The Solar Panels arrive

At last the solar panels turned up at the marina and they are now onboard.

The day started well, I tidied up the install of the cabin heater, then looked at some old pics of the wiring and saw that the heater had a switch assigned to it on the switch panel, which I was now using for the new VHF Radio. Opening up the panel revealed the old wire, which I had disconnected and marked with a label “Heater”. I think it’s quite rare that my future planning has worked out so well before. Anyway, the heater now shares the cutout with the VHF and once connected, the fans on the heat exchanger fired up and blew hot air around, this was before I turned the heater on (it’s hot here you see 😉 ), So then I fired up the heater propper and within 5 minutes hot water was rushing around the system and hot air was streaming out of the heaters. It’s a lot hotter than the ambient air, but hot enough for Canada in September? We will have to wait and see.

Next I ordered the Sat Phone from PredictWind. It’s the Iridium GO system, and for the bargain price of $USD 120 / Month, we get 14k Internet access, eat all you can. Loads of free minutes and free SMS, This will be our prime method for getting weather forecasts when offshore now. I’m hoping this will be delivered to me when I arrive in Labuan in about 3 weeks time.

Finally after an awful lot of messing around, I got an email to say the Solar Panels had been delivered to the Marina. However I couldn’t collect them until security had cleared them, which was odd. After a bit of flapping, I carried them down from the Office to the boat, one at a time with the help of one of the marina staff, he was a great laugh, but gave me a really hard time about having been in Malaysia for two years and only knowing a couple of words in Malay, so while we carried the panels along, he taught me a few more. A lovely guy, looked about 35 years old, but was in fact 45, with 8 kids!

I had hoped to keep the panels below until I fitted them in Kudat next week, however, they were two big to fit through the cockpit hatch, so another location bove deck was needed. After a bit of head scratching, I decided to put them on top of the existing panels and lash them down. However this meant the existing panels wouldn’t work on the trip to Kudat, and I need the power, so I decided to put the top panel facing up and wire it in temporarily. It was now getting late and I was keen to finish the wiring while the sun shone so I could see if they generated any power. At this point a neighbour arrived for a chat, this delayed me, but I was now thinking, they are designed to outperform other panels in low light, so this would test them, the neighbour left and I continued the job, rushing below, only to find 0V from the panel. I knew the connections were good, but on inspection I had wired it up to the wrong cable, so more work, the sun is now just above the horizon.  rushing below I managed to see the panel generate 1W, which is a start, thats about 0.3% of it’s output. Oh well, tomorrow’s another day…

I have turned off the mains battery charger to let the fridge and the fans run the battery down overnight. Then tomorrow I can watch the single panel perform.  However this may just be a way of ensuring it is rainy and overcast all day tomorrow 🙁

Tomorrow I will check out, stock up and prepare to leave.


Paul Collister

Stuck in KK, doing boat jobs, “Kathy goes home”

Yss, Kathy is back in the UK visiting family, and I’m doing messy boat jobs, but more of that later. Before Kathy left we had a few meals out, I particularly liked the big covered Chinese food court / Hawker market we stumbled on. It’s a huge area, with stalls all around the perimeter.

In the middle of all the tables there is a stage. Now often on the stage they have bands and karaoke sessions, but I was delighted to see some traditional dance and yelping being performed.

Later there was some flame throwing / fire eating stuff.

We were invited up on stage, but I didn’t fancy it, you can imagine I had to grab Kathy to stop her jumping up to join in the traditional dance routines they were teaching.
But enough frivolity, let’s get down to the main business of the day, the heater. It seems odd to be working on the heater here, but we will need it later in the year when we close in on Vancouver / Washington, in September or later. We hate being cold, and when your clothes are damp and you have to do a watch in the rain, it’s just plain miserable. also this is my last chance to work on the heating system, where I am able to import replacement parts easily. I can have stuff shipped here Duty Free on export and Duty Free on import, which helps the coffers a bit. I understand this is costly and difficult to do in the Philippines, and I don’t fancy trying it in Japan either.
The heater we have is a diesel Eberspacher from Germany, it heats water which it pumps around radiators. It’s a neat efficient little system, but ours is very old and probably hasn’t worked for many years, possibly ten. So I stripped it down to try and find out why it wouldn’t start. As you can see from the pic’s it was quite a mess, closer inspection, with the assistance of many youtube videos, revealed that the internal air intake fan was seized, also the cabling for one of the temperature sensors has shed it’s insulation and was shorted. Also the exhaust was blocked with decomposing exhaust outlet pipe. The gaskets on the main heater chamber had perished, I was able to replace these with ones I cut out from some gasket material I brought out. 

As it turned out, I was able to clean it up quite well, and re-assembled it and fired it up. It took awhile for the fuel to get there from the tank, but once the pipe was full and fuel flowed, she fired up and ran very nicely. Hot water was soon reaching the two radiators in the main cabin. These have computer fans behind them which push the air out, this doesn’t seem like a lot to me, but I can’t tell, as they don’t work. There’s no power reaching the fans, but this will be trivial, probably just a case of me reconnecting the wires I pulled out 2 years ago as I had no idea what they did or where they went!.


This one’s for Kathy, expect it’s much the same in Swindon 😉

We had a last visit to the Imago mall a few days ago, and another dance troupe, almost identical to the one in the food court were performing. It was odd seeing this in a shopping mall, but I did enjoy it.

Today I went hardware shopping and was delighted to find all the various oddball bits I was looking for.
It will be fun playing with these honkers, I’m expecting lots of fog when we leave Japan, so they might come in useful, only £6, and they only have to last 6 months.


This is another filter, all part of making the water onboard nice and safe to drink.

Finally when I left Kathy at the airport in KK, I had a wander, and they had a display of lots of pictures of the town and surrounding country, laid out in a before and after style, usually pictures before the concrete, and then after. Without exception, every ‘before’ picture was lovely, old wooden houses, river boats, long houses etc, and all the afters were concrete blocks. I think it was meant to show how much the town has moved on in just a few decades, interesting how this ‘progress’ appears so different to a tourist.
However one picture really caught my attention, it was the town a few years ago, where the reefs are very clear. You can’t see these from the shore, but I often see waves breaking and know something is there, we also saw a fishing vessel aground on one of these the other day. I was thinking of taking the boat through here, but won’t bother now.

Kota Kinabalu Downtown Waterfront

Paul Collister

To Sutera Harbour, Christmas and 2018

Our first stop after leaving the Klias River was the island of Tiga. We planned to spend two or three nights here, having heard that it’s great for snorkelling and kayaking. Tiga was the setting for the first of the ‘castaway’ desert island reality TV programmes. ‘Survivor’ aired in Britain in 2001 and I remember watching it avidly. We had also been told about the rejuvenating properties of the island’s natural volcanic mud bath. I had no intention of sitting in a pit of mud, however – no matter how anti-ageing it might be. I was looking forward to the prospect of seeing more monkeys and the snakes that are purported to be found there. We began our journey at 7am on Monday December 18th. It was a murky, drizzly morning with a fairly strong wind as opposed to a gentle breeze. Knowing that it was likely to get rocky on the 5 or 6 hour passage, I stowed things away and made coffee while it was relatively calm. We had the mainsail and headsail up for a little while. With Paul still having no luck bagging a fish, I kept watch for a couple of hours so that he could doze and perhaps dream of catching one 😉 . By lunchtime, the sea had got rougher, visibility was poor and it stayed that way until we reached Tiga at half past two. Paul wasn’t sure if we’d be able to anchor in such choppy conditions but it was better nearer to the island and we dropped anchor hoping we wouldn’t be in for a rocky night. Looking across at Tiga in the drizzly rain, my spirits sank a little at the thought of three nights anchored here with coffee running low, poor internet and inclement weather. I had presents to order and check up on via Amazon and was getting a bit anxious about the dates. I busied myself with preparing some bread dough while the boat was rocking and began to feel slightly nauseous and not a little sorry for myself. You can imagine my elation when I heard Paul phoning the resort in Kota Kinabalu to see if it would be possible to arrive a couple of days earlier than we had booked for. They said it would be no problem to arrive the following day. Typically, conditions improved after that and the sun came out.

Tiga Island in the rain
Tiga Island

The rough weather returned by nightfall, and the forecast for the next few days gave cloudy conditions with more rain to come. Our visit to Tiga would have to wait: at 9 30 on Tuesday morning we set sail for Kota Kinabalu. With 10 knots of wind we made good speed (average 5 knots) with no engine. The swell was quite strong by midday and we had all the sails out. I was alarmed to hear Paul calling me at one point but I couldn’t see him anywhere…until I looked up and spotted him halfway up the mast sorting out a halyard while the boat was swaying from side to side! KK began to emerge in the distance and as the resort grew closer I could see we would be entering an opulent, upmarket place. We had the luxury of three marina staff to guide us into our berth.

Entering Sutera Harbour
From our berth

The marina clubhouse and restaurant (and a bird of paradise)

The day got better when we checked in at the office and I discovered that two parcels of Christmas presents had arrived for me; one from England and one from Italy. First impressions of our new ‘home’ were favourable. Everyone we met was friendly, the clubhouse seemed spotlessly clean and tastefully furnished, adorned with festive decorations, twinkling lights and an enormous Christmas tree in the lobby.

