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Malaysia - 2011

April 18, Telaga Harbour, Langkawi

After our sad goodbye with Joel, Dave and I readied Baraka for our trip south, back to Malaysia. The southwest monsoons seem to be arriving early this year, with daily and nightly squalls. We worked our way south, anchoring overnight at South Koh Yai, then a south harbor on Koh Lanta, and finally tucked into a small pretty cove on the west side of Koh Tarutao. Squalls blew up during the nights, with flashing lightning, churning the anchorages and making us glad we’d watched the weather and picked the protected sides of islands. In today’s squall, I spotted a waterspout, connecting a black cloud to the roiling sea.

We rounded the corner into Telega Harbour, Langkawi, where we cleared back into Malaysia. Tomorrow we’ll head across to little Rebak Island where we will park Baraka for the SW monsoon season. Mixed feelings - we enjoy cruising these lovely islands, but the weather change has brought too many sleepless nights at anchor.

April 19 - Baraka back at Rebak

Another hour motoring brought us to back to Rebak. We left in late January for Thailand, after prepaying 6 months moorage here through the rainy SW monsoon season, which starts now.

Rebak is very protected. The jetty opens to the south, but several bends protect the boat basin deep within the island. This marina was wiped out by the Boxing Day Tsunami, but short of an catastrophe like that, the moorage is good. Rebak has excellent amenities, a small chandlery, a small grocery, the affordable Hard Dock Café, use of the adjoining resort pool, showers, laundry, a small gym, free wifi, and an hourly free ferry to the neighbor island Langkawi, where anything may be found. We plan to mix our time here with small boat projects and travel journeys, a visit home and some trips in SE Asia, until the next cruising season in late fall, when Baraka will sail again, likely back to Thailand.

April 28 - Rebak Sojourn Continues

Days drift by. We are working on boat projects, story of our life. Actually, one of the reasons that this life appeals is that there is a never-ending list of maintenance and improvement projects for the boat, and both Dave and I enjoy doing them. I am stripping old cetol off the handrails and “eyebrow” and will repaint, again with cetol. Now that the decks are beautiful, adjoining ugly bits seem apparent. Because of the heat, I can only work early morning or late afternoon, so the work goes in small spurts.

Yesterday we rented a Mr. Din car for 40 ringgit - $13. Mr. Din meets the Rebak ferry and hands you the keys, no contract, insurance, or license required. First stop is the gas station. Mr. Din’s cars have empty tanks. Then we hit Chin Ho for hardware, the chandlery for a replacement engine blower, got haircuts, photocopies and computer paper, hit the ATM for cash, AG Onestop for bacon and coffee beans, the warehouse for a case of white wine, Dominos for lunch, then the Chinese grocery for cheese, margarine, and a small bakery for baguettes. Fridays I take the ferry in to meet the Veggie Man, who arrives in his van with fresh produce. There is no simple visit to a one-stop grocery for all your shopping needs, but we enjoy the scavenger hunt approach.

Our big news is that we have booked a long trip home - 3 months this summer. We are looking for a place to stay and will have to buy a car. This will give us a good chance to spend time with friends and family, and work on house and yard maintenance. Joel advises we will have sticker shock - we have gotten spoiled by SE Asia where everything is within our budget.

May 13 - Parked at Rebak

Little by little we have morphed from cruising sailboat to liveaboard. Awnings appeared, and rigging lines are coiled. We will remove the furling sails and stow them below. I am hard at work stripping and refinishing teak, then sewing sunbrella covers so I won’t have to do it again for a long time. Other boats trickle in to Rebak and are doing the same, or stay a few days and head south to Lumut, where they can be cheaply hauled out at Pangkor Island Marina. It’s the time of year when no one is cruising - squally SW monsoon. It is hot and muggy, and the weather makes the teak work slow going. Many cruisers, like us, are planning trips home.

Meanwhile the resort seems fairly busy, as Malaysians escape the city heat in KL, or come for honeymoons. We are intrigued by the variety of visitors - ranging from Europeans in thong bikinis to conservative Muslim women in full black burkas, faces veiled, perched on the beach chairs next to spouses in singlets (tank tops) and shorts. A lot of Indian families also come, the ladies in lovely saris, some with henna-tattooed arms and legs. We keep to the marina side of the island most of the time, except late afternoon when the yachties converge on the resort pool. We also mix with the resort guests when we ride the passenger ferry to Langkawi once a week.

