Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tales from the Hardstand Satun Thailand

Stories from the Hardstand  Satun Thailand March 13..............

Boat ownership is a funny thing. We buy these yachts to have fun with and to explore exotic parts of the world but it seems we spend equal amounts of time ( and money) fixing them, replacing items on them and generally upgrading the bloody things as if they are a work in progress with the completion date set somewhere around 2175. Nowhere better is this demonstrated than on the hardstand, that place of dread that all yachts must go to sooner or later. Some try to avoid the hardstand as you do the dentist. You may think you are getting away without forking out stacks of money and enduring significant discomfort but eventually it will catch up with you. You will either face total extraction of your uppers and lowers or your beloved yacht, once it rises from its watery haven, will be so riddled with rot, rust or osmosis that its only use will as a dive site in a bay of your choice.

looking from stern (back end) down into the mud bank Rudder was stuck in mud but keel in 3.4m note swim platform and mud bank
We must learn to embrace the hardstand; to see it as a kind of purgatory for all those idle hours we spend sipping G&Ts on the deck at sunset or whizzing along on a 15kt beam reach under sunny skies. (and which hours are they we sometimes ask) Our purgatory started on the morning we began our approach to the slipway here in Satun Thailand. You need a rising tide to get up the river to the boatyard and so we carefully timed our departure from the anchorage and made a beeline for the first of 30 waypoints we would need to pass. The depth dropped from a comfortable 5 m and sat around low 3 to high 2. We have post depth trauma syndrome( PDTS)  from our days on Norlee with her 2.3 m draft and so it was tense.  There were no real problems encountered apart from hitting a 1.9 when we drifted off a way point.

Mirage high and dry (mud as soft as powder so no damage)
We rounded the corner of the river and made our way up the reach to the slipway and there was Mirage anchored off about 500 m down from the boatyard. Their lift had been delayed a day and as they were going a day before us we had an awful suspicion we might be anchored off for a while longer. We dropped anchor and dinghied over for a chat with Jeff (Geoff) and Kathy, two delightful Americans. Jeff (Geoff) offered us some advice: Mossies are full of Dengue fever, watch your entrance into the slipway if a current is still flowing, some yachts have got into difficulties and you may be on the mud by morning.
salamanders covered the mud flats
It was a sombre team who headed off up to the slipway for a peak and it got more sombre the further we went. It was low tide and the scene was like something from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as Marlow ploughed his way up the Congo River. Grey stinky mud, ruined boats lying like corpses in the shallows and ramshackle buildings clinging to the rubbish strewn sides of the river. My mind was saying if we have to wait more than a week we are OUT OF HERE. ASsit was we both went up the next day at 12 o’clock high tide without any dramas.
in the crtadle getting last minute adjustments before we go up..............

and up and up and up...................

So, here we are, sitting snugly in the steel arms of our cradle, perched about 3m above the paving. This slipway slides boats around via a series of train tracks which the cradles move along. They can slide you out and in as is required and in fact we are being moved tomorrow so that our neighbours, the NZ boat Dallandra can finally get back in the water after a 2 year haul out. (It’s a long story that Ron and Robin can tell you all about over a glass or two) We were booked to see the immigration man at 1 o’clock and after sorting out lines and ladders we made our way down and over to the coffee shop to do the check in thing. Well, were we in for a surprise.

a very relaxed Diana contemplates the infinite possibilities of life as we slide up the hill
We smiled and said hullo and handed over our passports and  paperwork and sat back as he perused said documents. It wasn’t so much as what he said, it was more his actions that began to raise a slight sweat on my forehead. He kept flicking through our passports obviously looking for something that was plainly not there. He picked up Diana’s passport and did the same thing, flick flick flick........... all the while his friendly disposition fading fast. Finally he announced, No exit stamp, no exit stamp, why no exit stamp...and you know what, it was a bloody good question. What morons would leave a country without visiting immigration and getting an exit stamp, I ask you......................I really do!!!!

Jeff(Geoff) and Kathy (Mirage)  and Claudia at coffee shop after knock off
We would. Well you can pin the blame on a few things if you’re desperate and we were. In the past, all this was done by rally organisers and we simply handed over the folder and got it all back signed sealed and delivered. Now we were on our own and it’s all a bit new to us like. Yeah, right! Maybe it’s what people call cruisenility, the slow rot of mental capacity from too many G&Ts and too many 15 kt beam reaches in sunny skies. Anyway, to cut a long story (it’s not over yet) short, we completely stuffed our departure from Kuah and all we had was a Port clearance form. You need 3 things people and let’s try not to forget them next time.

