Indian Bank etiquette, SIM stories and white rabbits

The first event of the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally was to be held four or five days after most of the participants had reached Port Blair so there was plenty of time to get settled, organise changing Australian dollars into Indian Rupees and further explore some of the wonderful sights and magical places we had visited the previous year.

The bank, as always was a bit of a challenge. People in India are intensely curious so when you are talking to a teller or even getting money from an ATM, they crowd round, craning their necks to look at paperwork or the ATM screen and watch what’s going on – even providing a running commentary to the people behind.

Useful comments like “ tut tut tut wrong pin“ or “ahhhh! you have insufficient funds for this transaction” (read off the screen) are very helpfully repeated in a loud voice with much head wobbling and a dramatic roll of the eyes.

Banking is not a private matter in India!

After an entertaining and rather prolonged time at the bank, (there was much paperwork involved in exchanging a few hundred dollars) we set out to purchase SIM cards for our mobile phones.

The previous year it had been virtually impossible for a tourist to obtain a SIM. We had been fortunate to have been lent SIMs by our agent (and Yacht Rally organiser) Rathnam, but this year we were able buy our own – however it was a bit of a mission!

Our driver took us to an anonymous elderly white building and after several false starts in a rabbit warren of winding passageways and steep staircases we eventually found the room we needed to be in.

It was quite unlike any other place that I have ever purchased a SIM. It was a small but high ceilinged room with peeling plaster and electrical wires looped haphazardly around the walls. Three desks were arranged along two sides of the room and other than some uncomfortable looking chairs, the only other furniture was some functional but rickety metal shelving and a desk fan.

The long wait for our SIMs

We had to supply a copy of our passport, one of our Indian visa and also our restricted area permit plus passport sized photos. Then we had a to fill out a lengthy form in triplicate.

When it came to my turn I didn’t have all the required paperwork but I did have a photo (we had found a little store over the road where we were able to get these done). One of our party kindly provided the relevant papers that were in the name of his wife and despite the fact we have different hair colour and style, face shapes and eye colour, the chap selling us the SIMs seemed not to notice (we probably all look the same to them!).

There was a minor hitch when they discovered to their great consternation that we weren’t staying at a hotel but on our own boats. Several phone calls later – including one to Rathnam – our salesman felt comfortable enough to provide us with our SIM cards.

After installing the SIMs we had to head to a little store near Port Blair’s Marketplace and purchase “top up”. We bought phone credit and plenty of data but in truth it was really a waste of time as there was rarely enough signal to pick up emails and as for anything else you might want to do (such as post a blog) forget it!

The market in Port Blair

One of the most fascinating places we visited on our previous trip to the Andamans was Ross Island, a short ferry ride from Port Blair.

On our way to Ross Island

The small island was originally first inhabited by the British in 1788 and then abandoned. In 1887 it became the administrative centre for the British-held Andaman Islands when 773 India freedom fighters were brought from mainland India as prisoners.

The fabulous view from Ross Island

The ruins on Ross Island are a reminder of the grand life residents had back in the day

These prisoners, over time, built houses, shops, offices, a hospital, Churches, barracks and a fine building intended for the Chief of the Penal Settlement which was called Government House. Today all that is left of this grand residence are a few remnants, including parts of the very expensive Italian tiled floor.

Ross Island is like a modern day Angkor Wat

Now Ross Island is rather like a modern day Angkor Wat, once fine buildings and other structures such as a fresh water swimming pool, have been taken over by a jungle of vines and creepers.

As you wander through the ruins you can well imagine the wealth and glamour of this little island with its officers clubs and gracious homes that contrasted so acutely with the terrible conditions that the political prisoners were forced to live.

In 1941 Ross Island experienced an earthquake which damaged a lot of buildings and caused many of the privileged Europeans to abandon their previously comfortable lives on the Island.

The Island remained the administrative centre for the penal colony until March 1942 when the Japanese invaded the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Nowadays it is used by the Indian Navy as a base and is a very popular tourist destination and home to a massive herd of deer, peacocks and most surprisingly very cute white rabbits!

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

“Incredible India” so good to be back

We hadn’t had our anchor down in Port Blair too long before we received the news that Customs and Immigration were on their way to our boat to clear us into the Andaman Islands. No rest for the wicked! Our catch up on sleep after a three night/four day passage would have to wait.

Incoming! Another six officials approaching

Certainly the check in process went very smoothly thanks to Rathnam, organiser of the inaugural Andaman Island Yacht Carnival but why oh why did we have to have six people from Customs and then six people from Immigration on board for the entry process? It would be much quicker and more efficient if two people from each department could check in three boats concurrently.

These two felt a little seasick but still appeared to be enjoying themselves

The real answer I think, is that sailing yachts are still quite a rarity in the Andamans (we were only the sixteenth yacht to arrive in 2018) and many of the customs and immigration personnel were simply excited, curious and eager to look around each of the yachts at anchor.

Off they go to Beach House 57

A couple of them regretted their decision to come aboard as they felt extremely queasy – even though the anchorage seemed very calm to us.

The process was very smooth and painless and soon we were piling into the dinghy to go ashore to meet up with old friends and visit some of our favourite places from our previous visit in 2017.

Arriving at the dock we were greeted like long lost cousins by Uma who had done such a good job looking after our dinghies the previous year.

Uma who took great care of our dinghies every day

Then we became reacquainted with our favourite driver Vijay who had been appointed to be charge of all the drivers this year (probably to ensure the prices weren’t hiked up).

Vijay and his brilliant Ambassador car with the Yantaras

As we walked out to get in Vijay’s lovingly kept but rickety old Ambassador taxi, we were impressed by the poster heralding the inaugural Andamans Yacht Carnival and bearing the reminder “Incredible India”.

Proud to be part of the inaugural Andaman Yacht Carnival

Our first stop was to Rathnam’s new office where we caught up with Rathnam, his wife Sushma and their daughter Hansika. We also met Rathnam’s brother Manu who had come over from mainland India to help with organising the rally. Our next stop was a good meal at the restaurant at TSG Hotel where we were to return a few times as it was one of the few restaurants that served alcohol with meals.

The restaurant at the TSG Emerald View Hotel

Kingfisher Beer

As in mainland India, cows wander in the streets wherever they wish

As we tucked into our first delicious Indian food and our first bottles of Kingfisher, we reflected how great it was to be back in Port Blair with the colourful and hectic streetscapes: cows and goats wandering; saris of every hue – bright fuchsias, riotous scarlets, electric limes, royal purples and chemical limes; tuk tuks hurtling around corners and the rest of the chaotic traffic with horns blaring and smoke belching from trucks bearing the slogans “horn do” and “please sound horn “ on their rear ends.

There are plenty of goats wandering the streets too

We love all the colourful clothes that people wear

Incredible India indeed!

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

Setting sail for the Andaman Islands

At last the long awaited day had come when we were to check out of Phuket and set sail for the Andaman Islands to take part in the inaugural Andaman Islands Yacht Carnival.

A poster for the inaugural Andaman’s yacht carnival

We had fallen in love – on our first visit in 2017 – with the beautiful and isolated Andaman Islands which with the Nicobar Islands, is India’s southernmost outpost. We couldn’t wait to get back!

Our daughter in the Andaman Islands in 2017. Who wouldn’t fall in n love with the place!

During our first visit a number of us “yachters” as they like to call us, suggested to Rathnam, the agent we had used, that he organise a Yacht rally and it turned out that he had already been thinking about doing this. We gave him contact details of Rally organisers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and all made suggestions around cultural and other activities.

Our agent Rathnam and wife Sushna

The only way to travel to the Andaman Islands apart from arriving by yacht, is by air or boat from mainland India. This is about to change however, as an international terminal is in the process of being built.

The trip is around 400 nautical miles from Phuket in Thailand, for Bali Hai that is around a three day, three nights.

This map shows where the Andaman Islands are situated

We set off in the company of Beach House, a Perry 57 catamaran, You You, a 36 foot Colin Archer double ender and Yantara, a 46 foot custom built yacht with a Sparkman and Stephens hull. Quite a mixed bag!

Our little flotilla on the GPS – like ducks in a row

The first day and night were uneventful. There was no wind at all which meant the sea was like glass and we had to motor sail which was disappointing.

The good ship S/V Yantara

S/V Beach House

Late in the first day we heard from You You that they were experiencing problems with their seawater pump. At first they thought they could mend it but we found out later that sadly, they had to turn back.

We also had a slight hitch when moving along in water 2000 metres deep – the engine noise changed and we weren’t making good headway – a piece of rope round the prop was suspected and poor Capt’n Birdseye had to jump into the ocean blue to ascertain the problem. Fortunately he was able to free the rope quite easily and soon we were on our way again.

Capt’n Birdseye dressed only in his mask and snorkel

This was the rope wrapped around our propeller

That evening we enjoyed the chicken curry I had precooked before leaving and settled into our normal watch sequence – the good captain went to bed at around 9.30 pm and tried to sleep (it’s never a good sleep on the first night) and then at 1.30 am it was my turn to sleep until 5.30 am when I took over again for a couple hours.

One of the best parts of an ocean crossing – watching the sun rise each morning

While on watch at dawn that second day I sighted a group of pilot whales move slowly round the back of the boat. A magnificent sight! Again, we motored all day until at last at five pm a breeze blew up and we were finally able to switch off the motor.

Wind at last and sailing!

In only 10 -12 knots of wind (on our beam) we were humming along at around seven knots and we continued like that until 8.15pm when the wind dropped and we started to motor sail again.

After another beautiful sunrise we were able to switch off the engine again and sailed the rest of the way to Port Blair.

A cargo ship passes as the sun rises

During the third day we spotted S/V Asterie (from Western Australia) on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) and we enjoyed talking to them on the radio and catching up on their experience of the trip so far.

We also kept in touch via the radio with Beach House and Yantara and enjoyed hearing about their competing fishing stories. Yantara’s boat guest even hooked a marlin!

Heave hoooooo! (Photo credit Jill Sheppard S/V Yantara)

The marlin before it got away

But there were compensations

S/V Asterie on the horizon as the sun comes up

Early on the fourth morning we finally arrived at Port Blair. Beach House, Yantara and Asterie led the way in and provided early morning amusement on the radio responding to Port Blair Port Radio’s questions with the consequent misunderstandings and long pauses.

