Across the top with crocodiles. Darwin to Port Douglas, November 03 to 30.

April 18, 2013

1200 miles!

1200 miles!

One of Daryl's shallow anchorages.

One of Daryl’s shallow anchorages.

From Darwin to Port Douglas is 1200 miles, sadly most of it to windward with not a great deal of aesthetically pleasing, scenic attractions along the way. One really does get a feeling for the remoteness of it all going across the top of Arnhem land, especially when the engine is being non-cooperative, the wind is generally blowing from exactly where you want to go, the coastline isn’t really a place one would choose to spend too much time, it’s very hot and there are crocodiles swimming around ones boat when at anchor. In retrospect even though the place is pretty much named after Dutch people and sailing ships, there was never really much likelihood of Australians needing to learn how to speak Dutch.  While the Dutch were the first recorded European explorers to land in (northern) Australia, not surprisingly they were non-too  complimentary about the place. Willem Jansz/Janszoon on the Duyfken was the first to land in 1606.  He encountered hostility from the local indigenous people when he came to anchor on Cape York Peninsula and he lost ten of his crew during visits to the shore. Later Dutch explorers did not think the land worthwhile enough to pursue any claims with descriptions of low lying land, scrubby or swampy near the shore, dry and inhabited mostly by crocodiles.


Sunrise at Melville island.


That careening moment!

On the locals Jan Carstenszoon with the ships ‘Pera’ and the ‘Arnhem’  in 1623 described the aboriginals as, “poor and miserable looking people who had no knowledge of precious metals or spices” although this does reflect one supposes on the priorities of the Dutch at the time.  Englishman William Dampier who landed on the western coast, in 1688 and again in 1699 was also unimpressed by the dry, barren landscape, the lack of water and what he described as the “miserablest people in the world” – the native population. His negative reports led to the delay of (England’s) colonisation of what is now Australia although from the indigenous peoples point of view it might be argued they would have been better off these reports were kept up!

View from Dinah Beach!

View from Dinah Beach!

Ernest and Wen.

Ernest and Wen.

It was only when James Cook charted the east coast of the continent that a favourable report was sent back to England. Cook and his chief botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, made extensive notes about the fauna and flora, and (apparently) both recommended Australia as a good site to establish a penal colony. They said the land was green and fertile, holding great promise. Interesting really what with all the exploration enthusiasm seemingly being based around precious metals, spices (i.e. money)



Black Point, Arnhem Land.

Black Point, Arnhem Land.

and where to lock up poor people, it seems some of our current (Australian) conservative politicians would have fitted in exceptionally well and made excellent explorers! Anyway although we are speaking English the Dutch did leave names for us to remember their efforts, the ‘Gulf of Carpenteria’ was named by Carstenszooon in honour of Pieter de Carpentier at that time the Governor General  of the Dutch East Indies, while Arnhem land is named after one of Carstenszoon’s 1623 ships. On the English side the ‘English Company’s Islands’ north west of Nhulunbuy and Gove seems straightforward while ‘Malay Road’ between The Bromby Islands and the English Companys Islands was named by Mathew Flinders during his 1803 circumnavigation of Australia when he came across a fleet of Malay ‘ Proas’ and fishermen on their annual Trepang (sea-cucumber) expedition.

Gove Harbour.

Gove Harbour.

Eclipse o'clock, Gove.

Eclipse o’clock, Gove.

Well aside from all things historical and without casting aspersions on the merit of eating sea-cucumber (they are deposit feeders after all), we were quite keen to get across to Cape York from Darwin as quickly as possible and the lack of shore attractions meant moving whenever possible was an easy option. Sadly the weather wasn’t going to do anything other than blow hardish out of the east and trying to get direct to the Gugari



Rip through the Wessels was always going to be difficult. So there we went, hiding behind islands wherever we could and beating to windward using whatever combination of sails, motor or both that kept us moving.  This is all well and good with a happy engine of course but from Darwin until North Goulbourn Island (250 miles), a fuel problem meant much grief and potential slashing of wrists until we located the offending part. We had we thought solved the issue in Darwin but intermittent faults are always a dilemma and who would have thought of an unserviceable seal in the priming pump of the engine filter, especially when the thing only misbehaved when it felt like it. There is nothing like beating directly into 25 knots of wind with the engine fuel system in bits, being covered in sweat and diesel fuel trying to grab tools as they slither past on the cabin floor; Ernest and Wen looking a bit concerned and “you can fix it can’t you”.

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

We got away from Darwin on October 06 the day after Daryl decided to do some impromptu careening directly in front of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club; made the news and all. We were taking it in turns here for a while towing each other, Daryl with a stern gland problem he fixed while underway and at night (good effort) then a day later Gadfly with the fuel dilemma. The trip across was a procession of islands, Melville in the ‘Tiwi’ group with the first curious crocodiles, (one assumes the Dutch didn’t do too much swimming), Alaru Island, Black Point, Valentia Island, inside Croker Island to North Goulbourn, Entrance Island off Meningrida,

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Mooronga Island and then under Elcho Island to pass through the Cadell Strait and Narrows. This is the southerly route underneath the Wessells as getting further north to the Gugari Rip really wasn’t an option with the ENE winds we were fighting. The only problem here is Cadell Strait is a bit shallow in places, the current is more than a problem with wind against, and the pilots description of the narrowest and shallowest bits for all it’s worth might just as well have been written by the ‘Trepangers’in 1803! Anyway, after avoiding getting stuck on the putty we slipped across to Alger Island in the dark, beating still to windward then next morning continued our to windward march into Elizabeth Bay just to the west of Cape Wilberforce at the bottom of the Bromby Islands.

Seisa anchorage.

Seisa anchorage.

More diesel, Seisa.

More diesel, Seisa.

Cape Wilberforce and the Cumberland Passage is the last barrier to pass before the Gulf of Carpentaria and one gets to head south into Gove and Nhulunbuy. The drama is however that you need to get there on slack water and then use the Ebb (eastward flowing tide in this case) to move east as the flood is too strong for your average horsepower challenged yacht to push against. Problem here though was the 25 odd knots of ENE wind blowing across the tide on a shoaling bottom and waves of three or four metres standing up just not quite steep enough to break. There really is nothing like having 17 tonnes of

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

boat thrown backwards to the point where one is shipping water over the stern but still getting pushed forward by the current; it’s at this point one ponders the current reliability of a certain engine and wonders if Rudolph Diesel indeed got his design right!

Rudolph Diesel!

Rudolph Diesel!

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Next stop on our eastward bash was Gove and then with some lightening weather a trip across the Gulf to Seisa and then Cape York. After three days at Gove and some solar eclipse watching we headed  to ‘Bremer Island’ then straight across to Seisa just on the western side of the Cape. We were in company initially here with some of the Morotai boats including Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ but lost touch with them on the night of Novemberr 16 as they headed further south for Weipa while Gadfly and Metana shaped up direct for Cape York. On November 19 again in the dark we anchored under Slade Point just SW of the channel leading into the Cape. At first light next morning we slipped through the shallows into Seisa for the night then headed for the Cape and at 1045 on November 21 passed Cape York and turned south onto the Aus east coast, yah; and the wind of course as expected turned SE!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Our expedition now turned into a southerly bash, once again hopping between anchorages sheltered from unseasonal trade winds, beating to windward and when the SE winds lightened off, just keep going. From Seisa to Shelburne Bay, Margaret Bay, Flinders Island (BBQ o’clock), Cape Melville (here it be really windy), Ingram Island, Cape Flattery and then into Cooktown. From Seisa to Cooktown  is around 450 miles and for most of that it’s every bit as isolated as across the top with Cooktown the first bit of ‘apparent’ civilisation. One does need to use this term (civilisation) loosely however and that t-shirt one guy was wearing does have some merit, ‘Cooktown, the worlds largest, open, lunatic asylum’; but it does have three pubs. Shallow in here as well with the boat sitting on the putty at the bottom of the tide each night. Mercifully the wind went light and north for us after leaving Cooktown and after stops at Hope Islands (and another BBQ) and then Low Islands we arrived at Port Douglas at the end of November and tied up to the Piles up stream from the Port Douglas Yacht Club, 3133 miles and some 90 days after leaving the Philippines.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.


Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Flinders Island.

Flinders Island.

Metana near the top.

Metana near the top.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Ernest and friend!

Ernest and friend!


Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Crocodylus porosus…… Salt Water Crocodile!

The world’s largest reptile is the Saltwater Crocodile, or in the vernacular, Salties. This carnivore has sat atop the food chain for 100 million years, and it’s ancestors were about the rivers and coasts as long as 250 million years ago.

Salties can grow up to seven metres and weigh over 1,000 kilogram’s, but the average sized male will be around five metres. They can be found across all of northern Australia, from Broome in Western Australia, right across the Northern Territory’s Top End and clear down Queensland all the way to Rockhampton. The population of Saltwater Crocs in Australia may be as high as 200,000 individuals, with the highest concentration in the Top End around Darwin and the Mary River.

Crocodile Facts

Crocodiles can live for up to 70 years and can grow to between four and five metres. The largest confirmed crocodile from the Northern Territory was trapped in the Mary River in the 1980s and measured a bit more than 6 metres.

Baby crocodiles start out weighing just 60 grams, but the largest adult males can reach close to 1,000 kilogram’s.

The average density of crocodiles across tropical Australian rivers is five crocs per kilometre, but the Mary River in the Northern Territory can average as many as 20 crocs per kilometre.

Crocodiles mate and reproduce during the wet season from November to March. A Female can lay up to 50 eggs in nests along riverbanks, where they incubate for about three months before hatching. The mean temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. When they hatch, the mother croc will carry the hatchlings to the water in her mouth and release them. Less than one per cent of hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Crocodiles have sensory organs at the base of their teeth that allows them to sense minute pressure changes to strike underwater. They


Port Douglas on the piles.


Port Douglas.

Port Douglas.

Malay Proa.

Malay Proa.

cannot swallow prey underwater, however, and must lift their heads above water to swallow their food.

 Crocodiles have 68 teeth in their jaws that replenish constantly if broken off. A large croc can exert more than two tonnes of pressure with its bite.

Crocodiles can swim as fast as 10 kilometres per hour and can run over open ground as fast as 11 kph for short bursts.

Crocodiles are opportunistic predators and will eat just about anything they can catch. While imagescroc 2

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

juveniles tend to stick with small prey, adults will take large mammals if the opportunity presents itself.


Moving South. Whales, fishing and a problem with diesel fuel.Sorong to Darwin 02-25 October 2012.

November 2, 2012



Safety First!!


There are a few ways to get home to Australia from SE Asia on a little boat. You can go across the top of New Guinea, through the Samarai Strait in the east and down through Torres Strait, maybe under New Guinea to Cape York, or you can go in through Darwin or Gove and then head east across Arhhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria. There were this year around 13 boats out of Morotai headed for Gove in something of a fleet movement and the three of us Gadfly, Metana and Breakaway (Allan) ultimately headed into Darwin. The initial plan for us and Metana had been to go direct for Cape York but plans, plans and then whatever happens!! In this case from Sorong on we had so much trouble with fuel that staying in company to Darwin proved the best option.

Jerry’s preferred bar!!!

