october 2009: indonesia

Indonesia: the islands off Sumatra – Panaitan Island to Batu Islands


Panaitan Island – Sunda Strait – Krakatau – Indian Ocean – Mentawai Islands – Mentawai Strait – Teluk Bayur (Sumatra) – Siberut Strait – Batu Islands

The first mate, the skipper, the fishing rod

Birthday sunset

Birthday dinner

Five things we have learned

1. Darwin jail is a great place to learn English if you accidentally drift into Australian waters on your Indonesian fishing boat. So says our boat security/provisioning/rubbish disposal coordinator in Padang who speaks English with an authentic Australian accent. He also says Australian police officers are kind and helpful and the living quarters (cells?) in Darwin jail are nicer than his home in Padang. Comic. Tragic.
2. The first mate’s cooking is not acceptable to everyone’s tastes. A cruising sailor came to dinner on Zinc and ate only the white rice on his plate. He left untouched the fresh tuna baked in oregano and lemon, homemade chapati and eggplant sambal. Tough crowd.
3. If your weather station is located on the side of an active volcano, then perhaps you should power it by using something other than flat glass topped solar panels, particularly if the active volcano regularly spits large boulders out of its smoking mouth.
4. Lots of the charter boats do not go to the “secret spots” in the well trodden Mentawai Islands because the surf at the “secret spots” is shit.
5. A short sharp “shhhhh”, a scowl and a hand signal indicating you want to sleep (hands held together palms facing each other resting under one ear with head tilted towards hands) works as well at an anchorage off the Indonesian island of Siberut as it does at a Taiwanese camp ground (i.e., loud people making noise and hanging around your boat/tent shut up and go away; you can sleep).


Operation search and rescue cooking pot

Seven of the best bits

1. Two birthdays and an anniversary.
*Zinc is satu: celebrated with a preservative infused chocolate layer cake with chocolate icing.
*The first mate is tiga puluh dua: celebrated with a walk, a swim, a surf, a snorkel, a stand up paddle and dinner at the lovely Wavepark resort in the Mentawai Islands.
*Our marriage is dua: celebrated by hiring two boat detailers (i.e., unemployed Indonesians hanging around the wharf near our anchorage) to do our weekly, fortnightly and monthly cleaning and maintenance jobs on Zinc. Practical romance.
2. Krakatau: our first (and last) active volcano experience
*Anchoring in the belly of an active volcano
-Exhilarating. Unsettling.
-An extremely comfortable and calm anchorage.
-That we saw no other boats in the area did make us wonder if we had missed a relevant media release…
*Climbing “Baby Krakatau”
-Fast walking/running to the secondary peak; along the way, dodging craters formed by boulders the size of a 15 horsepower outboard engine (four-stroke) that BK appeared to have recently (too recently…) spat out of its smoking mouth.
-In awe at the persistence of life; green shoots bravely bursting out of hot volcanic ash.
-Hot; dripping with sweat; heat pulsing from the volcanic ash through the soles of our shoes and into our blood, beginning to roast our organs.
3. Not going to Bengkulu (a dirty port town 24 hours sail out of our way) to refuel. Instead we refuelled mid-ocean (40 nautical miles off the coast of Sumatra). We pursued and hailed down a decrepit wooden fishing boat. The skipper jumped on board, siphoned 40 liters of diesel into our jerry cans and handed over cash and cigarettes to the three fishermen on board. The first mate manned Zinc and refused to lift up her dress as suggested by the fishermen.
4. The Mentawai Islands. We cannot articulate how gorgeous and enjoyable we found this group of islands.
5. Simultaneously surfing and snorkelling (without a mask and snorkel). Riding waves and enjoying the scenery underwater. Positioning our take-off spots relative to live coral formations.
6. Scubadiving with our new tanks
*Dive one: release and recover 50m of chain and one anchor caught around a coral bombie in 20m of water.
*Dive two: locate and recover one cooking pot dropped overboard in 20m of water while pre-rinsing the dishes the night before.
The tanks have paid for themselves.
7. Nick McKean: the perfect deck hand
*He cooked. He cleaned. He went to market.
*He bought us presents (gumption, mould killer, weetbix, green scourer pads, chocolate, baileys).
*He pulled up the anchor at 3am while the first mate slept in (generally, in his work, he seemed to understand and apply the principle: “happy mate’s wife = nice life”).
*He set us no pick up or drop off deadlines (extremely important from a safety (and surfing and sanity) perspective).
*He fixed one of our computers (we will overlook that he broke our other computer).
*He continues to work remotely sourcing surfboards for the skipper.
Nick, we thank you for your hard work.

