Sea trials for Henrietta and Armelle, Cameron Highlands, Malacca Straits and East past Singapore
8th to 28th April
With propellor finally attached and working properly, Henrietta was launched and pretty much ready to go.
First though, Parisienne friend Armelle comes for a visit. This is unexpected; and wonderful. I’d not seen her since Northern Thailand over a month ago.
We took Henrietta for ‘sea trials’ over to the island of Pangkor; trials for boat and Armelle. Intensive sailing lessons too. She’s of course quick to learn; the helm, port/starboard, sheet and genoa, tacking, furling – words for which I do not know the French; I hear her practicing knots: “le petit lapin…le trou…l’arbre”. (Is this how French youngsters are taught the bowline, I wonder?)
After walks ashore and night at anchor (on sea that’s seldom as calm as the River Seine), we head back to marina, abandon Henrietta, and drive inland a few hours to the Cameron Highlands (it’s an old colonial area high in the hills, well north of Kuala Lumpur, nearer the town of Ipoh).
It’s blissfully cool after steamy sticky heat of the coast and there’s heavy rainfall most afternoons. The tea plantations cloak the hills in verdant beauty; and soggy little-visited mountain treks are heavenly. (You must turn a blind eye to acres of scarring plastic sheeting that envelope swathes of hillside, growing vegetables for the markets of Malaysia.)
Tea plantations roll across vast areas of undulating mountainside, small tea bushes of dense cultivation, narrow paths between the bushes just about enough to scramble along (but I’m not sure we should be here!) The mountain path we choose next day from the peak of Mount Brinchang is not yet open or ready, is not signposted or on maps, and only a kind knowledgeable local Indian tells us how to find the start; but it’s magical, a fairy-tale land of moss covered trees and twigs, lush green creepers, muddy rocks, fungi and small crystal clear mountain streams. One of the year’s more memorable short mountain walks, and we see not a single other person along the way.Next day, after stopping briefly at Perak Tong, an unusual and peculiar Buddhist/Hindu temple cave (no time for history lesson here), we head back to Pangkor marina.And a day later Armelle leaves for KL and NZ. I shall miss her.
But I bid farewell to Pangkor’s wonderful marina staff
…and enjoy final marina on board drinks with friends (thank you, Geoff and Charmaine for the splendour of your saloon and hospitality…and Terry for photo)
And then, as they say, it’s time to move on.
First, clearance procedures; that’s immigration, harbour master, customs – three tedious and faceless offices a long way apart and a long way from the boat.
Mostly helpful and efficient people, but one unbelievable pompous tit-pip who suggests I wear long trousers ( so I nervously lower my shorts as far as they’ll decently go, nearly covering my knees, and he smiles and relents. After all, I had shaved, showered and worn my best clean clothes specially; and I’m an utterly innocuous old Englishman. But, long trousers? You must be joking.)
Then I sail south. It’s about 280 miles from Pangkor to Puteri Harbour (near Singapore but in Malaysia). I planned to cover half with a day and night sail, then two or three day sails for the last and busier bit.
The first night, after an appallingly heavy hot humid stifling and sweaty day, and around midnight, the skies ahead start to light up with electrical storms, almost ceaseless flashes growing ominously closer and totally unavoidable.
Worst nightmare on board is being enveloped by thunder and lightning, much more alarming I find than any gale or rough ocean sea. This was my third such storm in five years, and definitely the worst.
It’s hard to describe the conditions and anxiety that accompany a severe electrical storm. And in this instance it was a dark night, and I was adjacent to busy shipping lane and about to cross the route that ships must take as they enter Port Klang (Malaysia’s busiest port, and though you may not have heard of it, it’s busier than any British port).
Suffice to say, I am rarely frightened, but now I was definitely shaky, (though I’m pretty sure there was so much electrical energy in the stifling air that even my little on-board brass Buddha was shaky.)
Before long the rain hits us and sudden squally gusts of wind reach 40 knots. Between the flashes of lightning it’s pitch black. My glasses stream with water and vision is blurred as I desperately keep alert for ships’ lights or unlit fishing boats. And around us vicious forks of lightning crash into the sea.
It’s like a scene from a film (I think ‘Life of Pi’ had one such scene) where special effects have produced images that you do not believe could ever happen in real life. But they do! That night they did.
In the midst of it all, there was the double beep as all Henrietta’s instruments failed, then died. A near-strike of lightning had triggered failure. No chart plotter, no autohelm, no depth, no wind speed/direction. I’m back to hand steering by compass – something that nowadays we so seldom do for long spells. (I don’t mind, but feel vulnerable to lightning strikes as I nervously hold the metal wheel and grow chilly in torrential rain.)…for obvious reasons there are no photos!
Anyhow, all unpleasant things must sometime come to an end. A couple of hours later there’s the sweet relief of still being around; I’m alive, the storm is well past, ships’ lights clear once more and by dawn, a gentle breeze to carry us the last few miles to Port Dickson.
Rebooting all instruments next day has all, apart from ‘wind’, working again – phew!
From Port Dickson to Puteri in Johor, and thence around the south of Singapore, we’re close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes and a near constant stream of massive cargo vessels and tankers scurry north and south feeding the needs and excesses of us all.It’s a ship-spotters paradise….…but I dislike sailing alone at night near such traffic (there’s no chance of even cat-nap sleeping) and so cover the miles in daylight and enjoy a couple of peaceful nights at anchor, and some time in marina at Puteri.
I’ve joined another rally to sail east from here for a spell, around the top of Borneo in a few months’ time, the Malaysian bits of that vast island – Sarawak and Sabah), via some little-visited Indonesian islands (Anambas and Natuna) on the way.
For now (that’s yesterday) we visit crocodile ‘pets’ (yes, ‘pets’ – no handbags here – 1,000 living, vile and dangerous beasts), an organic fruit farm, horseshoe crabs (these mini beasts have blue blood – really ‘blue’ not ‘aristocrat blue’) and fisherman museum to start with.
It gets us in the mood, as it were.Although not generally keen on ‘rallies’, it seems to be the safest way to pass the pirate/terrorist-troubled areas between Borneo and the Philippines (Malaysia provides armed escorting ships).
The rally will take us through to late August, and provides helpful advice for visiting some remote parts of East Malaysia; as well perhaps as new sailing friends along the way.
After that, I haven’t a clue where I’ll go. (At this stage of world sailing, few of us have very clear plans about what comes next – in life or on the sea).