Moored at Penang Yacht Club
Greetings from the docks of the Penang Yacht Club where Sandpiper is securely moored after a 200 mile jump up the Straits of Malacca. Last Wednesday we received our mail that we were waiting for. Thanks so much dad Sherman for mail. And thanks mom Larson for the book! One last jump in the swimming pool, one last shower, and we were off.
The winds were very light for this 200 mile run. We sailed for about a total of 30 seconds when we had a very short puff of wind. The first day of motoring up the straits of Malacca was uneventfully, until we got off the entrance to Port Klang (Malaysia's largest shipping port) right at sunset. Amy and I were reading books in the cockpit while Sandpiper was peacefully motoring along when Amy looked over and said "That cloud looks a little scary." Suddenly the wind picked up and rain started dumping down. Luckily we got the mainsail reefed down before we got hit. And we got all the portholes closed just before the deluge started. Then came the lightning which lasted for four hours. It was cracking all over the place. It is something to see when lighting is hitting the water all along the horizon.
Just as I stated that I thought the worst of the lightning was over then a bolt hit the water half a mile off Sandpiper's starboard side. This was the closest we have been yet to being zapped and I just about left a mess in my shorts.
After the storm finally went away the night just got crazier. After we passed a series of shoals we ran into the middle of hundreds of Malaysian fishing boats that have just about every light configuration imaginable. And then there were the fishing nets strewn all over the place. It was very difficult to determine what lights were marking nets and what lights were on the fishing boats themselves.
Fishing boats in Indonesia and Malaysia do not have navigation lights. However, they do have just about every other light though. Most here seem to like the household fluorescent type hanging vertical and then placed all over their boats. Some seem to prefer the green fluorescent bulbs more then others. Then they top this off with flashing different colored LED lights to spruce up the lack of color on their boats. And then they top this off with flashing yellow siren type lights. Good luck trying to figure out what direction they are facing of what their intentions are!
At first we decided to follow an Austrian sailboat in front of us. We figured if they ran into something, then we would just go around them. That was until we called them on the radio as we saw them make a hard turn to port. They said that it was OK to go over the nets and they had just run over the top of one. We decided to make our own route after that and stay clear of the Austrians.
The whole night was a sleepless night for Team Sandpiper as there was so much traffic to deal with. The other option was to stay out of the fishing grounds by moving over to the shipping lanes. But with the amount of shipping we could see running north along Sandpiper's port side, we decided it was safer dodging fishing boats and nets. Better that when compared to getting run down by a ship going over 20 knots that does not see us.
We almost ran over a net. We saw the floats on the surface in the middle of the night we made a hard turn to starboard. The fisherman came out along his nets to show us where they were. It was kind funny because he only had one green fluorescent light on as we got close. Then turned on 4 flashing yellow siren lights as he ran down the length of his fishing net. They mark the ends of their nets with red and blue flashing LED lights. They kind of look like a disco ball at night.
As the sun came up that morning we took a deep breath of relief. Suddenly we were all by ourselves again. We had the option of stopping for the night at an island along the way. But we decided to press on as we are starting to run out of time in Malaysia and have places that we want to spend time at before leaving.
The second night out was much better than the first night because there was no lightning (except off in the distance) and just a few fishing boats. We did have a moment of panic. We were listening to one of the local radio stations (One note on this one cool part about being in Malaysia is that over half the radio stations are English speaking channels and they play American music). The news came on at the top of the hour and they were talking about the heavy flooding from the hard rains around Singapore. When the weather lady came on, she said that the weather service was moving the forecast from orange to red and they expected typhoon force winds. We have no idea what an "Orange weather level" is, much less a "Red Level". But we assume red must be the worst. She failed to mention where this was for and just as she finished the radio faded out.
We freaked out for awhile and could not call our other boat friends back at Sabana Cove because we were out of cell phone coverage. We decided that she must have been talking about the east coast of Malaysia. Or we more hoped that is what she meant. We did reef down the main, and every time the wind picked up a bit, we would get a bit worried. But we figured that if all the fishermen were out there, then we would be OK. If there was going to be any bad weather then they would have run in for shore.
We entered into another group of fishing boats after midnight. These guys had their lights displayed totally different then the guys from the previous night. These guys just had one red light marking their nets and a red light on their boat. It was very difficult to figure out what was a boat and what was a net.
Once again Sandpiper tried to motor over a net. We only saw it when it was 20 feet off the bow. We had just enough time to put the engine in neutral, disengage the autopilot, and make a hard turn to starboard. We left the spotlight on the net and ran down it's length till we saw the end and went safely rounded it. Its seems that the fisherman here do not care if you run over their gear since most really make no attempt to alert you to where their nets are.
Sunrise found Sandpiper right off the channel entrance to Penang only to be surrounded by more fishermen in speed boats buzzing all over the place. These guys did not have nets. So no worries!
Penang is a large island connected to the mainland of Malaysia by a long bridge that Sandpiper went under, arriving at her present mooring at the Penang Yacht Club. It is not so much of a yacht club. It is owned by the city and is really just a marina. But, it has great shower and is only $10.00 a day! We are tied up in downtown Georgetown, which is the largest town on the island. All we have to do is walk across the street and we are downtown.
There is also a large ferry terminal right next to the marina for the ferries that run back and forth to the mainland. One of the locals told me that it was cheaper to ride the ferry than pay the toll to go across the bridge. I have no idea why this would be, other then to secure the jobs for the ferry workers. It seems to be true as the ferries are always full of cars and motorcycles.
There is alot I can write about Penang, but I have already been rambling on too long. So I will keep it short, if I can. Penang is historically rich. This was the first settlement by the Dutch when they settled here. They made this their trading capital for the spice trade back in the 1700's. Since then the British ran them out. After WWII it finally gained independence as a part of Malaysia. There is a large Chinese and Indian population and the city of Georgetown is a large city with lots to see and do.
We have a short time here and will be moving north early Sunday. More when it happens.
Tom and Amy
08 December 2007
Moored at Penang Yacht Club