Saturday, October 15, 2011


We have arrived home to Tarpon Springs, Florida after an uneventful series of flights (with more legroom than we could have hoped for!) With broadband and my regular computer I am learning how to use Picasa to put up all the photos I took during this wonderful trip. So,

1) I invite you to keep checking back to favorite sections to see more and more as I figure out how to get them placed.

2) Follow the album links when they appear at the bottom right corners of the photos to see even more pictures of the same subject.

Until the next getaway....

Our Last (Pre-flight) Happy Hour

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Don with Greg of Ivory Street and Taffy and Shirley of The Road.

While shopping downtown for the Singapore Harley shirt we also managed to score two All Black's World Cup Rugby shirts. It made the perfect parting gift for our Kiwi Captain. (He won't have to wear his flag to next weekend's semi-final.) Taffy will be supporting his native Wales in the semi-final(his adoptive South African Springboks having lost to France in the quarterfinals.)

Thanks to these folks, the last players in the three month festival that has been our experience with Sail Indonesia 2011.

But above all thanks to Tom & Bette Lee of Quantum Leap, who invited us to join them in the first place, to George and Melinda of Dedalus, who gave us our base in Lovina, Bali, to Greg, Chrissie and Michael for sharing space aboard Ivory Street for the last leg to Singapore, and to the whole fleet of wonderful friends and fellow cruisers who let us feel like we still belong.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 5-10, 2011 - Singapore

Amazing how you can cross a strait, just a broad boulevard of water, and be in such a different place! Goodbye Indonesia; Singapore is ASIA, and this is Don's and my first experience of it. But it isn't just Asia, it is a unique crossroads of cultures, AND at the same time, a unique example of social engineering.

Singapore is an island city-state. It was gathered into the British empire by Thomas Stafford Raffles in the 1820s, who recognized the unique potential the island could play in world shipping based on its location on the crossroads of trade between the West and Asia. His foresight has been proven to the nth degree!

Singapore was occupied by Japan during WWII and it was another location of horrible wartime atrocities. It returned to British Rule after the war, but gained independence in 1959. Since then it has been governed by the People's Action Party. Lee Kuan Yew became its Secretary General and steered the city-state with a firm hand for thirty years into the clean, efficient successful industrialized power it is.

Most people have heard of Singapore's uptight mentality with respect to public behaviors: i.e. the infamous illegality of chewing gum, tight rein on litter, etc. The firm hand continues to be evident in strict port regulations, social management messages on trains and busses, wall posters, and heavy penalties for violations. Don and I walked through an pedestrian underpass in a park. On one side a sign asked politely that bikers dismount and walk through; on the other side it announced a $1000 fine for infringement!

The people, however, do not seemed at all cowed, just well behaved! The people on the very efficient subway system are all dressed a la mode Western style (mostly). We're back in a land where short short and camisole tops are OK, but there are no gansta pants nor sloppiness. The median age is in the mid-30s, and that's what you see out and about, and it seems like every one of them is engaged with their smartphone or Ipod!

In 2009, 74.2% of the 5.1 million residents were of Chinese, 13.4% of Malay, and 9.2% of Indian descent! Plus there are plenty of Western ex-pats working in corporate jobs and loving the international life. Official languages are English, Mandarin, and Malay, which makes it pretty easy for us to get around.

Housing is almost entirely high-rise complexes, planted in clusters on well-tended green areas with recreational areas with tennis or basketball available. It is the projects architectural scheme to the nth degree, and apparently done successfully.

Parks are liberally distributed throughout, and "town centers" appear to be the huge malls that are merged with transport hubs. You simply can't imagine the throng of eating that goes on in these multi-level malls, and all the stores appear packed. We suspect that most families eat most of their meals out!

Car ownership is discouraged, (the days you can use your vehicle determined by the color of your license plate! And we see signs "advising" Singapore drivers to top fuel up to 3/4 before crossing the bridge to Malaysia (where fuel is cheaper) and we understand you can be fined if caught exiting with less!) As a result, the highways have relatively light traffic, mostly busses and taxis, and definitely not the throng of motorbikes we saw in Indonesia. The roadways seem to all be thickly landscaped; even bridges and parking garages have integrated planters that overflow with greenery.

Instead, people use the subway and bus networks, which are quiet, well lit, and safe, and crowd control is a joy to flow along with. Plus companies provide shuttle service for employees to transport nodes.

Don and I have used the public transportation a lot. Tourism-wise we have visited the Asian Civilizations Museum (where we saw the Terracotta Army exhibit there -- So, cool!).
From Asians Civilizations Museum -2011-10-06
We've walked around the downtown area goggling at the unusual architecture and impressive skylines.

We had a great meal in vibrant Little India with old friends Jerry and Kathy of PoOino who ventured into the city from their marina across the marina in Malyasia followed up by a quick look-see at Chinatown.

From Singapore Botanical Gardens

We took an afternoon to the beautiful Botanical Gardens (click on link to see flower photos!)and strolled past the lovely Swan Lake, through the Bromeliad and Orchid Gardens in a light drizzle, and stumbled over a Bonsai collection.

