Monday August 15

Thankfully it didn't rain last night and the decks were dry for our visitors. We had sent the other cats, Kittani and Esoterica off to Semporna early to set up for the med style anchorage. Semporna had closed the fish market and cleared the seawall in the inner harbour for the day for our use. Peter off Kattani had been shanghaied by John and I to “volunteer” to be docking master.

Gemini Lady had been asked to host the VIP's and come into the harbour in a procession of the other 23 boats. We rigged the Main and had everything squared away and shipshape before our guests arrived. We had Sazli (Sail Malaysia), James Khoo (Pangkor Marina), Dr Adelin (Sabah Tourism Chairman), Boner (Chief of Sabah National Parks), Tourism representatives from KK, Mr Chang and Jamilah (Our dive trip organisers) with Jamailah's infant daughter and cousin Nan. Moque of the film crew also came to film the day.

Dr Adelin' security team had a drone up and hovering nearby for most of the trip. Sazli bought some Roti Cheni to cook up for breakfast.

Our 85 m of chain came up ok and we hovered around until Rendezvous had been helped to raise his anchor and the last 2 boats anchors lifted clear. Lea and I put full sail up for a nice reach across the lagoon. The engine was back on at the turn out of the lagoon and it was a motorsail the rest of the way into Semporna.

While I piloted the boat Lea worked the crowd while they enjoyed the scenery and together with Moque got breakfast prepared.

The leading boats were having a lot of trouble anchoring in the inner basin. There was no swinging room for the cats so they anchored outside and went in in dinghies to help set up Kittani against the wall as the key boat. For a while things didn't sound promising over the radio so I got together with Sazli to work out options “b” and “c” in the event we failed to get the fleet into the inner basin. After much difficulty, due to poor holding, Kittani was anchored and tied back in centre position quickly followed by Esoterica next to her. Sakata was then positioned at the inner end of the wall. The fleet was then stacked in 2 at a time either side of Esoterica and Kattani with Peter directing traffic and maintaining the order he had worked out to stagger the masts and rigging in the event of a blow. Dinghies directed the dropping of anchors and crew on the seawall took the stern lines and made them fast. It soon became a slick operation. There was room for us but we had already anchored in 30 m outside and didnt want to haul it all up again. Our guests had been picked up by the security boat.

Dr Adalin, Chairman of the Sabah Tourism Board, full of energy and enthusiasm.
Moque, the cameraman, part of the family now helping with breakfast.
Mr Cheng of the dive shop, with Tourism lady from KK, James Khoo and Boner ,Head of Sabah Parks.
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Lea, Sazli, James, Mr Cheng, Dr Adalin and one other I can't remember.

Peter off Kittani organising the mooring. He did a fabulous job. The locals loved it too and many came out to watch as the boats were progressively moored up.
Once we were settled we dinghied in to the huge floating pontoon and set off to explore the town. The market area and waterfront behind the town was a bit grotty and we were saddened to see this large manta ray being chopped up for meat. We managed to get a some fresh veggies and fruit to restock the diminished larder.

We returned to the boat quickly to drop off the new supplies then back to the pontoon for the official welcome ceremony.

As usual the costumes were stunning, especially that of Peter, the chief of Police, who met briefly out at Sipadan. His head dress with the skull of a Rhinocerous Hornbill was superb.

After the welome ceromony, speeches and traditional dance we wandered around the displays set up in the town square. The Army was there and I got to try on the standard kit. Bloody heavy I can tell you and I stilldidn't have the untility belt with water and spare ammo.

Next we were bussed out to Bukit Tengkorak or Skull Hill. This was originally part of a huge ancient volcano and was the largest pottery making site in SE Asia during the Neolothic Period. We wandered through the museum displaying skeletons found here thousands of years old. Up the 610 steps and enjoyed fabulous views over the channel, inland grasslands and distant mountains.

Back to the boat to freshen up then picked up for party time. Semporna had gone all out to give us a party to remember with unlimited local rice wine in many differnt forms and a great feast. Peter our local Police chief was cheekily encouraging the consumption of copious amounts of rice wine. It wasnt half bad either.

We got front row seats for the entertainment. Front row is always dangerous and I was given a microphone and dragged up to join the band with a version of the song “Sailing”. Fortunately because I had had enough rice wine, the audience had had enough rice wine and the sound man turned down my mike gain, everyone thought I was great.

We had the traditional Cninese dancing dragons.

Peter off Kittani and Lea got to try the blow pipe. the traditional Dyak weapon of the jungle tribes here.

