Thunderstorms off Borneo, Danga Bay to Kuching; June19 – July 09

Danga Bay

Well, many apologies for being somewhat off the program with the blog and at this point a couple of months behind in keeping those interested informed of progress. The boat is, as this blogger types, located in the ‘Santubong River’ near Kuching in western Sarawak; read that as western Borneo. The delay in reporting in was in part due to an extended absence away from the boat involving trips in aeroplanes to various parts of the world but primarily Melbourne for Trevor to do the family thing and visit Dad and Brione (the 11 year old daughter). Of course leaving boats on their own and not turning things on and off routinely usually involves all manner of things breaking down or at least refusing to function as originally intended; fridge, raw water pump, instruments etc etc.  So, after fixing all the things that used to work and replacing some rigging that was due for repair anyway, we got away on June19 headed for eastern Malaysia and then Borneo.

Johor for dinner. Trevor and Bruce (off Aria).

On board for this part of the ongoing expedition were Brazilian Flavia and Tracey from California. First night out was at a little island (Pulau Merambong) just outside the Johor Strait and only two and a half hours from Danga Bay. Next day was a spectacular 52 mile motor through the thousands of ships that live at anchor here and call the Singapore Strait home. It is just unbelievable how many ships there are parked outside Singapore, they just go on and on and don’t stop until one turns the corner at the eastern end of the strait and heads north; it would seem to be by all the appearances just the place to park ones ship.  Perhaps in the shipping world you just aren’t anybody unless you have a least one ship parked out the front of Singapore or in the immediate area, seems that way.


Tracey, P. Tinggi.

So after an eventful morning of dodging ships at anchor, weaving our way past the moving variety and even spotting one big tub aground we dropped our pick at Bukit Pengerang at the eastern end of the Johor Strait just past the Naval Station; interesting exercise going in though as our somewhat out of date charts weren’t aware of the extent to which new land is industriously being made in this part of the world and the entrance channel here was about a half a mile east of where the chart suggested.

Sneaking past a very big ship; not at anchor!

Bad day for somebody!

Singapore from the water.

Next day bright and early it was off to dodge yet more ships and then turn north at Selat Lima. This was a 48 mile hop to ‘Jason’s Bay’ (wonder who Jason was) parked off the local Kampong, Kampong being a village of course around here. On the way up we procured some crayfish from the local fishermen (as you do) and put together crayfish pasta for dinner; hard life as they say. Our program of day hopping continued the following morning with a move up to Pulau Tinggi where we anchored in a bay on the north side of this extinct volcanoe/island. Nice anchorage with jungle running all the way down to the water and best of all no waves and rocking boat. Next morning it was on to Pulau Tioman (Pulau being island) where we managed to get a berth for two days on the emergency pontoon at the flash but small and new marina. Nice island Tioman and we stopped here for 5 nights either in or near the marina and one night out at the little islands about 5 miles off-shore where we did the diving and snorkelling thing.

Buying crayfish.

P. Tinggi

Leaving Tinggi.

Tioman receding.

Pirates cafe, on the beach Tioman.


Of course a much longer passage now beckoned with a 400 mile jaunt across the South-China Sea headed for Kuching or rather the Santubong River about 26 km from Kuching proper. After a lecture from customs about the correct procedure for clearances (seems to vary depending on who you talk to really) and a last night and meal at the ‘Pirates Bar’ on the beach, we pulled up our trusty CQR at half past ten (2230 for the more nautically inclined) and with no moon, a clear night and the stars shining we headed off for our four days at sea; and lack of wind.  Well there was some wind but mostly a little bit nosy requiring motor sailing close hauled on starboard (enough of the rocky motion to have the girls a bit green) and this dropped out after 48 hours anyway. Our route had us skirting around the south of the ‘Anambas’ group of Indonesian islands where the pundits say “ther there be pirates”, and then on a direct course a point south of east for the headland 50 miles NW of the entrance to the Santubong (Tanjung Datu). Pretty uneventful trip except for the occasional dodgy looking fishing boats that seemed interested in us (paranoia probably) and of course the obligatory sodding great thunderstorm.

