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Welcome to sailing yacht Alishan

Read more about the adventures and boat-projects on board of Alishan


We started off this 4th quarter in the capital of Sabah: Kota Kinabalu or KK as we say, right on the 1st of October. We had booked 2 weeks in the marina from this day and wanted to make the most of it. It was decided that Jaap would visit Mum in Holland, who was turning 86 that month and whose general condition seemed to have rather deteriorated over the last months. How many more birthdays will she have? 2 Weeks in the Marina was not much to get this organized, but a good talk to Annie Johnny, the manager got us a whole month. That was VERY nice of her, because one reason we initially had to leave on the 14th was that thirty something participants of the Borneo International Yachting Challenge were due in that day and she had to find room for them. Now she had one more boat to work around. Why not anchor outside the marina? It looks lovely and not unprotected. Apparently it isn’t safe. People sneak on board and take off with your valuables when no one’s there. And however frightful our 2 hairy guards may look to them, no doubt they would welcome the intruders with kind meows knowing anybody in possession of 2 capable hands can open their biscuit jar.

Sutera Harbor in Kota Kinabalu.

Jaap flew out on the 5th and Marijke stayed with the furries and kept busy exploring the town and getting Q3 on the web. The marina of Sutera harbour is very comfortable. Much better than others, probably even the best marina in SE Asia. Apart from the fact that pontoons are mostly intact AND kept that way - a recent big blow had destroyed the fuel jetty and was being repaired when we arrived - there are also the swimming pools, one of which is olympic size, the gym, the sauna all with free use of towels. There are tennis courts, the golf course, good restaurants (members and visitors get discount here) and a free shuttle bus to town, all in nice resort style settings. I can see how people get stuck here.

Sutera Yacht Harbor

The BIYC rally brought some old friends and acquaintances: s/y Labarque with Patrick and Elizabeth whom we met on various occasions (e.g. Chinese New Year 2008!) since Sebana Cove 2 years ago. s/y Ambor Nectar, with Karin who came to Macau with us from Hong Kong (2007) amongst others. Karin gave us her notes on the Kinabatangan river, which we would come in handy later on.

The church of Maassluis, Jaap’s hometown and Alishan’s homeport in the Netherlands

When Jaap came back from Holland he installed the solar panel (See Q3). We now have 50% more power to run the lights and the computers, but only during the day…

Then we “did the mountain”. Mt Kinabalu is the highest in SE Asia. Before the big logging companies moved, in the dense surrounding jungle made it was nearly impossible to access the mountain, but now it’s a big (eco-)tourist attraction. The National Park has established some preservation rules: One is not allowed to climb the summit without a registered guide and one has to make an overnight stop. There are only 140 beds for guests, thus the crowds are kept down. Jaap booked his trip and went all the way to the top. An event that kept him with his head in the clouds for weeks…

Mt Kinabalu has 9 peaks, the highest is 4095m

Marijke came along as far as the Timpohon gate with the Nikons (binoculars and cameras) where a lot of new wings were seen. We found Dennis, the birding guide who drove us there, after many mails to Malaysia Nature Society and associated members. He picked us up at 5:30 am and we had a wonderful day there.

  A curious treeshrew at the gate. Dennis and Marijke with their gear.

At the end of a very productive afternoon Dennis and Marijke returned to KK and Jaap checked into a mountain hut, from where he started his ascend the following day. Dennis became a good friend and took Marijke to other birding locations in Sugud and the Crocker Range. Consequently the Wildlife part of this section got rather big and will be posted separately. Here are some other shots of the mountain.

Signs and rope pointing the way up. Jaap on the summit.

Early morning view towards Sandakan

Very steep sometimes, and not very warm.

One of many interesting pitcher plants.

Everything for the Laban Rata hut (3810m) needs to be carried by porters. They get paid by the weight. The big one on the right (a fridge?) was 73 kg!

We hired a bike and drove over the Crocker Range to the Rafflesia Center. We didn’t get to see any of these enormous flowers, but found an interesting sign.

Air coming out of the tap?

