Friday, 11 November 2011

On to Malaysia – the final sea passage

15 – 20 October 2011
The Sail Indonesia Rally 2011 was officially over. All that remained was for the fleet to leave the country. About equal numbers were heading to Raffles Marina on the Singapore side of the Johor Straight or Danga Bay Marina at Bahru Johor on the Malaysian side. As Danga Bay was the assembly point for the West Malaysian Rally which Will and Margaret were embarking on in November, Atlantia was heading to the northern option. It also had the added attraction of free mooring fees with Malaysian Rally participants getting priority for berths.
In Belitung, the Sail Indonesia organisers had done a great job working with the Government to create a one stop clearing out process for the cruisers right on the spot at Tanjung Kelayang Beach. A couple of resort units had been set up as offices for the relevant Harbour Master/Customs/Immigration officials and the whole process proved to be very quick and quite painless. To make things easier we were permitted to formally clear out a couple of days in advance and simply nominate the date we would be leaving Belitung, and officially Indonesia. We were also provided with a letter we could show any officials we subsequently ran across that stated that although we had cleared customs and thereby without visas, we were permitted to anchor in Indonesian waters on our way to Malaysia where necessary provided we did not go ashore.
It’s first and final impressions which have the most impact and while we had some minor problems with excessive profiteering when we entered Indonesia at Kupang, every single official, volunteer and local we encountered in Belitung went out of their way to ensure our most recent memories of the Sail Indonesia Rally 2011 would be the most positive and enduring. Thank you Belitung.
While we were a little sad to be leaving as we hoisted anchor, we were also very much looking forward to getting back to sea. The beauty of cruising is that not only do you get to see so many amazing destinations, the actual process of getting their under sail is, most times, so enjoyable. The majority of people we had talked to planned a two day, one night sail to the northern end of  the island of Pulau Bangka as their first leg. In contrast, Will prefers the more relaxed approach and likes to day hop, anchoring up each night where possible. On studying the charts he decided to take us on a slightly indirect course to the west and anchor at the southern end of the island for the first night. It proved to be a fortuitous choice.
Leaving Belitung - click on any image to see larger version
October marks the beginnings of the monsoonal wet season in northern Indonesia. While the strong monsoon toughs had not yet developed, since our stormy approach to Belitung most days were falling into the early wet season pattern of bright sunshine contrasting with reasonably intense thunderstorms.  As we headed on our lonely course to the north west we watched a procession of masts to our starboard sail north into an ever darkening sky. All day we watched thunderheads develop and dump their moisture as intense storms to our north, south and astern while we never so much as encountered a sun shower. It may have been pure luck but the weather gods were smiling on Atlantia and we were certainly not unhappy about it.
We reached the southern tip of Pulau Bangkar mid afternoon and decided to make the most of the remaining daylight by heading north along its eastern shore which was one very long, continuous palm fringed beach. Throughout most of Indonesia that we had sailed through the water was very deep with the islands rising sharply from the sea bed as a result of their violent, volcanic origins. As a result finding a safe anchorage can be difficult as when you approach the steeply shelving shoreline you can be in 60 metres of water one minute and two the next. In northern Indonesia however, we were finding the islands much more friendly and here an inspection of the charts showed a gently shelving bottom leading up to the sand beach virtually all the way up the coast. With the wind coming from the east, this meant we were able to sail north virtually until dark, then simply head in closer to the beach and drop anchor in relatively calm, shallow water.  Click on the link to see your choice of map or satellite image of the anchorage
 After a very relaxed day’s sail it was very nice kick back and enjoy huge serving’s of Rusdi’s barbecued chilli squid washed down with a few of Will’s very nice, boat brewed, alcoholic ginger beers.  Life is good.

We were intrigued by these platforms in deep water
We made an early start next morning to complete the rest of our journey up the coast to an anchorage around on the northern side of the island. Once again we watched storms come and go around us but were fortunate to stay dry the whole way. On our journeys we had seen all manner of floating fishing platforms ranging from reasonably substantial rafts to simply a few bamboo poles lashed together but we were now amazed to come across a whole new design. These looked like mini oil platforms and were seemingly standing on the sea floor on legs rather than floating. What had us scratching our heads was that they were standing in 20 to 40 metres of water so just what engineering techniques the locals used to erect and secure these things to the bottom had us baffled. There were scores of these platforms along the coast and, frighteningly, they produced virtually no detectable radar shadow.  We were extremely pleased not to be sailing these waters in the dark.

