Thursday, January 1, 2015

Malaysia-Land of Friendliness and Hospitality

Telaga Harbor
Although we have made stops in east Malaysia on route from Singapore to Thailand and the occasional overnight sail to Langkawi for duty free supplies, we had only scratched the surface of this amazing country. From the ashes of the riots in 1969 the country has forged a tolerant multicultural society, as evidenced by the coexistence of mosques, Catholic churches, and Chinese temples.

Telaga Marina
You would think that 99 islands dominated by Langkawi would have been over developed by now. The islands are breathtaking; knife-edged peaks floating in dark green vegetation in contrast to the ocean blues make this place an undisputed tropical paradise.  Refreshingly Malay, the east coast peninsula’s coast is an entirely different experience from the mobile phone-obsessed, traffic –clogged, touristy island of Phuket.  Colorful headscarves, skullcaps and hauntingly melodious call to prayer are as ubiquitous here as the white sand beaches that fringe the jewel like islands.

Change is the only constant.  Walk down your street and on the return walk notice that things are not exactly as they were before.  And so it was with Slow Dance. When one door closes another door opens, often for the better.  We left Phuket for Langkawi and completed a rough overnight sail to Telaga Marina, a beautiful lush place surrounded by mountains and complete with a boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants. Everyone you pass has a huge smile and a big hello; a very nice change from Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket. 

Although our boats have fabulous galley's, we opted to cook on the BBQ for New Years Eve. This is Mamet, wife of the captain on the large power boat docked next to us. She cooked lamb, fish, and chicken. We combined our goods for a quiet delicious feast.
We had said farewell to Thailand and set out for Langkawi. The mood was sour right from the start because it is difficult to have people on board who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. There is no perfection in life, only progress. The wind was blowing 25 knots and gusting up to 30 knots. We nearly lost our dingy boat as it was not secured properly. Our new mate Tim was in foul temperament prior to leaving and during the passage, which did not help matters. (A bad trip all the way around).  After settling into a nice slip at the marina we had a few days to prepare for Ron’s son Todd, who was coming for a 10 day visit.  It had been four years since Todd paid a visit to the boat, so Ron was very excited and wanted Todd to have a great time. It was at this time Tim, who had been with us less than 30 days announced he was leaving the boat and Vanessa, who has been with us nearly 2 years, was leaving with him. Vanessa had been dating Tim for approximately 6 months and that is how he came to join Slow Dance.  To make matters worse, Nikka, Vanessa’s sister who had returned to Cebu, was sent a ticket to rejoin us as stewardess but the Philippine government would not let her leave the country. 

So Sorry Nikka. We wish you good luck for the future.
Dinner at Ni-yang Beach, with Tim and Vanessa. The last nice time before the storm.
We were not surprised to hear that Tim and Vanessa were leaving based on Tim’s uncalled for angry outbursts during the voyage. It was evident that Slow Dance was just too overwhelming of a boat for him.  So, with a three hour notice we lost our crew and ended up with a much better crew!  
Our new crew, Vadim and Nee-nee
Vad, who turned out to be an excellent marine mechanic.
  Vanessa talked to a captain that had a lead for a temporary stewardess to assist while Todd was with us. Her name is Nee-nee and she is amazing! It seemed that Nikka would be irreplaceable but as our good luck would have it Nee-nee has joined Slow Dance permanently as our new stewardess. Nee-nee comes with lots of experience having worked on several 120 foot plus charter boats over the last 7 years.  We are lucky to have her and she is thrilled to be on Slow Dance. 

Nee-Nee, Me, and the tree
Welcome Vadim; an excellent marine engineer who has systematically repaired everything big and small in just one week! The northern lights generator purrs, the water maker doesn’t leak, the lines on the boat are coiled correctly and the alternator is properly installed.  In retrospect, Tim leaving was a God send as given time he would have damaged the boat rather than improved her. Ron and Vadim are as Forrest Gump would say, “Like peas and carrots”. They are laughing and enjoying all the repair work 

Ron with Vadim. They smiled and laughed as they repaired things. Refreshing after dealing with Tim.

