September 2015 - Indonesia

1 September 2015  Telaga Island to Sikeli, Bombana
After breakfast, we started to pull up the anchor and found dozens of six inch long, white Sea Cucumbers clinging onto our chain.  I didn't want the anchor locker stinking of dead creatures, so I had to cut each one off individually, which took quarter of an hour on 20 metres of chain.  Strangely, no-one else had this problem.

Having escaped the anchorage, we motored for a couple of hours before the wind picked up giving us a cracking downwind sail for two hours.

We were a little apprehensive as we approached Sikeli Bay because there's a long fringing reef and scattered sand bars a couple of miles from the shore.  The charts don't have much detail and we became even more nervous when we spotted a small island that wasn't marked on the charts at all. To make matters worse, the wind had picked up to over 25 knots; we had 1 metre waves and the skies were overcast.

We rolled away the main sail and reefed the genoa to slow down, then gybed to take us through a gap between two shallow spots in the reef.  Our waypoint was 5°18.951S 121°47.197E.  The Navionics charts turned out to be fairly accurate and the minimum depth that we saw was seven metres before it increased to 15 metres inside the reef.  The depth then gradually decreased as we sailed towards the small town of Sikeli where we anchored at 05°15.55S 121°47.79E in 6 metres of water about 100 metres from shore.

One of the Mosques in Sikeli

The island of Kabaena  is 100% Muslim, which is very apparent from the tall minarets of the four mosques that we can see from the anchorage.  Only six boats have come to this port, the other five have started to head south - we all stayed on board chilling out.

We've been in a strongly Muslim part of Indonesia for over a month now and I'm becoming a bit of a connoisseur of the Adhan (Call to Prayer), which is broadcast by every mosque five times a day.

The first one is at twilight (0430) and the last is after sunset (1900).  The words for the Adhan are the same every time that it is sung (apart from an additional phrase before dawn, which states "Prayer is better than sleep" to get the lazier believers out of bed.)

These are the words to the Sunni Muslim Adhan (the words for Shia and other branches of Islam vary slightly):

Allah is Most Great.  (four times)
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.  (twice)
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.  (twice)
Hasten to prayer. Hasten to prayer.  (twice)
Hasten to Success. Hasten to Success.  (twice)
Prayer is better than sleep (twice, but only in the morning.)
Allah is Most Great. (twice)
There is no God but Allah.  

The Adhan is sung by the Muezzin, who is one of the most important men in a mosque - women are not allowed to sing the Adhan because their voices are too provocative.  At first I thought that the Adhan was a recording, but every performance is live and that is one of the problems.  The quality of the singing is very variable, some sound beautiful, melodic and poetic, while others do not.  Unfortunately, the beautiful singers are few and far between.

All mosques have loudspeakers which boom out the Call to Prayer, but most sound systems seem to be distorted with the Muezzin screaming into the microphone or the amplifier turned up so loud that the Rolling Stones would be happy.  There are often multiple mosques in each town, blasting out their message at slightly different, but overlapping times, which distorts the message even more.  

Bamboo Band

The early morning Adhan (at about 0430) always seems to be louder than the rest.  Our solution is to close the hatch above our bed and turn on our two electric fans, which make a neutral whirring noise and cancel out the sound.

2 September 2015  Sikeli, Bombana
The local rally team had told us to be ashore by eight o'clock and, after making us dress in Sail Indonesia t-shirts, we were loaded into cars and then driven up a very bumpy road for nearly an hour to a village called Tangkeno, which is high in the mountains.

After a short walk around the village, we were invited in to someone's house to use their toilet.  The owner was kind enough to show us her home as we waited and it was lovely - simple unpainted wooden walls and floors and very cool with lots of windows. 

We were then led up the hill to a big parade ground, with two Barugas (raised platform) at either end.  In one of the Baruga’s, we found a group of local dignitaries dressed in their splendour, waiting for us.  We were introduced to the King of Kabaena  and the Regent of Bombana who had travelled here from the capital of Bombana to attend this event.   There were a few short speeches and we were given platters of snacks including Cucur and Bamboo rice.  

