Sunday, 12 June 2016

Revisiting Tioman after nearly 30 years

When Kate was a toddler, we were lucky enough to spend a few days with Petes brother Colin on a large private motor cruiser leaving out of Singapore and we had followed the Malaysian coastline north as far as Tioman. My recollections back then were that of an idyllic island, clear turquoise water perfect for snorkeling and small white sandy beaches of the neighboring uninhabited atolls. Not much has changed since then. 

On the way to Tioman

By the time our little flotilla of Kittani, Tiki and Tuppenny arrived,  the anchorage in front of Tekek town seemed to be a mass of masts with nearly all of the rally already secured in place. We were split half and half either side of the jetty and ferry terminal, both side being affected by the constant coming and goings of boats from the busy little hub - nowhere was exempt from the wash. Tioman was our next clearing in point after Pangkor and it turned out to be a fairly layback relaxed procedure with Jabatan Laut (Harbour master), then Customs and Immigration. Time to join in the rally festivities planned for our arrival. 

The official welcome ceremony was followed by a day of games with the locals, and there were many laughs to be had. Though seemingly quite shy at first, eventually the locals started joining in and from the small children to the adults, everyone seemed to enjoy a great day. The games included throwing balloons full of water to our fellow team mates, relay races which involved blowing a balloon until it popped, and finally the tug of war - mens and womens. The overall fitness of cruisers is high, and this was proved in the ladies tug of war where unbeknown to us, the locals had anchored their end to the soccer goal posts buried deep in the sand. Not only did we win, we pulled the goal posts completely out of the ground. Well done girls!!!

Another day about 40 of us did a jungle walk across to the other side of the island. Starting in town, we followed the coast road for a short while then turned inland and started the long trek up the hill. It was a steady climb up concrete steps and large flat rocks - thankfully through the shady jungle which gave us some reprieve from the hot sun and just when we thought we had reached the top, even more steps. It wasn't a walk for the feint hearted and by the time we did eventually reach the summit, every t-shirt was wringing wet, even those of the local guides. From there a gentle walk downhill to the waterfall where the plunge into the chilling water of the rock pools took our breath away.  An hour later we continued further downhill to lunch at Juara village. 4 wheel drives had been supplied to transfer us all back across the top to Tekek - I don't think anyone would have had the energy or inclination to retrace our steps.

Juara Bay

Tekek village had some reasonable stores for provisioning, and being a duty free island, very reasonably priced alcohol, though we still had enough ship supplies to see us through to Labuan. There were quite a few warungs to choose from for meals, though we really couldn't go past Lina's Seafood barbeque where we found ourselves almost every evening. A great choice of freshly cooked fish, squid and crab from the open fire, al dente vegetables in tasty sauces, Tom yam curries - we loved it all and as always so inexpensive. Beer at duty free prices could be purchased two doors down and brought back to the table. I think Lina was sad to see us all leave after a week of bumper patronage from the rally boats. 

Jungle tree..with growth???  Monkey Bay

We had decided not to venture north with the rally but stay around Tioman and enjoy what it had to offer. By doing this, it also made our trip across to the Anambas island group (Indonesia) only an overnight sail of  appx. 90 miles as opposed to a 3 day, 2 night sail down from Redang. So after all the rally boats had left, our first priority was to help Tuppenny with a leaking propellor shaft tube. To do this, we convinced Gillie to warp Tuppenny against the main jetty at high tide and wait for the water to recede. Neil (Tiki) and Pete  then started at 0400 the next day. First the prop shaft was removed, then the old set of bellows from the drip less seal. The leak was due to the original seal being forced onto a very small collar around the sterntube. This was ground back to allow a better seal and the new drip less system was reattached. Sounds simple, but took most of the morning. With the incoming tide lapping close to the prop shaft hole, the shaft was replaced, seal replaced more leaking bilge! 

All that behind us, we were ready to take off and explore what Tioman had to offer, so we hopped around into Monkey bay where the jungle ashore was alive with the noisy little animals. Our daily pattern continued of swimming in the clear waters, snorkelling the fringing reefs, lazing around reading, beach barbecue ashore for dinner then in the morning up anchor and on to the next stop. Tulai island was an hours motor away from Tioman and became our favourite anchorage. A pod of dolphins escorted us to an area of good holding on sand between the island and an outcrop of rocks. These rocks formations were a stunning landscape themselves but the snorkelling below was by far the best we had seen. In and around the rocks was amazing fish life, bommies and shelves with different corals of all shapes and colours, black tip reef sharks and turtles who weren't really bothered by out presence. I likened it to swimming in one huge salt water aquarium. We would snorkel early morning before the local tour boats arrived, then again in the afternoon after their departure. 



After a few nights at Tulai, it was time to head back to Tioman, replenish our fresh vegetable supply, top up our water tanks in the small marina and officially check out of Malaysia with the authorities. Pulling into the marina (capacity 20 yachts) we spotted a familiar boat - 'Jackster' with whom we had sailed out of Darwin in 2013 to Indonesia. Always great to see familiar faces and lovely to catch up with Jacqui and David and their newest addition to the boat - Polly puss cat, and to hear about all they had done and seen in the last 2 years. They gave us some great info and tips for some of the destinations we have ahead of us. After introducing them to Lina's seafood, we shared a special gin and tonic to toast David's 60th birthday, wished them well and parted ways once again - always in the hope that our paths may cross somewhere down the track one day. Never say never - the cruisers motto.

Pushing our of Tekek, we motored around to the other side of Tioman into Juara bay where we had lunched after our jungle trek. A lovely wide sweeping bay, the village itself smaller than Tekek but we managed to find a great little restaurant - Beach Shack Tioman run by Tim, an Aussie expat now long time resident and his Malaysian wife. They offer chalets to let, camping sites  boat trips, fishing, snorkelling and surfing (seasonal) and great western food at good prices. After night upon night of spicy dishes with exotic flavours, noodles and rice you just get a craving for some western food and these guys made the best burgers. It was such a good meal that we opted to go back again in the morning for pancake breakfast before heading of for our first overnight sail of the rally. 

Pushing off at lunch time we managed to get a good start at sailing with favourable winds and sat on 7 knots for a while before the winds died down and we had to turn the motor on. With Tuppenny departing with us and Tiki a few hours behind, we headed off in a easterly towards the Anambas group of islands in Indonesia. We knew we would be transiting the main shipping routes in and out of Singapore and were expecting to encounter many large container ships on the move. It was a full moon and clear skies so we had plenty of moonlight to light the smaller vessels and the larger ones are generally lit up like Xmas trees so no trouble seeing them coming. All in all, it wasn't a bad crossing with the majority of vessels acknowledging and accommodating our requests. Only a few large Chinese vessels did not respond to us when we tried to contact them and we only had to alter course once  throughout the night. Thank goodness for A.I.S (Automatic Identification System) and radar and all the technology available to us these days - how ever did Captain Cook and the likes do it?

We had timed our pace well and as daylight started to infiltrate the night sky, Anambas was silhouetted in front of us. As we reached the first of the islands, the sun rose behind distant clouds and welcomed us back to Indonesia.

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