At the last night function in Miri a Rally photo competition was held and Charmar won the award for a Landscape photo with this photo of Pauline, a dolphin and Charmar taken by Dianne crossing the South China Sea. We all thought this photo was exceptional and so did the judges.
Well done Dianne a great shot!
We finally left Miri at 2200 (10pm) on 23rd bound for Brunei after attending the final formal function in Miri. It was low tide as we left the Marina under cover of darkness. We worked our way out and around a huge moored barge with a couple of barely visible candlelights each end but fortunately we could see the outline as it was directly in our path. It was then just a matter of dodging oil rigs and tenders as we proceeded through the night. At some stage we hit something hard that actually dented the bow. Probably a floating log which is a real hazard in this area but nothing one can do to avoid them at night! Just one of the hazards of the area and virtues of having a strong boat.
After a relaxing afternoon, conserving our energy for our night departure for Brunei, we joined the Rally Fleet on foot and walked up to the resort for a hosted farewell dinner. Our new bikes came in handy for Neil as he was able to ride the bike the venue which was about a 10 minute walk and his ankle would not have been able to manage the walk.
It was a glorious evening and a delightful setting with the tables scattered on the lawn with the sparkling pool in the background and the sun setting over the water. We had been asked to submit two photos taken on the rally for a photo competition, my "Pauline and Dolphin" shot was entered for the comp and it won the "landscape" category winning a very handy backpack.
It happened to also be Lloyd's (cat Déjà vu II) 70th birthday. Some of the yachts got together and put on a "Gilligan Island" act getting Lloyd up on the stage while they sang a song about him and his yacht. There were a few other skits as well, all very entertaining, finishing with birthday cake and all singing Lloyd "Happy Birthday". It was a great night, lots of fun and wonderful food.
Back to Charmar and on our way on time at 10.00pm, it was a very low tide, just enough water for us to exit the marina. Despite there being no moon the sky was quite bright making visibility relatively good, this was very fortunate as there were a few huge black ships on anchor without lights. We passed many floating high rise cities which were the oil and gas platforms all ablaze with lights.
The wind picked up and we hoisted our sails and kept one motor ticking over to maintain a comfortable 6.5 knots. About 4.00am we were finally clear of the obstacles and were starting to relax and enjoy the sail when there was an almighty thud, and thud again with Charmar shuddering. I rushed up the front with the torch and shone it all around but couldn't see anything to have caused the thuds or shudder, we continued on puzzled but none the wiser.
Day break and the wind was increasing enabling us to stop the motor and enjoy a very comfortable sail making good time as we were still travelling at 6 to 7 knots. There were still many oil and gas fields all around off in the distance and many large ships and fishing vessels passing by. One fishing vessel was coming straight at us on the port side and passed very close to our stern, all crew were on deck taking photos of us, smiling and waving.
2.00pm we entered the leads into Brunei Bay, a very busy well marked channel and an hour later had us dropping anchor amongst other yachts, some locals and others cruising through, in front of the Serasa Royal Brunei Yacht Club. We had enjoyed a great sail for a change as travelling purely by wind power has been few and far between on this rally. Being late afternoon we decided to stay on board and recharge our batteries (people batteries that is) in preparation for the next 3 hectic days planned! Upon anchoring we were able to more closely examine the dent in the bow at the water line where we had hit something hard during the night, probably an end on log many of which inhabit this part of the oceans.
This was put on by the Marina development owner and was a great night and a lot of fun. The entertainment was provided by the rally group.
Yesterday we were going to leave Miri, weather was a bit ordinary and we just mucked around and went into town for a while so for some reason didn't get away, however because of this went to a magnificient dinner ain a majestic restaurant at the breakwater in front of the Marina, where the seahorse lives. This was an official function and a really enjoyable evening. So we were going to leave after the function, however during the dinner we were talked into another dinner tonight so he we still are. I guess one of the virtues of cruising is being flexible and being able to change your mind...........
It was well worth stopping over the extra day or two ...........
Yesterday we also succumbed to buying two folding bikes, so now we can hit town that much quicker and they stow away pretty well although we only bought cheapies as they will be exposed to the elements on marinas etc. Been thinking about it for a while but did it rather spontaneously.
Today we will do a bit more visitation and prepare to leave after dinner tonight! Well maybe but Brunei is calling 100 miles north and about 40 oil rigs to sail past!
Neil's foot is on the mend so he is getting around again and the majority of the fleet are here in Miri. We were told last night that there are 130 vessels in this year's Indonesia Rally and they expect 60 for the west Malaysian Coast Rally (we are on the East Malaysian Rally).
