| 1000 AM local time, Tuesday, November 27 (0200 Nov. 27 UTC) 02 46 S 111 42
E. Temp. 84, Humidity 80%, Cloud Cover 100%. Anchor down, Kumai, Kalimantan,
We left Bali bound for the Kumai River in Kalimantan, famous for its
orangutans, which we hoped to see in the wild. You geography sharks will
already have figured out the colonial name for this large island and
remembered its most notorious resident. But first, we had to get there.
Four days into the voyage, we decided to sail north, to the lee of
Kalimantan, to seek shelter from the high winds and seas we had encountered,
right on the nose, along with adverse current, that had halted our progress.
Our reasoning was that in a northwesterly, the south coast of that large, low
island, which ran east and west, would provide flat seas, being protected
from the swell raging down the Java Sea.
As happened on this passage with a regularity that was hard to convince
oneself was not diabolical, the wind had outwitted us. As it came around the
southwest tip of the island, it veered east, as winds not uncommonly do, so
that it blew right along the coast. There was no lee. There was no shelter.
We were tired and tiring more as the hours wore on and we made the decision
to fall off slightly to a river on the coast that would take us to
Banjarmasin, a town that actually sounded pretty interesting. There we could
rest, regroup, and top off the fuel. We hadn't planned to go there, but we
had reasonable charts, it seemed: a coastal chart, an electronic chart, and a
pilot that described the approach and included a drawing of the channel.
We've successfully entered harbors with less.
On the morning of the 22nd of November, which, although we were too busy to
notice, was Thanksgiving, we closed the land and approached the channel,
tired, but in high spirits. Sailing was easier in the high winds on a close
reach, we would soon be there, and we had no worries about negotiating the
channel, which was said to be well marked.
As we looked down the channel we noticed that there were red and green
beacons (red left returning, here), and, inside the green beacons some green
buoys. But there were no corresponding red buoys marking the other side of
the channel, as our charts indicated there should be, and this meant we had
to guess where the middle of the channel was. The waypoints we put in the GPS
put us on a track very close to the green buoys, and as the channel looked
narrow in the charts, this seemed ok. It was also pretty shallow, say eight
feet; and that's also what the chart said. There was a strong current setting
us to the right, making it necessary to point the boat about 25 degrees to
port as we crabbed our way along. The buoys were very far apart and a sharp
watch was necessary to not drift to the right. But the second buoy, we then
observed, was not in a line with the other two as the charts indicated. It
stuck out in the middle of the channel. Why was this? Either it was purposely
moved to indicate a shoaling of the channel, or it had been moved by storm
surge or current (which might run the other way on an ebb, this being the
mouth of a river) and may just be out of place. There was no way of knowing.
We worried that if we ventured too far left to stay well clear of it, we may
run out of water on that side. We stayed with the GPS track, and as we got
close to that second buoy, but still within the line between the buoys, we
We'll discuss how dumb it was to run aground in a minute. But in any case
some stupid stuff was to follow. We of course tried to back off, but were
pretty well stuck. We weren't going to give up easily, so we tried some cute
stuff like raising the main and heeling the boat, etc. Hey, Captain! Remember
that current? By the time we realized we were having no success, we had
drifted 100 yards from the channel. (A hundred yards, as we were to find out,
is a long way to move a boat that is aground, upwind against a strong
current, with only the power of your arms.) It was time to give up and drop
the anchor, all of about six feet down.
Here I started thinking, "Maybe, after all, this is a job better left to the
professional." As if on cue, a tug in the channel towing a big old barge lost
power and, therefore, control of its barge, and he was just upstream from us.
Aha!! Now, there's a professional for you. Well, being smug wasn't going to
stop that thing from hitting us, but it didn't, or I wouldn't be writing
So we're helpless. The radio brought no response. We hailed a passing
tug, and he slowed to contemplate the situation, then realized we were too
far from the channel for him to get a line to. It was time to launch the
dinghy and kedge off; getting out of here was up to us alone. It's always
true, but it seems a little truer when you're in a semi-civilized country
where you no speaka da language, 10,000 miles from home.
We hurriedly pumped up the inflatable and Search and Rescue Squad Leader
Terry Shrode got in it. We lowered the outboard into the dinghy in three feet
of chop, and this is something I hope you all get to experience someday. I
handed him the 25 lb. Danforth and 175 feet of rode. The Captain insisted,
against some complaint from the dauntless Mr. Shrode, that he wear a PFD and
harness himself to the dinghy in the current and rough conditions. If he lost
his balance and fell out of the dinghy, which was totally a possibility while
trying to deploy the anchor, and was not connected, he surely would not have
survived, as we would have been out of floaty things and he would not have
been able to swim back to the boat. So, tethered in, off he went.