Nearly there!

The young man asking the questions had a very strong accent and it was obvious he too was struggling to decipher our accents. Both sides talking “proper” English as far as they were concerned, both not understanding what the other said.

An example: question “What is your boat’s entire length”. “Errr 12 tonnes?” came the tentative answer.

By the time it was our turn I think the radio operator must have located our details which had been provided to Rathnam, our agent and Rally organiser – or the operator was too busy to ask us the complete list – as thankfully we only had a few questions to answer.

At anchor at last we were happy to have arrived in the Andaman Islands once again and to be starting another adventure.

At anchor in Port Blair

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

Maintenance, a sinking boat and leaving for the Andamans

We had a beautiful couple of days at Koh Phanak in Phang Nga Nay but too soon it was time to leave for Ao Chalong in Phuket to do some boat maintenance and prepare for our trip to the Andaman Islands.

Farewell to Phang Nga Bay

One of the urgent jobs was to get some new blinds for our hatches as the original covers that came with the boat had degenerated in the sun and looked extremely tatty. Not a good look when just about to put your boat up for sale (leave a message if you’re interested!

We contacted the lovely Aod (pronounced Odd) who had previously organised the recovering of our sofa cushions and some canvas work- at a great price and with a fantastic job done (message me if you would like his number).

Our sofa cushions still looking good

Capt’n Birdseye went to collect him but there was such a huge swell that it would have been impossible to bring landlubbers Aod and his assistant in those conditions. Even the experienced sailor would feel uncomfortable!

So we decided to go round the corner to Nai Harn Bay where Aod said he would meet us the following day.

Sunset at Nai Harn Bay

It was beautifully calm at Nai Harn although landing on and taking off from the beach was rather hair raising as there was an unpredictable surf which could easily swamp the dinghy or almost tip you up. Fortunately we discovered that the “Yacht Club” as was, had stopped charging a fee to park your dinghy at their little floating plastic jetty so that’s where we headed for when we went ashore.

As we were leaving Ao Chalong we were saddened to see a smallish catamaran sinking at anchor not too far from where we had anchored. It was such a shock to see a perfectly good boat’s demise and wondered who she belonged to and why hadn’t they checked on her? We tried to ring the yacht club as we thought it could possibly belong to one of its owners. Unfortunately the phone call went to messages and after trying three times we gave up.

Heartbreaking to see someone’s hopes and dreams sinking into the blue

It was good to see Aod again and he took away some of our shade covers to restitch and measured up for our new blinds. In just three days we were back at in Ao Chalong with a perfect job done at a very reasonable rate.

A great (and inexpensive) job done

The blinds roll up neatly and are fastened by Velcro

Another very amiable person to deal with was Paul of Octopus Marine, an obliging and very tolerant Aussie electrician who we employed to connect wires to enable new functions, update our chart plotter and to give our electrical system a “once over”.

The tolerance and Paul being an-all-round good bloke was in evidence on the Friday night when Capt’n Birdseye was installing a new starter battery and suddenly we were plunged into darkness with fridges, freezer and stove out of action. He thought he had fused the whole system! Despite being out for the evening Paul came to our rescue and after checking everything, discovered that the system was fine and said that if the good Capt’n had simply continued to install the new starter battery, all would have been well.

The wiring for the new chart plotter functionality required turning half the boat upside down. The other half of the boat was turned upside down with a repair to the bilge pump. There was stuff everywhere!

Mess everywhere!

Once it was all put back together we rewarded ourselves with a meal at the Mahasamutr restaurant which is on the headland above Nai Harn Beach and has the finest view, as well as great service and really good food.

Mahasamutr has several lovely very decks

It’s a great place to watch the sun go down

We enjoyed the good restaurants and the glorious sunsets of Nai Harn but soon it was time to go back to Ao Chalong to do our final provisioning for our trip to the Andaman Islands and to catch up with more friends from the Sail2Indonesia Rally.

The fabulous view from Mahasamutr

One of the stunning Pinisi boats anchored at Ao Chalong

On the way back we were once again cursed by plastic – there is so much in the ocean it’s almost inevitable- when a bag became entangled in our prop. We were in a busy spot along the route that all the tourist boats

Take back to the jetty but there was nothing else for it – Capt’n Birdseye had to hop over the side to cut the offending plastic away.

Photo of Bali Hai courtesy of Paseafique who took this as they came in to anchor

It was great to catch up with the crew from Pasifique who had dropped briefly into Phuket from Langkawi before setting sail for Sri Lanka and also to catch ch up with the Beach House crew who we hadn’t seen for at least half a year but who we were sailing in company with to the Andaman Islands.

A lovely catch up with the Beach Houses and the Paseafiques

The following day was our last before setting sail for India again so Beach House, Yantara and Bali Hai spent the day buying last minute produce, making meals for the trip and readying our boats for the three day, three night trip.

Mini frittatas ready for our trip to the Andaman Islands

The Beach Bar

That evening we had a celebratory meal on the sand at the Beach Bar, Panwa Beach Resort in Cape Panwa, just round the corner from Ao Chalong. We reminisced about last year’s visit to the wonderful Andaman Islands, anticipating our second trip with excitement and curiosity – this time as part of the “Sail Andamans Yacht Carnival.”

Pre-Andaman Islands get together

And we’re off – Beach House too!

Hanging in hongs, amazing mazes and a captivating cave

Close to the craggy cliffs of Koh Phanak, in the Phang Nga area of Phuket, we disturbed half a dozen gun metal grey herons, feeding in the shallow water at the entrance to a hong. Startled, they flew out into the bright sunshine as we drew near.

A heron flies out of the cave mouth

Craggy cliffs on Koh Phanak

Glorious Phang Nga Bay

Minutes earlier we had seen a pair of kingfishers flashing red and azure as they helter sheltered past us. Who would know that the close-by island of Phuket was heaving with tourists- it seemed to us many more than were there the previous year – and yet here we were enjoying peace and solitude only a short boat ride away from the throngs of tourists.

Tourist boats in front of a cave on Koh Phanak

Koh Phanak does get busy to be sure but if you time it right you can explore the hongs (literally “rooms” – caves open to the skies, often with hidden entrances) undisturbed by other people.

Perfect! we thought, no tourists!

We thought we had timed it perfectly when we took our dinghy through the threshold of the cave system that, it is purported, stretches right through the island.

Into the cave we go

With me on the flashlight and Capt’n Birdseye on the oars we slowly made our way through the maze – marveling at the stalactites and stalagmites and other amazing rock formations. Sometimes we came to a dead end and had to backtrack and try a new route. After about twenty minutes we reached a point that we could have just about squeezed through if we crouched down in the dinghy but we were concerned that the tide could still be rising and we might get trapped.

Inside the cave

As we were contemplating whether to press on or go back we heard this strange rumble. It seemed to come from far away but then became louder and louder. We quickly realized that the noise was actually the sound of excited human voices and it was getting louder and louder.

Deciding to turn back, we slowly made our way through the tunnels while the ever increasing cacophony of voices grew ever more strident.

About ten minutes from the entrance we found out why the noise seemed so extreme – we encountered a veritable flotilla of kayaks – literally about thirty of them, each with a guide and carrying two or three passengers. There must have been well over fifty over-excited tourists all yelling at the top of their voices (some screaming with fear!).

As we edged our way through the throng (no road rules applied here – the kayakers just kept on going!) we promised ourselves to only go exploring in the early morning or late evening and not to assume that just because all the tourist boats had disappeared, and it was after 4 pm, that we would have the place to ourselves.

A small gap reveals a beautiful Hong inside

We finally reached the cave entrance and decided to motor round to the other side of the island to see if we could find the other entrance to the cave system we had just been in.

On our way round we marvelled at the dramatic overhanging stalactites and the small gaps in the rock walls through which we could see enticing hidden lakes.

Dramatic overhanging stalactites

Our attention was caught by a small beach and what looked like a staircase built into the cliff face in one corner of the cove.

This small beach caught our attention as we motored by

We couldn’t resist the invitation “climb me” that the rickety stairs seemed to be making so we drove the dinghy into the beach and with some trepidation started to climb up.

We just had to see where these steps led

Inside the cave there were some amazing rock formations

We took a few paces in the cave and waited for our eyes to adjust. It was pitch black and we could see nothing at first but gradually we were able to see that we had entered a large cavern. Fortunately we had a flashlight but once switched on we could still only see just a small radius around us.

Thank goodness for the flashlight!

We pressed forward slowly and as we made our way deeper into the cave system were amazed at some of the rock formations that we could make out with the help of our flash light – columns, falls, ghostly figures looming at us in the dark, dank atmosphere.

Ghostly figures loomed out of the dark

Suddenly a chink of light appeared and as we approached it we could see something glimmering on the other side of the opening – a hidden lake in a fully enclosed hong! Such a stunning sight and the bright light reflecting on the water was a massive contrast to the stark interior of the cave.

A chink of light appeared

A stunning sight was revealed

The sun was getting low in the sky so we didn’t linger for long in the cave. It was good to get back into the fresh air just in time to take the dinghy to Bali Hai for a drink at sun down.

The sun is beginning to set. Time to go back to the boat for sundowners

Sailors’ market, party time, reunions and farewells

A sailors market with a lots of interesting activities and opportunities to speak to expert riggers, marine suppliers and other trades people was held on themorning we arrived at Yacht Haven Marina.

Looks good enough to eat but these were to make hot compresses used in massage treatments

Vegetable carving, towel folding, batik painting and lots of other crafts were in full swing when we arrived.

A towel elephant in the making

Easy once you know how!

The market was the penultimate event of the Sail Thailand Rally and one which was very much enjoyed – especially, from my perspective, the free massage!

Everyone busy at work at the Sailors’ Market

Some amazing vegetable carving happening

We had no problems getting into the marina but were irritated to have the office staff tell us we were tying up to port and then when we were almost at the entrance, changed it to starboard. If it had been the first time we wouldn’t have minded but it has happened to us at least once before. The marina staff are probably the nicest and in every other way, the most efficient of all the Phuket marinas so its a shame that they let themselves down in this way.

The batik painting was very popular

Some people did an amazing job

Sunset at Yacht Haven Marina

The last event of the Sail Thailand Rally was the Phuket cruisers party – an annual event open to cruisers who are in the locality. Numbers are limited so unless you are part of the rally you have to be quick off the mark to get on the invitation list.

