Category Archives: 8. Malaysia to Sumatra

Padang to Cocos Keeling

Cocos Keeling is a small group of islands 700 miles SSW of Padang. They are under the jurisdiction of Australia. They are by no means on the direct route to Mauritius/Rodrigues, but you have to sail south anyway to pick up the trade winds, so it is perhaps 300 miles out of the way. We hope to sail there, but it depends on the wind. Particularly once we reach the trade winds — whether they blows from the east (good) or the south (bad). If the latter we would likely give up on CK, turn west, and go the remaining 2200 miles to Rodrigues (which is part of Mauritius but 400 miles closer).

Day 1 – Departed 7:30am, motored all day toward Macaronis Resort in the Mentawai Islands west of Sumatra. Half way there at nightfall. Thinking we might get a last restaurant meal, or at least a cold drink, and possibly top up our diesel, on our way out to sea.

Day 2 – Made it to the resort mid-day. We tried to sail a few times, but always the wind died, so we motored almost the whole way. Hate to be burning our fuel so early, but we should get more wind as we go. The resort was very nice, and we bought fancy drinks and had a good “western” meal with our last Rupiah. We will leave at daylight. The plan was to meet Maggie 50 miles south of here, and anchor so they get a good night’s sleep. But the wind forecast says we should leave and keep going. Unfortunately we couldn’t reach them on the SSB radio tonight, so we can’t have a chat about that. We sent them an email (by radio); we’ll see how they respond…

Day 3 – Did our rendezvous with Maggie, and they agreed to keep going. At last we are headed out to sea! Convivia, Peregrine and On Verra were all anchored nearby, but they decided to wait. Their requirements are a little different from ours, in that they don’t plan to go to Cocos. I’m afraid we may have already missed the favorable wind. We are motoring once again into the night. But it is wonderful to be at sea. The well-worn Indonesian courtesy flag down. The air and the water a little cooler. The Sumatran islands fading on the horizon. Lots of wonderful memories of the delightful Indonesian people, in spite of my desire to move on. We are at 3 degrees south latitude. The trade winds should fill in at about 8 south, 300 miles from here. Cocos is at 12 south. We need some wind…

Day 4 – For several hours we had good wind. But now at nightfall we are motoring once again. It has been an overcast gray day, which is a good thing, but a side effect was that I didn’t know what time it was. I misread the numbers on my watch, and had dinner ready at 3pm! But it was yummy still at 5:30. We crossed 5 degrees South latitude.

Day 5 – At 6am there was a brief squall, and then the wind came up from the SE. Could this be the edge of the trade winds already?? That would be too good to be true, as we had not yet crossed 6 degrees South. The forecast shows light winds in this area from every direction. But we were on a close reach directly toward Cocos making 8 knots, sometimes 9. Will it hold…????

Several hours of good sailing, and then it petered out. Multiple squalls with near calm between. Frustrating, but still to be expected here. Motoring again at nightfall. We are half way from Padang to Cocos.

Day 6 – Motorsailed most of the night, then about 9am we had a good sailing breeze…from the West! That’s backwards. The wind became SW and lighter, so back to motorsailing. At 2pm we crossed 8 degrees South, where we think we can legitimately expect trade winds. But still we had wind from the SW, plus swells and waves in multiple directions. Quite uncomfortable. At 4pm we could see that the clouds overhead were moving in the direction of the trade winds, even though on the surface we still had SW. The waves were causing the sails to bang and slat so much that we dropped them and just motored. At nightfall the wind had shifted to South (right in our face), but still light and we are still motoring…

Pan-fried chicken and watermelon for dinner. And TC has made two banana loafs to use up our overripe bananas.

Day 7 – It rained off and on all through my 4 hour night watch, still motoring. Crossed 9 South around midnight. And then just before Tim came on at 3am, a big line of rain clouds passed overhead, and the wind started to build from the SE.

When I woke up 4+ hours later, Tim said, “Come out and behold the majesty!” The morning was indeed majestic. Wind getting up to 20 knots, seas up to 4 meters, patches of blue sky between gray and white clouds, pelagic birds soaring by with their wing tips inches from the waves, and No Regrets surging along at 9 knots. Trade winds at last! It’s a bumpy ride, but a welcome one. Now with double reefed mainsail and working jib, we should have no problem arriving at Cocos tomorrow.

