Fish attack, It’s time to leave Miri

November has flown by and in a weeks time we will have left this marina and the joys of Miri, and be in Brunei on our way to Labuan and then Sabah for Christmas. The main thing I’m looking forward to is being able to sit in the cockpit of an evening without being devoured by sandflies.

So the previous week and next week is all about getting the boat seaworthy again. I have put another coat of varnish on the cap rails, which seemed to be popular with the creatures captured below.

One of the jobs I had to do was service the windlass (Anchor Winch) and find out why it wont go in reverse. I suspected the solenoid, and removed the cover to get access. I gave the leads a wiggle on the solenoid to remove them and clean them up, knowing that wasn’t the problem, however very little wiggling was required for the connection to snap off the solenoid, there was a 50% chance that the one I broke was the down connection, which didnt work anyway, but I had just used up my good 50% chance wiring up the remote for my neighbours windlass for him, so I ended up breaking the UP side of the solenoid, so now I had a useless windlass!

I tried to disassemble the rest of the windlass, but it’s held together with the screws/bolts shown below, they are supposed to be hex slots, but they are all mangled, well the two I need to remove next, so I’m going to have to drill them out, a major pain, I’m putting that to one side for now. I have also ground back the plastic on the solenoid and managed to solder a wire onto the snapped connection so the up is working now. In case you are wondering, when I drop the anchor with 50m of chain, it’s not possible to pull it up by hand, it’s  just too heavy, so I would have to resort to manually winching it up using the sheet winches, which would take all day. Just as I was staring at the windlass pondering my problem, a Banded Archer fish took his opportunity to attack. I was kneeling over the windlass on the bowsprit when a powerful jet of water hit me in the eye, I was quite confused, it was like someone had shot me with a water pistol, but I couldn’t work out how, I wondered if it was a weird kind of rain. I remained confused until Ian from next door explained that the fish spurt a jet of water out to knock ants off overhanging branches at the waters edge, they are first rate aimers, and can move to be under the falling creature in milliseconds, which is impressive. Not so impressive is their inability to distinguish between an ant and an aging 59 year old man. Said fish is depicted below

The new canopy arrived and is not a bad fit, but could be another 6 inches longer. At least it’s waterproof and we dont have to jump up and shut the portlights every time the rain starts

Sitting in the marina for 4-5 months is not good for the boat, I sent the GoPro camera down to look and the prop was quite barnacled up. The local yachties all expressed surprise that I hadn’t bagged up the prop when I arrived, a custom I was completely unaware of, apparently I should have wrapped the prop up in a plastic bag when I arrived.

Anyway, I called up a local diver who was happy for RM400 (£70) to dive with his buddy and scrub the whole hull and clean up the prop. They were in the water for nearly 2 hours. I would normally clean the prop myself with my snorkel mask on, but the big ‘Beware of Crocodiles’ sign, and Kathy’s recent sighting of a big Jaw moving through the water has dampened my enthusiasm for this. The divers deliberately waited until after crocodile breakfast time before entering the water, they also believe the bubbles from their mask will scare off the crocs, but I’m not so sure they have actually tried this yet.

A much cleaner prop, the anode is good, but apparently this isnt the case on the bow thruster, so I need to source anodes for that soon.

Much of this week has been spent trying to fix the galley sinks, I tried to re-engineer it all in local PVC pipes, but I just couldn’t get it to work with the weird angles I had, so with the help from Brian, another old-timer here, we set off to find a stainless steel fabricator who could replicate the old rusty fitting. We had to supply the materials to him, but he was optimistic that he could make the piece, part of which involved cutting and drilling a big stainless steel pipe fitting into a retaining nut. A few days later I cycled the few miles to his workshop, alongside the river and cemeteries to see how he got on.

The workshop was a fascinating place, probably somewhere Charles Dickens might have felt at home in.

Despite the primitive state, he managed to make the part as requested, sadly when I got back, it turned out that the welds were not watertight, which is not great for a sink drain. So back for another pleasant trip down cemetery lane

Each time I made this trip, usually about 8AM when it’s still cool, I would pass fish stalls setup alongside the river, The fish is not as cheap as it once was here, there’s such a huge worlwide demand for fish now, and these waters are so heavily fished,  however I managed to find a massive fish for RM20 (£4) which tasted fantastic last night I also got the repaired fitting back, with apologies about the weld, he tested it this time and didn’t charge for another slight mod I needed. Sadly it still leaked when I fitted it. However it’s such a small leak, I might just fix it with a bit of epoxy. That’s tomorrow’s job.

