06 November 2014
Singapore is an amazing city. It is the city that never sleeps, always something going on with a plethora of places to eat, shop and drink. You can buy a cheap meal in a hawkers food stall for $3-5 (Beef Hor Fun quite a good choice) or you can go to a fine dining establishment and feel the need to either offer up your firstborn or take out a second mortgage on the house. A beer will cost you anywhere between $13-24 for a pint, and if you want a cocktail or glass of wine, well, think of a number and put a dollar sign in front of it. Public transport is excellent and we quickly became experts at navigating our way around the city. Where we were housing Kailana, at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) was costing about $35/day and it was about 50 minutes door to door to get into the big smoke, taking a bus and then a train, a trip of only a few dollars. All this aside, Singapore is officially the most expensive city in the world!
Singapore has a tropical rainforest climate with no real seasons and no real relief. It is REALLY humid at the moment (80% +) and the temperature seems to hover around 31 degrees. We have been getting torrential rain in the afternoons, so we religiously close all the hatches before heading out to explore. We recently heard of another yachtie that forgot to do this, and the hatch happened to be over all their electrical instruments....well you can guess what happened next.
Firstly a little information on Singpaore itself. Singapore has belonged to a series of local empires, however modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post of the East India Company. The British obtained sovereignty over the island in 1824. Occupied by the Japanese during WWII, Singapore declared independence from the UK in 1963 and united with other former British territories to form Malaysia, from which it was expelled two years later through a unanimous act of parliament. Since then, Singapore has developed rapidly.
Singapore is one of the world's major commercial hubs, with the fourth-biggest financial centre and one of the busiest ports. Its globalised and diversified economy depends heavily on trade, especially manufacturing. Approximately 5.4 million people live in Singapore, of which approximately two million are foreign-born. Seventy-five percent of the population is Chinese, with other minorities such as Malays and Indians. There are four official languages, English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.
The city is blanketed by towering skyscrapers and has a huge amount of the city sitting on reclaimed land. The city is constantly changing and has a seemingly endless amount of construction taking place. High rise apartment buildings go up in what seems minutes, and a four bedroom condominium in the city might put you back $6 million if you have some spare cash sitting around. Those working up here will have company paid accommodation, with budgets ranging between $9 - $18k/month to rent a place. Most expats will have live in maids that do all the cooking and cleaning, most times living in the bomb shelters which is mandatory in every house in Singapore. There is an exotic array of cars in Singapore, with frequent sightings of Ferraris and Lamborghinis etc.
A friend of ours from Perth came up for a few days so Kev played tour guide, taking us gals all over Singapore to various places of interest. Our feet got a good workout and we trekked across to Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter. These stops were broken up with dashes into shopping malls to get a fix of 'air conditioning'. We sauntered down to Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, and took the lift up to the 'Ku De Tah' bar on top of the new hotel/casino 'Marina Bay Sands'. The hotel has three 55-story towers with 2,561 hotel rooms/suites and is capped by the Sands SkyPark which looks like a boat. You have 360-degree views of Singapore's skyline and if you are staying at the hotel you can go for a dip in the 150-metre infinity pool.
We walked through the lush and tropical Botanical Gardens and then up to Dempsey Hill. Dempsey Hill used to be the Central Manpower Base of Singapore and former British army barracks. The buildings have all been preserved and turned into groovy bars, restaurants, shops and art galleries. There was a new tourist attraction called 'Gardens by the Sea', so we decided to go and have a look. The Gardens is located on 100 hectares of reclaimed land There are two 'biodomes' that contain varius types of vegitation. The 'Cloud Forest' has a 35-metre tall mountain veiled in mist and covered in lush vegetation amidst the world's tallest indoor waterfall. You can see amazing vertical gardens and just chill out from the hustle and bustle of Singapore. For those that have been to the 'Eden Project' in the UK, it is a spin off of that.
If coming to Singapore, you will notice how orderly and efficient it is. Perhaps this is due to all the RULES that you need to abide by. If you don't abide, you may find yourself with a hefty fine for misbehaving., hence why they call it a 'Fine' city. If you get caught littering, there is a fine of $1000, not to mention hours of community service (a rule that has been in place since the 60's). If you decide to jay walk or feed wild birds that will set you back $500, eating or drinking on the train will cost you $1000. First time offenders for using your mobile phone while driving can be either $1000 or a 6 month jail sentence with the fine doubled for repeat offenders. While eating chewing gum is permitted, selling chewing gum is forbidden so stock up before arriving if you are so inclined. If you graffiti anywhere, you will be caned, if you don't flush the toilet after yourself - you can get fined $150. Lastly, all types of pornography are illegal, INCLUDING walking around your house naked! As a result of all this, including very strict drug laws, Singapore hails as one of the safest cities to live in.
Our feet, stomachs, livers and wallets are now ready to leave Singapore and we head out to Malaysia tomorrow. We will motor to the quarantine area, check out, and then go up to place called 'Puteri Marina' which is official starting point of the 'Sail Malaysia' Rally that we are joining.
14. Kumai to Singapore
06 November 2014
From leaving Kumai (Borneo) we headed to Pulau Belitung. A distance of 330Nm, which we completed in 51 hours, hence 2x overnighters in a trot - not really our favourite. There was quite a bit of traffic to avoid at night, with both tankers and fishermen dotting our path north and not always on AIS, so full lookout required around the clock. There ain't no nodding off in these here waters! We thought that we were going to be doing the passage alone - however lo and behold....Sagata, Esoterica and Apa Lagi (the usual suspects) were right behind us. They eventually caught up to us as we were only going about 3 knots with all our sails up pretending to be real sailors, with them cheating using their 'iron mains'.
The Rally schedule would have seen us go towards Manggar on Belitung Island, and this would have been a very attractive option given that the shire of Manggar was offering 100 litres of free diesel and as many as two cans of Bintang beer to those who came. Two cans of warm Bintang on its own would have been a hard sell however free diesel? Yes please! Alas it was not meant to be. It was always known as a difficult anchorage to enter, with rumours that it had, or maybe had not, been dredged. However, after hearing reports of yacht 'Sweet Surrender' experience, we opted out of this anchorage and for good reason. They were following a pilot boat, which directed them squarely to getting stuck on some reef, with the tide going out. Stuck solid they watched in horror as the pilot boat disappeared to leave them to their fate. Eventually with the poor yacht laid on its side they were collecting their belongings for an abandon ship maneuver. However, after 4 hours they were saved by four passing fishing boats that basically dragged the yacht, still on its side, into deeper water at high tide, a very harrowing experience for Sharon and Matty onboard, but Sweet Surrender is a tough old girl and no real damage was later found Call us silly, but we like to keep Kailana upright if possible. Maybe the two cans of Bintang were offered to alleviate the stress of getting grounded and the free diesel was for the poor bloke who had to drag you off the rocks in his fishing boat.
That said we headed to a lovely spot called Tanjung Kelayang Beach located at the northwest side of Belitung Island. The coastline has lots of big granite rocks sticking out of the water, some of which have multicoloured lights afixed that light up at night. The locals were very excited about our visit and had a small welcome ceremony planned which none of the yachties knew about (Sail Indonesia organizational skills strike again....) - but Rebecca managed to go ashore and got the 'paparazzi' welcome, was given a flower wreath ('lei'), a very uncomfortable 'hat' and had many photographers taking her picture for the local rag. For those towns on the 'Rally schedule', this is 'quite a normal welcome'. Tanjung Kelayang had lots of restaurants on the beach and the people were very, very friendly. After recovering from our passage from Kumai, we organised to hire motorbikes the next day with Apa Lagi and Sagata. We had no idea where we were going but ended up in the main city for a nice lunch, did a trip to the museum / zoo and then a ride around the countryside before heading home as the sun went down. The zoo that was attached to the museum was the most horrible sight you have ever seen. Indonesians do not do zoos well, if you can actually call them zoos, more animal concentration camps. The turtles were ankle deep in scummy water, the crocodiles were in pens just about their own size, and the birds had lost all their feathers ... the list go on. We got out of there pretty fast before Rebecca figured out what the right words were in Indonesian to abuse the people on the front desk.
Belitung is quite a big island so you really need a few days to be able to see it all. We unfortunately did not have the luxury of time as we had to get up to Nongsa Point to clear the boat out of Indonesia. We felt sad to leave, as we could have easily spent a few more days there. Tanjung Kelayang is a very popular holiday destination for locals from neighbouring Jakarta who fly in for the weekend. Now, we can see why. Plenty of islands to explore, clear water to swim in and good food.
