All posts by michaelsweet50

Another happy sailor...........

INDIAN OCEAN

Indonesia to La Reunion

11th August to 3rd September

Raffles (Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles) is best known as the ‘founder’ of Singapore, and is now a part of the Singapore brand. He was one of those incredibly capable, energetic, ambitious and visionary men who carved a place in history. 

He journeyed home after his time in the east over this same Indian Ocean some 200 years ago. 

He and his wife and two remaining children had set out from Bencoolen (now Bengkulu in Sumatra) on the Fame, bound for England. But less than 60 miles from shore the ship caught fire and sank.

1824 - Sir Stamford Raffles: the wreck of the Fame

They lost everything: all Raffles’ collections, writings, artwork, gold, jewellery, “135 hefty crates, apart from the live animals” (which included a living tapir, a new species of tiger and unknown types of pheasant). They were lucky to survive with their lives. Any further offshore and they’d have been unable to row back.

Remember, they weren’t sailing for fun or for adventure. They just wanted to get home. I don’t suppose they enjoyed it at all. But that was the nature of international travel until not so long ago: dangerous, uncomfortable, slow.

Eventually they found another ship, the Mariner, and left Sumatra in April 1824, reaching St Helena (Napoleon had died there three years earlier) in July, and England in August. Imagine rounding the Cape of Good Hope in mid-winter storms.

(While they were on their way home, the Treaty of London between the British and Dutch was signed. This ceded British stations in Sumatra to the Dutch, and removed Dutch opposition to the British in Singapore. Another bit of the colonial jigsaw was fixed.)

You may not find that bit of history interesting but I do. It puts our own Indian Ocean sailing adventures into perspective to realise how relatively easy and safe are our modern day travels. 

Final morning of calm before leaving Sunda Strait

For me this was an unexpectedly long crossing, the bug having shut off stopping en route at Cocos Keeling (Australian territory – I was curtly told that to stop there I’d be contravening both the Customs Act 1901 and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Emergency Management Ordinance 2012. Just imagine what horrors might await an errant Pom. I sense this guy was longing to clap me in irons.) 

And so it was just over 3,000 miles to the little bit of French territory, La Reunion. 

Good food cooked as I left – to last a few days. Fish a parting gift from local fishermen.

The Southeast Trade Winds are well established now and wind direction steady.

Where else can you sail 3,000 miles on one tack, reaching all the way, over clear deep blue sea, scarcely seeing another vessel, and with warm sunshine most of the way? It was the kind of sailing you might enjoy one day in fifty in Northern Europe. And it went on for 23 days non-stop.

Another fine day

The downside was that half of it was a bit rough and windy. The other half was very rough and very windy. Both Henrietta and I felt a bit bruised by the time we reached Reunion.

It was rough – difficult to capture with my photography skills!

At an average of just over 1,000 miles a week (6 knots) in just over three weeks, it was my second longest non-stop solo passage.

Bed

Henrietta has performed well, of course. The mainsail has rarely been needed, just a reefed genoa had us zipping along for most of the time. Hydrovane self-steering never in doubt as we skedaddled down the deep blue white-crested waves.

A few seabirds appeared, some boobies, a couple of gorgeous tropicbirds, and shearwaters magically soaring and swooping over the waves, somehow travelling upwind into 30 knots of spumey sea. And suicidal flying fish occasionally end their days on deck.

It does occur to me sometimes that aeroplanes may be pretty dull and spew a lot of carbon dioxide, but they are oh-so quick and pretty comfortable too. They cover in less than two hours what takes most yachts at least a week’s continuous sailing. But aeroplanes make me nervous. Plus I’ve really appreciated no news, no contacts, no gloom, no land-dwelling anxieties, and none of the silly stuff we tend to live with for so much of our lives.

Above all, slow sea travel can bring you such fabulous happy feelings: the endless majesty of ocean swell, the unsullied ocean breeze, sparkling starlit nights; and then the heart lifting and body-tingling joy that comes with landfall after a long time at sea, the emotional high of a new unknown island. 

I approached La Reunion before dawn. There was indescribable otherworldly beauty in a town in the north (Saint-Denis, the capital) with its twinkling lights glittering like gold dust scattered up the dark dark grey mountainside, all set beneath the bright silver globe of a full moon. And little bits of phosphorescence flashed in the passing sea.

Approaching La Reunion just after dawn (plane coming in to land too)

Arrival in Le Port, Reunion a few hours later was quick, easy and efficient. Though the port approach seems to be in an acceleration zone where wind was over 30 knots, the marina is calm.

Staff and neighbours give warm welcomes and Henrietta is tied up in two minutes, customs officials arrive and clear me in five more minutes. All done. No charges, no excessive paperwork, no passport stamp (luckily Britain not yet sufficiently Brexitted for that)…just a freshwater shower…..and I’m off to a boulangerie and U Express supermarket down the road. Yum! ( N.B. If you sail here, you should submit paperwork before leaving your last port).

Look what was just down the road

I’ll probably stay here a month or so. Lots to do……

Calm, peaceful, friendly

Farewell Indonesia, Farewell Southeast Asia

Farewell Indonesia, Farewell Southeast Asia

Time to say goodbye

4th to 10th August

A palm oil refinery, stocking up, last goodbyes, and papers

After over two years and a few thousand miles in Southeast Asia, over a year of which has been in Indonesia, it’s time to move on.

For me, and apart from Europe, this is the most wonderful region of our planet. A long and fascinating history, colourful people, sophisticated culture, a multitude of different languages, diverse religions, fine mountains, clear seas and overwhelmingly friendly people.

Little wonder that so many boats stay here for many years. Some come here and never leave. Were it not so far from my home, I’d stay longer. Were it not for the global bug, I’d like more travel on land.  But for now, and before it’s too late, I choose to move on.

The past few days in Belitung have been busy. Fellow boat owners will know the tasks involved in preparing for long offshore passages. The checks: engine, standing rigging, running rigging, shackles, cables, batteries. Cleaning: hull, inside lockers, fridge, windows, laundry. Shopping: spares. Last emails, weather forecasts, route planning, and so on.

…oh yes! Food for a month or more too.

Yum

Before leaving there was just time  for a visit to Belitung’s biggest palm oil refinery. William, the manager, has invited me to come and see it. It is a fascinating day out.

Palm oil fruit awaiting processing

I’ve always loved factory visits.  I’ll not swamp you with palm oil technicalities (though my note book is crammed).

From this….
..via this, and …
…this…to …
..this…and…

Suffice to say, 12,000 hectares of palm trees are grown from seed, transplanted till maturity brings the fruit, which is then harvested manually and trucked to the refinery in a constant stream of small lorries, and tractor/trailers – about one every seven minutes all day. The fruit has to be milled within a few hours of picking and goes through a series of heating, milling, cooling, heating processes and lots of computer-controlled pipes and tubes and tanks, to result in a list of end products that includes cooking oil, solid greasy stuff (for soap, margarine, shampoo, cosmetics, ice cream and lots of other things), plus biodiesel. Dry residues are used to fire the boilers to provide the plant’s electricity, and exported for cattle feed. Everything is used.