May 30-31 - Georgetown

Now you may think Baraka is on a perpetual vacation, but this lifestyle has its own stresses and plenty of sweat equity. So every now and again we need a "vacation" away from boatwork. A few days ago we took the Rebak ferry to Langkawi and hopped a Firefly jet to Penang ($50 RT). We took the free shuttle to downtown Georgetown. Harmonie accompanied us. We again stayed at the delightful Yeng Keng on Chulia Street.

Around the corner we had a tasty tandoori chicken lunch, then strolled on to Hong Giap Hang shop on Jalan Penang. Don and Ann quickly found a wonderful carved teak elephant from Chiang Mai, while I was torn between too many choices. The shop is practically a museum, with quality art and crafts from SE Asia. I especially like the primitive carvings from Sumatra and Borneo

Next stop was Wuyi Tea Art on Campbell Street, where we again met our "tea lady", a young Chinese Malay who expertly helped us pick out teas, and served us a liesurely variety of very fine ones. We wandered around town exploring temples and shops, and taxied to That Little Wine Cafe for dinner. The next morning we finalized our purchases at Hong Giap Hang, then taxied up Penang Hill to ride the funicular to the top. The funicular is recently re-opened with spanking new equipment. Near the base is a highrise parking garage, closed because it is falling apart. Malaysia is full of these contrasts.

At the top are several temples, Islam, Hindu. Buddhist, and great views over Penang.

We also visited a new marina on the north side of the island, currently being dredged. It looks promising - much better protected than the dicey downtown marina. Fun trip! And nice to have a night off the boat for a change of scenery.

At Wuyi Tea Art tea cakes line the walls...

...and our tea lady serves samples of the best.

We explore the Yap Temple...

...then catch the funicular up Penang Hill...

...with its Hindu Shrine...

...and guardian Ganesh.

Don and Ann select a Chiang Mai elephant...

...which shows up in the airport security scanner.

June 3 - The Veggie Man

Every Friday morning the 8:45 am Rebak ferry is packed full. The marina ladies and a few of the men grab their shopping bags and ride to the Langkawi landing, where a smart local entrepreneur known as The Veggie Man drives up in his white van. A chain gang forms to unload cardboard and insulated foam boxes of fresh vegetables, fruits and other goodies, mostly imported and very high quality. The boxes are laid in rows on the ground behind the van. Then each shopper grabs a plastic basket and fills it. Nothing is priced, and you never know what will be available. Snow peas! Grapefruit! Beautiful tomatoes and lettuces, ginger root, even eggplant. There are even frozen meats and delectable cheeses.

The Veggie Man sets up a scale in the back of his van, and sitting on a short stool, tallies up our treasures. When we have paid, we sit around tables in a shelter at the ferry landing, and have a gossip hour awaiting the return ferry. This is the social forum for finding the outboard mechanic in Langkawi, how to renew visas, and good budget hotels in Penang. Someone always has the answer to any question.

A 10-minute free ferry ride home, and the fridge is stocked for another week.

June 11 - Life on the Hard

Baraka is landbound, hauled out "on the hard" while we travel home for a few months. This morning the crew here at Rebak picked her up gently and efficiently, best haulout experience we have had in any country. A diver in the water made sure the slings were placed correctly. A good experience.

Dave just hooked up power so we can run the AC overnight. No refrigeration though - that system is water (seawater) cooled. We have to climb down the ladder to use shoreside facilities, and everything is awkward - grey water (dishes) must be captured rather than run out the hull.

The oddest thing is we both have a sensation of movement, though we know the boat is solidly fixed on jackstands. For many months we have grown accustomed to the slight roll of the boat, and now that is stopped, our body memory is still compensating.

Tomorrow we fly home: ferry to Langkawi, then flights to Penang, Singapore, Narita, Seattle. The souvenirs are packed, boat moth-balled. Dave and I have completed a lot of projects, and we are leaving Baraka in excellent shape in this secure setting. It still feels a bit sad to say goodbye (albeit temporarily) to our home.

June 17 - Life on the Easy

After a ferry and four flights (and, for Dave, seven! movies), we landed in Seattle. Family met us, Dad and Isabel, brother Rolfe and son Joel, a wonderful welcome home. We drove north to our new mooring, a very comfortable apartment in the home of a super nice couple. Malinda had already stocked the fridge and provided everything we needed for the first couple days, and Dad loaned us a TV, something we’ve seen rarely these past 5 years.

