Sophie is Wicked Fast Again

Sophie has covered 265 miles in her first 35 hours on our passage from Phuket to the the Maldives, averaging over 7.5 knots of boat speed over the first part of our 1,500 mile journey. That’s right, Sophie is on the road again. Sorry for not updating the blog over the last 2 months. We’ve been crazy busy with a side trip to Cambodia and Laos, a 2 week haulout where we fixed multiple systems and painted the bottom, a 3 week visit to Seattle to see friends and family over the holidays, and then a mad 5 day scramble to provision and fix a bunch of things that broke at the last minute. Jenna and I have some writing to do and will share more about our fantastic November and December.

But it’s all good right now. This is our first offshore passage in over a year. We have 8 souls on board: my brother Rich (a veteran of our Marguesas passage), his adult children Kate and Nic, our friend from Seattle/Munich Travis, plus Jenna, the kiddies, and I.

It is 3:00 AM Sophie time (UTC + 7) on January 13. Our current position is 07 38.205N, 094 10.652E. Our course is 272m, making a speed of 7.5 knots with full main and jib on a broad reach with a lovely 10 knot breeze from the NNE. Swells are under a meter. There has been no rain.

We have actually slowed down in the last couple of hours and were making 8-10 knots since noon yesterday. We had the gennaker up for the entire day. Life is good. At this speed we will reach our destination of Male in under a week.

We’ve spent the first 36 hours of the passage getting our sea legs and organizing the cabin. I’ve only had to repair two toilets so far. The pump in Hazel’s head needed a complete servicing (I wish she wouldn’t swallow so many hair rubber bands), and I had to replace the Stephen Fell memorial joker valve in the yellow room’s head.

Overall the crew is pretty happy, because it is hard to not be happy when you are sailing at 8 knots in flat seas on a passage in the tropics. Leo was queasy for much of yesterday, and we will try to get Sophie School going today. First night’s dinner was pasta, and last night we had cheeseburgers. The fishing program will begin in earnest at sunrise as we pass north of the Nicobars. 5 lines are going in.

We are so very, very lucky. Nothing lightens your mood like a smooth bottom, a favorable current, and fair winds.

Stephen vs. Danny: We Won!

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I wrote a blog back in August about the friendly rivalry between my nephews Stephen and Danny about who was going to have the best Sophie Adventure Cruise. Stephen joined us for 3 weeks in August for a visit that was epic. His younger brother Dan joined us for a 2 week visit in October that turned out to be equally epic. The real winners of this contest? Me, Jenna, Leo, and Hazel. We had the pleasure of sharing our home for almost 2 months with family members who were a lot of fun AND served as excellent role models for their younger cousins. Well, at least for most of the time.

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“DanDaMan” arrived on flights from Switzerland on the evening of October 1, and we set out the next day on for the same basic loop around the “Dandaman” Sea that we took Stephen: Koh Racha, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, and Koh Hong. Unfortunately, when Dan landed the entire Phuket area was blanketed with smoke from the Sumatra palm oil fires that are plaguing the area, limiting our visibility. We also got off to a late start and tucked into the Chalong anchorage for our first night. The next morning headed down to Koh Rocha and grabbed the mooring on the west side anchorage, only to discover that the bar on the rocks overlooking the beach that Stephen and I enjoyed so much had been razed. So we went around the corner to Racha’s east coast to visit “Beer Beach”, which turned out to be a charmless wasteland of multiple tourist boats, small amounts of beach, and even smaller amounts of beer. So we decided to ditch Koh Racha altogether and head over to Koh Phi Phi. We spent a night anchored off Jasmin Restaurant, and then spent a week at Monkey Beach.

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Dan LOVED Monkey Beach. We swam every day, and he coached us on our flips and splash dives. We played Settlers of Catan. We went around the corner and into town for meals and onshore Sophie School. From a vacation point of view, Dan thought it was perfect. “After all the work on my PhD, this is exactly what I needed. Oooagh!”

One day we took the big dinghy and bombed the five miles over to Phi Phi Le, with a first stop at Maya Beach. Upon arrival, the kiddies were thrilled to discover that Dan had a big rip in the seat of his swim shorts. Dan was able to successfully manage the situation and enjoyed the spectacle of the hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists that crowd into this little beach.

