Photo: Koh Phing Kan, (James Bond Island) rock formation
We left Royal Phuket Marina at 15:00 on a 2.5m high tide, with a pilot on board. We would not have wanted any lower tide; the depth under the keel according to the depth gauge was between 0.00 and 0.2 most of the way out of the channel, which takes 25mins to negotiate at 5knots. With all the revenue generated by the big boat yards in Boat Lagoon and Royal Phuket, you have to wonder why the government and the businesses cannot get together and dredge a proper channel which would allow access at all stages of the tide. We can see a day when the channel silts up so much, no one will be able to get into the area.
We decided not to anchor at the nearby island and motor sailed around to Ao Chalong, anchoring in Panwa Bali bay. Next morning we left Ao Chalong and motor sailed in 15 - 30 knots around to Patong Beach, we looked at other bays on the way but the wind was funneling out, making them look unpleasant. Patong Beach is an interesting place, should be renamed Party Central. We went ashore for the day on Monday, 21st January, the beach must have several thousand deck chairs and sun umbrellas, every body shape and size is visible - all the females in bikinis, with guys in budgies or g-strings, all very red and burnt. Jet skies readily for hire fly around the bay along with the longtails. Walking along the streets there is a Thai massage parlour every 50ms with the girls sitting outside asking everyone who walks past if they want a massage. Bangla Street had dozens of small and large bars with dancing poles; the street is closed to traffic from 6pm each evening, which has the potential to be very messy at night. Taxi and tuk -tuk drivers continually ask if you want a ride, hundreds of shops all selling the same dresses and beach wear line every street, there are Taylors by the dozen offering to make suits, shirts, dresses etc and unlike Phuket Town, most of the people on the streets are European or Western. Each evening sitting in the cockpit; we saw Chinese lanterns taking off from the beach and numerous sets of fireworks. Whilst in Patong we bought our iPads and went ashore most evenings for dinner, enjoying the sights, sounds and local cuisine.
Thursday 24th January, Brian took a taxi into Boat Lagoon to meet with the contractors for the boat work and by the end of the day we had made our decision and started to make the arrangements. The following day we left Patong Beach, which had become quite rolly and motored 9nm south to Nai Harn. It was a lovely night, the following day we motored around to Ao Chalong back in Panwa Bali.
Saturday we took the dinghy ashore to Ao Chalong, to catch a taxi to Boat Lagoon to meet Sharon and Kim "GeorgiaJ". On the way in we spotted "Kerris" anchored in the bay and went over for a chat. Mike and Juanita were looking for someone to celebrate Australia Day with, so over drinks we arranged a BBQ on their boat for later in the day. We left them and went to meet Sharon and Kim to view their condominium in Boat Lagoon, which we have now agreed to rent, when they vacate it, for the period when Dol is out on the hard having the refit. It is very difficult to find accommodation in Boat Lagoon or close by, so we are very fortunate. The trip into Boat Lagoon in the taxi took longer than expected; the traffic on Phuket is unbelievable, not helped by major road works. Still it gave us an opportunity to look at the shop houses that have been prevalent in all the Asian countries we have visited. A shop house is a two storied building, built like terrace houses, where the ground floor is a shop with the living accommodation above. We stopped for groceries on the way back and then enjoyed a very relaxed evening BBQ with Mike, Juanita and Snoopy the cat
The following day we motored 29nm to the Koh Dam Group of islands, anchoring in the gap between Koh Dam Hok and Koh Dam Khwan. This island group is on the Krabbi side of the Phang Nga Bay and we will work our way anti clockwise around the many island anchorages back to Phuket over the next 4 - 6 weeks. There is one other boat in the bay, our friends Wayne and Ally "Blue Heeler". The anchorage is crowded with longtails and day trippers, the beauty for us is that they will all leave early/late afternoon and we will have the place to enjoy ourselves. The islands are typical of the area, large limestone cliffs rising vertical from the sea, day trippers climb rope ladders hung from outcrops and dive or jump into the water. We had sundowners on Dol with Wayne and Ally, then a quiet evening.
The breeze got up during the night but didn't make it uncomfortable, the following day we motored 4nm across to Laem Nang and anchored in Rai Le Beach. We went ashore for drinks and dinner, what a great atmosphere Rai Le Beach has. The only access to the resorts is via boat, mainly longtails; you don't want to arrive at low tide as the wheels on today's suitcases do not work very well on sand. A bar, several restaurants and a few tourist shops are located along the beach front. The main attraction for the bay is rock climbing, there are some spectacular rock formations and Tham Phra Nang, the next bay, is a world renowned rock climbing location. Tuesday morning we took the dinghy to Tham Phra Nang (about a mile away) and watched the spiderman and women rock climbers climb the cliffs. The bay has an exclusive resort and a lovely sandy beach with food boats anchored in the shallows offering ice creams, pancakes and Thai food, yummy.