As at today we are still in Miri although we have cleared customs and immigration (kastoms and immigrasen) as we are due to leave Malaysia for Brunei, probably this afternoon. At 1530 we will become illegal immigrants!
The last couple of days have spent in and around Miri, we did a footwalk on Sunday through all the malls and shopping centres and then hired a car for a day to do a few chores, restocking, fuelling by "jerry jugs" and a drive up north just to have a look. This has been an interesting area. Some of the boats have moved on but most of the rally fleet are now filling the marina. We are thinking to go to Brunei a day or two early as there is a lot to see up there. The path up is littered with oil rigs, ships, more oil rigs and platforms etc.
Last night we were back and expecting an early night but friends walking down the marina were encouraged to come on board as they are not taking their boat further north at this stage so it may have been a farewell drink, which led to the next passers by coming on board and the next and the next and our neighbours from both sides - so we quickly had an impromptu Tuesday sesh, and with contributions from all running back and forward to cook and collect or collect and bring various fingerfoods ended up with a tasty finger food dinner as well. The night didn't go too late (not like the last sesh) as some of them had only come in that day and still had sleep to catch up on - come to think of it I think we still had some to catch up on.
So Miri has been great and we have enjoyed our time here. The Caves were fantastic, the "mob" have gone to see them today. The town is great, obviously wealthy, and everywhere there are signs offering jobs. Every shop has a sign out looking for staff so I can only guess there is overful employment. The markets had good quality food and items, and quite clearly some of the housing subdivisions are "fuelled" by the oil industry with California Style "mansions" and many of them.
One of the entrances to these massive caves.
17/07/2009, Miri Marina
Niah Caves about 16k from the Coast are the agenda for today. Several of the boats in and ourselves have a mini bus ordered to take us there so it is an early start. Panthalassa crew who came in late last night join us also. So it is this select group that head off in the mini bus with no springs an no air-con.
The Caves themselves have very profound archeological significance as they have found "modern day" man remains there dating back some 40,000 years and there are correlations with early Tasmanians. Now that calls for all sorts of wise cracks that will remain out of this column. The archeologists who first discovered it was discredited until more modern dating techniques were available but was ultimately proven correct. The cave were a sacred site, burial ground where boat like coffins were used and there are cave paintings.
They are also a site for collecting birds nest for the famous Chinese Birds Nest Soup, and collectors actually live in the Caves and climb poles and ropes hundreds of feet to collect the birds nest. Deaths are common. The nest is made purely from the salivary gland of the birds and is a prized delicacy.
The caves are enormous and the geography from the jungle to massive rock walls is just stunning. Archeological excavation still takes place and we could see the early boat coffins that had been uncovered and skeletal remains. Interestingly one can walk freely around the caves and into the various chambers, down boardwalks in the total darkness and almost do a trip of self discovery.
The walk was at least 7km and after the past few days activities we were all pretty much worn out at the end, also after climbing hundreds of steps up and down, and we had a late lunch at the Cave Cafeteria and headed off for home. Later in the evening we went into town for a Chinese Seafood dinner.
Miri seems to be a great place, apparent wealth here and very helpful and positive people. A lot of oil money here of course and no doubt that serves the local economy well.
The marina is good but has no facilities, they are to build the clubhouse and amenities next year.
16/07/2009, Miri Marina
A good sleep but today is clean up day so we head off to the Marina Office by foot, quite a way too. Do our paperwork and get a power plug for the Marina, returning by foot also.
Then it is cleaning time, jet blast the decks, clean the cockpit, put the dive tank on and clean under the waterline a two hour job, vacuum the bilges to keep them stone dry the way I like them, clean the hulls - if it moves or doesn't it gets cleaned today.
Tonight we help another friend into the Marina and it is time to clear emails etc etc as the night wears on..................tomorrow we will visit the famous caves in the area at Niah Caves National Park..........
15/07/2009, Oil rig land
It is just past midnight on the morning of 15th. We have massive oil rigs to the starboard and port sides as we traverse some of the oil fields on the way to Miri, where oil is staple.
One rig on the port side has a massive burnout flame which is lighting up the flat and smooth ocean for tens of miles - the flame must be putting out millions of candlepower light and the rigs can be seen from more than ten mile away and as we get closer the lights become distinguishable and some as big as massive ocean liners, some just a pipe and frame, some major oil rig structures, and of course shipping around to presumably take the gas and oil although there are many pipelines here to and to supply the rigs. Parts of the ocean and vividly light up.