In Indonesia when one buys fuel on the islands the standard operating  procedure seems to be for the fuel being sold to be stored in open drums (no lid at all) and for the seller to scoop the fuel out of the drum with a measuring device and pour it into your container. These guys also have special measuring devices where one Indonesian litre equals about 90 % of the normal S.I. measure we are familiar with; no weights and measure certificates here. They do this with petrol as well, open drums of petrol and diesel stored next to each other and they do like smoking their

Metana and Daryl.

cigarettes!! Anyway aside from the potential pyrotechnic nature of their commercial practices, what actually passes for diesel may have commenced it’s career nowhere near an oil well but rather growing on an oil palm or maybe as part of a coconut. Of course the potential for getting adulterated or contaminated fuel is more than high and we had considered ourselves lucky to have got so far and so long without really shite fuel and the associated filter blockages and engine stoppages that result.

There had of course been some minor issues with our rebuilt engine, a major oil leak, new fuel solenoid that gave up and yet another heat exchanger drama. Does occasionally tend to focus ones attention on all things mechanical, like spending 5 hours getting an engine to start, when in the middle of nowhere and the closest village has police officers with machine guns visiting the night before asking if we had any beer or cigarettes for them. After much considered thought we realised that yes we had a fuel issue and staying in company with the other boats may be a wise move, so it was to Darwin we were to go.

Breakaway, Tom, Daryl and Allen.

After the Selat Sele we headed through the maze of islands north of Pulau Misool day hopping down to the north coast of Ceram (big island south of western New Guinea) then east and south on a night crossing over to the Kai Islands and our clearance port at Tual; this put us 90 miles west of Aru and from Aru it’s 300 miles to Cape Don on the great south land. An issue however all through this area and north of Ceram is anchorages and trying to find somewhere shallow enough to anchor and not on coral. One location in a Selat between P. Ginyamato and Ketimkeno near a pearl farm was perfect though but what with pearl farms and security, we had the obligatory visit from the assault rifle equipped police wanting to know who we were and where we were going. These guys were pretty friendly however and even passed their weaponry up onto our boat for us to have a closer look at it. On the north coast of Ceram we spent three nights off a village by the name of Ingelas buying some food, water and suspect diesel. Not too many tourists pass through here although the place was on the list of obligatory stops for the Gove bound flotilla. We sent Jerry on a mission here to find somewhere for us to have a night out and meal ashore and after yet more chicken-curry we went to have a beer at what turned out to be the local cat-house. Interesting place with couches lined up picture theatre style for the Video and Karaoke but the beer was cold and the girls pretty. We were leaving before the festivities kicked off and as the locals started to arrive for their night out and they did seem bemused to find white guys drinking at their local knock-shop. The local police captain was especially curious about us when he arrived for his evening of Karaoke.

Very big whales. Do not hit!!!

The problem with moving south and east from Ceram and down towards Australia is that as you move away from the equator you become progressively more exposed to the south-easterly tradewinds, sadly coming from where one needs to go. The trick is to pick lulls in the breeze after the passage of high pressure systems across Australia and use the two or three days of variables or no wind to move as quick as possible; in a yacht in such conditions not that quick really. It became a bit of a slog getting down around the corner of Ceram and the next day as the weather was light we headed straight across for our overnight run into Tual. This became mostly a motor and in very light conditions but we did catch fish and almost ran over whales. On the first day out we saw more whales in five hours than we had seen since leaving Australia two years earlier and they were big. Great big whales with long wet backs that looked like islands appearing all over the shop. Angel and Jerry were especially excited about the photo opportunities when a whale came right under our bows, Trevor was more concerned that if we didn’t change course somewhat quickly we would hit the thing and it did seem to be twice the length of our boat. Happily the whales later retired somewhere else for the evening and that night there were no things that go bump in the dark. Next day just before dusk we slipped into Tual and went on the pick for our last big shore run in SE Asia before heading back to the great south land; ah yes and more dodgy fuel.

Tual and the tired fishing boats.

More suspect fuel.

In trying to go south-east into Australia the trick is to claw eastings whenever the weather lets you and in the process try and get enough angle on the wind to be able to sail or at least motor-sail hard on the breeze and get to where you want to go. In other words go east and then go east again. The other option of course is to tack and sail as close to the wind as you can but this will normally take twice as long as taking the more direct route. To give ourselves the best angle into Darwin we decided to go another 90 miles across to ‘Aru’, a long and flat island east of Kai on the same latitude. The only problem here is that the wind went more east than anything else and even with a midnight start for the 90 mile crossing, getting in before dark was becoming progressively more unlikely. We actually got in half an hour after dusk and the fuel dramas again got the better of the engine when a mile short of our anchorage it stopped and didn’t behave again until morning and after three hours of changing filters and bleeding the fuel system. The cost of Aru lends itself to engine breakdowns however, shallow, flat, sand or mud and in the lee of the south easterly trade winds. There are a few little villages along the coast of Aru and we did try to buy more fuel here sending Angel off on a local boat with our jerry cans. He declined however when the litre measure here turned out to be closer to three quarters of a litre. We had since leaving Morotai stayed in touch via the HF with the other Australia bound boats and also with Thyme by now back in Sorong. All the boats were here following Simon’s progress with what was apparently malaria. He was at this point in hospital on a drip leaving Amanda on the boat by herself in Sorong harbour. Not an enviable situation and one of those things that can happen when travelling through such places on a boat. Bit out of touch at the moment and hope they are okay.

The next day it was off to Australia with a 300 mile passage to Cape Don at the entrance to the Dundas Straight, about 90 miles short of Darwin. The good thing here was with our eastings we got to sail most of the way and in the Gadfly reaching for the first half at 6 to 7 knots in 15 to 20 knots of wind.  Of course for the last 90 miles it glassed out and we motored into Alcaro Bay to have the engine die as we were arriving, this was becoming habitual. Next day we got the engine going only to have it die again and Daryl towed us for twenty miles while we changed our fuel supply (by this time a hose hanging out of a jerry can) and then headed down to Cape Hotham. Next day it was through the South Channel between Melville Island and the big island, into Cullen Bay for our

He wouldn’t sell us his overalls! Now the weapon maybe???

clearance then over to Fanny Bay for beers at the sailing club. The next day fisheries came to inspect our bottoms, worried about things sticking to them they are, then we headed around into Tipperary Waters Marina and the place to fix fuel delivery issues. On November 03 we head east again for Gove and Cape York.


The trade winds (also called trades) are the prevailing pattern of easterly surface winds found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the Earth’s atmosphere, in the lower section of the troposphere near the Earth’s equator.[1] The trade winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere, strengthening during the winter and when the Arctic oscillation is in its warm phase. Historically, the trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world’s oceans for centuries, and enabled European empire expansion into the Americas and trade routes to become established across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, hence the name “Trade Wind”.

In meteorology, the trade winds act as the steering flow for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic, Pacific, and southern Indian Oceans and make landfall in North America, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar and eastern Africa, respectively. Trade winds also steer African dust westward across the Atlantic ocean into the Caribbean sea, as well as portions of southeastern North America. Shallow cumulus clouds are seen within trade wind regimes, and are capped from becoming taller by a trade wind inversion, which is caused by descending air aloft from within the subtropical ridge. The weaker the trade winds become, the more rainfall can be expected within neighboring landmasses.

The term trade winds originally derives from the early fourteenth century late Middle English word ‘trade’ meaning “path” or “track.”The Portuguese recognized the importance of the trade winds in navigation in the Atlantic ocean as early as the 15th century.The full wind circulation, which included both the trade wind easterlies and higher-latitude Westerlies, was un-known (to Europeans) across the Pacific ocean until Andres de Urdaneta‘s voyage in 1565.

The captain of a sailing ship seeks a course along which the winds can be expected to blow in the direction of travel.[5] During the Age of Sail the pattern of prevailing winds made various points of the globe easy or difficult to access, and therefore had a direct impact on European empire-building and thus on modern political geography. For example, Manila galleons could not sail into the wind at all.

By the 18th century the importance of the trade winds to England’s merchant fleet for crossing the Atlantic Ocean had led both the general public and etymologists to identify the name with a later meaning of ‘trade’, “(foreign) commerce”. Between 1847 and 1849, Matthew Fontaine Maury collected enough information to create wind and current charts for the world’s oceans.


As part of the Hadley cell circulation, surface air flows toward the equator while the flow aloft is towards the poles. A low-pressure area of calm, light variable winds near the equator is known as the doldrums, equatorial trough,intertropical front, or the Intertropical Convergence Zone. When located within a monsoon region, this zone of low pressure and wind convergence is also known as the monsoon trough.Around 30° in both hemispheres air begins to descend toward the surface in subtropical high-pressure belts known as subtropical ridges. The subsident (sinking) air is relatively dry because, as it descends, the temperature increases but the absolute humidity remains constant, which lowers the relative humidity of the air mass. This warm, dry air is known as a superior air mass and normally resides above a maritime tropical (warm and moist) air mass. An increase of temperature with height is known as a temperature inversion. When it occurs within a trade wind regime, it is known as a trade wind inversion.

The surface air that flows from these subtropical high-pressure belts toward the Equator is deflected toward the west in both hemispheres by the Coriolis effect.These winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere.[14] Because winds are named for the direction from which the wind is blowing, these winds are called the northeasterly trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere and the southeasterly trade winds in the Southern Hemisphere. The trade winds meet at the doldrums.

As they blow across tropical regions, air masses heat up over lower latitudes due to more direct sunlight. Those that develop over land (continental) are drier and hotter than those that develop over oceans (maritime), and travel northward on the western periphery of the subtropical ridge.Maritime tropical air masses are sometimes referred to as trade air masses. The one region of the Earth which has an absence of trade winds is the north Indian ocean.

Pulau Wayag and the Raja Ampat. September 2012.

November 2, 2012

Quite the place for photographs!

Rallies and the Raja Ampat.Davao to Sorong, West Papua.22July to 01October 2012.

November 2, 2012

The sail-past from HMAS Sirius.


Holiday Oceanview.

The reason for going to Davao was to join the Davao-Morotai rally. This particular event was organised as part of Sail Indonesia which is sponsored by the Indonesian Government and involves pouring money into a region of the country thereby  promoting tourism by luring a bunch of floating miscreants with offers of support and entertainment. In this case a free CAIT (crusing permit for Indonesia), half a dozen free nights with food and at Morotai, 100 litres of diesel and a case of beer; for the last two of these yachties will of course travel half way around the world! Seriously though these rallies are a bit of fun, you get to meet people  and one gets a look at local customs and places not very much travelled to. For those of us in Davao we were also looked after at the ‘Holiday Oceanview Marina’, with much food and dancing and equal amounts of enthusiasm from the locals given that tourism events in Mindanao are somewhat thin on the ground. Mindanao of course gets more mentions for piracy and abductions than anything else and even though the brigands are located on the western side around Basilan, the mud sticks as it were. So for the locals, having anything as salubrious as a ‘yacht rally’ happening from their town was cause for great excitement and all over the news.

Looks the part one supposes!

How to get an engine into a boat!???

Fred and his machine shop!

Holiday Oceanview.


Departure day.

Of course one problem with going on a rally was the need for an engine in the boat and this wasn’t looking too good for a while when after three weeks the engine was still in pieces on the dirt floor of a local workshop (Fred’ Machine Shop), it seems things don’t really happen in a timely manner in the Philippines. Anyway the rebuilt engine eventually arrived in time to load test with ten hours of running in the pen the day before we left. Putting it back in was something else with seven Philippinos all arguing vociferously about how to get it on the mounts. It seems the usual procedure for such things here is just have enough bodies to physically lift things, but, not too much room in a boat! After much drama it went in but Trevor still had some concerns, rather trepidation considering the engine bits still sitting in buckets.  Another lesson here of course and whilst in the Philippines, is never underestimate the mess than can be made when pulling out and putting back a diesel boat engine; breathtaking it was.  But the engine was at least back in and running and with two new crew, Tom from Germany and Debbie from California we were ready to go, just!!

