19 October 2015 Kumai to Ketawi Island, Bangka (Day 4)
Dawn found us 20 miles from our destination and sailing happily along at six knots over the ground. For the last ten miles, we encountered strange, large fishing platforms stood on stilts. At first, we didn't know what to think about them and we kept well away from the first few. The sea is shallow at 8-12 metres, so we were worried that they were positioned on shallow reefs or sand banks, but soon found out that they were (somehow) built in 12 metres depth.
These structures are constructed from rough wooden poles either lashed or nailed together and have a 10 * 10 metre square platform, with a small hut and a small outhouse. It appears that a fisherman lives on the platform for a few days, catching fish and a boat comes out to visit every day to pick up his catch.
There were four other boats already in the Ketawi Island anchorage and we found a spot in 8-10 metres in good holding mud (02:15.98S 106:19.38E), close to a shallow area to the north of a long dock. The 1/4 mile diameter island is covered with coconut palm trees and has a lovely white beach all around it. It's owned by the government and is normally deserted apart from a caretaker. Locals come out at weekends to camp and enjoy the place.
We wandered ashore to find that the tourist board has sent a group of over 20 people who have set up a large camp including a number of six-man tents for sleeping, a kitchen, a dining area and even a stage. A team of Search and Rescue guys have handled the logistics, school teachers have volunteered as cooks and the main man is a guy called Robby, who speaks excellent English.
We tied up on the substantial dock and were met by Robby who welcomed us and led us to the dining tent where we helped ourselves to a great Indonesian meal. Everyone was very friendly and made us very welcome. Robby ran through the program that they have arranged, which starts tomorrow with a welcome dinner, followed by a couple of days activities. Port clearance out of Indonesia should be done by the 23rd.
After a short walk about the camp, we retired back to the boat and chilled out for the rest of the day, recovering from four days at sea. Another six cruising boats arrived during the afternoon, so there was a big group of us for the fabulous evening meal that they prepared. A couple of enterprising ladies have set up small shops and one did a roaring trade in cold Bintang beer, until she sadly ran out. The vast consumption of beer is a wonder to the Indonesians, who are predominantly Muslim. She understands that she will need lots more tomorrow.
20 October 2015 Ketawi Island, Bangka
The day was a very quiet affair, pottering about doing a few chores. We went ashore for another huge and delicious lunch and spent a couple of hours catching up with friends who are trickling in. By the end of the day, there were over 20 yachts at anchor.
In the evening, we were served another buffet dinner and ate it in a covered pavillion in front of the stage that had been set up. There was plenty of free Bintang, which went down very well. We were treated to a couple of dances by a very professional group. The first dance was a kind of stylised martial art and the second an impressive fire dance involving spinning flaming poles and swinging fire on the end of ropes.
Everyone was then moved to a clearing amongst the coconut trees, where a 30 metre diameter circle has been constructed. Around the circumference was a one metre wide concrete "path" and in the centre, white sand. We took plastic chairs with us and sat around the edge of the circle, while we watched a game of Fire Football.
This was outrageous - the Elf and Safety in the UK would have a fit. A coconut is soaked in diesel and set alight. Two teams then kick and throw the flaming coconut around the circular pitch and try to get the "ball" through the goals set up at opposite sides. The rules appear to be similar to normal football, but you can also pick up and throw the flaming ball - I guess that you could run with it, if your hands were made from asbestos.
After a short demonstration match, a challenge was issued and a team of cruisers took to the field. Having drunk a few too many Bintangs by this point, I declined to participate, but we fielded a fair sized team. It was hilarious to watch, nobody knew what the score was, but everyone had a good time. Coconuts are very, very hard and the soft sand made passing the flaming ball a challenge, so there were many bruised and blistered feet the next morning.
21 October 2015 Ketawi Island, Bangka
Robby had everyone ashore by seven o'clock and loaded up on to four local boats for a trip to the main island of Bangka Tengha, six miles away. We arrived at the fishing port of Kurouw, where we were loaded onto three coaches.
Our first stop was at a junior school, where we were treated to a traditional dance performed by six young girls. Being in a fishing town, the dance was all about fishing and hunting for clams. After the dance we were herded into a classroom and served with small plates of clams, while teachers posed for selfies with us.
It was a short break and we were soon being put back on the coaches, stopping off at an ATM machine and a local market. Loaded with bags of vegetables, we were taken to the Regency headquarters and introduced to the Regent and listened to the obligatory speech.
