Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Finally in snorkeling waters again

The 400 miles long passage from Santubong (close to Kuching) on Borneo to Tioman just east of Malaysia peninsula and Singapore took us almost 3 1/2 days. Again we were lucky (or rather, had picked the right weather) and had a pretty good trip with no squalls hitting us, only one night had lightening on the horizon. It seems that when the winds are more easterly (rather than the usual SW that prevail during this monsoon) there aren't as many squalls. We had no rain and no more wind than 16 knots. Very different sailing from back in NZ and even also the Pacific :-) Despite the light winds (often below 10) we managed to sail most of the time, and only motored about a quarter of the way.

Unfortunately Barry's lucky lure seems to have taken too many hits and has lost a lot of its colouring, so we didn't catch any fish. It would have been pretty sweet to have a third time lucky charm though.

Our only problem was the sink blocking up on day one. It drops directly vertical with no bends in the hose, so normally we just poke something down the drain and it clears. But this time it wouldn't budge. It meant we cooked even less than normal (which doesn't say much) and basically lived off sandwiches and snacks the whole time, as it is pretty hard to cook without being able to use the sink. Sure, we could have used a bucket, or the sink in the bathroom, but sandwiches seemed easier.

When we finally dropped anchor by Mukat at the very south of Tioman it was total bliss to be in clean and clear water. A poke from below into the sink drain quicky cleared it. The hull is filthy and slimy from all the dirty water in Brunei, Miri and Santubong so we now have no less than three remoras clinging to the rudder! The sun was almost setting, so there wasn't time start scrubbing, but we did bother getting the dinghy in the water so we could go ashore to find some proper food. The only place open was very basic, they could only do noodles, but it was still better than sandwiches.

After a lovely night of undisturbed sleep, we woke to rain and wind coming into the quite open anchorage, so we pulled up the anchor and are now anchored by Tekek, the main town on the island and where customs and immigration are (the different Malaysian states like you to clear in and out of each one!), it's still a bit rolly, but not too bad. There is also a small marina here, although we much prefer anchoring (much cooler with a breeze coming through the boat and easy to swim), it's an option if the weather turns.

When I jumped in to check on the anchor I swam a bit back from the boat towards some coral. There I stumbled upon a turtle and also a really big cute pufferfish. Yeah for clean water and good snorkeling, finally :-)
Approaching Tioman
Best place to keep watch (and read) while underway
Mukat village at the southern end of Tioman. A green tropical island, very beautiful
Sooooo many fruit bats!!!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Our new favourite Malay city: Kuching

The 280 miles passage from Miri to Kuching took us three nights and two days, and as as far as passages go, it was pretty pleasant. We even caught another fish with the magic lure we got from Barry. Catching two fish in a row is pretty unprecedented, and then even in Asia where there practically are no fish left and I even feel a bit bad that we're catching them!

We had lovely full moon-shine the whole trip and the wind was all downwind, varying from 5 to 20 knots, so we sailed the entire way. By some other small miracle, the only squall we got was a heap of rain just as we were approaching Santubong (our destination). The anchorage is in a river mouth with a 6m tide and apparently croc waters, so we're hoping our anchor won't get stuck. For the first time ever, our anchor also dragged a little bit (with the crazy tides), but luckily only 30 meters or so before it dug in again. Points for our hefty Manson Supreme anchor.

Santubong is half an hours drive from Kuching, the capital of the Sarawak state with a population of 600,000 people. We had heard from other cruisers that it was a nice city, so we tried not to have too high expectations, but we have to fully agree. It really is a nice city. Much more character and charm than Miri and KK. The city centre is also more compact and easily walkable and with both an Indian and Chinese town. We visited the Sunday market (also one of our absolute favourite markets), several museums and just walked around.

Near Santubon there's also a Sarawak Cultural Village showcasing how the different tribes used to live and with an interesting show. Another highlight was visiting an Orangutan sancturary with rescued monkeys and their offspring. They are two daily feedings, but because we are in the fruit season at the moment, they find their own food and only one youth came to the feeding station. But he was pretty darm cute and amazing to watch nonetheless.

