Borneo, Where The Wild Men Live!

Most everyone has heard of Borneo but few could spin a globe and quickly put a finger on it even though Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world! It sits 1,100 nautical miles north of the western tip of Australia and 300nm east of mainland Malaysia. Northeastern Borneo extends into the Sulu Sea with the Philippine islands not far away.

Indonesia claims the largest chunk of real estate dominating the southeastern 2/3rds of Borneo. Malaysia’s part of Borneo, often referred to as East Malaysia, or Malaysian Borneo, takes up the northwest coast and northerly 1/4 of the island except for the speck of a country called Brunei which covers some acreage on the northwest shore.

In my grandmother’s day, Borneo was known for being the home of “The Wild Man of Borneo” which sounded as untamed as the pigmy head hunters of New Guinea. Having done little research, we had only my grandmother’s concept of Borneo but soon we would be there!

Large sails and diesel fuel plodded Brick House northward from Indonesia along the western coast of Borneo. Eventually Rebecca, my wife and shipmate, and I threaded our sailboat inland following an ever-narrowing bay where we dropped anchor in a well protected, tannin colored estuary named Santubong. We were surrounded on two sides by thick tangled mangrove. This was the beginning of a brackish river that cut northeasterly into the mangroves for scores of miles. At low tide, our only neighbor was a long gray crocodile stretched out on a soft mud shore. On a higher tide, the local crocodiles straddled the knotted mangrove roots keeping their bellies elevated above the water. It seemed the nearly white Irrawaddy dolphin, which rolled in the estuary, had a truce with those snaggletooth eating machines.

Often obscured in the clouds a few miles to the west, was the highest bit of land to be seen, a volcano shaped mountain with a finale of vertical peak called Mount Santubong. It seemed much too steep near its peak to climb but we would one day take in the view from there.

To our surprise, in this seemingly remote area there was a modern floating dock where only one small fishing boat was tied. Securing our dinghy and wandering up the shore, we were caught off-guard to what we heard from the caretaker spoken in accented English. We were free to use the dock for our dinghy, the city water at the dock was safe to drink, we could walk across the property to get to the main rural road and nearby residential area and there would be no charge! The property and adjoining fish hatchery are owned by a wealthy Malaysian who visits only occasionally, yet he has instructed his employees to make visiting cruisers welcome.

Santubong is a quiet tourist community surrounded by nature attractions but first we had to catch the morning minibus for the $2.,  35 minute trip into the city of Kuching (“Cat”, in English) to find the immigration and customs offices.

Kuching seemed a mirage, a sprawling modern city equal to anything in America. The 6 lane highways were crowded with new cars. The lack of motorcycles was testament to the country’s wealth, much of which is derived from the offshore oil wells. The city streets and sidewalks were clean of rubbish, and throughout Kuching, the municipal grounds were manicured like an estate. We were quickly becoming impressed with Malaysia.

Sensitized by customs and immigration corruption in Indonesia and the Philippines, we were uneasy with the smoothness by which the Malaysian officials processed our papers. It seemed these officers were setting us up for a backlash. But they in fact did their job properly. They did not eye us suspiciously nor dig through our documents searching for some imagined irregularity, and they even seemed happy to see us! No one needed to come to our boat and rip into every cabinet and inspect labels on cans and count ounces of liquor. Malaysia is an oasis of normalcy, civility, educated people, and no official was on the grubby side of greed.
Brick House spent over 6 weeks swinging with each tide change in the estuary. Rather than sailing 15 miles up a different river to a $5 per day marina in the city of Kuching, we preferred the country living of Santubong. Everything we needed to be a perpetual tourist was here. The well-known Sarawak Cultural Village was close by. Tourists traveled a long way to see the native longhouses; thatch buildings elevated eight feet off the ground. The short, dark skinned native men, with bowl shaped haircuts, and women demonstrated poison dart blowing and daily jungle living skills. Reenacting their jungle life for tourists is far easier than struggling for real as a speck in the web of life in the rainforest. But not all at the village is jungle tradition. One weekend a year, the open grassy grounds of the Cultural Village becomes an outdoor concert arena for the annual three-day “Rainforest World Music Festival”, featuring off-name musicians from around the world playing music from jungle to jazz.
There are sandy beaches on the ocean side of Santubong and several comfortable hotels which fit into the rainforest environment. Throughout the nearby forest, hiking trails wind through the mountainous terrain, across streams, past waterfalls to overlooks, then past hardwood trees of such an enormous width and straight up height that loggers would love to chainsaw this place.
Self-responsibility is part of the culture in Malaysia. To climb the steep grade to the top of Mount Santubong, a hiker cannot shift responsibility for his well-being beyond himself. With two other newly arrived cruising friends, we slipped from the road onto the damp leaf carpeted trail threading through the rainforest. Macaque and sometimes Silver Leaf monkeys rattled through the leaves in the upper tree branches, cautioning each other of our approach. Poisonous snakes and other animals normally hide away in daylight hours but biting ants and flying skin piercers are in the shade near the streams and are often the motivation to keep a hiker’s feet marching. Short steps are needed to chug up the slippery, steeper inclines of loose soil and marble sized gravel. In these areas, the park service has tied thick ropes from tree to tree so the hikers can help pull their way up and keep from slipping down out of control. Up close, the most vertical rock faces near the summit were as challenging as imagined when viewing from the estuary. Rope ladders with round wood rungs are secured in place for those fit enough to climb their way straight up without having to be a rock climber. After two hours of heavy muscling of legs and arms with rope burned fingers, the final elevation was conquered to stand on a spacious flat-topped pinnacle. In the tropics, it is a rare day to have a horizon clear of humidity but the reduced visibility at the top of Mount Santubong still gave a commanding view of our neighborhood and our speck of a yacht far below.
