Thursday, November 25, 2010

Palau Penang

November 25, 2010—Today is Thanksgiving Day for us here in Penang. On November 21 we left the marina on Marina Island at Pangkor and went 12 miles to Monkey Island to spend the night. There was not much protection at this island; however, we had a very pleasant and calm night. At 6:30 the next morning we got underway for Palau Penang. It was dawn, and a full moon was out, which helped our visibility, so we began to dodge the numerous fishing boats in our path. Luckily, about half of them went back to port for the day, so the numbers were easier to deal with. The boats that we encountered were going the same direction as we were, so it was just a matter of passing them without interfering with their nets.
We found ourselves, once again, motoring along, but this time the seas were almost like glass. Unfortunately, that meant no wind, and it was very hot. We thought about stopping for a swim but decided against it because we saw so many jelly fish in the water.

We arrived at Palau Penang (Palau meaning island) around 3:30 p.m. and began making our way up the channel. We found ourselves dodging the usual fishing lines, but at one point it was just too difficult so we simply motored up between the buoys marking the lines, put the engine in neutral, and coasted over the lines, which were just below the water. We would then watch the buoys to see if we were dragging them. We made it through all of them without any problems, although we did stress a few fishermen who were wildly waving at us to stop.

A new bridge is being built just south of Penang, and there were quite a few construction barges and tugs at work. We ended up going between two floating concrete platforms on which they were making the concrete for the bridge, and as we passed, we had smiles and waves from the workers on the platforms. A pile driver was also hard at work setting pilings for the bridge.

We continued on and approached the Penang Bridge, which was opened in 1985 and won an award for engineering excellence in the United States is 1986. The bridge spans 13.5 kilometers and connects Penang with mainland Malaysia. An annual marathon over the bridge was held while we were here, and it began at 12:30 in the morning so that it would be cool enough for the runners. It is always a little stressful going under a bridge, but this bridge was very high so we had room to spare.

We arrived at the Junk Anchorage, which is located right next to the ferry dock and a very short distance from the Tanjong City Marina. A racing rally was in Penang and had taken all the slips, so we just picked a good spot and dropped our hook in the anchorage at 5:30 in the afternoon. At 7 p.m. we joined Tin Soldier, once again, as well as Ruth and Tim on Victory Cat for dinner. We walked into town and through Little India, which is always fascinating. We decided to eat at Sri Ananda Bahwan Indian Restaurant, and, happily, it was air conditioned. We enjoyed a delicious meal of Butter Chicken Marsala, along with some naan or flat bread. After dinner we returned to the boat because we were tired, and the other two boats were leaving early in the morning for Langkawi.

On November 24 we decided to go ashore to look around. We were able to wave down a passing small boat and met Soon, who was happy to take us to shore for a small fee. We decided to first check in with the Port Captain and Customs. After taking care of those formalities, we walked across the street to Fort Cornwallis, which was built in 1786 when Captain Light from Britain stepped foot on the almost uninhabited island.

From there we took a pedicab ride, finally, over to China Town, where we walked down the streets looking in the interesting shops. We stopped for lunch at Restoran Tho Yuen, a favorite with the locals. We were the only anglos in the place, and some of the patrons found it humorous to watch my trying to eat with chopsticks.

After lunch we walked by the Kapitan Keling Mosque and were invited in for a tour. Steve had to wear a robe because he was in shorts, but my crop pants were long enough so I did not have to wear one. A young man was our guide, and he was quite entertaining. He also explained to us the etiquette that is followed when in the mosque. When the tour was finished, he took us to an air-conditioned room and asked us to sit down and have some water. He then gave us more information about Islam, which we found very informative. It seemed to us that this mosque was trying to foster goodwill.

After the mosque we returned to the boat for a few hours to rest during the very hot afternoon. Around 7 p.m. we called Soon to pick us up so that we could go to shore for dinner. On our way we stopped at the Mahamariamman Temple, built in 1883 and the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. A distinctive feature of the temple is its gopuram with 38 carved Hindu deities. A local took us inside the temple and allowed us to take pictures.

