Skipper log 4 / Kupang towards George Town
Indonesia is massive 18000 islands spread over thousands of square miles. It’s the world largest archipelagic state with a 54,370 km long coastline. Population of 276 million and 300 different ethnic groups. It is also the largest population of Muslims in the world, but it’s not governed by Shariah law and is not an Islamic state. Christianity is also prevalent introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
Indonesia has 200 to 300 volcanoes and 150 are still active. It certainly adds a new dimension to scenery when you can see a thin wisp of smoke on some of the spectacular peaks we pass. Mount Tambora on the Island of Sumbawa which erupted in 1815 is considered the largest eruption in modern history.
We flung ourselves head long into this heady cultural mix from Kupang on Tuesday the 13th of October, 10 days behind schedule. We had over 800 miles to our next embarkation port, Kumai in Borneo, so we decided to reroute via the northern coast of Bali so we could pick up our good friends Pete and Ninka.
But first it was a lovely passage along the Northern Coast of Flores, great snorkelling at a couple of different anchorages namely Kroko Island and Tangul Island. The waters are crystal clear and the threat of being eaten is somewhat reduced compared with the northern coast of Australia. This was great. We had been sweating it out for the last few weeks, so swimming and diving were bliss.
Another major change was the increase of fishing vessels on the waters, a predominately water born culture has lots of activity day and especially night, lights are an optional feature, so our eyeballs were straining into the darkness, in the hope of spotting anything not made of water. We tried to limit our passage making to daylight hours only, but distance and time dictate tempo.
We had the pleasure of Lone and her daughter Agnete from our Danish home Island of Strynø. It was lovely to have them along giving us a chance to talk about how life is looking like in the future community of Ea’ and my life. Aron and Kristopher caught up with news of old friends and got use to speaking Danish. Rest of the crew picked up some Danish too.
Tuesday the 18th of October, we arrive at Laubanham Bajo, this is the capital of the region which encompasses the Komodo Island National Park, a major tourist centre.We need to clear in again with the local port authority, so the rubber stamp and reams of paper are out in force. After a few hours we’re free to sail, bunker diesel at an anchored barge in the bay.
The currency here has lots of zeros, at one stage when I decided we had room for another 200 litres I called down to Ea that she should bring up another million rupia! Sounds expensive but the fuel was relatively well priced here.
After, it was a few hours steaming through a myriad of small islands, many of them with densely packed villages and towns quite picturesque. Lots of local and tourist traffic and we decided that we would land at Rinca Island National Park a smaller island that neighbours Komodo Island and has its own reserve for the famous Komodo Dragon. These are the largest land-based reptiles in the world, they will eat you if you lay still long enough, their bite contains bacteria which makes you sick after a day or two and they just keep tracking along after their prey until it drops ……nice. We avoided the crowds at Rinca and had a guided tour, the lizards are impressive and lay about as lizards tend too, water buffalos and cheeky monkeys keeping their distance. We were protected by a boardwalk a couple of meters above the dry flood plain. We were anchored right outside the park entrance in a lovely little bay, we had lunch and a swim when we got back aboard and then it was time to head off to Bali.
The 300-mile passage was fairly calm with light afternoon breezes which gave us a few hours sailing. The scenery, as we ran along the north coast of Sumbawa, was amazing with lofty volcanic peaks including Mount Tambora site of the largest volcanic eruption in modern times 1815. The European summer that never was caused by the massiveness of this eruption flinging 160 to 213 cubic kilometres of material into the atmosphere. Killing 10 to 15 000 local inhabitants. Lombok a few miles further to the west also has it volcano goddess Rinjani, still active at 3726 m. We could catch a glimpse of the summit through the surrounding clouds.
Lovina Beach was our destination on the north coast of Bali. We cautiously made our approach in twilight, touching the bottom, the warning came from a diver standing up to his waist in water a few meters off our starboard beam. Woops… the charts are never so good in coral as it’s a growing thing.
Lovina Beach was lovely. Pete and Ninka embarked here, and we farewelled Agnete and Lone.
Accommodation was super cheap and nice, so we all took advantage and spent a night ashore enjoying the vibe, food and beauty of this quiet laid-back town.
Our passage north towards Kumai was pretty tough. We were hit by severe rain squalls, which heralded a strong north westerly wind. Yukon was banging into swell and wind so much so that we turned southeast and ran with the weather for a few hours awaiting for conditions to ease before resuming our course towards Borneo.
The south coast city of Kumai situated 10 miles upstream on the Kumai River greeted us with a call to prayer from 5 different mosques at once, the volume stopping all hope of conversation on deck.
