Transition Pt 2

More random jottings from a tired watch keeper as we make progress north to Malaysia…….

Thursday 26 September

It’s 5am Temptress is motoring slowly at four and a half knots. The onwatch crew is in shorts and t-shirt the faint breeze isn’t too chilly. Overhead through a gap in the clouds is Orion’s Belt. To the west are lights on the shores of Singkep, to the east lights on Lingga. Ahead is Selat Lima and closer ahead is the bright white stern light of a tug. Despite the sliver of waning moon that has appeared through the clouds I can’t make out its tow; am assuming it’s a barge and the light is on that but still have altered course to starboard a few degrees. The tug is moving at about half Temptress’ speed and it wouldn’t do to run into the back of their tow!

Why so slow? It gives Mai Tai a chance to catch up plus, and probably more importantly, it should be daylight by the time we reach Selat Lima, the channel between the two islands. According to our AIS Mai Tai is seven miles or so behind. The sky is lightening rapidly as the sun is close behind the recently risen moon. Grey clouds are outlined against a paler grey sky. And, as it became lighter still, another passenger was revealed, a swift appeared to have spent the night at the base of the mast. As it flew away there was a heart stopping moment when it’s wings seemed unable to lift it upwards and it dropped to within feet of a watery grave, then with a mammoth effort it flew straight up, glided briefly before settling into a flight path towards Singkep. A few minutes later it was back perching on the guardwires, only finally leaving us when we had anchored.

The skipper came on deck and after admiring the view suggested the bay formed by Selat Lima’s right-angled turn to the west might be a protected spot to stop a while. We anchored at 00 15.00S 104 29.58E, just fifteen nautical miles south of the Equator at 7am. As we were anchoring a dolphin surfaced briefly near to the boat. Surrounded by mountains and trees with a few kelongs (fish traps formed by driving long posts into the seabed) and couple of villages on stilts it is a peaceful spot. The only sounds are those coming from the galley as the skipper cooks breakfast.

As Mai Tai approached they suggested the island of Gentung for an overnight stop some 30 miles north. Great idea, we sort of know it, as it is adjacent to Pulau Sikeling aka Neptune Island home to the annual Neptune Regatta. With little wind we motored in company for an hour or two, then tried sailing with the genoa to the Equator. It was slow progress but we made it, our last Equator crossing. Almost immediately the wind piped up and Temptress quickly doubled her speed. Is there more wind in the Northern Hemisphere today or is it the effect of cloud over the sun?

More wind brought more haze, not dense enough to smell but bad enough to reduce visibility to a mile or so. Our island destination disappeared. Time to try the radar, though in practise we didn’t need it. A convenient, large fishing boat took the passage over the top of Gentung so we simply followed then turned south into the bay formed by Gentung and the north east tip of Cempah. A combination of thin cloud and haze obscured the sun so picking our way in was not so easy. We anchored in 4m only a few hundred metres into the bay, enough to give some protection from the swell but well clear of the coral. That fish supper turned out to be tasty floured and fried but a very few mouthfuls, it was very, very bony! Densely packed, 5cm long thin bones made it almost impossible to pick off the white delicate flesh. Still no idea what it was.

Friday 27 September

What a wonderful quiet night; no swell, no fishing boats motoring around with their noisy air cooled engines, no call to prayer at four in the morning. All in all a good night’s rest. At 06:30 both boat lifted their anchors. There was no wind at all, the expanse of sea north of the island flat and shiny in the low sun. Even the haze has moderated. We said farewell to the Lingga group with all our memories of Neptune regattas. Next stop is new to us, Telunas on the western edge of the Riau Islands. The big two Batam and Bintan are popular holiday destinations for Singaporeans, especially the latter, but there are literally a thousand islands to explore. Slightly hilly, tree covered, reef strewn with white sand beaches and mostly unpopulated. This group is so numerous that you could sail among them for years and never anchor in the same place twice.

Breakfast was a uniquely tropical one, fresh pineapple, papaya and a perfect, just ripe but still firm mango topped with a spoonful of plain yoghurt. I shall miss all this cheap and plentiful fruit we leave the tropics.

Our original passage plan may as well be torn up. Even if we make the 140nm stretch up the Malacca Strait in a couple of day hops the boats will reach Port Dixon on Monday. From there we plan a few road trips to Malacca and KL as well as another visit to the welcoming yacht club that has a real colonial air about it. Believe it or not I’ve only ever passed through Malaysia’s capital, never spent time there. Malacca it’s it’s Dutch heritage and cosy old fashioned feel, is a favourite deserving one more visit if only for the night market and food.

The islands left behind are just faint shapes low on the horizon as are the ones to come. The sky is dotted with clouds, the sea flat, grey. The heat is incessant, Temptress’ forward movement generates little breeze. The engine throbs and the propeller thrusts us onward. With Mai Tai a distant smudge behind us there is nothing, an empty sea. This space between the island groups has no name.

The skipper reads Patrick O’Brien, I finish Alice Hoffman’s chilling ‘Here on Earth’. Four and half hours to go. What no one ever talks of when describing sailing around the world is the monotony that is motoring in the tropics. I get out my crochet project again, a few more pattern repeats pass the time.

You know you are approaching Singapore when the AIS target list jumps from us and Mai Tai to zillions including a dozen or more aids to navigation. Most are cluttering up the airwaves from over 30 miles away! None give rise to any concern.

Lunch used up the last couple of slices of bread from the bakers in Belitung, the last packet of ham from Sarawak is now open as too is the penultimate pack of cheddar. In fact we are reaching the end of a lot of foodstuffs except cabbage and pumpkin! I’m already writing a shopping list hoping that Tesco Lotus in Malaysia will be bountiful. Langkawi’s dutyfree shops, around 450nm north will also be welcome as we’ve no white wine, rum and gin are running low whilst only a few beers remain.

We had half a hope that anchoring off the resorts at Telunas would mean a supper ashore. Mid afternoon having surveyed both the east coast of Telumas island (confusingly the charts all spell the island with an m not an n), too deep, then the west coast of Sugi where the main part of the resort is located (too shallow and too exposed) we gave up and consulted the chart again. Manda Besar or Durian Besar looked potentially like they would offer shelter and have somewhere in the 5-8m range. Eventually we located a perfect spot on the northern coast of Durian. The current was racing through but the anchor held fast in gloopy mud that took some effort to wash off the next morning. Supper became an impromptu Beef Randang as we had both beef and a sachet of sauce. The best of the remaking veg made some Cap Chye to accompany the tasty stew. Another peaceful nights sleep ensued.