Wednesday the breeze was up and more from the east, time to move. We upped anchor, rolled out the genoa and sailed 18nm to Koh Roi, very picturesque and calm. Our friends, Stuart and Sheila "Imagine" were in the bay. We took the dinghy ashore and walked through the cave entrance to the "Hong" - room, the islands in Phang Nga bay have many Hongs but this is the first island we have visited with one. Inside the rock walls are huge, no photograph can show just how large they are and the echo is great. We had sundowners on "Imagine", it is great to be in a bay with no tourist boats or longtails, in fact the following morning as the other 3 boats in the bay left, and we had the bay to ourselves. It's great sitting listening to the sound of the cicadas and birds. We stayed the day at Koh Roi and left the following day, Friday 1st February, and motored 7nm to Koh Chong Lat - northern channel. (Koh is island in Thai).
Koh Chong Lat - Northern anchorage, is almost fully enclosed by the high sandstone rock cliffs, very sheltered and peaceful. There is a fishing village in one of the coves, but far enough away from the anchorage to not be noticed. We sat and watched the fishermen in their longtails with landing nets netting large jelly fish; we'd seen this before, apparently in the same bay the night before about 25 longtails had been netting them, and wondered what they did with them. Later as we had sundowners on Dol with Stuart and Sheila "Imagine" we discussed what they did with the jellyfish. We thought they exported them to China and Japan where they are a delicacy.
The upper end of Phang Nga bay has many shallows, the following morning we picked our way around them to Koh Yang. We had the anchorage at Koh Yang to ourselves for most of the day; a charter catamaran came in just on dark. In the afternoon we took the dinghy across to Koh Phing Kan, known locally as James Bond Island as it was used in the filming of 'Man with the golden gun'. The island is part of the Phang Nga national park and there was a nominal fee to go ashore. It was teeming with tourists, but did have some nice cave formations.
The following day we left early to beat the crowds to a couple of nearby hongs. The first was at Koh Hong, as it was low tide we left the dinghy at the entrance and walked inside. There were towering cliffs and echoes, but little water; we may come back another day when the tide is higher. On our way back to the boat, we spotted a monitor lizard on the rocks, very well camouflaged. From Koh Hong we motored 3nm to Koh Phanak which has two hongs. As our dinghy is considered large, we were unable to take it inside the hong as this one had a tunnel entrance, we played tourist and hired one of the many sea kayaks, with local guide, who took us through the tunnel into the first lagoon and then round to the second lagoon. Inside were several families of monkeys, all after bananas which the kayak guides carried with them. This is the one place we wished we had our kayaks with us and not left them at home in the garage. With the breeze in the North West we decided to motor back to Ao Chalong for a few days to catch up on emails and supplies.
At Ao Chalong we caught up with Grant and Sue "Obsession 2" and enjoyed sundowners and dinner on the beach at Panwa Bali, a lovely evening.
Photo: Vege run, Langkawi
Christmas Eve we had drinks on the back of Dol with Wayne and Ally, Blue Heeler and Claes and Laila, Comedie. Claes and Laila's children, Christina and Christopher and his wife, Mia, also joined us. A great evening was capped with dinner at the Hard Dock café. Christmas Day started with an informal champagne breakfast at SY69. We supplied the BBQ, toaster and electric jug; everyone brought their own food and drink. It was a good start to the day; about 20 people turned up and enjoyed the morning. We then had a quiet day ending with a Christmas dinner at the resort restaurant with Wayne, Ally "Blue Heeler", John, Cheryl "Sea Mist", Claes, Laila and family "Comedie".
The few days before New Year's Eve we found a walk through the forest and took some great photos of the toucans. We also went into Pantai Cenang with Wayne and Ally for an Indian meal. The New Years Eve function at the resort was a little pricey but Aisha, the chef from the Hard Dock, put on a function for the yachties, a great night with a buffet, music and at midnight the kitchen staff brought out a cake complete with candles. On New Year's Day we went to Pantai Cenang and spent 2hrs walking around Underwater world, not bad. The following day we took the dinghy across to Pantai Cenang as the shop we had wanted to visit on New Year's Day was not open.
