Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Singapore Strait

The Singapore and Malacca Straits are the most active waters in the world for piracy.  The good thing is that the pirates have no interest in hostage taking nor anything to do with sailboats.  They are mostly after cargo and fuel tankers.

The Singapore Strait is also the busiest waterway in the world.  It is about 20 miles across, has traffic lanes, and on this day, totally obscured by smoke.

We are about to turn and pass behind this massive tanker.

We departed Nongsa Point early for a 55 mile day with no wind to cross the Singapore Straits and clear in at the Puteri Harbor Marina, Johor Baru, Malaysia.  We had never seen so much shipping in one place.  We ran parallel to huge vessels and turned to cross behind them when they passed us only to have one come from the other direction so we would make a 180 and do the same thing again.  Each time chiseling away at the shipping lane finally to arrive on the Singapore side.  The AIS and Radar were indispensable.

This is a picture from our AIS display of the South tip of Singapore and the Strait.  The green triangles are ships.  The purple lines are the tracks from moving ships over the past 20 minutes.  The ships with black dots are anchored, the rest are moving.  The green line extending from the ship ending in a green circle tells where the ship will be in 20 minutes.  

Oil Drilling platforms being made at the Singapore Shipyard

We cut through anchorages to avoid moving boats and finally made it to the Western Reach.  This river, on the west of Singapore, would take us Puteri Harbor.  After three hours, we pulled in to a beautiful marina built in front of a shopping mall.  There were restaurants, shopping, and after 3 months of only Indonesian Bintang Beer, we now had wine and beer from all over the world available right in the marina complex.  Not only that, every place had Happy Hours that covered most of the day.
Puteri Harbor Marina

Tortuguita is at the end of the left pier.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Indonesia Recap

We really had a great time.  The Sail Indonesia Rally was definitely worth it.  Indonesians were very welcoming and grateful that we were visiting their country.  We learned enough of their language to get by.  We were greeted like Rock Stars. We were treated like we were famous world travelers.  

We even made the front page of the newspaper.

We ate like kings for essentially nothing.  We saw animals found nowhere else.  We made safe passages in poorly charted waters.  We didn't get the engine intake or propeller fouled with plastic trash.  We didn't hit any fish traps.  We got an understanding of foreign religions and cultures.  We met some great people.  That makes for a pretty successful 3 months.

To Batam

After leaving Borneo we had hopes of making some nice landfalls at the islands of Belitung, Bangka, Lingga, and the Riau chain. Instead, the smoke essentially chased us all the way to Singapore. Normally we look for anchorages on the downwind side of an island. This is where, unfortunately, the most smoke and blowing ashes are found. Instead we did the opposite and anchored upwind which gave us an uncomfortable rolling but saved our lungs somewhat. We left Belitung a day early because the smoke was unbearable. 
Sunset pushing into the smoke

We bypassed Bangka completely since the anchorage was downwind of two forest fires, and made a quick stop to sleep on the upwind side of Lingga. The Riaus were better and we sailed during the day and stopped every night. At this point, we had made the decision to hurry to Malaysia and fly back home for a month for house projects. Also we hoped the air would clear by the time we got back.

We crossed the equator northbound in the Riaus. That also happened to be 180 degrees of longitude from home. We are now on the other side of the world. This also coincided with the Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse and the Autumnal Equinox.

Crossed the equator. (Latitude in the lower right hand corner)

Life is good. We pushed through morning smog to arrive at the Nongsa Point Marina to be processed out of Indonesia. This took 2 days. Nongsa was by far the most expensive place we visited in Indonesia, and the marina really had nothing special to speak of.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Forest People

The best closeup I took.  She was 5 feet away.
I have had a hard time and have been procrastinating writing this blog.  I have also reached the limits of my Olympus Point and Shoot camera on this trip.  A proper digital SLR camera is really needed for wildlife. 

The path to Camp Leakey

Mom with baby.  Mom's drinking the vitamin milk.
Just like the Komodo dragons, I find it difficult describe our experience with the orangutans to the extent that it deserves.  It's one of those 'need to be there' type of places and was for sure one of the coolest things we have ever done.  Fortunately, this is one of the places that non-boaters can actually get to.  There are daily flights to the Pangkalan Bun Airport (PKN) from Jakarta and a few nice hotels to choose from in Pangkalan Bun.  From there, Harry's Yacht Service will set you up with whatever you need for your 2 or 3 day trip.

