Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Sailing in SE ASIA

A page of general bits and pieces on sailing in SE Asia. Some of it is from the Skylax blog, some from talking to fellow cruisers, and some from my own past articles and musings.



'Crossing an ocean in a small yacht is a bit like living your life backwards. At the beginning you die, then you get fitter and younger, and then when you arrive you have an orgasmic celebration and the idea that life is just beginning.'

Douglas Graeme

Malaysia post tsunami
Indonesian formalities: CAIT
Indonesia: The Lesser Sunda Islands
Labuan Bajo (Flores)
Nongsa Point Marina
Local sailing boats in Indonesia

Crossing the Singapore Strait


Clearing into Malaysia

Malaysia: Puteri Marina

Malaysia: Danga Bay

The Malacca Strait

Malaysia: Port Klang

Clearing into Thailand

Sailing western Thailand: Langkawi to Phuket

Malaysia post tsunami

From the Skylax blog 10-07-07

Indian Ocean Cruising Guide proof time .....!

I'm just reading through the page proofs for the new edition of Indian Ocean Cruising Guide ( and I'm amazed how SE Asia has bounced back after the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. When I got in contact with people I knew out there a decent interval after the tsunami their message was please, please don't write off the yachting scene here. We need people to keep coming. Below are a few pictures from early 2006 with an almost surreal appearance of calm. We could see only odd bits of debris and damage from the tsunami wandering around Malaysia and Thailand. I remember seeing pictures of Telaga Marina which was a soup of boats and pontoons after the tsunami. Now it looks better than it ever did.

Photos are all by Lu Michell except Telaga Marina tsunami picture

The new Tanjong City Marina in the heart of Georgetown on Penang. So new it had only a handful of boats in it.

The Royal Langkawi Yacht Club looking across to the ferry pier. Shelter is much improved with the detached outer breakwater.

Telaga Marina. Now it looks better than ever post-tsunami.

Telaga Marina in the tsunami


Indonesian formalities: CAIT

Before anyone gets to Indonesia the worries begin. Wherever two or three cruisers are gathered together there will anxious conversations about the latest rumours on the formalities involved for cruising Indonesia. In NZ, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia worried cruisers mutter amongst themselves and quiz any newly arrived yachts on the ‘Indonesia question’. ‘Who are using to get a CAIT?’ ‘What about this bond which I’ve heard can be XX% (insert any number here) of the boats value?’ ‘Social visa or not to social visa?’ The cruiser rumours rattling around the anchorages and over the ether and around internet forums are enough to make you miss Indonesia altogether. Which would be a pity.

Indonesia is a huge diverse country made up of hundreds of islands. Thousands if you count the smaller ones (some estimates run to 17,000 islands but that is counting some very small ones). The combination of the ethnic and cultural diversity through the islands into the Republic of Indonesia means that there is a lot of local variation between the major islands and the law-makers in Jakarta. The rules for yachts are that you need a CAIT before you enter Indonesia and a social visa if you are staying longer than 30 days but less than 60 days. To get a social visa you need a special sponsor letter.

All good and straightforward you might think. The problems in the past have arisen from a local interpretation of the rules that Jakarta makes by the officials (principally customs) in the other islands. This, shall we say, flexible interpretation has led to the ‘bond’ question, though in some ways that is a bit of a red herring that has been amplified out of all proportion by cruiser rumour and a bit of bad faith by cruisers who have cruised Indonesia in years past. Most of the rumours about the ‘bond’ question have come from Kupang where the whole problem has been magically solved with a contribution to the ‘retirement fund’ for customs officers. More on that later.

Its important to know that, to my knowledge, not one yacht has had to pay the temporary import bond (variously calculated at 20/30/40/50% of the boats value) which is then repaid when you leave Indonesia. This bond is ONLY payable after a yacht has been continuously in Indonesia for one year.

To get a CAIT realistically you need an agent. We used Rachel who actually uses Lytha in Jakarta to get the CAIT. When Rachel and her family were not off cruising she answered any enquiries promptly although in fact you can find most answers to your questions on her website:

In Rachel’s absence Lytha answered questions and replied quickly and comprehensively. There are other agents as well and you can pretty quickly find them with a quick search on the internet. Rachel’s blogspot has probably the best information on Indonesian regulations and the ins and outs of cruising the archipelago and should be your first stop when researching what is going on in Indonesia.


Getting a CAIT

The procedure for getting a CAIT goes something like this…

  • You need to apply at least a month and preferably two months before you plan to sail into Indonesian waters.
  • You need to pick up the original CAIT somewhere it can be posted or couriered to. Most agents will email you a digital scan of the CAIT, but you still need the original. Darwin is by far the best option. The staff in the Indonesian Consulate here are used to holding a CAIT for yachts until you arrive and you can also get a social visa here with your sponsor letter which will arrive with the CAIT. There have been problems getting the CAIT sent to your arrival port in Indonesia with some messy consequences. You could also get the CAIT sent to somewhere like Cairns, Thursday Island or Gove.
  • The details you need to put on your CAIT will be provided by your agent. Rachel or Lytha will tell you what they need for the CAIT. Most of the info is to do with crew, passport numbers, boat details including registration number and port, insurance, dimensions and tonnage etc. and all the islands/ports you intend to visit in Indonesia. It’s best to put as many islands and ports as possible. It doesn’t matter if you don’t visit them all, but it can matter if you visit a port not listed on your CAIT.
  • You then send all these details off to your agent along with the CAIT fee and the agents fee including any costs for postage or a courier. In total it cost us $US280 plus $US20 to post the CAIT and sponsorship letter to Darwin (2009). For some reason Western Union seems a favoured way of sending money.
  • You collect the CAIT at whatever address you have had it posted to or at the port of entry in Indonesia if you have decided to go down that route. The CAIT is valid for 90 days from the DATE OF ISSUE. The social visa is valid for 60 days from your first port of entry in Indonesia. The social visa cost $US60 per person in Darwin (2009). You can obtain a normal tourist visa on arrival in Indonesia valid for 30 days. This normally costs $US25 though that depends on where you get it.


