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Off the Beaten Path - Cruising Sumatra's West Coast!

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After our time in Borneo, we needed to start considering our cruising plans.  Would we follow the standard cruiser track and head up the Malacca Strait to Singapore?  Or would we try another route and blaze our own trail around the southwest coast of Sumatra?

The Malacca Strait is a popular topic among cruiser forums, where sailors commiserate about the sheer number of shipping vessels that congest the narrow waterway between Singapore and Indonesia.  Wikipedia defines it as “a narrow, 550 mi stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.”  The site (link to Wiki article on Malacca Strait) goes on to state that in 2008, the annual number of vessels transiting the strait was 94,000!  These stats weren’t the reason we didn’t take the Malacca Strait path that most cruisers take when they travel from Indonesia to Mal…

People of the Forest - Orang-utans

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Day before our trip
We motored toward Kumai, the waters running below us turning from blue to brown the further upriver we went. Massive tugboats passed closely beside us pulling long barges filled with mountains of wood chips, a sign of the commercial logging industry that is claiming much of Borneo’s natural forests. During our nighttime sailing, a full moon offered just enough light to silhouette the towed barges, which were otherwise unlit.

Overnight, one such barge was anchored near us. I was sitting at the salon table, scrolling through Instagram and enjoying the connectivity, when I suddenly had this feeling that I was being watched. One look outside revealed a huge steel barge right beside us with men aboard, certainly taking a curious look into the windows of our fully lit salon. I immediately woke up Mark who had gone to bed early to catch up on sleep he’d lost during our passage.

Keeping an eye on the red steel hull, we raised anchor and motored through the lights of the o…