Three Daytrips in Sarawak (4th – 6th July)

Tuesday 4th July – Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

Our guide book recommended two places to see orangutans and having spent a bit of time looking at both on the internet, Semenggoh looked like the best place to visit (funnily enough it was also the one our taxi driver had suggested). Founded in 1975, the orangutans (about 1000 of them) here are cared for in the Semenggoh Nature Reserve with the aim of rehabilitating them so they can be released into the wild. Like the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Thailand, a lot of them have been rescued from the illegal pet trade or have been brought in orphaned or injured. Feeding times were at 10am or 3pm so we opted for the afternoon slot, which meant setting out into the hottest part of the day. After the dinghy ride, the walk and the initial oven-like temperature inside the car, the air conditioning (once it kicked in) was glorious. It took about an hour to get there, we arrived at a little after two. We paid the amazingly cheap 20 ringgit admission fee (about £1.80 each) at a ticket booth and then drove quite a long way down to the car park. It would have taken at least 40 minutes to walk to it, yet on the narrow road down we passed signs and entrances for jungle treks, arboretums and rainforest walks – only accessible by walking back to them from the car park. All good value for money but we certainly couldn’t have done all those extras in the heat that day.

A building with a gift shop and information centre was at the entrance to the park. On the walls were pictures of some of the orangutans with their names and backstories. We’d barely started reading them when a ranger appeared to beckon us over to a nearby path where, he excitedly informed us, an orangutan could be seen on the branches of a tree. A few people were already there looking up in hushed admiration, with mobile phones held aloft to capture the image. Another ranger told us we were very lucky to see one this close as they don’t often venture too far away from their area in the rainforest.  We spotted it soon enough high up on the ropes between the trees, with its bright orange back to us, nonchalantly eating bananas and throwing the skins on the ground.

First view of the orangutan

We gave this couple a lift into Kuching

This orangutan entertained us for a good half an hour, swinging on ropes, eating, and occasionally turning round to stare at us staring at him.  The heat eventually forced us into a nearby wooden shelter where we could still see him. More arrived and gathered near to us as the appointed feeding time approached. A ranger appeared bearing more food in a sack, from which he passed coconuts, bananas and hard-boiled eggs up to the orangutan’s eager hands as he shinned down to grab it. At one point he had a bunch of bananas in one hand and a coconut in the other. After making quick work of the bananas, he proceeded to tear the hair off the coconut and then banged it against the trunk of the tree until it cracked open. He tipped the milk into his mouth, spat a large mouthful out, banged it some more and then gnawed at the white flesh, chomping while staring down at the ranger. Spying the eggs, he took some of those and spat out the shell to scoop out the hard boiled insides with his tongue. The eggs were his particular favourite I think judging by the amount he put away 🙂

At 3 o’clock we gathered to listen to a talk from the ranger concerning precautions and regulations regarding the orangutans. The alpha male, Ritchie, we were told, does not like loud noises and has a very bad temper. Orangs have very sharp teeth and are known to be strong: I don’t think we needed to be warned not to antagonise him! We followed the ranger along a narrow path with high jungle on either side of us to the feeding zone.

Don’t mess with Ritchie!

There were about 20 of us in the group altogether, including children – made up of Russians, French, Chinese and Indians of varying ages and I was impressed with the decorum of every one of them. The kids were well behaved, we were all respectful of our surroundings and we were all interested in the whole experience.  When we reached the viewing platform, a couple of orangs were already on the wooden structure tucking into an array of bananas, nuts and fruit. We photographed and filmed them, along with the little forest squirrels who were also making the most of the feast. It was fantastic to notice a female with a baby clinging to her tummy. Later we watched the youngster learning how to peel bananas and being taught how to climb by its mum.

The feeding platform

One young couple who had been keen to linger and watch the activities, had missed the last bus back to Kuching and asked if we’d mind giving them a lift. They were on a travel break from their careers, he was a doctor from The Ivory Coast and she from Bordeaux, France, studying animal psychology and had met during their travels. They were as impressed with our experiences and history as we were with theirs – it’s one of the many pleasures of travel to swap stories and backgrounds with the people you meet. We dropped them off at the waterfront and spent the rest of the evening in Kuching, shopping and walking – walking so much that my out of practise legs and feet protested violently. We ate in a Chinese hawker market. I keep hoping to find a stall like the one I had been to in Penang where the food is freshly cooked in front of you, but dishes from this one were displayed in uncovered bain-maries, school dinner fashion and there was a tendency to make you feel rushed to choose what you want. The food was lukewarm and the rice was cold and rubbery – cheap, but not very appetising.

Waterfront, Kuching

Wednesday 5th July

Today’s excursion was to the Sarawak Cultural Village – a ‘must see’ according to most travel guides and sites on Kuching. This will be the venue for the Rainforest Music Festival weekend on the 14th July so it seemed a good opportunity to check it out as it’s not too far away. The cultural village is comprised of seven authentically replicated houses and huts that were typical of those inhabited by the seven indigenous tribes native to Sarawak. There are daily performances of dances and rituals as well as demonstrations of their traditional chores, games and ceremonies. When we arrived at the ticket office, we were momentarily lost for words when we were offered the reduced price for seniors! Oh well it had to happen one day I guess.

The group in front of us had a great time in the village 😉

Clutching our ‘passports’, a handy little book containing info on the tribes and some of the myths and legends associated with them, we ambled into the park behind a group of loud and animated Chinese visitors.  The first house we visited was the Chinese Farmhouse and one of the men in the group explained to us that he was showing family members how much it resembles his grandparents’ house that he used to visit as a child in the 1960s. The family exclaimed and laughed and shouted loudly to each other as they posed for pictures in every part of it. We had a quick look around that house and then discreetly headed off in the opposite direction for a quieter visit.

Paul inside the Chinese farmhouse

We climbed some precarious staircases during our visit to the longhouses. They are reconstructed from thick logs (a notched log as it’s described in the book) – the steps hewn neatly into the wood to form the footholds but they seemed to be made for tiny feet and it would have been easy to slide down and do yourself a mischief if you weren’t careful, as the pictures below show.

The huge longhouse itself consists of an open veranda which formed the communal, domestic area for the villagers – up to twenty families could live under one roof. From this outer veranda, a smaller inner veranda is the ‘street’ from which doorways lead to the individual family rooms (all set out as they would have been if inhabited). It’s a bit like a commune in a big tree house. Most of the communal areas had people demonstrating various traditional craft-making skills.

We watched items such as swords, baskets and musical instruments being created, and in one house we saw clothing made out of tree bark.  The demonstrators were all keen to chat and to explain the histories of the houses and the customs and rituals of the tribes.

I was particularly fascinated with the headhunting custom practised by the Iban tribe. After a battle, a warrior would take a single head from one of the dead and display the skull in the longhouse communal area in recognition of the warriors’ role in protecting the community. They believed spiritual benefits were derived from the heads if sacrifices in the form of pigs or chickens were made to them, while the souls of the unfortunate decapitated people were said to protect the households they graced. The heads also played an important part in mourning rituals and when headhunting was outlawed in the 19th century and heads became scarcer, a head was often passed around to bereaved villagers. The heads we saw hanging from the rafters on our visit were real (we think).

Spot the heads!

One area had various stalls with some of the handicrafts on sale. The products were beautiful and unusual and it would have been easy to spend a fortune there, but I restricted myself to one item made from a coconut: a mum and baby orangutan money box.   The whole place was very well put together in a lush jungle setting, complete with monkeys on the roofs of the buildings and in the trees.

Spot the monkey!

We ended the visit in a theatre where we watched a vibrant song and dance performance depicting stories associated with the Sarawakian tribes and their daily lives. Leaving the village, we wandered down to the beach and had a drink in a bar there watching a torrential downpour of rain from the balcony. These downpours would continue all night.

View from the bar’s balcony

Thursday 6th July – Two Museums

Heavy rain in the night filled the dinghy which we keep suspended along the starboard rail. Paul had to get up in the night to empty it to prevent it straining the rope it was suspended on. Each time I woke up I could hear the rain thundering on the roof, but by late morning when we got up and got ready to head out again, the sun had chased all the clouds away.  Our excursion for today was to The Cat Museum in Kuching. It’s widely believed that Kuching was named after the Malay word for cat; ‘kucing’. Another theory claims that it comes from the Chinese word for port; ‘cochin’. Whatever the truth about the origins of its name, the city has embraced the association with cats (a wise choice given their global popularity, and ports just don’t have that ‘cute’ factor). There are statues and sculptures of cats all over the city, and shops and cafes have made use of the theme (The Cat Gallery Gift Shop, Meow Meow Cat Café). The local radio station is called ‘Cats FM’, walls bear cat graffiti and T shirts and souvenirs are emblazoned with cats of all descriptions. Hardly surprising, then that there is a museum devoted to them.  Housed on the bottom floor of the City Hall, it’s about 20 minutes’ drive away from the city, is free and is reported to contain over 4,000 artefacts devoted to cats. After checking that it also had wifi and seats, Paul agreed we should pay it a visit 😉

The cat museum, Kuching

The building reminded me of Liverpool’s catholic cathedral in its design and is set in beautiful lush green countryside. Inside, the four galleries are all on one floor with gift shops dotted around. Once Paul had sat himself down with his phone (he said he might join me later), I was the only one wandering around. It’s a quirky place. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not at first: it seemed a bit random with its choice of exhibits. For instance, there was an area entirely devoted to Garfield, the American cartoon cat which seemed a bit incongruous amid all the displays of stories of cats in history, literature, superstitions and legends etc. One wall had pictures of cats fighting, cats eating and cats mating and ended with the question ‘do cats kiss?’. I did enjoy it actually because I spent a long time reading the information on the boards and studying the exhibits.

Entrance to the museum (pic from the web)

Paul, meanwhile had got so engrossed in his work he didn’t have time to look around, much to his disappointment 😉 We moved on to the next museum on the agenda.  The Sarawak Museum is in Kuching centre, and houses local native arts and crafts along with specimens of local mammals and insects collected by the famous naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. We only had an hour before it closed, but it was an interesting hour. The building is a bit of a museum piece in itself, in a charmingly old-fashioned way. It had several dusty glass cabinets with stuffed animals, reptiles and birds in them, and wooden floors and quiet, dimly-lit rooms, like museums used to be in the UK before they became noisy, brightly lit and interactive. We ambled round, reading about the indigenous people of Sarawak and their myths and legends. These would delight any schoolchild with the tales of poison darts, sacrifices and of princesses turned into mountains. The masks they wore for battle were pretty amazing too. We got turfed out in the end because the attendant was ready to close.

Sarawak Museum, built in 1891
James Brooke, the first white Rajah of Sarawak

A walk in the park was next. Kuching’s well-kept park is popular with joggers and one area was full of people doing tai chi or something very like it. From there we returned to the riverfront to get the ferry across to the other side, which took all of two minutes and cost 20p. I was surprised to discover it’s a lot less plush on the other side of the river. Instead of smart bars, hotels and restaurants, this riverside has a few shops and cafes that are clearly more for the locals than aimed at tourists. It’s probably what the more developed side used to look like. Things could change once the bridge that is currently under construction is finished.

Kuching City Park
Memorial stones, Kuching
One of the many cat structures, Kuching

By the time we’d found somewhere to eat (a tapas bar in a smart square on the plush side), it was dark and when we reached the fish farm I was eager to flake out on the boat. Before I could do that though, we had to heave the dinghy out of thick mud where it had gone aground. Somehow, we’d miscalculated the tide times and it took both of us to drag it to the other side of the small pontoon where the water was just deep enough to take our weight and motor across. Paul said the alternative would have been to wade through the mud, pulling the dinghy until we reached the water. There is no way I would have done that. I would have happily sat on the wooden pontoon until morning before putting my legs in that creature-laden mud! I resolved to double check the tide times for the next day’s trip.

Lovely Santubong

Thursday 29th June –To Satang Besar

Weighed anchor on a hot sunny morning just after nine. Sadly, no further turtles were spotted but I don’t intend to stop looking; there’s always a chance of seeing one in these waters. A five hour journey stretched before us.  It was too hot to linger up above and the cabin was stuffy even with the fans on. A slight breeze provided some relief later in the afternoon but on days like these at sea, you long for sunset and the reprieve from heat it brings. At half past two we anchored near an island not too dissimilar to the previous one, put the canopy up and retreated below for cooling showers.

Leaving Telang Basar

Things changed late in the afternoon. Paul had checked the weather and noted that a huge squall was on the way. It turned out to be a massive one. It suddenly went very dark and the wind got stronger and stronger as the the deluge continued. The boat rolled, pitched and tossed for over an hour rendering me helpless to do anything but sit it out below; on hand in case Paul needed help above. The anchor held very well though and post-squall I was able to resume creating the latest piece de resistance in the galley using ‘stuff’ to make a tasty pie: chestnuts, onions, lentils, herbs and veggies in pastry, accompanied by gravy made from scratch because we have no handy granules. I was chuffed with the gravy,  which I made using a thick dark liquid called cooking caramel (found in most Asian shops), onions, vegetable stock and cornflour.

