Side by side, we lay in darkness, as stillness surrounds us.
The roar of distant waves a faint reminder of our link to the ocean.
No night watches tonight, no need to wedge ourselves in or clip ourselves on.
No rush of water against the hull, rendering sleep impossible or rogue waves threatening to throw us from our bunk.
No urgent call to deck just as we finally sink into slumber.
Instead the night is still, we are still, Florence is still.
Many nights on passage have been spent dreaming of this stillness, such promise of a sound nights sleep.
How we cursed the constant motion, how it made our lives so hard, stopping us ‘achieving anything’ with our day.
Tonight the stillness brings no joy. The silence, a screaming reminder of our stationary state.
Tonight no matter how long we sleep, our goal will not be closer when we wake.
Our horizon remains as still as we are.
For as we lay here we realise, our motion at sea was always forward.
No matter how uncomfortable or gut-wrenching, each bob, bounce, slam or roll resulted in us moving ever westward towards our goal.
Together as darkness falls again, we mourn the motion.
We never missed until it was gone.
Our silent dreams, the only vessel able to carry us to distant shores.
HELLO from Isolation Bay, Indonesia; home for a while. It’s been over a month since we first dropped anchor in the bay; the longest we have stayed in any anchorage, ever. Florence, crew and our new community of stationary sailors are safe, well and grateful to be provided with a safe place to stay by the Regional Government. Limited fresh and dried provisions are delivered each week, weather permitting, by small boat from the nearest island town. Phone/internet is a 3-4 hour sail/motor away and our time in internet anchorage is limited as it’s near a town.
Back in Isolation Bay we are able to swim from the boat and exercise on the beach. Necessary rationing of the good (unhealthy) food stores is well underway. Our new machete is making light weight of the coconuts but our fishing still needs more practice/patience. The small island is shared with several other stranded sailors, hundreds of hermit crabs, 3 increasingly portly pigs, 2 cats, 1 delightful dog, a reducing number of chickens, a few pythons (responsible for the reduction in chickens) and 1 island caretaker (responsible for the reduction of pythons). Movement within Indonesia is currently restricted until at least the start of June but we hope to be able to stay here until international borders re-open, whenever that may be.
As I write this, we are not in Isolation Bay. There has been some bad weather recently so we have temporarily moved to a more protected anchorage. The downside is that we are not allowed ashore here and cannot swim due to the crocodiles. The upside is that if we hoist the phone to the top of the mast we can just about get enough signal to share this message.
The last couple of months have really made us focus on what we have to be grateful for. Having spent nearly a month being denied a safe harbour, being asked to stay put during this crisis feels more like a huge privilege, rather than a denial of our freedom. Without the further 5,000 miles we had planned to be sailing this year, we suddenly have a lot more time on our hands; a major currency. To take away some of the pain of not being underway, we have been using that time to do things that are difficult/not possible when we are constantly sailing from place to place. Things like regular exercise ashore, sleeping, sit down meals, walks and cuddles with the same island dog, getting to know the same unchanging neighbours, growing a (very) mini boat garden, catching up on video editing. The hammock and my (Amy’s) paints have even made an appearance for the first time in a long time. There is of course a long list of less enjoyable boat jobs to keep us out of trouble for many more weeks but we are grateful to have the time to tackle them and a safe place to stay.
Change and uncertainty are always hard and life in Isolation Bay is not always the easy paradise that the photos often portray, yet if sailing has taught us anything its that we can adapt, change our course and keep sailing with the Flo.
In a moment, we will lift the anchor and sail home; back to Isolation Bay and away from the internet for another few weeks. The wind has gone and the sunshine returned. It’s been lovely having contact with family, friends and the incredible online community who share in our adventures. Thank you for all your messages, comments and positivity. Despite the isolation, the community that surrounds us both back in Isolation Bay and spread all over the world, means we never feel that we are facing anything alone. See you again in a few weeks. Stay safe lovely people.
Thanks to films such as The Beach and James Bond, the Phuket/Krabi area of Thailand is well known for its stunning karst limestone islands rising up out of the calm sheltered waters of Phang Nga bay. The thought of sailing our own boat through this stunning scenery would have been a dream just 4 years ago but here we are living those dreams.
This area is so well known for its beauty that hordes of tourists visit each year, so our challenge would be to find some quieter locations just off of the main tourist trail. That meant avoiding those old film sets and scouting for potential future film sets instead. Happily we were able to benefit from the fact that there are a lot of charter companies here, that means lots of information on the islands attractions and where to anchor are freely available. + warnings of where is busy.
