Monday, November 30, 2015

Ko Rok - 06° 19' 26" N 99° 50' 59" E

A week of sailing takes its toll
After breakfast, some last minute provisioning and some work on the alternator to ensure charged batteries, we headed back to the RLYC, checked out of Malaysia and sailed north to Ko Rok. The return crew is Craig, Richard, Lisa, Bruce and ourselves. Beautiful sparkling weather called for the mandatory swim off the boat as soon as we cleared the harbour. We hoisted the heady in a light breeze and took turns in snoozing in the various shady patches on the deck.

fatigue ran rampant
Around 6pm, a storm descended. The wind increased to 20 knots, whipping the sparkling sea into white caps and the rain pelted down. We went to hourly watches to save us all getting wet and bounced through the twilight and early evening. The wind had picked up to a brisk 30 knots so we were relieved to pull into the shelter of Ko Rok, wet, tired and hungry around 10pm.  Five hours of the bow of the boat smacking down onto the water off three metre-high waves, randomly flinging salty spray at those in the cockpit had worn us out.

A scrounged meal of toast, 2-minute noodles and left over chicken washed down with beer was managed before we all collapsed into our berths and tried to sleep in muggy, hot tropical night air.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Langkawi - 06° 18' 17" N 99° 50' 49" E

The first race was a passage race, meaning that it takes place between two ports. We are one of five boats in our class (based on size). The race director was on a 20 metre-long police boat at the start and was giving five minute, one minute and start countdowns on the VHF radio. We were across the line for the first race exactly as we wanted, and we were then off to Penang. As we had the wind coming from behind, all the boats had their biggest sails (their spinnakers) up – what a spectacular sight!

Some of the other boats in our class had gone to great lengths to lighten their boats – removing anchors and chain, personal items, seat cushions, etc. – which we chose not to do. Light boats go faster in light winds, but they can get tossed around if there are strong winds.  The lighter boats began to pull away from us in what seemed to me like slow motion. The top speed of our boat under sail varies from 4 to 13 knots (7 – 21 km/h) depending on winds, but the 72 nautical mile distance we would be traveling would mean that we would be 9 – 12 hours before we arrived. Much fuss about trimming, or getting the most from the sails, was taking place on board, too. 0.1 knots makes a big difference over that distance. Everyone had an area that they worked most of the time (foredeck, helm, sail trim, ‘strings’, navigation, skipper) but we would jump in to help at another station if someone sang out for help. There always seemed to be adjusting that needed to happen for the whole twelve hours of the race. We arrived in Penang at almost 2 am after a long, slow passage with very little wind. We had finished fifth out of five – very disappointing.

Been here, fixed this.
Our next race was a short course race, or ‘around the cans’. Bouys are placed roughly two nautical miles apart and the boats all do two laps around them. As our crew got to know each other and the boat, we inched up in the overall rankings. We had two second place finishes, a third and a first place. We ended up finishing second overall. My comfort with the raising/lowering/trimming of sails has jumped leaps and bounds. I’ve also had a good crawl around Craig’s boat and helped him fix a number of engine, electrical, rigging and steering issues. I can see that the problem solving aspect is going to be something that I will love about ownership.

It gets crowded below during races
Living aboard during the race has been an eyeopener, too. Everyone got along famously, although when we were racing those with extensive sailing experience sometimes had differing opinions on sail trimming. The Beneteau we are on was meant to accommodate four couples (in double beds) and a quarter berth for a single person. We had as many as ELEVEN on board and we were the only couple. A few of the crew were sleeping on sailbags and some in the cockpit on cushions. The galley, companionway and cockpit were always heavy traffic areas. There were bags and gear everywhere. As Kate and I were on the boat early, we snagged our own aft berth and set up shop there – just the two of us. It became a common changeroom and we sometimes had to evict people out of the bed, but it was convenient to have a single place for our stuff.

Now, the race is finished. We will be sailing up to Phuket with a much smaller subset of the crew (just us, another couple and two others), with plans to stop at some nice anchorages and coves along the way.

Dinner onshore!
Dale and Martin attend to the rigging
The cockpit gets busy
First night race dinner
Kate 'on the strings'
Quarter berth
Out in front!
Look at all the boats behind us!

