Are We There Yet?
13 November 2019
I loved my old granny. She was a bundle of mischief. "Gran" lived with us for a number of years while I was in my teens and during that time she'd impart her years of wisdom in bite-sized, manageable and understandable chunks that parents somehow couldn't manage. Like how to wash your hands. I can still feel her cool hands on mine as she scrubbed of the muck and nicotine stains of an adolescent. Probably younger now I think of it. Things like how to thread a needle. Invaluable now we've hundreds of square metres of sail above us.
When I'd get back from the school dances (for background, check our "Secondary Waltz" by Mark Knopfler") Gran would ask, " Did you get a click?" which I trust is self explanatory. If not, c'mon folks.....work it out.
Well, Sail 2 Indonesia has been a series of "clicks", (and snips but we'll not go back there)......what, with the people, the kids, the locals, the village elders, the government dignitaries, the volunteers and the hard core rally bods who've made it to the end it's been one long series of clicks.
The difference between this dance, Indonesia, and those of my youth is that I finally got a "click". As I've said before, I didn't much want to come to Indonesia. But how wrong was I. We clicked. I really can't think of anywhere else where we've felt so welcomed.
It's nearly four months since we kicked off in Thursday Island after slogging our way over two thousand miles from Tasmania, three thou if you include our lap of the place, We set off for our cruise through Indonesia way back in July heading out for the islands, All seventeen thousand islands of them. Fortunately we skipped a few. I don't think either my waistline or my liver could have handled more than those we touched. And I didn't even want to come. Alaska had been an idea but it was too far. News Flash - In the end, we've covered about as much ground anyway. Indonesia is a big country. So much for passage planning. But at least it's not cold. Quite the opposite in fact. It's absolutely sweltering and hitting mid thirties most days. So hot I've gone Asiatic and have taken to wearing a man-skirt. Short and al-fresco if you get my drift. Very Scottish. It's highly practical from an air flow perspective. Less so from a climbing into the dinghy perspective.
If you don't hear from me for a while, please arrange bail money.
The Faff to Reward Ratio
01 November 2019
Some will have read, and perhaps a few will remember my piece on Stuart's amazing, patented Scunnerometer. Well, here's another, this time, of a mathematical persuasion, "The Faff to Reward Ratio".
For non Scots readers, to "Faff" is to mess around uselessly, frustratingly and ineffectively in pursuit of the execution of a seemingly important task.
Examples of an F:R Ratio would be......
- cooking a meal following pretty much any recipe I've ever seen. First, collect assorted volumes and quantities of about twenty eight different ingredients. Next, slowly fold six of these into a Pyrex bowl, put in fridge and leave overnight. WHAT THE? I'm hungry NOW! Apparently, the following day, assuming you've remembered you were actually creating this culinary masterpiece, you spend another four hours mixing, grinding, folding and seasoning before stuffing it all in a pan for a few hours. Serve and eat to clean plate in about four minutes thirty seconds. This is a very high F : R Ratio
- Passage Planning. This is a critical element in getting ones' yacht from A to B. Times, distances, tides, ETA, hazards and more need to be factored in. However, part of the way through the fairly straightforward process you see a feature on the chart you hadn't noticed before, perhaps an island, or someone's AIS signal. "That looks interesting" you think, and off you go to see what depth there is around this island, one that's usually miles off your route, or just where that AIS is going. "Oh look. Anne, this one's going to Shanghai. And only at six knots. That's going to take a while. Nearly two weeks. Imagine". And so, faffing about, a few minutes effort turns into hours and the ratio soars.
