Convoy to Tawau
Posted by yachtcamomile
I’ve written this blog for the cruisers that are coming along after us. It has waypoints of the anchorages we used, which should all be checked before use. I hope you find it useful.
After our wonderful time up the Kinabatagan river we made our way back down the river to the junction at waypoint
(just to the left of where Camomile is in this screen shot of the chartplotter)
At this point you have two choices
- go back the way you came and continue back down the Malaysian west Sabah coast and onto Sarawak and the Singapore area
- or go back the way you came but instead of heading to Singapore head north to the Philippines after checking out in Kudat
If you’re not going to Indonesia then I would recommend one of the above
- or turn right and continue on the journey down the east Sabah coast, which is what we did.
Within a few days the rally was assembled in Dewhurst bay (I’m pointing to it with the pencil) for the start of the convoy that we were being encouraged to join for our safety. The pirate situation in the Sula sea was perceived to be a big enough threat to concern the Malaysian navy, having already been told a curfew was in place from 6pm to 6am.
On the evening of 31st August the boats all moved out to the outer anchorage ready for an early start.
On the chart it’s called driftwood point and this certainly described the beach. The dinghy was lowered so we could take a closer look. The beach was indeed covered in the biggest logs I’ve ever seen on a beach before. Luckily they were on the beach and not in the water, some of them would have caused some serious damage to rudders, etc.
There were monkeys playing among them searching for titbits of food, we sat and watched them from the waters edge for a while.
Some of the ‘driftwood’ were taking root and beginning to form new trees on the low tide line. It was the most extraordinary sight.
The next morning, 1st August just before 6am the sky turned the most stunning colours before the sun came up. Everyone had agreed to leave at 6am so it was anchors up and we all left together.
There were now just 15 boats travelling together with more than half of them transmitting their position on AIS. The screen on the chartplotter looked quite amusing as we all travelled together. No sign of our escort yet.
There wasn’t any wind so we motored the 24 miles to Evans bay until a few miles outside when the wind piped up but too late to be of any use and it was accompanied by rain. The rest of the day was spent reading. We had all been invited to sundowners on Labarque but the weather put a stop to that so I dusted down the quiz book and we had a Camomile Quiz on the radio instead.
Evans bay waypoint
2nd August, another 6am start but there was enough wind to sail so up went the sails and we sailed most of the 36 miles to Dent Haven, on the most eastern headland on the Malaysia mainland.
Today our navy escort made an appearance. We had seen a navy ship on the AIS but as we all came into anchor a Police boat and a small gun ship arrived. Yes that is a machine gun on its bow! It was a nice evening and the invitation to Labarque was renewed.
Anchored at waypoint
3rd August after, yes you’ve guessed correctly, another 6am start we had a really good sail to the Tungku lighthouse 32 miles away, many of us didn’t want to stop but we’d all agreed to stick together and we wouldn’t have made Lahad Datu in daylight. The American catamaran Ocelot invited everyone for sundowners that evening.
Waypoint for anchorage west of Tungku lighthouse
4th August started off a sad day for me because it had been a year since my Mum had passed away but I wasn’t allowed to be sad for long because on our passage to Lahad Datu the security was really stepped up as we approached the area where there had been a pirate attack earlier in the year. As well as our now normal police escort and the gunboat, first we were over flown by a police helicopter, then these guys pulled alongside us. Were they the pirates?
Fortunately they were on our side as they started waving and taking photos of US. I felt they deserved a medal simply for wearing that amount of clothes they must have been baking! After motoring alongside for about 5 minutes they moved on to photograph the next boat – bizarre!
So we made it to Lahad Datu where we stayed for 2 nights at
What’s the first shop you would think we’d look for, supermarket maybe? No we start with hardware stores! This one was fairly well packed with all sorts of things; it even had some chandlery bits towards the back.
I left Bill to have a rummage around while I headed off to look for the market. The markets here are always well stocked with lovely fresh fruit and veggies. These two ladies had a fantastic stall where I bought lots of lovely produce. They loved having their photo taken. The Malaysians are such friendly people.
