Magical islands and wondrous underwater life, Eastern Indonesia, ….
“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.
For now while there’s an internet connection I’ll just show a few photos. (Lots of things to do before sailing off tomorrow)
The narrow passage between Gam and Waigeo islands, where in 1860, Alfred Russell Wallace passed
…describing this studded with mushroom islets, one of the most singular and picturesque landscapes I have ever seen…
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..
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…
Bye-bye Malaysia, hello again Indonesia, sailing eastwards along the northern islands of Indonesia, warm welcomes, happy people, gorgeous scenery, white sandy beaches, clear waters
The last few days and nights in Malaysia include happy hugs and fond farewells as the Malaysia rally ends and differing plans have many of us parting ways. There’s a final ‘steamboat’ dinner with rough-humoured Aussie wit and banter, the need of Indonesian visas, Malaysian exit paperwork, stocking depleted food stores and diesel tanks, and a foul foul anchorage (where rafts of plastic rubbish stream almost constantly by, and given windy nights, many boats including Henrietta drag anchors, in my case the anchor always retrieved and festooned with clumps of plastic, old ropes and stinky slimy mud), and thankfully a repaired mainsail (sent overnight on a local bus to Kota Kinabalu, an 11 hour trip, returned three days later with seams restitched – but a new sail is needed!)…..enough of this, I was to tell you of the next country.
Final Rally dinner
Indonesia once more……But before we leave Malaysia here is a link to video made by one of the Rally boats.
And so after leaving Malaysia the past month has taken us some 800 miles east, from our final port, Tawau the stinky rubbish one, in Sabah, to Kalimantan and over the top of Sulawesi to where I write this, Morotai, an island to the north of Halmahera.
Most of the month was spent traversing the top of Central and North Sulawesi and when I look back at all the places we saw, people met, reefs snorkelled and dived, meals shared, hills climbed and events attended, I realise this summary would soon get out of hand. So, I’ll just cover three things: a bit about Sulawesi, a bit about time with my young guides in Toli Toli, and a quick mention of other happenings.
Sulawesi, like so many islands in Indonesia, is huge, fascinating, distinctive, diverse. (We’d touched islands off Southest Sulawesi last year). Sulawesi was once upon a time called Celebes. The sea we crossed is the Celebes Sea. It’s the world’s 11th biggest island, slightly smaller than Britain (ie. England, Scotland, Wales, which is 9th), and has about 20 million inhabitants. The biggest city, Makassar, is in the south. I went there a long time ago, when it was called Ujung Pandang and had less than half its current population of 1.3 million.
Much more interesting is Sulawesi’s amazing range of flora and wild life, dozens of species being endemic to Sulawesi alone. It’s part of Wallacea and hence is home to species of both Australasia and Indomalaya: cute tarsiers, macaques, strange pigs (one called the ‘warty pig’!), colourful lorikeets, and many more. There are lots of nature reserves (I visit two), and three marine protected areas, one of which we visit.
But as so often, deforestation threatens the future of much of this diversity. Thinking about the gross consumerism and wastefulness of modern mankind makes me feel sad and urge you please to think very seriously before you go on yet another needless shopping spree. But I’m not here to preach…
Although southern parts of Sulawesi, particularly Tanah Torajah are popular tourist destinations, very few foreigners ever visit the inaccessible towns in the northwest; just an annual flock of migrating sailing boats, perhaps 20 boats in all that pop in. The generous warm welcome of Indonesians is both extraordinary and humbling, and I’m often bothered at the thought of how we in the West too often treat too many of our visitors and immigrants.
Here we are treated like royalty. Hands are shaken and photos called for, many hundreds of times. A village welcomes us with over 1,000 people neatly dressed and apparently happy just to have a glimpse of mainly aging foreigners with hidung panjang (long noses)! Food is offered, welcoming dances are performed, speeches and greetings given. (You soon come to sympathise with the plight of popular monarchs for whom this sort of thing is central to their lives)
First port in Sulawesi is Toli Toli, which I reach after a typically sleep-deprived two nights from Nunekan, Kalimantan (which is Indonesian Borneo). It’s been a delight to be sailing again after so many weeks with very very little wind, and I rejoice at not hearing the almost constant steady throb of diesel engine. (From here I’m more resolved to let the wind and weather determine where and when I go, no longer bound by the timetable of a Rally fleet or need to maintain high speeds in windless conditions.)