One day, along with our 2 cruising friends, we jumped at the chance for a nautical jungle adventure to race a bamboo raft 16 miles down the Padawan river, through the forested mountains deep inland from Kuching. Paying our entry fee gave us our pick of a freshly made brown and green bamboo raft, which we dragged into the river and tested for buoyancy. With the morning sun rising higher, we jumped on board and balanced like a wide surfboard as it supported us just above water level. Who knew if the raft would slowly submerge with each mile or if the vine lashing would stay taught and keep all the tubular stalks in a flat bundle or scatter from under us like discarded straws.
Our “Tourism” class was called and the race was on. We paddled hard with our own dinghy paddles and poled Huck Finn style with long skinny bamboo poles. The poles against the river bottom is what kept our river yacht bow-first through the sets of rapids. Other rafters who were caught in the white swirls spun sideways and flipped right over. But the water was warm and the river shallow so there was little danger. We passed a few rafts and shouted words of motivation to our competition but far more of the late starters, who were in the more experienced classes, passed us by and we received their words of amusing encouragement. Malaysians know how to have fun on a Saturday. After 4 hours on the river, with clothes thoroughly soaked, “Team U.S.A” spread a wake across the finish line, in the middle of the pack. The jungle vine lashings on our race machine held together but our platform was sloshing more under the water than above as we slid onto a sandy bank. There it would be stacked and the following weekend be the fuel for a tremendous fire and another celebration sponsored by the nearby town. The awards ceremony filled the modest town hall at the finish line; speeches, smiles and much applause. All of us went away having one of the most fun days a tourist or local could have in Borneo.
Of course, you cannot leave the Kuching area without visiting the orangutan sanctuaries. Orangutan; it is not pronounced with a “g” on the end. One zoo-like facility, called Matang Wildlife Centre, raises or rehabilitates orangutans (orang-person, utan-forest) preparing them for release. The other facility is a rainforest reserve called Sememggoh Nature Reserve. At the reserve, the orangutans are free to roam the miles of surrounding forest and are offered food twice a day. Well before the feeding and the appearance of the orangutans, a park ranger gives an orientation to the fifty or so camera toting tourists about the wildness and unpredictability of the animals. This place is not a zoo. These apes, (apes have no tails), are far stronger than any human so they need to be treated with great respect. There have been occasions when large males have come out of the forest in a feisty mood, and have wreaked havoc attacking and maiming tourists. If the orangs have not found plenty to eat on their own, the apes swing in from afar, climb through tree branches or along ropes webbed from the trees leading to the elevated feeding platforms. There, they take their time nibbling and posing for pictures. When they have had enough they slowly, individually, disappear back into the foliage till none are left for the tourists to snap pictures of. In the jungle the orangutans forage once again and build their nest for the night high in a tree, far from people.
Eventually the day came for us to pick up anchor and move northward along the west coast of Borneo. We drifted with the out-flowing current of the river when a major problem occurred. With the gear shift slipped into forward, our increase of speed was minimally improved. We limped along and only when we were well offshore in clearer water, well away from the crocodiles, did I go over the side and chisel the mass of barnacles from the propeller and drive shaft!
Billions of years ago large areas between Borneo and the mainland to the west were well above sea level. This not only made for valuable oil reserves but created a shallow mud bottom which extends well away from shore. To visit the national parks along our route, we often anchored fully exposed 2 miles offshore in 12 feet of water, then played the tides to land the dinghy high up on the shoreline.
In the Malaysian rainforest, there are many kinds of animals like deer, bear cats (a kind of civet), porcupine, clouded leopard and all sorts of snakes and colorful birds, like hornbills and parrots. The problem with hiking park trails, like at Bako National Park, is at the end of the day, you usually see only a lot of trees and some very nice waterfalls to cool off in. We found it best to be near the ranger station around 4:00 in the afternoon. That is when the wild pigs, monkeys, birds, and other animals wander out of the jungle and into the open looking for food dropped by the tourists. Groups of world-roaming tourists also know to gather at that time with their fully loaded cameras ready to snap away.
We were determined to search Borneo to see the rare Rafflesia. This is the largest and one of the rarest flowers in the world. For the Rafflesia to bloom, the conditions must be exactly right as it is a parasite that blooms on only the tetrastigma vine. The largest Rafflesia can be over 3′ across and weigh 22 pounds. The reddish flower can stink like a dead animal and has the spongy texture like a thick mushroom. We had to visit several national parks where these flowers occasionally bloom before we found one at Gunung Gading National Park. Normally, a tourist has to be escorted by a park ranger down a narrow trail completely canopied by trees to the site of the Rafflesia. It was around lunch time when we approached the ranger who was fully relaxed at his little wooden office near the trail. The ranger saw my head of white hair and our naturalistic demeanor then pointed Rebecca and me in the direction where we would guide ourselves and photograph the extraordinary flower at our leisure. This park also had other hiking trails with so many waterfalls which spread the numbers of tourists so thin that we usually had a swimming hole to ourselves.

