05. Coral, Arafura & Java Seas, Australia to Thailand 2008/9
This section of blog starts after Graptolite’s arrival in Australia in August 2008 and continues to departure from Phuket, Thailand in January 2009. For the Great Barrier Reef section I had mainly family for crew with my brother Duncan (Australia), son Tom (UK) and Pacific crew, Heike Richter (Germany). Heiki would become family in 2015. Duncan had to return home from Thursday Island and Heiki and Tom continued across the “Top End” to Darwin. In Darwin, new crew were needed for SE Asia and I took on three backpackers, Kwok Leung (Leon) Lee (Canada), Zach Ferbrache (Guernsey) and Eddie Dietz (Germany) to crew to Bali. From Bali to Singapore my crew were Bonnie Pinzel (USA), Aurelien Ferre (France) and Fannie Jossen (Switz). Bonnie also continued on through Malaysia to Thailand where we arrived in Phuket for New Year 2009. Old crew, Colin Laidlaw and Leon Lee returned for the continuing voyage from Phuket to Sri Lanka.
16:55.23S 14:46.91W Cairns Marlin Marina 10th August 2008
It’s been a busy week. Colin left the boat as planned to re-enter real life with Belinda. Thanks Colin. It’s been good having you along and I’m sorry to see you go. My Australian brother, Duncan, joined on Monday as crew to Darwin as did son Tom currently on his own World tour by air (Colorado, Hawaii, Queensland). Duncan was put to work fixing things on the boat and even seems to have fixed the busted generator. A night out on Wednesday in Cairns took us to that prestigious floodlit sporting event – Cane Toad Racing. Only in Australia. All of us went diving on the Great Barrier Reef yesterday. It was the first time for Tom. He seems to like it. The water was cold though. Who would have expected that in the Tropics? The weather here has taken a turn for the worse and there are high winds forecast. That, combined with delays getting stuff fixed, is holding us and everyone else up here in Cairns. Today, Sunday, we took a drive north up the coast to Daintree National Park. No kangaroos. No koalas. We came back through Port Douglas and Yorkeys Knob and had a few XXXX’s on the way.
16:22.38S 145:33.82E North of Low Islets, Great Barrier Reef 14th August 2008
Our useless chart-table chartplotter remains broken despite being reprogrammed and now needs a new motherboard that is no longer available so we are still without radar to detect incoming hostiles. We set off from Cairns yesterday morning in lighter winds than forecast and found a mooring under the pretty lighthouse at Low Islets. We are now heading north again to Lizard Island. ‘Andante’ has reported having a bit of trouble with sails about 65 miles further on from us so we are going to rendezvous with them to see if we can be of any help.
14:34.27S 145:02.72E North of Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef 17th August 2008
We arrived at Cape Bedford late evening Thursday but Andante had already moved on to more sheltered waters at Cape Flattery. We anchored there anyway but it was a bit bouncy. There were one or two lights on the beach probably from Aboriginal fishing camps but otherwise the bay was deserted. On Friday we arrived at Lizard Island where there were already a few boats we knew. Lizard Island is a very attractive place with granite hills and a coral lagoon, reef and really good beaches. We parked up in Mrs. Watson’s Bay. The eponymous Mrs. Watson was attacked here by unfriendly natives and she had to escape to sea in a big tub used for boiling up sea-slugs. She and her child and a wounded Chinese servant drifted northwards to another little island where they died of thirst. Captain James Cook named Lizard Island when he used the excellent view from the hill top to find a way out through the reef to the Coral Sea. The lizards they found there are related to Komodo Dragons but a bit smaller. We stumbled on one on the return climb from Cook’s lookout and it posed for photos for us. Saturday night was Andie’s (Tallulah Ruby) birthday and we had a beach barbeque (actually a fry-up) with singing accompanied by guitar and didgeridoo. We set off this morning at 05:00 to overnight at Flinders Island.
11:57.35S 143:12.12E Margaret Bay, Cape York, Great Barrier Reef 19th August 2008
There is something up with my engine. It seems to know when there is a situation where it is indispensable and then stops working until it has had a bit of attention. It always works at other times but twice recently on entering narrow channels under sail it has let us down. Duncan and Tom have got good at sorting it out before we pile up on rocks. I said I would ‘mention you in dispatches’ Duncan, so here it is. An extra ration of grog for the men, huzzah! This Cape York coastline is bleak. I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it. There is no sign of human activity for hundreds of miles. It seems worse somehow than being thousands of miles from anywhere in the middle of an ocean. And it’s windy with 20 to 30 knots of SE Trade Winds all day, everyday. We have been anchoring by night in the shelter of little islands and reefs but it’s been spilling our sundowners. We caught a big yellowfin tuna today (in a Light Blue Zone – for any officials reading this). Sashimi prepared minutes after landing is very good although unexpectedly warm from the fish’s exertions. Later we were buzzed by an Australian Customs plane that was probably checking up on any illegal use of wasabi and soy sauce.
10:37.84S 141:44.82E Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia 22nd August 2008
We anchored in Escape River on Wednesday night. The crew went off in search of crocs in the mangroves with dinghy and spotlight but fortunately didn’t find any, although we did see some salties the following morning basking on the sand when we were on our way out. The Albany Passage, which had so much discussion of its dangers on the radio, turned out to be very pleasant and then we were through to Cape York and the most northerly point of mainland Australia. A short hop further on and we were at Thursday Island which had a certain symmetry to it because it was actually Thursday. We anchored off Horn Island and caught the ferry across to TI (as it is known). We shopped for a few provisions (beer, chocolate, the usual) and had a night onboard playing cards and watching ‘Perfect Storm’ on DVD. Duncan was dropped ashore on Horn Island to get a flight home as he had a training course to attend in Perth. The rest of us, together with ‘Viva’, left TI for Darwin on the flood tide at midday, naturally passing Friday Island on Friday. We had another early evening fly-past from a Customs aircraft who wanted to know what the devil we were up to. It seems there is no chance of getting into any trouble in these waters even if you want to.