We set off to do a 2 week loop of the islands to the east and South of Phuket, but avoiding the notoriously busy James Bond Island and Phi-Phi where The Beach was filmed. As we left busy Phuket behind and sailed to our first island we felt like we were on holiday. We know, we know, we are always on holiday right? But after the time spent in busy areas of Malaysia coming here to Thailand and finding a quiet island felt a world of difference to us, we were still bimbling away on boat jobs, cleaning, changing anodes, filming and video editing but we felt very different inside.
The sailing here is either very easy or non-existent. Predominantly light winds mean that we either drifted along gently on calm seas or had to motor on mirror flat seas. Usually only 10 or 15 miles to the next anchorage.
Here are some of our favourite spots:
The stunning anchorage pictured at the top of this blog was one of our favourites, a small tunnel from the beach leads to a hong which is home to a huge colony of bats roosting during the day.
Anchorage to ouselves
Just us and the machine on the beach
Looking out from the hong through the tunnel to the beach
Stalactites hang from the limestone cliffs
Koh Hong, Krabi
When full of water, the hong creates a beautiful natural swimming pool. There are a couple of beaches either side of the hong entrance that have beautiful clear water and made an ideal spot to gaze back at Florence… We rowed in between the lines of long tail boats with tour groups, it took great patience and timing to get some photos without tour groups in them!
Enjoying the swimming pool like ko Hong
The Emerald Cave here is worth the stop, it’s less crowded in the evening and early morning. We anchored around the corner from the busy cave area at Sabai Beach, which we had pretty much to ourselves for 3 beautiful nights. We took the path from the top of the beach up to the view point and down into the village and resort on the other side. In the heat and humidity it probably wasn’t the best idea and the village on the other side was dirty and a disappointment. However, we had a delicious lunch and fruit smoothie on the beach and the viewpoint was worth the hike.
This had been recommended to us by friends for the clear water snorkeling. It has been so long since we had a decent snorkel in clear water so we made the most of exploring underwater in this beautiful anchorage. We did well to time this in between the visits from tour groups, up to 10 speed boats at a time with between 10 and 30 guests on each boat.
Holiday over, it is back down to earth with a bump and we have to throw ourselves into getting Florence ready to cross the Indian Ocean. The discussion on board returns to, how close can we anchor to the supermarket, and how many kilos of provisions can we load into the dinghy and not sink on the row back to Florence.
We seek glimpses of different lives, adventure and the excitement of being alive as we travel. Although not our usual remote destination, the streets of Hanoi still provided all of these things.
With a population of around 8 million people in a city were everyone rides a motorbike, that makes for some chaotic, loud, bike-filled streets. Honking means a friendly ‘hello I am coming past’ on roads where everyone is passing someone. The only way to cross on foot is by confidently stepping in front of the traffic, walking calmly and slowly across as bikes and cars swerve to avoid you. You must not stop, hesitate, step back or change direction, this surprisingly organised chaos hinges on your movements being predicable. Crossing any street is a mini adventure which fills you with the excitement of being alive.
The streets of Hanoi are an interesting, eclectic mix of old and new, where East meets West in a beautiful fusion. Cone hatted women ride basket laden bikes of tropical fruit through narrow French streets. Plants and flowers hang from the antique railings of balconies, skimming the spiders web of electrical cables.
Delicious, hot baked baguettes are cooked beside steaming bowls of noodle soup, fresh juices and strong aromatic coffee, all served directly on the street. Some from cafe fronts, some from bikes which have carried both the stove and ingredients to be cooked to order wherever space can be found on the street. Many vendors only make one dish but boy do they do it well. Having chosen your meal, you perch on one of many 1ft high plastic stools and watch in wonder as the streets of Hanoi pass through your pavement dining area. Bikes are not limited to the road here so watch your toes.
A trip to the war museum and prison created a sobering day and gave us a more in depth understanding of the horror behind the initial meetings of West and East in this area. Walking around the streets of the safe but bustling metropolis of Hanoi, it would be easy to forget that Vietnam has only recently emerged from almost continuous war stretching back to the 1800’s.
Ha Long Bay
From Hanoi we took a bus and boat tour to the Ha Long Bay area, 2 hours out of the city. It would have been wrong to be this close and not see the limestone islands this area is so well known for.
Vietnam is not currently open to foreign cruising yachts and areas like this are heavily restricted even to local boats. A tour boat and kayak are the best freedom you can get in these waters.
There is no denying the area is beautiful, however as the water was not clean enough for swimming and there are limited places to get ashore, we all agreed one day here was enough.
Our final days in Vietnam were spent around the city of Da Lat in Vietnam’s southern highlands. Here we enjoyed the unbelievable value of a very luxurious £12GBP hotel room with breakfast and took some two wheeled day trips out around the city.
