Sunday, September 26, 2010

First 10 days in Rebak Marina

 First a note.  The Hole in the Wall that we visited is not the place that most people call Hole in the Wall.  Our sailing guide book mentions a cyclone hole or hurricane hole on the northwest tip of Langkawi.  That is the place that most people call the Hole in the Wall.  The place that we visited was called by that same name by several cruisers on a sailing forum that I often read.   One of them gave me the lat/long of what they called the Hole in the Wall and that is where we went.  This was on the western side of the island called Pulau Dayang Bunting, which is slightly southwest of the main island of Langkawi.  The place we visited literally looks as if you are going to sail right into a wall.  When you are a boat length or two away, the opening becomes visible.  Hence, the name of "hole in the wall."  But the local chart shop had a handwritten note on a chart indicating that the cyclone hole on the northwest tip of Langkawi is the true "Hole in the Wall" so we stand corrected.  Frankly, from looking at the charts, I think the "hole" we visited must be prettier and more dramatic than the cyclone hole.  We will not be taking the boat to the cyclone hole to confirm this.

We arrived in Rebak Marina 10 days ago.  This will be home for S/V BeBe until December 3 when we will depart for Phuket, Thailand.  Rebak is located on a tiny island off the western side of Langkawi.  There is a very nice (but tired) Taj resort hotel on the island, and the marina is attached to the resort property.  It is isolated and very safe from crime and very protected from stormy weather, so this is a perfect place to leave a boat when traveling.  We fly home to Houston in late October and return on December 1.  I would have liked to have stayed anchored out awhile longer, but the marina had warned us that they will be filling up soon with arriving boats from the rally.  We had prepaid for our slip back in May.  But we are all too familiar with the "first come, first served" method of doing business and did not want to chance losing our slip should rally boats arrive early.  The marina was damaged by the big tsunami just after Christmas 2005, and was basically rebuilt.  So the marina is in much "newer" condition than the rest of the resort.

Bill and Amy of S/V ESTRELLITA met us upon our arrival and helped with the dock lines.  They had arrived a few days earlier because they were scheduled for hauling out on Sept 19.   Today ESTRELLITA splashed and is now back in her slip.  Bill & Amy slept aboard BeBe while their boat was on the hard.  They had to do all their own work for this haul-out because the yard manager had taken off the entire month in celebration of recently ended Ramadan.  I don't know how they could work all day in this heat and humidity, but they managed and completed everything on schedule.  I think they enjoyed sleeping in the air-conditioning aboard our boat as respite from their hard work in the heat all day.

On our first Saturday here we shared the cost of a rental car and visited several paint and hardware stores and various other shopping.  Enjoyed a great lunch, although I have forgotten where.   A local man rents cars to yachties for only 40 ringitt per day.  A darn good thing too because the marina ferry drops us off at a place that is a very, very long way from town.  The car rental guy delivers cars to the ferry dock which makes it very convenient as well as inexpensive.

Other than that one day trip, we have done pretty much nothing for the past 10 days.  Our primary computer caught another virus (Antivirus 2010 from the Newsmax website) and Bill spent the day reformatting the drive and reloading all the programs.  Thank goodness he frequently backs up the data files so very little was lost except all my games and a little program called 10,000 Recipes.   I really liked that little recipe program but don't remember where we got it and did not bother to put it on any of the other computers.  So when the primary computer had to be reformatted, I lost my little recipe program.  (If any of my sailing friends have this program, please email it to me.)   We have ordered a new computer to be built and will pick it up in Houston in November.  We were down to 3 working computers and one of those is on its last leg, so it was time to buy a new one.  We will be in very isolated areas in the Red Sea next spring and need to have computers we can rely on since we use a computer for our navigational software and charts.  Time for a new one!

Our other almost daily activity has been the swimming pool.  This resort has a very nice swimming pool.  It is too easy to order margaritas and pina coladas at the swim-up bar and just sign your name.  Have to be a little careful about that or we will have a big surprise when it is time to settle the tab at the marina office.  There is a yachtie restaurant near the marina that is very reasonably priced, but the swimming pool bar is a tad pricey.  About like prices back home.  There is also an upscale restaurant at the resort if one is feeling the desire to splurge for a nice evening meal.  We think the yachtie restaurant is used to train staff and try new dishes for the upscale restaurant.  The food is okay but with a limited selection.  I think we have already eaten every dish on the menu that we are willing to sample.  Malaysian food is not that appealing to either of us.  Beef Rendang is the best Malaysian dish that I have found so far.  The yachtie restaurant here has Lamb Rendang on the menu, but I swear it is beef half the time.  Whatever the meat, the spicy sauce is quite good.