All in all it was a fabulous night and the locals joined in for the feast and entertainment. It was a shame we had to move on the next day for the final leg of the Rally to Tawau.
Tuesday August 16
Thought we might get a little sleep in waiting for the fleet to disentangle itself from the seawall but no. The first boat out went past us at 0600 and John and Peter released the lines and got the boats moving with ruthless efficiency. Just as well the preservative free rice wine left nobody with a bad hangover.
The current was already against us and would only get worse so we started to pull up the anchor. The combination of 32m depth and a strong current made the anchor winch really struggle. We tripped the circuit breaker twice during the lift. We had to motor the chain forward then retrieve a few meters at a time as we drifted back. We have decided 25m is our new maximum anchoring depth.
It was a hard slog out of the channel against the current. Red Herring again tried to sail and went out of the security envelope and fell behind. She then blew an injector and had to be towed. The last 10Nm gave us good breeze so we popped the kite for a final hooray and had a blast at 8-9 knots.
The anchorage was dreadfull and our anchor wouldn't hold. We tried 5 times in 3 different places and finally settled in close where we knew it would be too shallow in 2 days time due to spring tides.
Wednesday August 17
The usual squall came through at 0200 so we had a cup of tea waiting until it subsided. Songbird 50 dragged and had to reanchor which we found amusing as they had assured us last night that they were dug in well and ready for 40 knots.
We reanchored again in slightly deeper water. Ashore we checked out the yacht club and registered for temporary membership.
The club has great facilities, just lacks a dinghy pontoon. Fortunately they have a boat ramp which we used. Hard work for Lea but much better than more dinghy damage like at Sandakan. Just had to make sure the little Optimists could get to the water as these went out every afternoon.

Our farewell dinner was only marred by me being asked to sing “Sailing” again with the band. Despite my warnings that it would be bad they insisted. Without rice wine modifying the acoustics and no turning down of the mike gain it was bad, so bad that Lea was photographed by friends cringing. My singing career is once again banished to the the lonely night watch.

Over the next 2 days we got the laundry done, restocked and refuelled the boat and explored Tawau a bit. Enjoyed a quiet farewell dinner on Aussie Anthem with Adrian and Carman together with Simon and Robyn off Kiwi Coyote. Our last night at the yacht club was full of goodbyes. 3 boats were heading back north then on to the Phillipines, 5 of us were heading back to KK. The other 21 boats are joining up with the Sail Indonesia Rally and continuing on. Its been a terrific group and we have made some great friends. We will miss travelling with them.

Its been a great Rally. A big thank you to Sazli of Sail Malaysia for organising it and all the towns and areas that have welcomed us. A special thank you to the Commanders and personel of ESSCOM who have so diligently watched over us and protected us from harm in these troubled waters neighbouring the Philippine Terrorist Strongholds.

 

Wednesday August 10

Not a great weather day with overcast skies and enough wind to make exploring by dinghy uncomfortable. The morning Sked included a report from Ian off Songbird 50 of an unidentified boat loitering close to the fleet near the shallow pass .Songbird was on watch, saw the boat and shone a big spotlight on it and called ESSCOM. The response was immediate and the boat was shooed away. The boat came back an ESSCOM escorted the boat out of the lagoon.

We met Sazli on shore with Jamilah to finalize our dive and snorkelling bookings. 1000 MYR for 2 days. 6 dives for me, snorkelling for Lea, lunch and transport to and from Kapilia and Sipadan. Nearly the whole rally group ascended to the top of the Caldara. Only a 600m long walk but climbing 180m along the way. The tourist boats from the mainland had begun to arrive around 0900 so the track was a bit congested. At the top the sun came out and we got some good photos..

Our fresh food supplies were getting low as we hadnt realised there would be nowhere to resupply fruit and veggies between Sandakan and Tawau. We had expected to visit a few villages with markets. Kerryn and John were getting a bit frustrated with some of the less cooperative fleet members so we paid them a visit for a good debrief and vent. We ended up staying for dinner.

Thursday August 11

We had the 0400 to 0600 watch and were glad we did. The wind came in hard from the WSW putting us all on a lee shore. Some boats found themselves too close to others and had to move. This is a big deal when 80m of chain is out. The WSW side of the lagoon is open so the fetch allowed the sea state to build significantly causing some of the monos to toss and swing about considerably. We were very happy to know we had 85m out and a well set anchor in good sand.

The wind didn't settle until daylight and rattled a few tempers. The 0800 radio Sked was very lively. Some boats wanted to leave immediately. Others wanted a vote on going. John our XO remained a calm voice of reason, giving everyone a chance to be heard but delaying any immediate reaction until a possible move had been discussed with ESSCOM. Any decision was deferred as we still had time to leave that afternoon.

When the waves and wind had settled Lea and I went ashore to run up the mountain. Lea did it in 11.32, I did in 12 minutes flat. After a quick descent Lea did the climb again in 12.32. Once was enough for me. Lea just finished her second descent when the tourists began to arrive.

