Indonesia – Anambas Islands
A yacht convoy left Singapore’s Raffles Marina to head over to the Indonesian Anambas Islands – a day’s journey but a world away from the cargo lanes of the Lion City – and showing that a modern cruising yacht opens up plenty of possibilities out of Singapore
The Anambas Islands. Just the name conjures up visions of azure waters, white sand beaches and spectacular coral reefs. This exotic slice of paradise lies a mere 150 nautical miles from Singapore and holds the promise of fun in the sun for yacht owners wanting a little adventure. There were activities galore lined up like diving, snorkeling, swimming, trekking, shopping and the quintessential Singaporean pastime, Makan!
The much-anticipated ten-day Anambas Cruise 2012 set sail on April 27 from Raffles Marina in immaculate sailing weather, with nine boats participating. The yachts were divided into a slow convoy, mid-speed convoy and fast convoy. Our first port of call was Nongsa Point Marina and Resort in Batam, where all yachts had to report for customs and immigration clearance en-route to our destination. The boaters got together to mingle over dinner and retired early to prepare for the overnight cruise to Pulau Bawah the next day.
At daybreak, most boaters got up early to settle any last minute refueling or topping up of water for the journey ahead. The ride to Pulau Bawah would take more than a day and boaters would have to navigate through the busy shipping channel at Horsburgh Lighthouse before heading out into the South China Sea. The locals believe that if you see dolphins while out at sea, it is a sign of good luck. Lady luck smiled upon us and as we were cruising along just after leaving Nongsa, we had a few playful dolphins for company. To make the trip up more challenging, the boaters had to sail through the South China Sea at night so as to reach Pulau Bawah during the day. The few fishing boats out trawling for squid lit up the night.
After more than 24 hours at sea, we finally saw our Pulau Bawah on the horizon. The fast convoy, consisting of Amadeus, Tiger Too and Leeway 3, were the first to arrive. The slow convoy, led by our very own Lady Olivia, reached the island at 11am together with Great Idea, Kayhan, Virgo and Duck. The very first vessel to arrive was the Grand Banks Orel, captained by lone boater Kachurin Konstantin, who decided to head over to Pulau Bawah earlier than the rest of the convoys so that he could recce the area for us. The entrance of Pulau Bawah is shallow and lined with many coral reefs, requiring caution on the part of skippers on the approach.
That said, a visit is well worth it, as you enter the small little lagoon surrounded by one main island and a few smaller ones. The scenery is captivating. We dropped anchor and immediately jumped into the clear blue water for a dip to cool off after the long cruise over. Snorkeling is a must at Pulau Bawah, as the corals and exotic fish species are abundant. Some of our luckier fellow boaters got to see sea turtles in their natural habitat. When night fell, the tranquil atmosphere around the island took over. There were no loud noises from vehicles and no high-rise buildings; only the sound of crickets and a sky filled with bright stars.
The underwater attractions are one of the big reasons that more adventurous yacht owners head out to the Anambas. Here, the clear waters and abundant reefs mean that there’s plenty to see, with chances of catching a glimpse of large pelagic fish. There are also a couple of underwater wrecks to explore, including a large cargo ship that sank in 1965, the 265-metre Silver Skies, the top of whose superstructure is 30 metres down.
Pulau Bawah has no inhabitants and one can simply kayak around the area to explore all the smaller islands within the lagoon. If you are one for adventure, visiting yachtsmen can drop anchor and head over to the islands to explore the forested area and do some trekking up the mountainous areas for a breathtaking view. Do be prepared, as there are no obvious paths, and you will need to bushwack your way through.
At 7am the next morning, the slow convoy made its way out of the waters of Pulau Bawah and headed to Siantan, another of the Anambas Islands. Waiting for us there was Pak Tolam, owner of the Anambas Resort, which we would be calling home for the next three days. After a six-hour cruise, we reached the resort and there was Pak Tolam and his family. A delicious lunch was ready to welcome us to their beautiful island. Pulau Siantan is a small fishing village, where the majority of the trade lies in fishing and also the sale of dried cloves. This rustic little town is a fresh change from Singapore and seems worlds away.
The main town of Siantan is a 20-minute ride from the Anambas resort. One could get there either by ferry or if you are daring enough, by motorbike going up and down steep slopes. We headed to the quiet little town for some shopping and sight-seeing. You can feel the friendliness from the locals as you buy a coffee or haggle over the price of the many local produce available at the markets. One thing you would notice immediately when you walk around the town of Siantan is that there are no cars. The main mode of transportation is by motorbikes, with goods and produce often moved about using modified motorcycles fitted with carts. The houses and shops reminded us of the old kampungs (villages) back in Singapore and Malaysia. Some were made of wood and the locals often have their own makeshift barbeque pit, which they use to cook dried fish, which they then sell.
Some of us headed up towards a Chinese temple to give thanks for letting us have a safe and pleasant journey from Singapore to Anambas. In the afternoon, we headed to one of the neighbouring islands, Temburun, for a special treat. We were going to take a dip in a natural waterfall. It was a bit of work to get there for a short swim, but it was worth it. From the top, you get a majestic view of the area around Temburun. The natural spring water was so refreshing and after a long journey up, that short time spent under the cascading water was fantastic.
On May 4, the convoys left Anambas resort to head back to Nongsa Point Marina. It was going to be another long overnight cruise. The slow convoy left early in the morning while the fast convoy left at 6pm. Along the way, some of the boats did some fishing to try their luck at getting a bite and as luck would have it, they did manage to get a couple of tunas! But that was all that Lady Luck would give us. At nightfall, a wind suddenly started to blow across the South China Sea. In the distance, a grey mist was clearly visible even in the darkness of the night. A storm was approaching.
Before we knew it, we were right in the middle of it, with wind speeds up to 40 knots and waves as high as five metres. With items flying around in the cabin, it was going to be more arduous than the way out. After four grueling hours battling the storm, we finally saw the light of day and the sea began to calm down. Nongsa Point Marina was soon within sight.
On our last night at Nongsa Point Marina, we shared stories of the storm from the night before. The Barat, which means Northwest Winds in Javanese, was one of the worst that most of the boaters had ever encountered and it would definitely be one to remember. But it didn’t dim everyone’s fond memories of the Anambas.