Lane and Kay suggested Pulau Akar some 15 miles to the northeast. The directions for the approach in the notes we refer to as the Howarth ones (www.thehowarths.net) were detailed with a series of three waypoints through the reef strewn bay. They cruised this area in 2016 snorkelling and diving in company with a couple of other yachts and their notes form one of two sources of pilotage information we have for the Anambas, the other being a brief section in the Rally’s own cruising guide.
The hope was for a downwind sail but getting a spinnaker on deck before we departed put paid to that! With little wind Temptress motored all the way, the skipper using the opportunity to tune the charging systems and run the watermaker all day. Mai Tai chose to hoist sail initially and hence arrived a couple of hours after us. Looking at the chart as we motored across I paused to ponder yet again who the sailors were who gave their names to local shoals – Walsh, Barnes, Brownrigg, Howard, Bennett and Pascoe?
We took the passage between Akar and it’s neighbour Pulau Bate, some 100 metres wide but with reef and rocks extending out from either side. I stood on the bow to warn of rapidly rising rock or coral but in fact the channel was never less than 30 metres deep. The tide flowing through though was a knot or more against us. Around the corner the first of two deep bays on the north end of Akar proved to be very sheltered, like a long V. The waypoints were helpful as the reefs reach out from either shore to almost join at the entrance and then again half way in. Temptress anchored in the circular area between the two, Mai Tai went through the second pass into the shallower area beyond.
Around us low rock promontories like two fingers stretched out. They are covered in scrubby trees. A tiny beach in a kink of the granite on the eastern shore is filled with coconut palms. The water was disappointing, too murky for good snorkelling though we did explore a bit. In the afternoon heat the water was the best place to be. There are mangroves at the foot of the bay so possibly some fresh water source causes the murkiness. The granite boulders the line both sides are like some giant building set of rough hewn cubes.
In the evening a tiny local boat towing a couple of dugout canoes arrived. When it was dark the men went ashore with bright torches. We assume they were hunting land crabs. The following morning two of them paddled over to offer Kevin some small reef fish which he politely declined. They then headed down to Mai Tai unaware that Lane and Kay are rarely awake at 06:30. Then loading one dugout onto their tiny motor boat which was already laden to the gunnels with whatever they’d caught overnight, the four of them headed off. The flat seas mean they do not risk being swamped enroute.
Only a tenth of the many islands are inhabited. We have seen not one village since we left Terempa six days ago though most bays have a small boat or two as well as empty moorings marked by plastic bottles. Birdlife seems limited to a few terns and the occasional sound of disturbed fruit bats. We did spot a stubby white bird with black wing feathers that could have been a pied imperial pigeon ( identification from the Singapore Bird App) flying through the palms here on Akar yesterday afternoon. No monkeys, no boar, no sea eagles; Singapore, a first world city, offers more wildlife.
Onboard fresh food is starting to run low – eggs and vegetables are in short supply, the ice box has one pack of meatballs and a kilo of chicken drumsticks. We are not due in the main ‘town’ of Natuna for ten days so we have to decide whether to head back to Terempa for provisions or simply alter our diet to tins. Sadly the veggies and fruit we bought in Terempa market have not lasted well, as much has been discarded as eaten despite being kept cool as we usually do. I wistfully remember the overflowing veggie gardens of the Marquesas where the ladies would sell their surplus in the town each day. Here it seems nothing is grown locally but I hope to be proved wrong with our next stop, the waterfall which is rumoured to be close a village.
Not Island Five
Strictly speaking this is not a new island to our tour since Terempa lies on Pulau Siantan’s northern shore but, being on the other side of steep terrain and located amongst the reefs and islands on the east coast, todays intended anchorage may as well be. We’d heard from Ganesh, via Henrietta and Mai Tai that twenty knots of wind was forecast for later today. The barometer has been falling very slowly over the last 24 hours indicating some change in the weather and yesterday angry clouds were piling up grey and orange, not fluffy white to the south. It hasn’t really rained for days, the odd evening downpour that lasts just a few minutes but hasn’t washed the decks of salt and dirt.
As we motored north this morning, looking out over the South China Sea to the east, the clouds were forming themselves up in a squall line and it was definitely raining out there. ‘Waterfall Bay’ our destination is entirely surrounded apart from the narrow channel between the islands it lies on and should be well protected from any wind.
