SHADOWS & SIMIANS
January - April 2016
Indonesia, Malaysian Borneo, Brunei Darussalam
Written by Alene in Japan, May 2017
“There are dark
shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in
~ Charles Dickens
After a lot of time in cities and populated areas in Malaysian Borneo, we were ready for something a little different. So we jumped off from Kuching, Borneo on the 8th of January, 2016, headed for the remote islands of Indonesia. First stop: Pulau Benua in the Tambelan Archipelago of Indonesia, off the west coast of the island of Borneo.
We received a warm welcome to Indonesia
from a passing fisherman who stopped by to
give us fresh fish - yum!
Our friend Ella, who joined us in Borneo for Christmas and New Year’s, continued sailing south with us. She has a lot of sailing experience and is excellent crew.
BB and Ella at work in the engine room.
There was some interesting snorkeling at Benua Island. The biggest surprise was finding several large turtles hanging out together on one particularly large plate coral. Some underwater areas had clearly been dynamited, but others nearby were remarkably well preserved.
When we departed Pulau Benua, we crossed the equator for the fifth time on the 12th of January. We had excellent spinnaker sailing and beautiful weather for that special day. We each gave up something precious to Neptune in gratitude for our continued safe voyages, including whiskey, chocolate, and a homemade ginger snap cookie -- the last of the Christmas batch.
Ella was a participant in our fifth equator crossing.
We sailed on to another small island: Pulau Serutu, in the Karimata
archipelago of Indonesia, about 60 miles west of Kalimantan, Borneo. We anchored
in a deserted bay and spent a few days relaxing and exploring the area.
Finding nudibranchs and anemone fish is always a treat!
We were on a mission — to get to the island of Belitung in Indonesia (about 250 miles northeast of Jakarta) where there would be a full solar eclipse in March. We had learned about this event many months prior and thought it would be a really cool place to see a total eclipse of the sun.
SAND, SEA, and SUN AT BELITUNG
On January 17th, we made landfall at Tanjung Kelayang, a shallow anchorage on the northwest tip of the island of Belitung. Belitung is about 50 miles (80 km) across with a population of around 270,000.
The Kelayang anchorage at Belitung Island is stunningly beautiful.
We celebrated our successful voyage with a pizza party.
The unusual rock formations make exploring around Belitung fun and interesting.
And the snorkeling is fantastic!
We saw some creatures we’ve never seen before,
including a big pink sea slug, another form of nudibranch.
Each day, this fisherman plied the anchorage in his small boat,
using his feet on the single oar instead of his hands,
thus leaving his hands free to manage the trolling line
as he paddled along.
A local man named Ervan made life easy for us by providing all the services we
required, including motorbike rental to get to town, since it was a bit too far
for us to negotiate on our little folding bikes.
Hanging with the locals at Ervan’s restaurant and
Shopping in Belitung was always an adventure. We mostly spent our time at
local markets, or in stores that had an odd variety of goods arranged in a
BB bargaining for bananas.
Shoes and cookies next to each other?
A great billboard: Produce Sagacious Power.
Indonesia is making a concerted effort to stop corruption. This sign was
prominently displayed at the desk when we checked into the country.
Bikes and scooters often have these hand-woven baskets on the back used for transporting goods.
We met some locals who were curious to see the boat, and who came out to the
anchorage despite windy and rather rambunctious weather….
Michelle made us feel very welcome in Belitung.
Michelle and her intrepid friends visited Migration on a wet and windy day.
We enjoyed many spectacular sunsets at Belitung.
A place this beautiful is sure to attract tourists, but they were mostly Indonesians — many of them from the nearby island of Java. Belitung is not a very well known destination outside of Indonesia, but it is very popular with Indonesians.
Tourist boats at the lighthouse island.
The sky can be rather dramatic in this part of the world.
Because we were anchored in a fairly heavily touristed area, we had good 3G mobile phone reception which allowed us to pick up emails easily. On January 24th, I received an email from my mother telling me that my father had fallen and broken his hip. I had been keeping in close touch with my family over the past weeks because my father had moved into a nursing facility just before Christmas. He had surgery on his hip the following day, and came through with no complications. This was very good news, since my father was to turn 90 in only a month. In fact, I had a plane ticket to return to Ohio for his 90th birthday celebration in February. I was looking forward to seeing everyone for such an auspicious occasion.
