Borneo to Singapore


Thursday, September 29th, 2011

 Departure day has finally come for our trip from Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, to Singapore.  I still have not gotten over my pre voyage jitters yet.  I’m not sure if it is the fear of the unknown or just the change (however briefly) in lifestyle.  As usual, we have tested all systems on the boat and everything seems to be working fine.  We decided not to install the infamous Heat Exchanger on the engine as we have limited resources in Borneo for unforeseen parts needed for the installation.  If the old heat exchanger fell apart while taking it out and the new one did not fit for some reason, the trip would be delayed.

Day 1

With a few minor puffs of soot, the engines started perfectly and we were off.  Wayne Davis on Grey Pearl ( AKA Good Wayne) had masterfully planned our route and determined that under perfect conditions, at 8 knots, the trip would take 99 hours,  putting us into Singapore at 11am on Monday morning.  Normally, this NEVER works out because of currents, storms, sea conditions etc, so you end up arriving way early or way late.   In this instance a variation of six or seven hours either way put us into the most crowded of shipping lanes either before sunrise or after sundown!  The weather looked good for the trip.  It looked like, from what we could gather from our internet sources, that the weather should be good for the entire four days.  Our professional weather forecaster, Bob, was not quite so optimistic, but said this:

“Typhoon Nesat as weakened to the north and continues along a westward heading toward Hainan Island. The pressure gradient that was tightening south of the Nesat has since weakened southward toward Borneo, so the strongest winds you had encountered closer to departure (and from your most recent position report) should continue to subside over the next 48hrs or so. 


You still run the risk of a bit more SSE-SE wind once you get over the exposed waters of the South China Sea and they’ll continue to arrival Singapore. There will also be the risk of isolated showers/thunderstorms the next few days, but fortunately, with Nesat less weakening and approaching the more western South China Sea, the flow across the tropics has weakened. None of this activity is expected to gain strength or organize into a tropical cyclone.


Along your intended route expect

Thu/29-night: W-WSW to more SW-SSW 08-15kt. Gusty in/near showers and thunderstorms. Sea 2-4ft. Swells W-WSW 2-4ft. 

Fri/30: Range W-SW to even southerly through late in the day; 08-15kts. Seas 3-4ft. Swells WSW to WNW 2-4ft, even more NW from late morning through the night.

Sat/01: Become light/variable 05-10kt, Seas 2-3ft with a confused to southerly swells 2-4ft developing through the day.

Sun/02: S-SE 10-16kts, Seas 2-4ft. Swells SSE-SE 3-4ft  

Mon/03-arrival:  S-SE 10-16kts, Seas 2-4ft, SSE-SE 3-5ft, but less than 3ft to nil over more protected waters nearing/reaching Singapore. 

Please continue to advise your position while enroute. Watching/updating. B/Rgds, Bob/OMNI”

Through a source from Braun, we also got a security report, stating that the route seemed to be “reasonably safe” with only four incidences reported and those were only knife attacks.

Well, that’s great news….

Sooo,  we were off and running and all mechanical systems were running perfectly.  My anxiety started to easy once we were out and I began to enjoy the cruise.  Shortly before nightfall, we started to see some large chunks of floating debris.  When easily avoided during the day, you just cannot see them at night.

Some of these, like the one in the picture, were mistaken by us as small boats!  Turning around is not an option, so you really have to get into the mindset that we should worry about things on the boat that we can control and not dwell on things that you cannot.  There are 12 hours of complete darkness every day and it can become a long night if you sit there wringing your hands and worrying about stuff you cannot control.  Here is what you see from the Seabird helm at night.  The helm instruments provide all the information that we use.  As you can see, there is very little visible beyond the windshield.

The coastline of Kota Kinabalu soon turns to the coastline of the tiny country of Brunei. Brunei is a tiny nation mostly known for its vast oil wealth and its most famous leader, the Sultan of Brunei, one of the wealthiest men in the world.  We passed the entire country at night and, although we did not see any coastline, we saw lots of oil wells marked by the huge gas flames.

