Zen and the art of boat maintenance…why there’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing about in boats
It’s endless. It’s frustrating. Boat maintenance can be repetitive to the point of inducing Alzheimer’s.
But as Water Rat said to the Mole in The Wind in the Willows “there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”
Different attitudes to boat maintenance
There are different ways of approaching boat maintenance.
A friend told me about the idea of looking after your boat as if you have a superyacht crew. Hard work but your boat’s going to look schmick and run well. (You hope.)
Another couple have a strict schedule of “One job per day, perhaps”. And that’s between two people.
I aim for work/life balance. It’s not all beer and skittles though. Sometimes it’s all beer. I follow the tools down at happy hour rule if I can.
Confessions of a boat boy
When Yana de Lys was moored at Yacht Haven in Phuket we had friends who had boat boys – locals who looked after their boats for them. Keeping the boats clean. Taking care of regular maintenance. So when they went sailing all they had to do was show up.
Most sailing boat owners have to do their own boat boy work. Like me.
It can be fun. It can be tedious. It can be frustrating. It can be satisfying. Despite the poor pay – well the no pay – it’s better than working nine to five any day.
Even the interminable cleaning is okay. Any job involving water when it’s stinkn hot is fine by me. But I had to laugh the other day when I saw the boat boy for a small motor cruiser on my jetty hosing down his boat in the rain. Under an umbrella. Really.
I could smell incense. I thought I could see a hidden temple. So I parked my motorbike on the side of the road. And carefully threaded my way down the treacherous slope.
I crossed the dodgy bridge to where I glimpsed some buildings in the jungle.
It’s a Hindu hidden temple
Aah I thought so. A Hindu temple. Run down. With empty Tiger beer cans, crushed cigarette packs and other rubbish lying around. I like the lack of reverence. Opposite to my strict Catholic upbringing.
“Sshhh don’t talk during mass or you won’t get an ice cream after”.
In Hindu tradition, there is no dividing line between the secular and the sacred.
Ganesh on my radar
As I wandered around the hidden temple I recognised Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. He is the god of wisdom and learning.
I keep a small statue of him on top of our radar on Yana de Lys. His job description is “remover of obstacles”. I’m not sure if I have our relationship right though because I can’t get my radar to work.
This week I had a local Moslem guy helping me with the trouble shooting. When he saw Ganesh there he said “That’s why it cannot on”. (“Cannot on” is the technical term in SE Asia for anything that won’t work).
I have an email pen friend at the Furuno office in Singapore. He’s been giving me troubleshooting ideas. His latest advice is to bring the unit in for his people to check out. Looks like another trip to Singapore coming up. Any suggestions for art galleries to visit?
I drive past the temple entrance on my way home from Permas Jaya town to Senibong Cove Marina nearly every day.
Recently I was intrigued to see a frenzy of motorbikes and cars parked there as I rode past. This went on for some weeks. A work party. They’ve chopped down the jungle which gave it atmosphere. It’s not a hidden temple anymore. Everything is in plain view. And painted a nauseous shade of green! Oh dear.
Moving right along…or not
While I was meditating at the no longer hidden temple in the jungle, I started thinking about my blog. (I have to admit I didn’t meditate long. I was attacked by a swarm of non vegetarian mosquitoes.)
Are my readers disappointed that my adventures are all “Land trips on the side” lately? Rather than sailing on Yana de Lys? I’m still living on Yana de Lys. Still living the dream, still loving living in Malaysia.
But the reason we’re not moving on just yet is that old chestnut: money. I used to have a virtual job in the Australian mining media, but the downturn has put the kibosh on that one.
The other captain is working in Australia. And I’m try to figure out how to reinvent my career as an online writer. So if you happen to share my blog there’s more chance we can go sailing again sometime soon. Just saying…
I daydreamed of sailing trips in the tropics for more than 20 years before my dreams finally came true. A lot of life got in the way before I started cruising.
After we boughtYana de Lys we spent a few years fixing her up in Langkawi, then heading back to Australia to make more money to continue fixing her up, then doing short sailing trips around the 99 islands of Langkawi, then going home to Australia to make more money. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat again. You get the picture Yogi Berra.
Not all of the things we fixed worked out as we would have hoped as we discovered sailing from Langkawi to Phuket.
