A year in review: from Oz to mainland SE Asia

30 Sep
beach hammock lounging

We recently crossed the one-year mark since departing Australia, and a relatively stationary period in our floating life. It was a banner year and prompted some reflection I posted a few stats on our Facebook page… here’s an expansion we mulled today, as we headed north up the west coast of the Malay peninsula.

Nautical miles traveled: 7,724. A lot of miles- exceeded only our Pacific crossing year (over 9,500).

Countries visited: 4. Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia.

Days at anchor: 287. It’s our preference to be anchored instead of docked, but it’s also the only option along our route this past year. We didn’t even see a marina until we got to Bali, more than 4,700 nm after leaving Australia.

Days docked: 47. We’ve been in quite a few marinas in Malaysia, where they’re generally reasonable, and very helpful while we wait for parts to repair our watermaker.

Nights underway: 31. It was six days from Australia to PNG; we had a few other multi-day trips, but most of these are just overnighters…not a lot of long stretches required for insular southeast Asia.

Places visited: 92. Most of these were in Indonesia, which accounts for the majority of the mileage.

Average wind speed: 5 knots. This is just a round estimation, but… well, yeah.

Diesel gallons: 1,224. See above. There’s a reason this is called the land below the wind.

Deepest anchorage: 115′. Jayapura, our first stop in Indonesia. Papua and West Papua provinces generally had very deep anchoring, and often current to deal with as well.

Deepest stop (shore tied): 170′. Tucked into islands on the southeast side of Misool island, in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat, it was too deep to anchor; Totem was secured with three different lines to shore instead.

Biggest wave: estimated 35’+. When we came through the Jomard entrance from the Coral Sea into Papua New Guinea, water depths went rapidly from thousands of feet to just a few hundred, stacking swells and giving us a hair raising stretch of water.

Fish caught: 10. Keepers, anyway. This is entirely in PNG, because we were saddened enough by the overfishing in Indonesia to pretty much stop fishing altogether.

Plastic bags pulled from raw water intake: 4. One of them was three feet long. The water in Indonesia is literally trashed, and Malaysia isn’t much better.

Number of times we’ve had to back down hard to shake plastic off the prop: 8. Well, that’s the number of times we could easily remember. There were probably more. Have I mentioned how trashed the water is in Southeast Asia? Imagine the microplastic, given the amount of visible garbage present.

Trash in the raw water intake
Removed from Totem’s engine intake

Number of languages we’ve learned greetings in: 9. Misima, Budibud, Seimat, Pidgin, Indonesian, Buton, Bajau, Iban, Malaysian.

Most rewarding trade: a perfect scale model of a Louisiades sailing outrigger, exchanged for a pile goods that included everything from a dive mask to a bag of rice.

Favorite places: the impossible question. We all have a few, one of which is invariably Raja Ampat– these are the unique individual favorites.
Jamie: Brooker island, Louisiades, PNG, for waking us up to the dramatic differences in our lives.
Behan: Mal island, Ninigo, PNG, for the friendships made with special families.
Niall: Rabaul, PNG, for the wealth of WWI history and artifacts
Mairen: Hermit Islands, PNG, for swimming with whales, nice snorkeling, and the sweetest pineapples in the world.
Siobhan: Banda, Muluku, Indonesia, because she climbed a big volcano!

Memorable eats:
Jamie: rendang, a spicy dry rubbed beef, slow cooked in coconut milk until reduced to a thick sauce.
Behan: Wendy’s incredible yams in coconut milk, from Panapompom island in PNG
Niall: nasi goreng ayam, or fried rice with chicken, a serial favorite at warungs across Indonesia
Mairen: roti susu, the puffed bread drizzled with sweetened condensed milk available all over Malaysia
Siobhan: bakso in Banda, Indonesia. Common everywhere, but especially delicious prepared with care by our friend Nini, with fish balls, rice noodles, and a nutmeg- because it’s the Spice islands.

Memorable phrases:
Hello Mister! Typically called in greeting, loudly, without respect to gender of the person being greeted, in much of Indonesia and PNG.
Kali katuai. Budibud for “thank you,” which has become a catchphrase for us.
OK OK OK. For some reason, “OK” is never said just once, it’s said in triplicate. We started to notice this in PNG, and it’s only become more prevalent as we continued west.

Alternate modes of transportation:
Horse drawn carts (Gili Air, Indonesia)
Sailing dugouts (Ninigo, PNG)
Ojeks, the motorcycle lifts which are standard ride-for-hire (all over Indonesia)
Back of a truck (Tioman, Malaysia)
Local fishing boat (Banda, Indonesia)
Bemos, the open public minibuses (Indonesian population centers. livestock optional.)
Big air conditioned buses (Malaysian population centers)
Taxis (Indonesian/Malaysian population centers)

new sailing canoe
I caught a lift across the lagoon in Joseph and Marianne’s wa.

Sobering startling realizations:
Trashed waters. The amount of pollution is shocking. It was worst in Indonesia but is pretty bad in Malaysia as well. By contrast, there was very little in PNG, where every used water bottle that washes up on shore finds use- and there simply isn’t much available to turn into trash in the first place.
Throwback economies. Most of islands we visited in PNG have no functional cash economy; it is subsistence living, supplemented with shark finning. People may want to romanticize a life of foraging in a tropical island paradise, but it is hard, you die young, and they’d really prefer to have options.
Disenfranchisement. It was shocking how a country with as many resources as PNG allows all wealth to be skimmed at the very top and provides pretty much nothing to citizens. The average person gets it, but it’s hard to organize to create change when you can’t communicate (no infrastructure) and the NGOs are elsewhere.
Genocide. This is not a word to use lightly. Defined by Webster as the “deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group,” it appears to be what is happening to Melanesians in Indonesia’s far eastern provinces. We’d like to go back to Indonesia, so it’s not been a blog topic, but what we have seen, heard, and read made an impression.

It’s been a big year. Not our biggest in miles, or number of countries, or many measures- but it felt big to us as we willfully separated ourselves from common routes and the company of others. It was more work, but it was immensely rewarding, and ultimately- it was, like so much of life, all about the people that we met.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

 – Maya Angelou

This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


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