Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

Passage to the East

Our adventures heading for East Malaysia (Borneo) on the Sail Malaysia Passage to the East rally 2010 and after finishing in Tawau

The rally sails the entire length of the Malaysian coast from Langkawi near the Thai border to Tawau near the border with Indonesian East Kalimantan.  Then we retraced our steps towards Singapore.

Rebak - getting ready

After our return from our trip to the UK it was back to work with a vengeance! We were running round like headless chickens since our return trying to get important jobs done. From our return flight Susan acquired a rather nasty chest infection and was on antibiotics, so Richard was busy thumping her back every morning again. It was hot, hot and humid, the rains had begun and the first boats of the season had been struck by lightening.


Checked out of Rebak went 4 miles to Telaga to rent a car for shopping and to get our outboards which had, Malaysian style ie 6 weeks, been serviced.



We moved on 15 miles to Kuah for the briefing for the <Passage to the East >, which was to start on the following Monday. Our aim was to roughly follow the rally down to Danga Bay, across the Johor Strait from Singapore ,then probably more closely. May have to go into Singapore to get liferaft serviced.

Kuah to Penang

Two day sails, stopping overnight at the south of the Langkawi group. Up early the next morning


In Panang we anchored off a shopping mall south of the bridge behind Jerejak island. This was much more sheltered than the marina which is very swelly and has tidal surges running through - last time we were there we bent the bow of a friend's boat as Sea Bunny climbed the pontoon. Nick quickly bent his guardrail back as it was a steel boat and said not to worry! For our hospital checks as the appointments were for 0730 hrs we stayed overnight in a hotel and Stuart off TP ferried us back and forth from the fishing jetty where we did not think it safe to leave a dinghy overnight. The results told us nothing that we did not already know except that an extra day saw R having a Hep B booster and S seeing an ophthalmologist.

We then did three long days, each the equivalent of a channel crossing, to arrive at the marina in Port Dickson. On the way down we overtook Dave and Patti (This Way Up), the catamaran that towed Sea Bunny into Lumut nearly two years ago. We called them up and cheekily offered a tow!

We then did three long days, each the equivalent of a channel crossing, to arrive at the marina in Port Dickson. On the way down we overtook Dave and Patti (This Way Up), the catamaran that towed Sea Bunny into Lumut nearly two years ago. We called them up and cheekily offered a tow!

On the third of these days, leaving P. Angsa and heading south through the channels off Port Klang we were somewhat behind Truest Passion and China Grove (a monohull). TP were intending to try one of the shorter, shallow routes. We had already decided it would be too shallow for us. While TP were proceeding slowly, looking for the channel trough the mudbanks, China Grove followed and stuck fast. We headed cautiously towards them, hoping to get close enough to pass a line and pull them off, but we couldn't get within 400 m.


Not liking reports of the Melaka marine (shallow and exposed) we left Sea Bunny in Port Dickson and took a taxi with Chris and Ian (China Grove) down to Melaka. There we stayed on TP in the new marina to attend the functions laid on for us. The marina is poorly built (gaps and cracks in retaining walls etc) and silting up fast. The night before we arrived a Sumatran (strong westerly squall) blew through during the night, cleats broke off and an unattended boat went on walkabout. Having up to 40 boats there was to be a biggie for the locals and a tourist attraction. Instead the tourist board head and officials came to ask the yachties how they could make it safe! Like a lot of Asian Marinas the build probably went something like this. Bloke has a piece of ocean front land, friend has investment money what can we get the local builders to build that will not require maintenance - a marina! This was unfortunate as the tourist board did us proud with feeding and entertaining us all.

picts/Melaka kite (DSC_1734).jpg

Kite flying is popular here and one of the centres is on the seafront just along from the marina. Susan purchases a colourful one from one of the vendors. There is barely enough wind to fly it though.

picts/Eye on Malaysia (DSC_1745).jpg

We have a free morning and take in a brief city tour - the Eye on Malaysia (Melaka's answer to the London Eye) is not functioning but there is a rotating observation platform which gave a good overall view of the city. There was what looked like a small basin for a marina on the resort island off the coast to the south of the river entrance. This would have given good shelter, unlike where the marina was actually built. However we later found that the channel inside the island dries. Nevertheless dredging might have been cheaper than trying to keep the present marina usable.

From a choice of museums we chose the museum of Enhanced Beauty (ie body mutilation around the world) but R noted that they seemed to have omitted penis rings and other such adornments. There was also a section devoted to World Kites.

The city tour laid on by the tourist board took us again to the observation tower, a river cruise, the Portuguese quarter to the south and briefly to the Stadthuis.

In the evening there was a rally dinner at a seafood complex some distance out of town. Interestingly it took over an hour on the bus to get to the restaurant but only 15 minutes to get back - there seemed to be some mix-up with the time the buses picked us up and the time the restaurant was expecting us so we took a "scenic route"! At the dinner the speaker was a Malaysian icon Celebrity Chef Wan Ishmail (their answer to Jamie Oliver) who has just won an international award and has a TV show starting in the UK on Channel 4 in the autumn.

Port Dickson

A taxi took us back to Port Dickson and Sea Bunny. We should have left the next day but there was rather a storm overnight and the water main had burst so we could not fill our tanks. Sadly this marina, which is part of a hotel complex, suffers from a lack of maintenance as do so many places in Malaysia. We fuelled up to save time when we did leave. Port Dickson has a fuel dock but there is a hefty mark-up on using it as fuel is not subsidised as it is at the petrol station and the marina obviously add there cut as well - in all it costs MYR 2.65/l here as opposed to MYR 1.75/l at a roadside filling station.

Half of the boats we know already either from the Indonesian rally or Rebak so it is a friendly jolly helpful bunch. Today no water , ”not going then come for drinks tonight” from Wave Runner (NZ) but we will be on Hanalike(Oz) then Lunamarie (Dutch) came ask if we had trouble as we had come back into the berth. Yachties on the whole are not intrusive but there to help.

Puteri harbour

Puteri harbour

From Port Dickson we sailed in two day trips to Puteri Harbour Marina in the Johor Straits opposite Singapore. We got a heavy squall and torrential rain as we approached the Strait, but this had cleared as we headed up under the Tuas bridge.