After Maya Beach, we bombed around to the east side of Phi Phi Le and dropped a hook in the middle of the floating party boats. The boat next to us had 40 backpackers on board, and the owner gave each of them a tallboy can of Chang Beer that they all took into the water. They floated together in a little group, sipping their beers, as the owner then climbed 50 feet up the cliff on the side of the hong and did a magnificent backflip in front of the assembled fleet. It was pretty cool.

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When Stephen was with us, we became friends with some backpackers on Phi Phi. Actually, it was Hazel who made the initial connection. Adz and Audrey were playing Frisbee on the beach at Phi Phi at low tide, and Hazel worked her way into their game. An hour later they joined us for a drink at the beachside restaurant where we were hanging out. Adz is a tattoo artist, and he swung by later that evening to check out the situation while Stephen and I were getting out tattoos. He thought the local guy was doing a good job and was inking clean lines. We wound up inviting Adz and Audrey for a ride back to Phuket on Sophie, and they accepted and even spent a night on board. Adz was so happy at one point that he did a headstand.

We became friends with some backpackers while Danny was with us in Phi Phi as well, but this story is a bit more of a caper. Unfortunately, Leo woke up one morning feeling sick to his stomach, and Jenna suggested that Dan and I head into town to pick up some ginger ale and some beer (we were out.) Since Dan was on vacation, we also thought it would make sense if we stopped for a bite to eat. So we took the big dinghy over to the Rolling Stoned beach bar for a quick beer. 10 beers and one AWFUL hamburger later, we left and got the ginger ale and beer. As we walked across the low tide beach to the dinghy, Dan begged if we could join the pickup soccer game. We did, and we were terrible. We got in the dinghy and drove back to Sophie, where Jenna pointed out we had no beer or ginger ale with us. We had left them on the beach!

So we went back to Phi Phi, reloaded our drink bag, got into the dinghy, and then encountered a group of American kids hanging out in the water having fun and drinking beer. They seemed like our kind of people, so Danny and I invited them back to Sophie. After a little bit of consideration, they agreed, and Ella, Kevin, Maggie, Anna, and Shannon joined for a few hours on Monkey Beach.

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They had all recently graduated form Loyola Marymount University in Baltimore (which means they were Jesuit-trained, like me) and were taking the smart step of backpacking across Thailand before getting on with their careers and the rest of their lives. We hung out in the water for a few hours and had a great time, except that Kevin got bit by a monkey (it didn’t break his skin), I discovered that the new dinghy wouldn’t plane with 7 adults on board (which really bummed me out), and Jenna was so busy taking care of Leo that she never got her beer (she is a loving mother with incredible patience.) But we made some new friends and have a new story to tell. Also, as you can see from the photo, the Sumatra smoke was still with us.

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After a week in Phi Phi we headed up to Krabi to stock up on fresh produce and sing some karaoke at the Krabi River Marina. I got a haircut, and we took Dan to the wet market, the night market, the local temple, and to some of our favorite haunts. For karaoke, Dan opened the night with “Like a Virgin” which for some reason didn’t go over super-well with the local Thai crowd. The mike was passed to a group of ladies celebrating at a corner table, and we never got it back for the rest of the night. They did let Dan and his cousins dance with them, though.

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After Krabi, we took Dan up to Koh Hong and grabbed a mooring on the south side off the national park beach. The Sumatra smoke had cleared, and Dan finally got some sunny weather with spectacular views.

We took him into the beach, where he discovered that the fishies love themselves some Hazel.

But all good things, including Dan’s visit, must sometimes come to an end. Which means we couldn’t convince him to stay another a week. So after Koh Hong, we headed back to the Yacht Haven Marina in northern Phuket for one last meal with some of our cruising friends. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Paradise Resort on Koh Yao Noi. Hazel likes the big swing there.

Dan’s flight left at 8:00 PM the next day, so we had the opportunity to spend a last day exploring Phuket with him. We headed down to the Tree House Restaurant, where we had once taken Stephen, for lunch. Unfortunately it was closed. Jenna still hasn’t eaten there. So we instead headed all the way down to Chalong for a waterfront meal at Dickie’s Lighthouse.

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Dan enjoyed his last meal in Thailand. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been SUCH a good host for my nephews during their 5 weeks here that I’ve been eating and drinking this way during their entire visits. We’ve gone on a bit of a cleanse now before we host our next Adventure Cruise in November.

After lunch, we decided to drive up the hill and visit the Big Buddha statue that dominates southern Phuket. We’ve seen it from a distance dozens of times but never bothered to visit. What a mistake!