After the temple we walked to Restoran Kapitan and enjoyed another delicious Indian meal of Tangori chicken and naan. By now the wind had picked up, and we could see lightning overhead, so we decided to go back to the boat. Soon was not available; however, we happened to arrive just when another boat was taking some men out to a commercial ship, and the driver was happy to drop us off. We arrived just in time as it began to rain and the wind picked up to 20 knots. We spent the next two hours watching the eight boats in the anchorage dance around, some coming pretty close to others. We had a catamaran anchored by us that came close to us a few times. Finally we gave up worrying about it and went to bed figuring that we would survive the evening. Things did soon calm down, and we actually had a pretty decent night’s sleep.

Today we took the "Hop on Hop off" bus, which is free, to visit the Penang State Museum, which had some wonderful items on display. The history of Penang was also presented, and it was very interesting and informative. After that we walked through China Town one more time and found a fabulous bakery with a large variety of wonderful bread, so we, of course, bought several items. We then returned to Little India for one last fix of spicy Indian food. Then it was time to return to the boat to rest up from the heat and get ready for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner this year consisted of pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, and fresh bread. We waited until later in the evening so that it would be cooler while I did the cooking. The meal was delicious, and for dessert we enjoyed a sweet role that we also bought at the bakery. Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and family in the states.

We have really enjoyed our time here in Penang. It is an interesting and colorful city with friendly people and a wonderful history, and it is a nice mix of old and new.

We will leave early in the morning to go about 58 miles to an island just south of Langkawi, and we plan to stay there until December 1 when we will go into Rebak Marina.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Palau Pangkor

November 21, 2010—We left the marina at 8:30 a.m. and had a nice ebb tide to carry us back out to the strait, where we made a right turn and headed up the channel to the shipping ports at Port Klang. On this leg we were traveling with sv Sassoon and sv Umbra Luna because Tin Soldier had gone to Kuala Lumpur. As soon as we entered the main channel, things got interesting. Large cargo ships and tankers were entering the same channel so we stayed along the outside edge. We decided to cross the channel to the left side so that we would be out of the way of any ships. We passed the docks where the cargo ships are unloaded and watched two tugs as they spun a ship around 180 degrees and then with one tug on the bow and one tug on the stern, they pushed the ship into its small spot at the dock. The dock had rows of huge cranes that were unloading the cargo. It is truly amazing to see so many ships coming and going.

As we were passing the docks, a very large tanker passed us on our starboard side. After that we had no problems moving through the channel and up through a very large anchorage where ships were moored very close to the marked channel. We were weaving our way though them and noticed one ship washing the anchor chain, which meant that it was preparing to get underway, but we couldn’t see any black smoke from the smokestack. Just when we were in front of it, the anchor came out of the water, and then it began to move. We quickly turned to starboard to move out of its way, and as we passed the ship, the workers on the deck were waving and giving us “thumbs up” signals so I guess they weren’t too put out with us.

We exited the channel into more open water and soon arrived at Palau Angsa. There were fishing nets all around, so we carefully made our way through them and up to the island, where we found a decent place to anchor beside some local fishing boats. We made sure that the anchor was well set, and right after we were done, the engine overheat alarm went off so we quickly shut off the engine. Steve began to look for the problem, and he found that the bracket for the alternator had broken so the belt was not turning to run the water pump.

The engine was hot and so was the cabin, so working on the engine was not much fun. We began pulling out tools so that Steve could fabricate a new bracket. We had a length of aluminum stock on board, so we drew an outline of the old bracket on the aluminum and then used a hack saw to cut it out. Steve then drilled holes in the right places and proceeded to install the new bracket. I had every fan on the boat pointed at him while he was working to try to cool him off.

