Sailing Holiday to Anambas Islands - an intern's perspective
Hello everyone! My name is Vanessa and I started my internship earlier on 2 July. My role at Ximula Sail involves assisting with sales and marketing, as well as occasionally serving as a crew on board during charters.
If you have been following Ximula Sail for a while, you'd realize how much the team is always looking forward to a sailing trip. They constantly encourage everyone to give sailing holidays a shot, so that we can all truly experience how sailing is like.
Well, as a new team member, I was given the opportunity to experience one... Yep that’s right, MY VIRGIN SAILING TRIP!! (And I have a lot to share with you! Just bear with me okay!)
Honestly, as a grown adult, I can't remember the last time I was THIS excited for anything.
The days leading up to the actual trip was just excruciating to wait. Ask any of my family or close friends, they’ll tell you that my excitement was getting a little out of hand and roll-eyes worthy. I was excited for the scenery and experience, but I was also afraid of the journey.
If you think about it, travelling for 30 hours straight is 11 hours more than the longest non-stop flight (Singapore > Newark, New Jersey).
My thoughts prior to the journey:
As a relatively land-bounded person, i do not have much experience out in sea. I love swimming. But that’s about it. I didn’t really take part in activities that involved the sea such as diving. It has always been an interest, but due to strong concerns from my family, I never jumped onto that bandwagon.
Honestly, nothing bad really crossed my mind when I was preparing for the journey. I didn’t think that the boat would sink, nor did I think about the rough seas. All that was in my mind was everything that i was looking forward to - good weather, good currents, good wind, and good scenery. Even when my mom asked legitimate questions like “Would there be pirates?”, “Would the boat sink?”, “What if got sharks?”, those concerns didn’t really register in my mind (Whoops, sorry mummy). But I did try to reassure her to the best of my abilities within the scope of my limited knowledge.
I guess you can say that I was a bit biased about the entire journey. My experience with Ximula Sail had always been pleasant and smooth sailing (prior to joining the team, I have been on board Ximula Sail’s yachts for charters & leadership programs before), which I feel is the main reason for my lack of distress whatsoever.
My highlights of the sailing holiday:
1) IMMIGRATION OUT AT SEA
Let's start with the first thing that we all need to do at the beginning of every travel: Immigration.
Have you ever wondered how immigration is done at sea? If your answer is No, well, me too. When my team told me that we were going to Nongsa Marina, Indonesia for immigration, I thought it was a simple process just like how we pass through customs when we take a ferry from Singapore to Indonesia.
But immigration on a yacht was actually quite different and interesting. We'd sail to Sisters' Islands, and radio the immigration officers upon arrival. I made a little illustration (many apologies for the lack of something better):
Yep, we did actually line up n the side of the yacht, for the officers to be able to see all our faces clearly.
Upon arrival at Nongsa Marina, the immigration process basically went like this:
Docked at Nongsa Marina
Handed our passports and documents to an agent
Went to chill for about 3 hours (while our documents were being processed) - we went for lunch, showered, and swam at the marina’s pool during this time.
Got back our passports
Depart for Anambas!
2) THE UNCOMFORTABLE SAILING JOURNEY
As we sail further out into the South China Sea, the ships started disappearing, and all that you’re left with is the sky, the sea, and the company which you’re with on the yacht.
I’ve never been one to feel uncomfortable with silence, so for me, the experience was quite calming, especially when you’re just watching the waves.
However, what I was uncomfortable with was the gnawing thought at the back of my mind that I was basically doing nothing. While you’re out at sea, there’s only so much that you can do. To illustrate, my initial plan was to document my experience and some reflections during the sail to Anambas, to finish up a book that I’ve been holding off for quite some time now, to catch up on some movies which I’ve downloaded on my phone, and I even brought along some card games with me with hopes of playing it with the other guests to pass time.
However, what I did not see coming was that the rocking motion caused by the waves out at sea would be THAT serious. I felt that I managed pretty well during the first few hours of sail, as I was still able to read my book (as my boss advised - look into the distance every 10-15 minutes, so that you won’t feel too giddy). After that, as the seas got rougher, the only thing that we could do was to cope with the motion sickness.
I mean, at the very start when you are excited and when you’re just getting to know one another on board, yeah you do talk quite a bit. But can you talk continuously for 30 hours?
Nah I doubt so.
And when you've run out of things to talk about – you can’t use your phone due to the dizziness too, you’re really just on your own.
I think that’s the issue, isn’t it? The need to keep doing something “productive” – whether it is catching up with a TV series, or chatting with friends or doing work, many of us need to constantly do something. If you really think about it, when was the last time you actually did nothing?