On passage to Talaud.

Talaud, ordinary anchorage.

Little wooden boats for everyone!

The scheduled departure day for the rally was September 06 heading straight into a three day run and two nights at sea, bit odd really given the number of day hops we could have done heading south down the Davao Gulf but in the interests of keeping up with the rally schedule it was off to Talaud we went, hard on the breeze like usual . On the way out of our marina pens we were regaled with musicians, VIP boat, media commentary and sail past, all very exciting (definitely for the locals, some of them were in tears) and we were told later all over the news. At Talaud three days later the rally had organised special clearance arrangements for the boats, barbecues on the beach, dancers and even a carved wooden boat as a present for each boat on the rally. The next destination was Morotai and for the locals the biggest event it would seem since General Macarthur arrived in 1945 prior to his return to the Philippines.  Much excitement on Morotai with more flags than people, three nights of food, dancers and singers and one night a ‘crayfish’ cooking competition where 2500 crayfish were cooked on what must have been 2 km of barbecues; interesting!!  The grand finale for the theMorotai festivities was a sail past between a podium on shore where the President was chatting to the crowd and HMAS Sirius parked a mile offshore. The sail past started with local and imported war ships (visiting Navies) followed by the yachts, of course all spread over about 5 km of ocean, line astern. By the time we sailed past it was unlikely anybody was even interested or noticed the yachts but for 100 lites of diesel and free beer!!!  Still don’t believe Macarthur would have gone anywhere near the grubby hole in the ground the locals have named after him.

After Morotai it became a moving south expedition in company with Thyme and Metana and headed into the Raja Ampat at the western end of New Guinea . The name translates as ‘Four Kings’ owing to the 4 largish islands in the middle of the area and this part of Indonesia is we had been led to believe, the place to visit for all things aesthetic , clear water , brilliant diving and marine wildlife. First though was four days moving down the western side of the island of Halmahera, then an overnighter to Wayag. On Halmahera it was farewells to Debbie when we dropped her off at Buli, then a twenty mile day hop for an afternoon chill at anchor before heading east and overnight to Wayag.

This one crashed in the water!

Part of the RAN Morotai contingent.

The wind was actually favourable for this run and we arrived good and early after an overnight sail into one of the most spectacular places you could think of parking a boat. We were back into Karst country here with limestone formations the order of the day. The island has a massive lagoon facing south with multitudes of small limestone islands or pillars sticking up out of relatively deep water; well deep enough to drive keel boats about in and play hide and seek. As Daryl said, has a very Jurassic Park feel about the place. . On the outside (south) side of the lagoon around the limestone rocky things the water was clear, the dolphins curious, the turtles non-plussed and fishing banned. This island is a park with no fishing, no people for that matter and the entire place cleaner than anywhere we had previously been in Indonesia, the island  bordering on pristine.  The only other people here were a couple of yachtie types also on the Morotai rally, and some dive charter boats.  We stopped here in paradise for 5 days before moving south-east towards the ‘Equator’ islands and a move across into the southern hemisphere.  On 26 September at 1445 and in position 130o 06.7E we crossed back into all things south. That night anchored on Kawe, Toni, (Daryl’s girlfriend) had something of a turn requiring calls for advice on the HF radio (via New Zealand and

Sail past.

Australia) and next day a boat arrived offering to

A stout vessel.

evacuate her, she was okay by then but the response was interesting.

The Equator Islands to Sorong is around 70 miles cruising through mostly uninhabited islands, day hopping and stopping on sandy white beaches lined with palm trees, not swimming in some places due to large reptilian animals with long tails and sharp teeth, catching fish off the back of the boat (we through back the two and half metre shark) and wondering about this part of the world that nobody seems to have paid much attention to.  It was here we also said our farewells to Simon and Amanda on Thyme (and of course Sloop) who would be staying north in the Raja Ampat and then heading off for the Philippines once again.

On 01 October  we stepped out of ‘ Crocodile Lagoon’ , (our name) on the north-east  coast of Betanta and slipped across to Sorong on the far western coast of New Guinea.  We were here for three days in a none too good anchorage, stocked up on food, after much drama managed to buy (dodgy) diesel and had a crew change. Tom was off here after his excellent adventure and was headed for land travel over Lombok way. Spanish Angel (pronounced Anhal in Australian speak) arrived for the trip south and British Jerry arrived at the last minute to go as far as he could south-east. On 03 October  we pulled up our overworked CQR and headed further south for the Selat Sele, Pulau Misool  and the Ceram Sea.

P. Wayag, what a place.


FAD’s moorings and wrecks! Brunei to Davao; 31May to 21July 2012.

November 1, 2012

Travelling north from Bruneii and Labuan is definitely revisiting the past except this time we got to sail back to KK in a brilliant following breeze, well 25 knots that had the locals ducking for cover behind every island. Back in KK the word was engine repairs and yet again pondering heat exchangers and a crew change with Lasse leaving and German Sebastian coming on for the passage across the Celebes Sea to Davao in the Philippines.  Before all of this though we decided to head out to Gaya for some diving and beach timeand to see if we could sneak past the enjoyment police at the resort, without paying for multiple guides to follow us around on the national park tracks. Simon was with us this time to show us the sneaky way past the resort people but to no avail as when we were spotted they couldn’t understand Lasse’s Swedish or for that matter  Geoff’s Welsh, no surprises there really! So it was off on the national park tracks (the guides are really to allow you through the resort it seems) and a visit to the resort, forest, canopy walk.

Spot their new mooring!!

We had come through here a year or so earlier and whilst managing to get a swim in the resort pool and even being given a free cocktail (quite accidental on the resorts part) we were told very clearly to anchor to the sides of the bay. It seems a view of grotty yachties and their boats detracts from the whole resort experience or something.  So to avoid any angst we slipped  over  to  the south side of the bay and Trevor parked the Gadfly on the mooring that we had swung on last time before heading for Layang Layang; in this case a nice fat rope attached to a big-arse coral pinnacle on the bottom. Sadly the coral wasn’t up to the job as that night a squall to take ones breathe away hit us and with the boat nearly on it’s side in 50 knots of wind the mooring let go. Bit of a worry really, 2.30 in the morning, pitch black and in wind and rain one cannot look into the boat is bouncing up and down on the reef. Well when in doubt look for sea room so off into deep water we went dragging the bottom of the boat across the reef only to work out we still had a sodding great lump of coral hanging from the front of the boat, oh joy. To make matters worse our snubbing rope was now tangled in the mess of mooring line giving the appearance of a ‘Gordion’ knot. Ah well, these squalls do blow themselves out so eventually with the wind subsiding we deposited the resort’s mooring in a new location and went on the pick in the middle of their bay.


Back in KK after sorting various repairs and some new awnings for the cockpit we headed north hopefully for some diving with the new Hookah (surface supply compressor). It was also back into some old haunts of Lankayan , Sandakan and Kudat where we caught up again with the Rubicon Starlets (Tim and Barb). On Lankayan they had built a great big and beautiful new restaurant and bar just for us it seemed and we spent a couple of days here snorkelling, diving and seeing the sights. Sandakan of course remained the same right down to the foul ground and fasteners out in front of the yacht club. Last time we were here the anchor was turned inside out courtesy of some fishermen helping extract it and sure enough this time we fouled again, this time on whopping great sunken fishing boat.  We were actually anchored well clear of all the fasteners but dragged in a squall and spring tides and after dragging into the , tide changes figure-eighted the chain a couple of times in and over the wreck. Geoff had a go at getting it off first and came up rather wide eyed as there really is nothing like diving in zero visibility, with current, on a wreck with all sorts of ‘things’ washing past; south-east Asian ports are not the most aesthetically pleasing places to dive in. We eventually got our chain off with Trevor grovelling around on the bottom wrestling chain from behind steel plates and fishing nets and in the dark although one doubts the bottom here has seen sunlight for a long time anyway.  Handy to have the hookah at this point and all but in the absence of a full-face mask there was considered thought to what new vaccinations might be in order!!

The Rubicon Stars!

Moving east was back through familiar territory, Dewhurst Bay, Tambisan, TunSakaran and Semporna. We did head direct from Tambisan towards Davao but a friendly Philippino fisherman suggested we shouldn’t go past a couple of islands as “they are pirates”, “very bad people”, “Abu Saiaf”; okay we will go the other way back to Semporna! So a few days later it was off on the 400 odd miles across to Davao and back into the Philippines. This involved three nights at sea in what was pretty calm and easy conditions except for hundreds of unlit navigation hazards. Daryl on Metana had given us a heads up on this and it seems this whole part of the Celebes Sea is used for fishing with FAD’s or Fish Attraction or Aggregation Devices. There are hundreds of them, whopping great steelbouys about 6 metres long and anchored in anything from 100 to 5000 metres of water. Local fishermen work the FAD’s with boats all over the place including one fellow 20 miles offshore in his rather small ‘banka’ asking us if we wanted to buy his dolphin fish. It seems the dolphin fish hang around the bouys and assorted palm fronds and such things that the fishermen attach to the bouy and rope underneath. At night these things are a worry, they only paint up on radar in smooth water at about half a mile and even when a fishermen is tied up at night to one, they only turn their light (flashing disco style) on when they a see a boat close by. Apparently they don’t want to flatten their batteries, makes interesting night passages in this part of the world!!

Fishing boats at night! Quite random!

Tun Sakaran. Good place to anchor. Sea Gypsy territory.

Watch out for the pirates.

First port of call on this new Philippino adventure was Bulot Island at the bottom of the Davao Gulf, a visit to the town then some of the islands for snorkelling, swimming and visiting the locals. At the island across from Bulot the locals were very keen to investigate (don’t see too many yachts in these parts it seems) and we eventually had half of the little beach community on the boat for lunch. They even helped us clean the water line on Gadfly and thereforegave us  an opportunity to give away ‘cargo’ that meant much to them and good kharma for us; old sunglasses, monofilament not used for two years, old ropes, redundant stainless pots and crab traps amongst other things; these are very poor people.  We day hopped the hundred odd miles into Davao eventually going into the marina at the top of Samal Island just over the water from Davao town. Not many good anchorages here as the beaches are all quite steep to with deep water. Did let us see how the locals get by though and when swinging on a postcard of shallow water near the reef in one bay we could watch the locals carting on their backs loads of copra (coconut husk) in sacks to lighters that then carried the sacks to boats further out. They do it tough in this part of the world. On other boats here the ferries across from Samal are interesting with an ‘engineer’ sitting aft responding to the helmsman via a ‘telegraph’, in this case a steel bar banging on a metal pipe when the helmsman tugs on a piece of string; love it!

The Spanish have a lot to answer for!!


Of course as always on ones own boat boats things rarely go according to plans and in this case after arriving at the Samal marina Trevor decided to work out what that oil leak was all about. Well we arrived on the Wednesday and on Friday we pulled the engine out of the boat, ah yes, boat maintenance in exotic locations. Sorry about the delay in news. Cheers from the Gadfly.

Fish Attraction (or Aggregation) Devices.‘FADs’.

