Sent; 15 June 2003
Title; The Cushion Fiasco and the City of Fishing
My dear Readers,
I have left behind the style I was using previously because there was
just too much to cover. Life here is still exciting in a lot of ways
but it has lost some of its hold on me because it has become somewhat
normal. I think a better way to capture the times I have had on this
boat is in individual segments; short and to the point.
I will take a moment to fill you all in on the present situation I
face. As for repairs and upgrades things are going quite well. I have
a veritable marine workshop with a master of engine and electrical repairs
around most of the days I work. He is my friend and master mechanic,
Bet. The pier in the clong I am tied up to is his. The electricity I
pay for is from an old crab-fisherman who lives in the shack at the
end of the point. The point encloses the clong from the bay outside.
I bathe on his back porch as you saw in one of the other photos I sent.
I pay him a little over a dollar a day for bathing water and electricity.
It’s a pretty good deal.
I get enough electricity to use all the tools I need to and I get a lot
of really valuable help and advice from Bet.
I am now working on the fittings to install a new boom vang, which should
improve the effectiveness of the main sail substantially. I am hoping
it will allow me to sail upwind more effectively as well as improve the
performance of the mainsail in light wind conditions.
I am also working on a new battery system. I have recently purchased another
large marine grade battery and will install it to the starter. I will
separate the present set of batteries and use them for house and boat
needs, which are mostly lights and fans. This separation into two battery
banks is fairly standard on most cruising vessels because it maintains
a separate battery for starting the engine, which is a critical function
on most vessels. For mine it is not that important because the engine
is small enough for me to hand start with the flywheel. It is still a
more reliable system then I have now, so I will make the changes. I will
set up a charging system which will allow me to charge either bank or
neither while the engine is up and running. This I am going to employ
a sharp electrician for, as I want it done professionally.
I have been cleaning and tuning the engine as well. I will replace the
belts and improve the present water pump. I have also been searching for
any oil leaks and loose bolts. I have run the engine quite a bit in the
last six months and want to do a serious inspection of all parts. I have
become very familiar with my engine in the last few months and it is a
great thing. Something I am very proud of.
Things I have been having trouble with on the other hand are finding crew
and dealing with Thai Bureaucracies. I don’t look all that old and
all that experienced and I think I have lost some people as crew for this
reason. If I looked the part of an old grizzly captain with years of cruising
vicious oceans I know there would be no problem. But I look like a young,
overeager 29-year-old on a maiden voyage. I suppose in some ways this
On the other hand I have learned on one of the most instructional vessels
possible. It falls apart all the time and I have had to rebuild almost
all of its systems. I have cruised for 6 months as acting Captain and
anchored in so many bays and in front of so many beaches I have lost count.
I have had to learn how to be a decent Captain and train my crew continuously.
The best teacher is the mistakes I have made doing exactly what I wanted
to learn to do. The only danger is that I make mistakes with dire consequences.
I am very aware of this and play my cards carefully.
I now have enough experience to know that I can sail this vessel alone
but also to know that such a tactic would be unwise.
The other larger-than-my-head-can-stand obstacle is the Thai Marine Government.
I suppose it is because the registration of the vessel is completely screwed
up. I know it is very difficult to get any kind of registration here in
Thailand but I think if I don’t have the present registration redone
I will run into all kinds of problems in the future, if I stay in Thailand.
The problem can be avoided though. I think once I leave the country things
will be easier as I will fall into the category of visiting boat and will
not be under such legal scrutiny.
I think that if Jan is not able to work out a solution where I can pilot
the boat out of the country with my own crew, then he will have to join
me for the first segment until we check into Malaysia and then he can
come back across the border and return home and I can continue on down
the coast to Singapore.
I can’t say how this problem will work itself out but I know that
I must trust that it will be worked out. Now on to a short segment of
pleasure, and I can leave the above frustration behind.
We left Koh Tao in the early afternoon. It was just Cate and I. Catelyn
is one of my good friends. I have known her now for over ten years.
She is calm, collected and generous. She is smart enough to really understand
the issues in other people’s hearts and heads yet also compassionate
enough to help as much as she can. She has helped me on more than one
occasion. She says she is tired of that role but I don’t think
she will ever stop playing it. At least I hope she
She is getting a PhD in acoustics at Penn State and is book-smart in
a sick ass way. I have to brag about that just a little. I wouldn’t
say I am jealous as much as just proud. Being proud of your friends?
