Langkawi Island to the east side of Borneo Island, following the Malaysian coastline, and back.
4338 nautical miles in 163 days (excluding a month in the UK).
You can play with the numbers and find that, at an average speed of 5nm per hour (very generous!), we were on the move for 867 hours, which would be 108 days on the move, assuming about 8 hours every day. More than 3 months of days just ‘getting there’. Somewhere. The next place. Half the time of BEING there was spent on the move trying to find …. Well, the next place to stop.
And those stopping places are what it is all about. They are somewhere to find food and boat necessities, sure, and they themselves are usually not a tourist attraction, but they offer the attraction of being different from what we know and full of people and shops and vehicles and food and plants and animals that are just so interesting.
We left Sabah State (Malaysia) and sailed south into Brunei, a tiny country squeezed between Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island and about which we knew nothing, except for the certainty of oil riches, no booze … and that we wanted to buy cheap fuel here! With an easy river entrance (except if you don’t follow the local advice about the non-visible breakwater, and lose your rudders and props here: no, not us!) you anchor off the Royal Brunei Yacht Club and soon find that they have an excellent kitchen, inexpensive food and sell beer: the only place in the country where you can drink, so a place well-frequented by yachties and ex-pats working in the oil industry.
Brunei’s great oil wealth is legendary, but local Brunei people are hardly better off for it, as 85% of this income is in the hands of the Sultan and his family. One understands the need for this money when regarding the 33 palaces (and another under construction) and the royal collection of 4000 fancy cars (Porsche, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, etc.).
Mosques and palaces are always interesting, particularly when contrasted to stilted fishing villages in the river.
Final Borneo visit
Heading south again, Brunei gave way to Sarawak state (Malaysian Borneo) and we headed for familiar Miri Marina to berth the boat as we flew to see some raw jungle and caves. It became quite clear why some areas of Borneo are only accessible by boat.
We appreciated the size of the caves, the beauty of the cave formations and the fact that they were not permanently lit up and there was no piped background music... just the quiet sounds of millions of bats and swiftlets that take turns, day and night, in making the caves their sleeping quarters.
And by the way, you know where to get the best carrot cake in the world? At Gunung Mulu National Park restaurant, Borneo!
Bye to Borneo
So it turns out Borneo takes the cake for nature visits: we have wonderful memories of mountain parks, rivers and jungles, rainforests; incredible under-sea vistas and marine life, interesting birds and primates endemic to Borneo.
It is also hard to beat for fascinating history and a multitude of interesting ethnic communities, some of whom still lead “primitive” lives in areas only accessible by river; it holds awesome music festivals in its forests to celebrate and perpetuate the music of international minority communities; there are towns and cities that have stimulating old streets of shops and cafes and some that have surprisingly western and modern infrastructure too: no wonder many westerners are making Borneo their home!
The best is the warmth and welcome that the local people of all communities extend to visitors. Borneo is about an intriguing past, fascinating present, and awesome natural world: it is a must-visit, and a place that, all our land-lubber lives, we had not even contemplated visiting. But we did not get to see it all! We will have to go back…
Heading to Langkawi again: with guest / passenger / crew…?
Finally leaving Borneo, we did the Miri-Singapore trip (a somewhat exhausting passage that we blurted about in the last blog), then John joined us in Singapore; the Immigration formalities proceeded without a hitch…
So with extra hands on overnight sails we had 8 hours off between watches (not the 4 hours that we usually have, with only two on board) and we knew that we could sleep while John negotiated the traffic… at one stage there were over 100 ships with AIS signals within 3.7nm of us.
It really made a difference to have more hands on board: there was no debate whether John was guest or passenger or crew, he simply mucked in and worked, extending even to a bit of needlework. (For the sake of his manliness, we must sail that was SAILwork!)
We were lucky in having very calm weather: in fact, a bit short of wind and too much diesel… yachties are never happy with the wind as it is either too weak or too strong or from the wrong direction! This was a good thing the night the mainsail fell down, as it did not damage itself or any other structures as it released its purchase 19m above the deck and collapsed into its bag… somewhat astonishing Rolf, on watch!
It is surreal to look back at the last 6 months and 4338nm and remember the places and faces and emotions and experiences that went into that, which currently make up a kaleidoscope in our heads. Amazing. And of course, at times awful, but that all served to heighten the senses and enabled us to make the most of the good, which was ultimately fantastic!!
Now we are off to SA, to see family and friends…. Fantastic too!