Trip recap: Singapore to Langkawi

A brief summary: after a much longer than expected journey, Oia is in Langkawi on the hard stand at the B&V yard a few miles from Kuah.  It was quite an adventure: we departed One 15 Marina at dawn on October 20 and the boat was finally out of the water around 3pm October 29.  The trip was probably around 450nm plus or minus a few dozen.  Unfortunately I don’t have the GPS track yet as I forgot to pull it off the chartplotter before heading back to Singapore.  I’m working this week and heading back up to Langkawi next week to oversee some of the refit work.

The night before departure Charlene and Wayne helped me get everything all tidied up and ready to go.  Wayne, who found us via this blog and is thinking of buying a boat himself, was the only crew aboard for the trip.  He and I powered out of the marina right on time around 07:00 on the 20th and left berth M3, where Oia‘s been for over a year and a half, for the last time:

I was a little sad to leave One 15 and won’t be “living aboard” in Singapore anymore; but it’s exciting to move forward.  The next time the boat is back in Singapore we’ll really be cruising.

As we got underway there were zero issues with the engine and we timed our departure with a nice westerly current of at least a couple knots, so we were well underway pretty quickly.  We cleared immigration at the Western Q&I Anchorage before 9am.  Here’s the immigration boat coming alongside to collect our paperwork:

Wayne posed for a quick shot while we waited for immigration:

We made quick progress on the first day of the trip thanks to timing the tidal currents effectively.  We were mostly motorsailing in light winds.  We got out of Singapore and around the corner of Johor with a helping current, and were making way well to the north by nightfall.  After we cleared the westernmost anchorage in the Singapore Strait I took a nap and left Wayne at the helm.  He saw a couple water spouts in the afternoon:

The autopilot had control of the vessel for the vast majority of the trip:

I have to say I was a little disappointed in the autopilot this time around.  It really struggles in light winds, which is fair enough.  But I found it struggling in various other situations too.  In particular, any time it needed to make a fairly large correction; or any time I turned it on without completely straightening out the rudder first; it really had issues keeping a course.  Perhaps I can tune some parameters.  The autopilot may also have a wind vane mode which I should try.  I really wish there was some way to have different control strategies based on wind speed and angle of sail, but I guess that’s asking a little much.

By sunset we were nearing Batu Pahat and still motoring and motorsailing:

Overnight things started getting “interesting”.  Right around sunset the NDC-4 NMEA multiplexer died after just about 12 hours of service.  I was not happy, having spent a lot of the previous weekend getting it all wired up.  It was multiplexing GPS, AIS, and wind instrument data.  Luckily I had a spare serial cable and opted to just hook the AIS directly to the chartplotter.  We were without a wind instrument for the rest of the trip.  I need to get in touch with Actisense to see if there’s any chance the item is still under warranty.

Just before dawn on the 21st a nasty grinding noise came from the gearbox and I took the engine out of gear.  When Wayne woke up I spent some time trying to diagnose the issue.  I had been regularly topping up the ATF over the course of the previous day since the gearbox has been leaking oil.  That was not the issue.  We were in light winds so I strapped on a snorkle to take a look at the prop.  It wasn’t fouled.  We resolved ourselves to sailing the rest of the way, with 380+ nm to go.  We were still able to run the engine in neutral on occasion to keep the batteries well charged, but were never able to get the engine back in gear.

After that the big story of the trip was tidal currents.  In the Malacca Straits tidal currents are really strong, often over 2 kts.  On flood tides the current is to the SE into shore; on ebb tides to the NW away from shore.  We were heading generally NW, so a lot of the trip was 6ish hour periods of decent progress followed by 6ish hours of total frustration.  As it’s the inter-monsoon period, winds were light and variable most of the time — a lot lighter than I had expected from forecasts.  Frequently we found ourselves sailing in place or drifting, calling approaching tugs and fishing boats on the radio and asking them to avoid us.

There are a couple busy ports along the way — Malacca and Port Klang — with quite a few ships anchored or approaching from the main channel.  We got lucky in both cases and were able to sail through the anchorages in daylight:

North of Port Klang the Strait opens up and traffic eases.  There are fewer big ships and tugs around, and many more trawlers:

In some spots between Port Klang and Pangkor we ran across big gangs of trawlers in many-mile long lines, heading out from port and then back again one after another.  Breaking through the trawling convoys took some care in light winds.  You can’t come too close to the boats since they’re dragging nets that are hundreds of meters long; but if you try to give them too much space, there’s always another one bearing up behind.  The most annoying thing about these boats is their curiosity.  In the daytime, it’s not so bad if a fishing boat rolls up within a couple hundred meters to take a look and wave hello.  But in the dark of night when all you can see are lights and a blip on the radar, an approaching vessel that’s not answering on the radio and is heading right for you faster than you can dodge is a little nerve wracking.

In contrast, cargo ships and tankers like this one from Vietnam, the Thai Binh Bay, are pretty easy to deal with.  They show up on AIS so you can address them on the radio directly (“Thai Binh Bay, Thai Binh Bay, this is sailing vessel Oia, come in please”); they’re actually listening and usually respond; and best, they can see us on AIS too and tend to actively avoid.