Some traditional dances were performed and we were invited to join in.   We were treated to a lovely performance by a group of young school kids playing brightly coloured bamboo instruments, including flutes and primitive trombones.  They were very good and the concentration on their little faces was a delight.

After a buffet lunch on a patio overlooking the impressive Mount Sambampululu, we were invited to sit on chairs in the other Baruga, where listened to a speech by the Regent and another by Giza from “Rotor”. The Regent then came around with a tray of Agate rings and offered one to each of us.  We’ve seen these large ornate rings for sale in some of the markets and they are very popular, so it was a welcome surprise to be given one.

Dancing between poles

A couple of traditional dances were then performed.  The first was a very dramatic dance with fifty or so girls and some kind of queen and the second was an interesting dance involving eight men and four ladies.  

The men carried long poles which they held close to the floor and slapped together in rhythm to the drums.  The girls then danced in and out of the poles trying not to be hit.  They gave us cruisers an opportunity to join in and Eva and Karen had a go - harder than it looks.

With the formal dances over, we were invited to join in a huge line dance holding hands in a big circle.  I’ve said this before, but the Indonesians LOVE line dancing and everyone including the dancers and local dignitaries joined in.  The only trouble is that they just carry on and on and ON until people drop out.  The same tune went on for over fifteen minutes, but everyone had a good time.

After the end of the formalities, we walked up to an old fort - about a kilometre in the beating afternoon sun.  There wasn’t much to see, but we stretched our legs and worked off a little bit of the big lunch.  Back at the parade ground the guides looked shell-shocked at all the exercise and we hung around for an hour, chilling out while they rested.  I have a low threshold of boredom and by four o’clock I’d had enough sitting around and motivated everyone back into the cars and home.

In the evening, “Laragh” invited everyone for sundowners and a bit of a jam session.

3 September 2015   Sikeli, Bombana
We’d arranged to go for a hike to the top of Mount Sambampululu, which is an impressive rocky peak that can be seen from the anchorage.   There were nine of us and one of the rally organisers (Akmed) asked us to pay 200,000 rupiah ($20US) each for the transport and the guides who would take us on the hike.  None of the interpreter guides came along, having been traumatised by the short 1 kilometre walk yesterday.

Mount Sambampululu

We were driven to a village on the way to Tangkeno, where four teenage guys met us and acted as our guides.  None of them spoke any English, so we relied on our poor Bhasa Indonesia and sign language.  It was a great hike - at first along a dirt road, then soon on faint trails through the forest following a ridge.  We arrived at the eastern side of the steep-sided rock cliffs after two hours of fairly hard slog.  The huge cliffs towered above us while we had an early lunch.

Yesterday, I'd had a look at the mountain on Google Earth and there seemed to be a gully with trees on the south side of the mountain that might give access to the top of the rocky peak.  So, I left the others chilling out and went to have a look around.  The lead guide followed me and when I indicated in sign language that I wanted to have a look, he shot off like a mountain goat down a gully.

He led me westwards along the bottom the cliffs, which seemed to be impenetrable without serious climbing gear.  After fifteen minutes of fast scrambling, we stopped at a cliff that had a tree growing up the side.  The guide indicated that this was the way up.  It looked tricky, but I'd come this far, so why not?  

I would say that it's a V.Diff using the tree and the vertical rock face, with the crux at a point where you have to swing out around the overhanging tree trunk.  Once at the top of the initial steep section, it’s a scramble up to a subsidiary peak.  The mountain is actually made up of four peaks surrounding gullys.  From the peak that we were on, I would say that the highest peak could be climbed in a couple of hours of scrambling.  It would be an epic day out.