A fish aggregating (or aggregation) device (FAD) is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi (dolphin fish). They usually consist of buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. Over 300 species of fish gather around FADs. FAD’s attract fish for numerous reasons that vary by species.Fish tend to move around FADs in varying orbits, rather than remaining stationary below the buoys. Both recreational and commercial fisheries use FADs.

Before FADs, commercial tuna fishing used purse seining to target surface-visible aggregations of birds and dolphins, which were a reliable signal of the presence of tuna schools below. The demand for dolphin-safe tuna was a driving force for FADs.

Fish are fascinated with floating objects. They aggregate in considerable numbers around objects such as drifting flotsam, rafts, jellyfish and floating seaweed. The objects appear to provide a “visual stimulus in an optical void”, and offer some protection for juvenile fish from predators. The gathering of juvenile fish, in turn, attracts larger predator fish. A study using sonar in French Polynesia, found large shoals of juvenile bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna aggregated closest to the devices, 10 to 50m. Further out, 50 to 150m, was a less dense group of larger yellowfin and albacore tuna. Yet further out, to 500m, was a dispersed group of various large adult tuna. The distribution and density of these groups was variable and overlapped. The FADs were also used by other fish, and the aggregations dispersed when it was dark.

Drifting FADs are not tethered to the bottom and can be natural objects such as logs or man-made.

Moored FADs occupy a fixed location and attach to the sea bottom using a weight such as a concrete block. A rope made of floating synthetics such as polypropylene attaches to the mooring and in turn attaches to a buoy. The buoy can float at the surface (lasting 3–4 years) or lie subsurface to avoid detection and surface hazards such as weather and ship traffic. Subsurface FADs last longer (5–6 years) due to less wear and tear, but can be harder to locate. In some cases the upper section of rope is made from heavier-than-water metal chain so that if the buoy detaches from the rope, the rope sinks and thereby avoids damage to passing ships who no longer use the buoy to avoid getting tangled in the rope.

Samal Island. Holiday Oceanview Marina!

Love the engineers telegraph!

Philippino taxi ornamentation.

The engineer.

Swimming in Mud. Kota Kinabulu to Brunei May 13-30 (2012).

June 15, 2012

Royal Brunei Yacht Club.

At the Royal Brunei Yacht Club at Muara in Brunei (about 20 miles from town), they don’t sell beer. In fact like the rest of Brunei they don’t sell any alcohol at all. Instead intrepid yachties need to bring their own grog with them or put up with an extremely dry argument. You see they are quite Moslem here and the Sultan is none too keen on alcohol so the place is dry (well if you look really hard you might find it somewhere!!).  However, only 20 miles away across the water is Labuan, a duty free port that sells the cheapest alcohol in Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand; we will leave the Philippines out here given the Aus$1.50 bottles of Rhum and Gin available there! The arrangement here is that those boaty types who hang around for a while, every now and again do a mercy dash across the water and bring back enough grog to possibly float their boat. Fortunately for all concerned at the RBYC the locals have an arrangement where those heathen enough to drink and those lacking adequate religious substance (or both) can bring their own beer ashore (best in your own bucket also) and the bar will provide you, free of charge, ice to chill your beer; perfect. It doesn’t really help the Philippinos who are working here (and having to quite unwillingly ‘go on the wagon’) go about getting a drink, but knowing the drinking proclivities of most yachtie types these guys have dramatically improved their English skills with phrases like “got any rum”, “what about gin”, yes “brandy will do”! It was either that, buy a boat or swim.

We are in Brunei chasing the cheap diesel after hanging around in Labuan getting the cheap beer. We slipped away from KK on the fifteenth with Welsh Jeff and Hilary on semi retirement from the UK, Swedish Lasse backpacking as far as he can and Trevor of course trying to keep on top of boat maintenance. First port of call was the old haunt of Police Bay and the obligatory BBQ on the beach. The big item here though was testing out the new ‘Hookah’, or for those non-diving types, the new ‘low-pressure surface supply compressor’. Trevor had been building this for the past week in KK with help from ‘Charlie’, the aluminium welder from Inanam (KK industrial area) who usually specialises in fabricating aluminium bits aimed at making small cars go as fast as possible. Building this had been quite a saga that fortuitously coincided with Gini coming out from Australia and carrying around 20 kilograms of compressor parts; no surprises really that Simon was more than happy for Amanda to go back to Aus for a couple of weeks and do the same! Anyway the new gear is running swimmingly heralding a whole new phase in diving capabilities. Whilst at Police Bay (Pulau Gaya) we were also reacquainted with that brilliant aspect of Sabah tourism, “no you can’t possibly go for a walk in the forest on your own”, “it is far to unsafe” and “for your own safety, we will give you a guide for 200 Ringgit”, (Aus$70). Unfortunately this seems to be becoming the norm here where travellers and tourists are charged large sums for even the mundane and up to six times what the locals are for anything more than mundane. We just might have to sneak past their resort when we go back that way!

Panel 5

From Gaya to Pulua Tiga is about 35 miles with the opportunity at the end of the day to jump in mud. Tiga is a national park with a small resort of sorts, the obligatory diving operation and a ‘mud volcanoe’. You simply walk up the track behind the resort, go about 1.5 km, jump in the mud, float around for a while then walk down the beach to wash it off. Of course there is a sign advising all yachtie types to register at an office somewhere but you then probably run the risk of having to pay to take a guide with you, for your own safety of course, before you jump in the mud. The locals here trumpet the mud as good for your skin, health, complexion and as a remedy for most skin afflictions. It must be a bit of a girl thing these mud baths though as Hilary was more than happy to embrace the concept, porpoising around in the outdoor health spa. For your trusted blogger however the concepts of ear infection, conjunctivitis and parasites come to mind as possibilities; god knows what the locals might do with their mud to take the piss out of the punters. Washing the stuff off took more than a while as well and we all probably still have mud in our ears; we are sure Jeff has gone a bit deafer since.

Amphibious again it would seem!

The next forty miles took as back to Labuan and with the new crew another day of running around checking out the same locations as July last year; they haven’t changed but we did get to marvel once again at the plastic fish in the Marine Museum. It meant also that we could locate the plaque with Jenny’s (the librarian) uncle Jack’s name on it; ‘John Kenneth Cameron’. Jack died on the Sandakan death march and is remembered in the Labuan war cemetery on Panel 5, soldiers with unknown graves. His grave might be unknown but with the number of unidentified soldiers in the Labuan cemetery he is probably there. Adjacent to Labuan over on the mainland and just 10 miles away is the entrance to the Klias River. This is a navigable river with water deep enough to take a keel boat 26km up until a set of power lines blocks any further moves north. There are several rivers like this in Borneo where boats are actually a normal form of transport especially the Rajang back in Sarawak and the Kinabatangan over near Sandakan. When one says transport on the longer rivers though, what you are really doing is considering moving yet more logs downstream from the rapidly disappearing rain-forest! We spent three days up the Klias checking out some of the smaller tributaries, yet more proboscis monkeys and the bird life. Interesting concept it is, trundling along a river with banks at times no more than twenty metres apart and cars passing on a highway half a kilometre away. A lot of fun but as for the Kinabatangan, just past the forest on the banks when there are hills, you can see the palm oil marching off into the distance. After the Klias we also went to the bird sanctuary at the top of Labuan and then went out to try and dive on the war wrecks out the other side of Pulau Kumaran; but without a marker on the wrecks we probably need some better tools to locate them.

Thyme headed north.

Brunei itself is probably one of the more affluent parts of SE Asia (excluding Singapore). Here the locals have the highest pay rates for this part of SE Asia, there is no real poverty, nobody starves, they pay no income tax and most infrastructure is provided by the Government, i.e. the Sultan who would appear to have a very definitive interest in keeping his subjects happy. It is also a bit dull, no bars of course, no theatre, not much of anything really and unbelievably for Asia there is it seems only one Karaoke place (can’t say bar) apparently fully equipped with signs prohibiting touching; wonder if the men sing love songs to each other here? The affluence of Brunei has come from oil of course but with no more oil to export and gas being the big financial provider one does wonder what will happen when the money starts to run out; one doubts that it will worry the Sultan’s family too much.

We are due to get away from here the day after tomorrow after a visit to town and a look at the water village housing around 30,000 people, wonder what they do with their sewage, nasty thought that one. From here it will be some food shopping in Labuan, diving on Tiga, diving and BBQ on Gaya then back to KK for some more boaty work. After that north for Kudat, back to Sandakan then east headed for Indo and the Philippines.

To drown in mud you would have to be held under or wear a very heavy weight belt!

Mud Volcanoes

A mud volcano may be the result of a piercement structure created by a pressurized mud diapir which breaches the Earth’s surface or ocean bottom. Their temperatures may be as low as the freezing point of the ejected materials, particularly when venting is associated with the creation of hydrocarbon, clathrate-hydrate deposits. Mud volcanoes are often associated with petroleum deposits and tectonic subduction zones and orogenic belts; hydrocarbon gases are often erupted. They are also often associated with lava volcanoes; in the case of such close proximity, mud volcanoes emit incombustible gases including helium, whereas lone mud volcanoes are more likely to emit methane.

Approximately 1,100 mud volcanoes have been identified on land and in shallow water. It has been estimated that well over 10,000 may exist on continental slopes and abyssal plains.


In the Turtle Islands, in the province of Tawi-Tawi, the southwestern edge of the Philippines bordering Malaysia, presence of mud volcanoes are evident on three of the islands – Lihiman, Great Bakkungan and Boan Islands. The northeastern part of Lihiman Island is distinguished for having more violent kind of mud extrusions mixed with large pieces of rocks, creating a 20-m (66-ft) wide crater on that hilly part of the island.  Such extrusions are reported to be accompanied by mild earthquakes and evidence of extruded materials can be found high up the surrounding trees. Submarine mud extrusions off the island, have also been observed by local residents.

Other Asian locations

China has a number of mud volcanoes in Xinjiang province.

There are also mud volcanoes at the Arakan Coast in Myanmar (Burma).

There are two active mud volcanoes in South Taiwan, and several inactive ones. The Wushan Mud Volcanoes are located in the Yanchao District of Kaohsiung City.

There are mud volcanoes on the island of Pulau Tiga, off the western coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

A drilling accident offshore of Brunei on Borneo in 1979 caused a mud volcano which took 20 relief wells and nearly 30 years to halt the eruption.

Lusi (Indonesia)

Drillingor an earthquakemay have resulted in the Sidoarjo mud flow on May 29, 2006, in the Porong subdistrict of East Java province, Indonesia. The mud covered about 440 hectares, 1,087 acres (4.40 km2) and inundated four villages, homes, roads, rice fields, and factories, displacing about 24,000 people and killing 14. The gas exploration company involved was operated by PT Lapindo Brantas and the earthquake that may have triggered the Mud Volcano was the Yogyakarta earthquake of May 27, 2006. In 2008, it was termed the world’s largest mud volcano and is beginning to show signs of catastrophic collapse, according to geologists who have been monitoring it and the surrounding area. A catastrophic collapse could sag the vent and surrounding area by up to 150 metres (490 ft) in the next decade. In March 2008, the scientists observed drops of up to 3 metres  in one night. Most of the subsidence in the area around the volcano is more gradual, at around 0.1 centimetres (0.039 in) per day. A study by a group of Indonesian geo-scientists led by Bambang Istadi predicted the area affected by the mudflow over a ten year period.More recent studies carried out in 2011 predict that the mud will flow for another 20 years, or even longer. Now named Lusi – a contraction of Lumpur Sidoarjo, where lumpur is the Indonesian word for “mud” – the mud volcano appears to be a hydrocarbon/hydrothermal hybrid.

