CRUISING 2020 – THAILAND/MALAYSIA
25 March 2020 | Thailand
Glenys & Henry Taylor / Mellegers
In a word, GREAT! Ostensibly a carbon copy of last year - which we did not write up as it was much the same as our 2018 sortie to Thailand. But in the enforced Malaysian lockdown COVID 19 and looking for home/land based things to do, we thought it useful to document our recent 6 weeks.
Our Thailand sortie is normally 8-9 weeks but with other "necessary" travel on either side of cruising season, we had to cut our time short to 5 weeks cruising this year. We started with a 3-day scramble of provisioning and engine readiness to exit our home berth at Royal Langkawi Yacht Club in early February and "hurried" the 300 miles up the island chain to join our friends in Koh Phayam. We no longer passage at night in Asia: the fishing boats, nets and traps are prevalent and impossible to see at night, so we have essentially become cruising day trippers. The other benefit is that we see the scenery - stark and beautiful islands and rocky outcrops that we missed during our overnight passages in the past.
Our cruising group, AKA the "Andaman Adventurers" (AA's) have been leisure cruising together for 10 years - a core of 4 sail boats including Dreamcatcher. Recently another 2 sailboats and one motor boat have joined the group, making for a jolly fleet of 7 and in turn making for some great on board cocktail and dinner nights.
Our solo trip north from Langkawi saw us in a series of one night anchorages simply for restful dinners and sleeps, with the exception of Phuket for 2 nights where we needed to clear in to Thailand. We're used to that process after many years but still get frustrated by the fact that of the CIPQ offices need a copy of passport, boat insurance, boat registration each.... They've got the technology, why can't it just be scanned once on arrival at the office, then data-base accessed by all departments?! Case of chronic job creation, we think.
We joined the AA fleet in one of Thailand's northernmost islands, Koh Phayam - a low key gem of an island with white sandy beaches, funky seaside restaurants (and I use the term "restaurant" loosely), bars and an eclectic selection of visitors from Europe. It's our third cruise there and we love it. The one road (to the other side of the island) is about 5 km long and it's easy to hire a motor bike taxi - there's no cars, which is a relief. The walk is lovely, made fragrant by the hibiscus, fruit and cashew nut trees. The latter fascinate us: a thin apple-like fruit growing on the end branches of a rangy tree, that eventually pushes the nut out from its bottom! It looks a bit like a poo coming out. Not very appealing visually but we know how we all love those nuts. One fruit, one nut, so no wonder they're expensive. And the cashew trees are fragrant - it's a lovely, lush walk. There's a few restaurants on the northern eastern beach at the end of the walk and a shop or two selling fresh vegies and eggs. Our days are spent dinghying, kayaking, lunching, observing cocktail hour, and dinner with our cruising mates.
A few days on we strike out for Koh Chang - the furthest north island in west Thailand and a mere 5 miles from Koh Phayam. We went there last year with our friends on Rascal but didn't have a good experience; got caught in a whirly current and left a couple of hours later. This time, we anchored on the northern side of the bay, dropped our hooks and spent an idyllic 4 days there. A 3 km long beach truncated by a rocky headland that was topped with a new Buddhist temple, offered great walks and we fell once again under the spell that only remote islands can deliver - no airport, no ferry, no tourists, no dive boat operators, no cars and this island, not even one motor bike. We nested at the Sunset Bar - a confused patchwork of branches, tables, makeshift bookshelves and bottles. A friendly place with a decent menu and cold beer. Easy to while away the days. One could easily lose track of time here. On departing, one of our friends got their anchor tangled on a bombie in the northern part of the bay and it took many hours to free it up and even more time to release the spines of a sea urchin that got tangled up with his fingers in the process (ouch!).
Back to Koh Phayam for a few more idyllic days before starting our passage south. 3 of our fleet set off instead for a few days at the Surins and we all re-united later at the Inland Waterway. Rascal and ourselves passaged south to a small group of islands between Koh Phayam and the inland water way - very scenic, but strong currents and a little bit of trouble getting the hook set amongst the rocky islands. We did an unsettled anchor watch for a couple of hours and decided that it wasn't a good bet for an overnight stay with the wind forecast to 16-20 knots so we powered down to the northern end of Thailand's "inland waterway", which is essentially the 20 mile sheltered sea passage on the eastern side of Koh Ra and Koh Phra Thong. It was windy, but we found great shelter about half a mile opposite the village and in front of the mangroves: good holding in 8 meters of mud and the wind blew over the top of us. We had a lovely dinner on board our friends' boat Rascal and stayed put for much of the next day: it was peaceful, deserted and a good time to potter at a few boat jobs. Late afternoon we motored down to the southern end of the waterway where we rendezvoused with the other boats in our group. A deserted, pristine place. But.... very strong currents, so make sure your dinghy engine works because oars won't!! We gathered wood for the BBQ fire and all got together on the beach with drinks, food and blankets. Several hours later in the soft darkness, mellowed and with full bellies, we ponder our fortune: how did we get so lucky to find this silent, calm, solitary place. We marvel at the stars - there is no ambient light so we can see thousands of them. We leave the beach spotless apart from our embers and the tide takes them away during the night. It's as if we've never been there as our small fleet head out next morning from the anchorage, steering 255 then 250 for an hour as we clear the northern boundary reef to head south.
