Tag Archives: sumatra

To Sumatra Mainland

We thought we were free to leave Sabang at any time, but Luc told us that the harbormaster wanted to give us a port clearance paper. We dropped Chris ashore, and then Tim dinghied me close to the harbormaster, and waited for what we thought would be a short and simple matter…

I thought they would be expecting me, but instead it was a challenge to get across why I was there. I was granted an audience with the harbormaster. I explained that we wished to leave for Padang (stopping along the way). But it turns out you cannot specify Padang as your next port, apparently because it has multiple locations/harbors, and you have to be more specific. I had heard of one of the choices, so I picked that.

Next of course I fill out a form and apply the boat stamp. Then he pulls out the No Regrets file and starts inspecting it. Why does my crew list show two people but we arrived with three? I pantomime that Chris took off in an airplane to go (eventually) home. He calls immigration to check on this. Seems to be okay. But wait, what is my name…? One form shows my middle name, another doesn’t… He looks at my passport, and again I seem to squeak by. Then he calls in someone who seems to speak a little more English, and the two of them have a long and serious-sounding discussion. After several minutes I interrupt to ask if my ‘translator’ can explain the issue to me. “Oh, we are talking about a Thai boat that came in recently and broke many rules. We’re not talking about you.” Then he says we are done. I asked if the harbormaster wasn’t going to give me a clearance paper, and he said no, all done. He gets up to leave, and I start to follow him, when the harbormaster calls me back, pointing at a pad of clearance forms and saying something that I imagine would translate like, “Where do you think you’re going? You need a clearance paper, fool!”

Then he calls quarantine, and one of their guys shows up. He says I need to come to his office. No, not when you’re done with the harbormaster; now. Off we go, and he and two very pleasant associates start filling out forms. One was actually done on a typewriter, for those who know what that is! Many signatures and stamps, and then they are assembled into a “health book” that I guess I can show to authorities on our way south, should any authorities care to intercept us. Next he pulls out a ledger and starts writing out the fee for each form. At this I object, saying we were told we had no fees to pay. “No, not you, Captain, you do not pay. The officials in the blue building pay us.” Okay, I guess. I am dismissed with my health book, and walk back to the harbormaster’s.

I now get my clearance. He says it costs $5 US. I explain that I don’t have US money, and he agrees to take 40,000 Rupiah (about $3). But I only have a 100,000 note. I show him but don’t hand it over, asking of he can make change. Another guy in the office, who has become my current translator, hands me 50,000. Close enough. All done? Yes, but he says the harbormaster would like a gift of US $1. I’m trying not to lose my cool (actually, have been trying for the past hour). Nodding toward the payment just made I say, “Didn’t I just give you a gift?” No problem, it is not required, goodbye Captain and I hope you have enjoyed Sabang.

Yes, it is all part of the adventure. Frustrating, especially with the language barrier, but I am much more relaxed about it than I used to be. Worst case it will delay us a day and cost a few dollars. At least, I think that’s the worst case. I suppose they could throw us in jail for giving beer to locals. On that subject I did one thing right. On the customs forms filled out on entry there was a question: “Alcohol in cargo.” They could see we had alcohol, but I told them we don’t have any cargo, and wrote “None.” I just got a warning that all alcohol must remain aboard. One of the other boats listed two cases of beer, resulting in it being confiscated.

By noon we were underway, though with no plan yet for where we were going. There are some islands a dozen miles SW, with no description in our (very limited) cruising guide. We had a little wind, and finally tried out the spinnaker that I brought from home. I thought it was bigger than our old Parasailor, but if so it is only slightly bigger. Whatever, it seems to be in good shape and we had a nice sail.

It was near sunset when we approached our selected anchorage. We were approached by a fishing boat with two young men. We tried to ask if it was okay to anchor there. I’m not sure they understood, but they said no. I pointed to the next spot west, and they said yes. They waited while we anchored and then came alongside (banging into us), asking for drinks. We said no. They asked for ice, which made us laugh. We have a freezer, but not one effective enough for making ice. They left.

It was a little unnerving, as we were now in a VERY remote area. No boats except a few fishing boats. We would be completely vulnerable if someone came with ill intent. But I find in these situations that the only thing to do is to trust in the goodness of people, and we have encountered nothing but good half the world around.

That night there were strange creatures creating phosphorescent scribbles in the water. Hard to describe. If a shone a flashlight at one, there would be no creature visible, and the trail would be erased. But as soon as the light was out a little scribble would begin again, and make a crooked trail a couple feet long. There were dozens of these skinny little trails alongside us. I still can’t figure out what made them. Beautiful night, and happy to be cruising again.


In the morning a few fishing boats came by to check us out, but all just waved and moved on. We set sail and headed south to mainland Sumatra. We anchored at a surfer beach. The west coast of Sumatra is considered a surfer’s paradise. We met a pair of Australian surfers (our age) living on a catamaran. The owner has been cruising/surfing in this area for twelve years. Where we anchored is a popular beach with the locals. Kids piling into our dinghy when we launch it from the beach; teenagers being towed on inflatable torpedoes, zooming past us while those in the tow boat take photos.

This entire area was erased by the tsunami. It took a direct hit. About a third of the population was killed! It is very hard to imagine. It is beautiful here, and the beach is crowded with kids playing. Tim took a taxi into the city of Banda Aceh to see the Tsunami Museum. There is also a huge barge there that was washed five kilometers inland (!), and left there as a monument. I decided to forego the photos and maps and statistics and monuments, and just try to commune with the wonder and power of the natural forces of our planet. A little challenging when being constantly buzzed by teenagers wanting me to pose in their pictures…but it’s all part of the adventure…


Trying out our “new” spinnaker


The zoomers come by, about every ten minutes…


…and good-naturedly insist on photos with us in the background. Sweet, but it gets old!