Sail to our Home Page

Indonesia and Malaysia

Chrissi describes Naga's
adventures in the Sail Indonesia and Sail Asia Rallies

Our sailing adventures in photos and textEvery kind of helpful resource for sailors and travelersWeather for sailorsMaking a living onboard or on the roadLinks to friends and related sites
- Sitemap -


Indonesian Adventures - page1

Indonesia page 2: Lembata to Makassar

Indonesia, page 3 - Makassar

Indonesia, page 4 - Makassar to Lombok, the accident


Wow! What an adventure!

Way back in July, Naga arrived in Darwin, Australia, and along with 95 other sailboats, we headed out together across the Arafura Sea to Kupang, Indonesia. That was the first leg of the Sail Indonesia/Sail Asia yacht rally, 2006. Now we are comfortably anchored off the magical island of Langkawi in Malaysia, too full of crazy stories and awesome memories to tell about it in less than a full sized book, but I’m going to try and condense it into a somewhat lengthy missive.

Arrival In Darwin was great, and not just because we caught up with old friends. Sometimes the sea is a less than pleasant place to spend a week or two, and the trip up from Brisbane was less than pleasant, to say the least. We were rained on for days on end, the seas were rough and lumpy, and navigation inside the Great Barrier Reef, along with keeping a sharp watch for shipping and fishing boats, was exhausting. However, our new auto-pilot did a fantastic job and Captain Jack, my own personal super-sailor, got us through the rough spots with Naga responding like an extension of his nervous system.

Joining a yacht rally is not our idea of ocean cruising, but in this case, it seemed a practical solution to the red tape of getting Indonesian boat clearance, and a perfect opportunity to earn money with my sail repair and canvas business. It turned out to be far more fun and interesting than we could have imagined.

As for my business, I started out swamped with last minute sail and spinnaker repairs until we pulled up the anchor in Darwin, and I stayed swamped with work right up until last week. On a social level, we were surrounded by a pack of international salty sailors, world travelers, coastal cruisers, a few newbies, and plenty opportunity for new friendships.

It was a rally not a race, that’s what we kept hearing on the SSB net and on the VHF. Then why oh why is everyone trying to get to Kupang first? Because it WAS a race! We sailed Naga as fast as we could, considering we were not really “racing,” and arrived in Kupang 6th out of 96, with handful of boats that motored a lot arriving shortly ahead of us. Nothing in our fleet could beat a 70 foot mono-hull with a good inboard diesel, and Silver Fern took line honors. On corrected time, (taking off the 3 hours we spent using the engine) only Trillium, a Farrier 31 Trimaran stripped out for racing, beat Naga.

Ahh Kupang, my first taste of Asia. It was dirty and hot and smelly and new and exotic. The beach boys were helpful with water, fuel, laundry, and dinghy landing and launching, and the harbor pilots and vendors were hungry for any bit of cash they could earn from us. And we did look like walking talking bank machines. To these people who can live on a dollar a day, the fleet of yachts all shining and pretty anchored in front of their town was like a financial windfall to them, and they tried (with great success) to make sure we spread some of that wealth around.

That first welcoming dinner was awful, but the traditional music and dancing more than made up for it, and the friendliness and curiosity of the Indonesians was more than we could have hoped for. We were greeted with smiles and generosity, kindness and warmth. Beautiful hand woven blankets and sarongs, wood carvings, pearl jewelry and other handicrafts were shoved in our faces everywhere we went, and bargaining was fierce, but in the end we were all pleased with the interactions and transactions. An interesting experience was when I visited a witch doctor who poked a stick into the bottoms of my feet and made my back pain disappear, and although he was a bit of a dirty old man, I was happy to have visited him.

A handful of rally boats decided to sail off and do their own thing, but Naga stuck with the proposed schedule and our second stop was the island of Alor. Light winds were our challenge, and contrary currents our enemy, but we sailed safely into Teluk Kalabahi, a midnight arrival with our new friends shining flashlights and helping us navigate in the dark between the many anchored boats. The dock boys were ready for us the next morning, dealing with our trash and laundry and filling our water jugs. We were greeted like royalty by the government, given gifts and entertainment, a fantastic welcome dinner, and a tour to a traditional village was a highlight of our visit to Alor. Our arrival coincided with the annual cultural celebration, so we caught some great traditional dancing and traditional music, which featured flutes, my latest obsession. We also got to watch the dugout canoe races, the girls in head scarves madly paddling without a clue or a fear were the ones I was cheering on, and the trimaran fishing boats with raggedy polypropylene sails were a delight to watch as they raced through the anchorage and finished with whoops and screams of victory. Alor has a myth that says the first people to come to the island were brought there on a “Perahu Naga”, a dragon boat, and that a Naga lives underneath the island and keeps the people safe. Our sexy little trimaran turned many heads and was given many thumbs up in approval for both her name and her outriggers.

