Sophie is One Knot Faster With Her New Sails

Greetings from our anchorage at Isla Graciosa in the Canary Islands!

We have sailed 1,000 miles since our last update from Ibiza, with stops along the Spanish coast, Gibraltar, and Madeira on our way here. Sophie and her crew are very excited to be doing ocean passages again, and we think we will be ready for our big Atlantic crossing next month.

Here is what’s going on with Sophie as we continue to get ready.

New Sails!

While we were in Gibraltar, we upgraded Sophie’s mainsail and genoa. We think the new sails have added a knot of boat speed to Sophie, which is a big big deal for us.

Our old main and genoa came with the boat when we bought her almost 10 years ago. They’ve served us well during this time, propelling us 3/4 of the way around the globe without any major tears.

But over the years, these two babies became tired, baggy, and a little threadbare. Jenna and I were worried we would suffer a major blowout during our Atlantic crossing in January, so we decided earlier this year to replace them. After 10 years of service, these two sails had given us all they could give.

Taking them off one last time was a family affair. Sophie’s sails are big suckers. The main alone is almost 1,000 square feet.

For our new sails, we worked with Phil Auger from Zoom Sails in Malaysia. We met Phil when we were in Langkawi a couple of years ago, and we are extremely happy with his work. He designed a new square-topped mainsail for us as a replacement for our big roach original main, and he did so in a way that enabled us to use our existing battcars and 5 of our 6 original battens.

The new main weighed 80 kilos and arrived in a box bigger than Hazel!

Phil used the same approach Lagoon uses for the top of the square-topped mainsails, with a length of Dyneema rope running through two ring bolts on the top battcar. This enables the sail to lie flat while in the bag and snug to the mast when raised, regardless of the reef. The result is a great shape with more power.

The new main has three reef points, just like the old one. We replaced the reef blocks and reef lines, and on our 270 mile run from Madeira to the Canaries we reefed multiple times with ease. There is much less friction than before.

The new genoa is the same basic size and shape as the original one. We opted to forgo the window this time because the old one kept tearing. We also went with a blue Sunbrella UV strip that matches the blue of the mainsail bag and bimini.

All in all we are very happy with this work. Both sails are made from high UV resistant dacron. They feel stiffer and stronger. Phil was able to do all of the design work remotely, and he was very responsive throughout the entire process. We are happy customers.

So why do we think we are a knot faster? It’s mostly a gut feeling based on multiple moments on our Madeira-Canaries run this week. When we departed the Quinto Do Lorde Marina 3 days ago, we were immediately hit with 25-30 knot winds directly on the beam along with steep 2 meter seas. With 2 reefs in the main and 1/3 of the jib rolled in, we sailed at 9-10 knots. Later on that day with 15 knots of apparent wind on the beam with 1 reef in the main and a full jib, we sailed at 8 knots. A day later with 10 knots apparent wind @ 70¬į with full main and jib, we sailed at 7 knots. This all felt faster to me and Jenna and reminded us of how Sophie sailed when we first bought her. The sagginess of Sophie’s old sails clearly affected her performance. 

Sophie’s sailplan is based on a very large mainsail and a smallish foretriangle for the genoa. Newer Lagoons use a more balanced design where the mast is located farther aft, reducing the relative size of the main compared to the foresails. I think the square-topped main adds more power to Sophie, especially when reefed. Since Jenna and I reef much more frequently than we did when we bought the boat, this added power actually translates to more speed with greater stability and safety in winds greater than 15 knots because that is when we start reefing.

Like I said, we are very happy with these sails

Newish Spinnaker


In addition to our new main and genoa, we also bought a second-hand, barely-used Parasailor spinnaker from some friends earlier this year. This sail is sized for a Lagoon 450, so it is small for Sophie. That’s perfect for us. For the last 5 years, Jenna and I have been looking for a solution for straight downwind sailing in 15-30 knot winds. Our existing spinnaker is too big for winds at this speed, and our other three sails are suboptimal for wind at this angle. The Parasailor has a foil cut into the middle of the sail, giving it lift in lighter air and resilience during heavy gusts (because the wind blows through the hole in the middle of the sail.) Friends who own Parasailors love them, so we decided to buy one. The price was right, and the previous owner even threw in some extra sheets and blocks as part of the deal. ūü§£

Our exit from Gibraltar provided us with the perfect opportunity to test the new chute, and again Jenna and I were very happy with the results. The wind blew 20-30 knots in the Strait as Sophie sailed dead downwind into the Atlantic at 8-9 knots. With our big chute, these winds would give us white knuckles and heart palpitations while we constantly worry about when we should take it down. The new chute felt stable and controlled in this situation. It didn’t jerk around in gusts, and the foil provided lift to Sophie’s bows, giving us a bit of a surfing feel. 

The wind died down  after the first 50 miles, and we decided to leave the new spinnaker up overnight. This is the first time we’ve done this without additional crew on board. This sail is a great new option for us and will hopefully cut a day or two off our Atlantic crossing time next month.

Other Preparations in Gibraltar

By the time we reached Gibraltar, it had been 18 months since Sophie had sailed in the open ocean. Jenna and I wanted to make sure that the boat was once-again passage-ready, so we went through our usual series of pre-crossing checks.

