Pulau Aur and Singapore - 9 Sep 2003

Sent: Tuesday, September 09, 2003 11:31 PM
Wrappin' it up
Sorry folks,
Still don't have any photos but I am working on it.
Hope I haven't bombarded everyone with too much musing.

Dear Readers,

I stopped my last letter rather abruptly because I found it was surprisingly late and I had other business to take care of before returning to the boat. The first few days I anchor anywhere I don’t feel very comfortable leaving the Wind Spirit for more then 5 or 6 hours. Tide shifts as well as large bow waves and squalls can mess with the boat and where she is sitting. It is good to watch these conditions arise while on the boat and notice the minor or major results. If the results are major something can be done immediately. If the results are minor then it can be noted that, for example; a squall will not disturb the hold the anchor has.
A good example happened yesterday. I was caught up in a good book and it was pouring raining, so I decided to spend my day reading in my hammock. As the day progresses a strong wind blew across the strait and I noticed the boat was sliding, albeit very slowly, back towards one of the Marine Customs piers. I had set the anchor late the first night I arrived here and had not secured it or dug it in very well because I was not sure I would stay in that exact spot.
I had set some ranges to note my exact location and the wind definitely pushed the boat back some 30 or 40 feet. It made me rather anxious watching it happen but I knew that I would have to reset the anchor and I wanted to check out the anchorage a little more so I left the setting for this morning.
I pulled up anchor this morning and motored around the anchorage measuring the depth. I wanted to anchor closer to the main pier where I had to row because it was quite far away but I found the depth was around 40 feet which was too deep for me to anchor comfortably for long periods of time away from the boat. I returned to my old spot and set anchor and dug the anchor in at full throttle. I believe she is set pretty well now and I will not worry too much if a squall or small storm blows through while I am away from the boat.

To complete the story,
Pulau Aur was Beautiful. I wish I could show you all heaps of pictures but I didn’t take very many and they still need to be developed. I hope my words are enough. My laptop has a faulty CD Rom drive so I cannot read discs or play movies anymore. I was hoping to find a small shop that might be able to do a simple exchange on the CD drive but I have come to realize that one disadvantage to laptops is that replacing or repairing parts is a very specific business that needs to be done by the original manufacturer. I will have to investigate further and will make some kind of purchase once I find a job. But that “finding a job” business has me rather anxious. I must admit I fear a lot of regulations and red tape blocking my path. I already have to put in a request to the Director of the Marine Department in this region to stay here at this anchorage longer then one week. I don’t believe the one-week restriction is really applied and people remain anchored here for much longer periods of time. I suppose when I was at the harbor department I made the mistake of asking how long I could stay. They then asked me how long I wanted to stay? That should have given me a hint. I said 3 months and they said
“Oh, well then, you should write a request to the Marine Director.”
I said, “Uh well, OK,” trying to think of a way to get out of digging up more regulations which no one applies.
I was unable to backpedal successfully, so today I wrote a nice formal request to stay here for three months and my excuse was that I needed to find parts for my engine and do some critical repairs. This is true, so hopefully I will be granted the time I requested and not be booted from the first anchorage I have been to.
Yes, wonderful regulations.
Sometimes I strongly believe the freedom apparent in life on a sailboat is only an illusion and that sailors who travel the globe have to deal with as much, if not more, red tape and beurocratic crap as normal people. I think that fundamentally governments do not like moving populations and that is one of the things that becomes well regulated, restricted and if anything made difficult by the forms, visas and requirements. I think that is why I fear I might find it difficult to get a job in Singapore. But I suppose I have to go take a look and actually try to find a job and then I will know if it is difficult or not. Afraid to start. I wonder sometimes if I should reveal myself so much in these letters. I suppose it makes me more honest and straight-forward. It is a little embarrassing though.

