december 1 2005 : singapore
After a couple of busy days we suddenly find ourselves in Singapore. Back on our second day in Kuala Lumpur the first thing we did in the morning was to go pick up our computer. We were disappointed that HP couldn’t recover a single shred of information from our hard drive, but were happy that they replaced it with a new one for free. The computer was about two and a half years old so we hadn’t really expected that. The only thing we ended up paying was the $95 ringitt for the express service, which was well worth it considering the number of people that were filing in and out of that place.
After retrieving the computer we grabbed a cab back to the city and over to the KL Tower, which is different from the Petronas Towers that are just a few blocks away. We had been told that you rarely get a good view from the top of the tower because the city is in a valley and usually looks like Los Angeles from up above. In other words, just a haze of car exhaust. But it was a beautiful day when we visited and we got some great views of the city.
In the afternoon we took the train back to the main train station, KL Sentral, to buy our train tickets to Singapore for the next day. From there we grabbed a train again to visit the old train station which was built in 1910 and was supposed to be an architectural showpiece even today. Admittedly we don’t know anything about architecture, and I’m sure back in the day it was a beautiful building, but now the place is really showing its age and isn’t what we would describe as inspiring. Inside the train station was the refurbished Heritage Hotel and we decided to pop in to the bar for a drink. The bar was decked out in India kitsch and was playing Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits, quite a combination. One quick beer was enough there.
We walked back down the road a little way to Chinatown. We wandered around the busy streets checking out all the stuff for sale. There were three main things on offer, pirated DVDs and music, knockoff tennis shoes, and fake Rolex watches. There were also plenty of fruit and vegetable stands, shops with skinned ducks hanging upside down in the windows, and pet shops with some sad looking older dogs in cages.
KL was an interesting place for us to visit. It really made it hit home how much we are all alike. We’ve seen A&W restaurants packed wall to wall with Muslims wearing head scarves, eating Coney Island hot dogs and drinking root beer floats. We stood on the trains and looked around in amazement at the fact that every single person on the busy train had their eyes glued to their cell phone screens either making calls, playing games, or text messaging. And we just watched people going about their daily lives, shopping and hanging out with friends not doing a thing differently than we would be doing back home.
Early the next morning we boarded the train for our seven hour trip down to Singapore. Judging by how nice the train station was we were expecting the train to be equally as nice. It turned out to be sort of like an old Greyhound bus. But for a grand total of $80 for two people round trip from KL to Singapore we couldn’t complain too much. The trip was comfortable and relaxing though and we settled in to watch the countryside go by.
A couple of hours in to the trip I wandered back to the bathroom. On the door was a sign that said “Do not use toilet when train stops at station.” I didn’t give that much thought until I stepped into the toilet and had a look at the facilities. We were chugging along at a pretty good speed and as I looked at the toilet I could see the train tracks underneath us racing by. The toilet was just a hole that emptied directly outside onto the tracks. Nice. Guess they wouldn’t want people using the toilet while the train was sitting in the brand new state of the art train station in KL. After seeing those sanitary conditions I immediately headed for the dining car and ordered a chicken burger. The different colors that chicken meat comes in constantly amazes me, as does the fact that no matter what I eat, my body never seems to revolt.
Around three o’clock we stopped at a small train station along the border of Malaysia and Singapore. We got off the train, walked through immigration and customs, and got back on the train. The next stop was Singapore. We grabbed a cabbie who took one look at me and blurted, “You look just like that actor…” We’ve been hearing that I look like this guy for around ten years now, but have really gotten a laugh about it lately because of the countries we are visiting. We wouldn’t expect these people to know an American actor so well that they would look at me and immediately think of this guy. I’ve probably heard it close to a hundred times by now and never once has it been anybody but this one particular actor. What I really need to do is start trying to take advantage of it. Maybe call ahead to hotels or restaurants and tell them so and so is going to be visiting and would like the VIP treatment. Yeah, that would be nice.
We didn’t have a room reserved but had picked a spot off the internet. It was a little place in the middle of Little India, which was a very cool busy area. We had to do a little bargaining but eventually got our price for an upgraded room. At least we think it is an upgraded room. It actually smells pretty strongly like curry, so they may be punishing us for haggling with them. They’re probably sitting downstairs right now having a good laugh about the Americans in the “curry room.” It was getting late now, so we just wandered around the area a little bit and found a small restaurant where we could once again completely blow the dinner budget on beer. In this case we spent $34 ringitt on beer and $8 ringitt (about 5 bucks) on dinner. And we were stuffed.
Today we set out to be Singapore tourists for the day. Over breakfast we scoured the free guides for things to do in Singapore. We looked through them two or three times each figuring that we must be missing something. But in the end we realized that there aren’t a whole lot of things to do in Singapore. So we decided just to wander around the city for the day.
We visited a temple in Little India that was pretty amazing and was packed with people paying their respect to the Gods. Then we found ourselves walking along Orchard Road which was block after block of shopping malls. And not just little shopping malls, there were at least a dozen full sized six story malls. The street was crowded with holiday shoppers and people taking pictures of all the holiday decorations on display. Getting in the holiday spirit out here is always a little hard and sweating in the 90 degree heat doesn’t help any. To cool down we stopped at one of the sidewalk vendors selling ice cream. The twist here though is that they don’t serve it on cones. Instead they cut a big square of ice cream and stick it in between two wafers for you. Either that or they will sandwich it in a piece of white bread. And it only cost about 50 cents, making it the best deal in town.
Singapore wasn’t really what we expected. We had expected a busy, bustling city, which it is, but we also had this vision of some ultra sleek, ultra modern type city with people wandering the streets picking up the smallest piece of garbage and shining the light poles. I had this stereotypical vision in my head for some reason. Probably because they have strict laws outlawing chewing gum, spitting on the sidewalks, and littering. In reality, the city didn’t seem much different, as far as cleanliness, as cities back home. There were still styrofoam cups and pieces of paper blowing down the streets, and I didn’t see one person polishing a light pole. It is a nice clean city of course, just not to the extreme that I had envisioned.
