Sunday, 9 December 2007

Singapore Sojourn

Lat. 1 degree 14 minutes North, Long. 103 degrees 50 minutes East.

Our passage from Kuching to Singapore was mostly uneventful, with almost no wind and a lot of motoring. The South China Sea was kind to us, and the only scary moment was when our radar failed mid passage. Entering the busy shipping channels of Singapore without radar was not a happy thought. Fortunately it came back to life, we only experienced one storm and made our way into One degree 15 Marina on Sentosa Island at midnight on Friday, November 16.

This is our fifth visit to Singapore aboard Crystal Blues and the marina has graduated from basic docks to full resort facilities in two years. Swimming pool, gym, restaurants, meeting rooms, bars, cruisers' room, laundry, dock boys and free buses to Harbour Front make this a very pleasant place to hang out - specially when you're head down and bum up with a screwdriver in your hand...

The Work Begins

Exotic Singapore is the home of can-do and can-get - we always plan to do maintenance here. Our list was not that long- fixing the radar and rebuilding the drive train on the Onan genset ( not again I hear you say!) were our main priorities.

New parts for the genset were waiting for us, but as they were exactly the same parts that failed last time, we hesitated to re-install them. With many emails and phone calls to and from Australia, we hope we have now solved the drive train problem. We did have to use our initiative and have some lathe work done on one part, only time will tell how this works out.

We were not looking forward to replacing our six year old 48 mile Raymarine Radar. Ley hauled Neil up the mast and the lid was removed, to reveal water inside ! Very gently the unit was dismantled and lowered down. Condensation had formed within the scanner casing and had not drained, despite the drain hole being clear. The result was water creep across the main circuit board and corrosion on the power supply connectors. Our good friend Barry Middleton (BJM Trading in Queensland) suggested that we should try to carefully clean up the surface mess. So we dried out all the parts and used a corrosion busting pen (fibre glass brush) to clean the parts, which then revealed no substantial damage. The unit was then reassembled and installed back on the mast, this time with additional packing under the forward bracket to aid the self draining process. We were pretty relieved when it powered up OK, as sailing without radar is just not an option for us. Our Caribe dinghy had also sprung it's first leak, at 7 years of age, so that area plus a few more wear points were patched with hypalon fabric and SC2000 glue.

Retail Therapy

Shopping in Singapore is hard to resist. With whole buildings devoted to electronic technology, Neil was in shopping heaven. We walked the floors of Sim Lim Tower and Square, checking out new technologies and products, sourcing a few bits and pieces. SITEX, the annual computer show also beckoned us. Our old, tired HP three in one printer was replaced with a new model, and we installed a weatherproof (outdoor) wi-fi antenna on the stern rail. The Sony video camera was given a new life with the replacement of the old mould effected lens and many boat spares were sourced.

Catching Up

Robert and Elaine, our long time Singapore friends met us soon after we arrived with the news that they had finally bought a cruising yacht, SV Sunrise. The marina has many international cruising visitors, so we've enjoyed the usual round of barbecues, shopping, sundowners and eating out.

Whats Next?

We hope to leave Singapore sometime this week, heading for Penang. Langkawi and Thailand are also in our plans before the end of the year. In January we plan to sail to the Andaman Islands for a month, before returning to Thailand. Obtaining our Indian Visas (for the Andamans) gave us our first introduction to Indian bureaucracy. We're both looking forward to cruising in clear waters, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and exploring a different culture in a land thats new to us and well off the beaten track.

Whale's Revenge Our aussie friend Ian Scott sent us the link below. Whale's Revenge is an international effort to collect and submit a huge petition, to support a ban on whaling. Please go to the site and sign the petition .....

NEWS FLASH!!!!! We're about to become auntie and uncle again. Peter and Maria Langford have proudly announced to the world that they are expecting their first child in late May 2008. Wonders never cease - what wonderful Christmas news !

We wish you all a very safe, peaceful and joyful Christmas season.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Hard To Say Goodbye

Lat. 01deg. 42.90 North, Lon. 110deg 19.6 East.

Crystal Blues departed the Tulai River at 06.30am last Friday, bound for Kuching. At 06.00am that morning three of our best friends came aboard (by canoe) to say goodbye. It was a very sad departure. Despite the early hour there were lots of people on the shore to wave us farewell. Our connection to these families is so very strong, and we didn't really want to leave ... but the world beckons. We heard later that they stayed by the river for 30 minutes after we departed - it was sad to leave, and we are blessed to know these folk.

Over the past few weeks we've been very well looked after - both Jampie and Graman delivered fresh (live) river prawns (huge!) and the supply of local rice, vegetables and Tuak was constant. Many nights we had dinner in the longhouse, guests of the extended family, enjoying local produce, fish and delicacies. One day we planted about 1.5 acres of rice (padi) with Jampi and his extended family, up to our ankles and knees in mud all day. I thought I was doing well until one woman passed me planting more than three for every one I managed ... and then young Jabu (13 years) passed me going at a similar rate. Very frustrating... and my lower back still hasn't recovered.

