Chapter 10 "The Crossing of the Gulf" - 1 Mar 2003

Sent: Saturday, March 01, 2003 3:05 AM
Subject: Chapter 10

Before this begins I think I should introduce some of the characters.
You all have a bit of a feel on my pop.
Tony has been on the trip so long he is also a known. The only addition I can add about him is that "Tony’s always right." It usually seems to be the case and even when he’s not we are never paying attention. So, along with most of my boat rules, is the unwritten rule that Tony’s always right.
Jeff, my cousin, the fisherman and cocky bastard has left us for a life stateside. We miss him here and talk about him frequently. He left a few days after the crossing. I am glad I can still write a few more words about him. I am glad he stayed with us when we crossed the gulf. It was comforting to have his talents and companionship during that leg.
The last character for this leg was John. John is one of Tony’s friends from San Diego. He also knows my sister pretty well. He went to Coronado High School for two years and then dropped out. His last name is Sedberry. Juli, you might remember him from high school. He got his GE after he dropped out and went to community college. He got a fake ID and started to party hard with a group of friends 6 or 7 years older than him. A few years later he recognized the future of his present state and moved to SF and became a bike messenger. How long he did that I am not sure. He did eventually get a degree in business. How that fits I don’t know. He has also worked the last few years as a Financial Adviser. I like that. It adds complexity.
In his early twenties he moved on to the life of an artisan. He took an apprenticeship with an expert furniture builder and wood carver. He has a nice wood shop in his loft in San Diego and I must admit that I am incredibly jealous. I hope someday I will have a "shop," either in the garage or in a back shed. Maybe even in a room in the house if my wife is tolerant.
He is a carpenter and has skills I can put to use on this boat. He has done quite a bit of work already.
John is also a musician. He plays guitar very well and knows about 50 more classical pieces than I do. It is wonderful to hear the guitar on the boat in the afternoons. The classical is calming and adds just a little more to the scenery and the world we are living in.
John is also a bit intimidating. He is a serious serious man sometimes and reminds me of "Agent Smith" in the Matrix, a stern looking man. He is a bit of a lady-killer too. At the same time he seems a bit afraid to commit to anything. He stays away from the women. He has already been married and divorced so I can understand where he is coming from.
Tony has also been sending home pictures and stories but since he is not spending so much time telling the stories he is way ahead of me. Therefore you might see some of the photos twice. I am trying to catch up.
The morning we were bound to leave one of the main beams that supports the floorboards cracked and splintered. There were too many large men running in and out of the boat stocking it up. Tony called it to my attention. There was a question of "should we stay here on the dock another day and fix it?" I said "Bloody hell no." "We are leaving as scheduled."
So we did.
I asked John, our carpenter, to see if he could do anything about it. He found and explained that it was not serious and he could fix it with a little work. The beam had split and was sagging. What had to be done was to prop up the other side of the beam to build it back up to the top half. That was done fairly simply with a small block of wood. This raised the split segment back to the original part of wood and then we had full support again. Now it was two beams of half the size supporting that area. It was a good solution.
I would like to rebuild the floor completely because it is showing it’s age and it’s use. Unfortunately that would be a huge task, which I am not ready to try or pay for. It would involve rebuilding the entire frame under the floorboards as well as the floorboards themselves and going under present pieces of furniture and equipment, which are solidly fixed down. I must let it go for now. I must focus on the more critical systems, which need work.
We motored from Leam Gnop through sheet glass most of the morning and got to our coral heaven at around 1 pm. We played in beautiful coral and clear blue water for a few hours. The water was a deeper blue, yet with sand below it turned an electric florescent color that I am having trouble describing. I think Tony’s pictures might do it some justice.
While snorkeling I saw this giant starfish with about 20 legs. It was crawling over a coral plate and looked like it was eating the coral. I wasn’t sure if it was actually eating the coral but it looked creepy. I dove down close to it and stared at it. The colors were surreal, blues and purples mixed with whites and greens. I touched the sides of its spines a few times. The spines were soft and movable like plastic. After playing around with it for a while I asked John if he had any idea what it was. We puzzled over it a few minutes and then left it behind.
The coral-scapes were amazing. One area had tight canyons winding together into high plains. It reminded me of a coral version of the Rock Country in Utah. All the scenes you see in old Clint Eastwood Movies, with little fish dodging in and out of canyons.
There were little farms of sea anemones. Little clusters of 20 or 30. They looked dangerous. When we swam over them they got crazy and swished their spines round and round. I would float over them and agitate the whole cluster just to get them riled. Usually I try to avoid them but at the time, I was feeling playful.