With much warmer temperatures than the northern highlands, Dal Lat is a major domestic tourist destination with a surprisingly French feel. The climate is well suited to agriculture so it’s a major producer of flowers, vegetables and coffee.
Arabica coffee is well suited to the climate and higher latitude of the area. It is a much more expensive variety of coffee than the typical Robusta as it is much more labour intensive but results in a sweeter, softer flavour.
Da Lat is a very nice, enjoyable place to be, however the 100 photos we took here compared to the 600 taken in the north speaks volumes for where we left our heart in Vietnam.
Quality brother time was made even better for the experiences we shared in this beautiful and interesting country. Stepping on the plane back to Florence in Malaysia was bittersweet and required both the promise of future adventures with my brothers and a return to Vietnam one day.
Whilst in SE Asia, an opportunity arose that could not be missed; a chance to see both my (Amy’s) brothers together in one place for the first time in 4 years. This was not a normal ‘see you down the pub at 7’ sibling catch up. In order for this to work, we would need to swap the boat for some motorbikes, the open ocean for the open road, then change our pace from a leisurely 5 knots to full throttle.
A motorbike trip in Vietnam has been a long held dream of Matt and I’s, though not one that sits within our skills area. Luckily for us both of my brothers are serious bikers; we would have their technical and mechanical expertise but we would need to keep up with their “don’t worry Amy, we can only get small (400cc) bikes, we won’t be racing” pace.
Nothing beats adventuring with the people you love, especially if they do most of the organising. My youngest brother has completed several motorbike trips in Vietnam with his Vietnamese girlfriend. Between them they advised/translated and planned most of the trip, giving Matt and I not only a break from boat jobs and sailing but from the constant planning involved in full time travel.
Like us, you probably have some preconceived ideas about the dangers of novice foreigners riding motorbikes in Vietnam. As much as I would like to dispel your concerns, all you have likely read or heard about the roads in Northern Vietnam are true. You will meet bikes and trucks on the wrong side of the road, trucks overtaking on blind corners with vertical drops the other side, livestock crossing, landslides/dynamite blasts and overloaded bikes carrying market stalls or hedges. The only thing you can be sure of when you come around a hairpin is that there will be a hazard you will need to avoid. Forget crossing oceans, this trip was much more risky.
Like many things in life with challenges come rewards. The Ha Giang Loop is a famous motorbike route through the most Northern highlands of Vietnam, bordering with China. The roads wind through dramatic valleys, mountain passes, river gorges and some unique village communities. This area is often, understandably described as one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.
Even on the 125cc scooters Matt and I both hired, the riding was thrilling. When you were able to take your eyes of the road or stop to take it in, the scenery was breath taking; rice paddies and rivers nestled in deep ravines with layered peaks as far as the eye could see.
Passing through unique towns and villages; the local culture, clothing and way of life was as mesmerising as the surroundings. We travel to see places and cultures that are different from our known and were fascinated by the bright clothing, beaded headdresses or velvet head scarfs that adorned the women in this area. The beret’s and darker clothing of the men working the fields with buffalo contrasted the women’s obvious love of colour and patterns.
Many towns and villages in this area come together for regular traditional markets, held throughout the region.
Produce, livestock and clothing are available. As the border of China runs along this region, the goods come from both Vietnam and China and currency is taken in either Dong or Yuan.
Not only a place to buy provisions, but also a major social occasion, the markets are packed. ‘Losing’ 6ft Matt in the crowd soon became a very easy but fun game of ‘where’s wally’. Ironically, unlike other area’s of Asia we have traveled we were practically invisible here, instead of being hassled to purchase anything, we were lucky if people would agree to sell us something.
The market was the place to be and be seen, women were decked out in their finest, brightest clothing and the rice wine (aka happy water) was flowing. This popular local tipple was carried to the market in woven baskets containing 30l (happy) water barrels. It was sampled in such a dedicated fashion that the police were breathalyzing happy bikers at 10am on their way out of the market. By the time we left, the police bus was well beyond full.
The Most Northerly point of Vietnam
A slight detour took us to the most Northerly point of Vietnam and the Chinese border. A proud flag tower with 360 degree views of the surrounding rice fields and highlands stands tall in the border area.
Over the border to China
The border of China runs along a large section of the road. In at least one place the fence is in need of repair and a well worn path allow easy trade from the road in Vietnam to another road in China, a mere 200m over the path. Having watched several locals walk through the 10m gap in the fence, we couldn’t resit the temptation any longer and ran over the border for a quick photo in China. *Please note this was before the virus outbreak and we have also long passed the incubation period. Unfortunately the towns and villages in this area are now at great risk from the virus and the Vietnamese government have closed the border as a precaution.