The coaches took us to a nearby village where a traditional lunch had been prepared for us, which was delicious and plentiful. After eating, we had a short walk through a forest and then were taken to a village square where we watched a traditional game. This was a relay race, with one guy pushing another guy sat on a traditional wheelbarrow through a small obstacle course. It was very funny and the umpire was a lovely old guy, hamming it up with martial art movements as he enforced the rules.
The hour-long boat ride back to the anchorage was wet and wild as we pounded up-wind into the 1 metre waves. After the long day, we had a quiet night in, having egg and chips for dinner - we fancied something non-spicy for a change.
22 October 2015 Ketawi Island, Bangka
We chilled out in the morning. Eva from Sail Indonesia was sorting out the port clearances to leave Indonesia for all of the 20+ boats, so there was some administration to do and we were visited by a customs officer, who had come out specially to clear us all out. The realisation that we'll be in Singapore in a few days' time prompted me to start planning our next 12 months.
Our son, Brett is getting married in June, so everything has to revolve around a trip back to the UK in May/June. Alba's teak deck is starting to wear thin and will need replacing before we sell the boat (in five year's time), so I want to get it replaced in Thailand because it will be considerably cheaper than most other places. We'd like to do some land travel while we're in this area and want to visit Myanmar, Cambodia and Japan. On top of all of this, we need time to cruise the coastal waters of Malaysia and Thailand.
The weather is a major factor because the region is affected by monsoons. The North-east monsoon lasts from December to March bringing north-east winds. The South-west monsoon runs from July to October bringing south-west winds and heavy rain. So it's better to be on the West coast of the Malay Peninsula in December to March and the East coast from July to November.
Therefore, our broad plan is to spend November to April on the West coast of Malaysia and Thailand, then head to Singapore in May. We'll leave the boat there while we fly back to the UK for six weeks, then continue east and cruise the Eastern coast of Malaysia from July to September, returning to western Thailand from October to December. We aim to continue our circumnavigation by sailing to Sri Lanka in January 2017.
When we get to Thailand this December, we'll figure out when to get the teak deck replaced. I'm guessing that we'll be in a boatyard for a couple of months, so we can do it either Feb/Mar or Oct/Nov depending on when I can arrange it. The land travel can be squeezed in around the rest. It'll be another busy year.
After yet another marvellous Indonesian meal ashore, we were piled onto a couple of local boats and taken a few miles up wind to a tiny island where there's a small fishing village. The fifty or so people who live there are Bajo people originating from Bau Bau in South Suwalesi, where we visited a couple of months ago. The island has no gardens, no coconut trees, just twenty or so wooden huts built on stilts. It's a very basic lifestyle, surviving on fishing.
Back on Ketawi Island, there was a turtle release. A government organisation has been breeding turtles and had brought a hundred baby turtles across to Ketawi to be released. They allowed people to handle the baby turtles and place them on the beach. It was chaos, some of the cruisers were complaining about the turtles being contaminated by the handling, meanwhile other cruisers, kids and locals were grabbing turtles and persuading them to crawl towards the sea or just placing them in the sea. All of the turtles swam away, but whether they survive is another matter.
Before dinner, Glenys and I walked around Ketawi Island. On the eastern side, we came across hundreds of Frigatebirds, gliding in the thermals waiting for sunset, so that they can come down and roost in the trees - a magical sight.
23 October 2015 Ketawi Island, Bangka
We spent the day doing some chores and getting ready to leave tomorrow. Our clearance papers and passports came back from the mainland, so we can now head for Singapore in morning. The locals here did a great job with the assistance of Eva from Sail Indonesia. Best of all, it didn't cost anything - our friends on "Full Circle" paid out over $250 in fees and marina charges when they cleared out at Nongsa Point Marina.
We had a final lunch ashore and formally said thank you and goodbye to the wonderful staff on the island. It's been a great four days and the food was fantastic especially because it was all cooked in a tent. The island is lovely and, even better, there is no mosque, so we have been Adhan-free for five nights.
24 October 2015 Ketawi Island to Kentar, Lingga (Day 1)
Most of the fleet left before six o'clock, so there was a long procession of yachts heading up the coast. There was no wind for the first couple of hours as we wove our way between reefs and small islands. Eventually, the wind picked enough for us to fly the spinnaker, but that only lasted for a couple of hours and we were back to motoring for the next ten hours.
