Unique experience for sailing Aussie couple

Julie and Graham discussing their journey over a map of Asia onboard their catamaran ‘New Views’ yesterday.

The Swannells at the stern of their yacht.

KUCHING: One of the first things that the two sailors on catamaran ‘New Views’ had to do before docking at the Kuching Marina, was to risk crocodiles while saving their propeller from a rogue rope it picked up.

“You have to be very alert to different noises. Even if I don’t understand it technically, you don’t let anything go by,” said Julie Swannell, adding that they have to be on a constant lookout for things in the water.

Her husband Graham was the one who had to dive into the murky water and remove the rope. He said that there are a lot of things to look out for—logs, debris, fishing traps, buoys—and then there are things you don’t see coming, like ropes floating out of view.

After 40 years as aeronautical engineering consultants in Queensland, Australia, Graham and Julie Swannell retired from the skies to a new life traversing the ocean in their French-made catamaran, a Fountaine Pajot Belize they bought over from a German couple who spent 10 years sailing it.

They arrived in Kuching on June 16 for a short visit, and if all goes according to schedule, will have departed for Miri today (June 22) at an easy speed, aiming to arrive at least by June 30.

They are part of the Sail Malaysia Programme, which aims to bring foreign visitors to the country by sea.

The ‘Discover Malaysia by Sea’ campaign has attracted over 1,050 international cruising yachts from 40 countries since 2005. Visitors stay in Malaysia for an average of about two years.

Since 2008, Sail Malaysia has initiated the Passage to the East rally, where the yachts have the opportunity to travel to East Malaysia.

Julie estimated that there were around 15 yachts in their rally but the numbers ebb and flow because some yachts leave the rally, while new ones join part way.

When someone suggested the couple join a rally and go to Asia, their first thought was that it was ridiculous.

“We can’t do that. Who would do that?” said Julie of their reaction at the time. They had been sailing around Australia and enjoying their new life on the water after much careful consideration about even buying a boat.

As of 2017, they have called ‘New Views’ their home at sea for five years. Graham took courses on how to maintain a yacht—his background in aeronautical engineering meant that the mechanical aspects came easier for him.

Being a yacht owner means that you can’t expect a repair person to pop by whenever something breaks down at sea. One of the perks of being part of a rally is the support system, making a trip from Australia to Asia a bit less daunting.

“You can get advice from other people, and support each other. The rally is organised and the places you go to are determined for you, but you can go at your own pace,” he said.

The formalities of crossing international waters can be complicated but Sail Malaysia takes care of all the paperwork, a distinct bonus for first-timers.

All participants have to do is show up.

However, countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia were new experiences to the Swannells. They not only saw mountains and mountains on islands, which are largely absent in Australia’s topography, but they also witnessed nature at its finest.

“One night in Flores, Indonesia, we saw lava coming out of a volcano and going down its side,” Graham recalled.

“It was bright!” Julie chimed in.

In Thailand, New Views was buffeted by a sudden gust of wind, which broke the fore beam cross bracing of their mast, running them into the risk of the mast falling. They took down the sails and headed for shore.

“There was not very much wind before so that was nice to suddenly have 20 knots of wind behind us. I was having a lovely time and then Graham said, “I think we’re in trouble”. I didn’t notice but something on the bow had broken and we were in trouble,” Julie said.

Graham was able to reach a friend who knew somebody at Ko Phayam, north of their location. They made it there and found the workshop.

Although the people there barely spoke English, they were very excited about the opportunity to repair and craft some new parts to replace what broke, with the help of some drawings.

They averted disaster, but Graham stressed that things need to be addressed and fixed before it escalated.

While they miss family the most while off sailing, the Swannells also go home every six months to live on land before heading off to sea again.

It was their first time in Sarawak. Julie said that she likes to explore when she arrives while Graham likes to research before they go.

“Last year, we had good friends who did the rally and wrote a blog entry about it. I read it and that helped prepare us for here. When we arrived here we had to check in with port clearance, immigration and customs. But first we had to find out where they were,” said Graham, who got all the information from his research.

Fortunately for the rally, Kuching is quite well-stocked. When another boat needed a special battery replaced, a Google search was able to point them to a shop that had it.

Exploring is as simple as anchoring in a bay and setting for shore on their dinghy.

“Sometimes we go to a bay with only small villages. We drop anchor, get in our dinghy, put that in the water and go onshore. Then you just walk around,” said Graham, adding that they know limited Malay.

Julie said that they look for fresh fruits and vegetables wherever they land, and try to adapt to what the locals are eating.

“Eggs are really good. That’s a real staple for us. One of the first words we’ve learned —‘telur’,” she said.

“We’ve come to love ‘kelapa muda’ (young coconut),” added Graham.

After Miri, they will head on to Brunei and Sabah.

“We’ll finish in Tawau. After that it’s off to Indonesia to join a small rally to sail across Indonesia, then down the west coast to New Guinea and back to Australia.”

Sail Malaysia’s Passage to the East Rally began in Langkawi in April and will end in Tawau on Aug 23. For more information, visit http://sailmalaysia.net.

Source: The Borneo Post

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