Crossing the Equator and Singapore Straits

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November 1st 2014
Published: November 5th 2014
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Well, despite not feeling 100 % I agreed to leave Belitong the next day as the others promised wind and to keep in company but I regretted it later when we ended up motoring for almost 24 hours straight (our longest ever) as wind never appeared and burnt up almost half of our remaining fuel. I should have trusted the PredictWind forecast but its hard to trust any prediction in this fickle area.

A few tankers passed behind us into the path of CD and Charlotte - its becoming a running joke that CD attracts ships, especially now that they get the most distressed by them. After that it was a simple night of motoring, avoiding some brightly lit fishing boats, and I repaired the steaming lights that were shorting out on the bent pulpit frame.

All boats aborted their plans to stop after one night at NE Bangka Island the next day so as not to waste the wind that had finally appeared and was blowing quite well at just over 15 knots. The wind eased toward the end of the day and made for pleasant sailing through the night. Passed nearby a tug pulling a barge in
end of a night watch end of a night watch end of a night watch

note the eye shades, and biscuits hidden by steering wheel from Naomi's shift
the dark and then there was very little traffic the rest of the calm starlit night. When Naomi got me up at 4:30 am for my second shift we were only going about 1.5 knots.

Late morning a stocky fishing boat that we had just passed fired up its engine and started heading straight after us…quickly. Knowing that piracy does occur in this area, though usually on commercial vessels, I was concerned something wasn’t right. I called CD as they were still in VHF range and put the engine on. We motored away but the boat caught up, drove along about 50 m off our side, we exchanged waves and after a few nervous minutes they veered away. Perhaps they were just curious to see the yacht.

We were all heading toward the island of Lingga, to its SW corner but Luna Ray was not going to make it before nightfall so we turned toward the nearer SE corner, whilst Charlotte who were behind us committed to a 3rd night at sea. By 3pm we had dropped anchor behind Sunsa Island with a little swell coming between the two islands but the strong current held us length ways into it so was very comfortable. There were several pretty palm fringed bays but we decided to shower and rest, and maybe explore the next day.

The next day there was actually a little wind so we decided not to waste it, aborted plans to catch up to the others in the SW corner as it was 40 miles away - unattainable in daylight without using the engine - but rather work our way NW on the east side of Lingga Island. So motored into the choppy eastern exit created by the current against waves and turned north around the headland. The advantage of this better travelled route was that there many known anchorages not far apart so we could always stop if the wind died. However we had a light E-NE wind 5-10 knots most of the day and with a little current going our way we had a very pleasant close-hauled sail averaging 3-4 knots, passing pretty low lying wooded islands, watching large cumulus clouds forming.

At around 4pm the latitude ticked down to 00 00.000 …. we had crossed the equator !!! I had read about the ceremony that most yachties perform- apparently involving offerings to Neptune - but it wasn’t fresh in my mind so we had to make it up - we all got into costumes- Me - Neptune, Naomi - a mermaid and Alex - a pirate (of course!), said a few words and then threw water over ourselves. Naomi wasn’t keen on the tradition of dousing in salty sea water so we used water-maker water - at least it had been formed from the sea. Our home of Australia was now in the other hemisphere.

Four miles north of that we anchored at north Kantar island, a well sheltered bay, dotted with lots of fishing platforms on stilts with huts on them, but beach access even near the top of tide looked very poor. Our first stop in the northern hemisphere and a popular spot for equator parties apparently but there was no one else here. A brief mild squall came over during the evening, washing some of the dust from the deck.

The next day was another slow sail preserving our low diesel levels, we even sailed off the anchor. Covered about 20 miles in 7 hours of gentle sailing until the wind really dropped out and we motored the last 4 miles around the top of Limas Island where the current really picked up against us and into the shelter given from two tongues of the island sticking out either side of us. A small stilt village was a couple of miles to our south, and a few small fishing boats mingled around.

That evening at about 9pm torch light appeared at our windows and we came out to find a typical wooden fishing boat had pulled up along side. On top was a guy in camo uniform telling us he was from the Indonesian Navy and asked for “documents”. I asked him which documents to which he replied “documents”. So I showed him our cruising permit once he had invited himself into the cockpit which he photographed and noted how it only had 4 days remaining on it. He stayed a while and seems to be mulling things over, warned us to “be careful here” but wouldn’t or couldn’t say what of, more mulling over which made me think some more difficult request would be coming but it didn’t. I asked him where he came from, from which ship (we had only ever seen one navy ship back near Bali)… he told us he came from a village a few miles north of where we were. After a while he decided to leave but not before taking a photo of us “for a souvenir”, repeating that we should “be careful” and I think implying that we should be moving soon. We were very relieved he didn’t ask to see our passports as the visa would be quite clear we were not supposed to be there. I suspect he lives in the village and spotted us arrive or a fisherman told him and came to check on us on behalf of the navy, or perhaps just a civilian who had a uniform and came to check us out just for the hell of it.

Some days later Stefan & Sue from SV Charlotte where approached by a “navy” vessel while they were motoring along at 5 knots, where they hung on to the side of their boat and started asking for money, and once this was refused whisky… Stefan broke their hold the boat by shaking their hand and then letting go.

