22 October 2007

Belitung Island Wrap Up

Anchored at Belitung Island

We have been anchored here along the white powdered beaches of Belitung Island in Indonesia for the last week and we are now looking to our next leg of our voyage, sailing to Singapore and Malaysia.

Belitung has been a surprise since it has turned out to be one of our favorites places in Indonesia. We did not have very much information about this island before we arrived because there is very little information out there about Belitung. This is the first time that the Sail Indonesia Rally has stopped here. So there was no information from previous cruisers. And Belitung is the only place that we have been to that is not covered by the Lonely Planet travel books.

From talking to locals, this rally stop is the biggest thing to ever happen in Belitung. After a week here, from how many people have came up to us just to say "Hello", or to have a picture taken, we believe them. Going ashore every day is like a Hollywood red carpet entrance , complete with paparazzi! The area ashore where our dinghies are beached is roped off and locals are not allowed in that area. So hundreds of them stand along the ropes all saying "Hello mister. Hello mister" while snapping photos with their cameras and cell phones. Once ashore, as we walk into the crowds, everyone wants us to stop and have a photo taken with us. I am sure that Team Sandpiper will be the wallpaper on many Belitung cell phones for years to come.

I had to go to town the second day we were here to find Internet cafe and an ATM. I hopped on one of the free buses that are provided by the government for rally participants. The town of Tanjungpandan is about 15 miles from here and all along the way were large banners welcoming Sail Indonesia participants to Belitung, and a huge banner in the city center. Once downtown I headed to where I was told might be an Internet cafe. Along the way a man on a motorcycle with his whole family (5 people!) stopped and asked me where I was going. I told him I needed Internet cafe and he told me to keep on walking down the street. Well, I guess I walked a little too far. A few minutes later the same guy came down the street, minus his family that he had dropped off somewhere. He said I had passed the internet and to hop on the back of his motorcycle. Minutes later I was at the Internet cafe!

Very few Westerners ever make it to Belitung. So wherever we go, it is kind of a freak show as everyone wants to stop, say "Hello" to us, and shake our hands.

Every day we have been here there have been events scheduled ashore by Sail Indonesia and the Indonesian Government. This stop is also a holiday time for Indonesians. It is the end of Ramadan. So many people are here to watch the events ashore.

Just today being ashore was a bit entertaining. There are several Indonesian navy ships anchored outside the rally fleet. Today there was an expo by their navy swimmers. The swimmers were dropped 25 kilometers offshore early in the morning. By noon they had arrived at the beach where hundreds of Indonesians were there to cheer them ashore. At the same time this was happening there was supposed to be a demonstration by the Indonesian Armed Forces parachuting on to the beach. A huge squall hit the beach just as this was starting and there was lots of wind, lightning, and thunder. I thought "No way this is going to happen. It is going to be canceled." Then. just as the rain really started to dump, everyone was looking up at sky. There they were! Dropping down on us right in the middle of the storm. It was a bit crazy as all the parachuters got blown off course. They landed all over the place. One landed out in the water. Several landed far inland. One landed on the beach right in front of us, and another landed right in front of the stage where the announcer was. It was quite chaotic. But all the Indonesians went crazy with excitement, all yelling and screaming as as they surrounded the parachuters as they landed.

After that expo, the Governor of Belitung arrived along with the Indonesian Minister of Fisheries to hand out awards the navy swimmers that had made it to shore.

Whats not to like about Belitung? There are many small beach shacks selling really good seafood and cheap Bintangs. What is even better is that you can buy fireworks here and shoot them right off the beach while you are drink a cold Bintang!

The locals love fireworks. After sunset we can see them in every direction being fired off. When we walk to the beach holding a firework, all the kids come running and get all excited as we light them off.

Trying to buy diesel can be interesting. We found that the beach restaurant the we really like also sells diesel, beer, and whatever else you might need. We ordered 30 gallons from Rusty, the restaurant owner. He said that would be out with it in his boat in 30 minutes. So I headed out in the dinghy back to Sandpiper to meet him. Rusty arrived in his 40 foot wooden fishing boat with his whole family of 20 aboard! They were very interested in the Sandpiper and I took them all aboard. They were all over the boat and were amazed at all that we have below decks. The women kept shaking their heads. I am not so sure that they were all that impressed. But all the men crawled around the engine room checking out our motor.

One thing about being so close to the equator, as we mentioned on several entries before, are the crazy squalls that we get here. Since arriving in Belitung, we seem to get one squall just about every day right at noon. They are quite intense. with crazy lightning and wind. Yesterday we kept trying to get ashore to go snorkeling. But every time we left in the dingy, a squall would show up and chase us back to the boat. Rain would dump right behind the dinghy as we raced the squall back to Sandpiper just in time to get on the boat.

I am hoping that these daily storms are more land influenced. I hope that when we get out of here we will be able to avoid being caught in these at sea. Sandpiper has a couple of features that we are hope will keep us from being struck by lightning. We have a lightning dissipater. It looks like a small brush on the top of the mast. It is supposed to break up any static charges at the top of the mast and hopefully prevent a strike.

We also have a lightning rod made by StrikeShield mounted on the top of the mast. It has a grounding cable that is bolted to the bottom of the mast. We hang the other end of it in the water, which creates a path for the energy of a lightning strike to ground straight into the water. We have no idea if these products really work. But we think it is the best setup possible for the conditions here.

Team Sandpiper's current plans are to leave late this morning with 5 other boats for our next leg of 240 miles. We are hoping that we will make the next anchorage within 48 hours. We are the only boats left here since the rest of the rally fleet has already departed on their way to Singapore.

Several of the boats we are traveling with have had mechanical issues and are all traveling together in case their are any breakdowns along the way. So far Sandpiper is running strong. We have been in Indonesia for 3 months now with very limited facilities for repairs. So most of the boats are looking forward to arriving in Singapore/Malaysia to fix all the things that have broken along the way.

We will also be crossing the equator on our way northwest. The last time we crossed the equator was during our Pacific crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas in French Polynesia (18-April-2006).

Tom and Amy

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