Bridge On The River Kwai

The first bridge was a low level wood bridge later removed after the primary bridge was built.
The first bridge was a low level wood bridge later removed after the primary bridge was built.


Bridge On The River Kwai was a hit movie released in 1957. It won 7 Academy Awards.  The World War 2 movie was about the constructing of a tall wooden bridge over that river. I saw the movie and read books about the “death railway”.  If you think the Nazis were despicable because of their Holocaust, the Japanese were far worse as their focus of abuse and cruelty knew no bounds.  Hundreds of thousands of prisoners died working as slaves for the Japanese military, and many of them, on the “death railway”.   Anyway, the movie turns out to be fiction and has nothing to do with the real bridge.  The book, from which the movie was based, was written by a Frenchman. Apparently the book was a way to show the authors displeasure of the pompous, elitist attitude and unwavering bent to follow rules, when common sense would have been a better option,  by the British military officers. 

The first bridge over the Kwai was a quickly built low level wooden service bridge. The primary bridge was actually a bridge from the island of Java in Indonesia. The spans were disassembled and shipped to the Kwai river near the city of Kanchanaburi, Thailand.  POW slaves constructed the concrete supports while the spans were in route. When the arched spans arrived by barge, they were lifted into place and fit perfectly. The movie portrays the Japanese engineers as inept. 2 The primary bridge (Small)

Another thing, the movie has British soldiers whistling a merry tune as they march into the POW camp and, assumably, as they march off to work on the bridge as though they were happy elves.  Most POW slaves were little more than skin covered bones, from starvation, and could hardly get to a job site.

Eventually the two arched center spans were bombed by U.S. aircraft. The Japanese built box beam spans to replace them.  So Hollywood has always made entertainment, not documentaries.

The Japanese made the box beam center spans to replace the arched beams destroyed by bombing.
The Japanese made the box beam center spans to replace the arched beams destroyed by bombing.
Get ready to board.
Get ready to board.
Ride or walk across.
Ride or walk across.
5 Crossing (Small)
The Kwai is not the deep gorge shown in the movie.

Turtle Swim

Scores of stingrays swarmed around us, their soft smooth bodies slithering around us and obscuring our vision in a cloud of gray.  That was in only 6 feet of lagoon water on the north side of Moorea, the island just west of Tahiti. Tourist boats come daily to feed the stingrays and give their snorkeling guests a fun in the water experience, up close and very touchable.  But I never would have guessed the same could be done with sea turtles. 

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Here on the north side of Redang island, in Malaysia, boats come in the morning full of snorkeling tourists and chopped up fish and squid.  The turtles had a fascination with the silvery glint in my camera lens. When they approached too close, I had to turn it away or they would bite at it. Once when I was not looking, a turtle came up from my side and bit down on the camera but catching more of my pointer finger. The turtles are not used to their food pulling back so he let go without much of a struggle but leaving a slightly bleeding laceration.  The tour boat drivers are constantly warning the snorklers  not to wave their fingers around in the water. 

There are people who would be disturbed to hear turtles have become a tourist attraction and are hand fed. Feeding wild animals is not always a good idea but for sea turtles, I agree with the Malaysians;  the turtles  have been decimated by over fishing, egg poaching and disappearance of habitat. They need all the help they can get, including some extra grub.  Plus, the encounter gives the tourists a better understanding of what cool animals they are and so, are more inclined to help with their conservation.

 

 

IMG_1533IMG_1522  This morning, the white beach had fresh turtle tracks leading to the brush line. There is where the turtle spent a lot of effort digging a deep depression then burring its eggs.  Even though I was on the beach at first light, human foot prints were already planted around the new nest. I couldn’t really tell if the nest had been disturbed.  It would be helpful if we had a heavy rain to wash away the tracks and help obscure the newness of the nest.

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Freighter Fright

Over the years of crossing oceans, I have had to dodge ships while at sea. We have friends who actually did collide with a ship. They were not dismasted nor did they take on water but the damage was extensive, not only to their boat but to their psyche. They put their boat up for sale.

This is the original unedited version of Freighter Fright which appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Ocean Navigator.   But here I can add links to the proper sites to report errant ships and so anyone can easily find the identity of the owner of a ship.  Also, here I can thank Timothy Farley of the U.S.C.G. , Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis,  in Washington, D.C. and  Max van de Kemenade at Netwave Systems (they sell VDRs), for all their patience and answers to my endless emails to help with keeping the enclosed information accurate.  Also, other Valiant sail boat owners at the Valiant Owners web site were a big help. Additionally, it took days of reading through endless IMO documents to finally figure out how to report the negligent operation of a freighter.

