Malacca Won’t Release Me

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Flying Fish, sails furled, motors into the port of refuge at Sabang, Banda Aech, Sumatra. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I thought I had put my squabble with the Strait of Malacca behind me. Apparently not. I am diverting Flying Fish to Sumatra.

Geography: The southern end of the Strait of Malacca is the bottleneck at Singapore. Langkawi is at the northern end, and to sail to the Maldives it is necessary to cross the mouth of the Strait, which is about 300 miles wide east to west. During the NE Monsoon season—now—weather comes into the Strait from the Bay of Bengal. It can provide a glorious broad reach all the way to the Maldives resulting in what a Swiss friend described few weeks ago as “champagne sailing.”

Champagne sailing was also the forecast for my passage. Unfortunately, the bubbly was served flat. Contrary to the weather prediction, there was no wind. I motored over a calm sea for more than 36 hours. What concerned me more, however, were two new electronics failures aboard Flying Fish.

The AIS (Automatic Identification System) tells other boats where I am. It is essential, and also a legal requirement, in high-traffic locations like the Strait of Malacca. My AIS failed last night whileFlying Fish was in a traffic jam of supertankers. Course confusion reigned as the big iron tried to pinpoint exactly where I was and how to avoid crushing me. Within moments of losing the AIS, I was in the glare of an Indonesian patrol boat’s spotlight.

Next was a warning alarm aboard Flying Fish announcing that my GPS signal was lost. This system, of course, tells me where I am. The GPS continued to flicker on and off through the rainy night, not the kind of instrument I want to depend on for the next 15,000 miles.

Sabang, in the Banda Aceh province of Sumatra, provided a port of refuge. It will give me an opportunity get online and on the phone to resolve my issues.

Being here also helps me to understand how minor my issues are. I am humbled by a life-sized statue of a woman, arms raised in terror, as a flood of water presses against her legs. My boat problems are insignificant compared to the reality of the world around me. In this province 164,000 people—a third of the entire population—drowned when a 2004 tsunami swept ashore.

NOTE: On passages when I have no cell or WiFi signal, I activate a satellite tracking link that shows my daily position, current weather, and includes a few personal thoughts from the daily log of Flying Fish. I will not be able to respond to messages via satellite but I love the idea that you are sailing along with me. If you would like to follow the daily progress of Flying Fish into Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean via satellite you can click this link: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Flyingfish

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To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish

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Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2020