Before we entered Indonesia, we knew very little about this leg of our trip. Would we have run-ins with pirates? Would we encounter massive standing waves and rip tides that would send us sideways? Would the predominately Muslim population present problems for a boat full of Americans?
The thousand miles we covered from Bali to Singapore proved to be uneventful, with little wind during this transition period between the monsoon seasons. The people we met were uniformly kind, the fishermen all smiled and waved, and we experienced some of the best wildlife and snorkeling of our entire journey during this leg. We’ll come back here again some day.
Pulau Serangan, Bali
This was our home while we visited Bali for over a month. Serangan is the main mooring and fishing boat anchorage on Bali’s west coast, and although the harbor is filled with hundreds of mooring buoys that you can rent, we anchored in 30 feet of mud on the eastern side of the harbor with 5 other sailboats. It was a secure spot, and we never dragged even during a 50 knot squall. The location is a short dinghy ride to the beaches of Sanur, but a huge mud flat appears in front of Sanur at low tide. I broke one of our dinghy wheels crossing it. A neighboring boat would frequently leave their dinghy at the park at Sanur, but they were often hassled and at one point even found sand poured into their gasoline tank. Instead, we would leave our dinghy on the inside of the ferry dock in the middle of Serangan harbor. We never had a problem, even at night, but it meant we had to take Blue Bird taxis to get anywhere in Bali. They have an app you can download to your phone, so at least they are reliable. We could buy diesel and gasoline in Serangan. Overall it was a quiet anchorage with pleasant people. We never wanted to swim here, however.
08.40.675 S, 115.26.293E
This is a resort anchorage used mostly by day trippers coming over from Bali. A large reef provides shelter from northerlies. We stayed here on two separate occasions, and on both visits we grabbed a mooring near the tour boats in 20 feet of water. No one came by to collect money. We loved swimming in the clear water after a month of Serangan’s mud. The harbor gets loud during the day but quiets down after 3:00 PM when the tourists leave. Note that Selat Lombok can have a 5 knot south-setting current, so when heading north it’s best to hug the Bali coast before turning right for Lembongan. You need REALLY to do this if heading north to the Gili Islands or you run the risk of having the current deposit you in Darwin.
08.21.948 S, 116.04.932 E
We visited Gili Air twice, once on our way into Bali and once on our way out. The anchorage is protected by reefs, and we picked up a mooring on each visit. We were only charged during our first visit. Gili is a laid back tourist spot with no cars and a sand path that circles the island. Little horse carts are used to haul food and luggage to the hotels. There is supposed to be excellent snorkeling nearby. We wound up leaving our dinghy tied to the inside of the ferry dock. It was safe there, but little school kids enjoyed swimming off it. There are no stores or diesel available at Gili, but we ate in the beachfront restaurants every night. The kiddies didn’t complain too much.
After Gili we did a 110 mile overnight run to Kangean. It was a beautiful and sheltered harbor, and we anchored in 50 feet of mud a little east of the navigation marker. We enjoyed the sun and the fact we were out in a quiet anchorage for the first time in over a month. There were a couple of small fishing villages onshore and a nice-looking beach that was crowded with fishing boats, but we opted to hang out and rest.
We sailed another 160 northwest from Kangean to Pulau Bawean, another sheltered stopover on our way to Kumai. This island was bigger and more developed than Kangean, and we shared our anchorage with several fishing boats. It’s important to note that fishing boats are now ubiquitous, and we have to pay careful attention to avoid their nets. We anchored here in the first big bay on the north side of the island and had another quiet and sheltered stopover.
Kumai, Kalimantan, Borneo
From Bawean we traveled another 200 miles north to Kumai, where we anchored in the river for a few days as we visited the orangutans on a tour boat. We successfully navigated the river using the waypoints published on Harry’s Yacht Services website. Kumai is a commercial port on a tidal river with wharves on one side and mangroves on the other. Dozens of shallow draft freighters navigate the river every day. You also have to be on the watch for “floating islands,” which are large chunks of mangrove being carried by the current out to sea. As we approached Kumai, we were met by a guy in a speedboat who we wound up hiring to arrange our orangutan tour, watch our boat (from the cockpit) while we were gone, and supply us with diesel. The most interesting thing about Kumai itself were the dozens of 5 story warehouses scattered throughout the town. They were swallows nest factories. Kumai itself was not very interesting, but the orangutan tour was a major highlight of our entire trip. Once the tour was over and our diesel tanks were topped of, we left.
