Tales from the front…Malaccan Strait!

Our stay in Singapore was way too brief…nevertheless, we packed a lot in – Singapore is a city, an island and a country all rolled in one. It is an intriguing brew of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western cultures…diversity on steroids blended into a melting pot. And…unlike some other areas of Asia, it’s very neat, orderly and clean. The law is extremely tough in Singapore and the country is relatively free of crime and corruption. Don’t even get caught smoking (banned in most public places), spitting or littering…the fines are stiff and caning was frequent a short while ago.

A little history background…Singapore might have remained another sleepy Malaysian backwater if not for Sir Stamford Raffles, who established the East India Company’s presence in Singapore in 1819 and began the city’s status as a free port and British colony. Despite a few ups and downs – invasion by the Japanese in WWII (one of the most embarrassing defeats in British history) and getting booted out of the emerging federation of Malaysia in 1963 – the island has prospered due to its geographic location and in its role as a free trade hub for Southeast Asia.

We experienced a dynamic modern city with remaining pockets of elegant colonial architecture, a number of excellent museums, humongous shopping malls and thriving ethnically distinct neighborhoods. Mostly all squeaky clean. And…don’t get me started on the food…

Some Singaporean highlights:

  • Good friends from No. Virginia, Bill & Trecia Weinakam visit…and, the daily meet for courtyard cocktails at Raffles Hotel…that’d be the ‘Tropical Sling’, preferred to the here invented famous ‘Singapore Sling’ which is too sweet for modern taste.
Clarke Quay

Skyline of Singapore from the Equinox Restuarant in the Swiss Hotel

Poolside at One 15 Marina

  • Cooking classes Carol & I attended. I now can wok with the best of them!
  •  Experiencing ‘Oktoberfest’ a la Singapore style in Clarke Quay…use your imagination.
  • Meeting Marie and Eric Poisson. An interesting French couple who live on a converted Chinese 250 ton long liner fishing boat named ‘Geisha’. Marie and I were exchanging emails last Spring as the Poisson’s were possibly interested in Japanese cruising and came across our GSSR blogs. We remained in touch but unfortunately our boats missed one another while each was cruising throughout the Philippines last spring. We finally met in Singapore. They are a fascinating couple. The interior of their boat is reminiscent of a New York loft, chic and swanky. The charming bar area flanks a large commercial gas range. Eric, an expert chef is a disciple of Alain Ducasse. Eric prepared a duck feast for us one evening, combined with great French Rose, magnifique! A baby grand piano is in their salon – Marie’s passion. Exotic game heads are mounted on the walls, cool black and white photographs scattered about that their friend, Helmut Newton made. Braun & I agree – they live a unique “art de vivre”. We totally embrace this statement of their philosophy:
“Of course to accumulate presidencies, power, mingling with high society etc… All that

is delicious and intoxicating, then the notion of the ephemeral nature of life catches up with

you. Then you realize that “to have” becomes the opposite of “to be”. The more you “have”

the less you “are” and you become a prisoner of your worldly possessions, which ultimately all of

us will have to leave behind. Our “being” is the most precious of all our possessions. We have

to nurture it away from the hustle and bustle, the pollution, in order to be able to offer the

best of what we are to ourselves and others.” See more about the Poissons on their web site at www.yachtGeisha.com

Meeting people like the Poissons exemplifies the fundamental magnificence of this thing we do with a boat – every day is an adventure and the best part is who you meet along the way!

M/Y Geisha tied up at One 15 Marina, Singapore

Bird’s eye view of the ‘Geisha’s’ salon

A lovely evening with Marie & Eric Poisson

Hours after setting off from Singapore we were in Malaysian waters, the Malacca Strait to be exact. For centuries a haven for pirates. Even today, it is second only to the waters off Somalia for the number of attacks.

Our route in red from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand

Here is a light bit about piracy as told by Braun Here is a light bit about piracy told by Braun that occurred in a town town along the Strait.

“For several days we had been at sea heading northwest along the pirate infested Strait of Malacca. Since ancient times this narrow sea passage has been heavily traveled by traders linking Europe and India with China and SE Asia. The constant traffic of richly burdened ships and the narrowness of the Strait (20-40 miles) have always made it a haven for marauders.

Keeping a continuous extra sharp watch is tiring so we decided to stop over to rest in a marina near Seremban, Malaysia or Fort Dixon as named by the British. Many cities of trade along the Strait have dual names, one local and one given by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese or Indian traders. Examples are Langkawi, Penang, Fort Dixon, Melaka, and Singapore.

While in Seremban we wanted to land travel to Malaysia’s capital city of Kuala Lumpur and then to the old trading city of Melaka. So we talked up the local taxi swami and while she was organizing a driver a man who had been listening in came over and said he had a “better deal for us”. (I bet you think you know where this is going, but not so fast). I asked him who he was and he said he was a “big shot” and to prove it he had Ms. Taxi Swami confirm that he owned several nearby properties. Thus this real estate owner became our transportation advisor. He said his brother in law would at reasonable cost drive us wherever we wanted to go. Ok then, we still needed to check in with immigration so this was a good chance to give “bro” or Mr. Michael as he was called, a try out.