As part of the welcome for the Sail Indo Rally, a few events were put on for us - we went to one which was a night of music and dancing on the foreshore. Most of the yachties showed up and we got to see some faces we hadn't seen for a while. The music went on all night and there were five dancers that worked hard at enticing the audience (e.g. the 20 odd sailors watching) to get up and dance. Kev got dragged up onto the dance floor by a woman with quite masculine features. Up close and intimate Kev was then able to confirm the authenticity of these masculine features and that his new dance partner 'Sasha' was in fact a man! One song seemed to drift into another with no apparent end in sight...and poor Kev was held hostage on the dance floor by the lovely 'Sasha' for what seemed to him...hours. 'Sasha' took quite a shine to old Kev whereas poor Kev just looked incredibly uncomfortable. Kev finally made some lame excuse that he had to go to the toilet and you have never seem someone run to the toilet as fast as he did.
Next stop was South of Lingga Island, which took us a night and day to get to, completing 211 Nm in 33 hours. This was to be our last overnighter in Indonesia. We attempted to anchor at a deserted island about half way, however it went from 25 metres to 3 metres really quickly and we would have had to anchor quite far away from land - so we aborted. Quite a shame as the island looked very explore-able and it would have been nice to have had the island all to ourselves. We had timed it so that we would arrive at the south end of Lingga islands before dark, however we misjudged by about an hour so we came in just after dusk - always a nerve wracking experience entering an anchorage you have never seen and won't see until daylight. We found a very quiet anchorage (0.18.536s / 105.05.337e) where there were just a few fishing boats and us (and Sagata). Keen to get on the road again, we upped anchor early the next morning and headed for Kentar Island. This was going to be a special day as we were going to be crossing the equator!
Actually 'sailing' across the equator was not going to be an option due to lack of wind. There is a huge ceremonial legend around crossing the equator that have its origins going back to ancient times when sailors were very superstitious and made pleas to the God 'Neptune', the ruler of the seas, to bring them home safely. Sailors that have already crossed the equator are called 'Shellbacks', or 'sons of Neptune'. Those that have not are called 'Pollywogs'. Kev was a pollywog, whereas Rebecca had crossed the equator 24 years prior when sailing to Brazil so she was a Shellback. Technically speaking Rebecca should have been dressed as King Neptune as the role goes to those that are eldest and have done the crossing before. However, so as to avoid any domestic arguments, Kev dressed up as King Neptune and no more was said. Equator crossings feature 'King Neptune' and things in the colour 'green' so we dressed up in anything we could find that was green, cracked a beer - offered up some to the Neptune God by pouring it into the sea, and then crossed the line! The sweat was pouring off us at '0' degrees North / South!
The trip to Kentar was about 28 nautical miles (just a hop skip and a jump away) and we came into the anchorage and found two other yachts on anchor, a French yacht we hadn't seen before and fellow Rally boats; Dream Maker and Esoterica. Everyone seemed to have dressed their boats up in flags to commemorate the big crossing, so we wasted no time in hoisting all our flags and keeping up with the Jones. We then put out the call on the VHF radio for an 'equator beach BBQ'. Everyone brought their own meat and drinks and something to share and we lounged and talked shit until the wee hours. The French couple came ashore and have been sailing away from France for 40 years now! Talk about long term cruisers! Incidentally, it took them a whopping 20 minutes to get their visa extensions, compared to our 20 days! The next morning we had just finished upping anchor when John from Esoterica shot over in his dingy in a panic. John couldn't get his engine to start and was keen for some help. We then rafted Kailana alongside Esoterica while Kev and John sweat bullets in the engine room. Meanwhile, Rebecca and Karen enjoyed a nice coffee under the cool of the fan. Problem soon fixed, we were back on our way headed north.
Our departure time from Indonesia was drawing near and we needed to get ourselves up to Nongsa Point, so we headed to our next stop which we didn't have a waypoint for, but proved to be a great anchorage. The fishermen had homes/fishing shacks built up high on stilts above the water, and we anchored right in the middle of them. The locals were a little inquisitive about us and motored past in their boat to have a closer look. The next day as we got closer and closer to Singapore, we started to see more and more traffic. We hugged the east side of the channel for as long as we could and then made our crossing over to Nongsa Point Marina. Nongsa Point is on the island of Batam in Indonesia and this was to be our last port of call in Indo, prior to clearing out of the country and heading over to Singapore. We really enjoyed Nongsa...and were there for a very relaxing 5 days. The facilities were fabulous - couldn't fault the place. The floating dock was great, food in the restaurant very good, a massive pool that got a huge amount of use, and very helpful staff. There were a few fellow rally boats there (Murrundi, Cayenne, Minnie B, Beau Solais, Sagata, Rio). The pool seemed to be the meeting place, and due to the heat, this was where you found most of the yachties most of the time. It was a good place for us all to unwind and recount our experiences after 3 months in Indonesia. We had a few social events while we there, firstly celebrating Phil's (Sagata) 62nd birthday at the Marina restaurant (never did get that free shout he promised everyone - Phil, hope you're reading this). Another night we all walked round the corner to a neighbouring resort and had a sundowner at an island bar and then a buffet dinner in the hotel. Lastly, we had a 'finger wharf' party on the dock, where everyone brought their own meat, chair and drinks to the jetty. It proved to be a very fun night, with 'Murrundi John's' homemade Gin getting a bit of a beating. We enjoyed breakfast aboard 'Cayenne' (Guy and Cath from Darwin - also from Tipperary Marina crew) one morning, where we heard horror stories of how Cath mangled her hand in the windless a few years previous. She is still awaiting surgery to remove one of her fingers after this as it is essentially useless now. Anchor windlasses seem to offer the most horror stories. After we had all our laundry done, all paperwork in order and we were no longer legally allowed to stay, we left Indonesia on the 27th October to head across to the Republic of Singapore yacht club on the South south west corner of the island, 91 days after entering Indonesia.
The trip across the Singapore Straits is one of, if not 'the' busiest shipping channels in the world....was mind boggling, a bit like a real life game of Frogger! To cross it you have to entering into a massive 'T' junction in the sea where all the boats entering or exiting Singapore have to pass through. The ships all range from speeds of 5 knots to 20 knots, so you have to time things right and the AIS system really is worth it wait in gold. It is amazing to see how much traffic goes in and out of this place, and it is no wonder when we learned that 90% of the world's trade is actually carried by sea. Seaborne trade remains the most energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly mode of transporting cargo. Without it, half the world would starve and the other half would freeze! We had the current in our favour which saw us doing 9 knots in places. The tankers towered above us, and it was no surprise to learn that at any time about 1000 ships are 'on anchor' in the Singapore port. About every 2 minutes, a ship arrives or leaves Singapore and it is the top bunkering port in the world (ship refueling) even though it doesn't even produce any oil!
We stopped in at the 'Sisters Islands' where we cleared into Singapore. This was a relatively quick process, whereby a customs boat came up to us and stuck his little fishing net on a stick out for us to deposit our plastic bag of paperwork and passports into. Based on our previous experiences of paperwork in Indonesia, the efficient Singaporean method was quite refreshing. With ourselves all 'cleared in' we were on our way to Singers!
The Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) was the only marina that we could get into, of the 6 or so marinas in and around Singapore, and we only just got a spot. We had heard that the marina was quite 'rolly' due to much neighbouring marine traffic, however the lure of plugging into the mains and getting endless amounts of freshwater was too enticing. Also, we wanted to explore Singapore and to commute from Malaysia was not really an option, as it would cost in time and money. Our pal Linda was coming to visit - so RSYC made sense.
From Kumai to Singapore saw us coving a total distance of 680 Nautical Miles.
The Republic of Singapore Yacht Club is the oldest yacht club in Asia and was founded in 1826. The history of the RSYC goes back more than 181 years to an elegant era when the officers and men of Sir Stamford Raffles were their earliest members. Most of the facilities at the marina are excellent. There is a tasty and reasonably priced restaurant, a mess bar, a library, a chart room, a gambling room (for those inclined), a karaoke room (for those inclined), a laundry and a massive big pool. The big downside is the amount of traffic from the water taxis that drop off and pick up crew from the nearby anchored tankers. They are loud and, since there is no breakwater, create a huge amount of 'wake' that ripples across all the boat pens. The marina has big plans in place to overcome the lack of comfort that yachties experience here (bow and stern lines get chaffed easily and the boat jerks violently at times), but they are as yet, unapproved plans. The first few nights we had little sleep but are starting to get used to the horn blasts, loud rumbling engines and the squeaking of the lines as they desperately try to keep Kailana tied up to the dock. Sagata actually broke two mooring lines with the violence of the movement. When you read the previous commodore names etched into the wooden plaques - they all seem to start with 'Sir'....testament to colonial times. One of the 'Sirs' who was commodore pre war times, was a prisoner of war on the Burma Railroad during he war to then come back and serve as commodore post war on three separate occasions.
With money in our pocket and earplugs to help us get to sleep at night, we were ready to take on Singapore.
