Friday 2 December 2016


Borneo 29 October – 17 November

Three days to Borneo 29 October – 31 October

We were pleased to be under way again after our three weeks in Bali. It was 450 miles and would take three days and with the highest wind forecast of seven knots we would have to motor all the way.

Our first night was going through a group of islands a couple of hours after dark. With no moon we were not looking forward to negotiating unlit fishing vessels and nets strung between the islands. We slowed to 3 knots and Catherine sat on the front for two hours with a torch trying to spot any nets and keep an eye out for fishing boats. The boats will put on lights as you approach but only at the last minute giving little time to react and see which side of the boats the nets are set out. However, we managed that without incident and joined the main shipping channel around midnight.

With a five knot breeze coming from behind almost exactly cancelling out any breeze from our forward motion meant the next day was stifling hot on board. However, the following morning the wind came up to fifteen knots and we were under sail once again at 7am. I was on a radio call at 8am when Catherine shouted out that the wind had come up to twenty six knots and was now coming from ahead – a one hundred and eighty degree shift with a big black could overhead.

We sailed off course for a few minutes while I explained to Catherine that it was just a passing squall and we would be back on track shortly. Thirty minutes later and with the wind at thirty five knots and forced to sail down wind, my predication seemed a little shaky. The wind gusts of forty five knots did not help either. We battled to reef the sails and get the boat closer to our intended track –the exact opposite way to where we were now sailing.

After four hours the wind had calmed down to twenty knot but still directly ahead of where we wanted to go and we tacked into a heavy sea making little progress. However after six hours we were back to where we started that morning but now pointing in the right direction at least. It was our first experience of the monsoon weather at sea and was not to be the last. But at least it taught us to be more careful and reef at the first sign of the wind rising under dark clouds! Something we had not had to think about for many months.

Kumai 2 – 7 October

The main reason for going to Kumai was to take a three day river trip on a Klotok to see the Orangutans in the wild – one of the only two places in the world that you can see Orangutans (the other place is Sumatra but not a safe island for sailors). The boats are wooden and take up to six people, sleeping on mattresses on the deck under mosquito nets. All very basic but that is part of the attraction.

An enjoyable lunch on board
Setting off for our three day trip
We were with two other couples – a couple from Hungary who are sailing around the wo
rld and a German couple who were back packing around SE Asia. We joined the boat at 10am and set off for the 30 mile trip up the river.

Our first sight of the Orangutans

The first day we stopped at the first of the three feeding stations where the rangers put out bananas to attract the Orangutans – it is a supplement to their diet which they are given once each day, mainly so the tourists can see them. The rest of the time the Orangutans feed themselves.

Male Orangutan watching us
We waited some 30m away from the wooden platform which was some 2m off the ground where the rangers put out the bananas. Along with about 20 other people we looked up at the trees to see one or two female Orangutans coming to feed. While we were all watching the trees, a male Orangutan had walked up from behind to join the crowd and just stood there looking annoyed – he certainly got the crowds attention followed by a quick retreat. The male is about 5 feet tall and weighs over 200 KG with the strength of eight men and dominates his territory. They can become aggressive and the rangers are trained to manage them. The female is about 4 feet tall and only has the strength of four men and will roam between territories. You do not want to get into a tangle with any of them.

A wary female grabbing some bananas
When the male sat on the platform to eat the bananas, all the females were very wary and kept a safe distance. He was obviously feeling frisky and suddenly shot up the tree and grabbed a female from high in the trees and dragged her down to the platform whereupon he furthered the species while at the same time carried on eating bananas. We all felt a little like voyeurs but it did not stop everyone taking lots of pictures.

On we go

Cruising up the narrow river
While we were cruising up the river, we saw some Orangutans in the trees, lots of monkeys and enjoyed the trip up the narrow river deep into the jungle. The second stop was for dinner and the night hike into the jungle. The main attraction of the night hike was to see tarantula spiders which are nocturnal and live in burrows at the bottom of the trees. Slightly disappointed to learn that they are not deadly to adult humans as depicted in the movies but nonetheless we kept a safe distance. After the hour’s walk it was back to the boat, some tea and bed.

Very relaxed
We set off again at day break to continue up the river, branching off the main river into a tributary which was clean, clear water in contrast to the muddy brown river we just left. It was relaxing just to enjoy the trip through the jungle and look at the wild life.

The second feeding station was similar to the first but this time the male decided to grab a female by the leg and drag her into the bush for a little privacy.

Male ignoring a brave female
The final feeding station was also the scientific station where they have been studying Orangutans for thirty years. We spent an hour learning about their habits before once again venturing to the feeding station. The monsoon rains cut short the trip but not before a female Orangutan terrorised some of the tourists by joining them on the seats provided.

That night we were allowed to shower on board since we were in clean water and the shower uses the river water. It was cold but very refreshing after two days in the heat and humidity of the jungle. In the morning we saw a crocodile in the river just ahead of us before we set off.

Monehy landing in the water
Group of Monkeys high in the trees
On the way back we came across a group of monkeys in the trees ahead of us and as we approached, they started diving into the water from high in the trees and swimming across the other side. They spray out their arms and legs as they dive and curl up just before they hit the water – they swim as well as I do (not very well that is). It is quite a common sight as the engines of the Klotoks scare the crocodiles and the monkeys know that it is safe to swim across at that point. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Traditional village
Woman fishing in a canoe
It was also fascinating to see people still living in the jungle.  We came across some small settlements and people carrying on their traditional way of life including fishing in crocodile infested waters!

