Checking into Indonesia: our experience in Debut with the Multihull Solutions Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally in 2019.

This blog is intended for sailors interested in sailing from Australia to Indonesia and goes through the process as experienced by Catamaran Impi.

I think that the most frightening thing for us about going to Indonesia was firstly the amount of paper work required to check in with a vessel, secondly having to send your passport off to obtain a social visa and thirdly having to ‘run the gauntlet’ dodging fishing boats and nets.

As we were contemplating all the administration required we opted to go with the Down Under Rally, Go North in association with the Multihull Solutions Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally, as it seemed to us that we would need their guidance and support.

  1.  Obtaining a vessel declaration

After registering with the rally and paying their published fee which for us was AU$595, you are invited to apply for your vessel declaration. This requires you to send:

  • A passport scan for skipper and all crew;
  • Boat registration papers scan
  • Boat photo with name of vessel shown
  • Engine photos

You also need to list all your medicines on board AND:

Fill in a cruising declaration, which asks basic details about your yacht including AIS registration and your proposed cruising ground with entry and exit point.

You will need to declare the value of your boat just in case you are importing it at a later date. This is called the declaration letter.

You will also need to do a Crew list and fill in a Maritime Declaration of Health.

2.  Obtaining your social visa

The social visa lasts for 60 days and is the only renewable visa.   Visas on arrival are not renewable and only last 30 days. Once obtained the visa remains valid for only two months, so you have to arrive within two months.

Obtaining a social visa was scary for us as we had to send off our passport!

The rally will send you:

A Sponsor letter

A Support letter

A Letter of Assignment

A Vessel Declaration

A copy of the rally program

You need to send these with a completed visa application form for each person on board to the consulate of your choice. Not all consulates have the same form.

We used the Sydney Consulate located236-238 Maroubra Road, MAROUBRA NSW 2035.

You also need to do a bank transfer of AU$70/per person.

You need to include an SAE to where you are going to pick your passports up.

Our passports were returned to the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron without a problem but it was very worrying as the communication with the consulate did not work most of the time. The phone would just ring and ring and the Australia Post Office Tracking Service was not accurate and did not show when applications were picked up. Also the Consulate did not enable the return tracking once the passports were on their way.

  1. Picking your passports up at the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron (CCYS)

The Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron was brilliant in their organization. There is however limited docking space so either anchor in the river or go to Marlin Marina. Marlin Marina is great with lovely bars and restaurants but not cheap @ $120 per night for a catamaran so we did not go there.

CCYS is near to chandleries for last minute purchases like fuel polishing systems, ropes and provisioning. The vice commodore and other staff are very friendly and efficient and you can get things mailed here.


I would suggest you purchase your fuel polishing system here.

Fuel Polishing system on Impi

Also it is a good idea to stock the boat here as prices are reasonable.

This is also the place to make copies of all your paper work:

  • Vessel Declaration
  • Ship registration
  • Passports
  • Cruising declaration
  • Declaration Letter
  • Crew List
  • Maritime Declaration of Health

4.  Checking out of Thursday Island

Customs was super-friendly in TI and easy to book your clearance with. It is however difficult to fuel up here not least due to high SE winds and high currents.

Fuel on TI and Horn is provided by SeaSwift and you can organize to fuel up on the dock in TI or you can fill jerry cans in a facility located on the beach in Horn Island. You have to buy a prepaid card there and take your dinghy at high tide. This seemed to be the preferred solution for most sailors, but we used the self service at Port Douglas. You can also book a slot at Marlin Marina in Cairns on 0408515955.

You can claim back GST at TI, subject to bringing original invoices of goods bought in the last 60 days.  It needs to be a minimum of $300 per supplier. I also had to take photos of all the goods.

Horn Island anchorage

The anchorage at Thursday Island was untenable on most days we were there so we anchored at Horn Island. This anchorage was too full for the number of rally boats as a lot of space was taken up by fishing boats on mooring balls. The ground is fouled by debris and we re-anchored four times before we were happy with our holding, only to have another boat anchor on top of us which made me do anchor watch most of the night. Therefore we re-anchored outside the designated anchor area.

There is a ferry between Horn and Thursday Island but it was too expensive in our view so we used our dinghy. It tends to be a wild ride back to Horn in the prevailing SE wind and it is best to cross the shortest distance and then dinghy up along the reef to have some degree of comfort.

You need to tie up your dinghy on the longest finger as the other fingers are just mud at low tide.

Sadly, there is some theft on Thursday Island and one cannot leave the dinghy unsupervised for extended periods of time. One fuel tank was stolen.

There is a post office on Thursday Island which sells Rupiah. However, they did not deliver the currency on time and we had to ask for a refund.

There is fresh produce in the small super market but everything is very expensive. So stocking in Cairns is a must. There is also a butcher who will vacuum pack your meat.  A taxi ride from the super market to the dock costs $6.00.

Our favourite place North of Cairns was Lizard Island. We did not stay in many anchorages as there was frequently a degree of discomfort during the night. It was more comfortable to try and sleep in turn whilst sailing. So we did two overnight crossings to get from Lizard to TI. There is little or no internet coverage between Port Douglas and Thursday Island. We obtained weather via the SSB Eastern Australian weather service .

SSB weather schedule

We encountered SE winds between 15 and 35 knots all the way North. This is generally the case and northerlies do not set in till about October, November.

5.  Passage planning from Thursday Island to Debut, Kei Islands

Strong currents run through the Torres Strait and it is a good idea to respects these. Timing the rate and flow of the currents is complex. More about this here: Torres Strait Currents

We timed our departure in line with the tidal stream predictions at Hammond Rock. Tidal streams run Positive (+) Direction 080° Negative (-) 260°.