The pool is wonderful for people-watching.  Some of the guests are Muslim, with the women in the full head-to-toe black garments.  One Muslim woman has a small boy and she takes him to the pool daily.  Beneath her abaya (burka) she wears brightly printed long-john looking things.  She wears these only when visiting the pool or beach;  these leggings are not visible beneath her abaya at other times we have seen her around the resort grounds.  These leggings have lace or eyelet trim around the ankles.  It looks so funny to see these bright leggings poking out beneath the black abaya as she runs around after her little boy.  So far she has not gotten into the pool, but if she does we know she will be wearing the full-coverage abaya.  As her husband lays on a nearby lounge chair in his short-sleeve shirt and swim trunks.  It is so not fair that the men get to wear cool clothing while the women swelter totally covered up in this heat.  If the women must be covered in this heat, it is only fair that the men must also cover up.

On Friday I again took the marina ferry over to the dock on Langkawi.  The marina has arranged with a vendor at the wet market to bring vegetables, cheeses and a few frozen meats and fish to the ferry dock each Friday morning.  Glad they made this arrangement.  Otherwise, we would have to rent a car to do grocery shopping each week.  The vendor had a decent selection, though a bit pricey.  Vegetables for a week's worth of meals cost me the equivalent of $20 USD.  For this part of the world that is a bit expensive.  But that is fine with me because of the convenience of having him bring it to us rather than us go to his shop.  There is also a small shop at the marina that sells basics, but no produce.  More of a gift shop with a few food items.

We hired a guy to wax and buff the boat.  We are supplying the tools and products and he supplies the labor.  We are having him apply Rejex to test it out in hopes that the diesel smudge from the engine exhaust doesn't stick all down the aft port side of the boat like it normally does.   That black smudge is impossible to clean off wax; we have high hopes that it won't stick so badly to the Rejex.

This guy worked one day by himself and then showed up the next day with a helper -- without even asking us if it was okay.  We had agreed to pay him 20 ringitt per hour.  When he showed up with an assistant, Bill told him the assistant would only be paid 10 ringitt per hour.  They were fine with that.  I am delighted to hire someone to do this work.  Bill and I are too old to be working in the sun and heat and high humidity all day.  The heat index here is 105F today.  Today is the guy's third day of work and Bill told him he must finish today because we don't have any more cash.  These guys are getting paid only 30 ringitt per hour (only $9.63 USD for the both of them) and they are doing a darn good job.  But even at that cheap labor rate, there is a limit to how many hours we are going to let them work.  We need to take a ferry trip over to Langkawi and rent another car so we can go into town and visit an ATM.

Road trip tomorrow!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hole in the Wall

Several people told us not to miss the Hole in the Wall anchorage in Langkawi.  So, after filling up at the Shell fuel barge moored near Kuah Town on Tuesday morning, we set off in search of this highly-recommended not-to-be-missed spot.  Shown below are several photos showing the approach from the north, going through the tiny "Hole" area, and looking back to the approach from the south.  We did not anchor inside the "Hole" area because it is very narrow between 2 high islands covered in heavy vegetation and I did not want to deal with the hundred or more insect bites I would have received if we had stayed there overnight.  It is quite dramatic and beautiful, but not a place I would want to stay overnight.  Instead, we anchored just south of the southerly entrance in what we called our "Pin Ball" anchorage -- because we were surrounded by several small rocky islands.  Truly a beautiful place.  I was entranced sitting in the cockpit watching 2 pair of eagles soaring high above us with their wingtips stretched out for gliding.  Lovely.

My photos do not do justice to the beauty of this area.  It looks like the postcard and travel advertising photos one sees for Thailand.  Langkawi looks nothing like the rest of Malaysia.  It looks like Thailand.

From the north, first go through the narrow pass.  Can you find it?

Approaching the north entrance to Hole in the Wall.

Yes, there really is an entrance ahead up there.

Entering the "Hole" from the north.

