Sailing my life away, part 32



There were loads of comments on part 31 including the one from Sparks who enquired whether I had discovered a time machine as I had dated the article Saturday 1 January 2002.     As it happens Sparks yes, I have, as folks who have been following this series for some time will probably remember with brief trips to Venezuela, the Dutch Antilles, Cuba, Jamaica SE Asia, the Barbary Coast of North Africa and so forth. In fact if you stay with me for the rest of this article we’ll be taking another trip to SE Asia that entails moving backwards to 1997, forward again to 2005, 6 and 7, then back and forth between that time and the 16th and 17th centuries.      But, in relation to Part 31 you were quite right to draw attention to a typo that escaped my rather rushed proof-reading.

Ah, Foxoles, I wish you’d asked earlier. I would have welcomed a stowaway on many occasions.     Alas, I became too old to continue sailing and no longer have a yacht. On the other hand, I do have a caravan.    Then again, that was searched for stowaways by the British Border Force when returning from France 3 years ago so they’d have discovered you if you’d been aboard – still, perhaps your Papieren would have been in order.

Other people’s papers were sometimes a concern whilst sailing because the skipper becomes responsible for all persons on board when the yacht enters a new country.      Once, in Trinidad, I was detained because a crew member had left for UK  by air without formally signing-off the yacht’s crew-list.

The authorities didn’t actually put me in gaol but they wouldn’t issue the clearance papers necessary for an official arrival in Venezuela until I could get documentary proof the person concerned had left the country and not  become an illegal immigrant.

Most ex-colonial countries have adopted and extended the bureaucratic controls introduced by their previous governors.    I used to think the Spanish and Portuguese were the worst for that because they also used the technique to help solve their unemployment problems.    I’m less sure of that now because countries under Australian  and New Zealand control and influence were just as bad and, on paper at least, that included the full panoply of environmental controls to protect their flora and fauna from contamination by exogenous species, even if they were less rigorous in ensuring compliance with them.

In 2019 before the Covid Caper began I also managed to tour north-west Scotland in my caravan to revisit some of the places I sailed down all those years ago and have mentioned in these articles. Called-in at Whitby on the return journey too, to see James Cook’s original harbour and replica of the Endeavour moored in the centre of town – a bit difficult to get far enough away for a good photo, so this is the best I could do.

For’ard Section of Endeavour in Whitby Harbour © AM

My broad-brush recollection of Gigha is one of gales so I’m not sure DH would find it as idyllic at the equinoxes as he may suppose.    I may have more to say on that when I write about the next stage of the 1997 voyage.

Amongst the comments under my article but not upon it was a culinary report by Muse T who told us she was cooking wild boar sausages. That reminded me of this fellow, seen in the Umfolozi game park in South Africa when a friend and I left Alchemi at Richards Bay and went for a land tour in a rental car.

A Friendly (?) Wart Hog in South Africa © AM

I suppose its unlikely Muse T had found Wart Hog sausage meat though and hers was probably more closely related to this pig still being butchered in Madagascar when my local guide took me to meet the villagers who had hunted and speared it earlier the same morning.

Butchering Wild Boar in Madagascar © AM

I bought some of the carcass and made a tasty casserole after returning to the yacht anchored in Russian Bay off the mainland opposite Nosy Be.

Oh dear, I confused myself and others when comparing Jet boating in New Zealand to DJM’s trips in his RIB that he keeps in Connemara not Skye. I wasn’t in the least offended by his use of the word pedant when putting me right. I remembered Bertrand Russell’s definition – “Someone who says what he means “, to which I think someone else later added “..and means what he says”. I always admired Russell’s contention that people discussing a topic had first to agree on a definition of the terms they would use, otherwise he said they’d always end up discussing what they were discussing rather than the topic itself.

I’m glad Smig of the Dump enjoyed RL Stevenson’s stories. He was my favourite author for a long time and I read nearly all his works. I even included Western Samoa as a place at which to call on my first Pacific crossing so I could visit his house at Vailima where he lived from 1899 until his death in 1894 at the age of 44.     Here’s a photo of the house which is now a museum full of memorabilia.

