Posted by: Elaine and Bob | October 14, 2014

Coming Soon … Summer Sun

Our sailing exploits on Lady Ann III, Nightingale and Damahwil are still to come – but where were we?

Lady Ann III

Lady Ann III

Nightingale (2nd from left on pontoon)

Nightingale (2nd from left on pontoon)

Damahwil

Damahwil

Answers soon!

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | July 31, 2014

And so to bed …

After our successful visa run to Kuala Lumpur and completion of refit work at Yacht Haven, extensively described in Refit at Yacht Haven, Phuket and A Grand Day Out we left Phuket and spent two perfect days sailing to Krabi by way of the Koh Dam Group.  Unlike the previous time we stopped here we found a quiet anchorage, away from longtail and speedboat traffic still bringing tourists on day trips to sandy beaches outside the high season.

Koh Dam - anchorage almost to ourselves!

Koh Dam – anchorage almost to ourselves! 

The passage from the Koh Dam Group to Krabi takes a couple of hours, and must be timed so that arrival is at high water, preferably towards spring tides.  The passage up the river to the marina is relatively easy with the waypoints supplied by Krabi Boat Lagoon, but care must be taken…

Still in river,  steered 90 deg to starboard to negotiate channel!

Still in river, steered 90 deg to starboard to negotiate narrow channel!

The entrance to the marina through the mangroves is narrow, but on the approach we spotted this monitor lizard!

A monitor lizard greets us  at the marina entrance!

A monitor lizard greets us at the marina entrance!

The climate in Thailand is so harsh at this time of year that covering Pipistrelle with tarpaulins to protect from the UV rays from the sun, and daily rain we understand in August and September, made a lot of sense.  We also bought and installed a window aircon unit that is sitting on the saloon deck, timed to come on twice a day, and keep the humidity under control.   Added to these precautions we installed “roach hotels” and ant poison, to eradicate these insects, which are prolific.  Thus Pipistrelle has been thoroughly ‘winterised’ while we spend a few months in Europe.

Krabi Boat Lagoon has air conditioned apartments in the marina complex for rent, which made life far more comfortable than living on board.  The humidity in this season is thoroughly unpleasant!

Under cover!

Under cover!

Second hand aircon unit in place and operational

Second hand aircon unit in place and operational

We were delighted to find that two geckos had climbed on board at some point, probably while we were in Yacht Haven.  Geckos live off insects, and whilst not frequent visitors on yachts, are considered to be lucky to have on board!

Our tame gecko

Our tame gecko

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | June 29, 2014

Phuket encore!

Yacht Haven anchorage from 'Haven' restaurant

Yacht Haven anchorage from ‘Haven’ restaurant terrace. Negotiating rickety jetty in darkness, at low tide, after happy hour  = take a torch!

As mentioned in the last blog (Refit at Yacht Haven, Phuket), in December when the teak deck is replaced, we may just let the workers get on with their work and escape!  During five weeks spent on the work berth we did manage to get out from under their feet for outings, hiring a cheap car (or rent a dent) for a day at a time mainly for the purposes of provisioning and scouring DIY stores for boatie bits, but combining those excursions with some sightseeing.  Relaxing in the small swimming pool – just a 10 minute walk away from the marina became almost a daily ritual and reward for our toils on board (hired labour was not the only workforce!).  A bite to eat at the Haven was also very welcome on occasions when it was either too hot or too disorganised in the galley.

Just northwest of Chalong and visible from about half the island sits the Big Buddha which we visited one afternoon. With an outer coating of Burmese alabaster, this 60 million Baht Buddha is after 10 years, still under construction and relies entirely on donations to fund its completion.   The vistas from the top are splendid, with views of the Andaman Sea on one hand and Chalong Bay on the other.

Big Buddha against setting sun - from Chalong anchorage

Big Buddha against setting sun – from Chalong anchorage

Big Buddha, Chalong

Big Buddha in daylight

bell offerings

bell offerings to the Buddha

View to anchorage at Chalong Bay and beyond looking southeest

Picturesque view to anchorage at Chalong Bay and beyond – looking southeest

Chalong Pier dinghy 'park' - rickety and not glamorous

Chalong Pier dinghy ‘park’ – less picturesque, rickety and not user-friendly

Out there the sea looks inviting with its warm temperatures, but it does come with a warning – BEWARE OF THE JELLYFISH.   It turns out they are troublesome on the shores of Phuket and the Andaman Sea – even Box jellyfish that can cause serious stings.   Small jellies, hardly visible in the water can mar a swim or snorkel leaving small irritating stings.  We have found that plentiful application of white vinegar reduces irritation.

Jellyfish harvesting is big business in the area arounnd Phuket where the ‘pink’ jellyfish is abundant.  This variety is used in Chinese cuisine. The main fishing season is between March and May and again between August and November.  This pretty specimen was captured on camera as it glided past in Yacht Haven Marina.  It is about 30 cm in diameter.

Jellyfish Phyllorhiza punctate

Jellyfish watch

Scooping jellyfish on board longtail

Scooping jellyfish on board

Longtail showing a turn of speed - loudly!

