Thursday, 29 May 2008

Peace & Quiet, plus Gongs & Knives

Coming back to the Tulai River we're reminded of the environmental noise we live with. There is very little human background noise here, so every insect, bird, reptile and animal makes its own contribution to the symphony as we wake each morning.

That all changed last week, as the sound of discordant gongs and drums floated across the paddy fields to wake us. Our friends were practicing for the wedding of a local girl, taking place the next day. It was a big thing - hundreds of Iban guests arrived by lorry from the groom's longhouse. Whilst nominally a Christian ceremony, when the two longhouse groups met, they shared a slurp of whisky and then with gongs and drums playing they slaughtered a pig at the entrance to the longhouse. The guests then paraded the length of the long house, with gongs and drums accompanying. Eventually the pig was cut up (very interesting video, see the photo top right) and then things went quiet for a while. Makai (dinner) was served to all, though we were invited into Jampie's house for dinner with the extended family - probably 30 of us. A real feast, huge river prawns, many vegetable dishes, chicken cooked in bamboo, rice in bamboo and of course no Iban feast would be complete without "babi" - the pork!

After makai the bride and groom arrived in modern dress, white long bridal gown, white long bridesmaid dress and the groom in full suit, collar and tie, but only socks - no shoes. The bride, bridesmaid and the best man were bare-foot, like the rest of us. We were the official photographers - took lots of stills and video.

Then the speeches, ceremony and music happened. An Iban gong band played constantly, with Neil's new Bali drum included. Another 80 feet down the long house was a live Malay band - playing music at the same time . It was noisy! One end had people doing the traditional Najat Iban dances, the other doing the modern Malay male shuffle (so boring).

Lots of fun, lots of tuak (rice wine) and a good time was had. We left at 2am, but they went on until dawn, when peace and quiet eventually returned. We didn't hear the roosters at dawn, but the kids swimming after breakfast eventually woke us .... we really do love this river.

The river tides are big at the moment, ranging around 3.5 metres. We try to be on board for the swing as the tide changes, just in case any wind should push us close to the bank. We sit here with 50 metres of chain out in a river that's only 40 metres wide - but the current always wins, and centres us in the stream.

Tradition Survives, Despite The Fire

Despite the proximity to town (only 20 minutes by fast boat), and the influence of the missionary churches, this long house group is still a repository of Iban tradition. Some of that disappeared when Rumah Suring burned, with the loss of many artifacts including valuable long swords, many that had taken heads in the past. Locals still say that if you have a rash on your body, then you wipe the blade of an "experienced" long sword across the skin and the rash will be cured. Fortunately other long blades survive here, so we don't see too many rashes....

Last week we delivered some photographs to Rumah Labang and watched a traditional medicine man examine and probe every rib, muscle and intestinal bump of his patient, who was lying prone on the floor. He then applied a special white paste, finger painting the patient's body in half-moon swirls. Try claiming that on Medicare ...

Two nights ago we watched the yellow/white lights of an aircraft seemingly hover low above the river, as it approached Sibu airport (30km away). Our friend Jampie, sitting with us on the transom steps at sunset, said that many of the old people here still believe the lights are the eyes of the Antu (ghosts). Its taken a little time for these traditional practices and observations to be shared with us - we saw and heard little on our first few visits.

We're very pleased to see traditional music now being played by the younger children, something we've been encouraging for the past two years. During the wedding I was able to play in a spirited gong band, made up entirely of young teenagers, both girls and boys. This would have been impossible two years ago - its a joy and privilege to see it happening now.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Santubong - Kuching Cruising Information

We know that many boats plan to cruise in Sarawak this year - we hope this information assists.

Santubong River Entrance

The river entrance here has shallowed somewhat over recent years. There are two (2) bars to cross on the way in - the first is well out to sea, where we saw 4.7 metres on a 3.0 metre tide. The inner bar is crossed after you've turned to port, heading east into the river. Here we saw 3.9 metres on a 3.3 metre tide - thats 0.6 metres on a zero tide, using the installed leads as the entrance guide. Locals tend to wander south of those leads, and they say there is more water there, but I have never tested it.

The top image shows the display from our electronic charting system (Tsunamis Navigator Pro) on the way in, with our ships track in red. Note that we stay deliberately to the east of the lead line on the long southward leg, purely because thats the way the tugs and barges do it - I can take a hint. Then we turn to the east and come on to the river leads proper,though severe charting error shows us well south of the lead line. Don't worry, use the white triangular leads at the river mouth, then start to move north again once you've crossed the shallow section.

As you make that turn to the east you must stay clear (north) of the yellow floating buoy... this marks the northern end of a reef off the mainland to the south. It used to be a big green pole with flashing light, but a barge took it out recently. I've shown the buoy, at its GPS derived (approx) location, in the chartlet above. If you're on the leads you'll pass within 150 metres of it.