It was a nice afternoon and everyone got their fill in the water. It’s a gift to be able to crawl up the ladder and have a bit of food and a nice soft cushion to sleep on. A cruising vessel is one of the best places I have ever lived.
Later on in the afternoon I was looking at the back section of the Dive Thailand book we have. It was the dangerous animals section. Low and behold there was that crazy starfish I was poking at. It is called a Crown-of-Thorns and I quote from the book "The spines are venomous and can deliver a painful sting even if the animal has been dead for two or three days. Seek medical aid. Neglected wounds may produce serious injury." Yikes! I immediately looked through the rest of the section and then asked everyone else to take a look at it. It is good to know your local venomous creatures.
At around four we motored over to the calm side of Koh Rang and found a pleasant strip of sand to anchor in. I didn’t explain how we were going to anchor to my father and every time, just before Tony was going to throw the anchor, my dad would ask some question about our methods and stop the whole procedure. Tony would watch as I explained a bit more and then we would go around again. I guess I took it for granted the way Tony and I work together on this boat. We look at each other, realize we are thinking the same thing, nod and then go about doing it. I told Tony only two sentences and he was ready to set the anchor at my command. We were doing a forward set along the reef going north to south and using our momentum to dig the anchor into the sand.
I had not explained this to my pop and we went around three times before I realized my mistake. I then explained to him our operation and the fourth time around we did a good set about 100 meters off the reef.
Well before this event my father and I talked about who should be captain. My father was gracious and left it to me. It made things easier for me. We are partners in the ownership of this boat. He sailed this boat for short periods of time for many years. He has a lot of sailing experience from that time, as well as growing up sailing in the Puget Sound. At the same time, I have been cruising this boat for about one and a half months straight. I have also been repairing and maintaining the boat during that time.
All this posed the question in my mind of who should be captain. On a boat there should be only one captain. Also between father and son it could be difficult. When I asked if he was alright with me being captain he said "Of course, I don’t mind." That was a nice thing for him to do.
We enjoyed another great evening and my father and I rowed over to some fishermen anchored nearby. We wanted to ask about the weather and what channel to listen to on the radio for forecasts. He told us that he had just listened to the forecast and it would be calm and clear for at least the next night and day. We talked a while with the captain and I climbed around the boats and chatted with the crew. There were a lot of young Cambodian kids.
Thailand’s neighbors to the east and west have suffered years of government instability and revolution. Both Cambodia and Burma have pretty severe unemployment. Each of Thailand’s borders see an inundation of young men and women coming in search of a decent salary. We have heard stories that sound so much like the US border stories with Mexico that it is hard not to draw certain conclusions. Labor will move to higher paying markets. Money used to be the only economic factor that moved relatively freely between boarders. This new change should speed up the equilibrium of markets around the world.
Enough economics.
My father and I returned to the boat and we all had a tasty meal prepared by Jeff. I call him "Short Order" and he more than lived up to the name. He prepared some excellent meals during our crossing and spent the most time in front of the stove.
We all crashed pretty early and awoke the next morning to find a gentle east wind blowing.
I knew that, by my calculations, the trip should take 46 to 50 hours going at 4 knots. I calculated a low speed for stops and any possible accidents and in case we decided to sail slowly during the entire trip.
If the trip does take two days then I would like to arrive at our destination around 8 or 9 am. It is best to arrive during the day rather than night. I did not want to do any more night navigation. We should also have most of the day to cruise around the island to find a good place to anchor or dock up to. Therefore moving backwards two days we should leave at 9 am. We left at 9:30 am on the morning of the 10th of Feb 2003 to cross the gulf of Thailand on a course of 215 Compass.
We motored past most of the rocks and islets around Koh Rang and headed out into the gulf. We pulled up the sails and killed the engine and made about 3.5 to 4 knots for a few hours. It is very nice to use just sails on the Wind Spirit. She moves so smoothly across the ocean with a nice breeze.
We didn’t have a stiff breeze but we had enough wind to turn off the thud thud thud of our little Volvo Penta. It is very relaxing to sail this boat. Once we set a course and trim the sails, everyone just sits back and relaxes. There is nothing to be done to get us there faster. Only one person can concentrate on our course, so everyone else just reads or talks or sleeps. We had some dancing at one point but that was a bit unusual.