We walked around and did a couple more touristy sights, before heading to Raffles Hotel. In the 18th century this British guy Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading station and a fort to beat off the Dutch. The Raffle name is therefore all over the place in this city and you basically can not visit the city without a stop at the Raffles Hotel Long Bar to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor while drinking a Singapore Sling cocktail. Of course, the owners of the hotel realize this and price things accordingly. We had one cocktail and two beers before walking out of the place fifty dollars lighter. We didn’t leave until we were so full of peanuts that we could skip dinner though, making it well worth it.
december 3 2005 : port klang, malaysia
We were up early again to catch our 8:30 train out of Singapore. One thing we’ve learned in KL and Singapore is to always take a metered taxi. The guys who you have to haggle with over price will always end up screwing you as bad as they can. When we arrived in Singapore we had no idea how far we were from downtown and so agreed on a taxi fare of $15. On our return to the train station, in morning traffic we paid $6. Outside the cities they never have meters so you have to haggle. In most countries you can pay about half the quoted price and feel pretty good about it, but in Malaysia and Singapore you would have to pay a third of the original quote before you could feel you’d done good.
We spent most of the day on the trains getting back to the boat. As always, Bum was right where we left her and we breathed a sigh of relief. That night we went and hung out in the lounge of the yacht club working on the internet. The free wireless came in mighty handy in getting the “new” computer up and running again. We even managed to bypass Apple’s ridiculous programming and retrieve our music off of our iPod, thanks to the hackers and programmers of the world.
Today we went to old town Klang and dropped our laundry off at a little Chinese laundromat. Then we walked over to the local grocery store. That turned out to be more fun than we expected. For some reason we seemed to draw a lot of attention there. Everybody in the store stared at us as we walked around picking out food. They kept a close eye on what sort of purchases we were making and the ladies who worked there all offered us help whenever we walked anywhere near them. Ali was looking at laundry detergent when one nice lady wandered up and pointed out the shampoo to us as if we must be looking at the wrong thing.
Back at the boat Ali went to work with her new ant spray. The ants that we picked up in Bali just refused to go away. Every day we would kill about five of them. They were super tiny ants so it didn’t seem too disgusting, but living with bugs for an extended period of time is never a good thing. Ali was loving the fact that suddenly ants were lying dead all over the place. Until she watched one ant up close as he stumbled along and then just like in the cartoons, he stood up on his two back legs, grabbed his chest, and fell onto his back with his legs straight up in the air. Then she just felt it was mean.
While she was busy exterminating I was hauling the dinghy up onto the dock to attempt for the one hundredth time to stop the leaking. I glued and I clamped, but at the end of the day I actually think I managed to make it even worse than before. I cannot even fathom why patching a dinghy is so hard. It’s just gluing pieces of rubber together. At this point I’d feel more confident rebuilding a diesel engine than I would trying to repair a slow leak in the dinghy. This was it though, I’m officially throwing in the towel and turning matters over to professionals when we get to Phuket.
We are leaving here on Monday. We have to clear out of the country with all the various officials in the morning, pick our laundry up at noon, and then we are out of here with the tide. I haven’t mentioned the currents here but they are incredible. At their peak they run around 5 knots and carry an incredible amount of garbage up and down the waterway. We have at least a couple of large pallets slam into the boat every day. So timing your departure so that you aren’t battling the current is a must.
december 5 2005 : port klang
This morning we woke up with every intention of leaving today. But after washing the boat, walking into town to clear customs and immigration, and picking up laundry, we just didn’t have the energy left to sail out of here. So instead we continued using the free unlimited high speed internet available in the yacht club lounge. We have been catching up on about a million internet related things. We’re out of here in the morning. I swear.
december 6 2005 : port klang
It’s one a.m., we’re tied to a dock and we just came as close to sinking as we ever hope to again. At eleven o’clock Ali and I finished up some work we were doing on the internet and walked back down to the boat. The dock we are tied up to is just sixty yards downstream from a very busy shipping dock. The boats that use that dock are all large Indonesian wooden cargo ships used to haul goods back and forth between Malaysia and the nearby Indonesian islands. The boats all have one engine and no bow thrusters, so when they need to maneuver, things can get a little crazy. Especially on the falling tide when the current is running at five knots down river.
Anyway, we had just gotten back on the boat and watched as one of these cargo ships performed a wild full speed spin heading downstream with the current. I knew he was just turning around so that he could pull into the docks facing into the current so I didn’t think too much of it. Ali started brushing her teeth and I was downstairs using the bathroom when I suddenly heard an engine revving at full throttle. It sounded like it was right on top of us, but when you are down in the hulls, noises always sound amplified. Seconds later there was a sickening crunch.
I zipped up and ran outside to find Ali already on deck yelling at the top of her lungs. I looked forward and saw the bow of the boat that had been docked in front of us was now crashing in to us after having been nailed by the huge cargo ship we’d been watching minutes earlier. Our front dockline and our forward spring line had both snapped from the pressure and our boat was trying to peel itself off the dock with the force of the current and the other boat pressing against us. I made a jump for the dock but didn’t make it and slammed down into the skanky water before Ali and I quickly got another line tied off to the bow.
About this time the German single-hander from the boat that was on top of ours came walking casually down the dock, seemingly oblivious as to what was happening. Ali was screaming at him to back his boat off of ours. Eventually he started backing up, but we had to stop him because his anchor was snagged on our lifeline and his boat couldn’t move backwards without ripping our boat apart. Then a Malaysian guy jumped on our boat and the three of us managed to lift the bow of the German boat enough to get his anchor unhooked and the boat began backing away from us. We quickly got a couple more lines tied off and our boat seemed secure. All of this took about four minutes of frantic screaming and maneuvering.
We started to assess the damage, and could see right away that we had been extremely fortunate. Our boats had been facing each other and somehow his boat managed to slam in to ours in about the only spot that it wouldn’t destroy us. His bow missed the front of our starboard bow by about a foot and instead hit the lifelines and the huge metal brace that runs between our bows.
