Between the south of Palawan Island in the Philippines and northern Borneo, the expedition has crossed - finally without a hitch - one of the world's most ill-reputed regions. Not without having, however, made exceptional arrangements to avoid nefarious encounters. Log book
« We leave Pirates Hold northwest of Palawan on the night of February 14, 2018. The announced tropical storm finally disintegrated into the Sulu Sea and we take advantage of the winds to continue towards Sabang, one day’s navigation away. It's quite ironic to have taken refuge in this "pirate shelter", a small bay perfectly sheltered from the winds, just as we are about to approach, further south one of the world's most ill-reputed regions. ...
During our southwesterly descent, we stop in an unnamed bay where our nautical charts indicate "fresh water". A small house on the beach, a rice field and finally a river allows us to fill a few canisters of fresh water. Sadly, we leave this peaceful place quite quickly to continue our trip in order to arrive during daylight hours in Sabang. At first glance, we are having troubles finding the village but the many bankas (traditional boats with double pendulum) at anchor clearly indicate that we are in the right place.
Pietro and Candy leave by minibus for the small town of Puerto Princessa, located on the east coast of Palawan to complete Fleur de Passion’s departure formalities from the Philippines while Aurore, Pierrick, Ugo and the passengers visit the village, the surrounding areas and take care of the bunkering. Arriving in Puerto Princessa, oh surprise! This Friday, February 16, 2018 is the Chinese New Year and immigration and customs are closed ... "Come back on Monday", we are told. That is absolutely impossible, we must leave the next day, Saturday to meet our schedule dates. Indeed, the boat is expected February 22 in Brunei in anticipation of an event on board the 26. What to do! We finally manage to do the immigration papers at the airport. It takes only four and a half hours (excluding the Sabang - Puerto Princessa trips), which is not so bad compared to other exit procedures at previous stops.
On Saturday morning, February 17, Stephen the diving instructor leaves us after three months of good and much appreciated services rendered on board from Manado, Indonesia. We prepare the boat for an afternoon departure. Without being heavy or weighted, the atmosphere surrounding the departure of the Philippines is very peculiar. From Sabang to Brunei, on the island of Borneo, the expedition is preparing to cross one of the most dangerous parts of the world because of rampant and endemic piracy. Very exceptional arrangements were therefore made to minimize the risk of ill-fated encounters during the following four days at sea. Thus it is almost all sails out but especially all lights out that Fleur de Passion heads off, due west towards the Spratley Islands, to avoid as much as possible the south of Palawan.
It is not without deep emotions that we leave the Philippines after having stayed there two months since the arrival of the expedition to Cebu in early December 2017, and have multiplied so many beautiful encounters. Goodbye Philippines and thank you for your welcome, your support and your enthusiasm, this stop - and not least from a symbolic point of view - was magnificent!
Our stealthy navigation is complicated at first for lack of wind (force 2-3) but becomes very pleasant towards the end (a good force 4), this time with all the sails out (mainsail, mizzen 2 reef, staysail, yankee , jib-stay). Thousands of miles offshore from Palawan, far enough off the coast to avoid nefarious encounters, we veer south towards Brunei.
On Wednesday, February 21, off the wealthy sultanate, we start seeing the first offshore oil platforms that make Brunei’s fortune, as well as some cargo ships. The next day, as planned, we arrive in Bandar Seri Begawan Bay and find an industrial and oil complex - greenish and brownish water - which starkly contrasts with the natural splendours encountered during the three weeks since leaving Puerto Galera. This is where we stop for four days, including the time to welcome aboard schoolchildren for a short trip out at sea. »
During the early days of the Brisbane sail to the Great Barrier Reef, the crew witnessed some of the consequences of Cyclone Debbie: sediment-laden waters that made coral observations difficult.
Great Keppel Island-Mackay Overview
Crew: Pietro, Yffig, Candy, Pere, Solti, Pierre, Gabriel, Laurence, Linzi, Serge, Hugo
Navigation: 03/04 - 07/04 Mooring on Leeke's Beach, Great Keppel Island
It wasn’t possible to thoroughly check the waters due to the conditions of the corals, instead the crew explored the island of Great Keppel and met its inhabitants. Indeed, the waters bathing the island are loaded with sediments, probably due to the remnants of cyclone Debbie, which hit the region a few days earlier. Zodiac expeditions were made to the various reefs that surround the island to also allow our cartoonist Pierre to make his first underwater sketches. Unfortunately, there were no real results as the waters were really cloudy.
08/04 - 10/04 Mullers Reef (Swain Reefs)
Departure on Friday 7 April for the Reef. The weather conditions so far were too rough to allow us to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Fleur de Passion approaches the reef at the end of the morning (Saturday 8th April) and moves from 1:30 pm in 15m deep waters to Mullers Reef which is part of the Swain Reefs. The first impression of this Great Barrier Reef is, as its name suggests, its extent! The reefs are huge, one is in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight and a coral reef is there, under water. The scale is not comparable with the reefs of the Pacific islands. We are all excited to head underwater to observe this famous barrier. Unfortunately, the current is very strong and both snorkelling and diving are uncomfortable. This does not stop us from conducting our first CoralWatch observations and of rejoicing in the presence of all these colourful fish and corals.
10/04 Reef No. 21-130 (Swain Reefs)
We leave Mullers Reef early in the morning for another reef on our way to Mackay. Diving and snorkelling (including CoralWatch) on the menu and this time no power! We will observe many sea snakes among fish and corals. At 5 pm, we weigh anchor in order to take advantage of the last light of day to safely leave the reef and head towards Mackay.
11/04 - 15/04 Mackay
Arrived after about twenty hours of sailing. We finally cross some sailboats in the approach of Mackay but especially many cargo ships anchored offshore. Sugar and coal are the specialty of the city. After an assessment of this part of the trip, we celebrate our arrival and this first portion of navigation on the Great Barrier Reef. Passengers will each take their return flights to Brisbane, Sydney or Switzerland. The remaining crew takes care of the refuelling, repairs, preparing, cleaning and arranging the boat to continue our route to the north.
As a nod to the departure of the expedition from Seville almost two years ago, it is again at night that The Ocean Mapping Expedition departs for the second half of its journey around the world. Around 2 AM the night between 27 and 28 March 2017 to take advantage of the down tide of the Brisbane River. The lights of the towers of the business district and those of Story Bridge under which Fleur de Passion passes one last time, then those of all the urban and industrial areas, then the port, lined the shores towards the mouth of the river and the Moreton Bay, gave the impression of a multicolored party to this new departure filled with emotion.
On board, a new crew: Pietro, Yffic, Candy and Péré, who will lead the sailboat to Cairns by the end of May. New passengers for a few days or weeks: Laurence, Serge, Hugo and Linzi. A master diver, Christian. A cameraman, Gabriel. And an eighth draftsman of the program In Magellan’s Mirror, Pierre. Some of them come from Switzerland or Spain, others from Australia or living in Brisbane in this joyful blend which is also the spirit of the expedition.
In the early hours of Tuesday, in clear weather and a more than calm sea, the expedition made a first stop at Stradbroke Island for the launch of a new program in partnership with CoralWatch (see associated News). That was a deceptive calm. Because initially planned to last only one and a half days, this anchorage had to extend to the end of the week or even beyond, as the weather improved in the north and the cyclone Debbie faded after dramatically striking the coasts of Queensland in the Mackay and Townsville area.