Clearing into Indonesia

There are three ports of entry that are popular with cruising yachts. There are more, but these three are the ones commonly used when on passage from Australia and Papua New Guinea/Lousiades to Indonesia.


The Sail Indonesia Rally (formerly the Darwin to Ambon Rally) goes direct from Darwin to Ambon. This is a passage of nearly 600 miles. The rally organisers process all the paperwork for the CAIT and social visa as part of the fee for the rally ($Au500 in 2009). The rally leaves Darwin around mid-July so you need to get a wiggle on to get there in time if you are coming from NZ or the more easterly islands in the South Pacific.

In 2009 there were 130 odd boats in the rally so not surprisingly clearing into Ambon took around three days for the over-pressed officials in Ambon. As the rally progresses there are similar traffic jams at any other ports where large numbers of rally boats arrive at the same time. For those who like cruising in company and want to take any hassle out of getting a CAIT then this is the way to go.

You don’t have to be on the rally to clear into Indonesia in Ambon and to date this has been relatively hassle free for individual cruising boats at a cost of around $US5.


From Darwin to Bali is around 950 miles. Yachts will often break the passage with a stop at Ashmore Reef. Yachts go to Benoa, either to Bali Marina or to the moorings off the Royal Bali YC. Here you can get cleared in for around $US50 or do it yourself. Half a dozen yachts I know of have cleared themselves in at Denpassar with no hassle, no mention of the bond, for a total cost of around $US5. Despite reports of the ‘bond’ issue here, in 2009 no yachts I know of had a problem here. There has been some muttering about bad faith and conspiracy theories by websites that have lumped Bali in with Kupang as a port of entry where 'the bond' issue is raised. To date it has NOT.


From Darwin to Kupang is around 460 miles. This used to be the popular route until there were ‘problems’ with the local officials for clearing in here. Yachts still use Kupang as we did although you must be prepared to pay the local ‘tax’ to customs. This is facilitated through Napa at Kupang Yacht Service, the most used agent here, and basically you hand your papers and passports over to him, pay $US250, the ‘tax’ for customs, and get your paperwork back some time later.

Kupang Yacht Service Napa Rachman When you are off Kupang town just call him on VHF Ch 16.

If you don’t want to pay the tax then be prepared for customs to start quizzing you about the value of your boat and requesting some fairly large percentage of that value to be lodged with a bank as the ‘temporary importation bond’. I will reiterate here that no boats I know of have paid the bond and all choose, for pretty obvious reasons, to cough up the $US250. Some boats have spent days trying to do it themselves, arguing about the bond, and eventually going to Napa and coughing up the $US250.

There have been a number of yachts on the way to Bali and running low on fuel that have stopped at Kupang to get fuel. This entails a small ‘fee’, usually around $US50, and the yachts have then continued on to Bali where they have cleared in, probably without mentioning the unscheduled stop at Kupang.


This can all change in subsequent years, but I do counsel caution on advice and paranoia that has spread like wildfire around various internet sites. I talked to Aussie Dean in Nongsa Point who has been cruising these waters from Darwin for some 20 years. 'Its always been like this', he said, ' some places you need to pay out a little local tax, some years you don't, but hey, none of us should be too precious about cruising around in what to the locals are luxury items'.

So relax a little. And maybe you need to cough up a bit, maybe you don't. It's a great country, lovely people, for most of us a once in a lifetime experience. Don't sour it with your own mean minded boat economics.

After the Port of Entry

Most yachts will not have to show anyone the CAIT if they do not go to any other large ports with harbour officials. We didn’t show anyone the CAIT until we went into Nongsa Point Marina to clear out of Indonesia for Singapore. Other yachts that have been in larger ports have had to go to the harbourmaster and do some paperwork. In a few cases and a few places here have been requests for ‘fees’ of one sort or another (i.e. ‘retirement funds’), but most of these have been resisted.

None of the above should be read as some sort of judgmental tirade against cruising in Indonesia. It is not intended to be. Local corruption is a fact that all Indonesians have to live with and the actions of corrupt officials affects all in Indonesia. And they have to live there all the time while we are just passing through. Witness the following extract from the Straits Times on the devastating earthquake in Padang in Sumatra…

The government has pledged six trillion rupiah (S$892.4 million) for reconstruction efforts, but many fear the money too will be lost to corruption as it flows through the local government… "It gets thinner and thinner and then just the mouse’s tail comes out the bottom. That’s Indonesia," said housewife …who lives on the outskirts of Padang.

This is an amazing country to cruise peopled by softly spoken and generous individuals (with only a few exceptions including customs officials). The paperwork may be a bit of a hassle, (though it is really not that bad), but that should not deter you from cruising this huge archipelago of amazing islands.


Nusa Tenggara: The Lesser Sunda Islands

From the Skylax blog 11-10-09

Labuan Bajo

Nusa Tenggara: On the Ring of Fire

The Nusa Tenggara, literally the Southeast Islands, run pretty much from west to east with Bali at one end and West Timor at the other end. The chain includes a number of islands popular with cruisers including Flores, Rinca, Komodo, Sumbawa, Lombok and of course Bali. Although you can cruise from west to east, it is more easily done starting in the east and heading west. Most yachts will cruise the more sheltered north coasts of the islands where there are more anchorages than you could shake a 60 day social visa at.

