Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Beautiful Belitung - and the Nae But Hassle saga

Once we’d secured the boat at anchorage, our first impressions of Tanjung Kelayang Beach on Belitung were pretty much reinforced the moment we stepped ashore on to the golden sand beach in front of ‘Rusdi’s Bar & Resto’ after heading in across the crystal clean water. The beach stretched far into the distance and, uniquely in Indonesia, not one piece of litter was to be seen anywhere.

When we got there we even found Sarah from Double Time waiting for us. She’d decided she had enough of sailing for a while and had flown over from Kumai to be part of the Belitung farewells before resuming her land travels in Asia.  The same age as our daughters, Sarah had become a very good friend of ours and we certainly enjoyed her company and free spirit. She originally planned on only sailing as far as Bali with her mum Jean before heading back off to Cambodia or Thailand or wherever her fancy took her but had enjoyed herself so much that here she was at Belitung.

Dawn breaking over the fleet at Belitung
We’d been directed to ‘Rusdi’s’ by other yachties who arrived ahead of us and recommended him as a good ‘fixer’. Rusdi turned out to be that and more as we were quickly able to organise enough diesel and 20 litre bottles of drinking water to completely reprovision Atlantia at the cheapest prices we had experienced on the whole rally. He even said he’d deliver the fuel out to the boat the next morning to save us having to ferry it back and forwards in multiple dingy trips. To get one job out of the way, Will and Rob took the water out to the boat and topped up the tanks while Karen enjoyed the chance to catch up with Sarah. We then capped of a great day with a fantastic dinner of fresh bbq’d seafood in Rusdi’s resto washed down with a couple of Bintangs also at the cheapest price we’d come across. The nicest anchorage, the cleanest water, the best beach, the friendliest and most helpful local’s with great food and cold beer - cheap. The four of us sat there pinching ourselves thinking, ‘How good is this place?’ The only damper on things was that with our orang-utan experiences being so great and now Belitung proving to be our most beautiful stop yet, Will was feeling very sorry that Margaret wasn’t able to be there to share the best part of the Rally.

Rusdi's - Our new local with fantastic food and cold beer

The entire shoreline was decorated in huge banners and flags welcoming everyone to ‘Sail Belitung 2011’. Just in from the centre of the beach there were literally hundreds of people constructing a huge, terraced amphitheatre complete with a few acres of paving. There was also a very large, amenities block underway and a huge temporary stage. When we asked Rusdi what it was all about we were amazed at his story. The Indonesian President,  Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,  was coming next week to celebrate Sail Belitung and the amphitheatre was being constructed for his visit. The downside was that it was being built right where Rusdi’s resto used to be. The Government had come in a couple of months previously and ordered Rusdi out and gave him One Million Rupiah compensation (about $1,100 AUD) for his well established resto with nicely ceramic tiled floors and good facilities at the centre of the beach. It had cost him over five million to build its far more modest replacement two hundred and fifty metres down the beach. So it’s safe to say Rusdi is now no fan of the Government.
The story of the Presidential visit was confirmed when we checked in at the official rally registration area at a small resort at the southern end of the beach. Not only was the President coming to the beach for special celebrations, he would also be at an official dinner the Sail Indonesia Rally crews were invited to attend.  Well, didn’t we feel special.

Fancy that- the President was coming to see us.
Very early the following morning we received a text message from Marc on Nae Hassle. It read ‘Well it happened. 1 am last night we hit a rather large tug boat/barge whilst going astern. I am getting off at Belitung, if I make it. This is the longest day and night!! Of my life. 
Our minds raced. What the!!! ‘whilst going astern’. How could that happen? A tug can’t go astern towing a barge. Surely the yacht wasn’t going backwards. ‘if I make it’. Is he all right? How badly damaged is the boat? Is it taking on water?  Marc’s text raised so many questions but we couldn’t contact him for answers as his phone was back out of service.
We could speculate many scenarios and, unfortunately, all involved the Skipper, Colin, being on watch. Before we had all joined Nae Hassle, we’d been informed by Milin that Colin had some vision issues due to some optic nerve damage but he was quite capable of sailing the boat. Early on during our time on board it was explained that during the day he had trouble seeing the instruments and things in the distance due to the glare but was fine at night. As there’s always multiple people on deck during the day it wasn’t really a problem.
For the first week at sea, things were fine as we were all doubled up on watches anyway while Colin and Milin oversaw us to gauge our abilities and make sure all was OK. However, as Colin struggled to see ships lights at night and fumbled to find the right buttons on the auto-pilot etc, the three of us quickly started to suspect that Colin’s vision issues were far more serious than described. One night Karen sought his advice to confirm that a large container ship whose lights were shining on the horizon would clear astern of us on its current course. Colin couldn’t see the ship until it was within a mile from the yacht. When we had switched to a single person watch, roster Marc and Rob found themselves just happening to spend more time getting some air on deck at night keeping an eye out when Colin was on watch.
By the time we left Larantouka Rob had proposed to Colin and Milin that as we were now basically just doing day hops, and the two of them had enough other things to do on the boat anyway, the three of us crew would do all the watches. This worked fine until the leg from Labuan Bajo to Lombok was originally planned as straight through with night watches so Colin insisted on going back to a five person rotation. The first night out Colin went on watch for the 18.00 – 21.00 shift. Although dinner was long over, Rob and Marc both remained on deck for a while and were soon privately sharing some concern on the stern about the current course. There was a rather large island directly in front of us and we were heading for the shore about a mile and half from its northern headland that we were meant to be clearing.

