Crazy squalls off the coast of Borneo

Borneo squalls

The west side of Borneo is giving us excellent squall-spotting and squall-dodging practice. Thunderstorms form most afternoons.

It starts innocently enough…just some pretty cumulus clouds giving texture to a beautiful day.


But at some point, that puff of fluffy cloud gets evil looking. Most of the time, the wind hits first, with rain starting only when the wind begins to diminish. Unless, of course, it’s an especially evil squall. Then all rules about wind and rain order are off.

Borneo squalls
the wall of rain

We’re mostly able to appreciate the beauty they bring, but it always puts us on high alert, and it can be stressful. It can be especially stressful when you are rounding a point where confused seas pile up on each other in the shallow water, where a drifting timber floats out with other debris in river outflow, and your engine hiccups because once again the fuel filters are getting clogged, and there’s a tug towing a large barge up ahead that can’t seem to decide where it’s going.

Hypothetically speaking. You know, on days like that.

Borneo squalls 
Jamie is focused on clawing our way past this squall, rounding a corner, with the full complement of stress-inducing floating logs, tugs and tows, shifting shoals, etc. Good times.
Is it bad? Rarely. Gusts rarely top out more than about 40 knots. The torrential rains give the rigging a nice freshwater rinse, and if they last long enough, help trickle feed our water tanks (especially welcome as we wait for parts from Spectra to get our watermaker running again).
Borneo squalls
A nice rinse…at the dock in Miri, Sarawak
The patterns are just inconsistent enough to keep you on your toes. The weather tea leaves aren’t always easy to read on this side of the South China Sea. We know enough to recognize that the line of clouds in the distance on the morning we take off for Pulau Lakei probably means that we’re in for more weather than the 5-10 knots from the SE that multiple sources indicated. SW and 25+ was more like it, and as the Murphy’s Law of sailing requires, coming from exactly the direction we wanted to go.

Sunset anvil
Anvil cloud looms over sunset- near Kuching, Sarawak

11 Responses

  1. It’s all quite beautiful from the comfort of my slip 🙂 And hey, that catamaran in the background of your photo looks a lot like one of our sister ships, a St. Francis 44? Do you happen to know it it was?

    1. murphy’s law of sailing? whatever the direction, it’s that zero to forty thing that makes us just furl sails (or be ready to) and wait to see how it all shakes out.

  2. I will be doing this trip soon. However I will wait for January or so. Isn’t it the wrong time of year…if you’re going south? Which way are you going? How horrific ar the floating ligs and debris? So the little ans big,boats have lights? I was thinking of making a quick trip down the coast of Borneo to peninsula Malaysia. I am considering singlehanding the trip, would be my first time. Please let me know any advice ir suggestions you have.
    Kim sv Doin’ It

    1. Hey Kim, we are now near Singapore and headed up the W side of the Malay peninsula.

      You will have better odds going southbound in Jan. or Dec even – and November is a transition month so not a bad option. We chose to do a round trip S –> N –> S again during a single season- so, one legs would be theoretically unfavorable- but the squalls are a year round event, and the average wind speeds are very light most of the time in any direction anyway, so… we look for current and bigger systems that may drive a favorable breeze, and we keep our diesel topped up (sailing here is poor).

      Thinking about your plans- do you have to go all the way S or will you cut across to mainland SE Asia? Think about where you will top up. Avoid going through the oil rigs in the dark (shorthanded) – they often have moorings that are in a 1 km or so radius, big metal vents that are unlit and you do not want to run into them. Watch for river outflows, that’s where we saw the most logs (but Borneo had few compared to New Guinea)- as well as a lot of barges or tug/tows that need constant vigilance. The entire distance is anchorable depth, but roadstead geography, so if conditions are light anchor anywhere (except on a gas pipeline!). Otherwise stay offshore, or hop from river to river so long as you plan the tide right.

      Good luck with your passage! Feel free to email us for more info – if you want we can send you our GPS track file.

    2. I envy your location for sure. I think I found crew so that’s good.i can cross over to the mainland more north but heard Kuching was a really nice place. Not a worry to miss it. What did you do? Did you stop at the Indo islands in between? Where are the oil rigs? Near Brunei? I plan to day hop until the big crossover. Leaving from Kuching or more north is up in the air. I’ve heard about all the freighter traffic and will be prepared. Did you hang around Singapore at all? I was thinking of the Daerang Marina that’s free to hang at while the boat is for sale. Did you go up towards Tioman at all? The islands around there to the north at all? I would love the GPS track file. I have open CPN. You could send it to its always nice having info of tried routes. Would love it if you had any notes of places you liked, didn’t like. Where to next? What are your plans? Maybe i’ll find you somewhere along the way…safe travels!

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