Light wind, sails up. Though we leave our main at rest and just use the headsail and mizzen. We passage the 35 miles into the Navy Yard - Bhan Thap Lamu and drop anchor in the dead calm of the inlet in company with fishing boats, dive boats, destroyers and frigates. We had 10 on board Dreamcatcher for drinks before dinghying to our standard eatery: the Navy Wives Club. Zero out of 10 for the décor, 10 out of 10 for the food and prices. A great evening and catch up with some of our cruising group who had re-joined us from the Surins.
Departure early the next day for our "home away from home" at Nai Harn Bay, Phuket, where we have a fantastic dinner evening aboard Aquavit. The next day is spent cleaning up Dreamcatcher and lunching with land-based friends and the day after, clearing out (immigration/customs/port captain) followed by a sumptuous dinner at a beautiful villa overlooking the Andaman Sea, owned by Michel & Chalinee, part of our cruising group. We say our warm farewells as we won't see most of our group until late in 2020 as they return to their European homes.
Dreamcatcher left solo the next morning east-bound from Phuket to Koh Lanta Yai, the Pimlai anchorage, named so for the resort that arcs over the bay. Koh Lanta is quite a grand island - the year before last we slow-passaged down its verdant west coast, admiring the hills, trees and sandy inlets. We anchored at Pimlai about 1600, were just getting settled when at dusk a very large diving boat took up a very small mooring about 3 boat lengths away: too close for comfort - if the wind turned westerly and we sat back on our chain, we'd be too close, or touching. So, in the dark we re-anchored to a safer place. Calm night, and we departed mid morning for the lovely Koh Muk. We were fortunate to get our favourite spot in our favourite anchorage: no-one else around. We kayaked to the beach, made hot dogs on board, swam and had a lovely time for 2 days. But during the early evening - the anchor that had held us for nearly 48 hours had freed itself (with no wind pressure) and we found ourselves drifting out of the anchorage. So, once again in the dark, we changed anchorage to a new safer spot. We motored around to the main bay later that morning to find it deserted: where are all the boats? This anchorage, that normally holds at least a dozen boats, was totally unoccupied. We settled the boat then kayaked in to shore where we found cold beer, hot phad thai and had a great swim before returning to Dreamcatcher. Four other boats came in to anchor during the evening, but were gone by morning.
We continued south and anchored at Koh Phetra's west side about 4pm, again alone. This is a magnificent north/south rock formation and is breathtaking during late afternoon and dusk when the sun's crimson rays wash its own colours. It's worth staring at for an hour or so with a cold drink in your hand (photo). From there, early next morning we passage south again to Koh Tarutao, Thailand's southernmost island on its western side. It's a good blue sky day apart from the 10 mile slalom section of fish traps - we spend a couple of anxious hours avoiding them. Getting one of the warps wrapped around the prop is an awful situation and renders the boat engine useless. Adrift with no wind and no engine is not a comfortable scenario. There's no-one but an angry Thai fisherman around to help.
We arrive in our familiar anchorage at the northern end of Tarutao, again, alone! There are new moorings laid and we tried to get one but its warp and the plastic collar around it are too thick and made it impossible to secure it to Dreamcatcher's cleats so we let it go and drop the hook clear away. A quiet night on board, only joined by one other sailboat who left at daybreak. Koh Tarutao is a magnificent island: essentially unpopulated, grand, verdant with long white beaches. We plan to explore it more next time. And then mid-morning the following day, we head for Dreamcatcher's home, Royal Langkawi Yacht Club.
Two days to de-salt, launder and clean out the boat, re-install the dockside aircon and pitch the awning....and we're on the ferry home to Penang. A wonderful 5 weeks. And now, full lockdown isolation at home, so we become armchair sailors.
Wonder where we'll cruise next season?
Will leave you with an amusing quote from Sir Francis Chichester.....
"Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to it do it drunk".
2017/18 CRUISING MALACCA STRAITS & THAILAND
17 March 2018 | Malaysia Thailand
So - 3 months afloat and 880 nautical miles: the longest trip since our Andaman's cruise out of Singapore via Phuket in 2012.
We started this one in Singapore, not on Dreamcatcher, but on Kokomo. Friends Mark & Julie planned an exit from Singapore December 6th - but we went one "man" short, having offloaded Julie due to a fractured elbow: too risky for her to take a 550 mile trip in case things got rough, so the 3 of us packed the boat with lots of provisions and set off. Pouty moment for all of us as Julie had done such a great job victualing and was looking forward to the trip with all of us, but, common sense prevailed and we left her with a sad face on the dock. The trip was relatively uneventful: a nice overnight anchorage at Pulau Pisang to take a breather after negotiating the Singapore exit - one of the busiest shipping channels in the world.
Shoo'ed out of the anchorage early by some local fisherman in pursuit of their drift net, we set off north up the busy Malacca Strait, aiming for another stop in Pulau Pangkor. This is one of our favourite anchorages: safe, scenic and a nice rest spot: a good dinner, a beer and a restful sleep before pointing towards Penang, which would be another potential stop. Foiled by a late afternoon thunderstorm, Penang was off the list as an anchorage and we ploughed on to Langkawi, arriving mid-morning on the 10th with Julie waiting for us at the dock, having flown up that morning. It was a win/win for us as we were able to help them get Kokomo to Langkawi, and in turn they transported Dreamcatcher's 10 new golf-cart batteries, plus food treats we knew we couldn't get in Langkawi. The latter is great for two things: duty free booze and chocolate. What more does one need?? Well, chutneys and other Mediterranean goodies that are often hard to find in Malaysia.
