30 September, 2008

So Long Borneo

And so to racing. A new experience for us as the results would testify but we improved a great deal with each race. Starting in Labuan, an island just off Brunei, we had the first day of racing round the cones. This was a nightmare. Didn’t leave the dock till late and ended up being about a mile from the start line when the whistle blew, and the wind died, and the current was against us !!!! One hour later we limped across the start line. The wind slowly picked up and so did our speed, alas too late. Never mind we learnt about starting. The next race was the 100 miler to Miri. As there is often very little to no wind you can motor in this race and they have a system of multiplying this time so it’s all pretty fair in the cruising class. Great start on the line and we kept a pretty fair wind till night time. Anyway one way or another we managed to come in second on adjusted time and were pretty thrilled with this. Now we have mentioned the oil wells before but here is another example of them.

About midnight, no moon and raining we are sailing through this huge oil field with good wind doing about 7 knots, oil wells everywhere with gas flares and lights, next thing this huge black shadow passes between us and a rig. “What was that” ? It turns out there are multiple capped well heads with no lights all through this area. It was a tad scary to say the least, hitting one of those with about 18 tons at 7 knots would not be a pretty sight. The heavy rain blocks out the radar so it was squinting through the rain and mist for a while. Still could have been worse, another yacht had his son on board as crew. Woke up hearing banging on the side of the boat. Found the son sound asleep on watch, with the boat banging down the side of a huge anchored ship!

All in all we had a great time and old “enzwell” didn’t do too bad. Giving us four nights in hotels, free marina, free meals and US$400 was very nice of them we thought.

After a few days in Miri it was off with LaBarque up the Rajang River to visit a long house that a few yachties have kind of adopted. Now a long house sounds rather exotic and the older traditional ones were, yes with skulls hanging from the ceilings, these were head hunters not so long ago. In the cultural village in Santubong where the music festival was held, were a couple of very traditional longhouses, really nice, and in Kuching was a replica of part of a long house, and I swear to you they were real skulls in the ceiling.

The present day long houses are not such a grand affair. Basically you put 20,30,40 or so houses beside each other, sharing dividing walls and roofline, and they all share a communal area in the front, like a long giant hall, with the front doors leading off this space. Kind of a marae environment. Not too grand as we said but real life and a great welcoming people.

We anchored right out front about 40 miles up a river and awaited our invite. Late afternoon we had visitors; most of the village came out and we showed them through our home – enzwell – and they also went and looked at LaBarque.

Give them a can of beer, any other gifts you may have, tee shirts, caps etc, and then they ask you to their home that night. Taking the Vat 69 donation, in you trot and you all gather in the front hall. Out comes their gongs and things plus the local brew, Tuak rice wine and you all get p*ssed, and bang gongs and things. Well since we took two bottles of whiskey and some beers, some of them got quite nicely thank you. We quietly supped the rice wine when offered and since we drink from shot glasses and it’s only about wine strength, we stayed pretty sober. All in all a great experience and meeting of cultures. I think Heath found a hidden talent on the gong.

Staying in the river was beautiful. Very peaceful and calm and at night right beside us was a tree full of fireflies twinkling away like christmas lights. Can’t be quite as rapturous about the mossies though!

The Rajang river, where the long house is, is huge, fed by various smaller rivers and it is the main logging area with logs piled up all along its banks. So if you want to know were the rainforest is going/going/gone, here it is, mostly into plywood.

Unfortunately with this many logs sitting on the edge when a big rain comes, logs just float away and you get to find them in the sea around this area, a real hazard to cruising yachties. Not so bad in daytime but at night you can’t see them. Then BANG, bang, bang down the side of the boat. Being steel we are not so bad; it is rather unnerving though.

Next stop was back to the Santubong river and Kuching. Picked up a few mementos and saw the Orangutans again. Not nearly as natural or interesting as the orangutans we saw up the Kumai river, but still worth while.

And so farewell to Borneo. Definitely the best and most interesting part of Malaysia. Next stop – over to Singapore. Now I forgot to mention that the auto helm gave up around Miri so we have been hand steering all the way and three days and two nights across the South China Sea is no fun. Fortunately we had a good run with light seas and moderate wind. We got a new part in Singapore, still thousands of huge ships in harbour,

and now it’s back in action steering us to Penang.

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