October 17th- 30th Circumnavigation of Lombok in Stars End 2
Once we made the decision to stay in Indonesia for another cruising season, we needed to find a safe location to keep Stars End 2 while we flew home to Australia for Christmas. There are few marinas in Indonesia, so we have ended up on a mooring buoy in a protected bay on the island of Gili Gede in the south of Lombok, about 40 miles from Bali.
It’s called Marina del Ray, although the marina is still in the planning stages, their office is located a mile or so away in a small beachfront resort and there are employees who maintain the moorings and offer help to access fuel and such. Although we have no facilities like power, water, WiFi, showers or clubhouse nearby, there are about 15 yachts, mostly overseas cruisers like ourselves moored here, who wish to leave their boats in a safe location whilst they fly home or travel during the monsoon season.
We have also made friends with a delightful Italian couple, Romolo & Agnese, who retired 20 years ago to a magnificent property ‘Centofiori’, they built on a large block of land just near Marina del Ray. We have shared enjoyable get togethers with them and other yachties during our time moored at Gili Gede.
So once we had checked out Marina del Ray and spent time at Gili Gede extending our visas yet again, we decided to circumnavigate Lombok by yacht.
Our first night was at Gili Air, one of the three small touristy islands off the coast of Lombok, where we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting up with Wade- an Aussie on extended long service leave, working as a dive instructor on the island. As a radio ham buff he had noticed Franks’ signal from our yacht and sent us a message to introduce himself and say hi! A real ‘first off’, meeting a new friend this way!
Our anchorage at Gili Air was uncomfortably roly so next day, we had a slow sail followed by hours of motoring in zero winds to the east coast of Lombok where we anchored in the lee of a little island, Gili Lawang.
We check coastal weather patterns constantly, but a super typhoon was gaining momentum up in the north Pacific and had a direct impact on our conditions over the next few days. We were protected from the swell and the ‘wind on tide’ effect, but spent 2 days sheltering from squalls gusting to 40 knots both day and night.
The Lombok coastline was too exposed to the wind and waves, so we made a dash across to the nearby island of Sumbawa 18 miles away. We had seen many suitable looking bays on our charts, but found them all inundated with FADs (fish attracting devices) and hundreds of floating buoys literally barricading our way to the sheltered bays behind. Despite the little zig zag course on the map, it actually involved tacking back & forth, beating into the adverse winds and current for hours & hours in order to sail to the promontory of Poto Tano where we eventually found some shelter.
Here we found a busy commercial port full of ferries that cross between Sumbawa and Pringgabaya on Lombok, but we were just grateful to be somewhere safe out of the nasty conditions, the people were very friendly when we strolled around the dry dusty township, and until late each night we were serenaded by a karaoke bar where the locals entertained us with an amazingly proficient level of singing.
After a couple of days, the winds abated and we leisurely sailed down the coast of Sumbawa, stopping to explore bays and beaches to swim.
At one quiet anchorage I was checking out a villager searching for edible crustaceans on the exposed reef at low tide, through the binoculars, when I realized that the activity on the beach behind her, was a group of monkeys foraging along the shoreline. It is a sight I find fascinating over here in Indonesia, seeing animals I have only seen in a zoo, wandering free.
Before crossing the Atlas Strait back to Lombok Island, we decided to make for a commercial harbour we had spotted on google maps, Benete Bay, on the south west coast of Sumbawa with container ships moored against a huge wharf, but with a sandy beach at the entrance where we felt we might have a safe anchorage. As we motored into the bay, we had scarcely dropped our sails when a motor launch approached with two official men in uniform. Realizing we were a foreign vessel, the officer simply crossed his arms in an exaggerated motion and pointed back out to sea. He kept repeating the action and would not even stop to interpret our wild gestures inquiring if we could anchor near the entrance of the bay. With his insistent behaviour, we shrugged our shoulders and turned the yacht around. I noticed their boat didn’t move away until we had raised all our sails and were well & truly out of the bay headed across the Strait.
Frank has now marked this a ‘restricted bay’ on our chart, but at the time we were very confused at to why we were forbidden entry to such a large harbour, and it was only later that we found out that we had been trying enter Newmont’s Batu Hijau mine, a commercial gold & copper mining facility, where obviously the security is very high.
In fact, there has been a gold rush in south Lombok since 2008.
From our main anchorage at Gili Gede, we have made the 2.5 km trek several times from Tembowong Harbour to shop at the nearest produce markets, and on the way to the little township of Pelangen, we have noticed tumblers & pneumatic crushers around many homes, actively involved in the search for gold.
Villagers are digging up both private land and protected forests, vast areas which are now overrun with holes and a dense network of tunnels.