The other thing you have is the lapping of the waves and the slight rocking of the boat. The noises of the ocean and wind seem to set everyone’s mind at ease. The only smell is the salt on the breeze that washes past you. Maybe someone is in the galley preparing something tasty or Tony is chopping up a pineapple for everyone.
The sails are pretty full and we can feel the main and Genoa pulling the boat forward towards our destination.
We turned the engine back on after 2 or 3 hours, but then turned it off again. The wind was a gentle easterly which didn’t want to pick up anymore than about 6 or 7 knots. It was out of the perfect direction for us though and we took full advantage of that. We sailed a beam reach straight across the gulf. We were headed southwest and the wind was blowing out of the east-southeast. We couldn’t have asked for a much easier wind to sail with. If we had had a northeast wind, which was more common for this time of year we would have had a slow downwind run most of the trip. The week before there was a strong northeast wind and there were wave warnings in the Samui area. If the wind has a long fetch, or distance, to blow, then the waves get larger and larger as the fetch increases. That is why the largest waves come out of the largest oceans. They have room for the wind to blow hard for long distances.
I was a bit worried that if we had another strong Northeast wind we might have some serious waves to deal with when we got to the other side of the gulf. This did not happen.
I was also worried that if we had a wind coming out of the southwest we would be running right into the wind and might have to fall off and head directly west instead. That would delay reaching Koh Samui for at least two days. We would have to sail or motor down the west coast of the gulf.
These were concerns I had about the sailing, but I knew that the engine was running well so we could always motor where we wanted to go.
The other major concern I had was the shifts we would all have to keep. We would be sailing and motoring the entire time so we needed at least two people on watch for each period. I have heard 2 hour shifts recommend by quite a few people but a few of the world cruising books I read explained that 2 hours was way too short. The best recommendation I had was 6 hours. After talking to Jeff about his time in the Navy, it seemed clear that 6 hour shifts were the best. We all talked about it because I like to have everyone’s opinion and input. I also feel that everyone is more willing to work with the result when everyone has some input and can express their ideas. I have been trying to run this boat more like a commune or a team of volunteers. I think it works best when I am not exercising my position. I have made it clear that when I do exercise my authority that everyone must act without question, but I have only used that a few times in the last two months.
The consensus was 6 hour shifts so 6 hour shifts it was. I took the first night shift with John. Jeff ended up taking the shift with me instead but it worked out well. I took over the helm at 6 pm. We were motoring at the time because the wind was too light. As the sun set just off the starboard bow, the moon rose right behind us. It was a half moon going on full and it lit up most of the night. Jeff and I were just a tad disappointed because we were looking forward to more constellation finding. The moon was blindingly bright. It lit up the waves and the horizon like a cool white fluorescent light. It was comforting and I was not ungrateful. We talked well into the night and I became more and more tired. I was nodding off for a while as Jeff napped on two and a half cushions.
Once out into the open sea there are no islands or mountains to take a mark on, so you just sail by compass. I know my compass has a considerable amount of deviation so we set a course using the charts and then the GPS. Once we have a course, we then correct the bulkhead compass, the one we use to steer the boat, to the right heading and then steer that course the next few hours. I checked this course heading every 6 hours to make sure our course was good and to account for tides and currents. We sailed and motored a fairly straight line across the gulf but had to adjust a bit as we approached Koh Pangan.
It was strange for us to sail by just compass, because we had never really done that before. We had sailed many many jumps down the east coast but were never really out of sight of land.
Sailing by compass alone means focusing on the compass and then taking looks around for freighters and other ships. We have no autopilot so the person piloting must pay attention most of their shift. I left it up to the pair of crew to decide how they wanted to divide their piloting time during the 6 hours they had to be up and awake.
We motored through the night.
One of the disadvantages of a beam reach wind is that the waves also come onto the side of the boat and this tends to set it rocking pretty badly. If there are large waves it is best to hit them head on or at a 45-degree angle. In this case they were not large enough to deviate from course but large enough to rock the boat considerably. We were rolling from 25 to 30 degrees on the port to about 25 to 30 degrees on the starboard. That was a 50 to 60 degree change. I had previously asked that all gear be stowed and all lockers closed. I was glad I asked that as the boat rolled back and forth furiously, most of the night. The motor was on and we kept on cruising. Most parties slept on deck as the wind was comforting and the engine was not so loud outside.
Tony had not been on the boat much in the last week and so I think he lost his sea legs. He got pretty seasick the first night and proceeded to hurl over the port side and onto the empty gas cans on that side. He hurled for about 20 minutes and then came back feeling much better. I think he hurled up most of what he ate during the day until it was just dry heaves. He then recovered. Considering how much we were rolling I was surprised no one else did the same. I think everyone was feeling it but holding it in. I would feel a tickle in my belly when I went into the cabin.
