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Pirates thwart plans
Bern
01/05/2011, Maldives

Early January I received an email from a sailing friend Matt, the skipper of Island Time. He asked if I was interested in sailing with him from the Maldives to the Med via the Red Sea in March and April. I jumped at the idea as Di was teaching during that period and I was at a loose end. Also it would be good experience before we undertake the same passage next year.

However in the week before I flew to the Maldives to join Island Time, Somali pirates captured the American yacht Quest and the four American crew. A few days after their capture the crew were all killed by the pirates. We had met them in Vanuatu in 2009, so this was a real shock to us. Quest was captured in an area that up till then had been considered a low risk area for pirates. Clearly the pirates now had the capability of travelling thousands of miles from the Somali coast and were now after yachts as well as merchant ships. In the weeks that followed the Quest incident, the Danish yacht ING was also captured and the crew of seven taken to Somalia.

These two incidents and other reports from yachts making the passage to the Med via the Red Sea indicated that the risk of being attacked by pirates had dramatically increased.

When I joined Island Time in the Maldives, Matt was still keen to make the passage to the Med. But as we learnt more about the pirate situation and also political uprisings in Egypt and other Middle East countries around the Red Sea, he reluctantly had to concede that it was now too dangerous to attempt the passage.

The decision was made to sail from the Maldives back to Sri Lanka. Spend some time there, then sail back to either Thailand or Malaysia. Our stay in the Maldives came to abrupt ending when we were told by the authorities to leave. Apparently the agent that Matt had used to obtain the required cruising permit and other formalities had not done a thing. The end result of their inactivity was that Island Time with crew had cruised some of the islands without a permit - a situation frowned upon by the authorities.

The passage from the Maldives to Sri Lanka was uneventful - winds were very light so we had to motor a good part of the way. It was hot with the occasional respite when a thunderstorm provided a downpour of rain that cooled the decks, topped up the water tanks and cooled the crew.

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We made it!!
Bern
24/11/2010, Langkawi

After leaving Pangkor marina we made a short sail north to Monkey island and spent the night there so we could ensure we 'd make the distance to Penang in daylight hours the following day. We got an early start and as there was no wind we were motoring along and dodging a few fishing boats and nets. Suddenly the engine slowed down and there was a bad vibration...must be some rubbish around the prop again. A quick check to make sure there were no jelly fish around and Bern was over the side and diving under the boat to investigate. As expected there was a big plastic bag wrapped around the prop and as he dragged it clear he felt a stinging pain on his arm and chest. There must have been jellyfish tentacles caught up in the plastic. With the plastic bag clear we got back on our way and started first aid treatment on a very painful arm and chest. We quickly ran through a plan in case he became unconscious and needed medical assistance. After about four hours the pain had subsided and he was feeling much better. We arrived in Penang early afternoon and anchored in a reasonably sheltered bay as the marina there is exposed to swell and the wash from non stop ferry traffic. The next day we started exploring the old city and finding our way around. Penang is a former British colony with many of the colonial buildings well preserved and still in use. We spent quite a few hours walking around the museum which describes through the numerous displays the history of Penang and the influence of all the cultures that have contributed to how Penang is today. People have come from China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Burma, the middle east and of course Britain. We walked through Little India, Chinatown and some huge shopping malls that are popular throughout Malaysia. The choice of cuisine is endless and we discovered a great Indian vegetarian restaurant serving delicious food at a total cost of $5 AUS!!! From Penang our next stopover was in the Fiord like islands just south of Langkawi and was one of the prettiest anchorages we have been in this year. The area is entered through a narrow channel in between high cliffs, home to Kites and monkeys. It is very secluded and a very protected anchorage. We spent three days here with quite a few other yachts then motored a further 5 nms around to the main town of Kuah on Langkawi Island. Kuah is mainly filled with Duty Free Shops and is a popular shopping destination for mainland Malaysians. Alcohol, chocolate and clothing are the major drawcards- Bern was quite excited to be able to buy a slab of beer(24 cans) for $10 AUS!!! Our final stop for this year was to a marina on Rebak island not far from Langkawi. We have spent the week here cleaning the boat from top to bottom in readiness for leaving it closed up while we return to Australia for a few months. As the weather is very humid and mould is a problem we have to leave fans running and containers of bleach sitting around to keep the boat as dry as possible and the mould at bay. We fly to Kuala Lumpur on Friday for the weekend and finally arrive in Australia Monday morning. We hope you have enjoyed following our blogs. There will be a break of a few months before we resume our travels in Asia next year.

