Indonesia 2009 - 2010
Paradise, somewhere in the Banyak islands
Indonesia, the Indian Ocean! After spending almost 10 years in the South Pacific Ocean and islands, we finally broke
into new and unexplored (for us, at least) cruising ground. And it really felt different. Take a look at the charts
for Indonesia, and the islands themselves are massive. Sumatra is almost 1000 miles long.
An entire country in the Pacific, such as Western Samoa or Tonga,
has only a little more land area than a relatively small and little known Indonesia Island, such as Simelue or Rote.
We would see a small speck on our passage planning chart, such as Panaitan, and initially think to ourselves: small island, and imagine
a tiny atoll; only to sail there and discover that the bay is over 5 miles wide, and that there are wild rhinos and
deer living on shore.
Sailing northern Sumbawa
Leaving Australia in September we had little wind and had to motor most of the 500 miles to our first landfall, Rote.
This in itself was somewhat of a novelty - we finally had a reliable engine, and a working autopilot. Whereas previously
if there was no wind we would simply do as the old sailors did and drift around, catching whatever light breeze there
was and being happy with 50 mile a day averages, we could now chug along in a straight line, making 100 miles a day!
It was good, but it kind of felt like cheating somehow. Still, we knew that if we were to sail in Indonesia, then the
engine and the autopilot were going to be good friends of ours from now on.
Rote had a particular Indonesian smell, which I think to be of spice and flowers, a smell of cooking and clove cigarettes,
a sweetness; which I recalled from being in Bali before; and which hit us while we were still several miles off shore.
It was distinctively different from the damp, earthy smells of Vanuatu or the Solomons.
Jay and friends, Rote
In Rote we anchored outside Nembrala village. This trip through Indonesia has been a chance for Frans to surf many of
Indonesia's famous waves. The swell comes up through the Indian Ocean and surf rolls onto reefs across the whole
archipelago. Rote is a small island in Indonesia terms, about 45 miles long and 15 miles wide, but full of motorbikes,
villages, people, animals; life bursting everywhere. One of the great things about Indonesia is the cheap yummy food;
food carts are pushed or cycled along the dusty streets, and little warung's in even the smallest village will serve
up rice and noodles. Another great thing is the motorbikes - it is a perfect way for the whole family to get around,
and only costs a couple of dollars to rent one for a day. Whenever we could we rented bikes on shore and explored the
different islands we were on. Dylan and Jayden were so happy riding on the bikes, singing along to themselves, and
waving at everyone passing by. The little Hondas and Yamahas are the workhorses of the Indonesians, and will be
loaded down with gas bottles, chickens, a family of five, timber for building a house, or whatever else needs to
be carried. You see children not much bigger than Dylan slowly driving them along the side roads.
Boys ready for another bike trip
We spent a couple of weeks in Rote before braving the mayhem of Kupang town. Indonesian cities can be crazy. The buses
in Kupang, bemos, are small minivans with pumping bass systems, and a horn that automatically plays an incredibly
irritating tune every 5 seconds. The rubbish situation in Indonesia towns is rarely well managed and all sorts of
garbage comes floating alongside the boat and is left in the streets. People will drink a soft drink and throw the
bottle to the ground wherever they happen to be. The best thing about Kupang was the food stalls at the open air
night market, and the delicious fresh fruit juices. It was our first try of avocado juice (sweetened Indonesian style)
and we quickly became addicted. We left Kupang after a few days and headed onwards over the following months to Sumba, Flores,
Rinca, Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali and Sumatra.
Sailing along the stunning Sumbawa coast
Under 12's surfers; and musicians at Lakey Peak surf contest, Sumbawa;
Dylan and Harry going for a spin
You don't see many cruising boats in Indonesia. We've been here almost a year and only met a few other sailors. This
is a country with over 3000 islands, and some of the most diverse and plentiful marine life on the planet, yet most
cruisers speed through Indonesia with a rally on route to Singapore and Malaysia.
