See below for a gracious summary that my father put together after visiting us for two weeks on the boat. We mostly dragged him through dirty jobs in dirty parts of Phuket, and I still feel guilty for not bringing him to a wat or doing anything cultural, but we did the best we could. Summary post concerning post-Dad haulout and slow-motion trainwreck on stainless steel bars coming soon. For now, we are on passage to the Andamans.
Part 1 – “REFITTING” – Nov 30 – Dec 3
Describing Adam and Ian as “intense” will surprise no one who really knows them. I was given the incredible opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder, teach a bit, and learn a lot. They claim I was there to help. In reality I was the one receiving the gift. Of course these physical projects are my idea of a good time, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. To begin with, every challenge is magnified 3x just because it’s on a boat. Our favorite saying during this period: ‘you have to go down to go up’. Every project starts with dismantling the whole boat – and that’s ONLY IF you can get the parts from Wiwat (our Phuket-Chinese chandler) or the Thai equivalent of Home Depot. We worked every day from the time we rolled out of bed until long into every night, with N projects and lists running in parallel, stopping only for a quick opportune bite at the local “dirty boy” restaurant. When I arrived, most major systems were not functional. The stereo however was working OK (but even that was broken in its own special ways). I’ll spare the reader the full narrative. But with a focus on the big bits, and with a few miracles, we were able to exit this phase and get underway.
Big Things Fixed:
- Diesel engine reassembled
- Port-side shroud replaced
- All rigging tuned
- Lifelines tightened sufficiently
- New stainless instrument rack
- All (most) instruments installed and operational
- Furling mainsail readjusted to go all the way in and out (we thought)
Part 2 – “SHAKEDOWN” – Dec 4
The big day came. We met our self-imposed deadline, took on water and food, and hit the high seas. Well not exactly “high” – actually only at high tide was there enough water under our keel to move at all. But we made our escape from Royal Phuket Marina. First stop was to be Chalong where we supposedly could get a good price on replacement batteries.
Our first surprise came early in the day: There is enough of a breeze – Let’s put up the mainsail for stability and a little power – Pull out the furling mainsail – Why are there so many wrinkles? – Send Ian up the mast – OOPS – WHY IS THE HEAD OF THE SAIL NOT EVEN ATTACHED TO THE MAST AT ALL??? After getting Ian down from his wild ride (he was gracious enough to not vomit on our heads), wadding up the mainsail like a used tissue, stuffing the whole wad into the saloon, and treating the whole crew to a dose of Dramamine, we were back underway. Learnings: this boat rocks a lot even in inland chop. Oh, and add the missing shackles to our ever-present shopping list. And put the newly-discovered engine water leak on the to-do list.
So here’s the plan: sail down to Chalong, disconnect all 4 batteries, put them in the dinghy, go ashore, buy new ones, come back and install them. Having spent a few days onboard, I know the boat has a very complex electrical system. I’m thinking that the battery replacement is a little like a heart transplant – IF you can find a suitable donor. This is a BIG job, underestimated by our heroes. But we ‘dive in’ (a particularly relevant idiom, as it would turn out).
We get to Chalong about 2 PM and anchor between two buoys. This is a little like parking between 2 reserved head-in parking spaces - there is no “between”. But we’ll be in and out quick, right???
Ian and Adam disconnect all 4 batteries. We put the 280 pounds of lead in the dinghy, along with 3 grown men, and 12 feet of 3-inch stainless steel pipe. And no bailing bucket – it’s sunny, right?
No problems getting in. The locals watch as we abandon the dead batteries on the sidewalk. They’re shiny but too heavy to steal. So far so good. We promptly stop for lunch (what?). We eat quick and go to pick up the motorbike that Adam arranged while the cook was working. Unlike the Phuket motorbike rental which is combined with a secondhand book shop and a laundry, this one was a motorbike rental – bikini store. Apparently there is some rule against having 3 passengers on a motorbike, so we have to walk around the corner to load up.
We motor down the road scanning left and right for the many alleged battery shops, finding none. I’m thinking this is hopeless. But never give up on Ian and Adam. Within 45 minutes, they split up, find multiple stores, find exactly the right battery type with 4 in stock, negotiate a very good price including free delivery to the beach.
Then the real fun starts. We notice from shore that our boat seems to be rocking a lot more than its neighbors. Load the 4 fully-charged batteries and 3 men in the dinghy. By this time a storm is rolling in. The wind is howling. Rain is pouring. Big waves in the harbor. Waves coming in over the bow. The trailing waves bring water pouring over the transom. No bailing bucket. As the water rises in the dinghy, we’re all wondering where the 450 amp hours of charge goes if these batteries are submerged in the aluminum hull we’re all touching.