Junior, Mom, and Baby
The word orangutan comes from the Malaysian language.  Orang means Person, Utan means Forest.  Orangutans are only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.  We did a two day trip to the Tajung Puting National Park to see these Great Apes in their natural habitat.  Unfortunately that habitat is rapidly disappearing due to deforestation.

Trying to squeeze around the fence post
Orangutans share 97% of our DNA which is actually less than the chimpanzee, but the 97% appears to be in the parts of the human genome that actually matter.  So orangutans appear to be much more closely related to humans than chimpanzees.  They are among the most intelligent primates, orangutans are adept at using a number of sophisticated tools to gather food and also make sleeping nests each night from branches and leaves. research suggests that different orangutan groups acquire different skills which are maintained and transmitted in a population through social learning.

The babies never let go of their mothers

We visited 3 park stations.  The rangers put out bananas and vitamin milk at the daily feedings.  During the dry season, there aren't many forest fruits to eat so there are many more orangutans visiting the platforms at feeding time.  During the wet season when forest fruits are more plentiful, there may not be any visiting apes. 

When you can't carry baby and bananas, just shove the bananas in your mouth
Orangutan rehabilitation used to be done here but now is only done at Sepilok, Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.  Baby orangutans are illegally poached for pets.  The mothers are killed by the poachers since they will fight to the death rather than give up their baby.  These babies are sooner or later found and returned for rehabilitation.  Babies are also orphaned because their mothers were killed intentionally by illegal logging and deforestation.  They haven't learned the necessary skills to survive in the wild from their mothers so caretakers raise them like their mothers would have done.  

Moms take the kids for a snack

Princess, an orphan rehabilitated  in the 80's was taught sign language by her caretaker.  She is now a mother and still lives in the Tajung Puting and comes for feedings.

They should get rid of these pigs
We went to Camp Leakey on our first day.  We were the only ones there since all the flights had been cancelled for the past two days due to poor visibility from the smoke.  There were wild boars by the feeding platform eating scraps and peels that fell on to the ground.  The orangutans seemed to be bothered by them and we did hear that a baby was killed by one a year ago.

Ready for the Olympics?
It's difficult to describe the feeling when waiting for and watching these great apes.  Initially you will see a tree moving in the distance.  As the female orangutan, who weighs around 85 pounds, swings and climbs closer and closer to the platform, the trees are bending, shaking, and cracking.  They may sit on a branch, watch, wait, look at us, look at the boars, look at the bananas, and finally just saunter on down.  They seem to not want to touch the ground and will go out of their way and even use tiny trees, that look like they wouldn't even support a bird nest, to make their way across the jungle.  

 Their balance is incredible and they are ten times stronger than humans.  Their feet are just like their hands.  They have four fingers and opposable thumbs. They will hang from anything available from any available appendage.    Like humans, they have no tails.

A few times, they came right through our group from behind.  We were mere feet from these big hairy apes but there was never any sense of fear from either us or these apes.  There was a sense of calm and peace as they worked their way through us toward the bananas, carrying their babies, or holding hands with their adolescents.

More bananas 'to go'
On our second day, flights were again operating and there were more people at the morning feeding at the Pondok Tanggui Station and the afternoon feeding at Tanjung Harapan.  We saw the dominant male, Gundal, at Harapan.  I missed the photo of a lifetime because my camera's memory was full.  With all that hair and weighing close to 200 pounds, he looked tremendous.  Giant trees bent under his weight.  Treetops shook like King Kong was moving through the jungle.  All other orangutans left the platform when he came.  He stayed just a few minutes then moved on into the jungle leaving only the sound of breaking branches and shaking leaves.

It is a real shame that these gentle, timid forest people are being driven to extinction like many other species on earth.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Jungles of Borneo

Sammy takes over the Tortuguita
My New Captain's Chair (for a few days)

We came to Borneo to see the Orangutans but had a really incredible time just going up the rivers to get there.  Our trip was organized by Herry Roustaman.  He came highly recommended by friends who had been here before and also in the cruising guides and literature.  He owns Harry's Yacht Service and really knows the cruising community.  He has been doing this for 18 years.  We had no idea what a find he was. 