The Ha Giang Loop can be completed in 3 days but even at full throttle, we feel that would be too much of a rush when there is so much to see just off the main loop. We took a week, staying at home-stays or hotels ranging from £6 to £20 pn for a double room. Had it not been mid winter and the weather turning more unstable we could have easily enjoyed a bigger bike trip in Northern Vietnam. As it was we used our remaining time with my brothers and their girlfriends to see Hanoi, the famous Halong Bay area and Dalat, a city in the Highlands of Southern Vietnam (more on those places next time).
Leaving the Highlands of Northern Vietnam left me sure of 4 things:
There is no way I am letting four years pass by before the next sibling adventure.
Matt and I will return for a longer bike trip in Vietnam one day (just probably not at full throttle).
Vietnam is an incredibly interesting country to visit.
Described as ‘The Jewel of Malaysia’s west coast’ our bows had been aimed at Langkawi ever since we entered the Malacca straits.
Rushing ashore to catch the Kuah Harbour Master and complete our paperwork just minutes before he shut for the day, we anchored as close as we could, shortening the distance to row. It was only as we got back to the boat that we realised we had just ticked off #1 of the ’25 Top Things to do in Langkawi’; Florence was anchored directly in front of the giant Eagle of ‘Eagle Square’, selfie central! It didn’t take long for us to both agree that the rest of the list should be avoided and we would have to work find our own ‘top things to do’.
There was one place that had been recommended above all others by sailors all up the coast. It was a must visit, an absolutely unmissable destination, a true cruisers paradise… the Billion supermarket…. where duty free alcohol can be purchased at prices even we can justify.
Returning to Florence clinking and feeling much more in the spirit of the place, we set out in search of nature and the dramatic landscapes this area is famous for.
The ‘hole in the wall’ anchorage on the North East coast certainly provided this, as we passed through the steep sided entrance to the bay Eagles soared above the dramatic cliffs, monkey’s scavenged on the waters edge and lush, jagged cliffs rose above the mangrove lined river.
A dinghy trip up the river allowed us to appreciate the scale of this dramatically beautiful area, yet by 9am the following morning, it was clear this would only be a one night stop.
Tourist speed boats whipped past as close as they dared, using the anchored boats as a makeshift slalom course. The noise was akin to being next to a main road and the wash like being at sea. Our ‘top spot in Langkawi’ clearly needed more research, we sailed on.
In a quiet little bay, unlisted in the cruising guide or any online bucket lists, we found what we were looking for. The perfect antidote to months in busy anchorages or marinas; a sheltered bay to hang out, catch up on some jobs and mess around in the dinghy.
However all is not perfect in paradise; the water was too dirty and full of jelly fish for enjoyable swimming, so we soon came in need of some proper exercise.
Some further research found us the 701 trail which allows you to beat the queues at the expensive cable car, access one of the highest peaks in Langkawi, get some serious exercise and gain views of the entire island all for free. Although strenuous rock scrambling in a hot humid climate is not at the top of most peoples ‘things to do lists’, for us, the 701 peak was without a doubt the best thing we did on the island.
An added bonus was we could walk from the anchorage in Telaga to the Seven Wells waterfall where the trail starts and scramble down the rocks of the falls for a refreshing dip in a private infinity pool on our way down.
Whilst we enjoyed our time on the West coast of Malaysia, it would be untruthful to list it as one of our top cruising destinations. The reality is we are grateful to be turning our bows North to Thailand in search of cleaner water.
Once more into the Malacca straits, this time heading north from Pangkor to Penang, 140 miles, a mere day and overnight sail. In this area the straits widen out so there is lots of room for us to sail outside of the shipping lanes. However fishing boats, nets and thunderstorms are still the norm.
As darkness fell we were sailing through a particularly big fishing fleet. Suddenly the wind switched from an 8 knot westerly to a 28 knot easterly. Rain hammered the decks, thunder boomed and lighting flashed around us as we fought to put two reefs in the main and furl away half the genoa. Sailing through the fishing fleet in torrential rain and limited visibility was made even more challenging by the fact our wind instruments had stopped working earlier in the day. Relishing the challenge we both stayed on deck, tacking through the fleet and laughing at the utter chaos unfolding in front of us.
This storm was no different to an earlier night further back down the strait. That previous storm had left us feeling dejected and defeated. The difference here was that we had gone into the night feeling fresh, not having just completed several night watches.
