#StephenIsWinning

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Jenna left Sophie two weeks ago for a trip back to the United States. She went there to attend a high school reunion, visit with family, and participate in her cousin Eric’s wedding. Two weeks is a long time to be away from Sophie, and it’s the longest time we’ve been apart since we got married.

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How on earth was I going to manage the kids and the boat for two whole weeks without some adult assistance? As soon as Jenna left, Hazel went through Jenna’s wardrobe and modeled all of her clothing. That was a lot of fun, but it only killed two hours. I suggested hiring a live-aboard Thai nanny for a couple of weeks, but somehow that got ruled out.

Fortunately, Stephen Utzschneider came to my rescue. Stephen is the oldest of my 30 or so nieces and nephews, and he agreed to take one for the team, fly out to Phuket, and be my wingman for two weeks, helping out with the dishes, laundry, cleaning, schoolwork, and all the other things guys do on a boat in Thailand when the wife is out of town for a couple of weeks.

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So why is Stephen #Winning? Well, Stephen has a younger brother named Daniel, and Daniel will be joining us in Phuket for a visit next month. Like most brothers, Stephen and Daniel occasionally compete with each other, and they are apparently competing over who is going to have more fun on their Phuket Sophie Adventure Cruise.

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But Jenna is not here, and her absence raises an interesting philosophical question: does a visiting nephew have more fun on Sophie in Thailand when Jenna is on board, or when she is gone? This is something Stephen and I have discussed over breakfast beers during the last week. On the one hand, Jenna is among the top five most fun people in the world and has partnered with me on this epic, globe-circling adventure cruise. On the other hand, there is breakfast beer.

Stephen and I have concluded that just like there are multiple types of intelligence, there are multiple types of fun. Stephen vs. Daniel will not be a linear comparison. And I will let all of you vote with your comments next month after Daniel’s visit on whom you think had more fun. But since Daniel has not yet stepped onto the playing field, I have to say that Stephen is winning. He’s off to a great start.

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Stephen was greeted with bright sunshine and a slight easterly breeze on his first morning on Sophie, so we left the Ao Po Grand Marina and headed south to Koh Racha Yai, an island 14 miles south of Phuket. Our initial destination was “Beer Beach”, a small enclave on the northeast side of the island. But the seasonal monsoon had disappeared, so we picked up a mooring in the bay on the west side of the island and enjoyed one of the nicest silica beaches in Thailand. Hazel got her surf on, and we all got to snorkel the reefs.

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The bay had a nice restaurant on a hill directly overlooking the beach. Stephen and I spent hours there discussing who was going to have more fun while we watched the kiddies play in the surf. We also made friends with a couple from Australia, who observed (after seeing the kids and me) that my wife must be very beautiful, because Leo and Hazel certainly didn’t get their looks from me.

I love Ozzies. I really do.

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After Rocha, we headed east to Phi Phi Don, where we grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. Sophie is one of the boats on the left side of the photo. This island was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, which came in on both sides of the isthmus, destroying every building in town and killing thousands of people. Thankfully, they have rebuilt. The bay to the right has an excellent backpacker beach club scene, and we spent hours there hanging out, eating pizza and playing board games.

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We had fun.

After a couple of days of this, we decided to head around the corner to Laem Tong Beach, the home of Jasmin restaurant and Peter, the Scottish dude whom we had met before. First we pulled into Maya Bay on Phi Phi Le, but the strong westerly wind made the bay untenable for Sophie. We grabbed a mooring off of Jasmin, but a 70 foot fishing boat kicked us off the mooring. We dropped a hook with a lot of rode, which was a good thing, because an hour later a squall with 50 knot winds came though and kicked the widdershins out of us. That fishing boat was joined by another 40 foot boat, and they both dragged the mooring for over a mile during the squall, missing Sophie by 100 feet.

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But the weather cleared, and we were able to head into Jasmin for dinner. The kiddies enjoyed playing on the beach.

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The next night we helped Jasmin (above) and Peter evaluate whether or not to add cheeseburgers and ribs to their menu. The samples were excellent. I know, I know, it’s a lot of work. But when you are called, you need t do your job. Later that night I took over the stereo and played DJ for their 100 guests. I tried to only play bands from Scotland.The Proclaimers even got me a hug from Peter.

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Aster a few days of this, we decided to head over to Krabi, a city of 50,000 on the Thai mainland. We were low on produce and beer and needed to stock up. It was a great decision. I love love love Krabi; it’s one of my favorite stops in the last year. Why? It has a cute, clean, safe marina that hosts karaoke at night.

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On the one side of the marina is huge park with playgrounds, running trails, and soccer fields. On the other side the of the marina is a waterfront promenade that leads you into town.

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Krabi itself is a real Asian city with a little bit of backpacker tourism thrown in. We were able to take Stephen to food stalls, wet markets, and crowded city streets.

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They even had public art that I can only describe as Planet of the Apes traffic signals.

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They have a nice Buddhist temple on a hill.IMG20150823154802

While there, Hazel contemplated her inner warrior goddess. She says that meditation helps her win at Settlers of Catan. It must work, because she has been crushing us.

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Meanwhile, Stephen has been an excellent influence on Leo. They go off and have their bro talks, and afterwards Leo returns and asks “Dad, what can I do to help?” It’s really nice to watch them interact, especially when Stephen helps Leo with his Sophie pull ups.

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We will definitely return again to Krabi.

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Right now we are anchored off Koh Dam Hok. It has a beach bar scene to the left, and a coral wall on that island to the right. We’ll stay here for 2 nights, then head back to Ao Po Grand to collect Jenna.

We miss her very much. The kids have worked hard at school despite all of the distractions. The boat is relatively clean. All of the machines are working. But it’s not the same boat without her. And Stephen stays with us for another week after Jenna returns. So this whole question of whether or not you have more fun on Sophie if Jenna is here, for Stephen, is irrelevant. For him, it’s an “and”, not an “or”.  He gets the best of both worlds.

#StephenIsWinning. So am I.

Anchorages and MARINAS from Singapore to Phuket

IMG_1178Here is another post for boats following in our footsteps, where we document our stops on this 500 mile stretch of water in Malaysia and Thailand. Please note that this is the first time I am doing one of these waypoint blog posts where I include information on multiple marinas where we stopped. Yes, marinas. We’re not in Tonga any more.

Before we left Singapore, we were told that boats were fleeing Phuket to avoid the rainy, windy season known as the “southwest monsoon.”  The best time to head north to Thailand was during the “northeast monsoon” between November and March, when the weather is drier, the water is clearer, and a gentle wind blows from the land.

Now that we are up in Phuket, people here are telling us that the concept of a summertime southwest monsoon — aka the bad, rainy season — has become increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps it is a result of global warming. Our weather has been sunny, the water is clear, and the winds are quite gentle. For us, this has been a great time to begin exploring Thailand. And we recommend all of the anchorages and stops in this post to boats following us, with the exception of the anchorage in Telaga if the weather is squally.