Oil Wells off Brunei

As you can imagine, we stayed well away from them.

A note on our watch standing schedule:  Since there were just two of us on board, Carol and I decided to do three hours on and three hours off for most of the trip.  It takes a little getting used to for the first few days as you have to force yourself to fall asleep and wake up three hours later to assume the next watch.  For the entire four days, Carol and I see very little of each other except for when we change watch.  On these long trips, you have to sleep when you can.  The 12 to 6am is the toughest.  We have this piece of equipment called a Watch Commander that beeps every 20 minutes to keep you awake.  If you don’t re-set it, all hell breaks loose with a loud alarm, waking everyone on the boat up.  The Watch Commander is not just to keep you awake…..With only two of us on board, one of us sleeping, should the helmsman walk outside and accidently fall overboard, forget about finding someone after a three hour sleep.  If the alarm goes off, the most time that will have passed since they went missing would be 20 minutes.  We don’t like to think about those things!!

Day two

The thunderstorms started to roll in.  We really don’t like them, not because of the rain, but because of the lightning.  In the unlikely scenario that you are struck by a bolt, you could lose all electrical function on your boat, including all of your navigation instruments.  We therefore try to avoid them if possible.  This one below, depicted by the red areas on the radar, was one we could not avoid, as you can see.

Approaching storms

We were fortunate on this one and the others we encountered to be spared from the lightning strikes.

At one point in the middle of the night when I was on watch on Seabird and Braun was on watch on Grey Pearl, we encountered our first problem.  Braun radioed me and asked if I saw a flashing red light up ahead.  I replied that I did not see it.  Braun said it was close and usually meant fishing pots ahead.  He turned on his spotlight and scanned near our boat and radioed to me that I was passing between two of them at that moment! There was really nothing I could do at that point so I continued on with my own spot light on.  Grey Pearl had to stop dead in the water because they were approaching a long line of them.  By now, everyone was up in the pilot house on Grey Pearl and it was a team effort using night vision goggles, spotlights and skilled helmsmanship to navigate around the sea of pots.  It has never happened to me personally, but I know of a few instances where the running gear of boats got completely tangled up and the boat stopped dead in the water.  If it happens at night, there is really not much you can do in open ocean until morning.

Fortunately, that was our last excitement for the night.

Day Three

The weather was getting really nice.  The seas had turned glassy and our speed, which had started out at between 7 knots and 7.5 knots for the first day, increased to a speedy 8. 6 knots, keeping us on an average speed of 8 knots.

At this point, we were passing the “dangerous” areas, but despite that, we did not feel at all in danger and saw very little traffic other than isolated fishing trawlers dragging nets and picking up their pots.  The storms were getting more frequent and we did some evasive maneuvers, skirting between some that looked a bit “electric”.  It’s easy during the day because you can see them visually and on radar.  At night, it’s like playing a video game!  We just look at the radar, the chart plotter and twist the knob on the auto pilot!  We had to be a bit more careful on this trip because we had decided that, unlike other trips where we traveled one behind the other within a mile of each other,  it was better for security to travel abreast and as close as one half mile from one another.  So, if GP to a left and we took a right…………. It actually did happen on this trip while Carol was at the helm and she radioed Braun to “pass the Grey Poupon”.

This is as close as we will come to the equator.  As you can see on the chart, Grey Pearl (and Seabird) are about 130 miles from it.  Had we actually crossed it, we would have been forced to do “King Neptunes Plunge”, a ritualistic sort of thing where everyone on the boat must jump into the water!

The Equator

Our last night at sea was really special.  Not only was the boat purring along just perfectly, but the speed had stabilized and it became obvious that we would arrive at the crowded shipping lanes in Singapore at daylight.  Everything was just perfect……..

Tina on GP:  Hey, do you see a light up ahead?

