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Martin & Sue

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Malaysian Borneo June 2012

 


     
On July 2nd, in company with Splashdown and Two Up, we set sail at dawn from the Tioman Islands, bound for Borneo. The 3 day, 420 nautical mile, passage, would take us across the South China Sea to Kuching.
     
 
Above: Leaving Tioman Island at dawn
 
Above: Squalls left over from the night before as we leave
     
  Our passage coincided with a full moon and as dusk approached on the first night we were hopeful of a calm, uneventful night. ( Ha Ha, said the weather gods !! )

 

 
Above and right: Moon shots prior to the squalls setting in !
   
     
However, this was not to be and we were very glad to have the company of our two buddy boats when the sky blackened and we could see squalls approaching on the radar. As we ploughed on through the night we encountered several of these squalls - each packing winds gusting to 35 knots and plenty of lightening as well as creating uncomfortable seas.  
   
Above: the radar screen showing a squall approaching from behind
     
 
Above & Right: A couple of lucky lightening shots caught from the back of the boat hand held using our little Sony digital camera.
 
During the second day the squalls continued interspersed with periods of sunny weather when we were lucky enough to be visited by several dolpins who spent nearly an hour playing around the hulls.  
     
   
Above: At least the heavy rain flattens the seas !
 
     
There were also some interesting moments to ease the boredom. Although all three boats have A.I.S. on board, ( Automatic Identification Systems ...via a special VHF channel ) both Splashdown and ourselves can transmit and receive identifications and positions, whereas Two Up's unit can only receive. This made for an interesting situation with a passing container ship. Given the information above, the ship could see both Splashdown and Mandolin Wind on their AIS - but not Two Up. Realising that he was on a collision course with the ship, Pete from Two Up called up the ship by name and asked if the Captain had seen the 3 yachts under sail. The Captain replied that he had and intended to alter course to come around behind the yachts. However, as time went on it was apparent that the ship had not seen Two Up and did not know he was there. Despite a second call to the skipper, Two Up was forced to take evasive action to miss being bowled over. This incident certainly showed the value of installing a transmitting AIS on board and indicated that most ships keep very poor lookouts at sea and rely heavily on their instruments instead. Pete has since ordered a transmitting type AIS unit !!
     
 
Above & Right: Two Up has a close encounter with a ship on passage. At night this situation would have been more tense

   
  As the second night approached we again had a sensational sunset and, ever hopeful, crossed fingers for a calm night. However this second night proved to be almost a carbon copy of night one except that the squalls were even more vicious and lasted longer !! We spent most of the evening running under headsail alone as we got sick of main up, main down, reef in, reef out so used the engines to try and outrun the worst of the lightening storms. Two Up copped the worst of the lightening with earth strikes all around the boat. This was particularly alarming as they had just received an email from their insurance company informing them that the new excess for any lightening strike was 10% of insured value!
     

With visibility at a minimum we had to keep a very good lookout as unlit fishing boats were a hazard - and it is amazing how, with all that ocean to play in, we often found ourselves on a collision course with boats.

     
 
Above: The AIS showing a collision course with Container ship Coral SW ( TCPA is time to closest point of approach in mins.)
 
Above: We received this message on our AIS during the passage. We had no idea what to do about it as no details were attached
 
 
 

 

All three boats were very happy when we sighted the coast of Borneo and were able to drop our pick in a sheltered anchorage on the afternoon of the third day and collapse into our bunks.

Once refreshed we naturally held a post-passage get together to dissect of the finer points of the trip - see below!

     
 
 
 
 

Our first rally stop in Borneo was in the Kuching River (in Sarawak) which was surrounded on both banks by dense tropical rain forest. Despite the beauty of our surroundings setting our anchor was a nightmare due to the abundance of debris littering the bottom, including several old wrecks. It took three goes before we were happy - and when we are talking about raking 60 metres of chain each time we raised the pick this was not good news (but good exercise).

