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

Arrival in Labuan

Today we arrived at the Island / State of Labuan, it was a very straightforward trip from Miri.

We left Miri Marina on Friday, around 9AM and had a good send off from the other yachts there. We made some great friends, Brian and Glee (Ozzies), Roger and Lucie (Belgique), Ian and Marilyn John and Carol  (both Ozzies. Although John was made in Britain and has a lot of knowledge, and supports the Gunners), Walter and Gesila (Germans) and Dick and Prill (Americans). There’s a great little community there and every Friday night everyone brings food and drink to the communal area on the shore and drink and talk nonsense for a few hours. Also there’s usually something going on on Wednesday nights too. We expect to meet up with some of them again before we leave Borneo, as it’s quite a small cruising area up at the north east end. We left Miri with some extra kit, a Kayak, two fold up bikes,

I made some bags for the bikes, although Kathy thinks they look like they contain bodies!

a new awning, working watermaker, working windgen, shiny hull and varnish, and a lot more things working that were iffy before.

A clean hull, above and below

As we left the marina it was great to feel the boat swaying around in the waves, she seemed to be very fast as well, which I later found to be down to a spotlessly smooth hull, thanks to the divers. They did a great job. It was at the end of July when we pulled into our slip in Miri so the hull had 4 months of growth on it, and in the tropics, that can be quite bad. Nothing but praise for the Jotun Seaforce 90 antifoul I paid a fortune for.

From Miri we headed up and around the headland that separates Malaysia from Brunei, and 5 hours after departing we were motoring up the river Belait in Brunei, into the town of the same name.Right away you could see this was not a poor country. Everything looked very smart, and there were two plush hotels overlooking the river. It’s spring tides now, which means high highs and low lows, and as we arrived at low water we anchored in 2.5 metres of water, which is a bit scary for us.We were well protected in the river, and it would have been lovely except for the speedboats that seemed to use us as a mark for their constant big loops up and down the river. Two of the boats were just very fast racing boats, but the third was a serious motor boat, the type that flips over easily.

Fortunately as the sun set, the engines faded away and the sound of the cicadas took over. Kathy cooked a lovely dinner and I plotted out the next leg of our journey to Jerudong. On doing this I realised it was a good 45 miles, or 9 hours for us, so I wanted an early start. The other news I got was that the Malaysian met office was putting out severe weather warnings and telling boats like me to stay in harbour. This came out of the blue, as the forecast for the next week was calm calm and more calm, when we left. Normally I take note of the professionals, but this time I checked my other weather sources, and they were all still in the calm camp. I upgraded my free subscription to WindPredict a web weather site, to paid, to get more detailed weather forecasts, and still calm conditions was all that was on offer, The Malaysians were still all doom and gloom. So I decided to get up at the break of dawn and check again, if all was good we would leave early, giving us the maximum time to run for cover if needed.

Saturday morning 5:45 and I’m up, downloading the forecasts, the met office hasn’t even bothered to update theirs yet, so I check out the forecasts on predictwind using the European and American models and all looks great, so up with the anchor and away, we start to head out the river just as the sun pops over the horizon. It was a little tricky as lots of Bob the builder boats were coming and going, and stopping and turning, so I had to do a lot of getting out of the way. Once out, all eyes were scanning the water for a big obstacle that had been reported just outside the river, but we didn’t see anything. There was sod all wind, but we had the headsail out and it helped a little. At least the engine was putting some charge into the battery.

We managed to get the mainsail out later when the wind picked up a bit, but really the predicted storms never happened. By 3pm we turned into the breakwaters at Jerudong and dropped anchor behind a small man made island in perfect calm, in 5 metres of water. Now Jerudong Marina is an interesting place, In the late nineties, the Sultan of Brunei found out that his brother, Jefri, who was in charge of the hundreds of billions of pounds this very rich country had, had spent all of the money. It appeared that Brunei was now facing bankruptcy. It’s a bit hard to get your head around how one person can fritter away so much money, but in one of his palaces he had 2,300 cars, mostly Bentleys, rolls Royces and Ferraris. None of them had more than 40 miles on the clock. He also bought lots of property overseas and was very generous to his friends. Anyway, one of his projects was to build a seriously big marina, mainly as a place to keep his various superyachts. So at Jerudong, two huge breakwaters reach out into the South China Sea, creating a massive safe enclosed space. In the middle of it is a manmade island with a beach and coconut palms. Just as Hyundi were about to start building the $83 Million dollar marina, the proverbial hit the fan, and Jefri was removed from his post. For a while he was expelled from the country and lived in Paris and New York,  So the Marina didn’t get built. Perhaps it will in the future, when the coffers are re-filled sufficiently, however I don’t think there’s enough yachting around here to support it. For now it’s just a massive empty space, where I believe members of the royal family sometimes picnic, and a security guard in a boat turns away us yachts looking for a safe anchorage for the night. Fortunately for the prince, he has been allowed back into his home country, but has to make do on a basic income of $300,000 / Month, which is the standard disbursement to members of the Sultans family. I got this all from a google search last night as we safely bobbed around at anchor, thanks to the plans of Prince Jefri, so the facts may vary.

We left Jerudong about 6:30 the next morning, I didn’t want to meet any security arriving to possibly close the area off, but also the forecast was still saying storms, and as it was still flat calm, I thought, let’s get going and have the maximum headroom. As soon as we left the harbour, I was showing Kathy how to transfer a course change from the Chartplotter to the antiquated autopilot, and in effect perform a 90 degree turn to the right, just as the boat swung around, we both realised the manoeuvre would have been better just after we passed this huge pole/pile marking the entrance to the harbour. We were about 5 seconds from ramming it head on, I whizzed the autopilot control around, but it didn’t seem to be responding anything like quick enough so I disengaged it, jumped to the wheel and did a ‘hard to port’ course change and we missed the pile by several meters. I was thinking I need a nautical version of the driving mantra, Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Perhaps, ‘look where you are going, you idiot’ However I do have a new safety system in place, whenever I put a fishing line out, I put a foam beer can cooler over the gearstick, so I cant go into reverse without being reminded to bring the line in. It seems to be working.

The wind picked up right away and I got all the sails out and we turned the engine off and did a healthy 6 knots for the next 2 hours, before the wind headed us and we motor-sailed the last couple of hours to arrive at a sand spit jutting out of the southern tip of Pulau Kuraman, first we anchored to the North, but the swell was too bad, so we popped around to the south, which was much better, but after a little swim, I checked the charts, and with it being springs, realised we would go aground at 6AM on low water, so we upped anchor again and headed 100m further away from the shore and dropped the anchor again. Finally we have a place away from insect/mossies/sandflies etc. I slept well in the cockpit that night. 

The very large supermoon, lit up the area all night and was directly overhead at one point. I watched a wonderful sunrise around 6AM.

I had a nice swim around the boat and checked the anchor, which was very well set.

I also had a look at the anodes on the bow thruster, this little lump of lead, or aluminium decays away in order to save the important bits of the bow thruster, and must be replaced when it’s almost gone, but I couldn’t work out how bad it was, I’m getting new ones in Feb, so will get them replaced then I expect.

Finally we left and headed for the marina in Labuan, I don’t think I have ever seen so many oil rigs and support vessels in one place.

Kathy had to do a lot of steering to miss all the oil support vessels 😉

We tied up in the marina without any problems, first impressions of the marina aren’t great, it’s very run down, but it has all we need, so we are happy, but it’s very hot. Tomorrow we will get the bikes out and explore the Island.


Paul Collister