11:04.52S 136:43.55E Wessel Islands, Arafura Sea, Australia 25th August 2008
It was a rollercoaster ride across the Gulf of Carpentaria but other than that there were only a few memorable moments. Heike caught her first fish, a barracuda which was deemed safe to eat as it was caught in open water. After briefly passing through Papua New Guinea and Indonesian waters yesterday, we rounded a bleak and windy Cape Wessel and anchored in good shelter at Two-Island Bay. Many large Spotted Rays came and said hello by waving their fins at us. Apart from the fish and a few yachts the bay has no sign of life even though there are perfect little beaches all around, flanked by red sandstone slabs; a pretty but desolate spot. We spent a pleasant evening last night aboard Kasuje with the crews of Northern Sky and Viva. Kasuje is a lovely boat but I’m starting to get an inferiority complex about the size of my engine room. How come everyone else seems to have space to walk around in it while admiring their polished machinery while my engine is squeezed into a damp cupboard under the steps? Inevitably, most of this morning was spent with me covered in poo while unblocking the forward heads. Lime scale build-up in the pipes is a menace for marine toilets. We are off now across the Top End of Aboriginal Arnhem Land to Darwin which is 350 miles to our west.
10:55.00S 132:24.00E North of Cobourg Peninsular 27th August 2008
We are now passing north of the Cobourg Peninsular, Northern Territories. We will need to anchor in Popham Bay this evening to wait for favorable tides at around midnight tonight to whisk us across the Van Diemen Gulf to Darwin. ETA Darwin anchorage sometime Thursday 28th.
12:26.91S 130:51.01E Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin, NT,30th August 2008
The good tides were caught on Thursday from Cape Don through Van Diemen Gulf to the Beagle Gulf and on to Darwin. We anchored in Fannie Bay and the Fisheries diver came and squirted pink stuff in all our seawater pipes to kill any nasty shellfish. That evening we went ashore to the Mendil Beach Night Market. We had a nice selection of Australian ‘roadkill’ from one stall. Croc, possum, wombat etc. It’s that kind of place! On Friday morning we caught the high tide through the lock gates of Tipperary Waters Marina. There was a barbecue hosted by HMAS Coonawara Naval Base in the evening. Lots of beer was necked. Heiki flew down to Melbourne on Saturday night to drive the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. She reports that it is the best scenic drive ever and she has seen hundreds of koalas clambering about hugging gum trees. Maybe. Saturday morning Tom and I breakfasted at the marina and went off to the One-Day Cricket International between Australia and Bangladesh. Even more beer was necked and Australia won, surprise, surprise.
A Heiki Blog Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin, NT, 7th September 2008
Today is the day I am leaving Graptolite in order to go back to Berlin. I had an absolutely extraordinary time here on Graptolite and learned endlessly. I learned that there are two major food groups for British people: beer and chocolate (sometimes a third one is added…antibiotics ;-(( I learned the meaning of beer o’clock and nervous pee. I learned that two red markers means: definitely not! I learned how to tie a bowline one-handed at night under water behind my back…;-)) I learned how to drive a dinghy, how to cook a three course meal at 30 knots of wind and to eat it out of dogbowls…;-)) I learned to navigate without a GPS and to change a lightbulb at the steaming light. I learned, that the diesel engine works like suck, squeeze, bang, blow…;-))) I learned a lot about the wonderful British culture (including lamb with mint sauce and the passion for food out of sheep stomachs…;-)) and how to make up song lyrics for Graptolite. Graptolite was home for me for the past 6 months and I could think of no better boat and no better skipper to be with. I had an absolutely unforgettable time and I saw the most wonderful islands on earth, approaching by boat. Wow! I have hardly ever had this much fun and excitement in my life and want to thank Martyn and Colin for that! With these both I had two extraordinary companions who taught me all I know about sailing. They taught me to do night watches and everything else that was to do on board. And it was always unforgettable fun! They even taught me driving on the ‘wrong side of the road’ (left) and Colin sacrificed 7 of his 8 lives for that…;-)) Martyn, you are the best skipper any crew could as for because you are very smart, love to teach your crew how everything works and gave me every freedom I wanted on board to try out everything and to work with everything! You are courageous (you sail over land…;-))), adventurous (you go to Islands no man had ever gone before…;)) at least the coastline looks like this…. Atiu…;-))) and yet careful with engines and sails. It is wonderful fun to be around you and to be saved by you when I try out swimming in 5 knots of current. Martyn and Colin, I had a wonderful time with you in this World ARC-family and I want to say ‘farewell’ today to Graptolite. Martyn, I wish you the very best for your wonderful ongoing journey, always fair and favorable winds, enough beer for beer o’clock, enough chocolate for night watches and a working ipod-FM-transmitter: Take one day at a time and always look on the bright side of life! Heiki
12:24.80S 130:50.25E Spot-On boatyard, Ludmilla Creek, Darwin 8th September 2008
Alison arrived in Darwin last week following a side trip to New Zealand and Sydney so she could take our son Tom home and back to school. We all saw the closing performance of the Darwin Festival in the Botanic Gardens. It was some people swaying about up bendy poles inside illuminated balls. You had to be there really! Heike returned from Adelaide and we anchored out in Fannie Bay ready for an early morning tide on Wednesday to enter the boatyard at Ludmilla Creek. Grapto’s bottom wasn’t too badly covered with barnacles and weed but she will still take some cleaning up and painting. Later that morning, we went along to HMAS Coonawarra Naval Base to see the rest of the WARC fleet cross the start line for the leg to Bali. Heike had a couple of days walkabout in Kakadu National Park and left for Berlin yesterday afternoon leaving the skipper to organize his own repairs. As Heike has been doing all the organizing for the boat for the last half-year, it’s going to be difficult for me although as I’ve had emails and phone calls from all her stopovers on the way home it doesn’t feel like she’s actually left yet. Thanks for being my traveling companion for the past six months, Heiki. It’s been a lot of fun sailing from Galapagos to Darwin with you and an otherwise memorable trip has been upgraded to unforgettable by you being onboard.
