THE return of Aussie couple Tom and Fran Welsh to Miri late last year after spending a month with their children in Australia provided an opportunity for a quick update of their adventures.
“It gets costlier to fly as we sail further away from Australia, so we only return to Brisbane once a year. But in 2009, we went back twice with Brunei Air to see our new grandchild,” said Tom who owns the 45-foot yacht Hamamas.
“To keep in touch with the family, we call home occasionally but we have to be careful as there is a two to three hour time difference and we also have to make adjustments for daylight saving of one hour during a certain time of the month,” he added.
After visiting a few more places, like Bario and Lambir National Park, they plan to sail to peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.
For Swiss couple Bruno and Helena Stalder, they first reached Miri in their 42-foot yacht Helena zwo (zwo means two in Swiss-German) in September 2008. They have been sailing for the past 11 years.
They are both 61 and have a son, a daughter and a grandson in their hometown Zurich, Switzerland.
Bruno retired from his steel chimney business in Zurich at 50 while Helena was a nurse for 30 years in a private government hospital.
From landlocked Switzerland, they sailed through a series of canals to reach the Mediterranean Sea where they started their voyage around the world.
“It’s just like the Panama Canal where you have water locks and water steps except we have to go through many locks and steps on our way from Basel (Switzerland) through Lyon and Marseille (France), and down to the Mediterranean,” Bruno told thesundaypost.
The couple sailed to Cape Verde of Africa, crossed the Atlantic to reach the Caribbean where they visited Cuba, Panama, Ecuador and the Galapagos Island.
“We saw some rare animals in Galapagos like the blue feet birds,” said Helena who also mentioned about contracting dengue fever there but it was not serious — the regular medical check-ups helped.
Poring over a large world map on the table, they traced their ports of call — some 45 in all.
“These included colonies — we weren’t sure how to treat them — whether to regard them as countries or not,” Bruno recalled.
From Central America, they sailed to Guadalajara, Mexico, took about three weeks to cross the Pacific and stopped by the oceanic islands of French Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. They then sailed on to Australia, New Zealand, and the Solomon Islands.
Their voyages also took them to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, west coast of peninsular Malaysia, Phuket of Thailand, southern part of Myanmar before doubling back to peninsular Malaysia where they visited the East Coast.
After crossing the South China Sea to Miri, they visited Brunei, Sabah and the Philippines before returning to Miri. During long voyages, they caught fish for food.
“We prefer places not too far from the Equator otherwise it might get too cold for sailing,” he said.
Bruno built the Helena zwo himself, taking about five years to finish the job. His experience from making steel chimneys helped.
“In Switzerland, sailing is a popular pastime despite being a landlocked country. We love sailing in the lakes but we do need a licence to sail and have to go through the usual procedures of sailing school, training, exams and rules,” he said.
The couple prefer travelling at a leisurely pace to see more things.
“Of course, we cannot see all the countries of the world, so we have to choose.”
They also like making new friends in different countries.
“We plan on staying one to two years in each country, depending on water quality. In Labuan, it was terrible and the barnacles grew fast. It seems to be okay here in Miri,” he said.
To Bruno, the docking fees are reasonable though it’s three times cheaper in Tioman Island — maybe because it’s government-funded there.
“A restaurant nearby Marina Bay would be nice — the existing ones are too far away,” he reckoned.
To see more of Miri city, they moved around on bicycles they bought in Langkawi.
“Miri traffic system is a bit confusing due to the many one-way streets,” Bruno commented.
They have visited Mulu, Sibu, Kapit, Kinabatangan River, and are planning to sail to Kuching, peninsular Malaysia and up to Langkawi Island, depending on wind directions.
Canadian couple Michael, 63, and Sheila Donnan, 55, who own the 44-foot yacht Kantala, hail from Victoria, an island near Vancouver.
Michael, a lawyer, had worked in other jobs while Sheila was a teacher.
