Malaysia to Thailand and the Andaman Islands

Friday 1st November is not a great day of the week for setting off on a sea voyage as we were to find out. I fixed up two bilge pumps as my last job so good to go and with Diane as my new crew on board Romano we checked out in Kuah and the following morning we motored out of Rebak Marina in no wind.

Di cleaning out the bilge with beer in hand, not a nice job so fair reward!

This first leg was a short one of only 15 miles north, to the south end of Ko Taputao the first island in Thailand. We arrived late afternoon in a nice sheltered anchorage from the light westerly winds and swell. Lots of longtails around us, so called because the engine is mounted on a swinging platform and they have very long prop shafts which can be used in very shallow waters. The boats around us were all fishing we were definitely in a different country, the fishing boats 15 miles away in Malaysia were of a completely different design with inboard engines and traditional drive. It was great to be back on the sea and exploring again.

Thai longtail fishing boats, different from the Malay ones

The next day we motored in more light winds another easy trip of 12 miles to the north part of the island. We dropped anchor and started to prepare dinner. However the wind shifted and we were suddenly on a lee shore and our anchor was dragging. I tried more chain but the reef was too close so we started the engine and moved to re-anchored further out on sand in 15m of water and spent an uninterrupted night. I use an anchor alarm app on my iPad which works on GPS and tells me if we move out of a preset circle, normally the diameter is length of chain we have out.

On the morning of the 3rd November at 07.30 we got up had breakfast and left Ko Tarutao in miserable driving rain and headed for Ko Phetra 24 miles to the north. This was a knife blade of an island offering good protection from the westerly swell. The rain stopped after two hours and we motored on, arriving at Koh Phetra in time for a late lunch. We eased our way to the middle of the island over a 4m sand plain, eventually anchoring in 5M of water on the east side of the island. Tides were at neaps with a 1m range so with our draught of 2.2 metres there was little chance of us running aground a really attractive anchorage and a quiet night.

In the morning we set out for Ko Ngai in beautiful sunshine and a light head wind dodging hundreds of fish pots. Just after 3pm the engine suddenly stopped. Thinking we might have picked up a fishing pot I dived over the side armed with a bread knife. There was rope around the prop but not enough to stop it. Next possibility was a fuel blockage but working on a hot engine is not great and the wind picked up but from dead ahead so I opted to tack. As we closed the island the wind picked up some more and veered to give us a good angle on the island. As we approached the lee of the island the wind died and then became fluky making for very frustrating sailing. Romano doesn’t sail like a dinghy at 18 tonnes. However after an hour or so we finally squeezed in at the southern end of the beach on the east side of the island with 7.2 metres under the keel. At 1.00am and low water we hit the rocks with a crunch. There is no mistaking that sound and we rushed on deck and pulled as far clear as I could with the anchor. Di and I then readied the kedge anchor by torch light and launched the dinghy and I motored it out at 45* to the main anchor while Di fed out the anchor rode from Romano. Fortunately this second anchor held in the light wind conditions and we could pull clear of the rocks and into deeper water without damage to the boat. In the morning we cleaned the fuel tank which despite having been well dosed with biocide in Langkawi had lots of grungy black slugs of diesel bug floating in it. We pumped these out, cleaned the lines and bled the fuel system.

Cleaning out the fuel tank.

We tried the engine and started up again just before the next low water so we were able to motor off to deeper water on a clear sandy spot near the beach. We dropped anchor and went ashore to a beach bar for a great lunch, very pleased with ourselves for getting out of a tight situation. After lunch we talked to one of the longtail guys and asked him to take us to Mokotar (Emerald) Cave about 3 miles away.

The longtail to take us to Emerald Cave

It was a spectacular spot, the entrance was down a 100m curving tunnel which to our amazement opened up into a “hong” a hollowed out island with sheer walls rising 200m.

On our way to the cave

Reading the history board for the Hong

We swam to the white sand beach in the centre of the island and took in the stunning emerald green tropical vegetation clinging to the walls. It was like sitting in the centre of an extinct volcano, a real lost world paradise.