Our lookout post on the African Queen

We were a little disappointed when we arrived and anchored in front of Kumai Town.  The smoke was awful and we thought it would really put a damper on our trip to see the Orangutans.  Booker had some real concerns and made a list for me.  I called Herry, asked and had answers to all our questions.  We discussed things.  I called Herry back and made the deal.  His guys would pick us up at 9 AM.  We would do a two day trip, and be back the following evening for a price of 2,000,000 ID Rupiah per person.  That's about $150 USD each.
Entrance to the Sekonyer River
We were in the northern part of the park (green area)

We were ready and waiting when the "African Queen" arrived (that's what we called her).  Herry arranged for Sammy (his real name is Samsel) to stay on Tortuguita while we were gone.  Not that there is any real theft or danger concerns, except for illegal logs being floated down the river which may hit the boat, but for $12/day, it helped me sleep better knowing Sammy was on the job. 

Once we boarded the African Queen, we were treated like royalty.  We had a crew of five.  Captain Iyur (called him Igor), First Officer Nurdin (call him Norton), our guide Pi'i (just called him 'P'), the assistant guide Giri (called him Gary), and the cook Sithi (called her Cynthy).  This was all for just the two of us.  Our own private boat with a crew of five.  I felt like the owner of a superyacht.  The coffee, tea, meals, and snacks were nonstop and great. We ate better than ever and our Balinesian cooking classes really helped us with what Cynthy was cooking.  The best thing for me was being on a boat for two days and never having to touch a thing.

Room with a view

Sungai Sekonyer Village Homestay Bungalows
We headed down the Kumai River and entered the Sekonyer River at the entrance to the Tajung Puting National Park.  We had the option to sleep on the African Queen, in a bungalow at a village, or at an eco-lodge.  We stopped at the village and eco-lodge to check them out before making our decision.  Even though staying at the eco-lodge supports a corporation while the village stay would support the local economy, we chose the Rimba Ecolodge ($75/night) because they had air conditioned rooms and it would be a relief to be out of the smoke.   It was a very nice place.
Rimba Ecolodge

African Queen's Engineering Department

Norton (left) and Igor (right) at the helm
Igor pushed the African Queen up some rivers where it looked like we would never get out.  He would spot a croc or monkeys and stop so we could get an up close and personal view from the safety of the boat.  We came back from Camp Leakey after dark and after a rain had washed lots of debris into the river.  Even though he had a long day, he worked like a champ getting us back to the Ecolodge using only a small light on the bow and a flashlight.  The Rimba Lodge let the African Queen stay on the dock connected to their shore power for the night.  The next day started at 6AM when a troop of Macaque monkeys were jumping the tin roof of our cabin.  We visited two ranger stations for Orangutan feeding and we ended up at Tortuguita after dark around 6 PM.

We couldn't have had a better trip.  It was great.  Thanks Herry for such a first class operation in such an outback place.  Thanks African Queen and crew.  What an amazing treat.

The Crew's Quarters

Cynthy in the Galley

Pushing up the Sekonyer  river

Getting deeper into the jungle

P and Gary watch for crocs with Booker

Got one, a freshwater croc.

It doesn't look like the boat will fit

Great food onboard the African Queen

Proboscis Monkeys at the side of the river

The 'African Queen'

Dave and Herry

Indonesia Burning

We came to Indonesia to mostly do two things.  See the Komodo Dragons, and see the Orangutans.  The town of Kumai on the island of Borneo is the place where you get access to the Tajung Puting National Park.  The last remaining sanctuary for orangutans on Borneo.  The other is on the island of Sumatra.

Heading up the Kumai River.  This is not fog but smoke.
During the night before our arrival, when playing 'spot the fishing boat' with our high beam light, the light just made the haze glow and the beam dissipated maybe 20 meters away.  It was like using your high beams in the fog.  You really couldn't illuminate anything except the air around you.  Thought, however, it was just fog on the water. 