We finally left Rebak at 09:00 on Saturday 5th January, after a final vege run on Friday, and motored around to Kuah arriving at 10:45. Before lunch we went ashore and found the only shop in Langkawi that sells pork products, including bacon. Can you believe it is in the back of a Chinese grog shop! Then it was onto the supermarket for provisions before returning to the boat and getting fuel from the fuel barge. A quiet afternoon, Brian snorkeled on the hull to see why the paddle wheel had stopped and found it had lost a blade. He cleaned the barnacles from around the paddle wheel and then replaced it, our third in a year. The following morning we walked into town to clear out, returned to the boat and moved to the "Hole in the wall" an idyllic anchorage on the north eastern coast of Langkawi, in preparation for leaving for Thailand the following day. On our way through the islands we were buzzed by the coast guard plane that flew so low we thought the mast was in danger. The entrance to "Hole in the wall" is similar to Man of War passage at Great Barrier Island only slightly narrower and then it opens out to a very sheltered anchorage. In the afternoon we took the dinghy for a blast around the various inlets, watching the Sea Eagles playing. During the day the peaceful anchorage is constantly assaulted by the many tour boats speeding around the inlets, the evening once darkness fell and they left, was very peaceful.
The following morning, 7th January, we left, listening to the dawn chorus and headed north to Thailand. We decided to take advantage of the one hour time difference and motored 47nm, anchoring at Koh Phetra. Koh Phetra is a very high, long rocky island. This is typical of the west coast of Thailand where large, sheer cliffs forming islands, rise several hundred feet straight up from the sea. Next morning was an early start, helped by Thailand being UTC+7, Malaysia is UTC +8, we motor sailed 50nm to Koh Lanta, anchoring off Had Khlong Dao beach. We are now very comfortable working our way around the hundreds of fishing poles encountered everywhere in Asia. Brian snorkeled to clean the bottom of the boat late in the afternoon, managing to do one side. It looks like we may be sailing in circles until he gets a chance to do the starboard side! The anchorage was rolly overnight; we left at 8:00 the following day and sailed to Koh Phi Phi Don. On the way, having spent the month in Rebak next to Avant Garde, Brian trialed a new main preventer system he saw on her, looks like it will work and be safer to use at sea than our old preventer system.
Ton Sai Bay was full of dive and day charter boats, this is the most crowded anchorage we have ever seen, how many day trippers can you fit on a boat. It was a hectic bay, calming down late in the afternoon as the day trippers headed home. There were also many 'long tail' boats, a canoe type hull with a long shaft propeller attached to a motor. The boats have no gears and steer or move by putting the prop in the water. After dark, we woke to a thunderstorm with torrential rain, wind and lighting. As per Murphy's Law, the flashest boat in the bay had anchored too close to us late in the afternoon and then gone ashore for dinner. We sat in the cockpit watching to make sure there was no contact between the boats until they returned and re anchored a safer distance away. Thursday 10th January we upped anchor and motored around to Ao Chalong to clear customs. We cleared Customs after lunch, an easy process with lots of form filling in duplicate using carbon paper. We then went for a walk around Ao Chalong to get phone and internet organised, which we managed for the phone but will have to go into Phuket town for the internet. We cleared our emails at a local coffee shop with free wi-fi. Our first impressions of Thailand are it is a very busy place, lots of motorcycles again, they seem to speak very little English and the Thai written language is very unfamiliar, it is impossible to try and interpret the wording so we will have fun using our Thai phrase book over the next couple of months, especially as polite phrases have different endings depending on whether you are male or female. We returned to the boat late afternoon and left the following day for an anchorage on the west coast of Phuket, Nai Harn. Once again the beach was full of beach umbrellas, sun loungers, resorts, cafes, stalls, more sun burnt people and skimpy bikini's than we have seen in a long time. The predominate accent and language seems to be Russian. Every square inch is occupied; it seems no bay in Thailand will be secluded, very different from Indonesia and Malaysia. Even so, it now seems like we are cruising again and not merely travelling, which is what it felt like coming up the west coast of Malaysia.
We were anchored off the smaller beach in Nai Harn, less crowded, and stayed for 2 days. Each afternoon we took the dinghy ashore for drinks and dinner at the beach café, or walked over the hill to the larger crowded beach. Whilst in Nai Harn, Brian put a scuba tank on, having bought new gauges in Langkawi, and cleaned the bottom of the boat; hopefully this will improve our boat speed. The weather in Thailand seems to be cooler in the evenings and we are enjoying sitting out in the cockpit after dark without the heat and humidity we have experienced for the last few months.
Sunday 13th we left Nai Harn at lunchtime and motored around to the east side of Phuket Island to the Koh Rang Group, anchoring off Koh Rank Yai bay. Graham and Anne "Kakadu" were in the anchorage and we enjoyed sundowners on their boat. The following morning we waited until just before the high tide and slowly made our way over to the entrance to Royal Phuket Marina, a pilot from the marina came aboard to take us up the very narrow and shallow channel to the marina.