What’s more there was a nice-looking bar in the clubhouse opposite the marina. We had a light meal there in the evening, with a view of the boats and the ocean beyond. We didn’t have long for relaxing however. We needed provisions, so took a walk to the nearest mall. It was too dark by then to take in much of the area. Sutera Resort is a large, sprawling complex with two large hotels as well as the marina and country club. We passed the golf club on the way and got a sense of how vast the resort is. The fifteen minute walk to the mall was along a shared pedestrian/cycle path with a river on one side and the wide main road on the other. The mall was fairly new and festooned with Christmas lights and trees both inside and out. It was predictably busy with Christmas shoppers but we only needed a few basic things from the supermarket so didn’t linger long.

To the mall
We’ve seen monitor lizards and rats as well as herons

Another place, another checking in process to be undertaken. The buildings we needed to visit were too far away to cycle to so we called a Grab taxi to take us on the 20 mile journey to the harbour master. During the ride we became more aware of just how big KK is. Sabah’s capital is a popular destination due to its proximity to beautiful islands and rainforests as well as the challenge of climbing Mount Kinabalu. According to Wikitravel its recent growth is due to its being a major transportation and manufacturing hub and a growing port, the increase in package tourism and it’s a major gateway into Sabah and East Malaysia. Little wonder then that land has had to be reclaimed from the sea, and adjacent districts have been urbanised to accommodate such growth.  Apparently most of the town was destroyed by bombing during World War 2, so it wasn’t surprising that many of the buildings are modern and that the construction of plush resorts, malls and hotels is ongoing.

When we arrived at the out of the way harbour master’s location we thought we may as well ask the driver to wait so that he could then take us back into town to immigration. Considering there was no one else being processed, it all took a lot longer than I expected and I kept popping out to assure the driver that we wouldn’t be much longer. He didn’t seem to mind because he’d made a friend of the security guy in the meantime, who was helpfully giving him directions to the immigration building. Unfortunately there was a difference of opinion regarding its location when Paul came out and there followed much discussion about routes, a lot of poring over maps, and GPS addresses, none of which was helped by the language barrier.

Outside the Harbour Master’s Office

We had an extended drive around the city centre with several wrong turnings – the driver insisting his way was correct and Paul saying it wasn’t. We finally got him to agree to drop us where Paul wanted and gave him extra for the time it all took. Of the three of us, I’m not sure who was more relieved the journey was over! Need I say that Paul was right! We were dealt with quickly and were then free to have a walk along the waterfront. The boardwalk is lined with cafes and food stalls and is a vibrant, busy promenade. Several fishing boats were anchored in the water, along with a couple of cruising yachts. We intended getting a shuttle bus back to the resort but there was a bit of a wait until it was due and it was very hot so we sat in one of the cafes to have a drink. Despite an extensive drinks menu, which included ‘mocktails’ and a variety of fresh fruit juices, everything we asked for was met with the response ‘no have any’ until in the end we settled for two cokes (they didn’t have diet cokes).

Our first cycle ride was hair-raising (for me anyway). There is a lot more traffic than in Miri or Labuan, and due to all the building going on some lanes were closed off, thus funnelling traffic into one narrow one. I kept as close to Paul as I could and hoped the speeding cars would avoid us. We left the main road to take a closer look at the waterfront on the way to the market. Here, we had to push our bikes along the boardwalk because it was so crowded. We were stared at and greeted a lot by adults and children alike, and I’ve come to think that it’s not so much the bikes that attract attention, it’s simply that they like seeing foreigners in the area. What’s nice is that so many shout out ‘welcome to Borneo/Sabah/KK’, while the children are keen to practise their English phrases.  The market was a lively and – it has to be said – smelly place. The smell of Durian, barbecued meat from the food vendors, and ripe pineapples and coconuts mingle with the overpowering odour of tiny dried silvery fish. Outdoor markets, supermarkets and convenience stores all display them in large uncovered tubs. I think they are used as a base for stock for flavouring all kinds of dishes and it’s a smell I’ve come to abhor. I actually prefer the smell in the fresh fish market and that is strong enough! KK’s central market is huge, and it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the range of stuff on offer. The stall owners on the road side of the market were very keen for Paul to buy some ‘genuine’ Rayban sunglasses, cartons of cigarettes or leather belts. That these belts were the real deal was proved to him by the action of lighting it with a cigarette lighter to show that it doesn’t catch fire!

Central Market, KK

On into the hub of KK again and we now had more time to browse the malls, which wasn’t as boring as it sounds because the Christmas displays and decorations were really worth seeing. Virtually every shop was ‘trimmed up’ to some degree, and some of the staff were sporting Christmas hats and flashing badges. It all combined to inspire us to buy a little blue tree for the boat.

KK Centre
On the waterfront (trees made out of beer bottles)

The next few days were spent getting ready for Christmas. Our Christmas dinner would be a more toned down affair than the usual huge feast at home because we had booked a table at the marina club’s Christmas Eve buffet dinner. Old habits die hard, however and I couldn’t resist buying a few traditional festive foods and even made some mince pies using readymade puff pastry and the most expensive jar of mincemeat I’ve ever bought.

The buffet was worth the money. The food was well-presented and delicious, and there was plenty of it! We could eat as much as we liked and with so much to try, even for vegans 🙂  We made the most of it. Both of us went up for more…several times. Carol singers appeared and lined the staircase to perform a range of seasonal songs while we ate. The evening was topped with the wonderful spectacle of a waving Santa and his dancing elves arriving on a boat cruising down the centre of the marina, to the accompaniment of Bruce Springsteen singing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. The children loved it, naturally and were treated to a goodie bag and a personal chat with Santa. The little festive gang then went round all the tables to pose for a picture with the diners. How could we refuse Santa!

Carol singers on the stairs

The dessert display

Just some of the food on offer
Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve before the feast


Christmas Day

I did two things I’ve never done before on Christmas Day. The first was to go for a morning swim in one of the open air pools, and the second was to go for an evening bike ride. I have to confess it felt nothing like Christmas during any part of the day (apart from opening our presents in the morning) but that was fine.  The waterfront, where we ended up on the bikes just as the sun was setting, was cool after the humidity of the day. The town was busy and most of the shops and cafes were open but there was less traffic and we cycled around to work up an appetite before returning to the marina. We had nut roast (Paul also had some ham) with most of the trimmings apart from parsnips, sprouts and stuffing. I had remembered to bring gravy with me because that’s tricky to find here, too. I’ve since seen parsnips and sprouts on sale but not stuffing. Most of the supermarkets had turkeys in the freezer departments, but there were no Christmas puddings either, even in the imported goods sections. We finished the day in the marina bar where I’d hoped to get a gin and tonic as it was Christmas. Alas, the request was met with a ‘no have any’, but the wine was nice.

Nice for a Christmas day swim!
The promenade, KK
Christmas evening on the waterfront

Boxing Day was spent having a good long walk around the resort’s hotels and facilities (pics below). The idea behind this was to check out the spa in the Magellan Hotel. My Christmas present from Paul was a massage of my choice and we set off to see what they had to offer, looking at the cafes, pools and shops on the way. All the treatments on the spa’s menu were tempting but I chose the one that combined the best of all of them and booked it for the next day. Needless to say it was wonderful. It lasted an hour and 20 minutes and I would happily have one every day if I could.


The days in Sutera Harbour post-Christmas have been wonderfully relaxing. We’ve done pretty much exactly what we want in beautiful surroundings and have met some nice people. Our neighbours, John and Kay invited us to join them and their friends for New Year’s Eve for some food and drinks on their boat and we all went to the end of the pontoon to watch the firework display from the beach bar party at midnight. As I type this, it’s almost time for me to return to the UK for six weeks to catch up with friends and family. When I return at the end of February, we will be preparing for the passage to The Philippines and then journeying on to Japan for the rally there. The Pacific crossing to North America follows that and it will be Christmas 2018 before we go home again. The pictures below show some of the places and things we’ve enjoyed in the weeks after Christmas.

Pacific Sutera Hotel

Images from Tanjung Aru Beach below

At the resort beach bar

Lovely Indian meal on the waterfront
Huge range of vegetarian products to choose from, KK

Sabah Museum


Tribal dancing in Imogi Mall
Cultural performance in a foodcourt
Busy Chinese food court





The route north (Beware of Mischief)

Just a quick update, The windlass is back on the bowsprit, working fine, I can lower the anchor with the motor now as well as by hand, also I wired in a cheap wireless remote which works well. I ended up moving the windlass Solenoid into the chain locker.

Kathy has taken over the watermaker maintenance, and is keeping records of the state of affairs, we were able to run it up here in the marina as the water is so clear here. We are getting about 300 ppm (Parts per million) pure water, which is quite acceptable I’m told. We can also make about 10 litres per hour, which isn’t too bad.

Finally I’m working on our passage north, on the map below you can see our route north from Borneo up past the western side of the Philippines.

