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The Adventure ....



where are we ?

August 2010
east coast of Borneo

from the Santubong River, Sarawak
to Kudat, Sabah - the tip of Borneo

Hello all

After the 6 day China Sea crossing “from hell” and 14 hours “dead to the world” recovery, we awoke to find ourselves anchored in the beautiful Santabong River, Sarawak, north west Borneo – it was a crystal clear morning (best visibility we'd had for ages); blue, blue sky; a cooling breeze (yes!!!); birds twittering and a majestic mountain in the background – wow, we've arrived in paradise !

We'd timed our arrival to coincide with the 3 day World Rainforest Music Festival – we'd bought our tickets ages ago and it was very exciting, that finally, it was here! And yes, the festival WAS held in the rainforest – really adds to the atmosphere, even with the rain; and boy, did it rain! Organised "workshops" were held in the afternoons where groups of musicians from the various bands would showcase "similar styles" in making music/song/dance, explaining their instruments and techniques. Each group member would give a quick demonstration, then all group members would finishing off the workshop with brilliant jam sessions. There was so much going on around the festival grounds it was a difficult to decided what to attend - besides the workshops, there were also cultural dancing and craft demonstrations; craft and clothing stalls; food courts; colddrinks, wine and beer gardens; and big TV screens dotted around the grounds. Then from 7pm in the evenings, the scheduled band concerts started. For the whole 3 days there was such a good vibe - lots of dancing, great music, rain and mud – just magic ! We had such a wonderful time we think we're going to doing it again next year.

Evening stage area - Day 1 - everything nice and tidy, excitement in the air, no rain as yet
Festival in full swing - before and after the rain
Day 3, last night - the aftermath
Brian and the Bulgarian "Bisserov Sisters" - a rare moment for them to sit back and enjoying the festival; and in full swing
yuck - mud! - but they had fun
the henna tatoo lady made a killing - and rightly so ... it took ages

It would've been brilliant to have had some time after the festival to settle into Sarawak and chill out, but no, we were very quickly swept up in the rapid pace of the "Sail Malaysia Rally to the East". It's been really good catching up with our sailing buddies, but the pace is too frantic for us - you just get a glimpse and it's off to the next stop.

We fell in love with the city of Kuching (about 45 minute drive from the Santabong River) - very easy to get around, exceptionally friendly and welcoming people, brilliant museums, lots of heritage streets to wander around and shops for rummaging in (so far it's been the best priced and the best place for buying souvenirs), interesting colonial history, well laid out esplanade along the river for sunset strolling, delicious food - Kuching is definitely on the list for a revisit.

the briliant Natural History Museum - the tall column in the background is an intricately carved burial marker - a beautiful work of art
Kuching esplanade
Sarawak State of Assembly Building
religious architecture - although we've been told that in Borneo there's more chinese temples than moslem mosques
These heavy brass ornaments are earrings !!!
it only costs 40cents (+-AUD 10 cents) to cross the river

No visit to Kuching is complete without visiting the Semmenggoh Orangutang Sanctuary - we had a magical afternoon. The first to arrive at the feeding platform were 2 mothers and babies, closely followed by lots of playful juveniles swinging through the trees. Even the alpha male "Tom" made a surprise appearance. It's amazing watching them - grabbing as many bananas or coconuts as they can carry or fit in the mouth, trying to climb back up the trees without dropping anything, using tree trunks to crack open coconuts. This isn't our first time we visited an orangutang sanctuary or seen orangutangs in the wild (first time almost 20 years ago in Sumatera, Indonesia and more recently in 2008 at Kumai, Indonesia) but it's still so awesome and thrilling seeing these animals in as close to their natural habitat as possible (no thanks to logging). We took way too many photo's and video - it's was soooo hard to leave.

smash and grab - how much can you carry and eat all in one go …
strike the pose …
everyone keeps out of the way of Tom - no wonder, he's huge

