Episode 23. Malacca up the clacker

Ben, Hugh and Duncan have survived the Singapore Straits, had an engine hissy fit at Pulau Pisang and nearly been mown down by supertankers speeding up their stern as they journey from the Philippines to Thailand via Malaysia.  The end is in sight!

We are now pushing up the Malacca Straits from Pulau Besar to our next destination, the Admiral Marina and Leisure Club at Port Dickson (41nm away to the north).  From there we will continue in the Malacca Straits to our final Malaysian goal of Langkawi Island before we then move into Thai waters on our way to Phuket in Thailand.

It was an arguably quiet night at Pulau Besar as Hugh taught Ben how to play 500 and we all played and drank beer and red wine.  The wine and beer was largely medicinal and compensatory, as Ben had burnt the curry.  Ben felt pretty bad about this, but not quite as bad as Duncan and Hugh who had been waiting patiently, and were beginning to discuss amongst themselves whether or not Ben had actually eaten all the curry and was just cruising around the kitchen enjoying himself.  It was difficult to be sure because Duncan and Hugh were at the most distant end of the boat away from Ben, who was back in the galley.

However, we were certain that he was there because he’d gone below with a beer (one of several) and we could clearly hear his very loud music (the reason we were at the bow).  Eventually Ben got over his fit of youthful excitement or perhaps he just got lonely, or his ears began to ache, and he turned the music down, which is what he should have done with the curry – but didn’t.  Ah, well.  The curry still tasted good – although it looked like mashed dog turd – and was so hot that each mouthful had to be blown upon before insertion into the orifice (mouth) after which, immediate blowing out was required followed by profuse sweating which would then drop onto the curry, thereby cooling that portion for subsequent consumption.  A fun, but late and slightly drunken night.

Ben wakes with an excellent hang-over.  He’s not alone.  Surprisingly, there is actually a bit of a breeze blowing so, notwithstanding the collective hangover, Ben gets a rush of blood to the head (that’s got to hurt) and gets the mainsail up.  Can’t fault his enthusiasm.  Still, understandably, it is a rather late 0730hrs before we set off.  We have 41nm to go with an ETA at the Admiral Marina, Port Dickson of 1500hrs.  We will need to provision there and buy fuel for the legs north to Phuket.  Perhaps we could get some more curry….

We arrive at 1500hrs and berth at the marina.  It is the first well-maintained marina we have encountered since departure from Cebu in the Philippines.  There are not many yachts tied up as the King’s Cup Regatta has started in Thailand and all the yachts that were here last week have left.  Lucky us.  Facilities are good: food, bar and laundry and a large pool.  Tomorrow we will do some provisioning, get fuel and make our relentless way north.

It is hard to leave the Admiral Marina (too much comfort) but, after a mere day and a half, we are off early to go the 35nm to the annex of Royal Selangor Yacht Club.  This is on the southern side of Pulau Indah, about 50kms SW of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.  ETA 1500hrs.  Of course, there is no wind so motoring it is – a sadly not uncommon circumstance when you go sailing.

We eventually arrive at 1600 to a large but empty (three deserted yachts) yacht club.  Ahmad, the marina manager, drops by and shows Hugh the showers.  Yes, they work, after a fashion (cold, of course).  This is so not the Admiral Yacht Club.  We make arrangements to get 100 litres of fuel via Ahmad.  This is good for us because getting diesel can be fraught as outlets are restricted to one 20 litre container per buyer.  So, to get enough we have previously had to go to numerous service stations via taxi loaded with jerry cans.  All very tiresome.  But for Ahmad this is a good day.  He’ll get it done with his local skills and make something for himself in the process, in addition to what we pay him.  He sets off with a spring in his step.  Later in the day, Ahmad is back with all our jerry cans and we load the fuel.  Still, we are cautious about its quality and intend to change the filters regularly.

Tieing up at Selangor

Tying up at Selangor

The very next day we depart the annex of Royal Selangor Yacht Club on Pulau Indah at 0600hrs for an anchorage in the Bernam River.  There is just enough light to see.  We need to average 7 knots to reach Bernam River, 75nm north, before dark (1800hrs).

On an earlier leg of our Malacca sojourn Duncan had treated Ben and Hugh to beer bread.  Ben, a good cook and a man who likes a challenge, declares that he will give us bread to drool for.  Well, we are good at that.  In fact, Hugh liked Duncan’s bread but Ben, while polite, was not that impressed.  Competition is all good as far as Hugh is concerned.  Hugh likes fresh bread. Hugh also encourages Ben to put his trolling line out: loaves and fishes.  Now that would be a big day.