A very fierce squall

Friday 30th June – Santubong

An early start this morning in order to catch the tide for our short passage into the river. We almost didn’t start at all because the anchor was stuck in the mud. Yesterday’s fierce squall meant that Paul had to let more chain out and the anchor was well and truly dug in, not for long though luckily and we were on our way to by 8:30. On the route Paul related various hazards and conditions to be negotiated and avoided on the approach to our anchorage. These included underwater rocks and shipwrecks, the urgency to beat low tide, a sandbar and fishing nets and buoys. He also said the river has crocodiles and it isn’t advisable to snorkel, swim or do boat repairs under water. As he was telling me this, I saw a movement in the water and for a split second thought I was seeing a croc already but it turned out to be a long, thick sea snake.  We traversed each of the hazards slowly and surely, steering slalom-like around the many stationary fishing boats at the entrance to the river and were ready to drop anchor at 10:30 in the shadow of an imposing mountain. We anchored in 13 metres in mud under a scorching hot sun that burned my feet and legs as I stood at the helm. Opposite our spot is a small wooden pontoon with a bridge leading to a yard, which Paul told me is part of a fish farm and we could just make out some buildings beyond that. Half an hour later it was apparent that we were in a pleasingly restful place, and it has good wifi to boot.

The entrance to the river
Majestic Mount Santubong

Paul intended to go ashore as soon as possible to introduce himself and the boat to the manager but the dinghy outboard wouldn’t start and the current was too strong to row across. The engine had to be fixed of course, meaning more sweaty work in the heat of the cockpit. Apparently the problem was down to water leaking into the fuel, but this was sorted out quickly and the outboard was back in action.

First trip ashore

Once ashore Paul arranged a diesel delivery with a guy who was working on the fish farm and booked a taxi for a trip into town to get provisions. By the time we left at 3:30 it was hotter than ever and the tide had gone right out to reveal several lizard-like creatures scurrying around on the mud. They looked like baby crocodiles and were fascinating to watch but I’d hate to walk among them. We were greeted by the pack of dogs Paul had already encountered and told me about. There are about 6 of them and they all barked but wouldn’t come too near us. They’re the sort of dogs who bark loud and furiously while wagging their tails the whole time and they loved it when I spoke to say hello and tell them they were good dogs 🙂

The ‘guard’ dogs of the fish farm 🙂
The fish farm’s lush garden

We waited for the taxi in heat so oppressive I thought I would flake out and it wasn’t a whole lot cooler inside the taxi. The driver was a mine of information about the area. He lives locally and told us about places we should visit and about Santubong in general. Fishing and farming are the main industries here he said, and urged us to try Sarawak Laksa, a spicy chicken noodle and prawn soup: a local speciality. I asked him about the mountain. It’s called Santubong Mountain and is 2,655 feet high, he told us, and it can be climbed – he had climbed part of it but hadn’t managed to reach the summit. You need to be fit and healthy, there is a path to follow and it takes about 6 hours to reach the top. I looked up at it towering above me and felt tempted to conquer it until I thought better of doing something so strenuous in these high temperatures. I bet you see an impressive panorama from up there, though.

Home in Santubong

During the drive, which took about 30 minutes, both of us noticed how much more upmarket the environment here is, compared with Peninsular Malaysia. The roads, verges and houses are well maintained and larger and the cars and scooters are mostly new and much smarter-looking. We were dropped off at a mall where the supermarket ‘Giant’ is located and arranged with the driver to be collected at 6:30.  Discovering that the supermarket didn’t sell alcohol, we decided to ask our well-informed driver to stop somewhere on the way back – he was bound to know where to get some wine or beer, I thought. Meanwhile, it was a luxury to walk the aisles picking up things we hadn’t been able to get for weeks. Heavy rain was falling as we shopped and Paul was concerned about its effect on the anchor, but we had half an hour to kill before the taxi was due so decided to grab a quick bite to eat in one of the mall’s food outlets. We finished just in time to walk out to where we expected to see the taxi waiting. He wasn’t there. He still wasn’t there 40 minutes later! One guy, seeing us alternately pacing and looking up and down the road, kindly offered us a lift to wherever we wanted to go. I was tempted but Paul didn’t want to let the taxi driver down in case he’d been unavoidably delayed, plus we hadn’t paid him his fare yet. When he did turn up 10 minutes after the other guy’s offer, he truthfully (and smilingly) admitted that he’d simply forgotten all about us. Paul, admiring such a frank admission, bit back any admonishment he’d got ready to let rip. It rained heavily all the way back and the driver cheerfully (he really is a happy soul) delivered the news that there would be nowhere on the way home that sold alcohol because the whole of Santubong is dry. Disappointingly, I would have to wait until our Kuching trip on Monday before enjoying my first glass of wine in two weeks.  It was dark and raining heavily when we got back and the dinghy was full of rainwater.  We had to lift it out of the water (no mean feat that) for Paul to pull the plug in order to drain it all out. For once I was glad to enter the hot interior of the boat to warm up (and dry off). Fell asleep listening to the soothing sound of rain pounding on the roof.

There are creatures in that mud!

Weekend July 1st and 2nd

Our tickets home are booked! We leave on the 1st August and return on the 3rd October so two whole months to look forward to, catching up with friends and family. We enjoyed a lazy Saturday on the boat. It’s very tranquil anchored here – only a few fishing or diving trip boats pass by every now and then, and even they’re not noisy. On Sunday morning Paul collected the diesel he’d ordered and I helped to lug the heavy containers on board, after which we both retired below out of the heat. I made more bread and read while Paul worked at programming and at 5 o’clock we went ashore to have a look at the village and take some pictures. Santubong is a tiny and charming place, very rural and pretty with well-kept houses on stilts above the river.

Santubong Village

The warning about crocodiles was confirmed when we came upon this sign near the beach – I almost expected to see them on the sand in front of us.

Santubong Beach

The beach itself was amazing, especially in the fading light. Large boulders littered the sand and I couldn’t help picturing David Attenborough crouching among them while telling us about the feeding habits of salt water crocodiles.  Near the end of the beach we came upon some dogs peeping out from behind the boulders. They seemed to be living there in a pack and took little notice of us. It’s difficult to capture the ethereal beauty in pictures, but I had to try.

Where the dogs hang out
Note the patterns made by the sand crabs

Monday 3rd July – A day in Kuching

We turned up at the fish farm entrance at the agreed time of 10:30 to meet our taxi driver from the night before, hoping that he wouldn’t forget us again. It was too hot to be standing around for long periods. He was bang on time thankfully and on the way to Kuching he provided us with lots more useful tips and info about places to visit and even advised Paul on the best type of car to hire, along with an interesting explanation about the petrol pricing system here. It seems prices are announced by the government each Tuesday evening and it goes into effect on Wednesday morning, causing people to rush out to fill up on Tuesday night if the price is due to increase.  My first impression of Kuching as we drew near was that it’s a big city, or bigger than I expected at least. Skyscrapers came into view, there was a lot more traffic and we passed office complexes, large ornate mosques and smart apartment blocks. High rise hotels and signs for museums indicated we’d reached the centre. We were dropped off at the waterfront, where all the souvenir shops are located.  A slow walk along that street was our first mission, as recommended by our guide book, which proclaimed it a ‘shopping mecca’. The shopfronts are old and quite charming.

Bazaar Street, Kuching

Inside them it’s a browser’s paradise and we strolled in and out of several, admiring the handmade gifts, local crafts and unusual carved souvenirs. I was keen to have a glass of wine after that now that we were in the (wet) city, and our taxi driver, naturally, had recommended The James Brooke Bistro as a good place for lunch. It’s the sort of place Paul hates because it’s clearly geared towards Western tourists from its style, its name (after the first white Rajah of Sarawak) right down to its bill of fare: spiced wedges, pizzas and burgers.  It is, however situated on the waterfront, is reasonably priced, and it sold wine.  We sat down. The food was ok, the wine was most welcome and the view was lovely. The restaurant also had some cats, one of them was a tiny black kitten that a member of staff told us she had rescued from the middle of the road earlier in the week. I asked nicely, but Paul wouldn’t let me take it back to the boat.

The first in two weeks! 🙂
So cute

After lunch we carried on walking, making our way to Chinatown where Paul had booked a hire car but they were still waiting for it to be returned from its previous customer. The lady from the car hire company let us leave our bags in the office while we had a walk around Chinatown and did a bit of shopping. By the time we got the car (a nice little white VIVA) it was 3 o’clock and too late, we thought, to fit in customs and immigration but we could squeeze in a drive to Kuching Marina to declare the boat’s arrival into Malaysia. After filling out a form there we were told that we could still get to immigration in time. It wasn’t far away apparently and a lady helpfully provided directions. We tried in vain to follow those directions but maybe they were a bit vague (drive past the building with the green gates and turn right). We drove around for over an hour trying to find the building. When we did we weren’t allowed to take the car through the barrier because we didn’t have a security pass so we had to park it and walk a fair distance to the entrance in cloying humidity. It was another old fashioned building but the guy who processed us was young and charismatic.  A good-looking guy, he lounged casually in his seat with a grin on his face while he asked us questions. In lieu of a boat stamp, the lack of which always causes some consternation, Paul gave him a printed card with all of Sister Midnight’s details on one side and a picture on the other. He was really chuffed with it and immediately looked it up online, smiling all the while. He even googled West Kirby because he was curious to see what it looked like. From entering the building hot, tired and slightly irritable (well I was anyway) we left it smiling and impressed. Customer service at its best. On we went to customs hoping for a similar stress-free experience. No one was there when we arrived so two security guards gave us a number to call and one of them produced a chair for me near the fan. They then lent Paul a mobile to call the number because his battery was flat. I just love Malaysia. A smartly dressed young lady turned up shortly after and unlocked the door to a tiny room straight out of the 50s in décor. There was a bed with a crocheted cover on one side of the room and two wooden desks on the other. There was a computer but internet was slow and it took a long time to enter all the necessary details and sign the paperwork. Because we didn’t have spare copies of certain documents she had to take pictures of them with her phone. Few words were exchanged but we left there legitimate at last and set off to find yet another place recommended by our taxi driver.

The shop was called Ting and Ting and is apparently a good place to find Western products…and affordable wine. I wanted to buy some Marmite and some wine. I found both in there, along with a few other necessities and then we headed back to the boat to do some online research for our next excursion: this one would involve orangutans! 😉

Kuching (Cat City)

The waterfront, Kuching



Leaving Indonesia (22nd – 28th June)

Thursday 22nd June Temburun to Airuba

An early departure was planned and I duly woke early to discover that there had been a fierce storm in the night. Paul had sat in the cockpit and watched it – prepared to motor off if it escalated, while I had slept all through it again (catching up on all the sleep lost through being disturbed by the wailing no doubt). We were back out tackling the coral reefs by 9 o’clock. It was overcast and thus easier to spot the coral without any glare from sunlight. The dark clouds soon brought forth a squall so I went below to check the course on the OpenCPN programme on the laptop, and by 10:30 we hit the open sea. There wasn’t enough wind to put a sail up but Paul put a line out just in case he got lucky and bagged a fish…still no luck on that front, though.

Navigating through the coral – markers indicating ‘no-go’ areas

Motoring into the squall

An hour later the wind was strong enough to put the mainsail up. I steered and kept us into the wind, I’m definitely getting the hang of it now. With the main and head sails up we were able to lower the engine revs to save on fuel because Paul was concerned there might not be enough to get us to Kuching. Just as we turned the engine off completely though, the wind disappeared altogether and it went on again. We arrived at 3:30, anchored in 9.5 metres of water and admired the beauty of our surroundings. It’s quiet, uninhabited and totally unspoilt. Just what we (or I at least) needed after recent crowds and noise.  The pictures speak for themselves.  I took them during a trip in the dinghy to check out the area.  The litter-free beach had a tree full of butterflies and the clear water revealed fish we hadn’t seen before on our explorations such as a huge flat fish which looked like a plaice but was probably a ‘ray’ of some kind. One day I hope to be able to name some of the exotic creatures and plant life we see more accurately.

Anchored at Airuba

The butterfly tree
Sister Midnight sitting pretty

Friday 23rd June – Airubu to Bawah

On to our final Indonesian destination today.  Bawah, our quaint guide book proudly boasts, is a paradise island set to rival the beautiful Tahitian island of Bora Bora. Proud claims indeed! We negotiated our way through a passage between two islands with coral banks very efficiently – we’re definitely getting better at this 😉

The narrow opening to the left of the beach is barely visible
A closer view

From about 11:30 onwards we were subjected to squall after squall. The first one wasn’t too bad but at 1 pm we endured a fierce one. I had to take the helm while Paul got the sail down in heavy rain, 30 knot-winds and poor visibility. The radar picture shows the extent of it. Due to the pitching and tossing (think ‘bucking bronco’) motion of the boat I had felt slightly nauseous but the combination of cool wind and rain on my face up in the cockpit soon sent it away. Paul hand steered during the worst of it, relishing the challenge as usual 🙂

Paul handling the squall
The dark patch is all rain!
Relishing the squall 🙂

The bad weather had abated by the time we reached Bawah. It had left big waves in its wake though and I hoped the lagoon we were heading for would be sheltered from the resulting swell. The shallowest part of the entrance to the lagoon dropped to 3.5 metres – excruciating for me, always fearing going aground but it got deep again almost immediately. Next, we had to hook a mooring buoy, but it was totally unlike the ones I’m used to. This one didn’t have a loop to catch at the top. A different technique would be necessary to hook it so we swapped our customary tasks. I took on the steering towards it while Paul got ready near the bow to secure it with the boat hook.  It’s a tricky manoeuvre because steering isn’t as easy when speed is slow and I’d never tried it before but I was chuffed to get near enough on the second attempt for Paul to grab the hook.


