"Arctracer" Letters

Langkawi Boat Work, April-June 2006

It's been a couple of months of work for us here in Langkawi, without many exotic experiences. We wish we could have been cruising around Thailand's islands, but it seemed like the right time to stay here and do some projects. We understand why almost nobody writes long letters about normal working days. Our days are a bit different from yours, however, so here's an account of what we've been doing.

OUR WEBSITE: After making his coffee (and Nina's tea) every morning, eating cereal with bananas, and listening to BBC news, Jerry sat down at the computer to work on our website. Ben gave us a good start, and we also learned by looking at other sites. Jerry learned how to program in html (the language used for all websites), decided how to organize our site, selected photos, wrote captions, made maps, revised, corrected, and felt like he was back at his old programming job. After Nina finished some of her other projects, she created pages too. She sometimes did it for 5-6 hours a day, while Jerry sometimes concentrated on it for longer periods. Creating a good website is a big task, and we now understand why some cruisers hire professionals.

Arctracer.com is now available for you to browse! (Trumpets!) That's our big announcement. It isn't "finished" (if there ever could be an end to such a project) but it is well started. We are not making it available to everybody yet - just our family for right now. We'd like your feedback. If you spot a "bug" or don't like the way we did something, or have suggestions, please tell us. We want this site to be interesting and enjoyable, especially for you. To look at it, get Internet Explorer (or another browser) going and direct it to "www.arctracer.com/home" for our "Welcome Aboard." That first page has a link to "Tips" at the bottom which we think will be especially helpful to people who are not used to poking around in websites. We hope you have fun looking into it. We will continue to add stuff for places we've already visited and new places too.

OTHER COMPUTER STUFF: In Telaga we had access to "wireless" Internet at anchor for under $5 US/week. This was a flaky connection, but helped us get started on the website, catch up on email, and find information. There was a lot happening with various family members and friends, and we were glad we could keep up with all the news. We bought airline tickets on the Internet (cheaper than from travel agents or at the airline office) to visit the USA from August 24 until October 26. We renewed our EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) registration, so if we turn on our unit the authorities watching for signals will know who to call. We successfully connected our GPS to our new laptop after replacing a defective USB to serial port adapter, and now we can use electronic charts on both laptops. (We like having backup systems.) We still cannot use our Iridium phone with our new laptop, and will work more on that in the future. The "rainy season" started with many clouds, fairly frequent showers and thunderstorms. That prevented our solar panels from keeping up with the demands on our batteries, so we had to use engines fairly often to recharge them. We are now starting to consider adding a generator for more power on dark days. After reanchoring off Kuah, we used Internet cafes (at less than $1/hr). We are seeing more "spam" in our email. Perhaps this is true for everyone as the spammers improve their techniques, but we still ask people sending "forwards" or other letters with multiple addresses to PLEASE put our address only in the "BCC:" list so not everyone receiving the letter will get our address. If more people did this, the spammers would have fewer addresses to send junk mail to.

HAPPENINGS: There are many cruising boats in this area. All three marinas are fairly full, and we saw 16-28 boats at anchor in Telaga Harbor and 11-25 anchored off Kuah every day. Some cruisers have a very active social life, especially those staying long-term in marinas, but we have been almost antisocial in an attempt to get more work done. We did attend 2 BBQs on the beach, invited other cruisers over for pizza a couple of times and went to a couple of other boats for dinner. We borrowed information about Thailand's "hongs" (the Thai word for "room", these are eroded spaces in the middle of some Thai islands) in preparation for the July visit of Jennifer & all. The French boat "Nefertiti" dragged anchor and bumped into our bow during a squall one night because their crew had not put out enough anchor chain, but neither boat had any damage. We became good friends with Rita (from UK) and Werner (from Switzerland) on the catamaran "Quorsum." They showed us good shops that even the taxi drivers don't know, such as "Pastry Pro" which supplies top quality baking goods to hotel chefs.

We went to dinner on April 21st at the Kitta Seafood Restaurant and May 21st at Wonderland Restaurant to celebrate our monthly anniversaries as our honeymoon continues. The bills were $15 US (total for us both) the first time and $10 the second time. At Kitta we had sea cucumbers (beche de mer) for the first time and at Wonderland tried sting ray. We bought supper a few times at Kuah's "night markets," which are stalls on the street Wednesday and Saturday evenings with food, fruit and vegetables and "flea market" things. We usually tried some unusual fast foods, but also bought cooked ears of corn, samosas and barbequed chicken that we knew we liked. Durian fruit are in season, so we had to try it. We are among those who don't like it, but some people say it is the tastiest fruit in the world despite its unappealing odor. There are many fruits and vegetables here that are new to us, and we have not tried them all yet. Mangos are in season too, and Jerry has had one for lunch almost every day. A big yellow variety with a big flat seed is wonderful, and Nina likes these too.

