Saturday, November 29, 2008

Into Thailand

It's only 120 miles from Langkawi to Phuket but I chose to make two stops en route to avoid mammoth day-sails or overnight trips. One of the benefits of smaller hops is there's more opportunity to sail in light winds; no need to switch the engine on when the speed drops below 5 knots in order to make landfall before nightfall. The strategy worked well with most of my duty-free Langkawi diesel still in the tank. The stops have also been a great way to reacquaint myself with my mask and snorkel which have been languishing in the stern locker throughout the trip up the uninviting Malaka straight.

What a change a few miles north makes; clean water, new fishing boat design, larger dolphins and real flying fish, as well as the acrobatic trumpet fish pretending to be flying fish I'd seen further south. The downside is that I'm not the only person to make this discovery and even remote anchorages are shared with other yachts and tourists ashore. I've even been charged an anchoring fee, but with no Thai currency, the national park ranger seemed content with a small bottle of barely drinkable whiskey I offered him.I'd expected Phuket to be a bustling port, but an hour out there was little difference from the other Thai island anchorages I've approached. That said the island was shrouded in mist; even the giant hill-top Buddha overlooking the anchorage was only just visible through the haze.

I arrived just before dark and have already met up with a couple of old friends, full with tales of delights ashore. Looking forward to exploring tomorrow...
26/11/2008, Off Koh Adang, Butang group: N6deg 31.4' E099deg17.0'
27/11/2008, Ko Rok Nai: N7deg 12.9' E099deg04.1
28/11/2008, Ao Chalong, Phuket: N7deg 49.2' E098deg21.5'

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Langkawi was another gathering place for migratory yachts as they took advantage of the duty free status of the island and the repair facilities available.

For my part I replenished my stores with a tank full of cheap diesel and as many cases of duty free beer as I could cram into the the lockers. My excuse is that I've recently fallen in with a crowd of Scandinavians - no longer the abstemious French - so have to cater accordingly.

For a change from fresh or canned fish, Ben (Lasse) and I found "the Italian Butcher". The Italian/fanatical butcher imports his cows from France (apparently they produce the best meat in the world), tends them lovingly as they grow fat on the lush pastures of Langkawi and finally soothes them with music in the slaughter house before turning them into steaks. Be on-guard if you're ever shown into a darkened air-conditioned room with relaxing music emanating from the ceiling by an enthusiastic Italian with a glint in his eye.... Wonderful steak, mince and sausages though.

Great to meet up with lots of boats I haven't seen for a while, Lasse, Blue Marlin and Antares to name a few. It was particular good to see Lasse again as we haven't really seen each other since we arrived in Indonesia. Lisa, aged 5, greeted me with an eight page story describing my future life. She's decided I should stop growing any older so she can catch-up and marry me. There were scenes of our wedding, us leaving on our catamaran for our honeymoon, and finally, me cooking on-board while Lisa looked after the children. Very sweet and one of the better offers I've received in a while...

There's much discussion in the anchorage about the trip west; piracy avoidance strategies, rumoured exorbitant costs in the Maldives and Oman and what the food's like in Somalia. One of the strategies is to form a mutually protective convoy through "pirate alley" - "circling the wagons if the pirates appear". It focuses the mind, thinking who you'd like to have around in an emergency. Hopefully the situation will improve in the next few months and it seems the pirates interest lies in something more valuable than a few impoverished sailors heading home. Let's hope so...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

To Langkawi

I started a little later than intended from Penang, I wasn't organised enough to arrange my clearance the night before, instead I had to hang around for the marina office to open at 9am - not a problem you have when you swing from your own anchor. I wanted to make an early start as it was 58 miles to an anchorage at the southern tip of Langkawi and ideally I'd arrive in the light.

Once clear of the marina, I drifted for a while in a big-ship anchorage while I checked the charts and entered waypoints. Heading back up the companionway my heart skipped a beat when I saw the towering bows of a tanker virtually on-top of me. After I retreated to a safe distance, I watched as the ship dropped its anchor in the position I'd been. They could have easily sounded their horn, but I think they chose to maximise their surprise... well they succeeded.

As ever I set off motoring in little wind towards my final destination in Malaysia, settling in for day's monotonous motoring. However by midday the wind started to pickup. All the more surprising as there didn't seem to be a thunderstorm around. Unfortunately it was blowing from the north. I remember a cruising guide saying: "Gentlemen don't go to wind" - but as this clearly doesn't apply to me, I hardened in the sheets, set the wind-vane and bashed my way, close-hauled, into the building sea. The wind continued to strengthen all afternoon. It was great to be sailing hard again at 7+knots with spray from the waves soaking the foredeck as Kika cut through the waves at a precarious angle. Late in the afternoon Prudence visited and I agreed that it would be wise to calm-down the boat a little before dusk - I'd almost forgotten the routine of reefing - it's been so long. Even well-reefed it was dramatic to be speeding towards land, picking out the silhouettes of the many islands on the southern coast of Langkawi against the darkening sky. When I was a mile off, the sea calmed down and I lowered the sails and tentatively motored towards the dark masses ahead.