We were the only boat moored in the lagoon, which is surrounded by a semi-circle of small islands. The main one is under construction to become a luxury resort that is due to be completed sometime this year. The whine of a sander or a drill involved in the construction could be heard when we switched the engine off. It struck me as an incongruous sound in such a paradisiacal environment. We’d learned earlier in the afternoon that it isn’t currently possible to go ashore because of the construction work going on but I didn’t think we’d be missing much. It was a cool and overcast afternoon so it lacked the benefit of being bathed in sunlight as in Airubu but this island wasn’t a patch on it. It’s pretty enough but it lacks something. Perhaps it’s a little too refined with its luxury accommodation and symmetry so that through being tweaked to perfection the natural beauty has been marred, stripping it of charm. Viewing it from the boat was fine for us anyway. Our plan was to stay for two days but Paul said he’d check the weather and we might possibly leave earlier. I set to making some bread in case it would be too rocky to do it on passage.  Looking through the binoculars later to peek inside the chalets under construction, I made a note to check the place out in a few years to look at the finished result.

Saturday/Sunday 24th & 25th June – Depart Bawah for night passages

The forecast was for more squalls so we decided to stay another night. It had rained on and off all night but was only slightly rocky so we took the opportunity to catch up with various tasks on Saturday and had an overall restful day, watching the guys working on the resort, tidying the quarter berth and playing scrabble (we know how to live it up here 🙂

Topping up the tanks with fuel
Sunset at Bawah

On Sunday we got up at 6am for our planned early departure and I positioned myself at the bow to check the coral at the shallow entrance. It was beautifully clear and we skirted over it with no problems. Up went the mainsail, Captain Mainwaring was steering and we were in the cockpit discussing the journey when I happened to look down and noticed coral alarmingly close to the surface. I yelled out ‘Paul – the depth!’ It was 4.5 metres and he quickly steered us away from an unexpected coral reef! This was the start of a 48-hour passage which is the longest we’ve done on this boat. It’s also the longest that either of us has been without internet. It’s not such a bad thing considering all the recent bad news and also how much of a distraction it can be but I do miss keeping up with news from friends and family. We are able to get news from The BBC World Service which is often a little ‘scratchy’ sounding, and reminds me of wartime broadcast recordings.

We put the watch system into operation straight away and Paul took the first 8 until midday one. As soon as the wind picked up all the sails were out, giving us a speed of 7 knots without the help of the engine. This lovely situation lasted until I took over, by which time squally showers were all around and the speed had gone down to 5 knots.  The wind changed direction frequently an hour into my watch, making the sails flap noisily, and then heavy rain fell and visibility was poor. Paul had to come up to deal with the sails and we both retired below, using the radar, AIS and OpenCPN until it abated. My plans for dinner went slightly awry that evening. I had been thrilled to find dried pasta penne on sale outside one of the shanty shops in Terempa. It was displayed loose in a huge basket and despite entreaties for less, the lady server kept piling it into a carrier bag, smilingly insisting via hand gestures that it had to be 1kg.  I tipped two portions of it into boiling water and as soon as I stirred it I could tell it wasn’t any kind of pasta penne I had ever come across before. Almost immediately it dissolved into a creamy glutinous mass and when I tasted it a few minutes later I hastily made plans for a more appetising alternative (wholewheat spaghetti). I still don’t know what we bought but it definitely looked like pasta as the pics below show.

NOT pasta penne 🙂

I took the 8 until midnight watch. The moon had set by then and it was full dark, clear and the sky was full of stars. It’s mesmerising to lie on your back staring up at them, and there were plenty of shooting ones too. I also saw a spectacular display of lightning in an electrical storm – long jagged spears of it hit the sea, creating a bright orange gash through the blackness. Not many boats were nearby, I only had to steer behind one to avoid a collision.  To fight sleep I stood up near the companionway and let the cold breeze wash over me – an effect equivalent to a splash of cold water on the face.  There were no more squalls but the sea got steadily choppier.

Monday 26th June – Night Passage in The South China Sea.

Spotting Paul doing the usual ‘sleep-doze-alarm-check-back/to/sleep’ cycle on his watch, I suggested he go below for a proper sleep at 4:30 am. I was wide awake and all set for my four hours by then anyway. Stars were still visible but it was already beginning to get lighter and it was easy to see where the sun would rise, from the hazy orange hue on the horizon in the east.

Sunrise at sea

Nothing was around, the waves had diminished leaving only a slight swell and it was deliciously fresh and mild in the cockpit.  The flat water presented some intriguing shapes as I stood looking out. One dark shape that I was convinced was a whale turned out to be part of a thick tree trunk, while others were nothing more than black rubbish bags. I did see one huge black thing leap out of the water, far too fast for me to determine what it was. I watched the sun rise at 6, drinking coffee as the sky displayed an impressive array of red, orange and pink shades. All the sails had been taken down during Paul’s watch because there was no wind at all. I did suggest it might be a good idea for me to learn how to control the sails but for some reason he didn’t seem too keen on the idea and insisted he really doesn’t mind being woken up to do it! I slept a little during the morning. It was going to be a hot and long day with the 4 hours on, 4 hours off system in place. There was little to do apart from read or type so it’s very relaxing in a way and it’s never boring. My leisure time is spent with Charles Dickens in Victorian London or Jo Nesbo in frozen Norway, not to mention a host of other places through the travel literature I devour. I’m also compiling a notebook of information on provisioning, storage and recipes for future reference.

It was flat calm with no wind during my watch so the engine was on the whole time. With the wine all gone, I had a can of cold beer as my evening drink. Another dinner plan went slightly awry when I discovered that weevils had invaded the last packet of sosmix, so the fish had that for dinner while we had eggs instead of veggie sausages to go with the fried potatoes and beans. A very comforting and filling meal for the lethargy that kicks in after two days of broken sleep.  I struggled to stay awake during the 8 until midnight watch. Apart from the current pulling us off course a couple of times, it was a quiet and uneventful four hours and it was a relief to hand over to Paul.

Tuesday 27th June

It was something of a struggle to rouse myself to take over the 4 am watch this morning. Paul told me I would need to keep checking the autopilot’s course because the current was pulling us to the right and we had to avoid the headland!! I also noticed we were in considerably shallower waters. I’d clearly need my wits about me. On the plus side it was getting lighter by the minute, the sea was calm and it was a lovely temperature.  I could see Borneo in the distance and that kept making me grin with amazement and delight. Me in Borneo! The word alone evokes memories of David Attenborough speaking reverently while crouched on its shores as he told us about the origins of life in programmes from the 70s and 80s. It was yet another ‘I never thought I’d get to see this’ moment on this literal trip of a lifetime.

A view from my watch – that’s Borneo!

We were due to reach our anchorage in the afternoon and progress was steady. There wasn’t much of a sunrise view but it began to get hot quickly when it rose so I retreated to the starboard deck where it was cooler and sat looking for sightings of sharks or dolphins…or anything alive. Speaking of which, in case anyone’s wondering; Paul still hasn’t had any success catching a fish! Sometime around mid-morning we crossed over from Indonesian waters into Malaysian. I know this because my phone changed its time to an hour ahead. We arrived at a place called Cape Tanjung Datu just after 3 (or 2pm Indonesian time). As this is just a stopover on the way to Kuching it was a good time to read up about it and its environs: phrases such as ‘tribal longhouses’ ‘former headhunters’ and ‘old trading town suffused with old memories’ jumped from the pages and thrilled me. It also promises some unique street markets, quaint shops and and great street food. We’ll have to hit the streets then.

Hoisting the Malaysian flag

Wednesday 28th June – To Telang Besar

Sometime during the night it began to rain and continued heavily well into the morning, bringing a significant swell with it.  We weighed anchor at 9:30 in the drizzle but it was deliciously cool and there was sufficient wind to put the sails up. Our course coincided with a squall: we headed straight for it, listing heavily to starboard under a white and dark grey sky. The angle sent a few things on the move below but stowage is pretty good now.  The next few hours were not exactly ‘rough’ but we tacked a few times to make the most of the wind, so the boat tipped at steep angles alternately from port to starboard. Sometimes we were pitched and tossed in the higher waves. There was some doubt whether we would make our original destination due to the weather and current hampering progress.  Rather than rush and risk getting there in the dark we decided to stop halfway at a small island called Besar which is also a turtle sanctuary. I was so thrilled to spot one on our way in to the shallower water. It was huge – much bigger than I thought turtles were and I happened to spot it in the act of catching a fish. Its head emerged out of the water and a flipper followed to hit the surface before it dived down for its prey. The beach where the eggs are laid and hatched is visible from our spot so with the aid of binoculars we could look for more sightings. It’s good to be back in Malaysia.

Another squall!
That is a turtle catching a fish 🙂
Tulang Besar (turtle egg-hatching beach)
Sunset at Tulang Besar





Terempa to Remote Temburun (16th-21st June)

Friday 16th June – Provisioning in Terempa

Woke to another blistering hot, sunny morning and breakfasted on tiny sweet bananas while listening to the radio. We’ve resolved to download some podcasts of favourite shows for future long passages with no internet.  Muslim shops and businesses tend to either close early or remain shut on Fridays so we went to town mid-morning to see about acquiring more water and fuel for the journey. Two very helpful ladies from a roadside stall near the mosque were advertising diesel for sale, and arranged to deliver it to the boat the next morning.  After that we bought a case of soda water and orange juice, but all our enquiries about where to get water for the tanks proved unsuccessful. Luckily, an Indonesian man employed as crew from another yacht happened to overhear us as we bought two huge plastic water containers and offered to translate Paul’s request to one of the harbour staff.  While Paul filled the containers from inside the ferry terminal, I chatted to the guy. He told me he was from Bali and that it was his first visit to Terempa, too. When I asked what he thought of it, he replied that he wasn’t too sure what to make of the place. Probing a little, I got the impression that he’d expected them to be a bit more developed. While loading the water into the dinghy we met the couple anchored next to us who were collecting water they’d ordered for their tanks so we were able to arrange a delivery with the same guys. A highly successful morning all in all.

The harbour master’s building — ferry terminal on the right
Shopping area

When we got back to the boat, it began to rain heavily and Paul caught more water from it – he’s still figuring out how to devise the most effective construction for the purpose.  In the spirit of this ‘good life’ lifestyle we seem to be adopting, I got on with baking more bread. I blame the old packet of yeast I used, but it wasn’t a success – it was so heavy and hard, it could have put a hole in the boat if dropped.  Back to the breadboard then – I’ll keep trying.

Saturday/Sunday 17th&18th June

In order to drown out the loud wailing and shouting of prayers last night, I plugged my earphones in and listened to The Archers on my phone…I bet there aren’t many people who have put that in a sentence!

Terempa’s mosque (lots of loudspeakers for maximum volume)

The diesel arrived bang on time at 10am and while the tanks were being filled I was able to indulge in the luxury of washing my hair now that water is in the tanks. That’s not as bad as it sounds – going for long periods without washing hair. I have it in a ponytail most of the time and there’s no requirement to look one’s best here 🙂 Humidity and sea water soon make a mess of long hair so I know why bandanas and scarves are so popular with female sailors. I made more bread, which came out really well this time despite using too much water due to one of the measuring jugs being way out with its cup levels. The boat was covered in sticky dough and flour and took me ages to clean it all up but it tasted gorgeous.  It toasted well the next morning too, and we have a tiny freezer so one loaf was stored in there. We didn’t do much on Sunday apart from listen to the radio and catch up on internet stuff.

Successful loaves after an earlier disaster

Monday 19th June – Departing Terempa – attempt fouled and getting stuck on rocks!

Up early and off to the market for the final shop and to check out of Indonesia before our departure. We were out by 9am on a cool, fresh and overcast morning. Our first stop was the fish market so that Paul could have a fresh fish for dinner.  The picture doesn’t show him with the fish he bought which was put into a small bag with its tail poking out of the top – it looked so funny.

The fish market

We then made our way towards the immigration and customs area for the usual bureaucratic process and lots of waiting around. Humidity had increased by the time we emerged to continue shopping and it’s hard to concentrate in the heat and crowded pavements. This way of shopping – with the language barrier, all the traders gesturing and beckoning, and talking at once while brandishing various produce at you – just adds to the stress.  It’s particularly hard in the market where you have to select your produce, hand them all to the vendor, ascertain the cost, get money out while balancing bags, purses and reading glasses. All this in narrow, crowded hot alleys, being jostled and nudged while customers and traders are staring and blatantly curious. At one point I felt like a living exhibit in a performance art production and was close to bursting into tears. One stallholder, noticing my discomfiture asked where I was from, engaged me in conversation and said I must miss my family. He was so kind, I soon regained my composure.

We won’t have another chance to shop for quite a while so I’m going to have to be creative with what we’ve managed to accrue.  We went back and forth to the dinghy with our stashes and on one trip, discovered that the rope Paul had tied the dinghy to the wall with had shifted with the tide and moved the dinghy so that it was inaccessible.  This part of the jetty is always full of people waiting for their lifts back so it wasn’t long before Paul was able to hop on one of these to get to the dinghy – it provided a bit of entertainment for the people watching anyway.

