Pulau Tioman and Adventures (incliding Crab-Walking and 2:47 AM Squall) - 29 Aug 2003

Sent: Friday, August 29, 2003 1:04 AM
Subject: Pulau Tioman and Some Adventures

My Dear Readers,
I attached the word document of this long story so if it is more convenient then just download that. Some people can't, so I just like to cut and past.
My mom found a good address in Singapore to mail stuff to me. I will send it in my next letter. If anyone wants to send me stuff in Singapore I would be really happy. I should be there within the next two weeks . . . hopefully.
Hope you all enjoy the tales.
I am lying here on my bed and the boat is doing its usual sideways rock. I don’t know if I will ever get used to it. I have tied, bundled and propped most things in cabinets and drawers so that they don’t slide around all night banging, creaking and keeping me up. There are still a few cabinets, which clank back and forth but I haven’t had any good ideas yet on how to stop that one.
I am tired.
I can’t sleep so I decided to write.
I would prefer to be writing this in an Internet café because then I could let people know I am out of harms way. As it is that will have to wait a day or so. I am now on a mooring ball in a tiny bay on a small island off the coast of Pulau Tioman. There are five or six small islands, which surround the larger one but this one has the most shelter.
It has been a very long two days. I should just drop over from exhaustion but you know how that is. When you are desperately tired you can’t sleep and your brain is chattering away and you feel a general agitation. I wanted to kick someone’s ass because I had to pull up anchor AGAIN this morning.
I must say I like mooring balls. They are impossible to find at night but if they are solid and well tied they are extremely convenient and comforting. They also require only a quick slip of the rope to be free and motoring away instead of 225 feet of line to pull up often against current and wind and then 16 feet of murderously heavy chain and then a 35 pound anchor to heft over the side. All this in a storm or squall can be distinctly like torture. I had this experience last night but as usual I am getting ahead of myself.
I wanted to spend another few words on our innocuous friend the “Jelly”fish.
Yes! They Do have natural predators as I found out from my readers. I even got a full 2 to 3 pages on life, habitat and dangers of jellyfish which I will cut and past for you all in due time. I found out that, yes, all those little bulbs of nasty stuff on the anchor line in Songkhla were little baby jellyfish polyps. There were a couple hundred so I must have wiped out a whole clan when I pulled the anchor up.
Two natural predators of jellyfish are Sunfish and Sea turtles. Yay!
Unfortunately, I can now understand why there are so many jellyfish. There are hardly any sea turtles around now days. I heard that in the market on one of the side roads in Terengganu they sell sea turtle eggs. Bastards! I like sea turtles because they are slow and graceful but now I have an even better reason to like them. They are my comrades. Death to Jellies! The reason I mention jellies again is that I have seen quite a few on my travels south. The type that seem to predominate here are quite large. The bigger ones are almost 2 feet in diameter with one huge white bulb on top and scary looking orange tentacles hanging down two or three feet. They aren’t that plentiful though and I find a quick glance around the boat is enough before I go swimming or take a bath. The thought of a big jellyfish wrapped around my head still creeps into my mind every once in a while. Other then that I must admit, I have not been bothered much by them.
There are lots of smaller boats zipping around here now. A few large ones motor up with bucket-loads of orange vested tourists, which they promptly throw into the water like bait. It is nice and calm now and I hope that it stays that way tonight. I need the rest.
The sun is roasting hot and I have thrown pillows, wet ropes and other soaked articles out on top of the cabin to dry. The water is the usual cobalt blue with topaz streaks of sunlight penetrating down to the depths. The water visibility is not very good, probably because of the storms these last few days. That leads me to what I wanted to start with.
The afternoon I left Terengganu there were lots of small squalls, but they were not threatening. I managed to check out of port and re-supply my stocks of drinking water, ice and diesel fuel. It was getting later in the afternoon but I was having a nice chat with the assistant manager of the ice making plant. He was teaching me some Malaysian and then we got onto the topic of family. It took me a while to explain the many parts of my family and where they all lived. After a little more explanation he asked why my mother was alone, why she hadn’t remarried. I tried to explain that she’d devoted herself to raising my sister and I, and this and that. He asked why I wasn’t with her in California. He admonished me to go back and start a family and live with my mother. He told me that exploring and all that stuff was good for the heart but family was what really counted. I listened and said I hoped I would eventually find a nice woman to settle down with. Someone to raise a family with, and who would also get along with my mum. He told me to sell the boat and return home. I told him I couldn’t do that and he laughed.
We talked a lot longer then I thought and when I realized this, it was quite late. Not late as in daylight but late as in tide going down. I had come into the river at a lower tide and had run into a lot of trouble so I wanted to get out before the tide dropped too low.
I was actually stuck on the mud bank next to the ice and fuel pier and had to be towed off. That should have made me stop and realize that the tide was quite low already. I should have thrown the anchor and spent the night and then left with the morning high tide. I had already taken care of all my port clearance papers and said I was leaving at 2 pm and it was now 4 so I decided to go.