We have trolled and attempted to fish all through the Philippines and Malaysia and caught nothing.  Sadly this is not too surprising.  We are half way between Pulau Indah and the Bernam River and the sea is full of rubbish, for mile after mile.  There is nowhere you can look that does not have a sheen of rubbish.  Depressing.  And that’s just what is on the surface.  But it is not just the pollution.  We are also moving in the middle of, at last count, 31 fishing boats with many dragging nets between them.

After what has been a long and somewhat depressing day dodging rubbish and the fishing fleet, we anchor in the Bernam River.  This is a very temporary overnight stop until first light when we can move on and see the various hazards.

We wake to rain this morning with the wind against us. We’ll be motoring again to take us the 40nm to Lumut International Yacht Club on the mainland opposite Pangkor Island.

We arrive at the yacht club at 1430hrs.  It was a quick, easy run in quiet seas.  The club berths are few and of the usual dubious quality.  Still, it’s better than anchoring.   The club is a big building (that has mostly empty rooms) with plenty of grounds and a swimming pool that, surprisingly, appears clean and viable.  We meet the only person on site, a young girl who is friendly and helpful, and the pool looks very inviting.

Still, first things first.  We need to stretch our legs and we decide to take the 1.5km walk to the town centre in search of lunch and, hopefully, some beers.

The town is of medium size with a few streets and shops.  We have a quick browse but the call of a cool, refreshing swim in the club’s pool is too attractive.  Interestingly, we see no one else at all at the club.  Perhaps it’s a bustle of activity on weekends, some people (poor bastards) still have to work, I guess.

We mooch back on board for afternoon cocktails Candeux style (beers and nuts) and then an early night before the 74nm leg to Jerejak Island which sits just off the east coast of Pulau Pinang (in Penang Province) tomorrow.

Yes, it’s another beautiful sunny day and yet another early start to Jerejak Island.  Does no one understand the word, “sleep-in”.  Anyway we have light E to SE winds as expected,  glassy sea, and a long way to motor.

Notwithstanding the plethora of fishing boats scouring the sea and the high pollution levels, Ben puts his expensive trolling line out and Hugh, not to be outdone, puts out his $39 special.

Some little while after, while Hugh is phaffing around below, the cockpit calls down that we have visitors.  Hugh sticks his head up to see a big, powerful commando type rigid inflatable with armed and black clad military types speeding up towards us.  Oh, oh.  As they close we can see that it’s Malaysian Maritime.  What have we done wrong now?

They are speeding up from behind giving every impression that they plan to physically mount the transom.  But in the next instant, Hugh’s fishing line is bending like a whale is on it.  This does not last long however.  It suddenly explodes into untold bits of carbon fibre, and the Malaysian Maritime boat has stopped dead in the water.  This is not good.  Hugh thinks that hooking a police powerboat with four armed officers on board and disabling it on the high seas with a mere fishing line is nice, if provocative, work.  The catch and release policy comes to mind – more us than them.  I hope the hook hasn’t punctured the boat and we have to try to rescue annoyed officials armed with Uzis.  Hugh cuts the line on what is left of his fishing rod and sets Malaysian Maritime free to either sink or…..  It appears however, that they don’t want to be free.  They are again speeding up beside the boat.  Hugh wonders if they were feeling grumpy before they were hooked with his line, or is their current demeanor entirely situational.

Once alongside, they ask if anyone speaks Malaysian.  Hugh’s rather rusty Indonesian is brought into play.  It soon transpires that they are there to help, although we hadn’t thought we needed it.  No one is talking about Hugh’s fishing line.  They ask if we are in trouble.  Well, we are hoping not, thinks Hugh.

They are looking for a yacht in distress.  Yes……  not us actually… Well, not just this minute, anyway.  While this is all in train Duncan starts taking pictures.  Ah, this might not be such a good idea thinks Hugh.  Ben also decides to go off to get his official ships papers, passport, etc.  Hugh discourages both the picture taking and the presentation of ship’s papers.  The latter may only lead to more questions and delay, and the photos may offend.  As a general principle: don’t offer what you are not asked for.

However, the Malaysian Maritime lads turn out to be pretty relaxed.  They are not interested in our papers.  One of the officers has also been to Darwin, Hugh (practicing his Indonesian) makes jokes and we all have a good time.  We do offer finally to take pictures of them, and they tell us that we could go on the Malaysian Maritime Facebook page!  Eventually they leave to find, perhaps, the distressed yacht.

The irony is that they have a very flash chartplotter and the Lat. and Long. of the stricken yacht but they appear not to have used the chartplotter to find the boat.  We check the position and it is actually very near the shore.  So it appears that Malaysian Maritime have just sped out from their base and called a few fishing boats who have told them that there is a yacht nearby – us.

