Bali to Langkawi, Malaysia

Part 2

Setting off at first light we motor sailed to the next rally stop at the resort of Lovina on Bali where Joy and Jo left the boat and the new crew Imogen an English gap year student and Cindy, an Australian woman signed on. Marcella left Cintana to go on a diving course with Jo in the eastern part of the island and Joy returned to Australia to provide care and support for a friend recovering from an operation. Unfortunately Bali is very touristy and both Imogen and Cindy had already spent time there so we up-anchored once they we’re settled in and set off for the next rally destination of Pulau Bawean with an overnight stop over at the Island of Sapudi on the way. The distance from Sapudi to Bawean meant an overnight sail, a first for the two women and this proved to be one of our busiest shipping areas with several cargo ships passing close to and numerous fishing boats dotted around with their drift nets out. It was a game of dogems and meant a sleepless night for me.

We timed our arrival at Bawean for dawn but winds were light and we didn’t finally drop anchor until 11 o’clock off another lovely sandy beach where beach boys helped with landing our dinghy through the surf, and this was a service they performed each time we went ashore. We were treated to an official reception by the government on the island and as I was the first skipper ashore I had to drink and eat the local welcome offerings. The food part tasted like sawdust wrapped in tobacco leaves but it was a traditional welcome so you just have to smile, swallow hard and thank your hosts to avoid embarrassment.

The beautiful beach at Bawean

We were treated on the following day to a tour of countryside by coach with the rest of the rally. We were taken to the official reception by coach amazingly all the side roads had been closed off to give us uninterrupted passage and we were accompanied by eight police outriders four of whom were armed with semi automatic weapons. When we arrived the police moved the crowds and these special forces dressed in black took up strategic positions. We had never seen any hint of violence or unrest in Indonesia so maybe this was just designed to impress.

Armed outriders escort us out to dinner

The reception was held in a great hall

The banquet awaits us cruisers and our generous Indonesian hosts

Music and dancing at the afternoon reception

Cindy had decided to go off to stay in a hotel while we were there and proved to be quite a private person, preferring her own company on and off the boat. She wrote some interesting poetry and was clearly creative but it was becoming obvious that crewing wasn’t really her thing. Imogen’s family were sailors so in contrast she was very much at home on the boat.

We were all looking forward to the next stop in Kumai in southern Borneo where we would trek up river to a reserve which was famed for its orangutans. We arrived in the shallow estuary early in the morning on my watch and our timing was good for a rising tide. One of the other rally boats ran aground here and was stranded for 12 hours. We anchored off the scruffy port of Kumai at lunchtime and went ashore by dinghy to find a boat and guide to take us up river to the reserve.

Long tail canoes on the river at Kumai

The authorities here had organised more celebrations and welcoming events which included a visit to a traditional stilted fishing village, unfortunately it poured with rain but this didn’t stop the performers who played and danced for us. Those who didn’t mind getting wet could go up river in one of the villages long tail canoes at high speed, it was quite exhilarating as we roared along in convoy. Next stop was a traditional long house where we were initiated in the art of using a blow pipe. It’s harder than it looks is all I can say, shooting a monkey 20 metres in the canopy would be really hard. We had difficulty enough shooting at a target 10 metres away.

Undergoing training on how to use a blow pipe effectively

The very smartly dressed school children turned out to welcome us

The eternal battle between good and evil

The next day we boarded the converted fishing boat to take us up river to the orangutan reserve, a two day journey. The food we were given was excellent, cooked by a very talented lady while we watched the wild life in the passing jungle. We watched proboscis monkeys wait in the trees until our boat had just passed then leap as far across the river as they could and swim the rest of the way. Our guide explained that the boat scared off the crocodiles rendering it safe for them to cross, very smart!

Deep in the Bornean Jungle on the way to find orangutans

At night we slept on mattresses on deck under mosquito nets with the sounds of the jungle all around us. In the morning we set off up a small tributary which at times was just wide enough for the boat to get through. The captain told us it was not unusual for them to jump overboard and cut there way through vegetation and reed mats, braving the risk of crocodiles. Fortunately we weren’t expected to join in.