As usual, Ley has hosted school onboard from 3.00pm each day, with varying numbers of students across a wide range of ages. English comprehension and spoken English were the main topics, with mathematics a close second.

Last Sunday we hosted our closest family friends to an "Aussie BBQ" on board Crystal Blues. We roasted local pork and emptied our freezer of sausages and Australian beef. Lots of salads, focaccia, ice cold beer etc - you get the picture, Ley cooked up a storm ! Despite the lack of rice (these folks eat lots at every meal) the party went well. The deck was littered with bodies, and true to Aussie form around 3.00pm the kids hit the river for some serious swimming. We built a monster "Tarzan" swing using the spinnaker pole and some long line ... the kids swung, splashed and swam all afternoon.

The Iban people have many traditional crafts, and they've been generous to us with many locally made gifts. During our last visit we realised how good they were with flat strands of napa palm, bamboo and other fibers. For this visit we brought reels of coloured ribbon for them to use. Almost immediately the longhouse women went into serious production mode. On Thursday morning we were invaded by a party of 12 women, who stayed all morning. They platted and weaved miriad trinkets and decorations - animals, gifts, abstract forms, crabs, chickens, incredible shapes and colours. A pangolin tail in green ribbon ... a rooster in red ribbon, a multi-coloured Kriss ... all wonderful parting gifts for us.

The tides in the river have been quite big, up to 5.0 metres, with the padi fields along the river flooded to a depth of about 250mm. at the highest tides. All of that water needs to go somewhere, so the river flow is very fast on the outgoing tide. One day our stern anchor let go mid-tide, and we were carried downstream into the trees on the edge of the river. No damage, but it took a while to extricate ourselves, and the deck had completely disappeared under a carpet of leaves, branches, insects, beetles, ants and miscellaneous creatures. Did I mention the ants ? The tree we invaded must have contained a nest - it took two full cans of spray to stop the deck from crawling, and another two cans of surface spray over the next 24 hours to complete the pacification. Six hours to clean the deck up - even the bimini top was camouflaged with branches. We were asleep when the anchor started to drag, but were fortunately woken by our friends on the river bank, calling the Australian "Coooeee" that we'd taught them on our first visit. By the time we got the engine going we were in the trees. When we did finally retrieve the stern anchor I discovered that we had not laid out enough scope on the line - my own fault entirely. Won't make that mistake again.

Those big tides really empty the river out, leaving sloped banks of soft oozy mud under a canopy of trees. To our surprise the local boys have learned to "hang ten" on old planks, literally surfing the mud slopes on any piece of timber large enough to hold them. Is it surfing or skiing ? The rides are short and the wipe-outs are messy, but they have a lot of fun.

Our friends Judy & Brian Scott from Brisbane flew into Kuching on Saturday evening, and we were able to spend a couple of days with them enjoying the sights and fantastic tastes of Kuching. We'll be here for another few days before clearing customs and immigration, bound for Singapore.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Seven Rivers In One Day

Lat. 02deg 10.53min North, Lon. 111deg 40.90 East

The Rajang Delta, Sarawak

Crystal Blues entered the river delta at 1.00pm on October 11, crossing the outer bar on the Paloh River. We'd planned an entry just 2 hours after low water, to take advantage of the tidal inflow, which in this case is significant. Heading upstream the tidal assistance grew to a maximum of four knots, and we managed to cover 58 nautical miles before dropping anchor in the Tulai River just before 8:25pm that evening (you can click on the image at left for a detailed view). This is a trip that normally takes two days, working the tides to cross the shallow sections - using the Paloh, Seredeng, Lobah Semah, Leba-An, Rajang, Binatang and Tulai Rivers. The last five miles were in total darkness, with no moon and no stars (Ramadan was about to happen). Ley stood watch on the bow with a spotlight as we motored very slowly upstream. Our motoring light cast a shadow of the mast on the water and the jungle, which we could use to judge position in the stream. On the Tulai River our Iban friend Sap was waiting with a flash light and a smile, to guide us home. It was very good to be back.

Tulai River Anchorage

Here on the Tulai we've an anchor down both fore and aft, with about 50 metres of scope on each. This keeps us moored mid-stream, in depths that range from 5 metres to 9.5 metres, subject to tides. Even though we're over 100km upstream, the river still flows backwards twice a day.

By 9.00am the next morning we had visitors on board, and life with the people of longhouse Rumah Lidam began again. The next day our friends Jampie, Dungert, Dayang and Jabu went into the jungle in the afternoon to pick Miding, the local fern that we love to eat. Beautiful river prawns, local rice, tuak, vegetables and other gifts have arrived on board. In return we've delivered many more English language books for the longhouse library.