It's been a busy week in marina, meeting with contractors who want to quote on the work we would like done on the boat. We have met them all, given them the details and been to visit their yards. We will now sit back and wait for the quotes to come through and then decide on our next move, do we or don't we go ahead and get the work done, watch this space. We are also slowly getting used to another culture, the language and customs, like taking your shoes off before you go indoors - including local shops. Gail has also taken the opportunity to get a haircut, long overdue.
Due to the tide depth restrictions for getting in and out of the marina, we will leave tomorrow, Saturday 19th, if we don't go out we will have to wait for another 5 days for a favorable tide.
Photo: Us at top of Mount Mat Cincang, Langkawi
What an amazing place Georgetown, Penang is. The city is a mix of cultures, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, European, a mix of religions; Hindu, Buddhism, Christian, Islam and they all co-exist side by side with no signs of friction to the tourist; in one street there is a mosque, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple and Anglican Church. It was not easy to reconcile walking through a mall with Christmas decorations, Christmas music and Santa's grotto while women are walking around with their heads covered or in full burkhas. The old part of Georgetown is a living world heritage site and we spent many hours wandering through narrow streets with old houses, shops, street hawkers and food hawkers enjoying the sights, sounds and smells. Everyone, especially the taxi drivers have been really friendly. We visited one small shop that sold every chemical known to man, stacked side by side and on top of each other, there was barely enough room to walk to the counter, we dreaded to think what would happen if there was an explosion or a fire. Penang also has numerous shopping malls, a feature of Asia from what we have observed. Whilst in Penang, we organised our visas for Thailand, our next country to visit early in the New Year.
Walking around the Heritage trail we visited the blue mansion of Cheung Fatt Tze that has been used in many movies. From there we went to a chocolate factory, free tastings and then onto several temples. For light relief and air conditioning we went to the cinema on Saturday and saw the James Bond movie, Skyfall, a typical Bond movie. On Sunday 2nd December, we had an organised tour of Penang and visited Penn Marine Shipyards, a Health clinic (interesting for Gail but not so much for Brian), two more temples, they are all starting to look very much the same, Straits Quay marina and finished with dinner at an Indian food bazaar. Tuesday we took a taxi to Air Hitam and went to the top of Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest temple in Malaysia.
The dock we tied up to with the dinghy is made up of 100 litre, black plastic containers joined together, not bad when the tide is out but if the tide is in and a gently swell is present, it makes getting to and from the dinghy very interesting and tests the balancing skills. Tuesday morning the fleet was due to depart the anchorage at 08:00 to congregate by the old Penang Bridge for a sail past and photo shoot. Zen Again, one of the yachts, motored through the fleet at 07:45 playing a reveille on the bugle to ensure everyone was up and ready. Penny, Persian Sands, standing on the top spreader, kept us all entertained during the photo shoot. Following the photo shoot we motor sailed 25nm to Bidan Island. A lovely quiet bay ensured a pleasant afternoon, however the breeze got up during the night and whilst not unpleasant as it came from directly in front, we left at 08:30 the following morning and sailed to Pulau Dayang Bunting, a small island in south Langkawi. The area reminds us of the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. A quiet night followed in the most picturesque anchorage for a while, then a short motor into Rebak Island Marina, Langkawi, which will be our home for the next month, including Christmas day.
Rebak Marina, Langkawi is home to many overseas cruisers who use this as a base to explore Asia. It is conveniently located to the airport, a free ferry ride, is totally enclosed and has a good hard stand area. The marina has a resort with restaurant and pool, where we all congregate in the afternoons for a swim and a catch up on the day's events. We have caught up with friends we made sailing through the Pacific in 2012. We had the final Sail Malaysia rally dinner at a nearby resort followed by a day tour of Langkawi. The trip to the top of Mount Mat Cincang in a cable car was spectacular. It offered 360 degree views of Langkawi and on a clear day you can see Thailand. We had lunch in Pantai Cenang, the main tourist town on the island. It has many Duty Free shopping malls; Langkawi is a duty free island, tourist shops, cafes, restaurants and bars, a lively place. The following day saw the first of the yachts leaving to start going their own way, some heading home for Christmas, others going to Thailand and some remaining in Rebak. It is sad saying goodbye to friends we have travelled with since leaving Darwin in July, but we are sure we will meet them again somewhere.
