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19 January 2010

Singapore to Phuket

Hello Once Again

First and foremost we hope you all had WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS with family and friends, and A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2010. Thank you all who sent us Greetings or those lovely cards and news of what you have been up to. We were out and about exploring new bays and Islands for both Christmas and New Year.

Now that you have received and read all your Christmas Mail and all that news which comes in for near and far, it’s back to those rather long and boring SHAMAL’S news letter which arrive in your inbox from time to time. I can hear you saying – oh it’s them again.

As I write this we are sitting on a mooring buoy in Chalong Bay - Phuket, having arrived here on Monday 4th January. So as you can see we have covered quite a bit of ground since our last post.
 On the 9th December we upped anchor and went out into the channel to find our Customs boat to clear out of Singapore. The same procedure with passports being passed in the fishing net to the Customs Boat etc. We made the short run of 9nm across to Sebana Cove in Malaysia to clear in. It lies up the Sungai Santi River. Again it is another of these Marina Resorts which is lovely. Away from the hum drum of Singapore, but unfortunately once built the follow up maintenance is rather lacking. Still we really enjoyed this stopover and spent three night there. We got all those little jobs done which are too difficult to do out at anchor and SHAMAL got a really good wash down and clean. Their swimming pool was just beautiful and we used that. We then set off in a cab to visit a local town getting our first glimpses of Malaysia. The country side is lush and green but unfortunately like many places in this part of the world the jungle is being cleared to make way for the latest crop – Palm Oil.

On the 12th December we headed back down the river and out into the Singapore Strait again negotiating our way among the hundreds and hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes as we made our way up the West side of Singapore and across to the West coast of Malaysia. That trip of 44nm took us 9 hours. It was a lovely warm sunny day with a light breeze and we did have the sails up, but we needed to motor as well as we passed behind and in front of shipping. That evening we dropped the anchor a good half mile off shore in shallow water away from the ships but still in view of Singapore. We were just at the entrance to the Malacca Strait. The next day was a short run of 19nm and again we anchored in very shallow water off a group of Islands called Pulau Pisang which sit 8nm out from the coast. The next day was a 44nm run then it was on to the Water Islands – Pulau Besar - just off the city of Melaka – formerly Malacca. Here we spent a couple of nights with a really good thunder lightening and rain storm on the second evening. The first day we arrived early enough to take the tender ashore and walk around the big Island which had two beautiful resorts built on it where no expense was spared, and a magnificent Golf Course. But the really strange thing was it was all closed down. When we asked why we were told something ‘bad’ happened!! We could get no further information on the place. The golf course was still being kept in pristine condition but the Resorts were shut tight. There were day trippers coming to the Island and others camped on the beaches. There were some nice bungalows which were occupied, but, no one was talking!!

The next day we took the ferry across to the mainland and caught a taxi into the city of Melaka. This city was once the most vital port in Southeast Asia long before Singapore and Penang were even on the map. What a wonderful historic old city where Malay Indian Chinese Portuguese Dutch and British have all left a rich tapestry of History. It was the centre where Chinese junks came carrying spices silks porcelain and gold, where each of the colonisers left their mark on the architecture, where as many as 2,000 ships would dock here and where pirates plundered passing sailing vessels. It was a lovely hot day and we wandered the streets of the old town taking in the sites and visiting the Museum before taking a river cruise on what they call ‘The Venice Of The East’. Melaka is now a World Heritage City and is in the process of having a very tasteful clean up. This is one city I would recommend anyone coming to the East to visit. The Malaysians are a very warm and welcoming people. Our trip back to the Island later in the afternoon was an interesting one. Our ferry broke down and for a period we were just drifting with the tide and winds back towards Singapore. The four of us saw the funny side but many of the locals were quite terrified. Well you do hear the odd story of ferries sinking the these waters!