..and this..(cattle feed)

 

 

With the general manager, William, at the refinery’s jetty

 

We go down to the jetty where the products are stored before shipping overseas.

The ship we see is typical of the global maritime industry:- Bermuda registered, Russian captain, Philippino crew, cargo from Indonesia, heading for Malaysia. They await papers and a pilot and high tide. Every month, I estimate 30-50,000 tonnes of the various products are exported.The EU has given palm oil bad press. Plantations have devoured many thousands of hectares of rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia (though in Belitung, the native forests, where they existed, have long since been destroyed with tin mining. Soils are not fertile.)

I’ll not enter the debate as to the merits or otherwise of palm oil plantations. This refinery meets European standards. Working conditions for around 3,000 employees are good (play group, clinic, landscaping, housing, football pitch, indoor badminton, a mosque, everywhere clean and careful). William and the staff I meet are understandably proud of Belitung’s biggest export earner.

Next day passes with frantic foray to the market and local shops for enough food for several weeks. Guess there’s going to be quite a lot of onions and lentils with rice to keep me going. And some carrots and garlic and ginger and chillies (yum!) 

And finally there’s paperwork. Three young customs officials want to inspect Henrietta. They hadn’t travelled 500 metres of choppy water on an elderly Avon inflatable before. But with dampened backsides they were safely on board and thoroughly checked my cupboards, photographed lots of odds and ends and so on. I think they had a memorable half day out.

Customs officers after checking Henrietta

So, with more papers to allow my exit from Indonesia, I bid sweet sad farewells to some of those who’ve been so kind and helpful during my prolonged stop in Belitung. It has been one of my happiest, most memorable anchorages anywhere in the world.

There are lots of farewells! There are no fellow boats to say goodbye to, but local friends, and helpers, the shops and warungs I’ve come to know.

Kind, helpful, energetic Erny. Funny, international, generous Muramotosan come to say goodbye

Thank you to everyone who has helped make my days here in Belitung so full, friendly and comfortable (fairly comfortable). Especially, Erfan, Fenny, Eddy, Johnny, Erne, Muramotosan, William, Alex, Rosa, Bambang, Cecilia, Frankie, Yvonne and everyone else (whose names I’ve forgotten.)

Ever helpful Erfan and Fenny

Eddy helping load some diesel and clean laundry
Johnny
Alex, Rosa, Bambang and Cecilia

Final enquiries and phone calls to people in specific countries mean I’ll now head for La Réunion – a little French island east of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. If Mauritius reopens in September I’ll aim to go there instead.

 I write this at a peaceful little island in the Sunda Strait, Pulau Sebuku, not far from Krakatoa.

Tug with barge full of coal for Java power station
Oil fields off Southeast Sumatra
Busy with ferries and ships at Sunda Strait

The two days and nights sailing from Belitung left me weary. It’s through an area that’s too busy with shipping and fishing, and oil fields to allow much rest!

Local fishermen have just come alongside and given me some fresh fish. I’ll leave tomorrow for the long sail to La Reunion, around four weeks, all being well.

 

(A bit of internet here may let this post be published, but maybe not)

 

I’ll be out of contact for a while. Best wishes and safe sailing to many sailor friends who’ve made different plans, and of course I’ll hope to see many of you again.

 

 

BELITUNG PART 2

Belitung and Jakarta 2

1st July to 3rd August 2020

Getting to know Belitung, local friends, a new passport

Budgerigars at Alex’s butterfly garden

Henrietta and I are not accustomed to long stays anywhere. We like to be sailing. ‘Rolling stones gather no moss’ (or, moving bottoms gather no weed) is our mantra. To stop is to stagnate; the mind grows dull, the body weak; not to mention poor Henrietta’s nether regions. 

In the five years we’ve been together, we have never stopped for more than a month anywhere – until now.

Pizzas with the only other sailors to have visited in over two months, KaijaSong with Gary and Kaija from British Columbia

Now, things are rather different, as we all know. We’re seriously restricted in how we follow our desires and dreams, wanderlust suppressed, plans tattered. Apart from one sail to Jakarta and back, and, for me, two flights to Jakarta and back (more later), we have lived in Belitung for over two and a half months. When you reach an age where you know that life is finite, that’s much too long a time. 

Some of Indonesia’s many airlines are operating again. They serve over a hundred domestic airports in over 16,000 islands

Jakarta, and meet up with ever friendly, always helpful, enigmatic, charismatic Raymond

And yet, and I stress this because it has surprised me, I have really enjoyed a more settled existence. It has been a rare pleasure to appreciate a slower and less demanding pace. I am happy. This is especially so as Belitung is friendly, fascinating and often fun; and central to this, it is open to free movement, albeit usually masked.

I’ve become a ‘local’ in as much as any Westerner will ever be local.

Almost a ‘local’ now, on my beach again

Folk know or know of the ‘strange Englishman who’s living on that sailing boat out there’. (Henrietta is prominent as the only boat anchored in a wide bay off over a kilometre of sand and coral).

I have my favourite local shops and ‘warungs’ for lunch or coffee, begin to know my way around the capital (40 minutes motorcycle away) and have explored much of the island. Even the local turtles seem to come and check up on me. (We share advanced distaste for the passing jet skis, their dangers and the noise – their insistent angry growls and roar – and the wash) 

Belitung’s wealth, such as it is, derives from tin mining, palm oil, kaolin and sand export (good building sand is barged to Jakarta), fishing, boat building and, in more normal times, local tourism (when over 2,000 visitors, Indonesian and a handful of foreigners, fly in each week on up to a dozen flights a day).

It may lack the spectacular volcanic mountains of Java, Sumatra and Bali but the beauty of its beaches, clear seas, unique rock formations had it strive for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (It lost out to Langkawi in Malaysia). 

Given a healthy historic mix of peoples from all over Indonesia (including Malay, Java, Bugis, Sumatran, Chinese), and a handful of resident foreigners (at least a dozen), there is a happy acceptance of everyone.

A few of many beers available in Belitung

One incidental outcome of this tolerance is Indonesia’s largest selection of beer (ie. fizzy lager), and Franky’s wife runs a small bright bar at their hotel that has stocked over a hundred varieties from around the world.

Erny and Muromotosan have a break from SUPs

People have, almost  without exception, been friendly, polite, inquisitive and helpful. Locally, Erpan and his wife Penny have helped with taxi services, rental motorcycle, laundry, and all round advice and information. Johnny in the capital helps with visa paperwork and officialdom. 

More than anyone, the lovely local businesswoman Erny and friend, Muromotosan, have always included me with outings around the island and paddleboarding (or for me, kayaking) to nearby islands. It has been a treat to meet so many of their friends, and see places I’d never have found were it not for them.

We’ve eaten lots!

Travelling alone on rented motorbike, or with Erny and Muromotosan by car, I’ve rarely had time to fester or succumb to melancholia.