Marina was oficially opened by the Prime Minister on the day we arrived, 22 May 2010. We were stopped by a police boat as we approached and had to anchor outside until he left.

We stayed a few days, getting boat transport from the Marina to Danga Bay for the rally briefing and dinner.

We also took advantage of the marina transport to the night market in a nearby town.

Rally briefing and dinner - Danga Bay

Rally briefing and dinner - Danga Bay

The marina boat took us, and the crews of the other rally boats berthed in Puteri, up to Danga Bay Marina for the rally briefing dinner and, the next day, to a second briefing and light lunch.

The dinner was an excellent affair in the new conference and function centre next to the Danga Bay Marina. The food was superb and was served at the table, a welcome change from the usual buffet. The cultural show was also very good.Rally briefing and dinner - Danga Bay


We diverted to Singapura for a few days to service the life raft (nearly as expensive as a new one) and the usual visit to Sim Lim Square to buying camera and separate underwater housing - another toy to play with! At Raffles Marina we met a charming Belgium couple who had just sailed 56 days from New Zealand so Singapore was rather a cultural shock for them.

There was then a quick return trip to Puteri to check back into Malaysia.

Round Singapore and up to Tioman

Round Singapore and up to Tioman

It was an early start from Puteri as we needed to get right round Singapore and back into Malaysia in daylight. We tried to remain outside both the Port of Singapore and the Traffic Separation Scheme in the Strait. With ships turning, going to anchor, heading for the docks or getting the anchor up it required constant attention and we were pleased to get to a quiet anchorage at Tanjung Pengelih before dusk. We were joind in the anchorage, but at a distance, by rally boats Labarque and Been-A-Long. They seemed to be manoeuvering in a somewhat strange manner but we were too far away to see why - we found out the next day

picts/Beenalong towed (DSC_1810).jpg

The reason for the strange activities was that Labarque was towing Been-A-Long, who had developed serious engine failure in Singapore and were heading up to Endau to lift out and get a new engine fitted. Labarque had retruned from the rally anchorage at Desiru to collect them.

Because of our stay in Singapore we missed the rally stop at the resort in Desiru. Apparently we didn't miss much.

We were day sailing again with a stop at Teluk Mahkota (Jason Bay) before catching up with some rally yachts in the northern bay of Pulau Tinggi. We had intended to visit Pulau Rawa, where we had stayed in 1993, but the wind was from the west and it seemed to be a bit exposed so we carried on to catch up with some rally boats at Pulau Tinggi and with the rest of the rally at Pulau Tioman.

Pulau Tioman

Pulau Tioman

We caught up with the rally in Tioman where beach sports yachties verses locals (here we have to say average yachtie age 56 locals 16) was hilarious. Stuart took video of the sack race; unfortunately someone because of sun burn was not wearing a sports bra and the other person was wearing his shoes inside the sack! R did, however, come second in the coconut bowling.

picts/Tioman waterfall (PICT0044).jpg

A glorious but steep walk up to a waterfall beside the ''Bali Hi " of the musical fame mountain peaks. The bracing dip was very welcome and refreshing. Our first house was called Bali Hi, Merry Gardens but we quickly changed the name to where we spent our honeymoon" Korcula" a bad move as this proved difficult to spell and pronounce for people.

Tioman is not like we remember it 17 years ago where just paddling in the clear sea was to be surrounded by coral and enchanting colourful fish. Development and overfishing has depleted this tourist island of these natural resources. The 9 days here we used to refresh our diving skills. Firstly to do our first grid search for Pete's specs that fell off his face when he jumped in to rescue his dinghy that was floating away, with no optical success and then a serious dive at sea fan gardens good exercise few fans and sea whips. After this the belt on the compressor broke (what? no spare) so a call to the fleet elicited a new belt and private phone call to Stuart (already at the next destination and shopping) ensured that there were spares waiting for us. For exercise we snorkelled twice a day - some magnificent sea anemones, some humphead parrot fish but only five metres visibility. Evenings were spent on the beaches around fires with different yachtie groups - one night most of them were younger than you by at least 10 years perhaps we both ought to dye our hair!


Moving on, another English Channel crossing length, to Kuantan and our first shop since Singapore for fresh and dried provisions. In supermarket all goods repacked into strong bags of a reasonable liftable weight, then taxied, carried down a steep beach to the dinghy, launched into the breaking waves then manhandled aboard for listing and stowage. The routine of shopping so boring!

A Sail Malaysia welcome from the local tourist board, with a buffet "tea".

Pulau Tenggol

Another English Channel crossing length took us to Tenggol. We arranged diving for the day after our arrival but the weather forecast was for strong westerlys and the dive operator advised us to leave the exposed bay.

Pulau Kapas

The next rally stop was at the resort island of Pulau Kapas, which was delightful. Cheap restaurant at one of the resorts, but the food and service were variable - better when we just turned up in a group than when we had booked with a similar size group.

We spent four nights in a beautiful bay with 17 others boats so there was much partying in the calm anchorage.

Good snorkelling around the anchorage and some reasonable diving off the twin island to the north. The water clarity was reasonable for Asia - lots of sea anemones, sponges but no nudibranches.

Kuala Terengganu

Kuala Terengganu

Then into a Terengganu Marina especially built for the Monsoon Cup Race - large facilities magnificent gym etc but only really used during the annual race week. Here we were dined (I was going to say wined and dined then forgot that this is a strict muslim state) and we were able to get fuel and do a supermarket run. R of course talked to the generator! Our local tour included a small traditional boat yard, small fish processing shop, an outdoor museum of mosques of the world - never knew that they came in so many shapes and sizes! The best was being allowed to enter (suitably covered up) the recently built local crystal mosque, very understated and peaceful.