The end of the school year was the time for a four day dinghy regatta at Kuah. We counted 50-70 Optimist and Lazer dinghys, and three police boats patrolling the course. The World Cup started, and Jerry bought a souvenir magazine with the schedule so he can track all the scores. The time difference between here and Germany makes it unlikely that we will watch any games live, but some of the locals stay up very late to catch the action. Several times we bought fresh flowers which lasted well over a week and helped to brighten our working days. We made a few calls to the States (birthdays and Mother's Day) from public phones, and had to redial every 3-4 minutes because the line cut off while we were talking. It took at least 2 minutes to redial all the numbers needed with the phone card. For 30 RM ($8 US) the phone card will let us talk for 300 minutes, but because of the redialing nuisance we'll never use it up!!

The place where we liked to land our dinghy in Kuah was mud at low tide, so we had to be aware of what the tide would do while we were ashore. We sometimes left it out at the end of an embankment to escape at low tide, but we still got our shoes muddy and had to clean them on our return to "Arctracer." One early evening, after walking through the big, beautiful shoreside park, browsing for cheap DVDs, and stocking up on groceries, we found we were stranded ashore for three more hours. Jerry went to the email cafe while Nina watched over the dinghy full of groceries. Then we played cribbage with new cards (but no cribbage board), and ate dinner at "The Pier" restaurant. By then the tide was high enough to let us get back home. On this particular day while Nina was shopping, Jerry was asked by two young Japanese tourists to have his photo taken with them because they liked his beard. Nina said she was glad she hadn't cut his hair lately to make him perhaps even more attractive, but Jerry insisted there was no danger.

WILDLIFE: Long-Tailed Macaques are common, and we saw 14 on the beach near Telaga Harbor one day and more along the road. Walking with Rita in Kuah Town, we saw the group which attacked her a few times and ended her morning walks. We were excited to see a Racquet-Tailed Drongo bird with its very long, split tail feathers. On a walk around the hotel at the southeast end of Kuah town with Rita it was wonderful to see many Oriental Pied Hornbills. Little Herons landed on the boat often to catch the minnows hanging around our barnacled hulls. We get fantastic marine growths in these tropical waters, especially since our bottom paint is now over a year old.

NINA'S PROJECTS: Every Friday morning in Telaga Harbor, Nina rowed to the vegetable van. She usually spent about 100 ringitts for a week's food (about $28 US as $1 US = 3.6 ringitts.) Besides fruit and vegetables, the van sold eggs, cheese, fish and meat. Telaga is far from any supermarket, so this was a good way to obtain fresh produce at reasonable prices. In Kuah we bought some fruit and vegetables from street vendors, but bought most groceries in the supermarkets. We are stocked up and ready to cruise Thailand. In the hot and humid weather we've had to defrost the refrigerator and freezer frequently, and wipe the walls and ceilings with a clorox solution often to get rid of mildew. In spite of everything, Nina cooked superb meals which we particularly enjoyed after a hard day's work.

We fought cockroaches again. After reading about them on websites, we spread boric acid in likely corners and really cleaned all the cupboards. Jerry killed a HUGE one in the cockpit that probably flew to the boat from shore. The smaller ones might have come from stores in cardboard containers so we try to avoid having cardboard on board. We're certainly being more cautious with this again. We also found ants in the cockpit and galley that came aboard on something, so fought them too. Hopefully we've won these battles as we haven't seen any critters for a while.

From April 6 - 19 (2 full weeks) Nina worked hard in our starboard bedroom. She took the "frontrunner" carpet off the walls. Then she used lacquer thinner to remove the glue and smelly paint remover to remove the old one-part paints. Then she filled holes and smoothed over dents with thickened epoxy, sanded everything, and applied three coats of the best two-part primer and paint. With the walls finished, she then sanded and revarnished the woodwork, and even took apart the old fan to sand off rust and repaint it. From 27 April - 3 May (1 week) Nina did the same job on the walls of the port bedroom - frontrunner (carpet) off, glue off, paint off, screws recessed, holes filled, sanded, 3 coats of paint, then sanded and varnished woodwork. It took only half as long because she now knew exactly what to do and there weren't any open cubbies to work on - just flat walls. By now she was really getting into refinishing mode, so she sanded and varnished the woodwork around the galley counters, the handrail into the galley, the shelf in the main salon near the galley and the wood on our main salon table. She then painted the starboard forepeak, the toilet seat, the wall in the head, wall boards in the main salon, some spots around the cockpit and the stern, and the plastic holders for winch handles, binoculars, and suntan lotion in the cockpit that were discolored from the sun. After painting, she put wax on the cockpit walls and the back of the boat.

