Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic locations

The title of this blog post is a very common saying about cruising. To some degree it's true, but Phil and I think it's also quite exaggerated. For us cruising has mostly been fun: lots of day sails (and some longer passages, but they were mostly back in the Pacific, so almost forgotten now), lots of lazying around pretty anchorages, exploring our surroundings (above and under water) and so forth. Sure, some times we have to to boat work and even simple tasks such as getting diesel takes a lot longer and is more work than back home.

We have NOT been out there cruising for years and years on end and that does make a difference also. When we left New Zealand, Sophia was in pretty pristine condition and almost everything was new. I have no doubt that cruising for five or ten years will mean more breakages and things that needs fixing or replacing. I probably tend to forget the bad things, because of course we have had issues, and thinking about it, with almost every system on board:  auto-pilot, engine, toilet, water maker, dingy, anchor winch and wind anemometer. We have been lucky (or said in other terms, Phil has been clever at fixing things) that we have been able to fix most things ourselves, or we have simply been without until it got replaced or fixed later on. Of course it also helps that we're a (relatively) simple boat. We don't have hot or pressure water, no chart plotter, our steering is a simple tiller etc.

A week or two ago we had THREE things broken: toilet, anchor winch and engine! A part in the toilet pump had broken six weeks prior, but we had gotten by just with with a bucket. We could have bought a whole new pump here in Phuket, but it would have been $300 US. Instead we got just the part sent here from US for less than $100 in total, including freight. The anchor winch was a bit of a mystery, it would work fine, then suddenly stop. Phil tried to fix it several times, and sometimes thought he had, but then it would suddenly stop working again. Finally he took the whole motor apart with the help of other nice cruisers and basically it just needed a really good cleaning. Phew. It's hard to go anywhere if you have to retrieve the anchor manually!
How many people does it take to fix an anchor winch engine? Phil is the red shoulder in the corner
Our last and most serious and also longest on-going problem is the engine! The engine itself works just fine, no problem there, touch wood! The issue is that the engine rattles, as in the shaft hits the stern tube. This is only at certain revs, so we can mitigate the problem and still motor when we need to. But it has actually been a problem ever since we added the dripless shaft seal in Kudat during haul out. I won't bore with details, but Phil has tried a ton of things, researched and consulted a lot of people, but we're still not clear what the solutions is. At the moment we hope harder mounts will fix the problem. To be continued...

Anyway, this blog post is just say that we don't agree with the saying that cruising is fixing your boat in exotic locations. Maybe with the exception of those couple of days when we had the three problems all at once. We have been around the southern end of Phuket where we have had fun with more socialising and less fun with fixing the boat, diesel, laundry and shopping. However, sometimes those things are an adventure in itself, I like to go to new supermarkets and exploring the aisles for different and yummy things.
Exotic locations = exotic fruit. Here my two favourites! Fresh passion fruit is very rare to come by, but I just found some the other day
At the very top of the fun o'meter: a spinnaker swing! Check out the video I added to facebook of this

