Family Magazine

Ships and Squalls Between Bali and Borneo

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem
Leaving Bali was easy.

Lovina Beach Sunset

Shades of light in Lovina

 We pulled the anchor at dawn, and headed out past the canoes that had blasted by us every morning as they hauled their catch of tourists out to see the dolphins. We had a forecast for <10 knots winds from the east and were hoping for a little help to motor sail our way north. The conditions had been unchanged for weeks, which gave us a false sense of security.
Getting to Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo, was a little less easy.
Possibly we should have consulted a few additional weather sources, because a trough formed right over the portion of the Java Sea we expected to cross: instead of our easy beam breeze, we had 30 knots apparent on the nose, and squalls in every direction. It wasn't dangerous, but it really wasn't very fun either. We took the opportunity to duck behind a set of islands north of Java to get a good night’s sleep and let the trough move on.
We try very hard never to come into an anchorage at night. On this particular night, the full moon helped us somewhat, but it’s still a nerve racking and risky proposition. The notations on our charts showing unexploded munitions, mine fields, and a submarine practice area did not ease our minds.
Triangulating between two sets of charts and Google Earth gave us a feel for what we were coming into, and the moonlight helped. In the morning, we awoke to find completely different boats than we had seen anywhere to date. Reminiscent of the clinker-built Dutch canal boats, but in riotous colors, and each flying a battle flag.

E Java boats

a net and fishing floats in front of the cabinhouse tell this ships working boat story


Above these islands was a two-day, two night shot to the Kumai river. It felt like the trough chased us all the way across the Java Sea, but we kept it at bay and enjoyed nights under the stars… when we weren’t dodging shipping traffic. There was a busy lane above Madura that kept us on our toes, with 5-12 ships in sight at any given time. It’s funny to think that this put us on edge because we’ll get to cross the Straits into Singapore later this year, and face an easy hundred targets at any given time! Here, though, it’s the haphazard use of AIS, the unlit fishing boats, and the fact that our radar is out…factors we hope to rectify before Singapore.

oily seas

Motoring through the oily Java Sea


And then- arriving in Borneo, and heading up the Kumai river, and into a new chapter of adventures for our crew.

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