Within another day we found Caraka, a 1998 RAV4 in need of a little TLC, but the price is right. Our next adventure was the American grocery store. OMG! Everything is available, foods we haven’t seen for a very long time. Dave found himself loading the cart with big quantities of the same item, until he realized we can buy these things anytime we want! We are in the land of indulgences.

Another huge change is that it is summer here, but chilly to our thinned blood. It seems odd to take a hot shower, and to wear long pants and socks. Upside, the weather allows us to be active outside during the day hours. I am looking forward to getting my bicycle out.

These next 3 months I’ll sporadically update this blog, but because Baraka is parked, there will be no cruising updates until mid-September.

August 24 - Oak Harbor Yacht Club

Longtime friends Steppe and Mary invited us to speak about our Pacific passage at the Oak Harbor Yacht Club on Whidbey Island, where Steppe is Vice Commodore. The event was well attended, and the audience engaged, asking many excellent questions. Very gratifying for us! We love any chance to talk about our travels, and to pass along information as so many other cruisers have done for us.

September 17 - Back at Rebak

We are back home aboard Baraka after 3 months away to Seattle. Easy trip back - long flights to Narita, then Singapore, where we spent a comfortable night inside the airport transit hotel, then two more short flights to Penang, then Langkawi, where we caught a taxi, and finally a ferry back to Rebak Island.

Baraka is on the hard. After being closed up for 3 months, the boat is musty and hot. We hooked up power and got fans going. Dave worked some more, and soon we were charging batteries and able to turn on the air conditioner, yeah! It is hot and humid. We have a few days of work before we can drop back into the water and resume a more normal life. No refrigeration or toilet on the boat in the yard. Dave plans to replace 2 thru-hulls, we will have the boat surveyed (an insurance requirement), paint the bottom and replace zincs. Hopefully by mid-week we can be afloat again and settled in. Good to be back - so far there are no obvious boat issues, but it will be another week before we can completely test out all systems.

September 29 - Buoyant again

After a sticky week in the yard, Baraka was lifted in the slings for a final splash of paint under the jackstand pads. Then the yard crew rolled Baraka to the slipway and gently lowered her back into her natural element. Dave and I climbed aboard. After he checked the two new thru-hulls (yeah! no leaks) and burped the shaft gland, we were ready to fire up the engine. No hesitation, the Perkins started immediately. There is always considerable suspense when the boat has been left this long. Will all the systems come back? So far the answer has been yes. We motored slowed back into our slip where we were welcomed by the residents of B dock. Nice to be afloat again, and enjoying the slight dance of a watercraft.

We made a Mr. Din run to Kuah town, where we restocked the fridge and wine locker. I had run out of creative things to do with a can of olives and a bottle of ketchup!

We are hearing from friends - making plans to freight to the Med, or sail around South Africa. Some are already in Phuket, getting boat work done in anticipation of a long passage. No one is talking this year of sailing up the Red Sea.

Our short term plans are to extend a bit longer here at Rebak to permit land travel to Cambodia in November. Then we will sail again to Thailand.

October 5 - Crossroads

This past week Dave and I have started talking about sailing on sometime next year, from SE Asia, toward South Africa. We had not seriously considered this direction before. On the plus side, it would be a new adventure into places we have not been. We could spend a month in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Chagos, which can only be reached by private boat, and visit the French territories of Mauritius and Reunion. We’d arrive in South Africa late in 2012.

Downside, these are long passages, and commits us to the even longer one across the south Atlantic, from South Africa to the Caribbean.

We were recently advised that if you have a boat you can sail it, ship it, sell it or sink it. Shipping has proven too expensive, and we are far from ready to part with Baraka. That leaves "sail it". As usual, when we have spent enough time landlocked in marinas, we are itchy to set out again.

Standard disclaimer: all Baraka plans are written in sand below the high water mark. We will spend the next few weeks gathering information and listening to others. So far, of the dozen boats we know headed this direction, no two are planning the same route or timing.

October 22 - preliminary prep

We seem to have made the decision to head to S Africa in 2012, which is shaping our days here at Rebak. We spend the mornings surfing the web, gathering info about visas, weather, radio nets, and routes. There is a healthy exchange of information among the cruisers, some already in S Africa now, others in similar planning stages.

