March 2018 (1) From -3 to 31 degrees in two flights

I’ve been back in the tropics for almost a month now but haven’t had a chance to put any posts or pics on. This is the first instalment of the events and experiences of the month of March.

As we shuffled towards the open doors in the departure terminal at Heathrow where a bus was waiting outside to take us to the plane, the air turned icy cold and the building’s huge window revealed a blizzard was underway outside. It was dark, and the airport’s exterior lights lit up the snow flurries to create a pretty, festive scene. Inside Terminal 5, I had noticed several European flights getting cancelled due to the snow – the so called ‘Beast from the East’, and while some of us shivered in our winter layers as the bus meandered around the tarmac, I knew that my next view of the outside would be totally different. I left Liverpool on 26th February after 6 lovely weeks catching up with family and friends. It was now time to return to Malaysia to continue our travels in Asia. I arrived in KL the following day laden with around 50kg of luggage, most of which was heavy weather gear, boat parts and jars and a few food products that can’t be obtained in SE Asia.

After Paul had collected me from the airport, we headed for the welcome opulence of The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur’s centre, where we had stayed when I first arrived in Malaysia in August 2016. Listening to Paul negotiate the terms for the taxi ride there, I knew I was back in Malaysia. There was none of the straightforward interaction when getting a taxi in the UK. First you have to go to a desk, not a taxi rank, where some haggling takes place about the price of the journey and then you take a ticket with a registration number to the relevant car outside. The price didn’t come down enough for Paul’s liking, however and he told the line of staff behind the desk that he would call a Grab or an Uber for a cheaper deal. At this, one of the men warned him, ‘you take Grab, you die’, which wasn’t a threat as it turned out, just a sulky assertion that it wouldn’t be as safe a ride as they could offer.

The lobby, with its magnificent chandelier, The Majestic Hotel
The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

We had been upgraded to a luxury suite on our previous stay at The Majestic, and such was the case when we checked in. This time, however we were given the Bridal Suite (which I thought prudent not to publish on Facebook in case people got the wrong idea  ;)). Needless to say it was beautiful, especially the view from our room which was even more spectacular at nightfall.

The old colonial railway station opposite the hotel

I had regretted not seeing KL’s Petronas Towers during our previous visit so that evening we went for a walk to have a look at them. It was strange not to have to clad myself in layers against the cold for an evening out and I enjoyed the 30 minute walk in a temperature that had just enough breeze to combat the humidity. The towers were stunning. I thought they looked extraordinary, rising up high in the darkening sky, with their lights twinkling. I would have loved to walk across the bridge that connects them.  The square beneath the towers had an arrangement of fountains which provided great entertainment in the way that the lights and the fountain’s mechanisms made the water appear to dance in time to the music. We sat for a long time in the cool evening enjoying the whole atmosphere.

Chinese New Year decorations, Kuala Lumpur

Late in the afternoon of Wednesday 28th February  we reached Labuan after a 2 and a half hour flight and were back on Sister Midnight by early evening. I was glad of a few days to reacclimatise and get over the worst of the jet lag before we had to move on anywhere. Labuan is the place for duty free products so we were also busy restocking with wine and other provisioning, unpacking and going through the checking out procedures.

Preparing to leave, Labuan Marina
Leaving Labuan, March 3rd

The island of Tiga (pronounced similar to the character from Winnie the Pooh; ‘Tigga’) was our next destination and we left Labuan for it on Saturday March 3rd on a rather overcast and humid morning. I steered us out of the marina and out into the open sea before the autohelm resumed duties. We had a few rain showers on the way, some fairly heavy, and although there was a bit of wind we couldn’t put the sails up because we needed to be at our anchorage before sunset so speed was of the essence. The noise of the engine and the gentle motion lulled me to sleep off more of my jet lag in the cabin. It felt good to be on our way again, with the exciting prospect of new countries to explore in the coming months. At about 3pm, a shout from the cockpit announced ‘I’ve caught a fish and it looks like it might be a big one!’ After two years of trying, Paul had finally got one. He reeled it in and I stayed below until he’d killed it (I’m told it had a quick and humane end). The weather worsened while all that was going on and Paul prepared the as yet unknown fish on deck in pouring rain to the accompaniment of loud thunder claps. The rain scuppered his plans to barbecue it that evening. He found out later that it was called a Trevally. I wonder if this will be the first of many?