Reclaiming the dinghy

A few more trips and we were all done. It was a relief to get back to the boat and prepare to leave, until we discovered that we were stuck! The anchor had either lodged under a rock, or the chain had wrapped around one. We tried a few tactics to free it but to no avail. Seeing our predicament, a guy from a neighbouring catamaran came over and told us he might be able to help by diving down tomorrow. Hearing this, we switched the engine off and prepared to stay another night. An hour or so later, however the guy returned with his diving gear and a friend, all set to free us. It took a few goes, with all four of us playing a part but we were free by 5pm. It was too late to go very far by then but we needed to anchor somewhere away from the coral and rocks.  I was all for going further out of the bay but Paul thought it would be a good idea to try the bay around the corner. So off we went, and it did look nice there. It also looked like it was about to rain and was getting steadily darker so I was keen to get settled. We motored around a bit, chose a likely spot…and got stuck on a rock again!  Thankfully we were able to free ourselves without the use of a diver and returned to Terempa Bay before it got fully dark. We anchored in 18 metres of water and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t on rock.

Tuesday 20th June To Temburun

It’s been the coolest temperature since I arrived in Asia almost a year ago.  Rain showers continued throughout the night and when we opened the windows early this morning, a fresh breeze wafted in that almost verged on the chilly side…but not quite.  Paul had some programming work to finish so we had a leisurely morning until we felt the anchor jolt, and sure enough, it was stuck on rock again. Hoping against hope that we wouldn’t have to call on the guy from the catamaran again, I was relieved to hear Paul shout that we were clear and very thankful to be leaving that particular anchorage.  We were heading for Temburun to see the waterfall there, described as magnificent and spectacular in the guide book given to us at the tourist board event. It’s at its best after lots of rainfall so that box had been well and truly ticked. The description goes on to say that the running water looks ‘graceful’, and that the clear water is like a ‘snow-melt flowing in between black and brown stones’ which I thought quite bizarre in a country that isn’t likely to see any snow. The attraction is narrated in a similar quaint manner that can’t fail to raise a smile (and not in a sneering way). It’s rather cute:

This waterfall charm more obvious when you’ve climbed. To arrive at the location, exactly in the middle of the waterfall, you have to climb staircases on the rugged hill, located on the left side of the waterfall. Tired enough to ride…but when you reached there you will treated by its exquisite view and the cool atmosphere around it. Its clear water is just like chasing each others, flowing without pause, through the cavities of various form and size of the stones. At certain points, the flow comes down to a natural pond that a quite wide sizes. Translucent greenish. It’s tempting anyone to jump and immediately tasted its cool sensation.

The passage to get there was potentially hazardous because we had to traverse the shallow coral reefs but it went well much to my relief, and we anchored in 14 metres of water at 1pm.  The waterfall was visible from our spot. Rivulets of water running down the brown rocks as opposed to torrents and we could see the steps (staircases) when we looked through the binoculars. The village itself looks a bit like the Muslim village we went to in Thailand in that the small dwellings are on stilts with wooden walkways. The visit would wait until the following day however. I had bread to bake and soup to make while Paul made the most of the internet connection in case we lose when we move further on.

Wednesday 21st June – Waterfall in the rain

Just as we were about to set off to go ashore, a squall arrived so we had to wait for it to abate. I had a go at steering the dinghy across to the jetty in a fine drizzle of rain. I got the hang of it eventually – Paul thinks it will be handy for me to know what to do in case I need to rescue him at any point! A fisherman tying his boat to the jetty nodded and smiled as we approached and Paul asked him if it was ok to leave our dinghy there.  As he tied it up, I noticed that our arrival had attracted the attention of other villagers. Faces appeared in some of the windows and two pretty little girls were waving frantically from one of them. They were delighted when we waved back. It was so quiet in this village after the hustle and bustle of Terempa. There were the usual motorbikes riding around but not as many. It is without doubt the most remote place I have ever been to. Visualised on a map, it’s little more than a speck among the tiny group of Anambas Islands – themselves a fair way out from the mainland of any country. Tourists are rarer in these parts than in Terempa, obviously. The people here stared at us but it seemed less intense somehow. I had the feeling they were just pleased to see visitors.

First views of Temburun

We asked a young boy via a series of gestures whether we were going the right way to the waterfall and he nodded eagerly and pointed to the pathway. The rain had stopped and it felt very humid again. It was also wet underfoot and I hoped it hadn’t brought out any millipedes or leeches.  We soon found the steps that led up to the falls and I jumped when a lime-green lizard scurried across the path and into the ferns. That was one creature I wouldn’t have minded having a closer look at. The climb was easy enough although parts of the steps next to the waterfall itself were a bit difficult to negotiate in flip-flops.

Climbing to the waterfall

The rainfall had increased the flow of water and it was worth the climb but we could only go half way because the steps ended there. Paul thought the way to the very top might have been via a main road but it was too hot to double back and we could see the top anyway. The view was impressive enough from where we were and we took a few pictures.

The halfway point had some dilapidated buildings that looked as if they had once been destined to form some kind of visitors’ centre but either the money or enthusiasm for it had waned and the idea had been abandoned.

We ambled slowly back down to the village and walked its length, taking lots of pictures of its remarkable waterside dwellings. All along the walkway, people came out or looked out to view the foreigners in their midst. It’s probably the nearest I’ll ever come to feeling like a VIP. One man insisted that Paul stood right in front of him on his porch while he shook his hand and asked the customary ‘where you from?’ I wished that the guide book had devoted some space to some information on the village rather than pages of lofty language on the waterfall.  Halfway along, the concrete path turned to a decidedly rickety wooden one, with areas of rotten wood and gaping holes. The thought of falling into the creature-laden and swampy mud below was terrifying enough to keep me looking down almost constantly. Most of the houses have fish cages outside and there were several chickens and roosters strutting around. Paul pointed out their sources of water and electricity, and they would use gas bottles for cooking. Rubbish is burned and we presumed that sewage is emptied straight into the sea, as there is no obvious plumbing.

It began to drizzle again as we retraced our steps back to the dinghy. As we pulled away, I wondered several things:  whether I was the first (and only) person from Swindon to set foot in that village, what the place had looked like 50 or a hundred years ago, and perhaps more importantly what it will look like in the future. Lots of pictures follow below in an attempt to capture the remote and thought-provoking beauty of Temburun.

Temburun’s mosque

Temburun’s ‘main’ street


More Anambas 9th -15th June

Friday and Saturday 9th/10th June – Pidi Island

We decided to stay on in Pidi for a few days because it’s nice and we’re in no great hurry to go anywhere else.  Several of the yachts are moving on to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands as part of the rally and Deb and Bruce are heading that way too so they called on us in the morning to say goodbye before they left.  It had been great spending time with them and we’ll miss their company but we’re going to stay in touch and will be looking them up when we get to Queensland.

Farewell SV Matilda

Due to the time difference we were able to listen to the UK general election results as they came in. I’ve never been able to do that before and I’m glad I did for this one because it held quite a few shocks and surprises, and the commentary was fascinating even though we weren’t impressed with the result. Once all the boats had left we were completely alone in the bay. The staff from the barbecue had all left and from what we could tell, there was just a caretaker on the tiny island. After the noise and ‘busyness’ of Terempa, the prospect of a couple of days spent reading, cooking, listening to the radio and swimming and snorkelling when exploring in the dinghy was a blissful thought.  Returning from one of these excursions, however, the propeller on the dinghy hit something in the water and broke it, so Paul had to row us back in quite a strong current.  While he got on with fixing that, I had a go at baking some bread because we had none having rejected what was on offer in Tarempa. I just googled something like ‘simple bread recipe’ and followed it exactly, not really expecting much success but we were pleasantly surprised with the result – an improvement on the sugary doughy loaves we’d been having anyway.  I also made a roasted vegetable sauce for pasta with the veggies we’d bought from the market. It will be a long time until we do a ‘big’ convenience shop so I’m going to have get creative and inventive with the options available. All good practice for future long passages in the South Pacific.

Freshly baked bread 🙂
At anchor, Pidi Island

Sunday 11th June – Blue Starfish Bay

Paul told me he’d been puzzled by a sound very much like African drumbeats coming from the island during the night! All I’d heard when I woke up in the early hours was some mellow prayer songs drifting over from the larger island on the other side. They were at a pleasingly lower volume than those in Terempa. We had a visitor in the morning. A young local fisherman in a dugout canoe stopped by to say hello and admired the boat so much that Paul invited him on board. The language barrier meant conversation was scant but they managed a pleasant exchange with smiles, a few words and hand signals. He told us his name was Tommy and he gave Paul a fish but adamantly refused any payment for it. He sat in the cockpit watching Paul work on the broken propeller for ages. I was typing in the cabin but he wouldn’t come down for a look around because his clothes were wet. I would have loved to have taken a picture of him but didn’t in case it caused offence (a few people who just happened to be near something I wanted to photograph have covered their faces in case they are inadvertently in the picture) and sensing his shyness, I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking.

Our next place, Manda Riouw Darat was an hour away so when Paul had finished fixing the propeller we set off. Just as we had set the anchor, it began to rain heavily. We’d been waiting for this because having used up one full tank of water since leaving Puteri in May, Paul was keen to try collecting some rainwater up on the coach roof using a plastic sheet a tube and a funnel. The system needs some fine tuning but quite a bit of water ended up in the containers. He also lathered up with gel for a shower but typically the rain stopped at that point so he had to rinse it all off using the tank water. Again, all useful learning curves for long passages when water and fuel need to be conserved.  It brightened up later and I was thrilled when Paul came back from a snorkelling trip to tell me he’d seen blue starfish and turtles.

Monday 12th June – On to Penjalin

It had been a very rocky night due to the huge swell from all the storms.  Both of us, me in the V-berth and Paul in the cockpit, adopted the same strategy to maintain stability which was to lie across the width of the boat, with feet pressed firmly against the wooden sides. Sometime around 5 am it calmed down enough for us to get a solid sleep until 9 o’clock. Toast from homemade bread made for a tasty breakfast and then we went for a spin in the dinghy. All around and underneath us were the wonders of nature to admire and gasp at. Several white birds swooped down alarmingly near to us and screamed loudly when we approached rocks where presumably they had chicks or eggs to protect.

The clear water of Penjalin

All types of coral could be seen in the crystal clear water. We don’t know the proper names for them so we tend to refer to them as ‘doughnuts’ or ‘teeth’ or ‘bones’ according to their shape. The fish darting amongst it were stripy, black, big, small, blue and yellow – it was like looking in an aquarium. We also saw turtles and sea snakes and I was thrilled to spot the blue starfish Paul had seen. They are quite big and their tentacles move very slowly and gracefully – such beautiful and unusual creatures.

We beached the dinghy to take a look at the shore, and were sad to see all the rubbish that has accumulated on it. The amount of plastic bottles we’ve seen in the water or on the beaches is staggering and I fully support the efforts of organisations such as ‘Sky Ocean Rescue’ in their mission to clear the oceans and shores of plastic waste.

Just some of the rubbish that accumulates on the beaches

After a pleasant hour beach combing and snorkelling we set off for Penjalin Island and anchored there in 13 metres of water early in the afternoon.  Finding a spot well clear of the coral was easy enough and it’s a lovely spot with a long, curved white sandy beach and the clear water we’ve come to expect in Anambas. Watching the sun sink behind the granite rocks and forested hills, it struck me that the land formation before us showed no sign of human intervention whatsoever, and this vista would have looked much the same throughout the preceding decades. I hope that continues.

Sunset off Penjalin Island

Tuesday 13th June – From Penjalin to Tenggiling

This morning I donned my new swimming cap (it reminded me of school swimming lessons but did a grand job of keeping hair out of my eyes and preventing my ears blocking with water) and went snorkelling with Paul. For an awe-inspiring hour I shared the habitat of a vast and stunning variety of fish, coral and anemones, watching snippets of their lives as they fed, swam, slithered and swayed in the water. The sea was clear, shallow enough to stand up in and warm – all ideal conditions for me as something of a nervous snorkeler.  I’ll definitely do more.  We left for the two hour passage to Tenggiling early in the afternoon. After a hot start, the wind strengthened sufficiently for Paul to put the headsail up and we made steady progress with it, arriving around 4pm to anchor in 14 metres of water. The bay is surrounded, cul-de-sac-style with forest and as we sat on the bow early in the evening we speculated about the tiny little house we could see on the shore. Straight out of fairy tale imagery, it had a well-tended garden, surrounded by thick forest, smoke coming out of a chimney, two cats, a gnarled old tree (well, ok it was a banana tree but you get the picture). There was also a boat parked near to it and some children’s playthings. Was it a home? Were they self-sufficient in a ‘Good Life’ kind of way? Or was it a holiday home? It made me wonder if it’s allowed to build a house wherever you fancy here, without the rigmarole of planning permission and mortgages etc.

