Location and Sail Plan
August 2006

PASSAGING THROUGH INDONESIA:   

TIMOR TO SINGAPORE,                        
               

John & Lynette were now alone on DreamCatcher, after the 450 mile, 100-strong sailboat rally from
Darwin to Kupang (Timor).   Now for the last leg – 1600 nautical miles – to bring DreamCatcher
“home” to Singapore.  We had both wanted to do the passage but Henry had some pending work
opportunities that precluded him from going.  Needing a break from the office, and wanting to make
life easier for John & Lyn (3 to share a watch system and meals is much easier than 2)… GT hopped
a plane to Kupang in Timor, to join DreamCatcher.

The taxi ride from the airport to the beach – about 45 minutes – was all I needed to see to
understand how poor Timor is.   A dry scrappy landscape, scattered rubbish, displaced folks living in
poor ramshackle housing: overall a sad environment, but with cheerful people.  I guessed about 20%
of the population had some form of motorized transport – a scooter or tuk-tuk or  truck.  The taxi
dropped me at the beach, and suddenly I was back to being a cruiser!  Hike the pants up over the
knees, push the dinghy out into the surf, pile in and hope your bum doesn’t get a wetting from the
breakers on the way out!   The anchorage was very benign and we climbed aboard DreamCatcher,
only one of three boats in the bay with the rest of the fleet having moved on.  While Timor is
predominantly Christian, the raucous Muslim Mullah succeeded in waking us with cries to prayer,
about 0400.    Forgoing a trip into town, we weighed anchor about 0800 and set off for our first
destination, the islands of Komodo & Rinja.

Anywhere between the latitudes of 8 and 0 degrees, one can expect “fluky” winds, around the
equator.  While the SE trades were supposed to be running, they weren’t.  Thus we motored much of
the first 48 hours, making it hot and noisy.  This part of the trip was uneventful and one GT settled
back into ocean passaging made easier by the fact that Lyn & John knew the boat so well by this
stage and I had to be re-trained on radar & SSB usage!  It all fell back into place pretty quickly.   Lyn
had done a great job with meals by making and freezing about a dozen curries, bolognaises, soups
etc: heat and serve!  Additionally, I’d brought about a dozen packs of heat & serve curries from our
favourite Indian store in Singapore (Mustafa’s)… so, we weren’t going to starve.  The only thing we
were lacking was the plump fresh veggies we’d been so used to in other venues: the tiny onions and
shrivelled tomatoes were evidence of the poor soil the Timorese have to deal with.

Indonesia has over 18,000 islands, of which about 6,000 are inhabited. They are scattered around
the equator in an east-west orientation. It’s location on the edges of  tectonic plates, specifically the
Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian, means Indonesia is frequently rocked by earthquakes and the
resulting tsunamis.    The island chain is highly volcanic, with over 60 active pipes, and during our
voyage we saw a couple of grey smoke spirals rising gently above a peak.  It the other side of the
“ring of fire” we encountered in the Pacific Ocean, starting with the Marquesas.

On our third morning out, we motored along the southern edge of the island of Rinja (Rinka) and
turned north between it and the island to the west: Komodo, home of the Komodo dragon, the world’s
largest lizard.   Anchorages in Rinja were better than Komodo and we cruised into a very wide bay
with several fingers bordered by high beige-coloured cliffs.  We found a spot, dropped the anchor a
courteous distance from the only other sailboat.  Oddly, the wind had come up and we were getting
blasts over 25 knots, exacerbated by the downdrafts from the high volcanic hills.  The landscape
from a distance is lofty and bare, coloured a little like café alait…only the low coastal fringe bears a
green coating of mangrove trees and grasses.     We dropped the dinghy, went ashore, swam and
beachcombed for a while.  It was a lovely break from being at sea and a nice way for one GT to get
back into the “swing” of cruising.  One thing I hadn’t known about John & Lyn is that they are serial
bakers: at any given time either one or the other is turning out a loaf!!   On return from our swim, we
discovered John’s bread dough, on second rise, about to climb out of the cupboard!  He could barely
get it into the oven, it was so puffed up!   A 20 minute baking produced a loaf that would win a blue
ribbon at a country fair and I ate way too much of it.

We honoured cocktail hour at 1800 hrs and saw a couple of the large dragons on the beach.  Very
jurassic-looking animals, not something we’d want to get too close to. Having said that, we stalked a 2
foot long baby the next morning on another beach, while keeping a constant look out for a protective
(and possibly aggressive) mama.   Unfortunately the baby was expert at hiding and we didn’t get the
photos we wanted.