I motored past Don and Gene in their beautiful white Catamaran and headed out the river. The interior was much easier now that I had seen many boats traveling around it. A few times it got quite shallow but not too bad. I motored slowly and watched the current as it pulled me along fast. The tide was dropping. As I was heading out the river mouth I saw one boat coming in and he seamed to be having a hard time of it. I didn’t realize until later that he must have been hitting the bottom on his way in. When the locals are hitting bottom you know you are in trouble. I, unfortunately, didn’t know this and sped along merrily into destruction. That is usually the way I think people start those kinds if moments. “I was strolling along whistling a tune when . . . . .”(you make up the rest).
The river was muddy brown. It stained everything a muddy brown as well and it was rolling fast out of the narrow mouth. I stayed on track from my memory of entering the river and from the last boat that just entered before I was leaving. Maybe I should have waited and followed another boat out directly behind it. That might have been a wiser choice, but I didn’t. I traveled most of the way out of the mouth when suddenly it started to get shallow fast. I turned to starboard and then to port. Either way it continued to get shallower. I slowed down and then put her in neutral. The river was moving too fast and she carried me right up onto a very shallow sandbar.
I was afraid.
What was I going to do? The current was rushing past the boat. I motored back and then forward and got more stuck. The current kept pushing me up higher onto the sandbar.
When I felt pretty sure I was totally stuck and would have to wait for a fishing boat to help me I felt a surge and a sliding away of the nose of the boat. At first I felt relieved. I thought the current of the river was going to pull the boat off the sandbar. The nose slipped around and the boat tilted over substantially as she leaned into the turn. The nose then rose up and ended up on a higher sandbar. Then the back of the boat slid around and did the same thing with a slightly deeper tilt. The nose did it again and the tail followed. I realized then that I was in serious danger. The boat was crab-walking along the sandbar, not to deeper water, but to shallower water. The current was in control and it was pushing me up onto the sandbar. The idea seems funny now that the boat would actually crab walk like that. I was not at all worried about the keel but at each turn the boat tilted over farther and the higher the sandbar got the more tilt there was each time. At first it was only about 15 degrees but as the current pushed the steps became more violent and the tilt increased to 25 and then 30 degrees. When the boat goes over thirty degrees things inside the cabin start to crash off shelves and break. Anyone who has been on a boat in a good wind knows the feeling of the boat heeling over which can be quite surprising in itself. That heeling was something I was used to but this type of pitching from one side to the other was insane.
I was horrified.
If the boat tilted over 55 degrees the river would rush into the cockpit and cabin and sink her right there. The boat would be lost in a matter of minutes if things continued. I was panicking. I mentally riffled through all the sailing books I had read recently. I had just completed the “Sailors Illustrated Bible,” but there was nothing I had ever read that mentioned river mouths, sandbars and currents like this. I could find nothing in all the warnings and techniques I had stored away in the last year to help even a little. I couldn’t throw an anchor and kedge because the current was too fast and the boat was in this continual horrific motion that precluded almost any kind of deck-work. At first the tilting and crab-walk were slow but after the third one it became rapid and continual with huge gyrations sending everything on deck up into the air and then to the opposite side. Even if another boat had come by and tried to help I don’t know if I could have even gotten a rope to them. I was on the foredeck holding on with both arms. I jumped back into the cockpit and mentally ran through more books I had read, fiction, nonfiction and instructive, and could find nothing to help myself.
There was nothing I could do! The boat was going to sink on the tidal flats of the Terengganu river mouth!
I started to scream! Yes, I actually screamed. I was consumed with anguish and horror. First because there was nothing I could do and second because I had to watch as my baby crab-walked to her doom. If I could think of one thing to do I would have done it immediately. I think that emergency training and a lot of army training drills things into your head particularly because in emergencies being stuck in “inaction” is both terrifying and very unproductive. It scares the shit out of you even more to be a passive audience to something horrible happening to you or someone you love.
I have had enough of that kind of training to know that I should think of something and do it right away. I just couldn’t think of anything. There were zero ships coming in or out of the river. The boat was making this horrid, jolting, walk across the sandbar and I could think of NOTHING! I screamed some more because I was angry and afraid. I have screamed like that in nightmares but rarely in real life.
In retrospect I should not have been so horrified. I was not in much bodily danger. I could have jumped out of the boat and swam sideways to shore easily. The water was shallow and shore was about 200 yards away. I was in a heavily populated area. All these things, but I was still terrified. I couldn’t picture losing the boat like that.
I finally decided that I had to do something besides scream so I jumped up to the pilots seat and started giving the engine controlled bursts of diesel with the throttle. This helped to actually steady her a bit and she slid along the sandbar more then crab-walked. A lot of sand was getting churned up and I was worried the engine would suck up chunks of it but I was more worried about the boat tilting over and falling on her side. I continued to rev hard and tried to steer her out towards the open sea.
To my amazement the sandbar had some deeper spots and the boat slid into them and started to move towards the ocean. I was still terrified but I was having an effect, a positive effect. There was still severe tilting but not so large and violent.
I began to shout. Big loud bellows.
“Go Baby, Yah!”
“Come on, Come on, Come on!”
