Category Archives: 8. Malaysia to Sumatra

Near Miss

On the overnight to Padang, TC took first watch, I came on at 2300. Nice night; heat lightning in the distance over Sumatra; some fishing boats around with blazing fish-attraction lights; a large ship 7 miles ahead, coming our way but the AIS says we will clear by 2 miles. TC goes below to sleep; I watch the ship on AIS and radar.

Something doesn’t seem quite right with the radar, but it takes me a while in my not-quite-awake state to put 2 and 2 together. The big blip ahead on the radar can’t be that ship! AIS says the ship is 7 miles away, and the radar is only on the 6 mile range. It shows the big blip as less than 2 miles away… Binoculars. Yes, ahead just slightly to port are two red strobe lights. Probably one of those huge fishing platforms, not lit up tonight. Or a fishing boat anchored or drifting, taking a break. I come to starboard a few degrees to be sure we will miss it.

I enjoy the night for a few minutes, and look at the radar again. The blip still seems to be in the same relative bearing, and closer of course. I can see the red strobes now without binoculars, and we don’t seem to be clearing them. Must be some current… I come to starboard another 10 degrees.

Then things start to happen quickly. I can see the outline of the fishing boat, and it is big and completely black and closer than makes sense to me. I turn another 10 degrees to starboard, just as it dawns on me that this boat is underway, and moving fast across (maybe) our bow. All my turning to starboard kept moving us into its path! I turn sharply to port, and watch as an 80 foot boat steams silently past, 50 yards away. Not a single light aboard other than the red strobes — no running lights, no cabin lights, no work lights on the deck. Eerie. And I came close to steering right into its path!

TC, and a Touch of Regret

When we arrived in Tua Pejat (capital of the Mentawai Islands; a town rather than a village) Saturday afternoon, we met a guy who spoke good English, who acted as our guide/translator for an hour or two. Our first order of business was to find an ATM, since we were out of cash. He took us to a bank, where they told us our cards wouldn’t work because they were Visa instead of MasterCard. He took us to the only other ATM in town, and our cards did not work there! He said we should try the “hotel,” which might be able to exchange US dollars. On the way, we passed the original bank, and Tim tried their ATM — and it worked fine, for both of us. That was a relief!

When we asked about buying diesel, our guide said he would have to ask around. He took us to a supplies store a quarter mile up the road, where the owner said he would provide diesel (40 liters, to fill our two jerry jugs) for 8,000 Rupiah/liter. We said we’d come Monday morning with the jugs to buy it.

We were told that everything would be closed on Sunday. And “sun” is what the day was about. Intensely hot, stuck in a harbor where we didn’t want to swim, I tried to simply be semi-conscious, and let the minutes ease by. Tim decided he wants to clear out of Indonesia earlier than the date we had agreed upon with Luc, and he sent an email to that effect, which I imagine was not well received. We’ll see where that goes… When the sun got low we went ashore in search of dinner. We found one restaurant open, but it had no breeze and it had no cold drinks. We bought sate and some other indeterminate food from street vendors instead, plus two cold beers, and took our take-out back to the boat.

In the morning I stayed aboard to listen in on the yachtie’s radio net, while Tim went ashore to get the diesel before TC’s ferry was due to arrive around 9am. I knew that Tim wasn’t going to carry full jugs back, so he would have to work out some transportation. What actually happened was that he found another source of diesel, right on the dock, for 10,000/liter. We emptied the jugs into the tank, and decided to go back for another fill. What I SHOULD have done at that point was go to the original guy for the second round, but it seemed so much easier to take the dinghy right to the source, as Tim had done…

The source was on the dock with the police boats. The guy helping us had a police T-shirt on. He repeatedly told us we needed to go somewhere to see the authorities, which we were hoping to avoid. We gave him a copy of our passports, which quieted him briefly, but then he again indicated that we needed to see someone else (probably the harbormaster). We said okay, as we left with our fuel…

Time to meet TC’s ferry. In passing we saw our guide from Saturday, who asked if we got our diesel. We ignored the question. We saw a policeman in the ferry terminal, and having accidentally made eye contact with him, I asked if a white guy had just arrived on the ferry. He laughed and said we were the only white guys here. He didn’t seem to care about checking in, but of course I didn’t raise the question. Then I saw a couple of guys who appeared to be from a surf camp. They told me the ferry hadn’t arrived yet (they were waiting to meet guests). And they warned that the harbormaster might charge us as much as 500,000 Rupiah. “You just meeting your mate and then leaving? I’d just go. The police aren’t going to waste their fuel coming after you. But you didn’t hear that from me!”

