Up at 0730 for a look around, it is overcast and rainy with squalls and storms in the distance. Nevertheless we leave at 0830 heading for Tiiga or the nearby headland for a stopover on our way to Kota Kinabalu the final destination for the rally.
Some vessels have left before us, we notice the marina is cleared so four or five vessels must be in front and a couple leave not long after us. It was our day to do the Radio Sched but I was a minute late and another vessel had kindly stepped in and taken it on.
Flat water, rain, some heavy rain, and no wind. We are using both motors today, I am not sure why but we are as we make good time towards our interim destination at time doing near 8 knots and at other pushed back by current to the 6's. Whilst motoring is tedious at least the water is flat although we do have a westerly swell coming in. The forecast was for some strong winds further north but there is nothing here.
Plenty of timber and floating debris in the water, which is now quite clear and has lost the silt of the waters further south. Unfortunately with a grey grey day it is not all that attractive and whilst we were hoping to swim and snorkel/dive at Palau Tiiga the weather is not looking that inviting for it at present.
Delayed our departure today to explore some of Labuan a duty free island and busy community just of the coast but on the track north. An interesting contrast with every sort of booze here cheap compared to no alcohol in Brunei. Stay posted as we will update the last few days with more detail as soon as we can!
Today we clear customs and immigration in Brunei to go back to Malaysia via Labuan a duty free island some 20 odd miles up the coast. We leave in 20 knots plus wind sailing at 8+ knots with Genoa alone, it is great and a straight line to Labuan with the wind behind us. We make good time although the wind drops to about 14 knots closer to Labuan which is ok because we have to dodge many parked up ships and workboats as we head into the harbour area near the township. We clear immigration back into Malaysia and customs and hit the town for dinner - Indian not far from the wharves. Looks like an interesting place - be good to have a good look around tomorrow.
We went past the Shell Service Station on the water for the Water Village boats, and up the channels and waterways. Back at Club 1 we have to clear immigration and customs to head out back to Malaysia where we will enter at Labuan Island, a duty free port just off the mainland surrounded by shipping, laid up vessels and workboats.
With twenty two knots plus of wind as we entered Brunei Channel we just put up the headsail and set a straight course for Palau Labuan. Storm cells were behind us and to the starboard, we enjoyed the winds from the sucking clouds to make good time across the bay until about 2/3rd of the way across the wind came back to about 14 knots so we slowed a bit but sailed in past the laid up ships and local traffic to enter Victoria.
Now Labuan was under English rule until 1942 when the Japanese took up occupation, it was returned to local democracy in 1945 by the 9th Brigade from Australia.
We took up anchor in the now slightly crowded bay between the Police and the water village opposite the main town area and ferry terminal. Right outside a mosque as well which meant we got the 4.00am call whether we needed it or not!
To go to town we could take the local water taxi or dinghy and we went into town for Indian dinner which was great.
A nice little harbour with very busy shipping and commercial traffic and many workboats laid up.
There is a marina under construction and some yachts went and tied up in there. It has a new administrative office nearing completion and they hope to open in September - we visited by foot and spoke to the project manager. It looks like it will be great.
Charmar was mentioned in the Brunei Times on Monday 27.07.2009 "Local youths set aboard yacht rally" as a result of the rally yachts taking local Dubai youth groups for a trip from Dubai entrance, to the second club near Dubai City. Obviously I was not one of the local "youths"!!
The story covered the experiences of the youths and the yachts sailing down into Brunei. The young people were a wealth of information for us and were very interested in what we were doing and our perceptions of their country as well.
We learned that Brunei'ans are happy and well cared for and do in many ways live in "priveleged" area with great opportunity.
Up early for an 0730 departure to Ulu Temburong National Park - an eco activity day tour organized by Allan. We bus to the city, catch a high speed cigarette style ferry with 2 x 200hp outboards that whisks us away down mangrove channels, rivers and open waterways at high speed to the next stop, Bangar. Then by bus again to Batang Duri where we go upstream by Longboats to Ulu Temburong National Park. This is an amazing trip where the experienced long boat skippers take 5 of us in each boat with a poling crew member in the bow and a 15 to 30hp outboard on the stern up the rapids, over rocks and river stones, through the shallows and around logs through the densest of jungle on either side. Quite an amazing ride. We go all the way up to the National Park and then further to a treetop canopy walkway up about 1000 steps all told from the river to the canopy walkway then up the scaffolding steps to the walkway above the trees. Done it, don't need to do it again, don't like heights but it was ok. I guess coming from NQ with Skyrail seeing above the canopy is not something new to us. We go back in the Longboats to a great (and well earned) lunch beside the Temburong River then take lilo type floats to paddle back down the rapids and repeat the trip in reverse. A really great day in the jungle and on the water.
Being devils for punishment on our return at a bit after 5.00pm we do the Mangrove Tour which goes by boat up past the Sultan's Palace and into the Mangrove Creeks and Rivers. We passed a rock in the river which looks like a boat set in the middle of the stream tipped on its side, the local mythical story is that it belonged to a local guy who left and made good and came back to visit Brunei but did not visit his poor mum, as a result he and his boat were turned to stone, so all Brunei'ns learn this story when young so they always look after their Mum's. A good story.
