May 1-29, 2019: Our crossing from the Anambas Islands to mainland Malaysia was one of our most challenging nighttime routes yet. We had it all. Thunder, lightning, rain squalls, poor visibility, swell, fishing boats with no AIS and a second set of busy shipping lanes to cross. After an endless night, dawn eventually broke and we could spot Pulau Tioman ahead of us. We were relieved to be out of the large vessel traffic and close to our next anchorage.
Southern Tioman is stunning with jagged peaks rising out of steep jungle-clad slopes. Big and small resorts dotted the coastline as we made our way up towards the ferry terminal and marina at Mersing on the west coast. (We were chuffed to have full-strength cellular service and high speed data again too.)
We skipped the marina, instead scouting out the anchorage before settling in not too far from the ferry jetty. There wasn’t too much wake from the never ending stream of fast ferries but we hoped they wouldn’t be running all night. First order of business: Chris had to fix our raw water pump. After a swim in the warm, clear water off the back of MOKEN, we kayaked to shore and wandered along the inland canal behind the ferry terminal. We forgot to bring shoes, so we didn’t venture too far. Plus, we weren’t legally checked in to Malaysia at this point, so we didn’t want to push our luck.
We would have liked to stay for a while, but we learned from yachties on a neighbouring sailboat that the Rally to the East boats would start arriving in Tioman the following day. It was going to get busy. We opted for more swimming, a few sunset beers and dinner on board. We were knackered by the time evening rolled around. It would be great to get a good night’s sleep.
Oops, I spoke too soon! Chris woke me up at midnight to join him in the pilothouse. Big winds were coming straight into our anchorage and soon the breaking waves started. We were up half the night worried that we might drag closer to shore and the boat off our starboard stern. We couldn’t let out more chain because we didn’t want to end up on top of them, but at least our anchor held. What a night!
Tioman to Puteri
We slept late in the morning even though the anchorage was still bouncy. Over coffee, we decided to start making our way south towards Singapore rather than spending more time at Tioman, but that was easier said than done. Wouldn’t you know it? We couldn’t get the anchor up. After several tries, Chris finally donned his dive gear and went to see what we had snagged.
Turns out the anchor wasn’t caught on anything. It was just dug in really deep in thick, gooey, gelatinous mud with only the top of the shaft exposed. Back topside, it took quite an effort to release it by reversing in the opposite direction. It’s kind of a relief to know our Rocna anchor works that well and we weren’t going anywhere last night in the storm. We were well and truly secure.
We were finally on our way, and heading south 40 nautical miles towards Pulau Sibu. It was very calm and hot. All of the islands in this area are marine reserves, but we weren’t exactly sure what that meant for cruising yachts. I couldn’t find any information online about whether we needed a permit to cruise in the area or not. We passed five rally boats heading to Tioman.
We arrived at Sibu in the late afternoon and anchored off a small resort in 18 feet of water on sand. The water here definitely wasn’t as clear as we’ve enjoyed the past several weeks. I don’t expect we’ll be seeing crystal clear waters for some time as we make our way around Singapore and up Malacca Straights.
We opted to stay at Sibu for two nights. It gave me a chance to do a bit of kayaking to check out the resort and the point west of us. After checking out the menu and the prices, we decided we wouldn’t be dining here. Prices were well above what we have become used to, so we stayed on board for lunch and dinner and prided ourselves on how much money we saved.
It was good that we rested up because our next three days were full on. On the first day, we covered 55 nautical miles to our anchorage at Teluk Punggai, dodging fishing boats, oil platforms, law enforcement vessels and a big thunderstorm along the way. The current was strong and it made for an uncomfortable night.
On day two, several more rally boats passed us heading in the opposite direction. We opted to take the shortcut through Lima Channel to save a bit of time. Here, the green waters of the eastern coast of Malaysia mixed with the brown waters of Singapore Straights as we neared the point. There were lots of visible wrecks around rocks and reefs skirting the channel and we got our share of current (at least it was going with us), whitecaps and chop. Chris helmed the entire way and hand steered, as it would have been quite a workout for our autopilot. Once we rounded the point, we found ourselves in a sea of ships of every conceivable size and description, many of them anchored. Navionics was very outdated along this stretch of coast, with many aids to navigation and even a huge port nowhere to be seen in our charts. We anchored around noon off the coast from Pengerang in Johor at the edge of the cargo anchorage after cover 16 nautical miles. We were just across the channel from Singapore, which we’d tackle in the morning. Here we had to deal with strong currents that shifted as the tides changed, making for another less than relaxing night.