Nothing quite says Christmas like an upside down chess set

We popped into the Main shopping mall here as Kathy wanted to get ingredients for a Vegan curry, we had been invited to join the other cruisers for the regular Friday night get together in the marina, the requirement being that everyone bring a curry along. The guy on the far left of the pic below, is Phil, who amazingly lives here, but I used to see him in my local sailing club in West Kirby when he lived there a few years ago. Small world.

I’m getting up early tomorrow to fit the two headsails, which have been bagged since we got here. I need to do it early, as there’s usually no wind then, by the afternoon we have a bit of an onshore breeze which would make it difficult, given it comes over the stern of the boat. I’m also hoping to get the outboard motor fired up and replace the broken kill cord stop switch. After that there’s not a lot to do, I need to find a gas supplier as we have emptied one bottle and are half way through the other.

The wind is now starting to turn, as it’s officially the start of the NE Monsoon season, which runs through till March/April, however winds are quite light and variable most of the time. I’m hoping we can get up to Labuan next weekend, before the NE winds really get established, as NE is the direction we have to travel.

Paul Collister


November, and The Caves at Niah

November began pretty much as October ended here in Miri. I can’t say that I missed the sound of the bangs, whistles and explosions of fireworks that people were complaining about on social media during the build up to the 5th. Our peaceful time is our own here, and we often find ourselves asking what day it is. There is a sense that Christmas is coming in some of the shops and supermarkets but nothing like the scale back home. It feels very strange, having entered a cool mall from the blazing heat and humidity outside, to be pushing a trolley in a Malaysian supermarket to the strains of ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’. Paul has made great progress ticking off the list of boat jobs. He began this by cycling to town one morning to buy the necessary tools, paints, brushes and an electric drill and has been getting up early to work on painting the hull and varnishing the cap rail.

Christmas trees in the food court on the top floor of Boulevard shopping mall, Miri

We decided we would eat out twice a week because restaurant and cafe prices are so reasonable here. On board we mainly eat salads (which aren’t generally available to order in restaurants), soups, or pasta and noodle dishes. In tropical temperatures, it’s far too hot to have the oven on and for this reason I’ve temporarily stopped baking bread. We found a couple of bakers that produce decent wholemeal loaves with no added sugar, so it makes sense to buy those instead. In the marina park complex we spotted a Tandoori Restaurant that hadn’t long opened for business so we stopped there on impulse one evening on our way back from a shopping trip and the food didn’t disappoint: Tandoori Chicken for Paul and Vegetable Jalfrezi for me with Roti and Naan bread and rice, all for less than £6 complete with drinks! We’re regulars now.

We were invited to another social gathering in the communal area a few days after the Halloween party. The invitation came from a German couple who wanted to show how tasty their sausages are with the inhabitants of the marina – no sniggering at the back there, they were Bratwurst sausages 😉 .  Before that, though we had to go and buy an aluminium pole for the awning in the cockpit. The route to the hardware store took us right through the centre of the Kropok Cemeteries. The Malay/Muslim cemetery and the Chinese cemetery are situated next to each other along the banks of Miri River. With space at a premium, the last major road expansion meant that due to limited space, some of the tombs ended up right on the edge of the road. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the road is reputed to be haunted – although the reported supernatural sightings haven’t been verified, according to Borneo’s Resort City Resource on Miri. I was struck by the rural surroundings we cycled through. The fields, narrow tree-lined lanes and farm houses reminded me of the English countryside.

Some of the Chinese graves

The pictures below show how Paul transported the lengthy pole back to the marina. I had serious doubts about the wisdom of this method but should have realised Paul had thought it all through. One customer, watching it being affixed to Paul’s bike with cable ties, was sorry that he hadn’t driven his pick-up truck that day – he would have willingly given us a lift back he said, which was very kind of him. My role was to stay behind Paul on my bike as close as I could. We got some very strange looks, and some smiles and waves from drivers and pedestrians especially when they noticed the ‘warning flags’ in the form of a pink carrier bag at one end and a blue T-shirt at the other, but we got it back with no incidents.

Ready to go

Bratwurst sausages weren’t for me obviously, but a feast had been laid on with plenty of other nibbles by the time we made it up to the party. People we had met before from other marinas were there so it was a good chance to catch up and have a drink with them. This is one of the few marinas I have been in that doesn’t have a bar or café, but the communal area with its roomy table and chairs creates a more informal meeting place and people are encouraged to bring their own food and drink.

