There was an air of excitement on both Grey Pearl and Seabird as we pulled up anchor in Puerto Princesa. As much as we loved the Philippines, we were looking forward to arriving in a few days at Sutera Harbour Resort and Marina in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Once again, we were looking to make day trips if possible and Wayne Davis on Grey Pearl, our designated voyage planner, had mapped out several courses of between 5 and 12 hour days. None of the places were anything but anchorages and we did not expect to stay in any one spot for more than one night. We were all getting itchy to get back to a marina with amenities like electricity, other boats and restaurants.
So far, the entire trip through the Philippines was almost eerily calm.
This is what most of the trip was like this year!
Based on our cruising experiences for the last few years, we were suspicious of our good luck. We were kind of looking at the weather charts wondering when the other shoe was going to drop….like with a Typhoon or something. Never happened. Sail boaters had to absolutely HATE this cruising season, relying on their engines 95 percent of the time to get them where they were going. Us, on the other hand, simply reveled in the calm. Each day was 0 to 5 kts of wind and glassy waters with warm tropical air. We still had a nagging problem with our Air Conditioning system and it would not operate while underway. At night it worked fine at anchor. It had to be a simple solution and we would get to it when we arrived at Kota Kinabalu.
Our first stop was an overnight anchor at Rasa Island, 47 miles south of Puerto Princesa. It was like many of the anchorages that we have stopped at, just the two boats, a fishing village and some curious fisherman.
The wind was picking up to about 20 kts with an oncoming squall and so, even though we were in only 20 feet of water, we let out 200 feet of chain, nearly double what the depth would require. In these tropical waters, we have seen too many times the weather changing drastically in the middle of the night and it would not have surprised me to wake up at midnight to 50 knot winds. With 200 feet of chain out and a 300 lb anchor buried deep in the mud, I would simply fall back to sleep and not worry. Fortunately (see picture above), things calmed down at sunset.
In the morning, at 7am, we pulled up our anchor and departed for our next stop, Tuba River, 78 miles from Rasa Island. Once again, we were relying on 3rd and 4th hand recommendations for the anchorage and had no idea what to expect. Getting into Tuba River, based on the chart, looked at bit tricky. Add to that the unreliable charts and we got slightly nervous. Surrounding the entrance for the last 6 miles of the trip were numerous sand bars, shoals and reefs, many of which were either larger or in changed in shape from what was on the chart. We were relying on water color, which, the closer we got to the entrance, turned a muddy brown. All veteran Nordhavn owners are in two categories. Those who have run aground and those who will not admit to doing so. We are in the former. Most Nordhavns are a single engine configuration with a sturdy keel to protect the running gear so going aground, especially on to a soft, muddy surface, is no big deal. You just back off and try again in another direction (of course!). Fortunately, as we eased into the harbor, there were no mishaps and we entered probably the worst anchorage that I can remember. The river itself appeared to be a sticky, dirty mess. The shorelines on both sides were strewn with a mish
We ended up anchoring stern to the shoreline, fairly close to a barge that was also anchored, complete with ramshackle housing, chickens and a rooster aboard! Shortly after we set the anchor, the crew started waiving at us. In broken English, they warned that the barge would be shifting on its anchor when the tide changed and would be crashing into us within a few hours. Not wanted to be molested by a 500 ton, run down barge with rusty bolts sticking out the side, we elected to move 100 yards to our port and forward of Grey Pearl to a safer place.
It was probably the poorest part of the population that we have seen. We also stuck out like a sore thumb, which is not good. Our boats, I suspect, had the only running water in the area. Unfortunately, with this much poverty usually comes crime. In the US, that would be the case. Here, it seems that whatever they have, they are happy. They just want to be left alone. As was most of the other anchorages, there were lots of curious people, but harmless. We sort of slept well but were glad to be out of there in the morning.
Once again, we left as early as the tide would allow and headed for Clarendon harbor, 51 miles south of us. Clarendon turned out to be pretty, but isolated island harbor.
We were really getting good at this routine: Enter the harbor, drop the hook, test our family radios with Grey Pearl, agree on a departure time and say goodnight.
By morning, the plan was to head to another anchorage, as the final passage to get to Northern Borneo would be broken into two legs of 33 and 80 miles respectively. To be honest, all of us were getting a little bored with the stop and go routine. Braun suggested (after we left) that we consider, instead of making two short passages that we make one long run of 97 miles to Teluk Usukan, a protected anchorage in North Borneo. We agreed, and as it turns out, our initial destination of Balambangan Island, the last stop in the Philippines, was not all that safe. Around the time that we were supposed to anchor there, a group of “pirates” attacked a local fishing boat, killing a 19 year old boy. I would not say that we dodged a bullet, but I am happy we decided not to go there.
I guess what made Teluk Usukan such a nice anchorage was the anticipation of the following day, where we would arrive in Kota Kinabalu.
It was only a 30 mile run but in the morning, we were up bright and early, hoping to arrive at Sutera Harbour by lunch time.
The entrance into the KK area was spectacular. Gorgeous islands with sandy beaches started to appear along with other pleasure boats, something we had not seen in quite a while. About a half hour before our arrival, we contacted our agent in KK and the marina manager, Simon to announce our arrival time.
Entering the marina was like finding an oasis in the desert after seeing sand for 2 weeks. It is simply gorgeous. Sutera Harbour will rival any modern 5 star resort/marina in the US. I always pictured Borneo as a remote jungle island where the local population lived in grass huts, subsiding on any humans that might wander into their village. Although there are some remote villages, they do not practice those things any longer. Borneo is nothing like that at all and KK is a modern city with great restaurants, lots to do and wonderful, happy people. It is also very safe as they deal with criminals very harshly.
Within the hour, we were all checked in, secured in our slip and really felt like we had come home. There were lots of smiles on Grey Pearl and Seabird.
Next up: Life in KK (and a surprise)