Did I mention it is ALWAYS hot here?
Popeye's crew
Our winnings

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pulau Pankor - 04° 13' 02" N 100° 35' 16" E

Race 1 was a passage race from Port Klang to Pangkor. We were pleased to leave the rubbish infested Klang River and start racing. We had a great start but the dodgy steering played up and we lost steering just after the start in front of tanker.  Now well versed with the steering gear, it was promptly fixed and we were off again.  
In the dark, within a few nautical miles of the finish, the steering failed again.  We did manage to finish and motored to the anchorage in the rain.  

We awoke to a beautiful morning and found ourselves anchored in a stunning, blue, sparkling bay.  It was a slow morning after the late finish, swimming, having breakfast, swimming.  We then headed around to the other side of the island to the marina near our hotel.  Our girl is a little leggy, pulling up at 2.8m draft, so we were unable to enter the marina and anchored off the entrance. 
We checked into our hotel, showered and changed and all met again to catch the ferry back across  to the island and the resort that was hosting the RSRMIR party.

Pangkor Island - we'll be back!
Once off the ferry, we all jammed into a pink taxi minibus and, with a stop for beer, head across the island. The setting was gorgeous as we watched the sunset.  No prizes for us this time...

Sunset at Pangkor

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Port Klang - 03° 00' 00" N 101° 24' 00" E

Entering Port Klang in the morning fog
Four days ago we left Langkawi and started towards Klang.  As the mechanical issues had eaten into our slack time, we needed to get to the yacht club where we were meeting the others, so we made way under motor and travel through the night.  I’m glad that I had night sailing experience, because otherwise, I might have been terrified.  

One’s depth perception doesn’t work when all you have to focus on is a tiny spot of light.  There are different colours of lights, different configurations, different rates of blinking, different numbers of flashes and each should mean something.  Mariners have worked out and agreed upon a system of how lights look to others to make traveling at night to be less harrowing – unless you are a subsistence fisherman in Malaysia or Thailand.  These guys just figure a few red blinking lights (think: bicycle warning lights) is enough to be seen, so hanging a few off the rigging will do the trick.  We became good at spotting them, even through a few drizzly rain showers.  

The amount of flotsam in the water began to increase too.  Coming into the port of Klang involves coming down a channel that could be busy – there was a bulk mineral port there.  We managed to navigate past the 50+ metre-long ships anchored and underway, then wiggle our way into the river mouth that led to the Royal Selangor Yacht Club.

The yacht club sounds much more glamorous then it was.  Craig, who had been to the yacht club before, described the port as ‘a shithole’ and I would be hard pressed to prove him wrong.  The buildings of the yacht club were quite lovely and grand.  It was the surroundings that took our breath away.

horrible amounts of trash in Port Klang
The locals are in the habit of dumping their garbage into the river (no exaggeration – we saw dump trucks across the river doing it at low tide) and hoping the current and the tide would take it away.  It tended to just slosh it up and down the river for a few days before finally taking it out to the strait.  The floating stuff came down past our boat for most of the time we were there.  It was a shame to see this, all washing out to slowly decompose.  The plastic bottles and Styrofoam were the most disheartening to see.  I was going to be very happy to get out of there.  We tied up the boat at the dock and headed for the hotel and whatever cold beer we could find at the restaurant.  Once we were there the race crew – Richard, Geoff, Henrick, Martin, Adam-and-Steve, Matt, Bruce and Lisa – trickled in, one by one.  They all seemed fun and easygoing.  Everyone was pumped to get on board and get racing!
Craig and Kate work on the rudder bearings
Before we could, there was more setup to do, and this was just the bunch to get everything done.  Sheets were re-run, sails inspected, systems set up and more provisions bought and stowed.  A day later, we were ready for race start. 

At 1:25 pm on November 21, my racing career began.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Kuah, Pulau Langkawi - 06° 18' 17" N 99° 50' 49" E

We arrived on beautiful Pulau Langkawi where we were required to clear both boat and crew into Malaysia.  Since last Friday, we had been 'illegal aliens' in Thailand! The process to check into Malaysia is:
  1. Immigration (to clear the crew)
  2. Harbour Master (to clear the boat)
  3. Customs (to ensure nothing naughty is carried)

Unlike in Krabi, these three are located in the same building in the ferry terminal in Kuah. Straight forward, one would think. But no, this is Asia afterall!

