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November 29, 2018    |   Penang, Malaysia - A hidden treasure.

November 29, 2018    |   Penang, Malaysia - Finding art on the streets of George Town, Penang.

November 19, 2018 (Day 4,190)
Quick Fix: 04° 12.6 N / 100° 36.1 E
Pangkor, Malaysia

Lots To See, But Not Much To Rave About
For a week we've been day-hopping up the western coast of Malaysia, dodging cargo vessels, fishing boats, nets, stakes and eddies of trash that pirouette on the surface - clusters of plastic bottles, bags, flip flops, discarded toothbrushes, and a disturbing toy doll with beady eyes that followed us as we motored past and, even in the 90 degree heat (the water temperature hit 86 today), gave us the chills. Sadly, from a cruiser's perspective (at least ours), the west coast of Malaysia is one of the least inspiring coastlines we've transited. The water gives the appearance of a puddle, the shore is mostly mud or mangrove and there are few pleasant areas to rest for the night. Indeed, some evenings we're forced to anchor in open water a mile from the shallow shoreline. We've bought a disco strobe which makes it look like we're having a rave onboard. But it mostly just helps prevent Dream Time from being T-boned by a wayward fishing boat while we're fast asleep dreaming of the Tuamotus.


November 14, 2018    |   Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - The Petronas Twin Towers held the lofty title of the World's Tallest Buildings from 1998 - 2004 (they're now #14).


Day 4,185 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
10:37hrs - November 14, 2018
Bubbles in KL

We travel the seas on our little boat with everything we need, and often so much more than a great many of the people we meet along the way. But there are some places where I’m reminded of how much ‘stuff’ there is in the world. Some good and useful and some just distracting. Truthfully I’m a fan of both, I think it’s helpful to have the contrast, and besides the distracting stuff is so much fun. But I’m struck occasionally by the sheer volume of stuff there sometimes is when we come to places like Kuala Lumpur. 

We drove inland to KL from Port Dickson because we wanted to meet the famous shiny twin towers in person. On the way passing small villages, mile long stretches of nothing but palm oil plantations, then into the scattered suburbs with their forests of tall apartment buildings and then finally into the mostly congested with construction traffic centre of the city. And there they were in all their shiny glory in a grand central position daring anything to be shinier than them.

After motor sailing up through the windless hot Malacca Straits for the last few weeks it was interesting to see so many people again. Living on the boat somehow there's a feeling as if you're almost alone on the world but in Malaysia, actually just beyond the trees on the waters edge, there's usually a mass of busy humans doing their thing. And there's definitely a concentration of humans busy shopping in KL. I've never been a very efficient shopping person, I can never seem to find quite what I'm looking for and invariably end up abandoning the task without success so I tend to avoid it. But KL and specifically the splendid and shiny shopping complex laying at the foot of the gleaming Petronas Twin Towers is a luxury shoppers paradise. I watched as the perfectly manicured ladies glided elegantly among the opulent luxury boutiques expertly identifying and securing the latest and most desirable fashion items with almost imperceptible effort, only occasionally stopping for some crucially important social media update and/or for some tiny morsel of delicious nourishment with sparkly glasses of vitamin infused water to maximize their hunting efforts. I am fascinated by and have an admiration for these ladies but I couldn't do it, it would be altogether too much pressure for me. Lucky I live on a boat.

We spent the rest of our time in KL either gazing upwards at the towers from the ground or downwards at the tiny tourists from the various viewing points high up in the towers. Then we waited for nightfall and did it again in the dark. A fun day out topped off by the real reason I came to KL - a long luxurious soak in perfectly perfumed, wildly over bubbled bubble bath with as many fluffy towels as I could wrap around me.  I've never been very good at shopping but I've definitely got the bubble bath thing down!


Day 4,180 - Melaka, Malaysia
19:44hrs - November 9, 2018
Pirates of Melaka

This week we anchored off what was once, a thousand years ago, a quiet fishing village resting on the edge of a tropical jungle and a muddy waterway. Later, that waterway would become the most famous maritime trade route in the world - the Malacca Straits, a gateway joining Europe and India to SE Asia, where merchants carried by the monsoons sold their local treasures in distant bazaars before returning home heavy with exotic cargo.

The Malacca Straits, named for the city of Melaka that grew in size from the once sleepy fishing village to a bustling colonial trading port, was a vital outpost and for five hundred years the Malays, Portuguese, Dutch and British fought, and for a time, each held control over the region. But in 1957 Malaysia finally regained its independence. The pirates, however, still ruled the narrow corridor of water and until recently, with 25% of global marine cargo transiting through the straits, a staggering 41% of the world's piracy attacks were launched from SE Asia.

But in 2006 the maritime forces of India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore finally came together to patrol and secure this valuable corridor of water, and according to the Chief of Malaysian Defence Forces, pirate attacks have since been in decline and by 2011 reached near zero levels along the Malaysian side of the straits.

Melaka (Malacca) is no longer a sleepy fishing village or a bustling trade port, shallow waters and a silting river entrance saw to that. But with its colorful tapestry of Dutch, Portuguese, Malay and British colonial history, UNESCO listed the city as a World Heritage Site in 2008, and in July this year, Forbes even declared Melaka one of the 10 Coolest Cities Around The World. Marauding pirates no longer seem to be a threat, it’s the tourists who have invaded.