Paul getting some travel tips from John

Work, cleaning and repairs are ongoing and Paul has submitted measurements to Steve at Kiwi plastics’ shop for a new boat canopy which is hopefully being constructed as I type. We moved the boat last week; it’s now on the other side of the pontoon and the port side has been painted and varnished to match the starboard side, which is just as well because today (18th November), a bride and groom posed right in front of it, sitting on the pontoon. Word has got around about Paul’s computer expertise and knowledge of technical systems and he has spent a fair bit of time on neighbouring boats helping them to fix various technical problems. Let’s just say that it hasn’t made him any more enamoured of Microsoft systems 😉 (no one has come to him with Apple problems). Nevertheless, Roger and Lucie from catamaran Catamini opposite us were so impressed and grateful when he managed to resolve the issues on their computer-based navigation system, they invited us on board one evening for a drink and cakes and also treated us to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant the night before they left the marina for Thailand. We got to know them quite well and they passed on some very useful tips and information about places and marinas we plan to visit. We hope to meet up with them on our travels in future.

The car we hired was ready for us the evening before our day trip to Niah Caves so we took advantage of it and went to a supermarket to stock up (well, where else 🙂 ). This one was new to us and had a few things we hadn’t managed to get elsewhere. Unfortunately not sage, though. I never thought finding a particular herb (especially the dried variety) would prove to be so elusive. Every other one from A-Z lined the shelves but not sage. I finally managed to find a jar a few days ago but will be bringing some back from the UK. On the way home we stopped at a vegetarian restaurant called The Healthy Vegetarian – you can see the dishes they offer on the pic below. I still cannot bring myself to try veggie ‘mutton’ ‘spare ribs’ or ‘fish’ along with several other dishes I would never have touched as a meat eater 40 years ago. I chose a bean curd dish and Paul had sweet and sour mushrooms. I’ve got used to having soft drinks when we eat out (it’s a case of having to really) and have become very fond of fresh, iced lime juice, although the request for no added sugar is always met with surprise.

‘Vegan-meat Beancurd Rice’ from the menu

Our intrepid trip to the caves of Niah began slightly later than we intended. The journey would take about 90 minutes, so to make the most of our time there we planned to set off at 8am. When we woke up, however, it was raining very heavily so we waited a bit in case things improved, but it just got heavier. This didn’t bode well for a walk through the jungle: millipedes love wet conditions. I mentioned this to Paul and he remarked that he already anticipated a short enough visit for me to shriek a bit and then we’d return home. I resolved to prove him wrong.

Waiting for the rain to stop

The roads were terrible on the way. Water covered the road surfaces and we drove through several huge puddles and floods. The wipers weren’t up to much, and we felt every bump and lump of the many potholes we went over. It made me realise how much I’ve become used to cars with good suspension. Almost there, and we realised we’d forgotten to bring a torch. This would be an essential item in the caves and rather than risk hoping they would have them on sale there, we took a detour to the nearest town to find a shop. The road we took was in a worse condition than the other one, and at times I thought my head would hit the roof of the car! 45 minutes and two shops later we had acquired two torches from a store in a small town called Bekanu, which in some parts, reminded me of scenes typical of the ones portrayed in ‘Disney-style’ American frontier towns.

Courtesy of Google Streetview

The journey back to Niah didn’t do much for the car’s suspension. It sounded so rickety I half expected to see parts of the car fall off with each jolt. Still, at least the rain had stopped by then. With the heavy cloud cover gone our surroundings were lit up by glorious sunshine. We drove through lush forests, swamps, palm oil plantations and flat farmland. Most of the houses we passed were on stilts; some were wooden and flimsy-looking, some had been abandoned altogether and some were plush, newer models made from much sturdier materials. I couldn’t help thinking of the houses in the story of The Three Little Pigs.

We arrived at the park’s headquarters at about 11 and prepared ourselves for the trek. For me, this meant donning socks, trousers with elasticated bottoms, plimsolls, a hat and a shirt. Paul had forgotten his hat, so had to fashion a head covering from my shawl. We both packed insect repellent, water, and a torch each, sprayed ourselves with sun protection, put our sunglasses on and we were ready.  At the ticket office we were given a map of the route and a brief explanation of what to expect. I was so preoccupied with preparing myself for the millipedes and talking myself into being brave, I missed some of what was said, trusting that Paul had it all in hand. We made our way to the river bank where a ferryman would take us the short distance across the muddy water to the beginning of the path. The river looked very atmospheric. I’d just finished Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo and it looked just like scenes he’d described during his travels up the river Rajang in a dugout canoe in the 80s. Our crossing took little more than 30 seconds and cost about 20p each.

Improvised head covering

Nerves kicking in, I followed Paul along the concrete path that soon turned into the wooden plank walk that would take us all the way to the caves. We’d been told not to touch the wooden handrails because the red ants crawling on it can cause nasty irritation if they bite. It turns out that millipedes like to hang out on the handrails too: 10 minutes later I saw my first one, then another, and another…  From then on I walked in the centre of the path with my head down until we worked out that if Paul walked ahead he could ‘flick them on’ without my seeing them. I could then enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle all around me. The sounds were like the ones you used to pay to hear on relaxation cds in New Age shops. It was great to stand still and just listen to the jungle chorus, with the knowledge we were actually in the Borneo jungle. We encountered less than a dozen people during the whole excursion so no other noises intruded. On either side of us and below the raised planks, lush jungle vegetation abounded: swampy mud, ferns, moss, and trees of all shapes and sizes, displaying amazing roots and creepers. A few lizards scuttled across the planks but the birds we could hear were too shy to show themselves.

