[The Country] [Cruising the Coast] ['Sumatras'] [The Culture] Nov 2002
Our first country since leaving Singapore, we cruised the western-most coast of this ex-British colony via the famed 'Malacca Straits'
Malaysia, settled 50,000 years ago by migration from the north, has been influenced by Arab traders and later by Portugal, Holland, and Britain as they vied for control of the trade routes in the Far East. Recently a part of the British Empire, it was given independence in the 1950's. It consists of 2 major landmasses separated by the South China Sea and many small islands. Its population of 20 million consists of native Malays, Chinese and several ethnic groups that share their heritage with Indonesia and the Philippines. Although multi-ethnic, it is a predominantly Muslim country that generally tolerates other religions, although at least one of the states is moving towards an Islam-based government.
Except for the Sumatras that cross the Malacca Straits, winds and seas tend to be quite light along the west coast of Malaysia. We took several weeks to make the trip from Singapore to Langkawi, and the stops of interest included:
During the hot tropical days, thunderheads build up over the island of Sumatra to the west of the Malacca Straits. During the SW Monsoon (April-November) this hot air drifts east across the straits, unleashing 20-50 knot winds, lightning, and downpours. These 'Sumatras' as they are called are the bane of cruising the coast as they wake us at 2-6 AM, threaten to pull out our anchor and make an otherwise peaceful night a frantic fire drill! Several cruisers suffered lightning strikes during these violent, but short, squalls.
Malaysia is a modern country and although technically it is a secular state, Islam is an important component. At least one of the states has implemented Muslim law for the state, and is lobbying to apply it across the nation. The current president, Mahathir, is resisting but he is a lame duck, and the future is somewhat uncertain. People have been quite friendly to us, but are not really outgoing and the nation is somewhat dull due to the prohibition of many pleasures that Westerners enjoy. Workers are competent but generally do not appear to be 'driven' to excel. Religion is a big part of their lives, and during Ramadan the fasting makes for a short day as workers finish at 3PM to attend afternoon prayers.
After leaving Langkawi, we headed north to the Kingdom of Thailand.