Hi Andy - Be carefull of the ferries to/from Tioman during Monsoon. While it is 20 years ago I feel this advice is still relevant. By the way I sail as a hobby and have completed heavy weather sailing in the Scottish Western Isles - I hold my offshore certificates - so I know what I am describing. I am going into detail to emphasise the danger.
In Mersing the main ferry & hydrofoil were not running as monsoon had not finished. However we were directed to another ferry which would run. We bought our tickets from an official looking kiosk - as far as I remember at the quay - and waited for the ferry to go. We continued to wait as travellers collected for the journey - coincidentally it was also getting dark - and we set out just after nightfall. We were in a converted fishing-boat with small wheelhouse forward and a bench seat running with our backs to the gunwale (side of the boat).
Mersing is a river estuary with a sandbar at the entrance. All traffic has to cross the sandbar / go through a narrow channel to get in/out. As we sailed down towards the mouth of the estuary the waves got increasingly big - though it had been calm at Mersing. In no time the fishing boat was struggling up big rollers and crashing down on the other side. I was very concerned but there was nothing to be done - there were no passenger life vests and the crew were in the wheelhouse - unavailable to the passengers.
Anyway the rollers became very big and it was all we could do to hold on to the gunwale to try to balence. Eventually a swedish lady's nerve broke and she panicked - she rolled around on the deck scraping at the timber, trying to get a grip but without success. The crew stayed in the wheelhouse and no-one could help her as everyone was trying to hang on themselves. After a minute a man (who turned out to be her husband) struggled with difficulty up to the wheelhouse to talk with the crew and found the door was locked. It took him about 4 attempts before he shouldered in the door. Then there was a row - which we could not hear above the gale - but we could see him argue while hanging on to the side of the wheelhouse.
Abruptly the boat started turning. It was an ill considered manouvre but the crew couldn't see what was coming in the dark. We were climbing up the roller as it turned and were in the worst possible position when the crest of the wave hit us - side-on to the wave - almost rolling over the boat and capsizing us. The correction was equally violent and a number of people lost their grip and fell on to the deck of the boat as it rocked violently.
Then we were around and the next wave picked up and we surfed - a complete fishing boat with 25 people on board - back up the estuary staying on the one wave for about a half-mile before it petered out. The estuary was calm when we got back to Mersing - unlike the passengers who were very shaken. There was a blazing row with the crew who tried to claim that we would have been alright in a few more minutes as we were about to crest the sandbar. The very shook - and lucky to be alive - passengers then set about trying to find accommodation.
I believe ;
1) They waited until dark as this was a very unofficial trip - and the authorities could claim they were unaware of it if there was a problem.
2) These fishermen are very poor. If they can supplement their income with unofficial ferry trips to the islands it will help a lot - who can blame them.
3) As a sailor who has capsized dingies while racing I believe that we were very close to capsizing that night.
This is just meant as a caution - Only go on official ferries - I would recommend in the daylight - and keep an eye on the weather before you set out.
Follow your own instincts regarding safety as the local people can be under financial pressure and willing to risk all for a financial gain.
Sorry for being long-winded!
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