Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Kinabatangan River

Chart showing entrance waypoints

Chart showing entrance waypoints

We spent a week at Sandakan before moving on to the Kinabatangan river. The night before we left a huge storm swept across the anchorage causing some of the boats to drag again. There was so much rubbish on the sea bed the anchors couldn’t dig in properly. The pink area on this chart is rain, when it rains here it rains!! This chart also shows the waypoints and our route plotted across the sandbanks to the entrance to the Kinabatangan river. The entrance has a sandbar and lots of sandbanks, it looks like our route went over the shallows but we didn’t have less than a metre under our keel the whole journey on the high tide.

Jackster with Samsara II in the distance

Jackster with Samsara II in the distance

 

Our friends on Jackster followed us in and Samsara II were a little way behind them. Fortunately the convoy had broken up a bit, some of the catamarans had gone in a day or two earlier and some of the mono hulls were still in Sandakan waiting another day or two for a higher high tide.

 

 

Wildlife spotting on the bow

Wildlife spotting on the bow

 

 

I took up my position on the bow with my deckchair, sunshade and binoculars looking out for wildlife.

 

 

 

 

Chocolate brown river

Chocolate brown river

Ninah palms on the river bank

Ninah palms on the river bank

 

 

 

The Kinabatangan river is Sabah’s longest at 560km of chocolate brown water, it coils into the Borneo interior. There’s a narrow strip of rain forest trees that have lots of wildlife in it that flee ever-encroaching palm-oil plantations.   The scenery was beautiful not in a ‘chocolate box cottage’ kind of way but in a ‘Borneo rainforest’ kind of way.

Riverside scenery

Riverside scenery

 

 

 

 

Our plan was to slowly glide along and just stop whenever we saw something interesting. All along the river are different types of trees holding 100s of monkeys. We were able to get in quite close to the rivers edge; it was fairly deep.

 

 

 

Nudging the bow in close

Nudging the bow in close

Proboscis monkey

Proboscis monkey

 

 

 

 

There were Proboscis monkeys everywhere; the males have large pendulus noses. They leap from tree to tree, bush to bush.  We have lots of photos of them but here are just a few.

 

 

 

 

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONY DSCThe three boats anchored together that evening and we all enjoyed a fantastic display of fireflies once it got dark. Our waypoint was

05º42.08N

118º21.63E

Waking up in the morning in the middle of a rain forest was magical. The silence was very noisy.

Fishing village

Fishing village

 

 

 

 

We got under way and continued our slow journey stopping whenever we caught sight of something in the trees.

 

Homestead

Homestead

 

Local woman doing the washing

Local woman doing the washing

 

 

We went past some homesteads. The little shed on the waters edge is a ‘long drop’ toilet. Then a bit further along the riverbank the ladies were washing their hair and their clothes, as they’ve probably done for centuries, and the children were swimming in the water.   The river flowed fairly fast so I suppose everything gets washed out to sea.

 

 

 

Local boys swimming

Local boys swimming

 

Local boys fishing

Local boys fishing

 

 

 

 

These young boys were fishing, not sure I would like to eat anything caught in that water.

 

 

Slooping house

Slooping house

 

 

 

Yes this house is sloping towards the water; I wasn’t holding the camera crooked.

 

 

 

Anchored next to resort

Anchored next to resort

Egrets balancing on floating logs

Egrets balancing on floating logs

 

We turned right into the main river and anchored off of a resort for the rest of the day. There were lots of lumps of wood floating down the river. The egrets like to stand on them and float down with the tide and watch for fish but they were a real nuisance getting caught around the anchor chain.

Debris caught around the anchor chain

Debris caught around the anchor chain

There was more heavy rain in the afternoon, well we are in a rainforest. We only travelled about 6 miles that day, if it hadn’t rained we might have gone on but we had plenty of time. Our waypoint was

05º41.10N

118º22.98E

Entrance to Oxbow lake

Entrance to Oxbow lake

 

The next morning we made our way to the entrance of an oxbow lake, which was only 3 miles away. An oxbow lake is a U-shaped body of water that forms when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off, creating a freestanding body of water. The first part was long and narrow then it opened up into the lake and wow!

