Posts Tagged ‘sailing adventure’

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.

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Sunrise at Melville island.

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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)

Metana

Metana

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

Hot

Hot

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.

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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!

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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

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Port Douglas on the piles.

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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.

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!

Tagbilaran.

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 Pirate Wind; Lahud Datu to Sandakan, October 30 – November 07

November 10, 2011

Piracy is only a sea term for robbery, piracy being a robbery committed within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty. If any man be assaulted within the jurisdiction and his ship or goods violently taken away without legal authority, this is robbery and piracy.” Later, “…to the most remote parts of the world; so that if any person whatsoever, native or foreigner, Christian or Infidel, Turk or Pagan, with whose country we have no war …. shall be robbed or spoiled in the Narrow Seas, the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Southern or any other seas …. either on this or the other side of the line, it is piracy within the limits of your enquiry and the cognisance of this court.” (Sir Charles Hedges, Judge of the High Court of (British) Admiralty, October 13. 1696).

In the 18th – 19th centuries in the waters around Borneo and especially in the waters of the Celebes, Sulu and South China Seas, a tradition of piracy developed that was so widespread it became quite the local, major industry. By all accounts it was also practised in such a violent and homicidal manner as to make your Spanish Main buccaneers (Pirates of the Caribbean) appear to be quite well behaved. Most everybody was involved in some way it seems as one was either or a pirate or not a pirate and if you weren’t a pirate then you were likely to be robbed, killed or enslaved by pirates, or get paid by pirates. It also became a major source of income for the various Sultanates, especially the Sulu and Bruneii Kingdoms where even their own people could be captured by pirates, have ransoms paid to obtain release then shortly after be taken again by other pirates; with commissions paid to ‘Government’ Officials. If a captive couldn’t obtain a release ransom they would almost certainly be sold into slavery. Bruneii nobles would buy slaves from one set of pirates while Bruneii people would be captured and enslaved by other pirate groups. If there was no room for slaves, captives might be hacked to death, decapitated, buried alive, burnt or killed by whatever methods of despatch the pirates dreamed up at the time. Killing with their swords or ‘Kris’ was a favoured option however as the wielder of the scythe got to put little brass or gold rivets on their weapon; numbers here were important.

Amongst the Sulu pirates it was said, “To catch a fish is hard, but it is easy to catch a Bruneii”. Piracy became eventually so entrenched in the Sulu kingdom to the north-east of Borneo, that the easterly winds that followed the SW monsoon became known in Bruneii as ‘The Pirate Wind’, as the pirate sailing vessels moved out of the Sulu sea toward Bruneii following the prevailing winds. One does gather however that in this part of the world and at the time, that the term might just as easily be applied to the SW monsoon by people who lived to the NE! Just a matter of perspective really.

Not that there weren’t many tribal groups that weren’t involved in some way.  The Illanun and Balanini from Mindanau and the Sulu Archipelago were the biggest protagonists (with help from the Bajaus) but eventually many of the local river and sea  ‘Dayaks’ also became involved after serving apprenticeships in the Malayan war ‘prahus’. These Prahus would range from the Philippines to Sumatra to far NE Malaysia, often in fleets of up to 200 and in journeys such as circumnavigations of Island Borneo. They would prey on shipping and boats of all sorts, local foreign, large and small, at times challenge foreign warships (perhaps inadvisably) and also raid onshore for whatever was available and for slaves.  On Balambangan, an island just north of Kudat and in 1775 a Sulu pirate chief  ‘Datu Tating’ a first cousin of the Sultan even led a pirate attack and destroyed a British military settlement and stockade. The Dayaks of course applied their more bloodthirsty traditions to piracy with considerable enthusiasm and were just as happy hacking off peoples heads (anybody at all) as they were collecting swag.