Not a brilliant day but the 1100 decision was to stay and review the situation tomorrow morning if we had another blow during the night. The main concern was that most of the boats would be left unattended all day for the 2 diving days. If a move was to happen we wanted a day to make sure the boats were well dug in. The good news was that all the micro storms seem to happen at night. The forecast showed moderating southerlies but they don't predict the micro storms. Reality is that we are all dug in well here and none of the other achorages are perfect either.

We took the dinghy to survey the southern entrance with the Dragonfly.

 

Then north to explore the shallow passage through the reef there but we had left our run too late into the ebb tide so not enough depth to cross. Enjoyed a good snorkel on the reef S of us and found a Moray Eel sticking its head out of its hole and a few pretty bat fish.

It was a perfect afternoon and most people enjoyed it and were glad they had stayed.

Friday August 12

A nice peacefull night had calmed the fleet and on the morning sked John was firm on the decision to stay here stating the advantages clearly. He made it clear that anyone leaving would no longer be supported by the rally or ESSCOM. A vote was taken and 100% agreed to stay, although some needed an awful lot of irrelevant words ramblings and stories to say “yes”. The hot heads from yesturday had cooled down and seen good sense.

The sun was shining and the wind was light so we mounted an expedition over to little Palau Mantabuan through the north passage. About 10 dinghies went to this lovely island. We walked around it checking out the 2 Sea Gypsy villages and the Army Camp complete with sand bagged machine gun emplacements. No Photos allowed.

 

 

The snorkelling was average but the crystal clear water very refreshing as the temperature rose. A few turtles were seen in the distance. We went back and snorkelled a nice wall under some steep cliffs

Plenty of protection around

That afternoon we had dive gear serviceing aboard Gemini Lady. Shayne off Champagne Charlie had offered to check and service everyones regs and BCD's. Nearly everyone with dive gear took the opportunity

We had quite a crowd aboard.

Had John, Kerryn and Sazli over for dinner.

Saturday August 13

Only half the fleet were doing the day trip to Kapalai. We organized all our gear and took it over to Songlines 3 then stowed the dinghy. Lindsay came round to pick us up so that no dingihies were left in the water all day. The fast boats arrived and we all piled in from Songlines 3 and Esoterica. The hour long trip to Kapalai was bumpy and smelly due to leaking spare fuel jerries.

The island is hidden behind an impressive waterfront hotel with long, high broadwalks surrounding the reef and linking the rooms. The rooms had fabulous views out over the reef.

It was bedlam for a while as we split into 2 groups of divers and snorkellers but eventually we got it all sorted.
Lea dissappeared off snorkelling while we had our dive briefing.

The visability wasnt great but Lea loved it and had the camera to record swimming with turles. The coral wasnt spectacular but lots of interesting fish life and turtles. Her highlight was a group of 6-7 massive Wrasse, slowly swimming past her looking like something from the dinosaur age.

Our first dive was Mandarin Valley right in front of the resort in 18-20 metres. Wooden structures had been built underwater and had become a fabulous marine habitat. I had trouble with a leaky mask but saw my first nudibranches which amazed me with their brilliant colours.

Our second dive at the Cleaning Station was a reef wall dive but the poor vis created by the storm a couple of days ago made it less spectacular than the first but sighting a few sharks and a big crocodile fish was exciting. Lea' second snorkel was cut short by stingers in the water. I was very glad I had my full wet suit as it was quite cold down 20m.

Back in the boats we went accross to Palau Mabul for a very average lunch at Uncle Cheng's Restaurant. Hoping to find better vis our third dive was at Lobster Wall off Mabul. Lea's snorkelling was great with lots of turtles and her first nudibranch. Lisa off Champagne Charlie lent Lea her spare googles and snorkel. These made a huge difference and in her words “made the day extra super”.

A flatter ride back to Bohay Dulong had John and I nodding off. A great day and tomorrow should be even better.

Sunday August 14

George, one of the young boys on Allure, suggested a dinghy taxi service for the fleet to meet the fast boats at the jetty. The deal was 10 MYR to deliver and return 2 people and their gear. This created its own difficulty as to do all the boats would take nearly 2 hours. We elected to be first pick up so the we could run the mountain again. Others, realizing they would have to wait on the jetty for some time, cancelled. Goerge and Luke with help from Xavier off Windkist plus the loan of a dinghy from Athem Aus did a great job but also learnt that you just can't please some people. It also showed up some people as not prepared to put themselves out to support the boys in this great commercial maths lesson.

A bit slower up the mountain today but Lea still did it twice although she rolled her ankle on the second descent. It was a good social time on the jetty prior to pickup.

All loaded onto 4 boats today as all but 2 of the 29 boats were going to Sipadan Island. It was a nasty, bumpy trip for over 90 minutes, pounding into the 1m southerly swell at 50kph. Needed a few stops to clear plastic bags on the twin 200Hp Outboards.

