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Sumatra, Sabang, Pulau Weh: An Island not to be missed

By SY Gaia — last modified Apr 18, 2016 12:01 PM

Published: 2016-04-17 23:00:00
Countries: Indonesia

This note describes information of interest to those wanting to visit Pulau Weh - an island off the NW coast of Sumatra.

It was our second visit to the west coast of Sumatra, having earlier visited here in 2012. We consider Pulau Weh a premier destination in SE Asia, particularly from Langkawi and Phuket, and an island not to be missed. Pulau Weh and her people are gems.

Checking-In and Out

Check in procedures have been made easier in 18 ports of Indonesia - and Sabang is one of them. No more CAIT needed and you can enter all your information beforehand on their website: www.piyohsabangcustoms.com.  Eventually Customs, immigration and quarantine should have all your information already printed on forms, but that was not the case yet when we arrived in March 2016.

When approaching the harbour call the harbour master on channel 16. He may or may not answer. Just try again a bit later. He will alert Quarantine, Customs and Immigration.  One should not go ashore until the Formalities are completed. If however for some reason the HM does not answer (hours are 0800 to 2000) you can go ashore to look for him.  His office is to the east of the dinghy dock along the water side road.  Simply ask.

If you were able to contact the harbourmaster he will have organized quarantine, customs and immigration to come to the dinghy dock. Quarantine people will want to board your boat and you will have to pick them up from shore.

The Quarantine people take it upon themselves to confiscate out of date medicines and out of date beer.  We only showed them a small portion of our medicines and they did take some out of date seasickness meds. People seem very friendly, but do ask for beer.  We offered apples instead, which they accepted. They do look in lockers and may take out bottles of alcohol, probably hoping you will give them some.

Checking out when staying in Indonesia you will need to see the harbourmaster and the Quarantine people. You will get the green health book from Quarantine with lots of stamps and signatures to be shown in your next port. 110,000R. Not needed when you check out for another country. Harbour master wanted 20,000R for a stamp. Make sure you have the correct change. Bring him a cold coke and he may not ask for a gift.

Anchoring/Mooring in Sabang harbour:

Anchoring:
The good news is, anchoring in the harbour here is not as bad as the guide books and some blogs lead one to believe. Along the shore towards the east one can find depths of less than 40 feet and in fact one of the boats present while we were there was anchored in less than 30 feet.  They found the spot near the south end of a rather large white building with four large blue shipping doors, easy to recognize when you approach.

While we were there there were six of us, including two boats belonging to the Blue Planet Odyssey.

We would recommend just circling along the shore clockwise. No doubt people will shout at you with advice as to where and where not to anchor,  just ignore them and go where you feel safe.  Of course try not to be in the way of arriving or leaving boats, such as at the fish market and the commercial docks.  We anchored further south in between the Navigasi building and a small beach in 36 feet, but we occasionally heard the sound of chain on rock. 
Position: 05 53.11N and 095 19.39E.

Surface diving in the surprisingly clear and clean water showed flat rocks interspersed with sand. When we raised the anchor it had sand and fine gravel on it. In our opinion the preferred area is not here, but off the large white shed with the four blue doors in the northeast corner in 30 to 50 feet.

A large cruise ship dock now occupies the southern edges of the harbour.

Moorings:
There are no moorings in the main harbour.  And no plans for any as far as we know.  We, in conjunction with the coordinator of the Blue Planet Odyssey rally, urged the "powers-that-be" to consider their installation, if only for checking in purposes.

Marina:
There is a marina under construction a long way from town, but it is not finished and not being used until a manager has been hired.  It will be used for the Sabang Marine Festival.  It is also in an awkward location for access to the officials and the city. We questioned the expense, location and design and would personally not stay there, preferring the main harbour or Pulau Rubiah instead.

Getting Ashore:
There is a small floating dinghy dock near the bluish building to the west of the large shed mentioned before. Usually gates are closed, except when ships are unloading, but there is access in or out through a small gate near the BKPS building. On Sundays there may be kids hanging out near the dinghy dock. No one had problems leaving their dinghy there, including one yacht that visited Kuala Lumpur from here.

Other options for anchoring or moorings:

Behind the large island in Sabang Bay,  Pulau Klay
Positives are isolation,  protection and privacy.  Negatives?  It is deep, there is a lack of shore access and it's a long way from the dinghy dock.

