Thursday, 31 May 2007

Anodes Ain't Anodes it Seems - We're Off To Bintangor

02deg03.98N., 110deg52.68E.

Crystal Blues departed the Santubong River (Kuching), North Borneo, on Tuesday morning. Three hours later she was anchored back in the same river.... and nine hours later Neil was on his way to Singapore, via Johor Baru, to collect a new gearbox oil cooler and anodes for the main engine. Not good news for us .... but kinda good for Malaysian Airlines.

We noticed a salt water leak in the bilge as we departed the river - on inspection it proved to be a corroded end cap on the oil cooler. After returning and re-anchoring we also pulled the anode from the engine heat exchanger and found it was unchanged since installation - about six months ago. This anode was purchased in Singapore from a local chandlery - seems the zinc in it is not what it should be - maybe not zinc at all. The copper oil cooler took the anodic load instead, and of course it dissolved.

This morning we fitted a new (Cummins manufactured) anode and the new oil cooler, tested everything and departed the river again at midday .. and all is OK. We're now about 15 nautical miles from the mouth of the Rajang River. Its a full moon night, beautiful conditions. We're motoring at 6.5knots on a glassy sea, 2.0 knots of breeze on the beam. Will enter the Rajang River around midnight, have been there once before, so we hope we know the way in .... rising tide (4 metres tonight !) and good charts, plus radar. Tomorrow we'll work the tide upstream to Sarikei, then the next day to Bintangor. It's Hari Gawai festival time here, and we have a date at a particular Iban native long-house, just past Bintangor. Music, dancing and rice wine .... Hari Gawai!

Possibly no phone coverage for the next few weeks, as we're in the Rajang River delta, but the email should work just fine.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Fusion Food In Santubong

One of the many reasons we are sailing is to experience the local food. Each destination presents a new opportunity to tempt our senses. We eat where the locals eat, cook with local produce and shop where the locals shop. We love the seafood and vegetarian fare in Penang, the clean fresh tastes of Thailand, the Indian roti in Langkawi and the endless variety in Singapore. We also keep a well provisioned freezer on board and stock up with produce when and where it is available. Occasionally we’ll cook western style meals, but generally they all have that touch of Asia about them.

Local Kuching yachties, Ian and Mona, were coming for dinner so we stopped at two roadside stalls and bought tiger prawns and midin, a local fern. The women who collect and sell this vegetable were all smiles - we think they were wondering what we were going to do with our banana leaf bundle of midin. They asked which resort we were staying in. We gave them our boat card, with a picture of Crystal Blues on it and explained that were staying on our boat in the river.

We discovered midin during our travels in Sarawak last year. Served in restaurants, it is quickly cooked in the wok with garlic and light soy or oyster sauce and presented on its own as a vegetable dish. It has a texture similar to asparagus. For dinner, Ley cooked prawn risotto and a side serve of midin. Delicious! A fusion of flavours, textures and cultures.

Monday, 21 May 2007

We Chase The Singapore Police Coast Guard

1 degree 46.22 North, 108 degrees 14.91 East.

Crystal Blues departed Singapore on Saturday May 19, after fuelling at RSYC. Our destination is Kuching, Sarawak, about 400 nautical miles distant across the South China Sea. The weather has been very kind, no real wind and lots of motoring, and we should arrive in the Santubong River on Tuesday morning.

As we cleared the Singapore Strait on Saturday night, well clear of Singapore waters, we were intercepted and followed by an obvious military type vessel, 50cal. machine gun on deck, which trained a (very bright) spotlight on us, whilst holding a very close station. We were effectively running blind. After 5 minutes we'd had enough of this and called them on VHF but received no response to repeated hails. After almost 10 minutes and repeated VHF calls from us they fell astern without identifying themselves.

Not impressed at all with their gung-ho boat driving and spot light use, nor with their failure to communicate when requested, we turned and chased them, applying our spotlight to their bridge. The image above, extracted from our positioin logging on our chart plotter, shows us following the turn, following them. They eventually heaved-to and begrudgingly identified themselves on VHF Ch16.

This was the Singapore Police Coast Guard Vessel PH.61 ! When we requested a change of channel to free the emergency frequency, communications were lost.... a man on the deck yelled at us to please use Ch16 again. So we returned to the abused Ch16 and asked what they were about - two different voices responded at different times, with different ineffectual excuses for their behaviour.

Now obviously, we clearly respect Singapore's right to investigate vessels at its borders, and are happy to cooperate, but only so long as it is done in a professional and safe manner.

The way these guys behaved was not courteous or safe - definitely not Singapore's finest hour. It took 10 minutes to get a response from them, and no useful communication ensued. In the end we announced our intention to resume our voyage and left them there, and have lodged an official complaint with the Singapore authorities.

Incredibly, at this stage we think Crystal Blues may be the only sailing vessel ever to chase, apprehend and interrogate a Singapore Police Coast Guard security vessel ! Go figure ....

Friday, 11 May 2007

Line Dancing in the Malacca Straits

With our fourth uneventful Malacca Straits passage under our keel, we are now safely tied up at One Degree 15 Marina in Singapore. We hope to be here a week before transiting across to Kuching in Sarawak, Borneo.

We departed Penang midafternoon on May 8, with tidal assistance and a reasonable weather window. Eventually the tide turned and took the wind with it. For the next two days we had noserlies, even when we made a course change. Ah well, we did have a pleasant sailing moment on Tuesday evening, but the remainder of the trip was motor sailing, then just plain motoring.

As we moved down the Straits we were accompanied by continuous lines of really big ships, heading north and south. There were amazing gas ships with their camel like domes on deck, huge panamax car carriers, bulk freighters, cruise ships and coastal freighters. Large shipping movements along the Malacca Straits conform to the traffic management schemes as detailed on the charts by pink lines and arrows. These pink marks are followed religiously by all. We choose to sail just outside this area and have found it to be mostly clear of tugs, barges, trawlers, local fishing boats, nets, fish traps and other distractions that hug the coast. The only really challenging sections are where there are designated crossings into coastal ports of Malaysia. At one of these crossings last year we collected an interesting piece of flotsam. With the engine disabled, Neil dove over the side and cleared the proppellor of heavy rope. These surprises only happen at 2am!

Our last week in Penang was filled with festivals. We celebrated Wesak Day, (Buddha's Birthday) and also the First Full Moon in the Hindu New Year calendar. What a treat to be part of these