When engine issues took priority over adventuring, we needed a place at the southern end of the Malay peninsula to park Totem for a while. Puteri Harbour Marina, in Johor (just west of Singapore), made sense for a variety of reasons. It was a rigging job for Jamie that initially brought us there in June, and the friends that made coming back instead of looking elsewhere an easy decision.
Isn’t it always the people that make the place? During the weeks we spent there, we met a host of cruisers who are now cemented into great memories. Half a dozen other boats with kids came through, including Momo. Kid boats in the region tend to be on the lookout for each other, so we had been in touch by email for some time, but thought their plans to head to South Africa this year (and ours to be tooling around Borneo and the Philippines) might scuttle a meetup. Happily, they warmed to the idea of exploring Southeast Asia for a few months and we hope to share many anchorages in the Indian Ocean next year. And we met Bill, single handing on Solstice, who had a series of delays shifting his plans in a similar fashion and has since been providing excellent company as we work up the peninsula together.
It wasn’t just the other cruisers: staff in the office and the marina had ready smiles, and were helpful when we needed them. In the front office, they provided raw (recycled) materials and an enthusiastic audience for a wearable-art project jointly undertaken by our girls and Jana from Momo.
The downside to Puteri Harbour Marina is that you’re stuck in the outer reaches of Nusajaya, a planned city that’s under construction and mostly uninhabited. Other than the (swank, Shangri-La owned) Trader’s Hotel complex that backs the marina, there’s nothing around but mad construction. Well, unless Hello Kitty World or Legoland are a draw for you! Looking down from higher floors at the landscape being carved up into future neighborhoods it looks like a crazy life size sim. We’ve seen similar developments all over Malaysia, but none on quite as grand a scale. It means you can’t find a neighborhood and shops and interesting peeks into local culture when you go for a walk just empty roads and construction sites. Well- that’s not entirely true. There is a series of three government buildings that are mostly completed, called Kota Iskandar.
On the other hand, marina guests now have access to fitness center, steam room, and pool facilities at Trader’s. It’s somewhat limited (sign up in advance for your time slot), but they’re first rate.
One of the idiosyncrasies of Puteri Harbour that takes some adjustment stem from being situated across the river from a Singaporean military zone. We got used to the F16s, Chinooks, Apaches, and more overhead. It’s the machine gun fire that’s a little unsettling, along with the occasional large artillery fire that echoes in your eardrums or tracers streaking through the night.
Since you need a ride to get to, well, anything, the marina graciously organizes a few different shuttles. Once a week, they run a service to the nearest fancypants mall, Aeon. With three levels crammed full of unnecessary consumer goods (and a few handy ones), it’s anchored by a large grocery store that caters to the expat population. We generally like keeping things local, but it was great to buy decidedly non-local treats like fresh rosemary or tarragon, not to mention baguettes. Mall shops include upscale retailers for the burgeoning Malaysian middle class, and come complete with an alley of franchise fast food outlets. It’s a little strange, the cachet that KFC and Pizza Hut (and Kenny Rogers Roasters- huh?) have locally. I’d rather have a nice bowl of char kwey tiao or laksa.
On request (with a bit of notice), the marina can also organize a shuttle out to a strip mall about fifteen minutes away where more local-style grocery shopping was available. Mydin was the place we did most of our weekly shopping, although the aroma of dried fish and durian put off some. But I love the fact they have a huge fresh (whole and ground) spice selection, that their prices are reasonable, and you can get a better feel for what’s happening locally with their displays and special offers (like the piles of dates and gift envelopes during ramadan). I developed a tandoori chicken and cheese naan habit at the 24 hour Indian restaurant at one end; at the other, there’s a typical Malaysian food court, where stalls from a variety of cuisines (typically a mix of Malaysian, Indian, Indonesian, and Chinese but also often with Thai, Middle Eastern, “Western,” and sometimes Korean or Japanese) range around open seating. The family was hooked on shawarma from a middle eastern stall and I risked getting in trouble if a couple of them didn’t come back to Totem after a grocery run, although my favorite is the Kacang Ful above.
On Tuesday nights, there’s a shuttle to the nearest weekly night market. We made this a family event many weeks, but Jamie and I liked it for a date night away too. After picking up fresh vegetables (the freshest around, and delicious seasonal fruit from the area), we’d sequester ourselves among the Chinese stalls at one end and eat barbecued pork belly washed down with beer alongside our fellow infidels.
For more upscale or deep provisioning, it’s cheap and easy to bus into Johor Bahru to find Cold Storage; it just takes time. Or grab a cab from central JB to buy in bulk at Pok Brothers. It’s cheap, and pretty easy (buses leave from the Trader’s hotel complex), but time consuming. The bus loop from JB Sentral (the main transportation hub, near the causeway to Singapore) is basically a mall-to-mall tour. It’s a kind of country cousin to the flashier insanity across the river.
There isn’t much in the way of facilities for boats onsite, but the dock staff help as they can. Handling the formalities for clearance often involves dusty walks to destinations unknown looking for officials, making Puteri’s golf cart shuttle to a shiny new ferry terminal feel like white glove service. It was the staff who connected us with a service center to get our life raft serviced. The marina’s fuel dock always seems to be out of order, but again, dock staff can hook you up … or you can rent a car and fill your jerry cans at subsidized prices in a gas station. It’s kind of a wash between the cost of the rental to DIY, or the markup to the guys on the dock.
Thanks to another round of shingles, I went to a health clinic in the strip mall. That doesn’t sound impressive, but it turns out the physician there was terrific. We ended up going back to her for basic physicals and blood work and I could get a should-be-annual-but-never-is exam, and Jamie could check his cholesterol levels. Convenient, friendly, excellent value.
The alternatives for moorage in Johor are a changing mix. Danga bay was popular for a few years, mainly because it was outrageously cheap: Puteri is around $20/night, depending on boat size and duration. But Danga has closed down, their space usurped by a development (at least, if it doesn’t lose funding- the last rumor, after most boats were evicted). Senibong Cove, new marina on the other side of the causeway seems to be stepping in where Danga left off by offering cheap rates to fill berths, but having a somewhat inconvenient location. We didn’t even consider Singapore, with the sky-high costs and guaranteed dock lockdown without AIS and other (surprise!) super rulesy oversight, and there’s really not an option for anything more than short term anchoring.
What turned Puteri Harbour Marina from a fine place to park to the host spot for some great memories was the celebration at the end of Hari Raya, the month following Ramadan. Marina residents were invited to an unforgettable evening of delicious food, music and dancing, silly contests (Bill, from Zephyr, Jamie, and Izam model “Carmen Miranda does batik” headgear along), and just really great camaraderie with all the dock and back office staff. It was an unforgettable evening that went beyond our expectations, just like our surprise stay in Puteri.
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