Approaching the Riau Islands

A beautifully made dugout
A beautifully made dugout

Just south of Singapore are the final group of Indonesian islands Temptress is going to visit. Of all the Riau Islands the most well known are Bintan and Batam; the former is a holiday destination for Singaporeans and its north coast has a string of resort hotels including the infamous Fawlty Towers beach hotel we spent Easter 2015 in with our friend Ian and Fiona. At the northern tip of Batam next to the ferry terminal is the Nongsa Point Marina where Temptress and her crew will check out for Singapore. Before we reach there however there are a myriad of islands to sail through.

Lingga the first island Temptress reached is summed up by its entry on the Indonesian Tourist Board’s website which describes it as a remote place that straddles the Equator – and that is about it! The main town derives its name Diak from the triple peaked mountain of the same name that overlooks it in the island’s northern section. However our intended anchorage at the southern tip some forty miles away by land is tucked behind Tanjong Jang, just north of Pulau Sunsa and beyond the reach of the tarmac. Isolation indeed.
Strictly speaking Lingga and neighbouring Singkep are one regency, the Indonesian equivalent of a local council, whilst Bintan and Batam are another but all four together with their numerous outlying islands form the Riaus Free Trade Zone. The population of the area are a mix of Malays and Chinese with a smattering of Bugis and other tribes.

The Dutch and the British empires met here and the islands’ history is closely tied to the former colonial powers land grabbing efforts. The sultanate of Johore once owned all this territory in addition to Singapore and much of peninsular Malaya. During the early nineteenth century the sultanate was in turmoil over which of two half brothers should inherit the throne; the preferred son not being present as tradition required when his father died and the other being from a wife who was not in favour. The Dutch and the British joined opposite sides of the dispute. The settlement via treaties hammered out in Europe eventually lead to the boundaries of current day Indonesia and Malaysia.

Fishing house
Fishing house

Braveheart was anchored well off the bay when we arrived at first light; Bob explained the bay had been uncomfortable in the previous afternoon’s sea breeze so they’d moved further out. In the channel the tidal stream was running hard not a great place to be either and there was nowhere to go ashore for a walk, a common complaint amongst yachties in these parts where the woods and mangroves come right down to the shore and there are few roads or paths inland. He suggested we try P. Kongka a few miles further north where the various books suggested an anchorage off Penoh Island just to the west with its village on stilts.

Our early start meant the hook was dropped by mid morning. It was a lovely spot, swimming was precluded by a knot or so of tide but we hung off a rope off the back of Temptress enjoying being cooled whilst the locals all swung by in their noisy boats to say hello to us, yachts are obviously not a complete novelty here as no one lingered. Before lunch Braveheart sent their tender across and we joined Bob and Di sitting on their swimming platform up to our chests in water – an added benefit of having a hydraulic platform on the stern of your boat to recover and stow the tender!

The next morning, Sunday, Temptress made another early start for the forty mile passage to P. Mesanak. Our first destination though was the Equator and an appointment with Neptune just a few miles north from where we had spent the night. The scenery is different again, low rugged shrub covered hills interspersed with mangroves and a few stretches of sand at the waters edge. Islands dotted everywhere in lines running virtually north east, south west; the western edge of the ring of fire. In the distance to the east the misty mountain peaks that make up the central area of the generally low lying Lingga island are shrouded in cloud.

Almost seven months to the day Temptress crossed back into the northern hemisphere; it was the morning of March 21 when we last paid our dues, a first for me. This morning, November 20, we drank a little toast and poured a libation of Mount Gay into the Java Sea for old Neptune. From now on water goes down plugholes the right way and “Boiled Maggots” law works without having to stand on your head i.e. with your back to the wind in the Northern Hemisphere the low pressure is on the left.

Ships Log: Belitung to P Mesanak 288nm