On kayaking ashore in Toli Toli, I’m met by a smiling gathering of young men and women, and children too. They are mostly graduates from the local University who’d been taught by Hendra, the charming and helpful tourism official who’s overseeing this annual visitation of a dozen or so sailing boats.
Two of the young, Ma’ruf and Lisa, are allocated to me, and soon become friends and guides for the next few days. They each have a motorcycle and I take turns riding pillion with one then the other; both careful drivers – but her’s the more comfortable bike.
Ma’ruf is local and very familiar with the town and area. He’s touchingly helpful and always willing to take me anywhere, arrange anything and introduce me to his many friends. A graduate of the local university, he’s another of the thousands of bright young Indonesians who cannot find work that will use his talents. He works in a local motorcycle dealership doing I’m not really sure what.
Lisa, with a warm wide-eyed slightly flirtatious smile, is clearly clever. Though I sensed from a humble family, she’d won a scholarship and studied applied statistics at Makassar University; now writes letters in search of gainful employment. She’s spirited beneath the Muslim decorum and willingly tries a session with snorkel – not a usual Indonesian practice.
And so, as a happy trio and later with others, we visit market, mountain walk, special tea trip, traditional house, dance, snorkeling, dinner with the mayor, Saturday night out, and more….
Photos to summarise: –
After the fabulous welcome and entertainment laid on during our week in Toli Toli it would have been too easy to be disappointed with the next stops in North Sulawesi.
But it was OK, at the next stop Buol, we meet the King and Queen. I think I’ve never met a king or queen before – anywhere. He’s charming, faultlessly polite and gently smiling and dressed in informal regal gear; but, as we sit around amiably sipping plastic cups of water, asking innocuous questions, and declining yucky-looking little cakes in gaudy colours, I can’t help feeling the king would really rather be out fishing in his own simple little traditional fishing boat. He likes fishing.
And then, we visit Buol schools, we swim in tiny pools and plant some rice (expecting photos from headteacher in a few months to show us what I’m sure will be an utterly pathetic harvest – Westerners haven’t a clue.)
Next stop, Kwandang, would normally have been more rewarding but unusual wind direction means island anchorage untenable; only five of us boats lingering for long overland drive to regional capital, Gorontalo, and an offshore island to snorkel. But we’ve bought some beer and morale remains high.
…and then, I’m rambling on…several more anchorages en route to final Sulawesi port-of-call, the City of Bitung. More trips, a bit of shopping, walking and talking and looking and thinking – the sort of thing any retired Englishman might do; except here it is an adventure, every hour full of surprises, little mysteries, peculiar foods, smiling faces. (To keep my head out of the clouds and spirits subdued, I do follow the Brexit saga. Proxy vote ready for the showdown/s that must inevitably come.)
…and finally I bid farewell to many friends who now head south towards Australia, my heart heavy at the knowledge that most, I shall not see again, but warm with thoughts of experiences shared over the past five or six months….Henrietta carries on eastwards.
Musings on the Rally, meandering along the coast of Sabah, around the top of Borneo, wildlife, walks around Mount Kinabalu, Kinabatangan river, clearer waters and so on…
Just as a week sharing space on a sailing boat very quickly shows you most of a fellow sailor’s fine qualities, skills, personality and blemishes, so a few weeks with a sailing rally soon uncovers the truths of our fellow boaties: the very good, the sometimes bad and, alas, occasionally the teeny bit ugly; national stereotypes confirmed, dismissed or, more usually, just a bit modified.
But I tread carefully; the British have more blemishes than many. And above all, sailors, all those on the sea, help one another, share a wonderful life and always learn from one another.
I loosely joined the rally from Langkawi, West Malaysia to East Malaysia (i.e. Sarawak and Sabah, North Borneo), nearly 2,000 miles, mainly because of the security offered whilst sailing the final few miles close to troublesome islands in the Southern Philippines.
