Sunday, February 16, 2014

Squirrely sailing

I now know how a squirrel feels when attempting to cross a Los Angeles freeway in rush hour. After a full week of waiting on Indonesia Customs and Immigration to clear me out of Batam Island, I finally got the green light. So February 16th at 07:00, I headed out into the large channel that separates Indonesia from the island nation of Singapore for a 1-day solo sail to Malaysia (Judy was back home giving support to parents).

This is probably the world's busiest channel with ships of all sizes and types coming and going and from all points of the globe.

B U S Y !

My destination was the Danga Bay Marina (Malaysia) which is across a much smaller channel that creates the border on the north side of Singapore.

For the 1st couple of hours, I sailed west with a nice breeze on the starboard beam and with a 2-knot current. I paralleled the designated shipping lanes which is noted on the charts, a redundancy because all 1 had to do is observe the string of ships going in either direction to know where you shouldn't be. However, I had to cross those lanes at a prescribed place, which I did as I jogged around the hugest mega super tanker that was evidently loaded.

At any 1 time, I could count 50 to 100 ships either in route or anchored or berthed. I would guess that there are at least 1,000 ships in this immediate area at any given time.

1 of the smaller freighters

Once I had passed along the south side of Singapore, I turned and started up the Perkins to motor up the smaller channel on the west side heading north towards Danga Bay Marina. It was later in the afternoon when I turned into the Marina, and as the tide was at its lowest, I had only 1 metre under the keel at 1 point.

I tied up (N01°28.44' E103°43.38'), and just as I made the last snap on the sail cover, the sky opened up for a short but heavy shower. But this squirrel was safe and snug and to boot, Sea Turtle was getting a nice rinse off which is always good after a passage.

Assault on the senses

Indonesia (and Bali especially) is often stated as an assault on the senses. Now we understand why this is said. There is so much to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch that you become overwhelmed at times.

Sight: Our first impression was of all the sights and scenes that we absorbed as we travelled along scenic paths and roads or through picturesque terraced rice paddies; as we strolled quaint alleys of villages, towns, and cities; as we contemplated the unique traditional architecture as we passed or entered buildings, residences, and temples; as we watched the beautifully decorated traditional dancers. Everywhere the sights were amazing. Handmade carvings of wood, stone, marble, etc. were beyond words to describe. 

We watched as traffic cops helped pedestrians to jaywalk, stopping traffic as they led the pedestrian across! And even more surprising, was seeing so many, very young, motor-scooter drivers. These capable youngsters would ride them to and from school and all around the towns or villages. After all, they grow up as passengers on them from the day they are born.

How old are you?! (courtesy of Aaron)

As well as young drivers on motor-scooters, we saw adults on loaded motorcycles or bicycles with their wares to sell. This man on bicycle is actually moving down the street, fully loaded!

He must be in there somewhere...

Smell could be positive or negative. When walking or driving past areas where garbage had been dumped was very bad. We would have to plug our noses until we passed by! The smell of smoke could be rampant as almost all men and most women smoke in Indonesia. (There were also many large billboards advertising cigarettes, something no longer allowed in North America.)

But the aroma of delicious food cooking was very enticing and the odour of stunning flowers intoxicating.

Come close...

Taste: And speaking of food, we found the food in Indonesia to taste delicious whether from roadside stands or restaurants. I can't handle real spicy foods but when we asked for mild, it almost always was. We tasted many dishes that we have never even heard of before and it was usually something that we thoroughly enjoyed.

A large lunch buffet

Due to high humidity, liquid sugar was served with coffee, etc. What we lacked for our taste buds was good wine! It was very difficult to find any wine in most of Indonesia, and when we did, it was quite expensive, so come well stocked.

Hear: Our ears could hear all sorts of different sounds. Throughout the day at specified times was the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. For us, at time, this was an annoying sound but we soon learned to blank it out. And of course there were the typical roosters crowing in the morning. In larger centres, blaring bar music.

Gleeful laughter of adorable children

But there was also the sound of silence when in the outlying areas which was a nice change from city noise.