13. Kumai (Borneo)
26 October 2014
We were quite surprised to hear that Sam, our Sail Indonesia agent, had made his way to Kumai. After going AWOL in Bali we basically wrote him off as being of any assistance with our visas, leaving it to a 'proxy' Agent named Ruth to organise the passports to be sent to Nongsa Point, our designated check-out point of Indonesia. However, on meeting Sam in Kumai, he advised us that he had our passports, which lifted our spirits, but then proceeded to tell us that there were some issues. At this point we were at Day 18 from the time that we had handed our passports to Sam, so to hear that the visas hadn't actually been processed and that we had now been classified as 'over-stayers' came as somewhat of a surprise. To put this in context, some of the other rally boats, who had chosen to organise their visa extensions themselves, had their passports back in only 3 days! Moral of story = don't ever hand your passport over to someone else!
We were now finally back with the Sail Indonesia rally schedule. To quickly recap, the rally organisers changed the rally route at the last minute, with only a handful of rally boats choosing to keep to the original route. This meant we missed out on a lot of the rally events, however to be honest this is no great loss, there are only so many speeches in Indonesian by government officials that anybody should have to drag themselves through in their lifetime. All the events tend to be more about little men with shiny badges, fluffing their authorities feathers than about the rally members. Anyway, after a night of comatosed sleep we joined all the other yachties, were given bright green T-shirts and loaded onto an air-conditioned bus. Mmmm, air-conditioning, such a lovely, lovely invention. But with a police escort in front and behind the bus, we sped off like royalty to our lunch date at the 'Long House'. Quite the spread was laid on, with singing and dancing and food and speeches, all enjoyed in 35 degC and 100% humidity. After lunch we were taken to a traditional river village...quite interesting to walk the river boardwalk and peer into the all the houses on stilts that line the river. Lastly we stopped in at the palace for a look where we were fed and watered again before returning back to home-base.
While we were on the coach trip, Sam travelled 5 hours by car to Sampit (actual town name) to visit the immigration department there on our behalves. The immigration department at Kumai apparently don't have the ability to process visa extensions.
The day following the coach trip was a day of relaxation awaiting the outcome of Sam's meeting. A frustrating day trying to get a hold of Sam to find out what was actually going on, however we used the time productively to lay around on the foredeck of Sagata, drinking coffee and eating pancakes. Finally Sam told us what the situation was and the news was not good.
The following day we took the car journey to Sampit to visit the Immigration office to finalise our visa extensions. The process included getting our photographs and fingerprints taken. The thing is, Sampit is a long way away. So far away that the 2 cars required to take the 8 of us were booked for 4am the following morning! So, there we were at 3:30am climbing down from Kailana into Phil & Lesley's dinghy for the trip ashore to meet the waiting cars. No doubt you can start to get a feeling for any bad moods that might have arisen. Pitch dark with thick smoke haze, we raced off along the heavily potholed road in the direction of Sampit. Stopping for the odd break we arrived at the Immigration office at 8:45am, almost 5 hours in the saddle.
The immigration officials were clearly waiting for us and the news wasn't good. In the eyes of the rules, we had overstayed our visas and with that there is a fine to be paid for every day overrun. If we did not pay these fines, our visas would not get extended, and passports would not be returned! In a nutshell the reason we ended up in this situation went a little like this, however what actually happened is something we will never get to understand.
Our passports and visa applications were lodged at Denpassar Immigration Department shortly after we provided them to Sam. We were promised them back between 3-5 working days, however there was a backlog of applications at this office. On the 1st of October, apparently, the rules were changed such that photographs and fingerprinting were now required for visa extensions. On this same day we met with Agent Ruth, who was unaware of this new rule, assured us that the passports would be processed in due course and sent ahead of us. We had not heard from Sam for about 3 days at this point. After our meeting with Agent Ruth we dropped the lines and sailed out of Bali. Somewhere between Bali and Kumai, on discovering that we had left Bali, Sam cancelled our visa extension applications and we were back to square one. Essentially with no original application in place, in the eyes of the rules, we had overstayed our visas by 12 days!
The immigration office in Sampit is the usual Indonesian government office building all filled with officials dressed in highly starched shirts with shiny badges. They made no real attempt to pretend that nothing happens quickly here. If they weren't pushed right back on their chair, playing with their mobile phones and chain smoking, they were eating. We were gathered together for a briefing where they explained the process, asking if we understood what we had done, just like..... we had actually DONE something! The first part of the process involved answering some basic questions, an interesting read so we have included a photograph of these questions in this website photo gallery. Our answers to these questions would then be translated into Indonesian and provided to HQ Immigration in Jakarta for accessing before a visa extension could be granted. Question 15, asks if we had any comments... our only real chance to get a few things off our chests. Most of us used words like 'incompetent, disorganised, etc'. The answer sheets were gathered up and shuffled away behind closed doors. It was now about 11am, even though there was around 11 of them 'working' on our application. By 1pm they came back to tell us that our answers were not actually suitable, in fact 'question 15' was not really for comments, where the correct answer to the question, 'do you have any comments', is actually 'no'. We were told that our visas would not be granted unless the answer to question 15 was simply 'no'! On this we re-wrote all our answers, simply with 'yes' or 'no'. We had no fight left in us, we simply just wanted to pay our fine and get our passports back.
Time ticks past. Our saving grace in the immigration office was a TV on the wall, showing some non dubbed English movies and the internationally recognised language of Tom & Jerry. Without this we would surely have gone insane. By about 3pm our answers had been translated into Indonesian and the printed answer sheets were ready for us to sign. With Sam translating back to English, we each were called in turn into a closed office to sign these statements, taking complete blame for our overstay. Most disturbing, was question 16, added to the printed Indonesian version and already answered for us! Question 16 asks if we had been pressured and cohersed in any of the answers we provided, where they had kindly answered 'no' for us! Caught between a rock and a hard place, we had no choice, we had to sign these statements. A very interesting insight into the Indonesian government....kind of like what we imagine it to have felt like during communist China under the rule of Mao Tse Tung.
At around 3:30pm we were told that Jakarta had approved the issuing of a visa extension and they could move onto the next part of the process, photographing, fingerprinting and putting a little stamp in our passports. Perhaps we are underestimating how difficult this is, perhaps the immigration officers were all on double time after 4pm, or they were deliberately trying to piss us off, either way this process took 45 minutes, per person. There were 8 of us! There were 11 of them! The real sting in the tail is the fine. Each boat had to pay the grand sum of $520, cash, for their mistake! $520!!!!!!! How painful an experience is that? Also, let's not forget the $75 per couple taxi ride to get us there.....
At 8:45pm, exactly 12-hours after arriving at the office, our passports were returned to us and we were free to go, albeit with lighter wallets, like convicts being released on bail. Five hours later, with eyes hanging out, we returned back to Kumai, only a 22 hour round trip that has understandably left a very sour taste in everyone's mouths. An experience we are all not rushing back to repeat. Within the rally boats we are all getting called 'The Benoa 8'! What a bloody fiasco.
With our passports in our back pocket, we were now free to go about our business and that business was going to see the Orangutans. Kumai does very well out of tourists wanting to visit the Tanjung Puting National Park adjacent to Kumai and the only way to get their is via a houseboat called a 'Klotok'. All the Klotoks are basically the same shape, just bigger or smaller depending on the number of passengers. The boats are basic, consisting of an upper and lower deck, the upper deck for the passengers. During the day the upper deck is set up for eating and relaxing while cruising up the rivers through the jungle. As night-time comes the upper deck is transformed into your sleeping quarters, with mattresses laid out protected by a fly screen net. Some of our fellow yachties off 5 other boats (10 people in total) had organised to go in a big Klotok... but, no matter how big the boat is, it would feel pretty small with 12 people so we chose to go small and get our own one. A little bit more money, but we had the place to ourselves.
After everything we had been through the previous day, leaving it all behind and slowly gliding through the jungle, while all sorts of refreshments brought to the side of our super comfy lounge chairs, was just what we needed. Part of the deal is that somebody stayed on Kailana in case anything was to go amiss. This guy is not allowed access to the boat, only sits outside under some shade and keeps an eye out for whatever. He was also instructed to start our little generator once a day to keep the batteries topped up and the fridges happy.
We were picked up at our boat, quickly met the four crew (Yade as captain, Iju as tour guide, Pooa as cook and Tongos as first mate). We were then placed in our padded seats up front (aka thrones) and given a nice cup of Bali coffee. It really felt like something out of the 'African Queen' movie, the one with Catherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. With the gentle 'put put' of the motor as it sauntered up the river, going deeper and deeper into the jungle...we quickly forgot about our previous few days of stress. Before we knew it, we were sat at the table where a spread of sautéed prawns, cabbage salad, rice, tofu, fresh sambal and watermelon was waiting for us. You've got to be happy with that. We felt like royalty. Not long into our trip we spotted a few Macaques & Proboscis monkeys. Proboscis monkeys are amazing looking with their big noses, the male having the largest nose. Apparently they use their noses like snorkels when they swim across the river.