Pulau Pisang
01.28.817N, 103.14.721E
We anchored behind this island on our first stop in Malaysia. It’s about 40 miles up the Malacca Strait from Singapore. It was nice to be on the hook again after a month of city life in a marina. Good holding in 20 feet of water. It was calm enough for me to scrape Singapore barnacles off our hull and props.

Pulau Besar
02.06.603N, 102.20.629E
This was another anchorage 70 miles up the strait from Pisang. We wound up anchoring on the south side of the island because it was getting dark when we arrived. It was little rolly.

Port Dickson
Admiral Marina
02.28.573N, 101.50.704E
marinaWe stayed at this marina for almost a week, using it as our home base for Sophie during our three day visit to Kuala Lumpur. The marina is clean and the staff was helpful. Their fuel dock was broken, but they brought 800 liters of diesel in jerrycans to Sophie’s dock. Once again, I got to pour them into our tanks. It was character building. The marina has a pool and an air conditioned bar with WiFi. That’s about it. We took a cab for the ten minute ride into town to clear into Malaysia Immigration/Customs/Harbormaster. It was a straightforward and friendly process. TripAdvisor claims that the best restaurant in Port Dickson is a pizza place by the beach. Do not eat there. In hindsight, we regret not making the effort to visit Melaka on a day trip, which is supposed to be beautiful and historic. But after our time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, we wanted to get back into cruising mode.

Port Klang
Royal Selangor Yacht Club (RSYC)
03.00.322N, 101.23.413E
MLYS1999This was our next stop up the coast, and we docked in front of a beautiful facility on the river that connects Kuala Lumpur with the Indian Ocean. There was a strong current in the river, and Sophie strained against the floating dock. The RSYC has a reciprocal relationship with the Seattle Yacht Club, and during our visit we met the RSYC commodore and exchanged burgees with him. They had a big restaurant, a good bar, and a nice pool. We stayed two nights.

Pangkor Marina (Marina Island)
Pangkor
04.12.685N, 100.36.074E
MLYS2012Our next stop was 40 miles up the coast from Klang, and our arrival here was a little stressful. The sun was setting, we were hit by a squall, the marina entrance was not clearly marked on our charts, and we had to motor 3 miles past the marina to avoid a big reef that runs north-south through the channel. Other than that, it was great. The marina looks like it will be an awesome facility when construction is completed in 3 years. They have a boatyard with a haulout that is big enough to lift Sophie. And we met Jack and Jackie on Barbara Ann, who have subsequently become our friends.

Straits Quay Marina
Penang
05.27.539N, 100.19.094E
IMG_1012We loved loved loved Penang. It was a 90 mile run up the coast from Pangkor, a longer trip for Sophie than for most boats, because our mast cannot fit under the two bridges that connect Pulau Penang with the mainland. For our first night we anchored outside of the marina, but it was rolly. For the next 6 days we had a dock at this friendly and inexpensive marina with a promenade featuring 10 restaurants. Nearby access to two supermarkets for provisioning. Easy access into town. Great culture. Monkeys who steal beer. Penang has it all.

Kuah, Langkawi
06.18.733N, 099.50.801E
This was our first stop in Langkawi, and we stayed here for one night. There was excellent holding for our anchor, and we could easily check in to Immigration and the Harbormaster. The marina at Kuah was under construction, which made it off-limits for us. The city itself reminded us of Indonesian cities like Ambon or Sorong, full of small businesses but not easily walkable, so we moved on.

Telaga, Langkawi
06.21.764N, 099.40.677E
telagaWe spent over two weeks here, first in the anchorage and then in the marina. It is a great spot, and we will return here later this year. The holding in the anchorage was terrible, and multiple boats (including Sophie) dragged their anchors during squalls. The marina was much more protected and featured several excellent, inexpensive restaurants. They also had a machine that used an electric motor to pump diesel fuel directly into your boat. This was a first for us in almost 10 months. It is easy to rent a car for a day to head into town. Langkawi is a duty free port, which means there are no taxes paid for alcohol or for boat parts you ship in from the United States.

Pulau Singa Besar, Langkawi
06.13.598N, 099.44.800E
MLYS2857We left Telaga for 5 days with our friends Misti and Abi to enjoy watersports in this anchorage 9 miles south of Telaga. We swam, paddleboarded, barbecued, drank, and played a lot of board games. We were back in Sophie Adventure Cruises mode, and it was a lot of fun. We were told that a local cruiser organizes impromptu bonfire singalongs on the beach here every Saturday night, but he had to cancel the week we were there.

Ko Lipe, Thailand
06.29.651N, 099.17.774E
IMG20150722183737We finally left Malaysia and spent two nights anchored on the north side of Ko Lipe. We never went to shore and instead spent our time padleboarding, swimming, and conducting Sophie School. The Ko Lipe area is part of a National Park, and we used a park service mooring even though we were warned to not trust any moorings in Thailand. After we tied up to the mooring, we ran both engines in reverse at 2000 RPMs, and nothing broke. Ko Lipe becomes much more crowded with the beginning of the high season in November, and we will return.

Ko Tarutao
06.42.456N, 099.40.072E
THAI3030After Ko Lipe we motored 25 miles east to visit another Thai National Park at Ko Turatao. Initially we anchored on the northwest tip of the island (06.41.764N, 099.38.249E) in order to visit “Crocodile Cave”, a spot where you pull yourself a couple of hundred meters along a rope on a raft to check out stalagmites and bats. But as we motored a mile up the mangrove in our dingy to reach the cave entrance, we saw a massive thunderboomer cloud approaching from the east. Our dingy motor has been a little tenuous lately, and Sophie was anchored in a very exposed area. So we punted on the idea of the cave (for now), got back to the boat, and motored around the corner to a much more sheltered anchorage. We anchored in 40 feet of water and marveled at the hundreds of basketball-sized jellyfish slowly bouncing around the bay. We did not swim.

Ko Rok Nok, Ko Rok Nai
07.12.815N, 099.04.156E
THAI3018Our next stop was another Thai national park, and we picked up a mooring in the channel between these two small islands. Our first week of “monsoon” weather in Thailand was perfect, the water was crystal clear, and there were thousands of reef fish swimming under Sophie. We enjoyed a grand afternoon cavorting in the water. The next morning a bit of a squall showed up, and we were directly exposed to a southerly wind that would have pushed us onto a reef in about 5 seconds if our mooring line broke. We decided to leave that morning, knowing full well that we will return.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Ton Sai Bay
07.44.051N, 098.46.304E
WP_20150727_002Phi Phi Don is a backpacker tourist island and is very, very cool. We anchored in the main harbor, slightly to the west of the route that the ferries, speedboats, and longtails use. Next time we’ll anchor to the west, away from the traffic and closer to the wall. The village reminded us of a bigger version of Gili Air, with 10 blocks of walking streets filled with backpacker bars, dive shops, tattoo parlors, and foot massage stands. Wandering these streets were Russian girls in bikinis and Australian bros with bad tats and hats, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We stayed two nights and enjoyed some great people watching. We also caught up with our friends on Garuça Cat, whom we hadn’t seen since Bali. We will definitely be taking our nephews Steven and Dan here when they visit in the next few months.