This rest stop had given us a chance to catch up on sleep, take the load off the electric system by
defrosting the fridge, shower, re-group and get away the next morning at 0900.  On looking at the
navigational charts between the two islands, there’s almost a  “no way! “ response: lots of islands,
islets etc, and an aggressive tidal flow in a seemingly narrow channel.  Unfortunately, we
miscalculated the tide time and had it against us on our exit.  Nagivationally, it turned out fine, and
John had been through here several years before.  Being volcanic, most land elements are clearly
visible, however the incoming tidal rush must have been about 6 knots against us!  Luckily, a 22 knot
wind had come up, behind us.  With that, and the engine at top revs, we were only making 2.5 knots
of speed over the ground!  It seemed to take forever to get through that turbulent 4 mile pass but we
eventually pulled free from the grip of the current and turned west, to passage along the top of the
island of Sumba.

We sailed between the eastern tip of Sumba and a large volcanic island.  The volcano was extinct,
but was huge and its shadow loomed over us for most of the day.    Given we’d motored for the first
two days, we were concerned about fuel consumption for the remaining passage through the
doldrums.  While DreamCatcher has a 1200 mile fuel range under engine, we had a 1600 mile
passage to complete.  To be on the safe side, we decided to pursue fuel.  Easier said than done.  
Most of Indonesia’s easterly islands are sparsely or un-populated and do not house large
communities where diesel can be easily procured.   We continued east along the coast of Sumbawa
and finally spotted a collection of white buildings meandering down a slope to the beachfront –
austere, repetitive buildings, it certainly wasn’t a resort, most likely the residential huts supporting a
military installation. This was further evidenced by a series of tall red & white telecommunications
towers.  That was about all, but clearly an indication there was an army base of some sorts here,
possibly a training camp.  John picked a spot between the island of Moya and a beach on the larger
island, we had a couple of go’s at getting the hook down in the volcanic bottom and eventually came
to settle.    There was a basic but interesting small village rambling along the shore, with kids playing
in the shallows and a few young men mucking about with boats, mostly outrigger canoes.  Being a
Muslim country, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and sent John on a solo sortie
after diesel, armed with one empty bright yellow fuel can.  He was greeted on the black volcanic
shore by a few locals, admired their boats, then disappeared into the foliage that sheltered the
village.  Lyn and I remained on board, clearly “novelty du jour” with several local canoes powered by
kids with oars, paying us a visit.  Lyn had been thoughtful enough to pack goodies for children:
coloured pencils, paper,hats, hair clips etc and we gave them out, leaning from our boat to theirs and
exchanging a few words in Bahasa.

John appeared safely about an hour later with same yellow fuel can, this time full.  His mission has
been successful and there now existed a deal whereby he would turn up on the beach 2 hours hence
and thus receive the remainder of our cans (4) full of diesel.  His adventure had seen him packed  
into the back of a truck with some locals and packed off to a local fuel depot, to fill the can from an
open 44 gallon drum – a sailors nightmare in light of the particulate matter than can jam fuel filters
and stop the engine.  On board, we scrambled for local currency cash, and had just enough money
to buy the 250 litres when John went to get the remaining cans.   We transferred it into the tanks –
hot work – rewarded ourselves with a beer, had an early dinner on board and departed the next
morning.  Like all Indonesian villages, this tiny one also had its mullah, though this one not so
vociferous as Kupang’s  “rude awakening”.

As Murphy’s law would have it, as soon as we had completed this detour for fuel, the wind came up (it
has long been a suspicion of mine that Murphy and Neptune are drinking buddies).   We had decided
to bee-line it for a small island called Serutu, about 650 miles to the northwest, on the rhumb line to
the Riau Islands.

During the passage we ate, read, Lyn knitted (I was very impressed with that…. Knitting woollen
jumpers whilst closing on the equator!), slept, talked, navigated and just generally ran the boat.  John
“pole-danced” ie, moved the spinnaker pole from port to starboard every time the wind  changed
direction, and we made good progress with the wind on our tail, blowing anywhere from 12-22 knots.   
The nights were clear and starry and we passed many clumps of fishing boats, some brightly lit to
attract squid.  Early on the sixth morning out we found ourselves approaching the high hills of the
long sausage-shaped island of Serutu.    We sailed for  a while along its southern edge and came up
close the small village laid out neatly along the beach.  This beach appeared to be of pale beige
sand, with a small white mosque in the corner under a cliff.  The houses were orderly and there was
one large fishing boat on a mooring close to the shore.  It was quite picturesque.   Our intent was to
anchor here for the night but we could not get the hook down –there seemed to be quite  a few coral
heads in the vicinity.  We passed a couple of local canoes laying a fishing net, motored to the
western tip, then turned east looking for a large indent in the northern shore.  We found it, at the
same time that the 25 knots of wind found us.  We were able to get the anchor down in 10 meters of
clear water and settle in.  The place was quite lovely: the distant beach was bright white, flanked by
green hills that grew into a commanding mountainous backdrop of thickly wooded  jungle dotted with
tall strong teak trees.   As always after an ocean passage, thick green hills are a captivating sight
and we soaked up the scenery.  We were totally alone, no other boats and no-one from the village
ventured round.   Because the wind had picked up to 25 knots, we decided not to launch the dinghy.  
The solar panels blew up, several things got dishevelled and the anchorage was  choppy. We stayed
on board and showered, did laundry, napped, baked bread (not me…Lynette this time)  and had an
early cocktail hour with dinner.  We’d decided on a midnight departure so as to arrive at the bottom
of the Riau Strait at dawn, 3 days hence.

