Dec. '05 Langkawi-bound or The Curse of Chicken Island
06 January 2006 | Phuket - Langkawi - Phuket
Thailand has a rather unpopular and inconvenient custom's policy for visiting boats. At check-in, a visiting boat, any boat not registered in Thailand, is given a six month "visa" during which the boat can remain in Thai waters. At the end of this six month period, the "visa" for the boat can be extended for an additional six months, for a total of one year but at the end of this one year period, the boat must be taken from Thai waters and can only officially return after visiting some other foreign port. For those of us with foreign-registered boats, this is usually Langkawi, Malaysia.
Our check-out was no problem and myself and my crew, Marisa, left early on 20 December, taking a leisurely cruise south, sailing for four to five hours per day and anchoring or mooring in some protected cove. The winter trades had yet to kick in, even as late as early January, which brought winds of 20 to 30 knots on many days and one violent squall.
Once at Langkawi we anchored at Telaga Harbor Marina, one of the newer Langkawi marinas. Since my trip there last year, they have built a strip of very nice restaurants featuring Russian, Chinese and Italian cuisines, as well as a pub with really cold beer. They even have immigration, customs and the port master on-site so no more expensive (28 Ringgit) taxi rides into Kuah Town. Then there is the convenience store, bank with ATM service and really good dockside services. Anchoring is free as of now, Jan 2006, but we were told there will soon be a very minimal anchorage fee. Also, fresh water is free if you fill up carboys in your dingy but costs if filled directly into your boat.
It's too bad Thailand hasn't been as aggressive with their boating facilities as Malaysia. There are plans, we heard, for an additional marina around Phuket but in Thailand, seeing is believing.
After two enjoyable days in Langkawi, we sailed to the Butangs (Koh Rawee) for one night and then up to Koh Rok Nok, two very good anchorages which also have moorings. We left Koh Rok Nok early in the morning for the long haul north to Koh Yao Yai for the night and then on to Phuket and Yacht Haven Marina the next day. It is on this leg of the journey that we fell under the spell of Koh Gai (Chicken Island).
Chicken Island is nothing more than a lump of rock jutting from the sea topped with a handful of scraggly trees. We arrived there early in the evening, just when the winds left us becalmed. As darkness fell a faint breeze rustled the sails and we were soon inching forward, the island a half mile to our port. I confirmed our heading to Koh Yao Yai and our position but found this in conflict with our true heading. The compass clearly showed us on a heading of 335 degrees which, according to our position, would steer us directly toward the island. But that just wasn't the case. Chicken Island was definitely hard to port.
I immediately rechecked our position and this was spot on where I had marked us previously but that still left us in conflict with the compass and the heading on the autopilot.
Due to the light winds, we were sailing with all canvas up, waiting for a bit more breeze and as I stepped into the cockpit, we got it. There was a flash of lightning and a deafening clap of thunder, immediately followed by a wall of torential rain and 30 to 35 knot winds.
I hurriedly cranked the engine and by the time I was back up top the winds had us overpowered. Marisa steered directly into the torrent while I managed to drop the main, furl the jib and drag douse the staysail, all the time the wind whistling through the rigging. At this point, I could see nothing but spray and rain, a complete white-out. My fear was Chicken Island which lay somewhere nearby as well as the conflict between the compass and my fixed position on the chart. I had to make some fast decisions.
As many times as I have cursed the numerous squid fishermen who turn night sailing into a brightly lit obstacle course, I will never do so again, for it was a squid boat that led the way to safety. With one boat's strings of brilliant lights hung from poles over the water, I could see clearly there was nothing between Bucephalus and those fishermen except open water, and that is where we headed.
Within a half mile of the squidders the squall passed and there, on a near horizon, against a gloomy sky, was Chicken Island. We came about and made a straight line north, watchful for any further squalls and relieved when we finally dropped the hook at Koh Yao Yai.
For those of you who have read through Bucephalus' equipment list, you will note that she has radar. The question you will no doubt ask is, why the heck didn't I switch on the darn thing? Well, in all the confusion and need to get some distance between rock and hull, I totally forgot about it. That's the truth and I'm sticking to it.