If you’re like me, I think I can speak for many people – It's been a long time.
I think what happens on board subconsciously, is that while we’re coping physically, we mentally let go of our to-do list.
The only thought that filled my mind was that there was no escape from this sailing situation (we have to go through with it all, no turning back), and a little chant “please let this pass soon, please let this pass soon”. My To-Do list and YouTube “Watch Later” playlist was definitely not on my mind.
Looking back, it was physically quite draining to move around too. Whether or not we’re standing or sitting down, the rocking motion didn’t give us much of a choice to stay rooted to one place, so I would say 70% of the trip, we were just trying to not fall. The best position to be in? On the upper deck, lying down flat.
Meanwhile, our dear captain Darren, who is also the chef on this trip, was still cutting up ketupat to make dinner for us. While the boat was rocking. Yep, he was holding a knife too. Oh did I mention that he was cooking in a pan as well to make us lontong?
Needless to say, most of us unfortunately couldn’t stomach much food due to the rocking.
3) arriving at anambas islands
Now that I think of it, I might have been a little annoying (sorry) as I was periodically checking with whoever that was helming the yacht if we were reaching. When we finally saw land in the distance (huge Moana reference here), all the worry, motion sickness, and anxiety disappeared instantly, for me at least. I was “back in my game” and was chatting with the guests, talking about what we can do there, what to expect etc. To say that I was excited is really undermining my emotions - I WAS EXHILARATED.
The feeling when we saw the island was just bittersweet. I would say more sweet than bitter. When we were close enough to be able to see the palm trees on the island, one of the first questions that Darren asked me was:
“Was it worth it?”
Without hesitation – it was an absolute YES.
For those who have yet to see the video on our other social media pages, this was the footage of us as our yacht arrived at our first island.
Yes, our dear guests Keiji missed 3 meals – dinner; breakfast and lunch. He threw up whatever breakfast and lunch he had as well. So if you were like me, and you thought that every sailing trip is smooth sailing, it’s not - It can get pretty rough.
4) ISLAND HOPPING
One of the things that we did whenever we anchored at a new island (other than eat and snorkel) was to get on our dingy to explore what’s on the nearby islands. It wasn’t like when you enter into a big city, there isn’t any tall buildings or big fancy restaurants that were already listed on the internet as “top places to visit”. Everything was just very bare - its literally, the sun (or moon), the sand, and the sea.
It's surprisingly a really nice feeling to visit such places.
Clearly, I’m born and raised a city-kid. I appreciate the convenience of a NTUC or mama shop within a 5 minutes walking distance. I enjoy the bustling and hustling vibes that Singapore gives me.
But being in a place like this, where the “roads” that you walk on are either sand or wood… it’s unusual, but the kind of calm that you feel at the end of it, is not something a bustling city can offer.
On another island, we climbed a hill filled with coconuts – yes. Coconuts! Apparently these were part of the process that the locals used for growing more coconut trees, as well as harvest coconut oil.
WELL. DO I EVEN NEED TO SAY ANYTHING ELSE. IT WAS AMAZING. IT WAS SOMEWHAT SCARY TOO.
This was my second snorkeling experience. The last (or first) time I snorkeled was probably 10 years ago at Langkawi’s Coral Island. I remember feeling the same excitement as I did then, as now.
So here’s what really happened during half of the time. What we initially did was to hover above the flatter (and not so deep) area to watch the fishes. But soon enough, we all realise that the more vibrant coloured corals and fish were nearer to the edge of the reef.
So that’s what I tried to do. I swam to the edge (black arrow), freak out, and proceed back to what I would like to call my “safe zone” (red arrow).
I freaked out because I did not expect the plunge. I always thought that it was a gradual, gentle slope down to the sea bed… I was so wrong. It was exactly like looking down from your HDB flat (I live on the 12th floor, so I do that a lot), minus the walls that are protecting you. Imagine you’re just at the top, with nothing around to stand on, or to secure you.
But I actually managed to go diving! Again, my first time. Thanks to our captain Darren, who is a dive master, he led me down for a short “try out” dive.
I was so overwhelmed. I was probably half panicking most of the time.
When we were sailing and we saw land, all of us were screaming “YES!! LAND!!” WHEN I DIVED AND MY FEET TOUCHED THE SEA BED. I WAS LIKE “WOW OMG SAND!! LAND!! I THINK!!”
All the irrational fears that I had of sharks coming out from the dark, big octopuses eating me, were all basically gone. Of course there were probably some dangerous fish somewhere, but that didn’t really register in my mind. Down below, it was ABSOLUTE calm and a heck lot of bigger fishes.