Last night Ley and I travelled downstream with Jampie in his canoe, with Sap in the bow, to visit the last longhouse on this river. We'd been there once before, back in June for the Gawai festival. It was a very beautiful experience, being paddled peacefully through the jungle under a new moon. The folks at longhouse Rumah Surin are delightful, and we had a fine time, with lots of tuak.

Tomorrow we're off to plant padi (rice) with Jampie and his family. We plan to stay another two weeks here, before heading to Kuching.

Maintenance Update - Many Links In A Chain

For those who've been following our work stories, we're pleased to say that the Onan genset is running fine. The new Honda portable also works well - we've put two tanks of gas through it, and it will run our big freezer and battery charger together.

In our last news we reported on the re-galvanising of our chain in Miri. What we didn't know then was that many of the links had large drips or bulges of zinc on one end. Here on the Tulai we experienced a couple of jams when anchoring, so we inspected the chain. The drips and bulges were causing jams in the hawse pipe, and had to be removed.

Every single link in 120 metres of chain was inspected, and more than half required work with the angle grinder. At 34 links per metre thats over 4000 took two days of very dirty, noisy and tiring work. There was a LOT of extra zinc on that chain - we left as much as we could on the chain of course, but the mess in the forward hold still took another day to clean up. Maintenance in exotic places again.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Maintenance In Paradise Again

Lat. 04deg 23.11 North Lon. 113deg 58.33 East

A surprise visit to Australia last month let us join Shaun and Sarah for their engagement party in Melbourne. It also allowed us to stock up on the bits and pieces we needed for the forthcoming cruising season. Back in Miri (Sarawak) we dived into some serious boat maintenance. In between the inevitable dock parties and cruiser dinners we've put a solid three weeks into maintenance, repair and refit work. Payback time.

First off the block was the Onan genset, which needed to be stripped down to isolate a fault (again) in the drive train. This time round we attacked it with advice and support from the technical team at Cummins (who now own Onan) and we believe we eventually found the culprit - a dodgy bearing in the idler pulley of the auto belt tensioner. No Onan parts within a thousand miles or so, so we headed for town and managed to have a replacement bearing pressed in for the grand total of 20 ringit. About $8.00 Australian. We hope it lasts until we hit Singapore in November, where we'll fit a complete new self tensioner. Not having complete faith in the little Onan devil, we also bought a compact Honda petrol genset, as a get-out-of-gaol device. It's stowed in the lazarette and we hope we won't need it for a long while.

This is definitely the month when the maintenance bugs bit hard .... a new pressure vessel was fitted to the fresh water circuit, and a new over-pressure relief valve to the hot water service. A rusty spot on one chain plate has been repaired and re-painted, along with paint touch-ups around the aft steps. A new forward navigation light, plus a repair to the stern nav. light. A full service (1500hrs) on the Cummins engine. Adjusted steering cables, greased rudder bearing, new protective coating on shaft. Repaired the hose on the dinghy foot pump, backwashed the watermaker, cleaned both sea strainers. New leather boots on the aft lower chain plates. New hand controller on the anchor windlass. New engine start batteries (the old units died at seven years of age). Re-installed repaired water bladder in aft tank, touched up paint areas inside the tank. Bow anchor and chain re-galvanised and re-installed. I think that's it, thank heavens !

The last of the jobs was completed yesterday, today we tidied the boat and made ready to go to sea. Our next destination is the Lasa River, then on to the Rajang and our Iban friends at the longhouse "Rumah Lidam" on Sungai Tulai. In November we'll cross to Singapore and move north to Penang and Langkawi. Departure will be on the high tide after midnight tonight, and we should enter the Lassa about 36 hours later.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Another Race

48 hours after winning our class in the passage race from Labuan to Miri, we left Crystal Blues in Miri Marina and secretly flew back home to Melbourne.

We walked into son Shaun's engagement party on the Saturday, giving him a big surprise. His fiancé Sarah had kept our travel plans a secret. Sarah's parents, Bill and Margaret Cooper, introduced us to many of their relatives and Shaun's mates kept us entertained with a variety of party tricks.

Over the next week we ticked off the items on our shopping list - mainly boat spares - and generally emptied our bank accounts. Neil's old window seat in Tiamo Restaurant, in Lygon Street Carlton, was also visited a few times. The coffee, food and the friendly staff always draw us back.

A final weekend in Sydney was a social and culinary whirl. On Saturday we drove to Pittwater, our old haunt, to catch up with SV Ulumulu and Captain Arrifin (aka Fin). Fin has been supervising the refit of Ulumulu as she is prepared for his solo circumnavigation. Staying at Hotel SpaceAge on Saturday evening, we wandered across the road to Puntino Restaurant, and had a fabulous meal cooked by Tony Fabia. We didn't have to order - Tony knew we wanted his mussels and rocket salad. After being regulars for more than six years, he knows our tastes.

