How many of us put off doing something, then time passes and we realize that we have let things ride too long. The guilty feelings perpetuate a sense of helplessness that only exacerbates the situation.
A very dear friend recently asked if my creative paralysis was due to grief after the loss of my father, (as it was co incidentally around the time I last updated my blog), or just “writer’s block”? She said,”no writer writes continually, and the creative force needs a break.” That’s probably a generous statement, but I will grasp at any straw if it exonerates me!
I do love writing and posting photos on my blog, so I don’t want to stop. I will therefore attempt to summarize the last 7 months to bring our news up to date.
Postscript- Sorry, but you better grab a coffee and a comfy chair if you want to read this long convoluted narrative! I just can’t hold myself back and there was so much I wanted to say…..
After over two months spent in Sabah, East Malaysia re painting ‘Stars End 2’ & completing other jobs, we left Kota Kinabalu (‘KK’) in early October 2018 in company with our good friends Pierre & Anita on board their yacht ‘Xamala’ bound for Pangkor Marina in West Malaysia some 1200 miles away.
At this time of year, there is generally little wind plus adverse currents along the coast of East Malaysia had we traveled south, so hoping for more chance of wind, we headed the 520 miles west across the South China Seas to the Natuna Islands.
It took us 5 days, with only one day of reasonable sailing, so we did a great deal of motoring. However, it was so good to be at sea again and we were lucky not to experience much traffic or fishing boats.
During our second night, ‘Xamala’ had a fishing net wrap itself around their propeller and stop their engine, so we both lay a hull for several hours till daylight when Frank was able to dive down with scuba gear and cut the rope away.
At Natuna, we anchored in a bay off the village of Balai, and were welcomed with great curiosity as we took a leisurely walk through the quaint village built out over the water.
We had noticed a low pressure system in the area on our weather prediction programme, but certainly did not expect to encounter ‘The Big Storm’ as I name it, when we left Balai a couple of days later for the Anambas Islands.
By mid morning, we were just starting to think we had escaped the large front that slowly hid the receding islands with threatening black clouds. Then the wind changed direction and for hours we plowed into 30+ knot winds, with pouring rain and little visibility as storm fronts enveloped us from all sides us in a maelstrom of confused seas. For the first time ever, we had waves crashing horizontally against the clears that protect our cockpit, and water surged in underneath the covers drenching us time and time again.
Conditions did not improve so by 2pm, we opted to turn around, still just 23 miles from Natuna. 12 hours after we had left, we found ourselves back at our old anchorage, wet & exhausted, but very relieved to be safe and in protection of land.
A couple of days later we made another less eventful overnight sail to the most northerly island in the Anambas Group over 100 miles distant.
We anchored in a quiet bay in the picturesque Pendjalin Island with many local fishing boats anchoring nearby each day to rest, before heading off to their night time fishing grounds offshore.
For several days, we enjoyed some great swimming & snorkelling before taking advantage of some wind to motor sail the next 140 miles to Tioman Island, a popular dive spot off the east coast of Malaysia.
“Stars End 2’ & ‘Xamala’ stayed here for over a week, enjoying the quaint little island with its inexpensive local restaurants and duty free shops tempting us with cheap tax free liquor.
Pierre completed his PADI open water scuba course, that culminated in all four of us enjoying a day’s diving with the dive company around the nearby islands. Since leaving KK, ‘Stars End 2’s engine had been belching out more black smoke than normal. Over the past 9 years since buying the yacht, Frank had done a spectacular job of nursing the 34 year old engine, but the faithful old Yanmar 55hp had now done over 10,000 hours. We needed to get it checked out, especially if we continued with our plan to passage through the Red Sea, where it would be imperative to have a reliable engine. So despite having to miss out on a much anticipated reunion after many years with my cousin Nick who lives in Singapore, we decided it was more imperative to address our engine problem and head directly the 320 miles up the Malacca Strait to Pangkor Marina.
So still in company with ‘Xamala’, we crossed from Tioman Island, to the Malaysian Peninsula, & then staying close to land, we motor sailed down the coast, with the traffic of commercial cargo ships becoming denser & more prolific the closer we reached Singapore.
The Singapore Strait is a 105 km long, 16 km wide waterway providing a deep water passage to the port of Singapore with over 2,000 commercial ships crossing on a daily basis. Less than 9 miles of water separates Singapore from Indonesia to the south and Malaysia is even closer to the north.
