NE monsoon on the East coast of Malaysia

We have been planning to do a trip for a week or so in early December, ostensibly to Pulau Tioman, which if it’s anything like Pulau Aur (where Charlene, Mike and I went for a dive trip last year) is a worthy destination.  However, around December is also the start of the Northeast Monsoon season, when the weather comes from the NE bringing pretty heavy rain and much stronger winds on the East coast of peninsular Malaysia.

So the question is: will the wind and rain be too rough to go to Tioman in the first week of December?  It’s too early to predict the weather for this year, but I like data so I went and found some.  I haven’t had a chance to talk with any other sailors about the NE monsoon yet but it’s likely they’d have some good recommendations.

Here are a few papers and some brief descriptions.  Most of them take observations around Kuala Terengganu, which is quite a bit North of Tioman:

  • K. Tiara, M.N.B. Saadon, S. Kitagawa, and T. Yanagi.  Observation of Temperature and Velocity in the Coastal Water off Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.  J. Oceanography, Vol 52, pages 251–257, 1996.  This paper is mainly about current and temperature observations during the NE monsoon season, but the authors also gathered tide and wind data.  During the NE monsoon, air temperature drops by 1°C or so and currents in all directions are pretty small.  The wind is (obviously) pretty consistently from the NE.  Daily mean wind speed climbs quite a bit, with some observations around 7 m/s (14 knots).  I’d assume that means there are some pretty serious winds on occasion if a storm is blowing through, probably up around 30 knots.

  • A. Zaharim, S.K. Najid, A.M. Razali, and K. Sopian.  Wind Speed Analysis in the East Coast of Malaysia.  European J. Scientific Research, Vol. 32(2), pages 208–215, 2009.  This paper is investigating the potential of the East coast of Malaysia for wind farming activities.  They do some dubious statistical analysis based on not enough data, but nonetheless they have some empirical measurements from 2005 and 2006.  In December they measured average daily wind speed of 4.49 m/s (8.7 knots), with an STD of 2.2 m/s.  It looks like 2006 was a much windier year than 2005, and in Jan/Feb 2006 average wind speeds were a lot higher (15-20 knots), with some really huge STDs.  It looks like there were probably a fair number of observations up around the 50 knot range.  So, no sailing around Terengganu in Jan/Feb!  December doesn’t seem so bad, relatively at least.
  • E.P. Chiang, Z.A. Zainal, P.A.A. Narayana, and K.N. Seetharamu.  Potential of Renewable Wave and Offshore Wind Energy Sources in Malaysia.  Marine Technology 2003 Seminar, 2003.  These guys took measurements from 1985-2000 in a number of different locations around coastal Malaysia, including near-ish to Tioman.  Their measurements showed a daily mean wind speed of about 5.9 m/s (11.5 knots) nearest to Tioman.  However, 70-80 miles North of Tioman things get a little uglier: ~15 knots.  Again keeping in mind that these are daily averages, I’d suspect it can get pretty darn windy.

The takeaway from all this: NE monsoon season definitely requires some extra planning and caution before sailing on the East coast of peninsular Malaysia.  Probably makes sense to have a backup plan ready for an alternative somewhere along the West coast, just in case.

Followup: After some discussions and further research, it really seems like the NE monsoon isn’t such a tremendous deal with respect to wind.  In fact it just sounds like the best time of year to go sailing.  It does seem that at the tail end of the season, one can expect to run into some pretty serious waves (upwards of ~5m in long seasons), but not so much at the beginning.  I’m feeling pretty good about sailing in early December.

3 Comments

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3 Responses to NE monsoon on the East coast of Malaysia

  1. Charlene

    May Day May Day

    OIA is shaking violently from the wind and waves

    MAY DAY MAY DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I take it you encountered heavy weather during your crossing? I hope all went well…

    I’ve been monitoring the NE winds since about 2000. Generally, they’re erratic and mild, perhaps 20 kts max, though mostly not sustained for longer than a day or so.

    That said, sometimes, at “perfect storm” conditions, the NE morphs together with a squall. When this happens, wind speeds can reach 50 kts.

    Generally, however, these furies should ease fairly quickly, within an hour most of the time, to next to nothing, after which the NE rebuilds back to the strength it was before the squall hit.

    Waters around Tioman get quite treacherous, not so much due to the extreme NE wind strength, but more because of the long wind/waves range, given that the the NE has from Japan to Malaysia to sweep up the swell.

    Yes, 5-6 meter swell is not exceptional. In fact, during December to March, most of the East Coast is turned into great surf country.

    On a South-westerly note, we’re sailing up from Singapore to Mersing this coming August 30th. Godspeed to us :)

    P.S. Great docs – thanks!

    • Bryan — yep, we had some heavy weather (although this was way back in Dec 2010). It was something sumatra-like (although I think that term is usually reserved for the Malacca Strait). Exactly as you describe, fast and furious but over fairly quickly. Later on (Oct 2011) I experienced a bunch of these on a sail from Singapore up to Langkawi, all fierce (35+ kts) but fast.

      Hope you have a great trip up to Mersing! Glad you find the blog useful!

      -K

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