Having spent more than a week at the Tanjung Kelayang anchorage, and now knowing that my father had made it through surgery, we decided we were ready to move. We had a good phone signal at the Tanjung Kelayang anchorage; however, now heading south around the west side to a more remote anchorage, we were unable to find an anchorage with a good signal; so now, for the first time in months, we were unable to pick up emails via the phone. Fortunately, we still have the ham radio system with Sailmail.
On January 27th, I received an email from my mother saying that my father had passed away. Following the surgery, he had contracted pneumonia and died quickly.
We immediately returned to the Tanjung Kelayang anchorage and spent hours cancelling my flight home in two weeks and booking new flights from Belitung to Cincinnati. It was a complicated routing, but my wonderful husband dedicated himself to the task while I tried to absorb the shock.
I flew to Cincinnati on January 29th for my father’s funeral. Unfortunately, because there is no marina at Belitung and nowhere nearby where we could safely leave the boat, Bruce had to stay with Migration at anchor at Belitung.
Losing a parent is never easy, but my father was a lucky man to have lived such a long life. His parents both died in their 70’s, so his longevity was unexpected, and we had been prepared to lose him much sooner. My father and I were very close and shared many hobbies, and I will miss him terribly.
Me and my father at the home where I grew up, and playing backgammon together.
During my absence, Bruce spent his time writing (a good opportunity to get another update completed!), getting projects done on the boat, and occasionally having fun snorkeling or exploring.
I returned to Migration on March 3rd, in time for the full solar eclipse on March 9th. I was happy to be back in the warm weather after my time in Ohio in February!
Warm water and beautiful beaches welcomed me back to Belitung.
SHADOW ACROSS THE SUN
The people of Belitung were excited about the eclipse because of the island’s location right in the center of the predicted path. There were festive flags lining all the roads, and many signs about the events happening on the island. Many more tourists flooded to the island in the days leading up to the eclipse.
I even painted my toenails in honor of the eclipse!
The night before the eclipse, there was a festival on shore near us with a market selling local goods and crafts, and there was an Eclipse Party with traditional dancing to honor the long-anticipated event.
The special eclipse-inspired dances involved hundreds of people. We were told they
had been practicing for 6 months!
We befriended the man sitting next to us at the dancing event. He invited us to visit his stall at the craft market where he gave us gifts of carved shells, keychains, and magnets. There weren’t many white foreigners in evidence, so I guess we stood out a bit.
His daughter was adorable, but very shy.
Indonesian kids at the craft market who were not a bit shy.
BB had been watching the weather during the days leading up to the eclipse, and as forecast, we awoke to cloudy skies on March 9th. The moon was to pass over the sun at 7:20 am, but knowing that the sky might not be clear above us at that hour, we had gotten up early to ensure that we had time to move out from under the clouds. We could see that the sky was more clear to the east, so we zoomed out of the anchorage and headed away from the island, toward clearer skies.
We managed to find mostly clear skies by motoring
away from the island, into open water.
The shadow beginning to show…
The sky slowly developed an eerie cast…
The corona lasted about 2 minutes.
(Note that we don't have any good photos
but trust us, it was very cool.)
We have both seen partial eclipses and lunar eclipses; however, neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse before this, and we must say, it is so much more worth seeing than a partial eclipse. Many people confuse a partial eclipse with a total eclipse. A total solar eclipse is a truly amazing experience. It causes one to consider how frightening an eclipse must’ve been before people understood exactly what is happening, because it changes the look of the world in such an astonishing way.
There will be a total solar eclipse across the USA on August 21, 2017, with the path running from Oregon to South Carolina. It passes through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Make the effort to see it!