For starters, we passed multiple concessions that will take tourists on elephant rides, and they all have baby elephants out by the road. You can never see too many baby elephants!

At the top, there is a huge statue of Buddha that also serves as a temple, with monks inside singing prayers. If you turn your back on the temple, you can look out and see the “Dandaman Sea” and the loop we took over the last ten days with Dan. It was a great way to end his visit.

After the Big Buddha, we drove up Phuket’s west coast for one last sunset beach beer and then sadly dropped Dan off at the airport.

It was the end of two great visits that in our minds and hearts blended into one extended family fest, which is something that is especially important for Leo and Hazel as they continue to explore the other side of the world from where the rest of their family lives. Stephen and Daniel, thanks for the visits. We had a great time. Everybody is a winner!

 

Anchors and Other Stuff

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Here’s a quick update on Sophie’s ongoing Thai makeover. Earlier this week, we replaced our old Lewmar “plow” style anchor with a new Rocna anchor. Rocnas are made in New Zealand and are considered by many cruisers to be the finest anchors in the world.

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Our Lewmar anchor weighed 40 kg and came with Sophie when we bought the boat in 2008. Overall it has served us well, but we’ve dragged our anchor several times in the last 5 months, so Jenna and I thought it was time for a change. The Rocna weighs 55 kg, has a bigger spade to bite into the ocean floor, and features a roll bar that helps keep it set.

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As you can see, the new anchor is significantly larger than this .5 liter beer bottle. Our nephew Dan, who has joined us for a 12 day Sophie Adventure Cruise, was kind enough to point out that the beer bottle is empty.

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Getting the Rocna onto Sophie required choreography and teamwork. We used four ropes and it all worked perfectly. There was no shouting. Just smiles. The new anchor makes us happy.

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Our old anchor was attached to the anchor chain with an inline stainless steel fitting. Many sailors do not like this kind of attachment because side pressure could potentially cause the stainless steel to bend and eventually break. In fact, we have a friend in Seattle who recently purchased a new sailboat, and he spent a week trying to remove this type of fitting from his anchor.

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Our’s came off in three minutes, which is pretty cool given that it has been in use for 7 and a half years.

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As you can see, there is no bend to our fitting.

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We are using a simple shackle to attach the Rocna to our anchor chain. Rocna has an excellent anchoring knowledgebase on their website, and they recommend using this approach.

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We replaced our anchor bridle, the 2 ropes that we clip on to the anchor chain once it has set. The bridle acts as a shock absorber and distributes the load from the anchor to each hull. The old bridle was hard and calcified, covered with dead barnacles and other marine mysteries. The new bridle is soft and shiny. We also bought a completely new anchor chain. We won’t replace the chain until we haul Sophie out of the water for bottom painting in December.

Between the new anchor and chain, we hope to have worry-free nights for years to come.

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We’ve had some other work done in Thailand this past week. Sophie has a wooden seat on each bow pulpit. The original seats were made from marine plywood and were beginning to delaminate.

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We replaced them with solid teak. They are now too nice to sit on.

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We installed a West Marine plastic engine mount on one of our stern pulpits for the engine to our small dinghy, The Baby.

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The mount is designed to attach to the pulpit where a horizontal tube and a vertical tube meet to form a “T”. We didn’t have one of those, so we asked a local guy to make one for us by welding a new piece of stainless steel to our pulpit.

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We had the local rigger Rolly Tasker make a custom bridle for our big dinghy, making it easy for us to raise the dingy out of the water using our stern dinghy davits. The bridle is made from 10 mm Dyneema cored rope. We also replaced the dinghy davit ropes with Dyneema as well.

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Our microwave oven bit the dust 2 months ago, and Jenna brought one back from the US with her in August. We couldn’t buy one locally because all appliances in Asia are 230 volt, and Sophie is a 110 volt American boat. We had to get a local carpenter to recut the wooden face plate in the microwave cabinet in order to get the new appliance to fit. Hi Dan!

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Finally, we got new fender covers. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but it means a lot to us. They look nice!

That’s about it for now. Please stay tuned, because later today Jenna is going to do a post an out the most terrifying thing imaginable that happened to us this week. It’s awful!

 

 

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A Calm Between the Storms

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We mentioned a few blogs ago about how our nephew Stephen joined us for an epic 3 week visit in August, helping me with childcare and Sophie School during Jenna’s visit to the United States. Stephen returned to his home in Los Angeles on September 1st. His brother Daniel — aka “Dan da Man” — arrives on October 1st for a 2 week visit that we all hope will be equally epic.

