Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mentok discoveries

During our stay in Mentok (aka Muntok) on Bangka Island of Indonesia, we did a bit of exploring with our local friend Sam.

We learned that Mentok's history developed from tin mining. In fact, Bangka's name was derived from wangka meaning tin. We were in a tin rich area that stretched from as far north as Thailand to down past this area. Much of the mining is done by large working dredge barges that we had seen in the area and were anchored close by. There were all sorts of support boats, like the fuel transports, tugs, etc.

Tin is found in the sandy bottom of the ocean that is dredged up from the shallows and sluiced to yield a dense black sand that is highly concentrated with tin. Just south of town is a large tin smelter that produces ingots for export. Many tourist items are made from tin and Sam was even able to get a bit of the black tin sand for me to add to my collection!

Sam acted as our tour guide of the town. We visited the new museum where we learned that the Dutch started the tin mining here in the 1700s. He also took us out to the old towering lighthouse at the point where we climbed the cramped circular stairs up over 100 stairs.

View from the top of the lighthouse

However, during the days waiting for a weather window, I was getting some distressing news about my Mom's deteriorating health with the realization that her hospitalization wouldn't be temporary, leaving Dad on his own to deal with this difficult and sad adjustment.

We both were planning on flying home in a couple of months to visit, but now things were not the same. I decided to fly home early and Jordan would join me after he and Sea Turtle made the necessary exit of Indonesia. Sam found and booked me a reasonably priced, short notice, flight back to Canada.

With a few days before I left, we had a chance to receive the warm hospitality of Sam and his friends and family. He treated us royally and even one night when an extremely low tide left our dinghy high and dry in the mud (along with all the other boats in the harbour) preventing us from returning to Sea Turtle for the night, he insisted that we stay with him and his wife in their home overnight.

Sam with wife Elizabeth and their nephews

Our friends (Amy and Arthur, and their kids Rivers and Stephen) on board Morning Glory had arrived at Mentok after doing the same orangutan tour we took. They too were on their way north and needed to wait for weather and renew their visas as well. So we introduced them to Sam who once again obligingly facilitated officialdom for their visa extension.

We and Morning Glory also met a bright young gentleman named Harry who worked in a roadside shop. He made us delicious avocado drinks with ice that he crushed manually with his old antique green crusher. We enjoyed our visits and great conversation with Harry at his shop.

South Borneo and these islands are major growers of the palms used for palm oil. We passed by huge tracts of these palm plantations and saw clusters of the palm tree fruit at the side of the road waiting to be picked up or delivered. Malaysia is the 2nd largest producer but the largest exporter of palm oil.

Jordan with roadside clusters

When it came time, Jordan accompanied me on the bus to Pangkal Pinang where I would leave the next morning. That night, we stayed in a luxury hotel and dined over a gourmet last meal.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mentok chores

Mentok (aka Muntok) is on the northwest end of Bangka Island (Indonesia). We were anchored in front of the town about half a nautical mile offshore because of the shallowing depth and about 2 nautical miles from a point that protected us and many other anchored commercial boats from the north winds.

With the dinghy launched, our first sojourn ashore was exploratory. We entered a small harbour behind the breakwater where we had spotted boat traffic going in and out of and discovered a myriad of mostly fishing boats rafted up 10 wide or more. We tied our dinghy alongside and clamoured across the fleet and climbed the piles up to the pier. We quickly realized from the friendly stares and the continuous "Hello Mista" that we were a curious novelty in this rather remote town.

Boats all in a row

First stop: checking into an internet shop, where again we sat on the floor in a cramped corner getting our email and checking weather sites. It was quickly obvious that the north winds were here and it would be who knows how long before we could see an adequate break to make the last 450 nautical miles (835 km) to exit Indonesia.

Then the next issue we had to address was our expired visitor's visas. "Overstays" as they define it are penalized at $20/day/person. We realized we could be stuck for weeks waiting for a weather window and the penalties could be substantial by the time we made it to the Indonesian checkout place. So we had to consider flying to Singapore for a visa run.

