Friday, July 18, 2014

Scooting around Langkawi

We rented a motor-scooter at Langkawi (Malaysia) to scoot around the winding scenic roads of the 25 km long Island and can easily be driven around in half a day. For a nice change, the natural tropical flora dominated instead of people. The diverse Island scenes presented themselves to us in quiet villages, remote beaches, verdant rice paddies, and the occasional secluded beachfront 5-star resorts all not out of sight from the steep slopes above.

A boat and his best friend

Rice paddies in the lowland

We spotted a barrel of cute Gibbon monkeys crossing the road via the overhanging trees above us. Around another turn up in the steep hillside, a big bird caught our eye and when we stopped, it along with its mate, flew off. From the luggage on their beaks, they were a veritable big beautiful pair of rare Hornbills. We weren't quick enough with the camera though.

Gawking Gibbon

At 1 scenic viewpoint, the loud chorus from the jungle creatures was remarkable.

Even though it's obvious that Langkawi's destiny is with tourism, we could see enduring indigenous culture in both the fundamental daily activities such as tilling the soil or fishing the seas.

Fishing boats in port

Rickety dickety docks!

We rode into a tiny village whose shamefulness was announced by strewn garbage everywhere. The scene was shared with lounging indolent men and a tribe of goats that were sifting through the garbage (the goats that is!) None of the plastic refuse made it to the garbage bin that was in plain view...quite disgusting. Fortunately for the sake of Langkawi's reputation, the village was off the beaten path.

One tourist venture we wanted to check out was the Panorama SkyCab, a cable car ride to a cooler altitude. Up up we were drawn past the vertical climbs of Machincang Mountain. At the top we could see the whole of Langkawi, the islands of Thailand to the north, and out over the infinite blue expanse of the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean to the west.

SkyCab going up

Near the top is a uniquely designed curved SkyBridge for pedestrian viewing that spans a gap over virgin jungle. Notice how the tower leans to accommodate for weight of the bridge. Unfortunately, it has been closed for major refurbishing since 2012. Wonder when, or if, it will reopen...

Spatial experience

The ride down looked as if it would be quick due to the downward curve but surprisingly it was not. Back at the Base Station, we strolled around the Oriental Village, full of souvenir shops and retail stores, spas, galleries, and quaint little bridges over fish-feeding ponds - an outdoor mall!

SkyCab going down

Included in our SkyCab ticket price was viewing of a 6D cinema. We declined as time was running short and we thought it might be a full-length film. Later we found it was less than 15 minutes. Oh well, next time. I later read about 6D on the internet and wished we hadn't missed it. You "live inside the movie" with all the movement.

A few facts about the SkyCab:
  • Horizontal distance: 2,079 m
  • Vertical rise: 680 m (seems higher!)
  • Inclined distance: 2,158 m
  • Turn-around trip time: 28 minutes
  • Hourly capacity: 700 passengers/hour
  • Longest free span: 950 m (between Tower 2 and Middle Station)
  • Steepest gradient: 42 degrees
  • Construction period 16 months (Apr 2001 - Aug 2002)
Once back at Sea Turtle, we wound down the day over sundowners accompanied with reflections of a fun day.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Legendary Langkawi

We left Penang Island July 15th, passing close to lots of marine traffic going both ways in a lane that was dredged in shallows that extended a few miles out. Freighters, pilot boats, ferries, fishing boats, a cruiseship, and a big tug.

We all shared the aqua medium with a profusion of garbage. Contributors to this unnatural blight are mostly coastal populations but also indigenous maritimers with surprisingly little consideration to fragile ocean environment. Sailors are as a rule very conscious not to discard any non-biodegradable waste.

As we motored merrily along, we finally noticed some of the "fish stakes" that are mentioned on the charts at various spots along these coastal areas. These look just like skinny tree branches sticking high up out of the ocean. It would be impossible to see them at night and in fact they are hard to spot even in daylight until you get quite close.

The day started out sunny but the skies turned a dreary grey and brought with it high winds, up to gale force winds for a short bit. Winds were on the beam so it was no problem even though we were getting some waves over the deck. The winds consistently slowed, along with a directional change, which eventually put a mild breeze against us.

We had planned on possibly doing an overnight stop at Paya Island. It was said there were mooring balls we could hook onto, and it being a Marine Park, has apparently some good snorkelling. But the state and direction of the sea waves made the anchorage less than desirable so we pressed on.

