Thursday, November 29, 2012



At one time, so the guide book said, there were at least 80 different languages and dialects being spoken in and around the Port of Malacca or Melaka as is the local spelling. It’s placed right in the middle of the spice route between India and China and so sea traders from across the world would drop anchor to stretch their legs so to speak and then partake in whatever sea traders do in foreign ports far from home with a ship full of silver, tin, gold, spices, fine linen and the odd human slave.  Malacca is on the south west corner of the Malaysian peninsula and sits virtually at the cross road of the Singapore Straits and the famous Malacca Straits. Coming from India with the south west monsoon blowing you down-hill at a pleasant 10-15 knots it would be no effort to pull into Malacca for a quick reprovision and then push on to the Far East. Coming the other way you have the north east monsoon doing exactly the same but in the opposite direction. As they say.......too easy. So Malacca in her heyday would have been a gloriously exotic place to visit; a literal melting pot of race and religion and full of the colour and heady perfume of danger you associate with ports in the Far East.
the narrow street and rickshaws give it a distinct character
 Malacca today is not quite the swashbuckling Mecca it was in the past and it was sadly missing any Jonny Deep characters and the only ship that resembled the Black Pearl was a replica Portuguese square rigger painted a ghastly mission brown and stuck on concrete in the middle of town right next to the children’s fun park. Alas, the only danger came in the form of fat middle aged men who approached you on the street trying to organise your stay in Malacca based solely on their prearranged itinerary and, as it happens, with their car and driver at your disposal. No thanks pal, we’re just going to wander around and see what we find but thanks anyway. You’re wasting your time then, came his testy little reply, you should have stayed home and visited your children”. He might have had a point on that last comment but hey dude, let’s drop the attitude. He was the only nasty pirate we met and we can safely say the people of Malacca, despite the saturation of tourists were, as usual, friendly and polite.
the old fort of Santiago or what's left of it

So while Malacca of old was, for obvious reasons missing in action, there was still present a distinct feel and character to this place and it came to you as you wound your way down the narrow cobbled streets and over the small foot bridges that crossed the city canal or stared up at the crumbling facades with their Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese influences or sat in one of the many art/studio style coffee shops and  drank in the kind of bohemian other worldly atmosphere that filters through the town like the gentle waft of incense. It’s a cool place to visit. We only had two days and one night so narrowed our experience to just exploring around the hotel  ( and what a hotel, more later) and there was enough good shopping and eating in this square kilometre to keep you going for months.
inside The Baboon House, a very cool art/studio/gallery coffee shop with tasty beef burgers and cool iced lemon teas
 The tourist sites are limited to the aforementioned replica ship, a crumbling Portuguese fort, enough museums to lead you to early onset museum depression and the open air city tour bus trip that takes in the sites of the city. We did the latter and all we saw were hotels and the dirty facades of cheap apartment blocks. Sitting on the seat in front of us was a young Malaysian boy 7-8 yrs old (school holidays) and throughout the entire bus tour he was glued to his game boy thingy twitching and rolling knobs as some character went through a city slashing and mutilating anyone he saw. Maybe he was missing the old Malacca. The tragedy was that his father was sitting next to him, watching and doing nothing. It was some of the most violent images I have ever seen and I really had to reign in Mr Manning the school teacher before I grabbed the thing and through it into the canal thereby proving violence begets violence I suppose.
everyone having a wild time on the open air bus tour

Our hotel experience was wonderful and the best we have ever encountered. It was recommended by our good friends Dan and Elise and overall it was a lesson in how to offer excellent service in stylish and comfortable accommodation. We were met at the door with a glass of chilled water, our luggage taken to the room, a paper of my choice delivered to our room and a sumptuous breakfast thrown into the bargain. The room was a blend of Asian, Portuguese and contemporary styling and the bed was big and perfectly comfortable. The staff was superb and could not do enough to make you feel at home.  (240 rm...approx A$80 per night)
bathroom in hotel room
some interesting blends of styles in the decor