- Now. Diving. I originally got my PADI ticket so I could clean the hull and change the anodes. Down to two metres at most. The dramatist in me also had visions of diving to the depths to free a tangled anchor, fighting off various sharks and sea monsters with a six inch knife, carried, SAS style on my calf. When I'm not dreaming, my dive record is made up largely of faffing around at one point five metres scrubbing weed and barnacles. Even at this modest depth, it was immediately apparent that diving, like cooking, has a high F : R Ratio. First, hunt around about fourteen lockers looking for all the diving paraphernalia you haven't seen from one years end to the next. Work out what goes where and how to clip it all together. You then wrestle a tank of air that weighs a ton and will undoubtedly sink you like a stone, straight down until you hit the bottom and an early watery grave. However, i've always fancied building my experience and so when a post on the Rally WhatsApp said some were going for a wreck dive I thought, "that sounds cool", completely forgetting diving is an extremely high F : R Ratio sport. It took about an hour to find all the gear which, once gathered, had to be humphed into our dinghy.......to transport to another dinghy, to humph again into an ageing, slightly converted small fishing boat. My five chums had passed the site of a wreck the previous day, put a waypoint in their phone's Navionics and, with X marking the spot, we headed off into the blank ocean. After about thirty minutes we realised the phone was back on the big boat. Not to worry, our local driver knew this place like the back of his hand. It only took an hour of driving around in circles, our hero peering into the horizon trying to line up features a guy on the beach once told him about. But he'd since forgotten. Technology prevailed and we got through to base camp, got the coordinates and our man chucked the anchor over the side. Right on top of the wreck. You then clamber into all the gear and pitch yourself over the side. My new diving pals were in their element and skooshed straight down to twenty metres. I thought I was going to die. In minutes, I was back on board mentally drafting a Scuba Gear For Sale eBay advert. Perhaps four hours faffing for ten minutes in the water. That's an F : R ratio that exceeds even my brother-in-law's cooking.
28 October 2019
Technical nautical question here. Is stopping for a piss up on the equator the same as New Year?
Fifteen stalwarts of the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally parked up on Neptune's boundary line, north one way, south the other. In the middle, me, plain dizzy as a mix of Caroline's Bowmore and Indonesia beer made it through the line. Julie from Sly Blue Eyes was our First Footer.
For whatever reason, experienced sailors abandoned their hulks, anchored mid ocean in twenty metres and swam across the equator......most clutching a wee bevvy.
To top it off, we had a bacon and egg roll.
Ye cannae whack it!
Hey, Hey With The Monkees
24 October 2019
I never did tell you about our monkey trip up the Kumai River, which was, after all, one of the highlights of the Indonesia trip.
Now, normally I'm not that into wildlife. I mean, generally speaking, one has to go to quite a lot of effort to see it, traipsing up hills, through bogs, usually in steaming heat or pissing rain when, it's all instantly available on YouTube or an Attenborough series. Even more pointlessly, if or when you finally get in front of whichever wildlife you're after catching the merest fleeting glimpse of, you take a thousand pictures of this tiny spec of flesh and bone capturing mostly trees and twigs when again, a quick Google search will bring up stunning photos of your desired, photographic prey.
There's people on this rally, who should remain nameless, although attired in long trousers tucked into even longer socks, they really ought to be named, or at least given some guidance on sartorial elegance while stalking their feathered friends, who can tell wee birdies apart just by the sound of their squeaks. Me, I just separate them
into Number Ones - Big Birds and Number Twos - Wee Birds. Why complicate things?
Anyway, in groups of four to eight we all went through the fairly pointless task of negotiating our luxury river cruises to see the monkeys, orangutans crocodiles and any other beasts of the Forrest. A good number of the local fishing fleet have learned pretty quickly that by converting their "Klotoks", pointy fishing boats, into luxury cruise vessels, they can make a somewhat better living, in more comfort by filling the old fish hold with tourists rather than fish, at anything from two and a half million to four or five, depending on how gullible the tourists are.
Now, I'm fairly hardened to the negotiating tactics of unscrupulous people. I spent a career dealing with them. However, over the last months, the Indonesian people we've met have given us everything and asked for nothing and off we went to arrange a tour with the "official Rally representative". It was only later we found we'd paid more than what seemed to be the going rate so negotiations were re-opened, a discount agreed and after a brief tour of our cruise boat, we did the deal.
Next morning, different cruise boat turns up. Not as large or as luxuriously appointed as the one we'd seen, but what the hell.....and off we went.
Now, keep in mind we're in Indonesia and the cruise ship is an old fishing boat. Dispel any images of P&O or Danube cruise ships. Instead, think old garden shed, liberally painted in whatever garish colour was on offer, then add another shed at the back to act as the outhouse and shower block and another accommodation shed on top. Fortunately these Klotoks don't go too fast and the river wasn't too windy as I'm pretty certain there were no stability tests to see how far it could lean to the point of no return. And no holding tanks. Take twenty Klotoks of say four crew and four tourists for one or two nights........ eating curry. I shan't labour the point but we didn't see many fish.