As the daylight waned, we made the Langkawi archipelago of the Andaman Sea. We set anchor for the night tucked in between 2 small islands just before 20:00 close to the southwest end of the bigger Island of Langkawi (N06°14.475' E099°52.206'). This archipelago has 104 islands at high tide (99 at low tide!) with only 2 inhabited - Langkawi and nearby Tuba. This will be our last Malaysian stop before heading into Thailand waters.

The next morning, it was a short jaunt up to the main bay and harbour of the town of Kuah on the main Island, setting anchor (N06°18.817' E099°50.619') amidst about 30 other sailboats plus an abundance of other commercial vessels. Ashore in the high heat and humidity, we walked around to get familiarized with the area.

The word "Langkawi" means "reddish-brown eagle" in Malaysian. A large statue is located at the marina next to our anchorage and we noticed several of the stately birds flying overhead - a very definitive name choice.

Marina statue

As Langkawi is duty free, we plan on stocking up with a few items. We found a small supermarket and small mall - nothing as large as at Penang - and stopped for our favourite treat, iced coffee!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Funicular and henna

Still hanging out at the Island of Penang (Malaysia). Another attraction that we wanted to experience, and would be a first for us, was the funicular tram rail ride to the top of Penang's highest point at 830 metres above sea level. Funicular: "an inclined plane or a cliff railway". At 6 km from town centre, we caught the 204 City Bus with the locals and got off at the tram gate.

The journey to the top of the Penang hill (okay, "mountain" for Penang's sake) in the old original tram took about half an hour but the new tram cars take only 10 minutes. There was also a stop mid-way to check out the views from there.

Old original tram

Arriving at the top, it was noticeably cooler, around 21°C, which was a break from the city heat that we left below. The vistas from the summit were good, but would have been fantastic if it hadn't been for the haze. We have not yet determined for sure why there is so much haze in these areas.

At the top were temples, eating areas, nature trails, and typical tourist stuff. There was a fence of lovers' locks where padlocks with couples' names were attached, locked in perpetuity.

Locked in love

On the ride down, we got a seat in front for better viewing.

Headin' down

Early the next day, we arrived at the agency which would get our Thailand Tourist Visa from the Thai Embassy here. Doing it here would net us a 60-day Visa opposed to only 30 days for Visa Upon Arrival. We filled out the forms, took some passport photos, and handed in our passports for processing. "Come back at 4:00 pm and you will have your Visa."

So to kill the day, we rented a motor-scooter for more "to sees". Many places are closed up in the mornings and some because of Ramadan but the State Museum was open and it provided good insight into the multi-cultural history with many artifacts of everyday life of generations past.

Elaborate wedding bed

Riding around to see what else we could find, we saw the Chocolate Museum which after going through was more a retail outlet. However as chocolate lovers, we did buy a variety pack and had, what else? Iced coffee!

Then I decided to get some Henna art (an Indian custom) done on my hand. The henna dye or paint comes from the henna shrub/tree leaves. The design is made with an intricate thin bead of dye applied to give a temporary tattoo. It is especially a custom for brides to have elaborate designs applied on hands, arms, and feet for their wedding. But I wanted something a bit simpler. I asked if she could include a sea turtle on mine, you know, like our boat name!

Lost in translation, the artist was slightly unsure so Jordan drew a quick sketch of a sea turtle. She gave a nod (actually a typical Indian head wiggle) of understanding and proceeded to do a nice job.

Henna handiwork

I was told to wait for it to dry for 10 minutes before washing off the excess dye. By then it had even started to lift and peel off. Once washed, my hand was stained with the reddish brown colour and it should last for 1 to 2 weeks. At a cost of 5 Malaysian Ringgits (less than 2 dollars!), it was a real deal.

1 week later

By 17:00, our passports were returned with the pre-approved 60-day Thai Tourist Visa. With nothing keeping us from leaving, we weighed anchor the next morning and with the tide in our favour, we left the thin diesel filmed bay waters and headed north to the island of Langkawi (Malaysia).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Going ashore

Earlier today we anchored in front of George Town at Penang Island (Malaysia). Going to shore was interesting as we tied up the dinghy at 1 of several "Clan Jetties". These structures are a composite of Chinese residential shanties built on stilts that extend from the shore out into the shallows and their front doors are accessed by a narrow centre boardwalk. Originally built many decades ago to avoid property taxes, they have endured and now have become an attraction.