The Klotok was to take us to three feeding stations in the national park, which is essentially a 'rehabilitation centre' for the orang-utans. We stopped at feeding station 1, where there was an interesting little museum which provided some interesting facts about our furry friends prior to us hiking the 20 min trail to see them in the flesh. Thought it would be interesting to list a few of these facts to set the scene for how special it is to go and see these beautiful creatures in the wild....something you may not always have the priviledge to do in the future.
Orang-utans can only be found in Sumatra and Borneo with males weighing sometimes in excess of 100kg, twice that of females. They are 8x stronger than humans and their life span (in the wild) is up to 50 years old. As most people know, they are one of our closest relative (some closer than others...every noticed how hairy Kevin is?....).
Indonesia covers 1.3% of the world's land area but its forest contain 10% of the world's plants, 12% of its mammals, 17% of its reptiles / amphibians and 17% of its birds. Where we happened to be in the 'Tanjung Puting National Park' is one of the richest areas in all of Indonesia with many rare and endangered species. The park covers an area of 400,000 hectares of primary forest and about 70% of the population of Borneo's orang-utans are found here, but sadly, this is decreasing every year. Every year Borneo looses millions of hectares to deforestation, and the loss is on the increase. There is a huge amount of illegally logging (65% of total supply was illegal in 2000). Approximately 16 million hectares of natural forest has been approved for conversion to industrial timber or agriculture plantations in the future. Once deforested the areas are set on fire to clear the land. This is often also done illegally, as hunters rely on the new growth following the fires to attract wildlife for capture. A bit of sad story for the poor orang-utans.
Palm Oil plantations are very popular in Indonesia. Indonesia and Malaysia supply 90% of the world's supply of palm oil...! For those that may not be aware, palm oil is used in foods, soaps, cosmetics, lubricants, paints, etc. Once the land is cleared it is used for farming palm oil, with many millions of hectares used for the palm trees required. The total area in Indonesia occupied by palm oil plantations has doubled in the last 10 years, with Indonesia producing almost 16 million tonnes of the stuff in 2005 alone. The palm oil companies are ruthless, setting fires legally or not, to get the land they need. This of course, has a big impact on the wildlife, e.g. Orang-utans. Borneo's population of orang-utans has halved in the last 10 years alone. In 97/98 a huge fire was responsible for the death of a third of Borneo's orang-utan population, where around 20,000 died, quite a sad fact. The Tanjung Puting National Park is slowly being squeezed and it is taking the orang-utans with it. The smoke from the burning of palm oil plantations is epidemic in Borneo. At anchor in Kumai, you only see blue sky during a few months of the year, with a thick smoke haze blanketing the area. Without the orang-utans to visit, Kumai should not really be on anyone's bucket list.
Back to our Klotok trip now... We saw quite a few orang-utans at the first feeding station, especially a really big male called 'Tom' who almost sat on Fiona's lap (from Apa Lagi). You could see the panic in her face as 'Tom' walked past her to get to the feeding platform that had many bananas piled on top of it. We saw lots of females with their babies in tow. Babies don't leave their mothers for the first 7 years of so.. The teenage orang-utan males tend to hang out in packs. The big males tend to boss everyone around and are definitely to be feared. It was hilarious to watch them stuff the bananas into their mouths...at times getting more than 10 in to then crawl up a tree to devour them all. We were only about 6 metres away from them and you could see all their various facial expressions. The ranger also put out cow's milk for them which they seemed to love. Some monkey chose to stick their head into it, while others poured it all over themselves, lapping it up in the process! Seeing these apes swing down the vines with such grace was quite something. That evening we saw even more proboscis monkeys hanging out along the river, which is where they come to sleep. That night we tied onto some pandanas trees at the edge of the river and had a lovely tranquil night...we were pretty lucky to have a full moon for our trip. The crew were busy fishing down below while we read our books, tk in a couple of cold bintangs and watched the fireflies go by. The next day, we woke up in our mosquito netted nest and took in the early morning jungle noises. We were lucky enough to see kingfishers and horn billed birds that day. We sauntered up to Feeding Station 2 and saw some more orang-utans (not as many as our first stop). The humidity was quite unbelievable and the sweat just poured off us. Our last stop was at feeding station 3. This area is known as 'Camp Leakey'. Established in 1971 by Canadian, Dr. Birute Galdikas (encouraged by Dr. Louis Leakey - mentor of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey), it is the site of the longest continuous study of orang-utans in history. It was here that we ran into the other yachties and saw not only orang-utans, but gibbons too. The gibbon put on quite a show and behaved just like the one out of 'Jungle Book' funnily enough. We got very close to the orang-utans as they were quite at ease walking amongst the tourists. Back on board our Klotok, our guide 'Iju', a 28 year old 'boy' who lives at home with his mother and plays computer games all day long when he is not working, promptly served us up a couple of warm bintangs after our trek through the jungle. Warm bintangs? Yes, the crew had run out of ice, so there were no longer any cold drinks on board. We suspected at this stage that the crew had been taking their liberties as there were also no more soft drinks left, and we seemed to have gone onto 'food rations'. Yono, who organised our Klotok tour, was not our chosen person to go through, however we had struck a very busy time for renting a Klotok so we got what we got. We did make a few jokes to one another about the crew eating bacon and eggs down below while we were served up banana pancake after banana pancake....! The trip cost us $530 for 3 days and 2 nights...and was well worth it considering the amazing animals we were able to see....we even saw a crocodile! For those thinking about booking a trip up the river, make sure to go on a tour organised by 'Harry' It is a bit of a mixed bag on who to go to as there are many operators with different standards...but Harry is a safe bet.
The morning we left Kumai was a super smoky morning, visibility being about 50m only. We came very close to colliding with a tugboat pulling a huge barge in the river, only the tugboat's horn alerting us prior to disaster. With this we were very happy to break through the apparent wall of smoke and get back into clean air and the open sea.
12. Java Sea Crossing
22 October 2014
In the last blog we were happily sailing away from Bali, safe in the knowledge that our passports and visa extensions were speedily and professionally being processed before being sent ahead of us. Or were they? We had now dropped behind all the rally boats due to the immigration administration slow-boat in Denpasar and needed to make some distance. Heading off to climes unknown without our valid passport in our back pockets was always going to be a risk. Much more on this fiasco later.....
We had enjoyed our stay in Bali, but it is always a nice thing to throw the ropes off and set the bow back out to sea, this time to 'Bawean Island', half way between Bali and Kalimantan (Borneo). Once again we weaved between the parachute thrill seekers attached to powerboats to clear Benoa Harbour. We always knew that making passage up the east coast of Bali was going to be a challenge, as the predominant current flow would not be in our favour, but we managed to stick close to the coast and make good time. The problem for this entire passage was fish traps. Simple but deadly constructions of lengths of bamboo lashed together with nothing more than a palm tree branch as an indicator. Fairly easy to spot on a well lit, calm day, but almost impossible to see at night, particularly if it is rough. The radar is also useless in seeing them. By the time your brain registers that there is a fish trap close by, you have either passed it or on top of it. So you sit there, hour after hour, staring out to sea, but it is up to chance if you are going to hit one or not. The trip would take us to Raas Island a passage of about 20 hours. Apart from the odd fish trap panic, it was an uneventful passage with us motoring almost for the entire journey.
We made our way to Raas Island to drop the anchor for a few hours for some sleep before getting going again. Raas Island is very clearly Muslim with it's impressive mosques towering above the rooftops. Our sleep was occasionally broken by the deep rumbling sound of explosions....unfortunately due to reefs being 'bombed' to collect fish. The bombing of reef involves a sealed container with brake fluid and chlorine tablets. The reef is destroyed and any fish in the vicinity is either stunned or killed, floating to the surface for collection. A very short sighted form of fishing, where the reef can take many decades to recover.
3 hours sleep and the engine was started again and off we went again for another overnighter. After being up all night, 3 hours sleep is just not enough, but we had to get on the road. Not long after leaving Raas Island the wind picked up and we hoisted the Gennaker sail and switched the engine off. Now our new favourite sail, the Gennaker stayed up for the next 24 hours. Again the fish traps were doing their best to wreck our dreams with us brushing up against one in the middle of the night. Only when it had passed did we actually realise it was there. No damage was done thankfully. Also to keep us on our toes was various forms of traffic. Everything from very large well lit ships, to small unlit fishing boats. As the night went on the wind increased and the seas built, but we were 'running with it', and Kailana was making good speed surfing down the fronts of waves. We pulled the Gennaker down at the entrance to the anchorage on Bawean Island, where about 10 yachts were there ahead of us.
The following morning we were up and ashore to hire motorbikes for a trip around the island. We had got in contact with Zila, a young girl who was to be our tour guide for the day. Due to the extreme remoteness of Bawean Island, tourists don't often visit unless they are sailing there. There is no landing strip so it is only possible to visit by boat. Hence, hiring motorbikes is a case of finding someone who wants to rent you their bike for the day. Zila was this person and provided us with a bike that had seen some action (71,000 km!) but would do the job nicely. Zila was to lead the way on her own motorbike and off we sped along the rough roads of Bawean accompanied by two other couples, Phil and Les off of Sagata and another Australian couple off of 'Zoa'.