The trip from Pulua Aur to Johor Bahru was frustrating at first but then became surreal by about 1 am and then extremely majestic and calming by about 5 am. Unfortunately I was struggling hard not to fall asleep so the calming effect was not what I was looking for. After the third, very strong coffee that night, I started to feel more awake and observant of my surroundings. I watched the sun rise through a strange ocean fog / mist from the east and streaked the world violet and then red and then a deep orange that softened to gentle yellow. That gentle yellow slowly grew stronger until it was white and painful and I had to put on my sunglasses and hat.
It was still a surreal morning with no wind at all and a very slow swell out of the east. A swell that stretched out until it was hardly noticeable, accept for the slow rise and fall of the boat. It was a hypnotic morning and made me smile and enjoy my last day at sea. The wind picked up most of the morning and by noon she was blowing like the last few days. It was sunny and clear most of the morning. I rumbled along with my mainsail up and the engine working hard. I found I could head up quite far into the wind when I lash the boom to the opposite rail of the deck as if I had a traveler on the top of the cabin. That would be nice. Ah the thought of new equipment.
I rounded the first point of the channel, which was called Penyusop Point on the chart. I called it “Penny Soup Point.” It had quite a few hazards so I gave it some distance and went into the channel more. I felt intimidated when the supertankers went rumbling by but they were not moving at full speed by that time, so it was not so utterly terrifying. I watched 40 ships pass me, into and out of the channel, as I putted along.
It took me about 6 hours from that point to arrive in Johor Bahru. I saw huge fields of freighters parked and lots of very capable-looking, military, patrol boats with fat cannons on their front decks. The water police motored by me and I waved. They waved back and continued on. I was apparently supposed to be stopped by customs or some police boat before I got into the Johor Straits but I clearly wasn’t and I knew no better so I just continued on my merry way.
I must admit though that the straits looked well guarded. I have heard and read about the kidnapping of some crew off of a boat or two and how a possible terrorist attack of large proportions was feared. I think that Singapore is pretty critical as a commerce link and if it were destroyed or the channel blocked it would have a pretty drastic effect on shipping and therefore trade and the world economy.
Ah, trouble trouble.
These terrorists can threaten so easily, with such a small group of men. It seems a horrible expenditure to defend against such men. There must be better ways to undermine the recruit-ability of these groups or somehow control small arms sales so that it is not so easy to get AK-47s or rocket launchers. There must be other subtler ways to extinguish the flame that makes these militant groups attractive. Any ideas?
It is an obvious waste, the amount of money as well as productive lives it costs to defend everything that is susceptible to attack. It seems such an approach may be necessary now but a more effective solution found for the long run.
It is frustrating, the unfortunate effects these attacks have had, such as restricting travel, increasing the threat to our personal lives, reducing international exchange of students, ideas and cultures. Creating fear and possibly more discrimination and reactive behaviors. I don’t know exactly where I am going with this digression so I will stop now.
I seem unable to follow my story to its conclusion.
As I motored into Johor Straits the wind and waves calmed and I had a rather pleasant cruise. As I rounded the bend close to the Changi Sailing Club I saw two small twisters ripping across the strait. Crazy things. I grabbed my binoculars and watched as they fizzled out on the other side of the channel. Most of the boats paid them no heed so I concluded they were small enough to be merely amusing.
At Changi I decided to stop and ask about prices and get a feel for the place. I was quickly “received” and told where to moor. I tied up to the ball and was taken in to see the director of the club. He pulled out the necessary forms for customs and the information on the club. He informed me that I had to check into the country (Singapore) first thing. I explained that I actually had to check into Johor Bahru next and then I could call at the club. I informed him that I was interested in finding a decent place to stay for a longer period of time. He then told me that Singapore only issues 15 day visas for those who come by sea and you may extend given appropriate reasons but it is not very easy.
“Wonderful,” I exclaimed.
We sat down for a few minutes and talked about the club and the fees and he offered me a cold “tiger” beer, which quickly put me in a better mood. A good enough mood for me to try to hide the shock at the prices; Approximately 425 $/month for a mooring and club facilities. I suppose that is not bad when viewed as rent on a place to stay, especially in a city like Singapore, but at the moment I must admit it seemed rather steep.
I thanked him for the information and especially for the cold beer and departed for Johor Bahru. I had not been planning to travel the entire distance up the strait and was going to anchor somewhere out of the way on the side of the channel. The director of the club said this was not possible and quite illegal and convinced me that Johor Bahru was not much farther up the straits. Unfortunately it was and he obviously did not know how slow my boat is. I motored along at full speed up a calm, yet extremely industrial channel. I looked back a few times and noticed another small sailboat behind me. It was racing me and trying to catch my lead. It had all it’s sails up in a light side wind coming off of Singapore Island. It was pretty to watch and I felt myself relaxing. I was worried about arriving at Johor Bahru in the dark, AGAIN, and negotiating a channel I was unfamiliar with by buoy, at night. As I looked back and watched this boat with pleasure, I decided it wouldn’t do me any harm to raise my Genoa and race a little. So I did and he tailed me up the channel for quite a long time. I then had to slow down to charge my batteries and he passed me and vanished in the dark. We had traveled a long way up the channel and it was a beautiful clear night so I relaxed a bit more. I dropped my Genoa after the wind finally died off and continued up the channel.
It was my own night cruise along the Johor Straits with huge blindingly lit loading docks and massive fuel containers and across the channel dark mangrove forests with small lights like houses intermittent along the shoreline. The air was clear yet very warm and I could feel the days heat slowly simmering off the water and mixing with the cooler air from the already cold earth of Singapore Island. It was like a bath with cool and hot water encompassing the boat in waves. The lights coming off the docks and industrial complexes were so bright I almost put on my sunglasses. There was steam and huge releases of gas and vehicles speeding around with flashing lights and plenty of bleeps and small warning sirens.
I was glad none of the ships wanted to leave the docks as they were hugely intimidating and would no doubt require the entirety of the small channel to maneuver. It was about 9 or 10 pm so I guess it was good timing in that respect.
I continued up the channel and found good depth the entire distance to the causeway. I found the anchorage, then a decent place to anchor and finally rustled around for another hour or two trying to relax and feel tired. It is funny how your body reacts to little or no sleep. At that point I had gone two full days and one night without sleep but felt I could go another night on nothing but the steam in my head. After about an hour though, my body and mind began to collaborate and they knocked me unconscious at around 12 pm.

