“A woman’s place is in her kayak”
After a prolonged stay at Rebak Marina, most of the boat jobs were completed for the time being. It was time to renounce our position on “B” dock and drop the lines. We had hoped to sail west to Sumatra, Indonesia. A 300 nautical mile puddle jump. The northern most tip had an island called Wei with Sabang as an entry/exit port. Over the past few years there have been very fine reports of sandy beaches and good snorkeling. Since we were due to renew our Malaysian visa, a trip to Indonesia and then back via Penang would have suited. Alas, no. The weather gods had other ideas.
August 1st, saw us endure a frightful crossing from Rebak to Telaga Harbour Marina. We were booked to meet a refrigeration mechanic there to check our compressor and gas lines. Being only a short hop, we did not prepare the boat adequately. The surrounding seaway was a total washing machine once we cleared the protection of the island. Swell of 2 meters was pushing against the wind and us. Salty waves flew against the hull beam-on and into the cockpit. Loose items below decks slid off counter tops and then proceeded to round the galley floor. Burney, who never gets seasick felt decidedly unwell. Fortunately it only took an hour to regain marina calm.
After a few days of befriending our neighbours, having the fridge lines patched and a spot of local birding, we were off. Not to Sabang, as the weather still looked nasty in the west, but east along the northern shore of the main Langkawi Island. The further we coasted east, the better the sea conditions became. By the time we approached the Rhu Resort white sandy beach area, it was becoming more inviting (see map position 3). There was also an anchorage marked D on the map with river access to the inner mangrove labyrinth that’s part of the Kilim Geopark. (Before sailing to Thailand earlier this year, we had ventured into that wonderland via The Hole in the Wall access on the eastern side of Langkawi) Burney had hoped to explore that Rhu Beach location, however the skipper had other thoughts given the unreliable weather patterns during these monsoons.
The north-eastern approach was totally protected by high terrain. So protected that not a breath of breeze ruffled the surface. Therefore not a whisper of cooling vespers would reach us if we anchored inside the passage called Hole in the Wall, marked as C on the map. We noted a familiar yacht, Santorini, at anchor outside the passage. Taking their example, we spent the next couple of days in safe waters with the occasional sea breeze and internet reception. (A wonderful bonus.) Lee and Jason, on sv Santorini, were from Australia and intended on circumnavigating the globe when the seasons permit. Their initial foray into Malaysia was hampered by a lightning strike while berthed at the Port Dickson marina. Apparently, 6 boats were damaged after a very large Lagoon Catamaran took the hit which then transferred it along the marina finger. They have had to replace all there electronics. Poor buggers. Needless to say with each new electrical storm, they felt apprehensive, to the say the least. Rumor has it: Don’t park near catamarans in an electrical storm. We have met one W.A. sailor berthed in Rebak, who has had his vessel struck 3 times! Yep, and he was on a catamaran.
Kilim Geopark, covering an area of 100 square kilometers had lots of limestone formations, many like organ-pipes. Also several caves could be found. Always interested in exploring our surrounds, one morning, we visited Gua Cechita. Although not a deep or complex cavern it did surprise Burney by presenting a new bird, the Rufous-bellied Swallow (and she did not have her better camera at hand). Then in a separate overhang, we surprised a colony of tiny bats hanging in the gloom. The landing beach had a freshwater stream emptying from the jungle laden hillsides. Unknown birds called from the forest gloom. Hmm Burney was keen to return with the kayak and loiter longer….
Burney had also hoped to go exploring the vast mangrove system with the local bird guide Wendy Chin. Wendy, who also kayaks, knew of some quiet boardwalk area further into the maze of tributaries. Unfortunately, the environment was/is seriously under threat from tourist boat activities and pollution due to littering. The boatmen who use engines above 200-horsepower (hp) through the Kilim River created a tremendous wash and disturbed the peace of the natural surroundings due to the loud noise. Furthermore, at the “Eagle feeding site”, we had seen the helmsmen over-rev the engine sending up a loud noise and high plume of water into the air which signaled the Brahminy Kites and White-bellied Sea-eagles to perform for scraps of chicken skin.
However, the new solar panels which Hans had ordered, presumably arrived in Kuah, see nr. 5 on the map. Well, so the “consignment tracking notice” said. Fun and exploration was put on hold as we cruised back to town. That time heading south along the coastline, we passed through the narrow passages near the islands Timun and Bumbon Besar. But, ho-hum, it was all for naught. The tracking app was not working. Indeed our order had not yet left the depot near Kuala Lumpur.
So after restocking our larder, we instead continued venturing westward to the lovely northeast anchorage on Pulau (island) Singa Besar. Tucked in between the smaller isles of Singa Kechil and the white sandy shores of Singa Besar we were well protected from the prevailing south west season. Shortly after settling in to that location sv Santorini appeared behind us. Sundowners!! ( Anchorage 6 on map)
Our time at Singa was delightful. Well may the heavens open in the afternoon with a torrential deluge but the mornings were often perfect for a walk through the mangroves to the waterfall or kayaking the isolated shorelines around us. [Long before living on a sailing boat, Burney had enjoyed the pastime of kayaking. Initially, it was in the company of a group of like-minded folk. They discovered interesting waterways around south-east Queensland, NSW and the south island of New Zealand. Then, as a birdwatcher, Burney found one could approach quietly and often gain a closer viewing position than stalking the shoreline by foot. Apparently, some birds feel less threatened. Then when Hans bought a sit-on-top kayak’ it became a shared activity. Together, we had observed a Black-necked Stork on a creek bank and were able to come within 5 meters of it. (Each time we attempted to come slightly closer, it moved a little further along.) Furthermore, it offered the best access to narrow winding creeks and mangroves.]