Our main ambition here was to see Orangutans in the rainforest and we weren’t disappointed. A comfy charter vessel pulled alongside Yukon at her anchorage at 0700 and embarked all hands apart from yours truly, I was laid up with a leg infection and was delegated the role of ship keeping for the day. The charter boat complete with food, cook and tour guide chugged up a side estuary 10 or so miles to the first of two viewing areas, to see these wonderful creatures in their natural environment. By the glowing faces and photos shard on the mobs return late that evening, it was a worthwhile day. We also bunked 1000 litres of diesel in Kumai. This ended up being done by 20 litre jerry cans. It was not the original plan, and it took some effort and a few trips in the dinghy. But we were feeling pretty good at the end of the day, looking forward to our next passage toward Tangjun Kelayang a run of around 250 miles. This was a lovely spot some good snorkelling and a nice dinner ashore. The next morning after following some local advice Ea and I went snorkelling just off the beach to watch a 60 odd year-old sea turtle having its morning feed. It was great to be so close to this peaceful dude going about its morning ritual.
A couple of days later Yukon received a visit by King Neptune, it was hoped he could join us for a couple of hours with his good mate Davey Jones to welcome all those sailing aboard that had not crossed the equator, known as pollywogs, into the world of the Shellback. This is achieved through barbaric rituals not allowed to be revealed in these lines. But let’s just say that it all went well and without too much harm done.
Motoring up through the picturesque Riau Islands. Vessel traffic was increasing as we neared the Singapore straight and the end of our time Indonesia. We called at Nongsa Point Marina to do our formalities for clearance out of Indonesia. Singapore Strait is a bit like turning onto a busy highway during rush hour. The clever tactic was to avoid heaps of bureaucratic gymnastics a dodge landing on the Island state and head directly into Puteri Harbour Marina in neighbouring Malaysia. This saves time and money and still enables guests to embark disembark from Singapore airport. Puteri Harbour Marina did our clearance into Malaysia for us as well.
This was also where Ea decided to head back to Denmark. We wanted to do the import of our 20-foot container full of our personnel items and also to register into the Danish health system. Ea had been experiencing pain in her abdomen for some time and her fear of her cancer returning weighed heavily on our minds. It was a strange and emotional moment saying goodbye to my greatest sailing partner. In our 23 years of wedlock, we have seldom been apart. The hope was that she should rejoin in George Town, Penang in 4 weeks time if all went well. But unfortunately, she had to stay in Denmarkfor treatment, being well looked after there by dear friends and family. Not the plan and no easy way to handle this unwelcomed separation.
We embarked 4 new Danish folk Steen, Egon and Grith. They all sailed a leg or 2 with us on the way out 11 years ago. It was great to see them again. We all agreed that we hadn’t changed a bit, the boys were a lot bigger but apart from a few extra wrinkles and some minor repairs we were just the same.
Another new voyage crew joining us, the daughter of friends of ours in Denmark ironically named after my lovely wife, so we had ‘Ea the second’ on board during this emotionality challenging time.
All set to go it was a relatively short leg distance wise up towards Georgetown Penang, but we had plenty of time and pretty much head winds most of the time. So short hops were the order of the day, overnighting at some OK anchorages. We had been spoiled with the crystal-clear waters of the previous month, the Malacca presented a milky sediment rich and rather uninviting appearance.
The small island of Palau Besar a few miles southeast of Malacca is of great local significance. The burial place of the prophet Sultan Al Ariffin Syeikh Ismail, the bringer of Islam to Malaya. Atop the island a sacred rock split in half highly revered by the many pilgrims that make the journey to his tomb. The island had loads of infrastructure to cope with the numbers, a short hike around the island, revealed large but relatively empty resorts in the Sudeo French renaissance style massive buildings, empty or occupied by squatters crumbling dilapidated. It was a little confronting, and it was a pattern we had begun to nut out regarding Malaysia, massive infrastructure spending, big, grand structures with a lack of people afterwards, it could be the post covid blues, but it seems it stretched back a little further in time. The next few days were spent at anchor off the beautiful city of Malacca, this was a real highlight, an ancient trading port now long silted up and defunct in modern economic terms, but a feast for the senses. Malays proudly proclaim their cultural and religious diversity and rightly so. Temples, some hundreds of years old dot the narrow streets, the scale is human, and the tone is inviting. We wandered up and down, shoes on, shoes off, marvelling at the beauty of such a place. The scene of several occupations and years of dominance by the Portuguese, Dutch, and the British all due to the small river towns geographical positioning at one of the two bottlenecks in the shallow yet busy shipping strait named after it. Malacca possesses an air of old authority, as a centre of commerce, literature, and religious teaching. Arthur Guinness must have reincarnated into a Buddhist deity in Malacca because his revered stout is available everywhere. A surprising, yet tasty combination of Irish meets tropical. In one Chinese temple I saw an offering off many cans of the black reverently positioned barely distinguishable in the holy light cast by the surrounding candles. Up the coast we motor, awnings rigged, to protect our delicate complexions from sun and rain not a sail to be seen, we were beginning to wonder when a reasonable offing would be found.