Boarded walk of Chew Jetty

We used the Chew Jetty, the biggest with 75 homes/buildings, which is the most visited by tourists. But the invasion of privacy seemed to be taken in stride by the residents and in fact most have taken advantage of the situation and offer souvenirs, snacks, and services to the curious camera clicking visitors.

View of jetties from our anchorage

Wandering the city streets and alleys, we visited the remnants of Fort Cornwallis and read its history boards. We passed by the 1897 clock tower built as a monument to the Queen, and then walked through the Penang Interactive Museum which was fun and out of the ordinary.

Mirror illusion...or not?

For relief from the heat, we stopped at 1 of many coffee shops for what has become 1 of our favourite treats, iced coffee.

Trishaws, another form of rickshaws, pedalled the tourists around; sidewalk vendors and buskers delighted the crowds. Later in the days and evenings always seemed to bring out more life.

Tasty foods of all kinds

On 1 corner, we were attracted to the Eagle's "Hotel California" accompanied by a novel percussionist with his made-up instruments of pots and bins. His original guitar was built from a tennis racket!

It immediately reminded us of a time and place, half a world away now, when we were in Baja Mexico at the actual Hotel California that inspired the song, and where our timing was perfect for the live band playing the namesake song. Jordan, showing his age, also remembered being at the Eagle's concert in Seattle (USA) when they premiered that song in 1980.

When we returned to the Chew Jetty to dinghy back to Sea Turtle, we were shocked to see how low the tide was - we had forgotten about the extreme tides of the full moon! We were just in time and managed to escape the mud and low water level.

Moon over Penang

Pretty in Penang

We had arrived at the south end of Penang Island (Malaysia) yesterday - July 11th - in the dwindling twilight and safely anchored on the lee side just after dark. We saved the trickier part of the channel passage for the morning light.

Just arriving at Penang

How big is Penang? It's about 25 km long and 15 km wide and is connected to the mainland of Malaysia by 2 impressive bridges. We had anchored just before the new southern and longest bridge - 24 km including the causeway - 17 km of which is over water.

Added to the impressiveness was the bridge's nightly psychedelic light show cast on its structure with alternating hues of red, blue, green, and white. This bridge was officially opened on March 1, 2014 - only 4.5 months ago - so of course didn't show on our charts.

So we upped anchor at 10:00 July 12th for a short channel passage up to George Town on the northeast end of the Island. The first navigational considerations were narrowing depths and transitting under the bridge, which to me looked too low even though Jordan assured me it was more than high enough.

The tide flow was with us so Jordan did a manoeuvre that was probably more to satiate my doubt than for safety. He turned Sea Turtle 180 degrees, idled in forward, and let the flow very slowly take us through backwards. That way if we had to abort at the last second, all he had to do was power it up. But there was lots of clear air over the mast. Whewww!

The new bridge

Then we saw through the haze the next, original bridge, much the same as the first one and still an impressive 13.5 km long and that indeed did show on our charts.

There was lots of passing and anchored commercial marine traffic and a container port (on reflection, maybe we should call them consumer ports!) We passed close by an anchored freighter to get a closer look at what it was offloading onto a barge of penury. It seemed like either sand or grain.

Offloading sand?

Once again, we were presented a much more populous scene than expected where over the years, growth and more recently skyscraper development filled the flat coastal lands and encroached on the fertile hillsides.

Densely populated

We anchored in front of George Town on the northeastern end of Penang Island at 12:45 (N05°24.620' E100°20.529') close to the shuttle ferry and cruiseship docks and beside another sailboat that Jordan remembered in the south of Malaysia.

George Town's history, like Malacca, was centered on trade and brought with it merchants of Indians, Arabs, Chinese, as well as Europeans. The architecture of the era and multi-culturism still exists and remains employed. It is now seeing rejuvenation after UNESCO's classification as a world heritage site in 2008.

Classic architecture of Penang

Yes, architecture captivates Jordan!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Three islands

We left the City of Malacca (aka Melaka) Malaysia early in the morning at 07:30 on July 7th. We had a good wind on the port which pushed us along under sail at over a healthy 6 knots until 14:30 when the moribund wind had us resorting to motor power.