The lush vegetation growing in this completely protected environment

We had the hong to ourselves but as we swam out through the connecting tunnel we were met by around 50 bobbing tourists in life jackets, immaculate timing it would not have been the same experience to share it with a bunch of tourists. We asked to stopthe boat to snorkel the reef on a nearby island but the fish and coral life was poor, the trouble of diving reefs worldwide, you expect a standard. We then headed back to Romano and dropped off at the boat What a contrasting 24 hours, from disaster to paradise, that’s cruising!

On our way back to the boat after a snorkel around a nearby island

In the morning we set off at at 07.00 bound for Ko Phi Phi in light northerly winds, making good speed at 5.6 knots when Di’s phone rang, it was an Australian skipper to say that I had left the boat papers at the immigration office in Langkawi on checking out. Without these we couldn’t check in to Thailand or the Andamans. However he said he was now on the north end of Langkawi and would get someone to pick them up before the office closed and he was coming up to Thailand and would drive down to the south to collect them and bring them to Ko Phi Phi. This epitomises the cruiser community who help each other without being asked. What heroes, Shauhagh and Ray on Parlay their 52 foot Irwin.

After lunch I went below and smelled a strong blast of diesel fumes. I uncovered the fuel tank to find fuel pouring from the joint where I had dropped the washer on the last repair and used a poor substitute but the best I had. I tried a repair and fired up the engine which then died after only a minute of running. I checked the fuel system and found the lift pump wasn’t operating so up went the sails again and we had a slow tack up wind for 5 hours and gratefully dropped anchor in 15m off the east coast of Phi Phi on the island of Ko Lanta Rai. We were getting good at anchoring under sail! However I dived off the back of the boat only to see the reef not 10 feet from the stern and the wind had switched to light onshore. We hastily rigged up the kedge again and I rowed it out 50 m and launched it over the side of the dinghy. We hauled it up on the main genoa winch and again it held pulling us off the reef. The gods weren’t finished with us however as at 1am the anchor alarm went off telling me we had drifted so I went on deck to find a full blown thunderstorm and squall raging. I doubled up the kedge line and the force of the wind dragged the bow anchor off the reef and into deeper water and farther away from the reef but our good old kedge held until the bow anchor reset. By now we were side on to the wind and mounting waves but everything seemed to hold up and gradually the storm abated. When I woke at 6.00am it was a beautiful morning with not a breath of wind, so very different from the night before. I set about trying to fix the pump but thought I’d read Nigel Calder’s sailors technical bible first to see what he had to say. One sentence caught my attention “The lift pump won’t prime if the engine cam is in the lift position.” Worth a try I thought and swung the engine over to move the cam, went back to the pump and it primed perfectly. To get a diesel engine to run after air in the fuel system you have to be able to use the lift pump to prime the secondary fuel filter, we were back in business!

We then lifted the two anchors and motored into Phi Phi’s safe but very busy harbour around the corner. Phi Phi is very very touristy and so expensive after Malaysia but we enjoyed a couple of evening drinks and a nice dinner in a beach side restaurant before heading back to the dinghy.

The outboard however had flooded and wouldn’t start so it was a long row back to the boat in the dark with Di offering encouragement and direction.

Chilling out in Phi Phi

The next morning we went ashore to explore and wait for Shaunagh and Ray who we expected in a couple of days time with our papers. At lunchtime we walked into the Pirates Bar and sat next next to a couple who said “you look like two cruisers” they turned out to be Shaunagh and Ray who had made good time and Shaunagh handed over my boat papers with a flourish! You can’t make this stuff up! We bought them lunch for their troubles and had a good cruiser chat! In the evening we dragged anchor as a squall came through, fortunately we were on board. We were limited in the amount of chain we could put down because all the commercial ships around were on fixed moorings. We moved to a spot well away from other boats and dropped 40m of chain in 10m of water. That held us!

