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We did it! We sailed through Indonesia with the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia rally over 3+ months. It was quite the experience, and the first time we’ve visited such an extremely different culture from ours.
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Days Starry Horizons Spent in Indonesia: 103
Days David and I Spent in Indonesia: 93
Total Anchorages: 21
Miles Traveled: 2,314
Rally Events Attended: 4 out of 20
While we stayed on the exact path of the rally, we did skip many of the stops. Also, thanks to our flight back to the states, we were just behind the rally for a lot of the stops. We didn’t want to miss stopping at these places (Bali, Kumai, and Belitung) so we lagged behind for a while, often coming in the day after the rally events were over.
- Make Banda Pancakes at Home
- Pasarwajo – Cooking Class
- Pasarwajo – Pesona Indonesia Festival
- Komodo National Park and Labuan Bajo
- Emergency Room Visit in Labuan Bajo
- Post-Earthquake Lombok
- Crossing the equator
- Clearing out of Indonesia in Bintan
Without a doubt, the best place we went to was Komodo National Park. The underwater life was spectacular and we rate it as the best marine life we’ve seen. It really helps that we swam with manta rays for a half an hour, which was absolutely thrilling, and we got to take our friend Sara snorkeling for the first time.
Banda was also a highlight, as we enjoyed the history of this small island group. The volcano set a beautiful backdrop and Abba at Cilu Bintang Estate was very welcoming.
There were two rally yachts who attended every single event: Volo and Alexandra. Randivag gets an honorable mention as they did not disembark the boat at one stop due to the swell. I asked these boats what their favorite stop was:
- Volo – North Buton
- Randivag – South Buton
- Alexandra – Kumai
I also asked some cruisers who have been in Indonesia for about a year what their favorite stops have been:
I feel like I have to qualify this one a bit: Sara and Lee are surfers, and I think Sawu and the Mentawais are surfer’s paradise. When I asked Sara to pick three, she basically said “Sawu, Mentawais, and Komodo….no! Wakatobi!”
Perry: Misool (Raja Ampat), Anak Krakatau, Komodo
Komodo! Fortunately, Komodo is a super easy place to travel to if you don’t have your own boat….just read my Komodo post to learn about getting a cabin in a liveaboard boat.
Bintan, easily. Our last stop was so dirty and full of garbage. Which leads us to…
The trash is SO BAD in Indonesia. SO BAD. It makes us so angry and sad, and in the northern part near Bintan where it was the worst, it was an actual hazard to our travels. Every beach has trash. Every village has trash. We watched local fishermen throw trash off their boats while motoring and we watched little kids finish their single serving drinks and just drop them in the streets.
There is no waste management plan in most of the islands we visited. Trash is taken out to the jungle to be poorly burned and then what’s let is rooted through by animals and spread around.
Check out this video Catalpa posted in Komodo National Park:
Parts are impossible to find. There are very few marinas and no chandleries. Every single time we filled up on diesel we had to use jerry cans. Sometimes, the locals brought the diesel we bought in their jerry cans, which leaked everywhere. There are no fuel filters, fuel treatments, or Baha filters available for sale in Indonesia, so make sure you are well stocked up.
Blue is the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally. Yellow is Sail Indonesia Rally. Red is marinas. Green is both rallies.
No surprise, the best part of joining the sailing rally was the other boats we met and sailing on roughly on the same path as all our friends for so long. I can’t even begin to count up how many meals and anchorages we have shared with Mirniy Okean and Slow Flight.
There were such a wide variety of experiences in the group; from Volo, who’s been sailing for over 20 years, to newbie cruisers leaving Australia for the first time. When Mirniy Okean’s alternator went out, no less than six people went over to try to help Carlos fix it.
There’s drama. People drag anchor. Boats get anchored too close to one another. Sometimes said boats hit each other. People got upset that certain things aren’t available for purchase in the small villages of Indonesia. Some crew abandoned ship or moved to a different boat. Since we weren’t with the rally all the time, we certainly weren’t involved in much of the drama, thankfully.
Any sailing rally is going to pick destinations that have certain criteria which we would normally avoid: a big enough bay to hold 44 boats, nearby facilities to hold a ceremony and dinner, a nearby airport for tourism people to fly into. These things simply aren’t our type of places. We prefer remote locations, and some of our favorite stops elsewhere have been when we are all alone. Clear water is also very important to us, and we rarely got that in these more “urban” stops.