We were moving faster and the sandbar was going from 3 feet to 4 feet to 5 feet. We were still solidly aground but were slowly edging to freedom.
5 feet became 6 and then suddenly we were off the bottom and free. I was both elated and terrified. Were there more shallows? What if that section had gotten shallower and shallower? This boat would be under water. It would be under brown river water and all that I own would be covered in silt and sand and lost.
I don’t have that much really so that part wasn’t so bad. My guitar, all my loyal tools and my journals would be the only things seriously grieved over. But the loss of the boat in general, my home for the last 8 months, the time, energy and love I have devoted to rebuilding her, and my pride as well (I must admit), would be hard to bear. I have to admit I do love her.
We very slowly motored out of the river flats and came to shallow parts twice more and scuttled along the ground one time. I was still not breathing right and shuddering. After 30 minutes of this we were in about 25 feet of water and I started to relax a bit more. We motored straight out to sea for another 30 minutes until we had 50 feet of water below us.
I thought repetitively, in shallow rapid circles, about what had just happened and the possible consequences. I was still shaking and I thought there was no way I was going to tell anyone about that!
And here I am blabbing all about it like it was a silly story that happened to someone else. I was embarrassed that my stupidity would end in the loss of this boat. I suppose everyone who owns a boat (unless they are already a masterful seaman/woman) deals with those emotions and ideas. Many people have lost their boats and still many more will. I suppose that is somewhat consoling.
We motored south, the Wind Spirit and I, to a small island called Kappas. It was only about an hour away and we arrived well before dusk and anchored in this beautiful cove created by an outer, smaller island and an inner, larger island. The cove was shallow and mostly sand. I anchored in 12 feet of water and worried.
I realized that heavy seas and shallow water are what destroy vessels much more often than huge storms out in the ocean. I am not that afraid of heavy squalls and larger waves (under 15 foot) as long as I am not on a lee shore or close to any coastline that I might get pushed into. That river mouth would be even more deadly with a large swell and a low tide.
I suppose it is not so bad for most of the fishing boats here because they have a flat, fairly shallow hull and if they go aground then they sit flat and wait for the rising tide. Even with a swell they would just get bashed around a bit. The danger in a sailing vessel is the deep, narrow keel. You put that on the ground and the next immediate question is, “which way is it going to fall over.” Then, if it survives the fall, the top is totally open to the sea and the rising tide will simply fill her with water instead of lifting her up.
The Dutch developed a type of keel-hull system that has two smaller keels on either side of the hull, which makes it look almost like those weird walking fish. The two smaller keels prop her up if you go aground purposefully or by accident. They developed it due to the type of coastline they had and the large tidal ranges. I think if I had a sailboat and spent a lot of time in a shallow sea I would definitely have a boat with this type of triple keel, or a bit easier, a catamaran.
I reflected on these things and was grateful to have escaped unscathed. I dove around the keel and the hull and found it all very clean two feet up from the bottom. The rest had this old sea grass, which was died brown in the river. I found no damage to the hull or keel and was once again relieved.
I made some harsh vows about river mouths that afternoon but I know if I am wise I will try going up another river sooner then later. This time I will have a good map or chart showing me the bottom of the river and river mouth. I will also go in at high tide, during busy hours so that I will have plenty of other boats to follow. A river that is actually buoyed might be nice as well.
I forgot to mention that one of the reasons I had such a hard and frightful time in the Terengganu River was because there was only one buoy. It marked a wreck halfway up the river. There were no buoys at the mouth. I have traveled up larger river mouths with a good buoy system and have not been afraid. So maybe I will try a smaller river with a good buoy system.
I also spent a lot of time considering what else I might have done in that situation and came up with another slower but maybe wiser idea. If I had thrown my lighter anchor out behind the boat, up current from me, and it had caught and dug into the sand, which it probably would have, then it would have pulled the boat out straight to the current. If the anchor stuck well, then the nose of the boat would have pointed into the current and the boat would have stopped that insane crab-walking business. I would have had to wait until the tide rose two or three feet but that would not have been unreasonable. The tidal shifts were quite large at the time. This would have required sitting in the middle of the entrance to the river mouth for a few hours which might have been embarrassing but a much better choice than sinking.
I have still been thinking about other possible means of escaping that dilemma but cannot seem to come up with much more. If anyone has any ideas I would be glad to listen.
I had a nice evening and night in Kappas and decided to leave the next day at around 9 am for Pulau Tioman. It was going to be a long journey and I was eager to get started.
“Why?” you might ask, after such a horrific incident only the day before.
“I’m crazy.”
That’s a simple enough answer, isn’t it?
I think maybe because I press myself too hard.
I was not drained physically but emotionally.
I felt much better the next day.
I did some preventive maintenance on the engine and water pump. Checked belts, oil levels and looked for leaks. I had charged the batteries to full capacity and my cooler was full of ice and good food. I think I was just eager to begin and I couldn’t picture myself waiting another day. The weather looked good too.
