Sitting on the dock of the bay, waiting for Luigi

Wed 23 Mar 2011 11:36
Date 23nd March, 2011
Recent position 6:29.6N 97:18.25E
Current Location Kuah Town, Langkawi, Malaysia.
Summary: Not a great deal to show for three and a half weeks effort!.
The Details: There has been a change of plan as a result of an early end to the NE monsoon in the Northern Indian Ocean. This was the air stream that I had been banking on to carry Fleck across the Bay of Bengal to Galle in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it stopped a month early, and the wind is now swinging round to the opposite direction. So, no way out to the immediate west. Plan B is to retrace my steps through Peninsular Malaysia, to Singapore, and then a new southern route through Western Indonesia to Jakarta. >From there head out into the Southern Indian Ocean, through the Sunda Strait, by which time the SE monsoon should have started. Head then straight accross to Mauritius: a long way, but sort of straightforward, once the monsoon starts. For this to make sense you need to know that the winds north and south of the equator behave differently. On the equator the weather is rather variable (the Doldrums). I am north of the equator now, and the winds are swinging west. By going south I should find a favourable easterly wind.
Things started well enough, and Fleck was in quite good shape on the Hardstand at Rebak Marina: nice and dry and well aired, so not much mildew to clear up. No infestations inside the boat, but two small wasp nests in the rigging: soon despatched!  A couple of days to clean up, a couple of days antifouling, and a week to sort out the reefing for the staysail. Plus attractive jobs like replacing the stern gland packing. This is what stops water getting into the boat through the hole that accomodates the propellor shaft, so it is an essential piece of kit. Most boats have a lid in the cockpit so that things like that can be got at easily. Fleck was designed for safety on the high seas, where the risk of such a lid breaking loose in a storm and allowing the boat to become swamped was deemed unaccaptable. Good enough, but when you are lying under the cockpit, prostate over the engine, with all its sharp projections, and working by torchlight at arms length to do the necessary work, you realise the true meaning of design compromise. And at the end, my new packing, having flown all the way out from England with me, was 3mm too short. So, more compromise, and I grafted in 3mm of the old stuff. Not in the text books, but safe enough, I hope. Anyway, dry so far.
So, safely launched and I found my way back to Kuah Town, the main centre on the Island of Langkawi, to provision for the Indian Ocean. First morning I woke with a familair throbing toothache: been there before: I emailed my dentist in Bromsgrove for advice, and set off downtown looking for more immediate assistance. The local health clinic didn't look too inviting, and there seemed to be an antenatal clinic in progress, but a nurse grasped my problem and pointed me in the direction of Dr Chew: dental practitioner: office under big tree down there! You queue up for Dr Chew, its exactly like the NHS appointments system, except that there are no appointments. I resolved to beat the locals with an early attack the following morning. Armed with Xrays on my computer from Bromsgrove, I was downtown at daybreak, and was rewarded by the cleaning lady who put an ancient plastic chair out on the pavement whilst she meticulously brushed first the entrance way, and then the pavement itself. The very charming Dr Chew arrived an hour later, but seemed to understand exactly what was up, and sorted everything in about half a minute. I was still spluttering over the bloody mouthwash when the bill arrived together with industrial strength antibiotics. Pleased to report that things are settled for now, but of course: for how long?
I met Peter (NZ) and Cathy (Ireland), the crew of 'Leto': a elegant solid steel cruiser, a gaff rigged ketch.. Good morning they said, We hear that you too plan to sail to Sri Lanka? 'Great' says I, thinking: company for the trip. 'Not so great' says Cathy. 'Would you have noticed that the winds have gone now?' Well, like skiing trips, I'm a great one for burying my head in the sand over issues that are beyond my control, so the weather I was leaving until last. Downloaded grib files were soon spilling out of my dear old computer, to reveal - absolutely nothing! So we waited a few days (and it gave me time to get a permit from the FCO to visit the Chagos Archipelago in mid ocean) until finally I got so itchy that I just set off to see what the sea was like. The answer: calm. After 200 miles I gave up and returned home. By which time the slatting sails had contrived to break my boom vang: an important but not vital part of the rig. It was one of the final straws that persuaded my that a month or more becalmed in the Bay of Bengal would drive me physically nowhere, and mentally over the edge. Once I had turned round I felt better at once, so it must have been the right thing to do, even though its been several years since I had to abort a voyage in this way. It took much longer than expected to get back, because the current was against me, and occasionally even a light wind against me as well. The plan had been that we would 'buddy sail'; keep in close contact 'on passage'. In the event, and wisely, Leto elected to stay in Port whilst your intrepid explorer set off to sample the weather. It was a great comfort to be able to discuss things with them back at base, and we shall perhaps meet up from time to time, as plan B unfolds. I have spent hours on the internet trying to get things started. Priority number one is to obtain a new cruising permit for Indonesia, as these can take several weeks to sort out. An agent is required to oil everyones palms, and lots of American Dollars. Several enquiries have gone out in the last 24 hrs, but no responses so far. Whilst this is going on I have been trying to get the boom vang repaired: Luigi is the local rigger, but doesn't seem very keen on helping, and hasn't got much stock. Back on Rebak Island my mate Noel, the shipwright who helped with my reefing, has all the bits I need, so I'm off accrosss the Island tomorrow, by taxi and resort ferry, to his little workshop. The phrase 'Ill phone you back' seems to have just the same meaning all over the world.
Talking of which no sooner do I turn my back than we seem to be up the US's backside bombing the Middle East again. Dear Dr Fox apparently dropped the hymn sheet to boot. So, now we are in there, exactly how do we get out, and just how is World opinion going to judge things? Out here quite a mixed bag (although the Press are very preoccupied by a sex scandal involving the leader of the opposition. Now something like that back home would give the cherubic Red Ed a bit of street cred, eh?). But on Lybia, people are just struck by the similarities with Iraq, and they fear the worst, and of course civilian casualties are going to be a very telling part of the propaganda game. With this and the Japanese eathquake, we, Fleck and I, should not really be having the time to worry about Birmingham City, but we are worrying, a lot. All the Malaysian papers have a page a day devoted to the EPL, even when no matches are being played. Usually it's a story about MU or Chelsea, but recently even West Brom and Wolves have been getting a mention, but Birmingham? No: sinking without trace!
Friday, I hope to be off down towards Penang. Sadly the Sumatra season is very fast approaching, so a gauntlet of squalls and electrical storms is to be run, especially as we get nearer to Singapore. We are in the dry season but it has rained every day, often heavily. This is no problem, as it cools things just a fraction, last night I could lie on my bunk, starkers of course, and didn't need to put the fan on: first time for three weeks!