That 250 mile passage was robust – we had continuous winds in the 15-22 knot range and hardly
used the engine.  The Java Sea is surprisingly shallow – between 30 and 40 meters deep – in fact,
we could have anchored almost anywhere we liked over the whole sea !...quite a contrast to the 4000
meter depths of the Pacific Ocean.   Subsequently it was quite turbulent with reasonably big waves,
powered by the consistent wind.  We saw four or five ships a day, some close, some distant,  heading
south from Singapore or the Riau Islands, most likely Jakarta bound.  It was during this passage that
the spinnaker pole neck broke at the mast and the pole bounced rudely off its mountings.   John
disconnected it and later that day jury-rigged it with some rope and we were able to get it up again to
pole out the 120 headsail – very enterprising, that man !  We ribbed him he missed doing his “pole
dancing”!  ….ie, changing the spinnaker pole from one side of the boat to the other during a wind
shift.  

The rest of the leg was uneventful aside from the odd sea snake swimming by on the surface and a
close encounter with a brightly painted fishing boat.  Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo of it – we
were more concerned with trying to avoid it than capturing it on film but in the up close moments,
couldn’t help notice how gaily it was decked out.  The south east Asian fishermen have a belief that
they have ghosts and bad spirits on board and actively try to dislodge them by bumping other
vessels, hoping that the bad spirits will be bumped off their boat onto the other boat.   I was at the
helm one morning and saw the fishing boat, firstly at a distance, then coming towards us at about 5
knots.  This is not unusual – sometimes Indonesian fishermen will approach, seeking fuel, water or
cigarettes from foreign vessels.  The boat got unnervingly closer, we turned on out engine for more
manoeverablilty and when I changed course he seemed to as well until we were obviously on a
collision course seperated by only 200 meters and it occurred to me this might be intentional – we
had no interest in being the recipient of his bad spirits!  Having the headsail poled out under 22
knots of wind, we couldn’t turn the boat around immediately and needed several minutes to “de-pole”
and settle the headsail.  Fortunately, at that moment, the gaudy fishing boat made a significant turn
away from us – clearly the fellows on board had no idea we were there and were likely below decks
sleeping or playing a local board game, common to fishermen. We breathed a sigh of relief and went
on our way with them waving happily at us, unaware of the heartburn they’d just caused.  

We arrived at dawn at the start of the Riau Straits – the dog-leg passage between Bintan Island and
Batam Island, only 100 miles short of Singapore.  The sea shallowness continued, sometimes only 10
meters deep, with the water being a muddy light brown, churned up by fishing boats and big ships
passaging to and from Singapore.   We rounded the top of Batam to the west and headed into
Nongsa Point Marina, our final Indonesian destination, to do the formal exit clearance, partake in a
24 hour R&R and the start of packing for John & Lynette.  One great thing about Nongsa Point is that
you get to use the resort facilites, including pool, restaurant etc.  We soaked in the pool until we were
wrinkly and had lots of drinks over a wonderful local dinner, peering through palm trees, overlooking
the sea.  With its thousands of islands, Indonesia is a cruisers dream: it’s a pity so much tension
exists between it and Australia and Islam and the rest of the world.  It definitely does not have the
laughing, welcoming embrace of the South Pacific islands.

The next morning was bright and we sailed along the northern edge of Batam with Singapore drawing
closer…for me it was exciting – 15 days at sea, bringing DreamCatcher into her new home.  We
waited – somewhat impatiently – for two hours in the quarantine anchorage for our entry clearance
into Singapore and hoping for rain to wash our dusty decks – it had not rained for weeks – but the
large dark cloud turned away from us and we remained dry and grubby.  John was asked to board
the customs boat (oh my gosh, were they going to give him back ?!)  but all was well and we motored
the last ten minutes to the  marina.  Henry was leaping about at the dock, overjoyed to see
DreamCatcher (and me!) accompanied by our friend Ali, and several people from the marina.  We
were very pleased to be there, made short work of two bottles of champagne and headed home with
giant bags of dirty laundry and all John & Lyn’s goodies.  

DreamCatcher had been their home for 3 months and they were great to have on board.
They stayed with us for nearly a week in Singapore, playing tourist and shopping until they returned
home to their own boat (make that boatS – there are six in the fleet !) to prepare for their own next
voyage.

With the boat in Singapore, we feel fully united and purposeful again…so, starts another new chapter
in DreamCatcher’s life – we’ll keep you posted.
Click on link to view   PHOTOS FOR JOURNAL 27
DREAMCATCHER VOYAGE
Journal 27 -Passaging through Indonesia
          Timor to Singapore