That night, stopping before dark would have made it an exposed anchorage so we decided to press on and make it an overnight passage. The chosen route was up a protected channel between some islands and the mainland. In the channel was the location of a huge container port that serviced Kuala Lumpur further inland.

Just before entering the channel in the dark, we had to weave our way through an anchoring field of the waiting behemoths. It was there that the conditions went from calm to a 40-knot gale in a matter of about 3 minutes. These squalls are called the "Sumatras". Jordan said that just before it hit, he sensed something in the air and fortunately, for no definitive reason, was taking down the main sail when it hit.

For some protection from the gale force winds and building seas, we ducked behind and up close to the towering stern of a super freighter that just came in and stopped. That is until the freighter put it in gear and pushed a torrent of water towards Sea Turtle. We escaped being tossed around but then had to face the Sumatra head on until it burnt itself out, about another hour during which the pounding rain scrubbed our decks!

As we motored up the narrow channel, the night darkness surrendered to the glare of the heavily lit container port where a multitude of ships were being loaded and off-loaded 24/7.

Clipping along with the tide in our favour we dodged channel markers and busy marine traffic of all sizes. At about daybreak, we were back out in the open waters of Malacca Straits for another day of motoring.

Flashy fisher

We finally anchored at 19:00 on July 8th in the lea of a small island called Lalang Island (N04°00.516' E100°32.801').

Early in the morning at 04:30, the Sumatra winds started to blow once again along with another downpour of rain and lightning show that lasted for about an hour again. We remained on anchor watch to make sure we weren't dragging, which is hard to tell in the dark and driving wind and rain. When the winds and rain died and it was evident that we were holding, we got the last of the night's sleep. However when we got up in the morning and looked about, we determined that we had dragged about 100 metres towards deeper water. So we re-anchored, then had breakfast.

With a beach visible, we rowed ashore. It was surprising to see that some in the past had set up some humble facilities of picnic tables, enclosed latrines, shelter, and water collection for visiting day users of this deserted island. Perhaps fishermen to wait out a storm?

There were also several rope swings with large colourful plastic seats, a sink, an outdoor shower, and what appeared to be a fish cleaning station with a nearby hose and tap. What was again sad to see that spoiled the tranquility was the plethora of plastic garbage washed up on shore.

Lots of hammocks and bright swings

We walked the beach from 1 end to the other and found a few shells but MANY cuttlefish bones. Today cuttlefish bones are used for caged birds as the bones are rich in calcium.

The fishermen, we suppose, set up an intriguing shrine. Its meaning or significance escaped us.

Food, incense, and 9 figures inside

It was very warm (hot!) out so I luxuriated in the sun and cooling ocean breezes for a short while before heading back to Sea Turtle...

At 14:35, we upped anchor and re-set 3 hours later at Pangkor Island (N04°14.773' E100°34.335'). This Island is just across from the mainland of Malaysia and has lots of colourful houses and fishing boats. But it is also very, very hazy, perhaps from the various coal-fired power stations. It looked like the Island's inhabitants were making energy by burning their garbage. A transitting catamaran anchored just behind us for the night.

On July 10th, we dinghied over to Marina Island. This is a man-made island and about 10 minutes away from our anchorage at Pangkor Island. Marina Island has a fairly new marina (the Island was created in 2009). Our friends had their boat stored there so we wanted to check on it for them to see if all was ship-shape, which it was. They had left Victoria the year before us.

The Marina agreed to send an employee off to a service station to collect some gas for our outboard. While we waited, we tried to have some Thai food at a restaurant there but were told it was closed because of Ramadan. Ramadan is an annual Muslim tradition of daytime fasting for a month (and also prayer, charity giving, self accountability, and for some the pilgrimage to Makkah). Obviously, the restaurant was owned by Muslims. We settled for pizza elsewhere.

Coming back to Sea Turtle, we saw several small dolphins, the 1st in a long time!

We left Pangkor Island at 08:15 on July 11th - a Friday! Superstitious sailors never leave on a Friday. But the strong early morning Sumatra winds had abated and the rain had become a drizzle. It seemed like a good time to leave as we had a long passage ahead of us.

We motored all day making our way to Penang Island (aka Pinang) where again we wanted to anchor in the lea of the Island for protection. It was just after dark before we picked our spot (N05°16.466' E100°17.700') at the southeast. Normally we don't come into protected waters after dark but the bottoms here are typically gradually shallowing mud where the soundings correspond fairly accurately with the charts.