We established that we needed to follow the outbound ferry passengers towards the ferry. Just before we hit customs, several immigration officers were standing behind a barricade. They moved this to allow us to enter once it was established we were off a boat. Several forms and chop, chop, stamp, stamp later, we are now legal! The next step was a little trickier. Go out, turn left and up the stairs were the instructions. No mention of having to squeeze through a gap in the barrier onto the inward passenger side. So we didn't. Out, left, up the stairs led us to a deserted bowling alley. Further inquiries lead us back to immigration and again, out, left and up the stairs.

Finally, in desperation, we squeezed through the gap, turned left, up the stairs and low and behold, the Harbour Masters Office.  Customs was as simple as handing the previous port documents to the chap sitting at the x-ray machine. Disappointingly, not even a stamp to be had.

So for those entering Malaysia by boat through Kuah on Langkawi, I have drawn a map which will be added soon....

 And while we were on wifi, Landlord Sean banked the rent cheques!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Koh Phi Phi Don - 07° 43’ 34” N 98° 46’ 20” E

Shake-down sails are just that – a test of all systems to find out the problems before a race.  A few hours after we motored out of Krabi marina, we decided to bring up the brand-new headsail (the headie) and see how it looked.  As sheets were pulled and , a terrible rrrriiiipppp-ing sound came back from the front of the boat.  The track the sail travels up had jammed, the sail filled with wind and headie had torn all the way along the leading edge!

Storm clouds in the distance
Suddenly, we had repairs to make and a situation.  A VERY ominous-looking cloud and rain squall had been developing behind us, but we hadn’t been too concerned because we expected to sail away from it. As well, we needed to get underway as we really shouldn’t take our illegal alien selves back to Krabi Marina to get another headsail.  Craig was able to negotiate the marina staff jumping in their runabout and meeting us halfway.  Cam volunteered to be hoisted up the mast to check the track for the headsail, hoping the whole time that the squall behind us didn’t develop into a thunderstorm.  Being up a twenty-seven metre metal pole when there is lightning about isn’t a situation you want to be in.  

All went smoothly though: thanks to Craig’s negotiating skills, three workers from the boatyard came in a runabout and brought us a fresh headie in the pattering rain; Cam cleared the headie track without getting electrocuted and we outran the storm and made it to a busy anchorage offshore of Ko Phi Phi Don by 10 pm.  We all went ashore, happy to have completed the first leg of the journey, roughly on schedule.  We treated ourselves to a marvelous and inexpensive curry dinner and beer, then set off behind Cam who insisted he knew of a great local hotspot called The Reggae Bar that would be completely devoid of reggae music but that featured Thai boxing. 

The island vibe, even at 11 pm, was very ‘backpacker’.  Scores of tiny, little two-metre-wide souvenir shops, thump-thump discos, bars and full-with-a-waiting-line tattoo parlours lined the path Cam took us down.  Finally, there we were, watching drunken tourists climb into the ring to be fitted with headgear, gloves and leg padding.  They then tried to knock each other more senseless, Thai boxing style, in order to get a fake gold medal and a free bucket of drinks.  Young, scantily-clad twenty-something temporary runaways from western civilization sat with their new body art and cold Singhas, watching the world go by.

Time for us oldies to head for our bunks!

Cameron up the mast
Sun above us
The 'bucket' is full of a mixed drink
Sean happily at the helm

Friday, November 13, 2015

Krabi Boat Lagoon - 08° 00' 37" N 98° 57' 41" E

Today, we head out on our big adventure.  We are not too worried about pirates, fishnets or submerged containers sinking the boat nor are we that concerned about the chances of being thrown into either a Thai or Malaysian prison.  We carried a bag into Thailand for Craig that we did not pack ourselves, saving him a fortune in excess baggage. Despite him calling me Schapelle, we made it through so no Thai jail for us!  

As we are taking the boat from Thailand into Malaysia, we had to get clearance to do so.  This involved most of the day on Thursday running between Immigration, to clear the crew, Harbour Master, to clear Popeye and Customs with huge amounts of paperwork.  We circled Krabi many times, getting lost on several occasions, as these authorities are not located in one handy location but scattered around the town.  Bu eventually, Craig had signed at least 40 documents, we had stamps in all the right places and the boat and crew were cleared to leave Thailand.  Asian administration at its finest.