North Borneo has some amazing river systems. We used the Lassa River as a short-cut to Miri. This allowed us to take advantage of the tides - depending on which direction we're going, we use either the ebb or flood tides flowing at about 3-5 knots, to give us amazing speed assistance - so if we're travelling at 5 knots boat speed, we're actually getting up to 9 knots (hopefully more) with tidal assistance. Then if we're really clever, we make sure that we arrive at the outward leg of river system as the tide turns the other way. Great way to clock up the miles. But we've got to time it just right - leave it too late and then you've got tide against you and Destiny turns into a sitting duck! And just to make the trip interesting we also need to keep a very good lookout for floating trees, logs, wood and sand barges, ferries, fishing nets and crab pots.

The Lassa River joins up with the Rejang River, the main "highway" to central and southern Sarawak. River life is constant - fast ferries plying people back and forth, trading goods being sent upstream, zippy speedboats darting from one side of the river to the next, fishermen motoring back and forth guarding their nets - in fact, travelling along the river is probably the best way to experience how life is, in Sarawak. It wasn't all that long ago that head hunting was practiced here, Dayak, Iban and and othe tribal communities still live in longhouses and practice traditional methods. Occassionally, you'll see someone in traditional dress. We'll definitely be back!

we never see this - 9 knots speeds registering on the chartplotter

our Garmin charts are almost useless in this area -
making sure we're heading in the right direction
hitting a log of this size at 9 knots will certainly cause lots of damage
A montage of Sarawak tribal costumes - lots of colours, beads, feathers
& the men have some fantastic tatoos

There are great national parks scattered throughout Borneo and if we'd had time, Gunung Goding National Park and Bako National Park would have been on list, so yes, you've guessed it - we'll be back :-) But we did managed to visit the Niah National Park and Caves while in Miri. We set off in absolutely pouring rain - not a good omen, but the rain soon slacked off to the ocassional drizzle which worked in our favour, making it very comfortable for walking through the rainforest. Archaeologcal findings have placed human habitation here some 40,000 years ago, with pottery and implements on display at the small park museum. The caves are also home to swifts, who believe it or not, build "edible" nests, which are harvested once a year under strict control - it's big business. Very long bamboo poles are tethered to the cave ceiling and climbed during harvesting - it's a serious long way up! There's a myriad of caves, which you walk through in complete pitch-blackness - thankfully there was a very good boardwalk (with loads and loads of stairs) and we'd brought a torch!

couldn't resist a photo of these shoes - took him ages to put them on
swiftlet nest admin building, main cave at Niah Caves
enroute to the main cave, Niah Caves
very cheerful and friendly trinket sellers, Niah Caves

And then we were racing!!! Miri was the start of the Borneo International Yacht Challenge (BIYC) (51 boats registered for racing) with the Sail Malaysia Rally joining in, and we signed up for the cruising division - bonus being that you can use your engines (had lots of periods where we were becalmed) but you can't beat someone who hasn't motored at all, AND if you motor for more than 20% of your ellapsed time, you can't beat someone who's motored less than 20% of their elapsed time - capishe? We also got 2 free nights at the Everly Hotel (oh, what bliss - long, hot, showers and a bed that doesn't move! Very, very nice) and 2 days free berthing before the race - wonderful for the budget! There were a few harbour races in Miri on the first day (quite scary at times, a few boats had never raced) before the overnight leg to Labuan (weaving our way inbetween all the oil platforms, lit and unlit!) where we had a great welcoming dinner (and just enough time to get some duty free liquor). Then the next day another overnighter to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; arriving in zero-wind conditions, not motoring & tacking endlessly up to the finishing line with me pushing the boom and mainsail out as far as I could to get whatever puff of breeze there was - we literally crossed the finish line minutes before the cut-off time - talk about the edge of our teeth! Destiny3 and crew did very well - 2nd place overall in the Cruising Division. But for next year, if Brian wants to race again I think I''ll give it a miss ,it's just not my thing - any interested parties, there's a crewing spot open :-)

