Thursday, 25 February 2016

"Tiare Taporo III"'s return to Langkawi Is., Malaysia

Hi to all,
This blog will be in reverse as the recent passage from southern Thailand to Langkawi is truly memorable - mostly for the wrong reasons. It all started when we drove from Yacht Haven, Phuket to Krabi Town to complete checkout formalities with Customs, Immigration and the Harbour Master. We took the opportunity to stay overnight in Krabi Town in a lovely little guest house right on the river (Krabi Guest House) and owned by a NZ'er (Johnny originally from Wellington) and his delightful Thai wife - Jam. It was a very happy experience staying there. We had dinner that night in a French restaurant owned by a Frenchman and that was memorable too. There was also the obligatory visit to to the Dutch bakery where we stocked up on his bread and meat pies! Certainly we have never found bread remotely as good anywhere else.
We did this on January 19th. and travelled to Krabi (a 2 hour drive each way) in order to avoid the nonsense about AIS being insisted on in Phuket. AIS is a VHF based system whereby vessels over 300 tons are by international agreement legally required to transmit their position, course and speed. All very laudable and indeed we have made good use of it at times, most notably off the Queensland coast when we detected a ship doing 16.5 knots on a collision course with us at 3 in the morning! We have a receiver only which gives us that information. AIS transmission was only ever intended to be used by these larger vessels, but some jurisdictions (e.g. Singapore and now Phuket - but not the rest of Thailand!) are starting to require ALL foreign flagged vessels to carry AIS transponders. This unilateral action in itself is illegal as was proved some years ago when an American yacht took the NZ Government to court over the Category One nonsense - and won. Now Cat. One can only be imposed in NZ on NZ flagged vessels. However, we did not relish the thought of a fight with illogical Thai bureaucracy and so made the decision to clear out of Krabi instead where they don't ask silly questions about AIS! Incidentally to install an AIS transponder would cost us in the vicinity of NZD1300. The other point worth making is that they don't require AIS for high speed ferries doing upwards of 20 knots with around 100 passengers on board or 30' 750 h.p. speedboats carrying tourists and doing more than 20 knots or the myriad of fishing trawlers which usually don't even show correct lights. Normal safety rules are a sick joke a well. These speedboats often pass when we are at anchor within just a few metres at maximum speed. The 5 knot rule (?) - don't be silly!! More Thai logic!!
We intended to sail within 2 days at the outside. This we did, and sailed to our first anchorage some 12 miles away at Koh Nhaka Noi. We had had our salt water cooling pump rebuilt and re-installed by Luk Engineering in Phuket and they have always had a very good reputation. However, before going on the next morning Jim had a quick inspection of the pump and was concerned to discover that it had moved badly out of alignment with the engine which, apart from anything else, would cause excessive wear of the drive belt. So, back we went at reduced speed to get Luk to fix the problem. They said all was well and so off we went again. However, exactly the same thing happened and it was only a chance conversation with another yacht owner back at Yacht Haven that pinpointed the cause of the problem. The so-called engineers had not re-installed split washers under the nuts holding the pump in place and so all 4 nuts were only bearing on an estimated 10% of their surface as the pump base had slotted mounting positions to allow for adjustment to take up any slack in the drive belt. So of course it moved. However, when one is not an engineer oneself, one feels entitled to rely on the so-called expertise of so-called engineers.
We then sailed on to our next planned anchorage because we won't sail at night with unlit or incorrectly lit fishing boats, not to mention also the flags dotted all over the ocean marking fish traps or somesuch. They are hard enough to see in daylight, let alone at night and we have run over a few. The worry is that we might get the mooring rope around the propeller but thankfully that hasn't happened so far.
Then the next problem emerged in the form of more or less unpredictable high NE - E winds which many people are saying are extremely unusual and indeed in our experience of now 3 previous passages to and from Langkawi have not featured at all. They are being caused by intense high pressure systems over north Vietnam/southern China which in the northern hemisphere revolve clockwise - not anticlockwise as in NZ. This means that off their southern flank they generate these winds which show on weather maps as over 30 knots off the Vietnamese coast and a similar high strength over southern Thailand and northern Malaysia. The other highly undesirable side effect is that industrial pollution from southern China is blown south and then eastwards over us and we have worked out that one way of predicting an easing of these winds is to visually monitor this pernicious pollution and when it seems to be improving it is generally accompanied by an easing in wind strength. This of course is all occurring during the current NE monsoon which is supposed to be the premier sailing season here - but not so far for us during our planned passage. The irony is that had Luk done their job properly we would have been able to get to Langkawi in time before these often vicious winds became so established.