Little house on Tenggelin

Wednesday 14th June Tenggeling to Mubur

The beautiful sunny morning we woke up to lasted for a couple of hours until Paul, returning from snorkelling said we had to prepare for a coming squall. I could see it in the distance, dark clouds with rain falling from them and what looked rather alarmingly like a spout at the bottom of one of them, bringing to mind visions of a huge twister transporting us away a la Wizard of Oz! The wind increased and when the rain came, Paul said he actually felt cold – for the first time since being in Asia. He’d been busy on the coach roof collecting rain water and we now have two large containers filled for emergencies. With rain water, and the watermaker, once it is fixed, we should have more than enough for our needs in The South Pacific.  Squall over, we weighed anchor and were soon on our way to Mubur, another Anambas island to tick off the list and another beautiful (and empty) bay to spend the night in.  Lots of coral on the sea bed here but we found a suitable spot to drop the anchor in 20 metres. For dinner, I made a roasted vegetable tart with more of the market vegetables, using aubergines, peppers, pumpkin and onions with sun-dried tomatoes (having no rolling pin I had to improvise using a glass bottle to roll the pastry). Paul’s efforts to bag a fish are still proving fruitless, or should that be fishless, but there’s always the next place which will be much better for fishing 😉

Paul exploring around Mubur Island

Thursday 15th June – Mubur and Terempa

During one of his anchor inspections in the early hours of the morning, Paul noticed three or four guys wading in the water near the beach, clearly collecting something. Later, both of us heard a noise we couldn’t identify. I said it sounded like hundreds of frogs croaking all at once, while Paul thought it was a pump or something else emanating from the boat.  In the end we concluded that it was merely fish nibbling the hull, and it was quite a soothing noise to drift off back to sleep to.  When we got up a couple of hours later, the guys were still adding to their haul. Huge sacks had been filled and piled next to their small boat on the sand. Was it clams or shrimps or seaweed? or were they clearing rubbish? It wasn’t until later, that we found out it was nothing more than sand! They’re probably collecting it to make cement or to sell for that purpose. The guide to The Anambas, produced by the captain of a catamaran a couple of years ago, mentioned that long-tailed macaques populated the beach at dusk but they hadn’t shown the previous evening. Chirrups and chattering sounds were coming from the trees opposite and I trained the binoculars on the branches for ages in case they were there but I didn’t even spot a bird!

There is life in those trees somewhere

For a late breakfast, we had a juicy and very tasty fresh pineapple, washed down with lashings of local hot black coffee (well we had no ginger beer on board ;)).  When the men on the beach left, we decided to dinghy over to investigate what the beach had to offer.  There is no spectacular coral scene in the shallow water here, but the lush jungle, with its swaying palm and casuarina trees and leafy green ferns is just as striking. The beach was littered with the usual plastic bottles, carrier bags and polystyrene cases and several palm trees had toppled over into the sea, exposing large clumps of exposed roots. It was obvious where the men had been collecting sand – they had cut into the beach and extracted it in the manner of stone from a quarry. Some pics below show the peaceful and delightful Mubur.

Mubur Beach

On the way back to the boat, the outboard, which had been problematic for a while refused to start at all.  This would cause major hassle for us in Terempa, considering the number of trips back and forth to the village we were planning in order to provision for the next leg. It was taken apart bit by bit when we got back, each part examined before being put back together and it turned out to be the sparkplug. A quick break for lunch and we set off through the pass between Matak and Mubur for the return journey to Terempa. It was deserted in the harbour, and there was just one other boat behind us coming in, so we had more space in which to choose a spot and manoeuvre. We anchored in 24 metres, a little closer to the shore than previously, and we completed it a lot faster, too – although I couldn’t help feeling a bit concerned about the proximity of the coral (I guess it’s going to be an ever-present concern in coral reefs).  Once ashore, we restocked with drinks and a few groceries but couldn’t see any salt on the shelves so Paul looked up the word on his phone when repeatedly saying ‘salt’ to a bemused-looking shopkeeper got us nowhere. His face lit up when Paul said ‘garam’, and he produced some for us from a pile of packets near the sacks of rice. Again, it struck me how we rarely have to ask for such things in the UK (except when asking which aisle certain products are located in). The higgledy-piggledy, disorganised shelves in the shop units here are charming in an old-fashioned way and tend to invite interaction – conversation even, in a way that supermarkets don’t. I wonder what the people from the village would make of a Tesco hypermarket!

Terempa Bay to ourselves
Getting the fishing line in ready for anchoring



An Anambas Odyssey (continued)

Tuesday 6th June – Terempa

Our customs inspection was due this morning, but before we could prepare ourselves for that we were told we would have to move the boat to make room for a ferry to leave the bay. My heart sank at this news, considering all the faffing about it had taken to anchor. It was suggested we could tuck in near an island just outside the main bay but when we motored out there to check the location it proved to be too deep and there was a lot of coral, so back we went to nearer where we’d come from and set the anchor just a little further back from our original spot with not too much bother at all.  The customs inspection went well. Two guys came on board, had a cursory look around, asked questions and filled in the answers on their form.  They were both fasting for Ramadan but we were quite shocked to learn that they are not even allowed to have water when we offered it to them. This means that even during the hottest parts of the day, while visiting a series of hot, stuffy boats they can’t even sip water – self-denial in the extreme. We had to go back ashore at 2:30 to hand some more paperwork to the customs officers.  I was careful to wear trousers this time to avoid causing any more offence.  We took a walk on the eastern side of the island, and we attracted more interest in these more rural streets. The children especially, delighted in us and as in Thailand, were keen to try out their English phrases on us.

A game of football in the village

I took lots of pictures as we went along in attempt to capture life on the parched, dusty streets. The wailing (and that’s not meant to sound derogatory – it’s merely the best way to describe it) was once again an apt audio accompaniment to the environment.  Clearly the town and the way of life is different from that in more modern developed cities. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it without sounding condescending. The pictures below show it how it is anyway. What I can say is that without fail, everyone we met was friendly, looked happy and there was an overall air of dignity and politeness in the village that is sadly lacking in some communities in Britain and Europe.

Wednesday 7th June

Yesterday evening we went for dinner with Deb and Bruce at a restaurant called La Luna, which comes recommended by several yachtsmen who have eaten there.  I went along armed with some dishes and phrases I’d looked up online in order to avoid any unwelcome fish or meat additions. Deb had also brought along her Indonesian phrase book so I was able to enjoy a local dish called Cap Cay (pronounced Chop Chai, the waiter smilingly corrected me when I asked for it as it’s written) –  a tasty dish of stir fried veg and boiled rice.  The intriguing-sounding Gado Gado (veg with spicy peanut sauce) was not available and I later found out it’s only served in the mornings. The wailing and chanting and prayer recitals had blasted out full volume all night. I lay awake wondering how many people were in the mosques and whether the loud, angrier-sounding recitals were akin to the fire and brimstone warnings in some Christian sermons.  In contrast to that, some of the singing is very mellow and soothing.  There was a lot of swell on the water today which always makes me slightly nauseous so I didn’t do much other than read, watch more boats coming in to the anchorage and listen to the various comings and goings of the Sail Malaysia Rally boats on VHF.

Courtesy of Deb and Bruce, we had been invited to a dinner laid on for the Rally participants by the Anambas Tourism Office, so at 5:30 we joined them, along with some of the others at the jetty to wait for the minibus.  The venue was at the top of a very steep hill and the sheer drop down on the right hand side of the road seemed perilously close whenever we rounded corners on the twisty road.  Representatives were waiting to greet us as soon as we stepped out, scuppering my intention to walk over to take pictures of the view.  We were ushered into a cavernous sports and leisure complex, passing some striking-looking ladies dressed in colourful national costume on the way.  Reaching the top of a staircase we found ourselves in a hall where tables and chairs had been set out and two women were ladling bright pink liquid into bowls.  Just as we were all sitting down the boom that announced the end of the day’s fasting went off and some of the men went downstairs where prayer mats had been laid out for them on the indoor football pitch.  The evening would begin, said the beautiful female compere, once the prayers were done. In the meantime we were served a bowl of the pink ‘soup’ with fruit floating in it (like an unset blancmange), a plate of rich stodgy cakes and a cup of sweet jasmine tea. I guess this glut of sugar is welcome for anyone who’s been fasting all day.

Photographers milled around taking pictures of us all as we tucked in, while the ladies in national dress rehearsed their dance performance under the instruction of a choreographer. I admired the compere, who had the difficult job of translating a speech given by the tourism minister into English at suitable intervals. It can’t have been easy doing this while people were still arriving, food was being served and the photographers were snapping away.  It felt a little like a corporate business event with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme. The Andaman Tourist Office are keen to promote their islands as a paradisaical holiday destination, so welcoming yachtsmen on sailing rallies is all part of that. Obviously no alcohol was available and I’m sure some of the participants would have welcomed beer but when you don’t expect it, it’s not a big issue.  After the speech, the girls performed their dance and another dignitary spoke about the plans for developing the area and if anyone had any tips and suggestions they would be very welcome. The Sail Malaysia Rally has been taking place for a few years, so the next speech was from a captain who had taken part and praised the organisers, the tourism authorities and so on and so on.  He was presented with a bag of gifts afterwards, which I coveted as it contained some guide books and maps. I needn’t have felt disappointed though.  We were all given one and I was delighted to discover the bag also contained a piece of traditional batik cloth and a handmade souvenir (a wooden spinning top).

Loved this traditional island dance
View over Terempa Bay from our table
Rehearsals for the dance

Dinner was announced shortly after this. It was a hot buffet, consisting of chicken, fish and rice. I’d expected that, but the starter was watermelon, jackfruit and mango so I made do with that as an accompaniment to my rice.

While everyone was tucking in the girls performed another traditional dance and a singer/pianist sang some love and power ballads consisting variously of contemporary songs, songs from Disney movies, or 80s classics. Next it was time for a ‘turn’- in the form of karaoke or personal party pieces – from some of the participants. I thought they were very brave to go up without the help of an alcoholic tot or two. Looking around me I could tell some people were getting restless but there was more to come before we could politely take our leave. Another present-giving ceremony was in operation. This bag contained a sailing cap, a T-shirt and a drybag all bearing the ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ logo, and we all got one.  A thoughtful and generous gesture and I was really touched by it (especially as we’re not part of the Rally). It had been a good evening and great to chat with other crew members and captains, some of whom we’d met before on our travels.  Back on the boat I wasted no time in checking out the guide books. They are both useful and entertaining, in that they have great photos but the translation looks as though it’s been done through a copy and paste procedure straight from Google translate. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the effort they had gone to and grateful for making us so welcome.

Thursday 8th June – To Pidi Island (with coral grief)

The internet in Terempa is much more reliable early in the morning so we’ve been getting up early to make the most of it. Some of the boats on the rally began to leave and we would be joining them on their next stop for an evening barbecue at Pidi. First, we went ashore for a few provisions and another bit of officialdom.  A young lad took our tender for us when we arrived and he also took our rubbish from us to take to the bins. Paul gave him a tip but I think he was more interested in interacting with us than the money so we chatted with him as best we could given the language barrier.  Our first stop was the quarantine office which never seems to be manned, but this was our third try and we wanted to get our clearance. Knocks and repeated ‘hellos’ produced no one and the empty desk looked as if someone had stepped away from it in 1946 and never returned.  A nearby military officer noticed us leaving so Paul went up to him and explained what we wanted. The guy nodded and marched into the room and down a corridor where we heard his raised voice say something before he returned and signalled for us to wait before leaving with a smile. A bleary-eyed guy emerged from the corridor gruffly asked us a few questions and produced a form to record the answers on. It was all done very quickly. He dismissed us with our clearance form and presumably went back to bed.

It was searingly, almost unbearably hot as we shopped. With no ‘all under one roof’ supermarkets around it’s a bit like going back to the old days of grocery shopping when produce was sold separately in butchers and bakers and grocers. We decided against the bread from the bakery however because the last sugary loaf we’d bought had contained added protein in the form of weevils. Armed with drinks and lots of fruit and vegetables we walked back to the dinghy where the same young lad was on hand to help us load it.

We chose the larger eggs
The narrow lanes in the fruit and veg market

More boats had left by the time we got back and we weighed anchor at 1 o’clock to follow them.  The route took in a notorious coral reef in shallow water but we would be following the waypoints of a previous captain, which is what SV Matilda had done and Deb had emailed Paul to say it was a doddle. As we approached the reef I wanted to double check the method of how to spot any hazardously close or shallow coral spots. Unfortunately we had a different perception of the exact meaning of ‘keeping the sun behind you’ and it turned into such a debate that it made us lose focus of the coral itself. Paul was horrified to look up and see we were almost upon it and guys on a passing fishing boat were warning us with gestures of alarm. We soon got back on course but the guys on the boat very kindly led us through the whole channel.  Paul had no luck catching a fish again but there’s always a good reason for this 😉 . Drama over, I could concentrate on the lovely scenes before us as we got nearer to Pidi.  Deb had been spot on with her description of it as gorgeous.  We joined the other yachts at anchor in the bay at 4 o’clock.

Pulau Pidi
Fish sticks among the reefs
The coral, marked and clearly visible

The barbecue was at 6 o’clock just across from our anchorage and we were greeted at the jetty by one of the team. It was a lovely location: the jetty was lit up and a long table was laid on the platform at the end of it. Cool boxes held beer and soft drinks which we could help ourselves to and pay for later, and the food was being kept hot in the kitchen area. I hadn’t expected to have any food because it was advertised as a fish and chicken barbecue but Paul, having spotted some veggie accompaniments with the rice, paid for me to eat too.  He tucked in to copious amounts of the chicken and fish (which was served having already been barbecued) to make the most of the rare treat of freshly-cooked meat. There were about twenty of us altogether, some of whom we’d met at the dinner. It was a nice evening in a glorious setting with good company.  Couldn’t ask for more than that really.

