Saturday, 26 November 2011

Sleigh Ride to Phuket

Rebak Retirement Island!
In early November Neil was busy working in India, so Ley filled her days with a typical Rebak Retirement Island lifestyle.  A walk, swim and water aerobics in the early mornings, cooking classes, fruit and vegie ferry runs and then provisioning.
Hard to take......
With Crystal Blues fully loaded with fuel, water & wine, we departed Telaga Harbour around 14.00 hours.  The wind always gusts strongly around the top end of Langkawi as there are many mountains and high cliffs, so we motor-sailed through the gusts and then turned off the engine.  16 hours and 120 nm later we arrived at our destination, Phuket.  Both crew and Crystal Blues had a fabulous overnight sail.  Winds were just forward of the starboard beam, blowing 10 to 23 knots.  For hours on end we were flying at 8.5 knots or more.  As the wind crept up to 23 knots I prepared to furl in the head sail, but the sea state calmed down and we kept flying with full genoa and mainsail.  I had decided to let Neil sleep longer, but he woke up early, as he didn't want to miss the best sailing we have had in years.  Wind at last !
Squid boat - lit up like a Christmas tree.

Very Scary!  Around midnight  I saw a shadow of an unlit yacht sailing off our starboard bow.  I raced down below and switched on all our lights as this ghost ship silently tacked and glided by 100 feet off starboard.  The only navigation light was a stern mounted red fishing light, flashing dimly.  The sailor had a small flashing strobe in his hand.  I tried to make contact with him over VHF radio, but no reply, so I told anyone else who was listening on radio what I thought of his irresponsible sailing.......a very frightening experience!

Up until then all I had to dodge were lines of anchored squid boats, as in this photo, which are lit up like Christmas trees.

Checking in to Phuket.    There are new check-in procedures for Phuket / Ao Chalong One Stop Shop.  If you have Internet access before you arrive in Thailand, it expedites clearance if you register and check in on line.  All your information online is printed out and is chopped with your boat stamp and signature.  Port Captain and Customs also require a lot of paper work still.  The new system is in trial mode and hopefully once the system is fully tested, maybe the paper work mountain will diminish.

A New Home  We had a delightful sail up Phang-Nga Bay toYacht Haven Marina and are now comfortably settled into our berth on A dock, mixing it with many of the Super Yachts that are based here.  Neil has been busy with work - systems design, emails and conference calls each day.  On the weekend we took time out to show friends, Ray and Jan Pitt, Phuket through our eyes.  I think the highlight of their trip was the fun and games we had at the LadyBoy (Kathoey) bar on Saturday night in Patong.  We have also managed to share a few meals with them at our favourite restaurants and cafes here.
Fun and games with Ray and Jan

A Night to Remember!

Lucky us!
I was off watch and woke to hear the engine being shut off.  I listened for the sheets  to be released and the mainsail raised, but only heard silence, not good at 4.40am.  We were drifting with a fouled propeller, with Neil sitting in the cockpit locating the fishing boats on radar.  The pitch black predawn and an oily black sea  surrounded us, and we decided to wait the few hours till dawn before diving under the boat.
The PowerDive Hooker was set up on the aft deck.  Neil donned a pair of leather gloves and armed with a very sharp knife he dove overboard.  Five minutes later he hoisted up a floating fishing net that he cut from around the propeller.  We were on our way again....
Exactly two hours later the engine came to a screeching stop again,  but this time we could see the culprit.  We were trailing 6 metre loops of thick rope, which also wrapped around the propeller.  Fortunately we had the hooker set up, so Neil went for his second swim in the Malacca Straits, off Pangkor Island, Malaysia.

Strikes and Boom

Just like this!
The net and rope fouling on the prop was really just a minor annoyance after a bad night of electrical storms.  Around 20.00  hours Neil was preparing to go to bed  when we noticed a large storm on the radar.  Lightning and thunder was  focused on the mainland  and we continued to move ahead of it.  Or so it seemed at the time.  As the storm slid behind us it moved out to sea and then began spawning storm cells all around us.  Soon we were at the storm's epicentre , the lightning  was spitting and hissing all around the boat, lighting up our world, the thunder booming overhead.  Luckily we had just managed to weave through a fleet of anchored squid boats and could see them eerily highlighted with each flash.

We searched the radar looking for an escape route but the storm was traveling with us and growing in momentum, so we decided to turn tail and run away.  The rain pounded down  and with each lightning strike  it illuminated the white-out conditions that surrounded us.  We were not having much fun, but were relieved that we had an escape plan.  After 3 hours the storm moved out to sea and we turned back to our original heading.  Neil went to bed, and for the next few hours I watched the storm angrily boom and flash out towards Sumatra.
The Great Escape
At the Shade Tree Cafe, Penang
Apart from rope, nets and storms we had a dream run  up the Malacca Straits! We are heading, via Penang and Langkawi, to Phuket, where we plan to base ourselves for awhile.  With positive current and tide for most of the passage and no wind at all, we were really looking forward to a change of scenery.  We stayed at the new Straits Quay Marina in Penang, for 4 days and caught up with Kathy and Mark on SV Catchastar.

Crystal Blues is now berthed in Rebak Marina, Langkawi.  Neil has flown to India for work for the next two weeks.  Ley has been challenged to stock the boat with all things duty free in his absence.