Trees Attack Cruisers-Klias River, Borneo

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Thu 2 May 2013 04:58
05:19.0N     115:18.7E

Up a Lazy River … Where the Trees Attack Unsuspecting Cruisers

Recently, Peregrina went up the Klias River in Borneo The river is located in the state of Sabah, Malaysia north of the town of Beaufort. It is in a jungle area called the Klias Wetlands.

At the mouth of some rivers there can often be a “bar” (shallow area) where the river meets the salty sea. A bar is often caused by the river bringing down silt over millions of years and depositing it in the wide river basin.  “Crossing the bar” requires some careful navigation. 

A fellow cruiser aboard the motorboat, Arnak, which had been up the Klias River recently, provided us some waypoints (latitude and longitude intersections) for the first mile of the river. This was helpful since our charts clearly showed depths that were insufficient for Peregrina to transit the bar and that was quite disconcerting.

It was a blustery day with overcast skies when we approached the Klias River.  A cloudy day is not good since, without direct sunlight, it becomes difficult to see down through the water to the rocks below.  But, as luck would have it, a large car ferry was crossing from the duty free island of Labuan to the ferry dock located at a town just inside the mouth to the river. So I advanced the throttles to follow her in.  Fortunately, the ferry pretty much used the same waypoints we had been provided. The depth got down to less than 3 feet under Peregrina’s keel a few times but, for the most part, it was fine and much less stressful than going it on our own.

At the first bend of the river, the ferry turned off to their dock. That was the last real river traffic we would see for 28 miles.  We were followed up the river by our friends George and Kathleen aboard Kalalau, a beautiful old wooden boat with a teak hull.

As usual, when Peregrina navigates close to land Margie is on deck with binoculars scanning for low water, floating logs, etc.  She is a trooper because this requires hours of vigilance.


The charts are absolutely useless.  In the picture below, you can see Peregrina criss-crossing land.  You’d think we’d put wheels on her bottom like those amphibious excursion “Duckboat Tours” which drive on both the land and sea.

The river is about a quarter mile wide at the mouth but narrows with every mile.  The trick with river navigation is to stay to the outside of the bends where the water runs deepest.  The first day, there were a couple of tricky parts and, once, I made the wrong choice about which side to go around a mid-river obstruction. The water got down to about 8 inches under Peregrina’s keel and I had to jam the boat in reverse and back out the way I came.

Peregrina and Kalalau traveled the full 28 miles up the river until we were blocked by some power lines crossing the river. At this point, the river was only about 100 feet wide. We anchored for the night with one anchor at the bow and one off the stern about 15 feet from the river bank.

I took the dingy ashore to ask if there was anywhere to eat near our anchorage. I came across a building under construction that will, one day, become an eco lodge. It was not open but we were invited by two young Malaysians, Steve and his sister Elizabeth, to come back later and they would cook us dinner.  Steve was a physician who had a stroke at the age of 32, was partially paralyzed and had some challenges speaking.  Steve had lived and studied in both England and the USA.  In one of those “small world” coincidences, he had spent two years in Miami!  Despite his medical problems, he was sharp as a tack and extremely charming.  He had come to live on the river to help his sister get the eco-lodge up and running and to reduce stress as he recuperated from his stroke.

After a great meal, we dinghied back to our boats for a good nights’ sleep.  The next morning, Kalalau left earlier than Peregrina as they were on a tighter schedule than we were and were anxious to be on their way to Singapore. We wanted to travel down the river slower, tow the dingy and stop to see the wild life.
Whenever we saw wild life ashore, a small river to explore or just about anything interesting, we anchored Peregrina and jumped in the dingy. 

Our daughter Amy, is interested in buying her first home. During one of our dingy trips up a small waterway we found a property which meets her budget.

We also saw several types of monkeys, including Long-tailed Macaques and Proboscis as well as some beautiful hawks circling overhead.
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At one point, we stopped opposite a large and unused factory.   At the dock were a number of vessels in disrepair.  We tied the dingy next to one and Margie really enjoyed the trip to the shore.


She never complained once…well, maybe she expressed a FEW expletives but, as I say, she’s a trooper!
Anyway, the factory was an old palm oil processing plant that was absolutely huge with old rusty boilers and machinery left in disrepair.
As far as we could see, there was only one piece of working equipment - a scale with a digital read out.


This scale was being used by a man as he hand-scoped fish food into bags to ensure that each was 51.7 kilos.  Apparently, the plant had become obsolete and they had turned a small portion into a distribution site for VERY SMELLY fish food

So, after a thorough inspection of the fish food/palm oil plant, we continued on our way…

 Remember when I mentioned that we took Peregrina to the outside of the river bends because the water is deepest?  Well, I was at the helm and Peregrina was moving along at the edge of the river bank in about 28 feet of water.  No problems whatsoever…

I was absorbed with searching for monkeys when, all of a sudden, Peregrina jars to a shuddering halt with sounds of scraping metal and wire twanging. I had never heard such sounds in fifty years of sailing.
Margie was down below and had been thrown across the main salon.  Never at a loss for an expletive, she cried, “What the hell was that?”

OMG!  Margie….you’ll never believe it!!  A tree jumped offshore and attacked Peregrina!!!  (Maybe she’ll buy this story if I employ the rationale that the Captain is not to blame since the Captain is “always right.”) 
Well, that didn’t fly since Margie has a very strict limitation of what she considers to be areas where the   Captain is “always right” and this didn’t seem to fall under that definition.  Driving into tree branches is “just plain dumb” as she so thoughtfully pointed out to me.

In truth, I couldn’t see what danger was hanging above us due to the bimini (awning) over the cockpit and I had clearly strayed too close to shore.  I continued to proclaim my innocence to no avail – even taking photos which clearly showed other trees jumping out from the river bank.  Judge for yourself…

In the end, I gave up my protest and we set about cleaning up the mess. Peregrina was covered in branches - some quite big.

Along with the shrubbery, every bug, spider and ant that lived in the fallen canopy was now on Peregrina’s deck scurrying around, with wide smiles, exploring their new traveling home and the sap from the branches was seeping a red tannin stain on all the white decks that Margie had recently polished!  As you can imagine, that was not received well at all!!!

After the hasty clean-up, it was prudent for the Captain to do a “rig check” since the crash was quite a shock to the standing rigging - mast, spreaders, wire stays, etc.  This entails going to the top of the mast and very slowly examining every piece of the mast and its supports.  I should point out that Margie has to winch me up the mast and it did cross BOTH our minds that this was her opportunity to let the halyard fly and send me crashing on my own.  Luckily, she held tight and let me live another day…

After examining everything closely, I determined that Peregrina was none the worse for wear and we continued wandering down the river – with a lot more attention to those devilish trees that jump out to attack unsuspecting sailboats. 

Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it ‘cuz the Captain is ALWAYS RIGHT!!!’