november 2009: indonesia

Indonesia: the islands off Sumatra – Batu Islands (Indonesia) to Phuket (Thailand)


Batu Islands – The Great Channel – Nias – Hinako Islands – Nias North Channel – Banyak Islands – Indian Ocean – Pulau Weh – Malacca Strait – Bay of Bengal – Andaman Sea – Phuket

Friendly visitor – would this little man burn down your boat? If you have no manner, perhaps.

Zinc alone in a gorgeous anchorage

Five things we have learned

1. The security guard at the gate of the bank in Teluk Dalam is the man to see if you need to change US$. If you refuse to do business with him and stomp into the bank to speak with the bank manager then the manager will refer you back to the guard to conduct your business in the carpark. [Note: The guard’s rate is not too bad (remoteness considered).]
2. On an old 75cc motorbike (with a 3 x 2 foot side-cart) you can squish:
*The skipper
*One motor bike taxi driver
*One boat taxi driver
*Four 20 liter jerry cans of diesel
*One 35 liter jerry can of diesel
*One 30 liter jerry can of diesel
*20 bananas
*One papaya
*83 rambutans
*Six tomatoes
*Six cucumbers
*Six eggplants
3. Manners and common courtesy make life easy and safe.
(a) If you want to anchor in front of a small village for a few days, then introduce yourself to the kapala desa (village chief) and request permission to stay. The kapala desa will say the following magic words [english translation]: “I want no money from you.” “Stay as long as you like.” “If anyone paddles out to your boat to hassle you for money/diesel/presents then tell them to come and see me.” [Note: Interestingly, a few days later the same kapala desa will try to enlist your help to extort money out of people on other boats who arrive but do not go to shore to make themselves known.]
(b) Always smile, say hello and be polite to people who paddle out to your boat. If you anchor next to a charter boat whose captain does not do this and consequently a few local guys make threats (to the charter boat guests in the surf) to burn down the charter boat, then remind the local guys that your boat is the small catamaran and not the massive charter boat. [Note: Luckily, the local guys’ response will be a laugh and a “No worries. Your boat is fine. We like you.”]
4. The skipper’s fish filleting average (i.e., meat-on-barbie as a component of meat-on-fish) is increasing: up from 32 percent to 78 percent. His goal is to crack into the 80s.
5. If you live in the waters of the Indonesian archipelago and you are bigger than a pinky fingernail then you will be captured, you will be killed and you will probably be eaten. Baby tuna, baby lobster, baby crab, baby fish, baby sting ray, baby eel… you are fair game… even if you live in “marine park” waters.

Crossing the equator – a capful of gin for Neptune

Best same-name buddies: Jeunesse kecil (little Indonesian “Jeunesse”) and Jeunesse besar (big Australian “Jeunesse”)

Coral graveyard

Six of the best bits

1. Crossing the equator at longitude 098.11.170E
*A capful of gin for King Neptune (god of water and the sea).
*A capful of gin for the good lady Zinc.
*A sip of Bintang for the skipper and the first mate.
*A glorious sunrise.
*A rainbow.
*Back to bed for the first mate until her shift at 9am.
2. Lagundri Bay, Nias
*Lucky late season swell.
*BBQ pig for dinner on a friendly surf charter boat (not the one with the allegedly rude captain). [Note: Apparently, Nias grows Indonesia’s best pigs.]
*Land time at Pleasure losman: our home away from home during the day. Playing with Jeunesse kecil and her posse; sleeping and reading in the hammock; watching the surf.
*A hair wash and head massage with an audience: seven ladies from neighbouring stores, squeezing into the very small beauty salon, perching on pink plastic chairs, jostling for position to watch the event.
*Our chartered ute with driver turned school bus: returning from a provisioning mission in Teluk Dalam with 30 teenagers on their way home from school, hanging off the back, and sitting on the roof, of the ute.
*The new second-hand bookstore. The proprietress knows her books. She lent the first mate (who inhaled) her January and February 2009 Guardian book review lift-out sections imported from England. Treasure.
*”Mrs Massage”. Found (finally!) half an hour before the sun set on our last day in town. The best massage the first mate has had for a very long time… ever? (massages delivered by Jill excluded, of course). It was so good the first mate was unfazed by lying on a thin sarong on a cement floor in a dark, dirty, damp room, listening to the unsoothing sounds of people singing loudly and badly, babies crying, small children screaming and the skipper yelling through the window “hurry up it is getting dark”….
3. Loaves of bread and moist banana cakes baked in our new “six egg” oven. [Note: We are unsure what the number of eggs has to do with an oven (we could fit about 50 eggs into our new oven, if we so desired). However, we can confirm a “six egg” oven is smaller than an “eight egg” oven. A “seven egg” oven does not exist. There is rumour of the existence of a “ten egg” oven but we have not seen one.]
4. Storm-dodger-Meldrum. The first mate used radar to dodge five storms during a three hour shift: five degrees to port, 12 degrees to starboard, three more degrees to starboard, faster, slower, even slower, faster. Good pilotage? Good luck? The skipper suspects it was the latter.
5. Turning off the engines. North of Nias the 24-hour-a-day glass-off ended and Zinc sailed.
6. The passage from Pulau Weh to Phuket
*Crossing the notorious Malacca Strait without having to beat into 20+ knots of wind. Lucky, lucky, lucky, very lucky considering we missed the best season to cross the strait because we hung around too long in spots surfing. [Note: “One more day, one more day, let us stay just one more day…” is a great philosophy until you miss the season for favourable winds.]
*Frothing over the prospect of arriving in Thailand and accessing things that are a hassle or not available in the islands off Sumatra. Angonising over what to do first…. Laundry? Haircut? Massage? Dress nicely and dine out/visit a shopping center? Sip a banana smoothie/cappuccino/watermelon juice/glass of wine? Eat tropical fruit/yoghurt/vegetables that are not half rotten/papaya salad/tom yum kha/green chicken/tofu curry/banana pancake? Exchange books? Buy Christmas presents? Lie on a banana lounge and read a book? Go to the movies?

