Dispatch #117 - Stowaways get the 'Joint' jumping
Malacca Strait, Malaysia
We left the island of Borneo in the company of Nanamuk, the Canadian family with whom we had shared our fabulous experiences in Indonesia's Tanjung Puting National Park. A piece of us had been left behind in this place, and it was with tears in my eyes that I said good-bye to ugly, dirty, but wonderful Kumai.
Despite the fact that our boats were essentially mismatched -- Northern Magic being slower in light winds but faster under motor power -- we and Nanamuk had agreed to always remain in sight of each other, especially at night. Later, when comparing notes with other boats that had cruised through Indonesia, we were gratified to learn that our strategy had been sound; while virtually every boat sailing alone had run into some kind of trouble with would-be pirates, none of the yachts traveling in company reported any problems.
We learned that our friends on Futuna had been one of the unlucky ones. Traveling alone after leaving Kumai, they had been forced to run away from a small boat with hostile intent over a period of several hours. Reaching speeds of up to nine knots, Futuna's pursuer had even chased them through several 360 degree circles. Whenever another ship came near, VHF Channel 16 was jammed with loud music, preventing Futuna from radioing for help. Eventually the pirates gave up the chase, and speedy Futuna continued on its way none the worse for the wear.
Nothing of the sort happened to us, although from time to time, when sailing through the flocks of small fishing boats that populated these waters, we would find ourselves getting tense if a curious boat came too near. Once I watched with my heart in my mouth as a trawler looked as if it was going to ram Nanamuk, and later that same day, we almost got run over by a small, slow-moving cargo ship that seemed determined to intercept us, but other than that, the sail was uneventful, at least from a piracy point of view.
The result of remaining so close to each other was that both sailboats had to keep a much sharper watch to avoid collision, as well make as constant sail and heading changes to maintain our relative positions and speeds. But we were both content to pay the price in speed in exchange for increased safety, and the kids were able to continue to communicate and compare Magic Card strategies over VHF radio, in the same way kids at home would do by telephone.
The main excitement of our two day sail was something we named "The Episode of the Bouncing Beebles". I had stocked up on fresh cucumbers at the Kumai market, and had stashed them away in the large fruit hammock that hangs over our salon table. While we can store a tremendous volume of fresh produce this way, the main disadvantage is that any fruits or vegetables stored at the bottom of the hammock -- tomatoes are the worst offenders -- tend to get crushed and drip juice onto the table or Michael's sleeping body below. Before, Michael used to sleep on passages with his head at the end of the settee, but frequent red splotches on his forehead and pillowcase convinced him to reverse this position. On our passage from Kumai, the wisdom of his strategy was conclusively proven.
I had spotted a mushy cucumber at the bottom of the hammock, and began rooting around with my hands to rescue it before it spilled its mushy innards all over the schoolbooks on the table below. As I grabbed it, however, it fell apart in my grasp, and a shower of white things -- the colour and shape of grains of rice, but bigger -- began cascading down.
To my horror, I realized what had fallen were maggots -- dozen and dozens of them -- which had been happily feasting inside the cucumber. They were now all over not only my hands, but the table, the settee and even the floor below. But even more surprising was what happened next, for like Mexican jumping beans, these little white worms began bouncing!
I yelped and ran for a Kleenex, then began trying to trap the Bouncing Beebles before they scattered all over the boat. And the Bouncing Beebles had no intention of being caught, for they ran away from me -- or rather bounced away from me -- springing onto the settee, jumping under cushions and boinging enthusiastically around on the floor. The Beebles' Olympian leaps were equivalent to us vaulting over a two storey building, for the tiny but athletic creatures could easily cover ten or more centimetres in a single bound.
For the better part of the next hour I kept discovering Bouncing Beebles under school books or in cracks and crevices, and I had to severely repress serious feelings of disgust in order to get the job finally done. The thought of some of the creatures making homes for themselves in Michael's bedding was enough to curl my hair.
Now it was time to inspect the three remaining cucumbers. Although they looked fine enough on the outside, to be safe I cut open one of the remaining ones, and sure enough, it, too, despite being good and firm, contained a small squirming menagerie. Obviously our Kumai cucumbers came fortified with extra protein.
I donated the remaining Beebles to King Neptune. I hope he put them to good use.
Then I called Grace on Nanamuk, and as gently as I could, broke the news to her about my discovery. She was more than a little dismayed at the contents of my radio message -- the crew of Nanamuk had just finished eating the last of their Kumai cucumbers for lunch.
After a calm two day sail we approached the island of Serutu, almost half way to Singapore. We were just threading through a tricky pass between some shoals and two islands when we were hit by a violent thunderstorm and rainfall so heavy we were left gasping for air and completely blinded. Lightening flashed around us, giving apoplexy to both captains, for a lightening strike can have truly catastrophic results on a sailboat.
Because we were so close to land and to each other, losing visibility at this crucial time was a little nerve-wracking. Our radar was of no value, showing only a solid curtain around us. Eventually we poked our way through and anchored with relief off the north coast of Serutu. Later we learned to call this the "Serutu thunderstorm", because similar storms happened almost every day at this little island near the equator, where weather systems from both the northern and southern hemispheres collide.
Although there was a village nearby, the bay we chose was uninhabited and very beautiful. After the people, noise and dirt of Kumai, this undisturbed piece of paradise was exactly what we needed. The waters of the bay were crystal clear and full of innumerable jellyfish and masses of small squid. Parrots and monkeys roamed the trees of the jungle that crowded up against the sandy beach. There was a freshwater stream perfect for swimming, and we soaked off weeks' worth of Borneo grime in the most refreshing cold bath imaginable.
Even though we have been in the tropics for almost two years now, we were finding the weather oppressively hot. Most days the temperature inside Northern Magic reached close to 40 degrees Celsius, and sleeping was becoming increasingly difficult. With our limited water supply, showering on a boat is restricted, so the ample fresh cold water of Serutu couldn't have been more welcome.
As we bathed, tropical fish such as you might find in a home aquarium darted around us, and those strange air-breathing fish we call mud skippers frolicked on the rocks at the water's edge. By following the stream upriver, we discovered a small waterfall under which we could take an actual shower. Sitting half submerged in the pool under the waterfall was like being in a cool Jacuzzi, with tiny bubbles from the waterfall making us tingle all over and wish never to leave.
My favourite memory was our first day on Serutu when Herbert and I brought all the dirty laundry from the boat and washed it in the stream, rinsing the clothes luxuriously and lavishly. On the boat we are forced to parsimoniously use and re-use washing water until it is a dark and murky gray. Immersing our sweaty bodies in the water as we washed was almost nice enough to make me wish for even more dirty laundry to appear, the first such thought I have ever had in my life. I have never enjoyed washing clothes as much as I did on that steaming hot day near the equator.
Serutu's sandy beach seemed the perfect spot for a good old Canadian weenie roast, so Grace from Nanamuk baked hot dog buns while we contributed wieners from our (working!) freezer. The kids occupied themselves creatively by collecting beach flotsam, using it to construct a life-sized man out of sticks and miscellaneous pieces of plastic, with an ingenious built-in rain-catching and irrigation system.
Then we topped it all off with a marshmallow roast and honest-to-goodness 'smores, using the last of some precious and rare Hershey's chocolate, bought long ago in Panama, half a world away.
We watched as the setting sun turned our two boats, bobbing gently at anchor, into a real-life picture postcard. Clean, relaxed, and replete, sharing good times with friends, it was impossible not to reflect on how very, very blessed we all are.
It was hard to leave Serutu.