Around Singapore to Tioman Island: 02:49.4N, 104:09.6E

Serenity of Swanwick
Phil and Sarah Tadd
Wed 15 May 2024 09:01
We have joined a rally that will take us up the west coast of Malaysia and through Sarawak and Sabah, the Malaysian states on Borneo, between now and the end of August.  The rally started at Langkawi, to the north of where Serenity was berthed in Port Dickson while we were in Vietnam, and by the time we got back the first rally boats had arrived in Admiral Marina.  We started to meet new people and catch up with some old friends over the next days and joined in with the rally dinner laid on by Admiral.
Over the next week we made quick progress down the west coast with a mixture of motoring and sailing.  We had one big squall with 30 knots of wind but had seen it coming and reefed in time . Our final stop on the West Coast was Puteri marina, where we entered Malaysia last year and less than a mile across the Johor Strait from Singapore. 
The passage from west to east Malaysia takes boats through the Singapore Strait around the southern coast of Singapore Island.  As well as staying clear of the ships passing through the strait and into and out of anchorages we have to make sure we stay out of Singapore waters, which means holding to a narrow strip of water between the shipping lanes and the Singapore port limit, or crossing the shipping into Indonesian waters (the Indonesians are more relaxed about you passing through), but this option adds quite a few miles to the trip.  Then there are the tides which can run strongly through the straits so you want to catch a favourable tide for the 45 mile passage.  The best tide for our passage was on the 4th of May, so all the rally yachts were cleared out from Puteri on the 3rd.
Our route around Singapore
The tide was due to go slack off the western end of Singapore at 7am, so we left Puteri at 4.30am to cover the 14 miles down the Johor Strait and catch the start of the east flowing tide.  It was a lovely morning as we set out, but as we approached the shipping lanes that all changed as the first thunderstorm arrived.  It went right over the top of us with lightening and crashing thunder, and torrential rain that reduced the visibility to just a few metres.  Thank goodness for AIS which allows us to see approaching ships on the chart plotter screen.  We weren’t dry again until we dropped anchor at 2pm. The visibility lifted occasionally but watching for ships appearing out of the murk kept us on our toes - with the west bound shipping lane to our south, the anchorages to our north and ships crossing between the two all the time - it was not a pleasant passage!
A bit damp
The next morning we decided on a short day and sailed about 30miles up the coast to a small bay while others in the rally pushed on the Johor Islands, a further 20 miles north. Reports on our WhatsApp group told of a lovely anchorage to the north of Sibu Island, with clear water and a beach bar so we sailed on to join them the next morning. As we sailed slowly up the west side of the island WhatsApp came alive.  The coastguard had arrived in the anchorage, told the 6 boats that they shouldn’t be there and were insisting that they all go to Mersing, 18 miles away on the mainland, to report to the authorities.  They offered to leave the anchorage, as we had been advised to do if challenged, but that was not accepted.  Our rally organisers Sazli and James got involved, but still someone had to go to Mersing to report in.  In the end the 6 skippers were taken in the coastguard boat leaving their partners alone on board, two with children to care for, for around 8 hours.  This was not Malaysia’s finest hour.
While this was all unfolding on line we sailed past the anchorage debating what to do. Eventually Sazli solved the issue by advising everyone not already at Sibu to completely bypass the Johor Islands and continue to our next destination at Tioman Island.  Thirty miles past Sibu, Tioman is in a different island group and as the guests of the Tioman Development Group we would be welcome.  We unfurled the Genoa and set sail north, with just enough time to get to the south of the island before dark. An afternoon breeze gave us a couple of hours of enjoyable sailing, but when it died we had to motorsail arriving under the dramatic peaks at the south of the island with enough daylight to anchor.  It was an uncomfortable anchorage in water deeper than we like and with a big swell running across it.  We were happy to carry on round to the shelter of the main village, Tekek, in the morning.
Arriving at Tioman Island.  To give perspective, the small white dot mid shot is the catamaran 9 Lives, who was 4 miles ahead of us.
Serenity anchored at Tekek
After the dirt and noise of the Straits of Malacca, Tioman is a delight and is sufficiently picturesque that it was used for some of the scenes in the film South Pacific.  It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide at its widest, with 4,000 inhabitants and just two roads.  One runs for 3.5 miles along the West Coast and the other crosses the mountains to the village of Juara, on the East Coast.  There are a few cars and UTEs around but most transport is motorbike, often with a utilitarian side car for carrying passengers or goods. We hired bikes one day and cycled the West Coast road. Just south of Tekek the road ends at the entrance to some resorts; to the north it becomes a narrow concrete strip that winds its way between pretty, low key dive  resorts and their beach front cafes.  We snorkelled on a couple of occasions, but mostly just enjoyed swimming in the clear water and eating in local restaurants.
Tioman transport
Underwater Tioman
There were two organised events during our stay here.  The first was a jungle walk across the middle of the island.  We had a very informative guide, but the group was too large and only those at the front could really hear what he was saying.  The walk finished with a welcome swim at a waterfall then lunch at Juara, before we were driven back across the island in the back of UTEs.  
Jungle giants
Jungle life
Jungle green
Cooling off
A lovely lunch stop at the end of the walk
The second activity was games with the locals: small teams playing silly games like bowling, with coconuts for balls and old water bottles as skittles, egg and spoon race with a ping pong ball instead of an egg and the plastic spoon held in your mouth.  It ended with a tug of war where the sailing men easily beat the locals but the sailing women didn’t stand a chance! We were served a ‘snack’ of curried seafood noodles and local sweets, and there were really good prizes in a draw and for the games.  Such generosity from such a small island.
We lost
Today we have checked out from Tioman and tomorrow morning we will leave for our next destination, 150 miles north.