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SSCA Letter: Malaysia East Coast Islands, Sept-Oct 2008

This letter was published in the July 2009 Commodores Bulletin of the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association). It describes our cruise in 2008 to Tioman and other islands on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula. Included are GPS coordinates of our anchorages, which may be helpful to other sailors in the area.

ARCTRACER - 43' Fastback Catamaran - 3' draft

September and October 2008 - Subject Area: East Coast Malaysia - Tioman Island and South

Dear SSCA,

This reports the activities and anchorages of a cruise in September and October 2008 through the islands off the southeast coast of Peninsula Malaysia. It was nearly the end of the SW monsoon season and the winds were variable but mostly out of the southwest. We received no rain to speak of for the entire two months, though we often saw thunderstorms over the mainland. "Nepenthe's" article, "East Malaysia, Tioman Island Group", in the March 2007 Commodores' Bulletin was very helpful as we found little other information for this area. We visited some places that Nepenthe did not visit and found some changes on shore at some of the places they visited.

PULAU TINGGI: Our first stop was at Pulau Tinggi where we anchored on the northwest coast [2 deg 19'N; 104 deg 06'E in 43']. Ashore we found the ruins of a couple of old shelters and unfenced cattle. We snorkeled around the buoy in the bay, but the visibility wasn't great the day we were there and the coral was just coming back to life, with a lot of brown/gray colors. Later, on our way back south, we anchored on the west coast [2 deg 17.6'N; 104 deg 05.9'E] in 20' about high tide. We saw several turtles and a dugong in this anchorage. One afternoon we saw several pilot whales or large dolphins blowing quite far out from the boat. They appeared to be feeding and there were lots of birds over them. Nadia's Inn Tropical Resort was closed, but had many butterflies and a large monitor lizard. Snorkeling along the shore we found a few decent coral heads, but no fish to speak of. We looked for the waterfall Nepenthe visited, but discovered that visitors are discouraged because the waterfall supplies drinking water. There is a substation of the Marine Park here, though its headquarters are in Mersing. The manager told us that the turtle refuge had been moved to the mainland.

PULAU BABI BESAR: From Pulau Tinggi we sailed to the southwest side of Babi Besar and anchored in 25' on a falling tide [2 deg 25.6'N; 103 deg 59'E] near the southern jetty. We snorkeled between the northern two jetties and saw sponges, a little colorful coral, and quite a few fish. On our way back south we anchored off the Mirage Resort [2 deg 25.7'N; 103 deg 58.7'E] in 16' low tide with good holding. We had lunch ashore which was excellent fresh Spanish mackerel with chips and salad for 20 RM each and a large bottle of mineral water for 5 RM for a total bill of 45RM ($13 US). Manager Abdul, who had been at the resort for 3 years, was very friendly (tel: 019-777-6355)

PULAU BABI KECIL SOUTH: Our next stop was Pulau Babi Kecil South (also referred to as Pulau Tengah Besar) where we anchored in 20' on a falling tide [2 deg 28.4'N; 103 deg 57.4'E]. We saw several turtles and some Brahminy Kites. We explored the beach and went to the east side of the island to snorkel while pulling our dinghy. We saw lots of staghorn coral, several black sea urchins and some fish.

PULAU BABI KECIL NORTH: We had seen a tourist boat stopping here so decided to stop for a snorkel. We anchored [2 deg 29.4'N; 103 deg 56.9'E] in 26' on a falling tide with a large bommie not too far from us. We saw Pied Imperial Pigeons ashore. While snorkeling we viewed good coral, but we didn't see many large fish.

PULAU RAWA: Anchoring off "Le Club Resort" [2 deg 31'N; 103 deg 59'E], south of the jetty, in 26' at low tide we had a good dinner ashore for 92 RM ($27 US). This island had more tourist business than Babi Besar. Many ferry boats of various sizes stopped with tourists. We saw two couples in wedding regalia getting photographed on the beach. Some ferries continued on to Tioman Island, while some only went to Mersing. Ashore we saw a sailboat almost completely buried in the sand. It had belonged to the owner of Le Club Resort and dragged ashore about 3 years ago. We were told that the owner passed away about a year ago but his brother still owns the adjacent more upscale resort. A marine park manager told us that Pulau Rawa is not under the marine park's jurisdiction. It has always been a Sultanate island and he said, "They used to shoot rifles at fishing boats approaching their shores." Apparently they wanted their guests to see larger fish while snorkeling. We had a very good snorkel here. We saw quite a variety of fish on the reef along the shore to the south of the jetty.