If you’ve been following my sailing trips in the Stranded in Paradise series, this is the epilogue. If not, you can read the story so far in:
Dreaming of a sailing trip when nothing goes wrong
When I first heard of Candy Chang’s Before I Die projects all I wanted to achieve before I shuffled off this mortal coil was sail Yana de Lys to a destination with no significant gear failure.
Well yay. It’s happened. And it feels goooood.
Dreams do come true in Yacht Haven
After spending eight months in Boat Lagoon Marina replacing the perished, seriously leaking teak decks and fixing all the things that broke on our way over from Langkawi we sailed up to Yacht Haven on the north east of Phuket.
Yacht Haven is as beautiful as its name make it sound. Perfect for sitting out the wet season and hanging out until we’re ready for our next move. And it’s just round the corner from our new playground: Phang Nga Bay.
So far we have stayed at anchorages off Koh Wai Noi, Koh Phanak and Koh Hong. We haven’t covered any vast distances (one day we made a major passage of 3.8 NM LOL) but everything that matters on Yana has worked just fine.
Okay there’s one tick off my bucket list. My next goal before I die is to figure out how to set up my financial feng shui so there is always more money flowing in than out. I’ve learnt you can’t survive on spectacular scenery and seawater. Any ideas?
Farang is what the locals call foreigners. I think it’s a neutral term, unless it’s being applied to foreigners behaving badly. (Heaven forbid – we’re their guests here!)
It sure is strange and challenging living in a country where they not only speak a different language but use a completely different alphabet. Where the statues at the Buddhist temples carry machine guns. Where road rules are merely guidelines. (I swear a red light means “proceed with caution”). Where false advertising is as common as noodles and rice.
Speaking of rice and noodles I love the food here, despite the process of ordering being an entirely hit and miss affair. The non farang menus are simply indecipherable – sometimes it’s just a case of pointing at what someone else is eating and saying I’ll have one of those.
At our favourite barbeque place over the road here from Boat Lagoon, the waiter very proudly showed me their new “English language” menu the other night. I reckon Google Translate has a lot to answer for. Here are a couple of examples of dishes on offer:
·Pork falls a morter ·Papaya penetrate the free and crab ·Grilled the cow’s milk
I assume they’re machine translations, but I guess I’ll just have to get the guts to order them to find out what they really are. For now I’m just going to stick with pointing at the delicious looking food they have displayed.
Meanwhile the Yana de Lys deck replacement is going ahead at a rapid pace. We have stripped the old teak off, and have a small team of locals sanding the old surface ready for the new paint and non slip.
Boat Lagoon is a fantastic place to get work done. I still can’t get over the lack of water in the marina though. Before we moved Yana onto the hard stand we spent at least half of our time with 0.0 meters reading on the depth sounder. We were literally parked in the mud. And then the hard stand and the board walks flood at spring high tides. Bizarre.
The drive shaft was wobbling dangerously the whole way. I concentrated on steering while the Other Captain kept an eye on the drive shaft down below, appearing white faced and chain smoking after each engine room check, a prophet of gloom telling me how bad it looked, providing an extensive litany of the serious structural damage we could be causing to Yana de Lys, saying he’s going to need a tropical holiday after this leg. (How about a holiday on Ko Phi Phi Thailand I wondered?)
The whole situation felt scary and wrong. Our average speed was just three knots (about 5.5 kmph) with the wind and choppy swell coming from the direction in which we were headed. Sailing wasn’t an option. We had to use the engine despite our profound misgivings.
To make things worse, we were towing our new super size Queen Mary dinghy, slowing us down by at least one knot. However we had managed to wrangle Thumper (the outboard) onto the deck, so that helped a bit I guess.
Hordes of daytrippers
So, in between bouts of the Chief Engineer sweating it out in the engine room, trying to figure out how to fix the latest problems, we took a holiday on Ko Phi Phi Thailand.
We were told by lots of people before we arrived that Ko Phi Phi’s a rat race. And compared to the serenity of Ko Muk and the laid back peace of Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi was swarming with tourists.
Every day hordes of young backpackers in bikinis and bare chests came in on the ferries. We could hardly move on the narrow walking streets, or in the shops and restaurants. And this was the quiet season.
