Episode 11. It’s a whopper!

Ben and Hugh, aboard 48-foot Mumby catamaran Candeux have left the Philippines on their way to Thailand via Malaysia.

Beside the long litany of misadventures they have encountered along the journey, there are other distractions.

While in Malaysian Kudat, the Islamic call to prayer from the local mosques has been waking us up early, so we are off by 0600hrs.  This is a 60nm leg over the top of Borneo then down the west coast to Teluk Usukan (Usukan Bay) where we have the choice of two anchorages depending on the weather (forecast as NW, 10-15kn).  It’s a drizzly day with light wind thus far, but it looks like there might be more rain to come in moments.  Hugh has high hopes of a free shower.  Yes, the rain does seem to be getting heavier.  Hugh grabs his soap, strips off and, naked, rushes to the foredeck and quickly lathers-up, ready for the rinsing deluge.  Ben finds this quite amusing. Hugh (feeling somewhat exposed) is now thinking that maybe enthusiasm has got the better of judgment when he hears Ben’s peremptory call, “Hugh!”  Please no, don’t let it be yet another sudden sailing crisis nor the arrival at speed of a boatload of outraged locals. No, it’s only Ben with a camera.  Resigned, Hugh (also enjoying a metaphor) turns his rear to Ben while observing: “That’s a bit cheeky; make sure you get my best side.”  The downpour never comes, of course, and a highly lathered Hugh now slips and slides his way to the heads to rinse off.  Next time, for sure.

Settled back into our routine, we are getting about 10 knots from the North.  With the headsail up, the second reef in the main (gentlemen sailing), plus one engine on, we are doing eight knots.  We have an ETA at 1530hrs which gives us plenty of time to spot a good anchorage.  Hugh also has high hopes that once at anchor he can catch a fish.  Master chef Ben can then do his clever cooking things with it.  That, and breaking out a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc will make for a splendid day at sea.

We arrive first at the southern bay of Teluk Usukan at 1600hrs.  It has drizzled all day with overcast skies.  No, not enough for showering and not much fun.  Happily, as we enter the harbour, the rain stops and we anchor off the beach on the northern shore.  Hugh spots some sort of resort, so we down the dinghy and go ashore.  We motor over to discover a basic resort catering for diving tours for mainland Chinese and South Koreans.  There are no guests but about 10 staff, so we order beers and a packet of ‘ikan bilis’ (a small dried and salted fish with chilli) and nuts and set to.  It is pleasant.  We are sitting under trees by the sea, with beer, food and friendly folk.  Hugh can’t resist the urge to practice his dated Indonesian on the staff (Malaysian and Indonesian being very similar).  This produces good laughs all round.  After much increasingly bizarre banter and more beers,  we finally head back to the boat with yet more ikan bilis and dried seaweed snacks (how many beers did we have?).

Back on Candeux, Hugh decides that it is now time to get out his high performance fishing rod ($39 at Kmart) and catch us dinner.  This fiasco goes on for some time, indeed well into the evening darkness during which time Hugh, rather than catching dinner, has become the evening meal for an unrelenting enthusiasm of mosquitoes.  Then, when frustration and defeat are merging into one, out of the blue (literally) Hugh snares one.  “Ben.  I’ve got one.  It’s a whopper!”  It’s certainly got some weight on it, thinks Hugh, as the line bends under the load, but the monster seems strangely unresisting.  Hugh is thinking that it is playing dead, or maybe it is dead, having died from the shock of being caught.  Unfortunately, it’s not a fish but a plastic rubbish bag complete with glutinous contents, and sadly that’s a metaphor and a fact for this region.  There is lots of plastic and plastic bags and general rubbish both on the land and in the seas … and no fish.

Fortunately, Ben had no confidence in Hugh’s fishing ability (metaphorical or otherwise) and has prepared a delicious vegetable curry, but oddly he has served it in large salad bowls.  “That’s a lot of curry”, thinks Hugh.  How many beers did we have?  Ah, well, I guess we earned it – sitting on our arses all day in the cockpit watching the autopilot jig back and forth, can take it out of you: not to mention Hugh’s titanic, but disappointing struggle with the ‘whopper’.

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