Redang & Perhentians

Redang & Perhentians

Our aim for the next week was to cruise the small islands Redang and Perhenthian group. This was a motor cruise with turtles. We anchored one afternoon between two tiny islands NW of Perhenthian surrounded by fishing boats (this is a designated marine park) and did a half km snorkel drift with Jane (the rib) along a wall that showed us chimney, barrel and vase sponges in reasonable clarity. That was really something. The best restaurant was “”La Maison Du Petit Lapin”: where the brown rice, stir fried veg and tamarind prawns all came to the table hot and at the same time. Yes S has cracked the recipe thanks to some clever jars purchased from Tescos (UK) as the local ingredients do not last longer than a day.After a few days we returned to Kuala Terengganu for R to talk to the batteries; after giving them a wire brushing and tightening up connections etc they have now responded - thank goodness. A final check of the nav lights - ah a bulb change. Then remember what needs recharging overnight before we go to bed, ready to leave for the South China Sea crossing.

South China Sea

South China Sea

It is the south-west monsoon season and we want to go roughly south-east, so it should be a reach. Wrong! the wind was consistently from E to S, fortunately fairly light, so we motored for most of the 400 miles. The route skirts a number of oil-fields and crosses the main Singapore-China/Japan shipping route so requires vigilence at stages. There had also been some recent reports of piracy against commercial shipping around the Anambas and Nutuna Islands, so we aimed to give these a wide berth. Indonesia is also fairly touchy about vessels entering their waters without the proper permits - as the crew of one boat who decided to stop in the Anambas for a swim found out, being detained for a week, two nights sleeping on the floor of the police station.

There were quite a few fishing boats, well lit at night although difficult to see their navigation lights amongst the powerful deck and squid attracting lights.


We arrive in the Santubong River on 8 July, in time for R's b'day (pressie and cake were ready on board in case we didn't).

The anchorage is a half-hour taxi/bus ride from the main city of Kuching, but a day's sail as a bridge blocks the direct route up the river. Most of the Sail Malaysia fleet gathered there and many took the opportunity of visiting the Rainforest Music Festival being held a few km up the road.

Rainforest Music Festival

Rainforest Music Festival

We opted to go on just one day - Sunday, the last day. A mini-bus took us to the car park, from where we had to take a shuttle bus to the festival entrance.

In the afternoon there were workshops where the artists effectively got together for unreheased jamming sessions. One we went to had an international selection of performers and was excellent - others less so. In the evening performances were centred on the two stages, with relays to large screens around the venue. We installed ourselves with several other ralliers in the foud court area, which had the advantage of being under cover when the rain started - it is the RAINforest festival. The dance area in front of the main stage, which apparently stared as grass on day 1 was 15 cm deep mud by day 3. This did not stop people dancing though. There were hoses so they could wash down before getting on the buses back to town.

Kuching City

Kuching City

Before leaving the Santabong River, of rainforest music interlude, we squeezed in another look at orang utans at a very disciplined sanctuary where they are rehabilitated after being rescued following the loss of their natural habitat through logging. The city museums of Kuching included one solely devoted to cats (the talisman of Kuching) and another very detailed information on the Shell oil drilling in the area. Shell Oil was first started near Miri in the 1900's by a guy who traded in amongst other things - shells. A quiet pretty anchorage was found for eating a large bbq lamb roast in celebration of Stuart's 65 birthday joined by Dave and Patti (This Way Up) of towing fame.

picts/Kuching memorial (PICT0321).jpg

In a well-kept park next to the Sarawak State Museum there is a memorial to the Malaysian, British and Commonwealth troops who lost their lives between 1948 an 1966 in the Malayan emergency.

Mouths of the Rajang

The mighty Rajang river then beckoned where Iban longhouses make visitors most welcome. Our friends on Crystal Blues had given us an introduction to one and we were quite excited by this prospect until we realised that the tides were wrong and an allowance of at least a week was needed to get any value from the exercise - if time permits and the river is not in flood we will do this on our return journey. So we and the TPs contented ourselves with going in one of the wider rivers, the Sungei Paloh to get a feel for the area and the powerful tides which were spot on their turning times so Sea Bunny had to be at the right spot at the appropriate time. A more blasé approach has had to be adopted to logs in the water as often with grey sky, pounding rain and swelly grey sea - these are undetectable. Out at the other end with no major mishaps, the Muara Lassa spewed us back into the South China Sea. The next two nights, anchored in open roadsteads, were rolly and uncomfortable.

On to Miri

The next objective was to get to Miri which has a small safe marina so that caves can be visited and we can be rested for the Borneo International Yacht Challenge (BIYC) races. Troy, a local a millionaire, offers the crew a stay in his hotel for two nights foc and pays each boat that starts all the races of which there were 5. This brings in the cruisers and gives the international element to what otherwise would be a local Malaysian and Philippine day boat race - more later.

Niah caves

Niah caves

A fine adventure was had in the Niah caves tucked into the limestone massif of Gunung Subis. Here in the 1900's, a 37,000 old human skull was found buried in 2.4m of guano. This was the most important archaeological find in SE Asia at that time. Our reason for the visit was to get covered in guano both bat and swiftlet but not too smelly - in order to see where the locals climb vast bamboo poles to the roofs for the swiftlet nests which are then passed down in baskets to a middle man for laborious hand cleaning at the longhouse (only a clean nest made solely of saliva fetches a high price for quality white birds nest soup prized in Hong Kong). We went armed in walking boots (the soles of R's had completely disintegrated and were off by the time we returned to our cabin) hats and head torches - it helps to see the guano! It was a good days walk and had the wow factor realising that people really still risk their lives doing that!

Here is a selection of pictures showing the scale of these caves

Borneo International Yacht Challenge (BIYC)

Borneo International Yacht Challenge (BIYC)

OK this is racing - or rather cruising competitively. First it has to be said that Sea Bunny was entered into the serious cruiser-racing class, a class higher than requested. So from the start there was not a snowball's chance in hell of her, in cruising trim, gaining any glory. So we monitored ourselves against Reflections of Hayling, an HR42 4 years younger than Sea Bunny from Sparkes Marina - coincidence! Unfortunately Sea Bunny also had the higher handicap so would have to really earn her keep. Race 1 out into 2m seas at Miri round the cans and back. Short,1 nM windward/leeward course - too short to get the spinnaker up. The less serious class and the multihulls had a triangle which would have suited us better. Race 2 passage race, via oil rigs and what appeared to be a bed of logs, to Labuan 115 nM, motored after the mandatory 30 minutes sailing time all the way as little wind. Time penalty is 2.5 times the motoring time so we had a corrected time of about 50 hours! Race 3 Labuan to Kota Kinanbulu (KK) 65 nM motoring for 5 hours as the wind gods were on strike again. Some, more serious than us, tacked for 6 hours to cover the last 5 miles or so to avoid motoring. Race 4 around the cans showed more promise and by Race 5 around outer island we had the spinnaker up. Well Sea Bunny didn't quite come last in the serious racing group and her spinnaker was much admired. R & S patted themselves on the back that they did not shout at each other as much as other couples admitted to doing in the close quarter situations. A few boats apparently resorted to skulduggery, not declaring motoring time.

