Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pretty in Penang

We had arrived at the south end of Penang Island (Malaysia) yesterday in the dwindling twilight and safely anchored on the lee side just after dark. We saved the trickier part of the channel passage for the morning light.

Just arriving at Penang

How big is Penang? It's about 25 km long and 15 km wide and is connected to the mainland of Malaysia by 2 impressive bridges. We had anchored just before the new southern and longest bridge - 24 km including the causeway - 17 km of which is over water.

Added to the impressiveness was the bridge's nightly psychedelic light show cast on its structure with alternating hues of red, blue, green, and white. This bridge was officially opened on March 1, 2014 - only 4.5 months ago - so of course didn't show on our charts.

So we upped anchor at 10:00 for a short channel passage up to George Town on the northeast end of the Island. The first navigational considerations were narrowing depths and transitting under the bridge, which to me looked too low even though Jordan assured me it was more than high enough.

The tide flow was with us so Jordan did a manoeuvre that was probably more to satiate my doubt than for safety. He turned Sea Turtle 180°, idled in forward, and let the flow very slowly take us through backwards. That way if we had to abort at the last second, all he had to do was power it up. But there was lots of clear air over the mast. Whewww!

The new bridge

Then we saw through the haze the next, original bridge, much the same as the first one and still an impressive 13.5 km long and that indeed did show on our charts.

There was lots of passing and anchored commercial marine traffic and a container port (on reflection, maybe we should call them consumer ports!) We passed close by an anchored freighter to get a closer look at what it was offloading onto a barge of penury. It seemed like either sand or grain.

Offloading sand?

Once again, we were presented a much more populous scene than expected where over the years, growth and more recently skyscraper development filled the flat coastal lands and encroached on the fertile hillsides.

Densely populated

We anchored in front of George Town on the northeastern end of Penang Island at 12:45 (N05°24.620' E100°20.529') close to the shuttle ferry and cruiseship docks and beside another sailboat that Jordan remembered in the south of Malaysia.

George Town's history, like Malacca, was centered on trade and brought with it merchants of Indians, Arabs, Chinese, as well as Europeans. The architecture of the era and multi-culturism still exists and remains employed. It is now seeing rejuvenation after UNESCO's classification as a heritage site.

Classic architecture of Penang



Friday, July 11, 2014

Three islands

We left the City of Malacca (aka Melaka) Malaysia early in the morning at 07:30 on July 7th. We had a good wind on the port which pushed us along under sail at over a healthy 6 knots until 14:30 when the moribund wind had us resorting to motor power.

That night, stopping before dark would have made it an exposed anchorage so we decided to press on and make it an overnight passage. The chosen route was up a protected channel between some islands and the mainland. In the channel was the location of a huge container port that serviced Kuala Lumpur further inland.

Just before entering the channel in the dark, we had to weave our way through an anchoring field of the waiting behemoths. It was there that the conditions went from calm to a 40-knot gale in a matter of about 3 minutes. These squalls are called the "Sumatras". Jordan said that just before it hit, he sensed something in the air and fortunately, for no definitive reason, was taking down the main sail when it hit.

For some protection from the gale force winds and building seas, we ducked behind and up close to the towering stern of a super freighter that just came in and stopped. That is until the freighter put it in gear and pushed a torrent of water towards Sea Turtle. We escaped being tossed around but then had to face the Sumatra head on until it burnt itself out, about another hour during which the pounding rain scrubbed our decks!

As we motored up the narrow channel, the night darkness surrendered to the glare of the heavily lit container port where a multitude of ships were being loaded and off-loaded 24/7.

Clipping along with the tide in our favour we dodged channel markers and busy marine traffic of all sizes. At about daybreak, we were back out in the open waters of Malacca Straits for another day of motoring.

Flashy fisher

We finally anchored at 19:00 on July 8th in the lea of a small island called Lalang Island (N04°00.516' E100°32.801').

Early in the morning at 04:30, the Sumatra winds started to blow once again along with another downpour of rain and lightning show that lasted for about an hour again. We remained on anchor watch to make sure we weren't dragging, which is hard to tell in the dark and driving wind and rain. When the winds and rain died and it was evident that we were holding, we got the last of the night's sleep. However when we got up in the morning and looked about, we determined that we had dragged about 100 metres towards deeper water. So we re-anchored, then had breakfast.

With a beach visible, we rowed ashore. It was surprising to see that some in the past had set up some humble facilities of picnic tables, enclosed latrines, shelter, and water collection for visiting day users of this deserted island. Perhaps fishermen to wait out a storm?

There were also several rope swings with large colourful plastic seats, a sink, an outdoor shower, and what appeared to be a fish cleaning station with a nearby hose and tap. What was again sad to see that spoiled the tranquility was the plethora of plastic garbage washed up on shore.

Lots of hammocks and bright swings

We walked the beach from 1 end to the other and found a few shells but MANY cuttlefish bones. Today cuttlefish bones are used for caged birds as the bones are rich in calcium.

