Thursday, December 16, 2010

We love fishing nets in Malaysia

We are on our way along the Malaysian coast through the Strait of Malacca and unfortunately we don’t have much time to visit this part of our route. We must be underway every day that the weather permits it and since we can only sail during the day our progress is very slow. Two reasons prevent us from sailing during the night. The first reason is the weather and every evening or so we get severe thunderstorms which are really not ideal while sailing in pitch dark! But the main reason is the Malaysian fishing fleet. Fishing boats are everywhere and we need to have a very close watch while on the way to avoid them but mostly their fishing gears. On the picture you can see a large fishing boat with a huge floating net, these are easy to deal with as they move slowly and the nets are pretty obvious. The problem for a sailboat comes from the small ones. These little wooden boats, about 25 feet in length, drop nets staying just below the surface and are fishing everywhere by dozens. You really don’t want to be a fish in the area that’s for sure. They also leave hundreds of fishing cages scattered everywhere and marked only by a little flag and when I say “little” I mean it. In fact the flag is usually made of a small wood stick floating on 2 plastic bottles and mounted with a square flag that so deteriorated that they look like the surrender white flags during the Napoleonian wars after two weeks of battles.

But the best story happened just after we left Pulau Bunting an island that offered us a good shelter against the daily thunderstorms prevailing in the area. In front of us was a line of fishing boats, maybe 20 of them, all seeming to fight for the same school of fish. We proceeded cautiously trying to evaluate the erratic driving of the fishermen and to stay as far away from them as we could. At one point one of the boats came in our direction and turned at the last minute to pass us at our stern. We were at that moment motorsailing, which means that one engine was running but both sails were fully open and even though the wind was weak we were still sailing and our maneuverability very limited. As I was looking at the fishing boat passing just right behind us one of the fishermen then pointed ahead of Chocobo urging me to look. Another fishing boat was sailing at full speed toward us at angle and I had to put the engine quickly in neutral to avoid a collision. Putting the engine in neutral significantly reduced our speed and was enough to let the fishing boat pass but we were still sailing full sails open! I was looking at the boat sailing away from us and wondering what exactly this guy was doing. In less than two seconds the horror jumped at me; they were dropping a fishing net!!! The bunch of morons passed at full speed right in front of a sailboat and dropped their 300 feet (100m) long net. Of course we caught the net as we were yelling at them to stop and not to start pulling the net. Danielle rushed to lower the sails in order to stop the boat but without turning the boat into the wind this can be quite a challenge. Nevertheless, she managed to do it while I was trying to spot the net and see where it was tangled. The fishing boat came behind us as we were trying to assess how the net was tangled and how to release it. One of the guys on the fishing boat shouted to us to put the propellers in reverse. Of course, how come I didn’t think about this myself? The best thing to do when you have a line tangled in your propeller is to spin it even more! Geez how can someone be so stupid and yet be allowed to breath. Then another of the geniuses on board suggested that we cut it, and of course was oblivious of the fact that this net was what would bring the food on his table the next week. But by then Danielle and I had had a couple of minutes to assess the situation and at the same time we said “we have to dive!”. I was quickly putting my swimming suit and grabbing my mask and snorkeler while Danielle was setting a line for me to hold in case there was a current under the boat. I jumped and fortunately the net’s top cable was simply sitting on top of the propeller blades and all I had to do was to release it from the two propellers and free we were. We waited a minute to let the net sink and to be sure it was out of range, waved goodbye to our bunch of monkeys on the fishing boat then engaged the propeller and off we were. Now, the exact reason why the guy went dropping his net right in front of us is still unclear but the fact is that this happened in a region that was well known for piracy not so long ago and the fact that pirates attacking the small yachts were usually fishermen trying to round up their ends of the month a little! Well this struck me only way after the events and honestly we never felt treated in any way during the whole time; we only felt victims of blunt stupidity!

During our day hopping we stopped for the night in Port Klang, Malaysia, which appears to be probably the largest cargo port in Malaysia. It was far from the dimensions of Singapore but still quite impressive. Have a look at the large container ships being unloaded by the giant container cranes. I am sure you didn’t think it was possible to fit that many containers on a boat hey? Note, by the way, that the containers are simply sitting there untied on the ship. What do you think happens when one this big guy gets caught in a huge storm? But again the best part came later. Just after the first docks we turned into a side river and anchored in what appeared to be the stinkiest place we’ve ever anchored. The stench was so bad that Danielle had a hard time to sleep while I slept like a baby. Apparently, I have no problem sleeping over a dump. Obviously, the smell was coming by the untreated sewage waters released by the surrounding industries and towns not caring much about that costly concept of environment protection. Note however that Malaysia is poor, very poor and talking about environment protection is easy from a guys coming from a country where the average family revenue is about $60K/year! Anyway we had no choice but to stay there since it was sunset and we had no time to find another place to anchor.

The only place we really stopped in Malaysia was the town of Kuah on the Island of Langkawi where they somehow erected a giant statue of an eagle as the main landmark of the very crowded but also very roomy harbor. We took a few days to stretch our legs in the city streets and markets since we hadn’t go ashore since Puteri eleven days ago and all our muscles started to feel like jello! Of course, we enjoyed the delicious and very cheap food the many restaurants had to offer. Indeed, with $7.00 to $18.00 for the two of us we could enjoy Thai, Indian or Malaysian meals that mix curry, ginger and chili in ways only Asians can do. We also went to McDonalds once but to our defense for this culinary offence in this kingdom of spices, which is South-East Asia, I must say that we were on a hurry and just went for what fast-food stands for! Another aspect of our life in Indonesia and Malaysia is the daily Muslim call for the prayer. I don’t know if I mentioned it before but Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Bali may be mostly Hindu but the rest of the country is definitively Muslim and Malaysia is the same, just smaller in population. This beautiful mosque happens to be very close to the shore and like every mosque they have loud speakers to make all the followers to hear the prayer, which as you know happens five times a day. I am not sure if the call is made in Arabic or in Bahasa but it sure sounded Arabic to me. Nevertheless, if you never heard a Muslim call for prayer before let’s say that it sounds like a long song where words are stretched in a slow and harmonious complain. One thing about this call from the mosques is that we are not sure exactly how they chose who sings in the speakers. Here in Langkawi the guy from the nearby mosque was quite a good singer and Danielle and I enjoyed hearing him every day. However, in some remote islands of Indonesia the Imam or whoever was yelling in the microphone from the temple sounded more like an old rooster with a hangover trying to still impress after it was long overdue! I mean, seriously, some were so bad that it would be a valid reason for the entire village to change faith just to stop hearing the guy five times a day!