Layang Layang

Since arriving in Borneo we heard about this amazing dive location, Layang laying. Upon a bit of research and information given to me by my good friends of SV Infinity, I set about planning the voyage. Layang layang lies 150 miles northwest of KK and literally in the middle of the South China Sea. The small island has been a source of conflict as several countries claim it as theirs, Philippines, Viet Nam, China and Malaysia. The Malaysian Navy maintains a base there to secure their claim and they are jumpy about keeping it. Hence a permit is required to visit the island. I applied for the permit and after a two week wait, it was granted with a short time window and crew specific.

As this was an open ocean passage and the reef provides little or no protection, weather was a key element in our planning. A weather system rolled in and kept us at the dock for a few days then a window opened up and off we went. We departed KK about ten in the morning and I expected a 24 hour trip giving us a mid-morning arrival a good time to see the reef.

The passage was a delight, clear sunny skies, moon lit night and calm seas the whole way. We arrived and the well-marked channel entrance came into view. My new C-map chart on the laptop Coastal Explorer had a much more detailed chart of the island than the older Nobeltec chart on the ships computer. As we entered the Navy base hailed us on channel 16 by name as they have an AIS station there. They did not seem to know we had the permit and told us to go to the mooring and await a security team. The large black Zodiac arrived with six personnel some armed with automatic weapons. They were quite friendly and easy going—easy to be with an M-16 over your shoulder, haha. They checked our permit, passports and ships papers and wanted a layout drawing of the boat. I gave them an outdated Selene 48 brochure and they were satisfied.

After the check in we dropped the dink and headed out the pass for the first dive. We had a rough idea of dive sites but it appeared that anywhere along the outer wall would be good. We were diving with five divers in the dink so it went slow and things were tight, very tight.

We anchored the Grateful Diver on the edge of the reef in shallow water, jumped in and dropped over the reef in crystal clear 83 degree water. The view over the wall was intimidating as it dropped hundres of feet deep into the abiss. We did the wall dive at about 20-25 meters experiencing amazing amounts of reef fish and coral. No sharks!

Layang Layang is famed, possibly unjustly, for its huge schools of hammerhead sharks. People come from around the world to the dive resort on the island to see theses prehistoric creatures, we did too.

We did a second dive, and enjoyed a glorious sunset, ate a great meal and dozed off with dreams of tomorrow’s dives.

We awoke to another sunny calm day and as the girls filled the tanks I got the dinghy read. We went further up the wall this time and the current was stronger. We were busy watching the two dive boats from the resort and found the “old pass” out of the reef which we took on the second dive. Again we had a fantastic fish, a turtle and spectacular coral but nothing big.

That evening I suggested we take a small picnic to the white sandy beach on the end of the island and watch the sunset. The girls prepared the food and drink and off we went. The sunset was brilliant and we enjoyed some time off the boat.

That night the wind picked up early, we added a second mooring line to the bouy, just in case and went to our bouncy night’s sleep. In the morning the weather had not improved, the seas were too big to use the dinghy so no diving. the weather patterns seem to run in week cycles and I was very concerned we would get stuck bouncing about for a long time before we could make the trip back. I went to the resort to ask for a weather report, no such luck. Then I went to the Navy side, I was met with security guards, relaxed by serious. I asked them for a weather report, they got the guy who speaks English and he did not have one, seemed puzzled that such a thing existed. He sent me back to the boat and said he would radio the report. This never happened. So with no good indications of what was heading our way and impending problems if we stayed, we set course for KK.

The wind picked up fast and soon we were in 30 knots with 4 meter quartering seas, not comfortable but Furthur can take this with ease. I adjusted the course eastward to get the seas in a more rythmatic location and we rode it out. Later that afternoon the wind cut back to mid teens and things calmed down a bit, by dark it was a comfortable ride.

We arrived back, safe and sound in our same slip at Suterra Marina, glad for the experience and even more glad to be in safe harbor. My American flag seemed to be the only casualty of this passage.