Anyway, we arrived at north Koh Lanta after passing Koh Pipi Don on our way. That was a total of 43 miles. We expected to continue on to Koh Muk the next day (another 25 miles) but all that night and into the morning the winds were howling. Lanta is a good anchorage in these winds but the wind generator makes an unearthly howling sound in these high winds and at 2 in the morning it always seems worse. We had the anchor alarm set to warn against dragging but there always seemed to be the necessity from time to time to visually check our position too and so not much sleep. Our Rocna has never dragged - but worse conditions were to come. This lack of sleep does nothing for the frame of mind to face going out into these winds and so we stayed put for 3 days. The decision making gets more and more difficult as time passes. We managed ashore a couple of times to get internet access and top up some provisions as there is a sizeable tourist based town there but quite uninteresting. At least it was the first time we had been there and so we could cross it off our list and have a couple of meals ashore. The tourists were mostly Europeans and quite why they would expend all that money to come to some pretty scruffy "resorts" is beyond our understanding. Some others were a little better perhaps, but it is said that tourism is well down this year, particularly in Phuket, so probably this is one of the reasons, along with the deterioration of European economies, not to mention Australia and NZ whose currencies have shown a huge decline in recent months against SE Asian currencies which are in the main loosely pegged to the USD.
After 3 days of mindless swinging around the anchor we decided to return to Krabi Boat Lagoon which is only 20 odd miles north and a more sheltered passage than going south. At least we could wait for better weather there in some comfort and access more provisions and fuel which by this time were running low! And more visits to the famous Dutch bakery. One of the main reasons why we were reluctant to face the probability of sustained high winds was Jean's knee which makes it difficult for her to keep her feet in rough conditions. She is hoping to have treatment for this in Langkawi - whenever we arrive there! One thing we felt we couldn't do was hire a car and drive ourselves. This is because if we were involved in any accident, the police would be involved and then we would have some difficulty explaining our continued presence in Thailand, having cleared out some days previously. Notwithstanding that a boat skipper's prerogative is to make decisions relating to safety of the ship and its crew - but we perhaps should have re-visited Immigration and Customs to advise what had happened. However, we knew very well what would have happened had we done that. The Thais use any excuse to prise money out of you and we would have been fined heavily, albeit for a situation not of our making.
So, we made use of Garn and her car on one occasion and a taxi driver on another. The latter situation only cost us 800 Baht (NZD34) for the whole day and was way more economical than hiring a car, driving it oneself and putting fuel in it. We actually tipped him another 300 Baht because his service was excellent and he helped us with getting all our provisions to the boat back at the marina. A thoroughly good guy.
After a week we judged the weather to be showing signs of easing so we left KBL and once more headed for Lanta, only to be held up yet again by unacceptably high winds. However, we sat it out and with the aid of a couple of weather apps which Jean had discovered on her Smartphone finally decided to head south. The weather window was going to be shortlived so we made the decision to bypass Koh Muk and go directly to Koh Tarutao which is just north of the Thai/Malay border and only 6 miles north of Langkawi. However, this is a total of 67 miles and at an average of 5.5 knots that's just over 12 hours sailing or motoring or motor sailing. We had some fairly strong winds for about 3 hours to begin with but they gave us a speed boost which all helped. Then the wind lessened but was still a significant force, albeit that we were being very conservative and sailing with only staysail and double reefed main! Then the wind fell away to almost nothing for 2-3 hours as we were approaching a small island group (Koh Bulon Le and Koh Rang Nok) 10 miles north of Tarutao. As we passed between these islands, we could see Koh Tarutao slowly looming out of the industrial haze and at the same time the wind started increasing rapidly just forward of the beam. Thank goodness for the trusty chartplotter! The wind speed settled at over 20 knots and at one stage we had a sustained gust of 38 knots. We were thankful we hadn't shaken the reefs out of the main!! We slowly beat our way down to the northern anchorage on Tarutao's west coast and were very thankful to finally get in and drop the anchor. Even that little exercise wasn't straightforward as it was blowing 25 as we dropped the anchor but at least the sea was calm. We spent a restless night but at least slept quite well after a very long day. We were thankful to have come this close to Langkawi.
We fully expected to sail to Langkawi the next day but as we approached the southern end of the island the wind suddenly increased again and once more we were experiencing almost 40 knots. Farkin' 'ell!! So we flagged Langkawi and instead dropped anchor in the southern most of Tarutao's west coast anchorages. All day the wind screamed and the wind generator was even keeping pace with the current draw from the batteries which it doesn't normally do. Later in the day we switched it off because we were worried that it might have a hernia! Then to compound another disturbed night, we had 2 local boats towing a dredge all night backwards and forwards in the gale and we were worried that they might dredge up our anchor which was 40 metres in front of us. We shone torches at them and at our anchor cable to try and make sure they understood. Koh Tarutao is all part of a National Park and how it comes about that this sort of activity is allowed is beyond our comprehension. Dredging or even towing a trawl net is dreadfully destructive of the bottom and if there was anything alive before there sure as hell would not be now. So much for the integrity of Thai National Parks. The fishermen probably bribed the park rangers.