Rather than give you day-by-day accounts of what’s gone on, here are a few odds and ends, edited as I feel necessary. Much of this would have been tricky without the contacts, and the energy, enthusiasm and encouragement of Erny: –

Seeing with Franky the undeveloped southern parts of Belitung. A tireless young businessman, his interests include tree plantations for plywood production, land speculation and development, a hotel, an eco-resort, herb production (whenever he talks I learn of another venture.)

Regular visits by paddleboard and kayak to Kelayang Island where we feed bananas to the one resident macaque, fatten ourselves with hot banana fritters, and swim and snorkel.

Pizzas and happy family gatherings with Alex, Rosa and children, Bambang and Cecilia. Alex is an enthusiastic, patient and knowledgeable animal-lover who’s made Belitung his home.

Alex, inseparable from Ivy, his baby macaque

Hydroponic salad eco-farming

Fresh salad from source

Honey production at Hendra’s home.

Hendra and huge sculptures (of stingless honey bees)

A palm oil refinery, where William, the general manager, explains the processes between harvesting from 30,000 hectares of palm trees to shipping processed oil and other products to China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, South Korea from their own shipping jetty…..He’s been in charge for nearly 20 years of this 24 hour, 365 days a year operation that employs around 3,000 people. Fascinating and he’s going to show me around the refinery later this week.

William outside Kampit’s Chinese Temple

A day out on the private island of Leebong, where luxury villas are available for those more affluent than me. Now of course deserted apart from the owner’s family and friends.

Loaded up for a day out
Leebong Island and one of the smart villas

And then, to test my stamina and powers of patience, I’ve been ‘getting-a-new-passport’, the old one unexpired but after five years rapidly filled with stamps and visas that accompany sailing around half the world. I cannot even leave Indonesia without a new one.

Cities – traffic, tall offices, shopping malls, freeways. Same the world over.

Should I or should I not castigate the UK Foreign Office in this post? An open letter to the Foreign Secretary perhaps? I’m tempted – but you don’t want to read a grumpy man’s rants.

Another covid test needed (before you can fly anywhere)
Not many applying for visas for UK. Brexit and the bug have killed off business.

Passport application processes are aimed at people who live more normal lives: those who travel overseas to work or for holidays, for example. Us sailors are clearly not considered normal; we don’t usually have a local address, or local British professionals to vouch that the photo is of us, or even know where we are going next, or even when we may go! And we often don’t live in places with reliable postal services. Our homes are our boats.

Of no interest to most of you who read this stuff, I’ll just tell you that wherever you are in the world, U.K. Passport renewal is done in Britain. In Indonesia an agent in Jakarta handles it. First trouble arose when I found that the Passport agent was shut for three months of Jakarta lock-down. (i.e.passport could not be renewed. You’re stuffed)

The Embassy doesn’t want to talk to anyone unless ‘emergency’. Phone calls to local Consul refer you to Britain where, even if staff have heard of Indonesia, they do not know anything of local realities. Enough…my little bit of hair turns grey, blood pressure off the scale.

Disciplined queues in Jakarta’s busy domestic air terminal

And so, to spare you sharing any more of my grumpy-man anguish I’ll simply say that once Jakarta lockdown ended and the agent reopened I was obliged to invest in two return flights to Jakarta.

A night in a pod (capsule) at Jakarta airport

That’s four flights, two covid blood tests (needed before all flights), 14 taxis, two nights in hotels…..But at last, after all that and with a wallet that’s very much thinner, I have a new passport (big thank you to the staff who actually do the work – which does not include Foreign Secretary or embassy – and turned it round in three weeks).

In theory I can now move again.

I cannot do anything about the sad fact (sad for me anyway) that  the new black (hint of blue maybe) passport is one of these half-hearted ones with a new title –  it reminds us we shall no longer enjoy the privilege of unfettered travels or life or work in the EU. (But I shan’t start on that source of anger and irritation. Also, I do wish to remain friends with some lovely folk who think quite differently from me.)

This is turning into another ramble of ill-considered thoughts, so I’ll stop. As I said, I’m happy and healthy, and consider I’m very fortunate to be in Indonesia. I hope to leave in a week or so.

Belitung and Jakarta

Belitung and Jakarta

26th May to 30th June

Freed from quarantine; travels, food and life in Belitung and Jakarta, but it’s not normal

Sail to Jakarta and back, 470 miles round trip

For most of us on planet earth it’s been a strange few months, strange in many different ways. I shan’t dwell on the strangeness too much. 

Though there are a few folk who seem to relish the forced changes to their lives and plans, and use it as an opportunity to improve things, do things they’d always meant to, or become artists or ventriloquists, I’m not one of those. I hate it. This global bug is a curse, a serious menace, a foul nuisance. I loathe it and it’s crazy vocabulary – everything about it. (What sort of depraved Brave New World, by the way, comes up with “New Normal”?)

But I don’t like to be gloomy for too long and so will soon move on to cheerier stuff. (Anyhow, one more opinion from one of several billion opinions is neither here nor there.)

If you take even a passing glance at conditions in the world’s poorer communities, you quickly appreciate how very fortunate you are to be well-off or live in a wealthier country, shielded from the harsher realities of isolated semi-dependent places. The tight-packed shanty areas of Jakarta or the islands reliant almost wholly on tourism are just two local examples I’ve visited recently. For the impoverished, the destitute, the uneducated and of course those with poor health, there is nothing whatever to value in current conditions. 

Give me freedom, unchallenged health, happy hugs and wholesome handshakes, and opportunity and community vitality any day. For most people I guess, and for most cruisers around the world, at best these are disconcerting times. Like the majority, I ‘make the most of it’, ‘do what I can’, ‘stay positive’, ‘look on the bright side’. You know the cliches.

And, though I detest this loathsome global bug, for Henrietta and me, life has been pretty good.

Our quarantine wristbands – soon to be removed

Released from 14 days of quarantine (16 days in the end, as there were holidays for wristband removers), Laura and I were free, no longer branded as potentially unclean.

Freedom on a motorbike

We hired a car, and then motorbikes, and bought our own food in stalls and markets and stores; went for walks; did the sights of Belitung.

Deep fried bananas with chocolate, sweet toast with cheese

It may sound rather silly but after three months, it’s quite exciting to buy your own bananas, choose your own vegetables and biscuits. It’s even more of a thrill to go to cafes and restaurants, and eat some disgustingly delicious sweet things: – deep fried bananas with chocolate, sweetened toast with ice-cream and green syrup, baby doughnuts with ice-cream. And though many local warungs (small restaurants) remain closed, the few that are open are very happy to find customers. 

Another time, we had soemthing different. Of course it’s not healthy. Who cares?

Another big excitement in the month, a genuinely worthy thrill, was the arrival of a new windlass. If you’re not a boaty person, this is the magical electric machine that pulls up the anchor and chain.

Fresh from Italy…..

And, if you are a boaty person, you will appreciate that it’s been extremely troublesome to try and raise the anchor for a 12 ton boat by hand, and it has severely limited the depths where we could anchor. 

Anyhow, after the miracles of modern global courier delivery systems, this new windlass turned up in Belitung (via Italy and extended global excursion). We went to collect it from a little rain-swept office in the backstreets of Tanjung Pandan (Belitung’s main town). A few days later it was fitted and working – still beautifully shiny too, despite my messiness with outdated Sikaflex.

