And the last email ended….
“Our last evening in Teluk Narah was spent working on the charts, working out the route, waypoints etc and uploading them into the Nav System.
Then, the next day we headed off – destination Kumai in Kalimantan (or deepest darkest Borneo as it was once known).”
Heading to Kumai
It was a little strange saying goodbye to Eloise and Optimum Trust, but also fulfilling. For the first time we were heading off the beaten track on our own – and that is one of the things we are doing this trip for. We waved goodbye to Tris & Jas of Eloise, called up Tom of OT on the VHF and headed north west.
It was a perfect day to leave – 15-20 knots of wind on a broad reach – Hinewai was flying. As we sailed along the bottom of Gili T, the strong Lombok current created an interesting mass of water – swirling, upswells – a real washing machine, but we swept through it.
Once past, we set our course for Kangean, an island about 100 nautical miles away, dodging strange structures en-route. They look like floating haystacks, but are actuallyfish traps, with big nets hanging below them – the hay stack look is the hut the fisherman lives in – with depths of over 2,000 feet, there is no way they can anchor so just drift along, meeting up with “mother boats” every day or so to transfer the catch or be towed back to their starting points.
The plan was to aim for Kangean and stop over on the anchor for a night if we were tired, but we were trucking so headed straight past. It’s an odd bit of water, you’re moving from major deeps of up to 4,000 feet to depths of 2 or 3 hundred with a line of islands marking the boundary. In the passage through the islands, the seas get a bit confusing – we had 2 metre waves coming from the south and 2 metre waves coming from the west – by themselves not bad, but now and again, two waves got together to give 4 metres. Oh, how we rolled over those.
Bawean and Fishing Fleets – and Fish Traps
The next target was the island of Bawean, but first we had two challenges. The first was the fishing fleet – around 1am, we started to see this solid phalanx of blips on the radar – some moving, some apparently stationary. Peter appeared in the cockpit, bleary-eyed for the watch changeover at 3am to find Jean standing rock solid behind the wheel.
“Everything going ok, darling?”
“Don’t look,” was the steely reply. “just take a deep breath as these two rather large fishing trawlers sandwich us between them.” They whizzed past close enough to touch.
As dawn broke, we could see all these sea-going fishing boats – some heading home while others were anchored up in the shallower waters for the day. It was an interesting 12 hours as we threaded our way through them.
Our relief at watching them drop over the horizon was tempered as we started to get close to Bawean. From here, the local fishermen head out and set fish traps – a 20 ft length of bamboo with nets hanging below them. Fortunately they do mark them with a bit of wood that sticks a few feet up – and if they are feeling kind, they hang a bit of sack, or a bucket or an old t-shirt off it. Hard to spot in the day, a nightmare at night since if you ran over one, it would wrap the net around the propeller (later we found traps with no sticks – prayer came in at this point and seemed to work since we didn’t hit any).
Happily, and often due to Jean’s eagle eyes, we managed to get through and arrived at Bawean after 3 days, dropping the hook early morning in a quiet little bay.
Within about 30 minutes, one of the local boats came over with three chaps aboard, claiming to be from the local police – well, one was wearing a white boiler suit with a suitable impressive crest on it (but spoiled a little bit by the name of a shipping company on the back). Greetings were swapped and they invited themselves aboard, with our permission, producing an official looking document and telling us we had to pay them Rp 200,000 to anchor here.
Peter popped down below and came up with our CAIT (the yacht’s visa), saying that we had been told by the Indonesian government that this was all we needed, and that we should not pay anyone any more money. Now the CAIT is an impressive document, covered in official stamps, and nothing happens in Indonesia unless you have stamp.
All of a sudden, the tone changed and Rafe, the boiler suited one, quietly put his document away and changed the subject. They were actually nice people, Rafe, his son and cousin, and we chatted away for an hour or so. He’d been a seaman and had travelled the world and it was interesting listening to his view of where he had been. We drank a few Cokes together, gave them a pack of smokes and they left good friends, knowing we knew we’d called their bluff.
We only spent under 24 hours in Bawean, just time for a catch up on sleep. In hindsight, it was a shame we didn’t stay longer since a couple of yachts following us spent a few days there, and told us the locals were some of the nicest they’d met in Indonesia. But we were Kumai bound.
As before, the first 12 hours were a little hair-razing, dodging fish traps, but they peter out once you get further than the locals can get out to check them in a day. It was good sail up towards the Kumai river mouth, indeed, too good arriving in the early hours. We never get too close to hard lumpy land at night so ended up heaving to for 6 hours, although Peter had a major scare when a tug and its tow got a lot closer than he intended.
Up to Kumai and meeting Herry
While we found the Kumai River wide and deep, the entrance is narrow and convoluted, lots of sand bars and narrow channels. Fortunately we had a list of waypoints to use, and once we’d let a big ship and a ferry out, worked our way up the river.
The electronic charts on the chart plotter cannot be trusted – at times, it showed us ploughing through the jungle. Jean called ahead and got hold of Herry of Herry’s Yacht Services and he came out in a little speed boat to meet us and show us where to anchor.
Kumai was a real eye-opener – this long port town 10 miles up a river – with sizable local coasters anchored mid-stream or against the dock. Herry moved us down from where we first anchored warning us that if we went too far upstream we’d be where the tugs and their huge barges turn.
Once secure, Herry came on board and we sat and chatted over a Coke or two. He’s a youngster, mid-30’s maybe, but warm and helpful. He told us we were early and the first yacht to arrive this season so he wasn’t quite ready yet. He also sadly told us how his daughter, two sisters and his nephew had recently been killed in a bus crash – and since his sisters used to help him, he was a little limited in what he could offer. We so felt for him, he was so close to bursting into tears as he told us.
