Chapter 12 "Pirate Cove" - 25 Apr 2003

Subject: Chapter 12 "Pirate Cove"
Well, Ladies and gentlemen,
I will now absolutely flood your inboxes with a long-ass chapter as well as too many pictures. I tried to choose ones that Tony has not previously sent as well as some shots I received from other friends on the trip.
Enjoy the reading. If it is too much, sorry. The next chapter won't be so long.
Pirate Cove
Last I left off, I had just returned to Had Salat Bay. The name actually translates to Pirate Cove. Unfortunately we are not in the Caribbean. I believe it was the 15th of May, because the rest of the crew was at the pier on the other side of the island. They were sending Jeff off on the ferry to Koh Samui. From there he would fly to BKK and then back to the good ol’ US of A.
When I returned some of the crew were back at the Coral Beach Bungalows. I think John and my father were there. Tony’s brother Rich was also there. He just recently arrived while I was in Malaysia. Tony was on the other side, the busy side of Koh Pangan meeting two more friends from New York City. I came in and sat down in the main dinning area.
The dinning area was a raised balcony that looked out at the bay and the sea. I could see the Wind Spirit floating peacefully on her anchor. The balcony was littered with all kinds of head and seat cushions. It was also ringed in by hammocks. It had four or five small, low tables and the floor was covered by a soft reed matting. It was comfortable and inviting. The blue green of the bay was framed in sharp contrast to the dark wood of the building. I think the best part was all the hammocks. They were located close enough to the tables that you could participate in whatever games were going on or just passively watch and enjoy a beer in a hammock. Yes, purely good things still do exist, as much as the media might try to dissuade us.
So I joined John and Rich who are good friends from back in San Diego. I sit down to a nice cold beer and the first thing they tell me is that the boat went aground. I had the bottle to my mouth about to take a big swig and they tell me this. The bottle went down to the table and my heart grew dark.
"The anchor line was cut by another boat."
"What happened?" I tried to be cool and calm.
"We don’t know exactly, no one was here."
"What do you mean no one was here?" "No one was left to look after the boat?"
"Well, we went to send Jeff off at Had Rin."
I take a big gulp of beer.
"So, tell me what happened, as far as you know." I said trying to hide my anger.
Jan got a call on his cell phone from Ganda, the proprietor of the Coral Beach Bungalows. She said the boat was aground on the south side of the bay. So my dad called Tony and they both rushed back to the boat as fast as possible.
Fortunately there were three other kiwis on one of the long-tail boats trying to fish off the point. One guy named Nathan and two girls whose names I have forgotten. Actually the girls might have been English. They noticed the boat drifting just after a dive boat had motored into the bay. Did the dive boat run over the anchor line? Unfortunately we will never know. The line was shorn and shredded like it had been through a prop but I am still not able to distinguish between reef chafe and prop cut.
The boat drifted into the rocks on the south side of the bay and started bouncing and hitting rocks on it’s port side. I believe it went in prow first. I found a couple scratches on the front of the keel.
Nathan acted pretty fast and told the guy driving the long-tail to head over there. He then jumped off the long-tail and swam to my boat and climbed up the side while the girls watched. He found the door locked and sails tied down so he jumped back on the long-tail and went over to the dive boat and told them to come help tow the boat off the rocks. I guess after a bit of convincing the dive boat captain motored over and towed her off. Nathan clambered back on her and threw out a rope to the dive boat. Once out in the middle of the bay the dive boat just threw off the line and let the boat go. Nathan saw the second anchor on the deck and threw that out and tied it off.
Thank goodness for his resourcefulness. We found out later that he had spent some time as crew on a few cruising vessels. He was familiar with anchoring. I think the thing I was most thankful for was his initiative. A lot of people watched the boat drift across the bay and sit against the rocks without doing anything.
The next day I met him. I got his story on what really happened. He hadn’t been around when the dive boat came into the bay so he couldn’t say that they cut the line. He just noticed that the boat was drifting and soon was against the rocks so he told the long-tail driver to get over there.
I also talked to the long-tail driver but his story conflicted so much with Nathan’s that I found it hard to take the rest of it seriously. Apparently HE saw the boat drifting into the rocks and decided to drive over there himself. HE climbed onto the boat and then got the dive boat to come over and tow her off the rocks. As far as I could tell from Nathan he was a pretty honest guy and I doubt he and his friends would have fabricated a story like that. Therefore the long-tail driver’s story was in question.
What is interesting though is that the long-tail driver said it was definitely the dive boat that cut the line. He said he watched it drive close to my boat, circle by it and then anchor across the bay. He also asked for a reward for his efforts.
Yes, My dad and I agreed to give him a small reward as he did help. After what Nathan said.
Another aspect is that Nathan said the anchor line was cut just about 20 feet out from the boat. This implies a prop cut as there was about 100 feet of line out and that 20 feet was closest to the surface. It could also imply that a long-tail prop cut through the line as it was so close to the surface. But even the large dive boats draw very little depth so it does not rule them out.
From then on we threw two anchors and every time a long-tail or dive boat came near I accosted them about the anchor lines. I am not usually like that but I think if they hear it enough times out of my mouth, word will go around to stay away from my anchor lines.
Later that day I took the time to thoroughly check the bottom of the boat. I took a mask and inspected the front of the keel as well as the belly of the boat. I found a small chip out of the keel right at the bottom. It was about pinky size and only went about one centimeter deep. I looked for cracks and any kind of scratches along the entire bottom of the keel and found nothing else. Oh, the joy of being a Ferro-cement boat owner. Yay! One thing less to be paranoid about. I am still SUPER careful though and depend on my depth gauge like I depend on my mom. That’s a lot!