Ko Phi Phi Le, Maya Bay
07.40.815N, 098.45.847E
pp1This day stop was literally spectacular, meaning “of or like a spectacle; marked by or given to an impressive, large-scale display.” Phi Phi Le is where the Leo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed, and it is apparently a required stop for every tourist who visits Phuket, which is 20 miles away. We arrived at 7:00 AM to grab one of the few mooring balls there, and by noon we counted over 50 high speed (500-1000+ hp outboards) tourist boats in the little bay. They would roar in, wait for their landing instructions from the BTC (Beach Traffic Controller), drop a sand hook off their bow, back 150 feet up to the beach, unload 20 tourists, then roar away. We counted a couple dozen of these boats lined up on the beach at one time, and later heard that during high season there are 2,000 boat trips a day to this little bay. Thankfully there is buoyed off swim area on the beach, and we simply sat in the water and marveled at the spectacle of thousands of tourists doing spinning panorama shots of themselves with their GoPros on selfie sticks. 

pplRemember, we’ve had most tropical beaches to ourselves for the last year, and this was a little more crowded. Phi Phi Le is a National Park, and we had to pay a beach landing fee of $40 for the family to enjoy the scene. It was worth every penny.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Laem Thong
07.46.744N, 098.45.956EWP_20150728_001
After the spectacle, we motored back up to Phi Phi Don and dropped the hook off of the sea gypsy village on the northeast coast of the island. It has a beautiful beach, nice coral, and wasn’t very crowded. There is a beach bar there named Jasmin, and we enjoyed a seven hour meal there, swapping stories with Peter, the Scot who’s married to Jasmin and serves as the restaurant’s official greeter and beer pourer. IMG20150728174023He’s quite a character, telling stories about Leo DiCaprio, Amy Winehouse, and his dark past in London. We will definitely be back.

Chalong, Phuket
07.48.965N, 098.21.574E
chalongWe could have stayed in the Phi Phi for a month (the kiddies never get tired of the fact that the islands’ name is pronounced “pee pee”), but we needed to officially check into Thailand so we motored over to Chalong harbor on the southern end of Phuket. On our way we caught our first tuna since November, thanks to advice we got from Peter. Apparently tuna and whale sharks are running through the islands here for the next few months, so we’ve got our lines back out after months of the fish nothingness that is otherwise known as Indonesia. Chalong has a one stop check-in center (Immigration, Customs, Harbormaster) all located in a single building at the end of a big pier that juts into the crowded harbor. Better yet, these different agencies use computers to share your information across their offices, so we only had to fill out a form one time, and that was on a computer! Amazing. We only spent one night here and anchored out from the main fleet. There are plenty of bars and tourist restaurants in the area, but we only stayed one night.

I continue to write on this blog that things on our little adventure keep getting better and better, and at some point you might begin to think that I am guilty of exaggeration. How could this be possible?

Come to Thailand, and you’ll understand.

Kid Happy!

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Nothing on this little family adventure of ours — and I mean nothing — makes Leo and Hazel happier than having other kids to play with. Sophie is still in Telaga on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, and there has ben a lot of happiness on our boat over the last couple of weeks. No broken bones, either.

As I’ve mentioned before, Jenna and I always assumed that we would be surrounded by other kid boats for the last two years, but that hasn’t happened as often as we had hoped. This is partly due to the timing and nature of our major routes. For our big Pacific crossing, we departed from San Diego, and apparently many kid boats depart from Mexico. We also departed in early March, which placed us a month ahead of the main fleet doing the crossing to the Marquesas. So for most of our 2013 summer crossing of the South Pacific, we hung out with more Swedes than with kids. At least until we hit Fiji.

From my perspective, Swedes on boats are as fun as kids. But I think Leo and Hazel prefer companions their own size. Most of our Swedish friends were much bigger. Especially the Swede named Kid.

For our passage over the top of Papua and into Indonesia, we buddy-boated with Per Ardua and their three kids (and two awesome parents). It was a wonderful and happy experience for all of us, especially for Leo and Hazel. But we had to move on and have been pretty much in a no-other-kids cruising zone for five months until we hit Penang and met the families on Love Song and Boatylicious. It was great for Leo and Hazel.

Now that we are up in the Langkawi-Phuket cruising belt, the kid happiness for Leo and Hazel keeps getting better.

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Our first source of Telaga kid-happiness is a lovely young girl named Jana from the sloop Momo. Her family was in the process of getting their boat ready for an Indian Ocean crossing. Jana basically moved onto Sophie for a few days, and her presence made everyone on our boat happy. She spent a day on a deserted kid island with Leo and Hazel, she accompanied us into town a few times, she made forts with Hazel, and she even played board games with me and Jenna. After a few days she felt like a part of our family, and we didn’t want to give her up.

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Unfortunately the rest of Jana’s family, shown above, love her a lot and weren’t quite willing to give her up. And in case you are wondering, Momo is a Mason 43.

We spent so much time enjoying Jana’s presence on Sophie that we neglected to pay as much attention to the weather as we normally do. At the time there was a typhoon forming over Japan and China, and that system started sucking all of the air out of this region. So we wound up getting hit by multiple squalls over a two week period. It resulted in some new adventures.

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To provide context, here is a photo of Telaga taken from a local mountaintop. There is a very protected marina to the left, connected by a boardwalk to a row of outdoor restaurants (the red-roofed buildings). Outside of the harbor is an anchorage protected from the Malacca Strait by two islands, which are man-made. The anchorage itself is about 12 feet deep and filled with very soft mud formed by the dirt that was dug up from the land to form the harbor.

The result is an anchorage with a very weak ability to hold an anchor. We found this out as we were returning to Sophie on the dinghy with Jana. A rain shower and a forty knot gust from the side hit us just as we were unloading groceries from the dinghy, and Sophie surged sideways and popped her anchor out of the mud. I was the last one in the dinghy, which was sucked under Sophie’s bridgedeck as our big sailboat started to surge through the harbor, dragging a now useless anchor behind us.

Jenna and I were pretty cool and calm about what happened next. The dinghy was still tied to Sophie’s stern, so I was able to get out of it. Jenna went up top to pull the cover off the steering wheel while I went inside to start Sophie’s diesel engines. We were able to get the boat under control and avoided hitting the Russian catamaran behind us. We reset our anchor while every other boat around us watched warily. And we weren’t alone … three other boats in the harbor popped their anchors during this squall!