When we arrived at the sanctuary we trekked through the jungle for an hour or so to the feeding stations set up at various points. The rangers would put out bananas and other food and then call to the monkeys with a strange wailing sound that echoed through the thick forest. We waited for quite a while until one then another came out of the jungle into our clearing to feed it was an incredible sight. There were up to eight orangutan at any one time as they came and went, disappearing back into the jungle. On our way back to the boat we had a real close encounter when a mother orangutan carrying a baby walked nonchalantly passed us. We were told by the rangers to be careful if we came across mothers and babies as the mums can be very aggressive, defending their young but this Mum was as good as gold.

On our return to Kumai we decided to visit an area of the jungle which had been destroyed by fire where we could plant some new trees. I chose iron wood, Imogen chose mahogany and Cindy chose wild nutmeg a favourite food of the orangutan.

Planting an ironwood tree to replenish jungle destroyed by fire

We motored slowly back to Kumai arriving late afternoon. Cindy returned to her hotel and Imogen and I to the boat. It had been a fantastic experience and one I would hope to repeat when I return to northern Borneo in two years time.

When Cindy returned to the boat the following day we refuelled after a long wait for the agents boat with our diesel onboard. When I inspected the content of the cans it was clear this was not the premium diesel I had paid for it was filthy black with lumps of congealed tar, this was the cheapest diesel you could buy. The boatmen refused to take the fuel back or to refund the money I had given to Lisa the agent. They claimed they only followed orders which was probably true. I tried phoning Lisa many times but unsurprisingly there was no reply and I had no idea where to find her in the town. I’d been stitched up well and good. We had no choice but to set a course for Pulau Belitung about 200 miles to the North East and the resort of Tanjung Pesona.

Cindy and I on the way to a remote island off Bawean

We stopped overnight on a small island called Gelasa but had great difficulty finding a good anchorage the depth off the reef dropped steeply away and as we had arrived at 5pm and it was getting dark it made it very difficult to see the reef so we switched on the echo pilot, our forward looking sonar and crept in towards the island but each time we were met with a sheer wall of reef below. Gradually we crept round the island testing again and again until at last we found a sandy shelf and put on the anchor alarm in case we dragged during the night as the tide switched around. The alarm went off a couple of times but it was only the boat swinging on the chain. I noticed when I came on deck that Extrapole, a French boat on the same rally as us had anchored nearby.

Our anchorage on the Island of Banka was at the resort Tanjung Pesona about 60 miles north of Gelasa and in the late afternoon we dropped the hook off a delightful beach. In the morning Cindy booked into a hotel again and after some discussion with both her and Imogen it was agreed it would be better all round if she left the boat. Imogen was comfortable with us sailing two handed for the rest of the way to Malaysia and proved to be a competent watch keeper. In Tanjung Pesona the authorities had organised beach boys to help with the dinghy landings and launching which at times was a lee shore as a result we had some lively landings and difficult launching made much easier by having half a dozen strong guys to help. They launched the dinghy with us in it and held the boat in the surf while we got the engine running, it would have been very difficult otherwise. We enjoyed the usual dinners and celebrations which were laid on for us free of charge by the local government and were greeted by a welcome committee holding rose petal water for us to wash our hands on landing.

Imogen at the rose petal hand washing welcome

A traditional band plays for us at the welcome ceremony

Traditional dragon dancing, an amazing sight to watch

Welcome dancers and musicians on the beach as we landed

Our next anchorage was a sandy bay at the north end of Bangka about 35 miles and an easy day sail from Tanjung Pesona with now just Imogen and me as crew. We had uneventful day sails from here to an overnight stop on Pekacan Island from where we set off early in the morning for the trip to Selayar Island about 70 miles north. With no wind it was going to be a long motor on flat seas. About six hours out I went below to check the instruments and noticed the inverter which gives the boat it’s mains electrical supply was off. It’s situated in the engine room so I opened up the doors and was met by a wall of hot steam and could see the engine was half submerged in sea water but still running. I put on all three bilge pumps and after 10 minutes we had pumped the bilge dry but I could see that water was pouring out of the bottom of the expansion chamber on the exhaust.