Steven on Seabird:  Nope….Oh yeah, now I see it…..Think it must be a fishing boat.

GP:  oh oh, I think I just saw a white colored float pass by the boat…..

Seabird: (crap!) I should turn on the spotlight…..stand by…..

No sooner did I turn on our large spotlight that two large white fishing bouys appeared about 25 feet in front of the boat, about 30 feet apart from each other.  I slammed the stop button on the auto pilot and heaved the steering wheel to the right, allowing the boat to pass directly between the two bouys. I held my breath, hoping not to hear the sound of a propeller getting tangled in a maze of rope.  There was nothing more to be done at this point but to wait.  I let out a sigh of relief when 20 long seconds had passed and …..Nothing.

Shortly after that, Carol came up to take her watch.  We had decided that on the last night we would do 4 hour watches so that I could take the helm at daylight when we were entering the crowded Singapore area.

Carol’s watch went well with no issues.  When I got up for my 6am watch on the day of our arrival, the instruments started to get crowded with ships on the screens. 

Entrance to Singapore

It seemed much more organized and manageable entering Singapore than it was in Hong Kong and therefore far less stressful. One of the arrival issues that we were concerned about was the tidal current.  If it was against us, our speed would have slowed to about 4 knots.  Fortunately for us, it was with us and by the time we got to the Western Anchorage to check in with the authorities, Seabird was traveling 11.7 knots! We entered the Anchorage and floated about until the immigration people came over and we passed the multiple forms back and forth to each other in a fishing net attached to a long pole.

Before we hit the anchorage, we were amidst an international border issue.  Two patrol boats, one from Singapore and one from Malaysia, came to a verbal confrontation on the radio, each claiming that they were in the respective sovereign waters.  After a verbal spar, the Malaysian boat called Grey Pearl and asked what their destination was.  Braun hesitantly notified them that since he was in Singapore waters, he should not answer the question.  They responded rather strongly that GP was in fact in Malaysian waters and to answer the question…..Braun wisely agreed and gave them the information they wanted.

Immigration boat and GP

After about an hour, we were allowed to proceed to One15 Marina, another 5 star facility that is equal or better than marinas in the US.  After four days at sea, it is really nice to come to a place like this!

One15 Marina

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not mention what a great job Good Wayne did on the planning.  I had mentioned earlier that we had planned on taking 99 hours for the passage, assuming an 8 knot speed.  As it turned out, our speed varied from between 5.7 knots and 9.6 knots (with a short period of 11.7 knots) and, ready for this?  Average speed 8.0 knots!  Our passage time? 99.6 hours!  Kudos to Wayne!!!

We always meet interesting people at every port and see interesting boats.  If any of you recall, several years ago in our blog we did a piece a boat called Earthrace, a biodiesel powered space craft looking boat that was trying to break the around the world nonstop record (which they did).  The Singpore version of that boat looks similar, but on steroids at 100 feet long and 100 tons, powered entirely by solar energy (thus named Planet Solar). 

Planet Solar

Prop on Planet Solar

Planet Solar has no other mechanical propulsion other than the electric motors and carries 18000 lbs of Lithium Ion batteries which can provide enough power to the motors to run the boat for three days.  The entire superstructure is covered with solar panels that pump out 20 killowatts per hour to keep the batteries charged. There is a crew of four on boat and it has no windows, hatches or air conditioning… thanks.  You can read more about it and the voyage on their interesting website: . Their plan is to circumnavigate the globe and they are more than halfway there.

Interestingly enough, Seabird is also about halfway….

Anyway…..Singapore is an amazing place…..our next blog entry ……..




    Braun, Tina & Wayne from GP.  Lisa from One15 Marina




This Post Has One Comment

  1. LOVE reading your posts!!! Great job and I look forward to reading more-If and when you get to the West coast, let me know if you need a crew member. Best of luck!

    Coffee Trader II
    GB 36-267
    Beaverton Oregon

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