The rally is most certainly a good value. We saved money on clearing in and out and the participants were provided with food and entertainment at each of the 20 rally stops. Rally participants were also given gifts at each stop – our rag-tag group gathers and there are five people wearing Wonderful Indonesia hats and four people wearing shirts from different stops. We have a few items given to us that will be very special keepsakes.
Having organized events meant that we got much more cultural immersion into the local villages that we visited, and we got to spend more time with the Indonesian people one on one. We were really treated like VIPs everywhere we went. David and I never got a sense that people weren’t happy to have us there.
The communication from the rally was horrible. At first, the communication about clearing out of Australia was fantastic. We even received an email from a customs agent stationed in Thursday Island with helpful information for clearing out.
After that, we only received one mass communication from the rally, and that was some information for the orangutan tours for our visit to Kumai (Tanjung Puting). Instead of any official communications, the schedule was often passed through the grapevine. Maybe one of the cruising boats would announce it on the VHF, but more likely when we pulled into an anchorage we simply asked our neighbor.
We only attended four rally stops, but at two of them, there were major issues with the non-existent schedules. In Pasarwajo cruisers sat out in the sun for an hour waiting for a traditional canoe race that never took place. In Benan, the village schedule showed an event starting at 9 am but the cruisers were told 8 am….so we stood around for an hour waiting. Then, no one told the cruisers there were games and races taking place on the beach. The whole village was there – all the effort that went into this – and no one told us.
I have previously discussed why we opted to go for the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally versus the Sail Indonesia Rally. Since we made the decision I have learned a lot more about both rallies. There are a few key differences and similarities:
- The two rallies join up after five weeks. From Labuan Bajo on, all the rally stops are the same date and location.
- The Sail Indonesia Rally had about half the number of boats that ours did.
- The rally out of Darwin has the exact same man organizing from the Indonesian side as the rally out of Cairns.
- The Sail Indonesia Rally boats were all in a What’s App group together, with the Indonesian contact. They had much more information about the schedules than the cruisers in the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally.
Perhaps the most interesting indicator of how well the rallies do is that at the very last rally stop, the final dinner and farewell party, the number of boats had dwindled down to two from the Sail Indonesia Rally and ten from the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally out of a total of 65 boats.
While David and I ended up splitting our time in the rally with a trip back to the states, the biggest reason we chose the rally was to make our visa and clearing in procedures easier. When we arrived in Debut, a booth was set up in the pavilion with all the officials we needed to see. We got some paperwork done, went back out to the boat for inspections, and then got more paperwork done, and BOOM! We’ve got a 60-day visa to Indonesia.
A majority of the rally participants had their passports collected in Lombok and returned in Bali after a 30-day renewal. The last renewal was in Belitung. In total, rally participants had a visa for 120 days.
So what if you weren’t with the rally?
Boats coming in independently must register with the YACHTers online system. At the time of writing this, the website is down.
Our friends on Blowin Bubbles tried to register with the system in PNG but could not get it to work. It didn’t work with the officials in Tual either. They ended up hiring an agent.
Instead of Uber, Southeast Asia has an app called Grab which you can use to hail a ride using an app. A similar app exists for motorcycle taxis, called Go-Jek.
Motorcycles are a very popular method of getting around in Indonesia. However, most people don’t wear helmets and there either isn’t a licensing process or there isn’t an age limit for them, as we saw school kids driving the motorbikes. For hiring a motorcycle taxi, you sit on the back behind the driver. It’s common to see women on the back sitting sidesaddle instead of straddling.
As far as I know, there are currently no proper chandleries in Indonesia. There are plans to open one at Marina Del Rey in Lombok. Finding parts in Indonesia is extremely hard. It is essential to bring spares for filters, impellers, etc, basically anything you think you might need. Although you can get repair work done, it’s a major inconvenience and means waiting for weeks in crummy locations.
Availability of certain foods can be sporadic in Indonesia. I only went to six supermarkets while in Indonesia: Tual, Bau-Bau, Labuan Bajo, Lombok, Lovina, and Tanjung Pinang. Lovina was by far the best provisioning in terms of meats and westernized foods. Items we consider staples like meats, mayonnaise, UHT milk, cheese, and cereals were hit and miss in the other supermarkets. Paper goods like paper towels, facial tissues, and toilet paper are all very low quality, even in Lovina.
Vegetables and fish are fairly plentiful at the traditional markets. Food safety standards are very low at these markets – a vendor might weigh raw chicken in a bowl and use that same bowl immediately with some vegetables. Everything should be washed thoroughly.
