Monday, April 7, 2014

Back in Kudat

Kudat Marina, Sabah, Malaysia

After deciding that we want to be in Canada this summer, we have postponed our trip to the Kimberley in NT, Australia for now and will head for Thailand via northern Borneo instead. We are currently back in Marina Jetty Kudat, happy to be in familiar territory again. We are taking some time to do boat projects and making some eco-tourism plans where we can travel inland while the boat is in a safe place.

Downwind sailing on the way to Kudat along the N. Suluwesi coast

The diving at Bunaken Island was the highlight of our Indonesia trip, but we also tried some “muck diving” in Lembeh Strait that was quite interesting. Before we left Liang Beach, Bunaken, we beached the cat so Steve could do some prop shaft p-bracket and cutlass bearing adjustments. We then headed on to Bitung Harbor in Lembeh Strait, around the corner from the tip of Suluwesi. 

Happy hour with Froggie's managers Abel and Lola

Sunset at Bunaken Island

Catamarans can be beached with a few sand bags underneath

Fixing cutlass bearing with lots of help

After checking in to Bitung, we moved to an anchorage in front of Black Sand Dive Resort and stayed a few days to learn about muck diving. The shores and seafloor in the area are indeed fine black sand. But living right on top, either out in the open or on the rare coral or anemone patch is the most interesting assemblage of unusual critters, many being well camouflaged. We tried diving on our own, but saw more when we went with dive guides. On one dive we saw a crocodile eel buried in the sand with his head just poking out. When the guide lightly tapped behind him, the 6 foot long eel swam out and then burrowed tail first at a safe distance away from us.
juvenile barramundi

crocodile eel in in sand

crocodile eel swimming away from us

golden seahorse

zebra lionfish

moray eel with cleaner wrasse


Seahorse attached to twig debris on otherwise barren seafloor


cuttlefish (cephalopod)

cuttlefish next to anemone patch

flying gunnard

Japanese bigeye

leaf fish

anemone and clown fish

under anemone community

We also took a day trip inland to Tamcoco National Park in Batuputih, Suluwesi, where we took a twilight walk to see the local tarsier but also saw neat tropical birds (hornbills & kingfishers) and a troop of macaques moving through the jungle. I (Pat) remembered reading in the Lonely Planet guidebook that you should wear long pants with socks tucked over as well as copious amounts of insect repellent due the midges (no-see-ums) that are there. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember until we arrived, in shorts. We had on insect repellent and all was fine until we got back to the car and walked through a field of them, stinging away. We had red bumps on our ankles and feet for weeks afterward.

macaque monkey

macaque male

our guide said we were very lucky to see this rare owl


Our first anchorage departing Lembeh was Blue Bay, Banggi Island, which has a dive resort ashore. We met two other cruising sailboats there and had happy hour together. You meet very few other cruisers in NE Indonesia. We traded information, including anchorage spots on northern Suluwesi and regulations for Raja Ampat boating. We learned that when diving in strong currents without a boatman you can “just” tie your dingy painter around you and tow the dinghy along.  One of the other couples had just finished 20 years of cruising and were returning to Australia when they lost their boat on the reef at Tambisan Island. They had been in touch with us via another cruiser, and we were able to retrieve a couple more items for them when we passed by the wreckage a few weeks before.
Dive resort
We traveled via day hops along the northern coast of Suluwesi, anchoring each night. The local villagers, mostly fishermen, were friendly and curious. We saw traditional fishing ranging from men in dugouts with hand nets to mother ship trimarans loaded with smaller boats that spread out and fish all day once they are offshore. We also saw a seiner that hand pulled in the large net. 

hand seining in a big catch

traditional fishing in dugout canoe

Mother ship goes offshore where they fish from the small boats

When anchored in Teluk Asaan, Belonlioh village, there were groves of clove tree ashore. The locals dried the cloves on mats in their front yards and the whole village smelled wonderful. We walked around the narrow streets and passed out snacks to the kids. Steve had purchased a case of snack packs with local flavors like cheese puffs, prawn chips, and chicken crackers to give away. 

Log sideways across both bows, one end of log seen here 
We checked out of Indonesia in Tarakan, an oil port off the Kalimantan (Borneo) coast. It took 4 hours to reach the anchorage, sailing through a channel between islands and shallow waters. We anchored just past the town in a narrow passage that had strong currents that reversed with the tides. In the morning we found a 60 ft log stretching across both bows held in tight by the river-like current. We waited until the current reversed and pulled the log off with ropes from the dingy. Luckily, our anchor held both us and the log.
Our bow log floating away after freeing it st slack tide

On the way from Tarakan to Tawau, we passed a line of fish trap structures that they light up at night to attract and net the fish. The guys take small boats out and spend the night on the structure. There were hundreds of these rickety structures, miles offshore, but in less than 50 feet of water.
What is that on the horizon?

 fishing structure with sleeping shack in middle and nets below

old fish trap

In Tawau we anchored off the Tawau Yacht Club and used their facilities- cold beers in an a/c bar and pretty good Chinese food on the covered deck. The walk to town was only10 min.  There are open storm drains adjoining the sidewalk and we saw some rats and a large monitor lizard crawling around. They drain into the ocean. That night, Steve heard a noise, got up, and had a rat run past him and hide under the chart table. Presumably, the rat swam out to the boat and climbed on. We bought and set up 3 live rat traps the next morning. That afternoon, the rat had licked off the peanut butter trap bait, eaten up a pack of cheese balls, but had only taken one bite of Pat’s home-made rolls. Steve re-set the bait with peanut butter covered cheese balls. Overnight, there was a huge squall and the boat rolled and bounced around. In the morning, the traps were not touched and there was a line of rat droppings leading from the cockpit to the edge of the boat. We think he abandoned the boat. We have had no sign of him since.

Heading north, we anchored overnight at lovely Gaya Island near Semporna. Sea Gypsies paddled up, asking for food, shampoo and toothbrushes.
Sea Gypsies getting a handout from sv Merkava

Gaya Island - Anchorage is just inside the pass

 A day after we passed by Semporna, there was another kidnapping of a tourist and a receptionist from a Semporna resort built over a reef. A speedboat with hooded gunmen grabbed the two women, presumably to sell to a Philippine radical Muslim group in the Jolo Islands nearby that is known to ransom tourists. The area is highly patrolled by police and navy boats, and we felt safe travelling through, but there have been other kidnappings in the past, one last November and another back in 2000. The tourists are released after ransoms are paid. We are now out of the travel alert zones and we have also purchased boat insurance.
Tigabu Island- We traded a ball cap for a nautilus shell with a local here


  We have had nothing but positive experiences with the people in both Indonesia and Malaysia, but we have worried about boat theft when leaving the boat unattended. We look forward to more SE Asia trips on Silver Tern soon.