Looking up into the sky in Langkawi, you are bound to spot sea eagles, which are fascinating to watch as they swoop down to catch Garfish, which are in the habit of tail walking across the water. Langkawi, according to folklore, got its name from the two Malay words ‘helang’ (eagle) and ‘kawi’ (reddish brown): hence, lang-kawi.
After a five-day stay at Rebak Marina west off Langkawi, during which time we met a host of new yachties and travelled across to the main town Kuah, we set sail to explore some anchorages on the surrounding islands. The scenery is absolutely unique, with sheer limestone marble cliffs rising from the landscape at every turn. The land is densely forested with small fishing villages found only where there is flat land, which is rare. Most of the population resides on the biggest island Langkawi, where Kuah is the centre. We saw surprisingly few cruising boats and had anchorages to ourselves.
We anchored off Princess lake, which is quite a tourist attraction. Because we had no dinghy at this time, Annie used her paddleboard a lot to visit onshore sites. We tied up at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club for two nights, during which time I installed a new anchor pressure wash system to cope with the muddy bottoms in these parts. We also filled up with diesel before setting off north to Thailand.
Sailing north along the east coast of Langkawi island, we stopped at the “Hole in the Wall” which is part of the Kilim Geoforest Park – a World Heritage area and definitely worth a visit. We had a leisurely three-day sail from Langkawi to Phuket, averaging about 45 miles a day.
On our first day, as we crossed the border from Malaysia into Thailand, I was busy lowering the Malaysian and hoisting the Thai courtesy flags, when Annie shouted for help. Thailand had welcomed us with a beautiful Spanish Mackerel, which Annie landed, filleted and cryovacked into 16 portions. This catch will keep us fed with protein for more than a week. The beauty of this species of fish, is the absence of scales and fish bones – simply slice the meat off the spine and its bones.
As we approached Phuket, the peculiar vertical limestone marble outcrops rising from the sea became numerous. These sheer stone structures known as karst outcrops, with vegetation clinging to it, are all over. The last time we visited Phuket was two months before the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. After the utter destruction, now 13 years later, it is paradise again, as usual.
We arrived at Chalong Bay in the south of Phuket on Monday 11th December and anchored to check in with the harbour master, customs and immigration. It was a public holiday and we were advised to check in later. So, we sailed up the east coast of Phuket to a berth at Ao Po marina. Cholamark Boat Company delivered our new Highfield 2.9m Ultralight dinghy the same afternoon.
The following morning, we drove a rented car to the airport, to welcome Michelle our daughter, who flew in to Phuket from London where the temperature was – 6 degC. Two days before flying over, she was hiking in the Lakes District where it was snowing and the week before, she and her friend Simon, were in Iceland to see the Northern lights at -18 degC. The local temperature of 30 degC was a welcome relief.
Afterwards, we drove south to Au Chalong to check in with the harbour master, customs and immigration – this was a painless and speedy 15-minute exercise. On the way back to our marina, we stopped to stock up with Vittles for Michelle’s 10-day stay.
After two nights at the Ao Po marina, we set off to explore the numerous islands in Phang Nga Bay, between Phuket island and Krabi on the mainland. Some of these karst outcrops have internal lakes, accessible by narrow caves which you row through in the dark to get to the “hongs” which means rooms. These are spectacular natural wonders, sometimes open to the sky through steep shafts, letting in light and air.
After exploring a few of these hongs, we were motoring to “James Bond Island” when we ran aground on an uncharted sandbank. This resulted in a 6-hour wait for the rising tide to lift us off, with the aid of the Mercury outboard on the new dinghy, pulling at the 10-tonnes of Esprit, at full throttle.
We continued at a relaxed pace to the east coast at Krabi which is really beautiful. We spent a few days exploring and sampling the local food before heading south to the Phi Phi island group.
A strong wind started to build up out of the Gulf of Thailand from the east, so we had a boisterous sail back to the shelter of Nai Harn beach on the southwest tip of Phuket island. In the relative shelter of this beautiful beach we sat out the gale force winds for three days. This severe weather system sank a yacht in the Philippines, drowned the Aussie skipper and left two crew in hospital.
We did numerous walks and on Thursday the 21st of December we will rent a car to drive to the airport in the north of the island, for Michelle to catch a flight to Sydney. She will spend the festive season with Karen and friends in Byron Bay, before going to the Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria, where she and a friend have received a grant to do an art installation.
We will be hanging around this area for the Christmas and New Year festivities with the other sailors, before sailing back to Langkawi to have Esprit slipped, cleaned, antifouled and the engine serviced for the long haul to India at the end of January. We will do another post before setting off. Cheers for now.