Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) to Penang (West Malaysia)
Ships and sailing, plus scalpels, stitches, spectacles and more….
6th December 2019 to 16th January 2020
Nice bits first.
By early December the N.E. Monsoon winds had arrived over Borneo. Sailing from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital near the top of Borneo, to Singapore area about 800 miles away, was wonderful after so much motoring a few months earlier:- fast sailing, mostly reaching, all the way, just one stop at the island of Labuan (a bit of sightseeing missed last time and duty free drink – of course).
Not much sleep though. The sea in these parts is pretty busy with oil and gas rigs, tugs, coastal and long-distance shipping, and fishing boats in many shapes and sizes.
On Christmas Day, six days later, I anchored off the little Indonesian island of Tolop. It’s a convenient spot before crossing the frantically busy shipping lanes around Singapore, and with adverse spring tides and getting dark with drizzle, I’d decided to pause. Alas, although I’d anchored here before with no trouble, this time the Indonesian navy who have a little base on the island decided to visit. First visiting sailors were friendly, no problems.
Second visiting sailors were friendly and courteous, but firm upholders of Indonesian security; big problems. I haven’t cleared in. I’m illegally stopped in Indonesia. I should not be here. I should not have anchored. I must leave immediately. They mean it. But I plead fatigue (After six days I am indeed knackered), cannot face ships in the dark, the tide is against me, and to cap it all, I’m a hopeless old Englishman etc. And it is Christmas Day (albeit in a predominantly Muslim country). My papers (lots of them) and passport are scrutinised, every page turned, and photographed. Long pauses. I smile nervously. There’s talk of fines. I anticipate Christmas in handcuffs. They phone the commanding officer. We wait for response. I offer tins of beer. It gets dark. At last. Phew! It’s OK as long as I leave before dawn. I promise I will. I mean it.
But as they leave me in peace with a tin of beer, I think of how illegal arrivals might be treated were they to arrive and stop unannounced off the shores of England (or America or Australia for that matter) and feel slightly ashamed. I leave well before dawn and am in amongst the ships as the day breaks. It’s Boxing Day. But global shipping recognises no holidays, and it’s very busy.
Efficient, zealous, polished, multitudinous Singapore patrol boats police their waters. The boat that approaches me probably hasn’t told anyone what to do for an hour or two, so they politely say ‘hello’ and order me to go back in the shipping lane. I comply.
Since then, I’ve sailed up the Malacca Straits to Penang. I was here less than a year ago. I.e. After sailing over 7,000 miles in the year I’m back more-or-less where I started. Which goes to prove, if you were not yet convinced, that life is about the journey not the destination.
And it’s about the people you encounter on the journey. It has been a privilege and a joy to meet and get to know so many fascinating, kind, friendly, resourceful, generous and adventurous folk. Most cruising sailors and most local Malaysians, Indonesians and others seem to be content with what they do have, not fretting too much about what they don’t.
The not so nice bits of the month? Well, it’s in poor taste to dwell on health stuff.
I’ll just say that after nose job, eyes fixed, teeth in hand, a few other bits fixed, I’m as good as new. Malaysian medical staff and services are fantastic. Professional, helpful, quick. And you don’t need to rob a bank to get it done.
The Henrietta maintenance list is a bit longer than my own.
Chinese New Year is coming up soon. It will be the Year of the Rat (the white metal rat). Local radio tells me that this signifies Good Luck and some Bad Choices, which if you think about it must cover most things.