The anchorage is not far in. Datuk Lingi's staff have asked that visiting yachts anchor on the north side of the river (about 1/3 of the way out from the bank), starting at Lingi's dock and then working eastwards. They strongly suggest you don't anchor off the village, as you'll intefere with the drift netting that happens there most evenings. Barge and boat traffic on the river occurs on the southern side, so keep to the north of the centre line. This Google Earth image of the river shows the docks, plus anchoring positions, bus stop, shops etc. Click on the image to enlarge, and save it if you like.

Crocodile Update

The big croc (see the story here) seems to have disappeared from the poorly fenced pond where they dumped it, in the car park behind Palm Garden restaurant. Its probably back in the river (damn). The little croc (2.5m), which also escaped from the restaurant's ponds, continued to hang around the boat ramp. Great ... so the restaurant owner then decided to start feeding it right there, hanging dead chickens on rope to attract it, as a "drawcard" for tourists. Go figure. Last Thursday many people launched and retrieved boats at that ramp, up to their waist in water, while the croc watched from maybe 10 metres away. Unreal. That night we saw it on the mudflat below the restaurant, with patrons hanging out the windows to photograph it.

Fortunately, the local Malay community have now taken matters into their own hands. On Friday morning a hooked line was set, baited with dead chicken. The creature was captured, trussed and taken to the local crocodile farm. So the current situation is that the smaller escapee has been detained and relocated, but the bigger one is probably hanging around. No swimming !

Proboscis Monkeys

There is a colony of proboscis monkeys living in the Kuching Wetlands National Park, not far from the Santubong anchorage. We took the dinghy across the estuary and into the
Jebong River (Sungai Jebong), and saw them up close on the southern bank as we approached Kampong Salak. A basic map of the national park, with the river and kampong marked, can be downloaded here.

Irrawaddy Dolphins

The lower reaches of the Santubong and Rajang rivers carry populations of Irrawaddy Dolphin. These rare and beautiful creatures are very shy, but will swim close to your boat when at anchor. We often see them in the mornings. More information is available at the "Dolphins Of Sarawak" website here.

Travel & Provisioning In Kuching

Use our Services guide (download from the web). The best supermarkets are Ting & Ting in Tabuan road (right down town) and Choice Daily, some way out of town but worth the drive. A Kuching city map, marked up with useful locations, can be downloaded here, along with the Santubong - Kuching bus timetable here. While there are many buses travelling that route, the timetable is for the air conditioned resort bus. They're cool and clean. We rent cars or motor cycles from Tek Hua Motors, also in Tabuan Road, just up the hill from Ting & Ting. Speak to Winnie there - contact details are in the services guide. Once you're mobile you might like to call into Kampong Buntal, close to Santubong, a Malay village with several chinese seafood restaurants, a fish market and basic supplies available.

Rainforest World Music Festival Transport

Getting to the festival site can be a pain (though we used a motor bike last year and it was great). Datuk Lingi's staff are trying to organise some mini vans for the visiting yachts - but they need to know how many people will be coming. If a group of boats is interested, a representative should call Dolah or Pendi on 014-881-9455 or 013-804-5210. We're told that Datuk Lingi is happy for the visiting boats to use his dock for dinghy access again this year - but please treat it with respect.

Have fun in Santubong/Kuching, and make sure you book your music festival tickets early. We departed Santubong on Saturday morning, and are now anchored on Sungai Tulai with our friends at longhouse Rumah Lidam. The prawns are plentiful this season, and we've been given half a kilo each day since arriving. We hope to see you up here after the music festival.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Work & Play In Singapore

Crystal Blues arrived in Singapore on April 27. The voyage south was predictable - we motored all the way (no wind) and picked up net tangles TWICE in our propeller. We also had a large fish (1 metre +) land on deck and then travel half way down the boat before flipping himself over the side. Fortunately he missed the open forward hatch, or we'd have had one messy bedroom.

One Degree 15 Marina is our Singapore home, providing us with a great base to socialise, relax and tackle the never ending boat jobs. We were delighted to find our good friends Janet & Joe of SV Tegan here, as well as the Stonham family on SV Tui Tai and Robert & Elaine on SV Sunrise. That's Janet and Joe in the picture at right, doing it tough in the pool.

It hasn't been all fun. Our Lifeline AGM house batteries finally died after 7 years of sterling service. Unable to source suitable replacement batteries in Phuket or Langkawi, we ordered a new set of Trojan AGMs from the Singapore distributor. Two days after our arrival they were delivered to the dock at 2pm and were installed that afternoon. Final tweaking and fixing the locking bars was completed the following morning. Neil's body was bruised and scratched from manoeuvring the batteries into the box, which is not located for easy access, being under the cockpit floor and surrounded by other equipment.