It turns out there was a lot of traffic in and out of this bay which makes it somewhat unfavorable even though it is well protected from wind and waves.
That afternoon Tony came back with Lisa and Beth, two lovely women from NYC. They are good friends of Tony’s from his time bartending in New York. Lisa is a stewardess and she fits the mold almost perfectly. Beautiful, tall, commanding, in control and prone to giggles. Those giggles were truly contagious. She would start to laugh about something and it was hard not to start laughing oneself even though you had no clue what she was going on about. I must say Lisa was a quality person I am glad I met. Beth was a restaurant manager with the most guts I have ever seen. She was a pretty awesome dancer as we all later found out.
Tony had talked a lot about Beth and Lisa coming so I felt I knew them before they even arrived. It was comfortable the first evening or two and Lisa got a few bottles of wine and champagne from the airlines. The Bottles went very fast between the many people in our large group.
My father was still there flirting with both Lisa and Beth. Tony and Rich, his brother, were now with us. John was still chillin’ and I was back from Malaysia. It was good to be back around friendly people.
The next day John and I decided to play some guitar together. John was a little self conscious about playing guitar in front of everyone. We wanted to play together and get some songs going but had not had the chance up until then. So we sat down earlier in the afternoon to play and have a few beers and slowly every one else showed up one by one. It was early afternoon when we started and everyone was asleep in their bungalows, avoiding the heat of the day. By late afternoon everyone slowly woke up and showered and walked over to the dinning area while John and I strummed away. It was nice.
John is an accomplished classical/Flamenco guitarist and I am a pretty decent singer that bangs away at chords. It took us a while to work out a good style together, so when everyone started to show up we decided to take turns and each play a song. I love his classical pieces but managed to learn only one. Everyone got to relax and enjoy the flamenco guitar and then sing a bit with the folk stuff. It was really quite fun and I think it was one of the first times John enjoyed playing for others on the trip. I had a great time as usual. It is hard for me to have a bad time playing guitar.
We ate a delicious dinner. Ganda is the Proprietor of the bungalows we were residing at. Besides being on top of her bungalow; running it very well and courteously, she was also a shockingly good cook. Let me say it again "Shockingly Good." The food was fresh and flavorful yet really light. She knows her stuff and we ate Thai classics with some Indian food mixed in. We finished off the meal with two or more plates of fried bananas and pineapples dipped in sweetened condensed milk.
Oh, talk about paradise. The food was great, the music fun and the beer was cold and strong. Chang Beer is my personal favorite and it packs something like 5 or 6 percent. I can’t drink more than two large 22 ouncers without getting "trollyed."
Lisa was all giggles most of the night and Beth was sweet. Rich was cracking some pretty sick jokes and Tony joined in later. My father was a continual source of entertainment and laughter. He is one of the funniest people I know. He does get a bit much with his Theories on men and women but that aside he upped the funny factor by about 5 and Lisa just giggled and giggled.
After a really nice night I rowed back out to the boat. I have to watch out for her even though everyone else sleeps on land. The next night was almost a repeat of the night before, a beautiful sunset and then a carnival evening. There was less guitar the second night though and more beer.
That day we had hiked up to a waterfall with a nice German couple who had joined us from the bungalows. My dad entertained himself and the rest of us by dislodging a rock from under one of the dams holding the water in the main pool. We swam around and played on the slippery rocks. Rich and Tony wandered off for a brotherly talk and Lisa and I got to chatting as well. We talked about our past and our jobs and she said she loved being a stewardess and she could travel the world for about 15 dollars. Tough life. I said I was a biochemist who fixed and is sailing around a Ferro-cement yacht. She said that was awful strange but was glad she came out here to join us.
Jan departed the next day and we all sent him off at the ferry pier. Yes, I know, no one was watching the boat. I felt pretty safe with two anchors out so I was OK with it.
It was an emotional send off and we all laughed and sniveled a little.
I had some serious plans for that afternoon and we returned to the boat quickly. I wanted to motor over to Ao Chalok Lam, the bay to the north of us with a pier where I could draw electricity. We needed to get the spreaders repaired as they were still hanging where I’d left them on the mast before I departed for Malaysia.
My dad had gone over how to put the bolts, he purchased, through the mast and put the fittings for the spreaders back on securely, with Tony, John and Rich about 500 times, so they were all pretty sure of what to do. I got the lecture only 50 times so I was almost sure.
1) Drill the holes completely though the mast.
2) Insert lubricated bolts and spreader fittings.
3) tighten and then attach spreaders.
4) fix main stays to spreaders and tighten down.
5) task completed, have a beer.
It actually was not so easy. I was the lightest of the group and knew what I wanted to do so I put on the harness and clip and was pulled up the mast about 25 feet. I had a rope, which I used to pull up and lower tools and equipment.
John drilled out the inside ends of the wood spreaders so they would fit over the new bolt heads. He then handed me the drill with the right bit on the rope and I pulled it up. I had to wrap my feet around the lower stays so I could brace myself enough to drill the holes a larger size. That was not that difficult. Fitting the bolts in was also fairly easy with the socket set and the lock pliers. Getting the spreaders up was hard. I had to come down and put one on my shoulder and have them winch me back up the mast like that. They were loosely attached to the main stays so I wouldn’t have to do that while up the mast. I had to come down and do the same with the second one. Then tightening everything down and reattaching the spreader flood light was difficult. Rich, Tony and John were totally on task and I was the only limiting factor. That was great.
