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Leaving Borneo

18 August 2014, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)

Jon makes a tricky end to end splice for the screecher roller.
Making an end-to-end splice. Boatwork never stops.

Dear Friends and Family,

We last left you up the Kinabatangan River, close to the northern tip of Borneo.  As we motored to the eastern mouth of the river, we caught up with the 15 other "Rally to the East" boats, and we've been sailing with (and getting to know) them ever since.

Because of the Philippine insurgents, the Malaysian military requested that we all keep together, and they provided pretty good coverage, although the yachts also stood a revolving watch at night.  Luckily, there were no significant incidents.

Coming around the eastern tip of Borneo was fairly straightforward.  We took it in 40nm chunks, as some of the boats can't easily motor faster than 4.5 knots and there was very little wind.

We feasted on grilled squid, fresh from the vendors
Lahad Datu street vendor sells grilled squid.

We were a bit concerned that we couldn't get Jon's father to his plane in Lahad Datu in time, as the rally schedule has slipped a day since he bought the tickets, but by motoring ahead of the pack on the last day, we were able to get to Lahad Datu in plenty of time for his 4pm flight.  It was sad seeing him leave, but it was so much fun having him with us, sharing the good times and catching up on our lives.

One of our military guards offered to take Jon to buy diesel, but he didn't realize how difficult that is these days.  Malaysia has very few marine pumps and limits the amount of fuel that can be put into Jerry jugs, which makes things very hard for us cruisers.  We had to go to 5 different stations, buying a bit here and a bit there to get the 200 liters (55 gal) that we wanted.

Ocelot enters the lagoon of Tun Sakaran Preserve
Ocelot enters the lagoon at Tun Sakaran Preserve

From Lahad Datu we headed off to paradise!  The Tun Sakaran Marine park is in a sunken volcanic caldera.  The bottom's quite deep, and we all had to anchor in 60' (18m) but by looking at our depth sounder's picture of the bottom, we could pick a place that was very flat and almost certainly sand.  That evening everyone brought their dinners to the dock and we had a huge pot‑luck between all the boats.

The next morning we hiked up to a stunning view down to the anchorage and the surrounding islands.  The water was stunningly clear, giving the shallows a rich aquamarine color.  In the afternoon we took some friends in our dinghy around to the outside of the reef and had a delightful snorkel, seeing lots of colorful reef fish and several turtles.  Sue had fun getting re‑acquainted with her underwater camera.

View of Tun Sakaran anchorage & reefs from Gaya Mountain
Rally boats at anchor. Ocelot 4th from right.

The next morning we did another snorkel inside the caldera.  We thought the fish were more varied, but the visibility wasn't as good.  So in the afternoon we again went with friends outside the reef, this time with all our scuba gear.  We haven't dived since 2007(!) so predictably, we had some gear failures.  Sue's buoyancy compensator (BC) kept slowly filling with air, and Jon's failed completely when the hose pulled out of the bag.  Sue removed her fill pipe, so she had to adjust her buoyancy manually with her mouth, and Jon just took off 2kg of weights to get himself neutrally buoyant and dove without his BC.

There was a bit of current, so we decided to just go with it, with Jon towing the dinghy on a long painter.  It was so much fun to effortlessly float along while the kaleidoscope of the reef passed by underneath us.

A young hawksbill foerages in the coral.
A young hawksbill turtle forages in the coral

We only had a 2‑day permit for the marine park, so the next day had us headed south again.  Jon had flattened the pitch on our new feathering propellers, as they weren't letting us get up to full rated engine speed (or full power).  Since there was no current inside the caldera, we used the opportunity to see how fast Ocelot would motor at different RPMs, and to calibrate our paddle‑wheel speed sensor.

Our course took us through the cut past Semporna and then up a river to a small dive resort.  The bar at the entrance to the river was quite shallow, and several of the monohulls got stuck, but the tide was rising so they could continue up the river once the tide lifted them free.  The resort filled our scuba tanks for us, but their scuba and snorkeling trips were too expensive for anyone to join.  The rally organizer was supposed to have organized a trip for us to world famous Sipadan (it was one of the main selling points of the rally for several folks) but it never happened.

Scools of two spot and big eye snappers swam beneath us
Two Spot & Big Eye Snappers schooling

Unfortunately, as we approached the river we heard an almighty banging from our starboard engine, so we shut it down and continued on our port engine.  It seems our earlier speed trials had let a cap on top of a valve stem slip out of place, and this let the pushrod escape out from under the rocker‑arm, destroying the pushrod.  In short, we had no starboard engine until we got some spares.

The last stop of the rally was the yacht club at Tawau, just next to the Indonesian border.  Luckily, we could pickup the YC Wifi from our anchorage.  We have Yanmar diesels, but the agent in Malaysia said he'd have to get the parts from Singapore, and wouldn't be able to get them to us for 2 weeks!  He agreed to let us contact Singapore directly.

A fiery dawn greeted us as we left the Kalumpang River
Dawn on Kalumpang River, Borneo, near Tawau

It was frustrating to learn that the Singapore Yanmar agents still work in the stone age, and don't accept any kind of payment but a bank transfer.  You'd think it would be easy: go to the same Standard Chartered bank in Malaysia and pay cash and have it wired to the Singapore branch.  Nope.  You have to have an account.  Finally we were lucky to be offered assistance by the yacht club manager who had an account and she offered to do a personal bank transfer so we could get our parts.  And it still took most of a week for the parts to arrive.

Our week in Tawau was spent provisioning, doing internet downloads of Google Earth images of places we plan to sail in Indonesia, getting Sue's extracted molar site re‑visited and some stray bone removed, and finally, getting the engine put back together.  Since we're not sure why that valve‑train gave us problems, Jon re‑torqued the heads on both engines, and reset all the valve clearances.

So we are now operational, have cleared out of Malaysia and have just today entered the waters of Indonesia.  A muddy coastal anchorage is home for the night, and tomorrow we hope to be in the city of Tarakan, one of Kalimantan's bustling oil towns.  There are several festivities planned there, as we're now on a new rally that heads east, towards Raja Ampat and Papua New Guinea.

Fair Winds and Calm Seas -- Jon and Sue Hacking

Malaysia Letters: Up | Leaving Borneo | Kinabatangan River | Top of Borneo | South China Sea | Malaysian Interior | On the S China Sea | Brunei to Kuching | Mt. Kinabalu | Heading East | Singapore to Borneo | Malaysia Arrival | Weh Island | Perfect Day | Bountiful Sea | Half Weh | Crossing the Indian | Return to SE Asia | Straits of Malacca

Related Pages: Malaysia Home | Malay Newsletters | SE Asia Flora/Fauna | Cruising Malaysia

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