Probably one of the most striking features of the islands is that there are volcanoes everywhere. Most are dormant, at least for now, but all around can be seen the characteristic cones and craters of volcanoes past and present. Some of them are alive and well, occasionally firing up at night, though most just let off a bit of steam from fumaroles on the side.

These volcanoes all sit on the western edge of what is called 'the ring of fire' in the Pacific, on a subduction zone where the Indo-Australian plate rubs up against the Eurasian plate causing earthquakes and letting magma bubble up to the surface and explode out of weak spots in the earth's crust, our volcanoes. Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait is the one we have all heard of and this massive eruption in 1883 destroyed most of the original island and flung so much dust into the air that world temperatures dropped for the ensuing two years of volcanic winter because the sun was partially obscured. This region is the most active in the entire ring of fire with more volcanic eruptions than anywhere else around the Pacific basin. I have to confess to some uneasiness as we sailed around Sangeang Island at dusk, which is just one gigantic volcano sitting in the Flores Sea, a little fumarole puffing away on its north side, as the insignificant speck of Skylax edged westwards on a fading breeze.

Sailing strategies

Yachts arriving from Kupang or Ambon and heading west will generally make for the northern coasts of the islands. From Kupang it is an overnighter up to Flores and then you can day-hop all the way along the northern coast. From Ambon yachts will usually come down to Alor and then proceed along the north coasts of Pantar, Adonara, Flores, Rinca, Komodo, Sumbawa and Lombok to Bali. Yachts heading east from Bali will head up to the north coast of Lombok and then potter along the island chain as far east as they intend to go, usually just to Komodo or Rinca before turning around to head back west.

Winds in the usual cruising season of August to October tend to be E-SE in the eastern islands and SW in the more westerly islands with a mixture of winds in the middle. Frequently the wind will start SE and clock around to the SW. There can also be a NE sea breeze blowing onshore in the afternoon. The high islands cause a lot of channelling and wind shadows so if you stay close to the land there will often be little or no breeze. Go a few miles offshore and there is usually wind, sometimes quite a lot.

There are anchorages all along the island chain and it is not difficult to look at the charts and then work out an itinerary. Nights along the northern coast are frequently calm so you can anchor in quite open roadsteads without any real problems. The holding also tends to be very good on mud, clay or sand.

Anchorage at Bari on Flores. Nights are usually calm.

Currents and tides

The narrow channels between the islands can give rise to very strong tidal races with overfalls and whirlpools, so getting the timing right so you go through on a favourable stream is important. In the Flores Strait between the eastern end of Flores and Adonara we did 10.4 knots over the ground with the engine on low revs. Friends on another boat who got it wrong went nowhere for two hours at max revs in the narrows at the northern end of the strait.

Working out the tides can be difficult with different regimes in different places. Most yachts now have tidal programmes that are accurate enough for the straits. The Admiralty tidal programme with tidal stream clocks seems to work particularly well here. In general the stream will run north with the flood and south with the ebb. To this general rule you need to add in data from other sources.

In the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok the stream runs south with the SW monsoon and north with the NE monsoon. Most yachts will be here when the stream is generally running south. This southern flow is attenuated by the tidal stream so that when the stream runs north the current is lessened. To complicate matters the prevailing SW wind kicks up a nasty chop in the strait.

In other places the tides are semi-diurnal and there can be two high tides together followed by two low tides. Some tides work on an approximate basis with moon-rise and moon-set which most GPS units will show. The Flores Strait is one of these with tides running north from moon-set to moon-rise and then reversing. It's all a messy business so take whatever advice you can.

Overfalls and whirlpools at the northern end of the Flores Strait

Fishing boats and FADs

There are fishing boats everywhere day and night. By day there are few problems, but at night the boats are more often than not, badly lit if lit at all. The fashion at the moment is for strobe lights (red, blue, white, green) positioned anywhere that can be found on the boat. Sometimes these won’t be turned on until you are close by.

At night there are fleets of boats with bright pressure lamps that can be seen from some distance and these are not too much of a problem as they rarely move when fishing for squid and whatever else is attracted to the bright lights.

If you see any boats at night it’s worth turning the tri-colour off and putting the sidelights on as well as a steaming light. The local boats have a problem estimating distance with a tri-colour and can be still gazing upwards at it as they get close to you.

In a lot of places makeshift Fish Attracting Devices (FADs) are employed. These are commonly a bamboo raft with some palm leaves on top and a bucket at either end to slow the rate of drift. In the morning and evening the ‘owner’ will come out and fish around the FAD. In places there will be a lot of them, a maze that you need to zigzag through. They are not lit and don’t show up on radar so at night are a real problem. I nearly hit one and only avoided it by a matter of feet when I spotted it’s dark outline just in front of me. Now you might think a bamboo raft wouldn't do much damage, but in SE Asia bamboo is frequently used to build scaffolding on construction sites, often up to 5 stories and more, so if it's that strong...I don't want to hit a bamboo FAD at speed.


There is a lot of shipping through the Indonesian archipelago and also a fair number of dumb barges towed by tugs. While most of them use the main shipping lanes marked on the charts through the archipelago, a fair number do not. AIS is invaluable for identifying and tracking ships and radar helps as well.