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The harbor was a mess until the weather calmed down and the squall passed. So we proceeded with our plans for a little sundowner party on Sophie, and the crews from four boats came over for some drinks and the last of our yellowfin tuna. We also had a lot more anchor rode out to avoid another dragging incident.

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Two more squalls came through during the party, and the second one flipped the dinghy of the Seattle sloop Before while the dinghy was tied to Sophie’s stern. The men all jumped up into the rain to right the dinghy. Mike the surfer dude ripped his shirt off, I grabbed the WD-40, and within 10 minutes we had the water out of the dinghy and its outboard running smoothly. And yes, Sophie now needs a new flag.

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Three more squalls came through that night, and Jenna and I didn’t sleep a wink. This was the first time Sophie had popped her anchor in 32 months, and we were quite wary about it happening again.

Fortunately, we had a reservation for a dock the next day and were quite happy tie up in the protected part of the harbor during such unsettled weather.

We had booked the dock in anticipation of more kid happiness in the form of our friends Misti and Abbi who were coming up from New Zealand for a visit. Since the weather in the anchorage remained crappy, Jana moved back onboard Sophie as well. So for the next two blissful days, we had four children living on the boat.11666217_10154035577142571_6755782919495614900_n

Since we were on a dock and had a rental car, we could go to various local tourist attractions like the mountain tram and the local movie theater to watch the film Minions (before it was released in the US, no less!)

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We gave oranges to the local marina monkey, who is much more gentle than the pack of crazy monkeys on the road who occasionally snarl at you and attack your car in search of rotten papayas or the stray beer. Jenna refused to let me roll down the car windows when we passed by those creatures.

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At one point, Hazel was experiencing so much happiness playing tag with the other three kids that she somehow lodged her leg between Sophie’s trampoline and the boat’s aluminum crossbeam. OUCH! We couldn’t easily dislodge her leg, and she was screaming in pain. I was thinking about grabbing the rigging knife (to cut the trampoline line, not her leg), but we somehow got her to wriggle free. After 10 minutes of mommy’s TLC, she was soon back bouncing around, with one more battle scar added to her impressive collection.

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While in Telaga, we also visited the local liquor warehouse, which arguably has the lowest alcohol prices in the world. Langkawi is a duty-free zone, and this low-overhead operation is located away from the main road, behind a wet market in a parking lot situated underneath some power lines. Nothing in the warehouse is marked with a price, you simply open up a case and bring a bottle up to a shirtless Chinese man behind a desk and ask him to look up the price. A liter bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin cost US$10, and a case of Carlsberg beer cost US$12. In our travels over the last year, each of those items could cost way over US$100, so we stocked up for Misti and Abbi’s visit.

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But our goal was to not stay on the dock for their entire visit; we actually wanted to get out and tour some of the local islands. We had the crews from some of the local boats back over for one last visit, drank another champagne toast to my son Max and his girlfriend Becca who had recently announced their engagement (!), and reluctantly sent Jana back with her family to Momo, which was going to leave for the Indian Ocean in two days. The weather had finally cleared, and our plan was to spend a week wandering over to some nearby islands around the top of Langkawi.

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Some of these islands are part of Thailand, and we would NEVER consider going over there without the proper paperwork, even though we were told by our fellow cruisers in Telaga that boats had been crossing back and forth between these islands and Langkawi for years without going through any sort of customs formality. But within 30 minutes of leaving Telava, we were hailed on the radio by a Malaysian Navy warship that was on patrol.

The following conversation took place:

  • “Sailing yacht Sophie, sailing yacht Sophie, this is the Royal Malaysian Navy. You are crossing the boundary of Malaysian waters. Do you mind if we ask you some questions?”
  • “This is the sailing yacht Sophie, Malaysian Navy. By all means go ahead.”
  • “Sailing yacht Sophie, what is your vessel’s flag and hailing port?” (This is information broadcast to them by our AIS system and may not be readily visible to someone who may have just highjacked our boat.)
  • “United States. Seattle.”
  • “How many people are on board, and what is their citizenship?”
  • “Three adults, three children. All United States citizens.”
  • “What is your port of departure, and what is your port of destination?”
  • “Ummmm … we departed Langkawi and are out for a daysail. Enjoying the break in the weather. We will be returning to Langkawi tonight.”
  • “Sophie, have you seen any suspicious looking vessels or signs of piracy?”
  • “Negative, Royal Malaysian Navy … should we be?”
  • “Sophie, please enjoy your vacation. We’ll be passing you port-to-port. Royal Malaysian Navy standing by on channel one six.”

So much for going anywhere near Thailand. The navy was most likely patrolling the border due to the Rohingi refugee crisis. Jenna and I decided that we wanted no part of that and within a few minutes we did a 180 degree turn, unfurled the jib, and enjoyed a gentle 3 hour sail to Pulau Singa Besar, one of the Malaysian islands immediately south of Langkawi. As we did so, we spotted another navy patrol boat lurking in an island cove, but they soon made steam and joined the first ship on a circuit of the border with Thailand.

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So for the next five days we were forced to hang out in this anchorage at Singa Besar. We tried to make the best of it. We went swimming every day, the ladies broke out the paddleboards, and I even inflated the donut and dragged happy kids through the water.

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Even I joined into the swimming shenanigans, because at heart I am just a happy kid. I soon got a haircut after this photo was taken.

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While we were there, the weather turned bad and we had a couple of days of squalls. The holding was much better than Telaga, so we weren’t scared of dragging the anchor again. We comfortably holed up in Sophie, watching movies, playing board games, eating good food, and enjoying our bounty from the warehouse. We eventually even broke out the Yahtzee.

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Leo crushed everyone. It made him even happier.

But all god things eventually have to come to an end, and we reluctantly returned to Telaga. To the surprise of absolutely no one, we saw that Momo was still at anchor. They did not want to leave during the bad weather and were preparing to pull their anchor and finally depart within the next 30 minutes. We decided to hold an impromptu emergency sea rescue drill, simulating the transfer of key supplies to a stricken vessel.

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Leo did a fine job manning the supply transfer net, and if you look closely you’ll notice that the net’s contents have an anchor on its label.

So that pretty much wraps things up. Momo left and then returned in an hour due to a big swell and no wind. They stayed for two more days. We successfully escorted Misti and Abbi back to the airport after a tremendous visit. Sophie is clean and happy. The kids are happy. Jenna is happy. I am happy. We’ll hang out here for a few more days, then its off for Thailand for real. We need more adventures. Jungle aardvarks? Underwater croquet? Who knows.

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But first, some sleep. Too much kid happiness is exhausting.

Telaga

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Greetings from Telaga, a small harbor on the island of Langkawi on the northwest coast of Malaysia. This will be our home base for the next four weeks. Our current location is 06.21.743 North, 099.40.669 East. Sophie is now 1,299 miles from Bali, 4,935 miles from Auckland, and only 1,212 miles to Chennai on the Indian subcontinent. We definitely seem to be zipping along, but we will spend the next seven months hanging out between here and Phuket, Thailand, which is only 110 miles to the north.

