After heading south "all lights out" from the Philippines via a detour through the Spratley Archipelago to avoid Palawan and possible ill-fated encounters, the expedition reached Brunei late February before continuing on to Kuching. And as the boat sails for Singapore, let's pick up the log where we left off: as we approach the small sultanate wedged between the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
"Fleur de Passion arrived at noon on February 22 at the Mangrove Paradise Resort (MPR). The first impression of Brunei is very industrial, but gradually becomes wilder as we sail up the Brunei River, lined with houses on stilts and thick jungle growing along the banks. The capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is located higher upstream than our anchorage and is only accessible by land for the crew, because a bridge 15 meters high prevents Fleur from approaching, its air draught being 28 meters ...
The city is a mix of administrative and commercial buildings (almost too) imposing and more modest buildings and stalls. On the other side of the river, the “floating village" (on stilts) has retained a certain charm. Note that the first time this village was described by a Westerner, it was by Antonio Pigafetta in 1521, when the survivors of the Magellan expedition made a brief stop in Brunei. The Portuguese navigator had just died on the island of Mactan in the Philippines, in April, part of the crew had been massacred by the ruler of Cebu who took exception for their uncivilised behaviour towards the local women, to say the things modestly. And what was left of the expedition looked in vain for the passage that would lead them to the Maluku Islands, the famous spice islands. End of the historical parenthesis ...
February 23 is the 34th National Day of Brunei and some teammates will enjoy the two and a half hour parade (military, police, schools, seniors, etc.), which will march to a military tune in front of the Sultan himself. Passengers who embarked in the Philippines leave us the same day to return to Geneva and the rest of the crew will take turns taking a day off to explore Temburong District’s rainforest and the surrounding mangroves.
On the morning of 26 February, Fleur de Passion welcomed students from two of the city’s schools for a tour of Brunei Bay. The wind is initially lacking but we still manage to hoist the mizzen, the yankee and the staysail in the early afternoon. We even take the opportunity to perform a sampling of seawater under the Micromegas program on micro-plastic pollution with the help of students who, by chance, are also studying the problem of plastic pollution! Then we return to the Brunei River where we land our sailors for a day at Queen Elizabeth II Jetty, a pontoon a little further upstream of the MPR where the Sentosa is already docked. Fleur joins forces to host an evening organised by the Swiss Ambassador to Singapore, who is also the non-resident ambassador to Brunei. As his term of office is coming to an end, he takes advantage of the presence of the sailboat flying the white cross flag to organise his farewell reception in Brunei, which is attended by some eighty guests.
The 27th and 28th of February are devoted to departure preparations, and then from 28th February to 3rd March, we sail to Kuching, in the Malaysian part of Borneo. 400 miles and a day ahead of time, Fleur moors at Marina Kuching on the edge of the Sarawak River. Once again, it is by land that we will visit the city. With a very strong Chinese presence, the city center is very pleasant with its many restaurants and stalls. The crew takes the time to go to a protected area one hour by bus to see the famous Orangutans of Borneo, or what’s left of them ... The massive and dramatic deforestation of which Borneo as a whole has been a victim for decades because of the intensive cultivation of oil palm, decimated these great red-faced monkeys whose name in Malay language literally means "forest man".
Here we welcome our next passengers: Jacques and Véronique Savary, Lionel Crooson (writer, journalist met at a café in Kuching) and Daniel McGinnis from the University of Geneva and responsible for the new program The Wind of Change on greenhouse gases . He must take advantage of the crossing to Singapore to check the equipment that was installed in late December in the Philippines, and provide the first results on the concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide on the ocean surfaces. The next stopover is Singapore, planned on March 13.
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.