Posted by: powellpjc | June 6, 2012

Malaysia, ‘Simply Asia’. Straits of Malacca, ‘Simply Dreadful’. Thailand, ‘Questionable’.

Sorry for the long interval between blog entries. I’m back.

Please click on pics to enlarge. If you are terribly bored. After 3 years of this blogging biz I have figured out how to post bigger pictures on this theme page. Next time.

I didn’t want to go to Indonesia as I’d heard about paperwork difficulties and boat bonds. I read too much. I should have gone. As it was, I put my sails away and headed up the Straits of Malacca, destination Phuket, Thailand, where my pal Ulic had taken rooms and was awaiting as my in-country guide, agent and general good company, as always.

I dodged many supertankers on my departure from Singapore and only got horn-blown once, although it was a big, scary double blow. I was weaving through the dozens of ships at anchorage and did not see one supertanker getting underway. He was 900+ feet long and was just starting to shovel his coal in hard so I didn’t see his bow wave. I heard one long blast and I ignored it, thinking it was a container ship I had my eye on. One minute later, and a lot closer, the another shocking blast rattled me something fierce. He was in a fast turn and about squash me like a windshield bug. I got the message.

At 3 pm I got hammered by a thunderstorm and could not make progress so I made for the coastline and anchored for the night. Inauspicious start to the straits.

After that it was steady motoring with a tiny bit of motorsailing, and only in daylight. The fishing boats are legion, often with no lights and always with nets, buoys or stick pens, so travel at night was dangerous.

Typical Malay coastal fish trap. Impossible to see at night and I guess fish really are stupid. I would never be tricked like that.

The entire Malaysian coastline is a featureless mangrove swamp and 2 miles from shore the water is 12 feet deep. It is a tad freaky to anchor 3 miles offshore with no protection whatsoever in 12 feet of water. Not what I’m used to, but no drama. Ok, there was lightning every night somewhere, and that scares the hell out of me. We were struck by lightning off Fiji in 1978, although my sailing partner of the time, Tony, forgets all about it. Blew out a few of his axons I guess. I also know from powerlines, that being a different event, sport and pain so you can have your lightning, already.

I dropped the hook in 15 feet of water one night, all by my lonesome, far from any village, fishing boats or protection. When I got ready to roll in the morning I was surrounded by a web of fishing nets. Front, back and side. It required slow and byzantine manoeuvring to escape to open water. I think they were trying to weave me in tight and then charge me for fouling their nets. Certainly heard about such events from non-fisherman Malaysians. Pete’s too smart, boys. Well, when I’m not being dumb. More on that later.

This house/dwelling/jail/hotel/customs post? was 5 miles offshore in 35 feet of water. Why? A couple of guys were angling from the deck. Nothing else happening. Maybe a superhermit.

Port Dickson was my first port up the straits and I pulled into Admiral Marina on the advice of a fellow sailor, Jed Jennings, and it was a grand spot. Quiet, nice breeze, lovely pool and friendly staff.

Admrial Marina, Port Dickson, Malaysia. Lovely, well-kept, great pool and friendly staff. Everything a marina should be. I even went swimming (to check that the prop was not fouled by the sea of garbage that is the Malaccan Straits.) la Rosa on far left, stern-to.

Malaysian boys have been doing a good job in the Straits. Piracy is way down and Pete is happy

The town of Port Dickson, on the other hand, has few redeeming features. I did make a couple of side trips whilst at the marina, though. Once, into Kuala Lumpur where I saw the sights and picked up my visa for Thailand. Also, further south to old Malacca Town, the long since bypassed trading capital of the straits. Still a lot of Portuguese descendents living there in their enclave. They, along with the Dutch, English, Indonesians and who knows who else laid claim to these trading waters over the centuries.

My first ‘infinity pool, Admiral Marina’. I guess I don’t get out much.

My personal marina security guard. You gots to admit, there are no cooler uniforms in any marina anywhere. Note–I have not been everywhere.

A proper Malaysian fishing boat. He uses navigation lights at night, has a high cupola for spying his prey but I don’t know how he fishes.Trawler, dragger, drop-netter or dynamiter? Anything goes when you gots to put food on the table.

Great Indian food in Malacca town. Best I’ve ever had and served on the banana leaf with no utensils. How is a guy from Thunder Bay supposed to eat? Using his head, that’s how. I craftily eyed my dining partners digging in with their right hand and I was soon making a mess with the best of them.

