Telaga

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Greetings from Telaga, a small harbor on the island of Langkawi on the northwest coast of Malaysia. This will be our home base for the next four weeks. Our current location is 06.21.743 North, 099.40.669 East. Sophie is now 1,299 miles from Bali, 4,935 miles from Auckland, and only 1,212 miles to Chennai on the Indian subcontinent. We definitely seem to be zipping along, but we will spend the next seven months hanging out between here and Phuket, Thailand, which is only 110 miles to the north.

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For the first time since Vanuatu, we fee like we are back in “cruising country.” We are anchored in a small bay with 30 other sailboats, right outside of a marina holding another 50 boats. There’s no real town here, so you have to either rent a car or take a taxi to Langkawi’s commercial center of Kuah if you want to provision. But Telaga harbor boasts a waterfront promenade with outdoor restaurants featuring tapas, Italian, Indian, French, Chinese, and Lebanese food. Meal prices range from $2 to $15 (for filet mignon), and beers cost around a buck.

Did I mention that there are 80 boats here?

The promenade also features flowers, palm trees, and a smiling Jenna, as you can see from the photo at the top of the blog.

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Our harbor is protected from the Malacca Strait by two small manmade island that are uninhabited. These have been used as little adventure playgrounds by cruising kids for years, but recently a sign went up declaring Private Property: Anyone Caught Hunting, Fishing, Swimming, or Trespassing Will Be Prosecuted. That didn’t stop Leo and Hazel from spending the afternoon there with their new friend Jana from Momo, because the kids were playing, an activity not specifically covered by the directions on the sign. They did pick up one of their best sunburns of the entire trip, which I think from their perspective was a small price to pay in return for getting an entire afternoon by themselves without parents on their own island.

IMG_6524One of the nice things about spending time in a secure anchorage in a place without too many shore side distractions is that it creates an environment where the kiddies can focus on their schoolwork. This photo isn’t staged, Leo actually likes Sophie school.

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Leo’s hard work is paying off, because he achieved an important milestone this week by completing 50% of his fifth grade curriculum. We keep a chart on a bulkhead to track the kids’ progress in Sophie School, and Leo was quite happy to fill in his 50% box.

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Leo isn’t the only one on board who is working hard and achieving milestones at school. We are happy to report that Hazel has completed second grade! We are so proud of the effort and dedication both she and Leo put into their schoolwork. Hazel is especially good at getting herself up early and starting schoolwork before anyone else wakes up. Her dad used to deliver newspapers before school when he was a boy, and I guess this is one apple that hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

IMG_1168Now that school is over, Hazel has apparently discovered other ways to occupy herself before everyone else on the boat wakes up. This morning, she looked up from her magazine and said “Dad, can you believe that there is a movie star that loves her butt? She even pays someone to clean and polish it. That’s ridiculous!” I asked her if this person was named Kim Kardashian. Hazel put her hands up to cover her mouth, an endearing trait of hers when she is feeling a little shy, and giggled, “Yes.”

Until today, our children lived in a world where the Kardashians did not exist. Pretty cool.

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We have been enjoying mostly sunny and dry weather since we arrived here, which of course is not supposed to happen during this rainy monsoon time of year. The kids have been hoping for a “Sumatra,” the name for vicious squalls that form over Sumatra and then hit this coast during this monsoon. They can bring 50+ knot winds, lightning strikes, waterspouts, and cloudbanks that look like a black wall of death. Leo even wrote a report on them.

We were hit by a squall the other day, but it’s subject to an ongoing debate as to whether or not it was a Sumatra. We had gusts that exceeded 40 knots and cycled around 360 degrees. But the black clouds came mostly from the mountains.

The squall hit us in the middle of the day, and in our scramble to gather laundry and tie down the surfboard, Jenna unfortunately slammed her foot into a little plastic hose nozzle that has fallen off the aft cockpit counter and lodged in the teak grate right outside of the cabin entrance. We are not sure if it is broken, but it hurts like heck.

So there you have it. We are back in a tropical paradise with new friends, deserted kiddy play islands, great focus on Sophie school, inexpensive and delicious food, and 50 cent happy hour beers. On the downside, my wife is hobbling, and we now all know that we live in a world where the Kardashians are popular.

On balance, I think we’ll take it. But that’s easy for me to say because I’m not the one with a broken toe.

Penang. Who Knew?

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Once again, we have stumbled into a place where we were planning to stay for two days and it now looks like we will stay for up to two weeks. Penang is full of surprises for us.

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When we departed the United States in 2013, we painstakingly researched every harbor on every island that lay in our path across the Pacific. Two years later, we are in more of a “wing it” mode, where we aren’t as knowledgeable about the different places we visit before we get there. That’s clearly not the case when it comes to navigation; we still try to have as much information as possible about every rock, reef, and anchorage in our path. But from a cultural perspective, we are learning more as we travel.

