More Island Hopping

Provisioning in Terempa

The iftar celebrations were going strong til the early hours which may explain why the young guy Firman appointed to assist the rally fleet finally responded to our request to source some solar/diesel at lunch time. By then we had completed our shopping including 100l of fuel from the ever helpful Matty and were already on our way north to our next island stop. Terempa is growing on us. At first it seems a bit ramshackle with lots of small wooden shops selling everything from propellers to brooms or snacks and clothing. As you wander around despite the motorbikes parked everywhere it does have some order and the back streets over the water have a mix of pretty wooden homes, offices and shops. Most buildings are single storied, some two and an occasional concrete construction three. Virtually everything in Terempa is on stilts over the shallow seas on the reef that edges the bay.

Four Friends
Four Friends

There are two distinct markets. The fish market is on the ground floor of a purpose built place like almost everything here built out over the water, simply wash down the floors into the sea below! At the back are several stalls with some fresh veg. 240,000 Rupiah (24 SGD or £12) got us a 5 kg net of potatoes, a kilo of green tomatoes (hope they ripen), the same of onions and 500g of calamansi limes (for squeezing into cold drinking water or a G&T), two aubergines, three cucumbers and two packs of tempeh. Buying leafy greens in quantity doesn’t really work for us as they don’t keep more than a day or so.

The second market is nearer the centre of town just off the Main Street. It’s narrow alleyways recall the souks of the Middle East especially when the goods hung up meet overhead. The vegetable section is complicated by several changes in floor level as well as the stall holders expansion up and down the steps with buckets and boxes. The shoppers main problem is trying to work out which person is selling the items you’ve selected as everything is crammed so close. Here we found carrots and white cabbage, both expensive items, lemongrass, lime leaves, garlic, a pumpkin and really fresh green beans. Hopefully we now have enough to last ten days or so until we reach Natuna and possibly a further week or so until Temptress arrives in Kuching, Malaysia.

We rowed back to Temptress to find Matty waiting patiently to collect our fuel cans. He seemed amused that Kevin had rowed and not put the outboard on Sheila and then slightly awkward that he wanted payment up front as he didn’t have enough cash to buy the fuel himself first. Half an hour later he was back, the cans were tied back on the side decks and we could leave. Meanwhile we’d washed all the veg in a dilute bleach solution to remove bugs etc (except the potatoes and onions), dried everything off in the sun and stowed them away. Tomatoes individually wrapped in half sheets of kitchen paper placed carefully in a box to ripen, the potatoes in a dark spot under the saloon table.

The Hunt for a Safe Anchorage

Our intended destination to the west of Tenggiling proved too difficult to anchor at lunch time, partly because the sun disappeared behind the clouds making reef spotting almost impossible and partly because we couldn’t find anywhere shallow enough that was sandy rather than rock or coral. It was a shame because it was a pretty spot with aqua coloured water and white sand beaches in a channel between two islands. Mai Tai suggested an alternative on the eastern side of Tenggiling. We motored round the few hundred metres, it was a great place with 5-8 metres of clear water over sand but very tight for two boats and potentially quite exposed to any weather. However it was a picturesque spot to eat lunch on a calm day so we dropped the hook.

Afterwards the skipper decided we should look for somewhere safer for the night. So onto our second anchorage for the day known as ‘Dereks Bay’. Again in a channel between two islands, this time Pulau Semut to the north and the much larger Pulau Matak to the south, a selection of rocks sticking up from the water made the channel all but impassable. Matak has the only airstrip in the Anambas just around from where we dropped the hook; with less than one flight a day it is not going to disturb us. Hard to imagine that it is just an hour away by air to either Batam or Bintan a few miles south of Singapore, yet we have now covered 500nm since departing Changi. This is a delightfully pretty spot with coconut palms growing up the low hills, large rocks in the channel ahead and the only noise the slight swell breaking on the rocky foreshore. The bottom though does hold some dangers in the form of rock boulders and coral bommies that wait to grab the chain should the wind swing us too far around.