After two hours of work, he had the mount installed and the alternator back in place. We started the engine, and it ran just fine so now we just had to get the boat put back together. We took the rest of the day to get ready for an early departure, and we went to bed early, but neither of us slept very well. Another boat had anchored close to us and came near to us during the night so I kept checking our positions at regular intervals. It was also a bit rolly in this anchorage, and that made sleeping difficult.

We left at 1 a.m. and watched carefully for any small fishing boats or nets. Around 2:30 a.m. the boat slowed dramatically, so we knew that something had fouled the prop. Steve decided to go into the water to check. We had a lot of current so we tied a rope around his wrist, and I held a spot light on the water while he dove under the boat. He came up and said that he had to have his swim fins because of the fast current. We dug out his gear and also a rigging knife, and then he went back and cut away an old piece of nylon line from the prop. It took only 10 minutes or so to fix the problem, so we were soon on our way.

Our next challenge was a sailboat coming past us from the opposite direction. The three of us were side by side, and the sailboat seemed to be coming right at us. The boat did come quite close to us, and none of us can figure out why he decided to come right through the middle of three boats when he could have gone outside us. Anyway, we were now wide awake.

We approached a line of lights from the fishing fleet that stretched from our left all the way across to our right. At one point Steve counted 55 lights, and boats were moving across our path constantly. We stayed on our course, looking for an opening in the line. When we were almost to the line, an opening appeared in front of us so we sped up in order to get through as quickly as possible. Umbra Luna and Sassoon were in a line right behind us. Once we got through that group, there were fewer boats for the rest of the trip.

We passed one last group of fishing boats a few miles out from Pangkor, but it was now daylight so we had no problems. We arrived at Marina Island, which is built on reclaimed land, around noon and called the marina on the VHF radio. They sent a pilot boat out because we had to enter the marina through a dredged channel that was not very deep. Actually we had only 12 feet of water when we were in the main channel, and this entrance channel was a little deeper. We pulled in along a long finger dock, and the marina staff tied us up. This marina is so new that they were installing the cleats on the dock just before we arrived. All three boats were now in and secure. It was a very long day with very little sleep so we were all pretty tired and very glad to be here. We all got together aboard Sassoon for cocktails to celebrate our trip, and then we all relaxed for the rest of the day.

The next day we took care of some chores and then headed to town for groceries. The driver dropped us off at the Giant supermarket, but first we walked across the street to eat lunch at the White Coffee Café, where we had an excellent meal. We then quickly did our shopping and headed back to the marina. That evening Dave and Melinda on Sasson had Dale and Lorraine from Umbra Luna and us on board for a lovely taco dinner. We had a great time and really enjoyed getting to know these couples from Australia.

Yesterday I did laundry in the morning and then at noon we took the ferry across the channel to Pangkor Island. We walked to a local restaurant where we enjoyed lunch of barbecued chicken and rice. The meal, along with two sodas, cost us $3.00 USD. We then took our lives in our hands and rented a motor scooter so that we could drive around the island. Driving here is on the left side and there are rules, but no one follows them.
We drove around to the west side of the island where there are several “resorts” and stopped at a restaurant where we had a cold beer and cheese cake—an odd mix.

We continued up to the north tip and back down the east side. On the east side we came upon a boat building business, and the men were working on two large fishing boats. The boats were made of teak, and there were very large timbers of it at the site so Steve was drooling! They allowed us to walk on the scaffolding so that we could get a better view, and we found it fascinating to watch the process. The workers did much of the work using only hand power tools, and they used a manual chain fall to lift large pieces into place.

Next we came upon the satay factory where fish is dried, packaged, and sold. Fish of every size and type were available for sale, along with other local products. It was fun to walk around the store, but I had no desire to buy anything since eating dried fish is not our thing.

Our last stop was at the southern tip of the island to see the remains of a Dutch fort that was built in 1670. It was not very large, but we enjoyed seeing it and reading the informative signs describing the history of the Dutch on this island.