The beginning of the walk

Jungle walkway (millipedes out of shot)

The first part of the walk was mainly level and pleasantly easy-going, but the going was about to get a lot tougher! It became necessary to climb – gently at first, up slopes and then steps, and then more (steeper) steps. We reached Traders’ Cave after about an hour and saw the remnants of bamboo scaffolding where birds’ nest traders had once set up a camp (amazing to think they often climb 200ft high on precarious poles and rope ladders). The cavern beyond this was magnificent and I naively thought we must have reached, or be very near to, the journey’s end. Paul pointed out that we were only at the beginning and there was still a very long way to go. This was the part I’d missed hearing at the ticket office – that the trek was four miles long altogether, so it would obviously be four miles back. It was well past midday by then and all I had on me was a cereal bar! It was going to be a long day.

Bamboo scaffolding from an old camp

Preparing for the dark part

‘Oh well’, I thought ‘at least The Great Cave won’t have millipedes’. It turned out to contain something far more dangerous! I knew there would be bats (12 species to be exact); bats don’t scare me, I like bats. I knew their droppings, known as guano, was highly-prized as a rich fertiliser so a musty odour was to be expected, and I covered my nose to block that. I also expected the total darkness and we had torches for that. The torchlight revealed some fabulous images: bats hanging from the roof, bats and swiftlets flying around; stalagmites, stalactites and other eye-catching rock formations; ferns, feathers…and spiders! Spiders don’t scare me either but the one I saw was huge and as they seemed to be all around us I was curious to know what they were. I retrieved my little guide book, pointed my torch at it and located the chapter. It informed me that on this part of the trek we should expect to see giant crickets and scorpions in the caves as well as bats and birds. I read that walkers are protected from these poisonous spiders by the raised plank walk above the rocky floor! Well the creatures we could see were ON the plank walk. I told Paul and we managed to reassure ourselves that what we were seeing were, in fact, the giant crickets (they had long antennae waving around on closer inspection). However, despite the slippery surfaces and steep steps and total darkness, and cobwebs and bats swooping just inches above our heads, we increased our walking and clambering speed quite considerably through this part.

Inside The Great Cave (scorpions below, bats above)

The experience reminded me of passing through the tunnel of an undulating fairground ghost train without the carriage or sound effects. Here, though, there were many steps to climb and it was very humid and smelly but it was still thrilling to look around at the striking views. Ropes leading from the swiftlets’ nests were hanging down, and we spotted torch beams from collectors near the top where they would be scraping nests off the ceiling. Apparently the nests, which are believed to have medicinal properties, can fetch up to $1000 (USD) a kilogram! 30 minutes later, we emerged hot, thirsty and tired onto a plateau where a Malay family were seated round a table with the remnants of a picnic. We joined them to rest our legs and exchanged smiles and empathetic pleasantries via gestures and facial expressions. Considering the strenuous footslog we had all undertaken, words weren’t needed to communicate our feelings.

Resting area with path to The Painted Cave on the left

The Painted Cave was the next and final place on the expedition, which was another 30 minute walk on a (thankfully) level plank walk. We were sheltered from the afternoon sun’s rays by the trees but it was still hot, and we were quite high up by now. The cave was welcomingly cool when we got there and three men were sitting on a rock near the fenced off wall. One of them turned out to be a guide and he helpfully explained the exact location of the paintings when he heard us having difficulty seeing them. They are very faint, and it has to be said, lacking in ‘wow’ factor as images go. It was still incredible to think they were created around 1,200 years ago though and to read about the story of their discovery in 1958 by explorer Tom Harrison who found a human skull along with the paintings. I marvelled at how people had got there before all the staircases and paths. We sat for a while to rest in the cool, looking out at the glorious view and pondered on the kind of life that was lived in these caves by the hunter gatherers of 40,000 years ago.

Just one of the many staircases we climbed up and down
And another!
High up in the jungle – this will be a cafe one day

Exhaustion and aching legs were beginning to kick in for me. The very thought of the long trek back was daunting to say the least, but time was getting on and we had a date with the ferryman at 5 30. Needless to say making our way back down the steps, slopes and rocks we’d climbed was very hard on the legs and of course we had to go back through the bat cave where the scorpions lurked. I kept thinking of the little bottle of wine and a packet of crisps waiting for me in the car. We stopped to rest a lot more on the way back, hoping to see some of the birds that were squawking and singing above us but unfortunately they remained elusive. We also heard something very heavy lumbering through the thick trees, cracking twigs and branches as it stepped on them, and waited in silence for a while to see what would emerge but sadly it didn’t appear.

