Postcard from Penang

…or northwards through the Malacca Strait

Fishing boat in Malacca Strait

Fishing boat in Malacca Strait

Leaving Danga Bay Marina, we made our way through the West Johor Strait past numerous fishing farms off both banks and on to the Tuas Bridge (joining Malaysia to Singapore) with its clearance of 25m at the centre of the middle arch.  Pipistrelle’s mast complete with antenna measures 22.5m.  We approached under engine just after high water, with a spring tide, a following breeze and just over 1kn of favourable current.  In order to maintain total control we turned around and went through backwards, a rather unorthodox method of sailing, but considerably safer in the circumstances!   At a rough guess the clearance was about 1m.

From there we dodged a huge array of shipping, both on the move and at anchor, fishing floats and nets, floating detritus, logs and seaweed.  Unfortunately the wind was fluky so the iron mainsail was unfurled again at times, though we also managed to sail.  After just over 50nm and in failing evening light, we decided to anchor in shallow water well outside the extremely busy main northbound and inshore shipping lanes in the Malacca Strait.  Essentially, anchoring is possible anywhere just off the coast and is advisable at night simply because of the many obstacles.

The busy gateway from East to West, nonetheless astounding for us is the amount of traffic bound for far flung destinations including Nigeria, Brazil, Dubai, and South & West Africa.  That, together with tankers loading and unloading at numerous refineries and the inevitable tugs with tows was the scene from our living room window!

A second night at anchor saw us off Palau Upeh, near Malacca town itself, again having completed just over 50nm, thunder and lightning all around.  Fireworks displays to celebrate Diwali, the important Hindu festival of lights provided additional colour.   With its different architectural styles from the periods of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule, Malacca itself is supposedly worth a visit.

We proceeded next day through whirlpools and different colours of water towards Admiral Marina near Port Dickson where the welcome was friendly and we spent a very agreeable two days.  Hooked up to shore power allowing us to make full use of the air-conditioning, which must now have surely paid for itself!  The marina complex consists of a modern hotel, apartment blocks, villas and a swimming pool.

As it was a holiday weekend, the pool was a favourite with guests who took a dip fully clothed and wearing what resembled muslim head dress.  So appearing as we did in our western swimwear, we felt just slightly underdressed.

Port Dickson would have been worthwhile visiting and the marina provided a good jumping off point for a visit to Kuala Lumpur, 50 km inland to the north, but we had to press on northwards so excursions may be earmarked for the future.

For the 120 miles to Pangkor Marina, our next stop we decided to do an overnighter and nudge along the outside of the northbound shipping lane until it ended.  The combination of the lane finishing along with fishing boats darting this way and that with unrecognisable light configurations and a developing thunderstorm had us on our toes from about 0200.  Our arrival at the marina was delayed due to torrential rain so we anchored off a pretty bay on the south of Pangkor Island to let it pass.  Here we were entertained as naval recruits on a square rigger were undertaking what seemed to be a sea survival course, jumping from the yardarm, then from the bowsprit in life jackets and swimming what must have been about a mile to the shore, passing Pipistrelle on the way.  Late afternoon saw us alongside at the marina and we later caught up with Jeannie and Bruce from Jabula.

Built on reclaimed land on the mainland side near Lamut, and still ‘work in progress’, the development acts as a passenger ferry terminal to Pangkor Island, but apart from the pontoons, a lift out service and a good boatyard, it offers few facilities, so a car is essential.  Bruce very kindly chauffeured us to the ‘Giant’ hypermarket at Seri Manjung for some inevitable provisioning and that evening we all went to dinner at a German restaurant where we enjoyed delicious authentic food.

The other downside for us is that we must have taken Pipistrelle through very murky water at night, resulting in a huge black splodge on the portside bow.  Nothing would remove it from topsides, and finally from the dinghy after using much elbow grease and Jif, the marks became grey …. We had most certainly been through a crude oil slick.

Again after two nights it was time to say goodbye and move on to Penang, starting in pouring rain with some wind, both elements dying as the day wore on!

New bridge detail

New bridge detail

Penang ferry with bridge in background

Penang ferry with bridge in background

Skyline from the sea

Skyline from the sea

After anchoring off Pulau Rimau for the night, we made our way north under two bridges that join Penang island to the mainland.  The height of both is 28m, so theoretically we had ample clearance.  While one is still under construction, the other was completed in 1985.  We headed on through ferry traffic to The Straits Quay Marina, a new development and part of the retail complex of the same name to the northeast of Penang island.   The marina accommodates 40 boats, with only 10 being reserved for guests.  It is enclosed on three sides by a shopping mall, restaurants and apartments.  For us it was luxury!  A five minute walk took us to the local bus stop (and past a huge Tesco store – yes, TESCO) and Georgetown, the capital a 30 minute journey away.  It was also the first western style marina we had experienced since NZ, and is a credit to its manager, John Ferguson, Commander RN retd.  Everything ran just like clockwork, we look forward to re visiting!

Approaching the marina

Approaching the marina

Pipistrelle in the marina

Pipistrelle in SQM

Having intended to stay for two nights, we extended to three and spent two whole days exploring the ‘city’ on foot, by ‘Hop-on-hop-off’ bus and by trishaw.  Rather like Singapore, this was a whistlestop tour, which whetted our appetites for more if the opportunity arises and left us exhausted!  To put this into perspective, Penang is steeped in history.  It was the oldest of the Straits Settlements, established by the British in 1786, the other two being Malacca and Singapore.   All three were strategic locations on the routes from India to China.  Today’s blend of Colonial, Chinese, Muslim and Indian cultures and architecture exists side by side and is a fascinating experience.

Here some photos:

City Hall undergoing renovation

City Hall undergoing renovation

City Hall close-up

City Hall close-up

Town Hall

Town Hall

Colonial clock tower

Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower

Old and new juxtaposed

Old and new juxtaposed

Chinese temple or kongsi

Yap Kongsi Temple

Roof detail

Roof detail

Joss stick offerings

Joss stick offerings

Garlands for the gods

Garlands for the gods

Lanterns ...

Chinese Lanterns …

...and lotus flowers

…and lotus flowers

Trishaws

Trishaws

And our search for phosphoric acid to attempt to remove the marks on the hull took us to a fascinating store where chemicals were piled high in plastic bags and assorted sacks…

The chemical store

The chemical store

Bye-bye Penang – until the next time!  See also Penang Revisited.

Mural in Armenia Street

Cute mural in Armenian Street

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