I wish to dedicate this blog to the memory of three very special people who died while we were on this part of the journey. Jeanne Henson - Gordon's aunt, a lovely lady of 82, whose style and wit were fabulous. Kenny Reid - my wee cousin of 6 foot something ridiculous. He fought long and hard against a brain tumour and died too young, the world was a better place with him in it. Shiela Graham - a dear friend and neighbour, elegant, beautiful, and with a laugh that brightened the room. She died suddenly on New Year's Eve on her birthday.
It's times like this one really feels the distance: hugs that can't be given, and tears that can't be shared. But it also brings home the importance of using every single moment to the best of one's ability and honouring the memory of these wonderful people by living life to the hilt.
Darwin - Australia 10th November 2009
Having said goodbye to Sue, we busied ourselves with the usual tasks of boat maintenance and exploring. When buying our courtesy flags for the next few countries we had the pleasure of meeting Ron Strachan, the flag shop owner. He is also the vice chairman of the Return Services Legion (equivalent to our British Legion) and he took us there for a drink. We were most impressed by the facilities of the club and even more impressed by the hospitality of the members of the club. Of course there was a large emphasis on Anzac and other Aussie fought conflicts. We had also not realised that Darwin was completely wiped out in Japanese air raids over a few days. There are few buildings standing which pre-date the attack. This has led to an architecturally interesting city.
On the downside the Bay View marina where we were berthed has absolutely no facilities other than a laundry and the housing estate surrounding us has no shops, bars or restaurants whatsoever. Isolation is no problem when at anchor, but in a marina it feels weird. Also most of the boats seem to be owned by local live-aboards, who don't seem interested in visitors. So we had no real option but to go into the city every day.
The 'Territories' are harsh indeed! We found the temperatures and the humidity very unpleasant and couldn't believe the constant greeting of "lovely day here in paradise". I think this may be where the 'whingeing pom' thing comes from, since the obvious reply should be, 'no, actually, its outrageously hot, I'm standing in a puddle of my own sweat, bitten silly by all kinds of man-eating insects and don't like beer!'. However, I restrained myself to 'yes, lovely'. Call me a coward.
On Friday the 5th November we went into town where I had to visit a dentist - huge filling fell out. Repairs made, we went to the 'Wisdom Bar', where we had arranged to meet my cousin Frank Montgomery. He is doing a 3-month tour of Oz, Singapore and Australisia in general and happily our agendas coincided here in Darwin. He last joined us in Oban at the start of the journey.
As with most UK visitors to the boat he found our lack of air-conditioning hard to deal with in this searing heat, but bore it stoically.
We had great adventures, not least amongst them, going up the Adelaide River in search of crocodiles. Yup, this is 'Crocodile Campion' here. At first all was pretty quiet, and we had just about given up hope, when 'Skinny' appeared. So called because when she was attacked by a bigger croc a large chunk of her neck went missing. For about a year everything she ate fell out of the hole, hence the name 'Skinny'. Our guide, Louise, dangled chunks of raw meat from a pole, which 'Skinny' jumped for, jaws gaping, displaying rows of alarming teeth. Her appetite and ability to now consume large amounts of food may lead the need to renaming quite soon. Suddenly 'Skinny' disappeared and Louise said "Oh boy, here comes Nero". We watched as a very large wake approached us. Our vessel was a 5.8m aluminium tub of a thing. Nero was 6m long! He peered above water and submerged many times before finally going for the bait and when he did the sight was so awesome, that we all forgot to take photographs. We just gasped at the sheer terrifying size of this creature. Fortunately he was hungry so we did get some shots eventually. These salt-water crocodiles are so called not because they only live in salt water (they also thrive in fresh water, as many people have found to their cost) but because they have special glands, which enable them to survive by drinking salt water. They are perfect killing machines, unchanged for millennia.