I decided to leave and was motoring along at a good 5 knots at the beginning. This dropped down to 4 then 3. I got a strong headwind around noon and the waves were pretty large coming out of just where I wanted to go. I tried motor/sailing with full sails and engine going, but found that I was losing ground. I had to point off 45 degrees from the wind, which would have been OK but the current was also getting strong and I was just sliding back up the coast as I tried to sail down it. This all occurred gradually but I started to count up all the reasons by the evening and realized that the strong countercurrent was killing my progress. The headwind was not helping and neither were the waves.
I had a waypoint marked for the late afternoon. It was a small, unprotected island and I could see it by the early evening. I chose to continue on into the night because I was hoping the change in current would then speed me along in the same way it had harmed my progress all day. This was a mistake.
The reason is that slowly a large storm blew in from the southeast and the current only got stronger. The waves got larger around midnight and I was beating down the coast.
This was the weather I had been trying to avoid by leaving Thailand earlier. It was unusual. Where was the monsoonal northwest wind that blew off the coast? This storm was not a squall but a slow bruiser that beat at me most of the night and well into the next day.
I was a good ways offshore so I was not as afraid as just frustrated. I used to ask my sailing instructors about the term “beating to the wind.” It never seemed bad enough to warrant the word “beating.” Instructors would explain that when you go upwind you are often crashing into waves as well as the wind. I had not done enough offshore sailing to really understand this. When the weather is bad you get beaten. The waves beat you, your boat bashes through them, everything get sprayed, the wind lashes at your boat, your face gets sprayed, everything seems to be getting beaten as well as doing the beating.
So, I was beating against a strong current and a headwind that was coming exactly out of where I wanted to travel. I was also beating against a good-sized swell and a lot of chop.
Needless to say I was going very slow. The Wind Spirit can do about 4.5 knots in normal conditions. The current was strong, moving up the coast at about 2 knots. The waves would bring me to a smashing halt every couple of minutes because the boat would rock so violently into each consecutive wave that all forward momentum was lost with each major crash into the waves. This, I guessed, was costing me another knot and then this bloody headwind was probably pushing me backwards at least 0.5 knots. I checked my GPS and was not surprised to find I was doing 1.4 to 1.7 knots at one point. Holy Shit! I was wasting fuel.
I had previously wanted to practice heaving to, a technique used to still a boat in heavy or even mild seas. You set up a small jib, backwind it, and then lash the tiller to the other side. What happens is that as the boat falls away from the wind the jib catches the wind and pushes the boat forward. The tiller, or steering wheel, then turns the boat up into the wind again, stalling the boat out. The wind slowly pushes the boat backwards and the wheel turns the boat back downwind. The process begins again.
It is good for storms and other emergency situations. That was why I wanted to practice it. Unfortunately it was not good for this situation, because I would drift backward over much of the distance I had traveled at a very fast rate. NO WAY!
Time for a short lunch break.
Oh, Yummy!
I just packed down three large tuna melts. They were delicious. I know exactly why I have a large appetite at the moment. All the physical demands and mental anxiety have my body rebuilding rapidly. It is a good feeling.
I gave myself a special treat at Terengganu when I found Mayonnaise in the grocery store. Yes! It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and it augments any decent sandwich of the savory persuasion. I also chopped up cucumbers and along with low quality processed cheese (just about the only kind you can find in Asia), made myself some fine lunchtime treats. A little bit of Coke to wash down the grease and I am good to go.
The engine is running. I am charging the batteries. They have both seen a lot of action these last two days and I would like to make sure they are charged in case any other shit decides to hit the fan.
Back to the story.
Early morning of the second day I was pretty tired and frustrated with my progress down the coast. I motored closer to shore but since it was, to some extent, a lee shore I didn’t want to get too close. I anchored in 90 feet of water about 2 miles from shore. I let out about 175 feet of line and watched. Another fishing boat was also anchored in the area, which gave me a good reason to try it. I dragged due to the powerful current. I let out more line to 225 feet and then she dug in. I could see the strain on the line from the current. I had two flags from crab traps to measure my drift. We were set pretty well. I went inside and slept fitfully for about two hours.
I got up and tried to continue down the coast. The storm got worse and I was making almost no progress.
I got a temporary passenger on the boat.
I was motoring along and went inside to get a snack. I came out 10 seconds later and there on top of the depth gauge was a tiny swallow. It had it’s eyelids closed upward and was napping. I went back to piloting and watched it. It napped for about 3 to 4 minutes then woke up. It looked around for a few seconds and then closed it’s lids again for another 3 to 4 minutes. I went inside for a drink and some ice and came back out and it was now on the seat next to the stereo. It had it’s eyelids closed tight and was rocking with the boat. It didn’t even notice when I reached over its head to put another tape in the stereo. I walked around the cockpit doing things and it just ignored me. I got to thinking it must be power-napping. It was the closest I have ever been to a swallow in the wild. Less then two inches and it seemed completely unperturbed.
I watched it for a while and felt somewhat satisfied that at least one of us was getting a break. It power-napped for 20 minutes. It must have felt at home because the next thing it did was shit. I was a little annoyed but left it to it’s own business. I was shifting coarse with the boat and the sun came around and shone on its head for another 10 minutes. I am pretty sensitive to the sun now and I felt like the little critter’s brains were boiling. Finally it awoke for the second time after it’s little shit incident and decided to fly into my cabin.
