The return of the blog....a 3 month recap

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March 13th 2016
Published: March 13th 2016
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freshly painted
The return of the Blog….

Well I did promise back in April when we laid up Luna Ray on the hard that I would return with the blog when I returned to the boat but despite returning to Malaysia in November the blog did not. I guess with cruising on ground that was not new I was not really inspired to write about it, and since there was no public uproar due to its absence, my literary malaise continued.

Until now that is… so here’s a bit of a recap of what Luna Ray and her passengers have been up to.

Some stuff may only be of interest to cruisers visiting the same areas - so I have put these in italics.

As I said, I came back to the boat which was out of the water at Pangkor Island Marina (Malaysia) but this time I was alone. This was to save Naomi the chore of bringing the boat up to Langkawi (about 4 day sails north) which is where the cruising becomes a lot more interesting. Fortunately this provided the room to be joined by 2 old school friends to help me make the journey and then I showed them around a few choice spots in the area. We had a great couple of weeks.

First the boat needed some preparation. I had Joe and his team at the marina prep and anti-foul the boat, including a couple of coats of “prospeed” on the prop - and they did an excellent job - in fact I don’t think Luna Ray have ever performed so well as these last few months. While they did this I was doing a few jobs here and there to have her ready to go back in the water, which was delayed a day as the boat lift needed some repairs. This also included a day on a moped to get some food and check out with the Harbour Master and customs.

Now the drop in the water coincided with the day Jerry would arrive. The car I asked to rent to pick him up from the bus stop had been rented out to someone else but the marina owner James was as always very accommodating and lent me his. Unfortunately due to a timing and communication error, our paths must have crossed as I was driving to the bus stop while Jerry was taking a taxi to the marina! In my absence he let himself into the boat, climbed down the companionway and not being used to the couple extra steps that his own boat doesn’t have, took one very large last step, fell back onto the table, bruising his back and damaging the table…. this was his first but not last damaging incident on Luna Ray.

The next day we made our first leg north, through some showers and sat out a squall at anchor that evening. The next long day was to Penang and in the morning I convinced Jerry he needed to go up the mast to retrieve a halyard for the jib. This it turned out had been a boyhood dream of his however since we hadn’t had time to do it in the flat anchorage and there was small bit of wave action to motor through I managed to turn it into a nightmare for him. After a few bruises and a few cuss words in my direction he got the essential job done and later that afternoon as we approached Penang we even got to use the jib (for an hour or so) - I think he’s forgiven me now.

The next day in Panang we made our way by foot and then bus to the airport to collect old friend number 2 - Russell. He found us waiting at the wrong arrivals gate. We had some curry for lunch - the best airport food I have ever had - and then took a taxi back to the dinghy (after a little stop in the mall for more supplies). The dinghy which had some deflation issues last season, had not improved with being sat on the deck for the last 6 months. This turned our paddle back to Luna Ray a funny and wet race against time as the dinghy slowly sank.

While Russ got used to life aboard, we caught up, had a few drinks and after a lot of effort finally jiggled the furling rope down the boom (I had accidentally pulled it out when we packed Luna Ray up).

Next day we moved up to the north end of the island to visit Georgetown. I gave the dinghy its usual morning pump up for the day but this time one of its seams gave way and it was soon very flat as it let out one massive death sigh. Out came the spare zodiac, left it on the beach just north of the fort and had a stroll around town, the jetties and had another delicious curry. We had a beautiful sail away from Penang that afternoon, and stopped at an island just after dark about 15miles north. It was around this time that Jerry forced his tablet into my iPad mount and broke it.

The next leg was another long one to Langkawi and I think we motored most of it. The morning was interrupted by the amazing sight of having a whale rear up right next to the boat…. in fact it was so close it was the sound of its blowhole that first made us notice it. The boys saw another that afternoon - a real treat as I hadn’t seen any on this coast line.

Along the way Jerry repaired the iPad mount with some epoxy, to only break it again a few hours later !

In the harbour in Langkawi we were heading to shore but were just curtailed (I was already in the dinghy) by a storm that had us trapped aboard all evening - heavy rain and some frighteningly close lightening strikes.

