It was an exciting day, and the complex task ahead had been preying on my mind for more than a week. We'd planned a fairly lengthy run across the Singapore Strait and then up the skinny Johor Strait and into Puteri Marina, on the Malaysian side. (Singapore's marina prices are hideously expensive!)
Easy to begin with, under sunny skies, albeit with a couple of ominous thunderheads on the horizon. Very light wind, of course...we toodled along in parallel with the big ships...missed the first of the squalls which exploded somewhere off our beam, and continued on, carefully avoiding the barge traffic which goes in all directions outside of the major shipping channel.
But then, the other squall which had looked a bit threatening, looked even more threatening, and then hit us like a ton of bricks....
Total loss of visibility, 15 knots of wind on the nose, we turned on our nav lights and hoped that the tug and barge that we knew was crossing in front of us somewhere, was watching his AIS screen. Not that he could've manouvred around us anyway. And as if that wasn't stressful enough, WHAM! and a bolt of lightning thundered directly down into the water a hundred metres in front of us. I let go the stainless steel steering wheel in awe! Things could only get better from there, and it wasn't too long before we were back in calm water, with a gloomy grey but neutral sky for the rest of the day.
We zoomed across the Eastbound shipping lane and made our way through the dividing anchorage strip in the middle, keeping eagle eyes out for big ships starting to move. All good, and then came the Westbound lane, where we sat waiting for a gap in the traffic for 20 minutes or so before galloping across....and then we were done!
We motored through the ships' parking area at the entrance to the Johor Strait, and then proceeded up the channel, and finally into the marina at Puteri.
Over the next couple of days, the marina started filling up with other cruisers, from both rallies, and we were made welcome, and felt very comfortable indeed.
We taxied into Singapore for a few days, lapping up the luxury, and staying at a plush hotel near Orchard Road. We had a slap-up Peking Duck birthday dinner, with friends Bruce and Deb from the yacht "Matilda", visited the chandleries and yacht supply houses, shopped for stuff, ate a lot and spent a load of money just cruising about the place.
We agreed to join the "Sail Malaysia" yacht rally, which gave us all sorts of benefits on the trip north through the Straits of Malacca to Langkawi, where we'd planned on leaving the boat.
So, it was a few more days of festivities, meetings and socialising, before we headed out once again.
Anchorages along the way north to Port Dickson looked a bit average, so we decided on another overnighter, despite the worry of travelling along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, and also a notorious pirate zone. What could possibly go wrong?
All too easy, and at around 0730 we pulled into the marina at Port Dickson. We'd been advised that they weren't accepting advance bookings and that we should radio in just before entry. Which we did, but nobody answered. And we tried again, and then, the phone, but still no answer. So we just rocked in anyway, spotted an empty berth, pulled into it and tied up. Done!
Another resort-style marina with all of the comforts, and not long afterwards, the office opened, the rate was negotiated, and we were official. (We heard from others at the marina about the savage storm that'd blown through overnight...the one I'd been watching, that we luckily missed.)
We had drinks that night with Keith and Lea Pennicot, my former neighbours (and dockmaster) from Tipperary Waters Marina in Darwin, and Keith drove us into town the next day in his rental car.
Another week or so in Port Dickson, with lots of socialising and a rally day trip to Melaka, which was great fun once we'd slipped away from the tour guide and rendezvoused at the pub.
James turned on plenty of entertainment for the week, and we had lots of social activity (such as drinks and party games aboard "Wirraway") so Mary represented the team while I was a bit of a wet blanket with the strange, debilitating bug I'd picked up.
Anyway, Pangkor is a great marina, James is a great manager, and there's good hardstand facilities when work needs to be done.
I was feeling a bit better by the time we finally left Pangkor, and we anchored off Pulau Talang ("Monkey Island") on our way through to Penang.
There was some interesting argy-bargy on the VHF radio...firstly about a dog that needed rescuing....which was met with a "I'm not rescuing no dog, I'll get rabies" response, and then, a more compassionate response. It seems that there was a dog clinging to a floating island of weed and garbage. One of the crew from the French boat "Lazy Jack" actually jumped into the water to untangle the dog...a beautiful German shorthaired critter...from the mess that she was in, and the animal was taken aboard the Australian catamaran "Endless Summer", where she promptly curled up on the deck to sleep.
Meanwhile, there was more silliness on the radio, with an irate American, with a possibly Naval background, demanding to know why the fleet wasn't in disciplined formation at the notified speed. The fleet graciously ignored him, and while it was tempting to take the bait, we all just motored on at varying speeds, waving at each other, while he grew ever angrier.
We all made our way through the strait, and anchored outside the Penang Marina to once again enjoy the luxuries of a big Western shopping mall, with it's bars and restaurants.
For a predominantly tropical, Muslim nation, Malaysia does a good job of making the place look like Christmas....even if it's just to sell more stuff in the shopping malls.
And as Christmas WAS creeping up, we had a big buffet, pre-Christmas Sunday roast with some of the usual suspects, at the grandest pub in town, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, a beautifully maintained colonial edifice.
We dropped the anchor for the night at little Bunting Island and I actually had a swim off the back of the boat, which, as it turned out, was my last ocean swim of the trip....we'd heard that as we were heading north, box jellyfish were a genuine threat, and besides, it was murky water anyway.
Out came the fold-up bike which we'd carried on the deck all the way from Australia...($90 special at Aldi!) and we started settling into the boat's new home.
The Rebak Island Marina is a part of a 5-star Taj Hotel resort, so all of the facilities are at our disposal. It's a free, ten minute ferry ride to the main island of Langkawi, and there's space for up to 190 yachts, mostly foreign-registered, and many with their crews living aboard.
I have heard it described as "The World's Best Retirement Village" which is fair comment.
Social life at the marina is healthy, with live music jam sessions a couple of times a week, a swim up bar in the pool, Happy Hour cocktails and the Hard Dock cafe which is reserved just for boaties....hotel guests not allowed.
Number One daughter, India (well, we only have one daughter...) flew in for a visit, and on her first day off the plane we made the journey up the mountains to the spectacular Skycab and Skybridge. Which was wonderful, until she sprained her ankle on the hike to the mid-station, and was just a bit embarrassed when the Ranger offered to have her stretchered out.
She opted to hobble....for most of the week unfortunately.
A couple of days' sailing to the outer islands was next on the agenda, along with a bit more socialising on the beach while we were at anchor, and then a quick flight back down to Penang....and then came Christmas.
It was a good little break to be in Penang without having the boat and an untenable anchorage to worry about. And it's only a 35 minute flight.
Once Christmas was done, India was bundled off back to the airport and we readied for the next job...hauling big "El Gato" out of the water and up onto the hard stand for storage. Which was easier than anticipated...the local staff was brilliant. Slick, professional and sensitive to our needs. In no time, the hull had been pressure washed, and the boat was placed solidly on it's stands, and we started the storage/mothballing process in earnest.
So, what's next? A quick little round-Australia trek by caravan, for starters, before coming back to Malaysia later in the year....I guess I'll have to keep the blog going.....