The Temburan Waterfall is described in the tourist guides as standing 250 metres high, a “relentless flow cascades down seven levels before falling directly into the swirling sea below”. Well it might have done once but since the government diverted its source to supply water for villagers all that can be seen from the boat is damp rock. So much for being a not to be missed highlight of a visit to Terempa! Hopefully the village strung along the shore is more interesting. A shop selling vegetables would be good too.
Amazingly the channel in is well marked with red and green posts, several generations clustered together in some instances; some commercial shipping must use the route that weaves through the reefs. In the centre of the bay we spied a yellow mooring buoy with just a loop on the top, our initial attempt to pick it up was pitiable as Temptress mooring lines were too thick to pass through doubled, a requirement of our ‘easy moor’ gadget. At the same moment it occurred to both of us that the whole thing would be simpler from the transom steps. I manoeuvred the boat forwards, Kevin walked aft, bent down pushed the line through then walked both ends forward again to fasten off on the bow cleats. Job done but we obviously need some practise, the last time we picked up a mooring like this was probably in Scotland in 2013! It must be said that we rarely pick up unknown, untried mooring buoys as you can never know what they are attached to or the state of the tackle below the surface. However in this case it was just too tempting so we decided to give it a go.
The black clouds gathered, from the cockpit we watched rain sweep across the head of the valley during lunch. We debated launching the dinghy to take a trip ashore to explore but it was too hot and sticky to do anything energetic. Then the thunder started. Let’s wait an hour or two until the afternoon starts to cool. In the end all we had was some welcome breeze until later that evening when it blew harder and spat with rain.
Everyone ashore was friendly with smiles, waves and shy calls of hello. The waterfall was as expected a disappointment. Stagnant pools of brown water were all there was to see of what once must have been a beautiful spot. The views out over the bay from the bridge over the ‘falls’ half way up were lovely. There were wooden platforms to picnic on and changing rooms all sadly neglected. At the bottom was a vacant tourist information office with a leaking tap spraying water through an open toilet door. The pier with its curved walk way and blue and yellow shelters was also well built and a sturdy structure out through the mangroves. At some point this tourist attraction had been heavily invested in, sadly with no water, there is no reason to come.
Back in the village a couple of small kids, possibly brother and sister followed us at a distance, she clutched a phone and obviously wanted her picture taken but wouldn’t come close enough to to hand it over, he fetched his bike and eventually with patience I took their photo on my camera! Many of the buildings looked new, older wooden homes on stilts over the water are rapidly being replaced by concrete block houses on concrete stilts or on ‘reclaimed land’ walled around with coral blocks then infilled. Chicken, cats and small children were everywhere. We became pied pipers trailed by most on the under tens.
There were several shops, I slipped off my sandals and stepped inside one well stocked one near the watertaxi quay, lots of snacks, soft drinks, shower gel and washing powder arranged sparingly on the shelves, even onions, garlic and potatoes but no other veg for sale. It being Ramadan still cafes were shut. The village was busy; a carpenter was making doors, much bigger and grander than any of the village houses could have used, presumably for over the hill in Tarempa. Piles of nets stood waiting to be mended outside another house and at the far end of the village a house with glazed windows and an AC unit had racks of plastic piping, the local plumber seems quite well off! The village paths were wide enough for motorcycles to pass, there were no cars, only dug out canoes moored along side. I just wish we read Bahasa, several new buildings had official looking plates outside – a nursery school perhaps judging by the decor and a clinic next door?
Some homes had plant pots made from plastic containers with palms, cacti or hibiscus. In front of one on a bench two women sat chatting one trying to distract a baby the other keeping an eye on a child playing nearby. Both paused their conversation briefly to greet us with a smile as we walked past. Our lives must seem so different yet they aren’t… two mums snatching the chance for a cosy chat whilst their children are otherwise occupied. At the far end of our walk
Few of the women here have their heads covered or wear the long skirts and sleeves we saw in the town yet there are two mosques, one at either end of the village. One oddly had effectively been buried up to midwindow height with a stone wall back filled with soil. Kevin pointed out it would have been at risk of flooding at its original height. The call to prayer was evocative of Dubai with the neighbouring mosques seemingly competing and a faint echo from another across the channel. Firecrackers, alien to anyone whose has lived in Singapore also seem to feature quite large in the iftar celebrations.