Friday 18th November the log reads.
0800 turn to make ready, Mr Johnson on foredeck for repairs. Mr Johnson our ever faithful and somewhat prehistoric Zodiac dinghy was causing concern. We had worn a hole in the bottom of the flexible floor, and he was taking water. Luckily his buoyancy tanks were all still good but chugging back and forth through the sewerage smelling waters of the anchorage, ankles submerged was wearing thin. We made for the Admiral marina at Port Dickson about 40 miles north. A fairly brisk North Westerly was forecast for the next 5 days and given the quality of the anchorages we thought we would lux it up a few days. Alongside life was nice, shore power, showers, swimming pool and bar aptly named the Sailors Drink Shop. With resident cover band. What more could we want? The admiral marina club house built in the classic Florida billionaire style stands testimony to grand visions of waterfront Malaysia.
This section of coastline with its good beaches was one of the prime vacation areas for Malaysians, they turn out in droves it seems, the more relaxed low-key style of seaside holiday is the style, campsites stretched along the tree lined coast with outdoor eateries a plenty family life highly regarded, conservative values. Cleary signposted I saw a no kissing or cuddling sign on one beach …. Governments, they can always try.
More shallow anchorages around busy Port Klang northwards toward the lovely Palau Pangkor fetching up in the dark off a little resort East of Pangkor Laut we dropped the hook and waited for daylight to shift to a better anchorage across the bay at Pasar Bolak.
More lovely beaches and across the isthmus past the township of Pangkor in a rented car heading towards the ruins of a Dutch fort, we find another holy rock this one is much bigger and has its own roof to protect it from the rain.
I love these holy rocks and the significance is not lost on me as rocks are the great story tellers in this world. Yukon on a much smaller scale has her rock collection on board, try doing that on a budget flight with carry on baggage, we have rocks that sailed with us from Denmark 12 years ago and lay stashed about the place and of course rocks we have found along the way and in Tassie. It all adds up, but they are probably one of the few low maintenance things we own.
We found the fort particularly uninspiring, but the neighbouring mosque was a beauty we slipped our shoes and wandered about in the holiness for a while, tranquillity and solace can be enjoyed at wonderfully unexpected moments when you are on the road of the world. These big modern Mosques often seem to be built out over the water I wonder why.
Sailing north again Penang was our next major port of call we were to spend a few days anchored at the famous Junk anchorage at George Town, Penang’s picturesque capital on the northeast coast of the 50-kilometre-long island. This anchorage has the Chew jetties as a dinghy drop off point a labyrinth of houses built over water in the 1860s. Georgetown is the big sister to Malacca, a major trading centre for a large part of the previous 200 years grand Victorian architecture, with the occasional tropical twist characterize the downtown area. It was a great town to wander about. Single fronted shops specializing in everything under the sun, the design of a lot of these single fronted shops about 4 metres in breadth, double story with a 4-meter ceiling on the lower floor, with a balcony street facing above. They often included an open-air atrium about halfway back from the street, usually on your left as your walk through. Some of these are decked over others are beautifully conserved and embellished with rock pools and creeping palms reaching up to the two story courtyarded roof above. So nice away from the heat and noise of the street, sanctuary row after row street after street this charming city gradually embraces you as you pad your way around. Tea houses abound, each with its style and not forgetting the pastry shops on most corners. These people have perfected the custard tart.
I found myself developing ritual after a week here. One advantage of not having a car is being forced to wander by foot to do light duties. Yukon always has a shopping list apart from provisioning, bits and pieces for a multitude of needs. I found myself, after a sweaty slog uptown stand, in the sought after bearing shop, our horn compressor the patient, when asked “where you from?” after a good chat, the shop keepers’ brother, it was revealed lived in Hobart. Small, big world.
In George Town, we said adieu to the super ‘letmatroser’ Egon, Steen and Grith and prepared Yukon for a visit at the slipway.