 
     
Below: An example of debris catching on someones anchor chain
 
 

 

Just to reinforce the difficulty of the anchorage, Jim from Odyssey 9 was woken up during the night to find the bow of his boat dipping down at an alarming angle. To his horror, the bridle , but not the anchor, had snagged on some sort of underwater obstacle and as the tide came in had held the bow down. He had to somehow release the pressure or risk damaging the front of the boat with the huge strain. This proved to be a difficult task and in the end he had to grind off the shackles holding the bridle, as he didn't want to cut his bridle rope – all this in the middle of a pitch black night in a crocodile infested river!

When we finally picked up our pick after a few days we found our anchor chain had somehow wrapped itself around a large, 4m, waterlogged log and formed a very neat timber hitch thus making it impossible for us to bring up,except to get the log to water level. It took the assistance of Pete (Two Up) and his dinghy to finally free the log – and only after a lot of chain manipulation and effort.

     
Luckily, for most of our stay the conditions were calm and tranquil and we enjoyed looking around the town of Kuching and the surrounding area.  
     
 
     

A bus tour to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Sanctuary was organised and after our experience in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) in 2009 we were expecting big things. However, the park was very crowded with tourists - and to make matters worse our visit coincided with a red-carpet visit by the President of the Czech Republic so the security was out in force (and yes, they did have a red carpet rolled out along the road into the park!) However, we did manage to see a few Orangutans in the trees surrounding the crowded car park - not quite the jungle experience but still worth the visit.

 
     
 
     

 
     
Besides the Orangutans, there were other interesting things to see in the park - including several crocodiles kept in ridiculously small cages that would have caused outrage to animal welfare activists in any Western country.
     
 
     
And the park was worth a visit just to see the signs outside the public toilets!
     
Below: Ladies
 
and Gents
 
     
The town itself proved to be very interesting with a colourful colonial history and we enjoyed several days exploring on foot.
     
Below: Taxi's line up in Kuching. Fares are very cheap and most journeys cost only $2 or $3.
 
Below: the old jail in Kuching ( left over from the Portugese )
 
     
Below: some locals in Kuching .. The family limo !
   
 

 

   

However, the highlight of our visit to Kuching was the 3 day Borneo Tropical Rainforest Music Festival which attracted international acts from all over the world. During the day the musicians conducted a series of workshops that were interactive so we had great fun making fools of ourselves either playing traditional instruments or singing along to chanting rhythms.

 
 
   
Above: Playing a traditional instrument in one of the workshops at the festival
     

 
Above: The internationally famous String Sisters were one of the lead acts
 
Above: What the.....a didgeridoo in a Malaysian Band? They were very good though.
     

 
Above: The Mongolian group brought the house down with their combination of traditional instruments and Throat singing
 
Above: this duo played tunes using planks of wood or slabs of stone. The stone was like a haunting Xylophone
 
 
Above: Ah, I think I'll just rest my eyes during this very long drum solo! Martin and Pete from Peregrina during the evening acts
 
Above: Some of the caterers were a bit creative with their menus!
 

After Kuching our trip to Miri involved a one day sail then a day/night passage. On the first night we anchored in flat calm conditions at dusk in a ‘roadstead’ anchorage (an open spot off the mainland with little protection other than from off shore winds). Typically, at 12.30am we heard the familiar sound of wind whistling through the rigging and we were soon experiencing 25 knots and heavy squally rain. The worst part was that the current held us 90 degrees to the swell so we were bucking about a lot. Most squalls usually only last a short time but this one was the exception and lashed us for 4 hours making sleep impossible. Ah well, at least we did not drag anchor. Splashdown also had a bad time of it as they had water coming up into the cockpit from the swell and sometime in the night they rode over their anchor chain due to the current and then got held there with the chain between the hulls causing them serious concern lest the chain became wrapped around the prop (this had happened on a previous boat). Luckily this did not happen but both boats spent a very long, sleepless night. So much for a restful night in preparation for our night passage! We left at very first light !! At least the next overnight sail to Miri went well !

     
Miri has a very well protected marina and despite the presence of only very basic facilities it was in a great location, within walking distance of town. This area out to sea is surrounded by oil rigs so there is a large expat community. As a consequence, most things were available in town, including good coffee and even homemade meat pies!  
 
