In the year 1932, millions of sea-snakes (Astrotia stokesii) congregated in the Straits off Malaysia, forming a line of snakes 9 feet wide and 60 miles long.  Today over 50,000 vessels make the voyage each year winding their way along the 500 mile length of the Straits linking the Pacific and the Indian Oceans.  For us to get north from Singapore it was necessary to take on this notorious channel to reach our final destination in Malaysia.

Navigating one of  the oldest sea-journeys in the world meant dealing with possible pirates, severe lightening and thunderstorms, contrary currents, massive ships, small boats, fishing nets, shallow water, and shipwrecks.  We would be making the 482.6nm sail in one month calling in at 4 Passion Asia Rally stops along the way.

The Passion Asia Rally coordinators held meetings to discuss situations, reassure the cruisers and answer any questions about plying this busy waterway. 

S/v Ariel would be only one of 900 vessels travelling the Straits on any one day.   If we stayed within the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) a huge two lane motorway and at night use all the correct lights we were told we should be ok. 

The huge ships would be certain to stay in the lanes as they draw 17-19m and the shallowest part just 25m deep

Challenging and exciting we test our navigational skills in the Straits of Malacca
alongside the huge supertankers in the TSS.

We paid our S$60 to customs for exiting Singapore and left with 7 other boats for  Pulau Pisang a 30nm day run inside the Straits and a second day to P.Basar Water Island. 

s/v Cat'chus had already been struck by lightening out of Kumai and loosing most of her electronics it was a bit un-nerving  seeing her here, close to a supertanker. But Capt. Julian and 1st mate Sandy were well under control and well out of the way.  

Using radar it was easy to see the supertankers neatly lined up in their lanes.  It was the fishing boats at night that gave us the most problems.   Radar sometimes is unable to pick up the small wooden boats without proper running lights.                                 

                                                                                                          S/v Cat'chus races a supertanker

After the tsunami, the fishermen were given fishing nets but many of the donations were for floating nets.  The long tail size boats would drag these across our bow, some being over a mile long.
 A vigilant watch was a must.  If our props became fowled in the nets we would be unable to steer.

 The first day we motored all the way with  a 1/2kt to 1kt current with us, but the wind was on our nose which made for a bumpy ride.  Staying just right of the TSS, not in it, but running along side, we only had to watch out for a few fishing boats.  When they came charging toward us we knew they were warning us of a net in our path. 

The second and longer 70nm day we stayed just outside the TSS, then inside no more than a 1/4mile.  It was fairly calm with no current, then the wind rose suddenly to 30kts head on, seas came crashing over the bow and current against us up to +3kts.  Lucky we were within an hour of Water Island. 

S/v Ameonitas takes on the crashing seas over the bow nearing Water Island.

A Sumatra is a local squall phenomenon where a line of squalls roll eastward across the Straits usually in the early hours of the morning, between May and October when the SW monsoons blow up over the high mountains of Sumatra producing severe turbulence fueled by the warm water of the Straits.  The wind becomes gusty, the temperature plummets and heavy rains produce 'white outs'.  Some of these violent squalls can create winds up to 50kts but gusts have been recorded as high as 60-70kts.  Thunder and lightening accompany these horrendous storms and sailors must take them seriously.                                                             

As we sailed from Port Dickson to Lumut on an over night 149nm run, we had a Navy escort boat assigned to our convoy of now 20 boats. 

Sailing close together, as night fell we could see the silhouettes of the other cruisers in the flashing heat lightening all around us.  We could pick up the squall lines on radar and hear the thunder off in the distance. 

S/v Ariel sailed between the storms, watching from the cockpit as pink forks of lightening struck the water all around in the blackness, turning night to day.

We had to motor most of the way but had a positive current with us and flat seas.  Then once the storm conditions encircled us the wind came around to the South and we pranced along between the lightening bolts.  But there were lots of fishing boats all around also, many undetectable by any proper lighting so difficult for us to know their direction.  One came directly at us with red and green flashing lights and we had to alter course 90 degrees which caused those behind us to be even more confused.   Other fishing boats were  moving about laying nets and pots, their improper lighting indicating to us they were a 'hovercraft overtaking a mine sweeper'.    It was a tense and very long night but it was not until morning we discover the worst.

During the night our Navy escort boat was hit by a Sumatra while still flying it's spinnaker.     The fierce winds came up suddenly causing a 90 degree  'knock down'. 

Water got into the engine and the impeller almost burned up so they were forced to shut it down.  As we entered the Lumut river in the morning they were stuck motionless bobbing on a calm windless sea.



S/v Ariel threw the Navy escort boat a line and towed them the final miles into Lumut.



It was a hellish night but despite the horrendous conditions the convoy all made it in safely. 

Di and Dave of s/v Ameonitas holding up a thick line and fishing net they discovered wrapped around their prop and very happy to make it into the harbor with no damage.  

Nov. 15th we left Lumut for Penang Malaysia another 73.2nm day.  We left at first light, now 23 boats in the convoy, motoring out of the river with main up, seas calm.  Within a hour the wind was up so we reefed the main just in time before getting hit with a 30kt gust.  An hour later the wind had died down, typical of a Sumatra, as it rolls on over land.  We had only a bit of light rain, winds out of the SW so put the pole out.  By noon the wind was around to the N at 2kts. so we ended up motoring the rest of the day.

s/v Cat'chus (Australian)                             s/v Matariki (New Zealand)

Coming into Pabu Jerejak anchorage off Penang s/v Ariel s/v Cat'chus & s/v Matariki cut across the Outer Kra Bank while the rest of the fleet went around. 
We never saw less than 4m under our keel. 


s/v Matariki
and s/v Ariel following the fire boat under the Penang Bridge stopping traffic, horns honking and great fan fare coming into Penang

The next day it would be the same three, s/v Ariel the sailboat, s/v Matariki the power boat and s/v Cat'chus the catamaran that would lead the convoy under the Panang Bridge to Tanjong Marina in Penang Malaysia.



While the fire boat carried television and the press aboard to document the occasion,  it was the rally organizer Hardeep, the executive director and Sazli, the managing director who thought up the idea of a grand entrance and were welcomed aboard s/v Matariki and s/v Ariel to accompany the rally under the bridge. 
It was Hardeep's first time aboard a sailboat!!

Hardeep clings to rigging aboard s/v Ariel                                        s/v Ariel ducks under the bridge

Proudly all 23 boats in the Passion Asia Rally made it safely through the Straits of Malacca and into Tanjong City Marina Penang Malaysia then leisurely sailed on to Langkawai Malaysia another  75nm, the rallies final destination.       
    We never did see any sea snakes or pirates but navigating the Straits of Malacca was truly a test of skill, moments of high tension and days ashore releasing stress.  Several boats from the Indonesia Rally remained in Singapore and ports along the way waiting out the storms or ending their journey.  
     In the end five rally boats were struck by lightening, either on the Straits or in the marina's in this volatile area.   Fortunately only one, a French boat was rammed by another boat and that happened while anchored when a fishing boat ran into it's stern causing major damage but no injuries.   Several boats snagged fishing nets and only the one knock down during a Sumatra storm. 
     The Passion Asia rally was the way to go as they saw us through to the end, and made each and every stop a memorable experience. 

To see how the rally came together in these ports of call and how sailors get their much disserved reputations while unwinding ashore please continue on.....

                                          PREVIOUS                                            NEXT