I have found the best thing for seasickness is a stiff breeze blowing on the face and staring at the horizon. Sometimes it helps to be piloting the boat because you get both of these things.
At 12 midnight my pop and Tony came to relieve us. It was a good thing because I was just about asleep when they came around. It would not have been a catastrophe but we would have sailed off course for a while. Not quite like falling asleep at the wheel of a car, but certainly not good, either. We were crossing the gulf though and there really isn’t much to hit.
We motored through the night and Jeff and I tried to sleep. Little luck as the engine ground on. It was comforting to me in a way. To feel sure enough about the engine to run it all day and all night is a great thing. I slept some in the wee hours of the morning but I don’t know about Jeff.
I think the 12 midnight shift was pretty hard and I am glad my dad and Tony had it the first night. I wanted the 6 to 12 pm shift so that I could deal with any developments as the sun set and night really came upon us. There was nothing to deal with accept to steer. Great!
I awoke to the engine and a stunning morning in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand. There is something great about the sun coming up. When the world seems a bit too intense at night everything seems to relax in the morning. The sun rose behind us, and the wind started to pick up. There were a lot of clouds around us and I was again worried that we might have a squall or some kind of storm system behind us. My father mentioned Thailand’s worst hurricane a few times and that just agitated me some more.
Apparently the wind was out of the east just like this when the largest storm in Thailand’s recent history blew away a couple hundred fishing boats in southern Thailand. We watched the squalls for a while and could see the rain coming down into the sea off in the distance. We were going to take a swim in the morning to celebrate reaching the midpoint of our journey but Tony looked so absolutely exhausted I wanted to put it off. I also wanted to watch the weather a little longer to see if anything developed.
The squalls did not look rough. There were no walls of white or any whitecaps we could see through the binoculars. It looked just like mellow rain so we decided to raise the sails. The wind was picking up gently. We wanted to tap into it.
We raised the sails but kept the engine on. Tony and Jeff were still sleeping inside and it was just my father, John and I. We put up the Genoa and then the main sail. We sailed for about half an hour when the wind started to pick up. I was not very worried because it did not seem like much of a wind.
John and I watched as this wall of rain moved toward us. It was a perfectly defined wall. It was 100 yards off, then 50 yards off, then 20 yards off, and then it was a few feet away. It was no more than a few feet away, yet still there was not a single drop of water. John and I sat there mesmerized as it came on us. I was amazed and just waited for it to hit us.
When it did it was just rain. Hard cool rain coming down on our heads. It felt good. No, it felt great. I think we were all in need of some fresh water.
The boat healed over about 20 degrees as both sails took in the wind. It was not that strong so I was not concerned until the base clip on the Genoa snapped clean off and the sail flew away. It didn’t actually fly away but out of sight. I was in the cockpit and the sail pulled off its base clip and flew up to the top of the forestay. I could no longer see it and it was quite a shock.
Tony and Jeff came stumbling out of the cabin wondering what was going on. John was steering and my father was barking commands so I took over. I put the engine to work and headed up into the wind so we could take down the Genoa. My father and then Tony completed the task pretty efficiently. The specialized clip was easily replaced by a "D" clip.
Before we raised the sails again I decided it was time for a "Tony Dip."
I think it is very refreshing to jump into the ocean partway through voyages so that is exactly what we did. I must give Tony credit though. He was the originator of that excellent idea. We stopped the boat and Jeff graciously volunteered to stay on board for the first segment, while we leaped off the side of the boat. I love that feeling. We tied a rope to the side of the boat and hung off it as the boat continued to sail on it’s rigging. It was wonderful. We had no masks on but were holding on as the boat pulled us through clear electric blue water. It was about 90 to 100 feet deep. I clambered to the front of the boat and played on the prow for a while. I drifted back and then I noticed a large brown/gray form below us.
I freaked out and jumped into the dingy and proceeded to scare everyone else as well. A few of us crawled back into the boat. John was savvy enough to pull out some masks and pass them around.
I knew it was not a shark as it seemed round and I saw the sides flapping. It was large though and it still freaked me out. I would say it was about 5 to 7 feet across and 4 to 5 feet long. I put on the mask and jumped back into the water and tried to find it. It was gone.