Fuel and water

In a lot of places you go you will often be greeted just after the anchor is down by a local fixer or maybe just a fisherman with time on his hands. They will supply diesel, water sometimes, fruit and veggie, and some local info on the area. All of the ones I came across were polite, their boat handling was generally OK, and their margins for fuel and water are reasonable. (Come on guys, don't be mean spirited, they have to make a living.)

We filtered all of our fuel, but it was often cleaner than fuel from Australia or NZ. Water is something of a problem although some of the resorts like Sea World on Flores say their water is good or in somewhere like Labuan Bajo the water comes in sealed 19 litre containers from the mineral water plant and tasted great (and it's halal!).

Pakko in Labuan Bajo with 19 litre jugs of water


In the larger centres like Kupang in western Timor, Larantuka on the east end of Flores and Labuan Bajo on the west end, and Lembar on Lombok you can find mini-markets which will have most of the basics. Only in Bali are there more western style goods.

In most of the anchorages you can get fruit and veggie and there will often be a simple shop ashore with basic goods.


There are basically no yacht facilities except in Bali where you can get spares sent to the Royal Bali YC or the marina. There are general hardware shops in the towns and these often carry basic bits for the local boats. There are also diesel mechanics used to working on fairly basic engines (see the section on 'Mr Engine') and workshops that can do basic metalwork and welding jobs.


Off the Beaten Path Dick Allen (printed privately). A useful guide to some of the anchorages in Indonesia.

101 Anchorages within the Indonesian Archipelago. Available in Australia and places like Bali.

South East Asia Cruising Guide Vol II. Stephen Davies & Elaine Morgan. Imray. Gives a wide brush stroke for cruising Indonesia.

Dance troupe at Sea World on Flores


Labuan Bajo (Flores)


Labuan Bajo on Flores

This small town sits on the northwest end of Flores and is a base for charter boats running to Rinca and Komodo to see the Komodo dragons and go diving on the excellent coral around the islands. It is a scruffy place that cruisers seem a bit ambivalent about, but we liked it. It has all the hustle and bustle of a trading port straight out of Conrad and ashore there are a couple of good restaurants with wifi as well.

In the anchorage there are a couple of ‘fixers’ who can get you diesel, mineral water in 19 litre ‘gallon’ bottles and will try their hardest to sell you wood carvings of the Komodo dragon. This makes it all pretty easy and although the shopping is not great, you can with a bit of persistence get the basics. For fresh fruit and veggie you need to go the main ‘pasar’ out of town (about 15 minutes by bemo I was told).

By the way don't rely on your electronic charts around here (or in lots of places in Indonesia) or you will end up on a reef like one boat did while we were here.


Nongsa Point Marina

NOTE: This plan and info replaces earlier info in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide & Ocean Passages & Landfalls

The marina cannot be seen from the eastern approaches until close to, although you will see the pier off the Turi Resort. In the direct approaches to the marina there is a reef, Terumbu Babi, so yachts need to shape a course into the marina on either side of it. A small flag sometimes marks the reef (red 2009). When you are in the immediate approaches to the marina call up on VHF Ch 72 and they will send a boat out to guide you in. There are three sets of beacons showing the channel into the marina, although there are also beacons marking the channel down the Nongsa River to the ferry terminal.
VHF   Ch. 72
Data   90 berths. Visitors berths. Max LOA 18m. Depths 3-5m.
Berths Where directed on finger pontoons. Good shelter now the breakwater has been modified. There is a little wash from passing craft but nothing really discernible.
Authorities   Paperwork for clearing in or out can be processed here for a small fee. Notify the marina a day in advance of your departure date. Charge band 2.
Water and electricity at every berth. Showers and toilets. Wifi. Laundry. Swimming pool. Fuel quay. Mini-market. Restaurant and bar. For stocking up you need to take a taxi into Panas (around 45 minutes).
The marina is the most useful jumping off point for Singapore or Malaysia. The staff are friendly, the bar and restaurant is palatial, and apart from good shopping facilities, there is everything you need here for a few days R&R before setting off across the Singapore Strait. There are plans to extend the number of berths in the future by adding new pontoons.   E Tel +62-778 761333
Fax: +62-778 761330

This is a photo of the raw plan I send off to Imrays to turn into the plans you see in the books. The digital plan of Nongsa Point Marina will go up on the Imray website under supplements for Indian Ocean Cruising Guide (2nd ed) and Ocean Passages & Landfalls (2nd ed)


Local sailing boats in Indonesia

Pinisi (phinisi, pinisq)
These are schooners or ketch rigged boats of around 40 to 60 feet that are generally gaff rigged with two or three foresails. Unlike European gaff rigged boats, the gaff is permanently fixed in place and is not hauled up as on European gaff rigged boats. At first I thought they were like the sprit rig of a Thames barge, but the sail is in fact brailed to the mast and then hauled out between boom and gaff. A topsail can be rigged as well.
I’ve seen lots of pics of the traditional pinisi in Indonesia and had a friend who had one built in Sulawesi as a yacht. During our time in Indonesia I saw only one of them sailing. There were a lot of others around, mostly used as charter boats for diving and as tripper boats, but it was pretty obvious from the arrangement of awnings and lack of sails that the masts were only for ornament. In fact most of them had deckhouses so high that there was little room left to set a sail and with so much top hamper they could only be described as motor sailors, and even that is being charitable.
Charter pinisi with fixed gaffs...a motor sailor at best

I’m not really sure about the name, but these are Bermudan sloops or cutter rigs on a development of the traditional hull. We only saw one sailing in the distance.

