Having a novice friend along for a cruise? Caroline Hynes tells what the experience is like from the crew's point of view and gives tips for others following in her footsteps.
I had just started my summer holidays from school. You see I'm a primary school teacher from the west of Ireland with two months off work. My main aim for the holidays was to paint the house and maybe take a two-week holiday in the sun with some girlfriends, so when I got the email from my friend Aideen suggesting I come sailing with her and her partner Ric through eastern Malaysia (Borneo), I really didn't need to be asked twice. You could never say I was an indecisive person. Within two days I had my flight to Singapore booked.
What was I doing?
It wasn't until I was on the flight halfway to Singapore that it hit me. What the hell was I doing? I was flying halfway around the world to spend a month on board a yacht in SE Asia and I had never sailed in my life. Well that's not entirely true. A couple of years ago I had put my name down for a week-long sailing course in my home town of Sligo. But true to form with the weather in Ireland, it was so bad that we didn't go out sailing until the last day. That was when the instructor in all his wisdom decided that despite the bad weather we were going to head out on the ocean and get some true sailing experience. It was at this time that the boat I was in capsized and I ended up clinging to the bottom of it waiting for the rescue boat to come and get me. Well, hopefully the theory would pay off!
Aideen collected me at Changi airport and even though I had just checked into Singapore I was soon checking out just as quickly and heading for Johor Bahru across the causeway in Malaysia. There I found Hard Yakka, a 13m Farrier catamaran anchored off Denga Bay on the Malaysian side of the Johor Straits. The last time I had seen Hard Yakka her hulls had just been joined in Aideen and Ric's back yard in Perth. I couldn't believe that this was the finished project, and better yet it was sitting in SE Asia. With strict instructions from the skipper to travel light, it didn't take me long to unpack my gear. And in no time I was sitting in the cockpit sipping a chilled white wine in my shorts and T-shirt. Yes, I could handle this kind of sailing. Unfortunately it didn't take long for reality to hit home. At about 11pm as I sat there catching up on Ric and Aideen's news a local Malaysian man got thrown out of his dinghy about 100m behind us. Ric and Aideen heard the outboard rear up after hitting something and realised in an instant that the man had been thrown overboard. By the time Ric got to this poor man's out-of-control dinghy he had disappeared. Ric and Aideen searched but to no avail. They were quickly joined by a handful of local boats, but it was a search in vain.
After a day there was nothing more we could do to help. So with a lot of sadness and a big reality check on how careful we need to be on board we moved off down the Johor Strait heading round the island of Singapore and on to eastern Malaysia.
Thunder and lightning
Ok, we get thunder and lightning rarely in Ireland, and when we do it's nothing compared to the thunder and lightning they get in this part of the world. I spent my second night on board thinking, “Worst-case scenario I'm going to get fried by a fork of lightning or best-case scenario lose a few kilos from the utter terror I was feeling seeing forks of lightning strike the water beside Hard Yakka.”Just brilliant! I haven't even got to the Tioman Islands, and it could all be over.
Well, it seemed like that at the time, but I'm still here to tell the rest of my tale. Next day saw us spending a lazy day as illegal aliens at St John Island, Singapore – very naughty I know, but the current was so strong and the wind non-existent that it was pointless going any further.
This was where I became aware of the obsession to save electricity and water on board. We had just finished a tasty dinner of spaghetti bolognese (I was easing my stomach in very gently to Asian food) and I decided to do the washing up. Now we all know how messy plates get with spaghetti bolognese, so I started rinsing the plates first before washing. I think it was the green colour that the skipper quickly turned and the sweat that was dripping off the end of his nose that made me realise all was not well.
“Are you feeling sick?” I asked Ric.
“Yes,” he replied, “with the sight of you washing those dishes.” He then proceeded to explain exactly how precious water was on a yacht. (Aideen had gone through the boat rules when I came on board but like most landlubbers I just wasn't tuned in enough yet). “So no 10-minute showers?” I enquired politely, but funnily enough got no reply.
I got in the swing of things pretty quickly and before you could shout Jack Sparrow a couple of times I was showered and in and out of the “head”. (Yep, the sailing vocabulary was another thing I was learning rapidly).
