Before you leave the Philippines, make sure you have a boat stamp. Customs especially reminded Dave 4 times yesterday when they were onboard to bring the stamp with him when he came to the office to collect the final signed, stamped piece of paper that signifies our Customs clearance (and substitutes for the CAIT). He couldn't find it in his backpack and thought he'd forgotten it, and he is sure that they would have made him go back to the boat to get it before they would have issued the paper. On the other hand, not having a proper rubber boat stamp last year, we used the one we had previously made for the old Soggy Paws, with the wrong hailing port and wrong registration number, and no one seemed to notice.
If you do not have a boat stamp, we had a nice self-inking one made in Davao, Philippines at Stamp Haus, a few doors toward the water from the Davao Famous Restaurant, I can't remember what it cost, but not much.
Here is what we did... not sure it was all exactly what we should have done, but this is it. There is another boat clearing in today that came directly from Palau who does not have a Social Visa (no Indo representative in Palau to procure one from). And I don’t think they even input their stuff in the Yachters site in advance. We will pass on their experiences later
We had our AIS on, and I am pretty sure we were listening on Channel 16 (which is very quiet here), when we arrived around 5:30pm. We did not call in though, and no one called us. (The big ships seem to go around Lembeh Island and approach Bitung from the south, and we came in from the north, through the strait).
We came in the north entrance to Lembeh Strait and went direct to the Serena Besar anchorage (the little island in the middle of the strait at the north end of Bitung). There is a LOT of trash in Lembeh strait, including massive plastic accumulations and lots of logs / tree branches, etc. There are also scattered FADs. At dusk there are tons of fishing boats headed out. Best to try to time arrival during daylight.
There is space on the south side of Serena Besar in about 50-65 ft for at least 2-3 boats. It is a decent anchorage except quite a bit of current, and the fishing boats coming and going at all hours. It is swimmable at the right time of the tide. At the wrong time, the tidal debris is hanging about and would discourage going in the water. The water is clear enough to see the reefs in good light.
Dinghy 1: We went ashore the first day at the Water Police station that is on the mainland coast just a short dinghy ride almost due west of the Serena Besar anchorage (usually a big boat labeled Polisi there). We went around the end of the big boat and into the inner harbor, in the left hand corner there is a ramp, and you could either wheel your dinghy up the ramp, or put a stern anchor out and tie to shore. The police guys keep an eye on your dinghy. The tidal range here can be as much as 6 ft, so you need to consider tidal issues. We went in at nearly low tide, so coming back at high tide, one of us had to wade out to where the dinghies were. Bring a stern anchor!!
This is a short dinghy ride but a long taxi ride into town.
Transportation: We were told that from the Water Police station, you have to take a motorcycle (ojek) from there into town and once in town, the blue mini-vans (bemos) are shared route taxis and go all over. A route taxi costs between 3000-5000 rupiah in town, and maybe as much as 10000 on a longer haul. We were told different amounts by different people on the same route, so it's same as in the Philippines, once you know what it should cost, you try to have exact change and just hand it to the driver and walk away. That way you avoid the tourist markup.
In our case, however, we were fortunate on our first day to be offered a ride in to Immigration by one of the policemen. They were all very nice. It is quite a long way, so we gave the driver (unasked–for) 40,000 rupiah (about $3) for taking the 4 of us quite a long way into town. Later, we took a bonafide taxi (an English speaking guy hanging around the taxi area outside the port gate) and he asked us for 100,000 rupiah, but accepted 50,000, for the trip back which included picking us up at the grocery store and a short stop at a public market for veggies. (note about 13,300 Rupiah per dollar)
Dinghy 2: Later, on our other 2 trips in to finish the formalities, we opted to dinghy into the Fishing Pier (Perlabuhan Perikanan Aertembaga on Google Maps) (I will give a couple of lat/longs at the bottom). Here, we put our dinghy in a protected niche in the NW corner of the harbor, squeezed in between the small fishing boats, again with a stern line out and the bow line on a big bollard. We asked a couple of the fishermen working on nets nearby if this was OK. They said they’d keep an eye on it. (We ended up paying one guy when we came back, a “tip”—had planned on 4,000 but ended up giving him 10,000, less than $1, because we didn’t have change). This location is a longer, and usually wet, dinghy ride, but much easier with land transportation.