This is the Indonesian name for a proa with a crab-claw sail and you see quite a lot of these. Some of them are canoes carved out of a single log with the outrigger and some are planked or a combination of the two. They are fast, can go to windward, and are most used for fishing, either trolling a line or fishing off the reefs.
Years ago I remember reading something about the crab-claw sail being the most efficient to windward, more so than the Bermudan rig normally considered the most efficient to windward. I’ve yet to locate the source of this bit of information that a stray neuron in my brain lodged away until now, but suspect it may be from C A Marchaj’s tome.
Prahu. Also the pic at the beginning of this entry.

Lots of the traditional boats are now powered by diesels (see the bit on ‘Mr Engine’ in this blog), but some of these still use a sail for added propulsion and motorsail most places.
This beautifully painted boat was seen on our way to Bawean above the Nusa Tenggara.


Crossing the Singapore Strait


Sitting in Nongsa Point Marina and looking out to the Singapore Strait it’s rare that you don’t see two or three ships passing by. I have never seen tankers as big as these with some of them the size of several football pitches. They make Panamax ships look tiny. Singapore is the busiest port in the world (so Singapore MPA says) with some 140,000 shipping calls every year. I work that out to be an average of 380 shipping calls a day. On any one day there are reckoned to be 400 ships in the designated anchoring areas around Singapore. Ships transiting the strait are strictly regulated and are on average 15 seconds apart. In practice this is not how it works and you get ships overtaking in the strait, ships slowing down and turning to go into the Port of Singapore, and ships just going slowly while they take on supplies.

'Aussie' Deans recommended route is shown in red

So the talk was of how to get across the strait to Singapore. There are two crossing zones clearly shown on all charts and any small craft needs to cross the shipping channel as near to right angles as possible in either of these two zones (shown with a ‘T’ on the plan). You can be fined for not crossing at these zones as near to a right angle as possible and it’s important to remember that small craft do not have right of way over shipping in the channels whether they are sailing or not. In fact I’d recommend you just have a main up with a reef or two in it to give a bit of stability to motor-sailing and also increase your visibility.

Fortunately we had ‘Aussie Dean’ at the bar who has been cruising around Indonesia and SE Asia from Darwin for the last 20 years or so. His easy route for crossing the strait is shown on the map. Basically you go west just outside the shipping channel until you get to Batu Berhanti at the western crossing zone. There are fewer ship movements on this side of the channel, though ‘fewer’ here is a relative term, so it is easier to stick to the Indonesian side rather than crossing at the eastern crossing zone. Then head across to Kusu Island and ‘the sisters’ until you get to the north side of the shipping channel.

You will most likely have to slow up or do a turn to avoid shipping going E or W, but it is not that difficult. The isolated danger mark on this crossing is a useful reference point and you shouldn’t  worry too much as it marks a 14 metre patch, adequate for most of us. You will likely see small open fishing boats pottering around fishing between the E and W-going channels, seemingly oblivious to the nautical juggernauts coming through. There are also a fair number of fast ferries going back and forth between Indonesia and Singapore which are used to keeping clear of small slow craft like yachts.

Yachts going to Republic of Singapore YC, Senetosa or Keppel Marina will head up the East Keppel Fairway. Yachts going to Raffles Marina should proceed west along the  northern side of the shipping channel to Raffles light and then head across the anchorage areas to where they can turn to head towards the Johor Strait and into Raffles just before Tuas No.2 crossing bridge. Anywhere around Singapore port you need to keep an eye out for ships leaving and entering the port facilities and the anchorage areas.
Raffles Point with distinctive light house

One thing that will strike you is the vast extent of the oil storage tanks and refineries along this bit of Singapore. This little island has the third largest refinery area in the world. A bit further on you will come across oil rigs in various states of construction. Singapore builds more oil rigs than anyone else in the world. To police all this fast patrol roar up and down all the time and call up ships that are not conforming or have not checked in with Singapore traffic control. It’s a hurley-burley of organised chaos with more than enough going on to keep you occupied, but in practice it is not as bad as you might think as long as you keep your wits about you. I overheard a conversation in the bar at Raffles Marina where a sailor reckoned ‘it was all just a game of chicken’ and that you should just head for the ships … ‘yerknow, like a game of chicken with cars’. Sure. Only in this case it’s a bit like playing chicken in a pram with an articulated lorry. No doubt he will contribute to some forum on the best way to take on shipping in the Singapore Strait, just before he runs out of luck and becomes chicken soup.



Raffles Marina. Tuas Second Crossing Bridge in the background

Singapore has tightened up on the regulations governing small craft in its waters and has effectively become a one-stop destination. The reasons are varied but include the huge amount of commercial traffic around its shores (see Crossing the Singapore Strait on this page) and a less lenient attitude to cruisers who have abused the rules here in years past (I’ll be expanding on that in a later rant).

Clearing in

Yachts can clear in at Raffles Marina or at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club. Currently the charge for this is around $S140. If you get the marina to clear you out then you pay this fee again. The marinas must bring the immigration man to the marina so some of the charge is for this service. Clearance is only during working hours which is 0800-1600 for Raffles Marina and 0900-1700 for RSYC. Keppel Marina also offers clearance though this does not always seem straightforward.


