[OcelotNews] Ocelotians slip past the pirates //WL2K

KD7NDG at Winlink.org KD7NDG at Winlink.org
Mon Aug 22 06:57:00 PDT 2016

Dear Friends & Family,     22 Aug 2016, Tawau, NE Borneo

WE MADE IT!  We're finally past the threats from the Abu Sayyaf terrorists that have been hitting NE Borneo from SW Philippines.  Now we should be able to proceed into Indonesia in peace.  Please pardon our lack of contact recently but we were told not to advertise our position (although they're now posted at the bottom of our homepage).

We last wrote you as we were approaching Miri, on the NW coast of Borneo.  Here we met up with Swiss cruising friends, a family of 4 on their catamaran Aosango, with whom we'll sail to eastern Indonesia this year.

Miri has one of Malaysia's better marinas, with a good breakwater & nice docks.  We rented a car for a day so both boats could resupply with food & diesel before continuing NE along the coast to Brunei & Labuan.  Labuan is a Malaysian duty-free island just offshore of Brunei Bay, & its main purpose seems to be supplying (very Muslim, so totally dry) Brunei with illicit alcohol.  Talk about one Muslim country sticking it to another ... or maybe it's actually a planned relief valve.  We used Labuan to stock up with beer ($0.40/can, but $1.50/can in Indo) & other imported items that are difficult to get elsewhere.

Two days later we arrived at the posh Sutera Harbor Marina in Kota Kinabalu (KK).  We explored the town's waterfront & found some fun local restaurants for Sue's birthday.  KK was where we caught up with the rest of the "Rally to the East" that's going over the top of Borneo, so we had fun getting to know the 32 other boats there.  We don't usually go in for Malaysian rallies, but with Abu Sayyaf & other terrorist groups capturing boats & holding the crew for ransom off Mindanao (SW Philippines) we needed the military protection that the rally had organized.

The problem seems to be that the British hand-off of the Sultanate of Sabah (NE Borneo) to Malaysia (many years ago) nullified a bunch of previous agreements.  Mindanao is predominantly Muslim, as is Sabah, while the rest of the Philippines is mostly Catholic.  Many Philippinos have migrated to Sabah & are sympathetic towards Abu Sayyaf.  The terrorists think Sabah should still be an independent Sultanate, & they're kidnapping tourists & boat crews & holding them for ransom.  Many western countries refuse to negotiate with kidnappers (which has resulted in 3 beheadings in the last few months) but Indonesia & Malaysia have paid to have their people returned, so the kidnappings continue.

Kudat, our next stop at the northern tip of Borneo, is a small town with a big heart.  They were celebrating the Kudat Festival soon after we arrived, and we sailors were encouraged to participate.  We put together a team of women's and men's tug-of war, and gave it a good pull.  Our men were pitted against the national champions, so they didn't really have a prayer.  The teams here take tug-of-war seriously, with team T-shirts & coaches & lots of practice.  Several of our friends ran the foot-race, taking first and third for women (with cash prizes!) and our "Dragon Boat" team of paddlers came in third, again teams that have had weeks to practise!  Cool!

The Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) is a mix of 6 different branches of the Malaysian military.  They agreed to escort the rally boats going over the top of Borneo, to insure our safety.  But he briefing by ESSCOM commanders did little to reassure us of our safety, & instead put the facts of the recent kidnappings in our faces, and some of the rally boats pulled out.  The remaining 29 boats began 3 weeks of the most regimented sailing we've ever done, and hope to never do again.  ESSCOM recommended safe (if sometimes crowded) anchorages & kept a constant watch over us.  We also organized to have 2 boats at a time keep watch at night, in 2 hour shifts.

ESSCOM insisted we sail in a tight group -- quite a trick for 7 cats and 21 monohulls of varying sizes and sailing abilities.  The good part was the fun of seeing each other sailing in such close proximity - we got some nice photos of each other.  Each night we had to arrive at a designated "safe" anchorage, as determined by ESSCOM, and not always comfortably big enough for all of us.  But we managed, and except for some 2am squalls (they always seem to come then) we did manage to anchor safely each night.  Dragging anchors was an issue with the crowding, and we had a few close encounters and one mashed finger, luckily none involving Ocelot.

The fun of the rally began when we entered the Kinabatangan river, south of the town of Sandakan.  This was our second time sailing up the river (55 miles!), and our third visit.  We had 5 days and nights up there, on flat calm river water, the orange-mud ribbon of fresh water cleaning our hulls, while hornbills perched overhead, and proboscis monkeys leapt and frolicked in the jungle trees.  Gray macaque monkeys chittered and screeched at one another, and fish eagles screamed as they soared overhead.

The highlight of the river was the search for the pygmy elephants on an all-day speed boat trip further up the river than the yachts could go.  Half the rally fleet succeeded, but our group, the next day, had no luck finding the herd.  Instead, we were treated to wild orangutans, lots of monkeys, and birds.  We got some great photos!

After the river, we headed south to a Marine Preserve, Tun Sakaran, which is a clear-water lagoon surrounded on 2 sides by high volcanic hills.  Here we stayed 6 days, enjoying the beautiful clear water.  We were constantly monitored and patrolled by ESSCOM boats and planes, as this is one of the closest points to the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terrorists operate from.  But security worries aside, we had some great diving and snorkeling.  The highlight was a day trip to world-famous Sipadan Island where we did 3 dives amongst white tip reef sharks, countless turtles, and a circling swarm of schooling black jacks.  It was wonderful to see so many fish again, after months in waters that are pretty much fished out.

The rally put on a few dinners and dances for us along the way, and we were welcomed warmly wherever we sailed.  We are now in Tawau, just on the Malay/Indonesian boarder, and after a few days of sad good byes to other rally sailors, about 20 of the boats will carry on into Indonesia.  We've flooded the local supermarkets stocking up on non-perishable items, and filling the fruit and veggie nets in our galleys with papaya, bananas, long green beans, bok choy, and water spinach.  

Indonesia, here we come!

Fair Winds & Calm Seas  --  Jon & Sue    s/v Ocelot
http://HackingFamily.com    http://svOcelot.com
Skype: sv-ocelot   US Worldwide Phone: +1-206-923-9714

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