Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Labuan and north to Kudat

Labuan Marina - the good and the bad. Location was great as we were within easy walking distance to local food stalls, a Giant supermarket (albeit a small one), a large wet market for fresh meat, fruit and veggies, Customs and Immigration as well as all the duty free shops in town. The condition of the marina however left a lot to be desired. As per many developments and buildings in Malaysia, maintenance is not high on anyone's agenda so when things break, they stay that way. The marina had the potential to house all of the rally boats but sadly many of the pontoons which had suffered previous storm damage however many years prior were still broken or lacking power and water, so many of the rally boats had to anchor outside the wall. We were told that it is being worked on, but things only  happen slowly in this part of the world. Still, we enjoyed our few days there walking around discovering new places to eat, provisioning and re stocking alcohol - our last chance of cheaper prices. Here is where we collected our new crew member Andrea. She is to be with us for a month and flying out of Sandakan home to Switzerland after a year of travelling the globe.

                                           Kittani enjoying great sailing on the way to Labuan

                         One of the many rigs and service vessels that support the oil industry

So out of the marina and the chance to island hop for a week or so before our next destination of Kota Kinabalu. First stop was Pulau Tiga - the island used for the first 'Survivor' series years ago. Always good to be back in the water and some great snorkeling - abundant fish life and vibrant corals close to where we anchored on the southern side of the island. Next day we went ashore and after dodging the swarms of mosquitoes and a handful of monkeys, we found a track that was a short 15 minute walk to some 'mud pools'. These turned out to be not much more than muddy water holes and rather underwhelming so after a quick dip, it was sprint back downhill to the beach and a thorough wash off. The following day we motored around to the next island with a large sand spit attached so good to get out for a long beach walk and the chance of find some shells. We came across the remnants of a beach barbeque still smouldering from the previous evening. These are a favourite pastime of cruisers wherever we can find a beach and it means we are not heating up the boat having to cook in the galley. Sadly we were the only boat there that evening and beach barbies aren't anywhere near as much fun on your own, so we opted to barbecue on board instead.

                                            Ferocious looking and not keen to get any closer!

Next stop Pulau Sulug and barely room for one boat to anchor but luckily we had it to ourselves. The clearest of turquoise waters and whitest sand and yet we were in sight of Kota Kinabalu town - a mere 2 nautical miles away. Not due into the marina for a few more days gave us the chance to explore various anchorages on Pulau Gaya. The southern bay for the first night was a popular dive and snorkel spot with small local runabouts bringing day visitors over from the mainland in a steady stream - it was reminiscent of the chaos we encountered at Phi Phi island in Thailand. Thankfully they had all left by 3.30pm so, along with Gemini Lady and Esoterica we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of our beautiful tranquil setting. We all enjoyed a snorkel late afternoon and again first thing in the morning before the onslaught started again for the day.

                                        Some of the great sealife at Palau Gaya, Polish Bay

Around to the northern side of Gaya and bay hopped spending 2 evenings in each place. Our first anchorage was in Polish Bay off the Bunga Raya resort. A 4.5 lodging with villas built on the side of the hill and camouflaged with the lush green vegetation. A long jetty stretched out from the beach with pots of vibrant pink Bougainvillia along its length - a picturesque landscape for the arriving house guests. We did wonder as we dropped the anchor how much they would appreciate 'yachties' invading their pristine bay but for those who went ashore, they were greeted by friendly staff and taken in 'buggies' for a tour of the resort, pointing out the Royal Suite complete with its infinity pool, private beach in front and only 8,000 MYR per night ($2,600 appx AUD) But breakfast was included in that!!!!! We had considered taking a room for the night to celebrate my birthday until we discovered the costs - oh well, there is always next year.

                  The impressive Bunga Raya Resort on Gaya Island with bungalows just visible.

                                           Getting better with these tree top canopy walks

Next bay was the Gaya Island resort and a totally different attitude to yachties. When one boat ventured into the area off the island marked with buoys for a snorkelling spot, they were approached and advised that it was private property and that they were not welcome. Can they really own the water and stop us ? As we could find nowhere shallower than 21 mtrs to drop the pick, we ventured across to the other side of the bay and tucked into a small cove with a sandy beach, a few local dwellings and palm trees and enjoyed 2 lovely nights there.

Time to go into the marina so heading across to the mainland, we followed Gemini Lady through the channel markers that took us right through the port area of Kota Kinabalu, out the other side and down into the entrance. Many of the rally boats had already arrived and space was now at a premium - even though we had made a booking a week prior. We had been warned by Tiki (having already arrived a few days earlier) that we may be asked to do a Med mooring - a style commonly used in the Mediterranean which entails dropping the anchor then throwing 2 lines to the shore (in the marina case - the pontoon) and tying off port and starboard side. This would mean getting on and off the boat via the back, and not at all suitable for the likes of Kittani who does not have a back platform on which to descend. Sure enough that is what they wanted us to do. But after explaining that we don't have suitable access on and off the boat at the back, thankfully they found us a berth right next door to Tiki. 

                          Sunset looking out from Kota Kinabalu Marina - a spectacular setting.

