Labuan to Tawau
15th to 30th August
Musings on the Rally, meandering along the coast of Sabah, around the top of Borneo, wildlife, walks around Mount Kinabalu, Kinabatangan river, clearer waters and so on…
Just as a week sharing space on a sailing boat very quickly shows you most of a fellow sailor’s fine qualities, skills, personality and blemishes, so a few weeks with a sailing rally soon uncovers the truths of our fellow boaties: the very good, the sometimes bad and, alas, occasionally the teeny bit ugly; national stereotypes confirmed, dismissed or, more usually, just a bit modified.
But I tread carefully; the British have more blemishes than many. And above all, sailors, all those on the sea, help one another, share a wonderful life and always learn from one another.
I loosely joined the rally from Langkawi, West Malaysia to East Malaysia (i.e. Sarawak and Sabah, North Borneo), nearly 2,000 miles, mainly because of the security offered whilst sailing the final few miles close to troublesome islands in the Southern Philippines.
In this smallish area extremists have kidnapped unfortunate souls for ransom, and occasional execution – though not, I think, yachts from Malaysian waters – thanks I suspect to Malaysian security forces, acronym ESSCOM, who have escorted us for the past two or three weeks. The escorted bit around northeast tip of Borneo meant decisions about when to leave, where to anchor, where to stop, where to go etc. were out of our hands; we sailed within a grouped flotilla never more than four miles by two miles, maintaining a speed close to 5.5 knots almost all the time, with accompanying ESSCOM vessels and shore stations watching over us.
The reality for the whole rally, covering over four months since April, has been a lot of fun, many new friends and a wealth of experiences.
But, were it not for the security offered for the final three weeks, I’d choose not to join such a rally. Rallies run contrary to the nature of the independent free spirited souls who form the bulk of long distance sailors.
Over the past months happiest times have been when away from the fleet of up to 29 yachts, pottering alone upriver in Sarawak, anchoring in secluded bays, snorkelling with one or two others, meeting local people, making our own decisions and choosing our own timetable. Above all I’ve loved land travel with Armelle (who’s been with Henrietta for most of the past two months in Borneo – but alas will not become a global sailor).
The above simply summarises my view of the Sail Malaysia Rally to the East. It’s not meant to sway you towards or away from taking part should you be heading this way. But another time, I’d go alone.
From here this post is just a hasty summary of a full month sailing and exploring Sabah, the Malaysian state that covers the northernmost patch of Borneo.
From Sarawak, Henrietta pottered northwards overnight to the island of Labuan, a busy stretch of sea cluttered with oil and gas rigs and boats zipping hither and thither at all hours. No chance of sleep.
Labuan, like much of North Borneo has historical interest, local colour and a marvelous mix of helpful and friendly indegenous people. Labuan also has duty-free status; yachts sit a little lower, burdened under the weight of beer.
After Kudat, we’re disciplined into following the instructions of ESSCOM, though still with some freedom to do-our-own-thing when moored in the larger towns of Sandakan and Lahad Datu.
And from Lahad Datu and around….
Plus there’s a pleasant few days pottering up the River Kinabatangan, and a day’s speedboat trip to the Marine Park island of Sipadan for diving and snorkelling before the final week heading on to Tawau, last port-of-call in Malaysia, and close to the border with Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan).
..who join in heavy rain
Yes, I know it’s going the wrong way for England. But I’ll turn around somewhere and head west again……