It's now time to do some jobs on the Dol. Brian is checking the bottom of the fuel tanks to see if there is any sludge that needs cleaning out, the dinghy is getting a good clean, Wet and Forget is going on the decks, interior varnishing to be done, general cleaning and maintenance, new VHF radios to be installed, winches and engines to be serviced and anything else we find, luckily at this point nothing major. Gail will do the Friday vege run, a trip on the free ferry to the Langkawi wharf where the vege man brings a van load of vegetables and other basic provisions, good quality and fresh, then back on the ferry to Rebak. We tend to spend the day working and doing jobs around the boat or going into Langkawi, then about 4pm we head off to the resort pool for a swim and cool down, sometimes followed by Happy Hour at the bar. Late one evening walking back along the dock, I, Gail, stopped abruptly and Brian walked into the back of me wanting to know why I had stopped. I had gone to curl a rope that was trailing across the dock only for it to move, it was a snake. As it turned out, a harmless tree snake that was caught the following morning and put back in the bush. Langkawi is also known for its sea eagles and we can see many of them playing in the thermals around the marina or in the bays.
For day trips into Langkawi Island, there's no public transport e.g. bus service, so getting off the free ferry from Rebak Island Resort; we hire a car for the equivalent of NZD $16 for the day. This works out cheaper than a local taxi and gives us more freedom. The cars would probably not get a warrant of fitness in NZ and you hoped it wouldn't break down, but somehow they manage to keep going and were a cheap way to travel the island from Kuah, the main town, to Pantai Cenang and anywhere in between, for the day. The evenings often include sundowners on one of the boats and or dinner at the Hard Dock Café, where an impromptu party can occur, as happened for Grant's, Obsession 2, 60th birthday.
We wish all our friends and family a very merry Christmas and happy and prosperous 2013.
Photo: Murugan statue, Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur
Time to move on. We left Danga Bay at high tide on 7th November and motored 33nm to Pulau Pisang Island passing the myriad of ships anchored off Singapore and Malaysia and motoring up and down the shipping channel. The shipping channel is like State Highway 1 for shipping, with a continuous line of ships of all shapes and sizes. Alongside the shipping channel is another for the tugs and barges, again not as many but enough to keep you vigilant. After a quiet afternoon and evening we left at 05:30 the following morning, in the dark, and motored or motor sailed, avoiding fishing nets, alongside the shipping lane, 68nm to Pulau Besar, anchoring at 15:30. Up early the next day and a motor sail to Port Dickson Marina, the next stop on the rally of West Malaysia.
Port Dickson Marina was a big step up from Danga Bay. Part of a resort complex, there was a hotel, dining room, great swimming pool, toilets, shower, laundry service, bar and a uniformed security guard who opened and closed the gate at the end of the pier for you. The complex has been built in colonial English style and is 14 years old, unfortunately the initial berth we were allocated was on one of the newer piers and did not have power, we spoke to the manager re our 240v freezer system and our reluctance to run the generator in a marina and he allocated us another berth with power. From Port Dickson we did two organised tours with Sail Malaysia. The first was to Malaka, an old port town founded in the 14th century and occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and English. Malaysia has 14 states and Malaka is one of them. We enjoyed browsing the old shops along Jonkers Walk, many of them art and craft stores selling ceramic pictures, leather goods, hand woven cloth, rugs, bags etc. One of the shops makes shoes for the Chinese bound feet, a practice that is now banned in China, and when you see the size of the tiny shoes and pictures of the deformed feet of women, you can understand why. After lunch we looked at the remains of the fort, and walked around the renovated Portuguese district. We did not know what to expect of Malaka, but it is a town rich in history and fascinating to walk around.
Our next trip was to Kuala Lumpur in Selangor state. Kuala Lumpur or as it is known, KL, means "muddy estuary" and a muddy river runs through the city. Our first stop was at the Batu Caves, limestone caves that also have a strong religious significance to the local Hindu population as evidenced by the temples and shrines within the caves. At the entrance to the caves is the tallest Murugan statue, 43m high, in the world, it certainly looked impressive being 'gold' in colour, to enter the caves you walk up 272 steep steps, a challenge for some. Next stop was the Petronas twin towers, every bit as impressive in real life as the pictures. We had lunch in the mall and then walked to KL Tower, taller than the Petronas but not as impressive. Then it was onto the War Memorial, Sultans Palace and Independent Square; Malaysia raised its own flag in Independence Square on 31st August 1957. Some of the older architecture in KL is wonderful, but the emphasis seems to be on bigger and newer buildings. From Independent Square we went to China Town for a walk around and dinner. As we were sitting having dinner at a local food stall, suddenly all the market traders started taking down their covers, removing tables and standing around. We thought it was due to rain, but then a police van drove past, apparently the market traders were encroaching over the boundaries of their leases, as soon as the van passed, the covers, tables etc were put back out again.