Touch: What can we say about touch? Well, all the new fruits and vegetables never tried before; the soft leathery pads of monkey and orangutan paws, the soft sands on our feet, the tickle of the butterflies when they would alight, and all the different textures of cloth such as the exquisite silks, linens, cottons, etc.

Super soft feel

Riding in a van bus assaults several senses. Drivers honk their horns as a warning of their approach, quickly swerving through hand-drawn carts, pedestrians, and hundreds of motor-scooters. It's a mystery how they can see where they are going as their windshields are tinted and cluttered with many small round mirrors, gadgets, stuffed animals, etc. usually stretching from 1 side clear over to the other side.

This is 1 of the less cluttered windshields with several items hanging from the rearview mirror, 3 round mirrors stuck to windshield, 5 Happy Faces, stuffed animals all along the dashboard, and tinting at top and bottom, leaving only a narrow strip of clear vision...

All in all, the new and unique stimulating senses added to the memories that we cherish. Yes, Indonesia was definitely a fabulous assault on our senses!

Official dollars and time

Following is a summary of facts of Indonesian officialdom for the 2 of us, and many other sailors, with costs indicated in US dollars:

Prearranged Cruising Permit (CAIT) must be applied and issued prior to entering Indonesia. Cost: $200 for agent fees. Time: 3 weeks. The 90-day clock started ticking on this day before we even reached Indonesia.

Prearranged personal 60-day Visa is required before entering Indonesia. Process done at the closest Indonesian Consulate, which for us was Fiji. Time: 2 days.

Checking in for us was at a rather remote city in Tual. Cost: $130. Time: A frustrating 6-day process mostly do do with Custom procedures (officials not familiar or up-to-date with sailor-related privileges).

Renewal of personal Visas for an additional 30 days while at Bali. Applied on Wednesday, paid the fee of $160 on Friday, then returned for the 3rd time on Monday to pick up passports with new stamps. Time: 5-day process.

Renewal of CAIT. Cost: another $200 for agent fees. Time: 1 month.

Renewal of personal Visas for another 50 days while at Pangkal Pinang. Cost: $450 including 4-day overstay penalty, local agent assistance, and travel. Time: 5-day process.

Renewal of Jordan's last personal Visa. Cost: $85 including ferry. Time: 4-hour process.

Indonesian checkout. Cost: $125. Time: 1-week process.

Total cost of officialdom for our 4-months in Indonesia: $1,350

Indonesian checkout

I had arrived at the Nongsa Point Marina from Mentok on Saturday, February 8th. This is an Indonesian checkout spot that many westbound sailors use for its location and as the Marina staff facilitates the checkout officialdom. It is on the Island of Batam right across the strait from the island country of Singapore and would be the last stop in Indonesia. (Judy was still in Canada helping her parents.)

I soon found out that I had arrived on the final day of a week-long annual sailboat race/regatta that the Marina hosted. Most of the boats were stationed in the area, but the crews were from all over. I took advantage of fresh shore water to give Sea Turtle a refreshing shower.

Upon registering my arrival at the office, I informed them that my personal Visitor's Visa would expire the next day and asked them if they could process my checkout pronto. They said "If you bring up your paperwork, it should be no problem." (Hmmm...I think I have heard that one before.)

"Do you have a wheelbarrow?"
"Never mind."

So staying positive, I presented all of the reams of official Indonesian papers that we had accumulated and let them tell me which ones they needed. But apparently, I didn't have the proper Import Permit, and the one we had, had expired which they decisively pointed to. I felt like asking them if they had ever travelled to China, and if so, could they read Chinese? All the forms are in Indonesian and nobody explained that we even had an Import Permit much less explained that it expired.

We were always made aware when our Visitor's Visas and our Cruising Permit (CAIT) was about to expire, no one mentioned anything about an Import Permit. This apparently was going to need some consultation with the Customs head office to sort it out.

I could see that this was going to take more than one day, so I decided to do a Singapore Visa run the next morning, the day my personal Indonesian Visa expired. But the Marina facilities here were great with restaurant, bar, showers, and swimming pool, so in the meantime, I decided to heed the call of the cold at poolside.

