Jan. 2003
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Week Ending 4 Jan 2003 (Bob)

Beautiful Anchorages in Phang Nga Bay - Over the course Thailand Phang Nga Bay.jpg (13036 bytes)of the last 5 days, we have gradually moved north from  Boat Lagoon into the beautiful Phang Nga Bay.  This shallow, sheltered bay has scores of islands, small and large.  Most rise dramatically from the water, some have been undercut so that they hung over us as we dinghied between them.  The tall, slender peak in the photo to the right is typical of these islands.  The islands are mostly sandstone, and many of them have 'hongs', pools of water in the island that appear to be collapsed caves - in fact access is often via a cave that can be entered only at a particular height of the tide.  For some photos, check out Judi's trip in a sea canoe.

Discovering problems - We woke up after our second night at anchor to discover that our batteries were discharged, and we could not start the engine - what  surprise!  Over 2 days we found:

  • One bad battery - The root cause appears to be that one of our 3 batteries has a dead cell, and so it will have to be replaced.  
  • Operator Error - Unfortunately we had left all 3 batteries connected in parallel, and the bad battery had drained the other 2 - !  After disconnecting the bad battery, turning off all electronics, and allowing the solar panels to operate for a few hours, we were able to start the engine and re-charge, but at low level of 13 amps.  
  • Corrosion - Further investigation revealed a loose and a corroded wire - fixing this and we were now charging at 75 amps, a suitable rate

Quiet New Year's Eve - 2002 went, and 2003 arrived quietly on Phang Nga Bay as we sipped wine, wished each other a happy New Year and went to bed at a decent hour.  Judi did awaken around midnight as she heard fireworks at one of the beach resorts where more active revelers celebrated the arrival of 2003.

Wonders of technology - We never cease to be amazed at what technology brings us.  The last week we have been staying in touch with current events via WorldSpace, the satellite radio network, as it brings us CD-quality jazz, classical, and pop music as well as CNN (and Larry King Live), BBC, and National Public radio.  All you have to do is point the radio's antenna it at the sky, and listen - it's great, but not available in the USA.

Week Ending 11 Jan 2003 (Bob)

Chasing a live battery - Last week we discovered that one of the batteries was defunct, and set out to correct it.  The story became more convoluted as the week wore on:

  • Gel cell - The battery is a Sonnenschein sealed battery that uses a gelatin mix instead of regular sulfuric acid - thus it is sealed, spill-proof, deep-cycle, expensive, and hard to find.  Our first set lasted 10 years, but this one died after 3 years, probably because it was overcharged motoring thru Indonesia.
  • Local distributor - One of the yacht services companies at Boat Lagoon said "sure we can get one, cost you $400 plus airfreight from the Netherlands, and you have to pick it up in Langkawi". But when we started to pursue it, we could not get him on the phone and his office could not locate him.
  • Bangkok Distributor - Via the Internet we found a source of Sonnenschein batteries in Bangkok, called, and he said "sure, got one in stock, put $350 in our account and I'll send it to you for $25 in freight" - sounded too good to be true.  It was, after not returning our calls for 2 days, he finally called and sheepishly said "sorry, I really didn't have one, but I have this other battery ...".  We settled on having him return our money; we are still waiting.
  • Singapore - Source of Last Resort - Back on the internet, we found the battery we wanted in Singapore, for a mere $390.  For $100 they would airfreight it to Langkawi, but we decided "Bird in the hand is worth..", so we made a booking to travel to Singapore by bus - a 24-hour trip each way by the time settles, and we leave on Saturday so tune in next week for the outcome.

Crisis with our web-site - The week started badly when Judi returned from our local internet connection yelling "It's gone, our web-site is gone, and in its place is this thing!"  Being of the male persuasion, Bob conjured all of the logical reasons why she might be having trouble reaching it - all of which were false because it really was gone!  This was a crisis of major proportions and over the next couple of days we pieced together that:

  • The registration of our domain name had lapsed - Yep, we had set up a scheme to pay its renewal automatically, but this failed, and an oversight didn't detect that we had received a dunning notice, and the snail-mail copy did not arrive until the drama was over.
  • The Domain now belonged to China -  Yep, when we chased down what had happened, we found that it had been snagged by an outfit registered in Guangzou, China - apparently picked up a couple of days after we let it lapse.
  • We make an offer - We assumed that the outfit that got it was a speculation, hoping to sell it back for a profit, so we fired off an email saying we were interested, and got back an email from 'Jim' saying 'Make me an offer' - we did.
  • A human touch in the negotiations - 'Jim' didn't exactly sneer at our offer, but he didn't reply either.  When we said it was just a hobby, and the name was not really worth much to us, he apparently looked at the site and replied: " Never mind, you can keep your domain, I've dreamed of traveling like that myself".  By the way, the email came with a Russian suffix through an anonymous web-site, so we have no idea where 'Jim' lives, but we do appreciate the fact that he has taken pity on us.
  • Trying to recover - Now, 2 weeks on, we have a lot to catch up on, and will be running the same content on www.longpassages.org and www.longpassages.net, so stay in touch.  It has been an expensive lesson in paying attention to details.  We have also reorganized the front page a little, let us know what you think.

And the drama of Salt and Pepper shakers - When we were in the US, Judi was on a quest for a pair of cheap, plastic salt and pepper shakers with lids for the tropics.  So, 

  • Number 1 son, Denis, in Florida recently found 2 pairs, and sent them to our mail service to 'be included in our mail' - declared value, $4.00.  
  • Unfortunately, our mail comes via courier and the mail service will not mix mail with other stuff (legal reasons), and so they were included as a separate package for about $20.00 in charges.  
  • When they reached Thailand, the Customs officials said "gosh, these are really valuable, so we will charge you $18 import duty on them".  We yelled, threatened, and considered sending them back, but they were holding 6 weeks of mail as hostage, so we coughed up our $18.00 with little grace.  
  • Next we plan to make a mahogany salt and pepper holder - Nai and Toe should be able to build one for $50...

But it could have been worse:

  • Cruising friends returned to the US to find their RV broken into, and thousands of $$ of goods and heirlooms gone - stolen from a Government installation
  • Other friends were having work done on their exhaust pipes locally, and the welder used the "throw the old one away before making the new one approach", so now they have to measure flanges and bends from scratch - a real pain.

Week Ending 18 Jan 2003 (Bob)

New Battery in Tow - Aside from availability, we decided to pick our battery up in Singapore because of the corrupt and confiscatory Customs policies of Thailand.  So we had to bring it back as our 'baggage' to avoid problems when we re-entered Thailand.  Our weekend went like:

  • Drive - Up at 0330 on Sunday and drive our rental car to Hat Yai, near the border with Malaysia.  
  • The bus - We considered the train, but a bus was much faster.  We boarded a 24-seat sleeper for the 14-hour drive the length of Malaysia to Singapore.  It was a smooth ride with several stops, and all was well except for:
  • Our Seats - We were the last people on board, so we got the seats by the toilet, which had no flushing instructions so it overflowed and became smelly in short order.  The solution? The staff locked the door.
  • Singapore at 0430 - We arrived early, and this is not New York - this city sleeps at night.  No restaurants, mass transit, or bars - we so hung out at the subway station until 0600 and then ran our errands.
  • The battery - A grey hulk, weighing in at 125#, was picked up and carried back to the bus station - there to be disguised as our luggage in a roll-on duffle bag.
  • The return trip - Malaysia requires all passengers to hand-carry all of their possessions thru Customs and Immigration, so we "nonchalantly" strolled thru the stalls, acting as if the 125# beast was our dirty laundry - apparently with success. Thailand did not really care, they were too busy trying to find problems with each passenger's passports so they could charge them something extra, so the grey hulk passed un-noticed.  The 14-hour trip was frigid - the air-conditioning was set very low and the 4 throw-blankets were barely adequate.  We drove back from Hat Yai and arrived back at the boat at 4pm Tuesday afternoon.

Final (?) tribulations - We thought we were ready to go, but our mail had arrived with another surprise - Bob's pension check that has been deposited faithfully for 6 years arrived with a note requesting an endorsement.  Apparently a side-effect of the war on terrorism, his paycheck, now 6-weeks old, was chasing us around the world seeking a signature.  A few frantic phone calls to understand the situation, a couple more to change arrangements, and by mid-week we were ready to head out.

Checking Out of Thailand - This was a quick process, easier than expected - visits to Immigration, Customs, and the Port Captain, where they collectively separated us from about $US12, and we were finally leaving Thailand, 2 weeks later than planned and a little teary-eyed.  We really enjoyed Thailand and its people, and were a mite sad to be leaving.