Di raising the Thai courtesy flag on our way to Phuket

We decided to stay one more day before heading over to Phuket. We went ashore for a massage, another nice lunch in the Pirate Bar and in the evening went to a kick boxing tournament which was open to all comers. The Thais were clearly much superior to the white guys I resisted the temptation to join in despite being invited.

Di warming up before we go into the kick boxing club

One of the bouts in the kick boxing club

In the morning we headed for Phuket Yacht Haven in the north of the island in no wind, a journey of about 40 miles and arrived around 2.30 in the afternoon. I was nervous going into the marina without bow thrusters in a strong tide but all worked well. The new bow thruster rocker switch had corroded in the humid conditions in Langkawi. In the morning we set off for the Yacht Control Centre in Ao Chalong to clear in to Thailand. Half way there I remembered I hadn’t switched on the AIS, a prerequisite of checking in in Thailand. There is a heavy fine for any yacht entering Thailand without AIS and they will be refused entry. AIS is a radio system which gives out position information and course, speed and vessel name and registration number to other ships and land based authorities.

Moonlit dinner at Phuket Yacht Haven

Two hours later with the AIS turned on so the harbour master’s office could see the boat position we checked in and checked out at the same time. Our driver waited for us and took us to Tesco’s hypermarket to have lunch and top up our provisions. It was quite strange shopping in Tesco’s in Thailand although much of the food unsurprisingly catered to local tastes but there was a range of “Tesco Finest” good British grub like marmalade and lea and perrins, mustard, Mr Kipling cakes and Scottish shortbread. We had lunch in a Japanese restaurant where they spoke no English and then headed back to the marina, ready for our 3 to 4 day crossing to the Andaman Islands after topping up with water and fuel.

We left around 10.30 refreshed by a shower ashore and fresh warm croissant breakfast and sailed 30 mikes south down the east coast of Phuket before turning right along the bottom and finally at 16.00hrs able to lay a course for Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. We motored sailed all of the first day in light headwinds making 145 miles. We decided on two 6 hour watches, this was the first time Di had stood such a long watch and wasn’t sure how well she would cope. We dined on roast pork, beetroot and delicious corn on the cob from Tesco’s. Apart from a few ships passing on my watch we had a quiet night.

Di on her first six hour watch on the way to the Andaman Islands

Day 2 saw strengthening wind from the NW and by mid afternoon we were able to turn off the engine and sail on a good course. In the afternoon we spotted a shark basking about 30 metres from the boat and then a large pod of dolphins swam alongside for a while. Di sat in the bow to watch them dive under the boat and ride our bow wave. However with the strengthening wind so the seas rose and Di succumbed to the dreaded Mal de mer but dosed up with stugeron she managed to stand her watch which let me get some sleep! Great gal!

In the morning the wind died away and we motor sailed through flat seas often with great upwellings from the deep causing very choppy water in long strips about 100 metres wide. There was no evidence of fish life in these areas as you might normally expect to see. A beautiful butterfly landed exhausted in the cockpit. I fed him/her sugary water which he drank up and after a rest of a few hours took off again when we were still 100 miles from the Andaman Islands.

All her own work, the Indian Courtesy flag for the Andamans

On the last day as the sun rose we were 70 miles from Port Blair and in windless conditions we motored into the perfectly protected natural harbour arriving at 14.25 hours to drop anchor in a small offshoot harbour just SW of Chatham Island. I called up the port captain on the VHF radio who interrogated me for half an hour for details of the boat, the crew, our anchorage position, our last port of call and intended length of stay, often asking the same question several times in heavily accented english. All was quiet on the radio for a while so after an hour I called him up again only to be told we couldn’t anchor where we were and he gave me the position on the far side of the main harbour where another yacht was moored. It turned out to be an Italian boat Cordillera, manned by a professional crew who came over to say hello but with a disappointing report on sailing these islands. They had failed to find any dive sites free from crocodiles which are everywhere apparently, all the coral had bleached and the reefs were dead. There were no nice anchorages to be found, all cruising yachts are limited to only certain islands, and only Havelock Island had provisioning and a restaurant where internet was available and all but a meagre part of their booze allowance was locked in bond. They had brought over 100 bottles of wine from Langkawi. This was not the good news we had hoped for but equally we wanted to find out for ourselves.