With Deb and Bruce from SV Matilda
Paul and Bruce at the barbecue


The start of an Anambas Odyssey (1st – 5th June 2017)

We checked out of Malaysia on the first of June, adding more colours and inky shapes to the growing amount of stamps in our passports. Customs and immigration completed without too much hassle, and our provisions all stowed away, we went ashore in the evening to have a meal with Deb and Bruce and four other people from yachts on The Passage to The East Rally. The popular Chinese restaurant we dined at served beer, and the food was great. The Rally’s next destination would be The Anambas so it was useful to swap tips and info with the participants, and good to know we’ll be meeting them again on some of these Indonesian islands.

Friday 2nd June – Departure from Tioman

It grew very windy in the morning and the weather was set to deteriorate according to the forecast. This cast some doubt on the time we needed to leave in order to avoid the worst of it during our second ‘through the night’ sail. The boat was all ready to go by 12 30 and we left half an hour later with the main and head sails propelling us along in a good breeze. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, and we had to resort to motor sailing for most of the way. The watches began after a dinner of falafel wraps with tahini dressing (I know that sounds a bit pretentious but they were delicious). I took the first one, which was 8pm to 12am. The boat veered off course about an hour into the watch when the autohelm stopped working, and I had to call Paul up to sort it out. With Captain Mainwaring duly adjusted we were soon back on course. It was a very mild night and I spent the whole four hours in the cockpit wearing a sleeveless cotton sundress, savouring the coolness. We used the AIS and the Open CPN navigational aids to check for vessels, in addition to physically looking around. Lights at night when at sea can resemble floating lanterns bobbing about when it’s pitch black, by which I mean it’s tricky to gauge distances (well it is for me anyway) so the aids provide both accuracy and reassurance. I passed the time by reading books on my phone when not checking the course, sails, wind direction, engine temperature and looking for other boats. I didn’t, however, check for pirates! When Paul took over at 4am I asked him why the navigation lights weren’t working and he calmly told me that he’d turned them off because we were in ‘stealth mode’.  Apparently there had been a pirate incident in the area the previous week. Pirates mostly target large vessels but Paul felt it was prudent to be careful. It was a possibility, albeit a small one, that boats with no lights at all could appear without warning alongside, and armed robbers would get on board to demand valuables, a bit like highwaymen, except on the water. I think I was glad that I was blissfully unaware of this possibility!

First view of Indonesia

Saturday 3rd June – Indonesia! (Pulau Ajam)

It had been a rocky but thankfully pirate free night and we’d both managed to get a good few hours’ sleep.  I joined Paul for coffee at 10 30 on a gorgeous morning, to get my first look at Indonesia. Paul put up the country’s courtesy flag along with the obligatory yellow quarantine flag which is flown until a boat has been officially cleared. The air felt fresher and I wondered hopefully, if perhaps prematurely, whether there may be less humidity here.  Our first task when we reached Ajam was to find a spot to anchor. It needed to be in between all the coral surrounding us and we managed to find one in 5 metres of water at around 12 30…except it was actually 11 30.  My phone had changed itself to the local time, which is one hour behind Malaysia.  When Paul snorkelled to double check that the anchor was set in sand, he noticed a huge fish nibbling the hull. When he showed me the GoPro footage my first thought was that it was a young shark! Later, when I threw some stale bread out it shot out from underneath and gobbled up every bit. We could see it clearer just under the surface – a huge fish that seems to have taken up residence under us, so I fed it some more scraps. I noticed Paul eyeing it as a potential easy catch for dinner and had to tell him that it would break my heart to see it on his plate.

Tranquil Pulau Ajam

The beauty and serenity of this anchorage was revealed in all its glory just before sunset.  All around us was azure water, golden beaches and lush green forest. White birds were swooping all around us, fish were jumping so frequently it looked like a sparkling synchronised routine, and colourful (big) butterflies flew in and out of the cockpit.  It was so serene…and quiet…and relaxing. I would think fondly of this state of affairs over the next few days.

Sunday 4th June – To Terempa, the capital of The Anambas

We stood on the bow at 8 30 this morning admiring the surrounding vista before it was time to leave to check in at the main town on the island of Siantan.  A problem with the anchor windlass meant we left an hour or so later than intended while Paul sorted it out.  I steered us out, listening carefully to Paul’s directions…until the depth started falling rapidly and becoming alarmed, I called to him to take over. Too late – we were on 1.4 metres and touching coral – but luckily we managed to reverse over and off it! All the same, it was a heart-stopping start to the passage, the rest of which went really well thankfully.  We had no engine on, just used the power of the main and the head-sail. The wind was just right, it was cool and fresh, the sea was calm and no other boats were around. With Uncle Arthur steering, we could sit back and enjoy the ride. I was thrilled to spot my first sea turtle just before we got to Terempa. On the approach to the bay we got the sails down, took some pictures of the coastline as it got closer and prepared to join the 5 or so other boats at anchor.

Steering into Terempa
Terempa Bay

We’d done the passage plan together and I had read that this anchorage can be tricky.  Anchors have been fouled (become stuck and tangled so they have to be cut free) and the prevalence of coral means it’s hard to find a sandy spot. I was therefore already a bit apprehensive about anchoring. Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t had any prior knowledge. Anyway, there began two hours of intense stress, mistakes, heated ‘discussions’ and a seemingly never-ending cruise around the bay while crew from the other boats looked on, sometimes offering advice or warnings about particular areas.  Two attempts failed, which meant pulling the anchor back up, flaking the chain and starting again. It was extremely hot after being out in the cooler open sea, and several fishing boats whizzed past. The noise of their engines made it difficult to hear what Paul was saying, and the wake they created rocked the boat considerably. I kept hoping Paul would say we’d have to go back out to an alternative bay because there was nowhere free here but I should have known he wouldn’t let it beat him. This was a challenge and we would set our anchor here! It seemed an insurmountable task to me.  There were so many factors to get right: we had to be away from the coral, not too near the other boats or in the path of the ferry’s entrance and exit route and in the right amount of water. I expect my defeatist attitude wasn’t much help but we did it eventually at about 6pm, after which we sat in the cockpit gazing at our new surroundings.

Searching for a spot (rocks and coral on the seabed)

The village of Terempa is the capital of The Anambas Group, yet was a lot smaller than I’d expected. The buildings we could see looked like alpine huts dotted in the steep forested hills behind the busy port area. A mosque was visible some way inland and larger structures near the shore were clearly police and port authority buildings. I was hoping to see a commercial area, or the line of stalls and cafes often found on the promenade of coastal towns but nothing was obvious from our viewpoint. The huge fairy-lit car and passenger ferry that arrived as we were anchoring obstructed part of the view opposite us. It also emitted some very loud blasts at random intervals which Paul said made no navigational sense.

Good wifi signal here 🙂 The road has scooters on it – lots of them.

Those sounds were just part of an overall cacophony of noise in the area.  The engines of the private boats going past sounded like pneumatic drills, but they stopped after a while as they returned home to neighbouring islands after shopping in the town.  The noise from scooters on the road opposite, however was constant. Next came a series of very loud bangs like gunshots which made me jump until I guessed it was the signal that feasting could begin now that the sun had set. Ramadan lasts for a month so isn’t set to finish until June 25th.  The call to prayer was the next sound and I’ve grown to quite like the melodic and melancholy wailing that is projected through several public address systems in the towns. Here, several calls were happening at the same time, creating a kind of ‘descant’ chorus which was soothing, if a bit surreal.  It provided an apt musical background to the twinkling lights of the town and the ferry anyway, especially when the ferry glided slowly away, with its passengers leaning over the rails waving enthusiastically to all of us at anchor.  The next noises weren’t quite as soothing. Maybe because it’s Ramadan, but after the singing came the chanting and the shouting and the very loud recitals of tracts or prayers…this was to go on all night long.  Never mind, the music soon joined in to dilute it a little. It was like the very worst kind of disco music from the 70s, and it, too lasted well into the night.  More noise in the form of barking dogs kicked off in the early hours, and the shouting had become so urgent and angry I was convinced that some drama or disaster had happened in the town. I wondered how Paul was faring in the cockpit where it was bound to be louder, but much to my surprise, he said it hadn’t disturbed him at all.

Monday 5th June – Terempa Town

Raymond, the helpful guy from the Sail Malaysia Rally had stopped by just after we’d anchored to let us know that the immigration building would be open from 8 30 and we were keen to get there to start what could potentially be a long and laborious bureaucratic process, although the presence of the rally at least meant that the authorities would be expecting to process crew from other countries.  There was no obvious dinghy park but some small boats were tethered to the main harbour wall so we headed for that. When we got there, the wall was a lot higher than it had seemed and the only way to get onto the path above was to climb a rudimentary ‘ladder’ that looked like it was made from rotten wood.  Local people on shore watched with interest as we clambered up it. I went first so that Paul could pass the bags up to me. I found myself on a narrow concrete pathway that led to the entrance to the village.  Take it from me, you wouldn’t want to suffer an attack of vertigo on that path or negotiate it after a few drinks. Below me on either side was the murky, oily water typically found in harbours. Halfway along, two people from the other side began walking across. There was no way either of us could make way for access, so it was a relief to discover they had assumed we were rally participants and had come to greet us and to inform us of a better place to tie the dinghy.

The narrow path and the rickety ladder, Tarempa

They directed us towards the immigration building once we were on wider ground, and I had a chance to take in my surroundings. It was hot, and the air was still and heavy. It was also very busy with people and with the ubiquitous motorbikes.  A lot of the buildings are on stilts above the water, with wooden walkways, similar to those on seaside piers.  People lined them on both sides so our progress was a bit like running a gauntlet. The stares we received were blatant and I knew they weren’t intended to be rude but it felt a bit unnerving nevertheless. I began to feel self-conscious about the thin summer dress I was wearing. I had thought it was respectable enough but looking around I noticed the women were mainly covered up. My concern was confirmed when one lady stopped, looked me up and down and gave me unmistakable ‘evils’. We received lots of friendly greetings too though; smiles and ‘hello, how are you’ ‘where you from?’ from children and adults alike. The streets were delightfully ramshackle, narrow and thronging with people and bikes, making it hard to walk without taking care not to get run over.  The main street, when we reached it was wider, with concrete pathways but it meant we were more exposed to the sun’s rays and it was so very hot, I was drenched in sweat and the humidity felt almost claustrophobic.

The road to immigration in the midday sun

The immigration, customs and harbour master process took the best part of two hours, complicated by the fact that we didn’t have a crew list, a boat stamp or a printed visa request form.  Learning that we weren’t part of the rally, the immigration guy bumped us to the front of the queue so that he could take Paul to a computer to fill out the required form. Due to slow internet bandwidth and the increased demand for it, it took ages but the old-fashioned building (1930s or 40s dark wooden post office counter type interior) was at least out of the sun, if not much cooler, and we were able to sit down.

Inside the customs building

Once it was all done we went for a walk to get more of a feel for the place. More stares, more friendly greetings and smiles and requests for us to buy things: ‘hello, sir/madam, where you from? – you want? …’ and all kinds of produce from pineapples to seaside inflatables were pointed out to us.  The heat enhanced the smells coming from roadside rubbish and the muddy water underneath us, and the crowded streets and noise from the scooters were all beginning to exhaust me. After buying some fruit and vegetables from the market, we dinghied back to the boat, which was just as well because a squall arrived just as we got back.  The anchor held well during the worst of it anyway, which was reassuring. Pictures below show images from our walk on our first day ashore in Terempa.

These shops are near the waterfront


Tulai, Tekek and Juara, Pulau Tioman May 21st – 31st

Sunday 21st May – Tulai

A voice outside could be heard repeatedly calling ‘Sister Midnight’ as we sat eating breakfast late this morning. It turned out to be the lady from one of the neighbouring catamarans. She had swum over to invite us, along with the crew from two other boats in the area, to a get-together that evening on their boat Backchat. We were all to bring along some food and drinks, so I spent the afternoon preparing a rice salad and some roasted cashews and peanuts for our contribution. We had little else to offer, not having done any shopping for a while. Paul took the dinghy out to snorkel and film in an area a bit further off while I got on with that. At 6 o’clock we got ourselves and the food ready and rowed the short distance to Backchat. It made a change to sit and chat with other ‘yachties’ and swap experiences, and past and future destinations. I did zone out a little during the more technical conversations, but Paul picked up some useful tips for catching fish that he is keen to put into practice when we get out on the sea again. Four hours later, after ending the evening playing a complicated mathematical dice game that was way beyond my understanding :-), we dinghied back to our boat under an exquisitely black, starlit sky. One of the many pleasures of life at sea is the sight of a non light-polluted night sky.

Monday 22nd May Juara Bay

It was a lot cooler this morning, and time to move on again. Juara was to be our next port of call, on the eastern side of Tioman. It’s described as having just one long white beach and no coral reefs, and is also the destination reached at the end of the recommended jungle trek across the island (I was pleased to be reaching it via the water, though where it’s blissfully millipede-free). During this passage Paul tried out one of the surefire tips for catching fish, using a wooden lure shaped like an aeroplane. Still no takers, though – maybe because his plane has no wings on it (!). We arrived in the bay just after 1 o’clock and anchored in 8 metres of water – it was a doddle with no coral to worry about.

Crossing a rather choppy sea early in the evening, we beached the dinghy, collected some water for the tanks from a tap at the end of a pier and set off to check out the village. Lush green rainforest rose steeply on one side of us and on the lower slopes, raised, chalet-style accommodation lined the main pathway. There is a distinct ‘hippy’ vibe to the place, largely due no doubt to the fact that it is geared towards backpackers. The accommodation is interspersed with cafes offering western food and all day breakfasts. People were gathered, commune-like on the nearby beach smoking and chatting: it’s an ideal cheap resort to live the simple life for an extended period. No alcohol is served in the cafes but like many places in Malaysia there is no objection to bringing your own cans of beer or some wine as long as you ask first.