By now a few people were out on the dock helping the German with his lines. Ali and I figured things were under control, but then things got even crazier. I noticed the German was having trouble getting his boat tied up properly again, and walked over to help. I adjusted a couple of the front lines and then Ali started yelling from the front of our boat that his boat was going to hit ours again. I looked over and saw the German desperately pulling the middle spring line while the back of his boat was floating quickly away from the dock.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. Things had been fine seconds earlier and everybody had begun slowly dispersing. Now here I’ll mention that the German had been up at the bar when this all started and he’d been drinking for a few hours. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, it just kind of makes some of his actions a little clearer. So here he is trying to hold his boat in place while a five knot current spins his back end off of the dock. I ran past him to the two back lines to get them tightened before the back of the boat swung all the way around and smashed into our boat.
I grabbed the first line, which was slack, and started pulling on it quickly to get it taught before tying it off to the dock. But as I pulled the line it suddenly plopped right into the water. The German had forgotten to tie it off to his boat cleat. There was still one other line, which was as slack as it could go, and it was quickly coming taut. It was tied to a dock cleat that was too far forward and wouldn’t keep the boat from spinning around, so I went to untie it to bring it to a dock cleat further back. But the line wasn’t just tied off around the cleat, it was tied in a knot through the cleat. I don’t know what purpose people have for doing this but it is completely stupid. I couldn’t get the knot undone and seconds later that line came taut with a ton of force behind it.
Now his boat is ninety degrees to the dock and to our boat. It is about ten feet in front of us, sideways to a five knot current, and has one front line and one back line holding it. While I had been trying to get the back lines taken care of Ali had been absolutely screaming at the German to forget about the line he was holding and to get on his boat. Which he finally did, and was now backing down hard on the engine trying to swing the back of his boat back around towards the dock. Immediately I knew that was hopeless, and yelled to Ali to get me the dive knife.
By this point of the debacle, two cleats had ripped out of the dock, two of our lines and two of the Germans lines had snapped like silly string. It was painfully clear that these two lines weren’t going to hold. If either of them snapped our boat would be destroyed, and there was no way that his boat was going to be able to back around into this current. Ali was still on the front of our boat yelling that he was about to hit us, so I made a decision. I yelled to the guy that I was going to cut his lines. He yelled, “Noooooo!” apparently thinking he could somehow get it under control. He still had the engine cranked in reverse and I thought it was the only way we could save our boat. So I cut the lines.
It doesn’t take much to cut a line that is under that sort of pressure. All I had to do was touch the dive knife to the lines and they exploded. His 100 horsepower engine blasted his boat straight back perpendicular to our bow while Ali and I held our breath. Honestly, he missed ripping our port bow apart by less than a foot. Ali stood there inches away while his anchor and bow swung directly over the top of ours. It was unbelievable.
At last the German seemed to be safely away from the dock and out of our hair. But now we look up and he is racing right back towards us. We’re thinking that maybe he is trying to pull back to the same dock he was just at so we yell at him to go around to a much safer inside berth. But he yells back that there is a line around his rudder and he can’t steer. What else could go wrong? We watch as he begins floating at five knots right down the middle of the river. Then he quickly runs forward to drop his anchor and, amazingly, the boat swings around and stops. Finally, everything seems to be safe.
Ali and I then took a close look at our boat and couldn’t believe how lucky we were. Aside from a couple of bent stanchions, and some minor cracks in the gelcoat, we had escaped major damage. If things had happened just a little differently our trip could have had a very unhappy ending tonight. We might take a lot of risk sailing around in an uninsured boat but have never dreamed we could lose the boat at a dock.
The police eventually showed up but didn’t even talk to us. Not that we really wanted to talk to them. I could just imagine filling out a police report on this incident. Wait, I know, we’ll sue. Let’s see, an Indonesian cargo ship in Malaysian waters, hits a German boat, that then hits our American boat. We’re not going to hold our breaths and expect a compensation check any time soon. Alright, it’s after two a.m. and I think I’ve finally calmed down enough to get some sleep. Ali crashed a half an hour ago. The below picture is at the dock in the morning; the big blue boat is the one that originally hit the German boat which was tied up to the dock directly in front of us. And also pictures of the damage.
december 6 2005 : en route to thailand
Still the same day, but it feels like it’s been a week since last night. Ali woke me up this morning at seven o’clock to tell me that another boat was leaving. I took the hint and said that we should leave too. A half an hour later we quietly slipped away from the dock and floated down the river. We really just wanted to get the heck out of there and weren’t the least bit interested in talking to the Malaysian police today, not to mention reliving last night for all of the dock gawkers.
Today my body feels like I’ve been beaten up. My legs are sore, my arms and legs have cuts on them, and my knuckles are all bruised up. Things got a little intense there last night.
Throughout the day we just kept talking about how bad things could have been. For one thing we had originally been tied up to the dock right where the German got hit. The only reason we had moved forward was because our water hose wasn’t long enough to reach the spout and I couldn’t wash the boat. Then there is the fact that we had just returned from being away from the boat for five days. We can’t even imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t been there. A pretty unbelievable set of circumstances caused us to walk away from this one with just a few scratches. The German walked away in a lot better shape than he could have too. His boat didn’t appear to have any serious damage. Mainly his stanchions and self steering gear from what I could see.
So now we are on passage again. It was the nicest day we’ve had since we arrived in Malaysia, though not much wind. There were many fishing boats along our route today. They all do a good job of staying out of our way, which is nice since they actually have the right of way I believe. Despite their boats shabby appearances, these guys are professionals and they don’t want us running their nets over any more than we want to, so they make it pretty easy on us.
december 7 2005 : en route
Yet another very slow passage is underway. We can’t wait to be done with the Malacca Straits. No matter what we do we can not get the boat over four knots. There just doesn’t seem to be any way to do things quickly out here.