The oxbow lake

The oxbow lake

 

 

 

 

 

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Egret in the lake

Egret in the lake

 

 

 

 

The photos don’t do it justice but I’ve taken some panoramic shots to try and recreate our view.

 

 

 

 

 

Egret in flight

Egret in flight

 

Kingfisher with orange breast

Kingfisher with orange breast

 

 

 

The bird life was fantastic. Lots of hornbills, egrets and this beautiful kingfisher with an orange breast and red beak.

 

 

 

Blue water Hyacinth

Blue water Hyacinth

 

 

 

The blue water hyacinths that covered more than half the lake were exquisite.

 

 

 

 

Dave and Jacqui on Jackster

Dave and Jacqui on Jackster

 

 

 

 

 

Jackster and Samsara were there too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve and Julie on Samsara II

Steve and Julie on Samsara II

Pygmy elephant

Pygmy elephant

 

After an hour or so we motored back to the boats, I took up my position on the bow again and we continued up the river. We were so lucky being the lead boat that day because just around the next bend I saw a pygmy elephant drinking from the river.

 

"Cruisers coming, I'm off"

“Cruisers coming, I’m off”

 

It was on it’s own and we glided slowly towards it but it saw us coming and turned back into jungle. The others arrived and we could hear it stamping around behind the bush but it didn’t come back out again.

 

 

 

Pencil marks the spot

Pencil marks the spot

 

 

The pencil marks the spot where we saw the elephant. The red and white flag at the bottom of the chart is as far as we could go because it’s marking power lines that we couldn’t get under.

 

 

Macques on the webbing line

Macques on the webbing line

 

Our third night at anchor was spent only about an hour before the power lines next to a tributary. We took a closer look in the dinghy. There was webbing stretched high up across the tributary. Just as we were wondering what it was for a couple of monkeys walked along it. When they stopped they wound their tails expertly around the webbing hanging down for balance. We got some great photos of them.

SONY DSC

 

SONY DSC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONY DSC

Macaque monkey

Macaque monkey

 

 

 

 

Further in there were lots of macaque monkeys playing in the undergrowth.

 

 

Stunning sunset

Stunning sunset

 

A stunning sunset awaited us back at the boat.

Our waypoint was

05º33.35N

118º20.17E

The next day we motored the last hour into Sukau the village next to the power lines.

The waypoint was

05º30.48N

118º17.54E our chartplotter showed this on land but the chart had been roughly correct up to the last little bit.

Tug and tow

Tug and tow

 

Our old friend the ‘tug and tow’ was there to greet us. We were only 20 miles inland as the crow flies but we’d travelled 41 miles from the river entrance. I don’t think Camomile has been that far away from the sea since crossing the Panama canal.

 

Camomile pretending to be the African Queen

Camomile pretending to be the African Queen

Local mosque

Local mosque

 

 

I went ashore to explore Sukau. There was the usual mosque and several rows of prettily painted houses with the usual washing hanging out.

 

 

 

 

Pretty houses

Pretty houses

Barge acting as ferry

Barge acting as ferry

 

 

 

 

The roads were only dirt tracks but to cross the river a barge was used pushed along by a large tug.

 

 

I walked for a couple of miles on a circuit from the village to a couple of resorts and back. Sadly I found as soon as I was away from the river the trees changed to palm oil plantations, miles and miles of them. It’s so wrong because the wildlife can’t live in them and in particular the wild Orang-utans need proper trees to live in.

Another pygmy elephant

Another pygmy elephant

 

We spent 2 nights in Sukau before making our way back down the river.  On the second evening we took the dinghy under the power lines to see what we could find.  We found a whole herd of pygmy elephants and we managed to get really close.  So lucky

 

 

I took 100s of photos and it was difficult choosing which ones to post on my blog, I hope you like my choice. A photo can show you what we saw but you can’t feel the temperature or the humidity, you can’t smell the jungle and you can’t hear the sounds of which there was a cacophony.