An Island Somewhere. Bombonon to Kota Kinabulu via the Cagayens: April 04-May12 (2012)

June 10, 2012

From Bombonon to Puerto Princessa is around 300 miles; that is if you go north up the coast of Negros to Sipilay and then run west, pretty much across the middle of the Sulu Sea. Most of the other boaty types that we know were going further north and day hopping up through Cuyo, but what with Gini on board and her longing for a trip to the Kinabatangan River over near Sandakan, the pressure was on to move a bit faster than usual and head south back into Sabah. We were down to two crew for the next month, Gini back to escape for a whle the approaching winter in Tasmania and getting back to PP with all haste was going to require at leat two overnighters after we cleared away from the Negros west coast. The good thing here though was we would no longer be pushing hard against tradewinds but hopefully picking up some of the last of the NE monsoon (Amihan) or at least get the transitional variables. So after about three weeks of idle lassitude, beach Karaoke (and normal boat repairs) we slipped out past the fishing boats at the Bombodon entrance, waved good-bye to Nigel and the bar by the water and headed west then north-west for a day hop to Sipilay. By the way, the beach bar Karaoke here was a scream, half a dozen Philippino fishermen sitting in a dirt floor bar drinking copious quantities of Rhum, not a woman in sight and all taking it in turns to sing love songs to each other; just brilliant.

We spent a couple of days above Sipilay at Cartegena Beach north of town and decided our lives wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t visit ‘Coral Beach’, described in a well known travel guide as one of the star beach attractions in SE Asia. Finding the place became a bit of a dilemma with our tricycle driver getting comprehensively lost along the way and then having to get a (banka) ferry ride to get there. After our visit we were left to marvel at the creative nature of travel book writers and to ponder what incentives those travel writing, researching, back-packer types get paid to write some of their stuff, enough said!!! The next day bright and early (2.00 AM) it was off for the longest hop of our Sulu Sea sojourn with a longish run of 150 miles to the Cagayens way out on their own in the middle of nowhere. The departure was great, pitch black, dodge the fishing boats and do not run onto the reef in the middle of the bay. Of course for our two days the wind went quite variable, all over the shop really requiring just about every combination of sails and trim imaginable; at least it wasn’t on the nose for the trip. The word here though is hot. Think of hot in the back of a boat then try and think even hotter, yea and then hotter again. With the sun frying our transom, rising as usual in the east and us running west, the only way to survive was temporary awnings using the dinghy cover. Nigel was on the money when describing the transition as the summer and bloody hot. Apparently this part of the world up until a few years ago was also something of a no go zone for many yachties with the ‘pirates’ chasing away any brave soul that ventured out on the water. Well at least that’s how it comes across from the locals when you talk to them although Nigel has been up this way for years and hasn’t at this point suffered any piratical outrage. There is of course the possibility that the stories are somewhat apocryphal or that after raising enough money the pirates are at home enjoying hard earned air-conditioning!

Anyway after two days of sailing sauna we got our first sight of the Cagayens and wondered whether our waypoints would get us into the lagoon. The charts here have an offset of around a quarter mile (500 yards) and when one plots the GPS latitude and longitude directly onto the electronic charts you end up running across the reef and eventually onto dry land behind the village; somewhat disconcerting. Of course the appropriate course of action would be to get out a paper chart and plot ones entrance using a compass, but when in Rome as they say, trust the force and follow the fishermen. So after seemingly running across the reef and becoming quite amphibious we dropped the pick in front of the town pier just in time to see most of the towns people jumping onto large banka’s’ (big Philippino style, outrigger, spider boats) and leaving. Initially we thought that perhaps we had offended everybody without even trying but then discovered that we had arrived in ‘Holy Week’ (basically Easter) and after doing the family thing half of the islands population was going on holidays for a few days.

Great place the Cagayens, clear water, reef to snorkel on, a really cool village to check out and aside from some diving types on live-aboard banka’s’, not a tourist in sight. The town here has to be one of the cleanest you could find in SE Asia and spectacularly different to the open tip and rubbish strewn waterways we had seen in many parts of Indonesia and Malaysia. At the local church (they are quite religious here but somewhat flexible on their application of religious pursuit….), they even keep score on how the local congregation is managing in the tidiness and sustainability stakes. Out in the lagoon there is the mandatory seaweed farm (Calerpa racemosa) and according to that guide book again, the main diet out here is fish and seaweed, shades of the sea-gypsies; the town is of course much more salubrious and not nearly as poverty-stricken as that guide book makes out.  There is a huge Spanish-Colonial church here that the locals are fixing up, interesting walls with hundreds of large sea-shells embedded in the mortar rendering. There is also the worlds smallest ambulance that for any average westerner would require amputation of ones feet before getting in. The locals still draw their water here from wells and after watching the water carriers it became very clear why it’s handy around these parts to have children.

The next part of our Sulu-Sea sojourn was the hundred odd miles across into PP running again almost due west trying to find somewhere to hide from the sun. This was another overnighter with an arrival nice and early into Abanico and a revisit of the old haunts of Puerto. Thyme (Simon and Amanda) and Rubican Star (Tim and Barbara) were not far behind and after getting in we were all forced to check out some of the local nightspots; Gini starred here with her cave-woman routine literally dragging Trevor (on his back) to the dance floor while Tim’s secret hippie background was on display with his attraction to the bands Bongo drum. A week later it was southward bound for another 300 miles in company with Thyme and island hopping back into Malaysia. More beaches, more villages, more pearl farms more sea-gypsies. After stops on Sombrero Island, Arrecife Island and Brookes Point we had plotted a night off Bowen Island, north of Bugsuk. Unfortunately we weren’t terribly welcome here and the pearl farm security very nicely and with many smiles escorted us through their farm to Pandanan Island five miles further west. It was explained of course that this was for our own safety (this is the standard line in this part of the world when the authorities or others want you to go away) and we weren’t inclined to argue too vociferously given the large piece of artillery the security guide was carrying (M14, big bullets and no photos allowed).

Next island on the southward progression was Candaraman, almost out of the Philippines and a few drinks for Trevor’s birthday. We had arrived here in the middle of  a ‘Christian Youth Camp’ although the local Parish Priest explained that anybody up to 45 was welcome as long as they were single; he explained that they patrolled the sleeping area and tents to make sure the genders stayed separate!!!  We were down into part of the more Moslem area of the Philippines and the army and police had a presence at the camp to discourage any ‘trouble’ although there “is no trouble around here”. Probably not very likely given the serious amount of hardware stacked in the trees next to the military and police hummocks. Next day it was off to Balabangan in Malaysia and an evening and morning thinking of things to give to the sea-gypsies; petrol, soap, apples, biscuits…etc etc etc. Thyme bid their farewells here heading for Kudat and new crew while the good ship Gadfly slipped around the most northerly point of Borneo and headed south for a one hundred mile overnight run into the Sutera Harbour Marina at Kota Kinabulu.

The plan at KK was to leave the boat and travel overland to the Kinabatangan River and Sandakan where Gini would take lots of photographs of every animal that passed in front of her camera.  There are a number of ecolodges along the Kinabatangan River where tourists can go to check out what’s left of some of the previously abundant and spectacular Borneo wildlife, orangutans, monkeys, elephants, birds, deer and so on and the visitors get taken on river cruises, day walks and night spotlighting trips. The trouble is that most of the rain-forest (jungle) has been removed, logged and then replanted with palm oil and what one sees is small remnant forest areas along the margins of rivers or isolated refuges around sites such as the Nyah Caves Park inland from Miri. The Kinabatangan elephants might be easy to keep track of but no surprises there really as most of their habitat has been destroyed and they have to stay next to the river. There are orangutan refuges and shelters at a number of places (Sepilok at Sandakan) with no shortage of animals as their habitat is being constantly destroyed and the orangutans are shot or persecuted if they walk into the palm oil plantations. These isolated and fragmented forest areas are also a problem for the larger mammals and especially apex predators of the forest as there is no opportunity for them to move between locations and the loss of habitat and fragmentation of the forests places survivors under significant (environmental) stress from multiple sources. The smaller mammals, birds and bats may manage to adapt but for the larger animals there is probably insufficient range to maintain long-term, viable breeding populations (not to mention loss of genetic diversity). Sadly this is the trend and a problem for most of SE Asia.

At the Tungog Rainforest Ecocamp, the guides speak in awe of the Australian fellow ‘Martin’ who had worked with the locals for 15 odd years to establish the ecocamp and encourage the locals to embrace nature based tourism and homestays as an industry involving their forest. Martin has been back in Australia for several years and since he has left stands of forest adjacent to the river and near the bridge at the ‘Kinabatangan’ village have been cleared and planted with palm oil. The locals in the meantime are growing seedlings, attempting to rehabilitate nearby, degraded areas and expressing interest in buying back areas to re-establish forest.  They explain that it is the ‘Chinese’ who are doing most of the damage but couldn’t elaborate as to whether that meant ethnic Chinese Malays, Singaporean Chinese, or Mainland Chinese. At the ‘Lubuk Bay’ Proboscis Monkey refuge near Sandakan the Chinese owners have made a video extolling their virtues for saving the Proboscis Monkeys in the area, this after they cleared the area to grow palm oil leaving a tiny fragment of habitat for the monkeys, habitat no doubt unsuitable for palm oil; quite staggering really. In the meantime the video they have produced waxes lyrical about the abundant rainforests that “stretch from the mountains to the seas of Borneo”, not to mention adjacent seas that apparently teem with huge schools of massive fish, clearly now fish and forest figments of somebodies imagination!  They also charge twenty dollars (Aus or US) a person to enter their ‘refuge’ and three dollars more to take photographs (one does wonder where the money goes but doubts it is going to forest rehabilitation). Still it is worth having a look at those parts of what was once a spectacular ecosystem and hope that common sense might one day prevail over greed and corruption. In the meantime the Government and operators in Sabah are selling tourism packages on the basis of come and see our abundant wildlife, spectacular forests and magnificent diving; just pay heaps and don’t look too hard!

After our river sojourn it was back to KK and Gini’s departure for her PhD program back in Tasmania researching Tasmanian Devils and Quolls. Fortunately her flight was cancelled and she was forced to stay another five days until the twelfth when Jeff, Hilary and Lasse arrived; new crew for southward moves to Labuan and Brunei.

Habitat fragmentation


As the name implies, ‘habitat fragmentation’ describes the emergence of discontinuities (fragmentation) in an organism’s preferred environment (habitat), causing population fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation can be caused by geological processes that slowly alter the layout of the physical environment (suspected of being one of the major causes of speciation]), or by human activity such as land conversion, which can alter the environment much faster and causes extinctions of many species.

The term habitat fragmentation includes five discrete phenomena:

Reduction in the total area of the habitat

Decrease of the interior : edge ratio

Isolation of one habitat fragment from other areas of habitat

Breaking up of one patch of habitat into several smaller patches

Decrease in the average size of each patch of habitat

Habitat fragmentation is frequently caused by humans when native vegetation is cleared for human activities such as agriculture, rural development, urbanization and the creation of hydroelectric reservoirs. Habitats which were once continuous become divided into separate fragments. After intensive clearing, the separate fragments tend to be very small islands isolated from each other by cropland, pasture, pavement, or even barren land. The latter is often the result of slash and burn farming in tropical forests. In the wheat belt of central western New South Wales, Australia, 90% of the native vegetation has been cleared and over 99% of the tall grass prairie of North America has been cleared, resulting in extreme habitat fragmentation.

