A year in review: from Oz to mainland SE Asia

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

13 Responses to A year in review: from Oz to mainland SE Asia

  1. The Ceol Mors September 30, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    What a wonderful wrap up. Congratulations on another year underway on Totem!

  2. Mike September 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    interesting summary….i’m saddened by the polluted waters and overfishing….but hopefully the good times were more than the bad.

    • Behan Gifford October 1, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      Mike, it makes us sad too, but the good times VASTLY outweighed the bad. Honestly, it’s very difficult to remember anything that necessarily feels “bad”, more like- the disappointing moments (like seeing the gazillionth peace of trash float by), eclipsed in the light of a wonderful life.

  3. Beverly Hom Chong October 1, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    The foods mentioned are also some of our faves from when we lived in Malaysia. I really miss SE Asian food. It’s hard to find good places here. Did you learn how to make it?

    • Behan Gifford October 1, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

      Hi Bev- we love the food here- it is SO good! I leave most of it to the vendors (thank goodness it’s so inexpensive), but I really want to learn a few because it would be a shame to leave the area and not be able to make them ourselves! I’ve had a few local lessons but there’s so much to learn… although I am not sure I can ever duplicate the perfect hawker roti. or bakso. or rendang. or…. uh oh….

  4. Anonymous October 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    Congratulations! Nice blog, we are following in your wake about to begin our “big year”, busy fixing our watermaker and stowing more food than we have had on board for a while. We push off from the known to head North about Dec. 1- Smooth Sailing, John-OZ

    • Behan Gifford October 1, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      thanks John! all the best for your crossings, in both hemispheres!

  5. boatbaby October 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I love your wrap ups! Thank you for the unique and heartfelt views of the world from the bow of Totem. I don’t always comment, but I am always following along and enjoying the ride so much!

  6. Justin Earl October 2, 2013 at 6:29 am #

    Great, Great, Great! Blog!!!

    Really enjoying it, so inspiring!

    We have a one year old Daughter who I would love to show the world too someday. Time to start some sailing lessons I think! Thank you again for taking the time to document your family’s wonderful adventures!

  7. whereisyvette.com October 2, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Happy anniversary! Thanks for keeping up with writing despite so much time traveling, as most such project peter off- I understand why, but it’s not so good for those of us trying to live vicariously through others’ adventures.

    By the way, if you could post a link so I could read up more on the last sobering point (on my site if you prefer to keep yours squeaky clean) I would appreciate it as I’d like to learn more but my Google-fu is weak on this.

    • Behan Gifford October 4, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      thanks Yvette! I’ve sent you some information to help your google-fu (lol!) and links by messaging your Facebook page. Let me know if you have any questions, or email behang (at) gmail (dot) com anytime.

  8. LittleCunningPlan.com October 8, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    What fascinating statistics! An ancorage of 110 feet. Wow! And we complain if we have to anchor in 60 feet. I am interested in the fact that you separated yourselves from the crowd and went your own way. That’s our plan and it’s nice to see that this thinking pays dividends, even if it means giving up some other things. Sounds like a year of mostly paradise!

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