“A lawyer can only practise locally and not in other countries but people think a lawyer is smart enough to handle other jobs too — like being a journalist which I have been for a while” Michael told thesundaypost.
Between voyages, they have been working, and sailing on and off in New Zealand and Australia.
According to Michael, their journey started in September 1988 when they sailed from Victoria to California, then south toMexico, crossed the Pacific to reach New Zealand where they stayed for seven years before sailing several times to and from the islands in the Pacific and New Zealand. After that, they sailed to Australia and stayed there for six years.
In July 2008, they sailed to the Soloman Islands, the Philippines, Kudat, Sandakan, back to Kudat, on to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, before heading to Labuan and Brunei and finally arriving in Miri in October last year.
Michael also built the Kantala himself — it took him about seven years, doing it part-time, starting with a steel hull and using a special cement.
Sheila said they planned to stay in Miri for about a week and hoped to visit the Niah Caves.
“I would like to go up the river slowly, and see more things along the way, instead of flying straight to a destination like Mulu.
“On my first day here, I spent a whole day walking around town, and attending to some matters like immigration,” she said.
Michael doesn’t like durians while they are okay with Sheila who compares the fruits to smelly fermented blue cheese or the Taiwanese fermented tofu.
“During a treat by a Japanese friend, the last course was a Japanese delicacy of fermented beans that smelled horrible. We ate a little not to offend our host,” she said.
They plan to visit Kuching, Singapore, and peninsular Malaysia later.
Dutch couple Adri and Sytske Broekhuizen who own the 43-foot Marida, hail from Elsburg, Lelystad, Holland and have about 45 years sailing experience.
After retirement, Adri sold his home construction company. The couple, both 69, have a son in Holland, and a daughter in New Zealand.
Adri built the Marida about 22 years ago.
“I bought a Koopmans 43, an empty aluminium hull, and it took me two years to complete and furnish it,” Adri told thesundaypost.
During a tour of the yacht, Adri showed an onboard heater in the lower deck cabin which is useful for colder climate.
“I made many furniture in the boat myself — being in the home construction industry helped,” he said.
It has been about seven years since they started sailing from May 2002 onwards.
“During night voyages, we watch out for each other, taking turns to sleep for three to four hours, he added.
They crossed the Atlantic to South America and the Pacific Ocean to Australia.
In 2006, they visited peninsular Malaysia and reached Miri in April 2009.
“Miri is a nice and small city with friendly people. We have been to the Niah Caves, the crocodile farm and Lambir National Park. Perhaps, we will visit other places like Mulu and Bario later. As for local fruits, durians are too smelly but we like dragonfruits,” Adri said.
“We also got to know many yachters, and run into them at different ports.”
In Miri, Sytske loves to visit the mom-and-pop shops selling a wide variety of things.
“I can find many things just by shopping around casually. My favourite is Nam Leong supermarket. There are also many hardware shops but you have to visit different ones as each seems to specialise in a different stuff. I only have to ask around, and some of the helpful staff can tell me quite a lot and direct me to the right shop,” she said.
She said Miri had a good mix of people and expatriates, adding that “it’s modern, open, and peaceful — just what a town where people of all races can mix together should be.”
However, they felt Marina Bay needed a WiFi facility for yachters. Many good ports have them and it’s costly for yachters to subscribe to local broadbands which they said are too slow.
They plan to visit the Philippines, Japan and North America next — perhaps this month.
It is remarkable these yachters built and customised their own boats.
Many yachts have come and left Marina Bay, which is privately maintained with basic amenities.
Some of the yachts have been moored for quite sometime while their owners explore the country on land, or travel by air to other places.
Every yacht carries people with different and interesting adventure stories to tell. Many come from faraway places and they stop by to enjoy the local hospitality and what the state has to offer to keep them around.
That’s what yachting tourism is all about — providing visitors with the right facilities in and around the marina and showing them what we already have in the cities and towns.