Our trip back to Port Dickson and the Admiral marina was a mixture of buses and taxis and went without a hitch. Public transport here is cheap and efficient. Our last leg into Port Dickson was on a local bus that was full even when we got on. The driver saw my walking stick and moved a young guy off his seat very quickly but poor Diana was left standing, but not for long. An elderly Indian woman seemed to become the bus seat controller and as people got off and seats became available she ushered this one here and that there. She had a mission to get Diana seated and when a seat became empty nearby she pushed Diana’s bag with her foot next to the seat to stop anyone claiming it and gestured for her to sit there!! Again it was just fascinating to be part of this small and probably tedious routine for most of the passengers as they made their way home or over to a friend’s house for a sleep over. For us however, it was the fact that we part of another community if only for a short while and that we were accepted without rancour or discontent. It’s a feeling you get as you travel more and more, this sense of belonging to what is the global community of humanity and that is comforting to say the least.
water feature in dining room of hotel and a good way to close this blog with this artists shot (Diana) that captures some of the style and history of this town

And, what’s more, it was a very fitting way to say farewell to the city of Malacca, that port of many voices connected as it was through the simple human desire to trade. Cheers Rob  

Sunday, November 25, 2012



Sailors have so many superstitions but until now we have chosen to ignore most of them. (We did go to some trouble for King Neptune crossing the equator.) We left Puteri Harbour Marina, Johor Bahru, on a Friday to start our journey north through the Malacca Strait, and we didn’t think anything of it. We’ve left port on a Friday countless times. It wasn’t until the following day that our luck turned against us. Perhaps it is cumulative.

We had spent a pleasant night at an island called Pulau Pisang, and we left early in the morning for an easy 46NM sail. First off things started to go wrong. As Rob was raising the anchor it leapt off its supporting frame and gouged a big divot into the hull. Rob has a great system that supposedly prevents this happening, but not today.

No sooner had we recovered from that little setback and boom, there was a large explosion! The bracket holding the solid stainless boom vang that runs from the base of the mast to the boom gave way, sending the large heavy rod crashing through the window of the dodger. Being safety glass it smashed with a huge bang, sending glass all over the deck, down the companionway and throughout the cockpit. Poor Motley was asleep under the dodger and faster than light she was right at the back of the boat. I looked back to see a little head peering over the lift raft, with eyes like saucers. It was lucky that she didn’t go one or two steps further and off the back of the boat. The bracket appeared to have been under stress for some time and it finally gave way due to some rather dodgy engineering.

That was only the start. The supposedly easy 46 miles turned into a torturous beat against a head wind and an adverse current which kicked up the seas into nasty steep 2 metre high waves. The boat pitched from bow to stern and from side to side making life on board very uncomfortable. For Motley it was definitely a “cupboard day”. We can define our days on whether it is a “cupboard day” or not. Motley will squeeze into her favourite hidey hole in the cupboard in the galley if the weather is inclement or something else is going on that she is not happy with. If she heads to the cupboard we know we are in for a bad day. This day Motty was in the cupboard all day. Room for one more?

Anyway we pounded through the waves and oncoming wind for hours. We considered stopping somewhere but the wind’s direction didn’t’ allow for any protected anchorage anywhere. Suddenly there is another crash! This time perhaps not so serious but I took it as a very bad omen. Our brass ship’s bell suddenly loosened itself and crashed down on the nav table, with a clang. It has been happily hanging there for years, but chose this day to let loose. Now I was really worried. What bad luck will come with the heart of the ship falling down like that? One piece of good luck was that normally we have our lap top sitting on the nav table, but this time it was safely tucked away. The bell did claim a casualty though. Our dear little wooden dolphin had its tail snapped off.

Somewhere in the middle of this disastrous few days daughter Meagan rang. While I was telling her our tales of woe she was Googling  luck on boats. Here are a few things that she came up with.