Longtail showing a turn of speed – loudly!

...with an engine like this!

…with an engine like this!

Example of longtail structure

Example of longtail structure

The longtail boat is a unique structure native to Southeast Asia and used for fishing, as tourist boats, supply vessels and water taxis.  It is made of teak with fifteen floors bolted to thirty half frames.  Some floors are bolted through to the keel.  There are two longitudinal stringers.  Stem and stern are attached to the keel and bolted through to inner stem and stern posts to which planks are nailed.

It is driven by a 2nd hand car or truck engine with no silencer mounted on frame which is set into bracket so the helm can pivot the motor either vertically or horizontally using the tiller.  Engine mounting bracket pivot places at centre of fore and aft balance of engine prop shaft assembly.

pulling in the net - and with luck some fish!

fishing boat hauling in the net – and with luck some fish!

Pair trawling at sunset

Pair trawling at sunset

Rolly Tasker was mentioned in the last blog.  Surprisingly, what could be called ‘The French Connection’ emerged there.  The rigging side of the business is run by Frenchmen JP who is just about to retire and David, his successor. Chatting to them, it transpired that JP’s neighbour in Brittany is Laurent Bourgnon and his family who we met in New Zealand on their catamaran ‘Jambo’.  Small world.   In the challenging search for a deck mounted air conditioning unit to use while Pipistrelle is on the hard, we finally discovered SCS Marine and Stephane, another Frenchman who owns and runs a highly efficient air conditioning business, constructing custom built units for vessels rather larger than Pipistrelle.  Here we bought our reconditioned second hand unit.  We touched the surface of what must be a thriving French community in Phuket. There is even a monthly publication in French and Thai (interesting language combination!)  called ‘Paris Phuket’.

French - Thai flavour!

French – Thai flavour!

On a different note, as the season progressed and we entered the transitional period between North East and South West Monsoon, watching the weather for signs of change is important because there is more rain and though in April the downpours are predominantly at night, during May and June the frequency increases and daytime deluges are common with accompanying high winds.

...from this ...

…this (Yacht Haven) …

...to this (a different venue) ...

… easily turns to this (a different venue) …

...and finally to this

…and finally to this (Yacht Haven)

April to July is the local pineapple season!   Bought at the roadside, we have never eaten such succulent pineapple. The fruit is juicy and flesh golden yellow – delicious.  They are cultivated in rows between the ‘hevea’ (rubber) trees, rubber cultivation also being an important business for the island.  The main article in the latest edition of ‘Paris Phuket’ (above) describes the ‘tears of white gold’ from the hevea.

Phuket pineapple

Phuket pineapple

Roadside vendor

Roadside vendor and wares

And finally, spotted in Yacht Haven marina.  This pretty organism is only about 10cm long, but identification is proving a challenge.

What is this? a) a nudibranch b) a flatworm c) neither of these

What is it?
a) a nudibranch
b) a flatworm
c) neither of these

Answers on a postcard please!

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | June 25, 2014

A Grand Day Out

This auspicious day – 27th May – did not mark a birthday or anniversary; it was simply an interesting way to do a ‘visa run’.

While in Penang in February we were able to obtain a 60 day Thai tourist visa at the Consultate there.  Phuket Immigration issued us with a 30 day extension which we found a very straightforward and friendly exercise.  In fact we were through in five minutes.  It did help that we had all photocopies and passport photos required and turned up in reasonable attire.  Thereafter, a trip to another country is required if only for a few hours to obtain an ‘exit’ stamp on departure, entry/exit stamps in the other country and a 30 day renewal at airport Immigration on re-entry.   Sounds simple, but in fact the Thai government seems to move the goalposts rather frequently, causing confusion within the yachting community that generally prefers to spend more than 30 days in one country.

Our original plan was to travel by minibus to Ranong at the Burmese border, about 450 km from Phuket, catch a longtail (see Phuket Encore) for a short trip to Kawthoung in Burma, get the necessary stamps in our passports and return in a day.  This was thwarted by uncertainty as to whether the border would be open even before the military coup of 22nd May put further restrictions in place.

Finally, we opted for ease and a cheapy ‘red eye’ Air Asia flight to take us from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur which we had not yet visited.

From the brand new KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2) we took the light railway to the central KL station – a journey of just over 30 minutes.  As we knew we would not have too much time in the city we decided to see as many of the sights as possible by using the ‘Hop-on-Hop-Off’ bus service which conveniently stopped just outside the station.

We were not disappointed.  Here are some of the shots taken en route:

National Palace

National Palace

On guard!

On guard!

Guard to horse: 'I think I may faint!'

Guard to horse: ‘I think I may faint!’

The Menara KL or KL Tower

The Menara KL or KL Tower – 276 metres high

Palace of Culture

Palace of Culture

Petronas Towers - HQ of national petroleum company and tallest twin buildings in the world

Petronas Towers – HQ of national petroleum company and tallest twin buildings in the world

Merdeka or 'Independence' Square.  Malaysia became independent in 1957

Merdeka or ‘Independence’ Square. Malaysia became independent in 1957

More attractive colonial  architecture with Moghul influence by  A. C. Norman - late 19C

More attractive colonial architecture with Moghul influence by A. C. Norman – late 19C

Admire the reflection!