By around four in the afternoon, the day trippers vanished leaving room to move but still plenty of action.
Stranded in paradise again
We played at being tourists for ten days – snorkeling, drinking cocktails and even shopping.
There was a stall selling dresses printed with famous Impressionist paintings. I had my eye on Monet’s Water Lillies, but they didn’t have my size (too big of course) so I settled for a Van Gogh instead.
We were anchored in about 12 meters of clear as clear turquoise water. We could swim over to where the tour operators take the punters for snorkeling trips. The water was a perfect temperature with outstanding visibility. There were more fish in our face than we could poke a stick at, although the coral was sadly degraded.
The weather was glorious and sunny for the whole time. I suppose you could call it a voluntary stranding in paradise. Ko Phi Phi Thailand is certainly a tourist paradise.
The Chief Engineer (AKA the Other Captain) discovered and replaced a second broken engine mount. We discovered later our mechanic in Langkawi had tried to save us money by supplying non-marine engine mounts.
We set off for a last overnight anchorage at Ko Yao Yai before heading in to Boat Lagoon at Phuket once the Chief Engineer managed to reduce the drive shaft wobble, after endless hours of trial and error in the engine room.
This leg was an uneventful 16 miles, again at an average of three knots, but with very little swell.
We towed both the Queen Mary and Thumper, sacrificing even more speed. We figured it’s such a drama manhandling the 47 kg Thumper outboard engine on and off Yana de Lys, we’d probably be in terminal danger before we could use the tender as an tow vessel if we ended up in trouble again…
The final leg of 13 miles to the entrance of Boat Lagoon was even easier – no swell whatsoever, totally benign conditions. We parked Yana in the mud at Boat Lagoon Marina. Finally.
Our trip started with very light wind in the exact direction we were heading, so sailing wasn’t an option. There were yacht wrecking rocks on our lee side. And when we used Perky, our engine, the recently replaced drive shaft was overheating alarmingly on account of the shonky engine mount bolts. Yep we were nervous sailors.
But we ended up happy sailors when we altered course and the wind picked up. The last two hours turned out to be perfect sailing, averaging around six knots exactly in the direction I wanted to head.
We needed to find new engine mounts for Perky and to replace Yana Banana, our dinghy.
Yana Banana, an itty bitty inflatable, was taking in water and letting out air at an alarming rate. Her outboard wasn’t working either after going for a swim during one of her low inflation high sea water content moments.
What else could possibly go wrong?
I guess this was the point when I started wondering when things would start going right.
My computer was stolen by sea gypsies. I hadn’t done a back up since Langkawi because we didn’t have enough AC power because of our engine problems. But I had transferred all my current photos onto the stolen computer and deleted them from the camera
We ended up with a monster four stroke outboard, and a dinghy way too big for our needs. We called the outboard Thumper and the tender the Queen Mary. The guys in Phuket delivered the wrong models, but agreed we could change them when we got to Phuket in Yana
The monsoon influencing the weather created two weeks of impossible conditions for sailing on to Phuket. (I’d told my employer I was taking a two week break. I ended up losing my job)
The engine still wobbled like crazy with the new engine mounts
Stranded in paradise again
But Old Town on the east coast of Ko Lanta is a charming place to stranded.
Old Lanta Town is all character, sensationally delicious honest Thai food and relaxed friendly locals.
The restaurant staff lead you from the street-facing tables and chairs through the kitchen to the restaurant’s “back side” where the rest of the tables and chairs are over the water (at high tide).
I terrorised the locals with my attempts at their language from my Thai phrase book. They would respond by either correcting my pronunciation, staring at me blankly or smiling encouragement.
The community comprises a lot of Chinese and Muslim Thais. Their calls to prayer were much more musical and less mournful than in Langkawi. As I was riding past a mosque on our scooter there was a dog howling along with the call to prayer.
The weather was wild for about a week. Even the local fishing boats came into the safe anchorage.
There were two days when it was so rough we couldn’t get to shore, even with Thumper and the Queen Mary. We got cabin fever and felt like prisoners in paradise until the forecasts improved.
The drive shaft (which makes the engine turn the propeller which makes the boat move, to dumb it down if you don’t think like an engineer, dear), was kaput. We were at the wrong end of the sailing season so couldn’t rely on the wind to get us to our destination of Phuket.
