Kuala Terengganu and Running Aground - 18 Aug 2003

Sent: Monday, August 18, 2003 9:45 PM
Subject: Kuala Terengganu and Running Aground

Ladies and Gentlemen,
A few days at sea and I feel much better. That loneliness slides off with the salt water and the wind in the sails. I didn't really take the time to go into the crew issue. It was so bloody expensive to use the internet services in the Perhentians that I didn't want to spend an hour talking about something that annoyed me and pay 10 US $ for it.
But I can go into it now.
Matthias and Florian were a last minute bit of luck. I had chosen my crew a few days before we were to depart, 4 days to be exact. Over the next two days I told the rest of the people interested that I had come to a decision. This was a mistake, I later decided. I should have told them the day before I was to depart. I suppose that would put them on fairly short notice but it would have saved my arse if I had.
The original crew were a nice Swiss couple named Francesco and Cornelia, 22 and 21. They made me laugh all the time and I was expecting a great trip with them. What happened was that Francesco and Cornelia decided to do a little diving the two days before we were to depart. On the second day Francesco diced his finger on the ladder of the dive boat. The weather had been a bit rough with lots of waves and the ladder was bouncing up and down against the boat quite a bit. They even noted that it looked kind of dangerous. On their second dive while Francesco was climbing out with his gear his finger got caught between the ladder and the boat. It got chopped almost clean off. They quickly returned to the Pangan Hospital and it was sewn back on. They had to stick around though to go through continual cleaning and tests to make sure the nerves and tissue were healing correctly. This was the day before we were to depart. In the afternoon Cornelia came to tell me about it.
I couldn't believe it. What absolutely SHITE luck!^*%*&$(*)
I couldn't get mad though because it was no one's fault and Cornelia was crying about it. I felt bad for Francesco.
Cornelia mentioned that she had two friends who had said that they wished they could go as well. They were two German kids. I talked to them that afternoon and put the question to them. "Would you like to sail to Singapore on a 15 to 20 day trip and leave tomorrow morning at 7:30 am?" I have no doubt it was a hard one for them but they decided to go. The next morning they arrived on time and we departed at around 9 am after the last bit of supplies were rounded up.
I was totally shot from doing everything so I slept and took it easy the first day.
I trained Flo and Matthias on the sails and starting and stopping the engine and throwing the anchor and pulling it back up. They were good students and pretty eager. We got along fine and talked a lot about Germany and America and regulations in the first world and some politics, although I usually try to stay away from politics unless I know someone pretty well. It's always a touchy subject with strong emotion.
Things went fairly well but there were some problems. The toilet was one of their specific complaints. You have to pump the damn thing about 30 times to get it clear and they got tired of doing that and it got stinky in there. The other issue was that it often rained at night or in the early morning which made it uninviting to sleep up on deck where it is much more comfortable. I had installed fans before departing Koh Pangan but they were not enough on the hot nights. When it rained hard it was blessedly cool but if it didn't then the fore cabin was always quite hot at bedtime. They had a lot of trouble with this and didn't sleep well many nights. We drank a few nights and that didn't help either.
When we arrived in Songkhla I stayed on the boat and told them to go find a guest house and get some air-conditioning because it was obvious they had had too much sun and heat over the last 4 days. They gladly obliged and left the boat.
I found I had to repair or replace the transmission cable and I was having trouble engaging first gear so I took the time to find a mechanic and we took the transmission apart twice over the next couple of days. This business as well as dealing with customs, port clearance and restocking the boat took much longer then I had expected. We stayed in Songkhla for 8 full days and I know my crew was yearning for the island/beach theme, which was probably the main reason they came.
They were very sick of Songkhla when we departed and were happy to be on our way.
I had to stop in Kota Bahru in Malaysia and go through customs, port clearance and immigration in the same manner and they were tired of the whole business. I guess I had not made it that clear that the trip involved other business besides sailing and gorgeous beaches. We were in and out of Kota Bahru fairly quickly and on our way.
Another thing that I think they didn't like was the continual and frequent raising and lowering of sails. The wind was always shifting around from east to west to northwest to southeast and back to the east. It would blow hard then calm down and then hard again and then stop. We all got tired of raising and lowering sails so we motored a lot more of the distance than we could have. It was fine as the motor is pretty efficient, simply because it is so small and not very powerful. I also carry about 320 liters of diesel fuel, which would allow me to motor for about 140 hours straight.
I think this trip to Singapore is not so much about sailing as about traveling the distance. The winds are not consistently from any one direction so sailing straight is not an option.
