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.
The Glasgow Call To Prayer
08 September 2020
A while ago, perhaps around this time last year, somewhere on our wander through Indonesia, one of our cruising buddies told us over a beer, how he conclusively proved he was incapable of rubbing his stomach while patting his head. His unwitting experiment involved sitting on the wrong side of the dinghy, engaging gear, then trying to apply a gentle twist to the throttle to elegantly power away from the dock.
If you’ve ever tried this, you won’t be surprised to learn that he and his missus, instead of cruising quietly off back to the boat, instead, went from zero to full speed and right way up to wrong way up faster than you could say “ohhhh shiiiit”.
Having forgotten to use the kill cord, not only were they both now in the water, she, safely under the dinghy, safely, as upstairs, the prop was going like a liquidiser and not somewhere you’d want to put any pink, rubbery flesh unless you fancied a painful Strawberry McFlurry.
Eventually the engine gurgled its last gasp, stopped and the drookit pair were able to look around, make sure no one had seen them and then sort themselves out, never to run the outboard from the wrong side of the dinghy again and never again without a kill cord.
So, when we got back to the dinghy yesterday after yet another COVID sponsored marathon around the backstreets and cafes of Langkawi......we walked a hundred and nine miles last month according to STEPS (the app, not the girl band), this incident and its hard won lesson came back to mind.
In our absence, the afternoon thermal breeze had kicked in and the tour boats on the windward side of the “marina” had blown back in towards the small dinghy dock, effectively closing our exit. On one side we had a wayward kayak and the jaggy bits of the pontoons, on the other, the sharp and pointy ends of two pairs of raised Suzuki 150hp outboards. Gentleman that I am, I switched sides to let Anne tug and pull at the smaller kayak while I moved over to the wrong side to deal with the outboards, planning to push the outboards out the way and gently ease ourselves through the gap.
Now, it’s not that I’m learning challenged as I absolutely remember thinking, “hey Stupid. You’re on the wrong side now. Remember what happened to (fill in your own names). Be very careful.”
A millisecond or two later, after only the slightest twitch of the throttle, there was a sudden whoosh and a roar and we flew through the gap like a cork out a bottle, totally out of control. Feverishly twisting the throttle in both directions seemed only to make the demented demon we were aboard accelerate even harder until common sense kicked in and I just let throttle go.
Unfortunately, the whoosh and the roar was accompanied by a distinctive ripping sound, which was either Anne breaking wind in fright or, as it turned out and as I suspected, was what tearing Hypalon sounds like. Quite similar to the sound of handfuls of one hundred Ringgit notes being torn up as well I suspect.
As we sat there half afloat like a punctured and discarded party balloon, staring at a giant slash in the tube, I let out what might be known as a “Glasgow Call To Prayer”. It sounds just like the mosques’ call to prayer. Just add expletives.
29 August 2020
“I work in the jungle”
Now that’s not a reply you’ll hear everyday. A response I got while chatting to a local at one of our tea stops during our whiz around Malaysia.
Most of the time, we were on fairly quiet, even deserted back roads cut through the dense Malaysian jungle and oil palm plantations that cover most of the place. Touring by motorcycle is different. All your senses are on high alert, or should be if you don’t want to skid down the road on your bum. Eyes scanning the road ahead, hands and fingers touch sensitive to the brakes and throttle, body feeling and adjusted to the balance, olfactory senses going, “what the heck was that smell”.
It was easy riding but one of the downsides to only getting on a motorcycle once a year, other than trying to keep it upright, is that after an hour, assuming we ever wanted to walk upright again, we had to take a break. Fortunately, Malaysia is crammed full of their equivalent of Starbucks, impromptu knock-up shacks that a modest breeze could fell. Some even boast walls but the majority are al-fresco. What you wouldn’t believe is the range of freshly cooked dishes on offer, even in the middle of nowhere. Chicken with rice. Chicken with rice and veg. Rice with chicken. Veg with rice and chicken. That’s unfair. Some of it’s curried. No, that really is unfair. These stall holders-come restauranteurs create amazing dishes every day using fresh ingredients and all but the simplest of tools. No Aga, no Le Creuset pans, no Jamie Oliver cook books. Just a flaming wok and a few pans and under a tin roof. After eating in dozens of restaurants and hawker stalls across SE Asia, seldom paying more than a pound or two for a full meal, the only time I’ve had “Delhi Belly” is after dining in the swanky, white linen, Ye Olde Smokehouse in Cameron Highlands. Fastest hundred metres I’ve done in a long time.