1.    Exit stamp in passport

2.    Port clearance

3.    Customs clearance

We had only one and it wasn’t quite enough. Our immigration man was looking very serious now and making comments like never being allowed back into Malaysia, never being allowed to leave Thailand,(ahhh a lifetime of purgatory on the hardstand) 20000 Baht fine, catching a long tail back into Malaysia in the dead of night and getting the exit stamp on the ferry back. We were really sweating now and feeling quite ill. Then we called Jia, the boatyard manager , and he diplomatically organised for a ferry trip back to Kuah that afternoon and a ferry trip back in the morning with all correct paperwork in hand. Certain sympathetic immigration officials at the Satun terminal and the Kuah terminal would escort us through and away from the general public and all would be fine. Diana raced up and grabbed some clothes, tooth brushes, fed Motley and together we bundled into the immigration officers ute and sped to the ferry hoping to catch the last ride out of town. It was kind of cool to be escorted through customs by a bloke with enough gold braid on his epaulet to decorate a Christmas tree. Yes people we are the famous drug runners from France who have been on the run for 10 years, or yes people, we are the famous movie stars from the small province of Fremantle who get royal treatment you plebs can only dream of, or yes people we are the morons from Australia who suffered the brain snap of the decade. You take your pick.

Well we were back in Satun the next day with all relevant paperwork in hand despite yet another brain snap minutes before the ferry departed. Suffice to say that deep embarrassment prevents me from telling that story and all you need to know dear reader is that we arrived back with 3, yes you heard correctly, 3 ticks on our MUST DO list before departing a country. And so we come to life on the hard stand and this is where it really starts to get interesting but that is for the next blog. See you then. Rob

 Update: On our last trip through immigration at Kuah ferry terminal we spied a sign on the desk saying attention sail boats, you need 3 documents before leaving, (see above) also noticed a sign saying no exit stamp = 20000 Baht fine or 2 years in a Thai prison.........phew!!!!!!!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


We got the flag right this time!

It sounds very grand, heading for Thailand, a new country, but the border is only a few miles north of Langkawi, Malaysia. We cleared out of Kuah, Langkawi’s major city, or so we thought, but Rob will fill you in on that later, and headed around the picturesque south eastern side of the island and threaded our way through channels and between steep sided islands. One of the “must see” anchorages of Langkawi is called “The Hole in the Wall”. We went through a similarly named gap on the north eastern tip of Australia many years ago on our old boat, Norlee. That Hole in the Wall was almost impossible to see until you were nearly on top of it and then it looked like an impossibly small gap in a wall of rock. Langkawi’s Hole in the Wall was a lot easier and we didn’t have strong tides to deal with. Actually all we had to do was follow the constant stream of tourist long tail boats to find the gap. Once we squeezed in through the rocky gap, it opened up into a quite wide anchorage, with mangroves on one side and rock faces on the other. Look up and the cliffs tower over the anchorage. The anchorage provides perfect protection and would be a great bolt hole in any situation, storm or tsunami.
There's The Hole in the Wall!
The Hole in the Wall

Apart from a few anchored boats, and the tourist boats of course, there was no sign of habitation, or so it seemed, until we got into the dinghy to explore around the corner of the inlet. Go to the river crossroad, turn right and there is a string of floating restaurants and fish farms together with a line of moored yachts. It came as quite a surprise and even more surprising (pleasantly), was the meal of fish and chips that we shared. We only had enough money for one as we weren’t rally expecting a meal out. It was appropriately a Friday, our traditional day for fish and chips and it was a pretty good feed. We made enquiries about leaving The Doctor on a mooring and it can be done very cheaply, even if you include regular cleaning and inspections. Many people leave their boats there for months on end while they fly home to various parts of the world.


Floating restaurants and fish farms

Float up restaurant

Collecting fish from the fish farm
Friday night fish and chips

From The Hole in the Wall we sailed (motored) the onerous 5.8 miles to the island of Taratao, a big island within Thai territory. The east coast of the island has a beautiful daisy chain of small islands that you can snuggle up behind. Deep water made it a little difficult, but not impossible. The islands have steep sided rock walls with a melting ice cream cone of thick jungle spilling towards the water. The rock faces are melted and folded with interesting rock formations and caves, a great place to explore on surf ski. We found caves full of bats hanging in their hundreds, a family of sea otters and a swimming monitor lizard. Not a bad haul on the nature watch scale of events.
Our first Thai anchorage Ko Pulao Na
Bat cave

Ko Koi Noi

Fish traps on Ko Koi Noi

Four days and four islands later we were ready to do the trek up over the shallow banks towards the PSS shipyard in Satun, southern Thailand. There we will have The Doctor hauled out of the water and tizzied up a bit, but that is another story. Stay tuned.