“Uh oh,” I thought.
“Ok, I don’t care as long as you don’t shit in there.” It flew around and landed on the electrical chord running along under the charts stored above my bed.
Birds and Electrical wires; a whole ‘nother topic all together. Why the swallow chose the electrical wire out of all the other things in the cabin more stable, I have no clue.
“Humm” I mumble to myself
“Will it shit on my bed?”
I had to pay attention to steering and the constant wind shifts (never enough to become a possible sailing wind). The sea was really mixed up and the boat was in constant motion sideways, forward and back and at angles too. I have seen “mixed up” seas before. When different swells mix, they make a chaos of wave action, but this was the worst I had been in on a boat. It forces you to hang onto something most of the time because your body cannot adjust very well. Actually, I should say, I am not able to adjust very well and so with most normal people. My friend, the swallow, seems to be doing just fine on a single electrical wire, though.
Every once in a while I would glance inside and see it swinging on the wire with the boat’s rock and roll, continuing it’s power-napping.
Finally I went inside for another coke and ice and found a little puddle on my sheet. Darn, another sheet for the wash.
“OK, that’s it.”
“A free ride is one thing but shitting on my bed is another.” I nudged it on the breast because it didn’t notice my hands waving at it, two inches away from its tiny face. It opened its eyes, looked at me for a second, and as I reached to nudge it again, it took off and swooped out of the cabin and out to the sea.
I must admit I am always amazed at how far birds can fly from land. Swallows are a great example. They are all over the Gulf of Siam on islands miles from the coast. They skitter along just above the water and it is amazing that they are not swallowed up all together.
That was my passenger for the duration of my storm-riddled trip.
At about midday I gave up. You ask why I didn’t sooner?
My response is the normal one.
“I must be crazy.”
Inner dialogs are great. Don’t let them spook you.
Actually, I think they are a good proof that we are social creatures and this super-individualism such as “Into the Wild” is not natural. As animals we love to share, relate, be understood and essentially, bridge the gap that makes every man a lone island.
That is part of my desire to write these letters. I can share my ideas and the things that stimulate them. I can share the shocking beauty that is almost painful to the heart. (I wish I could share that better). I can tell my horror stories and feel better about them afterwards. I can speak and someone cares to listen and read.
I must take a moment to thank my audience for that.

So I decided I was going nowhere, literally, and headed for the coast. I saw a few points on the chart that might give me some protection from this side / onshore wind. As I made my turn the wind started to get much stronger. It had been quite strong all day with consistent whitecaps. On the Beaufort scale it was about a 5 and I would have been overpowered with my Genoa up. I had the main up and was ripping along when I decided to tack and head for shore. I saw a lot more whitecaps on the sea and the wind freshened some more. It turned into a low 6 and I considered lowering my mainsail. The boat heeled and then we went clattering along, bashing through waves and plowing a much straighter line than before. It felt good and I decided to keep the sail up.
The wind then turned on even more and it was a solid 6 on the scale with 22 to 27 knot winds. The boat really pitched over and I knew that there was more to come so I ran up and dropped the main. I tied her down tightly and continued motoring for the shore. The wind started to howl. A large fishing boat motored past me at full speed also heading for the shore. Another two smaller boats went zipping by and I plugged along at my 4 knots. The waves started crashing over the side of the boat and the sea started to get hazy from all the spray off the whitecaps. I held onto the tarp frame and laughed and howled along with the wind. It was nice that these things did not frighten me. The Wind Spirit rocked a lot but she was designed for this so it was OK. It got up to a lower 7 on the Beaufort scale, which is called “Near Gale.” It felt pretty “gale-ish” to me with a wind at about 30 knots and the sea spray whipping my face.
I was making progress towards the shore but since I was quite a distance off to start with, it took me almost an hour. By the time I got to the small bend in the coast and some semblance of shelter the squall had blown itself out. It was mellowing out and after I dropped anchor behind the rock jetty windward of me, it died almost completely. I laughed. That was just my luck.
The current was still rocking along though and I decided I would try to wait out whatever it was making its way up the coast against me. If it was a longer storm then I could use the break.
About an hour later the wind picked up again and blew into the night. I napped all afternoon and read this great book I have been enjoying. It is called “Geek Love,” by Katherine Dunn. It is about a circus and the freak family that is the center of it. It is shocking, ugly and perverse but witty, crystal clear and wickedly true to the heart. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I cleaned up all the shit on the floor and all over the boat (too much Rockin’ and Rollin’) and washed all the dishes. I looked over the engine again and almost kissed it for working so bloody hard the last 36 hours. I made a huge load of rice with a small dinner and then went to bed early. I slept pretty soundly most of the night. The waves were still large though and they would wrap around the jetty and send my boat rocking sideways. I slept in one of the front bunks and it was perfect for the rock of the boat. They used to be too hot because they were high up near the ceiling. Actually I should say they were very close to the LOW ceiling. But since I turned the forward hatch around to face the wind it has been amazingly cool in the front cabin. I should have done that, months ago.
