Our Diary Indonesia thru Malaysia (1)

The 8.45am ferry was crammed full of expectation - this was Friday and the weekly visit of Mr Chong, the Veggie Man. With Christmas just around the corner the hunt was on for the freshest vegetables and produce to adorn the tables of the cruising fleet residing in Rebak Marina. It was a 15 minute fast boat ride from this luxurious resort island to the main island of Langkawi, the final stop in our 2013 South East Asia rally. I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera to capture the stern calculating looks on the shoppers' faces - like marines preparing for the D-Dday landing - full of hope that the "cupboard wasn't bare". This weekly event is a far cry from the suburban weekly trip to the supermarket. Mr Chong turned up and started to unload his little van. Expectation turned to relief as crates were opened to reveal a treasure trove of goodies; sprouts, parsnips, potatoes, cauliflower, salads, salmon, sausages, meat pies… It was all there. A flurry of activity as menus were created and a jostling for position to get the best selection, frowns turned to smiles and Mr Chong's small gifts of Christmas Shortbread were shared in relief as the shoppers returned with full bags on the next ferry - another potential missed shot for the album. Turkey was the only missing ingredient!

Christmas in Langkawi was the finale and end of our five month cruise in company through Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

After leaving Bali, we started to link up with the stragglers on the Sail Indonesia Rally; our next stop was on the north coast of Pulau Bawean where we had sundowners onboard Screensaver. At Karimunjawa we met up with Tom and Colleen, from Mokisha and had a fun day with them searching for fuel, which was ladled from a barrel. Quality very suspect, but with no choice you took what you could get. It was a long 250 mile motor from here to Kelayang on Pulau Belitung where we finally caught up with the main fleet. Belitung - one of the gems in Indonesia that doesn't even feature in Lonely Planet - has a lovely anchorage, wide white sandy beaches dotted with granite outcrops, great snorkelling and accommodating beach bars. We had a cultural evening at the local stadium and barbecues on the outlying islands - a great welcome back to Sail Indonesia.

As we moved north the weather became more ITCZ-like, with squalls, rain and thunder storms as we crossed the equatorial region. Our next anchorage was at North Bangka - a lovely but shallow anchorage - not much there but a lovely walk on the beach. We spent a couple of days here with a group of others. Enjoyed drinks onboard Kittani, with Tin Tin before the weather closed in. We had a yuck sail/motor to Kentar, crossing the Equator soon after daybreak on 20th October and toasted Neptune's health … with rum of course! We were now in the Northern Hemisphere again after years "Down Under". Kentar is a remote little island and we had our first visit by locals requesting "alms" We handed over the 25kg bag of sugar given to us by Bridgestone Building in Darwin - plus gifts of clothing books and sweets. We still have loads on board for future trades.

We were now getting closer to Singapore and shipping traffic was on the increase. The final event of the Sail Indonesia Rally was at a resort on the north coast of Bintan - this we decided to do in two short 'day hops'. The area is littered with small islands and there are many sheltered anchorages to choose from. We dropped the hook off Basing Island, which was comfortable enough. The final anchorage off Pulau Bintan can be very rolly, but our experience was positive. The resort opened their doors to Sail Indonesia, organising an island tour and a gala dinner second-to-none. A fitting end to an eventful rally for us.

Many of the Sail Indonesia participants also joined up for Sail Malaysia which was due to leave Danga Bay, Johur Bahru, usually abbreviated to JB, three weeks hence on November 8th. From Bintan to Danga Bay was only 70 miles but included crossing the Singapore Straits (just like trying to cross a 5 mile wide freeway on foot!) with ships passing every few minutes. We planned to spend our time in JB, and not in Singapore which was only a few miles from JB.

Tides were favourable when we left Bintan and with expectation that we would be in JB by nightfall we said farewell to Indonesia. After traveling West on the Indonesian shore we turned to cross the straits. Simple enough - just dodge the odd ship and in half an hour you are across. However Indonesia had one last gift planned for us - as we were a third of the way across the engine faltered and slowed dramatically. Christine took it out of gear and revved the engine - all ok thankfully. Conclusion: we must have something around the prop. With little wind we were stationary and a hazard to shipping. As a last attempt we put the engine into gear and thankfully we started to move, albeit with a huge imbalance and vibration. At low revs it felt manageable so we crawled across and threaded ourselves through the myriad of anchored ships and coastal shipping until we reached the bridge crossing from Singapore and Malaysia. Here, with relief and in failing light, we anchored for the night. Next morning a quick swim revealed that we had a plastic sack around the prop, which was easily removed. That evening found us snug in Danga Bay Marina, where we finally relaxed after Indonesia.