 

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FREIGHTER FRIGHT

Hollywood would like to make believe that steel containers, fallen from ships, bob around the worlds oceans as numerous as Arctic icebergs ready to sink the dreams of unsuspecting world cruisers. But if this were so, shipping containers would be washing up on every shore far more frequently than beached whales.  It is not semi-submerged containers an ocean crossing cruiser needs to be overly concerned about, it is the cargo ships from which they fall that is the far greater menace.

Anyone who has sailed across oceans for a while certainly has dodged a large ship.  On the bridge of most ships, the OOW (Officer On Watch) and the crew are vigilant and do what they can to avoid a closing situation with a relatively tiny plastic sailboat.  But there is the percentage of ships crew who are either not doing their job of keeping a proper watch or prefer to push their size difference and expect everything smaller to scurry out of the way.  That requires the crew of the smaller sailboat to be constantly vigilant, which is required anyway by international law.

There have been numerous incidents where neither the offending ship nor the sailing yacht yielded resulting in serious damage to the sailboat. In at least one instance the sailboat was macerated, the bits and pieces washing up on a nearby island.  Certainly other sailboats have disappeared without a trace.  But these collisions can happen without the OOW on the ship even realizing a sinking had occurred. During an obscuring rain squall, a behemoth Japanese car carrier cut a commercial fishing boat in half and continued on its way, the OOW never noticing anything unusual.

When the weather is clear, it is especially annoying and dangerous for large steel freighters to fail to follow the COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) which are internationally agreed navigational rules as published by the IMO (International Maritime Organization).  But the failure is frequent.  So when I saw the cargo ship Pulau Layang (which means “island floating” in Indonesian) registered in Jakarta,  thundering across the ocean at our 40’ sailboat from our port quarter in a converging, rather than an overtaking situation, in the late afternoon with good visibility, I wanted irrefutable proof of what was happening.

Pulau Layang  is required to display a Class A, AIS signal (Automatic Identification System).  Most recreational and fishing boats are not required to transmit AIS but they often do use the less expensive and less powerful Class B, AIS signal.  On our AIS transceiver, the only signal showing was from a tugboat far to our south.  We were in offshore waters in Indonesia traveling south west from the city of Tual to Dili, Timor Leste; a passage of 500 miles.   As the big freighter was closing rapidly, I had time to make only one call on Ch16 to “The ship heading S.W., this is Brick House, the sailboat dead ahead of you.”  With no response I grabbed my camera and quickly climbed back to the cockpit.  As the autopilot steered, I worked fast to take evidential pictures of the approaching ship in the background and what parts of our cockpit would fit in the foreground.  This would be one time I would try to turn the tables on a dangerous freighter violating several international regulations.  I wanted the close proximity pictures to prove the closing situation, the clear visibility conditions and the wave height.  Eventually, with Pulau Layang’s hull becoming frighteningly close to my port side, I turned hard to starboard and jybed to complete a 360 degree turn and snapped a few more pictures with the ship now passing on my stern.  All the while it was best to leave a sleeping beauty lie so I did not rouse my wife, Rebecca, from the aft cabin till the ship passed, the tense situation was over and Brick House was back on its course.

 

As Pulau Layang passed, stacked high over head with green containers,  I could see no one on deck or in the windows of the bridge or the bridges wing deck.  The ship’s continued silence to my repeated calls on the VHF stoked my irritation causing forth a bit of sailors verbiage directed at an imagined crew relaxing in the bridge.  Possibly that crew understood little English but certainly the voice tone would convey the message of my displeasure.  However, it is an IMO requirement that any person standing watch on a ship must have a solid grasp of English and to be able to speak it clearly. They must also answer a call if they are called by ship name. In the past, attempting to converse with passing ships some times called up a jumble of friendly sounding words of a language we couldn’t even guess its origins. But they did respond to the call. From Pulau Layang, there was no response for the full hour I continued calling.  But some of those early emotionally charged calls would later worry me.

Pulau Layang receded over the horizon as Rebecca and I tracked the ship on RADAR. From the cockpit I could clearly see the ships superstructure at what the RADAR showed to be 6 nautical miles. This was just part of the evidence which had to immediately be recorded.  The actual latitude and longitude of the incident was noted.  There was a tug boat named Draco Best showing on the AIS and all the particulars for that boat were noted. This would prove our AIS was functioning properly.   The true direction of travel of Pulau Layang was noted as well as the direction of travel of Brick House and it’s speed over ground.  Wind direction and wind speed as well as cloud cover was noted and the time of day in local time.  Anything that might be useful in an investigation of the incident and to support my contentions was recorded. When the final report was written, it would include all documentation particulars of our own boat.

But now the problem was, who to report this situation to. Who would care? IMO does not have an enforcement arm so the responsibility rests with the Flag State, the country in which the offending vessel is registered. The Flag State is the only one that can discipline the crew and affect their licenses. Since Pulau Layang is flagged with a home port of Jakarta, Indonesia,  Indonesia is where I would have to hunt down the proper enforcement entity.