On the trip we spied the local Probiscus Monkey and the Long Tail monkey, as well as Sea Otters, one of which had just caught a good sized fish and was busy taking it home and one just chomping away on his dinner. This was an enjoyable and easy couple of hours also where we learnt a bit more about local custom and myth. Brunei is indeed a well run and organized country which has many benefits for the locals and obviously good employment levels and income. There are many massive mansions here, all modern cars and a very nice clean city.
Today I go and have a look at the Brunei slipway. It looks ok but it is only 0730 on a Sunday morning. Return to the club where we take on three boys to join the trip down to the Royal Brunei Yacht Club second premises! This is quite close to town and near a 'water village' more on these water villages later.
It was great to have the boys on board and to learn about the local area and culture, and it became the subject of a press release reported in another entry.
The photo is of the boys trying vegemite (as we explained our "culture")! We really enjoyed their company and had a great lunch at the club after arrival.
This is a leisurely day where we sail with company on board to RBYC Kota Batu. This is about ten miles from where we were along the channel and waterways leading to another water village and quite close to the Town Centre and not far from the Sultan's Palace which of course has a long waterfront. I guess they did not want 30 odd yachts anchored right along his verge! So we were back a little from there anchored outside the clubhouse from where a tender service was provided.
The three boys Yaza, Zul, and Dihar were great company as mentioned above. They brought local Brunei treats which were delicious for morning tea and we returned the favour with Vegemite which they very politely tried but the expressions in the photo probably says it all!!! There is a large ex-pat population in Brunei so Vegemite was sold in one of the local supermarkets!
We had the Sunday carvery lunch and spent some of the afternoon refueling with Jerry Jugs to the local service station. We took on over 300 litres which is quite a few jerry jugs to lug up and down but at 31 cents per litre it was a good opportunity to refill the tanks and all the spare jerry jugs after the amount of diesel we had used getting here.
25/07/2009, 05 00.2n;115 04.1e
About to go to shore and we hear that Icicle is out of fuel entering Brunei Bay. So we take a 20 litre Jerry Jug of Diesel out in the dinghy a few miles to help them out. Yes it did the trick and they self motored into Brunei as we raced back in the dinghy. After breakfast then we piled into the dinghy with everything required for the day and night as we had a full day planned. We received a friendly welcome at the yacht club, very pleasant highest clubhouse open air verandah style over looking the bay and swimming pool below. Firstly formalities of clearing immigration and customs needed to be got out of the way, temperatures taken, normal procedure in most countries at present due to the "Swine Flu". Just enough time to down a quick lunch before heading off on tour of Brunei.
A small bus load of yachties guided by Allan Ritches, an expat living in Brunei for over ten years. Our first stop was at the new mosque named after the present Sultan, upon arrival we were welcomed with an almighty clap of thunder and the skies opening up with a deluge of rain. The mosque was a huge, palatial, magnificent marble and gold building. Covered up in black cloaks we were permitted to view inside, but not take photos, the enormous male prayer hall that holds 3,500 males. The chandelier in the middle was solid gold weighing 2.5 tons, the prayer mats were made of New Zealand wool woven in Thailand. The female prayer hall was equally as palatial but on a smaller scale as it is optional for females to go to the mosque. Marble, granite, gold, and to top it off the gold domes with the gold set in clear ceramic tiles. Apparently it does not matter how much it costs to build a mosque.
The rain stopped as we left and we then went to see the building housing the Royal Regalia where the Sultan's inauguration chariots (the last one and the new one for the 25 year anniversary are held. This also once held the greatest collection of Churchill memorabilia now much returned to the UK as some people deemed it a bit out of "spirit" to maintain it here. This building housed some interesting history and also the "life story" of the Sultan.
We then went to the Sultan's Palace, where we stopped to watch whilst the traffic was held up as one of the Royal Family was leaving the palace with the normal cavalcade. The most interesting part of this visitation was to go the original Palace where the Sultan was born. The current Palace is said to have something like 1700 odd rooms, a reception room for 4,500, stables, its own shopping mall etc etc etc. The original Palace where the Sultan was born was a high set suburban house maybe with ten rooms! WHAT a CONTRAST in his lifetime.
Our next visit was a "Water Village" where we went into a traditional water village house for afternoon tea. These entire villages are built on stilts with timber walkways on the water. When you sweep the floor you just flip over a floorboard and sweep the rubbish into the water below for the Catfish (they say don't eat the catfish!)
These fascinating villages have the school, Police, Fire Brigade, mosque etc all built out over the water. Each house is quite large with a shed (every man needs a shed!) mostly for boat repairs, timber storage etc. The old water villages do have fire problems as the houses are so close together and interlinked and of course cooking is on gas or fire. Even the chicken coop is built above the water. The new water villages are more appropriately layed out with formal design rules, water and sewerage connections and services. Of course even the old ones have electricity and water (fresh water) supplied. The houses are often beautifully furnished and the people live a co-operative lifestyle. The kids and young adults fly kites off the walkways. I guess you would have to become a good kite flyer as you would ditch into water if not. Boats and outboard traffic zooms in and out and under the houses and walkways like kids on bikes or scooters.
This was a great day trip and we returned to the Club for a delicious barbecue dinner and back to Charmar for a good sleep!
24/07/2009, Near Brunei
Today we continued on from the overnight sailing to Brunei, the wind picked up as the day continued and we actually got a reasonable sail in and made good speed to Brunei arriving late afternoon to proceed down the well marked channel and to the first of the 2 Royal Brunei Yacht Clubs where we anchored for the evening and stayed on board to have an early night.
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.