12:24.80S 130:50.25E Spot-On Marine boatyard, Ludmilla Creek, Darwin, 9th September 2008
As you might expect for a small boatyard in the middle of a mangrove swamp; it is hot and steamy, all the insects bite and there are strange howling noises all around at night. The noises are more than likely to be from other boat owners who have gone mad waiting on spare parts and a tide high enough to leave. Progress so far is a folding propeller serviced, corrosion anodes replaced, gear oil changed, hull cleaned, waxed and scratches filled with epoxy and keel and sail drive primed with antifouling undercoat. And heat-stroke and about fifty mossie bites.
12:24.80S 130:50.25E Spot-On Marine boatyard, Ludmilla Creek, Darwin, 11th September 2008
I’ve lost count of the bites I’ve had and I’m doing my best to protect the few square inches of unbitten skin I still have left. I think these things are sand flies but whatever they are I never see them, and they must be too small to pull their tiny little wings off, which is what they royally deserve. Apart from insect infestation, working on a boat in 40 degrees of heat is very hard for a delicate white boy like me but I have managed to get one coat of antifouling paint on today. Maybe another tomorrow.
12:24.80S 130:50.25E Spot-On Marine boatyard, Ludmilla Creek, Darwin, 12th September 2008
Graptolite now has two coats of very expensive antifouling paint and the underwater works are happily more or less completed. The skipper beats that with a minimum of four coats of antifouling; boat paint splashes; bite cream; insect repellent and sunblock. As it takes time and money for these protective coatings to be applied, I’m resisting showering it off so I’m probably relatively repellent to humans as well just now. Fortunately, there are not many people around. I should have some new crew next week. There are a few other boaty problems remaining, but they can all be handled at anchor or in a marina away from these bloody sand flies.
12:25.41S 130:49.31E Fannie Bay, Darwin Tuesday 16th September 2008
The Aborigines are a strange bunch. The other day I watched a group outside a bakery. It wasn’t in a David Attenborough sense though, I was in my air-conditioned car eating a meat pie for lunch and they were camped out on the grass under a tree in front of me. Some of them would shout a bit at nobody in particular, and about every five minutes they would drift one at a time to the shade under another tree. It seemed very much like a timeless activity and the shopping centre barely an obstacle to their meanderings. I took a 4WD trip to Kakadu National Park over the weekend with local girl Marylou as my Aboriginal guide. I’ve been to Kakadu before but in the very different Wet Season. It is an oddity that a 50,000-year-old tradition of continuously overwritten rock-art has been brought to an end forever by notices saying there are heavy fines for doing any new ones. Maybe it’s just as well as pictures of whitefellas in cars, eating pies are definitely going to bring in fewer tourists. This morning at first light the tide was right for Grapto to be put back in the water and I motored around to anchor in Fannie Bay. It’s a huge relief to have working drains again and to be away from biting insects although as it is Spring Tide, I have to anchor miles from the beach.
12:26.91S 130:51.01E Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin, NT, 25th September 2008
Fannie Bay had the advantage of being free and with sailing club facilities onshore but the disadvantage of being a very shallow bay making it about a half-hour motor by dinghy to get ashore. The big tidal range and a beach landing usually means dragging the dinghy across a wide muddy beach while soaking wet. As it’s risky carrying a laptop backwards and forwards, I’ve been leaving it in my hire car most of the time. A poor excuse for the lack of blogs, I know. The trip ashore is considerably longer when rowing. My outboard died last week, fairly permanently, as it turned out. It would have cost almost as much to fix as buy a new one, so I bought a new one. As the dealer’s lad forgot to put any oil in the new purchase, this motor died as well about 100 metres from shore. Engine number three seems to be OK. A new crew member turned up on Monday. Christine is an Australian of Chinese/Malay ancestry. Chris has travelled and worked across SE Asia and is, I think, going to be a useful guide. Her running costs are quite low as well, being a tiny, non-drinking vegetarian. This morning we came back into Tipperary Waters Marina to provision and dry out clothes before carrying on to Bali. Quasar has also arrived in the marina and we may well go in convoy with them to Bali next week.
12:26.91S 130:51.01E Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin, NT 27th September 2008
Another minor disaster has struck as Christine has had to return to Melbourne to help with a family medical crisis. We spent most of yesterday trying to get her a flight. So, it’s now back to the drawing board to find more crew. As it happens I’m in no particular hurry to leave as I’m waiting on some spare parts being delivered. I’ve come to the conclusion that the busy shipping lanes of SE Asia are no place to be without radar and AIS so new kit is on its way from the good folks at ebay.
