Observations about south-central Indonesia
Here are some comments about sailing from Kupang to Alor and then west to Bali in 2012. In general it is an interesting area to visit but often not particularly sailing since anchorages in some areas are a problem and winds tend to be fluky. Also, it is very hard to impossible to get most non-engine problems fixed.
Sailing along the coast from Alor has both its pluses and its minuses. On the positive side of the ledger there is a great deal to see. All of the islands are quite mountainous (to more than 3000 m) and its not rare to see smoking volcanoes. The villages are interesting as are the local watercraft which range from very small dugouts to elaborate fishing vessels and tourist boats that look like the trading boats of a generation ago. The people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and curious. Shopping is great fun. In Lombok we walked to quite a large market and returned home in a pony cart. There are dozens of these that play the role of taxis. June is remarkably adept at communicating with the merchants and managing to bargain for a decent price. You really need to do this otherwise you end up paying way more than market. For example, one of the pony cart drivers wanted 50,000 rupiah for the relatively short trip back to the boat. June asked a merchant who did speak good English how much it should be – 10,000 and this is what we paid. It was such fun that we added a 5,000 rupiah tip (about 60 cents). Told the driver it was for a treat for the little horse but we don’t think he understood.
On the negative side of the ledger … we have been motoring way too much here. The winds tend to be weak and not at all reliable. If you end up sailing more than motoring (or motor-sailing,) on a given day that is good, but not common. The exception to this is when you cross the straits that exist between islands. Here you often will have 25+ knots. Some of these straits are quite wide and it can take several hours to cross, during which you may have currents helping (or hurting) your progress.
The other problem in many areas is finding a decent anchorage in many places. Particularly more to the east, the islands are very steep right to the water’s edge and there is little if any shelf next to the island. Often, in shallower areas, the bottom is covered in coral, which is a good thing except when you are trying to anchor. Near the eastern end of Flores island we happened to be with about 8 other boats as it was getting onto anchoring time. It verged on the humorous as boats ducked into (and out of) every little indentation in the coast looking for somewhere to drop the hook. After about an hour of this, all but one boat had found something, but with water depths to 30 m and still very close to shore. We found a spot in about 15 m but were very close to shore – 25 m or so. I slept in the cockpit with the anchor alarm on in case the wind came up. Needless to say I got very little sleep. In some places you cannot avoid coral. In one anchorage I was horrified to bring up a piece of coral on the anchor. We could not see since the water was 20+ m deep and not all that clear. Further west it was much better since there were areas of land that were flatter and this meant that there was a decent amount of shallow water (<10 m) with sand or mud. These areas of flat land typically meant large populations so we did anchor in a few bays that had local fishing fleets also at anchor. BTW, there are an incredible number of fishing boats and nets along the coast. You really need to keep a close watch. Smaller boats are used at dawn and dusk and usually close to the harbours, while larger boats (7 to 10 m) go out just before dark and stay out all night.
Also it is hard to keep the boat clean. Most people cook on open fires and there is a lot of soot in the air at times that ends up on the deck. Finally there are the prayer chants. Some are quite melodic, others just loud. But it would be nice if the first one was a little later than 4 am. When we visited large Islamic cities like Cairo and Amman there was one chant that came from high—quality PA systems. Here, each mosque does its own chant often all at the same time. Even smallish towns will have multiple mosques/chants. Our record was five going at one time.
Finished the circumnavigation in early February in Grenada. Have to work on a book project for the next several months so the boat will be waiting for next year.