Crossing the Equator to Singapore

Ketawai island.

After leaving fabulous Belitung, we did a two day sail to Ketawai, a small island off the mainland. Robby the local organiser did a fantastic job of organising parties, food and music on the island, as well as tours onshore.

Robby, the organiser, with his twin daughters.

During a visit to a local school, I realised I had run out of money. No problem – our tourist police escort ran me to the nearest ATM with their blue lights flashing. I felt like a politician in South Africa!

Two friendly policemen who took me to an ATM.

More friendly students at the hotel and tourism school.

An interesting item on our itinerary, was a boat ride to a secluded and unspoilt mangrove forest. A long walk on walkways to protect the mangroves followed, culminating with lunch at an eco-friendly cafe.

Mangrove walk.

Lunch at the mangrove cafe.

Back at Ketawai, a farewell party with live music provided by a very talented young band and their vocalist.

The very good band on Ketawai island.

The sail north from Ketawai was best done during the day, as the sea was littered by fishing structures made of bamboo, complete with huts on top. Literally hundreds of them, unlit at night!

Fishing structures out at sea.

Number two of hundreds – why we don’t sail at night in this region.

Two day sails brought us to Lingga island with it’s smaller surrounding islands – absolutely beautiful and unspoilt by tourism. On Tuesday the 17th October 2017, we crossed the equator just south of Kentar island. This was followed that evening with a party on Esprit with the other three boats at the anchorage.

Crossing the equator as shown on our chart plotter.

A toast to King Neptune.

And another G&T for us!

Our second last stop in Indonesia was at Sembulang island where Thant Zhin from Burmese Breeze helped me repair four leaks which had suddenly sprung on our dinghy.

Thant Zhin fixing our dinghy.

Our last Indonesian anchorage was at Bintan Lagoy where the Sail Indonesia Rally organisers and the Bintan Tourist Ministry pulled out all the stops. Trips to various sights, like a beautiful Buddhist temple with 500 soldiers, a music festival and the final night gala dinner with a band and a beach party.

The representatives from Sabang island in attendance to market their island to us for Sail Sabang week, after Sail Malaysia.

Buddhist temple – completed two months ago.

Our guide and an army of 500.

Annie and an angry fellow.

These senior ladies know their moves at the Bintan festival.

Kids play area – just like in Sydney.

Join the Indonesian Army, Navy or Airforce!

Beach structure resmbling a snail or hermit crab?.

Seriously good rock group for the beach party.

The yachties doing their moves.

Midnight – setting off the mini hot air balloons.

Annie waiting for her balloon to lift off.

Up, up and away!

After the farewell and checking out of Indonesia at Bintan, we had to cross the Strait of Singapore – quite intimidating when you have to cross two shipping lanes, with more vessels than you can count on your AIS.

Most of the large vessels are travelling at around 20 knots, with the numerous ferries going at 30 knots. A rain squall hit us just before the first lane so we waited for it to clear and was lucky to get a reasonable gap in the east flowing lane. The west flowing lane required gunning it at maximum revs to pass just ahead of a 200 metre long tanker doing 18 knots.

Esprit approaching the Strait of Singapore.

Esprit approaching the Strait of Singapore.

Shipping highway.

Massive crane.

We checked into Malaysia at Puteri Harbour Marina where the organisers made the customs procedures part of their service, requiring only our electronic fingerprints. Absolutely painless and a 3 month visa at no charge! They laid on a gala welcome dinner for us at the 5-star hotel on the waterfront. A total of 68 vessels have signed up for the 5 week sail to Langkawi. We depart from here to Malacca on the first leg.

Puteri marina reception.

Sail Malaysia 2017 entrants.

Annie in her pedal VW Kombi.

We will catch up again in Langkawi, before we sail into Thailand. Cheers for now!



Bali to Belitung

Bali to Belitung

The Watson’s took a ferry from Gili Air to Bali on the 22nd September and we cast off the following morning to have a brisk sail to Ambat on the north-east coast of Bali. Ambat is at the foot of the active volcano, Ugang. The Watson’s who keep abreast of the news, told us that volcanic activity was imminent and that people have been evacuated around the volcano.

Mount Ugang

When we set sail the next morning, Ugang emitted a light cloud of steam, barely 10km away, so we hotfooted it to Lovina Bay for an overnight stay.

She’s smoking!

The rest of our rally group was now in Kumai, Borneo to see the orangutans, so we day hopped from Bali along the coasts of Java and Madura, before we did an overnight sail to Karimunjawa. With a population of about 140 million people, Java is the world’s most populous island and is home to about 60% of the Indonesian peoples. Around Surabaya, the second largest city after Jakarta, there are extensive gas and oil fields with very heavy shipping traffic and thousands of fishing boats.

Huge clouds forming over Java.