Zooming in, you can see our route passes up past the Palawan Islands, we will be checking into  the Philippines, possibly at Puerto Princesa.To the west of the islands you can see lots of lumps in the sea, these are thousands of islands and reefs, many of them, like the Spratly islands have disputed owners, with China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim. Early on I thought I could sail across this area as it’s the most direct route to Hong Kong, but I soon realised you would have to be mad to go that way, the charts, where they exist, are often very inaccurate. Also there’s lots of  military activity around the place. Also there’s a load of uncharted reefs and rocks, for hundreds of miles the depth is only a few metres.
However, I was amazed to see a very large yacht had hit a reef known as ‘Mischief Reef’ a few days ago; as Kathy said, “surely the clues in the name”.

More details here
The area to the east of Palawan is where the pirates hang out, and although it’s supposed to be a fantastic place to cruise, we won’t be going there. We got friendly with a cruising couple in Miri who had been sailing the area where the pirates operate, for a few years, and on more than one occasion, they had missed the terrorists by a day or two. Sadly some of their friends they made there didn’t fare too well.

Once we get midway up Palawan, we have left the terrorists homeland and we will be well on our way to Japan.

I have been putting the next big job off for too long now, the heating system. The boat has plumbed in heating, but it probably hasn’t been used for twenty years, so who knows what state it will be in. I have started investigating the system and found out it’s an Eberspacher water heater system, so basically it burns diesel to heat water which it pumps around radiators. I have two radiators, or heat exchanges as they are known, these are small units fitted under the seating, which have fans to blow the hot air out. Much like the fan heaters you get on the local trains (I’m thinking Merseyrail). Fortunately the heater and the heat exchangers aren’t expensive, so if they are faulty, it’s probably easiest to replace them, rather than to think of a new system for the boat. My only worry is what happens when the unit decides not to start, mid ocean, when it’s freezing. I hate being cold. It has a computer inside (ECU), and I expect if it fails to start, there’s sod all I can do about it. On the last boat we had a diesel stove heater, diesel dripped onto a hot metal plate and burnt. It had a chimney, and that was about as complicated as it got, if the diesel dripped, and the chimney wasn’t blocked, it had to work. However, you had to keep everything clean of soot, and that proved to be a major pain, soot and boats don’t mix, especially if your as clumsy as me.

I mentioned I have ordered the solar panels from Panasonic, at a higher price than I can buy them in the UK, which is mad as they are made here in Malaysia, and are being shipped from the factory in Penang. Well just now I got the bill for shipping, £300 !!!!! I have never paid  £300 for shipping anything in my life, I’m still in shock. £300 buys me another fortnight lazing in this resort.

I bought a water filter today to put in line with the hose pipe, so that we are filtering the water before it goes into the tanks. I now feel like I have moved closer to being a real hardened cruiser as we are drinking the local tap water on the boat. We take the tap water through a 100 Micron course filter  on its way to the tanks, then a 20 Micron filter in the galley. While looking around the hardware store I bought the filter in, I wondered why they had so many kettles.

Paul Collister

Brunei Revisited, and Messing About on the River

Our bikes were stowed, all other departure prep was complete, and I steered us out of Labuan Marina early on a rainy mid-December morning. We were on our way to Brunei again. Muara, means ‘estuary’ in Malay and is located in Brunei’s northernmost district.  This visit would enable us to get another 3 month Malaysian visa once we had checked in and out. After anchoring opposite the ferry terminal, our first task was to gather up all the relevant papers and documents ready for presenting to the authorities. It was just after midday by then and in a lull from the rain, it was inevitably hot and humid. The place was eerily quiet and I hadn’t seen anyone moving around on the nondescript coastline during our approach. I had read more about Brunei’s customs and culture during the journey as there was a possibility we might stay long enough to explore the town. Reading from another very out of date travel guide (Lonely Planet Guide, 2001), acquired from the ‘book swap’ facility in Labuan Marina I learned that:

  • it is not customary to shake hands with people of the opposite sex (the action requires you to lightly touch the other hand and then bring your hands closely to your chest)
  • casual touching in public is frowned upon
  • pointing must be done with the thumb, not the forefinger
  • special officers prowl the streets after dark looking for unmarried couples standing or sitting too close to each other
  • and, of course there is a requirement to dress respectably.

The risk of committing one or more of those social faux pas made me slightly nervous, although the concluding sentence provided some reassurance: ‘Bruneians are generally reserved in public and are polite and hospitable, and not all are as zealous as the government’.  I’m not sure if all of that still applies, but it’s still a fact that Brunei’s citizens enjoy enviable patronage. There are pensions for all, free medical care, free schooling, free sport and leisure centres, cheap loans, subsidies for costly purchases, short working weeks, no taxes and a high minimum wage. The sale of alcohol is still banned, however.

Sister Midnight at anchor just behind the jetty, Brunei

Suitably attired, we got in the dinghy and set off towards officialdom. We tied up at the bottom of a flight of steps, watched by a couple of uniformed guys on the jetty above. We entered a cool, quiet and seemingly empty building, with a sign welcoming visitors to Brunei, along with one displaying the penalties for drug smuggling – death being one of them. There was a man sitting in a tiny office behind a glassed-off partition and Paul had to bend down in order to talk to him.

He told us that we would need to get cleared by the Health Officer first. No one was in that office when we knocked on the door, so we walked on and found the immigration office. The smell of food hit us when the door was opened in response to our knock and we could see a group of women sitting around a table tucking into what looked like a substantial feast. We were told that we would have to wait for the Health Officer to return before we could do anything else, and helpfully suggested we could fill in our immigration forms to pass the time. This filled ten minutes of the ensuing two-hour wait in the building, during which I read several chapters of my book, befriended the cat that was wandering around, went outside to see if anything was happening out there, then back inside to see if anyone had turned up, and played several moves on ‘words with friends’.

He was keen to welcome us 🙂

The place only sprang to life when the ferry was due and we realised we should have timed our arrival with that. The Health Officer appeared and dealt with us promptly (although she seemed to think we should have brought our own carbon paper to get duplicates of the paperwork – how remiss of us). At customs, we were asked by a rather dour man if we had alcohol on board and Paul told him we had two litres of wine. This caused a flash of irritation followed by a stern command to fill in a form to declare it. My heart was in my mouth at the thought that he might come over to inspect us! I was glad to exit that building, and once back on the boat we weighed anchor and motored on under the bridge – currently still under construction – with me steering I’m proud to declare.  We anchored opposite the Yacht Club, which we’d been told served good food but neither of us felt inclined to go ashore. My impression of Brunei had got off to a less than positive start, and the town itself didn’t look very appealing. It didn’t take us long to come to a decision to check out the following day and head towards the Klias River.

Another bridge that looks to low forus to fit underneath

It rained all through the night and was still pelting down at 8am when we made ready to return to the ferry terminal for more paper pushing. It had all but stopped by the time we anchored in the same spot as the previous day. The checking out process was the usual chaotic confusion involving conflicting instructions, being passed from one place to another, being told that we should have done this or that first and confused looks from staff examining the stamped paperwork we had obtained the previous day. At one point we sat on some seats in a huge empty room while waiting for the immigration lady to appear, and a lady washing the spotlessly clean floor asked if we’d mind moving somewhere else because she needed access to the part we were occupying!  The Harbour Master, behind the Perspex in the tiny office proved to be the most helpful, advising Paul what to do and say, and he smiled a lot too. Finally, once we were cleared and back on Sister Midnight, Paul called Port Control to inform them we were leaving and was reprimanded for being anchored in the way of the ferry’s route. It was definitely time to go. I took us out of the bay and into a sea heavy with swell. Rocking from side to side, it was tricky to keep the course. The autohelm did a grand job of staying on the track, though and took us most of the way to Klias. The water got shallower as we neared the entrance around 4 o’clock. We anchored in 6 metres of water, with a long, stilted coastal village on one side of us and mangroves on the other.

Stilted Village

The cruising notes Paul used to get us here stated that we would quite likely get bitten by mosquitoes, and that we should expect nightly visits from flying ants. We lit an anti-mosquito coil in the cockpit to deter them. These round devices give off a pungent, incense-like smell and they seem to work well, although the ants weren’t too bothered by it. As it grew dark we could hear the mullah from the stilted village preaching earnestly over the mosque’s loudspeakers but apart from him it was blissfully quiet: a state I would come to appreciate more and more during our days on the beautiful Klias River.

Entering the river

The River Klias

Gentle rocking ensured a restful night’s sleep and since we were in no great hurry to leave, we had a leisurely morning making the most of the internet in case reception was poor further on upriver. It wasn’t until 11 that I steered us around the island so that we were pointing in the right direction for the river trip. Initially, the water was alarmingly (for me) shallow but thankfully it didn’t go below 2.9 metres. The water was very still and brown in colour and I saw a few fish jumping (none of them were tempted by the lures Paul put out). It was humid on this overcast afternoon – hot when the sun broke through the clouds beaming straight into the cockpit at 2pm, forcing us to put cream on our feet and legs. We meandered along the bends of the river through largely unchanging scenery, while I kept my eyes peeled for proboscis monkeys.

