The recent Eid public holiday being a Thursday (24 Sept) made it an easy decision to take Friday off and join other boats from Changi Sailing Club (CSC) for a cruise. Our goal was a fishing village at the southern end of Batam essentially to eat Friday night’s supper at a fish restaurant floating over the sea just west of the headland of Tanjung Paiyu.
Kevin & I met SDF’s owners Derek & Katy early on Thursday morning at CSC with the aim of leaving before lunch. After bringing the boat alongside, loading on supplies for lunches and then having a leisurely breakfast at the club we motored off against the wind to rendezvous with Singapore Immigration at Angler Buoy. There we milled around awaiting our turn to hand over our passports and boat papers. They were handed back stamped together with the boat clearance paperwork only a few minutes later and it was time to hoist the sails and set a course across the shipping lanes to Batam Island three hours south. Our destination Nongsa Point Marina where we could clear into Indonesia.
Getting a boat into some countries around the world can be a hassle and Indonesia is no exception. A couple of weeks earlier Susie had taken SDF’s Green Book, insurance certificate and a crew list to the agents in Singapore. They had sent these off to the local Indonesian Embassy who had renewed the Green Book for the current (boat) insurance period, issued a sailing permit valid for one trip within a month and clearance permission to enter Indonesia for the princely sum of S$183. It took just over a week so, despite Nongsa being about the same distance from Changi as Lymington is from Southsea in the Solent, you do need to plan ahead. No getting up in the morning and thinking you’d enjoy a sail before lunch on Batam!
The recent haze conditions brought about by the out of control land clearance fires in Sumatra seemed bad as we left Changi, Pulau Ubin being hardly visible a mile or so across the channel from the club. Spotting big ships heading either East or West through the Singapore Straits was going to be interesting. The Straits are one of the busier shipping channels in the world but for anyone who has crossed the English Channel from the Solent to France it is actually a walk in the park as the ships mostly line up behind one another and there are reasonable gaps between them. One big tank loomed out of the haze from our porthand side to keep us guessing for a while but everything else was either close enough to easily dodge round the back of or too far away to be of concern. We crossed the bows of the supertanker with plenty of room to spare. A late lunch of tuna and avocado was appreciated by all
The usual friendly welcome at Nongsa complete with a committee of marina staff on the pontoon to take our lines and the same muddle as on our previous visit of which side to they actually meant. A quick dash by Katy, Kevin & I saw the fenders and lines re-attached to the correct side whilst Derek maneuvered SDF round to enter the berth stern first so we could more easily step on and off the stern. Our passports and the paperwork were whisked off to be dealt with. Derek roped Kevin into having another attempt at getting SDF’s autopilot to work – topping up the hydraulic fluid got the ram to move the wheel which was a step forward but there was still some sort of electrical fault and no compass reading on the handheld control unit. The fridge too resisted attempts to get it working continuously but some weight was removed from the boat in the shape of a defunct hydraulic pump which had once controlled the backstay.
Katy and Derek checked into a hotel room then after a swim, showers and pre-supper drinks in the cockpit we rounded up Michael & Danielle from SY Jill and took a taxi to a fish restaurant the other side of the local town. Travelling through the poorly lit streets you are acutely aware of how the Nongsa Resort & Marina is worlds away from the reality of life for most of Batam’s residents. Wooden shacks line the street; some are homes, some are stalls selling plastic tat or veg. Like many countries in this part of the world the main form of transport is the motor bike, mum, dad & the kids pile on. At the restaurant we examined the concrete basins of fish and seafood including one beastie that we unanimously agreed looked and moved around like a huge marine cockroach and I’ve still no idea what it was – needless to say we didn’t order any. Sweet and sour fish, large whelks (called gong gong), prawns and more were devoured. We finished the night dancing on the pontoon with the crew of WYSIWYG.
