Saturday, April 29, 2017

Bali Sea - 08° 00' 03" S 114° 36' 57" E

Our big, blue beautiful ocean is covered in rubbish. Flotsam and jetsam are everywhere.

Not the cool stuff from sea shanties such as coconuts, planks from wrecked ships and half sunken treasure chests. Instead we have polystyrene and plastic bottles for water, motor oil, dishwashing detergent and any other product imaginable and plastic bags and Maggi noodle packages and coat hangers and chip packets spread out like a magic carpet on the water. Birds rest on the clumps of string and bottle caps, polystyrene cups, matted rope, plastic pails, chunks of wood, propane bottles and even a VHS movie box.

What surprises us is the number of shoes. Every clump of crap will contain a shoe or two, all shapes, sizes and colours, from a purple sandal with barnacles to a hot pink child’s Croc and a man’s work boot.

The Malacca Strait

This is a much more apparent situation than the Pacific Garbage Patch, which seems to be more widely known about, even though crossing through it isn't as evident.  The Malacca Strait was bad, particularly when passing river mouths. The Java Sea was remarkably rubbish free which can be explained by fewer islands and less dense population but coming ashore, the story was very different. Rubbish everywhere. Even on the tiny dot of an island, Bawean, over 70nm from the next landfall, the beaches were overrun.

Klang River, Malaysia

We COULD smugly sit back as members of a developed nation and declare our lack of impact because we sort our recycling and would never throw a wrapper on the ground. But something we have learned on the boat is that carefully-carried-out-of-nature-piece-of-rubbish still has to go somewhere. We wouldn’t dream of throwing plastics overboard ... yet will land them ashore on a small island that likely lacks waste management infrastructure. Is our plastic Coke bottle really going to end up disposed off in a responsible way? Unlikely.

Stream in Bawean, Indonesia

So it has got us thinking what packaging we bring onto the boat and how we can eliminate the plastics. Even my obsession with ziplock bags has been challenged. A ziplock is so handy, waterproof(ish), airtight and can be used over and over again. Eventually, however, even with the most zealous washing and reusing, the ziplock will need to be disposed of. Alternatives such as glass and paper are not really viable on a sailing boat nor is composting. What we can do quite simply, however, is reduce our use of plastics. By taking small actions, we can bring less plastic onboard and thus less to store and dispose of.

What we do:
  • We do not buy water.
  • The watermaker (which we have aboard Popeye) water is great to drink and we use our cycling bottles to take water ashore when we go.
  • We watch for products that are double packaged. There is often a plastic interior wrapper. We note the brands and try others.
  • We shop for fruit and vegetables in the local markets using our baskets and bags. Many supermarkets require the produce to be weighed and then sealed in a plastic bag. We also buy produced packaged by nature – bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit - anything that needs peeling does not need a package.
  • We try to avoid meat packaged on polystyrene trays. We just cannot bring ourselves to buy the meat at markets, un-refrigerated, flies, etc… In some supermarkets the meat is not prepackaged so you can buy bulk amounts using one plastic bag rather than a single bag per serve.
  • We take our own egg cartons – eggs are purchased individually and they will be packed into a plastic bag if you haven’t a carton.
  • We buy beer in cans and avoid pop/soft drinks.
  • We give our used engine oil to fisherman (which they then re-use) but are yet to solve the disposal of fuel/oil/water filters

We are a far cry from perfect but now we have seen first hand the amount of trash in even remote seas, we are much more conscience of our waste.  We have talked with some of the locals who have traveled outside of their community and are working to educate (some in big ways, some in small ways) those around them.  This gives us hope and we would do whatever we could to help them.

This adventure has provided a huge amount of enjoyment for both of us, as well as some opportunity for self-reflection.  I'm sure we can be richer for it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Tambak - 05° 44' 10"S 112° 38' 43"E

What swell??

The rolly NW swell eased to dead calm, so we slept on deck under the sparkling southern stars and awoke to the haunting pre-dawn call to prayer.  We were picked up promptly at six-thirty and taken, Sean behind the school teacher and me behind one of the students, to... the school teacher's house for  photos. At the appointed time, we headed to the school. With some ceremony along with the obligatory photos, we signed the visitors' book and headed to the classroom.

Sean and I have recently read 'The Rainbow Troops' by Andrea Hirata.  It is an autobiographical tale of a young boy growing up in abject poverty on Belitung and the battle that he, his classmates and teachers had to, not only stay at school, but also to save the school from closure.  He has gone on to become Indonesia's most successful author. A wonderful read!