We departed Belitung the following day and sailed east about 300 miles (480 km) to the Kumai River mouth in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Friends had recommended going to Kumai for a river trip into Tanjung Puting National Park to see the wild orangutans. Yes, we had seen orangutans at Semenggoh in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo, but this would be different. Tanjung Puting is only accessible by boat. But we were not able to take Migration into the park; instead one hires a klotok — a local motor boat — to navigate the skinny rivers leading into the park. There were a number of places where one could hire a boat and captain, so we walked around town researching the various options.
Fish drying on the wharf and local ladies making roofs out of palm fronds in Kumai.
We’ve never understood why hats and sunglasses are not de rigeur in the hot Asian climate.
Swallow houses right in the middle of town make Kumai a rather noisy place.
We were treated to an incredible fiery sunset our first night in Kumai.
Tanjung Puting was declared a national park in 1982, and was established primarily for the protection of the Bornean orangutan. Its formation was instigated by Dr. Birute Galdikas, who dedicated many years of her life to helping save orangutans. Camp Leakey, named after Dr. Louis Leakey, was founded in 1971 for orangutan research and as a haven for orangutans rescued from domestic capture.
The population of the Bornean orangutan is now estimated at about 104,700, a sharp decline from the 230,000 that lived in Borneo a century ago. Each year, the natural habitat of the orangutans -- the rainforest -- continues to be destroyed by the palm oil industry.
Some of the orangutans in the Tanjung Puting area come to various camps throughout the park for feedings. The parks are not big enough to support the food needs of the orangutans during some months. Also, without these feeding zones, there would be no guarantee of spotting orangutans in the wild, which would lead to a reduced number of tourists visiting Borneo. This, in turn, would lead to less and less money coming into the country, which would eventually culminate in the extinction of the orangutans in Borneo due to additional loss of habitat as more rainforest was burned. The public exposure they receive from the feeding sites is the salvation of this amazing simian.
Orangutans are also rehabilitated and returned to the wild from Camp Leakey. Since 1971, over 200 orangutans have been returned to the wild as part of Orangutan Foundation International.
The duration of our klotok river trip was 3 days and 2 nights. A boat captain, his assistant, a cook, and a guide were provided.
Our klotok, “One Piece”, which is what we hoped our boat would stay in!
Our captain, guide, and cook.
Leaving Migration anchored in the Kumai River under the watch of a local, we
headed into the Sekonyer River, a tributary of the Kumai River.
Our guide, Joe, regaled us with facts and stories as we traveled in luxury up the river.
There are a number of different camps where the orangutans come to feed, all located a short walk from the river, but we also looked in the trees alongside the river to see if we could spot primates of any sort. We also scanned the water and the banks for crocodiles.
We got to see a whole tribe of orangutans at our first camp,
including a very big dominant male. (That’s him with his back to us.)
There were several mothers and babies — always very photogenic.
The wild pigs also put in an appearance when there
was free food to be had.
The jungle hiking was often wet, but it was hot, so we didn’t mind.
Joe told us that drinking the liquid from a pitcher plant would give us health and vitalitiy, so we tried it. It didn’t taste nearly nasty enough to seem like a health potion, and we were already healthy and vital, so who knows if it works….
Despite being seasick, our cook kept us well fed. We had three big meals a day, as well as afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea and a delicious dinner by candlelight aboard our klotok.
Our poor seasick cook.
Before the mosquitoes came out, our crew made our bed and covered it with a mosquito net. They also hung our clothes to dry for us, cleaned our shoes of mud, played games with us, and kept us entertained with guitar music!
A guitar concert belowdecks.
Playing dominoes with Joe.
When it rained, our crew put out the awnings to keep us dry.
Walking through the jungle and at each camp, we got to see more orangutans, and we were often able to be quite close to them.
It was astonishing to see the amount of bananas, coconuts, and sugar cane the orangutans could eat, and how they skillfully peel the bananas with their lips. However, the females and young males were always on the alert for the dominant male coming to feed. The platform would clear as soon as he was heard making his way through the trees. (And he wasn’t difficult to hear!)
A mother and her baby having a mid-day meal while keeping watch for the dominant male.
An unwieldy handful of sugar cane, but this
young male has to be able to eat and run.
Despite their bright auburn hair, they can disappear
into the trees surprisingly easily.
