Wakatobi, 05:19.47S, 123:31.93E

Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Thu 31 Aug 2023 11:51

Sailing from Tifu to Tomia, in the Wakatobi Regency of South Sulawesi, we had the company of the other 4 boats from Tifu and that got our competitive instincts going. We were the first to leave followed by Bliss, another monohull of similar size: the race was on.  During the day we were pretty evenly matched as we headed south west with the wind on our beam and over a period of 6 hours we averaged 6.9 knots, close to our top speed.  Just before nightfall we were overtaken by Somerset, a catamaran a few feet longer than Serenity, but we lost sight of them over night as we kept our sails reefed even as the wind eased.  We had opted to pass between an island, Pulau Runduma, and a small patch of shallow reef, which gave an almost direct line and we got there just after dawn to see Somerset 7 miles ahead of us.  Bliss had opted to go to the north of the island, and we overtook her in the night but Beyond Outrageous, the racing boat among us who had left Tifu last had passed us both.

From Tifu to Wakatobi
The entrance to the lagoon at Tomia is shallow and very narrow and there was a cross wind to make things tricky.  Andy and Paul from Somerset came out in their dinghy so they could push us back on course if the wind caught us, but the deep water could be clearly seen in the strong sunlight and Phil kept our speed up to counteract the wind and we got through without needing their help.  Inside the lagoon the water was mostly over 20 meters, which is deeper than we like for anchoring, but we managed to find a spot for our anchor that was just 15 meters - after we had let enough chain out we were sitting in 5 meters and had the reef behind us, but the holding was good so all was well.

Coming back in through the reef pass at Tomia after a snorkelling trip.  The deep water is dark blue, the white/green on either side is the reef.  Interesting in a catamaran.
Not having been able to buy fresh food for over a week, we headed for the market in the morning - an hour’s hot walk to the town of Tomia.  We arrived a bit late in the day and the produce wasn’t brilliant, but we got enough.  Faced with the walk back we decided to try and find a motorbike ride (we had been told to expect to pay the equivalent of £1), but weren’t sure how to identify a bike for hire.  Phil asked a local and he offered to take one of us and rustled up a young woman to take Sarah.  Neither of them would take any payment!

The young woman who gave Sarah a lift, with her daughter.  She was half Japanese
That evening we walked to a local hotel for a meal to celebrate Cozzy’s birthday, feeling like the Pied Piper as we gathered a tail of young children with the usual refrain of ‘Hello Mister’.  The hotel laid on a superb spread of local dishes, accompanied by the hot sambala sauce and with plenty of the local beer, Bintang, all for an amazing price.  With the addition of a great view over the harbour it made for a memorable evening.

Sunset over the harbour.  In the middle is a fruit bat coming home to roost

While we were waiting for our meal this group of women came out of the hotel.  They were part of a government sponsored women’s organisation that did voluntary work around family health.
This was a very busy harbour with local fishermen and ferries in and out all day, making it a great place to watch the world go by.  We had looked at moving on to anchoring in a neighbouring atoll, but there was always a reason to stay another day, and the weather wasn’t quite right, so we had a morning snorkelling with a local dive school and visited another market to finish topping up supplies. On our way back from this we were approached by a young woman who wanted to practice her English, we were invited to sit on her terrace and chatted for half an hour.  She had a degree in Civil Engineering but was now back in her home town looking after her young daughter.

Local fishing boats in Tomia harbour
Wakatobi is an acronym for the four main islands in the group: Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko.  We were heading for Wanci, on Wangi-Wangi but had to pass Kaledupa and it’s smaller neighbour, Hoga, on the way.  This whole area is a National Park with Hoga being particularly well know for its diving, however the anchorage at Hoga was far deeper than we like so we were please when Somerset found a shallow (4 meter) spot on the opposite side of the lagoon close to Kaledupa Island. It was a half day sail north to the pass into the lagoon which was wider and deeper than the one at Tomia and presented no difficulties, but then we had to negotiate the reef between a Hoga and Kaledupa and not being able to rely on the chart it needed eyeball navigation and the use of satellite imagery. 