Admire the reflection!

Colonial railway station, now used as a commuter line

Colonial railway station, now used as a commuter line

Though we could have shopped till we dropped (Bob loves it!) at many of the high class shopping malls, we stayed put until the Chinatown stop when we alighted and had a late lunch at one of the small restaurants in this vibrant and colourful part of the city.

Chinatown

Chinatown

Fresh papaya (left) and lychees (just in season)

Fresh papaya (left) and lychees (just in season)

To sum up, we are glad we made the effort to venture into the heart of Kuala Lumpur, but are equally pleased we had not chosen to stay longer.  Now rated as a world city, business, cultural and economic centre, KL is a modern, bustling Asian metropolis of nearly 2 million people.   After a day of sightseeing we felt weary and in need of putting our feet up on Pipistrelle (theoretically that is).

Vitally, after a grand day out we could legally re-enter Thailand and stay for a further month!

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | June 24, 2014

Refit at Yacht Haven, Phuket

Yacht Haven - Bird's Eye View!

Yacht Haven – Bird’s Eye View!

Thailand is renowned for its woodworking skills, and we have met many yotties who were finishing their circumnavigations to New Zealand and had had their interior and exterior woodwork refurbished or renewed in Thailand.  Pipistrelle is now 14 years old, and whilst she has been looked after very well we think by us and before that by Stephen and Katherine, a number of objects have been unavoidably dropped or been thrown around in rough seas over the years.  We decided that the time had come to take advantage of what the Thais have to offer.

Yachts Repair workshop

Yachts Repair workshop

Discussing finer points with Mali ...

Discussing finer points with Mali …

The Yachts Repair Company in Yacht Haven came highly recommended and we had seen many examples of their work.  It is run by Mali and his brother Thon, with a considerable skilled workforce.  These craftsmen are diligent, work hard and are pleasant to have on board though communication is a barrier – they speak no English and we just a few words of Thai.  Having had a quote (in English!) for the work we considered urgent, we then had to decide what the priorities were.  Our main focus was theoretically the cabin sole in the galley area but inevitably, as soon as one section was stripped and re-varnished, we quickly realized that the adjoining section would also need doing.

Old and new - no contest!

Old and new – no contest!

Most of the sanding and varnishing work was done at the workshop, and so a temporary cabin sole was laid in the galley, eventually run through to the companionway and temporary steps made.  The way Pipistrelle is built is clever and complex so as ever with such projects, there was much upheaval. Living on board while work was in progress was sometimes slightly awkward, especially when woodworking, cabling and stainless steel were all competing for what seemed to be the same space!  BUT after 5 weeks on a work berth we have companionway steps and internal floors that look like new – wonderful.  Many other areas that were looking tired are now as good as when the Pipistrelle originally left the yard in 2000.  We almost need to lay special protection to prevent damage…

Below in steps …

Temp 'new' ply floor!

Temp ‘new’ ply galley floor!

and temp steps for small people!

and temp steps for small people!

Blemished step prior to treatment ...

Blemished step prior to treatment …

... and afterwards

… and afterwards

What a difference 6 or 7 coats of varnish make!

What a difference 6 or 7 coats of varnish make!

All taped up and ready to go ...

All taped up and ready to go …

Chalong, expert craftsman in action

Chalong, expert craftsman in action

Upheaval - where to go when 2 aft cabins emptied and out of bounds so cables for solar panels could be run to engine room.   Saloon (pictured) not accessible.  Solution - owner's berth with aircon on!

Upheaval – where to go when 2 aft cabins emptied and out of bounds so cables for solar panels can be run to engine room? Saloon (pictured) not accessible. Solution – owner’s berth with aircon on!

But bread and brownies put in oven before fun began were a treat!

But bread and brownies put in oven before fun began were a treat!

The teak deck required careful consideration, as the aft decks do not see nearly as much traffic and wear as the foredecks.  So we compromised, and had these surfaces re-caulked and sanded.  But after much debate and deliberation, we have made the big decision to replace the side and foredecks.  Thus, an end-of-year project awaits!

Deck in stages …

Off with old caulking ...

Off with old caulking …

... on with new (curing took over a week!)

… on with new (curing took over a week!)

Finished product!

Spot the finished product!

Unembellished 14 year old grey teak!

Unembellished 14 year old grey teak!

The next big job was attending to solar panels. The semi flexible ones we installed in Portugal were damaged irreparably by lightning in 2012, and in any case had not achieved any more than trickle charging the main battery bank.  Solar panels today are very efficient, but for us the problems were that we have a 24 volt system, and where to physically place them, without spending a fortune in stainless steel building a garage/arch over the transom.  We settled on replacing the guard rails at the stern with 316 stainless steel tubing, and then hanging the solar panels on them.  The result is a far safer exit from the cockpit in rough weather, and panels that put up to 10 amps back into the house batteries.  Whilst they won’t replace the need for the generator, on those days that we see wall to wall sunshine, it should halve its use.  Somsak of AEM and his team handled all the electrics expertly, and also repaired the autopilot motors, so hopefully our return to the UK will not involve any more hand steering..!