Sunday brunch was enjoyed with Mike and Tracey, SV Seadrive, right on the waters edge under Sydney Harbour Bridge. Boy, are we out of touch - the parking meter in Sydney cost more than a meal for two in Malaysia...! Another delightful visit on Sunday evening with Graham and Lesley, SV Wow, rounded out our time in Sydney.

Departing on Monday morning, with 20kg of baggage over the limit was a challange. We departed at 12.30pm and were back on board in Sarawak by 9.30pm. A whirlwind trip!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Racing Through Borneo & The Green Marina

Lat. 04deg 24.11min North, Lon. 113deg 58.33min East

Crystal Blues has won the 130 nautical mile passage race from Labuan to Miri for the second year in a row. Ley and Neil sailed the boat for 24 hours straight to win on corrected time by well over an hour. We managed to pass some of the IRC race boats on the way, which made us pretty happy. For 12 hours we match raced with an 80 foot superyacht, a massive sloop run by professional crew, and we were never more than 1/2 a mile apart - this was the most exiting racing we'd ever done.

The first 18 hours were hard on the wind all the way, before the breeze went light and variable and we started chasing storm fronts to give us the wind we needed. By morning it died almost completely and we were down to an agonising 2 knots of boat speed for several hours, then managed to sail a slight sea breeze to the finish line off Miri mid-morning.

Unfortunately we were not able to sail the whole race series, as once we arrived in Miri we were on an aircraft quick smart and flew back to Australia for the engagement party of Shaun (Ley's oldest son) and Sarah. We missed the final two round-the-buoys races, but made it to the engagement party in Melbourne, where we'll be for the next week.

The Green Marina ...

Over the past months we've spent a lot of time in Miri, and have been able to implement a recycling program at the marina. The local Miri council provided the bins, which sit at the top of the dock ramp. They are emptied twice a week by staff from the Sunflower Centre, a non-profit day care centre for special needs children and teenagers. The kids sort the material and prepare it for sale, and al the funds go to the Sunflower Centre, which is part of the Miri Red Crescent (Red Cross) organisation. The program was launched this week, to coincide with the annual yachting challenge. So Miri Marina is now a Green Marina.

We'll return to Miri on Monday the 17th, and still hope to do some more land travels in Borneo before heading up the Rajang River to see our Iban friends on Sungai Tulai in October.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

4th Borneo International Yachting Challenge

Lat. 05deg 16.22 North, Lon. 115deg 14.92 East.

Labuan Harbour is host to almost 30 sailing boats, and we're here to celebrate with the other crews. Only 3 IRC "real racing" boats, the rest are cruisers like ourselves. We'll race around the harbour tomorrow, and the following day we set of to Miri on a 120 nautical mile passage race, overnight.

The race organisers do a great job of looking after us, with free hotel rooms here in Labuan and in Miri, a cash payment for entering the event and a whole series of dinners and parties. Its too good to miss. The weather doesn't look great - not a lot of wind - but we're sure it will be fun.

The cruisers have been preparing for the race, practicing spinnaker sets and even cleaning hulls. Our friends Janet and Joe on Tegan 1 shipped a new mainsail in for the event, and the crew of Morning Cloud had fun cleaning the hull.

In Miri we have another "round the cans" race before the final party. The Chief Minister of Sarawak is coming, along with a tribe of other VIP's. The Malaysian Maritime Department is providing security. There are lots of our cruising friends here, so the social life is sure to be intense.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Old Friends, & Older Gear Problems

Lat. 04deg 23.11 minutes north. Lon. 113deg. 58.33 minutes east.

Here in Miri we've been catching up with old friends, as boats gather for the annual Borneo Cup yachting event. Jon and Pam (SV Tweed), Joe and Janette (SV Tegan), Wally & Robyn (SV Annwn) and Bryce & Martha (SV Silver Fern) are among those who've helped maintain our sanity as we addressed a range of maintenance issues. The stolen Tohatsu outboard motor has been replaced - we rented a car and drove 400km on dodgy roads to pick up the new unit in Sibu - saw a lot of northern Borneo and spent time in Bintulu, a town new to us. Everywhere we go the people remain friendly and courteous - Sarawak is a delight.

Love It Or Hate It…. Can't Live Without It !

Many cruising sailors adopt the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) approach to boat preparation. With our techno past, Crystal Blues was never going to fit that category. She's a complex vessel that really needs her Onan AC genset, for at least a few hours each day, if we're to live the way we want (big freezer, cold beer, fans, music, computers etc).

