Brendan joined the boat for a couple of weeks whilst the first mate was visiting family down under. This is his take on the state of affairs:
The Arduous Circumnavigation of Langkawi.
Langkawi is the Main Island in a Archipelago of more than 100 Islands off the Northwest Coast of Malaysia, Latitude 6 deg N, Longitude 100 deg E. So, I arrived into Langkawi Airport from Singapore on Saturday morning 14th November, to find that all routes to Rebak Island Jetty, my rendezvous point with Laragh, were barred due to the Ironman Triathlon! My trustee skipper had advised that the event was on and there could be some difficulties…..seeing as the “Blancmange “man category was closed, there was no possibility of my entering the competition so it was down to guile and persistence to get to the jetty. Having eventually persuaded a trusting ( naive?) taxi driver that there were alternative routes, according to my google maps, we set off for the jetty , assured in the fact that the car would simply bounce of the Ironmen competing. After three police/army/ local militia/ official roadblocks and negotiations, we went via dirt roads, farmyards and fishing creeks to arrive at the jetty, to be greeted by the friendly “round eye” skipper Dave. After negotiating my not inconsiderable case ( and self !…) aboard the dingy, we were Laragh bound!
After much updating and news exchanges, I discovered that the boat was at Def.Con Level Three and in a state of high alert! The defence conditions are set at three levels: Level one , YELLOW, with daily surveillance and manual interventions, aimed at flys and wasps etc,.; Level two, ORANGE with hourly surveillance and chemical weapon interventions, aimed at mosquitos; and Level three, RED, with second by second surveillance and severe chemical weapon intervention, aimed at cockroaches and ANTS!- yes, we had a sugar ant infestation!!!
Def Con three was exercising and agitating the skipper quite a bit and he had declared victory over the intruders at my time of arrival. However, subsequently a patrol was spotted in the cockpit and then aft heads but duly dispatched by the nuclear chemical option. Peace ensued for a few days at least and yet again victory was declared….we shall see…. Time will tell. By way of further explanation of the seriousness of the situation, it is important to relate, that as part of the eradication process and the psychological battle, it is imperative that the appropriate attire is worn when retaliating. This has the effect of instilling terror into the little invaders hearts and indeed any innocent bystander unaware of the conditions demanding such a response. The picture speaks for itself, I think….
Later that afternoon, we weighed anchor ( 30kgs I think!) and were then bound for the exotically named Paradise Blues Bar at a beach on the island of Pulau Singa Besar. Rather than risk eating ashore, which was billed as a pot luck, bring your own event, a marvellous meal was prepared on board by skipper, now turned cordon blue chef, Dave. We went ashore to sample the blues bar to be greeted by a number of wandering yachties and locals- the title Blues Bar and even Paradise were gross exaggerations used to describe a beach hut, barely weather resistant, with an open BBQ fire in the center! However it had a certain piratical charm, with furniture made from driftwood, flags and inscriptions from visiting boats and I could imagine the Long John Silver of the East, Short Lee Jade perhaps?, plotting and planning whilst slugging back tots of rum , singing pirate sea shanties….
On a more serious note, further south along the straits of Melakka, piracy still exists in the form of groups in fast ribs mugging yachts! Difficult to patrol and police these waters with such a vast array of Islands and inlets to hide out.
Ashore at the Paradise Blues Bar, convivial company, a few tunes and beers however met the need and we repaired to the vessel with the tail end of a tropical downpour to (… very slightly!…) dampen our spirits. The show of lightening was spectacular as the thunderstorm rolled off to the south of us, the thunder claps becoming ever more separated from the sheet and forked lightening, briefly turning night into day.
The following day saw us resting, with the anchor chain dangling vertically, unmoved by wind or tidal currents, at the peaceful anchorage off the island surrounded by our yachtie friends and flat calm conditions. After a hearty breakfast and cruise discussion, a clockwise circumnavigation was decided upon and the three hour arduous sailing sea voyage ( …well actually motor…) up to Telaga was embarked upon. It should be noted that these are Jelly Fish infested waters so no morning swim was undertaken, tempting as that might be in 32 Degrees Celcius and no cooling breeze! This sailing is tough stuff and not for the faint hearted!- just a reminder in case any of you kind readers had any other impressions.