Anyway, this very unexpected navy visit shook us up a bit, as if the same happened once our cruising permit had expired or if they looked at our passports we could be in big trouble. I guess the repeated warnings of taking care played on our minds too, so we decided we would not hang about, leave the country before the permit ran out and hopeful join the others on the west side. So when there was no wind the next day we motored north riding the current passed many fishing platforms up the west side of Mesanak Island and onto a group of islands to the NW - the main one being Benan.

It was a pleasant spot, and we dropped anchor at the SE tip of Ansunda Island about an hour before the tide was going to turn against us, just off some fringing reef in 15 m of water, with two still villages in view. The one on Benan Island about 1.5 miles away was large, with some high speed ferries visiting, stopping at its long concrete pier.

We seemed to have a lot of traffic passing us so called one boat over to ask about getting diesel and they pointed us to Benan, so we took the dinghy over. Tied up at the end of the pier and were soon met by a small guy called “Joni” who got us to bring our empty jerry cans down the pier, passing some restaurants and stilt houses, to a concrete house where they got filled up. We thought the diesel would be expensive as we were remote and had a shock when they gave us the price, but then we figured out they were quoting for gallons not litres as usual and it was the cheapest diesel we bought in the whole country.

Joni rode with me from the pier end back to the shop where we motored right up to the back entrance to pick up the jerry cans. We gave him $5 for his help and then went over to one of the restaurants on the pier, where we could tie the dinghy up to, while we enjoyed some good Nasi Goreng for lunch. A very successful and straightforward trip, and a great relief to confidently have enough fuel to get us out of the country - which it turned out we needed at we motored then next 3 days. We went to the cute beach next to Luna Ray for a dip in the afternoon.

The next day we woke to find the current was already going our way so lifted the anchor and exited the group of islands by navigating carefully the narrow gap between the fringing reefs of Ansunda & Bansa islands and onward over very flat water (Naomi loved it) to the west side of the Rieu Islands. The tide was about to turn so we stopped next to a rock several miles out to sea from anything else called Cucupetong. It offered no protection from the weather but at least the massive tankers now anchored around us wouldn’t pass too close. We figured with such calm weather (never above 5 knots wind all day) it would be fine and I was just saying so on the 5pm radio sched when I came back up on deck to find a 13 knot wind had picked up. We got some waves and it got a bit uncomfortable when the current held us side on to them for a while but it was never that bad.

Alex and I had a little lie in the sun on the deck, and Naomi brought out afternoon tea. As the wind was blowing off the side of the boat I got out a small kite and Alex was very excited to fly one for the first time- until a lull in the wind dropped it in the water.

The next day we motor-sailed for the first few hours and then the boating became like a river cruise as we entered a wide channel between Sugi & Moro Islands. We had to change our planned route as the next channel we had in mind was covered in fishing boats and net floats. Riding the 2-3 knot current up the west side of Sugi made for good progress and we crossed a shipping lane at the top just after lunch and the other Brit boats came into view. We followed them north along the side of Karimun Besar Island and we all came to rest at the SE tip of its smaller brother, Karimun Kecil Island. Here we were just a few miles south of the notoriously busy Singapore Strait shipping lane and our AIS was filling up with vessels.
The AIS screenThe AIS screenThe AIS screen

we are the black blob, the empty triangles are ships

When we rolled out of bed the next morning the others had gone. We set off and reached the shipping lane boundary and there was a good gap after 3 tankers had just passed but annoyingly we were not quite close enough to get across before the next volley of ships so we circled around under sail. Crossing this channel is like a massive game of Frogger. After floating to and fro for about 3/4 of an hour we made our move, spurned on by a ship that was south of the channel and heading towards us! We had 3 staggered ships to pass behind and sailing gave us a nice slow speed to time it right - Naomi was stressed we didn’t have the engine running, but once passed the ships we popped it on to get us across quickly. It seemed strange the others had advised us to cross here as it was also where ships were changing direction as they came off the shipping lanes - we found out later we were crossing in the one place that ONLY ships are allowed to cross! We seemed to have ships moving in all directions, but we crossed the west going lane with little difficulty and only had to really take action to avoid a couple coming out of a northerly lane. The we were had several miles of weaving between a huge area of anchored ships and up the Johor channel.

To stay out of Singapore waters you have to keep to the left of the channel, at one buoy this is only 100 m wide but luckily we didn’t pass any big boats here. The different countries are obvious by their riverbank- both heavily industrialised at the mouth, but further upstream much of Singapore’s side was out of bounds as there was live firing apparently, and modern coast guard vessels sat on the side waiting for boats to stray into their waters, whilst on the Malaysian side there were scenes more typical of rustic Indonesia with live aboard fishing platforms scattered about and old fishing boats clogging up the few tributaries we saw - quite a contrast to the modern skyscrapers.

We passed under the 2nd link bridge and got pushed along by a southerly breeze as rain fell on the land over Malaysia. Finally we turned into the concrete sided channels of Puteri Harbour which reminded me of Harbour Quays down near Harbour Town on the Gold Coast.

So we arrived in Malaysia on the 31st - almost a week has past- more on that later.



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