None of the authorities turned up to start the clearing in process so we had a nice dinner of Boeuf Stroganoff washed down with a celebratory bottle of sparkling wine and another good red to wash down the meal. Feeling very merry we went off to our respective bunks at about 8 pm (cruiser’s midnight) for a well earned rest.

The next morning we hid all the excess beer wine and spirits and at 10am a very old coast guard rib pulled alongside with 8 men on board all of whom wanted to board us. They went round the boat photographing everything including the engine and several selfies with Diane who was told how beautiful she was while I prepared the necessary 30-40 sheets of forms and documents. Why can’t these places have beautiful young women as their staff rather than hunky men!. It took an hour and a half to complete the paperwork.

A bunch of Di’s coastguard admirers posing!

They told us immigration would be next but that I would have to collect them in the dinghy from the jetty where we were first anchored, now only a mile away! There were 6 of them but I explained I could only fit another three in the dinghy so they turned three down and the winners gingerly got onboard. Two of them couldn’t swim and asked for life jackets which I hadn’t brought but they decided to brave it any way in the interest of a rare chance to visit a yacht. Only the youngest and most senior actually did any work the others sat and watched and took photos of us and the boat. He checked my passport and visa and agreed eventually that it was OK after much deliberation. Not so for Diane, her e-visa proved not to be valid for Port Blair despite the fact Port Blair was listed as a port of entry on the visa form. We argued our case and he rang several superiors in Bombay and Delhi at our request but they confirmed his view. We had no choice but to sail the 400 miles back to Phuket but before we left I needed a port clearance form from customs. He volunteered to provide a 72 hour pass provided Diane gave him a letter claiming some debilitating illness and she chose a “bad back” as the reason for the Temporary Landing Permit. This mean’t we could go ashore during the 3 day validity but not until we had been cleared by customs who called us at dusk after we thought they had closed shop for the day. Both focussed their attentions on Di again while I completed the forms. I took them back in the dark to the jetty with both of them pointing the wrong way back and me insisting I was right. As we got closer they both changed their pointing to the way we were headed as if this had always been their chosen direction, hilarious!

We needed fuel and fresh provisions which meant we had to hire an agent to handle our clearing out, provisioning and fuel supply in order to get everything done in our 3 day pass time. We were warned by immigration that if we didn’t hire an agent we would be frustrated by the bureaucracy and very different way of working. Mr Rathnam was our agent recommended by everyone who came on board, he was a godsend, arranging for fuel, hire cars, clearance out and a very nice young man. After dropping off the customs officers the boat boy asked me to wait as our new agent was on his way with our passports.

He sent his man instead on his motor bike who advised Mr Rathnam wanted to see me in his office. So off I went in a posh new chauffeured car they sent for me., I had not been expecting to land and my shoeless appearance drew a few curious glances as I stepped out of the car. We agreed on a plan of action to get us out and kindly Mr Rathnam offered to reduce his fees in the circumstances. I was driven back to the dinghy and headed back to the boat it was now 8pm and I knew Di would be worried something had happened and was met by her at the stern accusing me of having gone for a beer with the boys. Not so this time but she knows me well!

More paperwork at Mr Rathman’s office to get our clearance to leave

On our first day ashore Mr R had organised his car and driver for us to tour the southern part of the island. The northern part was closed off by a checkpoint which we were not allowed through. On the way over the outboard decided it didn’t like the old fuel I’d put in and would only run at very slow speed so I took to the oars while Di steered. The combined effort started to pay off and about half way over a kindly fishing boat skipper came over and towed us the rest of the way to the quay The ever present Omar the boat boy was waiting for us and took charge of the dinghy while we unloaded the fuel cans and put them in the back of our chauffeured car. We needed fresh petrol and about 150 litres of diesel for our return trip to Phuket. We decided first to take the ferry across the harbour and visit the national park.