12:26.91S 130:51.01E Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin, NT, 2nd October 2008
I got one new crew guy a few days ago. Leon from Canada. It’s not his real name which is Kwok Leung. Leon has been busy turning my galley into a Chinese restaurant kitchen and has been turning out some good meals. Number 14 with noodles is particularly good! Repairs to the boat are grinding on. While dismantling the genoa furling drum to change the furling line yesterday some parts jumped off the boat into the water, as they often do. Diving down to get them was a nasty job. Box jellyfish and crocodiles are less common on the Hamble River. The radar is now working and an AIS transponder receiver is almost installed. No big boat is going to be able to sneak up on me in the Malacca Strait. Leon has been getting DVDs out of the local library for our evening’s entertainment. ‘The Road to Bali’ with Bing and Bob was an excellent choice. It is now technically the Wet Season here in the Top End but the wetness is still all sweat and not rain.
12:20.83S 130:02.20E off the north coast of Australia, 11th October 2008
Grapto is finally underway again after a very long stay in steamy Darwin. We are now heading towards Bali with a possible stopover on the way at a speck of land called Ashmore Reef. My crew now is Leon from Canada, Eddie from Germany and Zack from Guernsey. They are mere babies compared to the old farts I usually recruit. None though are too clued up in the secret ways of this ocean cruising life but Cap’n Martyn will have them whipped into shape before arrival. One last panic on departure from Tipperary Waters was a complete failure of the navigation instruments which was eventually tracked to a blown fuse in the nether recesses of the course-computer. It took a long time to find the problem and we ended up having a night sharing a pier with some big smelly fishing boats. Out on the water this morning the biting insects and the humidity fell away behind us and I have to say, it felt good to be back at sea again.
12:12.51S 126:00.88E Timor Sea 13th October 2008
A couple of days at sea now and there’s been almost no wind. The boys are all excited about catching and barbecuing skipjack tuna but they will get over it when we land some better fish. Leon still has command of the galley and his unusual Chinese/Italian fusion cusine is strange but good. A tolerance for a lot of garlic is essential. I used the AIS in anger for the first time yesterday to call up a fishing boat by name to see if they had nets in our way. I’ve not been able to use it since then as we’ve not had another boat within 20 miles of us.
12:14.31S 122.58.93E Ashmore Reef, Timor Sea, 15th October 2008
A few miles from Ashmore Reef the autopilot control cable snapped and we had to hand-steer into the reef in the dark yesterday evening. This place is not entirely deserted as Australian Customs keep a boat here to keep the Indonesian fishermen away but there is nobody else. We picked up a mooring buoy for the night and were visited by four Customs chaps in the morning. I think they were lonely. We had a small brown bird visit as well, maybe a noddy, which was also lonely and insisted on sitting on our shoulders like Long John Silver’s parrot. The reef is just three tiny islets above water and you are only allowed to visit part of one of them but there is lots of beach, coral, fish and green turtles. The turtles annoyingly wouldn’t stay still long enough to be ridden on but we’ll get them tomorrow. Leon, Eddie and Zack are beside themselves about getting up close and personal with desert islands, coral reefs and sea-creatures and it is a good reminder to me that it is something special. I was getting a bit ho-hum about it all. The crew also still likes eating skipjack tuna but I’m definitely past that stage. For a dose of reality, this afternoon was spent with me upside down in a hot machinery-space jury-rigging the autopilot control wires using sealing-wax and string (actually rigging wire and bulldog clips. It’s well worth keeping a supply onboard people). It seems to be working again. We are planning on a bit of turtle-baiting tomorrow and then off to Bali.
11:48.84S 122.04.03E 440 miles SW of Bali, 16th October 2008
Green turtles can swim surprisingly fast! We had another play on the reef then headed out to sea after lunch. We dined on roast kangaroo and beetroot (?) as we left offshore Australia and entered offshore Indonesia. There is still little wind so the engine is chugging away most of the time but we seem to have enough diesel to do the whole trip.
10:56.23S 120:10.92E 328 miles SE of Bali, 17th October 2008
Another of the autopilot’s cables snapped this morning which meant more fun time upside down and covered in grease to get it replaced. Grapto’s first black marlin was also dragged aboard in the early hours. Eat your heart out Colin! It was not the biggest specimen ever caught but the meat is excellent and will keep us going for at least a couple of days. Lunch was the boat special of fish kebabs with lime. No scurvy here!