We had a wicked storm raging most of last night. The lightning was striking so close that it burned our eyeballs just like if we were staring right into the sun. Then the instantaneous crack of thunder to scare the crap out of us. All the while we had to stand outside in the downpour to keep an eye out for fishing boats. I don’t think either one of us felt badly when it came time to wake the other person up for their watch.
december 8 2005 : en route
So on our way to Thailand we were slowed down once again by really crappy weather. Forecasts for 5 knots of wind turned out to be 25 knots on the nose for a day and a half and so instead of just continuing onto Thailand we decided to pull in for a nights rest in Langkawi, Malaysia. Our charts didn’t show much besides a little bay so we were surprised to see a huge marina with a big man-made breakwater bay out front. We pulled into the bay alongside about two dozen other boats just before dark. Anchored, had dinner, and flipped on the computer and were surprised to see the wireless internet connection icon pop up. Here I thought we were heading for a little semi-deserted type island anchorage. In the morning if the weather is better we are off again for Thailand and Maya Bay.
december 11 2005 : the islands of thailand
Langkawi was an attractive looking island. It reminded us both of the Marquesas with the tall mountains and lush vegetation. The island also has some sort of tax free status, so apparently beer is cheap and boat parts can be imported for free. I think the island was more or less created recently in order to compete against the Thai resort and boating industry. So from our anchorage the place also reminded us a lot of Bora Bora, with resort bungalows over the water all over the place. But with all of that said, we just spent the night there and took off the next afternoon. Clearing back in to the country seemed like a hassle and we have been really excited about getting to Thailand.
The wind shifted a bit, and for the first time in weeks we weren’t beating in to the wind on our way north. After a quick 24 hour passage we arrived at Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh. It’s about 20 miles from Phuket. It was pouring down rain as we approached, but the island was still incredibly beautiful. It was exactly what I had dreamt that Thailand would look like which was a good thing because Thailand is probably the number one stop we have been looking forward to on this trip. Once again, it is hard for us to comprehend that we’ve sailed half way around the world to be here.
The island itself has become a huge tourist destination, but only for day trippers, there is no resort. The boats file in all day long, mostly dive boats that stop off here on their way to doing three or four dives a day around the various nearby islands. Also a lot of traditional longtail boats, so named because of their super long prop shafts that extend about ten feet off the back of the boat. Every one of these guys would zoom by us with a huge smile and a wave. By four o’clock the tour boats stopped coming and we, along with two other cruising boats, had the place to ourselves. We are moored about twenty yards from the edge of a limestone cliff that soars straight up hundreds of feet.
I jumped in the water to have my first look at the bottom of the boat since Ashmore Reef. It wasn’t pretty. Our port engine prop trailed long tendrils of plastic bag behind it. Over the last couple of days I had noticed that the engine seemed to be about a half knot slower than the starboard engine, but wasn’t overheating and still had good water flow so I didn’t worry about it.
Our water line has also developed a real ugliness to it lately because of how filthy the water has been. Even scrubbing doesn’t like to take it off very easily. Our bottom paint is holding up reasonably well. There is a thin film of growth that wipes right off, but the only part that has any grassy growth on it is the outsides of the hulls near the waterline. We know we need to add a fresh coat or two to the bottom paint while we are here in Thailand and are just trying to figure out the best way to go about it. It’s possible to beach the boat in one of the tidal streams near the marina, and do it quickly while the tide is out, but I’m not sure how to get the bottom clean enough to paint. If we haul out they will power spray it clean and slapping a couple of coats on would be no problem. But then you have the hassle and expense of hauling out. So we’re up in the air at the moment.
december 13 2005 : the islands of thailand
Seems I may have spoken to soon about Maya Bay. I should have said, it is a beautiful place from 4 p.m. until 9 a.m., after 9 it is an absolute zoo. We expected it to be a busy tourist spot, but nothing could have prepared us for the sheer number of boats. Hundreds of boats zoomed in and out of the bay all day long. Most of the time it was no big deal, they were the big dive boats or the little longtails, neither of which make too big of a wake. But then there were the speedboats that make the 25 mile trip from Phuket in about a half an hour. They cross the open ocean at top speed and don’t let up on the throttle until they are within 50 feet of the beach. It was insane. They would fly by us and right through the bay that was full of people diving and snorkeling, and not even give their passengers a chance to take a picture. It was funny watching them try though. You’d see this guy trying to hold a camera to his face while the speedboat caught air off another speedboats wake. Nice tour.
During the day we had a whole series of things break on the boat. Even while at anchor there is no escape from it. We realized that four rivets holding the trampoline on had ripped out. Most likely from when the boat hit us and we were all standing on the trampoline trying to bench press it off of us. That would be such a simple job if it weren’t for the fact that the teak decking down the middle of the trampolines covers up the rivet holes. So the deck needs to be unscrewed and carefully pried off before replacing the rivets.
Then we were sitting in the cockpit when we started hearing this strange pinging noise. It suddenly dawned on me what it was and I jumped up to drop the dinghy into the water. The dinghy davits (the metal poles that the dinghy hangs from) had cracked and were about to fall off. The pinging was the metal slowly tearing apart. So now we have to have a welder come and fix that for the third time. Every time it has been cracked somewhere new. So now we had the dinghy tied up to the side of the boat. A while later Ali looked over and saw the gas tank flying around the dinghy. The canvas strap that holds it in place had ripped through. Not a big deal, but just another annoyance. Later I was lifting the dinghy motor back onto the boat when I saw that one of the plastic clips that hold the dinghy handle on had broken. It was good that I noticed that before we lost the outboard into the bottom of the ocean. Still later on that night Ali flicked on the light in the starboard hull and nothing happened. A perfect ending to the day.
Yesterday morning we took off for Phuket. We needed to get cleared in to the country. For the first time in weeks we had the pleasure of the wind being slightly behind us instead of on the nose. It was a quick four hour trip over and we anchored in Ao Chalong Bay, which isn’t very scenic. It’s a nice shallow bay with good protection however, so it is filled with hundreds of boats on moorings. We anchored about a mile out and headed to town. All the different officials we had to see were in one building right at the dock which was nice. We cleared in with immigration, but when we went in to see customs they told us it was a holiday and we would be charged hundreds of baht (Thai money) in holiday fees, unless we would rather just come back tomorrow morning. So we left. Next stop was to one of the many restaurants along the dirt road running along the beach. It was nice to be back in the land of cheap food and beer. I had possibly the spiciest meal I have ever had. The menu said it was hot, but they always say that so I didn’t think much of it. I guess here in Thailand hot means hot.
december 14 2005 : the islands of thailand
Well I think we can officially say that we have made it through the Malacca Strait. The famously dangerous pirate filled waters of the Malacca Strait to be more exact. So I thought now would be a good time to quote what one cowardly old cruiser had to say in the cruising forums a few months back.