Our wind instrument has been lying to us for about 6 months. At first it was intermittent and then it just refused to acknowledge reality. Ley went to the top of the mast to rotate the vane whilst Neil measured the voltage returns at the display head - no change in voltage confirmed that the transducer needed to be replaced. Fortunately OceanTalk had just received their first delivery of Raymarine stock into Singapore so a replacement unit was available.

Over sundowners one night we were invited to join local expats Rod, Angie and Mike at the
Singapore Gun Club. Mike (SV Greensleeves) is a pilot with Qatar airlines, and a member of the gun club here.

The choice of weapons for the morning's practice were pistols. Both of us had fired rifles and shotguns before, and Neil had fired a pistol on a target range years ago. The targets were set up, and detailed safety and handling instructions were noted. Clips were loaded and the fun began. For pistol novices we scored quite well, with Ley scoring the only bullseye.

We cleared with immigration and port authority this morning, and will depart Singapore this afternoon, bound for Kuching. We should arrive in the Santubong anchorage on Monday afternoon.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

More Borneo Cruising

BIYC Date Change

The BIYC organising committee has changed the dates for this year's event. The race has been brought forward to run from August 24 to 29. The change was needed to avoid conflicting with the Ramadan period in the following weeks. Enquiries to Capt. Fin at Miri Marina (

Latest news at the Borneo Race Website here.

Rumah Suring Burns ...

One of the beautiful Iban longhouses on the Tulai river has burned down. Rumah Suring, constructed of timber with 37 doors, caught fire last month while the residents were away voting in government elections. We learned of the fire via SMS message from our friends at nearby Rumah Lidam. The district officer, Mohamad Junaidi Mohidin, has emailed to tell us that no one was killed, though some were injured, and that all the people are being cared for by relatives and friends in nearby longhouses. 37 families lost their homes and all their possessions, save what they were wearing and carrying on election day.

To help those people (see the kids in the photo at right) we're collecting donations and goods to carry up river. Thanks to the Stonham family on SV Tui Tai for kicking things off with a great bag of goodies. If you're travelling to Borneo this year, you can leave donations in Kuching with Ian Robertson & Mona Woodford at Mona Medical Supplies in Kuching. Ian & Mona own the yacht Kumang, moored in the anchorage at Santubong. They have kindly offered to store things for us until we can transport them to Sungai Tulai. Call Ian & Mona on 082-240-744.

We'll accept anything from books to tools, clothing, utensils, crockery, hardware etc. Children's English language books are fine. Got some T-Shirts you haven't worn yet ? Pass them on please. Crystal Blues will be in Santubong anchorage from around May 14 for 10 days or so. If you arrive after we've departed, please leave things with Ian & Mona.

River Travel

River travel in Sarawak is a delight. The photo at right shows young Jack Scott (SV Stong Legs) with Alistair & Vivian (SV Largo Star) with yours truly, heading for trouble on the Rajang River in 2006.

In our last entry on this topic (review it here), we recommended several charts for travelling on the Rajang. Some people have asked if they are really necessary .... my answer is that I wouldn't travel without them, though I know it has been done.

Other people have heard of strong currents and debris making life difficult on the rivers. Our advice is to move upstream, away from the lower delta region, where the currents are strongest and debris is more common. We try to anchor out of the main stream, usually in a tributary or side river. In Sarikei and Bintangor there are wide and deep side streams that are perfect. In other places we read the tide and pick a spot that is out of the ebbing current, which is always the faster of the two. The dry season is approaching, and with reduced rain the Rajang runs fairly clean in our experience.

Outboard Motor Security

Back in July last year we had our Tohatsu outboard motor stolen, despite the stainless steel strop and padlock securing it to the boat (original story here). The thieves had simply smashed off the alloy transom screw toggles, eliminating our supposedly secure fixings.

Some weeks later, our friends Joe & Janet of SV Tegan showed us a simple tube that can be padlocked over the transom screws, to eliminate the weak point. Whilst the tube can be purchased commercially, it sure wasn't available in Sarawak. So we had one made by a local stainless steel fabrication shop in Miri, from square section tube that is commonly used for legs on stainless steel kitchen furniture. The first one cost about $12 and worked really well, so we had a second one made for our smaller outboard. One slot, two holes, its really very simple. The slot was cut with a plasma cutter.

A lot of people have since asked for the dimensions and details, so here they are. A detailed drawing is available here as a .pdf download. Click on the photo's at right to enlarge the view.

The padlock is a stainless steel Abus Mariner, which we've found to be bomb proof in a saltwater environment, though we needed a slightly longer shackle to go through both the tube and the stainless strop. The installed photo is at right. The rubber surround on the padlock stops it rattling against the boat - nice.