Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cruising in Company…..North to Singapore

We met Nikki and Cameron on Dreamer in Borneo(Kalamantan) and it was really nice to cruise for a while with another cruising boat.  They come from Australia and they have a 10 meter catamaran.  It was nice to have someone else pick anchorages and we cruised together all the way from Borneo to Singapore.  

When we left Kumai, we decided to make the trip around to the southwest corner of Borneo in one overnight trip, whereas Dreamer made the same anchorage in 3 day trips.  It was there that we caught up to them and did the overnight crossing together to Belitung Island.  We both had a calm crossing and it was nice to have another boat within VHF radio distance all night.  We cruise at similar speeds and some trips we would beat them and other days all we would see was their wake.

We made our way in day trips around to Tanjung Pandan where Cam jerry-jugged some fuel and I enjoyed a cold beer and visited with the locals.  One woman closed her shop for me and drove me (on the back of her motorcycle) to a market. I was constantly amazed by how much they can load on to these motorbikes.  The photo below was just bread, but the driver was completely enclosed.  I bought vegetables for both boats while Cam did his fuel.  Our last fuel run was way back in Lombok (before Bali) where the locals delivered it to the boat.  It is nice having such big tanks and being able to get fuel where it is cheap and easy!

In many of the anchorages we were surrounded by stilt houses built in 30 feet deep water.  Many were equipped with nets that they would lower into the water and the dropping tide would catch the fish; very ingenious.  Others would be simply for fishing with a small house in which to sleep.

All the villages we visited were friendly and we were soon followed by swarms of children looking to see the strange white folks or to practice some English.  Emily always kept them entertained by making Origami flapping birds or dragons. 

In one village, Nikki bought a handful of candy for about $3 from the local store and passed it out to the children creating smiles all over the village.

In some of the villages they were making sturdy wooden boats and in another they had hundreds of fish traps being made.  Every villager was proud and willing to show us his craftsmanship.

We shared wine and nibbles on each other’s boat every evening and it was nice to discuss plans and boat things.  On Australia Day, we were presented with a signed Aussie flag and they introduced us to Vegemite as we were served breakfast.  Vegemite is a yeast product that resembles something you might scrape from the bottom of your shoe, but spread thinly with butter on toast, it was surprisingly good!  We found our last bottle of champagne from America deep in the bilge and shared it with them as we crossed the equator for the second time.

We cruised through the Bangka and Lingga islands and both arrived at Danga Point Marina in Northeast Batam Island.  We stayed there for a week at the dock with air conditioners humming constantly.  We did some provisioning at the local supermarket and found most of the things we needed.  Emily did not care for the smell of the dried fish that is so popular with the locals.  


We will continue to splurge and will cross into Singapore next and stay in a fairly expensive marina downtown.  Come along Dear reader and see if we can cross the busy shipping channel without getting run down by the supertankers.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The 3 day passage across the Java Sea started rough until we cleared the Raas islands north of Bali.  Once clear of the rough waters, the seas calmed with winds less than 10 knots and we made good enough time that we arrived a half a day early but without enough light to make it all the way up the river before dark.  We chose the best anchorage we could find and had a rolly night.   

With good light and a set of accurate waypoints from one of our predecessors, the next day we made our way over the bar and up the Kumai River to the township of Kumai. With its muddy brown water and densely rain-forested banks, the Kumai River could easily have been the Amazon. Kumai, a small port town, is a gateway to Indonesian Borneo’s gold mines and timber forests. It is also the best place to arrange a tour of the Tanjung Puting National Park and the orangutan rehabilitation centers. If you like monkeys and jungles, you’d be in heaven here.

When we approached the town of Kumai, we were approached by a small, sporty speedboat and greeted by Hary Adi. After some negotiations, we agreed on our price and booked a tour to visit the Park and the orangutans.

Emily and I wandered into the town and we bought a few fresh vegetables.  Almost everybody we passed either waved or gave us a warm “hello mista.”

Our guides picked us up at 8:15AM Indonesian time (which over an hour late in American time) in a small speedboat. A young man remained on our boat (outside) to keep a watchful eye. Hary maintained that while Kumai wasn’t a particularly dodgy area, he wanted to insure that there wasn’t any hanky panky with his customer’s yachts. 

