Go Now or Later?
The 'eagle' is the symbol of Langkawi. Except it isn't an eagle at all but a kite, a Brahminy Kite to be precise. More photos here.
When I first arrived in Langkawi in December last year it was the right season to be leaving, heading west across the Indian Ocean, rather than to be arriving from Aceh. Anjea was in need of maintenance, I was battered and tired from the stress of the previous few months of gearbox troubles and equatorial sailing, and there was no way I was going to immediately turn around and head across the Indian Ocean, so I missed that window.
The alternative route across the Indian Ocean is in the southern hemisphere. That means going back south across the equator before heading west on the back of the South East Trades during the southern winter, and it's a fairly popular route, but I was still working on Anjea when that window closed too. To be honest, I could still have gone but I just didn't want to face the reality of nearly a thousand miles of motoring into the prevailing fickle equatorial southerly breeze to get far enough south to pick up the trade winds. I wimped out and am now once again contemplating a northern hemisphere transit of the Indian Ocean after the cyclone season has passed in December or January. The seasons will have turned full circle, back to where I started one year ago but with my energy back and with Anjea ready for her first ocean transit.
So, having made that decision I am faced with what to do for the next few months. Here in Langkawi it's still the wet season, meaning poor sailing weather. It is a little cooler but airless, humid and oppressive. Everything is the same temperature — 30 degrees — inside, outside, in the sea, everywhere; and just a couple of degrees cooler at night. My next boat will have aircon and an ice-maker. To hell with the environment. But seriously, if I compare my enjoyment of the Australian East Coast south of Tweed Heads with anything north of that, well, from a climate perspective, I guess I am just glued to the milder latitudes. I cannot get used to the idea of working up a sweat while typing.
So, although plans are fluid at present, and though it will take me a while to get there, South Africa is very much where I wanna be next winter. The northern hemisphere route there is simple: leave early January from Langkawi, stop at Sebang (Aceh, Indonesia, beautiful), Maldives, Seychelles (maybe), Madagascar (north west coast only) and across to Richards Bay SA. The interesting bit is getting south across the equator somewhere between Maldives and Seychelles, and then staying far enough north that i am out of the cyclone belt until April/May. Current plans are to leave with at least one other boat heading for Abu Dhabi. We are on the same route as far as Maldives, then I go south.
Planned route from Langkawi to South Africa, leaving January 2020
With everything that's happening in telecoms, space and LEO satellites I am reluctant to buy a sat phone that will be out of date in a year so I will resurrect the old HF radio for weather reporting. It just needs a new aerial, I hope.
Anjea is looking good with new sails and new paint underneath but I am very disappointed with the antifouling — I think they put fertilizer on instead. I scrape the barnacles off weekly because if I leave it any longer they get very big, very attached and very hard to remove. The paint on the bottom is less than 2 months old and just doesn't work. Everyone here swears by Chugoku antifouling, which is what I used, but Anjea is aluminium and so I used their special aluminium antifoul which has no copper, and I think that is the reason. Some aluminium boats use the copper antifouling on the basis that the hull is sealed with an epoxy barrier coat anyway and so should be safe from any electrolytic effects. So far I prefer to stick with manual cleaning rather than risk any corrosion from using copper paint on an aluminium hull.
Right now I am in a quiet anchorage on the north side of an island called Singa Besar. Quiet, that is, until the speed boats arrive with their hoards of tourists headed for Dayang Bunting, which translates as the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. Is there some kind of connection between Dayang Bunting and Mother Mary? Wikepedia says that according to the Quran, divine grace surrounded Mary from birth, and, as a young woman, she received a message from God through the archangel Gabriel that God had chosen her, purified her, and had preferred her above all "the women of the worlds". I leave the rest of any connection to your imagination. Nevertheless, it is an evocative name for a pretty spot that is a must-see for all the tourists, who get ferried out there in a constant stream of speedboats.
The speedboat drivers use this anchorage as a shortcut at high tide and love buzzing the yachts. They travel at 40 knots so when one goes past just a few metres away it's fucking frightening. At least, it was the first time but there are so many that I've gotten used to it, sort of. Ahh yes, I am told, this is paradise, the Caribbean of the east, and that's how they drive speedboats in the Caribbean so that's how we drive them here! One day one of them will misjudge something — the tide or a yacht, or not see a dinghy or paddleboard. Safety here is lax. Since I arrived there have been two boat fires: one was a ferry just leaving Langkawi. Everyone jumped in the water and was safely picked up, but the boat was a write-off. The other was a 35m privately owned charter boat that caught fire on the hard. A live-aboard boat-boy died in that one, trapped in the locker in which he tried to escape the smoke. There will be an investigation so maybe some tighter regulations will come of it. I just hope it doesn't take a similar tragedy for them to work out that speedboats full of tourists should probably work to reduce their risks no matter how thrilling it might be for the drivers to scoot thru narrow mangrove passages just a few inches deep at high tide and buzz the yachts anchored on the other side.
While Anjea was in Rebak Marina, the guy who did most of the work on her kept inviting me to join one of their music nights and I failed to go along for one reason or another. Rebak is an island resort with a marina and hard-stand area. It is colloquially referred to as Prison Island. The only way on or off, apart from your own boat, is to use their ferry service, which connects with Langkawi at a fairly isolated jetty about 20 km from Kuah. There are taxis and Grab cars at the jetty, and you can even hire a car there, but it adds up to a sufficient barrier to imprison unmotivated guests on the island. Frederick, the welder, was insistent though and finally managed to motivate me enough to hitch a ride with a bunch of regulars to 'Lot 5' on a Wednesday night. It turned out to be a delightful evening with a very relaxed bunch of musicians, most of whom were yachties, supplemented by 'Zero' a local guy with a Ukelele and falsetto voice who was very, very good. If you're old enough you might be thinking Tiny Tim, but Zero is different -- no camp humour, just good music.
Now that I've escaped from Prison Island I use Kuah as my base for some social life and to raid Billion, the local supermarket, for fresh food. My Kuah social life centers around Walter and Jacqie on Jean Marie, and the unlikely-sounding Scarborough Fish and Chips shop where Frederick heads another bunch of muso yachties on a Sunday night. There's an open mike, so people just put their names on a board and everyone gets a chance. The standard varies, of course, from professional musos down to wannabes who never should have come out from under the shower but Frederick manages it all quite well, covering for those with less talent and handing the floor to those who can handle it. The music is a bit too loud for the tiny space but it's all good fun until I've had too much and have to escape back to the peace of Anjea anchored in the bay.
Frederick and his wife Rosie are yachties who have put down roots here in Langkawi. They have a beautiful yacht and run an excellent welding and fabrication service. On top of that they perform three times a week. Well, Frederick plays and Rosie sings occasionally, spending most of her time socializing and keeping things moving. Where they find the energy for it all is a mystery. Maybe they get all those good vibrations from playing, like meditation, I really don't know, but Sunday nights at Scarborough have become a fixture for me, like the old days when we'd troop along to Frank Traynor's place in Melbourne to see Margaret Roadknight, Danny Spooner and whoever else showed up.
As you can see, life here is quite relaxed just now: Anjea is looking good, her owner is feeling unusually positive, and the only 'problem' is what to do for the next few months till I head for South Africa. Hmmmm...