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For the first time since Vanuatu, we fee like we are back in “cruising country.” We are anchored in a small bay with 30 other sailboats, right outside of a marina holding another 50 boats. There’s no real town here, so you have to either rent a car or take a taxi to Langkawi’s commercial center of Kuah if you want to provision. But Telaga harbor boasts a waterfront promenade with outdoor restaurants featuring tapas, Italian, Indian, French, Chinese, and Lebanese food. Meal prices range from $2 to $15 (for filet mignon), and beers cost around a buck.

Did I mention that there are 80 boats here?

The promenade also features flowers, palm trees, and a smiling Jenna, as you can see from the photo at the top of the blog.

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Our harbor is protected from the Malacca Strait by two small manmade island that are uninhabited. These have been used as little adventure playgrounds by cruising kids for years, but recently a sign went up declaring Private Property: Anyone Caught Hunting, Fishing, Swimming, or Trespassing Will Be Prosecuted. That didn’t stop Leo and Hazel from spending the afternoon there with their new friend Jana from Momo, because the kids were playing, an activity not specifically covered by the directions on the sign. They did pick up one of their best sunburns of the entire trip, which I think from their perspective was a small price to pay in return for getting an entire afternoon by themselves without parents on their own island.

IMG_6524One of the nice things about spending time in a secure anchorage in a place without too many shore side distractions is that it creates an environment where the kiddies can focus on their schoolwork. This photo isn’t staged, Leo actually likes Sophie school.

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Leo’s hard work is paying off, because he achieved an important milestone this week by completing 50% of his fifth grade curriculum. We keep a chart on a bulkhead to track the kids’ progress in Sophie School, and Leo was quite happy to fill in his 50% box.

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Leo isn’t the only one on board who is working hard and achieving milestones at school. We are happy to report that Hazel has completed second grade! We are so proud of the effort and dedication both she and Leo put into their schoolwork. Hazel is especially good at getting herself up early and starting schoolwork before anyone else wakes up. Her dad used to deliver newspapers before school when he was a boy, and I guess this is one apple that hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

IMG_1168Now that school is over, Hazel has apparently discovered other ways to occupy herself before everyone else on the boat wakes up. This morning, she looked up from her magazine and said “Dad, can you believe that there is a movie star that loves her butt? She even pays someone to clean and polish it. That’s ridiculous!” I asked her if this person was named Kim Kardashian. Hazel put her hands up to cover her mouth, an endearing trait of hers when she is feeling a little shy, and giggled, “Yes.”

Until today, our children lived in a world where the Kardashians did not exist. Pretty cool.

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We have been enjoying mostly sunny and dry weather since we arrived here, which of course is not supposed to happen during this rainy monsoon time of year. The kids have been hoping for a “Sumatra,” the name for vicious squalls that form over Sumatra and then hit this coast during this monsoon. They can bring 50+ knot winds, lightning strikes, waterspouts, and cloudbanks that look like a black wall of death. Leo even wrote a report on them.

We were hit by a squall the other day, but it’s subject to an ongoing debate as to whether or not it was a Sumatra. We had gusts that exceeded 40 knots and cycled around 360 degrees. But the black clouds came mostly from the mountains.

The squall hit us in the middle of the day, and in our scramble to gather laundry and tie down the surfboard, Jenna unfortunately slammed her foot into a little plastic hose nozzle that has fallen off the aft cockpit counter and lodged in the teak grate right outside of the cabin entrance. We are not sure if it is broken, but it hurts like heck.

So there you have it. We are back in a tropical paradise with new friends, deserted kiddy play islands, great focus on Sophie school, inexpensive and delicious food, and 50 cent happy hour beers. On the downside, my wife is hobbling, and we now all know that we live in a world where the Kardashians are popular.

On balance, I think we’ll take it. But that’s easy for me to say because I’m not the one with a broken toe.

Penang. Who Knew?

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Once again, we have stumbled into a place where we were planning to stay for two days and it now looks like we will stay for up to two weeks. Penang is full of surprises for us.

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When we departed the United States in 2013, we painstakingly researched every harbor on every island that lay in our path across the Pacific. Two years later, we are in more of a “wing it” mode, where we aren’t as knowledgeable about the different places we visit before we get there. That’s clearly not the case when it comes to navigation; we still try to have as much information as possible about every rock, reef, and anchorage in our path. But from a cultural perspective, we are learning more as we travel.

Our plan after Singapore was to travel 450 miles up the west coast of the Malay peninsula to Langkawi, an island just below the Thai border. Langkawi is a cruising destination with a marine service industry, plenty of anchorages, and duty-free booze. Our initial plan was to hang out there for a month and then continue on to Phuket, Thailand. To us the Malaysian coast was going to be a highway to Langkawi with overnight rest stops every 80 miles or so at places like Behar, Port Dickson, Klang, Pangkor, and Penang.

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Penang has turned out to be a surprise for us. We love it here. It has the sophistication (meaning money) and food culture of Singapore, but on a much smaller scale and at half the cost. It has great culture and swimmable beaches. It has a modern, inexpensive marina where we have met other cruisers, including a boat with kids! Sophie played host to an impromptu hide-and-go-seek party with six kids tromping around the trampolines while the parents watched from the relative safety of an Irish bar on a terrace above.

Leo and Hazel are very happy here.

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Our current home is the Straits Quay Marina, a mixed-use development on the northeast corner of Penang. We are about four miles north of the main city of Georgetown. The marina has 20 boats in it, and half of them are catamarans. There is a bit of a silting problem here, and even Sophie can only enter and exit the marina at high tide despite our 4′ 7″ draft.

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Before we got here, we knew Penang had a rich cultural heritage. We were expecting some old colonial buildings and some fishing villages. Instead we found an island with three times the number of skyscrapers compared to Seattle. That surprised us. Our marina is located on the right side of the photo above.

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Most of the skyscrapers here are condominiums, and one of our cabdrivers said that 70% of the units are empty, held by foreigners for investment purposes. He was very proud of the fact that Jackie Chan owns three condominiums in Penang. I’ve also read that “young retirees” from Hong Kong and Shanghai move here to educate their children, because Malaysia’s private schools are excellent and relatively inexpensive. The marina’s other cruising boat with kids has been here for a year, and their two boys are attending a local private school.IMG_0919

In addition to having lots of skyscrapers, Penang is home to one of the best life raft servicing facilities in Southeast Asia. It took me a while, but I was finally able to wrestle our life raft out of Sophie’s transom cradle and into the dinghy, and then from the dinghy onto the dock.

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Once the life raft was removed, I had the opportunity to give Sophie’s entire transom area a thorough cleaning. This included removal of the two empty beer cans that somehow found their way to a spot behind the life raft.