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30/12/2010 | Matt Paulin
Hi Bernie, Matt from island Time. did you want to do the Indian Ocean leg? I'm singlehnded at this stage - you'd be welcome. Send me an email - I left your email ADD on the boat! matt@paulins.net
Almost through the Malacca Straits!
Di
16/11/2010, Pangkor

We are now two thirds of the way up the Malacca Straits and enjoying a few days in a quiet marina before heading north another 70nm to Penang. We finally left Johor Bahru last Friday after spending three interesting days sightseeing in the city of Malacca. This is a great city to visit with Chinatown being the major part of it's heritage area, tastefully restored and maintained. It's maritime history dates back to the 1400's when it became the centre of trade for the west coast of Malaysia and the meeting point between east and west shipping. Over the centuries, it has been dominated by the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and British and the influence of these cultures is evident in the architecture and layout of the old city. Our time there was certainly a highlight of our time in Malaysia so far. Our two day sail up the Straits of Malacca was challenging as far as the weather and the amount of shipping that plies up and down this busy waterway. Huge container ships, tankers, tugs towing barges and local fishermen all have to be negotiated! Fortunately there is a designated shipping lane in which nearly all of the larger ships stay. On the edge of the shipping lane is where the tugs towing barges travel and inside of this area, are all the local fishing fleet. We opted to sail up the edge of the shipping lane and found dealing with the tugs and barges less stressful as they travel slowly and nearly all carry AIS and are well lit. So they are easy to identify. In contrast, the local fishermen have poorly lit boats and of course no AIS so we have to be continually on the lookout for them. Daylight is always welcome after a night at sea when so much is going on around us. The calm, predictable weather we experienced for so long in Indonesia has spoilt us and we now have to adjust to daily thunderstorms, lightening, heavy downpours of rain which is often accompanied by strong wind squalls. We were hit by such a storm on our second night at sea. The lightening lit up the sky for many hours and then eventually we were hit by a strong wind squall, a quick 180 degree change in wind direction and heavy rain which reduced visibility and had us really wondering - where are those little fishing boat??? Thankfully it only lasted a few hours! We are hoping that we will be able to manage the rest of the passage to Langkawi in daylight hours. We plan to leave for Penang tomorrow, apparently Georgetown is a very interesting place to visit. From there we have another 70nm to Langkawi, so we are on the home stretch!

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18/11/2010 | Graham T
I'm in KL and getting the daily storms as well so I'm glad it was you guys out there rather than me. We visited Pangkor when we lived here - was a sleepy place back then, I imagine busier today. Sitting in the office feeling a bit envious, but we'll get back on the water soon as well.
26/11/2010 | Chiquita
I thought you were still in Oz. I have just arrived in Opua, Great sail down from Fiji. NE wind for a week! 15-18 kts! 195nm/day! I am aiming for Phuket next year. Hope to catch you up.
Danga Bay
Di
25/10/2010, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

After nearly two weeks we are still securely tied up in Danga Bay Marina in Johor Bahru. The Sail Malaysia Rally dinner and official briefing for our sail up the west coast to Langkawi, was held last weekend. Prior to that we had two busy days in Singapore sightseeing and shopping. Singapore is a short bus ride over the causeway from Johor Bahru. There are about 80,000 Malaysians who travel each day across the causeway to work in Singapore, so it is always a busy thoroughfare. The infrastructure for customs and immigration on both sides is well developed and well managed. It is a straightforward and efficient process. We were very impressed with Singapore's rail and bus transport which is easy to use and gets you around the city quickly in air conditioned comfort! Our visit to the 'Battle Box' in Fort Canning Park was really interesting and informative. It consists of a group of underground rooms and tunnels which was used as the command centre by the British and allied forces during WWII. Extremely realistic life- size models of army personal produced in England similar to what you'd find in 'Madame Toussards ', help recreate the story of the days leading up to the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. It is an audiovisual exhibition with some of the models designed to appear as if they are actually speaking . Fort Canning Park is a peaceful, leafy retreat amongst the hustle and bustle, but one of the many 'green' areas of Singapore which has a cooling affect in an otherwise steamy climate. Last Thursday we enjoyed a tour of south Johor organised for the rally participants. We were taken down to the SE and SW tip of Malaysia which overlooks the Singapore Straits. A maze of boardwalks have been built in amongst the mangroves which are now a protected species and a focus on this environment has been developed into a tourist attraction. Surprisingly the mangroves were littered with all kinds of rubbish washed in from the adjacent busy shipping straits. Afterwards we were taken to a local village for a traditional Malaysian lunch which was quite delicious and then onto a pineapple museum(!) entirely devoted to the history of pineapple growing in Malaysia. Yesterday was 'Deepavalli- the festival of lights' one of the major festivals for the Indian community here. It is celebrated in a similar way to Christmas, with families dining together and exchanging gifts which is often money. Last night we heard fireworks being set off all over the place so guess that was the finale. For the rest of the community, the Chinese and Malays, it is just a public holiday and a chance to shop in the many plazas and dine out in the many restaurants. The Sail Malaysia Rally commences tomorrow with the first stopover being Malacca and apparently a very interesting place to visit. Unfortunately the anchorage in the bay there can be very exposed if the winds blow in strongly from the west. As it is only a 3 hour bus ride from Johor, we have decided to stay longer in the marina here and travel by road to Malacca, stay for three days and join the Rally tour and attend the official dinner. We will then return, set sail on Friday and catch up with the Rally further up the coast.