Thousands of miles and countless night watches have instilled in us a deep understanding of how detrimental sleep deprivation can be to our ability, mental state, resilience and perception of a situation. What could otherwise be small, even enjoyable challenges can seem unattainable mountains through the eyes of the exhausted. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, yet one we regularly put ourselves through by sailing around the world with just the two of us on-board.
Like all storms, this one eventually passed, unfortunately leaving a stable wind coming from exactly where we wanted to go. The excitement of the night carried us through a day of tacking back and forth up between Penang Island and the mainland. The tide would not allow for us to enter the marina until later in the day so we were in no rush.
The challenge was not over yet. Approaching the marina, we turned the engine on but could not get any speed up. Matt quickly checked the gear box, which was OK, before diving over the side and clearing a large plastic sack from the prop. It was the first swim in over a month and the quickest ever as the polluted water of the Malacca Straits lacks any appeal to linger.
Problem solved we were able to motor into the Marina. Yet again, we found ourselves very happy to be in a marina, a situation that has become surprisingly frequent up this coast. You cannot access the city from any nearby anchorage and at £12 per night (around 1/4 the cost of a marina berth in Southern England) we reasoned the marina was well worth it. As well as laundry, showers, supermarkets and spares, we were just a short taxi ride from most of the city and access to the Indonesian and Thai consulates for visas.
The second largest city in Malaysia, Penang is the capital for food; a fast track to our hearts. £4 would get us a flavoursome lunch trio of vegetable curries with some chicken and rice to share, served on a banana leaf with an ice cold mango lassie each. 60 pence would get us 5 of the best vegetable samosas we have ever had, served still hot, from a street vendor in the little India section of the city.
A 15min, £3 taxi ride from the marina lies the historic area of Georgetown, the city’s main attraction.
The streets of Georgetown are full of street art, easy to spot by the crowds of other tourists posing for selfies by a random wall. You can download a map of them all but we preferred wandering and finding them at random.
Chinese Clan Houses (Kongsi’s)
A Kongsi (clan house) is a building in which Chinese families of the same surname gather to worship their ancestors and showcase their success. Some of the Konsi’s have been in Penang for over 600 years. Kongsi’s are dotted throughout Georgetown, the most spectacular noted as being the Khoo Kongsi (photos below) which was originally built to showcase the success of the Khoo family . No photo can do justice to the volume of, or intricate details in each of the ornate carvings, paintings and statues that fill this building. Well worth the 10RM pp (£2) entry fee.
The Clan Jetties
The Clan Jetties have been around for over 100 years. Jetties were built in the busy port for landing and unloading goods. Gradually, each jetty became identified and dominated by certain clans who built more and more huts overtime. Families still live there (apparently tax free as they are not on land) and you are welcome to wander along the jetties and their numerous market stalls. After the stilt houses of Indonesia the whole area felt very commercialised and non-descript so we didn’t linger for long.
Walk a few streets over and you will question if you are still in the same city. Sari shops fill the streets, flower garlands sway in the breeze, the smell of samosa’s and the sound of Bollywood music fill the air. Sitting to eat our £1 curry lunch on a banana leaf, not brave enough to eat with our hands like all our neighbours, we felt like we had traveled far without any of the efforts of doing so. Ordering another ice cold mango lassi we sat for a while to drink it all in.
The Kek Lok Si Temple
A big highlight of our time in Penang was spending a morning at the Kek Lok Si Temple; the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. The scale of this place is mind blowing, it is in fact an entire complex of enormous statues, temples, gardens, and the famous 10,000 Buddha pagoda. Kek Lok Si is an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and other countries in South East Asia. Building work started in 1890 and is still ongoing, with plans to develop another temple within the complex. Other than the 2RMpp (60p) fee to climb the pagoda, if you walk rather than taking the lift, the complex is free to enter. You can obviously then buy as many incense, candles or souvenirs as your heart desires.
A gigantic 36.5m (120ft) tall bronze statue of The Goddess of Mercy stands at the top of the hill, overlooking the complex.
Both the top of the hill and the top of the Pagoda give great views over the city.
You can enter most of the buildings, many of which are filled with ornate shrines, statues and carvings.
A favourite stop in Malaysia
Not only is the food delicious and cheap, the marina and transport are both good and reasonable. Penang is like several cities in one. You can move from a modern shopping centre to an ancient temple within minutes, visit Buddist or Hindu Temples, Mosques, and even Christian churches, taste Indian, Thai, Chinese and even (not so delicious and much more expensive) Western cuisine all in the same day.
Not only did we manage to get our Thai and Indonesian visas, do a major re-provision, visit a very good dentist, buy spares, get our anchor re-galvanized, and fly out to Vietnam and back, we had a great time exploring this interesting city. Penang has been a definite highlight from our time in Malaysia.