That squall!

We had as a matter of routine it seems been on the receiving end of a couple of these noisy meteorological events on our way up from the Selat Lima but this last one was somewhat reminiscent of the bugger that got us way back off Malacca.  Anyway we could see it coming and building from about three in the afternoon and  had the boat well and truly snugged down in tense anticipation of what the weather gods and in particular Thor may have been lining up for us. This involved the usual rapid wind shifts, breeze generally north of 30 knots but shifting all over the place, the obligatory spectacular lightning displays and of course the maritime equivalent of Angel Falls. So with no moon, torrential rain, darkness and visibility of about 5 metres we looked for clear water and hove to for about an hour or at least until we had enough visibility to have a chance at spotting the ubiquitous fishing boats with weird lights. We eventually got moving and in the dark whilst peering fretfully at the lighthouse on  Tanjung Datu we slipped around the headland at about midnight and in still shite visibility sloped off for the Santubong; keeping to about 3 knots to make sure we got in with some daylight.  This we did on the change of the tide around 0800 and finally went to anchor at 1200 after an 85 hour passage.

Approaching the Santubong.

Mt. Santubong.

It really is manifestly unfair, at the end of the passage we get nailed by the biggest squall of the month and only 50 miles from port; no justice really.  Simon of course rings to ask “did you get caught in the squall” and Daryl and farmer Dave who are here went to great lengths to tell us how bad it was; yea, really????

Anchorage Santubong River from Mt Santubong.

Mt Santubong at the top.

So here we are at Santubong/Kuching riding motor bikes, checking out the Orangutans, going out to some little islands with the locals, water skiing and checking out the turtle conservation program , climbing Mount Santubong and tomorrow (09July) going to the ‘Rainforest Music Festival’; the latter being a big event here it seems! The music festival is apparently the biggest tourism event in Sarawak and according to the locals this is the fourteenth year. Should probably be called the ‘Forest Regrowth Festival’ but it does provide a great opportunity for people to bang on lots of drums.  Here you get to listen to musical ‘fusions’ like, combining Irish, Polynesian and Maori; yea that’s right, god knows why but the hippies love it.  Bang those drums!!

Barbecues on beaches.

In the river here there are pink dophins and crocodiles, haven’t seen any yet but swimming seems ill advised! The fishermen here will sell you cheap crayfish for barbecues and the anchorage is dead flat; gotta love that.  On the crayfish, they don’t pot for them but rather run gill nets for the little buggers that hang around near the bottom of the river like biggish prawns, every restaurant seems to have acouple of hundred of them in a large aquarium.

The 'Rain Forest Music festival'!

The Orangutans we have seen are in a wildlife refuge which is just as well as the locals here, or rather the well connected business types, are hell bent on chopping down almost every vestige of rain forest that is accessible for timber production; some things may never change until too late. Kuching itself is a nice place with around half a million people and there are statues of cats everywhere, Kuching meaning something like cat-city. Mount Santubong hangs directly over our anchorage inspiring awe every time we look up and climbing it is quite a challenge.  It is generally speaking up and steep all the way, the last 600 metres being up almost all of the way via ropes and vertical ladders; yep, straight up the side of the thing was bit difficult in thongs.

Fishing port outside Kuching.

Orangutan families.


Bloody Monkeys!!!!

The musical bunk thing and crew change goes on here with Tracey off to do land stuff and a couple of Trevor’s friends from Sydney coming along for a week and through to Miri (about 300 miles east). We are looking at getting away on Monday with a stop around at the Bako National Park and then day hops and an overnighter through to Miri.

I wonder who might chop down the last tree in Borneo; poor Orangutans!

Hmmmm!!! One does wonder at times!


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