That afternoon we rounded a small rocky island off the northern point of Pulau Bangka to find a number of the Rally boats settled nicely in a beautifully protected and extremely attractive anchorage.   Click on the link to see your choice of map or satellite image of the anchorage
When Atlantia had joined them with her anchor buried nicely in the sand it was time for sundowners again followed by Rusdi’s huge garlic prawns and rice. Life is very good.
Once underway about 6.30am next morning, Rob elected to have a go at catching at least one more fish in Indonesia. We hadn’t caught a thing since the solitary Turum we landed months ago in Larantouka and Will informed us that he and Margaret had not caught a thing on Atlantia so had eventually given up. On the way to Belitung we had lost our second last spoon lure when the wire trace kinked and broke once more. With the boat getting through the water at over seven knots, the lure darted about in the water much more violently than intended and may not only have been causing the trace to break, but may also have been unattractive to the fish we were trying to entice.  As Rob pieced together the line with the last of wire he added an extra swivel into the rig in the hope that two points of rotation may extend the life of the wire trace. Out behind the boat the line went and was soon forgotten.

Rob with his wahoo - our first fish for months
About lunchtime Rob happened to be looking astern and said he saw a big silver flash near the lure and thought something had just had a go at it. No sooner had the words exited the mouth than the fish returned and took the lure. Despite an initial moment of disbelief, we were on. Karen headed for the gaff as Rob hauled in the line which was being made more difficult by the fish’s obvious reluctance to be turned into steaks. Getting the fish to the boat was far from the end of the challenges though as Atlantia features an extreme amount of free board, for our non-boating friends, the deck is a long way above the water. Simply trying to haul the fish up the three metres or so out of the water onto the boat would risk the hook tearing out of the mouth as its full weight came to bear. With Karen leaning far over the stern rail working at full stretch, getting the gaff in the fish’s gills was not easy but again her upbringing as a fisherman’s daughter came through and we soon had a magnificent,  but none too happy, Wahoo on board. A tipple of Will’s Jamaican rum poured in its gills soon calmed it down.
Wahoo are amongst the fastest fish in the ocean and prized not only as game fish but also for their fantastic flavour.  Karen’s father’s game fishing charter boat was actually called Wahoo but despite catching many a fish aboard, she had never actually landed a Wahoo on Wahoo so this was a little special. We’d also broken Atlantia’s Indonesian fishing drought which Will was very pleased about. We had no idea whether the second swivel made the difference or we were simply in better fishing grounds but as long as we had a fish who cared. Karen quickly converted a live fish into an enticing collection of Wahoo steaks, bagged and in the fridge for later.
About four o’clock we reached our anchorage on the south west coast of Kapok Island which was even more beautiful than the previous couple. Crystal clear water, nice live coral easily visible on the bottom, a mix of sand beaches, mangroves and dramatic rock formations forming the uninhabited shoreline backed by dense rainforest rising very steeply to high mountain peaks creating yet another perfect vision of tropical paradise.

Rampisard at Palau Bangka Anchorage
  Will was quick to get in the water to enjoy a snorkel while the light lasted.  Aussie boats Patamba and Saltotu were anchored in the next bay but other than that we had the island to ourselves. However we had been on the radio inviting dinner guests to share some of our catch so just before dark Rampisard slipped quietly into the bay and dropped anchor with Sam and Sally soon  rowing over to join us.  The five of us then relaxed in Atlantia’s cockpit, enjoying some very fresh Wahoo in ginger sauce Karen prepared, sharing a couple of white wines and chatting in to the night under a magnificent star filled sky. Life is outstanding.

We were up early for a dawn departure and motored north across glassy seas all morning. The water here is very clean and clear and we delighted in watching Dolphins, large garfish, thousands of flying fish and even a couple of huge sea snakes slide by. We were getting along nicely towards our planned night stopover at a small island of when once again just after midday Rob raced sternwards as another fish was hooked. After a short but vigorous fight we had another good Wahoo aboard which Karen quickly set about cleaning.

Mainly to get the line out of Karen’s way on the stern Rob threw the lure back over and unbelievably no sooner was all the line out than we had another hookup. Karen switched from cleaning to landing a fish, hauling in an even bigger Wahoo. This time the line got wound up and put away in case we caught any more. There’s only so much room in the fridge. After one fish in three months we had suddenly landed three beautiful Wahoo in two days and had to put the cue in the rack and stop fishing because we were full up. Talking about fast to famine.

Crossing the equator wasone of the milestones of the trip.
Later in the afternoon we prepared for a major milestone of our sailing adventure as we watched the GPS readout countdown towards Latitude 00.00.00. We crossed the equator at sea for the first time at 16.25on October 18 at 104.84.026 longitude. Click to see where we crossed.   
We duly toasted the occasion with a small ginger beer and made sure old King Neptune also received his dram of the same. We were saving the good stuff until we got the anchor down which fortunately wasn’t too far away. 

We carried this bottle all the way from home for this moment
This time our anchorage was located in a bay on Kentar. Click on the link to see your choice of map or satellite image of the anchorage

A number of boats that had been travelling ahead of us were sitting at anchor with their crews ashore enjoying an equator party but as it was virtually dark by the time we settled in place we elected to stay aboard. Out came the bottle of Veuve Cliquot we’d been carrying around with us ever since we left home and we celebrated our crossing in style as the last of the sun’s glow lit the western sky behind us. Another dinner of fine seafood followed.