Small huts covered with blue tarpaulins mark the entrances to the tunnels which are dotted over the hillsides, particularly along the southwest peninsula of Sekotong.
We had wondered what the blue tarpaulins were that we could see from on board Stars End 2, as we look across the bay.
Hundreds of meters of tunnels & passageways have been dug by hand, without the use of proper mining techniques or equipment.
The Government has tried to stop the illegal mining, but with the potential of earning up to $200 a day, (the official minimum wage is about $100 a month), the locals readily abandon their fishing or farming, anxious to make their fortunes with their makeshift mining techniques that have already resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in collapsed mines and landslides. This doesn’t prevent them from continuing their frenetic search for that elusive gold and it is common knowledge that if a motorbike stands idle for several days, then it is highly likely the owner has been involved in a tunnel collapse and is dead.
Sacks overflowing with ore are piled outside houses and processing plants, waiting to be crushed. The rock has all been removed by hand and delivered by women carrying the sacks on their heads, ignorant of the gold content their loads may possess.
New concrete houses are replacing traditional thatched huts in the villages, and pneumatic gold crushing machines are evident in front yards, the pistons turning slowly as they hammer & crush the stone dug up from the illegal mines into fine powder. This dirt is then packed into hundreds more sacks that line the roads of all the villages, before the gold is separated from the soil.
Noisy tumblers known as ball mills operate almost continually as you pass these small mining communities, grinding the ore using mercury and water to extract the gold. As the tumblers rattle and spin, the rock breaks down and flecks of gold bind to the mercury. Afterwards, the miners drain off the liquid and recover some excess mercury, but a lot of it becomes vapour and pollutes the air and high concentrations of mercury and tailings mix with the water that flows down onto the ground and into waterways where children are playing and animals wander.
Although the use of mercury in gold mining is illegal in Indonesia, in the final stage of extracting the gold, the miners typically heat their mercury and gold with a blowtorch to burn the amalgam, and risk the most dangerous form of exposure, because the poisonous mercury vapours can be absorbed into the body through inhalation.
Apologies- I digress, but I found myself fascinated with this story.
Once we were turned away from the large gold mining facility at Benete Bay, we crossed the Atlas Strait in light winds with a strong cross current altering the yacht’s course and pushing us sideways.
It slowed our progress, but we reached the entry to a large bay on the south coast of Lombok before dusk and meandered our way through literally hundreds of FADs scattered across the water as far as the eye could see. That night, it looked like all the stars had dropped out of the sky and fallen into the sea, it shone with a myriad of glinting lights.
We were now in an area of Lombok popular for surfing, so between avoiding surf breaks along the coastline and navigating through the network of FADs, we spent the next few days exploring this coastline of Awang & Ekas.
One of the highlights of this trip was our stay in Belongas.
There were heavy seas and large swells as we reached the entrance, but by the time we sailed around the corner of the L-shaped bay, we found ourselves in tranquil water, with white sandy beaches tucked in between lush mangroves, and colorful spider boats moored in the shallows in front of a small fishing village along the promontory.
Across the bay was an entirely different world, a mountainous terrain with forests & green hills. I would sit on the yacht, follow a car as it left the jetty and watch it’s progress for miles as it passed up & down the rugged hills along the winding roads until it disappeared into the distance.
We found a sandy anchorage just off one of these beaches, and spent several days relaxing & thoroughly enjoying one of the most pristine areas we had encountered since arriving in Indonesia. A local villager actually apologized for the state of the place yet the beaches were virtually clear of rubbish and there was little plastic and floating debris in the water. The only drawback to prevent us staying here longer was no internet connection, and we were expecting some important business emails.
So reluctantly, we sailed the last leg around the rugged coastline of south Lombok. Few bays along this stretch of coast are safe to stop due to jagged reefs and anchorages open to the full exposure of the Indian Ocean hence the popularity of this shoreline as being the home to some of the best surf beaches in the world.
We passed some wild scenery along the coastline, and enough wind picked up for us to have a great sail as we entered the Lombok Strait, the stretch of water between Lombok & Bali where strong currents regularly rip through up to 7 knots and the wind on tide effect can see the waves rise to formidable heights. We passed a continual procession of container ships rising and falling in the boisterous seas of the main shipping channel further out in the Strait, but by keeping close to shore we were able to use a counter current to help us travel north.
We dallied for a last couple of days around the small islands of Gili Layar & Gili Asahan where we enjoyed some good snorkeling, before heading back to our mooring at Gili Gede and thus completing our circumnavigation of Lombok Island. We hadn’t enjoyed the best of weather or sea conditions, and were limited by certain inaccessible bays & the amount of protected anchorages, but we had enjoyed being on the move again and decided that now we would try to organize a land tour of Lombok to see it from a different perspective.