These things considered when we arrived in stunning Pulau Perhentian Kesil, I think they were overjoyed. They got off the boat and went out drinking right away. I think that night they decided that they had had enough of no freshwater showers, hot nights in a tight bunk, way too much sun, and a little bit of sea sickness mixed in. I think that on a well-outfitted, modern yacht with all the amenities it can be quite comfortable. AC is a serious requirement here in the tropics. Then, it is not so difficult. But on an old boat it can be uncomfortable at times and feel like camping for long periods. I know many of the friends who sailed with me will understand that it can get wearing. I had talked to the Swiss couple about this and had given them fair warning, but Flo and Matthias didn't get that warning and maybe were expecting a more comfortable ride and less repairs along the way.
I think considering how beautiful the Perhetians are, it is hard to want to continue on. They told me the second day we were there and I said it was OK. I think it would be bad news to force anyone to stay on the boat and sail when they didn't really want to. Living on the boat is hard enough and adding that factor in would make it intolerable.
We got along fine and could have traveled longer for that matter but the conditions on the boat were too much for them. They were "on vacation" they reminded me and I couldn't argue with that. It made me think about my own vacation and if I was "mad" for pushing myself, and my boat, so hard. I though about it for a while and decided, “NO.” I love sailing and the open sea and feeling the soft lapping of water passing under the prow. These things are why I keep going.
I then spent three frustrating days looking for crew. I found people who wanted to go but didn't want to pay for anything. I found others who were interested but asked how much they were going to be paid. I found a great Italian family who wanted to sail but had to be in Singapore in 4 days. I explained that since I had a rather slow "sailboat" that we wouldn't be able to stop if we wanted to do that.
I put up posters again and found a pretty cool local named ABBAS who played some great Pink Floyd. He helped me look for crew as well. He worked at one of the restaurants part time and talked to all the people he served. He had found crew for other boats the last few years. I wandered around a lot and found myself talking to local people a lot more than travelers. I think that when travelers arrive at a location they are not that welcoming or open and sitting down and talking to people is sort of like doing the same in the states. They look at you like you're a freak or crazy. But on the other hand if you walk up to the locals and start jabbering away they smile and jabber back just as much. I found myself playing guitar with some guys who owned a bar and Satay shop, when I was supposed to be finding crew.
When you travel to a location together, other travelers are much more open and you can meet people "on the road." This I have done many times, but when actually on the beach, I think it is a different story. It was driving me nuts because I met heaps of locals but no one to crew for me. I got a lot of cold looks from travelers and after a while it started to piss me off.
Flo and Matthias were not that helpful either and I felt letdown.
This feeling mounted for a while, and I finally decided to depart on my own. I enjoyed a nice evening playing guitar with ABBAS. He was entertaining some Dutch girls and we played guitar well into the evening. I was a little bent by this time so I was not entertaining them as much as just playing with ABBAS. We got some good lead and background guitar going and played about 20 Pink Floyd songs.
So that explains my crew; Matthias and Flo.
I am now on my own.
I had a beautiful night on Pulau Lang just west of Redang. It was a tiny strip of land with a fantastic coral bay on the west side. I moored there for the afternoon and wandered around. There were four dive resorts on the island with three beaches on the west side. I got permission to take a freshwater shower at one of the resorts, but when I got to talking with some locals, they said that the weather had been pretty bad on this side of the island the last few nights. A massive cumulonimbus was filling up half the sky to the west and I decided to skip the shower and motor around to the other side of the island.
In Pulau Perhentian the evening storms had not been that strong, so I was expecting the same. After I motored around the island it was too dark to find the moorings, so I anchored in about 70 feet of water with 225 feet of line out and kept a close eye in the boat's drift. The storm did blow up but not that intensely and it blew out to sea more than towards the island I was on. It was OK though because the wind blew offshore most of the night, which made my location on the east side more comfortable.
I awoke to a stunning little rock cove. The mooring balls were about 45 feet from the rock shore and I had to motor past them a few times to make sure it was deep enough. There was plenty of room at the first mooring with 12 feet below me. The cove was amazing. Big boulders everywhere above the water and below the boat, a stunning strip of crystal sand about he size of a soccer field. There was no beach but the contrast in colors was gorgeous. It was the kind of place I could stay at for a few days. It was exactly the kind of place Flo and Matthais had in mind when they agreed to join me. The coral was beautiful with a large amount of the flat round table-like formations. Like that tells you anything. They ranged from dark green to bright blue to brown to lavender to orange to yellow. The coral surrounded the patch of sand in a large ring and then dropped off from there.
I swam for a while, snorkeling and diving and enjoyed the morning. When I jumped in a mass of 30-40 fish attacked me. They were domesticated and were used to being fed from dive and snorkel boats. They followed me around the reef for a while until they realized I wasn't going to give them anything. They then swam back to my boat and nibbled on the sea grass growing on the side. After exploring the reef, I made myself some tasty pancakes with brown sugar and limes, the perfect taste contrast to salt water.