The bonding holding the lead lined insulation in the engine room had failed due to the extreme heat of prolonged motoring and fell on to the exhaust anti siphon pushing it down onto the prop shaft which cut through the cooling water exhaust manifold and flooded the engine room. This took out both alternators, the master volt inverter and the starter motor so we limped into the anchorage off Penuba fishing village on Selayar. Unfortunately it’s only a small fishing village so there was no chance of getting anything fixed there. The nearest place for repairs was Singapore some 200 miles north and there was little wind to get us there. We needed a working starter motor, I contacted Raymond the rally organiser who said if we could find one in Singapore and ship it to Tanjung Penang he had an agent who would bring it the 80 miles south to us by speedboat. I did find one in Singapore but at a cost of $1500 SD, about £800. However I noticed an automotive part number on the old starter and took a long shot putting it on the internet and wonder of wonders Amazon in the US had one for £140 and could ship to Indonesia in 4 days. It just shows very clearly the huge mark up on marine parts. The rest of the rally moved on and we were left to sort things out.

Imogen shopping for a bracelet in Penuba

In the meantime I fixed the exhaust with sealant and good old duck tape, wedged up the head lining and another cruiser suggested stripping the starter, washing it in fresh water and then baking it in the oven for 24 hours on a low heat. I did and reassembled and fitted it to the engine and when I turned the key the engine leapt into life, we were operational again. Our next scheduled stop on the rally was in the Lingga Regency however I didn’t want to risk not being able to start the engine again with the dodgy starter motor so we headed directly for Tanjung Pinang on the Indonesian side of the Singapore Straits, where the new starter was being delivered to Raymond’s agent. We came into the anchorage at midnight after an 18 hour motor sail with local boats anchored everywhere. Finding a spot where we had sufficient swinging room to anchor proved challenging and Imogen using a torch to light our way eventually found a spot by a fuel barge. We were exhausted but happy to be in a safe anchorage and relieved at the prospect of the spare part arriving the next day.

Diane, Imogen and I exploring Penumba

Our farewell dinner was at Bandar Bentantelani so we all motored the last few miles to get there and had a very disappointing farewell dinner in the pouring rain. However on the bright side Raymond delivered my new starter motor which arrived on time just as our Indonesian visas were expiring the next day. Fortunately there was enough sunshine to keep the batteries on full charge through our big solar panels so the loss of the alternators hadn’t affected us and hopefully would continue until we could get them fixed in Singapore. The solar installation has been such a boon and generates enough power to run the boat in all but the most prolonged bad weather. The following morning Anne Romeril signed off Michael Sweet’s “Henrietta” and joined Imogen and I as crew, an additional crew member would ease the watch keeping back to 4 hours each. Anne was a retired barrister from Dublin and proved great at keeping the boat trim and tidy, not one of either Imogen’s or my strengths. We left Indonesia in glorious sunshine and flat seas with not a breath of wind. I planned our course to run parallel with the busy shipping lanes which run between the two countries through the famous Singapore Straits, the busiest shipping area in the world. Once we were opposite Singapore I intended to cross at right angles and make for the western clearance anchorage. Unfortunately “Murphy” was waiting for us, if it can go wrong at the worst possible moment it will! Just as I turned the boat to cross the 10 mile Strait the electronics crashed, we lost all our navigational instruments, autopilot, radar, plotter and AIS. I later found out it was a fault in the autopilot course computer that brought the system down and nothing I could do would bring it back up again. At least it was a nice clear day so we could see the solid procession of ships for about 5 miles either way but our AIS would have been sending out our ship Identification, course and speed to every ship within 25 miles to warn them we were crossing and I knew the Singaporean authorities won’t let you in if you don’t have an operational AIS it’s a major safety issue. We couldn’t go back to Indonesia since our visas had run out and we desperately needed the vastly superior repair facilities of Singapore to fix things up for us, so I decided to go anyway and see what happened. We played dodgems for two hours crossing the separation lanes in the Straits, judging the speed and distances between the ships visually and as we got half way to our astonishment we came across guys in canoes peacefully fishing, it was the most bizarre sight as huge ships passed either side of them. As we approached the “check in” anchorage I expected the border control patrol vessels to intercept us but nothing happened so I drifted around the area not wanting to switch off the engine and waiting for the immigration authorities to appear. I radioed on their channel and was told to stay put “a vessel was on its way”. Fifteen minutes later they nosed up to the boat and asked for the ship’s and crew’s papers which I passed over the gap in a water proof bag. Five minutes later the bag came back with our clearance papers in it and that was it, we were in and no issues! We headed for Keppel Bay Marina, not a cheap place to stay but very well equipped for the work we needed doing. Once we had berthed the boat Anne, Imogen and I headed for the restaurant and some celebrationary drinks and a slap up meal, we were back in the 1st world.