Lisa and Beth patiently watched and entertained the locals on the pier with their bathing suits. Two cute ladies in bikinis distracting both the men and women.
It was pretty funny. It was a fisherman’s pier with a lot of boats unloading and uploading and downloading almost solely squid, the entire time we were there. Tons and tons of squid. Yummy. Anyways, what was funny was the crowd that gathered to watch me go up the mast. It was a crowd of about 20 fishermen, 18 locals, 13 old ladies, and 11 or so townspeople, plus 5 really loud people who wouldn’t stop talking and tried to talk to Lisa and Beth and then Tony and John all to no avail. Maybe about 60 people all told, swarming the pier.
Well, maybe not swarming but it was a healthy crowd. They laughed and squawked and made jokes about me as I was winched up the ladder. About 10 minutes into it though, most of them left. Only the quiet, interested ones stayed and they are always nice to talk to.
It was a pretty calm afternoon and the bay is well protected so I didn’t have too much swaying on the mast and the job was done by early evening. We then headed out of the bay as the sun was setting. It felt good to have completed the job and done it well. Thanks to my pop for going over it 50 times and to John, Tony and Rich for being spot on with the work on deck.
One thing that I love on this boat is that when you fix it on your own, which is what we’ve done almost the entire trip, you feel an immense sense of pride and accomplishment that is right there in your face to enjoy. What we did allows us to sail where we please now. The fruits of our labor are very visible and this is pride inducing especially when I have no experience with any of this and everyone else has even less.
Unfortunately I let this good felling get to my head and I was not so very careful leaving the bay. There was little wind so we motored out. At first it was very shallow so I was extremely careful. It then leveled out to about 24 feet so I was motoring at about 5 knots. I was watching the depth gauge for a while but was having such a nice time I got distracted. Someone handed me an ice-cold beer and we were rolling.
I had heard that there was a reef in the bay but was not sure where. We had come in over a fairly shallow sandbar at high tide so we couldn’t leave that way as the tide was low and getting lower. I had also asked what the best way out of the bay was. I was told to stay near the orange channel ball on the east side of the bay. I was doing just that when Tony started to mention the depth. It had just gone from 24 to 16 to 12 to 8 feet in about 5 seconds and there was little I could do because the next second it went to 4 feet and the boat lurched big-time like we had just hit a serious speed bump. I had just killed the engine before we hit the reef. The boat bounced up about 3 feet into the air on the port side and about 2 feet on the starboard side. We were still moving pretty fast so we bounced some more and then slowly scraped off the rest of the reef.
I was horrified. I told Tony to go below and look for leaks. He reported no leaks whatsoever so we continued on much more cautiously. The depth increased and turned sandy again. We were past the reef. We motored out of the bay and south to Had Salad as twilight lowered around us. It took me a while to relax from the speed bump but after a quick inspection with nothing found I felt better.
We motored past brilliantly lit squid fishing boats and into the darkness. Once outside our bay and well away from the fishing boats we killed the engine and went swimming. It was a lovely evening going from balmy to cool. Everyone jumped in and swam around for a while and then Beth and I started doing an acrobatic duo off the prow of the boat. She would front flip and I would back flip. The first try our timing was great but when I had to do the front flip I stuffed it. It was pretty funny. Beth had no fear and continued to conquer the prow diving platform with lithe skill.
We had put on some music. It was David Gray and was loud enough on the deck of the boat for everyone to enjoy. After drying off we all sat around as twilight fell into night and watched the stars come out and listened to beautiful music. There is one song on that album that will always remind me of that evening now. It is called Babylon and after it was played once, John went to the stereo and played it again. It was beautiful and the moment was beautiful and they fit together so sweetly.
We lounged around for a while and decided to head back home to our bay. We all managed to get ashore even though some of us had to swim. Rich was always keen on that. I found it difficult. The reef was shallow and the channel was hard to find. But since our dingy sucks I went in that way.
I can’t remember what we did that night. It is starting to fade into a blur. A blur of sweet sunsets and cold beer. I think I crashed in the hammock and we played Connect Four. It was almost a madness, that game. John, Tony, Rich and I played it obsessively. Then we met this really nice German couple and the girl, Anika, annihilated us at the game. I played her boyfriend, Christoff, at some chess and held my own. They joined us for a few of the nights and then I asked them if they wanted to go for a sail in the next few days. They said they very much wanted to, so we were on. I had been planning to take everyone out for a day trip somewhere nice as the mast was in order but we hadn’t gotten around to it.
The next day part of the group went back up to the waterfall for a hike around the mountain. There were supposed to be two sets of viewpoints on a circular path that ran by the waterfall. They left early in the morning for the hike and as usual some of us were too tired so we slept in.
I can’t remember what came up in the afternoon but I was planning on not going out for a sail because it was already early in the afternoon. I was mentioning it to someone in our group and they said they wanted to sail.
I said, "you really want to sail?" and they said
"Yes, very much so, and didn’t you invite Anika and Christoff to go with us? They are waiting for you to say something."
I then asked everyone if they wanted to go for a sail. We were all lounging around the dinning area. I was a bit tired and thought the rest of us were not all that interested. I received a resounding YES, YES, yes! Apparently they were waiting around for me to say something and I was thinking that no one really wanted to go.