Old Malacca Town. Maybe the rickshaws are gone but I’m feeling right royal in my pedal-driven landau. Behind the Red Star of Courage.

Port Klang was next stop and I would heartily recommend giving that a miss on your next world tour. Immense container port with 30+ container ships under the big cranes at any one time. Chugged up the river to the Royal Selangor Yacht Club and spent a couple of miserable nights getting wake-washed by coastal freighters, assaulted by smells defying description and all night loading/unloading by mufflerless cranes and mufflerless trampers.

A wooden coastal tramper in Port Klang. No muffler, no wake rules and all night loading/unloading. Guy has to make a living, I guess. This guy has to sleep.

Floating garbage jammed the dock tie-ups.

People seemed friendly enough, especially to one another. But to a foreigner? No time for us. Malaysians seem darn well off, with all the oil and gas money and they could care less about another white face. Maybe they can sense my socio-psychopathology or my 7 of 8 wretched personalities. However, another place you can have.

There was a day when Malaysian rubber was king. Many plantations remain, still making money I guess. Similar to the Canadian maple syrup deal, the tree is scored and a bucket hung to collect the sap/drippings/syrup–or whatever you call it.

After the incision made into the bark of the tree the sticky, milk-colored latex sap is collected and refined into a usable rubber. To be honest, it does look like French Onion soup.

And, yes, here is a typical wannabe rubber baron.

Next port of call up the straits was Lumut, near Pangkor. I’d heard good things about the place and now I know why. Some folks on their sailing adventures are keen to buddy up with other ‘cruisers’ and Pangkor marina was such a place. Quite a few boats on dry land getting work done and the marina was full of cruiser couples. We’re talking about pot lucks and discussions about sewing and ‘there I was’ stories. All very nice folks to be sure, but not for a sea hermit like me. Lumut is a village full of t-shirt shops and other souvenirs. No place for an overweight dentist.

On to Penang where I’d heard a lot of good things, too, and it was a welcome stop. Tricky little approach to the Straits Quay Marina in a tumbling sea and shallow water. The tiny marina is just part of a large waterfront condo and upscale shop development and was like being in a fishbowl. Mosquitoes at night, sweats in the days and once again surrounded by Richie Ritches. Some fine dining in town, though and more great Indian for me. Also took the funicular (cable) train up to the top of Penang Hill.

The cable train up to Penang Hill (800m asl). Very new and European in design.

Indian temple on top of Penang Hill. My belly will soon look like this but I will never be able to grow the mustache or boobs.

Now, here we’re talking about the super rich. There are ‘bungalows’ up there ( elevation 800 m) used once or twice a year. I’m talking about 6,000 sq. feet bunggies. One is owned by Honda chief for Malaysia and one by owner of casino/lottery deal. There are others but those two caught my eye. Kind of like an Indian Hill Station, I’m thinking. Of course, I’ve never been to India but I did watch ‘Jewel in the Crown’, ok?

Old Penang Town from the hill station.

Langkawi is the last island stop on the Malaysian coast of the Straits of Malacca and here we are getting into the high limestone islands so distinctive of the Andaman Sea (think Jimmie Bond Island and Leo de C’s ‘Beach’ movie.)

I liked it in Langkawi. Rugged peaks, duty free port, high cable car, duty free port and proper rubber tree plantations. Duty free port, if I haven’t mentioned it, means very low cost booze and a guy needs to stock up. It’s a long way to Brazil, where one enjoys free caipirinhas—whatever they are, but I’ve had them and I know what I like.

Duty free Langkawi. I bought the white Chilean for cooking. What do you do with the green bottles?

Didn’t linger long in Telaga Marina, Langkawi. I guess I’m just a guy that likes to see what’s around the bend.

Telaga Marina Harbour, Langkawi. Very nice spot although sweltering and windless. Good immigration/customs facilities all in one spot for a change. All man-made landfill development.

The very top of Langkawi. I used to climb hills but am now happy to cable car up. No place for a paraglider takeoff, unfortunately. Well, more likely fortunately for me. My glider has been mildewing away in the depths of la Rosa and may not treat me kindly.

