This blog is a retrospective look at the 2019 Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally and addresses the following points:
- Overview of our journey and highlights
- Why join a rally when you are an experienced sailor?
- What are the particular benefits of joining the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally?
- What was the weather like?
- How easy is it to import parts or get repairs done?
- What was refueling like?
- What was provisioning like?
- Could you refill propane?
- Recommendations in terms of preparing your boat
- Our experience with Indonesian people
- Hazards at sea
Overview of our journey and highlights
The highlights for us were Raja Ampat in terms of beauty both above and below water.
Followed by the amazing experiences in Sumbawa where we swam with whale sharks and raced bulls.
Why join a rally when you are an experienced sailor?
We sailed from South Africa to New Zealand and from there to New Caledonia without joining a rally. Experienced sailors may indeed wonder why joining a rally and paying a rally fee is a good idea. Normally people who have sailed many miles do not need their hand held in planning crossings and usually have a large network of other cruisers to socialize and exchange ideas with.
Of course a lot depends on the quality of support given in rallies, but our experience with the Down Under Rally going to Australia was so positive in terms of discounts and support for clearing in to Australia that we opted to join the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally.
In the Down Under Rally John and Leanne Hembrow provide you with support for clearing into or out of Australia on a set fee, discounts on many marinas and suppliers and they also organise a host of seminars that help you to understand the weather patterns in Australia amongst other things. They have assistance from a weather router and share a lot of information in terms of possible routes. For details of their Go East and Go West Down Under Rally go to their website .
John is also contactable for the duration of your stay in Australia/New Caledonia/Vanuatu and is a very good communicator, a great help with sorting out any difficulties you may encounter. We can recommend this rally without any reservations. John and Leanne accompany the rally on their yacht Songlines and share the sailing experience with you, as such having first hand experience of any developments and difficulties as the journey unfolds.
What are the particular benefits of joining the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally?
The Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia rally leaves from Thursday Island Australia and incorporates two separate entities: on the one hand John and Lynn Martin who work out of New Zealand and provide support for what you need to do in Australia or before clearing in to Indonesia and on the other hand Raymond Lesmana and his wife Dewi who take care of you from the time of your arrival in Indonesia until you leave. The cost of the rally in 2019 was AU$595.
This rally is advertised as having 3 possibilities: join the rally for a full program; join for some of the program; or go it alone. We joined the rally for some of the rally stop points but our main intention was to visit Raja Ampat in NE Indonesia, a region that is not visited by the rally.
This year some 60+ boats joined this rally all with different levels of sailing experience and different expectations. Some boats did not appear to understand that it is not compulsory to do the whole rally and have put considerable pressure on other participants to stay with the rally for the full program.
Therefore it is important to set your goals for your rally and not be pressurized into things you don’t want to do. We also think that the full program may be quite a commitment and that sometimes doing your own thing can provide a relaxing break.
Before leaving, we perceived the benefits of the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally to be the support in clearing in to Indonesia as they have an intricate paper system. I have written a blog about our experience. However, we cannot say enough what a tremendous cultural experience was organized for us in the islands where we joined the rally.
For the rally fee, you get guidance and documentary support for your visa and cruising permit, email support and a guide about anchorages in Northern Queensland. There are a few small discounts but not many and some published in the literature were inaccurate. The rally organizes a departure party (not free) and a mail pick up service at the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron. However docking there is very limited. This rally differs from the Down Under Rally in that there is no face-to-face contact, no accompanying rally boat and no weather and no routing support apart from a few lines in a booklet.
As a consequence of not having established leadership, some boats tried to take on ‘leadership ‘ positions and some under the surface bickering happened between some boats. There was also a fair amount of confusion due to the fact that not one boat or clear leader was the main communicator for the organized events. It was not a big problem for us as we distanced ourselves from these issues.
Once you arrive in Indonesia Raymond takes care of you and all the activities organized are either modestly priced or free as the Ministry of Tourism sponsors the events heavily. The rally organisers sponsor none of the events and therefore you could also just contact Raymond directly and pay US$200 for a sponsor letter and guidance with visas and the clearing in process as well as confirm your participation in the rally. You can contact Raymond on firstname.lastname@example.org, WhatsApp +62 811124574.
