Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

March 7, 2008

Kota Kinabalu to Singapore. February 2008.

Life is a reach and then you gybe…

Or in this case we tacked!

Having spent a considerable amount of time gathering information on anchorages, accessing weather information (for typhoons) and reading about the Philippines, we changed our minds!

As it happened, December 2007 and January 2008 provided some great weather windows for heading north from Kota Kinabalu to the Philippines (not at all like the previous season). It just so happened that we had made plans to go to Laos in December and Peter went to the UK for a family visit in January. C’est la vie.

A week before we departed in February, the weather gurus changed the long term prediction back to La Nina, which when translated, meant a wetter than average southern Philippines and Borneo. In a nutshell, this did not spell good weather – at least for us.

However, being determined to push on, we cleared out of Sabah at Kota Kinabalu in early February for the Philippines. We could have waited another month, but being marina bound for such a long time was not for us, even if it was the amazing Sutera Harbour.

Usukan Bay was our first anchorage north of KK and a good deep, sheltered harbour to wait for lighter winds. As we were anchoring we noticed a very large brownish creature, maybe half as big as us, with a dorsal fin and tail fin moseying along the reef. What ever it was could not ‘see’ very well as after we had just anchored, it tried to surface underneath us, giving as a few very large thumps as it hit us from underneath and then with its tail as it dived. We were only in 8m of water. Needless to say swimming was off the agenda!

On day two, feeling the need to stretch the legs, we ventured ashore at the small village and beyond. The ever enterprising locals saw us and before we knew it we were in a taxi and off to the nearby town (Kuala Belud) a short distance away. A truck had overturned on the main road so our adventure widened to encompass a journey through minor roads and small settlements, giving us a grand tour of the country side! So much for the walk!

We finally departed and continued bashing our way north (it is the NE monsoon after all), not even reaching the tip of Borneo. We decided that this was not fun and just did not feel right for us. So we tacked and headed back to KK, having wind, current and swell behind us. Bliss!!. A quick phone call to some friends to share our amusement in turning around and we changed to plan ‘C’.

Our arrival back to KK was met with some interesting reactions from others but the good thing is that it’s just not important! We did not fancy the trek out to check back in, so we stayed a few days illegally before heading south.

Plan ‘C’?? Head south to Singapore, then down through Indonesia and back to Darwin. Of course this will be in the transition months of April/May and before the SE monsoon blasts in. Being in Darwin will allow Peter some time to work on the boat and for us to go back to the Kimberley to visit the amazing Berkley and King George Rivers.

Departing KK for the second time, but now heading south, our first anchorage was another visit to Palau Tiga where we found Sea Rose. It is a stunning island (volcanic mud baths) with a white sandy beach overhung by jungle. Very quiet and clear water to boot! We shared a wonderful meal on Sea Rose before we both headed off to Labuan, where we were planning to check in and do some duty free shopping.

As it happened, it was still Chinese New Year and the Harbour Master was not where to be found! As we were keen to keep heading south to Miri whilst we still had a good wind behind us, we fare welled Sea Rose and had a very fast sail to Juradong. (Brunei) The Sultan’s brother, Jeffrey, who was a little naughty embezzling money, built this very large private marina space to house his own yacht. Needless to say it was never quite finished but the huge breakwater and artificial island left behind, is enjoyed by many yachties on their way to and from KK.

In KK I had gone shopping with Bill (Time Out) to purchase a repala (lure) and the necessary bits to see if in fact we could catch fish. At great expense to the management (even more to Bill as he purchased the largest one!) I ended up with a blue repala which came recommended for the fish around Borneo. This proved to be excellent advice as it attracted a few fish within a short time and one large fish who liked the lure so much it took off with it, biting right through the wire trace! Peter, constantly enjoying a challenge, decided to make some adjustment to the ‘bongo bongo’ lure (made from a tinsel chip bag) and added some electric blue string. Blue was obviously the right colour as we soon caught a barracuda. Not the best fish (according to the Marine Fishes guide) but it tasted good.