We hopped into the back of the speedboat behind driver and guide, and shot down the Kumai River a couple of miles, turning left into a tributary that marked the entrance into the Tanjung Puting National Park. As the river narrowed, the flora became thicker and more beautiful. Everywhere was the lovely scent of pandanus flowers. We occasionally spotted gibbons and macaques sitting in the trees high above the river. Along the river were a few small villages consisting of a cluster of elevated huts and small blocks of land cleared for rice farming. The river was littered with jungle debris, which our driver skillfully negotiated his way around it all.

Our first stop was Tanjung Harapan Orangutan Rehabilitation Camp. The purpose of these camps is to provide a safe sanctuary for this endangered species, while studying their behavior in their natural habitat. Because the orangutans have been reduced by the destruction of their habitat to such small numbers, they have become more or less dependent on humans, so the camps provide a regular feeding for those animals that need it.

We arrived just in time for the morning feeding. Walking nearly a mile into the dense rain forest, much of it on an elevated boardwalk, we reached the designated feeding area. The guides seemed to know all of the orangutans by sight, which ones were gentle, which were aggressive and potentially dangerous, which were the offspring of which, and loads of information about their social habits, most of it from personal observation.

At the feeding area, the guides called out to the orangutans and laid out bananas and tubs of fruit on a raised platform. Orangutans move with incredible ease and feel safe high up in the trees, so are loath to come down to ground level for food, unless they are very accustomed to being around humans. Within a few minutes, we started to see some of the trees swaying, hear small branches breaking, and began to see dark, furry figures moving through the treetops. Within a half hour, there were at least half a dozen orangutans in sight, some feeding, some just sitting and watching the action from a safe distance, or avoiding getting too close to the dominant male of the area. A couple of the more “humanized” orangutans came right down to where we were at ground level to collect more food. Some of the larger animals were quite intimidating, having absolutely no fear of us. This is not entirely surprising as they weigh as much, if not more than us, and have 4-5 times the body strength of the average human. Orangutans have been known to literally pick up a human standing in their way and toss them over their head. We were excited to see them but happy to keep our distance. 

We spent well over an hour and a half observing the orangutans, observing their unique habits and social behavior, and enjoying the cool of the rain forest under the dense canopy. Being in close company with these apes in their natural habitat is a fascinating and indescribable experience.  A large male came down and Emily and Dad got a chance to feed him bananas.  Their hands felt like soft leather gloves and they were very gentle as they took the bananas.


We returned to the speedboat and went further up the river. As we made our way further into the park, the river narrowed to the point of being mostly covered in canopy, the water cleared, and the flora and fauna became more prolific. We encountered numerous exotic birds and a fresh water crocodile with its mouth wide open. We saw a couple of “African Queen” type boats making their way up the river. 

After lunch, we headed upstream a short ways further to Camp Leakey.  Camp Leakey is the largest and oldest orangutan rehabilitation camp in the park. It has more buildings, more staff and even a small visitor’s center/museum containing lots of interesting artifacts, photographs and information about the orangutans. There were also a number of very tame orangutans milling about the camp, as well as a wild boar, a domestic cat and a few gibbons keeping an eye on things from some nearby trees. None of the animals seemed to pay too much attention to each other.  One gibbon met us on the dock and Emily had a chance to hand feed him peanuts.


We trekked a mile or so into the jungle once again in order to observe the afternoon feeding. Once more we were very fortunate to be visited by so many orangutans. Our guide explained that the feedings were so well attended because at this particular time of the season, there were fewer new leaves and flowers available, which are their preferred sources of food. Again we spent nearly two hours just hanging out and watching the orangutans while they dined on bananas and curiously watched us. I was beginning to wonder who was entertaining whom out there. 


The year I graduated college, there was a National Geographic Article about Camp Leaky and a baby orangutan named Princess.  Well Princess is now a mama and she came down to the dock to show us her new baby and pose with us for a family photo.

We returned back to the speedboat for the one-hour-plus ride back to Kumai. It was approaching dusk, and the monkeys were out in force along the river. We saw a few long-tailed macaques, gibbons and proboscis monkeys. The dominant male of the proboscis species have a schnoz that Jimmy Durante would have been jealous of. As we passed below on the river at high speed, some of the monkeys would become irritated by the noise and scurry away.


We arrived back at Emily Grace before dusk and all agreed it was quite a day.  Here’s a short video for your viewing pleasure.