Being flexible…pays off! Change of plans!

Originally we had planned to be in Singapore in early June, but we decided to remain in Borneo and travel to Singapore next fall. Here’s why.

All the guide books and travel brochures that are readily available here in Sabah, Borneo extol the virtues of the vast hinterlands of rainforests, extended rivers, immense caves, tropical islands and atolls…truly a nature-lover’s paradise.

With so many alluring choices deciding what to see was a real challenge, not made any easier considering the alternative of just hanging around the five star Sutera Harbor Marina and Resort where we are tied up.

Captain & crew were very content enjoying the three different pools here at the resort in addition to visiting the first class spa. And wrapping up the days by joining one of the cocktail invites from some of the other cruisers here in the marina. Yessiree…tough to pry anyone away to drive 7-8 hrs across the island to brave the jungles of Borneo and to revel in the wealth of rare flora and fauna, catch a glimpse of orangutans, proboscis monkeys and blue-hued pygmy elephants…although a pygmy elephant sighting just about had me. Carol & I managed to muster up enough interest to get the guys to rent a car and drive to nearby Mt. Kinabalu (2 hrs) with an agreed upon stopover for lunch at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Hotel. Here there was a small wildlife sanctuary and some resident orangutans’…yes! It was worth the stop. We got to see 9 month old “Ten-Ten” – held like a baby(in a onesie!) by one of the keepers.Later we photo-ed one of his older brothers…just monkeying around…so we had a nice exotic animal fix.

Baby Ten-Ten

An older ‘tang…monkeying around…

We pressed on to Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site and home to Southeast Asia’s tallest peak, Mount Kinabalu. True to rainforest form…it rained most of the afternoon driving up to the Kinabalu Park. We stayed at one of the Lodge’s in the Park that had a Camp Walla-Walla feel to it J. The five of us stayed in a two story A-frame like cottage. The weather cleared that first evening as we hiked around the park to get our bearings. The next day we enjoyed hiking some of the trails around the park, deep jungle habitat. Our short stay did not allow us the ambitious climb up the mountain but, it is quite a popular spot for mountain climbing enthusiasts.

Mt Kinabalu

About 10 in the morning Braun wandered off hiking alone and came upon a Malay/Chinese man on a remote side trail. The guy had lots of camera gear, big tripod, etc. Braun gave the guy one of his special looks – the “what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere with all that gear in the middle of the trail?” look. As Braun tried to sidestep all the gear the guy said a cheery “hello” and announced he was a “birder”. He said he had been at that spot since before dawn waiting for some rare bird to come out from behind a bush. He told Braun to listen and he would hear the bird. Sure enough there seemed to be a bird chirp coming from the clump of jungle. But this was simultaneous with a number of other deep forest sounds so Braun asked Sami (by now they had intro-ed themselves and were becoming real buds) how he could be sure of the bird’s sound? Sami produced an electronic device that he claimed could imitate hundreds of birds. He played the bird’s call, but then the real bird who had been chirping away shut up. Sami couldn’t understand why the bird didn’t like its own call being played to it, but it didn’t, and always went quiet. It wouldn’t come out no matter what Sami did. Braun told Sami to set his camera for fast action because he was going to take a stick and smack the bushes and scare the bird out. This horrified Sami, who said that technique was strictly against proper birding etiquette, and further might injure the bird. Braun had thought about that possibility but figured it was appropriate payback for the finicky bird tormenting Sami. Anyway, it was becoming clear that Braun and Sami had some differing philosophies (aggressive/passive) and so Braun bid a warm ‘good bye’ and went on down the trail.

After returning from Mt. Kinabalu it was time to start watching the weather and prepare for our 4–day passage to Singapore. In addition to weather our route required careful planning as it would lead us north of the Indonesian mainland but just south of some Indonesian Islands, all of which are areas where pirates have been known to operate. To minimize the risk, the objective was to plan for a day time run near these islands and also day time arrival into the busy shipping harbor of Singapore. The overall plan was to get to Singapore and lay the boats over for the oppressive SE Asian…just degrees from the Equator, HOT months of July and August. Then to return to Singapore in September and cruise to Thailand. So we alerted “Weather Bob” of our plans, contacted our Malaysian agent to get the paperwork together for our “clearance” out of the country, provisions were purchased, etc.

Then two days before setting off, sitting off the back of ‘Seabird’ enjoying another gorgeous sunset, Steven and Carol casually asked, “Why are we leaving”? After a long pause…we all sorta looked at one another and realized there was NO good reason to leave. We really liked the marina, the water is very clean and so were our boat bottoms after 2+ weeks. We are berthed very close to the entrance manned by a guard 24 by 7, power is good, it’s very reasonable, the airport is a stone’s throw away, accessibility to restaurants is superb…uh…the spa offers 25% discount to marina members J…as Braun likes to say and now, Steven was heard saying, “why leave fish…to find fish?” We called our agent and asked him to put a hold on the clearance paperwork. Braun & Steven met with the Director of Marina Operations, Simon the next morning. Matter resolved…we were most welcome to stay. Singapore will have to wait til sometime late September 2011.

