Saturday, April 02, 2016

More new anchorages

Early March 31st, we left Koh Muk to continue island hopping northward. Next stop...the north end of Koh Lanta Yai (N07°37.842' E099°01.443'), a delightful 5-hour downwind sail. This coastal island is a popular backpackers' destination in the Andaman Sea of southern Thailand approximately 70 km south of well-known Krabi Town.

After anchoring in the open roadstead, we launched the dinghy, and picking a spot along the wide beach where the surf was minimal, we made a dry landing. Pulling the dinghy up on shore, we made just a few steps to a beachside cafe for our favourite dish - Pad Thai - washed down with a cold one. We were surprised to find a good-sized town on this approximately 6 km wide and over 30 km long island that is only accessible by 1 or 2 short ferry rides (although that is about to change as a new bridge is just about finished).

A tuk tuk ride took us to the end of town, the epicenter of offloaded visitors where small waterfront bars, cafes, and rooms lined the shore.

We soon made our escape in the dinghy, following the red setting sun back to our floating home.

Contemplative Jordan

Next day...

April 1st, again getting lucky with a nice east wind, we sailed 4.5 hours north finding a really nice anchorage setting between the 2 craggy islands of Koh Dam Khwan and Koh Dam Hok. Approaching Dam Khwan, we could see the striking feature of what the cruising guide suggested looked like a chicken figure in the rocks...

Chicken? Or maybe a turkey!

We anchored close to the coral reef (N07°57.555' E098°48.482') by Dam Khwan, but just far enough from the midday hoards of longtails and their interlopers wading in the sandy shallows.

Longtails and tourists in front of nearby no-name rock island, sand bar stretching out to the right...

We wiled away the afternoon snorkelling with an abundance of colourful life such as a sea snake, puffers, coral, and numerous unknown bright fish. And even a group of 5 razor fish that swim vertically - but darn it anyway, by this time, our underwater camera battery had gone dead.

Cool coral

To close the daylight hours off, we packed some munchies and headed over to the now vacant sand bar (with the exception of some semi-permanent park workers who stay on the island). After the daily migration of tourists back to the mainland (returning the islands to their natural tranquility) we witnessed another, more impressive daily migration. The island's caves and cavities exhaled thousands of fruit bats. Like whiffs of dark clouds drifting to the mainland, they made their routine nocturnal flight.

Sand bar stretching out to the left from Koh Dam Khwan, cabin on right where we had picnic lunch after longtails were gone...

On April 2nd, we hung out at Dam Khwan until 14:15 and then pulled the anchor for a 1-hour motor to another new island, Tham Phra Nang (N08°00.187' E098°50.293'), a coastal tourist hot spot close to Krabi where we dropped our hook amongst the impressive towering limestone karsts and in the midst of the ubiquitous longtails and tourists.

We read about several caves in the area but found nothing significant. One cave we visited onshore was just a wide opening in the cliffs at beach level with a "goddess" (a dressed-up mannequin) and many, many wooden phallic carvings. These penises along with the goddess were believed to be good luck for fertility - family planning Thai style!

Fertility goddess behind Jordan

We took the dinghy over to the next overrun beach area called Rai Le Beach. We searched around for more caves but couldn't find any that we wished to explore. So after a cursory beach stroll before sunset, we called it a night.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Koh Muk

Before leaving Koh Phetra (Thailand) on the morning of March 29th, there was an important boat job for Jordan. During yesterday's sail, we kept hearing an odd sporadic "whirring" noise in the boat coming on in short spells. At first, he thought it might be the autopilot motor but that possibility was eliminated by turning it off to find out the noise still came on. He couldn't identify it for quite a bit.

Finally he figured it was the windlass, and upon investigating, Jordan found that the remote switch that's kept in the forward outside anchor locker had gotten seawater in it and it was shorting the internal contact as though the switch button was pressed to make the windlass go on.

So temporarily we switched off the windlass breaker but then, before we raised the hook on the 29th, a fix was necessary. (We don't need the windlass to drop anchor but it sure is nice for raising the heavy anchor!) The disassembled switch was easily rinsed and cleaned with dialectic oil and was good to go. So it wasn't until 09:00 that we pulled up and made tracks from Koh Phetra.

Our destination was another island new to us, named Koh Muk, a pleasant 5.5-hour beam reach sail away. Tucking in close to a cute beach flanked by towering limestone sentinels made for a splendid anchorage setting (N07°22.503' E099°17.187') in spite of the occasional noisy longtails with daytrippers from the mainland.

A Koh Muk moment

The main attraction here is Emerald Cave (aka Crystal Cave) which the cruising guide described as being accessed by a cave passage at sea level, 80 metres long most of which was in pitch blackness. The passage is punctuated at a small sandy, grey silica beach in an ethereal cave open to sky.

We decided to explore it the next morning before the tourists infested the contemplative nature of it all. But this first day, once the gawkers evaporated later that afternoon, we launched the dinghy to simply identify where the waterline cave entrance was which we easily found.

Shutting off the motor, we paddled just inside but without a flashlight, the interior passage quickly turned into a foreboding inky blackness stopping us short.

