Malaysia – JB, KL and OMG

Now that we’ve sailed across the equator, I believe the crew of Blue Heeler has unofficially elevated from ‘pollywog’ to ‘shellback’. Although there’s no special tax concessions or other benefits because of this new status, it’s certainly an achievement for a sailor (even though we motored across it – I was on watch at 3.30am while Wayne had a sleep!). Nonetheless I took the obligatory happy-snap at latitude zero, said ‘woo-hoo’, then went on about my business keeping an eye out for fishing nets plus blue and red flashing LED lights signifying a small fishing boat.

From Belitung, Indonesia, we overnighted at Kentar Island then Karas Island, before motoring through the oily stillness of the waters of the lower south China Sea onto Batam Island and our final destination in Indonesia – Nongsa Point Marina. Joining us on the final leg to Nongsa were fellow yachts ‘Ever After’, ‘Infini’ and ‘Silver Girl’.  Claes and Laila from ‘Comedie’ were not far behind us – a magnificent feat considering their gearbox broke down while motoring over some flotsam ten days previously. They had been floating in the wind-less waters south of Belitung with fishing ropes wrapped around their prop unable to put their motor in gear. Luckily for them, Bernardo on ‘Albertina’ single-handedly came to their rescue, towing them the final few days to Nongsa.

These few yachts arrived at Nongsa for the purpose of clearing out of Indonesia on the 15th October. Unfortunately the cruising permits (CAITs) were to expire two weeks earlier than the 90 days promised to us. This disappointed a few in the rally – some opting to stay on until the end of October anyway; others like us keen to get out on time to avoid any bureaucratic hassles. Word seeped through the rally participants that although the organisers allegedly managed to miraculously produce new CAITs with an expiry date at end of October, they didn’t inform the whole rally of this, plus they didn’t make the CAITs available, except to those passing through Belitung – a little late for some, like us, who had already travelled north. We weren’t bothered as we felt we were ready to move on to Malaysia anyway. We’ll get back to see other place in Indonesia another time. Meanwhile the four days at Nongsa Marina allowed us to wash the boat down, swim in their lovely pool every day, use washing machines and have hot pumping showers – Bliss!

The day Albertina arrived towing Comedie was also Bernardo’s birthday. So a small group of us (Bernardo, Claes, Laila, Thomas and Tom, plus us) went out for a lovely buffet dinner at the nearby Yacht Club. Funnily enough, the only three Swedish designed Hallberg Rassy boats in the rally were all at Nongsa! So the evening was also sort of a ‘friends of Hallberg Rassy’ event too. Over the four days at Nongsa, we didn’t venture too far from the boat, pool or shower but we did enjoy a bus trip with the others for a short shopping trip at Batam. It’s very hot and humid up here so Wayne bought another fan to circulate air through the boat.

The staff at Nongsa Point were very helpful and organised our clearance out of Indonesia with no trouble for us at all, except for a reasonable fee. On the morning of the 15th October we left before sunrise at 5.30am to travel the 50nm across the busy Singapore Strait into Malaysian waters then on to Danga Bay Marina, where we would stay for a few weeks. Considering there were over 1000 vessels in the vicinity on the AIS, the crossing was surprisingly uneventful, with only one ship passing close in front of us which Wayne (finally) manoeuvred around its stern.

Travelling north-east along the Johor Strait we faced a 1-2 knot current, but it eased as we passed under the Tuas Bridge just near Raffles Marina. Keeping to the Malaysian side of the strait (with the Singapore police boats keeping a watchful eye from the Singapore side), we motored the 15nm up the strait until we turned north towards Danga Bay. There is plenty of land reclamation going on here and our charts were out as well, so it was a tricky entry, with 0.0m showing under the keel and hitting dirt at one point. The depth was ridiculously low and the new marina management couldn’t provide enough information of where the deeper water was. We made it through eventually and to the nominated berth. Unfortunately the marina management had changed over the weekend and we were told they weren’t the full bottle on how the place runs. In addition, we were told that there were no toilet, shower or laundry facilities available at the marina! Good news though is that we have access to water (non-potable) and electricity for only RM100.00 per week (about AUD$30). Bargain at any rate and beats anchoring. So we connected our hose through the head window and use this water for everything except drinking. Before we arrived at Danga Bay Marina, we’d made sure to run the watermaker and top up our tanks with water for drinking. Luckily we did cause the water here is brown and full of rubbish (and who knows what else…) so we can’t possibly make water here.

With a couple of weeks before the commencement of the Sail Malaysia rally, and with not much around the Johor Bahru (JB) area, we decided to spend a few days at Kuala Lumpur (KL). A train trip sounded like the best option as we didn’t have to worry about crazy bus drivers (see final chapter at bottom of blog) and the price of RM33.00 each way was very cheap for the six hour journey aboard the KTM Intercity ‘superior’ class. The train was clean and reasonably comfortable.

With a couple of days in KL we wanted to make the most of our time so I put together a list of top things to do.  First on the list was to figure out the public transport system and get my bearings. With six hours on the train and my useful iPad, this was easy to do. We chose to stay in a budget guest house in Chinatown for a bit of fun and Wheeler’s Guest House provided a cheap place to stay. Although pretty clean, the plumbing was connected together with electrical tape, there was no view, but good news – the aircon worked. The second and third night the owner decided to move us to a “much better” room – this one had a view but the aircon didn’t work. Didn’t matter cause the window opened to let in the evening breeze.