The fishermen, we suppose, set up an intriguing shrine. Its meaning or significance escaped us.

Food, incense, and 9 figures inside

It was very warm (hot!) out so I luxuriated in the sun and cooling ocean breezes for a short while before heading back to Sea Turtle...


At 14:35, we upped anchor and re-set 3 hours later at Pangkor Island (N04°14.773' E100°34.335'). This Island is just across from the mainland of Malaysia and has lots of colourful houses and fishing boats. But it is also very, very hazy, perhaps from the various coal-fired power stations. It looked like the Island's inhabitants were making energy by burning their garbage. A transitting catamaran anchored just behind us for the night.

On July 10th, we dinghied over to Marina Island. This is a man-made island and about 10 minutes away from our anchorage at Pangkor Island. Marina Island has a fairly new marina (the Island was created in 2009). Our friends had their boat stored there so we wanted to check on it for them to see if all was ship-shape, which it was. They had left Victoria the year before us.

The Marina agreed to send an employee off to a service station to collect some gas for our outboard. While we waited, we tried to have some Thai food at a restaurant there but were told it was closed because of Ramadan. Ramadan is an annual Muslim tradition of daytime fasting for a month (and also prayer, charity giving, self accountability, and for some the pilgrimage to Makkah). Obviously, the restaurant was owned by Muslims. We settled for pizza elsewhere.

Coming back to Sea Turtle, we saw several small dolphins, the 1st in a long time!

We left Pangkor Island at 08:15 on July 11th - a Friday! Superstitious sailors never leave on a Friday. But the strong early morning Sumatra winds had abated and the rain had become a drizzle. It seemed like a good time to leave as we had a long passage ahead of us.

We motored all day making our way to Penang Island (aka Pinang) where again we wanted to anchor in the lea of the Island for protection. It was just after dark before we picked our spot (N05°16.466' E100°17.700') at the southeast. Normally we don't come into protected waters after dark but the bottoms here are typically gradually shallowing mud where the soundings correspond fairly accurately with the charts.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Marvelous Malacca

There are so many sounds associated with sailing. The wind, the water rushing past the hull, rigging, stores moving around with the motion of the sea. Having gotten used to these typical sea sounds, we have tuned then out and don't notice them. However if there is a new sound, however slight, our ears perk up.

Yesterday when almost at the "treasure island", we heard just that. It was just a faint pop. Jordan sensed it was coming from the cabinet where the watermaker pump and filters are. He immediately checked it which was fortunate because the watermaker filter housing had split and it was spraying a mist of sea water. We had an extra filter housing but were short 1 small fitting, so the repair would have to wait.

Our "treasure island" was only a couple of hours from the City of Malacca (aka Melaka) so we upped the anchor at 13:00 and headed there where we dropped anchor on July 5th (N02°10.828' E102°14.313'). Here, we thought we would be able to find the needed part.

We were immediately surprised at the sights of Malacca. It seemed to be a very clean and happening city. Our 1st thing to do was find a hardware store and hopefully the needed part. This was accomplished in short order so we had the rest of the day for exploring.

We discovered several large malls and many, many hotels. This is obviously a tourist city and it has been declared a World Heritage City. Its history is most notable for being an ancient trading port servicing the earliest merchant marines from all over the globe. Consequently there remains a motley culture and blood including Indian, Chinese, and even European.

Colonial architecture

To get oriented, we rode up in a rotating observation booth that circled a single tower structure and ascended about 100 metres to take in the panoramic view of the city. With map in hand, we could see the Chinese sector, the canal with its walkways, and even Sea Turtle all alone at anchor. What a difference from the heyday of merchant marine trade where there apparently could be as many as 100 foreign vessels anchored out front.

Bird's-eye view of Malacca

Canal cruising

We crossed a small bridge to the north side of the canal to walk down Jonker Street. We felt as if we were in China - not Malaysia! The street that Saturday night, as usual, was reserved for vendors of all kinds and pedestrians and it was packed with both. Delicious smells emanated from a great variety of interesting foods being sampled. There were creative crafts and clothes, bright art, and even souvenirs. Sadly, we even saw vendors selling "miracle cures" such as bear gall bladders.

Hub-bub of Jonker Street

Delicious fish ball soup

We enjoyed a light Chinese meal (Chinese food here is different from North America) before returning to the boat for another quiet night.

The next morning with the needed part in hand, Jordan fixed the watermaker. That done, we headed ashore to see more sights and learn more about the interesting history of this place. The displays inside the Maritime Museum - a replicated 16th century Portuguese galleon - were very enlightening. The original galleon has been lying lost somewhere on the seabed for over 500 years.

Tourists could take a tour on colourful bicycles (trishaws) decorated with glitz and glitter unique to each.

For the young at heart

The last thing we did was take advantage of the availability of a large supermarket before dinghying back to Sea Turtle for a 2nd night at anchor in front of historical Malacca.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Treasures galore

We got an early start at 08:00 on July 4th as we motor-sailed with only the slightest of wind, continuing northward up the west coast of Malaysia. And also it was early anchoring at 15:00 in emerald green ocean waters where we found an idyllic protected spot by a beautiful little island. One in a group just south of the City of Malacca. We chose Nangka Island (N02°04.546' E102°20.036') where there was a short strip of pretty beach.

