Belitung, Gelasa, Bangka
18th to 24th October
Before leaving the island of Belitung and its remarkable islets of massive granite boulders, we visit a newly opened butterfly farm – so new that we visit on its very first day.
Alex, originally a Scot, is a youthful ex-teacher living with his young family near our anchorage. Rumour, which proved correct, had it that he was making pizzas; butterflies were a bonus, as was his exuberant and chattily imaginative son.
Butterflies were a problem though. Ideally they needed to be found at caterpillar stage when it was clear what leaf the caterpillar liked to eat (they are very fussy about their diet). Trouble was that caterpillars having spent ages munching leaves tended then to emerge as rather dull brown moths, not the hoped-for flashy butterfly. If caught at butterfly stage however, it wasn’t known for sure what leaf the egg/chrysalis/caterpillar would need, so offspring might simply starve, unless you happened to find the right leaf. The upshot of the complex butterfly reproductive system was that on the first day of opening there were only two butterflies, which we could not find anyway. But I admire such enterprise and enthusiasm, and can only wish success for such a venture.
Despite lack of butterflies there were some colourful vivid yellow and green love birds, in the vast netted enclosure Alex had built. And I’m always fascinated in the stories and plans of men like Alex who choose to pursue passions way outside the norm. Pizzas were a delicious treat too. On the walk back, a fabulous torrential downpour and early monsoon storm freshened the sultry hot tropical day.
Next day we motor northwards, winds these days very light and fickle. It’s a rare bonus to have the sails up and drawing.
We stop between coral reefs for a night off the densely wooded and uninhabited island of Gelasa. Just a handful of colourful little fishing boats anchor there by day, and fish offshore after dark.
Then, with some wind at last, on to the next Rally stop off the large island of Bangka. A lee shore was the designated anchorage but with heavy swell it is uncomfortable and feels insecure, and landing means total soaking of all on board – despite willing help of local youths who wade out to their necks to guide the tender onto the beach. After two such landings and two sleepless nights we, along with several others, sail gently 35 miles north to a large empty peaceful bay at the northeast corner of Bangka. (Later we learn the swell abated a day or so after we’d left)
It’s Caroline’s birthday, 21 all over again. The day is sociable with morning ramble over beach and hill, and evening bonfire on the remote sandy beach with food and friends from most corners of the sailing world. Local Indonesians are invited to join, and shyly sip drinks and nibble strange western food. The inevitable photo session, complete with obligatory thumbs-up, is just part of local life.
Such evenings linger in one’s memory as among the best of a sailing cruiser’s life, a harmonious contrast to the discomforts and limitations of being off the beaten track of normal dirt-dwelling life.