The alternative is to call Singapore MPA for east or west control and clear customs off the coast. This only operates in the eastern approach (off Changi VHF Ch 16/12) or western approach (off Tuas reclamation VHF Ch 16/68) and you will be cleared at sea. I haven’t done this, but talking to a yacht that has, it apparently is quite painless. The customs boat comes nearby and a long-handled net is held out for documents. This is then processed on board the customs boat and the completed docs put back in the net and passed back across.
Yachts should heed the letter of the law regarding procedures as, although the officials are all very friendly, a close eye is kept on yachts and all systems are computerised (including those on board the customs boats).
If you have any crew leaving the boat then they should be entered as passengers and not boat crew. All crew on board only get two weeks on arrival, but this can be extended for (usually) 30 days on first application and longer if you are having work done on the boat. You can do it yourself by going to the Seamans Section at Marina South Pier in the Departure Hall (Tel 6324 5015). You will need to take a taxi there from downtown Singapore.

You will need the following documents to clear a yacht into Singapore
  • Passports
  • Vessel Registration Certificate
  • Insurance Certificate
  • Last Port Clearance
  • Crew/Passenger List (to be stamped by the Immigration officer)

Singapore Marinas

Keppel Marina
01 15’.9N   103 48’.1E   WGS84
70 berths. 170 berths when finished. Visitors berths. Max LOA 25m. 5 superyacht berths.
Suffers from some wash. Shuttle bus to MRT.

One degree 15 Marina Club
01 14’.50N   103 50’.40E
270 berths. Visitors berths. 13 mega-yacht berths. 5.5 metre depths.
Suffers from wash. Visitors may be asked not to use some facilities when members need them (usually weekends).

Republic of Singapore Yacht Club
VHF Ch 77
180 berths. Visitors berths. Max LOA 25 metres. Mega yachts by arrangement.
Suffers from wash. Need to take a taxi to town.

Raffles Marina
VHF Ch 77
165 berths. Visitors berths. Max LOA 20m. Megayachts can go on the outside of the breakwater. Depths 2-5m.
Less wash than the other marinas. Shuttle bus to MRT and shopping. Yacht services and chandlers.

Choosing a marina to go to is always going to be a matter of preference. Raffles is the most comfortable (wash-wise) and although it is further away from downtown Singapore, the marina operates a regular shuttle bus to the MRT at Jurong Point and Jurong East. There are large supermarkets at Jurong Point and Jurong East and malls with lots of other shops.

Moving around Singapore

Yachts that want to move from one port in Singapore to another need to have a Class B AIS transponder. These can be hired for around $S35 a day (2009). If you are entering and leaving from the same port the transponder is not needed.

The Mass Rail Transport system is Singapore is fast and efficient and cheap. You can get to most places or close to most places in Singapore and then take a taxi to where you want to go. Buy a smart card for a single journey (around $S2-3 for most journeys) and then get a dollar refund when you return the smart card. Taxis are everywhere and relatively cheap.

If you need to haul there are not a lot of options around either in the Batam Islands, Singapore or Malaysia south of Lumut. Around Singapore Marina Yacht Services at Raffles have an efficient if fairly expensive operation and you can usually get in here. There are a few other places around but it seems to be difficult to get a definite date to haul.
Yacht Services Yard at Raffles Marina


Clearing into Malaysia

From the Skylax blog 30-12-09

Most nationals do not need a visa for Malaysia. When you get to a port of entry then you need to go to the following authorities.

1. Immigration. Get all passports stamped into the country. You will need to fill in immigration slips that remain with the passports. If someone is leaving the country by any other means other than the yacht then they should be stamped in as passengers and not as crew.
2. Harbourmaster. Fill in the paperwork and pay a small fee for light dues (around 40M$/8 Euros/12 $US).
3. Customs. Will take copies of the paperwork and that is that.

Clearing out involves going to the same offices in reverse order. The Harbourmaster will issue the clearance papers for your next destination.

Most nationals will get 90 days in Malaysia which is easily extended for another 90 days. Yachts can be left in the country for a year.


Malaysia: Puteri Marina


Proceed under Tuas Bridge 25 metres air height. Once under the bridge the channel is well marked all the way up to Danga Bay. Do not stray close to the Singapore side which is a military area and firing range (you will likely hear them practising). Once up to the Puteri marina and hotel/apartment complex you will see dredgers and barges around the entrance. Call up Puteri Marina on VHF Ch 18 and they will send a boat out to guide you in. In November 2009 there was 4m least depth (my adjustment for LAT) at the entrance, but dredging is ongoing. It is planned to have a least depth of 4.5m LAT.
Note: The entrance is silting already and is likely to continue doing so in the future so contact Puteri Marina to see what depths there are in the immediate approaches to the outer basin.

76 berths. Visitors berths. Max LOA 60m. Depths 4-6m. Charge band 2.
Berth where directed. There are finger pontoons and plenty of space to manoeuvre when entering or leaving a berth. Staff will help you tie up. Excellent shelter.
Authorities   The staff will run you into the large container port at the entrance to the Johor Strait to clear in with the authorities. You need to give them a days notice for clearing in and clearing out. A charge is made as quarantine and customs will come to the marina. You clear in with immigration at the container port.

Water and electricity (220V). Showers and toilets. Laundrette. Wifi. Fuel and gas can be arranged. There is a small chandlers cum grocery shop, but the stock at present is so limited it is unlikely to have anything you need. Transport arranged on specific days to a night market and to a supermarket.

This is a very upmarket marina, part of a huge hotel and residential complex. The public marina is up and running and a convenient place to clear into Malaysia. Work on the rest of the complex in ongoing. The staff are all very friendly and bend over backwards to make things work. Puteri, by the way, is ‘Princess’ in Bahasa Malay.

Superyacht berths: It is planned to have a superyacht quay for approx. 10 superyachts in the outer basin. Max LOA 100m.
Bridge: The plans show a bridge between the outer basin and the public marina. It is not known whether this will be a lifting bridge or a floating bridge that swings the middle span to one side.
Private marina: A private marina for residents is under construction south of the public marina.
Villas and apartments: These will likely go up in stages as they are sold off.
Commercial centre: Like the villas and apartments, this will be developed over time.