As we transitioned from the Malacca Strait to the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean, the weather entered a distinctive pattern: dead calm or very light winds most of the night and through the morning; then a breeze picking up from the WSW in mid afternoon and building up to 10-12 kts around sunset, allowing for some decent progress:

Every day, the air was being sucked from the WSW into a low pressure system building over land to the NNE.  Either just before or just after nightfall, the system would decide it had enough strength and head out to sea.  When you could see them coming, the squalls would look pretty nasty:

These are essentially the famous “Sumatra” storms, except at this time of year they seem to be coming from the NE instead of the SW.  They’re known for blowing around 30-40kts for a couple hours, stirring up a lot of commotion, and then fading away as quickly as they came.  During the first of the squalls, when we weren’t quite sure what we were dealing with, we rode the storm out reefed and mostly hove to just trying to keep things comfortable.  The wind was about 30-35kts for each of the nightly squalls.

Usually the squalls brought along some driving rain.  Here’s a shot of the radar imagery from the heart of a squall about 15mi north of Pangkor island:

One of the squalls broke a becket on one of the mainsheet blocks.  Luckily it held out until morning and Wayne noticed it.  I replaced it with a spare.  Unfortunately the only spare blocks I had lying around were all on swivel shackles, so we had to periodically untwist the mainsheet:

Over the course of the trip we were pretty frequently accompanied by various little seabirds.  Often they’d fly right into the cockpit and relax for a few hours.  The first one appeared in the middle of the night and I didn’t notice.  I saw something dark on the deck and grabbed it; it squawked angrily and fluttered a bit in reaction.

The birds were very friendly.  Here’s a shot Wayne took while I was asleep:

They were also just kind of funny to watch.  Silly bird, you are not a bat, you are a bird!

By the time we were within range of Penang it was already the 26th, a couple days after I’d been planning to get to Langkawi.  Wayne needed to disembark — he needed to be in Penang for a meeting by the evening of the 27th, and it was clear we wouldn’t make it to Langkawi in time for him to catch a ferry back.  Unfortunately offloading crew is not as easy as just sending them to shore with a passing fisherman: we had yet to do immigration clearance into Malaysia since we had been planning to sail straight to Langkawi and do the paperwork there.  For Wayne to get into Penang it seemed like the boat would have to go into Penang too.  I made a lot of calls on the 26th and 27th trying to arrange a tow into one of the marinas.  We were unable to sail in because the current in Penang’s main channel often exceeds 4+ kts.  The only semi-firm offer I ever got to give us a tow was from a tugboat that wanted to charge us 500 MYR/hour starting from when they mobilized.  At the time we were about 8 miles W of Penang and would probably need to pay them US$2-3k for the tows in and out of a marina on the E side of Penang.  Not very feasible.  None of the actual marinas themselves seemed at all capable of either towing us themselves or even finding someone who could.

In the end Charlene found and forwarded me some info about Marina Batu Uban, which is run by Jabatan Laut (the Marine Department of Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport) and I gave them a call.  Didn’t seem very promising at first, but after some time they called back and said they’d sent a “rescue boat”.  That was alarming because we weren’t in any distress and I was concerned we’d be liable for some sort of mobilization, but it was too late.

A little over an hour later a big Maritim Malaysia RIB with two huge outboards and a crew of four powered up to us and did a little tour around Oia to check us out, then approached.  The captain asked simply, “How can we help you?”  I explained our situation and we resolved that I (the master of the boat) could hitch a ride back to shore with them, run into town, and do immigration paperwork; then hitch a ride back out with them to Oia; and then send Wayne off with them back to shore.  So around 12:30 on the 27th I hopped into their RIB with our passports and other paperwork and left Oia with Wayne and a Maritim Malaysia officer to sail around (or mostly drift in dead calm) while I zoomed into Penang:

That was quite an experience.  With a combined 500HP or so we made it almost 30 miles around the N of Penang and into Tanjong City Marina near downtown Georgetown in a little under an hour.  I had stopped there overnight before on the original trip from Langkawi to Singapore, but never really went into town.  The captain said they’d wait for me at the marina for half an hour or so, but he didn’t know exactly where the immigration office was.  To make things even more exciting, it was about 13:30, right in the middle of the usual Malaysian extended lunch hour when almost nobody is around.  There was no one at the marina to ask for directions, so I just went running off into town.

I got lucky and spotted a Customs (“Kastam”) office quickly; but there was nobody there.  I wandered through the whole building just looking for someone, and luckily ran into a clerk on his way out the door.  He told me the immigration office was “down the street, then turn right, then go to the end and find the brown building”.  That was good enough for me to track down a building a quarter mile away with a little sign with the word “Imigresen” which was bustling with activity.  Turned out to mostly be people waiting around for the Imigresen officers to come back from lunch, but a kind soul was nice enough to point me to the shipping office and miraculously they weren’t out for lunch.  It didn’t take them long to stamp our passports.

After that I wasn’t sure if I should find the Harbormaster’s office and do port clearance, or if I could get away with just waiting until Langkawi.  The Imigresen officers told me the Harbormaster was just next door and with a little effort I found it, up a few flights of stairs in back of a nearby building.  Out to lunch, but just as I was giving up a clerk returned.  I started filling out the paperwork while explaining the situation and she seemed to think I could get away with waiting until Langkawi, so I apologized and ran off and down the street and found the marina again, and dashed down the dock, hopped in the RIB, and chatted for a minute with the crew while they waited for the captain to get back to the boat.  Then we zoomed off and an hour later found Oia safe and sound.

What little I saw of Georgetown seemed nice; maybe while I’m in Langkawi I’ll have time to take a ferry down there for a day or two to give it the visit it seems to deserve.

