Thursday, March 10, 2022

Messing Around in Raja Ampat

We made it to Raja Ampat, our 4th visit here since 2016.

After 3 weeks in the boonies, the first order of business was getting re-stocked with food and fuel. So we decided to pull into the marina.

Early March: A Few Days at Tampa Garam:  We opted to go into Wick's Tampa Garam "Marina" on Feb 28.  We had been in there on our trip back from Papua New Guinea in 2019, and so knew what to expect.  This marina had been built as part of a resort complex that was no longer operating.

The Narrow Entrance to Tampa Garam Marina, Sorong

There are a few permanently based boats in the marina basin, but not much in the way of a real marina.  An ex-pat Australian named Wick (Warwick Alliston) who has 5 or 6 businesses in Sorong (the primary city in Raja Ampat) leased the space to accommodate visiting yachts.

The entry is narrow and has a half-sunk ferry and a controlling depth of about 10 feet at high tide.  But Screensaver, with a 2.1m draft, got in with no issues at half tide. Contact Wick by Whatsapp, and he will arrange for someone to guide you in.  Ourselves, with a 1.1m draft, and having been in before, we went in on our own.

Wick's Contact Information

In addition to managing 2 marinas, Wick also does a lot preventive maintenance for the huge diving industry in Raja Ampat. Tanks, compressors, etc. Plus he knows every tradesman in Sorong, so can be a great source of who to go to if you have a boat problem.

All Settled, Mediterranean Style, in the Marina

We were surprised to see a big motor yacht in at the marina. It turned out to be a guy I had been chatting with on FB Messenger--exchanging information on anchorages, etc. in Raja Ampat. He was appreciative of the extensive information we post on our website, and so invited all the cruisers (all 3 boats) aboard his beautiful yacht for dinner. Very nice guy, great staff, great dinner. They were on their way from the Philippines to take the boat home to Australia. We enjoyed hanging out with them for a few days.

An Evening Aboard the Yacht

There are no piers in the marina, just a nasty concrete wall with some tie-points.  So you have to med-moor... drop your anchor in the middle of the basin and gently ease backwards and toss your lines to someone on shore.  With our twin engines (and a dinghy or two standing by) it was no big deal.

The tide is about 6 ft in range, and the wall you are tying to is pretty broken, so everyone stands off a good 6-10 feet, and uses the dinghy to go ashore.  We didn't like tying our rubber dinghy to the nasty wall, so usually left it at the head of the basin on a small dock (careful not to obstruct others' use of the dock).

We arrived on a holiday weekend and the pool associated with the resort (which, unlike the resort, is open) was jam packed. We went one time, but never went back.

The Nice Pool at Tampa Garam

This marina isn't very convenient to the main part of Sorong--the route minibuses don't come all the way out to the marina.  The only solution is to take an Ojek--a motorcycle--to where the route minibuses turn around.  Or get Wick to arrange a taxi.  Air conditioned taxi rate about US $10 per hour.

We organized a trip via taxi to drop me at the grocery store, and Dave take the diesel jugs to the gas station, and then pick me back up at the grocery store.

Jugging Diesel...Car to Dinghy to Foredeck!

Cats Supervising, of course

Cat food is scarce out here. Especially cat food the cats will actually eat. All during our cruise thru the Philippines last year I was trying them on different varieties of canned cat food, and they absolutely refused to eat it, no matter what the flavor. So, I kept doing what I had been doing--buying small "Tongkol" (very close relation to Little Tunny in the Atlantic) at the fish market, cooking them, and cleaning them. Here I am having fun again cleaning Tongkol. The cats, of course, are making sure Mom is doing it right.

Sherry Making Cat Food

Diving in Raja Ampat: Since we had to come back to Sorong to renew our visas in a couple of weeks, we didn't spend too much time in the marina. We soon blasted off to go diving with Biodiversity Eco Resort We did a bunch of diving with them in 2016, during their off season. Now, with barely any tourists in Indonesia, they weren't really fully open, but said they could accommodate a few diving days, and we were trying to negotiate a good deal for all of us to dive.