Since there are few protected anchorages along the western coast, we slipped into a sparsely populated marina in the beautiful modern city of Miri. Miri was once a small fishing town with long featureless 3 story concrete buildings housing specialty shops on the street level. Now the city is shadowed by tall modern architecture. It is a clean, orderly city with a long esplanade at the ocean front. Miri is of a size that only a bicycle is needed to get most everywhere and is the perfect city without the big city hassles. Miri, like most Malaysian cities, has its distinct ethnic areas which include Indian and Chinese. This makes for a surplus of national holidays which no one passes up celebrating. To balance the air of western civilization, there are still the traditional open air markets selling everything including cooked mouse deer and thick, white, python snake meat fresh from the jungle. Other cruisers had tied to the marina for many months to work on their boats or simply live the easy life in a very affordable country. As tourists, we spent half a day at the local crocodile farm/zoo which raises the giant animals for leather and food. Miri is the historic home of the first oil well in Malaysia and thus has an oil museum at that site.

Further inland, we spent days being guided through the Mulu Cave system, a tourist hotspot. It is a debate if this is the largest or second largest cave system in the world. Each year a contingent of international professional cavers explore and map deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of seemingly endless grottos. Even though Malaysians are well educated modern thinking, prosperous and friendly people, without tourism, many East Malaysians living in the less than modern mountain villages would have little hope for employment.
Nearly 6 months in East Malaysia had ripped by. We had to clear out of the country and sail further up the coast to the speck of a country, Brunei, to once again reset the clock on our visas. In oil rich Brunei, Islam is not only the singular religion, but also the government. In Brunei, it is against the law to sing Christmas carols or for children to dress up and celebrate Halloween, and don’t even think about joking and ask where you might buy a pork chop. Muslims in Brunei do not keep dogs as pets as it is “haram”, forbidden, to touch a dog. The only exception to some of these restrictions is at the local yacht club in the port city of Muara. The yacht club is a small oasis for foreigners who work under contract in Brunei.
In East Malaysia it is not often that one sees a woman wearing a Hijab (Muslim head covering for women). This is a Christian area quite different from West Malaysia where Islam is far more prevalent and has a great influence in national government. However, Islam in all of Malaysia is of a tolerant shade and should not be compared to the zealots of other countries in the Middle East or Brunei.
As we moved up the coast we did not intend on staying so long at yet another marina, Sutera Harbor Hotel and Marina in the high rise city of Kota Kinabalu. But this marina is one of the most comfortable imaginable with its own bowling lanes, private movie theatre, extensive workout gym, and free shuttle into the nearby city. This was quite the contrast to our customary life of anchoring off remote thatch villages deep in the Pacific. The marina and the local airport became our base for exploring the northeast coast of Borneo. Because of pirates close by in the Philippines, and local bandits scouting just off the coast, the east coast of Borneo is a no-go zone for cruisers on yachts.
Flying in a twin engine, propeller, commuter plane from one coast to the other, it was stunning to see how tens of thousands of acres of Borneo has, like in the U.S., been changed. But here, the jungle has been burned and bulldozed and replaced with endless rows of palm oil trees similar to the way in the U.S., farmers plant rows of corn.
Staying in a simple bungalow nestled into the damp forest along the Kinabatangan River, we spent our days on the lodge’s river boats looking for the elusive pigmy elephants, orangutans, long nosed proboscis monkeys and the nearly extinct pigmy rhinoceros. On guided night walks through damp trails, often temporarily blocked by cobwebs, the local naturalist pointed out civets, lemurs, slow loris (a small nocturnal primate), and a tarsier. Some tourist spots closest to the eastern coast were watched over by a contingent of armed Malaysian military men.
Back on the west coast of Borneo, we sailed on to the island of Pulau Tiga (Island Three), one of a very few islands along the west coast. Pulau Tiga has recently been referred to as “Survivor Island” as this is the location for the filming of the first U.S. “Survivor” game show. In reality, Tiga Island is not very remote. Less than 10 miles away on Borneo there 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. The game show contestants “survived” on the north shore while on the south shore, the 200 production crew lived in park operated cottages and two commercially operated resorts. On Pulau Tiga, tourists and yachties come to relax on the shores, snorkel the reefs, hike the trails and play in the one large mud puddle in the center of the island. The thick mud is advertised to be medicinal but this was some of the dirtiest, clingingest mud we had basked in anywhere in the world. With the ensuing mud fight with some French tourists, everyone lost. Soaking in the ocean afterwards, it still took a soft scrubby and strong soap to free our skin pores and clothes of the microscopic grime.
Now the play time was over as we arrived at Kudat, a town at the northern tip of Borneo, where we would haul Brick House for repairs. It is a basic small fishing town with little reason for a cruiser to visit but for the inexpensive haul-out facility. The labor rate for a general yard helper is no more than $15 per day. It is a safe area despite being within striking distance of the kidnappers from the Philippines. In Kudat, a Malaysian navy contingent is stationed which sends out armed patrol boats each day. Just over a hundred miles northwest of Kudat are the Spratley Islands, which the Chinese are making famous with their military fortifications.
Malaysia Borneo is a contrast of the most desirable modern cities we have seen anywhere in the world with small less cultivated towns which could rank as villages. There are bulldozed rainforests skirted by well managed nature reserves. Despite all the civility of Malaysia, along the east coast there still exists a modern version of the ruthless “Wild man of Borneo”. Malaysia Borneo is one of the most diverse destinations to drop an anchor, and maybe, one day for us, permanently.

The “Bad Elf” on Brick House

You hear of boats every year, running up on ‘uncharted’ , or “mischarted” reefs. I always knew that charts could be wrong and always calculate conservatively for this. Did you know though,  that not only can reefs and rocks be mischarted, but your BOAT can also be mischarted!? Yes…I never knew that either. Depending upon the quality and condition at any one given time, your GPS may not be representing exactly where you are!

GPS in a good quality chartplotter like a Raymarine chartplotter for example are generally accurate within 3-20 feet of your actual position. Many others are too. But in handheld devices, notably the many Android devices that are popping up everywhere, are often 5 cent GPS chips made in China. They can be up to 50 feet off of where you actually are! With more and more people relying on handheld smartphones and tablets to navigate, this could spell Disaster! Many long term cruisers get “kap” files which they create from Google Earth. These are wonderful in that they show the exact location of rocks and reefs, so you can steer around them even when you can not visually see them. But what happens if your boat is not being shown properly in relation to those rocks and reefs?

And how did I discover this?

Well, I decided that I would be not so cheap this time, and buy a good quality tablet. I baught an IPad. I didn’t need “cellular” service in it since I have a wireless hotspot on board and only planned to use it on the boat. I got the iPad home, and installed with my applications, and suddenly I realized that I had no GPS signal in it! Don’t all new devices these days have GPS? Isn’t a GPS a GPS? Wifi versions of IPads have no GPS at all.

So now what do I do? No refund or exchange was possible.

When I started researching for solutions, this is when I discovered the bad news about GPS chips not having any quality standards or requirements. I also discovered many devices that work great near land and cell towers, are much less effective at sea, away from beacons and cell towers. I had no idea. I thought they either worked 100% or not at all.

I then found the  Bad Elf GPS. There is one for under $100 that can connect directly to my iPads Lightening connector, but I chose instead a Bluetooth version that not only my iPad can connect to for an extremely accurate and fast GPS, but all of my other devices can too.  And the boat icon representing my exact location, here in the cockpit, shows that I am in the cockpit of the boat in this slip…not at the bow…not standing on the dock. That’s how accurate it is.

I’m so glad that this little Bad Elf has taught me a good lesson!

A definite decision : Predictwind

..It is 100% guaranteed that we will be basing all of our communication hardware choices; Single Side Band, Sat Phone, Sat device,  Cell Phone…. on being able to best use Predictwind Offshore.

 

Many choose their hardware and then see which software applications perform with that device. But we are doing it in reverse order. We are choosing our software and then, and only then, buying the hardware we need to support it.

Our most recent in-depth comparisons of both Predictwind Offshore and every other weather product I could find on my Ipad and Android, has Predictwind Offshore coming out at the top. I spent way too much money and effort trying them all, but I needed to be sure.

There are certainly a lot of very pretty weather applications out there, but only if you have a strong internet connection. Whatever flavor you want, based on your own visual preferences, is on offer. I can not claim that Predictwind Offshore is the absolute prettiest or elegant out there, but for our needs as full time cruisers, on a limited budget, on a modest sailboat, sailing offshore frequently, “Predictwind Offshore” definitely offers the best option once we leave the coast and fast internet.

There are 5 characteristics a weather product needs to have to fulfill our requirements, and only Predictwind Offshore fulfills ALL 5 of these. These are:

1. Accessible from far out at sea…while on passages, away from internet for extended periods. Whether we choose the Iridium GO, the Iridium GLOW, Single Side Band/Pactor, a satellite phone or any other more expensive product, or just wifi/internet when we have it, PREDICTWIND will work, and work well.

2. Offers more than just 1 forecast model. GFS (Global Marine Forecast system) is a good model, and it’s offered by every weather software package out there because it’s free. But we want other good models too, even the ones that are not free. The ECMWF (European Center for Medium range Weather Forecasts) forecast model is the most important one to us, and probably the most respected and expensive for a weather software provider to offer.  Any weather forecasting product we use MUST have ECMWF, or we don’t want it. I think of this model, after experimenting with it for years, as the “worst case scenario” model. It often shows more wind or higher waves than what we actually get. And it’s almost never worse. GFS forecasts often show no indication of these extremes so many people ask why we bother paying for weather..it’s always wrong! Predictwind offers not only the GFS, and ECMWF forecasts, but  2 more models that are proprietary, based on a completely different algorithm that starts with current conditions, and then produces higher resolution, more accurate forecasts. All 4 of the Predictwind Forecast Models that Predictwind offers are a primary draw for us, and worth the price tag. Yes if you use only GFS forecasting products, you will wonder why the weather forecasts seems to be wrong so often! Get Predictwind Offshore with access to the forecast models that the pros use, spend time learning how to use the software and understand the models it provides, and weather will be accurate much more often.