Around to Nai Harn - At slack water on Saturday morning we slipped our lines, and headed out of Yacht Haven on our way to Nai Harn, a beautiful anchorage on the West side of Phuket.  Immediately we noted that the engine was not charging the batteries, and decided to spend the night at Ko Rang Yai, a short distance from Boat Lagoon and trouble-shoot on the morrow.

Week Ending 25 Jan 2003 (Bob)

Cruising again - to Sri Lanka -This was the week we finally got underway - 3 weeks late and behind the pack, but it is good to be at sea again.  We left Phuket mid-morning Tuesday the 21st and for 2 days steered a course for Sombrero Channel in the Nicobar islands.  These islands look interesting, but they belong to India, and yachts are not welcome.  The weather has been benign for the most part, light to moderate North-easterlies with 'rivers' of current flowing from the Malacca Straits and occasional choppy seas.  After a couple of days we have fallen into our off-shore routine:

  • 0700-0845 is occupied by the radio as Judi makes contacts with yachts close and far.
  • 0900 - Judi whips up breakfast and then goes down for a nap.
  • 1000 - 1730 We alternate watches during the day, Bob takes an afternoon nap, and toiletries appear for our afternoon 'bath', au nateural, in the cockpit.  Bob tends to maintenance items as needed; we have had sporadic problems with the charging system in this passage.
  • 1730 - we sit and have a weak 'sundowner' and snacks and our last radio contact of the day.
  • 1800 - Dinner
  • 1900 - 0700 - We settle in for the night watches, 3 hours on, 3 off until the next morning, and do it all over again.

Drums of war - As the UN deadline for a report from the UN Inspection Team draws near, we monitor the radio in an effort to understand why the US feels war is acceptable, and what its effect will be on us and our fellow cruisers.  There are perhaps 100+ yachts crossing the Indian Ocean at the moment, on their way to the Red Sea, and unrest makes us nervous.  The places along the way include:

  • Sri Lanka - Not involved in the war on terrorism, and the Tamil Tiger revolt is on a back burner for the moment, so perhaps the harbor will not be the scene of Naval depth charges like it was last year.
  • India - Has their problems with Pakistan, but the southern coast is safe. We do not plan to stop here.
  • Maldives - Vacation spot with no known security problems.  Time permitting, we will stop for a few days.
  • Oman -  An unsettled place, but we know of no current problems there.  It is a major provisioning stop before entering the Red Sea so we will stop there.
  • Yemen (Aden) - Scene of the 'USS Cole' bombing.  Often unsettled, they are miffed at US attacks on terrorists in their country, we will stay away from it.
  • Djibouti - Site of a large US armed forces build-up; foreigners may be targets so we may give it a miss.
  • Red Sea entrance - Traditionally the most dangerous for yachts as targets of piracy, we believe a large US Navy presence may make this safer, and have heard that the Navy is only a VHF call away.
  • Eritrea - Always dangerous, we will stay away.
  • Sudan - Apparently friendly to cruisers, we will monitor the yachts ahead of us.
  • Saudi Arabia - On the east side of the Red Sea, they do not welcome yachts, so we stay away.
  • Egypt - Safe, by the time one has made it this far north in the Red Sea, one heaves a sigh of relief.

Communications at sea - We communicate with other yachts and friends on shore by various means, all of them using radios of one type or another.  A recent request by a friend on 'Quest' demonstrated how complex it can be:

  • Marine single sideband (SSB) -Mike called us on marine radio asking that we send a message to a friend in Galle Harbor, Sri Lanka, 300 miles away.
  • Laptops - We used our laptop to compose an email, that we sent by:
  • Satellite phone - directly overhead passed an Iridium satellite that picked up the email, passed it on to several other satellites before putting it on:
  • Internet - this wonderful creation that ties us all together these days routed it to a server near West Marine that belongs to:
  • SailMail - an operation operated by ex-cruisers that makes email communication on the high seas possible and affordable.  It distributes the message to its 5-10 radio sites around the world, and when:
  • Recipient logs in - by using a marine SSB radio, the yacht (that happened to be in Cochin, India) checked in for mail - 'voila' he got Mike's request, and formulated a reply, to travel the same tortuous path, in reverse.
  • Long way around - The message probably traveled 50,000 miles, whereas Mike was only 300 miles from Sri Lanka when he started the process, but at the speed of light, distance is not as important as the end result - secure and dependable communication for fun, business or safety.

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