One of the major ways that habitat fragmentation affects biodiversity is by reduction in the amount of available habitat (such as rainforests, boreal forests, oceans, marshlands, etc.) for all organisms in an ecological niche. Habitat fragmentation invariably involves some amount of habitat destruction. Plants and other sessile organisms in these areas are usually directly destroyed. Mobile animals (especially birds and mammals) retreat into remnant patches of habitat. This can lead to crowding effects and increased competition.

The remaining habitat fragments are smaller than the original habitat. Species that can move between fragments may use more than one fragment. Species which cannot move between fragments must make do with what is available in the single fragment in which they ended up. Since one of the major causes of habitat destruction is agricultural development, habitat fragments are rarely representative samples of the initial landscape.

Area is the primary determinant of the number of species in a fragment.The size of the fragment will influence the number of species which are present when the fragment was initially created, and will influence the ability of these species to persist in the fragment. Small fragments of habitat can only support small populations of plants and animals and small populations are more vulnerable to extinction. Minor fluctuations in climate, resources, or other factors that would be unremarkable and quickly corrected in large populations can be catastrophic in small, isolated populations. Thus fragmentation of habitat is an important cause of species extinction. Population dynamics of subdivided populations tend to vary asynchronously. In an unfragmented landscape a declining population can be “rescued” by immigration from a nearby expanding population. In fragmented landscapes, the distance between fragments may prevent this from happening. Additionally, unoccupied fragments of habitat that are separated from a source of immigrants by some barrier are less likely to be repopulated than adjoining fragments. Even small species such as the Columbia spotted frog are reliant on the rescue effect. Studies showed 25% of juveniles travel a distance over 200m compared to 4% of adults. Of these, 95% remain in their new locale, demonstrating that this journey is necessary for survival.

Additionally, habitat fragmentation leads to edge effects. Microclimactic changes in light, temperature and wind can alter the ecology around the fragment, and in the interior and exterior portions of the fragment. Fires become more likely in the area as humidity drops and temperature and wind levels rise. Exotic and pest species may establish themselves easily in such disturbed environments, and the proximity of domestic animals often upsets the natural ecology. Also, habitat along the edge of a fragment has a different climate and favours different species from the interior habitat. Small fragments are therefore unfavourable for species which require interior habitat.

Habitat fragmentation is often a cause of species becoming threatened or endangered. The existence of viable habitat is critical to the survival of any species, and in many cases the fragmentation of any remaining habitat can lead to difficult decisions for conservation biologists. Given a limited amount of resources available for conservation is it preferable to protect the existing isolated patches of habitat or to buy back land to get the largest possible continuous piece of land? This ongoing debate is often referred to as SLOSS (Single Large or Several Small).

One solution to the problem of habitat fragmentation is to link the fragments by preserving or planting corridors of native vegetation. This has the potential to mitigate the problem of isolation but not the loss of interior habitat. In rare cases a Conservation reliant species may gain some measure of disease protection by being distributed in isolated habitats. Another mitigation measure is the enlargement of small remnants in order to increase the amount of interior habitat. This may be impractical since developed land is often more expensive and could require significant time and effort to restore. The best solution is generally dependent on the particular species or ecosystem that is being considered. More mobile species, like most birds, do not need connected habitat while some smaller animals, like rodents, may be more exposed to predation in open land. These questions generally fall under the headings of metapopulations island biogeography.

(From Wiki…..).

Rhum and Coke. Romblon to Port Bombonon (Negros). (29February to 04April).

April 4, 2012

Sally leaving Romblon after potholing on motorbike!!!

It can be a bit difficult to buy beer in the Philippines, that is beer to take on the boat. Cans, the container of choice for most seafaring types (glass and all in a moving boat), can be hard to find and usually expensive. Bottles on the other hand are a lot easier to locate and whilst not in the class of the cheap cartons of beer in Langkawi or Labuan, is relatively inexpensive; relative to Australia especially! The procedure is to initially buy a plastic crate containing the beer and in the process pay a deposit for both the crate and the glass bottles containing whichever variety of beer one is keen to drink. Of course this is much more environmentally sound than the other system of no deposit and an observation any visitor to the Philippines would make (especially after Indonesia and Malaysia) is the noticeable absence of hectares of rubbish floating in the water and washed up on the beaches. However and before one gets too excited about environmental revelations one also needs to consider the state of the reefs here given the tendency for the locals to blow up their reef(s) or use cyanide, both in the interest of effective fishing; but on the beer.

They love their chooks here, well fighting chooks!

Wilson and the butterfly man.

When seeking out more beer one must locate a shop dealing in that particular brew, or a beer truck, or maybe pay somebody on a motorcycle to seek out the beer shop for you. The price usually comes in for the beer transaction, incorporating the change over on the crate and bottles, somewhere around 400-500 Philippino pesos; say $10-$13 Aus dollars. If however one simply buys a beer off the shelf at the supermarket it will cost anywhere up to about 65 Pesos per beer (remember you are here paying for the can or bottle also). Still seems cheap except that whilst buying the beer off the shelf at the supermarket you usually notice that those large bottles (yep, 750 ml) of local rum (Rhum) sell for about the same price as a single can of beer; stunning really!

Port Bombodon.

Wednesday night buffet!


We are happily ensconced in Port Bombonon sharing a very secure, typhoon resistant anchorage with about 20 other boats, some that will probably never move again. Bombonon is on Negros and about 50 km south of Dumaguete, the largest city in these parts. Quiet here with the choice of eating on-board or ashore really any night one likes at the locals places and on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights a buffet can be procured after a short dinghy ride to the little, rickety, bamboo piers favoured hereabouts. The Gadfly has been here for two weeks after a 390 mile island hop from Romblon, passing through Sibuyan, Masbati, Malapascua, Cebu (Port Carmen and bus into Cebu), Bohol, Siquihor and finally Negros. After Romblon the move was direct and in an expeditious manner through to Port Carmen as Sally was trying to make a flight headed to Manila and on to somewhere in Malaysia for a month or two of boat minding. Wilson (apparently named after Woodrow!!) from the US joined at Port Carmen and there was also the matter of the autohelm part being shipped to Cebu (and of course the problem of dealing with Phi customs, as long as you have some money!). Sibuyan and Masbati were really just overnight stops in open roadsteads off the reef followed by an early (0230) departure from Masbati for Malapascua. This passage was around 65 miles so an early start then find an anchorage before dark was the go. The best option appeared to be a little island called Malapascua that we thought would be a rocky outcrop but turned out to be one of the bigger dive, tourist operations in the Philippines! We spent a couple of nights on Malapascua checking out the sights and apparently the attraction here is diving with the ‘Thresher sharks’, followed very closely by the bars although apparently you can also get a close look at the ‘Threshers’ in the market!

Port Carmen is around 40km north of Cebu and you have the choice of riding the ‘Ceres’ liner buses into town or getting in the local Jeepneys to watch the touts trying to lure potential bus riders into their clearly superior transportation. The crew changeover went swimmingly, Sally was off to other adventures, Wilson arrived fully equipped with her Banjo, while customs extracted ‘duty’ from Trevor of greater dollar value than the autohelm part actually sent from Australia; we had been warned. After  Carmen it was a south-east day hop with wind and current assist to inside the ‘Danajon Bank’ and a very dubious anchorage just inside the NE corner of Lapinin Island off the NE corner of Bohol. There is a definitive shortage of good anchorages on the east and south of Bohol so next day was a longish run around to a little bay on the south at Loay where we arrived actually after the sun had gone down but with just enough light to not run over the fishing nets strung in multiples across the entrance. That night one of the fishermen came over to say hello and tell us how not to run aground to the west when leaving, rather nice of him and all. He had his two school age children with him and after we gave them some food treats and him a beer he offered (we declined) to give us some of his evening catch, that is one of the two small fish he had to show for an evening fishing; they really do it hard here!!!

Tagbilaran is the capital of Bohol and we arrived just in time to celebrate Amanda’s birthday as Thyme was about with their two Swedes (Robin and Pontis) doing some snorkelling and sightseeing before the Swedes headed for Cebu then Japan; interesting night out with Robin doing Tagalog songs and impersonating (trying anyway) Tom Jones at ‘Sexbomb’. Bohol is also the place to visit the local ‘Tarsier’ population, Tarsiers being the smallest of the primates, they  are haplorrhine primates of the family Tarsiidae, which is itself the lone extant family within the infraorder Tarsiiformes. Although the group was once more widespread, all the species living today are found in the islands of Southeast Asia.

Stuff about Tarsiers! (From Wiki).

Tarsiers are small animals with enormous eyes; each eyeball is approximately 16 mm in diameter and is as large as its entire brain. Tarsiers also have very long hind limbs. In fact, their feet have extremely elongated tarsus bones, from which the animals get their name. The head and body range from 10 to 15 cm in length, but the hind limbs are about twice this long (including the feet), and they also have a slender tail from 20 to 25 cm long. Their fingers are also elongated, with the third finger being about the same length as the upper arm. Most of the digits have nails, but the second and third toes of the hind feet bear claws instead, which are used for grooming. Tarsiers have very soft, velvety fur, which is generally buff, beige, or ochre in color. Unlike many nocturnal vertebrates, tarsiers lack a light-reflecting area (tapetum lucidum) of the eye and have a fovea.

The tarsier’s brain is different from other primates in terms of the arrangement of the connections between the two eyes and the lateral geniculate nucleus, which is the main region of the thalamus that receives visual information. The sequence of cellular layers receiving information from the ipsilateral (same side of the head) and contralateral (opposite side of the head) eyes in the lateral geniculate nucleus distinguishes tarsiers from lemurs, lorises, and monkeys, which are all similar in this respect. Some neuroscientists suggested that “this apparent difference distinguishes tarsiers from all other primates, reinforcing the view that they arose in an early, independent line of primate evolution.” Tarsiers are the only extant entirely carnivorous primates: they are primarily insectivorous, and catch insects by jumping at them. They are also known to prey on birds, snakes, lizards, and bats. As they jump from tree to tree, tarsiers can even catch birds in motion.

All tarsier species are nocturnal in their habits, but like many nocturnal organisms, some individuals may show more or less activity during the daytime. Gestation takes about six months, and tarsiers give birth to single offspring. Young tarsiers are born furred, and with open eyes, and are able to climb within a day of birth. They reach sexual maturity by the end of their second year. Sociality and mating system varies, with tarsiers from Sulawesi living in small family groups, while Philippine and western tarsiers are reported to sleep and forage alone.

Tarsiers tend to be extremely shy animals and have never formed successful breeding colonies in captivity. This may be partly due to their special feeding requirements. However, a sanctuary near the town of Corella, on the Philippine island of Bohol, is having some success restoring tarsier populations. The Philippines Tarsier Foundation (PTFI) has developed a large, semiwild enclosure known as the Tarsier Research and Development Center. Carlito Pizarras, also known as the “Tarsier man” founded this sanctuary where visitors can watch tarsiers up close in the wild (naturally without touching them). The trees in the sanctuary are populated with nocturnal insects that make up the tarsier’s diet.