The next morning we leapt into the dinghy and motored across the river to Herry’s place – easily found with its bright yellow roof. Only to find Rian, Herry’s younger sister, but no Herry. Rian explained that Herry’s wife has just been knocked off her moped and he had rushed down to the hospital she’d been taken to. Talk about it never raining, but pouring….
But for a youngster, Rian was a star, taking us under her wing. We sat and talked for a bit about hiring a klotok, one of the local slow boats with a few crew and a cook, to get up the river to see the orangutans. Once all seemed (note, seemed) sorted, she asked if we’d like to go for a wander around the town with her. That seemed a grand idea.
We’d noticed a local boat building yard as we came in, with a magnificent wooden ocean going fishing boat being built, so we said we’d love to have a look there. Big mistake – she took us there – it was about a 3 mile walk – in 35C+ and 90% humidity.
Half way there, Jean had to buy an umbrella just to keep the sun off her – a gloriously tasteful yellow thing it is.
But it was worth the walk – what a place – this huge wooden ship on the slips with a mixture of modern tools (chainsaws, planers, big drills) lying around with old adz, chisels etc. And being built in teak! We chatted with the builders – each plank cost them maybe 10 cents – in Oz, each plank would cost $30+.
We took a slightly different route back, walking through a “residential area”.
In our eyes, it all looks incredibly poor, but everyone looked so happy, especially all the kids playing out in the street. No TV, PC’s or Gameboys here – and parents are not scared like Westerners parents now seem to be and let their kids go out and get dirty playing. From everywhere there were calls of “hello mister/hello missus” and big beaming smiles when you acknowledge them.
As we walked past one place, we could see someone packaging up bags of biscuits. Rian explained that this was a Kumai specialty, a sort of shortbread made with fish. She took Jean inside, leaving Peter chatting with a couple of chaps on the veranda.
Suddenly, there are gales of women’s laughter coming from the back of the house – us blokes just looked at each other – a look of “Oh, what are the women up to now” that transcends language. It turned out, Jean had brought her camera out and all the ladies were vying to be best in picture.
And we saw the swiftlet houses. We could see these large 3 or 4 story grey buildings from the boat – towering over the single storey town of Kumai.
Up close, we realized they were dummy buildings, sometimes with false facades to make them look like a house, with heaps of holes down their sides.
Rian explained they were built to house the local swiftlets – yes, small birds – because their presence is considered lucky for the town.
They also love sitting on all the wind instruments and aerials at the top of the mast, but they are so small, they do no harm.
Visiting a school, hospital, internet café and supermarket
The next day, we headed into the local big town, Pangkalan Bun, with Rian who had invited us to her school. We arrived in time for School Assembly with the students.
In some ways, it was very different to our old schools – the students sat on the floor on rugs, girls at the front, boys at the back, and the staff sat on rugs on a raised stage. And you left your shoes outside. But apart from that, we could have been at any school in Aus, England or Zim. All the girls were well dressed but the boys showed degrees of rebellion with that certain scruffy look. There was a buzz of conversation until the Headmaster stood and spoke, but he still had to call on a couple of boys to quieten down.
After the Head finished, a guest speaker, an Imam, spoke. While we had no idea what he was talking about, he was a great orator, using his voice to hold the room enthralled. When we left, we thanked him and through Rian explained that we had not understood a word, but it sounded beautiful. He seemed delighted – and afterwards Rian explained he had been talking about the role of women in Moslem Indonesian society, how they should be able to take a position that contributes through work and study, not just in the home, and how the men should respect this. He had held the boys’ attention so hopefully his message was getting through.
Rian then said that Herry wanted to meet up with us, so we headed on to the hospital. We assumed that we’d just meet over a coffee, but no, he took us down to the small ward and introduced us to his wife, laying abed and looking very sore. Apparently another moped had just turned in front of her, bringing her and a couple of other bikes down. She was sporting a huge bruise on her face where the strap on her helmet had snapped and pulled the helmet up, but she was lucky – helmets are not often worn. The concern was that she had landed on a handlebar and that there might be some internal injuries (thankfully, all the tests showed she was Ok and she was released a couple of days later).
It was a little odd to be there, got even odder when a stray cat wandered into the room, but she seemed touched that we had taken the trouble to come. As we walked back, Herry assured us all was sorted for our trip, and that the diesel and water we’d ordered was coming soon.
From the hospital, we headed to an Internet café to check emails (so so slow), hit the supermarket and grabbed some lunch with Rian and the driver before heading back – past a strange roundabout decoration.
Where we discovered that there was no klotok to take us up river. It had broken down and while all the tour companies help each other out, there were no other spares. It was a disappointment, but we negotiated a compromise – we would have to go in one of the fast speedboats which would actually give us more time with the orangutans, and, since we wouldn’t be able to sleep on a klotok, Herry’s company would pay for us to stay at the Rimba Lodge, an eco-tourism resort.
The magic words of air-con and showers sealed the deal.
We headed out to do a little bit of shopping and got caught up in a procession by all the schools in the area – it was one of the events for the forthcoming Indonesian Independence Day.
We followed along to a local stadium, where there was a Village Fete event occurring – lots of stalls, a five aside football compet-ition and a tug of war. Then, argh, we were spotted by the dignitaries up on the stage and were called up to say a few words. In our case, very few. Sadly, it looked as if it were about to pour with rain and we needed to get back to the boat so we made our apologies and headed back through the crowd, being greeted by many as if we were long lost friends.
Back on Hinewai we packed a few things and spent the evening watching torrential rain come down and large rafts of palms drift past on the river. At 8.00am, the speedboat arrived to pick us up.
We were off to meet the relatives.
All the best
P & J