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Martin & Sue

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Just Cruis'n - Langkawi & Phuket

 

We had two weeks to explore the magnificent fiords surrounding Langkawi Island before we were due to enter Rebak marina and prepare Mandolin Wind for her holiday. The many secluded bays and picturesque scenery helped to compensate for the lack of water clarity – and although there was no snorkelling and limited swimming, we enjoyed taking it easy and soaking up the panorama.

 
 
Above: at anchor amidst the fiords south of Langkawi   Above: beachside bar - Langkawi style
     

When we finally tied up at Rebak we were pleasantly surprised by the luxurious facilities available to mere yachties – courtesy of the Raj Hotel resort sited adjacent to the marina. With happy hour at the pool luring us every afternoon, we were hard pressed to finalize all our preparations for leaving the boat. However, eventually the ratlines were secured, the water maker pickled, the seacocks closed and everything was locked up securely ready for our departure.

 
 
Above: the pool at Rebak Marina & Resort. Fancy letting feral yachties lose here!   Above: just in case - large funnels protect Mandolin Wind from unwelcome ratty visitors
     

After having lost weight during the last few months of cruising (could it be a coincidence that the champagne ran out during the very same period?) our body systems were in for a jolt during our return visit to Aus for Christmas. The four weeks was a hectic round of playing ‘catch up’ with family and friends – and it all seemed to go hand in hand with lots of eating and drinking.

 A yachtie friend, who had returned home for a visit a few weeks before us, sent us an email containing two warnings:

  1. Be careful not to bore everyone with your travel stories because no one is really interested!
  2. Take care with your spending as costs in Australia are a shock after what we have been used to
 

 

With regards to warning number 1, we were pleasantly surprised at the interest shown in our travels – although we did try and make an effort not to bore everyone silly with our stories and photos. However, it was tough going. We had lived and breathed sea-faring adventures for the last 9 months and it had become an intrinsic part of our makeup. So apologies all round if we didn’t always get the balance right!

 
 

Above: Sue with sister Lindy ( left ) and daughter Nyree enjoying a Xmas toast

 

 

 

 

Warning number 2 proved to be scarily accurate – despite our best endeavours, we spent more in the four weeks we were in Australia than we had in the last six months of travelling!

Above: luckily our trip coincided with Martin's Dads Birthday who we are very happy to see looking fit and well after his heart attack scare that 'greeted' us on our arrival in Melbourne.

Below: Plenty to catch up on during a visit to Sue's folks

 


Our return flight saw us with a one night stopover in Singapore. When the hot, humid, spice-scented air hit us as we exited customs, we felt like we had come home. From our hotel we walked out to a night food market and ordered chilli squid along with 2 Tiger beers – for $AU4 each. Now that’s more like what our budget can cope with!

Flying low into Langkawi on approach we were treated to a clear view of our yacht safely floating at Rebak Marina. Once aboard we were pleased to note that apart from a slightly stuffy smell, all was in perfect condition.

     
 

Above: a sucker for a sunset - even aboard the plane!.   Above: all's well on board after being left for 4 weeks

 

It was good to catch up with ex-rally friends and to hear all the Yachtie gossip. Standing out as the pick of the stories was the near-tragic incident of a dinghy loaded with supplies (and two skippers) that was run over by a fast moving motor boat in the entrance to Telaga Harbour (a few miles away). Giles – who happened to be at the front of the dinghy – just had time to throw his arms up to cover his head as the boat crashed on top of him. He ended up in the water with severe injuries as the motor boat disappeared (it was never identified). Luckily the other skipper was unhurt and quickly fished Giles out of the water, almost certainly saving him from drowning since, with two badly smashed arms and semi-conscious, he was unable to keep himself afloat. We caught up with poor Giles 4 weeks after the incident – at which time he still had limited use of his metal-strengthened arms - and his solo-sailing plans were on hold for an indefinite period.


We found one other piece of gossip interesting – especially since it involved one of the French-registered catamarans that had been with us during the rally. The skipper, whose crew had left him in Malaysia, was single-handing from Langkawi to Phuket. During a visit to the head (toilet) while the boat was on autohelm, he somehow managed to run into a fishing trawler whose extended side-booms sliced through the Cats mast stays and brought the rig down. Must have been a long toilet visit!

 

 
Above: Horn bills displaying their amazing beaks (no, they are not stuffed despite appearances!)   Above: The view from our marina berth at Rebak
     

Provisioning was a top priority – but having arrived back on a Thursday meant that our first opportunity to hit the ships was Monday (Friday is a Muslim holiday and the weekend is a bit hit and miss as to what will be open). On Monday we organised a hire car from an enterprising Chinese gentleman called Mr. Din. On arrival at the ferry drop-off point we were offered an upgrade – from $10 for the 10 year old barely roadworthy car – to the $13, 5 year old car with air conditioning. Needless to say, we took the upgrade! Forewarned, we knew where our first stop had to be since the clever Mr. Din always drained out any spare petrol from his cars – only leaving just enough to make it the 2kms to the first fuel station!