By nine that night we were going bananas, a second lengthy session of amplified recitation, this time this time the two village mosques seemingly in competition. A kid with sing song out of tune voice from one direction, adult males from another. One night of this from one mosque in Terempa had been enough to last a life time last week, though the skipper did comment it was perhaps no worse than Christmas Carols in every shop in the U.K. for weeks if not months before the actual event. I don’t recall anything of this during our time in the Middle East, it seems peculiar to Indonesia. Still going on an hour later. Pass me some ear plugs pleeeease!
Then at quarter past ten it stopped. We went to bed only to be woken at three by a torrential downpour that then became a drizzle for the next few hours. The hatches had to remain closed but at least it was reasonably cool and sleeping was comfortable under the fan.
A trip to Terempa for provisions is planned together with Mai Tai who joined us in the anchorage late yesterday afternoon. Kay and I have similar shopping lists, fresh food sufficient to get us to Natuna in ten or eleven days time. Eggs, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, cucumber, maybe tomatoes and Chinese cabbage; all items that will hopefully last. Even in our coolbox a pineapple and an aubergine bought in Terempa market rotted after just a few days, the former when I cut it open to see if there was anything to rescue looked like it had been crushed at some point as it was badly bruised under the outer skin on opposite sides.
Our diet is becoming fairly monotonous, rice, bread, eggs and a little meat, even cereal has to be had sparingly as milk supplies are low. Yesterday we had shredded cabbage as an accompaniment to both our breakfast omelettes and the pate spread wraps at lunch time. Supper saw the last of a pumpkin turned into a risotto with tinned mushrooms. A jar of pitted black olives is being eked out in supper dishes for the interest they provide. At least in Terempa we can have nasi goreng in the Laluna cafe whilst we catch up on things that need WiFi like email, banking and posting to this blog.
The Thursday Morning Incident
Mai Tai took our rubbish ashore and then had a short stroll through the village. On their return they prepared to leave. Dropping the mooring Temptress followed them out slowly navigating around the reefs with the navigation marks only rough guides to the location of the channel through the reefs. Ahead Mai Tai seemed to stop in slow motion. She was firmly stuck on top of an isolated patch of reef having failed to follow the channel to starboard.
For the next thirty minutes or so we tried to pull her off in various directions. At one point she heeled a little and slipped sideways but her long keel remained stuck fast. We decided to wait for some more tide, the question was how long and was the tide currently rising or falling? I’d looked up the tides for Terempa sometime last week and my phone browser still displayed a table of data up to last Sunday. Low water roughly moved forward an hour each day making it sometime after 11:30 today meaning we were probably close to low water, maybe a little before.
Temptress returned to the mooring, Mai Tai put out an anchor. All they could do was patiently wait. With an overall rise of less than a metre, the rule of twelfths means the first hour of incoming tide gives you around 8 cm extra water, the second another 16cm. Just before 13:15 Kay called us up, her voice happy with relief. They had floated free!
Back in Terempa
It was a short motor round to Terempa during which we spotted ahead of us Four Friends from Singapore but couldn’t raise them on the VHF, hopefully we’ll find them before we leave. Temptress picked up the first mooring in the harbour corner near the hospital. At the very next call to prayer we regretted our choice. Prayers to the noisy back ground of a very basic pile driver and the usual motorbike traffic meant this was not going to be a quiet spot. Ananda II’s crew stopped by on their way back to their catamaran; apparently today is a public holiday in honour of Ascension Day and there are public holidays here for most of the next week due to Cuti Besarmi days (a sort of factory shutdown for the government offices) that sandwich Eid which is next Tuesday and Wednesday. Hopefully the market will be open as usual tomorrow morning.
Little did we realise the holiday season also meant a third evening of amplified out of tune sing song recitation of the Koran. Sunset itself was announced with loud explosions and a siren which was a jolt to the system after the peace of recent anchorages. Mai Tai took us across the harbour to Poppy’s for a lovely supper of local spicy squid dishes with cap chye and fried chicken pieces. The inspired choice of iced mango juice proved a favourite too. What a great place to eat with harbourside views, though we were horrified when one party across the restaurant decided to bundle up their rubbish and simply throw it in the water.
Back onboard Temptress we tried to relax whilst ashore the readers sing song themselves through the Koran at both mosques for the next few hours to a background of motor bike engines. The sound echoing off the hills that surround the harbour. English church bells are far more tuneful to listen too, could you imagine if every church spent every Lent evening broadcasting readings from the Bible across your town or village for several hours? Thank goodness Ramadan ends next week. Half past ten and one mosque was still going strong. Then much much later when the mosque fell silent we were woken by karaoke!