We rushed out to the boat with gear and sun block and a whole lot of people. Rich jumped in the water and started swimming out about 30 seconds after we agree to go. We rowed a few trips in and out transporting everyone to the boat. All told we had Tony, John, Rich, Lisa, Beth, Anika and Christoff. It was a good crowd again and we motored out of the bay and headed south to a pair of islands that were supposed to have some good coral surrounding them. Everyone lounged on the deck and on top of the cabin. I was a bit concerned that they would all get too much sun and then heat stroke. But it was late enough in the afternoon, so there were no complaints. I guess people wanted to get tans. I have been working so hard to avoid too much sun, while on the boat, that I forget that sunbathing is something people really do.
It took about an hour and a half at about 5 knots. We had a little sprinkle of rain which turned the water to textured glass and we spotted a strange oil slick that was about 3 to 4 hundred yards long. The oil slick was not that obvious until it started to rain and then the rain drops were muffled on the oil, creating a distinctive line between it and the regular water.
It cleared up and the wind started to blow a bit more. We were almost to the island so I didn’t want to put up sails. We motored around this pillar of stone about 50 yards tall and 10 yards in diameter that sank into pretty deep water. My charts were not detailed enough for this area so I was operating by sight and depth gauge. The currents were strong around the little pillar and I could see nothing. It was right behind the main island so I was going to circle around it and park near a nice beach. I couldn’t get around as it got really shallow really fast so I turned around and headed for the space between the rock and the island. It was way too deep too close to shore so we couldn’t anchor well. About 100 yards from shore it was 45 to 50 feet deep. Too much contrast for a safe anchoring and the current running through the channel was quite strong. The small pillar and the beautiful beach looked perfectly inviting but the current was blowing through the channel at 2 to 3 knots.
I was getting pretty frustrated because we had to move and try again. We motored around the corner of the island, sheltered from the wind, and then at about 45 feet we dropped anchor and I did a strong forward set away from the island. We ended up about 2 to 3 hundred yards off the island on a set that I felt comfortable with but wouldn’t have left the boat on.
My dad picked up some more detailed charts of the island recently and I now know the best places to anchor and we were far from them. It was OK though because I just asked that we have one person on the boat during the afternoon. Once we were set, people jumped off the boat and Rich and Beth decided to try and swim around to the beach on the side of the island. They got about one third the way there when they noticed the current. It was pulling them there very fast. They decided to turn around. They found that they were getting nowhere swimming against the current. They were not too far away so they shouted to us. John thought fast and jumped into the dingy. He rowed over to save them. He saved Beth and John managed to make it back holding onto the back of the dingy. That current was pretty potent. I felt a little bad that I had not warned them but it wasn’t a big deal because they were safe and we were all watching out for each other.
That was a nice thing I really appreciated. Tony and John were pretty sure about boat procedures and the possible dangers and they were always paying attention to the safety of our group. It took a little off my shoulders.
The current was too strong and the water too murky for snorkeling. We were far off the island with no sandy beach to explore. I was feeling disappointed in my touring ability. I suppose I wanted to show everyone a good time. I think I was also hungry and when I am hungry it is usually easy to feel grumpy. I climbed inside the boat and pulled out 8 cups of ramen, (one of the things we always have stocked on the boat), two cans of tuna and some bread. I then poured 8 cups of coke and then boiled the water for the soup while eating tuna and bread sandwiches. By the second sandwich I was already feeling better.
Everyone ate and we lounged around for a while. I noticed two bamboo structures nestled up on the side of the cliff. They were houses and I had the suspicion that they were used by sparrow’s nest harvesters. This chain of Limestone mountains runs south into the Andaman sea on the Indian Ocean side of the peninsula. I have spent a lot of time in that area and know that the caves are full of sparrows. The Chinese are big on bird nest soup to increase their virility. It is therefore a very expensive commodity and the Thais harvest it with bamboo ladders and ropes running into deep corners of these caves and crevices. These limestone mountains in the sea are very susceptible to erosion by rainfall. The rainwater carves the rock into Swiss cheese and the sea cuts deep into their sides, all creating a fantastic backdrop for pristine beaches.
I am digressing again.
These two islands were both limestone and I suspected they had some profitable caves. I swam over to the cliff edge. There was a large ladder that went up to one of the buildings. I took off my fins and mask and climbed up the ladder. I found a nice young Thai guy lounging in the house. It looked pretty comfortable and I looked out the window of his house up on the cliff and saw a beautiful red boat. It had a few people hanging out on it. I waved for my friends to come over and join me.
The house was on bamboo stilts of varying heights so it could stand on one main bolder and other smaller parts of the cliff. It was tied down by thick metal wire, with a bit of rope and twine here and there. The house was built mostly of bamboo and the metal wire. There was some regular wood on doors and to floor the sleeping area but that was about it. The roof was thatched but looked pretty thick. The house was very much open to the air with many walls missing but looked like it could be battened down if necessary. I asked him what it was like during storms and he said it was dry but a little breezy.
We talked for a while and I found out he lived here 8 months at a time and then went home for about 6 weeks and then came back out here. They harvested the sparrow’s nests year round. I asked him if it was lonely and too quiet living that type of lifestyle and he said he liked it. Besides he had some company up in the other house. There was a total of 6 or 7 houses around the island, all with the same working crew. They rotated around the different houses and had parties every couple of days. Ah, the Thais always manage to be social even in the most isolated of occupations.