So great to catch up with friends from the 2015 Indonesian Rally

It was great to catch up with some of the boats from the 2015 Sail2Indonesia Rally some of who we hadn’t seen for a good while. One was Kiwi Boat Sun Chaser, whose skipper we had last heard a year previously, at the dead of night, half way across the Andaman Sea, en route to the Andaman Islands. There was another Kiwi boat Carrie and US boats Island Bound, Persephone and Enchantment. Quintessa and You You were also there. Quite a reunion!

A number of the boats were soon to be boarding a Sevenstar Yacht Transport (the main sponsor of the party) container ship heading for the Mediterranean. There was a lot of excitement about the new adventures ahead for this fortunate bunch.

It was as a great way to end the rally, enjoying great food, free drinks and live music with many of our friends, old and new, all on a the brink of a new adventure – either in Europe, or crossing the Indian Ocean on the next stage of their round the world trip, or closer to home like us, planning other trips to the Andaman Islands, or on the East Malaysia Rally or a slow trip back to Australia.

Another lovely meal together

We had a couple more great nights together before we all parted ways and a last long lunch on Nai Yang Beach with Quintessa’s Tasmanian crew before they were homeward bound.

A very enjoyable lunch with these good people from Tasmania

The following day we also headed off – to spend a couple of days relaxing and exploring in glorious Phang Nga Bay.

The morning after the spectacular night before

IIt had been a spectacular night at Port Takola Marina – the Sail Thailand fleet had been invited to the wedding celebrations of the owner/manager Matthew Na Nagara and his beautiful wife Liu – but the next morning some of the fleet were feeling a little tired and muzzy.

Dancing the night away

However, most of the participants were up early and raring to go as they were signed up to go on a tour put together by the rally organizers. This included a visit to crystal clear pools and waterfalls, hot springs, and a massive climb up 1237 steps to Wat Tham Sua (“Tiger Cave Temple”), one of the most famous monasteries of southern Thailand.

Our crew for the Sail Thailand Rally

We had elected not to go as that morning our crew of the last few weeks from S/V Anthem were leaving for Darwin from Krabi airport and we wanted to be there to farewell them properly (nothing to do with those steps I promise!).

That evening at dinner on Ball Hai we heard all about the excursion from Quintessa‘s Tassie crew who had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

The following day we went back to Krabi Town to meet with the Quintessas for lunch at a little cafe and ate numerous delicious dum sum which cost, including drinks, around Australian $3 a head!

Stormy weather approaches Krabi

Night falls over Krabi Town

After a peaceful night in our anchorage opposite Krabi Town we made our way towards Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket where the last events of the Sail Thailand Rally were to take place.

Stunning Phang Nga

Despite having spent extensive time cruising the Phang Nga area in 2016 and 2017, we were still amazed by the stunning beauty of this intriguing place.

Some of the limestone karsts make strange shapes

Limestone karsts thrusting skywards, lonely white-sand beaches, stalactites hanging precariously from towering cliffs, secret cave entrances, glimpses of inland lakes, hidden hongs and mysterious cave systems burrowing their complex way hundreds of metres into the rock formations. Bewitching Phang Nga Bay!

What a view!

We anchored in one of our old haunts between two massive karsts with a wonderful view into the distance. We were longing to dive off the boat for a swim round the the boat and Capt’n Birdseye was keen to try his new full face snorkel mask. Although it looked rather strange he found it was excellent – much better visibility than a conventional mask and no need to blow through the snorkel when you come up from a duck dive.

We anchored between these two rocky islands

The next morning we took the dinghy for a spin so we could swim in a the sheltered and shallow green waters of Koh Kudu Yai – famous for the Indie film festival organised by Hollywood actor, Tilda Swinton

Splendid sunset view

The entrance to Koh Kudu Yai

On the way back in the dinghy we reminisced about a previous time whenwe had anchored in the same place and riding back thought Bali Hai had disappeared! It happened to us again but this time we knew it was just a trick of the eye – Bali Hai was hiding (see photos!).

Now you see her, now you don’t!

The next day we arrived at Yacht Haven Marina and anchored outside as we had arranged to enter the following morning at slack tide (note to anyone intending to stay in Yacht Haven, there are some wicked currents that can make getting into a pen very tricky so go in at slack tide and at the time the office suggests.

View of Yacht Haven Marina en route to dinner

With Balii Hai safely at anchor we took our dinghy in our to meet up for dinner with various other boats at Papas and Mummas – a quirky restaurant built over the water just along the shore from the marina.

The crews of You You, Quintessa, Bali Hai and Osbourne Star at Papas and Mummas

It’s a very much “DIY” restaurant- you don’t have to cook your own food but it’s virtually DIY the rest of the way, for example you grab a menu and find a table and then while you are thinking about what to order, you help yourself to a drink from the fridge, open it with the opener provided on a string next to the fridge and grab yourself a glass.

Next, you go up to the little counter in front of the tiny kitchen and place your order. Before long your beautiful freshly cooked stir fry, or coconut milk curry or fresh fish arrives at the table. And the food is delicious!!

Visiting crew from Quintessa and behind, the DIY bar fridge

While we were enjoying our meal a wild wind whipped up suddenly bringing in massive black clouds and then a tremendous thunderstorm. With the thunder cracking overhead and driving rain outside we were kept snug and dry by storm covers unrolled and secured by the restaurant staff.

“Mumma” enjoys a drink with the Quintessa crew

Although we enjoyed the storm we were very disappointed that we were unable to witness the total eclipse of the moon, which was even more special as it happened to coincide with a full moon that was closer to earth than it had been or would be, for many a year.

The rainstorm carried on for quite some time and we were a concerned that taking shelter in the restaurant would hold up closing time but no one seemed to mind and in fact “Mumma” enjoyed a beer with us and even posed for photos.

The amazing moon

By 10.30 pm the storm had cleared and through the residual cloud we were able to just glimpse the extraordinary moon.

What a party What a night!

We had anchored for the night outside Port Takola Marina in Krabi, on the Thai mainland, as we had arrived late in the afternoon on a falling tide. After a quiet night in the river near the marina entrance we took Bali Hai to Krabi Town to meet up with yachtie friends for lunch. Although the river gets very shallow, there is a well defined and well charted channel that took us to a great anchorage at the mouth of a tributary just opposite the town itself.

Table for 13 please!

A short dinghy ride to a secure and well maintained floating jetty (close to the “floating” (on mud) restaurant) and we were just a few minutes away from May and Mark’s – a little cafe recommended by our mates from Charon who always pick out the best in eateries. There we met up with the Quintessas and their Tassie (Tasmanian) crew, Smart Choice’s skipper and his crew from Yantara and the Charons. Thirteen was quite a large number to accommodate in a small place but after one kind couple swapped tables and a bit of shuffling we made it.

Lunch was long and ranged over many topics. One of the remarkable facts about this gathering was that by coincidence the skipper of Charon had known the Tassie crew on Quintessa for more than 20 years – since their two sons were in primary school. It really is such a small world.

Fruit and veg shopping at the local market

After a quick shop at the fruit and vegetable market next door to the cafe we walked back to the dinghy dock. We really liked the atmosphere of Krabi and promised ourselves to come back and explore the place properly one day. It felt much more laid back than Phuket, less frenetic and less geared to full-on tourism.

Dusk at Port Takola Marina

We leisurely made our way back to Port Takola Marina, calling on the way to alert them to our arrival and to find out which side to put out our lines and fenders. As we approached the entrance a little dinghy popped out to lead us in.

Tying up was very easy thanks to Marina manager Sebastian – a “tres charmant” Frenchman – and his dock assistants. There were quite a number of boats arriving and only one (albeit very well built and appointed) dock available at the marina so far, but Sebastian had done a great job in planning and allocating suitable spots for all the boats of different shapes and sizes.

On the advice of Sebastian, we went to dinner that evening to a restaurant on the river – just a short walk away- called Ban Ko Lek. The restaurant was very full but we didn’t have to wait for too long to be served and the food was delicious. The only downside was the walk home – the walk itself was quite lovely, strolling through fields and listening to frogs calling but as we passed a group of houses a pack of dogs started barking and rushing at us which was quite frightening. We growled back at them which whipped them into a frenzy and some of them started howling and there was lots of growling around us in the pitch dark. Fortunately they didn’t follow us and the rest of the walk was uneventful.

The shrine at the Ban Ko Lek restaurant

The following day was to be the Sail to Thailand welcome to Krabi party but this wasn’t just any ordinary party – we had been invited to the wedding celebration of Matthew Na Nagara, who with his father, is developing Port Takola Marina, and his beautiful bride Liu Sinut.

Posing on the dock at Port Takola next to Bali Hai with our boat guests

The official (and traditional) ceremony had already taken place but this was to be the big celebration party and boy it sure was big!

Before the festivities began two elephants were brought to a spot near to the massive open sided marquee (looked more like a permanent structure than anything). Elephants have a strange effect on people and even the toughest old salts enjoyed getting up close and stroking their curious crinkly hide.

Elephant love

We had a brilliant evening of celebration – professionally compered by Matthew’s brother Mark, a radio broadcaster, and former Miss Thailand and actor, Boom Panadda Wongphudee.

Posing with the bride and groom

We were entertained by The Royal Thai Naval Orchestra, Nadda Viyakarn, one of Thailand’s most famous singers, and later a another really great rock band with an amazing sax player . The food was fantastic- especially the banana roti for dessert, and of course the yachties were very happy to have beer and wine provided too.

Nadda Viyakarn, and the Royal Thailand Naval Orchestra entertained us in style

It was a very special night and for the stayers particular fun – dancing round the bride and groom to rock and pop music from throughout the decades.

Dancing round the bride and groom

Then they joined the circle

What a party! What a night! Thanks Matthew and Liu and Port Takola Marina for inviting us to such a magnificent night and for such a generous welcome.

There was traditional entertainment too which was much enjoyed

Land travel and new sailing adventures

Our sailing adventures over for 2017, we embarked on some land travel in November, leaving Bali Hai on the hard standing in Rebak Marina, Langkawi, in Malaysia.

Bali Hai goes on “her holidays”

First stop was a flying medical visit to the island of Penang where we also met up with yachtie friends from Charon and Shakti. Thanks to a recommendation by the Charons we stayed at the he excellent boutique hotel Le Dream and enjoyed a great Chinese meal together at the wonderful Tai Tong restaurant in Georgetown.