We scrambled back down and met the rest of the group coming to see where we’d gone.  Graham from “Red Herring” is also a mountaineer and once he’d heard that I’d gone up higher, there was no stopping him.  When Graham had come back down, we heading back along the face of the cliff and down to the village, which took a couple of hours.

At the top

We were invited into the guide’s parent’s house, where they kindly gave us some water and pamplemousse to eat.  There was some confusion about a payment for the guides.  There was no-one who spoke English and we had great trouble explaining that we’d give the money for the guides to the rally organisers in town.  Eventually we got into the cars and went back to Sikeli to sort the money out, leaving the guides unpaid at the village - they looked unhappy, so it wasn’t a nice farewell.

Back in town, Akmed said that the guides will be paid, but we’re not too sure.  If there’s a mix up with the money, then it’s normally the small guys who lose out -no doubt the taxi drivers will get paid first, so I hope that the hiking guides get paid.  In future, we’ll make sure that we only pay after the trip. 

Akmed then tried to get us to go on a trip tomorrow, out to the nearby Sagori Island, but it seemed very complicated and he seemed to be trying to get as much money as he could from us - $10US each for a one mile trip, $5 each for a meal at the school and then even more for the interpreter guide’s time.  It was so confusing that we’re all paranoid that we’ll be sucked into chaos and the costs will escalate.  The trip is only to go snorkelling, which we can do anytime, so we politely said no.

The last couple of days have been great, but of the places that we’ve stopped in this rally, the guides here seem to be the least organised.  I think that they’ve been shipped in from other parts of Bombana, whereas in other places, we’ve been dealing with the locals.  I suspect that the problems with Akmed all stem from the fact that he isn’t from Sikeli and the locals are trying to get him to pay expensive prices for things.   The best and friendliest guides that we’ve had have been local students from high school or university, who have a genuine desire to chat in English.


We’ve decided to leave here tomorrow.  Glenys and I have had enough of being organised on the rally, so we’re missing out the next two scheduled stops at Selayar and Lombok and are heading south to the isolated Takabonerate atoll to chill out for a few days.

4 September 2015   Sikeli to Takabonerate Atoll (Day 1)
Despite still being tired from yesterday's exertions, we were up early, getting ready to leave later in the day.  My first job was to top up our fuel tanks from our three diesel jerry jugs before the wind picked up.  After breakfast, we jumped in the dinghy and went over to the town to get some fuel.

It's complicated to get diesel and petrol in Indonesia.  All fuel is subsidised by the government and foreigners are not normally allowed to buy it directly.  It’s illegal for locals to buy fuel to resell and, in the more populated areas, policemen are posted at petrol stations to enforce the law.  In most places, we will either have to pay an international rate of 15,000 rupiah/litre or get a local to buy some for us.  If locals get it for us, they won't use our nice clean, containers, but will use a rag-tag of their own containers, so the police won't suspect them of reselling fuel to foreigners.

It was a lot easier in this small fishing town.  There's a brand new fuel station right on the sea front, which only opened a couple of days ago.  A local guy met us at the landing steps and helped carry the jerry cans to the petrol station.  The forecourt was littered with various containers being filled for fishing boats, but they very kindly stopped filling them and immediately filled ours.  We got 69 litres of diesel and 15 litres of petrol at the subsidised rate (< 8,000 rupiah/ litre), and were back on the boat within 30 minutes.

After stowing the jerry jugs, we went into town again to do some provisioning.  Our first stop was to get the data SIM card in our iPad topped up.  Again we had trouble with this normally simple job.  In the first small shop, the guy spoke a couple of words of English and kept saying "Empty, empty". We tried to explain that we didn't want a new, empty SIM card, but he didn't understand.  Eventually, we asked if there was somewhere else and he pointed us down the street.

