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March 16, 2023
A ship's log from the Indian Ocean -Part 1.
The 35 foot sailing sloop Calypte at anchor in the South China Sea
Aiyana Powell describes the first leg of the journey she is sharing with partner Torren Martyn, as they sail from Thailand to Sumatra via the Malacca Straight. needessentials will continue to bring you updates via our newsletter as Torren and Aiyana make their way into the Indian Ocean.
We met up with Calypte in Pattaya, a midsize city on the coast about two hours from Bangkok, Thailand. After two years without travel, it felt like such a privilege to be out in the world again. We had to pinch ourselves as we left the airport and made our way to the marina for our first look at the boat that was about to become our home. It was a wild feeling to know we were on the cusp of such a big adventure, and reaching the boat was surreal and exciting. I spent my early childhood living on a sailboat with my family traveling between California and Central America. I was too young to retain any useful sailing knowledge, but it felt deeply nostalgic to be back on a boat as an adult. For both Torren and I, this trip was a dream come true.
Aiyanna and Torren untie the lines and start heading west towards the Indian Ocean
Calypte is a beautiful 35’ Endurance monohull with a solid full keel. She had been resting in Thailand and we are so grateful Torren's relative has generously loaned her to us for this adventure. When we arrived in Pattaya she was up on the hardstand and we spent a few weeks cleaning and fixing things. Inside, the cabin is sweet and small, all mahogany with little stain-glassed windows in the galley. The boat hadn’t been used for three years, so naturally it was full of mould, grime and cockroaches. We gave her a scrub down, repainted the bottom with anti-foul, replaced the batteries, did something with the depth sounder, and tried to fix at least a few of the five zillion leaks all over the cabin. From Pattaya, we had a big journey in front of us. We planned to go south towards Singapore, and then back up the Malacca Strait and across to Sumatra. It was almost 2000 nautical miles before we would reach surf-able waves. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was our lack of experience; we had taken on this massive task without really knowing how to sail. Since neither of us know much about anything, least of all boats, we brought a skipper named George to help us on the first part of the journey. Ishka joined at the start for a couple of weeks, and planned to return to the boat every month or so to document the journey.
Film maker Ishka Folkwell on the sunrise shift running his eyes over the charts
Torren taking to the helm with a lot to learn
Our first big leg was a three day crossing across the Gulf of Thailand in the South China Sea. Pretty much the entire time we were surrounded by electrical storms which lit up the sky in wild bursts and kept things interesting. We hit our first squall somewhere between Koh Chang and Redang on the Cambodian side of the Gulf of Thailand. It was scary, with 35 knot winds, torrential rain and lightning cracking all around us, but only lasted about an hour before we were out the other side.
Our first night watches were intimidating to say the least. I didn't know how to interpret the different coloured lights and found it difficult to determine how close other boats were or tell which way they were going. We had to learn how to use the AIS and navigate around the many fishing boats, some that were towing big nets. The shrimp boats were easy to see, but some of the bottom trawlers were not well lit and looked like proper pirate ships silhouetted in the night sky. It didn't help that this area used to be notorious for actual pirates, and leading up to the trip we had heard lots of stories. It's definitely a vulnerable feeling to be floating in foreign oceans on a small boat with literally no idea what you're doing and imagine having to fight off real life pirates. Haha.
Heading towards the busiest shipping route in the world, the Malacca Strait
Since the winds weren't favourable, we motor sailed this entire leg and averaged about 5.5 knots. Torren caught a big Spanish mackerel and we ate well. We practiced trimming the sails and reefing. George taught Torren stuff about the engine, and I paid no attention. The tropical skies kept us occupied, swirling with cumulus clouds and vibrant, peach-coloured sunsets.
Our first big stop in Redang was truly magical. We dropped anchor in a little bay filled with sea turtles, and dove off into crystal clear water. The island was thick with jungle, and I was excited to spot the rare Malaysian chevrotain, an adorable rabbit-sized deer with legs as skinny as pencils. Above us, the trees were full of monkeys. We spent a few days exploring this island, diving with baby reef sharks and stretching our legs on the white sand beaches. From Redang, we continued south towards the Tioman Islands hugging the coast of Malaysia. Not much wind, so we kept the motor on. Somewhere between Terengganu on the Malaysian mainland and Kapas Island our motor died. We had to tow Calypte with the dinghy into a protected anchorage at Kapas Island.
Memories of some of the fruits of the Indian Ocean
Fully loaded ready to go
Miraculously, we managed to break down right in front of the first surfable wave we had seen in six weeks. It was a fun little left point, and we freaked out and thanked the engine gods for stranding us there, and went for a surf. After that, Torren and George spent a hot afternoon replacing the impeller and the fuel filter, trying to figure out why the engine had overheated. Still didn’t work. I was swimming around the boat, and Torren tossed me a mask. Diving below, I saw a chip packet caught in the sea cock - the culprit that had caused all our engine troubles. This bit of rubbish was a particularly jarring reminder of how much trash is floating around in the oceans. Plastic pollution clogged the beaches on some of the most remote islands we visited. Even in the middle of the South China Sea there was never a time where at least a few pieces of trash weren’t floating somewhere in sight. Poor waste management infrastructure and inequitable access to waste sorting services exacerbate the problem in this part of the world. The pollution is impossible to ignore, and serves as a constant reminder of the huge toll single-use plastics take on marine ecosystems. Living out on the ocean, we were constantly confronted by how our individual consumption patterns impact the world around us. We felt a big responsibility to use less plastic and to be more responsible with our trash, while recognizing that many people living in these parts of the world don’t have those options. It was on our minds as we set off from Kapas the next morning for the last leg of our journey to Johor at the bottom of the Singapore Strait.
Discarded packaging can cause a nightmare for more than just a sail boat
Its been a few years since we have visited the Indian Ocean and memories of good times there keep us pointing west
As we were motoring away from the island our engine overheated again. We spent an hour tacking into the wind trying to make it back to the anchorage fighting the wind and current, before eventually risking it and motoring the last few hundred meters back to Kapas. The exhaust pipe had disconnected from the aft of the engine and all the water that was supposed to be cycling through was rapidly filling the up the bilge and nearly swamping the engine. It took some time, but George showed Torren where the hose clamp had broken and how to repair it. It was a simple fix but could have sunk the boat. From there, it was pretty much smooth sailing to the straits of Singapore, where our little boat was dwarfed by massive freighters and abandoned cruise ships. Other than accidentally motoring through a live firing range (oops), we made it around Singapore without much hassle and reached Puteri Harbor in Malaysia. From the start of our trip, we had made it almost 1000 nautical miles. A wild ride so far, and we still had the notorious Malacca Strait ahead of us.