Bocce on the beach, Selat Combol, Danga Bay and reflections on Indonesia. 06November2010.

Singapore at last, well at least Johor Bahru in Malaysia which is close enough. We are tied up in berth A4 in the Danga Bay Marina with the good ship Gadfly parked of course just in front of the bar and the best thing is, the marina is free!  Mind you the locals have been finishing their construction of the marina, nailing down boards and putting in electricity as we watch; but still free!  The considered opinion is that we should send brochures for the place to all of those overpriced marinas on the east coast of Australia and suggest a much fairer pricing schedule! The place is rather full as well with many of the Sail-Indonesia boats pulling in and preparing to move north with the ‘Passage to Langkawi’ rally. The deal appears to be one gets free berthing if joining the Langkawi rally with the operators of the marina anticipating turning a profit based on the restaurants and bar nearby. Whether the price will change after the rally boats leave is somewhat uncertain but at the moment the price seems pretty good.  Mind you, given that Puteri Harbour a couple of miles back down the strait only costs a few dollars a day the price is not likely to get too high so all good.  But here we are anticipating a possible move north perhaps on the 12th if all other things go according to schedule.  The skipper has finished most of the more critical repairs (cruising = boat maintenance in exotic locations) and the only outstanding issue (well the bigger one amongst many smaller ones) is to check that shaft alignment again; never stops really.

Gelasa and a BBQ

Target shooting on Gelasa! Aim low and to the left.

Our soiree on Belitung finished on 21October when in company with Thyme we did a shortish hop of 40 miles slightly north of west to the island of Gelasa where we went to anchor in ‘Batu Gelasa’.  Of course after the Bintang indulgence the night before the trip was more than long enough so pleased we were to get there. We put the pick down in 15 metres of water right at the bottom of the reef wall and only about 80 metres from the top of the reef,  which near us was about two and a half metres deep.  It was near to low tide so plenty of water to float our boat as it were and the location made for good snorkelling and a quick clean of the boats waterline.

The big news for Gelasa was that apparently 10 years earlier there was a piratical attack on a cruising boat in the very bay we were now anchored in; the natives were very friendly this time so things appear to have changed for the better.  One gets the feeling that the presence of your average cruising boat and yachty is now more common that in the past and the locals are apparently now more inclined to want to sell fish or trade for things that are difficult for them to get. On this occasion in exchange for the bag of squid the locals were very keen on chocolate flavoured biscuits; they were also keen on our limited supply of Bintang but some things are not to be traded away lightly.  There were several fishing boats in the bay with us and the boats were there until dusk when they headed out for the night time capture of squid that seems to be one of the principle catches in these parts.  On the passage between Belitung and Gelasa both boats caught a Spanish Mackerel so that night it was into the beach for a fire and a fish BBQ.  We stayed on the beach till probably about 2200 and until we had finished our beers and then headed back through the maze of submerged rocks near the shore for a quiet night and rest before the next days overnight run.

On our way to Lingga. Gelasa receding.

Lingga or rather the bay we parked in on Lingga was 185 miles from Gelasa and with a start at 0815 the next morning we arrived at 1800 the next day just in time for dusk and a fish curry with Simon and Amanda on Thyme. As usual we got some useful wind early and sailed but by early afternoon the wind had dropped out and we were back to motor-sailing and before arriving, motoring; just as well diesel is cheap hereabouts!  As Singapore was beckoning we were now in keep travelling mode so early next morning (24October) it was up anchor for a modest day hop of 30 miles up to the island of Kentar for another nights rest.  Of course the highlight for this leg was crossing the equator and as the GPS ran down to 0 degrees latitude we made ready for anchoring, bintang and the mandatory swim across the line.  We weren’t really organised to welcome King Neptune aboard so instead we had to be content with dumping ourselves in the sea from the boat. The skipper did tell the lads they would hurt their arses jumping from the spreaders, but you can’t tell people some things!!!  Both boats went to anchor and we spent a good hour celebrating a significant milestone as none of the five of us had crossed the equator by boat before. Amanda and the lads made efforts for costumes and Sloop the cat was converted into a yellowfin cat/tuna.