Some local fishermen, Muslims no doubt, in a type of open boat I will
have occasion to describe in a later dispatch, tried to help by taking the
line from Terry and trying to move us, but it was hopeless. The fact they
even attempted it showed much more empathy and generosity than common sense.
I couldn't figure out whether their effort was more encouraging to
international relations than their failure was disappointing in our immediate
So Mr. Shrode went back to plan A, or is it B, and dropped the anchor. We ran
the rode over the bow roller and back to one of our primary winches. It takes
about seven rotations of the winch handle, each about the equivalent of
lifting a twenty-pound bag of sand, to bring in one foot of line. Since we
had about three hundred feet to go we had to run the anchor out twice in the
dinghy. I'll do the math for you: that's 2100 reps on the winch, of which Mr.
Shrode did more than his fair share. On our minds at the time was the sailor
in Tonga this year, about our age, who kedged his boat off the reef but had a
heart attack, and died. By the way, the 25 lb. Danforth had enough holding
power to stay put while we dragged ten tons of boat through the mud and the
chop jerked the bar-tight rode.
Why not just wait until high tide floats you off? Well, maybe that would
have been a good idea. But here's what happens when the tide rises in a
decent chop: twenty thousand pounds of boat is lifted up a few inches by each
wave and then dropped like a piece of pie on a diner floor. The higher the
tide gets, the farther the boat drops. This is unpleasant. A boat a football
field away from a channel is going to experience a lot of those before all is
said and done, and the Captain thought he could not endure the thought of
this, and was not sure the boat could endure the actuality of it. Action had
to be taken.
We finally dragged the boat the whole way and got off after an afternoon
of dangerous and exhausting physical work, and if we were tired on the way in
to Banjarmasin, I don't know what we were then. We motored back out of the
channel, relieved but chastened, and about that time had a radio contact with
Okiva scheduled. The voice of Paul Moore crackled over the airwaves from out
there in the welter, and he told us it was tough going and they were tired.
We told them what happened to us, and that we were also very tired and not
sure what we had the energy to do. We traded advice. Captain Paul said, just
anchor offshore and get some rest. Put out all your chain, says he, and the
Bruce will hold, even in five feet (now) of chop and twenty-five knots,
taking waves over the deck, near a shipping lane, on a lee shore in a bunch
of current. It went against just about every rule of anchoring, but we set it
anyway, using 40 feet of 5/8-inch nylon as a snubber, and it held when we
challenged it. We did not want to make another mistake, so the Captain
watched it for quite a while. We set the anchor alarm on the GPS (I doubt if
it would have awakened me, really) and got some rest, but it was a bumpy
night. Paul was right; we didn't move an inch, although it got pretty rolly
when the current put us beam-to the seas. A modern anchor is an amazing piece
of technology, and both the Bruce and Danforth had proved themselves on this
My advice to Paul wasn't so good, but he had little choice. I told him to
head our way and seek shelter somewhere along the coast and then work his way
along the shore to Kumai. Close in, the seas were a little smaller, I told
him, and it would be possible to find a better anchorage, at least, than we
had, up the coast. It was pretty true.
Before we went to sleep we reviewed what went wrong. We at first assumed
the obvious, that, exhausted and wishing to be in port, we had done some
sloppy navigation. But a review of the GPS waypoints showed them exactly in
the middle of the channel according to both charts and the drawing in the
pilot, and our track down the line between the waypoints, as recorded on the
GPS and brought up for review, was spectacularly accurate. The channel had
simply been moved to the left, or all three sources of information were
When we woke up the next morning we decided to abandon altogether the
idea of getting into Banjarmasin, and to face the music and tack west along
the south coast of Kalimantan, following Okiva. We arrived at the mouth of
the Kumai River, a distance of about 160 miles, three days later. (The
current, with the wind, now set along the coast.) On the last day of our
passage we were introduced to the impressive thunderstorms for which this
area of the world is well known. In another dispatch, I'll have more to say
about this experience.
Okiva had made it in the previous night and was anchored in a small bay. We
hired a guide to take us through the shallows and about ten miles upriver to
the town of Kumai and the Orangutans. After we safely anchored across from
town, we got together with the Okiva guys for dinner and sea stories. We were
grateful to be on land.
The next day Gilang hired a boat and crew for us.
I said to the skipper, "Sir, I'm sooooooo tired. Would you be the Captain for
a while? Be a good fellow, then, and take us up this jungle river to the
heart of darkness or whatever, for we have come on a long and arduous voyage
to see, and take the measure of, The Wild Man of Borneo."
Next report from this location: Kumai