We picked up a very well maintained mooring off of Ko Rok Nai. Beautiful spot; dinner ashore; chatted with a German backpacker and his very sweet Thai girlfriend; saw monitor lizards similar to Komodo dragons but much smaller; spoke with an Austrian couple on a catamaran, and they told us where the best snorkeling was.
In the morning we went to the suggested spot, and sure enough — it was among the top handful of underwater theaters we’ve experienced on this trip. The water was clear, and both the fish and the coral were beautiful. One fish was all bright purple on its sides, with a streak of yellow along its top and bottom, with a black and white face. From time to time I nearly laugh out loud despite my mask and snorkel, because I recognize some crazy-looking fish from the animated movie Finding Nemo!
We were very happy that we did our swimming early, because as we were wrapping up tour boats were arriving from all directions, and the reefs got crowded. We decided to move on to the east, to Ko Muk. We anchored off the beach, dinghied ashore, had drinks at a resort, bought half a cake there for Chris’s birthday, and then took Chris to a delightful dinner on a deck high on the rocks overlooking the cove. Next morning we got moving early to find the famous Emerald Cave just a couple miles up the coast of the island. After our experience with the tour boats we were motivated to see the special attraction early.
Emerald Cave was not what we expected from the brief description in our cruising guide. But it was amazing! We picked up a mooring and swam to the mouth of the cave. You then swim in about 80 meters. The route goes around corners so you need a waterproof flashlight in the darkness. Then daylight appears ahead, and you swim into a hidden paradise that apparently was the center of a volcano. The water ends at a little soft sand beach inside. Rock walls tower straight up all around, with a patch of distant sky above. Trees and vines cling to the walls. It is cool and quiet and magical. We lingered for a while, until the crowd began to arrive. Then back to the boat and off for Ko Lanta.
We are moving closer to Phuket and to the mainland. Ko Lanta has many resorts all along its ten mile long west side. In this weather we could anchor anywhere. We went until we’d had enough, and picked a colorful shack on shore, and anchored near it. After a nap we went in (Chris swimming, Tim and me dinghying) and bought frozen juice “shakes” at the shop. Then Tim went for a massage while Chris and I explored the beach front and chose a place for dinner. I’ve never done cruising like this before — anchoring most anywhere off of beautiful islands, and eating dinner ashore night after night. But why not? The food is good, and mostly cheap, and the weather is…shall we say…steady? That is, it is too hot and not enough wind. But because of these conditions we anchor off of any beach, even if there isn’t any protection. It gets bumpy at night sometimes — mostly when the wind dies and the boat turns sideways to the small seas. But nothing worrisome. There hasn’t been a hint of rain, and barely even a cloud, since arriving in Malaysia.
We did have one problem tonight, but it was of our own doing. Returning to the beached dinghy after dinner and gelato, we found that the tide/waves had risen just enough to splash over the side. The dinghy was full of water; our gas tank and battery box were floating in it, along with all our gear. Luckily nothing had floated out, as far as we can tell. We tried to pull the boat clear of the waves but we couldn’t do much with it full of water. Chris went back to a shop to borrow a bucket while a manned our pump. Waves continued to splash in but between the two of us we bailed faster than they splashed, and we got ourselves launched and clear of the beach. And to our delight the electric start still functioned and the motor came right to life. Hopefully no harm done.
As delightful as yesterday was, today was that unpleasant. For starters we received an email denying us permission to visit Chagos (in the middle of the Indian Ocean). I think it is incredibly inhospitable of the British Foreign Office to say we cannot stop over at their little atoll for a break on an ocean passage! I can’t imagine why they would say no to us, but it certainly colors my image of the British administration.
Next we learned that one of us must have nudged our drinking water valve, and during the night we emptied 20 gallons of fresh water down the drain. Hence we listened to the banging of the watermaker for 4 hours today to replenish the supply.
We motored to Phi Phi Dom, a very popular tourist spot where we thought we might get lunch and top up our cell data plan. But it turned out to be SO popular that there were ferries and long tails coming and going constantly, buzzing right past us as we headed in. We thought it might be more peaceful at the head of the bay, but it just seemed to get worse. So we turned around and left.