Paul resting on the way back
Spot the line of ants

I can honestly say the 6 hours of walking and climbing and clambering on that trek was the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done and I ached for days afterwards but I’m glad I did it. I proved that my phobia doesn’t prevent me from seeing sights that are worthwhile. I think I’ll pass on the Mulu Cave expedition though. Ian, from the boat next to us told us that the millipedes there are a writhing mass in some areas and that there are hundreds of them. Here’s a pic of just one of the little blighters!

If it ain’t broken…. just wiggle it a bit, then it might be.

Not a lot of exciting news, but as the title suggests, I have had to fix stuff again. I enjoy fixing stuff, if something breaks, I love the challenge of fixing it, and throwing it into the bin is a kind of defeat. I usually strip it of useful parts first anyway, to soften the blow. I think I may have taken up this lifestyle of living on a boat so that I had a constant supply of interesting things to fix. This blog will mention just a couple, the sink and the watermaker, however within these tasks, many more problems arose, so I have a full order book of ‘things that need attention’.

A couple of weeks ago, the galley sinks blocked, we have two sinks and what looks like some very old plumbing below. I hate plumbing, especially sink plumbing, and I knew this would need attention at some point as there was some signs of dripping below the sink and some damp wood. The bit under the galley sink is always a bit of a damp no go area on a boat, but I decided to remove all the fittings under the sink, clear out the blockage and clean everything up and reassemble it so it looked like new.

The first problem was taking the fittings off, they are custom made for this sink and boat, steel pipes welded to get the right angle to join the sinks so the water runs away ok. unscrewing the seized on fitting caused it to break off the sink drainer, closer inspection revealed it was beyond repair.

The problem now arose that I doubt I can get anyone to make me this fitting as it needs the special ring that connects to the drain, so I’m faced with replumbing using the local standards. This comprises of PVC pipe, glued together, of a size that won’t connect to my seacock where it all drains out of the boat. A further complication is that I found the seacock/through hull fitting (Tap) that the drain goes through  to exit the boat won’t shut off. This limits me to what I can do and I may have to wait for the next haulout to fix it. In the meantime, I have jury rigged one sink to drain ok, with the other sealed off.

I finally worked out a design for the canopy/awning to cover the main cabin. you really need something to keep the heat off the decks of the boat, otherwise it’s like being in a greenhouse. I have given the design to Steven at Kiwi plastics? who is currently making it up for me, it should be ready any day.

I have been up early most mornings painting the boat, well the blue strip down the side, That’s all done now and the varnish is back up to spec. We had to move the boat to the other side of the pontoon so I could finish the work on the port side, so we had a little motor around the marina, it was fun to have the engine running and the boat manoeuvring again. I also tried some diluted oxalic acid on the hull and was astonished how well she came up. I have a bit of touching up to do, but all in all I’m very pleased with her appearance now. 

We hired a car for two days, and immediately headed off to do a mega big shop, mostly drinks and other bulky items that don’t go in the bikes baskets too well. Kathy was very keen to check out the christmas decorations in the big stores (Not).

I was amazed to find Irish Cheddar on sale, it looks like real stuff too, I can understand guinness making it to these shores but Cheddar! Especially as we invented the stuff, and we can’t even export it to one of our old colonies.  It’s not a good omen for post brexit if you ask me.

I did a bit of shopping on my own for boaty bits, on the way out of town I was pleasantly surprised to find myself driving through a cemetery, it’s quite surreal, the dual carriageway splits with cemeteries on the left, in between the carriageways and on the right. many neglected but looking very interesting all the same. This happened the morning after the ‘day of the dead’ but the ghosts seemed happy enough.

I tried to buy a liferaft from a local specialist, however he didnt have any, and didnt know much about them either. The entry level to being a professional here can sometimes be quite low.
I needed some thin walled stainless tube sections, and found a great little workshop where they copied the one on the left and made me two identical pieces as shown below. This cost me about £7, amazing. These parts might be crucial to our safe passage across the Pacific. The form a linkage in the self steering system. they are made to be quite weak, so that if we hit a log or other submerged object, rather than the self steering rudder breaking, these shafts bend/break. You then pull the rudder out of the water and replace the bent bit with a new one.  So now I can hit three logs and be safe.

As you can see above, they mostly make fancy gates for the rich here.

