Singapore by night.
‘We’re going to hit the shipping channel after midnight. In the meantime, I’ll be below to get a couple of hours’ sleep. Call me if there’s a problem.’
This was Faith speaking. Only two of us on board and I was already
panicking about sailing our tiny boat across the second busiest
shipping channel in the world.
‘Go and kip. If the worst comes to the worst, I can always chicken out and turn the boat around.’
We were on passage in the South China Sea from Kota Kinabalu in northern Borneo, to Langkawi Island on the west coast of Malaysia, a distance of 1400 miles and had been at sea for a week.
Just us two idiots. Dead tired and willing to give anything to be able to sleep. Now for the Singapore nightmare.
‘Any ships yet?’
Faith was at the hatch at midnight, having slept for three hours during her off-watch.
‘Nix. Don’t see any lights. Not sure why, because we are already about five miles into the shipping channel.’
‘Okay,you go sleep. I’ll take over.’
Maybe a half hour later, I’d hardly put my head down, when Faith called me up on deck. What I saw sent shivers down my spine. Ships’ lights everywhere. Moving fast. We were crawling along at five miles an hour. The ships were doing up to twenty knots. A constant stream of them. A hundred and fifty ships an hour. The chance of being run down every twenty four seconds.
Instead of sitting in the cockpit as we normally do, Faith stood, her gaze intent.
‘Twenty seven vessels in close contact I’m watching and monitoring. Not worrying yet about those others further out. But it’s going to get
worse. We’ll probably both be up here the rest of the night.’
I tried to get my eye in so I could monitor this highway too. Our
starboard side was the worst, with vessels approaching from China and Japan. But we couldn’t see them. Only their lights. Perhaps eighteen vessels in all.
Coming up from Singapore, I counted five lights. And slightly behind us, perhaps another three vessels which weren’t threatening as long as they they didn’t change course. One coaster, probably, from Singapore was going to pass in front, but abruptly swerved to go behind us.
‘Probably thinks we’re a ship,’ Faith murmured. ‘Our mast-head light is forty foot off the water. Could be mistaken for a ship’s light. Doesn’t know how small we are.’
‘Also, we’re on his starboard side and if he can see our sidelights, he
knows he must get out of our way.’
So far, all the lights from China and Japan were passing in front of us, but in half an hour or so, we would be dead in their path.
‘The same applies to us,’ I pointed out. ‘That whole stream of vessels is on our starboard side and if they see our green side light, they will
want us to get out of their way and we can’t because we are
travelling too slowly.’
Faith put the tiller up, changing course ever so slightly to change the
right of way rules.
‘There,’ she said. ‘Happy now? They are no longer abeam of us, but slightly abaft the beam. All they can see is our stern light which makes them overtaking vessel.’
I smiled. Clever girl.
And that’s how we got through the shipping channel. Vessels apparently running us down, noted our slow speed and either passed in front or altered course slightly to clear our transom and go behind.
By three o’clock in the morning, we started taking turns at brief
catnaps down below, perhaps half an hour at a time. Sunrise found us still on our way to Singapore, but with the shipping channel behind us.
But it was another seven hours of sailing before we edged into the Johor Strait where hundreds of ships were anchored, and found ourselves a safe place to put the hook down in shallow water where no ship could collide with us.
‘Going to hit the hay now,’ Faith yawned.
We went down below, dived into our bunks and slept for fourteen hours.