The anchorage I'd chosen was in a small channel between a couple of islands. Very slowly, while anxiously watching the depth gauge, I made my way between the sheer islands until I found the channel. Normally passages which appear small on the chart, turn out to be wide expanses of water in reality, however in this case the scale appeared to be 1:1; the channel was as depicted. The feeling of being hemmed-in seemed exaggerated by the dark cliffs looming over the water. The final challenge was picking a spot to anchor between the three boats already secure for the night. Slowly with the help of the torch I worked out the available width of the channel and relative positions of the boats and on my second attempt found a spot far enough from the cliffs and the other boats to be able to sleep soundly for the night.

I'm looking forward to seeing the anchorage in the light, in the dark it feels as dramatic as our first landfall in the Marquesas.
Tomorrow I'm on a mission. I'm hunting down Jasper on Antares to as I'm on a delivery errand from the crew of "Helen Kate". Perhaps I should dig out the white beard and reindeer as I hand-over the flat bed sander he's been waiting for.

Anchorage off Palau Dayang Bunting, 23/11/2008: N6deg 11'.17 E99deg47.2

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It was a short hop to the city centre marina from Pulau Rimau up the strait between the mainland and Penang, as ever dodging the numerous fishing boats and lines of buoys en route. It's tricky working out what you need to avoid and what you can safely head over; at one point I made a wide detour around some fishing floats, only to discover I'd diverted around a rubbish slick of polystyrene.

As advertised the marina was in the city centre and with Penang billed the cuisine capital of Malaysia, I needed little encouragement to explore the range of food on offer. Close by were the colourful streets of the Indian quarter - "Little India" - serving up fabulous and good value food as well as an amazing variety of Malay and Chinese restaurants. What a treat.

Having filled-up with water, organised an extended visa for Thailand, visited the supermarket and laundry and sadly only sampled a small selection of the cuisine on offer, it was time to reluctantly bid farewell to Penang for the duty free delights of Langkawi...

Town centre marina: 20/11/2008: N5deg 24.85' E 100 20.6'

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Off Penang

Another day of little wind and hard motoring to make the 65 miles to the closest anchorage off Penang. Well at least the batteries are well charged - I hope they appreciate it.

Lots of jelly fish in the water and a huge fleet of fishing boats were the only real distractions for the day. The familiar thunderstorm bought a short-lived downpour which allowed me to save an hour's worth of diesel and break-out the Jif for some more cleaning. Ominously dark storms clouds stayed to the south and west so I narrowly avoided the worse of the weather.The anchorage was beautiful, if a little roly. It was set in a small bay on an island off the southern coast of Penang. The bay was steep sided, with a beach at its head. On one side a lighthouse was perched on top of the cliffs poking out of the dense forest covering the island. While I worked out where to anchor just before dark, I spied three or four monkeys foraging on the beach.

Palau Rimau: 19/11/2008: N 5deg 14.7' E 100deg 16.4'

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pulau Pangkor

It was a short hop from the coastal anchorage to my next stop. I arrived mid-afternoon having slowly sailed and motored my way north. I choose the northern-most anchorage so that I'd reduce the following following day's trip.

For a change the water looked clear enough to swim in and I was about to jump in for my much anticipated first swim in Malaysia when I spotted one, two then three giant jelly fish in the water. These didn't seem to be randomly floating with the current, instead they appeared to be purposefully circling the spot where I intended to dive in. A little too off-putting. Instead I decided to overhaul the cockpit winches, as you do. I'd just taken the third one apart when the crew from the other boat in the anchorage came over to invite me for sun-downers. I'd never put a winch back together so quickly.
Pulau Pangkor: 18/11/2008: N4deg 14.91' E100deg32.58'

Monday, November 17, 2008

Scrubbing in the rain

Joy of joys, as I left Klang the wind started blowing and with the newly repaired main-sail I was perfectly prepared to take full advantage. I'd cleaned the servo-rudder in Klang so the wind-steering was able to free me from demands of the wheel, a great start.