In only a few minutes Wayne and I exchanged places and all his gear was loaded onto the Maritim Malaysia boat; then they turned off and zoomed away with lots of waving and smiles.  Here’s a photo Wayne snapped of me as they powered off:

So, the moral of that story is that Maritim Malaysia are friendly guys and if you’re ever in trouble near Penang, give Marina Batu Uban a call and they’ll probably find a way to help you out.

All that happened in just a few hours so by 15:30 or so I was all alone aboard Oia, a little bewildered, and with not much breeze, and still 60 or so miles south of Langkawi.  We’d only made about 45 miles in the last 30 hours, but I was still hoping to get to Langkawi by the following day.  To start with, since the seas and skies were clear, I took a shower, aired the boat out a bit, and made myself a nice big pasta dinner.

The usual afternoon breeze from the WSW didn’t really materialize until around 17:30 or later so things weren’t looking promising at first.  But after dark around 20:00, just as I was getting ready to start a cycle of 20 min nap; alarm; look around; repeat, the evening’s squall roared in from the NE and it was a good one.  I decided to sail instead of heave to, and with 2.5-ish reefs in the mainsail and about 1/3 of the jib I sustained 6-7+ kts for much of the night:

The wind never really died and in the morning it was still pushing 15-20 kts, and as the sun rose Langkawi was less than a mile away.

To get into the yard I needed to enter the channel between Pulau Langkawi and Pulau Dayang, and I decided to do that from the east which if timed well would be with a helping tidal current.  I had to beat upwind and against current a bit to get to the channel entrance just S of Kuah.  Around then I called up the yard and found out they weren’t open: Friday is the Muslim day of Prayer.  So I wasn’t getting out of the water despite my breakneck overnight sail.  Barry told me to anchor just S of the yard and we’d figure the haulout out in the morning.

The channel entrance is a bit narrow and cluttered:

But with a helping current of 2+ kts I didn’t find it particularly difficult.  I turned through a nice reach and then into a dead run as I cleared the channel:

I passed RLYC and various anchorages off Kuah town and continued westward for a couple miles.  There were some big square-riggers anchored in the channel for some kind of regatta or other:

Anchoring off the B&V yard turned out to be really hard.  The current was still pushing through the channel at 2+ kts to the SW, and the channel was open enough that the NE wind was still around 15 kts.  As I approached the spot I reefed all the way down to a small sliver of mainsail but still found myself moving at 2.5 kts and unable to turn upwind against the current, which was pushing the boat ashore really rapidly.  In 18ft about 300m from shore I decided to just drop the anchor rather than try to get any closer.

Somewhere over the course of the trip the chain shifted over on itself.  The anchor dropped about 10ft and stopped dead and the boat continued drifting into shore.  I very quickly hauled it back up; dashed back to the cockpit; unfurled the sails; and jibed through to turn away from shore.  Then I had to fight against the wind and the current for about 1.5 hours to get another chance.  In between tacks I managed to unshift the anchor chain.

The second time around was equally harrowing but the chain was free and the anchor caught in deep mud, stopping the boat with a very noticeable lurch.  Since the anchorage was very unprotected and the current bimodal I let out almost 150ft of chain and put on a snubber.  No dragging all night and I ended up getting a great night of sleep.

In the morning B&V arranged for a RIB from RLYC with a nice 40HP engine to buzz over and tow me into the wharf.  That went quite well except for a small slip and fall while I was running around tying fenders.  I cut up both my feet on some shrouds, the right worse than the left, and bled all over the deck for a few minutes.  Finally just went to a doctor back in Singapore this morning and picked up some antibiotics, but it seems to be fine.  I should’ve had my deck shoes on: no excuse.

B&V then worked on getting the crane ready for the haulout:

There was some brief confusion over whether the yard could handle a boat as heavy as Oia (15 NRT) but that seemed to resolve itself somehow.  (Maybe just with “eh, whatever, let’s try and see” — hard to tell.)

By around 14:30 the boat was out of the water:

And 45 mins or so later it was on stilts next to the wharf (here in progress):

The boat was supposed to be Travelifted away from the wharf and into a semi-permanent spot in the yard later in the day, but I had to pack up my stuff and zoom off to town to do port clearance paperwork before the offices closed; and then I buzzed over to the airport and got standby on a flight back to Singapore.

Pete, my repower engineer, is over looking at the boat today and putting a plan together for the engine installation.  I’m planning to fly back up to Langkawi next Tuesday to get all the other random jobs (painting, some fiberglass work, some welding, some carpentry, and so on) underway.

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Trip prep; NMEA wiring

I’ve set most project-type tasks aside to get Oia tidied up for next week’s trip.  At this point everything’s mostly in order: decently well provisioned (except for perishables which I’ll pick up the day before we sail), most stuff stowed and lashed down, most systems tested and working, safety equipment in place, backup anchors ready, etc.  I still need to dump some ATF in the leaky gearbox and run the engine in gear for a little while to be totally confident it’s up to the job of getting us far out enough to raise sails; but I’m waiting until later next week as it seems kind of silly to just have all the ATF leak out again before we depart.  CIQP paperwork is all ready to deliver to MPA.

I spoke with the B&V yard in Langkawi on the phone.  The engine still hasn’t arrived but the local delivery company has made all the arrangements with the yard to get it there by Monday or Tuesday.  Seems like delivering it to a company (B&V) instead of a private individual complicated matters quite a bit.  Who knew.