Our plan after Singapore was to travel 450 miles up the west coast of the Malay peninsula to Langkawi, an island just below the Thai border. Langkawi is a cruising destination with a marine service industry, plenty of anchorages, and duty-free booze. Our initial plan was to hang out there for a month and then continue on to Phuket, Thailand. To us the Malaysian coast was going to be a highway to Langkawi with overnight rest stops every 80 miles or so at places like Behar, Port Dickson, Klang, Pangkor, and Penang.

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Penang has turned out to be a surprise for us. We love it here. It has the sophistication (meaning money) and food culture of Singapore, but on a much smaller scale and at half the cost. It has great culture and swimmable beaches. It has a modern, inexpensive marina where we have met other cruisers, including a boat with kids! Sophie played host to an impromptu hide-and-go-seek party with six kids tromping around the trampolines while the parents watched from the relative safety of an Irish bar on a terrace above.

Leo and Hazel are very happy here.

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Our current home is the Straits Quay Marina, a mixed-use development on the northeast corner of Penang. We are about four miles north of the main city of Georgetown. The marina has 20 boats in it, and half of them are catamarans. There is a bit of a silting problem here, and even Sophie can only enter and exit the marina at high tide despite our 4′ 7″ draft.

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Before we got here, we knew Penang had a rich cultural heritage. We were expecting some old colonial buildings and some fishing villages. Instead we found an island with three times the number of skyscrapers compared to Seattle. That surprised us. Our marina is located on the right side of the photo above.

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Most of the skyscrapers here are condominiums, and one of our cabdrivers said that 70% of the units are empty, held by foreigners for investment purposes. He was very proud of the fact that Jackie Chan owns three condominiums in Penang. I’ve also read that “young retirees” from Hong Kong and Shanghai move here to educate their children, because Malaysia’s private schools are excellent and relatively inexpensive. The marina’s other cruising boat with kids has been here for a year, and their two boys are attending a local private school.IMG_0919

In addition to having lots of skyscrapers, Penang is home to one of the best life raft servicing facilities in Southeast Asia. It took me a while, but I was finally able to wrestle our life raft out of Sophie’s transom cradle and into the dinghy, and then from the dinghy onto the dock.

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Once the life raft was removed, I had the opportunity to give Sophie’s entire transom area a thorough cleaning. This included removal of the two empty beer cans that somehow found their way to a spot behind the life raft.

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It can be a little nerve wracking for a cruiser to hand over their life raft to a stranger for servicing. Your life raft is arguably the most important piece of equipment on your boat. But as soon as I walked into the life raft servicing center at Ocean Success here in Penang, I was relieved. Their shop was spotless, their tools were well-organized (always a good sign), and the two guys there seemed to know what they were doing.

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I was there while Ibrahim and Zabbir unpacked and inflated our life raft. They both gave it a thumbs up. I then left it in their capable hands as they tested it for leaks over the next couple of hours. They also tested the gas tank. They used their phone on the next day to video themselves repacking the raft, including their attaching the painter to the gas bottle pin. The entire bill for the inspection and service was US$238, which is about a quarter of what a similar service would cost in the US.

Have I mentioned lately about how much we love Penang?

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After two days of chores and Sophie School at the marina, we finally hopped into a cab and began exploring Penang and its culture. Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a source of pride for the locals. Downtown Georgetown is a warren of little streets filled with Chinese, Indian, Tamil, and Malay shops and restaurants. Along the waterfront are six Clan Jettys, a series of houses and shops extending out into the strait. Each one is organized around a single Chinese family, and some date back over a hundred years.

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Farther up the shore we visited Fort Cornwallis, an installation the British built in order to defend their local investments from raiding Thai pirates. While we were doing the tour, I asked Leo if he could name the famous figure from the US Revolutionary War that Fort Cornwallis was named after. It took him a few seconds, but he finally came up with the correct answer.

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By doing so, Leo freed himself from history jail.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and involved a siting of sea otters on the sea wall, lunch at a hawker center, visits to two luxury malls, and a siting of the oldest MacDonald in the world (based on the date of the building.)

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A few days later, we got up early and headed over to the Thai consulate to apply for visas.

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We then bought tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus to explore the northern part of Penang. These double decker buses have an outdoor flybridge that make them a great platform for taking pictures.

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Our first destination was Monkey Beach. We hadn’t been to a decent beach or seen a decent monkey for over a month, so we were due. It was a lovely day for a beach excursion. This whole northeast-monsoon-rainy season remains a myth for us, at least for now.

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To get to Monkey Beach we had to hire a boat. While waiting for the boat we spotted a five foot long monitor lizard hanging out on the dock. He didn’t seem to bother a rooster that was in the vicinity, but I am still not quite used to seeing small dinosaurs lazing about.

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It does make me happy that after 12+ years of marriage, Jenna still enjoys herself a good boat ride.

Once we arrived at the beach, Jenna and the kiddies went off to check out some rope swings, while I stayed back to look for monkeys. I soon found a pack of them raiding a garbage can. One of them was a big male. He looked up at me, bared his fangs, and charged.