A cuppa, a brew, a pot, char. Mornings are rarely started without it. It’s a running joke on Florence that a real disaster at sea for us would be running out of tea. As fate would have it Florence herself came with not one, but two tea pots; the perfect boat. Even the scorching tropical sun will not dissuade us from partaking in a cup or two. Black, green, herbal or fruity we take them all. Such is the rock and roll lifestyle aboard our boat.
Inching our way up the Malacca strait we were getting ever closer to the Cameron Highlands; an area that produces 60% of Malaysia’s tea. The cooler temperatures of the highlands coupled with the opportunity to learn more about our daily brew was too temping to miss. From Pangkor marina we teamed up with M&M on Osprey and rented a car for an overnight trip into the hills. Mark and Marjo are good friends we have been leapfrogging with for the last 2 years since meeting in Tonga. Good friends despite their *cough* coffee drinking habits.
Three hours inland from Pangkor, the Cameron Highlands became well known during the colonial era when British planters realised the potential of their fertile mountain slopes for growing tea, a prized commodity.
Peering through the windscreen wipers, into the drizzle, at the long line of tail-lights winding uphill, we inched our way past ancient landrovers and large signs advertising high tea and pick your own strawberry farms. One could not help but notice it all felt terribly British.
Unfortunately with it being the wet season, the weather was… well wet. Plus with it being the holiday season the roads were jammed. Our hopes of making the tea plantations that day were put to a crawling halt by the traffic.
So what else is there to see in the Highlands? Malaysia’s national hobby is shopping. As such the highland roads are lined with market stalls, shops and more garden centres than we could count. Not such an appealing prospect for 4 boat dwellers with limited space, hoping to give their legs a good stretch in the hills. Alas the wet weather had closed the main trail to the peak. As the rain battered the car roof, our hiking plans were becoming less and less attractive. So far no tea had be sampled and the only jam we had tasted were of the traffic variety. Consoling ourselves with a delicious Tom Yam Mee meal for about £1 each, we resolved to an early start with the hope of beating the crowds to the tea plantations the following morning.
Blurry eyed and in much need of a cuppa, we dragged ourselves from our big comfy land bed and set out for the famous BOH Tea Plantations. As we wound our way up a narrow road, the clouds lifted to reveal dramatic views over the lush, green, thickly blanketed valleys. Any disappointment we were feeling soon left us as we watched groups of plantation workers chat and banter as they sheared the crops, protected from the weather by their straw cone hats.
It was time to sample the goods. Tea in Malaysia is normally served iced with lots of sugar and/or sickly sweet condensed milk. Purchasing a plain highlands cup in the conveniently placed tea room we sat to a breakfast of scones and cakes.
A free tour of the tea factory (sorry no cameras allowed), revealed some new to us facts about our beloved cuppa;
Most of the tea we drink is from one plant the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to East Asia
The tea plants are left for 5 years before any leaves are harvested. They are then harvested every 3 weeks. A lot of the harvesting is still done by hand.
The age/type of leaf/shoot selected and the drying process determine the type/quality of the tea. White, black and green tea all come from the same plant.
The journey back to the boats was broken with a stop at the Kek Lok Tong temple, a Buddhist temple set in a huge dramatic cave that opens up into a Chinese garden walled by vertical jungle clad cliffs.
Back in Pangkor….
Pangkor island itself is a major tourist destination for Malaysians who come for the beaches and boat trips. Despite the number of snorkeling trips advertised it would take a serious problem and/or a big bribe for either of us to willingly swim here. Each tide would take a deluge of rubbish past us one way, to see it returning again on the turn of the tide. Small remote beaches temped us ashore, only for us to retreat moments later due to the stench of raw sewage, rotting fish and piles of washed up rubbish. The waters of the Malacca Straits have been the most polluted of any of our trip so far.
On a more positive note Horn-bills are fairly common in this part of Malaysia and we enjoyed watching these unusual looking birds. Perhaps a distant birds eye view of the NW anchorage in Pangkor is the best way to experience it.
Who are we? Are we sailors or are we bloggers, or vloggers, or youtubers?
We have come a long way since we cast off the lines 3.5 years ago, when our sole challenge and adventure was to be getting ourselves and our boat around the world as safely and efficiently as possible. A huge task that left no chance to consider anything else, it occupied 100 percent of our time. Together we stepped off the dock already sailors, albeit mainly dinghy sailors, but sailors with the clear goal of becoming salt encrusted full time, live-aboard circumnavigators.