The next day we took off to the Niah Caves, they are about a 90 minute drive south of Miri. They are situated in a national park and are full of creepy crawlies that Kathy hates. When we arrived we had to pay Charon  a Ringit to ferry us across the Styx and into the park proper. I think the river is really called the Niah and he may not be called Charon 😉 but the river is well populated with crocs, and they can steal your memories away.

Once over the river, there is a 90 minute walk along boardwalks like belowOccasionally there are tourist information signs, but these are often in need of attention

Here Kathy is at the entrance to the first cave, behind her you can see poles hanging from the roof, these are used by a team of men who climb them to gather swiftlets nests for the famous birds’ nest soup.

Above is a picture of such activity I copied from the museum. After the big cave entrance, we had to walk for 20 minutes through a pitch black cave, using our torches the show us the way. This cave was full of bats, often just above our heads, and there were scorpions on the ground, but I think the one below is just a cricket.

I enjoyed the cave, but it was quite an arduous walk getting there and back.

I expect Kathy will write about that experience in a lot more detail shortly.

In the shopping mall tonight I spotted a wedding photographer with a stall and noticed he had a picture taken next to our boat, but we were just out of sight. I wonder if he told the bride there are crocodiles here?


Finally, the watermaker saga nears its end.

I promised myself to rebuild the pressure pump and replace all the seals a few weeks ago, but I have been putting it off. Yesterday I finally got down to the job. It took me four hours to dismantle the pump and rebuild it. I dread this type of thing, I’m so used to losing a little spring or some other small but crucial part. Also I love digital stuff, as everything, no matter how complicated it seems, always comes back to something being a ‘one’ or a ‘zero’. with mechanical stuff, things can be in many states, they have curves and things that need to mate up perfectly. High pressure says lots of leaks to me. Anyway I took the pump apart, I had a full set of spare seals / gaskets, poppet valves etc, or so I thought. It went well, but I did damage 2 shaft seals in the process, and guess what, they were the two missing seals from the kit. .

Anyway I rebuilt it and put it back on the motor and connected it to the membrane and a water supply and lo and behold, it worked, but only in the crap way it worked before, i.e. the water evaporated faster than I was making it. However with the knowledge I gained from this adventure, I realised that the piston wasn’t really travelling very far in and out of the pump cylinder. Perhaps the pump was not the problem, but the gearbox driving it. I tried to take this apart, but it wouldn’t let me, but playing with it I realised that it mattered which way the motor ran. In fact if I put the red electricity down the black wire and vica versa, the piston was travelling three times the distance. Now this is a gearbox that takes a rotating shaft as input and generates a pumping action (out/in/out/in…) on a piston rod. It never occurred to me that direction of rotation on the input would matter. However it was clear that it worked much better with the motor polarity reversed. But how could the motor be going backwards, then I remembered I had disassembled it many months ago, when it was seized. Presumably I didnt put it back together properly!. Damm
So I connected it all back up, with the red to ground and the black to 12v  and lo and behold it started making fresh water, loads of it. So it looks like the membrane might be ok after all. Today I re-installed it under the bunk, and started the job of replacing all of the bacteria laden hoses that connect to it. Tomorrow I will be able to run it properly for a while and see what the water actually tastes like, after I have tested it with my fancy TDS meter. Hopefully all will go well and I will have saved myself some £4000 on a new watermaker.

I celebrated tonight with a huge fish steak, that looks well weird, but turned out to be one of the tastiest fish meals I have had in a long time.

Paul Collister

October Days

While we are just chilling in Miri Marina, the blog will naturally get fewer posts from us. Otherwise it would be akin to social media style hourly updates of things we ate, what time we got up, what we bought in the shops and so on (although there is some of that in this post). I have carried on making notes in diary form, which has proved useful to us when we need to know dates relating to things like car hire, bike buying and when the worst squalls happened but otherwise makes for very mundane reading. This post will condense the few weeks since my last post by narrating the more (hopefully) interesting events and activities of that period.

The days here are largely leisurely and – yes – it is rather wonderful to indulge in such a relaxed way of life. There are no time constraints, no telephones or doorbells ringing, no bills or junk mail, no places to rush to…I could go on. This more flexible manner of living was brought home to me during a recent trip to town when I asked Paul if I had time to browse the bargain books in a department store and he pointed out that I could take all the time I needed since our time was our own.  The bikes have brought about a different kind of freedom. We now tend to shop on a daily or every other day basis. The long, hot walks into town are no more; we simply load our purchases in the baskets Paul fitted on the back of the bikes, or in our rucksacks. I was a bit nervous about cycling to start with. I know the saying ‘it’s like riding a bike’ and that you’re not supposed to lose the ability once learned but it’s been a while since I pedalled any distance and that was on a country cycle track. We collected our bikes from a shop in town and had to ride them back to the marina. After a slightly wobbly start, I gained confidence and found my balance but both of those deserted me once we set out on the main road. The traffic, the noise and my lack of road skills left me feeling vulnerable and I had to get off and push it a couple of times. Away from the busy roads, I found cycling to be pure bliss. The wind as you speed along is cooling, the roads are flat, and people smile and greet you (or maybe they are smirking at our helmets 😉 ). Best of all, there is no risk of coming into direct contact with the centipedes crawling along the pavements. Much as they scare me I do try to avoid squashing them.