We motor through a great part of the night on a flat and windless sea but gain some breeze through the morning. Wanting to arrive at Miri in daylight later in the morning we start both engines to make speed and arrive at Miri Marina, around the seahorse and into a pen at around 1530 in the afternoon.
Many hands come to take our lines from fellow sailors and before we know it we seem to be hosting a marina walkway party that goes on just behind Charmar.
In the early hours of the morning Dianne and myself leave the party to go out to show a fellow yachtie travelling with us the way into the Marina as it is quite tricky at night and not well lit and they have had a long passage.
We get them safely in and the stalwarts are still on the marina at 0230 and later the 16th of July!!!
After a passage through the prior night I am a bit tired and crawl into bed for a sound sleep at around 0300, leaving a couple of stayers and players to carry on a bit longer!!
PS: I loved the no anchoring signs in some of the rivers!
After visiting Sempak village of 52 houses we recommenced our soray along the complex but simply massive river system. Tidal streams often ran at many knots, some times went in and out and up and around due to the interconnectedness of the river systems and frequently carried logs, trees, stumps, large stumps and other debris up and down with the tide. Indeed interesting following the patterns in the water where tidal lines met and trying to stay out of the mainstream logging and debris areas. At times we just had to push on through the floatsam and jetsam to get ahead. But we followed various rivers systems until we were close to the northern exit river that we wanted to leave from the follow morning. In company with two other boats we anchored about 6 - 8 miles from the northern exit in a wide expanse of water but out of the main stream. Later we were to learn that an American Boat travelling with us had been hit by a barge whilst at anchor and sustained some damage.
Well it is a 5.00 am start in the morning to push some incoming tide but to try and catch the outrun as we leave the river system for the South China Sea. That is the plan anyway!
The diligent village guards at all entrances to the village
13/07/2009, Kuala Brui
Last night we had drinks on board Silent Winds with Blue Moon of Oz before returning to Charmar for a scrumptious steak dinner to celebrate Dianne's Birthday. Thank you to all those who sent wishes, unfortunately we are not in a phone or internet friendly area so communications are somewhat limited. But we had a great night and finished off with some Moonshine and Rice Wine.
This morning we were up early to see the TREES floating down the river, not just logs, timber, stumps and debris but massive trees as well on the fast flowing rising tide. Fortunately they seemed to curve a little and avoid crashing into us.
It was great to visit the local village and school which was not a longhouse but 52 separate houses, connected as always with arial timber walkways and pathways. We visited the local school and spent some time with the teachers and classes and then one of the local signed for us to follow her and we went to the market garden where she picked up some pineapples and some melons for us.
The villagers here are essentially spiritualist or animist, that is they believe in spirits, and would have been headhunters in the past. They tend for themselves. At the outskirts of the village are timber sentries complete with gun, sword and rigid loincloth, man and woman obviously to fend off the intruders and spirits! The teachers provided by the Sarawak Government are all Muslim and the children in this remote village school wear Muslim clothes, tie and headress whilst at school.
The village is a mix of traditional and new. Aluminium window frames for example are starting to replace traditional windows. But some of the houses are particularly well kept and some not so but all the rubbish just goes underneath as repairs are done and things are changed. Some houses are made to look quite flash and all have power and TV etc and quite nice furnishings. Some people go out to work others tend the market garden, local farm and fishing etc.
A very interesting visit and one woman took it upon herself to rush home, change into her visitors clothes and to proudly show us around! We felt quite priveliged and enjoyed sharing books and pencils etc with the children.
We have headed off with strong tides adding to our speed, dodging logs and trees etc to get to near the top of the entrance leading out to the north where we will head out to Miri probably tomorrow depending on the weather.
It has been really interesting in these tumultous inland muddy waterways with absolutely fast running and tree and log strewn tidal streams but the waterways are enormous and the rivers massive with ships, barges, cross river ferries, logging and local boats including express cigarette style ferries always on the move.
11/07/2009, Belawai River Borneo
Today we are "up the river"......in the middle of the Borneo Jungle. We started early from Paula Lekai this morning at 0530 and motor sailed most of the morning to enter Belawai River, the second of three massive waterways that are all interlinked that can go up to Sibu but form a massive network of broad and deep waterways into Borneo Jungle that interlink and will eventually release us further north to go to Miri.
We have meandered and wound our way up Jungle Rivers accompanied by Dolphins at times and avoiding the logs and debris washing down with the tide in this deep jungle. Interestingly the palms come right down to the water edge like mangroves, which are there as well but they form a seemingly impenetrable waterfront jungle barrier. In some areas there has been logging, and we pass the occasional local boat as we meander and work our way through this amazingly interconnected waterway. At times the depth is 30 metres at others down to 2 as we skirt around sand bars and other shallow areas trying to follow our plotted path but with many options of streams, rivers and waterways we can pursue.