PULAU MENSIRIP: "Arctracer" anchored in 34' about high tide [2 degrees 32.9'N; 103 degrees 57.6'E]. We snorkeled and saw a large blue-ringed angelfish and other fish. Then a west wind came up and backed us within a boat length of the coral so we left. Because "Nepenthe" really liked snorkeling around this island, we returned almost two months later. We anchored in the same location, stayed four days, and snorkeled for well over an hour each day. We saw a lot of colorful coral, four different kinds of anemone fish, and many large fish including blacktip sharks. We agree with "Nepenthe" that this was the best snorkeling in the area (other than Renggis Island off the west coast of Pulau Tioman).

PULAU ACHI SOUTH: For better protection from strong southwest winds we sailed from Mensirip to Achi where we anchored in 30' on a rising tide [2 deg 39'N; 103 deg 53.24'E]. Snorkeling off the north side of the southernmost island, we saw some light green plate coral, and quite a few fish.

PULAU SRIBUAT: We considered the tongue fiord on the south side of the island, but did not go in because there were two fishing boats inside, lots of coral at the entrance, and a SW breeze blowing into it. We motored along the west side of the island and anchored on the north side in 35' about mid-tide [2 degrees 42.1'N;103 degrees 54.3'E]. We attempted snorkeling here but the water was too cloudy. It looked like it would be good with better visibility. Several of the coral heads were quite tall and would have been more colorful if the water was clear and the sun was out.

PULAU TIOMAN: "Arctracer" was at Tioman Island on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula from 4 September to 11 October 2008. We spent much of that time on a public mooring in Tekek Bay, but also anchored in Juara Bay, stayed in the Tekek Marina, and used a mooring in Salang Bay. The winds were generally light except for occasional short blows which usually came from SW and seldom were over 20 knots. We had remarkably little rain, although we could see clouds building up over the mainland almost every day. It was a pleasant visit. Here are more details:

Tekek: Tekek Bay is on the northwestern side of the island. The bay is large and does not offer protection from westerly winds, but is the best available anchorage on this island. We used a public mooring just north of the jetty [2 degrees 49.3 minutes N, 104 degrees 09.5 minutes E]. There were 5 new moorings just to the north of the jetty which were free this year. The port captain said they will probably charge for them in the future. Tekek Village is the largest town and business center. There is a small airport just behind the beach, with regular service to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. There is ferry service to Mersing several times per day, and ferries also to other docks around Tioman, other islands and other mainland ports. Immigration, Customs and Port Captain have offices at the ferry dock, and much larger new facilities in the town. The government has been upgrading the port and those improvements are nearing completion. The new marina opened last year but still unfinished are the offices, shops and shower/toilet facilities in the marina building. Water at the slips is available only from fire hoses. A separate "inner harbor" for small boats has been created behind the ferry dock. This is somewhat like a canal parallel to the beach where outboard-powered boats can tie up without any wave action, enabling snorkelers and other tourist parties to board in comfort and safety. The whole port complex is being finished with nice breakwaters and stone walls to present a fine appearance.

The main street of the town parallels the beach, and small shops and restaurants are strung out along it. There is a bank with an ATM opposite the airport. There is an Internet Cafe with broadband access to the Internet at "Casa Rock." They charged 10 RM (about $3) per hour whether using their computers or our own plugged into their broadband modem, and were so meticulous in their calculations that they charged us an extra 3 RM once when we used the computer for 61 minutes. Tioman is a "duty free" island, so many shops sell cheap alcohol and cigarettes. Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables are brought in from the mainland, and their appearance in shops is irregular. Our approach was to buy "extras" of the items we normally consume whenever we saw them for sale. We were able to buy most of the food we needed. We even bought yeast at the small bakery so Nina could make pizza. Frozen chickens and other meats were available. Tofu and yogurt were found too. We got around by walking, but most locals use motor bikes and there are larger vehicles to shuttle tourists between ferries, planes, restaurants and resorts.