The following day the wind continued to blow although a by now out of date weather report showed a reduction in wind occurring early afternoon. This duly happened and so we thankfully left Tarutao for the 5 mile crossing to Langkawi. This also involved crossing the border which we were thankful to do as we were now legal again. The relatively short trip was uneventful and we anchored off a resort in the bay just west of the approach to Telaga Marina. Such a release of tension to finally be here. Now we have to cope with Malaysia being an hour ahead of Thailand which in our exhausted state is the last thing we need.
The next day on the 23rd. we up anchored and motored to Kuah - another 12 miles along the west coast of Langkawi. Past Rebak and the cruise ship terminal and into the Kuah anchorage where we hailed our friends on another yacht from Krabi, had a short conversation and then made for "Vega" which is a 120 yr old Scandinavian built Baltic trader square rigged on the foremast. They do a lot of charitable work in Indonesia with taking school learning materials to the more remote areas and we had been asked before we left Phuket if we would take some Sikaflex deck caulking compound to them. That had been donated by East Marine in Boat Lagoon Phuket and we were happy to be of help - albeit about 3 weeks late!! They are coming into the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina in a few days so we will be able to have a look over her. Not sure of her size but she would be around 70 - 80'. Meggie came off in their dinghy and collected the Sikaflex as we lay alongside and then we came on into the marina. We had been told "starboard side tie-up" but as we came closer they changed their mind and told us port side! That was exactly the same thing as they did to us as last year. Jean was ropeable as she has to do all the fendering and mooring line setup so it was just as well the Indian crutches were well stowed under the forrard bunk, otherwise someone would have worn them.
Anyway, we finally arrived alongside feeling very relieved. We are berthed alongside "Revel" which is a lovely NZ boat which has been sold to an English guy who lives in Russell, Bay of Islands! He is leaving to take her home in the next 2 days or so. We knew "Revel" in Blue Water Marina in Cairns when she had been owned by a South African lady - Janet, who now lives in Penang. She sailed up here through Indonesia the year after we did. Then it was a matter of hosing all the salt off the boat as she was encrusted. Then the awnings up, power and aircon on and we are here for the duration. Absolutely exhausted and the more so after "coming down" after all the tension of the last few weeks.
We walked down to the Harbour Office, Customs and Immigration at the Langkawi Jeti and half expected a grilling on why it had taken so long to travel from Phuket to Langkawi but not a peep! Must be the record for the Phuket - Langkawi crossing - 33 days for 130 miles!! Another thought occurred to us belatedly; if anyone had been observing us coming in here and then passing goods over the side to another boat they might have thought we were smuggling! But the Malays with all their pleasant ways, really couldn't organise their way out of a paper bag!!! Still, we had the 4.7 ready to mount on the fo'csle should the need have arisen.
A final word - our recent experience together with anecdotal evidence from others definitely reinforces the view that whenever and wherever one is getting work done on a boat in Thailand, you must be there to supervise. Doesn't matter where it is. This is in spite of claims of engineering expertise. In our case the end result we experienced last year will almost certainly mean that we will be forced to seek alternative haul out facilities. This makes us very sad and we hope that things may change between now and when we need to haul out again. Watch this space.
We enjoyed our time at Yacht Haven, Phuket, even though the engineering work wasn't up to scratch. Just after we arrived there was a party for all those interested in shipping their boats to the Mediterranean. It was hosted by the marina and Sevenstar Yacht Transport and was a very pleasant time. "Out of the Blue II" (Lyn and Chris) and Gina and Christian from "Stardancer" were there and on another occasion we had lunch at the new restaurant with Sue and Andrew of "Settlement". We were sorry to have missed Don and Tania from "Pedoja" who have started their oddyssey across the Indian Ocean. They haven't actually left yet - just gone down to Langkawi to get ready to leave. Unfortunately by comparison Krabi Boat Lagoon is like a dead zone. Nothing is happening and the marina and hard stand are but a shadow of the recent past in terms of past occupancy. And it certainly hasn't helped that Garn was forced to close her restaurant which hitherto had been the social hub. It is hard to understand the thinking of the owners - it's as if they have a death wish. And they are proceeding with the "Beach Club" down the creek a little way. This is only accessible by boat and will have a restaurant and pool, but little else. The beach in front is moderately attractive but the water is not clean and is no sort of anchorage with strong tidal currents and shallow water close in.
A recent article in the Phuket Gazette referred to the increasing visits by superyachts as bringing "buckets of money" to the island. Unfortunately they will find that that is not the case; superyachts are just as competitively aware as most yachties and will always seek the best deals. This attitude that yachties and their boats are made of money is simply not true but is exemplified by the increasing trend (especially in Phuket) of increasing prices of just about everything. It is a very sad trend and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
More provisioning this morning here at Langkawi. Now that we are back on Malaysia time it is 0715 and dawn is just breaking. Crazy. The Royal Langkawi Yacht Club has just about completed its major rebuilding and it's all very swish. But the restaurant, Charlie's Place, has completely lost its old character and the food is no better. Strange considering all the money that has been spent.
With lots of love from us...........
Jim and Jean
s.v. Tiare Taporo III
Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina
Pulau Langkawi

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