Still Shiny ; a bit boring but it makes a nice change from photos of food or sunset

Belitung is a big island. For British comparisons, it’s more than ten times as big as the Isle of Wight (England’s largest) with about twice the population. Skye in Scotland is one third the size of Belitung. 

A visit from Alex and his family – they live nearby

Unlike many Indonesian islands, Belitung has few high mountains. We climbed the highest of them, Mount Tajan, a glorious two hour hike through rainforest to about 500 metres, not a soul to be seen and a fine waterfall and pool for cool freshwater swim on the way down. It is indeed another thrill to enjoy a good walk once more. (You see, despite my annoyance and anger over the bug, the month has been full of pleasure as well.)

on the way up Mount Tajan
A swim on the way down

Alas! The time had come for Laura to return home. Flights from Jakarta to Europe were fine; but internal Indonesian flights to get to Jakarta were not at all fine. Her first two bookings were cancelled, no reasons given. 

So we sailed to Jakarta. It’s not a straightforward sail. 

Murky approach to Jakarta

It’s 230 miles close-hauled through fishing boats, ships, tugs and, for us, two days and nights of sailing, a few squalls and lots of sail changes. A good sail (with engine not needed) to end our time together. 

On arrival we’re the poor relation

There’s a marina in Jakarta. Batavia Marina is near the spot where the Dutch established their centre for Dutch East Indies operations centuries ago. It’s mainly taken over nowadays by the mega-motor yachts of Jakarta’s elite, a few slots sometimes available for visitors. 

We move and have our not-so-pretty namesake nearby

After papers were checked and our temperatures taken, we were free to travel throughout the city, facemasks supposedly obligatory, handwashing and temperatures checked at every mall and store, on every street posters and placards to enforce the covid message. Even Grab taxis have a screen to surround the driver.

Ever so grand, smart and mildly interesting, Cafe Batavia
As the only customers the chef came to tell us what it was. I can’t remember but needed a proper meal afterwards
..full lunch here for two a better bargain than coffee for one above…We had both!

But big city life must go on and even here in North Jakarta, the centre of the city’s most serious bug outbreak, cargo ships are loaded, container lorries roar past, stalls sell fruit and snacks, supermarkets trade, traffic trundles along (although far far less traffic than is Jakarta’s norm) and the air is hot, dank and hazy.

A sight little changed in fifty years

Then Laura flew home. She’s an amazing and lovely young woman, and has been a wonderful companion and crew in extraordinary times. I’m sure she knows I shall miss her. But I can see that Germany and Europe have missed her too.

Next day, Jakarta’s museums started to reopen. With fellow sailors and the ever-helpful Raymond, we visit a few, drink coffee, chat, eat and shop. Then, with government offices closed at the weekend, there’s more time in Jakarta before I can clear out. More shopping, walking, sociability.

At the wayang (puppet) museum

Marina life is not for me. After a week of Jakarta’s excitements, and my mind filled with a wealth of very mixed images, I sail back to Belitung. Two sleep-deprived nights of solo sailing in busy waters exhausts me, and it’s good to drop anchor again at Belitung.

The turtles are still here and seem to welcome me ‘home’. There are always friends in nature. Quarantine seems not to be required now, but I choose to isolate myself for a while anyway. There are always things to do on a little boat. And I’ve written this too.

Empty beaches of Belitung

South Sumatra

West and South Coast Sumatra, Sunda Strait, Belitung

14th April to 25th May

Isolation, sailing again, games, fitness, eating and …..stuff

Barogang is about half way down the left side of Sumatra. We’re now at Pulau Belitung (lower right)

Think of Sumatra as a giant sausage with a bulging middle, reclining a bit to the left. The sausage is about a thousand miles long and packed with mountains and jungles and lakes and amazing wildlife and exotic cultures and colourful welcoming people, a fabulous world of diversity. Utterly amazing – I am sure.

But despite sailing its entire length from north to south we have not seen a single bit of it!

We have not even set foot on the Sumatra sausage. (Such are the restrictions needed to appease this global menace of Covid.) Just a few brief footfalls on some of the many islands with exotic names that lie about 60 miles off Sumatra’s west coast: Siberut, Mentawai, Nias, Simeulue.

And we have now rounded the southern tip of Sumatra, anchored as I write this, some 15 miles north of Krakatoa and its adjacent troubled simmering volcano islands. (I finished writing it a long time later, a complete circumnavigation of Sumatra completed – without once landing on it.)

Krakatoa simmers in the distance – tug and barge passing in front

Krakatoa lies in the passage between Sumatra and Java, the Sunda Strait. Scenically magnificent – when the haze cleared enough to see the nearby volcanoes and lush green mountain forests.

Of course it has been disappointing to miss seeing one of Indonesia’s largest and most amazing islands. But compared with the disappointments and frustrations and pain of most of the planet, we have been very fortunate.

This post covers some of what we have done with the past several weeks. (Though I must confess that it is sometimes a case that on Thursday I cannot remember what I did on Tuesday, even though I’m sure we have been pretty busy – at least a bit busy.)

Yachts anchored off Pulau Barogang (drone photo thanks to Javerne)

A month ago we were settled with a cluster of fellow yachts anchored off our very own isolation island, called Barogang. Like neighbours on an exclusive housing estate we were both respectful of others’ privacy and yet gregarious and supportive enough to share news and views, snacks and games parties. And the fleet included some very fine cooks, practical craftsmen and skilled designers. And, in case you want to know, our games repertoire was extensive:- Mexican Train, Rummy, Scrabble, and ‘Chase the Bitch’ (This is the Australian phrase for what I thought was ‘Hearts’); and another Australian one, ‘Spite and Malice’. (Does Australian vocabulary tell us something of cultural differences?)

Empty bottle stock hugely increased since we left

The exclusive isolation island of Barogang wasn’t Alcatraz, of course not. We were well supplied with food, company was sound, a nearby beach enabled leg stretching, body-surfing and other things deemed good for human well-being. Life was leisurely.

Hammock on loan from kind ever-friendly Florence

And sailors more dynamic than us built a roofed bar area, cultivated a vegetable garden, bought chicken, cleared jungle, drank cocktails, stroked pussycats and tickled pigs’ tummies. But after four weeks, and the real prospect of many more, Henrietta was itching to move on. We left.

We left some fine friends in Barogang

Two weeks’ good wind blew us the final few hundred miles south along the Sumatran coastline, past grey and awesome mountains, fabulous skies and glistening turquoise surfers’ swells.

On reflection, the wind was not always so ‘good’; one long overnight stretch included one of those exhausting spells of tropical ITCZ conditions (look it up): winds wildly spinning through all points of the compass and leaping about from zero to over 40 knots. Reef, preventer on, spinnaker pole up, gybe, pole down, preventer off, reefs out….repeat…several times, all the while being rolled and tossed about and drenched with downpours of rain.