Juara: Juara Bay is on the eastern side of the island, opposite Tekek. This bay looks on the chart as if it would provide better shelter than Tekek from the prevailing southwest winds. We anchored in the southern end of Juara Bay [2 degrees 47 minutes N, 104 degrees 12.5 minutes E] for a couple weeks and were plagued by rolling. The waves all seemed to curl around and hit us on the side. On our catamaran it was uncomfortable, and on a monohull the rolling would be intolerable. We saw photographs of surfers enjoying the waves which are apparently generated during the northeast monsoon season, and vowed never to anchor here then.

The small village is at the northern end of the bay. There is a large dock for occasional ferries, fishing boats and some tourist excursion boats. Getting to Juara requires first getting to Tekek, and then taking either a ferry around the north end of the island or a bus/taxi on the just-completed road over some high hills. Juara is a good place to get away from all hustle and bustle. There is one road along the lovely beach, with a few small shops, restaurants and small (mostly unoccupied) resorts strung out along its length. The only Internet access available is dial-up, and that does not always work. Lack of broadband connection to this side of the island is frustrating for the locals. The "Lagoon" resort at the southern end of the beach has a small Turtle Hatchery where two young Americans (NY and Mass) are gathering Green Turtle eggs from several beaches and guarding them until they hatch. This program, badly in need of funding, is continuing only because the workers are dedicated.

Resorts: There are some large, first-class resorts and many smaller resorts on Tioman Island. We visited the Berjaya Resort just south of Tekek which had many guests and beautiful facilities including a golf course, a swimming pool, "spa" offerings such as massage, normal resort offerings such as bars, restaurants and snorkeling/diving trips, and constant shuttles running between resort and port. Some of the guests were involved in a big international wedding. The Cypriot bride and groom are now residents of Melbourne, Australia and guests came from several countries. We met two of those guests from New Zealand on the ferry from Mersing, and they came aboard "Arctracer" for a very pleasant afternoon visit. There are other large resorts both north and south of Tekek, some of which can only be reached by ferry. Those in Salang Bay seemed to concentrate on diving, while at the south end of the island are resorts catering to both divers and climbers, with Tioman's "Twin Peaks" offering serious challenges.

Wildlife: There is a Marine Park on Tioman, and fishing within 2 kilometers is supposed to be prohibited. However, the locals seem to fish with lines both from shore and from small boats, and in Juara Bay there are traps too. Often there were squid around "Arctracer" in Juara Bay and every night there we saw large schools of small fish on the surface. There is a large colony of Flying Fox bats in Tekek near (appropriately) the airport. We saw a Sea Eagle attack the hanging bats a few times, something we had never seen before. Water Monitors and other lizards are often seen, even in the Berjaya Resort. The interior of the island is hilly and mostly forested. There are some large rainforest trees, and we saw no logging operations but did see old rubber tree plantations. There must be many animals in the forest, but all we saw were Long-tailed Macaques and lizards. We watched a Racquet-tailed Drongo catching insects, and saw White-breasted Water Hens here for the first time.

Snorkeling: We had excellent snorkeling near tiny Renggis Island about one and one-half miles south of the Tekek jetty where there were beautiful corals and many fish. In Juara Bay we tried several places and found fair coral but very few fish, probably because of local consumption. In Satang Bay on the northwest corner of Tioman we saw a nice ray, watched a turtle foraging in staghorn coral near the small island in the bay's southwest corner; and found many small fish near that island as well as near the dock. Many people snorkel in "Monkey Bay" between Satang and Tekek but we did not. Boats take tourists snorkeling and diving at many other places around the island too. Water clarity was variable, with the water sometimes clear and sometimes so cloudy that snorkeling was not much fun. Most of the time snorkeling at Tioman was better than anywhere on the western coast of Malaysia.