The accommodation was sparse. The top deck for the tourists, laid out during the day with a table and four chairs, wooden slatted benches or sun loungers or, if you were lucky, bean bags. Below decks in the dark, steaming heat and bilge water, was the galley and crew accommodation. As it should be.
At night, while we Muppets were being walked through the jungle in the dripping, pitch black looking for anything
G living the guide could find to justify the added value "night hike", the crew transformed our day deck into, mosquito covered boudoirs, each punter getting their own memory foam mattress. Unfortunately, my mattress remembered the size and shape of the last guy that was in it so I won't say it was the best nights sleep I've had. Among the most expensive, but not the best.
Finally getting to the point, (it's been a slow morning) we visited the Orangutan reserve and each of the three "feeding stations". These are large wooden benches set in the middle of the jungle where the tourists sit on a few rudimentary benches to gawp at the monkeys trying to see how many mangos they can stuff in their mouths at one time. If you've watched babies and young children eat you'll get the picture.
It was all rather exciting. First the walk through deepest jungle, then, at the gawping station, we'd sit in silence presumably while the apes combed their hair and anxiously checked their watches, pre-performance before making their appearance. Ever so dramatically.
First, there'd be the rustle of leaves and branches high in the canopy. Nikons and Canons would swing from the hip to firing position in milli-seconds. But again, only silence. Next, another rustle. This time from stage left. Nothing.
Then, "look!" and way up high an Orangutan would be spotted. Gawping down at the tourists and no doubt looking for the two guys carrying the sacks of mangos, sugar cane and other ape-tisers. (Get it?). And then there were two. And three. All, swinging through the trees in a stunning show of balance, agility and , even for these big hairy lumps, grace. I've seen it before on Attenborough , YouTube and the Tarzan movies but it still came as a surprise to see how they swung from limb to limb through the canopy then hand over hand, all four of them, they'd down climb the trees to the grub. Once there, depending on how bold the ape was they'd either pull up a seat, lay out their cutlery and napkins and proceed to gorge themselves to a standstill. The more wary would stuff four or five mangos in their gob and shoot back up a tree, one handed, as the other hands were clutching more mangos, then sit and chow down. Then repeat until all the food was gone. They'd then pack up and leave. We did the same, back to Klotoksville, a cup of tea or a beer, a stunning Indonesian meal on the upper deck as we cruised back down the river, through the deep jungle, monkeys on every tree.
Worth every Rupiah. However many of them it was.
15 October 2019
Borneo. What does that conjure up in your mind? Jungles? Biggles' war time exploits, trials and tribulation? Great apes? How the heck did we ever end up here?
Whatever, Borneo is a big contrast to the other Indonesian islands. For one , it's relatively flat. At least, on the south coast where we made landfall. We'd come to see the monkeys. Well, Orangutans actually.
These endangered beasts (stop eating Palm Oil based products folks) live in the jungle a few miles up a side river from the town of Kumai and its neighbouring city of Kanjung, or was it Pankalan? Kumai isn't much. Just one long street with the usual small shops and shacks flogging anything as long as its wrapped in plastic and litre PET bottles of petrol for the thousands of scooters that whiz by all day every day carrying everything from planks of wood, jerry jugs of water to the whole family, dad driving, nipper number one behind, then mum. Lastly, smaller child number two, is stood in front, between dad's arms, sometimes stood on a converted bike seat, hanging on for grim death spitting flies and bugs. I call them the airbag children.
To get to Kumai we first had negotiate our way through a huge fishing fleet, thirty two boats around us at one point on all points of the compass. Another Custer moment. All of this in the dark of course. Blowing thirty five knots of course. In torrential, blinding rain. Of course, but oddly, there's no fishing port here. Where the fleet goes we never found out which is a shame as they were amazing. All shapes, colours and sizes, their bows curled up way above the waves like a pair of Egyptian slippers. And all painted like an explosion in a paint factory.