A week in Langkawi - Dreamcatcher's home - saw us organized with the above victuals, plus several other loads of groceries, pre-cooking meals and loading fresh fruit & veg. We exited Langkawi a few days after Kokomo, northbound. First stop was at Ko Tarutao - everything north of Langkawi is Thailand. A nice overnight rest stop, then a day passage to Ko Lanta Yai, anchoring on its west side just off the Pimalai resort and the following day, a dull & boring 50 mile motor into Nai Harn Bay in Phuket, arriving 23rd December.
We're very fond of Nai Harn : from a sailor's perspective it's a wide, safe anchorage, it has a dinghy dock (albeit floating plastic cubes a bit like a Lego set) and bars and restaurants ashore. Getting from the dinghy dock to said restaurants requires a walk up a ramp, then a mountain goat climb over some very big boulders which are sometimes part submerged during high tide, then a steep rickety staircase...interesting at night after a few drinks. This daily sortie is made more challenging due to loads - rubbish out, shopping in. Cruisers rule is, never leave nor return to the boat empty handed!
It was at Nai Harn that we became concerned about the new batteries: they didn't seem to be holding a charge, so outside expertise was needed and we spent several days running the genset to charge the batteries up to the hilt, even though we'd motored about 16 hours since Langkawi. We finally were satisfied that they were ok but as a result, decided we need to upgrade our solar controller and Link 10 system, so they went on the "buy" list. (We have them now but yet to be installed).
The 24th of December saw our friends Kokomo arrive in the anchorage along with their 2 friends who'd flown in from Sydney the day before. Pelikan accompanied us and we had a rip-roaring Christmas Day aboard Kokomo: Pelikan did the veggies; we provided the dessert and Kokomo the roast chickens and venue. Needless to say there were plenty of liquid refreshments, all boats having stocked up in Langkawi!
The following few weeks were simply spent frolicking in Nai Harn, swimming, kayaking, eating out, shopping and just general socialising. After a month, we needed to do a visa run (both Aust & US passports get 30 days in Thailand and we hadn't applied for the 60 day visas), so we parked Dreamcatcher in Boat Lagoon in Phuket and flew back to Singapore for a few days to be with the pussycats, Jane and generally catch up on admin which had been neglected over the prior 6 weeks.
A return to the marina in Boat Lagoon let us spend a few days with Kokomo as they were there for some boat projects: a few nights eating out and re-provisioning: it was like old home week as both boats had been in there for 2 months during 2016. Dreamcatcher launched out again early February, returning to Nai Harn and a rendezvous with our old cruising friends: the Andaman Adventurers! The 4 boats - us, Rusalka, Rascal and Smystery. It was wonderful to catch up: dinners and planning sessions - we were off again on another adventure, this time to Northern Thailand.
We've sailed the bays in Phuket up as far as Patong, but now, further north. Unfortunately, this is where our dinghy engine played up. It had been running fine, but it just decided to stop. Henry pulled his hair out; we cursed and eventually gave up and had the mechanics pick it up from the beach one morning, prior to us passaging north. The boats dropped the hook in Bang Tao beach and the next morning, about 15 miles north and the dinghy engine was returned to us with a "bandaid" on the culprit: the carburetor, with a reticent promise that it would work "for a couple of weeks". Well, it worked - for a couple of days. We stayed in that anchorage for 3 nights hampered by our dinghy and alternator issues aboard one of our friends' boats, but it was a nice spot, so no complaints. From there, a day sail to the Thai Navy Base. This was ALL new to us - never having ventured so far north of the equator since we crossed the Pacific!
The Navy base was a deal! It is also used by the day-tripper boats who only know one speed - pedal to the metal. Unfortunately our arrival timed around 1700 hours, just when the day tripper boats were returning to base - what a mess! The approach to the anchorage is like making a big "C", avoiding a long shallow reef, and finally in to the channel, which is marked appropriately with red and green buoys (I would hope so, it's the NAVY!). A cautious wind through the inlet for about a half mile found us at a small protected anchorage along with our friends - this time 5 boats. We were happy to follow the recommended dinner plans - get in dinghy and ride in the dark to none other than the Navy Wives Club! A brightly lit casual affair that is run by exactly that: the navy wives. Great menu, great food and tons of beer at very inexpensive prices. It cost us 600 Baht for both dinners and a half dozen big beers - $24 Sing/Oz dollars, about $19 USD. We couldn't move, we'd eaten and drank so much! A great night until our dinghy engine died on the way back to the boats and we had to be towed. It never worked after that, despite our cajoling, insults and other poking and prodding from Henry. Thus, we were beholden thereafter to our good friends to transport us from boat to boat and boat to shore. Sigh.
An early 4 am start saw all the boats leave the Navy anchorage. Not us. Don't do 4am unless we're paid for it! Their goal, rightfully, was to reach the sand bar inlet for the inland sea on the rising high tide, about 35 miles north. We had decided to take our chances and anchor outside it and enter the bar the following morning: turned out there was no need - we were able to negotiate the bar entry without any real depth or shallows issues and dropped the hook alongside our friends by a sandy beach. Here's the difference to Nai Harn: there was no one there. No one. Such a contrast to the Russian populated state of southern Phuket. No-one. It was fantastic and the 5 crews built a fire on the beach and barbequed fish and sausages, ate salads and drank wine. Wonderful, unique night. Next morning we all discovered we had half a ton of very, very fine sand on our boats - it got into everything!