Sizing stainless

Sizing stainless tubing for upper guardrail replacement

Solar panel in place and functioning

Solar panel in place and functioning

Taking action with autopilot motor - Somsak with hammer.  Watch your fingers, Bob!

Taking action with autopilot motor – Somsak with hammer. Watch your fingers, Bob!

Some of the stainless steel rigging wires needed to be replaced, as well as some replacement fittings on the mainsail, and Rolly Tasker’s sail loft in Phuket was conveniently situated to provide an excellent service.  This is claimed to be the largest sail loft in the world, and it probably is.  It was very interesting watching a number of teams at work with fully automated and computer driven machines at work creating sails.  Rolly Tasker himself was a top class Australian sailor, and one of Australia’s great sports personalities, as well as being a highly successful business man, creating one of the largest marine businesses.  His sail loft exports to 61 countries.

In the loft (Mike Tasker - no relation to Rolly!) and current General Manager

In the loft – Mike Tasker (no relation to Rolly!) current General Manager in foreground with team

Rolly Tasker sewing benches

Cutting benches

Meanwhile Yachts Repair have just ordered the block of  teak which will become our deck once it has been seasoned, dried and cut to shape.  So we return to Phuket and Yacht Haven in December for Mali and his men to carry out the work.  We may well escape for a few weeks while they do it.

Pipistrelle at anchor outside marina

Pipistrelle at anchor outside Yacht Haven

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | May 1, 2014

Krabi, Pu, Muk and Phi Phi

… yes really – try the pronounciation!

eating again - with Peter and Irene!

Dinner with Peter and Irene!

Peter and Irene on Catspaw had brought our replacement dinghy paddles from Langkawi, and we followed them up the river to Krabi Boat Lagoon Marina which we wanted to see with a view to leaving Pipistrelle there.  Though remote and accessed via a narrow channel through mangroves, the marina itself is modern and haulout facilities good.  It also enabled us to visit Krabi town and beaches outside Krabi in a hire car, and provision in the supermarkets (Tesco Lotus and ‘Big C’) nearby.

The sculpture depicts the family from Aesop’s fable ‘The Crab and its Mother’ in which parents must teach their children to be well behaved, self-disciplined and respect their elders.

Mud crab sculptures in Krabi

Crab sand sculpture!

The quality of food we can buy in Thailand, a lot of it western, together with two main international airports, one on Phuket and the other at Krabi, persuaded us that KBL and Thailand provide a better base than Langkawi in Malaysia. If this leaves the impression we are steak and burgers freaks, it is wrong – we are definitely not!  Why patronize KFC, MacDonalds and suchlike, when Thai food, cooked by a Thai chef and eaten in Thai surroundings is quite delicious and very reasonably priced.  Here some photos:

Fish dish...

Fish dishes …Thai sea bass

Prawns and cashews

…prawns and cashews

After a few days at KBL, we said our goodbyes, Peter and Irene heading for Europe, and we south to Koh Pu, Koh Lanta, Koh Muk, and then west via Phi Phi Don to return to Ao Chalong.  Koh Lanta is off the well beaten tourist trail, and we enjoyed a few days at a lovely peaceful anchorage at Koh Talabeng with its spectacular cliffs, calm seas and no jellyfish, so swimming in the late afternoon in seawater with a temperature of 34C was a delight.

View from anchorage

View from anchorage looking north

Dry hong at Koh Talabeng

Dry hong at Koh Talabeng

Lanta Old Town is a quaint traditional Thai fishing community and accessed from the nearby anchorage by rather rickety and dinghy unfriendly steps onto a long modern jetty.  There we had a very pleasant lunch at one of the old buildings constructed on stilts.

Shrine monument - it's a roundabout!

A shrine – it’s a roundabout!

Wooden buildings - up to 100 years old

Wooden buildings – up to 100 years old

Koh Muk is famous for The Emerald Cave.  You either have to take a kayak through to the huge hong in the island, or in our case snorkel from Pipistrelle, and swim through with a torch held clear of the water to see our way.  The tunnel is about 80m long, and as it does not run straight, is pitch black for a considerable time (probably a minute!) and leads to a completely enclosed and circular towering hong complete with a 60m sandy beach.  Late afternoon we slipped the mooring to head around to the sheltered east coast, and the fairly shallow but protected bay of Hat Sai Yao.  There we spent a couple of nights, dinghied ashore to the Sawadee Resort set on the flat, sandy peninsula where we had lunch and walked through the local Muslim village.

A view

A view from the resort

Village filling station!

Village filling station!

