Gone cruisin’

07 degrees, 08′ 35 N 117 degrees, 06′ 96 E Anchored in Mitford Harbour, off Pulau Bangii

The cruising has started properly now. The three of us, well four, if you include the cat, set off from Kota Kinabalu and made it to… about three miles off KK. In our defence, it was getting dark and there wasn’t really anywhere else to go.

The cruising really started properly the next day, when we anchored in a bay at Teluk Ambong off a stilt village. We chose to stop near some kind of civilisation because John was out of smokes and was warning us it was about to get nasty. We took the dingy ashore and the first thing we saw were goats and chickens wandering along the beach under the wooden stilts of the houses, which were built right out over the water. There was a raised wooden walkway to the shop, where John got his smokes and a bottle of Coke and we were a source of much wonder to the shopkeeper’s tiny children. There were no roads in this village, just beach, so we wandered along and the boys all came out to say hello and pose for photos.

The girls were much more shy, a few saying hello to me but generally hiding behind trees or cars to watch us. It’s funny how kids are the same the world over – the boys were wearing football shirts, eating packets of crisps and finding it hilarious to flick the bird when John took pictures of them. There were a few snotty noses, too, and lots of big grins.

The houses were built of wooden slats and were pretty ramshackle but there was a village mosque which was a bit more sturdily made. I saw a flash 4×4 parked next to one house and another had a satellite dish. We handed over a couple of sets of headphones that we’d been given for free and a local man asked us how much we wanted for them. When we said nothing he seemed tickled pink. “Where you plom? [from]” he asked us. Malays seem to get f and p mixed up sometimes, as well and l and r.

Steve’s birthday was spent at anchor off the stilt village. I tried to decorate the boat as a surprise but it’s hard to hide the sounds of balloons being blown up and popping when you’re only 10ft away from someone. I made a cake from a packet mix of chocolate fudge brownie, a tin of bluberries and some whipped longlife cream and Steve cooked his own birthday dinner of pressure cooked lamb shanks and roast veggies.
We tried a random vegetable we’d bought in the KK market that looked like a giant, green dusty mango but, when barbecued, turned into sludgey slices of nasty white goo that went straight over the side.

After falling asleep in the cockpit at 10pm, Steve got up at 4.30am and took us off to the islands of Mantanani Besar and Kecil, where we went for a morning snorkel. That afternoon two locals came up to us in their skiff to give us three coconuts. They didn’t really speak English but Steve managed to get across to them that he had an inflatable globe that he wanted to give away to a local school.

They wouldn’t take it for us, they said, but they waited around, clinging to the side of the yacht, so we took that to mean they would guide the way over and we would follow in our dinghy and that’s what we did. They walked us along a narrow path through the forest to the school , where we gave a somewhat bemused teacher the globe. we looked around the village, which had a long jetty for the fishing boats to come in. John sat shooting the breeze with a Filipino immigrant as Steve took pics of the cows wandering the beach, eating coconut shells.

Our guides took us back to our dinghy and asked for petrol, as they were very low, having guided us a long way. We didn’t have any spare so they asked for money and I gave them RM10, enough to buy 5 litres of fuel. They weren’t happy with that but set off and then, after refilling, guided us all the way back to the boat anyway, which seemed a bit nonsensical to me, wasting their new fuel. They returned offering some very sorry looking fish for sale and we fobbed them off with a couple of cans of Carlsberg and a firm wave goodbye. It left a bit of a sour taste, to be honest, but they seemed happy enough in the end and we joked that at RM3.33 each, our coconuts were the most expensive in Borneo.

The sail to Kudat on the mainland was fast and a beat, so we were heeled over and touched 9kt at one point. Kudat was a dump of a town, off the tourist map and I can see why. We had to spend much longer there than we needed to while we paid through the nose for laundry and I had a horrible half an hour where I thought I’d lost my purse with my watch, bracelets and cash cards in it. I was really panicking about what to do about the cards, as I’m on a boat that’s moving around all the time and it’s not as if I have even a hotel address where a replacement can be sent to. It turned up at the laundrette, though, so everything was OK again.

John left us in Kudat to head off to Sandakan before going back over to the Philippines for the next few months. I’ll miss his tales of Canadian cowboy country, with bars where people still tie up their horses outside and moose run amok through newly-built glass extensions to houses because they try to fight with their own reflection. His depiction of Canada has made me want to go back there at some point.

Now we were two (plus Layla) and we had a full fridge, water, power and no real plans. We headed north out of Kudat to an island called Pulau Bangii, dropped by the village to see what was on offer (not much – the Lonely Planet says this is the ideal place for backpackers to drop off the tourist trail. There’s one ferry a day from Kudat and if you look at the island on Google Earth there’s basically just trees and nothing else). But we didn’t need anything anyway, being self sufficient on the yacht, so spent one day and night at anchor between two small islands where the current was s strong we couldn’t keep up with it swimming and instead just hung off the ladder at the back of the boat feelinglike we were being dragged through the water when we were actually completely still. A few stings from baby jellyfish annoyed that their path was being blocked and I was out of the water.

Then we made our way very gingerly to an area called Mitford Harbour, off Pulau Bangii, which, despite the name, isn’t a harbour but is a shallow patch of calm water caught between islands and reefs. We went for a sunset explore of one island next to us, Pulau Balak, and saw tracks in the sand that looked like monkeys. Just round the bend Steve spotted two monkeys running from the water to the forest, then I saw one – it was black, with a very round head, and ran on all fours, holding its tail up behind it. We saw heads bobbing in the water by a patch of mangrove which turned out to be group of eight otters having a play.

They squealed like pigs. We inched towards them and they let us get quite close, about 50m, before they rose up on their back legs like meercats then dashed off out to sea, chattering away.
We also saw jellyfish, sand crabs, hermit crabs (which emerge from their shells if you pick them up and blow on them), mudskippers, various birds and the tracks of something with hooves and heard cicadas, a gecko, a woodpecker and the monkeys chattering. BBC Wildlife, eat your heart out!

Fishing boats head past us from time to time and a vegetable seller came over in his boat offering bananas, pineapple and pumpkins. No pizza delivery boys yet. Apart from a catamaran that was anchored here the first night, and two sailing yachts going past in the distance yesterday, we’re pretty much on our own, the only sounds frightened fish flapping on the water’s surface and insects and birds calling from the rainforest.

Fond memories of Hull and Humber at the moment as we take the mainsail off to fix broken leech line.