Konhka Cecil lies just south of the equator. Its not unusual for the area,
but its only 100 miles from Singapore. Almost the entire village is built on
stilts over the water, with isolated houses on stilts in 10 metre deep
water, fishing nets ready to drop beside. A population of 400 including 75
kids live on the island about mile by , miles from anywhere. They are
migrants, having moved there fairly recently from Flores, Sulewesi or nearby to take
advantage of the good fishing and the nearness to Singapore which must have
a huge demand for fish. They build their own sturdy houses and wooden
fishing boats - we saw some being built.

Someone had given the island 10 large solar panels - neat idea - except they
weren't working - an example of how good ideas if not thought through and
followed through don't work. The islanders just continued to use an old big
diesel generator and probably aren't even aware of what they are missing.
Solar Panels need a set of batteries (because the electricity is generated
in the day, and demand is at night), and an inverter to be of use. Tim and I
thought of trying to fix it - but it would have been a quick fix at best and
possibly harmful at worst, so desisted. There is a school from age 6 to 12,
after which the boys go fishing with their dads at night, and the girls help
their Mums. We chatted to the nurse and headteacher and brought some small
gifts, a rechargeable drill for the
school, clothes for the nurse, pink drinks, lollipops, pencils, thankfully
one for every kid. We normally try to
barter as we don't want them to get the idea that you get something for
nothing from tourists - that's NOT a good legacy to leave. Next day a
fisherman came across with a gift of fresh caught squid, which was nice -
cut into strips, marinated for 1 hour in sweet chilli and ginger and fried
for 3 minutes they were gorgeous - to our surprise I have to admit.

Tim was a Pollywog, which in case you don't know, is someone who has never
crossed the Equator by boat before. The Equator is where the doldrums are,
so over time a 'Crossing the Line' ceremony evolved. We were chatting in the
cockpit when a reel screamed, Tim hauled in ...a bottle which contained a
message commanding him to appear before the court of King Neptune to
determine with tests of wit and wisdom (or failing that, low cunning and
deviancy) his fitness to cross the line.

Neptune clearly approved, because a few minutes later we caught a large
Wahoo, then  anchored a few miles north of the line and properly 'decorated'
(rope end wigs, glitter, fish lure dangly bits and a rubber ring) Tim had to
answer riddles, tie knots, complete poems and undertake physical tests in
the heights and depths. I have designed many assessment centres but this was
my first trans-equatorial one. Tim did pretty well and is now a proud
Shellback - the term for those who have successfully passed the tests.

We island hopped up towards Batam as the haze caused by burning peat closed
in with visibility 1 mile if that,  and we came as close as I want to a
nuclear sized explosion. A ship anchored in the main north - south channel
running
from the Java Sea to the straights of Singapore was loading sand from
barges - when suddenly we saw a fast moving LPG (Propane) carrier heading
straight for it. We were only 300 metres away, the sand ship called out
urgently on the VHF and the LPG carrier swerved right and missed the sand
carrier by perhaps 50 metres, then continued as if nothing had happened. Tim
was perspiring lightly as we calculated that the LPG carrier has the same
energy as a nuclear bomb........

We made it to Nongsa Point Marina, which sits opposite the eastern end of
Singapore, and is a property development targeted at Singaporeans - but
their timing was out, and the Marina and hotel while friendly were a bit run
down - but it was good to be in a marina for once and run the water without
counting the litres. We also met more of the rally boats at Happy Hour -
mainly Australians - most of  them aim to get to Thailand then stay there or
return to Aus. The longest trip they have done is 4 nights - makes us feel
travel worn!

Batam is the Indonesian island south of  Singapore, and is significantly
industrialized as Singapore takes advantage of lower wages in ship repairs
and assembly. We took a taxi into the main town and walked round - avoiding
the large shopping malls and holes in the storm drains, in both of which you
could be lost forever.

But we still had to cross the shipping lanes to get to Singapore. Half of
the worlds shipping passes through the straights, all headed towards
Intrepid it seemed - there are 2 west - east lanes and an east - west lane
plus local shipping lanes, not helped by the haze, and isolated rocks.
Unlike the English Channel where the lanes are about 4 miles across, the
Singapore lanes are 1 mile across which makes the traffic more dense, but
easier to cross - until we neatly avoided a Maersk container ship only to
find it had altered course to change lanes by 30 degrees again and we were
still on a collision course, mile away. Quick tack, and wait as the wall
of steel rushed past, then more assessments on the next lanes, zig and zag,
its as safe as walking across a motorway, then we were over, and lunched on
a superb Salad Nicoise prepared earlier
while Intrepid weaved her way through literally 100 anchored ships, and past
the Shell Refinery at Pulau Bukom. A racing left turn by an oil product
carrier within 100 metres when we thought he had no option but to turn right
gave us an almighty adrenalin rush but then we were round the south west tip
of Singapore and heading north along a huge land reclamation scheme using
sand
dredged from the straights that will eventually form a massive new
artificial harbour 3 miles long by 2 wide. Singapore has already reclaimed
100 square kilometres to reach 650 sq kms, and has plans to reach 710 when
it will stop because after that the harbour is more valuable than more land.
Singapore has recently overtaken Hong Kong as the largest container port in
the world (based on container movements).

Singapore has a clear vision of what is needed to succeed in the world, and
is investing in its strategic position to the maximum extent - after all the
future seems to be cities and Singapore as an island city is very well
placed. But it is concerned at the haze - interestingly because it thinks
this will
deter the best expatriates from basing themselves in Singapore. It is
talking of suing the 16 companies burning the Kalimantan forests; and the
Indonesian President has apologized, but a bill to ban the burning is stuck
in political infighting as countries trade extradition treaties etc.