Transportation: From the fishing harbor, we walked out through the gate, and hung out in the shade at the intersection until a blue mini bus went by in the right direction (west). The guy took us to the end point for his route, which is at the corner of Jalan Sam Ratulangi and Jalan Sam Ratulangi/Jalan Desa Simalong. (this intersection is marked by the Summer Hotel on Maps.me, but Summer is located in a different place on Google Maps). I will call this intersection, the "main intersection", and use it as a reference point for the rest of the locations. A lady on the bus told us it was 4,000 per person. Later going back the other way, someone else told us to only pay 3,000.
Once at the main intersection, it is about a 5 minute walk west along that Sam Ratulangi street to Immigration. You could perhaps get your bemo to go the whole way, we saw some going past us as we walked, but our guy stopped at the main intersection and insisted we get out. Immigration is on the left hand (south) side of the road. You know you are going in the right direction if you soon pass a roundabout with an Eiffel Tower-like monument. In this stretch of street we saw several ATM's and cell phone stores. A Google Map search for Immigration came up with the correct place. Maps.me unfortunately has streets here but not much on information. So I recommend you pre-download the Google Map for the area and locate Immigration (or make your first stop a stop at a cell phone store, so you have a working Google Maps). I also recommend that you get the Google Translate app, and pre-download the Indonesian dictionary for offline use, before you leave leave internet for Indonesia. It is incredibly helpful, because no signs are in English. If you are online you can even point the camera at a sign or document, from within the app, and it will (usually) translate for you.
Immigration: (Kantor Imigrasi) We went inside, the lady at the Customer Service desk spoke good English, and told us to sit in the waiting area. About a minute later, we were called up to the desk, they took our passports and we showed them our visas. We waited about 5-10 minutes in a semi-air conditioned waiting room, and they gave us our passports back with a stamp in them, on the visa page, with that day’s date. I can’t remember if they asked for a crew list. No charge. We have 60 days (not 2 months) from that date. They told us clearly to begin the visa renewal process one week ahead of the end of the 60 days.
Customs: (Kantor Pabean) Walk back to the main intersection and turn right, heading south toward the water. At the end of that street is a gate area with a sleepy guard. Just inside that gate, to the left, is the Customs building. (remind me to say something about pre-arrival notices). Inside, we asked at the desk, and they directed us into an air-conditioned “waiting area”. This area includes a computer terminal to make adjustments to your Yachters Yacht Declaration.
The first problem we had was that the printed copy of our declaration had our only crew member (me) repeated 4 times). Apparently there was a bug in the system that when you edit some things, each time, it adds a duplicate of the crew member (I am told this is now fixed). At this point in time, the ONLY way to resolve this, I was told, was to delete the entire “yacht” from the system, and start with a new “yacht”, and go through the whole process again. There is no delete capability for the crew lines after a certain point in time. Fortunately the captain’s info is not deleted, but all the yacht info is (sorry Evan!). What a PITA!! Also, the photos of the yacht and the registration that I had uploaded were on my laptop, which I didn’t bring. So we agreed that I would go back to the boat and re-enter the information from my laptop, print a new copy there, and give them the printed copy when they came out to inspect the boat. This would only work for you if you had internet aboard, and had a printer.
Ariel IV (a) forgot to bring their printed copy and (b) and somehow there was NO crew on their crew list, though it had been there when they applied for their Visa! And they had entered the “Port of Origin” as their original location in Europe, not “Davao”, which had to be corrected. They got those corrected using the computer at the Customs office (don’t forget to bring your username and password, or maybe wise to bring your own laptop), and were able to print a copy for Ariel IV. We signed and stamped the respective printed copies of the Declaration form, waited a bit (for someone to look them over and make sure they were correct). And then we set up a time for the Customs inspection onboard. As we were in the office in the morning, they wanted to come that afternoon. Another boat that went in in the afternoon, had them come the next morning. They did show up more or less on time.
No charge at all for Customs, or Immigration.