3. We would like the weather to be accurate, with few exceptions, and for us to see the possibility of it being not on the mark. We can compare the 4 models that Predictwind Offshore provides, and if they all agree, we can be quite sure of the forecast. If they greatly differ, then we had better brace ourselves for unpredictable weather up ahead!

4.  Affordable. Predictwind Offshore is not the cheapest, but it is not the most expensive by far. Their Standard package at about $20 per month offers everything we need for the big Ocean passages we have ahead of us.  We will upgrade to the pricier Professional package when we need serious information about the Ocean currents, and even better resolution GRIBS, like right before a passage to Bermuda or around South Africa.

5. We can receive the weather forecasts on our laptop, on our Android devices or on our IPad….all while at sea…. Predictwind Offshore is a Multi-device application, giving us flexibility like we have never had before. We can view Predictwind on all of our devices in a beautiful graphic presentation. We can receive forecasts via Our SSB  radio/Pactor modem/laptop.

Predictwind Offshore! offers so many other features that are remarkable time savers, like Weather Routing, and Departure Planning. Describing them would require a whole separate blog.  This wealth of feature, along with fulfilling our 5 basic requirements are why we INSIST ON using Predictwind Offshore and building our hardware around it.

We have ruled out using a satellite phone. Airtime is way too expensive. Creating the necessary permanent installation of it is also too expensive. 

We no longer wish to wrestle with our SSB/Pactor setup because when we need weather reports, we need them now, and we need to be certain we can get them, and not leave it up the Propogation gods. SSB/Pactor will still be maintained, but demoted to being our backup system. 

The Communication Hardware we have decided on in the last few hours, but after much deliberation is the  Iridium GO!…a kind of satellite wifi hotspot. It is currently the only hardware offered for sale right on the Predictwind web site, signifying that it is the most obvious, well integrated choice to use with their software. Predictwind provides complete support for both their software and the GO! so there will be no fingerpointing at the other guy when something doesn’t work. The Iridium GO! offers so much more too. SV Totem has written one of the best blogs about its features at Sailing Totem.

The “Unlimited Data Plan” on the Iridium GO! is far less expensive than other satellite plans, but is still a bit pricey for us. It seems though to be the best way to go if you want no lack of information. There is so much to worry about on a passage…why worry about how much time you have left on your satellite phone to get your weather (and email, among other things)?  We will most definitely exercise the right of stopping and starting service as needed that Predictwind’s NO CONTRACT Iridium GO! data plans offer! 

Concluding all my research, our Iridium GO! order will be in the mail tomorrow!

I thought Public wifi was a thing of the past…Ancient History…

Boy was I wrong!

I can not even begin to tell you the tangle of wires and pile of contraptions that I have accumulated on this boat trying to get useable wifi signals in the last 10 years. I’ve done better than a lot of boats, but in the past 5 years I just assumed it was the lack of maintenance of the routers ashore, and the general infrastructure that supports wifi, that was toppling to extinction. I thought the world had converted to 3G and 4G cellular devices, and wifi was just a rusty relic in my bilge.

I asked friends all over the world if they were experiencing the same thing. And guess what, wifi is still alive and well, and improving all the time, the world over. There is no good reason to stop chasing the wifi signals because they are most often your least expensive option, not to mention your only hope of a signal at all. Some countries are even starting to limit who can have a SIM card, and it may not be as easy going forward, for cruisers to even obtain SIM cards!  I find that so hard to believe, but rather find out the hard way, I decided to get a good rig up, and the bad gear off the boat, once and for all.

I have a wifi hotspot with a SIM card in it. I am embarrassed to tell you how much money I lose when I go over my limit; money flies out of my wallet keeping this topped up.

Today arrived a Redport Halo Long Range Wifi Extender.

 

What a gorgeous piece of hardware! This morning, the only signal any of my devices could see, with my best rig up, was the marina’s wifi. It could not hold the signal long enough to actually bring up a page. There were 1-2 bars of signal strength.

Eager to start saving money, and approaching another plan end…I did a temporary install of this Extender,  and found it very easy to set up on our horizontal Bimini bar. Within 10 minutes, I had 25 signals showing. Now, the marina signal was not just useable, but lightening fast.

What’s nice about this device too, is that once I activate the built in firewall and service, I can be sure that my computer won’t do automatic updates, or that running background apps won’t suck down the data while I am attached to expensive wifi or  3G/4G data plans, never mind my Inmarsat satellite phone. I have all but decided to sell my Inmarsat Isatphone Pro since every time I have used that for data, I’ve run my data out before I’ve even gotten the weather or my emails while at sea.

If anyone wants a bundle of wifi devices, come’n get em…free for the taking. I will likely be replacing my Inmarsat IsatphonePro sat phone with an Iridium GO, so if anyone wants a good deal on a an Inmarsat Isatphone Pro, let me know that too. It has the latest firmware with it, and a data connection kit.

Yeah…I’ve always liked my gadgets!

 

 

 

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

The view from the top of Koh Phi Phi, an island in north west Thailand, of course does not tell the whole story. Even at the lower elevations it is quite a nice island. I cannot believe the number of people who take ferry boats from the mainland to inundate the island each day. On Phi Phi, there are backpacker rooms and very expensive resorts to stay

Brick House is in the middle near the wall.

It is normally spelled Phi Phi but pronounced pee pee.

It is a long haul to the top.
in. For the most part, I would say it is quite the party town. It is not my favorite place for a vacation though. My top pick would go to Playa Conchal on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is a Malia operated hotel meaning, the freestanding bungalows are very nice and very expensive. There are less expensive places, on the beach, to stay in the area. But at Playa Conchal they have the largest swimming pool in central and south America. You can swim from oasis to oasis for yet another pina colada. Plus, Mt. Arenal, an active volcano is a good day trip from Playa Conchal, horseback riding on the beach, rain forest trips and great bill fishing off the white beach.  Eastern Fiji, cruising on a big old wooden tourist sailboat is another top pick.  Fiji has waterfalls, clear water on the reefs, the nicest natives in all the Pacific. Paradisio in the Dominican Republic is a great spot. It is an all inclusive and very importantly they have the beach toys, wind surfers, Hobi-cats etc. on the beach at no extra charge and lots of entertainment at night. Club Me does a good job.  Club Med “Columbus Isle” which is actually the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, where Columbus first landed. They have more than beach toys, SCUBA in clear water, sailboat races, entertainment in the evenings a lot of activities included in the price. Who wants to go on an expensive vacation and just lay on a beach? There needs to be options. Club Med in the Turks & Caicos, which is in the southeastern Bahamas, is another good one. If someone from the U.S. really wanted to go on vacation to Thailand, I would suggest the island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant) in the Gulf of Thailand. The ocean water is not clear for snorkeling but good for swimming. On land they have the tourist elephants, at least 4 waterfalls, one of which you will most likely have to yourself via motorcycle and trips to nearby islands, the party scene or the more quiet out of the way places to stay.

