Mission Impossible: Langkawi, Malaysia Hall-Out

Sailors joke that cruising can be accurately defined as fixing your boat in exotic places. This line of humor does not stray far enough from the truth. My two cents added to this not so humorous reality are working on your boat in exotic places without proper parts, tools or money and usually surrounded by folks who speak a different language than yours. Whenever I am knee deep in a savorier cruising task, I crack out my classic line, “Sunsets and cocktails”, highlighting the irony of the cruising lifestyle. We folks voyaging under sail may be unemployed but do not mistakenly believe we do not work. The often visualized barefooted stoner, propping a beer on his chest with a big hat pulled low and listening to Jimmy Buffet as his home glides aimlessly across oceans is far from typical. A cruiser is more realistically depicted as a naked guy, sweating with grease covering his arms and face as he tries to squeeze his slippery body through the narrow pass beside the motor to get the impeller out of the water pump hoping the small Indonesian lady at the motorcycle shop understood him when he requested a new lip seal.(the guy was sweaty and covered with grease when asking the lady at the motorcycle shop, but not yet naked!) Only in the cruising community, will you find a physician or a lawyer, cleaning the filthy plumbing of a head or scraping barnacles off their props. Varied as cruising budgets may be, we are all unified regardless of tax bracket. Cruisers are bound together because we survive maintaining our rigs in very faraway places and our lives depend on it. Assets aside, if you voyaging under sail, then you are out there on the “front lines” of jury-rigging your boat to get to the next port of call!

Thinking back on my voyages in Dancyn numerous occasions flood my memory of repairing her in an exotic places, with little budget for mistakes and way outside my comfort zone. Typically racing against some timeline dictated by a visa or un sailable seasonal variation such as cyclones or the monsoon. My first memories of many of the destinations along my voyage involve an immediate need of repair. Days after my arrival in Panama City, I stepped off a custom vibrantly decorated, Iowa built Blue Bird school bus into the barrios outside the Canal Zone with the head of my engine under my arm and asking around for the “Machinadora” or machine shop. Excited to dive the crystal waters of the atolls of French Polynesia I first side tied a big steel schooner in the Toau, Tuamotus while we used that cruiser’s welder to fabricate a new chain plate in preparation for pounding north 21 days to Hawaii. Installing my HAM HF radio in the road free Santa Elena national park of Costa Rica with afternoon breaks spent fishing for Trevally on light tackle. Hunting around beautiful downtown Apia, Samoa upon arrival for a fuel pump to keep my Atomic 4 running with guests on the way and expecting an operational Dancyn. I remeber not long after arriving in Sumatra rummaging through moped parts looking for a lip seal for my water pump in Banda Ache, Indonesia. Try conducting that one in Bahasa with no papers or even an idea of what I was looking for! My all time favorite was in Madagascar! I found motorcycle front fork seals and some PVC pipe to repair the bearings in my ProFurl roller furling. Oh and that 10 day transaction was conducted in French amidst a Madagascan civil war! The single similarity that each of these epic side trips shared was that in all cased regardless of the sensation of pending doom, a solution was somehow found and the Adventure Continued.

In 10 years it is not hard to imagine the need to hall the boat out of the water for anti-foul painting and minor refitting. I left Dancyn up in the Sea of Cortez dry stored in Marina Seca, “Dry Marina”. I hauled her once more, at great expense in Hawaii, after my first season in the south pacific. When I finally got down to Sydney I scored a favor from a local yard who’s owner I had sewed a courtesy flag in Tonga! The second time back in Australia I sailed 17 miles up the Bundaberg river with no engine to hall her out on the bank right in downtown Bunderburg. I was visited by the mayor and made the local paper! So there was no surprise when I got to Asia I would need to the usual refit and haul out. I slapped bottom paint on Dancyn in 40 knots in Cape Town, South Africa. Some of that blue anti foul made on the hull but I wore most of it for weeks to come! The point is working on your boat is something Cruisers accept and a few even enjoy.

