Monday, August 15, 2011
Since our last blog, we have been in a Race (the Borneo International Yacht Challenge, whee haa!!), into a wonderful mountain nature reserve (Mount Kinabalu), had a period with an awful lot of troubles, and been up a lovely river (Sungai Kinabatangan). So that’s what this next story is all about….
A Race….. The Borneo International Yacht Challenge (BIYC)
(Also entitled: Much Ado About Nothing…. Or, getting long-winded about being short of wind)
The BIYC is an annual yachting series that takes place with short inshore races in Miri and Kota Kinabalu(KK) and a long offshore race between these two cities of the states Sarawak and Sabah. Cruisers participating in the Sail Malaysia Rally are cajoled into joining to swell the numbers because, although there are some strong entrants (ie real racers) to these races (maybe…. 2?), there are so few it would be an embarrassment to the organisers. In this case, “cajole” means give dinners and a free night in a hotel…. So cruising yachties are THERE!!
In fact, even amongst our rally group there are some country-record holders (and a world..... the guys with the long-drop toilet, from the last blog!). These guys all took it seriously, unpacking all they could from their boats to have it transported overland to KK for collection after racing was finished. Not for them, racing with the extra weight of a dinghy, generator, washing machine, 8 jerry cans of extra fuel / water, compressor, dive tanks..!
Well, what a learning experience this all was for us, the Ketoro crew. These are SAILING races. Not motoring. No engines allowed. But wind is required to sail, and there was no wind. We on Ketoro like wind, and if there is no wind, we have two engines which we usually use...
Day 1.... Round-the-buoys race just outside the Miri Marina. Boats had to go off in batches, according to class, with catamarans in the second batch, 5 min between batches. Imagine 40 boats milling around and meandering in and out of others’ way to get themselves in a good place to speed off at the start but not bashing into each other. And 4 min from the start no engines allowed. And no wind.
Ketoro crew had as biggest concerns...1: don't bash people, 2: don't get in the way of a serious fellow and be called in front of the committee in protest. So our strategy was to start at the back of our group. Therefore we were some way back (and very far from the start line) when we got the 4 minute signal - and switched off engines. In our cruising, we have never practised getting somewhere under sail with no wind (rule has always been to switch on engines at 4 knots or slower), so it was with great interest we found that.... You don't. Or rather, it is excruciatingly slow.
The summary of this race is as follows: call was given for multihull engines to go off and start approaching the start line; Ketoro sits like a sloth in the water; Ketoro reaches the start line 15 minutes later, then the tide almost pushes her into collision with the starter boat / committee boat at the start line (no wind to use to get away); Ketoro happily retires from the race when other cruisers start calling in the same intention. Go get a beer.
Day 2.... 170 mile race from Miri to KK. In these passage races, you may start your engines 30 minutes after the start, but incur penalties, and must write down on-and-off times and positions very diligently to hand in to the organisers at the end. Sailors try not to motor at all; we had 48 hours to get to KK.
Picture the start... As before, but this time we were EXPERIENCED! So this time it only took us about 5 minutes to get to the start line, and we were off (well, snail-style), jostling for position with these two boats.
Two good things... we caught a great 3 foot plus Spanish Mackerel that fed us for ages, and also we have learned a fair amount about what we CAN do with the boat with no wind, which we had never allowed ourselves the chance to attempt. However, after a while you throw in the towel to keep your sanity, so we then motor- sailed another 18 hours to the end, as fast as we could … got in exhausted and exceedingly hot, with blinding headache.
Now we come to the funny bit…. We came second in this passage race!!! Nobody was more surprised than us, but some of the big guys gave up on the no wind and went shopping at a duty-free island en route, and it seems we actually sailed quite well too! Interestingly, one of those that shed load and boat contents to keep boat weight down, also discarded almost all his fuel... Resulting in them running out of fuel, and another boat sailing at the back (also a serious racer) having to wait and help them out.
The rest of the races at KK were an echo of day 1 (short races, no wind…) so we decided we had found our niche…. Long distance… and would sit those out!
A Mountain: Mount Kinabalu National Park
So the race had taken us to Kota Kinabalu (KK, in Sabah state), a city with nothing to show of its history since it had been flattened almost entirely during WWII.
A Lot Of Trouble: boat bothers and a burglary
There is a mantra in cruising that says: Don’t make plans, because they will not work out. Well, we continue to challenge this …. And have again been taught the lesson!
We left KK with a week-long trip to Sandakan (also in Sabah state)to look forward to, entering the Sulu Sea on the east of Borneo for the first time, in which we were going to sail manageable legs daily, anchor and rest and mostly MAKE BIG DECISIONS AND PLANS ABOUT OUR SAILING IN THE SHORT- AND LONG TERM.
With such anticipation, we set off and were not too disturbed when on the first evening we could not drop the mainsail, eventually managed (much associated stress) and Irene spent the last few hours of daylight up the mast doing repair work.
On the second day we were more disturbed when the water pump of one engine died and we had to get much further than anticipated, to borrow a makeshift spare part, thus anchoring at dusk where the spare-bearing yachtie friend was anchored. Rolf worked on the engine (under our bunk, hence the S/B hull was turned upside down) till 10pm, setting up a system that would carry us to Sandakan where we hoped to find someone who could supply spares, do some welding and also order a new pump.
Off to shower… and the fresh-water pump died. Now we could not get water out of any of our taps, but luckily we had two 25l jerry cans for emergencies. Not so… They had sprung leaks and were empty. The water pump is housed in the tiny space behind the freezer… remove freezer frame, remove freezer, remove pump, squeeze in and get to work. No joy. Get to bed, utterly exhausted, bruised and demoralised (and dirty and hot and smelly…. But the sea is wet and cool).
The next day Irene did the sailing as Rolf worked on the pump, and by sundown we had water. We anchored off an island (really beautiful but too exhausted to go on shore) and set off the next day to get to Sandakan. On this trip Rolf worked on the S/B toilet (also not functioning) … this task eventually took about 24 hours of solid work (including hugely fun stuff like clean out toilet discharge pipes and black-water tank and put in new plumbing: photo below shows Rolf squeezed in a locker alongside the black-water tank, sponging up the brown stuff that came out of said tank….) before he improvised a temporary solution.
There is a superstition in sailing that says: Do not embark on a voyage on a Friday. We had left KK on a Friday. Let’s not go there….
A River: Sungai Kinabatangan
The famous diverse wildlife of the 560km Kinabatangan River and its floodplains attracted us to attempt a trip up the river in Ketoro – well, to about 80km upriver, at which point there are power lines across the river that are too low for most masted boats to get under.
There is a sorry catch to this magnificent river: it is exceptionally muddy, as are almost all the rivers in Borneo. Evidently 20 years ago it was pristine.... and then the logging started, palm oil plants were established and tugs move up and down the river pulling barges with logs or sand or palm oil (like this one) . So the jungle that we saw from the water is in fact now only a few hundred metres deep, with much of the island being under oil palm plantations... and with all the logging comes erosion and mud.
Then, of course, being on a still river in this tropical climate increases the humidity levels enormously (above a level which is already intolerable). Sometimes you feel as though the heat has you under siege. There is just nothing you can do and nowhere to escape… no water to jump into (mud and crocodiles), no luxury of a cooling shower, besides the one daily (water rations), no aircons (power issues). Rain often looked imminent but the promise was never fulfilled: that would have been a treat to stand under, wash the boat with, and catch to put in the tanks!