So the other day Ines and I booked a half day snorkelling trip here on Gili Trawangan, Indonesia. We were told that a boat with 25 people on it would make four stops around the three islands with lunch included. When we got to the office and checked in, it became apparent that more than 25 people would be going on the boat. It was actually closer to 50. They said they were going to take a second boat but it never eventuated.
So we all piled on to the single wooden craft with a glass bottom window, leaving little room to move around. When we set off the weather was sunny with a few clouds over the mountains in Lombok, giving little indication of what was to come. The first spot we stopped was very deep with little marine life, but the visibility was excellent and we could see the ocean floor. After half and hour they called us back, we all crammed on once again, and proceeded to the second spot which was a reef off the first island on the chain, Gili Air. It had great coral and plenty of fish. They even gave us bread to attract them and at some points they absolutely swarmed us. Ari the guide was catching them in his hands by clenching bread in his first three finger and using his index and thumb as a pincer. He would then bring it to the surface and exclaim, “I caught a fish!”
After this stop we docked and had lunch on Gili Air. After the typically relaxed meal that you receive on the Gili’s, we sat at the shore waiting for everyone to return to the boat. It was at this point the wind started picking up and the clouds over Lombok started to look more menacing. The crew said it would be fine and we piled on again and proceeded to our final snorkelling spot. We could see storms east of us but it looked as though they would pass by. We were wrong.
About five minutes after getting in the water the storm that looked like it would pass turned around and headed straight for us. Wind began lashing us and whipping up waves. Luckily there was no current so we were not in danger of getting swept away. That said some people started panicking; two children in life vests were shouting out for help. Whilst they were in no danger of drowning, we swam over to them, calmed them down and helped them get back on the boat.
By this point the rain was hitting us side ways as there were no walls on the craft. We set off back to Gili Trawangan. As the boat hit full speed, waves were rocking the boat from side to side, getting bigger and bigger. Depending on the angle of the boat they would hit us harder and rock the boat even more. Smiles soon turned into looks of concern and the trip started to seem a little less like an adventure and more like a potential disaster. Some people started screaming as waves hit the side of the boat, and even the crew began looking concerned.
It was at this point that part of the roof ripped off the boat. One moment it was there, the next moment the wind had gotten underneath the thin plywood boards and with a great creak away it went into the drink. It also ripped one of the wooden struts that connect the roof to the boat, which was flapping in the wind, only connected by the meshing that was under the roof. As we neared closer to Gili T another section flew off. One of the crew members was shouting into his phone in Bahasa, and whilst I could not understand the words I could tell he was trying to work out with someone what to do next.
We pulled up about seventy five metres off the shore and just stopped. Apparently we could not get and closer to the shore beach because the boat was too heavy and could get smashed on the reef by waves. So for thirty minute we sat the bobbing up and down. People started to look cold, sick and tired. I hung my legs over the back of the boat and every time a big enough wave would come along my legs were warmed by the temperate sea water they always have in this part of the world.
After several frantic phone calls to someone, the crew announced that he did not know how long it would take until we could dock and that we were welcome to swim to shore if we wanted. No sooner than the words had left his mouth one tourist was in the water heading towards the shore. I asked Ines if she thought she could do it and she said yes. We got our belongings together, Ines with a backpack loaded up with two empty two litre water bottles in case she needed some help floating, and we jumped into the water. Turned out we only had to swim for the first 20 metres or so then it turned into a reef you could walk on. As I was shouting to Ines to be careful not to cut her feet, a wave hit me forcing me to scramble for footing, and sure enough I cut my second toe open.
I limped the rest of the way back to shore where Ines was waiting for me. As we walked back home, we started to see the destruction that the storm had caused around the island. Trees had fallen over and were blocking the road. On an island that relies on daily resupply from the mainland this was a big problem and people were immediately trying to hack through them with saws and axes as no supplies could get around the island if the roads were blocked. Power lines were also down, and when we got home sure enough the power was out, a state that persisted for two days.
I was told by a local that it was the biggest storm they had had in three years. One restaurant was wiped out completely and over six boats were sunk around Gili T alone. I went to the beach the next day and saw two wrecks on the shore of boats that had been smashed on the reef.