We went ashore at Sipidan to register. Sazli and the chief of Tourism Sabah, Mr Adlin, had gone to great trouble to get us permits for this visit. Only 120 people are allowed on the island every day and it is booked out well in advance. The island has an Army post here but there is no accomodation on the island. It is a true seamount rising up out beyond the continental shelf making it a unique environment. ESSCOM's presence was comprehensive with lots of boats and armed troups about. Some troups as part of Mr Adlin's security detail went diving with him.

After a welcome speech and briefing we went back to the boats and headed out.
Not wanting to miss out Rod off Psycho Pus had Heather use a condom to keep his finger dry. The stitches were holding well.
Lea had another fabulous day snorkelling and taking lots of pictures underwater. The diving was great too with much better vis than yesturday. First dive was at Coral Garden then back to the isalnd for lunch. Swimming and diving amonst the huge school of jackfish on the second dive/ snorkel at Barracuda Point was amazing.
Huge school of jackfish with a few huge GT's underneath.
 

 

 

Another fabulous day! The trip back was much smoother and we were treated to a whale breaching in the distance and dolphins doing huge leaps and tail dances. We arrived back to find our budding young entrepeneurs had set up a stall on the jetty selling cold beer, popcorn and chocolate fudge. The beer went down really well while waiting for the dinghy service and was a great finish to our stay in the lagoon at Bohar Dulong.

 

Friday August 5

Sleep in and pancakes for breakfast then 1000 departure downstream to visit the “Oxbow Lake” a dead end section of river created by floods altering the course of the River. We anchored in what looked like a good position but this time Dream Maker 2 anchored a bit too close to us. Relaxed for the early afternoon before heading up the narrow overgrown entrance to the lake. Brief stop where some other tourist boats were stopped. There were 2 wild Orangutans in the trees near the river bank.

We emerged into quite a large lake and cruised the shores looking for wildlife.
We found a troupe of Silver Leaf Monkeys and watched them for a while.

Lots of Lillies in the water.

Back at Gemini Lady we found that a few logs had started the formation of a dam around the bows, bridle and anchor chain. Dream Maker 2 looked even closer. So after clearing the log jam with the dinghy we up anchored and moved to the other side. This proved a good move as we were out of the path of the logs coming from upstream and we had a troupe of Proboscis Monkeys in the tree nearby.

i
Another peaceful night.

Saturday August 6

Along quiet river journey winding our way to Dewherst Bay. The final bar was a concern to some of the deeper draft mono's but the shallowest we had was 2.6m on a 1.4m tide. The fleet is all back together now and ESSCOM has an impressive boat presence along with shore based police and military outposts.

We were back on watch from 2000 to 2200.

Sunday August 26

Another boring motorsail 26nm to our next anchorage at Evans Island. Trying to keep the fleet in a tight bunch is hard work. Nerves are frayed, tempers short and stupiid questions over the radio the norm. The slow boats still don't get away early to be at the front of the fleet, then remain slow refusing to burn more fuel to keep up. We are heading into the hot spot danger zone now where the last kidnapping took place. Some of the early arrivals had not gone far enough into the estuary to ESSCOM's satisfaction so they were asked to move. More grumbles. Our XO, John from Esoterica handled it all well and showed amazing patience with some of the recalcitrant boats.

We joined Songlines 3 and Esoterica for a dinghy trip to the nearby fishing village.

Karen and Sharon handed out some clothes to the mums and pencils to the kids while we had a look around with our armed escorts.

The whole village came out to greet us.

These little boats are called ” Water Pump” boats. They are actually powered by water pumps so are like jet boats. Very small and can travel over shallow reefs at high speed. From January 2017 these craft will be banned in Sabah as they are considered a security risk. Basically ESSCOM can't chase them.

The people were friendly, the kids were cute and plentiful and we purchased some eggs from the village shop.

Monday August 8

We were woken by rain at 0400. Within minutes it was torrential and the wind came in at 35 knots. We soon suspected that we were dragging but it was difficult as boats were swinging wildly and vis was poor. The instruments went on and the motors started. The Chartplotter told the dragging story once it fired up and we motored forward as Lea tried to get the anchor up. Unfotunately, we couldnt get the anchor up and seemed to be dragging Anthem US with us. We had dragged back and picked up their anchor. We couldnt raise Jack and Jan by radio so we sounded the air horn as we struggled to pull both boats away from the other boats. We learned later we had come very close to Anthem hitting Ambrosia. Still swinging wildly across the channel and coming very close to Champagne Charlie, we managed to gain ground towing 27 tonne Anthem into clear water. Jack and Jan eventually surfaced on deck and with their motor running and the wind and rain easing we got the situation under control. We discussed our options over the radio and agreed to let out our chain and manoeuvre down along side them and raft up. As we did this our anchor bit in and held both boats. After succesfully rafting up Jack was able to pull up his anchor with no trouble. This was a huge relief for all of us. All was calm now so we agreed to stay rafted up and enjoy a nice cup of tea.