Klias National Park is one of only 16 protected areas in Borneo where this endangered species can be seen. Logging, palm oil plantations and hunting pose ongoing threats to their survival but in Malaysia they are protected by a number of conservation laws. The river became gradually narrower and the vegetation on the right hand side of its banks grew taller and thicker. The chirrup of cicadas and bird calls could be heard above the noise of the engine, which was on low revs for our slow journey so as not to disturb the monkeys. Several eagles soared above the treetops and it was while watching them that I caught movement in the trees to my right and was thrilled to spot two monkeys in the branches of a tree on the river’s edge. Their gingery brown colour and distinctive large nose confirmed they were proboscis. Notoriously shy, they weren’t in view for long unfortunately but we hardly took our eyes away from the banks after that. Later, we saw a tree full of them but they were further back and moved far too quickly to capture on film.

Monkeys hiding in the trees 😉

The further on we went, the murky water became more still and as afternoon began to turn into evening, it looked and felt terrifically atmospheric and tranquil to be in the heart of such natural surroundings. I couldn’t help but contrast it with the scenes likely to be taking place in Liverpool One in the frenetic build up to Christmas. We crossed paths with a couple of Klias River Tour boats – passengers and crew waving enthusiastically at the sight of at us. It wasn’t long before we reached the place they had clearly come from: a viewing platform with information boards on proboscis monkeys and other wildlife to look out for.  A long, wooden platform had been constructed for people to stand quietly and attempt to spot them in their habitat. We began to see macaque monkeys as dusk fell. These are the more extrovert type and we’ve seen many on our travels. Unlike their more wary cousins, they appear to take pleasure in being seen, and will often approach people if they think they have food on them.

Rain clouds gathering above the viewing platform, Klias River
The light green floating islands of foliage on the river

Darkness was fast approaching, rain was beginning to fall and we hadn’t chosen a place to anchor by 5pm. Paul was all for turning back to the viewing platform area but I was worried it would be too dark by the time we reached it. We ploughed on a little further in the fine drizzly rain until we found a suitable spot and dropped anchor in 12 metres of water that was so still there was no need for reversing to dig it in the river bed. Paul took a line ashore in the dinghy, tying it to the trunk of a tree for extra security.

With the engine off and the water so still, the noises of the jungle were clearer than ever. Unfortunately, so was the sound of the traffic from the nearby dual carriageway from the village of Klias. It was hard to tell we were near a village apart from that because we were surrounded by thick mangrove forest. The only other clues were the ‘sunset view’ restaurants and boat jetties set up for the river tours, and these had all closed for the night. Mosquitoes would be rife here, and Paul reminded me that this environment might pose more of a risk of dengue fever… I went below and sought out more insect repellent. After dinner, Paul went above to check on our position and returned with the words ‘we seem to have backed into a tree!’ Branches were indeed touching the stern, poking eerily into the dimly-lit cockpit. Another line needed to be attached, among other tasks to sort it all out, so it was back into the dinghy with a torch for Paul, while I kept a lookout for crocs 😉 Back on board we enjoyed the night-time spectacle of the fireflies, which were like a multitude of little floating stars in the darkness.

I woke up once during the night, alarmed by a noise that was like someone banging on the side of the bow. It turned out to be the anchor, which had accrued a fair bit of the river’s floating debris and was being bashed against the side as the current pulled on it. I didn’t know until later that Paul had got up all through the night to attend to the lines on the river bank, experiencing some challenging moments at times – as described in his blog entry.  The pic below shows him making ready to hack away at the debris around our anchor chain in the morning.

Both of us were up early enough to fully appreciate the beauty of the jungle at sunrise. For a couple of hours we sat drinking coffee and watched and listened as nature came to life around us. The monkeys were still too far away to see properly but we could see them jumping from branch to branch, while the birds communicated to each other in a stereo-like fashion. Now and again a fish jumped in the water. It was wonderful: I felt as far removed from the chaos of Christmas as it was possible to be.

Sunrise on The River Klias

Preparing to leave in the early morning

We were ready to leave at 8. Paul undid all the lines, cleared more leaves from them and I stood at the helm, ready to prevent us drifting backwards into the trees. All I needed to do in the event, however was to execute the three-point-turn we’d been practising to manoeuvre us back in the right direction. Soon we were slowly edging our way back down river, watched by a few curious long-tailed macaques. By 9 it was hot, and we hardly needed any power to move along. We let the current take us slowly, with the gear in neutral, ever on the lookout for photo opportunities.

One of the ‘dinner at sunset’ restaurants near our anchorage just after sunrise
Klias River Tour boat getting ready for the day
Heading downriver

The beautiful and peaceful Klias

At the observation point we dropped the anchor to have a late breakfast, and to take a closer look at the viewing platform. It was reassuring to read the information boards (pictured below). We didn’t see any of the creatures listed but it was great to stand there in the silence and take some pictures.

Our next anchorage was in a much wider part of the river. As we were now further away from the tourist area, there were fewer boats and it was even more peaceful. The flying ants we’d been warned about came in droves at dusk. They were everywhere! Tiny and harmless, but disconcerting nonetheless to see so many flying, jumping and crawling around us.

Saturday December 16th

Paul got up early to have a morning row in the kayak and when I got up to have a look I could see why he’d felt drawn to do so. It was glorious! Cool, sunny, a clear blue sky, calm water and the only sounds, the jungle chorus emanating from the riverbank’s trees and mangroves – just waiting to be explored.  I stood in the cockpit for a while watching Paul drift in the current on the edge of the mangroves. No wildlife spotted but a real balm to the senses.

He enthused about the detail in the roots and branches of the mangroves and it was good practice in the kayak (something I’ve yet to attempt). We cruised on down the river, stopping at one point to let the current carry us in silence. Monkeys were definitely further back in the forest and we hoped they might venture out if it was quiet. They weren’t to be fooled, however. They simply climbed higher up into the leafy branches of the trees, visible intermittently in the gaps or when they jumped from one tree to another. At 1pm we anchored for the final stop before heading back to the river’s mouth. Paul went for another kayak to check the area and when he returned we both went out in the dinghy so that I could see the mangroves up close. They were well worth seeing. The pics below show better than I can describe what we saw when we took the dinghy along a tributary. The tranquillity and ambience you’ll have to take my word for.

Lots of large, buzzing insects were around and were keen to explore the boat. It was hard to tell if they might sting but I dodged out of their way just in case. It led us to carry out a task that had been on the list for a while: to fix the wire mesh in the windows and hatches. They are virtually insect-proof now.

It looked like it had the ability to sting!

Our final night on the river was a rainy one but caused a welcome cooler temperature. Our soft drink supply was running low due to the amount of cold cans we got through in the heat of the day. We were up by 7 30 and on our way an hour later. I effected another three-point-turn out of the tight spot while the rain pelted down.  The wet weather continued for the whole passage to the mouth of the river where we anchored just out of the swell. The wind picked up, and combined with the rain it made us feel cold at times – which is a novelty here. We would be heading to Tiga the next day, an island recommended to us by John and Carol in Miri. After that, it would be time for our Christmas in the Tropics in Kota Kinabalu. I had loved the sojourn on the Klias River and even though it was a shame I didn’t manage to get clear picture of the proboscis monkeys I’m glad I saw them, albeit from a distance. Here is what they look like, courtesy of the internet library.



New Years Eve in Kota Kinabalu

We joined our neighbours for a barbeque on the pontoon here for new years eve, then we dragged some chairs to the end finger and watched the massive fireworks display the resort had organised (gif above). There was a big party going on over the water in one of the hotels gardens, with a live band on a big stage counting the new year in. It was odd thinking of our friends and family back home who were enjoying the afternoon (4pm) possibly thinking of their partying 8 hours later, also knowing we might get a few texts ( or WhatsApps as it turned out) around 8AM our time.

New years day was quite sedate, however one of the royal family turned up to have a little motor over to one of the islands, this was quite an ordeal, red carpet was laid out along the pontoons and a cavalcade of security personnel arrived, along with lots of armed police, and the army. Police motor launches (High speed RIBs) motored in and around the marina, inspecting the pontoons, and the boats used to transport the entourage were thoroughly searched. 

I really like Kota Kinabalu, or KK as most people call it, downtown is quite grimy, but it’s very lively, street markets everywhere, and a massive central market area that runs for a mile along the waterfront. Fresh fruit and Veg, herbs and spices, fish, meat and textiles make up the main sections, however within the fresh food bit there is another smaller, but very lively fish market, with the vendors hacking away at fish and shouting out their offers making a constant barrage of noise.

Tonight I bought a 1/2 Kilo of skipback tuna steak off these guys above, it tasted great. it’s £2.50 / kg here, back home it’s ten times that. I took some more pictures a week ago, hope you like looking at fish!

It’s fish heaven here. However, we learned of a darker side to all of this recently, some traders are alleged to go to some lengths to keep their produce looking fresh, this involves spraying the fish with hand sanitizer, using formaldehyde and other products you don’t want to be digesting. One stall was recently spotted with a dead bear sprawled across the table. I think this is illegal, but ignored in the market. I’m very glad we didn’t see that, there might have been a scene.

I spotted this raft off the main town quay a few days ago, there were a couple of kids sitting there fishing. A few days ago, we took a bike ride past the airport to Tajung Aru, the next cove along the coast, where the local sailing club is located. We took some old back roads I could see on google earth, to avoid the highway, as you can see below, if your not careful, the jungle will try to grab the land back in no time at all.

