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Stunning Sailing in Darkest Borneo

by Simon Farmer on 13 Aug 2010
Ulumulu - BIYC Simon Farmer
The 2010 Borneo International Yachting challenge, which was sailed over the third week of July, was won for the third consecutive year by Jun Avecilla from the Philippines in his Beneteau 36.5 ‘Selma Star'. Avecilla ended the regatta with a clean score sheet to take out the IRC racing class and the overall trophy.

In the three other classes Jim Ellis in his S&S 39 ‘Remington' took out Cruising A, Mark Blaskey sailing ‘Sari Timur' – Cruising B, and Bill Webb in ‘Out of the Bag' winning the Multihull division.

Conditions for the weeklong event which began in Miri and ended in Kota Kinabalu were near perfect with relatively consistent winds and fine weather. This was vindication for the race organizers who had made the decision to move the regatta forward a few months to take advantage of the south west monsoon. The other decision that proved very popular was the inclusion of the Sail Malaysia cruising rally in the event. This effectively doubled the number of entries making it a record fleet and one of the biggest keel boat regattas in the region, albeit without a real Racing class to head the call sheet.

Racing got underway for the fleet of 44 on Sunday 25th with a short inshore off the Miri marina. The night before a severe front passed over the coast with gale force winds that uprooted trees along the breakwater and produced a large ground swell. Exiting the marina the fleet was greeted by a 12 to 15 knot south westerly with near breaking waves across the entrance. This made for some heart stopping moments as the yachts made their way out onto the race course.

PRO Jerry Rollins sent the racing class around a three lap windward leeward course, while the cruising classes tackled the more forgiving reaching course. With two races scheduled for the day it was always going to be a battle for time before the tide made it too shallow to get back into the marina, and unfortunately a dying breeze forced the Race Officer to abandon the last race and send everyone back in.

Back on the beach it was Ulumulu, the Sydney 46 helmed by West Australian Gordon Lucas that was recorded as winner in the IRC class. That was until it was discovered that their finish time had been mixed up with one of the multihull's finishing times. This was good news for the multihull – Bill Webb's ‘Out of the Bag' which was bumped up from last place to first place, but not so good for Lucas who had to settle for second behind Selma Star. Cruising A honours went to John Potter in Jaraman, and Cruising B to Mark Blaskey in Sari Timur.

The next event on the schedule was the 97 mile race north from Miri to the duty free island of Labuan. Conditions for the start were near perfect with an 8 to 10 knot west south westerly giving the fleet an 18 mile broad reach to the corner at Kuala Baram.

Ulumulu set their code Zero for the start and quickly pulled away from the rest of the IRC fleet. Selma Star, after being beaten by Ulumulu in one of the passage races last year due to a gap in their sail inventory, had invested in a new code zero for this year's regatta. They hoisted soon after the start but struggled to get it working properly and eventually went back to a genoa.
Once around the ‘corner' it was on to the coloured sails for most boats which, for the leading boats, lasted for the majority of the race. After 16 ¼ hours of sailing Ulumulu crossed the finishing line almost an hour ahead of Selma Star but unfortunately it wasn't enough to stop Selma taking the top spot on corrected time once again.

After a rest day in Labuan and chance to get a bit of duty free shopping in the crews were ready to go again for the 65 mile sprint up to Kota Kinabalu.

The Cruising B fleet must have picked up the racing bug over the previous two races as all the boats were chafing at the bit which resulted in one general recall!

The IRC fleet all got away cleanly in what looked like a promising south easterly which had been gusting at around 15 knots earlier in the morning. This was however short lived as the breeze got lighter and lighter. The race was almost a carbon copy of the previous year with a nice westerly filling in after an hour or so of calm providing the fleet with a fast reach up the coast. This was definitely brochure weather.

There was a great deal of deliberation in the brains trust as to whether to pass Pulau Tiga to the east or to the west. The easterly route provided a better angle to the finish (in the conditions at the time) and saved about half a mile but carried the risk of being stuck in the wind shadow of the island. The westerly route provided clear air all the way but meant tackling some tricking shoals off the northwest tip and a squarer angle to the finish.

Ulumulu chose east and Selma chose west. The dreaded wind shadow lasted no more than a few minutes, and allowed Ulumulu to change from the spinnaker back to the code zero for the reach to the finish. Meanwhile further out to sea Selma were negotiating the shoals and giving tactician Simon Pickering a few anxious moments. It looked like Selma had made the wrong decision at that point as the breeze began to fade and they were forced to sail much deeper angles, while Ulumulu were sailing 10 degrees higher at 8 to 9 knots.

The champagne sailing was abruptly called to a halt late in the afternoon as thunder storms began building up in the north and east. After a few squalls, 180 degree wind shifts and a severe drenching the breeze eventually settled into the west northwest. This proved to be Selma's saving grace.

Many of the cruising fleet by this stage had lost the will and resorted to motoring the remainder of the way.
The fact that berthing was severely limited at Sutera Harbour due to the size of the fleet and an already full marina prompted the stampede. This will be looked at for next year's regatta as the few cruising boats that sailed the entire way were unfairly penalized by having to anchor off.

Once again it was Ulumulu taking line honours, with Selma winning on corrected time in the IRC fleet. Out of the Bag dominated the multihulls, and Remington recording their second victory for the regatta in the Cruising A fleet. Kingsley Barker's Court Jester took the prize in Cruising B with an elapsed time of 16 hours and 40 minutes.

The PRO announced that the abandoned second race in Miri would be sailed on the Thursday in KK for the IRC fleet. This was later cancelled as the race team were still finishing the last of the cruising fleet at 1000 hrs. Having not had a lot of sleep the previous night the PRO made the decision to abandon race 2.

The final two races were sailed off Kota Kinabalu in, once again, postcard conditions. The IRC fleet was sent off on the usual 3-lap windward leeward course for the first race, while the multis and cruising fleets were given the windward/reaching course.
Even a 6 ½ minute delta to Ulumulu in the first race of the day wasn't enough to stop Selma from taking corrected time honours once again. The rating difference between the two boats meant that Ulumulu had to give Selma around 8 minutes every hour, an almost impossible task given the current configuration of the boat. The regatta ended with a short 9 mile passage race around the islands and finishing off the picturesque Sutera Harbour marina.

So after a week of good weather and great racing the general consensus from all was that they would definitely be back for the July 17th start next year.

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