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 20th October 2008
In one of those synchronized moments that can only happen on boats, yesterday evening while we were approaching Bali, in the space of ten minutes the skies opened up with rain and lightning; the wind and waves and tidal stream became unpleasant; the last spare autopilot cable snapped, and the engine started acting up with a blocked fuel filter. It was all a bit messy. Advised not to enter the harbour at night we looked around for a place to rest up. The nearby inlets were covered with people in coolie hats net fishing from outrigger canoes but having crept by them into something uncharted but described as an anchorage in a man-made lagoon in reclaimed land we found that the depth left something to be desired and we ended up grounding on soft sand. The tide lifted us off after we had had a short nap and we entered the harbour of Benoa in daylight. The marina was full of Blue Water Rally boats and one other stray WARC boat, ‘Calli Due’. With formalities completed the Grapto crew quickly got stuck into the local Bintang beer and plates of nasi goreng.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 21st October 2008
The first day ended with a trip to the tourist town of Kuta for food and clubbing with the crew at the Ocean Beach Club. Obviously, I’m 25 years too old for that kind of thing and today has been spent resting up on the boat.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 24th October 2008
I had a trip out to Denpasar, the capital city, with Leon today. It’s a fairly manic place and non-touristy with several hundred motorbikes at any one time aiming straight for you. I had to be helped across the road by a little old lady at one point. Seriously. The city, and I assume the rest of Bali, is awash with Hindu temples and always with a statue or two of some ferocious looking deity outside. For some reason they are dressed in cloth sarongs as well but there is no pleasing these particular gods. The market was a really interesting place and was piled high with strange fruits, flowers, spices and dead animals. Although the place looks as though it ought to smell pretty ripe the main scent in the air was only wood smoke from the street-vendors cooking fires and the exhaust from thousands of Hondas.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 26th October 2008
All repairs are now finished on the steering so I shouldn’t have to spend so much time at sea with a spanner in hand. There are just a few fuel and water filters to change and Grapto is good to go. If there were proper ships chandlers here I would do a few more less essential projects but buying stuff here is the usual painful process typical of the Third World. Haggling, assuming they have what you want, is supposed to start with a ridiculous price and an equally ridiculous counter-offer and you still always end up getting ripped off. Life’s too short. I’ll spend money in Singapore instead. The currency here is a bit un-nerving as well. Usually you have to deal in millions of thingies to get anything and the potential for getting the decimal point in the wrong place is high.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 2nd November 2008
New crew are on their way, but I’ve probably got another couple of weeks to languish in this marina. They will be American, French and Swiss this time. I’m finding Kuta, the nearest town and of Bali Bomb infamy, to be intensely irritating but I’m forced into the place to eat and buy bootleg DVD’s. The locals have a severe case of tourist pollution which is not surprising given the western dross that turn up here on package holidays, but I am close to taking a fish-billy to the next local that tries to attract my attention by shouting ‘boss’ at me. There is a constant stream of ‘ello, boss, boss, boss’ as you walk down the street. Usually followed by ‘taxi boss?’; then ‘massage boss?’; then ‘girl boss?’ then ‘two girl boss?’ This is not right. The traditional trading rules-of-engagement here clearly demand that the vendor should start big and comes down to something that the customer is prepared to buy. Whatever happened to starting with ‘three sexy girl upstair longtime’? Scruffy backpackers have gone a long way towards destroying this very ancient and interesting culture! I had to get a new watch today which is surprisingly difficult if you actually need a real watch that works. Like the DVD’s the counterfeit ones are everywhere on the streets but none of them are waterproof to 10,000 fathoms and light up when somebody pesters you although some helpfully do have a compass built-in that points towards Mecca.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 9th November 2008
I’m still in Bali watching the slow build-up of the monsoon rains and collecting mosquito bites. There’s no malaria here though. Just Dengue Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. Yesterday, I made a half-hearted attempt at taking a ferry to the Gili Islands near Lombok. Former crew, Zack and Eddie, emailed me to tell me they are there now doing something hedonistic. Unfortunately, the boat was fully booked so I went into Kuta for another few dozen DVD’s and to eat. I also found a baker’s in Kuta yesterday that does a really good bread’n’butter pudding. Despite the highly exotic nature of this place you could probably carve out a fairly normal Brit expat lifestyle here if you work hard enough at it. The security forces on the streets are being fairly obvious to try and make sure nothing blows up following the executions of the last lot of bombers to operate here. My taxi even got searched last night. Osama, the taxi driver, wasn’t all that happy about it. One of my neighbours in the marina claims to keep a Kalashnikov under his bed. It’s not much use here but when running the gauntlet up the Red Sea next year it could be useful to have a battleship in the convoy.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 10th November 2008
I had an interesting day today. I shared a car and driver with ancient mariners, Bill & Jill Dennis, first met in Australia, who tell me they have been at sea for 17 years. Certainly, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else they haven’t been in the world except for the uplands of Bali. The day started out conventionally enough with visits to a bird park and a reptile park. Both good. Then a look at some workshops and market stalls in Ubud, with so much hassle from shopkeepers that I ended up only buying one batik shirt even though I wanted more. Artwork here is generally cheap and can be good quality but it seems getting to a reasonable price can only be achieved by them grabbing and shouting at you while you pretend to walk off down the street. Unfortunately, you also get the grabbing and shouting even if you don’t want anything to do with their hilarious penis-shaped bottle openers. Lunch was in a restaurant with a great view over the huge volcano of Mt. Batur and lake. We then had a wander around a couple of big intricately carved and very puzzling Hindu temples where we had to put on sarongs and sashes. I suppose it’s only fair as they make the statues and even trees wear them here. In the afternoon we went to a place that did coffee. I’m not sure what I was thinking of but I went for a cup made from coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a mongoose-like critter. As Jack Nicholson says in ‘The Bucket List’ movie when he has his favorite expensive coffee explained to him “You’re shitting me” and a terminal but jolly Morgan Freeman replies “Nope, cats beat me to it!” In the evening we had a personal guided tour around Bali Zoo, in the dark with a young girl with a spotlight. Most things that can eat you are very active then. A big sleepy male orangutan reluctantly came to converse by the offer of some star fruit but the lions were very enthusiastic about some lamb chops which we had on the end of a big stick.
08:44.45S 115:12.80E Bali International Marina, 20th November 2008
New crew has arrived and I’m more than ready to leave Bali. Crew are now Bonnie from the US of A, Fanny from Geneva and Aurelien from Brittany, France. We have spent the last couple of days fuelling and provisioning and getting visas and permits sorted out. Now we just need to dash up to Singapore (about 1000 miles) and maybe catch a few tourist spots on the way. We’ll probably set off Friday morning.