The next day was a tour of Kuah, more supplies, and then a delightful downwind sail to the Pragnant Maiden Lake island - Langkawi has some stunning scenery that we sailed through however the boys seemed more interested in staring at their phones now that we had some internet reception. We splashed about at the lake, and went to Telaga Harbour for immigration - getting surprised by a squall along the way (i.e. full sails still up!).

We sailed to the Butang Islands and got squeezed between 2 wet squalls along the way - see the radar photo - and had a few pleasant days enjoying the clear waters, lovely beaches and snorkelling.

On our return to Langkawi, our rendezvous with Naomi & Alex at Rebak marina was delayed as we were hit by another squall. Luckily they had met up with the guys from SV Ananda including Alex’s play friend Millie. The marina staff had gone home so it was lucky Naomi was there to tell us where to tie up. We had a few nights in the marina relaxing and some drive touring of the island before Russ & Jerry flew back to England.

The 3 of us remaining took ourselves off for a few days to a spot between 3 little islands just a few miles south of the marina, with some nice beaches.

I had decided that the dinghy was beyond normal repair and I was going to fill it with expanding foam however when I tried a couple of cans I was very disappointed with the amount it produced - rather than fill good section of one of the tubes it just sat at the bottom like a sad cow pat. It would cost a fortune to continue this way so I decided that I would utilise what was so abundant on many asian beaches - a ready supply of washed up polystyrene. On just a couple of these beaches I collected 4 large rubbish bin liners of polystyrene - in a small way I was making the beaches a bit nicer too. Win Win!

On our return to Rebak our next guests arrived…. my mother and brother Nicky. After several days in the marina resort for them to cope with the heat and jet lag we set out again, off to the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden and then off to Kuah town - again our guests did not appreciate the scenery along this route - this time watching “How to Train a Dragon” episodes. We had a couple of nights in a hotel to take a rest from the confines of the boat and then after this made a slow anti-clockwise circumnavigation of Langkawi - including a couple of nights at the “Hole in the Wall” anchorage.

After a few more nights at Rebak, Mum and Nicky were off home to Ireland and we had the boat to ourselves again but only for a couple of weeks.

We sailed out to the Butang Islands and had Xmas with the guys from SV Ananda and some other friends of theirs, before heading up to Phuket for our proper check into Thailand. It was here I completed filling the dinghy with polystyrene and sowed it together. Its an ugly monster but floats well and still gets on the plane - with its course stitching we gave it the name Frankenstein, Franky for short.

We knew we would have a good wind in the morning, so rode the current up the west side of Adang Island, but as this hit the NE strong breeze it gave us quite a ride with steep 2-3m waves head on. We ploughed on hoping it would end after a few miles and it did, then we settled into a fast close haul sail into about 20 knots. So it was quite a wet ride, the wind dropped about midday as expected but then we got a second wind and sped north, getting all the way to Koh Lanta that day.

The next day we had more good wind and could have easily made Phuket but stopped in the early afternoon in the south tip bay of Koh Yao Yai as this would give us a more secure anchorage.

We had heard that the compulsory AIS transponder requirement in Phuket waters was now actually being checked with a scanner on arrival. Since we didn’t have one we decided that we would go straight to a marina and drive to immigration, hoping that this would avoid proving we were legally equipped.

AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a relatively new gadget on boats that allows you to see and be seen by other boats with AIS via the VHF waves. Its a stipulation that I resent as it really wasn’t around on private boats until about 10 years ago, so being told its now a necessary safety requirement seems daft.

The units can be quite expensive (usually at least $1000) and have considerable power draw if left on all the time, as is the legal requirement. Although the Thai government claim the law is in place to prevent collisions, interestingly it only applies to foreign boats and is probably just an easy way for them to play Big Brother.

We had another rampant sail in the last 10 miles to Phuket and straight into the shallow channel that leads to Boat Lagoon Marina.

