Thursday, 30 June 2016

Back into Malaysia

After a long days sail, we made it through to anchor at the Rangers station - our first stop back in Malaysia. A peaceful anchorage and only a short 10 miles to go the following day to reach the turtle sanctuary on Pulau Talang Talang Besar. Arriving there the next day, we were fortunate in being the only boat and ahead of the rally fleet as they did allow us to go ashore after dark and watch these amazing animals laying their eggs. The majority of the fleet were not allowed to do as we did, unfortunately missing out on quite a spectacular event. We watched a 60 year old turtle laboriously cover her hatch of eggs - a slow process with her powerful flippers and well over an hours job. We were then taken to the hatchery area where we collected about 20 new born hatchlings into a bucket, then released them on the beach a few meters from the waters edge. They must make their way down the sand and imprint in their brains their origin to where they will return (if lucky) in the years ahead to breed themselves. The statistics say that only 1 in 1000 make it back - what terrible odds !!!

                               This was our 60 year old mum turtle laying another clutch of eggs

                       How cute was this newly hatched baby - such tiny odds that it will survive.

             Rows of blue netted enclosures where the rangers re bury the eggs to hatch and monitor.

Our next rally destination was Kuching and our aim was to arrive early as to get a berth in the public marina up the river - first in best dressed. This would make it easier for us to have our new battery bank delivered, our old bank finally giving up the ghost and a casualty from 2 years on the hard in Pangkor. That night night we found a beautiful anchorage tucked in behind the cape leading down towards the river entrance. Amidst the largest jellyfish I have ever seen - large white creatures easily 20" diameter floating all around us, we anchored in mud off a cliff face with tropical palms reaching down to the turquoise blue water. 

The next morning we started the trek in through the channels markers and followed the river up towards the marina. As the current was so strong against us, we decided to drop the anchor and wait a couple of hours for the flow to decrease before continuing our journey. With only a couple of boats in the marina, we found a spot easily and tied up for a few days. It is always nice to secure a marina berth after some weeks at anchor, to have shore power to fully charge the fridge and freezer (the later of ours another issue to have addressed whilst here) and air con to indulge for a few nights!!! Obtaining fuel is also made easier when you are tied to land rather than having to dinghy the fuel containers out to the boat. So many things we take for granted when you live on land. The current was still flowing strongly through the marina and it wasn't uncommon to see large logs and palm frond clusters float past us quickly, only to return going the other way with the change of tides, One particular mound was like a mountain and thankfully it missed the marina entrance.

                             Not a chance of moving it on - just had to wait until the change in tide.

Of all the rally activities here, the highlight was the visit to Semenggoh Nature Reserve to see the orangutans living in a refuge dedicated to their species. What characters these animals have, the almost human cheekiness in their mannerisms, the childlike naughtiness displayed whilst interacting with their trainers. The juveniles just so cute - another tick off my bucket list.

                              Orangutans - mum and baby. What beautiful creatures these are.

Leaving Kuching with many of the rally boats, we headed up the coast and into one of the many river systems that cover Borneo. We followed the meandering river route 30 miles to the town of Serakai where some boats took the opportunity to re fuel at a fuel dock. We ventured ashore for a quick shop at the open markets, then to find a restaurant open for lunch - this was a challenge. We were in the month of Ramadan where Muslims (a good percentage of the Malaysian population) do not let anything pass their lips, eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. This really only left us with the option of Chinese restaurants, but always good food anyway.

                      8 of our rally boats - like ducks in a line heading up the river to Serakai

                                                   Market in Serakai

The next 2 days were covering the distance up the coast to Miri and can only be described as long and horrible sailing. The day started with current against us and no wind. Then the rain squalls and electrical thunderstorms rolled in, alternating for hours and continuing throughout the night. This left us with lumpy seas and still no wind to fill the sails and potentially stabilise us. Making our way though the oil and gas rigs we had to be extra vigilant as (typical Malaysia) there were unmarked unlit buoys near the rigs and a real potential danger for boats. Day break and a slight improvement but on the approach into Miri marina, logs in the water everywhere and some of them literally huge tree trunks. Also by now we had a 30knt tail wind and surfing down some of the bigger waves. By the time we got in through the entrance, there was still a cross wind of 25knts blowing through the marina - a berthing nightmare. With the help of another cruisers tender pushing us bow or stern at the right moment, we managed to tie up without incident. All in all, 48 hours I never wish to go through again.