And then it was all over - BIYC finished for another year, and the last stop of the Sail Malaysia Rally to the East. We could finally take a deep breath and do some serious relaxing and some sightseeing. We berthed at the Sutera Harbour Marina in Kota Kinabalu, whic is a very swish place to chill out (but sadly, with prices to match) and you're spoilt for choice - which of the 3 swimming pools do we swim in today; perhaps we should try round of golf, have a game of tennis, run around a squash court; maybe a movie; which restaurant takes your fancy today; perhaps take the free shuttle into town and do some shopping/sightseeing ????

start of the Labuan to Kota Kinabalu race - the purple MPS is Destiny 3
the last dinner, Sutera Harbour Marina, Kota Kinabalu
Iban tribal dancing, Sutera Harbour Marina
traditional chinese medicine shop - love those old drawers
sights seen aroud the Sunday Gaya Street market

Last but not least, we did a 3day/2night trip to Mount Kinabalu. We didn't climb to the summit (need to book months in advance, it's way too expensive for us ..... and it would've killed us). It was fantastic to be in a cooler climate again - can't remember the last time we had to wear layers. At this time of year, the clouds roll in at about midday and then it pours down for the rest of the afternoon, so need to be up early to get a clear view the mountain and do some walking, which we did in the national park around the base of the mountain. There's a variety of park trails to choose from and the one we chose meandered along a streambed - saw lots of colourful birds and butterflies, wild flowers, orchids - we thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Also visited the Poring Hot Springs (more for the canopy walk than the hot springs themselves) and the moving Kundasang war memorial paying tribute to the English and Australian soldiers forced by the Japanese to marched between Sandakan to Ranau, at least six times. Only 2 men survived those "death marches".

Kota Kinabalu mountain - you could almost be in Switzerland
the very moving war memorial, Kundasang
Brian, Poring Hot Springs
Gillian, canopy walk, Poring Hot Springs
just some of the beautiful flora we saw walking while at Mount Kinabalu
colourful and beautifully displayed fruit and vegetable stalls on the side of the road, Kundasang

Due to high interest, 2 more "ports" were tacked onto the end of the The Sail Malaysia Rally - Sandakan (north east of Borneo) and Tawau (almost at the Indonesian border, east Borneo). They're a considerable distance from Kota Kinabalu so we've been day hopping along the coast to the first rally stop at Sandakan and have been delighted to discover lots of beautiful islands with clear water, colour corals, plenty fish and anchorages to die for. As an added bonus, we've been very fortunate to have had plenty wind to sail everywhere - Brian's been in heaven :-)

So now we've passed another milestone - we've rounded the tip of Borneo and are safely anchored in Kudat, fondly referred to by our fellow cruisers as "The Pond" - it's a weird system of anchoring but works for a confined space - anchors are dropped in the middle of a circular anchorage, and then stern lines tie us up to the anchorage wall, or nearest immovable rock! We're enjoying this quiet little backwater of a town, with no deadline for a week or two.

Rounding the tip of Borneo
another beautiful sunset - somewhere between Kota Kinabalu and Kudat

We hope to haul out in Kudat (the only travel lift suitable for yachts in all of Borneo) in November while we travel to Australia (1st time back in 3 years!) for 2 months over the Christmas period - which brings me to ask the following question - Does anyone have contacts for accomodation in Sydney from around 22nd Dec through to end of January 2011; preferred location - the Northern Beaches or Upper North Suburbs?? We're flexible with dates (might be a week here or there, with some travelling inbetween) we're able to house-sit, pet-sit, rent out just a room, even camp out in someone's back yard - we've been blown away with the extremely high cost of accomodation, and anything reasonably priced has already been snapped up - it probably doesn't help that we're visiting Sydney in high-season ....

That's all for me - the next update is Brian's and he's covering the next leg from Kudat to Tawau. Don't forget you can send us an email and until next time, cheers to all.

B & G