I discovered when one Googles, “Global Integrated Shipping Information System”it  will bring up an IMO site.  Click on the “Log In” at the far top right corner ( https://gisis.imo.org/Public/Default.aspx ).  After logging in as a public user, clicking on the icon for “Ship Particulars” I could find the ships “Flag State”, the registered owner, and IMO number. (Another site for finding the owner of a ship is at  www.equasis.org )  Clicking on the icon for “Contact Points” then the radio button for “Flag State contact points for PSC matters”  (PSC stands for Port State Control) then where it says  “–Please Select—“  I could then scroll down to the Flag State of the ship of interest so that the name of the person in charge of enforcement and his contact information is given for filing a report about the ship.1D

It might be a requirement to have ships’ watch keepers to be fluent in speaking English but what about the people working in the foreign government offices of which I would be contacting?  It would seem reasonable to send a report in their own language along with my English version and copies of the most pertinent photographs.  After we docked in the city of Dili, at the first upscale waterfront hotel I walked into, the two front desk workers were very conversant in English.  They were more than happy to put my English report into their electronic translator and spit out a version in Indonesian.  I checked the print out for obvious errors like where the electronic translator  changed the name “Drako Best” to “Drako terbaik”, I changed back to “Drako Best”.  My new friends changed other electronic irregularities into what I hoped was a good mirror of the original report.  If the hotel option had not worked, then the next stop would be the local college where certainly a bilingual student would be willing to work a quick side job.  But not only is it desirable to communicate in the language of the flag country but to make sure all measurements are stated in metric.  Feet, inches,  statute miles are not understood by nearly all of the world.

My report in Indonesian and English, was emailed to the two most promising titled offices on the IMO, Indonesian, contact site.  Since there was no email address for the owner of the ship, printed out copies were mailed to the owner of Pulau Layang as certainly, they would want to know how their ships are operated and being  put in a libelous situation far out to sea.

If the Pulau Layang incident happened in waters of the United States, the nearest Coast Guard station would receive my report and pass it up the chain of command.  The U.S. Coast Guard takes their enforcement capabilities very seriously.  If a violation occurs on any foreign vessel within the U.S. Navigable waters of the U.S., or on board a U.S. vessel anywhere in the world, the Coast Guard can seek and impose enforcement actions including civil and administrative penalties.  Depending on the outcome of an incident, the Coast Guard can also refer a case criminally, such as where one’s negligence leads to death.

If an incident takes place in International waters and does not involve a US vessel, whatever investigative effort done by the U.S. Coast Guard would be forwarded to the Flag State.

But the U.S.C.G and foreign Flag State authorities investigates to complete a finding of facts and corrective measures and does not get involved with civil disputes.  So if there is an actual collision,  the owner of the damaged boat must quickly call an experienced maritime lawyer.

Investigators will take statements from the relevant crew members, review various ship’s documents and in  some situations, the information from the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder. The VDR is a brightly colored box that can withstand high temperatures, explosions, and sinking. The VDR records GPS position and heading, speed, RADAR,  depth, and other operational data . There are 4 microphones installed on the ceiling of the bridge and one on each wing deck to capture conversations and ship sounds.  Those microphones, along with the recording of VHF transmissions, would have certainly captured my repetitious calls and that irritated call made at the ship. Like mom says, “Always speak politely as you never know who is listening.”  VDR information is ultimately stored on a backup drive for at least 30 days before being overwritten.  Some more expensive VDRs record for 60 or 90 days before overwriting. The VDR is required equipment on internationally operated ships.  Pulau Layang, being a domestic carrier, might not have a VDR.

So after my reports were sent, I never heard back from the authorities in Jakarta who’s business it is to investigate such incident reports.  According to the IMO, this is not unusual as some Flag States put enforcement low on their list of priorities.  But I did hear from the General Manager of the company which owns and operates Pulau Layang.  The GM was extremely appreciative to receive the report. He would investigate the matter to determine further training or discipline of the crew.

As more ocean crossing yachts report the errant behavior of commercial ships, this will motivate the ships crew to give a greater consideration of those little plastic sailboats on the horizon. For those little boats, there are avenues for payback and to make our ocean passages safer.