Reeling in the fish

We anchored opposite Tiga at 5pm in fairly shallow water. Conditions were almost exactly the same as when I last saw Tiga in December, although thankfully the sea wasn’t as rocky. Through the drizzle I spotted monkeys lining the beach and could see a few people near the resort. Heavy clouds ruined any chance of a sunset view but when darkness fell, the island looked pretty, lit up as it was with fairy lights.

Sunday brought clear skies and warm sunshine. I looked out at the island just before the sun came up; it looked gorgeous in the dawn light. The monkeys had returned to the shoreline, some of them scampering back and forth from the beach to the water’s edge. Apparently they like to beach comb, gathering up the coconuts and other treasures that wash up onto the sand to store and examine later presumably. We went ashore in the dinghy in the afternoon. I finally got my wish to set foot on ‘Survivor Island’ and found it to be as picturesque as I imagined. There weren’t many people around, just a few day trippers who come for the famous volcanic mud pool, and some guests from the small holiday resort.

Paul on the beach at Tiga
A monitor lizard in the shadow of the centre of the pic
A ‘welcoming’ statue on Tiga Island

The jetty, Tiga

Paul was keen to have a dip in the ‘anti-ageing’ mud so we set off to find it. It was very hot and if I’d known how far away the place was I would have waited somewhere shady. We were attacked by biting insects almost as soon as we entered the jungle path. Luckily we were armed with insect repellent so hurriedly applied it on top of the sunscreen. Despite being fearful of coming across millipedes, the only creatures we saw were the more welcome sights of monitor lizards and monkeys. A sign informed us the pool was a 20-minute walk away but it felt considerably longer in the heat, and parts of the path were worryingly wet and swampy. Several smiling, mud-clad walkers passed us on their way back from their bath and assured us we would love it. I hoped Paul would because I was still not in the least bit tempted to take a dip in its murky depths. As I became more sweaty climbing the path’s steeper parts, however, I almost reconsidered, thinking that at least it might be cool in there.

The pool was deserted when we got there and Paul lost no time in stripping down to his trunks and plunging in, leaving me in charge of the photography. I watched him from the wooden viewing platform and thought about not only all the flying bugs hovering above the surface, but also of what might be moving around inside the mud – not to mention all the human bodies that had been in there previously. I couldn’t help but ask him why he was prepared to put himself through that: ‘For the experience’, he replied, ducking his head under to become completely immersed. He reported that he could feel ‘things’ in the pool and that it wasn’t possible to swim as it was too thick.  As is often the case, the walk back seemed a lot quicker but it was decidedly uncomfortable for Paul as the mud dried on him. I think he was glad to leap into the sea to complete his experience. I’ll stick to moisturisers  😉

Going in

I had a much more pleasurable first time experience the next day. I learned how to kayak! I had watched Paul go out on it in the morning and thought how relaxing it looked, so when he suggested I had a go I thought I should at least give it a try.  I was thrilled to find I could balance enough to stand up in it, and even more pleased when, after following Paul’s instructions regarding the paddle, I began to propel myself along. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In clear waters it will be marvellous to drift along in the water and observe the scenes below. Not being a big fan of swimming and snorkelling I have at last found something water-related that I can enjoy.

About to jump in with the GoPro camera

Later, we went out in the dinghy to take a closer look at the coral reef a short distance away from us. As we drew closer the surface resembled a huge pile of white bones. This is dead coral and can be very sharp, so once we had anchored the dinghy, I donned my flip flops and clambered ashore. My initial delight that the long, crunchy reef was entirely free of rubbish was shattered when I came across several of the ubiquitous and currently controversial plastic bottles at the far end of the reef. Paul did some snorkelling and reported a few fish but not as many as we’ve seen in other places. Next, we dinghied over to the shore of Tiga and I got out to paddle over to the beach, where I intended to walk its length until parallel with Sister Midnight where Paul would pick me up. I saw plenty of monkeys on the way and I’m not sure if I was observing them or they were watching me. They are much more wary of people here than in the more populated islands. It was great to look up and see a grey, furry face peering from the branches of a tree but when they spotted me, they tended to shriek – possibly to alert friends and family of my approach. I saw and heard plenty of colourful birds and watched groups of silvery fish leaping in arcs in the shallow waves. Paul took photos as he followed in the dinghy until it was time to collect me. A delightful way to spend an hour on a Monday afternoon. It was even worth the sandfly bites I felt all over me later.