The rivers were calm and very scenic.
A croc swam right in front of our klotok as we traveled on the river.
The rivers became very skinny as we journeyed further into the jungle.
When we reached the Black River, it was so calm
that it was impossible to tell the water from the trees.
Sunset was stunning!
We went for a night hike and saw some interesting
creatures. This is a large walking stick insect.
In the early mornings, we went bird watching.
We did see some birds…
…however, the best part of the early morning outings was hearing the gibbons singing in the morning mist.
Our vigilance watching for orangutans from the klotok finally paid off with the sighting of a mother and baby hanging in a tree at the river’s edge.
They were watching us as much as we were watching them.
Being the rainforest, cool bugs were everywhere to be found.
Butterfly cocoons on the underside of a leaf and an adorable little bug on the boat.
When we came upon a tree that had fallen across the river,
our crew got out the saws and machetes and cleared the way.
What a fun adventure!
It was mid-March, and our plan now was to head back north around the west side of the island of Borneo to Malaysian Borneo, from where we would begin sailing towards Japan in April or May. We had made the decision to sail back to the South Pacific via Japan way back in 2012 when we sailed from New Zealand to Thailand to do the refit. Neither of us had been to Japan, and we both very much wanted to sail there, so we gave up the idea of visiting the southern reaches of the Indonesian Islands (specifically the Raja Ampat area, which we’d heard amazing things about), and instead headed north again.
Just around the corner from Kumai on the southwest corner of Kalimantan are the Karimata Islands. We stopped at Pulau Karimata, the main island, which is only about 12 miles across at the widest point.
We weren’t the only trimaran in the anchorage at Pulau Karimata.
This is the local fishing fleet.
Being a small island, the locals quickly launched a
canoe to come welcome the new visitors.
Since not many foreign boats visit Karimata, they were quite curious to see Migration.
A local man named Hut, the mayor of the village,
who spoke more English than most on the island
(which wasn’t very much), designated himself
our caretaker and tour guide.
Hut’s family immediately welcomed us into their home.
Judging from the number of mattresses,
a lot of people sleep in this house.
Hut took us for a tour of his island, showing us his boat with international flags painted on it, and the bungalows the village has built to accommodate visitors.
When we asked if we could purchase bananas, it led to a crazy motorbike ride up into the hills on skinny little sidewalks and across rickety plankboard bridges!
I can’t believe they entrusted their motorbike to us,
but BB did an admirable job keeping up with the
local guys (who were possibly testing his mettle).
When Hut asked us if we needed anything else, we made the mistake of asking if there was any diesel fuel available on the island. He took us to the general store, where there was a big blue plastic barrel in the corner, next to the food and clothing.
The general store at Pulau Karimata.
The last person who had gotten diesel had dropped the scoop into the blue barrel, so the shop owner reached in past his elbow to retrieve it while BB and I looked on in horror and disbelief. We go to great lengths to keep from spilling even a drop of diesel aboard Migration!
The shop owner searching for the fuel scoop, and then slopping diesel all over the shop floor as he scooped the fuel into our jerry jugs. Ugh!
Needless to say, it wasn’t the cleanest fuel we’ve ever purchased, and cleaning our filters of the black gunk was a nasty job.
At least the Indonesian government is trying to discourage smoking.
Although we only stayed one day at Pulau Karimata,
it was an interesting stop.
SOLITUDE and SNORKELING
Having had enough of the crowing roosters, barking dogs, muezzin 5 times a day, and more than 20 visitors on the boat, we were ready for a little quiet time, so we sailed to one of the uninhabited islands of the Karimata group: Pulau Surungganding. There we found solitude and some nice snorkeling.
Migration in the rain at Pulau Surungganding.
Nudibranchs - one of my favorite undersea
treasures to hunt for.
There weren’t many reef fish, but the corals and sponges were in good shape.
We continued sailing north along the west coast of Borneo, stopping at some of the small islands to anchor for the night, just to break up the trip. We saw some interesting fishing boats and fishing apparatus along the way.
Many different styles of fishing boats and fishing platforms in Indonesia.