After a final swim in the pool, drinks for Happy Hour and dinner, it was time to leave on Friday motor sailing 42nm to Port Klang, anchoring in the river just before the main port entrance. The following morning, woken by a large ship entering the river, we left with the current behind us and a few thunder storms and sailed or motor sailed 59nm to a roadstead anchorage. Unusually for the west coast of Malaysia at this time of year, there was a moderated westerly swell which made for a very uncomfortable night. Therefore early next morning, making the most of the northerly current, we motor sailed 34nm and anchored on the east coast of Pankor Island, opposite the yacht club. Listening on the radio we heard that getting into the marina at Pangkor required a half or high tide for any vessel with more than 1.5m keel depth, we decided to contact the marina and see if we could go in the following morning on high tide at 07:20am, no problem. The following morning found us securely in the marina and ready to explore Pangkor. We spent the remainder of the week provisioning and visiting the various cafes and restaurants, it is cheaper to eat out than cook a meal on the boat. On Thursday the boys decided to have a hardware shop morning, so they took the ferry across to Pangkor Island where they knew there we several, the girls had a morning in the local mall. Friday evening was the welcome dinner, a wonderful Chinese/Malay meal where the beer flowed freely and the food was plentiful. We tried several new fruits; mangosteen, dragons' eyes and rambuttan, all were lovely; the rambuttan and devils eyes are similar to lichees. The evening ended with us, Steve and Anne, Recluse, Juanita and Mike, Keris and Ruth, Island Sonata, walking along the waterfront to a coffee stall. A lovely evening; James, the Operations Director at Pangkor Marina is a wonderful host, nothing is too much trouble for him, he has ensured all issues are resolved and anyone wanting assistance to fix items has been put into contact with the appropriate trades' people.
Sunday was a long day, an organised tour to the Cameron Highlands; we left the marina at 07:00 arriving back at 23:00. The Cameron Highlands form the backbone between west and east Malaysia and are a welcome respite to the heat and humidity in the lower regions, with temperatures ranging from 10 - 20 degrees. The Cameron Highlands is lush, thick jungle which in the depths of the jungle has elephants and tigers. It is very popular with tourists and locals and unfortunately it was school holidays and a weekend, the traffic was log jammed in the main villages, of which there are 4. We visited a Rose Garden followed by a tea plantation and watched the process for taking the leaves from the bushes, crushing, sorting, drying and fermenting them. The tea plantation hillsides were almost manicured in appearance, very neat. For the drive up to the plantation we had to change from the coach to two smaller school buses as the coach could not drive the winding hillside track, the school buses had enough problems. Lunch was in Tanah Rata followed by a visit to a Butterfly and insect garden, then onto a market garden for fruit and vege shopping. The Cameron Highlands is a big market garden area with acres of market gardens, most in covered, almost green house type structures to protect the fruit, mainly strawberries, from the daily tropical rainstorms. After that we visited a local Orangun Asti (jungle people) village and a waterfall before dinner and the trip back to the marina.
Monday we toured Pangkor Island, visiting temples, one with a mini Great Wall of China built by the locals, a ship building yard and fish factory. Fishing is one of the main occupations; there are 3 main types of commercial fishing boats, a trawler, (does not have the viewing tower) anchovy and tuna boat. We had noticed the boats were all yellow in colour whereas ones we had seen further south were red. James told us the colour denotes the area the boats can fish in, therefore we should not see any red fishing boats in the Pangkor area. The tour ended with another great meal and some shopping. We arrived back at the marina, paid the bill and left to anchor outside as we planned to leave early Tuesday 27th November and the high tide was during the early morning. However, once the anchor was down and we went to switch the engine off, the engine stop would not work and we couldn't turn it off. So back into the marina, the electrician came down to the boat and after half an hour discovered that when they had been on the boat a couple of days previously to look at a charging problem with the generator, they must have inadvertently trodden on a wire and pulled it apart, the wire that went to the engine stop. An easy fix and we were back up and running although we decided to stay the night in the marina and leave early on Tuesday. We did leave early Tuesday 04:15 to ensure we had enough water; we anchored again outside the marina and left for Palau Talang at 07:30, making the most of the current for the 12nm trip.
28th November an early start 05:40 for the motor sail to Penang: anchoring at 13:50. At one point we saw 40+ trawlers all around us, and by the look of them they were all bringing in reasonable sized catches. We will spend a few days here before moving on to our final stop in the rally, Langkawi.
Photo: Botanical Gardens, Singapore
On Saturday, our first full day in Malaysia, we took a cab with Steve and Anne "Recluse", to Jusco Bukit Indah, a large western style shopping mall, the first we have seen in a while. In the cab back to the marina we asked the cab driver what there was to do in and around Danga Bay and Johor Bahru, his reply was "shopping, eating and shopping", obviously not much in the way of sightseeing to do here. The next couple of days Dol got a really good spring clean after months of no or little rain; we cleaned the hull, polished all the stainless steel and with the tropical downpours filled the water tanks. The marina is up a river and the water is brackish and dirty with lots of rubbish, not somewhere we can run the watermaker and the water on the pier is not potable i.e. needs boiling before drinking. We quickly found the local eating spots, enjoying a mix of Indian and Malaysian food.