Our first stop was to be a lake somewhere inland, a drive of about 1 hour. The drive meant leaving the main road and heading along a narrow paved path only wide enough for motorbikes. After a bit of a walk we arrived at a nice lake surrounded by thick forest. Our guide Zila was very insistent that we look at the lake but not swim in it. In the heat of the day this idea did not quite compute. Pressing for a reason she eventually let out that there was evil spirits and ghosts that lived in the lake and swimming in it would only bring about some 'black magic'. We politely ignored this advice and swam regardless.
Our little convoy of rattling motorbikes pushed on around the island. The road went from well paved, smooth, flat & fast, to almost off-road conditions, then back to good road again. Interestingly enough, our tour guide Zila had decided that our tour would consist of visiting all her relatives and having our photos taken with them. Our first stop was at Zila's mother's house. She wasn't there, so we pushed on. We were now zooming past some interesting scenery, but Zila didn't seem to have any time to wait. We stopped again, this time at Zila's auntie's house. Lots of pleasantries, then another round of photos with us and her family members, again with many mobile phones. It seems all her friends had given her their mobile phones to take pictures of us, with her family members. Again we sped, this time to her uncles's shop, for much the same as before.
The Muslim religion has a strong hold on the Bawean Island people, we passed Mosque after Mosque, some very impressive indeed for such a remote island. Several of the houses were obviously owned by people with lots of money. It seems that many of the men go to sea to make their living, with many working on ships. For this they will devote perhaps a decade of their lives to make as much money as possible, to then return to their island relatively wealthy men, living comfortably from then on.
By the time we had reached Zila's house for yet another photo-shoot, we had had enough, ignoring her cries, we sped off by ourselves, to then stop further down the road for everyone to catch up. We had made quite a spectacle during the day, 6 white tourists speeding around on motorbikes, not something the locals see on a regular basis by any stretch of the imagination! That evening we had dinner on Sagata, a couple of bevvies then got the boat ready for an early start for the long road to Kumai.
At first light the following morning, we were up and lifting anchor. From the word go, it was clear today was going to one of those days. Kevin announced it was going to be a bad day, and well, his self fulfilling prophecy came true. Leaving the anchorage we had about 20-25 knot winds to contend with, more driven by the wind coming off the island than actual sea wind. We hoisted both the head sail and the mizzen. After 12 miles, 1st officer (Rebecca) gave a clear and concise ship's status report to the captain (Kev) that 'the head sail was stuffed!'. The connection between the halyard and the top of the sail had broken, rendering the sail useless. The only way to fix it was for Kev to go up the mast, not really an option in the current conditions. Plan B, we hoisted the main sail, where one of the sail track 'slugs' (little plastic slide thingies that goes in the groove up the mast), split, letting the sail flap a bit, not quite rendering the sail unusable but meaning we had to be extra nice to it. Once the wind had died down a bit we went with Plan C, hoisting the Gennaker, which we then flew for over 24-hours, but also not without it's dramas. The bottom of the sail got a bit tangled with the 'pulpit' (the handrail looking thing at the front of the boat) and managed to pull it out of shape, cracking a weld. To free it Kev took to it with a screwdriver, promptly breaking a piece off the teak little wooden seat up on the bow. When we finally did bring the Gennaker down we noticed that the halyard rope (rope for pulling the sail up) was all chewed through, almost ready to break! About this time Rebecca closed one of the hatches and the handle broke off.
Now, with all these failures in mind, let's cast our minds back to the black magic warning from 'Zila' on Bawean Island we had not less than 24-hours prior to all this. Not that we are superstitious.... Anyway, none of the faults were showstoppers and all quickly fixed when we arrived in Kumai.
We got to the entrance to the Kumai channel early in the morning and had to slow down to ensure that we had daylight on our side. After a night at sea our brains tend not to compute things as logically as they should. Kumai is known for being shallow with lots of barges getting pulled around. It is also known for smoke and lots of it. The smoke comes from the slashing and burning of the jungle for palm oil plantations. To arrive at the anchorage we had to travel a further 50 miles up a very muddy river, with shallow areas to navigate across. The depth seemed to be consistently 25 metres for many miles and then once in the bay, it was 10 metres for many miles, then going down to 2.5 metres in some places. We could have dropped anchor many miles out to sea due to the amazing shallow nature of the seabed. We finally arrived later in the afternoon up the river at Kumai and dropped anchor beside about 20 other rally boats, happy to get there, 520 miles after leaving Bali.
11. Gilli Air & Bali
07 October 2014
The last you heard from us we were on our way to Lombok from Sumbawa. We are now back in the company of our other yachties. The crossing to Lombok was easy enough, only being able to sail about half the way. We stayed in a decent enough anchorage on the North East of Lombok, which proved to be a bit tricky to get into, fellow yacht, Esoterica scraped the reef, proving the old boating proverb, "there are those who have run aground and there are those that are about to".
Another yacht called Luna Ray has joined the pack. This is a young couple (younger than us anyway), Luke & Naomi with their young son Alex, only 3 years old (LU-NA Ray, get it?). They have travelled from Brisbane and are on their way to Thailand. They have had constant engine problems almost their entire way and entered the anchorage at the NE of Lombok with their dinghy strapped to the side of their boat, outboard running, ready to be banged into gear if the engine was to cut out. Phil, John & Kev took a visit over to them once anchored and found that their diesel system was sucking some air....gave them a hand and they have been good ever since. The anchorage was tight with 6 yachts crammed together. You could almost hear each others' dinner conversations.
Early the following day we all gingerly exited the anchorage. With the sun low in the sky it is almost impossible to see the reef, hence it is always best to enter an anchorage close to midday. This day we were heading to Gili Air, at the North East of Lombok and the run of about 47 miles was one of those perfect passages that only us yachties can boast about. A bit like how fisherman will tell the story about the one that was 'this big' that got away, this was a sail door to door with the wind perfect for our needs. We flew the gennaker for most of the trip and the wind seemed to track us around Lombok the entire way.
Arriving at Gili Air was a bit of an awakening to all of the other tourists choosing Indonesia to be their holiday destination. The island is almost entirely inhabited with holiday cottages, restaurants, bars, etc. From a long way off we could see lots of white and reddish bodies laying on the beach soaking up the UV rays. Thankfully Gili Air has provided some moorings, however on attaching to one and giving it a wee pull with Kailana to check its integrity, we were a little alarmed to find it moving backwards with the boat. Perhaps it is a portable mooring?!! Maybe we can just take this mooring with us wherever we go?! As you can imagine not many of the mooring were ideal and Esoterica & Luna Ray brushed the coral at low tide during the night. Esoterica awoke in the middle of the night to find themselves sitting on top of the 44 gallon drum which the mooring was attached to!
Gili Air was our opportunity to get back to the wood fired pizza thing, table service, night life, massages, etc, etc. It is a nice place, but nothing like it was when Kev was there in about '98, when there were only about 10 tourists on the island and a couple of places to stay. Now there is seemingly thousands of tourists and hundreds of places to stay. We enjoyed spending long hours having coffees or a bintang beer in the little thatched huts on the beach, going for walks and enjoying some of the good food Gili Air had to offer. There are no cars or motorbikes on Gili Air, only horse and carts so it feels quite rustic in a way. We caught up with 'Beau Solais' crew and a few others for dinner one night where you choose your fish and then get it cooked up. You can choose to have your food come out on a kebab which is the size of one of your arms....with big chunks of vegetables and meat on it. We also took in one of the most amazing sunsets where you could see Mount Agung over on Bali. We spent 3 nights at the Gili Air mooring before dropping the line (always more pleasant than lifting the anchor) and turning Kailana towards Bali's Benoa harbour.
The passage from Lombok to Bali is known to be rough if the conditions are all wrong, but it was thankfully kind to us, with a good following current, occasionally reaching 11 knots! If arriving at Lombok was a shock to the system, then entering Benoa harbour was going to be a slammer. All marine traffic is controlled by the International Collision Regulations (Col-Regs), a set of very precise instructions that set out how vessels should pass each other, who has right of way, etc, similar to the roads. There is no real inclusion for a motor driven vessel (speedboat), approaching head on with another vessel at 30 knots, attached to a human suspended from a parachute 200m above (paraglider) and to your starboard side. If the line was in someway to get tangled with our mast / rigging, it would surely be a big surprise to the aviation trainee above and to us. However, these guys are no fools and ducked out of our way at the very last minute, all a bit nerve racking for us, but I'm sure great fun for the speedboat pilot and trill seeking tourist flying high above us.
