Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Windlass Woes

As eluded to in the previous story, our time at Koh Lipe was not quite the start to our Thailand adventure that we had hoped. With the tropical low passing through a new threat lurked in our midst, the windlass (winch that pulls up the anchor) was on the blink. As we attempted to leave Koh Lipe in search of calmer waters, the windlass failed to work. After much head scratching, 'turning it off and back on again' and concerned looks between us, Hugh pulled the anchor chain up by hand. At a weight of 2.3kgs per meter of chain and 30kg of anchor at the end, Hugh pulled up 40m of chain and the anchor in 8m of water depth (some 110kgs!). An impressive feat indeed. We relocated the boat to a mooring just a few hundred meters away to have a closer look at the windlass. Upon looking at the windlass, reading the manual and checking the electrical load, the windlass was operating fine in 16m of depth. It was puzzling indeed.

We took the boat one nautical mile north on the western side of Koh Adang, a spectacular secluded spot on the side of a national park island. Gorgeous golden sand and aqua water atop a reef splayed out in front of us, this was more like what we had envisaged. We picked up a mooring and enjoyed the picturesque scenery and swam to shore. Not yet sure how long our trip to Thailand would be, we were desperate to make the most of it. Testing the windlass again while on the mooring was a success, but doubting the functioning of the 20 year old out of production winch was haunting us.

Koh Rok Nai
The following day we sailed 40nm north to our favourite spot, Koh Rok Nai. Two national park islands (Koh Rok Nok and Koh Rok Nai) nestled together with a protected lagoon conveniently located for yachts. We picked up a mooring again and enjoyed the trip to shore, where we learned that Koh Rok Nai was the location for one of the French 'Survivor' TV series and has been living off that strange fame ever since. Thankfully due to its rather remote location at the southern end of the Andaman Sea Thai island group, it is rarely visited by the local tour operators and it was very tranquil.

After one anchoring success and picking up two more moorings, we found ourselves in one of the most visited parts of Thailand - the Phi Phi Island group. We anchored in 13m next to the boat super highway, with speed boats and longtail boats zooming past all day. It wasn't until we planned to leave the next morning that the windlass decided to give up on us and Hugh was once again on the bow pulling in 55m of chain. I went up on the bow to try and help, but after one failed whimpy attempt, I went back to my post at the wheel and Hugh continued. Once Hugh got the anchor up (to the applause of the cocktail sipping meerkats looking on from nearby boats) we made a beeline for the port town of Ao Chalong (Phuket) to work on the windlass. Trying to solve the problem of a discontinued essential piece of machinery on the boat was going to be quite the project, not one relished by us!

Dismantled windlass undergoing cleaning
It was Saturday night, scrubbing wheel cogs with diesel to remove grease atop our dining table was not what I had in mind for a fun night in. Trying to identify the issue, which seemed to be broken bearings was part one of the process. Imbibing in a sip of wine was at least a small consolation.
Sea Wolf Windlass, case opened

Part two came the next night, one quick name drop at the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club and Hugh had his contact - Mr Him, the Thai engineer who might just be able to divine some sort of solution for the windlass by machining the bearings. The week long process included many trips to Mr Him's workshop, one which saw Hugh driving a motorbike in crazy Phuket traffic with the windlass cradled between his knees, to deliver the critical carcass for further inspection. The other trips involved much sign language and looking for examples to break the language barrier.

5 days after first contact with Mr Him, we were gluing the windlass onto the deck, reconnecting the electrical system, undertaking final last checks and weighing anchor to sail off to Raileh Beach in search of that Thai paradise we were dreaming of. This was more like it! 
Raileh Beach picture perfect sunset, reward for labour

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tropical Low Pressure System - An Introduction to Thailand

The 25nm amble from Telaga Harbour (on the Malaysian border-island of Langkawi) to Koh Lipe (west coast of Thailand) was supposed to be a cake walk. Instead beam swell, 30kts of wind on the nose and pummelling rain attacked us halfway through the crossing and made for the start of a very unpleasant 48 hours.