It's 280 miles to get from Ketawi Island to Singapore and now that we're cleared out, we should do it in one passage. However, the second half of the route consists of a myriad of small islands and shallow channels, which are probably littered with fishing boats, fish attraction devices and nets, so we are wary of sailing through there at night. The plan is to sail to the Lingga island group overnight and then do a series of day hops through the rest of Indonesia to Singapore.
After dark, we cleared the top of Bangka Tengah island and, thankfully, the wind came back at 8-12 knots, so we had a lovely sail overnight in calm seas.
By four o'clock, we could see flashes of sheet lightning in the overcast skies, but the radar didn't show any squalls. We're approaching the equator and are now getting the effects of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), so we can start expecting squalls and thunderstorms, which we're not looking forward to.
25 October 2015 Ketawi Island to Kentar, Lingga (Day 2)
By sunrise, the wind had started to drop and, with 45 miles still to go to Kentar Island, we reluctantly had to start the engine. It was a boring day, with no wind and we were cooking in the heat and humidity. Also there’s a lot of smoke in the atmosphere here, so visibility was down to 1 mile. The only excitement was that “Sea Monkey’s” engine packed up, so “Conrad” had to tow them.
Just after lunch, we crossed the equator into the Northern Hemisphere. Some people have an equator party with loads of fun and games, but we couldn't be bothered - the heat made us very lethargic. We had a very small ceremony giving a gift to Poseidon. It’s pretty slim pickings on board now, with only 1/3 bottle of rum and only one packet of biscuits, so we had a tot of rum and a Ginger Nut and gave the same to Poseidon.
We arrived in Kentar anchorage (00°03.20N 104°45.61E) just after three o'clock and dropped the anchor in 9 metres. It’s a huge bay with shallow water sticking out ¼ mile from the shore, so it’s not a very interesting anchorage. The poor visibility makes it worse, so we feel like we’re anchored in the middle of nowhere.
By sunset, there were six boats in the anchorage, including “Sea Monkey” and “Conrad” who arrived safely. We were all invited by Jon & Sue onto “Ocelot” to have an Equator party - no dressing up or other antics, everyone is in "transit" mode, heading for Singapore or Malaysia.
26 October 2015 Kentar to Mesanak, Lingga
We had a leisurely start to the day and didn’t pull up our anchor until ten o’clock. There was no wind, so the 25 mile trip was again very boring - just motoring in flat calm seas. The humidity is up above 80% and the temperature is well above 30°C, so it was a hot and sultry day. The visibility today was about two miles - a bit better than yesterday, but we soon lost sight of land and it felt like we were motoring in our own little bubble with only sea and smog to look at.
We anchored in splendid isolation off the coast of Mesanak (00°26.00N 104°31.33E). Again there are shallows reaching out ¼ mile from the shore, so we feel like we’re out to sea. There’s a small village ashore and we’ve had a few fishermen chugging past with their single cylinder engines. Interestingly, the local boats here are not painted in the garish colours that we’ve seen in other parts of Indonesia.
27 October 2015 Mesanak to Pulau Melor
There wasn’t much to hold us in Mesanak, so we set off early to get 30 miles closer to Singapore. It was another hot and tedious day. We passed a fleet of small local boats fishing with long surface nets. It would appear that the mesh size of the nets is not regulated because we passed thousands of fish floating on the surface with bloated stomachs obviously cast off by the fishermen because they were too small - a terrible waste.
We anchored in 5 metres of water next to Pulau Melor (00°44.69N 104°11.04E). It’s not a bad anchorage being protected from everywhere apart from the north-west. There’s a small fishing village on the island.
28 October 2015 Pulau Melor to Kepalajerih
We were woken in the middle of the night by huge thunderstorm passing very close to us. Along with the heavy rain, there was violent lightning, so we leapt out of bed to stow our portable electronic devices in our Faraday Cage (our oven). The wind picked up to 30-40 knots, so we were then running around on deck rescuing our awning, which is 15 square metres and was attempting to flail itself to pieces in the strong winds. There wasn’t much damage and at least we had a nice refreshing shower.
After an early breakfast, we headed out of the anchorage and joined a small flotilla of six boats from the rally all going towards Kepalajerih. The weather was much more pleasant today because the thunderstorm has cleared the air, dropping the humidity down to a mere 76% with a temperature below 30°C.