It’s bad luck if:

You meet a red haired man or someone with crossed eyes before your journey

You have bananas or women on your boat (a naked woman is good luck!)

You cut your hair or nails at sea

Anyone whistles

You lose a bucket overboard


Bring good luck by:

Wearing gold hoop earrings

Always stepping onto the boat with your right foot

Pouring wine on the deck (That has happened more times that I would like to admit)

The rest of the journey to Port Dickson was dogged by things sent to try us. The main sheet winch sheared off its three bolts making it unusable, and on our last day when we had just about HAD ENOUGH, we left the island of Pulau Besar with a heavy rain cloud on the southern horizon. “We will be ahead of that” we thought. Ha! No such luck. The rain cloud with accompanying thunder and lightning sat on top of us like a big grey dome for six hours. The visibility was so low that we felt we had to turn on our navigation lights and the radar simply to be seen and to see if we were going to run into any of the numerous ships plying the Malacca Strait.

We finally made it to the lovely Admiralty Marina at Port Dickson feeling a bit battered. Leave of a Friday again? Not this little black duck!



Saturday, November 24, 2012


Old and new


Moving from Indonesia to Malaysia was a shock. We realized we were going from third world into the first world. Some may feel that that a window had been opened to allow in fresh air with the more advanced country, but I was surprised how much I missed Indonesia, its simplicity and the warmth and friendliness of the people. I hope Indonesia never becomes a first world country if it means losing the contentment and the beautiful open smiles of the Indonesian people.

We were going to really push the envelope and visit Singapore, one of the top first world countries. With the boat safely moored in Puteri Harbour Marina, and time up our sleeve as we waited for a new fresh water pump for the motor, we decided to go back across the Singapore Strait the easy way, by bus. As Puteri Marina is a bit isolated, marina guests are taken to the market, the mall and to the Singapore bus station by courtesy bus. We arranged a 7am pickup, but because of a glitch we didn’t get to the bus stop until after 8am. A quick dash to the money changer for Singapore dollars and we were on the bus with a full bus load of Malaysia to Singapore commuters. Four dollars took us across the bridge that only a few days we had motored under, through Malaysian immigration, Singapore immigration and on to the MRT, Singapore’s super efficient train system.

Straight away we noticed the lack of rubbish and graffiti and the trains looked like they had been commissioned yesterday, they were so clean and unmarked.
A long way from Indonesia!

There were no piles of rubbish, no groups of brown faced, smiling kids and not a rooster or chicken in sight. Instead there were manicured gardens, orderly streets and futuristic multi storey buildings. Where are we now? I love that about travelling; you never know how the day will go and where you will end up.
Sri Mariamman

The MRT was easy to get your head around and we negotiated it like pros, nearly. Our first stop was China Town, where we wandered up and down the interesting little lanes packed with mainly touristy nick knacks. I wandered into the Sri Mariamman Temple, a Hindu temple festooned with highly ornately painted ceilings and pointed roofs crowded with figures seeming to jostle each other for space. I was lucky enough to share a special moment with a beautiful sari clad woman who was giving out spiced rice to visitors to the temple. This day celebrated thirty days since her baby boy was born, and it was on this thirtieth day that she could come to the temple to pray and to name him.  In the days since his birth she could not visit the temple and her little baby had no name.