Photo credit: Stuart/Nanette, S/Y Truest Passion

Kota Kinabulu

Kota Kinabulu

Our request made 6 months previously for a berth at a private marina Sutera Harbour saw us inside rafted up which meant that there was electricity and water available. Though this was much preferable to the outside anchorage where boats were really rolling, it meant that we could not leave Sea Bunny and land tour as the marina had moved permanent boats to accommodate us. On our return to KK at the end of September we hope that our weeks booking will be honoured so that we can visit Mount KK National Park.

S is into Alfred Russel Wallace, the guy who corresponded at length with Darwin making independently drawn but parallel conclusions on the theory of evolution causing Darwin to rush into print after 20 years. Wallace's thesis stands today: that two separate biological zones border the islands of Lombok and Bali in Indonesia separated by a deep water channel now known as the Wallace Line which only a handful of species have crossed - hence Australia's strange fauna. R had at last finished the Jared Diamond book on civilisations.

The end of the BIYC and the main part of the Passage to the East was celebrated in grand style in the arena next to the marina - actually covered tennis courts.

Round the top of Borneo

Round the top of Borneo

On 6 August, having remembered mother's 101 R's 64 and Jake's 8 b'day's,signed and posted both our tax returns and Fife Way's new tenancy agreement, we collected mail drop and shipped in boat parts (would we have won a race with the new wind direction indicator now installed?) Sea Bunny departed KK to round the northern tip of Borneo for Sandakan. The Malaysian navy have been informed of our passage, there is police presence on the islands close to the Philippine border and we have been advised not to stray over. On the way we sheltered fro a low with sustained 35 knot winds and run before before squalls before arriving in sunshine at Lankayan Island - a dive resort. A dive with the resort showed us nudibranchs (another thing that S is into) these are shell less snails usually only a few cms long, very small and vibrant in colour. R is installed a new engine blower so we will no longer hear the shrill sound of the lesser spotted engine fan. We snorkelled in clear water beckons while the TPs sailed on to the Turtle Islands ahead of us.


We moved on from Lankayan to Sandakan at the neck of a bay looking out unto the Sulu Sea, to plan and victual up for our proposed trip up the Kinabatangan river. Sandakan was bombed completely by allies during WW11 and rebuilt when Sabah was still British North Borneo mostly on reclaimed land. It is Sabah's largest port and is prosperous but has a scruffy look to it. As the Philippines are only 28 miles away there is a large Filipino community in fact Manila still claim Sandakan as part of the Philippines. Filipino pirates still take captives and we have welcomed the presence of the navy on our passage. A very clear example amongst many - very obviously one night when we and TP were anchored along the coast, a navy vessel came, put his hook down then left just after us at first light. In Sandakan all items on deck are padlocked and Sea Bunny wears her largest padlock with pride when we are ashore we have been told to exhibit caution even though the harbour is bristling with navy and police and we are anchored right opposite the marine police base.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

On 15 August- up at 0530 - to attend the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII at the site of the POW camp in sandakan which was the starting point for the "death marches" to Ranau from which only 6 Australians survived out of the 2400 Allied prisoners involved. The service was attended by Ms Quentin Bryce, Governor General of Australia. An impeccably orchestrated incredibly moving ceremony. Interestingly the words Japan and Japanese were not mentioned by country representatives or veterans possibly because Japan has now invested hugely in Sabah.

Agnes Keith's house

Agnes Keith's house

Agnes Keith was the wife of Harry Keith - the Conservator of Forests for British North Borneo, as Sabah was then, before and after WWII. (Harry Keith would be turning in his grave if he could see the palm oil plantations now covering much of the country). They, and their young son, were interned for the duration of the war, initially in Sandakan, later in Kuching. Agnes Keith wrote a moving book, Three Came Home, about her experiences as well as one, Land below the Wind, about life in Sandakan before the war. A reconstruction of the house she lived in is now a museum, which we visited on the afternoon of the memorial service, before a cream tea in the adjacent English Tea House (scones were a bit heavy).

Agnes Keith's house

Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River

At 560km the Kinabatangan river is Sabah's longest, power lines prevent masted boats from going any further than 80 km up. Much of the lower basin is gazetted as wildlife sanctuary and meanders through a flood plain creating numerous oxbow lakes and we are lead to believe is an ideal environment for some of Borneo's best wildlife. A usual tourist (in the July - August season when the river is not in flood) can fly in, drive or take a fast boat trip for two hours from Sandakan and stay in a lodge - easy peezy. As an unusual tourist with nowhere safe to leave Sea Bunny ( the tides and the traffic at the Sandakan anchorage can be a little on the scary side) - we have to take her with us. So local info over mud banks are sought, routes, way points and tidal information is busily exchanged between boats - Sea Bunny has the deepest draft of those going ha! ha! Well there is a near (northern) entrance and a far (southern) entrance. All the boats headed for the former, for which we had a two-year old set of waypoints and advice from the Sandakan Yacht Club, which was totally different. Thinking that the locals would have the latest information on an entrance which almost certainly changes year-on-year we started by trying this - wrong. By this time the tide was still falling and a boat drawing 0.3 m less than Sea Bunny reported just getting through on the original waypoints and after twice being stuck on mud banks for 20 minutes each we turned for the far entrance 23 miles further anchoring inside the river mouth Unfortunately this entrance requires the negotiation of two more shallow patches. Next day we feel a little like Megellan (but with all the technology) who took three weeks to find the exit to the strait named after him. It goes like this - run aground; come off run aground come off. Even with guidance from local fishermen Sea Bunny has her bottom softly scraped. Eventually we settle for anchoring, watching a movie and feeding a passing Frenchman while waiting for higher tide at 2200hrs before trying, successfully, to get over the shallows and so to bed. While this is going on all our mates are presumably elephant watching up river while we are trapped by banks of nipah palm and floating logs and water hyacinths.