On my bike

One of our first excursions was to the Coco Cabana event space on the waterfront, where the iconic seahorse lighthouse is located. I discovered, when looking at its Facebook page that it only opened in April this year, and was created as a ‘seaside ambience’ from which to view ‘the best sunset in Malaysia’. I’m sure other locations in Malaysia have also laid claim to that boast, but nevertheless it is a great place to watch the ocean from. Tables are set out overlooking the coastline and it’s also possible to sit on the boulders next to the water watching the waves crash onto them while sitting with a drink in the cool evening breeze.

Waiting for sundown at Coco Cabana

It’s a popular hangout with families and teenagers, who also flock to the regular artistic and cultural events held in the wooden event hall.  One Friday evening I bought some home-made perfume from one of the vendors during an art event there. It was the best copy of the Chanel fragrance (Coco Mademoiselle) I have ever come across. The lady who made it had several other brand name copies on sale and told us how she created them. At only £10 and cruelty-free, I walked away very happy…and smelling nice.

Paul got a puncture in his back tyre on our second day out cycling. Funnily enough we’d gone out specifically to get more cycle accessories such as locks, lights and puncture kits. I stood by and watched, impressed, while he turned it upside down and fixed it on a busy, dusty street. I tried to remember how I used to cope with this situation in my bike-riding days as a teenager. I remember pumping tyres up but the business of inner tubes, glue and patches must have been delegated to my dad or brothers I think. We also got caught in a torrential downpour while riding along a town centre road, becoming soaked through and chilly within seconds. We had to take shelter under the roof of a shopfront until it stopped. Arriving back at the marina feeling damp and still a bit cold, the boat felt wonderfully warm and dry and it seemed an appropriate evening to make sausages, sweet potato mash, mushrooms, fried onions and gravy for dinner.

Puncture fixing
Sheltering from the downpour with a flat back tyre

During the early hours of the morning of Friday 20th October we had the worst storm I have experienced while berthed in a marina. The wind felt frighteningly strong (60 knots we discovered later) and the sheet of heavy rainfall was a sight to see; the marina was completely obscured behind it! Paul went out in it to check the bikes and to tie anything down that was likely to blow away. One gust was so fierce and noisy during its build up and so strong when it hit the boat, it made me squeal in alarm. We later found out that it was the worst weather anyone local could remember and there was a fair bit of damage around to testify to its severity. The worst of this was, as Paul related in his post, the sentry box complete with sentry inside that blew across the marina forecourt. Apart from being literally shook up, he was thankfully unharmed. There was another powerful storm early the following afternoon, with a wind strong enough to cause some concern that the boat in the berth opposite would break its mooring ropes and hurl into us. Marina staff came and secured it just in case. We sat it out in the cabin for the whole day, preferring to stay onboard even when things settled down later on. The boat was rocking due to the combination of the big waves caused by the previous night’s storm and the powerful gusts. It had caused a fair bit of debris to scatter around the car park: broken glass, roof tiles, tree branches and building materials. Paul pointed out a house that had collapsed just over the water when trees had blown on top of it.  On our way to Miri on the bikes, we cycled through the park by the promenade and saw several trees that had either been uprooted completely or pushed almost horizontal. Meanwhile, the waves looked as if they were reddish brown in colour as they crashed on the beach, possibly due to algae having been whipped up by the storm.

The beach just after the storm
Didn’t want my sandals to get wet – failed 🙂

One of the more beneficial (for us anyway) consequences of the gales was that a kayak belonging to a neighbouring yacht blew away, leaving the couple with only one. Paul heard them deciding to dump or sell the remaining one since they didn’t really use them any more, and as he’s been intending to buy one, he bought it off them for a bargain price. So now we have a kayak to add to our growing lists of accessories. It’s very smart, and Paul enjoyed taking it out for a test ride in the marina. I suspect it’s another activity that looks easier than it actually is for me to do, a fact I discovered when I tried to windsurf once. I’ve been promised a lesson in kayaking anyway so we shall see.

