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

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!

 

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.

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.

 

Man of the Forest

He was close, real close. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the boat were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle.*

INDO3076 (1024x683) The steamy mid-morning sun blazed as we set off for three days in search of¬†a wild orang-utan, Indonesia’s “man of the forest.” Our klotok, the wooden¬†river boat Lazuardi,¬†cut swiftly through thick brown water that was cloudy with run-off from neighboring palm plantations. INDO3931 (1024x683)

Within minutes we left Kumai behind and turned into Tanjung Puting National Park. INDO3051 (1024x683)

At this time of year it can be hard to spot any orangutans. There is so much wild fruit in season that the apes can afford to shy away from the reserve in favor of a smorgasbord of fruit ripening across the forest. Durian, mangosteen, rambutan, bananas, you name it. Although we knew our chances for seeing an orangutan were lower, it was impossible to ignore an overwhelming sense of hope and curiosity as we maneuvered slowly upstream. Our first wildlife sighting was a medium-sized monitor lizard, about 6 feet long. At first we thought it was a crocodile until we got a better look at it.

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Next up, still a few kilometers outside the reserve area, we spotted some movement in the trees, followed by this incredible sight: INDO3085 (1024x681)

Wild orangutans! ??????????????

Our guide, Ami, was thrilled to catch a glimpse of orangutans outside the reserve, especially at this time of year. He told us that on his last tour they saw none, so we were a lucky group. IMG_5641 (1024x682) IMG_5671 (1024x682) IMG_5659 (1024x682) IMG_5689 (1024x684)

Aside from the occasional tour boat and local transport, we were alone traveling up the river. We stopped at the first camp and hiked 10 minutes into the forest to the scheduled afternoon feeding site. In the reserve, there are two scheduled feedings per day. Again, Ami and the rangers cautioned us not to get our hopes up given fruit season. The rangers deposited bananas from a couple of full backpacks on a platform and then we waited. We waited for over half an hour, and then finally some trees started shaking in the distance, then closer. It was even better than the wild sightings we had on the way in. This sweet mama and baby led the way: IMG_5764 (1024x669)

They scrambled up a tree out of the way as a large male approached. INDO3149 (1024x682) INDO3176 (1024x683)

Another male approached, but stopped and waited his turn. INDO3236 (1024x683)

This female joined the big fellow already on the platform. INDO3230 (1024x682)

At this point there were five or six orangutans in sight with a handful more approaching from high in the trees. INDO3274 (1024x679)

Mama and baby continued to wait and watch from about 30 feet up in the trees. IMG_5794 (1024x674)

Just about everywhere we looked, more orangutans were swinging in to join the party. INDO3431 (1024x682)INDO3414 (1024x682)INDO3472 (1024x668)INDO3290 (1024x681) (2)

Each kept his or her distance from the food until the more dominant ones finished and moved on. Then, one by one, each grabbed bananas and returned to the trees. The rangers brought one extremely large male his own stash of bananas and he sat quietly munching on the ground some distance from all the others. The largest orangutans like him live primarily on the ground.

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After a while, mama and baby got another chance to finish their meal. IMG_5736 (677x1024) IMG_5724 (681x1024) IMG_5729 (1024x683)

In total, thirteen orangutans joined us. The rangers said they hadn’t seen this many together for quite a while. Ami told us there must be a special connection between the spirits of the people and the orangutans for so many to gather at one time. Whatever the reason, we felt honored to be part of¬†such a special day. INDO3486 (1024x682)

What is the best way to top off such an incredible orangutan encounter? With rainbows, of course.

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That evening we tied up at the side of the river near troops of long tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys swinging from the treetops.

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The next morning, we made our way upriver into the native black water. My photos do a poor job of capturing the overwhelming natural beauty that surrounded us.

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On our way to the next camp, we glimpsed another friend in the trees.

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There were a few more tourist boats at the second camp, but not many people. Ami told us that in the high season boats will raft up across the entire river, carrying hundreds of tourists to each feeding. We were thankful for our much more low key experience.

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We didn’t always see orangutans at the scheduled feedings, but we found plenty of other wildlife to entertain us. Butterflies were all around, plus ants, dragonflies and the occasional boar.

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Camp Leakey, established in 1971, was our final destination of the tour. The reserve contains both wild and semi-wild orangutans (rescued orphans).

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After almost two hours of waiting, thirty-two year old Tom, one of the largest males, made a quiet entrance from the forest. He moved slowly, methodically, carefully observing everyone and registering each of our faces as he climbed up for a snack.

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Looking into his expressive eyes, I kept imagining what he¬†might be thinking, the man of the forest. Watching this distant cousin of ours, it’s no wonder that human and orangutan genomes are 97 percent identical. He was wild, but seemed so very human.

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As if he knew it was time for all of us to say goodbye, after fifteen minutes Tom stopped for one last look and retreated to the forest with the same quiet grace.

We spent a quiet day playing games and reading as we motored back to Kumai.

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Ami, our excellent guide, with the kids.

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The captain and first mate.

This experience with orangutans in Kalimantan ranks as one of the highlights of our entire journey on Sophie. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Kumai… we’re still only in Kumai… every time I think I’m gonna wake up in the jungle.*

* Adapted from Willard’s voice-overs in Apocalypse Now