Our next stop was Port Dickson where we went into the Admiral Marina. Another one of these beautiful Resorts. That evening we all went out to dinner at the Resort restaurant, and this time it was my ‘B’ turn to come down with food poisoning!!!! I spent the whole of the next day in my bunk, but thank goodness it was only a 24 hour thing and I was back on deck the next morning still feeling a little seedy as we motored on out of the marina. We were doing our first night sail again which we had not done for some time and it was a first for Bridget. That morning we had some heavy rain and wind gusting to 39kts but that cleared and by evening we were motoring with no wind but a lovely fine night. The fishing boats and fishing nets do make for interesting navigation at night. Also we stayed well clear of the coast as they have lots of fishing stakes about. Bridget and I took first watch from 10pm to 2.00am. By 8.30 the following morning we have a reef in the main as yet another line of squalls are looming on the horizon, but by 8.30am the wind has dropped to 3kts and we are making that as we move through the water under motor again!! Around 5.00pm that afternoon I caught my first fish in ages. A beautiful Wahoo. That fed us all for a couple of good meals. It took us till 1.40am the following morning to finally reach the South end of Penang Island where we dropped anchor in a sheltered bay. We decided we would move on up to the City Marina the following morning.

George Town – the main city on Penang, is another wonderful city with a rich history with a strong Chinese presents which is reflected in the older shops and houses. Penang means Betel Nut Island. Our Marina was right next to Chinatown and Little India in the old part of the city, but also the car ferry wharf which took motor bikes and cars back and forth to and from the main land. A little noisy at times but most interesting. Here in the Marina we met up with another lovely couple Sue and Brian, on their South African built catamaran. They lost their first boat, a monohull, in the 2004 tsunami but thank goodness were not on board at the time. Ken and Bridget spent time shopping for a new computer and a few other things while Alec purchase out a very special type of screwdriver and tried to fix the Starboard loo which had stopped working. I did our Thailand visas and Alec and I also had a couple of long walks exploring parts of the old and new city.

Then on Christmas Eve after morning coffee and Christmas cake with Sue and Brian on board SHAMAL we motored on out of Penang hoisted the sails and headed off up the coast to Pulau Bidon. A tiny Island that reminded us all of NZ bush with thick jungle all over it right down to the water’s edge. We could have been in one of those lovely bays on Great Barrier Island. This was our first trip in ages where they sea was not dotted with fishing boats everywhere. It made for quite a relaxed trip for a change. But the next morning [Christmas Day] as we set off towards Langkawi – the last of the Malaysian Islands before we enter Thai waters – we are in the thick of an area of fishing traps!! ‘B’ boat traps if you are not careful. There we were a good 9nm off the coast and in 25mts of water and these giant bamboo poles tied together in clumps with tiny flags on top. We dodged these for most of the trip. By mid afternoon we were anchored in the Langkawi archipelago at Pulau [Island] Daylang Bunting, a spectacular Island with huge high limestone cliffs rising straight up out of the sea. Beautiful sea eagles can be seen souring these cliffs and swooping into the sea catching fish. Langkawi means red eagle in Malay. On this Island we went to visit the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden!! The fable goes that a local Princess drank the lake’s water and became pregnant hence I only just put my feet in!! It’s a beautiful little lake where you can sit on a pontoon with your feet in the water and have a “fish spar”. Whatever the fish are they come up and nibble the dead skin on your feet!!! In other parts of the East you have to pay for a fish spar. There were also monkeys about which were very friendly.

Next morning we motored over and dropped anchor just off Kuah, the main town on the main Island of Langkawi. This area is just fabulous. We all loved the place. Apart from being duty free, the people are great, it is clean and tidy, it has beautiful Islands and white sandy beaches. Eating out is a treat with a great variety of eating places and prices are a pittance. We took SHAMAL for a trip around to a place called ‘Hole in the Wall’ in the Kilim Geoforest Park. We entered into a river through a narrow gap between towering limestone cliffs several hundred feet high and motored on up about 1k before dropping the anchor. Again we saw the sea eagles swooping around the cliffs. We took the tender out for a bit of an explore and in an arm of the river where we saw a sea otter. Alec spotted the floating restaurants. At one of these we had the most delicious ‘local’ meal of fresh fish. This place had been recommended in a brochure.

