Malaysia - Sutera Harbour
The marina at Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu isn’t the biggest marina there is, but it has the right facilities for visiting superyachts, and offers cruising yachts a safe haven for exploration around the amazing coastline of North Borneo
Superyachts are starting to visit Borneo in greater numbers, and one of the best stop-off points to make that happen is the Marina at Sutera Harbour in Kota Kinabalu. Here, yacht owners and their captains will find safe berthing for their floating treasures, as well as plenty of amenities. Borneo, in particular the northern reaches of Borneo, offers brilliant cruising, along with some of the world’s best Scuba diving at Sipidan. Kota Kinabalu, positioned along the northwestern flank of Borneo, is also a natural stop-off for yachts that are pushing into the Philippines, or on their way towards Singapore.
The Marina at Sutera Harbour is part of a larger resort complex called the Sutera Harbour Resort. The resort has two hotels – the Pacific and the Magellan, the former more oriented to the business traveller, the latter more to the vacationer. The marina itself has a very large clubhouse, with a fantastic bar, Indo-Malayan restaurant, theatre and billiards room. There are also golfing facilities, tennis and pools. The Magellan resort even has its own private bit of beach.
Simon Farmer, who late in 2010 was appointed marina manager for Sutera Harbour, is a former superyacht captain himself, having worked the region piloting Hye Seas II throughout Southeast Asia. As a result, Farmer is very familiar with the coastal terrain around Kota Kinabalu, and with the needs of visiting yachts of all sizes. His aim is to draw more superyachts to the marina.
There has been no shortage of activity on that front. The most famous guest of the marina is undoubtedly the 93-metre sailing superyacht Eos, owned by media mogul Barry Diller. Eos undertook a lengthy cruising programme in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in 2009 and 2010, and used the marina as a best for Borneo explorations. Farmer reports that the 93-metre Blohm and Voss Mayan Queen IV will be arriving for a stay on 5 May, arriving directly from Langkawai, in Peninsular Malaysia. In addition, the marina is hosting the superyachts Andiamo and Naos, which returned to the region directly from Phuket. It is part of a growing trend of superyachts making the journey direct from the cruising waters of the Andaman Sea in the winter months to the cruising waters of Borneo and the Southern Philippines in the spring and summer months.
There is much that is positive for superyacht visitors to Sutera Harbour marina. Start with logistics – Kota Kinabalu’s international airport, with direct links to Hong Kong and Singapore, is just five minutes drive away. An owner can be on their yacht upon arrival in minutes. Further, there is a helipad at the marina (it forms part of the outer breakwater), letting owners fly directly in and out of the marina. According to Farmer, it is possible to arrange for heli-transfers from the marina to yachts, or even to destinations around North Borneo. The marina office can do that from among a couple of companies that serve the area, Sabah Air or Layang Layang Aerospace. Also, CIQ can be arranged on arrival at the marina office, and according to Farmer, it’s easier there than it is in Singapore.
For visiting superyachts, another component in the equation is material support. A short, 65-nautical mile hop away is the island of Labuan, which has a shipyard facility that has been taking on more refit and repair work for superyachts as of late. The 54-metre Sensation Yacht Noble House recently had a refit done at the yard. Fueling services can also be arranged at the marina office.
Finally, there is good accommodation for superyacht crew at the marina resort, with plenty of reasonably priced bars and entertainment to crew happy while an owner is away.
For owners themselves, there is the Magellan Presidential Suite. Frequented by the King of Malaysia whenever he visits, this suite is located in a special wing of the Resort that caters to very high net worth clients, where adjoining rooms are also of suitably high standard. The furnishings (as with all the décor at the Sutera Harbour Resort) recall the design and build materials used by native tribes of Borneo, and provide a very bold counter to the minimalist design ethos of so many modern resorts. Strangely, the Presidential suite doesn’t have a balcony (does have a Jacuzzi, private office, chambers for a butler and more). However, from the master bedroom, one can look down at exactly where the biggest yachts are berthed, thereby offering a fantastic view of one’s yacht.
The marina itself has pontoon berths for yachts from 20 feet up to 70 feet, and many of these are occupied by cruising yachts that are transiting the area between the shift in monsoon seasons (the Northeast Monsoon runs from November through till March, while the Southwest Monsoon runs from May to September). The Northeast Monsoon generally brings drier weather and slightly cooler temperatures, but temperatures are always tropical. As the “land below the winds”, Kota Kinabalu is never threatened by the typhoons that typically run from east-northeast of the Philippines and into the northern reaches of the South China Sea.
For superyachts, the marina offers 13 spaces of stern-to mooring. Though the basin itself is relatively full, superyachts can easily make the turn around just ahead of the marina entrance and back into their berth. Simon Farmer has helped several yachts do this. Entering the marina basin is also made easy by the fact that the Sutera Harbour stretch of coastline is well protected by a series of islands just offshore. Indeed, a string of islands creates a natural anchorage area just off from the marina.
The marina and the rest of the Sutera resort provide plenty of fun and sun, with pools, bars and restaurants to keep people busy. But surrounding the marina are plenty of things to do that make Kota Kinabalu a destination in its own right. Just offshore is the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Marine Park, which consists of five islands, all of which make for quick day trips for exploration.
About 150 nautical miles to the north of Kota Kinabalu lie the Layang Layang coral reef atolls, which offer good diving condition. Ironically, the presence of a Malay naval base has resulted in much less fishing, and therefore better sighting conditions.
Heading inland, visitors can try hiking to the top of Mount Kinabalu, which is clearly visible from marina. The 4000-metre mountain offers fantastic vistas. The Sutera Harbour Resort operates a lodge for guests that is halfway up the mountain, in a chalet style.
But while Kota Kinabalu offers plenty of natural and cultural sights, the main aim of the yacht visitor will be exploration along Borneo’s varied and fantastic coastline. These will be the things to contemplate for a yacht owner, sipping a cocktail at the marina and watching a fantastic sunset over the offshore islands.