                             Kittani (and Pete) enjoying the weather even if I didn't 

Miri was a great little spot, good power and water supply in the marina though new toilet and shower facilities still being built. A pot luck dinner was held there the second evening, a wonderful selection of food from everyone and a trio of guitars (fellow cruisers) entertained us well into the night. We opted not to do the Niah caves bus tour from here but instead joined Tiki and 5 of us flew MASwings up to Mulu for 2 nights in the national park and caves system there and what a wonderful experience is was. We stayed in a B & B right on the river, with all meals supplied and free rides back and forth to the park. The next 48 hours was spent trekking deep into many of the caves, each one different from the other. At sunset, we witnessed 3 million bats stream from one of the caves, a performance lasting about 30 minutes. They formed long ribbon-like shapes, swirling corkscrew trails as they tried to elude the Bat Hawks looking for a meal. We dared a tree top canopy walk 480 meters long and 20 meters above the tranquil river - it was a little nerve wracking for us both, getting worse with age and our fear of heights.And the end of each long day, a cold beer, an icy cool shower and dinner provided. All over too quickly and we were boarding our 30 minute flight back to Miri.

                               Our 30 minute MAS Wings (Malaysian Airlines) flight to Mulu                 

On the way up river to the caves.

                                                        Spectacular palms and ferns above us

                     Bat exodus from the cave. Photos don't really capture this spectacular show

                    "Selamat Datang" - Welcome to Gunung Mulu National Park - Mulu, Borneo


                        Those little dots are people. The size of the cave is amazing!

                                    Exiting one of the caves and a stunning view of forest behind.

          Neil, Sam, Heather &  Pete.                                                   Blowing a poisonous dart gun                            

          . Unusual jungle foliage..........                                                       and green jungle lizard

                    About to start the 480mts tree canopy walk - it was probably more a grimace!

From Miri we headed a day sail up the coast to Jeradong where we over nighted in the 'Sultans Folly' or as the locals call it - the duck pond. Built by one of the Princes of Brunei, the marina is huge with stone and concrete sea walls, a walkway all around the top of the walls and even an island in the middle of it! The rally had been granted permission to use the marina for an overnight stop, a good half way point to Labuan.

                                         Tiki arriving into the 'Sultan's Folly' marina - Brunei

This was as close to Brunei as we got, choosing not to enter the country with the rest of the rally. We had extended our stay in Miri by spending time in Mulu National Park and opted to sail directly to Labuan arriving the same time as the others from Banda Seri Bagwan (Brunei). It seems a shame that sometimes we rush through these towns, not stopping to really enjoy what they have to offer unless we make the conscious choice to forgo some of the schedule. So back into a  marina tomorrow for a few days, re provision stores and being a duty free island - beer!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Anambas - Indonesia

Just after dawn we made our way through the outer western islands of the Anambas group and found a large sheltered bay where we dropped the anchor. Our priority now was sleep as an overnight sail never allows for much of it. We had raced ahead of a storm front we could see fast approaching from the west and luckily we had managed to dodge it. Not so lucky was Tuppenny and Tiki an hour behind us as they felt the full force of the torrential downpour, strong winds. thunder and lightning. Drenched and exhausted, they soon arrived into the bay to anchor with us and it was time for sleep on all boats.

          Sunrise on our approach into the Anambas group of islands - back into Indonesia for a spell.

                                         Villages far and few between amid the islands.

Waking early afternoon, we were able to view our surroundings and appreciate the remoteness of this island group. In our bay, the dwellings were far and few between with only a dirt track linking them - no sign of vehicles of any sort and small canoes the only mode of transport between the houses. Last years rally was the first time these islands had been visited, so a yacht anchoring in the bay would be a novelty. As we hadn't officially checked in to Indonesia, we weren't able to go ashore so a leisurely afternoon was spent onboard getting the boat back in order after our night crossing.