We're now a mere weather window away from leaving Borneo. Almost directly west of here is Tioman Islands, which has clear water and good snormeling, something we're really looking forward to.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Visiting the Gunung Mulu National Park, part 2, the animals and the forest

This is about the animals we saw in the park, as well as the jungle itself. Read about our trip and the caves here in the first part.

Most of the animals we saw was on a night walk we did with a guide. We walked really slow while trying to spot all the animals that become active at night, many of them are masters of disguise, especially the stick insects.
All sorts of stick insects, green ones, thorny ones, barky ones, but my favourite is the mossy one! The person is pointing to a massive stick insect, at least 30 cm long I think!
Dwarf squirrel (very cute), moss eating snail, small wood snake and a frog
Jungle flowers, but to be fair, most were found near the part head quarters where they have been planted
Bats streaming out of the deer cave. The 2-3 million bats in that cave alone do a good job as there are hardly any mosquitoes in the park
Butterfly, spider, grasshopper and a big bees' nest high up a tree
Heading down the river to Clearwater cave. The mountain where the Pinnacles is in the background
It was fun driving on these river boats
Cave animals: a racer snake, spider, cave cricket and these weird critters that live of guano (bat droppings)
A snail with really long antennas, a lantern insect, a sleeping bird and yet another spider
Pretty big tree
Phil walking across a canopy skywalk
But even up high at the canopy skywalk it still wasn't possible to see the jungle for trees
Lots of geckos, I like the tiny one on Phil's wrist, we found it in the sink by the hostel
Lots of millipedes and cousins, the fluffy ones are fun, the stripy one is actually as thick as a man's thumb and that's not including its hairs. The top left is a hammerhead worm.

Visiting the Gunung Mulu National Park, part 1, the caves

Wauw. I'm going to apologise in advance for all the superlatives I'm going to use for this post! We just spent the most amazing three days at the Gunung Mulu National Park. It's Unesco World Heritage Site and rightly so. The area is just full of caves. In the middle of the rain forest. Wauw. One beautiful cave after the other, all so pretty it's impossible to pick the best.

It's not often we treat ourselves to land excursions away from Sophia, mostly also because there hasn't been any marinas to leave her in until here in Malaysia. We have also spent half a month's budget in just three days, but it has definitely been worth it. Visiting Borneo is not complete without visiting the park and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's easy to get to the caves via broad walks and the tourist caves have stairs, walkways and lights and you must go with a guide. So in a way it's a bit commercial, but it's far from crowded, and coming from Western countries, it's a sweet deal and still a good adventure. It's also possible to do caving expeditions to caves without the lights and steps, but we didn't do that. I was perfectly happy just to see the show caves, and the light sure helps with that.

An extra bonus was the rain forest. Just walking along the broad walk on the way to caves, we'd see tons of animals, mostly insects, but they are cool and very exotic too! The animals we have seen include: stick insects in all forms, shapes and sizes, millipedes and the likes, a ton of spiders, frogs, heaps of geckos, millions (literally) of bats, birds, dwarf squirrels, two snakes, porcupine, cave critter, one cat (the name started with s) and many more.

I took so many photos and there are so many nice one to show, so therefore I'll split this post in two, this one about the caves, and another one about the animals and the rainforest. I will also post more photos on facebook as I couldn't quite limit myself to just the blog.
Lang's cave was the first cave we visited, one of the smaller ones, but it is really beautiful
Lang's Cave beautiful limestone formations
The top of the entrance to Deer cave is visible. Deer cave is one of the biggest caves in the world, over 2 km long and 174 m high. It is home to 2-3 million bats, 12 different species, and most of them come out at dusk, flying in a swirling pattern, see the photo in part 2 post
Deer Cave, see the broad walk at the bottom for size. The smooth 'dirt' at the bottom right is guano, bat droppings. The bats were hanging at large cluster in the ceiling
Looking back to the entrance of Deer Cave. There are people on the steps and broad walk
Truly massive Deer Cave
Wind Cave, another smaller cave, but also very pretty
At the entrance of Clearwater Cave
Beautiful erosion by the clearwater river
Clearwater Cave is also pretty huge
Yet we only saw a small part of the whole system (red circle), it's over 200 km long!
Lagang Cave was cool because we saw lots of cave critters and a racer snake plus it also had beautiful formations