We cruisers always know when we need to refit but the extent of what needs to be done can rarely be foretold. Boats are a can of worms and well when the sheets fly you’re usually is some strange place wondering how your going to pull this one off? My “halfway round the plant” refit in Lankawi Malaysia was no exception. I knew it was overdue and that plenty needed to be done but returning from a 5-month cash building fishing foray in Alaska I fell headlong into disaster. Arriving at Telaga Marina after 36 hours on multiple airlines, a bus, a train and finally a taxi on the journey from Atlanta. I was hot, unaccustomed to the tropics and fat after a meat and potatoes diet on the Being Sea. The heavy southeast monsoon pummeled Asia. Constant deluges slipped through every orifice in the mast finding its way down to keel step and malfunctioned bilge pump. Each opening for internal halyards, upper and lower stays and topping lift collected rain drops during my 5 month disappearing act slowly filling Dancyn with fresh water up over the floor boards. No real problem there as I had sealed the lovely holly inlayed teak floors with epoxy so they might as well be solid plastic therefore water proof but still beautiful. No the damage was created by the greenhouse above the interior waterline inside Dancyn’s sealed cabin. This constant moisture fouled up my varnished mahogany interior, much of my electronics, the headliner but most dramatic of the damage was the keel step. The 35-year-old cross at the base of the mast made of galvanized steel had rusted through and collapsed under the load of the mast. The rig bowstringed down under the load of the stays pulling the balsa cored deck down with it. This damage was self evident upon arrival.

There I stood dressed for a cool and cozy romantic weekend in Vancouver with Laura Jean. I was hot, fat and sweaty with much of what I owned in bags hanging off of me after being drug down the dock in the excitement of being back home. Inside a resident flock of gargantuan pelican sized mosquitoes buzzed around anxiously, revved up by my pale Alaskan complexion. I sat contemplatively in the cockpit reminiscing about previous foreign repair escapades as I peered down the companionway wondering if my dream warranted salvation this time. I dared not speculate the cost or time involved in getting my home ready for the mild Asian sailing. I tryed not to ponder what forces Dancyn would face around the southern Cape of Africa. I only had a few months to escape west to Sri Lanka before the windless wet season barricaded my departure.

I believe that life is filled with multiple routes across its oceans, each with a course distinct from the other. Regardless of the number of ships running along a given rout there remain no well-worn paths to follow and we must choose our own course sometimes constantly re correcting to reach our personal destinations. The more unique the rout the less charting there is available to guide us and we must rely more on the compass within. Sitting there in the cockpit evaluating my previous journeys and contemplating the difficulties and sacrifices of maintaining that course, I wavered. I doubted I could or should continue my voyage. It was a hard 3 minutes crying in the heat with eagle sized mosquitoes threatening to carry me away after raping the local waterfowl. I guess the sailor within me grabbed the helm, ignored local magnetic compass variations and pointed me back into open water. There, in the humid heat at the end of the Asian monsoon, falcon like insects bussing around my face, I gathered my composure. I knew that like most adventures, finishing this would be as difficult as it had been to motivate the beginning. I inserted the aluminum handle in the cockpit manual bilge pump and began to expel the stew that had accumulated within the bowel of my dream. Each stroke I confirmed that I could get her back, my love, my dream, our adventure together. With sweat and tears in my eyes I swore to myself as I pumped the bilge handle “Dancyn would fly again”!

And so it began, mission impossible, the next 2 months I would navigate the emotional and physical roller coaster that would be Dancyn’s rebirth! She sailed out of Langkawi on a beautiful day bound for Sri Lanka in a state rivaled only by her original christening in 1974. Four thousand dollars, two months, 2 kilos of welding rod, liters of blood, sweat and paint later the phoenix was reborn and my adventure continued. What follows is description of the effort, ingenuity and luck that combined in just the right manner to allow Dancyn and her master to emerge anew!

grinding old antifoul paint off

dancyn on the hard with mast out

my favorite boat yard shirt

welding the new mast step in place
precariously working for months

before the headliner was installed

fairing hull with epoxy
I had arranged to hall Dancyn at Rebak Island Resort the week after my arrival, expedited by a few emails and then finally a credit card number. I wrestled the cornucopia of insectivorous squatters inside Dancyn and eventually, recruited a couple of geckos from the dinghy Telaga Marina shower block to finish the extermination. I dove the hull and propeller clearing off the aquaculture grown on Dancyn’s belly over the past few months. I rigged several back up lines up to the mast for insurance against collapse then resurrected the sleeping diesel. Dancyn, prepared for the 5-mile motor over to the Island of Rebak, slipped out of Telaga Harbor early one windless Malaysian morning. Revived by the fresh Andaman Sea air I pulled into the slipway at Rebak. I quickly released all of the rigging and lines on the mast and climbed up to attach the sling from the already lowering crane. I anxiously watched, as the black mast I had worried over so many nights offshore, rose up off of the deck. I looked on wondering how I would ever get it back in correctly. Later at high tide Dancyn slowly ascended in the slings to her resting spot in the yard. The Malaysian yard crew spoke no English but perceiving all my concerns they gingerly placed Dancyn next to her mast.

