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!

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