This is morning and most tourists are sleeping in with headaches.

Beach buckets for the big kids.

The dudes are on the prowl. Amazing, no tattoos….yet.

 

 

 

The chicks are on the prowl….

How great to watch a tough, inebriated, tourist dude take on the pros!

This unfortunate tourist was on a motorcycle taxi on the second day of her 2 month vacation in Thailand. The driver missed a turn. He stayed in the hospital while she has severe road rash but nothing broken or sprained. But no going in the infectious ocean for a couple of weeks.

You can imagine how poor the reef life is if a dive operation highlights the sighting of “plankton” as a reason to go into the water!

The west side of Koh Phi Phi, few tourists see, as we sail away.

Vietnamese Pirates as seen in Blue Water Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, magazine

The boat that accosted us was like this one but much larger.
 “Rebecca, QUICK, I need another flare from the hanging locker!”

The jib alone was just barely pulling Brick House southward at a pace slower than a lame lamb, but there was no hurry, we were saving diesel fuel. The south west coast of Vietnam was 100 miles to our east and the coast of Thailand, 125 miles to the west. Here at the southern edge of the Gulf of Thailand, the hundreds of traditional wood fishing boats have thinned to a very few.

From several miles away I monitored our approach to a group of three anchored, fishing boats. Depending on the type of fishing they do, some boats anchor during the day and fish at night.

With the slight wind out of the north west, I adjusted the Monitor self steering to sail a safe quarter mile off their sterns, so to pass the boats on our starboard.

As Brick house slipped by, I could see that the 65 foot long mother ship had the two smaller fishing boats tied by lines, streaming off its stern.

But soon there was a puff of black smoke from the mother ship and the boats began to move in a counter clockwise circle. This soon put them on a perfect broadside collision course with Brick House.

There were at least four fishermen on the forward deck of the mother ship who were watching closely as our tracks converged. There were no friendly smiles or hand waves. Shining my high intensity green laser at the people on deck and at the wheelhouse did nothing to persuade them to change their course.

The mother ship was straining from its tow causing it to list hard to starboard as it struggled to turn into us and narrow the distance. In the fluid maneuvering, they had now set up an approach to bring their port to come along our starboard side.

One towed boat was actually attached to a long line fastened forward of their port midship and, possibly because its rudder was turned, was being thrown out to the side like a water skier in a turn. If they continued what looked like a docking maneuver, or if Brick House slowed down, that tow line would soon rake into our backstay creating all sorts of havoc.

Quickly, I hit the starter key on our diesel and throttled up. This lamb suddenly shed its sheepish coat. Certainly these guys were out to cause us harm. It was a very serious chase in slow motion like a conch after a sea urchin.

Because of the drag of their tow, we held our slim distance, but then very slowly we pulled further ahead. This gave me time to have Rebecca hand me an expired parachute flare. With our boat on autopilot, I pressed my legs against the stern rail for support.

Aiming the parachute flare, I pulled the safety pin and let the hammer mechanism fly. Nothing; the expired flare was a total dud. I dropped it into the ocean to insure it did not decide to ignite unexpectedly.

We had one more flare close at hand. Quickly the end caps were unwrapped, I then aimed toward the boat which was following behind and pulled the trigger.

There was a loud kabang, that rung Rebecca’s ears and sent our ships cat flying to shake in a dark bunk. An eight foot diameter explosion of gray smoke obscured the stern of Brick House. The recoil was not much in my left hand but the disappointment was great. Holding the flare slightly higher than horizontal, the drop rate was so great, the flare only went 50 feet before boring into the sea. It needed to fly an additional 100 feet to hit where I hoped. But the effect put a smile on my face. The pirates on the foredeck went running to the wheelhouse and, at the same moment, all forward movement of the fishing boat stopped.

I would loved to have fired another flare landing it with greater accuracy but our supply is very limited, plus, what if they decided to ignore the warning, drop the drag of their tows and come after us again? We had to think ammo conservation.

We continued to quickly motor sail south. Rebecca kept a binocular watch on the fishing boats. It was a relief to see them circle into the wind and reanchor as they had been a short time before.

And all was back to normal.

LESSONS LEARNED

There is a superstition among fishermen in S.E. Asian countries that a fishing boat can wipe away bad fishing luck by passing close across the bow of another moving vessel. Cruising sailboats become an easy mark for this dangerous maneuver. To dissuade boats I shine a powerful green laser light at the wheelhouse. Four out of four fishing boats hit with my laser made an abrupt turn, figuring it would be better luck to pass astern of our sailboat.

Our 1,000mW laser is far more effective than a mere 5mW “pointer” . There are 5,000mW lasers that can set fire to combustibles 18 inches away.
When the pirate mother ship picked up anchor and maneuvered in our direction, it became obvious they could not reach us in time to pass across our bow so I assumed they would turn to cross our stern. All my innocent misunderstandings of their true intentions allowed the tense situation to suddenly develop. As they tried to come alongside, it was immediately more important to avoid a collision.

With that problem solved, the priority became protecting ourselves and stopping the pirates in their pursuit. If we had a gun on board, a couple of shots across their deck or into the wheelhouse would certainly have scared them away. If these pirates were able to gain a proximity so close they would then board our boat, that becomes quite a

different level of anxiety and heightened defense on our part.

The Gulf of Thailand is not known to be a “pirate” area. In hindsight, these were fishermen who became pirates of opportunity and did not appear armed. If someone in our situation decided to wound or kill these unarmed pirates, while they were still on their own boat and someone was left in condition enough to tell what happened, there could be serious consequences awaiting the cruiser in their next port.

It is not unusual for victims in many countries to then become the criminal for defending themselves with excessive force. Plus, it is highly illegal to possess firearms in many countries.

In our situation, what if I had burned their boat or harmed these pirates with my flares and they were able to claim to officials they were simply having mechanical problems with their steering, or they wanted to sell us fish? I do not want to deal with corrupt foreign court systems and predatory lawyers. Our goal was to stop the piracy without causing further problems for ourselves. We could ratchet up our defense as needed. Hopefully these pirates have gone away learning that not all sailboats are easy targets.

There are known pirate areas like the waters between the south eastern Philippines and the north east coast of Borneo. If a high speed powerboat full of men, in dark T-shirts with the word “Police” across the chest, approaches a cruising boat in this area, a cruisers best option is to immediately cut loose with rocket propelled grenades.

Waiting for clarity in these waters can prove disastrous as it has for the crew of commercial shipping and cruisers. This past November, a German couple were attacked on their sailboat. The wife was killed and the husband who was held for ransom was then beheaded. Such attacks have become a pattern. Obviously, most cruisers find it prudent to steer wide of known pirate areas.

