While crossing the Singapore Straits turned out to be straightforward, we chose a crossing place where there were only two lanes of shipping traffic, as opposed to four and the transit took about 20 minutes. We found a break in the eastbound traffic, and then passed immediately behind a freighter heading west. The shipping in the Straits is incredibly heavy, comes from all directions at varying speeds, or is at anchor in what seems to huge parking lots.
Once we were across, we turned 90 deg to port out of the main channel and dodged between the many islands to head for Malaysia, just to the north of Singapore. The route we took was calm, we had up to 4kn of favourable current and were rewarded with a complete surprise. None other than the Red Arrows were practising above and around us, albeit with only white smoke as opposed to red, white and blue. Lasting for about an hour, it was like our private air show, and made us feel almost at home.
We made our way up the western waterway towards Malaysia and Danga Bay Marina, and briefly stopped at Puteri Marina to see if it would be a suitable location for us to stay. Another surprise was in store for us … we were amazed to bump into Monica and Jon, a Swedish couple from ‘Blue Dame’, who we last saw in Whangarei, New Zealand in 2012. They did not give recommendation we were seeking, so we slipped our lines and motored the rest of the way to Danga Bay and anchored off for the night as with our draft we cannot get in at low tide. Next day we were relieved to find that Terrence Gregory, the Manager, offered us a berth. (Update October 2014: recent reports on noonsite and tripadvisor indicate that the popular Danga Bay Marina is now closed, not to re-open. It is reportedly to be demolished. What a pity! This means yachts wanting to stay on the west of Singapore but in Malaysia will need to use Puteri in future.)
Danga Bay Marina is close to Johor Bahru, on the border crossing to Singapore, and having stocked up with a few necessities for the boat, we set off to spend 3 days in the city, staying at the Holiday Inn Atrium within easy reach of the centre.
We have never seen a city like it! With 5.4 million people living on an island of 716 sq. km, high rise blocks dominate but are interspersed with plenty of manicured trees, shrubs and green areas. A highly efficient public transport system is used by the majority, and roads are not clogged because the cost of owning a car is extortionate. There is a fee of the equivalent of £45,000 for a 10 year permit to own a vehicle, after which it is scrapped, and import duty doubles the cost of buying a car. Having been in the wilderness of the very attractive yet relatively poor islands we have visited since leaving New Zealand, to say the Singapore experience was overwhelming would be a complete understatement! Not only are skyscrapers very much in evidence, but the number of shopping malls, foodhalls, restaurants and cafes at every price range is astonishing. Yet among all the modern architecture there are still the Colonial and old traditional buildings in Chinatown and the wharves.
Elaine’s school friend Margaret and her husband Rees are currently living in Singapore and they kindly took us to Raffles Hotel to experience the famous Singapore Slings in the Long Bar where the atmosphere is very much centred on relaxation rather than formality. Ground nuts are served as an accompanying snack, etiquette being to throw discarded shells on the floor! Later, at Clarkes Quay, we enjoyed a meal ‘a deux’ overlooking the Singapore River.
The next day it was shopping for technology which was a priority in replacing hardware and bringing ourselves bang up to date. We managed a visit to the SEA Aquarium on Sentosa Island, the largest in the world and very impressive. Whilst many of the fish we had seen before on our diving expeditions, there was also a lot that was new, and made the visit worthwhile. It was nonetheless weird to be viewing marine life from behind a screen and in street clothing instead of up close and personal in wet suits and fins!
There is so much to see and do in Singapore, 3 days was hardly adequate especially with our shopping list.
That evening we went to the Fullerton Bay Hotel to have cocktails and watch the sound and laser light show from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel across the river which was spectacular.
It was more shopping till we dropped the following day, this time fortunately with Margaret’s help, and then a return journey by public transport to Danga Bay.