So for the four of us on Sophie, September has turned out to be a calm period, similar in a way to the flat calm water in between two massive cannonball dives from our cat’s roof. How did we choose to spend our September?

Our Cruising Area
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Sophie has been cruising a patch of the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket (on the left of the map) and the Thai mainland (on the right) over the last 10 weeks. For September, we started out at the Yacht Haven Marina on the northern tip of Phuket and then worked our way clockwise as we visited “James Bond Island”, Ko Hong (Ko is Thai for island), the town of Krabi, and then Ko Phi Phi Don. We are currently back in Krabi for a few days and will head west to the Ao Po Marina on Phuket in time for Dan’s arrival.

Here is a quick runthrough of our September activities.

James Bond Island
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Ko Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island, is the location from the film The Man With The Golden Gun where Roger Moore — wearing a wool plaid sportcoat — lands his seaplane on a beach in order to rescue a bikini-clad Britt Eckland, kill Christopher Lee, and recover the stolen Solex Agitator in order to help the world overcome the energy crisis created by the early 1970s OPEC oil embargo. In the movie, the island is remote and pristine. Roger Moore never breaks a sweat.
In reality, this island was one of the worst tourist traps we’ve visited on the entire cruise. There were 2,000 tourists trudging shoulder-to-shoulder from the landing beach up to the photo spot and then to the other beach which was filled with 20 shops selling plastic toys and wooden elephants. After 10 minutes I couldn’t take it any more and had to go back to the dinghy. I doubt we will return.

Ko Hong

After one night at James Bond Island, we headed 20 miles southeast to a mooring on the north side of Ko Hong, an island that is a national park. We spent a week here and loved every second of it. It was a great place for us to get back into tropical cruising mode. Jenna was able to get the kids back on track at Sophie School after the Jamie and Stephen teaching experience. I was able to get multiple boat projects done. We swam several times a day. We took the new dinghy and bombed around to the south side of the island to hang out on the beach (pictured above). We had sunny weather for a week. It’s a very happy place.

Krabi

I love Krabi.

It’s a city on a river on the mainland another 20 miles southeast from Ko Hong. We came here to restock our groceries and to renew our Thai visas at the local immigration office. As I’ve mentioned before, Krabi has a small karaoke marina on the river, and there is an esplanade that connects the marina with the town. For the first time since Penang, we were able to break the kids’ bikes out and ride up and down the waterfront.

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Hazel eventually developed the confidence to ride on city streets, so we took off to a cluster of local restaurants built on stilts over the mangrove.

I had the fish.

This was Jenna’s first visit to Krabi, and the kids loved taking their mother by the hand and showing her the town. We walked the market stalls, played Jenga, sang karaoke, and even found a coffee shop that let us watch the Patriots-Steelers game.

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We visited the Buddhist shrine located at top of a local temple. The 1,260 steps up were quite an effort for all of us, but Leo believed that the view was worth it.

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Phi Phi

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After Krabi, we headed back down to Ko Phi Phi,  where we spent the next 10 days. I thought I would provide a map to give you some perspective. On our first night we anchored off the restaurant Jasmin on the northeast coast. This anchorage provides good holding and protection against westerly winds. We dinghied in to the restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal after a full day of school.

The seas were bouncy when we woke up the next morning, so we headed around the corner and grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. The main town of Ko Phi Phi Don is located on the isthmus between the two sides of the island. We continued our pattern of school and chores during the day followed by a late afternoon dinghy trip into town for a walk and dinner. We started using our small dinghy, “The Baby” every day and enjoyed it a lot.

After three days at the mooring, a wind from the south picked up, so we decided to head around to the Monkey Beach anchorage on the northwest side of the island. What a great decision! We spent a week here and think it is one of our favorite spots of our entire trip. Jenna said “When we left the US, I assumed all of our anchorages would be like this.” Monkey beach is around the corner from the town, so you can’t really see it. There is a nice beach. The beach has monkeys. There is coral and great swimming.

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The beach on the north side of the isthmus has a great scene, so we took The Baby in every day for meals or to conduct Sophie School sessions on shore. I have to say the kids did a great job at school throughout the entire month. They have an excellent teacher.