Day three was our next big challenge. We’d be making the run from Pengerang, skirting south around Singapore, past Raffles lighthouse and heading up Johor Straight to the marina at Puteri Harbour, about 52 nautical miles in total. We made excellent time to the lighthouse with the current in our favour. Then it changed and our speed dropped from 7+ knots to 4. There were tons of freighters, tugs, pilot boats and fast ferries to watch out for. Our AIS was beeping a “dangerous target” warning every few seconds at times. Even so, it wasn’t as stressful as we’d imagined, due to the traffic separation scheme. It was the boats crossing the lanes that we really had to watch out for. We were approached by a Singapore police boat near Raffles lighthouse, but they didn’t hail us as we were outside Singapore waters. We’ve heard they are very protectionist. We wound our way through hundreds of ships at anchor as we made our way up Johor Straights with a following sea. Singapore is just as impressive to see from the water side as it is from land. On our run upriver, we past the Singapore dockyards, Raffles Marina and cleared under the Second Link Tuas Bridge. We couldn’t get an answer from the marina at Puteri on VHF or by phone, so we came in with no one to meet us, picked a random slip and managed to tie up ourselves without help in the late afternoon. Although the office was supposed to be open until later, it was the first day of Ramadan, and all the dock crew were sleeping.
The following morning, the marina staff helped us with clearance into Malaysia and took us to the immigration office at the nearby ferry terminal in their golf cart to get our passports stamped. Puteri has changed a lot since we were last here three years previously on a scouting mission. See previous post here. The ferry terminal with regular service to Indonesia was new, and there were now many more skyscrapers towering over the marina, and nearby greenspaces with sculptures to explore. Some of the restaurants along the waterfront looked familiar but the area hasn’t really taken off as a destination, the crowds were sparse and the marina was mostly empty with very few cruising yachts present.
We spent a little more than a week at Puteri, cleaning MOKEN and changing the oil, doing load after load of laundry and provisioning for our next leg up to Langkawi. The shops around the marina included a small Indian-owned grocery store and a bit further away, a well-stocked small market with a good selection of imported foods. Better shopping was a Grab away at Jaya Supermarket and the night market. The marina provided a free shuttle to the night market and the laundromat, as their machines were out of order. Two cute young kittens had taken over the marina’s vacant laundry room and I made a point of trying to socialize them a little bit every day, at least until mama cat moved them along.
Meanwhile, Nukaat made a visit to the vet in Johor Bahru, where they x-rayed his chest, took bloodwork, and gave him antibiotics for his lingering cough. Giving Nukaat medication is not an easy feat. He needs to be wrapped in a towel and it still takes three hands to pry his mouth open. That is one strong cat.
The proximity of Puteri to Singapore makes it a good base for shopping sprees across the river. We made two day trips during our stay to stock up on paint supplies for MOKEN and assorted boaty bits. We also made a point of hitting Din Tai Fung for their dumplings. That’s always a highlight.
The trip itself is worth noting. We’d catch a Grab to Malaysian immigration at the Tuas crossing and clear out. Then catch a bus across the Second Link bridge where they’d drop us at Singapore immigration to clear in, where we’d have to wait in huge lines with hordes of passengers from the endless bus charters. Once through, we could catch another bus to the metro station. Getting around Singapore by metro is easy. After our shopping sprees, we repeated the trip to the Malaysian side, only this time carting a trolley with boxes of paint and other assorted parts, and catch another bus from the river to a mall in town where it was much easier to find a Grab back to the marina in Puteri.
Puteri to Langkawi
In Malaysia, we have to clear in and out of each port, even if we aren’t leaving the country. Puteri Marina makes this quite straightforward, so we let them handle the formalities before we set off again to continue on our way to Langkawi.
It’s amazing how quickly I’d gotten out of the habit of writing our daily log, and now realize I didn’t record anything about this leg of the trip. However, a couple of things really stand out in my memory.