The Gorgeous Beach at Biodiversity

The whole dive negotiation got a little messy, though. Rather than diving as a group together, Yanina off Screensaver declared that she wanted her very own dive guide--to stay with her, at her side, the whole dive. She had had a couple of scares while diving recently, but desperately wanted to see what everyone was raving about under the surface in Raja Ampat, but she was also scared. Dave, on the other hand, wanted a guide that would range around and find critters for him to take pictures of. And Biodiversity only had one guide at that time. So we ended up splitting into 2 groups, diving separately, and couldn't negotiate much of a deal on price. So we didn't dive as much as we wanted to. But we did get a few dive days in.

Lounging on the beach during a Surface Interval
Legendary Cape Kris in the Background

Kabui Bay For A Few Days: After we finished diving, we left Screensaver at Biodiversity and went up into Kabui Bay. We had gunk-holed a spot in the dinghy in 2016 that Dave really wanted to take Soggy Paws into...a very shallow sand spot unsuitable for monohulls. 00°25.05'S / 130°36.86'E

Our Very Private Anchorage

A River Trip: Another adventure we had in Kabui Bay is a dinghy trip up a river on the north side of Kabui Bay. We anchored the big boat off the river at 00°19.31' S / 130°35.75' E in about 8 feet of water (shallows slowly, pick your depth). Took the dinghy as far as we could go up the river... about 2-3 miles.

Headed into the River

Marking the Very End on the GPS

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of our Raja Ampat Adventures!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

On Our Way to Raja Ampat

I can't believe it has been a year without a single blog post. It was a busy year!  This post is an effort to try to catch up on last year's adventures (Jan-Dec 2022) in May 2023.  We are currently (May 2023) in Pangkor Marina, Malaysia, doing a lot of work to prep for next year's dash to the Mediterranean.

Late Feb, 2022, location Bitung, NE Sulawesi, Indonesia.
The last time we went from NE Sulawesi to Sorong, we went over the top of Halmahera, with a stop in Morotai and Wayag.  We were leading a small rally that time, and our stops were cast in concrete.

This time we went the other way around Halmahera / Maluku--south about.

Our Track from Bitung to Sorong

We blasted out of Bitung/Lembeh Strait on Feb 9, 2022, with a plan of making it a long day-hop and anchoring overnight in the middle of the Molucca Sea (between Sulawesi and Halmahera), at either the tiny island of Maju, or the even tinier island of Gureda. This was after a heated discussion between the Captain, who hates going overnight, and Navigator, who hates rushing all day--motoring usually--to make it to some half-assed anchorage at the crack of dark, or maybe after dark. We have this discussion regularly. In theory, if we got going at just before daylight, and had good winds, we could make it the 72 miles to the open roadstead anchorage at Maju. Nobody we knew had ever been there, but it looked anchorable on a satellite picture. Though the island was misplaced by 3/4 of a mile--our anchor waypoint dropped using the satellite view plotted well inland.

Well, we didn't actually get underway right at the crack of dawn, and we ran into some current going around the north tip of Lembeh Island, and the winds were not good enough to consistently make the 6+ knots we needed to make.

Coming around the N End of Lembeh Island

I finally convinced Dave that we weren't going to make it before dark, and we should plan to go overnight. We hadn't seen a fishing boat or a FAD for hours, and unlikely to encounter much out in the middle. This ended up saving us 3 days of long up early-motorsailing all day-and in late day-hopping. The next morning, we were approaching the islands off the SW coast of Halmahera. By sunset we had made our way to an decent-looking anchorage. This spot wasn't quite as good as it looked because the pretty beach had been taken over by fishermen and a fish farm. We ended up anchoring in 72 feet at 00°01.40' S / 127°13.43' E. We had a little 2G internet--enough to pick up email.