Friday, 14 February 2014

Snorkelling and scootering

Ko Phayam was a pleasant stop, a pretty bay with a good selection of beach restaurants, but without the crowds of tourists of Phuket. The beach practically seemed empty in comparison. There are no cars, only scooters and small paved roads, so we rented a scooter and spent a day exploring the island. It's actually so small that we finished up already at 3pm after having explored all the drivable roads.
Totally irresponsible with no safety gear! In our defense the guy renting us the scooter had no helmets and it is a very quiet island
There are lots of rubber plantations on Ko Phayam, see the black collection bowls hanging on the trunks.
The only big downside of Phayam was there's no snorkelling. And that's our favourite thing to do, so we left and sailed back to Surin Islands. From there it's about two hours sail to Richelieu Rock, a rock/reef brommie in the middle of the sea, and one of Thailand's best dive site. And it really was fantastic. Unfortunately I think I have taken our underwater camera a bit too deep one too many times and it now only takes black pictures, so I don't have a single picture to show how beautiful it was. However, Totem did, and I have borrowed the below photo of Behan. To see a more stunning photos (although of course photos never do full justice to the reality, which in the case was just absolutely amazing) check out Totem's two posts here and here. Finally coral that wasn't dead and grey as most reefs we have snorkelled on here in Asia.
Photo kindly borrowed from Totem. See more stunning photos here and here.
It's too deep to anchor and the one or two moorings were occupied by dive boats, so we took turns drifting in Sophia, while the other snorkelled. Thanks to Totem for snorkelling here first and recommending it, I'm not sure I would have persuaded Phil to make the detour otherwise. We sailed back to Surin to spend another night there before proceeding to Similan, as that's a long day's sail. On our way the next day we did however, just, have enough time for a snorkel stop on Ko Tachai. It wasn't as spectacular as Richelieu Rock, but it was pretty cool nonetheless, and a gorgeous beach also. For some reason we had imagined we'd have it all to ourselves, as it's just an island in the middle of nowhere, but of course the tourist speed boats also makes tours all the way our there!

Similan islands (and Surin, Richelieu and Ko Tachai) are national parks and protected (relatively), and fish life is therefore abundant. We're no experts, but according to Totem it's unfortunately not very versatile (and healthy), but we still enjoyed the turquoise waters, impressive boulders both above and below the water and some view points on land. We did see turtles and just huge schools of fish of various sizes (mostly small), some of them were just like in Finding Nemo when the school of fish is showing Nemo's dad what Sydney looks like! Almost anyway.

We're now on our way back to Phuket (Chalong). We are out of almost everything, especially the important cheese, milk, egg and fruit and hopefully a new part for our toilet is also awaiting us! It's been six weeks since it broke and although the bucket still does the job, we look forward to having it functioning again!
this photo doesn't even remotely show howh amazingly clear the water was at the particular spot in Surin. We were cleaning Sophia's hull and the mostly sandy bottom at 15 meter was so clear, we could see every little rock and fish
beautiful Ko Tachai
cool boulders (and tourists, not cool, but entertaining to watch pose for photos!) at Similan Islands
and of course we had to do our own pose on that rock, this is at sunset
and the next morning in sunlight, the day tour boats are just starting to arrive
the closest we get to an underwater photo of the fish life in Similan Islands, except this is taken from the deck of Sophia
yet another view point at another island in Similan
the Danish boat Naveren (same one we met in Ao Chalong) was so lucky to be in this spot (to be able to get this photo), I was jealous
I did get this cool photo of Sophia with funky sun light reflections

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Sailing north, Surin Islands, social life and an express visit from the past

A blog post is long overdue! Maybe it's because the cruising life just becomes everyday-ish, that we almost forget how cool a life we actually have. Maybe we're too busy reading books, swimming and visiting beach restaurants, or maybe I'm just lazy.