With no time to spare, WE REACH THE BOAT!!! Exhale.
We unload the batteries. The wind is howling. The boat is swaying like it’s possessed. It’s now dark. Adam and Ian begin the reinstall in the belly of the swaying boat, working by headlamp flashlight. I contribute by sitting out in the cockpit, out of their way, worrying about how easy it would be to screw this up, and thinking how hard it would be to debug, and wondering whether our anchor has slipped and whether we are drifting ever closer to the boat behind us (the rightful owner of the mooring we hijacked, who complained but graciously did not force us to move).
End result: No drama. Our heroes did their job calmly, systematically, and first time right. I am impressed…
Part 3 – “THE SIMILANS” – Dec 5-8
Having gotten the boat to a reasonable state, we set out on a shakedown cruise of sorts. The Similans are a set of 9 islands about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Thailand. I now understand why Ian and Adam are sailing in South Asia. These islands are the most gorgeous, pristine islands I have ever seen. Just imagine sailing up to any of the countless beautiful coves and saying “let’s anchor here tonight”.
The passage (50 miles by the route we took) was akin to a bus ride while getting a tan. Not much wind, so we motored all the way. You can’t really DO anything but sit and relax and wait, given the rocking and rolling from the waves. But it was still pleasant watching the flying fish and the distant (oncoming) weather. It rained on us about 4 times. We pulled into our anchorage in the dark – soaked and cold. Ian whipped up a curry and we fell into bed.
Next morning, when we could see where we were, we were astounded. 15 Meters of water so clear you could see bottom and the schools of colorful fish under our boat. We snorkeled and swam ashore, and explored the island. We were surprised to find a restaurant on this tiny island, so we made
Adam swim back to the boat to get money, and we had a bite. Back on the boat, we cruise to another gorgeous island, another beautiful cove, another tidal beach, another unbelievable anchorage. If you think the scenery is good, you awake to find it stunning at sunrise, with almost no other boats in sight. This is why we came…
On the return trip to Phuket (you’ll remember no wind on our transit out) there is 20-30 knots of wind – right on our nose. After gallant attempts at tacking, we give up and start the diesel. By dinner we are back in Ao Karan having pizza in a Russian-filled resort town. Apparently Russians can get visas to Thailand pretty easy – way more of them than Americans.
The boat is working well. We fixed lots more mid-tier problems. I found the modern navigation electronics to be interesting. See the list below for the kind of information our heroes have at their fingertips:
- Current charts of wherever you are. Zoom in or out
- Current location
- Speed over ground
- Speed thru water
- Course over ground
- Wind speed and direction (true and apparent)
- Distance and bearing to any waypoint
- Autohelm steers to designated heading
- Autohelm holds angle to wind
- Autohelm to series of waypoints
- Place Man Overboard marker with 1 button and automatically steer to it
- “AIS” info on large ships in the vicinity (name, type, length, beam, draft, bearing, heading, speed, under steam/sail/anchor, destination, ETA…)
Part 4 – “PHANG NGA BAY” – Dec 9-12
Back to the Royal Phuket Marina (don’t forget to time your arrival and your departure with high tide) for more parts, projects, and provisions. Then we headed north to the head of Phang Nga Bay. The scenery was out of this world. My vocabulary is way too limited to do it justice. Look at the pictures. Ian the rock climber is salivating. We’re wondering if the classic computer game Myst took some inspiration here. Each anchorage better than the last. Swim ashore and back.
Easy access from Phuket means we shared “James Bond Island” (movie Man With The Golden Gun was filmed here) with lots of Russian tourists, longtail boats, and even a Bollywood film crew. But each night they go away and we are the only boat around in the stunning landscape.
We bought still-wriggling shrimp from a local fisherman and his wife who motored right up to our boat. They didn’t ram us, exactly, but they did test our hull strength. Ian got out his iPhone and googled How To Cook Shrimp and made us a special curry.
Weather continues to nag, including several inches of rain each day, but we enjoy all anyway. We dinghy’d to Ko Panyee which is a floating fishing village at the head of the bay. One side is all glitzy tourist restaurants. We came in the other side, explored neighborhoods, bargained, and ate with the locals in a real authentic “dirty boy”.
The highlight of highlights was at Ao Hong where we took the dingy thru a low stone arch (low tide only) into a small paradise surrounded by rocks and tropical vegetation. Thru a passage to another room (“hong” means room). Then up a rock tunnel, left the dinghy behind, waded to yet another room: silence, water dripping, crabs scuttling, razor-sharp oysters all over the walls, vines hanging, bansai trees growing right out of the rocks… Fantastic!
Then back to Philadelphia for me, as Adam and Ian prepare for their next passage: The Andaman Islands (India).