After reading many opinions on whether to travel to the Gili Islands by fastboat or fly via Lombok, I thought I would provide some thoughts from my personal experience.
After much thought, we decided to travel via fastboat (Semaya One) two weeks ago from
Sanur to Gili T. Despite some rough seas between the Nusa Lembongan to Gili T leg, we made it without incident. Staff were friendly & we were happy with the decision.
HOWEVER.. Be warned that on our return leg from the Gili's to Nusa Lembongan half way between the crossing we encountered what would best be described as a washing machine of currents, creating high white capped waves which did make me uneasy.
Shortly afterwards the front windscreen of the boat was smashed to pieces, with a torrent of water entering the boat through the FRONT drivers bay.
What then ensued was nothing short of chaos, with the 25 passengers racing to put on lifejackets as the crew furiously began to attempt the bucket the incoming water out of the boat as further waves smashed through the Captains bay.
With land barely in sight from either Lombok or Bali, we endured a further hour of waves entering the boat through the front windscreen as the crew attempted to bucket the water out. At one point the boat was close to rolling once, until the Captain regained control.
During this time, a couple of passengers were understandably inconsolably crying with fear (as one young mother passed her 5 year old child to me & said 'I am going to die, will you save my child for me?') as we were awaiting one further large wave to render the boat sunk.
Thankfully that final large wave through the front cabin never came, only a number of medium waves through the cabin and we finally able to regain control of the boat & limp our way across the strait to somewhere off Padangbai which our captain instructed the passengers we would be re-routing too for safety reasons. No one was disagreeing!
Once the boat made it to the coast near Padanbai, it was then relayed to us that the boat would now be making it's way to Sanur due to the currents acting more calmly along the coast.
Despite leaving Gili Air at 12pm, we limped into Sanur at 4.15pm with a completely smashed front left windscreen, internal damage to the front walls of the cabin resulting from the waves & water still on the floor of the boat & not a lifejacket left in it's storage space.
In writing this I would like to praise the Captain of the boat, who we later learned had suffered some concussion from the windscreen smashing into his face. The efforts of the Captain to prevent the boat from sinking was astonishing & despite our ordeal should be thanked for saving the boat from sinking. The rest of the crew also worked tirelessly to ensure that the boat made it to shore, albeit in beaten up shape.
My largest concerns are the fact that despite our perilous state of taking on massive water in the middle of the Bali-Lombok strait, not one boat came to our rescue. We were simply on our own despite passengers calling Semaya One's office immediately upon us taking on large amounts of water.
As much as I would love to be proven wrong, I believe that no other boat companies (who would no doubt have been ferrying passengers through the same stretch of water) were notified that we were about to abort the ship into the rough seas. Not one boat was spotted near, or in the distance at any point. Not one.
A further shock for many of us was that upon arriving at Sanur, around 20 minutes after arriving at shore, a new perspex windscreen was installed onto the boat to get it ready for the next mornings boat transfers in full view of the still shocked passengers. No investigating into what went wrong, or how it could be prevented again. Although I no expertise in boating safety, having utilised the same perspex materials on home renovations, the thin perspex material would easily buckle if a human stood on it, & would NOT be sufficient as a windshield of a boat to protect from large & unpredictable waves.
Having seen first hand the lack of boat safety & lack of any assistance in the event your boat experiences trouble, I would strongly recommend people fly to Lombok & take the small boat trip to the Gili islands during this time of year. Ofcourse, when the weather & currents are more forgiving in the dry season you are likely okay, but my future visits to the wonderful Gili islands will be via plane from now on.
I'm sorry if this post is long winded, but it is impossible to explain in words how frightened 25 passengers were on our boat. If this post can help others make an informed decision about travelling safely to the Gili's & back, then I hope it helps in some small way.