However on our retreat, a couple of other late yachtie arrivals in dinghies were coming in and invited us to follow with one of their extra flashlights. Paddling along through this surreal natural passage with the faint light showing eerie outlines of stalactites in the cavities above and other dead-end passages emanating ghostly whooshes conjured up images of a spooky Disneyland event. Motoring your dinghy in apparently is not allowed as it supposedly disturbs the bat population of the Cave. I guess someone motored in before us because we didn't see any evidence of bats which is too bad because that would have been the only thing missing to make it an all round creepy experience!

The end of the cave passage opened up in an ethereal setting of an inner cylindrical chamber a mere 60 metres in diameter completely surrounded by tall vertical limestone walls. Standing on the small sandy beach where even the few spoken words took on an otherworldly resonance, our sights were drawn up, up along vertical rock face laced with verdant lush growth to the late day's sky high above.

Inside Emerald Cave

(Flashlights can be seen in the dark passage above as more dinghies arrive.)

Even though we did the Cave thing the day of arrival, we decided to stay another day in this idyllic setting. Another boat job was needed (bleed some air out of the hydraulic steering ram) so Jordan did it this morning. Then the rest of the day we circumnavigated Koh Muk with the dinghy through some choppy waters at times and then did a lazy snorkel in the shadow of the cliffs' relatively clear and warm waters.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Koh Phetra

After an almost 8-hour close-hauled solid sail to windward, we arrived at a new destination for us in Thailand - Koh Phetra (N07°02.542' E099°28.251'). This  narrow 1.6 nautical mile long island's limestone cliffs rise sharply out of the sea, it's towering limestone walls giving us wind protection and safe anchorage on the west side.

We set anchor at a 7-metre depth close in against the vertical face where icicles of limestone hung out pointing down to the sea and where small caves and recesses made it ideal for swallows to build their nests only to be raided periodically by harvesters for the birdnest soup delicacy. A lonesome sea turtle came by to visit Sea Turtle on its way to who knows where. Hope he wasn't looking for a landing site here because apparently only the other side had any sort of beach.

Can you see Sea Turtle? (circled in red in centre)

We hopped in the dinghy and explored the west extremity and tried to greet a lone fisherman, but not a word of English did he seem to know, only the universal language of broad smiles and gestures were exchanged in passing.

Lonely fisherman

Sunday, March 27, 2016

THAILAND harbours

We did our official check-out all under one roof by the Telaga marina on March 26th. Port Captain, Customs, and then Immigration were all very quick and easy. Then at 03:30 early in the morning under an almost full moon, we departed Langkawi Malaysia for a 25 nautical mile run west to Koh Lipe, Thailand. (Koh or Ko means island in Thai.) We had a great downwind sail all the way pushed by a 25-knot wind, arriving just after sunrise.

Today's sunrise...

We arrived at the exposed bay on the south side of Koh Lipe (N06°28.980' E099°18.209') in front of the village and the Thai Immigration office, a visit to which was our first order of business. Normally here, we would lay a deep anchor close to the reef but we were directed by some locals to take advantage of a mooring ball. Regardless, it was less than ideal conditions as there was a rolling swell that put us and the other boats a rockin'.

At the Immigration hut, fortunately we got there just in front of boatloads of day trippers that also were checking in and our officer was stressing about the workload, asking us to "hurry, hurry" when we were filling out the papers of official redundancy.

Then it was off to get some brekky and a Thailand SIM card with data for our smart phone so that we could access internet. That done, we left the place to the incoming throngs of tourists.

Boats of all kinds

We passed longtail boats with small loads of day sightseers heading to various spots around these islands and an unusual group just up the shore. The latter were indigenous nomadic people with no official status or individual identity who lived out of their boats wandering from island to island camping and fishing.

Our next stop was the beautiful lonely beaches on the west side of Koh Adang only 4 nautical miles away for some snorkelling to cool off, beachcombing, and rest and relaxation for the rest of the day (N06°31.470' E099°17.030').

...and today's sunset (taken from in the water)

We made sure to set our clocks back as Thailand is one hour earlier than Malaysia.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Go fast or go slow

Shortly after arriving back to Sea Turtle this year (Marina Island, Malaysia), feeling rushed, we realized it would be prudent to postpone our passage to the Mediterranean via the Red Sea this year. It was simply getting too late in the season. This wasn't a difficult decision. Not only did it relieve some anxiety, (after all, isn't this sailing life about slowing down and being stress free?), but postponing meant fitting in some other worthwhile endeavours at a relaxed rate.

We could now explore more of Thailand fabulous cruising areas that we missed out on before Did we mention Thailand is one of our favourite countries for many reasons and it's here we now have time to take advantage of good cheap boat labour in Phuket for some sprucing up of Sea Turtle. And Cambodia...we never did get there or visit the famous jungle ruins of Angkor Wat. So we should have a full and happy experience of SE Asia before departing here around the first of January for the passage to the Mediterranean.

A quote by Pico Iyer seems to say it best:
At some point, all the horizontal trips in the world stop compensating for the need to go deep, into somewhere challenging and unexpected; movement makes most sense when grounded in stillness. In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distractions, nothing could feel more luxurious than paying attention. In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.
Go fast or go slow? Go slow!