"Arctracer" Letters

Antifouling, etc. in Langkawi, Dec 2006

We've been fairly busy since returning to Malaysia from our visit to the USA. We still hope to get the boat ready to cross the Indian Ocean in 2007, but everything takes longer than we want and we may not be ready in time. Oh well, that will give us more time here where our dollars still enable us to live comfortably, even though US dollars continue to decline in value against most currencies. We are starting to dread moving to expensive places like Europe. The dollar dropped another 11 percent versus the Euro in 2006, and it will continue to decline until the US government changes its economic policies. No use complaining, so we keep on doing the best we can. Here's what we've been up to lately:

We patched the hole in the back of the boat where the U-bolt and its backing plate were pulled out at Telaga Marina while we were away. It is probably stronger now than it was, and looks good again. We filled up with water and fuel, and moved to anchor off the town of Kuah. We got a leaky water pump repaired, repainted, and reinstalled on one of our engines. We ordered Iridium phone service for next year, but the new SIM card has not arrived from our new supplier so it is not working yet. We caught up on much of our email correspondence. We added more photos to our website. We restocked much of the food in our cupboards. We fought cockroaches until there are only a few scared bugs remaining, and they'll be gone soon. We started inquiries about replacing our boom and some rigging, and that will be a top priority for 2007.

We painted the bottom of our boat in Australia in April 2005. Since then we've spent most of our time in warm waters where barnacles and other marine life grows rapidly. It was time to repaint. There are many paints to choose from, all very expensive. A typical antifouling paint costs $200 per gallon, and we need three gallons to give our boat two coats. All these paints make rather vague claims about their ability to keep boats free from barnacles and weeds, so it is difficult to tell which will really work. The best antifouling paints use TBT (tributyl tin). This is a very poisonous substance which has been proven over many years to be very effective in discouraging barnacles and other shellfish. Paints with TBT are used by all large commercial ships and all navy ships. That probably means that the paint industry sells more TBT antifouling than any other kind. Many yachts have used TBT paints and reported three or more years between paintings. Because TBT is so effective, its use on small boats is now prohibited in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. Their argument is that most yachts sit in a marina most of the time, so TBT gets into the marina water in sufficient quantities to have bad effects on the shellfish and other animals near the boats. Of course this argument does not hold for boats like ours which almost never stay in marinas, but the regulators took the simple course of banning TBT for all small boats. The paint companies love these regulations because we are forced to buy about three times as much paint as we would if we were permitted to use their good stuff. Cruisers are not organized like navies and shipping companies, so we cannot negotiate with paint manufacturers to get a low price on paint for our fleet. We have to pay the full retail price. Boatyards are also happy with these regulations because all yachts are forced to haul out every year and pay for their facilities. The main ingredient in approved yacht antifouling paints is copper, which is not nearly as effective as TBT, so does not have as much effect on animals living near boats in marinas. Here in Malaysia, regulations are either nonexistent or not enforced, so it is possible to buy paints which contain TBT, and it is also possible to buy undiluted TBT and add it yourself. In addition to the international companies with well-known "brand names" there are local companies with less expensive paints. Some of the local paints are so bad that even the salesmen say they will not last more than six months. We didn't trust the locals who were offering TBT paints (which they probably mixed themselves). We didn't want to play with dangerous TBT ourselves, and didn't know the "right" proportions to mix into copper-based paints. We know that whatever paint we apply will have to be scraped and sanded off later, and it will still be hazardous to us and the environment. We looked at the options, and decided again to use an international brand of copper-based paint which will need to be replaced in about a year. Jerry will continue to complain about unfair regulations and paint companies which take advantage of them to increase profits at our expense.

We also had to decide where to have the boat hauled out. The largest shipyard in Langkawi has a bad reputation among cruisers, so we avoided that one entirely. The only other option in Langkawi is Rebak Marina, attached to a fancy resort which charges over $200 per night for resort guests but is acceptably priced for the job we wanted to do. In Phuket, Thailand, there are several places, but they are all very busy at this time of year and are fairly expensive too. In Satun, Thailand, there is a cheap boatyard which caters mainly to the local fishing fleet, but it has a reputation as being dirty and isolated. We chose Rebak. They made us wait for two weeks, saying they were very busy, but we think that was partly because the manager likes to exercise his authority whenever he can. Oh well, we had plenty of other things to do, and took the opportunity to get a head start on the job by beaching our boat in a secluded bay to scrape off most of the shellfish at low tide.

We were lifted out of the water on December 18 by a Travelift, a big machine which practically surrounds a boat and lifts it out of the water by two slings slipped underneath. It was the first time for us to have our catamaran on a Travelift. (We used a tractor in New Zealand and a marine railway in Australia.) Everything went very well, and we were deposited on a paved area with access to electricity and water. Then came days of scraping, sanding, bending, stooping, and lying on the ground. We covered our aching arms and bodies with unpleasant black residue which we tried to avoid breathing and which never came off completely no matter how hard we scrubbed in our evening showers. We got up still sore and mumbling in the mornings to do some more. Nobody likes this kind of work. We also used epoxy and fiberglass cloth to do minor repairs on parts of our rudders which were damaged in some past collisions with rocks or floating objects. We filled a few holes with epoxy where the hulls had been "dinged" enough to break the waterproof coating and let water start to get into the fiberglass by osmosis. Finally we put on protective clothing (with a special breathing mask for the toxic fumes) to roll on two coats of new antifouling paint, plus a little extra around the waterline and on the bows. Into the trash bins we dumped empty paint cans, used rollers, used sandpaper, paper coveralls and the old clothes we wore for the dirty work. The old antifouling dust will eventually wash into the sea, since there are no elaborate systems here to collect and "properly dispose of" hazardous wastes. (In the USA, many boatyards have better systems.) On Saturday, the 23rd, the Travelift picked us up again and lowered us back into the water. We motored to one of the Rebak Marina slips and tied up for a rest. The annual ordeal was over.

On the hardstand we inevitably get dirt, dust and even grease both outside and inside the boat, so a thorough cleanup is now required. Water at the slip here is very inexpensive, so we'll wash the boat, fill our tanks and do laundry. We're also catching up on correspondence, and making a major push on our website. Good wireless Internet service is available, and electricity is available at the slip too. We can work on computers several hours each day, watch a movie at night, and still leave with our batteries fully charged. The marina is having a special price for December: 15 Ringits per boat per night (about $4) so we can afford it. We want to announce the availability of our website to all our friends in the "annual letter" which we will send out soon. We've had some social times with other cruisers here, including a shrimp scampi masterpiece by Nina for six of us on Christmas evening. It was interesting to be here on Boxing Day, exactly two years after the entire marina was destroyed by the tsunami. It has been completely rebuilt, and there are no indications of that disaster. We'll be moving out of the marina before New Year's Eve, probably to anchor off Kuah for the fireworks.

The shortest days of the year have just passed, without any significant change in the warm temperatures here. It's the dry northeast monsoon season now, the best time for cruising Malaysia and Thailand.