A typhoon north near Vietnam has made parts of the South China Sea less than hospitable so we may even spend some days in this waterway until the sea conditions hopefully smooth out and become more hospital.
There is no doubt that this is a great contrast to the blue clear water and super white sands of the east Coast of Malaysia Peninsula, nevertheless the brown water, the jungle, the animals, and the vegetation are very interesting and challenging, as much as we would love to jump into the water to cool off it is not the "done thing" and the water is actually not that inviting. So looking forward to getting back to blue clear water and pristine beaches as we move north we are enjoying the exploration and jungle as we work our way through it.
Tonight, anchored near Blue Moon of Oz it is clear although the day has been overcast, and river very flat and calm as we bask in the sunset over a cool drink. The night threatens to be tropical balmy and the mosquitoes fierce, after all in a river in the middle of Borneo deep into the jungle what else could you expect.
Tomorrow 12th is Dianne's birthday, we will probably be out of phone contact and birthday lunch may be in a riverside native longhouse accompanies by smoking human skulls and stories of past feuds and fighting.................we'll see when we get there after about a 0730 start......and then, well let's see........
Thanks to the ridiculous, unnecessary, complicated and bureaucratic requirements of some Australian Government bodies today was a totally lost day! I will say no more! I do recognise the more I travel that we are one of THE most overgoverned, over-regulated countries with some of the most bureaucratic requirements of anywhere, and we willingly let it happen to us.
Off the soapbox, bye now......
Wednesday is washing day, morning tea with Panthalassa Crew, blogging updates, sort out photos, more washing, refuelling the outboard, maybe even some varnishing,,,,,,,,,never enough time to do everything whilst on board! Each night we seem to get a fall of rain here. The anchorage being in a river is of course flat but with a good tide run. There is an odd croc or two here and yesterday some of the boats saw sea otters although we never saw them are looking out today. Some boats leaving, some arriving,,,,,,,,,,,,
Yes Santubong and Kuching have been a great stopover but it is nearing time to move on ..............
Next steps are a sail north starting with about 100 mile and then see what happens as Miri is about 260+ miles we will take some time to get there...
Better take a look a the charts and start to think about it...
Tuesday saw a relaxing day on board catching up after the recent touring and visitation including to the headhouse pictured. Clearly here the more heads are better than one philosophy is followed!
Afternoon visitations followed by Sundowners on Katani II a bigger sistership saw us there until after 2130 (the sun must have gone down slowly that night!) with others from the fleet we had a most enjoyable night after an easy day and returned to Charmar for a nightcap, not sure why we needed that after Sundowners, but there must have been a reason.
Just taking a couple of days now to catch up on chores before we head off again bound for Miri which we expect to take several days.
Big sleep in, becoming a habit, and then off to Kuching to do some shopping and drop the mini road bouncer back after having it for six days.
Into town for some shopping in and around China Town and India Street and through the Spice and raw materials waterfront shopping areas as the first stop. Then out to a the ultimate contrast a modern upmarket shopping complex with brand name stores and a supermarket where everything seems to be imported including Aussie meat and Vegemite - the ultimate test. Had lunch in the food bazaar there including a great version of the local favourite ABC.
Bounced our way to Santubong and I returned with the car to Kuching where I dropped it off (it had done a sterling effort) and caught a taxi back to Santubong just in time to join the rest of the team for dinner on Panthalassa. A gourmet delight it was too - started of with smoked salmon, cream cheese and caviar on garlic toast, followed by lightly fried calamari and then a main of rice, thai red curry chicken, ginger beef and a chilli squid salad, THEN to top it off cream caramel and icecream, chocolates and then with full bellies and tired and ready for bed we headed for 'home' at about 2330.
What a meal!!
Sunday saw us up late again and head off to the Highlands in the super small car without suspension we bounced through the Kuching traffic and up to the highlands. Another interesting trip through Kuching as we followed our noses in and out of town eventually getting onto the Highlands Road.
Not knowing what to expect we drove on up through Borneo's Rainforest, past the Orangutan Sanctuary, the Police Training Academy and on on as the population and traffic became sparse and the road narrowed.