We quickly dumped our bags upon arrival and didn’t waste any time in getting out for a stretch and caught the free city GoKL bus to Low Yat Plaza at the Bukit Bintang shopping precinct. Low Yat Plaza is FULL of computer and gadgets stores – about six floors of it. Wayne was in gadget heaven and had big plans to buy a WIFI modem with external aerial port, but after a couple of hours searching for one, I think even he was worn out with so many people wanting to sell us ‘just one more laptop’! Sadly, the only thing we bought was an electrical adaptor so we could charge our iPads and phone back at the hotel. After a reasonably good sleep (no bed bugs that I could see or feel crawling on me), we got up bright and early as I’d planned a big day of sight-seeing. (I had to keep Wayne busy otherwise he’d head back to gadget heaven at Low Yat Plaza and if he went on his own who knows if I would ever see him again).

The best form of transport for a sailor (besides a boat) is legs. So we walked to the century old Masjid Jamek mosque, stopping along the way for breakfast at McDonalds. Wayne had to wear a borrowed robe at the mosque (looked a little like he’d just graduated); while my clothing was suitable, I had to don a head scarf I’d brought with me. From Masjid Jamek, we strolled to Merdeka Square where Malaysia’s independence from British rule was signed in 1957, passing some wonderful old buildings along the way and also taking time to visit the KL City Gallery. From there we walked to the impressive Masjid Negara, the National Mosque of Malaysia. This mosque, built in the sixties which was fairly obvious in the squarish design, can fit 15,000 people in at one time. A short walk to the Lakes Gardens for a breather and a moment of relaxation, then off to visit the National Museum to learn more about the history of Malaysia. From there we rode the Monorail across the city to KL’s Menara Tower. Wayne has previously been up the Petronas Towers so for the apparently better views, I chose to go up the KL Tower. Luckily for us the sky was clear so I managed to get some good photos, but in the distance we could see dark rain-clouds looming. Wasn’t long before the KL Tower was surrounded in lighting and thunder and big dark clouds. Cool! We waited until dark so we could see the lights of the Petronas Towers in the distance then left the building in the lighter rain. We returned to Chinatown for some dinner and to watch the cultural blend of people from Malay, India and China. Making up the full quota were a smattering of westerners – some clearly defying the request for conservative dress, with some wearing tiny mini skirts, exposing fleshy muffin-tops and bra straps, clearly contrasting against the conservative and modest burqas and hijabs of the Muslim women. Watching the wide-eyed looks on the local men as they strained their necks to get an eye-full was very funny. After so much walking we stopped for a beer at the Reggae Bar across the road from our accommodation before heading back for a good sleep in our modest abode.

The next day we were up again early as we’d planned a day out at the impressive Batu Caves, some 14ms from city centre. After another feed of Maccas for breaky, we walked to KL station and paid the very reasonable train fare of RM1.00 to arrive at Batu Caves by mid morning. The impressive statue of Lord Murugan stands large and imposing at the entrance of the limestone cave temples; apparently one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The 272 steps to the top didn’t take us long to ascend. The path extended into a series of immense caves, including Cathedral Cave with it’s high ceiling and impressive Hindu shrines. Dark Cave is located separately from the Temple Cave and although a conservation area, allows regular tours through the darkness along a wet and slippery concrete path. Our animated female Chinese tour guide obviously enjoyed her job. After handing each of us a small torch, she enthusiastically lead the group through the narrow path in the darkness explaining the ecosystem of the caves, identifying small centipedes, spiders and pointing out other creepy little bugs to the delight of the kids in the group. The insect bats and fruit bats squeaked overhead and we were warned not to shine flashlights at them in case they went crazy and sent down a shower of stinking guano. The 45 minute tour was worthwhile and very interesting. The whole Batu Caves experience took a few hours and I really enjoyed it. A short stroll back to the train station then a trip back to KL for the next part of our self-guided tour. A stroll through Pasar Seni (Central Market) then onto Little India passing many shops and stalls of saris, incense and curries. To finish off the day we ended back at Petaling Street, Chinatown for a couple of Tiger beers and a feed of sizzling prawns and rice. Our final day in KL was also the public holiday Hari Raya Haj, which marks the end of the Muslim’s pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It’s also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, which commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail, which he didn’t end up doing. God was apparently pleased with Ibrahim’s obedience and suggested a ram would suffice. As such, this festival involves the sacrifice of sheep, cows or camels by Muslims throughout the world. Although we saw a large congregation of Muslim men in obvious state of prayer, we didn’t see any sacrificial lamb, or camel for that matter. We caught the 2pm train back to JB and stopped off at an Indian restaurant for a late feed of er, curried lamb…

We opted to catch a bus back to Danga Bay as we knew the route wouldn’t take long. With a bus full of passengers (buses don’t leave unless it’s as full as possible), the bus took off and the driver hurtled the bus through the traffic like a madman. At one point the speeding bus hit a high curb and ended up dangerously balanced on its two left hand wheels before hauling onto the right wheels before fishtailing out of control. Based on my sailing experience, I reckon if he’d had a clinometer fitted it would have read 40 degrees on a starboard tack!  If it had’ve been raining I believe I may not be typing this post at all. All I could think of in that split second was “OMG: Does my travel insurance cover death by bus?”. Once the crowd of passengers finished abusing the crazy driver, we thought we were almost at our stop. In fact we got off a bit too early and had to walk a bit further than expected. Not that I minded of course!  Next week we plan to travel to Singapore for a look-see. We’ll go by (gulp) bus…wish us luck!

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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