We went ashore to do some beachcombing and scouting. A man approached us from a tented area and told us we had to leave. He said we needed a permit. It seemed strange, but as he was very insistent, we decided to get back in the dinghy and head to another island close by.

As we circled the island, we talked to a couple of idle police in their drifting boat. They explained Nangka Island's restriction was because there were signs of treasure on it and there was a secure archaeological dig going on, therefore no visitors allowed. That explained it. The history of this area of the globe is saturated in intrigue.

Early European countries battled for domination here to control trade and procurement of riches which included precious spices among others. Add to that a pervasion of Asian pirates. Ships were constantly being sacked and bootie taken. They were truly swashbuckling days.

The indolent floating police then told us that perhaps we should head over to "that island" pointing to the 1 with the lighthouse. "Many mangoes" they said. Right, that's a good enough reason. So off we went to Undan Island in the dinghy. There we were met by the caretaker who said it was fine to take some mangoes and to walk up to the top for a view.

As we were collecting mangoes, the caretaker came along and insisted on helping. He knew the best tasting ones. After 2 big bags full, we said "No more!" Then as Jordan asked for a sprouting coconut that lay under a coconut tree (at that stage of sprout, the inside is our favourite coconut that the South Pacific Islanders call Nefara) he said sure and then disappeared. He came back with 3 more Nefaras. So in spite of being swashbuckled by the other islanders, we found treasures on our own!

Our treasure!

Back at Sea Turtle, with just a hint of breeze to subdue the heat, we had dinner in the cockpit while the birds chirped and the brilliant orange sun sunk below the horizon, making it a perfect evening...

...until we were rudely awoken at 22:30 by a loud siren and a searchlight on Sea Turtle. Jordan jumped up and some other police told us to "Move! Now! Far away!" We tried to explain it was dangerous to move a sailboat in the dark in unfamiliar waters. But they insisted. So with a bit of guidance from them, we carefully moved Sea Turtle a short distance to N02°06.330' E102°20.535', 2 islands away from the island where the buried treasure might be. After all, we might be pirates!!

As we moved to relocate, we were given a light show from a storm cell not far away. The lightning bolts had a beautiful and unusual orange tinge from the smoky haze.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Finally leaving

If Sea Turtle could speak, she would say "Get me out of here!" After 4.5 months, it came time to finally get her out of the scummy waters of Danga Bay Marina (Malaysia) where the barnacles had densely populated every part of her unprotected bottom. But just before leaving, Jordan had the horrid job of diving and cleaning the heavily encrusted prop, giving him a short-lived ear infection.

During that 4.5 months though, we had some sojourns away. There was a trip back home to Victoria and Alberta (Canada) to catch up on things and visit family and friends. Another trip while waiting for repair parts to return, we flew up to visit the north half of Vietnam. Then later we flew to Thailand to meet up with family. But finally it felt good to be on the move again with Sea Turtle as we headed out for the sail up the west coast of Malaysia.

We left the dock at 13:15 on July 1st and at first chance, with fingers crossed, we turned on the auto-pilot. It worked! So after a 3-hour motor down and out the channel, we set anchor in much cleaner waters (N01°18.888' E103°36.713'). This was approximately the same spot we anchored a few months ago when we had originally attempted a departure from Danga Bay and discovered that our auto-pilot was not working. We were next to a small Malaysian island between Malaysia mainland and the Island of Singapore.

Off in the distance, we could count about 50 freighters of all sizes at anchor, and at 1 of many container ports, we could count over 50 gigantic offloading cranes. Strategically, this area is the engine of growth for the developing world, and it's evident in the scale of shipping commerce and land development. It's beyond prodigious.

Ships filling the horizon

So we settled in for the night, enjoying the quiet with no blaring music.

The next morning, Jordan got out our Hookah equipment and did a complete underwater hull cleaning. But when the tide and current became too strong, he had to hang on to a rope attached to the striker plate at Sea Turtle's bow to keep from being swept away! (I really wanted to help but he thought it was too strong for me.)

We delayed pulling anchor until the tide and current were flowing with us and set off at 14:15. We had a great sail for the the rest of the day, setting anchor at 19:00 (N01°20.887' E103°22.433'). We were now in the infamous Malacca Straits. As we were cruising along the coast of mainland Malaysia, we were able to anchor almost anywhere in shallow waters and out of the freighter lanes.

The next day (July 3rd) was a late start as we discovered some needed boat jobs. For the first few days, while working the boat systems at sea, a few things needed attention. Some critical, some minor - all were fixed in short order though. We pulled anchor at 10:30 and with no wind had to listen to the Perkin's purr until anchor time once again at 19:00 (N01°46.717' E102°47.008') alongside the Malaysian mainland.

So nice to be out on the water again!