Dinner with the Charons and the Shaktis

Leaving for Vientiane in Laos in early November we travelled from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur then from KL to Bangkok- a convoluted route but it was a lot cheaper than any of the other options.

The colourful streets of Vientiane

Poor Laos – the country was bombed to hell even though it was never at war.

Tragically many innocent people continue to lose their limbs from ordnance in their agricultural land and near their homes

Monks in Vientiane busy repainting their temple

Keeping fit on the banks of the Mekong River

We spent a few days exploring Vientiane before taking a mini bus to beautiful Vang Vieng where we stayed right on the river at the Elephant Crossing Hotel which had spectacular views over the mountains.

The glorious view from the Elephant Crossing Hotel in Vang Vieng

These mountains are riddled with caves

Many of the caves have an mage of Buddha near the entrance

This one was called the elephant cave for obvious reasons

After an adventurous few days caving, tubing and hiking we climbed on a minibus again to drive to Luang Prabang.

A group about to go tubing in a cave at Vang Vieng. Such fun and being in a group of two our guide took us deeper into the bowels of the mountain.

A short but pleasant hike after exploring a number of caves

No one could have prepared us for the breathtaking views that we experienced as we crossed the mountain ridges. The journey would have to rate as one of the most fabulous I have ever experienced. Thanks to the Yantaras for recommending the ride without talking it up. It totally exceeded expectations.

Looking back at the hair pin bend we had just traversed – hair raising!

Such a glorious view!

Luang Prabang is a gorgeous town situated where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet. The French colonists left a legacy of gracious architecture and fine dining and this mixed with the natural beauty of the town, the many outstanding Buddhist temples and the lively markets makes it a bucket list destination.

The view from our hotel in Luang Prabang

Left behind when the French left Luang Prabang

A typical alleyway in Luang Prabang

There are many French villas in Luang Prabang

Busy streets but just a stone’s throw away…….

……a serene and quiet stretch of river

Coincidently the Shakti crew arrived in Luang Prabang the day we did and we enjoyed some great meals together and shared a wonderful day at an elephant camp.

Many beautiful temples and lots of traditional Laotian architecture to enjoy

The bamboo bridge close to where we stayed

We also spent a delightful day at the Kiang Si water falls. Although pretty crowded, the falls were spectacular and definitely a must-see destination.

The Kiang Si water falls were spectacular

We loved visiting these majestic creatures

From Laos we flew to Vietnam stopping overnight in Hanoi and leaving our heavy suitcases at our Air B n B before heading for the royal city of Hue.

It rained cats and dogs in Hue

The Citadel was flooded

Sadly we had constant rain the whole time we were in Hue so we’re unable to do much sight seeing although we did spend a day exploring the royal citadel which was very enjoyable except for the thorough drenching we received.

A sodden royal citadel

…but beautiful inside

Water water everywhere!

Back in Hanoi it was family time – many of our wider family gathered there to attend the wedding of one of our nephews. We had a wonderful time celebrating twice over – first at a Western style wedding and then a traditional Vietnamese style wedding day.

All too soon it was time to move on again – this time to Brisbane where we stayed with our son and partner. Over the Christmas period we were joined by sailing friends Jan and Jack from Anthem who had flown in from Darwin for the occasion. While they were with us, we met up with Cindy and James from You You who were also home for Christmas.

Christmas festivities

Yachties coffee date

After a busy month in Brisbane catching up with family and friends it was time to be reunited once again with Bali Hai.

We arrived back at Rebak Marina on 10 January to Bali Hai looking the bees knees with her hull polished, her bottom anti fouled and with a very smart brand new propeller. Ready and waiting for the Thailand Rally starting on 15 January 2018.

Always so good to catch up with our sailing buddies

The romantic tale of a recaltricant engine and a happy love match

Penuba, one of the stops in the 2015 Sail2ndonesia Rally, is a small, sleepy town on Pulau Selayar in Riau Province. 

Penuba from the water
We had been made very welcome there during the rally and had enjoyed staying in its well protected and deep harbour which had been highly prized by the Dutch well over a century earlier. 

The rear of the shop houses built by the Dutch on reclaimed land
One of our 2015 rally fleet members (a German born Canadian) had spent longer than he intended there due to engine trouble. In fact he was late in arriving due to engine problems and was forced to return after leaving to catch up with the fleet, as his engine was still playing up. 

Thelassi, our friend’s yacht with the recalcitrant engine
On this return visit he was helped by a young lady who lived with her family in Penuba and spoke excellent English. She was very happy to help our friend find the mechanics for the job using her father’s excellent connections. 

The jetty at Penuba where we parked our dinghies

The rest as they say, is history. They are now happily married and live in a very pleasant, cosy, beachside cottage on the adjacent island of Pulau Singkep, just minutes away from the main town Dabo. 

The beautiful view from the happy couple’s home

We had last seen our friend at Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia in November 2015 so we were looking forward to catching up with him and also to meeting his wife. 

Walking in the dusk in Penuba

We arrived in the early afternoon and went ashore just as dusk was approaching. Much to our dismay the great little restaurant where we had eaten during the rally was closed – as was every eating place (and there are only about three) in Penuba. Apparently we had arrived on the eve of an important religious holiday!

The Chinese temple

We walked along the small main street which had been built on land reclaimed by the Dutch. The timber walkways and shops are very rickety and look like there hasn’t been much maintenance work done since the Dutch left! 

The rickety walkway over reclaimed land at the entrance to the shop houses
However, each shop is a magnificent rabbit warren of all kinds of goods from fresh fruit and vegetables, to umbrellas, engine oil, notebooks, rice, hats, dried fish, plastic bowls, rope, snack foods and sweets (candies or lollies), pots and pans and brushes – anything you could think of. 

Pretty sure you could buy all the essentials of life here (except for wine!)

We wandered around the waterfront rather disconsolately (we were looking forward to eating off the boat!) but just after we past the Chinese temple as we heard a disembodied voice coming from the shadows in the half light calling our names. It was our friend and his wife!

A lantern in the Chinese Temple
The happy couple

Later on we made a scratch meal with the Yantaras and had a great reunion on Bali Hai. 
The following morning we were inundated by children from the stick village on the tiny island off Penuba town. Apparently their families were Orang Laut (literally Sea people) who at one time lived on sampans but some years ago were granted permission to build homes on the island. 

The children arrived in sampans which they carefully and capably manouevred round to avoid damaging our top sides
The children were so beautiful- happy, enthusiastic, eager to learn, polite and full of energy. They loved being shown round the boat, especially having the water maker and the chart plotter explained (through sign language mainly). 

Our happy visitors
You could tell that they were born to be on the water – even some very tiny ones rowed out to our yachts and they all hopped in and out of their quite unstable sampans with dexterity and confidence. 

Born to it! The children were so nimble and confident on the water and around boats
The first to arrive, two girls and two boys, were happily settled when another five arrived. And then another three. After that they kept on coming and we had to ask some to leave to make room for the next three sampans incoming!

A boatful of visitors
At one point there was so many kids and twice as much confusion and one poor little one (he can’t have been older than four) was left behind. Capt’n Birdseye hoisted him into the dinghy and his sister rowed her sampan back to pick him up. 

This little one got left behind! I almost kept him he was so cute.
In the end we had to ask them all to leave as we had an important lunch date to get to so they obediently filed off the boat clutching their notebooks and pens we had given them as though they were the Crown Jewels. 

Andaman Islands here we come!

We had planned to leave Thailand for Port Blair in the Andaman Islands – the furthest outpost of India that allows visiting yachts – on Friday 17 February. This would have given ample time for provisioning and last minute service checks for the three yachts travelling together – Yantara, Smart Choice and Bali Hai and get us in to Port Blair on Monday 21 February. 

Plotting our leaving date

However, as we have learned previously, when it comes to yachts you can never rely on everything coming together in the way you expect. 

A relatively minor but painful medical issue and a recalcitrant auto helm (self steering) delayed us and plan B was to leave on Monday 21 February.  

It was great for the Bali Hai contingent as it gave us lots of time to service the boat engine, cook and freeze some evening meals for the trip and get a few maintenance jobs completed. 

Beautiful Nai Harn Bay

It was also great to get to know Nai Harn Bay and enjoy some lovely walks, including over the saddle of land (up a very steep hill!) that separates Nai Harn Bay and Ya Nui Bay. 

The skipper walking across the saddle of land

On top of the cliff is a huge white windmill that generates electricity for the local area and which is a landmark for all the boats anchored in the capacious bay below. 

Top of the hill!

Hang gliders jump off the cliff and catch thermals like massive colourful eagles. We watched heart in mouth as they appeared to swoop perilously close to the sails of the windmill. 

Hang gliders perilously close to the windmill

Sightseers and local teenagers arrive on motor bikes to marvel at the view or seize the opportunity for a kiss and a cuddle away from the prying eyes of parents. 

Down the other side is a small beach much favoured by families for its soft sand, fewer crowds and safe swimming. There are a handful of cafes here where we enjoyed a few good value and tasty meals – notably with the Yantaras and Smarties on a couple of occasions. 

Photo opp! Yantara and Smart Choice taking a photo of…..
….this vehicle – a strange sight for Phuket

Plan B didn’t quite work out and our departure was delayed once again but we didn’t mind. We sailed back to Ao Chalong and did a little more shopping and bought fuel from the barge in the middle of the bay. 

Lovely sunset at Ao Chalong

We checked out of Thailand on Wednesday and went back to Nai Harn Bay. It wasn’t a hard place to be – at all!

At this bar you can keep cool while you drink

Or sit out on a deck with fabulous views

As well as enjoying meals at some of the local restaurants we were able to rest and recuperate after the busy-ness of our trip to India. 

Watching the sunset from the deck bar

There were gorgeous sunsets to enjoy and we even saw the “green flash” – a phenomenon only seen under particular conditions when the sun sets. This was my second time, the first being in Hoga Island, Indonesia in 2015. 

Another chocolate box sunset

By Friday 24 February all three boats were ready and raring to head for the Andaman Islands. Final repairs done and medical issues resolved we convened a little way out to sea outside Nai Harn Bay around midday and started the first of what was to be a passage taking three days and nights. 

Andamans here we come!