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I didn’t a have a stick on me, and he kept charging. When he was 5 feet away I kicked sand at him. He stopped and said to himself “My charging teeth kung fu is no match for his sand kick kung fu! I must find his weakness and pursue another plan.” He quickly scampered away.

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The beach was rich with monkey sign. I should have kept my guard up, but I didn’t.

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We continued up Monkey Beach to a shack that sold beer and grilled fish. There were monkeys here as well, but these monkeys were different. They were all mommies with tiny babies clinging to them. They were so cute! Hazel climbed up a tree so she could be like a monkey, Jenna went to take pictures, and Leo and I sat and relaxed in the shade.

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I went to check on how lunch was progressing. Didn’t it look delicious? While I was at the grill, a monkey sprinted from the trees, grabbed my beer (which I had inadvertently left on the table right next to Leo), raced back into the trees, and chugged it. I never saw a thing. I just heard Leo sputterlaughing, saying “Dad, Dad, Dad, a monkey just ran over here and stole your beer! Seriously!”

Oh well, beaten again. By a monkey. I have no power against their baby-beer-fish kung fu trickery.

The day was too nice me to remain sad for long, however, so we took the boat back to the dock, hopped on the bus, and returned to Penang.

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Our next destination was the Kek Lok Si temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It was a sprawling complex of pagodas and shrines situated on a hillside overlooking Penang. Jenna takes much better photographs than I do, so I’ll leave it to her to share with you the sense of beauty and peace we encountered there.

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I’ll simply say it provided a wonderful vista of the city, and we got to ride a cool articulated railway to reach the summit.

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We hurried back to the Hop On Hop Off bus stop and caught the last bus of the day to get back to Sophie. The service was shutting down early due to the start of Ramadahn.

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Fortunately for us, we got stuck in evening rush hour traffic. The city was bathed in golden light, and the bus flybridge was a great photography platform. Jenna was in her happy place.

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Leo was happy to be reading. Can anyone guess what his favorite Microsoft program is these days?

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Hazel was simply happy.

Me? The monkey beer theft incident makes for a funny story. But having the opportunity to spend time in a peaceful, culturally rich city with loved ones is way better.

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Given the horrible news coming out of the United States today, I want to emphasize the peaceful part. Here’s the sign posted outside of the central police station here.

We’ve been in Penang for a week and haven’t seen a gun. We have seen some police on motorcycles writing speeding tickets. We see security guards outside of hotels, banks and malls, but they are armed with billy clubs and wear cool-looking berets and are uniformly polite and helpful. Throughout the city we see mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and various flavors of Christian churches side-by-side on the same block. Chinese and Halal stalls stand next to each other in the hawker centers. Our Italian restaurant had a Ramadahn special last night, where everyone got a complimentary bowl of chicken mushroom soup along with some cinnamon date spread at sundown.

Our brief glimpse of Penang so far reinforces for me and for Jenna and the kids that people from different cultures and religions can live together in harmony without sacrificing the things that make them unique. Who knew?

Now if we could only do something about the darn monkeys.

 

Malacca Strait? Piece of Cake

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I’ve heard stories about the dangers of the Malacca Strait throughout my entire life. This narrow passage of water connecting Singapore with the Indian Ocean was one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, teeming with nonstop marine traffic, pirates, waterspouts, unmarked fish traps, and treacherous currents. Our passage through here was supposed to be one of the riskiest parts of our entire circumnavigation.

The reality? The picture of Hazel up top pretty much summarizes our experience over the last three days as we covered the 140 miles from Singapore to Port Dickson, the town where we checked into Malaysia this afternoon. We saw very little shipping traffic, and fewer fishermen than we saw in northwest Indonesia. We didn’t even get a thunderstorm. We had nothing but flat seas, a nice breeze, and a favorable north-setting current in the afternoons. Overall, it was a piece of cake.

Our planned two week stay in Singapore wound up being a six week stay, and we loved every minute of it. Jenna and I each had to separately fly home to the US for a week — she went to attend her grandmother’s funeral, and I went to have a cancer scare checked out (false alarm!) — and Singapore was a great spot to hang out with the kids. Jenna is pulling together a blog post documenting our adventures there, so stay tuned.

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Checking out of Singapore was as easy as checking in. Zeina, pictured above, runs the marina office at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club and handled all of our paperwork with Singapore Customs and the Harbormaster. She is awesome.

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After we left the RSYC marina we had to motor 5 miles up to Singapore’s western quarantine and immigration anchorage where we would drop our passports into a fish net extended by a guy on the deck of a patrol boat. On the way there, we passed a fellow Lagoon 500 taking some school kids out for a holiday sail on Buddha’s Birthday. The Ozzie skipper of Talise yelled “nice boat!” as he sailed past us.

I love boats named after girls.

Once we cleared immigration, we motored back through the harbor, turned the corner into the Malacca Strait and saw … nothing. There was virtually no shipping traffic. Perhaps it was the holiday?

