29 November 2020
We re-wrote our “to-do” list. In itself, not news of Blog shattering proportions however, it’s a re-write, finally, with a purpose.
We’re going sailing.
Not, definitely-maybe or definitely-if or definitely-but.
We’re definitely going sailing.
Next year. ￼
Nonetheless, we’ve a new, objective oriented to-do list. (Whoops, apologies for work-speak).
I shimmied up the mast, tightened up the VHF aerial which was waggling a bit, gave the BadBoy aerial a hard look. But it still doesn’t work, never has. Put on a new main halyard. Checked the rig. Had a look at the view.
Serious stuff. See. We’re definitely going.
New engine oil, fuel and oil filters. Diesel supply polished and stocking up on passage grub.
Covid is down en route, there’s a vaccine on the horizon, the new Code 0 should arrive soon and having said nine months ago I’d catch up on all my outstanding videos I need a good excuse to continue not getting round to it.
However, basically, I’m done sitting on my ass.
23 November 2020
A few days ago we "cast off the lines" and headed out to the big wide ocean. Well, Langkawi, anyway. Actually, not really. We didn't get that far. We spent our first three nights off a beach on Rebak, according to the AIS, all of 745 metres from our berth, over the hill in the marina. As the eagle flies.
A few days hull scrubbing later we finally made it to Langkawi and anchored of Chenang beach, hopped in the dinghy and headed ashore for a late breakfast. Now Chenang is a very flat beach and while the tidal range is just one and a half metres, it still goes out a long way. Farther than we can drag the overly heavy dinghy, and that's not been an uncommon problem over the last umpty years cruising. Consequently, over time, we've developed our own dinghy mooring system involving anchors, chains, bouys and endless amounts of rope. It's all a bit of a palaver, keeps other cruisers amused, or bemused, but it works.
We were in the final process of laying our "mooring" when Jens and Alison from Rebak wandered up, out for their daily walk along the beach.
"So, how does this lot work?" says Jens. "Well" says I, scratching the basic principles in the sand, "it's like this........." and on I blethered, ending with, "and the great thing is that if, unlike today where it's glassy calm, if there's any surf, once you've dropped the anchor, you can let yourself down from the mooring, reverse into the beach, the anchor system keeping the bow into the waves, step elegantly onto the sand then using the miles of endless rope, haul the dinghy safely back out into deeper water."
"To retrieve, we simply reverse the process. Simpls". And off we went for a stroll up the beach to the Smiling Buffalo for scrambled egg, smoked salmon, toast and......salad.
Over brunch, for by now breakfast time was long gone, the rain, forecast to break about two kicked off early leaving us to walk back into town in the torrential rain, our worn and somewhat perforated umbrellas creating our own misty micro climates under their shelter. In town, we thought we'd chill out in the air con of another favourite lockdown haunt, The Loaf coffee shop and hopefully the rain would ease.
"Oh look" says Anne as we walked in. "You can see the boat from here". Well, actually, we could see the top half of the mast over the back wall of the cafe. As I'm sure most cruisers will agree, it's always a bit of a relief to see your pride and joy safely at anchor after you've been away for a bit. Relaxed and reassured all was well Chez Time Bandit, we settled in, the rain hosing down outside.
"Two of your finest cappuccinos mein host, and how about an almond croissant?"
About an hour later, we paid up and headed for the beach. Turning the corner we were somewhat astounded, nay, panic stricken to see that under the top half of the apparently steady mast, rather than sitting sedately at anchor, Time Bandit was tossing and pitching, her bows leaping into the air, in some pretty big, steep waves and all that, not very far out from a newly developed surf line.
"Oh gosh" I thought. "Where the !?#% did this come from?" The forecast was rain from 14:00 and a measly variable 3.4 knots from anywhere (I just looked back at the data - honest). Next up was, "Where's the flippin' dinghy?"
As a sense of urgency, and a loosening of the bowels overtook us, like an aged version of Baywatch, we sprinted down the road and along the beach to where we'd left the dinghy on our super duper, fancy mooring. For a while we couldn't see it, then, appearing out the foaming breakers and spume, our little RIB was valiantly battling for survival, hooked, bow on to the pounding surf by said super duper fancy mooring, leaping up and down, pretty much awash as the top few inches of each wave were skimmed off into the boat. Not much longer and the whole boat would be awash.