I noticed when doing some battery testing last week that the DCSM, while giving proper current draw readings, was not integrating them so it always reported the batteries as totally full.  In the end I had to factory reset the unit and recalibrate it to get it working again.  All in all I can’t say I’ve been very impressed by the unit, but at least it’s working again now.

Tonight I noticed that my inter-bulkhead lifelines that will eventually be for lee cloths have become glorified clothes lines, which is pretty much what I was predicting after I first got them installed:

The one project I did spend some time on yesterday and today was finally getting my Actisense NDC-4 NMEA multiplexer all wired up and tested.  Took me almost a year to get around to it, but now I can finally see AIS and wind data on both my chartplotter and laptop.  I still haven’t figured out why the autopilot isn’t sending out heading messages though.  Anyway, here’s a  screenshot from the chartplotter with GPS, AIS, wind, and radar data.  Until I can get compass heading data on the network I can’t align the radar and overlay it on the chart.

This evening Charlene cooked up a tasty meal aboard; it’s probably her last night on Oia for a while and the next time she sees the boat it will be pretty significantly transformed.  I can’t wait to get the refit underway.

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A mostly preparatory weekend

Almost ready to sail up to Langkawi.  We spent most of the weekend at the boat cleaning, organizing, and tying up loose ends.  The dockbox finally got emptied out after a year and a half of accumulation of random stuff.  Thanks to Charlene’s iron fist a lot of it went right in the trash.  Together we make a good team when it comes to throwing stuff out: we both eye each other’s “this might be useful in the future” items dispassionately and force each other to downsize.

I’m still carrying quite a load of cargo up to Malaysia: there are a lot of things I haven’t gotten around to installing yet here in Singapore that I’m hoping to get done there or in Phuket.  The V-berth will be full of teak and solar panels while we’re sailing; maybe a bunch of spare polycarbonate glass too unless I can find some way to offload that here.  It’s worth a bit too much to throw away.

Last week I picked up all the fire extinguishers from servicing.  The big Halon extinguisher needed a refill.  Technically new Halon is outlawed but there are some shops that recycle it.  It really seems like the best extinguishing agent to have around your engine anyway, so I’m glad I was able to get the unit serviced instead of replaced:

I confirmed with Beta Marine that the engine is scheduled for delivery in Langkawi this week, either Monday or Tuesday.  I’ll refrain from celebrating until I’ve verified it’s arrival.

There are a couple lovely powerboats — sister vessels from the US, both Nordhavn 62s — in One 15 right now.  Here is the Grey Pearl, just off my bow:

And here is the Seabird, just off my starboard quarter:

As it happens, these vessels have basically just done the reverse of the trip we’re planning.  If I can find some time, I’ll wander over for a chat.

After seeing some of the Indonesian dockhands fishing from the docks, catching and cooking dinner almost every day (and breakfast and lunch too, often enough), we finally decided to grab a fishing line and give it a go ourselves.  I don’t think we are quite as capable fishermen, sadly, and all our efforts resulted in naught.  It was fun, anyway:

I am planning to pick up some good heavy line and trolling lures.  I can’t think of any excuse not to — trolling is cheap and (relatively) easy.

Sunday, Wayne and his family came by to go over the boat and our route to Langkawi.  They brought along some tasty mutton curry and naan.  As it turns out naan is pretty easy to make and doesn’t need an oven.  We’re adding it to our cruising recipe book.  I have also been on the lookout for a pressure cooker after hearing Rachel’s recommendation.  So far the cheapest one I’ve seen was S$330 (~US$260), but I have a few leads to follow on cheaper ones.  Wayne and family showed us their thermal cooker, which is a different concept: slow cooking, but no energy use after initially boiling water.  I think it’s probably a bit more limited in what it can cook than a pressure cooker, but I can imagine boiling water in the morning for coffee or oatmeal or something, pouring the extra water in the thermal cooker, and having hot rice ready for lunch.  Tough decision.

After Wayne and co left, I found myself digging around in a cockpit locker and decided to do some work on the autopilot.  I greased the drive chain, and then tried to get NMEA compass data, for use in aligning radar imagery, out of the drive unit.  Turns out the headers for those NMEA lines are inside the unit, so I had to dismantle the whole autopilot to wire it up:

The only way to test it was to get everything put back together and in place.  Sadly, no compass data was forthcoming.  I’ll have to debug that a little more this week.

Lastly, here’s a nice photo of Oia I took Friday.  Not much longer till she sails away from M3 at One 15 for good.

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Mainsail; some small projects; route planning

The clock is ticking and in just a couple weeks I’ll be heading up to Langkawi to haul out and start major refit work.  In the meantime I’m still working on a bunch of little tasks.

Over the weekend I unfurled the decrepit old mainsail to try and get it hauled up as well as possible — it started sagging last year in Tioman and I hadn’t gotten around to dealing with it since.  The real problem is the tiny little halyard that is supposed to hold the whole thing up: it has to be small since the sail furls around it.  It tends to sag a little and the sail slips down 6″ or so, which causes furling problems.

I found that cleaning and lubricating the track on the boom made a big difference in the ease of unfurling the sail; a little less so with refurling.  The sail is a mess:

The obvious ugliness is the missing sunbrella that we had to cut off in Tioman.  There’s also some yucky green stuff that’s built up where water infiltrates the sail during rainstorms, since the furling hasn’t been very snug.  I didn’t get around to it last week but I should be able to just scrub that away with some soap and water.  It’s not worth doing any real repairs to the sail, since I’ll be getting a new one (and eliminating the furling system) in a couple months.