RL Stevenson’s House at Vailima – Western Samoa         ©          AM

Now I must get on with revisiting SE Asia to make progress with my occasional essays about Piracy instead of postponing it yet again.  The area is so large and the subject-matter so interesting I anticipate I’ll need at least one more article and possibly two to describe all I’d like to say on the subject.


I included an Introduction to the region in Part 25 and reproduce here the map of Alchemi’s voyages there.

ALCHEMI IN SE ASIA © OpenStreetMap contributors

The original inhabitants are believed to have arrived from Southern China between around 2,500 BC and 1,500 BC with Indian immigration starting around 300 BC and the Islamic one around 700AD – 800AD.

The entire region thus evolved Political, Religious and Commercial cultures that were a blend from all three sources with ample opportunity for local rivalries, conflicts and piracy. It also led to ethnic melding to some degree with local Political institutions being headed by Tuans, Rajahs and Sultans according to which became locally dominant – and changing from one to another in some cases.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive from the west having rounded South Africa and crossed the Indian Ocean, and the Spanish were first from the East, having sailed across the Pacific from the Americas.

They were later followed by the Dutch, British, French and Americans.


I have used several sources from which to glean the information in these remarks including the freely available summary and contents list of Kristie Flannery’s 2019 Doctoral thesis at the University of Texas with the title: The Impossible Colony: Piracy, the Phillipines, and Spain’s Asian Empire.

I think the title alone conveys the scope and significance of Piracy in the region, and piracy of a type different from that served up by Hollywood.

Part of the reason is that there are just under 7,500 islands in the Phillipines and people who live on islands are accustomed to being insular – ie they like to govern themselves and not be subject to what another lot in other places tell them to do.

Even when some sort of central authority is established over some island groups, there are usually others who don’t acknowledge the rights of the suzerain power . One group calls the other Imperialists and they return the compliment by calling the dissenting lot Rebels or Pirates.

So it was after the Spanish arrived in the Phillipines. The main threats they faced were from rebels in the islands they occupied and Chinese, Islamic, Dutch and British pirates – I wrote in part 25 about William Dampier’s career as one of those.,

One of the reasons for the extreme susceptibility of the Phillipines to piracy was its central position between, China to the North, Japan to the North East, the Indonesian Islands to the South East (originally independent, later Dutch controlled), Borneo to the South and South West and mainland Indo-China to the West.

Taiwan to the north is an interesting neighbour because it had its own indigenous population for thousand of years before the Dutch established a colony there in 1624 and succeeded in repelling a Spanish attempt to do the same. But then, in 1668, one of the two warring dynasties in mainland China occupied the island and kicked out the Dutch.

They didn’t last long because their rivals established the Qing Dynasty across the entire mainland that continued to control Taiwan until 1895 when the island was ceded to Japan after the latter’s victory in the first Sino-Japanese war. Indigenous islanders attempted to rule independently for a few years and restored the name Formosa but were soon crushed by the Japanese whose colony it remained until the end of WWII.

The mainland Chinese war between the Nationalists and the Communists was raging between 1945 and 1949 and ceased only when the Nationalists retreated to the island and renamed it Taiwan under the control of an independent Republic of China.

In the Phillipines, an Independence Movement against Spanish rule grew in strength in the late 19th Century and, due to separate conflicts in the Caribbean, the Americans took charge at the end of the Spanish-American war.

The Filipino Independence movement continued fighting against the Americans until, a few years later, sufficient power was devolved for them to become autonomous. Not long after that they were occupied by the Japanese during WW II after which the present Phillipine Republic was created in 1946.

These volatile conditions resulted in trading vessels plying between all these places being a tempting target for every-one in the region for hundreds of years. This history of changing externally imposed governments, resistance to them, and frequent lawlessness, have resulted in opportunistic piracy still being common in the Sulu Sea and some other areas.

The Mainland Chinese still regard Taiwan as a rebel province even though their own claim based on formally organised rule only dates back to the seventeenth century. The PRC have also recently occupied some South China Sea islands and built military installations upon them despite the Phillipines claiming them as their own.

