Johor Bahru, Malaysia
01 28N 103 43E
14 November 2009
The plan is now set for the next month or two: Harmonica will sail up through the Mallaca Strait as soon as the local canvas shop has completed her new sail cover. Then she will stay at the Malaysian Island of Langkawi while Jan & Dave fly back to Canada on 5th December.
We must start this letter by describing our trip to Tanjung Puting National Park, where we spent 3 days watching orang utangs around Camp Leaky. This was the highlight of our year's travels.
The town of Kumai in the south of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) is 10 miles up the mangrove-clad Kumai River. It is a port for shipping palm oil and mining products, but for us it is the gateway to Tanjung Puting. Famous must be qualified to say there are only a few thousand international visitors per year (about 10 per day average). There are 3 or 4 tour-organizers who will arrange the trip for you - a guide, a cook, a skipper, and the Klotok (the wooden boat that becomes home for the next few days. A slow-running diesel engine goes clok-clok-clok all the way up the river, hence the name Klotok. We were warned by earlier visitors to request their favourite guide, get a boat with a full roof over the sleeping area, chairs to sit on, and enough head-room to stand upright. We had a wonderful 3 days. The first several miles of river were milky brown from mining sites somewhere inland, but then we turned into a creek with black water, coloured by the resin from trees. King fishers in bright blue and yellow looked almost as colourful as small toucans. A roosting owl above the creek flew off in front of us. Macaques and Proboscis monkeys jumped around the trees above us.
Our guide spoke excellent English and had worked previously in the Park so he knew many animals individually. We saw our second Orang Utang (a wild one away from the camp) clutching her baby as she watched and made noises at us from a tree quite close. In Bahasa Indonesia, Orang Utang means man of the forest. Their faces are so similar to ours that it takes little time to recognize individuals, respect individual characters, and we think have a little understanding of mutual feelings.
As we docked at the Camp Leaky landing stage, a young male was waiting there to greet us. He sat on the dock and watched. He climbed onto one of the other klotoks but was politely reminded that he had not been invited and left. We could immediately recognize the strength of these animals as he swung nonchalantly under the walkway. He followed as we took the board-walk into camp - a large and very strong, intelligent being walking 50 metres behind. There are no fences or cages here. There are feeding stations, where the local troupes like to come and fill their hands, feet, and mouths with enormous quantities of bananas. Our first visit was introduced by Raymond - a young male misbehaving by breaking off branches 100ft up in a tree and dropping them on us for fun? They were solid, strong wood and he was breaking them with one hand while he held on with another! Later that first day, the dominant male, Tom Cruz, visited with much crashing in the undergrowth and some quick fornication behind some bushes. When he decided to walk past was the only time that our guide asked us to move with a distinct urgency. He was massive and had black jowls on his cheeks.
At other times over our 3 days, we met familiar females and young males such as Princess who held her hand up in the path to be supported upright as we walked to the feeding station while she carried her infant, and her young son Percy walked behind. Several years ago, Princess formed a particularly close attachment to an American biologist. As a baby, she was featured on the front page of National Geographic in a bath tub with a human baby. Once she found her way into the bed of a park warden. She has also been filmed paddling a dug-out canoe.
One afternoon Shushui was basking at the dock on her back with her legs apart and her toes in her hands. She rolled over after we arrived and watched for a while. We were reading or chatting, and our cook, Fevy, washed a blanket on board and hung it up to dry on the rail. Having watched this and allowed it to get reasonably dry, Shushui walked over, picked up the blanket, rolled it round her shoulders, somersaulted slowly back along the dock, and proceeded to invent and play an impromptu game of peek-a-boo lifting up the edge, looking at her audience, and hiding behind it again. Poor Fevy spent at least half an hour getting her blanket back and it needed washing again.
When the young male, Samson wanted extra fruit for desert, he waited outside the park office (a small wooden building) and kept yawning and baring his enormous teeth. He continued until a warden led the way to the banana shed, where Samson demonstrated that he knew perfectly well how to open the latch himself, but waited to be given his fruit.
Returning to our Odyssey: The last missive left Harmonica in the small hours of 27th September, watching the red lava lighting trees and bushes as it flowed down the side of Gunung Raung on nearby Java. Our early departure was because we wanted to anchor in daylight at Pulau Raas and the forecast was for light southerlies. However a fresh breeze kept up all day and we arrived as we were finishing lunch.
Next day we started the 140 mile sail to Bawean late so that we could arrive after dawn on 7th. We had a beautiful broad reach all the way under spinnaker and arrived earlier than we needed. It was here that navigation around nets and fishing boats started to get tricky enough that sailing at night became really tricky.
