Over the Top

After leaving the delights of the big city Temptress in company with Obsession II and Mai Tai headed north up the Sabah coast to firstly Telok Usukan and then onto a very rolly night in Tambol Bay which Mai Tai decided to miss out on by heading a little further up the coast that day. Little sailing was to be had except when a storm passed by increasing the winds nicely. Weather further north in the form of tropical storms off the Philippines caused the sea to have a big swell at odds with the local wind driven waves. All in all very uncomfortable both overnight and at sea. Just before midday on July 25 Temptress rounded the northern tip of Borneo and was relieved to be in the lee of the island with calm seas though even less wind meant we were still motoring. (We were a bit aggrieved to hear boats reporting great sailing the following day).

A short distance down the west coast and tucked into a corner is Kudat. There the safe and comfy Duck Pond enabled the rally fleet to practise their Med(iterranean) Mooring skills. For some it was water off the proverbial ducks back for others it was a chance to brush up rusty skills and for yet others the prospect was daunting. However, working as a team, with plenty of dinghies to take lines or act as tugs pushing boats into line, eventually over the period of several days twenty seven boats were anchored with their sterns tied to the wall beneath the hotel on the outskirts of town. The twenty eighth boat choose to anchor off the town in preference to attempting the Duck Pond but I’m not certain they enjoyed the loud and late music of the festival and the rolling of the sea though.

For five days we joined in the Kudat Festival by forming a dragon boat team, another first for many of us and involved some early morning practise! We came last but raised a good cheer from our fellow competitors. The sight the day before our heat of the Sabah Fire Brigade team getting their dragon boat almost on the plane in a whirr of arms and paddles and winning by several boat lengths will not be forgotten for a long time. Other festival attractions aside from a huge market were dancing, the local heats of a TV talent contest and local dance performances. And we had a wonderful day touring in the company of Cobra including a visit to a honeybee farm and supper at his homestay.

Then it was time to leave on the first escorted leg of our voyage. It was fun and games as boats untangled anchor chains but no one was left behind and by 10:00 we were underway. Four hours later 28 boats were at anchor off Karakit, Pulau Bangii with a protective reef to seaward. Sue had joined as crew in Kudat and the three of us welcomed finally a chance to swim and cool off. About ten minutes after we had entered the water, our fleet leaders John & Kerryn from Esoterica came by in the dinghy and informed us of a crocodile warning issued to them by our ESSCOM escort! We rapidly climbed back onboard.

Our next anchorage was the muddy estuary waters off Jambongan; unsurveyed according to our charts, just a big white blank! Nothing too scenic to report and we were happy to leave at 06:00 the following morning. The fleet made its way inshore of a scattering of reefs safe from marauding kidnappers and anchored in the Turtle Islands National Park. This is a real privilege, only the rally yachts are permitted here each year and as we dropped the hook, two large turtles surfaced alongside. The speed with which they disappeared again indicates they were probably as surprised as us. Sadly the evening ashore was a disappointment – a lot of hanging around and though we viewed the tiny turtles in the artificial nests close to the compound we didn’t see either a turtle come ashore nor baby turtles being released. Eventually the three of us gave up and returned to Temptress for a late supper then stayed up until our watch began at midnight.

Each boat is taking a two hour watch in partnership with another during this section of the rally. The escort boats are patrolling but it is felt that a couple of boats, one at each end of the anchorage helps keep an eye out for any malcontent who decides to invade. The three of us spent a quiet couple of hours slumped in the cockpit, watching the stars and the distant fishing boat lights with nothing untoward to report. At two we retired to our bunks for a few hours sleep before the fleet departed at 6am.

By the time we pulled into Sandakan the three of us were dead on our feet and ready for our bunks again.  The wind blowing across the wide estuary was causing a nasty chop and neither the skipper nor the first mate were entirely happy about the safety of being anchored in such an exposed position on a lee shore. The anchorage allotted by ESSCOM was off the yacht club and the police boat HQ – safe from a security point of view but not safe from a mariner’s view. The fleet leader politely insisted we had to take what we’d been given. We did but with serious misgivings which later that night as we hoisted the dinghy onboard at 1am to prevent losing it or damaging Temptress, became thoughts about whether we should have joined the rally in the first place.

Our few nights there proved uncomfortable to the point of not being able to sleep and though Sanadakan is a pleasant scruffy town with plenty of character we were relieved to leave. However, we did enjoy together with Sue and a dozen or so other rally sailors, a wonderful tour of the historic Sandakan area including the beautiful memorial park for those who died in the Death Marches to Ranau and Agnes Keith’s house on the hill overlooking the town. A late but sumptious three course lunch at the English Tea House topped the day off.

Our departure from Sandakan was delayed by one day due to an administrative mess up between ESSCOM and the rally team so on August 6th we said farewell to Sue and took our laundry to a dhobi in town. Amazingly two huge bags of dirty clothing were washed, dried and neatly folded ready for pick up late that evening! Money well spent as running the water maker in the next part of our trip may not be possible as its up a muddy river. We enjoyed the yacht club hospitality – for 50MYR we had used their pool and facilities with a wide view out over the yachts and the fishing boats. It was great to get together each evening over a few cold Tigers, a real plus when many of the places we’ve stopped haven’t offered a central point for the fleet to socialise.

Ships Log: 1732nm from Singapore

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