Late in June the Onan had a major seizure (at 1400hrs), the flexible coupling broke and the drive pulley took out an oil drain line, as well as lots of the foam acoustic lining. The end result was a broken genset and black, greasy, foam particles spread everywhere in the back of the boat. We removed everything and washed down with warm soapy water, which took a whole day. Then Neil had to remove the fuel tank and covers to investigate. The failure was at the rear of the unit, only accessible by leaning over and working blind.

The broken bits were extracted and pondered over. Parts were sourced from the USA, albeit slowly, and the rebuilding began this week. It went back together surprisingly well over one and a half days. Neil pushed the starter and the genset roared to life, sounding much smoother and quieter than it had for a while.

Our good friend Jim Cate (who's familiar with our Onan issues) asked recently if we would ever deal with Onan again - on reflection I think they are a good company, but they simply weren't quick enough to pull what I believe is a lemon, off the market. Our original two year old unit was generously replaced free of charge (at 750hrs) when it proved to be a mess, and that was after Cummins had taken over Onan. However, all the good will in the world doesn't help when you replace one lemon with another…. Cummins have tried hard, but they didn't design or build this thing. They even extended the warranty, but the cooling system still requires way too much service. We average about 200 hours from a new impeller, and the seawater pump needed total replacement at 1170 hours - no rebuild kits available. So no Jim, sadly we wouldn't buy an Onan again.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells - Future Green Power

The flip side of this story is that we don't know any truly reliable small gensets. Right now we're "hanging tough" with the Onan, hoping that Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology will become reliable before this thing dies completely.

There are now two companies offering fuel cell products to the cruising yacht community, one version powered by methanol and one by LPG - see the Yachting World "Green Power" story in the Cruising Information section of our web site. Silent, low emissions and few moving parts - it sounds too good to be true. We'll wait and see.

Our Cruising Plans

Next month we'll participate in the Borneo Cup regatta, then do some more land travel in Sarawak, before heading back to the Rajang River and our Iban friends upstream at Sungai Tulai in October.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Storms, Grog, Thieves & Beauty Queens.

Lat. 04deg 23.11 minutes north. Lon. 113deg. 58.33 minutes east.

Crystal Blues is back in Miri, Sarawak, after a 12 day voyage that proved - well "interesting" is a good word.

We set out from Miri on Thursday July 19 and travelled overnight to Labuan Island. On board were our friends Barry Barber and Lesley Colley, ex SV Sea Dancer, who had flown from Adelaide to visit Sarawak and Sabah (see the story below for more info on their visit). The overnight sail was less than comfortable due to the large number of localized thunder storms, but by morning all was clear and we motored into Victoria Harbour, Labuan, in fine spirits. We stocked up on wine, beer and spirits and managed to depart by lunchtime the next day, headed for Brunei, all of 15 miles away.

That evening found us sipping duty free Gin around the pool at the Royal Brunei Yacht Club, and later dining with other cruisers in the club restaurant. We staggered off to bed way too late, locked everything and slept well. In the morning our outboard motor was gone (yes, the one that we'd just had serviced and were so happy with)! They tried to take the dinghy, but were prevented by the wire strop and padlocks - with the outboard they just smashed the transom screw toggles and left the padlock dangling on the strop - a lesson learned.

This of course led to a wasted day of police reports and teeth gnashing. Later that day we also found that the marina at our next port of call, Kota Kinabalu, was full. No vacancies for weeks ahead. As we need to repair our Onan genset (again), and we really don't want to sit at anchor running the main engine twice a day, we opted to head back to Miri. There we could organize the genset parts and obtain a new outboard motor, in a low cost marina. After two more days in Brunei and several more very energetic storms, Barry and Lesley flew on to Kota Kinabalu and we checked out.

The trip back was worse … waves from several directions and wind from everywhere. You know how it is - steep faced little waves that try to slam the boat to a standstill and then don't apologise. 20 hours later we arrived in Miri, determined to re-group and chill-out. That's when good things started to happen.

Local friend and businessman Bruce Chai invited us out to dinner that night, and we offered to provide a "sail boat ride" for 16 Chinese / Malay beauty queens. Next we found that an identical replacement outboard motor would cost half (yep half) what we paid six years ago in Australia. An 18hp 2 stroke Tohatsu for A$1200.00. Go figure. Also, the Aussie stock market recovered from its recent hissie fit. Great.

Then Neil spent a day repairing the battery charging system on the race boat next door (a DK46 owned by Aussie Ray Roberts), and the crew took us out for a fantastic sea food feast last night … things were looking up.