I awoke to more wind but less than there had been the last two days. It slowly mellowed out during the day. I had been thinking about how to get down the coast with this persistent current and wind. I decided that the current had been most powerful during the day and less so at night. I knew there was an extreme high tide in the early morning hours and then an extreme low in the late afternoon. The wind was also less violent during the night. I concluded that if there was less wind in the afternoon I would take off again.
I swam around the boat a lot. I later took a wonderful freshwater shower and power-napped in my hammock all day. I read and ate and enjoyed my life on the boat. I later went into the tiny fishing village for ice and met some nice kids that drove me around on their scooters. I had one small cooler full of ice. I still had ice in the main boat cooler but wanted more for drinks. I drink buckets of water, juice, tang, vita-milk, coke and even chrysanthemum juice while piloting. That and pissing off the side of the boat are my main activities.
I have gotten good enough now though that I can read instructional books while I pilot. It’s a nice distraction but I think after an inflatable lifeboat, my next purchase will be an autopilot.
Yes, father,
I know crew would be good for that.
At about 7 pm I motored out past the jetty into a gentle head wind and a kick ass current going the RIGHT WAY for once. I sped along at 5.3 knots without sail. As the night progressed the wind turned into an offshore breeze and then kicked up to a hard breeze. I pulled up the Genoa and main and was ripping along at about 6.2 knots. What a fantastic change! The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that the large storm had pushed a tremendous amount of water along with it, up the coast and after the storm there was a large backflow.
There were squalls blowing along the coast but most of them were offshore. I took my Genoa down because I was a little apprehensive about sailing at night with full canvas. I was quick at stowing sail during the day but what about at night? The offshore got stronger and blew me along with the mainsail, just fine.
By midmorning the wind was dying and I had made tremendous time. I motored along with the current and by around noon it started to shift back. I was heading out to sea by this time though so I was not going directly against it. I had a beautifully calm day to travel through and the ocean spread out all around me to every horizon. The sky was huge and I felt good to be moving my home along through the crystal blue water. It felt good to be a witness to the gentle breeze rippling the surface of the water and the soft orange of the afternoon sun. It even felt good to be alive under the tremendous heat simmering through the tarp, at noon.
I pulled close to crab traps as I passed, measuring the set and drift of the current and watched it build during the afternoon and watched my speed drop. “Set” is the direction, and “Drift” is speed of the current. It is not too difficult to guess drift by how hard the crab buoy is being pulled down into the water and set is simple to diagnose with a quick look at the compass as I speed by. An addition or subtraction of 90 degrees usually puts things in proper perspective.
I was a bit nervous about arriving at Tioman because of the many small islands, which make it such a great dive attraction, but also make it more dangerous to navigate, especially at night. I finally spotted the islands and watched as, half an hour later, they all disappeared into a very dark night. I was very nervous but I was also much more prepared. I had plotted all the small islands on my GPS and had studied the chart, a dive book and another map, intensively, in preparation. As I approached, I identified each island and while eyeing my depth gauge closely I chose the safest, easiest and shortest course between them. It was not too hard and I made another leap in night navigation.
There was no moon to speak of so it was particularly dark but I did have some help. Mars has been passing earth on one of the closest orbits it has been on in many hundreds of years. I am sure all of you in the civilized world have heard about it. Mars is intensely close to the earth and very visible at this time.
I stared at it through my binoculars but didn’t feel much angrier or more bellicose. I gave up and was content to watch the soft pink Mars-light rippling across the water. It had quite the opposite effect and soothed me instead of bring on visions of warfare. I felt privileged to actually see Mars-light rippling across water. The moon has been distinctly absent these last few nights. It has been rising at around 5 or 6 am and setting in the afternoon. I am not sure why that is, but it has isolated Mars for me to see more clearly.
After I passed the outer islands I motored up to one of the northern bays on Pulau Tioman in the darkness of a pitch black night. I anchored in fairly deep water. It was too black to explore the harbor and there were a lot of boats so I decided to leave that for tomorrow. I dropped anchor in 85 feet of water and set out 225 feet of anchor rode. I noticed I was drifting kind of close to another moored boat but it was not that bad.
I tried to read in my hammock but was so tired I read three words, 5 times before I decided to just sleep. I can’t remember how I made it from my hammock in the cockpit, to my bed in the cabin but that was where I was at 2:47 am.
I had one of those kinds of sleep where you remember nothing. The kind where you lay your head down and then the next second your alarm is going off and it is time to get up. It was a good sleep and I was not exhausted when it came to the next manic dilemma.
At 2:47 am, a large squall blew directly into the bay I had anchored in, turning it into a desperate lee shore. I awoke feeling the motion of the boat and in the half second it took me to step out into the cockpit I knew I had a squall coming into the bay.
I was swinging dangerously close to the other boat.
First thing I did was turn on the engine. Thank goodness.
