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Langkawi to Phuket

August 20, 2013
Langkawi to Phuket route map

Langkawi to Phuket route map

Certainly a different type of trip from the previous time. Big differences are the addition of a large SW swell seeing as it is the SW monsoon season. The island of Sumatra does protect Langkawi to some extent but as one moves north the swell becomes more dominant. In the NE monsoon season the Malaysian peninsula makes this trip smoother as one is on the lee side with the dominant wind coming off the shoreline.

The south-west monsoon is tricky. There are strong winds one has to be careful of, called sumatras. Sneaky in their quick arrival, vicious in strength and potentially destructive in they can churn up a powerful swell due to the shallow waters along the coast. A lot of the time we are moving through water no deeper than thirty feet. It is not clear water so there is always the concern for navigational hazards.

It is beautiful though and we are being quite cautious moving only in daylight hours and trying to choose short distances to cover between well protected anchorages. Our first anchorage after Khua was Telaga (Position #1 on map). As mentioned we did get pinned down there with rain, squalls and a uncomfortsble swell rolling into the anchorage. We left as soon as we felt prudent and jumped up to the east side of Taratao ( Position #2 on map).

Pinned down in Telaga Harbour

Pinned down in Telaga Harbour

Tarutao is a national park, runs in a north-south direction, is high and provides numerous well protected anchorages on both the east and west sides. Being the SW monsoon we chose the east side and anchored off of a beach with a small waterfall and pool. Ah a fresh water shower and bath to cool off under, laundry to do and refilling a few small jerry cans – this is called paradise!

The following day our friends on Zorana headed off under threatening skies, overcast, wind but  not sure which direction. We elected to stay behind cowering under awnings, water collection systems and warm coffee. We made the right choice. Six hours later Zorana staggers back from large seas, heavy winds and lets just say all round shitty conditions. Meanwhile we were gorging on brownies, coffee and fresh water baths despite the rain and wind.

Zorana before going out to get clobbered

Zorana before going out to get clobbered

Next day time to go. Make tea, start the engine say goodbye and drift north with the current and light wind. Six miles later a call. “Connie, we found your sunglasses” Zorana smugly said. Turn around, motor back, pick up glasses and away we go once again. Not far though. 15 miles to the (north we find a beautifully protected anchorage with more waterfalls and calm water (Position #3 on the map).

Ko Bulah - pirates booty. No just fishing traps stored on a safe beach in a very protected anchorage

Ko Bulah – pirates booty. No just fishing traps stored on a safe beach in a very protected anchorage

Generally the weather improved as they day went on. However, I will say we were enjoying the overcast, drizzle and cooler temperature. All a relief from the heat and humidity and we weren’t missing the air conditioner. We both were saying it reminded us of the Pacific Northwest but just warmer. The landscape was similar in that here it is a very rocky shoreline where the vegetation drapes itself over the water’s edge trying to suck the ocean dry in its never-ending quest to grow and take over territory. There’s debris floating everywhere; large segments of bamboo, palms floating vertically, scrap wood and all along with dead squid and numerous other pelagic beings (as well as fishing nets on the rocks).

Tangled nets on the rocks

Tangled nets on the rocks

Soon the sun shines the heat increases and as an excuse to cool off I say to Connie “any more laundry?”. Launching the kayak I take the cushions and sundry other items ashore. I find a freshwater pool, jump in and make like I am doing hard work on the shoreline taking buckets of water away from the pool to do laundry. It’s all for show. It is the cool pool under the overhanging vines and trees that I really seek. Just to lie in the pool and cool off is such a wonderful feeling. Another fringe benefit that others pay a princely sum for are the small fish that nibble away on sundry body parts eating dead skin! Of course when they get a little to brazen and get close to more sensitive areas then enough is enough. Time to stir the water around, scare them away for a few minutes and then they return. Starting shyly at the feet end they slowly work their way up until once again it’s time to stir the water up again! Ah, paradise….