Two late afternoon rain showers in succession sent us scampering to close hatches each time but cooled the evening air down acceptably. I made a start on handsewing a top from fabric bought in Terempa. T-shirts are just too clingy and sweaty in the climate here so I’ve acquired some pretty floral print rayon to make something looser to wear. Supper was a couple of chicken drumsticks each with boiled potatoes, steamed carrots and green beans. The chicken drumsticks were purchased frozen in Tioman, 2 kilos in a bag so I poached them in two lots in the pressure cooker for five minutes a batch giving us a litre of deliciously flavoured stock too as I used the same liquid seasoned with bayleaves, juniper berries and peppercorns for both lots. The remaining drumsticks have been divided into three ziplock bags and put in the icebox to provide suppers over the next week or so. The icebox is only just cold enough at around minus five to freeze things or keep already frozen stuff frozen so not suitable for long term storage.

Saturday June 1

June already where has the month gone! Apologies to all whose birthdays I failed to mark with a card last month and probably this one too. The post office back in Tioman only made deliveries and could not sell me stamps. Although Tarempa has a library and a hospital we didn’t spy a PO there.

This morning’s excitement was spotting a medium sized passenger plane coming into land followed shortly after by a helicopter and half an hour later another flight inbound. The airport mainly exists to serve the Indonesian oilfields 40 or 50 miles to the north of the Anambas. In the channel between Matak and Mubarak that we took north from Terempa yesterday are a couple of modern ship docks, one for ro-ro ferries. All presumably aimed at the oil industry.

This is in complete contrast to the subsistence living of the islanders who continue with their fishing as they have always done. Village shops sell snacks, soft drinks, single portions of washing powder in plastic sachets, onions and garlic. Terempa’s mini-markets have wooden shelves of biscuits, sweetened coffee powder and the like, all spread out to give the impression of fullness. Chilled cabinets hold cans of soft drink rather than dairy products. We’ve not seen a freezer anywhere. Chicken is bought from a roadside stall, the chap chopping it up into bony lumps as the flies buzz around. I use the excuse that we are happy with a vegetarian diet if necessary to avoid buying it.

Mid-morning we spent 30 minutes or so on an interesting snorkel along the reef edge, plenty of fish and coral with bottom littered with huge chunks of rock much like the island shore but the water itself became cloudy as low tide approached. A local couple anchored their small pompong in the shallower waters then jumped in with dive masks, the wife still wearing her headscarf. They towed behind them plastic baskets and when Kevin spoke to them he found they were collecting clams. They each had a large knife that they jammed into the clam before it could shut then they cut the meat out and dropped it into the basket. This way they were systematically harvesting every clam along the reef. We’d seen a group doing this in the much larger bay at Ayerabu last week but there the clams were more numerous. Here the population was being wiped out. We wondered how long clams take to grow and who buys the clams as we haven’t seen any for sale in the fish market.

Before we went snorkelling Mai Tai had suggested we move on again as, though Temptress had had a calm night tucked well into the bay, they had not been so lucky and the swell had made them roll uncomfortably. We said we’d follow when they left but failed to confirm where. As it turned out they had forgotten to turn their radio on too so off we set after them, a magical mystery tour around a nearby headland to anyone of several bays. The clouds were gathering to the south, bad weather was imminent. Eventually we guessed correctly where they were headed and a little later Lane called us on the radio apologetic that they’d not turned it on earlier. The destination was a little bay at the north end of Pulau Mandariau Darat, described in the pilotage notes as being pretty with good snorkelling and well protected.

As we motored around the headland at the top of Matak the skies to the south looked more r ominous. Too late I had misgivings about leaving Derek’s Bay when we did, better to leave first thing in the morning. The afternoon’s rain looked like it was shaping up into more than a couple of showers. The overcast skies meant there was no sun to highlight reefs and rocks in the water. As the rain began to fall in the distance I suggested to the skipper if it reached us before we could get to our destination we should turn and motor out to sea for a bit.