On the line.

Bet it hurts!

Pirates ye be warned!

Sloop the yellowfin crossing the line!

Thyme on the line, Simon, Amanda and Sloop.

As it turned out the bay at Kentar whilst sheltered did not accommodate much in the way of a shore run (basically mangroves) so instead we slipped about 5 miles further west to ‘Sebanka Is’ where we scoped out a nice sandy beach lined with coconut palms and plenty of wood for yet another beach party and BBQ.  This was a hoot with much celebration at having crossed into the north and Simon and Amanda brought their ‘Bocce’ balls along so we could pretend we were Italian whilst avoiding having the balls get away from us and go swimming. Of course it started to rain at about 2100 so we headed out to Thyme to finish the rest of the rather dubious punch that Tim had put together and Tim and Trevor eventually came home at about two in the morning; meaning the next day was rather quiet for the lads.

Sebanka and where to for the BBQ?

A good spot!

Does it get any better?

King Neptune and associate!

Bocce on the beach.

Great spot for a BBQ!

One thing about the beach here on Sebanka was the number of fishing huts parked out in front of the bay.  These are little platforms with a thatched hut and fishing net and there were literally hundreds; well the skipper lost count at a hundred anyway.  The whole area out in front of the bay at Sebanka is quite shallow and this would seem to have allowed an almighty fishing effort to be put together, so once again one wonders at how any fish survive at all.  Also while at anchor we had a couple of the locals come up in their boats to say hello (well try to say hello as none of us understand a word of the others language but there you go) so some presents were in order with lollies for the little girls and some excess cooking gear for the fishermens other halves. It was all smiles of course and very happy little girls.

Lots of huts and fishermen.

Op cit!!!!!

Lots of huts!

And yet more huts!

Our rather rapid move north continued the next morning with a latish and somewhat quiet/hungover anchor recovery and modest days hop up to Abang Island some 45 miles to the north.  As we had made to leave quite late we arrived at Abang with just enough time to get the pick down before dark.  This was a fairly ordinary anchorage and the skipper parked the boat in 6 metres of water just off the ubiquitous, coral-reef directly under the lee of a SW headland that in theory would accommodate reasonable protection if the increasingly common NW wind came up, which it did.  It blew quite vigorously that night initially from the west and then of course from the north-west and sadly on the nose for our next leg.  This was a 30 mile cruise up the ‘Selat Combol’ putting us on the south side the Singapore strait and ready to sally forth the next day across the dreaded and very busy traffic separation scheme between Singapore and Indonesia.

There are four large straits one can utilise when headed north from the Java Sea up to Singapore, the Selat(s) Duria, Sugi, Combol and Bulan, all of these are subject to currents and in each there is a need to avoid islands, large lumps of rock, shoal- ground and coral reefs.  Fortunately most of the shoal-ground and the reefs seem to have sticks and fishing gear poking out of them, so even the most visually challenged navigator can get by safely but daylight is the order of things one would say.  Based on the relative number of things to bang into we were initially thinking of the Selat Sugi but the rather nosy NW gave us just enough angle to point directly up the Selat Combol so away we went and it was the most direct route anyway.  On the way up the Selat we could hear on VHF (radio) Bruce of Aria discussing possible anchorages so feeling rather sociable we also slipped away to the north at the very top of  Selat Combol and went to anchor behind Geranting Island, an anchorage that came fully equipped with a little fishing village parked on poles out over the water.  Very much back into the local scheme of things we were here with boat loads of locals coming to visit, kids in school uniform on little ferries and much interest in the visitors and their boats. More lollies to give away as well and also here was ‘Peter’ on ‘Mister Percival’, out of the UK and two thirds of his way into a circumnavigation.