Continuing to exit "Hole" to the south.
Exiting south from the "Hole"
The southern entrance to Hole in the Wall.
Inside our "Pin Ball" anchorage.
We called this our Pin Ball anchorage because if a storm had passed through we would have bounced around amongst these rocky islands like a pin ball because they totally encircled us.  For those with charts, we were anchored at latitude 06.10.508N, longitude 99.47.116E -- on the SW tip of Pulau Dayang Bunting and between Pulau Gubang Laut and Pulau Tajai and Pulau Gubang Darat. Strong winds and rain did pass through the night we were anchored here, but our trusty Wasi Bugel anchor held beautifully.

Weather was a bit crappy the following day.  Around mid-day we motored about 4 miles and anchored on the SE tip of Pulau Singa Besar at Teluk Katapang, latitude 06.11.176N, longitude 99.44.036E.  This anchorage had been recommened by an Australian acquaintance.  It was okay, but a little rolly.  There was nothing special about the surroundings of this anchorage.  Heavy forest (jungle?) stretched almost straight up for 300 feet above a tiny strip of white sand beach.  A sand beach is very, very rare around here.  The islands seem to be rocks that go straight down with very, very few beaches of any description.

This morning we motored about 5 miles to the NE tip of Pulau Singa Besar and dropped anchor at latitude 06.13.477N, longitude 99.44.949E.  This is not shown on the charts or in the sailing guide as being an anchorage, but it looked to us like a perfect place to anchor so we could make water and run a load of laundry.  Best feature of this "anchorage" is that we are again within cell phone range and can use the 3.5G data modem for internet access.  I just went through the fridge and realized we have all the ingredients for Thai style Sweet and Sour Chicken, so that is what we will be enjoying for dinner tonight.  I prefer the Chinese style version, but I left my old recipe book -- "Madame Wu's Art of Chinese Cooking" -- at our son's home in Houston and don't remember the specifics of the recipe in that book.  So, Thai style it will be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Arrived in Langkawi

On September 9 we motored from Penang a distance of about 25 miles to Pulau Songsong. Anchor was dropped at latitude 05.48.663N, longitude 100.17.955E. This is a great stopover point when en route to Langkawi. It was a pleasant evening and felt great to be at anchor again in nice surroundings. The next morning we headed off unsure of our destination. We wanted to stop at an anchorage cruisers call "Hole in the Wall" but we also needed to clear in with officials at Kuah. Kuah won. It didn't seem right to start anchoring out around Langkawi if we were not yet officially cleared in.
Langkawi arrival      
Kuah Town anchorage 

We arrived at the anchorage next to Kuah town about 15:30 on Friday, September 10 -- which just happened to be Hari Raya, the Muslim holiday celebration of the end of Ramadan. We dropped anchor at latitude 06.18.956N, latitude 99.50.590E after motoring 42 miles from Songsong (through a million or more fishing flags!!).

Our friends Bill and Amy on S/V Estrellita had arrived before us and had cleared in, so they knew exactly where to go for Immigration, Harbour Master and Customs. They met us in their dinghy as soon as we dropped our anchor and whisked us off to clear in. How nice!!! We would not have made it to the offices before closing time if we had to deal with lowering our own dinghy and engine. It was great to have friends take care of us so well! Bill led us straight to the Harbour Master's office -- where the only person working was an Indian lady. All the Muslims had taken the day off. Immigration apparently employed only Muslims because there was no one working in that office, even though the sign stated that Immigration is open 24/7. Customs took our clearance from Penang and waved us on our way. Then the 4 of us found a Starbucks and enjoyed iced coffee drinks. Almost like being in civilization again.

Entering anchorage at Kuah Town     
Saturday we ventured ashore with Bill and Amy to check out Kuah town but found that most of the businesses were still closed in celebration of Raya. Any shopping would have to wait until Monday. We returned to the boat to print out a map and list of local businesses that other friends had emailed. Big mistake. Really big mistake. REALLY BIG, BIG MISTAKE. One of the files included a Trojan Horse virus that promptly royally screwed our primary computer. Our virus software was able to remove some portions of the virus, but not all. The computer was toast. Then Bill pulled out our secondary computer and learned that it has developed a problem with the power supply. Next he pulled out one of our old laptops to use while he worked on removing the virus from the primary computer.

After 2 full days of work that finally resulted in reformatting the hard drive and reloading all programs, he then restored the latest data back-up. He is pretty diligent about backing up frequently. Unfortunately, that data back-up restoration did not work quite right. Everything from June 25 through September 10 was missing. All our photos of the grandkids over the summer and our trip to Thailand were gone. Also missing were lots of product information on various boat items that Bill had spent weeks researching. As well as many electronic chart tracks that we had accumulated from various sources. I'm sure there are other things missing that we haven't noticed yet.