08:01.58S 115:31.89E, Java Sea, 21st November 2008
We had a final night out last night on Kuta town with Leon and did those classic Indonesian things like eating Tex-Mex and playing pool. We left Bali this morning bound for Kumai, Kalimantan. Hopefully to see some orang-utan in the wild before they can only be found looking miserable in zoos. The cuisine de bateau now seems to be French and there is now a bit of elegance and finesse that has been lacking in Grapto’s dining hall recently. It’s been wet today and there were some huge waterspouts nearby as we motored up the east coast of Bali. Nighttime is also not easy hereabouts as the local fishing fleet goes in to stealth mode and considers navigation lights or radios to be a bit girly. As I write we are weaving our way through some small boats we can only see when they light up their ciggies.
05:55.95S 113:59.14E Java Sea, 23rd November 2008
Strong currents and headwinds have made even motoring to the northwest a bit slow. After using up a whole tank of fuel for not much progress we are now sailing gratifyingly fast but in the wrong direction. We should get to the Tanjung Puting National Park at Kumai before Pongo pygmaeus becomes extinct though. We’ve caught no poisson so far but that’s mainly because my last good lure plus hand-line got dropped over the side by mistake. The local fishing folk continue to think that if we can’t see them then everything is fine. I wouldn’t normally care all that much but the offshore fishing boats here look as if they are made from brightly painted railway sleepers and could do some serious damage. There are also a good number of freighters and tankers plying these waters and it all makes for a busy night watch. Fannie and Aurelien are also having a bit of trouble with the Mal de Mer. Mal de Mer has exactly the same symptoms as Seekrankheit except with different expletives. What use are galley slaves who prefer to sit out in the rain squalls rather than go near the galley? They’ll be all right in a day or two.
05:2.51S 112:24.57E Java Sea, 24th November 2008
As this trip has been a bit slow and tedious, we had a small diversion to the remote island of Bawean and the port of Sankapura to stretch legs and get a bit of fuel and food. Fanny and I walked into the town in search of food leaving Aurelien to guard the boat, anchored in the harbour, and Bonnie to guard the dinghy. They must not get many visitors to this island as we seemed to provide a major entertainment for the people. Dodging around the cycle-rickshaws that were everywhere, Fanny found a nasty little alleyway leading in to a dark warren of tunnels populated by toothless hags who were sat on the ground holding up tatty fruit and vegetables and dead things for inspection. I decided that food gathering here was best left to the women crew and I took Aurelien in search of the manlier diesel. Usually diesel and petrol is sold here in old litre cooking oil bottles from grocery shops. I ended up getting 80 litres laboriously ladled out of a bucket, with a ladle, into our jerrycans.
07:44.39S 111:43.65E Kumai, Kalimantan, 26th November 2008
After a long slog against the wind and current we reached the mouth of the Sekonyer River, Kalimantan (Borneo to those behind the times), this morning and the trip then turned into a scene from ‘Apocalyse Now’ as we pushed miles upriver through the mangroves to the small river town of Kumai. The weather is miserable with continuous rain and attack from the local mosquitoes. That and the wailing from the mosques across the river calling the faithful to prayer will give a flavour of the place. The plan for tomorrow is to haggle for fuel and food then go to say hello to some Dayak natives, orangutans, proboscis monkeys and other relatives then press on to Singapore.
07:44.39S 111:43.65E Kumai, Kalimantan, 28th November 2008
Thursday was mostly spent traveling to other towns to get money from elusive cash machines. Today, the Graptonauts chartered a speedboat and native guide and raced 40-odd miles up the Sekonyer River through the Borneo jungle. The destination was Camp Leakey, an orangutan research station and sanctuary in the Tanjung Puting National Park. There were plenty of the ginger chaps strolling about through the forest eating bananas. There were big intimidating males with flappy faces and even more of the downtrodden-looking females holding tiny orangutan babies with wide-eyed and bewildered expressions. Unfortunately, they don’t stand too much chance of being around much longer with all the illegal logging and forest clearance going on.There were also gibbons swinging about but no proboscis monkeys as it’s a bit flooded for them at this time of year. There were also lots of butterflies and there should be some good pictures posted eventually.
02:19.63S 108:53.02E South China Sea, 1st December 2008
On Saturday we completed fuelling and fooding and set off down the Kumai River in a soup of floating vegetation. Our next destination is Bataam, 500 miles to the northwest to clear out of Indonesia. At this time of year there is a 2-3 knot current against us and no wind so it’s going to take a while. The only wildlife in these waters seems to be fishermen. I can’t imagine what they are trying to fish for. We have had no bites in days. There are no birds, flying fish, dolphins or anything. A solution has come to me for the Southeast Asia deforestation problem. They should just stop chucking the trees in the water. We took a hit from a couple of big logs in the early hours of yesterday which smashed up our speed instruments (also called a log) and gave us a bit of a fright but no other obvious damage. There are also a lot of freighters and tankers around that seem to be unmanned as far as I can tell as they never change course if we are in their way but it makes the night watches go by quicker.
01:29.78S 107:32.13E South China Sea, 2nd December 2008
We had an excellent ragout of goat followed by crepes for dinner last night. I might have to get the gingham tablecloths and candles in bottles out. Progress is slow as there is three knots of seasonal current and wind on our nose. We are lucky not to be going backwards.
00:44.93N 104:33.62E anchored south of Bintan, 5th December 2008
We crossed back in to the northern hemisphere this afternoon near Lingga island. As seems to be usual with the Equator it was cool, cloudy and drizzly. We celebrated with the last couple of cans of Bintang having no champagne onboard. We are now in the Riau Islands anchored near the south of the Selat Riau between Batam and Bintan. Another 40 miles and we arrive at Nongsa Point to clear out of Indonesia and then we cross the Malacca Strait to Singapore.
