up at the marina shelter, got sorted and organized, and eventually delivered via 4-wheel-drive vehicles to remote communities.

No matter what else was going on during the rally stop, work on the school continued all day, every day. The core building crew put in 10 and 12 hour days to finish what Kimi described as an “achievable goal.” To us older folks with worn out knees and aching backs it only seemed achievable by the younger among us. And boy did they work hard! Even the kids pitched in and while everyone put in what hours they could moving debris piles, clearing pathways, sorting bamboo poles and whatever else we could, the bulk of the work was done by the strong backs and nimble hands of youth. They were a force of nature, driven by a desire to leave the place better for having been there.

The kids and moms started to gather at the site as soon as a space was cleared for them and I think their presence was a constant inspiration to the weary builders.


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With a profound sense of foreboding we stepped ashore in Medana Bay, Lombok. Evidence of earthquake stress waves were everywhere but I guess I expected much worse. Of course the marina is gone except for the small floating dock we’d just tied up to, but there were decent temporary structures that will make do. There were reports from the other cruisers that it’s pretty bad in town, a short hot walk from the marina, and that’s where we’re heading. Survival tents are a clue of what’s ahead. 

As we walked, the closer to the town we got, the scope of the devastation got worse. Pretty bad hardly describes what has happened here.

A once thriving market place was almost erased.

It seems that many families are either afraid to live in their houses or their houses are rubble.

In every interaction the dialog is the same.

“How is your family?”

“They are ok, thank god.”

“And your house?”


At first we thought great, the reconstruction is going really well. Then it dawned on us. “Finished” means gone, obliterated. 

People told us the initial disaster response from domestic and foreign aid agencies was quick and comprehensive with shelter, food, water, and medical assistance, but moving the rubble out of the way just so you can walk is a monumental, overwhelming task. I saw an old woman frozen in place, shoulders slumped, head hanging down, holding a small piece of concrete in the middle of a head-high pile of rubble, seemingly unable to decide what to do with it. The government has promised relief funds for rebuilding but, well you know, you apply and then you wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. The people we talked to aren’t holding their breath.

The concrete block masonry construction techniques are pretty good in a cyclone but just don’t fare well in an earthquake.

We feel so inadequate and helpless with total devastation all around us. What can we do in just a few days?


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Eve of destruction

Back in early August when we arrived in Bandneira we heard the news that Lombok, one of our scheduled rally stops, and an island described in guidebooks as “like Bali used to be,” had suffered an earthquake. We combed the news for details and asked our organizers if we would still make the stop, figuring an island struggling for basic needs didn’t need 42 foreign yachts showing up expecting a party.

A week later the same island was hit with another, bigger, 7.0 earthquake causing hundreds of deaths and heavy destruction. For weeks, wave after wave of aftershocks continue to rock the island and we asked daily if it was wise to descend on a devastated community. “We’ll let you know,” we were told, again and again.

As we monitored the situation the fleet carried on to Buton, to Flores, to Labuanbajo and Komodo. Three weeks after the largest aftershock we were assured that yes, we will still go to Lombok. In fact, we were told, the hosts begged the rally not to cancel. They were knocked down, they told our organizers, “but we can still dance.”

After Komodo we had a few hundred miles to go to Lombok, a coastal journey complicated by the usual fishing nets, unmarked floating FADS, and squid boats, plus adverse currents and less-than-ideal anchorages. Jack was still recovering from his infection and the after effects of antibiotics so we intended to take it easy to the extent we could and daysail it.

For some of the journey we sailed in the company of Lane and Kay on Mai Tai. The weather, if not the wind, cooperated for the most part and we had pleasant days and quiet nights.

The anchorages along Sambawa are deep with a very narrow shallow shelf close to shore. At night our challenge was to get over the shelf and our anchor dug in with enough chain to keep us there but not enough to swing too close to land in case the wind changed 180°. Most nights we managed. We monitored our position with our charts and also by noting where Mai Tai was relative to us.

One dark night I awoke for no discernible reason and went out on deck to appreciate the magnificent starry sky. I couldn’t see Mai Tai and became disoriented in the fun-house blackness. Were we turned around? Am I looking in the wrong place? I checked the chart. No, Mai Tai should be right over there, and yet I couldn’t see an anchor light. Odd, I thought, and I woke Jack.

“Mai Tai’s gone,” I said, and I pointed to where they should be. Jack checked our position, as I had, and we both wondered if they decided to weigh anchor and leave. It was a puzzle, but all was well aboard EV so we went back to bed.

When the sun rose we spotted Mai Tai about a quarter mile off shore, bobbing peacefully. I hailed them on the radio. “Did you move?” I asked, and after a pause Lane answered, “Yeah, we just noticed that.” Turns out the weight of their chain pulled the anchor off the narrow shelf and with chain and anchor dangling down in 200+ feet of water the heavy boat just drifted slowly away from land in the windless hours overnight. It was lucky that there were no obstacles to hit and aside from a bit of a scare, no harm no foul. But holy cow!

The next night we faced the very same anchoring conditions, and both boats took extra care to be well over the shelf with enough scope to hold but not enough to fall off into deep water. About 3am something in the motion of the boat woke me and once again out on deck I couldn’t see Mai Tai where I thought she should be. I checked our position on the chart and whoops! EV had drifted slowly away from land, chain and anchor dangling straight down and touching nothing.

In a repeat of the previous night I awoke Jack, but this time we pulled up the anchor and inched slowly back toward shore. It was inky black with near zero visibility, and with me at the helm Jack stood in the bow and called back instructions as he gently guided us toward the now visible anchor light of Mai Tai. Since they were still safely stuck to the shelf we wanted to get as close to them as we could without endangering either boat.