Juara at sunset

We ate in one of these beach cafés and made do with guava juice to accompany our meal (chicken wings and tofu burger with fries). While we ate, two female travellers from Sydney on the next table were getting to know, and swapping stories with, a guy on holiday from Kuala Lumpur.  He told them that Tioman, especially Juara, is a popular spot for rest and relaxation with stressed out workers from Malaysia’s capital city.

Tuesday 23rd May

The sea got decidedly choppier during the night and I woke up several times due to being jolted roughly from side to side in the V berth. Paul hadn’t fared too well in the cockpit either and we were both awake early – up in time, too to hear the dreadfully upsetting news about the bombing in Manchester. Much of my thoughts for the rest of the day were taken up with it. The time difference, climate and location felt so far removed from the awful event but were no less distressing, especially with family and friends caught up in it. It rained on and off all morning. We sat in the café from the previous night watching the showers while we had breakfast and then walked along the beach to have a look at the turtle hatchery, one of several projects set up by volunteers to help wildlife and nature on the island. The hatchery is a fenced structure where eggs laid on the beach by the turtles are placed and monitored, away from predators and poachers so that they can be released into the sea when hatched. It’s possible to book appointments to see this but we needed to get going. Hopefully there will be other opportunities because it’s something I’ve always wanted to see.

The beach at Juara

We were on our way again by 1 o’clock, heading back to Tekek on a blustery afternoon. I had another sailing lesson on the way which if nothing else, at least focused my mind on something constructive for a while instead of dwelling on the events in Manchester where I was helpless to do anything. The lesson took the form of steering into the wind and keeping the boat there while Paul gets the sails down. It’s the ‘keeping it there’ part that I struggle with but with perseverance and practise using techniques that aided my understanding, I managed to do it (I just need to keep doing it correctly now). On reaching Tekek we anchored in the same place as before. It was in a very sombre mode that we went ashore for provisions that evening, after learning more about the casualties in Manchester. Little Saffie, the youngest victim was the best friend of my granddaughters back in Leyland. Heartbreaking news to take in, and it’s tough being so far away from family at times like these.

Wednesday 24th May –Tekek

There was quite a fierce squall during the night. Paul had put the engine on in case we had to move apparently, but I was so exhausted I had slept through it all. We woke to a drizzly, cool morning that felt more like an English spring than a tropical Asian high season but it was a welcome respite from the intense heat. We had a lingering breakfast of toast and coffee while discussing where to go next. It looks like we’ll be visiting a group of islands called The Anambas on the northern tip of Indonesia. The internet was down all day so we couldn’t look up any further details about them, and since it was cooler, there was nothing else for it but to catch up on chores. Paul worked on attempting to get the watermaker to work and I did some cleaning…and some reading. We went for dinner at The Coral Reef in the evening where the internet is good and I was able to phone home to at least give some moral support. While we were waiting for our food there was an invasion of flying ants. It was quite an amazing sight, especially when hundreds of them fluttered in front of the lights hanging just outside the restaurant – like black snowflakes. One of the guys came and fixed up a sticky insect ‘catcher’ in the end because they were all over us and the table. The girl who served us told us it often happens after a rainy period. We were joined by some infinitely more welcome cats after the meal. One of them was keen to get closer to see if there was anything left for him :).

Thursday and Friday were lazy days on board with a few trips ashore to get essentials. There was quite a squall on Friday afternoon which had everyone on the boats out checking that their anchors were holding in the strong gusts. It didn’t rain, but the force of the wind threatened to carry our canopy off the top of the boat and we had a bit of a struggle to get it folded up and put away. While we were doing that, the dinghy started bashing against the side of the boat and the rope that was tethering it pulled a stanchion with such force, it broke at the bottom. We could see at least one boat getting assistance from the harbour master because of the problems they were having and it struck me that squalls can be just as troublesome and alarming at anchor as when out at sea.

A squall at anchor

On Saturday, which marked the first day of Ramadan for Muslims, the humidity drove even me to have a swim when we took the dinghy to the beach opposite to us (I don’t like to swim in the deep water round the boat, especially after Paul’s painful jellyfish experience). It was fine in the water for a while but we could still feel our skin burning and we left it until late afternoon before going out again. Our intention was to have a walk before buying some provisions and going for dinner in one of the restaurants. The look of the beach much further along the coast had appealed to us when we’d first arrived but it had been too far to walk in the heat. In fact, it was still humid when we set out but the sun wasn’t far off setting so we strolled slowly up the steep road to start with. The area is where all the monkeys gather in the trees and foliage on either side of the road. They were everywhere when we looked up, staring back down at us defiantly (and possibly aggressively) from branches and power cables or grooming each other on the grass verges.

It was a pleasant walk once the sun had gone and we headed for a holiday resort we’d spotted on the beach to have a look around. We passed family groups enjoying the seafront in the cooler evening temperature, and then we came upon an actual beach bar. Not just any beach bar (it was empty, due to Ramadan probably), this bar served alcohol! It would have been rude not to stop and become its only customers after we’d sought out the sole staff member to ask if the bar was open. We sat at a table with a great view, watching the antics of the kids on the beach until the inevitable flying insects drove us on. We’d spotted a Chinese restaurant earlier so we stopped there for our dinner: seasoned vegetables and rice, with fish of the day for Paul.

An oasis in the desert 🙂

The broken stanchion was repaired over the next couple of days. I helped when it needed to be held steady while Paul applied the sikaflex – in the sauna-like heat on deck! I went from reading a book set during a particularly cold winter where a woman resorts to warming her frozen hands on a hot kettle, to cooling my hands and body down using an icy cold bottle of water on the bow. On Monday evening, taking a short cut through one of the holiday resorts on Tekek, Paul noticed the fabulous sight of a fruit bat colony hanging from the branches of trees in a small clearing. Unlike the ones we’d seen in the Hongs in Thailand, these bats were silent but not any the less fascinating for that. I wondered what time of day they all set off for food and what it would look like when they did, and received an answer the following evening at sunset when we were travelling back to the boat in the dinghy. We saw hundreds of them overhead, all flying in the same direction – to where the food is presumably. It was an amazing sight, made all the more wonderful because a storm was brewing and the dark clouds and rising moon created an authentic gothic image in the eerie twilight. The ‘echoey’ mournful call to prayer provided an apt soundtrack to the scene. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera to hand to capture it all, but Paul took this great shot of them in the trees. The cat caught my eye because he looked to be in a bad way but just after I took the picture, he jumped up to run another cat at quite a pace :0)

He’s a lot healthier than he looks


Mid-May around Tioman

Sat 13th May To Jason Bay

We were back out in the middle of one the world’s busiest shipping lanes (between Malaysia and Singapore) at 8 30 this morning. It was already hot, with very little breeze. We drew near to a huge oil platform not long after starting out, and the noise it was making sounded more ominous as it grew louder: a rhythmic sonorous drone of metal churning and drilling as it pumped up and down in the water.  At 11 30 Paul declared that we had crossed over from the Indian to The Pacific Ocean and I couldn’t help but wonder how the sea and oceanic borders came to be defined. I suspect books have been written that might enlighten me, or I could just ask Paul :).  The heat got a bit too much for me during the afternoon and I went below to sit by the fans – and then the rain began to fall.  It was refreshingly fine and cooling to begin with but by 2 o’clock we were in the middle of a full on squall. The waves increased in size surprisingly quickly and soon we were lurching from side to side; there was thunder, lightning, strong gusts of wind and very heavy rain which caused poor visibility. Paul was soaked within minutes, hand steering in the cockpit, but it wasn’t cold and we guessed he’d dry out quickly enough ;).

Steering during one of several squalls

An hour later, when all was calm again it was a lot cooler and squalls at least do a good job of washing the decks. For the rest of the way we had to keep our eyes peeled for all the fishing buoys that were in the area so I went up to the bow to be sure of spotting them in time. By 6 pm we were anchored in Jason Bay – not the prettiest of bays but it was peaceful and sheltered and it had a perfect bottom for the anchor to grip. During the evening we were visited by lots of flying insects in the cabin (I’m pretty sure they were flying ants) but importantly, they weren’t mosquitoes so we ignored them and they were gone by morning. We had the vegetable soup I’d made the previous day for dinner, another favourite meal for short sea passages, and afterwards I read more about Tioman.  Named after the Malaysian for mynah bird (tiong bird), it boasts ‘idyllic beaches fringed by swaying coconut palm trees, coral reefs in a myriad of colours and is great for diving and snorkelling’. More fanciful is the belief that the island was created when a dragon froze into rock while waiting interminably for its mate!

Sun 14th May Pulau Tinggi

There was no hurry to depart this morning so we had a leisurely coffee, enjoying the sun in the cockpit before it got too hot. The sea was flat calm when we motored off at 9 30, but not long after that the wind was strong enough to put the mainsail up and the engine was turned off, which is always nice. Captain Mainwaring took over the steering and we made good speed. I love those conditions, it was very relaxing lying on the cockpit cushions, reading and feeling the fresh breeze on my face.  I kept watch while Paul had a break and it wasn’t until 3 o’clock that the peace was shattered by the approach of another squall. Paul quickly got the mainsail down and we headed for the other side of the island where it was likely to be less rocky for a night’s anchorage. The rain started as we were doing this so hatches were battened and windows shut tight. At 4pm, taking advantage of what we thought was a lull in the rain, we dropped anchor just as it began to pelt down again so we had to do the whole process in a torrential downpour.  This made it difficult to hear each other from stern to bow but we have some hand signals to use on these occasions (polite ones, naturally ;)).  It was a lovely calm spot and the view was great. Paul went for a snorkel to check we were secure and discovered that we were indeed secure – the chain was securely wrapped around beautiful living coral formations. This is a definite no-no so we had to disentangle the chain and move to somewhere further out – deeper water but safely anchored in sand this time.

Checking the anchor the first time

Monday 15th May To Tioman

The headsail and the mainsail were up helping us, along with the engine on a hot, sunny and fairly windy morning. It was only a short passage to Tioman and inevitably, a squall appeared at 11 30, with the usual race to get the sails down before it hit. I’m getting better at guiding the boat into the wind when this happens – it’s a case of having to! We made use of the strong wind behind us post-squall, and turned the engine off using just a bit of headsail to propel us along. It’s interesting to listen to other crew chatting on the VHF during our journeys. Yesterday as we listened, Paul told me that ‘over and out’ is an incorrect term: it’s either over or out.  It’s useful to hear when others who are nearby spot an approaching squall or any other relevant information, although I think Paul was slightly envious when he heard that someone in the vicinity had just caught a huge tuna ;).  The aftermath of the squall left us with huge waves and a swell that made for a very rocky rest of the journey. Paul put the wind vane (also known as Uncle Arthur) up this afternoon to test it out in the windy conditions and we were pleased to see that it performed well, which will be a huge boon on longer Pacific passages.

Securing ‘Uncle Arthur’

Tioman came into clear view at 3pm as we steered towards its south side.  Even from a distance it was easy to see that it’s a holiday island. Chalet-style bungalows line the beaches, with larger accommodation in resorts nestling in the thick forest of casuarina trees behind them. We spotted the small (full) marina and a few boats at anchor once we were in the western bay, and Sister Midnight joined them, opposite the village of Tekek at 4 30. We decided to leave going ashore until he following day when the immigration building was more likely to be open. Paul launched the dinghy and went for a row in it just to check all was well.  The cabin seemed to have retained all the heat of the day so we stayed up above until long after sunset making the most of the cool evening breeze.

View from our anchorage, Tekek
The peaks known as ‘The Asses’ or Donkeys’ Ears’ on Pulau Tioman

Tuesday 16th May Tekek, Tioman

We dinghied ashore late morning to check in with the harbour master. There is a place for small craft to tie up to not far from the marina so we left the dinghy there while we went to do all the official stuff.

Dinghy Park (notice the Tiong (Mynah) Bird on top of the middle post

In the baking midday sun it was tough going walking even a short distance, and the few people we saw on the dusty main street weren’t doing a lot. Most people were underneath the shelter of roadside huts and shops and cafes. Lots of motor bikes were going up and down the road, and as in Thailand there is no requirement for crash helmets. Tiny children are perched precariously on the saddle in front of the drivers (who are quite often to be seen texting or chatting on their phones). The guy who checked us in told us we should visit the waterfall nearby and that the jungle trek through the rain forest to the other side of the island is worth doing. I’m not so sure about that, after past experiences in jungle foliage!  We explored the main road area after checking in. The tiny airport is on one side and the ferry terminal on the other, so a large duty-free shop is a little way down the road as well as some mini-marts, smaller duty-free shops and souvenir shops. It was very hot to walk around but we wanted to look at the airstrip – the very short runway that the weekly plane uses. We found out that Friday is its scheduled arrival/departure day and resolved to watch it land and take off if we were still in the area.