Visa runs for many travellers visiting in SE Asia are common and it usually involves simply going across the border of the closest neighbouring country. There, one would get their passport stamped for exiting the country that they just left and stamped into the country that they just entered. Then one turns right around and returns, getting an exit stamp and a new entry visa for the country that they want to stay in. Making a visa run from Mentok, a small town far off the tourist track with no airport, was not going to be easy.

We wandered through the narrow streets to familiarize ourselves with the town. After inquiring, we were referred to a small office that handled travel arrangements. There we met the owner Sam who would become not only the most gracious host to us but also became a special friend.

Jordan and Sam

Sam soon told us an alternative way to get our visa renewed. There was an immigration office in Pangal Pinang, the capital of Bangka and across the Island, a 2.5 hour drive away. The process would take 3 trips to their office and about a week but we wouldn't have to travel out of the country (ie. an expensive flight to Singapore).

Sam offered to transport us and liaise for us through the infamous and not-so-straight-forward Indonesian officialdom. A bonus: Sam could speak Indonesian. When we asked Sam what he would charge for his services, he responded "Whatever you think, it's not that important." Now normally when we get such a response, we are on guard because it is open for overcharges after the service is done. But for some reason, we sensed in Sam a genuine honesty and benevolence which we would learn was an understatement.

Once the immigration visa extension process was done, it cost (including penalties) about $550 and only gave us 3 remaining weeks after which we would either have to do it all over again or be checked out of Indonesia up north by then.

Fuel was another requirement, a not so easy endeavour at the best of places. We had anchored right beside a self-propelled barge, Avirra III of Jakarta, that looked like it was a fuel transporter. What the heck, no harm in asking. Jordan dinghied over to see if a purchase could be done and after some haggling on price, the super friendly crew accommodated Jordan's fuel jug sorties.

Awesome Avirra III

We were given a tour of the spotlessly clean Avirra with its shiny green deck. Their cook served us coffee and we were able to check email on a crew member's phone. What a great bunch of guys!

Jordan wanted to get a permanent fix to replace the jury fix of the broken injector pipe. Our engine is an older Perkins made in Britain halfway around the world. Factory original parts, if available, would take some time to get delivered.

So one of our day trips with Sam to the city of Pangkal Pinang, with a spare injector and broken pipe in hand, we stopped at a dealer for Kubota Earth Excavators to see if their machine shop could fabricate what we needed. But he brought out from his Parts Department an injector pipe for a Kubota and surprisingly it had the right threaded nuts and flared ends that could be fitted on our Perkins!! The pipe was extra long but with a bit on bending it did the fix. Things were working out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Karimunjawa to Mentok

The forecast for a few days was for light winds from the north, so we wasted no time getting out of Karimunjawa to head north for a checkout point of Indonesia.

Skies were squally with thunder and lightning around the islands, but as we left, our course kept us just upwind of an ominous storm cell. Our first hour was a nice sail to windward through a few islands, then once out in the open, the winds died so it was motoring as expected. We kept our fingers crossed for 2 days of light winds which would get us to the lee of islands to the north - and we were fortunate to get what we wished!

As we got close to the channel between Bangka Island and Sumatra Island on our port but still about 30 nautical miles offshore in open waters, we noticed a larger fishing boat anchored in strong current. The depth was about 15 metres. Jordan was concerned about running short on fuel before our next available fuel stop so we pulled up to the fishing boat to see if they could sell us some diesel.

Our communication was by signing. Jordan held up a jerry jug, hollered "Solar?" and showed them some Indo currency notes, and we got a jolly affirmative.

Even though there was only a moderate wind, the tides created short steep waves, so tying alongside was not an option. They tossed us a line and we tied off on our bow. Another messenger line was floated back using a big clear inflated bag which Jordan then tied around a jug and they hauled it back for filling. We did that twice, to yield us about 37 litres (10 gallons).