Anyway, a couple trips up and down the mast to attach and remove a real halyard, plus some cranking, got the sail where it needed to be and now it’s snugly furled.

I spent a bit too long cutting, filing, and sanding some teak standoffs for the electrical panel; the standoffs will go on either side of the panel, with hinges on one side and a latch on the other, for a simple acrylic cover to protect the panel switches.  It has been a bit too common of an occurrence for us to lean over to reach into the fridge and accidentally flip a switch on the panel — including the autopilot on a couple occasions.  This will prevent that from happening.  Anyway, here are the standoffs — I only need three but I made a fourth smaller one to try it out:

I also bought all the hardware for that project; just need to get an acrylic panel cut and then I can work on mounting it all.

I’ve been working on some stuff for installing lee cloths (sea bunks, basically) in the salon.  I’m adding a tight PVC-coated lifeline between the two main bulkheads above each settee; that will provide the upper support for the lee cloths.  I picked up the lifeline with some snap shackles spliced on last week, and bought some hardware for bulkhead mounting, and installed all that last night.  Here’s the wire over the starboard settee:

It fits almost perfectly: I need to go pick up a couple extra oversize washers to add as spacers.  The snap shackles are just clipping to an eye-bolt through the bulkheads:

I like the whole arrangement even without lee cloths attached since it provides a nice pseudo-handrail and/or clothesline.

Last night I installed a new shower head — actually, a bidet spray head which minimizes wasted water.  The old one had sprung a leak.

I’ve been taking more showers in the boat lately, I guess because I’m always in a rush and the trip up to the marina facilities and back — while not exactly a “trek” — still gobbles up a lot of time.  I tried the new shower head this morning and it was decent enough.

A couple other recent acquisitions: 7m of 8mm galvanized proof coil chain for use with the secondary anchor rode (still need to figure out a good way to store it, maybe just a bucket); and a nice Racor RFF8C filtering funnel, which I used last night to filter ~110L of diesel I had in jerry cans.  It worked like a charm and kept quite a bit of particulate crap (and a little bit of water) out of my main fuel tanks.

Earlier this week I put together a basic route for the trip up to Langkawi.  I’ve been playing with the NGA charts that were recently released and have been set upon by the open source community for validation and georeferencing.  They’re really good, particularly as a supplement to electronic charts.  Anyway, here’s a screen capture from my planning:

The trip from Singapore to Langkawi is really very straightforward on a map: you’re just following the coast NW for 450 nm or so.  There’s only so much route planning to be done.  What’s actually complex about it are the dynamic obstacles enroute, since the Malacca Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and also happens to be scattered with zillions of fishing nets laid everywhere but the main shipping lanes.  This time around, since I’m expecting to be mostly under sail, I’ve also been doing some tidal analysis in hopes of navigating the tidal currents for maximum benefit (by being closer to shore during ebb tide, when tidal current is to the NW) and minimum detriment (by being farther from shore during flood tide, when tidal current is to the SE).  Time will tell if we actually feel like bothering with that, or if we’ll be too busy avoiding submerged nets and supertankers.

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A lot of random little progress

I haven’t been focusing on any one big task lately since my todo list before shipping up to Langkawi next month is just full of a zillion little things.  My plan now is to head up to Langkawi to begin the repower and a bunch of other refitting around Oct 20 with Wayne (and anyone else who has the time and inclination) as crew.  I’ll fly back to Singapore in November sometime to return to work, but the boat will stay in Langkawi until mid-December; then Charlene and I will fly back and sail her up to Phuket, and we’ll leave her there and fly back to Singapore until mid January.  And then, finally, it’ll be time for us to head back up to Phuket, finish a last bit of refitting, and start cruising!  The boat will probably be back in Singapore for a few days in late February or early March before we head East.  In the meantime: thank goodness for budget airlines.

Did a few tests of the good old Westerbeke recently and it’s still running fine aside from the transmission leak.  Need to stock up on ATF to keep it lubricated on the trip to Langkawi.  Last night I broke out some wrenches and tightened up the engine mounts as best I could — they were pretty loose, which was causing vibration, which was probably the cause of the whole transmission leak in the first place.  The engine alignment is probably a little out of whack but it should be fine for light use over a few days.  All in all it’s still a fine engine and could probably last another 50 years — with a level of care I’m unable to provide, unfortunately.

Supposedly the new engine should arrive in Malaysia today, and in Langkawi not too long after.  We’ll see.

Last week I picked up a Lifesling — or rather, a European equivalent, which is what was available in Singapore:

Here’s a fun little video from a decade or two ago explaining the concept.  I don’t have an accompanying lifting block and tackle but I think between the sling itself, my boarding ladder (soon to be replaced with one with more rungs) and all the various halyards and sheets lying around, getting aboard isn’t as big a concern as getting back to the boat in a MoB situation.

I’ve also been planning the installation of some lee-cloths for the settees in the main cabin.  The particulars of Oia‘s layout have me planning an approach similar to this guy’s (scroll halfway down the page): running some PVC-coated lifeline between big eye bolts through the bulkheads fore and aft of the settees, and tying off the lee-cloth to that.  (The other secure option is bolts through the deck, which I don’t want.)  There are added pseudo-handrail and pseudo-clothesline benefits to the lifeline idea.  I may put the eye bolts and lifelines in place before leaving Singapore, but I probably won’t get the lee-cloths themselves made here.

