Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crossing of the Singapore Strait.

Danielle dreaded arriving in Singapore since the beginning of this trip for a very simple reason; Singapore has one of the busiest maritime installations in the world and sailing in these waters with Chocobo made us feel like being a chicken in a herd of elephants. Seeing a supertanker is a very impressive but rather rare event when sailing around the world. But here it is not one but over a hundred of these behemoths we found maneuvering or anchored along the 40 km or so of the Singapore waterfront all of it filled up with docks or refineries. We show you here some pictures but I really don’t think you can feel what it is like without being physically here yourself. The place is huge, immense, gigantic! In fact, the engineering feat of building such a group of installations is so titanic that I wouldn’t probably believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. In many places they reclaimed the sea to create more waterfront length for the cargos. The new lands cover many square kilometers and were claimed over 100 feet (30m) of water. Can you imagine the amount of rock and sand they needed to carry to do that???? And I am not talking about the docks and cranes everywhere required to move the containers around.

But let’s start with the beginning. We were in Batam, Indonesia and all our efforts to fix the refrigerator were unsuccessful so we had to go to Singapore, more precisely at the Raffles Marina on the western side of the island as it is not possible to anchor in a convenient place anywhere in Singapore. Only about 8 miles separate Batam from Singapore but those few miles represent the Singapore Strait. The fact is that all ships sailing from the Middle East or the Mediterranean Sea to Asia must go through the Singapore Strait and this makes this narrow channel looking like a highway of super cargo ships and supertankers. Being in such a strategic location it is not surprising that Singapore developed an impressive array of oil refineries and maritime installations. Our first goal was to cross the channel to get on the Singapore side. This is not very complicated but it has to be done with care unless you want to end up crushed by a ship so huge they would probably not even noticed the impact. We chose the narrowest spot of the channel and literally looked on both sides to make sure we could cross without interfering with the continuous traffic going on in both directions. The crossing itself took about 20 minutes with the engines running at maximum speed (we were making 7.5 knots!) but there was a ship every 12 minutes on each side! We timed our crossing carefully and we didn’t make the front page of the newspapers the next day. Once on the other side we entered the Singapore harbor, which is an amalgam of anchorage areas for the cargos and fairways for them to move about. Note that in a world of giants an ant like us has no rights of way whatsoever and all the responsibility of maneuvering safely falls on us. But since in this area the vast majority of the ships were anchored and even if they were of titanic proportions it wasn’t too difficult to avoid them and move about. At mid distance to our destination we had to stop to clear in the country with immigration. Usually, when entering a new country, it is necessary to stop at a given location and go ashore to see the local authorities for the clearance but here they came up with a much more efficient way of doing business. Arrived at what is called the western anchorage we called immigration on the VHF radio and announced our arrival. They told us to stay put and wait for them. The anchorage is 26m (80 feet) deep, which is too much to drop the anchor, so staying put means floating around and wait. But we didn’t wait much since as soon as we arrived at the rendezvous point the immigration boat was already there. They came by us and pull a net at the end of a pole and asked me to give them our passports and three copies of the crew list. I put the documents they asked in the net and then we waited about 5 minutes for them to process the papers. They came back with the net and a form I needed to sign, which I did, and then they gave us our passports back along with our clearance paper. Everything from beginning to end took less than 10 minutes and we were on our way!

But at this time we were already too late to cover the remaining 20 miles and reach our marina before sunset and had to find a spot to anchor for the night. The western anchorage was already ruled out because of the depth and anyway who in his right mind would like to anchor for the night in the middle of 30 supertankers, seriously? A few miles west there were a few islands and shoals in which we found a nice spot to drop the hook in 20 feet (7m) of water and safely spent the night out of the way of the ships and who knows what. All around us the waterfront was occupied by refineries and these installations don’t stop during the night. We had no smell as we were windward and no noise but instead could witness something impossible to see but from the water. A refinery somehow needs lights all over its pipes and towers, pretty much everywhere and with 10 km or so of refineries around us after sunset we had the impression of being in the middle of Christmas tree! Sorry our camera cannot take night shots like that because of the slight movement of the boat during the one or two seconds of exposure it requires. But take my word for it, it was a scene we are not about to forget! The day after we continued our way between the enormous ships, which were defying the reason but yet respecting Archimedes’s principle, in our Lilliputian boat and made it safe and sound to our berth. While on the way I estimated that there were about 150 ships anchored in the Singapore area. When we crossed the Panama Canal we were impressed by the 50 or so cargos that were waiting at both ends but here we realized that this was merely a maritime sand box. Singapore is the yard of the grown up and in fact I am pretty certain that most of the behemoths we saw here are too big to even go through the Panama Canal!