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Crossing from south to north!
Di
25/10/2010, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

We finally crossed the equator early Tuesday morning just on sunrise. With calm seas and no wind we motored backwards and forwards plus sideways a few times, for photo shoots and to ensure it was a thorough crossing. That afternoon we celebrated on the beach with a 'crossing the equator party' with some crews from other boats, who had also just completed their first crossing. Dressing up as King Neptune we popped our first bottle of champers since leaving Darwin and toasted this momentous occasion, while being eaten alive by sandflies! The next few days we day- hopped, getting closer and closer to Singapore. Saturday evening we anchored on the edge of the Singapore Straits in preparation for our dash across the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Bern had spent quite sometime plotting our course and with the help of our AIS (automatic Identification System) which identifies and transmits to our electronic chart plotter the name and position of any shipping in the area in relation to us, plus relevant information like direction ,speed and size of each vessel we were able to make the crossing without too much difficulty. A thunderstorm in the middle of the crossing reduced our visibility considerably and it was quite surreal and a little disconcerting to see these large oil drilling rigs at anchor, appear out the mist. The storm cleared within half an hour and we are able to comprehend why this area has the reputation for being such a huge shipping hub. We saw about 50 or so large ships just sitting at anchor, besides all the other ships in transit. We were also amused to see a few very gutsy locals out in their little boats fishing on the edge of the Straits. From the Straits we entered a channel which took us up between the island of Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. Singapore seems to take its security very seriously. High wire fencing extends along the perimeter of the island with large signs attached at intervals featuring a skull and crossbones picture carrying a warning about live shootings!. As well, coast guard boats are strategically placed along the Singapore side patrolling the channel that separates it from Malaysia. A strong deterrent to any illegal immigrant! We are now safely tied up in Danga Marina (Johor Bahru) with many of the other rally boats from Sail Indonesia. We are now part of the Sail Malaysia rally to Langkawi which begins October 30th with a few days of festivities in the marina. In the meantime we plan to travel over the causeway into Singapore for some sightseeing. Johor Bahru is the second largest city in Malaysia so we should be able to reprovision and pick up any spare parts here quite easily.

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28/10/2010 | Jane
Exciting stuff!! Congratulations on crossing the equator! Graham flies to KL on 6th November, for a month. We went to Langkawi when we lived over there - lovely spot!
Farewell Indonesia!
Di
10/10/2010, Belitung

Belitung is our final destination for the Sail Indonesia rally and a fitting place to say "good-bye" to Indonesia. It is a very tranquil, tropical island situated off the east coast of Sumatra. and one of the very few places we have visited on our journey, that has clean, white sandy beaches with very clear turquoise water. The local tourist group are well organized and their thoughtful planning has helped make our visit here a memorable one, with free bus transport to all the festival visits as well as shuttles into the main town for shopping. A team of guides - local teachers of English, seconded to assist with the rally have been on hand to help with whatever is needed. Each time we dinghy onshore, there are a group of uniformed locals waiting on the beach to lift our tender from the water up onto the beach. Such great service! The local villagers have been extremely welcoming and always keen to practise their 'English' on us at every opportunity, especially the young teenagers. On Monday we were bussed 70kms across to the southern part of the island to lunch with the Regent( similar to a mayor) as well as visiting a local museum, watching some cultural performances and visiting a Buddhist temple. The Dutch colonised the island and helped develop the tin mining that in years gone by has made Belitung quite a prosperous island for Indonesia. Unfortunately the landscape is now marred by the tailings of the tin mining which no longer brings in the income it once did. As with many of the areas we have visited during this rally, the local governments are keen to develop tourism within their area and see Bali as something to emulate. The bay we are anchored in at the moment and the surrounding area has great potential as an international tourist destination. Amazingly, it doesn't rate a mention in Lonely Planet at all, this would be a great starting point! We enjoyed our farewell dinner for the rally participants on Wednesday evening and were entertained by local dancers, speeches by dignitaries and an impromptu performance by a British couple in the rally, who both turn 70 at the end of the week! Many of the boats have cleared with customs and immigration here and since yesterday, there has been a constant trickle of yachts departing for either Singapore or Malaysia. We plan to leave tomorrow morning and sail for Johor Bahru in Malaysia, just upriver from Singapore. Bern has been plotting our course carefully, as this passage involves navigating the Singapore Straits which is well known for being the busiest shipping stretch of water in the world!!!! We will travel in company with a few other boats and plan to stopover and get together, just north of the equator, for a 'crossing the equator' celebration! We hope to be in Malaysia around the 24th October.

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