Over the weekend, Charlene was in an organizing mood and she ripped through the boat like a little tornado shifting things around, demanding explanations for mysterious items (many of which I had no good explanations for and ended up in the trash, including about five bottles of mysterious Thai household cleaners), measuring cabinet and cubbyhole capacities, and so on.  She’s also started shifting some stuff from her house over to the boat, so a little more of Oia‘s vast storage capacity is finally being put to use.

I’ve been having a tough time edge gluing teak boards into bigger planks, which I want to use to make an enclosure for the chartplotter.  I’ve been using a simple PVA glue so far, with the process going something like:

  1. Sand the joint faces with 80G
  2. Rub some acetone into the joint faces to clean them and repel the oil in the wood, which would inhibit adhesion
  3. Slather a bunch of PVA on one of the joint faces, line it up with the other face, press together, and slide back and forth to spread the glue
  4. Clamp using spacers and a couple bar clamps
  5. Clean off the excess PVA with a damp cloth
  6. Wait patiently.

One thing I’ve learned is you really have to wait patiently and also be gentle when cleaning off the excess glue.  Last night I laid up the same pair of boards four times because I’d clean off the excess glue on the top of the lay-up; wait a little while; flip it over to clean the excess from the bottom; and make the whole thing fall apart.  And, a few hours has proven not enough time to wait before removing the clamps; pretty much I need to leave them in place overnight.  I think the humidity here is a factor, and I’ve ended up with a couple of planks where the glue line is visibly porous after drying despite lots of excess when first laying up.  Anyway, I think I’m going to switch to epoxy for the rest of the lay-ups.

Yesterday I finally soldered and crimped together a huge N-connector on the lead for my omnidirectional wifi antenna I built a while back.  I also picked up an N-to-SMA connector so I can hook the antenna up to most USB wifi adapters (including the one I have), struggled with Linux kernels for a few minutes, and then tested the antenna out.  Looks like I get a pretty consistent 5-6 dB gain over the smaller antenna that ships with the wifi adapter — decent, and about what I was expecting.  I think I may epoxy coat the antenna (to protect against corrosion), enclose it in some small-diameter PVC pipe, and mount it over the stern pushpit near the solar panels.

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We moved!

We have moved our blog to its own host and given it its own domain: aroundtheglo.be!  This will make it easier for us to do all sorts of fancy stuff, some of which will pop up soon.

-Kris

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Rigging; cleaning; etc

Last Thursday I finally got off my butt and gave Oia a good scrubbing to get rid of the accumulated filth of a few months in the marina coupled with various recent dusty projects.  She’s looking… decent.  I still can’t wait for a new paint job, particularly on the deck, which is in dire need of it.

I also finally got around to cleaning the track and car on the boom (with turpentine) and liberally applying some Sailkote to smooth out the operation of the furling mainsail.  Sailkote is pretty great stuff, and it definitely helped, but unfortunately the only thing that’ll really solve the problems with the furling mainsail is getting rid of it.

Toward that end I spent a good part of Friday taking photographs (easy) and measurements (hard) of the rigging, to send to David at Precision Shipwright in Phuket so we can start planning the overhaul.  Here’s an overview of the current rig:

Compared with a lot of other boats these days, Oia is pretty simple: your basic sloop rig, no inner staysails and so no running backstays, only one set of spreaders, etc.  There are a few things I’ve identified that I want to work on:

  • Replacing the furling mainsail with a standard slab-reefed one
  • Pulling the mast and boom, giving them a good paint job, and inspecting/replacing hardware as necessary
  • Getting a rigger to go over the standing and running rigging and make sure it’s all okay, replacing where it’s not
  • Installing some lazy jacks so the new slab-reefed main is easy to deal with
  • Re-routing some of the running rigging along the deck and through the hard dodger, and probably adding at least one winch atop the cabin next to the companionway
  • Improving the purchase and the routing of the traveler lines: this was definitely an annoyance during previous trips
  • Adding a solent stay with a highfield lever, which seems like a great idea mainly based on Lee and Rachel’s experiences with theirs.

So far I’m mostly thinking about the details of the mainsail overhaul.  The gooseneck was rebuilt to incorporate a furler:

After the furler is gone, the whole gooseneck will need to be cut down which will bring the boom quite a bit closer to the mast.  That seems complicated but probably isn’t such a big job: just some cutting and welding at a machine shop.  The worst part of the furler modifications made by the last owner is what they did to the boom:

The forward 1/3 or so of the boom is untouched and still has the usual inset groove in which the foot of a slab-reefed sail is inserted.  But the aft part of the boom has been modified with a raised track and car installed.  It doesn’t look like it’ll be easy (probably not even possible) to remove:

Not only was the track bolted on (and maybe welded, it’s hard to tell), but the inset groove was filled with a sealant that probably can’t be removed.  It seems my best hope of not needing a new boom altogether may just be to install similar track on the forward section of the boom and then modify my slab-reefing main to attach to the track somehow.  I’ll wait for David to advise me on that.

The PO also removed a portion of the external sail track on the mast.  There are two: mainsail track and trisail track.  I still have all the track sections that were removed though, and re-riveting them should be simple.