While the school we were at was not a rundown, single room school in 1970's, we recognised some of the elements described in the book. The pictures above the board, the austere desks and chairs filled with students. Not a book, nor an  electronic aid, other than the smart phones madly snapping!

In the book, the teacher did not draw a salary.  She sewed in the evenings to support herself to enable her to teach.  We thought this was an anomaly.  We were very surprised to find it is not.  Pak Supaji has a government job as a teacher and is paid a salary along with the other benefits of employment.  We were invited into another English class taught by Pak Adi.  Pak Adi does not have a government position.  He is paid Rp300k (about $30) a month to teach.  He supports himself and his family by raising chickens.  He teaches because he loves it and strongly believes in education. 

Pak Adi (left) and Pak Supaji (right)

Pak Supaji's class

Pak Supaji's grasp on spoken English was poor and only a couple of kids were brave enough to speak.  They were interested in our photos of snow and became widely excited when we opened the floor to selfies!

Posing for a 'selfie'

Pak Adi's class
Again, great enthusiasm for selfies

Love this photo!

The main entrance to the school

After school, we were dropped back at Hartono's house.  He had arrange a friend with a car to take us on a tour of the island.  So off we headed, Hartono escorting us on his motorbike, the friend with the car, the friend's best buddy, Akna, Firman, the four of us, another buddy (who we picked up along the way) and Grandpa!

First stop: the lake in the caldera and waterfall that it fed. Bawean is volcanic and rugged.  It is also has very limited infrastructure, particularly when you are in a Toyota Kijang (similar to a scaled-down Pajero SUV).  The single-lane, roughly paved roads are perfectly adequate for scooter traffic ... but add a car or two and things get interesting!  There was a lot of backing up, pulling over and "breathing in" to allow us to negotiate the winding mountain road.  A stop at "Buddy's" house for him to upgrade his scooter and to pop Sean on the back ("I practice my English with you") and off to the hot springs we convoyed.

Some of the 'Tour Group'

Hiking to the lake

Danau Kastoba

Air Terjun

Selfie!  We have flowers in our hair...

At the trail head to the lake

Next Stop:  Kolum Air Panas.  Banff has nothing on this place for HOT WATER.  Access is via a steep, narrow, water-eroded dirt track - through a village where you 'toot' at the boom gate to pay the princely 20-cents-per-vehicle entry fee - then bounce further up the track, over the football pitch to the blue pavilion on the edge of the forest.  Who can possibly claim that tourism on Bawean is limited by its lack of infrastructure?  The "bath" is built directly over the source and is so hot it is uncomfortable to even dip in your hand.  Surprisingly, unlike Banff, we had this hot tourist draw all to ourselves!

Air Panas

Stop Three: Pulau Gili. We piled back into (or onto) our respective vehicles and took off for the pier overlooking Pulau Gili. Colourful fishing boats anchored off the mangroves and we had a wonderful view across the azure water to the white, sandy beaches of the island itself. It was decided the trip across to see the island was unnecessary, so off we went for lunch at the warung at the base of the pier. Es Tay (ice tea), nasi goreng, ikan bakar, cumi cumi ... eleven people fed for the princely sum of $22.50 CDN.

Kate tearing along on the back of a scooter.
Where's your helmet, Kate?

The warung where we ate lunch
11 people for the grand total of $22.50!

Hunger sated, we climbed back into our conveyance and back into the mountains we went.  Winding up and around the narrow roads, we had no idea where we were headed.  Weren't we pleasantly surprised to find the convoy stopping at THE ONLY swimming pool in all of Bawean! Fed by a cool mountain spring, this gem was wonderfully refreshing as we all jumped in.  It was the coldest water we had swum in for months!  We were told this is a favourite haunt of the whole island on weekends and holidays, with scooters parked up and down the road for a kilometre.

Horsing around in the pool

Shower under the fountain

Coming out of the pool cool (oh my goodness, you have no idea how good that felt) and sparkling clean from the fresh, non-chlorinated, non-salty spring water, we now happily piled in the back into our motorcade and headed down the mountain, around the bottom of the island and plunged back into the mountains once again.  This time, at the end of the narrow, winding road we came to the deer sanctuary.  The Bawean Deer is on the red list for critically endangered critters.  There are only a couple hundred individuals left, and they exist in two separate populations.  They are a small, squat deer, similar to the African Bush Babies.  Endemic only to Bawean, their survival, sadly, is tenuous.

Bawean Deer

Deer observed, it was down the mountain and back to Hartono's.  Sean, kidnapped yet again, failed to arrive.  He had been whisked off to Buddy's brother's house. With no mobile phone signal, he was held hostage until all the household had been met and tried their English on him, he had eaten some snack offerings, accepted a gift of biscuits and a final torrent of selfies had been taken.  Firman and I were bending it like Beckham on the front porch.