Back to Kumai

We spent one more day in Kumai – there is not much to recommend it as a town but we did need some fresh provisions. The next day we set off for an overnight sail to Ketapang.

Ketapang 8-10 October

We were catching up with the rest of the rally at Ketapang after two weeks on our own. We had an interesting tour of the town with Gary and Bev from Wirraway, visiting the Buddhist temple and eating at one of the local restaurants. We allowed our guide to choose the restaurant – it had to be where locals eat and we fancied a beer with lunch. Despite carrying an advertising banner for Bintang Beer, the restaurant did not have any but they did send someone out to find some. The guide also chose the dishes for us to give us a range of local foods that we may not have chosen ourselves. A good choice apart from the crabs which turned out to be more expensive than any meal we had eaten in Indonesia so far. A little bit of a shock but still cheap by western standards. Nonetheless a very enjoyable meal and the guide was very good at explaining the history and culture of Borneo.

Sukadana 11-15 October

Sukadana was just a few hours’ sail further north and who were hosting the Sail Kalimata event. This is an annual event held in different parts of Indonesia with each host town receiving investment in the infrastructure in the run up to the event which was evident from our visit. It was a big attraction for Indonesians with the President attending the final day and we were to be guests of honour.

Newly built Mosque the President was to open
We had arrived a day earlier than expected but the locals hastily arranged some coach transport so that we could have a tour of the place in the afternoon. Eight coaches had been shipped in from Java for the visiting dignitaries (including us) since they do not have coaches on the island. The army presence in the town was very visible with soldiers posted all along the streets and the navy had five boats out in the bay to secure that area ahead of the President’s visit.

The next day we were invited to watch the dragon boat races in the bay. Lots of teams competed and a huge crowd were in support for this traditional event. The boats that went out in the lead were the one that rowed with a consistent rhythm and as a well-co-ordinated team - easy to spot.  However, we were too far from the finish line to see who actually won and the commentary was in Indonesia so we could only speculate who we thought had won. 

In the afternoon we were all asked to re-anchor our boats in the bay further north as the navy wanted to secure the area. We all re-anchored and they had even built wooden jetty for us so we could tie up our dinghies.

Cutting down the welcome sign
The coach trip the next day took us to a beach (they assume that all westerners like beaches) and to a Balineese community for traditional dancing and lunch. Clearly they do not have many coaches taking this trip since it could not get under the welcome sign to the village! Undeterred, the locals climbed up and cut parts off the structure to allow the coach to get to the village. This community was one that was displaced from Bali (not by choice) and had resettled on Borneo and now live peacefully with everyone else.

Children fascinated by their visitors
Traditional dance costume
They are very proud of their culture and maintain their traditions as we have seen all across Indonesia. They dance with such enthusiasm and passion from the youngest child to the eldest adult and the food was excellent. Very few people see these remote villages and it always feels such a privilege to see their traditional cultural events put on just for us.

On the way back we stopped at a water fall, or rather the start of the trail to the waterfall. It was a two hour climb and we only had one hour there so no way could be actually go and see it. In fact the guide admitted he had never seen it as it was too far! That is when we got the first telephone call to say that one of the boats had dragged in the anchorage.

A Quick Return

Five minutes after the first call we had another call to say that more boats were dragging in the anchorage and there was only Paul and Christian left in the anchorage with thirty boats at anchor. We all immediately returned.

In all five boats had dragged including us. Two of us had hit the same catamaran (Soul) and we had also hit the other boat that hit Soul since they had come to a stop next to them, catching on their anchor chain.  Between us we had caused considerable damage to Soul’s topside – it was a shocking sight. The other boats that dragged were luckier and had somehow missed hitting any of the others.

Mike and Sarah from Soul were clearly shaken and upset but came over to us to check we were OK. Sarah commented that if we had not hit them, our boat would have been on the rocks and so some good had come out of it. Catherine and I were both very upset, causing damage to a friend’s boat and also it had been the first time we had ever dragged. We could have easily lost the boat but for the quick thinking of Paul and Christian who had only remained on their respective boats because both of them were ill and so had not come on the trip.

We re-anchored our boat and put out 40m of chain although only in 5m of water. The next afternoon we had similar conditions with steep waves entering the anchorage (although little wind) causing the bow to dip down below the water and snatch up at the anchor. Once again we started dragging and we left the anchorage and went back to the first anchorage which was more sheltered. I was ready for any discussion with the Navy about anchoring there!

We were quickly followed by every other boat, many of whom started dragging in what was exceptional conditions – I have never seen such steep waves so close together before. The jetty that the locals had built for our dinghies also suffered a lot of damage and had to be rebuilt. Needless to say we did not leave the boat unattended the rest of the time we were there.

I spent a couple of mornings on Soul helping to fill the topsides with epoxy to at least make the holes waterproof. It was never going to be anything but a temporary repair but at least the boat would be seaworthy once again. Having made sure we had done everything we could, we did not wait for the President’s visit but set off for the island of Kalimata which was about 40 miles away in clear water and more importantly it was sheltered!

Kalimata Island 16-18 October

A couple of days at anchor in calm weather and clear seas helped calm us down before we set off for the twenty four hour sail to Parai Beach. And for a change we had good wind and sailed all the way – the first time for almost two months.

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