We clambered along the cliff to the other house over makeshift ladders and planks across 30 foot gorges. I should say he bounded along like a billy goat and I almost crawled. The top of the rock was razor sharp, because of the way it erodes. I had no shoes on but neither did he. It was tricky and I felt like a decrepit old man compared to this guy. I know I am pretty agile but this kid made me look silly.
There was no one at the other house but we milled around there and I naturally looked for a place to jump off into the ocean. There were a lot of rocks just off the shore that were shallow so nothing looked inviting.
We scampered back to the other house and I looked around some more. He asked me what I was looking for and I told him. He led me around the house to his own spot and proceeded to jump off. I laughed and crawled around to the spot. He explained that I had to jump between these two rocks that were only 5 feet under water but between them it was about 13 feet deep. The space was about 8 feet wide so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard. I climbed up to a spot about 6 feet above his and jumped off.
By this time Tony and Rich had swum over and they climbed the cliff as well. Tony jumped off and then Rich climbed well above the house a full 20 feet higher than where I had jumped from. Tony and I stood on the two opposing rocks and marked where he had to jump. He leaped with the experience of years of cliff jumping behind him and landed just a little on Tony’s side of the gap. Almost dead center though, which was impressive from at least 35 feet up.
Lisa and Beth came over to join us and Beth decided to jump as well. I was becoming a bit nervous at this point because I didn’t want to send anyone home with a broken leg, much less take them to the hospital.
I have learned in the last few months how to be responsible for others and at this point I was trying to learn how to absolve myself of that responsibility. I figured as long as the interested parties knew how I felt about the situation then I could let go of my concern a little. Beth asked me if she should jump because she saw the concern on my face. I told her that if she wanted to she should.
She did and it was pretty cool. I was impressed.
We leaped off a few more times.
I watched more than participated but it seems once you get something started it is impossible to stop until everyone has had their chance. Thank goodness Lisa was completely disinterested. I think she was playing more of the mother hen then I was.
At about four pm I decided it was time to head back to our bay. We picked up anchor and with a mellow afternoon wind we raised both sail and heeled over a bit. We headed back at about 4 knots on a nice beam reach and watched the sun set over a small rock outcropping. It was a gorgeous afternoon sail and at one point everyone pulled out their cameras to snap off a few shots. Attempts to preserve the moment. Trying to save that precious gold on film. Trying to save the moment, the breeze on our faces, the soft orange of the sun as it sets, the rustle of the water as it parts under the prow, the curve of the sails under a solid breeze, the smell of the salt and quiet fragrances of the island to the east, the companionship and mellow discussions on the prow of the boat, standing above the un-parted sea. These pleasures seem impossible to me to capture on film. But I suppose the effort we make, the photos that partially capture the evening do have a power in themselves. They shift and uproot the smells and sounds stored in our minds eye and we can see it again, if only as a dimmer vision of what it really was.
It was a moment to remember and reading it now on paper does stir my heart.
We had a wonderful late afternoon sail and again watched the stars come out.
As we approached Had Salad I flipped on the deck flood-light. We were getting used to this early evening anchoring process and Tony, Rich and John were on it. I seem to remember it being a little harder than usual but our anchor was set and we headed in. Some people swam and others rowed. I know you can guess who was the first in the water. Yes, it was Rich and he beat us all in. He even came back out later to help others get past the reef.
In retrospect the sail to the island was not what I had expected and even what I had been planning for. It was quiet the opposite, but ended up being a wonderful afternoon and everyone spoke fondly of it the rest of the time we were together. It was fulfilling and Anika and Christoff thanked me about 5 times for such a nice trip. I was surprised when that happened but now writing about it I can understand.
I think I would like to talk now about an element of our stay that I have not mentioned thus far. Tony and I got into renting motorcycles as a way to explore the islands that we arrived on. It was a fun and efficient means of transportation. Maybe more fun than efficient. I can remember a few times riding home in the dark with my feet flying off the back pegs into the air, roaring over bumps and ridges on dusty unpaved roads.
When we arrived on Koh Pangan we rented motorcycles. There were three or four options, from scooters to off-road scooters to 125s (which would roar and whine), to 225 four strokes which would purr and roar. You could rent a scooter for 4 dollars a day and a 225 for about 6.50 a day, if you committed to a few days. I have ridden motorcycles in Thailand with my father enough times that I find the motor cross bikes hard to resist. I got a 125 for a while but the power band is in the high end of a gear so you really have to have the engine at high RPMs to get the juice you need to go up steep hills and such. It was frustrating having John or Tony purr past me going uphill on a 225.
Koh Pangan is a hilly island with a few peaks as tall as 700 meters. Some of the roads are paved and some are dirt with ravines and ruts big enough to eat your front tire. The paved roads are curvy and a bit hilly making for extremely pleasurable street riding. Cruising down slow curving hills, pulling in the clutch and letting her coast. Listening to the wheels create a low whine as they increase their rotational velocity. Feeling the weight of your bodies and the bike propelling you forward over black pavement, through dense green forest, littered with palm groves and thick brush. With smells coming out of the woods like burning coal and dark woods, fried foods and sugar loaded candies, sweet floral pungencies and dark musty rot, along with manure and smells of burning trash. These smells swiftly waif past you as you roar along at 40 or 50 clicks.
It is a hedonistic pleasure and sometimes the fear of getting mauled by a Song Taow / Taxi coming around a sharp corner, makes me wonder how long we can play that way before someone gets seriously hurt. I had a rule that I tried to enforce for a while. I told everyone that when they ride on motorcycles they should wear closed toe shoes and long pants. My rule didn’t last long, but some of us paid the consequences later.