Are we there yet?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Siem Reap Cambodia and the temples of Angkor Wat


 Langkawi is a convenient spot to head off for land based travel. You can fly to Shanghai for 299RM on Air Asia which is about a hundred bucks Australian. India is only 2 hours flight away but it’s not an Air Asia destination. We had our 500 US prize money tucked into the frame of our one and only painting and it needed spending. One morning, up popped an email from Getaway selling 5 nights in Siem Reap Cambodia at a 5 star brand new luxury resort for 100 dollars a night per couple. Perfect! We got online to our favourite airline and soon had flights from Langkawi to Siem Reap with, however, an unfortunate over night stay in KL. Shae, our youngest daughter would be holidaying on the boat in Rebak marina while we were gone and doing a bit of cat sitting as part of the bargain.

are we there yet? in tk tuk on way to resort

Travelling is a buzz and that buzz comes from the sheer joy of heading off to somewhere you have never been before while comfortably accommodated in the lap of luxury. My youth hostel days are over and we have decided post Siem Reap that if you have to walk more than 20 paces between room, pool and restaurant then we find another resort. You will be greatly relieved to learn that Navatu resort and spa came in a comfortable 10 paces. Ahhhhh, there’s nothing like the comfort of home after doing it hard on the yacht.

The plane landed and after a slightly grumpy welcome from immigration we were met by Perome, our tuk tuk driver who would take us back to the hotel and then become our personal driver. Tuk tuks, Cambodian style, are motor bikes with a small carriage attached to the back of the bike. The resort is about 7ks out of town and the last stretch of road is dirt that desperately needs a grader. Our buzz was beginning to fade as the carriage bounced its way along the dusty track passing water buffalo, open drains and packs of dogs lying in whatever shade they could find. Then we came to a T junction. Left was out past rice paddies and into Cambodian jungle. Right was just a stone’s throw into the stone covered courtyard of the resort and the smiling faces of our Cambodian hosts. They politely offered a bamboo tray of chilled face towels and a cup of sweet ginger tea and the dirt track faded from our memories. We had arrived. The resort is only 8 months old and it’s called a boutique style because it’s small and intimate. All rooms are built around the two pools, one “fresh water” and the other salt. In between the pools is the open sided grassed roof restaurant. We were early for check in so we had breakfast while we waited. It was a selection of pastries, cereal, juices, home-made jams, bacon and eggs of your choice and it came complimentary each morning. Rest assured dear reader, I took up the offer with gusto. They sorted our room very quickly and before 10 am we were in and settled. 
another G&T dahling???

What to do in Siem Reap?

Well it pretty much boils down to Temple gazing and saying no thank you to street vendors... You probably know about the famous Angkor Wat temple built around early to mid 12C and how it’s made from sandstone floated down the river from far away or pulled by weary elephants. It’s easier than wood to carve and these massive constructions that comprise outer walls, moats, inner walls and intricate passages are covered in tiny detailed carvings and repeated patterns on every available surface. They are a sight to behold and there is no shortage of temples if one temple is just not enough. It was hot and it was dusty so it made for a long day climbing up and down sandstone steps trying to avoid the army of Chinese and Korean tourists who are never far behind and who will walk through you if you dare to stall. Our resort hosts told us about a 3 day temple pass for 40 dollars as opposed to the 20 dollar day pass and yeah........I think we’ll leave it at the day pass. You enter the temple sites as you would the MCC on grand final day. Steel barricades direct the flow and then once in “friendly guides” offer their services. We grabbed one for 15 dollars and while it was good to get the local goss he only stayed for about an hour. You can hire guides for 30 dollars for a full day!!!!!

Angkor Wat

So, this is really tourist trauma and like all world famous sites you need to remember that this is an industry and you are the oil that keeps the cogs turning. It is possible to get off the path, leave the queue at the base of the ladder and find a cool sandstone alcove that looks out over the expanse of Angkor Wat and to take in the enormity and engineering miracle that lies at the heart of these buildings. I haven’t seen the pyramids....yet, but there is something pyramid like in the sheer size and endeavour that exists here. The temples were built when Hinduism ruled throughout and they have since been “converted” to Buddhist worship. We were done by about 3 o’clock and after staggering down the last flight of steps there was Perome waiting with ice cool water bottles and a tuk tuk ready to take us home to air conditioning and cool dips in a pool of your choice.
tourist free temple splendour

Cambodia is a poor country and it is still recovering from years of war and conflict. There is money pouring in from the temples and it is going to help the poor but my lasting impression is of a kind of desperation deeply embedded in the psyche of the people. The town of Siem Reap has sold its soul to tourism and it’s full of westerners. Pub St is where you go for all night bars and restaurants. Beggars are common and we had one girl dressed in a very flash soccer uniform tell us she had come from soccer practice and didn’t want money, just clothes for her 8 orphaned brothers and sisters. She spoke good English and when we tried to explain why didn’t buy her story, she walked off in huff. There are many scams operating here and one of them is to buy clothes which the girl then takes back to the shop and girl and shop owner split the proceeds.