Top – waiting for our listing ferry, mid – on board, last – another ancient ferry

The ferry had a definite list to port but we boarded anyway in the car and crossed without incident. On the other side we followed the potholed road to the national park on Mount Herriet. The car climbed the heavily wooded single track road to the entrance gate where we paid 500 rupees each to enter. The driver parked the car and gave us an hour and a half to explore the park on foot. We had only gone 500 metres when the heavens opened and we ran for cover to a traditional Nicobar thatched house on stilts and climbed up to the dry interior where we stayed until the storm passed.

Our little house where we hid from the rain.

We then followed the trail to old British WW11 gun emplacements which were taken over by the Japanese and used against the allies in their successful attempts in recovering the islands. As we came out of the jungle on our way back to the car we checked our legs for leeches. There was a sign warning of “leech prone area” on the way in. To our horror we both had leeches attached and much to the amusement of a bunch of local guys we did the “get these off me dance”. I had around 15 of them on me and Di slightly less so we set about plucking them off one by one surrounded by these guys all of whom had long trousers, socks and shoes whereas we were in flip flops and shorts. They acted as spotters for the ones we couldn’t see. The leeches even got between my toes to hide. When we had successfully dealt with them all including the one that dropped off the shrub Di was sitting under which caused another war dance we were able to talk sensibly to these young men. They were on the island to bring fibre optic internet from the mainland and worked for a company called Gios. This was Sunday and their day off. We asked them about the islands and got a much more favourable report on the fishing and diving.

The young engineers who loved our leech dancing.

We rejoined the car and the driver, Simin, took us for lunch to a very dark but quite posh restaurant where we had a nice meal. They refused to allow us to have a second beer as they were closing and then promptly served several newcomers, very strange!Our next stop was the fuel station to fill our Jerry cans and then back to the dinghy where a very proud Omar told us he’d fixed the outboard and gave us a demonstration around the harbour to our delight. Our trip back to the boat was uneventful.

For our second day we opted to go around the town of Port Blair and visit some of the places of interest, get more fuel and sign papers for Mr R. We rented a TucTuc for the day, driven by a betel nut chewer who every five minutes ejected a stream of red juice out onto the street, all for the equivalent of £12. After finishing with Mr R and filling our Jerry cans which we returned to the dinghy we went to the Maritime Museum which was really interesting and explained the different tribes of the islands and their seafaring history some of whom are now protected and as the population has shrunk over time to 39 people, others 52 and the largest 432. The museum also contained an aquarium and a display of the sea life around the islands and examples of the different canoes built by the various tribes and their means of fishing including nets, spears, fish traps and bow and arrow. These five different tribes lived entirely of what the islands provided and still do. For some their way of life hasn’t changed in a thousand years. The government protects many of the tribes who want to stay as they are and non tribal people are kept out of their territory. Some are of Burmese origin and some Mongolian with later settlers coming from Sri Lanka and eastern India. The museum showed a documentary of the archipelago and we sat and watched this to see what we were missing. There is no doubt the islands are beautiful even if many areas can’t be explored by diving because of the large population of sea water crocodiles. Di felt saddened by the fact that we were missing out on a lot of interesting places.

Filling the Gerry cans made much easier by having the car

Next we visited the Anthropological Museum which took us through the development of mankind to present day and wove the genealogy of the island people into the story.

It was quite remarkable to find two excellent museums in a relatively small town. Our last place to visit for the day was the Cellular Jail built by the British in 1850 to house 690 political prisoners from various Indian and Burmese Uprisings and finally closed in 1938. These were the ones not put to death for bombings and acts of terrorism but their stay here often ended in torture and death.

This time it’s a Brit in the jail!

Today the prison is a monument for India’s struggle for self rule and independence and what we called terrorists are their freedom fighters and hundreds of Indian people flock each day to pay homage. It was a strange feeling walking through this huge prison surrounded by so many Indian tourists and reading with them of the brutal treatment we Brits dished out to their heroes. It wasn’t one of the empire’s finest moments! We were the only white people there, in fact we never saw another white face in all the time we were in South Andaman. There was nothing here of the warm welcome we received in Myanmar and other parts of SE Asia, people were generally sullen and avoided eye contact, sometimes just staring at us without expression. When Di remarked on how pretty the saris were to group of women they just shrugged off the compliment and walked on.

