Before joining the Sail Malaysia rally we had avoided joining organised cruising except for short excursions in company with friends such as our Changi SC expeditions to Indonesia. Group travel is never easy especially over extended periods of time and, as we enter the last few weeks of this rally, it has to be said we are struggling.
Being part of the group tends to a herd instinct as I realised at one o’clock in the morning last week as we were lifting the dinghy onto a rolling deck in the dark. The open road stead off Sandakan had become extremely uncomfortable and as the wind rose cutting obliquely across the spring tide, it caused Sheila to repeatedly bang hard against Temptress’ hull. We lifted her out of the water before she could inflict any serious damage on her mothership but there are yet more marks on the hull to polish out.
By blithely accepting the given anchorage in Sandakan we had placed ourselves and our home in a potentially dangerous position off a lee shore. In normal circumstances we would not have chosen this as an anchorage. It was far too exposed, misgivings we had on arrival and expressed to the fleet leader. However the fleet are not permitted by our security escort to be anywhere else despite a much safer anchorage in the area around the headland to the east sheltered by Berhala Island.
This is not the first time we have found the decisions made difficult and I fear that the next couple of weeks as we complete this escorted section it won’t be the last. One of the legs planned is a 90nm stretch that our escort wanted us to complete in daylight hours. Not possible at 6 knots let alone the rally fleet average of 5.5knots! Hence I would offer the following thoughts to anyone contemplating joining a rally:
Have you checked the planned route thoroughly?
We faced the prospect of crossing a shallow river bar a couple of days ago. Our own tidal calculations led us to believe Temptress would not have sufficient water until noon yet the fleet planned an arrive off the bar at least two hours prior. Fortunately I wasn’t the only person to query this and late in the day the departure time was pushed out by three and a half hours. Earlier in this escorted phase following the waypoints as given could have put Temptress on a reef, fortunately the navigator checks everything at the most detailed chart level, adding a dozen or more additional waypoints to keep us clear of obstacles throughout.
Are anchorages safe for the worst possible weather conditions that could be expected? Would you choose these anchorages if sailing alone? If an anchorage is untenable what are the alternatives?
It has to be said that the fleet leaders have been liaising with our escort on a couple of the locations as they may be too exposed for an overnight stop but overall our feeling is we may well find ourselves exposed again before the rally ends in Tawau.
Do you have sufficient information about the places you will be expected to navigate through?
One of the areas we anchored in is actually marked as unsurveyed on almost all recent charts. However previous rallies have anchored there and the pilot guide does give some indication of depths to expect so we were happy to go off piste as it were.
How much can you decide for yourselves about the navigation between stopovers?
For example departing through a pass in a reef with the sun in front of you is not a sensible thing to do yet the majority of the boats followed the fleet leader out of the Pulau Bangii anchorage this way. Temptress and just two other boats did not risk it. Reef sailing 101 is that you always enter or depart through a pass with the sun behind you so you can see the dangers lurking beneath the water, coral moves!
Are there contingency plans for mechanical problems, bad weather or other issues? What are the implications if you are unable to depart with the fleet?
Until this rally reached Kudat boats were free to join as little or as much as they wanted, now, with the ESSCOM escort, boats have to depart at the appointed time, keep within the convoy box and travel at a set pace. No sailing during the curfew hours of 19:00 – 05:00 is permitted leaving us wondering in Sandakan what we could do if the wind worsened and Temptress needed to leave the anchorage. However the convoy does have a strategy for towing should the need arise and the rally community have been generous in sharing skills and spares to assist each other.
The Upside of rallying
Aside from the issues the benefits of travelling in a group like this is that you do meet new and interesting people, get to visit places you might not have otherwise thanks to the organised tours and eat some wonderful suppers thanks to our hosts in many of the towns we have stopped in. And it has to be said our organisers, Sazli , Pak Raymond, Alvin & Shirley and Cobra have been amazing. We have taken part in some wonderful festivals and been privileged to visit villages that rarely if ever host visitors. The cultural experience has been incredible and given us an enjoyable insight into life in Borneo and the islands that lay between East and West Malaysia.