As Popeye has undergone a major refit, we had to get everything back on from sails to seat cushions.  She also needed to be taken out for a sea trial to make sure everything works, instruments are calibrated etc. We had a time crunch so I headed off alone to do the shopping for the provisioning whilst the others worked on the boat.  So after driving into Krabi (and managing not to get lost, hit a motor bike, run over a goat or fall into a pothole), winding my way around and around the massive supermarkets of Big C and Tesco, trying to figure out what was what by the pictures, filling trolley after trolley and ferrying things back to the car, and even more remarkably, finding my way back to the boat harbour, I drive in to find Popeye on the hard!  Not what one expects when we are setting sail the next day.

A problem with the steering had been discovered and Craig used all his negotiating skill to get Popeye out of the water.  A couple of other items where found once she was out so all hands on deck (or under the deck, up the mast, under the hull and in the wiggle space above the steering).  All went well and she is due back in the water this morning and our departure from the harbour (and thus Thailand) by noon is on schedule.

Then we are looking forward to a fabulous time cruising and racing in gorgeous tropical waters. We are heading south slowly exploring the area.  This is where the James Bond movie 'Man with the Golden Gun' was filmed.  We will stop at Ko Phi Phi for swimming and Langkawi for immigration into Malaysia before running sound to Port Klang in Kuala Lumpur. 

We are racing The Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta ( on a Class 3 yacht called SY Popeye - the SY stands for sailing yacht. We have an MMSI number  - 503025310 - which you can enter into and track us! We are not coming up just at the moment but this is being worked on so keep trying if you cannot find us at first.

In the minivan, negotiating Thai bureaucracy

Mainsail heads for the boat

Provisions! Hooray!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dee Why Beach - 33° 45' 19" S 151° 17' 37" E

We are about to embark on an adventure.

Craig, a buddy of Kate's from way back, lives in Sydney.  He likes to sail and the boats he likes to sail are difficult to manage single-handed.  Daysailing is OK, but he really loves to do longer outings.  Multi-week outings.  Earlier this year, Craig broadcast to all his mates that he had a very nice boat in Thailand and wanted to do a yacht race in Malaysia and was there anyone that could spare a month to do the race with him?  Not everyone has the flexibility that Craig's life affords, or is able to negotiate with spouses, partners, employers, children, educational institutions and other obligations to arrange to be away for these lengths of time.  We, however, have a flexible schedule and we are very susceptible to suggestions.

"Sign us up," we said.  That was March of this year. 
Two days from now, we are flying to Krabi (where the boat is).  We are going to do some checking out of the refitting that has been done to it, then provision with food, then sail it 450 nautical miles to Langkawi, Malaysia, pick up a few more of the crew, sail a bit further to Port Klang (near Kuala Lumpur), take part in the Raja Muda race, drop off the race crew back in Langkawi then return the boat to its home port in Krabi.  Delivery/return crew of five, race crew of ten.  We leave November 11th and return December 3rd.  Now, this should be an adventure!

We left Melbourne two days ago.  Our first stop on the way to Phuket is in Dee Why, a suburb north of Sydney, with our wonderful friend, Amanda.  Amanda has set herself up in this heavenly part of the world in a chic, comfortable apartment that is blocks from a few-kilometer-long, golden-sand Nirvana.  A surf lifesaving club and a swim club exist along the beach, the latter with a natural-filling, natural-cleaning salt water 50 metre lap pool and kiddie splash pool.  The main road that runs along the beach hosts cafés, surf shops, formal restaurants and other little shops.  Although many in the neighborhood have jobs that don't involve wearing swimsuits, you will see many come for their morning splash before catching the bus to work.  Tourists somehow make their way here from the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, flippers and surfboards tucked under arms, ready to enjoy the gentle waves here.  We have landed in Amanda's guest room and are catching up with her until we fly out on Wednesday.

Until then, we are hiking along the headlands between Dee Why, Curl Curl and Freshwater beaches, exploring the neighborhood and titillating Amanda with our company.  Isn't she lucky?

Dee Why sunrise
Obligatory Sydney Harbour photo, from the Manly Ferry
Gentle waves at Dee Why Beach
Salt Water Pool at Dee Why
Tidal pools along Dee Why headlands
Freshwater Beach