We anchored in 6 metres of water in the northern point of Kepalajerih (01°02.39N 103°45.71E). The anchorage is large, but unassuming and (again) we have to anchor a long way out. It’s just another convenient stop before crossing the very heavy shipping lanes to Singapore.
We’ve run out of most supplies now - no soft drinks, no liquor, no wine and we drank our last 4 cans of beer tonight (Glenys showed her love for me by giving me one of her beers….) The food situation is getting desperate - no breakfast cereal, no eggs, no mayonnaise, no biscuits, no meat, etc., etc. We need to go shopping.
Tomorrow we sail to Singapore and we’re right on the edge of the very busy shipping lanes, so I spent some time watching the traffic on our AIS and working out where we’re going to cross. At one point, our AIS was registering over 1,200 ships within 20 miles of our anchorage - will I sleep tonight?
29 October 2015 Kepalajerih to Singapore
We left the anchorage at eight o’clock and motored for a couple of hours along the edge of the shipping lanes, focused intently on the huge ships zooming along at speeds up to 15 knots. After motoring for five miles, the depth suddenly plummeted from 15 metres to 3 metres as we went close to a 1.5m shallow spot. It gave us a big scare because neither of us had noticed this small area on our charts. Further investigation showed that the depth contour is a dotted line meaning that the shoal is in an “unreliable position” and so our chart plotter doesn’t colour it in blue - bizarre.
For our crossing point, I’d picked a place to the south of the Sisters Islands, where the shipping lanes are only 1.25 miles wide. I worked out that if we crossed at our maximum speed of 7 knots then it would take us 11 minutes to get across. Most of the ships seemed to be traveling at 13.5 knots, so we had to keep an eye on ships that were less than 2.5 miles away.
I spotted a good gap in the traffic, but then discovered that there was a damn tug in the way, which didn’t show up on our AIS. I had to speed up to get in front of the tug, then slow down for a huge Panamax container ship, then speed up for a freighter that suddenly joined the shipping lanes, which I hadn’t been tracking. With fraught nerves, we made it safely into the Quarantine anchorage at the Sister Islands and called up Immigration.
There’s a strangely efficient clearance procedure in Singapore with an Immigration boat coming out to check passports. We drifted about in the quarantine area with the engine idling, while a small grey boat manoeuvred close to us. An immigration officer held out a fish-landing net into which I placed our passports and clearance papers from Indonesia. Ten minutes later, we had our documents back, stamped and were cleared by Immigration - slick.
It only took us a further ten minutes to motor into the One 15 Marina, which is very posh. It’s part of Sentosa Island, which is a huge holiday destination for tourists, similar to Florida’s Disney World, with hotels and attractions.
After we’d checked into the marina, we caught the marina’s courtesy bus to a big shopping mall called Vivocity and from there caught a bus to the Port Authority’s One-Stop centre, where we completed our clearance through customs and port captain. It was an effortless process and we were only charged $30 Singapore Dollars (£15) for port fees.
We caught the bus back to the Vivo City shopping mall, which is a huge labyrinth of corridors and levels with hundreds of very glitzy shops. It’s a cultural shock after the run-down conditions of Indonesia and we wandered around with our mouths agape because we’d not seen anything like this since we left New Zealand. Eventually we bought a few supplies in the Giant supermarket and retired back to the boat to have spit-roasted chicken, salad and a baguette for dinner with a bottle of wine.
Our arrival in Singapore is the end of a major leg in our round-the-world voyage. Since we left New Zealand six months ago, we’ve done 6,300 nautical miles and we’re a little travel weary. Hopefully, we can slow down for a year and explore Malaysia and Thailand at a more leisurely pace.
30 October 2015 Singapore
It was absolutely boiling last night - humid, hot and airless. We didn’t sleep well at all and we’re not looking forward to the next four nights stuck in a marina.
After breakfast, we caught the courtesy bus and then used the very efficient MRT underground system to go into Singapore city to do some shopping.
Over the next year, we’re going to be spending quite a lot of time in marinas and our miserable night has reinforced that we need to get an air-conditioning unit. We bought a small 5,000 BTU window air conditioner when we were in the USA, which was very compact and stowed away in our forepeak locker, but I sold it in Ecuador because it ran on 110V supply and only worked in North and South America.
