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Brunei stopover: because even sailboats like cheap diesel

By Val Ellis last modified Aug 07, 2013 11:39 AM

Published: 2013-08-06 23:00:00
Countries: Brunei

We did not need to go to Brunei, but it was impossible to pass up this pint-sized country sandwiched inside the Malaysian state of Sabah. Why miss the chance to take a peek? Besides, they have ridiculously cheap fuel to top off our tanks- and even sailboats need diesel now and then. The kicker was when another cruiser told we could find tortillas among the imports at the expat grocery stores. Done. Sign us up.

Once the sea state calmed and we finished our errands in Labuan, we made the 20 mile hop across Brunei Bay to enter at Muara.  It’s written up as the only deep water port in Brunei, which is not saying much. We picked our way along the channel, scooting out of depths that only put a few feet under Totem’s keel.

The stopover most frequented by cruisers is the Royal Brunei Yacht Club in Muara, a haven for expats and BYO speakeasy in the otherwise dry country. It’s the kind of place that can suck you in for a while. The kids spent so much time in the pool, their hair is turning green. The WiFi meant we finally downloaded all those Microsoft updates. A reasonably priced restaurant served sandwiches with BACON (and lettuce, and tomato- but let’s face it, we’re traveling in a Muslim country, so finding bacon is gold). Heavenly. But best of all, for a bucket-laundry cruiser? A washing machine with 10 kg capacity. We used it every day. Sometimes twice.

Facilities are one thing, but the intangible you can’t buy is a lovely staff. One of the senior staff noticed that when one particular customer ordered a dish, and his wife tended to eat “just a bite” which often ended up being about half. The server started by bringing an extra plate, and eventually just split the order between two plates. The couple didn’t ask her to, but they loved it. It’s the kind of charm that’s a pleasure to find- like walking into a place where people know your name, or how you take your coffee.

But we were here, in no small part, for cheap fuel. After a few easy days anchored off the club, we set about organizing an order to shuffle by jerry cans out to Totem. Here in the land below the wind, we have needed plenty, and it’s cheaper in Brunei than anywhere in the world- at our visit, about US$1.20/gallon.

As in Indonesia, where fuel is also subsidized, as a non-local you’re not supposed to just walk up to a station with your jerry cans and start filling- but there’s always a way, even if it’s just with a smile. If a station allows you to fill, there’s usually a limit. Mornings are supposed to be the best time to make rounds, because stations are not tapped out of their government-provided fuel yet. One boat near us shuttled to multiple stations to get the ~250 gallons he needed. We worked with an expat who loans the services of a car and driver – someone who could walk the walk of being a resident and help make it easy.

Needless to say, we bought to capacity.

Behan, Jamie and crew

SV Totem

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