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Indonesia, Riau Islands Province: Cruising the Anambas & Natuna Islands just made easier with new POE

By Sue Woods — last modified Jan 31, 2017 05:44 PM
The Indonesian Government has recently started to promote tourism in the Anambas and Natuna Islands, especially the marine and diving aspects. This may be related to the recent changes in attitude by the government towards cruising boats travelling through Indonesia. In November 2016 they announced the reclassification of the Anambas Islands as an official Port of Entry. This report by Sue Woods of MY Solita.

Published: 2016-12-07 00:00:00
Countries: Indonesia

This group of Indonesian islands is part of the Riau Islands Province, and it’s regency was recently established in 2008 by the Indonesian Government. The islands lie in the South China Sea between Tioman Island and Kuching, and are quite a distance from the main Indonesian islands. There are about 500 islands in this group, though many are small and uninhabited.

These islands provide a fantastic cruising ground for yachts wanting to experience beautiful scenery, great diving and snorkeling, numerous good anchorages, minimal development and intrusive industry, and great hospitality from the locals. While the islands are quite remote and do not offer much in the way of western comforts and provisioning, this adds much to their appeal.

Sadly, these islands have enjoyed an unsavory reputation in the recent past. There have been several episodes of “pirates” hijacking tankers, barges and other commercial vessels in these waters in the past few years, and several yachtees have reported incidents of being “chased” by local fishing boats. The Cruising Guide for the 2014 Sail Malaysia Rally stated “There have been a number of recent reports of piracy off the Indonesian Anambas and Natuna Islands. To date these attacks have been restricted to merchant ships, but yachts are vulnerable. It is suggested that a route be taken to keep well away from these islands.”

NEW PORT OF ENTRY

The island group has also been quite difficult to access by private boat in the past. As the Anambas and Natuna Islands were not official Ports of Entry, a boat wanting to visit needed to use an official agent to negotiate their arrival formalities, or clear into Indonesia at the nearest Port of Entry, which is Nongsa Point, Bataam. This was not helpful if you were travelling from anywhere east of Singapore and heading to Borneo, or coming from Borneo heading west.

The Indonesian Government has recently started to promote tourism in the Anambas and Natuna Islands, especially the marine and diving aspects. This may be related to the recent changes in attitude by the government towards cruising boats travelling through Indonesia.

In November 2016 they announced the reclassification of the Anambas  Islands as an official Port of Entry.

Their Department of Tourism is currently negotiating with promoters of several proposed yacht rallies to include these areas.

The visa situation now is that a yacht may apply for a “visa on arrival” at Tarempa in the Anambas Group, and receive a 30 day, non-renewable visa, or they can apply for a Social/Culture visa at an Indonesian Consulate prior to travelling, and then receive a 60 day visa which is renewable. This is excellent news for cruising folk in South East Asia and should greatly increase the number of boats visiting these beautiful islands.

For specific details about visas for the Anambas and Natuna Islands, contact Raymond Lesmana, Ph. +62 811124574, Email: raymond@sailoindonesia.com or raymondlesmana@ymail.com

OUR TRIP FROM KUCHING TO ANAMBAS TO MALAYSIA

Once we had our Social/Culture tourist visas from Kuching’s Indonesian Consulate and arranged with an agent to assist us with entry formalities, we cleared out with the Malaysian authorities in Kuching. We spent another 3 nights in Malaysian waters before getting to the border and setting off for Indonesia. We wanted to day-hop our way across the South China Sea, so Serasan Island was our first anchorage in Indonesia. We went on to Midai Island for our next anchorage, and then finally Selai Island in the Anambas Group.

When we arrived at Tarempa, the capital of the Anambas Group, we cleared in with Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and the Harbourmaster. The Navy also visited our boat and photographed some of our paperwork. All officials were very helpful and courteous.

We then had an idyllic 3 weeks travelling about the islands. After this, we checked out at Tarempa, and stopped briefly at the islands to the west, including the major one, Jemaja Island.

We continued our day-hopping west, across the shipping channel north of Singapore, before stopping at Aur Island then Tingii Island. From there it was another day’s run to the Malaysian check-in point at Pengelhi.

WEATHER

The Anambas Group experiences the same south-west/north-east monsoons as Borneo.

We read the notes of other cruisers visiting in June/July, and it seems they had fairly consistent SW winds, at times strong and with frequent squalls of 30+ kts. We also noticed that the vegetation on many of the north-facing headlands of islands was flattened in such a way to indicate they experience strong and consistent winds blowing onto them during the north-east monsoon period.

Our visit was in October/November, so we were hoping for a calm transition period - the end of the south-west monsoon, some calm days and the beginning of the north-east monsoon. However we were surprised by the variable, windy and sometimes wet weather we experienced. The SW monsoon provided some nasty squalls and storms, though most were over quickly, and we did catch lots of water from them. Often there was quite a build-up of cloud, especially from the south-west and north-west - it often quickly petered out to nothing but at times set up a persistent NW swell that rolled into most anchorages.