A decision was made to meander through the inland sea and find a more northerly anchorage. This place is AMAZING! Wide, deep enough, scenic, no commercial traffic, no other yachts....very hard to find such a venue in today's cruising world. It took us about 5 hours of motoring/meandering through the waterway when we saw one of our group anchored: they'd left earlier with intention to sail to the Surin Islands. We all dropped the hook outside a very small, very local fishing village. A shore excursion proved interesting: wooden and concrete homes, a school and many fishermen mending nets. A gaggle of little girls in fancy dress for what appeared to be some sort of party. No cars, only a couple of motor bikes - probably a population of less than a hundred. Shabby but charming, and sadly, so much rubbish lying about. The locals wouldn't get many visitors but they took us in their stride, friendly enough. One man was building a boat - a Thai long-tail, with no plans and nothing but a set square, one pencil and a tape measure (he did have an electric drill). The boat was magnificent: no blueprint, just being built by feel, his boat-building skills likely in his DNA for centuries. It was a strong and handsome vessel and we would have loved to see it finished.
That night we celebrated Chinese New Year. The event was hosted by Rascal, Carol being Singaporean. We did the Lo Hei (Yusheng)...Google It....those living in Singapore will understand just how beneficial tossing food in to the air can be and how much prosperity and health it will visit upon you! It was a super night. Back to our boats for a sleep and off early the next morning bound for Ko Phayam, just south of the Burmese border. The 8 mile drive out to the exit of the inland sea was beautiful: misty, silent, lush.... So many things to go "ooh and ahh" at, and lots of anchorages logged in the mind. We'll be back, for longer, next time.
We finally got all the sails up! So far we'd only used the headsail and mizzen but a 15 minute sorting out of the main, reef lines et al, got us sailing - it looked and felt great. Then the wind dropped. We put the main away after a frustrating 20 minutes and motor-sailed the scenic coast 40 miles into Ko Phayam. One comment-worthy point: the beaches along Thailand's north-west coast are amazing. Long, long, stretches of uninterrupted white sand - no people. Further to the south there are a few small "resorts" but north of the Navy yard - no civilization. Deserted and pristine. We got as close as we could on the way up while staying in a safe depth - just lovely.
Another noteworthy aspect of our cruising in company - we had SUPER onboard dinners! We've known this group of friends for decades, we've done a lot of racing and cruising together including a month in the Andamans and we eat and drink together just as well! Each boat takes it in turn to host the evening and provides everything - sundowners drinks and dinner, typically between 6 & 10pm, tons of fun and wonderful food too. I think all of these chefs afloat are better cooks than we are, but we did ok and the chili jam on cream cheese and crackers was a hit of a starter! Our fridge/freezer performed admirably and we were able to supply ice to the other boats when they needed it. Other dinners were onshore at a variety of eateries and restaurants, all casual, some with your feet in the beach sand - all good and very inexpensive.
We arrived at the northern bay on Ko Phayam around sunset and dinghied to the beach and found - ah, nirvana - the 60 Baht Beer Bar!! A LARGE bottle of Chang beer, served ice cold, for $2.10 SGD ($1.75 USD).... Brilliant. Funky and relaxed with an interesting clientele. We paid homage there every night before wandering over to a selection of beach-front restaurants. The most noteworthy being the Hippy Bar. Check out the photos. A cross between Pirates of the Caribbean's Black Pearl and a hillbilly ranch. Very, very clever: built solely from driftwood and string, this establishment was crazy! Rambling back from the beach, it had alcoves and drinking benches everywhere, sprinkled with fish traps, orchids and a variety of marine paraphernalia. We ventured to eat dinner there one night (in the "bow" of the boat) and it was surprisingly good, albeit served by a Thai-come-Rasta-man who had a joint between his fingers as he passed out the food! And this in a country that has the death penalty for drugs!!
Over the next day or so, we explored the island on foot - well paved roads, no cars but motor scooters that one could rent or simply hop on the back of a motor bike taxi. We saw cashew nuts growing (fascinating), rubber plantations, little shops selling bananas and a few other items. Scenic, laid back, fragrant. The travelers/tourists there were different to Phuket - we didn't see or hear any Russians - mostly Europeans from Germany, Italy and Switzerland. We LOVED Ko Phayam and will be back!
The third day saw us motor 5 miles to the south bay for the evening - uneventful until we got both dinghies caught in a huge cross-bay fishing net in the dark. Once sorted, a short walk up the beach for our last dinner there. An early start, and southbound we were, bound for the Navy yard again. Rainstorm. Anchor. Drinks aboard Gezar. Dinner at the Navy Wives Club again - who wouldn't at that value?! The 10 of us made for a pretty rowdy dinner table - lucky no one else was there.
Our 0930 start the following morning was marred by the idiot drivers of the high speed tour boats who are based in the Navy area: as said, they only know one speed - pedal to the metal. Unfortunately, being in a narrow channel with shallows on one side and reef on the other - essentially between a rock and a hard place - we had nowhere to go as they sped past us and got bounced around mercilessly by at least a dozen of these jack-asses. Note to self - never leave the Navy base at 9.30 am. We have a lot of respect for the long-tail boat drivers and the fishermen, but NONE for these reckless dudes. They're in the same camp as the idiot jet ski riders who buzz the boat while at anchor.