On the third day the palm gave way to jungle and we began to see the first monkeys - small macaques. By 1500 hrs anchored by Sakau village we were in TP"s large dinghy charging some 6 km up river on an elephant hunt to where some other friends had seen between 30 and 40 the day before. Elephants come away from the jungle humidity to bathe in the late afternoon. This exercise was repeated the following afternoon but no freshly trampled grass, smell or roar was detected by us. But on the plus side lots of proboscis and macaque monkeys, some big snakes( sleeping), kingfishers ,hornbills and baby crocs were sighted. We nature-walked, night watched and early morning watched; the week went so fast and before we could blink Sea Bunny was out of the near entrance on a higher tide and back to Sandakan.

Here are some of the wildlife - we'll try to add identifications later. Email us if you can help!

picts/DSC_2334 Kinabatangan palm oil.jpg

The Lower Kinabatangan Reserve,click here to see map , consists of a ribbon of protected land along the banks of the river. Unfortunately palm oil plantations encroach on the reserve, which is already fragmented. The wildlife is therefore limited to a fairly restricted area. It is disappointing to be able to see the palm oil trees through the narrow band of forest in many areas.

Bridges, consisting of oil fire hoses have been strung across some of the creeks so that orangoutangs, who cannot swim, can access a larger range than otherwise, and find mates. Proboscis and other monkeys, who can swim, have found these bridges and also use them, rather tham swimming across the creek. As a result there are fewer easy meals for the crocodiles, who are apparently moving closer to human habitations.

Sepilok Orangoutang reserve

Sepilok Orangoutang reserve

After returning to Sandakan from the Kinabatangan we visited the Sepilok reserve, which is concerned with the rehabilitation and return to the wild of rescued orangoutangs. As a wildlife viewing opportunity this was disappointing, as there were only about six juvenile animals. However, this may be a measure of success as older animals may have been released to the wild.

Bags not being allowed into the reserve Richard placed his in one of the lockers provided, number 16. On our return the cupboard was still locked but bare. We were assured that there was only one key to each locker, that each key was unique and that the security guard sitting near to the boxes had not seen anything untoward. The key to box 16 had been in Richard's pocket throughout so it was something of a mystery. We eventually spoke to the manager who said she would investigate further. She later telephoned and said the bag had been found and she would bring it to the yacht club in the evening. When she arrived she said that the bag had been found in box 17 and that it had been discovered that the key to box 21 also fitted box 16. She said she was going to ask the company providing the security guards to replace the guard. On reflection overnight we felt it was most likely that the key to 16 also fitted the adjacent 17 and that Richard had inadvertently placed the bag in 17. We emailled the manager suggesting that she checked this theory but did not hear further. We hope that, if it is correct, the security guard did not lose his job.

On to Tawau

On to Tawau

Four day sails over nighting off reefs and in rivers took us to Tawau via a route that took us down the coast from Sandakan, past the Kinabatangan entrances and across the wide indentation of Darval Bay before taking the channel past Semporna (pictured).

We stopped at Mabul Island to try, successfully, to arrange diving at the world-famous site of Sipidan Island on our return. We had been advised to speak to the people on the converted oil rig run by Seaventures, who were very helpful.



Tawau (the final rally stop, near the Indonesian and Philippine borders), was reached on time for the final dinner by eight boats: the most sailing boats that Tawau had ever seen. These boats have nearly sailed or, mostly motored, the entire coast of Malaysia ! The tourist offices and municipal councils have en route entertained and fed us. A Malaysian war ship has loosely escorted us with the navy and police in attendance. Only a few boats strayed in Filipino waters and they were welcomed. In return Malaysia is more on the sailing tourist map and out of this cruise will eventually come a Cruising Guide to Malaysian Waters once all our input has been jelled into a coherent form.

The yacht club made us very welcome and the end of the rally was celebrated in a local restaurant.



Early on we wrote about a radio net that R was organising from the Perhentians (north of Tiomen) across the China Sea to Kuching and advising boats not to stop at Indonesian islands, where there has been reported unrest en route, with no CAIT (clearance papers). Just to say an eighty foot Oyster (not on the rally) stopped, as it was hot, for a swim off at one of these islands. The four of them were quickly arrested and spent two nights sleeping on the police station floor before the wheeze of getting medication from the yacht enabled them to call the American Consulate on the satellite phone and so to freedom! With this yacht we have spent a few days with anchored off Mabul where Sipidan is now dived from.

What's Sipidan ? you say well the venerable French marine biologist Jacques Cousteau 'discovered “ it in 1989 and described it as “an untouched piece of art” a sub- aqua Shangri - la for serious divers in the Celebes Sea. After some bad tourist press in 2000 when 21 tourists were kidnapped by a separatist group linked to Osama bin Laden and all eventually returned; the resorts and even the village of Bajau fisherman including 500 children less than 5 years were moved to Mabul, where there is now a high military presence. Off this island, a disused oil rig has been developed into a highly colourful dive centre, here on the way down to Tawau we booked our dives and applied for Sipidan permits (only 120 issued per day). We were in luck so we were collected from Sea Bunny at 0600 hrs for Sipidan for 3 dives and back to the rig for lunch. What can we say the best day's diving ever - every thing from large pelagics to macro - nudibranches plus hard and soft corals and masses of gorgonian fans all at the same location in amazing good visibility! The list would be endless and very boring - we OAP's had such a good time that we slept in the afternoon!


picts/PICT0621 nudibranch Mabul.jpg

The next day the rig filled our bottles, so saving the compressor (which needs belt tightening and alignment), while we dived the house reef under the rig, a "muck" dive - nudibranch, crocodile fish and frog fish - extraordinary creatures to behold.