While we were dealing with our drama others were having a bad time as well. Our Odessy dragged through the whole fleet fortunately not hitting anyone. Esoterica dragged sideways and ended up across the bows of Psycho Puss. Disentangling this mess resulted in a severe laceration to Rod's finger. Dean off Dream Maker got his dinghy in the water and got Marie (a nurse) off Allure over to Psycho Puss once all the wind and rain had passed and everyone was sorted. She cleaned the wound but called on me to come over to stich it up. I got all my gear together as Dean came over to pick me up. We were comfortably rafted up to Anthem at this stage.

Rod's wound was bad. Down to the tendon on the palm to finger joint on the left ring finger. With Marie assisting we cleaned and debrided the ragged cut. The tendon was clearly visible with only a slight nick in it. Rod still had full functiion and only some numbness so nerve damage was minimal. After injecting lots of local anaesthetic to the area I put in about 9 sutures and pulled it all together quite well. Only the third time I have stitched skin and it was hard to control the shake in my hands. Bloody tough stuff skin. I enjoyed a good stiff bourbon while the girls bandaged it all up.

Our planned early start for the big leg around the horn went out the window but we did get away by 0700. Psycho Puss had more problems as there was something wrapped around one of their propellors. Shayne off Champagne Charlie volunteered to dive and remove it once out in clear water. Shayne soon had it sorted and we were off for the longest leg of the trip of 64 Nm.

After such a vengefull storm we now had very little wind, a broadside swell and current against us. It was a long painfull day of motoring. Some decided to tack out once the breeze picked up to 10 knots from the south but we worked out the maths on expected speed and VMG and decided it was a waste of time. Even sailing at 7-8 knots our VMG against the current would be nowhere near the 5.0 knot convoy speed agreed. We needed both motors just to make headway against the wind and current later in the morning. Those that tacked out went well away from the bulk of the fleet and close to Phillipine waters causing much consternation for ESSCOM we found out later. Its was a shame the Malaysians are so polite as these yachts needed a big serve on appropriate respect for those looking after them.

We had agreed on a 3 x 3 Nm box along the coast but some idiots went out to sea over 5 Nm. We picked up a plastic bag on the port saildrive and the temperature alarm went off. Initially we thought it was the bilge alarm and Lea at the helm failed to notice the red temperature warning light as she was busy taking photos of the ESSCOM helicopter that came over. The warning light was also obscured by our boat card with our phone numbers to call in the event of an emergency while we are not aboard. The result was one very overheated port engine and exhaust system plus a shredded impellor. While sorting all this mess out I burned my leg on the red hot exhaust manifold. Ouch!! I had real difficulty getting out the shredded impellor but eventually that was done, a new one fitted and the heat exchanger backflushed of all loose impellor blades. I tried a few ways to clear the raw water blockage. In the end we stopped the boat and reversed with the starboard engine. Whatever was wrapped around the port leg fell off and water flowed freely again. Port motor was back in action hopefully with no serious damage.

As we rounded the cape the wind followed us, staying on the nose. Very frustrating but we did manage to get the sails up 10 NM before the anchorage and enjoy a great close reach for the last 3 Nm, just keeping ahead of Kiwi Coyote who was gaining slowly but surely.

Back to Psycho Puss to check on Rod's hand then flagged over by Phil on Rendezvous who was having trouble with his anchor winch. Soon diagnosed that the internal gears were stripped and arranged with John off Esoterica to come over early in the morning to help manually lift his anchor.

What a day!

Tuesday August 9

4 ESSCOM boats patrolled the open roadstead anchorage al night. We had the 1200 to 0200 watch in nice calm conditions. The communications with the ESSCOM commander and patrols has improved and we are feeling well looked after. John is doing a great job as XO and trying hard to get the message through to the fleet of the importance of staying close together but its a bit like herding cats. All good intentions vanish with a hint of sailable breeze.

John and I had a date on Rendezvous at 0615 to get his anchor up before the rest of the fleet. Lea had the Main rigged and the bridle off ready for my return. We were away on time but the breeze didnt cooperate so it was another motorsail of 30 Nm into a light breeze. At least our watertanks are full. We passed this Navy base located on a jack up platform in the middle of the Bay.

The lagoon off Palau Bohay Dulong was gorgeous with plenty of room for the 29 boats to anchor in 20m of water. The lagoon was eay to navigate with a midday arrival and the sun shining. The reefs stood out a brilliant green against the dark blue of deeper water.

Some misinformation again. We were expecting a resort and restaurant here but no only a research centre, a tourist jetty and a maritime police station. There was a great walk up to the top of the ancient caldera.