Two boats continued south to Nai Harn while Rascal and we stopped for a couple of nights at Kamala Bay - what a lovely place! Good anchorage, wide sweeping beach flanked by lots of restaurants and apartments cascading down the hill. We dined on the main street at a great spot called Blue Manau, joined by our other cruising friends who live in Kamala during the sailing season: they'd had to leave the cruising group earlier to meet an overseas friend. A bit of exploring found us pizza restaurants, a big supermarket and lots of interesting eye-candy both in the shops and tourists! It was a really nice time. Our departure was marred by the fact that we'd caught a huge blue rope around the propeller: couldn't go anywhere, couldn't get it off. So, thank goodness for the mobile data package while at anchor, we were able to research dive companies in the area. Merlin divers were super to deal with, found a diver, delivered him by long-tail boat to Dreamcatcher and he summarily removed the nasty tangle. So, "mobile" once again, and off to Nai Harn where we re-joined Kokomo: it was great to see them again - such good company! ...Not to mention the margaritas!
We spent several days there catching up, shopping and finally did the paperwork check out from Phuket. Next morning we left Kokomo at anchor and sailed off to North Ko Lanta. By lunchtime we realized we wouldn't make it before dark - a strong opposing tide and not much wind - so we dropped in to Ko Phi Phi Lei and picked up a mooring. Those of you who read last year's blog might recall just how disappointed we were with Phi Phi Don: clogged with day-tripper boats and the beach simply inaccessible. Phi Phi Li was the same. The anchorage area is smaller and it is simply jammed with high-speed day tripper boats, long-tails and larger passenger tour boats - it was busier than Changi airport with the comings and goings! We would have loved to kayak to the beach but the risk of being mowed down was way too high. Things did settle down as the tourists left and the evening rolled in and we did have a calm night. We put the alarm on for 0630 in the morning, planning an early exit: no need, the long-tail boats with bleary-eyed tourists started arriving at 6.15 am! Still dark - don't know what they thought they were going to see.
We did get away at 0700 before the throngs arrived and made landfall at Ko Lanta Yai's northern bay around lunchtime - pretty place and good anchorage: long white sandy beach with little "resorts" and shops. It was here we re-united with Rascal, Rusalka and a new addition to the fleet, MoonBeam. A lovely dinner evening onboard Dreamcatcher and a couple of nights later saw us up anchor and start south-bound in earnest.
A long hot day made more than bearable by the magnificent scenery. This part of the world is so sparsely populated and so beautiful and only accessible by boat. And often not accessible due to the deep water surrounding the islands. These are essentially limestone karsts or mountains that rise dramatically from the ocean, many with sheer vertical sides. Breathtaking scenery. We dropped the hook at Ko Bulan Le next to our friends' boats in a bright anchorage opposite a white sand beach and adjacent to a sandy spit that pointed out from the south eastern corner. We had 2 nights and one very delightful day here: eating, drinking, kayaking and swimming in sparkling aqua water. The full day was spent orienteering over the island: we walked several well-marked trails to pretty bays, one of which was a tiny fishing village with fishermen cleaning their traps. We met some villagers, a lovely pussycat, bought bananas and had a great seaside lunch with lots of liquid refreshments after our 3 hour walk. Unfortunately Henry twisted his ankle so that laid him up for the evening, which was probably a good idea as it freed him up to handle the next day's adventures admirably.
Next stop, the northern bay of Ko Tarutao, again. But this time we were on a mission. There is a cave deep in the mangrove rivers: saltwater crocs used to populate the jungle and rivers but are now extinct so it is possible to explore the cave by long-tail or dinghy. Once again we had the privilege of being the only ones there. The 3 dinghies motored slowly up the wide rivers for an hour with mangrove, jungle and cliffs on either side and eventually tied up at a rickety wooden dock that was unusable. 15 minutes of scrambling over rocks and small ravines and we arrived at the entrance to the cave. Steamy, darkish, tricky - we had to climb down a wooden ladder then land on two floating docks (same as the one at Nai Harn) in the gloom. One of the docks was on a thick rope in the water which you used to pull the raft along: so the 8 of us sat down on the muddy float and pulled away. Torchlights and ducking heads to escape the stalactites was the order of the day and we thought it was great. We eventually got to the end of the cave river then clambered about the remaining 200 meters of cave in the slippery mud in the dark (with torches), oohing and ahhing at the giant stalagmites and tites, all still damp and growing. Very adventurous. Very Indiana Jones. Several of us lost our footing and all of us ended up wearing some degree of mud (which stains, by the way). There were also bats - not the big ones we see at Tioman Island but small butterfly-sized ones. Not too daunting.
The return river ride was just as interesting and the river eventually expelled us on to the beachfront again and we set off for lots of cold beer and good food at the one restaurant on the island. It was a great day!
And sadly, it was our last. An 0600 departure the following morning saw Dreamcatcher weigh anchor, Langkawi bound, where we cruised in to our berth at RLYC late afternoon. The end of a fabulous 3 months cruising. Sigh. When can we do it again??!
