Circumnavigation  2010---

Nov/Dec 2013 Logs

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, Yacht Haven Marina, Phuket , Thailand

We’re just back from a surprisingly good Xmas Turkey Dinner at the local yachtie restaurant, The Haven, and I’ve been drafted to do the most recent log update.   Since Amy’s last update, we have travelled, as the crow flies, 650 miles from Singapore.  Fourteen days of motoring/motor sailing, two days of sailing, and four weeks of marina living and land trips along the Malacca Strait. We had been dreading our Malacca Strait passage from Singapore to Thailand due to its reputation for frequent squalls and thunderstorms, ships, vast numbers of fishing boats, free floating fishing nets and generally miserable, windless conditions. As is often the case, the reputation for misery and danger seems to have been a bit exaggerated. We travelled the route with three other boats, Hokule’a and Solstice from California and Kite from Maine. We enjoyed their company and likewise enjoyed our eating and drinking tour of the Malaysian coast.  Taking stock of this motoring leg of our travels, we now realize that if worst comes to worst and sailing ever becomes more effort than our bodies can handle, some form of trawler life may indeed be a manageable way to go.

So, what have we been doing with ourselves…?

In sum, we have had a major exposure to Malaysia, a country which I had absolutely no understanding of before this trip. We have taken road trips to its capital, Kuala Lumpur and to Melaka, its historically important maritime trading center. We also spent ten days or so in Penang at a great marina, Straits Quay, where we sampled the variety and delights of what many foodies consider one of the world’s great eating spots.  The dollar is quite strong in relation to the Malaysian ringgit so all of our travelling, lodging, and feasting were heavily subsidized which was an added plus.     

What did I learn? Well, in no order of importance, I continue to be impressed by how much the developing South East Asians are mimicking Western, e.g. American, culture.  Clothing, music, shopping malls, road signage, restaurants, architecture, and even language are gravitating to a very modern American style, for good or for bad

I’m also a bit depressed by the fact that so much of developing Southeast Asia is making the same mistake that we made by relying nearly 100% on  private cars and scooters for their transportation strategy. I guess there is no other alternative but it is too bad to see the negative results of their transportation choice….urban sprawl, strip malls, shopping centers, air pollution and very, very congested roads.  Singapore’s amazing public transportation system is the striking exception.   

I had heard from cruisers in Palau about Bumiputera, the policy of the Malaysian government to give priority to Malays for government and military jobs which comprise a sizeable proportion of all available employment. Malays comprise almost 60% of the population, Chinese 30%, and Indians 8%.  It seems to the casual observer that nearly all laborers and cab drivers are Indian.  A very high percentage of all retail stores and businesses appear to be run by Chinese.  Nearly every bureaucrat and policeman is Malaysian.  The Chinese never mentioned the situation and quietly go about doing just fine for themselves. The Indian cab drivers will not stop complaining about their fate but seem to be unwilling or unable to do anything about it.

Although Islam is the dominant religion, one notices more non-Muslim forms of religious practice than was the case in Indonesia. It is still striking however to see the women in Muslim dress in settings like a lakeside swimming stop in Langkawi, (see our pics).

Other observations were that the Malaysians are quickly depleting their fishing stocks as did we. They are also using their mineral, gas, and oil resources to develop sources of cash from exports. As a result of these developments, the waters of the Malacca straits are full of sediment and many hillsides show the impacts of mining. All in all from my perspective and, probably due to its relative small size, Malaysia’s economic development appears to have had far more of an impact on its environment than was the case to date in Indonesia.    

For any cruisers reading this log, I would say not to worry so much about the Malacca Strait passage. It won’t be anywhere near as beautiful as Indonesia but you’ll get a chance to chill out, enjoy some very good and interesting cuisines, and spend some time in safe and affordable marinas which you haven’t done in a while.

We’ve been in Thailand for a couple/three weeks now. The coast is definitely more scenic than Malaysia. There is a bit of wind for sailing. The exchange rate continues to be very favorable so the famous Thai food is very affordable and as good as advertised. We took a live aboard dive trip to the Similan and Surin islands and were able to do some pretty good diving which included Richelieu Rock. Even though this huge pinnacle had far more divers than we are used to and would have liked, it still had very, very impressive coral, structure, and fish life. A good trip all in all and it has made us lean, at least for now, toward doing another dive trip to Raja Ampat instead of going to New Zealand. We really do like diving in this part of the world!

Our sails and dodger are off the boat getting some attention and repairs before they experience the challenges of the Indian Ocean.  We’re going to be hauled in a week or so for a couple of hopefully quick jobs…we have to wait for a full moon tide and even then we only get 6 feet of water! Amy is making flight reservations and initial lodging reservations for the first of our probable two land trips to other parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.  Until our travels begin we are trying to do at least one boat job a day and also visit the air – conditioned gym and its treadmills to get in shape for our roles as walking tourists and trekkers. All in all we are surviving just fine.

We continue to plan to leave Phuket in March to head back down the Malacca Strait toward Singapore and then onward to the Sunda Strait north of Jakarta where we’ll depart for South Africa in late August. The possibilities for land travel and diving as well as the better wind angle across the Indian Ocean have lead us to choose this southern option and later departure. We can in theory still change our minds and head out in February for the Andaman’s and Sri Lanka for the northern crossing option but that choice seems less and less likely with each passing day.   

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