According to the pilot book, it was a miracle we got to Kumai at all. First, it has a bar entrance, my favourite, "least depth 2.1m". The writer goes on, "Approach from S. As the entrance narrows......stay 200m off the beach. As you cross sand spit, make a hard turn to port. At point C, make hard turn to starboard". Which we did. Nerves jangling, eyes straining into the murky water trying to will more water under the keel until we broke through and breathed a sigh of relief. We were in. It was therefore something of a surprise on arriving at the anchorage an hour later to find numerous hundred metre long oil and gas tankers, bulk carriers and multi-deck inter-island ferries all of whom apparently had to hurl their bulk through the same twists and turns that we in our tiny boats had to do. Sometimes I wonder if the folk that write these books do it from the comfort of their living room with a Google Earth picture and maybe a wee puff or two on the wacky backy.
From the river, as we approached Kumai, the waterfront looked very industrial with its tankers at anchor and large grey buildings lining the main drag. It turned out these grey buildings were "rookeries" ( if they'd been rooks, that is. They were in fact swifts, hundreds flying around gobbling up any winged insect careless enough to be out in the daylight.
It turned out this was the source of Birds Nest Soup. I'd always thought that was a euphemism. Surely folk didn't actually eat birds' nests. I mean, as a kid I used to poke about in the garden hedge each Spring looking at the nests and new chicks. All twigs, old feathers, spit and crap. But apparently it's the spit and crap that turns twigs and sticks into a delightfully tasty dish. Mmmm. Yummy. Haud me back. A thousand dollars a kilo mind you. All bound for China. Which is a relief.
Before heading for monkey town we headed for the market to re-provision. Kumai has a "Traditional Market". (See Gallery - Shopping). We've become used to, or is it hardened to these markets, both a visual and olfactory experience. Lots of old ladies sitting around in their stalls selling today's veggies, hopefully newly plucked from their allotment, or simply hoicked out the jungle. Their wares are displayed in little pyramid shaped piles of six or so, five thou a bunch. Fifty if they see you coming. Fruit, veg, spices, nuts, rice, fish and things that look like chickens, it's hard to tell what's beneath the squadrons of flies, all laid out on bamboo tables. You can possibly even buy an old lady, as later in the day you'll find them laid out on the display table. We picked up a few things then, having heard of the Hypermarket Citimall in the nearby big city, we hired a car and driver and off we went......,in twenty minutes, from shacks, dirty grey birds nest soup buildings, old ladies flogging a few pathetic bananas, to a first world, bright shiny, marble shopping destination.
If you couldn't make it up river to see the monkeys, for a few rupiah you could ride a wheeled one around the mall. Tempting.
Pass Me My Dufflecoat
09 October 2019
One of my readers commented the other day that she quite liked my piece on Jerry Maguire. And so, to continue the movie theme, how about Notting Hill? No, not the bit where Spike admires his bum in the mirror after opening the front door to meet the press. The part where Hugh Grant is at the movies with Julia Roberts.
Our few days on the island of Bawean brought us to a whole new level of disorganisation. Trips and events were on. Then they were off. Then they were back on again. Our interpretation was that there was a bit of rival in-fighting going on between the hands-on folk and "the committee". It sounded as if a bunch of politburo folk in an office just off Red Square were pulling strings to keep the tourists in line while trying to carefully stage manage all aspects of our visit. And failing. If only they'd asked me.
Anyway, we had a look around the place, had a bit of a nosh and the compulsory "social dancing" - as we now know it's called. It seems mandatory that the punters dance with the local trad dance act. Dire. The other evening we added another dimension, social, if not political karaoke.
The head honcho of the district and his Minister of Tourism took the mic from the group's lead singer and for perhaps half an hour, it seemed longer, much longer, gave us their best renditions of Bawean and Johnny Cash country classics. Dire. However, if you managed to escape the dancing it was an opportunity to catch up on all that vitally important stuff you needed to do online, you know, finding out if Donald had bought Greenland yet or if Boris had proposed to the Queen.
The trip to the now-it's-back-on Gala Dinner was a challenge in itself. All the cruisers packed onto the backs of flat bed pick up trucks. All good for the first ten minutes but then, and apologies for bringing up bums again, but if like mine, it's a bit on the bony side, it really began to hurt. If you were at the front there was always the option to stand, AK47 toting, Mogadishu guerrilla style. This also brought challenges as it's mango season and the trees are dripping with the things. Dripping down over the road to just about forehead height. Glance away from the direction of travel for a second and you're likely to get a mango smoothie right in your face.