The following morning after a buffet breakfast in the resort restaurant we followed the rest of the flotilla out of the marina first east and then south against both wind and tide. Picking our way between tugs and barges we crossed tacks with the other boats several times. The haze it seemed was clearing in the strong southerly wind and gradually views of Bintan (the large island east of Batam) and many smaller islands appeared. A real mixed bag of coast line – jungle clad islands, patches of shallow coral reef, drying rocks, kallangs (fish traps made of stakes), ferry terminals, ship yards and chemical works. We even saw a large cruising yacht with a Japanese ensign motoring in the other direction. The main channel narrowed until we squeezed between two pulaus (islands) to spot our destination in the distance. A right turn up behind the un-named island to the north of the headland and late afternoon we dropped the hook off the small fishing village with blue painted tin or red tile roofs built mostly on stilts at Tanjung Paiyu. The only sign of the twenty first century the large radio mast stuck on the hill behind and the digger hacking away at the hillside further along. Later Gary & Karen ferried us ashore in their rib (as SDF is dinghy-less) and everyone enjoyed a fish and seafood feast washed down by quantities of the local beer. For the eight at our table it cost around 800,000 rupiah or S$80 (about 5 GBP per head). It was well worth the effort of the long sail to windward.
On Saturday morning most of the the fleet up anchored early and made a short trip under engine across to Pulau Awi where the water was clearer and those who wished could snorkel before breakfast. Then one by one the boats upped anchor and sailed downwind north to Nongsa. A much faster, more direct sail saw SDF approaching the north eastern corner of Batam as lunch was served so we furled up the sails and drifted as we tucked in. Nongsa directed us to the same berth as when we had left. Kevin & Derek continued with their attempts at boat repairs whilst Katy & I headed to the swimming pool in the next door resort (the Nongssa Pool is closed until December for refurbishment) for a cooling dip. In the showers later I met the wife from the Japanese boat – they have sailed up through Indonesia from Australia with Sail Indonesia and are now looking forward to a few weeks of not going anywhere, sometimes as liveaboard stopping in one place for a while is a luxury to enjoy.
Having possibly overdosed on fish restaurants SDF’s crew were pleased to discover that Saturday night at Nogsa Resort is Buffet on the Promenade night with BBQ meats, salads, dimsum, steam boat and more. The wine stocks are not as extensive as the menu would suggest, the skipper had to go with the waiter to see what they actually had and returned with a passable French red that needed an ice bucket to reduce its tropical temperature to something drinkable. The local band which included a sax player were into songs from the shows – easy listening but we did wonder if their female singer actually understood English well enough to know what she was singing about. However the real treat was when the Chinese tourists came up on stage to sing karyoki the boys were good!
The following morning the wind had dropped and the haze was back. We’d guessed it during the night as the mosquitos took full advantage of the still air and claimed their victims – Kevin & I again slept on the boat and were eaten alive despite coils, generous sprays of mosquito killer and wrapping ourselves in our sheets, it had been a hot sticky uncomfortable night, perhaps we should have booked a room after all. We left around 11 having retrieved our passports and a clearance document that would permit us entry into Singapore. The sun no more than a red ball in the sky it felt like a late English summers evening not a tropical midday, weird. There was plenty of shipping but only one ship required avoiding action and soon we were approaching Angler Buoy, where was the immigration boat?
Derek scanned the bay with binoculars then called them on the radio, Mystic River narrowly beating us to it. We milled around in circles under engine whilst Mystic River’s passports were processed, despite being mostly Singaporeans on board they had problems with paperwork. Then our turn – how many crew? Just four of us all Brits so it was quick and easy, thanks to the four copies of the crewlist prepared by Ronnie at the club prior to our departure – he ensures there is no problem by stapling the copies together with little labels that say ”Singapore Departure”, “Indonesia Arrival” etc . All we had to do was put the correct set in a large ziplock bag with our passports, ID cards and the boat papers, then drop it into the fishing net dangled by a guy standing on the bow of the immigration boat. The boat moves off with a wave and circles round whilst the duty immigration officer checks and stamps the documents and provides a clearance document which has to be sent to Singapore’s One Stop Document Shop within 24 hours by our skipper (the aforementioned Ronny does this for club members as long as we remember to pass it to him).
A pitstop at the club pontoon for a very late lunch then we packed up the remaining food, our damp towels etc. Whilst our men carried everything including a portable fridge and a coolbox up the gangway to a trolley and thence to Derek & Katy’s villa (they live at the sailing club with a view over to Pulau Ubin, we are quite jealous!), Katy & I delivered the boat to its mooring. Busy chatting we had a bit of a ditsy moment when we picked up the wrong mooring but Katy’s puzzlement over the fact that the pickup line not fitting as sleekly as usual made us realise before everyone noticed our error!
It had been a great four days. As is often said about Indonesia – you put your watches back an hour on leaving Singapore and step back a hundred years but it is a beautiful and almost unspoilt world.