The deckhand working hard

The deckhand and the skipper

Three of the worst bits

1. Lightning storms. 19 smokers. We cannot articulate how horrible it is to sail/sit at anchor through these uncontrollable beasts.
2. Our slowest shift (hopefully, ever). We travelled eight nautical miles in three hours (an average of 4.9386 kilometers per hour). Tough going.
3. Misplacing a wallet (being pick-pocketed?) after visiting the ATM in Padang. The first mate knows she is stupid for having all of her money and cards in the one place, and she should be more vigilant about the security of her personal property while walking around a town. However, if there is a place in the world where someone needs a bit of extra cash right now, then it is Padang. Hopefully the money will be used to rebuild one of the thousands of homes and businesses that were destroyed in the recent earthquake.

Siphoning diesel


Nature report

*Active volcano. One. Krakatau.
*Lightning storms. 19. The onslaught began when we passed north of 6 degrees south of the equator.
*Sharks. Two six foot reef sharks sighted while spearfishing at Kandui Island.

A few on it

Crazy clouds

Surf report

Favourite break this month:

Skipper – Sushi
First mate – JLL

*372 days [zero] Left reef break. Speedy. Sucky. Hollow. Very shallow.
*Sushi [zero to 15] Left reef break. The perfect left in the perfect setting. Barrels. Long walls.
*Sashimi [zero] Right reef break. Soft. Very shallow end section.
*20 [zero] Peak. Steep take-offs and short rides petering out into deep water. Only works on a big swell.
*Steak and eggs [zero] Left reef break. Soft. Very shallow.
*Banks [one] Right reef break. Long walls.
*Video Ezy [zero to four] Left reef break. Long walls. Occasional barrels.
*Smegel [zero to eight] Left reef break. Very long walls.
*Microscopes [seven] Left reef break. Long barrels.
*8HP [zero] Right reef break. Long fast barrels.
*Nine bellies [zero] Peak. Short. Shifty.
*Old pirates [zero to one] Left reef break. Short. Fast. Hollow. Shallow.
*Invasion [zero to four] Right reef break. Long walls.
*Will Ferrell [three] Left reef break. Long walls.
*JLL [three] Left reef break. Very long walls.

[Note: the names we have attributed to the above breaks are based on private anecdotes. The number of other surfers in the line-up is shown in square brackets (it does not include us or any deckhand/s we may have on board). We did not surf the breaks in the above order…. Good luck trying to work out where they are….]

Anchoring in the belly of an active volcano

Boulder spat from…

…Baby Krakatau’s smoking mouth

Krakatau weather station

Dive report

*Pagai Utara Island. Freediving: At two locations. Both terrible. Poor visibility, few and small fish, predominantly rock and dead coral.
*Sipura. Spearfishing: At two locations. Location one: the deck hand caught two small fish for dinner. Location two: the skipper caught a medium sized unicorn fish for lunch.
*Silabok Island. Freediving: Terrible. Poor visibility, few and small fish, predominantly rock and dead coral.
*Pittojat Island. Scubadiving: Search and rescue operation #1: recover 50m of chain and one anchor.
*Kandui Island. Scubadiving: Search and rescue operation #2: recover one cooking pot. Spearfishing: The skipper caught a large cod for dinner; delicious.
*Siaimu Island. Freediving: Reasonable. The best looking corals and the biggest fish sighted for a long time.

Book report

The skipper read:

*The shark net : Robert Drewe (5 stars)
*Exile : Richard North Patterson (3 stars)
*When you are engulfed in flames : David Sedaris (3 stars)

The first mate read:

*Rabbit is rich : John Updike (4 stars)
*Lady Chatterley’s lover : D H Lawrence (3 stars)
*An unsuitable job for a woman : P D James (1 star)
*The sea : John Banville (2 stars)
*Mansfield Park : Jane Austen (3.5 stars)