Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

May 10, 2008

Indonesia, Take 2. March-May 2008

Singapore to Darwin via Indonesia.

Having spent 9 weeks in Indonesia in 2003, we were looking forward to exploring more of the Riau Straits and other Indonesian anchorages. Although we opted for a Social Visa which gave us the option of extending our time in Indonesia, it ended up being an unnecessary expense as the closer we got to Darwin, the quicker we wanted to get there!

Our CAIT was organized via the internet with PT Kartasa Jaya (Jakarta) as our agent. The whole process was very smooth and took only 10 days. In retrospect, if you were to keep away from towns in Indonesia, I guess you could get by without either a visa or CAIT. However, we really wanted to visit Banjarmasin (which was fantastic) and both CAIT and Visa gave us peace of mind when we did stop. The Navy (who were always wonderful and helpful) were the main officials who came to visit us and although they were not sure what the CAIT represented, they certainly were happy that we were there legally! Of course, no CAIT, no check in.

We were constantly met by friendly, helpful people. At times the ‘hello mister’ became a little wearing, but such incidents were along the ‘rally track’ and we felt that the yachties had compounded this behaviour by giving generously. On the other side of the coin, these people were really poor compared to their counterparts in other areas and certainly overlooked by their own government. It was no bother to give these people our time and off load some of our ‘treasures’ as others had done before us.

The main island chain and the entire coast of Kalimantan and Sulawesi have mobile phone access, which was the most significant change since 2003. Once east of Alor, the situation was a little different. These islands were also predominately Christian, which perhaps has some bearing on what is provided by the government.

Our departure in March was timed so we arrived in Darwin by early May, before the onset of the SE monsoon. We departed Singapore on March 19 with the last of the westerlies which stayed with us until we cleared the east coast of Kalimantan, along with the rain, squalls and lightening. A SW swell ran with these westerlies, decreasing in size as we went east and finally died off after clearing the east coast of Kalimantan. Between Darwin and Singapore, the maximum size swell was a mere 1m and maximum wind gust (short lived in the odd squall) was 20 knots apparent! We managed some good sailing, but a lot of motoring, the latter of which was mainly low revs to push us along at something over 4 knots! The worst of the sailing was a 15 knot easterly as we were heading (east of course!) towards the Sulawesi coast, which lasted for 4 hours; the best was along the north coast of Flores and eastwards, especially down to Darwin in light E/S and SE winds. Good old Stolen Kiss would blast along at around 7 to 8 knots when the wind picked up and moved past 45 degrees off the bow. Along the north of the island chain, the morning breeze would typically be S/SE and the afternoon NE or NW, allowing for some wonderful sailing. For the whole journey, every night with only one exception, the sky would clear to expose an amazing star studded vista. Nothing beats sailing under the stars and at times, a full moon to boot!

A good time to make a final heading south is when the highs form over central Australia and timing your run after one weakens and the other ridges. There is usually a three to four day break in this cycle. Had we sailed one more overnight passage to a fantastic atoll, Meatij Miarang, it would have given us enough easting and a more strait forward sail down to Darwin. However, we easily managed our way east on the S/SE winds and south on the ESE winds. The weather on the continental shelf was actually different; the winds went a lot more east which gave us a good sail into Darwin, especially on the final approach when the NE sea breeze kicked in.

Nongsapura (Nongsa Point Marina), Indonesia and Keppel Bay Marina, Singapore, are now owned by the same company. The breakwater is finally being constructed outside the former to offer it absolute protection. Although under construction, we were allowed to stay overnight to check in, even though there was one pontoon and no facilities. We were charged $25 (Sing) for this privilege, which we thought was perhaps a little steep. However, the new breakwater was most effective and they still had another 100m to add to it!

It just so happened that the tide was in the right direction for an early morning departure down the Riau Strait. We had chosen what we thought was a nice looking bay which although well protected, was nothing more than a bauxite mine! (Batu Putih) We anchored quite a way out in the bay as it is very rocky. However it was calm and quiet and afforded us a good night’s sleep. We continued our way south the next day, seeing many large turtles, dolphins and even caught a huge spanish mackerel as we crossed the equator! Seriously! He was a large as me (no photo though as when Peter took it I did not have time to get appropriately dressed!!) We kept enough for a few meals then gave the rest to a fisherman who paddled by in the southern bay of Lingga Is, which is a wonderful, sheltered anchorage. He was a happy man as he only had a few little fish.

We stayed at Lingga Island for a few days to let the electrical storms to the south and east clear, then set off for Karimata Island in a pleasant westerly air flow. Our dawn approach to Karimata and Serutu Islands revealed two very large, wooded islands, quite unexpected. We were amazed at the collection of logs that had gathered in the tide line 5 miles out from the islands. There were hundreds and hundred of logs! We were not sure that one rather large bundle 100m or so long had somehow been tied together as there were small fishing boats around them. Maybe they were using the logs as a FAD? After picking our way through the debris, the waters were clear. This was the only place we encountered debris in the water throughout the rest of Indonesia.