Andaman Islands here we come!

For more about our trip to the beautiful and fascinating Andaman Islands go to:

Big brother is watching you!

We left pretty Koh Muk vowing to return again – if only to visit the Emerald Cave when there were no tourists there. There is small but perfect little anchorage near the cave so it would be very easy to wake up early and take the dinghy over at first light.

A perfect little anchorage – there were dolphins there too.

We passed Koh Ngai with its towering cliffs, caves. and by the looks of it, plenty of interest for divers.

A dive boat at Koh Ngai

As we approached Koh Lanta we clicked over at 7,000 nautical miles since we left Scarborough Marina in 2015. By cruising standards that’s not huge nevertheless it felt like quite a milestone to us!

The towering cliffs of Koh Phi Phi Don

Travelling down the coast of Koh Lanta the big black cloud we had spotted behind us earlier finally caught up with us and gave the decks a good wash. Shortly after the rain had passed over, the wind at last turned just north of east which meant we could sail from lunchtime onwards.
That night we anchored at Koh Phi Phi Don in Yongkasem Bay – straight across from Ao Chalong where we were heading the following day. This anchorage is far less crowded and noisy than Ton Sai Bay although when we arrived there were still boats full of yahooing tourists having their last hurrah.

Tourists going home in a “longtail” at Koh Phi Phi Don

At breakfast the next morning the boat traffic had already started with hordes of longtails delivering their customers to this jungle-fringed bay. It looked as though was great snorkelling but for us it was time to leave.


We had a rollicking good sail to Ao Chalong and arrived mid afternoon- just in time we hoped, to check in at Immigration/ Customs and Harbourmaster. 

Unfortunately there was a big sea and the dinghy ride extremely slow and uncomfortable. We arrived just before 4pm but the offices were all closed for the day.

The following day, disenchanted by the terrible roll at Ao Chalong, we motored round to nearby Nai Harn Bay and hired a car so we could check in and do a big shop ready for our trip to the Andaman Islands.

Sunset at Nai Harn Bay

During the check in process we were served in the new Harbour Master’s office upstairs which has the most amazing and up-to-date technology we have seen.

A large screen in the waiting area shows the position of every one of the foreign boats anchored in waters around Phuket. There’s no place to hide Big Brother is watching you!

No Muck at Koh Muk

We left Koh Tarutao in Thailand on 9 February heading for Ao Chalong where we planned to meet up with other boats heading for the Andaman Islands, India’s furthest ocean outpost except for the Nicobar Islands (where visiting yachts are not allowed).

Koh Muk

We were later than we had first anticipated partly because we had to wait for a new motor for our water maker to arrive from Australia. But at last we were off! 

This time we decided to sail via Koh Muk (aka Koh Mook) for the first time and it was a decision we did not regret at all. 

Sunset at Koh Muk

This island is as far away as possible from the rip-off, too crowded, tourist haunts that many parts of Thailand have become. It is a small but very pretty, clean island with friendly, helpful locals who are not hell bent on making money out of visitors to their island home. 

This is where we had dinner, they also served delicious mango juice and did our laundry.

We initially anchored in the southern anchorage of Koh Muk but there was such a horrible roll that we decided to motor round to the East of the island where it was much more comfortable although the dinghy ride into the island was a little longer. 

On our way back to the boat – quite a hike!

We enjoyed walking through three of the resorts on shore – all nicely done with some beautiful villas available. Being built in an isthmus most of the accommodation had sea views. 
The village was very quiet with a few general stores and some nice looking restaurants but no cars and not even many motor bikes! 

We settled for a pleasant spot on the beach where the cocktails were extremely cheap (although we opted for the fantastic fresh mango juice) and the food cheap and delicious. 

The next day we went back to our original anchorage- gorgeous!

As it was such a lovely spot we decided to stay an extra day and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. We motored back to the first anchorage where there was a lovely cove. There were quite a number of tourists but it didn’t feel too frantic. 

At lunchtime we climbed a steep flight of stairs to a lovely restaurant on a cliff with fabulous views. What a glorious place!

View from our cliff top restaurant
Perfect crystal waters
We were planning to stay the night at that anchorage but it was so rock and rolly that at 10 pm we up anchored and followed our track on the chart plotter back to the Eastern anchorage which was perfect. 

Bali Hai in the bay
Another sunset! Always continue to amaze.

The next morning we headed round the island to the Emerald Cave – a the only way to enter this cave is to swim through a dark cave for about 80 metres until you reach a beautiful hong. The Emerald Cave is so named because when the sun shines on the water, it reflects colored light all over the cave wall.

Tourist boats at the Emerald Cave

We got round there about 10am which was far too late as by then it was very busy with tourists. We did motor up to the cave and were amazed by the strings of tourists in life jackets swimming along in a long line, shrieking and giggling. 

The tourists lining up in a “crocodile” to enter the Emerald Cave

We returned to Bali Hai and headed for Koh Phi Phi where we were going to anchor for the night. On the way we were delighted to see dolphins for the first time in ages. They seem very shy in SE Asia and typically don’t play around the boat’s bow wave or swim alongside. Nevertheless, it always makes you feel happy when you see them!

The dolphins were swimming in this cove near the Emerald Cave

Look before you leap -the land has eyes 

Suddenly we had come to end of our first boat guest of the year’s two week stay. Our circumnavigation of Langkawi completed we anchored once again in Telaga Harbour. 

Chinese New Year celebrations at the Billion shopping centre

We went for one last delicious (guest’s favourite) tuna steak ashore at Tapaz in Perdana Quay, went shopping at “Trillion” shopping centre for gifts for the Capt’n’s brother to take back to England and then it was time to say a sad farewell. 

A last tuna steak for our boat guest

Chinese New Year lanterns at Perdana Quay
Unfortunately we couldn’t leave Langkawi for Thailand (and then on to the Andaman Islands) straight away as we had to wait for a new motor (plus a spare smaller “free” one, thank you Stella Marine) for our water maker to arrive from Australia. 

Christmas! Our new motor for the water maker arrives
In the meantime, the old one that had been mended and reconditioned and then had broken down again came back from the engineers and was working fine! It’s always good to have back up particularly with something as essential as the water maker!

New motor plus a free spare!
The delay in leaving fortunately meant we had time to catch up with Richard and Marilyn from Charon at a restaurant called Mangos – a real piece of Australia in Langkawi!

Dinner at Mangoes with Marilyn and Richard

We were also delighted to meet up with Meryon (crew) and Dave (skipper) from Alexes who had just arrived in Langkawi from Pangkor. The last time we had seen Meryon was in England in April 2016 and we hadn’t seen Dave since the Sail to Malaysia Rally at the end of 2015 so it was a lovely reunion. They were busy preparing to sail back to Europe and their progress can be followed on Meryon’s blog 

View of Telaga Harbour from the small island at its entrance
Finally on 8 February we set sail for Thailand. Our first leg was just a short hop to Koh Tarutoa whose southern coast lies only four miles from Langkawi. However, our trip was a little further than that we travelled right up to the northeastern part of this unspoilt 152 square kilometre island. 
The bay we anchored in was stunning and we were the only ones there – or so we thought! 

Fortunately we didn’t jump off the boat for a skinny dip as we had the previous time we anchored there, as we discovered we were definitely not alone!

Koh Tarutao

As we zoomed around the beautiful calm waters we met two Thai ladies collecting shell fish from the rocks of a small craggy island that protected our anchorage. Then we landed on one of the beaches on Koh Tarutao and to our amazement discovered a fisherman in a cave reading the newspaper!! He was resting on a wooden day bed sheltering from the sun, totally hidden from view until we landed on the beach.  
The next remarkable thing we noticed was a whole network of caves that extended across almost the whole of the cove. Sadly I didn’t have anything to take photos with – the first in ages that I had left my camera behind!
The resting fisherman indicated that we could go into the cave system – the formation was like walking along a passageway which opened out to an open “room” and then narrowed again into a passageway. There were at least half a dozen “rooms” where we found rough hewn beds, tables and benches, pots and plates, bowls and water carriers. There was even an outdoor European style toilet complete with privacy screen!
The floor of the cave network was packed hard from the feet of the hundreds of fishermen who had used this as a resting place and probably a refuge from storms, maybe over hundreds of years. We found a couple of massive middens comprising shells from many a fisherman’s meal. Fascinating stuff. 
Finding this place which potentially could have housed scores of fishermen was a good lesson – don’t assume that just because you can’t see anyone doesn’t mean that people can’t see you! I for one, was very glad that I hadn’t leapt naked into the sea in front of our shellfish gatherers and the resting fisherman! So fellow sailors, just remember – look before you leap!

Finding the Hole in the Wall and the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden

Even though this was our second visit to the Hole in the Wall in Langkawi it was still a thrill finding the “hole” in the towering cliffs and sailing through into the wide “bowl” the other side. 

Spot the “hole”
Now you can see it!

Once again we enjoyed exploring the network of mangroves in the dinghy and we saw loads of monkeys and even found the place where the Brahminy Kites, Sea Eagles and other birds of prey vie for the food thrown to them by the boat operators to entertain the tourists. 

We managed to get through this cave on the dinghy unlike the tourist boats
There were lots of monkeys in the mangroves
Birds of Prey ready to dive down for food provided by the tourist boat operators
This time we kept to the main route and didn’t get lost! After a very average lunch at one of the floating restaurants we turned the dinghy to the other direction and motored up to the jetty where the tourist boats tie up – keen to explore some of the boards walks that we had noticed close by. 

Just beyond the jetty on the other side of the water there was a place to tie up and at the top of some steps, unexpectedly, ticket sellers. The fee was nominal but the same people also rented out flash lights which proved to be very useful when we entered the extremely dark cave which was inhabited by a large amount of tiny and quite cute bats. 

Entering the dark cave

Another cave theatre you had to crouch down to get into

At least there was a warning notice!
From the Hole in the Wall we went to one of our favourite anchorages – between Teluk Dayang Bunting and Pulau Gubang Darat. This is a really peaceful anchorage except every now and then a small party of tourists on JetSkis, led by a local guy, would zoom in, stop, and then the leader would yodel or shout something out to demonstrate the echo and the tourists would do the same. Then they would zoom away again!

The rest of the time all you could hear was a lot of bird life, cicadas and the occasional monkey squawking. 