We motored 35 miles and dropped a hook in the lee of Pulau Pisang. 01.28.807 N, 103.14.759 E. It was a nice anchorage and we enjoyed a quiet night.

The next morning I had to do some work on Sophie. The engines had been running somewhat sluggishly during our exit from Singapore, so I changed the fuel filters. I also replaced the starboard engine fan belt and fixed the cracked fan belt cover that had been causing the fan belts on that engine to chafe and stretch. Finally, I got to dive the boat and scrape some nice Singapore barnacles off of the props. I didn’t want to swim in Singapore harbor due to the combination of waves and pollution, but the water by Pisang was so silty that I had to feel my way to where the propellers were located. It took 25 dives, but both props were soon shiny and clean again.

Needless to say, I was back in my boat maintenance happy place.

We got underway at 10:00 AM and covered the 65 miles to our next anchorage in Pulau Besar in the Water Group (02.06.593 N, 102.20.630 E) by sundown, thanks in part to an afternoon of motorsailing at a speed of 10+ knots aided by a favorable current.

Today’s motoring run of 38 miles to Port Dickson was uneventful, except for the part where we passed the world’s largest ship whose security guard pointed a gun at us.

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According to Wikipedia, the TI Europe is one of 4 vessels in a class that are the largest ships in the world. It was anchored off an oil terminal halfway between Malacca and Port Dickson. Here’s what AIS had to say about this boat:

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Think about it. 1243 feet long, 223 feet wide, and 72.5 feet deep. That is one BIG ship!

Naturally, I changed course so we could pass right alongside TI Europe. While doing so I trained my binoculars on the bridge. Usually when I do this while passing a ship, I spot someone looking at us with their binoculars, especially when Jenna is on deck. We then wave at each other and continue on our merry way. This time I saw no one, not a single visible soul on the largest ship in the world, until I spotted the head of a person who was crouching behind a metal plate welded to the railing right outside the bridge on the top deck. At first I wondered if the guy had dropped his keys or was scraping paint. But then I realized that his head repeatedly bobbed up for a peak at us every few seconds and then disappeared. And then I saw something that looked an awful lot like a sniper rifle. He clearly wasn’t scraping paint with it. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was spotting him with my binoculars. The entire stern area of TI Europe was covered with coils of barbed wire, so it was clear that they were worried about security. It all happened quite quickly, and then we were gone.

But man, the dude pointed a gun at me!

I was tempted to call them on VHF channel 16 and say “TI Europe, TI Europe, TI Europe, this is the sailing yacht Sophie … Were you just pointing a weapon at me? While my children were on deck waving at you?” But the most that call would accomplish would be a likely visit from a Malaysian Coast Guard patrol craft, who are out in force looking for Rohingya refugees (which is an awful, awful situation.) So I kept my mouth shut and kept on going.

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But again, that was a big boat.

We made it into Admiral Cove Marina in Port Dickson by 1:00 PM and talked them into providing us a birth for a few days. We then took a cab into town and cleared Immigration, the Harbormaster, and Customs in under an hour, which is really, really fast given our non-Singapore experiences over the last year.

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As we walked into the Immigration office, we saw a sign describing the required dress code for people visiting government offices in this Muslim country. Jenna quickly dug through her bag and assembled something that made her appearance appropriate in the eyes of the government here. She now says that she wants to buy a scarf while she is in Malaysia. To think of all the Hermes stores she walked past while we in Singapore over the last month…

After we visited the government offices, we stopped in a MAXIS mobile outlet to buy Sim cards, and half of the customers were local Chinese women wearing short shorts and tank tops. It was no big deal.

The more we travel the world, the more we see that people, regardless of their country or culture or religion or economic status, are almost entirely friendly and open and tolerant of others. And the more we travel the world, the more we realize that the perceived dangers in our trip — the 3,000 mile crossing to the Marquesas, the uncharted corals of the Tuamotos, the pigs of Tonga, the passage to NZ and back, the gangstaz of the Solomons and PNG, the corruption and bureaucracy and religion of Indonesia, our counter-monsoon cruising calendar, the pirates of the Malacca Strait – all of these perceived dangers never really amounted to anything. Instead we have consistently encountered good people going about their lives, and weather that we can manage if we are patient and informed in our choices and scheduling.

Maybe we are lucky, but maybe there is more to it than just simple luck.

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Anyway, here is the view from Sophie’s back porch this afternoon. The Admiral Cove Marina complex here is fairly inexpensive and has a pool, tennis courts, kids’ room, and a sailor’s bar that serves $3 Carlsbergs from 5:00-8:00 PM. We initially thought we would just spend a day or two here, but it now looks like it could be closer to ten days. We’ll leave Sophie here while we head into Kuala Lumpur for a few days to celebrate my birthday and watch the Champions League final this weekend.

International PTDJ Day.

We also just realized that the Muslim holy month of Ramahdan (as they call it here) begins on June 17th, and we will be living in in a Muslim country for the entire month. What a tremendous opportunity for our entire family to learn so much more about how a quarter of the people on the planet go about their lives and practice their faith.

