Thailand was our first major destination when the idea to go sailing was borne. It’s considered by many sailors as one of the most idyllic places to live reasonably on a meagre sailor’s budget. Many, like us, hadn’t thought much about what to do once we reached this goal. Some have returned south around Singapore to journey on the eastern side of Malaysia; quite a few have taken the opportunity to have local crafstmen refurbish their vessels to their former glory; Others have returned home to bolster up the cruising kitty, or perhaps to steal a cuddle and kiss from their growing grandchildren. Due to the persistent threat of pirates in the region of the Red Sea, sailing to the Mediterranean is a hopeless dream for some through this channel. Unfortunately some have had enough and have finished sailing altogether, while others have taken the challenge to sail the long way around the Cape of Good Hope. For those with less time and more money have favoured shipping their yacht to the Med to arrive in under three weeks.
So what have we decided? The challenge is not so much what to do, but when to do it, how to do it, can we do it – particularly as we sail into the next phase of our life.
Blue Heeler is a 17 year old now and as most teenagers, requires some attention. In April this year we shall leave Blue Heeler on the hard at Krabi Marina, Thailand, for about six months. For the first time in almost 30 months together we will step away from the boat to travel overland – off to Nepal for six weeks! This, I’m very excited about as it’s been my dream to trek there for many years. More on this in my next blog!
Between June and October we are planning to stay cool (which is almost impossible in Thailand) and are seeking a house-sitting gig in Melbourne for at least a couple of months. Please contact me if you know of anyone who would like their house and pets looked after.
In mid-October this year we will relocate Blue Heeler to Boat Lagoon Marina at Phuket to have new teak decks fitted and a general refurbishment of the top sides and hull. Blue Heeler will be on the hard for at least three months during the work.
That’s the plan, so continuing on from my previous blog…
The suburb of Chalong is at the south-eastern side of Phuket and is easily accessible by dinghy. The customs/immigration/harbourmaster office is conveniently located at the end of the jetty. The recently constructed Big Buddah sits reverently atop Nakkerd Hill overlooking Chalong to the east and Kata to the west.
The stroll from the jetty is hot and dusty, passing bars, laundries and diving shops located under seemingly hazardous overhead cables and wires. As ubiquitous as Pad Thai, this region attracts a certain demographic of caucasian males (facetiously referred to as “ATMs”). Clearly they’re here for the fresh air and good living, while attracting a number of local young ladies to assist them during their stay. These young ladies can be found in establishments with the delightfully mischievous names as “The Pickled Liver” or my personal favourite, “The Love You Long Time”!.
In November last year, over 200 moorings were placed in Phuket’s Chalong Bay purportedly for the convenience of the hundreds of vessels that visit the port each year. Over the past five months, the moorings have proven disastrous for many vessels. The mooring ropes have chaffed through at the concrete base leaving the water fouled with two and a half tonne cubes of concrete throughout the bay. With my own eyes I saw a German skipper throwing his anchor out as his vessel quickly drifted away with an orange mooring trailing strands of rope still attached to his bow. Blue Heeler was moored only to find at low tide that the keel was badly bumping against one of the many unidentified concrete blocks in the depths. We decided to anchor.
After sailing around Phang Nga Bay, we spent a week at Yacht Haven Marina on the north of Phuket so Wayne could fit a new alternator flown in from the USA, fix a few other items and give Blue Heeler a good clean. It gave us an opportunity to receive quotes for getting the teak deck and painting done too. We caught up with friends Frank and Barb from Destiny with a day out at the Nai Yang markets to stock up on fresh produce, before having dinner at a local restaurant joined by Grant and Sue from Obession II. I must say also the cafe Coconut nearby Yacht Haven has tasty Thai food with great views over the water.