 
Above: Miri marina at sunset
 
Above: Martin and the Splashdown crew
 
Above: Great sign to warn off Trespassers.......
     

From Miri it was a short distance by land to Brunei and since we needed to renew our Malaysian Visa's we hired a car and hopped across the border for a visit. Australians are one of the few nationalities that need a visa to enter Brunei. The requirement was introduced by the Sultan when he became upset at the Australian authorities insistence that he actually clear Australian Immigration and customs before landing his private jet on his cattle station in Central Australia.

We were aware that the visa cost was approx $25 (Brunei $) per head and we were not surprised when we arrived at the Brunei checkpoint and were re-directed to a separate building to apply for our visas. However, we were more than a little put out when the officials insisted that we pay in Brunei dollars not Malaysian Ringit Hmmm.....we had no Brunei dollars and no chance to change money at the border. And to complicate things we had already checked out of Malaysia so were stuck in no-mans land! After much shaking of heads we were left to ponder our situation in the car park when luckily a friendly local car driver offered to swap money for us ( and at the normal exchange rate ! )

Fuel is very cheap in Brunei (only 39 cents per litre) but unfortunately it is only available at this price to local cars. Our rental car, being Malaysian registered, did not qualify for this cheap rate plus only 2 petrol stations in the entire state serve foreign cars. ( Which we didnt know ) Our fuel tank was nearly empty by the time we found one. Who should have fueled up before leaving Malaysia?? (hint....blue job!)

BUT...we didn't actually run out did we !!!

 
   
Above: The main Mosque was very impressive
Below: the Empire hotel also know as the Sultan's brothers folly
   
 

 

When we finally drove into the capital of Brunei we were surprised to find that it looked very much like the rest of Borneo - for some reason we were expecting infrastructure similar to a mini Dubai. Other than the impressive mosque most of the buildings were very much reminiscent of most Malaysian towns. However, we did find a magnificent hotel that apparently cost more to build than the Petronis twin towers in Kuala Lumpur (think Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 'Entrapment'.) Bold as brass we wandered into the foyer for a look around and were blown away by the opulence.

     

Who thought it was a good idea to try and race an over loaded cruising catamaran?

As part of the East Malaysia Rally we were automatically entered into the Borneo International Yachting Challenge – and given that the organisers were throwing in a couple of presentation dinners plus a free night at a very nice hotel in Miri (not to mention several free nights at marinas), we decided to join the fun.

 

 


Above: Sue ready for action in her new Race Pollo shirt
 

The first race was just a short one around the sticks and we decided in the interests of safety (and keeping our insurance company happy) to pass on this race. Most of the cruising boats had no clue regarding race rules so we did not want to tempt fate. Instead, we crewed on a monohull Seventh Heaven which was lots of fun and games. As anticipated, there were several near collisions, especially when monohulls pushed the Cats up to the point of stalling at race markers. Luckily no damage occurred but a few engines were hastily started to avoid impact. We actually got line honours on Seventh Heaven !!

Above: Beer.... after the race, of course!
 
Below: The start of the second passage race between Miri and the duty free island of Labaun
     
The second and third races were overnight passages.

The race rules allowed for the use of auto pilots and, also, the use of engines in the cruising divisions. However, boats that did start their engines had to log the hours as well as position details. Naturally any boat that started an engine could not beat a boat that sailed only.

 

 
 
Besides, it gave us a chance to use our spinnaker for the first time in a VERY LONG TIME! We made it through the starting gate intact (actually first over the line !! ) at around 1pm and raced overnight to the island of Labaun - arriving at around 8am the next day. It was an eventful night where we broke our own rules when we decided to continue flying our spinnaker after dark but had a fantastic ride until the wind died at around midnight.
     