As you can see, charts of Indonesia don’t have much detail. We have to rely on satellite images when we can get them, EV’s depth sounders, and our own senses and experience. These two nights taught us that even in perfectly calm conditions it’s possible to drag or drift into unsafe territory and only the luck afforded to spunky fools by the sailing gods kept us from potential disaster.

We weren’t looking forward to crossing the Alas Strait to Lombok, known for a strong current and a southern inter-island venturi that kicks the seas up. We monitored the boats crossing ahead of us and marked the chart where they reported getting suddenly slammed with high winds, and also where the wind died just as suddenly. We plotted a course that would put the high wind on the best quarter and waited, as we usually do, for the most favorable conditions. Our care paid off and while it was still an uncomfortable couple of hours, we dropped anchor behind a low island in calm water for our last night underway on this journey.

The following day as we motorsailed along the northern coast of Lombok we trained the binoculars along the shore and began to see what we could only conclude was earthquake damage. Villages marked on the chart seemed to be completely missing, and it dawned on us that bright white mounds were in fact piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. We were passing the area most affected by the quake and I felt heavy in my heart.

The anchorage at Medana Bay is long and narrow, squeezed between two reefs extending well off shore. We dropped anchor toward the back of those who had already arrived, happy to be safely hooked but dreading what we would find when we landed.

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The view from the back porch

Lombok, listening to a haunting call to prayer.


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There be dragons

As we approach Rinca in the Komodo Islands the excitement aboard Escape Velocity began to ratchet up a notch or two. As the name suggests this island is their island so I’m guessing that it’ll be like visiting the monsters on their own turf. The other concern is that Loh Buaya Bay is either too deep or too shallow and has been known to get overcrowded. We timed our arrival after, we hoped, the day trippers would have already left for the day. It worked. We entered an essentially empty bay, working our way up the shallow starboard side as far away from the landing dock as possible. We should be well out of the fray all the way over here and there’s still time to dinghy into the office to arrange for a guide and a tour time early tomorrow. The pier is sized for large excursion boats which presents obstacles for cruisers in dinghies.

Wildlife is everywhere and I guess this guy is the official greeter.

The first time you see one of these monsters your blood freezes and the tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. I guess the shock was enhanced by the fact that we were just buying tickets and not at all prepared for a confrontation, but like I said, it’s their island. They wander, drooling poisonous saliva, wherever they like.

They’re big.

They’re awfully big, and my brain quickly snapped into survival mode starting with a quick physical assessment because, as the old adage says, you don’t have to be the fastest guy in the group, Yours Truly just needs to be a little faster than the slowest! Now I know I’m definitely not the fastest, even in the best of times and what speed my rickety knees haven’t taken away, recent heavy courses of antibiotics has. I’ll have to rely on experience and cunning. In short I’m dead meat.

We woke to a bay filled nuts to butts with every manner of excursion craft displaying only the most casual of anchoring etiquette or technique. Picking our way through the anchored hoards we dinghied to the landing but had no idea the actual park was a long hike away.

As we approached the park we noticed an uncommon variety of medium to large size animals just hanging out around the park entrance.

The island is a very dry, dusty sort of place so I suspect they must feed them, like a zoo. Turns out they’re food for the dragons. All they have to do is catch them, which apparently they’re good at.

These are the personalized staffs of the guides, used to keep the Komodo Dragons away from us slower folks. I would have preferred a ten kilo sledge!

After a slight but nasty altercation between three big males M. is wishing for some running room. Our guide saw the potential for trouble and moved between us and them with his little twig.

This guy has been bitten, gouged by a dragon and the poison is beginning to work so they can just take their time. I understand they like it kind of ripe anyhow.

The madness out in the harbor continued unabated, all evening long, until it was time to go and that’s when the fun began. I just kind of assumed that this craziness was normal and we were surrounded by professionals but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’ve never seen so many bone headed blunders. Anchors snagging rodes, paint trading, whole crews trying to fend off each other. I couldn’t watch! I grabbed our boat hook but just sat in the pilot chair like our guide trying to fend off a Komodo Dragon with a twig.

Somehow they missed us.

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Back to the medicos

We weren’t exactly confident, as Jack neared the end of his course of antibiotics, that the infection would be completely gone in the next 24 hours. His knee is still warm and inflamed and his whole leg looks as swollen as before. So back to the hospital we went and we’re very glad we did.

Dr. #2 was much more engaged and (we think) knowledgeable. He agreed that even though Jack is improving the antibiotics he’s taking aren’t quite up to the task. We were resupplied with more powerful bug-killers and another round of pain meds, along with packets of electrolytes to get Jack’s system back on track. The doctor also looked at the X-ray and assured us that the infection isn’t in the bones so that worry is gone.

As the doctor was describing the meds he ordered and what they are for, one was designated “for hair balls.” Now this doctor has pretty good English and we both understood 95% of what he said, but this didn’t sound right.

“For hair balls?” I asked, hoping he’d correct me and we’d understand the purpose of the drug. I glanced at Jack, who was suppressing a laugh.

“Yes, hair balls,” he repeated, as clear as a bell.

I nodded. Jack shrugged.

“Ok.” Good to know.

Reminds me of this scene from the movie “Best Friends.”ł

Today was a long day for Jack, even with a car and driver to run us to the hospital, the immigration office, the supermarket and traditional market. We’ll take tomorrow off and I’ll park Jack in the cockpit again with a soft cushion under his leg and a good book. We hope to be able to move on by the end of the week, but only if we’re sure there’s no danger of a relapse.

Dragons await.


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The view from the back porch

Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia

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