We left the beautiful island of Tiga just after 9am on Tuesday March 6th.  The wind enabled us to sail most of the way to KK where Paul had checked to make sure a berth was free for us. The six hours it took to get there were lovely. A fresh breeze filled the cockpit and the water was calm enough to relax and enjoy the ride. The entrance into the marina was practically as effortless as the last time I remembered, with marina staff guiding us in and taking our lines. It was good to see Sutera Harbour again, a place I will always associate with Christmas. Now, it was festooned with decorations from the recent Chinese New Year celebrations. An added bonus not long after tying up was being greeted by Ian, who I hadn’t seen since Miri. Later, he and Marilyn called by for a chat and offered to get some cheap fuel for Paul. We went out for dinner with them later to a Chinese restaurant where you had to choose your food from an array of ingredients laid out in containers which were then given to the cook. This was the start of an unplanned, extended stay in Kota Kinabalu but it turned out to be an ideal place to be ‘stuck’ in for the couple of weeks that followed.

Sunset at Tiga


Malaysia won’t let us go

We were all set to leave Malaysia on Thursday 9th March (Yesterday), but just as we were about to leave we had a problem.

The previous night we had popped down to the market to stock up on fresh food and fish.

They know how to sell tuna here

The singing veg seller

Afterwards, we stopped along the boardwalk and Kathy enjoyed what was meant to be a final glass of wine, the waiter must have been taken by Kathy as he made her a little rose out of the serviettes, at least I think it was meant for Kathy?

I was up early in the morning, topped of the water tanks, and I was almost ready to start the engine when Kathy pointed out that the fridge was quite warm, on further inspection it was clear it was faulty. We had just filled it with goodies, and Kathy had a big stock of vegan weirdness she had brought back from the UK, things like vegan cheese. We really need the fridge if we want to have any fresh food while at sea, in these temperatures, most fresh food goes off very quickly. Also I’m addicted to chilled fizzy drinks here. I don’t bother with them much in the UK.

The fridge compressor and controller are shown below,

I was able to make an educated guess that the compressor was ok and that the Electronic controller was most likely the problem. This is shown below.Looking closely once I had extracted it from the fridge, I could see a big crack across one of the power semiconductors, A Transistor/Triac or some such device

I reckon this is the problem, but it’s not something I would consider trying to repair, the wires go into an epoxy filled heatsink, so any repair might also fail. And the controllers are still available new, however the closest supplier is in Singapore, and he gave me a 10-12 week lead time. Eventually I organised DHL to collect one from an ebay seller in the UK and it should be hear in a few days time.

Neil, G4OAR, tells me he is moving closer to having a powerful Ham station setup with some serious aerials, so I’m hoping to be able to connect with him soon using the boats SSB Transceiver.

I’m not sure when I will get to post this blog, I’m going to wait until we leave port, assuming that happens in the next few days.


The day after I wrote the above I was hit with a Viral Infection, of an unspecified kind (Read serious man flu), that was last Thursday, 9 days ago.  At first it was just a bad night of fever , shakes, big temperature swings and lots of sweating, then it seemed to improve, then it got worse and eventually Kathy and our friends from Songbird persuaded me to go to hospital. It had been a few days and it wasn’t getting better, also it was possible it was dengue fever, as it had most of the symptoms and we are in the right place. But it was unlikely, especially as it goes for people who walk unprotected in forests on the islands or jump in mud volcanoes 😉 .
The public hospital here in KK was great, they saw me quickly at A&E, and agreed that with a temperature of 40 deg C, I was a bit on the fevery side and that they should take blood samples and check me out for dengue. I started to feel better during my few hours in the hospital, they injected a load of drugs into me and put me on a drip to rehydrate me. Also it was freezing in there, which might have helped. Anyway after a few hours they sent me home saying I had a viral infection, but my platelets were happy, and so were they.
Back on the boat I was up and down, up when the fridge part arrived, and although weak, Kathy helped me empty out the lazzareete lockers and get to the fridge. Replacing the controller had the fridge up and running, at the same time I jettisoned some of the lockers contents that I really didn’t need, in an attempt to create a better air flow around the fridge.  I suspect that may have been a factor in its failure.

The next few days were a bit of a blur for me, it’s been 8 days now since I first felt ill, and I’m finally feeling good enough to throw the lines and head off. We have now lost 2-3 weeks from my original schedule so our trip through the Philippines is going to be very fast. Perhaps only 4 or 5 nights actually looking around ashore in the 2 weeks we have to get from the south to the north.