Before cruising all of our spare time and money was taken up dinghy racing
Before cruising all of our spare time and money was taken up dinghy racing
All our funds were allocated to boat parts, safety equipment and travel essentials. The only concession to documenting our travels was the purchase of a budget, DSLR camera to complement our old go-pro and the one shared laptop on board, which was primarily for navigation. There were no definite plans to regularly write or make videos about our adventures. We have no background in writing, photography or videography. Yet today we have a Youtube channel with nearly 40K subscribers showing 60+ videos of our travels.
The journey to creating videos has in some ways been more challenging and rough than the sailing.
So how did we get here?
It was not all smooth sailing.
As we settled into the adventure, we found ourselves wanting to reflect upon and share the experience with others. Writing blogs and making videos seemed the perfect creative outlet, although our initial audience was only family and close friends.
Fast forward 2.5 years, and over 20,000 miles, and we found ourselves arriving in Australia with our camera gear failing, video editing backlog increasing and boat jobs looming. It was time to have some very frank discussions about whether we should continue making videos at all.
Picking up a camera when you are feeling low, seasick, stressed or even just lacking a free hand to hold the camera is just the first hurdle. Making the time to sit in front of a computer when you could be out exploring is the biggest sacrifice. Blogs, videos and photos take hours to write/edit, source music, render, check, re-render, upload, schedule and answer comments. Time that is spent down below, sweating over a computer in a 30-40°c cabin. The irony is not lost on us that finding a work-life balance when we are technically unemployed is one of our biggest challenges. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is how appealing the thought of a comfortable desk in an air conditioned office from which to complete these tasks can become. That is just the physical process of making blogs and videos.
The world of sailing and vlogging are opposite to the extremes. The ocean doesn’t care what you look like or sound like, yet place your experience of sailing across an ocean on youtube and suddenly you are open to judgement. Stand up to speak in front of 40,000 people and I guarantee your heart will be pounding. It has taken a mental adjustment to become more confident talking to the camera and hardened to those few negative and spiteful comments that will inevitably appear on anything made public on Youtube.
By Australia, the time and effort involved was in danger of making the process of creating our videos feel like a chore rather than something we enjoyed. We decided to stop filming anything for 4 months, photos were allowed but no video. We would use this time to catch up on editing our existing footage without the pressure of new footage piling up and take stock of whether the videos where adding to or taking away from the experience.
Time out with family
Time out with family
Timeout with family
Time out from videos
In this time we analysed the pro’s and con’s of making the videos with an eye as to whether or not we should continue:
The videos take so much time to edit that between them and boat maintenance/planning, there is very little time left for the actual adventure.
We were becoming disappointed with the quality of video we could achieve given how much time and effort we had put in.
The videos record some amazing memories in ways that photos just can’t do justice.
When we have the time to enjoy making them, the videos provide a great shared creative outlet.
We enjoy the positive response they often gain and the feeling of being able to share the adventure with others.
Through the blog/videos we have met/made contact with some fantastic people and been given some great opportunities.
The Patrons who support our videos have enabled us to upgrade our camera gear.
The big tipping point and reason we took up making videos again after our 4 month filming break was the support of our patrons and paypal donors. Their financial support allowed us to replace and upgrade our failing camera gear, meaning we could improve the quality of our output without dipping into the sailing around the world funds. Purchasing a second hand laptop meant we could both edit simultaneously, improving our efficiency. The ability to upgrade our camera gear reduced a lot of the frustrations we were having with the equipment/video output. But it is not just the financial support of our patrons, it is also their moral support that tipped the balance.The fact that people enjoy the videos enough to go out of their way to support us, or leave a kind/constructive comment, really helps to maintain our motivation to continue sharing this adventure.
Now more than just a joint creative outlet or an additional challenge, the little videos we create and share allow us to reflect upon and celebrate this journey with others. Youtube has been a platform for both keeping in touch and also getting in touch. The videos allow us to virtually reduce the distance between us and our family but have also connected us with people we would have never have otherwise had the opportunity to connect with. People who’s kindness and support leaves us awestruck and more motivated than ever to keep sharing this journey.
Recently we have had a huge boost from an extremely generous couple, people who we would never have known if it was not for Youtube. Al and Becky, two of our patrons have gifted us a Drone! We have been dreaming of one of these amazing pieces of equipment since we started making videos. It is going to allow us to share a whole new perspective on this adventure and has given our motivation to continue making videos a huge boost.
So can we answer the question? Who are we?
Well, we still think of ourselves as primarily sailors, but have to admit here is a part time youtuber within us. Along side this journey of sailing around the world there is another path we are taking, the path to becoming creators (the term given to youtubers and bloggers alike). That second and unanticipated path, when managed carefully, compliments our sailing journey by allowing us to take a step back and look at this adventure from a different perspective. Thanks to Al and Becky we can now view it from an all together more impressive aerial perspective.