I think we gave a DVD of the photos from the Thailand trip to our son when he visited us in early August. We should be able to get those back when we visit Houston in November. But all other photos taken over the summer and during our trip up the Malacca Strait are gone forever.

Speaking of the Malacca Strait, we are now finished with that particular section of geography. Technically, we exited the Malacca Strait when we arrived at the island of Penang. At that latitude, the designated shipping channels turn westward over the top of Sumatra; and we continued northwest.  We are now in the southeastern tip of the Andaman Sea, part of the Bay of Bengal, in the northern Indian Ocean.

On Monday we shared a taxi with Bill and Amy and visited the "warehouse" in Kuah. We bought only a few things -- 3 cases club soda, 6 toothpaste, 12 shower gel and 28 tubes of potato chips. They only had Carlsberg and Budweiser beer in stock. We bought 3 cases of Carlsberg in late July and it was horrible, and Budweiser is just so generic; so we skipped on the beer from the warehouse. But the Chinese wife of the business owner appreciates wine and she steered us toward several brands of wine to sample. We bought 7 bottles of various reds to taste test. After we decide which we like best, we will make another trip to the warehouse and buy several cases. Need to stock up to last well into the Med next year.

Our hand-drawn cruiser map calls this Disneyworld.  It is a hotel.

Later in the afternoon Bill and I took the dinghy back to the shopping mall at the ferry dock where we had cleared in the previous afternoon. There was a tiny shop these selling cigarettes, beer and liquor. Bill made a deal with the shop owner to have 15 cases of beer delivered to the dinghy dock. He bought Tiger beer, which he swears is infinitely superior to Carlsberg. It was also only 48 ringitt per case ($15.47 USD), which is less than the warehouse prices for Carlsberg or Budweiser. Later we made yet another trip to town and visited a supermarket where I found a few cases of Coca-Cola Light with expiration date of March 14, 2011.

Monday evening we joined Bill and Amy for drinks on S/V Estrellita. We drank too much wine. Had a fun evening with them. This morning they sailed off to Reback Marina. They will be hauling out next week and wanted to scope everything out and get prepared. We went to the Shell fuel barge and filled all 10 of our jerry jugs and our main tank. The diesel was very clean and well-priced at 2 ringitt per liter, which is only $2.45 USD per gallon. Bill scrubbed the deck while I manned the helm and motored 8.7 miles to our current anchorage at the "Hole in the Wall."
Can you see the narrow pass?  This is the first entry between some islands to reach the Hole in the Wall.

Actually, the Hole in the Wall anchorage looked too buggy to me so we continued on around southward a tiny bit and anchored at latitude 06.10.508N, longitude 99.47.116E. This spot is beautiful. Sorry we don't have internet so I cannot share a photo right now. When we were anchored off Kuah, tiny bugs would bite me at night resulting in large red welts, some of which are 6-inch in diameter and very swollen. I am hoping those particular bugs are not around this anchorage.

If tonight is bug-free then we might stay here a few days. If the bugs attack tonight, we might be heading straight to Rebak Marina tomorrow so we can enjoy air-conditioned bug-free sleep.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A week in Penang & a day tour

The week has passed quickly.  Time does seem to go by fast when there are things to do.  More provisioning has been purchased, stored away and added to my written inventory.  Our friends on S/V B'Sheret who visited Penang a couple of months earlier steered us to all the right shops for food and various boat items.

Rather than walk in the heat to find the various shops for boat items, Bill asked the marina dock master if someone could take him on a motorcycle.  That worked extremely well as it provided Bill both with transportation and a translator.  If one shop didn't have what he needed, the motorcycle driver got directions to a shop that did stock the desired item.  The salt water pump started making a terrible noise.  Bill took it apart and discovered that it needed new bearings.  The dock master asked the gardener to take Bill to a shop.  Within minutes Bill had the right bearings.  Next stop was a cycle shop with a hydraulic press, where the old bearings were removed and the new bearings pressed in.  Including the 10 ringitt Bill gave the gardener for taking him on the motorcycle, the entire job cost less than $10 USD.  Bill was delighted!  But then he discovered that the pump also needed a new seal.  This time the assistant dock master drove Bill to another shop.  Another day Bill wanted some spare bolts and such.  This time the dock master himself drove Bill around town.  We think each guy wanted his share of the 10 ringitt Bill gave each time one of the marina workers took him for a ride on a motorcycle.  This was so much nicer than walking around town in the heat trying to find whatever we wanted for this repair job.  BTW, 10 ringitt is only $3.20 USD.  But that is enough to at least buy lunch so the marina workers were glad to pick up this little bit of extra cash.

