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Singapore

 

Equator Party

Singapore lies just 78 miles north of the equator so before we arrived there we would cross the earth's middle.  For centuries sailors have celebrated equator crossings with all sorts of initiation rites for those "polywogs" who were making the transition to becoming "shellbacks."  These usually take the form of making the newcomers wear crazy clothes or wigs made of mops, and coating their bodies with all manner of paints and yucky substances before making offerings to King Neptune.  Since Dee and I were both shellbacks having previously sailed from northern hemisphere to southern we enjoyed listening to our friends on the radio describe their ordeals. 

The radio chatter soon revealed that there were about 8 or 10 boatloads of friends all converging on the equator from different areas at the same time.  Some of us had not seen each other for weeks so an impromptu party was organized for Kentar island which lies about 4 miles north of the equator.   The Australians and New Zealanders who were on their first crossing made the most of it dressing up and coating their bodies in paint and grease then heaving to and stopping their boats on the line for some song and dance, toasts or jumping over for a swim around the boat.

Dee and I being shellbacks were more sedate and so we toasted each other and King Neptune with our best bottle of Jose' Cuervo tequila.  On our first crossing we had toasted using beautiful pewter shot glasses and a bottle of Aquavit given to us while sailing in Norway with friends years previously.  The shot glasses had come in a velvet box with a small bottle of "Linne Aquavit".  True Linne Aquavit is put in a  cask and sailed around the world crossing the "equator line" twice and this was the real stuff.  We still had the velvet box and the shot glasses but unfortunately the bottle was empty so our friend Jose' served as a worthy substitute for tribute to  King Neptune. 

As we drank our toast we watched our GPS navigator count down from 1mile south of the equator to displaying all zeros indicating we were right on the equator.  Ventana had been in the southern hemisphere for 4 1/2 years.  A few months previously we had crossed our half way point in longitude  going around the world and now we were returning to our own hemisphere-- from here onwards the shortest distance home is ahead of us and not behind us-- every mile we sail now is bringing us closer to the home in America we had left over 11 years ago. 

It was only noon when we dropped anchor at Kentar- many had been sailing non stop for several days and it was barely lunchtime but sailors don't carry watches or daytimers so within half an hour we had congregated on the largest boat and a costume party was getting in full swing.  Not having stores nearby did not hinder the ability of our creative friends to come up with all manner of costumes to celebrate.  One award for innovation went to our friend Trevor who transformed himself into King Neptune with a crown made from a cardboard Bintang beer carton.

Despite the fun and games a note of seriousness crept in when our friend Bronwyn kept her commitment to shave her head to both raise money for and show her solidarity with a family member who had Leukemia and was undergoing chemo therapy.  Bronwyn's example was followed up by others and before long 2 women and 1 man had shaved their locks.  With each new person coming forward the monetary pledges were increased and in all over $2,500 was raised for the Leukemia Society in Australia.. 

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   Crossing the equator    Preparing to toast King Neptune

 

 

Countdown to the Equator        Almost thereOn the line

 

Popping the bubbly      King and Queen Neptune weaing crowns made from Bintang beer boxes

 

 

 Party in full swing         New arrivals 

 Ready for a haircut - the before and after looks         The pony tail goes first         

 Rob hoping it will grow           Pals               

 

Singapore

Singapore is certainly one of the most interesting political experiments of our lifetime.  It is a city state run as a benevolent dictatorship.  For over 30 years it was run by Lee Kuan Yew who at his most extreme banned chewing gum and bungee jumping.  To his credit he created a booming economic powerhouse in this predominately Chinese city.  However before we could get there we had to cross the Singapore Straits separating Indonesia and the Malay peninsula where Singapore lies. 

Singapore Straits are the second busiest waterway in the world and reportedly 70% of the world's oil passes through here.  The straits are only a few miles wide at their narrowest point and the waterway is divided like an interstate highway with east and west bound lanes, while the whole area is organized by controllers in an airport style control tower who monitor each ship's movement.  The big ships are going about 25 knots while our boat does only 5 knots.  Ships our size have no right of way so crossing the channel is a bit like a squirrel crossing a freeway.  To compound the problem smoke from forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo reduced visibility to 1/4 mile at times so we could not see the ships coming at us.  We motored to where the channel was narrowest, then after waiting for 2 big ships to cross in front of us we raced across the eastbound lane to  the median.   After 10 minutes of waiting on the imaginary line the other lane was clear and across we went thinking our problems were over.  

Another hour took us north to where the large ship anchoring area met two diverging lanes used by the ships going to the unloading docks.  In the straits we knew the ships were going either east or west and staying in the shipping lanes - now we had ships going in all directions.  Radar became useless as there were far too many vessels to keep track of and the reduced visibility gave us little warning of what the ships were doing.  Ships were also slowing down or speeding up to take on local pilots who would guide them up the channel thus making our navigation difficult and a bit scary.    At one point here we counted 23 ships within a few miles of us and two weeks later when transiting this area we had 35 huge ships in sight at the same time. 

Our day ended at Raffles Marina a 5 star resort with restaurants, swimming pool, private bowling alley, bar, health club, billiards room, climbing wall and free shuttle busses towards town.  This would be our home for the next few weeks. 

Virtually the entire island of Singapore is high rise buildings and the entire city is  based upon shopping and restaurants.  Popular stops for the sailors were the two Sim Lim towers.  Only a block apart each was a 7 story shopping mall with stores only selling electronics.  Hard to believe that every store could make a living but there they were 200 or 300 stores side by side all selling exactly the latest cameras, computers, MP# joe 4 players and mobile phones.  No other stores- just electronics. 

As prosperous and bustling as Singapore is the residents seemed to pay a big price for their prosperity.  A typical address would be apartment number 4726 in building 2071.  Everyone lived on top of each other in block after block of high rises- we saw virtually no private homes.   Everything is very efficient, the MRT subway stops are neat and clean and there is no graffiti anywhere.  Few people J walk and most wait for the walk sign even at empty intersections.  We rode the subways frequently and almost never saw a smile.  Everyone protected their own tiny bit of personal space and most people managed to ignore their neighbors by becoming entranced  with their mobile phone or MP3 player or both. 

Coming from Indonesia where people are dirt poor and have nothing yet greet you with a huge beaming smile to rich, prosperous bustling Singapore where no one seemed happy or content provided an interesting window to the human condition.  It also reinforced our own decision to retire early and travel despite missing out on our prime earning years. 

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Liquid Natural Gas carrier crossing Singapore Straits   Ships everywhere   Container ship

  

Downtown Singapore  Chinese Play  Singapore Chinatown

 

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Webmaster- Rob Dubin                             copyright 2003-2009   Rob  Dubin               Page Last updated 02/27/2009