Waterspout visible on the other side of the island
 We headed north towards our final stop before Malaysia and found ourselves sailing in company with the big Australia catamaran Splash Down and the German Ketch Nuka A Loofa while most of the boats headed further east . Again the weather gods favoured our choice of course as we watched as storms built to the east and at one stage saw a huge waterspout twister which we heard some of the boats having to alter course to avoid.
Will had studied the charts searching for an anchorage we could get to in the day but that would leave us within reach of the Singapore Straights and Malaysia the following day. He picked an area between two small islands off the south east coast of Batam. As usual the radio chatter was about how are you going and where are you planning on anchoring. Both Splashdown and Nuku A Loofa were heading for a listed anchorage not far along but when they heard about Will’s plan and had a look at their charts they realised that by pushing on a little further they could be in Danga Bay Marina a day earlier than they planned and soon elected to join us. That suited us fine because – we had a small truckload of Wahoo on board so we soon invited both boats for dinner that night.
The anchorage proved to be perfect, well sheltered spot, not too deep with a good sand bottom to hook up on. The link will show you the anchorage but make sure to look at the satellite version for a better idea of its layout.
We had almost enough wahoo to go round
Cooking for a large group in a small galley with two burner stove is not easy but that evening Karen worked her magic again serving up dinner of wahoo steaks with vegetables in ginger and oyster sauce for eight as Helmut and Renata off Nuku Aloofa along with Colin and Bev along with their eleven year old son Alex from Splashdown joined us for what turned out to be a very enjoyable final evening in Indonesia. Karen has taken a shine to Alex and they enjoyed some boisterous play all over the boat. It showed how much she misses the boys back home.
The other two boats were away a bit earlier than us the next morning opting to take the western route right around the Batam Islands to the Singapore Straights while Will was again marching to the beat of a different drum. He’d decided we would take a short cut through a slightly narrow and twisting channel between the islands that he’d spotted on the charts. Again it turned out to be an inspired choice as unbeknown to us it was to provide yet another high point of our travels.

The shipyards stretched for almost 20 nautical miles
After passing by a massive suspension bridge on Batam to our starboard and not far into the channel we came across what looked a brand new barge being towed out. It was a small indication of what was to come. On turning the next corner a shipyard came into view with a number of barges under construction. Then for almost twenty nautical miles every turn revealed more ship yards building everything from tug boats to huge ships and even oil rigs. The size and range of the facilities were simply amazing and when not searching for the next channel marker our eyes were glued to the shore trying to take in the full scope of what we were seeing. There must have been thousands of thousands of people employed along this stretch of coast.

I hope he's going to turn soon - very soon.
We got our first glimpse of the high-rises of Singapore as we cleared the northern end of the channel and had but to dodge a few high-speed ferries and weave through the last few islands before entering the fabled Straights.
Oh my god! No amount of previous discussion prepared us for the sheer volume and size of the shipping in the Straight between us and Singapore. There were super-tankers far larger than anything we’d believed possible, container ships, freighters, bulk carriers and other tankers of all shapes and sizes and at first glimpse all seemed intent on running us over.

Oh shit! We have to get through that lot to Singapore.
After getting over the initial ‘Oh Shit’  we were able to make out the separation lanes and start planning our way across. The TSS (Traffic Separation Lanes) are literally like a divided road for ships. Heading east they  play follow the leader in one lane and head west in the other with a no man’s land in the middle. A small vessel like Atlantia wanting to cross is required to cross at 90 degrees thereby taking the shortest route possible. It’s also your responsibility to stay out of everyone’s way.
This is when our AIS system should have come into its own. Instead it detected so many targets it simply overloaded and froze up. OK back to old fashion Mark One eyeballs.

Aim to just miss the stern to avoid the next one behind
Will studied left and right like the pedestrian but instead of trying to cross the road we were taking on the freeway. We picked a likely looking gap, timed our run to pass close behind a large bulk carrier and went for it. We passed under the stern of the first boat right on cue and miraculously a good sized gap opened up for us in the reverse lane. We went straight across without a single speed or course alteration. Simple really. What were we panicking about?
Step one over, we then had to make our way to the Johor Straight around the west coast of Singapore through a series of channels and literally thousands of ships of all sizes both underway and anchored. We both agreed that we saw more ships in a single day than we have in a lifetime.

There really wasn't a hell of a lot to spare.
After a few deviations we entered the Johor Straight between Singapore and Malaysia and headed for Danga Bay Marina at its centre near the causeway and the city of Bahru Johor. Along the way we passed Raffles Marina on the Singaporean side and squeezed under the new bridge between the two countries. We were constantly under the eye of the Singaporean Coast Guard which seemed to have a patrol boat every half mile.

Just after 4.00pm on October 20 we slipped into Danga Bay Marina and tied Atlantia up alongside for the first time since Marlin Marina in Cairns, Australia. To see where we moored in the marina click the link and have a look at the satellite image,
 It was certainly good to be able to step ashore without using the dingy but it also meant that our sailing adventures had come to an end for the time being and our time with Will on Atlantia was drawing to a close, but not quite yet.

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