Nina made a pattern for the odd-shaped starboard forepeak bunk, cut out a foam mattress and sewed a cover for it. Other sewing included pillowcases and sheets for this V-berth; a matching curtain for its entryway; sunbrella coverings for foam cushions to put under the kayak on the foredeck; bedcovers for the tropics, pillow shams and curtains for both queen sized bedrooms; mirror frame covers (matching material in each room); white vinyl covers to hide wires coming from the mast; cushion covers for main salon settees and five new throw- pillow covers to match; three dresses in the Kiribati style with crocheted necklines; and a new top for her grandmother's old pin cushion (small pieces of sawdust were starting to come out because it had been used so much). She also knitted several small Christmas money stockings.

Nina spent one whole day finding and sorting all the shells we've collected. She threw some out but still saved MANY good ones to give away. She also spent a couple of days reading recipe books borrowed from Rita and typing up recipes she wants to try. She cleaned out one of her file boxes and filed Jerry's papers so he could find things more easily. Then we threw out Jerry's old fake leather file that was coming apart after forty years of use.

We received our paper mail in April, and Nina made 9 post cards to answer Christmas cards. Jennifer introduced Nina to Sudoku Puzzles, and she spent hours working on them and really enjoys them. She sorted and labeled our paper charts for 2 days to see which ones we could get off the boat. They take up a lot of room. We've given some of them away already and hope to find new users for the others we no longer need.

JERRY'S PROJECTS: He did find time to do some projects besides the website. He ordered some boat stuff at Peninsular Yachts Asia Sdn Bhd (sales@penyachts.com), the local chandlery which will order from West Marine. He put a hole in each side of the boat (up high) as anti-siphon vents for engine cooling water; and after using the new setup he had to modify it to avoid getting water in the bilge. He worked on the starboard engine's electrical contacts as the engine wasn't starting easily. He paid $40 US for an air filter and then looked around until he found a place to buy material to make six air filters for about $4 US. He replaced the fan belt on one engine, changed oil, replaced exhaust hoses of both engines, cleaned and greased shifting mechanisms and installed a new hose for the port engine bilge pump. He spent hours fixing a double kayak that we bought from some other cruisers for 250 RM. This involved putting epoxy in cracks, sanding, painting, waxing, and putting hose around the edges of the two places to sit. It now looks great with white paint on the bottom and turquoise paint on the top. He sanded a paddle we got in Vanikoro in the Solomons and put wood preserver on it, and we bought a secondhand kayak paddle.

Routine maintenance included lugging diesel fuel in jugs from the gas station (saving the extra 40% markup - it cost 1.53 RM/liter instead of 2.15 RM/liter at the marina fuel dock.) We got cooking gas tanks refilled, balanced our checkbook after six months, and filed our income tax forms. Cleaning barnacles off the propellers and parts of the hulls took a day in the water, and resulted in some cut fingers. Water intake and outlet holes needed barnacles cleaned out frequently. Jerry helped with Nina's redecorating projects by recessing and cutting off screws protruding from walls, and rewiring where old wires simply ran behind carpet on walls.

In Kuah we noticed three broken hinges on our overhead hatches. We contacted the dealer in Australia, and they contacted the manufacturer in Sweden about replacements. It turned out that hinges like ours haven't been made for ten years, and they have no substitutes. We then contacted a local welding shop to replace the plastic parts with stainless steel. They did a wonderful job and we got eight hinges redone. Of course this all took weeks, with many emails and many taxi rides to the welding shop, and hours working with bolts and rubber goop to get the job finished properly.

JOINT PROJECTS: We cut each other's hair, collected rain water to fill our tanks (and jugs for showers and laundry), did laundry by hand, played backgammon, cribbage and checkers, and read each evening. We gave away over 30 books so there is less weight on the boat now, and we need to continue that trend. We bought two new water jugs to replace sun-damaged old ones. Nina, especially, fought serious rashes caused by the torrid heat and humidity. We tried to keep the top and sides of the boat clean, but grime and mildew kept reappearing.

So that sums up our past two months. With the website opened up, and the hatch hinges fixed, we are ready to sail to Thailand. We hope to have some wonderful weeks there with Jennifer and her gang in July, and will return to Langkawi in August. We hope you are enjoying a lovely summer.