Anyway, picking up from the last blog post, we got to Phuket and that was the end stop for visitor Louise. She did have another week left in Thailand, but spent that at some nice hotels and indulged in the luxuries that Sophia doesn't offer (eg shower). If we thought there were many boats in Langkawi, Phuket takes many boats another level up! Ao Chalong bay at the southern end of Phuket is packed with moored and anchored boats plus all the locals tour boats. On top of that there are 3-4 other marinas on Phuket. All up, many hundreds, if not even thousands of boats around the Phuket area. We actually find it almost anti-social and didn't meet any new cruisers except the Danish (hurrah) boat Naveren. Even over on the eastern side of Ao Chalong at the smaller more quiet anchorage with only 15-20 cruising boats, we still didn't meet any other cruisers. Of course we could just be a bit more outgoing and just go introduce ourselves, but that's not really our nature.
We enjoyed the well stocked supermarkets, cheap laundromats, and bussed and scootered around the island. We visited Phuket town which was quite nice, the old town has similar colonial architecture as Georgetown on Penang. We went to some chandleries and checked out a couple of marinas and bussed to Patong where we met Louise again before she flew home.
We're now at the very north of the West coast of Thailand in Ko Phayam, we sailed past some Myanmar islands on the way. Coming up here we stopped five days at Surin Islands where we our social life bloomed. Totem and Infinity, two boats we met on Borneo, were there, as well as two other boats that they all knew. We had sundowner drinks every nights and snorkelled together and did island excursions together. All great fun. Surin is a national park, so the water is protected (but fishing boats seemed to be in the vicinity all the time) and it was pretty good snorkelling and clear water. The coral wasn't doing too well, but the fish life was quite diverse and good.
The super coolest thing we saw was octopus! I think we saw one on Tonga, but besides that we haven't seen any, although we probably have, because they really are masters of disguise! Related to the cuttle fish we have seen several times which also have good disguise, the octopus surely is the master! It's only if it moves or if you can spot the breathing holes that you'd notice it and we only saw it because someone else found it. It could mimic any coral colour and even got lumps and spikes, just like whatever coral it was sitting on! It found another octopus and they seemed to fight or something like it, a bit, but then went separate ways again. It was only when it was swimming in the water (really fast actually!) that it was it's 'own' colour (dark grey). Unfortunately I didn't get any good photos of it, but here's one of it swimming through the water.
The other highlight of Surin Islands was another visitor: Sonni. We went to high school together and haven't seen each other for 14-15 years, but with the advent of facebook we have stayed loosely in touch. We actually almost met two years ago on Stewart Island, but unfortunately when Sonni got there, we were down in Port Pegasus with no internet, so we missed him. It first seemed we would also miss Sonni again here in Thailand as he was over on the East Coast, but luckily he changed his mind and came over here, and on his way to Bangkok, he came out to visit us on Surin Islands! It was really nice to seem him, and we got to play four in a row against each other, a game Sonni and I played a lot for a while in high school, plus we of course made him play Settler of Catan with us, and he even won it. We also took him snorkelling and he experience a pot luck dinner with the other cruisers on a nice big catamaran. A quick 24 hour visit, but great nonetheless.

We are now heading down to Phuket again and will visit Surin and hopefully Similian Islands on our way south.
A Moken village we visited on Surin Island. Mokiens are traditionally sea gypsies, but these guys here had been relocated to this village by the government.
simple life!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

December and January's cruising costs for Malaysia and Thailand

We're back with internet connection after five lovely days on Surin Islands, but more about that in another blog post.

I have included December's expenses (NZ$3190) although it's not very representative for two reasons. First of all it includes our new dinghy which is a massive cost layout, for us anyway, at $2508. The old dinghy was literally falling apart and has been the last half year or so! We hope this new dinghy is a good investment over time, and it definitely should last a lot longer, it is also 2.5 times more expensive! We ordered it from Defender in the USA and had it shipped to Langkawi. We found it better value and also better quality than what we could get locally. We were however quite limited in choice as it has to fit exactly under our solar arch to get the biggest size possible, yet it's still a small dinghy compared to most other cruising dinghies around.

Secondly, we only spent roughly half of December on the boat in Malaysia, the rest of the time we flew to Denmark for Christmas holiday! We probably wouldn't have spent a whole lot more if we had stayed on the boat, as the marina costs would be roughly equivalent to extra food and eating-out costs. If the dinghy is excluded, it would have been a cheap month, maybe $700 or so. My parents were kind and very generous and actually paid for our flights to Denmark, and I have not included our few expenses in Denmark. To fly home from somewhere (far away) isn't cheap and would roughly equate one or two months' cruising expenses! Definitely worth considering.

On the 5th of January we were back in Malaysia and only spent a couple of days in Langkawi before we sailed to Thailand. Louise visited us for two weeks, and so both with her and on our own, we have been eating out a lot (say Thai food...), so we feel like it was an expensive month. In total it was 'only' NZ$ 1206, so not too bad, but eating out was by far the biggest expense that month. The supermarkets are also pretty good, so some spending there too.