Tense moments and unanswered questions

7 Jun
red skies at night

Pulling out the jib was an unexpected bonus as we sailed south from the islands of Langkawi.It’s more than 400 miles from there to Singapore, and we hoped to break it up with extended visits in Penang and Malacca to experience the interesting food, culture, and history they offer. But service delays stole that time, so we had to hustle south instead. The transit has turned out to be a string of strange encounters and some stressful situations.

sailing away from Langkawi

We tried fishing for a while, even though we knew there wasn’t much chance of a catch.  After reeling in several varieties of “plastic bag fish”, we kept our lines on board. Then, all the dead fish started to show up.

Dead fish and garbage

We had heard of large fish die-offs reported in other parts of the world, but don’t know where the conspiracy theorist reports end and real concern begins. It’s common knowledge that this area is over fished, but we didn’t expect to see evidence of a local die off – especially one that involved so many fish. But we passed thousands of dead fish, like this one, between Penang and Pangkor. What was the cause?

Dead fish and garbage

Off Pangkor, our chain wrapped around a large, abandoned anchor. Jamie was able to lasso a fluke to wrestle it off, but the pretty light of dawn didn’t make it any better. I’m grateful Totem has a robust windlass!

fouled anchor in Pangkor

Large vessels ply the waters near coastal ports. This huge barge passed behind Honey at Pangkor, where the catamaran was anchored just outside the channel for a night.

busy channel at Pangkor

Seeing smoke on the horizon, we angled toward a boat that appeared to be on fire.

possible boat fire?

On closer examination, it was just normal operation. Double whammy for the environment.

normal operation?

Much of what we see isn’t glossy magazine spread Malaysia. It’s industrial developing Malaysia.

Port Klang shipping terminal

When the heat of the day passes, we linger in the cockpit during our evenings at anchor. At least, as long as the bugs don’t come out! One night we were descended upon by large flying cockroaches… I am not a fan.

evenings at anchor

Passing the shipping terminals at Port Klang early in the morning, we shared the channel with everything from massive cargo ships to wooden fishing boats taking a cue from fanciful sketches of Noah’s Ark. All interesting, until our engine overheated and was shut down at the south end of the entrance channel.

Leaving Port Klang

This was a convergence point where large ships enter the port from the Straits of Malacca: not a good place to have compromised navigation capabilities. With lots of current, little wind, and a chopped up sea, it was cause for serious concern.

considerable current

Thankfully, we had a working engine and steerage before boats this big were too close, but there were tense moments and it dragged out long enough that we were getting tow lines out to throw to SV Utopia. Look closely to see the small, southbound sailboat chose to tacking alongside: probably not as close as it looks, but not where I’d want to be.

that's a little close

We were underway soon enough, but slightly stressed about the unknown root cause for our engine overheating. Nothing like a flyby visit from a couple of powered paragliders to lighten things up a little!

Buzzed by paragliders

In Port Dickson, we stopped to break for a few days at the lovely Admiral Marina. It’s a pretty resort with a nice, protected facility for cruisers and residential yachts. The collected kids between our boat and two companions numbered eleven altogether, and made for epic games of Marco Polo at the pool. But our reprieve was broken when problems with dock wiring damaged our battery charger and nearly caused a fire. It’s extremely fortunate we were on board at the time and able to shut it down before it got out of control. This facility takes customer service more seriously than any other marina we have experienced in Malaysia, and is working with us to replace the damaged equipment.

Electrical troubles in Port Dickson

Down the dock, the caregiver for a boat with an absentee owner encountered acrid fumes on board. Uncertain what was wrong, she solicited help from cruisers on the dock. Jamie’s instinct was the battery bank:  after a quick search, he found the batteries snapping and crackling with heat. He quickly disconnected them from power inputs and got off the boat, but it was extremely dangerous as the batteries are highly explosive and full of acid. Even just a few minutes in the cabin left him with sore eyes for a day, but the alternative was a major boat fire in the marina.

Electrical troubles in Port Dickson

Our stop in Port Dickson was partly for a follow up from the Yanmar service that helped us with the tune up. The alternator belt replaced in Langkawi was loose, a possible root cause for the overheating we experienced earlier. It’s tightened, and we cross our fingers.

red skies in the morning

Today we’ll reach Puteri Harbour, our last stop before Singapore. There were no tours of Penang or Malacca on our journey south on the Malay peninsula, but sometimes you just have to put miles under the keel. The disappointment is easy to put in perspective, since we’ll probably be back this way in November and can make it up then. Meanwhile, the engine has overheated again…

Mellow readers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


  1. judy fravel

    “Rats ‘to the rats.

    Call in a pest man/woman. Ask for help on your blog. Try dog cookies,peanut butter etc. Water- add something strong to a bowl of water .
    Dcon is the trick but oh the smell is awful.

    I can’t believe this saga.

    Ask for ideas on your blog.

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