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Chatty log | Passage to Langkawi

Passage to Langkawi

10 August

John: We do rather better than I had hoped with checking out, getting everything done by midday. Then it's last-minute shopping and back to Thilafushi on the 16:00 ferry. I pay Shareef's very reasonable bill and we quickly get ready to go to catch the last light on the way out of the atoll. We end up motoring out in the dark, being narrowly missed by fast powerboats and other craft, while we try and make the boat a bit more shipshape. We are glad to have the portable nav. lights to show, at least. I notice that the outboard is encrusted with small barnacles and fear that the boat hull and propeller may be in similar shape. We stop the boat and I snorkel down to take a look. Indeed, the prop is in a bad way. I can only clean it maybe 50% by snorkelling as the light fails, and the hull remains encrusted. I figure this will cost us 5-10% on speed, adding maybe a day to our voyage to Langkawi. It's late, getting dark, and I want to stop for the night inside the atoll and clean the prop and hull before setting off tomorrow morning, but Caro is heart-set on leaving and will not be deflected so we go anyway. I have to admit it feels good to be away and heading east at last.

11 August

John: The wind is too light to try sailing but the motor is doing a good job and we have some current with us so we are making good progress. I have to top up the cooling fluid from time to time, which is a little worrying in case it suddenly deteriorates. We're all feeling a bit sensitive with the motion, so nothing in the way of clearing up the anchors or lazarette packing gets done, though Casper bakes a wicked chocolate hazlenut cake. In the afternoon the wind picked up a little from the NW so we raised the cut-down Genoa to help us along. We decided to take it down at dusk rather than face having an emergency sail drop in the middle of the night when we're short-handed. That's when we discovered that we'd broken the forestay. I climbed the mast with the sail still up to stop the mast from toppling over backwards as I climbed. Right at the top we took a couple of big rolls that had me clinging on for dear life and sweating in case something else parted. Even if I hung on, the whole mast could topple easily. We got an emergency rope on and secured the mast. Proper repairs will have to wait until tomorrow. Reeling in the fishing lines, Alex discovered a small skipjack tuna on the end of one. A nice surprise!

12 August

John: Dawn was grey and overcast. By sched time (05:25) we had made 188 n.m. from Thilafushi. Not bad at all. It took most of the mornng to set up a new forestay and fit backup rope forestay and shrouds for security. Now we feel a little more confident. The wind seems to have shifted round to the SW by the end of the day, maybe we will be able to sail soon. The kids spent the entire day immersed in Jedi Knights Academy, their latest PC game. I caught a second small skipjack and made sashimi and sushi for dinner which went down very well. A funny incident. Caro was sitting in the cockpit by the open flap and jumped up suddenly, flapping her arms about. She'd been hit by a startled flying fish, though it's hard to say who was more startled. Casper put it in a bucket and we watched him swim around for a while before releasing him.

13 August

John: Another grey dawn. You know, once you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. Our 05:20 position was 4 deg. 25.3'N, 078 deg. 40.8'E, the distance to our Sumatra waypoint fnally down below the +999 figure to 992 n.m. Another fishing boat turns up, steering an interception course. I speed up so he falls behind, but he still chases us for the best part of 30 minutes before giving up. We hear that the wind should pick up to around 20 kt from the S. By mid-afternoon we have the engine off and are sailing at 5 kt on our cut-down Genoa. Not bad! Then we set about rigging the 'main', our adusted small Genoa. Using the boom does not work, tearing out the new clew, so we rig it from the mast base and run it like a Gennaker. It seems to help. We take the sails down at sunset and get the engine back on rather than risk the mast in the nightly squalls. I am perpetually nervous about the mast, rigging and engine; all of which have dramatically failed at some point in the last couple of months and all of which we need intact if we are to make it the 1600 n.m. to Langkawi.

14 August

John: A very grey dawn. We're getting a lot of squalls that have us turning off the radar alarm, only to be surprised by tiny fishing boats close aboard. While I was doing the sched this morning Casper called down to say that a fishing boat had come close on our port. Indeed, he was tracking us just 30 m off our port quarter, crew holding up fish and gesticulating that we should slow down and allow him to approach. I am deeply uncomfortable with getting involved, and there is a tense 20 minutes in which there is a standoff, he insistent on some exchange, I insistent on him keeping his distance. He eventually gives up and turns away. Casper bakes up a delicious gooey cookie batch with lime or something citrous in it that is really yummy. I have to hold myself back from pigging out. Again we get to sail during the day, saving a significant amount of fuel. We're using the Genoa loose-luffed now, more like a Gennaker, which seems to work for downwind angles. Getting some miles under the keel under sail is important if we want to make it direct into Langkawi. By the time we take the sails down at 18:50 local (UTC+5) we are 794 n.m. from our Sumatra waypoint at 4 deg. 38.9'N, 081 deg. 59.3'E. After that we have another 270 n.m. or so to run to reach Langkawi.