For our part, we continue to play dodgems with fishing nets.  We have now adopted the policy of going through the line of fishing nets (based on our assumption, soon proved, that these nets hang well down from the buoys on the surface, not always the case).  While passing between the many long lines of buoys, we continue to turn the engines off and glide over, just in case.   However, as we approach our destination we start to see different nets attached to drink-bottle floats.  Hugh spots one on our starboard.  “Ben we need to turn to port.  There’s a float directly on our starboard bow”.  “It’s alright,” says Ben.  Well, no, not really.  We hit the fisherman’s float and it tangles around the rudder.  Oh dear.  Hugh gets down to the stern and tangles with the tangle.  Luckily Hugh manages to free it and there doesn’t appear to be hordes on angry fishermen rushing towards us.

We arrive at the approximate location of Pulau Jerejak, our intended anchorage, only to find that there is a bloody great bridge between us and our anchorage.  “What? That’s not meant to be there” says Hugh.  On closer inspection, we can see that the bridge has no traffic and is obviously not quite finished.  Still, our only real anchorage is on the other side.  Hugh (again deploying his Indonesian in Malaysia – they’re similar languages) uses the VHF radio to call the Harbour Master to try to get approval to cross under the bridge and, importantly, to find out the clearance height. So hate to lose the mast.  There is no answer.  However, after repeated attempts, we do eventually get a response from the Pulau Pinang Pilot, who speaks English and who kindly contacts the Harbour Master with our requests.  We are advised that the bridge height is 28 metres; and we are given approval to enter.  Whew.

We make our way to the jetty at Pulau Jerajak Resort (which we have been told is a good stop).  However, contrary to the cruising advice, the resort manager moves us off the jetty to a mooring beside the nature reserve which is afflicted with ferry swell and jets overhead.  This will have to do.  It is also where a fisherman has placed his nets.  Ben seems a bit over it by this time and wants to moor over a fisherman’s buoy.  Ben takes a shot at it but, fortunately, we don’t hold and have to go a bit further out (away from the nets) and we finally anchor.

The resort itself is poor: poor food and service and they ran out of beer; and we only have four beers left.  Cripes!  Back to boat.

The next morning we continue our relentless push to towards Thailand and depart at 0700hrs.  The mornings are still dark before this.  Our next port is actually the Malaysian island of Langkawi, 75nm north.  We have light winds from NE as predicted.

A breath of wind arrives and skipper Ben wants the sails up.  Ever the optimist.  The mainsail is going up but Hugh, fearing that something is not quite right, warns that the main halyard on the electric winch is too tight.  Ben says to keep winching.  The mainsail sort of gets there, but a little while later, Ben winches the main halyard yet a bit more; and, bang! The block pulls out of the mast.  Oh, dear.

The wind dies and we motor on to arrive at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club at 1600hrs but discover that there’s no room at the marina.  We anchor off, dinghy into the marina and have dinner.  It’s not a bad looking venue and clearly busy and well patronized.

It’s Friday the 13th….   We decide to explore ashore.  Our first stop is to have coffee at the marina before heading into town.  This is a pretty poor experience: poor service, rubbish coffee.  We go into Kuan town to see what we can find.  However, there is little open and we end up having breakfast at a Chinese street restaurant.  We decide that Kuan has little to offer and, given the generally rude and disinterested manner at the RLYC, we decide to move on today to Telaga Harbour Marina on the north west tip of Langkawi Island.

About 4 hours later, as we approach Telaga, we can hear on the VHF a Kiwi voice calling the harbour, ‘This is luxury motor yacht Happy Days, luxury motor yacht Happy Days’.  They are trying to make contact with the marina to ensure that they have 8,000 litres of fuel ready.  That’s some yacht and some expensive fuel order.  No short while later a very large motor launch, not yacht (like a floating office block) powers-up behind us.

They zoom past and we make our leisurely way to our berth.  It’s a modern marina with a large fuel berth, bars, café, restaurants, Customs and Immigration all in one place.  Great.

Once we tie up it’s beers, nuts and exploring the marina confines.  However, we are not free of Happy Days.  As we are enjoying beers on an upper level balcony overlooking the marina berths, Happy Days finishes fueling and is going to berth stern-to directly in front of us.  We love entertainment.  It’s a very big boat but the crew and skipper so give the impression of having done this before.  And they are suitably kitted-out.  They all have headset mikes and matching shorts and polo shirts.  They also have the marina tenders buzzing around them like mini tugs.  It’s a pretty neat show and what is clearly a professional crew get the job done.  But no sooner have they docked, extended the electric boarding ramp! and erected the deck lounge chair and umbrellas, than a few expensive looking types arrive with suitcases.  They are helped aboard and shortly appear in casual attire, disporting themselves on the upper deck and are served chilled white wines by the crew.  Now that’s the life.  Well, it would be if it weren’t for the three Australian sitting at the upper bar 50 metres from them raising beers in welcome.  Funny, they don’t wave back.  That’s OK.  We didn’t think we were about to be invited aboard anyway.