We survived the last dance and the mangos and at dawn, made our escape, bound for monkey town, Kumai on Borneo, where for a modest fee of a few million, you can get aboard an old heap, think African Queen if you remembered the movie theme, and spend one or two days going up the river into the jungle to watch the orangutangs. More on that to come but I can tell you now, they better be good; riding mono-cycles and making cups of tea type thing.
Meanwhile, we were out in the ocean, picking our way through the dozens of fishing boats, thirty two all around just us at one count. The movie "Custer" did come to mind. Then it started to rain. And blow. And big sparky things. Then it really blew. The wind went from about ten knots to thirty and thirty five in about ten minutes, complete with blinding, horizontal driving rain. And of course, it was pitch black and somewhere out there was the fishing fleet. And so, doing my Hugh Grant, Notting Hill impersonation I donned my snorkelling mask and stood for an hour peering into the murk looking like a cross between a WWll destroyer captain and dear Hugh. All I was missing was a duffle coat.
It's not all beer and skittles out here y'know.
If You Can't Stand The Heat....
02 October 2019
The Island of Bali is the tourist hub of Indonesia. It's the place the islands we've visited envy. All desperately want to emulate Bali's success in building a profitable tourism industry. The Bali we saw in our brief three days there (even Japanese tourists take longer to go round it) has dance, hot springs, the monkey jungle, more temples than you can throw an incense stick at, beaches and discos all set to entertain tourists while emptying their wallets and credit card accounts. Not that it's expensive here. On the contrary, it's still possible to get that proverbial meal for two with a drink for just a few quid. However, as we've not paid for grub for most of the trip, our generous island hosts knocking lumps out their budgets and our calorie allowance, paying for a Nasi Goring still hurts, although mostly just hurts those from Yorkshire and Aberdeen. (Nasi Goring - Indonesia's traditional dish of fried rice and assorted stuff topped with a fried egg, (although I always thought Nasi Goring was in charge of the Luftwaffe). Anyway, most days the temperature is well into the thirties and so, what do we do? Get out the kitchen? Oh no. We sign up for a traditional Balinese cooking class.
Frying in oil seems to be quite the thing, blackened woks clanging and bubbling as assorted variants of Tofu, whatever that is, get fried to a crisp along with veggies and of course, chilli, just to make sure you don't get a wee cold while having the cook and tasting session. If only I'd had a Mars Bar.
I'd expected Indonesia to be hot. But not chilli hot! Walking up the beach from the dinghy is like a routine from Riverdance, hopping from foot to foot like a cat on a hot tin roof. Fortunately it's but a hop, skip and a third degree burn to the bar in Lovina's Sea Breeze Hotel
We landed at Lovina Beach on Bali's north end, in time for Festival week. Bali is pretty well known world wide as a party town, where nightclubs keep the place jumping twenty hours a day and hotels line the "strip". Tanned yoof surfer dudes, mainly from Australia, pour their hard earned cash into the coffers of the local boozers always looking for ones that show Australian Rules Football. Scantily clad girls look into the windows of Chanel and Hermes. Mystified and confused Chinese visitors look into their mobile phones.
Geographically we were about as far away from that scene as we could get, up in the north side of the island. The place where the Yoof and scantily clad girls go when they've traded their surf boards for a Volvo, bikinis for something loose fitting that apparently is more "comfortable to wear", six packs for the effects of six packs, a job, mortgage and two point four kids. (That'll learn 'em).
Lovina isn't exclusively reserved for the old and crumbly. There's a smattering of back packers and the occasional Chinese. Looking into his phone. Our visit was timed to coincide with the Lovina Beach Festival, an event I suspect the town council developed to extract tourists and their cash from downtown Bali.
