April 10, 2006-Night Sail to Kudat.
Wings is rocking gently in the remnants of ocean waves which roll around the point and into the small basin where we are anchored in Kudat, Malaysia. We are close to the ocean, only a few hundred yards, and the wind blows over the land between us and the sea, and we can hear the low roar of the waves outside this basin, but here we are secure. We like this anchorage place, it is safe and protected, yet we can hear and feel the wild ocean so nearby.
In the pool, Aaron & Sarah
There is a resort here, and a pool. We hang out and the two American crew members from Willow are there and they hold their breaths on the bottom of the pool.
Kudat is in Sabah, in the Malaysian part of the Island of Borneo.
Malaysia is a new country for us, and the first time in a Muslim land, but it is good. The people are friendly and helpful, and so sorry when their Muslim traditions cause us some inconvenience, like when we ask if we can have wine or beer with dinner in the hotel where we are having our meal, and "No, I am so sorry sir, we have no alcohol in this restaurant." They have coffee. We drink coffee.
People ask where we are from, and we answer, "America." or "USA’, and they say, "Oh, America", or, "Oh, USA." Maybe a little wonderment in their voices but no one says it in a disdainful way or in any way which would indicate dislike, Mostly they simply start to tell us about some other American they know, or a relative who lives in Chicago or Florida, or some where else in land of the Great Satan.
Actually, they pretty much ignore us; they are used to tourists here. We walk unmolested through the shops and into the restaurants to check out the menus, and on the road back to the marina people stop to give us a ride.
We sailed to Kudat from the Philippines in a two-day passage, which also means two nights.
It was the night sailing which made an impression on me.
There was good sailing on those two nights, and some mysterious happenings as well.
Leaving Ulagan Bay on Palawan, we round Northwest Point and, under power, we head for the deep water off the Palawan shelf. The wind is light Nor’Easterly, but it soon rises to 9 knots and we set sail. With the big jib poled out on the port side and the main held in place with a preventer on the starboard, we make steady progress, wing on wing, through the day, It is thirty seven miles until the last of the shallows are behind us and the soundings disappear, but we are there before nightfall, and we turn south.
I drop the pole and shift the jib to the same side as the main and the wind is now up to eleven knots I set the windvane and we are soon sailing in the sixes.
The sun goes down and there is a bright moon already high in the sky. The stars come our. Judy and I take turns on watch. Life is good.
On my midnight to three I am sitting in the cockpit in my deck chair, which is possible only when, like tonight, the sea is flat and the deck steady, and I cannot see the compass, so I am steering, like the ancient ones, by the Southern Cross, which I watch over my left shoulder, next to the port shroud. I can also see Orion, the Big Dipper, and the Pole star, and a million others, but only the Southern Cross is in the right place to steer by, and it is my friend.
By 01:00 the moon has set and it is now totally dark. The wind picks up and shifts slightly to the southeast now coming from 100 degrees. We are sailing faster, into the darkness. Something bothers me, but I don’t know what. Maybe it is that the stars now come and go behind unseen clouds. I’ve just lost the Southern Cross! No, there it is, right where I looked a second ago and it was not there.
Suddenly a wave rocks the boat violently and throws me out of my deck chair. The sails fly back and forth across the boat and crack the air. Then it is still again Judy sticks her head up, out of the hatch, to see what the commotion is all about, I shrug; I am baffled.. The boat resumes sailing. Judy returns to her bunk.
What was that? It unsettles me.
I have other issues to attend to. The wind begins swinging to new a new direction. Soon it is blowing from 130 degrees. I adjust the windvane and the sails. Then a further shift occurs. Now it is 148 degrees. I adjust again. But the wind continues to move around the compass and I can’t keep up, it keeps turning us; we are constantly off our course. I stay busy making all the corrections.
Within an hour and a half the wind has shifted to 182 degrees and we have to be close hauled, or nearly so, to make good our course of 230.
Because there is no moon I cannot see the sky and I wonder what is up there. Is it a storm coming? But the sea is still flat.
I know that off to my right is a large area of the ocean filled with reefs and shoals called the Dangerous Ground. It may be miles away, but I cannot see in the darkness, and I don’t like the fact that we keep turning towards it.
Judy’s watch, I go below, but I cannot sleep. Before dawn I am back on deck, napping in a corner of the cockpit, but we are both tense, waiting for something to happen. We are wondering what is going on with the weather and we are both wishing for sun to rise. There have been a couple other sudden wave strikes, but for her entire watch the wind has remained steady, thankfully.
The sun comes up and the sky is non-threatening, There are no angry clouds on the horizon; the ocean is serene. Whatever malevolent presence which might have been there during the night has slipped away with the darkness. The wind even returns to the east. We ease the sheets.
The day passes uneventfully except that, once, in the bright sunlight and clear air we spot breaking waves up to weather. With binoculars we can see a brown rock sticking up with white surf around it. The chart shows shoals there, but no island. So there are dangers on both sides.
On the second night we experience a repeat of the previous night with the rapid shift of the wind to the south, only this time the wind rises and the seas become choppy. We change to the jib, and we reef the main. The speeds are up in the sevens.
We hit our turning point off the Balabac Islands and now we have to sail close hauled, hard on the wind, and still, since the turning mark, we are not able to make our new course. Only a few degrees off, we hold on and hope for a favorable shift in the morning.
Nice Day to Sail
Dawn comes on the third day and the sky is clear, the sea blue and occasional whitecaps show themselves. We sail towards Borneo as best we can, but the wind stays out of the south. We will have to beat to get to Kudat. With long port tacks and short hitches to starboard we make our way into Maruda Bay. This place was a notorious hideout for pirates 200 years ago, but now it is home only to fishermen and a few smugglers.
We know we are in Malaysia, if for no other reason than that the fishing boats are not bancas; they do not have the narrow hulls and wide outriggers that are universal to vessels in the Philippines. They have their own characteristic shape: Malaysian.
The town of Kudat comes into view, and the gold dome of a mosque. We hoist our Malasian courtesy flag, and our own national ensign, the stars and stripes, flies from our backstay.
We enter a new country, and a new adventure.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Kudat
06deg 53.5 N, 116deg 51.5E