April 2016 - Malaysia

1 April 2016   Phi Phi Don to Rok Nok , Thailand
It was another early start with a forty mile passage ahead of us.  We motored five miles to Phi Phi Le (07°40.80N 098°45.80E), where a movie called “The Beach” was filmed - it has thousands of tourists visiting each day.  Having arrived at half past seven, we were expecting to get there before the maddening crowds, but all of the ten moorings were occupied by charter catamarans and there was already over a hundred people milling about on the beach, with a steady stream of long-tails chugging into the bay.  We stayed and stared for a few minutes and left - “Been There, Seen That”

The wind was a steady 15 knots from the east, so with our southerly course, we had a lovely sail to Ko Ha Yai, where we picked up a mooring at 07°25.78N 098°53.63E.  This small group of three rocky islands is another popular destination for snorkelling and is supposed to be one of the best places in the area for scuba diving.  We just went snorkelling for an hour off the cliffs.  The water was clear but the coral and sea-life was a little disappointing. 

Glenys chats to Nemo

Some marine park rangers caught us before we had a chance to leave and charged us 400 Baht (£8) per person.  Fortunately, it also includes mooring at Rok Nok and covers us for five days.  In the afternoon, the wind dropped and swung around to the south-west, which seems to be the prevailing weather pattern here.  We had to motor-sail the remaining fifteen miles to Rok Nok, where we picked up one of the eight orange moorings at 07°12.87N 099°04.05E.  

We just had time to jump into the water and go for a snorkel near the mooring, which was okay - interesting terrain and some fish, but the water isn’t too clear.

2 April 2016   Rok Nok , Thailand
After our two early starts, we had a quiet morning pottering about.  While we’ve been sailing over the past couple of days, I’ve been checking the tension on the rigging and found that it’s not correct.   With our type of rigging (with two in-line spreaders), the following should occur when we are beating to windward:

• The leeward cap shrouds should be just going slack

• The leeward lower shrouds should be remain relatively tight

• The leeward intermediate shrouds should be slack.

At the moment, the front lower shroud is becoming very loose and the cap shrouds are remaining very tight.  I reckon that the cap shrouds are way too tight and are compressing the mast, forcing the front of the mast forwards.  With this in mind, I loosened off the cap shrouds by one turn and tightened up the front lower shrouds by one turn.  I’ll check it when we next go sailing and adjust again.

We ran the water-maker for ninety minutes and the water tastes much better now - we’ve lost the horrible bleach taint and can return to drinking our water.  Just before lunch, we went snorkelling at the northern part of the channel between the two islands, which was a nice snorkelling site with interesting coral formations and sandy patches.

Dive gear drying at Rok Nok

In the afternoon, I filled our scuba dive tanks and we went for a dive at 07 12.5484 N 099 03.9874 E where we picked up an orange mooring.  The dive was okay, going down to 20 metres, but the visibility was poor and the reef is covered in sediment.  I couldn’t find any small critters, but there were plenty of fish to take photos of including False Clown Anemonefish, a Lionfish and a friendly shoal of Longfin Bannerfish.

3 April 2016   Rok Nok , Thailand
We had an unsettled night because the wind picked up from the east and the tide turned us to that our stern was pointing into the wind waves.  This causes the waves to slap into the underside of our sugar scoop stern and makes a terrible racket.  Fortunately, it only it lasted for a couple of hours.

The morning was a lazy affair, with Glenys reading, while I caught up on processing all the underwater photographs that I’ve taken over the past few days.   In the afternoon, we went snorkelling, trying the west side of Rok Nok, a few hundred metres out of the channel.  The water was clear, but the sea bed was just a rocky reef with not much to see and there was a lot of surge.  

Glenys spotted a tiny 10mm long Juvenile Spanish Dancer nudibranch, which was free swimming.  I tried to take a picture of it swimming, but the surge was too strong to focus.  Eventually I “helped” it land on a rock, but it was so small that it was difficult to photograph.  I found out later that we’d seen a juvenile and adults can grow as long as 24 inches.

We headed back into the channel and picked up a small mooring on the southwest side of the channel about 100 metres from the outer end, which was a much better site.  The water wasn’t as clear, but the terrain was better with much more sea life.  I focussed on getting a picture of a Skunk Anemonefish, which I haven’t photographed before. 

4 April 2016   Rok Nok  to Koh Muk, Thailand
It was a much better night, without the slapping waves, but it was hot because there was no wind - you can’t win sometimes.  We went for a snorkel at about ten o’clock, which was okay, but there was a strong current in the channel, which made it challenging.  I played about with my new Auto-Magic filter on my underwater camera.  Normally the colours are very muted, but this filter “magically” retains the vibrancy of the colours in shallow water - it seems to work. 