Using a yacht’s distress signaling equipment, like flares, to ward off the bad guys, has proven effective for a number of world roaming cruisers. Twelve gauge, pistol-fired flares like the orange colored Orion flare launcher will fly 90 meters with the proper trajectory. These flares will burn underwater so if one should land on the deck of a boat, it cannot be easily extinguished.

Parachute flares launched from a tube can fly 300 meters. In a defensive situation, the first flare launched should have a trajectory of 45 degrees for ranging purposes.

The expired handheld flares used in our pirate encounter expired on February 1996. So far, we have a 50 percent failure rate with that vintage. In a tense situation, to pull the pin on a flare being gripped in your hand, only to have nothing happen, is a real “Oh sh..” moment.

End Of Life For This Raft

It seemed a good idea to have the ship’s life raft inspected prior to setting off from Los Angeles in 2003 to cruise the world. When the present owners purchased their sailboat in 2001, it came with an Avon 6-person life raft, mounted in a hard canister on the back deck.

In Malaysia, when opened, there was no moisture in the canister and all looked promising.
At the inspection station, the stainless steel retaining straps were released and the top of the hard canister removed. When opened, it was discovered to be a Pandora’s Box.  The Avon raft was sitting in a mass of black muck, incubated from water that had somehow intruded into the canister.  The putrid raft was rolled out on the inspection floor and inflated. To every ones surprise, it grew into a life raft and retained air.  Since mildew, algae, along with extreme heat, can degrade the fabric of a life raft,  the most prudent thing to do would be to replace it.  The owners were so impressed with the toughness of this Avon, they decided to replace it with a new 4 Person Avon.

 

The new 4 Person Avon, in a canister, was purchased and mounted on deck in 2003. Five years later, the raft was inspected and repacked in October 2008 by USA Services, Inc., a certified Avon repacker, in Norfolk, VA.. The owners were not present for the repacking.  In February 2013, the raft was shipped overland from Whangerei, New Zealand to Wilco Marine Services in Auckland, another certified Avon repacker.  At Wilco Marine Services, the raft owners were again not present for the repacking but it was inspected, vacuum bagged, repacked and again took its place on the deck of the owners boat.

Spraying hair shampoo to look for leaks.
On 26 January 2017 the now 14 year old life raft was taken to an inspection station in Penang, Malaysia.  At this licensed station, but not certified by Avon,  the vacuum bag was removed and the raft was rolled out on the floor, then  inflated.  The raft was quickly losing air. It only took a minute before the inspectors spray bottle, of diluted hair shampoo, was squirting the surfaces around the most common leak area, the inflate nozzle. But no bubbles developed. Moving around the life raft, both upper and lower chambers were wetted.  This left a startling trail of large bubbles, little bubble and lines of small white bubbles.  At this point, even the inflated canopy support, which gets its air from the upper chamber, was wilting.  Nearly all the corner seams of both upper and lower chambers were leaking.  Clearly, some of the long streaks of foaming bubbles were leaks at the folded areas when the raft was last packed.  It was a catastrophic failure which fortunately happened in an inspection station and not in a terrible situation at sea.

Long lines and spots of leaks.
According to Practical Sailor magazine “Avon was acquired by French competitor Zodiac in 1998. Zodiac stopped making Avon liferafts in 2004”

 

Information still on the Avon website recommends their rafts should be brought in for  “servicing within 3 years of date of manufacture then every 3 years. Boats that operate for hire or sail in tropical waters remain subject to an annual inspection.”

An annual inspection for a life raft on a long range cruising boat is simply not physically or economically practical. It makes sense, for marine use, a life raft should to be exceedingly reliable even if specified and used for near shore use.

Leaks everywhere.
No tests were done to determine exactly why the raft so thoroughly failed. However, it was the inspector’s opinion that the best material for life raft construction is neoprene, coated on both sides with urethane. The Avon’s literature says their rafts are constructed with “the unique Avon butyl fabric”.  This material, Avon likes to link to the aviation industry. Even if aviation life rafts use this material for construction, aviation standards do not require the ruggedness and durability that is set for the marine industry.

 

Avon used several manufacturers around the world and it was not determined from which plant this raft came from. During the failed servicing, the inspector pointed to the terrible looking glued joins and said heat sealing is far superior.

 

In the world of life raft repacking, there is a debate about how to best protect a large deflated object which has been severely compressed into a small capsule or set in a soft valise. The question arises with vacuuming bagging. Vacuum bagging a raft may give added protection from moisture but adds additional compression on the folded creases which could cause  porosity in those areas with resultant air loss.   However, according to the old Avon literature,  “All Avon Ocean and Coastline life rafts are now vacuum sealed in special plastic envelope, before being packed in a valise or canister.”  So the vacuum packing of the raft when serviced in New Zealand was the manufacturer’s preference to which, the owners had complied. Additionally, if a severely compressed life raft is sitting on deck in a tropical sun, temperatures of 160 degrees can be reached, further affecting the already stressed material. But one would think life raft manufacturers understand this and use that certainty as a component of their construction, the same as an architect specifies proper building materials to stand against U.V., wind loading and temperature changes.  (See the February 2013 issue of Practical Sailor, “Life Raft Inspection an Inside Look”) If a life raft manufacturer thought sun shining on a deck mounted life raft to be a significant problem, then a sun cover would be suggested. In any case, the owners always had a sun cover shielding the raft.

The raft canister was always covered with a light colored sun shade.
Attempting to reach Avon, the raft owner tried sending an email to them at info@avon-inflatable.com which is listed on an Avon website. The raft owners received the following automated response:  “Due to the amount of spam received, we will not read your e-mail. If you want to get in touch with us, please contact us through our website contact form.” Others who tried this site were directed to a German language site which had nothing to do with life rafts.

On the www.avonmarine.com website,  the raft owner found a contact form under the “Find a Dealer” link, and  tried several times to send a message using that form, but  kept getting the following: “Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact the administrator by another method.”   

Certainly the raft owners would like feed back from Zodiac/Avon now known as Zodiac Nautic. But it gets even more confusing as there is another brand of “Zodiac”  liferafts owned by SurvivetechZodiac. Over the years operations have been spun off, bought and sold or acquired by other companies.

Avon literature on the internet states the 4 Person Avon life raft is guaranteed for 12 years. But a guarantee term is not considered an expiration date. A reasonable person would expect this raft to be serviceable for many years past the guarantee date.  This is a wake up call for the owners of all life rafts to take nothing for granted.

The raft was purchased on  March 12, 2003 and the cost was $2,922.75.

