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Voyage of Traveler / Blog » 2009 »

Voyage of Traveler / Blog

January 26, 2009

Traveler’s Chinese New Year

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:34 am

Hi, Everyone,

Traveler is cruising well up the west coast of Malaysia under very nice conditions.  We just left George Town on the island of Penang, where we celebrated the Chinese New Year at the posh Eastern and Oriental Hotel–a beautifully restored, colonial-style hotel like the Raffles of Singapore.  Lots of really loud firecrackers and two traditional pairs of lion dancers, with drums pounding, cymbals clanging and lots of energy.  George Town was a British trading post founded in the early 1800s and later a colony up until WWII, when it was invaded and occupied by the Japanese troops.  Now it is an eclectic blend of Chinese, Indians and Malays, with a few Brits left over.  It was recently designated as a World Heritage Site because of its colorful past and variety of architecture and historic buildings.

Brandon, our backpacking Canadian guest crew, and Brian are getting along great, both on and off Traveler.  It is nice for Brian to have someone close to his age to pal around with. Barbara and I also enjoy having both of them on board, and they are becoming valuable crew members, helping us with the watches and normal boating chores.  And I love having my son share the dream with me. My other two kids, Kellie and Scott, will be joining us this summer while we are cruising the Med, and we’re looking forward to that too.
Tonight we are going to stop at a small island called Pulau Paya (aka Payar), which is a Malaysian Marine Park–no fishing and no anchoring, but they have moorings for visiting boats.  It is supposed to have fabulous snorkeling. The air temp is 85 at 5:30 pm and the water temp is in the high 70s.  We have just six miles to go to the island and it looks great. We’ll get there in time for a late afternoon snorkel and then happy hour and a nice BBQ dinner. Then tomorrow we continue on to the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club for a couple of nights, then on to Phuket, Thailand. In Phuket we will have the fuel pump rebuilt.  Hopefully, that is the problem that has been causing the low RPMs and we can get it fixed there before sailing west across the Bay of Bengal to Sri Lanka.

All’s well,
Michael and Barbara
06 03.5 N, 100 02.5 E

January 21, 2009

Traveler’s Next Stop: Malaysia

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 1:02 pm

Hi, Everyone,
We are underway between Singapore and Port Klang, the harbor for Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur, with less than 20 miles to go.

As you all are painfully aware, this is a good time to be traveling around the world, escaping the economic meltdown.  Also, as an American traveling abroad we can see (1) how informed and interested people of other countries and of all education levels (from taxi drivers to medical doctors) are in US politics and (2) how pleased they all are that Obama is our new president.  Just walking down the street in a rural village in Indonesia a couple of weeks ago we were easily spotted as being Americans and a crowd of young villagers started chanting, with great pleasure, OBAMA! OBAMA! This was typical, from Australia to Singapore, and everywhere we go.  It is amazing how well liked he is, not just in the US, but around the world.

Also very good for us is the price of diesel is relatively low, and dropping even further with each passing week.  We paid only $3.00 per gallon in Singapore, and in Oman (six countries down the road for us) we here the price is only $1 per gallon!

However, other prices were sky high in Singapore.  I visited a dermatologist where I had a two hour exam and four moles removed and biopsied, plus some laser work on my forehead to treat sun-damaged skin, and the bill came to $2,500.  Also, our autopilot failed on the passage from Bali to Singapore so we had to replace it here, and the duty added to imported electronics caused the price to be $5,000 (the same unit in California would have been about $3,000.)