John was starting his little 125 with sandals and smacked his toe right into the top of the break pedal. All the pedals on the motor cross bikes are spiked for good traction with regular ridding boots but these metal spikes are brutal on naked toes and heals. He split his big toe and nail open and was bleeding profusely. He looked so mad and in enough pain that I worried if I asked him if he was OK that he would punch me out. I didn’t say anything but sympathized until he seemed a little better.
He took really good care of his toe and with nurse Tony’s help and my suggestions, it took only a week or two to heal. He was out of the riding for a little while.
Tony had a bitchin’ First Aid Kit and he never hesitated to pull it out. I remember Beth had some reef stuck in her foot and with skill and precision Tony pulled it out, cleaned the wound and bandaged her foot, all in about 10 minutes. I was slightly jealous. Of Beth or Tony, I am not exactly sure. When Tony departed he took his world class First Aid Kit with him. I have been meaning to ask him what it’s contents were but I’m afraid he has patented it and won’t reveal his secrets.
Back to bikes.
We roared around the island like madmen for a few days. I had the urge to really cut loose, do doughnuts, and go squealing around sharp turns into fishtails. It was an urge that John shared and we went tearing off one morning. It was before his toe accident. We ripped around dirt lots spinning rooster tails and speeding along narrow trails between tall grass and palm trees. We found a waterfall and cooled off for about half an hour but I was still pining for speed and dirt. We blew around the island to Had Rin and chugged around there for a short while.
Usually the cars and other vehicles are the challenge to avoid but in had Rin it is the drunk and silly farang, particularly the ones who don’t see you until they walk into you. When I am on foot I don’t mind but on a bike I worry that they’ll hurt themselves.
I wanted to check out a pier at the far end of the beach. It was more of a channel but looked pretty good for parking a boat of my size. I asked for the owner of the pier and he wandered out to talk to me.
He was a puzzle to me. He seemed friendly enough but cold at the same time. He was willing to listen to me and talk about the pier and his boats but as I talked about my boat he grew colder and colder. Maybe he has had a bad experience with sailboats from the Pattaya area but I couldn’t understand. I asked him straight forward if I could park the boat at his pier and draw electricity. I also made it clear that if he didn’t want me to, he could freely say so right then and there and I would not be offended. I made that clear in as friendly of a manner as I possibly could.
He responded in his same indifferent but not disinterested manner. He did say that around the full moon parties the channel got too crowded and if I docked there I would have to leave during these periods. This seemed a good sign but I have talked to him two more time and he seems more distant and indifferent each time. I do not want to park at his pier and have to deal with someone who doesn’t want me there because it would be a tremendous hassle. I know that when Thais want to send a message that you are not welcome the polite thing to do is to just ignore you.
I had concluded, after two more interactions with him, that I would not and will not use his pier.
Living on Koh Pangan is interesting because there is a large perpetual tourist crowd, a substantial semi-permanent crowd of farang and a modest, yet large for Thailand, crowd of permanent residents. This increases the Farang-Thai interaction substantially. The tourist crowd is the most damaging to Thai’s expectations of foreigners. They don’t care much about what they do to others because they don’t expect to be here long or return again. They perpetuate an image of irresponsible, unfriendly and particularly impolite foreigners. The Semi residents are interested in Thailand and usually have more positive interactions with the locals, absorbing the culture and learning the language. These people create a better image but still there is great potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings like the one I explained earlier about money. Finally there are the long-term residents. They have the ability to create long lasting, rich friendships and when they do the borders between nations becomes unnecessary.
Long-term residents also have the ability to create enemies and resentments but they go beyond borders and have only to do with characters. Everywhere a person goes they will meet people who like and dislike them and in that respect it is no longer about the country they are from but about the personalities. That is fine, as long as people realize that. I suppose the point is that the more people we have living in different counties the less the world will suffer from indiscriminate hatred, fundamentalism and nationalism. In the interactions I have with ordinary Thais, a large portion of their interest is to see what kind of person I am. The other things that always comes up is the question of my nationality. I sometimes wonder if the Thais keep a tally and add it up later. I know in my own interactions I am not so curious where the person I meet is from but how they think. But maybe people need to see it to believe it and that is a good reason for me to be out here.
That and having a bloody good time.
Back to motorcycles and dirt roads.
Tony, Rich and I decided to take a long trip through the island to this fabled beach called Had Naay Paan. It involved an 8 kilometer drive through winding dirt roads, up and down steep hills and around sharp corners. The sharp corners scared the shit out of me because the Thais drive their taxis like barbarians. They take up the whole road and come careening around the corners as if there is only one lane. This always makes for a heart stopper and I almost got mowed down twice before I realized I should approach all corners with mortal caution. At one point I slammed on my breaks and slid directly toward the oncoming truck and realized there was little I could do at this point to avoid him. I could not pull out of the slide nor get off because I was moving too fast. About 3 seconds before I ran into his front fender he swerved hard to my left and whipped around me. He waved and smiled as if nothing serious had occurred. As I watched him drive away my heart began to beat again. F---in’ SHIT!
I explained what happened to Tony and Rich and they both agreed that the corners were where the serious danger lay. We grew more cautious as our adventure progressed but found out where we could cut loose and where we couldn’t.