Raft serial #AVBOA983L203

As a postscript.  When this Avon raft was manufactured,  Zodiac had contracted the manufacture of Avon  liferafts to several companies in different countries.  Apparently the quality assurance was not consistent.   Working through a liferaft dealer, the raft owner was able to get a response from Zodiac and Zodiac was willing to sell the owners a new raft at cost. When the owners agreed to this proposal and tried to arrange shipment of the raft, they lost all communication with their contact at Zodiac.  In the end, they bought a Lalizas raft.

Some of this information was used in Practical Sailor articles March 8, 2017 and Features April 2017 Issue

Fishermen Punk

For our friends on the west coast of Malaysia, we stopped for the night at Pulau Bidan, 14 miles north of Penang (Lat 05 44′.6N Lon 100 17′.4E). In the morning we woke up to a fisherman anchored across our anchor and with a fish line draped along our hull with a float about to tangle in our rudder or prop. Of course this is the often used ploy to say we caused the anchoring problem and now we owe the fisherman money. In no uncertain terms I told him to move, which he did and then we were able to leave. The strange thing is, an hour later when we were about 7 miles on our way to Langkawi, he showed up along side us well out to sea. He motored along, motioning with his arms like we needed to give him something. I won’t bore you with the whole story but after 45 minutes, I tired of him and his unsafe maneuvers across our bow and off our stern so I fired a flare into the sky. That pretty much solved the problem for a while…..but he came close again. When I started taking pictures with my telephoto lens, that seemed to have the best effect and he disappeared for good heading back to Bidan. He burned up a lot of gasoline for nothing. I am attaching some pictures in case someone in Penang keeps track of these things. The Red Bull insignia on the side of his boat is distinctive.

After arriving in Langkawi, we made a report to the Marine Police. They were very interested in the situation and it seems they are not fully aware that this sort of thing is common place against peaceful cruisers. More cruisers need to take pictures and make a report. The big learning point from this experience is to take pictures early on and from all angles. I should have taken a picture of the bow of the fishing boat where the registration numbers are for Malaysian boats. Without such definite evidence, the police can do little. We have one cruising friend here in the marina at Langkawi who has dealt 3 times with this sort of thing. He has never paid anything but they keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thaipusam Celebration in Penang, Malaysia

 

I remember seeing these images on “Believe It Or Not” or maybe an “In Search Of”  sort of TV show. But that seemed to be in some far away TV land place, yet now, we stumbled right into the middle of it

Thaipusam is a key Hindu ceremony that is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. In 2017 it was held over the 7,8,9th of February. In 2018 it well be held in January.

 

“The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, January/February, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion; as well as of divine strength and power, gave Murugan, the universal granter of wishes a “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.”   The motive

 

 

 

of the Thaipusam festival is to pray to Murugan to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed or favors granted or to make penance for transgressions.

Thaipusam takes place in several cities in Malaysia but the second largest celebration is in Penang.  From the city streets in Penang, it is 4 miles to Waterfall Temple located on a mountainside outside the city.

 

 

First, along the route, stacks of shelled brown coconuts are donated by families or civic groups so the crowds can break them on the pavement. The broken coconut symbolizes the breaking of ones bad ego to reveal purity inside.   But by far, most onlookers have a great romp of smashing as many coconuts as are available onto the street and send the coconut water and shards flying.  It makes a tremendous mess but the organizers come soon behind with sweepers to shove the shards aside.  This makes way for the gold and silver chariots.  The golden chariot is pulled by 2 small water buffalo. The smaller silver chariot is pulled by people.  These chariots carry dignitaries. After they pass, front end loaders and dump trucks follow to clean up the masses of coconuts shards along the side of the street.

Hindus, throughout the day and year, seem to always be burning incense and leaving plates of offerings to the gods, whether in designated offering spots outside their home or on the sidewalks.  On this day, they hand the offerings to the attendants of the chariots where the offering is tipped off the plate into the chariot and the plate is returned to the donor.

 

Devotees will make the 4 mile pilgrimage walking barefoot on the black pavement. Water trucks move along the route to help cool the surface but in the 90 degree weather, the surfaces quickly dry and heat up again. Asphalt can become 40 to 60 degrees hotter than the air temperature. This is only part of the burden met by the devotees.

“On the month leading up to the pilgrimage, the devotee will have mainly subsisted on a heavily

 

restricted diet and then completely fast on the last few days before the pilgrimage; naturally, these extremes demand of very high level of mental and physical fortitude.”

The most basic devotee will carry on his head, a pewter or silver pot of milk, a symbol of purity and virtue. Holding a pot of milk on ones head for a nonstop 4 mile march, then trekking up countless concrete steps to the

 

temple, is no easy feat. Other devotees will become far more extreme in their efforts.

Kavadis, literally “sacrifice at every step”, is a large, heavy, contraption extending out from the shoulders and towering over the head. Some Kavadis rest on pads on the shoulders and around the waist. Other devotees take the excessive discomfort by attaching the Kavadis with countless spears threaded into the outer layer of skin to spread the load. Since there is exposed skin left,

why not dangle shells, beads, or any other sort of decoration from tiny hooks piercing the skin of the chest, back, arms, cheeks, forehead.  The mouth and tongue is an impressive piercing spot leaving little opportunity for a devotee to drink or eat along the marching route. Some devotees prefer to just bite down on a spear rather than piercing it through their cheeks.

Of course, the most notable devotees are those who

 

 

harness themselves with many hooks on their backs then have reins held by an attendant. The devotee must lean forward to make progress literally pulling the skin away from their back.

The small temples along the route often have booths where they hand out sweet fruit drinks in small paper cups. Closer to the temple, large vats of noodles with tofu, among other vegetarian meals or snacks, are ladled into plastic containers and handed to the crowds. Otherwise, there are plenty of food stalls where the crowd can pay for traditional food and souvenirs, all lining the streets leading to the base of the temple hill.

The third day of celebrations is anticlimactic. The gold and silver chariots return to their home temple in the city and the cleanup of trash begins.

 

 

 

 

It is amazing how trash was strewn around the grounds of the sacred temple. Paper cups and all sorts of plastic containers were trampled underfoot and blew in the breeze.  People just dropped their trash wherever. This was not all their fault as the temple organizers provided very few trash cans around the grounds. By the end of the second day, the temple grounds were a trash pit.  Any other festival, during this time of the Chinese New Year, was well organized with plenty of trash cans and a detail of workers always working through the celebration picking what little trash was

littered. There is a lot of cultural diversity in Malaysia butsadly, at times, the diversity has stark differences.

 

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They Come Out At Night

 

This is the original, unedited, article which appeared in the January issue of Ocean Navigator. But here we can post far more pictures than can appear in a Magazine.  Sorry if the images seem a bit fuzzy. We had to resize them to small in order to upload them with this slow internet. Plus, how I lay out the post on Word Press is not always how it appears when opened on the internet……

 

What do people living on sailboats do all day?  There are plenty of days when a cruiser has to dream up a new day’s exploration and make something happen.