We did see two suckerfish though. They were large and were circling around under the boat for a while. The visibility was really good so we could see quite a distance. While at the prow of the boat, I could clearly see Jeff at the back of the dingy, trailing 15 feet behind the boat. That makes a total of about 50 feet. I think the visibility was about that, if not farther. It was stunning.
Unfortunately we saw nothing else. I now think it was a large manta ray tailing the boat. Sea creatures seem to do that frequently. I have heard of it many times in sailing books and magazines. Unfortunately I will never know.
After about 30 minutes of flowing through the water everyone got tired of it accept John and I. I was still looking for Mister Manta Ray and I think John was just enjoying himself thoroughly.
Finally I gave up and crawled up the rope ladder and John followed soon after.
I wish I had had a little more composure and not freaked out. It would have been great to calmly point out a huge manta ray swimming along with the boat. Ah well, live and learn.
We continued to motor for a while and were well past our midway point when the engine died. Shit! I knew what the problem was right away. I had planned to change over from the 60 liter tank to the 80 liter tank halfway through our crossing. I had completely forgotten. The reward I received was to spend 30 minutes bleeding the fuel system. Diesel engines need to be bled if there is a clog or water in the system. They also need to be bled if there is an air bubble. This was the same problem we ran into in Salak Pet and we had learned how to deal with the problem. Apparently though, I hadn’t learned my lesson not to run the tank dry and pull all the water and gunk from the tank into the engine.
Lesson learned; never run your tanks dry and always top them off when you have the opportunity. We first switched to the new tank and then I bled the fuel through each bleed point. My father came down and told me to use the bleed valves, which were much easier. We then got the fuel running through the entire line and then the engine started just like that.
Back in motion, we were. Yah!
I closed the floorboards back up and we motored for a while longer.
As the day wore on the wind picked up.
Soon we turned off the engine and by 2 or 3 pm we were just sailing. Wonderful. I think everyone wanted to sleep at this point but we had our shifts.
Tony decided it was time for his "Penang Curry." I love to learn to cook, but I think I love it even more when others take on the challenge. Tony had it hard to start with because he had to cook for 5 hungry men. He made a large pot of coconut milk and then I think he added too much curry paste. We have had a lot of trouble with curry paste. We always buy it in the port towns we re-supply at. Unfortunately most of these towns are out of the way. They are small towns.
My father has explained many times to me that as you get farther out into the countryside, the locals add more peppers and the food gets spicier. As a result most of the curry paste we buy is mother F---in’ spicy stuff. I learned to cooked a red as well as a green curry but have shied away from cooking them because I always seem to make it too spicy. It’s either too bloody hot or bland. I cannot seem to find the perfect amount.
I am explaining all this so that Tony’s Penang Curry has some context. He was cooking in fairly large waves as well and that is also credit to his ability. Well, maybe a credit to his bravery. He Proceeded to make it really spicy hot by adding, quite easily, too much curry paste. He then tried to dilute it. Unfortunately the pot was not large enough and eventually he had to transfer to another pot. At one point my father tried to help him with the pots and ended up burning himself. The stove is gimbal-mounted so it is safer to let it swing. My father saw it swinging and tried to stop it. He got burned and Tony told him to stay away.
Tony managed to transfer his curry to a larger pot but lost about one third of it onto the floor. The boat smelled like Tony’s Penang Curry for about a week. It wasn’t so bad because his Penang Curry smelled and tasted pretty bloody good. About 30 minutes before he was ready to serve it, this fantastic odor was wafting out of the cabin. Everyone was watering at the mouth. I think we were all tired and quite hungry so Tony was in for a good crew for his Curry. He served us up right. We started chowing but found it was really hot. I don’t want to make out that Tony is a bad cook because I know he is quite the opposite. In this case though it was almost too hot. Everyone ate on, as did I, but it was a bit painful. I remembered a super spicy curry I made a few weeks back and felt bad. We all ate as much as we could and left the rest. I know that when he makes that dish again it will be perfect. He had all the right ingredients and it was delicious. It was just a bit too hot.
I was not worried about the spill on the floor because it was hot enough to kill most bacteria and it sort of added a nice curry smell to the cabin.
I helped clean up after dinner and then went to sleep. I nodded off for a while but didn’t sleep much most of the night. In retrospect I am not sure why. The engine was off at this point and we were healed over a little. It was ideal for sleeping. I guess my body was not ready to sleep so I just didn’t. It was still very relaxing though and I felt at peace.
A while before midnight, I awoke. I went up to find my father and John talking about life and people and the meaning of it all. I was not ready for such a discussion so I disappeared back into the cabin.