"Pamela" and I quickly made a plan of action. We'd go all Baywatch, wade into the surf, climb in to the boat, haul ourselves out a little deeper and critically, for our hair do's and well being, ensuring the anchor kept us bow into the waves. Side on wouldn't be fun. I'd then start the engine and as we powered into the surf, Anne would haul in the mooring gubbins while throwing herself bodily forward as we hit each crest. So, just like Baywatch, we launched ourselves into the surf, climbed aboard and started to put the plan in action.
What is it they say about plans falling apart after the first engagement? Well, ours kind of held together, except, if the outboard engine's cold, our Honda needs a squirt of magic go juice up the air intake to get it going. A kind of Viagra for reluctant outboards. And it was cold. After a few energetic pulls, I knew we needed the juice. So, while the boat is leaping around like a bucking bronco under a fire hose (I said "bucking" but was feeling otherwise) muggins has to take the cover off the engine, give a magic squirt and a pull.
Cover off, squirt, pull and..........vvvrooooooomm...... Anne starts pulling in the anchor, then nothin'. "What the %#€$."
"Put the anchor back down" I politely suggested, as, side on to the surf, we were toast. Very soggy toast. Anne quickly eased out what she'd got in keeping it all under tension holding us head into the waves. Good skills that girl. I pulled and pulled but nothing. There was so much water around and with the cover off, we weren't going to get many chances to get the beast started.
It was then I noticed that after the magic squirt, when I'd executed my half rotation, triple salco, full extension starter cord pull, the engine fired......then instantly died as my elegant twist whipped out the kill cord, diligently attached to my wrist.
I quickly fished around in the mess and attached the cord to my ankle. If we were going to go upside down, it wasn't going to be in company of a flesh eating whisk. Another squirt of liquid Viagra, a pull and rewarded with a relieving "vvvrooom". Cover on, we motored into the surf, Anne hauling in the endless line as fast as she could.
More Baywatch, or indeed, lifeboat action as with each wave, the bow leapt into the air, in a welter of spray, Anne leaping forward to keep the bow down and get a refreshing hair rinse. We were so awash by this time that we were up to our knees, petrol cans, umbrellas, magic cans of juice sloshing around and worse, stopping us cresting the waves. Half the waves went under the boat. Half over the top, thankfully, as much sloshing out the back as came over the front. It seemed to take forever but finally we cleared the breaking surf and gingerly headed for Time Bandit, still pitching like a wild thing.
As we approached, getting aboard was obviously going to be a bit of a laugh, and a time when boarding up a ladder positioned in a seaman like manner mid-ships would have made life a lot easier. So much for fancy transom steps. One minute ours were totally submerged, the next, up in the air, rudders exposed. Nice and clean I was pleased to notice.
It was all about timing. And luck. Some bruises, rope burns and a chipped tooth, but we made it. It wasn't pretty. All knees, elbows, slithering and scrabbling for a safe hold, but it worked. Pretty much a nautical version of my climbing style.
Aboard, there was no way we could lift the RIB, not without the weight ripping out something, either the davits or the bottom of the dinghy. Something was going to go. Our only option was to put it on a short length of painter and hope it would be there when we got moving. We kept the painter short so it wouldn't foul the prop. We were in a precarious enough position as it was and losing an engine could have been embarrassing. Not to mention being back in the coffee shop faster than planned, Time Bandit parked neatly on the beach like some unwanted Hobie cat.
Engines on, Anne had a salt water shower lying on the trampoline as the waves crashed all around while she dialled in the chain. Fortunately it was still raining hard so she got a rinse as well.
Anchor up, we pulled away slowly, easing the dinghy painter out as far as it would go, lifeboat tow style. All we had to do was haul our semi-submersible the two miles back to the marina and at two knots or less to make sure we didn't break the tow rope. The "pitching hour" hour we called it.
An hour and fifteen minutes later, we're tied up at the dock in the glassy calm that is Rebak marina.
It was an exciting afternoon and after nine months where crossing the road on one of our interminable walks was the stress point of our day, last night, sleep wouldn't come easy.
It was either our poorly timed coffee giving a shock to our caffeine free systems or residual adrenaline. Either way, we just couldn't get over, tossing and turning in the heat the air-con was failing to subdue. Finally, I put on one of my "help you nod off on passage tracks", appropriately called "Atlantis".
Gentle soothing tunes, no melody you'd recognise to get you hooked and start thinking, just anonymous, soothing sounds.........all played to a background of waves breaking on the shore.