A vey peaceful anchorage (most of the time)

Such a great place to swim
Round the corner from this anchorage is the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, a sizeable fresh water lake on Dayang Bunting, where as legend has it, Princess Mambang Sari cast the body of her dead son and while doing so, prayed for women having difficulty in getting pregnant. 

The Lake of the Pregnant Maiden
Many believe that bathing in the lake or drinking its water will ensure pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child. Significantly, the shape of the hills that form a backdrop to the lake supposedly look like a pregnant woman lying on her back. 

Having missed out on seeing the lake on our previous circumnavigation of Langkawi, we decided to motor Bali Hai round  and anchored in the bay within striking distance of the jetty. As we manoeuvred the dinghy to tie up at the jetty we couldn’t believe the sheer numbers of tourists – the place was absolutely heaving! Tourists from all corners of the earth were battling to get on and off what seemed like scores of speedboats. 

Fortunately there were quiet spots to be found

Once we had managed to negotiate our way through the throng we bought our entry tickets and climbed the narrow path that snaked its way up the wooded hill, meeting lots of cheeky monkeys on the way. At the brow of the hill we descended a stairway of about 100 steps down to the lake. Again there were excited people everywhere – mostly wearing brightly coloured life jackets and shouting and shrieking their heads off. 
Fortunately we found a lovely boardwalk where we met only one other group of tourists, some young men from Myanmar. 

Enjoying the peace and quiet of the boardwalk

At the end of the boardwalk we climbed some steps to a lookout where from one side we could view the lake and from the other, out to the anchorage – in the middle of which was Bali Hai. 

View of the lake from the lookout

Bali Hai from the lookout

Living a life of luxury (for a few hours!)

Living on a yacht in SE Asia in January is fabulous – the water is clear, the weather is comparatively settled, it’s hot but not meltingly so. On land there are plenty of restaurants with a million dollar views but with affordable food and beer at a reasonable price. And occasionally you can lob into a fabulous resort and live a luxurious life for a few hours. 

Anchored at Datai Bay
Living the luxury life at The Andaman Resort
We did just that when we anchored in Datai Bay, round the corner from Telaga Harbour. 
We were circumnavigating Langkawi with our boat guest, the Capt’n’s brother from England and as the anchorage was nice and calm decided to dinghy in and go for a walk along the beach – something we had been unable to do the previous time we had anchored there. 

Enjoying a cold beer at the beach bar
We walked to one end of the beach and decided to go in search of a cold beer – the Andaman Resort looked very inviting so we wandered round the swimming pool area and then through a stand of trees where we came upon another pool. This time instead of clear, clean water against an azure background, the water was cloudy green and mossy. It soon became apparent that it was a pool for fish and corals and not for people. 

The green and mossy pool
Wandering round it we came across the delightful resident marine biologist who took great trouble to tell us all about the pool and its inhabitants, about habitats and food, the types of coral and the habits and types of fish. 

The resident marine biologist at the Andaman Resort

All this was thirsty business so we continued our search for those cold drinks and found the perfect spot – the resort’s beach bar. For the record, we were made very welcome there and although the beers were on the expensive side the service was cheerful and faster than greased lightening! We ended up having a very enjoyable bar meal there. 

Beer with a view
Later on we walked to the resort at the other end of the beach, The Datai, which looked very chi-chi but by then we’d had our fill of luxury resorts and were looking forward to getting back onto our boat to wrap up the evening. 

The restaurant at the Datai Resort

Getting high in Langkawi

Arriving back from the cold and fog of a Delhi winter it felt very pleasant to be back in the warmth of Langkawi. 

Bali Hai on the hard
Bali Hai had been on the hard at Rebak Marina during our trip around northern India, and while we were away her anti foul was replenished by Noel Bradley’s team at Rebak Marina. 

As someone who hates heights going up and down this ladder is not my favourite thing!
We were thrilled with the result, it was a much better job than we would have done and we were pleased with the very fair price that Noel (who runs the chandlery store) had charged. 

Noel Bradley’s team finish off the antofoul before Bali Hai is “splashed”
There were only a few days to prepare for our first boat visitor of the year – the Capt’n’s brother from England – so we quickly got on to the boat jobs we needed to get done before we “splashed” Bali Hai. 

Bali Hai is lowered into the water
Everything went smoothly when we put Bali Hai back in the water – even the docking process at the marina was without incident. Must be getting better at this boat business!

Rebak Marina
We had decided to sail around Langkawi with our guest rather than venture to Thailand which we had opted for with our last boat visitors. We had such a drama checking into Thailand last November at Koh Lipe we agreed it was all too hard. Apart from that, there are some really beautiful and interesting places to visit in and around Langkawi. 

Our first boat guest of the year
After a couple of nights at Rebak Marina to allow the Capt’n’s brother to get over jet lag and adjust to the warm weather, we set off for Telaga Harbour. For this short hop we had three extra hands aboard- three very interesting, charming and likeable guys from Germany that we had initially met in the doctor’s surgery and then again later in the Rebak Island resort. 

On the way to Telaga Harbour
The short sail was a first for our German friends and they seemed to be quite taken with it. 

Our new deckhands
While in Telaga we hired a car and decide to drive up to the highest point of Langkawi- Gunung Raya (881 metres) – a first for us. 

Beautiful views from Gunang Raya
The narrow road that wound round the hill was good with some spectacular views on the way up when there was the occasional gap in the otherwise dense rainforest. 

The view from the decidedly fragile balcony
At the top there was a resort (not sure if many people stay there!) and a tower which is open to the public for a small fee – 10 MR (around Aus$3).

The swaying tower of Langkawi
The views from the tower are spectacular although I didn’t stay  on the balcony for too long as there was a terrifically high wind which whistled around the tower. I swear it was swaying and the railing round the balcony looked far too frail. 

On the windy balcony
What would happen if a big gust forced me into the railing and it collapsed? That would be the end of me. 

TV and telephone towers on Gunung Raya
As you can tell I am not fond of heights so I retreated to the comfort of the tower’s window-lined room and the spicy tea that was on offer free of charge. It was a bit of a relief stepping into the lift to go down to the bottom of the tower, I can assure you. 
My dislike of heights was tested once again when we took the famous cable car up Mt. Machinchang, the mountain that towers over our anchorage in Telaga Harbour. 

On the cable car
The cable car takes you 2.2km up the mountain to the height of 708 metres above sea level and is purported to be the highest cable carbon the world! As this was our second time I was marginally less freaked out and once again loved the stunning views when we were up there. 

Putting on a brave face

View from the top
After all that getting high in Langkawi I was ready for some more activities at sea level!

We smell a rat (or quite a few actually!)

We started 2017 as we meant to go on – doing something a little different, out of our comfort zone and really challenging. 
No, it wasn’t sailing to some far flung place we had never been to, nor was it tackling an ocean with a reputation for being wild – our New Year’s Day was spent visiting a temple in India. This to some, might not sound particularly challenging but I can assure you it was as this was the famous Karni Mata Temple in Deshnoke which is dedicated to RATS!

Waiting to go into the RAT temple!
With more than 2,000 rats running freely about our feet, this was indeed a test that would set the tone for 2017. Surely no gale, no rogue wave, no disastrous break down or breakage could be more of a challenge than standing in a temple with the rank smell of rat urine in our nostrils and scores of the little darlings almost running over our toes!

The rats have free rein and are given milk to drink and lots of treats to eat
It is believed that the souls of deceased relatives now reside in the rats – prayers and offerings are therefore made to them

We were in India for one month before returning to Bali Hai in the middle of January. As this is meant to be a sailing blog I won’t write any more about this trip to India but will instead look forward to recounting our next Indian adventure when we sail to the Andaman Islands in February. In the meantime, here are just a few photos from the many hundreds I took in Rajasthan!
Jaisalmer Fort was built in the 12th Century and is the only fortified city still inhabited that we have seen. Most of the families living within its walls can trace their ancestry back to the original inhabitants
No roads just these little laneways. The only traffic – a few motorbikes and quite a few cows!
Amazing who you meet just outside the place you’re staying in!

From Jaisalmer we went out to stay in a desert camp and had an amazing camel safari
They call camels Ships of the Desert and with sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see it is easy to understand why! Very reminiscent of the open ocean!
Deserts have beautiful sunsets too

Then it was off to Jodpur
Another amazing Fort at the “Blue City”
Roof top dining with a great view of the fort
A guard at the fort museum
Built in the 1740s, the Toorji Ka Jhalra was built for water storage and was where women gathered for generations to collect water
It has recently been restored and is a popular gathering place once again
The gorgeous colours of Pushkar – our last stop before returning to Delhi
Pushkar is set in the Pushkar Lake, a sacred place to Hindus. There are 52 ghats (stone entrances) where pilgrims enter to bathe. Such a serene place
On the shores of Pushkar Lake

Langurs keeping us amused
A Hindu ceremony in the banks of Pushkar Lake
View from Sivitri Temple on Ratnagiri Hill.
Thirsty Langurs
View of Pushkar from the top of Ratnagiri Hill
Another view of Pushkar Lake
Pushkar is The place to see camels!
Back at Hannah’s enjoying the colours of India
If you would like to see photos from the beginning of our trip see my previous blog entry “Incredible India”. 

Incredible India

We sadly farewelled our boat guests at Kuah Ferry Terminal where they caught a ferry back to Penang. They would catch their flight to KL from there the following day and then on to Brisbane, Australia. 
We didn’t have too much time to mope however, as we were also due to hop on a plane in a couple of days – heading to visit our daughter in India for a month. 
But first we had to prepare Bali Hai so we could leave her safely for a month. This time we decided to haul her out of the water as she needed her bottom antifouled and a few other small jobs doing. 

The haul out at Rebak Marina went very smoothly

The haul out went fine and soon we were winging our way to incredible India. 

Arriving at an extremely chilly Delhi airport!

I know this is supposed to be a sailing blog but I just cannot resist sharing just a very few of my many hundreds of photos of our month in India !