When we were sailing to Tioman and back Doug suggested some modifications to add purchase to the traveler, which is really hard to control under any kind of load.  In thinking about that I also decided the traveler lines should probably be routed back to the cockpit, probably just under the dodger.  The current traveler is just a raised SS tube with a car on it.  It actually works just fine, except for the difficulty in adjusting it under load:

Looks like I ought to give it a good polishing sometime soon though.

I’m also planning to get some new sails made in Phuket, so I measured the whole rig as precisely as I could and was up and down the mast a couple of times for that.  I ended up with some rough diagrams that need some cleaning up:

I’m happy to have finally gotten the ball rolling on getting rid of the furling mainsail.  It’s actually the last major project in the pipeline before I feel we’re ready for some serious cruising: there’s light at the end of the tunnel!

I also spent a little time working on edge gluing teak planks so I can build a box for the chartplotter.  Here’s my makeshift clamping contraption:

It’s working pretty well so far, but it is definitely hard to get the two planks lying perfectly flat when you start to tighten the side clamps.  Also, I’m going to need some bigger bar clamps to finish the job.

Last but not least, I put on my scuba gear Sunday and went for a dive to do some bottom cleaning while Charlene supervised from above.  It’s certainly a lot easier with scuba gear than with a snorkel, and it’s nice to be able to take some time to inspect the hull, through-hulls, prop, zinc, etc without running out of breath.

My dive tank is a little small: it ran low just as I was finishing scrubbing the hull.  I’m hoping to stick to a 2-3 week schedule of bottom cleaning to cut down on the messiness of the job.  After about a month the barnacles really start to stick.

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Hatches; Langkawi; Phuket

With some scrambling, I managed to finish installing all three new hatches before we left town for Phuket last Thursday.  They ended up looking pretty nice and passing all my leak tests.  The only issue was I was a bit impatient with the paint, so it’s not as tough as it should be.  Not a big deal since I just needed to get something in place until the deck is repainted in either Langkawi or Phuket.

I haven’t been back to the boat since returning to Singapore earlier today, but here’s hoping they really were leak-proof while we were gone.

I learned that thanks to the engine shipment delay and some pre-existing travel plans of my engineer in Langkawi, the trip up there and the repower job will have to be delayed until near the end of October.  That’s pretty disappointing, but at the very least the engine should have arrived by then.  In the meantime there is always plenty of stuff here to keep me busy.

In Phuket, between lounging on beaches and gorging on green curry, we zoomed over to Boat Lagoon and met there with David Samuelson of Precision Shipwrite Services to talk about Oia‘s rig.  The main things I want to work with him on are getting rid of the ridiculous roller furling mainsail (reverting to the original slab-reefed main), and a general inspection/update of the standing and running rigging.  We also talked briefly about lazy jacks, solent stays, and sailmakers in Phuket.  We had stopped by Rolly Tasker‘s warehouse but didn’t manage to talk to anyone there.  The general opinion of just about everyone in Phuket, though, is that a company called Local Sails run by a guy named Ket is the much better option for cruising sails.  I didn’t manage to talk to Ket while we were in Phuket but I got his contact details.  I’m tentatively planning to have a new mainsail, a new (roller reefing) genoa, and maybe a solent sail made.  Like my engineer in Langkawi, David has some scheduling constraints that don’t quite line up with my original plans, so it looks like the rigging work can only really happen around the end of January.  My next steps there are to snap some photos and take some measurements for him so we can work on an initial plan.

Also in Phuket we stopped by East Marine and I picked up a new Singapore courtesy flag (cheaper than in Singapore) and a couple local charts.

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Charlene: Long weekends on S/V Oia

Another post from First Mate Charlene!

Seeing as it was the long weekend, with the Presidential Elections and Hari Raya holiday, we spent quite some time on Oia. When I spend a longer time on the boat, it affects my sea sickness less. So all in all, it was a wonderful weekend semi-relaxing on the boat with Robot!

However, what made the weekend awesome was that we finally went out sailing!  Unfortunately not on Oia, but on S/V Malaika – our neighbors’ boat.  Owen and Jessica were the sweetest in inviting us out on their wonderful boat.  It was a really nice day out and sailing was a breeze (no pun intended)! It was windy, hot but not overpowering and generally the wind direction didn’t change that much. As such we were slowly pushed along by the wind and circled around some islands.

I love this picture of Malaika‘s sails!

And also this lovely one of Jessica and I!

We looked really happy in the picture above. Mostly because we were!

It was a wonderful day to be out; in fact this was one of the best days that I have been out on a sailboat ever! There was wind but not too much, the boat wasn’t heeling over too much, the waves were also cooperating and not bumping my butt up and down too much. Owen, Kris, Fion and Wayne were manning the boat, and Jess and I could just chill and float around happily, occasionally posing for a picture like the one above.  Ahh, sheer bliss! That, my friends, is what ideal boating life should be!

At the end of the sail, we even managed to squeeze in a boat party with the most happening dock in One 15 Marina, the folks on the M-dock, where there is a party almost every night. Met some very interesting people, boaters with a different story to tell. Will talk about them some other time, after I gather more intelligence!

While on the sailing adventure, Jess was sharing some galley tips as well as pointing me to some blogs that talked about cooking aboard. I must say it’s almost as important as having a working engine. After all, you would not want your food to run out or get infected by pests on a voyage. That got me googling other boat blogs and researching galley ideas. I finally have something useful to do! That’s going to be my little project on the boat: Project Anti-Starvation! To make Kris’s mom happy, I am going to add healthy foods as a subset of my main project: cook with less salt and more spices, more fresh vegetables and fruits whenever possible.

