Thursday, 12 December 2019

The last leg for 2019 – see you next year Pegasos

We left Malacca knowing that we will spend more time when we next visit the lovely city and moved on to Port Dickson with enough wind for some sailing early in the morning. The wind died off after a few hours and we motored through a busy big ships’ anchorage near an oil refinery loading dock.

Shortly after lunch we reached Port Dickson and dropped anchor close to Admiral Marina near the beach. It was a lovely calm spot.

Most of the boats had booked berths in the marina and when we dinghied in we saw they were crowded together in hot pens without much breeze. Thank goodness for the shady big pool at Admiral Marina and we lost no time in cooling off.

Many boats stayed on at Admiral Marina to go on a tour to Kuala Lumpur but Robert had made contact with an agent for the faulty radar and we wanted to get closer to Kuala Lumpur to deliver it. Port Klang has a marina and easy access to Kuala Lumpur so it seemed a good plan.

We set off early in the morning and initially the current was with us but it soon turned and we had current against us the rest of the way. As soon as we got closer to Port Klang the area became very busy with big ships. It is the main port of Malaysia and the 11th largest port in the world. Non-stop action with loading and unloading 24/7 at 3 different ports within the muddy delta.

We crossed the busy Port Klang shipping lane and anchored in a calm mangrove lined channel just off the shipping lane. There was a very strong current through the channel but it was peaceful and if not for the big ships passing in the distance it would have seemed remote.

Robert had worked out tides and currents and the next morning we left at what we thought was the optimum time to our advantage. But the current seemed to be a bit against us so we slowly trundled past the long South Port and its line of ships and cranes, grateful that we had a gap without a big ship heading our way.

We motored further up the wide river and eventually found Royal Selangor Yacht Club. We had considered leaving Pegasos at RSYC for about 5 months until our return next year but we immediately noticed the vast amount of rubbish moving downstream. Much of the rubbish collects between the boats and the jetties resulting in smelly piles of refuse jammed between the boats and the jetties.

In addition to the endless stream of rubbish moving back and forth with the tides, RSYC has a channel between its mooring jetties which is used by big trawlers, smaller fishing boats, power boats and just about every other speeding craft which sends big wakes crashing against the boats tied to the jetties. We quickly decided this wasn’t a good place to leave Pegasos.

The advantage of RSYC is their big swimming pool and even bigger restaurant with an extensive menu.

Robert made further contact with the agent for the faulty radar and much to our surprise one of their guys came to collect it from us at the marina saving us a trip into Kuala Lumpur. Their technician is away for a couple of weeks so we wait and see what transpires – repair or replace as it is still under warranty.

We were keen to get out of Port Klang as quickly as possible but the complex tidal system in the delta meant that we could only leave in the afternoon. And so we set off under a black cloud – which is often the case in the afternoons as it rains daily. We hadn’t got far when the thunderstorm broke and it started raining heavily, probably the heaviest rain we’ve had so far. Visibility was very poor and we’re in a busy shipping channel. We kept the spray dodger down to see better but we got horribly drenched in the cockpit. We got as far as the North Port loading docks and decided we had enough so we moved over to the edge of the channel where it is too shallow for any big ships and dropped the anchor next to mangroves. Robert closed up the tent covers and I had a warm shower and it turned out to be a peaceful anchorage although it rained for hours.

We caught the morning tide early and set off with the current, motoring along at over 7 knots for the first few hours. We passed a bizarre sight of hundreds of people standing in the ocean – what it turned out to be is a sandbank in the strait which dries out at certain high tides and lots of little boats ferrying people from the shore to the sandbank to experience the phenomenon of “standing on the sea” with boats passing around.

The whole area is very busy with trawlers and smaller fishing boats. Some of the trawlers had AIS but many did not and so it was a constant look out, especially for nets strung out from the smaller fishing boats. The trawlers move under 3 knots when they drag their nets but can move exceptionally fast when heading out to sea. We saw a trawler coming closer from slightly behind our starboard side heading towards us. We kept an eye on it and got worried when it didn’t change direction and was moving much faster than us. Through binoculars I could see no one above deck! In the end we did a full 360 deg turn to avoid being hit by the trawler. At the last moment a few heads popped up on it looking surprised. They clearly hadn’t seen us. One of the other rally boats was not so lucky in the same area and got hit by a trawler in the front with enough damage to its crossbeam and its mast fell over.