Walks: We took one long walk from Juara Bay over to Tekek and back. The road up from Juara Village is like a double-width cement sidewalk, with some fairly steep stretches. Near the height of land this narrow road splits, with all vehicle traffic taking the new wider cement road which swings slightly to the south and goes over an even higher elevation before dropping steeply down to the south end of Tekek Bay. A footpath is the other leg of the split, following the electricity lines through the jungle and coming down to the northern side of Tekek Village near the public water supply and the mosque. This footpath goes through beautiful rainforest with large trees, following a stream which is Tekek's water supply. On the steeper sections there are concrete steps, which provide good footing and prevent erosion but reduce the feeling of primitive jungle adventure. We saw monitors and smaller lizards, macaques and several Racquet-tailed Drongos on this beautiful walk. We made the mistake of returning to Juara by walking the road. It was very steep and there was little shade, so we got hot and tired.

We took a lovely walk up through the rainforest from Juara Bay to a little waterfall. The trail starts near the south end of the beach, about 100 yards north of the "Lagoon" resort where three markers are stuck in a palm tree. The trail is fairly well-marked, but does involve some scrambling over rocks. In one section it passes through rubber trees which are still tapped. We swam in the waterfall pool and enjoyed watching the fish. We saw one macaque and several birds.

(view Tioman Island photos)

PULAU TULAI: "Arctracer" anchored at Pulau Tulai in 45' at low tide [2 deg 54.9'N; 104 deg 06'E]. We snorkeled all around the bay on the west side. We saw turtles, rays, many fish and crown of thorns starfish. The coral wasn't as good as Mensirip.

PULAU SIBU: We anchored on the east side of Pulau Sibu in front of the Sea Gypsy Village resort in 24' at low tide [2 deg 13.6N; 104 deg 04'E]. They had a BBQ at 8 pm for 70 RM per person. For lunch the following day they were having a curry for 30 RM/person. We also anchored on the north coast in 35' near high tide in front of Pimba Resort [2 deg 14.1'N; 104 deg 03.6'E], Jerry went ashore between the two buoys marking the channel to the beach. We considered eating ashore, but the resort was too busy. They said we could make reservations a day in advance so the cook could plan on us for his "dish of the day." We inquired about the swim ladder lost there by our sistership "Muscat" from Australia, but it had apparently not been found. While snorkeling around the bay, we saw large giant clams, good coral and many fish.

PULAU SIBU KUKUS: "Arctracer" anchored on the southwest side of Pulau Sibu Kukus in 25' at mid-tide [2 deg 10.5'N; 104 deg 06.6'E]. We snorkeled from the southern end of the island, up the west side toward the small sand beach where the resort boats from Pulau Sibu take their guests. Overall, the snorkeling was good, with the best snorkeling out from the beach on the north end of the island. The only detraction was a HUGE net that lay practically along the entire western side of the reef.

From Pulau Sibu we sailed towards Sebana Cove Marina to collect mail. (Sebana Golf and Marina Resort, Lot PTD, 2940 Mukim Pengerang, 81600 Pengerang, Johor, Darul Taksim with phone 07-826 6688.) On the way, "Combat Boat 101" intercepted us at about 2 deg. 2'N; 104 deg 10'E. They told us we were too close to (less than six miles from) the firing range on shore. We had heard gunfire, but didn't know where it was. We headed away from shore while they escorted us for a couple miles, all in a very friendly manner. We anchored at Jason Bay in 28' at mid-tide [1 deg 52.4'N; 104 deg 08.8'E]. With very little wind we found ourselves anchoring another night just before the Singapore Straits in 12' at low tide [1 deg 25.1'N; 104 deg 17.5'E]. We arrived at Sebana Cove on the last day of October. The marina was quite full as several boats from the "Sail Indonesia" Rally were passing through on their way north to organized tours and festivities at Danga Bay, Lemut, Penang and Langkawi.

COMMODORES JERRY AND NINA

(view Malaysia photos)

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