We returned to Kuah the following day and took a berth at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club where we took on fuel, more supplies and made good use of the duty free liquid refreshments which one could purchase there. We all took a half day tour of the Island which was really interesting. Our driver took us to the Cable Car where we got wonderful views over the Island. We also visited a craft complex and saw a good part of the Islands beaches and local villages.

December 30th saw us moving on again. We had checked out of Malaysia and were now entering Thailand’s waters, and our first stop was at one of the prettiest little Islands I have ever seen. It was called Ko Koi Noi. This tiny Island had a small knob of vegetation with high trees growing on it. There was a long sand spit with one palm tree. The sands were pure white and the sea was that lovely turquoise colour. As we had our drinks that evening in the most perfect of temperatures as the sun was sinking, we watched two sea eagles going to and fro from their nests in the high trees. We were amazed at the size of their nests. They were huge. The eagles seemed to disappear into them. We also watched a couple of dugongs swimming by.

New Years Eve saw us reaching the Islands of Rok Nok and Rok Nai. We anchored in the channel between the two along with about 10 other yachts. We arrived after dark just before 11.00pm. I was ready for bed but decided to stay up and see the New Year in which I am glad I did. It really is celebrated in style here. Local people on the beaches let off fireworks and also these small lit up hot air lantern/balloon things. They rise high into the sky till the light goes out. It is such a pretty sight as they send lots of them up. We spent New Year’s day here as well as it was such a pretty place. The waters were clean and clear and full of beautiful colourful fish. We swam and Alec and I spent some time giving SHAMAL’S hull a good clean. These warm waters do see a bit of growth on her. Next day we had an early start in order to reach the next group of Islands by lunch time. We had a wonderful run, sailing the 37nm in six hours. These are the well known beautiful Islands of Ko Phi Phi Don and Ko Phi Phi Leh. The later was made famous as the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed here. They really are quite stunning. The only trouble is the whole world wants to visit them and they were sure out in full force while we were there. We have never encounter so many tourist boats in one place at one time. It was quite unbelievable. But we spent a couple of days there visiting the village and taking SHAMAL into the different bays for a look. Again huge high limestone cliffs rise for hundreds of feet straight out of the sea, then you enter a bay with perfect white sandy beaches with the jungle coming to the water’s edge in places. This is one of the areas that was devastated by the2004 tsunami. Phi Phi Don has a small sand spit joining what really is two Islands. There are beautiful bays on either side and this is where everyone arrives and leaves the Island from hence it has all the hotels and restaurants here. Also a fairly dense population, which was hit hard with a great loss of life when the waters swept right over the sand spit.

Then it was time to move on again. We needed to check into Thailand ‘officially’ and one has to check in at the same port you intend to check out of, so it was on to Phuket . That was another half day run. We were anchored in Chalong Bay just before midday which gave Bridget and Ken a day and a half to have a quick look around before they flew back to New Zealand. Alec and I started immediately on making contact with different boat shops etc with regards to having a few jobs done. Our Starboard loo was still not working for starters and we needed small repairs done to the main sail and MPS.

We said goodbye to Ken and Bridget on the morning of the 6th January. They left with an extra suitcase with all the goodies they purchased along the way. I hope they enjoyed the experience of visiting new places and trying different foods as much as we did. The fresh fruit and veges here have been wonderful, and Alec kept us supplied with a beautiful fresh fruit salad for breakfast every morning. He even brought an electric food processor and we are now into mango and paw paw smoothies every day.

Well I will sign out for this letter. Take care and as I said at the beginning, we wish you all the very best for 2010.