While we were cruising from Leam Gnop, my father decided we should share about our lives. We should explain the most powerful moments of our lives. The times that changed us, and our way of thinking. I don’t think I’ve changed much since high school. I am still seeking adventure and going out on a limb. I still love the ocean and value my friends.
I was having trouble thinking of what to say for this question.
On the other hand, Tony had a serious emotional time with this question. I think he made us all cry a bit. He told us of his brother’s death. John Vernetti had Hodgkin’s disease and worked through a few years of the cancer before it took his life. John was a young man at the time and very much loved by family and friends. It was a really hard blow to Tony’s family. The way he talks about it, I know I cannot understand. I can empathize and I can feel some of the pain but I cannot really understand. He started to cry and then we all started to cry. It was a painful yet powerful moment. I think we all felt a small part of what it must have been like. John died about 10 years ago and still the pain is there.
I had no such moment and I was trying not to get annoyed by the obligation to talk about it. I had a hard time in Japan while I was working there as a teacher so I talked about that. It was good enough and by that time I think everyone was tired of the whole thing.
I don’t want to say that it was a bad idea though. It is nice to share our life’s experiences and often it is the spark for great conversations and exchanges of ideas.
When John talked about history and why he was fundamentally interested in reading about it, it launched us into a very interesting conversation about the present state of world politics and some parts of history, which led us to this point. It was intriguing and ate up about 3 or 4 hours of our cruising time down to Koh Rang.
I am glad that I know Tony and John and can call them friends.
It was also interesting to listen to Jeff talk about his life as it mirrored mine in a lot of ways. Our mothers have been good friends most of their lives and I can easily see the parallels between my life and Jeff’s.
I also see that cockiness in myself as well as that powerful interest in solving life’s mysteries through reading. Jeff is an avid reader and I love that about him. I think he is better read than I. He knows his movies too, which I am also envious of.
Maybe I should get back to the story at hand.
The moon was out something mighty powerful. It was as bright as could be but was setting in front of us. The shadows of the moon were all over the boat when I finally took over. It was fantastically beautiful. The ocean was rolling and our sails were up and full. We were capturing the wind and speeding across the sea towards our island destination.
I think part of the richness of sailing at night is just the pull of the sails on the boat. Looking up to see curved white surfaces bulging from the press of the wind. We could feel the water passing below us as the waves parted for our prow. The waves were no longer our masters as we sliced through them. They still passed us by, but we had the power of the wind now. We were mobile in a wholly different sense. We were moving through the water at a pace of our own and the world 40 feet above us was filled with taut canvas. The whiteness of the sails and the moon on them created light and shadow in graceful arcs.
The noise wind makes as it passes over sails; a soft ruffling, reminds me of bed-sheets at night, soft cotton rustling in the wind.
The whole world seems at peace when you are sailing a gentle breeze at night. It was actually stronger than a gentle breeze. It was moving us at a good pace but was not frightening, despite all the moon shadows across the water.
We were sailing the same course as the night before but with the sails up we were healed over comfortably. We were rocking only 10 to 20 degrees, which was much much better. It made me wonder if we shouldn’t have raised the sails last night and motored as well. The sails seamed to balance the boat.
The moon finally set.
We had the universe above us to stare at. It was an unfamiliar sky. It was the 4-in-the-morning sky. We did find Ursa Major and a few of her neighbors. I love being able to map out the sky. Thank you Jeff for that. He taught me the techniques and now I can do it well myself. I have in turn taught John about 5 of Orion’s neighbors.
We had an ETA of 6 to 7 am.
I must admit that I did rely on our GPS most of the trip. I am not able to navigate by the stars, (yet) and once we are away from land that is the only means besides GPS. I have 3 GPS Units on the boat. One is our main unit and the second is backup. The third is Tony’s but that will return to the states with him.
Our GPS was giving us an ETA of 6 or 7 am. I had programmed a location about two or three nautical miles north of Koh Pangan. I was planning on circling the island to the west side. The east side of the island was a lee shore so I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to find the most wind coverage possible. The original north GPS position was set so that I could come to a decision about what bays to explore. It was a starting point and ending point. It was the end of our straight haul across the gulf and the beginning of our search for a safe, comfortable bay to rest and relax in.
That point was our ETA point. We had about 2 or 3 hours. The horizon behind us began to glow. It was filled with more clouds and small squall lines.
All of a sudden I realized we were heading toward this huge shape. It was Koh Pangan. We had had a visual of it for a few hours but hadn’t looked. We thought it would be flatter and harder to spot.