15 August

John: A rough night trying to get some rest in the rolling, then up at 05:00 to get ready for the morning sched. Our 05:20 position today is 4 deg. 42.9'N, 082 deg. 57.5'E. Today we really must get a POP air sample done, and I struggle about on the aft deck arranging the pump and hose to prepare. Everything takes an age to get done in this motion. When Caro gets up we load the filters together and get it going. Exhausted, I take a break to read. Caro, bless her heart, bakes bread and prepares fresh enormous burgers for lunch that are absolutely delicious. I read some Harry Potter for desert. By mid-afternoon I'm whacked and retire for a nap that takes me to dusk. Somewhat rejuvinated we read not only a second dose of Harry Potter but get to see a film, too. the kids are not getting much done in the way of schoolwork these days, but that's hard. The Genoa comes down just before we go to bed, the engine taking over for the night with just 651 n.m to run to our waypoint. The downside is that we seem to have lost our favourable current.

16 August

John: A better night's sleep for me, but the rest of the crew sure seem zonked. Caro had some nasty squalls to deal with in the night. The rolling is worse this morning, and Alex is the next one up after me, rushing on deck to empty his guts over the side. He spends the morning alternately dozing and retching, poor thing. I spend the best part of an hour getting the sails up on my own, the jury rig is not user friendly, then the rest of the morning sweating over the squalls that threaten to hit us. At one point I was seeing boat speeds over 7 knots, so she was obviously well-powered up and straining the standing rigging. Seeing as we've crossed 85 East I put the clocks forward an hour. Caro got up around 11, head-achey and miserable. Casper had to be turfed out of bed. After a lunch of noodle soup everyone seemed to perk up, but this is still no picnic. The sea has got bigger and the wind is mostly too light to make more than 4.5 kts without our favourable current, even with both sails up. It looks like we'll have enough fuel, so long as the rigging and sails hold up, but it might take a while. I can't see us getting into Langkawi before nightfall on 23rd, which is just too late to meet up with Opa and Oma. Very frustrating. Another skipjack hooks up, this time quite large for this species, so it'll be sashimi and sushi again tonight... if I can tear Casper and Alex away from Jedi Academy long enough to have the galley cleaned up!

17 August

John: At dawn this morning we were making only 4 kts at 1000 rpm, not very good. The wind is light and not really enough to help us significantly with our short rig. Another 521 n.m. to go to reach Pulau We, then another 280 or so to Langkawi. We're about half-way. So long as the mild weather holds I guess we can't complain. In the afternoon we complete another particulate air sample for NUS. We ran a matching Persistent Organic Pollutant sample yesterday. Maintenance issue for today; the freeze plug at the back of the engine is leaking again... drip, drip, drip. By sunset the plug is leaking badly enougt to overheat the engine and we shut it down to sail for the night. I'll have to let it cool and run dry before making another repair attempt tomorrow.

18 August

John: Now it's Casper's turn to get the stomach bug. He's up early this morning, so I knew something was seriously wrong. He didn't know which end to point over the side. poor guy. No food for him today! There are maybe 10 freeze plugs on this old Ford. One is particularly difficult to get at, low on the block and at the back of the engine near the gearbox. Guess which one leaks? I have to take off some hoses and rig a lamp and mirror to see it. I decide to unscrew the little screws with rubber washers I have used before to plug the pinholes and to clean it up and plaster it with 3M 5200. This takes a couple of hours, then of course I have to wait quite a while for the 5200 to go off sufficiently to risk refilling the cooling system. By evening we have the engine running again, and it seems OK. Still, we've lost some time of course and now we'll not make it in to Langkawi until 24th for sure. Casper is feeling lot better by evening and is hungry enough to eat some bread and spreads.

19 August

John: Richard gives us some weather on the morning net, a few storm cells about but mainly ahead of us and light winds predicted. We're moving along, but it gets pretty tiring when the swell reaches 2-3m, as it did this afternoon, with all the rolling. Without enough wind to keep the sails taut, we are at the mercy of the waves. Our twice-daily dose of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince helps keep our spirits up, reading a chapter after lunch and dinner.