Up anchoring early the following morning, we motored for a couple of hours across to Terempa - the main town of the Anambas group and our clearing in point. Hoisting our yellow quarantine flag, our three boats motored into the harbour and looked for a spot to drop the pick. We had read that anchoring can be challenging in this group of islands and this was to be our first experience of that. Two and three attempts on a rocky bottom before we all managed to get the anchors to lock securely. Not having to wait more than half an hour before we could see the immigration boat readying itself to come out and check us all in. We were the first boat to be boarded by what seemed a multitude of officials - Health and Quarantine to start, followed by Customs then finally Immigration. They had a good look downstairs, commented on our alcohol supply and advised that it was not to be taken ashore (as if we would), photographed a few things then told us we could put up our Indonesian flag and we were done. All in all about 30 mins, very friendly personnel, happy to have their photos taken with us all smiling - a good experience all round. As we were a few days ahead of the rally and the official rally activities, we up anchored and headed out to explore these beautiful remote islands.

                    Pete giving some of the local kids surfing lessons - the board being an esky lid.

            Tuppenny going through the entry process - Quarantine, Health, Customs & Immigration.

                  Pete grocery shopping Terempa style. Do you have any cereal.....lost in translation!

Waterfall Bay was our first stop. A large sheltered bay with a relatively large fishing community along the shore line. We met Herol, a local fellow who had arrived out in his speed boat to visit us. Arriving at Tiki first and finding they had a reasonable knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia , he stopped with them to practice his English. After a couple of hours of communicating as such, we headed ashore with him and walked up the waterfall. Being the dry season, there was minimal water but enough to have some small falls and lovely cool waterholes at the base in which to plunge and cool off. Harol was a trader in the village and sorted us out with fresh squid, fish and vegetables we were needing.Due to a lack of recent rains, the waterfall wasn't exactly fast flowing but enough to find a waterhole and have a cool refreshing plunge.

                                           Pete taking a refreshing shower under the waterfall.

Basic village dwellings

We next headed up to North of the island group - first night we named Fad Bay where we anchored near a FAD (fish attracting device). On sunset, it was towed out to the open water where it was lit up like a Xmas tree. Working all night and returning at daybreak the inhabitants then sleep till early afternoon when, on wakening, sounds of modern music drifted across the water. 

Time to move on and the next stop was a picturesque anchorage in water so clear that we could see the anchor sitting on the bottom in 6 mtrs of depth. Snorkeling here was another amazing experience and to top it all off, Pete speared a sweetlip which was succulent on the barbeque for dinner. I had been given a green coconut and after managing to peel the husk strip by strip with a screwdriver, we extracted milk and soft flesh in which we cooked our catch. Yum!! This anchorage we named Sweetlip Island.

                                                   Tiki and Gemini Lady at "Sweet Lip Island"

Back to Tarempa where all the fleet had arrived in our absence and a couple of days of rally activities. One of which was a day trip away to one of the outer islands for diving, snorkeling and a beach barbeque. With most of the cruisers attending the excursion, it was a great day of chatting and swapping stories and as most of them had just arrived, they wanted to hear about the anchorages we had found. Our hosts cooked fresh fish on a large grill over the flames, teamed with rice, potatoes in foil, salad and home made spicy sauces to match - it was a sumptuous feast. Whilst snorkeling, I could feel some 'bities' in the water, not an uncommon experience in these parts but I must have got a 'stinger' of sorts under my swim shirt which had a feast on my skin. By midnight my torso was covered in red angry bites screaming out to be scratched which then took 48 hours of regular cortisone cream and anti-histamine to get under control. I would almost think it was an allergic reaction to the initial sting. 48 hours I do not ever wish to go through again 😫😫.

Away from the harbour for the last time, we headed out towards the most easterly islands to give us a head start for our passage to Malaysia in a couple of days. We found a delightful spot, calm and sheltered close by an island with a lovely beach - just calling for the plough disc bbq to be brought out again. Another rally catamaran had joined us in the anchorage so we had 9 people around the barbeque that night, enjoying a beer and watching the sun set over an idyllic location.