The hills were pretty fun. They would last for about half a click up and half a click down. On the way down I would continually downshift and fishtail the back wheel out. What fun. On the way up I would continually have to downshift because the little 125 I was ridding had no kick at all. I had to hold it at the screaming high end of a gear to make it up a hill and if I dropped out of that high end I would have to downshift at least twice and I would watch both Tony and Rich roar by on their 225s. Sort of annoying. I would usually be crawling up the last part of the hill in first or second gear with the engine screaming like a banshee. I got tired of the little 125s pretty fast on that trip.
About the second hour into the trip we found the waterfall we were looking for and stopped the bikes and went for a little trek. The falls were not far from the road and were pleasant but a little small. I found the largest falls area and slipped and slid my way under it. Ah, cool mountain water flooding over my shoulders and body. It was pretty powerful and it was kneading my back and ribs like a vicious masseuse. It was funny for a while and then painful after a few minutes so I got out.
Tony and Rich had gotten in and then climbed out. They were having a brotherly chat about work and the friendships you make there. It was specifically about what happens when you start your own business. I think Rich was feeling the vacuum of those relationships but also feeling the stoke of his own business. I didn’t want to intrude so I scrambled off to find other falls. I ran into a funny couple from Japan. They joined me for a while but then got tired of the rock scrambling. I found a few more falls in the area but none as good as the first. I made my way back and played around for a while longer and eventually made my way back to Tony and Rich.
It was getting later so we picked up our stuff and walked out. We got on our bikes and rode or another 15 minutes and arrived at the beautiful bay of Had Naay Paan. It was stunning with two deep crescent bays joining at a small outcropping in the middle. It looked like a beautiful place to come and anchor for a day or two. The beach was wide with soft white sand gently slopping down to the water. It looked all but perfect accept for the brutal trip to get out there. Definitely a bay to anchor in at a later date.
We drove around for a short while checking out the bays but the light was disappearing and I know none of us found the trip back in the dark very appealing. We had a cool and uneventful drive back in the late afternoon. As we approached the last large hill we could look out over the southern end of the island and see the sun. It was a soft orange ball about 20 minutes from the horizon. The crickets were starting to screatch their mating calls through the jungle. The air was cool and the world was painted in light orange pastel. We could smell the late afternoon fires and the food being prepared down in town. Time to head home to Had Salad.
There is one other adventure on the bikes I would like to talk about. I believe that the bikes were probably the most dangerous aspect of all our travels here in Thailand. I will have to keep that in mind when other friends come to visit and want to ride bikes.
The last story on the bikes also involved Tony, Rich and I. We were scrambling around a coconut farm up a thin path and down ruts and across small streams. It was challenging and as the path got too steep and difficult I suggested we head back. I was a little worried about the oil leaking out of my engine. I wanted to have it checked in town. We turned around and headed out. Rich was in the lead and then Tony and I. As we were swerving around the coconut trees I caught a glimpse of a small wire running about head high and just managed to duck in time to watch a barbed wire go past. Yikes! I immediately slowed down and swerved back towards the main path and dodged another barbed wire. I then came out on the main road and Tony was waiting there for me. Rich was not there. We thought he must have already taken off, so we raced down the road to find him. I was still shuddering a little from visions of catching my face on a wire. We didn’t find him and then thought that maybe he was behind us. We turned around and headed back and just then he came barreling around a turn towards us.
I was relieved.
We stopped or a while and he told us what happened. He had taken another path out towards the road and just as he was about 20 feet from the pavement he spotted the barbed wire. He slammed on the brakes and slid into it with his neck. He was leaning back trying to avoid it and just as he came to a stop it pressed up against his jugular. He was in between barbs. I had horrid, lurid visions of him gashing open his jugular and gushing "deep red Rich-juice" right there in the dirt until he was dead.
I didn’t say anything to either of them but I think they could see that my face was sheet-white. Tony had given me the spiel about how when people are off the boat you are not responsible for their safety about 5 times now and I could see that he could see what I was thinking. The argument I hold up in response to that statement is that I will have to deal with the consequences because I speak Thai best and I know my way around the best. I will naturally be the one to take anyone to the hospital and to deal with whatever comes up afterwards and probably to deal with the parents of whoever is in trouble. The knowledge that I will have to deal with those consequences makes me a bit more paranoid about everyone’s safety. I could see it annoyed the hell out of Tony but it was difficult for me to get it out of my head.
It took some time but I think I am better at things like that now. I always try to give my friends fair warning to prepare them mentally for the possible dangers. Then once I have made those dangers clear and expressed my concern for their safety, I let them go and don’t worry about it. Ultimately Tony is right that once people are off the boat they are their own caretakers. All I can do is try to prepare them well.
I try to speak well of Tony as much as possible in these stories because I really like him. I respect him in a lot of ways and I want to play up the things I admire. On the other hand I did want to kill him at some points and I am sure he wanted to strangle me as well.
I could go on and on with this chapter but I would like to send it off sometime and I don’t want my readers to feel too flooded when they receive it.
The last segment of the story is, what else, but the full-moon party.
Oh, boy.
The Full-Moon Party.
We rode our bikes into Thong Sala with our friends Anika and Christoff. Beth was with me, Lisa was with Tony, Anika was with Rich on his 225 and Christoff led the way on his scooter. We were a true road gang, well, sort of. Our front man was on a scooter. It was a fun, mellow ride around the island. We didn’t want to drive over to Had Rin because the road was slightly treacherous and we had heard stories about drunks on motorcycles getting mauled by, what else but, taxis. Since it was the biggest single drinking night on the island we decided to play it safe and park in Thong Sala. Thong Sala was the main town and was a short taxi ride over to Had Rin.