 

After calling in at the early morning market for fresh fruit and vegies, our next stop was a grain supplier where $200 later we had enough multigrain bread flour to last us several months plus enough ingredients to make 20kgs of muesli. From there it was but a short hop to the grog warehouse – aka an Aladdin’s cave housing hundreds of stacked pallets containing every imaginable brand of alcohol (all tax free since Langkawi is a Duty free island). Despite being tempted, we restricted ourselves to a dozen bottles of champagne, a few wine casks, several slabs of canned beer  and one lonely bottle of Baileys. Martin’s protests that one slab of beer cost the same as one bottle of champagne were quickly dismissed by ‘she who loves her bubbly!’

Above: Aladdin's cave of Wine and Spirits

  Below: our new 'gold plated' fold up dinghy wheels!

Of course, our last stop (after a supermarket stock-up) had to be a chandlery and during our browsing we discovered one very large set of pneumatic wheels for the dinghy (our current set of small plastic wheels have not been making ‘the cut’ when trying to drag our 10-person craft across soft sand at low tide). Although expensive, we decided that sore backs were more pricey to fix-  so pretending temporary blindness regarding the pricetag, we handed over our credit card for the $AU250 punishment.  (These have since proved themselves to be one of the best purchases we have made!)

 

 

 

By this stage the poor little car was loaded to its tatty vinyl roof-lining. On arrival back at the ferry pickup point, it took several trips to transfer our goods down to the jetty and the other passengers on the courtesy marina speed boat had to search for seats around our stash. Luckily the crew were very accommodating and on our arrival back at the marina disembarked the other passengers before motoring over to the closest arm to Mandolin Wind, allowing us to unload everything directly opposite our boat.

Above: a family of sea otters use Rebak Marina as their home base    
     

A busy few hours of ‘muesli making’,  vacuum packaging and stowing meant that we missed out on our usual pool rendezvous – but it was good to be restocked and have everything stashed ready for departure.

 

The following day we relocated across to Telaga harbour about 5nm away to refuel (diesel is only 60c a litre here compared to $1.30 in Thailand) and to perform the necessary customs and immigration clearances to exit Malaysia. We had 5-7 days to get to our Thailand Check-in point before the Thai. immigration officials started asking questions so we planned to island hop our way to Ao Chalong Bay on Phuket Island.

 

Below: Finally in Thai waters - the Butang Island group

 

Above: Sunset at Telaga Harbour - all checked out of Malaysia and ready to head to Thailand

 

  The first day out we encountered a confusing mix of sea and weather. After initially battling 35 knot head winds and a nasty cross swell for about an hour, caused by wind funelling around Langkawi island, the wind died completely and we were left to motor for the remaining 4 of the 5 hour trip to the Butang Islands. We were looking forward to clear water for snorkelling – but we were again disappointed. Although clearer and an amazing green colour (reportedly due to leaching of the limestone rocks that made up these islands) the visibility was still not ‘gin clear’. However, the scenery was spectacular and we enjoyed two nights in the calm, picturesque anchorages.  
     

On Day 3 we headed over to Koh Rok Nok ( Koh meaning Island ) – a national park made up of two small islands in the middle of nowhere. There were several park-provided mooring buoys (we were not permitted to anchor) and as we motored to a likely candidate we were pleased to note that we had finally found crystal clear water. However, out of the habit of judging depth in such clear waters, we were nervous about how much clearance we had above the coral surrounding the buoy. Confident we were ok for the time being (it was high tide) we hooked the buoy and then quickly dived in to check the situation. Although generally we had 2-3 metres of space between our boat and the coral, the boat had swung over an isolated bommie, missing our mini keels by only a 1/2m or so. Making a hasty exit from that spot, we relocated to a more suitable buoy well clear of the reef and enjoyed a few hours of snorkelling..

Just before dark we were visited by the National Park Rangers who lifted $A18 off us for one nights use of the buoy. A shame about this waste of money since that evening the wind suddenly picked and blew up  a very choppy cross swell that almost rocked us off our bunks when we attempted to retire for the night. Rolling 1/2m from side to side, unsure of the strength of the mooring buoy and fearful of dragging into the reef, we left the several other boats to their fate and headed into the wind and waves across to a more sheltered anchorage at Koh Muk, 3 hours away. It was 10.30pm but fortunately we had a full moon. Crossing the net-ridden seas at night was not our most favourable pastime but given the situation it appeared to be the safer option.