It's pretty bad when you can't even see the mosque.
We arrived at the mouth of the Kumai River in the early morning.  It took us another 4 hours to travel the 15 miles to Kumai Town.  The tide was not helping.  As we progressed up the river, the smell of smoke got worse and worse.  At the town, the visibility was about a half mile.  It was like being downwind of a campfire but nowhere to go to escape it.  As the day progressed, the smoke lifted some but we were a little discouraged that this beautiful tropical river setting was obscured by a white haze.  We looked for dust masks on the boat from boatyard projects but didn't find any.  The smoke was so bad and we were discouraged that our trip to the park would be a bust.  This was a once in a lifetime experience for us and it was being ruined by burners.

The sun, almost obscured by the smoke

For 18 years, large pulp and paper and palm oil plantations have farmed the rich peatlands that run along the Sumatran coast of Indonesia and Borneo Island.   Every year, existing farmland is dried out and burned for the next season's crop and to clear surrounding forests for expansion. The fires are large and hard to control and dry, CO2-rich peatlands can burn for many weeks.
"Those big scale companies are also eager to expand their operations into the adjacent peatland," ...
"Whether they deliberately set the fire, or they can also ask people in the communities around their areas to burn the land, that's also a possibility. And then at the end, those burned areas are proposed as the expansion of their plantation." (2)

There were easily 20 barges in the Kumai River waiting to be stacked high with timber.

It's not just the smoke but the ash was everywhere
Former Indonesian strongman President Suharto distributed large tracts of forest to cement political relationships with army generals. Thus, logging expanded significantly in the 1980s, with logging roads providing access to remote lands for settlers and developers (1)

Even today, with a more progressive Indonesian government, lack of oversight has led to Singapore and Malaysia telling Indonesia to stop the burning.  Seven corporate executives have recently been arrested in Indonesia and Singapore has passed a law which allows it to fine companies that cause smoke pollution, even if they’re not Singapore-based.  (2)

Another barge waiting to be loaded with lumber
We awoke the day after our arrival to find the visibility at 1/4 mile.  We heard that all flights had been cancelled for the past two days.  We went on our trip to the park and the smoke was not as bad in the National Park.  It rained for 10 minutes and may have helped.  We stayed in the Rimba Ecolodge that night because it has air conditioning and we needed a 'breather'.  We heard planes landing on the second day of our trip and had hopes that things were clearing up.  We returned to the boat and planned to leave in the morning but we could barely see the trees on the shore just 30 meters away.  The smoke lifted by 10AM to about 1/2 mile and we were able to get down river where the fresh sea breeze would be a nice relief.  We anchored as far down the Kumai River as possible and thought we would be out of it.  Instead, ash has been falling on the boat all afternoon.

Should have bought some dust masks in Kumai.  Now there's a Free Market opportunity.

The sun setting into the smoke.

Our next stop, on the island of Belitung, was 250 miles away. When we arrived, we could already see the smoke getting worse.  There was some small burning around the village but since Belitung is not downwind of the burning in Borneo, but instead, downwind of the burning in Sumatra.  We knew is wasn't going to be good once the wind shifted offshore as it always does at night.  The smoke was so bad that night that we couldn't see the village and we could see whiffs of smoke coming through the boat.  I did not think it possible but it was worse than Kumai.   Everything on the boat smelled of smoke.  In the morning, the wind shifted and it cleared up.  We went to shore to explore and were going to stay another day to recover from our two day passage but figured why sit around and have to breathe this nonsense again.  So we left for Bangka Island at noon for an afternoon arrival the following day.
The Bangka anchorage is on the right side of this photo.  No way we wanted a repeat of Belitung.

As we approached Bangka, we really couldn't see the island but as we got close to the northeast tip anchorage, we could see fires burning along the coast and the anchorage was directly downwind of several plumes of smoke.  Neither of us wanted to go back into that so we decided to keep going to the next anchorage, 100 miles further on the southeast end of Lingga Island.   This anchorge is behind a small island on the upwind side of the larger Lingga.  We had good hope that 500 miles since Kumai, we finally would be able to get away from the smoke.  It turned out to be quite hazy but no smoke.  So far, so good.