And then theres the refreshing tea. First, pour a half inch of sweetened condensed milk into the bottom of a cup. Add hot water and toss in a bag of genuine Malaysian tea. Stir to taste. Enjoy. Fix dental and diabetes checkups.
If you want iced tea, just add ice and wait ‘till it cools down. Simpls.
It’s just as well we’re enjoying it as it now seems we’re here through January 2021. The latest invitation to stay longer at the Malaysian government’s pleasure came through last night. We had thought our time here might be over and had been getting psyched up to head for South Africa via La Reunion. It wasn’t a run I was much enthused about. Reunion is closing schools again. Madagascar, the Plan B bolt hole if we couldn’t thrash far enough south is closed and South Africa by invitation only. It would have been a fast ride though. Twenty plus knots on the beam according to the GRIBs. However, with four metre seas, we might have spent much of that airborne.
And so, we’ve resigned ourselves to the ongoing “Hell” of Langkawi. We might even join the golf club.
13 August 2020
Some of the best ideas are born of boredom. As are some of the worst.
Back in France, over these last many months, my brother has been fighting his way through the French motorcycle test and accreditation system. As a late comer to the sport, it's been a bit of an uphill struggle for him, or more accurately, a bit of a wobble, but he's almost there, just waiting on the French examiners to get back from their annual four weeks summer vacation......after four months of lockdown.
Back in Rebak, listening to his tales and exhausted from preparing a fresh boat jobs list, I whiled away too many boat job hours pointlessly watching YouTube videos of folk hooning around the Alps on their various high powered rice rockets. And that set a worm free; oddly, in Anne's head.
"You could go on a motorcycle tour of Malaysia and I'll go and stay with my sister in KL". So motivated was she by the prospect of A) getting shot of me for a week and B) having unlimited spa days with Dawn, that she got online that same evening, searching for a motorbike tours company, or indeed anyone, that would take me away for a while.
Motorcycling isn't that big in Malaysia apparently, other than of course about thirty million scooters, ridden by folk with not a care in the world and I suspect little sense of direction, concept of traffic laws, or indeed consequences. Online, Anne could only find two companies. One was shut down for Covid and the other was on ice, not doing tours but hey, you could rent one of our bikes. And that's where it all backfired.
So joined at the hip are we, the poor woman's conscience wouldn't let me head off on my own. So, despite saying, after our seven week, seven thousand mile, two wheeled tour of New Zealand a couple of years ago that she'd never do it again, she reluctantly but valiantly climbed on the back of Malaysian Motorcycle Getaways, Kawasaki 650 for a week touring the kampongs, roadside cafes and Hyatt Regencies of Malaysia.
Like my brother, I've been through some quite taxing motorcycle training courses, including a morning with the police; riding, not in handcuffs. I'm therefore imbued with a UK bike riders mentality. So, despite the fact that by just gone breakfast, it's over thirty degrees and seventy plus humidity, we don our Kevlar lined jeans, armoured jackets, helmets, ear plugs, gloves and boots. We lose about 2kg every ride, so it's not all bad.
We must look like astronauts to the locals in all that clobber while they gaily zoom around with the traffic, against the traffic and across the traffic and whose idea of personal protective clothing is a pair of flip-flops, T-shirt, baseball cap and for reasons we don't yet understand, a jacket worn backwards. From what I've heard, usually at 05:45 at every morning call to prayer, I suspect most of their protection is believed to come from on high.
Me, I'll put my faith in Kevlar, leather and comprehensive insurance.
What a Time To Give Up Drinking
08 August 2020 | A wee cup of tea and a scone
Way back in life pre-Covid, I was lounging by the pool at the Royal Langkawi yacht club being nosy and listening in to the conversation between two of the superyacht crew who were swilling beer in the cool of the pool water. I knew one of them was Scottish but when he said to the other that he was from "Shitland", it made me smile as it was both the first time I'd ever heard the word "Shetland" spoken by a native and at the same time had one of Anne's after dinner stories confirmed true.
Anne's dad got a job up in the Shetland Isles when she was just a nipper and consequently spent her primary school years there. When her dad moved back to the mainland, Largs to be precise, Anne found herself at the front of her new school room, completely mystified as to why her new classmates were rolling about the aisles after she told them that she had come down from "Shitland".
Back at the pool, I then got talking to the Shetlander and, as seems to somehow happen to me, despite my iron will power, I was somewhat led astray and a few sundowner beers by the pool turned into pizza, beer and wine at Jack's Bistro till near midnight, then back to Time Bandit for a wee tour round Scotland by way of Laphroig, Talisker, Jura and back south via Glenmorangie.