In that respect we decided to play it safe but in other ways we decided not too. I was riding back from Had Rin a few days earlier and got to talking to these two British kids about the full moon party. They told me a rumor about the full moon party in December, two months ago. The Had Rin area is a popular spot for young Israeli travelers. It was a surprise to me because I hadn’t met too many Israelis on Koh Pangan. I found out that they tend to hang out mostly in Had Rin.
Apparently the Israeli Government warned the Thai Government that there could be attacks on the Full Moon Party that month. There was a large amount of C4 explosives stolen from a Thai Military base the month before and apparently the Israeli Government saw it as enough of a threat to warn the Thai Government. The Thais had two large military vessels out to the islands and one large destroyer was parked off the beach at Had Rin. As the British lads told the story the crowd was less than usual, but not by much. They still went and had a great time. Nothing occurred that month but it was still on people’s minds and lips as the next full moon came around. It was more so this month because the US was maneuvering for war with Iraq and the Islamic world was warning of retaliatory strikes.
So what did I do after I heard this? The day before the full-moon, when we were all hanging out, eating a late lunch, I brought up what I had heard. We all discussed it and everyone came to their own personal conclusion. I had already decided that I was going. I was not going to be scared away from the normal choices I would make because some fundamentalists want to frighten Westerners. That is their objective and I refuse to be afraid. I will rationally access the possible dangers and make my decisions but I will not allow their tactics to frighten me. Most of the travelers I meet have not put it in so many words and I don’t think it is such a conscious choice for most of them. I think they simply understand the risks and decide that traveling is worth it.
We all decided to go and have a good time. I don’t know what everyone else was thinking but I was happy that we could all come and get tanked and dance the night away. We were singing songs about getting blown up on the taxi ride over. It was slightly sadistic yet entertaining. I wish I could remember the songs now. When we rode back at around seven the next morning some kid in our taxi was singing the same song and we laughed our asses off, both in relief and at the coincidence.
There were a lot of drugs at the party but I just stuck to beer. It is a drug I can more easily control. We bought some 22s of beer Chang and strolled onto the beach. It was already about nine or ten so things were well on their way. Thousands of drunk, horny kids dancing and running around like they were on fire. There were fire twirlers and crazy locals and visiting Thais and foreigners all over the place. The tide was fairly low and in front of the main 5 bars the crowd went right down to the water. Dancing around in shallow water to thumping techno or pop/club music. Most of the bars were insanely packed and so we stayed away from them. At one point I found my way inside one and it must have been over one hundred degrees, with sweet dripping off faces and backs and exposed thighs. It was "Too Hot, Too Hot, Too Hot Lady, Gotta Run For Shelter, Gotta Raaan for Shade!"
I forced my way out the front and down to the beach again. I found and lost and found and lost the others about 3 times. John was developing his patented jig but was not that into the groove. I was later to see that jig develop into a full sex machine grind but at that time it was still in it’s infancy.
Rich was having a great time running around howling at the moon and we all joined it from time to time. I later heard that Tony and Lisa stripped down completely naked and ran out into the ocean. It was getting a little nuts at that point. Christoff was dancing like a Samurai Warrior and every time I did a karate chop hand gesture he would leap into a wild Samurai dance making all kinds of strange noises. This would usually lead to me falling over on the ground laughing. Anika would give me a look like "Stop encouraging him" and turn away and dance with Lisa or Beth.
Lisa was a really good dancer. So was Anika, but I must say Beth was awesome. She had the hip thing going like crazy and it was great to follow her around and dance. She had spent some time in the Caribbean, I can’t remember which island, taking dancing lessons and it showed clear and tantalizing. It was great fun and we all ran around from bar to bar along a long stretch of beach dancing like wild animals. I got pretty tanked and eventually lost most of them. I was double fisting it for a while because everyone else kept buying beers and I couldn’t keep up. Light weight.
I must say, I have not partied as hard as I have these last few months, since back in college. Tony, John, Rich, my cousin Jeff, Caroline, Lisa and Beth, they have all helped me along and I must thank them for more fun than I can remember.
We all danced until five or six am. I returned by Taxi at around seven. The sun was up and burning holes in my brain, through my eye sockets. We all crashed in the bungalows at Coral Beach and slept for hours. I took a good look at my baby before going to bed and felt safe that she was floating around on her two anchors safe and sound.
We awoke later in the afternoon and Lisa and Beth were packing up. They had to catch the afternoon ferry. It was a bit depressing and Lisa and Tony had some time alone while we hung out in the dinning area.
Rich, Tony, John and I sent them off in the afternoon and I felt sad to see them go. They were sweet girls and I knew their company would be missed. We did a cowboy lasso salute to them as their boat pulled away. That is one of the pictures I will include.
I think that is a good place to end this segment of our travels. The trip changed a lot when it was just the boys and we headed off to more dangerous isles.
I must explain that this all took place almost two months ago, so the details are starting to fade and if it is not all exactly the way things took place then I must ask for writer’s privilege. I have been trying to keep up, but living it all and then finding the time to write about it all is difficult.
I hope this chapter was not too long and tickles my readers in a pleasantly way.
Yours truly,
Captain Andy
PS, We are still on Koh Pangan but the boat is parked in a small channel and I have been doing major repairs and engine work for the last week or so. It will probably be another week before we get out but I will let you know before we depart. Much love.