The 2008-described Siau Island tarsier is regarded as Critically Endangered and was listed among The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates by Conservation International and the IUCN/SCC Primate Specialist Group in 2008. The Malaysian government protects tarsiers by listing them in the Totally Protected Animals of Sarawak, the Malaysian state in Borneo where they are commonly found. As the Tarsiers are nocturnal they are pretty much asleep or nearly so when you visit. The attendants at the sanctuary spend all day making sure that tourists don’t poke the animals, use flash photography, shake their tree or try to handle them. The attendants are also not sure how secure the population of Tarsiers is on Bohol and indicated that nobody knows how many there are in the wild!

After our Tarsier trip and visit to the ‘Chocolate hills another excursion on Bohol is to spend the day checking some of the local caves followed by an 8 km walk up a river gorge (actually mostly in the river) to a waterfall. With the Thymers we sallied forth on Jeepney and after our spelunking exercise (and avoiding the annoyed bats) we clumped upriver and did the bombing thing off the rocks.

Chocolate Hills. Apparently they go brown in the dry season.

River pictures from the Thyme.

Thyme, hull down.

From Tagbilaran to the south of Siquijor and San Juan is 45 miles and an open anchorage, off the reef sheltered by the island from the prevailing north-easterlies. We anchored here with Thyme almost on top (well about 400 metres away) of a steel shipwreck in about 5 metres of water. Some of the locals here have a dive barge and are happily attempting to remove said wreck in pieces, raising sections of about a tonne at a time and selling it for scrap. They were more than happy to have us watch and let us use their hookah (surface supply air) which was really just a compressor (no filters) with little, long, plastic tubes you stick in your mouth, positive pressure here so sort of breathe with your mouth open letting the air keep water out! The barge is equipped with lifting tackle and ‘Broco’ (cutting-burning gear), so after burning off a wreck piece they lift it up under their barge then float/drag it ashore and haul it to the scrap man; 17 pesos/kilo! Siquijor is also renowned for its ‘healers’ so we went to visit the local faith healers to see if one of them could help us out (probably not enough faith here really). Afterwards we were dragged by one the locals into his developing butterfly sanctuary, ah well spread the love around and all, he was very happy to have some visitors and it didn’t cost much.

That wreck getting smaller. Thyme pictures.

The Gadfly, full rig.

So after a short, day hop from Siquijor the boat is residing in Bombonon with Trevor catching up on a multitude of boat repairs before Gini arrives for a month away from her studies on Tasmanian Devils and Quolls, in funnily enough, Tasmania. Thyme is here planning to leave early tomorrow (04April) headed west, while Daryl on Metana, here also, has headed to Aus for three weeks before he also departs for more wasterly longitudes. We should be away on the weekend but it’s holy week here (Easter) and buying food or beer might slow us down a day or two. Maybe we should buy Rhum? At the beach bar on Malapascua after getting clarification on prices we definitely decided Rhum was the go. It did require confirmation but a beer was 75P, a single Rhum and Coke was 60P, a double was 50P and a triple was 40P; Coca Cola is more expensive than the rum you see!

Rhum and Coke. You have to love the pricing.

How to make a dive industry? Coron to Romblon (February14 to Febuary 29).

April 2, 2012

From the number of people traveling about in Asia seeking the latest in dive sites you would have to assume that diving has become one of ‘the’ traveling attractions in this part of the world. It also seems that the very best way to lure multitudes of deep pocketed, narcosis seeking punters is to sink lots of ships, preferably as violently as possible! It worked at Truk in Micronesia where the American Navy during world war 2 sank a fleet of Japanese supply ships (operation Hailstone).  The Germans at the end of world war 1 provided a plethora of wreck dives at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) when they scuttled their fleet, but warm water is probably preferred if you want to attract the crowds! In Malaysia the Japanese did their best to support a future diving industry when they got stuck into the battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales just off Malaysia in the South China Sea; but they could have picked shallower water and arranged for the Prince of Wales to sink upright rather than upside down. At Bikini Atoll after the war the Americans were clearly planning ahead when they set about sinking or trying to sink half a fleet of captured warships and lots of unloved American ships no longer required after the cessation of hostilities. At Bikini however it was probably a bit of overkill using nuclear weapons to do it as a Geiger counter is not generally considered normal diving equipment (although there is every chance it will be included in the next possible PADI, specialty course, ‘Diving around radiological hazards’!!).

At Coron the Japanese seem to have had the best interests of future residents in mind when they moved their supply ships from Manila to Coron to avoid the depredations of American carrier aircraft. It seems they had got sick of losing ships in Manila and probably in a spirit of magnanimity decided to spread their future diving attractions around the Philippines where the ever obliging American Navy was more than happy to drop bombs on them. This happened on September 24, 1944 when dive bombers from carriers in Task Force 38.2 flew 350 miles across the Philippines from east of Leyte and sank 10 of the Japanese ships, the day after they arrived.  On this occasion they got everything pretty much right, water depth 20 to 40 metres, sheltered waters so nobody gets seasick, warm and tropical conditions, close to shore so nobody need travel far, wrecks close together and most of them big. To make things even better for intrepid yachties, the locals nowadays put a bouy on each end of the wreck and all one needs to do is tie up to one and jump in. If the locals are there with their boats (Banka(s)), you just tie up to their boat, if you are there first they just tie up to you and have maybe three or four boats hanging off the bouy.

We were in Coron for around ten days alternating between Coron and the wrecks and managed to dive on most of them whilst there. Great fun swimming around on bloody great artificial reefs covered in the usual tropical growth and fish. Big, open cargo holds, towering masts and derricks, cargos of war material all set for the Japanese army to build yet more fortifications (concrete, wire, tractors etc etc) with the biggest wreck the ‘Irako’, a 10,000 odd ton refrigerated, supply ship, upright and pretty much intact from the weather deck down; also the deepest at 40 metres to the bottom. The two smaller wrecks (probably submarine chasers/gunboats) are inshore near the surface and one can snorkel  around the pointy end of them, but the favourite for the  Gadfly crew would be the ‘Akitsushima’, a 5000 tonne, naval, seaplane tender laying on its side in 36 metres of water with bits blown apart and bullet holes in evidence.

Some of these ships had been salvaged after the war with engines and deck gear removed and a whole load of gear has presumably been taken away by enterprising, hardware seeking divers. Apparently up until two years ago it was a free for all on finding hardware to take home but the dive shops now frown upon people looking for the usual souvenirs that any self respecting wreck diver generally keeps an eye open for. Not that there is much chance in the charter, PADI world of diving for anything more adventurous than sightseeing, what with the dive-masters and instructors herding people around their usual circuit carefully holding hands. Of course diving on ones own gives much greater potential for looking ‘around’ but diving with a pinch-bar does make one stand out from the crowd; pinch-bars, hammers, cold chisels and lift bags not as a rule being included in the PADI world of wreck-diving courses. To avoid drawing the crabs the best course of action is probably to just dive when the masses have gone home but then the charter-boat, dive masters were very quick to assure us that the wrecks have been pretty well stripped and there is nothing to find anyway (there is of course plenty in the dive shops and associated bars). If one did find something like, maybe a porthole what you might do is use a cold chisel and hammer to turn the nuts off the bolts, or maybe break up the steel plate around the porthole and then break the ‘rivets’ holding the thing to the steel plate. To lift it you could use a lift bag (PVC watertight bag with webbing straps) or you might use ropes to lift the thing to the surface; if of course there was anything there to get given that the wrecks have been stripped!

After our shipwreck adventures we once again embarked on our push to windward with a 30 mile day hop pretty much north to Tara Island and a BBQ on the beach with Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ out of Tasmania and five years into their SE Asia travels. We had seen Ruby way back in the Andaman Islands and had also spent some time with them in Sabah. Whilst at Coron we also acquired more crew with Danish Maja after working in China joining us for the trip to Romblon. The trip across to Mindoro from Tara is only about forty miles, close hauled and hard work but at least relatively light. We stopped here at the bottom of Mindoro off Ambulong Island in a little bay next to the incomplete ‘Grace’ resort fully equipped with their own zoo, man-made waterfall and floating rooms; one wonders where the water will come from and a waterfall with desalinated doesn’t really seem terribly viable. From Ambulong we had a better angle for a day passage to Caluya Island in heavier conditions and a shore run to visit the local University campus. Next day it was off to the bright lights of Borocay, the tourist epicentre of the Philippines and the obligatory visit to immigration for a visa extension. We picked up a mooring for our four days inside the reef at Borocay, and after sculling about the cafes, bars, etc moved north on Feb22 still in company with Tim and Barb headed up the western side of Tablas Island across the top and easterly over to Romblon.

New hats for the lads!

Romblon is the place in the Philippines to buy marble statues, tables, stools, tiles etc etc and Simon and Amanda when here bought a flash marble basin for their boat; bummer we had no room for that spa! Ollie and Maja headed off here, braving the perils of the notorious Philippino ferry service, Maja to head for Malaysia and Ollie off to Russia to procure a sled and warm clothes to man-haul himself and sled across the ice of Lake Baikal!!!  After waving goodbye Sally and Trevor decided a trip around the island on motor-bikes to check out the marble statuary production was in order but we ended up at the local hospital instead after Sally and her motorcycle were both swallowed by a rather large hole conveniently located almost on the road where she was turning her motorbike around. Next day in the interests of good health we went by tricycle (motorbike – sidecar/shed combination), not as much fun but clearly, infinitely safer.

Kite boarding on the east of Borocay.

The local marble manufacturing on Romblon is something to behold, nothing like a three metre wide circular saw slicing through marble blocks being pushed effectively by hand past the blade; safety first! Here there be mountains of marble, literally with all manner of passed over statues and statue pieces being piled up behind the factories (well open air sheds). The carvers use lathes, grinders and saws to shape the statues then hand tools and hand labour to polish them. The older women down the road sit all day breaking large pieces of marble into smaller pieces to fill holes on the road (lots of them); here they do it tough.

Safety first!!!

On 29Feb we picked up our anchor and headed south-east for Sibuyan and then on to Port Carmen and Cebu. Top of the list of things to do at Cebu is to pick up a part for the autohelm, the solenoid-clutch having given up back in Borocay. On the bright side the non-functioning autohelm gave Trevor the motivation to wire up the still brand-new tiller pilot and strap it to the wind-vane. On the weather, the wind is still east, definitely the way of things here.

Task Group 38.2 and how to provide future diving attractions!

The losses of the IJN at Coron Bay between 24 Sep and 9 Oct 1944 were caused by AG (Air Group) 18, AG 19 and AG 31. AG 18 departed from Pearl Harbor on 15 Aug 1944 aboard U.S.S. Intrepid CV-11, AG 31 on U.S.S. Cabot CVL-28. In company with U.S.S. Enterprise CV-6,  U.S.S. Bunker Hill CVL-25 and various escorts they were to form Task Group TG 38.2

On 23 Sep reports from Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions revealed unusual enemy activities in the Calamian Island Group, south-west of Mindoro. AG 18 and AG 19 each received orders to equip 12 Curtiss SB2C-3 “Helldiver” bombers with wing tanks and to send them out on a fighter-bomber attack on Japanese shipping in and around Coron Bay. The planes from AG 18 were to carry two 500-pound bombs each. The planes of AG 19 carried a single 1,000 pound / 454 kg bomb. These “Helldivers” were the latest models already fitted with the APG-4 automatic low-level bombing system. In the dive bombing role these planes dove at their target until they had the ship centered in their Mark VIII gunsight and released their bomb(s) at 2,000 feet (600 m.) altitude. Hellcat fighters were also ordered for this attack, some to provide fighter escort and some were armed with bombs to attack the shipping. As a “fighter bomber” the F6F Hellcats would also dive on their target and center it in their gunsight before releasing their bomb. AG 31 was one of the units ordered to provide fighter escort.