We left the fort and returned to the ferry jetty in time to catch the 3:30 ferry back to Marina Island. It was an interesting trip because we had three or four families with small children, and it was quite rowdy. By the time we got back to the boat we were pretty tired so we just stayed on board for dinner and a movie.
Today we returned to Pangkor Island with Sassoon and Umbra Luna to rent scooters and drive around again. We had an excellent lunch on the beach. We went back to the fort, and this time I had enough time to do a little shopping at the souvenir shop. We returned on the 4:30 ferry, and at 6 p.m. we all went to dinner up at the marina.

We will leave tomorrow for Penang, where we will spend a few days and then it is on to Langkawi.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Port Dixon and Melaka

November 16, 2010—We left Danga Bay mid-morning on November 7 and headed back down Johor Straits to Melacca Strait. We made good time considering the tide was against us, and we went back under the bridge without much stress this time.

We turned to head northwest up the Strait and were enjoying excellent weather. Our plan was to travel overnight to Port Dixon and Admiral Marina. We were making good time until about 3 p.m. when a squall hit us with 40 knots of wind. The seas were suddenly short and steep and right on the nose. We were already double reefed on the main sail, but Steve went to put in the triple reef, and when he lowered the main sail, our lazy jack that holds the sail in place broke. Now we had loose sail flapping around plus the lines of our lazy jack blowing in the wind. We turned the boat 180 degrees so that we were going directly down wind, and Steve was able to get all the loose stuff contained and tied down. We had already passed the only real anchorage, but we decided that, all things considered, it would be better for us to double back a few miles and pull into the anchorage for the night.

We pulled into the anchorage on Palau Pisang just after dark. Tin Soldier was already there and helped us with directions, so we anchored securely in mud and then got the boat put back together. We were pretty tired, so we ate a quick meal and then went to sleep on our settees because the anchorage was pretty rough. When the wind died down later, the boat began to roll, and it was impossible to sleep. Then at 2:30 a.m. we heard a clang and looked at each other. Steve ran up in the cockpit and called down that a boat had drug its anchor and was coming down our starboard side. The couple on Cheekabee were fending us off, and we joined in the struggle. They made it past us and were able to reset their anchor a short distance behind us. Steve checked the starboard rail and found only some varnish damage. It was now 3 a.m. so I decided to stay up on anchor watch while Steve got an hour or so of sleep. At 5 o’clock we pulled the anchor and left.

The next few hours were difficult because of the head seas that were slowing us down quite a bit. The bow was dipping and scooping up water which would then come running down the side decks and exit off the stern, or at least most of it. Finally, the seas calmed down, and we were able to motor sail comfortably at a good speed. Later in the afternoon we were again slowed down by waves and current and figured that we would not make the next anchorage by dark. An hour later everything calmed down, and we made enough speed to pull into the anchorage right at sunset.

That night we slept much better because there was so much less roll. We awoke and left at 7 a.m. for the last leg. Once again the seas were nasty—short and steep waves, but this time it lasted only an hour before calming down. We actually had a nice run for the day and arrived at Port Dixon at 2:30 in the afternoon, just ahead of another squall.

We got a slip and secured the boat. Admiral Marina is a resort with a marina that is in need of repairs. We did have water but no electricity. The good news was that there was a lovely swimming pool for us to enjoy in the afternoon as well as a good restaurant. We spent the evening packing our things to go to Melaka the next day. Melaka was a scheduled rally stop, and there was a marina there, but it is rolly and shallow.

We decided to take a hire car to Melaka and made it just in time for the organized tour, which was disappointing because they took us to a resort to see the facilities and then dropped us off at a mall for lunch. The afternoon was much better with a tour of St. Paul's Church, which has old tombsones from Dutch time that are carved with poignant inscriptions. A' Famosa/Porta de Santiago is the old stone gateway to St. Paul's Hill, and finally the old traditional palace. It was all very interesting and informative.