PHUKET TO LANGKAWI - PASSAGE HOME
24 March 2017 | Royal Langkawi Yacht Club
Instead of our usual 20 hour overnight run from Phuket to Langkawi, we had decided to dawdle south to Dreamcatcher's new home. On that topic: we have berthed her in Penang for 2 years now, but on pulling in to Royal Langkawi Yacht Club (RLYC) we made a snap decision to move the boat there permanently. A combination of factors - a longer berth made it possible to move the dinghy off the fore-deck and on to the davits, a shift away from Penang's growing construction dust (new made-made island development just outside Straits Quay Marina), unlimited in-out access from the berth depth-wise: we were always nervous about touching the bottom on entry/exit at SQM. We've been in & out at RLYC over the past decade and always found it a bit wanting in quality. That's all changed now with extended and upgraded docks and a fresh look with some great F&B outlets. So, Dreamcatcher is now "permanently" at home in Langkawi. Permanent being an oxy-moron when it comes to anything boat.
The morning we planned to leave Nai Harn in Phuket for Phi Phi Island, it was blowing a steady 20 knots and gusting up to 27 knots. Disconcerting: we deferred our departure to the next day. Winds were then steady at 15-18 knots and the gusts not severe, nevertheless we had a very uncomfortable drive on the first few hours to Phi Phi: course 98 degrees, wind from 90 degrees with a steep chop between the Phuket islands. We arrived 5 hours later during the half day tour changeover and needed a traffic light to get through the high-speed day tripper boats crossing from Phi Phi Le, 4 miles to the south. We targeted the anchor way-point suggested in the cruising guide, just for kicks, and gave up nearly half a mile from it: sadly, Phi Phi's Ton Sai Bay is littered with work boats and defunct ferries and crisscrossed by a network of moorings and day tripper boats. An awful contrast to the pristine sail-boat anchorage that I recall from decades ago. The Tsunami has left is mark but it seems to us the tsunami of unfettered tourism has caused nearly as much devastation to the peace and beauty of this stunning island. Odd that the authorities have banned the spread of deck-chairs along Thai beaches, but have allowed the Phi Phi anchorage to become such a jungle. We eventually found a spot to drop the hook and tolerated the local speed boats' wakes until things quietened down around 5pm. We left at dawn and will likely not return.
Our track took us down the west coast of Koh Lanta: calm, lush, lovely. We stayed about a mile offshore and took in the coastal vistas - little huts and beaches along the way. We'll be back later in the year and spend a couple of weeks plying its coast and cluster of islands. We aimed for Koh Muk and arrived mid afternoon. The famous Emerald Cave entrance was clogged with tour boats and long-tails - hundreds of squealing Chinese in life jackets splashing in the water. A quick decision not even to try and see the cave at this point, we meandered half a mile north and found our nirvana. A high-sided tropical cove with a white sandy beach. No other boats. Startlingly lovely, made lovelier by soaring eagles and the full moon and the closest thing we've found to the South Pacific yet. We extended our one night stay to 2 days, kayaked, swam, ate & drank. It was lovely and we didn't want to leave. We'll tackle the Emerald Cave next trip on an early morning sortie before the day trippers arrive.
Another dawn departure, we passaged south past the pretty Koh Kradan and vowed to stop there on our next trip. The day was bright and mostly windless, which allowed us to focus on the veritable orchard of fish-trips along the way, as well as the scenery. What has been small land markings on the charts blossomed into dozens of tall, lumpy islands: some stark, some rounder - so many in view. We'd missed all these in the past as our passage to/from Phuket covered this territory at night, spent dodging the myriad of squid and fishing boats. We felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland and somewhat regretful at having missed this startling daytime seascape this last decade of getting to Phuket. We will in future be meandering between Langkawi and Phuket and focusing on the journey rather than the destination!
Our 6-hour scenic passage found us dropping the hook on the mid-west coast of Koh Tarutao - blue water and a long white sandy beach without a sign of life. Tarutao and all surrounding islands are part of Thailand's huge national marine park and is mostly devoid of any occupants, bar a few local subsistence fishermen. We were delighted when some dolphins and a turtle surfaced. Other than that, it was a peaceful night at anchor after the swell died down, followed by another dawn departure, this time for Langkawi and our new berth.
Once tied up, we enjoyed beers and Charlie's Bar's great chicken burger at RLYC, and spent a lovely day/night with friends in Langkawi. We departed for Penang via ferry, to say a formal farewell to our SQM Marina manager and pals and see the friends we'd made there over the past 2 years.
So, another chapter - Langkawi - starts for the Dreamcatcher!
FOONOTE FOR CRUISERS: there is a frozen food/meat product in Malaysia called "Sailors". We've always liked their products but now - we love them even more - the company is under new ownership of some Langkawi-based super foodies and real professionals who are also boat owners/cruisers. Great sausages & pies!
PHUKET: KATA BEACH: PARADISE LOST.
24 March 2017 | Kata Beach early 0730, before the onslaught!
CRUISING FEB/MARCH 2017
We started our cruising venture in Nai Harn Bay after a lively overnight run from Langkawi - more later - and after 4 days motored up the west coast of Phuket to drop the hook into the wide accommodating Patong Beach one Saturday morning. Great Bay - sandy bottom, good holding, no obstructions: what more could a boater ask for? We were a little bewildered as to why we were the only sailboat there (save a couple of charter vessels). Soon to find out we were to become the rounding mark for a swam of noisy, intrusive jet-skis. We tolerated this until they ceased at 1800 hours, which was when the boom-boom disco music started: now, we don't mind a bit of booty-shakin' chords, but this was the wearing techno-rap that went on till well after midnight. First thing Sunday, before the jet-ski onslaught started, we moved south to the "quieter", beautiful Kata Beach. Same thing - jet-ski hell. We decided to move again on the Monday morning, but - horror of horrors - we discovered the alternator had died and we had insufficient amps "in the bank" (genset not available) and were concerned that we might get the anchor/chain half way up and run out of juice, so to speak. So, twixt the shenanigans of phone calls and dinghy/taxi trips to Boat Lagoon's AME for the alternator repair, the fact is, we were anchored in Kata Beach for nigh on 5 days and nights.
