The Schooner Raja Laut
Elegance of an Era Past

by Herman, Sunday 12 April 2009

 The Flying Dusun Blog!

Yesterday I was invited to a sunset cocktail party aboard the schooner “Raja Laut.” She is presently berthing at the Sutera Harbour Marina, virtually in the heart of Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu. Generally I am not that much of a social person and prefer staying home but the Raja Laut’s reputation had preceded her, and my curiosity was awoken. Indeed, exactly three years earlier I have seen her under construction in Sandakan on Sabah’s East Coast and I was eager to see her in real life. Thus I put on my best shirt, my black trousers, even a tie and shoes, something really extraordinary! But it turned out that I needed not have had to go to so much trouble – true to local customs we were asked to go barefoot aboard, and nobody wore a tie so mine disappeared from my neck very fast.

It was an altogether enjoyable evening, harking back to an era long past, when daring adventurers and merchants sailed the seas in just such schooners, risking uncharted waters and pirates to bring spices and other exotic treasures to the shores of distant Europe. Aboard the graceful and elegant yacht, amidst the splendid sunset nature lavished upon us one was tempted to forget for a couple of hours our often too hectic lives – precisely what the owners and crew of the Raja Laut have in mind for those who join their luxury private charters and exclusive expeditions.

The schooner is aptly named “Raja Laut,” meaning ‘King of the Seas’ in Malay – a reference to the real life Rajah Laut Captain William Lingard, a 19th Century adventurer and trader. Capt. Lingard was well known in Singapore and throughout the Malay Archipelago. For many years he sailed his own ships and cargoes between Singapore and Borneo and amassed a considerable fortune.

It was on one of his numerous voyages to Borneo that he fought a large and powerful fleet of pirates, rescuing a surrounded Dutch brig. For his conspicuous bravery on this and other occasions he received the thanks of the King of Holland, and was decorated with the order of the 'Lion of the Netherlands'. It was on account of his fearsome reputation that he acquired the name of 'Rajah Laut' among the Malays.

The Joseph Conrad character, Tom Lingard, is partly inspired by the real life Lingard and first appears in his novel “Almayer's Folly” set in 19th Century Borneo. Tom Lingard also features in two more novels by the famous author: “An Outcast of the Islands,” and “The Rescue.” The three novels are what is sometimes referred to as "The Lingard Trilogy", a group of novels based on Conrad's own experience as mate on the steamer “Vidar,” one of his earliest experiences in the British Merchant Navy at a time when the British Empire spanned a quarter of the globe

The name and style of the yacht “Raja Laut” is a tribute to the adventure and maritime tradition of South East Asia. It also is a tribute to the longevity of the gaff-rigged schooner, whose tried and tested designs were a mainstay of the golden Age of Sail. Her hull lines are typical of the European or American schooners, while her interior decor reveals the influences of Asia.

The Raja Laut was built by French designer Georges Carraz, who has lived and worked in Southeast Asia for 30 years. He has developed an intimate knowledge of the people and their boat building traditions in the region, and the Raja Laut was finished in Sandakan with a dedicated local team under Mr Johan, a master boat builder of a long line of Suluk seafarers. Indeed, Borneo – the third largest island in the world which since the times of the “White Rajah’s” in Sarawak and Conrad’s novels has inspired and attracted adventure seekers from far – is the birthplace of the Raja Laut. Her keel was laid in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) in September 2002 before she sailed, under own power, to Sabah in December 2003.

Sailing the waters of Borneo and beyond, and visiting its exotic islands in Conrad’s footsteps remains an adventure. The area has little changed since the original ‘Rajah Laut’ sailed through, and nature reserves and national parks protect some of the world’s most extraordinary natural and cultural treasures. Yet the modern traveller does not have to put up with the plight – and some of the dangers – of sailing the seas of an era long past. With the Raja Laut you sail in style and with the charm of colonial times but profit of every modern convenience, inclusive of satellite communications and internet access, and the latest in navigational technology.

The yacht’s six beautifully appointed, individually air-conditioned cabins have each a private bathroom with hot and cold water showers. The fresh water comes from the ship’s own water-maker, a reverse osmosis desalination plant that provides an unlimited freshwater supply.

Between the cabins below deck is the main salon, with large settees and a 32" flat screen TV inclusive of DVD player and an internet access point - though I presume it is not likely that you will make frequent use of this particular equipment on board because the areas you visit with the Raja Laut will keep you spellbound and offer you far better entertainment than any video!

There is an indoor dining area in case of an unpredictable tropical downpour, but most meals are taken al fresco on the ship’s vast deck, under the main boom. The chef on board will spoil you with treats from the gastronomic treasures of the area, fused with traditional European cuisine.

The Raja Laut provides complete SCUBA dive equipment and an experienced dive master to let you discover the underwater treasures of the region, and an array of motorised and non-motorised water sports equipment promises nearly unlimited activities.

At 100ft, the splendidly designed Raja Laut is now amongst the largest classical yachts sailing in the region. Let yourself be tempted and allow her and her crew to take you on a perfect escape at sea – and a perfect escape from your everyday life to that of the timeless elegance and grace of another age.


For a series of brilliant photographs of the yacht’s interior
and other impressions, as well as complete specifications and
expeditions offered visit the
The Schooner Raja Laut Website
Bookings and other enquiries can be made through their website, or you can contact Borneo Tall Ships Sdn Bhd at the Plaza Tanjung Aru in Sabah:
Phone: +6088228599, Fax: +6088 248224, Email:

The Raja Laut berthing at the Marina at Sutera Harbour

Sunset cocktail party

Johan, ship builder in Sabah




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