Tranquillity in the heart of Singapore. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Rob making praying for safe passage

Rob and I visited another temple in China Town, this time The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Apparently the authenticity of the tooth is somewhat in doubt, but the temple was magnificent. The ornate decorations and the gold everything was overwhelming, but there was a sense of peace and calm about the place that was a nice contrast to the hubbub of China Town. We made our way to the roof garden and that was an absolute treat for already weary foot travellers. Lush foliage and trickling fountains encouraged long pauses on strategically placed bench seats. The second treat was the basement restaurant that served vegetarian food for $3, including a soup, choice of three dishes and rice. I was happy, Rob, not so much!
Swinging the Buddhist prayer wheel

The People Park Complex is famous for its reflexology shops and it is recommended that you look for an older Chinese man to do your treatment. For $20 each we had 30 minutes of foot reflexology and 15 minutes shoulder and neck. Side by side in big comfortable lounge chairs, it was just what foot sore travellers need, except, my older Chinese man was so enthusiastic that I still carried the bruises on my feet a week later. It felt great when it stopped but was agony in the process. Whenever I groaned or grimaced he just looked up and smiled. “Ah, I found the right spot!” Rob’s man was much gentler. No bruises.
Little India lit up for the Deepavali festival

Little India is where we had booked our hotel, so we worked the MRT again, swapping trains without having to wait more than a few minutes. First world does have its advantages! Rob had booked our hotel on line and it cost about $108AU. It looked good in the photos! When we opened the door all we could do was laugh. The queen size bed was pushed to the wall, but to walk around the room one person virtually had to swing their legs up on to the bed to allow passage. The bathroom was so tiny that the shower head was above the toilet. For efficiency one could theoretically do two things at once! You get what you pay for and you obviously have to pay more in Singas. The bed was firm, the sheets clean and it was very convenient for exploring Little India.
Decorations for Deepavali
Riotous colours of Little India

Our stay in Little India coincided with Deepavali, a Hindu day of celebration, not unlike our Christmas.  The shops are packed with colourful flowers, decorations and the bakery shops have queues a mile long. The day is one of joy and happiness and celebrated with family.  We went back into the centre at night and the street was wildly decorated with lights and banners. There was a crush of people and a real buzz about the place. We found the Green Banana Restaurant and had the most delicious meal served on a banana leaf as a plate.

On the theme of first world, we visited the Sim Lim Square, a five storey building devoted solely to every conceivable technology. Our search was in vain however, in this vast building full of gizmos, there was not one lighted Kindle cover. A quest I have had for some months.

The last few hours of our stay in Singapore were spent at the beautiful Botanical Gardens. These hundreds of hectares with meandering paths, beautiful lakes and carefully tended gardens deserved much more that a cursory look. We ate at the open air cafe and watched as a tropical downpour had people scurrying for shelter. The rain washed away the heat of the day and filled the air with the wonderful aroma of wet earth.
Children playing in the tropical downpour. Botanic Gardens Singapore

Our trip home was without a hitch as we negotiated both countries customs in the reverse order. We finished up at the night market in Johor Bahru where we shopped for fresh vegetables, ate at our favourite eatery and met the bus back to the marina. Home at last. Exhausted but happy after a great two days.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Doing the Singapore Strait

Nongsa Point marina to Puteri Harbour marina or..goodbye Indonesia and hello Malaysia
Goodbye beautiful Indonesia, till next time

Quite a significant blog this one and, when it's finished, we, and you dear readers, will finally be up to date with our journey.  We left the lovely anchorage at Mesanak Island at first light and looked back wistfully at what had become our typical Indonesian Island anchorage; densely forested island fringed with coconut palms and slivers of white sand complete with a solitary fisherman paddling his dugout away from the shore.  We both looked backed and tried to hold that image and lock it away into our private gallery of significant Indonesian moments. Within a few miles the scene was to change dramatically as we floated strangely between the boundaries of 3rd world simplicity and 1st world industrialisation. As soon as we entered Selat Riau, the stretch of water that separates Batam Is and Bintan Is and opens out onto the famous Singapore Strait, we had a little Tardis moment aboard The Doctor. Through the wonders of time travel, suddenly we had arrived in the 21C and simple dugouts were replaced by screaming outboards, beautiful wooden fishing vessels replaced by ugly steel tankers and the forested horizon and clear blue sky replaced by smog and oil tanks by the hundreds. Welcome to industrialisation, 21C style. Our AIS screen which shows other vessels in a 5 mile radius as triangles suddenly turned black and began to look a lot like the crazed drawing from a deranged triangle obsessed psychopath who had been let loose with paper and black crayon. OK, no need to panic, some of them might be anchored!!
So what are the triangles telling do they make you feel?