JB is the second largest city in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur (KL) and is in a huge developmental phase. A large number of people commute daily to Singapore (just 1 km away across the causeway) due to the higher wages there. Similarly, Singaporeans visit JB to shop, party and holiday. As in much of Malaysia, English is commonly spoken and its facilities are like any large metropolitan city. Major supermarkets such as Giant, Tescos and Cold Storage have a full range of produce, unlike Indonesia. It was great to be able to buy what you wanted. Everything was at hand in Danga Bay and boat bits could be repaired easily, although specialist chandlery items were still a problem. The marina itself was a bit rough around the edges, nevertheless we enjoyed our stay there and it gave us some much needed time to carry out some maintenance and chores on board Poco. One memorable day, Nov 8th, saw us visiting Singapore Zoo with Peter and Margaret from Swara II. It is a 2 Ringgit (about 75c) bus trip to Singapore across the Causeway. Thousands do it everyday, with customs and immigration carried out slickly.

Singapore Zoo is laid out beautifully and is a lovely day out. Whilst we were in the Panda House, Christine and I decided that a soft toy Panda would be a lovely gift for our forthcoming grandchild, which was due in a couple of weeks - and to also include a photo of ourselves. When we arrived back in JB our phones working again gave us the message that Rosie Sofia had been born that morning, whilst we were visiting the zoo - how serendipitous is that!.

Sail Malaysia started a few days later with a tour of the Johor region, traditional dancing and feasting Malaysian style, followed by a party and reception at Danga Bay. This would set the scene for the next month or so. Cruising the West Malaysian coast is not difficult. Water is shallow and the coastline is well protected so conceivably you can anchor anywhere. However it hasn't got much to offer in the way of beaches and sights along the way. The main hazards are fishing nets, boats and trawlers plus the large numbers of tugs and tows. Shipping can be a problem but they tend to keep to the lanes. A possible strategy is to sail just inside the shipping lanes to avoid nets and use the north going ebb currents to best advantage.

Sail Malaysia did a great job in making the trip up to Langkawi fun, organising events along the way at each of the marinas dotted along the coast. The first main stop was Port Dickson, a Resort with Marina attached - swimming pool, bar, etc. A bit like cruise ships, excursions were on offer. We went to KL for the day and acted like tourists. There was also a cultural visit and a reception hosted by the local tourist board.

Pangkor Marina was the next main stop. This small marina is mainly a working yard. James, the manager, works hard to help the yachties. Haul out is easy and it is a good place to leave a boat for a long period. We caught up with Peter and Toni from Tigger. They were stripping the failed 'CopperBot' from their hull. We had not seen them since Brisbane which was over 4 years ago.

James from Pangkor Marina put on a great tour of Pulau Pangkor, the highlight being a visit to a traditional wooden boat building yard. The owner is a tribute to the skills of a bygone age - it will be sad to see these skills disappear when he finally retires. We didn't stay for the reception at Pangkor, which apparently turned into a raucous event!!

We were keen to get back to Penang, where Robert and Jas were married just over a year ago. Anchoring in Penang is not easy as the marina was destroyed last year. Tigger had recommended the Jerejak anchorage just close to the Jerejak Resort jetty. This was a great choice - the guys from the resort were very welcoming and were happy to keep an eye on your dinghy, tied to their jetty. Although a little way out of town buses run every 15 minutes or so, making it is easy to get around. We had a great time revisiting old haunts and took in a few more sights. A visit to the "Chemical man" was on the agenda to pick up some phosphoric acid, acetone and other stuff. The shop is amazing; it is filled from wall to wall floor to ceiling with thousands of different chemicals all for sale. The proprietor was past retirement age and although there was no clear stock system, he knew what he had and where it was. A unique guy!

After a few days we left on the final leg to Langkawi. Anchoring in Kuah to stock up on beer, wine and fresh produce. Langkawi is a duty free island so we were keen to take advantage of this.

On December 8th we tied up in Rebak Marina and shook off the dust from our travels and lazed in exotic luxury. It's been a long 5 months and a positive reintroduction to the crusing life… What next? Thailand for a few months, then back to Malaysia, some overland travel…

Oh! by the way we helped Gary and Jackie from Inspiration Lady track down a couple of turkeys for Christmas! We were just content with roast pork and veggies and the sumptuous buffet lunch on Christmas day.

Hope you all have a great New Year celebration and we wish you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2014.

Keith and Christine

For those that are following in our footsteps up the west coast of Malaysia, the stops we made were:

  • South of Paulau Pisang. Just an overnight stop nothing of interest.
  • North of Paulau Besar (Water Islands). We anchored on the north side, very comfortable.
  • Port Dickson Marina - good marina. Restaurants and shops 15 minute walk.
  • Port Klang. We anchored close to the leading marks at the entrance to Selat Chi Mat Zin - OK for an overnighter.
  • Kuala Berman, close to fairway buoy - although many people went up river a mile or so, which was more sheltered.
  • Pangkor Marina. A bit isolated - a good marina for hauling.
  • Pulau Telang (Monkey Island). Tuck into the bay - only room for one or two boats.
  • Penang - Jerejak anchorage.
  • Pulau Bunting. Very protected and excellent anchorage.
  • Langkawi - Kuah anchorage & Rebak Marina.