In the 80's and 90's this broad sparkling bay was peppered with sailboats - eager participants to the Kings Cup and months of follow-on cruising. The beach was lined with plump dinghies. Now, there are only plump tourists and the bay is bereft of any form of elegant craft. The laughter of sailors, the Aussie accents, the good-natured banter of the Brits and Kiwis, the French and Germans - gone. Only tourists from the Caucasus. This doesn't come as a complete surprise to us, having lived in Asia for decades, and spending a couple of months a year in Phuket, but it was overtly blatant this time around and we felt like aliens in what we regard as our own back yard.
We cannot begin to describe the angst, frustration and pure anger we felt towards the morons on the marauding jet-skis. Several times a day we saw ski riders deliberately target placid kayakers and stand-up paddlers, delighting in toppling them and speeding off, without considering the possible resulting injury. The jet skis came at ramming speed towards Dreamcatcher, doing last-minute turns, creating waves that sent our 20-ton boat rocking violently with splats of sea water over the sides and through the hatches, from the rooster tail water exhausts. We couldn't stand anything up in the boat in what should have been a calm anchorage - not a water bottle or anything that might spill or fall. Shouts of abuse and "stay away"(stronger terms were used) fell on deaf ears and some assholes came back for second and third swipes at us. One sailboat arrived on the third day and we felt a little relieved that we might no longer be the centre of attention: alas, they weighed anchor after only 2 hours of assault and left us once again alone as the punching bag for the jet ski riders. The mid to late afternoon ones were worst, having had a skin-full of beer at lunchtime, they were reckless. Mostly male, mostly Russian.
The blame is twofold: firstly the idiots driving the jet-skis and secondly the vendors who rent them out. The latter clearly have no guidelines for their customers and appear to have no understanding that a jet-ski is a vessel and as such is bound by the Colregs, the same as all other watercraft. They were clearly not advising renters to "stay clear of anchored or moored vessels by X meters". A bigger-picture blame would be the Phuket Beach governors who clearly don't take an interest in what's happening. In the week we were there we never saw a Thai Navy or coastal patrol vessel demonstrating any form of governance over the jet-ski crowd. Surprising, given jet ski people were killed and injured only 2 weeks prior in the same bay.
On the brighter side, our dinghy sorties to the boat/longtail area of the beach (albeit through the scowling bathers!) were pleasant: the Thai paddle guys helped land and launch the dink for a few Baht, Villa Elisabeth had cold beer and hot Wi-Fi and the mini-mart was a few steps away. This became our afternoon routine - get email and cold drinks to take back and decompress at sundown in the cockpit.
Halleluiah!! Alternator and offending fuse fixed and on the following Sunday we were able to return to the more civilized Nai Harn Bay - not a jet ski in sight. Relief. Dinghy Dock. Sunsets Bar. Great Thai restaurant. Friends in Rawai. We are happy again.
What a pity much of Phuket has lost its sheen, at least for the cruiser/sailor. Its' swamping with Russian tourists - most of whom, sadly, are novice travelers with little grace - and the jet-ski addiction will keep this little ship away from its west coast, likely forever.
Home Again, in Penang
21 May 2016
After 13 weeks in Boat Lagoon, Phuket, Dreamcatcher is finally back in her berth in Straits Quay Marina, Penang. It was a worthwhile but exhausting time exacerbated by the record temperatures and un-relenting heat. We were splashed from the hard stand at the end of April and spent a week in the water before departure - primarily for in-water testing and jobs that couldn't be done on the hard (e.g. hanking & hoisting the repaired headsail). We also needed to vacate our little apartment and re-stow all our belongings from the past 3 months. We enjoyed some final dinners with friends, said farewell to the kitty-cats we'd become so fond of, got the boat passage-ready and said our farewells to Boat Lagoon.
We felt like birds set free from a cage when we arrived at open water after being piloted out of the shallow river - a blue sky breezy day on the 7th of May, bound for Penang 200 miles away. It was (thankfully) a benign passage but without our normal stop at Langkawi. We ploughed through dozens and dozens of fishing boats - mostly brightly lit squidders - on the overnighter.
A pre-arrival overnight stop at Pulau Bidan proved restful and welcome, and we felt able to relax for the first time in months. Our 3 hour motor into Penang to make the high tide entry was followed by a fish & chip dinner at the Blue Reef and drinks at the marina's Irish bar, to catch up on dock news.
We got several admirers at the dock - we must say we are so pleased with how Dreamcatcher looks - she's glossy and looking very lovely.
The next week was spent on little jobs that had been side-lined in Phuket, like replacing the galley counter lights with strong LED strips. The only downside was the arm-wrestling required to get the new awning to fit - unlike the old one, the Sunbrella was stiff and un-cooperative but we eventually got all 3 sections to marry up after about 3 hours of huffing and puffing with the odd swear-word thrown in!
With the onset of the SW Monsoon, we'll leave Dreamcatcher in her berth for a couple of months, but head up there in June & August essentially as liveaboards, and explore some more of Penang.
Evenings at the marina in Penang were spent enjoying our great new cockpit table - photo attached.