Our run into Nongsa Point marina was straightforward and it’s always nice to have marina boys in uniform at hand to take lines and finish off the tedious business of setting springs and attaching extension leads. This is a resort marina and therefore comes complete with pool, restaurant, wireless and waiters who are happy to bring iced coffees to poolside as one checks emails and contemplates the menu for dinner options. Ahhhhh, bring on a little 1st world decadence, we bloody deserve it! We only had a few days of this luxury as the 28th of October was looming ever nearer and that meant end of visa for Indo and time to clear out. We untied our lines on Sunday morning the 28th of October and made our way towards Puteri Harbour marina, a modest journey of 50 odd miles, and so out of Indonesian waters and into Malaysian. But first we had to cross the dreaded Singapore Strait.
Tied up at Nongsa

The guidebook says that a large motor vessel crosses the Singapore Strait every 12 minutes which means that you have approximately 12 minutes of time and space between one ship and the next. 12 minutes may seem plenty of time to cross a 2 mile stretch of water but these ships are doing 12 kts of speed at least so you need your wits about you. We sailed down towards Singapore for the first leg and then it was a right hand turn to cross the strait. We had Babar and Silver Girl with us and suddenly we hear Dan from Babar on the radio. “what do you guys think, when do you want to go for it????  I was on the helm and could see a good break in the traffic between a big blue tanker and 2 other ships coming up from behind. I radioed back I was going behind the blue ship and in front of the other two coming up. I swung the helm around and kept The Doc at right angles to the blue ship which was coming up fast. As soon as the stern was clear I pushed the throttle down and with main still up we bolted through the opening. It must have been a funny sight to those on the bridge of the ship as 3 little yachts all scurried their way across the strait like 3 blind mice running madly from the farmer’s wife.
You can get some idea of the traffic we had to dodge
Run mice run (Babar and Silver Girl coming after us and behind the blue tanker)
We got across OK but then had to negotiate an inner harbour with more ships coming and going.  After that it was just the causeway bridge to deal with and we were into the channel that leads up to Puteri Harbour marina. The bridge has 25 m clearance and we are 21 m from waterline to top of mast so no sweat really............yeah, no sweat!!!!!! Whenever we go under bridges we both go into a kind of  mute stupour and stare up, transfixed, as the mast sails innocently, perhaps even hopefully clear of concrete. You swear that it’s all going to end up in a tangle of stays, sparks and tears but it never does....not yet anyway. 
Goodbye Indonesia Hello........oops just hold that thought it this time Hello Malaysia....(could have been embarrassing clearing in!!!)
So finally we.d cleared the Singapore Strait, we.d manoeuvred around a busy inner harbour, dodged a grave yard of anchored and unemployed tankers, just scraped under a bridge and now we were gently motoring into the welcoming arms of a floating jetty complete with marina boys in uniform waiting to take our lines. Puturi is no resort marina but it does have good facilities and friendly helpful staff. It also has green mould. We walked past a quite new Hunter 32 and noticed it was covered in green gunk and immediately thought it had been to the bottom and been salvaged. Not so! If you sit around long enough in this equatorial clime the green mould will get you eventually. It's even on the spreaders. I am writing this blog while Diana has taken the offer of a free ride to one of the mega malls that blight this country. I am also waiting for a diesel mechanic. I have waited too many hours in my life for diesel mechanics to come but at least here they do come, and on time. I think we may have the fresh water pump solution underway and will give details in the next blog. Our man, James Sin comes highly recommended and here’s hoping!!! Till next time, Rob

The mute stupour got you yet??
and here we are, finally up to date