Window-type air-conditioners are very cheap in the USA and can be bought in any hardware store for just over $100US. However, they are very rare in Singapore because they’re old fashioned and inefficient. I discovered that a store chain called Courts sells a 6,000 BTU model, so we tramped around a couple of stores to have a look at one. Neither had them in store and at the second store we discovered that there’s none in the country and they won’t be able to deliver for at least a week, which is too late - bummer, we’ll have to re-think our strategy.
After seeing the quality of the pictures from “Adina’s” camera in Borneo, I lust after an SLR camera with a telephoto lens. I had a nice Canon SLR before we moved onto Alba, but sold it to a friend because I thought that it was too bulky. I’ve missed it for the past four years. Glenys was very patient as I tested a few cameras and lenses, but I can’t make my mind up what is best. I’m also not sure if I can justify spending £750 on another camera - I already have two - a simple rugged one (which I carry everywhere) and a Sony RX100mkII for my underwater photography.
Exhausted from running around and window shopping, we had lunch in a huge shopping mall called Bugis. The whole of the city of Singapore seems to be one big shopping mall - I can’t believe that there are enough people willing to spend enough money to sustain all the shops. There are smartly dressed people bustling around everywhere and the expensive restaurants in the malls are crowded at lunchtime. It’s all very decadent compared to the poor standard of living in Indonesian only 15 miles away.
We walked to Little India in the middle of the afternoon, which is an area of predominantly Indian people. It’s the Deevali festival in a couple of weeks’ time and the Indian community are getting very excited, with the streets displaying colourful banners strung between buildings. Compared to the decadent shopping malls, there’s a completely different feel in Little India, with ladies dressed in saris bustling past the market stalls where men weave flowers into garlands for Hindu offerings.
One of the top 10 things to do in this area is to visit the Mustafa Centre. This store was founded by an Indian businessman in 1971, where he mainly sold ready-made clothing. The Mustafa Centre now extends five or six blocks with six floors, sells over 300,000 items and is open 24 hours a day. It is a shopaholic’s dream, but filled me with dread.
Glenys and I split up for an hour, planning to meet at four o’clock to re-group. Four o’clock came and went, and after 30 minutes of waiting, I decided that Glenys must have thought that we’d agreed five o’clock. She turned up at quarter to five and had simply been lost, trying to find her way back through the rabbit warren of buildings and floors - she eventually had to leave the store at another building and then walk along the streets to find the correct building where I was waiting.
I’d had enough of shopping by this time, so we headed back to the marina and had a meal at one of the many restaurants in area. The marina is surrounded by very expensive apartments and is one of the most expensive places to live in Singapore. We ended up in a sports bar having a burger and chips and paying £7.50 for a pint of lager - the most expensive that we’ve ever paid. We’ll not be eating out the marina again.
31 October 2015 Singapore
It was another sultry, sweaty night. Yesterday, our friends Jon and Heather on “Evergreen” bought a portable air-conditioning unit, so I went to have a look. It’s a very large unit on castors and the hot air comes out of a five inch diameter hose at the back, so it needs to be plumbed into a vent or out of a hatch, but it only cost £250 and seems to work well. Two hours later, we’d been to Vivo City, caught a taxi back and our new air conditioning unit was sitting in our saloon.
The instructions state that after being transported, the air conditioner should stand for a couple of hours before running, so we went back to Vivo City for lunch. Glenys wanted a haircut and to do some shopping without me slowing her down. I went for a stroll about the various electronics and camera shops, but I was bored after an hour and went back to the boat.
I plumbed in the air conditioner. It’s a big unit - 700mm tall, 260mm wide and 700mm deep when you add in the large hose at the back which pumps out hot air. The hose was only 1.5 metres long, so my choices of where to put it were limited and I finally perched it on the work surface at the side of the galley. This enabled me to feed the outlet hose into a modified washboard with the hot air pumping out into the cockpit. It dominates the saloon, but within a couple of hours, the temperature was down from 38°C at 85% humidity to 27°C at 65% humidity - luxury!
Glenys arrived back at the boat in the late afternoon, but unfortunately got caught in one of the afternoon thunderstorms, so she looked like a drowned rat with her new £50 haircut ruined. After she’d dried off, we went to “Evergreen” for a few drinks, where we met Richard and Jan from “Slipaway”.
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