                         Heading ashore for another beach barbeque - Tiki, Kittani and Psycho Puss

                             The girls scavenging for anything that will burn for the barbeque fire.

                       Our view from the beach as the sun slowly sets on another day in paradise.

Our last day started with the morning 'sight seeing underwater', then breakfast and readying the boat for a mid afternoon departure from the Anambas Islands. You could easily spend a month in this area hopping from bay to bay, so many we hadn't discovered but thoroughly enjoying the ones we did. We were pleased we had made the decision not to go north from Tioman with the rally, allowing us to spend more time here as many of the other boats felt they hadn't had enough time to explore the treasures Anambas has to offer. Tarempa has now just become a clearing in port for Indonesia making it more accessible for cruisers in the future. Though I don't think that will change things much in this pristine untouched part of the world, I would hope not anyway.

Can't help myself with sunsets!

JABS!! (Just Another Bl..dy Sunset)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Revisiting Tioman after nearly 30 years

When Kate was a toddler, we were lucky enough to spend a few days with Petes brother Colin on a large private motor cruiser leaving out of Singapore and we had followed the Malaysian coastline north as far as Tioman. My recollections back then were that of an idyllic island, clear turquoise water perfect for snorkeling and small white sandy beaches of the neighboring uninhabited atolls. Not much has changed since then. 

On the way to Tioman

By the time our little flotilla of Kittani, Tiki and Tuppenny arrived,  the anchorage in front of Tekek town seemed to be a mass of masts with nearly all of the rally already secured in place. We were split half and half either side of the jetty and ferry terminal, both side being affected by the constant coming and goings of boats from the busy little hub - nowhere was exempt from the wash. Tioman was our next clearing in point after Pangkor and it turned out to be a fairly layback relaxed procedure with Jabatan Laut (Harbour master), then Customs and Immigration. Time to join in the rally festivities planned for our arrival. 

The official welcome ceremony was followed by a day of games with the locals, and there were many laughs to be had. Though seemingly quite shy at first, eventually the locals started joining in and from the small children to the adults, everyone seemed to enjoy a great day. The games included throwing balloons full of water to our fellow team mates, relay races which involved blowing a balloon until it popped, and finally the tug of war - mens and womens. The overall fitness of cruisers is high, and this was proved in the ladies tug of war where unbeknown to us, the locals had anchored their end to the soccer goal posts buried deep in the sand. Not only did we win, we pulled the goal posts completely out of the ground. Well done girls!!!

Another day about 40 of us did a jungle walk across to the other side of the island. Starting in town, we followed the coast road for a short while then turned inland and started the long trek up the hill. It was a steady climb up concrete steps and large flat rocks - thankfully through the shady jungle which gave us some reprieve from the hot sun and just when we thought we had reached the top, even more steps. It wasn't a walk for the feint hearted and by the time we did eventually reach the summit, every t-shirt was wringing wet, even those of the local guides. From there a gentle walk downhill to the waterfall where the plunge into the chilling water of the rock pools took our breath away.  An hour later we continued further downhill to lunch at Juara village. 4 wheel drives had been supplied to transfer us all back across the top to Tekek - I don't think anyone would have had the energy or inclination to retrace our steps.

Juara Bay

Tekek village had some reasonable stores for provisioning, and being a duty free island, very reasonably priced alcohol, though we still had enough ship supplies to see us through to Labuan. There were quite a few warungs to choose from for meals, though we really couldn't go past Lina's Seafood barbeque where we found ourselves almost every evening. A great choice of freshly cooked fish, squid and crab from the open fire, al dente vegetables in tasty sauces, Tom yam curries - we loved it all and as always so inexpensive. Beer at duty free prices could be purchased two doors down and brought back to the table. I think Lina was sad to see us all leave after a week of bumper patronage from the rally boats. 