I spent the afternoon diving on anchors with Shayne and Lisa off Champagne Charlie and Dean off Dream Maker 2. I did 3 x 20m dives. It was good to dive again to renew my confidence after the mask squeeze episode back at Tioman Island. We have 2 big days of diving planned here at Kapilai and Sipadan both rated as world class dive sites so I wanted to be ready.

Ended up back on Gemini Lady with Adrian and Carman off Aussie Anthem. Lea stretched the spagbol to feed all 7 of us and a good night was had.

 

Sunday July 31

Lea got the Laundry all done at a great New Laundromat while I investigated an issue with the dinghy outboard. It wouldn't run very well at all and I suspected water in the fuel. I emptied out the tank and mixed a fresh brew as well as putting in 2 new spark plugs. This seemed to do the trick and the little Yamaha was back to old reliable self.

Back in the car with John and Kerryn we drove out to the Proboscus Monkey Centre at an old Palm Oil Plantation. Here we found a new centre with boardwalks and feeding stations for the resident Proboscus and Silverleaf Monkeys. The observation platforms made for easy viewing.

The cheeky Siverleaf Monkeys were not so shy and came over to check us out.

These 2 Hornbills were also regulars here coming in for a feed of banana.
After a relaxed lunch it was over to see the Sun Bears. These are the smallest of all the bears in the world and have often been taken as cubs as illegal pets here in Borneo. However, as they get bigger they become a problem and are usually kept in small cages. This Centre is is a sanctuary for rescued Sun Bears and tries to re habilitate them so that they can go back to the wild.

The centre is a world class facility with large natural enclosures for the bears to roam in with many large trees for them to climb.

The bears all seemed in great condition and health. Our visit here was certainly a highlight.

Tequila Party night on Aussie Anthem. A great night was had.

Monday August 1

Brisk morning walk to the wet market on the other side of town to stock up with fruit and veggies. Then off up the 100 steps to Agnes Kieths House and Museum. Passing another Anzac Memorial along the way.

Agnes Keiths house was set in beautiful grounds high above the harbour. It is well preserved with many historical photos and momentos.

Agnes Keith was a famous author here who wrote books about the pre and post war days in Borneo. She was held captive by the Japanese during WWII. We have bought a copy of her first book “Land below the wind”.

We adjourned to the “English Tea House” for a very delicious lunch at this quaint little restaurant overlooking Sandakan and the Harbour.

After purchasing and writing a few postcards we walked off lunch trying to find the local post office. Finally found it on the outskirts of town. At least the service and the aircon were excellent.

Finished off with a swim and a drink at the Yacht Club before heading back to the boat. Sometimes we can't understand the Malaysians. It was the fleets last night at the Yacht Club and the Restaurant was closed. Crazy!


 

Tuesday August 2

A very early start was planned with some concern about anchors being hooked up on the fouled harbour bottom. Everyone except Beau Soleil got up ok. They were stuck fast to sometning on the bottom in 7 metres of murky water. The promised Navy Divers for this contingency were nowhere to be found. It came down to some Kiwi ingenuity from Phil on Sagata and help from Brian on Persephone.

A 2 metre length of chain was shackled around Beau Soleil's anchor chain and attached to a tow rope from Persephone. This loop of chain was lowered down Beau Soleil's tight anchor chain and hopefully getting down over the anchor shank. Persephone then towed the anchor out from under the obstruction. This all worked brilliantly and Beau Soleil was free. The fleet was split with a few boats some miles behind.

We had hung back at the rear of the main fleet but once everyone was under way we enjoyed a tight reach with full Main and Genoa. The breeze lifted us above and through the fleet and into the mouth of the Kinabatangan River. The stragglers powered up and soon caught up to the fleet. We had a great if short sail loping along at 8 knots again and were dissapointed that Rendezvous and Kiwi Coyote didn't sail it with us.

The River entrance was straight forward with 3.3 metres over the bar on a 1.8 mtre tide. The journey up the river was an interesting exercise in Rally Protocol with Lea driving and disagreeing with and disregarding my “suggestions”

The river was wide with Nipah Palms lining the banks for the first few miles and slowly changing to trees, vines and elephant grass along the edges. Lea kept her eyes glued to the shoreline hoping to spot wildlife but didnt see a thing. Some boats saw Proboscus Momkeys and others saw a crocodile. The radio was full of chatter and warnings to following boats about logs in the water and overtaking. Ocelot stated the obvious that the water was deeper on the outside of the bends. The annoying chatter further added to Lea's grumpiness.

We finally arrived at our designated anchorage just as the opposing current started to build. The fleet had split into 3 groups each at a differnt anchorage. The faster boats (us) were the furthest up river. We rafted up to Sagata with Court Jester on the other side to make more room available in the anchorage. We tucked in nicely behind a number of other boats who should protect us from logs and debris coming from upstream.