Dave and I are reviewing the boat systems to determine which need updating before passagemaking. Several small projects are underway.

We have printed the provisioning list and are reviewing it to evaluate quantities needed, and where we will buy them. The major provisioning stops (at the moment) will likely be Phuket, Langkawi, Singapore, Cocos Keeling, Mauritius before the final leg to Richards Bay, over a period of 9 months. Dave has calculated the miles, and the number of engine oil changes given motoring versus sailing assumptions. The cheapest place to buy engine oil is here at Langkawi. Do we have room to carry the supply needed all the way to S Africa? I am making similar assumptions about everything from toothpaste to flour. Cocos Keeling (part of Australia) will confiscate all fresh and frozen foods, so that is part of the equation. Chagos, where we hope to spend 2 months, will have nothing, no shore facilities on any kind, so from Cocos Keeling to Mauritius, we will need fresh food aboard for nearly 3 months. Nothing keeps that long - we will be down to canned goods for 2 months, including 2 long passages.

This stage of planning is fun - we are not yet making decisions, and don’t need to make a final commitment until sometime early next year.

Possible route to South Africa.

October 30 - Visa Run to Penang

Dave and I flew to Georgetown, Penang. Our Firefly tickets were cheap, less than $100 roundtrip for the 2 of us. We splurged and stayed once again at the lovely Yeng Keng, where they upgraded us to the Garden Suite. Suite!

We had flown down to apply for Thai visas. Thailand offers a 30 day visa upon entry, but we wanted the 60 day tourist visa, extendable to 90 days. The longer tourist visa allows the captain of a yacht to leave Thailand without having to put the boat into bond, an expensive formality, and we hope to go to Cambodia. Last year the Thai visa was free, but now it is 110 ringgit, almost $40.

Penang is fun, lots to do. We visited the Penang Peranakan Museum, a restored Straits Chinese mansion, and the over-the-top decorated Khoo Kongsi Klan house, one of the oldest Penang clans, still active today. Dave and I enjoyed some tasty meals, roasted pork at the Sky Hotel, and a delicious dinner at the Tek Sen, both packed with locals who know a good thing. I bought some embroidered shirts from India, and a cool primitive carving from Borneo. Mostly we wandered down twisty streets, enjoying the shophouse architecture and variety of tiny shops. Penang sidewalks are a nightmare to navigate, as businesses spill out the doorways and block passage, forcing pedestrians out into the chaotic streets. Underfoot and overhead there are many obstacles to bang into and trip over. The arched walkways were designed for shorter people a century ago, so we duck our heads every few yards.

Penang has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means that a lot of the historic shophouse architecture is being preserved, attracting more tourism to this delightful town. No all shop owners embrace the concept, as it means expense with little return, especially for the non-tourist business.

Once again we visit the delightful Yeng Keng...

...a beautifully restored hotel in Georgetown.

Time for roast pork lunch at the Sky Hotel.

We walk off lunch looking at scenic Georgetown.

A typical archtitectural detail in Georgetown is the pair of open butterfly-shaped vents on either side of a doorway. Georgetown has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, which means that many of these features will be preserved.

It pays to look up.

We visit a restored Peranakan mansion.

Fresh eggs are arrive at a wholesaler...

...and are quickly delivered by moto.

The ducks look tasty, but we are still full from lunch...

...saving our appetites for a feast at Tek Sen.

Carved lions guard a shop.

Dave checks out carvings and joss sticks.

My favorite doorway in Penang.

Characteristic Georgetown shophouses line every street.

Many are being restored to former glory...

...but Dave won't let me buy one.

Temple roofs have protective dragons.

We visit the Khoo Kongso Klan House.

with its ornate detail,

including fancy rooftops,

and deep relief carved columns.

Inside are a series of 36 unique paintings, each showing a warrior of a different mount, holding a different weapon. This one is mounted on a zebra.

November 11 - More Africa Preparations

Every day we line a few more projects off the offshore prep list. Several relate to securing items better, as we may have rowdy seas as we approach South Africa. By now we are a solid offshore boat, but there is always room for improvement. Dave made a system for securing the aft cockpit lockers, and I added some strapping for interior drawers. These have never come free before in any seas we have had, but it’s good to know we won’t have to worry about them. Dave is learning to use OpenCPN for navigation, and I installed GPSUtility (to convert tracks) and GPSGate (to allow a single GPS to feed 2 applications by simulating additional com ports). Dave also captured a bunch of Google Earth images to supplement our charts for specific anchorages. Google Earth is an amazing resource to cruisers, though we have to capture the images while we still have internet access.