Lots of love from

The Admiral and The Captain

Observations : From Alec

Singapore: Yachts cannot anchor anywhere around Singapore and one must go in to a Marina or pick up a mooring buoy at one of the sailing clubs. All boats are required to have a AIS ( Automatic Identification System ) transponder. We were told even the local yachts who race or sail to another Marina or club need a transponder. When we departed the Changi Sailing Club for Sabanna Cove in Malaysia I decided first to have a little sightseeing trip up towards the causeway ( the one the Japs came across in 1942 on their bicycles ) The Police/Coastguard patrol boats motored slowly pass us on several occasions, took a good look and then sped off. In Singapore waters we received several messages on our Chart Plotter regarding the AIS. We only have a AIS receiver which allows us to receive data about other vessels but not allow other vessels to “see” you. In Singapore waters we received all kind of messages on our chart plotter regarding the AIS. Examples AIS SRM Alarm, test calls, you have entered so and so zone eg. A40 and even had a message which said “why have you” The best message said “ well done” Maybe we sailed in a no go zone. At one stage there were 320 ships ( targets ) on our AIS list within 24 miles of Shamal. How is that for traffic.

Had a bit of a problem obtaining diesel in Panang. The local Shell Service station by the Marina would not sell me any diesel without a letter from some Govt. Department. The Marina Boatmaster had a scam going at RH 3.0 per litre. Met an English lady who employed a Indian guy as her Skipper/Deckhand. Got talking to him and found out he use to work in Abu Dhabi etc etc. So off in the tender to the fuel barge to visit his mate. 120 litres later at RH 1.9. I love beating these scams if I can.

Malaysia up to now had been scam free.

Interesting fact about Penang . Penang was a U-Boat base for the German Navy in World 11.

Langkawi: All crew members said was the best place up from Singapore. Before we left for Thailand we stocked up on beer at NZ 65 cents a can. A bottle of Gordon’s Gin NZ $ 16. Took on more diesel but not Duty Free anymore but at NZ 80 cents a litre one cannot complain. Islam appears to be very low key. Young couples out after dark holding hands. Oh my God. Definitely forbidden in the Arabian Gulf where we use to live. Cab drivers have no meters but did not rip you off. We all agreed that Langkawi would be a great place to retire in. A lot quieter than Phuket. In actual fact yachties sail often between the two. Visa runs and order their spare parts in Langkawi being duty free and get their boat maintenance done in Phuket with its better facilities. Met one Canadian cruising couple who arrived in this area in 2001 on their world trip but have not left. This is now their retirement base.

Religion: Approximately 95% of Thais follow Theravada Buddhism ( Lesser Vehicle ) They believe every individual is responsible for their own enlightenment.

The ultimate end of all forms of Buddhism is to reach “nibbana ” blowing out or extinction of all desire and thus all suffering. Having achieved nibbana , an individual is freed from the

cycle of rebirths and enters the spiritual plane. In reality, most Thai Buddhists aim for rebirth in a “ better “ existence in the next life. To reach this goal carry out meritorious actions such

as feeding the monks, giving donations to temples and performing regular worship. We rode our motorbike up the hill behind Chalong Bay to visit Big Buddha ( a very large statue ) and noticed many

Europeans were being bless by the monks.

Crime: Crime against visitors is generally low although actual murder and violent assault figures for the Thais are high. Thailand has a homicide rate of 9.7/10,000 compared to

8.6/10,000 for the USA, usually considered one of the highest. However, Thais kill each other and rarely kill visitors.

The above information sourced from the Lonely Planet and cruising guides.

It was sad that Ken and Bridget only could spend one and a half days in Phuket as they already extended their tickets once back to N.Z. Ann and I are now enjoying Phuket after our first impressions of this place being so overcrowded. We were told Phuket has 4 million tourist per year on a island the same size as Lake Taupo.

Ken had a good work out with the Chart Plotter. Ken and Bridget had a beautiful Thai meal in down town Phuket before they departed and no doubt will be visiting those Indian and Thai restaurants back home in due course.

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