In each stop, different representatives of the Department of Tourism prepare and organize the events. Therefore there is some variation in how you are received and how well events are organized and communicated. However on the whole, each island receives you with tremendous generosity and tourist guides cannot do enough to help you. Some of the events require a lot of stamina, as they start early in the morning and go on till late at night. On many occasions one receives welcome packs with gifts, although sometimes these mysteriously disappear if you don’t grab them right away. Often there are free gala dinners and lunches organized. Some of the tours are free and some require a fee.
Skippers and crew will have to remember that the comfort and safety of anchorages is weather dependent and take decisions accordingly to avoid bad experiences in some locations. Dinghy landings on the beach and dinghy docks can be precarious in some locations due to tidal variations or weather conditions. It is best to communicate your concerns to Raymond via WhatsApp. However, bear in mind that Raymond is not a sailor and although he has a lot of rally experience he does not travel by sailing boat.
The rally could be improved by communicating rally stops when boats are in Australia as boats can then have better Internet service to prepare chart and information downloads. We would recommend a briefing meeting in Australia prior to departure.
Raymond took care of us and all the other rally boats upon arrival and all through the rally. He was able to resolve many problems and was a valuable support in renewing visas and sorting out communication issues. Instead of having to renew our visa every month after the initial 2-month social visa expired, he obtained 2 x 1 month visas in one go in Sumbawa.
Obtaining visa extensions in Indonesia can be a hassle as they need to be done every month normally and can take up to 10 days in some locations. There are heavy fines of about AU$600 per person for failing to renew your visa before the expiry date. This fine was served to a few boats that through no fault of their own were unable to renew in time and did not use Raymond or his associates.
Raymond or his associate picked up passports in several locations making it very easy to join the rally for part of the journey and also do some of it alone, as all people have different commitments and interests.
Raymond is currently trying to obtain 6-month visas for crew on sailing boats.
We would not recommend that people join the other Indonesian rally that leaves from Darwin as the 11 boats that joined the 2019 rally were let down this year by the organizer.
What was the weather like?
There are two main seasons in Indonesia the NE/NW Monsoon (December to April) and the SE trades/SW Monsoon (June to August). Each season has a transition period in between where winds are variable with significant calms and on occasion thunderstorms near the equator.
We left Cairns beginning June and had strong SE trades all the way to Thursday Island. The sea was boisterous on many days with 2 to 3 m waves from the South East. It made for a quick journey up the coast of Northern Queensland where the use of motors was not required. In addition to the help of wind and waves, from about 15 degrees South a favorable current helps you along.
For a movie of our trip along Northern Queensland coast click here (click the back arrow on Facebook to return to the main blog.
These strong SE winds continued for us all the way into Kei Islands part of Maluku, Indonesia where we cleared in on 21 July. Similar winds then took us further North to Raja Ampat where we stayed for 6 weeks or so before using the start of the transitional period to rejoin the rally in Flores. We sailed 90% of the time between the start of June until mid September.
For a movie of our crossing to Kei Islands click here
The winds dropped significantly after this period and became more variable but with the help of large sails we continued to be able to sail for 70% of the time until our arrival in Belitung mid October. We had only about two days of rain in Raja Ampat and Maluku over these three months. It was hot but bearable. There were few insects around. On the whole I found the climate comfortable only marred by the incessant smoke of forest fires from Sumbawa onwards. Brent however, needed aircon especially at night as he found it difficult to sleep in the heat.
From Mid-October onwards there were significant calms or very light winds and on our trip North to the Anambas we had to motor or motor sail most of the time. We had frequent squalls and electrical storms as we passed the equator and entered the Northern Hemisphere. It became a lot hotter and the humidity was a killer.
Our trip to the Anambas from Belitung
We arrived in Malaysia on 7 November and on our journey south from the Anambas we encountered a Sumatra. This type of squall develops over Sumatra at night most often between April and November and is steered east towards the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore by the southwesterly winds of the monsoon.
The squall usually arrives during the pre dawn and early morning with strong wind gusts (45-50 knots) and thundery showers. Yes guys not much fun when you are also trying to avoid ships in the Singapore Straits. It comes on very suddenly. We were sailing with the full main and genoa and next thing we had 35 then 45 knots in driving rain. Brent wore his dive mask and didn’t even have time to take his snorkel off.
How easy is it to import parts or get repairs done?
We had four issues to address in the time we were in Indonesia.
The first issue a minor adjustment to our headboard of the main sail was resolved with the help of Waisai Marina. They have a workshop there and people with significant experience in fixing all kinds of things. We highly recommend them.