Refreshing indeed

I was up at 05:15 the next morning to catch the shuttle bus for a short ride to the ferry terminal for the 06:00 Singapore run. Before boarding, the Immigration stamped my passport as outgoing. It was a short 30-minute ride across the strait where I went through Singapore Immigration and they stamped my passport giving me a 30-day Visitor's Visa for Singapore. (Thanks, but I only need about an hour.) I had a quick runny egg breakfast, then got back on the ferry for the return ride.

So on landing back in Indonesia, of course, it was through Customs Immigration again as an incoming tourist. "Would you like a 7-day or 30-day Visa?" they asked. Now normally, I am a positive and optimistic person, but after 4 months of cruising in Indonesia and dealing with bureaucracy, I was being cured of that condition and I was being swayed over to the dark side. So it was with an unapologetic pessimist attitude that I paid the extra and went for the 30-day.

The days started to tick by with no progress. My inquiries yielded small dribbles of insight as to the goings on of the officialdom out yonder, beyond my control. Evidently, the normal agent, for the normal of fee of $25 couldn't handle my problem with Customs. It required a different agent.

By Thursday (5 days later), I finally was informed that everything was sorted out and the Customs would clear me, however, the agent needed a $300 US payment to cover Custom fees, penalties, and agent fees. I was getting a distinct whiff of a fattened rodent.

I informed him this was exorbitant and I asked for a breakdown of costs for Customs, penalties, and agent fees and that I would take it up with our agent Raymond in Jakarta who we had used for our original incoming processing. Well, it turned out that when pressured, he said it was all just agent fees. I told him that was too much and it should be no more than $100 US. The next day, he texted me a simple blunt message "I cannot act as your agent." I replied with a not so simple and not so nice retort.

Raymond in the meantime inquired about the problem and apparently we were originally given a commercial type of Import Permit that was a comprehensive bundle of bureaucratic redundancy that needed attending to, however it was mostly done and I could finish it.

Surprise, surprise - the next morning I got a text that the agent would finish the process and the charge would only be the $100 US. So I gave him the go-ahead.

So by Saturday, the whole clearing out process was done and I was free to go. One week to check out of a country! Unbelievable. Raymond, our agent in Jakarta has been working with Tourism Indonesia to simplify this complicated bureaucracy, but the wheels are rusty.

The was a nice place to be held hostage. The resort facilities were at my disposal. I practiced up on the pool table at the bar beside the pool which I swam in everyday. A good fast internet was included! Life could be worse.

February 16th at 07:00, I departed the clutches of Indonesia for a solo one-day sail to another marina in Malaysia.

Sea Turtle ready to leave Nongsa Point Marina

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The battle in my brain

It seems that just before a departure on a passage the opposing poles of my psyche start bantering like fighters in the ring. The venue is my grey matter. The longer we have been in port, the more intense the fighting goes. This departure was no different. My middle mind acts like the referee at ringside as Apprehension, the opponent on 1 side, battles it out with Enthusiasm on the other.

Apprehension throws a solid: "It's a good practice to add 10 knots to the weather reports and expect bashing into unexpected short steep waves that halt you in your tracks."

On the defensive, Enthusiasm counters with: "So what's the worst, we have to tack an extra day for the first leg."

Apprehension: "The longer you postpone your leave, the better the seasonal strong winds will abate, so just wait."

Enthusiasm: "But our friend Sam told us that the latest up-to-date news was that the supply ships, after being weather bound for so long, were now heading out because it was calming down considerably."

Undeterred, Apprehension lands a solid 'one-two': "Did you forget already getting beat up trying the passage from Kalimantan or that horrid night trying to make the last 10 nautical miles around the point to the Bali harbour."

The battle seemed close at times but, in the end, the optimism of undefeated Enthusiasm won the match, making it now 26 & 0.

This is a battle that plays out in the fickle minds of more than just this sailor. I've seen world class sailors in various ports permanently hunkered down, frozen with the fears from their last rough passage blinding them of the remembrance of those good ones.

So the late afternoon of February 4th, I spent stowing and lashing and sending off emails giving notice to loved ones that I would be severing Mentok's hold early in the morning. Judy was home in Canada giving some support to parents so I would be solo sailing, a 1st for me.

The 1st day would be the breaker. If I made that open stretch okay, the rest should be much easier.