Though there were some interesting places to explore on Halmahera, we had already seen a bit of the island, and were hurrying to catch up with another boat--Screensaver, with Alan and Yanina aboard. Alan had been loitering around in hopes we would catch up, and we could cruise together for awhile. And THEY were on a schedule due to visa renewal issues. So we didn't really cruise this area, but proceeded south and east through the islands just west of Bacan Island west of the southern peninsula of Halmahera. We spent one night in an anchorage called Firefly Bay (00°26.94' S / 127° 16.44' E). Cruisers a few years before had seen a lot of fireflies there, but we didn't see any. No cell signal here.

A Fast Ferry from Labuha

In 2 more days, we finally caught up with Screensaver. We ended up cruising together with them for 3 weeks all the way to Sorong. The weather was good and we were in a pretty remote area. As always, we could have spent weeks exploring the area, but we were on a MISSION. My motto for 2020 had been "Singapore or Bust", and it was Feb 2022 already and we had 5,000 miles to go still. Also, Screensaver had visas coming up for renewal soon, so we had to get to Sorong by March 1.

Ahhh! Sunset on the Foredeck with Friends--This is Why We Cruise!

It took a couple of days to finally clear Bacan Island.  We stopped overnight at a few small islands, and then we were treated to a long day SAIL to reach the Boo Islands. We actually caught a fish on this sail!

Oh my Paws! What is that!?
Here are our anchorages between south Bacan and Boo:

Labuha       00°37.741' S / 127°27.664' E  25-45 ft mud. 4G.
Siliang       00°50.991' S / 127°43.784' E   25-50 ft sand. No cell 
Waringen   00°48.376' S / 128°09.282' E   42 ft sand. No cell.
Damar        00°59.216' S / 128°22.382' E   40-45 ft sand, 30 ft bar
Tadoku       01°08.779' S / 128°25.998' E   15 ft, shallowing slowly.
Boo Chan   01°10.948' S / 129°22.419' E   52 ft, sand, buggy
Boo Beach  01°10.378' S / 129°23.673' E  45 ft nice sand beach

Note:  All of our anchorages have been send to Terry Sargent, and are maintained in the Indonesia Anchorage gpx file maintained by Terry.  See Terry's Topics to download this file, and his accompanying satellite charts.

Beautiful Anchorage in Boo Channel

Our Track and Stops in the Boo Islands
Click on the Picture to see a larger version

We did do a little playing as we cruised through the area. We got the drones out one day and took some nice pictures. Screensaver almost lost his drone by flying it too far away while we were underway (exploring the channel at Damar). We had to turn the boat around and race back to the launch spot to try to reconnect with the drone. These pics were taken with our drone at a pretty beach on Boo
Pretty Beach Inside the Reef

The next stop was Kofiau, another group of islands a little further east. We holed up here at for a few days due to bad weather. We managed to pick up a little cell signal by motoring around one day, halfway to the town on the north side of Kofiau Island.

Our Track and Stops in Kofiau
Click on the Picture to see a larger version

Then we finally made the jump to the west end of Batanta Island. This was another long hop. We thought we had a good anchorage big enough for both boats identified, but once we got there, it was too deep right up to the reef. One boat may have been able to plant a hook somewhere, but definitely not 2. So, with the light waning and a light drizzle, we moved east along the south coast of Batanta, bay by bay, looking for a suitable anchorage. We finally found a deep bay with a river emptying into the end of the bay. Sounding it out, we found anchorable depths that looked like black sand all the way in, with enough room for 2 boats. This turned out to be such a nice rain-foresty place that we stayed for a day to enjoy the birds and the sounds of the waterfall. 00°53.806' S / 130°28.233' E

Anchored Next to a Rainforest

Birdwatching at Sunset on Batanta

We spent a few more days poking east along the south coast of Batanta before finally arriving in Sorong on February 28. We couldn't really dally, however, because Screensaver HAD to get to Sorong to renew their visas.

We spent one night at Yefman Island--the site of a World War II Japanese airfield. After walking around and asking a few of the locals, we found a few bunkers still around.