Telaga proved itself to be a relatively easy entrance, between two manmade breakwaters. The inner basin entrance is marked with a conspicuous lighthouse ( lit by a domestic 100W light bulb at night!) making easy entry to the basin and marina.
The two manmade breakwater islands provide protection to a nice lagoon fringed by a beach and resort hotel, called the Danna. The inner basin has a large well-appointed marina, fringed by a restaurant and bar development, and an Official building housing customs and Immigration, with a curious clock tower that emits a little jingle before formally ringing out the hour. There was also a fuel dock and facilities for the raggle taggle fishing fleet , that operate ( very vigorously! ) out of that port. Also a mark, some 3 meters above the current water level, on the inner basin Pyle, marks the height to which the water rose during the Tsunami in 2004- you can only imagine the devastation caused- scary!
As I mention the fishing fleet, it was my first time observing the quantity and varying quality of boats. They fish during the hours of darkness for squid, or anything else that moves, using strong green high intensity lamps! The sight is amazing at night as the horizon is lit up with an eerie green glow, punctuated by high intensity beams of green polarised LED light. Up to 40 or 50 vessels could be counted at any one time. Most have large 100hp plus outboard motors and zip in and out as speeds of 20 kts plus. Not a pleasant prospect for a collision! Some of the older vessels have long tail propellers driven by small noisy engines- these are far more sedate in their movements, but alas fast disappearing.
This was to be our base for the next two days and we had a wonderful meal ashore in the Austrian run, Tapaz bar on the edge of the marina. It is noteworthy , at this stage , that the SV Laragh PFN ( Pay For Nothing) ethos is fully satisfied by the shore going activities, as they firmly fall into the PVLFS ( Pay Very Little For Some Things) category! The meal and wine ( BYO from the local Offie – another PFN bonus point!) .came to less than 60 euros for the pair of us. Very good quality and very satisfying all round!!
The following day was one of land exploration and we hired two scooters, Yamaha 125 automatics, with no need of paperwork, passports, licenses, fuel checks etc., for the princely sum of 6 euros …….and hit the hiway north.
Firstly we took in the Langkawi skybridge, a tourist attraction suspension bridge between the twin peaks Gunung Mat Chinchang .The bridge is accessed by a very fine piece of Austrian engineered cable car system by Dopplemeyer. Sadly, the entrance has been developed into a rather tacky theme park of sorts and diminishes expectations. For example, we were led via the queuing process ( long even at 10:30 am so best to get there early!) into a skydome , which showed a computer simulated roller coaster….really?…why not drone footage of the scenic beauty of the Island or indeed the construction of the skybridge, which was some feat itself, lifted in place by Russian helicopters…..opportunity lost in my view. The cable car ride and observation decks gave tremendous views of the island and we were lucky that it was clear. Unfortunately once you reach the top station for the cable care, you must traverse 250 meters of a temporary path through the jungle, while they construct a new automated shuttle of some sort. Bizarrely there is an additional 5 Ringgit ( 1 Euro) charge and a disclaimer to be signed before you can access the skybridge and in reality the whole reason for making the trip….
Next we fired up the hogs and headed up to the seven wells waterfall, about 2 km up the hill from the cable car station. The waterfalls can be observed below as you make the assent in the cable car.! Ringgit later as a parking fee and we were off to the falls, stopping first for a delicious cool coconut, chopped open there on the spot. The falls are spectacular, creating a number of shallow pools and refreshing cascades and it tumbles over the 100m cliff face. Very cooling and refreshing in the jungle heat and we togged off to enjoy them keeping an eye on a cheeky monkey troupe who have a habit of raiding visitor’s bags for food, so don’t bring any!
As we left the falls area, we encountered the troop, hissing and being quite bold. I wished I had a stick but Dave’s crowd control scowl came to the fore, practiced for years controlling unruly first years, and they retreated into the jungle…..result!
Onward from there past the LeFarge Cement factory (!…the only evidence of heavy industry on the island!) and into, what is possibly the nicest resort hotel I’ve ever visited- The Four Seasons. It is designed in Moroccan/Arabic style on the shore of a perfect beach. Well worth a visit!
