Smoke gets in your eyes

The sail in to Borneo was shocking. Not the sailing bit – we had great winds and a rollicking good sail – but the smoke was so bad that it was like sailing in a “good old” 1950’s London peasouper.

Fruits de Mer just visible in the murky gloom

The stop in Kumai was cancelled due to the extreme conditions – selfishly we were sad because we had been looking forward to an overnight trip through the jungle on a boat to visit Camp Leakey the famous Orang-Utan rehabilitation centre.

Waiting for our pilot boat in the smoky atmosphere

Less selfishly we feel so bad for the Indonesian people and the wild life who have to live with the consequences of large scale clearing of old growth forests that cause these disastrous ecological problems and rob the wildlife, chiefly the endangered Orang-Utans, of their habitat. 

Close encounter with a high speed ferry while waiting for the pilot boat

We knew Ketapang would also have reduced visibility due to the devastating out of control peat fires in Borneo and Sumatra but we weren’t expecting this ghostly, choking and disorienting fug. 


The dredger at work

Once again, we were so thankful for our instruments that allowed us to see where other boats (at least sailing vessels and commercial ships). There were still the dreaded fishing boats to look out for and the biggest hazard of all – slow moving tug boats (that don’t show up on our AIS instruments) towing island-size unlit barges. Several of our fleet have had unpleasant close encounters with these “lovely” vessels.


Our first view of Ketapang

We arrived at about 7am after a two night sail from Karimun Jawa. Our instructions were to phone the Coast Guard so we could be escorted in as the anchorage was up a river with a tricky entrance and plenty of hazards including frighteningly shallow water in places.

After a lengthy wait bobbing up and down at the river mouth with Fruits de Mer we finally spotted the motor launch emerging from the fog like a ghost ship. There were 12 people aboard this quite small vessel – all in one kind of uniform or another, with gold braid in abundance.
Creeping past a dredger in less than a metre of water under our keel was a breath holding experience but we made it and after a bit of argy bargy with the harbour master we found a spot to anchor.


The harbour master telling us where to anchor

We had been asked to go straight in to shore for a welcome ceremony – even though boats had been turning up in dribs and drabs every new arrival was amazingly given a welcome ceremony. 

Although ours was a little truncated compared to the ones received by the first boats, it was nonetheless heartwarming and made us feel very special.

After the official welcome we sat down to listen to a singing performance and chatted with the young volunteers who had been assigned to look after us. Apparently 50 of these young people, mostly school and university students who were studying English, had been selected to look after the fleet during our stay.  
Some were beyond helpful and did things liked arrange private lifts into town. One rally couple were driven around by their guide’s boyfriend – in his father’s Government vehicle. This was fine until they learnt that the boy was only 14!

Some lovely singing to welcome us to Ketapang.

Each time we landed at the dinghy dock two or more of them would be there to give us a hand. They were so friendly and nearly always remembered our names.

As we chatted after the welcome ceremony we were given savoury and sweet snacks and hot tea or coffee to drink. It was such a great welcome!


Some of the snacks we were given at yhe welcome cetemony

Later on when we were back on the boat, we were surprised when a launch came alongside and we were handed a complete meal – soup, rice and beef radang. It was such a wonderful, thoughtful gesture and very welcome as travelling overnight is always exhausting and the last thing you want is to start making a meal when you have just arrived.
There was no time to rest as that afternoon a trip to a traditional Dayak village had been arranged. The Dayaks, Borneo’s Indigenous peoples, are famous for their former headhunting ways and as late as 1997 known for killing their enemies and eating their hearts. They were the archetypal tribespeople featured in those Boys Own adventure comics so popular in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

a Dajak man dressed in full Dayak regalia

We were looking forward to meeting these mysterious and ferocious people but little did we know that they are the biggest crazy party animals we have met in Indonesia by a long shot! 

My next post is devoted to party time with the Dayaks!

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

One thought on “Smoke gets in your eyes”

  1. I feel your pain with regards to the smoke haze. Our recent stay in Malaysia was also marred by the haze. It did impact on our original plans but we still had a great time anyway as I’m sure you will. Time to invest in a face mask!!


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