Singapore and Modern Society - 9 Sep 2003

Sent:Sunday, September 07, 2003 2:50 AM
Subject: blown away!

Double wow.
I must admit it is quite intense merging back into our fast-paced, modern society.
I am presently in a shopping mall in the center of Johor Bahru. For those of you who don't know yet, Johor Bahru is on the northern boarder of the island of Singapore and about 20 minutes away by local bus. I am still in Malaysia and will stay here technically for a while.
I entered a busy shopping mall and was blown away but the crowds, the noise, the television screens everywhere playing intense scripts of our desires and fears. It made me want to run away, run away, for fear that I would also be caught up and delivered to a life of consumerism and material objects.
Actually, I am here in this part of the world for just that reason. To join the rat race! It still seems pretty intense, but I am sure if I want to find a job and make a good amount of Cashola this must be the place. Business, business, business.
I think what hit me the hardest was the pace that everything runs and moves. I suppose sailing at sea you fall into a mellow, dreamy pace of life but here in the CITY everything moves fast and the faster the better. The entire second floor of this mall, and it is a lot of floor space, is dedicated entirely to cell phones. I look around at the clothe adds and all I see are people relaxing and I look at people walking around me and they all seem too busy and moving someplace quickly. In a hurry. What a pace! It seems frantic and nervous.
I am not doing a good job describing it so I will leave it for a while and maybe come back to it.
Coming into Singapore harbor was intense. I would describe it like coming into Los Angeles by scooter. You have a map but that is it. You've never been there and it is way too big to even see one part and another at the same time. The other vehicles move way too fast and are about 10 times bigger then yours. I motored for about 6 hours just to get from the east part of the channel to the north part of the island of Singapore. There were so many huge freighters thundering by that I felt particularly small and very very slow.
I did have a nice favorable current my whole way into JB, which made that part of the journey wonderful. Singapore is the hugest harbor I have ever seen in my life. I will have to tell you about my pleasant night cruise up the Johor Straits later.
There were gigantic spaces for freighter "Parking" that put me at awe. Picture about 150 to 200 huge freighters anchored in one area swinging with the currents and waiting for papers and crew and tons upon tons of cargo. Waiting for their turn at the loading docks.
I suppose this would be simpler chronologically. I should start with Pulau Aur.
Pulau Aur was all that I was expecting. It was stunning and I would put it up there with Koh Nang Yuan and Reighley Beach. It was a place that made me think of screen savers and desktop backgrounds. I could have rowed around and taken so many great photos at different times of day that it started to annoy me so I just forgot about it.
My journey from Pulau Tioman to Pulau Aur was a crisp beam reach at the beginning which slowly turned into a rather fierce and very enjoyable close haul. The wind steadily increased until it was blowing quite strong in the evening. The last leg of the journey found me just north of Aur and the tide was ripping along threatening to take me further North. I had to drop sail and motor directly into the wind and current the last 45 minutes.
Pulau Aur held up to its repute. As I was traveling there it vanished!
The day started clear and crisp and both the intermediate island and Pulau Aur were clearly visible. At first AUR hid behind the island between Tioman and Aur and then when I got around past that island Aur had almost completely vanished. I was glad I had set a compass bearing on it earlier in the day. The wind had blown up a haze from the mainland that made Pulau Aur vanish. When it finally came into clear view I was almost there and a good ways north of the actual island. The location I was going to moor or anchor was on the north end of the island but still the current almost carried me back to Thailand.
I circled around the back of the island and snuck into the channel between the larger island and a smaller island just to the north. There was also another smaller island at the west mouth of the rather narrow channel, which gave it a graceful three that seems to make beautiful island settings. The east end of the channel was about 85 feet deep with a pretty good current running through it. It was about 100 yards across with high bluffs on both sides. Exactly what you would expect from an island with pirates.
As I motored into the channel there were about 20 mooring balls set out by fishermen. They were actually large foam blocks wrapped in netting with other smaller balls attached here and there. I tried to dive down to one and see what it was tied to but found that after about 35 feet I could still see nothing and the visibility was pretty good. I pulled up to one of these moorings, closer to the middle of the channel, as I was still nervous about where the reef was and if there were any underwater obstructions.
