A solid THUNK followed by silence is never good to hear from your engine. But when you’re two hundred miles from land in the middle of an unseasonably calm Sulu Sea, with not a gust of wind to ruffle the glassy smooth ocean surface, it’s far from ideal.
At least the miniscule breeze at dawn and dusk had two advantages: it allowed everyone to gain some vital light weather sailing practice, as we crawled over the ocean at a snail’s pace in only two knots of wind, and we were able to get the drone up and film Labyrinth at sea, not something you can do when there is any sort of wind.
It was four days until the wind returned and we were able to reach Tambobo Bay on the southern end of the Philippine island of Los Negros. The engine problem is a bad one – a broken camshaft belt lead to two valves being broken and bent as well as some other damage. After a week, I am still working on it and we hope to have the engine fixed soon.
Before that, things had been going so well! Jolene and I had achieved one of our most challenging aspects of the project – an interview with an ex-fishbomber. This was always going to be difficult to achieve (why would anyone incriminate themselves by admitting to this illegal act?) but we met a man who had not only once risked life and limb to bomb the reef with improvised explosives, but had quit and become a conservationist himself.
He spoke of why fishermen use explosives and how education and awareness is helping them leave such habits in the past and teach better ones to the next generation.
In Kota Kinabalu we met and interviewed many inspiring Malaysians, such as Atama Katama, a local hip hop star turned activist for Pacos Trust, who fights for the rights of indigenous from abuse by unscrupulous loggers and developers.
We also teamed up with Reef Check again to help them start a recycling program on remote Mantanani Island. Like many places, Mantanani suffers from the plagues of the modern world; plastic waste and pollutants. We met Nat and Ira from Reef Check who are working on a project similar to Alvin on Tioman, where they change the behaviour of an entire community to improve its relationship with the ocean.
We met locals who are using plastic bottles to build houses and turning discarded drinking straws into jewellery to sell to tourists. It was here that we heard the Malaysian phrase “sikit sikit lama lama jadi bukit” – little by little, over time, a mountain comes – a saying that resonated by us as its how we see effective, real change being achieved and how we hope to contribute our own efforts to assisting in this change – one day at a time, one mile at a time, one story at a time, never giving up.
Next we stopped at Kudat, located on the northern tip of Borneo, our last port before leaving for the Philippines. Here we planned to visit Pitas but a storm came in, lashing the bay for four days, making our original plan of taking Labyrinth upriver impossible.
By the time the weather cleared it was too late – we had to push on if we were to keep to our schedule and make it to the Philippines in time to join the rally to Raja Ampat. I was bitterly disappointed to leave that story behind but the nature of Voyage is that we have to adapt to what the weather brings us – both good and bad.
One good piece of news was that Roxy’s injury in Labuan had recovered enough that she and James rejoined us in Kudat and it was with a full crew we set sail to cross the Sulu Sea.
But so much for the best laid plans of mice and sailors – engine failure, becalming and difficult repairs had put us two weeks behind. This is an adventure – but sometimes you just want things to go right! Ah well, it’s back to the engine cupboard for me – if I can get it fixed in the next couple days we can still make the Raja Ampat Rally. If not, as always, we’ll see what the wind brings.
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