 

Kudat Haul Out

Kudat Marina(Small)

One of the worst places to haul a yacht out of the water is at Serangan, south east Bali. Avoid that place at all cost. It is expensive and the operators are pirates. But just 1,200 sailing miles to the north, on the north end of Borneo, is the small Malaysian city Kudat. In the well protected, but small, harbor is the Marina Jetty, Kudat. The marina has comfortable docking but very limited power plug ins on the two docks. Water on the dock is free and safe to drink without adding chlorine. The normally expected shower amenities and a small restaurant are in the two story facilities building. https://www.facebook.com/Marina-Jetty-Kudat-506851892774691/ It is a 20 minute walk into town. This is not a modern city like Kota Kinabalu or Miri but rather “traditional”. A bicycle is a big help for getting around but stand by the road and very soon a person in a private vehicle will stop to take you into town for R2 (U.S. 50cents).TravelLift

Next to the marina is a military contingent with plenty of small patrol boats. When we were there, well armed men, dressed in black and flack jackets toting M-16s made daily trips along the coast and did not return for 3-4 hours. A much larger Coast Guard boat left the harbor about every other day but always returned the same day. So even though the Philippines are only 70 miles to the north, where the bad guys live, we felt safe in the harbor of Kudat. The east coast of Borneo is also a no go zone for yachts.

We actually came to Kudat for the haul out facilities called Penuwasa Sdn.Bhd. penuwasa@gmail.com . A lot of heavy wood Philippine fishing boats come here to haul out so the Travel-Lift has to be big. It has a capacity of 150 tons and can take a boat 26’ wide so most catamarans are not a problem. In January, 2016, the lifting straps were nearly new and quite the overkill for a 14ton sailboat. They used far more straps than necessary doubled over or, on some sailboats, set side by side. This was one time I had no worries about our boat being dropped. The Travel-Lift is so big, we did not have to remove the head stay. To service the bent prop shafts and torn up propellers of the fishing boats, there is a full machine shop with 304 and 316 stainless available. If they are to busy to take care of your little job there is another machine shop about 2 miles away. IMG_0451 (Small)

To support boats on the hard, they use big concrete blocks which are normally used to build sea walls. Set with a forklift in 4 spots, large wood wedges are then driven between the hull and concrete to support the boat. Two wedges are used at each block support so when painting or sanding is done, one wedge can be removed at a time.IMG_0499

They have a real pressure washer to clean the hull. To get the pressure up they use a zero degree rotating tip and it does a good job.IMG_0348

For our 40’ sailboat, It cost us $250 for the haul and relaunch plus $15 per day to be on the hard, including electricity. We were stored in the dirt area which made cleanup not a question. We just picked up sanding discs, plastic etc although the Philippine fishermen seemed to have a competition who could leave the biggest and best scattered trash behind.

There is a concrete area a boat can be stored on and that cost $25 per day which can be a big advantage in the rainy season.

Each hauled boat is assigned their own shower/bathroom space with a lockable door. But the block of bathrooms assigned to the concrete area are much larger and better decorated than those used by the dirt area. The function is the same but the larger bathrooms do afford a degree of off the boat storage.

The Helper labor rates run R60 per day equals U.S. $15. About the same as at Vuda Point, Fiji.

This is what the yard charges for their help and they pay the help around $10 per day. We hired an “outside” helper and ended up paying the yard a small amount per day. We paid our helper Wan the full $15 plus several sodas during the day. Since he was there, Wan was gifted a lot of clothes, tools, and odds and ends which were no longer needed on Brick House. Wan made out quite well for himself.

Like anywhere, you have to tell the help that since they are working for a European, 8AM means 8AM, not ten after and quitting time is 5: not 4:30 or 4:45. Our man Wan understood this and did a fine job for us for the month we were hauled out. We expected him to work 7 days a week and most weeks he did.   Be sure to supply safety equipment for your helpers, Tyvek suite, respirators, safety glasses, ear plugs etc. We gave all that equipment to Wan when we were relaunched. IMG_0363

One of the best things about hauling in Kudat is that the haul out facility is not there to pounce on your wallet at every opportunity. After setting our boat on the hard, I finally decided the aft keel support needed to be moved 18” forward. It took 5 of their men, hydraulic jacks and a forklift, to do the work but there was no extra charge. And if you are launched and find there is a leak or other problem which means you have to be set back on the hard, all is done at a reduced rate.

Polyester resin and some epoxy resin is available plus cloth and painting supplies are available at the chandlery but it is far better to bring all supplies with you.

If needed, we would travel a long way, out of our way, to haul again in Kudat.IMG_0567

      The ladies in the office who keep things running.

Survivor!

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Tiga Island. “Survivor Beach” is just to the right of the north central hump.

I only watched the first episode of that silly TV show “Survivor” because Richard Hatch was a contestant. He lived not far away from us in Middletown, RI. It was filmed on Tiga Island, off the north west Borneo Coast. He went on to win the show and the million dollar prize. But not paying income tax on his winning landed him in court. Hatch was to find BSing on a TV show is quite different from trying to BS a real judge. Off to jail he went for a new survivor adventure.

We stopped at Tiga Island. In Malay and Indonesian, “tiga” means the number 3. Locally, the island has more recently been referred to as “Survivor Island”. In reality, Tiga Island is not very remote. The large city of Kota Kinabalu is less than 30 miles away and less than 10 miles away are a number of towns all with boats to run tourists out to Tiga for a day trip or a multi overnight stay.

