Friday, 24 January 2014

How I Stopped Worrying and Learnt to Love Biocides

We are back in Malaysia, with the breathtaking beauty of white sandy beaches and clear water of the Thai west coast becoming a memory, we launched into some hard work for the start of our cruising year ahead. Such tasks included hauling the boat out of the water and having it propped up on the hard stand for 4 days while we sanded, scraped, scrubbed and washed the bottom ahead of a new painting of antifoul (this was to become my domain while Hugh wrestled with the more technical projects on the boat). We went shopping in Kuah town, hired a car and bought three tins of antifoul paint, sanding gear (including a new grinder and orbital sander, much to Hugh’s joy) and protection equipment required for the hull work. We had a short but fun two day reunion and catch up with our friends Bill on ‘Solstice’ and Jake and Jackie on ‘Hokulea’ as they were at the end of their time in Malaysia and heading to Thailand. Some goodbyes and ‘see you down the road’ and they were off to explore a new country.

15 tonnes of EJ suspended from the Rebak Island Marina travel lift
There is something unnerving about seeing your boat hauled into the air a foot off the solid concrete ground. The boat looms above you, reaching some 25m into the sky and being meticulously driven in an enormous travel lift cradled in a soft canvas sling. The guys who did the hauling work were very experienced and do this 8 times a day in the high season, so thankfully it all went smoothly. From the hauling, to the pressure wash, to our home propped up by stilts for 4 days, the travel lift was skilfully driven around the hard stand. With a ladder lent against our starboard side, we climbed up to view our new savannah. Sailing boats to the left, sailing boats to the right and then another line behind us. We were in a new anchorage, no wind, no shade and concrete below. It was certainly a different context for living aboard a boat!

Antifouling fun under the keel
While Hugh was problem solving the dripless seal on our prop shaft that had been giving us heartburn for 4 months, I got busy being the grunt. I donned my plastic jump suit with hood, gloves, eye goggles and nose mask, and started sanding the hull of the boat in 33C of blistering sunshine. There is nothing like getting to know the underside of your boat. Through the next 4 days, I got to know every nook and problem spot, every section that attracted barnacles and all those wonderful ones that did not. I was also resembling someone just emerging from a fire disaster with black biocide antifoul paint dust covering me from head to toe.

We got to know our neighbours – Trevor and Yolanda from New Zealand aboard ‘Wanderer’ who were giving their boat a birthday by repainting the entire hull and topsides and repairing some holes that they had in the hull. Also Drew aboard ‘Lara Pinta’ who had an incident with a coral bommie and his keel had come out the worse from that incident. We also met Michael on ‘Blitz’ who was a friendly bloke with an extremely extraverted 3 year old daughter who was tirelessly interested in EVERYTHING we were doing. Once again, meeting such friendly cruisers was a wonderful part of our adventure. Throughout the days of sweat, swearing and just plain disappointment, our neighbours became our brains trust with the dripless seal drama providing a shoulder to whinge on and handy lenders of tools.

We had to do a run into Kuah town, as we needed to pick up some more boat bits, because there is always something that you forgot when doing boat projects. Thankfully our friends Jack and Zdenka on ‘Kite’ wanted to go in as well. It is a bit of a mission from the Rebak Marina as we were on an island away from the main town. So we organised to get on the 8:45am ferry and made our way to Mr Dins’ car hire (the bloke that hires cars to the cruisers and must have a booming season because he is known in cruising circles as the car man). Today we managed to get a 40 Ringgit car ($13AUD) and we had learnt from our previous trip here that a 40 Ringgit car was a risk as there was always something about it that was dodgy (like not starting, not having widow wipers that work in torrential rain or not having doors that open). Today it turned out to be windows that wouldn’t open, the rear left hand door that was falling to pieces and the air conditioning that seemed to use the entire engines capacity to push out a modicum of cool air. Nevertheless, it went and we hooned around town running into hardware stores, engine part stores, supermarkets, the booze warehouse and the necessary lunch stop for an Indian feast at our favourite hawker market. 

Hugh using his diplomacy skills with some stubborn bolts
Back to the marina and Hugh continued his ongoing battle with some prop shaft bolts that needed some persuasion to undo, they came, but not before a snapping sound which had me convinced he had just broken the propellor shaft off.

So at the end of our haul out adventure we had a hard earned thirst, but more importantly a seal that did not leak, a newly painted hull and we were all set (fingers crossed) for some more blue water adventures. A goodbye to our hard stand neighbours with thanks and wishes of fair seas for them on their return to the water and we were making our way out of the marina lagoon.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Christmas on the Surin Islands

The Surin Island group consists of the northern Koh Surin Nua, its southern neighbour Koh Surin Tai and three rock formations – Koh Pachumba,  Koh Torinla and the northernmost Thai island – Koh Chi (just south of the Burmese border). The group is 55nm into the Andaman Sea northeast of Khao Lak, which is in the province of Phang Nga on the western side of Thailand.