Our next stop was Balurin where the anchorage was just way too deep for Naga’s anchoring gear, and dear sweet kind generous and wonderful Bryce and Martha on Silver Fern directed us safely past the reefs in the dark, let us use their boat as a dock, shared dinner with us, and filled us up with gasoline the next morning.

We caught up with the rally fleet at Lembata, where the local boys pulled our dinghies high up onto the beach and once more dealt with all the little things like our trash and filling our water jugs. I made friends with a lovely Indonesian woman who walked with me all over town, battled with the market ladies for me, climbed a volcano with me and watched in terror as I bathed in a hot spring. On this lovely island, I found beautiful batiks for so cheap I bought a dozen 2 meter lengths, and sewed them into new bed sheets and pillow cases for Naga. (Little did I know that those lovely batiks bleed like mad when washed. Now, more than 3 months later and lots of washings, they still bleed and I have to wash them separately.) We were given another welcome dinner, more dancing and traditional music, and it seemed that as we moved along on our passage through Indonesia, the entertainment just kept getting better and better. Here in Lembata, a man danced on the top of a 20 foot pole, six men held the pole upright, and it was just the most amazing dance we’d ever seen!

On the way to Riung, our next destination, we stopped off at several nice places like Sagu Bay where we walked in the shade of a coconut and banana plantation, Wodong where we feasted on local cooking at a funky little backpackers hideaway, and Seaworld, a large dive resort where we hired motorcycle taxis to give us a tour of the main town.

Awaiting our arrival in Riung was an incredible sight. Majestically anchored with all her flags flying and towering over all our little cruising boats, there sat the lovely Silolona, 150 feet (at least) of traditional Indonesian Pinisi fitted out finer than any mega-yacht and welcoming us scruffy little sailors to come aboard for a party. The whole boat was built of huge timbers, polished, oiled, and painted to perfection. The sails were black canvas, and I did look closely, they were all hand stitched and roped, a lost art furled proudly on her varnished spars. The staterooms down below were a decorators fantasy, each separate cabin done up in a different Indonesian island’s art and textiles; there was the Bali room, the Java room, the Borneo room, etc. The crew was first class all the way, and Patty the owner on this glorious yacht was kind, generous, and oh so much fun to be around! Johnny Boney Mahoney, the singing sailor of our yacht rally, provided the entertainment, along with some talented members of the Silolona crew.

Ashore there was yet another welcoming dinner, the local government presenting us with gifts and great entertainment, this time what blew me away were the bamboo orchestra, and the dancers deftly stepping between slamming bamboo poles, one misstep would have resulted in a broken knee or ankle, or even decapitation.

For the first time since forever it seemed, it rained enough to fill our water tank. The wind also picked up, and we had a windy wet ride to Mangati, a fine little town with a fine little harbor and people who had never seen tourists before.

Makassar on the island of Sulawesi was next, where we stayed for about 2 weeks. We arrived in time to watch the finish of the annual sandek race. Sandeks are narrow hull trimarans with bamboo poles for outriggers and spars, huge polypropylene sails and at least 8 crew members to help the shrouds hold the mast up. Every year these spider-like work boats put away their fishing gear and battle it out on a 300 mile race course. After the finish of the big event, there was a fun race between the yachties with our modern boats and the sandeks. We swapped crews just to make it a little more interesting, so when Naga raced against the sandek fleet, we had 2 Indonesians aboard. We had an excellent start, and stayed ahead of the fleet all the way to the downwind mark. The sandek crews were shocked, they had never seen a modern yacht that could give them a challenge, and it was looking like Naga was going to walk away with first place. Too bad for us, and to their glee and delight, the speedy little sandeks passed us on the downwind leg, tacking downwind with their huge sails and ultra-lightweight hulls, and although we werent first across the line, we put up an impressive show. Needless to say, all those modern monohulls saw nothing but our transom, tee hee hee.

The next big rally extravaganza was in Bali but we stopped at several places along the way. In one place, Sailus, we stopped quite abruptly, when a coral head and our main hull had a meeting of the minds. The impact put a crack in our centerboard case, and we spent our time at Sailus repairing the damage.