nature meets man made object and they seem to accomodate each other

Still, we gave to the organised craft and carving workshops and we probably gave out tuk tuk man more in tips than he would earn in a week. We visited the floating village just out of town and it’s a lot like a busy anchorage full of live aboard yachties. OK there are some differences. I’ve never seen a crocodile farm attached to a yacht and the floating basketball court is very novel. Oh, and I’ve never seen a yachty paddling up to the tourist boats in a 1m diameter washing tub begging for money. The idea of the tour was to take a look at life on the lake but it turned into kind of rice donation set up for the floating orphanage. Our guide kept going on about visiting the floating orphanage but first stopping at the floating market. OK....we thought, can do. Then he started on this spiel about buying some rice to take “if we felt like it”. The rice was 35 dollars US for a 10 kg bag and 65 dollars US for a 20 kg bag. Incredibly expensive rice you might say but a slice goes off to a local boss man and you have no alternative. Once we had given over our 10 kg bag and had a look at a floating school full of screaming kids (my personal vision of hell) it was like the deal was done. Tour guide plugged in his ipod or whatever and we motored back to the jetty.

our contribution delivered

Tourist towns are not my favourite places. This might sound a bit dramatic but I liken tourism to a kind of plague, an infection that robs people of their dignity and their humanity and, sadly, stains the very wonder that you come to see. I suppose, however, dignity and humanity don’t count for much if you are hungry and homeless. Fortunately, there is in Angkor Wat and the other temples something so marvellous and so heroic that they have a certain immunity to the crass “give me, give me” atmosphere that surrounds them.
school room at floating orphanage (recess!!) 4 teachers and 250 kids???

a nice spot to come back to
The resort was fabulous and as a break off the boat it worked a treat. Till next time, Cheers Rob



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life in Langkawi

The gateway to Langkawi. The eagle is the local symbol.

I can't believe it has been two months since our last blog. Since our last post we made a short trip home to Perth to celebrate Christmas with our families and over the last month or so we have done a pretty good job of exploring Langkawi. It is hard in a way to stop. We have been on the move since last July and even before that, involved in the endless preparations for an overseas voyage. We haven't really paused much since we stopped work. All those months we dreamed of not having a schedule to follow and having time to relax and really enjoy this new life, but now that we have the freedom it all seems a bit aimless and lacking in challenge. The sailing, if you can call it that, is too easy here with only a few miles between anchorages. The wind is blowing pretty well from the north east, but sailing amongst high sided island does strange things to the wind direction and strength. The wind either disappears completely or funnels through gaps and valleys at great speed. The heat makes our fridge and freezer run overtime and we have to be conscious of how many amps we are using, consequently we usually  motor from anchorage to anchorage to charge the batteries. There is not a lot of sailing.
The monkey could be the local symbol too!

The anchorage off the town of Kuah, with convenient dinghy dock.
Langkawi is really the perfect cruising ground. Sunsail has set up here and you can see why. The main city of Kuah has a good anchorage nearby and in this city you can get anything you need. There are great hardware shops with most chandlers needs, good supermarkets, fresh markets and excellent restaurants where mostly we can both eat for about $7AU.
The Wednesday night market with lots of interesting food.

Not for sale. One happy catty!

Our favourite anchorage is only about 9NMs from Kuah. It is nestled between three islands with white sandy beaches on two of them. Even if the wind is blowing 25 knots we hardly feel a thing. We anchor 100 metres from the rocky and jungle draped island where every morning and evening, a family of a dozen monkeys visits the water's edge to look for crabs and shell fish. Looking through binoculars you can recognize the different family members, the big male who takes no nonsense from the little ones, the mother with her baby clutched to her chest and the young monkeys that play fight and leap from rock to rock. If you tire of watching the monkey show you can shift your attention to the four eagles that soar and dip over the boat. It must be nesting season as I have watched one eagle carrying sticks and large branches to a tree high on the hill.
Our favourite spot. The Doc is in the distance up against the rock face.

The beach is alive with Hermit Crabs

Our daughter Shae joined The Doctor for two weeks and we had a great time showing her our favourite spots. We enjoyed watching her revel in the duty free shopping, cheap food and beautiful natural sites. After an extremely busy two years it was great watching her unwind and relax into the easy going Malaysian life style.
Woo hoo!

Small island circumnavigation begins
Fast ferry from Rebak Marina to Langkawi
Langkawi from the cable car with a good view of the tsunami wall that saved Langkawi in 2002
Nothing like a waterfall on a hot day. Seven Wells Waterfall.
Birthday feast
After the first week we left Motley and the boat to Shae while we did some land travel in Cambodia. For all concerned it was a win win situation. Shae had the resort marina of Rebak to enjoy to herself while she looked after the cat, and we had some time off the boat.
Rob's account of Cambodia coming soon!