In order to get a good head start to our next destination – Tanjung Kelayang on Pulau Belitung – we motored to an island, Pulau Serutu, a couple of hours away from Karimata, to spend the night. From there it would be easier to pull up the anchor in the dark and set sail.
Our plans to go to bed early so we could have a good sleep before we left at 2am went slightly awry when friends asked us to have sundowners on their boat. Of course, these went for longer than anticipated – mainly because one of the crowd decided to pay a visit to a fishing boat also at anchor in the bay. and we just had to wait to see what he had managed to negotiate.
He came back with a beautiful fish which he bought for us for the equivalent of $5. When we got back to the boat Jonathan filleted it and managed to get eight large portions out of it! We froze some and have been barbecuing these when the fancy takes us – absolutely delicious!
After a few short hours of sleep we woke at 1.30 am and set off, expecting to arrive on Belitung around 4pm. However, we had such fantastic winds that we made excellent time and arrived at lunchtime!
The entry into the anchorage at Tanjung Kelayang was spectacular – with impressive rock formations, white sand and a crystal clear sea. Clearly it was gorgeous but the pall of smoke hanging over everything like a thick curtain meant that everything seemed dull and lifeless.
Despite the greyness we had an amazing time at Belitung. It was set up for tourism in a way that most of the other places we have visited hadn’t been.
A little village of stalls selling everything from gifts to snacks had been created – all beautifully decorated with pot plants, rocks, posters and all sorts of decorations. We learnt later that there was a competition for the best decorated stall.
There was a cafe that sold cold beer that became our base and where everything from motorbike hire to laundry could be arranged (unfortunately, the latter not very well as all our garments got muddled up and I lost a pair of trousers/long pants.)
There were a number of restaurants where the food was really good – notably one that specialised in seafood. To chose your lunch you just opened the huge ice chest outside the frontage and pointed to a crab, fish or prawns and it was whisked away and cooked on a grill over aromatic coconut husks. We ate on the beachfront in funny little huts with tables and bench seats under a thatched roof. A truly memorable lunch!
The island seemed comparatively wealthy compared with many we had visited – due I think, at least in part, to it being a tin mining area. A large proportion of the people worked in the open cast mines which I’m sure is more lucrative than fishing, the main industry in other islands.
We were treated to some wonderful entertainment including a dramatic depiction in dance of a tin mining legend (the story line was a tad difficult to follow but it was very enjoyable!)
We also had a great day tour organised for us and we went in force – three bus loads of us (with a police escort laid on!)
The first stop was at a local Junior High School where we were given a celebrity welcome!
The children all cheered when we walked on to the playground area and when the three boys from the fleet stepped out to shake hands with them, they were almost mobbed and girls started to scream! Such excitement!
Then we visited a fascinating museum which traced the history of tin mining in the area and also had some outstanding exhibits from the wrecks of Chinese trading ships, most notably the cargo of a 4th century vessel that included the most exquisite China dishes and cups – some of which were completely intact.
We had lunch in a traditional Malay house with music played on ancient instruments and with all of us sitting on the floor and eating with our hands.
The day wrapped up with a visit to a local boat builders where we admired their beautiful work and marvelled at the level of sophistication they achieved with traditional hand tools.
On our last night a reception was laid on for us with dancing, singing and a few speeches. Each of the five children, from three of the boats, made a short speech which they wrote themselves.
They did so well and I think all the fleet felt very proud of them both for their fabulous speeches but also for their attitude to the Indonesian people, the others on the rally and the way they conducted themselves in the most trying circumstances (endless photo requests, being mobbed and followed, listening to too many Dad jokes etc).
Although there were still several stops to go, some of the boats chose to leave the rally at Belitung as they were able to check out from there. This made the final reception have a bit of a “last night” atmosphere.
The main incentive for the early departures was for people to be able to take the time to see Singapore and to then have a leisurely sail to join the Malaysian rally.
It was sad to say “goodbye” to the departing boat crews but we will definitely meet many of them again down the track.