Lovina doesn't quite have the infrastructure yet, just a few modest hotels and backpacker lodges but enough tat shops to satisfy the hardest tat collector. What it does have though is the equivalent of Trader Joe's or Waitrose, albeit at Harrods prices. And it's air conditioned. When we weren't in there pretending to shop but actually just cooling off, we were either touring or at the festival which was also attended by a smattering of tourists and several thousand locals all gathered on the beach in front of the sound stage to watch traditional dance, modern dance, gamelan gong playing, this xylophone type instrument played with metal hammers, each sporting a flat and a pointy end making me think the players graduated with joint degrees in music and geology. There was amazing Hindu dance, all jerky movements, extreme make-up and wild eyes, some scary Hindu monsters and, to my acute embarrassment an old white bloke, dragged on stage and waggling his head, bum and fingers in an utterly pathetic attempt to copy the primo dancer. Where's Martina when you need her? Or indeed, coordination.
22 September 2019 | Video: Sailing Stella Australia
From time to time we amuse ourselves by imagining we're on a cruise ship, P&O, Royal Caribbean, Carnival or such like.
"I'm just going to book a massage then pop into the all-you-can-eat-breakfast-panorama-restaurant". That kind of thing.
Well, a couple of days ago we signed up for a rally optional cruise. Not a Carnival Cruise. More like a Circus. The all inclusive grand swim with the whale sharks trip. (See www.TormentBigFish.com).
It actually sounded quite good. A ride out to the whale shark base in a traditional wooden boat, swim with the sharks then an onboard breakfast before returning to the yachts. And all before breakfast.
"Before breakfast". That was the bit I didn't quite lock in.
"We'll pick you up from your boats starting at half past two". Now, when I were a lad that would have been easy. Just lay in enough booze and potato chips and have a wee party 'till the boat arrived. It's been a while since I partied 'till dawn and then went out in a boat and I'm pretty sure I could still do it but, as there weren't any takers it was early to bed.
Bbbuzzzzzz goes the iPad. 02:30 FFS.
"WHO'S DUMB IDEA WAS THIS?".
As we had a big platform, and as it earned a few minutes extra kip, we'd volunteered to act as base ship so that our mini-cruise boat could converge on Time Bandit where thirteen or fourteen of us waited in the pitch black. The now familiar sound of "putt-putt" reached across the water and after negotiating the raft of rubber duckies hanging off our transom, neatly stopped a few inches from our back step and we all clambered aboard.
Deck chairs? No. Restaurant? No. Definitely no massage but definitely a good feel for how boat loads of illegal immigrants must feel.
And, so, ear plugs in to drown out the raucous putt-putting we all found a space to lie out and it was OK, as long as you didn't mind someone's foot in your left ear and salt water spray in your right.
Nearly two hours later, during which time I'm sure the putt-putting got louder, we slowed to a halt beside a Spider Boat*. "Seen any big fish about?" says our captain. Negatory. So off we went to the next spider boat. "Seen any big fish?" "Nope".......and so it went on for another half hour.
Finally, we struck gold. Or rather, fish. Fins and masks donned, like a bunch of lemmings we jumped up from the comfort of our planks and leaped over the side of our cruise ship and swam about looking for our six hundred thousand Rupiahs worth of fish watching. Nothing.
Then, just as we were thinking we'd been diddled, swimming about mid ocean in the early dawn with nothing better to do than rub, admire and wonder what anti-foul these boats use - clean as a whistle - this leviathan of the deep appears out the murk and, ignoring twenty Muppets in wet suits and budgie smugglers, (the foreigners), brushes silently past in his quest to suck up any loose plankton or indeed, skin cells from ageing cruisers.
This wasn't my first brush with a whale shark, the last time, off the Galapagos, ( https://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/388754 ) when one was about to nibble my feet and Anne screamed at me to get out the water; which I did much like a submarine launched Trident missile. However, that one I hardly saw in my panic. This one? So close you could smell it's breath and exchange Selfies.
We all swam around with Sharky for half an hour then he disappeared as quickly as he arrived no doubt wondering why tourists ALWAYS have to pee in his pool. We in turn hauled ourselves back aboard heading for the "breakfast included" which was; One loaf of bread that made American bread taste unsweetened among fifteen or so and one small jar of peanut butter.
"Sorry. No knife" says our host miming like an orchestra conductor that his waiting diners should scoop out a serving of lightly salted smooth peanut butter with an extended index finger and spread it onto one's miserly allocation of bread. By the time this all-inclusive breakfast got to me I'm A) praying there's enough left 'cause I'm starving and B) fervently hoping none of my fellow cruisers is a nose picker.