The second issue was a solenoid that gave up the ghost and was shipped as a warranty replacement from EV-Power in Western Australia to Raymond’s home in Bali where we picked it up. We also bought a spare one. Import duties on a $350 part were $120, NONE OF WHICH WERE PAYABLE TO RAYMOND. He did all the work for free. Brent installed it and we were up and away.
The third issue was a broken boom pin, which as part of preventative maintenance we replaced in Australia with the help of Wicked Engineering on the Gold Coast. Their replacement pin was poorly constructed inserting a lifting eye into the top of a bolt with insufficient material to support it. It sheered in a squall in the Anambas. With thunder, lightening and driving rain as companions we surfed into Bawah mooring field with only 0.3 m under the keel as large waves were swept up.
Normally the charge there is US$5 per foot per night, which lets admit it, is a slightly ridiculous sum of money for a mooring ball. However, they helped us without a charge after some persuasion and offered some of their workshop people for assistance. Luckily we still had the original pin so we were up and away the following morning.
The fourth issue is still not resolved. Our freezer gave up the ghost in Lombok and was re-gassed successfully. We thought we also check the fridge just in case and topped it up with gas, after which it promptly stopped working. We are still trying to resolve this! The heat is extreme here and it seems the compressors are not able to cope with the cooling requirements.
I cannot comment on any other repairs done for other cruisers but most of the time there was help and support from within the fleet to resolve the most critical problems.
Upon arrival a boat ended up on the reef and all rallied together to get it off. Many people helped each other with spare parts or expertise in the true spirit of cruising.
What was refueling like?
There are different types of diesel available in Indonesia. Read this blog for details. We have found that as long as you filter the diesel it is fine to use and we have not had any issues. However, some people did get diesel infected by bacteria. So additives preventing this are recommended. Diesel was readily available on all islands where we required it.
What was provisioning like?
We would call our diet a low-carb fresh food balanced diet. It was more difficult than in Australia to maintain this diet, as one has to be near fresh markets to stock up on vegetables. Apart from chicken it is hard to find any other meat unless one is in a bigger town. I would say that is true also for most more western products such as olive oil, olives, capers, jalapenos, cheese etc.
So whereas it is probably a good idea to stock up on these in Australia if these foods are normally part of what you enjoy, you do not need tons of them as you can restock in the major towns. However, many products will contain a high sugar content and if like for us this is a problem, you may need to stock up on such items as canned tomatoes, mayonnaise and particularly crackers.
We were pleasantly surprised that many supermarkets had organic black, red and white rice, quinoa and other cereals. We were unable to find any flour apart from white rice or white wheat flour or cassava flour. The bread in general is made of very fine white flour and is a far cry from what we would call healthy or enjoyable. Larger towns are beginning to make wholemeal bread and of course in Bali one has a full selection of breads including pain au chocolat!
Beer called Bintang is available nearly everywhere apart from in the strictest Muslim islands. However, it is hard to find wine apart from in Bali and Lombok. Spirits are less than half the Australian price in Bali so it is a good place to buy these if you enjoy them.
Waisai Marina in Raja Ampat will deliver beer to the boat at Sorong prices, which are lower than in Waisai itself.
It is hard or impossible to find zero sugar soft drinks apart from in Bali, so if you consume those, a solution may be a Sodastream machine. We bought one in Australia with 7 gas cylinders. Sadly these are not fillable in Indonesia. Even in Singapore where there are Sodastream outlets cylinders cannot be filled, as the fittings are different.
Taxis and scooters are readily available at affordable prices to go shopping.
Could you refill propane?
We refilled one 4.5 kg bottle of gas with and Australian fitting in Medana Bay. It cost $20. We cooked most of the time in a slow cooker, used an induction plate and a microwave. We only used our oven to bake whole meal bread and the occasional pizza.
Recommendations in terms of preparing your boat
We would definitely recommend that you have a watermaker. Boats without a watermaker had to organize drinking water to be put in their tanks via large containers. It seemed rather time consuming to us.
Have a washing machine on board. Relying on laundry service on shore is again very time consuming and haphazard. Laundry often gets mixed up between cruisers. The quality of the service is also quite variable with occasional bird droppings being found on ‘clean’ washing. If you want to know how we installed this follow the link.
Make sure that you have Ovitel or SAS planet to support your navigation systems, as charts are inaccurate. Go to this blog for help with SAS planet.
