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Martin & Sue


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In the warzone: remembering the Anzacs & doing battle with the elements


The end of our circumnavigation of Palau Langkawi was timed to coincide with a rendezvous of Australian and New Zealand cruisers planned for Anzac Day.


  This gave us about two weeks so we headed off in an anti clockwise direction, starting at Kuah town to replenish provisions (particularly the duty free alcohol stocks that had been severely dented after a few months in Thailand). It took a few days to do the rounds of the warehouses giving us time for several memorable evenings catching up with crews from boats we had not seen since the end of the Indonesian Rally.
Above: in the large cockpit of the NZ cat 'Cool Bananas'   Below left and right: Ashore with the crews from 'Braveheart' and 'Two Up'
We had forgotten how cheap the food was in Malaysia – particularly when the tourist restaurants were avoided – and most nights the split bill for food only added up to $3 a person.  
Below: Lucy from 'Soul' tucks into a seafood laksa   Below: Check out the size of these prawns. ( On a dinner plate!)
During one foray ashore we came across a night market where we were able to graze on the many snacks on offer – some more appetising looking than others!

Unluckily, our arrival back in Malaysia seemed to herald the early arrival of the unsettled transition period between the monsoons. Those who have experience with tropical climates call this the ‘silly season’ but it could equally correctly be termed the ‘season of contrasts’ for interspersed with hot, still days where the humidity hovered around 85% were cloudy, unsettled ones that brought afternoon storms. Luckily the rain storms did not last long and since most evenings were fine, we took advantage of our front trampolines to sleep outside in an attempt to catch some breeze in the breathless conditions.


Langkawi’s coastline is mostly made up of spectacular soaring cliffs fringed by thick, lush jungle. Fortunately, given the rugged terrain, there is very little tourist development along most of the eastern shorelines so for the first few days we were able to anchor alone in isolated bays set amidst sheer sided, pink cliffs.

Below: Storm clouds forming on the horizon    
  Most evenings we were treated to spectacular lightening displays filling the skyline with a kaleidoscope of sizzling bolts and flashes. Fortunately, most of these storms managed to skirt around us and we could enjoy the show without having to concern ourselves about the safety of the boat.


After the solitude of these isolated anchorages, it was a rude awakening to arrive at the ‘Hole in the Wall’ - a sheltered maze of mangrove creeks spidering out from a large circular Bay  whose entrance ( only 30m wide ) is half hidden behind the rocky outcrops of the steep sided sea mountains.  



We had only just settled on our anchor when the noisy ‘long tails’ started zooming by.  These narrow wooden canoe shaped boats are driven by an unmuffled car engine and are propelled along via a 3 metre long shaft pivoted out from the stern like an outboard. The whole engine and shaft pivots on the transom with the driver holding the engine via a piece of pipe and using it like a tiller. Most sported 8-10 screaming Korean tourists who seemed to enjoy the adrenalin rush of speeding by us with only metres to spare although a few carried small Arab family groups including burka clad figures who must have had great difficulty seeing anything through the eye slits since the voluminous fabric was billowing wildly in the wind.  We were not surprised to learn later that this region specializes in 5 star resorts catering exclusively for rich Arabian tourists.




Fortunately we were not aboard for very long before we were off in the dinghy to explore the many arms of the mangrove creeks, keeping a wary eye out for landmarks to ensure we did not become lost. There was lots to discover, including a few bat caves and several decaying charcoal kilns. Later, we watched the eagle feeding which involved the skippers of the long tails throwing food into the water so the tourists could take their action snaps. Not surprisingly, these well fed birds turn up their beaks to mere fish titbits and will only swoop down when chicken is floated in the water!






After a few days we moved our boat to the northern end of the mangrove river system. Despite a tricky entrance where we saw less than one metre under our keel, we were able to safely find our way into a very sheltered spot behind a long sand spit housing several luxury resorts.



We took a trip ashore to explore the pools and expensive restaurants frequented by the very rich ( purported to be $A6000 per night for the private bungalows ) – and then found our way to the local eatery where the omelettes were only $1 each and a curry set us back $1.50. This was certainly better than the meals at the resort which started at $A20 for local noodles and peaked at $A200 for the seafood buffet ! Per person of course !

  Our last stop before returning to Telaga Harbour for the Anzac Day festivities was off the North-western corner of the island. Here, again, there was a luxury resort but we weren’t complaining for we soon discovered that they had neglected to secure their WiFi so spent several hours making full use of the unlimited, free internet access! Despite the existence of the resort this part of the coast was teaming with wildlife and at low tide we saw monkeys, deer, monitor lizards and even wild pigs fossicking on the beach.



We woke on Anzac Day to the sounds of the last post being played over the VHF on channel 15 (the channel we had all agreed to monitor whilst in Telaga Harbour).  On surveying the other boats we quickly realised we were the only ones not flying a large Aussie or NZ flag from our mast so we quickly hoisted ours as a mark of respect for the Anzacs. Festivities started at 10 am and we all crowded under the shade of a Casurina tree on a small island adjacent to the harbour entrance.





We kicked off with an Aussie morning tea consisting of anzac biscuits, vegemite sandwiches, damper with golden syrup and billy tea before conducting the official part of the day where we recited the ode and observed 2 minutes silence.  