After a stop at 'Humpty Doo' -famous for nothing more than its name - we went to the waterfall-fed pool in Litchfield National Park, where Gordon and I swam, and Frank hiked to a high viewpoint. He rejoined the group fairly quickly having heard a loud hiss coming from the undergrowth. Yes they have poisonous snakes here too! After another swim at some rapids and pools we lunched al-fresco before heading back. En-route we stopped at a site to see hundreds of magnetic termite hills. It takes these tiny creatures ten years to build one-metre high hill and the largest was approximately six metres tall. The whole area resembled a vast Stonehenge but with all the structures built north south, to minimize the sun's heat - so not actually magnetic.
We ended the tour watching the sun go down over Darwin from a high point, drinking Champagne and eating prawns and mangoes. Life's hard but somebody's got to do it!
The following day - 9th November - Frank returned to Perth to continue his own epic journey. We prepared for tomorrow's departure - a seven or eight day journey to Bali.
Darwin to Bali, 10th - 18th November 2009
24 hours into the journey we were buzzed again by Australian Customs and Coastwatch. These guys really are hot on the trail of moving yachts and asked lots of questions from the aircraft. They had previously spoken with us as we left Escape River. They made a strange reference to the Seychelles, but we assured them our route was Darwin to Bali. Of course, later we realised this was to do with the abducted couple in Somalia - since they were 38ft flying a British Ensign - and the yacht was unaccounted for at that point.
We settled into the usual long passage routine of watches, meals, Sudoku, reading and chores, and due to very light winds had to motor much more than we would like.
On Saturday the 14th November we entered the Indian Ocean. And almost immediately hit the Doldrums. Each evening a taunting 7-9 knots of wind flapped around between 18:00-23:00hrs, then died completely. The sea action though can become short and choppy, knocking the boat about for no obvious reason. This is so different from the long slow Pacific rollers. Navigating between oilrigs and many fishing boats we arrived in Bali on Wednesday the 18th November where we had to moor off since the marina was full.
Bali 18th November-29th November 2009
Having seen Bali marina we are glad it was full. The water has a slick of diesel and is full of undesirable floating objects. There is a restaurant/ bar that closes at 8pm, and that's that. We met some other people who are planning to go through the 'pirate belt' at the same time so will add them to our fleet (William and Helen, 49ft Oyster 'Out On The Blue'). We will meet them again in Singapore. On the 19th we went to Kuta, which is a bustling busy tourist spot, full of Aussie kids doing their thing. We had dinner with an Australian couple, John and Sue, at a restaurant in 'Poppy I'. While alongside, "Poppy II", forms the hub of nightlife in Kuta. Since John and Sue are seasoned Bali visitors I asked them to take us to the monument to those who died in the 2002 Bali bombing. It proved to be only a 10-minute walk away, and I recognised the scene from the TV news footage at the time. The actual site has never been rebuilt and remains just a derelict patch of land surrounded by rough fencing. The monument itself stands on the road intersection and is very poignant. The plaque listing the names of those who died include British, Japanese, German and many other nations, but the largest list are Australian and Indonesian. Almost exclusively they were under 30 years old. Is has become a place of pilgrimage for parents and friends of the 300 victims.
On a higher note, we hooked up with another great couple here called Peter and Francis. They are Skipper and crew on board on Australian owned 90ft motor/sail yacht called 'Giriz 2'. It's a big beast of a boat which keeps them constantly busy, but they always find time to mix the best G and T's ever for sun-downers. Thanks Chaps. They told us an amazing story of their experience many years ago, when sailing in 1982 with their 3 young children aged 7, 8 and 9. They were holed by a whale and had to take to the life raft. They also had time to load the dinghy with supplies, since it took the yacht 18 hrs to sink. Unfortunately they lost the dinghy and were adrift in the life raft for 13 days before being picked up by a Norwegian ship. The now grownup children still sail.