When the month was up we left the city and motor-sailed up north towards Kudat. The SW monsoon was on its end and NE winds had started. They weren’t very strong yet and as long as we hugged the coast we made good process in that direction. We anchored somewhere halfway for the night and rounded the north tip of Borneo on the early morning of Nov 4th. Later that day we entered a little bay in front of the town of Kudat where we dropped the anchor

Our 1st stop between KK and Kudat

Here we met up with old friends Kari and Aslaug on s/y Lady Ann

( ) who were hauled out at a yard just out of town and had been there for quite some time. First for a scheduled bottom job, later again for major prop shaft problems due to a faulty shaft bearing. Poor guys, there are many nice places in Sabah, but Kudat is not one of them. However, they seemed in good spirits and at this time of writing are happily afloat again, but without their companion Kata. The old little dog had to be put to sleep…

The very northern tip of Borneo

The weather was changing. A lot of short, heavy rain showers made us hurry on. We had plans before the wet monsoon settled in. Our next trip was 2 days to Sandakan, Sabah’s 2nd town, where we anchored in front of the yacht club. We had passed many lovely islands on the way, but didn’t stop any longer then necessary. We hope to see more of that on our way back (Jan 2010).

Sandakan Yacht Club, walking distance to town, has a swimmingpool, showers, bar and restaurant, but no berthing, so we anchored right in front.

Harbor scene near the fish market.

In Sandakan we had some much needed laundry and essential shopping on our list, but we also took the time to visit Sepilok, a pocket of nature where the rainforest is nearly (never completely) untouched. Most tourist head straight for the Orang Utang sanctuary, but we were more interested in RDC (Rainforest Discovery Centre) with its good hiking trails, observary towers and canopy walk. The Nikons worked overtime and the bird section got bigger.

The canopy walk at RDC and the view from there.

5 days later, November 18th, we left Sandakan with an overloaded fridge and lockers bulging with goodies that had to last a while on our next leg: The Kinabatangan River. For many years this part of Borneo and the Sulu Sea was frequented by pirates and thus considered unsafe for us yachties. But the locals have discovered the benefits of tourism and made an effort to control the area. The river is quite special, you see.

With a length of 560 km it is Sabah’s longest river, starting somewhere around Mt Kinabalu and winding its way northwest to the Sulu Sea. Logging and clearing for plantations have more or less destroyed the upper reaches, but the lower Kinabatangan is lined with strips of rivirine forest that is teeming with animals that are trapped by the surrounding plantations. There are just a few villages that until 5 years ago didn’t have any electricity. Even today power supply is quite unstable, running water comes from the river and the main form of transport is by boat.

There are some guesthouses and B&B type accommodation, mostly simple and basic, and 1 or 2 “proper” resorts that offer air-conditioning and hot showers 24/7. This is all relative, because when the river floods in the wet season, they too get wet feet and “things can be quite uncomfortable to say the least” (quoted from Lonely Planet) 

Alishan entered the river from the SE, at Dewhurst Bay, about 30 miles East from Sandakan. The seas were rough and there was a firm swell, hence the other entrance (NW) which is much closer but has a very shallow bar was out of the question.

We spent the first night close to the entrance, in front of some houses on the south bank and watched macaques and a wild pig with a huge nose roam on the mudflat at low tide. And this was the start of a wonderful trip. Not sailing wise, we had to use the engine the whole way. There was hardly any wind to sail by and the current is sometimes quite strong. That, plus the many bends makes the river just un-sailable. There were also some difficult parts where the shallow spots and little islands seemed to prevent us from crossing to the other side when we needed. We explored the tracks by dinghy before taking Alishan, whose depth is a little over 2 meter. Thanks to a load of information from other yachts we managed all right. M/v Lifeline and s/y Kantala had left their navigational details on a CD at Sandakan Yacht club and this was topped up with C-map tracks of s/y Lady Ann and s/y Helena Zwo.

Abai is a village near the northern entrance, with around 30 families.

There are no roads and no cars. All transport is by boat.

So we motored, sometimes 3, sometimes 10 miles a day and watched the shores and the skies. The first day was the day of Kingfishers. The big and colorful Stork-billed were nearly as plenty as the Colored. The next day we dropped anchor at a monkey corner and we happily watched the macaques till night fall. And again the following morning, not so happy anymore after those monkeys had kept us awake all night. Next came the day of Hornbills. Black, Wrinkled and Rhinoceros flew over. Then we had the day of the Proboscis monkeys, which of all the primates are my favorite. In between we saw storks, darters and many raptors and heard the sounds of lots more.

The big nose of the male and their pink complexion gave them their Malay name: Orang Belanda – Dutchman.