I went back out to appraise the storm. It was bad and getting worse fast. The waves were already three feet and the wind quite strong. I decided to pick up anchor and motor out into the squall and across to the protected shore of one of the smaller outer islands. I ran up to the foredeck to pull the anchor in. I grabbed the line and pulled. The boat was rocking madly. I pulled hard and some slack came into the line and I took a few steps backward. This put me right into the forward hatch. It was raised and it clipped my legs right at the knees and I went over backwards. My feet went up into the air and my back landed on the top of the angled hatch and I slid down it and hit my head on the Plexiglas starlight in the deck. I was still holding the line during this backwards summersault and it probably helped to cushion my impact. With the rolling seas added in, I managed to bang up; shins, my lower lip (don’t ask me how), my ribs and the back of my head. I also realized that the seas were too rough to get the anchor in before smashing into other boats in the harbor.
It was the worst I had been in at night. I decided it was time for a lifejacket and harness. I reached into the front cockpit storage hatch and pulled out a small modern lifejacket / harness my cousins gave me.
I will take a moment now to Thank You, Jay and Dorothy, for the great lifejacket you gave me before I left San Diego. It was exactly what I needed and was compact enough not to hamper me when I needed to work the fastest and hardest I could. It had a simple, solid pair of rings for a safety line clip at the center of the base of the jacket. I tied off my safety line to these and felt much better about running around a mad foredeck with waves bashing across it and water jugs rolling around and anchor line and chain everywhere.
Thank you for the wise gift.
As I slipped the lifejacket on I put the boat in gear and motored away from the closest boat, which was now only 20 yards away. I headed out of the bay for a few minutes and tied myself onto the safety line and tied it to the rail along the cabin-top. I ran up on the foredeck and tried the anchor again. I realized at that moment that I desperately needed another crewmember to pilot while I dragged up the anchor.
The wind and waves had gotten much stronger and were 5 to 6 feet by now and washing the foredeck clean. As soon as I stopped motoring the wind pushed the bow of the boat back around and waves came over the side. The boat rocked wildly and we drifted backwards too fast.
I remembered that in front of the bay it had been surprisingly deep. I notice when I had arrived that night that it went down to 160 feet when the rest of the sea floor sat at around 70 to 100 feet.
I motored very slowly against the wind and crashing waves. I was dragging my anchor out into deeper water. I was very glad my little Volvo Penta was humming away inside the cabin. It was working hard for me.
When I was out to about 110 feet, about a quarter mile out of the harbor, I put the engine in neutral. I was afraid that while I pulled up the anchor the anchor buoy would wrap around the prop and then I would be done for. I knew I had to do this fast and once only. I tried again with just my hands because usually that is faster but there was too much resistance. The deck was rocking madly as well and buckets were flying from one side to the other. Big 35-liter jerry cans of diesel were on their sides sliding about with the froth and waves. As this madness was unfolding, I calmly thought that I wished that diesel was in my tanks instead of smashing around on deck. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about the engine running out of fuel at a critical moment. Only one of my inside tanks was full and other two were close to empty.
That is something I will do before this afternoon is over.
Back to the story.
I was forced to wrap the line around the mast winch and crank it in slowly. It was murderous and I spun that winch with all my heart and it wasn’t enough. I was getting tired and the boat was drifting backwards fast. I had to hold onto the mast and crank and pull. I didn’t stop for the waves or when the boat was tilted over at 30 degrees. My back heel was propped on top of the cap rail on the side of the boat and my arms were steaming from the effort. It was still too slow and I was getting close to giving up and motoring some more.
Suddenly I heard and felt the clack clack of the chain over the front roller and knew I was almost done. I pulled the line into the right mark and ran up onto a heaving, bouncing bowsprit. If the boat is bucking like a bronco then the bowsprit is like holding onto the bronco’s rump trying not to get sick, while bouncing from the trench of the waves, up 20 feet into the air above them and then back down through the next wave.
Needless to say I was wet.
“Wet” was an understatement. I was surfing.
Well . . . . .
I held the rail and pulled the rest of the chain in and grabbed the anchor by the shank. I was thinking an anchor windlass would be great right now. I tossed it over the safety lines onto the foredeck and quickly jerked in all 35 feet of the anchor buoy. Done!
I dashed back to the cockpit slipping and bouncing over jerry cans and waves. I bashed my shins on the new dorad I put in and rolled over the fallen water tanks. Another wave broke into my face as I was lying on my stomach and got me a little more wet. I was laughing. The anchor was up and I was free.
I slowly motored away from that bay into deeper water and then across to one of the smaller islands and a protected shore. The water around the island was deep and there was a strong current but there were two other fishing boats and the wind and waves were not so large and swirlingly mad.
Another thought ran through my mind as we bashed and beat upwind. I realized I felt thankful and very close to my boat and it’s engine. I think maybe one way in which men and women begin to love their vessels is because of the horrifying shit you both go through together.
Have you ever experienced something, which was close to, or actually life threatening, with someone else? A case where both of your actions saved both of you together? I think these kinds of incidents create powerful bonds and the trust that is built between you in a very short time, lasts very long. Teamwork has some elements of this. I now realize that you can have this bonding with a non-conscious thing such as a boat. The ocean is often a dangerous place. She is stunningly beautiful and quite deadly. So, when you make it through a lot of hell and high water at sea I think you begin to trust and love your vessel as a partner or a companion or a woman.
