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PNG, Port Moresby to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

By doina — last modified Sep 01, 2008 03:35 PM

Published: 2008-09-01 15:35:40
Topics: Malay Archipelago
Countries: Indonesia , Malaysia , Papua New Guinea

We are presently in Port Moresby and would like your advice on the best possible route and timing from here to Kota Kinabalu. We have previously sailed the north coast of PNG and would prefer a less risky route via Torres Strait.

From where you are (Port Moresby) it is not easy to get to Sabah via the Torres Strait, primarily because you want to avoid the area east of Borneo (Sulu Sea) and also getting too close to Mindanao. Going northabout PNG is a long way as you need to sail via the central Philippines.

Probably the safest alternative, albeit quite a roundabout one, is to go west via Torres Strait, stop in Bali (easiest to get the Indonesian cruising permit via Bali marina) then sail north via Karimata Strait and then follow the NW coast of Borneo to Sabah. Crossing the Indonesian archipelago on that route is considered safe and lots of boats have done it. But, as I said, it's a long way to reach Kota Kinabalu.

Good luck!

Jimmy Cornell, noonsite

July 13, 2008
Dear Sir,
I just read the article about a sailing yacht wanting to sail from Port Moresby to Kota Kinabalu. I arrived in Kota Kinablu 18 years ago on a sailing yacht, then stayed. I sailed quite a bit arond Borneo. I would like to foward information concerning the sailing conditions around this area, mostly to do with security.

The so-called "pirates" in this area are not interested in yachts, but a lot more in cargo, fishing boats etc. To warn people about safety for cruising in Indonesian waters or south of the Philippines, does not reflect the reality. However, it is unfortunately true that piracy does exist in those areas but they come from authorities like customs and port authority. Stay away from them and you will find safer cruising.

I have sailed many thousands of miles in Asia. Either "Pirates" do not like me or they are a lot less "alive" than too often reported.

To sail from Port Morsby to here is mostly down wind at this time of year. You will need a sailing permit for indonesia (if you want to stop somewhere in Indonesia). To sail on the East cost of Borneo is safe, but there is quite a bit of traffic so look out is very important.

I would suggest that you sail East of NG until the island of Wayabula (about N 02degre20) then sail south of the Tawitawi group of islands (Philipines, without stopping there). The landing could be done either in Tawau (Sabah), Sandakan (Sabah) or sailing direct either to the north of Sabah (Kudat) or even to KK (Kota Kinabalu) about 100 miles from Kudat.

You must be aware that between Sandakan and the North of Borneo it is highly advisable to follow a well marked chanel used by cargo ships. It would be unsafe to not follow this channel because there is too many unreported reefs/ shallow parts around.

Indeed, most of the passage is mainly open sea with mostly good wind. To sail through the Spices islands is very nice but will take much longer because you will want to stop to visit nice places and you will have to have a sailing permit, to try to respect dates and location etc..

Please feel free to contact me for more information on sailing in this area.

Cheers and happy sailing.
[email protected]

Dear Noonsite,

I agree with JF's reply.

A growing number of cruising yachts are travelling the route from Cape York/Darwin-Sulawesi/Malaccas-Kota Kinabalu, or the reverse direction.

The rejuvenated annual Darwin to Ambon yacht race ( now has a post race, cruise-in-company event to Manado, which can be a kick off point to reach Sabah (Tawau or Sandakan etc.) with a favourable SE to E wind. The annual Sail Indonesia event ( now has an Eastern Passage route that takes yachts north through the Malukus to Manado, then south down the west coast of Sulawesi to Makassar. In 2009, the focus of both these events is likely to be Sail Bunaken ( in Manado in late August. Hopping across to northern Borneo from Manado makes good sense.

The winds from June to October along that route are principally SE and E, and although not necessarily fresh, give a passage with the wind mostly aft of the beam. Some cruisers I've talked to in Darwin the last couple of years have seen the opportunity to do that passage, then wait in NW Borneo (Kota Kinabalu, Brunei, Labuan, Miri) for the NE Monsoon to kick in about November/December for a quick ride down the west coast of Borneo (the NE wind bends around to be mostly NW along the west coast of Borneo) to Singapore for Christmas.

Alternatively, wait out the NE Monsoon (wet season with fresher winds and lumpy seas) by travelling home for Christmas/New Year, leaving yachts in marinas or on moorings in NW Borneo (Kota Kinabalu, Brunei, Labuan, Miri), and return to cruise the Southern Philippines the next SW Monsoon season - March/April to November/December. Beautiful cruising area with cheap living, plenty of Typhoon shelters, great diving, snorkelling, fishing, shore excursions and cultural events. Plus a number of places for low-cost boat maintenance. Contact Puerto Galera Yacht Club ( for southern Philippines cruising advice.

I'm aware of numerous yachts making the route from NW Borneo around the top of Borneo and south via Sulawesi or the Malukas to either Darwin (south down the west coast of Sulawesi to Flores/Timor then across to Darwin) or direct to Cape York (Manado to Ambon and then ESE to Cape York by 1st November latest).

The annual Sandeq race ( runs south along the west coast of Sulawesi because at that time (August) the winds are apparently E to NE along that coast. This wind has been used to advantage by numerous cruising yachts making the passage from NW Borneo to Flores-Timor-Darwin. Yachts can hop down the west Sulawesi coast choosing the right weather/wind window to move. The same technique applies to the passage across to Flores and then to Darwin; wait for a suitable weather window that permits sailing or motor sailing on a favourable heading.

I also agree with JF that the "pirate" concern in the SE Philippines (Sulu Sea area) is vastly more hype than reality. Many yachts use this area. Most pass through the Sulu Archipelago at night - near to the Sabah coast - to minimise any potential interest from local boats. There have been no yacht related incidents I'm aware of since living in Brunei from 1993. Malaysian Navy activity in this area has increased in recent years with the establishment of bases in Sandakan and Tawau. Governments are very aware of the need to address and manage these potential problems - and perceptions - to facilitate tourism.

The north and west coasts of Sulawesi have become extremely popular areas for international divers. The diversity or marine wildlife in this area - and the southern Philippines - is apparently many times greater than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Island dive resorts and live-aboard dive boats with international guests are common in both these areas. Dive island resorts have been very welcoming to cruising yachts in the past.

Obtaining a cruising permit for Indonesia is not as complex as it might seem. It just takes time. It can be done remotely using emails and scanned documents. But it's certainly a lot easier if cruisers join organised events such as Sail Indonesia or the Darwin to Ambon race, with subsequent cruise to Manado. These events also have lots of organised visits, dinners and activities which immerse participants in the local culture and lifestyle.

I have cruising notes from yachts on recent passage from NW Borneo to Darwin, plus the west coast of Borneo and the southern Philippines. Just email – [email protected] – for a copy.


Allan Riches
Brunei Bay Radio
HF/SSB email and voice services for cruising yachts