Back on the boat, we tidied up and set off for the fifteen mile passage to Koh Muk.  There wasn’t a breath of wind, so we motored and even had to have our electric fans running in the cockpit to try to stay cool.  Both of us kept in the shade, hiding from the sun all afternoon, but we still had a touch of sunburn by the end of the trip.

Koh Muk

We dropped the anchor at Koh Muk in 9 metres of water at 07°22.53N 099°17.14E, next to a small beach.  It’s an impressive looking anchorage with very tall sheer cliffs, but there was no protection from the afternoon wind, which was coming from the west.  Consequently, we had two foot waves bouncing us around, with the rocky cliffs looming a hundred metres behind us - it was very unsettling and neither of us wanted to leave the boat to go exploring.  Fortunately, the wind died in the evening and the anchorage turned out to be very pleasant. 

5 April 2016   Koh Muk to Koh Phetra, Thailand
After breakfast, we chilled out for a while and then motored around the corner to have a look at the entrance to the Emerald Cave.  This is another Hong similar to the ones we looked at further north, where there’s a cave at sea level leading to a lagoon hidden deep inside the island.  One of the “must-do” things in Thailand is to swim through the dark 60 metre long tunnel to get to the Emerald Cave. 

By the time that we got there, the tourist boats had arrived, with scores of boats rafted up on the moorings and long lines of tourists being led into the hong, so we couldn’t be bothered.  Perhaps we’ll come back later in the year and do the trip in the evening or early morning when there are no crowds.

Once again there was no wind, so we had a very boring 25 mile trip to Koh Phetra.  The only thing of note is that there were thousands of fishing traps on the route, so we were dodging flagged buoys for most of the way - it reminded us of the lobster pots in Maine.  We anchored in 10 metres of water at 07°02.70N 099°28.13E.  

Koh Phetra is a stunning island with a long rocky ridge terminating in a 300 metre peak at the south end.  The anchorage is a bit of a roadstead and is protected from only from the north east to the south east, but in the settled conditions that we have at the moment, it’s very nice. 

Moray With Shrimp

6 April 2016   Koh Phetra to Koh Adang, Butang Islands
As we left the anchorage, I went forward to pull out the main sail, but it jammed in the mast and I struggled for fifteen minutes to sort it out.  The leech of the sail had somehow folded over and was too thick to pull out of the 15mm wide slot.  After a lot of cursing and pulling, I eventually had to drop the main sail onto the deck and then re-hoist it.  

This is only the second time in five years that we’ve had a problem with the roller furling and I suspect that I didn’t have enough tension in the halyard, so the very top of the leech had doubled over.   The main sail is becoming increasingly creased when reefed, and with 15,000 miles still to go on our circumnavigation, I wonder if it’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new mainsail.

The rest of the 35 mile passage to the Butang Islands was uninteresting, having no wind and flat calm seas - I hate all this motoring.  We tried to pick up a mooring off the north side of Koh Kata (06°32.74N 099°15.52E), but it was way too close to the reef.  Instead we headed over to the west side of Koh Adang and picked up a mooring at 06°32.14N 099°16.85E, which was much better.  A little later, the marine park rangers came by and charged us 400 Baht (£8) which covers us for five days.

The current really rips through the Butang Islands, so we had to wait for an hour or so until we could safely go snorkelling and even then we had to take the dinghy closer to shore because the current was still too strong at our mooring.  The reef was in very good condition and the snorkelling was good with plenty of fish although the visibility was a little poor.

Back on the boat, the wind was coming from the north with the current from the south, so Alba was being pushed onto the rubber mooring ball causing it to bang against the hull.  The irregular thumping noise was driving me crazy, so we dropped the mooring and anchored close by in 15 metres of water.

Koh Sawang, Butang Islands

7 April 2016   Koh Adang to Koh Sawang, Butang Islands
I ran the dive compressor to fill our two tanks, then we dinghied over to the south side of Koh Kata (06°32.39N 099°15.52E) and picked up an orange dive mooring.  The dive was excellent.  We dropped down to 20 metres and then followed the sloping seabed around to the west.  

The visibility was ok and the sea bed is sand with isolated coral heads, providing some interesting poking about.  The highlight is the rocky wall back under the dive mooring, where we spent a happy twenty minutes at ten metres searching out nudibranchs and other small critters.  We came across a Giant Moray surrounded by hundreds of Dancing Shrimps.

After lunch, we motored over to Koh Sawang and picked up a mooring at 06°30.22N 99°10.92E.  It’s at the far south-west far end of the Butang Islands and is an impressive place.  The mooring is very exposed, but the weather has been so mild that we decided to stay.  

Unfortunately, the visibility when we went snorkelling wasn’t as good as I expected and, despite a long dinghy ride, we couldn’t find a site that looked good for diving.  I think that there’s a dive on the south side of Koh Sawang, but the currents are so strong around here that it would be unsafe for us to go diving without a surface support boat.