Thursday, February 6, 2014

Malaysia



One of my favorite lines in the movie Dances With Wolves takes places when Lieutenant John Dunbar (played by Kevin Costner) is traveling west with Timmons, the meatheaded mule train driver (played by Robert Pastorelli) come across a human skeleton. Timmons looks at the skeleton, snorts and says, “There’s probably folks back home saying, ‘Why don’t he write?’”

Hoisting the Malaysia Courtesy Flag

Ruthie and I have covered quite a few miles since my last post although a fraction of them were aboard Rutea.  The passage from Singapore to Malaysia, although intense, was only 24 hours long.  It was intense because we were at the narrowest part of the Malacca Straits and the constant stream of heavy freighter traffic required us to be on our toes.  Just outside of the Vessel Traffic Separation (VTS) channels were thousands of unlit small fishing boats.  Throw in the random squall with heavy lightning and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a sleepless night.  Regardless, we pulled into Admiral Marina, a Southern California marina look-alike, the next morning without incident and we did the check-in cha-cha without our nerves getting too frayed despite our lack of sleep.  There were a couple of boats there that we knew and that evening we all got together for elbow-bending exercises at the bar that overlooks the marina.  The following night all of us got together again and took a couple of taxis to a Mexican restaurant (really?  A Mexican restaurant in Malaysia?  Yup.) where the food was not very good but even our Aussie friends enjoyed the party atmosphere that seems unique to Mexican restaurants.  The main benefit, though, was meeting the taxi driver, who we hired the next day to take us on a tour of Melaka City, a 100km from the marina.

Oldest Mosque in Malaysia
Since it received it’s World Heritage Site designation in 2008, Melaka City has exploded with tourism but we still found it’s Chinatown and old Portuguese part to be filled with almost a kind of mysticism – one could tell that there was a lot more going on than met the eye but even the fa├žade was fascinating.  We also saw Muslim and Hindu temples – its probably as close as Ruthie will ever come to wearing a Burqa but she was required to wearing a covering while in the mosque.  By the end of the day we came to the realization that we probably should have spent two or even three days in Melaka City but we had a schedule to keep so we made it back to the ship and departed a few days later for Marina Island Pangkor.

It was another 150-mile passage from Port Dickson (Admiral Marina) to Marina Island, a man-made island between the Malay peninsula and the predominately-resort island of Pangkor.  I was very disappointed when we arrived and despite the fact that we had made reservations months in advance to stay here, I immediately jumped on the internet to see if we could find someplace else.  First of all, the slip to which we were assigned was way too small – Rutea’s ass stuck way out into the fairway and the finger barely made it to her midship.  The docks were made of extruded aluminum which is far better suited to being on a calm lake somewhere as opposed to being on the edge of the Indian Ocean.  There are almost no facilities – the showers share the small stall with the toilet (there’s only cold water but in a place as hot as Malaysia, who’d want hot water anyway?) and there’s only three stalls – two of which have western-style toilets but one has the eastern style.  On one of the doors is a sign that says ‘Women’ but men are just as likely to use it.  In fact, its very obvious who has used the toilet last if you can see footprints on the toilet rim where someone has squatted.

While being in the slip was less than ideal, when we were hauled out was even worse.  Because our refrigeration system uses ocean water for cooling, once we were hauled out meant no refrigeration.  Nor could you use the toilets on board.  Or the sinks, although we did shove a hose up the galley sink drain throughhull and put a bucket underneath it so we could at least wash our hands.  The marina rented us a 12’ stepladder but advised us to pull it up on deck at night to discourage rats from climbing aboard.  The marina yard itself is dirt and weeds – with the ebb and flow of boats there are usually around 20-25 boats propped up with various types of homemade stands.

It wasn’t until we had been on the hard for a few days that I began to relax and even start to appreciate the place.  I spoke with several boat owners who said they had had work done in quite a few places in southeast Asia and found Pangkor to be the best.  This was reassuring to me.  We finally got a meeting with Jimmy, a local contractor who is known for his fantastic spray painting abilities.  This too was reassuring that we were able to find a highly-skilled craftsman with whom we could have an intelligent conversation about complex issues relating to boat maintenance.  Furthermore, we met Jo, another contractor, who was also able to give us confidence that anything we hired him to do would be done correctly.  Other than hauling boats in and out of the water, the marina offers no services.

We didn’t have too much time to complain, though, as we needed to get ready for our trip back to California.  This trip had been planned for a long time as we had even gone as far as to buy a dehumidifier while we were still in Australia to attempt to keep the boat dry and mold-free while we were gone (its so hot and humid here that mold can grow on almost anything).  Unfortunately, the unit died when we plugged it in.  This just left us hoping for the best.

Ian and Sean
Ruthie's Birthday Party
Our trip home was wonderful, starting with a traditional Thanksgiving  and quickly built to a crescendo when our son, Ian, married his partner, Sean, in San Francisco.  My sister hosted the wedding itself at her spectacular home  It was a terrific weekend and its unlikely that anyone who attended will forget about it anytime soon.  My congratulations go out to them one more time.  I took a way-too-short trip down to La Paz, BCS to see my brother on his boat.  Our family spent Christmas together for the first time in three years and we enjoyed a low-key but delicious New Year’s Eve.  Our two-month stay in San Diego was capped by a 60th birthday party for Ruthie, where friends and family from all up and down the west coast of North America traveled thousands of miles to celebrate with her.

Loaded down with six large pieces of luggage, each weighing on average 30 kilos, we carried a not-too-small chandlery of boat parts with us back to Malaysia.  I had rehearsed in my mind the arguments I was going to have with the Malay Customs officials on why we didn’t have to pay import duty on thousands of dollars worth of boat parts but it was time poorly spent as the Customs officials didn’t even glance at us as we made our way through that portion of the airport.  Maybe it was because it was 0400 in the morning?  Rutea was in great shape when we returned but the work that we had contracted to be done while we were gone had barely gotten started.  This was blamed on bad weather.  A further delay was blamed on Chinese New Year where almost everything in the country shuts down for a week.  Of course, we had plenty to do, our days filled with boat chores and whining about living on the hard.

To make things a little easier on us, we went in with some friends on the rental of a small car.  Our half share of the rental was RM175.00 (about US$60) for two weeks and this felt like a pretty significant expense, especially if you saw or drove the car.  You would have thought that the Malay builders of the car might have checked to see if the name they chose for the car had a different meaning in some other language and, who knows, they may have done so but they still chose to name the car after a deer found in Malaysia called a Kancil, pronounced ‘cancel’.  To me, ‘cancel’ and ‘reject’ are almost synonymous.  Still, it means we can run errands without having to rent one of the marina's motor scooters (even with both of us wearing backpacks, you can only carry so much on a motor scooter) and it means since we don’t have to walk to go out for dinner (which we do most nights), we don’t arrive at a restaurant soaked in sweat.

Enough whinging!  Rutea is suppose to splash on the 13th of February and we hope to get underway shortly thereafter, making our way north to Thailand.  It will be such a relief to be back in the water!

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