Nongsa Point Marina: civilzation with a capital C.

Tue 14 Sep 2010 16:11
Tuesday, 14th September.
Recent Anchorage   0:49.2N 104:21.1E  Off P Pangkil, Riau Group of islands
Current location   01:11.015N  104:05.845E  Nongsa Point Marina and Resort, Batam island, Riau Group
Delighted to be resting up after a difficult passage up from Bali, and amazed to discover how far you can travel on a tank of diesel and some spare jerrycans. This has been by far the longest stretch of 'motoring' I have ever done, and for the most part in fairly calm and very hot conditions. Whilst it may just be that a decent amount of wind would have blown in next week the odds at this time of the year were heavily against this possibility, and my Indonesian Visa runs out in ten days time. So, no plan B.
Each morning I would dip the tank to estimate the daily fuel consumption, and try to work out how much diesel would be left at the end. And then as Donald Rumsfelt observed we came to the unknowns. The fuel tank is a square box with a flat bottom. Usually the take off point is at a higher level, so that the 'dregs' don't contaminate and block the fuel injectors. So how far above the bottom? An inch? Thats quite a lot of miles of fuel. And then again what if it's rough towards the end: as the boat heels won't the take off pipe fill with air as the fuel slops around? Diesel engines run on diesel, not air.
Anyway, after rounding Belitung we picked up some very useful current, and in no time were approaching the rather charmingly named Wild Pigeon Reef: a point of no return to go looking for fuel on Belitung at least, and so we pressed on, and after another good 24 hour run, it seemed that no more pit stops would be required. Brief panic during the night when the autopilot switched itself off. Left to its own devices the boat slowly turned to starboard, and then turned in tight circles with the rudder pushed over by the prop wash effect. Because there was a strong current directly behind us we continued  'on course'. The seas were calm, and the disturbance was soundless. I came up on deck for a routine check to find us pirouetting over the seas. I turned the autopilot back on and it has continued to work fine, so I have no explanation. When I zoomed into my trail on the chart plotter I could see that this had been going on for nearly an hour: the line was like a corkscrew. So odd, that I took a photo of the screen. Imagine being spotted by a passing fishing vessel: 'Couldn't help noticing your navigation lights, mate. Would you like to have the next dance with me?' All in Bahasa Indonesia, the Official language, of course!
In my last missive I mentioned the phenomenon of the dissapearing fishing fleet: the sea around you looks vast, but the visible horizon is not so far away. Ships lights can be seen at a much greater distance. Anyway I can confirm that what these fishing boats do during the day is anchor, and the crew then go to sleep. This is possible because this part of the South China Sea is the biggest shallow stretch of sea anywhere on the planet, North Sea included. So the anchor chain reaches the bottom practically anywhere. Well, I'm dozing in the cockpit about midday, looking backwards as you invariably do, when this great big fishing boat appears alongside, going backwards, about fifty yards away, and no sign of life. Then I figured it out: he's anchored, I'm moving forwards, and that was quite close enough thank you! One or two close encouters with much bigger craft as well: you just can't keep watch all the time, but these seas are really busy. Eventually I was more concerned about collision than those wretched squalls.
Until we got to the equator. Now that I am experienced at 'crossing the line' I had planned nothing special to mark the occasion of my return to Northern climes, however the weather had other plans, and unleashed the biggest squall of the trip exactly as we slipped from S to N. As usual it didn't last long, but the initial blasts of wind, at 40 kts, were quite a shocking experience. Even with the initially calm seas, sheets of spray were lifted off the wavelets and driven accross the boat with stinging force. Within a few minutes the waves had built and progress under power was impossible. visibility was nil, so I put the wheel down, lashed it, and went below. It's called lying ahull, and is supposed to be quite restful. Which is a lie in itself. Anyway it all got better after a while, and no harm done.
The shortest passage to Nongsa Point is through the Selat Riau between the Main islands of Batam and Bintan. About 40 miles. We approached in the evening, just as the tide turned foul, and by 2am we were only a third of the way up, and had several close encounters with big cargo ships coming down the main channel, and problems with unlit or perhaps non existant beacons and buoys. So I decided to anchor off one of the Islands. No moon, so an approach using the depth sounder, and let go in 10 metres. Let out 35 metres of chain, hard astern to set the anchor, and whats this alongside? Yes, it's a mangrove tree! Depth guage now? one metre! Nothing like anchor games at 2am on a moonless night. Eventually settled to my partial satisfaction, but haunted through the night by the possibility of another 40 kts of wind arriving with no notice at all, and blowing us and our little anchor to kingdom come. Come dawn, not a cloud in the sky, and a very enjoyable passage through the rest of the Strait, many traditional stilt villages, and further North, evidence of Industrialisation. Comercial high speed ferries racing alongside dugout canoes with solitary fishermen. You can still see it all out here, but for how much longer?
Through into the Singapore Strait, and 5miles to Nongsa Point Marina: a government approved development to attract Singaporeans for recreation. Very plush indeed, very cheap mooring rates for me, but food and drink is at Singapore prices, and is quoted in Singapore dollars. Another big benefit is that I can do a complete clearance out of Indonesia without leaving the Marina, and at very little cost. A huge boon. Finaly clean bathrooms, hot showers and free swimming pool, and free internet access. I do like my creature comforts!
Quite a lot of boat work to be done, including a complete engine service, having just done one two weeks ago in Bali! I am waiting around here for a month now, until the sumatras have died down a bit, before proceeding up the Malacca Strait in a series of mostly day hops. Will move over to Singapore when my visa runs out, anchoring in Singaporean Waters is forbidden, and the Marinas are expensive.