 

 

 
 
 
     
Navigating our way through the oil rigs off Brunei was interesting (perhaps not the right word) especially during the night when we just missed a huge unlit buoy that would have caused some serious damage to MW if our track had taken us just 15 metres to Port. ( See Pic of similar one below ) Oh, and then there was the large log we actually hit. At night such obstacles are impossible to see and the noise of the impact almost caused us both heart failure! Luckily,there was no damage and we made it across the finishing line with only a few extra scratches on the hull – tired from lack of sleep but pleased to have survived our first overnight race on MW unscathed. Splashdown however was not so lucky and they hit a big log which slid down their hull, hitting the prop and bending the shaft.. NOT Good
     
 
Above: example of an unlit buoy near the oil rigs
 
Above: Oil Rigs in the making
     

One of our other fellow catamaran racers had a very scarey encounter with a large barge during the night. These huge barges are often unlit and because they are towed by a tug boat with no lights to indicate that they are towing, it is often very difficult to see the barge. To make matters worse, the tow is generally exceptionally long and unless there is at least some moon light it is almost impossible to make out the towed barge.

Jim, thinking that the tug was actually a fishing boat, tried to pass behind. When he hit the tow line his 'life flashed' before him
and he thought he was a goner as he slid along the line towards the approaching barge. He yelled to his sleeping wife Cheryl to grab her life jacket and come up as the boat was done for - and in the only humourous thing to come out of the incident, she emerged in double quick time wearing only her nickers and her life jacket! Luckily when the boat hit the barge bridle it was flicked to one side and bounced free. With damage to the rudders and to a keel, it was a sedate Jim and Cheryl who limped into Labuan the next morning.

     
Below: picture of barge and ( in this case ..short ) tow rope
 
Below: The barge up close. Note the bridle
 


   
 
 
Below: Labuan harbour - not exactly a tropical paradise

The only thing Labuan island had going for it was its duty free status. Otherwise, it was a very busy port with filthy water and we were glad to leave the next afternoon for the second overnight race.

Interestingly, the night after we left Labuan a tanker exploded, killing five crew members and polluting the harbour with litres of oil and diesel. Given how close we were anchored to the tanker wharf we were very lucky to have missed the 'excitement'.

 

 

   

 
Above: headlines in the paper after the explosion at Labuan. They eventually found the missing crew members but it was too late to save them
 

The second passage race proved to be very different from the first. Unexpectedly (for the winds are generally consistently from behind) the wind blew from the direction we were heading and the race became a battle of patience - ie who could keep up the endless tacking whilst making very little headway towards Kota Kinabalu. After enduring the tacking duel for 11 long hours, the wind died and after a quick calculation we realised we had only made good about a third of our distance and our ETA to Kota Kinabalu was still 40 hours away. Time for the engine! So for a few hours between midnight and 3am we motored before the wind finally came around on our beam and gave us a good push. It was a very tiring night - made worse by the threat of hitting one of the many huge logs that float just below the surface making them impossible to see, especially during the night. Although we did collect a couple - in the dark the only way we could tell was when we heard the thump along our hulls - we very luckily did not do any damage. Several other boats were not so fortunate and had to withdraw from the race with damage to their props and/or rudders.

     
Above: Orange fenders at the ready in case of a close encounter with a competitor! MW near the start line
 
Below: An example of the tacking along our track trying to make it to Kota Kinabalu


 
   
Below: Our wooden carved trophy. Hope we are allowed to bring it back into Australia

Luckily, most other competitors had the same thoughts as us in the middle of the night (using motors for some part of the race ) so we still managed to gain a third place in the race and a trophy!.

 
     
 
Above: Receiving our Third place
 
Above: at the Presentation dinner being presented with a gift from our hosts
     
 
Above: An example of the sorts of logs that floated in the water. As you can see, they are very hard to see unless some part is sticking out of the water
 
Above: There is a lot of logging happening in Borneo and these barges were a regular sight and probably the source of some logs !
     

The marina at Kota Kinabalu is unbelievably palatial. With 2 five star resorts and 4 swimming pools it was by far the poshest place that Mandolin Wind had ever been.

     
 
Above: The Kota Kinabalu Marina Club
 
Above: our blue super-yacht neighbour had just had a new paint job worth $AU1 million
 
In an effort to fit all the racing yachts in the marina, the Catamarans were mostly tied 'stern to' on the super yacht arm which was located the furtherest distance from the Marina Office. Given that there were strict rules against discharging toilets (an admirable policy since the water was crystal clear) we were very happy to have holding tanks otherwise it would have been a very long walk to the facilities for every call of nature.
     
