I do like ship/boatyards, it’s the real business end of the industry, in this yard you have everything from abandoned wrecks, through to fancy modern boats and shipbuilding in wood, steel and GRP. They have a great machine shop / workshop which is actually outdoors, but covered. In the workshop they have a machine for making propellers, big ones at that! Huge lathes for turning propellor shafts and a large milling machine, I’m not sure what you make with them, our metalwork teacher at school, wouldn’t let us near the milling machine, I’m not really sure why we had one.
The other aspect of boatyards I love, are the people who inhabit them, the staff are usually incredibly resourceful, and there aren’t many problems they can’t come up with a solution for, often in a very creative way. The cruisers who live aboard, are usually great dreamers, they are often doing up old wrecks with plans to sail them across the oceans.
In this yard I met a group of French sailors, one couple on their 40ft yacht, they had sailed across the pacific, where flying out to Tahiti tomorrow to view a 54 foot ‘project’ boat, they have been in the yard here for many months already getting their current boat ready for sale, and they will spend many months, if not years getting the next one ready, another Frenchman had sailed his 40 ft concrete boat from France 2/3rds of the way around the world to here. behind me a Brit is having loads of work done on his big cat, and next to him, a sturdy looking long keel boat has obviously had a bad encounter with rocks as a large chunk of keel is missing and the rudder is smashed up badly, I expect there’s an interesting, if not scary story there.
We have the usual pack of stray dogs that hang out here, perhaps a dozen or so, they make a hell of a racket if you disturb them at night, I expect that’s why the yard owner must send enough scraps there way to keep them here as cheap guard dogs, the reality however, is that they are very timid, and run away from you if you get close. I have made friends with two of them, and they are quite good fun, but NO Kathy, we are not getting a dog, at least not yet.
So I have just dumped the pictures I took today from around the yard, as the light was failing, below.
My boat cleaned and ready for some paint
The travel lift and some of the dogs The view down the ladder, it’s a long way and I must remember not to trust the guard rails
The five white dots are blisters I had to sand down, fill and prime, not bad after two years in the tropics, none were more than an inch in diameter
The yacht that lost out to the solid immovable object(s) exposed iron ballast The Machine shop The Prop Making machine. I have to see how this works
Some props they made earlier
New boats being built in wooden moulds, pretty large ships really The drums below hold the resin they use
I have been on a ferry like this one, it’s hard to imagine this will ever run again Other boats resting here
“What a plonker”
“For the sake of a split pin, an iPhone was lost”
“How not to make an entrance”
Everything is fine, the only casualty is my iPhone and my dignity. We are in Kudat and the boat is hauled out. There’s a little bit more work on the hull than I expected, but all in all it’s no big deal, and we should launch again in a week or so.
I had a great trip up here, except for this morning, just as I approached the little cut that leads to the boatyard, a heavy downpour started, I was so busy trying to get everything safely stowed out of the rain, that I almost went over the reef that fringes the entrance to the yard / man made basin. Visibility was so poor that I turned around and went back out to sea, only to remember that there were lots of fishing boats passing this way, towards the town quay, and that I might get run down if they didn’t see me in time. I pratted round for an hour before heading in and dropping anchor next to the yard, in front of the grand looking golf club.More rain, and eventually after lunch I got through to the yard who agreed to take me out in 15 minutes, which was great as I had originally booked a slot for tomorrow. All was going great, and I made it into the slings of the travel hoist without any effort at all, but I was worried that the rear sling was too far back and might be catching the rudder, I leaned over the wire lifeline in the cockpit to see if I could see it, but couldn’t, I leaned more, and further out when I suddenly find myself doing a somersault over the side of the boat and into the water, left hand immediately goes to left pocket, and sure enough my iPhone is there, bugger! looking up I can see the snapped life line dangling, I pull myself up using it, then notice both the lifelines are in the water. I have about ten people from the yard all looking down at me now. I have fallen off pontoons more than once in my life, but I think this is the first time I ever fell off a boat. How embarrassing. I had to swim around to the stern of the boat and climb back on board using the monitor wind steering frame. Then I have to act casual and make out like this is standard operating procedure for Brits arriving at a new port 🙂
Amazingly the iPhone came on when I plugged it into a charger, but only briefly, now it’s dead. I may see if it can be repaired here. Later inspection revealed the top line hadn’t snapped, but the nut that holds it on had worked it’s way loose, there should be a split pin to stop the nut coming off, but obviously that was missing. I had only recently agreed with a neighbouring boatie in KK how bad the lifelines looked, and I had assured him it was high on my priority list. It’s just not easy to get lines made in Malaysia, I’m not even sure if I can get the wire here.
