The secret Tambelan Islands

Stormy weather delayed our departure from Nongsa Point Marina on the first leg towards Sambas, in West Kalimantan, Borneo, but by early afternoon we were on our way at last. 

Yantara leaving the marina

As the weather had been quite unsettled we decided to just do a small hop 16 nautical miles south and then head out into the South China Sea the following morning. 

A beautiful evening in Pulau Bintan

There wasn’t a huge amount of turning room so S/V Charon dropped her lines first, being shorter and therefore a little more manoeuverable. This gave Yantara the extra space that she needed to reverse out. Bali Hai brought up the rear and soon we were heading out on the first part of our new adventure. 
Fortunately the weather improved greatly and we had a pleasant motor to our anchorage on Pulau Bintan and even managed to sail for a while.  

A tranquil start to the day

After a peaceful night we woke to bad news from Charon – the First Mate had a painful and swollen jaw – a recalcitrant molar was the cause. After some difficult deliberation the Captain’s decision was to stay behind to get it seen to in Pulau Batam. As it happened it was a great decision – not only because the tooth required extraction and stitches afterwards but because Charon’s engine wouldn’t start when they turned back!  Suppose that had happened in the remote Tambelan Islands?

Early morning – Charon in the rear and Yantara in the foreground

While Charon returned to the marina under sail, Yantara and Bali Hai headed off towards the Tambelan Islands using the motor as what wind there was, was right on the nose as usual!
It was a great feeling to be heading off into the unknown – we could find out very little about the Tambelan islands but we did learn from Captain Warren Blake – long-time sailor, adventurer and treasure hunter in this neck of the woods – that they were very beautiful and rarely visited by yachts. 

On the South China Sea

We hadn’t been going very long before Jonathan realised that the basket in the engine’s water cooling system wasn’t filling up correctly- normally it’s full but it was only a quarter full. He suspected that there might be a blockage over the intake but all was well there. Then air in the system was the suspect and we decided to carry on and keep a close eye on it as we could see water was going through the system OK. 

Captain Birdseye tucking into his rations before night falls

We motored through the night without any dramas and arrived in the Tambelan Islands around lunch time, anchoring in a beautiful bay in Pulau Benua.

The night watch starts 24 June 2017
And then day breaks….

The place was absolutely deserted! And it was absolutely stunning. We couldn’t believe our luck – we had landed in paradise and we had it to ourselves!

Deserted islands ahoy!
The only sign of human activity was a small hut on the beach where we had anchored. The other islands were equally gorgeous but we saw absolutely no one. 

The beaches were totally deserted
There is a town in the largest island – Pulau Tambelan Besar – and the population is just 4,000.  
After a long sleep to recover from the night sail we set off in our set off in our dinghies to explore. We were amazed at the huge variety of corals that we could see quite clearly from the dinghy and couldn’t wait for the tide to get a little higher so we could snorkel. 

The sun rises in the beautiful Tambelan Islands
A couple of hours later we were being dazzled by the sheer variety of corals that we could see – probably the widest variety we have ever seen although not as colourful as some that we have seen in the past. 

An amazing variety of corals In the clearest of water. These were taken from the dinghy!

The Yantaras enjoying dinghy snorkeling

In our dinghy with the coral garden just behind us

We had returned to Bali Hai for a cup of tea and were just enjoying the first sips when we heard the throb of a diesel engine approaching. 

We have visitors!
As it came into view we could see it was full to the brim with about 20 people of all ages and after they tied up to the back of Bali Hai we learnt that this was an Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) family celebration. 

The boat was very full – there were also many women and children tucked away at the rear!
We had a very pleasant but quite limited chat (our few words of Indonesian amounting to things like hello! Welcome! How much? Counting one to twenty and a few other niceties like please, thank you and good.) I don’t think the passengers had a lot more English but we managed a surprisingly long conversation!

The guys wanted to know if we had any fuel to spare

Everyone was very excited to see us and when we asked how many yachts had visited these parts, they thought for a while and answered “three”. We are still not sure if that was three this year, three recently or three ever. Whichever – it’s not many that’s for sure!

Bidding farewell
A little while later we heard the throb of another engine but this time it was a solitary fisherman come to sell his wares. He had some gorgeous fish for sale and after much thought we decided to buy a beautiful large specimen which we thought looked like it was from the sweet lip family. 

A lone fisherman appears

He asked for the equivalent of $3 and when we gave him $5 he insisted on giving us another slightly smaller fish as change!

They were both absolutely delicious!


Published by

Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

4 thoughts on “The secret Tambelan Islands”

  1. Wow, how amazing to visit such remote islands. The coral looked beautiful and it must have been exciting to see it so close up. The fish for dinne rlooked good too! XX


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s