A WW2 Bunker at Yefman Island

Our last anchorage was a day anchorage off tiny/beautiful Matan Island.  Yanina just HAD to go visit the beautiful sand spit, and what looked like nice coral for snorkeling.  So we tagged along.  It does look beautiful, but it's a lousy anchorage (too much coral), the locals want to charge you for stepping ashore, and the snorkeling wasn't very good (murky water).

Beautiful Looking but Crappy Anchorage at Matan Island

An afternoon squall was brewing, so we left Screensaver there and went for a better anchorage.

Guess who we finally hooked up with in Sorong, at Wick's Tampa Garam Marina? Our old Soggy Paws. Poor girl had been stored for 2 years--the owner, whom we had hope to hook up with in 2020, had left her at the marina to fly home to Australia for 2 weeks. Then COVID happened, and he didn't get back for 2 years. There was supposed to be some caretaking going on, but no boat does well sitting for 2 years.

We did eventually meet John, and actually shared an anchorage with him for a few weeks... but that's a story for another blog post.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Escape from Davao for Good!

After 2 full years stuck in the Philippines due to Covid 19, we finally left Holiday Ocean View Marina at the top of Samal Island off Davao, Philippines, on 12 January. We had used this marina as a base for our multiple SE Asia cruising trips for the last seven years. It was well past the time to head further west through Indonesia, this time all the way to Singapore and the Malay/Thai peninsula, approximately 3,000 nm.

Our Rough Route Plan for 2022

Our plan was to go south to Bitung, on the northeast corner of Sulawesi to check in to Indonesia, and do a little diving and sightseeing. Once cleared in, then we would make our way SE around Halmahera, and then on to Sorong, on the north tip of West Papua at the top of the island of New Guinea. After a few weeks of diving and exploring in Raja Ampat, we plan to cruise down the west coast of New Guinea via the McCluer Gulf to Triton Bay, one of our favorite dive spots that we last visited in 2017.

From Triton Bay, we must sail south to Tual, in the Kai Islands in the SE corner of Indonesia to extend our visas. Once the paperwork is finished, we plan to cruise west through the Tanimbar Islands, Timor, Flores, Lombok, Bali, Java, South Borneo and Sumatra to Singapore.

Visa Extensions Control Our Schedule: The current Indonesia tourist visas allow 60 days on entry and then four 30-day extensions, for a total of 6 months. This sounds reasonable for a tourist staying in one area, but is a real trial for a cruising boat trying cruise Indonesia. The recommendation is that you submit your extension paperwork approximately 5-7 days in advance of your current visa expiration date. So this leaves you only 3 weeks to get from one visa office to another. Cruisers continually are hurrying to their next visa extension—sometimes having to ignore the weather to make the schedule. This is not a good situation which we hope will be corrected soon!!

We will do our first visa extension in Sorong. Then we have about 3 weeks to get to Tual in the Kai Islands for our next extension, about 450 nm away. It is dangerous to travel at night in most of SE Asia, due to the proliferation of unlit nets, fishing boats, FADs, and large logs and other debris. At a long travel day of 45 miles a day, 10 of our 21 days are taken up moving—long days motor sailing in the mostly wind-less equatorial environment. You see the problem??? And Indonesia is huge—2,300 nm East to West and 1,000 nm North to South, comprising over 17,000 islands! Once your 6 months are up you HAVE to leave the country to get a new visa (this was waived during Covid as all neighboring countries were locked down). Pre-Covid, most cruisers either cruised or flew out to a neighboring country to get a new visa.

There ARE talks of a true 6 or 12 month visa for cruisers that doesn’t require monthly extensions, but so far it has only been talk. We are not sure whether the Covid-era “on shore visa” after your initial 6 months are up is still possible. We’ll find out in July!

The Trip South from Davao: From Davao it is possible to day hop south via the Sarangani Islands at the southwest corner of Davao Gulf, through Sangihe Island and all the way to Sulawesi. Sarangani offers at least 4 good anchorages and is a favorite stop for cruisers on their way south. We also anchored overnight at Kawio, Sangihe, and Ruang along the way, but did not venture ashore as we were not yet checked into Indonesia. This is pretty cruising grounds because islands are volcanic in origin, and at least one volcano is still smoking.