For two days we joined the hordes of vacationers from around the world who had gathered to explore this ancient city, and as our visit just happened to coincide with the Hindu holiday of Diwali, families from India appeared to be the new ruling force of Melaka.

We visited all the obligatory sites: the crumbling remains of the Dutch fort, a replica of the first Portuguese ship believed to have sailed into local waters, Red Square - the city's original administrative center, museums, markets and historic churches. We took a boat cruise along the Melaka River which, racing at full throttle along the narrow canal, felt more like a Disney ride than a relaxing cruise through a World Heritage Site. While exploring the popular city streets we dodged dozens of colorful trishaws - sidecar carrying bicycles - each elaborately themed and heavily decorated in cartoon paraphernalia ranging from Hello Kitty, Baby Sharks to Pokémon, and in the evening marveled at these contraptions as they carried selfie stick swinging tourists along Jonker Street in a dazzling display of blinking fairy lights and sound systems that rocked everything from AC/DC to Maroon 5.

But it was wandering aimlessly far from the crowds that it felt like we discovered the true remains and vibe of this unique city. Exploring the shaded cobbled side streets of Chinatown, old market squares where merchants still transport sacks of produce on rickshaws, along quiet semidetached houses built during the colonial era, and down narrow networks of ancient alleyways where sunlight filtered though the shadows of palm fronds and mixed with the smoke from incense and the offerings of burning joss papers.

We didn't sight any pirates along our travels, I couldn't even find a 'Pirates of Melaka' t-shirt. But we did come across an Indian fellow on holiday sporting a Jolly Roger tricorn who was absolutely thrilled when I asked to take his photo.

November 6, 2018    |   Malaysia - The infamous stakes of Malacca. Pirates are no longer a concern for mariners, it's the fish farms and drift nets that will catch you.

November 5, 2018    |   Malaysia - Storm clouds gather over the Straits of Malacca, this cell delivered a modest 30 knots and enough rain to reduce visibility to 10 meters.


Day 4,173 - Puteri, Malaysia
09:53hrs - November 2, 2018
Assessing Risk - Ship or Sail? Part 2

With almost 40,000 nautical miles accumulated under our keel over eleven years of sailing, it's no surprise we've had to make a few tough cruising decisions along the way, like how best to deploy two anchors to survive a tropical storm; entering our first South Pacific atoll with standing seas barricading the entrance; deciding to sail 'up hill' over two thousand miles from New Zealand back to French Polynesia; or weighing the pros and cons of riding near gale force winds at Norfolk Island.

I suspect we haven't always made the best decisions, but hey, we're still here, and so is Dream Time, so we must be doing something right. At the very least we've learned from each experience and they've made us more capable cruisers. Some of our good fortune we attribute to blind luck but most of it is a result of anticipation - preparing ourselves, and the boat, for the worst possible scenario while working hard to navigate our way to the very best. It's our insurance policy, and it has kept us safe.

But over the last few months we've continued to grapple with what is definitely our most difficult cruising decision to date - whether to ship or sail Dream Time into the Mediterranean Sea. We shared a few facts about this dilemma last month in Ship or Sail? - Part One and continue our research here.

It seems that while piracy around Somalia has been in decline for the better part of five years and that during that period there have been no successful attacks on sailboats, it remains unclear if this is due to the efforts of the coalition naval fleet patrolling the region or simply a reduction of yachts choosing to transit the area. As we mentioned last month, in the year 2000, 200 yachts sailed up through the Red Sea while 120 sailed around South Africa. By 2015, however, numbers were dramatically reversed with 358 yachts sailing the longer South African route and only fourteen reportedly making the passage north from the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. And during that same year 25 yachts shipped their boats, indicating that within the fleet of sailors wishing to enter the Mediterranean from the Indian Ocean, and at a ratio of almost 2 to 1, more cruisers felt the risk of piracy was too high to sail and chose to ship.

After a decline in piracy around Somalia from 160 attacks in 2011 to just one attack in 2016, many believed the region was safe to sail. However, last year Gulf of Aden waters experienced an increase in piracy with attacks being launched against five commercial vessels. And in February this year, while some reports show only eight yachts sailed north up the Red Sea, one Australian catamaran issued a MAYDAY when high-speed skiffs approached their vessel. Luck, it seems, may have played a significant role in the outcome - a naval vessel just happened to be close enough to deploy a helicopter and within fifteen minutes the yacht was escorted to safety by its very own billion dollar security detail.

This recent increase in piracy around Somalia had the Maritime Security Center Horn of Africa (MSCHOA.org), an initiative established by the European Union Naval Force, post an updated notice on their website warning sailors:

"In view of the recent escalation in pirate attacks in the area of the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and the consequent very high risk, the essential advice is not to enter this area."

As the photos that accompany this entry show, Dream Time is not averse to a little risk taking - she has surfed over shallow bar entrances, hove-to in gale force winds and embarked on passages that took her far from the usual cruising routes. But during these challenges we faced the indifference of Mother Nature not the targeted malevolence of Somali pirates or Yemen rebels. Reefing sail, lying a hull, EPIRBS, life vests and harnesses will do us no good if high-speed skiffs cross our path.

We've got a month or two before we'll need to commit, but the potential risk associated with sailing appears to be far greater than the cost of shipping.