I continued through the market and knew by the smell I was getting close to the dried fish stall. I managed to hold my breathe long enough to take this photo before I had to move away. The whole stall consists of dried fish of varying sizes, it’s very popular and looks very fresh in a dried sort of way but it absolutely stinks.
It was possible to buy anything from this lady, antibiotics, birth control, paracetamol, viagra, anything. Whether it was real is another matter as is the fact that a lot of them should be prescription drugs but I assume doctors are too expensive to visit. A bit worrying really.
Rubbish is a real problem in these areas. Underneath this pile of mostly plastic and polystyrene is a river that flows into the sea, fortunately there was a grill preventing the rubbish from going any further but it’s a huge problem here. Many fish and sea creatures such as turtles are badly affected by the rubbish floating in the sea. To be fair a truck had just arrived to clear away the debris but something has to done about the rubbish problem in this part of the world, and soon.
We walked back to the harbour where the fleet were anchored. Our police escort were tied alongside the local police wharf and our dinghies were tied alongside them. Hopefully there won’t be an emergency!
On our second day in Lahad Datu the rally put on a lunch in a local hotel so we could meet and greet our protectors, they were a really lovely bunch of lads. After their talk they spread out and came and sat with us for lunch. Some of them only had basic English but managed really well chatting to us and answering our questions. Most of them were still carrying a weapon. In the afternoon I found a hairdresser for a haircut. Something got lost in translation because instead of ‘a inch or two off’ I got an inch or two left! Oh well it’ll grow and it’s cooler.
Wednesday 6th August we motored the 33 miles to the Tun Sakaran marine park and Pulau Bohey Dulang. The first sight of these islands took our breath away. The sheer cliffs and lush tropical jungle make a striking contrast to the fairly flat, palm tree covered islands around it. Being part of the rim of an ancient volcanic crater, now inundated, it’s encircled by coral reefs. Normally yachts aren’t allowed into the lagoon because it’s a marine research centre but the rally had obtained permission for us to enter. One by one we entered the reef at waypoint
Our police escort was the last in and anchored across the entrance as a ‘plug’, the navy tied their boats (there were now two of them) to the wharf. The rally had been asked to anchor close together but unfortunately the organisers hadn’t realised that the area they wanted us to anchor in was 20m+. Bill’s normal policy is to find somewhere 10m or less but it went from 20m to reef so we didn’t have any option but to anchor in 20m. We were consoled by the fact that several of the yachts carried divers with tanks and compressors so if the anchor got stuck we could ask for their help. We anchored at
118º46.7E in 20.3m of water, the deepest we’ve ever anchored in.
Our surroundings were superb, the water was an amazing colour; so blue. We took the dinghy to the wharf and were given a guided tour of the marine research centre where they cultivate clams before putting them back in the water in a controlled environment for their protection. Unfortunately the locals eat them and their numbers are diminishing.
The wharf made an ideal setting for a pot luck supper so I got on the radio and managed to organise several tables, some chairs and a ‘pot’ from everyone for supper. We all took our own plates, k,f & s, and alcohol. We invited the navy boys to join us because they didn’t appear to have much food on board, cans of coke were also given to them and they seemed really happy with the invitation. It was that evening that we found out that we had become ‘tethered goats’. Earlier in the year there had been a pirate attack on the island of Mabul and one of the police or navy had been shot and killed and another had been taken ransom. If the pirates launched an attack on us the navy planned to capture one of them so they could exchange him for their colleague because the government won’t pay the ransom. Not sure how we felt about that situation but fortunately the pirates stayed away.
This little chap quietly waited for titbits all evening and did quite well, he was very thin and obviously a stray. I would have loved to have taken him on board but Bill, sensibly, said No. I called him Snowy.
The next day the research centre made one of their staff available to take us on a trek up the hill to an amazing viewpoint. The view was astounding. If you think our t-shirts look wet you’re right and it’s perspiration. It only took an hour to walk up there but it was very steep and there were lots of steps and it was HOT. Try putting a stepper machine in a sauna and using it for an hour and you’ll get an idea of the conditions. All agreed the view was worth it.