Bali International Marina has capacity for about 20 boats only, on a crumbling, half submerged jetty, with power cables draped through the water and passing sludge coated rubbish on each tide change. The water is that dirty that depending on the tidal flow, flushing the toilet onboard can sometimes provide you with dirtier seawater than the seawater you are flushing away! Filling a white bucket of 'fresh' water from the tap will get you water with a slight yellow colour to it, with the occasional green floaty bit. Let's just say, it is far from drinking water.
We now had Esoterica, Apa Lagi, Sagata, Luna Ray and ourselves at the marina and once settled in, it was a pretty good and friendly little marina, once you got used to the decaying nature of the place. The best bit is for the princely sum of $35 per day you could get a 'boat boy' to do all your irritating / time consuming jobs onboard. We managed to get all our stainless steel sparkling and our hull fibreglass all cut & polished.....two days work for a mere $55. Seeing as these were normally jobs assigned to 'first mate' (i.e Rebecca), she was pretty ecstatic about the idea of 'hired help'.
A number of charterboats also operate out of Bali Marina. One of them is a big pink catamaran that is loaded up with sober dressed white people in the morning, but seems to arrive back with barely dressed, lobster coloured drunk people. We amusingly witnessed first hand an Australian stag 'do' arriving back to deposit its almost comatosed clientele ashore. It seems about 10 of them took to running about the vessel naked, pissing all over the place, with 3 of them falling overboard, with emergency recovery required each time. Also, a camera and wallet went missing, no doubt due to pissed up forgetfulness rather than theft, however the crew were all being blamed for stealing. As you can imagine, the crew were not best pleased. The boats run non stop and blast their 'macarana' music, one of the boats even has the crew dance on deck for the guests as they disembark. Kev was particularly interested in one of the catamarans that took about 50 bikini clad women out for the day....he nearly lost his footing on the dock.
A 20 minute taxi drive away is Kuta Beach, the epicentre of Bali's tourist trade, knock-off copies, bars, resturants, etc. The entire economy of Bali has had its ups and downs with terrorist attacks on Kuta and the resulting impact on the tourist industry. Everything seems to be back to normal, for now, and there's plenty of traffic through Kuta and the rest of Bali. Not just seeing the hordes of big pocketed holiday makers but the constant stream of aircraft, seemingly brushing the top of our masts during take off out of Denpasar Airport. We happened to be right at the end of the international runway, where we were able to almost count the number of passengers as they flew past.
Our main reason to come to Bali was to extend our visa. The summary of the flim-flam events shall follow. We were originally granted a 60-day tourist visa on our arrival into Indonesia, this being able to be extended for a further 30-days on arrival in Bali, which we are told would take 2-3 days. We arrived into Bali on Saturday 20th of Sept, lets call this Day 1. We gave our passports for the extension to our agent on day 2. We all patiently hung about the marina or head off about Bali on a trip. Let's zoom forward to day 8 when we are told that our passports will now arrive on day 10 or 11. At this point our agent flies back to Jakarta and decides to no longer answer his phone. On day 11 we find out the passports will not be available until day 17! Remember this is for an extension of 30-days, which seems to take 17-days to process.
You may ask why we are needing an extension to our visas when we should be heading out of Indonesia back to Australia. Our original plan was to get to Bali and take a sharp turn left towards Bali, but as we have discussed, the plans of the yachtie are written in the sand at low tide. Cliche bollocks, we know, but kind of true. For us to turn back to Perth would mean fighting against the predominant southerly (and potentially cyclonic!) winds that the West Australian coast provides over the summer months, this not fully understood on leaving Perth for this particular Heist. We either try and sail against it, or burn a whole ocean of fuel fighting it, whatever the choice it would be one hell of an uncomfortable trip back to Perth. So, what to do? We can't stay in Indonesia, Australia isn't an option, so follow the original rally route, with all the other rally yachts to Singapore via Borneo! Arriving in Singapore will see us passing up the west coast of Malaysia to Langkawi, a further 1,000 miles to the north. This is the decision at this stage, written in the sand and all that bollocks..... but SE Asia offers a great deal for the yachtie. Spares & repairs are plentiful, good cruising grounds, cheap marinas for boat storage, the only 'downer' being the long international flight from Perth to visit the boat.
Problem solved? Well, not quite. Committed to this new route we now have to do about 1,200 miles in about 20 days (due to visa extension dramas). This is ok if you have a fast car on a freeway / motorway, but a painful distance if you are only going at a fast jogging pace (about 11-hours a day, everyday for 3-weeks!). Any yachtie will tell you this is a horrible amount of distance to cover in the time available. We should be ok as we are planning on doing 4-5 overnight sails to get a bit of distance under our belts.
We took a couple of days to head to 'Ubud', this being the 'Zen' capital of Bali, a place to come find your inner self. Ubud is known for its yoga, artists, etc. Based on a book, a film called 'Eat, Pray, Love', staring the zen-tastic Julia Roberts, was filmed in Ubud. Since then a lot of people have arrived in Ubud to find their inner-ness, leaving it a bit like an upmarket outer suburb of Kuta.
Taking the potluck plunge on 'Wotif.com' we found a nice hotel in the heart of Ubud. We had a driver to take us from Benoa harbour, via a few tourist stops (traps) on the way (e.g. temples and the rice terraces). On getting close to the hotel the driver told us we would be sleeping with the monkeys. Ubud is known for the 'Monkey Forest' and our hotel just happened to be adjacent to it. Entering the hotel reception it was clear that the driver had a point, loads of monkeys milling around pestering the guests. So what do the staff do with the new arriving hotel guests? Only give them all a brightly coloured sugary drink with a big chunk of pineapple, a monkey's favourite! Not long had we sat down before our driver, who also had one of these drinks, gave his pineapple chunk to one of the monkeys. Rebecca followed suit. This particularly big monkey seemed to take a liking to Rebecca, jumping up on the table, showing her his yellowy teeth, then proceeding to give her a nip on the waist! Shrieks and pink drink going everywhere, no real damage done, but a nasty bruise was now in the post for poor Rebecca. This little episode watered down Rebecca's enthusiasm for traipsing off to the Monkey Forest.
We spent 3 nights in Ubud, just wandering around soaking it all up. This was the first time off the boat for 2 months, so nice to have a bed that stayed still and as much fresh water as we could ever want. One job on the list was for Kev to remove the 'head sock' (beard), now in cultivation for 2 months and being removed right back to a blank canvas. Having forgotten the hair clipper back in Perth, we had to borrow Sagata's aging pair for the landmark event. So, after a couple of beers, the clipper came out and into it Kevin went. Unfortunately the clippers were really only 'trimmers' not really designed to take on the mammoth task at hand, but try it did. It did a Stirling job, until it got to the very last palm sized clump right on top, where it decided it had had enough and that's when it gave up the ghost! Very, very funny for Rebecca and very, very upsetting for Kevin. The following morning was a very painstakingly time consuming exercise with a small Swiss army knife scissors to get through the last of it. Kev's actually quite proud that he still has enough hair to destroy a set of hair clippers, how many of you can boast about that then? The fact that he looked like a Hari Krishna for 12 hours is besides the point.
We took a trip on one of the days in Ubud and joined a cycle tour up a volcano. I say 'up' a volcano, actually we were driven to the top and we cycled down it, passing through remote villages, paddy fields, temples, etc. It was nice to get out of all the tourist commotion and see a bit of Bali for what Bali is. The island is surprisingly fertile, where they seem to grow mostly everything. We had breakfast in a restaurant overlooking three volcanos, Mount Batur, one other we can't remember the name of and Mount Agung. The view was quite magnificent. We then stopped at the guide's house and had a traditional meal which was the best we had tasted for a while. The sambal sauce was also the hottest we had tasted with eyes watering and noses running as a result. We took in some local dancing one night, with women chanting and traditional Balinese dancing, along with a dash of fire walking. The firewalking was by far the most amusing bit with the 'firewalker' burning his feet (we assume that wasn't part of the act!). A friend of Rebecca's happened to be in Ubud at the same time so we caught up with Janine, Michael and their kids at "Cafe Lotus' for a couple hours which was a lovely restaurant surrounding a beautiful temple.
Although the general population of Indonesia is Muslim, Balinese Hinduism is practiced by the majority of the population of Bali (90%). Our driver on the way up told us that most Balinese Hindus have a temple inside their house (actually potentially 'several' temples) and that this is the first thing to get built - even before the house! Not only does each house have a temple, each community also has a temple. Hence, there are many temples in Bali. Marriage is a 'must' for Balinese Hindus so there have been many a 'quizzical' look cast towards us both due to not being married..! Offerings are made daily to the gods, with incense being lit, and little banana leaves filled with flowers, rice, money, cigarettes, sweets etc. No matter where you go, there will be someone making an offering at some time of the day.