Back to the Kinabatangan

Back to the Kinabatangan

We had to wait a week or so for the inverter, (which converts dc to ac power) which is so essential on Sea Bunny for the computer screens, to arrive in Sandakan. As we had enjoyed the Kinabatangan river so much and wanted to be somewhere quiet for the last days of Ramadan we decided to return. In this quiet place we caught a fishing net which was laid right across the river around the prop and rudder. Various techniques were attempted without resorting to the engine. S was so frustrated that she was tempted to dive down into the croc filled river to free the boat. After a couple of hours R was able to hack enough of it off, using a knife lashed to the boat hook, so that Sea Bunny became mobile. The usual trips for elephant and monkey sighting ensued sometimes courtesy of Chris and Desirée, a young South African couple on a three story 50 ft catamaran. No elephants but lots of monkeys and several crocs - right down in the village. Even an aftrnoon trip with ace guide Ahmad failed to result in an elephant sighting. He seemed slightly worried about our "no elephants - no pay" banter!

The one in the pictures, near the ferry crossing a few miles before Sukau, was only initially spotted because it was swimming across the stream and therefore couldn't be a log.

Back to the Kinabatangan

Back to the Kinabatangan

picts/DSC_2680 Proboscis monkey.jpg

The proboscis monkey is quite a character, the long nose used as a snorkel for swimming actually moves with the mouth when eating vegetation, fascinating to watch. Of course the male nose is longer than the female so presumably he can swim further too as well as holding an erection in his red hot chilli 24/7! Amazing creatures. All monkeys sleep with their backs to the river facing their predators to be able to jump into the water to survive.

The skies opened most days so water tanks were full and washing can be done. A plastic, light weight, 60x60x30 twin tub washing machine was purchased in Phuket and sits proudly on the shelf above the basin in the forwards heads waiting to be lifted down when sheets and towels need to be spun. Sadly there is not quite room for this appliance to be permanently plumbed in. This rain then caused us trouble. Branches nay trees came down over the anchor chain. R, dinghy, engine, and feeble boat hook were very gradually shifting them in the dusk when Chris came over. Picture a 6ft 6 ish man hands and feet as large as a gorilla's, and jumped on the tree walking it down the side of the boat to be picked up aft by R in the dinghy. We laughed so much with relief that taking photos was forgotten. A large tree (50') then became caught across both hulls of his boat which motor manoeuvring cleared. Enough was enough perhaps we won't go up the mighty Rajang river after all. Next day saw Sea Bunny out and over the bar with least depth of 2.6m (we draw 2.3/4m)

Sandakan again

Sandakan again

Days at Sandakan were spent with the usual domestic chores and days out for wedding anniversary (long lunch at seafood restaurant a kew km out of town) and to visit Chinese temples. The largest, the Puu Jih Syh was opened in 1987 and the newest, the Hong San Tze Kong Teck Chung Ong on 13 August 2010. There was a vast contrast between these new temples and the oldest, dating from the 19th century.

Sandakan again

After this trip we felt that our tame taxi driver had begun to take us for granted as the prices seemed to be gradually rising!

Towards KK

After inverter installation we rushed to get away from this rough anchorage back to Lankayan's clear water to check the log damage and prop. After a few minutes diving R had freed the remaining fishing line and floats from the prop and rudder, and good news, there was no log damage. Unfortunately a planned pleasure dive was cancelled as the wind strengthened from the south, leaving the anchorage a bit exposed, and we left.

The 4 day trip to KK was against light headwinds. The most memorable anchorage was at Pulau Malawali in a large isolated inlet with very narrow entrance surrounded by mangroves entered following our Google Earth connection. Early in the morning we are startled by a face staring in the open side aft cabin window - mother with two little ones demanding food. Could they wait for porridge to be made? Clearly not - mother was under the guard rail and nearly in the cockpit before she was sent packing. It's not the first time this trip that Filiopinos have come to the boat for food (they do not look starving) but the farthest anyone has got uninvited!

Mount Kinabulu

29 October saw Sea Bunny hanging off the entrance to the marina in KK for an hour in a blinding squall. The manager had found us a week's spot in the superyacht stern too anchorage with the reported rats. The upside was access to the facilities of the three five star hotels also built on reclaimed land that surround the marina. So the toilets, laundry and transport to town were much appreciated.

picts/PICT0006 Mt Kinabulu.jpg

The guide book quote is" if heading for Kinabalu specifically to spot wildlife then the longer less visited Mesilau Trail is a more productive option "- mosses ferns fungi and orchids await us so we plan our three day trip. Pack backpacks, taxi/bus to park centre, up Kinabalu to Layang Layang hut and across to Mesilau ,taxi /bus to Poring Hot Springs then taxi/bus back to KK - sorted.

Well things went to plan but for the timing of the closure of the park gates 1630hrs. The park staff insisted that we had a guide - correctly as it turned out. Up to Layang Layang - there by lunch time - ok. Layang Layang to Mesilau 6km - this took us 7 hours. Either the trail was too wet and too much like snakes and ladders or we are so unfit. The scenery, when seen, was heavenly, yes mosses ferns fungi some orchids and pitcher plants.

picts/PICT0060 Poring.jpg

We came out from the trail at 2030hrs, led by a very disgruntled guide, on head torches R carrying S's pack - 11 ½ hours for 11 km - night jungle trip over.

The gate had been left unlocked; resort staff were wonderful on realising our distress - exhausted, muddied and in S's case bloodied (from a small shin puncture wound that just missed the bone) our room was upgraded to one nearer, staff transport to it and a meal from the restaurant bought up. Next day slopes and steps had to be taken side on and at the Hot Springs, built for the relief of jungle weary Japanese soldiers during WW2, we spent 3 pounds on a hours private hot sulphurous bath bliss with a bottle of water, before attempting the canopy walk way the following day - must keep moving!

Leaving KK

The alternator (rewind and diodes) and the new engine fan were now repaired, collected and quickly installed. Friends returning from Australia (as always) had to be seen for the latest gossip. With visas expiring imminently we had to check out of Malaysia from KK, rather than going to Labuan to do so. The normal procedure is to go to Port Control, who assess any dues payable and issue a request to Customs to issue port clearance. After customs you go to Immigration to get passports stamped. IN KK the appropriate customs and immigration offices are a reasonable walk from where the marina bus drops you. Port Control are, however, in a nice new office some 20 km out of town, not even by the water. We had been told that we might get cleared without going to Port Control, so first we went to Customs - no problem - clearance issued. Unfortunately Immigration were adamant that they needed a document from Port Control, so we got a taxi and arrived just after 1300; lunch hour 1300-1400. The office reopened just after 1400 but the official who had the relevant pad locked in her desk did not return until 1510. Taxi fare RM100 - he did not charge waiting time. We left KK on 6th October and arrived after going to windward in stopping seas for two days in Brunei Darussalam (abode of peace in Arabic) which was very welcome.