 

I'm looking at you, looking at me, looking at you

I’m looking at you, looking at me, looking at you

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Sandakan

The yachts arrived in convoy

The yachts arrived in convoy

On the 15th July we left Turtle Island (Siligan island), without seeing the turtles, to go to Sandakan and onto the Kinabatangan river, hopefully we’d see some wildlife there. We were now in convoy because we are in the Sula sea which is one of the areas in the world that has pirates. Sazli, the rally organiser accompanied us on Out of the Blue II with some local dignitaries and asked if we could all arrive at the same time with our sails up to impress the local people – so much for keeping a low profile.

The town of Sandakan

The town of Sandakan

The water village

The water village

Sandakan sits on the entrance to a large bay.   The mosque towered over the surrounding buildings. There was also a big water village where all the houses are built on stilts, I say houses but they are little more than garden sheds. One decent cyclone or tsunami would wipe the whole village out, and frequently does.

 

Monitor lizard prowling the shoreline

Monitor lizard prowling the shoreline

 

 

 

We went ashore to the local yacht club and spotted this little chap doing his rounds of the ‘beach’ looking for food or animals smaller than him, he was about a metre long.

 

 

 

Flats in the town

Flats in the town

 

 

 

 

The next day we had a whole bunch of jobs to do and headed into the town. As usual everyone was happy and friendly and greeted us warmly but this is one of the rows of flats in town where they live, it looked fairly grim but the people don’t seem to complain. I suppose they don’t know any different.

 

The little laundry girl

The little laundry girl

 

 

 

This sweet young girl runs the local laundry, it felt strange asking her to do our washing but she seemed pleased to do it.   I’m sure when the rally arrived in town all the prices went up but it was still reasonable at MR31 (about £5.50) for a huge bagful.

One of many workers sewing

One of many workers sewing

 

 

 

 

 

This man was working out on the balcony, the light was bad inside, making clothing that would probably end up in a western shop somewhere

 

 

 

The big mall

The big mall

 

 

 

In sharp contrast next door was a huge mall complete with air conditioning.   As Hari Raya was coming up every where was decorated similar to our Christmas, the children seemed excited. We couldn’t find out the significance of this house with Hari Raya but everyone was taking photos of it.

 

Set for the rally dinner

Set for the rally dinner

 

 

 

 

 

The following evening was the rally dinner in the Sandakan yacht club, which is opposite to where the boats are. The bar looked very grand with all the extra tables to fit us all in.

 

 

The pool at the yacht club

The pool at the yacht club

 

 

 

The yacht club has a colonial look about it like most of these places it was like an oasis. The pool looked lovely but sadly we don’t seem to have the time to use these pools, too busy trying to write and post blogs!

 

 

Orang-utans feeding

Orang-utans feeding

 

 

 

The next morning after our briefing on the next stage of our journey, most of the rally got on a coach provided by the local council to go and visit the Sepilok Orang-Utan rehabilitation centre.   Established in 1964 it rehabilitates orphaned or injured orang-utans to return to forest life. We arrived at feeding time and were lucky to see several young orang-utans swing out of the trees onto the feeding platform.

Orang-utan swinging through the trees

Orang-utan swinging through the trees

 

Otang-utans are beautiful creatures and their name means ‘man of the wild’, they are the only species of great ape found outside of Africa.   The males can weigh up to 144kg although there weren’t any big males at Sepilok.   Sadly their natural habitat is slowly but surely disappearing, it was once said that an orang-utan could swing from tree to tree from one side of Borneo to the other without touching the ground but not any more. With hunting and habitat destruction it’s estimated fewer than 15,000 specimens now exist in the wild, very sad.

Beautiful gardens

Beautiful gardens

 

 

I could watch them all day but we moved onto the Rainforest discovery centre that has a series of towers connected by walkways giving us a birds eye view overlooking the rainforest. We saw lots of macaque monkeys, hornbills and a slow loris, going slowly, but all too far away to get photos of them. Back at the entrance they had the beautiful plant discovery garden, it was wonderful to look around a garden for a change instead of hardware stores and boat shops.

