Friday 14th January 2011 - Phuket, Thailand
Just a short update to start off the year as we are busy getting ready to set off again.
We had a great time in Bangkok over Christmas and New year where we met up again with our yachty friends Dave and Emma (Five Flip Flops). Had a really nice traditional Christmas Dinner cooked by Kevin And Rachael and generally did lots of eating and drinking as one does over the festive period. We got back to the boat on 3rd January after (yet another) overnight bus journey and since then we have been provisioning and getting the boat ready to set off across the Indian Ocean.
Everything is just about ready now and the weather forecast looks OK, so we should be leaving for the Maldives tomorrow morning. We will stop there for a short break and then head onwards towards the Mediterranean. Cannot say too much about that at the moment as we do not want to tip off the Somali pirates about where we are.
Not sure when we will be able to do the next update but hopefully we will then be through the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea.
Sunday 21st February 2011 - Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka
Major change of plan! We are no longer heading to the Mediterranean, we are on our way back to Thailand.
We set off as planned from Phuket on 15th January and had a fast passage with good winds most of the way. The first port of call in The Maldives for the TTT Convoy was to be Kulhudufushi. As we would be arriving in the dark we hove to overnight and started to make our way into the harbour on 28th January. There were a few convoy boats ahead of us and they should have been in the harbour already but we could not raise anyone on the VHF. On checking email we found that some boats had been there but were told they could only stay for three days and then they would have to leave the Maldives. The alternative was to pay in excess of US$500 for a cruising permit. One boat had paid this fee but the others had left and headed to Uligamo - the northernmost island where boats in transit are usually allowed to stay a little longer. As the TTT convoy was not due to leave the Maldives until 10th Febuary and we did not want to spend $500 we also went up to Uligamo where we anchored in a nice patch of sand between the coral.
Customs and Immigration in Uligamo were very friendly and explained to us that we could officially stay for three days - then we would have to clear out. However, it would not be a problem if we checked out and then stayed for a couple more days. If we then wanted to stay longer we could write a letter to customs and request an extension of stay to complete repairs. It seems the people of Uligamo are keen for yachts to be able to stay longer than the official three days allowed and were finding ways to bend the rules for us.
Uligamo is a small island with a population of about 400 and only a couple of small grocery shops. We were however able to get diesel and water which the locals ferried out to us in the anchorage. We also managed to refill some gas bottles by hanging a local gas bottle in a tree and connecting our own bottles using a pipe and fittings (courtesy of Brian on "Songster" ). This was made more exciting as the sealing washer from one of the fittings was missing so we had to make a new one from some rubber hose. The seal was far from perfect and the transfer was made with quite a bit of liquid gas dripping onto the sand. Despite our concerns about piracy on the next leg of our passage we had a good time in Uligamo. The locals organised a beach barbeque for all the yachties and another night there was a traditional Maldive dinner. We also went on a boat trip to a couple of the nearby islands and did a bit of snorkelling amongst the coral.
When we arrived in Uligamo there were about ten boats in the anchorage. This number grew over the next few until there were in excess of thirty boats all with the intention of heading towards the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. By this time, about half of the TTT convoy boats had arrived in Uligamo but quite a few were stuck in Sri Lanka with repairs to carry out and waiting for bad weather to pass. Everyone was concerned about the increasing levels of piracy in the Indian Ocean. Each day we would all meet on the beach to discuss the latest news and information coming from the relevant European and U.S. agencies responsible for maritime safety in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean - UKMTO, MSCHOA, EU Navfor and MARLO. We had a couple of telephone conference calls with naval officers at UKMTO and with the American Navy at MARLO. The news was never good and the advice we received was always "DO NOT GO - we cannot offer you any protection".
When we signed up with the TTT convoy the danger area for piracy was considered to be between Salalah in Oman and the Red Sea. It was here that we planned to sail in a close convoy with other boats. We had always planned to sail from the Maldives to Salalah independantly. The situation now was different - there were increasing numbers of piracy attacks all over the Indian Ocean between the west coast of India and the African coast. It was looking increasingly unwise to continue. We discussed sailing in a small convoy with a few other boats and for a time this seemed like a good plan. Most of the yachties considered the risk of a pirate attack on a yacht to be small. The pirates are really looking for merchant ships where they can demand a huge ransom and it will usually be paid by the insurance companies. There had been an attack on a South African yacht in 2010 and the Chandlers had been attacked in 2009 - both these attacks had been close to the African coast. We continued to agonise over what to do for days until we eventually decided that we would not continue. The risk may be low, but the consequences of a pirate attack would be decidedly unpleasant - at the very least, a long period of captivity and a lot of worry for our friends and relatives. We made the decision to return to Thailand or Malaysia where we can wait for a while to see if the situation improves. Most of the other boats that we know well have also decided not to sail up to the Mediterranean this year. Some are cruising in the Maldives or touring in India before returning to Thailand/Malaysia, some are going to head south and go around the Cape of Good Hope. Others are planning to ship their boats on a yacht transport ship - expensive, but a safe way to get to the Mediterranean. Some yachts did decide to carry on and we hope that they have a safe passage. Unfortunately we heard yesterday that four Americans from s/v Quest have been taken hostage about 240 miles off the Omani coast - we can only hope they are released soon.
