Ending 4 Jan 2003 (Bob)
Beautiful Anchorages in Phang Nga Bay - Over the course
the last 5 days, we have gradually moved north from Boat Lagoon into the
beautiful Phang Nga Bay. This shallow, sheltered bay has scores of
islands, small and large. Most rise dramatically from the water, some have
been undercut so that they hung over us as we dinghied between them. The
tall, slender peak in the photo to the right is typical of these islands.
The islands are mostly sandstone, and many of them have 'hongs', pools of water
in the island that appear to be collapsed caves - in fact access is often via a
cave that can be entered only at a particular height of the tide. For some
photos, check out Judi's
trip in a sea canoe.
Discovering problems - We woke up after our second
night at anchor to discover that our batteries were discharged, and we could not
start the engine - what surprise! Over 2 days we found:
- One bad battery - The root cause appears to be that
one of our 3 batteries has a dead cell, and so it will have to be
- Operator Error - Unfortunately we had left all 3
batteries connected in parallel, and the bad battery had drained the other 2
- ! After disconnecting the bad battery, turning off all electronics,
and allowing the solar panels to operate for a few hours, we were able to
start the engine and re-charge, but at low level of 13 amps.
- Corrosion - Further investigation revealed a loose
and a corroded wire - fixing this and we were now charging at 75 amps, a
Quiet New Year's Eve - 2002 went, and 2003 arrived
quietly on Phang Nga Bay as we sipped wine, wished each other a happy New Year
and went to bed at a decent hour. Judi did awaken around midnight as she
heard fireworks at one of the beach resorts where more active revelers
celebrated the arrival of 2003.
Wonders of technology - We never cease to be amazed at
what technology brings us. The last week we have been staying in touch
with current events via WorldSpace,
the satellite radio network, as it brings us CD-quality jazz, classical, and pop music
as well as CNN (and Larry King Live), BBC, and National Public radio. All
you have to do is point the
radio's antenna it at the sky, and listen - it's great, but not available in
Ending 11 Jan 2003 (Bob)
Chasing a live battery - Last week we discovered that
one of the batteries was defunct, and set out to correct it. The story
became more convoluted as the week wore on:
- Gel cell - The battery is a Sonnenschein
sealed battery that uses a gelatin mix instead of regular sulfuric acid -
thus it is sealed, spill-proof, deep-cycle, expensive, and hard to find.
Our first set lasted 10 years, but this one died after 3 years, probably
because it was overcharged motoring thru Indonesia.
- Local distributor - One of the yacht services
companies at Boat Lagoon said "sure we can get one, cost you $400
plus airfreight from the Netherlands, and you have to pick it up in Langkawi".
But when we started to pursue it, we could not get him on the phone and his
office could not locate him.
- Bangkok Distributor - Via the Internet we found a
source of Sonnenschein batteries in Bangkok, called, and he said "sure,
got one in stock, put $350 in our account and I'll send it to you for $25 in
freight" - sounded too good to be true. It was, after
not returning our calls for 2 days, he finally called and sheepishly said
"sorry, I really didn't have one, but I have this other battery ...".
We settled on having him return our money; we are still waiting.
- Singapore - Source of Last Resort - Back on the
internet, we found the battery we wanted in Singapore, for a mere
$390. For $100 they would airfreight it to Langkawi, but we decided
"Bird in the hand is worth..", so we made a booking to
travel to Singapore by bus - a 24-hour trip each way by the time settles,
and we leave on Saturday so tune in next week for the outcome.
Crisis with our web-site - The week started badly when
Judi returned from our local internet connection yelling "It's gone, our
web-site is gone, and in its place is this thing!" Being
of the male persuasion, Bob conjured all of the logical reasons why she might be
having trouble reaching it - all of which were false because it really was
gone! This was a crisis of major proportions and over the next couple
of days we pieced together that:
- The registration of our domain name had lapsed -
Yep, we had set up a scheme to pay its renewal automatically, but this
failed, and an oversight didn't detect that we had received a dunning
notice, and the snail-mail copy did not arrive until the drama was over.
- The Domain now belonged to China - Yep, when
we chased down what had happened, we found that it had been snagged by an
outfit registered in Guangzou, China - apparently picked up a couple of days
after we let it lapse.
- We make an offer - We assumed that the outfit that
got it was a speculation, hoping to sell it back for a profit, so we fired
off an email saying we were interested, and got back an email from 'Jim'
saying 'Make me an offer' - we did.
