Friday, December 30, 2016

Ko Bang Tao - 07° 59' 48" N 98° 16' 58" S

We have been aboard Popeye for a couple of months now and established a few favourite things.

1.     Solar-powered light

This little gem, courtesy of Rick and Sue , has unfailingly provided us with the perfect ambient light in the cockpit.  We clip it to a deck fitting to power up by day and enjoy light through the night.

And the best part; no batteries required!

2.     Orange Floatie Lounger

Sean may never go back to the pool noodle!

This came along with Scott and Elizabeth and has been extensively deployed.  Sean catches up on his sleep whilst comfortably floating behind the yacht for hours.

3.     Funky waterproof speaker

It even came complete with its own floatie!  Thanks to Adrienne and Ray, we can enjoy music in the cockpit, on the ‘front porch’, floating off the back of the boat, on the beach, anywhere….

4.     Go-Pro (with selfie stick and plethora of mounting options)

A big thanks to the Eaglesons for firstly inspiring the purchase then finding the best deal Calgary has to offer, arranging for Adrienne to bring it over, and slipping in a selection of very cool accessories as a Christmas present!

More photo ops.  Whoo hoo!
We love our new toy and wield the selfie stick with typical tourist abandon.

5.     The dip-stick oil pump

A magical little device that enables us to change the oil in the engine by pumping it through where the dip-stick goes. That, teamed with an empty six litre water jug, makes for a simple and clean oil change.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Similan Islands - 08° 40’ 32” N 97° 38’ 49” E

'Donald Duck Bay' Ko Similan
Picture the perfect tropical island with palm trees, white, white sand, turquoise water, green foliage and interesting rock formations.  This is the Similan Islands.  Stunningly postcard perfect.  And Popeye floating serenely on clear water, as if suspended by magic above coral outcrops, teaming with colourful schools of all varieties of fish.

That is, until 10am.

At that time, speedboats start pouring in from the mainland. Boat after boat after boat, disgorging passengers onto the beach in a scene that would do a wartime beach landing proud.  For six hours, we observed this onslaught of day-glo-lifejacket-wearing daytrippers cluttering up a perfectly good stretch of sand, many with selfie sticks wielded like dueling swords.  From this lagoon, where we are moored off Ko Similan, there is a short hiking trail up to a lookout point on the rocky outcrop that shelters the lagoon from northeast weather.  Although we cannot see the whole trail from the water, we can see the precarious few metres of lookout and the queue of visitors at the stairs just below, patiently waiting their 20 minutes for a quick view from the rock top.   

The same beach ... after 10 am.
It's the opposite of a deserted island
Once the visitors had taken their look, they seem to all go back to the beach, where they have less than an hour to have a quick splash in the surf, to take a photo of themselves, a loved one and the 47,893 other people in the background then pull out their mobile phones and wonder why they can’t seem to get reception 32 nautical miles offshore.  Suddenly, a horn (or whistle, or honk or some other signal that they have been warned to listen for) sounds and, reminiscent of the retreat at Dunkirk, the boats load up and take all the people away leaving us alone with the dive boats and a deserted beach.

The Similan Islands are an island chain approximately 65 nautical miles NW of Kata Beach in the Andaman Sea.  A marine National Park since the early 1980s, they boast the clearest water due to the depth of the water that surrounds them.  They are considered one of the world’s top dive locations.  Similan is derived from a Malay word meaning nine – as there are nine main islands.  They are referred to by their number (from south to north) despite having ‘proper’ names.

From the lookout over Ko Similan

Christmas Day

Adrienne enjoying a thoughtful moment

The first two nights we picked up a mooring in southern bay of Ko Bangu (Island #9), the most northern island of the group.  Jumping off the back of the boat we submerged into a fish tank filled with schools of colourful tropical fish.  The corals were pretty but not stunning, likely due to a combination of tsunami damage and high human use. The water was so beautifully clear and warm, we could (and did) stay in for hours actively looking at what was beneath us (clear all the way down to the bottom 12 metres below) or just floating and relaxing on the surface.

We swam, snorkeled and kayaked … that is, until the Park Rangers came and told us it was forbidden to kayak and fined us for doing so.  The $20 fine was deemed worth it for the great fun we had had but we dutifully lashed it once again to the foredeck and went back to snorkeling!

Our Parks tickets have kayaks - no irony there...

Our kayaking fine

We popped across the channel and picked up a mooring in Donald Duck Bay on Ko Similan (#8), named for a rock formation with a remarkable resemblance to the cartoon character.   Because of the depth of the water around the island chain, there are limited places to anchor so Parks have put in moorings and all these are busy. 

We, however got into the rhythm of the day. Snorkeling. clambouring along the rocks and building sandmen on the beach before and after the hoards.  Floating around the boat, lazing on the boat while watching the boats come in.