All of Tiga Island is a national park. On the south side is a government operated hotel. A short walk along that south beach takes you to a commercially operated resort. While the “survivors” were dropped off by boat on the north shore to make it appear that this is a remote part of Borneo,   200 production crew stayed at the comfortable resort while additional Malay workers stayed in bungalows at the park facilities. It is about a 15 minute walk from the resort, north on a jungle trail to get to “survivor beach”.

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Unless the producers had a special arrangement with the Park Service, it is punishable by heavy fine and jail time to destroy any trees or kill any animals. Hmmm “Survivor, Malay Prison” could be an interesting game….Even one practiced in survival skills might find it difficult to live off the land on Tiga Island. There are no indigenous coconut palms and only one seasonal fruit that grows on trees. Other than some small chameleon lizards, there are a few macaque monkeys and some birds living on land. Food gathering would be extremely difficult. We swam the coastal waters around Tiga; fish life is sparse. On shore there is no fresh surface water. One could possibly dig a well.  For water, the production crew dug a pit in the jungle and lined it with plastic then carried in containers of fresh water to fill it.  Apparently there was a map that if the Survivors could read it, they would find the water pit.  During filming, the island was closed to tourists for 6 months. Police boats kept the curious and deep water fishermen out of filming view. After the filming of Survivor, a British filming crew showed up to do their Survivor series.PICT4221 (Small)

 

That was all just a hokey game show. The frightening thing, in an area on the east coast of Borneo and especially in the southern Philippines, just to the north of Borneo, a real life and death “survivor” takes place every day. There is no BS and the play is ruthless.

The attack we are familiar with came near 11:30 on the evening of 22 Sept 2015, two Canadian cruisers, a Philippina, and the best marina manager in the world, who is originally from Norway, were herded up the floating dock ramp as they were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group (now formally members of IS) at the Holiday Ocean View Marina, on Samal Island near Davao City, the second largest city in the Philippines. All four are now being held for millions of dollars of ransom in the remote jungles of “Oriental province, a hotbed of Maoist and Islamic rebels.”

We had spent months tied to a dock at Holiday Ocean View Marina.   It was always thought to be a very safe place. There is a young pistol toting guard at the head of the road leading into the marina and another armed guard near the docks. Other than keeping out a late night local crook, we never could really see much use for the guards. But then came the overwhelming force of bad guys toting weapons flooding onto the dock where Brick House was once tied…we had departed nearly a year before. Our American dock mate, and his Japanese wife, bravely fought off the bad guys but wound up at the local hospital to sew their head wounds together. Other friends defied the bad guys and were aided by their two wildly barking dogs so the bandits did not come onto their boat. The thieves were in a rush and took people they conveniently grabbed out of their bunks. This is a link to a report and security video of the abduction: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/canadians-abducted-philippines-1.3237997   . Although we have friends who are still at that marina, we have changed our mind and will not be returning to explore that area of the Philippines.

 

 

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Rebecca, Our German Friend, and our Swiss friend, Claudia. The three sailed Our Friend’s boat a long way into safer waters.

On the northern end of Borneo while Brick House was hauled out of the water in the city of Kudat, we met a women who just a year previous was released as a hostage in the south west Philippines. At the time we promised not to mention her name on the internet as once a paid ransom secures your release (nobody knows if one was actually paid), but if so,  you become that much more valuable as a second time recycled hostage. The bad guys will troll the internet looking for people to capture or recapture.  Kudat is only 70 miles to the south of the Philippines. Our Friend has long departed the area on her sailboat so now we can safely speak about her ordeal. But her74 year old cruising partner is still in Germany, much much older and very traumatized.

She and her cruising husband, both Germans, were quietly anchored in a bay south of Puerto Princessa in the southern Philippines, when one evening they were overwhelmed by a boat load of men wearing T-shirts with “Police” emblazoned across the chest. They were held for 6 months before the German government paid a 5 million dollar ransom. The bad guys traveled 300 miles to snag their captives then returned to their stronghold of Jolo Island in the south west Philippines. A German publisher has orchestrated a ghost writer to put Our friend’s account into a book, to be published this year. http://www.dw.com/en/german-hostages-freed-in-the-philippines/a-18002313

There is a B grade movie you can watch on iflix or maybe Netflix, called “Captive”. According to our new German friend, it is a very accurate representation. Our Friend commented that our captured Ocean View Marina friends in the Philippines are most likely experiencing the same thing she and her husband experienced, and the same thing that this movie depicts.

We are often asked about pirates. So far nothing has been stolen from our boat although we know others who have had big losses. So now we know people who have been hostages and people who still are. Hauling out in Kudat, Malaysia, on the north coast of Borneo, put us within striking distance of the bad guys from the south west Philippines. But in the harbor at Kudat is a military and Coast Guard outpost. The patrol boats go out often, at all hours of the day, so we felt somewhat safe there. Still, we felt much safer once Brick House had put a distance on and retraced our steps down the coast.