Everywhere we went had convenience stores selling sweets and cookies. Garlic, potatoes, eggs, and onions are also usually available in these stores.
Food in Indonesia is extremely cheap. We often went out for a more upscale dinner and only paid roughly 125,000 Rp ($10 USD) per person. A typical local warung would be about $3 USD per person. It’s hard to go wrong in a warung with nasi goreng or mie goreng – fried rice or fried noodles. However, most dishes are heavy in cooking oil. While in Banda we got to try a meal of Javanese cooking and I really enjoyed those dishes.
Traditional markets are also extremely cheap. I often counted my money afterward and thought “that can’t be right…”. It’s easy to provision generously with fruit and vegetables for less than $10 USD a week.
Not many people approached us looking to trade until we got to Lingga. There, locals asked for hats and tee shirts. I had just donated a lot of items to post-earthquake Lombok, but I did manage to trade a hat for a bag of bananas. Fishing supplies are also a good idea.
In most of the stops, but especially the early ones, kids swarmed us when we went ashore or visited at anchor in a dugout canoe. Mostly the kids are interested in selfies or playing, but some cruisers handed out candy. Once I made the mistake of giving one kid an orange – then EVERY kid wanted an orange. But, another time I had the idea to pass out ice cubes, and the kids loved it!
Internet in Indonesia is shockingly good and cheap. The only we didn’t get a signal strong enough to use were Walir and Gili Banta. When we first got to Tual, we bought Telkomsel cards (with Pulsa, that’s what they call data). We downloaded the MyTelkomsel App, but you can’t use an American credit card to add credit. Instead, we used Ding.com to send money to our Telkomsel accounts.
For the packages, make sure you read the details carefully before purchasing, as the packages change often. “Internet 00-07” means you can only use that data from midnight to 7 am. Lokal flash means you can only use that data in the region you are in when you purchase it. There’s also “VideoMax” which is data that can only be used in certain apps.
The biggest package we got was 37 GB/30 Days/171.000 Rp ($11.50 USD).
Indonesia has strict anti-pornography laws. Why do I say this? This law bans sites that aren’t strict regarding pornography, which includes popular sites like Reddit or Tumblr. If you want to browse these sites (or, you know….porn) you need to start using a VPN service to access the internet.
A lot of people had issues getting their debit cards to work at ATMs. I don’t fully understand the issue or how to get it resolved, but be aware that there may be issues.
ATMs say either 50,000 or 100,000 on them. That signifies the denomination of the bills at that machine. We almost always pulled out 100,000 bills, at a maximum of 2.5M Rp. However, be aware that a 100,000 Rp bill may be small to us (roughly $7 USD) but it’s a lot to Indonesians. Sometimes I would hit the market fresh from the ATMs and the ladies selling their produce for just a few thousand rupiahs would have a hard time breaking my 100,000 bills.
As mentioned above, trash is a massive marine problem in Indonesia. In addition, overfishing seems to be a huge issue as well – Indonesia has 265 million people to feed, and they mostly eat fish for protein. Komodo National Park was the best marine life we saw, and I believe it was because fishing regulations were properly enforced and a few mooring balls were provided to protect the coral. However, there were not nearly enough mooring balls available for all the tour boats coming and going.
Elsewhere, fishing regulations were not enforced. In many places, including marine parks like Wakatobi, the locals would come out and sell their catches to us. The fish they were trying to sell were often much too small. Catching fish before they are reproducing can be a significant cause for declining fish populations, which is why many places have minimum lengths.
We purchased one cruising guide in Australia, called Cruising Guide to Indonesia by Andy Scott. Some of the stops the rally went to were not covered in this cruising guide and since we got very little information from the rally, occasionally there was trouble anchoring.
Another resource is the Soggy Paws Indonesian Compendium. There wasn’t much in there but I’ve submitted an update compiling information from rally members and other cruisers we’ve met here which should make the guide much more comprehensive. Also, the Hacking Family has compiled their thoughts on cruising Indonesia.
Most Indonesian islanders are fishing people. These fishermen have been doing this their whole lives, but that doesn’t equate to knowing the proper rules of the road or following international standards for signaling. First of all, there are a lot of FADs in Indonesia – Fishing Assistance Devices, which are often unlit and anchored in 100 feet of water. These FADs can be small shacks or massive wooden structures. A lot of fishing boats – if they have a light at all – have a flashing blue and red light. We also saw a lot of flashing red lights at night which are very small bouys. Thankfully we never had an encounter with a fishing structure or boat, but it’s critical in Indonesia to keep a sharp lookout all the time, and we actively tried to avoid night sailing when possible.