And again noted a few patterns of tourist behaviour. 
  • Bright pink is the preferred swimsuit colour.
  • Photo shoots of girlfriends and wives pouting in skimpy bikinis (for the Russians) and jumping in flowing floral frocks with big floppy hats (for the Asians).
  • Snorkeling in a life jacket – perfect for those weak swimmers and fabulous for visibility – not dissimilar to the schools of colourful fish they are peering at through their masks.  This was especially amusing when these non-swimmers would try to reclaim dry land and there was even the tiniest bit of surf and would end up in 30 centimetres of water on their backs, turtled and sputtering (but completely safe).
Ray cooked a magnificent “SouthEast Asian Turkey” on the barbeque, complete with stuffing made from Adrienne’s homemade bread to mark Christmas Day.  We saw out the last of the Yuletide with a centerpiece of candles in the cockpit and “Let It Snow” playing quietly on our portable speaker, as we toasted the evening with the finest boxed wine that Tesco had to offer.  

T'was a memorable Christmas, indeed.

Ray at the helm

On Boxing Day we headed about 5nm south to Ko Miang (#4).  The snorkeling here was fabulous, the ubiquitous brightly-coloured fish and fabulous coral outcrops, the sand magnificently fine and white and the water almost unnaturally turquoise. And by 3:30pm, we had only another sailing boat and a single dive boat for company.

Sunset at Ko Miang

The weather has settled into glorious sunny days and light winds from the NE.  We headed out over a beautifully calm and sparkling ocean back to Phuket so Ray could catch his flight.

Our tips for visiting The Similan Islands by yacht:
  • Just go.  It is busy but it is gorgeous.  And thanks Craig for saying “just go’!
  • The Parks moorings are orange or yellow with a black stripe.  The yellow ones tend to be in deeper water and are for larger boats.  The dive operators put down their own moorings so pick up a Parks one if you can.
  • Arrive after 3:30pm and you should have your choice of moorings.
  • Ko Similan (Donald Duck Bay) is the most sheltered ... but the busiest.  If the weather is right, we would suggest mooring in Ko Miang or Ko Bangu.  The snorkeling is better in these bays too.
  • It is 500 baht per person per day and 100 baht per boat per day.  Parks will come to the boat and collect the fee and provide a ticket.  We paid for just one day of the five we were there.  The Parks boat passed by us on the other days and simply waved. 
  • Do not kayak or you will be fined!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Krabi Boat Lagoon - 08° 00' 42" N 98° 57' 40" E

Full moon over Krabi Boat Lagoon

Krabi Boat Lagoon is taking on a Hotel California effect for us.  Despite checking out several times, we cannot seem to leave!

Putting up the cruising main

We arrived on the high tide on Tuesday 13th planning to offload racing gear and bring on all the cruising essentials such as BBQ and kayak.  Tides about right, just needing to fuel up, an inconsiderate charter motorboat (snowboarders of the sea!) sat on the fuel dock and declined to move despite many requests from ourselves and the marina management until the tides had turned and we could no longer leave.

Next day, we managed to get as far as Ko Phi Phi.  
Sailing to Ko Phi Phi

Beautiful sailing weather...

As we were anchoring, the anchor winch decided to give up the ghost.   Rather than anchor in the crowded bay at Ton Sai Bay, we slipped around the corner and anchored in the quiet off the Loh Moo Dee beach.  Next morning after having to reset the breaker five times bringing up the anchor, we hightailed it back to Krabi Boat Lagoon to have it repaired.

Sunset over KBL

To cut a long story short, we are heading out on today’s tide to Ao Po Grand Marina where we will have a brand, new anchor winch and 70m of lovely, shining chain installed.  

So for the last week, we have been suffering Garn’s cooking, lazing by the pool, having massages and drinking down our provisions.  

Life is filled with hardships.

Adrienne 'suffering' in the pool

Sean 'suffering' the cold, outdoor shower

Kate 'suffering' with a gin and tonic

Sunsets we had to 'suffer'

Adrienne and Ray 'suffering' with beer

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Phuket Ponderings - 07° 49' 01" N 98° 18' 05" E

We are curious as to what considerations went into the braking system of the scooter so prolific around Phuket and we ponder whether the designers took into account the 'after-market' options in their calculations....

The Surfboard Transport Option

The Restaurant Option

The Jetski Trailer Option

Basic model.  Full of possibilities!

Kata Beach Public Works uses them, too!

The fully laden veggie stand

Does that propane tank worry anyone else?

... with fold-out shelves, too!

Super carry-all with deluxe awning fringe

Five people plus luggage - no problem!

We can't wait to build ourselves one of these in Canada (or Australia) and take it to the Motor Vehicles office for licensing!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Navigating the Chalong Roundabout - 07° 49' 23" N 98° 20' 15" E

Between Kata Beach and the sail makers (a well beaten path...) is the Chalong Roundabout.  Executing a right-hand turn at this landmark is not for the faint-hearted.