Raffles Marina is tucked away on the west of Singapore, but it was good to
meet Singaporean efficiency - we were tied up and through immigration within
20 minutes, and in the bar within 1 hour. Tim worked on Sunday while Nicky
and I had a truly excellent Tiffin curry Brunch at Raffles Hotel with
friends from Calabar,  then waddled up Orchard Road failing to find anything
worth buying (!), and took the MRT subway back to Boon Lee shopping centre.

Tim left to celebrate Hari Raya in Dubai after energetic shopping in
Chinatown and Little India, so Nicky and I had 5 days to ourselves on
Intrepid in one place - luxury!! It was great having Tim, he really loves
sailing, (he and I trained together as Coastal Skippers 10 years ago), I
caught up on Shell, and he was a real 'light shadow' guest, plus he brought
some killer Rapala lures.

There are about 30 Rally Indonesia/Sail Asia yachts in Raffles Marina which
gives us a chance to get to know them more. About half are Aussies who are
stopping at Thailand, (and have therefore sailed only 2000 miles so far)
half are a mix of Canadian, American, British, Dutch, German who have come
across the Pacific and are continuing. People often say they would love to
go sailing, but not now, they need more money. Well, one Aussie boat has a
yearly budget of A$20,000 (about 9000 UK pounds), others are on similar if
slightly greater budgets. A Canadian boat reported a 'pirate' incident when
they
were rammed at night by one of two 50 feet fishing boats that had come
straight at them - the yachts response was to put the engine on full, and
they effectively outran them. Apart from this Indonesia was marvellous, very
friendly and this was the only incident we picked up.

Raffles Marina is based on a 4* hotel so pleasant, and public
transport in Singapore is good. Prices in the shops are competitive with
Europe - perhaps a few % cheaper but no more. But Singaporean's hobby is
shopping so the malls are buzzing. The Economist title this week was 'Asia
shops, America drops'. First bit is true. We mix shopping with visits,
Embassies to get visas, and boat work.

Singapore night zoo was fantastic - specially built, open from 6pm to
midnight - you walk or tram round in light equivalent to a bright moon and
get stunning views of everything from wild cats hunting for fish to male
lions silhouetted against the jungle, to Giraffes chewing leaves just a few
feet away. The enclosures are designed so you can't see any fences at all so
its just like walking through jungle and coming face to face with a new
surprise each turn. The zoo focuses on Asia and of course the climate is
just right for the animals. They feed the animals on a random schedule in
patches of 'moonlight' so the animals are trained to stand in the light.
Very efficient, very Singaporean.

Singapore is the most densely populated country in the world (except Monaco)
with 4.4 million people. They are nervous about the water they have to buy
from Indonesia and Malaysia, and top priority is always defence (then
education) - every male Singaporean spends 2 years in the armed forces.
Housing is mainly massive 10 storey apartment blocks but they have preserved
much of the original buildings around the Singapore River. This is where
Stamford Raffles of the East India Company (his boss was Warren Hastings)
founded modern Singapore in 1819 as a free trade area where spices could be
traded by suppliers and buyers to get round the Dutch monopoly based on
Batavia (Jakarta). Chinese traders and coolies flocked to the opportunities
offered by the rapidly growing town along with Indian convict labour so that
Singapore is now 80% Chinese, compared to Malaysia or Indonesia where the
60%+ majority are Malay/Javan. This is mainly why Singapore was expelled
from (or left) Malaysia 40 years ago.

The old shop houses in Chinatown (all with the mandatory '5 foot walkway' in
front) that used to house hundreds of coolies in appalling conditions are
now offices for professionals - architects, advertising, gyms, it services.
Singaporeans speak Mandarin at home, so are natural trading partners to
China - a bilateral free trade agreement is being negotiated focusing on
services - but all education is in English. Singapore reinforces its
multicultural heritage to enhance its trading links - the old Government
Offices directly  opposite Boat Quay where the lighters used to unload is
now the Museum of Asian Civilisation with superb exhibits from the Middle
East ('West Asia' interestingly which I am sure is not unintentional)
through India and SE Asia to China.

Pam flew in from foggy England to hazy Singapore, this is her 4th Intrepid
trip and we never seem to get the weather right for her. She shopped
Chinatown, but Orchard Road was so over the top that she failed to buy
anything at all. The last 48 hours passed as they always do in a frenzy of
provisioning, visas, charts and pickups, and on 3rd November the Rally fleet
of just 21 yachts motored over the line in a flat calm, sails flapping and
headed out into the Malacca Straights. We'll take a month to get up to
Phuket in Thailand.

Sailing the Malacca Straights is like a walk beside a motorway - there are
about 10 ships passing us about 2 miles away at all times, but we keep to the shallower
waters near the Malaysian shore and avoid ships and possible pirates from
Aceh (who target the ships). Our regular afternoon thunderstorm was
spectacular and gave us wind to sail by, and as I write we are about to
anchor at the Water Islands, within 30 miles of Malacca, the old Portuguese
trading base, later Dutch then Britain acquired it in a swap deal with the
Dutch.

For 2007 we are looking forward to the North East Monsoon in January to take
us to the Andaman islands, then Sri Lanka and Oman then the Red Sea. We will
be home in UK for Christmas 2006 - Singapore is just recovering from the
Deepavali and Hari Raya sales frenzy and the Christmas decorations are going
up. For a retailer in Singapore it must indeed feel that Christmas has come
early.

With best wishes from the crew of Intrepid, Andy Nicky and Pam

Return to Log Index

Return to Home Page