In this smallish area extremists have kidnapped unfortunate souls for ransom, and occasional execution – though not, I think, yachts from Malaysian waters – thanks I suspect to Malaysian security forces, acronym ESSCOM, who have escorted us for the past two or three weeks.The escorted bit around northeast tip of Borneo meant decisions about when to leave, where to anchor, where to stop, where to go etc. were out of our hands; we sailed within a grouped flotilla never more than four miles by two miles, maintaining a speed close to 5.5 knots almost all the time, with accompanying ESSCOM vessels and shore stations watching over us.
The reality for the whole rally, covering over four months since April, has been a lot of fun, many new friends and a wealth of experiences.
But, were it not for the security offered for the final three weeks, I’d choose not to join such a rally. Rallies run contrary to the nature of the independent free spirited souls who form the bulk of long distance sailors.
Over the past months happiest times have been when away from the fleet of up to 29 yachts, pottering alone upriver in Sarawak, anchoring in secluded bays, snorkelling with one or two others, meeting local people, making our own decisions and choosing our own timetable. Above all I’ve loved land travel with Armelle (who’s been with Henrietta for most of the past two months in Borneo – but alas will not become a global sailor).
The above simply summarises my view of the Sail Malaysia Rally to the East. It’s not meant to sway you towards or away from taking part should you be heading this way. But another time, I’d go alone.
From here this post is just a hasty summary of a full month sailing and exploring Sabah, the Malaysian state that covers the northernmost patch of Borneo.
The best way to do such a summary, given I’ve run out of time with internet, is with a series of photos….
From Sarawak, Henrietta pottered northwards overnight to the island of Labuan, a busy stretch of sea cluttered with oil and gas rigs and boats zipping hither and thither at all hours. No chance of sleep.
I bypassed Brunei, a proposed rally stopping place, unwilling to visit a country run by a strange dictatorial zealot, however benevolent.
Labuan, like much of North Borneo has historical interest, local colour and a marvelous mix of helpful and friendly indegenous people. Labuan also has duty-free status; yachts sit a little lower, burdened under the weight of beer.
Mount Kinabalu (Borneo’s highest peak) and, below, world’s largest flower, and we do find one…
On next to Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, and from there land travel to spend a couple of days in Gunung Kinabalu National Park.
After Kudat, we’re disciplined into following the instructions of ESSCOM, though still with some freedom to do-our-own-thing when moored in the larger towns of Sandakan and Lahad Datu.
Pictures from Sandakan and around…..
And from Lahad Datu and around….
Plus there’s a pleasant few days pottering up the River Kinabatangan, and a day’s speedboat trip to the Marine Park island of Sipadan for diving and snorkelling before the final week heading on to Tawau, last port-of-call in Malaysia, and close to the border with Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan).
Images from Kinabatangan River
..who join in heavy rain
Soon the curtain will close on Tawau and I’ll leave Malaysia – for a while
Next stop for Henrietta will be Kalimantan, and then I plan to sail further east through more islands of Indonesia….Sulawesi, Raja Ampat and Papua.
Yes, I know it’s going the wrong way for England. But I’ll turn around somewhere and head west again……
Meandering along the coast of Sarawak, Kuching, Borneo’s Longest River, Bako and Mulu National Parks
13th June to 14th July
First, a bit about Borneo: it’s the third largest island in the world, more than three times the size of the U.K. The biggest chunk of it, Kalimantan, is within Indonesia. The smallest chunk, but by far the wealthiest per capita, is Brunei. Then there’s East Malaysia, which makes up nearly a third of Borneo, and comprises Sarawak and Sabah. It’s Sarawak and Sabah that I’ll visit in the next two months.
And this chapter of the blog is about Sarawak. It’s the largest Malaysian State by area but has a population of only 2.6 million. It’s wealth comes from timber and oil/gas and palm oil; there’s a lot of all three. The capital is Kuching. I liked Sarawak a lot.
The history of Sarawak is fascinating. A slice of its history from 1839, saw it under the control of colourful eccentric, James Brooke (the white Rajah) and his successors. And after WW II, and the Japanese were defeated, it was a British Colony until independence and Malaysia’s Formation in 1963.