Suddenly Jaap spotted a trunk, followed by the bodies of 3 elephants standing in a small clearing on the river bank. They slowly withdrew in the jungle when they noticed us. We thought they might have had plans for a swim and dropped the hook to wait. We heard them move through the bush downstream, but didn’t see them anymore. Suddenly, at 3:00 am there was a lot of trumpeting and splashing just in front of ALISHAN. 2 Elephants were swimming. They had decided to cross the river and made no secret about it. It was too dark to see anything clearly, but we heard one go climbing ashore again while the other pottered on a few hundred meter till he managed to get out. The banks are quite steep sometimes and although these are pigmy elephants, they are really quite big and weigh hundreds of kilos.

That was very exciting and the highlight of our way up. Others were the oxbow lake Danau Pitas near Abai and a small tributary ¾ on the way. We launched the dinghy and motored our way in, feeling bad about the noise of the Yamaha, wishing we had canoes. Then, if there was a current we could drift back and that was absolutely wonderful.

The lake is half filled with flowering water hyacinths and other water plants in many shades of green and purple. They formed floating islands, slowly making their way out to the main river. White egrets, from Great to Little, speckled the shoreline, waiting for their fish and flying up in formation. Sometimes they landed in the middle of the water on bits of wood, drifting by the boat, taking off at the very last moment. There were Herons, many Purple, Darters, Storks and several different raptors. The tall reeds moved gently in the breeze. They were packed with grassbirds, munias, prinias, swallows and swiftlets. Every now and then the lot took off with a lot of twittering and the plumes would sway another way, marking the passage of “something big”. In the dark green foliage of big trees we saw monkeys swinging, while Hornbills tree hopped their way to the next fruiting fig.

Oriental Pied Hornbills

Apart from the Proboscis Monkeys we saw Silver Leave Monkeys, with cute faces and long grey hair, ever so shy. Pigtail Macaques, big, with red fur and funny hairdo’s. We noticed not only their tails are borrowed, they also have pigs ears. And many ordinary monkeys, the Longtail Macaques, living in big groups with many babies, always socially active and very entertaining.

Stork-billed and Blue-eared Kingfishers next to a Black-and-Yellow Broadbill

Flocks of Long-tailed Parakeets made noisy landings up in the trees and Blue-eared and common Kingfishers sat quietly amongst the low branches. There were Shamas, Malkohas, Broadbills, Woodpeckers. And the sounds of Bornean Ground Cuckoos. No, no sightings. We sometimes saw some movement in the bushes on the riverbank, indicating the presence of something bigger than the average babbler or squirrel. Talking about squirrels – never knew there were so many different kinds and the noise they make!!!

A blurry brown mass in a green tree: Orang Utang. They are shy and hard to spot!

This Pigtail Macacque doesn’t mind us watching him.

There are a number of cat-like mammals living in this part of Borneo, but we are not the nocturnal type so, apart from a beautiful road kill specimen, we never met. Neither did Nori and Wakame, but they experienced this river trip rather differently. At sea they have their quiet moments, e.g. when the seas are rough they withdraw, but never for long. Fish on the line or the smell of land will unXXX bring them out. Here on the Kinabatangan were no waves, and lots of landsmells, but they didn’t want anything to do with it. At one stage they would not venture outside. Not even in the cockpit. These cats, who ALWAYS came out to greet us upon our return from a dinghy trip, did not show themselves. They kept hidden inside, under the table and very reluctantly came out for food.

Wakame in hiding.

A week later, after negotiating 500 curves, 400 logs and a ton of other stuff, we arrived in Sukau, a small Muslim settlement 50 miles up river with a road and a mosque and a school. Here some power lines hanging over the river prevented us from continuing upstream. Our mast is about 18m high. We might be just OK, but if not, we’d get in serious trouble. Didn’t want to take the risk.

Here we anchored, just in front of those cables and were able to buy a few things like 100+ (an isotonic drink) and mosquito coils, 2 essentials. The shops had no fresh fruit nor vegetables, they were sold only on the weekly market, every Thursday. But there was an internet café! Hey, this is the Third World! There are better cyber facilities than in any developed country. Our phones worked as well, we were back in touch.

The boat landing and the Thursday market at Sukau

Zainal, a local, who had befriended other visiting yachts came to visit and told us about the area, where to go, what to see. He told us about a Japanese man studying the proboscis monkeys and the next day we looked him up. Ikki Matsuda started his studies 5 years ago and now held a PhD on these monkeys. He could tell us all about them and even took us on one of his trips up the Menanggul river. It was great. Thank you Ikki, for your introduction to what we call the PB monkeys. (Prison Break tv-series we were watching at night were also shortened to PB) Many times we returned to this tributary of the Kinabatangan, the Menanggul river and these peaceful creatures never ceased to amaze us with their entertaining ways and their ENORMOUS jumps. We love them too!