     
 
Above: Ultimate Dream, having dropped their anchor, are backing into their spot between us and Bach & Byte
 
Above: Moored stern to at KK
     
A 'stern to' mooring requires a boat to drop their anchor before backing in to a marina arm to tie off. This means that, for the most part, boats do not have side arms in which to secure lines. Luckily we happened to be at the end and had an arm beside us because one evening we had a major blow and the cats beside us had a hard time when their sterns started banging into the marina arm. In addition, it meant that we could easily step off our transom steps instead of having to employ gymnastic feats in order to get on or off the boat.
     
 
Above: Kay and Jim from Bach & Byte taking the leap of faith. Obviously a lot less clumsy than some members of our crew! ( mmm pink )
     
 

As you can imagine, the Kota Kinabalu marina was very expensive to stay in, even by SE Asian standards. At Rebak at Langkawi we were paying only $A15 per night compared to $A45 at Kota Kinabalu. However, as part of the Rally and Race we were given several nights free plus 50% off the menu price at the Marina cafe. Mandolin Wind crew particularly enjoyed the breakfast of Eggs Benedict with sensational coffee for only $6 each.

KK proved to be a great shopping spot as well and the girls enjoyed some great 'window shopping' days at the first class shopping malls (well, maybe it was not all window shopping - perhaps a handbag or a piece of Batik here and there!)

 

The Kota Kinabalu Sailing Club invited all rally participants over for a social morning. Games of beach volleyball and soccer were followed by a great lunch and we all enjoyed it so much we returned the next evening for a BBQ and swapping of club burgees (flags).  
     
   
Above: Betty ( 7th Heaven ) and Jim ( Odyssey 9 ) enjoy a drink with Sue

 
Above: Champion Volleyball player or keen amateur??
 
Above: Dinner at the club - Sue with Bev (Splashdown) and Donna (Two Up)


     
Since KK sits under the shadow of Mt Kinabalu (4095 m) we hired a car and drove to the foothills of the mountain. Some hardy types stayed a few days and walked to the summit but we figured that walking to the marina office from our boat was sufficient exercise for us!
     
 
Above: Mt Kinabalu
 
Above: A Pitcher plant in the Mt Kinabalu Park. The sun came out just at the right time!
     

During the trip we stopped at a very moving memorial to the Australians and British soldiers who lost their lives during the infamous Sandakan Death March of WWII.

 

The horrific statistics - of the 2438 POW's at Sandakan Camp, only 6 survived.

 
 
 
Above: The memorial with Mt Kinabalu in the background
  In an incident sure to send shivers down ones spine, the interesting letter (left) tells the story of the photographs below. It was written by a very high ranking Australian Army Officer so certainly carries the stamp of authenticity - or is it the reflections caused by the windscreen? You be the judge!
     
Below: The photograph clearly shows ghostly skeletal figures that appear to be marching!
 
     
With the race behind us it was time to move on to our next destination. It was VERY hard to leave the KK marina as we had become quite used to slumming it by the pool every afternoon! Before leaving we fueled up at the pump - a real luxury in a country where jerry cans for fuel is usually the order of the day.
     
 
   
Above: MW at the fuel dock at KK
     
We have mixed feelings about the next leg of our journey across the top of Borneo. We are looking forward to more spectacular scenery but there have been many reports of theft from boats in some of our upcoming Ports of Call. This is mainly due to the proximity of this area of Borneo to the Phillipines. A few boats have lost outboards off their dinghies - this is despite them being chained on to a dinghy hanging off davits. As a precaution we have fitted an alarm in the cockpit area with a very loud siren. It is basically a car motion detector alarm and cost $AU100. We feel it is cheap insurance and gives us some measure of security - particularly in ports where boats have been boarded and robbed at night (from inside the boat) without the occupants waking up. This is the first time in all our travels we have had to be security conscious as we have found SE Asia to be very safe and the people exceedingly friendly.  

 

Above: Siren horn for alarm
 

The only trouble is, our resident gecko may trigger the alarm during the night and scare the hell out of us (and the gecko)!

Let's hope the alarm never goes off in true anger - but we shall see.