Made my first ever tempeh meal. (Tim announced a couple weeks ago that he no longer eats mammals.)

Day 8 – Squalls all night. Wind from 5 knots to 35 knots. But in the morning we arrived. Beautiful spot, though not much here. Nothing visible from the boat, but we are told we can buy very expensive diesel, and that Friday a freighter will arrive with fresh produce, so we should provision Saturday morning. In the meantime things are going to be rather quiet. Maggie should arrive before dark. Our old friend Chris aboard Tom Tom was here, but has already left for Rodrigues. One other boat here. Got wifi right in the anchorage though, from a hotspot on the beach!

Padang Photos

Photos from Tua Pejat, where we rendezvoused with TC, one more stop we made in the islands, and then the Padang area.

Tua Pejat


Tua Pejat


Resort on Kandui, where we reluctantly turned down their expensive dinner.


But we had a beer.


Hanging on the scary mooring at Snake Island


Some treasures gathered at Snake Island


Approaching Padang




Traditional Padang architecture


Most of these cool buildings turn out to be banks


Posing as they round the corner


Not sure what it is; I just like this photo


This one, too


University with mosque


Mosque at university


Rice paddies, and trash…


Nurseries one after another


Getting close to strawberries, we thought


Driving in the back way, in the rain, on a path barely wider than the car (with deep ditches on each side!)


Teluk Bayur





Throughout Indonesia, but especially here, there are Padang-style restaurants. The food is cooked in advance, and may be on display at the front of the shop. You sit down, and a large selection of dishes is brought to the table, plus a plate of rice for each person. You serve yourself from the various dishes, as much as you want. Dishes you don’t want you leave untouched. When done, they see how many dishes you ate (or tried but didn’t finish), and that is what you pay for. It is a wonderful kind of “fast food.” It does have drawbacks though. Lots and lots of fish, of course. And you don’t really know what something will taste like until you’ve committed to it. And it is a touch unsettling that your food may have been served to others before you. Still, I like it, and we’ve experienced a lot of it in our week in the Padang area.

We went first to Bungus Bay, a few kilometers south of Padang, because it seemed it would be more small-boat-friendly than the big ship harbor. The anchorage was pretty nice (except for all the trash in the water), but to do our provisioning required a $20 taxi ride (each way) to the city. Plus when you get to the pier to load your supplies in your dinghy, a bunch of “longshoremen” show up insisting that they do the loading, and then they want a more-than-token payment. Getting diesel worked out okay, delivered to the boat at a reasonable price. And we found a nearby place to get laundry done (cost double for next day service, but still acceptable). But provisioning and looking for other supplies was frustrating and expensive.

We had been told that there were “supermarkets” in Padang, and we had high hopes since we needed to buy the food we will be eating for the next three weeks or so. The supermarket turned out to be just another smallish shop, with an odd assortment of items on display. But wait, you can go out back and up the rickety stairs and find more. Still can’t find what you want? Ask! They could actually come up with most things on our shopping list. For a few someone ran down the street and came back with the item!

A lot of logistics did not work out here, in part because we arrived just before a four day holiday that we didn’t know about, and in part due to language issues, and probably in part simply because this is Indonesia. Before we arrived Tim had contacted “Charlie,” referred to us by one of the surf charter boat operators. Charlie spoke pretty good English, and we were told he could provide supplies and hardware and help us find whatever else we needed. But when Tim went to meet him on the dock, he wasn’t there. The ensuing phone call didn’t resolve this problem, as each seemed to be on the dock waiting for the other! Tim found Erik, who spoke quite good English, and got him on the phone with Charlie. Turns out Charlie thought he was meeting us in Tua Pejat, 80 miles away! That was an unfortunate miscommunication. But Erik adopted us, and turned out to be extremely helpful.

