October 10th, 2018
The south east trades that have brought us faithfully this far, have now disappeared and we have entered the north west monsoon (rainy) season. This brings thunder storms and torrential rain and no steady wind to sail by. We are now in the South China Sea, and from here on it will be less sailing and a lot of motoring around the fishing fleets and shallow reefs that are everywhere. Night passages are just too dangerous so we try to find protected bays in the late afternoons to anchor for the night.
After 4 days of this we arrived in Belitung Island and dropped the anchor in a beautiful bay, sparkling white sand and cafes lining the shore.
Large granite boulders lie scattered about the coastline creating beautiful little islets. As we passed through here in our dinghy, we wondered how on earth the large one managed to get up there.
A bus tour around the island had been arranged with an invitation to a local school for lunch and some of their marching and dancing displays. The strong military aspect of their performances, both the girls and the boys, I found a little disturbing. But everyone was so lovely and the students were keen to practise their English with “hello Mista. Where you from?” followed by dozens of “selfies”.
We visited a local boat building yard that only built for the local fishing fleets. These vessels were made of some kind of local hardwood planking . It was amazing watching the craftsmen at work using chain saws, hammers and chisels with such artistry. We were fascinated to see these beautiful boats at various stages of completion. There were probably over a dozen 14 – 16 meter boats at various stages of construction.
The Indonesian Islands are rich in all sorts of minerals, with kaolin and tin being the major two exported from Belitung. These beautiful lakes are the result of an old mine, right across the road from heaps of Kaolin awaiting export to Japan, where it is used for their fine porcelain.
Kaolin is a very smooth white clay and is also used in paint, varnish and cosmetic products. There is so much of it around even when we lifted our anchor, the chain was caked in the kaolin clay-like sand.
For our final evening dinner on Belitung Island we celebrated Lane’s birthday with more dancing and a big birthday cake. This was a fitting way to bid farewell to Belitung and head for the Bangka Islands.
It was an overnight sail to the next bay where the Rally was making its next planned stop. When we arrived we found the anchorage was in a very exposed part of the north Bangka Island coast and we spent one very uncomfortable night at anchor there. The following morning, we took one look at the surf rolling onto the beach where we would be beaching our dinghies when going ashore for the Gala Dinner and just said “no way”. We lifted anchor and then along with nine other boats in the Rally that felt the same way, we left and continued to a more protected anchorage 15 miles to the north. We all decided to form our own group for a few days and skip the Gala dinner back at the “surf beach”. With another birthday to celebrate we organised a pot luck dinner on the beautiful, deserted beach of our new anchorage. We lit a beach fire and enjoyed sharing a fun evening with the other cruisers.
The next morning, we took our dinghies to the nearest village, 2 miles away, at the other end of the long white beach, hoping to find some fresh vegetables to restock our supplies. When we pulled our dinghy up on the beach between dozens of local ones there, we saw immediately that we had entered yet another world within Indonesia. The people looked Chinese, the language sounded Chinese and the shops and houses, which were adorned by Chinese paper lanterns looked very clean and tidy. Beautiful ornate Buddhist temples were scattered amongst the houses and everyone wore western clothes. I saw only one woman wearing a Burka.
The produce market was 30 mins away by car, but with no cars or bikes to hire and no public transport, we will have to manage with what we have.
Fishing, it seemed was their main occupation, but we wondered how many were here to work on the nearby Tin mines and Palm Oil plantations. It was difficult to get answers to our many questions as we could find no-one who spoke enough English.
Black skies gather most afternoons, announcing the arrival of loud bursts of thunder and lightning before dumping truckloads of rain. The rain is so heavy that it cuts all visibility and the sea surface becomes like smoke. It actually hurts to stand in the rain as it hits your bare skin with such force that it stings.
We set sails (iron sails that is) for Penuba Island, the first of the Llinga Island Group, 120 miles away.
Penuba Island, Llinga Regency. We decided to do an overnight sail to Penuba Island as it was full moon and we could enjoy the cooler temperatures of the night. It is so hot during the day that all we can do is try to stay under our awning and out of the direct sun. After a lovely calm voyage under the full tropical moon, we motored in behind the small island where the ancient village of Penuba was located, then dropped the anchor in front of a small beach outside of the channel and away from main street.
This was another isolated village, far from the tourist trails. There was only local shops and restaurants. However, we did have a very delicious meal for a few dollars.
Evidence of the Dutch having been here was seen in the few simple buildings lining the main street of this small quaint town. We did manage to top up our Indonesian sim card and buy a few fresh vegetables, a walk around town and past the school and we were off again.
This time to cross the equator.