As we often do in new countries, we organised a day-tour to get a feel of the culture and customs of the people. When time is limited, it makes sense to use local knowledge rather than fumble about. Putu - our taxi driver - acted as our guide for the day, and we began by attending a strange 3-act play in a temple complex. As with most drama, dance and art here, the theme is always religious and this play was a story of good versus evil with heroic lions, mischievous, monkeys and beautiful goddesses. All dialogue is lost due to the cacophony of sound generated by the orchestra - symbols, bells, drums and reedy flutes all make a lot of noise. Although graceful and exotic occasionally the action became quite bawdy, and have found this quite typical of the predominantly Hindu culture. The temple carvings display deities in the same quirky way. Every shop, house and office has a small temple tower at the entrance where offerings are left and the pavements are usually littered with small palm leaf baskets, containing rice flowers and fruits to appease the gods. Our second stop was at a silver factory where we saw the artists creating very intricate pieces - either silver only or using semi precious stones.
After lunch at the restaurant on top of a mountain giving spectacular views over the lakes and villages far below, we visited a coffee manufacturer and sampled the local brew (very good).
The Balinese are a friendly outgoing people who have managed to preserve their culture and beliefs in the face of massive tourism. When people stopped coming after the bombing it affected them very badly and they really welcome the retuning tourists with open hearts.
We departed Bali at 6.50am on Sunday 29th November waving to Peter and Francis on 'Giriz' as we went. Hope to see them in Italy someday in the future.
Bali - Singapore (via Borneo) 29th November - 11th December 2009
On the first part of the voyage we had 4.6 knots tidal stream with us, so were doing 10.3 knots speed over ground and showing 5.7 knots speed through the water.
At 1705hrs and at position 8 degrees 03.009S 115 degrees 33.393E with no wind at all we spotted a really strange looking raft with high animal shaped structures on it made from vegetation of some sort. By 18.30hrs we had seen about 12 of these rafts altogether. They were large approximately 9m x 5m. Since the seabed was 1200m deep they are unlikely to have been anchored but we couldn't work out their purpose at all, they looked extremely bizarre. On Monday 30th November we had to manoeuvre around many fishing boats but one boat broke away and approached us at speed. We changed direction and eventually having waved and shouted at us for some time insisting that we stop they turned about and returned to the other boats. There was no sign of a hazard so we could only assume they wanted to approach. This would not have been acceptable since at least they would have damaged our boat and at best would have been a nuisance.
The following day another brightly painted fishing boat shadowed us for some time, and then suddenly accelerated towards us heading across our bow. We used full throttle and outran it. Realising they could not catch us they turned back. This was all quite scary and perhaps a taste of things to come.
Our progress on this trip was generally poor since the tidal stream and currents had been consistently against us and the wind bang on our nose. We have also had lightning flashing around us most of the time. At one point a bolt hit the water right beside us. The crack was deafening and the thunder shook the boat. Far too close for comfort.
We have also noticed the diesel our boat boy put into the cans at Bali is very dirty, so just as well we filtered it and didn't put it straight into the tank.
We were quite concerned by now about the fuel situation, since we are using too much against the persistently strong tidal stream, and cannot use sails alone due to the wind's direction and poor strength. We emailed William and Helen our new chums from 'Out on the Blue' since we knew they had gone to Borneo and they confirmed we could get diesel there. So it means going back 123 miles but it would mean we would have enough fuel to comfortably motor sail to Singapore. I am delighted since it has always been one of my dreams to see orangutans in the wild, and there are few places wilder than the jungles of Borneo.
Friday 4th December (Kumai, Borneo)
The Java Sea was only 9 to 10 metres deep over a distance of 120 miles. The coast of Borneo appeared as flat dense mangrove with an occasional high tree, so far not much like jungle and as we went further up river houses began to peek through.
The place where we anchored was opposite a small town/village from which the sound of prayer call echoed hauntingly around the bay. This is a Muslim country.