The Route from Davao, Philippines to Bitung, Indonesia

The Ruang Volcano Smoking in the Distance

A "Recent" Lava Flow (over 10 years ago)

Bitung, Our Clearance Port: This commercial shipping port has a number of attractions for cruisers. Foremost of those is Lembeh Strait, “muck diving” capitol of the world. The black sand, somewhat littered bottom, is home to some of the most unusual small critters in the underwater world.

While checking in and diving there, we anchored off Solitude Resort which is located a few miles north of the port of Bitung along the coast. Out of about 25 dive resorts operating when we were last there in 2017, Solitude is one of only 3 that are still operational during Covid lockdowns.

The managers of Solitude, Patrick and Virson, were very accommodating both with their warm welcome and competitive pricing for our many dives with them. Patrick is a well-respected underwater photographer who gave Dave constant instruction to improve his underwater images. Virson, as assistant manager and an Indonesian, was extremely helpful with local knowledge and arranging for our land trips.

A One Inch Long Nudibranch

A Juvenile Ribbon Eel

Formalities: But before we could dive or go ashore we had to check to Indonesia. Although we had checked into Indonesia four times before on earlier trips, Covid 19 has changed things a bit.

Previously, we could secure our own visa through the Indonesian Consulate in Davao for $50. But these overseas offices were all closed down in 2020 during Covid lockdowns. Instead, you can now arrange a visa electronically, but it requires the help of an official agent to obtain a visa that is good for longer than a 30 day stay. We used a visa company, Lureta Visa in Bali, to arrange the available B211A 6 month Visa.

The current price for obtaining a visa varies widely depending on which agent you talk to, from $500 USD to $215 USD (per person). We shopped around a bit and managed to get our visas for $215 each. Newbies to Indonesia should choose the best sponsor, Raymond Lesmana, not the cheapest, as Raymond provides tons of support for cruisers who run into issues with formalities and language. One of the reasons the agent fees are so high is that the agents are guaranteeing your behavior and expense for deporting you if you misbehave.

In addition to the normal paperwork (boat papers, passport copies, etc), we also had to submit proof of full Covid vaccination. For the boat paperwork, we also had to submit all the boat particulars on the online Customs Vessel Declaration System. This serves as our “notice of arrival”, as well as documents our boat details and valuation for Customs.

On our previous visit to Bitung, we anchored in the port area and without contacting anyone, took our dinghy ashore and walked around to the various offices to do our clearance. (Immigration, Customs, Quarantine, Harbormaster). Back then, Quarantine was an afterthought! Not anymore!

When we left Davao, the Covid procedure for entry into Indonesia was:
- Negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure from last port
- Covid test on arrival
- 7 day quarantine
- 2nd Covid test after 5 days
- THEN all the officials would be permitted aboard to complete the clearance.

So our first challenge was arranging for the Covid testing and quarantine on arrival, without going ashore. In a US port, contacting officials would be easy—VHF 16 would be the method, of course. But a friend who had preceded us into Bitung had called and called on Ch 16 and not received any reply. He eventually made contact with a taxi driver who’s number we had, who acted as his agent, arranging for a PCR test, and calling officials. This taxi driver eventually presented our friend with a bill for $500! We were shocked at this price, but had contacted a professional yacht agent, and were quoted $1,000 USD for the same service.

After this experience, we asked around for ideas from our cruising friends. We found a friend who had a contact in the Tourism Office in Bitung, and this contact came through for us big time. Our Tourism helper was an energetic young man named Jeffrey. He was spectacularly helpful arranging for our Covid testing, interaction and transportation of officials and advice regarding resources in town and inland attractions. All this at no charge, as his boss assured us and him that this is their business (facilitating tourism).