The beach at Aru had a great display made by the crabs

And later I managed to catch this guy casting his net in the bayNow the serious stuff, boat jobs.

The Anchor windlass is something I have been putting off, the fact is it works to recover the Anchor & chain, and that’s its main job so why mess with it. A good question.
Well the clutch has two clutch cones, they allow me to control the speed the anchor drops at, and they need to be kept clean. I can only access one, because I need to remove a bracket on the windlass to release the gypsy to get to the second cone. I can’t remove the bracket, because the allen screws holding it on are wrecked and need to be drilled out. This is a job I hate, but I also need to remove the motor to check it and maybe clean it, and to replace the solenoid so I can use the motor in reverse.
The bigger reason for doing this is that I know if I ignore it, then it will fail at some point. I don’t know which bit will fail, but I won’t be able to fix it, because when it fails I will most likely be dragging in a big squall, heading for danger, probably at night and I will be cursing myself for not servicing the damn thing when I was lazing around in some luxury resort wondering how to kill time!

Day one had me drilling out the two reluctant Allen screws, which took an hour, followed by a very careful extraction of their stubs. This went remarkably well, but in the heat, I decided to call it a day.
Day two and I was able to remove the other very dirty cone, and extract the main axle that drives the chain gypsy and rope drum. Now of the 8 screws that hold the motor and gears in place, 7 came out, after a short fight, the 8th can’t come out because another bracket is in the way of the screw, so I tried to undo the 4 allen screws holding that bracket in, and they won’t budge. I wrecked one trying, so off to the shops to buy some new HSS bits to drill them out.
The problem here is that the screws are stainless steel and they screw into a cast aluminium alloy case, the two dissimilar metals react over time, I think the salt in the seawater and air provides an electrolyte and the corrosion joins the two parts. This is very difficult to overcome.
If you look on youtube, Lewmar has a video of a tour around their production facility in the UK, I was watching this while trying to find teardown videos for the windlass, and they actually had a shot of the man putting the very same screws into the windlas that I was trying to take out. He added a chemical to the screws, specifically to enable them to come apart, (Duralec or similar, I expect) while I was shouting at the laptop screen, “It doesn’t work”

Tomorrow we start drilling. Then I will hopefully complete the disassembly, followed by the service and re-assembly, all in time for my departure from here on the 18th

Below you can see the starboard water tank, that lives below the settee / sea berth. I had noticed big rust stains all over it, but couldn’t find the cause. However when filling up the tanks a few days ago, we saw water on the cabin sole. Further investigation revealed that the water level sensor (black thing on the far right) was leaking. I think this meant that on a full tank, or if the boat rocked a lot, water squirted out onto the tank top, then down the side. I have fixed the leak, polished the steel, and took this picture so I can remind myself what it looked like, for when I next inspect it in a few months time.

I have ordered 2 * 325w HIT Sanyo/Panasonic solar panels direct from Panasonic. They are huge, and when I get to Kudat, I will arrange to have a frame made to support them above the helm position. 650W of high efficiency (19.7% with a low temp co-ef) panels will give me a lot of power, I can’t wait to see how they work out.

Paul Collister

Christmas 2017

First, a few pictures I meant to put in the Klias section.

This ferry came very close as we left the river, and gave us a loud, friendly hoot on his horn.

One of the problems here is the fishing marks, buoys, lines, nets etc. Below is one of the small markers, made of a small polystyene block. As you can see it’s very hard to spot, yet there were dozens of them, in a line along both sides of the river, every 25 metres or so.

I have zoomed in to show you the detail.

These floating islands seem handy for the fishermen to park in while they do some boaty chores. This guy was working on his motor.

I saw a few trees supported by very exposed roots. I don’t know how this works, is it soil erosion, or something else going on.

We have been in Sutera harbour now for about ten days, and I must say it’s very relaxing. The resort consists of two big 5 star hotels and a marina; there are all the usual facilities, tennis & squash courts, golf courses, 5 pools, Gym, bowling alley etc etc. The staff are very friendly and helpful, and the whole place is very chilled. A great place for Christmas. We had a dinner here on Christmas eve, the locals tend to celebrate Christmas that way. The food was in a buffet format, and there was so much choice, I expect that’s what a cruise ship is like, and I could get fat very quickly. For some reason, it’s just not good enough to have one wonderful main course, you have to try everything. Then after trying the Duck, Chicken, Turkey, Lamb and beef, you need to see what the Salmon tastes like, and then somehow fit in the lovely cakes, pies, sorbets and sweets on offer. Thank goodness we only do that once in a while.
Kathy had a luxury Spa treatment as her Christmas present from me, I’m tempted to have one, but im scared I might get addicted to them. Here’s a picture of the Spa and some more of the resort. Downtown Kota Kinabalu is a very busy, car congested space. It has a very frantic waterfront with several markets, fresh fish, veg, fancy goods etc, along with a row of bars and nightclubs, all looking out over the bay. There’s a stilted village on the island just opposite the town and lots of small boats race between there and the town. There’s also a load of shopping centres/Malls ranging from 80’s dilapidated to the very latest hi-style offerings, plus more are on the way.

Today I decided to tackle a water leak on the engine. A few weeks ago when we were preparing to leave Miri, I gave the engine a full visual inspection, that’s about all my knowledge allows, after I have checked the oil and water levels. I never took to engines, but I’m learning. Anyway, as a result I noticed rust and corrosion starting on a bracket near the starter motor, further inspection revealed a very corroded area above it, around the sea water cooling pump. Basically there was a leak around or inside the pump, dripping salt water down onto the hot engine. This is a recipe for disaster as I have discovered to my cost on Stardust, my last baba. So today I decided to tackle it, This meant taking the pump cover off, cleaning everything up and replacing the impeller and putting back together without the leak. I hate this job, as on stardust, and on this boat, the pump never works after I change the impeller. Anyway, off we went and found a lot of grime around the pump and its cover plate, also I found the impeller had a vane missing, so it was worth doing the job, just for that.

I was able to get everything cleaned up and re-assembled, and as you can see below it looks cleaner, if not a little confused about the best direction for the fins/vanes.

Sure enough, when I ran it up, it didn’t work, just like the last time after the yard launched me, something to do with air being sucked in and it not being able to create a vacuum. I’m not sure if putting the bung in the middle, which I had forgotten, or reversing the cover plate was the cure, but after I did these things, it was back to pumping water just fine, and I couldn’t see any trace of a leak, however I need to watch it closely over time.

Above, a local speciality

And below, a visitor to our pontoon. There are lots of birds here, and they all seem quite tame.

We like it so much here that we have decided to extend our stay until Kathy flys home in a couple of weeks, I have found local suppliers of Solar Panels, so I can get that organised. Once Kathy goes, I’m probably going to sail up to Kudat, a bit further north and haul out in preparation for our trip to the Japan/USA, which starts proper on March 2nd now.

Paul Collister


December in the Rain. From Miri to Brunei to Labuan

After almost two months in the marina at Miri, it was time to move on.  We made some good friends there and it’s highly likely we’ll meet up with several of them again. Like us, most of the people we’ve met are long-term travellers so our paths will hopefully cross at some future anchorage or marina. We had heard conflicting views about Labuan from our Miri neighbours. We could expect the marina to be a bit run down said some, while according to others the town doesn’t have much to offer.  One couple had nothing but praise for its good cycling routes, nice fish restaurants and great shopping (they did admit the marina was a bit run down though). I was just eager to get back on the water, with the prospect of new surroundings to look forward to, even if they were likely to be less than salubrious. I felt that we had ‘done’ Miri. Time for a change.

The day before leaving, we checked out of Malaysia via the usual sequence of immigration, customs and harbour master (not ever necessarily or consistently in that order) which thankfully went smoothly and promptly. With just a few more fresh provisions to get and some stowing to do, we were all set for an early departure on the first day of December. I was a bit nervous that everyone would be on the pontoon to wave us off; a situation always guaranteed to make me get flustered and make mistakes. As it turned out, just Ian and Marilyn from the catamaran next door were there to let our lines go because we had said our goodbyes to people the previous evening. We motored out into the bay at 9am with no hassle and were soon experiencing the familiar side-to-side rocking from the swell as we progressed further out.

Leaving Miri

My sea legs always tend to desert me after a long period on land and I began to feel slightly nauseous when I went below.  It was humid in the cockpit, however so I just sat still up there and zoned in to my latest book-related delight (Audible) while the autohelm took on steering duties.  There were oil rigs and a few industrial boats, but not a lot else to look out for as Miri faded into the distance and the coast of Brunei grew closer. As we neared the river entrance the swell lessened and I began to feel better. The water was murky brown, and even though the depth was as low as 3 metres at times, it wasn’t possible to see the bottom.  We ended up anchoring in 2.5 metres off the coast of Brunei in a place called Belait. Maybe because the word Brunei always makes me think ‘money’, I had the impression that the buildings lining the shore looked opulent, such as you’d see on wealthy parts of coastal Europe. It was a very peaceful spot until the speedboats arrived! These were what Paul described as rich boys’ toys. For most of the late afternoon they raced past and around us at lightning speeds, probably using our boat as a marker, and the noise was like being at a Grand Prix. I knew they wouldn’t be continuing in the dark, though so it wasn’t as irritating as it could have been.