Yep, that gave me the much needed courage to swim further from the reefs because, I’m a badass now.
I’m not too sure about other sailing holidays, but here at Ximula Sail, most of our food are prepared by the dedicated team on board. This time, our captain Darren, was in charge of our meals. He planned, bought, and cooked every meal on board.
Prior to the trip, the meal plan is sent to all our guests to ensure that it was acceptable. Once that was confirmed, Darren proceeded to prepare them. Because the food needs to stay fresh, most of the grocery shopping can only be done two days before the trip. Here’s a snapshot of our menu for the trip:
Initially, I honestly thought we were going to heat up frozen bento, or just cook the “catch of the day”, or go to the village for food! If there are villages, there should be one or two shops right? I only realized when I got there that nope, there wasn’t any. At this point, I realised how entitled I was.
When I first received the menu, it looked so impressive that I doubted in my head it would literally be like this. However, in actual fact, it superseded way past my expectations. The fact that ALL of our meals were pre-packed, and prepared in such a small galley on board, and still tasted so good, was really mind-blowing.
To commemorate the delicious meals we had on board:
Although these definitely weren’t Michelin star standards, there was something about Darren’s cooking that warmed our hearts and made us feel at home. It was a very thoughtful menu.
Every meal was hearty, and had a balance of rice, meat, and vegetables. Darren also made the environment extra homey - we’d all sit around in the outdoor saloon area during meal times and chat over a sumptuous meal - it was really one of the most enjoyable times of the day.
7) SPECIAL FOOD - SEA URCHIN / UNI
When we were snorkeling, we saw a lot of sea urchins. They looked kinda scary when we were swimming above them, which made me panick a little.
However, when we told Darren about it, he actually said we could attempt to catch them - by grabbing a pair of tongs and diving deep enough to pick them up with the tongs, and twisting the tongs to sort of break their spikes off in the water (please don’t try this at home) - and have some fresh uni.
A while after that conversation, the crew took the dingy out, and we saw from the yacht that Darren dived into the water multiple times and surfaced with the sea urchins. EXCITED MUCHHHH!
You must check out Shawne Koh’s video for these yummy uni (and all the other highlights of our trip):
8) THE JOURNEY HOME
The night before we set sail back to Singapore, our water pump broke down.
Doesn’t sound like a big matter right? But take a moment to think about the daily things that we need to do like cook, drink water, clean the boat, shower, use the toilet… well, we need a pump to do all of that. I didn’t know the gravity of the situation until Darren and Victor explained it to me.
Now that I’m typing this down, I feel so entitled to such items. We really don’t think about this sort of things when we live our lives day to day. It’s not a situation that you often will find yourself in.
Luckily for us, there was a spare pump on board (it’s always important to have spares on board). And thank god, we had Victor, who is our chief engineer for all things mechanical.
So yes, our pump got fixed and we could all shower in peace.
We started our journey a while after that (about 9pm Singapore Time), much earlier that we had initially planned for. Given the situation of our journey here to Anambas Islands, we figured that it might take more time for us to sail back. Unfortunately, we were right.
I remember waking up at about 11pm for our shift (I was attached to Darren), and I heard Victor shouting something along the lines of “Boss!! Very rough!! We going against the wind and the current!!”. When I saw the screen and the readings, I was shocked. Our motors were going full speed at 8 knots, but our boat was only moving at 2 knots! The wind speed was approximately 40 km/hour and the swells were probably 4 metres high.
It was really tough. This was the situation throughout the 2 hours shift. Darren had to constantly navigate the currents, which was pushing us further backwards.
We took a total of 37 hours to Nongsa Marina (it was originally planned as 24 hours based on our intended speed of 5 knots), and another 3 to sail back to Singapore.
My thoughts on the entire journey:
It is an unrivalled experience. I don’t think sailing is something that any other forms of travelling can replicate.
The experience is truly one of a kind, and I can’t thank the team enough for this opportunity.
If you’re looking to go on a holiday that is of a different experience where you can completely unwind (you don’t have a choice when you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean), you should really consider joining our next sailing holiday (our upcoming trips are available on our calendar here). You won’t have to worry about food (we’ll plan ahead), about lodging (you’ll be sleeping in our designated cabins), and about activities (you can snorkel, dive, island hop!).
Can the experience really unwind all your tensions / worries? Maybe!
But I can guarantee you, the calm that you feel during the trip is something that you can’t get anywhere else.
This trip has given me the much needed space to truly gather my thoughts, reflect on some of my decisions, as well as to just quiet my mind down.
I will save these thoughts and reflections in the next post!
Till then, see you soon!