  Of the  15 boats represented on shore, 13 were Australian so we severely outnumbered the New Zealanders on ‘Cool Bananas’ (but luckily Daryl was well able to handle the sheep jokes and even came back with his own repertoire of ‘Aussie Bashing’ humour!) There was also a token British representative which opened the way for a bit of good natured ribbing when the beach cricket started regarding the performance of the English Cricket Team!





The afternoon BBQ had only just finished when the sky became threateningly black and thunder started to growl. There was a mad rush for the dinghies as skippers rushed to return to their boats to close hatches and monitor for anchor drag. When the squall hit it did so with vengeance, pelting down horizontal driving rain (that unfortunately found its way under our rain covers to drench our bed before we had time to close all our hatches) and strong wind gusts. Those left ashore tried to shelter underneath a quickly constructed tarp. Fortunately the storm passed by quickly although not in time to prevent several boats having to re-anchor after dragging. Fortunately we had put out over 30 metres of chain in only 2 metres of depth so our Rocna anchor held well.





It was cooler after the storm and allowed the tarp to be reused as a covering over the sand to facilitate a game of Two Up. Bets were fast and furious although unlikely to break the bank since the standard bet was for only 1 ringgit which is only 30c Australian!



The next day was understandably rather a quiet one in the anchorage and most people, including ourselves, spent the day drying wet bedding. It was not until about 4pm that the ‘fun’ started. In a repeat performance of the previous days squall, the sky darkened and the rain began. The storm started slowly allowing us to take advantage of the rain to shower on the transom steps and even start to scrub the boat.  

  However, a few loud cracks of thunder sent us quickly inside and as the wind gusts increased to 50 knots we peered through the driving rain to watch several yachts running their engines in an effort to encourage their anchors to hold. Again several boats dragged including one catamaran that slid into a monohull (unfortunately neither had workable engines due to mechanical failure so others had to assist with dinghies to separate them before any damage was done).

For us, it was the close proximity of the rumbling thunder and the brilliant flashes of lightening that caused us the most concern and, having one of the tallest mast in the group, we started to worry about being struck. We turned off all our electrical gear and relocated the smaller portable electrical objects to the oven and the microwave to serve as Faraday cages. Eventually, after about an hour, it appeared that the storm had moved on and we relocated to the cockpit to continue our boat scrubbing taking advantage of the fresh water. However, the weather god had one last explosive crack up its sleeve. We heard a strange fizzing sound and then an almighty crack and instinctively ducked our heads in shock. At first we thought we had been hit but after a quick check of the larger electrical instruments we could not find anything amiss and we wondered if perhaps it had hit one of the yachts in the marina (only a few hundred metres away inside the breakwater).   


Our questions were soon answered when we heard a call from outside. Our friends on ‘Two Up’ had been anchored only 40 metres behind us. Being a catamaran of similar design, their mast was almost exactly the same size as ours. Unluckily for them it was their mast that the lightening targeted and they had taken a direct hit.

    Below: Looking back towards 'Two Up' during the storm


. At first they thought they may have gotten off lightly for their two laptops appeared to be in working order (although it was soon revealed that the power packs were useless). However, on further investigations they discovered a long list of damaged equipment including their battery charger, inverter, alternators, solar panel regulator, chart plotter, GPS, most lights ( including a couple that had just blown up ) and a vaporised VHF antenna that once stood on top of their mast.   Like many other boats, ‘Two Up’ had taken the precaution of having a cable hanging from their mast towards the water and it is hard to tell whether this helped prevent further damage or not. We have a lightening conductor on top of our mast which is bonded directly via heavy cables to a large copper earthing plate on the outside of the hull under the water line (that Martin fitted before we left Australia) - but whether this helped or not we will never know.


Later that night we realised that the LED’s in our mast anchor light, tri-light and steaming lights were all blown out but still counted ourselves very lucky to have escaped with so little damage.  

We later heard that there was indeed a yacht also hit in the marina. The storm cell had passed directly over us and taken its toll.


Next morning, with their equipment casualty list mounting, ‘Two Up’ rang their insurance company. Their excess for electrical strike was set at 5% of the value of their boat and it was touch and go whether the damage bill would exceed this amount so Pete was advised to assess the damage and get back to them.

And unfortunately that is not the end of the drama. Later that morning whilst doing a survey Pete noticed black scorch marks low down on the inside fibreglass. After finding water in the bilge he quickly continued his investigations and discovered to his horror two small holes in the hull where water was dibbling in. It was where the electrical pulse had obviously made its insidious way along the mast shrouds, down the chain plate (which was attached to carbon fibre reinforcing) and then punched directly through the fibreglass and into the water seeking earth where the carbon fibre and hence conductor, ended. Fortunately when contact was made with nearby Rebak Marina they immediately agreed to haul ‘Two Up’ out of the water as soon as they could make their way over there – which they did so within the hour. Having just returned to the water after his annual haul out this was an additional blow to an already growing ‘bad luck’ list.


It was in a sombre mood that we finally headed out of Telaga Harbour to spend a few last days exploring the southern fjords before we were booked into Rebak marina ourselves.

  We have plans to now leave 'Mandolin Wind' for a few months to do some exploring on land for a change. With the troubles involving the Red Shirts in Thailand at the moment we have made a last minute decision to avoid routing through Bangkok and instead will fly to KL and then onto HCMC in Vietnam before heading on to Laos and Cambodia.