Ikki Matsuda on his way to work.

On these river trips we sometimes used our dinghy, but often hired a local boat. Ahmad Arsih, who had helped Ikki with his studies, now worked free lance as boat driver / nature guide and Ahmed had something: The best eyes of Sabah! He could spot a snake hidden in the branches, a broadbill in flight, an orang utang high up in a tree and many crocodiles in the night. Anybody who has a change to visit Sukau, we recommend him:

019-8732925, email: [email protected]

With Ahmed in his boat: comfortable, fast, easy to maneuver and quiet. Much better than our dinghy.

1 Month old baby croc, already fearsome with its razor sharp teeth.

A buffy Fish Owl and a Mangrove Cat snake

We didn’t see any other yachts for the first 2 weeks, until s/y PEWTER showed up, followed by s/y TONIC and s/y BARNACLE C. The Pewters were in Sukau only for 3 days, but the others stayed for Christmas. We had a X-mas potluck featuring a lot of local fresh-water prawns We all got in Ahmed’s boat and sighted the elusive gibbons!

Christmas onboard s/y BARNACLE C with John, Jane, Doug and Margret.

A local with his catch of the moment (Look well!) and a fish trap below.

The big rains of the season still hadn’t come, but every week it would rain for a day or so and we could catch enough water for our tanks. Not enough for washing cloths, so like every housewife in Sukau, we used the river.

These rainy periods brought more big logs down the river. It had given us some problems on the way up, until we figured out where to anchor and where not.

Jaap watching a big log floating by. One night another, even bigger one gut stuck on the anchor chain and caused us to drag anchor. The chain had dug into the wood, making it very hard to undo in the strong current.

You know how the grass is always greener round the corner, so is the river further upstream. So when Mr Zainal offered to take us on a work-trip to Danau Girang we were delighted. The Field Center had had some unwanted visitors with big feet and long trunks, who thought the boatshed was a playground. The caretaker needed help fending them off. This sounded terribly exciting of course. However, when we got there the elephants had left, much to their relieve - not ours.

Zainal and Budin checking out the damage at the Field Center at Danau Girang

At the end of the year s/y ALISHAN was still at Sukau, but getting ready to move down river. Marijke had made a day trip into Sandakan, using Ahmed’s brother-in-laws taxi service and gotten an extra month or 2 at the immigration office for both of us.

We wanted to spend at least a month here, knowing that regarding the time of the year it could become very uncomfortable, but by know had enjoyed it tremendously. 6 Weeks and still more to come. But that’s for the next update.

See you then.

ROUTE Q4 2009

From Kota Kinabalu to Sukau



Floats seen in Holland 

 Port of Maassluis. Will ALISHAN ever float in here?

 Port of Maassluis again

 Something from another world

Back to Borneo 

See me yes or see me no?

At rest at the most northern tip of Borneo

River floats

 The truck ferry at Sukau. At night he sometimes (!) used navigation lights… showing red on starboard (=right) and green on port (=left). So he had the colors crisscrossed. Who cares? There is no other traffic.

 Fishing float on the Kinabatanga River.

 Floating down the river.

 Rocketing around the corner.

 This palmoil barge has a sweet name: Ever Sailing!

 Type of float to look out for!

River fishing float into a grey sunset.



FUNNY (or not)

 A Sandakan street at the end of the day: not a bombing or a fire as we initially feared, but fumigation the neighborhood.

 The Butterfly Collections is…. The Malay version of sex shop

(Remember Malaysia is a Muslim country)

 What do YOU think when you get the first glimpse of this space shuttle?

It’s an oversized polyester Rafflesia display in the park at Mt Kinabalu.

Rafflesia is supposed to be the world’s largest flower.

 Sandakan Yachtclub building sports a gossip room. Now what would be discussed in there?

 In the same building is a dusty room. Haven’t found out how dusty yet.

No, it’s no joke: air is Malay for water.

s/y ALISHAN now has 2 mountains in the mast: The logo of the real Mt Alishan in the sail and Mt Kinabalu in Sabah’s courtesy flag.

Our favorite fruit of this season: Terap.

Funny enough, the cats don’t care for it.

Last: because every update has had at least one photo of a temple, this little fuku (happiness) character from the Chinese temple of Kudat.