12 November 2020
We've been here so long we're now quite well known amongst the locals...... probably as the nutters who walk for miles and miles under the blazing sun. We've also effectively eaten our way around the world as Langkawi is home to quite a diverse population. The Jasmine for the Indian Butter Chicken, the Yasmin for Syrian lamb mandi, the Palm View for Chinese and Arts Cafe for Malay, each offering a range of exotic dishes...... and a dozen or more variations of chicken and rice. Where it goes wrong is when one nationality tries to cook another's food, eg: Scrambled egg, salmon and salad at our favourite haunt, The Smiling Buffalo, but it works. If it weren't for the walking we'd be about fourteen stone by now.
Yesterday morning we went ashore with M & P (nameless, to protect the innocent) and over breakfast, we talked about options for our day's walk. Michael had a suggestion (oops, that's his cover blown). "Yes", says Michael over breakfast, "if you go out of here, turn right, keep left at the river, then you'll be in the workings of the new road. When it's finished it will link the cruise terminal to the main road."
And so, fortified with a breakfast of Scott's porridge oats, bacon, eggs, sausage, fried tomato, beans, slice and a few cups of builders tea, off we went, (in my culinary dreams - actually, it was a breakfast of roti, dahl and curry sauce with tea and condensed milk - just to keep the diabetes moving along).
We knew the road Michael mentioned as we'd walked out to the cruise terminal a few days ago and seen the workings up on the hill. It seemed pretty logical that the road could be joined up into a scenic, albeit, long hike around the headland.
Just as well we had the condensed milk. It was all that kept us going as we climbed higher and higher up the hill, each "last crest" merely leading to the next. Forging deeper and deeper into the jungle, up this mud, rock and gravel half built and ever narrowing road we soldiered on. We didn't see a single soul, just one passing works truck. On and on we went, sweating like a racehorse, although, being British, we merely perspired. Nearly expired as well.
Nonetheless, after 14,324 steps, the next crest was, surely, the last, and, even if the road stopped, as seemed increasingly likely, there surely had to be a workers' path up to the road workings from the cruise terminal.
Our plodding in silence was broken by the sound of a truck labouring and bouncing up the broken track.
"Allo, allo, allo.......... what are you two up to then, out walking around in the middle of the lockdown," said the passenger..... from the door of their dark blue Polis wagon. Or at least that's what I think they said.
We were not only on rocky ground on the track but with new lockdown rules, not sure whether we were actually allowed out and pretty sure the big red warning sign, we'd ignored, a few K back, was Malay for "No Trespassing".
Dancing around their loaded questions about who we were, where we were going, why we're we going and where did we live, we stuck to our "we're dumb, lost tourists" line, which wasn't far from the truth.
It was also clear we were where we shouldn't be and were invited aboard and climbed, for the first time, into the back of a police car......... at least as far as I can remember.
For a while, we weren't sure if we were en route for jail or just being escorted from the premises. Fortunately, it was the latter and our two new best pals drove our sweaty, exhausted bones back to Chenang. "Anywhere particular you'd like to go? This is a good cafe".
And with a cheery wave and possibly Malay for "'evenin' all", off they went. Or maybe it was, “nutters”.
What nice young men.
07 November 2020
During these challenging times we recognised early on that it would be important to look after both the boat and ourselves. Boats and crews rot in port and all that stuff.
To address the boat element we have a fairly dynamic "To-Do" list that we update regularly, if not daily. Sometimes we actually do one of the many jobs on the list.
To address the human element we've our daily online workout and sadly, that one we actually have to do as our trainer is watching.
On the whole, given we've been living in some level of lockdown hell ( ) for nearly nine months we've done not bad and remain relatively sane. At least, Anne is. Nonetheless, you have to keep up your guard as going bonkers can creep up on you.
Like this morning, when, heaven forbid, we find ourselves at a golf course!
Enough About Walking!
29 October 2020
The beauty of our plan was that Time Bandit was only four years old when we bought her. She was in as new condition and the sails we inherited, which were excellent, would still have a good few years in them when we came to sell.
That was before lockdown. Lockdown in over thirty degrees and eighty plus humidity and while we were walking and walking and walking, the climate was doing its worst. It's lovely here but the weather takes its toll on the complexion ......and it's not great for laminated sails, like our Code 0; our light air, reaching and upwind workhorse.