Leaving the anchorage at Belait

Jerudong was to be our next stop. We planned the route after dinner and discovered it would be an 8 or 9 hour passage. The chart had alarming warnings at various points on the route, such as ‘firing practice area’, ‘reefs’, ‘submerged rocks and pipelines’ but Paul just skirted around them with the cursor and said all would be fine. Anyway we would need to start early so we were on our way before 7am. It was a gorgeous morning, with a lovely cool breeze, and the sun had not long risen as we left the river in 5 metres of calm water.

Sunrise at Belait

Further out, it looked a bit choppy so I made coffee before it became too rocky. With mugs of hot coffee, and bananas for breakfast we sat in the cockpit enjoying the breeze. Paul put the main sail up at 8, quickly followed by the headsail, and then a fishing line was put out at the stern. Unfortunately, a ‘huge’ fish grabbed it and he had to watch it all unravel and disappear into the water, complete with the lure. The mission to catch a fish goes on  😉

Fishing line visible on left of picture

Jerudong was a strange place. The place we anchored was once destined to be a luxury marina until one of the Brunei princes spent all the country’s money. Work had stopped abruptly and it had an abandoned feel to it – eerie almost. We were the only boat there but would have had to leave if any of the royal family were using the nearby beach. It was gone 3 by then so there was little chance of them turning up. We did have mosquitoes for company later on, though and we both had bites in the morning.

Jerudong beach

Another early star for the next leg to Keraman. Paul had to fix the deckwash before we left so that he could blast all the mud off the chain with it. It was a shame the wind only allowed us to have the sails up for an hour or so without the engine on. Not only is it more peaceful and economical like that, it also means we don’t get the smell of diesel wafting into the cockpit. By 12 30 we were anchored fairly near to Labuan and were back in Malaysian territory. Due to the sea state we had to move twice before we finally settled. The first time was due to excessive rolling and the second time because Paul discovered the falling tide would cause us to go aground eventually. After that it was ‘as you were’; relaxing in the cockpit, watching the sunset; glass of wine; a good book; ‘words with friends’ games…lovely 🙂

We were in no great rush to leave  in the morning as Labuan is only an hour away from Keraman. However, our sleep patterns seem to have reverted to an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ pattern and we were both up early anyway. This pattern is more suited to the tropical climate and lifestyle, and it’s wonderful to sit in the cockpit in the early morning sun. The approach to the marina at Labuan was very busy with container ships, fishing vessels and passenger ferries vying for position. Once we located the entrance we motored slowly in just before midday.

View from our berth in Labuan with a handy bar underneath the white building

The sun was scorching hot; I could feel my skin burning despite the liberal amount of protection oil on it.  The heat was the thing that caused me most stress on our first afternoon there. I simply could not get cool even with the canopy up and all the fans on. Paul told me the temperature was in the 40s! I resorted to frequent cold showers but the effect wore off fairly quickly and I was counting the hours until sundown.  We had given away our air conditioning system to John and Carol in Miri because I found it too cold and restrictive. I didn’t like the fact that all the hatches and windows need to be closed when it’s on. Just this once, though I found myself longing for it! The marina itself is ‘ok’, the descriptions of its being a bit run down are accurate but it’s adequate for our needs. We have water and electricity…and duty free shops to explore.

Labuan Marina (rubbish out of shot)

Paul had a chat with Geoff not long after we got there, a friend he’d got to know via email and had finally met in Miri, so he gave us some useful local information.  At 4 o’clock Paul suggested we walk over to the shopping mall to take advantage of its air conditioning. The walk there revealed more of just how run down the marina is. Some of the fingers had broken away from the pontoons and the water is crammed with floating rubbish of all kinds – obviously the ubiquitous plastic bottles and carrier bags, but also several sandals, paint tins and other domestic waste, as Paul showed in his pictures. We passed a nice-looking bar which is part of the luxury hotel next to the marina. Beyond the marina entrance was a park, a busy main road and the huge mall, lined with duty free outlets offering cheap alcohol, chocolate, perfumes etc. We had a quick look but were in no hurry to get anything, just to get cool was enough for me. The mall wasn’t as icy cool as we expected, however because the air conditioning had broken, but it was more bearable than the inside of the boat.  We found the supermarket in the usual location of the basement and picked up a few essentials, then had a walk around to check out the cafes and restaurants but none of them appealed to us. We decided to have a walk into town later. At 7pm it was still hot and humid. The walk took about 30 minutes and it was dark by then so it was hard to get a proper impression of the town but the centre seemed lively with plenty of shops and restaurants. Paul had done some research and found us an Indian restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious curry and (for me) a glass of cold beer.

The following morning it was time to check in to Labuan. Even though it’s part of Malaysia, Sabah is an independent state, so immigration and customs need to be visited. As we’d be staying a week or so, we unpacked the bikes which had been folded and stowed in bags in the quarter berth for the passage to Labuan. It was good to know they can be put away and retrieved with very little hassle. We left early to avoid the heat, knowing that it’s never possible to tell how long the process will take. The morning temperature at 8am was bearable but held the promise of intensifying as the day went on. We passed the big hotel that it was too dark to see properly the previous evening, and cycled down the wide, tree-lined boulevard. It felt great to be back on the bikes. Once again, we were greeted and waved at by several of the people we passed. We didn’t see many other cyclists so maybe bike riding is a bit of a novelty here. Checking in done, we explored the town further and came upon a huge fruit and veg market near the waterfront.

Outside the market, Labuan

We spent a pleasant hour there selecting fresh produce and looking at the wide range of stuff for sale. The picture shows how massive the place is, and there was more on the floor above, although this was just typical market fare: plastic containers galore, materials, cheap clothes, make up and household goods. Paul found a shop devoted to fishing gear and spent some time inside, debating which products would help get him a fish 😉 On the way back we bought some wine. From the £10 – £12 it cost in Miri, it was a welcome sight to see it with price tags of £5 for the cheapest. Only red wine is available in boxes though, so it would take a few trips to stock up and stash the bottles in our bike baskets.

Just a small section of the market
Lots to choose from!

Later in the evening we cycled to Ramsey Point, a beach and promenade area further along the coast. Here, in 1846, the Sultan of Brunei handed over control of Labuan to the British. Almost a hundred years later, on 10 June 1945 the beach was used to land Allied forces liberating Labuan from the Japanese occupation.  We had a walk around and had a look at the restaurant at the end of the pier where you cook your own food at the table after selecting ingredients from a buffet. People were having great fun on the zip wire attraction that had been set up from the balcony of a high tower, down to the edge of the pier. Shame that it closed before we had a chance to have a go.

Ramsey Point
Zip-wire fun
Restaurant at the end of the pier
View from the pier

Before returning to the boat we stopped at the hotel bar opposite the marina. We had to go through the reception of the plush hotel to get to it and were kindly escorted by one of their smartly-clad staff. Only red wine was available by the glass so I opted for a beer. The lady who took the order urged me to take advantage of the two for one offer that was in operation for that hour. I said I couldn’t manage two but Paul pointed out that we could take the second can back with us.  The pint glass, when it arrived looked more than I could manage so there was no way I would be taking advantage of another one for free. This was another of the bars that could have been anywhere in Europe and I knew that one visit would be enough for us.

Early in the morning we went aground! Or rather, the keel was bouncing on the bottom due to a very low tide at 7am. I knew something was amiss because it felt like were being jerked, as if someone was pulling on our mooring ropes, a most unnerving feeling. It didn’t last long though before the tide began to rise again. In the afternoon we visited Labuan’s botanical gardens. The cycle ride there was lovely, probably one which had led keen cyclists, John and Carol to praise the place. There were one or two steep hills, unlike Miri but it was good exercise and going down them was exhilarating. Pics below of the gardens, which were lush and pretty and provided much needed shade from the sun. I wish there had been a bit more information about the location of the official residence of Labuan’s British Governors. It had been built in 1852 but was destroyed in 1945 during WW2. There were photographs of it but it was hard to determine where it had stood exactly. Apparently, only a tiny fragment of it remains and the grounds were landscaped and converted into a public park in 2001.

Some gruesome information there!

Enjoying the shade

Our next cycle ride took us into the town centre early one evening to an Indian ‘café’ we’d looked up online. There had been a heavy, sultry heat all day and I had stayed in the cabin reading and feeling lethargic so I welcomed the prospect of a bike ride. We arrived at the restaurant sweating and thirsty and enjoyed an Indian feast accompanied by icy cold fresh fruit juices in an air conditioned (rather brightly lit) restaurant. As we began to cycle back, the rain started. It got heavier and heavier but we decided to just ride through it and it turned out to be a great experience. That was another enjoyable first for me – cycling in a torrential downpour, splashing through deep puddles while people laughed and waved at us.

