Our second visit to Indonesia took Steve and I to a very different and remote part of this vast island nation.
We were participating in the Sail Malaysia “Passage to the East” 2015 yacht rally, which, for the first time included stops at the Indonesian islands of Anambas and Natuna, in the South China Sea.
Whilst we weren’t the first yacht rally to stop at the Anambas archipelago, we were the first yachts ever to receive permission from the Indonesian government to enter the Natuna group. A feat that took rally organisers two years to achieve.
The response and welcome we received in both archipelagos was nothing short of amazing. We were treated like royalty and everywhere we went we were greeted with cries of “Hello Mister” or “Hello Miss”. Complete strangers stopped us in the streets for photo opportunities, while people passing in cars and on motorcycles tooted their horns and waved.
This was the same response we had experienced during our original visit in 2012, when we were off-the-beaten-track in eastern and northern Indonesia.
For us and our fellow cruisers it represented the true Indonesia where a beautiful people with a rich culture, proud history and enormous hearts, greeted us like we were long lost members of their families.
To get to Siantan Island in the Anambas group, we departed from Pulau Tenggol on Malaysia’s east coast. The 190nm overnight trip saw us arrive during an afternoon storm, so we anchored well out of the main harbor.
The next morning we motored the 3.5nm to the main anchorage outside the town of Tarempa where we joined the 27 other yachts already there.
The Indonesian navy let us use one side of their floating pontoon to tie our dinghies, so we eagerly clambered ashore for the welcome ceremony. This ceremony set the tone for everything else that we were to experience as we were treated to a cultural display of local dancing.
The town of Tarempa, whilst being the capital of the archipelago, is unique as much of it is built over water at the edge of the harbour. Exploring the town with its rocky outcrops, waterways and narrow streets became an adventure not to be missed.
During our short stay we were taken on a boat cruise to see the local experts demonstrate the sport of gasing, before several of our group tried their hand at this unique activity. From there we walked back to Tarempa along a road that was connected to the town by a causeway. The view from the causeway over crystal clear water, extensive reef and the yachts at anchor was spectacular.
That night the Regent (the highest ranking government official) hosted a gala dinner in our honour. We dined on traditional local food and were treated to a display of local cultural song and dance, before we were asked to sing. As a group we did our best to entertain the locals with a rendition of Stand by Me, which thankfully was accompanied by a video featuring international performers.
With a heavy heart we left this fantastic place to head for Natuna. Along the way we anchored at two stunning locations – namely Mubur Island to have sundowners with friends, and then Pendjalin Island with its crystal clear aquamarine water, white sandy sea floor and bleached boulder shoreline before heading further east.
Having left Pendjalin at lunchtime we sailed the 145nm overnight and arrived at Tanjung Bay on Natuna’s east coast by mid-afternoon. There we anchored in a large, calm bay, with a flat sandy bottom.
They were prepared for our arrival with a brightly decorated local boat on hand to show us the way into the anchorage. The vessel then visited each yacht to give them an event itinerary and an order form for any local supplies they may need – like diesel, petrol, LPG, water etc.
After arriving some socializing was in order, so it was agreed that sundowners should happen ashore at 5pm. Dinghies from the first nine boats to arrive headed for the flat white beach where boat boys were waiting to greet us and secure our inflatables.
Many of us were hardly out of our dinghies when the strains of “Hello Mister” we heard and mobile phone cameras started clicking. It was the first time many of the local children had seen a person with fair skin, blue eyes and freckles. And it was truly the start of another memorable experience.
The next morning a truly unique welcome ceremony awaited us with the Deputy Regent as host. Everyone wanted to be part of the ceremony, so we were treated to some amazing sights. A chorus of local women sang and drummed an Islamic song, traditionally performed in a mosque. Local musicians played and showed us the local martial arts. Then two beautifully costumed small children presented our leader with a welcome garland.
Then the photography began in earnest before we were taken on a bus tour of some the major sights. Later that night an impromptu open air concert was put on for us.
The next morning the Regent and local dignitaries including the Commander of the Naval Base, the Head of Tourism, the Police Chief and other government officials, welcomed us a second time.
Another key part of the organization and planning saw the official processing of our passports and clearance papers happen onsite in a specially erected tent. No traipsing around town here, the officials had come to us!
So overwhelmed were the cruisers by the hospitality they had experienced, they decided to have a kids day. As a special treat, children from local schools were asked to assemble on the beach and were then taken to the yachts in dinghies for an inspection of our floating homes. I have never seen yachties get so wholeheartedly behind an exercise. There was so much laughter and smiles on so many dials, it was contagious.