Jordan put the cash in the float bag to be sent back to complete the transaction. Judging from all the crew spectating and then waving goodbye with big smiles, this no doubt was a pleasant and rare interlude to their mundane sea life.

The money's in the bag!

We had to battle increasing winds and tides to get up into the channel and relented for a few hours by anchoring (S03°20.082' E106°38.024'). Once the tide changed enough to lay down the seas, we started up again and the tighter the channel got, the more the water flattened and gave us some calm motoring. But we had been experiencing periodic motor rev increase that was worrisome. Could it mean clogged fuel filters or worse, a slipping tranny? We carried on though.

The channel we were heading up through was a busy shipping route. Small freighters and big tugs were ever present. At times, we would pass real close and exchange pleasant waves.

We noticed a funny practice by the local small fishing boats that Jordan dubbed "Indo remoras" (a remora is a fish that suctions itself to larger fish for a free ride). The fishermen would sneak up behind the barges being towed by a tugboat and hook onto the barge for a free ride. Jordan and I looked at each other. "Hmmmmm, should we?" But we chose not to be likened to a parasitic fish! LOL!

Indo remora

The land on either side of the channel was low lying and the waters were shallow for a long way out so we maintained a close watch on the depth sounder especially when we cut the corners.

We got pelted with rain and threatened by lightning as we wound our way north but were happy to be in protected waters. Our next anticipated stop was at the north end of Bangka Island at a town called Mentok (aka Muntok). Just a few hours short of that stop, we were getting an increased smell of diesel that was puzzling and the periodic motor rev increase was increasing. We increased throttle, but that didn't provide any more power. So we decided to anchor and try to find out what it was.

Once the engine compartment was open, Jordan found a leak from a crack in the #1 injector line right at the injector. It was late so we decided to both get a good night's sleep then tackle the problem (S02°14.545' E105°36.876').

The next morning, it took some ingenious jury fabricating using bits and pieces, taping and drilling till Jordan got a leakproof fitting of the high pressure line. Then we were off for a short 6-hour run to Mentok. As we rounded the last point before the town, we got a stiff wind which we at first beat into until we were close enough to the lee of the land to motor the final short distance.

The charts showed rather shallow bottom that diminished up to the shore. That was the last place of protection before one would meet the open seas beyond and the force of a north wind sea. For a couple of kilometres along the shore, other commercial boats were anchored.

Watching our depth sounder, we slowly moved towards the shore for a suitable anchoring depth. But something weird was happening. Our depth sounder indicated an erratic bottom - 8 metres, 90 metres, all over the place. The geography was low and flat and predictable; the charts showed the bottom was a constant but slowly increasing depth further out. We thought the depth sounder was giving up the ghost.

So Jordan got out the fishing rod with a weighted line and sounded, and sure enough, the sandy bottom was extremely irregular and to add evidence to it, in the running tide we could see a swirl in the water with muddy variegation. What we learned later was that this area has been dredged for tin leaving an unnatural irregular bottom. But we felt secure, and once anchored (S02°04.723' E105°09.494') at 18:00 on January 14th, relaxed with a good holding bottom.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Just before leaving

Still nestled in the group of Karimunjawa Islands of Indonesia, we once again went ashore to check internet as we waited for our weather window. Through several online sources, Jordan determined that we should leave today.

We walked past several large quacking ducks with weird bumps on their beaks and children gleefully yelling out "Hello Mista" and giving the high-5 as we passed the ubiquitous mounds of refuse on our way to market with our trusty guide Hussein.

No smiles today for the camera

Regrettably, this was the poorest market we have ever been to. There was a severe lack of products and what was available was old, wrinkled, and shrivelled. Several pared down heads of cabbage full of worm holes and 1 bunch of ripe bananas covered with unappetizing white spots were a couple of the few choices. No fruit was available but Hussein had given us 8 Jambu that he'd picked from a tree earlier...