We had not even dropped anchor when a small speedboat appeared at our side. Greetings were exchanged and the boat owner, Mr Baen, agreed to become our 'agent', ie fetch us diesel and arrange a trip up the river into the jungle to see orangutans. So for 200 litres of diesel, fast boat hire, guide and lunch, we will pay him 300 USD. From dropping anchor, going to moneychanger, being fuelled up, tour organised, and Gordon having a beer - one hour. We can't get service like that from the most sophisticated countries in the world.
We had a bit of a reality check though when we woke at 1.30 am to hear a loud 'putt-putt' boat approach our anchorage and stop. By the time we got on deck, two young men had boarded us with two others holding the boat alongside. They were quite drunk (naughty Muslims) and refused to get off the boat. We had to be very firm with them and threatened to call the police, which resulted in much hand kissing and touching of foreheads to my hand. They eventually more or less fell off our boat into theirs and went off. I think the easy part of this journey is over.
After a sleepless night we were roused at 5.30am by the Muezzin calling everyone to prayer, so we gave up and got up, ready for our big adventure. We had arranged to be picked up at 7.30am and were quietly cursing Mr Baen when nobody had arrived by 8.30am, then realised the Borneo is one hour ahead of Bali and he was bang on time.
The Jungles of Borneo.
We set off with Mr Baen's son and Joe our guide. We motored down river at high speed then turned up into a tributary for about 10 km. Along the way we saw villages tucked away behind riverside vegetation. We turned off to yet another tributary for about 8 km. The skills of Mr Baen's son in avoiding floating logs, overhanging trees, and other vegetation, at high speed showed a great deal of skill. The first part of our journey along the river was in quite brown coloured water, which Joe pointed out was due to pollution from the gold mines many kilometres up stream. He told us that the villagers who depend on fishing for food in this part of the river are becoming ill, but no one cared. We didn't appreciate the level of pollution until we turned off for the last 8 km of the journey where suddenly the water became black mirrored and clear. The effect was like flying through space, so perfect was the reflection in the water. Eventually we pulled up at a timber dock and alighted.
After a lengthy walk through the forest we came to a clearing where there was a wooden platform. The park ranger tipped out a load of bananas onto the platform and made a loud call into the jungle. Within a short time we were aware of foliage and debris raining down, and realised the forest canopy was moving. The orangutans came into view a started descending the trees onto the platform. As they came to the feeding platform they tried to stuff as many bananas into their hands and mouth as they could. At this point they were lone females or mothers with babies. Suddenly the canopy began to move again and all the females looked up then began to move away from the platform. A very large male orangutan began to descend towards the platform, he was huge and while the females remained a respectful distance, one of the babies was less respectful, flapped his arms in a taunting way. Mother cuffed him round the head and dragged him off into the undergrowth. We then moved further up river and ate lunch in the middle of a swamp and went further into the jungle where we saw a gibbon, long tailed monkeys and wild pigs. Even further into the jungle we saw even more males, females and babies, and then the rain came down as it only could in a tropical forest. The orangutans behaved in an extraordinary way, making umbrellas out of leaves and trying to hide under the rangers cloak. One mother with her baby actually pushed by our legs to try and get shelter. We also saw squirrels, large brightly coloured kingfishers, carnivorous plants (Venus fly traps), very large ants, huge crickets, hand sized butterflies of various colours, columns of ants and dung beetles pushing their dung balls. We did not see crocodiles, snakes including flying ones or giant spiders, but they are all here somewhere. The mosquitoes were awful, and being a malaria and dengue fever area, we are aware of the risks, and taking the tablets.
On the journey home our fast boat became a very slow boat, since rangers had been cutting back foliage further up stream. In the time we had been in the jungle the vegetation they had cut down had floated down stream and completely clogged our channel. We therefore had to use sticks to force the boat through and over the top of dense vegetation.
We wouldn't have missed this experience for anything and are so glad we made the diversion.
Our daughter and son who have been with us for Christmas and new year leave tomorrow, so I will stop here for now. You will see many photographs which are relevant for the next stage of the blog ie Singapore, Langkawi and Phuket. Not to be missed.