The soggy sand sucks at my feet, things are moving around down there. Blind sea creatures are inspecting my heels and toes with tickly feelers, horrors with narrow jaws and razor claws are searching for the tenderest meat. I pull out.
“These prostitutes, you’re sure they are Japanese?”
“Yes. And Australia.”
To Nazar ‘Australia’ was a catch-all for the worst kind of westerner. There had been a bad experience with an Australian-crewed yacht once, which had coloured his view of that country.
Two long tables are spread with curry, rice and pasta dishes, as well as over-sugared cakes. Covered in floor-length black polyester, women buzz around the spread, eyeing my colourful baggy trousers and long sleeve tunic with deadpan expressions.
News reports said the locals were scared and had threatened to kill any tiger unless rangers from nearby wildlife parks didn’t immediately catch and relocate them. When we arrived Varghese told us that just last week a tiger had been spotted drinking water from a stream 100 metres from the house.
In ancient villages, I was enchanted by wooden houses, elaborate clocks and ornate town halls, straight out of a Grimm fairy tale. The glittering salt mines of Krakow, with chandeliers intricately carved from black or white crystals, fuelled my enthusiasm for trolls, elves and the supernatural.
When Nazar met our coddled cat, he fell in love. He adores animals, but the few ragamuffin moggies you see in India are tiny. To him Millie was an exotic sleek-coated giant.
Esper’s bow disappeared under water, shooting the sea into the cockpit. I was astonished at how warm it was. Jamie released the sails, then furled them, to give the wind a smaller target. His hands bled from rope burns, and the din of whipping lines and snapping canvas made me flinch. But we were upright.
Pong’s child-sized body bends like a master yogi into the smallest spaces on the boat. Often, when I go below to see what he and his sons are up to, it takes a moment for me to find them. Sitting, cross-legged, on a small shelf by our bed, or inside the space where our cooker used to be, they apply delicate wooden veneer.
You’ll need energy for all the sight-seeing, but don’t worry, Penang was at the top of Lonely Planet’s best places to eat in 2014. And there’s no need to dress up to go out because the best food is found on the streets and in the hawker markets.
Already we had entered a different world: no more clanging masts from the wash churned up by passing ferries; no more chitter chatter from the neighbours; no more dodging monkeys on treks to the shower block. To the uninitiated marinas might look exotic (all gin and tonics and navy blue) but for those incarcerated, they are about as glamorous as a caravan park.
We traversed a small tree-covered hill where Rangit pointed out fresh tiger scat. Then we found deep scratches in the bark of one of the trees. Rangit seemed pleased. We stopped to observe a perfect pugmark.
“Tiger is here, maybe one hour,” said Rangit.
I climbed the slimy rope, fingers slipping through weed thick with twitching sea creatures. Using my foot to search for some kind of purchase, I found a hanging tyre and heaved myself onto the dock. Stinking gunge had collected in my hair and was smeared on my arms and legs.