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It can be a little nerve wracking for a cruiser to hand over their life raft to a stranger for servicing. Your life raft is arguably the most important piece of equipment on your boat. But as soon as I walked into the life raft servicing center at Ocean Success here in Penang, I was relieved. Their shop was spotless, their tools were well-organized (always a good sign), and the two guys there seemed to know what they were doing.

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I was there while Ibrahim and Zabbir unpacked and inflated our life raft. They both gave it a thumbs up. I then left it in their capable hands as they tested it for leaks over the next couple of hours. They also tested the gas tank. They used their phone on the next day to video themselves repacking the raft, including their attaching the painter to the gas bottle pin. The entire bill for the inspection and service was US$238, which is about a quarter of what a similar service would cost in the US.

Have I mentioned lately about how much we love Penang?

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After two days of chores and Sophie School at the marina, we finally hopped into a cab and began exploring Penang and its culture. Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a source of pride for the locals. Downtown Georgetown is a warren of little streets filled with Chinese, Indian, Tamil, and Malay shops and restaurants. Along the waterfront are six Clan Jettys, a series of houses and shops extending out into the strait. Each one is organized around a single Chinese family, and some date back over a hundred years.

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Farther up the shore we visited Fort Cornwallis, an installation the British built in order to defend their local investments from raiding Thai pirates. While we were doing the tour, I asked Leo if he could name the famous figure from the US Revolutionary War that Fort Cornwallis was named after. It took him a few seconds, but he finally came up with the correct answer.

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By doing so, Leo freed himself from history jail.

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful and involved a siting of sea otters on the sea wall, lunch at a hawker center, visits to two luxury malls, and a siting of the oldest MacDonald in the world (based on the date of the building.)

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A few days later, we got up early and headed over to the Thai consulate to apply for visas.

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We then bought tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off tour bus to explore the northern part of Penang. These double decker buses have an outdoor flybridge that make them a great platform for taking pictures.

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Our first destination was Monkey Beach. We hadn’t been to a decent beach or seen a decent monkey for over a month, so we were due. It was a lovely day for a beach excursion. This whole northeast-monsoon-rainy season remains a myth for us, at least for now.

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To get to Monkey Beach we had to hire a boat. While waiting for the boat we spotted a five foot long monitor lizard hanging out on the dock. He didn’t seem to bother a rooster that was in the vicinity, but I am still not quite used to seeing small dinosaurs lazing about.

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It does make me happy that after 12+ years of marriage, Jenna still enjoys herself a good boat ride.

Once we arrived at the beach, Jenna and the kiddies went off to check out some rope swings, while I stayed back to look for monkeys. I soon found a pack of them raiding a garbage can. One of them was a big male. He looked up at me, bared his fangs, and charged.

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I didn’t a have a stick on me, and he kept charging. When he was 5 feet away I kicked sand at him. He stopped and said to himself “My charging teeth kung fu is no match for his sand kick kung fu! I must find his weakness and pursue another plan.” He quickly scampered away.

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The beach was rich with monkey sign. I should have kept my guard up, but I didn’t.

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We continued up Monkey Beach to a shack that sold beer and grilled fish. There were monkeys here as well, but these monkeys were different. They were all mommies with tiny babies clinging to them. They were so cute! Hazel climbed up a tree so she could be like a monkey, Jenna went to take pictures, and Leo and I sat and relaxed in the shade.

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I went to check on how lunch was progressing. Didn’t it look delicious? While I was at the grill, a monkey sprinted from the trees, grabbed my beer (which I had inadvertently left on the table right next to Leo), raced back into the trees, and chugged it. I never saw a thing. I just heard Leo sputterlaughing, saying “Dad, Dad, Dad, a monkey just ran over here and stole your beer! Seriously!”

Oh well, beaten again. By a monkey. I have no power against their baby-beer-fish kung fu trickery.

The day was too nice me to remain sad for long, however, so we took the boat back to the dock, hopped on the bus, and returned to Penang.

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Our next destination was the Kek Lok Si temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It was a sprawling complex of pagodas and shrines situated on a hillside overlooking Penang. Jenna takes much better photographs than I do, so I’ll leave it to her to share with you the sense of beauty and peace we encountered there.

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I’ll simply say it provided a wonderful vista of the city, and we got to ride a cool articulated railway to reach the summit.

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We hurried back to the Hop On Hop Off bus stop and caught the last bus of the day to get back to Sophie. The service was shutting down early due to the start of Ramadahn.

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Fortunately for us, we got stuck in evening rush hour traffic. The city was bathed in golden light, and the bus flybridge was a great photography platform. Jenna was in her happy place.

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Leo was happy to be reading. Can anyone guess what his favorite Microsoft program is these days?

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Hazel was simply happy.

Me? The monkey beer theft incident makes for a funny story. But having the opportunity to spend time in a peaceful, culturally rich city with loved ones is way better.

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Given the horrible news coming out of the United States today, I want to emphasize the peaceful part. Here’s the sign posted outside of the central police station here.

We’ve been in Penang for a week and haven’t seen a gun. We have seen some police on motorcycles writing speeding tickets. We see security guards outside of hotels, banks and malls, but they are armed with billy clubs and wear cool-looking berets and are uniformly polite and helpful. Throughout the city we see mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and various flavors of Christian churches side-by-side on the same block. Chinese and Halal stalls stand next to each other in the hawker centers. Our Italian restaurant had a Ramadahn special last night, where everyone got a complimentary bowl of chicken mushroom soup along with some cinnamon date spread at sundown.

Our brief glimpse of Penang so far reinforces for me and for Jenna and the kids that people from different cultures and religions can live together in harmony without sacrificing the things that make them unique. Who knew?

Now if we could only do something about the darn monkeys.

 

Malacca Strait? Piece of Cake

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I’ve heard stories about the dangers of the Malacca Strait throughout my entire life. This narrow passage of water connecting Singapore with the Indian Ocean was one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world, teeming with nonstop marine traffic, pirates, waterspouts, unmarked fish traps, and treacherous currents. Our passage through here was supposed to be one of the riskiest parts of our entire circumnavigation.

The reality? The picture of Hazel up top pretty much summarizes our experience over the last three days as we covered the 140 miles from Singapore to Port Dickson, the town where we checked into Malaysia this afternoon. We saw very little shipping traffic, and fewer fishermen than we saw in northwest Indonesia. We didn’t even get a thunderstorm. We had nothing but flat seas, a nice breeze, and a favorable north-setting current in the afternoons. Overall, it was a piece of cake.

Our planned two week stay in Singapore wound up being a six week stay, and we loved every minute of it. Jenna and I each had to separately fly home to the US for a week — she went to attend her grandmother’s funeral, and I went to have a cancer scare checked out (false alarm!) — and Singapore was a great spot to hang out with the kids. Jenna is pulling together a blog post documenting our adventures there, so stay tuned.

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Checking out of Singapore was as easy as checking in. Zeina, pictured above, runs the marina office at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club and handled all of our paperwork with Singapore Customs and the Harbormaster. She is awesome.