Leslie off Sagata made some phone calls and organised a fast boat trip in seach of Pygmy Elephants for tomorrow. We had a quick explore ashore and upriver with Marrilyn and Ian off Songbird 50. Our ESSCOM escort were enjoying the hospitality at the riverside Warung nearby. Stopped at Kittani for a quick drink and Peter ran a rage reduction councilling program for Lea to vent out her frustrations of the day. I stayed quiet.
We were all invited over for sundowners on Songbird 50 a Lagoon 50. A very impressive live aboard vessel with lots of room and deck space to spread out in and on.
 
After drinks many went ashore for dinner but we were on watch from 2200 to 2400 hours so we went back to Gemini Lady for an early night. The watch system meant 2 boats were on lookout all night as ESSCOM had indicated that the main threat here was from the shore with many displaced people from the Philipines living on the shores. They have no rights here in Malaysia and are suspect aiding and abetting the Terrorist groups for money.
Wednesday August 3
Up early again to explore a tributary for wildlife. The best times are dawn and dusk.

Peter and Cathy off Kattaini were prepared with their morning coffee in thermos cups.

We saw lots of Proboscis Monkeys, wildflowers and enjoyed the morning trip.

Back to Gemini Lady for a Bacon and Eggs breakfast. Thats the end of our Aussie Bacon.
I spent the rest of the morning fitting the new controller to the cockpit fridge. Have lost count now how many times I have stripped this fridge down. Hopefully this is the last time.
Our fastboat trip was all organised but as the elephants were last seen a long way up river the price went up and the pickup time was earlier. We set off in our open boats with 50Hp motors.
We passed many tourist lodges and boats in the first few kilometres, surprised again to see so many western tourists in the area.
55km upstream we had just about given up on finding the elephants when some excited people in another boat waved us a bit further upstream. Another 2 km upstream we found the herd on the riverbank feeding. We counted 10 altogether, some behind the treeline and 6 near the river edge in clear view. A photofest followed with the tiny calf and juveniles the stars of the show.
We were even treated to a showing of the rare Rhinocerous Hornbill.
After about 30 minutes the elephants began to move away so we headed for home. Lea logged the trip back on her GPS watch at 59 km. we got back just on dusk. A magic afternoon.
The second rally group had arrived and anchored in amongst us. Beau Soleil seemed a little close.

Thursday August 4

The weather bomb hit just after midnight and all hell broke loose in the fleet. The strong current was pushing the boats downstream while the strong witnds were pushing upstream, taking boats up over their anchors. Torrential rain reduced visibility to stuff all. Lots of confusion and accusations of anchors dragging on the radio. We (all of us on our 3 boat raft) had our engines running and ready to respond if required to manoeuvre our large raft about.

Sure enough, Beau Soleil was too close and came spearing in bow first at our port quarter as she rode up on her anchor. Terry and Adi were slow to respond and despite trying to fend her off we copped a crunch on the gunwhale from Beau Soleil's bow. Luckily it didn't hit and bend our railings, just took out a chunk of gelcoat. I suggest politely that they move but this was met with grumbles and denials.

Finally the weather settled down and Beau Solei quietly up anchored and moved away. We could now go to bed.

Walked into the village early to check out the market. Enjoyed some Pancakes, Samosa's and deep fried Pisang (bananas). Took the long way back to the boats for some more exercise.

Back on board and with the boat all dry I investigated our wound from last night. It cleaned up ok with minimal damage to the underlying glass. Went to my gelcoat container only to find it had all gone off. Also picked up my bottle of MEKP hardener only to have the bottom fall out of it spilling most of it. I did manage to rescue a little of the MEKP. On the morning radio sked I asked if anyone had gelcoat. Many had repair kits but Rendezvous had lots of gelcoat that looked like a good colour match. Phil had a 4 kg can of gelcoat and a 2 kg can of something else labelled “SP” that he assumed was the hardener. The mix was presumably 2:1. I was a bit sceptical but tried it anyway. The 2 components looked just the same. After half an hour my test mix was showing no sign of gelling so I cleaned it out of the repair site, added a few drops of MEKP to the mix I had left and reapplied. Sure enough it went off perfectly and the colour match was great. I took the opportunity to fill a few other chips and nicks. It took a couple of layers to totally fill the damage but it sanded and polished up well and is virtually undetectable. Figured the “SP” means spray gelcoat. Advised Phil he will need some MEKP as a hardener.

Terry came over to apologise but all was fixed and no problem. Just one of those things that happens when cruising in company.

I went for an afternoon trip to the nearby Gomantong Caves. Lea wasn't interested so she enjoyed some quiet time in the 36 degree heat.

The caves were great but as a tourist destination they needed some development.

