Different seas, different fish

Different fields, different grasshoppers; different seas, different fish.
~ Indonesian Proverb.

Colonial rule of the Dutch East Indies ended in 1945 when Indonesia declared independence.  The harbour rules devised by the Dutch to make life hard for competitors to bring in cargo ships and fill them with spices have stood the test of time and continue to baffle and confuse all concerned, often including the officials themselves[i].  Across an archipelago of some 18,000 islands, interpretation of the regulations can also vary from harbour to harbour.

Keen to attract foreign visitors, in 2016 new legislation was passed to introduce “YachtERS (Yacht’s Electronic Registration System) for Yacht foreigners who will visit the territorial waters of the Republic of Indonesia.”  However, implementation of a new system can be a bit hit and miss, so just in case, I made contact with a clearing agent, Napa, before leaving Darwin.

Napa crisscrossed Kupang, from the port to the airport, to deliver the four signed and stamped documents we needed; port clearance, customs clearance, visas and quarantine clearance – with each document originating from separate departments.  He would have got it done in a day except I left some documents on board and made an entry error on the YachtERS system.  Ironically, the only piece of paper that wasn’t signed and stamped was the form generated from the YachtERS system!  Could be an opportunity here for a change management consultant.

There were several other Australian yachts who ignored the proverb and took the DIY path – they arrived four days before us and were still there as Galaxy departed for Rote.    Clearing agents like Napa are like a local project manager to keep the process moving along and overcome any glitches along the way. The customs officers who inspected Galaxy, remained in good spirits after I soaked them in my tiny dinghy and made a point of mentioning they do not charge for their services, perhaps inferring the services of an agent are unnecessary.  Maybe for customs, though the combination of four departments makes it time-consuming for a foreigner to navigate a process difficult by design.  I’m sure we’ ll also encounter the process design legacy of  English, Spanish & Portuguese colonists before we get back home.  We added some Spanish Mackerel to Napa’s modest fee and bid our farewell with a photo ceremony.

Navigating Indonesian waters also has some special challenges.  Firstly, charts and electronic maps are either based on Netherlands Government Surveys of 1904 or have not been surveyed.   From British Admiralty Pilots; “Many of the areas on this chart have not been systematically surveyed.  Depths in these areas are from miscellaneous lines of passage soundings or old lead line surveys.  Unchartered dangers may exist” This means navigating reefs & approaching anchorages in daylight with a good pair of Polaroid sunnies.  And a good cruising guide.  I have already seen the charts can be out by hundreds of meters with locations and depths rough approximations to where they really are.

Secondly, travelling at night when the wooden fishing boats are out can be hazardous – most have no or poor lighting, let alone AIS.  In addition, there is floating debris and numerous FADs (Fish Attracting Devices), mostly less than 2nm from shore, that you have no chance of seeing at night.  And another thing – diesel is often decanted many times from refinery to the end user – so contamination and dirty containers can wreak havoc on fuel filters.  Pirates are reportedly a non-issue in Indonesia, except curious fishermen sometimes wear balaclavas to protect themselves from the fierce sun!  Forewarned is forearmed, I suppose.

Tarimbang, Sumba

On our way to Rote, we made good time overnight and decided to hove-to to wait for daylight before navigating past several islands.  We needed a couple of attempts for the anchor to hold in the strong trade wind and with no surf, we spent the day on board contemplating our next move.  Not wanting to mix it at night with the fishing fleet, we waited until next morning – there was modest 2ft surf with 25 or so surfers burning each other for a wave – we couldn’t get excited about that, so we weighed anchor and headed west for Tarimbang, Sumba. Along the way, the spinnaker pole snapped as a wave and wind gust combined to round Galaxy up sharply – luckily I had plenty of fibreglass supplies on board to make the repair.

We anchored Galaxy in 10m water to paddle across to this lefthander

Tarimbang is very remote with a postcard vista of rainforest spilling onto white sand and turquoise water.  The presence of nearby villages was revealed by woodsmoke rising above the jungle.  Ben & I surfed on a lefthander breaking into the bay and anticipated a rising swell, which didn’t eventuate.  Spearfishing was also fruitless – the reef was decimated with very little coral or fish life and brought home the reality of population pressure, as sparse as it appeared above water.

We weighed anchor on Sunday for Lombok & Bali in search of waves and our next stop to victual Galaxy.


[i] Andrew Scott, 2017, Cruising Guide to Indonesia.

Photos by Ben


  1. Paul Sinclair

    Keep up the stories, it really makes me feel like I am there with you.

  2. David anderson

    Don’t discount Sumbawa for waves Chris. Plenty of good ones there and probably only ‘Periscopes’ being widely publicised.

  3. Evan & kelly

    Great info for would be cruisers to this area of the world. Keep up the writing and prepare for your presentation to the MHYC cruising division next year.

  4. Rhodesie

    Hey Gents, nice to see your adventure advancing in fair weather. Us land lubbers are getting a winter Long Weekend flogging. Norah Head Lighthouse this morning was tres miserable!!

  5. Linden Wood

    It’s great following your journey Chris. What an adventure! So many beautiful places in the world!! 🐠🏄⛵️Love Linden. XX

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