We did what half of the cruisers on this dock have done – they came expecting to stay a few weeks but many have extended and some have stayed for years! As it turns out, we are in good company. There are two other Nordhavn’s here tied up right across from us: N46 ‘Tiger Balm’ owned by a Scotsman, Gordon and his wife, Collette Miller from the UK and, N46 ‘Arcturus’ owned by Americans, Fred and Chris Caron.

Gordon & Collette on ‘Tiger Balm’

Chris, Fred and Buster on ‘Arcturus’

Since the passage was aborted, Wayne, our good friend and fellow crew member began making plans to return home to Houston. He is our real buddy and a tremendous help on both the Pearl and Seabird. We had a memorable farewell dinner and saw him off the next

morning. The good news is he will be back on the Pearl for more adventure.

He da’ man…Wayne Davis at Corregidor

Yep…Wayne chillin’ lookin’ for a cool spot on the ‘Pearl’

Well, given we were back to ‘leisure mode’, I decided to pursue possibly another Borneo excursion. Dive/snorkel the famous Sipadan Island located in the southern Semporna archipelago (SE Sabah, Borneo). Originally popularized by famed sea explorer, Jacques Cousteau, Sipadan is one of the premiere dive destinations in the world. Located in the Celebes Sea off the east coast of Sabah, Sipadan was formed over thousands of years as living corals grew on top of an extinct volcano cone…it’s the only oceanic island (meaning not connected to continental shelf) in Malaysia. I told Braun if it’s good enough for Jacques its good enough for us!

This plan piqued the interest of Carol & Steven who were just finishing their PADI dive certification course. So off we all went to Sipadan. It took a an hour flight, hour & 15min. bus ride through lush palm-laden country side and finally a 45 min. boat ride to get to Mabul Water Bungalows. The dive resort looked like something out of Bali. A floating enclave of temple-like chalets with fifteen bungalows on stilts over a starfish strewed shallow sea floor. The resort had the whole dive thing down. Check out their website –

Sipadan is under the control of the Wildlife Dept. and is patrolled by rangers and local army personnel. Day trips to the island and its house reef are capped at 120 individuals. And you’re likely wondering was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY! Our first full day was spent diving (me–snorkeling). I swam with countless sea turtles, large schools of barracuda, huge sized groupers, white-tip reef sharks, etc. A veritable “Sea World” in the wild for all types of marine life. I had one strange encounter with an aggressive triggerfish. I was snorkeling solo and was totally taken with the underwater experience. Then this triggerfish seemed to get unusually close to me. I’m thinkin’ it must be curious, although I might have felt differently if it was the scary wall of barracuda I witnessed earlier. But it was after all just some goofy triggerfish with a bad overbite. Well as I hovered over this fish…it started to charge at me going right for my mask then around back to strike at my fins. The fish wouldn’t let up, and kept attacking so I paddled away and avoided what it was clearly trying to do – bite me. It was weird and I later mentioned it to the dive master. He told us that when these fish are “nesting” they are extremely territorial and will attack to protect their nest. The next day, at another dive location, a similar encounter occurred with Steven and another dive master, “King”. But this time the angry triggerfish yanked King’s fin right off his foot and only after the fish returned to check on its nest did the fin get retrieved.

We met people from all over the world there to enjoy the diving/snorkeling activities…the oddest sighting was not the sealife…but, in fact young women with their heads fully veiled…snorkeling and diving!

As you might have guessed, this dive/snorkel expedition is high on the list of what we’ve enjoyed here in Borneo, Malaysia.

Lush Borneo…taken when driving to the east side of the island

Mabul Water Bungalow’s entrance…seemed fitting to stay in a hotel over water

Another angle of the resort

GSSR divers headed for Sipadan Island

Starfish galore below beneath our bungalow

Enjoying the view!

The Jones’ in dive gear visiting Sipadan Island Park

Braun waving from our bungalow…

At present, we’re buttoning up the boat in preparation to return to the U.S. next week. We’re looking forward to enjoying a few summer months back home as for the past years we have been away cruising during the summers. Our updates will resume once we return on board in September.

Wishing you all a cool summer!

Over and out –

Tina & Braun

1 thought on “Being flexible…pays off! Change of plans!”

  1. Those bungalows look amazing. Can’t wait to read more about your travels. Let us know all about it!

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