This young dude reckons I can
'bend it like Beckham'!

Hartono's warung

Towards the end of our visit, it was decided that Hartono, his buddy and Hartono's kids needed to see OUR home (Popeye).  So transportation was arranged for those that didn't have their own scooters - namely, a three-wheeled motor trike with a homemade tray on the back.  So there we were - five kids, Heather, Charles and us - bouncing along river rock-strewn goat-path-cum-roadways, on our way for an evening visit to Popeye.

All of this done without seatbelts, helmets or concern for our life or limb ... 

... except for Charles. He was sensibly terrified.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bawean - 05° 44' 15" S 112° 38' 45" E

Following a very uncomfortable night in a rolly NW swell, our crew was seasick and we were fed up, so a full day ashore was prescribed.  We tied the dinghy to a palm tree on the beach and set off down the single-lane road into town.  Our destination was the warung run by Hartono, just before the bridge (as recommended by Ben, a fellow yachtie we met in Kumai).  As we walked along past rice paddy fields and banana plantations, we received waves and hellos and cries of 'Tourist! Tourist!' from the passing scooter traffic.

Hartono's children, Akna and Firman, loving the iPad!
And then, who should ride down the road and stop to say hello but Hartono himself!  In very short order, once it was established that we knew Ben, we had eaten lunch at the warung, Heather and Charlie were installed in his children's bedroom in their home for the night and we were sitting on their front porch surrounded by half the kids in town.

Hartono and Fusama's house
Fusama with Akna, Firman and baby Fira.
Indonesian minivan.
Abandoning Heather and Charlie to the kids, Sean and I headed out for a walk and were promptly 'kidnapped' by a gentleman named Pak Adi! We were almost forced into his home and fed the tastiest satays.  All the neighbours came to check out 'The Tourists' and. of course, have a 'selfie' in every combination.  As we were figuring out how to politely extract ourselves, we were taken next door to his son's new house.  Very proud of his sone and works on a cruise ship and looks very dapper in his white uniform.  We know this, as naturally, we were shown photos! Only once we had poked our nose into every bedroom, inspected and complemented each bathroom, particularly the one with the western shower and toilet, admired the view from the balcony and had the obligatory multitude of photos taken, were we able to leave; or so we thought!

From the pavilion...
Instead, we were herded to his best mate's home, who has the tallest house in town.  He is in the process of building a rooftop pavilion for his daughter's upcoming wedding.  After admiring the rest of the home, to the chorus of hati hati, we stepped over construction material, edged past the chap sanding and clamboured up a very ornate ladder to the pavilion.  The 360° view over the town, ocean and jungle was quite spectacular.  Following yet another round of selfies, we were allowed to descend to street level.  A couple of final snaps and we were on our way!

Just one final snap...
The short walk back to Hartono's took ages as our celebrity spread and we were stopped for hellos and selfies. Sean found himself 'captain' of a football team and took an hour before he could extract himself.

Sean's football team...

Back on the front porch, we discovered Heather and Charlie hidden beneath about 15 kids who squealed and giggled at their attempts to pronounce Indonesian words.  We took our leave and headed back to the dinghy and the sanctuary of the yacht.  But not before we were tracked down by an English teacher from one of the high schools.  It was duly arranged that he would pick us up at 6:30am and we would present to his class, so they could practice their English, the following morning.

Local kids
'Selfie Mr.? Selfie?'
Gorgeous Fira having a good chew on the phrasebook

Sunday, April 23, 2017

On the Reef - 05° 43’ 48” S 112° 40’ 14” E

After traveling for 29 hours, we were all tired and ready to drop anchor off the coast of Bawean.  The charts were said to be inaccurate, but we had been advised by previous yachties that the northern anchorage on the island was safe, although reef-strewn.  We had waypoints from the Cruising Guide to Indonesia that were considered safe to follow, so we gently eased our way in.

At three knots, one has some time to react.  Kate had gone up to the bow to watch for shallow patches and to drop the anchor once we had reached a safe spot.  An old fishing boat occupied the exact lat and long that our cruising guide had given us, so we decided to move away from him, in case the wind should pick up and he swung around on his anchor.  We had 6 - 10 metres of water under the keel and did a s-l-o-w speed figure eight, as we always do, checking the depth in the area so that when we spun on the centrepoint that was our anchor drop location, we would know that the water was deep enough.  At two knots, we putted away from him, planning to drop our pick five or six boat-lengths north (and along the shore, rather than towards the shore).  I was at the helm when suddenly … clunk and CRUNCH!