At 8.00am this morning 16 gorgeous ladies invaded the marina, with an entourage of hangers-on, two video crews and several still photographers. We made sure our hair was tidy, cleaned our teeth and put on the cleanest sailing clothes we could find (not easy). By 8.45 they were all on board and we set out to sea, into a dying slop that soon had the camera crews wet and the girls on the foredeck excited. After 15 minutes of this the first casualty came aft, pale and sick. Two more soon followed and we turned around. The balance of the cruise and the photo sessions took place on the flat water of the marina and canals of the adjacent residential estate. One girl managed to throw up whilst cruising the canal system - it surprised us, but the photographers showed no mercy and filmed everything.

Tonight we're invited to a celebration dinner with the beauty queens, and need to find clean clothes again. Neil might even shave. Things are looking up.

There are more photos in the Picassa album - click the link below :

To see the video on YouTube, produced by Curtin University, click this link : Beauty Queens In Miri

Sunday, 29 July 2007

These Visitors Paid A Tasty Cruising Tax

Lesley Colley and Barry Barber, ex SV Sea Dancer and Australian cruisers came for a visit to Borneo in July. Before they left Adelaide, they asked if there was anything they could bring over. An assortment of boat bits promptly arrived on their doorstep, weighing 8kgs in total. Added to this were the compulsory three jars of Cruising Tax (Vegemite).

Their travel plans were loose, sail with us and then do some land travel. They explored Miri, trudging through muddy National Parks, while we slaved over replacing the element in the hot water system. Lesley met some Iban bead artists at the craft centre. She bought necklaces and a belt of this traditional craft. We dined on seafood, Chinese style, provisioned and cleared out of Sarawak.

Our next port was Labuan, a duty free island of East Malaysia. Following a late afternoon departure, we had a delightful sailing moment (3 hours), until the wind disappeared and ominous black clouds with startling lightning overtook us. Using radar we threaded our way around these storms and through the gaggles of oil rigs that populate this coastline.

We dropped anchor in Labuan harbor the next morning. After a leisurely breakfast we hailed a water taxi and began our mission to restock the cellar, liquor cupboard and beer store. Our standard method is to buy a variety of wines and have a wine tasting evening. Next day, we returned and bought a few case loads.

Mission accomplished, we cleared out of Malaysia and motored over to the Royal Brunei Yacht Club at Muara, to clear in to Brunei. We headed for the pool and spent the afternoon relaxing and watching a thunderstorm roll in. Our mission in Brunei was to fill up with diesel. At A$0.26 cent a litre it is real bargain.

Lesley and Barry had sold their yacht, Sea Dancer to Bill Kerr, who is a pilot with Royal Brunei Air. Bill is based in Brunei and we managed to catch up with him over the next 5 days. We hired a car and explored the museums, cafes and mosques of Bandar Seri Begawann, the capital of Brunei. We got lost and rained upon daily - what fun. Too soon it was time for us to go our separate ways, land travel for Barry and Lesley, Miri and boat jobs for us. We had a great time together, they are great company, experienced crew and fabulous dish washers!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Reflections On Sungai Tulai

Lat. 04deg 23.11N, Lon. 113deg 58.34E. Miri Marina

Its over two weeks since we left our friends at the Longhouse "Lidam" on the Tulai River, and we find our hearts are still very much attached to the place and the people.

Each day or so we receive a letter or an SMS message from our friends there - some good news, some family and school updates, and some very heartfelt "we miss you" messages. Ley suggested that the children continue to practice conversational English in our absence, and we're pleased that this is really happening. Well done Jabu, Dina, Dungert, Beretin, Rebeckha, Dominic and Dayang ! Jabu has sent us a letter (written in English) to update us, and he also told us how boring it is at the longhouse during the not infrequent power outages.

Through our longhouse friends we also met many of the wider Iban community in the area, including the congregation at Bintangor Iban Methodist church. In Sarawak there are two methodist church organisations, Chinese and Iban. Only language separates the two, but they maintain separate buildings, organisations and even training structures for ministers and lay preachers. The Iban church has managed to incorporate aspects of traditional Iban culture within its services - we were thrilled to see traditional dance and music in use to celebrate the end of the Gawai Dayak festival at a special church service. The dancing was beautiful !

Here in thoroughly modern Miri, we're missing the traditional connection with the rivers and the land that our Iban friends shared with us. Last night we celebrated at an up-scale seafood restaurant and payed way too much for giant freshwater prawns. Only last month we gladly accepted these through trade with the local fisherman who caught them....... for a small fraction of the cost.

The locals tell us that these are more prolific in the dry season, when the salt water moves up stream. Right now the water is fresh, so catches are down. We'll be back on Sungai Tulai in October, and we hope that our fisherman friend Graman can catch some more to share with us again !

Monday, 9 July 2007

Clearance Diving On The Way To Miri

Lat. 04deg 23.11N, Lon. 113deg 58.34E. Miri Marina

I have a friend who was a clearance diver in the Navy - now I know he really is crazy (sorry Eric!)