We both stayed up on watch with our eyes straining to try and spot fishing flags in the moonlight. Despite our vigilance, we had two scares – one on Martin’s side when he spotted the flag just in time to sharply turn the helm away from the obstacle – and five minutes later on Sue’s side when a second flag appeared out of nowhere and flapped wildly against the side of the hull as it slipped by in the dark. Bloody nets everywhere !!!!!

   

 

Other excitement was delivered by encounters with boats. The first was a container ship that was set to cross our path on a direct collision course until we slowed down to allow it to pass in front of us – but unfortunately this put us in the path of two large fishing trawlers who were steaming towards us with a large trawling net strung between them. This time it was up with the revs and full steam ahead to avoid them.
We never like coming into strange anchorages at night so once we gained the shelter of Koh Muk we dropped the pick well out in 10 metres of water and were finally able to fall into our flat, calm bed at 1.30am.

 

 

We awoke next morning to the sound of longtails (the local style of fishing boat ) skimming noisily by – and we peered out to take in the awe-inspiring scenery. After re-anchoring closer to the shore, we took the dinghy to explore the geologically spectacular limestone cliffs and buttresses that make up Koh Muk. It did not take us long to find the entrance to the hidden cave – the many tourists boats tied up outside the entrance were a bit of a giveaway! It was high tide and the only way in through the cave was by swimming. Several human chains linking excited tourists snaked their way towards the entrance – all sporting mae-west style life jackets and all linked together for safety.

 

We decided to wait till low tide – which fortunately coincided with the time the tour boats had to leave in order to get back to Phuket. Meantime, we explored the rest of the island, including the tiny eco-resort that gave us the opportunity to sample our first Thai meal since entering the country (luckily we had come pre-prepared with some Thai Baht).

 

Below: Koh Mok limestone cliffs  

Below: The natural beauty of Koh Mok headland

 

   

 

     

Returning to the cave late afternoon we had the place to ourselves and were surrounded only by overhanging, emerald green stalactites. As we slowly rowed our dinghy into the darkness and made our way through the twisting, dripping cave, we were thankful that we had brought a waterproof torch with us to guide us safely by the many false turns that led to deadends.

  I

Above: Two views of the entrance to the Koh Mok Hong. Without the mooring buoys marking the entrance, it would be very hard to find

 
Finally we popped out to what felt like a scene out of ‘Lord of the Rings’.  We found ourselves in a 100 metre wide circular hong – made up of sheer sided walls sheathed in tenaciously clinging jungle foliage intertwined with creepers and highlighted by the last rays of the sun. The only way in was via the sea cave. On every side 100m cliffs stretched skywards.
     
 
Above: After the cave, we could walk around the circular 'hidden' valley - apparently used by smugglers in years gone by to hide their stash

Being low tide, the water had receded leaving a smooth, unmarked sandy surface – and this meant we could leave the dinghy and walk reverently around the open-air hong, taking in the silence of the open-air cavern and soaking up the cool air. If this was a sample of what Thailand had to offer, we were hooked already!

 
Below: returning to the outside world after exploring the hong  

Above: the inside entrance to the cave

Below: At low tide you can clearly see the erosion of the soft limestone

 

 

   

Time was now pressing for us to check into Thailand officially – so we reluctantly upped anchor the next day and sailed the final few hours to our checkin point of Ao Chalong bay, Phuket.

 
     

The solitude and the ambiance of the previous nights anchorage was soon lost amid the engine roars and choppy water caused by the many tourist and fishing vessels disgorging passengers at the nearby Ao Chalong jetty. Finding a spare spot to anchor was also tricky since most of the bay was filled with commercial mooring buoys. Those private yachts silly enough to try and pickup one of these numerous moorings are soon moved on – either by being let go to drift if no-one is aboard – or by the continual blaring of a horn as the upset skipper nudges closer to the offending yacht, warning the occupants to move on!  With little room to spare, we finally found a spot to anchor and settled in for a noisy night.

 

We met the crew from Two Up ashore the next day as we returned from completing our formal check-in. Over lunch we caught up on some of the 'don't miss' areas to visit over the coming months. Two Up had already been in Thailand for two months and, visa wise, it was time for them to checkout and head back to Malaysia where they intended to haul-out and finally fix their damaged keel – you may recall that it was holed after contact with a reef way back in Flores in Indonesia. It was certainly a good repair job that the boys did as the patch was still holding all these months later.
 
 

Left: Sue with Donna from Two up

 

The next day we moved a couple of miles to the east of Ao Chalong bay to a secluded anchorage where we  enjoyed a couple of very pleasant days catching up with Two Up before they headed south. Over drinks we reminisced about our shared sailing adventures and toasted the fact that we had made it to Thailand – our ultimate goal when we set-off from Australia all those months ago.

     

Plans for the future were also briefly discussed – but all agreed that the plan for this year was to have no plan – just to make it up as we go along, enjoy the cruising, the food and soak up the culture and scenery.


Sounds like a damn fine plan to us!