Our favourite spot

The first mate sneaking (with banana cake dough) up on the “six egg” oven

The skipper observing a storm about to be dodged by the first mate (aka “storm-dodger-Meldrum”)

Three of the worst bits

1. Injuries
*Rope burn around the neck from strangulation by surfing hat (first mate).
*Two inch second-degree-burn on left hand from incident involving boiling instant coffee, clumsiness, sleep deprivation and sailing in rough seas (first mate).
*Missing thumb nail from incident involving a hammer and a thumb (skipper).
2. Filthy Telo town
*Shacks and rubbish spewing into the sea.
*Plastic bags and ropes twisted around and jammed in the propeller of Little Zinc (our tender).
*The first mate was forced to abort a provisioning mission for lack of a secure place on the rancid waterfront to leave Little Zinc; primarily due to people eyeing and pawing Little Zinc and its bits (e.g., engine, fuel tank, anchor).
3. The guy at the petrol station filling a 44 gallon drum with petrol in the back of our chartered ute. He pulled the nozzle out of the drum before he had turned off the flow and sprayed petrol around the inside of the ute and onto himself; adjacent to guys chuffing on cigarettes. Apparently hilarious (based on the hoots and laughs from the peanut gallery) however we did not agree and made haste (with “little Jeunesse” in tow) to the park across the street.

First mate

Nature report

*The wet season. Rain, rain, rain: hard thumping belting rain; soft caressing kissing rain.
*Coral graveyards. At many locations in Nias and the Banyak Islands. Branching corals, brain corals, broad leaved corals, encrusting corals, convoluted corals, sea fans. Charcol and white coloured. Sitting high and dry where the 2005 earthquake jolted them (about three meters from where they were previously, now well above the high tide mark).
*Lightning storms. 20. The onslaught continued. Our fear diminished. You can become used to most things.
*Tengirri. One 25 pounder. Caught on our “1000 mile lure” (it swam 1000 miles, caught one fish, died (from being chomped and twisted by the tengirri)).


Surf report

Favourite break this month:

Skipper – Hidden
First mate – Hidden

*JLL [zero to five] Left reef break. Very long walls.
*Donors [zero] Right reef break. Peak take off to hollow tube.
*Hidden [zero to ten] Right reef break. Double-up thick spitting barrels when big. Skate-park-like walls when small.
*4 to 2 [zero] Right reef break. Four linked barrel sections pre-2005 earthquake have turned into two linked barrel sections post-2005 earthquake. Unfortunate.

[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….]

First mate

Dive report

We did not dive this month. We spent hours searching for spots at which to dive but in the waters off Sumatra most of the coral is dead and there is merely a fistful of fist-sized fish. Over-fishing and natural disasters are not conducive to lush diving waters. Tragic.


Book report

The skipper read:

*The white tiger : Avavind Adiga (4 stars)
*The biographer’s moustache : Kingsley Amis (3 stars)
*Jazz : Toni Morrison (1.5 stars)
*South : Ernest Shackleton (4 stars)

The first mate read:

*The Polish officer : Alan Furst (2 stars)
*Kangaroo : D H Lawrence (2.5 stars)
*A confederacy of dunces : John Kennedy Toole (4 stars)
*The white tiger : Avavind Adiga (3 stars)
*Those barren leaves : Aldous Huxley (2.5 stars)