We were so curious about how the stationary fishing platforms worked that we stopped the boat and snorkeled to see what was below the water…
Checking out a fishing platform.
The depth of the structure was surprising - nearly 40 feet. It was constructed of single logs lashed together with natural fibers. The net is dropped into the middle, then brought up with fish. There were lights rigged up inside the little hut, so we assume the fishing is done at night, using the lights to attract the fish.
Just off of Pontianak, Kalimantan, in the South China Sea, we crossed into the northern hemisphere once again. This was our sixth equator crossing, and as always, we toasted Neptune and offered him some of our precious things both in thanks for our safe passages in the past, and in the hope that he will continue to bless us with safe voyaging.
Crossing the equator for the 6th time.
Tide lines from the outflow of the rivers of Borneo are very pronounced.
When we arrived back in Kuching, it was our third visit, so we only spent a couple of days there, checking back into Malaysia, and mostly doing chores. But we made time for some of our favorite meals and one more awesome Malaysian hair wash/head massage.
Malaysian laksa is super yum!
We sailed further up the coast of Malaysian Borneo, again visiting Miri Marina, a good place to do some boat repairs and get more chores off the list. The passage north would be our longest since the refit in Thailand, and we still had some things that needed doing to make sure the boat was in top condition.
We visited Brunei once again, primarily in order to fill up with inexpensive fuel; however, they had changed the rules since our last visit just a few months ago, and foreigners were no longer able to get fuel at the local prices.
Shortly after our return to the Royal Brunei Yacht Club, we discovered another unexpected project: a crack in the port wing deck, just aft of the trampoline. Conditions were too bumpy in the anchorage to effect a good repair, so after drying it out, we did a quick and dirty repair using duct tape until we could get to a calmer area.
An ugly crack had developed under the wing deck.
We made a dam of blue tape while it dried out.
What would us sailors do without duct tape?!
When we arrived back in Labuan, it was calm in the marina, so, again, working from the dinghy, we fashioned a temporary repair that would get us to the next haulout.
We created two support pieces and glued them to the
underside of the wing deck with 5200 sealant and
long screws for added strength.
Not beautiful, but strong enough for the
next months of sailing, hopefully.
It was mid-April, and now we felt ready to sail through the South China Sea, bound for Taiwan, then on to Japan and Alaska. We chose to bypass the Philippines altogether on account of pirate activity in the south and to lessen the risk of encountering a typhoon. As much as we’ve heard about how lovely the Philippines is, we believe that there are simply too many beautiful places in the world to spend our time anywhere potentially dangerous.
But why choose this northern route?
I lived aboard my two trimarans in San Francisco for ten years. I was cold much of the time, especially when sailing. When I joined Bruce aboard Migration in 2006, I said that I would like to enjoy ten years of sailing in hot weather. Well, now it’s 2016.
We’ve enjoyed our years in Southeast Asia (the refit in Thailand, not so much), but we’ve had enough of the oppressive heat and no change of seasons. We’re ready for a different climate. We know that it will be cold in Japan in the winter, and in Alaska in the summer, but we’re ready for a change.
So here we go!
To contemplate is to look at shadows.
~ Victor Hugo
Words of advice from my father:
There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Where we went January 2016 -
2,034 nautical miles traveled this period.
41,928 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005.
THIS MIGRATION'S DO GOOD
Protect orangutans by supporting the Orangutan Foundation International.
And ANOTHER MESSAGE FROM BRUCE:
I'll repeat my entreaty from the last update: Please, please, please help in the fight against America's president who is clearly intent on sacrificing our beautiful earth. I beg you to oppose his environmental policies. Alene and I witness, firsthand, the changes in our environment. No matter that the president and the Republican party insist on denying climate change... it is happening. Please help stop this insanity. Look at it this way. If we clean up our act, we win no matter what: if there is climate change we save the earth; if there is not, we have a cleaner earth. Ask yourself what the result of these two scenarios is if we do nothing....
Donate to NRDC. They are one of the finest organizations out there and they will be working hard to protect our world. No matter who you voted for in the last election (or didn't vote for), please support NRDC. Our world depends on it. Really.
This site was last updated 06/03/17