The following weekend, 26th October, we went through to Singapore. From Johor Bahru, it's a MR1.30 bus ride to the border checkpoint, off the bus, through customs departing Malaysia and then immigration into Singapore, back onto the bus to the checkpoint interchange in Singapore and then local transport to the hotel. The MRT rail system was great and made getting around Singapore easy. After checking into the hotel we walked to Orchard Road and spent the afternoon looking at the shops and malls, all with top brand stores. That evening we took a cab to Clarke Quay, an old fishing village in the city that has been redeveloped as an area with eateries, bars and river cruises. It was lit up and vibrant in the evenings with lots of people and entertainment, a great atmosphere. On Saturday we spent the day travelling around Singapore on one of the Hop on Hop off buses, a great way to see the sights. We started off at the Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Exhibition, a great display of orchids and other gardens. From there it was back on the bus getting off at Raffles Hotel, then onto Marina Park. We didn't know what to expect here, but we walked around the Singapore Flyer, a huge Ferris wheel type construction with pods, 165m tall, taking 30mins for one revolution. We then walked across the Helix Bridge to Marina Bay shopping mall, Marina Bay Sands hotel and Marina Bay Park. The hotel has 3 towers and across the top of them is a construction that looks like a boat; we took the elevator up to the viewing platform to a great view of Singapore. It was then down to the park, again across a walkway. The park is still under construction but consists of several displays including a pod of large glass flowers and a lake with dragonfly sculptures. Like everything in Singapore, it is artificial but does have plenty of trees and grass. Back onto the bus and back to the hotel for a rest and shower before going out again on the bus in the evening to Little India. Little India was all lit up and decorated for the Deepavali festival, again the place was vibrant with stalls and street vendors, a great place for dinner. Sunday 28th it was off to Sentosa Island, a theme park island, again accessed via a shopping mall. We spent the day walking around and watching a flying machine contest before heading back to the hotel for dinner on the river terrace, nice and peaceful after a busy day. Monday morning we checked out of the hotel, took the MRT to get a replacement part for a pump that had failed and then back on the train and bus to the border interchange back to Malaysia. How many shopping malls does one city need? Every stop on the hop on hop off bus and everywhere we went we found another one, all with top brand shops and lots of people. It's a land of apartments and shops with 5 million people on 604 sq kms of land.
Wednesday the boys decided they needed a 'boys day' in Singapore to visit hardware stores and chandlers, so Brian, Steve 'Recluse', Stuart 'Imagine and David 'Masquerade' all took off for the day. The girls, Gail, Anne 'Recluse' and Norma 'Fearless' went to Jusco at Bukit Indah for some retail therapy of their own. The rest of the week was quiet.
Friday 2nd November was the official start of Sail Malaysia with a welcome briefing and welcome packs containing a tee shirt and cap each. Sunday was an organised tour of Johor Bahru, taking in the Parliament Buildings - we had a great tour guide who was very knowledgeable and extremely interesting to listen to, telling us about the architecture, history and culture of Malaysia. From the Parliament buildings we went to Putri Harbour, a new development with a modern marina, some of the Sail Malaysia yachts are moored here and while it is a much more modern marina than Danga Bay, it is isolated at the moment until all of the development is completed. Then it was onto a pineapple museum, Johor is known for its pineapples, the lunch at a Homestay where Gail 'got married' Malaysian style to Stuart 'Imagine'. After lunch we went to a National Park at the southernmost tip of Malaysia and finished the tour at a factory shop retail complex, the end of a great day. Monday was the rally Technical Briefing in the morning with the official welcome dinner in the evening, with local dancing and great food. Tuesday it was refueling and port clearance, you have to check out and in of each port in Malaysia.
Tomorrow we are planning on leaving Danga Bay at 06:30, high tide, to travel north through the Malacca Straits, with 7,000 commercial ships passing through the Straits each month it is a busy waterway and we will need to be vigilant.
Photo: Fish trap, Tengalat.
05:30 Sunday 7th October we lifted the anchor and headed out of a very smoky Kumai River, destination Belitung, a 2 night sail away. As we left the river we spoke to a rally yacht that had left the previous evening and then spent 7 hrs stuck in a fishing net, he was returning to Kumai for repairs. Later we spoke to another vessel who suggested Nangka Island as a stop for a night to break the trip to Belitung. We discussed the option and changed our course, dropping the anchor at Nangka the following afternoon. We decided the stress of night sailing dodging fishing boats, fishing nets, enormous barges (with one small light) towed by tugs, squid boats lit up with enough lights to light up Eden Park for a night game, and ships, where any lights on a boat seem to be legal including disco lights, was enough not to consider a second night. At least one fishing boat was doing 'crazy Ivans' in front of us, making it difficult to work out which way he was going, he eventually passed within 50 mtrs of us doing a great rate of knots, none of the local fishing boats or coastal cargo ships have AIS and few show up on radar other than at very close range. We prefer to sail during daylight hours whenever possible.