Have sails that work in light winds to reduce your engine hours. For help with rigging large downwind sails go to this blog. Or this one
Have a fuel polishing system and jerry cans on board. For Impi’s fuel polishing system go to this movie
For your comfort fit at least a small aircon in your cabin. if you are on lithium batteries you can run this through the night. For more information about lithium batteries read our evaluation. If that is not possible invest at least in decent fans. As the season gets on, it becomes incredibly hot and humid. Quite a few cruisers are now doing installations in Malaysia, as it is just so hot.
Make sure you have spare propellers for your boat and your dinghy as accidents happen. Make sure you have a dive mask, 2 dive torches, several boat hooks, good serrated knives, snorkel and small portable dive tank if you do not have a compressor and normal tanks on board. There is a lot of debris in the water. Ropes and nets got caught around a significant number of boats’ props or rudders.
Photo of Greg on Entice, taken by Karen Caulfield
Our experience with Indonesian people
We have found it a pleasure to deal with Indonesian people who were incredibly generous with their time and very patient and supportive with our sailing issues. They are friendly, hospitable and mostly extremely honest.
On one island (Bawean) we lost a bag with items amounting to thousands of dollars in it, which was returned to us the same day by humble village workers. On the other hand in Gili Air, our emergency repair tools got stolen out of our dinghy. Further north an outboard was stolen so lift your dinghy at night. We heard no reports of any further theft.
It is however good to be aware that Bule (white person) prices exist and don’t be afraid to negotiate with taxi drivers, market stallholders and guides. Having said that, even if you do pay a Bule price, you may still find it very cheap in comparison with Australia.
Traditional markets are good places to find vegetables, food, eggs and frozen chicken. Prices and availability of produce between islands vary considerably. The eggs have no sell-by date and I have often found that they are not fresh. Do not eat them soft; make sure they are cooked through to avoid salmonella.
We were generous to a point with fishermen who would turn up at the boat asking for things such as lures, caps, beer, t-shirts or pens. There exists a tendency amongst these folk that once you give one thing, a next thing is asked for, frequently loudly! So just say no, tidak punya (don’t have). Very few fishermen offer items to trade with. Usually they just have fish, which is rarely the fish we enjoy. It is often bonito tuna or small bony fish.
We left anchorages where organized canoes of children would arrive (20 at the time) trying to board Impi. We did not give them gifts. On the whole we did not allow people on board apart from a few exceptions where we were clear where they came from and who they were. We asked them not to smoke on board, as there is no awareness about how rude that is on a non- smoking boat.
We were generous with money to those people who clearly needed support but did not loan or give large sums of money to all the people who asked for money. We made sure that gifted money as for example to a poor village school was entered into the books and reported on in the newspaper so that locals knew there was support for them from us and that it was not 1 person who was receiving money.
There is a large Muslim population but I never felt that they were objecting to my Western dress. I made some effort to dress respectfully but certainly did not cover up arms and legs in the traditional Muslim way.
Hazards at sea
Sailing at night in Indonesia can be quite a hair-raising experience. There are different types of boats ranging from canoes to fast medium sized fishing boats. The most surprising ones are spider boats. The lights used at night do not follow normal worldwide regulations and are very random. Sometimes you may think that there is a police boat, just to find that it is a guy who loves flashing lights.
Watch our movie of Belitung spider boats to get a clearer idea.
Often you will hear the smaller fishing boats with their two stroke diesel engines before you see them. They are very noisy. We used one to go and swim with whale sharks. They are quick to get out of your way and were not a problem to us. You will also see an example of a Sumbawa spider boat in this movie.
Have a look at this! An amazing experience!
The good news is that spider boats have their nets below them and as such the nets are not a hazard. You can pass between the boats which are the ones usually with very bright lights. Anambas spider boats look like heavily built FADS, fish attracting devices and these things are undoubtedly a real pain in the neck as they are quite difficult to spot on radar at night as they are made of bamboo and are unlit.
Trawling boats are more dangerous. The design of these boats varies from region to region as does the helpfulness of the crew. We talked with an ex-fisherman who could recognize the designs of each fishing boat and could tell which were helpful and which ones would probably be not so helpful.
The most hazardous things are the fish attraction or aggregation devices that come in all shapes and sizes and are mostly constructed out of bamboo. Do not think that because you are in deep water there won’t be any, because there will be! On the whole they are on the approach to islands. They are anchored but some go adrift.