When we stopped at the Queen Victoria Clock Tower, we found a man who had two pythons, one of which was an albino, in a rickshaw. For only $10 rincas or about $3 we were able to take our picture with the larger one. It was “interesting.” There were also the usual pedicabs that are beautifully decorated by their owners, but we did not have time to take a ride. Very close by were the remains of an old Dutch fort, which were in very good condition.

We left the tour at this point and took a cab to the Mahota Hotel. We checked in and went to our room. It was air conditioned so we just rested and relaxed. At 7 o’clock we were picked up by bus and taken to a restaurant about 7 miles away. There was the usual band and speeches. We were quite disappointed by the meal as were most of the participants.

The next day we were free to explore on our own. We made a quick run to Tesco, which is similar to a Walmart, to get water filters. We then went to China Town to tour the Chen Ho Cultural Museum. Admiral Chen Ho was the leader of the great Chinese navy around 1421, and his exploits are covered in the book 1421, which Steve has read. It was a very interesting place with many excellent pieces and some beautiful pottery from the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Jeff was our enthusiastic guide and gave us a lot of history about Admiral Ho and Melaka.

We joined Dave and Jan from Baraka for a late lunch in Chinatown, and then we returned to the hotel. We went with Tin Soldier for a late dinner at the Seoul Garden Restaurant, where we chose our food and then cooked it at our table. That was quite fun.

The next morning we returned to Chinatown to do some quick shopping. Marilyn and I had a good time looking in all the shops, and then we joined the guys for lunch at Raffles Restaurant for some wonderful Malaysian food. We returned to the hotel at 3 p.m. to meet our hire car; unfortunately, he was almost two hours late, so we arrived back at the boat at 7 p.m. We shared the car with seven other people, so we were all tired when we got back to our boats.

November 14 was spent preparing the boat to leave. Steve had some projects, and I went with the ladies to town to pick up some fresh vegetables. We enjoyed a nice meal at the marina restaurant and then called it a night. At 7 o’clock in the morning we left the marina headed north to a new marina on Selat Lumut at the south coast of Palua Indah. We had lovely conditions and made the 46 miles by 2:30 in the afternoon.

There was quite a bit of current here so it was tricky pulling into the slip, but we had a lot of help from cruisers who had already arrived. The facilities are minimal for a “brand new marina,” so we were disappointed. We spent the evening on board, and today we took care of some minor boat projects that had to be done before we leave tomorrow.

We want to keep moving while the weather is good. The one problem here is the afternoon thundershowers, and they are pretty amazing, producing a lot of rain, thunder, and lightning. We had a real downpour this afternoon. We are making our way to Pinang, where we will stop for a day or two. That should be an interesting place to see, and it will give us a good break.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Danga Bay, Malaysia

November 6, 2010-Our exit from Singapore was much more dramatic than our entrance. We left the marina at 7 o'clock so that we could catch the tide. We passed the breakwater of the marina and looked out at the two markers that we had to pass between. There were standing waves because the wind had piped up to 15 knots in the opposite direction of the current. It was truly amazing. We motored through that and in about 10 minutes we were at the Immigration anchorage. The waves were still pretty rough, but we were able to hold our position without too much trouble.

We called Western Immigration but discovered that our main VHF radio had gone off, and Steve was unable to get it to work. We then pulled out our hand-held radio and called. We were told to stand by. We placed the radio in a holder, but because the waves were bouncing us around, it fell on the cockpit floor, and the clip that holds the battery broke off. Steve was able to hold it together with a rubber band so we called again. Again we were told to stand by. It was a bit uncomfortable on board so we were getting a little frustrated. Finally, the boat came along side and took our papers. The clearance process did not take very long, and soon we were on our way.