It was large and black in the night. The stars hid behind it in purple darkness. It was misted over with clouds and shadow. It looked beautiful. Jeff and I watched as we realized our journey was coming to an end.
The sun slowly rose behind puffs of mellow cumulous and what looked like soft rain. People started crawling out of bed to see the sun come up. My dad and John popped up, then Tony. We were all looking at our island and the sun and the clouds and the colors and talking and laughing. We made it! We had a super easy crossing. Some things broke on the way but we had no horribly strong wind. We had no frighteningly large waves. We had a perfect gentle breeze almost the entire journey. What a great trip!
Everyone was happy and proud. I was definitely proud of us all, and of the boat. She made it across. She carried us across just fine. The sun rose behind us.
I really like having crew on this boat. I sometimes wonder if I will be able to cruise alone. Not because of ability but from loneliness. It is nice to have good people onboard. It is great to have my father sailing with us. It is great listening to my father make everyone laugh. What a skill he has.
At about 3 or 4 am Jeff noticed that the starboard side spreader was off its hinge. We had had some trouble with this before but I was not able to come up with a reasonable solution to repair it. The spreader was loose from Tony and I jumping off it many weeks back. I was actually the one who broke it. It was screwed in with two bolts. The threading had worked lose on one bolt from my jump.
I guess as we sailed most of the second day and night all the rolling probably worked the other screw loose.
It fell out of its brace and was hanging on just the side shroud. Scary. The inherent danger was that if we put any stress on that side, the aluminum mast could bend in half. It is designed to carry large loads when supported by the stays and shrouds. When not supported it could easily bend and break, just like that.
Fortunately we were sailing on the other side with the wind coming across our port side so the port side shrouds and stays were supporting the mast and the sails.
After sunrise we identified the problem, decided to drop the sails and just motor.
We would definitely have to deal with this problem ASAP as the boat was crippled without sails.
After lowering the sails Jeff was at the helm. He tried to put it in gear and nothing happened. The gear shifter was stripped again. We had had this problem way back at the beginning of our journey. Tony had done a good repair job but apparently it was now broken.
That meant one of us had to shift from right behind the engine at the top of the transmission. I jumped down and pulled out some floorboards and put us in gear. We motored for a few hours and watch beautiful bay after beautiful bay pass by.
This was a really stunning island. The whole thing was covered in jungle and palm groves. Each bay had some bungalows but they were not that exposed. In some parts there were really expensive looking places on hillsides and a few resort style looking complexes but it was not Pattaya with its huge hotels. It was not Koh Samui either.
We motored around to the southern end and the wind started to pick up again. I decided to turn around and head for a deep bay I saw earlier. All the fishing boats were anchored far outside that bay. They were all near it though and that gave me the feel that it was one of the most protected bays from the present wind.
My father wanted to go south to the main pier at Thong Sala, which is the large town on the island. I was worried because I have been on enough busy piers to know we don’t need more agitation and difficult times. We also knew nothing about the channel or the pier. I made a miscalculation and didn’t buy detailed charts of the main docks and places to tie up. I had been getting around this problem by pulling into a deeper bay and anchoring well. Then we would explore the main town, it’s pier and asking all the necessary questions about depth and times it is busy. Then I could sail around and tie up for supplies or repairs a day or two later.
My dad felt comfortable just heading into the pier so we could take care of repairs right there in Thong Sala. We talked about it for a long time and eventually he agreed to do things from our safe bay. It would mean more work shopping and exploring but it would also mean everyone could get off the boat and relax and rest.
I felt extremely exhausted and was not interested in more challenges.
We anchored in a bay called "Had Salat." "Had," means beach or bay and "Salat" is short for "Joan Salat" which means pirate. So, we were anchored safely in Pirate Bay. Great!
It was beautiful enough to deserve such a name.
We set the plow anchor at a central location in the bay and then I proceeded to put on the harness. Someone had to get winched up the mast to take down the hinges for the spreaders. I was the lightest and had the most experience thus far. They pulled me up and I took off the hinges in about 45 minutes. It was not very easy and my legs kept falling asleep. The harness was well tied and wide enough but I was resting on it for long periods of time so it was pinching my femoral artery. Good stuff.
I got both hinges off and tied the spreaders across the mast so they would not hang on the main shrouds. While I was up there my father talked this long-tail fisherman, motoring by, into picking us up in about an hour and taking us to shore.