When we left on this trip back in 2012, I thought I knew it all. I now realize how little I actually know about pretty much anything.

Anchorages from Bali to Singapore

opnHere is another one for boats following in our footsteps, where we provide waypoints and advice on the different places where we have stopped over the last few months.

Before we entered Indonesia, we knew very little about this leg of our trip. Would we have run-ins with pirates? Would we encounter massive standing waves and rip tides that would send us sideways? Would the predominately Muslim population present problems for a boat full of Americans?

The thousand miles we covered from Bali to Singapore proved to be uneventful, with little wind during this transition period between the monsoon seasons. The people we met were uniformly kind, the fishermen all smiled and waved, and we experienced some of the best wildlife and snorkeling of our entire journey during this leg. We’ll come back here again some day.

seranganPulau Serangan, Bali
08.43.100S 115.14.823E
This was our home while we visited Bali for over a month. Serangan is the main mooring and fishing boat anchorage on Bali’s west coast, and although the harbor is filled with hundreds of mooring buoys that you can rent, we anchored in 30 feet of mud on the eastern side of the harbor with 5 other sailboats. It was a secure spot, and we never dragged even during a 50 knot squall. The location is a short dinghy ride to the beaches of Sanur, but a huge mud flat appears in front of Sanur at low tide. I broke one of our dinghy wheels crossing it. A neighboring boat would frequently leave their dinghy at the park at Sanur, but they were often hassled and at one point even found sand poured into their gasoline tank. Instead, we would leave our dinghy on the inside of the ferry dock in the middle of Serangan harbor. We never had a problem, even at night, but it meant we had to take Blue Bird taxis to get anywhere in Bali. They have an app you can download to your phone, so at least they are reliable. We could buy diesel and gasoline in Serangan. Overall it was a quiet anchorage with pleasant people. We never wanted to swim here, however.

lbnPulau Lembongan
08.40.675 S, 115.26.293E
This is a resort anchorage used mostly by day trippers coming over from Bali. A large reef provides shelter from northerlies. We stayed here on two separate occasions, and on both visits we grabbed a mooring near the tour boats in 20 feet of water. No one came by to collect money. We loved swimming in the clear water after a month of Serangan’s mud. The harbor gets loud during the day but quiets down after 3:00 PM when the tourists leave. Note that Selat Lombok can have a 5 knot south-setting current, so when heading north it’s best to hug the Bali coast before turning right for Lembongan. You need REALLY to do this if heading north to the Gili Islands or you run the risk of having the current deposit you in Darwin.

gili2Gili Air
08.21.948 S, 116.04.932 E
We visited Gili Air twice, once on our way into Bali and once on our way out. The anchorage is protected by reefs, and we picked up a mooring on each visit. We were only charged during our first visit. Gili is a laid back tourist spot with no cars and a sand path that circles the island. Little horse carts are used to haul food and luggage to the hotels. There is supposed to be excellent snorkeling nearby. We wound up leaving our dinghy tied to the inside of the ferry dock. It was safe there, but little school kids enjoyed swimming off it. There are no stores or diesel available at Gili, but we ate in the beachfront restaurants every night. The kiddies didn’t complain too much.

Pulau Kangean
06.51.511S, 115.13.943E
After Gili we did a 110 mile overnight run to Kangean. It was a beautiful and sheltered harbor, and we anchored in 50 feet of mud a little east of the navigation marker. We enjoyed the sun and the fact we were out in a quiet anchorage for the first time in over a month. There were a couple of small fishing villages onshore and a nice-looking beach that was crowded with fishing boats, but we opted to hang out and rest.

post giliPulau Bawean
05.43.796S 112.40.200E
We sailed another 160 northwest from Kangean to Pulau Bawean, another sheltered stopover on our way to Kumai. This island was bigger and more developed than Kangean, and we shared our anchorage with several fishing boats. It’s important to note that fishing boats are now ubiquitous, and we have to pay careful attention to avoid their nets. We anchored here in the first big bay on the north side of the island and had another quiet and sheltered stopover.

kumaiKumai, Kalimantan, Borneo
02.44.372S, 111.44.002E
From Bawean we traveled another 200 miles north to Kumai, where we anchored in the river for a few days as we visited the orangutans on a tour boat. We successfully navigated the river using the waypoints published on Harry’s Yacht Services website. Kumai is a commercial port on a tidal river with wharves on one side and mangroves on the other. Dozens of shallow draft freighters navigate the river every day. You also have to be on the watch for “floating islands,” which are large chunks of mangrove being carried by the current out to sea. As we approached Kumai, we were met by a guy in a speedboat who we wound up hiring to arrange our orangutan tour, watch our boat (from the cockpit) while we were gone, and supply us with diesel. The most interesting thing about Kumai itself were the dozens of 5 story warehouses scattered throughout the town. They were swallows nest factories. Kumai itself was not very interesting, but the orangutan tour was a major highlight of our entire trip. Once the tour was over and our diesel tanks were topped of, we left.