They have an unusual system for propping up the boats, they use leftover blocks of concrete from when this little basin was built. Can’t say I’m 100% happy, but I expect they know what they’re doing.
The anode on the prop has fallen off, which is odd, as it was there yesterday when I dived on the hull in Pulau Kulambok
The gigantic travel lift
Yesterday I arrived at Palau Kulambok quite early and had a swim around the boat, then I took the Kayak to explore the area. There is a sand spit that joins the island to the mainland and I enjoyed a snorkel around that. Some lovely little fish, but no great coral to see.
The fishing boats had all been very friendly shouting out hello and practising their english phrases on me as they passed by. It’s odd to think this is as far east as I can go in Malaysia and still have insurance, in fact the military wont let me go further without an escort due to the pirates that operate out there.
Now, I had some success, on the fishing front, when I say success, the fish are still winning, but I think the aeroplane is a game changer, so much so that the fish have confiscated two of them from me. Each time they waited until I had to go into the cabin, and then they took the hook, and I expect they must have been mighty fierce fish, maybe killer sharks, for they managed to snap the line, taking the lure and the aeroplane with them. So back to the fishing tackle shop for more aeroplanes and a much stronger line. I also need to rig up a better alarm system for when they do take the bite, I currently use the line wrapped around a winch system, but I didn’t hear it from below.
I arrived at Pulau Mantanani today.It was a bit of a slog, I left at 7am and arrived at 17:00 and spent 30 minutes trying to find a spot to anchor.
On the way I passed Kinabalu Mountain, which looked lovely in the morning mist, I think it’s the tallest mountain in SE Asia. It was quite rough later on during the passage and I couldn’t motor then as the wind and waves were on the nose and slowed me to just 2 knots, so I had to tack back and forth for 4 hours, mostly steering by hand. It was while the boat was heeling heavily, and was racing along with a double reefed main and just the staysail, that I began to doubt the wind speed indicator, that was showing 10 knots of wind, and in fact, when I thought about it, it hadn’t been above 10 knots for a very long time. I expect it’s faulty and will have to be replaced.You can see on the map below there are two islands, Besar and Kerchil, which means big and small. I went for the small one as it was recommended to anchor south of the lighthouse, however there isn’t a lighthouse here anymore, did they mean the new radar station? You can see on the google map how the two islands sit on a big oval lump of rock,.Closer to the shore, its solid shallow coral. I have a sonar depth sensor which shows me the sea floor surface, and I can usually spot rocky areas, and eventually I found a very flat area, dropped the hook, and went about setting it in, it was looking good until I upped the revs to test it, then it dragged along rock, and quickly came to a stop. It’s dug in now, but is it under a rock, or worse has the chain wrapped around a rock? I quickly dived over the side with my snorkel, but the light had almost gone, and I couldn’t see much, but it did look mostly sandy there with a few rocky bits. We shall see tomorrow at 7am, when I try to leave.
I decided to try my new fishing apparatus on this trip. As you can see I have an assortment of plastic fish, but now the secret weapon is being deployed…
The aeroplane! I have been assured this will do the trick. I have three of them, so no more buying fish for me.
Sadly things didn’t work out too well, the aeroplane kept dive bombing and in 8 hours I didn’t get any bites. Worse than that, the fish seemed to be mocking me, several times they put on a jumping show alongside the boat. There were big tuna, leaping out of the water repeatedly, right next to the boat, sometimes I swear they were imitating the dolphins in dolphin world, they seemed to be doing synchronised jumps just for me! all the time I had two lures trailing behind. I’m beginning to see why the locals might have turned to using dynamite instead of hooks!
On my last day in Kota Kinabalu, I headed off to the Jabatan Laut, (Literally, Department Sea, or harbour master). I cleared out with them and customs. Then back to the Imago mall to get some fresh lettuce, tomatoes and spuds. As I arrived the dancers were kicking off again and I managed to get some lovely footage (no pun intended).
That evening I took some pictures of the sunset from the quay where the hotel guests go to see it.
The night before I visited the beach at Tanjung Aru again.This is the local beach for KK, and it was rammed with Chinese people, everyone of them seemingly fused to their mobile phones, It seemed that they had gone there, not to enjoy the beach, but to look at it, very odd. We used to spend our summers on the beaches at Barcelona, where the locals know how to use a beach, they build bars on them, setup volleyball courts, sit, tan, swim, drink, eat, smoke weed, and just chill. Now I had a few hundred tourists in front of me, marching up and down the beach, photographing it, photographing themselves and each other, ‘at the beach’. Nobody seemed to realise you can play games, jump in the sea, build sandcastles etc! I wondered if many of them come from inland China and hadn’t seen a beach before. I noticed new arrivals here at the resort often get quite excited when they see the fish swimming in the marina!