While various foreign governments tried with limited success to reign in piracy in their various colonial realms, in Borneo it wasn’t until Sir James Brooke became the first white Rajah of Sarawak in1839 that the scale of piracy began to wane. Rajah Brooke exercised the standard levels of British diplomacy for the time and with help from Admiral Cochrane and the Royal Navy, Singapore squadron gave the pirates a lesson in ‘strength through superior firepower. While the Sulu Archipelago was left to the Spanish, the pirate strongholds in the river ports of Sabah, Sarawak and Bruneii succumbed in succession to the latest advances in colonial diplomacy involving, guns, cannons and soldiers.  The actual city of Bruneii also proved quite reluctant to withdraw from the financial benefits associated with piracy and in 1846 the Sultan was given an abject lesson in gunboat diplomacy!

Like elsewhere, piracy of course was never totally wiped out in this part of the world and piratical attacks have continued in various forms up to current times. We have in our sailing endeavours been hearing all forms of expression of concern from locals here, primarily telling us that we are very ‘brave’. However, while the locals tell us that there have been two attacks on shipping nearby this year we have yet to hear of any attacks on yachties in the recent past. To be honest there is not really that much to steal from the average yachtie, a couple of radios perhaps, some cameras and rice maybe; hardly compares to a cargo ship or shipping containers full of all sorts of good things. There were the attacks on tourist divers at Sipidan down past Semporna in 2000 where the locals from the Sulu archipelago decided to resurrect their forebears more questionable concepts of commerce. The result of this little incursion, robbery, abduction and murder, standard program really for your average ‘Moro’ pirate, is a police and military presence that is almost overwhelming. We were overflown twice by military surveillance aircraft near the Kinabatangan mouth on the way around from Lahud Datu and photographed by police while at anchor one morning.

Lahud Datu itself was we are told something of a pirate stronghold for years and the ‘Lonely Planet’ warns people about the perils of the seafaring life here; one wonders if the travel writer at the time even got on a boat or just listened to apophrical stories from locals. There are the stories of ten years ago pirates armed with automatic weapons robbing the bank at Lahud Datu and one of the teachers at the school on Tambisan tells us that the pirates made an attack on Tambisan in the nineties; wonder what they wanted from Tambisan, there isn’t a great deal there?

All things considered though, the Sulu Archipelago and Southern Mindanao are not on our list of places we are going to visit; there probably still be pirates there of some sort!

We got away from Lahud Datu on the 31st and on glassy seas motored to Tungku Vil, a sort of point with an inlet 38 miles to the east. Hot here so swimming and bombing demonstrations were the order of the day including British ‘back-slappers’ from Lucy and a face plant from Trevor. Dent haven was next 30 odd miles east and north leaving Darvil Bay. Next morning bright and early it was off from Dent to our old haunt of Tambisan and a look around at the local school and recently painted pre-school.  Simon here offered Trevor’s services to talk to the grade sixers in English (or at least Australian) and the teachers took this seriously enough that next morning all four of us sallied forth for our cultural interaction with Tambisan’s brightest. This excursion was undertaken under some difficulty after our Melbourne Cup celebrations and cocktail party of the previous evening.  For the record, Simon won the sweep while Trevor got second and third. Back at the school, after having the students all join in a rousing rendition of Waltzing Matilda and discussing why we would want to travel so far on little boats off we went to watch the launch of the latest initiative in English teaching, a mandatory 33 minutes of communal reading.

The teachers tell us that it is obligatory for them to video proceedings and submit the video to the central education department for verification, it seems they are serious about their English teaching. The school here serves locals from a few nearby communities including some more permanent, Bajau groups who commute, quite appropriately, on boats. It seems that in spite of their stateless nature the school on Tambisan still takes them in, unlike Mabul where they are not allowed to attend the school.  The Bajau here have taken up residence along waterways in more permanent fishing communities and apparently they get by bartering with their fish for whatever else they need.