If anyone wants any references for work/processes in Boat Lagoon, don't hesitate to contact us on email@example.com.
Phuket, Thailand.... and the beat goes on....
30 March 2016 | Boat Lagoon Marina, Phuket Thailand
It's 2 months to the day when Dreamcatcher was lifted in Boat Lagoon, Phuket, and placed on the hard for the many "projects" being imposed upon her. And we're still here. I guess it was naïve to expect the work would be completed in 2 months, so we are resigned to staying for another month, till the end of April. But it hasn't been an internment per se: we've enjoyed our time here despite the heat. We picked the hottest February/March in 137 years, exacerbated by the heat rising from the hard concrete standing so the afternoon temperatures are around 40 degrees, and there's no breeze. GT was able to escape to (cool by comparison) Singapore for several weeks while Henry toughed it out with the boat contractors in the yard. Returning to the apartment or the hotel pool for a couple of hours each afternoon has provided some respite but there is no disputing: it's HOT.
We've seen a lot of progress on the boat since she was hauled out..... much of which won't be noticed by friends or newcomers: but we see it. The new insides to the fridge/freezer, the new engine room door, the renewed engine room and lazarette lids along with the interior coach roof hatches and the piece de resistance - the clean shiny insides of the big lazarette, which we think we could rent out to a local Thai family! We've had the anchor chain re-galvanised and marked and the muffler re-made. All these things will be invisible to future visitors but we know they've been done - our bank account tells us so. The things we CAN see are lovely - the "admiral's suite"...aka.... the aft cabin now has horizontal teak planking on its insides and the nasty mirrors are gone. These were originally placed to reflect light and make the cabin look bigger, but the new light-coloured vinyl looks so much more stylish. We've also had the forward cabin finished off. We admit this was the ultimate in procrastination: we've had the finishing fabric for about 13 years and finally, this morning it was put in place, not by us but by our woodworking guy, along with some horizontal wood sections to match the existing Tasmanian Oak planking (that we did in Queensland some 12 years ago). We're getting the foundation wood of the forward head replaced and the new galley top will be installed next week, along with a new shelf on port side to house the myriad of electrical cables and chargers. We're having little bits re-varnished (it took them 2 minutes to remove my 12 coats of varnish from the washboards!). Our new coach-roof hatches are beautiful in teak and were getting coats of gloss this morning. The one thing that we're totally delighted with is our new cockpit table extension. We've talked about this for 10 years now, and finally, it is in the making. We'll now be able to have at least 6 friends seated around the table in the cockpit for meals. Photo is of the first trial fitting - the new aft section has the shiny hinges and the whole thing will be finished off with varnish. We can't wait to christen it with a lovely dinner party!
The BIG job, of course, is the overall painting, 2/3rds of which is finished. Dreamcatcher is looking like a large present - all wrapped up in brown paper and shrink-wrap to protect her new glossy paint job. She has new non-skid deck paint and snow white topsides with her classic black sheer stripe: we've kept the original B&W colours of the Cal 3-46. So, we're very keen to see her when all the protective wrapping is off. Her bottom is embarrassingly spotty - the blisters have been drying out for the past 6 weeks and her 40 years of congealed, built-up anti-foul from a dozen past bottom-jobs has been scraped & sanded off and taken back to the gel coat in preparation for 2 primer and 4 new anti-foul coats just before she splashes again. Part of this exterior job has been a total replacement of 105 feet of teak toe-rail. We had initially thought we could re-use at least some of the original but after inspection it became obvious that 100 % had to be replaced. This was a job for an incredibly skilled tradesman - getting the right curves in the right place to fit the hull, replacing and plugging all the screws and re-fitting the toe-rail hardware. It looks beautiful and will be painted with Cetol tomorrow.
On the "to do" list remains the fitting/testing of the muffler, repairing the steering cabling, replacement of the bimini & dodger canvas (75% finished), some small woodwork detailing jobs and stainless steel work: re-styling the railing at the back to allow stern access, installing an additional bow roller to house the second 45 lb CQR, re-fitting of the davits, plus replacement of "stuff" from the storage locker that was removed to make below and on-deck access easier. . then, replacement of all the deck components including the life raft, life sling, solar panels and running rigging. There is so much dust below decks it will take at least a week to clean up, once she is back in the water. Sigh.
Our home life is simple and predictable: we still have our lovely 1 bedroom apartment and dine in alternate nights. The other nights we eat at the food court/hawker stall (where we pet the 3 lovely kittens) and on Sundays somewhere a bit flasher in the marina, like the Italian Taverna or Diablo. The Boat Lagoon/marina environment is incredibly well run - a little self-contained city with everything you need - dozens of restaurants, bars and fast food, supermarket, 7-11, a selection of massage options, hair-dresser, mani-padi spa's, the hotel with its fabulous pool and of course everything one could want in the way of boat-stuff. We treat ourselves to a gelato every now and then and religiously observe cocktail hour on the balcony at 1730 hours each evening. We look through lovely palm trees into part of the boat harbour for the tourist day-boats, which affords us an entertaining view of the sun-burnt day-trippers. We have literally hundreds of movies and TV series' on discs and drives and typically fall asleep watching them. Step and repeat the next day and in the boatyard by 0745.
We will take a week or so out during the week-long Songkran Thai holiday and fly to Singapore & Perth for a change of scenery and a visa run. We'll let you know when Dreamcatcher's back together again.