In the busy, confined waters of Singapore Strait there is a very strict code of navigation called the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) which forces boats to stay within one of 6 lanes, 3 heading north and 3 heading south. There are marked turning-points, deep-water lanes and separation zones between the main traffic lanes and if a ship has to cross they must do so at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible.
While planning our passage through the Singapore Strait, the tide was a crucial factor we had considered. We had specifically planned our trip for a narrow window over several days at the end of October when the tide would be in our favour during the daytime, or else we could be fighting a 4-6 knot current.
We anchored just inside the inlet leading to Sebana Cove the night before tackling the Strait and were up before daybreak next morning to get an early start.
It was pretty daunting being surrounded by hundreds of massive cargo ships, many anchored, others traveling up to 20 knots, tankers and freighters of all sizes, fishing boats, fast ferries and high-speed security craft. Constant vigilance was necessary, to guide us through our route on the GPS, track the AIS (Automatic Identification System) of vessels, and visually watch out for ships, navigational aids, and all the ferries & smaller boats without AIS.
Whilst it might sound chaotic, in reality, it was less dramatic than we anticipated. Most of the vessels stayed in their allocated lanes and although we needed to pay attention in all directions, the navigational system seemed to work well.
The easiest way through the Strait is to motor along the edge of the main shipping route, keeping out of the way of the big ships, but at a couple of points, it was necessary to cross these channels in order to make our way north across to the Malacca Strait. On occasion, the huge super tankers churning through the water, came scarily close to our course.
Since there was no intention of clearing into Singapore, we were not legally able to enter Singaporean waters, so it was not surprising that there were many police boats patrolling the waters.
Both ‘Xamala’ and ‘Stars End 2’ were approached. We had to hand over our papers and passports for their inspection, by depositing them into a fishing net on the end of a pole as they maneuvered very close to the yacht.
After they checked our papers were all in order, they handed them back, and we were asked to make sure we stayed in the TSS, marked by a very feint line on our charts.
The skyline of Singapore was blurred in the haze, but still looked impressive from a distance with its forest of modern skyscrapers. The current helped us most of the way through the Strait, and at the peak of the tide we were motoring along with over 9 knots thanks to a 5 knot current.
The Malacca Straits is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world starting just north of Singapore and connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Over 100,000 ships trading a quarter of the world’s goods, pass through this narrow 450-mile thoroughfare every year. As we headed north it widened and we were able to steer further away from the shipping lane until all we could see was a continuous flow of ships passing back and forth along the Malacca Strait on the horizon.
We anchored off a small island, Pulau Pisang off the coastline north of Singapore, after our anxious but rather exciting day traversing the Singapore Strait.
Over the next 2 nights, we motor sailed non stop the last 230 miles to Pangkor marina. We had a variety of weather from no wind to squalls, sunshine to rain, and violent thunder and machine gun lightning both nights that dramatically lit up the sky all around us.
During the last night at sea, we both slowed our yachts’ speeds down to ensure we didn’t arrive into Pangkor in darkness, and in the early morning, as we motored down the last couple of miles towards the safety of the marina, Frank revved our engine to full throttle, trying all he could to push the motor, to see if it was about to die. However, it motored stoically through the choppy waters, and apart from blowing a fearsome amount of black smoke, plowed on just as noisy and long suffering as ever.
We were both grateful to be offered berths in the marina as it was pretty full. Since we had engine issues, ‘Stars End 2’ was moored at the working dock. Little did we realize that this would become home to us for the next two and half months.
Within a couple of days, we were able to organize for Mr Choo, a skilled mechanic highly recommended by many other yachties, to come from Kuala Lumpur to inspect our engine.
It came as no surprise to us when he suggested that our two options would be to either re condition the engine, replacing all worn parts, with an uncertain cost that could vary dramatically depending on what he found, or else replace the engine.
Although we might have got away with only spending as little as AU$6,000- $8,000 in his estimation, we would still have a 34 yr old engine with an unknown life expectancy, so it didn’t take us long to come to the mutual agreement that the expense of purchasing a brand new Yanmar 54hp engine for about double the cost would be money better spent.
Frank did all the research and within a week, a new Yanmar 54hp was on order from Minards in Sydney. We were most impressed with this company- they are highly professional and Jenny, their ‘go to contact’, made the purchase a fluid process with her prompt efficiency.
We had the engine freighted by air to Kuala Lumpur, and then paid for an agent to take delivery and carry it by truck to Pangkor.