As bad luck would have it, I noticed that one of our credit cards had been hacked to the sum of A$600. Although we rarely use our cards, we believe a couple of attempts to top up internet credit using the DTACs (Thai internet provider) online system may have triggered the scam. Needless to say, the cards were promptly cancelled and the run-around began to replace them. Our Australian bank were helpful and quick to despatch new cards. After a fraud inquiry by the bank, the stolen money was also refunded to us. We’ve also learned that a couple of yachts anchored in Phang Nga Bay were robbed while the crew went to visit a hong (read more). With the constant feeling of being ripped off in this region, it pays to keep in mind the famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. So true.
So with our plans in place and our 60 day Thai visa almost expired, we checked out of Thailand. Initially checking in at Ko Lipe was probably not the best choice as there’s no customs or port there, only immigration. It can be done, but I would recommend checking in at Ao Chalong for convenience. As it turned out, we managed to check out at Ao Chalong – harbourmaster, customs and immigration – and began our journey south to Malaysia, for two reasons – didn’t want to pay the hefty 1900B per person to renew for 30 days; plus it’s only 130nm to Langkawi from Phuket. We can return to Thailand on a 30-day visa on arrival.
We didn’t stop at the Phi Phi islands on the way up, so an overnighter at Phi Phi Lei’s busy Maya Beach, then across to Phi Phi Don for some morning photos. From there we sailed to north Lanta – a lovely place to anchor, stock up and relax for a couple of days. Onto Ko Rok Nok where we planned to stay overnight. Just on dusk the National Park Rangers approached us and requested we pay 900B to stay the night – 400B for each of us and 100B for Blue Heeler! Not only is the equivalent of A$30 an exorbitant amount to pay to drop the pick, the poor timing of the request left us with two choices – pay the money and stay (not on my watch!), or up anchor and leave. Parsimonious by nature and not particularly anxious about sailing at night, I said “let’s go!”. Hmmm…now where? Telaga in Langkawi was around 60nm away, but we didn’t want to arrive in the middle of the night, so we motor-sailed in the calm inky waters at 4 knots. Taking three hour shifts as usual, the evening’s journey tracked through possibly a hundred local fishing vessels. Fortunately most had brilliant spotlights to attract squid and prawn so it was like drifting through a night game at the MCG. But the threat of vessels wasn’t the immediate danger – fishing flags and nets strewn across the black water would be a hazard if caught in our prop. Luckily we arrived at Telaga at 6.30am with $30 in our pocket and had a feed before catching up on sleep for a few hours. (A few days later we met with fellow Aussies Mike and Juanita aboard Keris who I’m delighted to say also rebelled against the rangers and sailed away with their $30. In fairness, we would happily pay a reasonable fee to anchor in a national park, but 900B is extortion compared to the other islands in Thailand).
Now we’re back in Malaysia to the familiar shops and smells of Kuah, Langkawi. Anchored near to the Kompleks Pekan Rabu we have easy access by jetty and a short walk to Kuah Town. The tourists have dissipated and the Muslim community have pulled down the tinsel and packed away the Christmas carol CDs for next year’s season. Kuah is a handy place to pick up supplies, fuel and have some cheap eats. Below are a few of my local recommendations:
H&E Hardware for a great selection of tools and hardware; Restoran Al Aiman for the cheapest feed of Indian food close to Kompleks Pekan Rabu; Domino’s cafe in Kuah Town for a reasonably good burger and fries, wifi and friendly service; Passage Thru India for a more upmarket Indian dish in air conditioning; lamb sausages and meat pies from local brand Sailor’s Products; The Kuah wet market has a reasonable selection of freshly slaughtered chickens, fish, seafood, and vegetables (It takes about an hour to walk there from the Kompleks Pekan Rabu but a taxi ride should be around MR10); The Northern Mobile located on the main road nearby the Kompleks have friendly, helpful English-speaking staff; Celcom is considered the best internet provider in Malaysia ( I can attest to that as I had no end of trouble with competitor Maxis ripping me off); The friendly staff at computer store PC Langkawi can help you with toner cartridges, iPad bits and pieces and HDDs; Multiquip is the local chandlery/hardware in Kuah Town and is surprisingly well stocked with more critical items needed on a boat.
There’s also plenty of ATMs in town too…real ones!
Until next time.