We past an eco challenge at the Rainforest Highlands Resort where we weren't allowed to enter and continued on eventually arriving at Annah Rais Longhouse where we pulled up, and paid a small entry fee to visit the longhouse. Well it was absolutely fascinating as we were greeted with a rice wine (and a top up--- we ended up buying three bottles to take away!) and we browsed through the "longhouse" which is one long building housing a whole village in a communal lifestyle. Each family have their own adjoining houses and the whole lot are highset on a bamboo platform with an "arcade" down the middle and "houses" either side.
There is a "headhouse", no not for the village head but for the human skulls to remain smoked and stored! There is a shop and chooks, and people making instruments and artifacts, and people hulling corn and chooks eating the corn..........
We go on through the longhouse and find one of the houses is a homestay www.longhouseadventure.com We could only highly recommend this as a fantastic place for a three day getaway in Borneo where you can stay very cheaply and have some great jungle treks and activities and wonderful experiences. Would have loved to stay here longer. We sat with the proprietor drinking his fruits and rice liquor which had been maturing for 16 years in Oak Casks bought from Australia (he was ex Malaysian Airlines) and of course we bought a bottle!!
Three days here would be fantastic! It includes transfers from Kuching!
After this we crossed the bridge enjoy tea and noodles at a local cafe part of the village where the proprietor with a "Richard Branson" smile shared philosophies of life and the recipe for long life - he looked about 45 but was 60 with 16 grandchildren and his last child was only ten years ago! A lot to be said for the simple life........
Then on to a natural hot spring up the road in a mountain creek, which was just closed but the caretaker opened it and I had to have soak with the hope it would fix what has been a rather crook elbow - let's see if it works............
Then back down the track now in darkness, we get back to Kuching and have dinner on the very pleasant and attractive outdoor dining on the riverfront. As good as Venice or Paris or anywhere in the world!. We then scoot along in the mini transport and bounce and bound our way back to Santubong getting back about 2230 or 2300 after a very interesting and informative day of exploration.
Saturday in Santubong was a quiet affair with a sleep catch up after a reasonably late night on Friday night. Nothing special but it had been the Orangutan tour day and we had a long afternoon as in yesterday's entry.
In the afternoon we headed off to Kuching to catch the Saturday night/Sunday markets. Pouring tropical rain all the way into town, blind navigation to find the markets and once we had a park the rain eased off. We spent a couple of hours in the extensive wet and dry/food and souvenir markets, sampling a few local snacks before contemplating dinner.
On the way to the markets we had noticed, amongst the pouring rain a garden steamboat restaurant, so we thought to give that a go. We found it again and there were a few but not many customers but it looked good and prices were right so we stayed. Within an hour it was packed, steamboat buffet, cooked mud crabs, prawns and a great spread which we really enjoyed for a couple of hours.
We then set off in search of an authentic Chinese massage and spa and found one we had seen when looking for customs. Inspection revealed it was nothing like those in Shanghai but we opted for a shower and massage which was great.
Round 1130 ish then we were heading back to Santubong where it had turned into a lovely clear and cool night as we headed for our bunks at about 0130 Sunday! Guess what we did Sunday morning!
03/07/2009, Kuching - Borneo
Today we were up early to follow the buses leaving at 0700 with the fleet guests to Kuchbing and then onto the Orang-u-tan rehab park which is about 650 hectares of jungle and they try to re-establish captured and confiscated Orang-u-tans to live in the wild again. They have about 34 on site and they are totally free but some come to the centre for feeding. About half the primates are wild animals that choose to live in the proximity and the others have been confiscated from poachers, illegal zoos etc and are being retrained to support themselves.
Today was the lucky day as some days the visitors see no orangutans but today we had many including the mothers and children, others and the Alpha or dominant male or the area, a huge and majestic primate with a pristine red coat that appeared perfectly groomed and shining in the early sunlight. He devoured bunches and bunches of bananas and stripped and smashed and ate a coconut as if it were an M&M on Sunday morning.
By 1000 all visitors had to leave the park but we had been up close to these large and beautiful primates. The rangers always ensuring the animals were not threatened and herding us away when the large male moved from feeding place to feeding place as he could have swotted us like a fly!
A magical experience as we were so close to these animals who were not restrained or constrained in any way.
Then on to a pottery area and to the museum and back to Kuching waterfront.
We spent the afternoon visiting four customs "Kastom" offices trying to get our clearance papers and none of them could get it right, it ended up taking 3 hours driving from customs office to customs office and even being escorted from the second last office to the last, but still the incorrect one, by a customs officer over a distance of maybe 15 kilometres. We nearly gave up in despair!!!!
Back to Charmar for the evening after a long but rewarding and interesting day (customs aside!!!!)