At immigration at Chalong Bay we were asked for our MMSI number, and we happen to have one as our VHF radio has a AIS receiver only function but we hadn’t thought to bring it. Chatting to a Canadian couple that were also checking in, who we coincidentally were berthed next to a month later in Yacht Haven Marina, told us that previously they had taken the number and a guy had ran up stairs to check the monitor that the boat was transmitting an AIS signal however that day the harbour master office only had one staff so they were just taking numbers (of no probable use).

However the stern lady in the office, after asking for the number several times, got me list myself in a book (a small school exercise book) and declare that I didn’t have my AIS on or installed. We had told her we were in the marina for repairs (which was partially true as our portable generator had stopped working) not expecting their scanner to cover as far away as the marina. The declaration made it clear that as of the 1st Jan not having the AIS working would incur penalties - probably a fine though the law could include jail time.

Pretty pleased with ourselves for checking in without an AIS and penalty, we had lunch, did some shopping and started searching for a place to buy an AIS transponder for our departure checking out. Somewhere I lost my mobile…. so the day ended in an frantic hunt for my phone at all the places I might have dropped it, in the waning light, but no joy. Nightmare! The shopping had been a bit of a waste too as they have now opened another chain of the Villa Supermarket at the Boat Lagoon Marina we were moored - very handy - no other marinas in Phuket have this.

With a remaining half day of car rental still left we drove north the next morning, visited another marina (Oa Po) and after some hunting back and forth found an electronics shop where we bought an AIS unit (Em-Trek brand - apparently as good as the Simrad one but less expensive) which is compatible with our Simrad system.

For New Years eve we did have plans of getting around to Nai Harn Bay however a few miles out from the marina channel I thought we might as well stop just off a nice little island (Koh Yang Rai) we have anchored at before rather
Alex and a dead crabAlex and a dead crabAlex and a dead crab

Luna Ray in background
than go so far. It was only once we dropped anchor I remembered the idea was get involved with the NY celebrations but we had stopped off at a near deserted island. So that New Years Eve was a relaxed affair, my lasting memories being watching some fireworks swinging in my new hammock on the deck and the line of fireworks set off along the whole length of Phuket island at midnight.

The few days there gave us some time on the beach, walking the nature trail around the island and setting up the new AIS system. After this we headed back into the marina to collect our next guest Michelle, who had last been on Luna Ray in the Whitsundays.

I had a call from my phone to say it had been found- at the chandlery we had visited! So I rented a scooter and drove to Chalong Bay to collect it. On my way back I thought it might be a fun ride to go up the hill to the Big Budda. Unfortunately quite near the top, a belt on the automatic gearbox blew, giving the bike a sudden jolt and bringing me to a standstill. I freewheeled down the hill and found a mechanics shop at the bottom. He told me he could have it fixed in an hour so I went for an early lunch and found the cheapest restaurant ever - a buffet selection of tasty food for only 40 baht (about $1.50).

I returned after an hour to find he had vanished. He arrived 15 mins later with the spare belt and I then had to wait a further 2 hours in the midday sun for him to fit it without it springing off when the engine was out into gear. After lots of sweat, some welding and a fiery domestic incident when he asked his wife to help briefly, while I entertained their toddler, and the job was finally done. What was quite frustrating was despite being a lot slower than promised he was quite happy to stop my job to help other customers who rocked up. I left with a large bill which the guy I rented off did not honour in full (arguing the moped was not meant to go up hills!), sorted a few things out on the boat and then we left
Alex joins me in the cockpit Alex joins me in the cockpit Alex joins me in the cockpit

on our early start to the Similans
the marina once the tide was high enough late in the afternoon.

Sunset and we had a pleasant downwind sail as darkness ensued, over to the same island again, anchoring under sail at night for the first time.

We took Michelle for a tour around Phang Nga bay, visiting the usual haunts….The Beach (Phi Phi Le); Monkey Beach (Phi Phi Don)(on the way here we got water down the front hatch onto Michelle’s bed as a large wave from a boat took us by surprise); Chicken Island; Koh Phenak to visit its hong (here we witnessed a monkey in the water attacking another smaller monkey- at first we thought it might be a mother reprimanding a child but eventually it killed it! not one of Michelle’s best memories of the trip and the place will be forever now known as Monkey Murder Island); We got grounded here but I pulled us off with the dinghy (just to see if I could)- toured north and the girls took detours to Koh Hong and James Bond Island on the dinghy whilst I ran aground again! and then dropped anchor at a nearby island (Koh Yang).
Lookout viewLookout viewLookout view

can you spot Luna Ray?