“…all the hard parts lie ahead, while the Coconut Milk Run has a relatively well-deserved name. My wish for Pat and Ali is that they sail NNW from NZ via Tonga before heading to Oz – certainly not try it straight across the Tasman Sea – and after enjoying the Coral Coast, ship the boat to either the Med or the States, depending on their remaining interest in cruising and the size of their residual kitty. I’m especially concerned about the Malacca Straits and either the Red Sea or South Africa as sailing grounds for these willing but unskilled sailors. My hunch is that something of this nature – a truncated voyage – will soon look like a reasonable alternative for them.”
I just love that, certainly not try it straight across the Tasman Sea, especially concerned about the Malacca Straits, ship the boat to the Med or go home because we’re out of money. Sorry to disappoint you Jack but it seems your “hunch” was wrong. These two “unskilled sailors” who have only two years and 17,000 miles of sailing behind them which is certainly not enough, have just completed everything that you said they shouldn’t, or couldn’t do. What a wimp.
We set out on this trip for the adventure. The adventure of sailing around the world. Not to sail the easy parts and pay thousands of dollars to ship our boat to the next easy place like Jack would. I want to tell my grandkids really cool stories about huge seas and big fish. And now I’ve got a whole warehouse full of those stories. And best of all is that I’ve got an incredible wife who was standing right next to me through it all and who has shared all of the adventure with me. As for Jack and his cronies, they’ll just never get that and they’ll never give us any credit because of that, we’ll just always be the “unskilled sailors” who shouldn’t be out here taking on the ocean.
december 15 2005 : the islands of thailand
A couple of nights ago we met up with an email friend of ours who is from India but was here in Thailand racing in the King’s Cup Regatta. We had a good time and got a chance to check out one of the other beaches on the other side of the island which, even at night, was a lot more scenic than Ao Chalong. The next morning we took off to sail north up to Ao Phang Nga which is where all the beautiful limestone islands are at. We only made it about ten miles though before tucking back in to a nearby bay to wait for better weather. It really hasn’t been nice since we got here, other than a few hours on our second day. Aside from that it has been overcast and raining nearly nonstop.
We woke up this morning to more overcast skies but not much wind so we decided to press on. It rained the entire time but eventually we pulled in behind a beautiful island which we had pretty much to ourselves. Along the way today we found a whole bunch of water in the bilge, which is always a really pleasant sight. We tracked the water to the engine room and after emptying out the room had a look. I could see where the water was coming from and at first thought it was just a loose hose on the raw water pump. But after tightening that up we still had the leak. I then had a closer look, which when it comes to the raw water pump requires a flashlight and a mirror, and found that the water was leaking directly out of the back of the pump. Which meant that the seal inside had failed. The raw water pump has two seals in it, one to keep the oil in and another to keep the water in. I’d had the oil seal fail on the old engine quite a while back so I had the spare parts I needed and got right to work removing the pump assembly.
This job would literally take three minutes if it weren’t for the fact that one out of the four bolts holding it in is completely inaccessible. I can just barely get a wrench on it and once it is on I can only turn the bolt 1/16th of a rotation. Then the wrench has to be pulled out of the space, flipped over, put back on the bolt, and turned another 1/16th. So instead of 3 minutes it takes closer to an hour and a half. Replacing the seal takes all of about 1 minute and then it is time to replace the pump and tighten the bolts back up. Another hour and a half and the job is done. Then I hold my breath while I hold the flashlight and the mirror and Ali starts the engine. No leaks. Thank God. After I’m done Ali troops in right behind me and begins an intense one hour clean up of the room that I have just destroyed. And then, just four hours after arriving at our anchorage we can relax and watch the rain fall down. We hate boats.
december 17 2005 : the islands of thailand
Things have been a little gloomy here on the boat the last few days. The weather has just been relentless in its’ ugliness. The rain has hardly stopped at all, and the sky has just been a solid sheet of gray for the last five days. Ali and I were talking about how it feels like we are always complaining about the weather. But when you live on a boat the weather rules your life. It determines where you can anchor, how you will spend your day, and how well you will sleep at night.
Yesterday we woke up and the boat was really rocking. The island we had pulled up to the day before was giving us great protection from the wind, but the waves were curling right around it and making things pretty uncomfortable. So we took off for another group of islands an hour away. As soon as we got around our island the wind nailed us. It was blowing 35 knots and the rain was stinging my skin. After an hour of that we pulled in to the middle of a group of about ten islands which again gave us good protection from the wind and had the added bonus of stopping the waves from almost every direction. We spent yet another day cooped up inside the boat. Man is it frustrating to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world and not be able to enjoy it. If it hasn’t cleared up by tomorrow we’re probably just going to head to the marina and get started on our long list of boat projects.
Yesterday we were running the watermaker and kept getting the replace filter warning light. We had just replaced the filters in Bali, but we reluctantly pulled them out to have a look. They were in sad shape. The filters were coated in mud. I guess the silty waters we have been sailing in since Bali weren’t the best for making water. Our water has still been perfectly clean though. I remember hearing once that we could probably go an entire year with one set of filters, but so far, despite trying to make water only when the water looks good, we are going through more like a set every two months.
december 19 2005 : phuket, thailand
As expected the horrible weather continued, so we headed for the marina a few days earlier than expected hoping we could at least get some work done. We’re at the Yacht Haven Marina which is on the north end of Phuket and is not really near anything, making it an easy place not to get sidetracked from work. When we first arrived we were shocked by the fact that there was no clubhouse, ie. no bar and restaurant. Fortunately about a hundred meters down the road is a nice little place serving cold Chang and good Thai food. We’re still searching for the perfect Thai meal. Everything has been good but nothing has really jumped out at us. This is the first place we have been in a while that actually has a selection of beers, Chang being the most local and also the cheapest. Ali declared it “a little skunky,” but quickly got over that when she realized it cost under a buck.