So now Brick House is in good sailing shape to continue on to Peninsular Malaysia then Thailand. But now I have a medical snag of needing a root canal. That will hold us up for several more weeks in the city of Kota Kinabalu. But since MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) endoscopies and other medical work cost about 1/3 as much as in the U.S. we will take the opportunity to treat our health as good as we treat Brick House before pressing on to areas where the natives come to us looking for medical supplies and treatment.

The Big Bamboo Race

                                    

1) Intro cropped
The sea faring crew.

The small advertisement in the Kuching newspaper grabbed us. On 16 August, there would be the annual 26 km bamboo raft race sponsored by the Padawan Municipal Council in conjunction with the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia and other agencies. Since we have nautical experience, it seemed like a fun way to spend a Saturday so my wife and I teamed up with our American sailing friends, Bruce and Alene. The four of us arrived in Malaysia on our own two yachts after sailing away from the shores of the U.S. over 8 years ago. For all of us, Malaysia was a highly recommended, a must see, country.

As we have traveled the world’s oceans, we have seen plenty of bamboo. Bamboo is a hyper sized grass which grows mostly in the tropics but extends its range well off the equator as far north as Bristol, Rhode Island, U.S.A.. In Rhode Island, bamboo can be a nuisance weed or a landscapers 20’ tall visual block. In the tropics, it is used as a structural column, container to carry water or cooked food, split length wise to make a floor covering or shaped into hunting tools, …..you name it. For many of us tourists, large diameter sections of bamboo, lashed together, would become our sport mobile, our competitive raft on a muddy river for one of our most fun days in Malaysia.

In a rented car, we explored our way from Santubong, where our floating homes were anchored, to the Padawan town hall, command central for the big event. There were printed rules and an orientation to attend and a fee to be paid. Some experienced rafters take the event very seriously and construct their own raft to enter in the “Expert” division. Those rafts are crafted with smooth skin bamboo, a raked front entry and other streamlining features finished with a perfect paint job. It is required to have four people per raft, no more. To cross the finish line with only 3 on board is frowned upon and disqualifies the team from any prize potential. Sailing the oceans on a seaworthy yacht, we were to find out, has little in common with commanding a water level raft down a river and through white water rapids. We entered the amateur “Hotels and Tour Agencies” division. Like most participants, we paid a private contractor to construct our racing machine.

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Here’s a fast one!

Warming up to the anxiety of competition, we arrived early in the morning of race day at the staging area, of the Sungai Sarawak Kiri (River Sarawak Left), to inspect the fine points of construction in the stack of rafts made by our nautical supplier. Like most other rafts, they were all rudimentary, freshly chopped down green sections of 4cm diameter bamboo all lashed together with the engineering idea of hopefully sticking together long enough to get to the finish line. It was appearing speed in this race had many motivations. We were supplied with long skinny bamboo poles which would reach bottom in most of the river but as advised, we brought our own paddles. A little food, cameras and small bottles of water were stowed in dry bags and securely lashed to our floating sled with twine which would just slip between the gaps in the bamboo sections.

3) Waiting for the start.
Somehow, everyone was able to leave in their numbered sequence for the start of the race.

It was not a LaMans start. Each crew had its own number/color coded banner to display for a sequenced start. The “Women’s” group of competitors started first then our “Hotels and Tour Agencies” followed by “Government Agencies”. Further up river was the starting line for the “Men Open” and “Expert” teams.

Besides our “Team U.S.A.” , there was another international contingent from South Africa. This top notch looking group of aquatic athletes would be starting just behind our number. But the four crew were solid oversized men who looked like Navy Seal or Special Forces. Their large beer cooler and good humor is what was barely keeping their skinny diameter bamboo raft from fully submerging. Certainly they needed two rafts stacked on top of each other. Shortly after the start and around the first bend of swift water, their awash raft no longer seemed a competitive worry for us.

4) We pass and get passed
We passed a few rafts.

Being novices at this new sort of competition, it took work to get our paddling coordinated and keep one of the fronts rather than the side of the raft moving in the lead down stream. But Bruce was at the steering paddle in the stern yelling the commands to his hard working crew, Alene, Rebecca and I. “And remember, as they said in the movie Ben Heir, “The only reason you are alive is to serve this ship!” And a happy ship it was, carrying us down a valley of beautiful scenery. In tight river bends, to avoid shallows or small rock islands, I was the pole man to push across the river bottom where the paddles against water did not give enough bite. As we saw rafts do full circle turns in the faster current, or make a bad route decision and become stranded in thin bubbling water or overturned in deeper, we thought it most prudent to work harder at simply not making mistakes. So we settled back and let the current do most of the work for us as we concentrated on navigating a good route.