I have been at this anchorage 4 days now and must admit it is interesting.
Johor Bahru is not a bad place but in some ways it is pretty seedy. It is a border town, simple as that. If anyone knows and understands TJ (Tijuana) then they will have a good idea about JB. It is a town where Singaporeans come to get away from the regulations of their island state. It has plenty of brothels and unemployed walking around looking for something to do. It took a little time to remind me that I was in a city and one that was not all that straight. My general attitude towards people when I travel is kindness and openness. It is usually received in a like manner and I find it a wonderful experience to meet new people on the road.
In JB, on the other hand, I was almost led into a wicked little scam by trying to kindly help a guy out. I was then asked for money a few times from another guy who seemed friendly enough. As I gave him the first two small amounts of cash, the amounts he requested grew drastically larger and I had to tell him to get a clue.
I was a bit stunned and quickly realized that I had better get a clue. I was in a city with few principles and I must remember to behave appropriately. It did make me wonder why, out of almost all the time I was traveling, that I rarely met people who would try to scam or rob me. I must modify that last statement. On the tourist tracts plenty of people tried to scam me in a non-aggressive way but off the tourist track and through most of the places I went to in Malaysia people were honest and friendly.
So my question is what is it about the city that allows a lot more of this type of negative behavior. I speculate it is two things. People come to cities to find a job and if they cannot find a job their options decrease. People don’t go to the countryside to find jobs so this is a basic problem endemic to cities. The second reason I suppose is the autonomy of cities. One can blend into the crowd and be lost and if someone cheats or steals from another, they can then hide easily and continue to scam in another district. This behavior is impossible in smaller towns because everyone knows everyone else and there is no place to hide. Facial recognition is effective in counteracting crooked behavior. I guess border towns are more plagued by this situation because the amount of people who come looking for work across the border is much larger than just a simple city and the turnover of people who flow through the town is much higher, further reducing the risk of getting caught.
Anyways, I don’t think I will get mugged or anything like that, but I think it might be wise to pay more attention to the people I interact with and simply raise my awareness level to what it usually is in cities.
I need to explore Johor Bahru a bit more and find decent sources of groceries, water, laundry and other key services. Once I feel a bit more settled I will head over to Singapore and try to meet up with some of Caroline’s friends and have a chat about working in the Big City.
Wish me luck.

Much love to friends and Family,
Captain Andy