Quarantine: The Quarantine office is in another building down the road toward the water from Customs. You have to go outside the Customs compound, turn left and down the road and turn left into the Quarantine compound. This is where you take the MARITIME DECLARATION OF HEALTH form you downloaded from the last page of your Yachters entry, which we had filled out, signed, and stamped.
There was a very nice lady in the first office who spoke English. She organized the whole procedure. Since we did not already have a “green book” (Ship’s Health Book), which we apparently require in Indonesia, we had to get one of those. (Though Noonsite.com’s updated regulations says this is no longer required). A few minutes waiting, and the lady brought us to a wall that had all the charges for Quarantine on it, indicating we had to pay 35,000 for one thing (our Certificate of Pratique) and $15,000 for the Green Book. (A total of about $4.50 per boat). After paying that, we waited a few more minutes and were presented with a Certificate of Pratique stapled inside our new Green Book. No boat visit required (we didn’t ask, they didn’t mention it).
The very last word the nice lady said to me was “You know that you have to return and get cleared out of Bitung before you leave for your next port.” (we didn’t know). It’s unknown whether you can get by without going to Quarantine at all. Had we not asked the question, nobody would have told us to do it. But you may run into problems down the way somewhere if you do not have the Certificate of Pratique. I know that in Sorong, clearing out of Indonesia last year, Quarantine was a mandatory stop in the clearing-out process. Customs would not give us our clearance document without it.
We didn’t ask if they would come to the boat…and they never mentioned it. So we got our paperwork without having to hassle with a visit from a Quarantine officer.
Port Captain: Nobody at Customs or Immigration or Quarantine mentioned the Port Captain. We should have gone there on check-in, but didn’t. On leaving Bitung, we did “check out” of the port, and basically did a check-in, check-out at the Port Captain at the same time. (Since we hadn’t checked out with the Port Captain in Davao, we made a copy of our Customs “Port Clearance” and gave that to the Port Captain in Bitung, which was accepted without question). Port Captain is on the main road that runs parallel to the waterfront, about a block back towards the Fishing Pier from Customs, next to a big mosque.
Customs Inspection: At the end of your visit to Customs ashore, you will negotiate with them for a time to have them visit your boat. This is absolutely mandatory in Indonesia both arriving and departing the country. We managed to put them off for a couple of hours so we could shop a little and get lunch. They came out in their own small launch with 4 or 5 young people (they were all still in, or just barely out of, Customs school). A couple of them spoke very good English, and the rest spoke a little. They circled the boat and took a couple of exterior pictures and then came aboard. They have a detailed checklist for the inspection, and they faithfully went down the list item by item asking if we have this, and if so, taking a picture of it. There were at least two guys with cameras (not sure how they split up who took pictures of what).
When asked about liquor, I showed them my 2 cases of beer and 4-5 open liquor bottles, which they faithfully photographed. When asked about drugs, I showed them our medicine cabinets and the prescription meds for blood pressure etc, and our prescription antibiotics (these were already listed in the “do you have drugs aboard” question. They photographed both cabinets. They wanted engine serial numbers, and they wanted to SEE them (we didn’t actually know where they were, so that took a little time). I had listed a gas generator on our list of equipment, they wanted to see that. Dive compressor (wanted to see and photograph). Dive tanks (we had 4 in the cockpit and 2 stowed, they took pics of the 4 in the cockpit). I had listed 2 personal computers and one nav computer. They took pictures of the Nav station. Finally, the AIS, he wanted to see the AIS Transmit screen… to prove that our AIS was actually transmitting. I said “you can see us on MarineTraffic.com, right?” but he still wanted to see the transmit screen on the AIS, and he took a picture of it. Our Vesper has an AIS Status screen that shows it’s transmitting. I guess they have gotten wise to the scam of having an AIS receiver only and using a cell phone app to post your position on AIS.
All in all, they were very pleasant, and professional, and thorough. I offered them some cold water and was declined. The whole visit took about 30 minutes per boat. After the visit, we then had to return to Customs the next morning to receive our clearance paperwork, and “make sure you bring your stamp”. Part of the Customs clearance paper is a half-page list of things the Captain is agreeing to, and the Captain has to sign and stamp that he agrees to this list.