There was another issue for me. In all my calculations to cross the gulf and the time frames we had, I completely forgot that I had to leave the country on the 10th of Feb. We arrived the morning of the 12th on Koh Pangan. I was already two days late. It is not a huge deal to leave the country late, but if you do it two or three times, immigration starts taking off the kid gloves. Everyday one overstays one has to pay 200 Baht. That is not much money really, but it starts to add up fast.
With this in mind I had decided to run down to the boarder of Malaysia on our arrival in the Koh Samui area. That is the area we are in now. Koh Pangan is one island in this area.
The trip down to the Malaysian Border should be fairly easy from the Samui area so I had planned on doing that about two weeks before. It slipped my mind with all our preparations, and with the business of getting other people where they needed to be, on time. Tony’s friends and brother were also arriving on Koh Pangan in a few days.
I was going to get off the boat and leave my father as captain and Tony as first mate. I felt comfortable enough with their judgment to trust the boat to them. It was also nice to run away from all the problems on the boat. Everything was broken. Even my watch had broken on the journey.
Thinking back we were pretty lucky to have all that equipment go when we arrived on Koh Pangan instead of midway or worse yet, when we started the crossing. I know we could have dealt with the problems as they arose but it was nice to be lucky.
Tony took apart the gear shifter while I was up in the rafters and found out that his jimmy repair had held but the other shifter had broken. That’s points to Tony. Good repair work. They took out the parts that needed repair and put them in my Dad’s bag. He would be heading into town to get things fixed.
Before we left for the crossing our fabulous stainless steel ladder also came apart. It didn’t break completely but started to crack along the joint that took the most strain as people climbed in and out of the boat. It was cracking on both sides so we stopped using it. We used a small rope ladder during the crossing which was much more difficult to climb. Anyone who has climbed a rope ladder before will know how hard it is.
We also loaded our beautiful ladder up for repairs in Thong Sala.
I had made one other promise before we crossed the gulf. I had promised to myself that if we made it across safely I would shave off my beard. It was the longest and thickest I have ever worn a beard, almost a month of not shaving. It was itching some and the whole "food in the beard" thing was not making me happy.
While my father showered and got ready to go, I shaved and shaved and shaved. It came off pretty easy once I used John’s triple razor. It was strange to see a clean shaven Andy in the mirror. I think I lost 5 years in the 15 minutes it took to shave.
Once I was clean-shaven and everyone else was ready to leave, we motored ashore. Jeff faithfully offered to watch the boat. I am still very thankful for those times. When everyone wants to go ashore I still like to have someone on board taking care of things and keeping an eye on her. Jeff, for whatever reasons, was always quick to volunteer. Thanks Jeff.
We got a ride from a couple of people who worked at a bungalow in front of where the boat was parked. Everyone ended up renting huts there the next couple of days and falling in love with the place. It was called the Coral Beach Bungalows and the owner and cook was super good to us. She also cooked some excellent Thai food.
We went into Thong Sala and I got a ticket on a ferry to the mainland. We went to an Internet cafe? while my father ran around finding shops to do the repairs we needed. He loves to do that stuff and I understand more and more nowadays why. It’s lots of fun talking with people and getting work done and finding the parts you need.
I left it to him though and sent the letter letting everyone know we were safe and sound. We had successfully crossed the gulf in fair weather and good conditions.
I left Koh Pangan on a ferry headed for Surat Thani at four pm. That is where this chapter ends and the next begins. With little sleep I was headed for the Malaysian border as Tony, Jeff, John and my father stayed on Koh Pangan and went to work or just went about relaxing.
Jeff was also leaving soon. We got him across the gulf well within time to catch his flight from the airport at Koh Samui to BKK. I was headed south though and I knew it would take a few days. We were parting ways.
All we had was a brief, hard handshake and a smile. It was good enough though. In fact, it was the way goodbyes aught to be. Short, heartfelt and then done. I miss Jeff. I miss his company and the nights we stargazed together. I miss his crab trapping adventures. He caught just about everything in those traps.
I know he is going to read this and laugh and smile and probably he’ll say at some point, "That’s not the way it was!" but that is for him to know.
You are welcome on the boat anytime, Jeff.
I think that wraps up chapter 10.
Much love those at home.
We are safe and healthy.
Captain Andy
PS. We are presently anchored in the southern bay of Koh Tao. We are actually on a mooring ball so I feel pretty safe about her position. I swam down to check the tie-off point of the rope and found it is tied tight to a large bolt that goes right through a “house” size coral head.
We are debating where to go next but will let everyone know before we leave.