(Update: 7th September 2011 - Unfortunately, on our way back to Thailand we heard that all four American sailors had been killed by their captors. Shortly after that, a Danish yacht was hijacked and seven people including 4 teenagers were taken hostage. They are still being held captive somewhere in Somalia.)
Once our decision to return to Thailand was made we both felt a lot happier and, as the weather forecast was looking OK, we set off the following morning. The trip back to Thailand was never going to be easy during the NE monsoon season - the winds and the current would both be against us. Initially we had very light winds and were struggling to motor at more than 3 knots against the current. After a couple of slow gruelling days the wind picked up and although it was forward of the beam we were able to sail and picked up some more speed. Our original plan was to go straight back to Thailand but as the forecast was not looking too good we decided to stop for a few days in Sri Lanka.
We arrived in Galle on 11th January and after a quick check by the Sri Lankan Navy we were allowed into the harbour. We had to use an agent to clear in here (US$200 - including 1 months harbour fees). Our agent, Nana quickly had all the paperwork sorted and we endured a visit by the rather surly customs officers who (as we had been warned) wanted "gifts" of cigarettes or spirits. Fortunately we had been told about a sign at the harbour entrance that states that "offering or accepting bribes is a punishable offence". I explained this to the customs officers and they left (unhappily) with nothing.
Apart from the unpleasant experience with customs we have enjoyed our stay in Sri Lanka. We had a night out at the Closenberg Hotel - an old colonial building but a little tired right next to the port. Another night we took a tuktuk down the road to Unawatuna where we had a few beers and dinner on the beach. We wandered around Galle town and the Fort and we have just returned from a quick four day tour. We arranged the tour with Marlin. He hangs around outside the harbour gate and can arrange most things - he also lent us a local SIM card so we can access the internet (slowly). The transport was a minivan and our driver was a nice guy called Ramsi. His driving is better than most of the Sri Lankans, his English is OK and most of the time we could just about understand each other. We stopped for Water Buffalo curds with honey on the way up to Ella where we stayed for the first night up in the mountains. The following morning we took the train from Ella to Nuwarra Eliya. The railway line runs along a ridge high up in the mountains and the scenery is spectacular. Ramsi met us with the van and we continued on through the tea plantations with a stop at Mackwoods tea factory. We saw how tea is processed and had a nice cuppa with some chocolate cake. Our second night was at the Serani Hotel in Kandy and included a trip to see some traditional dancing and a visit to the Tooth Temple where the tooth of Buddha is stored in great splendour. The next day we drove up to Dambulla to visit the Rock Temple and then on to Sigiriya for a quick look at the huge rock outcrop that once had a fortress built on top. We returned to Kandy for the night where we stayed at the Thilanka Hotel and enjoyed a few (expensive) beers in the bar. The following day we returned to Galle with a stop at the Pinnawalla Elephant Orphanage and lunch in a roadside cafe where we ate spicy food with the locals. Before we got back to the boat Ramsi took us to his village where there was a festival in progress (Mohammed's birthday celebrations). He showed us the mosque and we went to his house where we met his wife, his two daughters and his son. We had tea and cake and then we went to his sisters house (next door) where we had more cake and were offered more tea. Next we went to his parents house (next door again) this time we just said hello before we headed back to the boat.
After our busy but very enjoyable tour we are now having a quiet day - we'll probably go up to the Closenburg Hotel for a few beers tonight. The boat is refueled and the water tanks topped up and we plan to leave for Thailand in a couple of days. Then we'll have to decide what to do next - we have a few ideas that we are mulling over but we are definitely not going up to the Red Sea while the piracy problem persists.
Friday 8th April 2011 - Puteri Harbour, Malaysia
The passage from Sri Lanka back to Phuket was not too bad considering we did it during the North East monsoon. That means we were sailing against both wind and current. We motored into the wind for the first 24 hours just to get away from the Sri Lankan coast and then began sailing with wind from the North East. This pushed us further south than we really wanted to go and put us firmly in the main shipping lanes. Later the wind became more easterly so we tacked and started to head north. This moved us out of the shipping lanes but for about 24 hours we made very little progress towards our destination. The winds were light but gradually the direction became more favourable and we made slow progress towards Phuket. Eventually we reached the point where we had enough fuel to motor the rest of the way and, as the wind died away completely, that is what we did for the last three days of the passage. We endured one final thunderstorm 10 miles out and then motored into Ao Chalong to drop anchor at 0015 on 9th March. We felt relieved to be back and sat in the cockpit drinking beer for an hour before falling into bed.