At about 10 am a boat full of thirty or so Chinese snorkelers in lifejackets arrived. They jumped into the water and the drivers started throwing bread and crackers over the sides of the boat. My swarm of fish quickly left me for the feast they were used to. About 20 minutes later another boat full of thirty Chinese or Tiawanese arrived and also jumped into the water. They were everywhere. It was funny to see this amazingly peaceful little cove filled with bright orange lifejackets and neon snorkels. I think they came from the dive resorts on the west side of the island.
At this point I felt rested and ready to travel so I dropped the mooring ball and departed for Redang.
Redang is it's own story but the more exciting one is the Terengganu River Episode, so I will go on to that one.
It was a short half-day run to Terengganu from Redang and I arrived at 2 pm. I was famished and tired from a bad night of rocking in Redang Harbor. I was debating anchoring outside and entering the River and harbor the next day but the swell which rocked me to death last night was still running so I was more inclined to enter the river mouth. The swell was 3-4 feet with some 5 foot sets and it was my first experience with sizable swell. It makes me realize that I really want to take this boat to where I can surf. It also rocked the shit out of the boat (side to side) if the wind and current were gentle enough to allow the boat to lie sideways to the swells. It was not sickening as much as maddening. I have realized that it is one of the things that drives me crazy very quickly. When your whole world is rocking side to side, 20 degrees each way, a lot of shit falls off the shelves and everything creaks, groans and bangs around. It is also difficult to sleep as you come close to sliding off the bed at 20 degrees and then the cushions on the side fall on you and then your blanket falls to the floor and pretty soon you're up and screaming at the &T^*&$*&^%%# WAVES!!
So, as I ate a dry ramen pack (almost out of food) and sucked down two packs of Vita-milk, I watched boats motor into the river mouth. They would cruise up to the sandbar and then vanish. Shit. How was I supposed to get into the harbor if I couldn't get past the river mouth? I waited around a bit longer until 5 other boats were going in and I followed them. The channel is totally unmarked and extremely narrow. I followed one boat but got too far behind. Another boat passed me on my starboard and waved me toward him. I realized why as my depth sounder showed 17 to 12 to 9 to 6 feet in about 4 seconds and I quickly spun the wheel to starboard. I tailed the last boat in and he kindly slowed down so I could keep up. I believe the channel is about 40 feet wide at its narrowest and a maximum of 22 feet deep with extremely sharp sides. It was what I would call "Totally Hairball" and my heart was in my throat most of the time. I was horrified of going aground and getting solidly stuck. The waves were rolling in just to the right and left of the channel and I watched what would be a great right point-break with 6 to 7 feet of swell.
I discovered one helpful point in river navigation is to note where the current is running fastest and usually that is the center of the river and the deepest area. This type of fast current also occurs from a shallower shelf into a deeper area, which I learned later.
I think the best bet is always to follow other boats, preferably big ones with equal draft as your own boat. A big boat that goes as slow as mine was hard to find.
Once inside the harbor it was easier as the depth sat around 17 feet. As I motored up towards the "KASTAMS" building and the fuel depot I would swerve from right to left trying to find the channel and almost ran aground three or four times. I entered the river at 2 or 2:30 pm, at the time of least traffic. I should have entered at 7 or 8 am or 4 or 5 pm, when the fishing boats flood in and out. So I had no one to trail as I headed up the river. It was “hairball” and I was totally unsure about what I was doing. Then around a corner I saw a beautiful catamaran anchored on the side of the river and I proceeded to go on the wrong side of her and almost went aground again!
I finally went up past "KASTAMS" and the fueling depot and then turned around. I was feeling a bit more comfortable and I decided to anchor on the far side of the fairly narrow river. The distance across was about 200 yards. As I slowly motored over to the far side the depth shot from 17 to 5 in 2 seconds and I tried to turn and totally ran aground on a large hump of sand and mud. The boat tilted over 20 degrees to starboard and I was horrified that she would keel over and sink in three feet of water. That would be great. "Boat lost in Terengganu River, as owner floats downstream in dingy," would be the headlines in the local paper.
The boat settled down and sat upright again but she was stuck solidly in the mud with her bow pointing towards the far shore. The current was pushing her into the sandbar more and I couldn't motor off at all. The river was swelling past the bow pretty fast. After 5 minutes of backing and forwarding, I realized I was completely stuck. I was on solidly and I looked across at the many large ships at the Malaysian customs office and marine department about 100 yards across the river from me. I felt totally embarrassed. I looked south a little at the beautiful catamaran which I knew had very little draft and would never run aground like I had just done. I looked a little north and saw all the fishermen laughing at me from six or seven boats. What a pickle.