sembliPulau Sembilan (off Pulau Nangka)
02.31.040S, 108.31.779E
After Kumai, we sailed (sailed!) 200 miles west to Pulau Nangka, our first stopover on our way to Singapore. The anchorage in Nangka was rolly and exposed to the north, so we pulled up and moved another 2 miles to the south side of Sembilan where we anchored in 50 feet of sand, right off of coral reefs. This place was beautiful, and we stayed four nights.  We would have stayed longer but were running low on food. Sembilan is deserted and ringed by a sand beach, which in turn was ringed by a coral reef. It was like we were back in the South Pacific. It felt great to swim all day. Some local fisherman camped out on the beach at night, but they left us alone. Great stop.

mesanakPulau Mesanak
00.24.270N, 104.33.551E
From Sembilan we made a 300 mile run northwest to Mesanak. Our original pan was to break this leg up into two trips with a stopover on Pulau Bangka, but we were well rested, had plenty of fuel, and the seas were flat, so we kept pushing. Mesanak was another quiet, sheltered harbor with a lot of fishermen. It had 20 huge fish trap houses on stilts throughout the harbor. This whole part of Indonesia – the Riau, Bangka, and Lingga islands – is where boats based in Singapore and Thailand go cruising. We could easily have spent a month exploring this beautiful area, but we are not sure we want to deal with the bureaucracy required to re-enter Indonesia. This was another great stop.

nonsaNongsa Point Marina, Nongsa Point, Pulau Batam
01.11.780N, 104.05.777E
This is an actual, real, modern marina with shore power and attendants with radios who run out and help you dock your boat! It is part of a hotel complex with a pool, restaurant, golf course, and a bike trail. I learned later on in Singapore that the marina has an excellent boat detailing service and that many boats in Singapore head over to Nongsa to get their boats waxed and polished. Sophie is looking a little dull these days, and the equatorial heat deadens any ambition I have to wax the boat right now. So detailing will have to wait until Thailand. The people from Nongsa handled our Indonesia immigration and customs clearance for us. That in and of itself made this an excellent stop.

rsycThe Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, Singapore
01.17.666N, 103.45.696E
Our current home is a marina on the southwest coast of Singapore. We didn’t realize it a month ago, but the presence of the Singapore Yacht Show last week made it very difficult to find a berth in this country due to all of the boats coming down from Thailand and Malaysia. We were lucky to get a berth here. The facility at the yacht club is excellent: hotel, restaurant, bar, huge swimming pool, gym, steam room, kids room, gambling room, mahjong room, karaoke club, concierge, and 7×24 security. It’s adjacent to a huge park with bike trails and one of Singapore’s best playgrounds. There is also easy access to public transportation. The only downside? It’s rolly here. Rolly, rolly, rolly. The marina docks are located right next to the immigration dock where service boats pick up and drop of crews for all of the commercial vessels anchored off Singapore. These service boats are all 50 foot twin diesel pilot boats, and their skippers fishtail them into the dock like toddlers driving bumper cars at the “No Parents” night at the amusement park. They kick up a lot of wake, which isn’t a problem for cats like Sophie, but the monohulls swing like pendulums. The staff all seem surprised when we tell them we love the dock. This is a great place for cats, with an excellent and friendly staff.

 

City Life

IMG20150429124510Time has flown by since Sophie arrived in Singapore almost two weeks ago. At the start of the month, our big decision of the day involved choosing which two-year old cans of food from Safeway should go into that night’s chili surprise. Now our big decision involves selecting which of the country’s 30 malls we should visit via Singapore’s modern and clean subway. It has been quite a transition, and I like it.

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Our last stop in Indonesia was Nongsa Point Marina on the northern tip of Batam Island. It was actually a marina, with docks and shore power and security and smiling attendants, our first visit to a marina in 7 months! We spent a couple of days here, and the marina staff handled all of our paperwork for leaving Indonesia. It was easily our most straightforward and efficient encounter with Indonesian bureaucracy.

Covering the 14 mile passage across the Singapore Strait from Nongsa to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club was like driving Sophie through a video game. Here is a shot of our chart plotter as we left Nongsa.IMG_0763Each of those triangles represents a ship, and most of the ships were 800 foot long tankers and freighters going at 15 knots down designated traffic lanes. Fighter jets passed over us every ten minutes. We had a 15 knot wind behind us, but I didn’t dare put up any sails because of the need for visibility and maneuverability.

It actually got worse when we reached the point where we had to cross the traffic lanes. It was like running across a highway.IMG20150430095844

Our AIS tracker showed over 100 ships within 2 miles of us. In fact, it is illegal for a boat to enter Singapore waters without having an AIS transceiver (a radio that enables your boat to appear as a triangle on other boats’ AIS screens.)