We also received several SART alerts on our AIS which is a signal from a Search and Rescue Transponder intended for emergency use at sea and is used to locate a vessel in distress. Normally closest boats would respond to save lives. However these alerts were originating from close to the shoreline and we had read that the local fishermen in this area use these transponders to locate their fishing nets! Insane behaviour. It’s a wonder that the Malaysian authorities don’t do anything to stop it.

By lunchtime we no longer had the current with us and the wind was in the front so the afternoon was a bumpy and swelly ride. Very tedious 11 hours to cover 62 miles. Entering the river mouth of Sungai Bernam is a bit tricky as it is extremely shallow in places. We crept along watching the depth and two trawlers overtook us, clearly following their waypoints. Good enough for us so we sat behind one of the trawlers following it. We moved off to the side of the wide mouth and anchored in only 1 metre! We had heard lots of stories about fishing boats crashing into anchored yachts in this area so we put on all the nav lights, dangled a flashing light and kept an inside light on.

Nothing hit us during the night and the next morning we set off for our most northerly anchorage in this leg – Pangkor Marina. It was a pleasant motor sail dodging a few trawlers along the way. The marina was fully booked with rally boats so we joined a few anchored on the outside of the marina. Luckily we have a shallow draft so we anchored as close as possible and ended up just outside the entrance within paddling distance of the bar – convenient! A catamaran tried the same area but it was too shallow for them and they backed off. As Robert later told them it’s a trimaran puddle.

The marina arranged a tour to Pangkor Island for the rally participants. We all crossed the gap by ferry and piled into pink taxis.

We visited the ruins of a Dutch fort build in 1670.

As well as Fu Lin Kong Temple, a decorative Taoist temple built over a 100 years ago with lovely gardens and ponds with terrapins.

Less appealing was a visit to a factory outlet that makes the fishy smelling dry snacks so beloved by Malaysians.

Lunch was the highlight in an exquisite beach setting in Nipah Bay. Tables and chairs were set up under large shady trees and a great lunch was served by Nipah Deli. We swam after lunch in the very warm calm water. We could have stayed there for days and earmarked the bay as an anchorage for next year.
Lots of beers were provided for the thirsty crowd.

The next day we had to clear in at Immigration, Port Authority and Customs – as usual all 3 are not in the same street, not even in the same district and we had to hire a scooter and buzz around from one to the other filling in forms and having bits of papers stamped. Although we checked into Malaysia at Puteri Harbour, all ports in Malaysia have check in/check out requirements for boats – a pain in the rear but at least the paperwork is processed with far less hassle than in Indonesia and the various offices made their own photocopies.

We found Aeon shopping centre, the big attraction as always being the aircon. We stocked up on a few provisions but mainly enjoyed the aircon and food court. On one of our scooter outings, we found a buddhist temple - Tua Pek Kong Temple in the nearby Manjung district. It started off about 100 years ago but has seen much more recent construction and now covers a wide area. The statues are absolutely enormous!

Giant size statues compared to me standing in the foreground.

We treated ourselves to a 3 day tour of the Cameron Highlands staying at a 4 star hotel. The luxury bus, accommodation and guide was arranged by the Sail Malaysia organisors, the cost for ourselves. A bit pricey but an opportunity that we probably wouldn’t do again and a nice way to end off this leg of our furthermost north sail to date. 22 of us set off on a long windy road heading inland and upwards.

The Cameron Highlands is a high mountainous area first surveyed by the British geologist William Cameron in 1885. It was further developed in the 1930’s as people saw the opportunity to escape from the heat as the Cameron Highlands is high enough for a cool climate. In fact for the first time in many months we wore long sleeves and coats! The area is famous for its tea estates and farmlands and very scenic countryside.

Our guide took us on tours of tea estates, strawberry farms, flower gardens, butterfly park, “honey farm” (yes it’s really just hives) and a waterfall.

The scenery was spectacular, beautiful cultivated hillsides and mist swirling around mountain tops in the morning.

It’s also crowded with tourists and some of the attractions felt rather contrived. In some places the ratio of vendors to product was overwhelming, everyone selling the same tourist tat (made in China). The fresh fruit and vegetable markets were of excellent quality and we came back with bags of fresh produce.