I decided that I should try to relax a little, now that I was stuck. I debated dropping an anchor and staying there as it was just about where I had previously wanted to anchor.
I walked up to the deck and prepared my fisherman’s anchor. It was a little lighter then my plow. I then got in my dingy and took the anchor off the foredeck. I rowed out into the middle of the river about 200 feet away from the boat perpendicularly and dropped the anchor. I rowed back to the boat and cranked the line in. I then hooked it into the mast winch and slowly cranked more line in. The line got very taught and then the front of my baby started to pull around. Slowly but surely she pulled all the way around and slid off the sandbar and out into the river. I was once again in the middle of the river with my anchor line out. YAH!
I started to pull it in when a fishing boat from further up the river, one who had not seen me run aground, came by really close and told me to anchor on the side of the river not in the bloody middle. I assured him that I was pulling up my anchor at that very moment and he sailed by. I was feeling pretty frazzled by this point and wanted to be at some nice bay where it was easy to "park." I got the line and anchor up and then motored around for a while longer.
At one point I pulled up to these pretty intimidating fishermen and asked if I could tie up next to them. They tried to ignore me and finally gave a slight assent. I pulled up and it took them a long time before they would catch my line. I thought about the fact that I was an American pulling into a harbor in one of the Muslim capitals of Malaysia in a Yacht and wondered about my sanity and why I had not thought anything about it before. I then realized that I hadn't because it was not a big deal and not something to be afraid of. I realized that a good attitude and a smile are far better tools. It is something I have learned now that I question less and less. The fishermen tied me up and we chatted for a few minutes. They spoke almost no English so I blasted them with what little Malaysian I knew. They laughed and I looked at their engine and invited them to come in and look at mine. They milled around my boat for a while ooing and aaing and then returned to theirs. They were still not totally friendly but I saw it was a good start and if I could speak Malaysian we would all be pals. They said I could tie up to their dock as soon as they left but they would return at six am the next morning. I thought about it for a while and looked down at the catamaran. They seemed to know what they were doing so I decided to try that out.
I have sailed up into a river three times now; once at Bang Pakong, once in Kota Bahru and once here. It has been a freakish learning experience but let me tell you, I have learned a lot in a very short time. I decided to pull off the fishing boat and try the anchoring business. I thanked them and they smiled and I pulled away. I motored down the river past the cat and then turned up and dropped anchor. I drifted back on my kedge anchor and set the ratio at 7 to 1. The ratio comes from depth to amount of line out, i.e. 20 feet deep, so set out 140 feet of line. This ensures a pretty solid set and it is unlikely that the line will pull out.
After my first set the current pulled me out into the middle of the channel again. Ahhh! Again another boat came by and told me not to anchor in the center of the river. I pulled up anchor AGAIN and motored further to the side of the river where it was getting pretty shallow and dropped again. The current pulled me sideways again but I was far enough to the side to not be in the channel of traffic. I realized that with a mono-hull the current will pull the boat to one side of ones anchor set but I couldn't seem to get it to pull me to the other side. That is OK though.
I stayed on the boat the rest of the afternoon, which was not very long. I think all that activity had taken about 3 hours and it was 5:30 by the time I felt secure. That was extremely stressful. I decided to climb into my hammock, slung across the cockpit, and read. Almost everyone who motored by the boat waved and had something to nice to say. I shouted out the little Malaysian I knew and started to feel quite welcome here in Terengganu.
The waterfront all along was very quiet and I wondered, a few times, that afternoon, during my fiasco, if I was even in the "city" of Terengganu. I would say it feels like a sleepy fishing village with a few hotels. But just off the river there were plenty of large office buildings and 25 story hotels.
The night was uneventfully quiet. I got a really good night’s sleep. Thank goodness. My nerves were feeling pretty razzled.
Today I entered Terengganu and found a large Islamic city with plenty of modern businesses, banks and markets. It feels more first world than Thailand. There are contact lenses shops, home appliance stores, cell phone shops and the standard commercialism of the modern world. I am going to stay here for two or three days and then move on to Tioman. I have been taking this trip rather slowly and would like to make it to Singapore before September.
I need to replace a shackle on the chain under the bowsprit before it breaks. This is an involved process. I have to deal with the forestay and the mast as well as loosen the chain holding the prow tight. The river is a good place to do this repair and I will try and get to it this afternoon. First thing is a good shower and then some shopping.
I have returned to my longer stories but still no photos. If anyone wants to get off my list just let me know. I can imagine these stories can fill up mailboxes and such.
Mom, I will be in Singapore before the month is out, hopefully, so if you want to send me something send it to Singapore Poste Restante.
Dad, hope your travels in the states are enjoyable and am glad to hear that Galyani got her visa fine.
Much love to friends and family,
Captain Andy