Fenncast 3: Part 1 of Singapore to Manila by Yacht – Singapore to Borneo

Click Play above to hear Part 1 of the 2-part story covering a number of interesting sea passages on two different yachts starting in Singapore, ending in Okinawa, Japan.

There’s swearing, fucking and politics on this Fenncast, so be ready for some interesting questions from the kids if you play it on a family road trip. I’ve used first initials for everyone, to save them from any possible ignominy (though none exists in my view).

Above Image shows the yacht swinging at her anchor in 90ft of fine water in the inner lagoon at the mythical Pulau Sembilan, a cluster of nine tiny uninhabited islands (sembilan means 9 in Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s national language). It’s located in the Natuna region of the South China Sea, in Indonesian waters. The place remains unfindable on Google Earth (I’ve tried many times). Present were enormous iguanas, two kittens and, scattered along the waterline, deadly Striatus cone shells, the beautiful predatory sea snails that shoot a poison chitlin dart into their prey. Some species can kill a human. We treaded carefully on the beaches here. I took the photo from the top of a small mountain on the largest of the islands. It was exactly the island paradise every city dwelling schmuck like me has dreamed of his/her whole life. Plentiful fish for eating, coconuts for drinking and Sri Lankan samsu brandy for partying. We stayed here five nights.

Below are the first set of pictures — more will be forthcoming when I find them. All photographs taken in 1990.

Chillin Pulau Aur

Above: Leaving Pulau Aur, a set of two islands off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea, about a day’s sail northeast of Singapore. We’d over-nighted there. There were six of us on board and we wore no clothes for several weeks, unless there were people around, which there were here. That’s H, maintaining a semblance of her modesty in the companionway. Left to right: W, H, A and G.

H On Deck

Above: H smiling, after a successful market run in Sibu. She was a savvy ex-stock broker from New York City, and talented chef who sought out the most exotic foods available in Borneo’s wet markets. She and H met in Mombassa, Kenya where he was anchored. They fell in love, and she sailed with him across the Indian Ocean to Singapore, where we crew joined them.

H&S Drunk

Above: H and her man, S. He’s asleep after a night on the samsu (one glass would do him in), at anchor on the Rajang River, somewhere in Sarawak, Borneo.


Fenn & Fruit in Sibu

Me in my favourite sarong accompanied by the fruitful bounty of Sarawak’s jungles.

Fenn With Iban at Rumah Rambo

Above: Me standing with an Iban tribesman on a 600ft long rumah panjang, or longhouse on the Katibas River, a tributary of the mighty Rajang River in Sarawak, Borneo. We stayed here three nights. Three of us (myself, S and A) spent 10 days traveling up the Katibas in a small local longboat with our 4hp outboard astern. We stayed in several rumah with Iban locals, and on the last night camped out under the stars on the riverbank.

On The Katibas River

Above: Me poling us through the shallows on the Katibas R, while S manned the helm. All our belongings were in waterproof plastic barrels, visible in the foreground. We never once tipped.

Iban Longboat Katibas

Above: An Iban man paddles his longboat by the bank of the Katibas, murky with sediment due to large-scale logging going on all over the island of Borneo, which continues to this day. The Iban people, once known by the colonial Brits as Sea Dayaks, were still headhunting until the ’60s. Some say up till the ’80s. They are a generous, welcoming and fun-loving people, utterly attuned to their surroundings.

Fenn and S on Katibas

Motoring up the Katibas with S on the helm. He’s wearing a batik hat purchased off a meter maid in Sibu. The sun here was murderous, the humidity draining. All our clothes stank of mould and never completely dried out. Between he and I sat A, not visible behind my hat. She did not enjoy this passage all that much.