Next day. Not so much paradise but a dose of reality. The SW swell and west wind made it a real effort to even make twenty miles to Phaetra (Position #4 on the map). We made it there and stopped choosing not to follow Zorana another thirty miles to Kraden.

The stunning limestone cliffs of Phaetra towering above our anchorage

The stunning limestone cliffs of Phaetra towering above our anchorage

Phaetra is built like a fine serrated knife blade. Standing at over 53 metres in height, 2 miles long and 50 metres wide it is an imposing rock offering dubious protection. We anchored at the south-east end tucked in 20 metres from the shoreline. We double kinked our next to see the top of the rock realising that if a piece were to break off it would tumble straight down and through our teak deck into the cabin below. Oh well we were out of the swell and sitting to the current watching the bird life thinking if we were rock climbers and suicidal we could have a fine time.

We stayed the night there ready at a moments notice should the wind suddenly switch. A sleepless night punctuated by screeching monkeys, fluttering bird life, fish hitting the side of the hull and strangest of all seeing the lost souls of sailors. That is the only easy way to explain it. Up at 0100hrs we were both staring at the shoreline watching what we first thought were suicidal rock climbers with headlamps on making their way along the shoreline. But no, there was more than one light. There were several and they were moving at incredible speed up and down the rock face and in and out of the foliage. What were they? We don’t know because all we saw were what we thought were lights. Hence we have come up with the idea that Phaetra is the island of lost sailors souls. Corny but give me a better explanation!

Keep moving. Up at 0530hrs and start northward. Get around the south end of Phaetra, bounce around in the SW swell and the rebound waves off the west coast of Phaetra and away we go. Not much wind but a trade wind sort of day. Clear skies to the west, a light wind which only allows us to motor sail northwestward. Frustrating as would love to sail but we need to get further up the coast and to better protected anchorages.

Returned to Ko Ngai (Position #5 on the map) where we had been in March. A lovely island with a few small resorts. Had a beautiful last two hours of the trip into here with a lovely wind sailing in the lee of Ko Kradan, across the channel to Ko Ngai and into the lee of the island next to a golden beach. There we go paradise again.

Soon all that changed. We launched the dinghy, cleaned up everything, took a quick swim, baby powdered (!) , shaved, put on our best ratty swimsuits and prepared to go ashore. We looked around and yes over top of the island a huge black cloud.

Waiting for one of the sumatras and hoping it will pass us by

Waiting for one of the sumatras and hoping it will pass us by

“OK” we said “let’s wait for this to pass and the go ashore”. Well three hours later we are still pinned down. The wind comes in howling gusts, the rain in sheets of piercing bullets that makes us think of bullets on the front lines of Afghanistan and skies that look like Mordor.

We are not worried but do occasionally look to windward to see at low water the jagged protrusions of coral hoping the wind direction doesn’t change and impale us on a pinnacle that makes us look like an ornament on a cruiser’s wedding cake. We occasionally look to starboard to see our friends on Zorana disappearing in another gust of salt water spume thrown up by another gust. But like most modern cruisers we forgo the VHF for the cell phone to check everyone is OK. There is no question that anyone is getting in their dinghy for a visit and a sunset drink.

Woke up to a beautiful day. Sailed up the anchor, drifted out of the lee and had a lovely short sail over to the south east end of Ko Lanta (Position #6 on the map). Anchored in 8ft trying to get out of the impact of the SW swell. Got enough protection for a comfortable night despite the occasional rain squall and local fish boats coming and going at all hours.

Morning sky was overcast with rain in the distance. Gave up the bed in favour of getting on our way to Ko Phi Phi. Sailing events? Caught a fish but it broke the line and left with my lure. Sailed off and on depending on wind strength and swell state. Only rained once. Changed course for only one fish boat. No squalls. Arrived Phi Phi before dark (Position #7 on the map).

Pi Pi is not exactly our favourite place but it is certainly interesting. We were surprised at the large numbers of people under 25 considering it is the off-season. We were constantly being given little flyers announcing the half-moon party that night at Woody’s.  Well, we thought we were a little out-of-place so headed back to the boat after a quick bite to eat.  Our first taste of Thai food after a few months of Malaysian mixtures.

