Fifteen miles from Kuah we made our first stop. It had been a shorter voyage than our last trip — sixteen hundred miles from the Maldives to Malaysia — but we were ecstatic to be free of the marina.
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.
While I spent three months in the UK, Jamie was left along in the marina. By the time I returned, his brain and kidneys were showing signs of neglect. We had to get away. We needed the open ocean, the wind in our hair, an autopilot that worked, a sail that worked, anything that worked. I checked the batteries, tick. Jamie checked the engine, tick. The anchor windlass was pulling the chain up, but not down; meh, semi-tick.
Several trips to the booze warehouse later (and yes, we did need Calvados and Poire Williams, and that case of pink fizz would come in handy if we had to celebrate anything) we were ready.
Prising Esper out of her berth, we motored into Langkawi waters. In front of us, dotted with anchored yachts competing for space among the jelly fish and flotsam, lay Bass Harbour. Jungle-covered mountains, with trees dipping their branches down towards the sea, ringed the horizon. Further into the bay fishermen waved from canoes. The sun shone, Millie settled into her nest under the cockpit box, and we breathed in the sea air for the first time in months. There was no wind and we were on engine power, but that feeling of being free to go anywhere was exhilarating.
“We’re going through there,” said Jamie, pointing directly at a forested island rising out of the sea. It was about five miles away, he told me.
Lovely, I thought.
Half an hour later we were still pointing directly at the mountain.
“Where exactly are we going?” I said, squinting at the green canopy. A faint angled line began to appear among the trees. Could it be the outline of a hill in front of the mountain? What did Jamie mean? How could we “go through there”?
“I think you’d better look at the chart, familiarise yourself with the route,” said Jamie.
It all looked fairly straight forward on the computer screen, if a little narrow. In fact quite narrow. Anxiety kicked in.
Before we left I’d been poncing about stowing bottles and cushions, taking the latch off the gimballed cooker, re-attaching the safety netting on shelves, choosing a hat to wear and selecting some ear-rings for the trip; I had forgotten to study the charts of where we were going. Chastened, I went below to check.
Ah, a channel through the islands.
It all looked fairly straight forward on the computer screen, if a little narrow. In fact quite narrow. Anxiety kicked in. How could I wangle it so that J would be on the helm through that scary-looking bit?
“It’s not very wide, but seems easy enough,” I said, “pretty deep right up to the sides.”
Jamie looked comfortable at the wheel so I suggested we take hour-long shifts, calculating that we’d be through the worst of it by the time I had to take over. I volunteered to take some pics, which meant he didn’t have to move. It clinched the deal.
Our route took us through classic Discovery Channel scenery: mountain islands oozing with tropical vegetation, white-bellied sea eagles circling overhead and pied hornbills shrieking from within the undergrowth. Apart from the chug-a-lugging of small fishing boats, we heard nothing but birdsong and stridulating insects. Sometimes we were so close to vertical walls of trees, I could have picked the blossom from their branches as we passed. One of the narrow channels is called ‘The Fjord’, it was obvious that Slartibartfast hadn’t restricted his handicraft to Scandinavia.
We emerged from the trees into a shallow bay, this was our anchorage for the night and the launch-pad from where we would head to Penang early in the morning. A steady north-easterly settled in, so we dropped the hook close to shore, where flat water meant no rolling and a good night’s sleep.
The only other yacht in sight was s/y Divanty with our friends Div and Ants on board. We uncorked the first bottle of fizz (I said it would come in handy) and toasted our freedom from the marina. Cicadas buzzed, an orange sun drizzled towards the horizon, and fishing boat lights began to twinkle. An occasional chuckle from Davina (what was Antony up to?) drifted across the water. Ahead lay a ten hour motorsail to Penang, but for now we toasted the tranquility which being at anchor brings to every sailor’s heart.