Back at Benoa harbour it was now time to reprovision the boat for the next leg, this time taking us to Borneo. This means organising diesel, petrol, food, water etc. Bali has a couple of good supermarkets for this and we got pretty much everything we needed. We are only getting low on cooking gas, which we had no luck in filling... We have a spare bottle (small sized) which should see us through. We were now playing the waiting game for the passports and with days ticking past, we spent the time getting jobs done around the boat. To give you an idea of the 'time ticking' even the ship's bell got a clean... now that does sound like we were struggling for things to do. We all took a trip into Kuta, found a hotel that would let us use their pool in exchange for the purchase of drinks and this saw us flopped down on sun loungers, taking over the pool area, much to the dismay of the hotel residents I am sure! The Benoa marina itself has a little restaurant that is open from 8-4 so we all spent a considerable amount of time hanging there, having breakfast or lunch. Sometimes when the restaurant was closed at night, we would take our gas lamps up and do a potluck and sit out on the veranda overlooking the marina. Other times we ordered a takeaway nasi goreng and the crew from Apa Lagi, who had the use of a motorcycle, would pick it up for us and bring back to the marina. We ended up doing a few trips by 'bemo taxi' into Kuta, and did the token 'massage and bintang beer' on Kuta beach. The workers were quite surprised to find a couple of tourists, having a go at talking their Indonesian language...not something you get with from the average token tourist visiting Bali. Two months in remote Indonesian villages will have that effect on you when trying to haggle! On our last trip into Kuta, we ordered some bean bags for the boat. We paid $40 each and they are not only MASSIVE, bright electric blue, but they are extremely well made from tough boatey type material...we were happy little customers. These are going to be great to have in the pilot house for our overnight passage to Borneo. We enjoyed Bali, but would visit the less populated parts of it if we were to go back (Perhaps the northeast coast).
So...long story short, we are now preparing the boat to leave Bali, without our passports onboard, where all five boats are in the same boat (excuse the pun). We have organised to get the passports sent ahead of us on the rally route. There are risks with this approach, but the more days we wait in Bali, the harder the remainder of the trip will be, as there's still a lot of distance to cover (>1,000 miles). It is roughly the same distance we have done in the last 2 months that we have to cover in about 3 weeks. The Sail Indonesia rally organisation has been almost non existent. Our faithful agent is now back in Jakarta and is suffering from 'stress' due to the visas muck up for all the rally participants....so as a result he will not answer his phone and all we have is another agent's phone number in Bali. We only met 'Ruth' yesterday and don't know her from a bar of soap, however we have entrusted her with our passports so that they can be sent to the other side of the country, on a promise and a prayer. Eeeeek! Bring on Borneo and the trip up the river to see the orang-utans! Surely they might have a better idea about our visas than the Indonesian Immigration do?
10. Labuan Bajo to Sumbawa (via Komodo & Rinca Islands)
17 September 2014
Indonesia really is a unique place. With a population of about 190 million, it has 300 different ethnic groups living within it, over 13,000 islands, with 580 languages and dialects spoken. That is diversity at its best. Not only does it have the largest population of Muslims, but it also has the largest coastline in the world (54,370km!). Long extensive coastline....sounds like a good reason for yachties to come here and hang out? Ok enough of spurting out facts....back to the trip...
After finally dragging Kev away from his wood fired pizzas , we headed out of Labuan Bajo harbour. We decided to circumnavigate Rinca Island, where we had heard we would get some good 'Komodo Dragon sighting'. Getting the current in your favour can sometimes be a bit of Russian roulette here, and this particular day we seemed to hit the jackpot as we headed down a narrow channel of water between western Flores and eastern Rinca. When we saw the overflows happening, we almost lost our nerve, looking down the channel you could actually see it was down hill a wee bit. But we thought what the hell and off we went....screaming down the channel at 14 knots....that is with 7-8 knots of current in our favour! Definitely a thrill and probably a tad irresponsible, but sometimes you got to jazz it up. There were many whirlpools to work our way through and Kev had a firm grip on the helm as we navigated the 2nm channel. It felt like we were back in the Kimberley!
We had planned to stop on the eastern side of Rinca, however we decided to push onto the most southerly anchorage which would provide some good shelter as it was situated behind a small island. The trip down there however was quite horrific with 3 metre swell and generally just really sloppy seas. We ended up in an area of angry confused seas, 3-4m waves passing this way and that coming at us from all angles, with us getting tossed around like a rubber duck. We were rewarded once anchored safely inside as we had our own little safari happening right off the stern of the boat. We were anchored about 2 boat lengths from the beach and from our outside cockpit we could watch Komodo Dragons (measuring up to 3 metres in length), chickens, wild pigs, goats, monkeys and eagles. We took the dinghy right up close to the beach and we had three Komodo dragons about 2 metres away from us. Rumour has it that many of the dive boats bring chickens for the Komodo Dragons so as to put on a show for the tourists. So...the sound of an outboard engine brings out a komodo or two or three. What we didn't know at the time, is that Komodo Dragons CAN swim, and CAN attack dinghies (much like crocs) so we were a little 'naïve' to this!
Komodo Dragons are the largest living species of lizards, growing up to 3 metres. They can live up to 30 years of age and mainly eat deer. They have been around a long time, only found in Indonesia, on only a handful of islands (apart from in international zoos) and are incredibly prehistoric looking. They have been known to attack humans, but this is rare. Whatever they choose for dinner they will eat everything....bones, hair, the lot. Anyone that has gone missing on these islands, there has never been a trace of them found. We made a move the next day, and almost hit a submerged bommie on the way out...which was not mentioned on any of our charts etc. We had heard that there was really good snorkelling on a bommie in the south-eastern part of the bay.. well this was it! With the engine still running, and Kev at the helm, Rebecca jumped off the boat for a quick snorkel and then Kev had a go. Definitely some of the best snorkelling we had done in Indonesia (at this point). We could have stayed another night but we were conscious that our Indonesian visas were ticking away and soon we would have to get ourselves to Bali so we meandered our way to an anchorage on the western side of Rinca which was well protected and very peaceful. It was a big bay with many different options for anchoring (north, west and south of bay). Rinca is hardly populated at all, so we were 'hassle free' from anyone trying to sell us things which is always nice.
Next stop was 'Pink Beach' which really was pink. Upon arrival into this strong tidal channel just east of Komodo Village on Komodo Island, we were approached by some locals that told us we couldn't anchor and that we would have to pay $15 a night for a mooring. We politely refused his offer and anchored around the corner outside of the channel in front of Pink Beach. The holding was poor so we only managed to stay put due to the amount of chain we had out, as the bottom was mostly just bedrock. There was some good snorkelling around our anchorage, and we were too lazy to follow all the dive boats to where they were dropping off the tourists so we just stayed put. While having a couple of sundowners on the back of the boat, we did notice something quite interesting. A deer on the island of Pink Beach decided to swim to the other side of the channel (about 500 metres) in search of 'what' ...we didn't know. It has been a puzzle how all the islands seem to have a large variety of wildlife on them, other than Komodo Dragons, even the small islands. Perhaps this is the answer? Why don't the Dragons just eat everything up...? Rebecca couldn't take her hands off the binoculars as she watched poor 'Bambi' cross the channel, and was ready to jump in the dinghy at a moments notice to save the deer should it not get to the other side....
We had heard about some good snorkelling to the north of Rinca, so we went up to Sebayur Island, still part of the Komodo group, and found a beautiful spot nestled in a bay, with an Italian owned resort on the other side. We hiked to the top of the island which gave us incredible views across the islands. We did some good snorkelling in the channel (which seems to be where all good snorkelling is found - due to the strong currents churning up the food for the fish). and interestingly enough, the best snorkelling was right in front of the resort! We took the opportunity to check out the resort and have a meal - best part being the drink on the beanbags located on the beach...worst part being the prices. Sagata, Esoterica and Apa Lagi joined us on the second day so we had obligatory sundowners on Sagata that night. Sagata had picked up some guests from Labuan Bajo who were going to cruise with them for a few days and unfortunately a couple days in, one of the guests dropped Sagata's only camera in the water (water resistant but a long way down) and it had ALL their photos on it. Needless to say the 'guest' wouldn't have been overly popular. We suppose Karma hit because not only did the guest lose her sunglasses, they also had all their flights delayed by a day on the way out of Labuan Bajo!