After our introduction to the Malaysian education system it was back to the boats in anticipation of a visit from the grade sixers who were dead keen to get a look inside the weird boats parked in their river; the strange white peoples boats come and go but none of the locals had ever seen the inside of one. So there we were giving the boys and girls of Tambisan a tour through our boats along with one of the teachers, the local boatman and one of the kids dads who happened to be passing by on his boat. They especially liked playing with the VHF radio and the chart plotter (lots of pretty pictures there) while the girls were fascinated with the on-board toilets. From Tambisan it was on to Dewhurst Bay and a revisit with the proboscis monkeys, then a 35 mile hop back to Sandakan to revisit the yacht club at Sandakan. Time for some new batteries, other boat fixes, a crew change and maybe a clearance to head direct to the Philippines.

Moro Pirates

The Moro Pirates, also known as the Sulu Pirates, were Muslim outlaws of the southern Philippines who engaged in frequent acts of piracy, primarily against the Spanish, beginning in the late 16th century. Because of the continual wars between Spain and the Moro people, the areas in and around the Sulu Sea became a haven for piracy which was not suppressed until the beginning of the 20th century. The pirates should not be confused with the naval forces or privateers of the various Moro tribes. However, many of the pirates operated under government saction during time of war.

The pirate ships used by the Moros were known as proa, or garays, and they varied in design. The majority were wooden sailing galleys about ninety feet long with a beam of ten feet. They carried around fifty to 100 crewmen. Moros usually armed their vessels with three swivel guns, called lelahs or lantakas, and occasionally a heavy cannon, proas were very fast and the pirates would prey on merchant ships becalmed in shallow water as they passed through the Sulu Sea. Slave trading and raiding was also very common, the pirates would assemble large fleets of proas and attack coastal towns. Hundreds of Christians were captured and imprisoned over the centuries, many were used a galley slaves aboard the pirate ships.

Other than muskets and rifles, the Moro pirates, as well as the navy sailors and the privateers, used a sword called the kris with a wavy blade incised with blood channels. The wooden or ivory handle was often heavily ornamented with silver or gold. The type of wound inflicted by its blade makes it difficult to heal. The kris was used often used in boarding a vessel. Moros also used a kampeli, another sword, a knife, or barong and a spear, made of bamboo and an iron spearhead. The Moro’s swivel guns were not like more modern guns used by the world powers but were of a much older technology, making them largely innacurate, especially at sea. Lantakas dated back to the 1500s and were up to six feet long, requiring several men to lift one. They fired up to a half-pound cannon ball or grape shot. A lantaka was bored by hand and were sunk into a pit and packed with dirt to hold them in a vertical position. The barrel was then bored by a company of men walking around in a circle to turn drill bits by hand.

The Spanish engaged the Moro pirates frequently in the 1840s. The expedition to Balanguingui in 1848 was carried out by Brigadier José Ruiz and a fleet of nineteen small warships and hundreds of Spanish Army troops. They were opposed by at least 1,000 Moros held up in four forts with 124 cannons and plenty of small arms. There were also dozens of proas at Balanguingui but the pirates abandoned their ships for the better defended fortifications. The Spanish stormed three of the positions by force and captured a remaining one after the pirates had retreated. Over 500 prisoners were freed in the operation and over 500 Moros were killed or wounded, they also lost about 150 of their proas. The Spanish lost twenty-two men killed and around 210 wounded. The pirates later reoccupied the island in 1849 and another expedition was sent but they encountered only light resistance

Also in the 1840s, James Brooke became the White Rajah of Sarawak and he led a small navy in a series of campaigns against the Moro pirates. In 1843 Brooke attacked the pirates of Malludu and in June of 1847 the rajah participated in a major battle with pirates at Balanini where dozens of proas were captured or sunk. Brooke fought in several more anti-piracy actions in 1849 as well. During one engagement with Illanun Sulus in 1862, Captain John Brooke, the Raja Mudah of Sarawak, sank four proas, out of six engaged, by ramming them with his small four gun steamer Rainbow. Each pirate ship had over 100 crewmen and galley slaves aboard and all were armed with three brass swivel guns. Brooke lost only a few men killed or wounded while at least 100 pirates were killed or wounded.


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