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After we left the RSYC marina we had to motor 5 miles up to Singapore’s western quarantine and immigration anchorage where we would drop our passports into a fish net extended by a guy on the deck of a patrol boat. On the way there, we passed a fellow Lagoon 500 taking some school kids out for a holiday sail on Buddha’s Birthday. The Ozzie skipper of Talise yelled “nice boat!” as he sailed past us.

I love boats named after girls.

Once we cleared immigration, we motored back through the harbor, turned the corner into the Malacca Strait and saw … nothing. There was virtually no shipping traffic. Perhaps it was the holiday?

We motored 35 miles and dropped a hook in the lee of Pulau Pisang. 01.28.807 N, 103.14.759 E. It was a nice anchorage and we enjoyed a quiet night.

The next morning I had to do some work on Sophie. The engines had been running somewhat sluggishly during our exit from Singapore, so I changed the fuel filters. I also replaced the starboard engine fan belt and fixed the cracked fan belt cover that had been causing the fan belts on that engine to chafe and stretch. Finally, I got to dive the boat and scrape some nice Singapore barnacles off of the props. I didn’t want to swim in Singapore harbor due to the combination of waves and pollution, but the water by Pisang was so silty that I had to feel my way to where the propellers were located. It took 25 dives, but both props were soon shiny and clean again.

Needless to say, I was back in my boat maintenance happy place.

We got underway at 10:00 AM and covered the 65 miles to our next anchorage in Pulau Besar in the Water Group (02.06.593 N, 102.20.630 E) by sundown, thanks in part to an afternoon of motorsailing at a speed of 10+ knots aided by a favorable current.

Today’s motoring run of 38 miles to Port Dickson was uneventful, except for the part where we passed the world’s largest ship whose security guard pointed a gun at us.

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According to Wikipedia, the TI Europe is one of 4 vessels in a class that are the largest ships in the world. It was anchored off an oil terminal halfway between Malacca and Port Dickson. Here’s what AIS had to say about this boat:

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Think about it. 1243 feet long, 223 feet wide, and 72.5 feet deep. That is one BIG ship!

Naturally, I changed course so we could pass right alongside TI Europe. While doing so I trained my binoculars on the bridge. Usually when I do this while passing a ship, I spot someone looking at us with their binoculars, especially when Jenna is on deck. We then wave at each other and continue on our merry way. This time I saw no one, not a single visible soul on the largest ship in the world, until I spotted the head of a person who was crouching behind a metal plate welded to the railing right outside the bridge on the top deck. At first I wondered if the guy had dropped his keys or was scraping paint. But then I realized that his head repeatedly bobbed up for a peak at us every few seconds and then disappeared. And then I saw something that looked an awful lot like a sniper rifle. He clearly wasn’t scraping paint with it. I’m sure it didn’t help that I was spotting him with my binoculars. The entire stern area of TI Europe was covered with coils of barbed wire, so it was clear that they were worried about security. It all happened quite quickly, and then we were gone.

But man, the dude pointed a gun at me!

I was tempted to call them on VHF channel 16 and say “TI Europe, TI Europe, TI Europe, this is the sailing yacht Sophie … Were you just pointing a weapon at me? While my children were on deck waving at you?” But the most that call would accomplish would be a likely visit from a Malaysian Coast Guard patrol craft, who are out in force looking for Rohingya refugees (which is an awful, awful situation.) So I kept my mouth shut and kept on going.

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But again, that was a big boat.

We made it into Admiral Cove Marina in Port Dickson by 1:00 PM and talked them into providing us a birth for a few days. We then took a cab into town and cleared Immigration, the Harbormaster, and Customs in under an hour, which is really, really fast given our non-Singapore experiences over the last year.

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As we walked into the Immigration office, we saw a sign describing the required dress code for people visiting government offices in this Muslim country. Jenna quickly dug through her bag and assembled something that made her appearance appropriate in the eyes of the government here. She now says that she wants to buy a scarf while she is in Malaysia. To think of all the Hermes stores she walked past while we in Singapore over the last month…

After we visited the government offices, we stopped in a MAXIS mobile outlet to buy Sim cards, and half of the customers were local Chinese women wearing short shorts and tank tops. It was no big deal.

The more we travel the world, the more we see that people, regardless of their country or culture or religion or economic status, are almost entirely friendly and open and tolerant of others. And the more we travel the world, the more we realize that the perceived dangers in our trip — the 3,000 mile crossing to the Marquesas, the uncharted corals of the Tuamotos, the pigs of Tonga, the passage to NZ and back, the gangstaz of the Solomons and PNG, the corruption and bureaucracy and religion of Indonesia, our counter-monsoon cruising calendar, the pirates of the Malacca Strait – all of these perceived dangers never really amounted to anything. Instead we have consistently encountered good people going about their lives, and weather that we can manage if we are patient and informed in our choices and scheduling.

Maybe we are lucky, but maybe there is more to it than just simple luck.

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Anyway, here is the view from Sophie’s back porch this afternoon. The Admiral Cove Marina complex here is fairly inexpensive and has a pool, tennis courts, kids’ room, and a sailor’s bar that serves $3 Carlsbergs from 5:00-8:00 PM. We initially thought we would just spend a day or two here, but it now looks like it could be closer to ten days. We’ll leave Sophie here while we head into Kuala Lumpur for a few days to celebrate my birthday and watch the Champions League final this weekend.

International PTDJ Day.

We also just realized that the Muslim holy month of Ramahdan (as they call it here) begins on June 17th, and we will be living in in a Muslim country for the entire month. What a tremendous opportunity for our entire family to learn so much more about how a quarter of the people on the planet go about their lives and practice their faith.

When we left on this trip back in 2012, I thought I knew it all. I now realize how little I actually know about pretty much anything.

Anchorages from Bali to Singapore

opnHere is another one for boats following in our footsteps, where we provide waypoints and advice on the different places where we have stopped over the last few months.

Before we entered Indonesia, we knew very little about this leg of our trip. Would we have run-ins with pirates? Would we encounter massive standing waves and rip tides that would send us sideways? Would the predominately Muslim population present problems for a boat full of Americans?