Kate pitched forward, off balance into the bow rail as she sang out, “REEF!”  I knew instantly what had happened.  In the time that I took to assess that Kate and the rest of the crew were OK, the forward momentum had been mostly absorbed.  The current took the stern to a 45° angle from what we were traveling and we came to a crunching halt.

This was the WORST initial thing that can happen to a boat.  Reefs are rock-hard and can be jagged - especially just after impact with a boat.  We have a fiberglass hull that can withstand a huge amount of blunt-force impact (such as crashing through waves), but would be easily pierced by the sharp edge of a coral reef.  Sinking was a real possibility.  I had a true moment of terror as I imagined Craig’s boat, along with all of our possessions, quickly sinking - right there under my control.  We needed to get off of that reef ... and fast.

Both Kate and I worked to remain calm.  How were we going to get off the reef, and get off quickly?  The water was calm, but that could change in minutes.  I also didn’t want to cause panic in Charles and Heather, who didn’t have much sailing experience.  Kate’s advice of “back straight off, same way we came in,” didn’t work.  The boat had turned in the current and was being obstructed by something.  I quickly reversed, but heard the grating sound of fibreglass being scraped after moving just a bit - a horrible, horrible sound for a captain or crew to hear.  After trying a few other ways to get off the reef, I called Kate back from the bow to discuss a strategy.  Time was still of the essence.

I suggested getting into the water so I could look at how the boat was grounded.  That would help me understand (as helmsman) what I needed to do, and in which order, to get us off the reef.  I quickly grabbed a mask, snorkel and fins to be able to round the open water side of the boat and evaluate.  Once in the water, I could see that the stern of the boat needed to be swung to the port side.  The keel was stuck in the sand beside the end of the reef.  The rudder had a big chunk of coral directly behind it and we weren't going to be able to back off until our stern moved to port.  I made my way back up to the swim platform, advised Kate of what I had seen and told her of my strategy.  We were going to reverse with the wheel turned hard to port, which *should* swing Popeye around.

A deep breath, then I slowly put Popeye into reverse with wheel hard over.  I increased the engine revs until I started to feel some movement.  The stern begun to swing around to the angle that we had come in on, then I straightened the helm and hit the throttle, full reverse. 

Popeye gently backed off the reef and into deeper water.  I cannot describe how relieved I was, but knew I was just running on adrenaline and wanted to get to a safe spot and get the anchor down.  We headed back the way we came, following our GPS track out past where the old fishing boat was.  We dropped anchor in 14 metres of water, much more than we usually aimed for, but I knew that Kate and I would both run out of emotion-fueled energy soon.

Assessing the damage

Once we were safely at anchor, Kate and I “dove” the boat to assess the damage.  The keel, which is a 7,000 pound solid piece of lead, had a small dent in it and had some of the paint rubbed off.  The rudder wasn’t so lucky.  It is made of fiberglass and had a deep gouge in the starboard side, 20-25 cms up from the bottom.  Looking at it underwater, my heart tightened.  I had no idea how to assess the integrity of the rudder as it remained.  We took the GoPro camera underwater with us to record what we saw and snapped a few pictures, using both a tape measure and my hand as a reference.  Shortly after we came back aboard Popeye, the calm of the bay we were in began to fade.  an uncharacteristic (for the time of year) swell began to roll in from the north-northwest. sending Popeye pitching from side to side.  Thank goodness we had got her off the reef.  Had we still been stuck there, the swell would have smashed all thirteen tonnes of her against the hard coral until she broke apart.  My heart and nerves tighten further at the thought of that.


The Internet is a wonderful thing.  It informed me that Beneteau rudders have two layers of fiberglass over a resin core.  If both layers of fiberglass are compromised, water seeping into the core can weaken the structure and the rudder can break.  This could leave us without the ability to steer when we really need to.  Luckily, the gouge had only penetrated the first layer of fiberglass.  I sent pictures back to Craig, Popeye’s owner.  He consulted with a boatbuilder that knew Popeye very well and confirmed that all would be right until we could get back to Australia.

In perspective, not so bad

Kate and I did make a big mistake, landing Popeye on the rocks by straying too far from a known safe waypoint, even because of a potentially hazardous other boat.  However, we did a lot of things right when disaster struck (not panicking ourselves, the crew or passengers; trying to follow the same path back out; diving the boat to check for big damage and to determine how to get out; anchoring quickly and re-assessing the boat’s condition).  Still, it was and is a horrible feeling to have grounded and damaged Popeye.  When we reach Australia, we will need to haul our 13 tonne boat out for repairs … which won’t be cheap.  It has ingrained a new level of caution into both of us when we are in potentially shallow waters - even ones we expect to be safe.