Meanwhile we continue to research the options and timing for our passages. We considered taking a northern route, stopping at the Maldives, but the more we read from Noonsite and sailing blogs, the less attractive it sounds. The Maldives do not welcome cruisers, preferring fly-in tourists as a more lucrative revenue source. So we are leaning toward a southern route. Australia will allow us to apply online for visas for Cocos Keeling, and I am trying to get a response from AQIS, OZ Customs, about what they will confiscate upon arrival.

Shorter term, yachts currently in Phuket report that store shelves are bare, due to continued flooding in northern Thailand. So we will stock up here more than we had planned before working our way north in early December.

November 20 - Telaga Harbour

Baraka finally managed to free herself from Rebak Marina, though not without drama. On the way out of our slip, a loop around a fender caught on a cleat, and slightly bent a stanchion before we realized. Easily fixed, but arrgggh, we should have seen the possibility. We motored a short hour up to Telega Harbour, where we were assigned a slip. We will hunker here a couple days while a weather system blows through, then clear out of Malaysia for Thailand. By coming here from Rebak, we can take on fuel and provision the boat. Our cupboards are bare, and Thailand is more expensive than duty-free Langkawi, especially for imported foods. Nice to be moving again! I told Dave that when we took all the shade awnings down, there was a boat under there!

November 22 - some rambling

Right before leaving Rebak we enjoyed a couple dinners with cruising friends. The topic drifted to travel, and how it shapes impressions. It seems that the more we learn, the less we know. We are interpreting what we see through our western filters, which distorts any truth.

I struggle to understand the Muslim headscarf - the tudung. Here most Muslim women beyond puberty wear them, and they have become much more prevalent in Indonesia and Malaysia since 911. As Europe moves toward banning headscarves, Asia seems to embrace them.

So are they a symbol of modesty and piety, a badge of faith, a need to conform, symbol of female repression, all of the above? Certainly the message is that women should not be sexually attractive to men. Garments are shapeless, the hair, arms, knees, throat and chest covered. Most fascinating to us is the naqib, the filmy black layered dress, head to toe, accompanied by black scarfs and faceveil, only eyes and hands visible. We don’t see these often except on the young brides that came to Rebak, and wonder whether after the honeymoon’s over and first child born, if the woman can revert to the simpler tudung. Men have a dress code too, they must be covered from waist to knees! Then there is purdah - women have prayer rooms separate from men, and even have isolated waiting areas at public places if they are menstuating, pregnant or nursing, though we rarely see pregnant women in public. Halal is interesting, too, the ritual preparation of foods, especially meats, and avoidance of pork and alcohol. So is all this restriction a lack of freedom in the east, or lack of self-restraint in the western world? Travelling provides few answers, but many intiguing questions.

November 24 - Thanksgiving

Dave made the rounds to clear Baraka out of Malaysia - harbormaster, customs, immigration. Then we ran to Kuah Town for a final provisioning run, topping off our lockers. We plan to tuck around the corner for one more night before crossing into the first island group in Thailand, to give us a chance to check out the boat systems away from the dock.

Today is the American Thanksgiving. Though we sorely miss our families at home, our thoughts are with them, and we are grateful they are in our lives.

November 28 - Tanjung Rhu

Yesterday we motored around the NE corner of Langkawi to Tanjung Rhu. Other yachties had told us about this special place. Dave found the GPS waypoints on the internet before we left Telaga. After a half dozen zigzags, we dropped the anchor in what appears a landlocked lake. Floating restaurants rim the sides. Today we loaded up the dinghy with camera, GPS, and depth sounder, to wind through the mangrove rivers 11 km to Hole in the Wall. We took a couple wrong turns, into shoaling dead ends, but the little eTrex saved us, allowing us to backtrack to the main channels. Along the way the outboard misbehaved (air leak in tank fitting), briefly stalling us in Monkey Alley, a narrow cut lined with spunky macaques that swam across the river and leapt aboard the tourist boats who’d stopped to feed them fruit. We carried on to Hole in the Wall, where we enjoyed soup and beer at a floating restaurant, then rode the tide home. We saw dozens of eagles being fed, and a monitor lizard swimming. Nice adventure trip.

Click here for our 2012 Thailand journal.

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