An exciting ride at a school carnival
Christmas Day at the Imperial Hotel
The Golden Temple Amritsar – out of this world
The vibrant hues of the visitors’ clothing makes the queue for the Golden Temple a sea of colour. Amongst other things, Sikhs believe in unity of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice for the benefit and prosperity of all.
Devout Sikhs wear/carry five things – uncut hair, a wooden comb, a cutlass or dagger, an iron bracelet and a special undergarment
An old bicycle parked outside a deserted Haveli (palace) in Bikaner
There was spectacular food and entertainment at The New Year’s Eve Party at the Laxmi Niswas Hotel in Bikaner

I have finally reached the end of 2016! Apologies for any confusion caused by my consistently behind -the-times blog. Oh well 2017 is another year – I’ll try and do better  this year and that’s a promise. 

I really started this blog to let my Mum (and other family members) know that we weren’t lost at sea or  kidnapped as white slaves but it’s become more than that. 

This year the blog has had more than 3,000 views from 67 different countries which is astonishing. 

We lost my biggest fan (my Mum) in July, just before her 95th birthday but I feel justified in carrying on with my blog – if nothing else as a way of remembering these wonderful cruising days when my memory starts to fade!

Thanks to my adventurous Mum who loved to travel so much, for inspiring me and so many other of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to travel the world. 

And thanks to all those who have read and supported my blog this year. I have loved your feedback and comments. It has been so rewarding to hear the enthusiasm of family and friends, to reestablish links with old mates I had lost touch with and to make new friends through these pages

“Fill your life with adventures not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.”

Getting away from it all

After all the hassles checking in at Koh Lipe, Thailand it was great to get away from it all on a nearby island, Koh Butang, where we had the beach and anchorage completely to ourselves. 

It was great to enjoy the clean clear waters and to completely relax for a couple of days. 

So wonderful having the place to ourselves

Enjoying the warm, crystal waters

All too soon it was time to sail back to Koh Lipe for the check out process. This time instead of walking to the Customs/ Immigration office we took “taxis” – motorised trishaws – virtually the only vehicles allowed in Koh Lipes “walking streets” (except for the occasional mechanical digger)!

A taxi with a difference

Fortunately the check-out process was much smoother than the check-in we experienced and soon we were on our way back to Langkawi. 

A necessary diversion

We anchored in Telaga Harbour and tying our dinghy up alongside the super yachts stopped for a chat with the crew of “Batavia”. They were about to take off and were just waiting for “Russell” the owner of this sleek super yacht. 

The Super yacht Batavia

A bit of sleuthing led us to wonder if this could be actor Russell Crowe. He is currently producing a movie about the fate of the 17th Century Dutch sailing vessel Batavia which was wrecked on its maiden voyage. Seems possible doesn’t it?!

Before our friends left to return to Australia we went for a fantastic meal at The Wonderland Foodstore. This is a Chinese seafood restaurant where the food is fresh and delicious. It is always packed with local residents of Chinese ethnicity- a sure sign that it is good!

Early evening at the Wonderland Foodstore. Already filling up!

You can watch as your food is freshly cooked and the wait staff are extremely helpful in helping you choose a great combination of dishes to order. 

The chefs hard at work

As always, it was very sad to see our guests go but we didn’t have long to mope as we only had a couple of days to get back to Rebak marina, haul the boat out and prepare to Bali Hai to be left while we took a month-long road trip in India. 

Blatant money grab leaves unpleasant taste

We had so enjoyed the gorgeous clear waters of Koh Rawi in the Adana-Rawi archipelago on our last trip from Phuket, Thailand to Langkawi in Malaysia, that we decided to take our boat guests there for a couple of days. 

Welcome to Koh Lipe!
Thailand has so many beautiful spots but boy, we have begun to really dislike the bureaucracy and the blatant grab for money from tourists – and sometimes it seems, particularly yachties! This trip was no exception. 

We met this handsome creature on the way to Immigration/Customs

We had already been a little put out at having to pay National Park fees the equivalent of $16 each for anchoring one night (and not going ashore) at Koh Rok Nok en route to Langkawi. Surely there could be a different fee for yachts just passing through?

Longtails at rest on Pattaya Beach
Then on this occasion, when we arrived at Koh Lipe, we of course, had to check in at passport and customs and it was such a nightmare that I really don’t think we would ever attempt it again. 
First of all, after a trek in the heat along Pattaya Beach, and queueing up with the ferry passengers at the passport /Customs office we were told that we had to go to the office down the other end of the beach. So back we trekked, arriving around 4 pm. 

Trekking along Pattaya Beach to check-in to Thailand
We went to stand in the queue but got shooed away and then after milling around for a few minutes trying to work out where we needed to be, a quite pleasant woman took us into a blissfully cool (empty) cafe and told us that she was an agent and could fill out all the forms/make the process go smoothly. She said the charge was normally 1000 baht (roughly Aus$40 or $10 each as there were four of us) but as she had to leave work very soon she would organise our entry for a cut price of 800 baht ($32).
It was so hot and we just wanted to be off with our boat guests swimming in clear waters so we agreed and Capt’n Birdseye produced a 1,000 baht note out of his wallet with a flourish. The agent went off with our passports, money and forms which she was going to fill in on our behalf. 
A few minutes later she came back and said “nearly finished and now you have to pay.”
“Um no, you need to give us 200 baht change, we already paid you”.
She said that we hadn’t and shuffled through the papers “see no money”. We only had a small amount of cash and we had counted it out earlier. We had definitely paid her. 
She went back to the office and came back a few minutes later and demanded another 800 baht. After a bit of a discussion she left again, this time leaving to go wherever she needed to leave work to be. 
So back the good Capt’n went and told the people in the office (who had our passports!) that we weren’t going to pay another 1,000 baht. The guy in the office became quite belligerent and refused to stamp our passports unless we paid another 1,000 baht.  The Capt’n also lost his cool and said unless our passports were stamped he was going to the police! 

We needed a drink after our battle with Thai authorities! This was a lovely spot to have one!

There was an impasse and the guy literally threw the passports at the Capt’n and told him to get out. 
So we walked back down the beach and we did go to the police. We explained what had happened and the policeman (new to the island!) talked to the boss at the first passport office. After that the attitude changed – we were ushered into the air conditioned office – we filled in the forms ourselves ( they were just the normal forms, nothing complicated) and after a charge of around 100 baht each ($4) our passports were stamped and we were free to go. 

The whole thing left a decidedly unpleasant taste and we felt rather ridiculous for getting persuaded to use the “agent” in the first place, and for handing over a lot of money unnecessarily. 

Despite the battle to get our passports stamped we loved seeing the food stalls and bustling life of Koh Lipe

I have to admit, in the midst of this situation, ever the peacemaker,  I was trying to calm the Capt’n down but I am willing to admit now that actually, we were being exploited and scammed and were quite within our rights to be angry and show it too. We have been told that Thai people do not understand overt anger but actually, we have found they do and were extremely keen to help once it was obvious we were genuinely upset. 

Yummy seafood!
We hightailed it out of Koh Lipe after a very pleasant meal at Elephant – a great bar and eating place which restored our spirits. 

Restoring our spirits at The Elephant

Fortunately the anxiety and angst of our encounter with Thai officialdom melted away once we had anchored in the calm and crystal clear waters of Koh Butang. However, we will never try and check-in at Koh Lipe again. 

When the music is happening at The Elephant everyone joins in!

Vertiginous experience 

After a few days in Penang with our Aussie friends it was great to be back on Bali Hai with them on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia. 

Good Ol’ friends

As we wanted to give them a sailing trip to the beautiful clear waters of Thailand we only lingered briefly in Langkawi where we hired a car and took in some of the sights, including the board walk at Hole in the Wall. 

On the way to hire a car

One of the board walks at Hole in the Wall

Before we left for Thailand  I was somehow persuaded to join our friends on the famous cable car ride up Mt. Machinchang, the mountain that towers over our anchorage in Telaga Harbour. 

Having quite a fear of heights I was justifiably nervous as the cable car takes you 2.2km up the mountain to the height of 708 metres above sea level and is purported to be the highest cable car in the world!

Terrifyingly high, dangling on a thread!

To save waiting in a long queue (it was school holidays) we paid a little extra and went through the express lane. What we didn’t realise was that the extra payment also entitled us to a gondola with a glass bottom!

Yikes! Do we have to go in a glass bottomed gondola?!

So not only did I have to cope with being suspended by a cable at some vast height but also experienced the terrifying and vertiginous feeling of looking past my feet – down, down, down, – argggggh!

That’s an awful long way down!

However, I have to admit, once I had recovered from the journey up, the views from the top really were glorious  and it was amazing seeing Bali Hai no bigger than a dot in the anchorage below!   

Bali Hai was anchored just near the gap between the two small islands

It was quite chilly up at the top of the mountain, especially when clouds started to gather and we were surrounded by a cold mist, so we didn’t stay up there for too long. 

Telaga Harbour before the mist came down

The mist was cold and spoilt the view

The downward trip didn’t seem quite so bad but I was very glad to be at the bottom once again with my feet planted firmly on the ground!

Some of the thousands of padlocks left by couples at the top of the mountain.

Life’s a beach

Our brief visit to Penang was nearly over – we had done busy Georgetown, we had hugged trees at the Oriental Spice Garden and the Botanic Gardens but we still had to go and get some sand between our toes. 

You would think that Penang being a popular tourist destination its beaches would be if not crowded, at least well, busy. However, on the two occasions we headed to the sea we were surprised as to how quiet and unspoilt the beaches were. 

We really enjoyed the rocky beach just below the entrance to the Oriental Spice Garden. There were just a few local families there and we felt as though we had the place more or less to ourselves. 

Even at Batu Ferringhi (Penang’s second most favourite destination after Georgetown) there were very few people on the beach and there was a very relaxed and laid back vibe. 

We stopped off drinks at a beachside restaurant called Frandy’s Beach Bar where the mango juices were to die for. 

One of our friends had a headache and Frandy gave her an impromptu neck massage. That’s what I call service!

Penang’s wonderful trees and plentiful plants

You hear a lot about the architecture, the food, the cultural delights and the street art of Penang but not so much of the wonderful trees and other plentiful plants that are also so much a part of this wonderful island. 

In the Tropical Spice Gardens

While we were in Penang with our Australian friends before leaving to board Bali Hai at Rebak Marina, Langkawi, we visited the Botanic Gardens and the Tropical Spice Garden, both oases of calm from the busyness of every day life in Penang. 

Gotta hug that tree!
The Tropical Spice Garden is a 32 hectare forested area that boasts over 500 species of tropical plants.  

Such healthy Bromeliads

You enter through a cool and peaceful water garden where the lily pads are as big as tables. 

