A ship's log from the Indian Ocean - Part 7

In this seventh entry to the Calypte Ship's Log, Aiyana Powell describes the journey she’s sharing with Torren Martyn as they make their way down the Indonesian Archipelago on a 35ft sailing boat. As they leave Sumatra, Aiyana reflects on the last six months and describes the awe inspiring geological activity, sea and wildlife they experience while venturing south through the Sunda Strait to Java.
We’d spent half the year on Sumatra, with its orangutans and coral seas and tangled forests. It had become home, and I felt overwhelmed with emotion as we pulled anchor, raised the sails, and said goodbye to the island for the last time. Sumatra. I won’t forget our time there: rendang beneath a thatched roof, buah naga and too much coffee. Long days in the mangroves, watching for crocs. Phosphorescent midnights, moving through spacetime, untouchable. Sumatra, with “Hello mister!” shouted from every corner, sunbeam smiles, huge and honest. With coconut palms, and cold food served on hot plates, with handfuls of rice and coconut and clove. Through storms and scorched sun, desert islands, sea snakes, no fish, too much fish - through long days and longer nights, the backs of waves, the wind changing - we’d learnt so much from this place. It felt weird to leave it behind.
Torren gliding 

Exploring in the tender

Forty miles to the east, I could already see Krakatoa looming. The sky around the little island volcano was peach-colored. I think this was due to some chemical reaction from mineral steam rising from the caldera, or maybe it was just the peach of sunrise, or perhaps an air pollution mirage from the smokestacks of nearby Jakarta. Whatever the cause, the color was odd. When you live on a sailboat, you spend most of your time staring at the sky, so any unexpected colors or clouds take on new meaning. As we moved through the deep waters of the strait, where sea floor spreading has created some of the deepest channels anywhere on earth, and magma bubbles from the earths core, I felt many things. Alert, nervous, and very, very small. 

Colours of the night sky
Calm waters

The older Krakatoa exploded in the infamous 1883 eruption. We were headed for the newer, smaller volcano created in its wake and aptly named Anak Krakatoa or the ‘child of Krakatoa’. Two miles to the west, the last remnants of the old island rise out of the ocean in a 200 foot cliff face. Anak Krakatoa lies beneath this skeleton of its former glory, ashen, mars-like and growing rapidly. The new island is increasing in size at an average of 15 feet per year, energetic and very much alive.

 Aboard little Calypte, the passage was slow going with light winds and a few knots of current on our nose. We sat in the cockpit and watched as the plume from the volcano grew larger on the horizon. Above us, frigate birds circled and swooped, hunting for baitfish. Hundreds of flying fish scuttled across the glassy sea and dolphins joined us on our bow. The sun cast diamonds onto the ocean, and the wind blew cool and gentle. I felt connected to something, the thrum of life moving, the tapestried history of seafarers moving through this bit of ocean, the adventure of existing on an ever-changing and chaotic Earth.
Krakatoa smoke plumes

Tiger claw reef

The Sunda Strait is in what is called the “Ring of Fire,” one of the most geologically active regions on Earth. Anak Krakatoa sat to our east, but large volcanoes cast long shadows in every direction. Life bloomed everywhere, but there was no illusion of security. 

The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history with about 70% of the original island, over 6 square kilometers of verdant, jungled landmass, exploding into a pile of rubble. As kilometers worth of land fell into the ocean, huge quantities of sea water were displaced, creating tsunamis. One tsunami hit the mainland of Java, where locals recorded its peak at 150 feet high. Some of the pyroclastic flows reached the Sumatran coast up to 25 miles away, apparently pushed across the water on a cushion of superheated steam, and tsunamis occurred all along the coastlines of Sumatra and Java. Over 36,000 people lost their lives as a result of the eruption, with entire villages being wiped away completely. 

Too close for comfort

We reached Anak Krakatoa at midday. We didn’t have service on our phones, but we were all getting more and more freaked out about the size of the plume billowing up from the weird, blackened island. As we floated within a few kilometers of the island, we got a blip of service and frantically checked to see exactly how active the volcano was. The ocean was so blue, the deep open water sort of blue, unlike any other color. There were birds everywhere, and no signs of human life. Nothing but us, with our sails flapping haphazardly, freaking out and thinking we were about to be blasted to smithereens. Nothing but that: dumb humans, the blue, the massive remnants of exploded islands, and the plume. Milo googled “when was the last time Anak Krakatoa erupted” and an article popped up. Apparently, the volcano had been consistently erupting for the last few days and government restrictions were in place to prevent anyone from going within 5 kilometers of the island. We read this, as we sat on our stupidly slow boat only 2 kilometers from a huge cauldron shooting 3,000 meters of ash and steam into the sky. As the white steam turned to black ash before our eyes (according to Google, another sign of an imminent eruption) we all sat, awestruck at our own stupidity, but also silenced by the sheer beauty of where we were. We had planned to anchor at the base of the island, but with the new information, we turned around and headed towards Java.
Another empty lineup 
Keeping the fridges stocked with fresh fish 

Our last big stop before the arduous, nonstop voyage down the coast of Java was Ujung Kulon National Park. There, Javanese deer frolicked through verdant jungle. Ancient banyan trees stood like animist gods, and we climbed up the biggest strangler fig I’ve ever seen. There were monkeys everywhere, arguing with each other and harassing the nervous, jumpy deer. We saw peacocks, and woke up a sleepy boar resting in a small stream. One afternoon, just before sunset, three huge hornbills flew low over Calypte as I sat on her bow. It felt good to spend some time on land, picking through leaf litter, ooh-ing and aw-ing at beetles and worms, watching the sun move through the broad-leafed keruong trees. 
Exploring one of Indonesia's 18,110 islands

Aiyana pottering away on shore

From there, we followed the south coast of Java for 800 miles. We had heard horror stories about sailing the open side of Java. It is quite exposed, without many anchorages, and nowhere to hide if the weather goes bad. Luckily, Torren picked a good window for our passage, and the current was on our side for the entirety of the journey southeast. We spent long days in the open ocean where time moved in formless chunks. We partitioned our days and nights into three hour watches. I spent most of mine watching the ocean move past our hull, listening to the wind. On the boat everything slows down and the wider world melts away. Small things take on more meaning. The ocean turns a million shades of blue. The rigging whistles, the sails flap. Coffee becomes extremely important. The sailboat moves only in response to wind currents and bathymetry and waves breaking and rainstorms, and we have to learn to move with those things, to understand them and alter our behavior accordingly. There are lessons in that, in understanding how much we owe to the inter-workings of our living planet, in learning to live as a part of it.
When we finally reached the southern end of the island, we had to travel up a narrow channel between Java and Bali. The current must have been about 7 knots against us, creating vicious whirlpools. We spent hours stuck in the little channel, making a bit of ground before being sucked back to where we had started, and then trying again. Eventually, we decided to hug the sides of the channel, getting terrifyingly close to exposed reef, where the shallower depths made the current a little bit less strong. We were all absolutely exhausted from the long journey, and we were only a few miles from where we planned to anchor for a much needed nights sleep, but like Sisyphus with the rock or whatever, what should’ve taken an hour took about five. Boat life!