We departed Sibu last Wednesday, heading downstream towards the Lassa River, and its wide exit to the South China Sea. It's a long journey, and we stopped the first night at a longhouse we'd visited last year. This is a fantastic longhouse, 79 doors, 300 people, and quite remote from the big cities. Our friend Justin was very happy to see us, and invited us to visit after dinner. His 91 year old father remembers the Brooke regime - the last of the white Rajah's. His father was wearing an Australian T-shirt when we arrived! So we had another delightful evening, visiting with friends, trying not to drink too much Tuak (rice wine), and trying to remember all the names. These folks were very kind to us on our last visit, and we look forward to seeing them again later in the year.

Next day we travelled down to the estuary of the Lassa River, anchoring at the edge of the stream about 10 miles short of the ocean. Here the tidal current peaks at around 5 knots, and we made sure we were well anchored. At 2.00 am we were woken by sounds of increased strain on the anchor rode and other strange noises ... once on deck Neil discovered that a Malay fishing boat was running a big drift net downstream with the tide and managed to hook one end onto our chain and bow. So now we had our boat, plus a loaded net plus their boat all hanging on our anchor, in a 5 knot stream. Just as I was about to cut the net it broke (with a TWANG!) and the load came off - I cut away the remnants from the bow and went back to bed. Big mistake. At 6.30am we were woken by a dull banging on the hull, underwater. On deck again, the tide has turned, and its running in at 5 knots. Some thing is caught on the boat and bashing the hull.....Of course we didn't dare start the engine, for fear of fouling the prop. So we went for a sail that morning, reaching back and forth across the river in the land breeze, tacking and gybing, trying to dislodge what ever was hooked. We failed miserably, re-anchored, having been carried 3 miles upstream whilst pointed downstream.....uncool.

At slack tide Neil was elected to be clearance diver, and headed underwater into what is best described as liquid chocolate - visibility is 75mm, no more. More than 500mm down there is no light. But of course there are crocodiles. I worked the rudder and skeg over by hand, then moved to the propeller and shaft. Nothing. Then to the front of the keel. Nothing. This was a problem.

Eventually my hand brushed against an anode (what a fluke), and I was reminded to check them as well. Finding all six in the pitch black was a challenge, but we found the net caught on one, with its attached float that was banging on the hull.

36 hours later we're in Miri Marina, after a varied passage with some nice sailing, mainly on local storm fronts. We used every possible sail combination and wind angle over a 24hour period.

Now we're catching up with maintenance and getting ready for visitors. On Friday we fly to Kuching for the Rainforest World Music Festival, three days of music and fun. And no diving, thank heavens.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Off To Sibu - With The Family On Board

Lat. 02 deg 16.94 N, Lon. 111 deg 49.70 E.

After a month anchored in Sungai Tulai, we bid farewell to our Iban friends from Rumah Lidam and headed for Sibu last Sunday, a six hour transit upstream on the Rajang River, unfortunately against the current all the way. Nine of our longhouse friends joined us for the voyage, travelling back to the Tulai River via local bus that evening. We had a lot of fun on the way, and many tears were shed when the time came to say goodbye in Sibu, though we do plan to see them again in October.

The last week was delightful, including the close of the Gawai Dayak festival at one of the local longhouses. This was combined with the official opening of a new footbridge, with invited guests from Government including the District Officer and representatives of various departments. We were included in the official party and luncheon - all delicious Iban food. Ley and I had to do the traditional dance again, with Ley receiving lots of applause for her style - I think she's been practising !

The government guests came to visit Crystal Blues after the ceremonies, which prompted mass visiting by many of the women and children from adjacent longhouses. Things were very busy on board all afternoon - canoes arriving and departing, children swimming and diving off the boat, food and drinks to be served etc. We lost count at 50 visitors ......

Our "big" outboard engine did an awful lot of work here on the river. So in Sibu we've had both outboard motors serviced, plus loaded water and diesel. "Wee's Engineering Services "did the work. Our six year old Tohatsu 18hp engine was sure ready for some work - we gave it a complete service plus new main bearings, big end and little end con-rod bearings, water impeller, carby service, recoil starter re-furbished and full tune-up. It was all done in one day (!). Collected from the boat, stripped, repaired, tested and returned to us that afternoon. For less than $130.00 Australian. Its now starting and running better than it ever did - the guys here are amazing. We're delighted. Tomorrow Crystal Blues departs for Miri, though it will take a few days to travel downstream to the ocean, then an overnight transit to Miri.

Friday, 22 June 2007

A Different Education - Flight Lessons

For the past three weeks we've been holding afternoon school aboard Crystal Blues, working with primary and secondary students to improve their English comprehension. Ley has devised a grab-bag of games and projects to use, and some of the older kids have been working on our computers, completing homework and school projects. From 3.00pm most afternoons you can't move in the cockpit or the cabin for kids and projects.