Monday, 7 October 2013

Eventful passage from Brunei to Miri

Four and a half month since we first arrived to Brunei we have finally left the country. We were in and out of the country 4-5 times, both with and without Sophia, and all up we spent over half that time being out of the country, Phil more so than me. We have had a great time though and we really will miss the yacht club with it's nice facilities (pool, showers, dinghies, electricity, wifi and not least the washing machine), but mostly we'll miss the super nice people we have met. 

We left Brunei Friday morning (we're not superstitious about leaving on Fridays) and arrived in Miri (in the Malaysian state of Sarawak) almost 24 hours later. It was an eventful passage, which isn't necessary a good thing, we like easy plain sailing!
We're still in the SW monsoon season, although here on the Borneo coast, luckily, it's not very pronounced. We didn't leave with the best of forecasts, but it was either leave, or wait another week for better winds, and we (OK, me) was keen to get going and be on the move again. And 10-15 knots headwinds isn't that bad, although much more than that, really isn't fun.

We started out motoring into 5-10 knots on the nose, but at midday it changed a little bit, so we could actually sail close hauled. The wind did pick up to 10-15 knots and sometimes getting closer to 20 knots with small squall coming through, but it was still OK. Before dark we put on reef in the main, it doesn't slow us down much, but is much safer at night. Unfortunately a little later the wind had turned on the nose again and we were back to motor sailing.

And we caught a fish, yipee, our first fish since Philippines. It was Barry's (expat with a boat in Brunei) magic lure that did the trick, and we even had a hit a little earlier. A big Spanish mackrel, so much meat we gave some away here in Miri.
There are A LOT of oil rigs between Brunei and Miri, to the degree that even with no moon or stars, it was still very bright! Constant and vigil watch was required because suddenly one of the many lights was actually from a ship moving and was often hard to notice until it was close. Most have AIS, but there are still some without. Plus some of the old oil rigs seems to have been just left with no lights on them. Very different from night sailing in the Pacific where there's a whole lot of nothing and it's suffice to check the horizon every 10-15 minutes.
poor photo at night, but this has no zoom, just to show how close we are and the amoung of light
We knew it was very likely we'd be hit by at least one squall, but there isn't much you can do to avoid them, especially if you're avoiding oil rigs at the same time. Luckily the worst one didn't hit us until we were only half an hour away from Miri, just after day break at 6.30am. Torrential rain and 30 knots of wind hit us, so we had to stay out circling around as it was too dangerous to go into the marina inside the river mouth, but the good thing about squalls is they dont' last long.

You might have noticed all the specific wind speeds in this post. We finally have our Nexus wind wane back again, a bran new one even, and it's working. So, for the first time since Solomon Islands, almost a year ago, we actually know the wind speeds. The saying ignorance is bliss is actually onto something, for me anyway, because I didn't like to see 30+ knots on the speedo when the big squall hit, and would have been a bit happier not knowing it.

I have added the bunch of photos from Brunei on facebook, this is hopefully a direct link to the album

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

September's cruising costs for Brunei and Malaysia

After skipping the month's of July and August (only two of those weeks were actually spent on the boat), I finally got a new month's budget.

Sarah and Anton visited the first week, and Phil wasn't back until two-thirds way through the month, so it's not quite a typical month. Our total spending was NZ$ 1236. After food the largest spending was various boat parts Phil bought in NZ. As a side note, we did also buy some parts in Denmark (in July and August), but it wasn't actually that much, some springs for rope clutches, a new kettle and other small bits and bobs.

The high transport cost is Phil going to KK to deliver a sail plus when we have borrowed Barry's car, we have topped up the petrol. One thing we'll really miss here in Brunei is the cheap fuel, we have even bought an extra five 20 liter containers (slightly dodgy ones for $2 each) so we can take come of that precious liquid with us.