The freezer is also something I must look at, considering how important it is to be able to freeze and store fresh food. We have a top loading fridge with a good freezer. I use the term “good” loosely, because it serves its purpose very well, when you keep it running with shore power it pretty much is able to freeze stuff permanently. The problem now, however, is maximizing it when we occasionally turn it off while sailing to save on battery power. I’m not sure how efficient it might be, simply because the freezer compartment is at the top of the lid. There is also some ominous greenish algae at the bottom edge, which is an awfully hard place to reach to clean. But there is nothing a little bit of ingenuity cannot solve, and after all if I can sort of see it, I’m sure I can sort of clean it. Being slightly obsessive compulsive about organizing, I am still racking my brains about the best way to store food so that I can easily access the stuff I need all the time, while ensuring I’m maximizing all the space inside the fridge to the best of my ability. One important task is to store items that require varying degrees of coldness as efficiently as I can, while ensuring that stuff doesn’t leak, get squashed, and get banged and destroyed when the boat is on its way. Also, I need to compartmentalize and store things in such a manner that they won’t roll around or squash the more delicate items. I need to freeze items in small packets too so that it’s easier to cook our meals without unfreezing an entire slab of meat. Label expiry dates on ziplock meals to ensure nobody has stomach issues. Make sure things don’t leak, because it would be a pain to remove everything to wipe off chicken blood/orange juice at the bottom of the fridge. YUCK!

To put things in perspective, it’s like having a big box and trying to play UNO stacko whenever you need an item, but ensuring that the other blocks don’t fall. However it is more like an UNO stacko expansion set, because:

  1. Everything is odd shaped
  2. The boat is in constant motion.

However, I accept the challenge. I have also spent 300+ words on the freezer alone, and that my friends is a testament to my dedication to organization!

So that was what I spend time looking at and researching, while Kris was poking around the boat this weekend. In between we managed to squeeze in some time to have a date at Bakerzin! We had Spanish ham pizza, which was awesome. Here’s a picture to prove it:

And here’s the two of us, happily in love to end the post, somewhat abruptly, until next time folks!

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Busy rainy weekend: hatches; socializing

We had a busy weekend at the marina.

I accomplished a few fixit-type tasks.  My main goal for the weekend was to get all three of the old small cabin hatches replaced with the new ones.  Things started out well on Friday.  I pried out the old hatches carefully.  I found the best approach is to slowly work your way around the hatch, tapping a flathead screwdriver under the hatch flange with a mallet to slowly separate the sealant.  You really don’t want to violently rip the sealant since it’ll probably take the deck off with it.  Two of the hatches were easy; one took some patience.  But I got them all off, then used a metal brush bit to clean up the excess sealant left behind.

The new hatches have a plastic flange and are slightly too deep for the existing cavity.  Doug’s idea with the hatch we replaced before was to just cut the hatch itself down by about 8mm to avoid having to redo all the trim inside; that worked really well.  Once I got the hatches out I measured (all still about 8mm too deep), and then zoomed out to town to get Mr Loo at Royal Star Plastics to cut the hatches.  Back at the marina later I filled the old screw holes with liquid epoxy, waited a while, and then laid down some epoxy putty around the openings.  Saturday I ground that down, then added a tiny little bit more putty to better fair a couple patches, and that’s where things stopped because it started raining.

Everything is fairly well covered and sealed, but it’s been raining during optimal boat-work-time for a few days, so I didn’t get the hatches finished.  I’m still hoping to wrap them up over the next couple of days before we take off for a long-weekend trip to Phuket Thursday night.

I ended up hiring Amir to do some bottom cleaning after running into him on the way out of the marina.  I was planning to do it myself, but the fact of the matter is he does a great job for a good price whereas once the barnacle infestation gets to a certain level, I’ll probably end up ruining the antifoul if I’m scraping everything off myself.  I’ll have to try to emulate Owen on Malaika and clean every week or two from now on to keep things easier.

We got a few easy things done despite the rain: Charlene helped me finish tightening all the bolts on the dodger windows; I replaced some wire ducting on the underside of the dodger that I’d removed during that job; and I bought a bunch of nice containers and organized various tools and parts.  I’m noticing some sagging of the sealant on the side dodger windows, and I can only assume it’ll get worse, which is really disappointing after everything I did to avoid it.  Cosmetic perfection is really hard to achieve.  C’est la vie, it doesn’t affect the functionality of the windows and you only notice it if you’re up close.

I heard from Beta Marine that the new engine won’t be shipping according to the original schedule and will only be arriving at Port Klang in Malaysia on Sept 28.  Still trying to figure out when it will actually arrive in Langkawi.  I really hope the contractors I’ve lined up will still be able to take the job after the schedule change; if not that’d throw quite a loop in things.  Either way, there’s a little less immediate pressure to have everything ready to sail up there.

Lastly, on Sunday Charlene and I went out for a sail with Owen and Jessica on Malaika, along with Wayne and Fion, a couple that’s interested in living aboard who’d gotten in touch thanks to this blog.  Charlene is working on a post about that.  We had a great time and it was a perfect day for a sail — and then, back at the marina later, we found a party happening on the dock near Oia and joined in there for some socialization.  Nice to finally meet and chat with a bunch of the other folks I’m always seeing puttering around the marina; as they rightly point out, I should spend more time socializing and less time grinding and sanding and so on.

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