Cell/Internet: We bought simPati Telkomsel sims with 12GB emblazoned on them for 85000 Rupiah (note, the 12GB is split into several different applications so it's not quite 12GB usable, but it only costs $6.30). Make sure you download the MyTelkomsel app, it's the best way to manage "loads" on the device and buy packages, because all the text messages and the sim card built-in menus are in Indonesian. Best to bring your device with you, so you get the right sized sim card and get it all activated. You will need to specify when buying whether you want a phone sim (phone/text only) or phone sim with data. The simPati is a phone sim with data. We got that one for both phones and for our wifi device. (Note, if you have a PH wifi device and want to use it here, I suggest you try to get it opened up in downtown Davao vs waiting til you get here to try to use it--to check whether you need it opened up, just put a different carrier's sim card in it). All my notes on simPati sims and recharging are in the Cell Phone section in the Indonesia Compendium (http://svsoggypaws.com/files/).
Cash / ATMs: There seem to be ATM’s all over the place. Max withdrawal at the ATMs has been 1,250,000 Rupiah (about $100) but you can do multiple w/d. ATM’s seemed to be everywhere. I found Mandiri worked best for me, but Ariel IV also used a different one (BRI, I think) that didn’t work for me. There is a Mandiri ATM at the big hospital building across the street from Immigration and back toward the main intersection a block or so. Mandiri sign out on the street.
Groceries: The largest supermarket that we have found is called Citi Mart (Citirumah Makanart Swalayan). It is on the road that the Customs gate is on (Jalan Yos Sudarso), about a 5 minute walk west of the Customs gate, on the north side of the street. They sell beer and some liquor there. Being well stocked, we didn’t even ask the prices of the liquor. The Bintang beer was 373,200 Rupiah ($28) for a case of 24 330ml bottles. They also had Bintang in cans by the 6-pack. We also saw Heiniken there, probably a little more. Bintang is pretty good beer. They had a reasonable array of food, including potatoes and big onions. Some green veggies (the usual stuff), but I didn’t buy any because we were planning to stop at a market. Some sliced American cheese. I saw chicken products for sale (didn’t really look closely at the meat because my freezer is full). Boxed milk. Half of the building was a department store, and upstairs, a fried chicken restaurant with a menu in English.
There are several other smaller stores we saw in the taxi rides further out of town.
We went by taxi to the small veggie market (on our way back to the boat the first day). Probably can get there by blue bus, but can’t tell you how. I have a pushpin for it in Maps.me but no real location I can point to on Google Maps, the road layout doesn’t look identical.. Somewhere in the general vicinity of Pondok Café Three Putra (search for it on Google Maps) (due NW of the Fishing Pier, inland, several blocks up and several blocks west).
There is a much bigger market in the town of Girian to the west of Bitung along the coast road. The blue Bemo’s do go to Girian.
Fuel: We “hired” a bemo near the fishing pier to take us to the Pertamina gas station that sells un-subsidized fuel—We pooled our resources and sent 3 guys with about 10 fuel jugs. This is apparently the only station in town that will sell you (foreigners) fuel. And it's good clean fuel. It is west of the main area of Bitung on the coast road, about halfway to Girian. While 1 guy was filling fuel jugs at the pump, the other two took the bemo to the fresh market nearby in Girian. We paid the bemo driver 100,000 for the whole deal.
Though there are guys that will bring you fuel in their boat, the one cruiser who used a guy in Bitung ended up with TERRIBLE fuel (frothy emulsified stuff). Fortunately he looked at it before putting it in his tanks, and refused it. But the guy still wanted payment! Big argument ensued. So best to do the jug thing into town, or very carefully negotiate ahead of time with the “boat delivery” delears, and make them understand that you will refuse anything that is less than perfect fuel.
There is a fish market nearby the fishing pier—the big blue building. But at 10am there was no one there selling fish. The next day at 6:30 am there were tons of people buying and selling fish!