This blog post is overdue. Lots of excuses…..
On arriving at Kuching Marina (something of a misnomer for the poorly maintained pontoons that protrude into the rubbish-strewn and fast-flowing river a couple of miles from Kuching) from Natuna, Indonesia; after sleepless day/night sail; my solitary solo sailing life came to an abrupt end – at least for a while.
The delights of two strong-minded, lovely women interrupted the reveries of single-handed life. First my sister, Margie, then Armelle, shook me up and set me on the path to righteousness. Margie brought a wondrous load of gifts that surpassed all Christamases for years gone by (spare parts for Henrietta, plus Waitrose muesli and a pair of top quality M&S swimming trunks!)
She’d come for white sandy beaches and coconut palms. But Sarawak’s speciality is crocodiles, murky waters and mangrove, so alas stayed only a few days before leaving to explore the more attractive islands and towns of sun-blessed West Malaysia. There was enough time for her first to explore thoroughly the streets of Kuching and share a trip to Bako National Park.
….on to Baku National Park
…monkeys, hilly walks and lush rainforests…
…a short speed boat trip away..
Then Henrietta headed downriver from Kuching (it’s about 12 miles to the sea) along the coast a bit and into the River Rajeng, which is Borneo’s longest river. To an Englishman it seems huge with 10,000 ton ships, express ferry boats and giant barges heading upstream for many miles, collecting timber or gravel or produce or people from Sarawak’s interior.
…photos of vessels on the Rajeng River…
It takes two days’ motoring along this wide and delightful river to reach the city of Sibu over 100 km upstream; and Sibu is considered only the starting point for river traffic heading even further inland into the rainforest of Borneo’s interior. You anchor wherever you like near the banks of the river, nights filled with all the glorious sounds of rainforest life, though we also stopped at Sarikei a largely Chinese town where we’re shown a glimpse of Chinese life by Stephen Chang, a generous hospitable local entrepreneur.
As an aside, I add that for some unknown reason Sarawak’s larger towns have chosen items to ‘adopt’ as their local mascots. For Kuching, it’s cats (the Malay word for cat is ‘kucing’, though city has nothing to do with cats!); for Sarikei, it’s pineapples; for Sibu, a swan; Miri, a seahorse etc. Here are photos to give you the gist of it. Just think what you could do with the town of Sandwich in Kent, UK!
Were it not too tedious for you to read about, I’d fill volumes with the delights of gentle motoring downriver, meeting local people, fishermen, wise forthright men and women, bright smiling children. Listening and seeing and scenting the fabulous colours of tropical rainforest, rainbows, birds and insects.
But, here are some photos instead….
…images from Sungai Rajeng:
It’s a further two days and nights at sea to next stop, Miri. It’s Sarawak’s second city, wealthy with oil money sloshing about, flattened by bombing in the war, then rebuilt but with little local interest.
However, near to Miri are Niah Caves…and a day later….we take a short flight to Gunung Mulu National Park (flying is the only practical way to get there). Gunung Mulu National Park is cave country, bat caves, world’s largest cavern included, stalactite and stalagmite country, insect country, rainforest, rivers, and mountains; kind clever industrious people. Again, to save the volumes I’d need to write to describe this fabulous area, for now I shall just add a few photos. If you have a chance, you’ll need to go yourself.
Armelle and I stay on a few days, take a boat upstream and walk to Camp 5. This is the base point for those who’ve booked to climb the Pinnacles. We hadn’t. Instead, the Headhunters’ Trail and unvisited, unspoilt mountain stream provide a wonderful day’s leisure and tranquility. (It had been a sleepless night lying cold and wet in the Camp 5 dormitary, sound effects courtesy of the Malaysian Snorers’ Ensemble).
at this point internet becomes too weak to continue.
Some more little islands of Indonesia, snorkels, selfies and dancing
Anambas and Natuna Islands
16th May to 12th June
We’d better start with a quick bit of geography. The average participant in a UK pub quiz would not have heard of these islands, let alone be able to locate them. (A year ago I’d not heard of them either.)