I rented a blue Honda motorcycle for the numerous trips to town from out of the way Rebak Resort and Marina. My next acquisition was the most important one and from the airport. Kismet brought Laura Jean and I together at a Church service in Seattle. She asked about the Tongan fishhook I sport around by neck. I gave her my sailboat spiel, to which she replied ”Oh yeah I’ve sailed around the world”, and so it began. So 10 days later she had quit her job, within the month finished refurbing her new house for renters then sold her fancy car. She was looking for an adventure, but I’m sure Laura Jean had no idea what she was getting into! Laura Jean, LJ, was an expert sailor, handy woman and general engineer. Early on, I figured her for an all action kind of person. She by far worked harder that anyone I know would have in the same situation. She also kept a level head, had the perfect suggestion and maintained a positive attitude, all when I had no idea what to do! (which was daily and especially before meals) So I picked her up, all that she possessed for 6 months of sailing as well as everything I mail ordered to her house on my blue motorcycle. I should have hired a taxi, but I think the two of us on a motor bike with so much gear was just the beginning that she had in mind.

After a day of settling in and getting reacquainted LJ and I got started on the endless list! LJ sanded the entire hull while I cut out the mast step with a grinder. The mast step is a 4 by 3 foot cross put into place during the construction of the boat and therefore had to be removed in 3 sections. I made a template with cardboard and rode it and the 3 pieces over to Mr. Chin’s shop. Besides LJ and the Motorcycle, Mr. Chin is responsible for getting Dancyn back in order as much as anything! A Chinese Malay Buddhist who spoke English and maintained the fishing fleet around the island, Mr. Chin displayed patience and compassion for two very wayward sailors. He sold me quality stainless, cut the stainless to match my template and provided 5 pounds of welding rod I would need to complete the project for a meager 300 USDs. I typically popped in on Mr. Chin when my entire project was at a standstill and he always promptly fixed, fabricated or loaned me whatever I needed. His calm Buddhist demeanor helped me focus and get back on the horse of a project that kept bucking me clear.

LJ continued to sand while I fabricated the two halves of the cross mast step. I laid wet towels over the fiberglass and poured water into the bilge to keep from over heating Dancyn’s Hull while welding the pieces together. Somehow I avoided shocking LJ but I believe I melted several of my vital organs in the 3-day fabrication process of welding while standing in water. I built a new head stay chain plate and anchor roller as LJ dutifully sanded the hull in the heat! I jacked up the collapsed deck and refilled the soggy balsa coring with epoxy as LJ stripped the transom of hardware and the self-steering wind vane so she could sand. Ten days of welding behind me I began to fill and fair Dancyn’s hull and rebuild her bow to match the new chain plate. LJ sanded the mast. She removed all the hardware and fabricated aluminum plates that form fit the curve of the mast. She tapped them into the mast walls where the rigging fixed into the mast. Then she sanded some more!

With the fairing of the hull done and the mast well prepared It must be time to paint, don’t worry LJ still got plenty of sanding in. We practiced rolling paint and tipping it with a fine brush on the mast. This resulted in much profanity and poor results. A process of thinning the paint and predawn application began to evolve. LJ perfected the mixing ratios of thinner as I developed my roller technique. A coat of primer on the mast followed by sand able filler on the hull set the mood for our favorite pastime, sanding! A week later the hull and mast shined with the glossy white epoxy paint job. We proudly took half a day off and road the motorcycle up into the mountains to swim at Seven Wells springs, one of the most beautiful scenic spots in Lankawi. Welding and painting behind us we stripped the headliner out. I cut polycarbonate-covered plywood using the original liner as a template. I built a fridge out of an industrial cooler. I rebuilt the Sail o Mat self-steering wind vane and LJ repainted it. LJ and I installed a stern platform on the transom. She beautifully seized epoxy-covered hardwood onto the platforms frame. We slipped down to the pool on the resort side and acted like honeymooners in the heat of most afternoons. We ate at the grill and drank rum cocktails with the other sailors in the evenings. LJ reminded me to make the most of the moment and we worked hard and well together over the 2 months we were hauled out.