Brunei Darussalam

In fact the Royal Brunei Yacht Club with its perfectly formed little pontoon for getting ashore and delightful staff could not be more welcoming. Members of 20 years standing made our first evening delightful. Checking in was a breeze and yesterday we hitched a lift (one bus, don't know when it comes, taxis only in the city centre) 5km to Muara village then a 20 km bus ride to the capital BSB (Bandar Seri Begawan) for a reconnoitre. BSB is a small reasonably maintained place with new shopping malls and the river running through. Popular tourist river trip is to see the stilt village and monkeys - sounds like Malaysia, in fact 70 % of the population are Malay. Found map and location of expat shop where parmesan cheese, Australian beef,pork and ground coffee etc can be purchased as stocks are at an all time low - we will hire a car and go there in a day or two.

Tomorrow R has organised a truck and 16 jerry cans for a fuel run as we came in with only 10 ltrs in the tank - close - diesel at the fuel station is BSN 0.31 / l, about 15p heavily subsidised and price unchanged since 2005. A day's job to decant, needing not too much wind or swell and no rain.

Our UK post drop is due here within the next week with (we have checked) brushes for Autopilot. The present worn ones R has padded out have held.

The alternator, newly repaired in KK had blown its diodes almost immediately, so we sought out a repairer; unfortunately they could not fix it.

../../oldweb/picts/DSC_2834 RBYC Kota Batu.jpg

Moved up river to the other branch of the yacht club, see picture. Can you anchor closer to a jetty in this part of the world?- very good for transferring shopping. This is more like a dining club with tablecloths and linen napkins quite pucker, the usual Filipino staff very helpful and smiley. Halal and non-Halal menu - BYO drink. The need for exercise calls and the next day, we decline all lifts, walking the 2.5kn to the national museum. Beautiful building shaped to follow the bend in the road, opened by the queen (QEII) in 1972, but artefacts are not nearly as densely displayed as in European establishments.

picts/DSC_2846_edited-1 Kampung instruments.jpg

With Bill and Lyda from Viajero we shared a hire car, Richard drove west to the Tasek Merimbun ASEAN Heritage Park in the Tutong district. This is not really a lake but a very beautiful large peat bog which was the earliest settlement in the area and where the first white collared fruit bats were identified. In the native Dusun kampong, following conversation with the outgoing Columbian Lyda, Sarah supplied us with lunch and a tour of a local house where the traditional music instruments of the village were stored. The government supplies all education free and even paid Sarah a university graduate in mechanical engineering an allowance for her course which she has no desire to use, as she has returned to the village to live with her family.

picts/DSC_2854 Nodding donkeys Seria.jpg

Afterwards towards the Sarawak border at Seria the boys were keen to see the Shell Oil and Gas Discovery Centre on the coast as sailing we are surrounded by oil fields and support service vessels. A show case of the history of the big bang geology up to present day oil installations and it was great for kids

Seria is very much an active oil town, with oil being extracted from what must be a very shallow reservoir using nodding donkeys.

On our way back, in the dark, we tried unsuccessfully to find "the expat supermarket" - quite a day out. In day light the shop was easy to find behind a dark hotel being renovated and we stocked up on decent washing up liquid that works with one squirt not twenty etc.

picts/DSC_2865 Sultans mosque BSB.jpg

Before Viajero left we enjoyed their company on a visit to the Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque built by the present Sultan. A very harmoniously soothing building; as the Sultan is the 29th ruling monarch, it is topped with 29 gold finished domes; the whole being set off by fountains equipped with submerged neon lights for night time effect and pristine landscaped gardens.

picts/DSC_2875 Kampung Air BSB.jpg

If you can imagine dwellings for 30,000 people, 9 mosques, 7 primary and 2 secondary schools, medical centre and 2 fire stations in the middle of the river serviced by electricity and water then you have the biggest stilt village in the world and this is in the heart of BSB. There has been a water village (kampong air in Malay - confusingly air means water in Malay) around here for 1000 years. According to Magellan's chronicler Pigafetta 25,000 families lived in it when Europeans arrived. Work is a water taxi away ashore and new car waiting near jetty, on retirement at 65 a pension for everyone. This is how 50% of the population voted with their feet to live and the Sultan continues to improve facilities for them. Ashore away from the river live the Chinese and expat communities. BSB has a quiet positive feel to it and stayed here lazily for a couple of weeks catching up on rest and licking our wounds from the Mesilau trail.

Temburong walkway.jpg

Our latest trek was to the east of Brunei up the Temburong river to primary rainforest. 45 minutes by fast ferry up river to Bangor then 4 wheel drive then 45 minutes at low water by long boat up river, didn't need to push, marvellous scenery reminded us of the Dart river South Island NZ. The highlight was a jungle vertical trek (only 380 m but up about 200) to a 60 m high canopy walk way with viewing towers; in the company of a charming German couple with two energetic boys. The structure was well designed and easy to achieve if you didn't think about the height. Brunei has had no reason to cut down its primary rainforest - breathtaking! The rivers are clear and peat coloured, not muddy as there has been no land clearance to plant vast areas of oil palm as in the Malaysian parts of Borneo.

Sea Bunny came back down to the first club house and we caught up with some more friends. Stuart from TP has started chemotherapy in Australia and friends on This Way Up and Meridian sailed Truest Passion back to Australia. We felt quite helpless as we don't have Australians visas so could not be of assistance. It took weeks for Susan to get over the hurdles placed in her way by Australian bureaucracy last time and we were advised it would be the same every time .

The post came and the brushes were fitted on the autopilot - long story locating them a near decent price - what a relief!