It took us two days and nights to cover the 290 nautical miles to Pulau Pangkor, our next anchorage. After making our way back down Johor Straights, we rejoined the traffic separation scheme heading north. We travelled along the outer edge of the northbound lane, with the freighters off our port and the Malaysia fishing fleet usually off our starboard, although sometimes they moved into the northbound lane too, especially at night. We continued with our usual one-hour daytime and three-hour nighttime rotations at the helm, sleeping in the cockpit between our shifts. The days tended to blend together, MOKEN was operating well and we were happy to finally arrive and anchor in a small bay off the southwest tip of Pangkor near a couple of upscale resorts. We were still dealing with plenty of current here and it was hot.
For most of the trip up to this point, Nukaat seemed to take it all in stride, sleeping in his basket or lounging in the cockpit. By now, he was fairly used to longer passages where he would stick to his regular eating schedule, although he wouldn’t go below decks unless we were at anchor. This meant bringing up his litter box when he’d start peering down the companionway.
At Pangkor, everything changed. Nukaat became very listless and lost his appetite completely. That is very out of the ordinary. I dragged out my home veterinary guide and narrowed it down to antibiotic toxicity or simple dehydration. Either way, getting him to drink was key. Even though he was limp like a rag, as soon as I tried to pry open his mouth to put an eyedropper of water into him, he’d miraculously find a hidden reservoir of superfeline strength. After several hours of giving him eyedroppers of water every 20 minutes, he finally perked up, peed for five minutes solid, and asked for his dinner. After that he was back to his normal lazy self. What a relief.
Nukaat’s time on MOKEN was becoming more challenging. The heat in the tropics could be troublesome and he wasn’t getting any younger. We weren’t looking forward to boarding him once we arrived in Langkawi while we made our summer trip home to Canada. These trips have been getting longer and longer every summer, and he doesn’t like being locked up in a small space or around other cats. So, we weighed our options and made a tentative plan to take him home with us this year. There would be a lot to figure out to make that happen once we got to Langkawi. Life on MOKEN wasn’t going to be the same without him.
From Pangkor, it was another 137 nautical miles to Rebak Marina near Langkawi. We left mid-day and after another rather uneventful overnight passage, we waited outside the entrance to the marina at dawn. We made our way in at first light on May 19th, and tied up next to Windchimes, with our Aussie mate Greg and dock neighbour Julie helping with our lines. In the past three weeks, we’d covered nearly 700 nautical miles from the Anambas Islands in Indonesia to Rebak and nearly 1,500 nautical miles since we’d left Kota Kinabalu at the end of January. It was our biggest cruising season yet.
Rebak and Langkawi
The marina is located on Pulau Rebak, a small private island off the coast of Langkawi and very near the airport. The island is also home to Vivanta Resort by Taj Hotels, reportedly five star but a little worn at the edges, but it has a beautiful pool and is a very popular destination with honeymooners. Most hotel guests come from India, the middle east and Asia, while most of the marina residents are from Australia, Europe and North America.
Once tied up, we waited for the office to open so we could check in, arrange for wifi and get our dock power up and running. The rest of the day was spent cleaning, of course.
The following day, we took the Rebak ferry to Langkawi and rented a car from Mr. Din for the ride to the main business centre at Kuah to visit immigration, customs and the harbour master. As we were now official, Greg gave us a tour of the island and the highlights in Kuah, including a stop at Scarborough Fish and Chips for lunch accompanied by Tiger beer overlooking the north coast of Langkawi and the nearby islands of Thailand. We’ll have to save our exploration of Thailand for 2020, as we only had about 10 days at Rebak before flying out.
During this time, we had to get MOKEN cleaned and prepped for four months of storage in the water and arrange someone to check on her periodically to make sure everything was okay while we were home for the summer. We also had to arrange to fly ourselves and Nukaat back to Canada. International travel with a pet is no easy thing to coordinate. It wasn’t all work. We took breaks on Sundays to go to Mangos restaurant for long, lingering roast dinners and Wednesdays to return to Scarborough for more fish and chips. And there were always cold frosty Tiger beers waiting for us each afternoon once we put our tools down.
Next, we pack up Nukaat and head to Canada for the summer, with a few days in Kuala Lumpur en route.