Here are the 2020 tidal predictions for Hammond Rock:

Tidal Stream Predictions Hammond Rock 2020

We planned our course whilst trying to stay as much as possible close to where cargo ships run in an attempt to avoid fishing vessels. This worked for part of the way but not the whole way as the shipping lanes appear to fluctuate. Marine traffic will show you where cargo ships run and where there are fishing boats with AIS.

passage planning

Boats that stayed south of 10 degrees South had no encounters with fishing boats. However the passage is about 75 miles longer. This can mean an extra night at sea. We completed the passage of about 640nm in 3 1/2 days with no accidents. However, a number of other boats snagged either lines, nets or floating debris and one boat ran onto the reef on arrival.

We ran the radar day and night as to identify fishing boats and their direction using MARPA. However some FADs and boats are made of wood and will not show up. We spent a lot of the time with a reefed genoa and main as to slow the boat down. Nerve wrecking!

Fishing boats pointed their spotlights at us and then in the direction where we could pass them.

fishing boat

I also spoke on the radio to them. It is a good idea to have basic Indonesian phrases in your log book so you can greet, ask if you can pass port, starboard or if you can keep going.

We passed a whole fishing ‘village’ as it was full moon. This village was made up of hundreds of vessels of all sizes. The position of this village changes every night and uses a vessel with AIS to indicate the end point where you can pass them.

Charts are inaccurate in Indonesia and we downloaded the satellite photography for Indonesia. These are massive downloads that take a lot of time. If you want to know more about this follow the link.

Navigating through Uncharted Reefs

We followed the following way points to check into Debut:

05° 44’ 536S 132°40’186E

05° 44’ 524S 132°40’334E

05° 44’597S 132° 40’687E

There is a large shoal in the middle of the anchorage which runs towards the pier on the port side. Anchor on the starboard side of the bay in about 7 to 9 meters. Do not go too close to the mosque or the pier as you will sleep better! Indonesians like to party till late at night and then around 4 am there is the call to prayers.

anchorage Debut

Debut Anchorage

6.  Checking into Debut

The 12 officials belonging to customs, immigration and quarantine select boats in a random order. So we waited 13 hours whereas other boats were boarded within 10 minutes of arriving. It is frustrating as after sleepless nights you then spend the day waiting. We hope that next year they will improve upon this as it caused a lot of frustration. Some boats waited two days!

Once on board everyone is polite and friendly. The guy in charge of quarantine thought it was best to eat all our mandarins just in case they were carrying disease! I offered them some Australian TimTams. Some boats offered alcohol but we did not do that and the officials did not ask for any. We were asked to lift matrasses and remove panels but when we pointed out that this would take a lot of time, they were happy for us not to do that! Brent was asked if he had any drugs, but I think they meant medicines. Anyhow Brent just gave them a horrified NO! You are allowed to bring wine into the country without paying duty just not take it onshore.

You need to present all your paperwork as mentioned under point 3 and in addition you need to present your port clearance from TI.

There was a problem with our vessel declaration, which they claimed had expired, even though there is no expiry date on it. The vessel declaration, which is completed by the agent’s team, contained numerous errors such as no surnames but this did not seem to worry them.

We were asked to dinghy ashore at 8 p.m. to fill in another vessel declaration but when I told them I was too tired they agreed I could come in the morning.  This was a stroke of luck as the process was completed by the agent the following morning.

officials for clearance

The clearing in process is quite chaotic as there are too many people on board asking questions from all directions and going through cupboards etc. It would be better if customs, immigration and quarantine were done separately.

There is also a lack of information as to the correct process.

We obtained only a signed and stamped crew list and a quarantine IN clearance as well as stamps in our passport. Nobody advised us that our stamped and signed vessel declaration was in the customs office until I went in to ask information about a different matter.

immigration clearance

Once you have these 3 papers you need to see the harbor master before leaving in order to obtain your cruising declaration and your quarantine OUT papers, as well as your Port Clearance from Entry to Exit point.

We had to find out this information on the hoof and it is the main reason for writing this blog. Some vessels left without their clearance as they did not know they had to obtain all of this paper work.

Once you obtain all these documents, you are free to cruise in Indonesia and you just have to report to harbor masters in different regions.  Your boat can stay for 3 years, but you need to leave every 6 months and you can re-enter the next day.

The process of going ashore was greatly facilitated by Mr John, who was in charge of tying the dinghies. We gave him a small tip of 5000 Rupiah for each tie-up.

Telkomsel appCell phone sim cards were available on the dock in a small kiosk. We paid 100000 Rupiah for a SIM and 8.5 gigs of internet. You need to make sure that you buy internet data which are available in the whole of Indonesia and not local data. You need to ask for 30 days validity and not 1 week validity. The tourist guides will help you with the language.

Once you have your SIM you can top up using an app or you can go to the Telkomsel shop in Langgur. We did the latter and had to pay cash to top up. The cost was 178000 Rupiah for a 30 gig package, valid 30 days in the whole of Indonesia. Many people tried to use a card on the app but most banks were rejecting the payment and needed to be phoned.

A driver to Langgur costs 300000 Rupiah per 3 hours or 500000 for the day.

market Langgur

Langgur market

There is a very clean supermarket and department store in Langgur as well as a traditional market with fruit and vegetables, fish and chicken. The chicken varied from 35000 Rupiah to 70000 Rupiah depending on size. All chickens were frozen. I made Indonesian Style Roast Chicken yesterday and it was delicious.


Indonesian Style Roast Chicken

We had an amazing welcome from the regent and the general population. They could not have done more.

dance competition

Here are some scenes from our crossing and the first day in Debut. Despite all our fears and worries, the start of our rally was a really exciting and unique experience.

We would highly recommend for sailors to come to the Kei Islands.

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