I had to hand steer to get Sophie across the street, but we eventually made it to our designated quarantine area, where a grey-hulled immigration boat was waiting for us. They pulled alongside, and we dropped our passports and ship’s papers into a net they held out for us. 10 minutes later, we were admitted into the country. No boarding. No sweaty motorcycle rides to remote government offices. No surprise fees. We were back in modern civilization!

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Our home in Singapore is the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, a marina and hotel complex located between a container terminal and a public park on the island’s southwest coast. It’s a modern facility complete with a pool, gym, bar, restaurants, and even a kid’s playroom.

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The RSYC has a reciprocal relationship with the Seattle Yacht Club, which means we can stay here at a discounted rate with complete access to all of their facilities. We may want to give them a new burgee while we are here.

So … what does one do in a cosmopolitan city after spending 8 months in remote Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia?

The short answer? Everything!

For starters, the park next door has an extensive set of bike trails. We bought the kiddies some bikes in New Zealand, but we hadn’t used them for over a year. In fact Hazel’s bike still had training wheels attached. We felt bad that at age 7 she still couldn’t ride a bike, but I guess it’s one of the prices you pay for living on a boat. We took off the training wheels and then took her out riding every day. Within a week, Hazel was doing laps of the park, as you can see from the photo at the top of the blog. This now means that as a family we can start going on bike hikes.

On our second night here, we went to dinner at Din Tai Fung, a chain of dumpling restaurants based out of Taiwan. There is one back home in the Seattle area, and it’s Hazel’s favorite restaurant in the U.S. The kiddies loved visiting this little slice of home.

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Singapore has an excellent Science Center, and Jenna wore a lovely red summer dress on the day of our visit. The dress inadvertently set off a fire tornado in one of the exhibits! The museum also had an interactive exhibit where you literally walk through the inside of a human body, learning from the inside how the body’s different systems work. We walked through the exhibit twice, and Leo had a big grin on his face at the exit.

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It just so happens that the Singapore Yacht Show was taking place during our first week here, so naturally we had to attend. I first saw a Lagoon 500 at a Singapore boat show in 2007 when I was here on a business trip, and based on that visit we decided to place the order for Sophie. As part of the order process, Jenna and I flew to the Lagoon factory in Bordeaux with my father and Todd Rickard, a friend from Seattle. While there we had lunch with Yann Masselot, the head of Lagoon.

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Yann was at the boat show, and it was great to catch up with him after 8 years. We are very happy Lagoon customers. Here is a picture of Yann and Jenna posing in front of the new Lagoon 63 Motor Yacht. Jenna and I agree that it would make an excellent Seattle power boat and plan to buy one when we return in 7 years. :-)

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During our first week in Singapore, we learned of some bad news: Jenna’s grandmother in Michigan was dying. “GG” was 94 and lived in a house on a lake with Jenna’s parents. We decided it made sense for Jenna to fly home and for me to remain in Singapore with the children. Jenna made it home in time to spend a couple of days with he grandmother before she passed away in her sleep.

I’ve now spent the last week in Singapore with Leo and Hazel, while Jenna remains in Michigan helping her parents. How are we spending our time while she’s gone? Basically more of the same.

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We spent an entire day cleaning out Leo’s room. He has spent his entire life collecting Lego sets, and it can be difficult to keep a lifetime’s supply of Lego organized and neat  when you live on a boat. We sorted through and removed three duffle bags of Lego from his room. We also removed 3 garbage bags of toy junk along with all of his clothing that no longer fits. Hazel looks stylish in her new khaki pants and 2nd grade polo shirts.

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We went bowling, and Leo and Hazel both trounced me.

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Also, we eat. And eat. And eat. Singapore has wonderful food. We go to the hawker stalls every day, where you can buy plates of sushi or noodles or dumplings or satay for $3-$4 dollars. We’ve been to German restaurants three times, eating wurst and schnitzel. On the night of GG’s death, Hazel suggested we go out for sushi since one of our last meals with GG last summer was an extensive sushi feast at Jenna’s parents’ house. So we went to a mall (where else) and the kids experienced their first ever sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt. They ate a LOT.

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I try to keep the kids moving. We swim and/or bike every day. We walk to the bus, which then takes us to the subway, which then takes us to a new place to explore on foot. We saw the fort on Sentosa where the British accepted Japan’s surrender. We saw the new Avengers movie (in a mall, where else). We explore playgrounds, parks, stores, and street scenes. The kids are actually complaining that I am working them too hard.

They miss their mom, they are getting along with each other, they are plowing through season 2 of Gilligan’s Island, and they are loving city life. We assumed we would spend 2 weeks in Singapore, but I am now hoping we can stay much longer. We need to give Jenna a chance to catch up with us (our legs are getting really strong!), and I kind of like being a city mouse again. A lucky, lucky city mouse.