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Keeping a sharp eye for the best route through the shallows and around midstream rocks.

We passed a few rafts. But both of the Air Malaysia raft crews, also in the “Hotel and Tour Agencies” division, passed us. It was obvious they were experienced bambooers. There was no hope for us to not let all the “Professional” division crews from outpacing our generic creation. Those crews had fully synchronized powerful paddle strokes or if the crews used the bamboo poles, they used full reach leverage and on the aft water exit, used time saving twirling pole movements to bring the pole forward again. Anytime a raft machine from any division jockeyed into a new position, there was always a fun, encouraging, conversation in the passing.

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Some rafts had hidden inboard engines.

After 4 hours on the river and clothes thoroughly soaked, “Team U.S.A” spread a wake across the finish line, in the middle of the pack. The lashings on our race machine held together but our platform was sloshing a bit lower than at the start. Our hearts had become attached to our able craft, our bundle of bamboo, our river yacht, but reluctantly we beached it on the river bank so it could be stacked with the others.

The awards ceremony filled the town hall at the finish line; speeches and much applause. All of us who did not pick up a trophy still went away winners. It isn’t from just this one fun day and the Malaysians we got to play with, all of Malaysia is proving to be our favorite place in the world.

You are a “Monkey”!

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The big nose winner.

    At Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, one day I was talking to an American cargo ship officer. He was telling me about an incident which happened to him on his very first day of work as a deck officer on a large container ship. We initially got into the discussion as we were commenting on how many Philippinos work on ships around the world. In this situation, he had to jump in the middle of two squabbling Philippino deck hands who just pulled knives on each other. The source of the argument? One called the other a “monkey”! We had a good laugh over that. But now that Rebecca and I have spent months in the Philippines, 7 months in Indonesia and 4 months in Malaysia, we have seen what nasty little animals monkeys can be and that in these countries, to call a person a “monkey”, is derogatory enough to start a fight.

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Macaque monkey   They are cute but have sharp teeth!

We visited scores of well managed national parks in Malaysia and had the privilege to see all kinds of monkeys. Macaque monkeys are everywhere. They are cute, especially the small ones, but in some areas they have developed little fear of the placid tourists, and this is where the monkeys can become aggressive. They are stealthy animals moving in as a casual group then quickly raiding the tables at the dining area of a park headquarters cafeteria. Most tourists just back off and let the little peeing, shitting, animals take what they want. There are only a few tourists who will swing a plastic chair at the teeth baring, snarling, animals to drive them away and save their lunch for themselves. But the raid and being ripped off by monkeys gives the tourists some fun stories to tell and makes for unique souvenir pictures.

The unusual proboscis monkey, with a very long nose, lives only on the island of Borneo. Their numbers are far fewer than the macaque making them very difficult to find and photograph. But still, rather than tramping all day on park trails, I got my best pictures of a proboscis, sitting in the late day shade, high on a tree branch, at the park headquarters. At 3:30 in the afternoon, it seems so many animals wake up from the forest and head to the central location as though it is some sort of scheduled feeding time. Every tourist is warned though, not to feed the animals. Even the hefty “bearded pigs” ramble in, single file, then spread out to see what might have been dropped on the ground. As the pigs wander through, the macaque monkeys move out of the way like parting waters.

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There is great strength behind the skinny!

Some of the most dangerous “monkeys” are actually the ape, orangutan . There is no “g” on the end, nor should it be pronounced with a “g” on the end. Orang means “person” and hutan means “wood” or “forest” but in the spelling and pronunciation the “h” is eliminated. Monkeys have tails, apes have no tail. To call someone an “ape” does not seem to have the impact of “monkey” but to further that experiment, I will leave for others. Orangutans only live in a few places on the large island of Borneo and on the Indonesian island of Sumatera. Their numbers have been greatly reduced due to hunting and human overpopulation. Males can grow to hundreds of pounds. But even small Orangutans are incredibly strong and need to be kept at a distance. At one park/orangutan rehab center, where there are twice daily feedings of the apes which come out of the forest. A bulletin board at the park headquarters displays pictures of tourists who were the mauled victims of an out of control orangutan. The orangutans trigger? No one knows for sure. There might have been food in the victims backpack or the orang might just have been in a bad mood that day. These animals have learned that humans are docile and nothing to fear. Those mauled tourists have permanent scars from deep teeth bites in their legs and arms and handicaps including missing fingers. But no one should carry food when there are monkeys or apes around. These animals will do what they can to steal it. But contrary to this, there are a few public parks in Indonesia where macaque monkeys are numerous and rely on tourists buying bananas and peanuts to feed to the monkeys. In these locations, there are numerous park employees who keep a close eye on the tourists to make sure they do not become too comfortable with these wild animals and might mistakenly treat them as a docile pet to touch.