With days ticking away (on our visas) we upped anchor after a couple nights and went to Gill Lawa Laut as we had heard this was to be the primo snorkelling place....and we were NOT disappointed! We were only covering short distances between islands but we happened to have great wind that day and sailed all the way which was nice for a change. The first night we anchored in the deep bay to the south of Gill Lawa Laut and did a drift snorkel in the channel to the north of it - amazing... we saw a manta ray and zillions of different coloured fish. There were so many fish that you almost needed fish wipers on your snorkel mask. There was about 3 knots of current taking us along with it, and with the dinghy rope tied to Kev's foot, we were able to have our transport to help us go back against the current. The next day we anchored to the north on Gill Lawa Laut itself and did another drift snorkel in another channel which proved to be the best snorkelling yet. We saw about 5 manta rays - as close as a couple metres away, and we saw about 5 turtles - about 1 metre away. The fish were great, but nothing could take the shine away from seeing the manta rays which were so big (3m x 2m long) and incredibly majestic looking as they 'fly' past you. You don't want to piss off a manta ray, or any type of stingray, as Steve Irwin found out. We climbed to the top of Gill Lawa Laut and by the end of the day we were somewhat knackered! One of the dive boats anchored in the bay had people doing night dives which was really cool to see, as they all are equipped with torches and it lights up the seabed..an underwater light show. We had a diver come almost under our yacht! Kev was tempted to flush the toilet to let him know we were there!
We motor-sailed to Banta Island which is not worth writing about. Rolly and Bloody Windy. We couldn't head for the southern anchorage as we were heading into strong winds so we opted to stay on the north side of the island, hoping to take shelter from the strong southerly. This wasn't to be the case, and with an anchorage that wasn't recommended due to the steepness of the terrain, we were 'on guard' for most of the night. The wind was going for 0 knots to 30 knots in the blink of an eye, with gusting winds called 'Bullets' coming off the mountain. Not a good recipe for a decent night's sleep.
Once day broke, we couldn't wait to get out of there and head for 'Wera'. Wind was in our favour for most of this 30nm journey and we passed a very impressive Volcano on the way. Wera was to be our first port on the island of 'Sambawa'.
Wera is an interesting stop off, and well needed after fighting current for a few hours getting across from Banta Island. When you pull into the quaint little bay, the first thing you notice are the big boats being constructed on the beach between the houses, with the boat's bow jutting out to the tip of beach and the stern seemingly ending inside someone's kitchen! Phinisi boats have multiple uses but most of the ones we have seen have been used for taking tourists out on dives for days at a time, however it is unlikely these are the real McCoe, like what we saw being built in Wera. The boats have towering twin masts, wooden hulls and up to seven sails. These are traditional Indonesian sailing boats that look like they belong to another era. They are all built by hand, with no drawings, plans, etc, only by experience and the skilled eye of the builder. Skill handed down through many generations.
A little bit of history that we picked up off the internet about the Phinisi boats..... These boats have been designed and built by the Bugis, a seafaring people originating from the island of Sulawesi. The boats were originally used (and still are used) to carry cargo across the Indonesian archipelago. Following the monsoon winds, they sailed from island to island gathering exotic feathers, sandalwood, spices and gold to sell at a significant profit in distant ports like Singapore. After offloading their wares to eager merchants, they would fill their holds with European and Chinese manufactured goods to bring back to their homeland.
For centuries the Bugis travelled as far away as Malacca, Burma, Vietnam and Australia in their two-masted ships. They were not only respected as master seafarers but the Bugis were also greatly feared as pirates. They often plagued early English or Dutch trading ships, namely those of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company (the V.O.C.). It is popularly believed these encounters resulted in the European sailors bringing their fear of the “bugi men” back to their home countries. So...funnily enough, this is thought to be where the term "Bogeyman" was created....with parents (such as ours) having told us that the "Bogeyman" was going to get us if we didn't behave. Yeah right.
So what is the connection to the little town of Wera where we happen to be? The Bugis migrated far across the archipelago, and to this day continue to build their ships in their new settlements. Wera is one of only a couple of places in Indonesia where these ships are still built. The one you see in the pictures was already a year in production, with a further 2 years to go.
After Wera we travelled 33.5nm to a tiny little village just north of Kilo at the mouth of a deep inlet which we chose not to go down. The holding was good, but purely stayed there as a stopover. The next day we had a fabulous sail (had the Gennaker up - the spinnaker-like sail) which had us flying! We managed to average 6.9 Knots on our way to our next destination which was at the foothills of Mount Tambora. Keeping close to the coast the entire way, we often had the binoculars out, checking out all the little villages along the way, nestled amongst the palm trees that dotted the coastline. Sambawa is a very rugged place which is really appealing to us both as it is really only visited by the surfers on the south coast and from yachties on the north coast. It is really not a touristy place at all, with little facilities on offer. The people are really lovely and we really enjoyed our next stop which was in a little village called 'Brinta', just around the corner from Karanga. As we neared our anchorage for the night, we had Mount Tambora towering on our port (left) side and Pulao Santonda (Pulao = island), and underwater volcano on our starboard (right) side.
Mount Tambora 'was' 4300 metres high before it erupted in 1815. Now it is half that size with a crater 10 miles in diameter. It's eruption was the largest volcanic outburst in history, spewing out 160 km3 of lava, with a death toll of approximately 72,000 people. The eruption caused global climate anomalies. 1816 became known as the year without a summer because of the effect on North American and European weather. Crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century. As a result, it was kind of 'eerie' sailing past it. Just off the coast of Sumbawa is the small island of Pulao Satonda, with a small crater lake. The lake used to be freshwater, but the tsunami that was created by the eruption of Tambora, flooded the lake with seawater and the lake is saline to this day. So with all these interesting things to check out along our way (including a big pod of porpoises to top it off), we finally pulled into Brinta. This is a little fishing village of about 200 odd people, who mainly fish for squid. We had a great time checking out the boats and speaking to the locals. We sat down on the beach with all the local women and their children as the men went out to fish at dusk. The women were very animated and good fun to hang out with. We established the normal 'who was related to who' and answered the many questions that ended in confused looks about us 'not being married?' and 'not having children?'. When we told them that we did 'sort of' have children, in the form of a cat and a dog...they thought this was hilarious given they eat dogs. They insisted that Rebecca should hold one of the babies and get photos taken of them together. Although these people don't end up with the photos, they are mad for having photos taken of their children. In Rebecca's broken Indonesian, she arranged (or thought she had arranged) for a chap to paddle out to our boat early in the morning with some 'fresh squid' once the boats were back in from working all through the night (they leave at 6pm and come back in at 6am). Well, we waited and waited and when we finally realised that there was no fresh squid coming we upped anchor and made our way to 'Pulao Medang'. All in all, Brinta was a lovely stop with good holding, making it much more appealing than the normal stop of 'Karanga'. We also met a fisherman and his mate (a fisherman's friend, hee-hee) who were out on a 3-day excursion to catch fish. On their brand new, but tiny little dugout boat with an outrigger, they would only sleep for 1-hour a night, while snorkel spear fishing with a torch. The boat was prepared with the most rudimentary cooking equipment and seemed to have little compartments with all their bits and bobs to support life.
Pulao Medang was to be our last stop in Sumbawa. We had all the sails up for the first couple of hours and then changed to the Genniker, only for the wind to die. Kev reckons that we are guaranteed to have no wind if we put the sails up, so we are going to try it next time we are at anchor (only joking). Up down, up down go the sails, the wind instruments teasing and laughing at us at each operation. Medang was a little island to the north of Sambawa, with a lagoon and village on the leeward side and a somewhat protected anchorage on the windward side, with low lying coral surrounding the bay. We anchored and immediately went exploring. We hauled the dinghy up the nice sandy beach and once again noticed the phenomenon that baffles us about Indonesian coastlines. There must be a 'lost thong' (flip-flops) epidemic facing the people of Indonesia, as you come across hundreds of washed up thongs on the beaches here. Sometimes it is tempting to walk up and down the beach to see if you can find a matching pair! Surely one of the world's great mysteries? We entered into the coconut tree jungle and found ourselves picking our way through cows and goats to get to the back of the little village. A young lad on a motorcycle who was tearing down the paths between the farms decided that Rebecca needed a lift into town, and that Kev could walk...which seemed fair enough so Rebecca hopped onto the back of a motorcycle and left Kev to walk....to where we weren't quite sure - but hopeful that it would all become very clear soon. No sooner had Rebecca popped out of this labyrinth of fenced farms, did Kev then appear down a path to join her. The locals thought it was pretty funny seeing this white woman on the back of a motorcycle come out of nowhere into the village. The locals were very welcoming and it was a very well run community with a good source of drinking water (a plethora of drinking wells), brightly coloured stilt houses and enough mango, banana and coconut trees to keep you full for several lifetimes. We had a bunch of kids trail about after us who gave us a little dried seahorse and a bunch of fresh mangoes off a tree. The state of a village is often a reflection of how efficient their 'Kepala Desa' (chief) is and clearly Medang's Kepala Desa was a good one, as it was a very clean village and well organised. We worked up a sweat in our walk across the island and had a swim next to the boat when we saw five other boats coming into anchor! It was our old friends 'Sagata', 'Esoterica', 'Akka' and two other yachts we didn't know. As we hadn't seen our friends for a week or so, we all had drinks and dinner on board Esoterica that evening and watched another pretty impressive sunset.
The anchorage proved to be a rolly in the wee hours of the morning, so as soon as it was light we made our way out of the bay with our sights set on Lombok!