We celebrated Leo’s 11th birthday at Monkey Beach. Jenna made him an apple pie, along with linguini with clam sauce. It’s his favorite meal.

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Leo enjoys his new underwater camera and is spending a lot of time under the boat. He says it was his best birthday ever.

After a week at Monkey Beach, we woke up one night and discovered that the boat was dragging it’s anchor during a violent squall. Jenna and I stood an anchor watch, and the next morning we headed back up to Krabi. We’ve had heavy rain for the last two days and are glad to be on a dock again. Tomorrow we will leave and start heading west towards Ao Po on Phuket. We will be ready for the cannonball splash DandaMan creates when he arrives on Thursday.

We’ve had mostly sunny weather this month. All of the machines on the boat are working. The kids are back on track at school. We like Thailand, and we love to have the opportunity to share it with family and friends. And Hazel can now drive a dinghy.

Sophie’s Thai Makeover

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Thailand is a great place to relax. It’s also a great place for cruisers to get stuff done.

It has been 18 months since Sophie left New Zealand, which is the last place where we had significant work done on the boat. Most of the repairs we did in New Zealand were structural in nature, including re-glassing some bulkheads, machining our roller furling foil, machining our boom gooseneck, and installing new rudder bearings.

Now that we are in Thailand, it’s time to take advantage of the excellent and inexpensive marine services industry here and have some new work done to our home. Most of the additions to Sophie this time are in response to the ongoing, relentless onslaught of the tropical sun. We are very excited about these upgrades, which are making our home look shiny and new.

Sophie is our home, our classroom, our workplace, our movie theater, our garage, our laundromat, our power plant, our municipal water and sewage service, and our dance floor. Don’t forget about the dance floor part. It’s the platform for Sophie Adventure Cruises, our nickname for how we go about sharing our lives with friends and family. Any time we do upgrades here, it’s a big deal for us.

We’ve just done some upgrades that make us happy in a Christmas morning-kind-of-way. Let me walk you through what we’ve done so far.

Our New Ride

Sophie has a new dinghy! When you are out cruising, your dinghy is your car. You use it for everything. Sophie’s old dinghy was a Walker Bay Genesis RIB with a 20 HP Honda four stroke outboard. We bought it new in 2008. It was a great dinghy for a long time, but over the last two years it’s fabric began to fray, it’s hull began to leak, and the engine became so finicky that I was the only one in the family (including #Stepheniswinning) who could start it.

Jenna, in particular, did not enjoy having a dinghy that she couldn’t start, especially after she was caught out in rain squalls once or twice. So for the last six months we’ve been dinghy shopping.

We settled on a Highfield Ocean Master 3.5 meter RIB with a 30 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard and Hypalon tubes, all purchased from Cholamark Boats in Phuket. We first rode in a Highfield with our friends on Nalukai last Christmas. Our new dinghy has a heavy duty, reinforced aluminum double hull, which will be strong enough to withstand the demands that Sophie Adventure Cruises puts on a tender. We also ordered a Sunbrella tube cover in “Sophie Green” along with a grey engine cover.

The boat is designed for a center console with steering wheel, but we decided to forego this option. The result is a cavernous interior that will hold 8 adults, and we think that the Tohatsu has enough oomph to get up on a plane with such a heavy load. Please also note the aluminum transom reinforcements, the multiple welded attach points for lines, and the nonskid surface on the deck.

We like the design of the bow. It features a cushioned seat with an integrated 35 liter fuel tank and fuel gauge. Above that is a nonskid bow platform with a cleat and anchor roller. It’s now quite pleasant to step down from the dinghy onto Sophie’s transom.

The bow platform also makes an excellent launch pad for doing can openers.

On the transom, we mounted Beach Master retractable wheels. (Yes, I know, an Ocean Master needs a Beach Master.) These are made in New Zealand and are easily the strongest dinghy wheels we’ve seen yet.

They’ve worked flawlessly on five beaches so far, including a landing amidst the chaos known as Maya Beach on Phi Phi Le. The only downside to this arrangement is that the weight of the fuel tank is now located in the bow, requiring someone with the strength of a bull to lift and pull from the front of the cart.

The best part of the new dinghy? It has an electric starter, powered by a battery located in this cute little box. Actually, this is a wonderful feature, especially after the last 5 months of prayers and frustration that were often required to get our old dinghy running. The best part of the new dinghy is the confidence it gives us to go longer distances, crushing through waves in the process. We’ve already done a 10 mile trip with #Stepheniswinning, and we hope there will be many more to come.