The ferry arrived, we found TC, we ate some breakfast, we planned our escape. Quickly bought a few fruits and veggies, then to the boat and off we go! No problem, though it didn’t feel great to be “sneaking out.” (For a little perspective, the only other yacht in the area was anchored two miles away, because they never checked in to Indonesia! They were avoiding all towns big enough to have a harbormaster, but they had to get close enough to bring their dinghy in to buy fuel.)

We headed for one of the highly touted surfing spots, as a nice area to show TC, and with the idea that maybe we could buy a nice dinner there. Anchoring turned out to be problematic. Too deep in most places, but there were some huge metal mooring buoys. We tied to one, but if wind/current changed we might find ourselves banging into this dangerous obstruction. We considered deploying our stern anchor, but were instead lured around the next point to get close to the surf resort. By now the sun was low and we couldn’t see the bottom. We anchored between two reefs off a sand beach, hoping for a sandy bottom. And we immediately headed for the beach to see about dinner.

A local met us ashore, and told us we were not anchored in a good place. Why? The government wants to protect the coral; we may get in trouble with the government; better to use one of the moorings. We were having trouble understanding what this guy’s role was. He said he didn’t work for the resort. Tim blew him off — we’ll just stay for an hour to visit the resort. (After all, if our anchoring was doing some damage, that damage was mostly done already.)

The bartender was from Brazil, and he worked half the year in Hawaii. Fun to talk with him (the guests had all left earlier in the day; new batch coming tomorrow). Beers cost US prices. Yes, they could provide dinner, but at a US price. It would have been by far our most expensive meal in Indonesia, and would wipe out all our cash. I said no, and made a tasty dinner aboard, with another round of beer that we bought to go (our stock is gone).

During the night a squall came through, strong wind swinging the boat 180 degrees, and with tremendous lightning/thunder striking around us. Worrisome, but no problem. In the morning we could see the bottom. All coral…no sand. I’m sure we broke some in the squall.

I feel like the whole previous day, except declining dinner, was regrettable…out of integrity. Or as the sailing community says, not leaving a clean wake. Something for me to keep in mind when it seems easier to just go along…

Of course some readers are now hot to refer to the boat name. I think regrets come in all sizes, and we should have different words for them. I regret that I didn’t put a new carton of UHT milk in the fridge last night. That’s obviously not what the boat name is about. The boat name is about high level regrets — things one might regret on one’s deathbed. In my case, like not giving a circumnavigation a go. Or even bigger, like all of us regretting our collective lack of bold action in the area of climate change.

Photos, Equator Bay to Tabekat Bay

Catching up on photos…

Welcome committee at "Equator Bay"
Welcoming committee at “Equator Bay”
Moonrise over the Southern Hemisphere side of Equator Bay
Moonrise over the Southern Hemisphere side of Equator Bay
Telo Town
Telo Town
Sooli's property
Sooli’s property
Sooli's solar array (mounted horizontal since we're at the equator), and to the right his old tsunami tower, new one about to be built
Sooli’s solar array (mounted horizontal since we’re at the equator), and to the right his old tsunami tower, new one about to be built
Sooly has some nice equipment!
Sooly has some nice equipment!
Our anchorage at Sipika, off of Sooli's place
Our anchorage at Sipika, off of Sooli’s place
Our anchorage at Tabekat Bay
Our anchorage at Tabekat Bay
Tabekat Bay
Tabekat Bay
The river entrance is here somewhere...
The river entrance is here somewhere…
This must be the way!
This must be the way!
Mangroves
Mangroves — looks like crocodile country, but they say not here
Coconut
Coconut
Onward...
Onward…
Landing place
Landing place
Left or right...?
Left or right…?
Main Street
Main Street
And a side street
And a side street
Our wonderful hosts for tea
Our wonderful hosts for tea
Traffic coming up the river, as we go back down.
Traffic coming up the river, as we go back down.
Back home
Back home