 

 

The lake by the gardens

The lake by the gardens

Entrance to Agnes Keith museum

Entrance to Agnes Keith museum

 

During our stay, in between shopping, buying fuel, finding gas fixing the watermaker and all the other 101 jobs, we found time to walk up the 100 or so steps to Agnes Keith’s house on the hill above the town. Agnes was an American who came to Sandakan in the 1930s with her husband, the then conservator of the local forests. The house has been turned into a museum with some wonderful photos of how Sandakan used to look.

Tea in the garden

Tea in the garden

 

 

In the grounds was an English Tea house serving afternoon tea – it would have been rude not to stop!

The Turtle islands

The beach on Siligan island

The beach on Siligan island

Thursday 10th July we left Pulau Lankayan and headed south to the Turtle islands marine park. After arriving in the afternoon a squall blew up preventing us from going ashore but the following morning we headed for the beach.   The white sand squeaked under our feet as we walked around the waters edge.

 

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There were turtle tracks going up into the sand dunes all around the island where the female turtles haul their huge bodies ashore to lay their eggs.   Once the eggs are laid she crawls back down the beach into the ocean leaving her eggs to fend for themselves.

 

 

 

The hatchery

The hatchery

 

It was forbidden to walk among the nesting sites although there aren’t any eggs there because the morning after they’ve been laid the staff from the conservation centre dig them up and remove them to the hatchery where they have a better chance of survival.

 

A monitor lizard prowling around the island

A monitor lizard prowling around the island

 

 

Turtle eggs are delicacies to monitor lizards, like this big chap we saw walking around the island, and to the Chinese who buy them on the black market.

 

 

 

Beautiful clams under the water

Beautiful clams under the water

 

 

 

We spent a few days relaxing there as the rest of the boats arrived. We found a bit of nice coral but it wasn’t a patch on Pulau Lankayan.

 

 

Clown fish (Nemo) hiding in the sea anemones

Clown fish (Nemo) hiding in the sea anemones

 

We tried anchoring off of one of the other islands for a change of scenery but the area has very deep water and the anchoring was challenging so we went back to the main island and spent a few days doing boat jobs and writing.

 

 

The boats at anchor

The boats at anchor

Dinghies arriving on the beach for the meeting

Dinghies arriving on the beach for the meeting

Monday 14th Sazli the rally organiser arrived and we were all invited to a meeting on shore. We spent an interesting afternoon learning all about the turtles and the conservation carried out at the resort on the island.   It was also arranged that one of the resort boats would come and get us all after dark to watch a turtle laying her eggs and to release some baby turtles.

Storm brewing.

Storm brewing.

 

 

 

As usual the weather didn’t behave, can you see the storm clouds gathering?

 

 

 

 

Poor Camomile

Poor Camomile

We managed to get back to the boat before the storm broke and raised the dinghy. Very soon the rain started, how it rained and rained and rained. At the same time the wind picked up to 30 then 40kts. The first boat to start dragging was Sailabout but there was nothing we could do but look on as they fought to get the anchor on board and re-anchor. The boats were all bucking like broncos and the rain continued to lash down. We were watching Calypso behind us and Labarge in front of us and they stayed the same distance from us.  We thought that Out of the Blue II were motoring forward. I called Lyn on the radio to ask if they were motoring forward but she replied they were still anchored that meant only one thing – Calypso, Labarque and we were all dragging our anchors towards the island.

Camomile disappearing behind the waves

Camomile disappearing behind the waves

 

Bill had already managed to get the snubber off earlier so I crawled to the bow to guide Bill with hand signals as we raised our anchor. After about 10minutes of screaming into the wind and gesticulating frantically the anchor lifted clear of the water but not without a massive thump on the bow as it swung clear of the water. We motored to the other side of the bay, where there was a bit more shelter from the strong current that was pulling us towards the island, and re-anchored. Needless to say the trip ashore was cancelled and I didn’t get to see the turtles laying their eggs or release the baby turtles.

Chris on Out of the Blue II managed to take these photos of Camomile as she was bucking in the storm.

Underwater at Lankayan Island

This story is old news now but I’d written it and it continues the story so I decided to post it.