Very pretty but a couple of hours later we nearly had a very
close encounter with this island on the way to Lombok
Expecting that Colin would soon alter course to starboard both waited, until it became obvious that he actually couldn’t see that we were going to run aground. Rob went up to Colin and said ‘It might be that the electronic chart is out a bit but from what I can see we’re going to be very close to the headland. Do you think we should go a couple of degrees starboard  for safety’.  Colin then looked blankly forward before putting his face within twelve inches of the chart plotter. After studying it he said that by the chart we should be clear by half a mile but seeing that it could be out a bit we’d go to starboard. He then worked by feel to find the one degree starboard button and punched it five times to change heading by five degrees. After the Nae Hassle had settled on the adjusted course, Rob suggested to him that we come another couple of degrees just to be sure then reached over and all Colin heard was two beeps as Rob punched the ten degrees starboard button twice. After changing course by 25 degrees we cleared the point by just under half a mile. Had Colin been on watch alone we could of sailed straight up on to the fringing reef in front of the beach.
With all this playing on our mind, we were in for an anxious wait until Marc reached port.
 The morning was spent on boat chores as we decanted 260 litres of diesel into the tanks from the jerry cans delivered by Rusdi. Amongst a number of other little jobs, it also included  circumnavigating Atlantia in the dingy giving her hull above the water line a good clean to make her all sparkly after three months of sailing across Indonesia. Rob and Will were just finishing off that job when we saw Colin, Milin and Marc heading ashore in Nae Hassle’s ailing dingy. They had anchored well out off shore beyond the rest of the fleet and we hadn’t noticed them arrive while we were heads down, bums up working.
A few minutes later the mobile beeped with an sms. ‘Am ashore in cafe. Do you have any antiseptic?’ ‘Will bring it’ was our quick reply as, fearing the worst, nurse Karen prepared to go to battle stations gathering up the rather comprehensive full first aid kit we carry with us. Hurry, hurry, hurry! He’s hurt.  We need to get in there. Hatches were closed, the companionway locked and we were away in the dingy on the double at Karen’s urging.
Racing up the beach, surgical kit in hand, Karen headed us all into Rusdi’s to find a dishevelled and very exhausted looking Marc and quickly demanded, ‘Where are you hurt?’ Suddenly realising his last text message had generated Karen’s feverish level of concern he rather sheepishly replied, ‘ I stubbed my toe getting out of the dingy just now and it’s bleeding just a little bit.’
Resisting the strong urge to cause him further injury in retaliation for the worry he’d caused, Nurse Karen tended to his wound with liberal coatings of Betadine, a squirt of the magic spray bandaid and a bit of elastoplast.  Meanwhile Rob made sure Marc was receiving some oral medication in the form of cold Bintang and we sat down to listen to his story.
Marc related that on the first night out of Kumai he’d done the 21.00 to 24.00 night watch and handed over to Colin for the next three hour shift. On the changeover he had pointed out that there were a ship’s lights towards the horizon ahead but it was not yet possible to tell what it was so he’d need to keep and eye on it. Assured by Colin that he could see them and as there were no shallows or hazards on the chart that would be reached in the next three hours Marc felt it should be OK to go below and get some much needed sleep.
About an hour later he awoke to the sound of the engine revving up and down madly as the boat was put astern then ahead and astern. Thinking they may have snagged a fishing net or similar he jumped out of his bunk and was pulling his shorts on to go and help when he heard an almighty collision and was thrown face first across his cabin into the door. Dazed he went above to find the owners screaming at each other and physically fighting over the wheel and throttle and the sight of a massive steel wall towering skyward as Nae Hassle’s stern scrapped its way along against it.
It seemed Colin had managed the impossible and backed into the side of a barge under tow. The fibreglass stern showed a lot of damage above the water line, with the safety rails also copping a battering and  the boat’s  life raft mounted on them damaged.  Marc describes himself as being more and more furious as the argument raged with Colin insisting that the barge was in the wrong and had run into them. When Milin was able to hail the tug on the radio the quick response was ‘You ran into us. Your problem. We have no problem’.