This was a beautiful marina and reported to be the best in Borneo. With resort attached, cafe and  restaurants, 4 swimming pools, gym, tennis courts, in house theatre and the cheapest laundry service (apparently subsidised) that we had seen in ages - we were happy and ready to indulge for 6 days. We made the most of being able to swim in fresh water and so nice not having that layer of salt on your body after a dip. We had access to the theatre one morning so set up and watched episodes 1 - 3 of season 6 Game of Thrones along with a few other cruises who admitted to being die hard GOT enthusiasts. Uber transport had 2 months earlier been introduced to KK, the only other town using it in Borneo being Kuching and this proved to be an excellent mode of transport and so much cheaper than local taxis. Modern comfortable cars and extremely friendly drivers, one of which told us since its inception 8 weeks prior has now cornered 75% of the market making for some very disgruntled taxi drivers. 

Hiring a car one day, we set off with Sandy and Brian from Persephone for a trip to the Mt Kinabalu National Park - in 2000 becoming Malaysia's first World Heritage site.  A picturesque drive winding up the hill through local villages and often with a spectacular view of the famous mountain itself. After a quick visit to the park headquarters located 1,520 metres above sea level, we pushed on further to Poring Hotsprings for a couple of hours wandering the bamboo gardens, butterfly house and tree top canopy walk. A bite of lunch and the next stop before starting our homeward journey was to see a Rafflesia, the worlds largest flower. Taking almost a year or sometimes longer to bloom, they then stay open for only 6 days and towards the end of their flowering can often emit a foul smelling odour that has been likened to that of rotting flesh. we got to view one (albeit in someones backyard and costing us $3 for the privilege).This specimen was reported to be 75 cm in diameter and although it was at day 5, there was no smell.

     My knuckles were touching the petal of this amazing flower. next years flower bud on the left,

                 Beautiful Mt. Kinabalu appearing through the layer of cloud that often surrounds it.


                      Pete and Andrea KK marina                         No luck with fishing - only seaweed

Our time had come to leave the comforts of KK marina and make our way north to the tip of Borneo and our next rally stop of Kudat. not being due there for 5 days, we could again head out to the islands and enjoy their charms. Pulau Mantanani was our first stop where we anchored 1 night on both south and north sides of the island. We had a bit of bad luck on the way up finding ourselves surrounded by an expansive slick of dirty brown crude oil, and not being able to avoid it, we just had to plough on through. it stuck to our lovely new paint job turning our while hulls a sickly brown colour and was a devil of a job to remove. For the next 2 days as soon as we anchored, the 3 of us armed with cloths, sponges and detergent spent hours washing, rubbing, rinsing, more washing, more rubbing and more rinsing until finally Kittani looked clean again.

Our last anchorage before Kudat was Pulau Kulambok and this became one of our favourite bays. it was joined to the mainland by a sandy spit barely exposed at high tide and had the clearest of turquoise water and white sand bottom. Only a few small dwellings ashore and each afternoon the locals would wade waist deep into the water and fish for hours on end, or walk the exposed reefs at low tide collecting .....dinner, we presumed. The second afternoon, we had a hundred or so small squid swimming around the boat and sadly for 2 of them they ended up on our barbecue - just cooked and tender. What was expected to be a one night stop stretched into two before heading up to the northern most point of Borneo and down the other side into Kudat.

On our arrival in Kudat we were advised there wasn't space in the small marina for our size boat (no bookings taken here and first come first served basis) so second option was the dreaded 'Med mooring' that we had managed to avoid in Kota Kinabalu marina. Thankfully we had a couple of things in our favour. The wind was benign - almost non-existent, we had an extra person onboard in Andrea and we were the only boat arriving that morning so we could take our time and give it our best shot. All those things worked - we got a good hold with the anchor the first time, then quickly got ashore in the dingy and tied off both port and starboard side to huge concrete blocks. Another notch under the belt but hopefully that is the first and last time we have to moor that style.

                    Kittani 'med moored' in Kudat harbour with many rally boats moored in line.

                    Dinner at Kudat marina - good cheap food and you could BYO drinks.

The rally schedule coincided with the opening of a new marine park for Sabah and the Kudat festival was a weekend of events including tug of war and dragon boat racing with local teams - both sports taken very seriously here in Borneo. We put together teams and got beaten in both events, but in all fairness the teams had come from all over Malaysia to compete (big prize money incentives). We were granted exclusive entry straight through to the final of the dragon boat race and we came a respectable 3rd place - not bad considering only a couple of people on our team had ever done it before.

                          Sail Malaysia Dragon Boat team heading off towards the start line ........

                Clearing the boats at the finish line - all still pumped with the adrenaline of the race.

                            A very commendable 3rd place with Pete and Andrea in centre front.

Kudat was were we meet with ESSCOM (Eastern Sabah Security Command) - the security force who are escorting us up around the top of Borneo and back into Indonesian waters due to the proximity of the Philipines and the piracy issues. This meeting will be the determining factor as to whether any boats decide to turn back. Sadly we have to say goodbye to our sailing companions aboard Tiki who have decided to turn back towards mainland Malaysia. Until we meet again ........................

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