- A human touch in the negotiations - 'Jim' didn't
exactly sneer at our offer, but he didn't reply either. When we said
it was just a hobby, and the name was not really worth much to us, he
apparently looked at the site and replied: " Never mind, you can
keep your domain, I've dreamed of traveling like that myself".
By the way, the email came with a Russian suffix through an anonymous
web-site, so we have no idea where 'Jim' lives, but we do appreciate the
fact that he has taken pity on us.
- Trying to recover - Now, 2 weeks on, we have a lot
to catch up on, and will be running the same content on www.longpassages.org
and www.longpassages.net, so stay
in touch. It has been an expensive lesson in paying attention to
details. We have also reorganized the front page a little, let
us know what you think.
And the drama of Salt and Pepper shakers - When we were
in the US, Judi was on a quest for a pair of cheap, plastic salt and pepper
shakers with lids for the tropics. So,
- Number 1 son, Denis, in Florida recently found 2 pairs, and
sent them to our mail service to 'be included in our mail' - declared value,
- Unfortunately, our mail comes via courier and the mail
service will not mix mail with other stuff (legal reasons), and so they were
included as a separate package for about $20.00 in
- When they reached Thailand, the Customs officials said
"gosh, these are really valuable, so we will charge you $18 import
duty on them". We yelled, threatened, and considered sending
them back, but they were holding 6 weeks of mail as hostage, so we coughed
up our $18.00 with little grace.
- Next we plan to make a mahogany salt and pepper holder -
Nai and Toe should be able to build one for $50...
But it could have been worse:
- Cruising friends returned to the US to find their RV broken
into, and thousands of $$ of goods and heirlooms gone - stolen from a
- Other friends were having work done on their exhaust pipes
locally, and the welder used the "throw the old one away before
making the new one approach", so now they have to measure
flanges and bends from scratch - a real pain.
Ending 18 Jan 2003 (Bob)
New Battery in Tow - Aside from availability, we
decided to pick our battery up in Singapore because of the corrupt and
confiscatory Customs policies of Thailand. So we had to bring it back as
our 'baggage' to avoid problems when we re-entered Thailand. Our weekend
- Drive - Up at 0330 on Sunday and drive our rental car to Hat
Yai, near the border with Malaysia.
- The bus - We considered the train, but a bus
was much faster. We boarded a 24-seat sleeper for the
14-hour drive the length of Malaysia to Singapore. It was a smooth
ride with several stops, and all was well except for:
- Our Seats - We were the last people on board, so we
got the seats by the toilet, which had no flushing instructions so it overflowed and became smelly in short order. The solution? The staff
locked the door.
- Singapore at 0430 - We arrived early, and this is
not New York - this city sleeps at night. No restaurants, mass transit,
or bars - we so hung out at the subway station until 0600 and then ran our
- The battery - A grey hulk, weighing in at 125#, was
picked up and carried back to the bus station - there to be disguised as our
luggage in a roll-on duffle bag.
- The return trip - Malaysia requires all passengers
to hand-carry all of their possessions thru Customs and Immigration, so we
"nonchalantly" strolled thru the stalls, acting as if the 125# beast was our
dirty laundry - apparently with success. Thailand did not really care, they
were too busy trying to find problems with each passenger's passports so
they could charge them something extra, so the grey hulk passed
un-noticed. The 14-hour trip was frigid - the air-conditioning was set
very low and the 4 throw-blankets were barely adequate. We drove back
from Hat Yai and arrived back at the boat at 4pm Tuesday afternoon.
Final (?) tribulations - We thought we were ready to
go, but our mail had arrived with another surprise - Bob's pension check that
has been deposited faithfully for 6 years arrived with a note requesting an
endorsement. Apparently a side-effect of the war on terrorism, his
paycheck, now 6-weeks old, was chasing us around the world seeking a
signature. A few frantic phone calls to understand the situation, a couple
more to change arrangements, and by mid-week we were ready to head out.
Checking Out of Thailand - This was a quick process,
easier than expected - visits to Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain,
where they collectively separated us from about $US12, and we were finally
leaving Thailand, 2 weeks later than planned and a little teary-eyed. We
really enjoyed Thailand and its people, and were a mite sad to be leaving.