Once it was ordered and paid for, Frank worked with Mr Choo’s hard working team of mechanics to strip and remove the old engine. It was a long greasy job, in horrendously high temperatures and our living area was reduced dramatically. All the cushions, wooden cupboards & the contents of the saloon lockers had to be moved to the aft cabin.
It was decided to strip as much hardware from the engine, before lifting it manually out of the engine bay, hoist it up the curved stairway and out of the cockpit onto the jetty. In order to lift out the old engine, the ‘boys’ installed a gantry inside the cabin which meant we had to duck and squeeze past the scaffolding to get to our only free areas, the galley and our bed.
After the boys had struggled to lift the engine into the cockpit, Frank used a sail halyard to lift the engine across onto the jetty, but this delicate procedure put undue pressure on our hard dodger framework and cracked some of the wood, much to my distress.
Once the engine was out, Frank then had to remove all the plumbing & electrical wiring, clean & re paint the bilge ready to install the new engine.
At the end of November, whilst we were waiting for delivery of the new engine, we took a welcome break from the stifling, cramped conditions of the past few weeks, by flying to Phuket in Thailand for a break. It was a wonderful way to celebrate Frank’s birthday and do some serious relaxing after the stressful time of removing the old engine and Frank’s hard work preparing for the new Yanmar.
The engine was delivered to Pangkor marina whilst we were away, so as soon as we were back Frank contacted Mr Choo, who organized for his ‘boys’ to remove the heat exchanger, flywheel & gearbox, alternator and starter motor to reduce the weight of the engine, thereby allowing it to be lifted more easily down the stairs into the engine bay.
It only took the crane a few minutes to hoist the carefully wrapped Yanmar engine across the water to the side of Stars End, where it was manually lifted inside the cockpit with far more ease than the old one was removed.
We had a poignant moment watching the engine that had safely taken Frank and I on board ‘Stars End 2’ to some amazing locations over the past nine and a half years be hoisted by the crane, onto the workers’ car to be used for training back in the K.L. workshop for Mr Choo’s apprentice mechanics.
Once the Yanmar was safely deposited inside the saloon, the gantry was again installed, and the boys carefully lowered the engine down onto the engine mounts. At this point, all the items which had been removed to minimize the weight were fitted back on to the motor. However, because the new engine had a different size propeller shaft fitting, we couldn’t use the original shaft coupling, so the boys aligned it up as best as they could until a new one could be ordered.
With Christmas looming closer, Frank & I were tempted to fly back home to catch up with our children who were gathering at Paul & Jenny’s new spacious property in Brisbane for a family Xmas. It would also enable Frank to exchange the shaft coupling personally, and bring back the new one.
So, in for a penny, in for a pound! We flew to Brisbane for just two weeks and had the best Xmas ever. We saw very few friends, but enjoyed quality time with our children and adorable grandchildren and Frank bought the crucial parts to complete the engine installation.
All too soon, we were back in Malaysia and keen to complete the job. Frank fit the new coupling and the boys came to align it to the propeller shaft.
This was when we realized it was too low, due to subtle changes in some of the dimensions of the motor and height of the engine bearers. Spacers had to be manufactured and placed under the mountings before the motor could be placed back on the top.
A few days later, the engine was again lifted out of the engine bay so the new spacers could be placed under the engine mountings to raise it sufficiently, and allow the propeller shaft to accurately line up with the gear box.
It was a time consuming and difficult task due to the confined spaces for Frank and the workers but after several days, it was complete and the new plumbing & wiring were also finished and the engine was ready to be tested.
The sea trials were a success, showing only minor signs of vibration at high revs, so the boys put some finishing touches to the re alignment until they were satisfied.
The installation of the new engine had taken 2 months from start to finish but this included trips to Phuket and Australia. However, had we gone through with our plans to head towards the Red Sea this year, then we would have had to high tail it up to Thailand to catch the trade winds across to India without stopping to explore Thailand at all. After all the work of the past few months, it didn’t take much for us to realize that since we had no time constraints, we decided to postpone this idea and enjoy some more cruising time in south east Asia.
It took another week to clean up the boat once all the tools, and furniture were put back in their places. We treated Stars End 2 to a clean and polish after all the dust blowing from the hard stand had marked her hull with grimy streaks.
In the middle of January, fully provisioned and all ‘ship shape’ once again, we were excited and more than ready to leave the confines of the marina, knowing we had a fine new Yanmar 54 hp engine to speed us on our way up to Thailand.