One evening we went to a movie at the Komtar Center with Bill and Amy on S/V Estrellita.  I got a chuckle later when I looked at the movie ticket and saw that we had seen "The Expandables" rather than "The Expendables."   This was a movie will many old actors and most of them had indeed expanded, although I think the misspelling was just a Malaysian language error and not intentional..

One evening 6 of us from the marina enjoyed an Indian dinner at Kopitan Restoran.  I enjoyed mushroom masala and naan and Bill tried the chicken Tikka and chicken fried rice.  All were delicious.  I would like to have returned to this restaurant again during our stay in Penang, but that didn't work out.  Seems like all we have done since arriving in Penang is eat at different restaurants.

On Monday we joined Bill and Amy for a day tour of Penang.  We visited a museum, a Baba house, a chocolate shop, a Buddhist temple, a female Buddhist statue on a hill and topped off the day with a quick visit to a supermarket before Bill and Amy picked up their visas at the Thai consulate.  The museum was okay; nothing special.  The Baba house was more interesting.  A Chinese merchant or businessman from China who moved to Malaysia during the 1800's was called a Baba.  If he married a Malay girl (not Muslim) then she was called a Nyonya.  Their home was called a Baba house or a Nyonya house.  This did not apply if the girl was Muslim as there is and always has been a requirement that if someone marries a person who is Muslim then the new spouse must convert to Islam.  Nyonyas were Buddhists.

Center family dining room
Bill, Amy & Bill in the Nyonya house
A Nyonya house would be considered a mansion.  The house is built around a central open courtyard with no ceiling.   This home had 3 formal dining rooms -- the center one for the family meals; one on the left for western style meals with guests, and one on the right for Chinese style meals with guests.  Only the daughters lived in the home with the parents.  The sons lived near the father's business site on the mainland.   There were several rooms containing opium beds.  Opium was legal in Malaysia until 1949, but only the wealthy could afford to partake.

Evil spirit screen partition
Adjacent to the home, and customarily the first structure built, would be the ancestors room.  This was a large room (really a separate building) for which the sole purpose was to honor the Chinese ancestors.  Many aspects of the ancestors room/building were the same as we had seen in the Hutong in Beijing -- the screened wall directly inside the front entry to deflect evil spirits, the ultra-high threshold at the front entry to hold in the good luck and prevent it from flowing out the doorway like water (also to cause the visitor to raise his leg and bending his knee to a 90-degree angle representing kneeling to the ancestors) , the carvings depicting achievements of specific ancestors and the praying section to honor the ancestors.  The residence had elaborate Chinese style carvings and gilt throughout.  It was the best part of our day tour.

Bill in front of a big gold Buddha
The Buddhist temple we visited had a very large standing Buddha statue.  According to our taxi driver, this statue was covered in 24-karat gold; but I have serious doubts about that.  It just did not look like real gold to me.  But the statue was tall.

Bill Betts under carved ceiling
And the ceiling of the main temple room was intricately carved wood.  We are sort of "templed out" after all our travels throughout SE Asia and were not particularly interested in seeing yet another temple.  In fact, there was another temple directly across the street that had a large reclining Buddha statue but none of us cared to bother to walk across the street to see it.

Next stop was the chocolate shop.  Unlike other chocolate shops that we have visiting is several countries during tours, this one did not appear to be an actual chocolate factory.  There was no smell of cooking chocolate, just shelves of all kinds of chocolate candies.  As we walked through the shop we sampled more than our fair share of assorted chocolates, but did not purchase anything.  This was the only shopping stop during our day tour.  Since we did not purchase anything, the taxi driver did not receive any commission; so she realized that the 4 of us were not interested in buying the normal tourist stuff.

The Goddess
Building adjacent to Goddess
The next stop was to visit another Buddhist temple on a hillside outside the city.  Higher up on the hillside from the temple was a very tall statue of what our taxi driver called the Goddess of Mercy or the Goddess of Generosity.  I don't remember the name. This statue did not appear to be very old.  Scaffolding was in place around several of the columns encircling the large statue.  It appeared that this site is not yet complete.