So after an evening of packing things away, and a good nights sleep it was time to fill up with fuel and checkout of this resort. No more luxury for me until we reach the Philippines I expect.
The boat has so much prop walk, especially going astern, I have learnt to take advantage of this when manoeuvring in tight spaces. Basically what this means is that if I rev up the engine, either ahead or astern, the back of the boat kicks to the left, I can make the bow move left easily with the bow thruster, so I can almost walk the boat sideways just by bursts of ahead and astern, with the odd touch of bow thruster. This came in handy this morning as there were many boats around the fuel dock, and I had to fit intoa tight gap.Not so good if the dock is on the starboard side. As soon as I fuelled up I left for the short 3 hour journey to my current location, in a little sandy cove just NE of the main port of KK
Leaving the resort meant motoring through all the day tripper boats that speed between the Marina, town and the cluster of islands out here.The islands look lovely, but crowded with fast day-tripper boats razzing around everywhere.
A little later I came across the para-boaty-thing boats, lots of them, all motoring into the wind for lift off and landing, which meant they all just crossed my path.One cut right across my bow, and I wondered what might happen should he misjudge things and the poor lass in the parachute found her line wrapped around my mast. I don’t think we covered that on the RYA Yacht Master course.
Once past the main island Pulua Gaya, I turned into the wind, got the mainsail up, a little startled by the dead cockroach that seemed to jump out of the mainsail at me, then turned off (away from ) the wind and sailed close hauled to my destination.
So I was able to sail for the last 90 minutes at around 6 knots, which was nice.
Early start tomorrow as I was reminded that everywhere will be shutting down in a few weeks for the New Year, and I need to get into the boatyard pronto if this work is going to get done.
I had a long cycle around the back end of town yesterday, it’s easier to throw myself across large 5 lane highway intersections without having to include the timings for Kathy’s safe transit, i.e. it’s only me that will get run over this way.My conclusion so far is that KK needs to get some better planners involved quickly, large chunks of the city are marooned by concrete constructions on islands that are only accessible by road, pedestrians are constantly trekking down central reservations and walking across motorway like roads to just get home.
Above you can see what was once a river has been concreted up, but the fishing village that existed, probably on stilts once, is now marooned inside a built up area.This river has been gentrified, in as much as there’s a cycle path, footpath and seating along its length, and elsewhere, say in Singapore, this would be thriving with visitors. However here,the paving is breaking up, it’s deserted and windswept, not very inviting.
Elsewhere in town, the architecture follows a very basic block style showing very little imagination.
I think this type of block of shops with accommodation above takes its design from the old shop houses, where a trader lived above his shop, and is very common here. It’s been interesting to see the older shops on stilts in the Anambas island, which where very basic, and to see how the have evolved into the modern stores here. It’s a bit like time travel but without all that annoying regeneration the doctor has to put up with.
The new shopping malls, like the one below, that towers over some weird Athenian like ruin has more imagination, but really they should pull the lot down and start again. Still eating seems to be the main activity here, and this restaurant says it all.
So the solar panel has been producing power and I am delighted with its performance. Yesterday I grabbed this screen shot of the charger and you can see that the one panel is producing 20A into the batteries. I left the batteries to discharge all night, in fact I’m leaving the mains charger off for a few days as it’s no longer needed.
This is just the one panel, so 40AH, for a few hours, minimum, on a sunny day is easily achievable. Today and yesterday we have completed the bulk charging phase by midday, and the absorption a few hours later. It’s not even been that sunny, today has been quite overcast, but I was still getting 10A.
Of course we are near the equator, but I am quite confident that the panels should meet our power needs, even in the north pacific, where the wind will also help via the wind generator.
A while back I was pondering on a music system for the boat, something that was low power, high quality, could play our library but also do most audio needs for the boat, well as a stop gap measure I bought a cheap Bluetooth Radio head from ebay for about £10, this came with a remote control and has worked like a dream. The quality is more than enough, the streaming works extremely well, so we can play music from our iPhones, Macbook, watch TV on the computer with lovely sound from the boats speakers. It also is a decent radio, but sadly Kathy doesn’t care much for local FM radio. Best of all it’s fully redundant and capable of surviving a total failure with little disruption to the music, as I bought a second one at christmas as a spare!
I tried to leave KK yesterday, but the Customs man said I had to come back on Monday, So I will check out then, and probably leave Monday afternoon, or early Tuesday.
P.S. The title is a play on words from my past excursions into the music business
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.