It was the 50nm to Sidili Bay when I realised I didn't quite have my sea legs.
We left Singapore waters at 4am to catch the current to the corner of east Malaysia. I was blown away by how beautiful Singapore with all its lights looked at night. I was also concentrating hard on all the navigation lights that I didn't really notice the wind coming up. Daybreak brought squally, dirty weather, with the wind “hard on the nose”. I started to feel a little queasy. This was the roughest weather I had seen. I was told it wasn't rough at all, just frustrating for sailing. Christ! What do they call rough around here? I stayed out on deck, keeping my eyes relatively close to the horizon as well as concentrating on spotting flags and buoys. It was a full-time job acting as control tower, but it kept my mind occupied, and I soon started to feel a little better.
By 5pm we were all anchored in Sidili Bay. This is a beautiful bay, protected on all sides except for the west and big enough to fit a fleet. I realised here how relevant distances are on a yacht. We took a day to cover what would have taken about an hour in a car. I hadn't thrown up and the boat hadn't picked up any nets on the keel or props. So it must be beer o'clock.
After the best night's sleep on board yet I woke to clear skies and a light breeze from the south. “You beauty,” shouts Ric as we move out of the bay, “It's spinnaker time.” “Is that some sort of fancy coffee?”
I asked. “No,” Aideen replied while she rolled around the deck laughing.
We ghosted in 5-10 knots to Pulau Sibu with the beautiful multi-coloured asymmetrical spinnaker. Water visibility was much improved to the murky rubbish-ridden waters of the Singapore Straits. Yes, this is what sailing should be like.
As I sat on a bean bag in the shade of the spinnaker, I thought to myself this is heaven. (Have I mentioned yet that I've red hair, copious amounts of freckles and porcelain-white skin which has a huge aversion to the sun, so I'm always chasing the shade).
Between Sibu and Tinggi Island we spent two glorious days, jungle-trekking, snorkelling and chilling out on the deck. We finally reached the magnificent Tioman Island and anchored in Tekek Bay on the west side to avoid the SE swell. I was a week on board and finding my yachtie rhythm. I was keeping an eye on the power meter.
Lights were been turned off immediately I was finished with them and my nocturnal habits were also changing. I have always been a night owl, but I was in bed before 9pm every night and up at daybreak.
I would have been sent for a check-up without delay if I got out of bed at daybreak every morning at home. It was this point in my adventure when I was thinking to myself that I could be another Ellen McArthur in the making, when we got hit by a storm that took a couple of years off my life. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but it actually came from the northwest (It just felt like it came out of nowhere).
Finally, at 2.30am the storm eased, and we were left with 15-20 knots and a light drizzle. We all went back to bed and when we woke at 6.30am we were the only boat left in the bay.
After a morning of drying everything out we got the boat ready for our passage east toward Kuching, Sarawak, where I was going to spend the next two weeks of my holiday and undoubtedly have many more adventures on board Hard Yakka.
As a virgin yachtie I experienced all the emotions of a first time. Pure happiness, exhilaration, terror and pain (from always stubbing my toe on those bloody cleats). The best advice given to me was to travel light. You can only wear so much. The more you bring the more you have to wash, and we won't go near the water issue. It was a huge learning curve for me. I saw and experienced things I never have before. I'm more conscious of saving energy and hope to put in practice some of the things I learned on the boat back home.
That doesn't include catching rain water because this would be a full-time job at home in Ireland. It was also the first time in 32 years when I could totally relax and forget about the real world for awhile. I'll definitely be back for more!
CAROLINE'S TIPS FOR SUCCESS
* Make sure you bring the pill with you. That is the sea-sickness tablet I'm talking about – just in case.
It's better on board with you rather than still sitting on the shelf at the local chemist.
* Travel light – you'll end up wearing the same shorts and T-shirts over and over. Leave the stilettos at home.
* Bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunnies high-factor sunblock and a light, long-sleeved shirt and pants.
* Be prepared to help out as much as possible and to learn the sailing lingo because it makes life easier on board.
* Remember that water and electricity are in short supply so use sparingly.