Around to Nai Harn - At slack water on Saturday morning
we slipped our lines, and headed out of Yacht Haven on our way to Nai Harn, a
beautiful anchorage on the West side of Phuket. Immediately we noted that
the engine was not charging the batteries, and decided to spend the night at Ko
Rang Yai, a short distance from Boat Lagoon and trouble-shoot on the morrow.
Ending 25 Jan 2003 (Bob)
Cruising again - to Sri Lanka -This was the week we
finally got underway - 3 weeks late and behind the pack, but it is good to be at
sea again. We left Phuket mid-morning Tuesday the 21st and for 2 days
steered a course for Sombrero Channel in the Nicobar islands. These
islands look interesting, but they belong to India, and yachts are not
welcome. The weather has been benign for the most part, light to moderate
North-easterlies with 'rivers' of current flowing from the Malacca Straits and occasional
choppy seas. After a couple of days we have fallen into our off-shore
- 0700-0845 is occupied by the radio as Judi makes contacts
with yachts close and far.
- 0900 - Judi whips up breakfast and then goes down for a
- 1000 - 1730 We alternate watches during the day, Bob takes
an afternoon nap, and toiletries appear for our afternoon 'bath', au
nateural, in the cockpit. Bob tends to maintenance items as needed; we
have had sporadic problems with the charging system in this passage.
- 1730 - we sit and have a weak 'sundowner' and snacks and
our last radio contact of the day.
- 1800 - Dinner
- 1900 - 0700 - We settle in for the night watches, 3 hours
on, 3 off until the next morning, and do it all over again.
Drums of war - As the UN deadline for a report from the
UN Inspection Team draws near, we monitor the radio in an effort to understand
why the US feels war is acceptable, and what its effect will be on us and our
fellow cruisers. There are perhaps 100+ yachts crossing the Indian Ocean
at the moment, on their way to the Red Sea, and unrest makes us nervous.
The places along the way include:
- Sri Lanka - Not involved in the war on terrorism,
and the Tamil Tiger revolt is on a back burner for the moment, so perhaps
the harbor will not be the scene of Naval depth charges like it was last
- India - Has their problems with Pakistan, but the
southern coast is safe. We do not plan to stop here.
- Maldives - Vacation spot with no known security
problems. Time permitting, we will stop for a few days.
- Oman - An unsettled
place, but we know of no current problems there. It is a major provisioning stop before entering the Red
Sea so we will stop there.
- Yemen (Aden) - Scene of the 'USS Cole'
bombing. Often unsettled, they are miffed at US
attacks on terrorists in their country, we will stay away from it.
- Djibouti - Site of a large US armed forces build-up;
foreigners may be targets so we may give it a miss.
- Red Sea entrance - Traditionally the most dangerous
for yachts as targets of piracy, we believe a large US Navy presence may
make this safer, and have heard that the Navy is only a VHF call away.
- Eritrea - Always dangerous, we will stay away.
- Sudan - Apparently friendly to cruisers, we will
monitor the yachts ahead of us.
- Saudi Arabia - On the east side of the Red Sea, they
do not welcome yachts, so we stay away.
- Egypt - Safe, by the time one has made it this far
north in the Red Sea, one heaves a sigh of relief.
Communications at sea - We communicate with other
yachts and friends on shore by various means, all of them using radios of one
type or another. A recent request by a friend on 'Quest' demonstrated how
complex it can be:
- Marine single sideband (SSB) -Mike called us on
marine radio asking that we send a message to a friend in Galle Harbor, Sri
Lanka, 300 miles away.
- Laptops - We used our laptop to compose an email,
that we sent by:
- Satellite phone - directly overhead passed an
Iridium satellite that picked up the email, passed it on to several other
satellites before putting it on:
- Internet - this wonderful creation that ties us all
together these days routed it to a server near West Marine that belongs to:
- SailMail - an operation operated by ex-cruisers that
makes email communication on the high seas possible and affordable. It
distributes the message to its 5-10 radio sites around the world, and when:
- Recipient logs in - by
using a marine SSB radio, the yacht (that happened to be in Cochin, India)
checked in for mail - 'voila' he got Mike's request, and formulated a reply,
to travel the same tortuous path, in reverse.
- Long way around - The message probably traveled
50,000 miles, whereas Mike was only 300 miles from Sri Lanka when he started
the process, but at the speed of light, distance is not as important as the
end result - secure and dependable communication for fun, business or