Low water - Pipistrelle at anchor on horizon

Low water – Pipistrelle (white dot!) at anchor on horizon

From here we motored back to Koh Lanta and then on to the Phi Phi islands.  Phi Phi Le is where ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo de Caprio was filmed.  Like the much bigger Phi Phi Don, it is a tourist trap, and several hundred speed boats make their way there every day crisscrossing in all directions, like bees to the honey pot.  Both are busy, noisy and not our cup of tea at all, but we found an anchorage at Ao Yongkasem to the north of the main Ton Sai Bay that was peaceful from 1700 onwards and offered clear water with reasonable snorkelling.

Ao Yongkasem

Ao Yongkasem

Over the last ten years, the Phi Phi Islands have regenerated themselves and recovered to a large extent from the devastation and tragedy of the tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, caused by the massive earthquake west of Sumatra.  Though large parts of the area were hit, Phi Phi Don was struck most severely.  A popular Christmas destination, it essentially comprises two islands joined by a sand-spit marginally above sea level.  The western cliffs were enveloped by two colossal waves that engulfed the north and south bays without warning, leaving the spit under water.  In low lying villages there are now signs directing people to higher land – which could be up to 2 km away.  Masts carry sirens that act as an early warning system for evacuation.

Two blue evacuation notices, early warning mast in background

Two blue evacuation notices, early warning mast in background

Back on Pipistrelle, the following morning we left to return to Ao Chalong, a 30 mile sail which turned into another few hours of motoring!  In diesel burning company with us was ‘Mabuhay’ from Switzerland with Paul and Marie-Therèse on board.  Their son Marcus and granddaughter Jessica had joined them for the Easter holidays.  They had been the only other yacht to anchor at Ao Yongkasem, and though we’d known them fleetingly since the San Blas we now had the opportunity to socialise several times.

In Ao Chalong again for the third time we had the inevitable list of ‘things to do’ but knowing the lie of the land better, it seemed a whole lot easier to get ticks in boxes.  Yacht Haven beckoned once more, via the island of Koh Naka Yai, this time to the marina, where Pipistrelle will undergo a refit.  Extensive work will be done to her teak deck which is showing signs of age, and interior woodwork.  Ideally we hope to return her to the pristine state she was in when she left the Wauquiez yard in 2000!  More about the refit in a future blog …

Sunset afterglow

Sunset afterglow

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | April 28, 2014

Phang Nga Bay and the Hongs

…or steering 007 for James Bond Island (no joke – we did)!

Stunning scenery

Stunning scenery

From Yacht Haven we sailed a short distance north east into the area known as The Hongs.  A ‘hong’ in Thai means ‘cave’ or ‘room’, but this can be a tunnel through the limestone rock filled with sea water, a dry hong that you can walk or climb into, or a huge crater within the limestone open to the sky above.

Incidentally in Thai … ‘Koh’ = island; ‘Ao’ = bay; ‘Khlong’ = river or channel.

This area is dramatic, with countless islands, nearly all of them rising directly out of the sea, and many of them being like columns towering hundreds of feet, with stalactites hanging off them.  The sea is a pea green colour, and with blue skies, the greys, browns and reds of the limestone, with vegetation hanging on to the vertical face of the rock, the scenery is breathtaking.

Pipistrelle against colourful backdrop

Pipistrelle against colourful backdrop

Inevitably it brings holidaymakers from near and far, so the main sightseeing islands have a constant flow of longtails and speedboats bringing visitors in their hundreds (or was it thousands?) for a short period of time before moving on.  Generally by 1600 the tourists have all left to return to their hotels, and peace and tranquility return to the anchorages.  There are many popular spots, and one that most people will associate with is Koh Phing Kan or ‘James Bond Island’, so called because parts of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ were filmed there in 1974.

We made a circular navigation of Phang Nga Bay, starting with Koh Phanak which has a hong running from one side of the island to the other, and filled with bats we understand.

Koh Hong was our next stop (confusingly, there are two of them), and this one has a hong accessible to  dinghies, and Elaine was then invited onto the canoe of a guide to see the deeper recesses that we could not have reached otherwise.  Our anchorage on the east was protected and stunning even though we didn’t have it quite to ourselves.

Paddling his canoe

Paddling his canoe

Scraping through …

… feet first …

Then on to Koh Yang, with its spectacular pillar of rock so close to where we anchored, completely on our own.  From here we took the dinghy to James Bond Island, but just looking from our vantage point at the hordes of holidaymakers crowding ashore was enough to encourage us to turn away!

Koh Yang

Koh Yang in foreground

The Hongs

Koh Phing Kan with ‘Bond’ cave lower right

...and from a different perspective!

…and from a different perspective!

We used the hours around high water to cross a large area of shallows to the mainland side of the bay to the Northeast.  We had been told by friends of a river with easy access and comfortable anchoring.  The Khlong Marui was beautiful and is guarded by the Two Sisters Islands, spectacular limestone stacks soaring out of the sea at the entrance to the river. We were completely on our own, and then used the dinghy to explore the river and its tributaries, including a dry hong where paintings on the roof of the cave have been dated back 3000 years.

