Kupang - West Timor Part I

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Tue 14 Oct 2008 14:02

As mentioned on the previous blog, the passage from Darwin to Kupang was for the most part a tedious motor for some of 500nm. The highlight of the journey being the Australian Customs plane over flying us for the last time, as we left Australian Territorial Waters.



As we were one of some 15 BWR boats who had left Darwin that morning, it was interesting to note that he only called up the first two at the back of the fleet, after which I guess he realised what was happening and just “ticked” us off his list.


First of all a brief introduction to Indonesia, which will help make much more sense of what follows. Indonesia is a former Dutch colony. Indeed most of the older people here still speak Dutch.  There are approximately 16,000 Islands, with the longest combined coast line of any country in the world. It has a mostly Muslim population of 230 million people, making it the 4th most populous country in the world and the largest Muslim country. That said, the Islands of West Timor and Flores are 90% Catholic Christian, and Bali is mainly Hindu. So it is a complex and very large country. It has no state financed education or health care.  Corruption, up to the highest levels, is endemic. If you want a job in any government department or in the army….you have to bribe your way into the job. In the case of the army the going rate I am told is the equivalent of 5 years salary. There is immense rivalry between central government departments in Jakarta, and local governments and Mayors. This can sometime paralyse decision making.


We approached the western most tip of Timor at around 0330 local time. This meant negotiating the narrow pass between Semau and Timor in the dark.  We were in company with Pelle V, Heidenskip, Marianne and Lousill.  We had been warned to keep a sharp lookout for Indonesian fishing boats. That is because they are not usually fitted with navigation lights. They are also made from wood, usually Teak, which does not show up at all well on the radar. The saving grace is that most of them have relatively powerful white lights over the side, to attract fish. This makes them easy to spot. BUT you have no means of determining what course they are on. Also even if they had a VHF radio, they would not be able to respond because we don’t speak the local language.


We successfully dodged around a couple of them, and had a third one in our sights, about 200 metres away. He then turned out all his lights. HELP!!!  We completely lost him in the dark. Then a couple of minutes later, this dark shape ghosted past us, no more than half a boat length away. As he went past, he turned on his “navigation light” This was a little LED lamp that flashed alternately Red, green, red, green. What  laugh. Do we pass red to red or green to green or just through the middle?


Later on, once it was light, we had another one who was on a collision course with us (we had the right of way under COLREGS), but he was on the mobile phone and didn’t even notice we were about to ram him! Needless to say, we had taken the appropriate avoiding action in good time.


The sun rises and sun sets in this region of Nusa Tenggara are a sight to behold.


    Pre-dawn on West Timor



The fishing boats are a very basic construction. Narrow in the beam, with a very pointed bow and the whole affair sitting very low in the water.  They rarely have a silencer on the exhaust system, so sometimes you can hear them before you see them! Many of them are very brightly painted.


  Timor Fishing boat and tender


This one even had a matching tender.  Some of these craft were loaded to the gunnels with people being ferried from Island to Island or just bay to bay. Quite a few of them diverted from their course to come and have a look at us. They were all smiles and waved frenetically as we closed up to them. It was a wonderful welcome to these incredibly warm, happy and friendly….not to mention, curious people.


As we came into the bay, opposite what was (and still is) called Teddy’s Bar, the VHF radio sprang to life. It was BWR’s agent in Kupang, “Napa” with a welcome call. Most impressive given it was 0630 local time!! Arriving in Indonesia, on the 5th October.


  Robins bar is in the right of the picture and Bligh’s steps in the right of centre. Note the collapsed building on the extreme left


By 0900, Richard Bolt, BWR Controller in Darwin and Indonesia was well on the case, and Quarantine, Customs, immigration were all organised and ferried around to the different yachts. It all worked like clock work. Well done Richard.  The only thing that took a while was the Green book, or cruising permits, as there had been a cock up in the paperwork by the officials in Jakarta. But our sponsor Bali Marina, together with Richard worked tirelessly with Customs, and after three days it was all sorted. Robert from Heidenskip was a real star at this time, ferrying officials around in his dingy and providing a most welcome taxi service to the shore. BWR had arranged a bunch of locals to act as security and general helpers. They were a cheerful bunch, and were always willing to carry the dingy up and down the beach, take rubbish (and burn it) and offer all manner of services.  All for 25,000 rupeeha a day….about £0.20. They also organised the diesel supplies for us, in cans. All at around £0.40 per litre. 


Richard had “set up shop” in what was Teddy’s bar. (Teddy fell out with the new Mayor so he is no longer in town), the bar has been taken over by a Chinese guy called Robin. He and his staff were incredibly helpful and we had our first lunch there. Nesi Goring (the Indonesian national dish), of course. All of £2 per meal! Even the local beer (Bintang) was about £0.70 a one  litre bottle. Very good beer it is too. But you have to treat it with respect because it is much stronger than most UK beers, weighing at 5% proof……………….


    Robin (second from the right) and some of his team)


Kupang is the capital of what is now West Timor. East Timor (on the same Island) broke away from Indonesia several years ago after a very bloody period of social unrest and violent racism. Sadly it (East Timor) is still a very unstable place, with UN Peace keepers doing their best to maintain order. West Timor, which is a multi-ethic Island is by contrast very stable. Albeit mostly Catholic Christian.


Kupang it has to be said is a noisy, dirty, run down town of some 50,000 people. There is rubbish discarded everywhere. The waters here are just full of plastic bags,  and cartons and all manner of debris. The locals seem to have no concept of environmental well being, and I assume there is no local government rubbish collection or disposal service. There is great poverty here. That said, in all the time we were walking about the town, we always felt safe and we only ever saw one beggar, for the  whole time we were there.


That night a bunch of us went out to the so called best restaurant in town.  We ordered a wide selection of traditional Indonesian food. Now it turns out that this was a Wedding parlour. It was huge. Seating for an intimate group of around 1200 people!! We were about 24 souls in all so we rather rattled about the place. The food was quite average, but our hosts did try to give us a good time. One of our minders was even exchanging Australian dollars for Indonesian Rupeeha at a far better rates than we could get at the banks. All this as we were having dinner.


On the second night, Robin bought in several boxes of Crayfish (lobster) tails and arranged for them to be barbequed     with chips and salad. So it was one more BWR party. They even brought in some chilled dry white wine that Jennie liked……so we were all happy!


We had the usual boat jobs to attend to, but we did arrange to join the crews from Big Blue and Stargazer for a day trip around the local sights to get a flavour of Timor before the Party that was to be thrown by the Major of Kupang.  Quite a few pictures of that, so I will do that day and the Big party in another  blog tomorrow.


We are currently on the north coast of Flores. We have visited some simply exquisite anchorages here, and the people are just…well wonderful, kind and happy. 


08:21:71S 120:08:36E.  This position is shown on our C Map electronic charts as being over a quarter of a mile in land…………………….still based on the original paper charts made by Dutch Hydrographers maybe 100+ years ago. So eye ball navigation is essential.  The forward looking sonar has also REALLY earned its keep on this part of our journey.