There was an unbelievably thick layer of barnacles encasing the rudder. Even though the water looked horribly polluted around Singapore, the barnacles seemed to love it. As well as rudder barnacle removal, I'd spent some of my time in Klang cleaning the hull - the water-line was still filthy from my stay in Johur Bahur and the sun seemed to have burned the muck into the gel-coat. The problem with trying to clean the boat in Klang was that as soon as a fishing boat passed, its wake reapplied an oily residue to the waterline. Klang had many good things going for it, but the dirty and rubbish-strewn river wasn't one of them.

The cleaning bug seemed to have infected me. As soon as the inevitable downpour started, out came the Jif - yes my bottle is so old it's still called Jif. I seem to have developed a frenzy of boat cleaning/repairing/improving prior to the festive season in time for my migratory visitors.

From Klang it was 95 miles to the nearest anchorage - an overnight trip. One advantage of not having a dusk deadline is that there's no need to maintain 5 knots+. It was a pleasant change to be sailing along at 2-3 knots under wind-vane steering while I liberally applied cleaner around the cockpit. By mid-afternoon the thunderstorm passed, leaving clear skies, a cleaner boat, little wind and a lumpy sea, but I suppose two out of four isn't too bad.

As I continued sailing into the evening, I still had 40 miles to go to the anchorage and the prospect of motoring through the night wasn't particularly appealing. I could heave-to or drift, but there were too many fishing boats around to risk it. Instead I decided to head inshore and anchor in the adjacent bay. By this time I was surrounded by the lights of boats. I'd pick out a light, assume it was a fair way off, motor towards it and discover I was suddenly on top of the boat. The lights used seemed to make it harder than normal to judge distance. To quote the pilot guide: "SE Asian fishermen subscribe to the International Christmas-tree System for navigation lights; the more lights and different colours the better. Orange, red and white strobes are much favoured". Even with the diverse range of lighting surrounding around me, there was one set of lights which looked distinctly different, and I ended up anchoring a little distance off. In the morning the lighted object turned out to be a restaurant on poles a couple of miles off-shore. I presume it was an all night "drive-in" for the hungry fishermen - "you catch-it we'll cook it"??
Coastal anchorage: 17/11/2008, N3deg 43.3' E100 51.6'

Thursday, November 13, 2008


It was 44 miles from Port Dixon to the river entrance, but just when you think you've made it, there was a further 14 miles inland. The river wound past the ultra modern container port, which morphed into mangrove covered islands and eventual lead to the ramshackle fishing wharfs of Klang. The trip up the strait required a vigilant lookout. I opted for the shortest inshore passage which meant constantly manoeuvring around long lines of fishing buoys as well as a dodging an unbelievable quantity of debris, including some vicious looking barnacle encrusted trunks.

Luckily my arrived was perfectly timed for celebrations making the start of the Klang to Langkawi race and managed to blag my way into the free evening barbeque. With free anchoring, free water taxi, free food, many familiar faces, and Kuala Lumpur a short train ride away I think I'll rest here for a few days, taking my time to get the mainsail seam restitched.

Looks like some boats are anticipating uninvited guests; I noticed at least one boat with a rat stopper set on its chain; not the kind of crew I'm after...

N3deg 00.6' E101deg 23.2'

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Port Dixon

What a treat. I awoke to a fresh northerly wind. I could start as I hoped to continue - sailing. Unfortunately by mid-morning the wind died, still at least I'd saved 15 miles worth of diesel and briefly enjoyed the tranquillity of engine-less motion, even if it was tempered by anxiety about the quality of my temporary seam repair. Still it held out.

I must be going soft. My second marina in less than a month. I'd hoped I could get the sail repaired at Port Dixon, but the recommendation is to head up the coast to the next port; Klang. It's another decent day sail - just less than 60 miles.

Admiral Marina (Port Dickson): N2deg28.66' E101deg50.71'

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Water Islands (Pulau Besar)

Another day hop along the Malaka straight, though a long one today; 67 miles between anchorages. Again little wind and because of the distance I needed to keep the speed up - at least the batteries are well charged.

Apart from the lack of wind, it was a straightforward trip. There's plenty of room between between the fishing stakes along the shore and the procession of ships in the shipping lanes, the only obstacles are the frequent fishing buoys and large drifting logs.

Can't work out if the skimming fish that jump out of the water just ahead of the boat then skim along the surface using their tails to keep them airborne, would be edible. But decided I'd attempt to find out. However after an hour, I bought the line in just after I'd negotiated my way around a line of fishing buoys. I was far more likely to hook someone else's fishing tackle than an acrobatic fish.

Just as I arrived, the Melakans treated me to a spectacular lightning show over the land. Sheet and horizontal fork lightning momentarily illuminated the town of Melaka ashore and for once the accompanying rain stayed ashore.