The Anambas and Natuna islands are about half way between Singapore and Borneo, or between West and East Malaysia (Sarawak), in the South China Sea. They are a part of Indonesia, but as they include sizeable reserves of natural gas, others, especially the Chinese, dispute this. (A massive Indonesian military camp is now taking shape here on the largest of the Natuna Islands.)
The Anambas Islands, there are about 250 of them, offer some of the best snorkelling and diving in the world. They are tricky to get to (unless you have time or money or a yacht) and the islands are largely untouched.
The Natuna Islands, about 270 of these, seem to have less clear water and more fishing, but as I’ve only been to four of them I must not judge. Villages are tidy and seem relatively afluent – with well-amplified mosques calling us to prayer.
Homes on Tanjung Kumbrik, Natuna
First impressions? Wonderful.
Final impressions (I must leave soon)? Wonderful, exquisitely beautiful, delightful welcoming warm-hearted people, largely unspoilt, isolated and very little visited. I could go on but a poet would do more justice than prose could ever achieve. I’ll brighten your day with a few more photos.
On first reaching these Indonesian islands from Malaysia (after blissful brisk overnight sail from Tioman, with bright full moon to light the way), we anchor on patch of sand in a classical jungle-fringed tropical bay with crystal clear water, pristine coral all around and a tiny village a half mile away.
There are some little fishing boats; I’d already forgotten that the small one- or two-man fishing boats in Indonesian islands do not have silencers and their engines have a distinctive loud resonant throaty chugging sound – not offensive, just noisy. (Size isn’t everything when it comes to volume!).
But they wave and smile as we eye up one another. (Fisherfolk and local people seem to view foreign sailing boats rather as we might join whale/dolphin spotting trips to view our swimming mammals. Certainly the boat-watching visitors like to take photos – to excess.)
Sailing alone I visit nearly one island per day, usually snorkel, clamber up a hill or explore a beach, trying to remember enough Indonesian to talk to inquisitive local people. (I was in the country about 40 years ago).
Solo sailing means life swings wildly between days of gentle solitude or Indonesian visitors, when I may see no boat and no Westerner, read a book, absorb a podcast or clean my ‘home’, achieving quite a lot (or so it seems); and then frenetic sociability with Indonesian culture and speeches and food, or generous boaty sundowner hospitality (Australians – and most boats are Australian- are especially hospitable and keen not to miss a sunset drink.)
As a final titbit of Anambas interest, I’ll just mention Roman Devivo. He’s a nutritionist, originally French but longtime American resident (before heading to Indonesia), and he’s taken his commitment to the paleo diet idea to an extreme. (‘Paleo’ seems to be one of the many fashionable mildly wacky diets that has legions of enthusiastic converts)
I’d kayaked over to Roman’s islet of Pulau Sama, Anambas, to the north of what sailors have christened Moonrock Bay. He’s lived there for the past year with his wife and two daughters (8 and 11), and is busy developing, “…with an Indonesian company…”, a resort (one Balinese style hut/house on each of several nearby beaches).
His family seem to exist happily and healthily on a raw food paleo diet which entails eating zero processed food (not even bread) and without ever cooking anything (this isn’t merely a hunter-gatherer diet, it’s pre-cooking too – everything went wrong, he says, when we started to cook). You can sun-dry your meat or eat it raw, but not barbeque it, let alone use a stove!
One day before too long, you’ll be able to visit, stay a while (minimum ideally three weeks – for your gut to adjust!) and live an even more extreme form of self-denial than the most austere of monks – and I guess it might cost a lot too. (When I find my notebook I’ll post the website address). Crackpot or well-informed activist and doer? I found him fascinating and utterly sane, and it’s good to find folk who follow their convictions (as long as peaceful), however outlandish. But it’ll never be a diet or life-style for me. Goodness no!
Tourist visit to Singapore, and sailing around islands of southeast peninsular Malaysia to Tioman
29th April to 15th May
With Henrietta cosy and secure at Sebana Cove, Malaysia, I left her and took buses for a few days’ holiday in Singapore. (My sailing budget doesn’t run to the agent fees and marina charges for Singapore by yacht)
Singapore is fascinating for many reasons.