Some of the moorings were quite close to the edge of the channel and I found at least one or two places where the stag-horn coral was mashed down by what was obviously the hull of one of these fishing boats.
The channel was about 80 to 90 feet deep in the center and didn't rise up until very close to the islands. It then rose up about 70 feet in about 20 feet of distance. It was a great place to see large sea creatures and lots of shallow coral in one place.
Both islands had beautiful strips of beach and when I pulled the dingy up onto one and walked away, I looked back, I sucked in a quick breath and had to stop for a second. It was perfect! It was the perfect curve of a perfectly white little strip of sand with thick coral yards from the perfectly lapping waves with a cute little cream/white dingy perched perfectly midway up the rise of beach. I thought about the camera in my drawer on the boat. I seriously thought about going back to get it but then laughed and walked up to the houses and the resort on the beach.
All of the 4 strips of beach but one had resorts. The one which didn’t housed a small village with a few restaurants and bungalows. The local who watched over one of the dive resorts on one of the smaller beaches kindly sold me 30 liters of diesel. The resorts were small and not extravagant like those on Pulua Tioman and Redang. They seemed geared only for divers with large dive boats at the piers and tanks and serious equipment everywhere.
After a few snorkels I must admit I felt a little jealous. I highly recommend Pulau Aur to anyone who loves to dive. I was blown away by the vibrancy and multitude of coral and sea-life. I have been snorkeling for the last 8 months all over the Gulf of Siam and also spent some time in the Andaman Sea and this place was the best by far.
I snorkeled along the beaches near the resorts and then drifted along the banks for a few hundred yards. I took the dingy because I was a little worried about how fast the current was. It was perfect for drifting though. I saw four of my comrades (sea turtles) in three snorkeling sessions. I would drift along the deeper bank and come across sea turtles and huge groupers or something astoundingly large like that. The sea turtles always seemed to be playing in the sand when I came upon them. They would look up at me and then when I got too close they would speed away. I never thought they could move that fast. A fast turtle. Talk about a contradiction. I tried to follow one but he soon outdistanced me and I had fins on and was swimming pretty hard. They are quite graceful when they move slowly and I followed one at a distance of about 20 feet for three or four minutes. I got too close and he sped away.
The huge groupers I saw immediately after I jumped into the water from my dingy. I thought they were sharks or small whales at first then I realized they were just “really big fish!” about 3 to 4 feet in length with these huge flat heads. They kind of looked like underwater versions of elephants. They had huge foreheads, tall bodies and slow movements. I followed a small school of about 9 or 10 of them with a few babies and some really large ones, up the channel for a while.
The coral was great and it made me sadly think of all the places in Thailand with blasted coral. I thought
"So, this is what it is supposed to look like."
There were forests of stag-horn coral along the bank of the channel so thick and long that I couldn't see it all. There were thousands and thousands of fish and none of them were "tame." The variety and colors were gorgeous and I felt again thrilled by snorkeling and all the creatures of the sea.
I must have spent a total of 4 hours snorkeling over a period of 2 1/2 days and I saw more then I could have asked for. That is why I said I felt a little jealous of the divers at the resorts. They were spending 6 to 8 hours a day and I watch their boat motor away and return morning, noon, afternoon and once in the evening. I can't imagine what they saw but I heard that the manta ray is common this time of year in this area. Can you picture a ray with a 6 foot wingspan. Sounds cool. I highly recommend Malaysia and specifically Pulau Aur to all my diving friends. Think about it. It was quite cheep.
I initially was going to stay at Pulau Aur for only one day but it was gorgeous and I stayed for almost three days. I arrived in the afternoon and stayed that night, the next day and then the day after that. I left in the afternoon, at about 5 pm, and motored into the night. I was a bit worried that I might take a long time to get to Singapore and family would worry about me so I took my leave.
I talked with quite a few of the fishermen on the boats, which pulled up near me in the evenings. I found a funny thing. If you remember I noted in my stories back in Thailand that there were a lot of young Cambodians and Burmese working on fishing boats in Thailand. When I went to Malaysia I found boat loads of Thais working on Malaysian fishing boats. Funny thing. I have yet to draw anything but the obvious conclusions from it though.
Wow, it is getting late and I have to return to the boat. I should also buy some supplies.
I will continue this little segment at a later date.
Much love to friends and family,
Captain Andy