Another memorable stop was at Gili Air, absolutely and without a doubt best little resort island I have ever seen. Some say it’s what Bali used to be like 30 years ago. There are no cars, only bicycles and pony carts. The beach features a handful of funky little restaurants and bars serving delicious and inexpensive meals and cold drinks, where you can sit in the shade of your own palapa festooned with pillows and cushions to prop up your weary bones. There are a handful of dive shops, rental bungalows, and even a cyber café and book swap. The islanders live in beautiful harmony with the tourists, because its not a resort island like any I have ever seen. Its an Indonesian island with Indonesian traditions and lifestyles, but the islanders generously share their world with visitors. The anchorage is well protected, the coral reef is beautiful, and it was a great place to just relax and recover from the frantic pace of the yacht rally schedule.

Beautiful bountiful Bali was next, with its Hindu temples and Barong monsters, Nagas and Gryphons, sacred bats and sacred pythons hanging out in sacred caves, and God food laying all over the place in front of doors and windows. Bali is so much more than just Kuta Beach with its hotels and souvenir shops. The trimaran fishing boats that are built in Bali were by far the finest we had seen in all of Indonesia, their spider-like design and proud bow curves made the little boats look fast and sexy, and from the bright and happy paint jobs and colorful sails, one could see the pride and love the fishermen have for their boats.

I was swamped with sail repairs for the rally fleet, so I missed out on 2 of the 3 free tours provided by the Balinese government. However the one I did go on was the best, and what fun I had! We went to an art gallery where a famous artist, Nyoman Gunarsa, selected me to be his model, and he painted my profile in pastels. He then had his staff frame it, and it was given to me by some government bigshot, I was interviewed by the local press, and I was told later by an ex-pat living in Bali that anything with his signature on it is worth at least $500! We were served a phenomenal welcoming dinner along with entertainment that an ordinary tourist would never see, an hour long dance of masked demons and 12 foot long Barong monsters, graceful Balinese women who’s very eyes and finger tips were part of the dance, and a play depicting the invasion of the Dutch and the downfall of the royalty.

Moving on, we headed north and made a couple stops before reaching the lovely and inviting island of Bawean, where we climbed a mountain to swim in a beautiful fresh water lake, ate pomegranates and coconuts just pulled from the trees, and rode motorcycles to the bountiful town marketplace.

After Bawean, things started to change. The beauty and splendor of Indonesia just kind of faded, and things werent quite so nice. We seemed to sail into a perpetual cloud of smoke, sometimes visibility was less than a quarter mile and we didnt see the island of Serutu Until we were 200 meters away from it. It was like sailing in fog, only worse, and smelly. The cause of the smoke? The island of Borneo is on fire. Evil greedy people are burning down the forests to plant palm oil trees, never mind they are destroying their environment and eliminating the habitat of many wildlife species, including the nearly extinct orangutan. The smoke from the fires covers hundreds of miles, and we wouldnt sail out of it until far north of Singapore. Despite keeping a constant and sharp lookout, several times we had close encounters with ships that we just didnt see until they were right on top of us.

Aside from the awful smoke, the anchorage at Serutu was pleasant, the fishermen friendly, and we swapped a chocolate cake for a kilo of fresh squid. We played in, washed in, and filled our water jugs in a fresh water creek at the head of the bay, and paid some fishermen way too much money to fill our empty gasoline jugs.

Then came Desolation Island, also known Pejanten, where we were surrounded by dugout canoes before we even got the anchor down. The boats were filled with women and children and skinny old men, and people begged us for food and supplies. They had nothing and needed everything, begging rice and flour and milk, anything we could spare. Some of our fellow sailors headed out to make a night passage rather than hang around and be plagued by the needy islanders who eyed their possessions with desire. The sailors feared a midnight raid or violence or something, and I don’t blame them for their fear, but these people were just poverty stricken, and so far from anywhere else that there was no help for them in sight other than us seemingly wealthy tourists. I wasnt feeling well, and I was impatient and short with the beggars, but Jack was understanding and kind. We gave them all our rice, flour, sugar, milk, pasta, and gave the kids some peanut brittle. We gave a proud old man a big sack of groceries in exchange for a bunch of green bananas, and we bought a huge black quartz crystal from another man for the equivalent of $20, he would rather have been given food but we didnt have any more to spare.

Then came the passage of the birds. About 5 miles from shore, a little bird flew aboard and tucked himself up under my legs, where I was sitting in the cockpit. Minutes later a big white egret landed on the spinnaker sheet, 12 inches from my head. That evening, 4 big hawk-like birds came aboard for a ride. Throughout the passage, 2 days and 2 nights, many more little sparrows landed. The hawks all flew away in the morning, but the little sparrows were just falling over dead as we watched, even though Jack fed one of them some dead flies. It was so sad picking up the dead birds and tossing them into the sea. One died down below in a corner. The beautiful white egret turned grey and dirty, he seemed to deteriorate in front of our eyes, he could hardly stand on his feet much less fly. When we reached Mesanak he either jumped or fell overboard, one minute he was perched on the deck, the next minute he was in the water. He was less than half a mile from shore but he just floated away from the land with the current, too weak to lift his wings and fly to the trees.