Gorgeous water gardens, cool and tranquil
Lily pads as big as tables

There are paths that wind through different sections (e.g.bamboos, ferns etc).

Where will this path lead?

Informative signs educate the visitors and included in the ticket price is an individual recorded commentary for each person that you can switch on and off at will.

Reading and listening- Capt’n Birdseye multi tasking?!

There is even a place to get a free cuppa in the middle!

And places to cool your feet.  

We were fascinated by the poisonous plants section – I hadn’t realised that there are so many plants that are very dangerous and that can kill you! 

As we stood there and read the signs I imagined Agatha Christie would be taking copious notes as she walked through. 

Why only in India?
Probably should all take this – just in case!

There is a very pleasant Thai restaurant in the grounds of the Spice Garden that can be entered from the road for those not wishing to go round the gardens. 

Beautiful views and ambiance and lovely food

The Botanic Gardens are also glorious. We arrived quite early in the morning and were rather alarmed to hear gun shots as we got out of the car. 

We saw that various garden staff were going out their business unperturbed and soon realised that the blank shots were fired at regular intervals to scare the monkeys. They also seemed totally unperturbed!

No wonder they were firing at them!

As these gardens were first opened in 1884 there are some glorious old trees within its 29 hectares. 
I think this was a Mahogany tree
Another lovely old tree

We went round a fern house, palm collection and an Orchid house and there were other collections that we didn’t manage to fit in. 

In the fern house
Turning over a new leaf ha ha!
Another gorgeous specimen

There are also some delightful paths that wind up the hills that surround the gardens. The path we took wound up the hill through glorious rain forest until we reached the site of the long-gone former superintendent’s house. 

Into the secret forest

With a ferry to catch we had to leave the gardens before we had seen everything we wanted to see. Next time we’ll make a day of it!

Yay! We made it out and it was fun!

Eccentric hilltop restaurant provides break from hubbub of Georgetown 

Georgetown in Penang is a melting pot of cultures – vibrant, colourful, bustling with a rich history, fabulous food and amazing street art. 

Some people can’t get enough of its buzz and pizazz and others like us, yearn for natural habitats and long vistas. 

That isn’t to say we hadn’t enjoyed wandering round and savouring street food, visiting the excellent museum and spotting the imaginative and quirky creations by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. We also loved seeing the works of other artists who have been commissioned to provide historic information in a creative way.  

We were ready for a change of pace and as we had hired a car we were able to take a drive round the island to see what we could see. 

Unfortunately, by early afternoon the weather had started to turn quite unpleasant and as we hadn’t had lunch we decided to follow a small signpost pointing to a hilltop restaurant. 

View from the car – rainclouds!
The road looked very narrow so we were a bit dubious and soon we were sloshing about on what appeared to be a farm track (we did drive past a poultry farm) and then we started to climb higher and higher up the hill. At each bend the possibility of there being an open restaurant at the top seemed less and less likely. We felt like we were on a movie set – think Rocky Horror Show or even Pyscho! There was driving rain, thunder and lightening as we climbed further and further up into the clouds. 

Strange atmosphere as we climbed higher and higher
As we approached the top of the hill to our great surprise we found out that Bukit Genting Hill Leisure Park and Restaurant was actually open! In fact, one of the staff came out with an umbrella and ushered us into the restaurant. 

After the rather precarious drive up the long and winding road we were very happy to be served any type of food but were happy as always to eat a Thai-style meal. The green curry was delicious (and really very green!) but a couple of the other choices were maybe slightly disappointing but we were very happy, regardless. 

Hurray! Food!
View from the restaurant at Bukit Genting Hill – clouds!
As we ate the clouds started to disappear and we were treated to the most magnificent ocean views on two sides. 

After the clouds had parted – magnificent!

We were also able to stroll through the eccentric grounds where dilapidated boats perched precipitously on the cliff. These boats had been built up and used as rooms for the now defunct (I gathered) hotel. 

Noah’s Ark?!
The boats must have looked out of place even when they were new and freshly painted but with peeling paint and rotten wood they looked as strange as a fish out of water. 

And the point of building a cabin on top of this small boat is?
There were so many weird and wonderful statues and objects – animals, a helicopter, even a small children’s “race” track. 

Dilapidated and rather sad, it was obviously once someone’s very special, extravagant and imaginative dream. 

The gardens are still kept beautifully, the views are to die for, so it’s definitely a place to visit if you tire of the busyness and the hubbub of Georgetown. 

Birthday celebrations in iconic Penang hotel

Our friends visiting from Australia were meeting us in Penang where we planned to spend a few days together before taking a ferry back to Langkawi – our boat being safely ensconced at Rebak Marina.

The “tin can” ferry from Langkawi to Penang
We arrived in Penang from Langkawi in a high speed ferry which was like being transported in a tin can full of people. Our allocated seats were on the lower deck and you could see very little out of the windows as we hurtled through the waves. 

The Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower just by the ferry terminal
As we had never used Air B and B before, and we planned to stay in Langkawi for four nights, we decided it would be a great place to experiment with this new way of getting accommodation. 

Our comfortable but slightly bizarrely decorated apartment
Hiring a two bedroom apartment for four people proved to be economical and gave us the freedom and flexibility that we required. It was easy to organise and pay for and picking up the key proved to be a simple task. 

Hard to see in a photo but our apartment building had a very “out there” design which made it look higgledy piggledy and as if a child had built it! Unnerving!
A short taxi ride from the ferry terminal to the edge of Geogetown took us to our accommodation – one of two towers of brand new apartments which from the outside looked like a futuristic fantasy building with a disconcerting illusion of being crooked. 

The view from our apartment

Inside there were floor to ceiling windows and the apartment was on two levels with a bedroom and bathroom on each level and a comfortable living room/kitchen area on the first level. 

Lovely woodpile but the fireplace was a TV – go figure!
We hired a car for the duration of our stay which proved to be very easy – our car was delivered to our apartment block the first morning and the day we left we met a representative of the hire company outside the ferry terminal and they drove the car back to base. 

Wandering through the streets of Georgetown
With the help of Google Maps we found historic Penang very easy to negotiate.

The first day we wandered the streets to get our bearings. We strolled through Little India, enjoying the spicy smells and the colourful shops. 

Typical shop houses of Penang

Colourful Penang!
That evening we had a birthday drink (for me!) at the historical Eastern Oriental Hotel, established by the same family as the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. 

In the O and E bar

In the O and E
The bar was very atmospheric and no wonder, the likes of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Hermann Hesse had enjoyed a tipple or two there in the past!

Walking through the graceful corridors of the O and E Hotel
We decided to have dinner in the restaurant and enjoyed soaking up the charm and graceful elegance of this iconic hotel. 

A moment of old time romance at the O and E Hotel

Dedicated wine drinkers have lean time in Langkawi 

As we approached the island of Langkawi in Malaysia the clouds started to roll in on the horizon and we could tell that a storm was imminent. Seems to be the story of our life!

Storm clouds roll in over Telaga Harbour

We reduced engine speed and moved at a leisurely pace  to the entrance of Telaga Harbour. 

Before too long they start to clear

Telaga Harbour has an easy entry and having anchored there quite a number of times before we weren’t concerned but there are some quite shallow parts and there are a couple of moorings you don’t want to anchor too close to, so we approached with care. 

Now we can see!

Ten minutes later just as the downpour stopped and the clouds were beginning to clear, we motored in.  

All clear as we enter

Once the boat was settled and we had our obligatory cup of tea, we checked in (so easy at a Telaga Harbour) and then took our dinghy to the dock outside the restaurants where all the super yachts are parked. 
We strolled along the beach past the Danna hotel and visited our friendly car hire lady, Linda who runs one of the restaurants off the beach. 

Walking past the Danna Hotel, Langkawi

Our friends from Australia were coming to stay on the boat in a few days time so we needed to buy provisions, drinks and organise laundry etc. 

Our hire car – only Aus$15 a day!

In the past we had been able to buy as much wine, beer and spirits as we wished in Langkawi but new rules that had been brought in towards the end of 2016, specified that you could only purchase five litres of wine or spirits per person, per month. 

I guess if you love a little rum at sundown or a g and t before dinner, five litres a month would be, for most people, absolutely enough. However, six bottles of wine a month to a dedicated wine drinker is really on the lean side, especially when you are expecting guests!

At each of the outlets on Langkawi where alcohol can be purchased, there is now a Customs agent who checks what you have bought and enters it onto a computer along with your passport information. Yachties can no longer buy wine at the warehouse near the wet market and there is officially no way you can get more wine than your allocated amount. (I’m sure some resourceful people have found a way!).

The beach bar, Rebak Island
Love this view – Rebak Island

As we were meeting our friends in Penang, and needed to make sure the boat was OK while we were away, we pulled up anchor and motored round to Rebak Marina. It was good to be back there and we ended up having a great evening with fellow Sail to Wonderful Indonesia 2015 participants, also at Rebak for a short while. 

He’s got a luverly bunch of coconuts 

 As soon as our new serpentine belt and pulleys for the Balmar alternator were finally installed we dropped our lines and motored out of Boat Lagoon Marina in Phuket, Thailand. 

Sadly, because we had to return to Phuket for repairs our leisurely cruise back to Langkawi, in Malaysia was no longer on the cards as we were due to meet some Australian friends in Penang in just a few days. 

As it was mid afternoon by the time we left the marina and we wanted to make sure everything was working correctly before we ventured too far, we decided to sail just a short way and anchored at the southern end of Koh Yao Yai for the night. 

After anchoring we dived in for a cooling swim and just as we were drying ourselves we received a visitor who arrived by kayak with a lovely bunch of coconuts and a rather fearsome looking cleaver attached to his belt. 

Fortunately Capt’n Birdseye had already met him when I had to go back to England earlier in the year, so I was introduced to “Rocky” as he boarded and quickly realised that there was nothing to fear, despite his appearance. 
He offered us fresh coconuts (for a vastly inflated price) and used his rather scary cleaver to neatly hack them open. 

Rocky drained off the coconut water which was deliciously cold as the coconuts are stored on ice. Then he worked the flesh loose for a delicious snack. 

After a long chat Rocky looked at the clouds gathering and decided to beat a hasty retreat as he had two beach umbrellas open ashore at his “restaurant” (BYO food and he cooks it!).