We had to replace the drive shaft. A major job normally done when boats are out of the water. Not an option on the tiny paradise island of Ko Muk. What to do?
Boatman runs a longtail shuttle and charter service for the Sivalai five star resort. His friend Chai, came with him to look at our drive shaft to see if they could help fix it (it was always terminal) and decided we could take the drive shaft out, in the water, and get a replacement made in one day over on the mainland at Kantang.
Our much loved interpreter
We negotiated through one of the receptionists at the resort. (“Just call me Tammy, it’ll be easier for you than my Thai name”). Boatman insisted Tammy join us on Yana when he checked things out because he speaks no English. Tammy, now our much loved interpreter, told her manager she needed to spend the afternoon on our boat. (“These people come from the sea, we have to help them”). She is the ultimate compassionate Buddhist.
So Boatman and Chai freedived on Yana and took the shaft out that afternoon. Not exactly easy, but all done with lovely light humour and a lot of struggling on Tammy’s part to translate the names of the tools they were asking for during cigarette breaks between dives.
We ended up with wooden bungs in place of the of the broken drive shaft. Success number one.
The next day Boatman took me in his longtail to the pier on the mainland and Chai and I hired a driver to take us to Kantang, then Trang. It seemed we could get the replacement drive shaft made in Kantang.
I did my best at talking them into making a “copy” which I wanted, not a “fix” which they also talked about. I knew I definitely didn’t want a fix. (Think potential for broken welding as in the premise of The Finest Hours movie.)
Not that I know much about these things, I just took the calipers so I would look like I knew what was going on. (Pretend to look like an engineer, dear.) Unfortunately there was no stainless 30mm rod to be found. Anywhere. Not even the larger town of Trang. Verdict: only available in Phuket.
Success number two
Meanwhile the Chief Engineer (AKA The Other Captain) was manning the bilge pump, not letting Yana out of sight.
I was resigned to taking the six hour bus ride to Phuket the next day, perhaps staying overnight, when another of Boatman’s friends, Braxsir (“Just call me Sir”) offered to drive me to Phuket, pick up the “spare part” and be back on Ko Muk in one day. Stuff the 6000 baht ($200) expense I thought, and yes I said – pick me up at 6:00 am and we’ll do it.
Now that road trip was an adventure in itself, and it was success number two. I talked a manufacturing operation into selling me the stainless steel bar we needed. Yay.
The Chief Engineer spent the day working the bilge pump, not letting Yana out of sight.
Success number three
I set off again in the longtail with my new driver to pick up the drive shaft “copy” in Kantang the next afternoon. Success number three! The Chief Engineer was getting a bit stir crazy by then, what with me off gallivanting all over the country with the Thai boys, and him getting rather bored with the bilge pump.
Anyway, the new shaft was installed. It didn’t leak and appeared to work fine. It cost 4000 baht for the stainless steel rod and precision engineering. I spent another 13,000 in transport to get it to Ko Muk, go figure.
Boatman absolutely refused payment. He said, through Tammy, he’d never worked on a boat like ours and did it for curiosity and pleasure. We plied him with gifts of cigarettes, whiskey, stainless steel bolts and simple heartfelt gratitude.
The Chief Engineer was delighted not to be manning the bilge pump anymore.
We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary with cocktails and the most expensive item on the menu for dinner at the Sivalai Resort. Our TripAdvisor review might have gone something like “Strange Pina Coladas, Weird Barracuda”. But we were still thrilled to be leaving the next day.
Then we discovered why the drive shaft had failed in the first place: a broken engine mount bolt.
Finally we left Langkawi in Malaysia after working on Yana de Lys for two years. It was kinda late in the sailing season for a sailing trip to Thailand. Were we too impatient? Was Yana ready? What could possibly go wrong?
Sailing to Phuket in easy stages
We were going to sail to Phuket in easy stages, with safe anchorages planned along the way in case the weather hit the fan.
Well it wasn’t the weather which hit the fan it was the drive shaft.
After two nights of blissful anchorages, I was thinking this is why we have a boat. That two years of hard work was worth it after all. Perky the engine was purring and I felt I could trust her to motor all 120 NM (nautical miles) if we ended up with no wind to help us.