Jeffrey and the Quarantine Officials

A bonus… by the time we had island-hopped down the island chain between Davao and Bitung, the Bitung mayor had declared that yachts checking in to Bitung—because of the time required to get to Bitung from anywhere outside of Indonesia—did not need to quarantine. This was also due to Bitung’s high vaccination rate and low Covid incidence. (Cruisers at other ports in Indonesia were still required to quarantine at that time).

Besides the diving in Lembeh Strait, we spent a day up in the highlands with Patrick and Virson seeing the area around Lake Tondano. The highlands area with a large lake, cool air and local culture are major tourist attractions to most tourists. In addition to the normal tourist sites, we also wanted to see the Japanese storage caves, historic Dutch Seaplane Base and nearby Langowan airfield, all used during World War 2 by the Japanese.

Caves built into the mountain by the Japanese
during World War II

The details of the WW2 sites in the Bitung/Manado area are documented on the Pacific Wrecks website.

The other inland trip we did was to nearby Tangkoko National Park for an overnight stay to see the Tarsiers (small squirrel-sized monkeys), Cuscus, monkeys, birds, and other wild animals in the jungle. We travelled by private car, arranged by the Solitude Resort, to Tangkoko Lodge. After a 3 hour drive, we arrived in time for lunch at the lodge. It’s also possible to make this trip by a relay of public transportation (motorcycle to town, mini-van to the transport hub, and truck to Tangkoko). This is much cheaper, but would take the whole day to accomplish.

After lunch we used our pre-arranged guide, Mansuar Dalambide (look for him on Facebook) as our guide for a 5 hour afternoon hike in the park. He was able to find various birds, monkeys, lizards and the elusive Tarsiers and a Cuscus for us to photograph. The lodge arranged local less expensive car transportation back Solitude for us.

The Tangkoko Park Entrance

A Nocturnal Tarsier Hiding in His Tree

A Pair of Cuscus in the Forest

It was a comfortable and enjoyable trip except for a load of chiggers we both acquired on our legs and feet. We had been warned about “bugs” and took precautions—wearing long pants and shoes with socks, but that didn’t deter the chiggers at all. It took over a week to finally rid ourselves of the itching. Socks and long pants are necessary, but more important is a coating of strong bug spray underneath!

Meanwhile, we’d communicated the warm welcome we received in Bitung back to our cruising friends in the Philippines, and two other boats followed us to Bitung in the following weeks. Several more we know of are planning to use Bitung as their check-in port in the next few months.

After two weeks in Bitung, we needed to head out for Sorong, as our visa clock was ticking.

We have written a very complete Indonesia check-in guide, with details, recommendations, costs, and links. It is posted as a PDF on our website in the Files section under Indonesia.

Anchorage List
Date Latitude Longitude Depth/Bottom Cell? Comments
12-Jan 06°30.04’N 125°34.34’E 70 ft Sand Yes
13-Jan 05°27.24’N 125°28.29’E 65 ft Mud/S No
14-Jan 05°25.76’N 125°27.32’E 65 ft Sand Weak
18-Jan 04°39.64’N 125°25.88’E 25 ft Sand Weak
19-Jan 03°24.51’N 125-31.85’E 55 ft Sand No
20-Jan 03°36.30’N 125°30.13’E 45 ft Sand 4G
21-Jan 03°10.52’N 125°30.37’E 70 ft Sand No
22-Jan 02°19.26’N 125°22.95’E 60 ft Sand Weak
23-Jan 01°28.62’N 125°14.16’E 65 ft Sand 4G Solitude Bitung
-------- 01°26.15’N 125°12.70’E 45 ft Sand 4G Bitung Port
-------- 01°27.49’N 125°13.86’E 45 ft Sand 4G Serena Besar
-------- 01°27.38’N 125°14.50’E 60 ft Sand 4G Off Lembeh Resort

Note: All anchorages have been sent to Terry Sargent on s/v Valhalla, and can be downloaded as part of the Indonesia Anchorage waypoints, via this link: Download the doc file from that page, and it contains links to all kinds of useful information for cruising SE Asia.