NOT Hitler's swastika
Again we noticed the swastika symbol adopted by Adolf Hitler. This symbol had religious meaning to many religions for centuries before Hitler was around.  Still seems weird every time we encounter it.

Flower Tea -- Fairy Bouquet
The guide at the Baba house had invited the 4 of us to attend a Chinese opera on Monday night celebrating Ghost Month.  The opera was performed before empty seats -- the seats supposedly filled with ghosts of ancestors.   Bill and Amy decided to go, but I positively detest Chinese opera and decided to skip this event.  This day was our 41st wedding anniversary.  We had planned to go out to dinner but I did not feel like it.  We enjoyed a quiet evening on the boat instead.  On Tuesday we took the bus out to Gurney Plaza again, this time accompanied by Bill and Amy.  They also wanted to provision a bit before heading off towards Langkawi the next day.  The 4 of us then went to the very nice Chinese restaurant at the QE II.  I ordered a flower tea called Fairy Bouquet.  We had tried a flower tea at the tea ceremony in Shanghai and I wanted to try another one.  A flower tea is served in a large wine glass or goblet.  What looks like a large seed pod is dropped into the boiled water in the glass.  As the pod absorbs the hot water, it sinks and begins to open.  Flowers appear to grow up from the inside of the pod.  It looks really cool.  Both of the flower teas I have tried had a very delicate tea flavor.

Today we obtained our 60-day visas for Thailand.  The visas must be used within 90 days of issuance.  We must arrive in Thailand on or before December 7 in order to use these visas.  We should arrive back in Langkawi late on December 1 after our trip home to Houston.  It is only 140 miles from Langkawi to Phuket, so it shouldn't be a problem to clear into Phuket by December 7.  Hate to be so rushed; but it should not be a problem. 

Driving in.  Will be driving out tomorrow.
We officially cleared out of Penang this afternoon after collecting our Thai visas.  The current flow should be lightest tomorrow around 10:00, so that is our intended departure time.   It is important to time arrival and departure at this marina with the current flow.  It is also important to note that the current flow is NOT exact with the timing of slack low tide or slack high tide.  Trying to get into or out of a marina slip is these strong currents can be dangerous.  We are getting out of here when the current is .3 knots rather than when it is 1.3 knots.  One boat was slammed against a dock pier yesterday when they attempted to change slips during strong current.  The only damage was superficial, but why take the chance.  Best to wait for the slowest current.  We use a program called Total Tide and it is excellent.  Highly recommend this program for sailors.

Penang bridge
Yikes!! Are we going to clear it?
And my final comments about Penang.  We arrived from the south which involves going under a bridge.  The bridge is 32 meters clearance height from average high tide water level.

Our main mast is only 20 meters from water surface.  That means there should be a minimum clearance above our mast of 12 meters or about 39 feet.

Yeah, sure!  Looks like 39-ft clearance above the mast!
It certainly did not look like it when we went beneath this bridge!  I know it is an optical illusion, but it always looks sort of scary when a sailboat goes under a bridge.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting information in Penang is like pulling teeth!

2 September 2010 Thursday
05.24.861N 100.20.868E Tanjung City Marina, Penang
Distance sailed from Pulau Pangkor 76NM

I am trying very hard to like Penang; really, I am. In 2009 the New York Times travel section listed Penang as one of the top ten places worldwide to visit. Everyone we have met who has visited Penang has enjoyed their stay here. So, I am fighting the negativity and yearning to like this place.

The biggest complaint is that it is truly like pulling teeth to extract information from anyone. People give us vague answers or completely incorrect answers. I have about had all of Penang that I can take, and we have been here only three days. My frustration level is maxed. Twice today I was on the verge of tears when forced to ask twenty questions in order to get one straight answer - and I am not a teary type person.

The bad parts thus far have been:

1. Fishermen had nets buoyed completely across the south channel in several places as we arrived on Tuesday afternoon. This really, really pisses us off! They are not supposed to fish between the channel markers.

2. When we arrived at the marina, the slip we had been assigned was still occupied by a boat that was supposed to have left and didn't. The owners are from Philadelphia and the man was nice enough to help with our dock lines as we tied up on the outside of the T-dock since there was no other slip available. He said they would leave the next day.