We had been anchored on the south east side of the Thailand tourist island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant), in the Gulf of Thailand. This is a desolate coast, no roads, and only a few fishing boats passing by. All the tourists and activity are over the high mountains and rain forest, to be found on the west coasts. In fact here on the south east side, we are the only cruising boat and have not seen another sailboat for weeks, in this part of Thailand.

Today, for something to do, we decided to see where this local stream originated. The expats we asked who live scattered around on Koh Chang could not imagine the cove we described to them. Apparently, no westerner had explored this indention of the coastline and especially the stream.

We had been using the fresh mountain water to fill our water tanks and to do our laundry and getting a good rinse in the quick current. This stream also has a long swimming hole, shaded by trees, just inland from where the stream collides with the ocean salt water.  But where did all this fresh water come from and most importantly, was there a waterfall with a swimming pool at the bottom? We stuffed our back

packs with trekking food and jungle supplies then set out on our mission of discovery.

The stream was wide and shallow. Our feet dragged and trudged as they fought with each step through the current. This trek called for special footing; closed toed sandals which protect the feet but let the water and sand flush out.  There was no way of knowing if our adventure would end within an hour or run into trouble and take all night.  We certainly needed to be back before dark since we had no flashlights and there was no moon and the sky was clouded more often with the monsoons than the stars.

The going was slow and wet and often difficult especially when slippery rocks tried to trip our footing.  If we stumbled and got soaked, it was a pleasure to have the sweat of a jungle swept away and wet clothes act as a clinging

air-conditioner.  At times, we marched to the bank and stepped out of the current.  It seemed, spinning a machete to clear a path across land, would be faster than the water route. In the areas along shore, where the

jungle was less dense and the ground more level, the machete whacked in constant motion like a gas powered weed-whacker  which followed the lead of a branch held in my other hand. This bushy ended branch was constantly bobbing high and low and side to side to clear cobwebs and send jungle spiders scurrying. Still there were invisible strands that were left to wrap around my face and to spit out of my mouth.  All the noise helped to alert long thin green snakes, fatter brown snakes, pythons, vipers, cobras, and scorpions, that something much bigger and heavier than they are, is coming through. Politely I offered the point position to Rebecca but her words of wisdom were “There are times it is best to be a follower, at least 10 feet behind!”  Fortunately the serpents in the jungle are equally afraid of us as we of them. We have seen more snakes flattened on the paved roads and at times trying to commit suicide under the tires of our rented motor scooter, than in the jungle.

Surprisingly, there were few mosquitoes or flying insects to bother us. But just in case, we had carried high concentrate DEET repellent and a small bottle of acetone. Acetone (finger nail polish remover) is very effective for stopping the itch of insect bites and for making those slimy strings of Velcro known as leaches drop from our skin. Once a leach takes hold, they are very difficult to scrape off with a finger nail and in doing so, they can leave a divot in the skin. With acetone, we get revenge.  So far, in this part of the jungle, there were no signs of wild pigs, deer or monkeys, so there were no leaches.  Possibly this lack of fresh blood also explains why we were hardly bothered by mosquitoes or biting gnats. Life in the jungle, during the day seemed sparse. At night however, anchored on our boat ¼ mile offshore, the jungle was fully alive with the full range of sounds of a construction site, buzzing, whirring, banging, screeching, chipping, hammering. Certainly, in the jungle, they all come out at night!

We bushwhacked on, sometimes wading in to cross the stream again when the bank we were on became too steep and the opposite side looked flatter and more promising. At times, a land route was too difficult so the only option was to climb the stream through rapids and hope the ascent around a corner did not become unmanageable. I could not imagine doing this exploring in Alaska or Colorado, where even in mid summer the snowmelt water would freeze up ones hands and body within a few steps.

But we pressed on. An hour and a half of trekking quickly passed when we finally climbed to what we hoped to discover, not just a waterfall but a double waterfall.  It is certainly no Niagara Falls but it was our own fun discovery complete with a pool at its bottom. No other tourist has seen this waterfall and certainly very few natives to this island have been to this remote spot.

Our legs had lost much of their spring so we took a long break and a swim. Eventually, we forced movement upon ourselves and continued the climb upwards.

There was room for problems in all this remote wandering. Rocks were slippery, ankles and legs could get twisted; a damaged body could not call for a helicopter rescue; this was not America, a hiker would have to find his own way out. And that, of course, is part of the challenge.

The waterfall and adjoining rock face was too steep and slippery to climb so we moved down stream a bit then up the embankment. I hacked our way inland to circle around the waterfall and back to the stream.  This was thick jungle. If one were to take a little stumble on the rocky terrain, you had to be careful which tree you reached out to for support. The wrong prop could

give a hiker a handful of impalement on long spikes.  But there are other vines and vegetation which are a little less impaling but equally biting, and are always trying to scratch bare arms and legs. I now go jungle bushwhacking wearing a pair of gloves. Large toenail clippers are part of our jungle gear. They are used like surgical tweezers. Some of those bush spines, broken off in the skin, are like grabbing a sea urchin; the spines are brittle and easily break when they are pulled so they need to be dug out.

The stream lead us to a torrent of water funneled into a narrow chute of vertical gray basalt. It was impassable. Once again it was back to hacking a trail up the mountain and circle back to the stream. Stepping in a hidden mass of large red ants, which swarmed my sandled feet, sent me into a wild Indian hopping whoop. These ants hurt and leave  terrible itching welts.  Then there was the log to go under. It would have been natural to have wrapped a forearm on top of the log and swung under but fortunately I saw the long line of tiny red ants and warned Rebecca. Their bite is not nearly as stinging as the larger ants but still is a terrible irritant that even the acetone has trouble controlling.

Soon the stream widened out again and we could climb up through the flow. Along the way, little capillaries of water trickled down the hill sides from the left and some from the right as we worked our way higher into a clearer sky far less shadowed by trees and vines. Our legs would not lift and move as easily as in the beginning of this adventure and we began to wonder how much more we should push this situation. The sun was well over the mountains and there were no more shadows. It was becoming a risk of taking too long and being caught in the jungle after dark. It was a gamble, but we pressed on. With each step closer to the 1,200’ summit, the main artery of the stream faded to one little gurgling of water sprouting magically from rocks.  Just a little higher up, the small ravine was a dry bed which obviously in the past had carried torrents of water with a tropical downpour. But this was the end of the stream, the source of our adventure. We could turn around and race the fading light.

 

Certainly it is easier going down than up a mountain. We slipped, skidded and braked and splashed down the middle of the stream making good time and were able to retrace our jungle trail around the narrow vertical chute. Working down to the waterfall, Tarzan like vines and a bent over sapling of hard wood were our ropes to ease down the rock face saving the

long land route. What had taken over 3½  hours going up, took an hour and a half to return. Our muscles were rubbery, we were wet and our feet hurt but it was a fun day of adventure we will remember for many years to come.

Now the problem is, what to do tomorrow?

Off with the jungle gloves and time to go home.