A satellite image of the lagoon at Hoga (rhs of picture) with our route to our anchorage in red.  You can see the stilt village on the reef to the left of the pass into the lagoon

The anchorage was quite open to the prevailing winds, so we bounced about a bit for the few nights we stayed there: long enough for a meal out at a local restaurant and to visit the stilt village at Sampela.  Sampela is village of the Bajo tribe, built over the reef on stilts and not connected to the main island (apart from the electricity cable). The Bajo were historically nomadic, living in their boats full time and only coming to land to trade and gather food.  They are still fishermen and live very simple lives.  The village has a couple of main thoroughfares of concrete or timber above the water with individual buildings connected to it and each other by wooden planks (unsecured) or simply by boat.  They live by the tides, tending traps at low water and able to get their boats out only as the tide rises. The village is promoted as a tourist destination by the Indonesian tourist board and we got the impression the villagers were tired of being on show, so we didn’t stay long.

The seaward end of Sampela village at low water.  These houses weren’t connected to each other

The main road, with plank bridges to the houses

Fishing the traditional way with traps on the reef and boats powered by punting poles

Boats instead of cars in the garages!
It was another easy day sail north to Wanci where we finally caught up with a lot of the other rally boats.  The small marina off the town (a floating pontoon with space for 24 boats, but no other facilities) was full when we arrived so we anchored at the far side of the lagoon together with the other rally tailenders and went ashore for a meal. Food here is so cheap we are eating out regularly and saving our cooking gas: we have been told it is difficult to refill non-Indonesian propane bottles here.  The food is usually based around rice or noodles with fish, chicken or egg and always spicy.  The next morning Sarah was up early and saw a message on the rally WhatsAp group saying that several boats were leaving the marina, so we were able to bag an alongside space.

Fish with sweet and sour sauce – and chilli!
The tourism office is at the top of the jetty, containing no information booklets, but a number of very helpful staff who have been happy to arrange our laundry and outboard fuel, they even purchased 2x24 packs of Bintang for us and delivered them to the boat.  There is also a group of English language students who will act as guides for no charge to allow them to practice their English. The tourist office will hire out mopeds for £5 a day.  We needed to visit immigration to get an extention to our visas and the  office was 4km away on the edge of town so, having taken the 4 million rupiah fee out of the bank we hired mopeds to drive out there.  Phil hasn’t been on a motorbike for 54 years and Sarah has never driven one, so learning in Indonesia’s lawless traffic was quite an experience!  We had expected a long drawn out and bureaucratic process, but the immigration staff were friendly and helpful and had practiced on the 30 or so yachts that had gone before us. On the first day we visited the office to fill in a form, went to the bank to pay our fee and returned with the receipt to have our photo and fingerprints taken (another first!).  The next morning we were able to pick up our passports complete with extended visa before 9am
We had the bikes for a full day, so joined with Alison and Brian from Ozone and Shelley and Tony (Beyond Outrageous) to go touring.  Our first stop was a limestone cave and freshwater pool where a few locals were washing themselves and doing their laundry.  We saw a couple more of these during the day, one complete with male and female changing rooms.  Shelley and Tony had been befriended by a local woman called Noa, a linguistics student currently writing her PhD thesis, and Noa had suggested we try her Aunt’s seafood noodles.  Aunty runs an online business taking food orders on Facebook to be picked up at her house.  We were allowed to sit in her front room and eat our lunch, which was some of the tastiest Indonesian cooking yet.

Being early for our lunch we visited the local market.  There are shop fronts on the road, but behind is a rabbit warren of passages just wide enough to walk through with clothes and other produce beautifully displayed.  We are not sure how you find what you want

But Sarah manage to find a sarong in a fabric she fancied to turn into a skirt

Noa (left) with her mother, sister, baby cousin and aunt in their spotless kitchen

Lunch in the front room
Noa joined us for the rest of our day’s touring, visiting another Bajo village, this one on the main island but at the edge of the lagoon, stopping at her grandmother’s house and walking round the old Dutch fort and ending with a cold drink by the sea at one of the resorts.  By the end of the day we had circumnavigated Wangi Wangi and decided mopeds are not a comfortable means of transport.

Traditional boatbuilding in the Bajo village

Taxi!  Indonesians refer to their country as ‘Our Land and Water’ and water borne transport is common
More boats had left the marina when we got back, but the remainder had sundowners on the pontoon followed by a bring your own supper ending up on board Sea Horse, a big American catamaran. 

The evenings on the pontoon have been an interesting experience in role reversal as we have become the tourist attraction.  The locals come down in large groups after work to have their photos taken with us and our boats in the background.

After the peace of the last few anchorages Wanci has been a noisy place with the sound of traffic and music from the town and the (almost) simultaneous call to prayer from 4 or 5 separate mosques, so we are ready to leave tomorrow hoping that the next place will be more restful.