We had to cross the northwest fairway, which is where ships leave the main channel to enter or exit the anchorage. We had our AIS beeping alarms as fast as I could mute them, and we soon realized that we had two large cargo ships in the fairway coming at us. We had to slow down and actually make a circle until the two of them crossed in front of us. After that it was safe for us to continue.
The current continued to be rough and there were rips in several places, but we made it out to the main channel and then headed west and around Raffles Lighthouse. The waves there caused some major bow plunges, which sent the water spraying out from both sides. We finally entered the Johor Straits, where the water settled down, and the current was now in our favor. There were tankers of all sizes anchored here, as well as a huge oil derrick. We motored about 10 miles up the Strait, and then we had to sail under a bridge. That is always a little nerve racking to do that because it always looks so close.

We continued up the Strait staying between the markers. It was quite interesting to see the Singapore side, which had an electrified wire fence and large signs with skulls and crossbones on them. There were also dire warnings to anyone who tried to go over the fence. Police boats were spaced about every mile, and helicopters flew overhead. They are very serious about their borders.
We arrived at Danga Bay Marina and were directed to our slip. The dock was just finished the day before, so it is still a work in progress. We have power and water; however, the amenities are still a bit rough. Overall, though, it is quite nice. Steve was taken by van to a ferry terminal in order to clear Customs and Immigration for Malaysia, which was pretty painless.

On the 30th we went to a Welcome Ceremony and then had the rest of the day free, which gave us some time to catch up on things. We also enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Lazio's Italian restaurant at the marina.

On October 31, a kayak competition was held in the morning. That was followed by a technical briefing on the route up the coast, and the anchorages where the events would be held. Around 4 o'clock, we made a ghost from a sheet and used a balloon for a head. We put a stick through a coat hanger to hold out the sheet, and then we hoisted the ghost up into the rigging. About 15 kids arrived around 5:30 so we passed out candy and were impressed by some very creative costumes.

That evening the official rally dinner was held, and the food was amazing. We had a very large Lazy Susan on our table, and we were given appetizers, cuttle fish with squid, prawns, chicken, fish, rice, soup, and dessert-all served one at a time. It was exceptionally good food. A live band performed great music for us, and everyone got up to dance. We had a wonderful time and stayed until close to midnight-- late, at least for us.
November 1 was another free day so we walked to a nearby mall and purchased a SIM card for our cell phone. We ate lunch at Seven Spices Indian Restaurant and had the most amazing curried chicken with rice and vegetables.

The next day we took a taxi to Jesco Mall, along with Tin Soldier, and did some shopping, ate lunch, and picked up some groceries. The grocery stores here are well stocked with western foods and beautiful fruit and vegetables, many of which are from the U.S. We also bought a dongle for the USB port so that we can access the Internet without all the usual problems that we have had in the past.

We were able to get diesel fuel the next day, and I dropped off my laundry to be done. We also got our new dinghy all put together, put the new engine on, and went for a spin. The engine ran great, and we are very pleased that it is a bit bigger. We immediately pulled it out of the water and washed it off. We didn't want to spoil that "new" look.
On November 4 we were all taken by tour bus to see the province of Johor, which is at the southern tip of Malaysia. We went to a brand new marina that is close by. After that we went to the southern most point of Asia/the Malay Peninsula, where we walked a long way over a boardwalk and then took pictures with the Johor Strait in the background. Our next stop was to participate in a mock wedding and feast. The bride and groom were all dressed up in traditional outfits. We were served a fabulous lunch, and afterwards we each went up to toss rice over the bride and groom. Our last stop that day was at the pineapple museum, which turned out to be quite interesting. They had examples of the different kinds of pineapples and the different countries where they are grown. They also had two beautiful shirts that were made with pineapple fibers.

The tour was very informative and interesting, and the landscape was once again very lush and beautiful. There is a tremendous amount of building going on-mostly homes and freeways. So far we are impressed with Malaysia. The people here in Johor Province have been very friendly and helpful, and we feel very safe.

The past two days have been pretty relaxing. We did our last provisioning run to the Giant supermarket yesterday. Today we finished up the few chores that needed to be done before we leave tomorrow to head north to Port Dixon and Admiral Marina. We also wish our granddaughter Riley a very happy first birthday!

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