It doesn’t look as though the Phillipines are going to be peaceful and free from Piracy in the coming years any more than they have been for the last several hundred.


I’m now going to break up all this print with a couple of photos of Alchemi during maintenance at Port Dickson. Here’s the first showing her with new anti-fouling applied in red because the blue I preferred couldn’t be obtained in the strong (and expensive) grade I usually used in tropical waters.

New anti-fouling in repulsive red instead of beautiful blue © AM

In the background you can see the yacht Marco Polo that I mentioned in an earlier article. She’s the one caught by the 2004 Tsunami that defended herself with the pontoon to which she was still attached after the latter had been lifted off its posts in the marina near Langkawi.

Here’s a photo of Alchemi being lifted back into the water later in the day –

Lift-in © AM

Malacca city, a few miles south of Port Dickson was founded on the site of an earlier fishing village by King Parameswara in 1402 and soon grew into the Sultanate of Malacca.

Portuguese exploration of the sea route around South Africa and foundation of colonies in Southern Africa (Mozambique) and Western India (Goa) had been partially motivated by a desire to break the stranglehold peoples in the Middle East had on trade with India and beyond through their position astride the land-routes between Asia and Europe.

Moving on, the Portuguese reached Malaya in 1511 when they conquered the city of Malacca and hoped thereby to control the trade hub that had developed with the surrounding states and as far distant as China. Instead, they found they had disrupted both administration of that trade and policing of the nearby straits between the peninsula and Sumatra giving rise to active piracy in the area.

In the late 1500’s the Dutch and the Portuguese were at war with one another in Europe and the Dutch wanted to break Portuguese control of the Spice Trade and bypass them in the same way the Portuguese had bypassed the Arabs and Iranians. The war in Europe soon spread to wherever they met including Malacca where there were several Dutch raids on the Portuguese-controlled city in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602 to trade with the new lands in Asia first revealed to Europeans by the Portuguese and the Spanish and in 1619 they founded a Trading Post called Batavia in Java (modern Djakarta). Dutch raids on Malacca culminated in them capturing the city in 1641 though they preferred to continue development of Batavia as their main base of operations in the region.

Here is a photo of Malacca taken from the Hotel room in which I stayed and looking over the roofs to the Shipping in the Straits beyond –

Malacca City © AM

In the centre of the photo just beyond the nearest red roof you can just make out the mast of what looks like a large sailing boat. If you take a Trishaw ride ………

Trishaw in Malacca © AM

and go over a bridge above one of the City’s waterways……

Malacca Waterway © AM

you may pass the …….

Dutch Statdhuys © AM

and finally reach the Maritime Museum with its modern representation of a Portuguese Carrack that you saw from the Hotel.

Concrete Replica of Flor de la Mar © AM

The ship is laid out with an apparently authentic interior and there are further exhibitions in the buildings of the museum beyond the line of flags.

I think it was in this museum I first came across the accounts of General Zheng He and Admiral Cheng Ho. These two were the leaders of Chinese explorations between 1405 and 1433 at roughly the same time as the early Portuguese navigators started exploring the Atlantic Ocean and well before the voyages of Colombus and his contemporaries.

Zheng made seven great expeditions through the South China Sea to Java in the south, to the Indian ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the East Coast of Africa.

Its interesting to speculate what would have happened if he’d met the Portuguese coming East but he didn’t.  The first six voyages of Exploration and Diplomacy were sponsored by Emperor Xhu Di of the Ming Dynasty but he died in 1424. The new Emperor suspended all expeditions and Zheng made only one more, 10 years later. Thereafter, China seems to have become an Isolationist state, confident it was the centre of world civilisation.

Perhaps that was also one of the reasons President Monroe adopted the 19th Century Doctrine named after him though its usually said he just wanted to keep European countries out of the Americas.

I seem to have run out of time and space to continue the story in this article so I’ll need to come back to it in a later one.

To be continued …………….

© Ancient Mariner 2022