So Todd arrived to a happy boat and we set sail for the surrounding islands.  We had a week of glorious sailing and delicious meals. We spent Christmas day anchored on a white sand beach. I soaked the turkey for 12 hours in salt water. It’s called brining and produces a very moist bird. I roasted her breast down for 2 hours and then flipped her over. This insures the legs are cooked to the right temperature and the breast is browned and juicy! 
The Bird

Christmas Dinner; Homemade banana bread, Pumpkin, Mash Potatoes, Gravy, Cranberry relish, and salad

Todd carves the bird
Oh yes, Homemade Apple Pie. Ron's favorite
 Todd, Ron, and Vadim took a dingy exploration ride and came across a Muslim couple from Saudi Arabia vacationing in Langkawi. The couple had been dropped off for a two hour stay on a deserted beach, but unfortunately their boat had forgotten to pick them so they were waving frantically for the guys to rescue them. The wife quickly put her Berque on as the dingy approached. Ron helped them onto the boat but the wife nearly fell into the water as she is not allowed to touch another man’s hand other than her husband. Ron grabbed her anyway. The wife spoke English but her husband did not. Ron told her she was being rescued by two Jews and a Russian. She whispered this into her husband’s ear and he looked worried. Ron dropped them back at the tourist dock and we all had a good laugh over dinner that two Jews and a Russian rescued Muslims on Christmas Day!

The unhappy stranded couple

Oh God, we are in the hands of Jews and Russians!

Todd enjoying the delicious water
Captain Ron and son at the helm
The Captain, the Cook, and Todd

The Bird

Todd on a dingy adventure. We discovered this awesome waterfall.

Vadim and Todd. It was Vadim's Birthday and I made a feast complete with my famous flour less chocolate cake.

Thai dinner; Pad Thai, Panang beef Curry, and Morning Glory

These were in the water at the marina. Also, Todd and I had jumped off the boat for a swim when we were anchored near an island. Just after we climbed aboard I spotted two of these jellyfish right where we had been floating around! A sting from these guys would be most horrible and would leave a scar.

Came across this beauty while cursing on the dingy.Very old beautiful wooden girl.

This maiden head was on the Bow Sprit. Gorgeous!
Wha Wha was trilled to be on the dock again.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Brush With Paradise

Arlen and Sandy arrived late afternoon due to a delay in their flight from Hong Kong to Phuket, due to carrying all the luggage with items for Slow Dance! Thank you and so sorry it caused such a huge delay!. We nestled them into their cabins and first thing in the morning Slow Dance cast off out of Yacht Haven Marina for an adventure, to see if paradise was out there waiting for us. 
Arlen, Ron, Sandy,Me, Vanessa, and captain Tim.

The Similan group of Islands is a National Marine Park, consisting of rocks and islands, nine in total; the name is derived from the Malay ‘sembilan’ meaning nine.  The islands all have names from #1 to #9, running south to north. But even the local fisherman could not tell you the names.  Koh Similan is the largest in the group and the surrounding waters are teeming with tropical fish.  We anchored for the night on the second largest island, just in front of the main beach and immediately jumped in for a swim. There were huge granite boulders that not only litter the shorelines, but also lie in jumbled heaps beneath the waves to a depth of over 35 meters. On the surface the boulders together with the lush rain forest, and white sand beaches, provide a peaceful refuge.  Following the path into the forest from the beach, we found a surprise. Rows of camping tents for rent lined up under the trees, along with quint bungalows, a small store, and a very good little restaurant serving up nice Thai dishes.  Oh yes, and nice cold beer!

Beach at Similan islands

Sandy and Cookie take a swim

Croissant breakfast with fresh fruit and brie. Yummy!

Sandy found the best spot!

Ron snorkeling. The water was so clear.

The islands and rocks to the north are now recognized on the world diving map. We were all in agreement that the  delicious blue waters lapping up on white sand beaches was some of the most beautiful  we had ever seen. The guide books all speak of colorful coral, but we didn’t stay long enough to check it out, as we were anxious to sail on to the Surin group.  The Similan’s are a popular day trip from Thailand’s mainland, and the speed boat traffic basically ruins the serenity of the main islands.  Before 10 am and after 5 PM there is peace and quiet. Tim and Sandy did not have the opportunity to dive as the tanks on board needed filling.  However, Tim found one of the commercial dive boats willing to fill our tanks for a small fee.  So they are all set to dive in the Surin group. 
Sandy resting up

The wind came up and the sail covers came off.