Approaching the strait between Madura and Java, I counted 73 large vessels on our AIS system. Mostly tankers waiting to take on oil and gas, but also ferries, tugs with longline tows of barges laden with mountains of coal and of course, the ubiquitous fishing vessels. It is best to only sail during the day because of the traffic intensity, but we had to do a 170-mile overnight sail to Karimunjawa, which was nerve racking. Most of these vessels don’t have AIS, and being timber built, not visible on radar.

One of the many unique Javanese fishing boats.

Internationally, vessels at sea show three lights, red (port), green (starboard) and white (stern). In these parts, strobe type LED disco lights in blue, pink, purple etc. are popular, making it impossible to determine the vessel’s course. The larger fishing boats have very bright arc lights to attract fish. So, sailing at night is a real challenge, particularly when you factor in the fish traps and fish nets. After anchoring in Karimunjawa, Annie had to dive to get some fish nets off Esprit’s propeller.

Even the smaller boats are decorated.

Karimunjawa is a pretty place where we stocked up with fruit and vegetables at the market and had dinner at a local café. The two plates of Nasi Goreng cost us AUD2.40, all up. The beers were slightly dearer at AUD3.00 for 500ml of Bintang beer (Bintang meaning “Star” in Bahasa). We left the following day to do the long haul to Belitung island. The 274 nm crossing of the Java sea took us 52 hours. Very little wind, meant we motored for 49 hours, burning about 90 litres of diesel.

Karimunjawa fisherman’s house.

And another quaint house.

A big and strange looking fishing boat.

We arrived in Belitung in a heavy rain squall at about 3pm in the afternoon. A lot of familiar faces from the rally awaited us and we joined Burmese Breeze for a fish BBQ in the evening. Annie discovered a lesion on her calve which she thought should be checked in case it was a melanoma.

The beach resort at our anchorage.

Kelayang beach on Belitung reminds a lot of our previous home in Bakoven, Cape Town, where we surrounded by these huge granite boulders and white sandy beaches.

View towards the Kelayang village from a small island offshore.

A small island near our anchorage.

Walking trail on this island.

This island is a sea turtle sanctuary.

The view from turtle island.

A huge granite boulder.

The following morning a helpful local gent took her on the back of his scooter to the local hospital, where he announced her as an emergency. She saw a doctor who confirmed it was a beetle bite, picked up in Karimunjawa. There seems to be poisonous rogue beetles on that island. The doctor gave her cortisone cream and antihistamine tablets – total charge was AUD0.60.

The doctor and Annie.

We visited a local senior high school where the students and staff laid on breakfast, singing, acting and dancing of a very high standard.

The teacher’s welcoming us at the gate.

Entry ceremony.

Male students doing their thing.

Female students welcoming dance.

Revlon has a big market in Indonesia.

First, a vegetarian breakfast.

Some of the 700 friendly students.

Welcoming song where Annie was asked to join in.

One of the student’s acts.

Dancing to wrap up the ceremonies and our visit.

The teachers also want to join in.

This was followed by lunch at a traditional timber house, with more dancing and music. Again the entry ceremony is a quaint and funny ritual where our host had to convince the owner of the house to let us in. In this case the owner was offered and accepted a fake A4 size, 100,000 Rupiah note (about AUD10).

Convince me why these people should enter.

Welcoming gifts.


Lunch at the traditional house.

Our traditional lunch.

Lunchtime music.

On the way back to our anchorage we visited a timber boat building yard where fishing boats are built in the traditional style.

Planked timber hulls.

Boat interior.

The evening was devoted to our welcoming dinner with various musical acts, excellent food and even the minister of tourism singing for us!

Opening act.

Childrens group creating environmental awareness.

Another environmental act aimed at unlawful hunting.

Leslie Rigney, one of our yachties, singing for the locals.

The minister doing his thing.

We had to do a closing act, so we sang Rod Stewart’s “We are sailing” to the max.

Part of our group.

Full blast.

The local tourism authority laid on an extensive programme of tours, cultural events and music performances for us. We also spent time talking to the local high school student’s “English Club” to give them the opportunity to practice their English and learn about our countries and cruising agendas. The students are bright and eager to learn, knowing that the future of their island is in tourism.

My group of English Club students.

The East Belitung Tourist Authority took us on a bus day tour to the capital Manggar and on the way we visited an open pit tin mine, a Buddhist temple with dragon dances and the local fighting between young men who try to cane their opponents on the back.

At the mine with Khadafi the tourist police chief.

Dragon dancing.

The dragons and us.

Beating the bejesus out of one another.

We were treated to lunch at a restaurant on the water’s edge before visiting the tourist authority offices and finishing at a coffee bar (Manggar has approximately 1,100 coffee bars) where a local music group performed for us. The two 17-year old local vocalists were very good.

Welcoming us at the restaurant.

Lunch table.

More ceremony at the tourism offices.

The coffee bar.

The talented 17 year old vocalist, Sasha

Another talented 17 year old.

Our own Leslie Rigney singing “Over the rainbow”

That’s all for now folks!