2012 started with our friends Andy and Jane coming from the US to visit us. For the better part of two and a half decades, we have always spent New Years Eve together but it has become more difficult (but not insurmountable!) to continue the tradition as we started to travel on the boat. This year, they REALLY had to travel a distance, coming from Connecticut to Phuket! We tried to squeeze as much of the island as possible into one short week, including elephant rides, cruising the islands, touring the towns etc.
New Years Eve was spent at a local restaurant at Surin Beach, complete with the local tradition of the floating lanterns. It is a tradition that goes back at least hundreds of years. I don’t know what they used then, but now they use a paper bag with (about two feet in diameter and three feet high) with a frame at the open bottom and a Sterno like solid fuel that you light up. After they heat up, they float away into the air, meeting up with hundreds of others, creating a surrealistic spectacle.
At the end of their stay, we traveled to Bangkok by air and spend a few days there, touring the town. It was one of two trips there that we have made this year. Bangkok is a huge city and while we did enjoy the various temples and the Royal Palace, I have found that cruising the local markets the most enjoyable thing to do there
Cruising the East Coast of Phuket
The east coast of Phuket is completely different than the west coast. The shallow water is greenish and milky (but clean), and the islands are tower-like rocks unlike you have seen anywhere else in the world.
Cruising the west coast of Phuket
After our guests left, Carol and I left for a cruise to the west coast of Phuket, or the Andaman Sea. Cruising the west coast is only tenable for part of December and January through February because of the shifting Monsoon. During those months, the prevailing wind is out of the Northeast, resulting in mostly calm seas and good anchorages. During the other months, the seas and harbors become absolute monsters. As opposed to the East Coast of Phuket, which has greenish, cloudy water, the West Coast has sparkling clear, blue water with a temperature in the high 80’s or low 90’s. Coming around the southern end of Phuket, you find a string of gorgeous anchorages and harbors with pristine beaches, reminiscent of what the Caribbean must have been like in the 30’s or 40’s, before it became overdeveloped. The anchorages are uncrowded and on the beach you find simple shacks run by local Thai people waiting to sell you trinkets or food.
We spent a few days cruising the coast, ending up in the northernmost harbor (more on that in the next section about our dive trip), before heading west to the Similan and Surin Islands, only a stones throw away from the border of Myanmar (Burma), where we were forbidden to travel.
The anchorages were simply gorgeous. They were a little rolly, but just enough to make you understand that you are in the middle of nowhere, a spectacular nowhere. Here, the water was the cleanest and warmest that I have ever seen and the landscape was just breathtaking!
The ONLY thing that spoiled it just a bit was the constant stream of tour boats (see above picture) that came into the anchorage every day to tie up to the moorings with tourists, sometimes 40 people on a 40 foot skiff!
Diving Trip to the Similans
Last year, the crew of Seabird and Grey Pearl left for a diving trip in Borneo. Both Carol and I had to scramble doing a crash course to get our PADI diving certificates, which we did. After arriving in Phuket, we found an overnight dive boat that visited the west coast of Phuket and all of the diving spots. We were somewhat hesitant to book on to a 100 foot boat with 24 people plug crew that we did not know. So….we pulled a “sneak attack” on the vessel two weeks before our scheduled trip by bringing Seabird to the northern Phuket harbor (Ban Thap Lamu) that our dive boat was anchored at. We anchored in the harbor and rode into shore with our dinghy, then climbing up on to the dock where “White Manta” was berthed. We then smiled and welcomed the passengers ashore, prodding them for information on their trip. Well……they were all smiles and gushing about the great food, diving and crew! We then met the captain of the boat who not only invited us on board, but showed us the cabin that we would be staying in, which is very nice! Not cruise ship luxury, but very adequate, and with its own head and shower.
Two weeks later we hopped aboard the boat with all of our diving gear and a small amount of clothing, mostly t shirts and bathing suits (which we virtually lived in while on the boat).
The passengers AND crew were truly international. We met folks from Holland, Denmark, Germany, Korea, Norway, the UK, Scotland and the US.
The diving schedule was quite aggressive. We had four dives per day for the four days we were on board.
The thing that made it fun was that the crew took care of everything! We simply had to show up at the dive platform and they did the rest. They helped us on with our gear, guided us through the water, helped us out of the water, stowed our gear and refilled our tanks. Our job was just to have fun, which we did!