Mostly the wind was variable and light. We could not predict from one day to the next where the weather would come from, which made selecting an anchorage a little difficult. Some days were glassy and calm. Other days went from sunny and calm to heavy storm clouds overhead, strong winds and a choppy sea, within a couple of hours. Towards the end of our time here, the weather did ease and we enjoyed some beautiful calm days with minimal swell. Perhaps November, and around May – the transition period after the north-east monsoon – would be optimal times to visit, weatherwise.

NAVIGATION

We used Cmap and Open CPN on our computer for navigation, as well as our Simrad chart plotter, and were very happy with them all. Some reefs were a little different from the charts but overall they were fairly accurate. There are quite a few markers in busy areas and where there are passages through reef to get to villages. Most are port and starboard markers, but we found the square white boards with faint red stripes are foul ground markers.

It really was much safer to travel about after 9am, when the sun was more overhead and you could see reefs. We kept our depth sounder on all the time, and it was amazing to see how many low reefs and bommies we travelled over where there were none on the chart.

ANCHORAGES

There are so many anchorages to choose from, and plenty to suit any wind direction. There is a lot of scattered reef so you need to watch carefully coming into bays and beaches, and most bays have significant fringing reef. At times you need to anchor in deep water but most of our anchorages were in less than 18 metres.

We had downloaded some information about the Anambas Islands from the internet, and found that the cruising notes by a cruising couple, the Howarths on their yacht “Alba”, were excellent. We used them a lot for anchorages and for finding places in the towns. Their web site is at: www.thehowarths.net. Many thanks to the Howarths!

Most of the better anchorages are used by local fishermen to wait out bad weather or to rest, either during the night or day. Some snorkelled the reefs looking for shellfish. They all seemed curious and friendly. A couple of times we invited some on board for coffee, and although the conversation was a little halting, with mime, English and our poor Bahasa phrases, we enjoyed the interactions.

GENERAL GEOGRAPHY

Tarempa is the capital of the Anambas Group and most of the population is located nearby. All government agencies are sited here, and we noticed that an amazing number of people were in government uniform, employed by the various departments. The town is busy but very clean, with numerous garbage bins placed along the roads. We found everyone to be very friendly, though they are clearly not used to foreign visitors. Not many speak English. The waterfront is very busy with local water taxis, small ferries from outlying villages, freighters and the weekly pelni. Most businesses and cafes line the waterfront or are in the small grid of streets leading away from the water. There are two main mosques and a large Chinese temple in the town.

East of Tarempa Town is a maze of waterways leading off to various villages. This area is a minefield of reef, and you need to either use waypoints or very good charts to find your path through (the Howarths give two routes of waypoints in their notes), or hire a local boat to guide you. Many of the islands have pockets of mangroves and there are few beaches in this central area.

There is a narrow channel between Matak and several islands lying off Matak’s east coast that is strewn with reef. This provides access to Matek Island’s “inland sea”, Air Asuk and to the north coast of this island group. We explored this area by dinghy, while our boat was anchored off Tg Kangor. With so much reef around, we felt this was a much safer option.

The Northern Islands, north of Tarempa Island, are dominated by the strait between Matak and Mubur Islands. This strait is deep and wide enough for easy navigation. Large ships use this channel. There are several large water villages along the strait and tucked into coves to the north. The airstrip, owned and operated by Conoco Philips, is on the northern side of Matak Island, behind the port they have established for their rig tenders and other vessels. There is a lot of rocky reef around the smaller islands, and this will often completely block a passage between islands to all but local boats with very shallow draft. Some of the islands towards the northern end of this group have beautiful sandy beaches.

The Eastern Islands of the group are fairly uninhabited and quiet. We saw just a few local fishing boats moving about – the fishermen always smiled and waved back when we saw them. The coastlines of most of the outer islands are strewn with large sandstone boulders and there are few beaches. Reef fills some passes and is usually present along the sides of bays and around islands. Some of the islands have deep bays – great for use as protected anchorages. We saw no villages until we were approaching the central area of the group. Some of the more central and northern of these islands have beautiful beaches and great fringing reef for snorkeling and diving.

The Southern Islands, south of Tarempa Island, includes Bawah Island, known for its excellent reef and diving options. These islands would be an obvious choice for boats travelling north from Nongsa Point, but as we approached from the east, we did not explore this scattered group.

The Western Islands lie to the south-west of Tarempa. The largest of these are Telaga Island and Jemaja Island. They have attractive small beaches and interesting, albeit reef-strewn, passages between some of them. The Jemaja group of islands is about 30 miles south-west of Tarempa. This group is large, about the size of Tarempa’s central and northern islands. There are many beautiful places to explore here, with pristine beaches and some of the best anchorages in the Anambas Group.

PROVISIONING

The only places to reprovision are the towns of Tarempa and Letong, in the Jemaja group.