As the days were grey and the heavens laden with moisture, we stayed in Juradong for a few days before heading to our next stop in a river at Kuala Belait (Brunei). We came into the river on the last of the flood, with 15 knots of wind on our quarter. The swell was around 2m with a little bit of a surf building at the entrance. Our departure the next day was early to catch the last of the ebb and before the wind piped up (we were forever hopeful). It was a little exciting getting out the entrance, but not a problem as the swell had decreased. A rig tender on its way out waited for us to clear the entrance which was probably out of interest more than anything else!

Motor sailing to Miri, we were thankful that the swell had further decreased to 1m, otherwise entering Miri Marina could also have provided us with a more excitement than what we needed. We were just on the edge of surfing down the waves as it was.

The marina in Miri is a little ways out of town but we managed to commandeer two old bicycles that were there for all and sundry to use. Peter orchestrated a few repairs and off we went. Our first task was to clear in as we had been in no-man’s land for almost two weeks. No problems! There are many things about Asia we will miss when we head back to Australia, this being one of them.

Ming Café is a favourite hang out for the yachties and many locals. We ate there every day. Zosha’s owners had returned and we were able to enjoy their company for the short time we were there. One of the other yachties invited me along to a belly dancing class run by a local lady. It was fabulous fun in many ways, not to mention the sheer enjoyment of seeing full bodied women getting up there and giving it their all. They were very good and had all the moves. There were women and girls of all ages and one local guy. The instructor got him up the front of the class in one routine. He was not at all embarrassed. The women did remind each other to watch their comments in reference to their body parts as there was a man present! I thought he was a brave man and Peter thought he had life well and truly ‘sussed’. We went to a wonderful Indian Restaurant out at Lutong. One of the couples we dined with were Indian and Peter was pleasantly surprised when he found himself sitting next to the Indian wife, as she kept filling her husband's plate and Peter's plate with food! I could see the look Peter was giving me; needless to say I often remind him that he definately married the wrong person! Over dinner we were discussing some of the books we had been reading. The Indian gentleman took the prize as his book was 'Pipe Laying' (we guessed he had passed 101). He was an engineer for Shell.

Sitting in Miri waiting for a weather window we were thinking of Carillon, in an enviable position, already over in Ambon and Bill who was planning to go to Bali via East coast Borneo. We are just hoping that there will still be some following winds at least to get us across the south of Borneo. (In our wildest dreams!) From there we plan to head down to the Tanimbar Islands and on to Darwin. However, we do know about plans!!

There were a few rumours of a resident crocodile in Miri Marina, but as no-one had actually seen one, (only a very large lizard) Peter and Peter (Zosha) decided that it didn’t really exist and it was ok to jump over the side and check the propeller.

The weather in Miri was not the usual NE monsoon; some days the wind would blow from the NE and on others would be squally west/south westerlies. Maritim Malaysia had gone out to sea, making a rapid return as the swells were over 3m high. Those brave boys! Weather models showed the swell decreasing in a few days, but alas, so was the wind!

As we wanted to be in Singapore by early March, the weather was shaping up to be now or not, as the forecast over the next week was for the squally conditions to return. Our forecast of a 10 knot NE wind turned into 5 knots, so for the first two days it was a little tedious motor sailing! We decided to stay near the coast in the hope of making the most of land and sea breezes. It appeared to pay off somewhat. The coastline south of Bintulu is wide, flat and shallow due to many rivers. It is also busy with fishermen which kept us awake on watch at night! Although we did not encounter any real problems, we did manage to run over two driftnets (one on his and her watch!) without getting tangled. The swell was down to less than 1m by now, so by the time we did get our 10 – 15 knot northerly wind, we were flying! We managed 48 hours of ideal sailing for Stolen Kiss who reveled in the conditions at around 8 knots. At least we could start to decrease the miles. The favourable current did not eventuate as it seemed we had current against us and with us as the tide changed. We were happy to get the tide right going between the Indonesian Islands with 1.8 knots with us. The sky cleared every night and we had stars to keep us company.