But before I launch into the usual tourist tales and tell you how amazing and wonderful it is, I should remind you that despite its amazingness, Singapore is a member of the shrinking club of countries that still retains the death penalty, and thus demonstrates its lesser known credentials as a ruthless, ultimately arrogant cruel and intolerant sort of nation, earning itself a place alongside some other well-known beacons of medieval enlightenment such as Texas and Saudi Arabia.
And should you believe it’s an appropriate form of retribution and deterrent to serious crime, it’s best first to seek out data to support your view.
(In case you wondered, Singapore’s preferred technique is long drop hanging, at Changi prison at dawn on Fridays. And in 2018 it possibly had the world’s highest per capita execution rate – 13 prisoners ended their days that way.)
When it comes to maintaining law and order, you probably already knew that you cannot buy chewing gum, spit or walk across the road against a ‘red man’. I am usually a law-abiding sort of fellow, who detests spitting and doesn’t much like chewing gum, but I feel tempted to try all three. It is surely innate in man to challenge rules that seek to bind us too tightly? (perhaps I’m just naughtier than I’d thought)
Anyway I was about to move on and tell you how efficient, clean, helpful and friendly I found the place. But then I recall the immigration hall queues at the Malaysia/Singapore border, a vast warehouse sort of shed that handles hundreds of thousands of people a day.
Up until I’d experienced this shed, I’d thought nowhere on the planet could surpass the United States for slow intractable unsmiling uncompromising border control. But I’m unhappy to announce that Singapore can; it’s even worse than busy times in American airports.
I know the land crossing is not Singapore’s Changi Airport (which I gather has a better class of visitor and has streamlined itself), but nonetheless, we’re still human beings even if we arrive by bus. After over an hour in the queue, which was moving more slowly than a meditating monk in neutral, and we were perhaps half-way there, a young child started screaming inconsolably in front of me; loud, incessant yells of anguish, and I know we all sympathised and wished we could join in the screaming. But of course we didn’t dare.
(If you find excessive queues when entering Britain, let me know and I’ll send you the address of the Minister to write to.)
Okay, enough of the sorry state of Singaporean rules and controls.
It is, despite its abhorrent sense of justice and these seriously negative comments, a fantastic sort of place. (I’d been born there a very long time ago, revisited a few times in the 1970/80s but not been back since.)
I shan’t whitter on too much about Singapore as a tourist mecca and streamlined business hub as you may have already visited yourself and, if not, the guide books will fill you in.
For me, the architecture (imaginative, super-modern, fabulous high-rise vistas from anywhere you choose, somehow still incorporating a few gems from its colonial past); top-class museums and galleries (well planned and beautifully assembled); a transport system – once you’re in – that should be the envy of any city in the world (spotlessly clean, quick, cheap and easy); fabulous gardens and public spaces that are both beautifully laid out and perfectly maintained….all these things make it unique, beautiful and a credit to urban planners, architects, engineers and the many others who create such a city.
And if you’re into shopping and eating, there seem to be all the fashion labels and perfume houses you’ve ever heard of plus many more; and diets to suit any palate and any size of wallet in settings that vary from colourful roadside stall to air conditioned splendour (though I didn’t actually try any of the latter.)
Here are some slides…
To think that in January 1819, a mere 200 years ago, the place had about 150 inhabitants and much of the island was inhospitable swampy jungle. When Stamford Raffles and Major Farquhar landed with their party of Britons and hangers-on they agreed with the local Sultan to rent the place for 5,000 Spanish dollars a year in return for exclusive rights to establish a settlement.
Big deals were managed pretty quickly in those days – though not without careful diplomacy of course, plus a lot of work, ambition, vision and surprising empathy.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. And I do still marvel that over five million people now live peaceably, tidily and politely on such a poky little hot and humid island.
I don’t know whether Singaporeans are happy (there didn’t seem to be much laughter going on). And perhaps more of us will have to live in such cities if we are to squeeze over 14 billion humans into planet earth in a generation’s time. But I’m glad I shan’t be one of them.