For starters, we had local riggers Sean and James inspect our mast and rigging. They believed that our rig was tuned too tightly, resulting in some extra bend in the mast. They also discovered that some of the bolts that hold the mast to its supporting compression post in the cabin had come loose. Yikes!


There were no signs of cracks, water leaks, or structural damage in the area. We also contacted Lagoon, and they did not indicate it was a problem. So we tightened the bolts and re-tuned the rig with less mast bend.

Sean and James also discovered that one of our diamond stays – the steel cables that hold the mast in column – was showing signs of deterioration so they replaced it. They also machined some new bearings for the gooseneck on the boom. It now wiggles a lot less.

We replaced all of our running rigging – the ropes that we use as sheets, halyards, reef lines, guys, and traveller controls. We had some of these custom-made in England.

Finally – and one could argue most importantly – we had our liferaft inspected and recertified. It still looks brand new. Hope we never use it!

While we were in Gibraltar, we were able to carve out the time to for a 2-day visit to Cordoba and Seville. Other than that, we worked 10 hour-days getting Sophie ready for the Atlantic. Just getting the new sails off and on took 3 days! We were so busy we didn’t even have time to climb The Rock, tour the tunnels, or see the monkeys. That’s really sad, so we will have to come back.

Thunk Thunk Thunk in Madeira

We enjoyed an uneventful 600 mile/4 day run in the Atlantic Ocean from Gibraltar to Madeira. Other than the downwind sleigh ride in the Strait of Gibraltar, the highlight of this passage was a “double takedown” of two mahi mahi at the same time.

It was a funny catch. Leo was at the wheel when a fish hit our lighter pole. He stopped the boat, yelled FISH FISH FISH, and started reeling her in. I was below taking a nap and  came up to reel in the line on our other pole. We do this so the lines don’t become tangled. I soon realized that I had a fish on my line as well. Leo’s fish was 4 pounds, and mine weighed 22 pounds. Ha!

They both tasted delicious. Leo is certainly getting big, isn’t he?

We chose Madeira because my daughter Sara and her wife Julie had planned a big reunion there for November. Julie’s father grew up in Madeira, and we had 8 people from the US fly in to join 20 cousins, aunts, and uncles who live in Madeira for two weeks of family meals and celebrations. We had an absolutely wonderful visit which we will hope to cover in another blog post.

So why the thunk thunk thunk?

Well, as part of the two week reunion we invited 25 souls to come join us for an outing on Sophie. It was a calm and sunny day, and we thought we’d go out for a bit of a sail, throw a couple of lines in the water, and maybe catch us some fish.

So once we had everyone on board, I fired up the engines and heard a loud, crumbly Thunk Thunk Thunk noise from the starboard side. It didn’t sound right at all, so I killed the engines and went outside to see if a neighbour on a powerboat had started his loud, poorly-tuned diesel at the exact moment as I did. Nope. So I tried one more time and heard the exact same noise. I quickly killed the engine, went to examine it and found it was askew by 5 degrees. I knew immediately that it had jumped it’s mounts, the steel and rubber “feet” that connect a diesel engine to the hull of a boat.

Brand new engine mounts look like this.

Sophie’s starboard engine mounts on the afternoon of the party looked like this.

Believe it or not, it was a relatively easy repair. Jenna was heading to the States for a few days to attend her sister Julie’s baby shower, and we made sure she returned with four new engine mounts. The local Yanmar dealer sent a couple of guys over – one of them was a big fella – and they simply used a lever to lift the engine up a few inches to get enough space to swap out the mounts. There was no damage to the sail drives or hulls.

All four of the old mounts looked like this.

Needless to say, we were ridiculously lucky that this happened to us while on a dock. The mounts had slowly rusted during the last 10 years, and at our dock in Madeira there was a strong, sharp sideways surge that, over the course of a week, slowly nudged that engine off it’s mount. The mounts on the port engine were also completely shot, but that engine hadn’t moved. If this failure had occurred at sea in rough weather, we could have experienced some significant damage.

The good news is that our afternoon outing on Sophie was still a complete success! I took everyone out for dinghy rides; people enjoyed the marina’s salt water swimming pool; and we even had a bit of a dance party.

We had a wonderful visit to Madeira and made some lifelong friends. Jenna, Leo, Hazel, and I cannot begin to adequately express our gratitude for the wonderful hospitality this big beautiful family showed us. We’ll be back. Many, many times.

Now we are on the northeast corner of the Canaries anchored by a beach in a marine reserve. There are ten other boats here, and I assume they will all be crossing the Atlantic in the next 6 weeks.

We also met here the rarest of rare commodities on our extended adventure: an American family with kids out cruising on a catamaran. The boat’ s name is Ventus, the family is from the Midwest, and we all look forward to playing with them for the next few months. We even threw an impromptu dinner party last night with them and a French family boat. It was great to see packs of kids running around Sophie again.

So  that’s about all for now. We definitely feel like we are back in Adventure Cruise mode, and we definitely still feel lucky.

ps … here is a gratuitous photo of a pilot whale playing on our bow.

#sickeningvacationphotos

#winning

Sophie’s Thai Makeover

IMG20150818182021

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.

IMG20150826163051

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?

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 Garu√ßa 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
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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.