Firstly, the basic rules of the road do not apply, such as: using blinkers, those in the roundabout have right-of-way, traffic lanes, direction of flow - all these are optional.  Secondly, add scooters to the mix in every available space, pot holes and the odd stray dog.  Thirdly, the rental car is stuffed with repaired sails, full propane bottles, grocery shopping, jerry cans of diesel and petrol and likely to explode if rear-ended!

And, yes, Thailand drives on the left.

The trick is to be brave and predictable.  Closing your eyes can also be helpful in a Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal kind of way.  Edge forward into the roundabout, giving way as needed until you have blocked enough of the road so vehicles start giving way to you.  Now you are in, you have to get out!  Use the cars in the outside lane to shield you while make the right turn. Watch out for the scooters zipping straight through on your inside.  Edge forward once again across the traffic coming in until they stop and you can exit the roundabout.

And do watch for oncoming scooters on the wrong side of the road!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kata Beach (Phuket) - 07° 49' 01" N 98° 18' 05" E

Sean's Perspective: My sailing education continues - this time in the hands of a serious Russian charter crew.

Vladimir and some of his crew

As Kate and I have shown some success with keeping systems working on Popeye, Craig has asked us to mind the boat while he has chartered it to a Russian group who are racing it in the King's Cup.  For insurance purposes, the owner (or their representative) must be present on the boat while racing. Due to a few factors - namely a mostly male, highly chauvinistic crew - I have been chosen to be the person onboard while Kate is ashore dealing with sailmakers, chandlers and boatyards as we try and keep up with the inevitable damage that is done when racing a yacht hard enough to win.

Onboard, I am supposed to the ultimate resource, having everything ready when the charterers climb on; ensuring all is in proper repair; placing the proper items (winch handles, lines, fenders, blocks, halyards, sails, etc.) in their proper places; keeping all systems functioning (electronics, drinking and grey water systems, batteries, engine, anchor and mooring setup, safety lights, power management, refrigeration, etc.); answering questions about the workings of each and every piece and system on the boat; repairing or replacing pieces that fail, jam, squeak when they shouldn't, don't squeak when they should or otherwise misbehave ... all done quickly, because they have a race to win.

"So, how is it going?" you might ask.

Better than you'd think, given my level of experience and knowledge.  Two of the crew are trans-ocean crossing champions and are great sources of help for me.  During the practice sails and the racing, they are the ones that have come to me with the big challenges - torn sails, stripped halyard covers, broken stanchions and mast cars - looking for my opinion and/or spare parts.  Depending on what I have for them, they work with me to find a way to keep the boat going.  Just realizing that saying "It's broken and there is nothing we can do," isn't an option is an important lesson.  I've learned that there is always SOMETHING that can be done.  It may not be perfect and it may not last for a long time, but you can almost always figure out something.  We've lashed the broken stanchion to existing deck hardware until we can get to a boatyard.  We have gone up the mast, taken down the main halyard and fed the broken cover back into the spectra and whipped it together so the mainsail can go up and down smoothly.  We have taken older, spare cars from other sails and modified them to work with the required sails.  Getting past that thought that nothing can be done is the biggest step.

All of this is helping my confidence for the intercontinental voyage that will happen next year.  What a wonderful education I am getting.  I just hope Kate is having as much fun as I am.  In the one day of practicing and three days of racing, we have damaged three of the six sails we have on board.  Kate has dutifully met me when I came ashore with the damaged sails, rented a car, wound her way through the terrifying experience that is driving in Phuket, dealt with the local sailmaker, then returned the sail back to me to take back to Popeye - usually within 24 hours.

Pre-race, measuring sails for the IRC certificate

Practice day. They sail this boat pretty hard!

Hey, that yellow bit is a piece of our spinnaker.
That's not good.

Something's wrong with the mainsail

Jury rigged car on the mainsail

torn leading edge of no. 3 headsail

broken stanchion

temporarily fixed stanchion


Kate's Perspective: Ahhh, Kata Beach ...
  • Where the bikini and the Speedo are de rigeur regardless of age or body type
And pirate scarves - perhaps you need one Sean??

And I definitely need a tea-cosy hat...
  • Where Asian girls in pretty dresses and big floppy hats jump at the water's edge or make hearts with their shadows in a carefully choreographed photo shoot by their newly wed husband
The honey-moon photo shoot
  • Where lobster-red bodies bake in the sun, leading to the assumption there is no slip, slop, slap in Moscow

  • Where things get stranger and stranger after midnight with an interesting array of services available on the beach
  • Where the local language is a blend of Thai, Russian and English with a smattering of Chinese
  • Where a mistimed wave can send the occupants of a yellow dingy in for a early morning dunk
This lovely, powdery stretch of sand is my base for the next week, while Sean deals with the needs of his Soviet taskmasters. 

Being shore support has kept me hopping, but I do find myself lugging awkward, heavy items up and down the sand where other wives have not much more than their straw mats under their sunscreened-but-still-pink arms.  Fortunately, this WILL end with me being supine on a massage mat and a drink not being far away.

Sean, off to a day at the office

Repairing the spinnaker at Rolly Taskers