01:17.66N 103:45.65E Republic of Singapore Yacht Club 6th December 2008
It was an early start from Nongsa Point this morning. It was something to do with having to get out of Indonesia before Immigration could fine us for outstaying our welcome. Some sort of scam obviously as the cost to ‘fix’ the problem was exactly the same as the fine would have been. The crossing of the Singapore Strait was very very scary. At any one time, hundreds of large tankers and container ships are ploughing through these waters in both directions at 20 knots with only a couple of ship lengths between them. It was a bit like creeping across an urban motorway with a Zimmer frame. The only problem though was the huge wash from the back of one giant tanker that bounced us around and dumped fresh sea water through an open hatch onto my newly laundered and dried bedding. We arrived at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club this afternoon to clear in but we are not getting much rest in the marina with the mooring lines twanging in the swell. A nice luxurious marina otherwise with a pool, gym, restaurant and a marina manager who bought us all a beer.
01:17.66N 103:45.65E Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, 13th December 2008
It’s been a sticky week here in Singapore. Some of it has been touristy stuff like swilling Singapore Slings in Raffles Hotel, touring Sentosa Island and dining in Chinatown but there has also been the usual boat fixing-up and trotting around to chandlers for bits. The lack of spare parts for the steering system is currently keeping us here but that should be sorted out early next week. Fanny and Aurelien had a bit of a panic about having enough time to find a boat in Phuket to take them to La Reunion after Christmas and so caught a bus to Thailand today. So just one crew left to order about but that’s OK for coastal sailing. Singapore is looking more and more like a Disney World where people live. It is scarily prosperous, orderly and clean but this is mainly due to bullying by the government. There are heavy fines for doing anything remotely antisocial and taking durian fruit on the MRT seems to carry the death penalty. Fortunately, they seem to be out of season.
03:00.25N 101:23.32E Royal Selangor Yacht Club, Port Klang, Malaysia, 20th December 2008
The new parts for the steering system arrived and we sailed out of Singapore on Thursday afternoon. There is no question in my mind that the shipping in the Malacca Strait is heaviest anywhere in the world. This time though it was more like walking up the hard-shoulder rather than crossing the motorway. We arrived outside Port Klang last night and bobbed and weaved through dozens of anchored and slow moving super tankers and anchored ourselves near the harbour entrance until daylight. For you Old Colonials, Port Klang used to be called Swettenham and is the port for Kuala Lumpur. We had a bit of a treat this morning as we had a pod of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins playing around us. This species of dolphin is bright pink, almost shocking pink. We saw some before in the dolphinarium at Sentosa Island but never expected to see any wild ones. The formalities clearing into Malaysia were the usual farce with the Port Authority, Customs and Immigration all not understanding each other’s paperwork. They were very friendly about it though and Customs drove us around to various offices until they got their act together. I’m sure if I had just unloaded a couple of hundred shipping containers stuffed full of refugees and toxic waste it would have been a simpler process. It now looks like Penang will be our Christmas destination with Langkawi soon after and Phuket, Thailand for New Year.
03:00.25N 101:23.32E Royal Selangor Yacht Club, Port Klang, Malaysia, 21st December 2008
We took the commuter train into Kuala Lumpur today to say hello to the very shiny Petronas Towers. We couldn’t go up as they had sold out of tickets, but we did their monster shopping mall and then went up the nearby KL Tower instead (a telecoms mast a bit like the CN Tower in Toronto but bigger). Later in KL we did the Buddhist temple of Thean Hou which was a very silly confection of pagodas and dragons but some devotees seemed to take it seriously. Back to Port Klang for dinner and we took the dinghy a short way to a tumbledown restaurant built on stilts in the mangrove across the river. We ordered a few things including a fish which I’m sure we saw being caught to order by some lads off the rickety jetty we had just tied up to.
04:19.21N 100:25.38E Tanjong City Marina, Penang, Malaysia, 24th December 2008
The sail up from Port Klang to Penang was only marred by hundreds of kamikaze fishing boats. I hear they think it good luck to cross in front of a sailing boat. It would be mostly harmless if they had anything approaching regulation navigation lights. Most of them though seem to use a combination of Christmas tree decorations and road-mending equipment. The island of Penang and Georgetown seems nice if a little more gritty than Singapore and there are some remnants of the old Straits Settlements colonial buildings left. We will be here for Christmas and have checked out the venerable Eastern & Oriental Hotel which may be our venue for dinner. My dad, once known as Cpl. F Pickup REME, made it here before me doing his bit in the Army in the early 50’s. I’m not sure if I should mention that to the natives or not. A very Merry Christmas to all.
05:49.79N 100:12.92E Malacca Strait, Boxing Day 2008
Christmas Eve drinks were in the elegant Raffles-era E&O Hotel where the staff were all in Santa hats wishing all and sundry a “Mellyclissmas”. They apparently have many different hats and greetings for dozens of Western, Indian and Chinese festivals through the year. Dinner was a wild night in an outdoor food courtyard with a Chinese comedian and singers. Christmas Day was mainly spent with Bonnie and I looking around huge Buddhist temples. It’s all very jolly climbing pagodas, ringing bells and lighting joss-sticks and it makes the trappings of Christianity all seem a bit dull. I bought a lucky gold cat that waves happily when you put batteries in. In the evening we went up the funicular railway up Penang Hill hoping to see the lights of the city below but the top was in cloud and rain. There were some damp monkeys around to entertain and I made some phone calls back home. We are on our way towards the island of Langkawi now which is on the Thai border. Duty-Free and snorkelling is what it does.