Locals waiting for the bus at the ferry terminal

These are not a happy people, most walked around with sullen scowls, waiters were rude and unhelpful, refusing us beer and additional nan bread because they were closing, then serving a group of Indians who came in as we were finishing. On our last day we hired a car and driver, Sagid was his name, a bright inquisitive young man of 25 who took us down to the beach at Chyriyapatu where we trekked up through the jungle to a promontory known to the locals as Suicide Point.

Suicide Point – we resisted jumping and had a nice lunch instead!

Di started a rubbish collection on the way back down, hoping to set an example to the locals who keep themselves clean but not their country.

The trail up to Suicide Point

We lunched at the mediocre Lighthouse Restaurant where we were told no beer till 4pm this is when the restaurant closed!!! Then we shopped in a “hypermarket” the size of a corner shop and went on to buy fruit and veg from the local market and loaded up our Jerry cans for the journey back to Thailand. We returned to the agents office at about 6pm to see if he had succeeded in clearing us out. Two hours later he arrived with the necessary papers. Di paid the £200 fee for these and our car trips and we sneaked across the busy harbour in the dinghy in pitch dark with no lights. In the morning I called up the Port Captain to seek his approval to leave, he told me to stay put as he hadn’t had clearance from the security forces. That was a new one! A few minutes later at 06.30 we got the green light and hauled up a very muddy anchor and motored out of the harbour setting our course for Thailand on what was to prove a very fraught journey.

We tried to wash off the anchor underway but on bringing it up it crashed into the genoa furler and as we were to find out later as we cleared the coast it had smashed the rope guide on the furler which meant we couldn’t set sail. By 10.00am I had a jury rig working which was actually better than the old one with much less friction and we set sail into a series of squalls and as usual the wind came from every which way in strong gusts making for very difficult sailing. When we sailed over to the Andamans the wind was NW and on the nose so we had to beat upwind, now we had turned around so did the wind to an easterly direction and so we had another tiring time motor sailing to windward. Next we picked up a fisherman’s discarded rope so we hove to and over the side I went armed with snorkel and bread knife. A few hours later we picked up a plastic bag which I also cut away but some had worked it’s way into the variable prop mechanism which ran very rough with lots of vibration so we throttled back and thankfully after a couple of hours it cleared itself. Murphy was working well out there!

You think “well that’s three things so we’ll be fine now,” wrong! I went below at around 09.00am to find the galley floor awash. I ran the bilge pump but the galley filled again, I checked all piping, sea cocks etc and found nothing leaking but clearly a large quantity of water was coming in to the boat from somewhere. As I stood in the galley scratching my head the boat heeled and I happened to be looking at the porthole above the cooker which was masked by lots of kitchen stuff and saw water gushing in which stopped as soon as the port came out of the water again. It then ran unseen down the back of the cooker into the bilge. At some stage someone had opened this port which I never use and not closed it properly. Because we had been sailing on the other tack it hadn’t been an issue so it must have been like that since Singapore. As soon as it was shut we pumped the boat dry, panic over, but it did take out the new freezer and microwave. I was pleased to see Di was quite calm about all our mishaps, bad things happen at sea! Ps I got the microwave working again but had to buy a new freezer, this time a cheap one from China.

Murphy however wasn’t about to let go at that point, the following morning the engine started to overheat, I checked the inlet piping and filter only to find there was no sea water cooling coming I got hold of the filter lift pipe and it came away in my hand, corroded through. Di found a pill bottle which was exactly the right size. I sealed it in and started up. The engine ran perfectly and two days later we sailed into Nai Harn Bay on southern Phuket, Thailand and went ashore for a well earned massage, cold beers and a nice meal. We had saved nearly all the food in the freezer by transferring it to the fridge and prioritising which to eat first. We anchored near some Aussie friends of ours, Steve and Donna from the Indonesian rally on their catamaran Kenobi and the spent the day together in Mama’s Seafood Restaurant catching up.