First thing we did at the marina was check out the forecast. Ugly. It actually shows thunderstorms every day through the 27th. Today we had the dinghy picked up and brought in for repairs. Seems to be a popular pastime here because they were picking three of them up at the same time. I called a while later to talk to the boss and he gave us the bad news that by now we should really expect any time something needs to be fixed. First off, our dinghy is PVC, not hyphalon, which means it is a piece of junk. We had hoped to have him fix the leaks and make a cover for the dinghy to protect the material, which as it turns out we should have done when we first bought the boat, but at that time we had no idea that dinghy’s could just fall apart. Anyway, he told us he could fix the leaks but most likely we will have more in a matter of weeks. He refused to make a cover for it because he said we would just be wasting our money on a dinghy that isn’t going to last anyway.
So now we have three options, we can fix the dinghy and keep our fingers crossed that it lasts us a while, we can possibly just replace the tube itself and not the entire dinghy which he says wouldn’t save much money since the expensive part isn’t the fiberglass bottom it is the tube, or we can buy a new dinghy. At this point we are so tired of pouring money into this boat that I think we’ll probably just press on with the dinghy the way it is and hope for the best. Maybe we’ll find a dinghy just floating around in the ocean sometime, or better still we can buy one cheap off one of those pirates that are cruising around here. Tomorrow the stainless steel welder comes out to the boat. No doubt he’ll inform us that our metal is rotting away and will all need to be replaced. Love these boats.
december 20 2005 : phuket
The sun is out! I knew it couldn’t last forever, but was really starting to wonder. I talked to the dinghy guy today and was shocked by the prices. Our dinghy came with the boat so I had never given any thought to the price of these things before. Price for a new hyphalon dinghy was $4500 USD, a new hyphalon tube only was $2500, or he could just patch up our leaks for $50. So we are spending the 50 bucks and buying a good supply of glue, since we are pretty sure we will be needing it a lot.
We also took apart the front deck between the trampolines to get that ready for some new rivets. We cleaned off all the caulk around the stanchion bases. The caulk that the painters used turned a really ugly shade of yellow so we took it off and will replace it with 5200. It seems like 5200 is the only caulk that actually keeps its original white color, even in the sun. We then found a couple of big pieces of wood which I used as levers to pry the front seats back into shape. They were both bent inwards from the Port Klang incident. They aren’t perfect, but we’re the only people who would ever be able to notice. As I was prying, the little metal loop that holds the front lifeline on broke and fell in to the water. Luckily the welder hasn’t been here yet, so we’ll just have another small job for him. Probably best that it broke off now anyway, since it is supposed to keep us from falling in to the water. And we removed the bimini so it wouldn’t get burnt by the welding. And I also replaced the light in the port bathroom which caused enough of a mess that Ali followed in my wake and did a complete washing of the room afterwards. Fun stuff.
december 22 2005 : phuket
Busy couple of days. We had a welder out to the boat a couple days ago. He gave us a quote of about $250 and told us the work would take his crew two days. We tried to explain to him that we just wanted the cracks fixed, nothing more. But he seemed intent on rebuilding our entire davit system. We told him we’d think about it and then went straight to the phone to get another guy to come have a look. This guy came out, looked things over, and told us he’d have two of his guys out the next day, they would cost us 600 baht ($15 USD) an hour, and it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. That was more like it. And he also had a rivet puncher and rivets for us so we could fix the trampoline.
The guys were here bright and early and did an awesome job on the boat. Ali and I were really impressed by them which is something we certainly wouldn’t have ever said about our last couple of welders. They even went around and cleaned up the horrible job that the guy in Tonga did. With the welding done we went around and put the boat back together again. You can’t even tell that we were run over by a big boat a couple of weeks ago with how good everything is looking again. We also got the dinghy back. Not overly impressed with that job. There were two leaks but they only fixed the one big one. The other leak he decided that he didn’t want to mess with because it was on a seam and he was afraid he would only make it worse. So the dinghy situation has hardly improved at all. I guess I’ll have to be the one to try and fix the final leak after all. Anyway, we’ve managed to complete about 50 large and small projects over the last three days and are feeling pretty good about the boats condition again.
We did manage to get out of the marina for a few hours yesterday and go explore the island a bit. We rented a scooter, despite being given all sorts of grave warnings by the marina personnel. They made it sound as if your chances of living through a day on a scooter were about 1 in 20. But hey, at $4 a day for a 110cc scooter it was worth the risk. We drove down to Patong Beach which is at the southern end of the island (the island is about 25 miles top to bottom). For most of the drive we had to take, I guess, what they would call the freeway. This would have seemed pretty dangerous except that they have a dedicated scooter lane where everybody is tooling along at about 30 mph.
Patong Beach was pretty hard hit by the tsunami last year and there were signs of the rebuilding everywhere. In fact it seems like there is a big push on at the moment in order to get everything ready for the one year anniversary with last minute construction jobs going on everywhere. This area was a lot like Kuta in Bali. Tons of restaurants, hotels, and pirated DVDs. The beach itself was wall to wall umbrellas. It would actually be hard to get any sun there are so many umbrellas. But the beach was packed and it seems that business is good here in Thailand again. After stopping at a few bars and restaurants, and getting our first pizza in Thailand we started the drive back, this time sticking to the coast road as much as possible. We passed by a few more beaches, each one looking strikingly similar to the one before, and stopped at a little local market. Some of the food looked really good, while other stalls were selling some pretty funky looking delicacies. All in all a pretty nice little drive around the island.
december 25 2005 : bangkok, thailand
We flew out of Phuket the other day and headed for Bangkok. At the airport we realized that Macca’s and Burger King don’t serve breakfast here. But people were still lined up to eat Whopper’s and fries at 8 in the morning. As we were boarding the flight a whole group of Asian men in front of us held up the line while they cleared their throats to hawk up big mouthfuls of slime and spit in the garbage can next to the entrance door. If there is one thing that we would never ever get used to living in Asia it would be the spitting and burping. It is just a perfectly normal part of everyday life to bring up phlegm from the depths of their belly or to farmer blow snot on the sidewalk. Then there is also those big burps to exclaim what a good meal they’ve just had. So after Ali hawked up a giant lugie and I let out an incredibly loud burp we were finally ready to fly.