Again this is the initial plan I send to Imrays to be tarted up and digitised for the books. Yes they are all drawn by hand and yes it takes a while. Perhaps some of the less scrupulous amongst you that have scanned my books or photocopied them might reflect on the amount of work that goes into the pilot books...then again it just might be for the gods to balance things up.


Malaysia: Danga Bay

Danga Bay Marina at 01 28'.38N 103 43'.42E WGS84

If you proceed up the Johor Strait from Puteri you come to the huge new development at Danga Bay. This is intended to be a huge commercial and residential development hitch-hiking on the economic powerhouse of Singapore just across the water. Danga Bay was the venue for the Sail Malaysia Rally with lots of free dinners, exhibitors from various parts of Malaysia and tours of Johor state.

As you get close to Danga Bay you need to be careful of the sandbank on the western side of the bay which stretches more than halfway across the channel. Just stick close in to the eastern side of the river mouth where all the development is going on. Its all mud here so as long as you are going slowly its not a problem touching bottom. On the eastern side there are 3-4 metre depths up to the pontoons off the shore at 01 28’.38N   103 43’.42E (WGS84). You can berth on the finger pontoons or anchor off clear of the fairway.

There is good shelter and you can clear into Malaysia here, although you will need a taxi to get around to the various offices. There is an ATM, food stalls and a supermarket not too far away.


The Malacca Strait

From the Skylax blog 28-12-09
Typical Malaysian fishing boat. Most have a light or lights of some description... but not all of them as I discovered

Getting up the Malacca Strait

If you read any of the media articles on piracy and a lot of the stuff on the internet you will see the Malacca Strait gets mentioned as an area where yachts need to be on the lookout for pirates. It’s a piracy risk area, sounds authoritative doesn’t it, for yachts cruising the strait. In fact its not pirates you need to worry about here, but unlit hazards like fishing boats, nets and FADs and logs. Oh and lightening strikes.

Every year several boats are damaged, usually damage to the propeller and shaft, when motor sailing at night and encountering nets and logs. A number of boats have been sunk from hitting water-logged logs that float just on the surface or just beneath it. Fishing boats will usually display a light of some sort, blue and red strobe lights have been popular this year, but not always. Just before Port Dickson at three in the morning we were humming along at 6½ knots under sail when I dimly saw a shape ahead of me and just managed to get the wheel over to skim by a 40 foot solid hardwood fishing boat. He was not lit at all.

In Indian Ocean Cruising Guide I recommend following the 20 metre contour so that you stay inside the commercial shipping lanes and outside the worst of the nets and log-lines. That still pretty much holds true although at times you can be in deeper water and still be inside the commercial shipping lanes.

There is a lot of lightening along this coast and I know of at least half dozen boats that have been hit by lightening in 2009. There is not too much you can do about it except cross your fingers
 and try not to stand anywhere near the rigging. We had one of those little chimney sweep brushes on Skylax that are popular in the USA which was reduced to a short stub after a lightening strike, so I’m not really convinced about the efficacy of them.

The other problem you have coming up the Malacca Strait is the tides. Tides set from the north getting later the further south you go. This means you can pretty much carry the tide the whole way going south down the Strait. Going north you are bucking the tidal system and you will be lucky to get 4 hours favourable tide in any 12 hours.

And so back to pirates.

The Malacca Strait has been extensively patrolled for years and there have been no known attacks on yachts for at least ten years. Local yachts from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand regularly transit the strait and even attacks on commercial shipping have declined dramatically in the last five years. There are still attacks on commercial shipping, but not on yachts.

That said, there can still be events like the one in the Butang Islands in Thailand (technically out of the Strait anyway) where Burmese fisherman murdered a yachtsman in order to steal his dinghy. That is an exception and on a recent visit to the very same place there were at least five of us tied to moorings in the bay and another half dozen yachts around the corner. In general piracy is not an issue in this part of the world and it’s the dangers mentioned above, unlit fishing boats, nets and long-lines, floating logs and lightening, that are the real worries.


Malaysia: Port Klang

From the Skylax blog 10-12-09

Port Klang YC

This is a river straight out of Conrad’s Lord Jim. A steaming tropical river port teeming with coasters and lighters loading and unloading cargo, the river itself full of rubbish swirled along by the current, tin-roofed houses down at the waters edge with rickety wooden jetties, a miasma of steamy mist overlaying the water… this is Conrad’s river. Even in town you get a feeling of edgy goings-on, of seedy characters in dilapidated bars off the main street, of con-men and others. Of the con-man we know something when a car pulled to a halt and a well-groomed Indian man got out. ‘Do you have any small change… I need to change 100 Ringit…’ With slight of hand and the old distraction technique he managed to take a hundred Ringit off us before a friendly shop-keeper warned us to have nothing to do with this ‘bad man’.

From the detached pontoon in the river you look across to the wonderful Royal Selangor Yacht Club, built in Malay style and open to what little wind there is. A bumboat runs you across the river and you sink into rattan chairs and order a drink from the attentive staff while fans whirl overhead. Malay style with colonial overtones.

This is all up the river in old Port Klang. Downriver at the entrance is the new duty-free port, all huge deep water docks and serried rows of gantries to haul the containers off the ships and onto trucks bound for Kuala Lumpur. In the river entrance just south of the main south channel there is a brand new marina built by the government that the RSYC hopes to move into … that is when the local politics have been settled and permits granted.