When our Indian Ocean plans were scuppered back in March, a crowd of us would be "Cape Town for Christmas" safari goers sat on the beach, in our deserted, five star resort, talking about how long the lockdown would last. "June" says Paul, and everyone said, "ooh what a pessimist". They all just laughed at me when I said September! "Stuart. Typical dour Scot".
Typically canny as well, as, back in March, while the others were thinking we'd be getting away by June at the latest, we were busy laying up the boat like it was October in Scotland. Engines flushed. Props bagged. Running rigging packed away. Sails dried, down and stored. All hunky dory for the long haul. Dour but smart!
A few weeks ago we put it all back together and went for a wee sail. Everything worked, that was, until we unfurled the Code 0. The laminated Code 0.
Laminated sails don't do well in our climate. On the other hand, mildew spores simply love it. Let's just say, if anyone wants material to make a few thousand, three-ply face masks, just let me know.
Consequently, and in a moment of what currently looks like wildly misplaced optimism, we ordered a fancy new, Dyneema reinforced, Hydranet Code 0 to whiz us across the Indian Ocean and up to the Caribbean come January. What I'm now not sure is which year that might be.
Meanwhile, we continue to walk. And walk. And walk. Did I mention nearly a thousand miles year to date? Two times farther than we've sailed. With the amount of walking we've been doing perhaps instead of a new sail I'd have been better ordering new hips.
(And Anne says that's the last you'll hear about our walking. Or me being bored. Or not appreciating how lucky we are. Etc... The list apparently goes on.)
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Our plan all along with the new Time Bandit was simply to do the second half of our circumnavigation in some style....and at a breathtaking pace. We'd have some fun over a couple of years, screaming along at twice the speed or more of Beige Bandit, get back to the Caribbean, sell the boat and head off climbing - before I'm too old and stiff to get up a hill of any consequence.
You’re Going Where?
14 October 2020
You off on holiday tonight? That from one of my colleagues, or co-workers as I believe they're now called. "Yes. Crack of dawn tomorrow, we're off".
"Where you going?" asked Tom. "Caribbean" said I. "We've chartered a boat and we're going to cruise the islands and look for Jimmy Buffet."
Tom gave me a quizzical look. "Stuart" he says. "You go to the Caribbean in the winter".
Hmmm. News to me. It was our first year living in the US. It was July. The kids were off school. It was summer. So, we were going on our summer holidays. And off we went. The BVI's to ourselves and not one blow, let alone a hurricane. And all at 50% off........and now we knew why. "If there is sign of a hurricane, we'll call you on the VHF, so make sure it's left on,"
said the Moorings guy, happily sending mum, dad, three nippers and a yacht that some other poor sucker owned, off into the depths of hurricane season.
"If there is a blow, firstly, the anchor chain is no good in the locker. Just run it all out. And, here's where to go" says he, going on to mark hurricane holes around the islands where no doubt, our under tens could spend happy hours tying the boat into a spiders web of ropes in the mangroves while we enjoyed a sundowner. Personally, I'd have preferred a pick up in a high speed RIB and a 747 back to Boston.
Of course, nothing untoward happened - other than the children asking about the semi erotic wood carvings in Foxy's Bar.
But we learned. That anchor chain thing. Forget all about scope and ratios, warp and chain or all chain etc... Just chuck it all out. If it's blowing old boots, like it is now, forty plus knots and yet another monsoon cloud burst of blinding, horizontal, torrential rain, it's good to know we've a half mile of chain out. And, if the wind swings through 180 degrees, we can simply step ashore.
03 October 2020 | Penang, Malaysia
Most years we rack up somewhere between five to ten thousand miles. So far this year we’ve done ninety, maybe a whole hundred. It’s having an impact, some good, we’re fitter and skinnier, pretty much zero wear and tear on the boat; some bad. We’ve watched more Goggle Box than an Olympic qualified couch potato, we’ve walked the soles off some pretty expensive shoes and...... pretty much zero wear and tear on the boat. I’m bored.
When I was a kid, Saturdays in Scotland, outside the sailing season, could either be frantic, action packed fun and games or........deadly boring. And as the sailing season only ran from end April to early September, that was a lot if time to kill. The Scottish weather had a lot to do with it, especially in the depths of winter; usually from early September to end April when a “ good day” meant just vertical rain.
