July 2016 - Anambas Islands

1 July 2016   Nongsa Marina to Pulau Bawah, Anambas Islands (Day 1)
Our tiny fleet of boats was ready to leave by half past seven.  We had a 10-15 knot wind, but it was on the nose and we couldn’t bear away because we were following the south edge of the shipping lanes - at least we had calm seas.

Heading out to the Anambas

The wind started to back in the afternoon and by four o’clock we were sailing - yes, sailing!  We had 10-15 knots at 60 degrees off the starboard bow and fairly calm seas.  It’s lovely sailing up-wind in these conditions - better than sailing down wind and slopping about.

One of the reasons that the Anambas is avoided by the cruising community is that there have been multiple cases of piracy in the area over the past ten years.  The east coast of Borneo, 800 miles to the east, has been plagued by Philipino Jihadists, who have kidnapped westerners and demanded huge ransoms.  The troubles around the Anambas have been restricted to piracy of large merchant ships, but it is easy to see that the kidnapping of westerners could be an easy option. 

As night fell, our little fleet of boats was only a mile or so apart and we agreed to only put on our low level navigation lights rather than the tricolour at the top of our mast which can be seen much further out.  We kept transmitting our AIS signal, so that large commercial shipping could see us - we felt it unlikely that opportunistic pirates would have AIS.

Although I felt it unlikely that we would have any trouble, I still took a few precautions including getting out our 1 million candle-power searchlight (to shine at approaching boats); checking our flare gun and putting it somewhere handy (to fire at approaching boats); checking that my 3 million volt stun guns were charged and that our pepper spray guns where accessible.  

2 July 2016   Nongsa Marina to Pulau Bawah, Anambas Islands (Day 2)
It was a beautiful night, full of stars and the wind stayed consistent.  There was a surprising amount of commercial shipping about and we weren’t attacked by pirates.

At 10:30, we were making our approach into Pulau Bawah (02°30.77N 106°02.58E), which was perfect - the entrance is due east and straight into the rising sun, so we wanted to arrive when the sun was much higher.  The entrance channel is only 15 metres wide and there are two white buoys marking the north and south sides of the passage - we passed between the buoys heading directly east.  The channel is at 02°30.728N 106°02.410E and at roughly half-tide the minimum depth we saw was 4.4m.  If the buoys are not present then two way-points for the channel are 02°30.727N 106°02.337E and 02°30.726N 106°02.500E.

Indy's 9th Birthday Party

There’s an up-market resort being built, which is due to be opened in 2017.  They have put down nine moorings - four white moorings on 4 ton concrete blocks and five orange moorings on 1.5 ton blocks.  The moorings are well constructed with chain shackled to the concrete block and substantial rope up to the mooring ball.  In 2016, the moorings were in excellent condition, but had no mooring pennants so the ball had to be lassoed and mooring lines threaded through a loop under the mooring ball.

It’s a spectacular anchorage, two large islands and some smaller islands set in white sand and clear water.  The colours are stunning and the lagoon is very calm.  It’s close to paradise and what a difference to the west coast of Malaysia.

We had a nap before lunch then went for a snorkel outside the reef.  We headed out of the entrance channel and turned south for ¼ mile, anchoring our dinghy in 6 metres of clear water amongst isolated coral heads.  The coral is in good condition, but there are large areas of coral rubble especially as the reef slopes off to deeper water.  It looks like the locals have been fishing with dynamite.  The snorkelling was great, but it doesn’t look like a good scuba dive spot because of the blasted reef. 

It was Indy’s 9th birthday, so we all gathered on the beach to eat his cake as the sun set over the anchorage - it’s great to be back cruising.

3 July 2016   Pulau Bawah, Anambas Islands
After breakfast, we wandered ashore and met Paul, the project manager for the new resort.  Paul has been on the island for four years, supervising the construction and was very friendly.  The moorings are free to use, but he asks that we don’t fish in the lagoon or take any shellfish.  

The resort is taking shape with about 30 guest apartments on stilts over the water.  The main buildings are completed and they are now fitting the air-conditioning and furniture.   The first guests will be here early next year and will arrive by sea plane from Batam.

At Paul’s advice, we walked along the path heading west from the resort’s dock and just as a board walk starts, we continued along the beach (covered in plastic bottles and tar) to a small wood-store hut.  We walked through the store hut and found a path leading upwards.  The path is indistinct at times and has lots of fallen trees blocking the way, but climbs up the hillside.

After maybe 20 minutes, the path continues up steeply, but there is a large rock off to the right with a smaller path climbing up and around the rock.  The path drops down slightly and ends up at a rocky patch overlooking the anchorage - it is stunning and well worth the walk up.   

The stunning anchorage of Pulau Bawah

We had a sketch of some trails on the island produced by Warren Blake, so we tried to continue walking up towards the east side of the island.  The trail became non-existent and we were just heading into bush, so not having a compass, we decided to turn around.  

On our way down we came across another slight trail leading north off the main trail about five minutes from the beach.   We walked along that path for half an hour and had some good spots giving us a nice view of the west side of the lagoon, but the trail started to descend so we gave up and turned around.  It was a nice 2-3 hour walk in the bush.

In the afternoon, we went snorkelling on south west corner of the southern island on the outside of the reef at around 02°29.95N 106°02.76E. The water is deep enough to get over the reef from the large lagoon and the snorkelling was very good.  Again the deeper water looked bombed out, so maybe not so good for diving.

On the way back to the boat, we stopped off at a reef on the western side of the large lagoon which was okay, but the water was murky.

We were knackered after all this activity and crashed out at eight o’clock.

