Staging. Nongsa Point Marina
Nongsa is a really nice, full facility, marina on Pulau Batam's northern coast. It's an easy sail and for anyone that wants to pop over, there's fast ferry from Singapore to Nongsa Feri Terminal which takes about 30 minutes. But before you jump on your boat and head off, you will need a "Green Book". This is an Indonesian Cruising Permit that will allow you to enter Batam waters. Available for a fee from Golden Image Services, Singapore.
At the skippers briefing you will be treated to one of the best race briefings by Ferret. You'll be amazed at the level of detail that the Neptune crew have gone to make sure it's a fair event for all. Most notably, pay particular attention to Ferrets tide guide it is, mission critical. Remember we are going to the Equator and strange things happen to the tide down here!
Leg 1. Nongsa to Fishead Island
Generally the 8am start has NE wind of about 10-12 knots. On each occasion, we've been able hold the Screecher on from the start to the 'stick on the reef' where you turn south into the straits between P. Batam and P. Bintan. In 2015 the wind had a little more east in it but on RAW Two 'Kaze' we still carried the Screecher from the start. We peaked at 17 knots like this with the Screecher strapped on hard we just cleared the 'stick'. Looking back it appeared that the other multi's didn't carry their Screechers so presumably, ours was a little more upwind oriented than those on the Corsairs. Even though the race boats had started 5 minutes ahead 'Kaze' was through all of them before the 'stick' - an exciting little leg of about 4nms.
Once you're alongside the stick it's probably time for the Spinnaker. The earlier you get into the kite the better as it will send you deeper into Selat Riau (Straits Riau) because as you go south, the more the wind backs behind you. Power up early and get as deep as you can.
Add this to the figure that Ferret gives to you in the skippers briefing i.e. it will be something like, "if your not out of the narrows by 3pm when the tide changes, you'll be staying there as the tide can run at up to 6 knots" - or words to that effect.
On RAW Two, we made a few gybes from Lobam Island (approx 1/3 the way down the straits). Lobam is your first gate and radio check in. Don't miss it.
When we did the Neptune on The Dash we elected to run very deep along the Batam coastline. That year the wind was more northerly and a little lighter. All the other Dashes were running there angles but the current was north bound and increasing in strength. Our decision to run deep was based mainly on the tide but also we were wtaching a race boat run it square with a large masthead kite. When we were running our angles we were losing ground to them so it was decided to 'bang it deep'...
The Trick. This entailed rigging a small block on bow of the ama on The Dash. A small piece of D12 ran from the spare winch in the cockpit, through the block and up to the tack line of the spinnaker. This was used to haul the kite out to one side of the boat and allowed us to get a deeper angle downwind. It worked in those conditions and soon we were back in touch wiht the race boat and then ahead of it.
By the time the other Dashes gybed back we had built up about a 2km lead. That's the difference of getting no "vectoring" from the tide. So Dash sailors, have the bow lines rigged in case!
The best trick we did on The Dash was to run a separate masthead spinnaker halyard. This was an external one and very simple, just like on a beach cat! Having a separate halyard is first of all a spare halyard. The other thing was, the standard factory sails include an oversized spinnaker. These are so large that they skirt the entire boat and block all view to leeward. We found that by flying this off the masthead halyard, all the problems were solved. The kite flew much better and with it pulled out to the windward side, we could go so much deeper.
The unofficial Fishead Channel runs at about 120 degrees and it's tucked under the south side of Bintan Island. Here the channel is marked and there are NO waves! After finishing a series of gybes we continued into the channel with the kite strapped on. Kaze peaked here at 21 knots and was sustaing 18's. This is a multihull leg if ever there was. Three quarters of the way down the channel it gets to tight to hold the kite so it's up with the Screecher to keep the boat spedd humming.
Fishead Channel as all the flukes around these islands, has a strong tidal current. Ferrets detailed tidal streams will clearly have this marked. There are no major navigational hazards and as far as strategies go, it's a soldiers course where boatspeed will rule.
A word on Fishead
It is a private island but now an offical stop over point for the race. Fresh water and amenities are on the island. Although there is a long house we presume this will be for invited guests and so you should just plan on sleeping on your boat. as you can see in the photo at left, the trimarans anchor bow out and tie up stern to the trees on the shoreline. The channel around Fishead is deep except for where the beach is.
Here's a tip: First in first served! Get there quickly and get the best parking spot. Last year we had all the trimarans rafted alongside one another. Good fun.
Leg 2. Fishead to Neptune
Now this is where it will get interesting! New for 2016, the Pom Pom Gate is being removed. In all previous running of the Neptune Race we have gone westward to Pom Pom before turning south to Neptune. To make it more interesting, the pom Pom gate has been removed. It will now be totally up to the skipper to decide his route from Fishead to Neptune Island. There will still be a gate at the southern portion of the Cauldron but after that, you pick your way through the myriad of islands.
It's a great idea as it's new territories for everyone.
This is the patch of water where the Java Sea and the South China Sea meet. If you happen to be in the vicinity when these two seas come together you could be treated to a spectacular show including whitecaps and whirlpools! The amazing thing about this spot is, while it can kick things up when the two seas collide a half hour later it might be billiard table smooth! The first time we went through here on The Dash we found a kilometre long 0.5m standing wave and some whirlpools larger than The Dash. When we went through on the RAWs, it was billiard table smooth! So you just don't know what it will be.
We've done the Neptune a few times and won it a few times so for anyone considering running down to the Equator here's a few pointers to hopefully, point you in the right direction. Just to be clear, we've won the Neptune multihull racing division with The Dash, RAW One and with RAW Two. But any well sailed multi could clean it up!
Nongsa Point Marina a very nice staging area.
Leg 1. NPM to Fishead Island 48nm of Screeching.
Kaze peaking at 21 knots in Fishead Channel.
Fishead Island clubhouse now joined by a long house.
Fishead beach. Multihulls tie up to the cocunut trees.
Now that's how you tie up! Swing it right under the branches.