Next day the wind is blowing again, the temperature perfect for a beat to windward.  Off we head out of Ko Phi Phi before the half-moon partiers have gone to bed and we sail a total of 56 miles leaving at 0630hrs and arriving at 1630hrs in Ao Chalong (Position #8 on the map).  It was a great day with a bit of spray on the deck but the boat performed well and the wind kept us going all day at a good rate.  However, it was good to come to rest in a familiar anchorage.

It does feel like a different place though.  We are in the land of catamarans here.  And they are ‘go fast’ catamarans.  I am looking forward to next Sunday when they have a race day at the yacht club.  I am going to try to get out on one of these machines and crank up the speed.  Stay tuned.

The land of catamarans - Ao Chalong

The land of catamarans – Ao Chalong

Ao Chalong is our home for a while as we revamp our galley and put new teak into the cockpit area.  In the SW monsoon season it is quiet, the wind is off the shore and so far except for the occasional rain the weather has been perfect with a gently breeze coming off the shore day and night.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. John Middleton permalink
    August 20, 2013 04:11

    Your making me pine to go back to Thailand! We spent time on Ko Lanta and I went on a dive trip out to Ko Ha (warmest and clearest water I’ve ever seen with huge cuttlefish etc). It’s amazing how much sea life there is in the Andaman Sea considering how much fishing goes on – I remember at night looking west from Ko Lanta and seeing a city of lights from fishing boats. Weird about the lites at Phaetra. Might be bio-luminescence of some kind (sorry, but we must be logical about these things). Stay cool and enjoy the great Thai food!

  2. Jim Heflin permalink
    August 20, 2013 05:52

    A superb post Tony … Pictures and narrative working so nicely together. I read these slowly with savoring attention, like a bowl of good brandied fruit with a tiny spoon. How close to one’s nether regions does one dare to let the grooming fishies swim?

    • August 20, 2013 12:32

      All depends on how brave you are. The benefits of doing so are immeasureable.

      Tony Gibb/Connie McCann c/o Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Jalan Dato Syed Omar 07000 Kuah, Langkawi Kedah Darul Aman Malaysia


  3. Mariann Olchowy permalink
    August 20, 2013 05:53

    Wonderful descriptive writing! You should consider writing a book of your adventures, might help fund your continuing lives at sea.

    • August 20, 2013 12:34

      Robbing a bank is much easier and less time consuming. But then I have not tried that so really not sure how successful I would be.

      Tony Gibb/Connie McCann c/o Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Jalan Dato Syed Omar 07000 Kuah, Langkawi Kedah Darul Aman Malaysia


  4. WILLIAM MCDOWELL permalink
    August 21, 2013 18:35

    Hi Tony and Connie, Thank you again for your updates. I have been in contact with my sailing friend who lives in Thialand. Paul has given me permission to forward his email address to you : Paul will be in Phuket in September 9th to the 13th . I do hope you can meet up with him because I missed the chance of seeing Paul in Langkawi in January of this year when I did the Langkawi regatta . It would give me much pleasure if you could do such a meeting . All the best to you, I hope the rain is not too much for you, the Philippines are being inundated with the typhunes and majour floods Fair weather sailing to you both Bill

  5. steve &/or dina permalink
    August 26, 2013 02:19

    sawadee — great post, Tony. have wondered how things were going since cutting the cord and lvg the dock — sounds like the sw monsoon has been a mixed blessing this time around. but we envy you guys the great food (scandinavia lvs much to be desired in that regard — ditto for prices) and the tropical splendor. we miss thailand more than words can wield the matter…

    opting out of the full moon parties (and the travellers’ ghetto) and hanging tough in ao chalong ought to be perfect. plenty of time for more “gorging on brownies, coffee and fresh water baths” and an opp to get your “work done” when time allows. spkg of go-fast cats, have been reading ’bout the boats in the cup this yr — doing better than 50 knots, riding on foils, up out of the water. but you knew that already. best to you and Connie, s&d

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