Goodbye Mentok

Shortly after I pulled anchor, I was around the point and heading into the wind that was coming directly down my rhumb line. It was about 12 to 15 knots, just enough to make waves the size and spacing that stopped Sea Turtle if she tried to go directly into them. So I fell off about 35° and motorsailed to keep it as close as possible into the wind, tacking my way north across this 50 nautical miles of open sea.

Not more than an hour out, the auto pilot started to act up and then quit completely. I spent an hour troubleshooting and determined it was unfixable by me. I could hear Apprehension mumble something from the corner of my mind. I ignored him and undeterred I attached the self-steering windvane rudder and kept going. The windvane requires a certain amount of wind for it to function adequately and that I had for the 1st day and night.

It took tacking back and forth all of that 1st day and night to make it across the 1st open stretch. It was not unpleasant at all. "Take that Apprehension!" I am fortunately wired so that I can fall asleep within 15 seconds of putting my head down. So with a timer placed close to my ear and set for 17 minutes, I woke regularly for my checks throughout the night.

I enjoyed greeting the early morning dawn rested, and perked up with a cup of java. On the north side of the open sea area that I had just crossed, and close to my planned route, the charts showed a wreck. There are many wrecks noted in this part of the world but almost all are below water, however this was noted as parts above water. Sure enough, there it was, a not too old freighter sitting mostly out of the water with its back broken, slowly being recycled by nature. I wondered what it was like on the bridge at the moment she ran aground.

It was on the charts...

Captain to 1st Mate: "What was that rumble?"
1st Mate: "I don't know Captain. Maybe you should check the charts."
Captain: "Ahhh, yes Mate, good idea...where do we keep those?"

My route from that point on took me mostly on the west side of a string of islands or between them. The wind predictions were 10 to 14 knots from the NNE, so with a little of lee from the islands, the wind was that or much less most of the rest of the way. But the windvane needs a stiffer breeze that that and likes it more on the beam, so I was hand-steering for the rest of the way.

Hand-steering didn't require constant vigilance behind the wheel as I had feared. I mostly sat under the dodger reading my Kindle e-book and only occasionally making slight adjustment to stay the course. I was even able to pop to and from below to make meals, etc. while making way.

The 2nd night, I was able to find a nice anchorage (S00°39.8' E104°20.5') at the south end of Singkep Island around 05:30 and was able to watch a movie before retiring for a full night's sleep. Up at 05:00. Coffee on. Check engine oil and clean up bilge. Up anchor and off at 06:00.

1st anchorage

About 07:00, I was passing a settlement where I had marked my charts as the anchorage our friends used 1 night on their passage. There I noticed what looked like cell phone towers so I pulled closer to shore to see if I could get reception for my cellular Wi-Fi. Even though reception was the speed of sap in winter, I was able to get and send a couple of emails and even get a Buoy Weather report. The forecast was still good. The site track cost me an hour but it was worth it.

The tide/current was with me all morning and I noticed it mostly passing between islands. However in those conditions where I was encountering current against even the slightest winds, it created short, steep, little waves that would bounce Sea Turtle causing the bow to pound into the face of each wave, almost stopping her at times. Once out in more open waters though, it was easy going.

The skies were hazy in the mornings but clear and sunny during the days.

At 17:35, it was another milestone for Sea Turtle. We crossed into the Northern Hemisphere on February 6th. Sea Turtle had been cruising south of the equator for 2.5 years (crossed southbound off the coast of Ecuador on August 16, 2011). I celebrated alone in the warm velvet evening setting sun by cracking open a cold beer and downed it in quiet but happy contemplation of the places this good little ship had carried us. Those moments were almost perfect. Almost, because I was missing my 1st Mate.

Crossing the equator northbound

Later that evening, I dropped anchor (N00°06.65' E104°19.25') on the lee side of an island for another peaceful night. Rarely do I come in to anchor in the dark, but before the evening light faded, I could see the island's features and then with radar and depth sounder, I very slowly moved in safely. Again, I noticed a cell tower. Weird for such a remote place. I tried Wi-Fi again and actually got some emailing done as slow as it was.