For the next few days we continued to add to the wine collection, and also stocked up on cans of soda water and soft drinks. It began to rain more frequently and we got used to jumping up at the first sound of it to close all the hatches and windows. One afternoon, we could hear it pounding on the roof during a visit to the local museum. It had been an interesting hour in there reading about Labuan’s experiences in World War 2 under Japanese occupation. We emerged at about 5pm to witness a spectacular downpour. It was hard to see very far ahead and the sound it made was amazing. This was the NE monsoon making its presence felt. We stood for about 30 minutes watching it, along with a young couple and their little girl as we took shelter under the museum’s covered forecourt. We were amused when as soon as it began to lessen in force, the man walked over to their car, (using the protection of an umbrella) which was parked about 10 steps away from the shelter! Is there something they’re not telling us about the rain here! Anyway, we left at the same time to have another wet ride back to the boat. There was loud thunder all evening and the rain continued throughout the night.

The museum visit had reignited my interest in the Second World War period in this area. There had been photographs and information of The Peace Park, the ‘Surrender Point’ plaque where the Japanese had signed the surrender in 1945, and the field where the war graves are located. When Paul suggested a trip to see these I was all for it. Our original plan had been to hire a car and visit a nearby spa but the rainy weather had put paid to that and I liked the thought of this excursion a lot better anyway.  More steep hills to negotiate but it was a cool day with not much traffic around. The war cemetery was very moving. It’s extremely well kept by The Commonwealth Graves Commission. We spent a long time looking at the messages on the graves’ metal plaques – each one with a different and personal tribute.

From there we went to a hypermarket in our ongoing search for ground coffee and non-dairy spread (so Guardian are we). Paul had a map that informed him where he could get ‘good cheese’ of all things but it didn’t mention coffee and didn’t live up to its promise regarding the cheese. The cheese here is imported obviously and therefore expensive but there was nothing different about it, and we couldn’t find any spread or coffee either. Cycling back in the heat, I thought of the reports of snow, frost, ice and cold winds we’ve been hearing about in Britain and found it hard to imagine after so long away. I still miss the contrast in seasons but at least I’m getting more of a sense of the monsoon season this year because we weren’t in Asia last December.

Monsoon rain at the market

On Monday December 11th we set off early to go through the checking out process in readiness for the next day’s departure. The rain held off for a little while but it was soon pouring down heavily – too heavy to risk a drenching cycle back. We took shelter in the bakery/coffee shop where we buy our bread and I had my first cup of Malaysian ‘kopi’. I requested black, no sugar but the concept of anything without sugar amazes people here. I got it sugarless but the lady brought it over and pointed to the bowl of sugar on the table if I changed my mind. It looked like coffee and it was hot but the resemblance ended there. I don’t think I’ll order another one. We sat there and played ‘words with friends’ and waited and waited but the rain fell relentlessly. It was lunchtime by then and the aromas coming from  the food made us hungry. It seems to be a popular place with office workers who were loading their plates with noodles and rice and fried eggs and tofu and veg and chicken from the hot buffet. We caved in, got ourselves a plate and chose a selection of the dishes which you could heap on a plate for as little as £1.50, and it was gorgeous. One more trip to buy wine and chocolate from the duty free mall and we were ready to leave Labuan in the morning. Our next destination would be Muara and then a much-anticipated trip up the Klias River to see the rare Proboscis monkeys.






Klias – TIga – Kota Kinabalu (Sabah)

We arrived in Menumbok not long before sunset on Wednesday 13th Dec 2017 , we anchored in about 8 metres of water off the main village there, next to a small island. The route we took meant that we almost went back to Labuan, then continued north East past Labuan before we went east over the top of a large sandbank, then south on the other side of the bank, we were down to about 3 metres of water at one point, but all was well. I was optimistic we could have done a more direct route, but the electronic charts I have said it was too shallow. Later I saw a car ferry taking the direct route, through water the chart says is 0.5 – 1.0 metres deep. I was grateful to a contributor to the sailors web site for leaving detailed waypoints that allowed me to safely get into the river. I am now feeling guilty at how little I have contributed to the shared knowledge base of sailing, especially around here were knowledge is scant online, or even in print.After two days of early starts, we had a lie in on Thursday before making the 5 hour passage up the river, to the furthest point we can reach with a yacht. This is due to high voltage lines crossing the river.  I had got my head around that ok, but had forgotten that overhanging trees are a problem two, I’m so used to motoring along the river banks taking in the shade of the overhead trees when in the dinghy, I had to remind myself that I have a 15mtr mast that would easily hit some of the giant trees leaning into the river.

Fairly early on the passage we saw a couple of monkeys in the trees, these were Proboscis monkeys, very rare, however they seem to be very shy and don’t hang around. A little later we saw a whole gang of them in a giant tree. However as soon as we slowed down, each time we had a sighting, they all buggered off.

For the first 18 or so miles of the trip up river we only saw one other person, a fisherman in a small boat. However as we approached the last few miles, we saw boat after boat crammed with Chinese tourists, there for the ‘monkey safari trips’. It was now getting late and we needed to get anchored, the river had narrowed from being several hundred feet wide at the start to now being about 150ft wide, maybe 3 or 4 boat lengths at best, the river was still quite deep, 10 metres at the last section before the pylon. If I had anchored in the middle of the river, I might be swinging so much I would hit one or both of the river banks, which were mostly overgrown jungle mangrove. I was quite pleased to have this challenge, but not so happy the light was going, no moonlight, so it would be very dark soon. So I anchored about two thirds of the way across in the river, leaving room for boats to pass, and reversed back on the anchor to set it in. Unfortunately it didn’t set quickly, and we had almost reversed into the turning behind us when the chain went tight. I didn’t really have room to dig it in deep,, but it seemed good and there was only a gentle current flowing. Also there was no wind around, we were surrounded by high trees.

Next I took a long line from the stern to a strong trunk in the mangroves, using the dinghy. That was a messy job, creepers falling all around me as I worked my way towards the slimy trunk. Back on the boat I tightened this line and the boat lay snug, parallel to the mangrove river edge. More monkeys and egrets were spotted, then we retired for dinner as the sun set. A little later I was in the cockpit watching the show put on by the fireflies that had come out, very pretty. At the same time the tour boats were still whizzing past, sometimes stopping to shine bright spotlights up into the trees, presumably showing sleeping monkeys, poor things.
It was about 11pm that Kathy asked what all the noise was on the hull, I was fast asleep, I went up to look and it was obvious the boat had moved, the stern was almost in the mangroves, just about 6ft to go. I didn’t want this, who knows, the monkeys might have got onboard and started making tea (UK only joke I think?) I went to the bow and took up a lot of slack on the anchor chain, that pulled us forward, but I stopped before the chain went tight as I was sure the anchor wasn’t set properly. However the boat came back away from the shore and I retired, not before noticing the dinghy was engulfed in an island of weed and growth, the size of our boat. I hoisted the dinghy out of the water and went back to bed to plan my next move.

At midnight I got up to look what was happening, it had been raining for a few hours now and the river was flowing quite strong. Large amounts ( Islands in fact) of bamboo and weed were moving down the river and wrapping themselves around the anchor chain. We had now moved a long way out passed the centre of the river and were straddling it, if I didn’t fix this we would be swept into the mangroves.

I should have lost the stern line, and reset the anchor, but it was pitch black, I didn’t want to row into the mangroves at this late hour, I’d be eaten alive by the bugs, also I didn’t want to just throw the stern line overboard for later retrieval, as I was worried about it getting wrapped on the prop, especially as I wouldn’t be able to see it, or even see where I was. There was no moon, and we were surrounded by forest.  I settled on a new plan of action, take the kedge anchor from the stern, row it out to well upriver, and bring the rope back to the bow, then pull myself back up to the correct position.

This worked well, the kedge seemed to set, and I got the boat back in position and went back to bed, setting the alarm for an hour later. An hour later and we are heading back to the mangroves, and I’m getting just a little fed up. I yank on the kedge line and it’s not holding at all, I keep pulling and eventually it seems to catch, so I pull the boat back into position, aware that the anchor is less likely to hold now it has less scope. Back to bed for another hour of dreams about mangroves and ropes. Up again, and the kedge has slipped again, there’s a huge island of weed wrapped around the bow, chain, and kedge rode, and we are at 45 degrees from where we should be, however we don’t seem to be moving, so I make a note of where we are, and back to bed for an hour, an hour later we haven’t moved, and the sun is coming up soon, so I have a little sleep, then we are up for the day around 7am. We held well then, and had a lovely breakfast while watching the monkeys cavorting in the tree opposite us. All in all, despite a very bothersome night, I’m glad we did that, and I have learnt a lot in the process.

As I write this, we are again at anchor in the river, however this time Kathy and I went to great lengths to make sure we got the anchor set properly, there’s more space here and the rivers wider so we took the exact middle. We are lit up, rather appropriately, like a christmas tree, yet there are no boats on this stretch of the river.
One thing I noticed at 3am and 4am was the sound of chainsaws revving away. This saddened me, as the only reason I can imagine for this would be illegal logging. So much of this wonderful forest and wetlands has been handed over to palm oil plantations, that the monkeys and other wildlife are squeezed into quite a small area. looking on google I can see the bank we are anchored off has a manmade river / culvert joining it near us, and there’s another 200 metres further along. These waterways, about 10m wide lead to plantations just a little back from the river bank. I don’t think the monkeys can cross these man made rivers and that may explain why we haven’t seen any in this stretch.

