January 2017 - Thailand & Andamans

1 January 2017   Ko Lipe, Thailand
Once again, we started the New Year feeling a bit rough - too much red wine last night.  Despite the headaches, we went for a scuba dive.  It wasn’t easy because I had to fill two tanks and then had problems with equipment after not diving for three months - I had to change a regulator that was free-flowing.

We managed to get away from the boat by 10:30, by which time it was raining and the wind had picked up, so the 1¼ mile dinghy ride to the dive site was challenging.  Glenys was very apprehensive, worried about the effect of water pressure on her eyes so soon after the operation.  Her Karma was not helped because her BCD inflator was leaking, so I had to disconnect it and she had to manually breathe into the BCD.  To cap it all, the visibility was about 3 metres with lots of plankton, so it wasn’t the best dive we’ve done.  We did see lots of fish and a few nudibranchs and the site is great, but our hearts just weren’t in it.

We had a quiet afternoon, and went easy on the booze over dinner.

2 January 2017   Ko Lipe, Thailand
It was a grey day, so we pottered about on the boat, doing a few little jobs.  I sorted out my To-Do-List and my To-Buy-List so that I can hit the ground running when we get to Phuket.  The plan is to spend a couple of weeks finishing jobs, buying spares and stocking up on food before heading off to the Andamans in the middle of January.

The afternoon was even worse with heavy rain, so we hunkered down doing more planning.  I spent hours looking at possible anchorages in the Maldives, so that we have a rough idea of what to expect.  Once we leave Phuket, I know that we will be sticking to a timetable dictated by the seasons, so I want to be well prepared.

Christmas Tree Worm

3 January 2017   Ko Lipe to Rok Nok, Thailand
We set off towards Rok Nok at 06:30 and encountered the usual strong wind as it funnels into the north side of the Ko Lipe channel, but it soon calmed down to 15 knots.  After two overcast days, our batteries were very low, so we motor-sailed for a couple of hours during which we noticed an intermittent “singing” sound from down below, almost like the sound a wineglass makes when you make it resonate by rubbing a wet finger around the top. 

It took me a bit of experimenting to pin it down.  The mysterious sound happened when we were motoring at 6.5 knots, but stopped when I turned the engine off and sailed.  I then tried sailing with the engine running at 1800 rpm, but not in gear - no sound, it only happened when we were motoring forwards. 

I initially suspected the Volvo Stern Gland, which has two rubber lip seals running around the rotating propeller shaft - perhaps they were dry.  I checked that I’d vented all the air out of the seal after we’d launched the boat and squeezed some more grease into the seal - no change.  I then suspected that the new propeller was resonating, but what would cause that?  

I ran the engine again at 1800 rpm, this time with full sails up and doing 7.5 knots - the resonating sound was more continuous.  It’s nothing to do with the engine itself, the stern gland is okay, so it must be either the propeller or the cutlass bearing.  Thinking back, I painted the end of the cutlass bearing with antifoul.  This is a rubber bearing with small grooves in the rubber to let water flow across the rubber - I’ve probably blocked the ends of the grooves and stopped the flow of water, so the cutlass bearing is running nearly dry.

We had a great sail for the rest of the day, hard on the wind, but in 15 knots with a clean bottom, we cracked along at 7 knots.  It took us seven hours to sail the 45 miles to Rok Nok where we picked up a mooring.  I jumped in the water and scraped off the antifouling from around the end of the cutlass bearing.  I also poked a small piece of wire into the ends of the grooves to make sure that they are clear.  We’ll see if the mysterious singing, ringing sound comes back tomorrow. 

Leaving Rok Nok

Rok Nok is a national marine park with scores of power boats bringing punters to lounge on the beach and snorkel, so we waited until they had gone and then went snorkelling.  It’s good to be able to jump into tropical water again.  

The Marine Park Rangers caught us at 17:30 and asked us for 400 Bhat (£8) per person and 100 Bhat (£2) for the boat.  I cheekily asked if the captain was free of charge and they said yes, so I save myself the cost of a good bottle of wine.  The fee covers us for five days at any of the Marine Park Islands, but we’re only stopping one night.

4 January 2017   Rok Nok to Nai Harn Bay, Thailand
Rok Nok lived up to its name last night because we rocked and rolled until dawn when we slipped the mooring.  We navigated between the two islands and motored for 30 minutes to check if our singing, ringing noise had gone.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t so I’m at a loss what to do next - my best guess is that the propeller is resonating like a tuning fork, but why?

The wind gradually picked up from 15 knots to 25 knots as the day progressed, but it was either on the beam or abaft the beam, so we had a cracking sail averaging 6.7 knots over the 58 mile passage.  We had to reef a couple of times and the seas built up to 2 metres, so it was a boisterous trip and we were glad when we arrived in Nai Harn Bay, after 8½ hours of being bounced around.

There are about 20 boats in the anchorage, but there’s plenty of room for more.  The wind is shrieking through the anchorage from the north-east and there’s a big swell from the west, but the swell is widely spaced and it’s not too rolly.  I went over to “Catamini” for a chat and they kindly lent me their phone to book a car.  I can’t get one for tomorrow, but I’ve booked one for the Friday, 6th - we have a lot of errands to run.