The usual anchorage at Karimata offered good protection from the westerlies that were still blowing. We found our way in through the reef after watching a local boat enter, which was not difficult in good light as it is either 7m or nothing. We had read that other yachts had done this so we knew we would have depth once inside the reef and close to the beach, especially with our board up as we draw 1.2m in shallow mode! These islands are apparently a flora and fauna reserve – good coral but no fish. High fuel prices are forcing them to fish the reef areas more extensively. They were busy making fish traps (boo boo traps). Whilst we were there a boat from Banka/Sumatera came in. The locals warned us that these fishermen (some wearing diving masks that looked something like ‘The Clan’ would wear) were not good people and to be careful. Apparently these fishermen come and poach the reef around Karimata and destroy the coral. Some of the locals went out and moved the unwanted visitors around to another village.

Yachts are welcomed here and we had some visitors on the first day. A few of the men come out and took our dinghy and jerry jugs to fill with ‘solar’. The fuel was a little more expensive than the mainland (6,500 rp/l) and we worked out that the locals paid 6000rp/l, so we thought that was a fair deal. Mostly in Indonesia we paid 5000rp/l, with the exception of Leti, where the advertised price was 8000rp/l as it came from the Tanimbar Islands. Very expensive for them!

From Karimata we made our way south and east along the Kalimantan Coast, passing Kumai (we were there in 2003) and opting to explore the rivers further east (Joseph Conrad country!). We waited outside Sungai Pembuang to watch how the locals entered the river and were soon shown the channel by the local fishermen. This was a very busy river town with local prahu and tugs coming and going. The Navy came out to log us in (as they do with every boat) and asked us to anchor opposite their post so they can look after us. Indeed they did! We were taken up river in their speed boat to the market and taken wherever we wanted to go. They gave us their mobile number so that we could contact them if we had any problems. People were amused by us (silly orang putih!) and keen to know where we were from and where we were going. The reporter from the local paper came out to interview us and took our picture. We appeared in the next edition on April Fools Day! We were not bothered by visitors.

We decided that day sailing to Banjarmasin was perhaps a little more prudent given the amount of fishing boats around and the squalls (more rain than wind) that were still passing around us, reducing visibility. There are two large rivers to explore and some good anchorages. T. Sampit was a surprise as there were large ships anchored outside the river that were being loaded and unloaded by barges. It is also possible to anchor anywhere along the coast, which we did.

We counted 25 huge ships anchored outside the river at Banjarmasin, waiting to be loaded with copper by barges. Imray had mentioned that the channel across the bar often changed. Although reading this and knowing that the channel was also marked, we were perhaps a little too relaxed on our entry. The channel was quite narrow and very busy with tugs, ships and local prahu. We toddled along the edge following the traffic which was passing starboard to starboard; thinking that this was a little odd, but then all was revealed! Peter noticed that the barges were taking a hard turn to the east and we assumed that they were off in a different direction, as we could see port hand markers ahead. A local prahu aground in front of us alerted us to the fact that maybe we should follow the tugs! Another prahu that had been aground on the side of the channel earlier, had now caught up and was in the way of the tug behind (who was hooting madly!). At this stage we were at the start of the ‘S’ bend in the channel and could see a nasty situation was about to evolve. We bailed out (with 0.5m underneath us) and turned to go behind the tug. The prahu, making his way to the edge promptly ran aground (again) forcing the tug to reverse and stop his empty barge without colliding with the prahu and the full barge coming out! The skill of these drivers is second to none! He missed the prahu by a meter and same with the on-coming tug! We had our own bit of excitement as we had pulled in behind the barge and had to go in reverse when the barge stopped! Phew! The traffic had to pass green to green in the channel to keep the loaded vessels on the outside bend which was around 7m deep! Our exit was a little less exciting as we knew where we were going and there was not a lot of traffic.

Once inside Sungai Barito, we were amazed at the activity as we did not realize how large Banjarmasin and surrounds were. We anchored next to Kaget Island and waited for the morning flood to go the remaining 6 miles or so towards the city. Along Kaget Island there were many men diving for something…maybe gems???

The notes that we had gathered from a previous yacht indicated that you could anchor up the small Sungai Martapura near the city; however this river is now far too settled, with stilt houses on either side and a lot of industry at its mouth. We wandered back and anchored outside the police post in Sungai Barito, near junction of the Sungai Martapura entrance. The police were very helpful offering us the use of their showers and organizing a local water taxi to take us into the city. A much better option! We spent the best part of the day hanging out in the new mega shopping complex – air-conditioned and full of designer label shops and a huge supermarket to boot.