We also, of course, made the required pilgrimage to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, where we sat under the palm fan, threw peanut shells on the floor, enjoyed a Singapore Sling, and tried not to tremble at the prices.
From Raffles 2011-10-06
Raffles has been an expat hangout for decades, but it was a surprise to find it well inland from the river facing a towering Raffles commercial center (many, many, many things in Singapore bear the Raffles moniker.)

This past weekend we have spent down on Roberston Quay at a bar called Boomarang (sic) which seems to have been the ONLY place in Singapore broadcasting the World Cup Rugby semi-finals. Every non-American ex-pat in town was there (the American team did not make the semi-finals....not that many Americans even noticed that they made the playoffs!) Since our current cruiser pack includes Greg (a Kiwi currently based in Australia) and Taffy (a Welch South African), all four matches required our attendance. By George, I think we are starting to understand the game! Boomarang had all their tables reserved out which meant a lot of standing, but both days we were befriended by locals who lets us squeezed into their area and several of us actually onto chairs!
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Today is laundry and packing up, but also moving the boat, first to the fuel dock and thence to another slip. Seems the owner of this one came back unannounced month early and wants his slip back. Chrissie and Michael flew back to Mooloolaba on Saturday, giving Michael a day to rest up for school(...and to finish his journal!) This afternoon we are off back downtown to see if we can score Don a Harley Singapore shirt. I am amused that it is the male half of the team that is taking us to Singapore's famed Orchard Street Shopping strip!

Our flight goes out early Wednesday morning, 12:55 AM! Our route home is via Shanghai and NYC, and takes us, I presume, "over the top". I can't get my mind around whether it will be light the whole way or what!? We land back in Tampa, after 36 hours traveling time, still on Wednesday, at 10:20pm!

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 4, 2011- Arrival in Singapore

The chart plotter was overwhelmed within minutes of leaving the marina. One hundred and seventy three (yes 173) targets was the first report, then it upped to nearly 200! Trying to process all the data kept shutting the whole unit down. Greg first tried limiting the display only to dangerous targets, but obviously the processor has to consider everything first to know what qualifies as dangerous. In the end, Greg just had to pull the plug on the AIS.

The surprising result was a relatively unstressful crossing of the Singapore Strait. By far the majority of the big ships -- and I mean REALLY BIG SHIPS! -- were anchored in vast designated anchorages while the ships that were underway were channeled into controlled traffic schemes maintaining a steady three-minute separation. Until ready to cross, small boats like us must stay to the outside (on the shoulders of the highway if you will) and then, when ready to cross, plunge, darting like bumblebees to cross the traffic lanes in the available gaps. Watching a fellow rally boat crossing to Sentosa Island (where the downtown marinas are located) was a little alarming as it appeared that he was about to get crushed. In actuality he was already into "the median."

We crossed much farther west,, and when our turn came, the fact is, it was not that bad. There is room to pause in between the lanes, as witnessed by the local fishing pangas leisurely line fishing away! Mind you it would not have been any fun if the chartplotter had not been working at all!

The one disappointment was that the atmosphere was so hazy that taking photos of the Singapore skyline or of the clogged anchorages of giant ships was almost pointless. We could see the skyscrapers all huddled together across the strait, but the camera couldn't. Likewise, trying to capture the parking lots of fifty or sixty ships or the vast land reclamation projects was unsatisfactory. However we sat out on the bows for most of the passage and will have to count it as one of the most memorable!

Greg steered us up West Reach, the first leg of the channel that completely encircles Singapore like a moat separating it from Malyasia. Just before the high span of Second Crossing Bridge, we turned into Raffles Marina. Raffles is an historic name in Singapore. Sir Thomas Stafford Raffles....

Raffles Marina is a large pinkish resort complex and marina. There is a high-and-dry storage and haulout facility neither of which we should need, but more importantly several nice restaurants and a sumptuous pool with slide and jets, pool bar and snack area, separate little kiddies pool with a big yellow submarine and another separate jacuzzi, all of which Michael and I made fairly immediate use of. Hey, I had to be 12 and under require a chaperone!

In the evening we joined Jimmy and Char of Tarahumara, friends of Greg and Chrissie's who've been here a week, for dinner at the one of the resort's restaurants. Don had Pad Thai and I had Laksa, a popular Singaporean dish. How nice to have a menu beyond Indonesia core five dishes!

One more luxury being in the marina affords is air con! Whew, what a relief from the heat! Only, Greg had it set rather on the low side. After Don and I were already asleep, Greg turned it off. Several hours later, Don and I woke up hot and stuffy. WE opened all the ports to the cool evening air...only to have to jump up and close them all about an hour later when a thunderstorm rolled through! The wind was howling and the rain torrential! Closed up, the cabin grew hot again, but Greg kick the air con back on again and by morning, we were once again shivering! Yikes. Land life is complicated. Greg says the hours we put on the air con last night is more than it has been used before!