3. Water at this marina is notoriously rough. The rolling is so bad that the marina only puts one boat into a slip built for two boats, and you cross-tie as many dock lines as you can fit across the entire dual slip. (Check daily for chafe!!) Our first night on the outside of the T-dock we were tied only on the starboard side. It was a very rolly and noisy night as our fenders screeched against the hull and dock all night long. The boat in our assigned slip did not depart until 16:30 the next day. Check-out time is noon. The marina should have made him either pay for another day or leave on time. He could have anchored in the nearby Junk Anchorage until he was ready to depart Penang later in the afternoon.

4. Clearing into Penang is supposedly very easy. That is what everyone says. We found Immigration with no problems and that was easy. But no one could tell us the exact location of the Harbour Master office. Everyone said it was just a few minutes walk left from Immigration. We finally found it. The Harbour Master office is on the second floor of the Affin Bank building, which is the first bank as you walk left out of Immigration. You walk around back (no signs), enter a doorway, and walk up one flight of stairs. Once you find the office, it is easy. Customs proved to be the toughest to locate. We were directed to the big yellow building past the traffic circle. Nope; a man in a uniform in that building directed us to the 7th floor of another big yellow building a block away. When we arrived there, another uniformed man sent us right back to the first big yellow building. We walked back there; found another uniformed man; and again explained that we wanted to clear in from Singapore. He took us out a rear door and walked through several alleyways to a white metal building - what back in the States we would call a temporary building. The official there had no idea what to do with us. He made no notes of our boat name or arrival or anything. He told us to come back to clear out with him 24-hours before we leave Penang. Hell, if he doesn't know we are here then how will he know if we have left? The entire process was silly beyond words. But at least we now know the location of the 3 offices when it is time to clear out.

5. The marina has a very nice "Boaters Lounge" with television, free wifi, pool table and lounging area. They do not provide free wifi anywhere else in the marina. Instead, they have an arrangement with another company that sells wifi service. That is fine. We don't mind paying for wifi on the boat. The only problem is that company's website is malfunctioning and you cannot purchase wifi online. You must buy prepaid scratch-off cards. After playing twenty questions several times with the lady in the marina office, we learned that the marina office normally sells the scratch-off wifi cards but is currently out-of-stock. They have no idea when they will receive a new supply of the cards. The telephone number they gave us for the wifi company does not work. Every store that the marina office has directed us to has also been out-of-stock on the wifi cards. This is getting ridiculous! Bill takes his iTouch up to the Boaters Lounge and receives email several times daily, but we cannot use our regular boat computers. I do not want to lug a laptop around. I want wifi on the boat.

6. Our only reason for coming to Penang was to obtain our Thai visas and hopefully also receive our India visas. Friends were in Penang a couple of months ago and had emailed us that it is very easy to obtain both the India visa and the Thai visa here in Penang. After we arrived we learned that this isn't quite true. The visas for India take at least 2 weeks because the passports are shipped down to Kuala Lumpur and back. We don't want to be stuck here in Penang if there might be an unforeseen delay, so we will get the India visas while we are in Houston in November. And our friend now tells us that the Thai visa must be started within 90 days of obtaining it. Supposedly, the visa is good for the stated period and that may exceed the 90 days from date of receipt; but we would have to arrive in Thailand within 90 days of obtaining the visa. We are flying home in late October and will not return to Langkawi until December 1. If we obtain the Thai visa now, it would be expired before we could get to Phuket. So we are hanging around Penang hopefully to obtain a Thai visa with a date that will allow us enough time to stock-up on food after our trip home and sail up to Phuket to clear into Thailand before the 90 day limit on starting the visas.

7. Today we found the number 103 bus to the Gurney Plaza and went shopping for fresh produce at the Cold Storage. While at the big mall we tried to see a movie, but Inception hasn't yet made it to Penang. I wouldn't sit through any of the movies they were showing even if someone paid me to. Then we could not find a bus stop for buses running in the opposite direction to return to the city, so ended up taking a taxi at 4 times the cost of the bus. Obviously I did not ask the correct twenty questions about bus stops from the right person.
There are a number of other things that have annoyed us since arriving in Penang, but those are the main irritants. And I was so much looking forward to enjoying this island. If we ever get wifi then we can research some things to do and see (as well as the visas). Until then, neither of us is enjoying Penang.

So far, the only good thing has been the pizza at the QE II - a bar/restaurant located right next to the marina. Their Margarita pizza is great! Made with halved grape tomatoes, fresh basil and a light sprinkling of mozzarella. And they also serve a darn good Greek salad!