In Tarempa there is a small market, just off the main street, where you can buy some local vegetables, imported fruit and vegetables, frozen chicken and chicken sausages. A small separate fish market is situated on the waterfront and sells mainly fish, squid and sometimes small prawns. There is a bakery on the main road, selling white and flavoured breads and many decorative small cakes. Many small grocery stores are scattered throughout the town, and no one store will sell everything you want. We found no western-style luxuries like ham, bacon, cheese, olives, beef or lamb, etc.

There are several hardware stores and a few sell some basic marine products like props, lifejackets, outboard oil, hoses and clamps, skin fittings, flashing “nav” lights, torches and small batteries.

Fuel seems to be easy enough to obtain. There is a petrol distributor next to the main green mosque who is also able to sell and deliver diesel to your boat, for 7,000 to 7,500 per litre. We refueled at the fuel distributor next to Anambas Lodge two bays to the east of Tarempa Town – this was so easy for us. Fuel was delivered by a small boat to us on anchor nearby, and we pumped it on board, using our portable fuel pump. He charged 7,000 per litre.

Letong has the same options for food and other provision, though on a lesser scale.

DIVING AND SNORKELING

You are spoilt for choices of diving and snorkeling sites here in the Anambas. Most of the fringing reef is quite healthy, albeit for obvious anchor damage in some places. We did see large patches of damaged reef where it looked like explosives or poison had been used, but this was uncommon. While we saw very few large fish, the small fish life was excellent. There were healthy clams in some spots. The coral was varied and colourful, with some huge plate corals, outstanding patches of staghorn and other hard corals.

While there are no designated dive sites marked or suggested by a map, Palau Bawah in the southern group, and Palau Penjalin in the eastern group appear to have a good reputation and are promoted in the Anambas Tourist Information booklets. The Howarths have suggested some dive sites in their notes.

The water clarity is excellent – we had 40-50 ft visibility most days, and it always seemed clearer at high tide. There is some current around the edges of headlands or extended reef, but no more than you would expect.

We saw several large pink jellyfish, some with stringy tentacles up to 5 ft long, but most seem to be degrading or had been badly chewed by something.

While travelling about the Anambas Group, we noticed many schools of fish jumping about and feeding. They appeared to be small tuna or mackerel – about 12-18 inches in length. There were also numerous schools of smaller fish and baitfish. We saw a couple of turtles and dolphin as well.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

While the water all around the Anambas islands was beautifully clear, we did find it quite disturbing to note how much garbage was floating in the water and washed up on the beaches. Most was plastic, polystyrene, rope, nets and food packaging, with the ubiquitous rubber thong footwear. For us it really detracted from our enjoyment of the place.

Even more annoying were the small globules of oil or grease that were scattered across the sand on many beaches. Obviously waste oil has been dumped into the water somewhere. We would unknowingly walk in this, then transfer the oil into the dinghy and then onto the deck of the boat. One wonders what impact this has had on the local marine and bird life.

Many of the locals are subsistence fishermen, and are out on the water most days. Unfortunately they sometimes anchor over coral and cause significant damage to the reefs. They do not seem to use moorings other than off their own beaches.

We also passed floats (i.e. plastic containers of various sizes and colours) that were anchored. We guessed they were marking fish traps, as no netting was attached.

COMMUNICATION

When we arrived in Tarempa we bought a Telkommsel “dongle” – a device to interface a SIM card with our computer – for 160,000 rupiah and a SIM card for 130,000 rupiah. In Tarempa Town this gave us a very slow internet connection. It was possible to send and receive emails, open facebook and do a very quick/simple download, but not much more. Away from Tarempa, there are very few telecommunication towers, and we were unable to get any internet reception except at Anambas Lodge Bay, Tg Kangor and Letong. This made it difficult to keep up with weather forecasts.

We also bought a SIM card for our basic phone for 40,000 rupiah, and added some 40,000 rupiah “top-up”. This allowed us unlimited local calls and texts, but only a very short international call.

OUR ANCHORAGES

Download this pdf for a summary of all the anchorages we visited in the various island groups.

Share |
swoods
swoods says:
Jan 31, 2017 12:33 AM

Hi Julie. As per our agent Raymond's comments in November 2016, Natuna is still not a Port of Entry. You must enter and leave via Tarempa in the Anambas group. Not helpful for you. But I would contact Raymond - his details are in my report - to ask him, as this may have changed by now. Raymond is very approachable - just mention you had his details from us. He is best contacted by email. You could also try for imformation at the Indonesian consulate in KK, but often they are not fully up to date on yachting questions. Hope you can make it to these islands - they really are beautiful. Cheers, Sue Woods

jghodder
jghodder says:
Jan 27, 2017 01:09 AM

Great report.
We are looking to travel from either Kota Kinabalu or Brunei to Tioman in April May.
I have plotted your reports and very accurate data.
WE were wondering if you knew anything about Natuna Basar and whether you can stop there. It is further north than the islands you visited, but right on the track for us.
Thanks
Julie

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