Wooden coaster from Indonesia chugging up past the RSYC



Clearing into Thailand

From the Skylax blog 30-12-09

Yachts clearing into Thailand need to visit immigration, customs and the harbourmaster. In somewhere like Ao Chalong in Phuket there is a one-stop office for clearing in. When you get to a port of entry then you need to go to the following authorities.

1. Immigration. Fill in the forms and get stamped into the country. Anyone leaving the country by any other means other than the yacht should be stamped in as passengers.
2. Go to customs and fill in the necessary paperwork.
3. Go to the harbourmaster and fill in the necessary paperwork.

When you leave visit the authorities in the same order. The harbourmaster will issue the clearance papers for your next destination and make a charge for light dues (200 Baht).

If you intend leaving your boat in Thailand and then leaving the country by other means then you need to put up a bond (around $US800) with customs. This can be tedious and it can be useful to use an agent, though I have done it without using an agent.

There have been rumours floating around various internet sites of corrupt officials demanding fees for clearing in and out. In my experience at Ao Chalong this was not the case and the officials were friendly and helpful in that smiley Thai way.

At Phuket there is a system of issuing orange flags with a number so that visiting yachts can be identified. In fact we had to ask for a flag and the system has broken down a bit as the flags and numbers have all faded in the sun… we were not checked once while cruising Thailand.


Cruising western Thailand

From the Skylax blog 05-01-10
Skylax off Ko Pranak

Langkawi (Malaysia) to Phuket

Leaving Langkawi
You can clear out of Telaga Marina on the NW corner of Langkawi (and fill up with diesel) but some of the officials are not there at the weekend (usually the harbourmaster) so it is often easier to clear out of Kuah and then anchor off at Telaga or nearby anchorages. The Malaysian authorities seem pretty relaxed about this.

Cruising up to Phuket
It used to be that you spent a bit of time cruising up to Phuket and a bit cruising back down, but these days the Thais are less relaxed about boats spending weeks getting up to Phuket or Krabi before clearing in and its best to take a week or less getting there.
We were in a bit of a hurry to get up for the Kings Cup and pick up crew who were arriving so we left Telaga for Rok Nok (around 70 miles) and from there went straight up to Ao Chalong where we checked in the next day. On a more leisurely cruise up you would probably go to the Butang group and then to Rok Nok or across the Ko Lanta Yai and the islands around there and then via Phi Phi or some of the other islands.

Checking into Thailand
See the specific entry above.
Basically you can go to Ao Chalong and the one-stop office there or to Krabi. Ao Chalong is pretty easy although the anchorage is crowded.

Sailing around Phuket
Around Phuket there are numerous anchorages, especially on the west coast, and several marinas. You can go to Boat Lagoon or Royal Phuket Marina down the windy dredged channel, to Ao Po, a new marina on the NE corner of Phuket, or to Yacht Haven on the north. The latter is probably my favourite.

Yacht Haven
There is a fair bit of current running through the marina but the marina will send a RIB out to guide you in and help you berth. There is good shelter here, but still enough breeze to cool things down. There is no decent shopping here but you can hire a car to go down to the malls and supermarkets near Phuket town. It is close to the airport for crew changes. There are a couple of restaurants in the marina including the Boathouse with wonderful views and farang type food. There are some local restaurants a bit further on from the Boathouse. You can get laundry done, gas bottles filled, all that sort of stuff, and there are also a couple of very good wood-working shops here doing everything from boat carpentry to teak decks.

You can also anchor off to the west of the marina. The marina charges you to bring a dinghy in and most yachts at anchor buy a weekly pass. That means you can also get water.

Yacht Haven Marina      Photo Yacht Haven

Phang Nga Bay
Around Phang Nga there are any number of spectacular limestone islands, many of them with hongs, caves that the rain has carved out of the limestone as it filters through it, and it so shallow everywhere that you can anchor almost anywhere. In the NE monsoon there are lots of anchorages on the west side of the islands and for the most part you can make it up by just looking at a chart. The bottom is mostly mud and good holding although there are some places where the mud is quite soft so the anchor pulls through it until you get to some firmer stuff.

You could spend weeks around here and at times you can re-provision... sort of. Off Ko Pranak a longtail pulled up and lo and behold sold us dinner, a dozen fresh prawns. In the daytime some of the islands are busy with tripper boats running tourists out from Phuket, but by evening it goes quiet and you will likely have an anchorage to yourself.

Hong who?

Back down to Langkawi
As with coming up there are any number of islands you can visit. After clearing out of Ao Chalong we chugged across to Phi Phi, then down to Ko Lanta Yai and Ko Muk, and then across to the Butang Islands.

There are around five mooring buoys off the western side of Ko Adang in idyllic surroundings. There is good coral off the beach and a pristine white beach under the jungle clad slopes. These islands are part of the Tarutao National Park and yachts should refrain from anchoring on coral around the islands. You can be fined heavily for damaging the coral in the park so take care where you anchor.

Coming in here I half expected to find it deserted as this is where Mr Bean, the yacht attacked by the Burmese fishermen, was moored. Although its easy enough to say this was an isolated incident, nonetheless your gut tightens a bit at being in the same spot. I was surprised to find four yachts in here and another half a dozen anchored off around Ko Lipe, which means that yachties do see this horrific attack as an isolated event.

The sail back down to Langkawi was a blustery old affair with 30 knots on the clock at times and a confused sea. It’s worth remembering that weather is weather and even during the settled NE monsoon season you can still get blustery winds and squalls with lots of thunder and lightening through this season.


Create a Free Website