Oh yes! Here’s a little table to show which Chinese Horoscope sign applies for your year of birth. Combine it with the myths of the Western Horoscope and you’ll know exactly who you are…
Once back aboard Henrietta a few days later, it was time to catch up other boats andI sailed off east and thence up the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia to islands around Tioman (which is itself an island).
I soon meet up again with sailing friends and find several more new good-natured folk to chat with. There are at least 20 boats of various shapes and sizes assembling hereabouts in a rather haphazard sort of way, and it’s a sociable way of life if you so choose.
Day 1 in Tioman: I’d arrived just in time for games with local children and adults (Silly games and plenty of fun).
Day 2: We sweat and puff our way a few hours up a gorgeous tropical forest path to swim in cool not-so-clear waterfall pool.
Days 3 etc. More walks, more islands, more waterfalls, more snorkelling (lovely clear coral waters again), more chat, more friends, more beer ………
I especially liked visiting a Turtle Project on Tioman’s East coast. Perhaps a dozen young volunteers from around the world have created an information hub and turtle nesting area, where they enthusiastically tell us of the horrifyingly rapid drop in turtle numbers – in large part a direct consequence of man’s impacts (plastic and global sea temperatures).
The year’s first batch of baby green turtles hatch in the evening of one day I’m there, and 120 of these mini turtles scurry into the waves. Of a thousand that start out, they reckon as few as two will reach fertility, some 20 years later. Without ocean plastic it could be as many as ten.
Next stop after Tioman will be the islands of Anambas and Natuna in Indonesia. These islands are about half way to Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak), and we’ll spend a month there.
Some boats seem to have left already. The rest of us wait for wind to fill our sails, not wanting to motor such a distance. (And anyway I’m licking some minor bruises and wounds from a little local motorbike accident….which was probably mostly my fault!)
Sea trials for Henrietta and Armelle, Cameron Highlands, Malacca Straits and East past Singapore
8th to 28th April
With propellor finally attached and working properly, Henrietta was launched and pretty much ready to go.
First though, Parisienne friend Armelle comes for a visit. This is unexpected; and wonderful. I’d not seen her since Northern Thailand over a month ago.
We took Henrietta for ‘sea trials’ over to the island of Pangkor; trials for boat and Armelle. Intensive sailing lessons too. She’s of course quick to learn; the helm, port/starboard, sheet and genoa, tacking, furling – words for which I do not know the French; I hear her practicing knots: “le petit lapin…le trou…l’arbre”. (Is this how French youngsters are taught the bowline, I wonder?)
After walks ashore and night at anchor (on sea that’s seldom as calm as the River Seine), we head back to marina, abandon Henrietta, and drive inland a few hours to the Cameron Highlands (it’s an old colonial area high in the hills, well north of Kuala Lumpur, nearer the town of Ipoh).
It’s blissfully cool after steamy sticky heat of the coast and there’s heavy rainfall most afternoons. The tea plantations cloak the hills in verdant beauty; and soggy little-visited mountain treks are heavenly. (You must turn a blind eye to acres of scarring plastic sheeting that envelope swathes of hillside, growing vegetables for the markets of Malaysia.)
Tea plantations roll across vast areas of undulating mountainside, small tea bushes of dense cultivation, narrow paths between the bushes just about enough to scramble along (but I’m not sure we should be here!) The mountain path we choose next day from the peak of Mount Brinchang is not yet open or ready, is not signposted or on maps, and only a kind knowledgeable local Indian tells us how to find the start; but it’s magical, a fairy-tale land of moss covered trees and twigs, lush green creepers, muddy rocks, fungi and small crystal clear mountain streams. One of the year’s more memorable short mountain walks, and we see not a single other person along the way.
Next day, after stopping briefly at Perak Tong, an unusual and peculiar Buddhist/Hindu temple cave (no time for history lesson here), we head back to Pangkor marina.And a day later Armelle leaves for KL and NZ. I shall miss her.
But I bid farewell to Pangkor’s wonderful marina staff
…and enjoy final marina on board drinks with friends (thank you, Geoff and Charmaine for the splendour of your saloon and hospitality…and Terry for photo)
And then, as they say, it’s time to move on.