This death and sorrow aboard Naga was a direct result of those greedy pigs burning down Borneo. The birds were lost in the smoke and got disoriented, could not find their way to land. They couldnt see it or smell it or tell what direction they were flying. They came aboard Naga for refuge, but we couldnt save them. It was so awful, it was the saddest experience I have had at sea since the death of my dog Neptune.

The wind seems to be non-existent in this part of the world, and we were forever searching out gasoline to fuel our Yamaha motor. Mesinak was no exception, and aside from filling our gas jugs we had to buy some food too, as we had given everything away back at Desolation Island. I just love trying to buy food in these little shops where they have like six items on the shelf, and those six items are covered in dust and of questionable vintage.

Our next stop was a rubbish strewn beach with giant centipedes crawling around under the coconut trees. By this time I was pretty sick of the ugly we kept encountering, and I was missing the simplicity and beauty of the Indonesian islands further south. From here on, I knew we would find more trash and pollution, more industry, more people, more civilization. But this is the world we have made for ourselves, so we must live in it, sail in it, play in it, try to make the best of our world, and do our best to not destroy it more than we already have.

The last port in Indonesia for us was Nongsa Point Marina. It’s a big modern marina complex with condos and landscaping and more staff than guests and residents. High-rise apartment buildings sprouting up from bare bulldozed dirt deserts. Strip malls and parking lots. Mega malls and parking lots. More bulldozed dirt deserts. More parking lots. Welcome to the land of growth and progress. We couldnt leave soon enough. This was a sad and sorry ending to our Indonesia experience, but how can we feel the light without knowing what the darkness feels like? Would we enjoy the beauty if everything was beautiful? I don’t know, but I am forever grateful for the beauty that I do encounter, and for me, I can still find something interesting in the dark, dirty, and ordinary. There are the kind and generous people we have met along the way that brighten our world no matter where they live, and although I write a lot about the places we’ve been to, its the people we meet who fill those places with color.

Singapore was a place unlike anything I have ever seen. It felt like sailing into a science fiction novel, something like the Twilight Zone. It was like this modern-fast-paced-techno-worker-bee society, where people are transported with other-worldy efficiency between their cubicle places of work and their cubicle dwelling places, with detours to the mega-malls and food courts for a plastic kind of entertainment and relaxation. We saw no houses in Singapore, only apartment buildings. Everyone lives in a cubicle. They work in cubicles. They have an amazing public transportation system. They are perpetually plugged into their MP3's or cell phones or pocket computers. One doesnt start up conversations with strangers in Singapore. There is no eye contact. One doesnt smile at strangers in Singapore. In this culture, intrusion is very impolite. Everyone guards their own personal space, because the sheer number of people makes personal isolation a necessity. Its not anti-social behavior, it’s a survival instinct, and part of the Asian city-dwelling culture.

We stayed at Raffles Marina while in Singapore, a luxurious marina complex with swimming pools and a hot tub, game room, ball room, gym, even a bowling alley. The dock boys were great, carrying sails back and forth between Naga and my customers’ boats, they brought us the daily newspaper every morning, fetched gasoline for us, carried our groceries, etc. We have never pampered ourselves with such decadence before, and it was a bit expensive, but it was a lovely experience while it lasted. We had the Yamaha serviced, the anchor chain galvanized, bought a new pair of Ray-Ban sun glasses, and finally pulled ourselves into the 21st century and bought a cell phone. We visited Chinatown and Arab Street and Little India, little pockets of international culture in a very multi-cultural society, and even with its science-fiction-weirdness, we enjoyed our visit to the tiny island nation of Singapore.

Sailing up through the Malacca Straights was not such a terrifying experience as I had expected. Yes, there were gazillions of big ships and plenty small boat and fishing boat traffic too, but the big ships stayed in their shipping lanes, and for the most part the fish nets were marked sufficiently that we didnt get tangled up in one. We encountered no pirates, Boogie men or other undesirables, nor did we hear of any pirate incidents while up this way.

