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.
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'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.'
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 (www.imray.com) 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
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:http://cruisingindonesia.blogspot.com/
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…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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, '...in 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'.
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
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.
From the Skylax blog 11-10-09
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.
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