Sikeli - a dusty old town

The next shop was the same - the lady kept saying "Berakhir", which our dictionary told us was "Expired".  Well, yes, our credit had expired, that was why we wanted a top-up.  The lady then wrote down 4.1 GB data and told us to come back at two o’clock in the afternoon.  The penny dropped.  These small shops are only allocated a certain amount of air time each day and she had sold out.  She would be topped up at two o'clock and could then top us up.

There was another small shop across the road selling SIM cards, so we tried there and to our relief, the lady had some data available, so we bought 3 GB for one month for $10.  Five minutes later, we were on-line again.  What a strange system.

We wandered around the market while Glenys bought some vegetables and some fresh prawns and I bought a small machete in a wooden sheath that is better weighted than my old one.  White people are very, very rare here, so we caused chaos as everyone stopped what they were doing so that they could watch us.  I guess that we paid slightly inflated prices for things, but it's cheap enough anyway.  My nice new machete only cost 150,000 rupiah ($15US).

After lunch, Glenys cooked a meal for tonight at sea and I spliced an eight braid rope onto the end of our anchor chain.  When we get to Takabonerate, most of the anchorages are deep and our 60 metres of chain won't be long enough, so I've added 40 metres of rope to it.  It was a mission to splice it because the rope is old and the weave has tightened - it took me two strenuous hours, sitting in the beating sun.

We lifted the dinghy on deck and left at four o'clock into a strong 20-25 knot south wind.  We bashed to windward until sunset, when, as we left the influence of the land, the wind started to decrease and back. The conditions got better and better as the night progressed and we had a lovely reach after midnight.

5 September 2015   Sikeli to Takabonerate Atoll (Day 2)
Together with "Red Herring", we arrived at the eastern pass into the atoll around eight o'clock and hove-to, waiting for the sun to get higher (also allowing Glenys to sneak in a couple of hours extra sleep).

Takabonerate Atoll

The pass through the reef was very straight-forward and the shallowest depth we saw was around 9 metres.  Our waypoints were 06°28.58S 121°17.80E & 06°28.51S 121°16.76E).  “Ubatuba” was already anchored in 8 metres over sand at 06 28.71S 121 16.92E, but it looked too open to the waves coming through the pass.  Instead, we headed south and anchored at 06°30.39S 121°16.89E in 6 metres of water over white sand amongst widely spread coral heads.  

The water colours here are stunning - it’s much, much better than being stuck in front of a town (and no mosque droning away.)  We chilled out for the rest of the morning and got the dinghy in the water.  

After lunch, we jumped in the dinghy and went to look at the huge sand bar to the east of the anchorage.  We arrived at low tide and the sand was miles long.  We could see some local fishermen walking around in the distance and started to walk towards them to see what they were doing, but after fifteen minutes, we were hot and still only half way, so we gave up.  There’s almost nothing on the sand apart from a few crabs scuttling away. Glenys was hoping to find a few shells but the area is as bleak as the Sahara Desert.

We retreated to the boat and went snorkelling on a patch of reef to the north of the anchorage.  It was okay, but large areas of coral have been reduced to rubble, probably by dynamiting and there aren’t many fish.  It’s a little disappointing because this is a National Marine Reserve and we were expecting pristine reef.   It looks like the locals are still allowed to fish here because at sunset, we could see a dozen or so fishing boats in the five miles around us.

6 September 2015   Takabonerate Atoll
We had a quiet morning, making water and catching up on small jobs.  In the afternoon, we went for a snorkel, starting off in the shallower water to the east of the anchorage near the sand bar.  It was okay and the water was fairly clear, but much of the coral is damaged either by storms or more likely destructive fishing practices and there weren’t many fish.

I swam back to the boat and the quality of the reef improved nearer to the anchorage.  It’s mostly sand with good coral on the isolated outcrops, but the water clarity reduced.  I found some False Clown Anenomefish, which amused me for a while. 

We were invited over to have dinner on “Red Herring”, Karen made some Nasi Goreng and Glenys made an Indonesian chicken stew, which went together well.  Karen and I had a good session on our guitars working through the songs that she plays.