Tug and Barge similar to that encountered by Nae Hassle
Even after checking the recorded GPS track of the boat which showed a series of radical about turns, just how Colin managed to reverse into the barge was hard to fathom but two things seem clear. It appears he had not seen the tug and barge until much too late and he had not been able to see well enough to take appropriate avoiding action.
Marc started questioning Colin and Milin about the visible and potential other damage to the boat and its seaworthiness. He was told there was no problem. When he raised the issue of the damaged life raft he was told to stop worrying about ‘details’,  that things happen at sea and they could use the dingy if they needed to. As Nae Hassle’s Avon dingy leaks air so fast it has to be pumped before, and often during, every use and it’s fitted with an extremely unreliable outboard that has been in for repairs numerous times during the rally, that was the final straw and he decided then and there he was getting off the boat at the next stop.
We can only imagine what the rest of that day was like for Marc as the atmosphere on the boat turned more and more toxic. By the time he went off watch handing back over to Colin again at 3.00am the next morning he had had less than one hour’s sleep in the previous thirty six and could stay awake no longer. Despite this he awoke before six and just could not stay below. Going on deck he took station at the stern and had a smoke. Looking forward there was a local squid fishing boat ahead in the distance. These boats are reasonably large and feature big outriggers on each side. He couldn’t believe it as Nae Hassle continued to motor directly towards another collision which was only narrowly avoided when he screamed at Colin that there was a boat dead ahead and was he going to do something about. This lead to another flurry of activity as Colin started futilely trying to find the right autopilot button to push with finally Marc needing to take over to avoid the obvious.
On finally reaching Belitung, Marc was on the bow securing  the snubber after anchoring  when Milin came up and informed him that they’d prefer he didn’t tell anyone about the accident. It was at this point he finally let go telling her a number of home truths and saying it was not safe on the boat so he was getting off. Milan took offence and told him he could get off then if he wanted to which he replied ‘I’m already packed’.
After hearing his story we could easily understand why he was so keen to get out of the dingy when it came ashore that he stubbed his toe on a rock in the process of bounding on to the beach.
No sooner had Marc finished recounting his tale then Rob’s phone rang with a call from Milan. She said Marc had got off the boat because of a small accident they’d had and as they’d only loaned us to Will they now needed us back so could we pack our gear up. Rob stated that we weren’t prepared to do that to which Milan replied ‘But you’re our crew not Will’s and we need you back’.  It wasn’t until Rob pointed out that we were not indentured slaves,  they didn’t own us and that we had in fact been paying them good money to be on their` boat yet had been treated like serfs that the realisation struck home to Milan that our time on Nae Hassle was indeed definitely over.
Although we knew that we could not risk our safety by continuing on Nae Hassle, all three of us were very sorry that things had ended on a sour note. Our regrets quickly disappeared later when it got back to us that Milan had told people that Marc got off the boat because he was a coward and needed to learn that things happen at sea.
Belitung was without question our nicest stop on the Rally

 We were also all determined not to dwell on things and to make the most of our time in beautiful Belitung so Marc was quickly able to organise a room in the same home-stay as Sarah and all of us spent a great day kicking back at Rusdi’s. We enjoyed a great lunch followed later by another great dinner as different cruisers came and went all day. There was a great atmosphere already despite only half the fleet having arrived and everyone agreed, Belitung was something special.
Next day we were again left thinking ‘How good is this’ as Will and ourselves headed in to the main city complete with car, driver and guide provided free by the local organising committee because the organised bus with all the other rally people had already left. At the beach we had quickly come to realise how highly Belitung valued the visit of the Rally as a tourist promotion but were still amazed to find every road into and around the city decorated in flags, banners and huge billboards about Sail Belitung 2011. 

This kite was at least 20 metres long
 We were able to do the necessary tasks such as visit an ATM to top up the Rupiah supplies, buy some more phone credit and find a great bakery for smoko before heading to a huge park by the water for the ‘Sail Belitung 2011 Kite Festival’. Thousands of people were all over the place with kites of every conceivable size and colour filling the park and stretching down the beach. There was a big special marquee full of politicians, VIP’s and Rally crews but fortunately we’d arrived after the ceremonies and speeches. We simply enjoyed wondering around looking at the kites and their creators.