Water Islands anchorage: N02deg 06.56' E102deg 20.35'

Monday, November 10, 2008

Entering the Malaka Strait

I've cleared Singapore waters and am now in the Malaka Strait. This morning I continued along the south coast of Singapore between the mass of anchored ships littering the coast. Today's trip made crossing the Singapore Strait feel like a row in the park. At least in the Strait the movement of ships is orderly, like lanes of a motorway, but today the ships seemed to be coming from all directions; into and out of port, into and out of the shipping lane, working their way along the coast and even previous "safe" ships deciding my arrival coincided with the perfect time to raise their anchors. It felt as though I was in version of asteroids, but without the ability to destroy colliding vessels or switch on a protecting shield - in fact not really like asteroids at all, but you get my drift...

Soon after I set sail, the darkening sky ahead heralded an approaching thunderstorm. As I headed closer, the sky became so dark that the instruments triggered their automatic illumination, which they normally save for dusk. Nothing quite prepared me for the suddenness or strength of the downpour. Not only was visibility reduced to small circle around the boat, but with the wind blowing in my face, it was painful to look ahead. Normally in poor visibility I can use the radar, but with so many ships around it was impossible to pick-out the moving boats from those at anchor. Then the roar of fog-horns began, again from all directions, but all sounding very close - time to act. Fortunately I could just make out the outline of a ship at anchor ahead, so I slowly approached and hove-to in its lee, hoping that the tanker from Hamburg would provide a large enough radar target for moving ships to avoid. After 15 minutes of stinging rain the visibility improved allowing me break-free from the security of my mother-ship.

The remainder of the day was relatively uneventful, with the visibility continuing to improve until finally I was free from Singapore waters and the game of dare, now I only had to contend with the myriad of fishing buoys in the Malaka Strait. Fortunately it was a short hop to today's anchorage. Now I'm anchored waiting for the rain to stop, so I can resew a seam in the main sail and head up the mast to work out why the roller furling keeps jamming. If it's not one thing... and where's the crew when you need them...

Anchorage off the Ku Pisang islands: (10/11) N01deg 28.5' E103deg 15.7'

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Johor & Singapore

I have my port clearance from Johor Bahru (JB) for Langkawi. The water and fuel tanks are full. I've installed four new fans, and had two wind-scoops and a deck shade fabricated in an attempt to end the below deck sauna.The stove once again has two burners which will reliably ignite and stay alight. The "play" in the steering linkage has been removed. The only thing I'm missing is crew. I had two potential crew lined up but for various reasons they couldn't make it. The second crew dropped out just prior to my departure and even though I'm sure there are others who would join me, I decided I'd hung around long enough and wanted to get going. So it's time to say goodbye to the 1st world creature comforts of Singapore and the fantastic variety of cheap, delicious food on offer in JB.

My plan is that my efforts fixing and improving Kika now, will allow me to relax and have a maintenance free Christmas & New Year with friends, on which note, I have a new deadline; 10th December in Phuket to meet Ian's flight, it's 600 miles so shouldn't be a problem. No need to panic.... yetAs for today's trip - the day began with my enthusiasm for an early start tempered by a thunderstorm induced downpour. By the time the rain stopped and I'd hauled the dinghy, discovered it covered in small barnacles and cleaned them off, it was nearly 11am. Quite how anything grows in the waters around Singapore is mystery; the anchor chain was covered in an oily residue and the anchor emerged tangled with four plastic bags. However the storm left a beautiful clear day, making it easy for me to reverse my trip around Singapore until just before dusk I found a beautiful anchorage between a couple of islands, clear of shipping off the south coast of Singapore.
Anchorage off southern coast of Singapore (9/11): N01deg 11.79' E103deg 44.27'

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Johor Bahru

So here I am in Johor Bahru, facing Singapore. Earlier this evening I'm in an Internet cafe catching up the latest political developments in the world, the most pressing of which seems to be which breed is the most likely to become "first dog" and whether Michelle Obama's election night dress was a hit or miss. My internet addiction is finally sated and I emerge onto the busy Saturday night streets, except the normally bustling streets are almost deserted. What is going on? I pass a packed cafe. All the punters are glued to a large TV screen temporarily setup on a some upturned crates watching Manchester United vs Arsenal. How bizarre is that? As soon as people learn where I come from, the inevitable next question is which football team do I support? Football tops are everywhere, with Manchester United tops the most popular. There are sauna-like temperatures here and the TV shows people from the other side of the world wrapped in warm clothing watching a match. Odd.
Another surprise is the prevalence of mobile phones. The customs guy had two of the latest smartphones; one for work and for one home he explained as though it was the natural order. While filling in my arrival forms, the first phone rang and was answered, a little later the second phone burst into a Malaysian hit and unfazed he answered and carried on two conversations while filling and stamping the form....