There are also other aspects like the emotional and physical energy one puts into a boat, continually. You have to love something you work on with such intensity and frequency. That or else you hate it. I knew a fisherman on Koh Pangan who had a serious love / hate thing going on with his boat. His boat was literally sinking in place and he let her sink further or pumped her out, depending on how he was feeling that day. He reminded me of a bitter, angry lover.
Anyways, I realized I was starting to love my boat. She is a solid tank with a decent engine and I only really worry about going aground. I think if done right she could weather some extreme storms with aplomb. She really gets moving when the wind cranks and she has carried me a long distance already.
From Bang Pakong south to Koh Chang, Tony and I covered at least 200 nautical miles. We crossed the gulf for another 200. We must have put in 150 nm in the Samui area and I know I put in another 150 after Tony and friends departed. The distance to Songkhla was 152 nm and then to Terengganu was 197 nm. The distance from Kappas Island to Tioman Island by itself was 152 nm. All told that is about 1300 nm. I suppose that is not much when compared to ocean crossings and trips around the pacific but we are working our way up slowly. It’s good to make plenty of small mistakes and hopefully avoid the really big ones.
My father has this funny quote. It is from an interview with an extremely successful businessman.
“How do you run such a successful business?” he was asked.
He replied, “I try to avoid making mistakes.”
“So, how did you learn not to make mistakes?”
“By making mistakes,” he explained.
I would say my last few mistakes had to do with improper weather knowledge. I no longer have a tide book for the areas I am traveling and I have not been listening to the weather reports on the radio. I could also use a cruising guide as well as some kind of text that covers general seasonal weather patterns throughout the areas I sail.
I was thrown off by the long lasting storm from the southeast as I traveled down the coast and was not expecting a violent and powerful squall from the opposite direction. I was also very tired and might have been more alert and calculating if I had had crew with me. I know that the 2:47 incident would have been 5 times easier with someone else’s help. Anyone could have slowly piloted the vessel into the wind while I pulled up the anchor.
The issue with rivers I think has to do with tides and mappage. I think a good mud-map, like a good chart, would take me out of the dark and allow me to navigate much more effectively.
Therefore corrective action will be to look up a source of international tide charts and some SEAsia cruising guides. I will also try to start listening to the weather on the radio and chatting up fishermen about local patterns and daily and weekly forecasts. I like chatting with the fishermen so that one will be easy.
My next purchase of charts will distinctly include harbor and river mouth layouts of ports I expect to stop in, as well as other possible emergency stops. On rivers, I should navigate another one before the fear settles in too much.
Finally I should take my time and look for crew or even passengers for the last segment of this journey.
I must admit I love the fact that my next island destination is called AUR Island. I start feeling surly just thinking about it. I want to growl, say the name and growl some more. It makes me chuckle to myself.
A quick note about Pulau Tioman.
It was the island, which centered in the filming of “South Pacific.” It was rated one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It is stunning, but I have seen just as good in Thailand. I realize now that the islands are not what I love that much. I love the sea. But because I am functionally a land animal, I love those places where the sea and land meet. Not because of the land but because of the sea. I love the expanse and the infinite colors and the solitude and powerful violence. Well, maybe I don’t like the powerful violence that much. Not when it is slapping me around. Maybe it is the potential, which is both intimidating and awe inspiring. I don’t know.

I noticed the fishermen in my cove pick up and motor away. I waved them over while they were passing and asked about the evening weather and good bays on Tioman to anchor in. They told me the island I was on was not all that safe at night with the squalls and that they were headed to Juara Bay. I decided to follow them and here I am tied up tightly to a line of mooring balls. It is quite solid with three individual anchoring points in the ground at the front of the line and at least two anchoring points at the back. I tied up with four different lines along the length of mooring line. I also tied all my outgoing lines with a simple loop back to the boat. This means that all I have to do is throw one end of the line out and pull the other end in, and I am off the line. I can do that with four lines, 10 times faster then I can pull up 225 feet of anchor rode.
I feel pretty safe here and the squalls blow out to sea from this side. My only worry is that another large slow storm will blow hard into this bay. That it not so bad for two reasons. One is that those storms take a lot longer to build up. The second reason is that two other boats are permanently moored on other lines close by, which means they are left here through storms and all.
It is three O’clock and I have not written a letter letting people know I am safe so I really must finish this segment and go into town.
I will write again before I leave this area, detailing my future destinations and timetables.
I would like to talk about one more thing before I wrap this up. First I don’t want to give the idea that these little stories compare in anyway to crossings or huge storms out at sea in the pacific. I am not that presumptuous. They are crazy little incidences that happened to me. They scared the shit out of me and I like to write about them. That is all.
On the other hand, I don’t want to paint a picture of my incompetence. I do a lot of things right while cruising and managing this vessel. Those who have sailed with me know that. I do have to make a lot of continual repairs, but I think that just goes along with an old boat. If I told stories about all the things that went right they wouldn’t be exciting or much fun. So, trust me when I say that it has been a pretty fantastic trip so far and after a little rest I am eager to make my way to Singapore.
Much Love to my friends and family,
Captain Andy