Big Rajah Brooke butterflies

What to do with your old wellies

Blue orchids

Slipper orchids

All in all the Cameron Highlands was a great experience, interesting and fun with our fellow travellers.
On our return to Pangkor we were happy to see Pegasos hadn't moved in our 3 day absence. We had decided to leave Pegasos at Admiral Marina in Port Dickson while we go home to SA so we needed to go back south again taking a few days to get there.

When we got to Port Klang and contacted the radar agent, we learned that the Australian B&G agent would send a replacement at our cost for freight and duties! And not only that, we have to pay the freight return costs for the faulty radar too! What a cheek to pay international freight costs for something which will be discarded anyway. This is actually the second faulty radar from B&G the first one was faulty on arrival and we paid the return costs at the time. Not a satisfactory outcome for a radar that worked for only a few days but B&G have us by the short and curlies.

We carried on back south until we reached Port Dickson and anchored off the beach near the town. We had to do the usual clearing in at Immigration, Customs and Port Authority. A young man was the only official at Port Authority and at the end of our form filling and stamping session he said the cost is MYR50. For what we asked. He hedged and mumbled something about port charges. We dug our heels in. He got irritated at our refusal to pay unless the reason was clearly stated and waved us off with some comments. He's not good with extortion.

The next day we motored into Admiral Marina and tied up. This will be Pegasos' home for the next 5 months while we fly back to SA for summer.

We've come a long way on this trip: 1600 Nautical Miles from Lombok, Indonesia to Port Dickson, Malaysia.

It's been a jam-packed busy trip - the highlight was definitely the orangutan tour in Borneo but there were many other great times especially with the rally crowd. Next year we hope to sail the east coast of Malaysia at our own pace with Pegasos. Have a good rest Pegasos, see you in May 2020.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Hello Malaysia!

Crossing the Singapore Strait in a small boat is not for the faint-hearted. It is one of the busiest commercial shipping channels in the world with super tankers and ships of all kinds passing through it every few minutes. It has a Traffic Separation Scheme which means that eastbound ships pass in the south lanes and westbound ships pass in the north lanes – at any given time ships are also moving into and out of the strait to various ports or big anchorages within the strait. 

This is what our AIS screen looked like. The green and yellow triangles are ships, the red boat icon lower middle of the screen is us, and the blue line is our planned route.

So of course we did our research carefully, taking into account the currents and boat speeds and the large ship anchorage area in the middle that allowed us to cross one lane at a time. Still it looked hectic.

We set off from the Indonesian side early in the morning and waited at the edge of the south lanes for a gap in the shipping traffic and then we upped the engine speed and motored across as quickly as we could. So far so good. We moved through the middle anchorage area staying far away from the bigger boats. We waited longer at the edge of the north lanes as it was busier and more boats were moving into the strait from Malaysian ports.

We got a gap and motored hurriedly. About 90% of the way across, a Singapore police boat called us up on the radio and came alongside asking us to stop. They wanted details of our passports, etc. We hurriedly gave them the info and then they asked us to accompany them back towards the middle – eeek! – we really didn’t want to repeat this crossing exercise. While they laboriously captured our info, we kept looking around anxiously at approaching tankers.

The Singapore police waved us on saying we should follow a passing navy ship’s route (going much faster than us) and stay further away from the Singapore area. We complied for a short while and then dodged around a large anchored boat into a side anchorage off the channel.

We wound our way around the big ships anchored keeping an eye out for those still moving with tugs.

We passed through the anchorage and went up the Johor Strait – Singapore on one side and Malaysia on the other side. We soon passed a group of high rise buildings and we knew we were no longer in Indonesia – we hadn’t seen a building over two storeys in months.

We passed under the Tuas bridge which links Malaysia and Indonesia. It has a clearance of 25 metres at high tide – we knew we could pass under but the closer we got, the more it seemed that the mast would touch. Of course, it didn’t.

After a couple of hours we reached Puteri Harbour and berthed at 1’15 Marina and went to the Marina office to arrange clear in. Immigration was quick and easy, the official barely looked at our passports, stamped and we were waved back into the Marina shuttle bus and taken back to the marina about 500m away!

We spent about 2 weeks at 1’15 Marina – it was incredibly hot and humid with barely a breeze in the marina and the heavily polluted water is not for swimming. One day our neighbour on the next boat fell into the water as he was cleaning a mat. I rushed over to help and later he said “You didn’t jump in to save me” and I replied “You would have drowned before I jump in that water.” Robert set about attending to the various boat jobs saved up for the time spent in the marina, and one of them was getting the aircon to work. We had never used it since we bought the boat in 2017 but I was feeling faint in the intense heat. Luckily he got it right and I was so happy! Pure bliss inside the boat, the deck was too hot to walk on and the tent structure too hot to touch. We spent a lot of time sitting in front of the aircon.