The boat on the left is the one that looked as if it might break free in the storm
Trying out the kayak

I got on with making another batch of bread dough while Paul was kayaking and battled with a different kind of challenge. Using the other bag of flour we’d chosen from Bakery Ingredients, I tipped it on to the tray while I got the other ingredients ready. I made a well in the flour and cursed when I spotted a fly that must have landed on the pile. I went to shoo it off and realised that it wasn’t a fly: it was a weevil, and it wasn’t alone! These pesky things are a fact of life here in The Tropics. There is a choice to be made on discovering them. Throw your hands up in horror and chuck the product away, as we have indeed done before, or deal with them by sieving the flour and using it as normal. I did a bit of research on the net and discovered they are harmless (as we’d already guessed) and that most grain products have them. I mustered up my courage and dealt with them. I can’t say I’m happy about the situation. I’ve found them in biscuits, nuts, breadcrumbs and packet mixes. Depending on the product and the amount I either throw it or use it, but we have discovered that putting the bags in the freezer for a few days and then storing them in the fridge is an effective way of dealing with the problem. Anyway we have had no ill effects, the bread was made and eaten – weevil free and I discovered a core of bravery I didn’t know I had 😉 .

It’s in there somewhere!

One afternoon in Miri we found ourselves near the bar where we’d been told all the ex-pats go to meet and socialise. Called The Ming Café, it’s on the corner of a busy street in the centre where lots of hotels and hostels are located. I was curious to see if they sold wine since it is so popular with foreigners so we parked the bikes near a table by the pavement and sat down in the busy bar. I knew it wouldn’t be Paul’s favourite type of place. It had screens showing sport, signs advertising all-day breakfasts, soccer matches, beer by the bucket and a wide range of imaginatively named cocktails (pictured below). They did serve wine by the glass, however – with soda too, so we had a drink there, but didn’t fancy ordering from a menu offering burgers, sausage sandwiches, potato wedges and mixed grill. I quite liked it in there though – it was lively, the music was good and it’s a great place to sit and people watch.

Ming Cafe

It was time for a wine run on Monday (23rd). It looked like the glass I’d had in the Ming Cafe would be my last for a while if I didn’t restock.  I didn’t want to have to pay the hiked up prices for a bottle from our regular supermarket, so we returned to Merdeka Mall, where it’s less expensive.  It’s a bit too far to cycle and we found it cheaper and more convenient to use ‘Grab’ taxis for both journeys. The wine worked out at about £12 a bottle – still pricey but better than £17.  With my indulgence catered for, Paul cycled off early to get his the next morning; a fresh fish from the town market in Miri (the type of fish he’d like to catch one day).  Each morning, just as dawn breaks we get visited by several little birds chirping and flying around on deck. I can see them through the hatch above the V berth and there’s often quite a few of them near the mast. Paul was concerned that they might be nesting but it seems they just like paying a morning visit – so much so that when Paul returned from market with his fish, one of them was flying around in the cabin! It beat a hasty retreat soon enough but I don’t know how long it had been inside while I was sleeping.

Other visitors to our pontoon, not quite as regular as the birds are ‘just married’, or about to be married, couples, complete with a photographer and dresser, whose main job appears to be to arrange the bridal dress and veil in ‘natural’ flowing poses by throwing the material up in the air and letting the wind catch it. It looks likely that Sister Midnight will be in the background of many a glossy wedding album, and we have often had to either wait or take a detour while all the snapping is going on. It’s quite interesting to watch all the preparations and Paul is keen for the boat to look its best for its backdrop role. He has been busy painting, varnishing and cleaning the starboard side all week; getting up early to make the most of the coolest part of the day. It’s looking good, especially the varnished wood gleaming in the sunlight. The port side will need doing soon in order to preserve symmetry, which means moving the boat around for access to it. We will literally have a change of scene when that happens ;).

Hard at work
Spot the bride and groom in ‘proposing’ pose

Last night being Halloween we went to the party organised by Brian and Glee further down the pontoon. Our contribution to the victuals was a pumpkin jack o’ lantern carved by Paul and lit using one of our led bike lights because we’d forgotten to get tea lights. We also took some chocolate vermicelli ball cakes and hoped these offerings would make up for our choosing not to dress up in fancy dress (I know…#partypoopers). There was a very impressive array of food set out on the table and all the usual spooky decorations, masks, and lanterns hanging up. Party games and dancing were also successfully avoided by us but we enjoyed ourselves just the same. The atmosphere was great, and I have always preferred watching people dance to doing it myself. Brian passed on some useful tips about Labuan and Kota Kinabulu (popularly known as KK). Both of those places are on the agenda for visits later this month. Before that, though we intend to have a look at the nearby Niah Caves, where we will see the intriguing sight of relics from the cave dwellers of 40,000 years ago. Images below are from the party and from some of our daily bike rides.

Party food

Spot the sleeping man
Miri’s Park

Keep fit exercises in the park
Near the marina
These trees survived the storm
Cycle path on the prom