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Date: 31 May 2009 07:32:08
Title: Kota Kinabalu

Our crossing from Tioman Island (east coast Malaysia) to Kuching (north west Borneo) was mostly uneventful.  The South China Sea has an unsavoury reputation, partly due to piracy, however we had good conditions, calm seas and fortunately no pirates.  At one point we had about 40nm of shipping lane to cross and being the sea route between China and Singapore it was peak hour traffic.  Imagine trying to cross a six lane highway in a peddle car and you have a fairly good picture of what we were trying to accomplish.  Fortunately we have a very good computer system called AIS that provides us with each ship’s name, speed and course so we are able to call a ship if necessary.  The ships are able to track our progress on radar and it was very reassuring to see a couple change their course to avoid us, before we needed to call them.

 

We approached the north western cape of Borneo with a clear sky but increasing winds that quickly blew to 40kts.  Kuching was too far to reach within daylight hours so with a reef in the mainsail we ran for cover to anchor behind a lovely little island that was listed on our chart as a marine reserve.  We arrived to find a Malaysian police boat already anchored with two fishing rods dangling over the side.  We weren’t sure if they were conducting a “survey” or catching their dinner.

 

Kuching, which in Malay means “cat”, is a very modern city and we were surprised at its large size and rich history.  It has many museums but we limited our tour to just two.  The cultural displays of the many tribes and ethnicities were impressive but what impressed us even more was our trip to visit the Iban river people a few days later. 

 

The Rajang River became our waterway and for six days we left the ocean to sail and motor about 140nm of vast river system.  The first day was incredible as we were able to sail almost the whole day.  There were many bends in the river, sometimes changing direction by 90-130 degrees and yet we always seemed to have the wind with us.  It didn’t seem possible, or logical, yet with every turn in the river our sails would fill and we’d continue to slide along.  Mills and timber yards were numerous, as were the number of tugs towing barges loaded with logs.  We wondered at the scale of logging in this region of Malaysia and guessed from the girth of the logs that they were rainforest variety and not plantation grown.  It was very sobering to witness a part of the chain in the saw of de-forestation.  Also very sobering to keep a vigilant watch for the many logs escaped into the river that presented a real threat to our boat.

 

Word of mouth via other yachties had provided us with the basic directions to reach a friendly river family far up river.  After two full days of travelling up river, and branching off into a couple of different tributaries, we eventually anchored in a narrow stretch of river.  This section of river is home to the Iban people who live a subsistence lifestyle very similar to their ancestors.  Although they have access to modern conveniences they choose to live a simple life in harmony with their environment.  Their accommodation is the very distinctive longhouses that are added to, end on end, as their families wed, extend and grow.

 

The longhouse we visited was at least 100m long and set back from the river, surrounded by rice paddies.  At the riverside jetty we met our host Jampie, in the company of his grandchildren.  To approach the longhouse we traversed a walkway built on stilts above the ripening grain, the narrow planks polished smooth by generations of bare feet.  It was one of those priceless moments to sit on a homemade woven mat, drink rice wine made from home grown rice and watch the children play ball inside the enormous corridor of the longhouse.   We sampled a delicious jungle fruit that tasted like a mix of banana, orange and mango and looked through a photo album of weddings, visiting yachties and fresh water crocodiles.

 

Over the next couple of days we enjoyed the seclusion of the river paradise we had found and luxuriated in endless buckets of cool fresh water tipped over our hot heads.  Although the river was still strongly affected by tidal forces the water was entirely fresh.  Emily swam with her new friends, holding hands and jumping off the jetty and David made many new friends by taking every kid for a ride behind our dingy on the inflatable donut.  It was such a picturesque spot that we could easily have stayed longer but, not wanting to outstay the hospitality of our hosts, and keen to explore more of Borneo we started our trip back down river.  It took us a further two days to reach the river mouth and seeing the ocean again after six days away was like a welcome homecoming.

 

Our course then took us along an exposed stretch of coastline to Labuan Island with almost no shelter for 280nm.  This presented no problem while the weather was fine and we could anchor for the night close to shore in shallow depth and favourable conditions.  However, the weather had other plans for us.  Isolated storm cells caught us a couple of times and although brief in duration (30mins-1hr), we had winds of 50kts, horizontal rain and seas up to 3m.  David could see one storm approaching on his radar and dropped all sails.  We then “sailed” before the storm with only bare masts and still we were doing 9kts!  Times like this I was glad to be below decks looking after the children.  Actually I really would have preferred to be anywhere else but where we were!

 

After a couple of days the unsettled weather abated and we enjoyed a lovely sail to Tiga Island.  Days like this I didn’t want to be anywhere else!  Mother’s Day at Tiga Island was all about adventure and new experiences.  We followed a jungle path barefoot (I’d forgotten to bring everyone’s shoes), and after 1km we arrived at volcanic mud pools in the middle of the rainforest.  Here we wallowed and floated and paddled in the thick grey gooey mud.  Although bubbling and plopping, the mud was actually cool.  Bizarre and quite hilarious to be bathing in mud, on Mother’s Day, surrounded by beautiful jungle and meditating to bird calls.  We thought the mud would be like quicksand but it wasn’t.  It was incredibly buoyant.  Swimming in it was like paddling through soup on top of a surfboard.  Alana was the only one not to keen to emerge herself in the spirit of the occasion.  She really didn’t care for all that mud.  We walked out of the jungle and straight into the ocean to wash off the mud.  The water was clear and blue, except for the grey cloud around our bodies.  Emily and I then enjoyed a relaxing snorkel on the reef just off the beach.  It really was a fantastic day and I thought a lot about my Mum who I knew would have relished every moment of that mad morning.

 

We are now at Kota Kinabalu and berthed at Sutera Harbour.  It is an awesome layout with two hotels and a country club, all of which we are entitled to use with our complimentary memberships.  We also use the free shuttle bus service to town and shopping has never been easier.  It’s total luxury to choose between six pools to swim in, ten pin bowling, free cinema, free kids club etc. etc.  All this is available to us for the princely sum of AUD$25 per night berthing fee.  The sunsets are incredible, equal to the famous Darwin sunsets, and the back drop of Mount Kinabalu is spectacular.   I think we all feel that we could happily spend more time here, yet we do have to get moving soon and sail through the Philippines before the typhoon season becomes more intense.

 

Our plans to move on have been delayed by three weeks due to unexpected repairs.  Replacing the engine mounts has become critical and we are unable to motor until new ones are installed.  We also had the misfortune of being hit by a speedboat that lost control.  It was very frustrating, especially as we were tied up in the marina at the time.  What makes the story even more unbelievable is that the speedboat was being driven by a “communications tycoon” whose super yacht was anchored outside the marina.  This particular vessel is the largest sailing yacht in the world, about 100m in length, and cost about $300 million to build.  We are still waiting for quotes to repair the superficial damage (loose change to this guy).  Although in the business of “communication”, this guy is obviously a poor communicator.  He docked the speedboat after the collision and then he, and his crew, walked off without coming to speak with David, or to assess damage, or to make an apology.  Negotiations are still on the table.

 

We continue to enjoy the company of sailing friends who we catch up with from time to time.  And we are making new friends, all who share the common bond of boats and ocean.  Family is always our greatest joy and we feel so lucky to be having this quality time to watch our girls grow up and fully participate in their development.  Hope you are also enjoying the company of loved ones and doing something you love...

 

 

 

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