The entrance to the resort

The entrance to the resort

We spent the next couple of days making our way south stopping at average anchorages. The wind had been quite strong making everywhere quite rolly. We were with the rally group of a dozen or so boats.   One of the original stops had been the island of Lankayan but we had been told by one of the cruisers that it was expensive because they were charging for anchoring, snorkelling and even to walk on the beach and to give it a wide berth. Wednesday 9th July we decided to head south with our friends on Jackster, an Amel, who soon disappeared over the horizon. The original plan had been to sail as far as the Turtle islands but the wind had been very fickle and we realised we couldn’t catch Jackster up and wouldn’t make Turtle island before nightfall. As we were passing Lankayan I contacted them to see if one of their buoys was available, luckily all three were. It was very hard to spot because it didn’t have a buoy attached to it just the line lying in the water.   Luckily the resort sent one of their little boats out to show us where it was.

The lodges on the beachfront

The lodges on the beachfront

 

For those coming behind us the waypoint for the buoy is

06º30.1N

117º54.7E

it’s the nearest one to the resort the other two are just behind it. The resort listens to VHF16. It was only 3pm so we decided to go ashore and see how much they were going to charge us. It turned out they didn’t charge for their buoys or even to anchor they just charge MYR25 (£5) per person per day conservation charge. For that you can tie up to their jetty, snorkel their beautiful coral round in front of the resort, walk on the beach, and do what you like.

Looking out to the restaurant built over the water

Looking out to the restaurant built over the water

 

So we were glad we stopped, it was a beautiful spot. The island was very small and could easily be walked in less than an hour.   Interestingly all around the seaward side were manned machine gun posts. There has been a lot of trouble recently with the Filipinos coming over and bothering the tourists. We don’t think any one has been harmed but they didn’t seem to want to take any chances.

Looking from the restaurant back to the island

Looking from the restaurant back to the island

 

Beautiful coral

Beautiful coral

 

 

 

The next day we decided to get in the water.   We had two snorkels that day. We took the dinghy to the jetty and just swam off of it and the second one was further out which needed the dinghy.

 

 

Blue stag coral

Blue stag coral

 

We found an amazing amount of the most superb coral, some of the best we’ve seen since Fiji, and in wonderful colours.   The water clarity wasn’t as good as Fiji but the coral was beautiful. Further out was even better away from the tourist area.

 

 

Plate coral

Plate coral

 

 

Each one of these plate corals is the size of a dining table.

 

We saw several of these blue starfish

 

 

 

Blue starfish

Blue starfish

Blue clams embedded in the rock

Blue clams embedded in the rock

 

 

 

 

And the most remarkable clams of vibrant blues

 

 

 

 

Angel fish

Angel fish

Little blue fish

Little blue fish

 

 

 

 

So many fish of all sorts. Angel fish, parrot fish, sergeant majors,

 

 

 

Parrot fish

Parrot fish

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Little white fish under the jetty

Little white fish under the jetty

A big Billum fish

A big Billum fish

 

 

 

And a big Billum fish.

So it just goes to show you should always see these places for yourself and don’t be put off by other people’s comments.

Joining the Rally in Kudat

Leaving the Rig support vessels behind

Leaving the Rig support vessels behind

At the beginning of the journey to Kudat a gentle breeze in filled our sails and gave us 2.2kts of speed, hmmmm this was going to take a while. We realised that the island was shielding us from the wind and, despite hoisting the cruising chute, we’d have to motor. We soon left the rig support vessels behind us in the distance. If you look in the foreground of this photo you can see the tips of part of a tree sticking up in the water. That’s the sort of thing we have to look for on this coast, the tropical equivalent to icebergs.