 

 

The main cave was well set up for viewing but when we set off in search of the other caves we ended up hiking along poorly marked, very strenuous and difficult tracks. Although we didn't actually get lost we were certainly unsure of our position at times. A highlight was spotting a wild Orangutan in the distance. There were a few houses perched amongst the cliffs where the “bird nesters” lived and we asked for directions.
 

Finished our stay with drinks on Court Jester with our raft crew and a lovely peacefull night.

 

Saturday July 30

After our early morning wake up call from the local Mosque we went ashore for a session in the pool. Following another ESSCOM briefing at 0800 we hired car with John and Kerryn and set off to explore the area. We started with a visit to the Sandakan War Memorial Park on the site of the POW camp and the starting point of the Death Marches. The park is very beautifull and the site nothing like we expected it to be with its undulating terrain.

Little remains of the camp but a few artifacts.
 
A small chapel like building houses the honour boards and more info an the camps. The stained glass windows were lovely.
Near the site of landmark “Big Tree” stands the actual memorial to all those that died here and on the Marches.
Another very moving and beautifully maitained memorial. There was another POW camp on nearby Palau Berhala, the one with red cliffs as we came into Sandakan, but we didnt find much information on that.
We then moved onto the Rainforest Discovery Centre
Very well presented park with canopy walks and walking trails
We got to see a few Hornbills.

Strong winds came up in the afternoon from the opposite direction to the current so we were called back to Gemini Lady as she was dancing around the anchorage making a nuisance of herself with Ocelot. Things had calmed down by the time we got back so we reanchored a little further away from Ocelot.

 

 

Tuesday July 26

0900 start for the escorted section of the Rally. The exodus off the wall went well with the assistance of Shayne (Champagne Charlie) and Xavier (Windkist) releasing the stern ropes from the concrete wall. No wind so keeping the fleet together was easy. The 5 knot agreed speed was a bit hard on us as the starboard motor has a vibration at 1500 rpm. Other boats were worse off as they were just on idle and not enough revs to excite the alternators or run fridge compressors.

We had 2 escort boats with us including the large PA453 Police boat. The fleet settled into the lovely anchorage and a watch roster commenced at 1800. Our watch was 0400 to 0600 so we got an early night.

Wednesday July 27

Rain squalls through the night and our watch with up to 20 knots of wind. Otherwise all quiet.

Sheduled start was 0700 and there was still plenty of breeze so we knew we would have to put the brakes on Gemini Lady today. We gave the slower boats a 20 minute head start and put up a double reefed Main and the Genoa. Sagata was last out of the anchorage behind us and cleared the glaze off her engine bores from yesterday. We had a comfortable fast run through the fleet at 8-9knots then furled up the headsail to handkerchief size to slow down.

The morning sked was long with a few issues to fine tune the watch system and communications with ESSCOM patrol vessels.

After we slowed down at the head of the fleet Lea did a Michele Bridges Aerobics class. We also caught a nice sized Spanish Makeral. With no motoring since yesturday the batteries need topping up so we ran the Genset, made water and Lea vacummed the boat.

The breeze softened late morning but we shook out the reefs progressively and kept sailing. The whole fleet managed to stay in a reasonably compact group as requested by ESSCOM. The breeze freshened again in the afternoon as we approached the anchorage and Psycho Pus the Lightwave 38 made a late run through the fleet looking good.

We settled into anchorage 159 at Palau Jambongan. We were just all settled in when we received a directive from ESSCOM to move in the nearby estuary at Tanjung Samungat number 161, 6 Nm away. Plenty of daylight left just meant our card game with Esoterica and Kattani was delayed.

The card game was recorded by the filmcrew, who were currently on Kattani. We played “Chicago Rummy” with a few beers and GT's, having a fun time. Kattani was on watch commenceing 1800, so we kicked them off after we lost a final game of “Presidents and Assholes”.

Thursday July 28

Another boring motorsail to arrive at Turlte Island early afternoon. There is a highly regarded and large Turtle Hatchery here and we were invited to go ashore late afternoon for dinner,

Then a video presentation
followed by a look around the grounds
 

 

After dark and a long wait we went out onto the beach to watch a Turtle lay her eggs. The turtles are measured and tags checked. The eggs were then collected and replaced in a hole in the sand dug within a compound to protect them.

Our turtle laid 106 eggs.

Inside the compound the eggs were reburied in a designated spot.

 

The hatchlings from previous collections are then collected and released.

Returning to Gemini Lady we found half a tree caught between our bows, sitting on the bridle. A fair breeze was blowing and strong current made for a difficult extraction. Eventually we lassoed the log and towed it out and past the other boats before releasing it.

Friday July 29

Easy motorsail into Sandakan. Spent ages doing photo shoots against the background of the magnificent red cliffs of Palau Burhala.

Sandakan Yacht Club gave us a warm welcome a great dinner and Karaoke Night.