Very tiresome and wearisome, and at times like that you wonder if a more normal retirement mightn’t be such a bad thing.

At last some good sailing…

Anyhow, forget that bit; unpleasantness is soon a distant fast-fading memory.

We breezed into the Sunda Strait early one morning a day or two later, turned left at the corner at the bottom of Sumatra and sailed north of Krakatoa, that renowned volcano (too far off our course and recently too active to visit) and stopped at a couple of tiny villages on isolated islands; local people as friendly and happy as ever with waving and smiles – though keeping very well away (bar one cheery young family who came to chat and sell us sweet slimy coconut cakes).

Small peaceful isolated communities in Sunda Strait
Always a friendly smile and wave…
..and colourful local craft

Intention was then to head east along north coasts of Java and Bali to Lombok. But weather gods were hostile. After more than two days furious beating into relentless headwinds, head currents and bang-slap waves, we turned and sailed instead to the island of Belitung. (Billiton in English – the source if you’re interested, of BHP Billiton’s name; here tin mining).  

The local beach at Belitung- on a very wet morning

Our isolation islet of Kelayang

We have a fine place to anchor. Henrietta was here nearly two years ago. But now it is empty: no other yachts, all beach bars and cafes and restaurants closed, rarely anyone on the long sandy beach, a scattering of small fishing boats that continue to putter offshore at dusk.

Swimming to find a way out
Isolated in paradise?

In this Province of Indonesia all new arrivals are quarantined, whoever, whenever, whyever. After blood tests (negative) we have two weeks of isolation. No hardship whatsoever and few folk can have enjoyed such privileged ‘isolation’.

You may ask…

We have the entire little islet of Kelayang to ourselves. (It’s normally thronging with trippers) We snorkel its unique and beautiful rocks, amble on the beach, practice yoga ….and simply appreciate how very lucky we are to be here in Indonesia with the world’s most warm-hearted, happy, generous people.

Freedom in isolation

Laura, quite apart from being the most perfect crew that any sailor could ever wish for, and being an all-round marvellous person, has me sticking to a rigorous Teutonic regime of ‘planking’ (yes, I’ve tummy muscles fit for Mr Universe). Plus she has introduced me to Germany’s National Card Game. It’s called ‘Skat’.

Beauty and the Beast play Skat (Officers’ Skat)

No! Do not laugh. It is the National Card game. It is played with all the serious earnest vigour and concentration that Germany expends on its car industry and beer. Though quite why a nation so hard-working, rational and cultivated should have devised such an absurdly illogical and tricky card game, I cannot think. To be precise Skat needs three people, and, as there are only two of us, we have a modified version called ‘Offiziersskat’. Laura almost always wins.

So you can see, life in the age of Covid goes on. Different of course for all of us.

Aboard Henrietta I am forever conscious that it’s only us human beans that are bothered. The turtles flipper around us in contentment, untroubled dolphins visit, the sun sets and rises, birds sing timidly and sweetly, rain patters down and sunshine bakes us dry.

Whatever happens next is anyone’s guess – not mine.

Where next?

NORTH WEST SUMATRA

NW Malaysia to NW Sumatra, Indonesia

24th February to 13th April 2020

Farewell Malaysia, Indonesia once more, and a world turned upside down

tidy the chaos on board and….
Sail west to sunset and Sumatra

Normality absent for a while, your worlds on hold or disrupted, cut short or drastically modified. Regular activities curtailed, plans torn up, and perhaps for you (though I trust not) anxiety, mild hysteria, poverty, ill health or worse. 

As ever, I count myself lucky. I’ll not dwell unduly on current global virus obsessions. For us who travel slowly on boats, freedom is one of the prime reasons that we are here. Most of us are always and forever excited at the knowledge we are able to leave a place and move on at will; free to try new anchorages, meet new people, see new life. We may only exist on the fringes of the normal societies we visit, merely brief visitors,  but that means we are less tied to the controls, pressures and norms of anywhere on land. 

Now that those freedoms are no longer here, we have had our wings clipped; we can no longer sail where and when and how we want. But it really isn’t all that tough or grim or bad! Whatever happens with mortals handcuffed to land, we still have sunshine, unsullied nature and the open sea around us.

Henrietta is just one of very many hundreds of little boats around the world that are pretty well stuck. Legally in Indonesia for now (though visas not being renewed), we know that other countries do not want us unless we are their citizens. Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Mauritius, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India: these are within reasonable range. But for now they’re all closed. We are bound to Indonesia, even though limited in how we may move within this vast country.

But Indonesia is as good a place as any to lie at anchor. In fact it’s perhaps one of the very best countries in which to lie at anchor. Here in Sumatra it’s usually hot and sunny (keeps batteries topped up), there’s usually some food that local people bring us, scenery is picture-postcard pretty – deserted sandy beaches, coconut palms, clear water and coral or steady glistening rollers of surf, sometimes heavy rain showers (keeps water tanks topped up), people generally friendly (though more distant than is usual, and very occasionally we are certainly not welcome).

Sailing life is of course disrupted. We cannot enter towns and this year’s plan for me to cross the Indian Ocean is postponed a year or cancelled altogether. 

But as I’ve already said, I am lucky. Now I’ll tell you what we’ve been up to. I’ll try to keep it brief.

First Sumatra stop, the island of Weh

With boat work completed at Pangkor (new batteries, gas pipework, shaft seal,engine service, antifouling etc etc – a long and dull list….), Henrietta was relaunched and I sailed north again up the Malaysian coastline via Penang to Langkawi. New sails – for me always one of the more thrilling (and pricey) items of essential periodic replacement.

In early March I left Langkawi, Malaysia and set sail for North Sumatra, two days and overnight sails away, little realising that in those two days, countries would close their borders and drastically restrict movements. Those who were later than me leaving were stuck in Malaysia or Thailand. 

A small sailing rally along the Sumatran coast and on to Borneo was cancelled before it could start. (I was to have joined for a part of it). But officials stamped passports, took our temperatures, allowed us ashore (for two days) and quickly the restrictions that the world is now familiar with came into play.

Two new crew members arrived as planned. Just one day later and it would not have been possible. Here’s a picture of the truly lovely Judith and Laura. (See what I mean about being lucky?)

Judith and Laura. It’s a tough life, yet they always smile…

At this point I’ll quickly tell you that Sumatra is the world’s sixth biggest island (or is it fifth?), twice the area of the United Kingdom and about a thousand miles from northwest to southeast. The next month or two or more (who knows?) we’ll sail along its length and the many smaller islands that lie along it. If we are allowed to, that is.

We slowly sail down the west side of this huge island, Sumatra

On the final day of relative freedom, before leaving Sabang, I joined others for a whirlwind motorcycle tour around the island of Weh: lush mountain scenery in every shade of green  and grey, waterfall and freshwater swim, beachside meal with waves lapping gently at golden sand (It may sound like a cliche, but it really was dreamy gorgeous). Here are the photos….

Next day after hurried shopping and meeting up with Laura and Judith, we are confined on board – no more landing allowed. It’s time to move on. Officialdom in this bit of Northern Aceh may usually be welcoming and friendly, but now we’re not wanted here.