The once dim light at the very end on a long tunnel began to brighten. The mast fit perfectly, in spite of cutting 4 inches off, welding the mast step to compensate and changing the deck. The retaining bolt through the deck collar fit with a millimeter of clearance. With the underbody sanded I fiber glassed the hull keel joint and filled the blisters I ground out. I faired the hull 2 feet below the waterline to improve performance. The mast up and all the bits and pieces reassembled LJ and I slathered on the toxic antifouling paint and prepared to launch Dancyn.
Transport Asian Style
LJ sanding some more

Together we SAND

picking up restored rig

Shiny Hiny

Ever positive attitude

Ready to get wet

Team Dancyn

With Dancyn wet once more, LJ and I marveled at her condition. She shone brightly in a fancy marina surrounded by million dollar yachts. We sailed her testing her rig behind Rebak Island. It was the perfect day to sail Dancyn with ten to fifteen knots of wind and flat water in the lee of the island. I unfurled the headsail and LJ jumped the halyard to raise the mainsail. Dancyn unfolded her wings once more. The rig, once a noisy squeaking and groaning old pole, now a silent pillar of stability to be trusted! Dancyn was empty and light therefore very responsive under sail. Her performance reminded us of her long racing lineage before she turned oceanic Winnebago! We short tacked Dancyn and she quickly snapped back and forth as she drove up wind. LJ a very experienced racer began to show entirely new aspects of her value as a member of team Dancyn. I enjoyed playing that afternoon with 2 beautiful ladies. LJ and I drank wine and even toasted with tequila as the sun slung low over the Andaman Sea over a horizon we intended to sail. Then cautiously we returned Dancyn to her berth in the marina without a scratch. Mission impossible was far from over but the Indian Ocean departure was in the foreseeable future for the first time. Always once a trial is over, hindsight’s perspective shrinks the journey and one can reflect more on the positives.

While grinding away the hull wearing a Ty-Vek suit, stressed that all was lost and hating the tropics it was difficult to focus on what a great fortune I had received. I had been given a mate that not only could do the obscure tasks at hand but actually wanted to do them. My effort had been truly doubled with her arrival and participation. The sense of hopelessness I had felt sitting alone in the cockpit had not returned and LJ was a big part of that. The personal risks we took with our bodies are not to be over looked. I sanded the entire hull, in the heat, with a whirling grinder above my head. We climbed a ladder for every tool required. We faired and painted the hull making dozens of loops around Dancyn on planks of scrap wood on top of fuel drums. I welded sitting in water! We handle toxic chemicals, fought off troupes of monkeys (No really a big problem there), swarms of dog eating mosquitoes, worked at heights for long hours and flung around various power tools in various states of mind. We carried large loads of supplies on a motorcycle after running half an hour into the Malaysian town of Kuah begging to be run down by some crazed taxi driver or a water buffalo springing out of the rice paddies! Neither of us suffered more than sore muscles, the odd scratch or bruise and most of those where emotional. After the sun set Bob, a mad solo Englishmen on a boat across from Dancyn in the yard, would saunter over with 3 cold ones and we would toast to a successful day with no injuries, while sling shooting steel nuts at the crepuscular invading monkeys. I feel especially thankful for the alignment of the stars providing for such great fortune those 2 months.

Once lost but now found, my dream and adventure was back on course. I thanked LJ by sailing up to Thailand to spend a week rock climbing near Krabi. Greatful to have survived the yard I dangled off the cliff faces with all 100lbs of LJ as my counterweight. We dove the outer islands and relaxed a little after working so hard in the yard. It was a vacation from our vacation! We provisioned Dancyn for a year in the numerous little markets between Phuket, Thailand and Langkawi, Malaysia. Dancyn slowly sank down in her waterline as she returned to Winnebago status, filled to the gills with whatever the unknown would require. With spare parts and last minute projects completed LJ and I said goodbyes to those who had watched our progress and we began to gaze west with anticipation. Team Dancyn set off for the next destination for sunsets, cocktails and repairs! There would be many interesting places and even more things to fix! The adventure continued!

LJ on  the great test sail

Mr. Chin at the machine shop

Mad Bob with "cold ones", SAFTY FIRST

Shiny Hiny, Glorious new paint job

DANCYN sitting in the marina, bell of the BALL


1 comment:

  1. haha ... John, you can't wear the 'mankini' on the blog!!! haha.
    As I write you are hoping a flight for Brazil. Good luck my friend. See you somewhere over the horizon.