All the Rally crews were then ferried bussed ( while we enjoyed our special private car) back in to town for a lunch at a preserved ‘traditional house’. Here we were welcomed by musicians and beautiful young dancers before being lead in to the traditional house, which we commented was a close relative of a traditional Queenslander being timber, elevated on stumps and having large wrap around verandas.
We were split into groups of four, seated on the floor and served a range of traditional dishes, some nice, some vile, but hey, you’ve got to try. We were instructed on how to eat traditionally with our right hands only, what a mess! While the buses headed off after lunch to some more cultural attractions, we were happy to hightail it back to the beach for some more kickback time at Rusdi’s. 
Our homestay was hosted by a very friendly family
While we really enjoy Will’s company, it’s always good to enjoy a bit of space so as we’ve done along the way we decided to have a few days ashore. All of the resort accommodation was booked up for visiting officials etc so we experienced our first home-stay of the trip. A number of people living near the beach have added, or built their houses to include, an extra couple of rooms for guests. It has proved a great way for the local people to boost their modest incomes.

Our home-stay was a lovely house a couple of hundred metres from the main beach where our room had its own bathroom which was unusual and a great bonus. We payed a little extra for the privilege, but at about $28AUD per night in a seller’s market  it was well worthwhile. Our host family had as much English as we had Indonesian, virtually none. However they were incredibly friendly and we were able to communicate well enough by all sorts of means. The first time we left the house to head down to the beach they stopped us and said ‘Far – plis – tek motorsikle’ pointing to their moped. Despite our protestations they insisted so away we went. The trip back after dinner and Bintangs at Rusdi’s was interesting. Over our stay we did manage to convince them we enjoyed the exercise of the walk but did make use of the bike a couple of other times when it suited.
The days at Belitung quickly blurred happily together as Marc and Sarah joined us dingying over to the small islands off the beach, eating oysters straight off the rocks, snorkelling, swimming and generally lazing about. Rusdi’s became our breakfast, lunch and dinner stop most days but while we headed off to bed exhausted at a reasonable hour each night Marc and Sarah kicked on with some of the younger Rally participants to all hours. We both admired Marc’s stamina in keeping up with the pace but often pitied the result next morning. Sarah, Troy, Charlie etc all seemed to bounce back better than poor meerkat.

Sarah, Marc & ourselves quickly  perfected the kickback lifestyle
 Before the major construction for the President’s visit was quite finished word came through that he was going to be a no show. What a surprise. We were told the Vice-President was coming in his place so all was going ahead. The night before the Non-Presidential Dinner in the city, the local Mayor hosted a dinner at the new facility at the beach for the Rally crews. More speeches, traditional dances, speeches and then the special performances by different national groups amongst the Rally Participants. We’re not sure if the locals quite knew what to make of the French cruisers rendition of the Can-Can on stage but it was not a bad night ending with most of the Rally people on stage accompanied by the local volunteer guides for a very out of tune performance of Auld Lang’s Seine.

Sail Indonesia Rally 2011 crews onstage at farewell dinner
 Seeing the President stood us up we skipped the dinner the next night for another  laid back evening at Rusdi’s. We found out next morning everyone else wished they’d done the same after enduring a night of endless speeches in Indonesian with the VP not turning up until just before it was all over.
We moved back aboard Alantia and spent another day back in the city getting around the bakery, supermarket and traditional markets stocking up Atlantia for our final leg up to Malaysia. Karen had also had a great idea and organised Rusdi’s wife to buy all our prawns and squid for us when she went shopping for the resto at the early morning seafood markets. She the topped that with a piece of absolute genius and had her cook it all up in different styles and put it straight into take away containers for us to take to sea.
After all the official dinners, receptions, performances and endless speeches, the Sail Indonesia Rally 2011 concluded the next night with a fantastic, very informal, BBQ that involved only the Rally participants themselves and all the volunteer guides, boat boys etc that had made our stay in Belitung such a highlight. A band played great music and a number of the rallyists also jumped up with a song or two. The real highlight was a rap number written and performed by the Kiwi boys of Cheetah Two that light heartedly parodied a huge number of people on the Rally. It truly was a grand finale.

The Last Supper - Rob, Karen, Sarah & Marc
 While many boats headed north next morning we stayed one more day for some final preparations and were able to enjoy a ‘last supper’ with Sarah and Marc at Rusdi’s. On Atlantia we were heading for Danga Bay Marina in Malaysia while Sarah was flying back to Jakarta and then onto Kuala Lumpur to continue her travels and Marc was joining Alan and Noi on Rogue and would be heading to Raffles Marina at Singapore and then on to Thailand with them. We certainly hope to all be together again sometime but who knows what life has in store for us.

The Vice-President did make it to the beach but security was so tight only
the priviledged few got close to the performance area.

Just a small section of the 1000+ local fishing boats that got decorated up for
 a sail past for the President's visit. Pity he didn't turn up.

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