I spent seven of the eight days of our stay there working on the boat and organising specialists to fix the bits I couldn’t, it was hot tiring work.

Somewhere in Indonesia we had picked up an infestation of cockroaches and they were roaming the boat at night including our bunks so the girls opted to sleep in the cockpit at night until we could deal with the problem. Anne who had a real phobia about roaches went off on our first day to buy some stuff to kill them and bravely cleared out every cupboard, spraying anything that moved. We put down poison, bombed the boat with gas bombs and collectively it seemed to do do the trick. The girls still slept in the cockpit for the next few nights however.

Once the bugs had been attacked the girls of course went off shopping and sightseeing, there was nothing else they could do to help and this was probably one of the best shopping destinations in the world. In the evening we tried the famous street food arcade and one night met up with Diane Gorch who had sailed on a French catamaran on the Rally, for a great chilli crab dinner, a must in Singapore. On my day off we visited the world famous zoo and the beautiful botanical gardens.

Anne and I in the botanical gardens in Singapore

Ukulele practice on board Romano, long way to go to competency

Diane and I enjoying a crab dinner in Singapore

With the new or repaired kit fitted and working we set off for Port Dickson 150 miles north which meant an overnight passage through the Straits of Malacca. A new rally had been set up to sail the west coast of Malaysia and they left Singapore at the same time as us but were stopping overnight at Malacca. I had decided not to join them or to anchor for the night in Malacca as it was a very exposed anchorage with poor holding and a lee shore. After an hour of sailing the autopilot crashed again which meant hand steering all the way to Langkawi on the Thai/Malay border a distance of 400 nautical miles. Two hours is about as much as anyone can safely steer so we set up watches between Imogen and I to get us there. The alternators, repaired exhaust manifold and starter motor on the other hand all worked perfectly. Many boats had problems sailing through Indonesia some hit reefs and had their rudders ripped off, some had complete engine failure and had to be towed into port, others picked up fishing nets around the keel or prop and one boat hit one of the many FADs in the night. It is very difficult water to navigate safely through and due to the lack of wind we all had to motor huge distances on pretty ropey fuel. Fortunately I’d had the engine serviced in Australia and changed fuel filters regularly and it performed faultlessly throughout our journey.

On the way north of Malacca we had more trouble, unfortunately we hit one of the many massed islands of logs and weed while I was on watch, I didn’t see it, in my defence they are difficult to spot at a distance. There was a crunch as the propellor hit a log and I was just too late in knocking the engine out of gear. The boat coasted through the 20 metre mass under its own 18 tonne momentum and we came out the other side. I gingerly started the engine and put it into gear but there was a lot of vibration and I guessed we had damaged the prop or bent the shaft. I checked the shaft but it seemed to be running true so that meant it was the prop. I decided to motor at low revs and limp at 2 knots the remaining 45 miles to Port Dickson. After an hour however I noticed the vibration had stopped and the prop was running smoothly so I increased the revs back to cruising speed and it was still fine. We had been very lucky it must have been thick weed wrapped around the propellor which was gradually shaken off.