With all this motoring a few issues came to light! One of the batteries was overheating and would need to be replaced, a new water pump really was needed (our spare also leaks!) and a seal in the gear box had also sprung a leak. The latter provided yet another challenge for Peter as he rigged up an effective method to recycle the transmission fluid! The ever resourceful Peter!

Following our close encounters with the fishing nets, Peter decided to go over the side to check the prop and make sure nothing had got tangled on our centre board. He found that the only thing we were dragging along was a very large sucker fish that had attached itself to the back of the keel. We wondered how long he stayed there for and if he made it to Singapore!

Sailing a more northerly course into Singapore kept the wind on our beam as it shifted to the NW and kept us away from the ships. We only had to alter course for one ship prior to crossing the shipping lanes at Horsborough Light (Singapore). The ships must be quite on edge with unwelcome intruders (pirates) as when I had changed course to avoid a potential collision and headed for the ship’s stern (0300 hours), the ship promptly slowed down, changed course and got several spotlights out to look for the vessel aiming at them! He was not helping us get passed! A quick call on the VHF revealed all (we have the AIS technology that identifies the ships by name now) and soon we were both on our way. In December, a tug had been ‘stolen’ in the Balabac Straight between Sabah and the Philippines and a rig tender had fought off potential boarders with a fire hose. The tug has since been recovered by Maritim Malaysia. Singapore Port Authority has a daily shipping bulletin with navigation warnings and they were warning ships of a small vessel approaching ships at night coming into Singapore! We promise it was not us! The threat to shipping in these waters is a real threat; however, yachts tend to be ok.

On his visit to the UK, Peter purchased the NASA AIS system, which is displayed on a separate screen. As it does not draw a lot of power, we have this on all the time with the alarm on. It is not meant to replace the function of our radar and we did find one ship departing Singapore not transmitting any AIS signal. Having the alarm on is good when you are in a low density shipping area and is just one extra ‘pair of eyes’, but of course as the density of the ships increases, the alarm would send us mad! Our AIS is ‘north up’, where as the radar and charts are ‘heads up’, but once you get your head around what is where, it all works very well. We are more than happy with our purchase as it does take a little of the guess work out of who we are most likely to be on a collision course with. It also gives the one person on watch more confidence to deal with the ships without having to wake up the off watch!

We find listening to the VHF a constant source of amusement around Singapore. However, it must be very stressful for all concerned having so many ships traveling in such a confined space around Singapore, crossing to come into anchorages and wharves. One ship called up another and asked it to move over and ‘please do so very quickly sir as you are in the separation lane and very close to me’. Another conversation goes along the lines of ‘little container ship this is the VLCC (very large container carrier) on your port bow, please come back very quickly’. Much of what is said has a wonderful Indian intonation or is spoken in English by men, with whom English is their second language, making instructions very litteral. We were embarrassed as westerners to hear a European woman on a yacht in Sebana Cove Marina speaking at length to someone on channel 16. When a Malaysian authority came on to ask her not to do this (the majority of us know this is taboo) she thought it was quite funny as she could not understand as she too, could not speak English!

After enjoying a good days sailing, crossing a busy shipping lane at 8 knots; a good speed to clear ships, we made our way up the Sungai Santi on the Malay border, anchoring at 2300 hours in a favourite spot for a good night’s sleep. The final leg of our passage, from Miri to Singapore, took 6.5 days for a total of 645 NM, giving us an average speed of 4.1 knots. Not our fastest!

We decided to go up to Sebana Cove Marina the next day to re-fuel, only to find their prices were now the same as Singapore.

The following day, March 3rd, we made our way towards Sentosa Island, making a short stop at Sister Island to clear with Western Immigration (VHF CH 74)before coming into the new Keppel Bay Marina (VHF Ch 77). All very new and nice, 5 minutes from supermarkets and the MRT, the only thing lacking was a laundry! For the grand price of $10, the marina handles the port clearance. Too easy! We will have time to spend with good friends, do necessary repairs on the engine and just enjoy all that is Singapore before heading down to Darwin.

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