There are some good reasons why. Arranging a cruising permit is the first hurdle; its expensive, it only runs for
3 months, and you are advised to apply 3 months in advance. Unlike in most countries, your permit starts on the date
you specify, so you have to think very carefully about your itinerary before applying.
The second issue is visas. A visa in advance lasts only 60 days. In theory, with a social visa you can renew it up
to 6 months - but in practice many immigration offices refuse to do so without huge bribes. Even in Bali, where such
visas are renewed all the time, it took us 7 visits over a period of 3 weeks, and $200US to renew our family's visas
for 2 months ($25 per person per month). This is doing all the paperwork ourselves, and with no bribes involved - going
through an agent would have cost at least 2 or 3 times as much! And in those 3 weeks you are tied to port, spending half
your time waiting in offices, or on the bike driving to and from immigration. Then you have only 2 months - no, less,
because the 3 weeks of running around cuts into your new visa - before you have to go through the whole process again.
Let's hope the wind is right so you can do some sailing in between!
So that is enough to put most people off, but then there is the talk of bribes when you clear in, bribes when you clear
out, fines for not clearing in to every port, and paperwork in every town you anchor at, village chiefs asking large
anchoring fees.... To make things more complicated the winds are fickle and mostly very very light that you spend a
lot of time motoring, currents rip through the straits at up to 7 knots, it is incredibly hot day and night, mostly
without the benefit of cooling breezes; there are unlit fishing boats and fish traps all along the coast and offshore,
the water is not safe to drink, and malaria is rampant in most of the islands...
It is far from the days of free and easy Pacific Island cruising! But, like anything, once you are there the difficulties
seem more manageable, and you learn to become pretty adaptable to new situations after living on a boat for a while.
And, of course, there are so many good things about Indonesia that it is hard to leave so soon after you have arrived.
So you work through the problems, complain a little bit, but also feel thankful that you have the whole country almost
entirely to yourself. We cruised in tandem with John on 'Cacafuego' for a few months and discovered hidden anchorages
unmarked in any cruising guide that were as beautiful as any we have seen.
'Moet' anchored at Rinca
Anchored with 'Cacafuego' in south Lombok
Taliwang village, west Sumbawa
Getting friendly with the wildlife on Rinca
Frans surfed every place he could, the big name breaks in Sumbawa, Bali and the Mentawais, and dozens of lesser known
and off the chart breaks too. We got hand drawn sketches passed along from other surfer-sailors and followed their
descriptions into pristine and deserted anchorages. Dylan and I were chased by a giant Komodo dragon, which has to
be one of the most scary things to happen in all my years on the boat. Jayden realised that monkeys look cute, but
it is best not to try to roar at them, because they will bare their teeth and start to come after you! We met many
lovely Indonesians, and out of necessity, and pleasure, became more proficient with our Indonesian. Outside of Bali,
many of the places we visited most people knew no English other than 'Hello Mister!'. Several people joined us as
crew during our time here and it was nice to have a group to share these experiences with. Bart brought a new spear
gun with him and we ate fresh fish almost every day for several weeks. Everyone who came to go surfing ended up with
a few reef cuts, but hopefully some memorable waves too!!
Frans in the Mentawais, Thunders
Dylan at Kuta beach, Bali
It is now almost one year since we arrived in Indonesia, and we have sailed about 3000 miles since leaving Darwin.
We are now anchored in Sinabang Bay, Simelue Island, off the NW coast of Sumatra. We have been enjoying the fine
Padang style food here, and of course plenty of avocado shakes. From here we will stop at a few more places,
including Pulau We, before crossing the busy Malacca Strait for Langkawi. Indonesia has been a fascinating
country to sail though, a challenging place at times, but now it is coming time for us to leave, I realise all
the more how much I will miss it here.
New friends, and a playmate for Jay, Sumba
Many of the islands off Sumatra are sinking, due to frequent earthquake activity. There are also
islands that have risen a metre or two higher.
Labuanbajo sunset, Flores