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.