Bruce and Aria, at Geranting.

All in uniform; Geranting.

The last part of our ‘passage to Singapore’ was of course the rather messy bit about avoiding the large number of ships that ply the waters in the strait between Singapore and Indonesia.  The method to be employed whenever crossing a separation scheme is at right angles and given that on the west-bound side of things a ship goes by every 12 minutes, one needs to be as nimble as possible. We got away from Geranting just after 0600, fortuitously after the skipper had discovered a rather annoying hole in one of the engine cooling system hoses; those engine checks really are a reasonable idea.  On the way across the Gadfly ended up in rather loose company with four other boats headed to Danga Bay and all having been part of the Sail Indonesia rally. The east- bound side of the operation on the southern side of the strait went without any concern and left everybody wondering what all the fuss was about.  The west-bound side was of course another story with some angst and constant checking for the next whopping great lump of ship that might be inclined to run down our little boats.

Headed for Danga Bay. Johor Strait.

Fairly entertaining it was watching the really little, sail boats nip under and behind the stern of a sodding great bulk carrier with apparently (well from our point of view) the worlds biggest gas carrier bearing down on them!  But there we were also crossing just under the transom of a thumping great bulk carrier with what looked like a 100 metre wide container ship headed very quickly and directly at us.  Anyway we all survived without incident and headed up the Johor Strait for the two hour run up to Danga Bay and the in-construction marina. Along the way we got a good look at the land on both sides and marvelled at how we could be looking at Malaysia on the left and Singapore on the right.  We could tell which side is Singapore from the big fences that are designed apparently to stop people getting into the ‘live firing’ areas that are adjacent to the strait. Military areas they may be but the fences work terribly well also at keeping unwanted, potential immigrants out of Singapore; the skull and cross-bone signs are fairly self explanatory also!  After getting in touch with the marina manager (Ron from Western Australia) we had lines on the dock at 1300 and got into the last of our Bintang as soon as we were secure. Later in the day a bus was provided to take everybody to the relevant Government agencies for a pain-free, inward clearance and we could then get down to the serious business of working out what it cost to have a beer at the restaurant.

So after 2200 miles from Darwin, 18 or more anchorages, too much diesel, not enough Bintang and several kilograms of rice each we had completed our sojourn through Indonesia. In reflection, the people are poor but very friendly, approachable and doing their best. The scenery, islands and anchorages are excellent and the only problem really was not enough time to see a whole lot more of the place. If you are into fishing don’t get too excited, fish are scarce and probably nervous, just look at the number of people trying to catch them. The formalities and dealing with officials is frustrating requiring a very patient approach and the level and openness of corruption is an eye opener. For all of that one just needs to grin and bear it, imagine it from the local(s) point of view for as Charles way back at Kupang described it, “It’s very frustrating as we get treated the same way and we have no money”!  On an issue that takes up far too much conversation, the pirates of SE Asia, they are probably about but the only pirates we have come across so far are the Government ones with pieces of paper and some authority. For the cruising yachty types, you could cruise here for a couple of years and not get bored, it just keeps going on and by all accounts there is a lot more to see; which is all the better as the Gadfly still has to go home that way, albiet further north.

Etymology of Pirate:

The English “pirate” is derived from the Latin term pirata and that from Greek “πειρατής” (peiratēs), “brigand”, in turn from “πειράομαι” (peiráomai), “attempt”, from “πεῖρα” (peîra), “attempt, experience”. The word is also cognate to peril.

Piracy is a war-like act committed by private parties (not affiliated with any government) that engage in acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea.

The term can include acts committed in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons travelling on the same vessel as the perpetrator (e.g. one passenger stealing from others on the same vessel). The term has been used to refer to raids across land borders by non-state agents.

Piracy should be distinguished from privateering, which was authorized by their national authorities and therefore a legitimate form of war-like activity by non-state actors. This form of commerce raiding was outlawed in the 19th century.


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