Charts in Indonesia are very inaccurate. Several rally boats hit reefs while navigating. We highly recommend using SAS Planet or other satellite imagery-based navigation.
It is a really good idea to have a watermaker aboard your boat. While there were people in the rally who didn’t have one, there are enough issues with food cleanliness around that I really don’t want to worry about my drinking water. In addition, especially towards the end of our time when it was getting very hot, we were taking frequent cold showers to cool ourselves off.
The dry season for Indonesia is May to September. The rest of the year is the wet season. August seems to be the most popular month for tourism.
For the first half of our time in Indonesia, starting in late July, the weather was quite nice; lots of sunny days, regular winds, fairly mild temperatures. However, there was a noticeable difference starting around mid-October, when we got to Kumai. The days were hotter and more still, but squalls blew through almost every day, dumping tons of rain and kicking up the wind.
We did not have any issues with security; nothing was stolen from our boat, we were not overtly asked for bribes, I spent time walking by myself without harassment. There are maps of reported piracy available from Mast Security and the International Chamber of Commerce showing hot spots near Jakarta and near the Singapore Strait.
Were we ever approached by vessels? Yes. It’s hard to tell if they were looky-loos, were just doing their normal maneuvers for fishing, or if they had ill intentions. However, we didn’t have any issues, nor do I know of anyone who’s had issues of piracy (I have heard several bribery stories first hand though).
While in Indonesia we caught up with two boats who have been cruising in Indonesia for a long time – Field Trip and Catalpa. We also know of other boats who have cruised Indonesia for a significant amount of time – Perry, Nandji, and Follow the Boat. When entering Indonesia, you can get a 30-day on arrival visa, which can be renewed every 30 days for up to six months. If you apply to the Indonesian consulate, you can get a 60-day visa to start, and then renew every 30 days. After six months, you must exit the country. Catalpa and Nandji went to Timor-Leste to exit Indonesia. Field Trip opted to leave their boat in Lombok and fly back to the states. Perry sailed to Australia and then Malaysia (Borneo).
Catalpa cleared into Kupang from Darwin, just like the Sail Indonesia rally did. They arrived in November of 2017 and sailed to:
Rote -> Alor -> Wakatobi -> Ambon (stuck waiting for a boat part) -> Banda -> Ambon to clear out -> Timor Leste (a different country) -> Rote -> Sawu -> Up to Komodo -> Over the top of Sumbawa -> Bottom of Lombok -> Top of Bali -> Jakarta -> Between Java and Sumatra and up the western Sumatran coast
Field Trip came over Papua and cleared into Sorong. They also arrived in November of 2017. From Sorong they cruised:
Raja Ampat -> Tual -> Triton Bay -> Tual -> Banda -> Ambon -> Wakatobi -> Komodo -> Lombok -> Bali -> Kumai -> passing between Java and Sumatra -> up the west coast of Sumatra
View Field Trip’s YIT map.
Perry also came over from PNG and cleared into Sorong in November 2017. Then they cruised:
Raja Ampat -> Banda -> Saumlaki -> Australia -> Kupung to clear in -> Komodo -> Lombok -> Bali -> clockwise circumnavigation of Borneo -> down the west side of Sulawesi -> Kumai -> Belitung -> between Java and Sumatra -> west coast of Sumatra
View Perry’s map.
I could not find maps for Follow the Boat or Nandji.
Next time we go to Indonesia – either by boat or by plane – we will definitely be going to Raja Ampat. Field Trip spent a lot of time there diving and although it looks challenging to cruise, the stunning scenery looks worth it. Or, we might come on a liveaboard boat, like my cousin Adele did. If we were to sail in, this probably means doing what Field Trip did; going north for cyclone season to the Solomons and then through PNG to clear into Sorong.
I would definitely do Komodo again, perhaps on a liveaboard boat.
Since our visit to Wakatobi, a friend from home visited as well and had a much better experience diving than we did. I would give it another go!
Was Indonesia in our top 5 countries we’ve been to? No. Are we glad we did it? Yes. Do we think we would have enjoyed it more outside of the rally? Probably. But, we’ve done it, we’ve seen a lot of the country, and now onward to more of Southeast Asia!