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Crocs are everywhere.

In the Malaysian rain forest, there are all kinds of animals like deer, civet, bear cats (a small black bear), porcupine, clouded leopard, crocodiles, tigers and all sorts of snakes and colorful birds. The problem with hiking park trails, at the end of the day, you usually see only a lot of trees and some very nice waterfalls to cool off in. We visit the local zoos to see what we miss in the woods.

Hiking up and down the mountain trails, in the protected parks we visit, are some of the most impressive trees imaginable. The loggers would love to move into some of these areas. It is not unusual to see trees 5 feet, and more, in diameter and hundreds of feet straight up, like the mast on a large ship. Only near the top does it finally branch out into a bushy crown. There is no relative to these trees in North America but they do remind me of the cowry tree in New Zealand. The lumber from some of the species can easily be described as “iron wood” and is so incredibly dense it sinks as quickly as steel. Nails cannot be driven into the wood without first predrilling the holes. Of course this is a valuable wood so the forests, outside of established parks, of Borneo are quickly disappearing.

Since the tropical rain forest is near the equator, there are two seasons, rainy season and not so rainy season. The annual hot temperature varies little. The number of daylight hours is the same year round. Because of this, it is difficult to tell how old a large tree is. Since it grows at the same rate all year, there are no annual growth rings like trees in North America. But still, it has been determined some of the larger trees are easily a thousand years old.

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Rafflesia is the largest and most rare flower. This is the only one for hundreds of miles that anyone knew of.

The conditions must be exactly right for the most rare flower in the world to bloom, as a parasite on the tetrastigma vine. The largest Rafflesia can be over 3′ across and weigh 22 pounds. The flower can stink like a dead animal and has the spongy texture like a mushroom. We had to go to several national parks where these flowers are known to bloom before we found one.

Here are some more images:IMG_8555 (Small)IMG_8739 (Small)IMG_8693 (Small)IMG_8743 (Small)IMG_8824 (Small)IMG_8867 (Small)IMG_8721 (Small)PICT3619 (Small)PICT3676 (Small)

 

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The bite of this pit viper is far worse than any monkey bite!
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Rebecca’s newest best friend, a 5 year old “sun bear”.

About the Crew

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Crew: Patrick and Rebecca Childress
Hailing Port: Middletown, RI USA
Home Page: http://www.whereisbrickhouse.com
Patrick completed a solo-circumnavigation on Juggernaut, a Catalina 27 in his younger days. He has been published in most U.S. and many foreign sailing magazines, for both his writing and photography. He co-authored a book titled “The Cruising Guide to Narragansett Bay and the South Coast of Massachusetts”.

He holds his 500 Ton Masters Captains License, and is an active delivery captain and instructor. His Ham license is a General.

Patrick owned a home improvement business in Newport, RI but retired in June 2007 to cruise a second time around the world on Brick House.

He is also, most importantly, Captain of Brick House, AND married to Rebecca! (July 4, 2007)

Rebecca Childress (formerly Rebecca Taft) is an accomplished sailor as well. She has owned many boats ranging from a 17′ MacGregor, a Catalina 27′ and a 36′ Catalina, and now the Valiant 40 that she purchased a few years before meeting Patrick. (Lucky Patrick hah?)

Before they head out on their circumnavigation, she had completed numerous blue water passages between Rhode Island and the Caribbean and passages across the Gulf of Mexico. Cruising has included the Bahama Islands, New England, Nova Scotia, the Florida coast and the BVIs, all in preparation for the day she could circumnavigate.

Rebecca holds her 50 Ton Masters Captains License with towing and sailing endorsements. She is also a General Licensed Ham Radio Operator.

She met Patrick on her first NARC Rally from Newport to Bermuda. She had always dreamed of sailing around the world, and knew that a passage to Bermuda in November would teach her more about heavy weather sailing since it is usually rough that time of year.

Several years later when Patrick and Rebecca got together, they set their sites on earning enough money to cruise around the world together! Three years later, they had saved their money and were ready to move aboard!

Rebecca was a very successful Realtor in Newport, RI, and has an extensive list of Computer Certifications and experience as well.

After almost 7 years of exploring the Globe, they decided to add another crew member to Brick House. This was while in the island nation of Palau. We got Lily, a 7 week old practically wild little tiger kitten from a local apartment building. She has grown up on Brick House, learning how to sail ( the first time a freighter passed and stirred up a wake, she vomited at the wight of it. She hasnt beeen sick sine, even in 40 knots of wind!) She has learned how to fish, lets us know when people approach the boat, and has learned how to swim too.  With almost 5000 miles and 5 countries under her belt, she is a well travelled cat. When she gets to a marina, she decides its time for her too to see the world! I guess she takes after us!

Together, we make a great team taking our home around the world!

Vessel Make/Model: Valiant 40 #134 built in 1976
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