5 January 2017   Nai Harn Bay to Ao Chalong, Thailand
Early in the morning, we dropped the genoa and removed the genoa halyard - it’s become very frayed where it’s clamped at the bottom of the mast, so it needs replacing.  We then motored around to Ao Chalong, which is one of our least favourite anchorages in the world.  It’s exposed to wind and waves and can be very bouncy, the holding is okay, but it’s the centre of the Phuket tourist boat industry and there are literally hundreds of tourist, fishing and dive boats on moorings.

We normally anchor a long way from the walled harbour, but this time we found a space much closer - it was tight between various boats on moorings, but we came out pretty central.  After watching our position for an hour to make sure that we weren’t getting too close to other boats, we went to clear in, which was very painless and only took an hour. 

Now legal, we ran some errands - buying SIM cards for our phones; had lunch at a street food hawker; and walked to a nearby shopping mall.  Back at the boat, we seemed to be in a good position, well-spaced between the moorings and the wind was fairly light, so we decided to stay the night.

Another Squall Passes Over

Unfortunately, at 03:00, a huge squall came through - the wind switched 180 degrees and increased to 35 knots within seconds, followed shortly by torrential rain.

I woke up because of the change in motion and rushed onto deck to find that our anchor had dragged and we were very, very close to a big dive boat.  I started the engine, and motored into the wind and rain. By this time, Glenys was in the cockpit (naked like me) and we pulled up the anchor to escape the maze of the mooring field.

While Glenys held us in position with the engine, I grabbed our Samsung tablet to use the Navionics plotter app and found that the Android operating system had decided to upgrade itself and would only show me a humorous little R2D2 look-alike.  Bugger!  I turned on my laptop and left it to boot up while I rushed back onto deck. 

It was a tense ten minutes, with Glenys on the wheel and me on the bow of the boat, shining a torch into the horizontal lashing rain, dodging the moorings and boats and guessing where to head in the pitch black night.  Of course, the stinging rain was hitting parts that needn't be mentioned - it wasn't a pretty sight. Twenty minutes later, we dropped the anchor in an isolated place a mile from any other boats and went back to bed.

6 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
After a restless night, we were up early and motored back to Ao Chalong - the weather forecast was for settled conditions and we’d hired a car for the day to start buying spare parts and provisions for the Indian Ocean.  Our first job was to drop off two dive regulators and a BCD for servicing at a dive shop close to the end of Girly Street - it’s not actually called that, but it’s packed with lots of bars and massage parlours .

An expensive pile of boat spares

After negotiating horrible traffic for 30 minutes, we arrived in Boat Lagoon and spent a couple of hours wandering about buying spares from my long list.  I love Boat Lagoon - it has the best marine services in the whole of East Asia. You can buy stuff that isn’t available anywhere else -  I bought filters, toilet spares, zincs, etc, etc.  I also bought 10 metres of 8mm chain and 5 metres of 1½” toilet hose from AME Chandlers and arranged for them to send it to their shop in Ao Po Marina, so that I can pick it up next week - it’s far too heavy and bulky to take in the car. 

Our original genoa halyard was stainless steel wire spliced onto double braid rope and I’ve been agonising whether to stick with this old fashioned method or convert to Dyneema - both expensive options.  I chatted to David, the rigger at Precision Shipwright Services and he suggested that I just use cheaper Double Braid.  It will stretch a little bit, but will I care about a couple of creases in the luff of my genoa in high winds?   I don’t think so.  I bought double braid and David spliced an eye into it for me within an hour - sorted!   

Despite seeing a dentist in Penang only a month ago, a small bit of filling has fallen out of one of my teeth, so I managed to get an appointment today in Boat Lagoon.  They did two fillings - one at the bottom and one at the top, so one half of my face was frozen and I missed lunch.  We travelled on to Tesco, where Glenys did a “medium” (one big trolley) shop and I sneaked off for a Big Mac.  

It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare getting things back to the boat at Ao Chalong, with a ½ mile walk along the pier back to the dinghy, so I dropped Glenys off at the end of the pier with our shopping; returned the car and then we bummed a lift from one of the tourist Song Thaews .  It didn’t help that the gate to the pontoon where we park the dinghy is always locked.  Don’t ask me why, it’s some Asian Logic.  All the commercial Thai tourist boats have the same problem - everyone just climbs around the gate with all their bags and boxes of provisions.  

Egg & Chips - The Ultimate Comfort Food

We were back at boat by 17:15, so we decided to head over to Ao Chalong East;  anchored at 7°49.06N 098°22.77E in 5 metres of water and cracked open a well-deserved beer.

7 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
Overnight, the anchorage became a bit bouncy with the wind and swell coming in from the exposed east.   I looked at the weather forecast and a big low pressure system has formed to the west of Phuket.  The forecast was for the Low to slowly head north, twenty miles from the west coast, which would give us strong southerly winds, so I decided that we should go over to the north side of Ko Lon Island, which should give us protection from the south winds.

Unfortunately, the new anchorage was more exposed to the existing East winds, so it was pretty miserable being bounced around for three hours.  At midday, I checked the weather forecast and the low had headed east and was passing directly over us, so the wind wouldn’t be coming from the south -bummer!  I swallowed my pride and we upped anchor and headed back to where we’d started. 

The rest of the afternoon was a miserable, grey day with lashing rain, so we sulked down below.  This low pressure system has completely disrupted the NE monsoon winds that we need to get to the Andaman Islands and it looks like we’ll be stuck in Thailand for a week longer than planned. 

We were at our lowest ebb, so Glenys made Egg & Chips for dinner - the ultimate comfort food.