06:59.70N 099:06.52E Andaman Sea, Thailand, south of Phuket, 28th December 2008
Boxing Day night was at anchor outside the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club. In the morning we stocked up on Duty Free booze and a few Marlboro for the thieving officials I’m expecting to have to placate in the Middle East. We fuelled up and saw the non-corrupt local officials for Clearance then sailed around to the southwest side of Langkawi and anchored off a very pretty beach and dinghied in for dinner at a beach restaurant. They did very good barbecued-king-prawn. It seemed a shame to leave but as the goal was Phuket by New Year, we sailed into Thai waters later this morning and through the Ko Tarutao Marine National Park where there are loads of perfect little islands and beaches with nobody on them. As night fell we stumbled into a new variation on the fishing boat navigation lights problem with the local fleet, maybe about 50 or 60 of them, blinding us with very powerful lights they use to attract the king prawns they sell to beach restaurants on Langkawi. Phuket could be tomorrow.
08:10.22N 098:20.40E Phuket Yacht Haven Marina, New Years Day 2009
First anchorage in Thailand was in the bay of Ao Chalong in the south of Phuket for formalities. Despite being a ‘one-stop’ clear-in it was just laughable with dozens of yacht crews milling about trying to guess what the forms could possibly mean and who wanted photocopies of what. When we were half-way through the process, they decided to throw us all out so they could have lunch but everybody sat tight until they carried on. On a sail to the north of Phuket we passed some limestone island stacks that seemed photogenic so we persuaded a passing shrimp fishing boat to take me on a photo shoot so I could get Grapto in the picture. We pulled into the Yacht Haven Marina where Brit managers Nick and Zara invited us to spend New Years Eve with them in a beach restaurant and bar with about 30 others yachties on the crowded Nai Yang beach where there were big firework displays for about four hours and hundreds of hot-air lanterns being set off over the sea. It was complete chaos with some of the big rockets exploding on the beach in the middle of crowds and some of the lanterns getting shot down in flames by other rockets. It was all very dangerous and very good fun. Happy New Year to all, from Graptolite in Thailand.
08:15.90N 098:29.29E Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, 3rd Jan 2009
The weather has not been too special for the last couple of days so we have been busy doing nothing. Today seemed a bit better although a bit windy (no pleasing sailors) and we left the marina for Phang Nga Bay. Amazing scenery, towering stacks of limestone, caves you can take dinghy in until it gets too dark. Pictures eventually.
08:04.60N 098:40.81E Ko Hong, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, 5th January 2009
For the past couple of days we’ve been cruising around Phang Nga Bay. I don’t know how I’ve reached such a ripe old age without being here before. The sea is a bit silty in the northern part of the bay where some big rivers enter and here the sea is a jade green. There are hundreds of small islands scattered about. A typical one rises vertically from the sea for about 50-60 metres, there are plants growing out of every crevice and on the top and the bases are often undercut by the sea giving the impression that they are floating around. Down the sides of these (Permian) limestone cliffs are huge stalactites that drip off the bases where they overhang over soft white sand beaches. You will have seen some of these islands already as they feature in films like ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and the ‘Beach’ but it’s not the same as clambering over them. The oddest thing about some of these islands is the ‘hong’ (Thai for room). Sometimes through a narrow cleft that you can dinghy into, or sometimes crawling through a tiny cave, you enter into a vast space of lost world in the inside of the island that is open to the sky and completely enclosed with big vertical limestone walls with a lagoon or mangrove for a floor. Dinner tonight was a pile of big shrimp bought from a passing fishing boat this morning. As we must have overpaid they threw in a whelk-like creature the size of a small melon that Bonnie turned into chowder. They also threw in a small crab but it was a bit too snappy to bother with so we let it go.
08:10.22N 098:20.40E Phuket Yacht Haven Marina, 8th Jan 2009
We sailed back to the Yacht Haven marina yesterday to collect Colin from Phuket airport. Since leaving the boat last August he’s lost all his hard-won suntan but he should soon look his usual weather-beaten self again. Leon should also be arriving back on the boat later this morning. I’ve never eaten so many shrimp. The little fishing boats just keep tempting us with their catch. We had an excellent few days cruising from perfect island to perfect island. The area is surprisingly quiet and undeveloped, and this is supposed to be High Season! We see may half a dozen other yachts through the day and it’s easy to find a whole island of your own to anchor off.
07:49.25N 098:21.25E Chalong Bay, Phuket, Thailand, 11th January 2009
Now all fully crewed with Colin and Leon back onboard we had a fine cruise around Phang Nga Bay and did some ‘cave boating’ in the dinghy. The sea caves here are real caves with stalactites and everything and with a bit of hunting around you can usually find one to paddle into with a torch for a few hundred metres until popping out into a big open space in the hollow centre of the island. We had the usual feast of giant shrimp on the barbie for dinner and then we were back in Chalong Bay to clear out to go to Sri Lanka. After a last night out ashore the weather had blown up and Bonnie ended up submerged after unsuccessfully boarding the bouncing dingy (1). Returning to where we had left Grapto in the crowded anchorage we found she had dragged her anchor some distance but cleverly managed to miss other boats on the way (2). After re-anchoring, the bracket holding the engine alternator on snapped off and our current problem is where to find a welder who will do a house-call on a Sunday (3). Problems with this boat usually come in threes and always seem to happen at night in howling wind.