Uniformed folk tell us to leave…after they’d bought us cabbages and onions…

For the next week or two, we stay on board apart from one short walk on a small deserted island, moving on each day, sailing overnight a few times, avoiding larger towns and passing or anchoring off the many small islands that are scattered offshore in this part of Sumatra. (In fact I realise that in more than a month I have not yet visited the main island of Sumatra at all.)

Another solitary isolated anchorage – an uninhabited bit of paradise

We’re told we’ll be more welcome in Teluk Dalam, in the Province of South Nias. So we head there. Sadly Judith leaves from there. She’s one of the world’s two brightest, most friendly, capable, interesting and attractive people. (Laura is the other.) But she needed to return to Belgium.

Quarantine inspection and fumigation in South Nias

One visit ashore at Teluk Dalam. And a visit or two from local lads who needed firm lessons regarding social distancing. Then Laura and I sailed on south. 

I firmly told these cheeky fellows about social distancing and they swam home

We cross the equator back into the Southern Hemisphere, a first for crew (hence the balloons etc). ….and then after several days and nights…..we’re told to head back north to a tiny deserted island (just one part-time guardian).

Laura crosses the equator. A quiet word and beer for Neptune…

This is the island of Barogang. You won’t be heading this way any time soon. It lies close to an island called Tanahbala, which is itself over 60 miles from Sumatra. 

As I write this, there are eight boats here, a mix of Australians, Swiss, English and New Zealand. And as you might expect from such a mix, an old canoe, some bamboo, a few planks and bits of driftwood are soon assembled to form a bar. Large smelly bonfires devour the rubbish and undergrowth that is cleared. And, depending on how long we are here, this may be just phase 1 of an international resort and who knows what…..but probably not…

Clearing a bit of the island of Barogang
Sign artist and admirer. Corona Bar is open (but no stock!)

Compared to most of my family and friends on land we feel blessed. We just need to stay almost wholly isolated (which for now suits both local people and ourselves). There are of course no medical facilities. No internet either. (We moved a few miles to post this update from Henrietta and to find out a little of what goes on in the wider world).

Wonderful South Nias Bupati (Regent) and Raymond (always calm friendly and helpful) come to visit
…and sunsets forever soothing and gracious..

Northwest Malaysia and Cambodia

Langkawi, Penang, Pangkor, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap

17th January to 22nd February

Islands and mountains, temples and tuk tuks

A rather overwhelmingly busy month, of the best kind. You don’t want to know all about it. Even if you think you do you won’t. 

So I’ll just touch on some titbits of NW Malaysia and Cambodia.

With newly modified body parts, viz. eyes minus cataracts (after 60 years with glasses it’s magic without), nose (minus unwanted bit), teeth (a few added) I can keep going forever. (It brings to mind a silly and rather rude little schoolboy rhyme that went something like:

‘Eyes, nose, mouth, chin, 

Walking down to Uncle Jim…’. 

…Chin and Jim are fine by the way.)

…where was I?

Long chopsticks to make a mess of many colourful ingredients – Chinese New Year

Ah yes, I sailed north from Penang to Langkawi (to order new sails, Henrietta’s wardrobe now in a worn out state is deemed unfit for blowy oceans ahead). Langkawi also plays host to several fine friends and it was very good to see them again, and Armelle came to stay and it was very good to see her again. All this around Chinese New Year. So in the morning we tossed food in the air with giant chopsticks (for good luck, great fortunes, health etc) and in the evening had a banquet.

Not so high but steep and hot

Armelle and I spent a few days with rented motorcycle on Langkawi (an island that’s fine in its messily developed way but, in my view, overrated as a tourist destination) and we at last managed a mountain walk without getting lost, up Gunung Mat Chinchang, a very steep sweaty scramble up 700 metres (yes, you’ll need your hands much of the way).

Really quite steep
Look down on those who choose cable car to nearby peak

This takes you higher than the popular cable car/gondolas that might swing you sweat-free to the top of an adjacent peak, but doesn’t give the smug sense of one-upness you get by walking. As there were ropes most of the way it was difficult even for us to get lost.

Give this one a miss. Poster should have warned us.

Joining a crowd of Chinese tourists for the Ecological Organic Fruit Farm tour (forget it’s real title) next day was an eye opener on quintessential Chinese tripper trips but start-to-finish dreadful – ‘nil pointes’, as you’d say for an appalling Eurovision song. Cannot and will never know what’s in the minds of face-masked Chinese tourists, but we tag along obediently.

New Year celebrations go on for many days. This, a local drumming group were very good.

We then sail back south. Next stop 60 miles south, Penang again.

Another hill walk where Armelle and I do get lost. Rather, we don’t get lost but the path on the map ended abruptly at a very high security fence. We crawl underneath with hungry mosquitoes rapidly draining our tasty European blood and find ourselves in Penang’s largest adventure park (I think that’s what it said in the brochure) with the world’s longest water slide – over 1 km (which is what Guinness Book of Records says). Security staff spot us in no time, say we shouldn’t be there. We do know we’ve been naughty so look contrite. Staff promptly stick us on the chair lift to glide serenely back over the tree tops and down the mountain. And kindly firmly guide us to the exit.

Another nice walk – and rest – with my misguided guide

We walk a well worn path through the shade of tropical forest in the Penang National Park instead – and don’t get lost.

And after all that we treat ourselves to Snowy Ice Mountain puddings, sometimes called ABCs (air batu campur) – these probably the best in the entire country!

Armelle left from Penang. I’ll miss her energy, allure and colourful temperament (but seasickness can be a seriously troublesome beast). I’ve learnt something of the utter predictability and pathetically shallow dignity of the male of the species (myself included) when confronted with intelligent mischievous wide-eyed, long-legged Gallic flirtatiousness, all with the figure of Aphrodite. Ridiculous.

And so I sail another 70 miles or so south to Pangkor, and the friendly and beautifully managed boatyard that is Pangkor’s prime attraction for yachtsfolk .

Henrietta is due for some work that I can only do on land. 

So she is lifted out of the water ….and I go to Cambodia

Facemasks de rigueur for many travellers at KL airport


Sometimes it’s good to try out a little bit of life on land.

Cambodia has over 16 million people and is the poorest country in Southeast Asia, its GDP per capita a quarter that of Thailand’s. It is overwhelmingly Buddhist and yet has a history that within my lifetime has seen as much horror, bloodshed and pain as anywhere on earth. In quickly reading something of the Country’s history and politics, I find also that it ranks second to bottom in the world for the Rule of Law, read here if you want more.

Yet I, as a comfortable western traveller, loved the little I saw of Cambodia, fascinating, energetic, industrious, proud and very thought-provoking. I simply ‘did’ some standard hasty tourist sightseeing of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

You first need to find out how to spell Phnom Penh. Then you can go there.

Waterfront (a tributary of the Mekong) in Phnom Penh

Once there you are in one of the most chaotic, curious and extraordinary capitals of Southeast Asia.