The thousand miles we covered from Bali to Singapore proved to be uneventful, with little wind during this transition period between the monsoon seasons. The people we met were uniformly kind, the fishermen all smiled and waved, and we experienced some of the best wildlife and snorkeling of our entire journey during this leg. We’ll come back here again some day.

seranganPulau Serangan, Bali
08.43.100S 115.14.823E
This was our home while we visited Bali for over a month. Serangan is the main mooring and fishing boat anchorage on Bali’s west coast, and although the harbor is filled with hundreds of mooring buoys that you can rent, we anchored in 30 feet of mud on the eastern side of the harbor with 5 other sailboats. It was a secure spot, and we never dragged even during a 50 knot squall. The location is a short dinghy ride to the beaches of Sanur, but a huge mud flat appears in front of Sanur at low tide. I broke one of our dinghy wheels crossing it. A neighboring boat would frequently leave their dinghy at the park at Sanur, but they were often hassled and at one point even found sand poured into their gasoline tank. Instead, we would leave our dinghy on the inside of the ferry dock in the middle of Serangan harbor. We never had a problem, even at night, but it meant we had to take Blue Bird taxis to get anywhere in Bali. They have an app you can download to your phone, so at least they are reliable. We could buy diesel and gasoline in Serangan. Overall it was a quiet anchorage with pleasant people. We never wanted to swim here, however.

lbnPulau Lembongan
08.40.675 S, 115.26.293E
This is a resort anchorage used mostly by day trippers coming over from Bali. A large reef provides shelter from northerlies. We stayed here on two separate occasions, and on both visits we grabbed a mooring near the tour boats in 20 feet of water. No one came by to collect money. We loved swimming in the clear water after a month of Serangan’s mud. The harbor gets loud during the day but quiets down after 3:00 PM when the tourists leave. Note that Selat Lombok can have a 5 knot south-setting current, so when heading north it’s best to hug the Bali coast before turning right for Lembongan. You need REALLY to do this if heading north to the Gili Islands or you run the risk of having the current deposit you in Darwin.

gili2Gili Air
08.21.948 S, 116.04.932 E
We visited Gili Air twice, once on our way into Bali and once on our way out. The anchorage is protected by reefs, and we picked up a mooring on each visit. We were only charged during our first visit. Gili is a laid back tourist spot with no cars and a sand path that circles the island. Little horse carts are used to haul food and luggage to the hotels. There is supposed to be excellent snorkeling nearby. We wound up leaving our dinghy tied to the inside of the ferry dock. It was safe there, but little school kids enjoyed swimming off it. There are no stores or diesel available at Gili, but we ate in the beachfront restaurants every night. The kiddies didn’t complain too much.

Pulau Kangean
06.51.511S, 115.13.943E
After Gili we did a 110 mile overnight run to Kangean. It was a beautiful and sheltered harbor, and we anchored in 50 feet of mud a little east of the navigation marker. We enjoyed the sun and the fact we were out in a quiet anchorage for the first time in over a month. There were a couple of small fishing villages onshore and a nice-looking beach that was crowded with fishing boats, but we opted to hang out and rest.

post giliPulau Bawean
05.43.796S 112.40.200E
We sailed another 160 northwest from Kangean to Pulau Bawean, another sheltered stopover on our way to Kumai. This island was bigger and more developed than Kangean, and we shared our anchorage with several fishing boats. It’s important to note that fishing boats are now ubiquitous, and we have to pay careful attention to avoid their nets. We anchored here in the first big bay on the north side of the island and had another quiet and sheltered stopover.

kumaiKumai, Kalimantan, Borneo
02.44.372S, 111.44.002E
From Bawean we traveled another 200 miles north to Kumai, where we anchored in the river for a few days as we visited the orangutans on a tour boat. We successfully navigated the river using the waypoints published on Harry’s Yacht Services website. Kumai is a commercial port on a tidal river with wharves on one side and mangroves on the other. Dozens of shallow draft freighters navigate the river every day. You also have to be on the watch for “floating islands,” which are large chunks of mangrove being carried by the current out to sea. As we approached Kumai, we were met by a guy in a speedboat who we wound up hiring to arrange our orangutan tour, watch our boat (from the cockpit) while we were gone, and supply us with diesel. The most interesting thing about Kumai itself were the dozens of 5 story warehouses scattered throughout the town. They were swallows nest factories. Kumai itself was not very interesting, but the orangutan tour was a major highlight of our entire trip. Once the tour was over and our diesel tanks were topped of, we left.

sembliPulau Sembilan (off Pulau Nangka)
02.31.040S, 108.31.779E
After Kumai, we sailed (sailed!) 200 miles west to Pulau Nangka, our first stopover on our way to Singapore. The anchorage in Nangka was rolly and exposed to the north, so we pulled up and moved another 2 miles to the south side of Sembilan where we anchored in 50 feet of sand, right off of coral reefs. This place was beautiful, and we stayed four nights.  We would have stayed longer but were running low on food. Sembilan is deserted and ringed by a sand beach, which in turn was ringed by a coral reef. It was like we were back in the South Pacific. It felt great to swim all day. Some local fisherman camped out on the beach at night, but they left us alone. Great stop.

mesanakPulau Mesanak
00.24.270N, 104.33.551E
From Sembilan we made a 300 mile run northwest to Mesanak. Our original pan was to break this leg up into two trips with a stopover on Pulau Bangka, but we were well rested, had plenty of fuel, and the seas were flat, so we kept pushing. Mesanak was another quiet, sheltered harbor with a lot of fishermen. It had 20 huge fish trap houses on stilts throughout the harbor. This whole part of Indonesia – the Riau, Bangka, and Lingga islands – is where boats based in Singapore and Thailand go cruising. We could easily have spent a month exploring this beautiful area, but we are not sure we want to deal with the bureaucracy required to re-enter Indonesia. This was another great stop.

nonsaNongsa Point Marina, Nongsa Point, Pulau Batam
01.11.780N, 104.05.777E
This is an actual, real, modern marina with shore power and attendants with radios who run out and help you dock your boat! It is part of a hotel complex with a pool, restaurant, golf course, and a bike trail. I learned later on in Singapore that the marina has an excellent boat detailing service and that many boats in Singapore head over to Nongsa to get their boats waxed and polished. Sophie is looking a little dull these days, and the equatorial heat deadens any ambition I have to wax the boat right now. So detailing will have to wait until Thailand. The people from Nongsa handled our Indonesia immigration and customs clearance for us. That in and of itself made this an excellent stop.

rsycThe Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, Singapore
01.17.666N, 103.45.696E
Our current home is a marina on the southwest coast of Singapore. We didn’t realize it a month ago, but the presence of the Singapore Yacht Show last week made it very difficult to find a berth in this country due to all of the boats coming down from Thailand and Malaysia. We were lucky to get a berth here. The facility at the yacht club is excellent: hotel, restaurant, bar, huge swimming pool, gym, steam room, kids room, gambling room, mahjong room, karaoke club, concierge, and 7×24 security. It’s adjacent to a huge park with bike trails and one of Singapore’s best playgrounds. There is also easy access to public transportation. The only downside? It’s rolly here. Rolly, rolly, rolly. The marina docks are located right next to the immigration dock where service boats pick up and drop of crews for all of the commercial vessels anchored off Singapore. These service boats are all 50 foot twin diesel pilot boats, and their skippers fishtail them into the dock like toddlers driving bumper cars at the “No Parents” night at the amusement park. They kick up a lot of wake, which isn’t a problem for cats like Sophie, but the monohulls swing like pendulums. The staff all seem surprised when we tell them we love the dock. This is a great place for cats, with an excellent and friendly staff.