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Man of the Forest

He was close, real close. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the boat were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle.*

INDO3076 (1024x683) The steamy mid-morning sun blazed as we set off for three days in search of a wild orang-utan, Indonesia’s “man of the forest.” Our klotok, the wooden river boat Lazuardi, cut swiftly through thick brown water that was cloudy with run-off from neighboring palm plantations. INDO3931 (1024x683)

Within minutes we left Kumai behind and turned into Tanjung Puting National Park. INDO3051 (1024x683)

At this time of year it can be hard to spot any orangutans. There is so much wild fruit in season that the apes can afford to shy away from the reserve in favor of a smorgasbord of fruit ripening across the forest. Durian, mangosteen, rambutan, bananas, you name it. Although we knew our chances for seeing an orangutan were lower, it was impossible to ignore an overwhelming sense of hope and curiosity as we maneuvered slowly upstream. Our first wildlife sighting was a medium-sized monitor lizard, about 6 feet long. At first we thought it was a crocodile until we got a better look at it.

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Next up, still a few kilometers outside the reserve area, we spotted some movement in the trees, followed by this incredible sight: INDO3085 (1024x681)

Wild orangutans! ??????????????

Our guide, Ami, was thrilled to catch a glimpse of orangutans outside the reserve, especially at this time of year. He told us that on his last tour they saw none, so we were a lucky group. IMG_5641 (1024x682) IMG_5671 (1024x682) IMG_5659 (1024x682) IMG_5689 (1024x684)

Aside from the occasional tour boat and local transport, we were alone traveling up the river. We stopped at the first camp and hiked 10 minutes into the forest to the scheduled afternoon feeding site. In the reserve, there are two scheduled feedings per day. Again, Ami and the rangers cautioned us not to get our hopes up given fruit season. The rangers deposited bananas from a couple of full backpacks on a platform and then we waited. We waited for over half an hour, and then finally some trees started shaking in the distance, then closer. It was even better than the wild sightings we had on the way in. This sweet mama and baby led the way: IMG_5764 (1024x669)

They scrambled up a tree out of the way as a large male approached. INDO3149 (1024x682) INDO3176 (1024x683)

Another male approached, but stopped and waited his turn. INDO3236 (1024x683)

This female joined the big fellow already on the platform. INDO3230 (1024x682)

At this point there were five or six orangutans in sight with a handful more approaching from high in the trees. INDO3274 (1024x679)

Mama and baby continued to wait and watch from about 30 feet up in the trees. IMG_5794 (1024x674)

Just about everywhere we looked, more orangutans were swinging in to join the party. INDO3431 (1024x682)INDO3414 (1024x682)INDO3472 (1024x668)INDO3290 (1024x681) (2)

Each kept his or her distance from the food until the more dominant ones finished and moved on. Then, one by one, each grabbed bananas and returned to the trees. The rangers brought one extremely large male his own stash of bananas and he sat quietly munching on the ground some distance from all the others. The largest orangutans like him live primarily on the ground.

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After a while, mama and baby got another chance to finish their meal. IMG_5736 (677x1024) IMG_5724 (681x1024) IMG_5729 (1024x683)

In total, thirteen orangutans joined us. The rangers said they hadn’t seen this many together for quite a while. Ami told us there must be a special connection between the spirits of the people and the orangutans for so many to gather at one time. Whatever the reason, we felt honored to be part of such a special day. INDO3486 (1024x682)

What is the best way to top off such an incredible orangutan encounter? With rainbows, of course.

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That evening we tied up at the side of the river near troops of long tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys swinging from the treetops.

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The next morning, we made our way upriver into the native black water. My photos do a poor job of capturing the overwhelming natural beauty that surrounded us.

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On our way to the next camp, we glimpsed another friend in the trees.

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There were a few more tourist boats at the second camp, but not many people. Ami told us that in the high season boats will raft up across the entire river, carrying hundreds of tourists to each feeding. We were thankful for our much more low key experience.

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We didn’t always see orangutans at the scheduled feedings, but we found plenty of other wildlife to entertain us. Butterflies were all around, plus ants, dragonflies and the occasional boar.

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Camp Leakey, established in 1971, was our final destination of the tour. The reserve contains both wild and semi-wild orangutans (rescued orphans).

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After almost two hours of waiting, thirty-two year old Tom, one of the largest males, made a quiet entrance from the forest. He moved slowly, methodically, carefully observing everyone and registering each of our faces as he climbed up for a snack.

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Looking into his expressive eyes, I kept imagining what he might be thinking, the man of the forest. Watching this distant cousin of ours, it’s no wonder that human and orangutan genomes are 97 percent identical. He was wild, but seemed so very human.

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As if he knew it was time for all of us to say goodbye, after fifteen minutes Tom stopped for one last look and retreated to the forest with the same quiet grace.

We spent a quiet day playing games and reading as we motored back to Kumai.

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Ami, our excellent guide, with the kids.

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The captain and first mate.

This experience with orangutans in Kalimantan ranks as one of the highlights of our entire journey on Sophie. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Kumai… we’re still only in Kumai… every time I think I’m gonna wake up in the jungle.*

* Adapted from Willard’s voice-overs in Apocalypse Now