Little Camomile waiting for us.
Our little guide, who did the walk without any effort, sat on the cliff logged onto facebook as there wasn’t a signal in the bay making many of us feel our age. Note he’s beyond the line that says ‘Don’t pass’!
In the afternoon we went snorkelling. The water was so clear, there were lots of different coloured coral, fish and lots of rays lying on the sand. We weren’t allowed to go outside the reef but you didn’t need to there was so much to see inside.
Our friends Jacqui and Dave on Jackster have their own diving kit on board and offered to give me a diving lesson later that day. Dave didn’t give me any chance to think about it because he knew I would have found an excuse but I didn’t and off we went to the beach.
The water was a bit cloudy close in but I managed to get down a few metres and Dave helped me to regulate my buoyancy. It was fun but I don’t think I’ll be signing up for my Padi just yet.
After 3 days it was time to leave and after our usual 6am start we headed towards Bum Bum island and into the Bum Bum channel. As you can imagine there were lots of jokes being cracked on the radio about the passage, I’ll say no more!
Waypoint at the entrance
We passed Semporna, which had been on our original itinerary, but after the attack on Mabul earlier in the year the navy didn’t want us to stop there. Sadly the local people abuse the sea terribly and there was so much rubbish floating in the water. Several of the boats had to stop with blocked inlets or rubbish around their prop. Most of the islanders live in houses on stilts over the water and just throw their rubbish over the side.
As the rally passed through it generated a lot of interest with local boats coming out to see us and wave. Everyone seemed very friendly it was a shame we couldn’t stop.
Once out the other side we continued on to the Kumpong river. There was lots of shipping although mainly tug and tows. Some locals had hitched a ride on this barge and this one was so overloaded it was difficult to see the barge underneath. It looked very unbalanced, no wonder there are so many logs floating around in this area.
The entrance to the river was very shallow and the rally had arrived too early. Some of the boats anchored outside for a while. Camomile touched the soft mud bottom but ploughed on, literally, with the rising tide and eventually found enough water to continue inside.
The shallowest part was at
Some of the boats came in about a mile to our port really close in to the Kiraz point you could try that but proceed with caution.
There was a stilt village on the inside and the children waved as we passed by and made our way up another muddy brown estuary but luckily not too far.
As you can see the chartplotter was out again so we just used the rule of sticking to the outside of the bends. The black line is our track.
The anchorage was alongside a nice resort but the river was quite narrow and when the tide turned we could almost touch the trees. We anchored at
On the final leg to Tawau we discovered some structures that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a War of the Worlds film set. They are fishing traps, unlit of course, but quite visible being about 10 feet above the water level. What was more worrying was that there were some derelict ones with just a few stumps sticking out of the water. What was underneath the water in between them?
There were hundreds of structures spread over many miles so to go around them would have been a huge detour. I kept watch on the bow as we motored in between them, carefully, hoping we didn’t get lucky!
Eventually we got clear of them and continued on to Tawau, our final stopover in Malaysia, where we anchored at
The rally organised a lovely farewell party for the cruisers, everyone was relieved to have got there in one piece and the only thing that marred the evening were some ‘rascals’ who stole furling lines from some of the boats at anchor while we were all ashore enjoying ourselves.
Camomile’s was cut just below the drum but not taken (Bill had enough spare line to reload it though). It was a shame for the 3 or 4 boats affected and the organisers were exceedingly embarrassed that it had happened right in front of the yacht club with several of the police/navy hierarchy present. Patrol boats were sent out but the culprits were long gone.
During the final leg of the passage our trip counter had clicked over 40,000 miles since leaving the UK and so far this is the only time anything like that has happened despite some of the remote locations Camomile has visited. We’ve had such a diverse journey meeting so many wonderful people of all different faiths and cultures who have all wanted to warmly greet us. Not once have we felt threatened, a truly remarkable journey and it continues.