Pulau Sembilan (off Pulau Nangka)
After Kumai, we sailed (sailed!) 200 miles west to Pulau Nangka, our first stopover on our way to Singapore. The anchorage in Nangka was rolly and exposed to the north, so we pulled up and moved another 2 miles to the south side of Sembilan where we anchored in 50 feet of sand, right off of coral reefs. This place was beautiful, and we stayed four nights. We would have stayed longer but were running low on food. Sembilan is deserted and ringed by a sand beach, which in turn was ringed by a coral reef. It was like we were back in the South Pacific. It felt great to swim all day. Some local fisherman camped out on the beach at night, but they left us alone. Great stop.
From Sembilan we made a 300 mile run northwest to Mesanak. Our original pan was to break this leg up into two trips with a stopover on Pulau Bangka, but we were well rested, had plenty of fuel, and the seas were flat, so we kept pushing. Mesanak was another quiet, sheltered harbor with a lot of fishermen. It had 20 huge fish trap houses on stilts throughout the harbor. This whole part of Indonesia – the Riau, Bangka, and Lingga islands – is where boats based in Singapore and Thailand go cruising. We could easily have spent a month exploring this beautiful area, but we are not sure we want to deal with the bureaucracy required to re-enter Indonesia. This was another great stop.
Nongsa Point Marina, Nongsa Point, Pulau Batam
This is an actual, real, modern marina with shore power and attendants with radios who run out and help you dock your boat! It is part of a hotel complex with a pool, restaurant, golf course, and a bike trail. I learned later on in Singapore that the marina has an excellent boat detailing service and that many boats in Singapore head over to Nongsa to get their boats waxed and polished. Sophie is looking a little dull these days, and the equatorial heat deadens any ambition I have to wax the boat right now. So detailing will have to wait until Thailand. The people from Nongsa handled our Indonesia immigration and customs clearance for us. That in and of itself made this an excellent stop.
The Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, Singapore
Our current home is a marina on the southwest coast of Singapore. We didn’t realize it a month ago, but the presence of the Singapore Yacht Show last week made it very difficult to find a berth in this country due to all of the boats coming down from Thailand and Malaysia. We were lucky to get a berth here. The facility at the yacht club is excellent: hotel, restaurant, bar, huge swimming pool, gym, steam room, kids room, gambling room, mahjong room, karaoke club, concierge, and 7×24 security. It’s adjacent to a huge park with bike trails and one of Singapore’s best playgrounds. There is also easy access to public transportation. The only downside? It’s rolly here. Rolly, rolly, rolly. The marina docks are located right next to the immigration dock where service boats pick up and drop of crews for all of the commercial vessels anchored off Singapore. These service boats are all 50 foot twin diesel pilot boats, and their skippers fishtail them into the dock like toddlers driving bumper cars at the “No Parents” night at the amusement park. They kick up a lot of wake, which isn’t a problem for cats like Sophie, but the monohulls swing like pendulums. The staff all seem surprised when we tell them we love the dock. This is a great place for cats, with an excellent and friendly staff.
Time has flown by since Sophie arrived in Singapore almost two weeks ago. At the start of the month, our big decision of the day involved choosing which two-year old cans of food from Safeway should go into that night’s chili surprise. Now our big decision involves selecting which of the country’s 30 malls we should visit via Singapore’s modern and clean subway. It has been quite a transition, and I like it.
Our last stop in Indonesia was Nongsa Point Marina on the northern tip of Batam Island. It was actually a marina, with docks and shore power and security and smiling attendants, our first visit to a marina in 7 months! We spent a couple of days here, and the marina staff handled all of our paperwork for leaving Indonesia. It was easily our most straightforward and efficient encounter with Indonesian bureaucracy.
Covering the 14 mile passage across the Singapore Strait from Nongsa to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club was like driving Sophie through a video game. Here is a shot of our chart plotter as we left Nongsa.Each of those triangles represents a ship, and most of the ships were 800 foot long tankers and freighters going at 15 knots down designated traffic lanes. Fighter jets passed over us every ten minutes. We had a 15 knot wind behind us, but I didn’t dare put up any sails because of the need for visibility and maneuverability.
Our AIS tracker showed over 100 ships within 2 miles of us. In fact, it is illegal for a boat to enter Singapore waters without having an AIS transceiver (a radio that enables your boat to appear as a triangle on other boats’ AIS screens.)
