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Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 8 – 10, 2012 Cruising the Malacca Straits – Is This Dangerous?

The next official rally stop is Port Dickson, about 150 NM from Danga Bay, which translates to a three day trip for us, stopping to anchor at night. Throughout the briefings, we had a pretty good scare put into us about finding exactly the perfect path to navigate this passage up the Malaysian coastline. As the shortest link between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most heavily traveled shipping channels in the world. On the one hand is the shipping lane where the large tankers and cargo ships travel. Among this group and not keeping to any particular path are the tugs that pull the barges back and forth and up and down the straits. Add to this cocktail the commercial and smaller private fleet of fishermen with their nets and traps who engage the waters between the shipping lanes and the shoreline and you have a fair minefield to navigate for some 500 miles. There is also a history of piracy in this area but that has been diminished considerably in recent times to petty theft. One cruiser who had gone on ahead awoke one morning to find that his dinghy (which had been chained to the boat) was long gone.

Leaving Danga Bay, several cruisers were aquiver with trepidation in spite of some coaching from a couple of seasoned cruisers who have sailed these waters for years, assuring us that there is a safe way to do this which mainly involves traveling during the daytime about 50 meters from the edge of the shipping lanes, avoiding fishing boats and nets with little flags sticking up out of the water, and going right over the top of the larger deeper nets that are lined with small fender-like buoys. And whatever you do, do not get too close to shore! WHA? WHU? HUH?

I think I can, I think I can. Why, yes we can! How bad can this be?

Some of the yachts in our little fleet opted for the direct overnight trip, traveling nonstop to Port Dickson. We were in no hurry and felt no need whatsoever to follow their example, finding our sweet spot and although there was a bit of dodging a fishing net or two, we had a lovely motor-sail to the first targeted stop at Tunda Island. We managed to set the hook about half an hour before the drenching rains came-a-callin' at around 3 PM. The storm brought a fair bit of lightening and belly-rumbling thunder. We watched the spectacular light show and at the same time prayed our, "Lord, keep the strikes away from our mast" prayer.

Rising very early the next morning we made a 68-mile push for Water Island, encountering no problems whatsoever. The forces of Nature treated us kindly once again allowing the daily storm to hold off until we got settled at 5:30, just before dark before unleashing their fierce and mind-blowing tempest. It is a terrifying thing to be sitting on a yacht with a large lightening rod sticking up 68 feet into the air during an electrical storm. Already three of our fellow yachts have been struck, wiping out everything electronic: computers, phones, charts, GPS, auto pilot, iPads, iPods, televisions, you name it.

Leaving at 7:00 AM we had one more push to put us into Port Dickson's Admiral Marina by mid afternoon. This is a very nice marina with a gym, a pool and a decent restaurant. There are guards who open and close the gates for us, and a very friendly and helpful marina staff. Destiny has a happy home for the next week.

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