Now, living full-time aboard, it offered both a healthy form of exercise and independence when one partner was away with the tender. Since visiting South-east Asia, there have been several very rewarding experiences paddling the smaller islands, caves and hongs in the area. In Thailand, many of the hongs (inner rooms) within small limestone karst islands can only be reached through sea caves and even then access depends on tidal movement. (During high tide, the entrance maybe underwater.) Many of the caves have low ceiling heights even with an ebbing tide and the fumes of outboards were strongly discouraged. That was when kayaks really came into their own, however, the current could be alarming. One particularly memorable experience was encountering a colony of tiny bats while paddling under beautiful stalactites before arriving at a sunlit opening surrounded by trees. Sometimes the hong proffered a sandy beach.
When we first arrived within the Langkawi Island group in Malaysia, Burney found the Brown-winged Kingfisher by kayaking to a tiny nearby limestone isle. Not an easy bird to see as it prefers coastal mangroves, tidal forests, mudflats, estuaries and brackish creeks. Low tide was advantageous in some areas as prey such as crabs were detected by the bird from perches in mangroves. At other stages of the tide, fish were caught. With a sudden flash of orange and blue, both Hans and Burney encountered this species again. That time while paddling around the quiet shores near where Macaques beachcombed the tidewrack.
Also when drifting over the shallows at lowtide, the kayak offered a good viewing platform for observing coral and skittish sealife. Quietly positioned without fear of damaging the coral with a propeller, one can see the hidden fish return to foraging.
There’s a peaceful meditative element to paddling a kayak induced by the rhythm of the strokes. Lifting and pushing the paddle continuously with relentless steadiness, gliding forward, rising and falling with the swell. If it weren’t for the spectacular landscape one could surrender to a trance-like vagueness. The gothic steeples of black stone, we saw at Hole in the Wall and the many islands which exhibited towers of giant cubic boulders assembled like blocks. Quite the “wow factor”.
Sunday the 13th, saw us taking advantage of a rain-free afternoon with favourable winds to sail back to Kuah from Singa Besar. Our solar panels had allegedly arrived.
You may note the word “allegedly”… Fooled again !!
We have anchored in Bass Harbour near the township of Kuah many times. Both before going to Thailand and upon returning, we stayed a few days at anchor doing our necessary check in/out procedures with the port authorities. We usually chose a position close to the large statue of a Brahmny Kite which perches on “Eagle Square”. Our dinghy dock was the blue floating pontoon attached to the Naam Tourist building. Surin who was the go-to Ms. Fix-it on Langkawi was our receiving agent for the parcel and had her store in the same building. Arriving at 7pm, we took up a position with ample swing room as our closest neighbor was 100 meters to aft and a lonely looking ketch 250 meters fore. It’s a large bay with many ferries and yachts: old, new and abandoned residing in the location.
Early the next morning, in the gloom of 3.30am, we awoke to an unusual noise. While groping for spectacles and clothing, Burney thought it was waves knocking the boarding ladder hanging off our starboard side. But we didn’t have the ladder out!! It was the abandoned ketch! We had dragged! The wind had swung around west and south west and was funneled upon us with a huge fetch. White-top waves flew with foam and our bow pitched. Rain teamed down reducing visibility as we nudged side by side with that boat. After powering up the engine, jostling away from the ketch and raising the anchor, we stared myopically into the rain avoiding collisions and seeking a suitable location to re-set the anchor. Thereafter, taking turns, we kept anchor watch till daybreak. Yet again, a false notice, as our consignment had not yet left the depot in Klang which was close to the point of origin.
In the light of day, grateful that we had not sustained much damage we took a closer note of the ketch. It had no anchor light, no name or registration. Like us the only apparent impairment was a loose lifeline and damaged stantion. However when we saw her other hull, it was obvious that other(s) had scraped and torn her body and soul. So after that particularly unpleasant evening, we moved Brahminy Too to a more protected anchorage called Penarak.
The bay had several smaller isolated hummocks of land dotted around its perimeter. From the cockpit the shore appeared well vegetated with rounded hills. From the water-line of the kayak, it was much more detailed. The coast was not just simple ledges but a multitude of black pinnacles and razor sharp wedges of stone protruding from the saltwater like the pages of a book. On land, between projections dark crevices sported tall trees and freshwater seeped from overhangs. Lush plants grew prolifically on bare rock and a secretive bird sang quietly from a boulder. None of these subtleties would have been noted whizzing by in a noisy dinghy.
Ultimately, after a few phone calls and daily text messages, we hounded those couriers till we took delivery on Friday the 18th. Lickety-split, we motored around to Bass Harbour and Surin’s store, then high-tailed it to Rebak Marina with the solar panels in our possession. That evening surrounded by familiar faces, we enjoyed the sunset at the beach bar and some fine tunes.
The wet season was upon us. Since the south west conditions continued, making it illogical to sail to more distant shores, we whiled away our time enjoying the various habitats around Langkawi. Hans had installed the solar panels shortly after berthing and the fridge will shortly be attended to, again. Our next little adventure will be a short visit to Siem Reap in Cambodia. We have booked to fly from Penang Sept 3rd. Brahminy Too will remain on “B” dock in Rebak till we return.