When a sailing trip goes wrong, it can go very, very wrong
Then at around 9 am on Day 3 of our tropical island sailing trip, 20 NM north of Taratao Island the drive shaft snapped, right at the end where it meets the gearbox. No way we could jury rig a fix on board, alone in the water.
Sailing into the wind
We started sailing north in about 3 knots of wind (from the north!). We tacked for three or four hours between Ko Phetra and Ko Tului Noi making less one than mile progress. Then the wind picked up but it was still pretty well in the direction we wanted to go until we began heading for Ko Talebong.
Passing rocky outcrops in the dark
It was hairy passing those rocky outcrops at the SW end of Ko Talebong, close hauled in the moonless dark. But we finally made it to a safe anchorage at Ko Muk by 11 pm, despite the fact the only night sailing we’d ever done was in our TAFE Yachtmaster courses and we’d never anchored without using the engine before.
We left Australia in March after replenishing the anorexic bank accounts and returned to Langwaki where we lived in a room above our favourite lunch spot, the Watergarden Hawkers Centre and finished some work on Yana de Lys on the hard stand.
And finally relaunched with brand new standing rigging, clear see through windows, freshly painted topsides, a lot less leaks, new engine mounts, LED light tricolour and anchor light and a myriad more improvements. Still a lot to do, but at least she’s floating again.
The plan is to sail to Phuket and finish Yana so we can focus on cruising after that.
It’s been fun living in Kuah. Our room came with one TV station – A National Geographic channel which seemed to have The Dog Whisperer on a continual loop. I saw a Bollywood movie shoot, and one car crash out the window . No one was hurt in the crash, just a bit of mangled metal and lot of walking around in circles by both parties. And occasionally I heard all the taxi drivers over the road shouting. That meant another tourist was driving the wrong way up the one way street.
I treated myself to an Ayurvedic massage in Pentai Cenang at one point. The Njaravkizhi treatment was described as a relaxing massage in the brochure, but I did find it a bit hard to relax while I was being bashed by bags of hot rice.
We took the ferry to Penang for three days so we could get our extended Thai visas. I love Penang. The food at the Red Garden is sensational. We ate there every night, even though we tried to talk ourselves into trying somewhere else.
We lost track of how many times we got lost shopping for items for Yana de Lys which weren’t available in Langkawi. On the third day we decided to play tourists and hire a scooter to check out the Funicular rail at Penang Hill. It feels like you’re going up vertically. And when you get to the top the views are sensational. I felt like I could see all of Malaysia, while we drank the most expensive beer of our whole trip.
Meanwhile back in Langkawi we loaded Yana with provisions in readiness for our our trip to Phuket.
We had Yana de Lys lifted out at the customs hard stand on Langkawi. Over the years I have been involved in hauling out boats in a variety of different locations but man this was a first and makes me think next time I use the tammy lift at Fremantle Lifters I won’t have even one nervous moment.
They use a crane to lift the boats about three metres up onto the hard stand. We multiplied the degree of difficulty by having both masts taken off first. Just when we had all the stays loosened, a pile of storm clouds appeared on our horizon. We decided to forge ahead anyway and the big winds decided to go elsewhere. Yay!
I think the slings they use are the ones the mining companies in WA sell off after three months because the fraying voids their insurance. Anyway the slings ended up in the right place, despite being twisted. No point diving to check the placement, there is no visiblity because the bottom is mud.
Then two days later we flew home to Perth.
It’s true the other captain and I had been feeling a little bit depressed at the thought of going back to Australia. But it’s not that bad. I’d forgotten how much I love
Abundant salad and fresh veg being easily available
Great coffee, anywhere
Good radio which makes sense. ABC 720 local radio got me back up to speed and I still lerve RTR’s music
Exercise without becoming a puddle of perspiration within the first minute. I had a minor concern I had forgotten how to row my plastic dingy, The Brave, to shore and back from Beyond. Maate, just like riding a bike, there’s no forgettin.
Everything feels excruciatingly exxy after living seven months on and off a tax free island in Malaysia, but we’re back here earning Aussie dollars so we can go back and enjoy living off them in SE Asia. ASAP.