Our first experience in Bangkok was with the most insane cab driver in the world. This guy was nuts. We were flying down the busy highway at up to 95 mph in a beat up old Nissan with no seat belts. Once we finally reached a traffic jam that was thick enough for us to actually have to slow down the cabbie turned around to us and said, “Ahh, very good driving huh? Very fast.” Ali took that opportunity to try and explain to him that we were on holiday and really weren’t in that big of a hurry. After that he kept it under 90 the rest of the way. Bangkok looked great though; the traffic, the street vendors, the tuk-tuks. It was exactly what we had envisioned.
We didn’t have any rooms booked for our stay and at the first hotel we found that we could only stay one night. So we checked in and set out to wander around town and find a place to stay for the next couple of nights. Our hotel was only a block away from Khao San Road, which is one of the most famous streets in the world of travelers. It is packed solid with little bars and street stalls selling all sorts of food, clothes, and CDs. We spent the afternoon wandering around eating and just taking in the sights.
That night we went to Lumpai stadium to see the Muay Thai boxing matches. The place was packed, and probably held about 3000 people. We had ringside seats and were close enough to the action to hopefully have a little blood and sweat splatter on us. In Muay Thai boxing the matches are 5 rounds of three minutes each and there were about ten fights that night. The first few fights were really good. Guys were getting beat up pretty good and the blood was pouring. As we got closer to the main event though, things got a little less violent. It seemed like the more experienced the fighter the better they were at defending themselves. In Muay Thai boxing there doesn’t seem to be many things they can’t do. One of their favorite moves is to grab the other guy around the back of the neck and try to yank their head down into their knee. The crowd seemed to really like the knee to the ribs move too. The best part of the fights though was the crowd. They were rowdy and were gambling just like in the movies. Yelling and waving hand signals to indicate the odds that they were giving and the size of the bets. There was no actual money exchanging hands though, so I assume that gambling is officially against the law, and that they just keep track and settle up later. I won 10,000 baht on paper.
Yesterday we went for a walk to see the Grand Palace. As we were walking along we must have looked pretty confused at one weird intersection when a local walking past stopped and pointed us in the right direction without us even asking. He then walked along with us for half a block and we started to wonder what he really wanted. But then he said goodbye and walked off. It’s hard sometimes to let your guard down when you are traveling. You start to assume that everybody has an ulterior motive. But then a local does something nice for you and doesn’t expect anything in return. Farther down the road we were walking down the sidewalk near a park when a couple of ladies approached us with bags of corn to feed the pigeons. We didn’t want any and tried to say no thank you as we walked past. But they started shoving them in Ali’s bag and balancing them on my shoulder. They were crazy. They wouldn’t take the bags and started demanding money so eventually we just set them on the ground and walked away.
A little farther along we were stopped by another guy. He told us he was a student at the university, which was right across the street. We’ve heard the line about being a student and wanting to practice English before and it usually comes right before they try to take advantage of you in some way, so we were on guard with this guy right away too. But he spoke perfect English and was really nice. He told us the Grand Palace was closed to tourists because it was Christmas Eve and the King of Thailand would be visiting the Palace that evening. Apparently the King no longer lives in the Grand Palace.
He then proceeded to take our map and circle a bunch of different temples and tourist attractions we should see. He then explained to us how there are two different kinds of tuk-tuks in Bangkok. One kind has yellow license plates and are more expensive because they are privately owned and the drivers have to pay for both gas and the use of the tuk-tuk. Then there are the white license plates which means that it is a government owned tuk-tuk. What that means is that the drivers only cost is gas. He then flagged down a passing white tuk-tuk and explained to the driver that we wanted to go here, here and here and would pay 30 baht (about 75 cents) when we got to the last stop. Then as we were leaving he said, “When I am a tourist in your country hopefully someone will be able to help me out too.”
Our tuk-tuk driver drove us around and we saw a giant standing Buddha, and a huge sitting Buddha that was over 700 years old. The temples are all right in the middle of the busy city which is a strange contrast. We always feel a little weird visiting temples though. We feel like we are intruding on the locals religious beliefs. It’s not like we can understand or have the same feelings toward seeing a Buddha as the Buddhists do. So while they are worshiping we’re just admiring the scenery. I don’t know, it just feels strange. So after a couple of big Buddha’s we decided that was enough. At one stop we met a Thai guy who was home from London. We got to talking and he asked us how much we had paid for our tuk-tuk. We told him 30 baht and he was very impressed. But we had to come clean and tell him that another local had explained the whole tuk-tuk thing to us.
By now it was late afternoon on Christmas Eve and we headed back to Khao San road to get our Christmas presents at Pumpkin Tattoo Studio. We decided that this trip had become a big enough part of our lives that it was time to immortalize it with bumfuzzle tats. We each wrote bumfuzzle on the others arm and sat down in the chair to brand ourselves for life.
Back out on Khao San we pulled up a street side table at a little bar to enjoy the holiday atmosphere. The hawkers were in full swing trying to sell oversize lighters, cheap jewelry, and little toys. There were Christmas decorations, Christmas music, and even a Thai Santa who had trouble keeping his pants up because his belt was so big.
december 26 2005 : bangkok
The Boxing Day Tsunami was one year ago today. Easily the most devastating disaster we’ve ever seen in our lives. There were a lot of commemoration ceremonies around Asia today showing how amazingly resilient the people here are. When the tsunami first struck last year we were warned by a lot of people to change our route because this area would be destroyed and full of disease. None of that has turned out to be true though and Thailand especially seems to be thriving.