Support vessels Labuan

The domestic alternator that we had had repaired in KK gave up! So a heavier duty one was obtained from the States, a fixing bracket was CAD designed by R and made here. It has taken three days for R to make modifications to the engine compartment and install it – but today it is working so we will be able to charge our domestic batteries going across the South China Sea- hurrah!  This means that all our energy sources are now strong. This island is a tax haven and a duty free area. At a basic level one is made aware of this wealth in layout of the town with parks and awnings not to mention the quality of the pavement tiles.  So it is a pleasure not a chore to walk in the heat a few km to do the shopping. Being a resource centre for the oil rig support vessels there are even decent hard ware shops and engineering facilities too. The people are a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and expats all very smiley and helpful the island has a warm friendly feel to it.

The small marina was badly damaged some years ago and the only berths left are around the harbour wall where we are but as the wall was not well built the surges are still strongly felt but at five pounds a day including electricity for the air con we have no complaints.  The marina has no wall upstream so it collects all the logs and rubbish flowing out of the harbour.  The collection in the photo is slightly more than the usual daily haul as it had rained heavily most of the previous night – normally it would take about 3 days to get this much!  

S’s leg gashes from the Mesilau trail healed so she was able to get down for a few days scrubbing the deck. We succumbed and purchased a small water pressure hose which makes cleaning the teak gratings and warps easier but we are nervous about using it in the decks.  We are even thinking about buying a bread maker after all this time! Perhaps this will be in readiness for the Indian Ocean passage later. The majority of bread here when we can get it is like English flannel bread usually sweetened sometimes in garish colours like yellow or green. What do we expect in this land of rice and noodles..  We have found a delicious Chinese food called  kwa kwee - prawn wrapped in pastry with mayonnaise and sesame seeds.

We both became su duko addicts R on the computer at the advanced level and S at medium stage paperback level. We have to have a daily limit else none of the jobs get done.


 Susan's leg gash, just a very small deep puncture wound that just missed the bone when we did the Mesilau track, has taken 2 months to heal. Very annoying as she couldn’t kneel to do the decks, now these are done.

Wedding couple

Occasionally wedding couples pose with a marina as a backdrop ? of affluence and Susan just asked (knowing that the decks were clean) if they would like to come on board for photos – the whole wedding party were delighted.

The su duko situation developed with Susan doing diabolical ones on the computer in 5 mins so she reverted back to the manual technique and R stopped sulking!

Did we say that our energy sources were now strong – wrong – we had to order 6 deep cycle ones to be freshly made for us to pick up at our next port Kuching.  They are made there and shipped round the world under a multitude of names.  One third the price of Trojan batteries ex Singapore.  We'll have to see how they last.  The tropics are not kind to batteries - the Trojans we had before lasted 3 years, as did the ones before.

Two little Miri adventures - firstly S went to an all Chinese speaking hairdressing salon to have highlights, a little nerve racking but very good results said an Australian ex hairdresser. Secondly a 25 min walk awayfrom the marina is the old British Colonial Gymkhana Club where for £2 each we can use the 50 m pool etc what a treat!

Bats - Deer Cave

The main reason for being here are the caves at Mulu, which are tucked behind Brunei, a half hour flight away or about 10 hours by ferry and longboat up the river. Some of the largest in the world- quite stunning according to David Attenborough and we agree. Deer cave has the world’s biggest cave mouth and biggest cave passage which is 2.2km long and 220m high at the highest point. The west end of this cave is home to several million wrinkle lipped and horseshoe bats which we saw pour out of the cave at dusk to dash 80km to the coast for a feast of insects washed down with sea water. (Rather like penguins that dash off on a similar daily round trip for food). The Clearwater cave system is reported to be 150 km long.

The canopy walk, up for 45 minutes, claims to be the longest in the world. So we have now “”done”” monkeys, caves and canopy walks. 

Flag raising Mulu

The guides and hotel staff at Mulu mostly come from the local Berawan and Penan tribes. The government allow the Penan to maintain their lifestyle of fishing, hunting and gathering in the national park and at no small expense have provided a purpose built longhouse in the park a short way up river from the park HQ but the typical Penan shelters can be seen along the river bank.  It was a really good 4 day break, not too much walking. On our last day we were the “Guests of Honour” at the resort.  This meant we had to get up to raise the flag at 0800 and got a certificate to prove it!

The planned wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton hit the headlines and with only the (usually slow speed) internet it is takes some time to get up to speed and other yachties were telling us about it. Believe it when we say it took over 2 days to successfully download the 17 minute engagement interview from you tube!


After four days of day sailing with two very rolly open roadstead anchorages we headed up the Sungei Sarawak at slack water to enter the new Kuching Marina.  We reversed in so that the bow of the boat gathered the rubbish and logs at the change of tide and extra warps were put on the bow before Sea Bunny was securely fastened.  The Marina is near the equally new Kuching Convention Centre but some distance out of the city, so it is a case of bus in and taxi back. Priorities were to collect the six new deep cycle domestic batteries that have been made for us and now installed and to get a replacement mounting bracket  for the new alternator, as the one made in Labuan in 8mm steel cracked after two days out ! So R has spent down time on passage and days here with a new CAD package and now with Bob (Highland Duck) a mechanical engineer, designed a more robust one which is now being fabricated.

Meanwhile a rat has taken the opportunity of jumping aboard, so far we have found that he (we hope it is not a pregnant female) has chewed through a fridge pipe insulation and electrical cable and the sheets at the bottom of R's bed!  After the weekend and four days of tempting him onto sticky boards laced with chocolate,pumpkin seeds,peanut butter and dried fish, (all things that other yachties swear by) we called the rodent department and they will lay traps tomorrow.  If this proves unsuccessful then chemical fumigation will be in order while we stay off the boat but we will not be leaving Kuching for Singapore until this vermin is dispatched and the initial damage assessed and rectified as necessary. Our last roast lamb (from Langkawi) was enjoyed to celebrate Bob and Margaret's (Highland Duck) wedding anniversary with Penny and Greg (Long Tall Sally).

The rat finally found a sticky pad under Susan's bunk after 10 days so we were able to leave for Singapore


Previous Page  

Last Updated from Durban Marina on 13 December 2015

Home | News | Forward View | The Voyage | Travel Ashore | Anchorages | Links
Contact Us
© 2018 Copyright Richard & Susan Kidd , all rights reserved.