I’ve heard stories about the dangers of the Malacca Strait throughout my entire life. This narrow passage of water connecting Singapore with the Indian Ocean was one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, teeming with nonstop marine traffic, pirates, waterspouts, unmarked fish traps, and treacherous currents. Our passage through here was supposed to be one of the riskiest parts of our entire circumnavigation.
The reality? The picture of Hazel up top pretty much summarizes our experience over the last three days as we covered the 140 miles from Singapore to Port Dickson, the town where we checked into Malaysia this afternoon. We saw very little shipping traffic, and fewer fishermen than we saw in northwest Indonesia. We didn’t even get a thunderstorm. We had nothing but flat seas, a nice breeze, and a favorable north-setting current in the afternoons. Overall, it was a piece of cake.
Our planned two week stay in Singapore wound up being a six week stay, and we loved every minute of it. Jenna and I each had to separately fly home to the US for a week — she went to attend her grandmother’s funeral, and I went to have a cancer scare checked out (false alarm!) — and Singapore was a great spot to hang out with the kids. Jenna is pulling together a blog post documenting our adventures there, so stay tuned.
Checking out of Singapore was as easy as checking in. Zeina, pictured above, runs the marina office at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club and handled all of our paperwork with Singapore Customs and the Harbormaster. She is awesome.
After we left the RSYC marina we had to motor 5 miles up to Singapore’s western quarantine and immigration anchorage where we would drop our passports into a fish net extended by a guy on the deck of a patrol boat. On the way there, we passed a fellow Lagoon 500 taking some school kids out for a holiday sail on Buddha’s Birthday. The Ozzie skipper of Talise yelled “nice boat!” as he sailed past us.
I love boats named after girls.
Once we cleared immigration, we motored back through the harbor, turned the corner into the Malacca Strait and saw … nothing. There was virtually no shipping traffic. Perhaps it was the holiday?
We motored 35 miles and dropped a hook in the lee of Pulau Pisang. 01.28.807 N, 103.14.759 E. It was a nice anchorage and we enjoyed a quiet night.
The next morning I had to do some work on Sophie. The engines had been running somewhat sluggishly during our exit from Singapore, so I changed the fuel filters. I also replaced the starboard engine fan belt and fixed the cracked fan belt cover that had been causing the fan belts on that engine to chafe and stretch. Finally, I got to dive the boat and scrape some nice Singapore barnacles off of the props. I didn’t want to swim in Singapore harbor due to the combination of waves and pollution, but the water by Pisang was so silty that I had to feel my way to where the propellers were located. It took 25 dives, but both props were soon shiny and clean again.
Needless to say, I was back in my boat maintenance happy place.
We got underway at 10:00 AM and covered the 65 miles to our next anchorage in Pulau Besar in the Water Group (02.06.593 N, 102.20.630 E) by sundown, thanks in part to an afternoon of motorsailing at a speed of 10+ knots aided by a favorable current.
Today’s motoring run of 38 miles to Port Dickson was uneventful, except for the part where we passed the world’s largest ship whose security guard pointed a gun at us.
According to Wikipedia, the TI Europe is one of 4 vessels in a class that are the largest ships in the world. It was anchored off an oil terminal halfway between Malacca and Port Dickson. Here’s what AIS had to say about this boat:
Think about it. 1243 feet long, 223 feet wide, and 72.5 feet deep. That is one BIG ship!
Naturally, I changed course so we could pass right alongside TI Europe. While doing so I trained my binoculars on the bridge. Usually when I do this while passing a ship, I spot someone looking at us with their binoculars, especially when Jenna is on deck. We then wave at each other and continue on our merry way. This time I saw no one, not a single visible soul on the largest ship in the world, until I spotted the head of a person who was crouching behind a metal plate welded to the railing right outside the bridge on the top deck. At first I wondered if the guy had dropped his keys or was scraping paint. But then I realized that his head repeatedly bobbed up for a peak at us every few seconds and then disappeared. And then I saw something that looked an awful lot like a sniper rifle. He clearly wasn’t scraping paint with it. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was spotting him with my binoculars. The entire stern area of TI Europe was covered with coils of barbed wire, so it was clear that they were worried about security. It all happened quite quickly, and then we were gone.
But man, the dude pointed a gun at me!
I was tempted to call them on VHF channel 16 and say “TI Europe, TI Europe, TI Europe, this is the sailing yacht Sophie … Were you just pointing a weapon at me? While my children were on deck waving at you?” But the most that call would accomplish would be a likely visit from a Malaysian Coast Guard patrol craft, who are out in force looking for Rohingya refugees (which is an awful, awful situation.) So I kept my mouth shut and kept on going.
But again, that was a big boat.
We made it into Admiral Cove Marina in Port Dickson by 1:00 PM and talked them into providing us a birth for a few days. We then took a cab into town and cleared Immigration, the Harbormaster, and Customs in under an hour, which is really, really fast given our non-Singapore experiences over the last year.
As we walked into the Immigration office, we saw a sign describing the required dress code for people visiting government offices in this Muslim country. Jenna quickly dug through her bag and assembled something that made her appearance appropriate in the eyes of the government here. She now says that she wants to buy a scarf while she is in Malaysia. To think of all the Hermes stores she walked past while we in Singapore over the last month…
After we visited the government offices, we stopped in a MAXIS mobile outlet to buy Sim cards, and half of the customers were local Chinese women wearing short shorts and tank tops. It was no big deal.
The more we travel the world, the more we see that people, regardless of their country or culture or religion or economic status, are almost entirely friendly and open and tolerant of others. And the more we travel the world, the more we realize that the perceived dangers in our trip — the 3,000 mile crossing to the Marquesas, the uncharted corals of the Tuamotos, the pigs of Tonga, the passage to NZ and back, the gangstaz of the Solomons and PNG, the corruption and bureaucracy and religion of Indonesia, our counter-monsoon cruising calendar, the pirates of the Malacca Strait – all of these perceived dangers never really amounted to anything. Instead we have consistently encountered good people going about their lives, and weather that we can manage if we are patient and informed in our choices and scheduling.
Maybe we are lucky, but maybe there is more to it than just simple luck.
Anyway, here is the view from Sophie’s back porch this afternoon. The Admiral Cove Marina complex here is fairly inexpensive and has a pool, tennis courts, kids’ room, and a sailor’s bar that serves $3 Carlsbergs from 5:00-8:00 PM. We initially thought we would just spend a day or two here, but it now looks like it could be closer to ten days. We’ll leave Sophie here while we head into Kuala Lumpur for a few days to celebrate my birthday and watch the Champions League final this weekend.
International PTDJ Day.
We also just realized that the Muslim holy month of Ramahdan (as they call it here) begins on June 17th, and we will be living in in a Muslim country for the entire month. What a tremendous opportunity for our entire family to learn so much more about how a quarter of the people on the planet go about their lives and practice their faith.
When we left on this trip back in 2012, I thought I knew it all. I now realize how little I actually know about pretty much anything.