The runway at Tioman Airport

Thinking a map might be useful we went to one of several stalls with ‘Information’ as a heading but it turns out that these headings would be more accurate if they advertised ‘Boat Tours’ since it was mainly about the times and prices of various boat tours around the island. Our request for a map was met with a gesture at the laminated one on the desk, which showed where the boat tours could take you. Back at the jetty we went inside to see if the customs desk had reopened. I was beginning to feel the sun burning my skin because I hadn’t thought to put any sun cream on when we left the boat. I’d also forgotten to bring water, so when Paul returned from seeing the customs guy we went to a little café on the riverside for a drink. Paul had a fresh coconut with a straw in and I downed a bottle of icy cold water in one almost. There were lots of flies and ants around the table on the grass and then Paul noticed a wriggly black creature on his leg. I was out of my chair and onto the bridge faster than roadrunner! The people in the café must have been most perplexed by my hasty departure, especially as I was slapping at my legs and arms as I ran!

Beware of things lurking in the grass!

Wednesday 17th May Tekek

Woke up to a much cooler morning which was a welcome relief. With cool air flowing through the cabin it was possible to get a few cleaning jobs done. The temperature tends to hover around 30 -35 degrees on average but any exertion causes you to break out in a sweat and we need to use the fans sparingly in order to save on battery power. As the day wore on, it got too hot to do very much at all so it was another lazy, languid day. We dinghied over to say Hi to Deb and Bruce on their boat, Matilda at 4 30 and then went on to the village. Clouds had been gathering and the sky was darkening but we managed to tie the dinghy and get into the street before the rain started. It didn’t last long and the cooler air was good to walk in. We walked further up the road leading away from the airport and found more shops and restaurants. We also saw some monkeys running on the road and swinging on telephone lines and in the trees. One side road led to the beach and a pier near to the marina so we walked there to have a look at it. It’s small compared to most marinas we’ve been in and it seemed to us that most of the boats were long-stay ones.  The construction of the marina had caused some controversy due to the fact that it smothered the coral reef off the shores of Tekek with sedimentation.  Plans to extend the airport runway were shelved due to opposition from nature lovers though, so protests are sometimes successful.

We went for dinner in The Coral Reef Café which is next to the beach with a beautiful view overlooking the sea. The guy who served us was lovely. He understood my request for no meat and fish and advised Paul on the catch of the day which was Marlin. Later, Paul was certain they’d gone out to catch one judging by the time we had to wait before our meals came, but it wasn’t a bad place to wait after all, and the food was lovely when it did arrive. I had a veggie version of a dish called Nasi Lemuk which came with coconut rice, a spicy sauce and peanuts instead of anchovies.

View from our table

We were joined by several cats during the meal and one of them jumped onto a vacant chair for a better look at what we had. As we left, the owner/waiter had just arrived back from somewhere with a huge bag of cat food under his arm. He told us he feeds them – I was very impressed.  Our dinghy ride back was hampered slightly by vision problems. Paul had broken his glasses and the torch didn’t work so I kept my eyes peeled more closely during the short journey back to the boat.

Anything left for me?
On the beach at Tekek

Thursday and Friday – more laziness

We spent the next two days anchored at Tekek, enjoying the relaxation and the chance to catch up on a few things. Paul fitted a useful piece of elastic in the galley to prevent bottles sliding and crashing into the sink in rough sea states. I defrosted and cleaned the fridge, and washed the walls on the port side.  Deb and Bruce invited us to join them for dinner at a place that had been recommended to them which served good pizza, so at 6 that evening, the four of us headed across the bay in their dinghy for pizza on the beach. It was a pretty spot and the pizzas were great: cooked to order so I was able to have a roasted vegetable one without cheese. The only drawback to the day was that we had no internet and it’s frustrating being out of touch with people, and not having information to hand when you need it.  We intended to leave on Friday but the weather looked a bit threatening when we woke up and without the internet we hadn’t had access to a reliable forecast so we decided to stay another day.  This meant that we could watch for the plane in the morning. Unfortunately we missed its landing, mistaking the sound of the approaching plane for that of a boat’s engine. We did see the take-off though, and the little plane looked like a huge moth emerging from behind the trees – it was mostly empty, too from what I could see as it glided over the boat.

Tioman aeroplane

Did a lot of reading today and the internet came back in the afternoon so there was all that to catch up on too. We went ashore at 6 30, just a quick trip to get water and bread. It was time to move on in the morning.

Paul buying some chicken from a stall in the main street

Saturday 20th May Monkey Bay and Beyond

We didn’t move very far to start with – just around the corner to have a look at Monkey Bay which is one of the places advertised on the boat tour.  It didn’t take long to see that it was a sandy beach populated with day-trippers and monkeys. We had intended to stop and maybe have lunch and a swim,  and to go ashore and snorkel but there was a lot of coral on the sea bed which makes it tricky to anchor, and we guessed there would probably be more monkey beaches to see as we travel around.

Monkey Bay from the boat

I took a few pictures and we motored on towards Tulai Island, a short distance further on. It looked delightful as we drew closer, enhanced as it was by the early afternoon light. The sun was fiercely hot and as soon as we picked up a mooring buoy and were securely tied, we retreated below for some lunch under the cool of the fans.  Two scuba diving school boats were next to us having their first lesson by the look of it. They were having great fun egging each other on to flop backwards into the water but the equipment they have to strap to their bodies looks so restricting and cumbersome – it’s not something I would fancy trying. We did think the water looked cool and inviting, however so we got in the dinghy to check out the beach opposite to us. Paul taught me how to row and I actually managed to get the hang of that! The beach was fabulous, the water was clear and there were no big waves – ideal conditions for me to swim in. We stayed for an hour until we felt our skin beginning to burn, then rowed back to the boat to slap on some factor 30 before getting back into the dinghy to cruise around the bay a bit to photograph the coral and marine life in the clear shallow water.  Some pics below of a great afternoon on the beach.


May Days

Wednesday 10th May – A day in Johor Bahru

Late in the morning we booked an Uber taxi to take us into Johor’s capital: Johor Bahru. Our stay in the boatyard was to be slightly longer than expected due to a public holiday and an emergency job taking precedence over others. To break up the monotony of being on the boat we thought it would be good to visit the town, since we needed to get a few things anyway.  I had read the section on it in our guide book the night before and picked out some places worth seeing. One of these was The Grand Palace. It used to be the residence of a Sultan (a word that still has fairy tale connotations for me), and has hosted such illustrious names as Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred, Franz Ferdinand and King Edward VIII. The palace was opened to the public in 1991 and turned into a museum to celebrate Johor’s golden age. It is, says the guide book, reminiscent of rural England’s aristocratic homes and ‘there is no other museum in Southeast Asia quite like it’. Well, that description was too alluring to ignore so that was where we asked the driver to take us.

Waiting for one of the many Uber taxis

I thought the driver seemed a bit unsure of the destination but Paul showed him a picture on his phone and gave him the location to put into his satnav. Foolproof, I thought and sat back to relax. On the way Paul asked him what the public holiday was in honour of, but all we could make out from his mumbled reply was something about India. The street he dropped us off in looked promising. We found ourselves by a large impressive-looking mosque and walked around a bit expecting to see signs for the palace. Plenty of cars were parked on the roadside and families were walking towards the nearby petting zoo which we could see through the trees on the other side of the road. No palace here, however. Paul asked a lady with a clipboard who was addressing a small group of people if she knew where it was and she led us to the driver of a parked car who was sleepily reclining in his seat, and with a few words, unceremoniously passed us on to him. Probably feeling indignant at her for foisting confused Brits on him during his afternoon break, he pointed vaguely in a direction straight ahead when we repeated our query. I was beginning to think a museum to celebrate Johor’s golden age hadn’t been received, or indeed, advertised very well judging from the blank looks and lack of interest we experienced enquiring about it.

We were near the water by now and tried finding the elusive palace by looking at the picture on Paul’s phone. When this failed and we’d pretty much checked out the whole area we decided to hail a taxi and try again. The driver nodded enthusiastically when we told him where we wanted to go and then proceeded to ask us questions about where we were from and about our boat and what we thought of Malaysia as we drove along. Things got confusing when he asked where we wanted to be dropped off. Out came the phone again with the picture of the palace, and I repeated the name of the sultan (Abu Bakar) and the street name. He then told us that that was where he had picked us up from and assumed we wanted to go into town. He turned the car around and drove us right up to the palace gates (a bit further back from where we’d been looking). The ornate palace gates were firmly padlocked and the grounds were deserted. It was closed due to the public holiday! We gave up on the idea of sightseeing after that and got him to drive us to the mall at the ferry terminal, thinking we’d take advantage of the resort comprising ‘integrated hotel, duty-free shops, dining, bars and cafes’ that were promised in the guide book. Admittedly, this was recommended at night when Singaporeans flood there, attracted by ‘cheap drinks, a liberal atmosphere and a lively nightlife’. I didn’t expect it to be quite so deserted during the day, however. Only a handful of people were in the building, the shops on the top floor were all boarded up, and the small duty free shop had four people in it – all of them staff. The goods on offer were bars and packets of chocolate that were more expensive than the supermarket.  Clubs and bars were visible outside in the courtyard but were obviously closed. It was hard to imagine that the place would turn into a lively hub of fun and action later.  All that was needed to complete the picture of sheer desolation in the afternoon were some tumbleweeds.

It all kicks off here at night!

We entered the hotel next to the mall, the spacious reception area was empty apart from two Japanese girls in the lobby and two staff on duty behind a desk.  They were only too pleased to help us when we asked where we could find a large shopping mall with a supermarket, and provided the names and locations of two. So, into another Uber taxi (lucky they are so cheap) and the driver took us to one a couple of miles away. This one had a bookshop, coffee bars and quirky shops that sold products like ‘armpit masker’ instead of common old deodorant…and of course, it had a huge supermarket. I was happy to amble around for an hour while Paul got yet another taxi back to Puteri to collect a parcel. When he returned we had a late lunch of veggie burgers in a fast food veggie outlet I had discovered (Paul wasn’t overly impressed but I loved it). The menu is below. I couldn’t quite bring myself to trust that food described as goose/lamb/chicken free are actually meatless but I may be wrong. Fortified, it was time for the Tesco shop for wine (very expensive free of duty-free) and a few other (less important) items before heading back to the boatyard – in a taxi.

Veggie fast food cafe

Thursday 11th May –

Holiday over, the marine guys arrived promptly at 9 am to continue working on the propeller shaft. We didn’t have to get off the boat, and Paul took advantage of the haul out to do other tasks, as well as being on hand to help the guys.  They are all lovely – very friendly and cheerful, they all get on well and you get a sense of community in a workforce that lives on site as they do. It was a hive of activity all morning in the cockpit, with the lads clambering around in the lockers and up and down the steps, banging and sawing. The worst thing here is the prevalence of flies and crawling insects. It’s to be expected in a hot, dusty tropical environment where puddles and rubbish accumulate but at least there haven’t been too many mosquitoes to bother us. The work was finished just after lunch and it had all gone to plan. We were ready to set off the following morning.

After I helped Paul put all the stuff from the cockpit locker away we got ready to head out into town to find an ATM because Paul had to pay for the work in cash, so Uber was called upon again to take us there. We’d spotted an Aeon supermarket fairly close by and intended to go there.  While we were waiting near the main road, a motley pack of dogs we’d encountered there a couple of times began their usual barking chorus, sounding a lot fiercer than they actually are. Any attempt to approach them saw them backing hurriedly away. In the taxi, we told the driver that we wanted to go to Aeon, but it turned out there are two to choose from, so there followed another convoluted interaction involving pictures on mobile phones, both of us saying ‘nearest and closest’ a lot before we realised that he’d already entered the destination of the one he expected to take us to and he wasn’t going to change that. He barked a curt ‘NO’ at our requests, and we watched our chosen supermarket fade into the distance behind us as we sped along at an alarmingly fast rate. The roads here aren’t as bad as Thai roads but still have a fair few potholes and each time we went over one we almost literally hit the roof! It was a long journey in more ways than one.  Screeching to halt 30 minutes later, we saw a huge complex of shops in front of us and I was thankful to get out and bid the driver farewell. Inside, it was amazing – a very well put together mall, with one section dedicated to Japanese products. It was a shame that all we needed was cash but we had a good look around anyway.  It was a relief to get a more chilled out driver for the return journey 🙂

Friday 12th May – Launch, Dalac Marine Boatyard

Paul was up very early this morning to see the sunrise and took a walk around the yard. I was very envious when he told me he’d seen sea otters frolicking around in the shallow water. He also took a fabulous picture of the yard cats waiting for scraps from an early morning fisherman – they remind me of the cats on the 70s cartoon series Top Cat.

Waiting for scraps

The lads arrived at 10 30 to begin the process of getting us back in the water.  We were allowed to stay on board throughout the whole operation, which would never have been permitted in Britain.  It was a thrilling and fascinating process. Away went the chocks once the hull was secure in the sling and slowly and surely we were driven towards the water, while looking down from the cockpit. Hovering over the travel lift dock, we were lowered gently and slowly down until the hull was sitting safely on the water.

There were a few things to do before we could set off, like filling up the fuel tanks and refitting the backstay. The guys were only too willing to help with everything and when we left they all stood on the side to wave us off and wish us well. I wanted to take a picture but I had to have my eyes glued to the depth readings as we went through the shallow channel.  So at midday we were off, back on the water and making our way to our first stop en route to Pulau Tioman. I’d read that this island (one of the most beautiful in Southeast Asia according to our guide book) was the location for Bali Hai in the film South Pacific: yet another place in a favourite film that I never expected to see, but I later discovered that this is sadly not at all true. Four uneventful hours later we arrived at Kuala Lebam and were safely anchored by 3 pm, just opposite Singapore.

View from our anchorage