I had to hand steer to get Sophie across the street, but we eventually made it to our designated quarantine area, where a grey-hulled immigration boat was waiting for us. They pulled alongside, and we dropped our passports and ship’s papers into a net they held out for us. 10 minutes later, we were admitted into the country. No boarding. No sweaty motorcycle rides to remote government offices. No surprise fees. We were back in modern civilization!
Our home in Singapore is the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, a marina and hotel complex located between a container terminal and a public park on the island’s southwest coast. It’s a modern facility complete with a pool, gym, bar, restaurants, and even a kid’s playroom.
The RSYC has a reciprocal relationship with the Seattle Yacht Club, which means we can stay here at a discounted rate with complete access to all of their facilities. We may want to give them a new burgee while we are here.
So … what does one do in a cosmopolitan city after spending 8 months in remote Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia?
The short answer? Everything!
For starters, the park next door has an extensive set of bike trails. We bought the kiddies some bikes in New Zealand, but we hadn’t used them for over a year. In fact Hazel’s bike still had training wheels attached. We felt bad that at age 7 she still couldn’t ride a bike, but I guess it’s one of the prices you pay for living on a boat. We took off the training wheels and then took her out riding every day. Within a week, Hazel was doing laps of the park, as you can see from the photo at the top of the blog. This now means that as a family we can start going on bike hikes.
On our second night here, we went to dinner at Din Tai Fung, a chain of dumpling restaurants based out of Taiwan. There is one back home in the Seattle area, and it’s Hazel’s favorite restaurant in the U.S. The kiddies loved visiting this little slice of home.
Singapore has an excellent Science Center, and Jenna wore a lovely red summer dress on the day of our visit. The dress inadvertently set off a fire tornado in one of the exhibits! The museum also had an interactive exhibit where you literally walk through the inside of a human body, learning from the inside how the body’s different systems work. We walked through the exhibit twice, and Leo had a big grin on his face at the exit.
It just so happens that the Singapore Yacht Show was taking place during our first week here, so naturally we had to attend. I first saw a Lagoon 500 at a Singapore boat show in 2007 when I was here on a business trip, and based on that visit we decided to place the order for Sophie. As part of the order process, Jenna and I flew to the Lagoon factory in Bordeaux with my father and Todd Rickard, a friend from Seattle. While there we had lunch with Yann Masselot, the head of Lagoon.
Yann was at the boat show, and it was great to catch up with him after 8 years. We are very happy Lagoon customers. Here is a picture of Yann and Jenna posing in front of the new Lagoon 63 Motor Yacht. Jenna and I agree that it would make an excellent Seattle power boat and plan to buy one when we return in 7 years. :-)
During our first week in Singapore, we learned of some bad news: Jenna’s grandmother in Michigan was dying. “GG” was 94 and lived in a house on a lake with Jenna’s parents. We decided it made sense for Jenna to fly home and for me to remain in Singapore with the children. Jenna made it home in time to spend a couple of days with he grandmother before she passed away in her sleep.
I’ve now spent the last week in Singapore with Leo and Hazel, while Jenna remains in Michigan helping her parents. How are we spending our time while she’s gone? Basically more of the same.
We spent an entire day cleaning out Leo’s room. He has spent his entire life collecting Lego sets, and it can be difficult to keep a lifetime’s supply of Lego organized and neat when you live on a boat. We sorted through and removed three duffle bags of Lego from his room. We also removed 3 garbage bags of toy junk along with all of his clothing that no longer fits. Hazel looks stylish in her new khaki pants and 2nd grade polo shirts.
We went bowling, and Leo and Hazel both trounced me.
Also, we eat. And eat. And eat. Singapore has wonderful food. We go to the hawker stalls every day, where you can buy plates of sushi or noodles or dumplings or satay for $3-$4 dollars. We’ve been to German restaurants three times, eating wurst and schnitzel. On the night of GG’s death, Hazel suggested we go out for sushi since one of our last meals with GG last summer was an extensive sushi feast at Jenna’s parents’ house. So we went to a mall (where else) and the kids experienced their first ever sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt. They ate a LOT.
I try to keep the kids moving. We swim and/or bike every day. We walk to the bus, which then takes us to the subway, which then takes us to a new place to explore on foot. We saw the fort on Sentosa where the British accepted Japan’s surrender. We saw the new Avengers movie (in a mall, where else). We explore playgrounds, parks, stores, and street scenes. The kids are actually complaining that I am working them too hard.
