(Puteri, P. Pisang, P. Besar, Melaka (Malacca), Port Dickson)
6th to 26th November
We’re in the Malacca Straits, West Malaysia. Malacca Straits are the narrow waters between here and Sumatra, towards the left of this map.
It’s the world’s busiest shipping route. About 100,000 vessels a year pass through to feed the energy demands and shopping habits of us all. It is sobering to witness the procession of vast tankers and container ships that surge between East Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Amazing too that there are not more accidents as ships and fast ferries, slow barges and fishing boats criss-cross shipping lanes in and out of Singapore, speeds are often high, VHF channels buzzing with constant communications (many with incomprehensible English). Shipping in the English Channel seems a quiet country lane in comparison.
We head north from Indonesia, briskly crossing the shipping lanes, turn left at Singapore (their patrol boats strictly enforce Singapore’s waters), and go to Puteri Harbour, first stop in Malaysia and first marina since Cairns over four months ago. It’s in soulless, eye-opening contrast to the simple and untarnished anchorages of Indonesia.
From here, Malaysia entry paperwork is quick and straightforward, diesel is piped aboard (after months of jerry cans that’s a treat!), fresh potable water is at the jetty, my torn sails are removed and sent away for repair, my grubby body has a long cool shower (and another one), and a long cool beer (and another one).
And there are all the other trappings of modern materialist sanitised living – fine for a day; but my heart already misses the special beauty and unexpected delights of Indonesia. But our welcome to Malaysia is warm and friendly.
I’ve joined another rally. It’s a small one, ‘Passage to Langkawi’, and many friends, and some new faces too, are with me. (The trips, discounts and sociability make it a popular option for the 400 odd miles heading north up the Malaysia coastline.)
But the Malacca Straits are not a pleasant cruising patch: ships, at anchor or streaming north and south, fishing boats, nets, grubby water with lots of floating rubbish (everything from plastic bags to trees), a dull low-lying shoreline, fickle winds interspersed with violent squalls, currents, and a horrible overheated humid climate. (Makes me sound like a whinger? – but this really isn’t a nice area to go sailing!)
150 miles up the coast, after a couple of overnight anchorages, comes Melaka (the local spelling for what you may know as Malacca), a World Heritage City. It has a dramatic and fascinating history with centuries of occupation by Portuguese, Dutch, and British (and briefly Japanese); and for centuries preceeded Singapore as the main Southeast Asian trading centre.
Now it’s overrun with tourists and accompanying glitze, tat and colour – some good stuff too…
Alas! Sailing is seldom a leisurely way of life. In pitch darkness we’re awakened to howling winds, and then abruptly scurrying north out of Melaka’s anchorage as 30-40 knot winds hit us at midnight. Such squalls are called ‘Sumatras’ (always blame a foreign source!), and mighty unpleasant in a shallow lee-shored anchorage with poor holding. Luckily none of the 20-odd boats or crew are hurt as many drag anchors and we toss and roll in roaring wind and choppy seas, and head offshore and north to Port Dickson.
Port Dickson has a comfortable marina, local shops, a swimming pool and more. We indulge in some silly and harmless games….