And the boat visits continued the following day as locals came to the beach and kept approaching any dinghy that came ashore. Everyone wanted to be a part of the experience.
With incredibly heavy hearts, we all had to say goodbye, as our itinerary had us arriving in Malaysian Borneo in a few days.
Without doubt I can say that the genuine warmth and hospitality displayed by these beautiful, friendly people meant that our visit to these remote islands will always have a prominent and lasting place in all our memories.
Sail Malaysia Cruising Guide
The Sail Malaysia rallies – Passage to Langkawi and the more recent Passage to the East – have been operating for over ten years. In that time more than 800 yachts have participated in the rallies.
In 2014, Sazli Kamal Basha, the Sail Malaysia founder, together with Patrick Southall and Elizabeth Fowler from the yacht Labarque, published a Sail Malaysia Cruising Guide.
The guide is extensive and covers Malaysia from Langkawi at the top of the west coast, south to and including Singapore, then up the east coast to Kuala Terengganu before crossing the South China Sea to Borneo and Brunei.
In addition, the latest cruising notes and updates are published on the Sail Malaysia website (www.sailmalaysia.net). To obtain a copy of the cruising guide email firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is 70 Ringgit (about $30 AUD)
A tradition in this part of the world is to read a pantun – a form of poetry – after you make a speech. The idea being that you share it/pass it on to your audience so that they may share it with others.
During the Regent’s visit to our boat, the Natuna Naval Base Commander, Arif Badrudin, shared this pantun with us. And now I’m sharing it with the CH readers. It goes:
Here the water is shallow,
it is easy to anchor.
All people say hello, to every single sailor.
So many days have been passed,
thousands of islands are to be found.
How many hearts have been touched, thousands of smiles have been around.
When the sky is bright,
the boat follows the wind.
If you really feel alright, please do come back again.
Indonesian cruising permit (CAIT)
To cruise in Indonesian waters you will need a cruising permit or CAIT (Cruising Application for Indonesian Territory). This will need to be applied for before you enter the country and may take 30 days to be processed.
You will need to supply copies of: boat registration paper; passports of captain and crew; photo of boat; photo of captain; intended port of entry and date of entry, together with port of departure and estimated date of departure. In many cases you will you will also require a sponsor letter from an agent.
For the Indonesian section of the 2015 Sail Malaysia “Passage to the East” rally, the organisers used Raymond Lesmana as their agent.
Raymond is an Advisor in Yachting Development to the Indonesian Government and has many contacts throughout Indonesia. For a small fee he can organize CAITs for 18 entry ports in Indonesia and can be contacted on email (email@example.com) or by phoning +628 111 24574.
Liz and her husband, Steve, have been cruising in the Pacific for 10 years and are off the beaten track in South-east Asia.
Anambas-Natuna-01: Crews from the rally yachts heading for the Navy’s floating pontoon in Tarempa.
Anambas-Natuna-02: Many houses in Tarempa are built over water and are connected by waterways.
Anambas-Natuna-03: The Anambas Regent, Dr T. Mukhtaruddin congratulating the rally’s Indonesian agent, Mr Raymond Lesmana, at the Tarempa Gala Dinner.
Anambas-Natuna-04: The thank you gift from Anambas Tourism being delivered to Steve on Liberté.
Anambas-Natuna-05: Cruisers meet on a white sandy beach near Mubur Island for sundowners.
Anambas-Natuna-06: The arrival of the first crews on the sandy beach at Tanjung in Natuna.
Anambas-Natuna-07: Muslim women performing at the welcome ceremony in Natuna.
Anambas-Natuna-08: The view over reef and bay to Senoa Island.
Anambas-Natuna-09: A group photo of rally participants with the Natuna Regent, Dr H. Ilyas Sabli.
Anambas-Natuna-10: Some of the cultural performers in front of a sign promoting the rally’s visit.
Anambas-Natuna-11: The Natuna Regent, Dr H. Ilyas Sabli, singing and dancing.
Anambas-Natuna-12: It’s Kids Day – so dinghies full of children head for the visiting yachts.
Anambas-Natuna-13: (From Left to right): The Regent’s wife, the Regent, Steve and the Naval Base Commander, Arif Badrudin, pose for a photo on the naval rib after visiting Liberté.
Anambas-Natuna-14: Steve, on a motorcycle, posing under the Sail Malaysia “Passage to the East” sign outside the Regent’s house.
Anambas-Natuna-015-author pic: Liz Coleman.