Bawean was another one of the more than 15000 islands in Indonesia and another feeling. There is a tradition among the islanders of working on international ships and it seemed that every man we met was either just back from the sea or had a brother, father or son at sea. They realize that they are underpaid, cheap labour for the shipping companies, but enough money filters back that there were many new homes being built and the motor bikes, which are always the taxis of the islands, were smart and new. Our friends on Maajhi-Re arrived with their daughter and son-in-law and with them we even found a restaurant which was recognizable as such in the western sense - chairs and tables for instance. To Christian ears, the 3 mosques in the tiny village competing for volume as they played the same recorded prayers in slightly different keys seemed excessive. But otherwise it was a peaceful & delightful anchorage.
A few more days of walking, cycling, and stocking up with fruit, bread, & eggs, then we headed north again to the south coast of Kalimantan. We got a few lovely photos of brightly-painted wooden fishing boats at closer quarters than we wanted. One large ferry necessitated a hasty spinnaker drop by answering our radio call and then ignoring us, thankfully that went smoothly; nets; trawlers; and at night arrays of wooden boats (each twice our length) with phenomenally powerful banks of lights shining down to attract fish. Through the middle of this mess there were international freighters that sometimes just showed as black silhouettes moving between us and the fishing lights. We were happy to leave that behind!
By the second evening the light southerly was overpowered by a fresh northerly coming out of banks of black cloud with flashes of lightening. The land convection combined with the equatorial convergence zone. Maajhi-Re was still a mile of so away - hand steering with auto-pilot problems - and none of us needed much persuading to drop anchor a couple of miles off the coast behind a big headland on Kalimantan. (The water was flat & shallow and we were well away from shipping routes). We slept deeply & peacefully, but in the morning Maajhi-Re had been caught in a drift net that had wrapped itself round the anchor chain. The fishermen were nearby and told them to cut the net so brave Dave (not us) dived in with a big knife.
By the next afternoon both boats were dropping anchor up the Kumai River between a dozen other cruising boats and half a mile away from freighters and barges that carry out the palm oil. We thought we were seeing our first multi-story apartments, but soon learned that the Chinese pension for "Birds-Nest-Soup" gives a tidy profit to the local entrepreneurs who build 50ft high swallow houses and attract the birds with recorded bird song. The droppings seemed to be obediently left on the nests inside and the insect population was kept in check. One building had even been painted with pretend windows and balconies, so the result was not disturbing.
In Kumai, after our trip to the Orang Utangs, people were preparing for the SailIndonesia Rally festivities. We were supposed to be participants, but had not joined in any events since checking into Indonesia. The local province celebrated its 50th birthday and we were treated with best seats to watch an annual boat-race of Klotoks dressed up like carnival floats, followed by an invitation to lunch at the governor's official house. Next day, as on other days, the rain fell. One day we filled our dinghy twice, which must have been 2 feet of rain.
Our Indonesian visas were soon going to expire and the previous time we extended them, we had waited for over two weeks to get our passports processed in order to get a 30 day visa extension. Spending more than 50% of your time waiting for visas does not appeal, so we checked out of the country, and sailed slowly towards Singapore and Malaysia. Slowly means that we did actually anchor each night and visited some more really lovely islands, but avoided anywhere with roads and officials since we had officially left the country.
Little fishing villages were built on wooden stilts over the sea. The people seemed shy and mostly left us alone, but one time we had some visitors who rowed up in a small canoe with their 4 year old son. Normal etiquette would be to chat and wait for an invitation to come aboard, but while Mum rowed, Dad stood up to pass his son to us with the result that Dave held the boy's arm wondering how strong the little fellow's shoulder was, Dad splashed headlong into the sea tipping the canoe so that Mum followed immediately after. The ice was broken and everybody came on board Harmonica to dry out. All was explained when we learned that Dad is an engineer, and only Mum hales from the fishing village. Son seemed less than impressed with the exercise but no damage was done. Later, we followed them back to a little house on stilts, bought some langoustine and "bugs", were introduced to the village headman, and asked why we had not come ashore earlier. We explained the truth - that we did not want to disturb them without being invited. The village was friendly but very poor and less than 100 miles from the commercial city of Singapore.
On one sultry day, we were lazily reading in the cockpit with just enough breeze to hold the spinnaker off the forestay, when there was a gentle wsshhhh noise and Harmonica had two half spinnakers. The red panels have completely rotted in the sun.
Our last Indonesian night was spent anchored off Batam and then, in the morning, we ran the gauntlet of the Singapore Strait, which was continuous shipping traffic moving sometimes side-by-side. Our electronic AIS system was saturated with over 100 vessels showing but still not showing many that we could see. However, we chose our spot to cross, waited out time between freighters, and had no trouble. Then it was round the West end of Singapore under the bridge with nervous upward glances, and up the Johor Channel to the city of Johor Bahru to check into Malaysia.
Tropical cyclone Anja has now opened the southern cyclone season, but that was a quarter of a world away from us.
Love from Jan, Dave, & Harmonica
please do not hit reply
our e-mail is