Arrival in Belitung

Monday morning was a totally different day weather wise – as the skipper put it succinctly “normal weather service is resumed”. All around us in the anchorage off Bukulimau where we had spent the night the fishing boats were firing up engines, a couple of guys tied their boat to our stern coming aboard to squat on our transom and watch Kevin try to solve the problem of opening a badly burred filler cap. Once the filler cap had relented Kevin poured in our two remaining cans of fuel bringing the gauge to just above red; it was time to go, today’s destination is Tg Keleyang on the NW corner of Belitung some forty nautical miles away. We hope to find diesel and perhaps some fresh veggies as Temptress larder is woefully low with just half a small squash and a carrot remaining, no onions, no potatoes, no greens and very little garlic.

Spent the night amongst the fishing boats of Bukulimau
Spent the night amongst the fishing boats of Bukulimau

If you ever sail this way a comfy, safe anchorage can be found off the island village of Bukulimau off the south east corner of Belitung. Approach from the south even in the dark and anchor just south of the big fishing outriggers in 12m on sand. If like us, you are heading north the local fisherman will show you the pass through the reef to the north. We waved and called “selemat pangi”, good morning to the boats on moorings being prepared for another fishing trip. Their crew’s smiled, waving back with a torrent of Bahasa in reply. Stood on Temptress’ side deck, I shrugged my shoulders hands low and open in a sign of incomprehension causing more laughter. They swung their arms in big sweeps pointing through the moorings to indicate the deep water passage and one in a gaily painted boat without outriggers led the way through. Beyond the pass he slowed, stood on his stern with his sarong flapping up round his knees, fleetingly I wondered whether the same held true for Indonesians as for Scots and their kilts! Should I look away just in case? Then he did the airline hostess emergency exit thing with his arms – hands at his chest, shoot them forward together then sweep the arms wide – followed by a big grin, a thumbs up and a wave goodbye; basically he was saying there is clear water in any direction from here! Hand signals are a universal language!

You have probably heard of the mining company BHP Billiton. This Dutch conglomerate owes part of its name to the island of the same name in the Java sea – now spelt Belitung (it used to be spelt Belitong) – that once was a profitable source of tin and a host of other valuable minerals for the Dutch. Where tin is found, gold and even uranium may also be found so for some this was a rich island indeed.

On the passage to Bawean last week I read Andrea Hirata’s amazing autobiographical novel Laskar Pelangi or ‘The Rainbow Troops’. The story of impoverished children from a small Belitung village getting an education despite all the odds is an incredibly moving read. It is a tale of the dedication of their teachers, the domination of everyone’s lives by the state owned mining company that took over when the Dutch were ousted at Indonesia’s independence until the collapse of metal prices worldwide in the mid to late twentieth century brought poverty even to the mining management and yet it is also a beautifully told story of adolescent dreams and their outcomes.

Another mystery obstacle in the sea off Belitung - a fishing raft?
Another mystery obstacle in the sea off Belitung – a fishing raft?

The island’s east coast is a mix of low hills interspersed with long stretches of mangroves, fairly monotonous viewing from a boat. There is the occasional island and a few reefs closer inshore so Temptress route was a couple of miles offshore outside off all dangers. What blue skies there had been gradually disappeared as blankets of grey cloud joined up overhead, by mid morning it was spitting with rain again but at least the laundry from a couple of days ago was finally dry.In fact the rain came to nothing though judging from the black skies most of Belitung was experiencing a very soggy day.

The motoring became tedious and slow with a knot of current against us and what little wind almost on the nose. Even with the mainsail up we were making slow progress at little over four knots, would we arrive before dark?  Engine revs were increased, we cut the corner a bit closer to the reefs to shorten the distance by a mile or two as we rounded the top of Belitung in a bid to reduce the time at sea and eventually dropped the hook a little after 16:30. The actual bay and the chart seem to bear little resemblance to each other starting with a huge chunk of granite that is marked as awash on the chart but actually stands some 10 metres above the water. And despite what the chart indicates Keleyang Bay is well protected from anything but northerly weather, a slight swell works its way in but we’ve had worse.

Our friends Bob and Diane of MV Braveheart arrived here just a few hours earlier, they must have passed us at anchor around dawn this morning! Like us they are entranced with the rocky scenery – the pink granite is spectacular with huge weathered boulders just resting on others like giant play blocks scattered in the sea from the headland. So different from anything else we’ve seen in Indonesia so far. Our mood has lifted – whether its the scenery or the prospect of restocking on fuel and provisions or simply having an improvement in the weather I can’t say, perhaps its a combination of all three.


PS: Laskar Pelangi has been made into a movie too