Three days it took to recover. Three days that took us right up to Lockdown and, that seemed as good a reason as any to lose a few pounds, do some manscaping and go fitness mad, doing workouts every day, walk miles upon miles upon miles, stop eating rubbish and crucially, stop the bevvy.
And of course, what happens as soon as I hang up my beer glass?
"FREE wine with your meal" on offer twice a week at the marina. "Here Katharina, have my glass".
"All you can drink for 35 Ringgit (£7)", and I'm seldom one to pass on a challenge. Or maybe it was a taunt.
"FREE cocktails at the Eastern and Oriental every night, 6-8pm". No thanks, I'll just have a wee cup of tea.
And of course, at the door of every retail establishment these days you get to wash your hands in the stuff.
And yet, in all these months, I've clung tightly to the wagon. Talk about iron will! I really should get a prize; perhaps a Merlot?
21 July 2020
A few years ago, on a typical bright, sunny Scottish winters day I was out in the Highlands with my climbing buddies enjoying a wander around in the crisp, clear air that we enjoy in Scotland.....when it’s not raining. As we neared the summit we met a group of Asian tourists also out enjoying the scenery and weather.
Winter in Scotland can be stunningly beautiful. And variable. Sunshine one moment, hail and snow the next. Accordingly and having
learnt from experience having been caught out more than once walking from the garden shed back up to the house, we go into the hills well prepared. As “locals” we were functionally and indeed, trendily, attired in our winter gear, all GoreTex, clumpy boots, crampons and ice axes. Spare clothing, compasses and maps packing out our rucksacks. Our tourist visitors, for tourists they clearly were, although, given they were out wearing all but T-shirts and trainers they might have hailed from Newcastle. The give away the ubiquitous blue face mask which gave a clue to at least their probable hemisphere of origin. Now, trainers or even light boots are no match for gravity when it comes to a wind blown, icy snow slope and I’m not entirely sure what a face mask was going to achieve.
Anyway, we had a pleasant conversation about the weather, the views and pointed them in the direction down, cautioning them against choosing what looked like the most direct route because, as they say, it would take a good climber about an hour to get down and about twenty seconds for a bad climber.
The point is, I’m afraid to say we had a bit of a giggle about our guests being out in the bracing Scottish air while wearing a face mask.
Well, out here in Langkawi where Covid-19 is all but nixxed, it’s all flipped upside down. Now, it’s the weird westerners wearing face masks while the locals look on and giggle.
But I have to say, it does save on shaving, lipstick and hankies.
(Photo Simon Needham)
Voices In My Head
18 July 2020
“We really should just stay here, keep our heads down, be patient and see what happens next year”.
“NEXT YEAR!!!! You nuts?
Look, it’s only a shade over three thousand miles to Reunion; less than three weeks, two with today’s forecast. Just think. Two weeks from now you could be eating foie gras and freshly baked croissants.”
“Muppet. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, Madagascar is already closed and South Africa is slamming the doors shut. Slamming right now as we repeat this interminable argument!”
“Aahh. Don’t be soft. What they gonna do if you just rock up and anchor? Look at Rubicon. They’re having a great time, hiking and swimming”
“Yeah but if we go, what happens if South Africa’s shut and we get turfed out post Brexit?”
And on it goes. Fortunately, these conversations usually just go on in my head, my two little stereophonic voices duelling, day in, day out as we go over the limited options wondering whose grass is greener. Ours? Or maybe Rubicon’s where they’re gallivanting all over Reunion? And Impi telling us how fab it is to be back in Australia. Or Ziggy and John who made it to the fleshpots of the Seychelles? Even the guys in Tanzania, where apparently a quick shot of the prime minister’s magic potion protects you against Covid, (or not), all having a great time out on safari where even the sunburned and parched African plains seem greener than Langkawi’s tropical jungle.
Whatever, the “voices” can’t agree. Anne says I’ve been out in the sun too long, to get into the pool and shut up. Or maybe I’m just going a bit crazy. Anyway, enough for now. I’m off to cut the grass.
Our Lockdown "Hell"
07 July 2020
The geeks at YouTube say that using an emotive sounding title helps attracts viewers. As I'm still counting viewers on my fingers and toes, I need all the help I can get. So, if our plight fails to elicit even the tiniest degree of sympathy then, well, I'm not really surprised..... but why let the truth get in a way of a good story!