Mark Zalick led AG 18`s bomber group VB-18. Taking off at dawn, they surprised 15 Japanese ships in the Bay, the Coron Passage and just west of Coron Island. Ships ranged in size from small freighters to 15,000 ton tankers.

Commander R. McGowan led AG 19’s bombing squadron VB 19 on this raid. Twelve SB2Cs took off but two had to return to the ship. One bomber had engine trouble and another had a fuel system malfunction and couldn’t draw fuel from its’ external wing tanks. Only 10 of the squadron’s planes made the 332 mile flight to Busuanga Island.

It was only after the first American strikes on Palau in early September 1944 that Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Combined Fleet, realized that a fleet of almost 40 supply vessels had been anchored in Manila Bay or moored in Manila harbor. When TF 38.2 started their strikes against enemy shipping around Luzon in the second week of September, Japanese shipping in Manila harbor suffered severe damage, and numerous Japanese ships were sunk. Toyoda advised Field Marshall Terauchi, commander of the Japanese Southern Army to transfer all supply ships to Coron Bay which had served as a secure assembly place in the past. Terauchi was reluctant to make this decision. When he finally gave orders on 21/22 September 1944 to relocate the vessels he had already sacrificed 15 ships which were bombed and sunk in Manila Bay by repeated air strikes from TF 38.2.

Kogyo Maru (Auxilliary Supply Ship, IJN/Navy)

After she had survived TF 38`s air attacks on Japanese shipping in Manila Bay and Harbor on 21 Sep 1944 she received sailing order to transfer to Coron Bay and weighed anchor at 1730 the same day. She arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1540 and the night was spent in trying to camouflage bridge and main deck. In the morning of 24 Sep at 0900 she was attacked by U.S. dive-bombers. After she had received several bomb hits the vessel sank with 39 men.

Okikawa Maru (Civilian oiler)

Okikawa Maru arrived in Coron Bay on 23 Sep 1800 and dropped anchor near the town of Concepcion and was attacked at 0855 on 24 September. The first two or more groups just strafed Okikawa Maru and continued to head for the seaplane tender Akitsushima anchored a few cables to the West. At 0910 the dive-bombers scored numerous hits and the vessel began to sink. Three gunners and 5 or 6 sailors were dead. The rest of the crew abandoned the ship.

Olympia Maru (Army cargo ship)

On 24 Sep around 0900 the Olympia Maru had weighed anchor and while trying to evade the attacking planes direct hits to the engine room caused an explosion of the oil tank on the port side. Fire spread after another bomb went through the engine room and with the engine stopped, another series of bombs hit the galley and cargo holds. At 1330 fire spread all over the ship bending the mid-ship section. At 1426 the ship sank by the stern taking 14 crewmen, 3 gunners and 2 passengers.

IJNS Irako: (Navy Provision Store Ship/Reefer)

The Irako arrived in Coron Bay around 22 Sep 1944 and tried to hide her presence between Tangat and Lusong Island. On the morning of 24 Sep a number of fighter bombers of Airgroup 31 expended their bombs on the vessel. Their first strike scored direct hits into the midship section. Set ablaze on the bridge superstructure Irako began to sink by the bow.

IJNS Akitsushima: (Navy Seaplane Tender)

The vessel had suffered minor damage inflicted by U.S. air attacks near Buka Island on 1 Sep 1942 and received two direct bomb hits during “Operation Hailstorm” in Truk Lagoon on 17 Feb 1944. After being repaired in Japan she was back in service by July/August 1944. Akitsushima arrived in Coron Bay almost at same time as Irako and anchored in the narrow sound separating Lajo Island and Manglet Island. Strafed by Lt. (J.G.) Tuaspern and his wing she was first mistaken to be a destroyer escort (DE). VB-18 later scored one direct hit into the aft part of the vessel causing a tremendous explosion most likely of the AVGAS (aviation gasoline) fuel tanks for the flying boat.

She capsized within a few minutes and sank in position 11deg; 59` 20″N / 119deg; 58` 15″E.

The Amihan and winter in the Philippines. Tour B! Puerto Princessa to Coron. January 08 to February 03

February 20, 2012

In the Philippines the southwest monsoon of May to October is known as “Habagat” and is characterized by hot and humid weather, frequent heavy rainfall, and a prevailing wind from the west. In winter the dry winds of the northeast monsoon, November through April, are known as the “Amihan” and bring strong easterly weather and little rain. The term ‘monsoon’ itself is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in rain, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in wind and rain associated with changes in season from summer to winter. The term ‘monsoon’ was first used in English in British India and neighbouring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. As a general rule, the Philippines’ Amihan weather pattern begins sometime in September or October and ends sometime in May or June; this does however vary year to year.

According to the meteorologists, monsoons can be called large-scale sea breezes brought about by differential heating of land masses compared to oceanic water bodies.  Water is much more effective at ‘absorbing’ heat than the land meaning that the surface of land-masses heat up quicker than oceans. Hot air over the land tends to rise, creating an area of low pressure and this creates a steady wind blowing toward the land; bringing the moist near-surface air over the oceans with it (the air over the oceans being full of water vapour). This means that during summer when the land is being heated in a big way, moist air flows off the oceans and when hitting elevated  land masses, rises and cools (orographic lifting), forming clouds and rain (just ask the Indians about the Himalayas and rain during their summer monsoon). In winter when the land stops getting heated quite so effectively, the oceans are still hot from summer meaning that wind direction reverses flowing off the land masses; hence seasonal changes in wind direction. In effect for this part of the world, the land mass of Eurasia gets hot enough in summer for convection to overcome the more routine ‘trade wind’ direction of air flow. Monsoons are therefore similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring to the localized, daily cycle of wind changes near coastlines, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and seasonal.

Of course things are a bit more complex than this with ‘coriolis’ deflection turning moving air masses in a ‘circular’ manner and in discrete masses known as ‘Hadlee’ convection cells; coriolis deflection resulting from us living on the surface of a rotating globe and being the process leading to water turning as it goes down the plug-hole. In the northern hemisphere the deflection is to the right resulting in ‘sub-tropical high pressure’ systems moving west to east in middle latitudes with air rotating cyclonically or in a clockwise direction. These high pressure systems pass above the Philippines and sailors in this part of the world see the descending arm of these as stiff ENE or NE winds lasting for several days followed by, if one is lucky, a few days of light conditions. Also and sadly for those trying to move north-east and especially east, these easterlies produce an awful, close and very steep sea that makes sailing to windward an exercise of near futility during the Amihan. Unfortunately moving north and north-east with the summer Habagat and south-westerlies means running the risk of encountering one of the ubiquitous ‘typhoons’ (for those hailing from more antipodean waters read that as cyclone) that race across the Philippines every summer.

From Puerto Princessa to the top of Palawan is around 150 miles and pretty well all NE. From the top of Palawan on the western side there is a 20 mile SW hop down to El Nido but of course this needs to be made up when headed once again north. From Puerto all the way to Borocay some 350 miles away to the east trying to work against the prevailing was to be the way of things and the further north you go, the stronger the winds seem to get; but such is life in the tropics and there are of course other dilemmas.

Dumaran Island is 90 miles from Puerto with an overnight stop in the pass between Dumaran and the much larger Palawan to the west. We were running all the way up the Palawan east coast inside the reefs with indicated channels that are not unreasonably, completely blocked by pearl farms. From the water these farms present as miles of bouys and ropes connected in an impenetrable maze that seems to defy passage and inside Dumaran everything appeared to be completely blocked. Of course there usually is a way through but these ‘clear’ channels are not as indicated on the charts and they are marked with bouys one really needs a telescope to find. The approach seems to be local knowledge and somewhere in the hectares of little black bouys there is usually a couple of security guards on a small ‘Banka’ (narrow pointy boat with a bamboo outrigger on each side) that will point in the appropriate direction. The other option is keep going until you find the gap between the bouys and land and watch your depth sounder carefully. We had already come across some of these navigation ‘aids’ back south near Bugsuk but the further north we travelled the more breathtaking they became.

After three nights and one good sail near the top of Palawan the weather of course went very light for our southward sojourn twenty miles to El Nido and anchor at Coron Coron. We were back into Karst country here, reminiscent of Phang Nga bay in Thailand but without the tourists. Great place El Nido, with the usual stunning Karst islands fully equipped with ‘Hongs’ in the middle. Here though the hongs have more western names such as, ‘Big Lagoon’, ‘Small Lagoon’, (not so) ‘Secret Beach’ and ‘Cathedral Cave’. The locals here run fairly laid back, daily, island hopping ‘tours’ to see the sights but without the teeming masses we were familiar with out in the Andaman Sea; you pretty much get the places to oneself. In chatting to the locals we found a place in the little squatters village nearby where they would do our laundry. Funny that they managed to use all of our laundry detergent on ten pieces of clothing but when we left all of the villagers clothes seemed to have a lovely lemon scent!

We had a couple of trips out to the islands taking in the sights and a few more days chilling out around El Nido and seeing the more local attractions. Ollie here introduced us to the joy of following Arsenal in the English Premier League with very late nights watching soccer matches. Being the artistic type Jamie produced our long thought over t-shirt design and we had the locals at the ‘Art café’ print boat t-shirts; Sally insisted on a girly design and questioned some aspects of the artwork. Finally and after ten days at El Nido we slipped away on the 31st to start once again our sojourn against the Amihan headed towards Coron and some shipwreck diving.

Coron is only about 85 miles away from El Nido but with the north-easterlies the 85 miles can be a pain so it was pray for light weather and move as quick as the prevailing winds allow. First night was 40 odd miles into a bay at the NE tip of Linpacan Island arriving at dusk after working around the edge of yet more pearl farms. Next day was a lunch stop at an island with the most unlikely name of Binalabag Island and then a short hop into an anchorage at the top of Dicabaito anchorage at the base of Culion Island. The islands all through this area are quite stunning and without the rampant development we had previously seen through Thailand and some of Malaysia; makes one wonder if this was what Thailand was like before tourist development got out of hand? Next morning was a 20 mile northerly run up the west coast of Culion and into the Coron Channel for another 20 miles into Coron, the largest town in the Calamian group. There are about a dozen wrecks in the Calamians courtesy of the Americans giving the Japanese an exercise in aerial diplomacy during world war 2. These are easy to find (marked) and had Trevor somewhat interested requiring we have a look at two of the smaller wrecks on the way in. Next day we went to anchor on Feb03 in the middle of the dive tour ‘bankas’, outside the reef off the Seadive resort and in for a meal with the shipwreck diving multitudes.

Interesting observation since leaving Puerto is the number of Asian tourists in the Philippines. Interesting too is their apparent take on travelling. Sylvia and Ms Chan were two Chinese taking four days in El Nido while on holidays away from China during the Chinese New Year. So what are you up to while in El Nido? Tour B! What’s that? Tour B, tour C today, tour B tomorrow. Oh yea, where does it go? From the beach, 9 o’clock, tour B. Okay sounds good!

Hadlee Convection Cells; named after George Hadlee.

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