The next day we returned to Boat Lagoon Marina for water, food and to collect the fixed generator (apparently my cleaning of the carburettor was not up to scratch!). From here we cruised around to Nai Harn Bay and Patong, and then north of Phuket island. We set sail west and had a lovely gentle 35 mile sail to the Similan Islands, and picked up a mooring at Island 4 in the mid afternoon. Here we explored the beaches, the amazing clear water and great snorkelling.

I took the steep hike up the hill to take some great photos.

After a few days the batteries needed charging and we dropped the mooring to head up to Island 1 (where Michelle was getting her ride back to Phuket). The engine had been sounding a little iffy for a while and about 10 minutes underway, right in the narrow channel between the 2 islands the engine suddenly died. It wouldn’t restart and since we wanted to motor all the shades were still up. We got these down quick so we could get a sail up and slowly managed to turn the boat around staying clear of the rocks. The current directed us back to the mooring and there was just enough wind to steer toward it and we successfully picked it up.

The alternator belt had been shredded but replacing this was no help so asking around I eventually got the opinion of another boats “engineer” who told us the gear box was broken. Despite being french I believed him and we resigned ourselves to the fact that this could not be fixed here and our plans to cruise further north to the Surin islands would not happen.

Michelle was able to rearrange her ride so we saw her off from the beach and then set off back to the mainland under sail alone. The slow sail back had us still a fairway off the coast as the sun set and we peered into the darkness for the ever-present fishing pot flags until we accepted it was pointless trying to see them, and Alex and I lay back in the cockpit to star gaze and discuss the planets…until he fell asleep. We dropped anchor off a beach at about 10 pm.

From here we sailed back to Phuket and we were lucky to have wind everyday though one day it was on the nose it took us 7 hours tacking to get 19 miles! Boat Lagoon was full so we had to go all the way around to the top of Phuket to get into Yacht Haven marina. It was annoying that you cannot take a keel boat through the channel that makes Phuket an island as this would have saved us 3 days !

The wind dropped completely one day so we tied Franky to the side and used it to push us the last 5 miles to an anchorage - luckily the current was going our way. We used this technique the next day as we neared the marina, and then we were towed in by the staff dinghy to our pen.

Here we made contact with Graham, a Tasmanian, who quickly got to work on our engine and found the gear box bearings were seized up. Luckily I found the spare gearbox that came with Luna Ray when we bought her was unused so it just needed replacing as we were running out of time before we had to check out of Thailand.

We sailed south 30 miles to the southern tip of Phuket and checked out of Chalong Bay with our newly installed AIS with no days spare. Naomi did ask the harbour master what the penalty was for not having AIS now to which the lady answered “do you speak Thai?”; “no”; and it was left at that.

On our sail back to Langkawi we stopped at the Koh Rok islands for a few days- a place I had visited on a tourist speedboat 10 years earlier on my way to Australia. I had been impressed by the place and always thought it would be good to bring a yacht there…. so now that dream had been fulfilled. I think Naomi and I both agree its one of our favourite places - clear water, amazing beaches, great snorkelling.

We stopped off at the Butangs again for a couple of nights before getting back to Rebak Marina Resort Island, Langkawi.

After a few days tidying up and lazing in the pool, we all flew down to KL and while I headed to Vancouver for snowboarding at Whistler,
good coral lifegood coral lifegood coral life

at the Koh Rok Islands
Alex & Na returned to Yeppoon, Australia.

That was the wrap up almost 3 months but there’s more to come… we reattempt to visit the Surin Islands…. do we make it? are we eaten by Sea Gypsies? are we captured as Thai fishing slaves? find out on the next blog


PS there's plenty more pics to see here

SV Luna Ray

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