4 July 2016   Pulau Bawah, Anambas Islands
Every morning, Paul takes a small boat around the edge of the island group looking for signs of turtles laying eggs on the beaches, so we were up at 05:00 to go with him.  If he finds a nest, he places some wire mesh over the top of the sand to stop monitor lizards eating the eggs.  He’s just started to do this process and hopes that he can even set up a nursery to allow the turtles to grow stronger before release.  

We didn’t find any new nests, but we did see a monitor lizard close to one of Pauls’s protected nests - the lizard shot into the water and swam away when it spotted us.  Apparently, it takes 40 days for the turtle eggs to hatch and one of the nests will be hatching on 28th July.

The Dawn Turtle Patrol

Paul also showed us several rocks where Black-naped Terns nest.  These migratory birds come every year and lay their eggs in small depressions on the open rock - no nice comfy nests.  We did a small survey of one rock, but found only one egg.

We were back on the boat at 07:30 and after breakfast, chilled out for the rest of the morning.  After lunch, we went for snorkel on the northern tip of the island group just off a steep sided little island.  It was rocky reef with some large fish, but not much coral about.  Again there are signs of dynamite fishing, so it’s not a good spot for scuba diving - it’s a little disappointing.

The weather for the past four days has been fabulous - a steady 10-15 knot wind from the south-east, a light smattering of clouds with constant sunshine.  I feel like we’ve been transported into a different continent - the west coast of Malaysia was miserable in comparison, with muddy water, no wind and the constant threat of thunderstorms.  We like it here.

5 July 2016   Pulau Bawah, Anambas Islands
Sea Monkey left this morning heading for Jermaja to get some internet.  Sarah works as a freelance cartoonist and has a contract where she needs to upload some work and needs internet access.  We’ve decided to leave tomorrow and start heading towards Tarempa, where hopefully we’ll meet up with them again.  “Amulet” doesn’t want to cruise alone in this area, so they’re going to tag along with us.

I did some jobs in the morning including starting to splice 50 metres of rope onto the end of our 60 metres of chain.  This will give us enough scope to anchor in 40 metres at a pinch.  Some of the anchorages that we’re going to explore may not be any good and we might be forced to anchor in deep water.

Good to be Snorkelling Again

I decided to use a long rope that I’d bought from another cruiser in New Zealand and found that it is 6 strand plaid rope not the usual 8 plaid rope, so I had to do a bit of thinking to work out how to splice it.  To add to the complication, the strands of the rope were very soft and unwound easily, so it was a struggle and took me four hours in total.

We went for a snorkel in the afternoon in a couple of places in the big lagoon, but it wasn’t that good.  The best place was just off the end of the jetty in the big lagoon.  It’s murky water, but there are some big fish next to the drop-off.  In all the snorkelling that we’ve done here, I’ve not seen a single nudibranch or small critter, so my macro lens hasn’t been used at all - I’m mildly disappointed…

We invited “Amulet” and Paul and Jason from the resort over for a few beers.  It was interesting to find out a bit more about the resort.  They will be able to have up to 70 guests in 35 rooms.  Each room will cost $700US per night and the main market is wealthy people from Singapore.

6 July 2016   Pulau Bawah to Pulau Airabu South, Anambas
We left at 0700, with “Amulet” close behind us.   After rounding the northern tip of Bawah, we had a lovely sail in 15 knot south winds, on the beam, to a small island called Pulau Ritan.  Using Google Earth, I’d spotted a lagoon on the island at 02°36.94N 106°16.57E, but it has a fringing reef, which I was unsure whether we would be able to cross.

We made an approach towards a point on the reef that looked darker (and hopefully deeper) at 02°37.02N 106°16.540E.  There was a small white buoy near this point, obviously left by the local fishermen.  The sky was overcast and the light wasn’t particularly good, so I lowered our dinghy and went to have a look, while Alba and “Amulet” hovered around outside.

The white buoy (a plastic container) seemed to be marking a shallow coral head while to the south-west the reef was fairly consistent in depth with a few isolated coral heads.  I measured the depth with our portable depth sounder which indicated 3.4-3.7 metres depth.  One of the frustrations of this area is the lack of tidal information, but I think that we were around high tide of 1.5 metres.

Nice to be Sailing

The fringing reef is only 15-25 metres wide and then the sea bed drops off into a 15-20 metre deep lagoon, which I assume will be sand. The lagoon appears to be around 200 metres diameter.

After a little bit of discussion, we decided to move on, mostly because the light was very flat and it would be difficult to see the coral heads and to read the depth of water.  The island itself looks very pretty and there would be lots to explore.  We’ll try again when we come back down this way.

We motored over to the nearby small island to the north east of Pulau Ritan, where on Google Earth, there looked to be a sandy patch next to a large rock.  Unfortunately, the only area suitable for anchoring was a long way from the island and rather exposed.  There was a fishing camp on the beach with several small fishing boats anchored off the beach.

We headed north to the southern end of Airabu and went through a channel just to the north of a small island called Lintang. The channel was mostly deep with a few shallow reefs and we passed close to a small island, which looked interesting, but the only anchorage is on the south side and exposed in the current winds.  (Our waypoints were 02°43.315N 106°17.031E; 02°43.703N 106°16.466E; 02°43.810N 106°15.996E; 02°44.167N 106°15.576E.  There are shallow reefs at 02°43.641N 106°16.695E; 02°43.659N 106°16.358E)

Once through the channel, we headed for a bay on the main island of Airabu (we’ve called it Pulau Airabu South) and anchored in 8 metres of water on good holding sand at 02°44.249N 106°14.765E.  The sea bed slowly slopes up from 15 metres and it would be possible to anchor in 6-15 metres depth, although there are reefs as the water gets shallower.  It’s a lovely sheltered anchorage and we chilled out for the afternoon.