On Christmas Day we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the biggest market in SE Asia. To get there we decided to test out our new tuk-tuk bargaining skills. We waited outside our hotel until we finally saw a tuk-tuk with a white license plate come by. I told him where we wanted to go and he said it would cost 200 baht. I said I would pay 40, figuring the guy yesterday spent a couple hours with us for only 30 baht and this was just a one way drop off. But he refused and came down to 150. I told him no thank you and turned away. Then he said okay but we would have to make one stop. Tuk-tuk drivers are renowned for bringing tourists to stores that they don’t want to go to in order to receive a commission from the store owner. We told him we didn’t want to stop anywhere else and would pay him 50 baht. Then he said he would take us for just 20 baht but we had to make the stop and spend just 10 minutes shopping. We said no stops and he finally gave up and drove off. Those commissions they get must be pretty big to offer a ride for just 20 baht. So by now we were getting frustrated and just stopped a cab and told him where we wanted to go. He didn’t want to go there and sped off without even quoting a price.
About this time a local came up and asked us where we wanted to go. We told him the market and he said we should just take the bus. He pointed out the bus stop right next door and said take the #3 bus right to the market for just 6 baht (about 15 cents). We can’t believe how friendly the locals here have been. Ten minutes later we were on the bus. Bus drivers here are sort of funny. If we saw one of them walking down the street we would think they were a general in the Thai Air Force. They wear these white uniforms with fancy shoulder flaps and a row of colorful medals over one pocket. We joked about that until we realized just how bad the traffic conditions that they have to drive in are. So maybe they really are that important. The market was huge and sold pretty much anything you could imagine. There were areas for clothes, for food, for furniture, etc.. It was packed with thousands of people and a good mix of locals and tourists. We wandered around there for a while before heading back towards the hotel to just wander the streets again for a few hours.
You really don’t even need to go to markets in Bangkok because all of the streets are like a market already. It’s ridiculous how many different things can be purchased out on the streets. You can eat super cheap at any of the little food stalls. The most popular seem to be the pad thai and the spring rolls. A big scoop of pad thai and a spring roll cost about 25 cents. Somehow our steel lined stomachs continue to hold up well though. Then late last night we made our phone calls home to talk to our families on Christmas. That is always a bit of a project thanks to the 13 hour time difference and the lack of good pay phones. But eventually we figured it all out and got hold of everybody back home.
december 28 2005 : bangkok
For our last day in Bangkok we decided to spoil ourselves. It may have been a mistake because we never wanted to leave. We booked a room online for the Shangri-la Hotel, the second fanciest hotel in Bangkok. The Oriental is first but you can’t wear flip-flops in their lobby which completely ruled us out. When we arrived at the hotel and went to check-in we were informed that we had a private lobby on the 24th floor in the Horizon Club. So we went up there and sat around having drinks and a snack while our paperwork was handled and our bag was delivered to the room. Then when the girl came back over to us she informed us that she was sorry that there was no rooms with a balcony as we had requested but would it be okay if she upgraded us to a suite? Ummm, yes, we think that should be just fine.
The room was as big as our Chicago condo, minus the kitchen and had the best view of Bangkok in the city. In the afternoon the sun sort of peeked out through the haze and we laid out at the pool for a while before hurrying back to our room to enjoy a room service dinner. The next morning our two masseuse arrived and gave us a nice Thai massage. By now Ali was swearing that she wasn’t going back to the boat and I was calculating just how long we could afford to live in this room. But in the end we caught the plane and flew back to Bum.
Today we’ve really got nothing to do for the first time in weeks it seems. Family arrives tomorrow.
december 30 2005 : phuket, thailand
Well somehow we got completely screwed up as to when my mom and brother were arriving. About an hour before we were going to leave for the airport it dawned on us that there was no way that they could be there that day. So we called up their hotel and found out they weren’t arriving until the 31st, not the 29th. So no visitors and no Christmas presents yet.
The last couple of days we’ve been driving around to the marine stores trying to track down a good deal on bottom paint. The bottom doesn’t really need a paint job yet, but we figured this would be the easiest place to do it for a while. Not to mention we could hire four guys to do it for us during two low tides on the beach and it would only cost us $50 in labor. Problem with that plan it turns out is that antifoul is outrageously expensive here. It’s expensive everywhere actually but here we are finding a half gallon cost about $120 and we would need at least 3 gallons. So that plan is out the window. Guess we might as well get our money’s worth out of our New Zealand bottom paint job.
As we were walking around the Patong Beach area yesterday we stopped at one of the street shops to have a look at some DVDs. The stand was at the entrance to a tailor’s shop and the owner asked us to follow him to his movie store. We followed him through his shop and then he opened up the door at the back which led to a darkened dirt floor building with nobody around. My Spidey sense kicked in to overdrive and Ali’s hand tightened on mine, but being so much bigger than the Thai people makes me feel invincible, so we followed him through the dark to another door. He unlocked the door and opened it and it looked like we had just walked into a Blockbuster Video store. The walls were lined with racks of movies separated into new releases, mysteries, romance, etc. etc.. We asked him if he had one particular movie and he said he would be right back. He locked us in the room which was a little creepy, but two minutes later he was back with the movie. So after stocking up on the 2005 greatest hits we slinked back out onto the street with our contraband and mingled back in with the crowds.
Today we drove down to Phuket Town to have a look around. We had been expecting a super touristy town, but actually found it was the least touristy of anywhere else we’ve been on the island. I guess since it isn’t right on a beautiful beach and full of hotels there isn’t much demand for tuk-tuks and Starbucks. We walked around a bit, had lunch, and then drove up Phuket Hill, which has some beautiful views overlooking the entire island. But best of all it has monkey’s all over the place. They must be fed by somebody every day because as we drove up the hill there were groups of them every hundred meters or so just lounging around and gorging themselves on an abundance of fresh fruit. There were also plenty of dogs and a few goats. A regular zoo up on Phuket Hill.
Back at the marina we stopped in and picked up our laundry. We opened it up and found that about half of our wardrobe had been ruined. Everything was pink. The whites were pink with dark red splotches all over them, and all the colors were ruined with red streaks as well. The amazing thing was that they just ironed everything, packed it in bags and charged us for it. We have grown used to losing on average about one item every two to three times we have our laundry done. They don’t have nice washers and dryers so what can you really expect? But this is brutal. And what can we even do about it? It’s not like they are going to be able to reimburse us hundreds of dollars to replace our clothes. So it is just another entry in the loss column for us I guess.