We woke up to wind the next morning and decided to use the breeze and sail to the next anchorage, Tanjung Kelayang, Belitung Island, arriving at 16:00. Kelayang was a good stop; going ashore we were met by Johnnie and Madi, 2 guys who were there for the boats. They arranged fuel and a car to take us into town to the local markets, coming with us as interpreters. They also took us for morning tea to a local school where Johnnie was an Administrator. We had lunch at a local café, again good food and cheap as chips. On Saturday 13th October, we went ashore on a small island in the morning and then set sail for a 137nm overnight passage to our next anchorage. There were not as many fishing boats or ships and no tugs like our passage out of Kumai, but still enough to ensure you kept a close vigil. During the afternoon a small bird flew onto the boat and decided to hitch a ride for a while, sitting quite happily on the winch handle for the mainsheet. We dropped anchor at 09:00 the following morning in Tengalat Bay, Banka Island.
After a quiet day and a good night's sleep, we left at 11:00 for an overnight sail or motor to Kantar Island, 120nm. The night was quieter with fewer fishing boats and ships, although Brian did have a tug towing a barge at 2.5kts show up on radar and AIS; it was going to take 10 weeks to reach its destination! We did see some large, yellow sea snakes, which brought a comment about it being 'snake alley' along with lots of dolphins, the biggest in size we have seen in a while. We crossed the equator at 05:30 in Tuesday morning, 16th October, which now makes us Shellbacks and not Pollywogs, as we duly paid homage to King Neptune. The anchor was down in the bay on Kentar Island at 07:30. A quiet day was followed by a combined celebratory dinner with Steve and Anne "Recluse" and a visit from King Neptune, before retiring early.
Next day we motor sailed 31nm to Temiang; with 2 knots of current in our favour it was a quick trip. The scenery going up the coast through the various islands was picturesque and beautiful, very like the Marlborough Sounds we decided. This area looked like it could be a cruising ground in its own right, unfortunately with the 3 mth limit on cruising permits, you would have to do it from Singapore. The anchorage was very pretty and peaceful, we had a tropical shower late evening, one of several we have had over the last couple of days. The boat certainly looks cleaner after having no rain on the decks for 6mths.
Thursday 18th it was off again to Ngal Island, our last stop in Indonesia before heading across the Straits of Singapore to Malaysia. We dropped anchor at 14:00 and were promptly hit by a tropical shower with 20+knot winds, the most we have seen for a while. The anchorage was not the most pleasant and too shallow for the conditions; we therefore moved 2nm to Panjang Island. A much calmer and deeper anchorage, the skipper was certainly happier.
At first light on Friday 19th October, we lifted the anchor and sailed or rather motor sailed, out of Indonesia and across the Straits of Singapore to Malaysia. The Singapore Strait was state highway one for shipping, they were coming and going in all directions, luckily in pre designated lanes. Those that weren't moving were in anchoring zones housing 50 or more ships, barges and rigs of all shapes and sizes. We certainly needed to be awake and concentrating going across. We finally cleared the straits and made our way up the river to Danga Bay Marina, Malaysia, with little time available before the scheduled marina bus left to go to customs and immigration to clear into the country.
We certainly enjoyed our time in Indonesia. We didn't know what to expect but we were certainly surprised on the positive side. It is a vast country and we only saw a small portion of it, although arguably considerably more than most visitors. The people were very friendly, always with a smile, the different islands and regions were so diverse, each with their own unique customs and traditions. They are a nation of fisherman, certainly around the coastal areas we visited, with fishing boats of all shapes, sizes and colourful designs.
Sail Indonesia was probably not as good as we anticipated, many of the functions were cancelled or just not held. Communication from the organizers and people 'looking after us' was poor, both from Australia and within Indonesia, which made the grapevine work overtime sometimes with misinformation. Especially once it was realized the expiry date on all our CAIT's (cruising permits) was incorrect and a new CAIT had to be issued or we needed to leave Indonesia 10 days before the scheduled end of the rally. Given the amount of information available to cruisers now, the rally is not the only option or the best option for cruising Indonesia. A group getting together and organizing an agent to sponsor them into Indonesia (to secure the CAIT) could enjoy the delights of Indonesia easily, especially with the wide range of information now available on the internet, blog sites and elsewhere.