They miss their mom, they are getting along with each other, they are plowing through season 2 of Gilligan’s Island, and they are loving city life. We assumed we would spend 2 weeks in Singapore, but I am now hoping we can stay much longer. We need to give Jenna a chance to catch up with us (our legs are getting really strong!), and I kind of like being a city mouse again. A lucky, lucky city mouse.
He was close, real close. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the boat were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle.*
The steamy mid-morning sun blazed as we set off for three days in search of a wild orang-utan, Indonesia’s “man of the forest.” Our klotok, the wooden river boat Lazuardi, cut swiftly through thick brown water that was cloudy with run-off from neighboring palm plantations.
At this time of year it can be hard to spot any orangutans. There is so much wild fruit in season that the apes can afford to shy away from the reserve in favor of a smorgasbord of fruit ripening across the forest. Durian, mangosteen, rambutan, bananas, you name it. Although we knew our chances for seeing an orangutan were lower, it was impossible to ignore an overwhelming sense of hope and curiosity as we maneuvered slowly upstream. Our first wildlife sighting was a medium-sized monitor lizard, about 6 feet long. At first we thought it was a crocodile until we got a better look at it.
Aside from the occasional tour boat and local transport, we were alone traveling up the river. We stopped at the first camp and hiked 10 minutes into the forest to the scheduled afternoon feeding site. In the reserve, there are two scheduled feedings per day. Again, Ami and the rangers cautioned us not to get our hopes up given fruit season. The rangers deposited bananas from a couple of full backpacks on a platform and then we waited. We waited for over half an hour, and then finally some trees started shaking in the distance, then closer. It was even better than the wild sightings we had on the way in. This sweet mama and baby led the way:
Each kept his or her distance from the food until the more dominant ones finished and moved on. Then, one by one, each grabbed bananas and returned to the trees. The rangers brought one extremely large male his own stash of bananas and he sat quietly munching on the ground some distance from all the others. The largest orangutans like him live primarily on the ground.
In total, thirteen orangutans joined us. The rangers said they hadn’t seen this many together for quite a while. Ami told us there must be a special connection between the spirits of the people and the orangutans for so many to gather at one time. Whatever the reason, we felt honored to be part of such a special day.
What is the best way to top off such an incredible orangutan encounter? With rainbows, of course.
That evening we tied up at the side of the river near troops of long tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys swinging from the treetops.
The next morning, we made our way upriver into the native black water. My photos do a poor job of capturing the overwhelming natural beauty that surrounded us.
On our way to the next camp, we glimpsed another friend in the trees.
There were a few more tourist boats at the second camp, but not many people. Ami told us that in the high season boats will raft up across the entire river, carrying hundreds of tourists to each feeding. We were thankful for our much more low key experience.
We didn’t always see orangutans at the scheduled feedings, but we found plenty of other wildlife to entertain us. Butterflies were all around, plus ants, dragonflies and the occasional boar.
Camp Leakey, established in 1971, was our final destination of the tour. The reserve contains both wild and semi-wild orangutans (rescued orphans).
After almost two hours of waiting, thirty-two year old Tom, one of the largest males, made a quiet entrance from the forest. He moved slowly, methodically, carefully observing everyone and registering each of our faces as he climbed up for a snack.
Looking into his expressive eyes, I kept imagining what he might be thinking, the man of the forest. Watching this distant cousin of ours, it’s no wonder that human and orangutan genomes are 97 percent identical. He was wild, but seemed so very human.
As if he knew it was time for all of us to say goodbye, after fifteen minutes Tom stopped for one last look and retreated to the forest with the same quiet grace.
We spent a quiet day playing games and reading as we motored back to Kumai.
This experience with orangutans in Kalimantan ranks as one of the highlights of our entire journey on Sophie. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?
Kumai… we’re still only in Kumai… every time I think I’m gonna wake up in the jungle.*
* Adapted from Willard’s voice-overs in Apocalypse Now
Sophie dropped her anchor at Palau Mesanak at 10:00 AM this morning, covering the 300 miles from Semolina in 52 hours. We sailed most of last night under full jib and main at 6-8 knots, having great fun in the process. Our current position is 00.24.255N, 104.33.510E.
Mesanak is a lovely little island with a sheltered harbor with 15 big fish traps on stilts. One of them is pictured with Leo, above.
We will rest here until tomorrow morning, then make our way to Nongsa Point. More later.