As it was I, wearing a thin cotton shirt over my swimwear, got soaked through on the bow keeping lookout for reef and rocks. Actually finding the brighter blue sand area in which to drop the anchor was not too difficult despite the poor light. In our haste Temptress was perhaps a little close to Mai Tai especially given that in the gusty winds that accompanied the rain throughout the thunderstorm, the two boats swung very differently. However we never became dangerously near to each other. A local guy in a pompong followed us in and anchored too, he spent a lot of the rainstorm pumping water out of his partially open boat, so much for a quiet Saturday fishing!

As the rain cleared we found company approaching in the form of Sue and Grant on Obsession II. After a swim around the boat the three crews caught upon news Over sundowners in Mai Tais cockpit. The night was a little rolly as a swell came in at wide spaced intervals and caught Temptress on the beam rocking her occupants a little more than we wanted.

Sunday morning we washed down the decks before the sun rose high enough to be hot. The RedMart Floor Cleaner that I’d felt too mean to throw away almost a full bottle of when we moved out of the apartment, worked a treat lifting dirt from the nonslip cabin top!. If nothing else the decks will smell of lavender,

It was not yet eight by the time we’d had breakfast so we fiddled with odd jobs. The skipper resoldered a 12V socket, I cut out facings and sewed a little more of my top. Then Mai Tai came over, the perfect excuse to stop everything and go exploring. First we scrambled up the rock slab on the western side of the anchorage for the views. The beach below had some creative artwork , large clam shells spelling out ‘LOVE’. However above the high water mark was piled high with plastic debris and discarded fishing gear. On the way back to Sheila I tripped over my own sole which had parted company with the rest of my rafting shoes. Five years in the tropical heat had caused glue failure. We’ll attempt a repair when they are dry.

Then with the sky looking ominous again and the wind worryingly going around to the north making a supposedly sheltered bay a lee shore we got into dinghies again. This time we explored the beach at the south of the bay. Less plastic, a lot of fallen trees and rather murky water all along until the mangroves on the western side. These opened up allowing small boats to pass through. It was like exploring woodland with quite tall trees growing out of the water as well as the mangroves. Tiny sunbirds flitted between the tree flowers feeding off nectar and we briefly spotted a small ray with a blue polkadot back, sadly back onboard our Eastern Pacific fish identifier had nothing similar so no idea what it actually was.

As we made our way back to Temptress the wind upped a notch or two and we got quite wet going up wind into the waves. Back on Temptress we decided to haul Sheila back on deck and tie her down ready for sea just in case the weather worsened. All three crews were keeping an eye on things as the reef got closer behind us than was prudent. The bay became quite lumpy and life onboard bouncy but by mid afternoon the black storm clouds to the south moved away, the wind abated and the sea became flatter. The still boats lay pointing north east into the current but the skipper’s felt happier.

Deciding not to leave til tomorrow we went for a snorkel. The reef edge was just some 50 metres astern, although eight or nine metres down. Visibility was poor but Kevin found a patch of amazing bright green coral like lettuce leaves just off Mai Tai’s stern. A little further along I spotted the large ugly grouper that is peculiar to the Anambas. Called a Napoleon Fish this blue grey monster has a huge bulbous forehead and fat whitish lips. Good eating by all accounts and some islands here farm them for export. This one was working it’s way along the lowest fringe of the reef feeding, with a shoal of small yellowfin tuna in attendance. A bit of a disappointing snorkel in terms of variety and visibility but at least we had seen something worth our efforts. All in all this bay hasn’t lived up to its billing as a ‘pretty, sheltered bay with good snorkelling’ but it would have been pleasant enough if not for the strong northerly blow at lunchtime and the rolling last night.

Both of us are not so impressed with the Anambas, yes they are pretty, the bays remote, there is lots of coral and fish to see but that is all. We’ve had better snorkelling in both the Caribbean and throughout our Pacific travels and there were things to do ashore there too. Here unless there is a town or village, the only walks possible are short ones along plastic strewn beaches. The coastline of every island is much the same with a rocky foreshore steeply rising up too 100 metres or more clad in trees. Variety there isn’t, a week in these islands would probably have been enough and we are eagerly looking forward to moving on to Borneo, though first, starting in a week’s time, the rally has the Natuna Marine Festival to look forward to.