Local fruit: Jambu

Jordan didn't care for them as he found them to be bitter tasting but I enjoyed them with a texture and taste similar to a pear.

Wood carving is a popular pastime at Karimunjawa with many beautiful samples displayed. There are 3 local types of wood and the people believe that each has a different symbol and meaning. Hussein's family sold me a very unusual wooden ring with an inlaid shell.

We pulled anchor at 14:00 as we motored once again. During our brief stay, we were disheartened that we did not have time to explore the white sand beaches, blue lagoons, and nearby islands. But being here during the off season means we must take advantage of every available weather window.

Hussein's pink boat in the foreground as we leave...

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


We had successfully made our 2nd attempt to escape beautiful Bali and were just about ready to anchor at Karimunjawa (Indondsia) on January 8th, when a young man named Hussein approached Sea Turtle as we scouted the area and directed us to a free-standing wood pier across from the long and large 1-year old concrete main pier that was too high for Sea Turtle's bumpers. He was a very take-charge kind of man but also very obliging as he became our guide.

The wooden pier was ramshackle with boards lying atop but no longer nailed down and with big gaps between many of the boards. The supporting structure seemed sturdy and safe enough. (As instructed by Hussein, we tied alongside but Jordan later Med-moored/tied us stern-to at S05°52.709' E110°25.805')

Flimsy surface but solid piles

We went to town with Hussein and were shocked at the non-stop profuse layers of garbage right behind the shore homes and throughout the town. How could they stand to live next to smelly garbage? Hussein's care-less-attitudinal-response was that it would all 1 day be covered with soil. It was such a pity that the locals abused the otherwise pristine archipelagos. This beautiful group of 27 islands is a National Marine Park.

Nice backyard??

Our goal during our brief sojourn was to take on fuel and check the marine weather forecast, but everywhere we asked, we were told "No internet." Fortunately, Hussein's friend (wearing a cool sea turtle T-shirt!) offered his computer for a fee as he could receive Wi-Fi with his plug-in USB stick that connects to the cell phone system. This is what we had used in other places such as New Zealand and Vanuatu for internet.

Next we had to refill our tanks with diesel (called solar here). We have done so much motoring and will probably continue to do so before reaching Malaysia. Hussein put Jordan in touch with a woman that he could purchase the required fuel from. She sold it out of big plastic jugs of suspect cleanliness.

We visited with a vacationing couple from Jakarta (Indonesia) at a restaurant and then walked over towards the sounds of loud music and singing from a visiting pop music band. The area was filled with parked motor-scooters, stalls selling cheap toys and trinkets, and locals sitting on the road from 1 edge to the other in front of the stage.

The stage was full of bright flashing lights and the Asian singers wore very short miniskirts and very high stilettos. Sadly, the singing was pretty atrocious so we did not stay long, much to Hussein's disappointment. We made our way over to an internet shop that is only open at night as that is when the electricity was turned on. The man at the shop took pity on us and kindly gave us the password and let us check weather and email.

We then returned to Sea Turtle for a quiet night's sleep.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

2nd attempt

For our 2nd time in Bali, it would be to regroup before we would make our 2nd attempt to run northwest to our Indonesian checkout point just beside Singapore.

A problem we were now facing was the seasonal persistent northwest winds were filling and beating into headwinds for the distance we needed to go and would be too much. Winds would be NW the next few months with some rare short spells of light winds. We had to wait for the latter. We consulted with Bob McDavit, a weather guru based out of New Zealand who would give us weather window predictions for departure.

We also had to address the failing backstay problem. Bali harbours a service a wide area of marine commerce where rafts of mainly large fishing boats offload and do repairs. But we soon realized that sophisticated and advanced rigging technology in this neck of the seas consisted of lengths of cable, galvanized if you were lucky to find it, looped back on itself, and secured with a couple of bolt clamps.