Up at about eight, creep downstairs while the house slept, collect the weekend's milk bottles from the front step and head for the kitchen. Pour out a large bowl of Cornflakes, then, with the dexterity and cunning of the Artful Dodger, I’d remove the foil cap from each of the bottles, pour the cream from the top of each bottle onto my ‘flakes then replace the missing volume in with ornery milk and cunningly replace the foil cap and put the bottles, apparently untouched into the fridge. Perhaps the world's first Skimmed Milk?
Fed and watered I’d then head off to play rugby in freezing weather wearing only a thin top and short shorts, the kind so favoured by many of the young girls out here. They were so short it’s a wonder we weren’t given warnings by the police. We’d play on a pitch that was invariably sodden, frozen or, usually, both. And always against guys that were bigger than us.
Post match, having trudged back home in the tipping rain, uphill both ways, I’d have a sandwich and fruitlessly try and find something on the television other than painfully tedious horse racing.
Fast forward to our Malaysia lockdown where, like most people, occupying one’s day is becoming an “ongoing, relentless exercise in creativity”. (Name that movie).
Our latest “thing” is to finally, yet somewhat timidly, immerse ourselves in the street food culture, visiting the many “Hawker” stalls that abound everywhere there’s some spare ground. We’ve eaten in a good few now and are getting rather bold. The dining pleasure enhanced by the taste and aroma of exotic spices brought together in a fusion of exotic aromas and new textures, not to mention the battered plastic chairs and tables nestling under old advertising banners and/or leaky tin roofs. The fact you can also get the full meal with drinks for about half the price of a Starbucks further enhances, indeed, rounds off the experience.
Occasionally we’ll even order and buy foods of unknown origin - although usually this is down to Google Translate than culinary boldness on our part. Being deep in Asia, as previously mentioned, the food is somewhat spiced up. To help Anne avoid a scalding and inspired by reading the exploits of my climbing friends, I’ve adapted the British climbing grading system to rank the dishes - the Hawker Vesuvius Scale.
S - severe
VS - very severe
HVS - hot, very severe.
It’s not very complex and really, self explanatory. The only thing is, you really don’t need rankings one to seven. These three will do.
So, fed, mouths blistered and wallet barely dented, we’ll head back to the boat and possibly, stop off at the pub where, on their wide screen TVs, you can get to enjoy............horse racing.
Tearing It Up
22 September 2020
The things you do when you’re bored. Like importing a few bunny rabbits to Australia for a bit of sport taking pot shots at the little buggers. Or, going for a sail after several months tied to a dock.
In August, as I think I mentioned, we walked over a hundred miles. Not that we needed to or in fact had anywhere to go. Like Forrest Gump, we just walked. In the end, it all got too much and we thought that as it was quite nice we actually had “a wee boat”, maybe we should go for a sail. A quick dash south over maybe five days would allow us to re-visit the ports we dashed past on the way north, leave Singapore to the left and head up for the reportedly stunning islands off the east coast of Malaysia.
However, as you may have read, things didn’t get off to a great start. Like teenagers staring at a torn condom on their first night, our ambitions were thwarted when we ripped a giant hole in the dinghy. Despite that, a week and few hundred Ringgit later we were set to go.
“Where you off to?” asked the marina manager. “Round to Tioman” says I. “Hhmmm. It’s not a great time to go” says he. And, in monsoon terms, on the west coast it’s not. But on the east coast, it’s still all sunshine, beer and skittles. We thought a quick dash south would do it. We could handle a bit of monsoon weather. I mean, one man”s monsoon is a Scotsman’s “maybe we should take a hat”.
So, off we boldly went, quickly awakening our hibernating skills. All except the bit about - now you’re away from shore power, don’t use the electric kettle - which emptied itself into the chart table as our first monsoon blast hit us. Thirty knots, blinding rain, reefed down to a pair of knickers and, of course, a hat.
The good thing about monsoon weather as opposed to Scottish weather is that these blasts only last minutes, perhaps an hour as opposed to days or even weeks at home. Some would say months. And then, no sooner had it arrived, given us a wash down and a bit of workout at the winches than it was time to get all the sails back out and bail out the chart table. Eight hours later we were tucked up in Penang ready for shopping malls, traffic, high rise apartments and shack and jungle living, all depending on your income.
The bad news is, we were warned to expect and enjoyed increased check in / check out because of Covid, including requests for medical certificates. This was likely at every port. Oh joy. One day of admin to check in. One day of admin to check out. And we’d only planned to stop overnight.
And as that’s all way beyond my patience threshold the plan’s in the bin. Langkawi here we come.