Than Pee Hua Toe, Thanbole Koranee National Park

Dry hong – Than Pee Hua Toe, Thanbole Koranee National Park

Impressive stalagmites  and stalactites

Impressive stalagmites and stalactites in the hong

Quite by chance on one of our forays we came across a fishing village, and met a lady who ‘phoned a friend’ who could speak English.  He turned out to be the Director of Phuket Community College, part of the Prince of Songkla University, and facilitated our purchase of rockfish, blue crabs and oysters that were taken direct from their capture nets, all for the equivalent of £10!  Quite delicious, though with past experiences in mind, we were careful to cook the oysters.  A few photographs:

Fishing village

Fishing village

Fish cultivation

Fish cultivation

Rockfish

Rockfish

Blue crabs

Blue crabs …

(Atlantic) Horseshoe crab - lost its way!  Though locals do, we were advised against eating!

(Atlantic) Horseshoe crab – must have lost its way! Though locals do, we were advised against eating!

Our 'fishing' group!

Our ‘fishing’ group!

The two of us ...

The two of us …

We then headed south stopping at picturesque Koh Chong Lat for a night, then on to Koh Rai, the other Koh Hong (Krabi province), and finally Koh Dam before meeting Peter and Irene on Catspaw again.  The Koh Dam group is just 10 nm from the Krabi river entrance so a good stopping off place we thought.  It was Sunday and being just a longtail or speedboat journey away from mainland Krabi, tourists were out in force.  We have never seen so many people on a beach the size of a pinhead – standing room only!  James Bond Island was nothing in comparison!

Sunday lunchtime tourism ...

Sunday lunchtime tourism …

...1600 and empty!

…1600 and empty!

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | April 2, 2014

Phuket and The Similan Islands

From Telaga in Langkawi where we cleared out of Malaysia, we day sailed to Phuket via Koh Adang in the Butang Group of islands, a pleasant 24 mile passage, and already Thailand.  There we shared a pot luck supper with Sue and Bill of Camomile, fellow Brits who we had last seen in Lombok, Indonesia.  We sailed on northwards for about 50 nm to Koh Rok Nok where though the coral and marine life was interesting, holding was poor.  Thus we were off again very early the following morning for the 60 nm to Ao Chalong on Phuket.

After a day when the breeze was consistently on the beam, but frustratingly kept switching on and off, we finally dropped anchor late afternoon, put Pipistrelle to bed (taking all of an hour), launched the dinghy and showered (taking all of five minutes!) before heading off in search of Peter and Irene on Catspaw who had invited us on board.  Finding them in the maze of yachts and other craft at anchor was a challenge and the reward of sundowners extremely welcome.  Great friends of Mo and Nigel who visited us in New Zealand, we had not seen Peter and Irene for some years, so there was much catching up to do over a meal ashore while absorbing as much information as possible about this area which they know extremely well.

Monday heralded, first, our visiting the authorities to clear in to Thailand – customs, harbour master and immigration, adding more stamps (and stamps over stamps) in our passports.  All very conveniently housed together at a ‘one stop shop’ office.

Second, Gemma arrived to spend a week with us on board Pipistrelle as part of a longer holiday in Thailand!  She was asked to take on the mantle of Official Pipistrelle Photographer with us both threatening to put our cameras into deep storage in the company of a professional!  See Gemma’s blog and her website.  The daughter of Bob’s longstanding friends, Gay and Tony, Gemma fitted into the sailing scene very well and was a delight to have on board.  Her only disappointment was not to have caught any fish despite streaming the line at every opportunity.

Professional at large!

Professional at large!

Deciding to head out from Ao Chalong towards the Similan Islands, we provisioned at the Villa Supermarket in town, affording us mouth-watering luxury we have not experienced for a long time with its range of fresh and dry goods – all at a price but nonetheless well worth the expense.

The Similans were declared a marine National Park in 1982 and lie some 60 miles northwest of Phuket.  ‘Sembilan’ means ‘nine’ in Malay, and the group unsurprisingly comprises nine main islands.  With their clear water, abundant marine life and remarkable topography they attract yachties as well as hordes of day-trippers who arrive at about 1000, departing again about 1600, when mooring buoys become available and tranquillity reigns.

We took two days to get there, anchoring for the first night off Koh Kala at the north of Bang Tao Bay, Phuket, after a good breeze from Chalong (more about Koh Kala below).  Day two took us north to sail to Khao Lak Beach, making a reasonable stopover before departing on the shorter 34 mile passage to Koh Similan.  We timed our arrival perfectly to pick up a mooring, take in the rock formations in Donald Duck Bay (so-called because of the rock that, if you use your imagination, resembles DD’s beak) and don snorkelling gear.  Sadly what must have been a stunning reef had been decimated in the 2004 tsunami that hit Phuket and though we saw signs of regeneration, it has a long way to go.  We did however spot Titan, Ebony and Picasso Triggerfish, Threadfin butterflyfish, pufferfish, boxfish and many more besides.

Rock resembling Donald Duck's beak ...

Rock resembling Donald Duck’s beak …

Koh Miang about 6nm to the south was supposed to offer great snorkelling, so we slipped Koh Similan and picked up a mooring at Miang which turned out to be extremely uncomfortable.  Undaunted we made an expedition by dinghy to the eastern island which was equally choppy, had a quick look around, returned to a bucking Pipistrelle and slipped without further ado to head back to the shelter of Koh Similan.  The evening was calm and after a magnificent sunset we BBQd on board for the first time this year.