I was excited about continuing on to Ko Hong, a very dramatic set of islands about 20 miles east of Phuket. Along the way I noticed that our batteries didn’t seem to be charging. Ironically we had a good sailing breeze for almost the first time, but we were running the engine anyway, trying to test the battery controller and alternators to see what was wrong. This remains a mystery, made somewhat worse by the starter battery isolator having been left in the wrong position, so our starter battery has very little juice. There is some risk that all batteries will drain so low that we won’t be able to start an engine…
We made it to Ko Hung, and were surprised to find a restaurant there. But it turned out to be relatively expensive and the food was mediocre. And there were mosquitos. Oh well — a good day to have behind us. Feeling some trepidation about what happens next with our electrical system, but nothing we can do about it tonight…
What a miserable night! Hot, with mosquitos (potentially carrying dengue fever and malaria…). I lay awake much of the night thinking about our electrical system. Could the belts be slipping on the alternators? I had dismissed this thought because the problem occurred on both sides. But identifying nothing else that we could fix ourselves, I replaced the port side belt in the morning, and behold! we got a steady charge on that side!
So we tried the starboard side, but the belt there was nearly new, and replacing it made no difference. We continued to get a very low charge on that side. So my next thought was that the starboard alternator was fried. That would explain why with both internal and external regulation we got only ten amps. We have a spare alternator, that was rebuilt in Panama, but which has never been tested. We took out the old alternator, and we asked a local guy to test both the old and the rebuilt one. He said the old one looked very bad, and he thought we should just put in the rebuilt one, and he would get back to us with a price to fix the old one, which might take a few days.
Seemed like an okay idea, and we installed the rebuilt one. The result? The engine won’t start at all — it gives us an alarm we’ve never heard before. Thinking our rebuilt alternator must be messed up, we disconnected all the wires and tried to start the engine with effectively no alternator at all. STILL won’t turn over! Now what?! We are almost at wits end. We are paying big bucks to stay in a fancy/miserable marina full of mosquitos and no wind, and we don’t have a working engine and we don’t understand why. And we don’t know who to contact about it for help.
I want to quit and go home! I think I said that once before, didn’t I? Was that also when we had apparently-unsolvable electrical problems…?
I think we have “hit bottom” (funny, since we grounded in the dredged channel on the way in to this marina, and had to wait three hours for the tide to rise), and we are on the rise. Even though it seemed that our engine problems must relate to swapping the alternator, we replaced the starter motor with a spare (yes, Chris White, sometimes you DO have the spare part you need, and it IS worth carrying the weight aboard), and the engine started right up. And the rebuilt alternator put a good charge to the batteries. So we are in okay shape once again (though mysteries remain about various alarms going off, like the bilge pump alarm sounding when the engine wouldn’t start!).
We also got a crew working on our cracked pilothouse window. They ran off to buy new glass, but upon return they said it would take ten days to get tempered or laminated glass. They knew we were in a hurry, so they brought heavy window glass. We said that was unsafe, and sent them off again to find the thickest acrylic sheet they could find. They returned with a nicely cut piece, but it is not thick enough to generate the level of confidence we’d like to have at sea. Plus the tint is much darker. Oh well, our pilothouse now has a black eye. For safety we are keeping the original sheet of glass, plus we asked them to find a sheet of plywood big enough to cover any broken window in an emergency. This is something we will have to fix again, perhaps back in the USA, but for ow we’ve done the best we can.
We still have to wait to hear from the alternator guy about rebuilding our dead unit, plus he’s going to see if he can rebuild our dead starter motor. But we are hoping to leave this place tomorrow, and we can coordinate with him from Ao Chalong on the south end of Phuket Island, which is where we will be clearing out of Thailand in a few days.
Last night we learned that we are entitled to free cold coconuts, as a benefit of paying big bucks for this marina. That has been a delightful perk! I could almost learn to like it here, if money were no object and we had A/C on the boat…