The floating shops just around the corner from where we were anchored sold us diesel for the usual price. So easy!

Once we left the Kalimantan coast, to our surprise, the only fishing boats we encountered were the small outriggers and squid boats along the shore and one large boat west of the Tiger Islands. This made for relaxed night passages along the main island chain.

We were happy to be leaving the unlit tows and fishing boats around Kalimantan and settled down to enjoy a relaxed sail to Sulawesi. The only aspect of this part of the passage we had a problem with was the adverse current as we neared the Sulawesi cast, which of course was the same time we experienced the adverse winds mentioned earlier!

Padang sounded a place to be missed so we headed for a village south of there offering some shelter from the SW sea breeze that came in, in the afternoon. Winds were now predominately SE. On the SW corner of Sulawesi T. Laikang is a deep bay offering good protection from all directions. Although we found where all the plastic water bottles in Indonesia had been hiding (floats for the extensive agar agar aquaculture) taking up the best anchorages, we found good shelter off Puntando village. NGO’s have a rather nice ‘eco resort’ set up where locals come and learn about sustainable living and environmental degradation. The SE winds tend to blow around 15 to 20 knots around the SW tip of Sulawesi, which tended to keep the heat at bay. Strangely, we were buzzed (low enough to see the pilots!) on several consecutive days by F/A 18 Hornets that looked to be American. They disappeared to the NE.

In company with Time Out (who had departed Kota Kinabalu and cruised south via the west coast of Sulawesi) plan A was to make our way east to P. Salayar, then over to the Tiger Islands and surrounding coral atolls. The wind, swell and current had other ideas! The best we could make in the light SE winds was a southerly course to Flores. In 2003 we had found a wonderful sheltered anchorage at T. Linggeh, so we headed for there. Many yachts stop here so there is a huge expectation of us in the form of gifts for the children and teenage boys. Whilst we were happy to part with some of the treasures we had been saving for such an occasion, three days of constant visitors was a little wearing. However this village is very poor and appears to have been overlooked by the government in terms of facilities. To our surprise and delight we were remembered by a lady who had cut our hair there in 2003. During our short stay at T. Linggeh, we noticed once again the weather changing - clearing to the east, making for light SE winds in the morning and NE/NW sea breezes in the afternoon and clear skies.

From Sulawesi to Darwin we encountered pods of dolphins every day. One pod had well over 50 dolphins! They were leaping around with absolute gay abandon, but we were never quick enough to catch them on camera. Not surprising that our lures only caught seaweed!! Several very large turtles were also encountered, especially in our final approach to Darwin.

Between T. Linggeh and Maumere, T. Riung offers good shelter and a lot of beautiful islands to explore. There is a large market up the main street, but we were not sure of the day it operated.

Although Maumere is not listed on the CAIT as a clearing port, it is possible to clear in and out of there. For us it was a little time consuming as the Harbour Master wanted us to go to immigration first and immigration the reverse! We had to wait for a few hours at immigration as ‘the boss’ had gone to lunch. We were all surprised when a phone call in immigration came through for Bill (Time Out) from the Harbour Master who was trying to find out what was keeping us! He very kindly stayed open until we graced him with our (somewhat wilted) presence. There were no charges and no gifts expected. Such wonderful, helpful people. Sea World, Maumere is a great sandy anchorage, but we were so relieved we were not running into the rally boats as we cannot imagine over 100 boats anchored there as it shelves very quickly! There is a fisherman who looks after the yachts and offered to get our diesel for 5000rp/l – which was an honest price. Easy for us! Local bemos run along the road outside the resort for a cheaper option than hiring a driver to get into town. (The latter of which was $35 USD for half a day!)

Imray makes mention of the confused tidal currents and consequent rough seas along the north side of Alor. He also gives an anchorage along this same coast, so thinking the current might actually be ok, we went in to find the anchorage. Big mistake! He was so right! Being in there was something akin to being in a washing machine or a bouncy castle! It took a lot of motoring to get out through the confused seas. Another overnight sail took us to Wetar.

At Wetar, we found the most wonderful sandy anchorage (excellent holding) in a bay called Air Panas. It was such a treat to be able to see the sand underneath the boat. Bullets (of the wind variety) kept us very cool and were at times around 20 – 25 knots. One of the local prahu kept dragging so we gave him 10m of chain for his anchor. This was in our interest to ensure he did not drag near us! There was a small village in the southern corner of the bay and goats that roamed the beach. We were not bothered by anyone and they seemed indifferent to us being there. A local prahu was anchored there as well. To our surprise they had a Quintrex tinnie and a Yamaha 8 hp Enduro outboard; Australian made!! There were a few surprises for us like the constant, significantly large earth tremors which the locals ignored (the earth moved for us!) and which were even more disconcerting when we could hear the rumblings and bangs under the boat! We were with Time Out and having both survived the tsunami in 2004 (us more than Bill!) we were a tads nervous. Another small surprise was a very large whale that came to visit. I was contemplating a swim around the yachts when Time Out alerted us of their visitor that surfaced on their stern to take a look at them. The whale turned to come over to us then perhaps realized we were in shallower water, so went he turned to go out to sea. Laps along the shore seemed a better idea, although I later realised I had an audience, probalby wondering what on earth I was doing! There was a wonderful fresh water stream behind the village and of course the hot water spring that we sat in at low tide every afternoon as this was when the fresh water flowed out. The water buffalo seemed to like this spring at high tide!