Yesterday we cancelled the normal classes and arranged to visit the longhouse with games for the kids. In preparation we'd photocopied (in bulk) several patterns for folded paper aircraft, and we organised a competion - the longest flight, the best decoration (they had to colour them in before folding), with prizes for boys and girls. 10 children took part, with lots of laughter and delight when the flight competition began. The longhouse verandah is enclosed, about 150 metres long, plenty of room for paper planes !

The real surprise was what happened next - the mothers, who had been watching their kids in action, wanted to participate ! We issued more patterns, and 8 mothers folded deadly accurate little aircraft - no time for decoration, this was serious......and very competitive.

Then another surprise. We had noticed a group of young men at one end of the house looking disdainfully at all this "kids stuff", but when the mother's aircraft flew very far and very true, the young men sent an emissary. Can the men make planes too please ? Sure, so more patterns came out. Despite the young men's best efforts, the womens paper plane building skills won out - they still proudly hold the distance record. To our surprise, a childrens game ended up involving almost the entire longhouse population - everybody went home happy and sore from laughing ...

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Two Birthdays In Borneo

Lat. 02degrees 10.54north, Lon. 111degrees 40.90east

We haven't moved since our last report, still at the longhouse on Sungai Tulai, but we have had our birthday - Ley and I both being born on June 13 (yes its scary).

Life on Sungai Tulai is very peaceful. On Sunday we went to church (twice), in both cases following the service and songs using an Iban text - not so hard to follow, since the tunes were familiar. The people here are Methodist now - most services are conducted by lay preachers from the longhouse, but once a month a pastor comes from the city, in the afternoon, and provides an additional Sunday service. That was last Sunday - hence the two services. We were pleased to host the pastor and his crew on board the boat for afternoon tea.

For our birthday we had a celebration lunch in a Chinese cafe down river in Bintangor, having ordered a special seafood meal in advance. It's a twenty minute run in the dinghy from here. We invited four of our friends from the longhouse - two came by powered canoe and two by motorbike. Later in the afternoon we had cake and tuak (rice wine) at the longhouse with about 60 well wishers, and made it home just before dark. The children of the longhouse made small birthday gifts for us - little figures made from balloons, sand and thread. One boy gave a us local river fish (live) in a tiny jar, with two glass marbles and a tiny pack of fish food - an aquarium he said in English! We also received sweet potatoes and cooked local prawns. We've transferred the fish to a bigger home, changed the water and fed it, but so far resisted naming it .....

Really a memorable birthday - lots more pictures in the Tulai River photo album - check it out in the right hand column.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Sungai Tulai Has Become Home For A While

Lat. 02degrees 10.54north, Lon. 111degrees 40.90east

Salamat Hari Gawai..... If you use the Lat. and Lon. information above (plug it in to Google Earth) you'll see that Crystal Blues is nowhere near the ocean. We've travelled 80km upstream on the Rajang River ("Batang Rajang"). From Bintangor town we took the Batang Bintangor to reach the Batang Tulai, arriving here on June 2nd. A couple of miles up the Tulai, and we're amongst old friends, a great long-house community (5 long houses) and wonderful people. Its our second visit here.

The river is just over 120' wide, but still deep, averaging 8 metres, which is just as well as we had 5 meter tides for the first few days. As the tide turns, the boat swings and the davits on the stern almost touch the jungle on the river bank. The locals have welcomed us in fine style, with lots of Tuak (rice wine) and partying. Each day we join them for some activity - yesterday we hiked into the jungle to gather wild vegetables, which were shared amongst all the families in the longhouse, with a suitable portion for us.

To our delight we're now referred to as "Auntie" and "Uncle" by all the local children - a term of endearment and trust that we're very happy with. Each afternoon the kids swim across the river to play on and about the boat, and most evenings we spend in the long house. Boat visits have been very popular, with some people swimming to us, others arriving by local canoe and many carried in our dinghy. Over 100 people have visited in the past 4 days - Ley has baked three cakes and we've run out of self raising flour and sweet biscuits...

Now that we know the various families and children, the relationship is closer. Yesterday we had a movie (DVD) afternoon for all the school-age children on board, with cake and drinks afterwards. After that they all made drawings of characters in the movie - Monsters Inc. The kids then asked Ley is she could help improve their English skills, so English reading lessons filled the afternoon until swimming time at 5.00pm. In the evening we took part in the longhouse ceremony to end the Gawai (Harvest) festival - around 150 people with traditional gong and drum music, lots of dancing, and beautiful local food. We ate the heart of young sago palms, some stuffed and cooked with tiny immature banana's, plus chicken and noodles. The longhouse chief made a speech, we all drank tuak (rice wine), and Gawai was over.

You can see more photographs at :