Ron catches a few ZZZ
We untied from the mooring and were on our way at first light. The Surin group was a good seven hours away, and after a hardy breakfast of walnut pancakes and fruit, we decided to try fishing. Arlen and Sandy brought some new lures that, so the poles were dusted off and set out for the first time since the South Pacific. The waters around Phuket are very fished out but we were now in the Andaman Sea, far from the mainland. To our delight we caught several Tuna, a mackerel, and a very large Mahi Mahi!  The legendary Black Marlin is rumored to swim in these waters but we were happy not to hook one.
Tim coached Sandy on the art of filleting a fish and being a skilled doctor of surgery, Sandy did a fine job, but joked that the patient didn’t survive.  The Mahi Mahi was exceptionally delicious. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Thai restaurant on the island. The food was very good.
Cute Arlen
Arlen and Sandy with the awesome Mahi Mahi
Ron with the Mackerel.

Holy Mackerel! YMMMM

Mahi Mahi
Mahi Mahi grilled with chili, cumin, garlic, and lime

Sandy filets the the tuna

Well done sandy!

The five gorgeous islands that make up the Surin National Marine Park are just 5km from the Thai-Burma marine boarder and are breathtaking. It was one of the most beautiful places any of us had visited.  Healthy rainforest, pure white sand beaches in sheltered bays, and vibrant living coral. We anchored just off the reef near the Moken village and had the entire place to ourselves except for the occasional sleep aboard dive boat. The Surin islands are uninhabited but for a few park rangers, and the Sing (for Lion) tribe of Chao Lay (Sea Gypsies). The ranger station also offers camping facilities. They are much further from the mainland and therefore not visited by the annoying touristy speed boats. It was absolute heaven.  The shallow channel between the two principal islands has the most remarkable panoplies of coral reef to be found anywhere! The snorkeling was the best I have ever experienced with underwater visibility of up to 35m! Egg shell blue coral heads wiggling with life, large schools of clown fish, parrot fish, some puffer fish, sea snakes, big fish, small fish, star fish; my gosh, it was hard to get out of the water!

Camping on the beach for the adventuresome.
Captain Tim and Sandy did at least three dives during our four day stay. The dive equipment on Slow Dance had not been used for a while, so there were some challenges. Tim is a certified dive master so he was able to get things working sufficiently, but as soon as we return to Phuket the plan is to upgrade the equipment, now that there are divers aboard. 

We were anchored near Bon Moken, on the south island just near the village. The Moken are sea Gypsies, that Post-tsunami, have settled in this one sheltered bay. They have their own language that has over 100 words for the color of water and no word for goodbye. They do not write down words or keep their knowledge in any written form. Their customs and culture are past down to generations by communication only.  The Moken survived the 2004 tsunami by climbing to higher ground. Their ancient stories told of great waves overtaking the land when the ocean recedes from the shore and to this they owe their lives. We visited the village which was very primitive. The Thai government has erected a small school for the children under the kings outreach program to bring education to all remote areas of Thailand. The children were learning their Thai alphabet when we arrived and the younger children were at recess. Many of the Moken have been integrated into Thai society but this village still held onto the traditions. The Moken carve wooden totems that represent the spirit of their departed ancestors and are very sacred. 

Tim found a good view point

The Doctor was In

The Classroom

King Arlen

View from on top of the rocks, Similan

It was time to head back so we raised the anchor and finally had enough wind to put up the main and Genoa sail. Everyone lent a hand and it was exciting to turn off the engine and travel with only the wind. Sandy hosted the main with Tim and Arlen trimmed the Genoa.
We opted to spend the night back in the Similan Islands, and decided on a mooring in front of the main beach on the big island of Koh Similan.  Tim, Arlen, Vanessa, and Sandy, hiked up to some huge interesting rock formations on the hill top, while Ron and I opted for a swim off the boat.  Visibility was 100 feet down; that’s how clear the water is!
Tim and Vanessa did some paddle boarding and Sandy decided to give it a try. After falling off a few times he had it down and looked like a pro.  A large sea turtle appeared and spent some time swimming around the boat and then just in front of Sandy’s board, came up for some air. He was lovely.

Vanessa on her paddle board. She is becoming a pre

Sandy started out on his knees but quickly got the hang of it and looked as if he had been doing it for awhile.

Monitor lizard the group saw on the jungle hike. he was really a big fellow

At first light we untied from the mooring and headed to Nai Yang, our last stop before Sandy and Arlen depart. But before they leave we are taking them on land to our favorite restaurant over the bridge to the mainland. The food is awesome and the beach is quiet. Then to the hot springs for a relaxing soak before heading to the airport.

It has been a great adventure and the crew worked hard to insure Captain Ron's guest were well cared for. Appreciation and gratitude are important components to a good life and what all great people possess. Thank you Ron. Wrapping it up was a perfect night spent at Wat's bar with Wat himself!