The other guests on board were just so much fun. We made many new friends and with any luck, we will see them again. The food, which is what we really worried about, was great. The chefs made mostly Thai food, which we loved. The best part was that for about $10 USD, you could get a massage on the top deck under the moonlight, which I did each and every night.
Damsel in Distress
The only casualty on the trip was a woman from Korea’s tablet computer/phone. While on the beach, she dropped it into the salt water and after retrieving it, it was dead. She was visibly upset when she came back to the boat, and I must have looked like a crazy guy when I suggested that I could fix it. The look on her face when I took the battery and telephone SIM card out and plunged the tablet into the fresh water tank on the aft deck was priceless! I then instructed her to go into the kitchen on board and get two cups of uncooked rice. She reluctantly agreed and when she returned, I placed the tablet into a plastic bag that was filled with the rice. I told her not to do anything until the next morning, and when she returned with a broad smile on her face, I knew the procedure was a success. She was cute and thought I was a genius so I did not tell her that I read about doing that in my Popular Science magazine, therefore avoiding the Geek label! Fortunately, none of my t shirts had pockets in them for pocket protectors, so I remained anonymous.
Life in Phuket
After our dive trip, we came back to Seabird, which was still docked at Yacht Haven Marina in northern Phuket. We had decided that we would stay until the beginning of March and then head back to the US for the summer months, leaving the boat shut down. Since we had a rental car, we decided to make the most of the rest of our stay by traveling to the markets and getting to know the people, the restaurants and the Island of Phuket.
We decided to do a bit more cruising on the East Coast of Phuket before going home………of course, plans DO change, as you know….. Anyway, we decided to make one more round to a few areas that we had not visited yet, the first of which was Raile Beach, which is to the east of the east coast of Phuket.
The thing about Phuket that we like is that every anchorage and town is unique in some way. Raile is a beach resort with the typical beach shacks and restaurants, with the added attraction of a pretty resort hotel. To get there, you need to walk a narrow path to the other side of the peninsula, passing by the monkey village. They are EVERYWHERE.
Unfortunately, you cannot get too close as there are some that are quite aggressive and if you feed them, you are likely to become an object of their frustration should they feel you have not given them enough. We stayed clear….
The other attraction there is the cliff climbing.
The pictures speak for themselves and just to make it clear, none of the specks of people you see on the cliffs are Carol or me! Maybe 30 years ago….
After that we cruised to Phi Phi island again and went on a diving trip for one afternoon with a small dive boat. While the water was not as spectacular as the west coast, it was interesting and we found a wreck 85 feet underneath the surface of the water. I know what it looks like in the picture, but I was simply taking a rest…… and those are just fish to my left…
There was one more stop to make as Carol’s birthday was coming up and I wanted to take her to a special place. The island of Racha, off the south coast of Phuket, is supposed to be a gem. We moored there and toured the island as well as made reservations for a nice dinner. During the afternoon I left Carol on the boat to get a massage and when I got back to the boat, it was pitching in the oncoming waves like a bucking bronco. I went up on to the bow to check the mooring line, only to find that one of them had snapped in the violence of the waves. The remaining line was shredding quickly and since we were only a few hundred yards off of the beach, we had to go, and go quickly. I bypassed the normal warmup times for the engines and we made a quick exit, arriving at another, quieter anchorage (Chalong), just before sunset. I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but there are almost no channel markers in Phuket, so negotiating harbor entrances is kind of hairy at night. There is no shortage of shallow water so you always want to arrive in the daylight, if you can. This particular entrance was surrounded by reefs and you had to zig zag your way into the anchorage.
The next day we pulled up anchor and headed back to our marina, with thoughts of our preparations to go home within a few weeks. Then………..
Carol casually mentioned that our teak decks were looking kind of worn and wondered out loud how much it would cost to replace them. We contacted Nai, a Thai woman who ran a company out of Boat Lagoon and she came over to give us an estimate. While she was there, Carol and I thought, well, as long as she is here, lets just find out how much a full paint job would cost. In a matter of a few days, we decided to give Seabird a full face lift with new teak decks and a full paint job. We rented an apartment for four months, cancelling our plans to go home…
Next Blog: “the project”