We raised anchor at Sembilan this morning after a lovely four day stay and have begun a 300 mile leg northward as we resume our journey to Singapore. Our next planned stop is at Pulau Mesanak in the Lingga Islands. We hope to arrive there on Monday, rest a day, and then head another 50 miles to Nongsa Point Marina on the northern tip of Pulau Batam. This will be our first visit to a marina since we were in Vanuatu last September! We will clear out of Indonesia at Nongsa Point, then cross a very busy 10 mile strait and enter Singapore.
We told Hazel that Singapore has a majority Chinese population, and she asked if that meant we would be able to buy dumplings there. Dumplings are her favorite food. We assume we will be able to buy her dumplings there every day if she would like us to do so. Needless to say she has become quite excited, and we are now undertaking what appears to be a dumpling cruise.
As part of our dumpling cruise, we will once again pass into the Northern Hemisphere sometime tomorrow. We will likely remain up north until we arrive in the Maldives about a year from now. It is going to feel good to be back on top again.
As usual, we are motoring along at 5 knots on one engine with little wind. The South China Sea is quite flat right now and surprisingly shallow, with depths ranging from 70 to 130 feet between here and Singapore. The charts also show shipwrecks on the ocean floor every ten miles in all directions. I assume most of these were ships sunk during World War II.
Our rest at Sembilan was just what the doctor ordered. We snorkeled the coral reef twice a day, played games, watched movies, conducted Sophie School, and cleaned the boat. We have all become big fans of Pandemic, a global strategy game where the players collaborate in an attempt to rid the world of disease. It’s kind of like Risk without the hatred or fistfights.
Last night we had a sunset fire on the beach where we cooked the last of the jars of German sausage along with balls of bread dough that we roasted over the open fire. We were able to provision at the market in Kumai before we left and have enough fruit and vegetables on board to get us to Singapore. And those dumplings…
(Posted via SailMail)
Sophie dropped anchor this morning right below Pulau Sembilan, which is adjacent to Pulau Nangka and 230 miles to the northeast of Kumai. Sembilan is a small, uninhabited island surrounded by a perfect beach and coral reefs. The island is beautiful, and we will likely spend 3 or 4 days here. Our location is 02.31.084S, 108.31.770E. According to the charts, we are now in the South China Sea. Viet Nam is less than 700 miles to the north, and we are 360 miles from Singapore. We’ve covered about 600 miles since we left Bali.
We had a bit of a scare on Sophie before we left Kumai. The morning before we left, we took on another 800 liters of diesel (by hand) and I then went about changing the fuel filters on the Yanmars and the oil and oil filters on the genset. While working on the genset, I noticed that all four screws that mount the genset to the marine plywood floor in the genset compartment were completely loose and rolling around the floor of the genset box. These are big screws, maybe 3 inches long and 3/8 of an inch wide. My immediate reaction was that someone obviously had started the process of stealing the genset, but I then remembered that we had locked the compartment while visiting the orangutans. It must have been vibration.
I tried to put the screws back in, but the mounting holes in the genset were no longer aligned with the screw holes in the floor. I tried sliding the genset, but it weighs 555 pounds and wouldn’t move. I thought about drilling new holes, but there isn’t enough space for me to easily do so. Leaving on a 230 mile passage with an unmounted 555 pound metal box right next to our marine electronics, propane tanks, and assorted bulkheads was definitely not an option.
When I started the genset, the internal startup torque would cause the box to hop about a half an inch. So I started and stopped the machine about 20 times and somehow aligned all of the holes back together and got the screws back in. I think it is secure enough to get us to Singapore given the current weather forecasts, and we will likely remount the machine once we get there.
After we got the genset sorted away, we had a lovely 2 night, one day passage from Kumai to Sembilan. On both nights we were able to turn the engines off and sail at 6-7 knots for most of the night on a beam reach under a full moon. It was like we were back in the Pacific trade winds and was easily the best sail we’ve had in our 5 months in Indonesia. Jenna couldn’t think of a better way to spend her birthday.
Before we arrived at the anchorage this morning, we saw that we were dragging a line of fishing buoys behind us. I was able to cut the line but there was still something under the hull. We stopped the boat, and I got to once again play underwater demolition man and cut the remaining line off our rudder stocks. There was no damage to the boat, but I did notice that Sophie had attracted a nice remora fish that was swimming right next to one of our keels.
There is no internet or phone access here, so we are reverting back to the SSB and Sailmail to post updates to the blog. Jenna has some spectacular photos of our excursions in Borneo and Bali, and we hope to be able to share them with all of you by the time we get to Singapore. In the meantime, we are looking forward to some nice reef snorkeling and Sophie school in this delightful, remote location.