Jungle tree..with growth???  Monkey Bay

We had decided not to venture north with the rally but stay around Tioman and enjoy what it had to offer. By doing this, it also made our trip across to the Anambas island group (Indonesia) only an overnight sail of  appx. 90 miles as opposed to a 3 day, 2 night sail down from Redang. So after all the rally boats had left, our first priority was to help Tuppenny with a leaking propellor shaft tube. To do this, we convinced Gillie to warp Tuppenny against the main jetty at high tide and wait for the water to recede. Neil (Tiki) and Pete  then started at 0400 the next day. First the prop shaft was removed, then the old set of bellows from the drip less seal. The leak was due to the original seal being forced onto a very small collar around the sterntube. This was ground back to allow a better seal and the new drip less system was reattached. Sounds simple, but took most of the morning. With the incoming tide lapping close to the prop shaft hole, the shaft was replaced, seal replaced more leaking bilge! 

All that behind us, we were ready to take off and explore what Tioman had to offer, so we hopped around into Monkey bay where the jungle ashore was alive with the noisy little animals. Our daily pattern continued of swimming in the clear waters, snorkelling the fringing reefs, lazing around reading, beach barbecue ashore for dinner then in the morning up anchor and on to the next stop. Tulai island was an hours motor away from Tioman and became our favourite anchorage. A pod of dolphins escorted us to an area of good holding on sand between the island and an outcrop of rocks. These rocks formations were a stunning landscape themselves but the snorkelling below was by far the best we had seen. In and around the rocks was amazing fish life, bommies and shelves with different corals of all shapes and colours, black tip reef sharks and turtles who weren't really bothered by out presence. I likened it to swimming in one huge salt water aquarium. We would snorkel early morning before the local tour boats arrived, then again in the afternoon after their departure. 



After a few nights at Tulai, it was time to head back to Tioman, replenish our fresh vegetable supply, top up our water tanks in the small marina and officially check out of Malaysia with the authorities. Pulling into the marina (capacity 20 yachts) we spotted a familiar boat - 'Jackster' with whom we had sailed out of Darwin in 2013 to Indonesia. Always great to see familiar faces and lovely to catch up with Jacqui and David and their newest addition to the boat - Polly puss cat, and to hear about all they had done and seen in the last 2 years. They gave us some great info and tips for some of the destinations we have ahead of us. After introducing them to Lina's seafood, we shared a special gin and tonic to toast David's 60th birthday, wished them well and parted ways once again - always in the hope that our paths may cross somewhere down the track one day. Never say never - the cruisers motto.

Pushing our of Tekek, we motored around to the other side of Tioman into Juara bay where we had lunched after our jungle trek. A lovely wide sweeping bay, the village itself smaller than Tekek but we managed to find a great little restaurant - Beach Shack Tioman run by Tim, an Aussie expat now long time resident and his Malaysian wife. They offer chalets to let, camping sites  boat trips, fishing, snorkelling and surfing (seasonal) and great western food at good prices. After night upon night of spicy dishes with exotic flavours, noodles and rice you just get a craving for some western food and these guys made the best burgers. It was such a good meal that we opted to go back again in the morning for pancake breakfast before heading of for our first overnight sail of the rally. 

Pushing off at lunch time we managed to get a good start at sailing with favourable winds and sat on 7 knots for a while before the winds died down and we had to turn the motor on. With Tuppenny departing with us and Tiki a few hours behind, we headed off in a easterly towards the Anambas group of islands in Indonesia. We knew we would be transiting the main shipping routes in and out of Singapore and were expecting to encounter many large container ships on the move. It was a full moon and clear skies so we had plenty of moonlight to light the smaller vessels and the larger ones are generally lit up like Xmas trees so no trouble seeing them coming. All in all, it wasn't a bad crossing with the majority of vessels acknowledging and accommodating our requests. Only a few large Chinese vessels did not respond to us when we tried to contact them and we only had to alter course once  throughout the night. Thank goodness for A.I.S (Automatic Identification System) and radar and all the technology available to us these days - how ever did Captain Cook and the likes do it?

We had timed our pace well and as daylight started to infiltrate the night sky, Anambas was silhouetted in front of us. As we reached the first of the islands, the sun rose behind distant clouds and welcomed us back to Indonesia.