The 14 hour, beam reach overnight sail from Khao Lak on 22 December was marked by the hundreds of timber fishing boats lighting up the horizon and filling our ears the humming of their engines. The moon was rising late and the night brought vivid phosphorecents as we carved our way through the water and shooting stars tracked across the dark canvas overhead. The 3 hour helming shifts were a particular struggle after day sailing our way for 6 weeks through the Malaysian and Thai islands in the Andaman Sea, getting up at 2am was rarely something that one looked forward to. I was explaining to my sister who had a toddler and an infant that Hugh and I shared the nighttime helm shifts like a crying needy baby, 3 hour watches punctuated at changeover time with grunts or small swaps of information before the other took the sleeping shift. The difference was usually that we got to our destination and could crash out for as long as we needed without any more wakeup calls, perhaps babies should come with anchors so we could put them to bed as easily as our EJ.

We rounded the southern end of Koh Surin Tai with the wind whipping up to 25kts and the sun spreading a pink hue across the grey dawn sky. We turned into the sheltered bay on the western side of Surin Nua amazed by the clear water and aqua coloured reef at the base of jungle covered hummocks. Arriving at 8am we picked a national park mooring and promptly went to bed.

View of the aqua water surrounding the Surin Islands
After a sleep and some breaky, we headed out. Snorkelling on the eastern side of Surin Nua island was absolutely magnificent, with abundant tropic fish life and some interesting coral spread all throughout the bay. We enjoyed 2 hours on that first day exploring the fascinating aquatic delights of the reef, spotting clown fish, sweet lips, moray eels, clams and listening to the crunching sounds of the parrot fish munching on the coral heads.

A refreshing 15kt wind kept the 38C heat of the day pleasant, providing us with a clear blue sky as a backdrop to the luscious green jungle tumbling down the hills. The glittering diamonds of sunshine on the water made the spot all the more idyllic.

On a trip ashore to the National Park office, we investigated the simple but tasteful onshore tent and small bungalow accommodation, restaurant and information centre managed by the National Parks. This was the best managed National Park we had visited on the southern or western side of the Thai peninsula. We had seen a lot of Thai tourism which for us really detracted from the beauty of the spectacular scenery and removed any feeling of visiting unexplored lands. Being on a yacht really spoilt you for seeking out remote and quiet places, we had developed quite an aversion to busy tourist spots. However this location was just exquisite, with few commercial tourist operators and a relaxed atmosphere on the islands made for a fabulous Christmas getaway.

Presents that had been meticulously
placed in our boat, two of which had
travelled with us from Sydney
On Christmas Eve after a busy day of snorkelling and bush bashing we set up our tree, a pineapple with a yellow duckie as the angel. We placed our presents under the tree, our wonderful friend Krissy and Hugh’s sister had given us presents for the occasion, so very thoughtful. We watched the bright red orb of a sun set over the ocean and toasted our blessings with rum cocktails.

Christmas day was a glorious day with bursting sunshine. We woke to toast and present unwrapping. Some second hand books, DVDs and a lovely shawl had been sitting anxiously in our boat hideholes waiting for their big day! Excellent presents and ones that we wasted no time enjoying!

We had meticulous planned a trip to the Khao Lak markets 4 days ago to pick up a fresh piece of pork, which with Hugh’s hilarious hand gesturing with the lady at the market, we learnt was from the rump of the pork. After food preparation for our roast lunch, we set off on a snorkelling adventure on the Koh Pachumba reef where we enjoyed the playful antics of the clown fish and some sneaky moray eels. I wish I was a fish so that I could spend all day watching clown fish they are so great to watch, dancing in soft coral and wagging their fins when you come near.

Christmas feast fit for a king (or captain!)
After a protracted cooking period with our slow oven, we tucked into our roast pork, potatoes, onions and carrots with crackle, Yorkshire puddings and lashings of fatty gravy! Excellent lunch was had as we cracked open our last bottle of Australian Shiraz we had saved for a special occasion.

The only other sailing boat in our lagoon was owned by Dick and Anita, fellow cruisers on ‘Kind of Blue’ who had spent 8 years sailing around the world from the Netherlands. We had Christmas night sundowners and a light dinner ashore at the restaurant together, which was lovely.  They were wonderful company and had also sailed the locations that we would be embarking on in 2014, so it was great to get some advice and information on the anchorages. We picked up two t-shirts at the tourist counter and that was that, a superb Christmas in a breathtaking location, consolation for being far from home and family. Just us the fish, and some new friends.