We spent a week in Ao Chalong and enjoyed visiting our favourite bars before we sailed around to Patong bay for a few days. Whilst in Patong we met up with Frank (Morning Light) and his new crew member Rachel - they had been sailing up the Thai coast and were on their way back to Malaysia when they happened to anchor next to us. We also had visitors - Dave and Emma (Five Flip Flops) flew down from Bangkok and stayed with us for three days. A great time was had visiting various bars and restaurants in Patong town. After Dave and Emma left we motored back round to Ao Chalong for a few days before heading south to Langkawi in Malaysia.
After a lively overnight sail to Langkawi we anchored outside Telaga marina and cleared into Malaysia. We stayed in Telaga for three nights and in between heavy rain storms we managed to stock up with duty free beer, have a couple of nights out and refuel before continuing further south. With very little wind we motored overnight to Pulau Pangkor where we anchored for the night - well, most of the night. The anchorage became so rolly and uncomfortable that we decided to leave at 0500 and continue on our way. We motored in light winds for the next two days. It was quite a relaxing passage until the autopilot, which had been having intermittent problems since we were in Indonesia, decided to stop working all together. So, we were kept busy hand steering for the last two hundred miles.
We spent a pleasant afternoon and night anchored off Pulau Pisang before a 0600 start to motor thirty five miles up to Puteri Harbour. Strummer is now safely berthed in the marina and we are making preparations to leave the boat here for a while.
Since deciding in The Maldives to turn back we have been considering what we should do next. Should we sell the boat and go back to normal life? Should we keep the boat and see if the piracy situation in the Indian Ocean improves? Should we sail to South Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and then on to Brazil and the Caribbean? We have not really made any firm decisions yet.
What we have decided to do is go back to England to visit our families and friends - it is about four years since we were last there. We fly from Singapore to Manchester next Thursday and will be back home for about three weeks.
Saturday 4th June 2011 - Bangkok, Thailand
Our trip back to England went really well and we managed to see most of our friends and relatives while were there. We flew back out to Malaysia on the 8th May and spent three days sorting things out on the boat. We then flew up to Bangkok where we are now renting an apartment in the Trendy Condominium. We have decided to take a break from sailing for a while and we'll wait to see if the piracy situation improves.
What are we going to do while we are waiting? Here is the plan; on 4th July we start a four week CELTA course where we will learn how to teach English as a foreign language. If that goes well and we pass the course we'll then be looking for jobs as English teachers here in Thailand - apparently there are always plenty of English teaching jobs here. So that will give us something to do while we are waiting here and earning a bit of money will be useful as well. We'll see how that goes for a year or two and then decide what to do next. If the piracy situation is resolved then we will probably sail up the Red Sea back to the Mediterranean. If the piracy situation continues then we might sail down through Indonesia, across to South Africa and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. Nothing is decided yet.
So, no sailing for a while. We'll only update the website occasionally (if anything interesting happens) until we start sailing again.
Wednesday 7th September 2011 - Bangkok, Thailand
The CELTA course was the most intensive course either of us has ever done. For four weeks we worked every day (including weekends) and most days we were working until about midnight. We only allowed ourselves some time off on Friday and Saturday nights - you've got to relax some time! Anyway, the hard work paid off in the end and we both got pass B grades (pretty good grades as very few people get a pass A).
After the course we spent a couple of days down in Pattaya - very touristy and we probably wont bother going there again, but it was nice to relax for a while after such a busy month. Then it was back to Bangkok to begin the job search, and start to find our way around the sometimes murky world of English teaching in Thailand. We were both offered jobs quite quickly but they were of the "Can you teach this class tomorrow?" variety. This seems quite common out here - a school or an agency has a teacher leave and they want a replacement immediately. Often these positions are part time and there is no work permit provided (i.e. they are asking you to work illegally).
We decided not to rush into the first jobs that came along. This seems to have paid off as we have both been offered jobs at Wall Street Institute which is a well known language school with branches in many different countries around the world. It seems to be a very professional operation - we have a days induction course on Friday followed by a week of training before we are let loose with the students. Hopefully we will both get on well in our new teaching roles.
We have been talking a lot about what we should do over the next few years. We are now living in an air-conditioned apartment in the centre of one of the most exciting cities in the world. There are hundreds of bars and restaurants within half a mile of where we live and there are loads of places in Asia that we would still like to visit. The piracy situation is, if anything, getting worse and thought of going back to the liveaboard life is becoming less and less appealing. We are now thinking seriously about selling the boat.
So, this looks like the end of our big sailing adventure and the start of new land based adventures here in Thailand. We are really looking forward to it. We need to spend a few months getting used to our new jobs, and then we'll go down to Puteri Harbour for a week to get the boat ready for sale.