Early in the morning, I pulled out for the next day's journey. Shortly after getting underway, I noticed some other sailboats at an adjacent island. This was a curious sight as very few cruise these waters at this time of year. I radioed but got no response.

I was in an area of beautiful islands with hilly topography and sandy beaches. Definitely a great cruising area. I thought maybe that was why I was seeing other sailboats. Maybe Singaporeans down for some cruising?

Singapore is an island country that punctuates the bottom of the Malaysia Peninsula. My destination was a marina still in Indonesia on the Island of Batam, just across and on the south side of the Singapore Strait which runs east and west. I would have to go up another strait between Batam and Bintan Islands that run north and west. My last night anchoring (N00°48.6' E104°21.3') was in that later strait.

At that point, I was seeing not only other sailboats, but increasing marine traffic. Also very evident was development. I was leaving remoteness behind. Again I was able to slowly get and send some emails.

Up and away at 06:00, it was my last jaunt. Going up the Strait, I was constantly dodging small fishing boats as speedy passenger ferries were constantly dodging around me as they transitted back and forth from the 2 bigger islands. The further I got up the channel, the more commercial traffic - either coming or going or at anchor or at the port's piers.

The last 8 nautical miles gave me good gap winds on the beam, so I extinguished the purr of the Perkins for a pleasant 6-knot sail right up the entrance of the Nongsa Point Marina (N01°11.8' E104°05.8') on Batam Island on February 8th. I pulled in along with sailboats who were returning.

It had taken a relatively comfortable 4 days + 5 hours - including my 3 nights at anchor - and covered 275 NM to make our destination. So take that, Apprehension!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Memorable times in Mentok

Alone on Sea Turtle for the 1st time. Normally Judy and I at any time are no more than a boat's interior distance apart. Some have asked us how we could live so close together 24/7 but it just seems right to us. Now with her half a world away, it seems strange. But boat jobs fill some of the void.

Still in Mentok (aka Muntok, Indonesia), I daily talked to Arthur on Morning Glory to compare weather predictions that we each pull off our favourite internet sites. Right from the boat I got 3G internet using the cell phone system so I kept in touch daily with Judy while she was in 50° below zero Alberta weather.

Judy and her Dad in cold Canada

Sam and his wife as well as his parents, all of Chinese ancestry, have adopted me and make the delay in this port memorable. They are a well known and respected fixture in the happy community. There is a diverse religious mix here - Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu - and they all are proud how they accept each other with absolutely no prejudice or judgment.

Sam insisted I spend 2 days with them for Chinese New Year's, a big thing for Chinese all around the world. The 1st day, as tradition dictates, Sam opened up his garage door and set it up for visitors, replete with light eats and customary snacks where anyone known or otherwise was welcomed in for pleasantries. I was an honoured guest that Sam graciously introduced to each and every visitor. The next day, I went with the family to make their rounds to their friends where we were in turn catered to.

Far left: Sam's parents, left next to parents: Sam & wife, far right in back: Jordan

Yet another display of the wonderful friendly local hospitality was shown when I was invited along with Sam and family to an annual feast put on by a large extended Chinese family of Buddhist persuasion. (Sam and family are Christian.) The variety and abundance of dishes, many I had never tasted before, was a symphony of delights.

I reciprocated the only way appropriate and had Sam and family all out to the boat for snacks and refreshments. I dug out some ancient prized Chinese tea that we were given by our Chinese friends before we left Victoria. They were quite impressed with our floating home and the tea.

Another day, Sam and I hiked to the top of a hill just outside town that was the exiled home of Indonesian royalty during the turmoil of Indonesian independence.

Strange rock erosion

And on it went. Another day for dinner at Sam's parents. Another night when the dinghy was high and dry in the mud by the time for my return to Sea Turtle, Sam insisted I stay once again with them.

When Morning Glory detected some predictions for slightly less wind, they decided to make a run for the north. They are a faster boat with a family of 4. I would be single-handing so I was not quite comfortable with the prediction. So I was left as the only and lonely sailboat.

Finally though I saw a comfortable forecast for significantly lesser winds so decided to make my departure. When I was in port to say my goodbyes, the confidence of my decision was strengthened when the news in town was that the commercial boats were about to start moving which delighted them because town supplies were getting low.