First, clearance procedures; that’s immigration, harbour master, customs – three tedious and faceless offices a long way apart and a long way from the boat.
Mostly helpful and efficient people, but one unbelievable pompous tit-pip who suggests I wear long trousers ( so I nervously lower my shorts as far as they’ll decently go, nearly covering my knees, and he smiles and relents. After all, I had shaved, showered and worn my best clean clothes specially; and I’m an utterly innocuous old Englishman. But, long trousers? You must be joking.)
Then I sail south. It’s about 280 miles from Pangkor to Puteri Harbour (near Singapore but in Malaysia). I planned to cover half with a day and night sail, then two or three day sails for the last and busier bit.
The first night, after an appallingly heavy hot humid stifling and sweaty day, and around midnight, the skies ahead start to light up with electrical storms, almost ceaseless flashes growing ominously closer and totally unavoidable.
Worst nightmare on board is being enveloped by thunder and lightning, much more alarming I find than any gale or rough ocean sea. This was my third such storm in five years, and definitely the worst.
It’s hard to describe the conditions and anxiety that accompany a severe electrical storm. And in this instance it was a dark night, and I was adjacent to busy shipping lane and about to cross the route that ships must take as they enter Port Klang (Malaysia’s busiest port, and though you may not have heard of it, it’s busier than any British port).
Suffice to say, I am rarely frightened, but now I was definitely shaky, (though I’m pretty sure there was so much electrical energy in the stifling air that even my little on-board brass Buddha was shaky.)
Before long the rain hits us and sudden squally gusts of wind reach 40 knots. Between the flashes of lightning it’s pitch black. My glasses stream with water and vision is blurred as I desperately keep alert for ships’ lights or unlit fishing boats. And around us vicious forks of lightning crash into the sea.
It’s like a scene from a film (I think ‘Life of Pi’ had one such scene) where special effects have produced images that you do not believe could ever happen in real life. But they do! That night they did.
In the midst of it all, there was the double beep as all Henrietta’s instruments failed, then died. A near-strike of lightning had triggered failure. No chart plotter, no autohelm, no depth, no wind speed/direction. I’m back to hand steering by compass – something that nowadays we so seldom do for long spells. (I don’t mind, but feel vulnerable to lightning strikes as I nervously hold the metal wheel and grow chilly in torrential rain.)…for obvious reasons there are no photos!
Anyhow, all unpleasant things must sometime come to an end. A couple of hours later there’s the sweet relief of still being around; I’m alive, the storm is well past, ships’ lights clear once more and by dawn, a gentle breeze to carry us the last few miles to Port Dickson.
Rebooting all instruments next day has all, apart from ‘wind’, working again – phew!
From Port Dickson to Puteri in Johor, and thence around the south of Singapore, we’re close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes and a near constant stream of massive cargo vessels and tankers scurry north and south feeding the needs and excesses of us all.It’s a ship-spotters paradise….
…but I dislike sailing alone at night near such traffic (there’s no chance of even cat-nap sleeping) and so cover the miles in daylight and enjoy a couple of peaceful nights at anchor, and some time in marina at Puteri.
I’ve joined another rally to sail east from here for a spell, around the top of Borneo in a few months’ time, the Malaysian bits of that vast island – Sarawak and Sabah), via some little-visited Indonesian islands (Anambas and Natuna) on the way.
For now (that’syesterday) we visit crocodile ‘pets’ (yes, ‘pets’ – no handbags here – 1,000 living, vile and dangerous beasts), an organic fruit farm, horseshoe crabs (these mini beasts have blue blood – really ‘blue’ not ‘aristocrat blue’) and fisherman museum to start with.
It gets us in the mood, as it were.
Although not generally keen on ‘rallies’, it seems to be the safest way to pass the pirate/terrorist-troubled areas between Borneo and the Philippines (Malaysia provides armed escorting ships).
The rally will take us through to late August, and provides helpful advice for visiting some remote parts of East Malaysia; as well perhaps as new sailing friends along the way.
After that, I haven’t a clue where I’ll go. (At this stage of world sailing, few of us have very clear plans about what comes next – in life or on the sea).