Last weekend was a four-day long break for most people in Singapore. On Friday, the young nation celebrated its 54th birthday and on Monday, there was a public holiday for the annual Muslim observation of Haji (the ritual pilgrimage to Mecca). Friends at Raffles Marina were planning a short week cruising around the south of Batam, Indonesia, and we decided to take a couple of extra days off and join in the fun.
The kids are away in Belgium at the moment, visiting their grandparents, so it would be a romantic sail, just the two of us onboard for the first time ever. We had looked at doing a city trip to Vietnam or visiting temples in Cambodia, but, to be honest, the thought of busy airports, hotels, sightseeing, … didn’t quite excite us. When your boat is your home, you can just throw the lines without having to pack any bags and go explore. No queues, no traffic, no crowds. I was very much looking forward to a few nights at anchor, a swim in the sea off the back of the boat, some yoga at sunrise and a few sundowners with new sailing friends.
We cast off at dawn on Thursday and proceeded to the Western Quarantine and Immigration Anchorage, 22 nautical miles southeast of Raffles Marina. A few minutes after we called them on the radio, the immigration vessel arrived to clear us out of the country. We handed our paperwork over, using a fishing net, and they returned it soon after, with all the necessary stamps attached. Efficient and fast, as you would expect from Singapore.
What followed was a busy day, avoiding the many tankers in the Strait, and, we had to pick our moment carefully to cross the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme).
We arrived in Nongsa early afternoon and were welcomed by many old friends. The marina took care of all the paperwork and we were all set to leave early the next day for our 50 miles sail south, to Ranoh Island. A few more Singapore-based yachts were joining the trip, so it promised to be a bit of a social gathering.
The sail south was wonderful. The industrial landscape of the north of the island disappeared quickly, to make way for lush green islands. It felt good to be back in Indonesia.
The anchorage near Ranoh Island was well protected, although a bit rolly. It didn’t stop us from enjoying a refreshing swim and a good sleep. Ranoh Island itself is a beautiful setup with white sand, palm trees, a beach bar and restaurant and all sorts of water activities to keep the day guests entertained (who were dropped off by a fast ferry from Batam late morning).
We had a chill-day ashore and then some sun-downers on a nearby beach while watching the sunset and I felt like we were back in cruising mode.
On the way back up, we anchored for one night nearby Piayu Island and a recommended local seafood restaurant. Black pepper crab, gong-gongs (local sea snails), chilli prawns, crayfish, fried cuttlefish, steamed fish, scallops, … yum!
And then it was time to head back to Nongsapoint Marina for outward clearance. We had an extremely enjoyable downwind cruise with the sails goose-winged while surfing the two to three metres high waves. We were smoking along at eight or nine knots until, all of a sudden, the radio crackled.
“Sailing vessel Rehua, sailing vessel Rehua, do you copy? This is the warship on your starboard side.”
“Warship, Warship, this is sailing vessel Rehua on channel 16. Over.”
“Rehua, Rehua, channel 17. Repeat, channel one-seven. Over.”
” Warship, Warship. Copy. One-seven.”
A huge 250ft Indonesian warship had approached us and they wanted to board us. There was no way Seathan was going to let that happen. They would simply crush us and could seriously damage our boat.
“Rehua, Rehua, this is Warship, please switch off your engines and stop your vessel.”
“Warship, Warship, this is Rehua. We are currently sailing under sail power alone. Our engines ARE switched off. Repeat, our engines are switched off.”
This was then followed by a long silence where we suspected they were waiting to get the conversation translated by HQ before they could respond.
Next, they asked us to change course and we had to explain that would involve us lowering the sails first and we would need to point our vessel into the wind to do that, and, they would need to move out of the way.
Another long silence.
After more back and forth, with many radio silences in between, we managed to convince them to lower their tender.
Meanwhile, we were still on course for Nongsapoint Marina and only a few miles away from our destination by now.
Eventually, three heavily armed figures appeared in a small tender and we agreed to hand them our paperwork in a fishing net. We tried to explain that because their tender is not a soft, inflatable one, it could still seriously damage our boat should they try to board us. As you can imagine, two moving vessels and a big swell makes these type of manoeuvres extremely tricky. They said they would ‘try’ not to damage us.
More conversations followed on the radio. From channel 16 to channel 17 to the translators at HQ and, finally, they asked for our passports. And they still wanted to board us too.
“Why do you need to board us?” Seathan asked. “You have seen all our papers. Is there a problem?”
They weren’t sure how to answer this. The three guys in the tender radioed back and forth with the big warship and the response we got was “because our commander says so.”
Seathan suggested they could come onboard once we were in the marina (by now we were getting very close).
“Sir, you are not allowed to enter port until we release you,” was the response on the radio.
We seemed to be stuck in an impossible situation. They asked us one more time where we came from and where we had been and where we were heading. Then, more conversations between the warship and the guys on the tender and HQ.
And then, for some reason unclear to us, they just handed us our papers and passports back and we were free to go. We even had a chat with the three guys in the tender about our trip and crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific. They wanted to take some selfies with us and Rehua in the background. When we asked whether we could take their picture, they happily posed with their guns in hand. Big smiles, lots of waving and off they sped, back to the warship, which was a good few miles away by now. I hoped they had enough petrol to make it back.
In the meantime, we were just outside the marina and had to make sure we didn’t crash into the reef.
We were very happy to tie alongside the dock in Nongsa where our friends from SV Windancer were waiting for us with a celebratory beer in hand. They were lucky to escape the warship too, because they would have been next in line. They had heard the entire story unfold on the radio.
One more night in Nongsa and then back to Raffles Marina. Another busy day of crossing shipping lanes, avoiding big tankers.
It was a perfect little escape. Sunshine, beautiful sailing weather, relaxed time alone and with friends. I feel totally recharged and refreshed. 😊