We had a pleasant ten day visit to Singapore.  Highlights were:
-Staying at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, which is the nicest YC we have seen on our trip so far.  It was nicer than any of the clubs in Newport Beach even.  And only $20 per night for a slip there, which includes use of the pool and showers (think Balboa Bay Club-type quality, with a touch of SE Asia).
-A three-day visit from my mom and step-dad. We toured the zoo, had nice dinners together at their hotel (the Raffles), China Town and on board Traveler, and a belated Christmas gift exchange.
-My son, Brian, joined us here for the next couple of months or so for our passage through SE Asia and across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea.
-Singapore is an amazing city, super clean–no grafitti or litter anywhere.  Picture a very modern city with efficient, clean and cheap public transportation, sky scrapper hotels, office buildings and residential condos.  It has a very busy harbor, with hundreds of ships coming and going or off-loading containers.  Although very close to the Equator, ocean breezes keep the temperature at about 85 year round.
-By coincidence, the Volvo Round the World Race stopped in S’pore for a week while we were here, so we got to see those ultra fast ocean racers and visit with some of the crew.  Imagine a 70-foot race boat with a crew of 12 and typical speeds in the range of 20 to 30 with a top speed of 40 knots!  These boats cost between $5 and $70 million each!  And there are seven of them in the race.  An eighth boat, from Russia, had to drop out due to a lack of funds from the global recession. The next leg of the race is to China. Check out their website.
-We met Brandon at the YC.  He’s a 25 year old fireman from Canada, who is backpacking around SE Asia and hitched a ride with us to Sri Lanka, so we have a fourth crew member.  He gets along great with Brian and it is nice to have that fourth person to help with the night watches, especially in these busy shipping lanes.

Last night was one of our best under passage so far, cruising up the Malacca Strait.  It was like the Super Bowl of yacht cruising. No moon and a clear sky, so we saw thousands of stars.  The wind was blowing offshore on our starboard beam at 18 knots, so we had flat seas and were sailing at 8 knots very comfortably with a reefed main and jib. And we had nearly the whole night about 50 ships within five miles of us, including tugs with tows and super tankers–which were very well lit, of course, and easy to see on our radar too, but we also had dozens of unlit small fishing boats to try to spot on radar and dodge around.  The joke here, which sadly is not far from the truth, is that the local fisherman’s running lights at night is when he holds up his lit cigarette and waves it around, and if you get too close he fires of a flare by striking a match and throwing it in the air as high as he can.

We should be arriving at the Royal Selangor YC in a couple of hours, just in time for happy hour, where we will toast our new president and a speedy recovery from the economic recession.  Then we will take a one hour train ride into Kuala Lumpur for dinner and to spend the night at a hotel and to see the Petronas Towers, formerly the world’s tallest skyscraper.  We plan to ride the elevator up to the 41st floor Skybridge between the twin towers, just to have a look around.

For those of you following our engine problems, we had a certified Yanmar mechanic on our boat for six out of the ten days we were in S’pore.  He made some improvements to the engine, so we now have a top RPM of 2800 (should be 3600), but before we topped out at only 2000 RPMs.  We cruise, normally, at 2200, so although we are still not fully recovered we are well enough to be discharged from the hospital.  The mechanic said we might want to have the fuel pump re-built somewhere down the road.  But everything in S’pore was beginning to shut down for the Chinese New Year and it would have been another two to three weeks before we could get anyone to work on a fuel pump, so we decided to move on.

Livin’ the Dream,
Michael and Barbara

January 1, 2009

Kumai, Indonesia and the Tanjung Puting National Park

Filed under: Year 2: July08-June09 French Polynesia to Greece, Indian Ocean — mrlawlerjr @ 6:54 pm

Kumai, Indonesia and the
Tanjung Puting National Park
December 31, 2008

Hi, Everyone, and Happy New Year!

We decided that Traveler’s New Year’s resolution to us for 2009 should be “No more engine problems!”

We picked up a Boat Boy in Bali named Yansen as crew for the passage from Bali to Singapore. He is helping us with several projects on Traveler and is a joy to have on board with us for the week to ten days it will take us to complete the 1,000 mile passage to Singapore.  We are experiencing, once again, a major problem with our Yanmar engine.  We are at anchor in a river off a town of maybe 5,000 population called Kumai, on the southern coast of the Kalimantan Province, on Indonesia’s wild and exotic island of Borneo. It is about half way between Bali and Singapore.  We stopped here for two reasons: to see the orang-utans of Tanjung Puting National Park and to buy more diesel.  After doing both yesterday, we left Kumai last night but have now returned to see a diesel mechanic as we are only able to get about 1400 rpms out of the engine, giving us a speed of only 4.5 knots, and it sounds like it is laboring heavily to do that.  When performing well, we normally cruise at 2200 rpms with a speed of 6.8 or so, with a maximum of 3600 rpms and a top speed of around 8 knots.  We suspect there are clogged fuel injectors from all the sediment that was loosened up from the heat when welding our leaky fuel tank in Bali, and that fine sediment somehow got past our filters.  Hopefully the mechanic will find the problem and make the repairs, and hopefully as we would like to be on our way again soon.

