Coral atolls in the South China Sea. Does it get any better?

Layang Layang; Swallow Reef.

Imagine a coral atoll parked on top of a sea-mount, seven kilometres around with the clearest water imaginable dropping from a fringing reef to 1500 metres, nearly vertical. Then throw in the obligatory large, pelagic fish that love this sort of location, a few sharks, some turtles and all the other accoutrements of a ‘healthy’ coral reef and this is Layang Layang.  All of the rumours had suggested this was one of the places to visit off Borneo and if you are diver they were absolutely right. The diving here is simply stunning with the clearest oceanic water that any of us had seen.  Sadly the hammer- head sharks weren’t about or any of the whale-sharks and manta-rays that we keep hearing about, but then you can’t have everything.

For ten days the lagoon was to be home to the good ships Gadfly and Thyme with the only other boats to keep us company a big South African catamaran and the Malaysian Navy war-ship stationed out there. Well war-ship may be a bit of an embellishment, perhaps more ‘patrol-boat’, but it did have a very large gun on the front of it. The navy base here is pretty much off limits to visitors with signs suggesting anybody taking photos might be in a great deal of trouble, one does wonder though what constitutes trouble at LL as most things are pretty laid back? The sailors were really very friendly and more than happy to help us out with some water and to detail a couple of personnel to help carry the water back to our dinghy; the base Commanding Officer even came down to have a chat as we filled our jerry cans.

Special forces,

Special Forces Fishing Team (SFFT).


Amanda just above the drop off.

Amanda on the drop off.

As far as Navy bases go, this one thinks doesn’t really rate as a hardship posting with sandy beaches, blue water, warm days every day, bbq’s, volley-ball, fishing etc etc. There is also a big mural on the side of one of their buildings here celebrating their ‘special forces’ acumen and ever afternoon the Navy ‘Special Forces Fishing Team’ (SFFT) would sally forth on operations to teach those fish who was firmly in charge out here. On fishing, the inside of the lagoon is a marine park (hence the requirement to not anchor but rather secure to the aircraft carrier moorings) but one is allowed to fish outside the lagoon and the fishing is also very good. Simon, the original fish slayer, caught a large ‘dog-tooth’ tuna on his first sortie, and eventually worked out that the ‘giant trevally’ (GT’s) have a love affair with the entrance and every night around dusk one is almost guaranteed fish while trolling from the dinghies. Sharks were a bit active here also and Trevor managed to catch on a single lure and at the same time a GT and the head of a barracuda that had recently suffered decapitation by shark. Another barracuda lost most of it’s body about three seconds after taking the lure with the head still twitching when pulled in.

Simon and his 'dog-tooth' tuna. Happy boy.

Trevor and GT's.

The only real problem out at LL however is that other than eating, reading, swimming, snorkelling, diving, fishing and the occasional walk on the tiny strip of land that the navy and diving resort call home, there isn’t much else to do; not really a dilemma but anyway! To break up this apparent monotony Amanda suggested to the resort that if they provided some garbage bags we would clean all (that we could) rubbish off the little sandy beach near the lagoon entrance.  The resort at LL we had been warned would not even think of selling us a can of Coke, but, after blinking several times and looking confused, the girl at the desk was forthcoming with some large plastic bags. The idea became, you clean the beach, leave the full bags under the rotunda and the Navy will come down and pick them up. Ah yes, something of a transfer of responsibility there!

A beach of bottles!

Niel and those bottles.

Simon and his bottles!

Like the rest of South-East Asia most of the rubbish here is plastic, largely thongs and shoes and the ubiquitous plastic water bottles. There are in fact so many water bottles sculling around this part of the world that if an alien came to Earth here they would have to assume that plastic water bottles are the dominant life form (in the Andaman Islands this would be ‘thongs’ or for non-Australians ‘flip-flops’). How so many plastic bottles manage to wash up on a little beach in LL is, however, something of an enduring mystery.

Anyway after picking up about fifteen large bags of said plastic bottles we deposited them all under the little rotunda and reflected proudly on our attempt to improve our then little corner of the world; bet the bags are still there next year! Next to our little beach was a sign proclaiming proudly a ‘mangrove revegetation program’ currently underway in front of the beach. Well the little tubes are there but one assumes that such dubious scientific activities are more focussed on supporting the territorial claims of Malaysia to this little bit of the Spratly Islands, i.e. ‘look what good things we are doing’! What they were thinking trying to grow mangroves here god only knows. On other entertaining events, while we were engaged in our beach, cleaning program one of the resort staff arrived with a little tractor pulling a small trailer. The assumption at the time was that he was there to collect the rubbish but his explanation to Trevor when asked was, “No, I am just here to see what you are doing”!  One assumes that crazy white people picking up other peoples rubbish has to be seen to be believed.

The really good weather at LL lasted for the first five days and the following burst of intermittent and less than friendly weather coincided with the Gadfly SCUBA compressor developing a very loud banging noise bringing an end to our diving adventures; bit timely you might say. The weather was also definitely less than brilliant when we were due to leave and on the twenty fourth and under threatening skies, rain and a somewhat squally outlook we slipped away early from our man-of-war moorings for the 180 odd miles to Kudat, just around the most northerly tip of Borneo. The weather did however improve as we moved south with good winds. On the twenty fifth we had a great sail under kite, poled out headsail, full main and mizzen, whilst watching nervously for squalls. Late on the afternoon of the twenty fifth we put down our pick in a bay just north of Kudat and on the morning of the twenty sixth we secured to the wall in the pond next door to the Kudat shipyard. The next day both boats were hauled out for the obligatory bottom clean.

The top of Borneo.


One Response to “Coral atolls in the South China Sea. Does it get any better?”

  1. Julie Says:

    Wow!! I love reading this. Happy Travels Gadfly! 🙂 Love from Julie in Santa Barbara, California-USA

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