Mount Kinabalu shrouded in cloud

Mount Kinabalu shrouded in cloud

We had decided to do one more night sail mainly to catch up with the rally but also, with the swell that was running, any anchorage on this side of the peninsular would have been untenable.   By 15.00, when the sea breezes set in, the mainsail and the cruising chute were back up and the engine was off; we were sailing again. By 18.00 the wind had got stronger and the cruising chute was replaced by the genny and the sea was getting rougher. By 23.00 the wind died completely and the engine was back on. I went to bed at 2am, although sleep was impossible in the swell that was hitting Camomile from the west. Bill came up on watch just in time for the squalls to start; poor Bill got soaked. The wind was up and down during the night, as the squalls crossed our path. At 6am I came back on watch and we were sailing although it was like a washing machine down below and I hadn’t slept much. Bill went down to try to sleep but by 10.00 he was back on deck as we started having 30/35kt squalls. This is Mount Kinabalu, I had hoped to see it in all its glory but it was shrouded in cloud for our journey. Unfortunately we had the tide against us giving us wind against tide and we were only achieving a boat speed of 4kts.

Approaching the northern tip of Borneo

Approaching the northern tip of Borneo

 

 

 

At 2pm we rounded the tip of Borneo, this is the most northerly part of mainland Malaysia.

 

 

 

Much calmer on the eastern side

Much calmer on the eastern side

 

Thankfully the swell disappeared as we started heading south on the other side of the peninsular. I was hoping we would arrive in time for the trip the rally were running to a Longhouse further inland that was leaving at 4pm, the GPS was giving us an arrival time of 16.01! As we approached I called our friends on the boat Jackster and asked them if the coach would wait for me, although Bill wouldn’t be able to leave Camomile if we had only just anchored.   As we arrived at the anchorage and dropped the anchor it was indeed 16.01, how clever is that? Dave very kindly came out to get me in their dinghy and I was whisked away leaving poor Bill to sort the boat out. Luckily he didn’t mind.

A traditional Long house

A traditional Long house

 

After a drive of about ¾ of an hour we arrived at the traditional Longhouse, which is one of the distinctive features of Dayak life.   The longhouse was raised above the damp jungle floor on stilts and built alongside the beach. In fact this was the stretch of coastline we had battled along earlier in the day. Some longhouses have whole villages living in them but this one was available for guests.   It consisted of a long covered veranda along which were rows of doors giving access to the basic rooms.

Drinking from a fresh coconut

Drinking from a fresh coconut

 

 

We were invited to sit down inside the veranda and offered fresh coconuts with the top sliced off allowing us to drink the delicious liquid inside them.

 

 

 

Village girls in local costume

Village girls in local costume

 

 

The rally was invited onto the beach to watch local girls performing some traditional dancing. Their costumes were beautifully made. The guy on the end seemed to be doing his own thing.

 

 

Clever dance using bamboo poles

Clever dance using bamboo poles

 

 

The rocks behind the beach made a wonderful backdrop. After the sun had gone down we were invited into the living quarters of the longhouse for a meal. As we are in the time of Ramadan at the moment many of the locals fast from sunrise to sunset. A delicious buffet meal was served but with very little light it was difficult to see what we were eating; perhaps that was the idea! It all tasted very good and it was nice to have finally caught up with the rally.

 

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

Kudat was a funny little town. It had quite a few Chinese hardware stores, a couple of small supermarkets and a handful of eateries. After 2 days of wandering around we decided we wanted to get out into the surrounding islands rather than sit in anchorage surrounded in murky water.

Scenery surrounding island of Banggi

Scenery surrounding island of Banggi

So Saturday 5th July we left early and headed north to Banggi island.   It was beautiful. We tucked ourselves into an enclosed anchorage with little islands to the south covered in jungle. We took the dinghy on a little tour of the anchorage but there were mangroves growing down to the waterline and we couldn’t find anywhere to land. For those following along behind us the waypoint for the anchorage is 07º10.15 North 117º09.5 East.

Happy Birthday Bill

Happy Birthday Bill

 

This was the furthest north that we were going this year so the next day we headed south again. Bill wasn’t happy being on our own as we were now in the Sula sea, one of the areas in the world that claims to have pirates. The rally have arranged for us to have a naval escort when we get further south into the more notorious area. We headed to Silk island where many of the rally boats had arrived having just left Kudat. As it was Bill’s birthday we invited our friends Dave and Jacqui from Jackster to come and join us for a meal. We had a wonderful evening together.

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