Steve and Donna’s catamaran in the rain

We got a taxi over to Chalong next morning to clear in with immigration, health, harbour master and customs. They have a great system there where everyone is in the same building and you can clear in in an hour. Some countries it can take 3 days. We decided to sail up the leeward west coast of Phuket and visit some of the beautiful bays up there. On the way we passed hundreds of yachts racing in the King’s Cup. First stop was Ao Bang Tao where we anchored off a mile long white sandy beach to look for a restaurant recommended by Steve and Donna called “Number One Bar and Restaurant where they had wild pigs and tame cockerels.

The one and only Number One Bar where they have a beautifully painted sign on a huge buoy.

We had a nice lunch there and promised to come back the next day. We visited some of the tourist shops and a little market where we bought fresh fruit from the juice sellers.

My new friend – the owner of the bar, with his profession on his cap!

The following morning we came ashore and as we passed through the Number One Bar the owner asked us if we would paint a bar sign on a large ships buoy. We agreed and we took it in turns to paint a few letters and all went well until Di tipped paint from the pot over our handiwork! She set about trying to clean it up a only made matters worse so the owner sent out for some more base paint so we could rectify the mess. This was a golden opportunity to rib Di mercilessly, as if she didn’t feel bad enough but I went too far in my ribbing so she painted my right foot blue. It took days for the blue to wear off my skin but the toenails were blue weeks later, much to the amusement of our friends. I have to say it was entirely deserved!

Painting the bar sign before I got painted. Owners belly in the background, not Di’s!

We started to head back down the coast, stopping off at Nai Harn bay again for a nice massage followed by a meal in Ma’s Seafood Restaurant. We then checked out in Chalong and headed south to Phi Phi. The engine started to run very rough and we limped into Phi Phi harbour and dropped the anchor just as the engine died.

Back at Phi Phi and some of the Myanmar staff at the Pirate Bar

Shirley Valentine meets her fisherman!

The next morning I opened up the fuel tank only to find lumps of biomass floating around and blocking the intake pipe. So Di and I pumped out the “good fuel” and then cleaned the tank as far as I was able as there are baffles fitted and I couldn’t reach 2/3 rds of the area. A very messy job. However when we put it all back together the engine fired up without issue. After a couple of days enjoying ourselves we had to head back the 250 miles to Langkawi for Di to catch her flight to the US for Christmas.

At anchor on our homeward bound journey – look no reefs!

There was little wind so we motored for about 50 miles when the engine started to play up again. It ran very rough with lots of bangs and thumps o we stopped in the middle of nowhere and opened up the tank again. The fuel was greyish in colour and I could see that one of the tank seals had liquified and contaminated the fuel to the point it was useless. This meant either the injectors were blocked or the high pressure fuel pump, either way we needed specialist facilities to fix the issue and change the fuel.

There was nothing for it we would just have to sail back to Langkawi in these light and variable winds, anchoring each night under sail! We were becoming quite proficient at this although it was always stressful.

After three days of very frustratingly variable winds we arrived in Telaga Harbour on Langkawi and I radioed in to see if they could give us a tow the marina berth but they were fully booked for Christmas and because many boats had left Rebak Marina a few miles away because they had no water.

Back in Malaysia at Telaga Marina

The next day we sailed to Rebak where my friend Marc tried to tow us in but lacked the power with two dinghies to control Romano in the wind. We re-anchored and waited another day while Marc arranged for a bigger fishing boat to tow us in which they did with consummate skill. We had arrived back in time for Di’s flight but to a waterless resort and marina. A fishing boat had crushed the islands water pipe in the super low tides with little prospect of getting it fixed before Christmas. We couldn’t even leave to go somewhere else. The pool was empty, no toilets worked but the marina issued everyone with 8 bottles of water per day, free of charge and there was the beach for swimming so it wasn’t too bad.

Almost home – anchored off Rebak Island