|Sail Malaysia discovers stunning unspoiled and untamed cruising grounds|
Joining the 11th Edition of the Sail Malaysia Passage to the East Yacht Rally 2014 supported by Tourism Malaysia for one of their "legs" as the yachties call them was an unforgettable experience. What immediately struck me was the sense of belonging and the sheer joy of the yachties as they gathered. Invited by Sazli Kamal Basha, the mastermind and Managing Director of the Sail Malaysia Rally, I joined the nineteen participating sailing boats at Turtle Island (Selingan Island), one of the highlights of the rally, on the way to Sandakan, east of Sabah, the Malaysian Borneo.
In the company of Data'Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin, Chairman of The Board of Trustees of the Sabah Parks, James Khoo, Operations Manager of Pangkor Marina Malaysia and one of the Rally Partners, and Sazli Kamal Basha, the motorboat from Sandakan dropped us on the white powder beach of Turtle Island from where we could see all the yachts at anchor.
The Rally provides a unique opportunity to sail through the fabulous and unspoiled Malaysian sailing grounds. All the crews had enjoyed the 15 destinations so far since regrouping in Langkawi.
Malaysia has so much to offer in terms of sailing destinations and the Rally gives sailors the benefits of being part of an international cruising community while discovering Malaysia by sea and enjoying the rally's organization, destinations, warm welcomes and the many activities organized by local hosts such as The Sabah Parks and the Sandakan Yacht Club. Also, the Rally provides safety for cruisers as they sail alongside many marine vessels along the way, but as one yachtie pointed out, "They are not right in our face, we know they are there and honestly, we are not concerned about safety, some of the boats here have cruised on their own before joining us."
I asked several of the yachties to give me their number one reason for cruising in Malaysia and all said it was for the unspoiled cruising grounds.
Moreover for those yachties who are divers the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea off Sabah is the apex of the Coral Triangle, also known as the "Amazon of the Seas". The Coral Triangle is home to the world's most diverse collection of marine life with more than 75% of all coral species known to science.
While on Turtle island, I couldn't help but noticing a "Conservation for Future Generations" board. The objective of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Environment is to ensure the conservation of the forests and its iconic animals such as orangutans and proboscis monkeys, the islands and the marine life.
and the marine life. The aptly named Turtle Island is a perfect example of the Ministry's focus on the conservation of marine life. Since dedicated hatcheries had been established on the island to release baby turtles at night, when predators such as the monitor lizard are less likely to capture and eat baby turtles, the number of turtles has increased.
Park rangers take great care of both turtles and tourists. We were taken at night to see a giant green turtle lay her eggs; tourists were requested to be silent, not to use their camera flashes and to respect the solemnity of the occasion. The eggs were then taken to the hatchery.
We were later privileged to help in the release of 86 baby turtles into the sea. Everyone found it an emotional experience wondering how many of those vulnerable and defenseless animals would survive to return to the island in the future to repeat this amazing event that has been going on for thousands of years.
The next morning, I had the chance to sail on Out of the Blue II, a Lightwave 38, Lyn and Chris' catamaran. A few hours later due to the very light breeze, all sailing yachts arrived together to anchor in front of the Sandokan Yacht Club. TV, News reporters, videographers, professional photographers were ready for the arrival and then joined us on Out of the Blue II for interviews and more photos.
After a day of well-deserved rest for the yachties, we all met again for the dinner organized by the Sandakan Yacht Club. Free flow of Tiger beer and an exquisite food buffet, speeches, the prize-giving ceremony and Karaoke made it a very enjoyable evening for everyone.
As I was enquiring about the yachties' future plans, 80% of them said they enjoyed the Rally so much that they will probably join Sail Malaysia again for the Passage to the West. The remaining 20% will cruise back to their home countries while others will use the services of Sevenstar Yacht Transport, one of the Rally Partners, to take their boat to go cruising in the Med.
On their last day at the Sandakan Yacht Club anchorage, yachties were invited to visit another important conservation project by the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Environment, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (S.O.R.C.).
Funded by the Sabah Government, the goal of the S.O.R.C. is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild after rehabilitation. Young orangutans spend a lot of time in the "Nursery", learning skills essential to living in the jungle such as the ability to find food, build nests and climb, skills they would learn off their mother. Once ready, they move to the "Outdoor Nursery" where their freedom is increased and their dependence on food and emotional support is decreased. Most animals then achieve total independence as part of the Sepilok wild orangutan population.
That's what Sail Malaysia is all about, discovering Malaysia by sea: enjoying the islands, the marine life and then going onshore to discover the beauty of Malaysia's wild life, its busy towns, the tasty food, the local market's fresh fruits and vegetables and the cultural heritage that makes Malaysia so unique.