Luc tried to arrange a tour for Maggie, Gaia and us. This also didn’t work out. But Erik located a large car, and Rob and Carol and Tim and I went exploring. Luc’s tour was going to include seeing where they grow strawberries. With visions of loading up and freezing piles of strawberries, and ideas that we would drive up in the hills with coolness and beautiful views, we had Erik tell our driver to take us to strawberry country. He took us initially into the city, but that was okay because we needed to change money (unload our remaining Malaysian and Thai and Singaporean cash). And next door to the money-changer was a fancy coffee shop where Tim and I satisfied our sweet tooths with “momos” — mochas with milk and Oreos, in a blender with a little ice…

Back in search of strawberries, we did not go into the hills, but followed a long plain, largely covered with rice paddies. Finally we turned off, and started up a little. Everywhere there were plants for sale — nurseries, one after another. And then we “arrived” — at what I’m not sure, but it had a gate and it was closed for the holiday. Our driver persisted, asking various people and finding a back way in. It had the appearance of a university agricultural extension farm. Beautifully laid out small plots of dozens of crops; hydroponic lettuce; gourds grown on trellises overhead with the fruit hanging down below. And after much searching and asking around, a strawberry plant was located. Yes, one plant; no berries.

Oh well, it was a little adventure, and in a comfortable car with air conditioning. And though we never got up into the hills, it was just as well because by now it was pouring rain and you couldn’t see anything anyway. The “momos” turned out to be the highlight of the day! Oh, and at the Padang-style restaurant where we stopped on the way home, they served strawberry juice.

The roads here are thick with motorbikes, but on the way back we noticed a stretch where they were thicker than usual, and the riders all seemed to be wearing similar tie-dye shirts. Hells Angels in tie-dye, of sorts. And the biker girls, mostly on the back, wore matching tie-dye hijabs (head scarves), too!

Last stop on the way home was to pick up our clean laundry. On the boat we sorted out the clothes between the three of us. TC says his only pair of trousers is missing! He checks to make sure they had been sent in with the laundry, and then he and I get back in the dinghy and return to the laundry. Closed! The light it on, so we bang on the door. The lady from the shop next door looks at us like we are crazy, and says they have gone home. With charade language we explain that TC’s trousers are missing, and she gets on her cell phone, tells us the laundry person will come back. We wait as it gets dark…

Eventually a lady on a motorbike pulls in, nods at us, and opens the shop. We do the charades again, and she understands, but waves her hand at the bundles of plastic-wrapped laundry ready to be picked up. I guess I had hoped she would say, “Oh yes, I forgot the trousers that are drying out back.” She picked up one of the dozen bundles, almost to say, “You want to search for a needle in a haystack?” But she turned it over, and TC pointed to the bottom item in the bundle — his trousers! Amazing!

In order to make it easier to check out, all three boats move to Teluk Bayur, the main/commercial harbor of Padang. Luc will provide transport to help us go to immigrations, customs, and the harbormaster, which of course are not located close to one another. We still need to do another round of provisioning, but Luc says we should be able to stop in the city on our way.

We were to start a 9am, but Luc’s ride/guide/translator canceled at the last moment. Luc calls us at 10 to meet him ashore in five minutes. We get to the only place around for landing a dinghy, and wait, but no Luc. Phone calls…neither Luc nor the taxi driver know where we are…can we tell them? No, not so that the taxi driver understands… Tim starts cornering passers-by on the street until one agrees to take his phone and tell the taxi driver where we are.

We go to Customs first, because it is closer than Immigrations. I pull out me sheaf of papers from the authorities in Sabang, and they ask for the Vessel Declaration Form. I hand them the pile of papers, but there is no declaration form. “I’m sorry, but you have a problem. You need the form from Sabang.” Luc is very good in this situation: “There is no problem because these people did everything properly in Sabang. I know, I was there, I saw them. The customs office in Sabang must have made a mistake and not given them the paper. And now they need to leave in the morning, 6am.” That was a good try, but the response was, “This is not really my job. I help you only because I speak some English. We have to refer this to my superior, who is busy now.”