One of our best sails was from Wetar to Leti. Easterly winds enabled us to make our southing, then as we expected, nearing the East Timor coast, the wind veered to the SE allowing a fetch eastwards in flat water! The tidal race between Kisar Island and the northern tip of East Timor was non existent. We had a long ocean swell (have not seen one of them for a while!) and 1.5knots of current against us, which was preferable as wind and current in the same direction made for a calm sea. We were soon hooning along at 8 knots towards Leti

We did a bit of exploring along the west side of Leti and decided to anchor off the village of Tombra. The pilot actually describes the small sandy anchorage, although they are building a pier now on the drying reef, which actually offers even more protection. Apparently we were the first yachts to anchor there. The island is Christian (7th Day Adventists). There were many people who spoke good English and after we purchased some diesel to use up our remaining rupiah, the locals soon lost interest in us when they discovered we had no more money.

One enterprising person offered to change some money for us, so perhaps they had had western visitors in the past after all! A ‘hey mister’ at 0530 one morning was actually a fisherman who happily traded 5 large crays (some of the painted variety) for a bottle of rum! (We had another 9 on board!)

As we approached the Australian coast and crossed the exclusive fishing zone, we were buzzed by Customs in Coast Watch. We gave the required information and it was quite exciting to speak in English! A customs boat anchored at Melville Island also called us up and asked the same questions. We had emailed all of this information off to customs in giving our 96 hour notice of arrival, so they had it in triplicate! As we were arriving after hours, we were allowed to anchor in Fannie Bay for the night as long as we agreed not to get off the boat. No problem! Our anchor went down at 2330 hours and we collapsed into a wonderful quiet sleep!

By 0900 the following morning we were alongside Cullen Bay fuel dock/quarantine post for CIQ. We had emptied the boat of all the obvious restricted goods like fresh food and honey before entering Australian waters and declared our 8 bottles of rum! Customs were wonderful as the whole process was quick and very professional, with only a little of our stores being removed (things that grow like mung beans, chick peas and yeast). And yes, they allowed our rum! By 1300 hours, the divers had come along side and squirted what they needed up our intakes and we were free to attack Fannie Bay Yacht Club – showers, beer, fries and humongous servings of salad! The magnificent sunset topped the day!

We were soon in Tipperary Marina, busy washing the salt off the boat and continuing our culinary indulgence along the lines of spoons at the ready for gourmet ice-cream!

To our surprise and relief, no fumigation was necessary, which apparently applies to yachts if you check into Fremantle, or we believe, anywhere in WA.

We are very happy with our entire passage and found it easier than we anticipated. We met up with other yachts in Darwin who had all chosen different routes. One left Sandakan after xmas and took the eastern most route across the north coast of Sulawesi to Halmahera, then south via Ambon and the Tanimbars, arriving Darwin late April. They had significant squalls, but no lightening and a lot of rain as they were sitting under the ITCZ for a while. Another from Singapore to Bali, then down to Darwin, who had a bit of a bash into the SE winds in May. We met Time Out in Sulawesi. They had waited in Kota Kinabalu until the weather cleared in March and headed off towards Sandakan, then down the west side of Sulawesi. They, too, had motored considerably and had a relatively dry passage and no lightening. Somehow we again missed the ITCZ as I believe it actually lifts up over Borneo and part of Sulawesi. The week we stayed in Sulawesi we noted the weather to the south clearing. Once we reached Flores, we also noted the weather to the east clearing. The weather information available with BOM Australia and grib files is excellent and it also helps to have someone looking at the satellite picture. You can actually pick the weather you like!

After extolling the virtues of SE Asia to others that are now heading up, we wondered what on earth are we doing here. Apart from the obvious difference in the cost of living, we miss the free wifi available throughout SE Asia. Australia is just so behind the 8 ball in regard to this. We REALLY miss our World Space Radio whose service we lost 150 miles out of Darwin. So now it is back to the insular, limited world news provided by the Australian media.

However, it is good to be on familiar territory and the ease at which Peter can organize maintenance on the boat is wonderful. You don’t realize in Asia how you either make do with what is available or ship things in at great expense to the management. Darwin offers many options for future cruising. The immediate thought is another visit to the Kimberley, which is still one of the most stunning cruising grounds we have encountered.

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