So Jordan bought a length of cable that was claimed to be stainless steel (but soon as sea proved otherwise), and some bolt clamps and a turnbuckle that were in fact stainless steel, and installed a supplemental backstay that would to the trick until we could get a real replacement for our backstay.

A nice interlude was a surprised dinner visit with our Bali friend Joel.

Beautiful Bali? Yes, Bali is indeed beautiful, but why does the dinghy dock have to be such a disaster, falling apart and littered with garbage...

After 5 days in Bali, Bob gave us a "go", predicting about 5 days of light winds for the area we needed to head into. Another dilemma. Our visitor's visas at that point would expire in about 2 weeks and it would be highly unlikely that we could expect 10 days of light winds needed to make it all the way. So we were faced with the decision of renewing our visa while in Bali, at least a week-long process (which would give us another 30 days) but would mean missing our weather window and then having to wait who knows how long for the next light winds, OR, making a run for it and paying whatever penalties for the overstay.

We were all fueled up and ready except for a quick prop cleaning dive and a last minute run to the supermarket. Go? Stay? Go? Stay? We decided to go. (Note to the uninitiated: Always leave with a clean prop because the slightest growth will drastically disrupt the aqua-dynamic flow over the blades which significantly reduces your "speed" for lack of a better word and which is not really an appropriate word to use to describe sailing progress!)

So our 2nd departure from Bali was at 16:00 on January 3rd. Choosing a different route this time, our route took us around the south tip and up the west side. We were motoring in calm seas when we rounded the point. A good start. In the middle of the night while Jordan was on watch, he heard a thump and detected a momentary slowing of RPMs. Something solid enough to feel it and contact with the prop makes one anxious.

In a moment, he had the powerful handheld searchlight on and didn't have to scan far to realize there was a massive collection of flotsam on the tide line that stretched along our course. The rains wash all sorts of debris off the islands including natural and manmade. There were trees, the ubiquitous plastic garbage, and Jordan said he even saw about a 2-metre long dead alligator.

After a course alteration, it was back to a relaxing watch. Well, for a short time that is. Soon we encountered 1 of a few faintly lit small open fishing boats at the end of nets that stretched across our path. There was a predictable maneuvering pattern. Spot the lit boat and pass to the right, because the nets stretched away in the other directions. We would close enough to exchange a friendly "Hello Mista" to break up the lone fishing boat's monotony.

Bright and colourful!

As soon as the sun was up, Jordan stopped Sea Turtle and drifted while he dove on the prop to clear a bit of plastic. It's always a strange feeling to be in the water drifting along with your boat while out in the open seas.

We then were approaching the narrow pass between Java to the west and Bali on our starboard. Our tide table indicated that our timing was good, but it could be out as much as 2 hours, and if we hit it wrong, full power wouldn't yield us any progress. But as it was, the tide was in our favour and the only concern was the busy commercial traffic that was transitting the pass and the 2 ports on either side of the channel.

The 2nd day was pleasant motoring, as much as motoring can be pleasant that is, in clear skies until evening when the convection clouds developed into thunderheads that turned the skies dark, producing copious amounts of rain and dire lightning displays.

On the 3rd day, January 6th, we motored past oil well platforms. At night, the lights of these goliaths can be seen for many kilometres away.

The winds, on Sea Turtle's nose of course, gradually picked up by the afternoon so we started to sail. As we made long tacks, we kept passing a tug with its barge that was heading in the same direction. It became a game in our minds to see if we could gain enough ground to make the next pass in front of him. Eventually we did!

As we approached the islands of Karimunjawa at nightfall, the winds died. We needed to make a stop here for fuel and check our weather guru on the internet to see what we could expect for the next few days. but the village anchorage is reef strewn and entering at night too dangerous so 5 nautical miles off, we turned on our anchor light and drifted, occasionally checking for traffic and our position to make sure the tides weren't taking us too far.