Moorings behind Pulau Rubiah
50,000 per day ($5 Canadian). Nice back-packers village on shore with restaurants, dive shops, scooter rental.

Security:

We were assured that while anchored in Sabang harbour no one will board your yacht. This part of Sumatra is mainly a Muslim country and hence, in our experience, safe. 

Charts:

Using Open CPN will find you anchored mostly on land.  Navionics is more accurate, but misses the rocky patch just north of Pulau Rubiah, in the middle of the pass when coming from Sabang, easily seen during the day only.  Entrance to Sabang harbour is well marked.

Water:

There are small stores along the main road where you can fill up containers with filtered drinking water. Or you can buy 20 liter bottles in the grocery stores and decant in to your own bottles/jerry cans.  We were able to jerry jug water for washing from the BKPS building, there is a tap behind the small security building at the gate, which they allow you to use when you ask.

Fuel:

Gasoline (Bensin) in litre bottles widely available as well as oil and of course diesel (Solar). Jerry jugged but arrangements can possibly be made.

Provisions/Restaurants:

Basic provisions are available in the town where there are many small grocery stores. There are markets with vegetable stalls open in the morning only. Fruit available in stalls all day. Many stores are closed for a long lunch hour,

There are many restaurants and foodstalls. If you have a craving for western food you may need to go to a resort. Freddie's has good food and a great view, but is out of town.

Internet/Phone:

There is a Telcomsel office in town where you can buy SIM cards, we also went to a store along the main street called Mustika Baru where you can buy SIM cards or top up.

Banks:

There are several banks with ATMs. You may have to try several to find one that works with your card or that will dispense more then 1,250,000. We went to the Mandiri Bank, one of their ATMs dispenses 100,000 bills and you can take out 2,500,000.

Land trips:

Rent a scooter from Bang Bang, 0821 7293 8579 and drive around the island. This can be done in one day. Visit the volcano with steaming fumaroles, the hot springs, waterfall, have a drink or lunch at one of the many beach restaurants or have a delicious rojak (spicy fruit salad) in one of the restaurants along the road. There is also a very small museum in town with some interesting pictures of what the Sabang harbour looked when the Dutch held sway. Take your snorkeling gear and snorkel on the underwater volcano, a highlight. Easily done from the shore. You can also rent a scooter in Ipoih, if you are staying at the moorings near Pulau Rubiah.

Spend a day in Banda Ache. Ferry leaves from the south side of the island at 8:00am and takes about 45 minutes. Call Herry 0852 6058 9852 a few days before, he has a becak (motorcycle powered taxi) speaks good English, will meet the ferry and will take you around to all the interesting spots in Banda Aceh such as the Tsunami Museum and the fishing boat on the roof etc, or to any kind of store you want to visit. 50,000R per hour. Ferry returns 4:00pm

Take a flight. Sabang has an airport! Flights to Medan happen three times a week and are very affordable.  With your yacht safe at anchor in Sabang harbour or on a mooring off Rubiah, internal Sumatra is yours to explore.

Doctors/Hospitals

There are several clinics and a hospital on the island. We visited the hospital for what turned out to be an allergic reaction around my eyelids. Service was fast, but little English was spoken. By the way there is no malaria on Pulau Weh. We were much assisted for the visit to the hospital by Trisnani (Nani) 0813 2506 0117 who also reserved our mooring for us off of P. Rubiah. Nani is the head of the Tour Guide Association, speaks excellent English and is very interested in us cruisers and is willing to help solve any problems you may encounter. Her email is trisnani.m@gmail.com

Other

We were unable to get our Torqeedo 1003 electric outboard to start while in Sabang and with the kind help of Hasan, 0852 7070 6909, a very helpful English speaking Sabang local and the above mentioned Herry in Banda Aceh, we purchased a 3.5 HP gearless two stroke Tohatsu outboard for 8 million Rupiah ($600 US) .  It had to be ordered from Medan,  the capital of north Sumatra, and arrived in Sabang two days later. Our thanks are to Herry for holding half the cash and assuring the engine was picked up from the dealer and put on the ferry and to Hasan for picking it up from the ferry and delivering it to GAIA.  We could not have been more pleased! Hasan also works for one of the dive shops, his email is hasandivepulauweh@gmail.com

In order to attract more yachts Sabang puts on the Sabang Marine festival at the end of April.
For further information: visit http://www.sabangmarinefestival.com/ for further details. You can register for the event for free on the Customs website.

Jim & Helen
SY Gaia

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