This is where Cambodians seem somehow to retain relics of French colonial buildings, Buddhist temples, and a scattering of skyscrapers, among poor crumbling local shacks, all plonked in a grid network of pot-holed, litter-strewn hot dusty streets that are constantly crisscrossed with anarchic tuk-tuk, motorcycles, cars and trucks. People jostle boldly with traffic and at their peril, pedestrians a poor last in terms of street space (although I gather the rule is that whenever there’s an accident, and there are many, the larger vehicle is always ‘in the wrong’).

Next on the tourism list is the horribly atmospheric Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, S-21, one of the Khmer Rouge detention and torture centres; and then Choeung Ek ‘Killing Fields’, one of many where in total a quarter of the country’s population were murdered and buried between 1975 and 1979 under Pol Pot’s regime of terror. You’d be a very insensitive and amoral soul were you not to be moved by such vivid memorials.

It was Valentines Day which of course I’d forgotten, and it is bittersweet irony that I shared that gruesome trip in a minibus with nine cheery young women staying in my hostel. None of us had a candlelit dinner that evening. A Valentines Day to remember.

 

 

 

 

Next day, (oh dear! This is getting to be another tedious travelogue), I hire a bicycle and join a small group to chance our luck on Phnom Penh’s backstreets, take ferries across the Mekong and meander along rural lanes to silk farm and fruit orchards.

Next thing….this is easy…I do what most ‘young’ travellers do….I take a bus for the six hour trip to Siem Reap…find a cheap and convenient hostel….and then after brief sleep, get up well before dawn to visit Angkor Wat and other temples.

Angkor is, according to UNESCO, the world’s largest religious monument. It covers 163 hectares. The most visited temple is Angkor Wat itself and over two million people come every year; most of them it seemed on the same day as me.

Walking briskly over the floating causeway to Angkor Wat in the cool pre-dawn light you feel you’re part of a massive excited crowd herding to a premiership football match. Others can tell you of the history and scale and marvellous detail of this fabulous temple, and other temples nearby.

For me it was wonderful and I enjoyed the entire hot day ambling among the ruins, some restored most not, of this huge peaceful area, largely lost in drowsy daydreams, a tuk-tuk to help travel between the many sites.

We are reminded whilst here of recent and current Cambodian life with landmine victims who play their timeless Khmer music at the entrances to some of the temples, ill-fitting prosthetic limbs and crutches propped beside them. Sadly the country has an appalling number of limbless people, dreadfully hurt by the indiscriminate murderous landmines.

My holiday over and with mild hangover (led astray on the last night by young companion from the hostel)

Nearly bedtime at a favourite anchorage

I head back to Pangkor and my home, Henrietta, a quick detour by public transport to Penang on the way (need another Indonesian visa). There’s a lot to do but I’ve enjoyed a stimulating break and holiday from life afloat. Ah! It was especially nice to sleep in a proper bed in Cambodia’s hostels – with air conditioning too. The heat aboard boatyarded Henrietta could readily cook meringues. Boat life can sometimes seem austere. It just suits me better than other ways of life – most of the time. (Sorry folks! I seem to have rambled on with this blog update for a lot longer than intended – too lazy to cut it down.)

East to West Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) to Penang (West Malaysia)

Ships and sailing, plus scalpels, stitches, spectacles and more….

6th December 2019 to 16th January 2020

Nice bits first.

Leaving Labuan and the fleet of oil/gasfield support vessels

By early December the N.E. Monsoon winds had arrived over Borneo. Sailing from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital near the top of Borneo, to Singapore area about 800 miles away, was wonderful after so much motoring a few months earlier:- fast sailing, mostly reaching, all the way, just one stop at the island of Labuan (a bit of sightseeing missed last time and duty free drink – of course).

Coastline North Borneo

Not much sleep though. The sea in these parts is pretty busy with oil and gas rigs, tugs, coastal and long-distance shipping, and fishing boats in many shapes and sizes.

Tug pulling gas rig – very slowly

 

Shipping lanes off Singapore

On Christmas Day, six days later, I anchored off the little Indonesian island of Tolop. It’s a convenient spot before crossing the frantically busy shipping lanes around Singapore, and with adverse spring tides and getting dark with drizzle, I’d decided to pause. Alas, although I’d anchored here before with no trouble, this time the Indonesian navy who have a little base on the island decided to visit. First visiting sailors were friendly, no problems. 

Second visiting sailors were friendly and courteous, but firm upholders of Indonesian security; big problems. I haven’t cleared in. I’m illegally stopped in Indonesia. I should not be here. I should not have anchored. I must leave immediately. They mean it. But I plead fatigue (After six days I am indeed knackered), cannot face ships in the dark, the tide is against me, and to cap it all, I’m a hopeless old  Englishman etc. And it is Christmas Day (albeit in a predominantly Muslim country). My papers (lots of them) and passport are scrutinised, every page turned, and photographed. Long pauses. I smile nervously. There’s talk of fines. I anticipate Christmas in handcuffs. They phone the commanding officer. We wait for response. I offer tins of beer. It gets dark. At last. Phew! It’s OK as long as I leave before dawn. I promise I will. I mean it. 

But as they leave me in peace with a tin of beer, I think of how illegal arrivals might be treated were they to arrive and stop unannounced off the shores of England (or America or Australia for that matter) and feel slightly ashamed. I leave well before dawn and am in amongst the ships as the day breaks. It’s Boxing Day. But global shipping recognises no holidays, and it’s very busy.

Efficient, zealous, polished, multitudinous Singapore patrol boats police their waters. The boat that approaches me probably hasn’t told anyone what to do for an hour or two, so they politely say ‘hello’ and order me to go back in the shipping lane. I comply.

Just for the record, I had not strayed into Singaporean waters. But it’s best not to argue. I dodge ships and they dodge me.

 

Needing exercise, I walked up Penang Hill; and down again – funicular train not working...

Since then, I’ve sailed up the Malacca Straits to Penang. I was here less than a year ago. I.e. After sailing over 7,000 miles in the year I’m back more-or-less where I started. Which goes to prove, if you were not yet convinced, that life is about the journey not the destination.

2019 sailing

Part time crew – she’s not very energetic, just nice

And it’s about the people you encounter on the journey. It has been a privilege and a joy to meet and get to know so many fascinating, kind, friendly, resourceful, generous and adventurous folk. Most cruising sailors and most local Malaysians, Indonesians and others seem to be content with what they do have, not fretting too much about what they don’t.

The not so nice bits of the month? Well, it’s in poor taste to dwell on health stuff.

I’ll just say that after nose job, eyes fixed, teeth in hand, a few other bits fixed, I’m as good as new. Malaysian medical staff and services are fantastic. Professional, helpful, quick. And you don’t need to rob a bank to get it done.

The Henrietta maintenance list is a bit longer than my own.

Chinese New Year is coming up soon. It will be the Year of the Rat (the white metal rat).  Local radio tells me that this signifies Good Luck and some Bad Choices, which if you think about it must cover most things.

Philippines

The Philippines

Lovely people, lousy food and loads of churches

3rd November to 5th December

With Jenny as crew we left Halmahera (a big Indonesian island) for a four day sail to north Mindanao (yet another big island, this one in the Philippines).