20 August

John: It looks like we will have enough fuel with some to spare, so we increase the revs to 1100, then 1200 rpm to try and get the speed up to 5 kt. Where did our following current go? We have almost no wind now, and are still only making 4-5 kt. Around midday I pull a cover off the engine compartment for a routine check and discover that the saltwater cooling circuit has sprung a leak and is now hosing down the front of the engine with hot salt water, including both alternators. Nice. We shut down to repair. Another lash-up job with self-amalgamating tape. By evening we are within 151 n.m. of our Pulau We waypoint, so we are slowly but surely getting there and it looks like we have found a little of good current again, at least for a while, pushing our speed back up to 5.5 kt.

21 August

John: What is this nasty vibration and crunching rattling sound at the front of the engine? I am not imagining this. I know I'm kind of sensitive about the failure rate and nervous that things will not hold together, but this is a worry. By the morning sched we have just 107 n.m. to go to Pulau We, but are making only 4.5 kt in about 10 kt of wind from the South. When we restart the engine mid-morning there is a horrible clattering sound. I guess immediately it must be the shaft coupling bolts. Sure enough, two have come out, one sheared and bent. While I'm messing with that problem, hanging in the bilge with the inspection lamp hung over it so I can find the missing washers and nuts in the oily swamp, there's suddenly a beeping alarm. I don't recognise it, but then there's a burning smell. Electrical fire! Momentary panic while I cut power and switch everything off, looking about for signs of burning plastic. It turns out the inspection lamp fell in the bilge and shorted out, the alarm was the overload on the inverter. No real damage done. Then the autopilot would not restart, declaring some arcane error code. Then I found a diesel leak on the tank valve, dripping into the bilge. Is there no end to this stuff?

22 August

John: Land Ho! An exciting night watch, with 10+ kt of wind from the South filling both sails, squalls to dodge and worry about (how much wind will they bring?), good-sized waves and an ice-ring around the big bright moon. I was too tense to do anything but look about and keep checking radar, sails, sea, rigging. Caro took over the second half of the night. I woke to daylight and the acrid smell of burning. The haze of burning forest from fires set in Sumatra to clear land for cultivation. What a depressing sight and smell to welcome us back to Asia. I found Caro in the cockpit, staring forlornly out to the scarred land, sad and frustrated. Pulau We and its surroundings look like such a lovely area, but the bare hills where the forest has been cleared are ugly and the dirty haze smudges everything into nameless grey-brown. We decided to take a set of air samples to see what's really in the air. Then, as if to counterbalance our dark perception, we sight a pod of Sperm Whales, maybe 10-12 with a couple of calves. They are resting and we approach gently until we see the adults all sound, off to get food we guess, leaving the calves at the surface. We can hear their characteristic clicking codas on our hydrophone as they dive. What a special sight!

23 August

John: Squalls and more squalls, with little or no usable wind as the background. Good job we have a good stock of diesel, much of which was conserved from the earlier part of the leg when we had enough wind to sail for some of the time. The jury-rig mast and sails have certainly proved their worth. We move the ship's clocks forward an hour in preparation for reaching Malaysia; still one hour to go to match their UTC+8. My temporary repair on the saltwater cooling hose proved to be a little more temporary than I had hoped. It is spraying the engine again. I pull it all apart this time and re-cut a piece of copper tubing that had a pinhole etched by galvanic corrosion. How many more parts are there like this, on the edge, just waiting to fail? But by the end of the day we have only 72 n.m. to go to reach Langkawi; it feels finally within reach.

24 August

John: Dawn reveals a very welcome sight; Malaysia and the rounded, voluptuous mountains of Langkawi and the Thai mainland to the north. We motorsail in towards the Royal Langkawi Yacht club in high spirits and looking forward to the luxuries of shore. By midday we are manoevering inside the marina, for the first time in over a year (the last marina was Nongsa in August 2004) and are helped into a snug berth with all the cornucopia of restaurants, real shops and bars with cold beer awaiting us. Checking in takes little time and we are free to roam, though so burnt out with lack of sleep that it is as much as we can do to put the boat to bed, get the awning up and eat a simple meal ashore before bed. Caro is feeling very rough and maybe has a touch of the stomach bug that Casper was ailing with a few days ago. Nothing some good rest won't set right.

 

 

 
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