The rain let up long enough for us to anchor in 16m on the north side of the island. This side was reasonably sheltered, however there was a lot of swell and the rain continued with much fervour throughout the night. After making dinner and having the obligatory 'new country' rum cocktail, I made my way promptly to bed as the rolling of the boat was higher than my low tolerance for sea sickness could manage. After a night of poor sleep, continuing sea sickness and the uncomfortable rolling of the boat, we decided to move the boat 300m east along the northern side of Koh Lipe, as the wind had changed direction, now coming more from the southwest. That we had waves breaking over the bow at anchor was also less than pleasant. A quick look behind the boat confirmed that we had to go, now being on a leeshore with breakers big enough to surf on just a short dive off the boat  encouraged us to way-anchor and relocate. We found out later that a boat had dragged its mooring onto the beach just a few hundred metres away.

That day we were prisoners on our boat, unable to go to shore due to the swell, strong current and beating rain. The boat was pitching and rolling, but it seemed better than the previous location. We stayed on the boat and hoped for it to pass. While the wind and rain let up in the afternoon, overnight at about 2am the heavens opened and dropped torrents of water, which had us up and scrambling to shut the few hatches that we had left open for circulating air. 

Sunday, finally the sun was out and we decided to make a move and head north. As we were ready to leave, the anchor windlass (winch that pulls up the anchor) failed to fire. Hee-man Hugh came to the rescue and pulled up 40m of chain and the anchor by hand! Super hero! We decided to pick up a mooring just a few hundred metres away while Hugh looked at it, we both loathed the idea of going back to Malaysia to do any work on it at this point. Some tinkering and testing showed that the windlass was working…now we just didn't trust it. 

We spent the next few days island hoping in glorious sunshine through Koh Adang and Koh Rok, isolated national park islands with golden sand and aqua water, only accessible by hiring a boat/ or boat chartering. Absolutely beautiful beaches, the stuff we had been dreaming of for the last month while plodding our way up the mirky and congested Malacca Strait. A wander around Koh Rok reminded us of the vulnerability of these islands to the elements, the 'tsunami escape route' consisted of a rope that was tied to trees up a hill. if things go bad, get up and get there quickly! 

Next stop was Koh Muk and Tham Morokot (the Emerald Cave). The Emerald Cave was something to behold, we picked up a mooring at 7am at the entrance to the cave and dived in the water, swimming to the entrance. Once inside we were entering a pitch black cavern, all we could hear was the roar and crash of the waves entering the cave, hitting the rock walls and bouncing out again. The noise shook me to my bones as I paddled through the cave. Deep breaths and clam thinking was required to get through this section. After a few hundred metres I could spot a glimmer of sunlight and my paddling pace increased as I splashed towards the light. Pushed out of the cave, the first thing I noticed was the brilliant greens, the green of the water reflecting off the trees, vines, shrubs and rocks surrounding it. The small sandy beach at the end of the cave network was an absolute wonder. The towering cliffs reach some 340m and are intermittently splayed with trees and shrubs. Lying on our backs we could see the sun above the circular opening left by the rocks above us. A dull blue with whisps of white cloud marked the early morning sky. We were truly lucky to be in such a place on our own. The cave was historically a place for pirates to hide their loot, an absolutely exquisite hideyhole! 

A short overnight stay at Koh Ha Yai at a fabulous snorkelling site on an isolated rock formation. We picked up a mooring next to one of the towering rocks and spent the afternoon leisurely snorkelling around and checking out the wonderful fish life.

Havoc wreaked by tropical low
Our last stop on our island hop enroute to Phuket took us to Koh Phi Phi Don, the jewel in the crown of Thailand tourist hot spots. Ironically a movie, 'The Beach', made about an isolated beach paradise in 1999 made tiny Phi Phi Lei next door a drawcard for hundreds of people each week. Upon our arrival we were shocked at the devastation that the tropical low 5 days earlier had wreaked on the island, with speed boats pushed up sandbanks and into trees, an entire concrete jetty washed into the sea and busted up boats everywhere. This hadn't reduced the tourist numbers on the island though, it was bustling. A bit to hectic a pace for us, we enjoyed climbing the big viewpoint, having internet and a beer on land, but headed off the next day.  

The vulnerability of these islands was shown to us on our first visit to this beautiful archipelago, that a weather system pushing 40-50kt winds and 3 metre swell could do damage to islands all the way up this coast was eye opening to the fragility of the area.

 View over Koh Phi Phi Don