Paul Collister

Leaving Malaysia

We are currently sitting at anchor off the lovely ‘survivor island’ Palau Tiga, waiting for suitable weather to head north east to the Philippines.Right now there is a strong wind predicted from the NE Monsoon, which will make the passage quite uncomfortable. We could try to beat it by leaving now, but that could backfire if the winds are early or if we make slow progress. This passage takes about 3 days for us and is just a bit more than we have fuel for, so we need the wind and waves to help not hinder us. Many of the upcoming passages are like this. Still it’s most pleasant sitting here in a very calm anchorage.

Kathy was out today doing a bit of Kayaking, which was a first for her, it looks like we are going to need a second kayak soon.

Yesterday I went for a mud bath.Not sure why, I was dirty enough already, but this is one of the main reasons people visit the island.It certainly was an interesting experience, I tried to swim in the mud but that didn’t work, but it’s very pleasant just lying on the surface, I can skip the Dead Sea experience now I think.

Back on the boat I am pleased to say the leaks I repaired are good, we had quite a lot of rain on passage here and since we arrived, but Kathy has pointed out the leak I missed in the galley. One weird thing did happen when we arrived, we have a depth sounder which is crucial when coming in to anchor, it works very well, except just as we approached the land here it started mis-reading, saying we were in 40, then 45, then 50 meters as we got closer to the shore, then it would jump from 50, back down to 40 and repeat that cycle. Fortunately I had just setup the fishfinder device which was showing me that we were in 4 metres as expected. Today I swam under the hull and cleaned the transducer in case that was the problem, and as I swam back to the ladder I passed the transducer for the fishfinder that was hanging in the water at the rear of the boat, it was making a loud clicking sound, which I think is normal, but it reminded me that I had left it running. Back on board I turned it off and then noticed that the faulty depth sounder was now reading correctly. It then dawned on me that the sounder went faulty around the time I started the fishfinder, so they must be interfering with each other. That’s quite a relief and easy to prove next time the sounder mis-reads. I suppose they both work by sending pulses to the sea bed and listening for the echo, easy to see they could interfere with each other. The fishfinder is suspect anyway as it constantly shows fish passing below the boat, but as I have proved it’s very rare to find any fish around here?

Talking of fish, I finally caught one!My first this millennium. My average is now one per decade, with the last catch being in 2006, on the ARC. This was with a fancy lure and a wire leader, I’m confident this is just the beginning of a constant supply of fresh fish. The said fish was a Trevalli and tasted gorgeous, even if it was one of the most miserable looking fish I have ever seen. I suppose he/she might have been a lot happier before it took my hook, but I don’t think so. I filleted it into 4 large pieces and have just finished off the last two, which I cooked in the barbecue.The barbecue is made by Magma for the American market and uses a disposable gas cylinder which I haven’t found outside the USA. I bought an adapter to allow it to work with European Gaz cylinders, even though they are rare outside of Europe. I just ordered two canisters from a specialist camping store in Kuala Lumpur only to find they can’t ship them here due to restrictions on postage of gas bottles, you would have thought they might have known that and advised me before I handed my money over to international money transfer companies. Anyway, I spotted a camping shop in Labuan and couldn’t believe they had a big stock of gaz bottles, cheaper than the ones in Kl, so as the saying goes, ‘we’re barbecuing with gas’ ?

I’m now two days at anchor with the extra power consumption of Kathy’s iDevices and cooling eco system, and the solar panels have us fully recharged by about 11am. Also the airlock in the calorifier has found its way out and we have working hot water again. All the others bits I worked on have turned out good except for the masthead light which was not working, I now know what that old rusted solenoid in the bilge was for. I hacked it out and taped up all the wires as it was not working anyway. I knew if it mattered I would soon find out. I expect the old masthead drew too much power to route through the switch panel, the new LED light won’t have that problem, but the solenoid solution seems more appropriate to the spreader mounted working lights?

We took the dinghy about a mile up the coast and about 0.5 miles off the shore to visit a coral island, very interesting, something I wouldn’t like to hit at night, but seemingly made of dead coral fragments lumped up in the sea as if they had been dumped there deliberately to form an island.


From here on in, until we get SIM cards in the Philippines we might not be able to post much, so don’t be surprised if the blog goes quiet for a while

Tonights sunset


Paul Collister