We cleared into Malaysia at Port Dixon, a nice enough marina complex that would have been completely empty if not for the rally fleet. The government of Malaysia gave us a great welcoming dinner with great entertainment, and provided us with a free tour to Kuala Lumpur. They also held a cultural fair in our honor, where I was given a primary lesson on how to paint batiks, chew betel nut, roll tobacco in bamboo leaves, play a board game using pebbles, and weave young palm fronds into rice pouches. Jack visited the town of Malacca while I was busy repairing sails, and had a nice time in that historic city visiting museums and temples and checking out the old architecture. His great discovery was that China, not the Europeans, had discovered and charted the world, years before Columbus accidentally found the Bahamas. For more on this, check out the book “1421" by Gavin Menzies. It’s fascinating!

After our visit to Port Dixon we slowly made our way north, stopping at the river ports of Klang, Burnham, and Lumut. This was my “Asia-through-Conrad’s-eyes” experience. While in Makassar, I was given a set of the collected works of Joseph Conrad, and sailing up along the coast of Malaysia, I was given the opportunity to sail into his stories. The rivers of Malaysia are still backwater enough to taste the flavors he wrote of, see the things he had seen, feel the Asia of old as he felt it. You can see old cargo ships, leaky and rusty and rotting, still traversing the waterways, being loaded and unloaded by man power, not machines. The shacks along the muddy riverbanks are built on stilts, with corrugated tin roofs dribbling rust down the castoff wood planks that make up the walls. Decrepit looking but still serviceable fishing boats are tied to the rotting wharfs and makeshift piers, and the stench of sewage and dead fish permeates the air. The things that float down those rivers were disgusting, but to me, it was still an exotic and intriguing place to see and be and experience.

After the rivers, we sailed to the famous island of Penang, where the trash surrounding our boat and floating in the marina was worse than the rivers. The dock boys would scoop out the garbage and dead dogs several times throughout the day, but the currents just brought more. The ferry boats coming and going 10 meters from our dock slip woke us early in the morning with their horns, and the wash from their props had the monohulls in the marina rocking so hard their rails were in the water. The marina staff tried to make up for the shortfalls by throwing us a party, serving us a barbeque dinner and being as helpful as they could, and they really did a good job, despite their laundry service turning all my white clothes pink... But we still had a great time in Penang. A lot of the architecture is ornate and historic, most has been restored, and walking the streets of the old city is fun and interesting, especially Chinatown and Little India. Little India is a 5 minute walk from the marina. Amazing flavors, colors, sounds. We feasted night after night on delicious Indian cuisine, and so inexpensive it seemed unreal; dinner for 2 with drinks for $4!!! The sari shops caught me up and reeled me in, and our hanging locker is now home to a lovely black and red sari as well as a beautifully embroidered punjabi suit. The Raja Muda Regatta caught up with our Sail Asia fleet in Penang, and now the Naga Canvas & Sail Loft had even more customers, and more sails to repair.

From Penang we sailed to Langkawi, with a brief stop at Dayang Bunting where we swam in a fresh water lake and played with the resident monkeys. Dayang Bunting was our first clean-water anchorage since Surutu in Indonesia, but the giant jellyfish kept us out of the water just the same.

The grand finale to the Sail Indonesia/Sail Asia yacht rally was right here at Telaga Park Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia. We were given not one, but TWO gala dinners with traditional dancers and traditional music. There was the Langkawi Boat Show and the finish of the Raja Muda Regatta all coinciding with the rally fleets arrival, we were given another free tour and a shopping expedition, and now that this frantic rushing from port to port is finally over, we can relax a little and sleep late. All my customers have sailed away and I have finally gotten around to the sail repairs that Naga needed. We rented a scooter a few times to tour the island, we’ve visited a waterfall, did a bit of dinghy exploration, played with monkeys, and I finally found the time to sit at the computer and write all this.

Theres so much more to tell than what I have written here, but I think this has been a pretty good glimpse at how I spent the past 5 months. This has been an amazing experience and I would love to join the Sail Indonesia/Sail Asia rally again next year, but I don’t really think that Jack wants to sail back 3000 miles and do it all again. Thailand is in our near future, as well as the Indian Ocean and all the treasures she holds. Thanks for reading this through to the end, and traveling with me and my stories to these magical places we’ve sailed to. Special thanks go to all the new friends we’ve made, and thanks to my customers who’s sails and canvas I repaired, your contributions have helped to make my dreams a reality.

Peace and Love

s/v Naga


Indonesian Adventures, page1

Indonesia, page 2: Lembata to Makassar

Indonesia, page 3 - Makassar

Indonesia, page 4 - Makassar to Lombok, the accident

Click Here for our Adventure Pages INDEX


Enjoy some books about Indonesia!


Our sailing adventures in photos and textEvery kind of helpful resource for sailors and travelersWeather for sailorsMaking a living onboard or on the roadLinks to friends and related sites
- Sitemap -