Luc tells them to call the office in Sabang. They don’t have the number!? Luc makes calls to get the number. He tells them to call and get the form faxed or emailed, and meanwhile we will go to Immigrations. Everyone says Yes, and off we go to the city. Immigrations is daunting. It is a big office, crowded with people waiting. Luc brushes past the crowd and walks into a glass-walled office; he was here before working on Maggie’s visa renewal (another long story that will play out tomorrow…), so he goes right to the official he dealt with. They say we need to take a number and wait. Luc says no, we are not renewing visas today, we are leaving the country — very simple, stamp the passports, no wait. Several officials confer; one takes our passports and says he will process them.

All good. It takes half an hour, but no glitches. By now it is noon, and no point in returning to Customs until lunch ends at 2, so we stop for our lunch and do our final provisioning. We drop Tim and TC off at the dinghy landing, since they aren’t needed for Customs and Harbormaster, and they need to get our frozen foods to the boat. Then back to Customs, where we wait for the guys to return from their lunch. Our English speaking helper arrives. No, they didn’t call Sabang… We need to speak with his boss. The boss shows up a little later, and gets briefed. He agrees to call about the missing form, both for us and the other two boats. We wait. When he eventually returns he has a copy of the missing form! Hallelujah!

Next he needs to round up an assistant and they need to come inspect the boat. We had hoped to avoid this, but it was for this contingency that we moved the boats close by. He mentions that he has to take photos of the boat, and I gently let him know that I have photos that I can email to him. Yes, he would like my photos, “But you understand that I must come inspect the boat.” Okay, we call Tim to bring the dinghy back to the dock, and we all go to the boat. Our inspector takes a few photos, and then we do the important one — the three crew plus the two inspectors posing aboard. This is the essence of the “inspection” — proof that they were aboard.

As we return ashore it is approaching 4pm, and we are concerned about getting to the Harbormaster in time. Luc makes a plan. On the way back to Customs, where they still need to complete the forms, they can drop me at the Harbormaster so I can make my presence known and start the paperwork. They will need the Customs clearance, but Luc will bring that as soon as it is ready…

The Harbormaster folks are joking around amongst themselves. I think they will be helpful but it is hard to tell. The group includes two women, which I think is a good sign. They tend to be more helpful, and keep the men from being jerks. I start answering questions. The guy jokes that it is going to cost 15,000, but don’t worry, it is Rupiah, not dollars… And then he looks at my “health book” from Sabang. You have no clearance from Quarantine! But we are LEAVING, not arriving. Quarantine should not be necessary. Apparently I am wrong about that.

Another guy says, “Follow me.” I follow him out of the building to his motorbike. I hop on behind him, and he takes me to Quarantine. Inside, he looks at an office that is locked. Not good. A lady in uniform is waiting for someone, obviously anxious to go home. He asks her if she can’t help this poor “bule” who needs to clear out. She rolls her eyes. She says they are closed. I try to give her the pleading puppy dog look. My escort says some persuasive things, and she calls to someone out in the parking lot to bring the keys. My escort winks at me. I fill out forms and do the boat stamp thing to make everything look official. The woman is very nice, once resigned to getting home late. She asks about out trip. She stamps the necessary stamps and hands me the papers. “Am I all done?” Yes, but you need to pay. Who do I pay? They are closed until morning…but you can try. No problem, I pay (about $2), and my escort takes me back to the Harbormaster. He then says goodbye, he is going home. I try to pay him for being my taxi. He gives me a very genuine smile and says, “No, my friend.” I want to hug him. Clearly we would not complete the clearance saga today without him.

Two things happened while I was gone. One was that Luc showed up with the Customs papers, completed. The other was that the shift changed, and nobody knew where I was. Luc called Tim — did Zeke return to the boat?? No. At least Luc had the good sense to stay put and wait. With a little more waiting, a little more struggling with the language, a little more money (but no “gifts” requested), it was done. We are cleared out of Indonesia!

We are ready to go in the morning. Unfortunately Maggie has a visa issue, and could not go through the fun today. They go for it tomorrow, and Gaia, too. Hopefully we have blazed the trail for them, and they will be able to leave within a day. We will go to one of the islands and anchor and wait for them, since we agreed that we will stick together on this crossing. It is 2am and I can’t sleep, I am so anxious to get going!