Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Happenings 2010 Number 18

Farewell Rebak - Langkawi
Sail Malaysia "Passage to the East"

As I sit and write, all around me is deep cobalt blue, glassy smooth in all directions for 360 degrees as far as the eye can see, as ‘Envy’ motors across a vast, windless South China Sea from Terengganu in north-eastern peninsular Malaysia to Malaysian North Borneo. The only threat at the moment is to avoid hitting floating tree trunks and logs and other things that go ‘bong’ in the middle of the night.

'Court Jester' on the glassy South China Sea

Many large logs like this to dodge!
With mostly tranquil light airs prevailing, the motor has been running non-stop day and night, together with all sails up, for the past five days of our six day 668 nautical mile (1,237 km) crossing to Miri in Sarawak, in company with our friends Wayne and Sue on ‘Court Jester’, with whom we’ve done much sailing these past four years.

The weather has not always been as benign as at the moment, having endured two scary nights of multiple storm cell activity with lightning, thunder and rain all around us. Hour after hour all night long we relied on Radar as our eyes in the dark, seeking safe passage through shipping lanes plied by huge ships, and the ever present hazard of dimly lit fishing boats hundreds of kilometres offshore.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

In an endeavour to bolster tourism in general and boating in particular within the far flung states of Sarawak and Sabah, the Malaysian Government sponsors an annual ‘Passage to the East’ yacht rally to encourage sailors to undertake the South China Sea crossing to Malaysian Borneo, so we’ve joined the rally once again for our second Borneo experience.

Langkawi to Miri, Borneo route
Commencing in Langkawi at the end of April, (finally leaving ‘home base’ Rebak Marina after a wonderful four year association) the rally hopped from venue to venue down the west Malaysian coast, collecting more participants along the way, totalling some forty yachts by the time we reached the southern tip of the country in Johor State, just across the strait from Singapore.

Sea Eagle - symbol of Langkawi
Rebak Swimming Pool
Rebak Marina and facilities
Kuah, Langkawi streetscape

Since this was to be our final jaunt down the west coast we made the most of our last visit to favourite places including Georgetown-Penang, Pangkor-Lumut, Port Klang, Port Dickson, Malacca, and Danga Bay – Johor Bahru, most of which were official Rally destinations. During our nine day stopover at Danga Bay Marina we made a final visit across to Singapore, this great shopping magnet of SE Asia, where it seems one can buy almost anything.

The new Pangkor Marina at Lumut
Rally Welcome at Malacca (Meleka Malaysia spelling)
Group photo (Sail Malaysia Rally) at the new Malacca Marina
The rally fleet then sailed up the east side of the peninsular, again going from venue to venue enjoying more official welcome functions, with bus tours, gala dinners, entertainment and cultural displays etc enroute, until the final north-east coast destination of Terengganu, from where the “real” Passage to the East commenced, heading off on our six day crossing of the South China Sea.

1753 Dutch Church, Malacca
Colouful Malacca Trishaws
Old buildings Malacca riverside
Welcome dinner at Danga Bay
Wayne (Court Jester), Joy and John (Touche)
Peninsular Malaysia’s East coast is quite different than the West being much more ‘touristy’ with many Resorts backing mile upon mile of sandy beaches; its clearer waters are home to many coral reefs offering hours of diving or snorkelling enjoyment, whilst sea breezes bring some respite from the heat and humidity that is Malaysia.

Some of the cosy bay anchorages, with their coconut rimmed silica sand beaches and clear shallow sandy bottoms, were as good as we’ve seen in SE Asia, and many had fringing coral gardens as well. We spent much time snorkelling or diving, often followed with a beach BBQ at sundown. Paradise!

Beach cricket (Chris from China Grove) and BBQ at Kapas Island
Unlit fishing platform in 30mtr water
However, some less protected anchorages were not at all pleasant, as all boats rolled uncomfortably - sleepless throughout the night, but, in similarity to the weather, the good times outdid the bad ones a hundred fold.

With an entrance fee of only about A$140 (for this fixture), sailing rallies are extremely good value. In addition to making new acquaintances, plus the camaraderie, comfort and security of sailing in a group, the ‘all inclusive’ tours and entertainment along the way offers great variety, and the food at the various dinner functions is simply superb, as the venues do their upmost to excel and thereby hope for re-selection the following year.

Danga Bay, Johor Bahru welcome and dinner

Official Table
Danga Bay Welcome
Terengganu Banner
Crystal Mosque, Terengganu
Could this pair be new converts?

Scale model Mosque - Islam Theme Park, Terengganu

Beach at the Coral Resort - Redang Island (last stop before Borneo)
Midway between peninsular Malaysia and North Borneo lie Indonesia’s Anambas and Natuna Islands’ groups which were the site of some maritime piracy activity just this past May/June, when three large ocean going ships were boarded and robbed under way at night. Since these islands lie enroute, we’ve all had to divert our courses to give the area a wide berth, with most yachts traveling in groups. Yesterday “Envy’ passed about 40nm to the North of the Natuna’s, and twice during the day we two yachts were approached close-by by fishing boats which made us uneasy until their inquisitiveness was satisfied and they steamed away. Relief!

While sailing in company with us, just below Singapore Island on 28 May, our friends Trevor and Joan on “Been-A-Long’, in whose company we’ve planned to sail back to Brisbane, suffered the expensive misfortune of their engine ‘blowing up’ and the boat had to be towed 150nm up the east coast to a shipyard at Endau for new engine replacement, which was flown in from Sydney. With the new diesel engine installed they departed, but were forced to return the following day with steering failure, and they are as yet uncertain whether they’ll be able to join us for the return to Oz.

Mid morning on our last (sixth) day of passage ‘Huey’- the weather god - (as he’s irreverently referred to by yachties) decided to have a bit of sport with us about 50n/miles offshore and for an hour we were belted by a full gale of 40+ knots with black rainy skies and big seas, plus the odd ship to dodge thrown in to add to our misery. Some days are diamonds, some days are stones!

Approaching storm 1000hrs, last day of Passage
Radar at 1030hrs - in the thick of the storm!
But that’s all behind us now, tied up safely as we are here in Miri City Marina, awaiting the start of our next indulgence, the Borneo International Yachting Challenge (BIYC), a series of low key, fun yacht races for which all entrants get paid 600 Ringgits (A$ 200) appearance money to encourage participation, a total reversal from everywhere else where one has to pay entrance fees to compete!!

The BIYC regatta finishes early August in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, approx 160 nm (300km) north of Miri, then the ‘Passage to the East’ rally continues on over the top of Borneo through Sandakan to finish in Tawau.

From Tawau we’re really at the start of our long 3500 nautical mile (6400 km) passage back to Australia, often with adverse current and little wind through Iran Jaya and over the top of PNG. Then it’s down through the Louisiade Archipelago and 900 km across the Coral Sea into Cairns, then mosey on to Brisbane, hopefully avoiding the cyclone season to be home by early December.

You can follow our progress on ‘YOTREPS’ accessed via the following link, which we endeavour to update daily. http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=VL3733

Cheers til next time
Bruce and Audrey

Envy in Rebak - aptly renamed "Yachties Retirement Village"

End of the day - farewell Peninsular Malaysia