Setting sun ...

Setting sun …

... and half moon (15 minutes after sunset)

… and half moon (15 minutes after sunset)

Before any tourist boats arrived next day, a climb to Sailrock beckoned.  Views of the bay from this vantage point were superb.  Our stay cost 400 Baht each plus just 100 for Pipistrelle (about £25 in total) and tickets stamped with the Buddhist year ‘2557’!

Sail Rock

Sail Rock

Beach (that's our dinghy!)

Beach (that’s our dinghy!)

Pipistrelle basking in sunshine

Pipistrelle basking in sunshine

It was time to return to Phuket so we set off again for the 54 miles back to Koh Kala.  Anchoring in the evening, there was one other occupied yacht in the bay – Camomile.  James, Bill and Sue’s son was on board who had just been diving in Koh Tao, Gemma’s next destination but over the VHF some vital detail was lost, so we invited them all to Pipistrelle for coffee at 0830 next day.  Gemma picked up some great travel tips, packed, and we went ashore taking all her gear with us, landing in front of the Nikki Beach Resort.

A stunning beach

Stunning beach at Koh Kala, Bang Tao Bay

Nikki Beach

Nikki Beach Resort

With its sunbeds – literally mattresses with white covers, cushions galore, towels – copious sunshades and small pool with swim up bar, this was quite a location.  In the shade of the restaurant we enjoyed a superb lunch – thank you Gemma!  Then the two girls treated themselves to a traditional Thai massage.  While Gemma waited for her taxi to the airport that evening, we made for Pipistrelle and departed early on Tuesday 11th March for Ao Chalong.

Gemma enjoying fresh coconut

Gemma enjoying fresh coconut

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | March 19, 2014

Penang Revisited

Ready for take off again!

Ready for take off again!

When we sailed to Penang last November we both agreed our stay on this fascinating, vibrant island was too short and we should revisit sometime.  As a complete surprise for Elaine’s return to Malaysia, Bob had booked a short (35 minute) Firefly flight there from Langkawi for 4 days of R & R and sightseeing.  We overflew Rebak Marina shortly after takeoff – see photo on Pipistrelle’s Journey page – and got a bird’s-eye view of Pipistrelle!

While we were there we would also be able to obtain 2 month tourist visas from the Thai Consulate General – not otherwise available on entry to Thailand.   An uncomplicated procedure, we arrived at 0930, completed the requisite forms, handed in our passports, left for some sightseeing and returned at 1530 to pay the fee and collect our visas.

The Heritage Hotel in the heart of old George Town was our base.  Modern and comfortable with air conditioned rooms and ‘wifi’ facility, it is within easy walking distance of Armenian Street, numerous temples and a range of restaurants – ideal for us!  Not to mention the shopping malls nearby – but we won’t!

Hidden away among high rise blocks is a magnificent gold tower of the Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Thai Temple.  Built in 1845, it houses the Reclining Buddha.  At 33 metres long and completely covered in gold leaf this Enlightened One is said to be the largest of its kind.  Finger and toenails are decorated in striking mother of pearl mosaic!

The golden tower

The golden tower

Pagoda in grounds of Thai Temple

Pagoda in grounds of Thai Temple

Guarding the temple entrance

Guarding the temple entrance

Laid back Buddha

Laid back Buddha

Just opposite is the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple founded in the early 19th century where halls, shrines, pagodas and goldfish ponds in the grounds are a haven of calm and serenity.

Noteworthy are a golden Buddha, standing about 10 metres tall with marble head and feet, and a hall of Buddhas in different facial and hand poses.

Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha

On a comical note are statues of two boys carrying a bell between them.

Laughing bell-boys

Laughing bell-boys

A pair of Guardians and Protectors or Panca-Rupa with elephant trunk and tusks, deer horns, horse’s legs and ears, body and tail of the fish and the wings of the mythical Garuda bird guard the world, where the Indian Ocean takes centre stage!

Guardian angels?

Guardian angels?

At 830 metres above sea level, Penang Hill dominates the island and we took the funicular railway to the top.  With signposts telling us we were 14,000 km from London, only 2,400 km from Hong Kong, and 2,000 km from Ho Chi Minh City, once more endorsing the centre of the universe obviously had a definite Asian focus.  A mass tourist attraction, unfortunately we found little to inspire us apart from a marvellous mural on a temple at the summit and the rather hazy outlook over the city.

Looking down onto town - tunnel built in 1922

Looking down onto town – tunnel built in 1922

Interesting mural!

Interesting mural!

In the distance we saw clearly Straits Quay Marina (SQM), and even a vessel making the approach.  It was none other than Oceans Dream with Jackie and Adrian on board, who had already invited us to supper with them that evening!

I spy ...