We want to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who supports us both financially and morally. We are flying high, extremely glad we continued and excited for what lies ahead.
Filthy water, no wind, squalls, horrendous lightning storms, an overhanging yet no longer prevalent risk of piracy, problematic fishing boats, nets and rafts, all in what is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. Just a few of the reasons we have been dreading these congested, dirty waters for months. Can it really be as bad as we have been led to believe? Or are the tales just scaremongering?
The only way to fully answer this was to find out for ourselves. Real or over egged, rumours of these waters have been circling around us for months. Months that have been spent debating the best way to get through the area safely, with the least hassle. It has been one of the most difficult routes to decide on so far as the standard advice is conflicting at best:
Avoid sailing in the shallower waters outside the shipping lane as they are filled with nets, fish traps and fishing boats
Avoid sailing in/near the shipping lane as it is heavily congested
Avoid anchoring overnight as anchorages are open and fishermen often ‘accidentally’ catch you in their drift nets then demand compensation, threats have become violent
Avoid sailing at night as nets, fishing boats, traps and tug tows are often unlit and not on AIS
Although piracy in these waters tends to be robbery targeted at anchored commercial ships, not yachts, it is recommended that you stick to the more policed Malaysian side of the strait.
The Malaysian side is much busier with tugs/tows, fishing boats etc.
With 500 miles to be covered to get through the strait and very few marinas with space for an overnight stop, this basically left us gambling on what will be the best outcome from the bad options.
The advantage we had gained by checking out of Indonesia in Belitung and avoiding the busiest shipping area around Singapore, was countered by the fact that we would be unable to cross the shipping lanes to the Malaysian side of the strait until much later. The mild anxiety of being surrounded by fishing boats on the Sumatran side of the strait was real but only temporary. These boats were courteous, friendly and caused us no issues. As the morning progressed they made their way into port and we were left surprisingly alone working our way up the ‘wrong side’ of the straight to a point we felt was safe to cross. As safe as you can be crossing a busy highway where you have no right of way and the vehicles approaching could take a whole mile to stop with their engines in full reverse.
Like crossing all traffic lanes, it was all about picking your moment. This was made much easier by our AIS displaying the ships headings and speeds. The 10 miles across the shipping lanes was sailed on a reach at 7 knots with some helpful current improving our speed.
Safely across the highway, we were on the ‘right side of the tracks’ but not out of danger yet. The traffic here was smaller but much more chaotic; tugs, barges and fishing boats all travelling in different directions. Choosing to sail at night in deeper water with a keen watch meant we were not going to get hit/snared at anchor but made for eventful night watches and little time to recover.
Days of being on constant high alert, coupled with the anxiety and anticipation of hitting nets, fishing boats, tugs, ships or being hit by lightening was exhausting. Brief moments down below trying to sleep were inevitably interrupted by constant changes in boat speed, thunderstorms, the person on deck changing sails, turning the engine on/off or just generally muttering loud profanities into the mass of oncoming shipping and boats.
Despite the challenges, it was constant anticipation of what could happen that was most exhausting. Anxiety and anticipation that had built up from the months of horror stories about these waters. Crossing a ship, passing through a fleet of fishing boats or being hit by a squall wasn’t nearly as bad as the build up to it coupled with the lack of a break from the last hazard.
The prospect of meeting up with Kev (a good friend who happens to be Matt’s first boss after graduating) and seeing more of Matt’s old workmates from his time working in Malaysia was the only thing that kept us going.
Exhausted yet overwhelmingly grateful for having made it so far unscathed, we pulled into Port Dickson Marina to check into Malaysia and take a much needed breather. Malaysia is the first place we have visited since the Canary Islands 3 years ago that one of us has been to before this trip! This area, near Malacca and KL is where Matt used to spend some of his work trips back in the days we had real jobs.
The hassles and stresses of the last few days at sea soon drifted away as Kev kindly collected us from the marina to spend some time in his nearby, beautiful, air conditioned house. A week flew by as we hung out with Kev, enjoyed house life, visited the new company offices, caught up with with old colleagues and friends and shared a wide variety of delicious Malaysian food.
All too soon we were out of the marina and making our way North again.
So are the Malacca Straits as bad as the horror stories?
For us no. However in the time that we have been in the Malacca Straits many boats have been caught in nets and had close calls with ships. One unfortunate catamaran collided with a fishing boat, breaking their cross beam and taking down their mast. This is certainly not an area to take lightly, yet nor is it an area to fear or avoid. Around 100,000 vessels pass safely though these waters each year. Statistics on their anxiety levels are much harder to find.