I can happily report that the insects, flying insect, flying caterpillar like things, flying ants etc are doing just fine, as a few hundred joined us in the cabin for dinner tonight. Well when I say they are doing well, there numbers are down a little after I took my electric tennis racquet to them. 


We both loved our trip on the river, we spent 3 days returning back to the mouth, and often the engine was off as we drifted with the current down the river, scanning the trees for monkeys, which we often heard, but saw less frequently. I had a great time kayaking up some creeks and listening to the strange noises from the trees/palm plants as the gusts of wind pushed their way through.

One of the palms had a new leaf forming and reminded me of my rubber plant back home, that would kick off a new leaf every month or so, except this one was about 30ft tall, see below

Leaving the river on Monday morning we headed out into a very wet and windy South China Sea, we left bang on low water and retraced our steps back across the sandbank, except this time big waves were breaking on the bank, in the place my track said we traversed on the way in. I steered clear and hoped it was deeper were we were going. It was close but an hour later we were in deep (well 5mtrs) water. From there we made a beeline for the island of Tiga, or ‘Survivor Island’ as some local entrepreneurs have renamed it. The reason being that the 2000 TV series ‘Survivor’ was filmed here. We anchored on the SW side, however the wind was 15-20 knots from the SW and was bringing in a bit of chop, but the bigger waves and swell were coming in from the offshore storms to the NW/N. All in all it wasn’t great, but I knew the wind would abate later so we stopped, the anchor was well and truly set, and tested, by Kathy taking us full astern at maximum revs for a good while until we were shore we didn’t move. If the anchor had failed, we would end up on the beach.  Kathy baked some fine bread then we retired for the night. It was too miserable to go ashore, and we decided to wait until the morning, but as it turned out the morning was even more overcast and raining harder. We will return soon, as the island, complete with its natural mineral mud baths looks very interesting. Also Kathy wants to add it to her list of film locations she has visited.
We upped anchor and raised all the sails and headed NE to Kota Kinabalu, or KK as everyone calls it. It’s the capital of Malaysia’s most eastern state Sabah, and our home for Christmas. The wind was a steady 10-15 knots on our stern meaning a good run, we sailed for 6 hours making an average of 5-6 knots. I put the spinnaker pole out to steady the yankee sail, I hadn’t done this before, but with the wind directly behind us, the sail needed this as it kept collapsing. The spinnaker pole is massive, and very heavy, and quite a job to manhandle on the foredeck with the boat rolling from side to side. The mast fitting jammed and I had to climb the mast a bit, that was fun. I managed to get it rigged, but it didn’t help. I now know a new system is required, and I need to sort this quick as we might be doing a lot of downwind sailing in the pacific. In the end, after a lot of flapping I decided to do two long broad reaches, port then starboard, and we had a great sail. I should have tried getting the spinnaker up, but I still find the prospect of that quite daunting, and the boat was rolling so much, it didn’t seem like the best time to start learning the ropes (pun intended).

Soon enough we called into the marina on VHF CH71 and were told to proceed to the entrance and they would guide us to our berth, very professional, I went back to the wheel to see a man in a small powerboat waving at us to follow him into our berth, at the pontoon 3 more men waited to take our lines, all very professional. As we tied up, I could see we were in the middle of a luxury resort, three modern hotels built around the centre piece of the marina, each hotel with a few swimming pools, restaurants, bars etc. Plus a big golf course, country club etc etc.
When I first dreamed of sailing around the world, I didnt have this in mind, I thought it was all going to be remote barely inhabited islands, or industrial docks. Seems we’re doing it one shopping mall/KFC to the next. Oh well, mustn’t grumble.


Paul Collister

Labuan and Brunei

It was good to arrive at the marina and tie up. Below you can see there is an inner and outer harbour here, the inner is shallow but better protected, we went into the inner end and found an empty berth that looked deep enough, and tied up. Two days later we wondered what the jerking/bumping was in the boat at 7am, Kathy was alarmed, and I think her memories of other groundings had her alert to the fact we were touching bottom. It’s sand here, so I wasnt too worried, we were on the lowest tide of the month, and so it wouldnt last long and the tides started getting bigger each day until we leave.

The marina is quite run down, I think the pontoons get a hammering from the ferry wake and any storms, as the wall around the marina is made of loosely coupled piles, also I think they are strapped for cash here, as it’s a council marina. Still for £70 / week, one musn’t grumble. 

Still it’s a shame the rubbish accumulates here.


Stepping ashore revealed a very modern canary wharf type complex, Labuan is an offshore financial haven, it’s also duty free so at last Kathy could stock up with wine at UK prices. Outside the mall we found a few nice eateries and plenty of shops.  I went to one bicycle shop and asked if he could provide me with two new inner tubes for my bike. He produced a couple with £2 (in myr) written on the side, I was happy and offered him £4, at which point he said, “No it’s £8″, I was confused and thought perhaps he was selling me 4, so I pointed to the £2 on the inner tube and said 2*2 = 4, to which he went ballistic with me, shouting ‘I don’t work for nothing’ don’t expect me to work for nothing, I charge, £8 £8 £8….”, he was very angry, until I explained there was no work required, I was going to fit them when I needed them, they were spares, he then calmed down, he had assumed I wanted them fitting for free. What a palaver.

While walking around one of the malls we stumbled on a performance, much like the school xmas play, but this was all dance based, by some teenagers. They all seemed to be having a great time and it was fun to stop a while and watch.

Once we had checked in with the harbourmaster, Immigration and customs, we did a bit of exploring on our bikes. The botanical gardens, once home to the British governor of the island was very pleasant. It reminded me of Birkenhead park, back home, just without the graffiti and slightly menacing air you get with the kind of places crack addicts hang out in.

Another spot we enjoyed visiting was the Labuan Museum, below is a scene from a chinese wedding, Kathy sort it was a bit ‘Doctor Who Scary’. The museum has quite a few interesting exhibits, and a great section about the 2nd world war with Japan.

Early one morning we headed out to the new market they have built here, it was very impressive, perhaps the most extensive and well stocked market we have seen in Malaysia. Below Kathy is looking pleased as she slipped a turnip into her bag unnoticed. 

I bought a bag of fresh squid next door in the fish market, which tasted great

On another long cycle we saw this lad paddling out from his stilted village on a lump of polystyrene with his net in a box behind him.

Just around the corner is Ramsey point, a beach where the allied forces landed to liberate the island from the Japanese, now it’s a holiday spot with restaurants and the option to jump off a building on a zip wire that dumps you in the sea.

There are a lot of war graves here, immaculately kept by the War graves commission. Many Australians, Indians and others gave their lives liberating the island, and looking at the headstones, many where only in their twenties,  When the Japanese invaded, Britain was in charge of the island and had a few troops here, but were ordered back to defend Singapore, which of course they failed to do. The whole of Borneo and Malaysia eventually fell to the Japanese.

One of the great things about a duty free island is that I can get stuff sent here from home and elsewhere and not to have to worry about getting it stuck in customs or having to pay duty. Amazon sent me a new solar panel inverter, this is a clever bit of hardware that adjusts the power from the solar panels so that it can charge the batteries most efficiently.  best of all I get to talk to it from my laptop or phone, and I can see if it’s sunny without going outside 😉 see below.

I’m very happy with it, the panels work much better with this controller, and when they are replaced with the new ‘state of the art’ panels I should have far fewer problems with power. The repaired wind generator and the new solar panels already seem to providing us with plenty of energy.
Yasmin also sent me bits to repair the windlass.

So after a week here, we checked out and headed to Brunei, we were going to have one night there, checkout the capital city, then head back to Malaysia.
However, it was such a hassle checking in, it took over 2 hours, and required much form filling (in triplicate, without any carbon paper or NCR) that we didn’t go ashore in the end.
The trip there took us past many ships involved in the oil/gas trade.

Brunei has a new bridge, not on the charts, and as usual it didn’t look like we would fit under it, even though we have 11 meters clearance.

Kathy did the honours and got us through safely.

The following morning we headed back towards Labuan, after another hour’s tortuous checkout with immigration, customs, harbour master, harbour manager, health officer and another harbour official who I ended up skipping after I wasn’t able to find him. I was sent through a door that only led upstairs. After walking for ages, up 4 storeys, past dead pigeons and such on the steps, I ended up on the roof. It was a nice view, but a lot of steps and no harbour managers office!
Once we had dinghied back to the boat, I called into the harbour port control to let them know we were leaving, only to be told off, we had anchored in the way of a working barge, and they were not happy they couldnt get me on vhf 16. I had actually anchored in the designated immigration area, but there was so much work going on it was hard to anchor anywhere away from construction boats. Once he was placated we scooted out of the port and headed north, to the river Klias where we will start our inland waterway exploration tomorrow.On our way we had to traverse the Labuan anchorage, you can see from the AIS screen grab above how many ships are there

We are now anchored in the entrance to the river, and tomorrow we will travel 20 miles along the river to a point where pylon cables cross, we have to stop then, otherwise this might well be the last blog 😉

Paul Collister