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.

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