We are amused to find ourselves inadvertently intruding on their (otherwise) privileged seclusion.  Eventually, we are bored with the accidental entertainment, and for all their wealth, it looks like they are too.  We decide to push afternoon drinks into dinner in one to the nearby restaurants.  Dinner is fine and we get an early night.

When we wake we have two missions: get duty free booze for Ben and dinner at Mangoes Restaurant.  Mangoes was recommended by Hikyo and Rose whom we met at the ghost town like Sebena Cove Marina on the opposite side of the Peninsula. From their description, it seems like Mangoes is something of a local watering hole for the sailing fraternity.

Well, we are always ready for fun and socializing.  We get a local taxi to Mangoes and discover that it’s a trivia quiz night and tables are heavily booked.  However, we plead our cause and we are squeezed in on a table and team Candeux forms up with the help of Josie and Hans, a Dutch married couple and long-time cruising sailors.

We have a good cross section of experience and knowledge on our table and are in the lead early.  But as our overheated enthusiasm soars, so too does the need for quenching draughts and with the required intake of beverages, our ranking starts to slip with each sip.  At the optimum point of inebriation and jubilation, the final scores are tallied – last.  Well, it was a blast, and at least we can say we were both first and last.  Never do anything by half-measures.

Having barely recovered from excess frolicking at Mangoes, we decide that today (our last day in Malaysia) will be a make and mend day.  We also have to go and get provisions and six months’ worth of duty free wine for Ben, plus load up with diesel.  Because there is lots of cruising sailing done in the region, the systems are all in place.  We manage to provision for food and wine and are back to Canduex by midday.  It is then a relatively simple matter to deal with Customs and Immigration so we can legally leave Malaysia and enter Thailand.

It is now late Saturday and we are just about ready for our departure tomorrow.  But just when you think…..   Earlier in the day, Ben had bought diesel from the adjacent service station.  At the time he was obliged to leave his credit card with them because the electronic payment system was ‘down’.   And it is still down.  However, it seems that the ATMs at the airport are working, so we propose to go there, get the money for the diesel out and pay for the fuel.  What could be simpler?  Ben goes to retrieve his credit card from the service station.

But the staff refuse to return his card.  They claim that they won’t give it back until he pays them.  Ben patiently tries to explain that he needs it to get them their money.  We are not alone.  There are many other people trying to fill up cars, boats, buy items: it is total, jostling chaos.  We are all getting close to losing it.  But, amongst this melee we do meet Murray, who is also trying to pay for fuel.  Fortunately Murray, who lives in Kuala Lumpur has cash and a car and offers us a lift to the airport to get cash.  Finally, under pressure from all sides, the service station allows Ben to get his card back and Murray takes us to the airport.  At last we get some and return to the service station to pay for the diesel and we are set to leave Malaysia tomorrow.  Whew!

But the travails are not quite over.  Ben has explained to Murray that his wife, Margaret, will be arriving in Phuket to join the Candeux while Hugh and Duncan, having helped Ben get the boat to Thailand, will be returning to Australia.  Unfortunately, Murray makes it clear that Ben has no hope of getting a berth in Phuket at this time of year.  Of course, in hindsight Ben should have booked a berth some time back.  But, well, hindsight is what it is.  Unfortunately for Ben, while Margaret can be resilient she is not really a sailor.  But she is known to be more tolerant of sailing if marina comforts are to hand.  So Ben is now in over-drive trying to get a marina berth.  He tries several Thai marinas around Phuket without success and now has to rethink his plans.

Ben does not want to leave Candeux anchored or on a mooring (both a bit risky and unlikely to meet Margaret’s approval), so he thinks laterally and tries to get a long-term berth at Telaga Harbour Marina.  There is no space here either.  We also try the RLYC but, of course, they are also fully booked.  Hmmm, getting desperate now.  Finally we contact Krabi Marina and Ben is in luck.   They will give Candeux a berth.  It’s a fair way from Phuket but beggars can’t be choosers and that is where we now plan to go.

Well, we’ve had Malacca up our clacker, it’s now time to vie with Thailand.  Let’s hope that we have fewer ‘adventures’ in Thailand than we have had thus far through the Philippines and Malaysia.  Still, there’s nothing like precedent….


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