IMG_E2593Then followed a busy month that took us through about twenty different anchorages on a dozen of Philippines’ 7,000 odd islands. Just a taster of a giant country. (But then most of this voyage has been a series of tasters – a mere glimpse at a scattering of the world’s lesser travelled outposts.)

I knew nothing of the Philippines, and right now still know next to nothing, so take anything I say with heaps of salt. I did know that Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to visit. He was killed here too.

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Village named after Magellan

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Limasawa, site of the first Christian service in the islands, Easter 1521

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That was in 1521. The islands were named by a Spaniard a few years later in honour of King Philip II of Spain. Spain then retained it as part of its Empire for over 300 years, before selling it to America who kept it, apart from the troubled invasion of Japanese in WWII, till 1946.

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This is Wendell, a pastor from Winnipeg, Canada (which I gather has a large Filippino community) visiting his home island, Limasawa. He seemed to think the Pope might come here to celebrate the 500th Anniverary of Chritianity’s arrival! You heard it first here….

There are now over 100 million Filipinos in the country, with some 19 accepted languages and ten ethnic groups, and at least 10 million more who live and work overseas (and provide a huge chunk of foreign earnings for the nation). IMG_2570

I found people to be universally delightful; laid-back yet quietly industrious, and compared to others in SE Asia, reserved, even shy – though not shy enough to cease some painfully discordant karaoke singing!

The selfie culture that’s become a plague elsewhere, seems absent in the Philippines. (Though keep in mind that I only saw a part of the country.)

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Inquisitive young folk often want to visit Henrietta

Most of the islands seem unvisited by tourists. Tourists appeared, predominantly Korean and Chinese en masse on the little island of Boracay, where around 2 million visitors go each year, dwarfing the local population of 30,000; and there are also many foreigners who go to the big island of Palawan. Everywhere else seemed very traditional with small communities making a living with fishing, copra and small scale agriculture.IMG_2537IMG_2554

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Almost every beach is crowded with these fishing bangka, elegant colourful ‘spider’ boats 

Boracay is a gem of an island (white sand, clear seas, hills), but was deemed so polluted in 2018, that the President had it closed for six months! Sewage systems were improved and plastic cleared up, and I’m happy to say it seemed spotless, safe and a delight – though anchorage decidedly exciting, rolly and deafening as tripper boats and sailing prahas and bangka roared and growled past.P1020855

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Boracay. Fine white sandy beaches and fleets of prahas

If like me you are vegetarian or veggie-inclined the food is a disaster. Apart from a few pleasing exceptions in tourist places, it appears that pig, chicken, fish and cow plus lashings of oil and dollops of sugar are key ingredients of most dishes.

 

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One consequence is a plethora of health clinics (diabetes a common ailment), beauty parlours, fitness and massage dives. P1020824

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Wide choice of rice, market on Cebu

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An appreciation of flowers in homes and gardens and for sale here in the market

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The ubiquitous ‘tricycle’, the taxi for everyone everywhere

I could  go further and say, at risk of hurting American feelings, that the Philippines displays the worst of American culture (poor food, soulless shopping malls, donuts and fast food, rubbish telly, polluted city streets) without the privileges of American choice and wealth. 

And another thing that it shares with America: loads of churches, chapels, cathedrals, Adventist, Evangelist, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, plus some whacky ones….I don’t know what it all means but you can walk down a little street in Limasawa (a small island where the first Philippine Christian service was held nearly 500 years ago) and see at least half a dozen different places to pray, in less than a mile. The singing sounded beautiful – much better than any karaoke.

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Grand cathedral (Puerto Princesa) looks down on the impoverished. ’twas ever thus.

My sailing plan had been straightforward. I like things simple. I’d go north from Indonesia to the Philippines with last of the SE Monsoon, then south back back down to Borneo with the start of the NE Monsoon. That’s more-or-less what happened. It’s just that weather doesn’t follow a precise calendar, and round these parts there are typhoons that whistle in from the Pacific so you keep an eye on where they are. (A typhoon is the local name for hurricane and cyclone)

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We watch the approach of tyhoons (two crossed to the north in the month). They disturb the weather over a much wider area.

But overall, it has been good to have sails set most of the way…..and enough heavy rain showers to keep water tanks topped up.P1020819

Jenny joined another boat in the Philippines (thank you Jenny for sharing all those watches and some memorably delicious cooking). I sailed on single-handed again and arrived back in Kota Kinabalu, North Borneo, a couple of days ago (Last here in July). 

About 1,500 miles in the month and I’m weary as I work through that interminable list of boaty chores, and catch up with personal stuff. Christmas is never far away. (Nor another UK election – but I shan’t offer an opinion!)

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It’s big and extraordinary. Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Indonesia, Raja Ampat

Halmahera to Raja Ampat, West Papua

1st October to 2nd November

Magical islands and wondrous underwater life, Eastern Indonesia, ….

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Red line shows our ‘bit for October’

“There is no greater cruising ground than Indonesia….18,000 isles cover some two million square miles of pristine tropical waters and a rich and vibrant local culture…..300 different tribal communities, 735 local languages…” I quote from the introduction to the Cruising Guide to Indonesia, a marvellous book yet one that scarcely scratches the surface of an amazing country.

Though I spent a few years working here when very much younger, I saw little of the outlying islands. The seven months over the past 18 months that I’ve spent here with Henrietta have opened my eyes to a country and society that I love. Nowhere on earth will you find such colourfully diverse, warm-hearted, happy, forgiving and beautiful people. Superlatives fail to do justice to such wonders and such a large and fascinating place.

The past month took us across a mere two hundred miles of Eastern Indonesia, from Halmahera to Raja Ampat. You may not have heard of either of these places unless you have been here or, in the case of Raja Ampat, you are a keen diver and underwater enthusiast. Look at the map.

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Most of month passed quickly – back and forth in Raja Ampat

 

For now while there’s an internet connection I’ll just show a few photos. (Lots of things to do before sailing off tomorrow)

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Friendly efficient immigration officer extends my visa (in the places I’ve been, long gone are the days of troublesome oficialdom)

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Local fisherman gives me six coconuts for an English lesson – and shows me how to open it without machete!

 

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Waterfront, from Tobelo anchorage, with steaming, smoking volcano behind

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…describing this gulf, studded with mushroom islets, one of the most singular and picturesque landscapes I have ever seen…

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Almost everyone climbs the short steep hill, Mt Pinditu, and takes this photo in magical Pulau Wayag…I did it twice!….more pictures below

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Crossing equator with new crew, Jenny (valid reason for a beer!)

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Visitors are usually close at hand….

The pond ‘marina’, Tanpa Garam, Sorong and nearby vast deserted swimming pool (a bit murky)

And of course, we snorkel everywhere, water usually crystal clear, and a huge range of corals and fishes…photos with thanks to Jenny..

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And now it’s time to move on..Henrietta and I look forward to the Philippines – probably….Sad to be leaving Indonesia, yes, but if we delay much longer, the winds turn against us…P1020701