What a frightening, sobering experience.  I never, ever want to even gently bump into a reef again. 

Sailing a yacht isn’t all Margaritas and sunsets.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tanjung Puting National Park - 02° 49' 35" S 111° 48' 12" E

So this was all rather cool!  Deepest, darkest Borneo...

We tiptoed into Kumai on Easter Sunday after a 300nm crossing from Belitung and anchored snugly in the river between the barges and tankers.  The Kumai skyline looked very industrial with many large, grey buildings.  What could they be? Wheat silos, apartment blocks?? 
Kumai, viewed from the river
They turned out to be bird houses and home to the black-nested and white-nested swiflets that make the nests used in birds' nest soup!  It is a big business in Kumai catering to the Chinese market who believe eating the nests has all sorts of health benefits from increased libido to cough prevention!

The air was filled with the tweeting of birds (which we later found out to be recordings to attract the birds to the houses!) and the adhan or call to prayer. This was the backing soundtrack to our time in Kumai.

Main street in Kumai, with a bird house in the background
As we anchored, Liesa from CV Satria Majid Tours ( met us in her speed boat. By the time she left, we had arranged a 3 day/2 night tour in the National Park, diesel, laundry and they provided a shuttle service to and from the boat at call to save us inflating the dingy. And she left with Heather and Charlie!  They decided to take the opportunity to spend a few days ashore but arranged to spend the first day of our klotok tour with us and then be picked up by speed boat and sped, in the dark, on the crocodile infested river, back to Kumai.

Local kids

Beautiful mosques - home of the "call to prayer"
Wonder if she did our washing?
Everyone loves a 'selfie'

We joined Heather and Charlie in town for the afternoon then were dropped back to Popeye to get things organized for our three days up the river.  Part of the service provided was to have a boat boy sleep on the yacht to ensure she was safe and secure allowing us to fully relax while away.

Our klotok - home for the next few days
We were picked up next morning by the klotok with Heather, Charlie, our tour guide, captain, boat boy and cook.  Yep, we had four staff to cater to our every whim for the next three days. We headed down the Kumai River then into the smaller Seikonyer River which is the border of the Tanjung Puting National Park. A klotok is a two-storied river boat.  The top level is for the guests with beds, eating area and chairs on the bow from which to enjoy the view.  There is a bathroom at the back and kitchen, crew quarters and wheel house below.

Our remarkable cook who produced
feasts from this primitive kitchen
Great views as we cruised along

Kate of the Jungle
Yummy dinner on the klotok
Pulling up to a village
Traveling along the malarial, crocodile-infested river was quite amazing.  I did see a crocodile so can attest to it being crocodile-infested.  No swimming here!  We watched proboscis monkeys in the trees, eating the reeds on the edge of the river and even saw one brave the crocodiles and swim across!  Macaques, gibbons, fireflies, snakes, scorpions, tree frogs. Bird life was everywhere from the brightly coloured kingfishers and broadbills, the crazy-looking hornbills and coucals who always seemed to be drying their wings.

Proboscis monkey
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Black Hornbill
Lesser Coucal
Black and Red Broadbill
Our bed - it was draped in a mosquito net at night

As kids, we used to love the National Geographic and would pour over the amazing photographs.  I clearly remember the photo of the little boy in the bath with the orangutan.  And here we were, heading off to Camp Leakey where the photo was taken! Camp Leakey is the research station founded by Dr Birute Galdikas to study orangutans back in the 1970s.  She was mentored by Dr Leakey, thus the name, who also mentored Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.  As well as research, they fostered orphaned and rescued orangutans and released them back into the wild. To ensure they had enough to eat, and to take the pressure of the wild ones, they set up feeding stations.

Heather and Charlie hike with us through the jungle
They no longer release into the wild in this area but maintain the feeding stations.  Because they had been in captivity, most were not afraid of humans and would amble to the feeding stations through the viewing area.  AMAZING!   We didn't just see them at the feeding stations but would also come across them as we ambled down the river or hiking through the jungle.  They are extraordinary creatures.

Orangutan is from the Indonesian/Malay language. Orang means person and Hutan means forest.  People of the Forest - may both they and the forests survive.

What's that sound behind me?

Orangutans enter from all directions

Feeding platforms

Just a rope between us and the feeding platform

Anyone seen an orangutan around here??
Canoeing on the malarial, crocodile-infested creek
an old ranger station
Indiana Jones has nothing on us!
And in the midst of it all, Heather turned 50!  What an adventure to mark a milestone birthday.

And no birthday is complete without a cake
and the correct number of candles.
Happy Birthday, Heather!