My son, Brian, age 20, arrives in Singapore on Jan. 3 and we do not want to keep him waiting or by himself there for too long.  Brian will be joining us for seven weeks or so for the passage across the Indian Ocean from Southeast Asia to the Red Sea and will see eleven countries along the way: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, where we hope to be by the end of February.  We plan on moving fast over the next two months so we can leisurely enjoy the Med for this spring and summer. Kathy Smith, one of our crew from Transpac, may also be joining us for a portion of the passage in the Indian Ocean.

Seeing the orang-utans was one of the top five highlights of our trip so far.  It was amazing to see the apes up close and in the wild.  We saw about 20 of them, including the king of the clan, a huge male, and I got within 10 feet of him while he was eating a bunch of bananas.  Barbara was also nearby taking photos of me while I was taking a video of the big guy chomping away.

To get to Kumai is not easy.  For most of the few tourists who come here it is a long flight with three or four connections and changes of planes followed by an eight hour bus ride. Or, as we did, you can cruise here on your own yacht.  But the long entrance harbor is very shallow and tricky, with many places only nine or ten feet deep (and we draw eight feet.) Once in Kumai, you meet a local named Adi, who arranges fuel to be delivered in jerry jugs to your boat (there is no fuel dock), and either a klotok, for most visitors, or a speed boat, like we had. The klotok is a 30 ft, colorful Indonesian-styled river boat, with a captain and crew, sleeping accommodations for six passengers, cruise-ship like deck chairs under an awning on the top deck, that slowly chugs the four hour ride up the narrow river for a two to four day trip. The Klotoks look like a cross between Humphrey Bogart’s African Queen and the boats on the Jungle Boat Cruise at Disneyland. The speed boat, for those in a hurry and want to make it a one-day trip, is a small four passenger with a 50 hp engine.  The driver only knows one speed, full throttle, at about 30 knots, even while rounding blind curves in the narrow river with several other boats going either up or down and with lots of floating logs. palm fronds and reeds in the river to steer around and try to miss. We had many close collisions with other boats and did hit a crocodile.  The bent prop caused some vibration for the rest of the relatively quick trip, which lasted about 70 minutes each way.  Our guide said the croc will probably survive the cut on his back from the propeller, but the leaches will find the wound and finish him off in five to seven days.  Imagine, a crocodile being slowly eaten alive by maybe a hundred or so blood-sucking leaches.

When we arrived at Tanjung Puting National Park’s Camp Leakey, which is the orang-utan research center in the middle of the rain forest, our guide warned us as we were stepping off the boat onto the old rickety dock that a tourist from England lost his balance and fell into the water right there and he was immediately eaten alive by a big croc in front of his family and other tourists.

One of our best moments at Camp Leakey (you might want to Google it to see photos and learn more, especially the article and photos by National Geographic, if you are interested and have the time) was seeing, up close, a mother with her very young baby, maybe just a week old, clinging to her back.  To watch these primates, our distant evolutionary cousins, swing through the trees over head and come up close to where you are, and then to watch them as they stare back at you, you have to wonder what they think about us. To experience these apes, especially out in the rain forest in their natural environment, was an absolutely amazing experience.

This part of Borneo is a malaria hot zone with lots of mosquitos, so we are taking our Malarone pills, spray lots of Off on us, and put the mosquito nets over the hatches at night.

We hope you all thoroughly enjoy yourselves this New Year’s Eve and Day, and of course hope the Trojans beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl. For all you Trojan fans, we had a Rose Bowl Pep Rally this morning, played the USC Fight Song on one of those pens, and proudly hoisted the USC banner on the foredeck.

And a final note, Barbara is so happy to be in places where she can drop off the ship’s laundry and pick it up a few days later, extremely clean, soft, folded and bagged in plastic as if it was new, out of a store, and we pay hardly anything for the service.

Livin’ the Dream
Michael and Barbara
The Indonesian Trojan Club
02 45 S, 111 44 E
on Dec. 31 at 0400 utc

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