Around that bend is Thailand and stops along the way included Ko Lipe, Ko Rok Nok and Phi Phi. Pretty islands but difficulties for a sailboat. The waters are deep deep until you close the shore and then they shallow to 6 feet in no time. Coral, coral, coral. Terrible anchoring and up most nights looking for the wind to change and put me on the reef. The southern Andamans you can have, along with the mangrove flats of Malaysia.

A nice day in Phi Phi, Thailand. Steep cliffs and clean water.

The iconic Thai longtail watercraft. A 6 cylinder piston car engine bolted onto a steering pipe, often with no muffler. Are they are closet Harley Davidson hoggers? The arrangement baffles me. Maybe it works in the inland rivers and shallows, but the Filipinos have a much better design. Their spider boat wins hands down, for me.

In spite of the usual  difficulties I don’t look too unhappy. Maybe it’s the lovely la Rosa in the background. That boat has served me well. And damn well better continue the program.

Made Ao Chalong, Phuket, Thailand after brutal, headwind bashing for 3 days. Squalls, wind waves, fishing boats—wait—I’m sounding like I don’t like sailing! Now you are getting the picture.

Ao Chalong harbour in Phuket, Thailand. This is the usual entry point for yachts, with a one stop paperwork centre at the shore end of that long pier. I was not comfortable with leaving the boat on anchor here for months on end so I headed north for 15 miles to the ‘Boat Lagoon’.

So, Thailand. As mentioned, my friend and coach, Ulic, arrived here before me and arranged rooms at nice little hotel. I couldn’t stay on the boat where it is docked at ‘Boat Lagoon’. It should be renamed ‘Sweat Lagoon’. No wind and sweltering sun. It is 8 km up a mangrove swamp and we needed a pilot to drive la Rosa up the channel. Dikkie Courtis and Ulic chatted away whilst I agonized over the depths. I draw 5’6” and the depth sounder read 4’8” at times. Ploughing through muck, I guess.


This is the track into Boat Lagoon. I arranged to have a marina worker come out and meet us. He took the helm and drove us in. There are cement pilings all the way from 2 miles out but he was still glued to the track, eyeballs out on stalks.

A big advantage with this marina, though, is the number of services available nearby. Chandleries, sailmakers, chain suppliers and a better selection of sailing hardware goods than I’ve seen since leaving San Diego. No one speaks English of course, but I’m good with the hand-waving. Learned that from Freddie Bates in Portland, Oregon.

Safely tucked away for a few months. Hoping to cut loose mid-September when the monsoon eases. The lagoon is surrounded by chandleries, workshops and technical know-how. My kind of place.

I have ordered a new headsail, new mainsail, new jackbag (never had an old one), new anchor chain, new lazy jacks and there will be more to come. Can’t face the Cape of Storms (ok, Good Hope, if you like) without good gear.

Hoping to let go in mid-September for the Indian. Cannot head for the Red Sea these days due to gun-wielding skinnies off coast of Somalia so I will make for Chagos Archipelago, Madagascar and then E. coast of Africa and down Durban way, Insha’allah.

Early days in Thailand. A couple of white boys looking to get some custom tailoring. Lord knows we need it. I am sporting a ‘fish cut’ hairdo. More on next photo.

A similar ‘fish cut’ on one of my close relatives.

I am not afraid. The Pachyderm is dumb. Dumbo. However, he outweighs me by a kilo or two and he only speaks Thai. I’m from Thunder Bay. No Pachyies there. Other than my friends.

However, a pretty girl can get any man or animal to do any trick she wants. It’s just the way it works. The poor pachyderm just doesn’t realize it. Yet.

This is rainy season (SW Monsoon) in Thailand and by rain I mean the biblical variety. They don’t get typhoons here but it’s no place for a scooter ride many days. I bought a second-hand scooter when I arrived here and it was stolen 1 week later. Leaving the key in the ignition was a contributing factor. I did mention dumbness earlier in this post.

Haven’t been to church in many a year (for devotion) but after 3 years on the chuck this was a chance. At the Big Bhudda mountaintop in Phuket. The monk whipped me with his soup whisk and sprinkled me with some cold water. The whole deal cost me a few sheckles. Even I could afford it. I could be better off but I’m not sure.



  1. Great stuff! Godspeed Ahab.

  2. the usual compelling read….just fabulous stuff. Look forward to vicariously voyaging with you to Brazil.

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