One of Robert’s jobs was taking the faulty radar down:

After sunset when the air cooled down, we occasionally met up with the other rally people for drinks or dinner at the nearby bars and restaurants.

The highlight was being in a pub watching the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup, made even more enjoyable by a few Brits nearby who were crowing loudly about their team but became much quieter as the game progressed while we got louder.

Puteri Harbour is a strange place – it has many high rise residential blocks but hardly anyone living in them. Wide 3 lane roads but few cars on them. All new and landscaped with wide pavements and newly planted big trees. It’s like a brand new ghost town waiting for people to happen. The locals said the buildings are built for the richer Chinese who work in Singapore and cross over the congested Tuas bridge everyday.

All of these buildings have few occupants
Wide landscaped pavements waiting for pedestrians

After the sparse shops in Indonesia, we were delighted to find a huge western style supermarket with goods from all over the world (at a price) and a non-Moslem section selling a large range of beers, bacon, etc. It had fantastic air-con.

No visit would be complete without a trip to the street night market, away from the modern buildings where tasty (and some not so tasty) strange traditional foods add to the experience.

One day we took a bus (cheap and empty) to the city of Johor Bahru. It is an interesting mix of old and new, small old buildings and modern skyscrapers side by side.

We visited the oldest Chinese temple and wandered about the heritage street in Chinatown and the Indian shops and the modern high rise City Square shopping mall.

The Sail Malaysia Rally organisors had arranged a sumptuous dinner hosted by the Johor Tourism Dept and the next morning we set off back along the Johor Strait, crossing another shipping lane and headed westward to Pulau Pisang (Banana Island). 30 seconds after dropping anchor a torrential downpour of rain started and built up to a thunderstorm that lasted for hours. So glad we anchored in time.

Our next sail to Pulau Besar was mostly motor sailing as the wind was light. We had the current with us for the last 5 hours so we skipped out 2 possible anchorages and kept going. Ten and a half hours later, we had done 69 nautical miles. It was tedious as there were lots of fishing nets strung out from many small boats and we had to change course constantly. It’s difficult to distinguish between fishing net floats and floating plastic rubbish so we both kept our eyes peeled all the time – very draining. We were too tired to appreciate Pulau Besar’s nice looking beaches and fell asleep early.

The next morning was a short sail to Malacca (Melaka) dodging more nets along the way and we anchored in a shallow wide bay with nearby dredging operations underway. A couple of rally boats were there already and more arrived later to total 13 boats. We parked our dinghy at a nearby marina that is no longer used for sailing boats since it was damaged by a storm a few years ago. We set off to explore Malacca in the afternoon and was surprised to find that it’s a colourful vibrant city steeped in history. Restored architecture, attractive river canal with shops and restaurants, different cultures side by side, a mix of old and new that works so well there.

Gaudily decorated rickshaws waiting to attract customers

Colonial influence in architecture - British...
...and Dutch
This visitor's co-ordinated outfit was co-incidental

We walked up a hill to the ruins of St Paul’s Church, built in 1521 it is the oldest church structure in Southeast Asia.

The interior walls are lined with headstones from Dutch colonialists and set in the middle of the floor is a slab that marks the grave of Maria van Riebeeck, wife of Jan van Riebeeck who spent many years in Malacca. Evidence of Dutch and Portuguese and British occupation of Malacca is everywhere and many buildings remind me of Cape Town’s old sites.

The following day Sail Malaysia had organised a tour and lunch hosted by Malacca Tourism. We visited the Malacca Museum and an hour and a half is not enough – interesting history from the founding of Malacca through the Portuguese, Dutch and British occupations, as well as Japanese – no wonder the sense of cultures and heritage is so prevalent in Malacca.

We did a riverboat cruise – somewhat reminiscent of Dutch canals lined with narrow buildings and flowers.

Large monitor lizards inhabit the canal - this one almost as big as a croc

At night, the long crowded Jonker Street turns into a night market with various traditional foods and interesting stalls.

The more interesting old buildings are in side streets off Jonker Street and we enjoyed strolling around the area.

We left Malacca thinking we’re definitely coming back to spend more time.