I spy …

The Botanic Gardens established by the British in 1884 from an old quarry is the only garden of its kind in Malaysia, reminiscent of one of the London parks on a much smaller scale and unfortunately parched in the driest months the region has known for some years.  Though disappointing overall, we saw some cheeky macaque monkeys, terrapins with lovely markings and the very unusual and beautiful flower of the cannonball tree, so called because the fruit resembles just that – a cannonball!

Terrapin

Terrapin

Cannonball flower

Cannonball flower

We strolled along Campbell Street, lit by Chinese lanterns at night, and during the day on the way back to our hotel came across a ramshackle shop front where a man was poring over a piece of oblong red card.  He was applying gold lettering to the card which when framed would become a prayer card to be deposited at a temple.

Campbell Street

Campbell Street

Intricate gold lettering

Intricate gold lettering

Back in Armenian Street we took in funky street art (see also Postcard from Penang), some created by Ernest Zacharevic.

Boy on a chair -  Acheen Street Malay mosque in background

Boy on a chair – Acheen Street Malay mosque in background

Kids on a bicycle

Kids on a bicycle

Cannon Street

Caption reads: “A cannon shot fired during the 1867 Penang Riots made a large hole in this area, hence the name ‘Cannon Street Core Zone'”

We walked along historic Cannon Street with its terraced houses and discovered the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi.

Khoo Kongsi

Khoo Kongsi

This fine Chinese clan house complex was completed in about 1906, having been built in the 1850s and destroyed by fire some years earlier.  It belonged to the Khoo clan who had emigrated from Hokkein Province in southern China and made their fortune as merchants trading in Malacca and Penang.  It was completely self-contained and self-governed, included educational facilities, shops, temple and opera stage.  Beautiful carvings and architecture abound.  An extensive and costly restoration project was concluded in 2001.  It was well worth paying the modest entry fee.

Intricate external roof sculpture

Intricate external roof sculpture

Ornate sculpture

Ornate sculpture

Penang

Temple

Tiger, tiger ...

Tiger, tiger …

Self explanatory!

Self explanatory!

To sum up, we love this enchanting island with its diversity of architecture, people and scenery.

Posted by: Elaine and Bob | March 5, 2014

Changes of scene!

At the end of January we exchanged the sodden south of England for an uncommonly dry West Malaysia where it had not rained for over a month.  The dry weather continues.

Despite high winds, storms, flooding and general damp we had experienced at home since the end of November, our time was action packed with events involving family and friends, notably a Ruby Wedding Anniversary celebration, quickly followed by a Royal Southampton Yacht Club 60’s evening (www.rsyc.org.uk), the annual regional Bentley Drivers Club (www.bdcl.org) Christmas lunch at Essebourne Manor with Elaine’s parents, and giving a presentation about our passage through the Pacific to the Offshore Cruising Club (www.sailoverlord.org.uk) at its AGM in January.   We also made several visits to London to see Chrissy and her family and one to the West Country so clocked up a few miles.  Unlike when at sea, though, we do not keep track of our mileage on land – suffice it to say the car hire company provided us with a succession of three different vehicles!

Guernsey - Lithou Island

Guernsey – Lihou Island – a fine, breezy day!

Our short stay on Guernsey just before Christmas brought us together not only with Andrew, Annie and their young family but also with Stephen and Katherine Paine, the previous owners of Pipistrelle (ex Batrachian) with whom we stayed at their home.  It was certainly a great pleasure to catch up with them again.  Having hung up their cruising gear, they have turned their not inconsiderable talents to micro-distilling damson gin and various fruit flavoured liqueurs. Their website is www.hautmaison.com.

Due to a gap in the tenancy at our cottage in Hampshire, we and a few pieces of furniture from our flat in Poole, moved back in temporarily and despite spending much of the time working hard on the property, it gave us the ideal and unique opportunity to enjoy entertaining in our own home again.   Even our Swedish friends came to stay for a week!

Beach at Branksome Chine, Poole

Beach at Branksome Chine, Poole

Bob returned to Langkawi to have Pipistrelle hauled at Rebak for antifouling and polishing and when Elaine joined him a week later our good ship was back in the water and shining again.    We decided R&R would be the next project for us, and set off for a quick flight and short stay in Penang again (see separate blog – Penang Revisited).  Restored, we then had a morning sail for Kuah, the main town on Langkawi where we put in to the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club and met Rosemarie Alecio on Ironhorse, a fellow Ocean Cruising Club member and along with her husband Alfred, are Roving Rear Commodores.  Rosemarie very generously invited us to lunch on board when we arrived.  Convivial conversation was enjoyed, of course, though we missed meeting Alfred who was in the UK attending to family business.

The eagle has landed!

The eagle has landed on Langkawi – literally ‘The Island of Eagles’!

 Returning to Rebak briefly we met Hans and Sylvia again who had just come back to their yacht Alumni and joined them for dinner at the resort restaurant before leaving again for Telaga to clear out of Malaysia.  As already mentioned, we managed to complete all paperwork despite the fact the Harbour Master was not working, Friday and Saturday being the Muslim weekend.   The charming lady Customs officer stood in for him.

View from fuel berth in Telaga

View from fuel berth in Telaga

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