From our fairly primitive vantage point here half way up the Malacca Straits near Pangkor Island, it’s difficult to believe that one of the world’s most dense and technologically modern metropolises (metropoli?) lies just a couple hundred miles away. But there we were drinking $20 beers on the Marina Bay Sands rooftop staring at the Singapore skyline just a few days ago, and here we are now swatting mosquitoes over $3 breakfasts, strolling through fishing villages, and teetering along old abandoned piers. We’re accustomed to diversity by now, but our experiences in Asia so far have taken that to a whole new level.
So we’ve been making fairly short work of these more southerly stops along Malaysia’s west coast. Partially that’s because we’ve found this part of Malaysia a bit boring, and partially because we’ve got big plans for our time in Thailand, including a five-week road trip that will take us through at least four countries. So at times like these we just keep moving and let the miles tick away. Sailing at night is one of the tricks we use to speed our progress, and although that’s easy in most places, we’ve found it a challenge here in the Malacca Straits thanks mainly to the local fishermen. They never have AIS systems, they rarely use proper navigation lights, and often times they’re completely unlit (until they see us and start flashing an emergency flashlight). They cast their nets far from their boat and set traps marked with small flags or water bottles, creating a permanent risk of tangling rope in the prop – irritating for us, but probably more irritating for them. There’s also the debris in the water – plastic garbage and logs approaching the size of tree trunks are the biggest concerns. And there’s the “Sumatra” squalls which can suddenly blow 50-60 knots and are difficult to see during the night – our experience with a Sumatra a few days ago was a wake-up call. So most of the cruising sailors out here advise daytime only sailing, and although we don’t listen to that advice ourselves, we’ll dispense it to others who ask us.
As we now leave Pangkor we’re embarking on another overnight passage – obviously we prefer learning lessons the hard way. The destination tomorrow morning will be Penaing, a booming island metropolis with over two million people. We’ve heard these northern Malaysian islands offer more to see and do, and if that’s the case we’ll be slowing our roll and spending a bit more time exploring.