Boat Parts: Right near the “main intersection” is a wonderful store with an amazing array of boat stuff, including Icom and Garmin products (a few), stainless steel screws, etc etc. This would be the first stop if you were looking for something. The name of the store Ud Karya Mentari and it’s on Google Maps in approximately the right place. They will take a credit card with a surcharge. There are lots of smaller hardware stores on the street going away from the Fishing Pier. We also saw a big Yamaha sign somewhere when in the taxi.
Pre-Arrival Notification: Before we went ashore the first day, I was re-reading what I could find on my computer about completing the formalities in Indonesia. The newest Indonesia Guidebook says something about having your agent do the required pre-arrival notification. So I emailed Ruth, asking her how a yacht that didn’t have an agent would do the pre-arrival notification, and whether it was required. Her response was something along the lines of “your Yachters entry is your pre-arrival notification” but she had also texted Customs in Bitung that we had arrived. I again asked her if there was an email address to email to, and I never got a straight answer to that question. So I would make sure your Yachters arrival date is as accurate as possible. (I guessed right and we actually arrived on the day we said we would). But, if it were me, I would also try emailing or texting a pre-arrival notification. Here are some email addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org Cell # +62 0877 5165 6225
Bastianos Anchorages: While anchored at the Serena Besar anchorage, we went over by dinghy to Bastianos Dive Resort on Lembeh Island and saw that the anchorage area there would be much cleaner and quieter, plus less current. We talked to the manager (A Swiss guy named Thomas) and he was welcoming to us. So we moved over there. We had several waypoints from others, but ended up at 01-26.89N / 125-14.374 This was fairly deep (60-75 ft), but a much nicer anchorage (if you go further in the bay toward the east, it gets shallower).
We had several dinners ashore at the resort—-it is buffet style for Rp150,000. Their bar has a nice overlook to watch the sun go down and they serve beer and mixed drinks at typical resort prices. We also negotiated a group rate for 6 cruisers to go out diving in Lembeh Strait, and they were happy to come pick us up on the boat. They have a fairly attractive dive rate if you make 5 dives with them (about $35 per person per dive).
We ultimately left our boat for 3 days in front of Bastianos to go dive Bunaken (the other side of the N Sulawesi peninsula). The anchor waypoint right in front of Bastianos that Thomas wanted us to use (so his guards could keep an eye on the boat) is 01-26.79N / 125-14.25E. This was deep, about 75 ft, but Thomas didn’t want us in any closer/shallower because his “house reef” is just inshore of that.
Other Anchorages: If you have a small dinghy, or just want to be closer to town, you can anchor off the fishing pier. One boat we talked to spent a week anchored there with no problems while the captain went on a visa run. I also noticed that Screensaver went right down next to the main commercial pier and anchored for the day for clearance out.
Serena Besar anchorage: 01-27.545 / 125-13.862 E
Water Police Dock (approx.): 01 27.58 N / 125 13.30 E
Fishing Pier (approx.) 01 26.84 N / 125 12.57 E
Dinghy Tie Up (northerly sector winds): 01 26.80 N / 125 12.53 E
“Main Intersection” 01 26.66 N / 125 11.43 E
Small Fresh Market Near Fishing Pier: 01 27.00 N / 125 12.00 E
Citimart Supermarket: 01 26.58 N / 125 11.15 E
Sightseeing in the Bitung Area: We met a taxi driver in downtown Bitung that spoke good English. He offered to take us on a “tour” for Rp1M for the day. There are a number of taxi drivers hanging about in downtown and around the waterfront areas offering their services. One boat hired a driver with no English skills for 500,000 pesos for the day. We ended up going with Hamid, our English-speaking driver. We had scoured the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor information and had a few specific places we wanted to see (lakes, mountains, and waterfalls). Hamid picked us up at the dock at 7am and drove us around all day in a nice car big enough for 4-6 people. We split the tour fee between two boats, and bought Hamid lunch. We thought it was a good tour for a good value. Hamid can be reached at 0812-4484-202. He has several businesses, but with a day or two notice could be hired to do pretty much anything you need (provisioning, etc).
Note: all of this info has been put in the Indonesia Compendium, which can be downloaded here: http://svsoggypaws.com/files/