Wallowing in Filth (Welcome to Bali)

We finally left Jakarta as soon as the engine was ready to go – or as close as we could get. The alternator is still mounted on a makeshift bracket bristling with miscellaneous spacer nuts and washers, which seems to be causing vibrations, but the current is still flowing. We headed straight for the island of Karimunjawa, 200 nm east, where we heard we could buy diesel. We were a little nervous, as this information came from one of the drunkest sea captains we’ve met. We managed to catch him lucid twice in nine days in Jakarta – the trick is to find him before his 9am whiskey. He was the American captain of a 75 foot Princess motor yacht (on behalf of an “insane” Asian owner who also owned 6 other boats).  During our time in Jakarta, he was tasked with taking groups of young models to deserted islands for photo shoots on the yacht – twice. Tough life.

Winging the jibSetting out from Jakarta, most of our wind was from the west – directly behind us. Up to this point, we had been thinking of “dead downwind” as a tricky / impossible angle of sail for long passages given the constant risk of accidental jibes, the fact that the mainsail shadows the foresail, and the hassle of singlehanding a poled headsail in frequent squalls. But with such nice wind behind us, we finally had a look at the pole that’s been hanging on the mast for six months. After strapping the boom off to port with a preventer (keeping the belly of the mainsail just off the spreaders), we winged the headsail out on to starboard – magic. No jibing, no shadowing, and it wasn’t even difficult to reef. We sailed like this for several days straight, with huge following seas always looking ready to swamp us, but invariably lifting the sugar scoop and passing harmlessly under.

Before reaching the narrow passage between Java and Bali, we made a close pass of a sandbar where a drying wreck was marked on the charts – a huge, creepy white ship sitting at an unnatural angle, mostly out of the water, marked by an equally crooked concrete tower and surrounded by beautiful coral. I still swear I saw the white underbelly of a giant sea creature, just below the surface next to the boat as we passed. Another great, unexplored dive spot we will ruefully pass with neither of us in the mood to break our momentum. With two people diving and no one watching, scuba is always a bit hectic for us – especially if we encounter currents under water.


We dodged the ferries that cross between Bali and Java every 30 seconds, and emerged from the strait unscathed. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any of the strong currents / standing waves for which the Bali Strait is notorious. Entering the Bali Sea, the wind finally died – just as we drifted into the largest trash flow we’ve ever seen. We were suddenly motoring through a floating landfill in the middle of the night. We fouled our prop immediately (and violently) and put the engine in neutral to jump in and clear it. While idling, we sucked something else into the cooling water intake and coolant temperature spiked until we noticed and stopped the engine, exploding antifreeze all over the engine compartment. When I dove in to clean the propeller – the waterproof flashlight revealed thousands of plastic bags and assorted rubbish eerily suspended under the boat like corpses – on all sides, as far as I could see. Yuck – time for a transom shower. With absolutely no wind and no idea of the dimensions of the trash field, we decided to continue motoring. We immediately fouled the prop again, this time hitting a massive tree (trunk and branches included) that actually knocked me off the toilet. Ian went down and pulled it off of the rudder, where it had wedged after bashing the prop. That’s it – sails up. We decided to bob around making < 2 knots until dawn, when we could better understand the extent of the garbage field.

A couple hours before dawn, the wind started up again, and we ended up sailing clear of the trash, and all the way around Bali’s southwestern tip, where our trash nightmare temporarily abated. The previously empty cliffs of Uluwatu are now covered in new condos. With a detailed pilotage to rely on, the biggest hazard we encountered entering Bali’s Benoa Harbour were the banana boats, Sea Doos, and parasailers swirling around us from every direction. Welcome to Bali.

Stepping onto the beach in Kuta – the epicenter of Bali’s tourist machines – we realized that while the boat may have finished with the trash, the trash hadn’t finished with us. An infinite array of garbage was heaped on every inch of Kuta’s huge half moon bay. Jumping on the boards and paddling to the surf meant having plastic bags touching us with every stroke, getting caught on our hands, feet, boards, and leashes.

Beautiful Kuta BeachNo one seemed concerned about this situation – no rakes, no tractors, no bonfires. Apparently this is an annual phase that Bali goes through: during the rainy season, the rain washes plastic bags out of the villages of Java and Bali and into the sea, where it is swirled by currents and vomited back onto Bali’s western beaches. But, as some locals will hasten to explain, this is only temporary – garbage should stop washing up on Kuta within a couple weeks. Indeed, the currents will take it somewhere else entirely. What a relief.

At the same time, it feels good to be back in civilization, for better or worse.

GPS Tracks: Jakarta > Karimunjawa | Karimunjawa > Bali

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