On arrival at Port Dickson I decided to go in stern first to the marina berth but on engaging reverse gear I couldn’t get it back to neutral and we were fast approaching the pontoon. I shouted to the crew to get fenders out the back but there wasn’t sufficient time so I kicked the gear lever hard and wondrously it came back to neutral and we gently glided into the berth and were tied up by the anxious marina staff. It seemed like the gearbox had been damaged when we hit the log pile, another job for fixing! We learned later that the rally had been hit by a storm off Malacca and many boats had dragged their anchors in the middle of the night. Fortunately none of the boats were beached, everyone got out safely and sailed the rest of the way through the night to join us in Port Dickson.

On our second night in Port Dickson Anne and I had a falling out and she decided to leave the boat, leaving Imogen and I to hand steer the remaining 280 miles to Langkawi.

The next day we set sail for a river just south of Port Klang which proved to be a nice quiet anchorage off a small fishing village. Imogen and I went ashore in the dinghy to a nice bay where it was good for swimming but not for snorkelling as there was no reef.

We tried to make the journey in day hops to avoid hand steering through the night as well and Sungai Bernam river was our next overnight stop. There were many fishing boats working off the shallow entrance and I tried to follow them in rather than use the charted depths on the chart which showed a very shallow estuary entrance over 5 miles of shifting sand banks. We were close to grounding many times but eventually made it over the bar and into a quiet anchorage up river. Imogen slept peacefully through our hairy passage. It was a very quiet night and after prawn fried rice for dinner and a still anchorage we both slept in which meant we only had a very short time to get over the bar and through the shallow estuary now on a falling tide. On the way out I followed the path of the incoming night fishing boats and found better depths. Imogen was still sleeping having gone back to bed after getting the anchor up, teenagers!

We anchored for a couple of nights on Pangkor Island, a nice sheltered anchorage where we hired motor bike and toured the island. Imogen ended up on the pillion seat with me. She tried to ride a bike but it didn’t work out and the guy hiring refused to let her have one, much to her disappointment.. We followed the only road anti-clockwise as far as the ship yard but had to turn back as the road was no good beyond. We had the same experience on the other side, we got to the Airport and had to turn back turn back. Only half the island is accessible by road!

After three days on Pankor we had a long motor to Port Bunning through loads of fishing traps, boats and nets which we meandered carefully through. It turned out that Port Bunning isn’t a port it’s an Island with long drive-able causeway attaching it to the mainland but I’m not sure why because there was no sign of life anywhere.

This was our last leg and we were both tired from long days of hand steering. There was no wind again and so we motored the remaining forty five miles to Langkawi, Imogen slept all the way to Rebak Marina, I had forgotten just how much sleep teenagers need! With only twenty miles to go the engine suddenly stopped, I had been worried about the dirty fuel we had put in the tank in Kumai and changed the filters regularly but there was nothing for it but to change the filters again and bleed the fuel system, something I had read about but never done on a diesel engine. Fingers crossed I turned the key and the engine burst into life. We thankfully checked into the very sheltered marina set on a private island with all the 5*resort facilities available to us and free ferry to main island Langkawi.

Safe arrival at last – Romano in Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia

When we had anchored off Penang island on the way up there was nowhere safe to leave the boat and explore so we decided to go back to see Penang Island by ferry. It’s a 3 hour crossing and no frills. Imogen went off and checked in to a party hostel I checked into the much more staid Museum Hotel which was centrally located, comfortable with great staff. I met up the next day with Imogen who was totally wrecked but stoically visited the reclining Buddha which I last saw in 1966, the main temple and then we got a 4×4 up the peak to view the sights. Up there we both went on a 3D ride, a helter-skelter, poor Imogen, but at least she didn’t throw up.

Imogen returned a few days later and went back to the boat to get her bags and go home to England. I stayed on in Penang and did some more sight-seeing.

After a few days back on the boat, the rally came in to Rebak and we had a good welcoming barbecue and free drinks put on by the marina. The next day I headed off by plane to explore Phuket in Thailand.

One thought on “Bali to Langkawi, Malaysia

  1. Hi Michael, glad your still in one piece, from the picture I saw, in excellent health.. I have been catching up on your travels, and am full of admiration of your resourcefulness to overcome the many challenges faced.
    As for me, I am 5 months retired and enjoying life, golf, family etc..
    Take care of yourself and best of luck in the adventures that lie ahead.

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