All went fine, Mr. Mike found immigration and our passports got stamped (“chopped” in Chinese). We were headed back to the boat when we encountered a long line of slow moving cars. Mr. Mike suddenly grabbed his seat belt and fastened it. As we inched ahead we could see the roadblock cops, letting most cars by, but stopping and writing tickets for some. Mr. Mike confidently got in the ‘go ahead’ lane but was brusquely waved over by a tough looking smoky. Window down, paperwork handed over, all of which was ok but the cop motioned for Mr. Mike to get out and step behind our car to have a chat. I looked back on an angry hand waving “conversation” and began to think that we don’t need a driver like this for the next several days. It looked like two pirates ruthlessly bargaining in the olden days. My suspicions were confirmed when Mr. Mike opened the car door and asked us for 50 Malaysian ringgits (about $15). This was 5 times the taxi fare to/from immigration, relatively a lot of ringgits! We coughed it up but Mike didn’t have the cash for long, you know where it went, no receipt either. We didn’t have to be on the boat to know what it was like to be pirated.

Once we pulled away, Mr. Mike sensing the “what the hell is going on tension” told us he had to pay off the cop (no news here) because Mike wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and a spy about a kilometer back had radioed the roadblock. He explained that is was far better to settle these matters with cash because if a ticket was written it would cost 10 times as much. He apologized for asking us for the money but he wasn’t about to let the cop see his wallet because the cop would have emptied it. Mike avoided this by telling the cop he just started his shift, had no money but would try and get a little cash from his passengers. You know, two pirates working it out together. Fine, we learned how to deal with a Malaysian roadblock caper but our lesson cost 50 ringgits and I put Mr. Mike on a short leash. I began thinking of how to politely say “Sayonara” at the end of this failed trial run.

We arrived back at the boat and just as I was about to bid a permanent farewell to Mr. Mike he was pressing 50 ringgits into my hand, apologizing for the police delay and telling me the entire ride was free! What a pleasant surprise. A real pirate never returns spoils so I immediately hired him. He turned out to be a jovial prince, thoroughly knowledgeable about Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, and Melaka and provided excellent humorous, personalized tours. A real character with a little larceny in his happy pirate heart”.

Back at sea and a little further NW along the Strait we were approached by a very fast craft, the radars were showed it zooming right toward us. Unidentified incoming at a high rate of speed! Once alongside we could see it was a Maritim Malaysia Patrol boat. They hailed us on VHF Ch 16 and insisted on boarding our boat. There was a strained radio conversation with Braun asking lots of Whys? The radio was clear but the Malaysian/English was not. They weren’t going away so Braun finally slowed speed, they came along side and hopped aboard. After politely removing their combat boots they entered the salon and took a seat at the table to pow wow.

They explained that they were patrolling the Strait for “smugglers, thieves and pirates”. Had we seen any? The taxi experience was a close as we had come and it turned out ok, so we said no, not so far. They gave us several emergency contact numbers in the event of any trouble. They filled out a boarding report, similar to what the US Coast Guard does in this situation, signed it and Braun signed it. It contained a comforting release clause which indicated they did not take anything or otherwise disturb us. They refused our offers of soft drinks, water, etc. and after welcoming us to Malaysia off they went. Rather reassuring!


Maritim Malaysia Patrol boat

Looks like we have company, preparing to board.

The boarding party and capt’n after formalities.

Out of the main Straits channel…lots and lots of fishing vessels!

Not something you see every day…or wish to! A down spout at sea

Malay police in Melaka


Colorful Square where historic Christ Church stands

Couldn’t resist taking this photo…two young guys working a very popular veil and head dress shop!

The Petronas Towers – headquarters of the national oil and gas company.

The international symbol of Kuala Lumpur.

Must pay repect to Buddha and climb up into the cave.

Much like Borneo we immediately noticed how inexpensive Malaysia is. Especially compared to Singapore which is very expensive. For example, using an internationally recognized standard of economic price comparison a liter of Tanqueray Gin (coincidentally the Capt’s preferred gin) costs $64 usd in Singapore and $14 usd in Langkawi, Malaysia. Accordingly, the Pearl departed Langkawi with full medicinal alcohol stores and riding low in the water.

Also, marina fees were incredibly reasonable…in Penang, we stayed three nights in a brand new marina with good power, 24hr security, etc. The basin was surrounded by a host of wonderful shops and restaurants. We paid $57.00 usd for the entire stay which included water & electric…J. That wouldn’t cover our electric use for one day at the Nantucket boat basin!

Penang is actually an island and the oldest of the British Straits settlements. Like Singapore the historic city of Georgetown is home to a mix of various ethnicities: Chinese, Indian, Arabs, Siamese, Burmese and Europeans. In addition to the impressive historical character of Georgetown (another UNESCO site), the local food is one of the top draws of this “Pearl of the Orient”. Plenty of oil and gas money to pay for it and other things, for example – located in and around our marina were beautiful new homes on the waterfront with pools and imported cars. Wayne aptly dubbed the area the “New Florida”…indeed, that’s what it looked like.

Wayne with thriving Penang in the backdrop

Our last Malaysian stop was duty-free Langkawi. We didn’t go there for the sights. We were there for the booze and cheap fuel and to clear customs out of Malaysia, bound for Thailand. Given Langkawi’s inexpensive cost of living we weren’t surprised to encounter quite a few ‘tramps of the tropics’ (low budget itinerant yachties) tied up at the marina. A real assortment of interesting characters and boats. Oh well…there’s a place for everyone!

Next stop Phuket, Thailand.

‘Grey Pearl’ over and out –

Tina & Braun

2 thoughts on “Tales from the front…Malaccan Strait!”

  1. Just amazing stories and photos which we thoroughly enjoy. Keep ’em coming! Somehow, someday, we’ve got to meet up with you on one of your adventures!

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