We returned our bikes rested at that peaceful anchorage until the following day when we actually thought we might be able to sail to our next destination on the North Coast, an anchorage off the Tanjung Rhu resort on the edge of the Klim Geoforest Park and Mangroves, but the wind eluded us and we had to keep motoring. The bay is the entrance to the mangroves and has a wonderful fishfarm , which is also a restaurant, floating in a protected cove on the north east of the bay, where we have a very nice lunch. We even managed a swim in the sea which was devoid of jelly fish in this particular area.
There is also a tourist jetty at the back of the hotel and this is host to hundreds of fast tourist boats zipping in and out of the mangroves and to the various fish farm restaurants in the area. We went ashore to dine in the restaurant at the Tanjung Rhu and it was one of the better meals I’ve had for quality, flavour, service and setting.
A word here about the sea eagles – Helang in Malay means Eagle and Kawi is reddish brown colour, so they are the emblem for Langkawi and give the island its name. The reddish brown eagles (also known as Brahminy Kites) are the most common form and are evident everywhere. We witnessed a spectacular chase and ultimate demise of a local bird in a mid air battle between it and two eagles- it didn’t stand a chance! It is common for the boatmen to feed these guys in the mangrove with scrap food and you can get a really close look at them.
Next day it was onward, round the top of the Island to “the hole in the wall”- a mangrove swamp entrance with an eponymous floating fish farm and restaurant. We went in through a narrow entrance to a lovely lagoon, edged by mangrove swamp, with steep limestone outcrops, and various waterways into the swamp. Quite sad to see a number of yachts tied to moorings, in various states of disrepair, with mildew and moss on the sails and decks, and to all intents and purposes abandoned- shattered dreams of various sorts.
We did dine at a an adjacent rival to the Hole in the Wall Fish farm and restaurant and watch the world float by in various kayaks, dinghys, tourist boats and yachts!
Leaving The Hole In the Wall behind, we headed around the North East Corner of the island towards Kuah, the capital city. We actually managed to get the headsail out for this part of the voyage and had a lovely beam reach in 14KTS down the coast. Kuah is the main ferry terminal for Langkawi and proudly has an enormous concrete statue of a Sea Eagle above the terminal. It is a busy port with some quite substantial amount of shore side hotel development going on. The town itself is uninspiring and in quite bad repair in places. Also it is quite Muslim and bars are few and far between. Our Friday night comprised a meal in a “dry” ( !! ) resort hotel, a wander through a clothes market, accompanied by hymns sung over loud speakers by a local Muslim choir! The main vocalists brought to tears by the hymns on occasions! We did however find a bar selling beer but we were the only customers and it was quite devoid of any kind of atmosphere, with HBO showing Transformers on a large screen to an independent in-house soundtrack of Indian techno music! No wonder there were no customers! Our other attempt at finding a bar led us to the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club , which regrettably was closed due to a large apartment and retail block development on the site.
We went back to the boat to toast the evening’s adventures and drown out the hymns with a JJ Cale soundtrack of our own.
The following morning we weighed anchor and headed down the coast to a beautiful anchorage off the island of Dayang Bunting, which is famous for being the location of the lake of the Pregnant Woman – a great aid to fertility apparently and is a fresh water lake just meters from the sea. There were some nice yachts at anchor and we had a peaceful , restful night. In the morning there was consternation as I tried to fill the coffee pot and heard the clack, clack of a dry running water pump. The water tanks were empty. After a quick investigation, the bilges were full of fresh water. It appears that somebody had an inadvertently long shower- all 480 litres of it! The skippers hair was looking particularly luxuriant that morning…..I wonder why???
As a note to any future visitors to the boat, no matter how long or thick your head of hair, I doubt that you will ever exceed that water consumption of that particular shower……..
So the final leg of the voyage took us to Rebak Island Resort where there is a resort hotel, lifting crane, hard standing and a marina. We arrived just before a massive downpour and plugged in to main electricity whilst filling the fresh water tanks. We dined at the hard Dock Café, which runs a two tier pricing model aimed at the yachties- everything is twice to three times the price in the Resort area. The following morning we had use of the resort pool and even took a swim in the sea, which was warmer than the pool! I somewhat reluctantly left for the airport and Dave made ready for the haul out.
Fair Play to Kat and Dave with 26,000 miles under the keel and now on the homeward leg. It’s a great adventure and testament to their endurance, planning and seamanship !
Altogether a wonderful trip and I look forward to joining the boat in Thailand!’