Our New Baby

We liked the idea of buying a new dinghy so much, we bought two! This is a Highfield 2.5 meter Roll-Up with Hypalon tubes, a 3.5 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard, and Sunbrella covers that match the covers on her older sibling. We call this craft “The Baby,” and the name works. The Baby weighs 50 pounds, including the motor.

When we are underway, we can deflate The Baby, roll it up into a bag, and store it in a locker. We will mount the engine on a stern rail.

It’s quite common for cruisers on bigger boats to have a second, smaller dinghy. Small dinghies are easy for two people to carry up a beach if you are landing in surf. They are useful for exploring shallow waters, including the Hongs here in Thailand. They make great platforms for the kids. We told Leo and Hazel that they could drive The Baby on their own once they had read the engine manual and passed a driving test. It was so much fun to watch Hazel sitting in the dinghy, Tohatsu manual in hand, going over the different parts of the motor for over an hour. She started the engine on her own yesterday, and 30 minutes later was giving her mother instructions on how to drive The Baby. Living the dream …

New Exterior Cushions

The tropical climate has been especially harsh on our exterior cushions over the last two years. The stitching was disintegrating, interior foam had deteriorated, and the white vinyl surfaces had turned a grayish-black. I had tried every combination of cleaner-detergent-vinegar-bleach-shamanism imaginable, but the original color wasn’t coming back. So we replaced them all with new cushions made from closed cell foam and with a slightly more ergonomic design. The overall effect is to make Sophie look brighter and cleaner. For the flybridge, we even added circular cushion back rests. These make Jenna very happy.

The forward cockpit looks clean and inviting, especially for couples at sunset.

The aft cockpit looks like children have never visited the boat. For now.

Addressing UV Damage on the Flybridge
Sophie’s flybridge, the place up top where we steer and sail the boat, is very exposed to the sun. Some of the material up there required repairs or replacements.

Our bimini, which we rarely used in Seattle but has been up pretty much nonstop for the last the three years, was starting to lose it’s seams and stitching along the zippers. We had them all repaired.

The same goes for our wheel cover.

We have mesh netting on the rope wells on either side of the wheel. The old netting had disintegrated. The new netting looks quite nice.

New SUP Covers

We love our stand up paddleboards, but the plastic travel bags we bought for them in San Diego 30 months ago started to leave a trail of silver dust behind them wherever they went. Two months ago, they literally disintegrated and turned to dust wherever you touched them. These new covers are made from Sunbrella and will hopefully last longer.

New Interior Leather

Sophie’s salon cushions and master cabin couch cushions were originally covered in ultrasuede, and we could run these cushion covers through the washing machine whenever they started to get dirty. But the tropics eventually took their toll, and everything soon became a dull, spotted grey. We met some friends in Langkawi who had switched to leather about four years ago, and their interior looks great. We decided to take the plunge. From my perspective the salon looks brand new, but I am a little scared to sit on them.

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I think that the sofa in our cabin looks great as well. I especially like Hazel’s invention for opening cabinets at the pull of a string.

New Ink
Not all of our Thai cosmetic upgrades happened to Sophie over the last month. The crew got some cosmetic upgrades as well, in the form of tattoos.

As we’ve mentioned previously in this blog, we’ve added five tattoos to Sophie’s crew since we started this adventure. Jenna, Dan, Max, Becca and I all got tattoos in French Polynesia. Now that we are in Thailand,  #Stepheniswinning and I decided early on in his trip that it was time for two more. We found an interesting tattoo parlor in Phi Phi with an excellent artist who used traditional bamboo and decided to give it a go.

This is Stephen’s first tattoo, and we all really like the design. It was also a little scary watching a guy wearing a Steelers shirt jab bamboo needles into the arm of a guy wearing a Pats shirt. But it was all good in the end.

This is my eighth tattoo and the second one that is not cancer-related. Some day I plan to have as many tattoos that I chose as I had from my cancer treatment. “Were’d you go?” is the chorus to a Clash song I used to sing with my older children when they were kids. It’s a reminder to me that I have a bigger family than the ones who are fortunate enough to be with me right now. It’s about travel, expectations, culture, experience, separation, loss, and hope.

To me, it’s perfect. Just like all of the fancy new upgrades to our little floating home. New dinghies, cushions, canvas, leather, and ink. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

#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.