It is still raining this morning. Greg is working at getting us all checked into Singapore and Don is working at getting us all checked into the marina Internet. Once we are checked in we can start our touring. Once we are checked in to the Internet...we can get a weather report!

By the way, that was the shortest time change we've ever experienced, because upon arrival we had to change right back to 12 hours from home time.

October 2-3, 2011 -- To Batam and Nongsa Point Marina

Greg let us all sleep in until about 5am, which, given the plan for an early departure, was generously late, especially since we had an hour's time change. (We are now only eleven hours ahead of Eastern US.) Still we were underway in the cool morning dew long before the sun was up. In fact, for the first time, the sky was actually overcast which kept us all quite a bit cooler...for a while at least.

We were expecting ship traffic to increase on this leg as we got closer and closer to Singapore. There were a few more AIS targets on the screen, but the gray sea stayed relatively empty...until nightfall. Heat lightning flashed in the west over unseen Sumatra, and fishing boats with blazing lights materialized on the horizon as if they'd somehow popped up from the bottom. Even then it was nowhere near what we'd anticipated. The worst surprise were several fields of small buoys marking drift nets marked by only a weak strobe...or not marked at all! But once we'd coasted through the first group without collecting a snarl behind us, we at least knew what to expect. And it gave us the chance to play with the spotlight.

The next morning the sea abruptly got lumpy and we had actual rain! This was the first rain beyond a few droplets anyone had seen in months! It was enough to force us to bring out all the isinglass windows but also enough to give the boat a good rinse.

By mid-morning the rain was over, and we were into the long channel between Bintang and Batam islands, part of the Riau island group off western Sumatra. Geographically, this looks like it could have made a fun cruising ground if the islands weren't essentially industrial suburbs of Singapore. According to the Lonely Planet guide, even where resorts have been built, tourists are diverted to golf courses and swimming pools and discouraged from swimming in the sea.

(Note Ivory Street heading to the left at the bottom right of the photo (by the yellow arrow.) Singapore and the major lanes of ship traffic are at the top of the screen. non gas Point Marina is just aheaad of the boat on the bottom of the picture.)

Greg's AIS display was suddenly working overtime with up to 90 targets listed, most of them huge ships and even one oil platform. Fortunately, most were anchored along the sides of the channel and in ports and few were actually underway. However, the burden of responsibility may have been too much for the chartplotter because just as we turned down the home stretch to Nongsa Point Marina, the chartplotter locked up.

This failure was the closest to unsettled we've seen Greg get...and it probably didn't help matters to see, as we approached the marks for the marina, a yacht on her side on the reef with shredded sails flapping! It was a very confusing approach to the marina, but fortunately they'd sent a boat out to lead us in.

So, suddenly, after many months, finding ourselves tied up in an upscale marina/ resort is a bit disorienting. It is a nice change to be motionless for night, but it is hot, still and there is the odd mozzie. The boys got into the arrival beers a little too quickly, especially when a fellow Kiwi turned up to discuss rugby scores, so that the power cord never got unearthed which meant no air con in the still night. Frankly, I hardly noticed. After a week of two night watches a night, I was glad for the chance to sleep through.

So today, once our papers and passports come back from customs and we are cleared out of Indonesia, we will make our last bit of passage over to Singapore. The adventure is not yet over. There's the busy straights to survive yet, not to mention touring one of the largest cities in the world.

Ivory Street Crew Tries to Keep Cool

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October 1, 2011 - Belitung Evening

As planned we went ashore in the evening. Approach was a little tricky thanks to coral formations off the beach despite some white markers that had been set up to guide people in. To our happy amazement the beach that looked like soft white silica WAS soft, white silica -- a pure joy for the feet after weeks of hot black and grey volcanic sand.

We were greeted by smiling faces and more English than we might have expected. Even though we are a week early for the Rally festivities here scheduled for October 5-12, we were met by two men acting as rally liaisons. Both had decent English and were quick to offer us rides to town 25k away for shopping and sightseeing.

The locals grin and laugh readily, often as if they can't help themselves. Some of it is eager enthusiasm, some of it nervousness. One of the liaison fellows had the habit of hiding his grin with his hand. They are very fired up at the thought of all the yachts coming. I felt like such a heel having to tell them we were leaving in the morning. If we could do this again, we would go a lot slower. this could be a nice place to hang.

When we'd arrived midday there were two cruising boats in the anchorage. By evening there were five. We met up for a beer with the other crews at the palapa on the west end of the string, recommended as the best by a boat that had been here a week. But there were five businesses in the string, all in brand new buildings, so we decided to spread the business around and take our dinner in the middle one whose owners had come to the beach to greet us.

We were not sorry with our choice! We had terrific calamari even as the squid boats were heeding out for the night. Could it get any fresher? A slight misunderstanding delivered three orders of it, plus we had nasi goreng, the ubiquitous Indonesian fried rice dish and Cha Kah Kuhn, stir fried water spinach. Way too much, but all that for five people with drinks came to a total of about $20, and everything was delicious! Does life get any better?

Gwen Hamlin
Cafe Getaway
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