That seems a little strange. Well, maybe not all that strange.
The day before we left for the Ang Thong Marine Park, she had made
a tasty batch of beans but they were pretty hard on the GI tract. The
smell they put off while cooking was heavenly but the smells they made
me put off were hellish. Fortunately or unfortunately they were doing
some evil work on Cate’s stomach so she wasn’t around to
witness the horror. She was sleeping most of the beginning of the journey.
She also had a headache to boot. I wish living on the boat were easier.
I know it is difficult in more ways then one.
We took leave of Koh Tao at around two on a beautiful afternoon. The
sun was shinning and the waves were small. The sky was filled with high
stratus clouds and some small puffs here and there at lower levels.
Off in the distance over the mainland hovered the usual cumulonimbus
clouds rising up kilometers into the atmosphere. Clouds are such beautiful
As we motored out of the bay on the west side of Koh Tao the wind was
blowing gently out of the Southwest. Cate was asleep on the main bunk
while the engine rattled and banged away. It is a comforting sound yet
after a few hours you notice that your fingers and toes are also rattling
to the same clack clack as the engine and so are your liver, stomach
and kidneys. I was hoping we could sail most of the way to the Ang Thong
Marine Park, but this didn’t seem to be happening.
There was enough wind to raise a sail though so I did. I ran up to the
foredeck and raised the Genoa. In just about 2 minutes it was up and
I was back in the cockpit cranking the winch and trimming the sail.
The breeze began slight but increased as we motored along. In just a
half hour I decided to also raise the main. That took about 1 minute
30 seconds and I was back in the cockpit and the boat was starting to
do her comfortable ten-degree heel. The sails were starting to fill
properly and pretty soon we were going fast enough to turn off the engine.
One sound I truly love in this boat is the sound of the drive shaft
spinning while the engine is off. Once the engine is shut down and the
wind is strong enough the water moving under the boat will spin the
propeller. The engine is in neutral so the propeller is free and when
we are cruising the drive shaft makes this soft clunking as the prop
spins with the passing water. It is a sound that goes along with full
sails, a nice breeze in my hair and the sound of lapping water passing
by the hull. That
afternoon was full of that sound.
I found a comfortable seat on the side of the cockpit just behind the
winch. It was a position Tony and I found ideal to pilot the boat but
it was not that comfortable. I had finally realized that if I purchased
a few cushions of the correct dimensions they would transform that seat
into a perfect piloting position. I made the purchase and they worked
wonderfully. The steering wheel is a bit more of a reach but it is just
about perfect otherwise. I found I could even dip my left foot in the
water as we cruised along. It is also perfect to adjust the winch, which
is positioned just below the crotch. I have a good picture that captures
this position and also makes the winch handle look very phallic. I swear
it was not on purpose. I spent most of the afternoon in that position
adjusting the Genoa as we sailed along at 5 to 6 knots.
It was pretty heavenly and my heart felt light to have a good friend
on board and such ideal winds to cruise under. The wind slowly shifted
around all afternoon until it was coming out of the northwest. This
made the tack progressively faster and faster as we drifted from a close
haul to a pleasantly brisk beam reach. The strength also increased until
it was blowing quite hard by early evening.
I was also loving the fact that I was doing everything. A strange thing
to say I know but I was not sure I could handle the boat completely
on my own yet. I proved that in decent to semi rough conditions with
a faulty exhaust system problem I could quite easily handle the boat
on my own.
We tore across the teal green sea at a wonderful pace and reached the
northern most island in the chain at about 5 pm. I had considered anchoring
there if the weather was not too rough but the wind was increasing and
the island was more exposed than I wanted to deal with. It was also
in fairly deep water with the shallowest areas around 45 feet. Had the
conditions been gentle it would have been a perfect place to start a
nice southerly journey through the Ang Thong Islands. But since the
wind was blowing at about 15 to 20 knots at that point I decided to
continue on to the larger islands further south.
We sailed close enough to that first island to get a good wave shadow
but no wind shadow. We went ripping along the side of the island. The
wind would circle around the island in stiff gusts and heel the boat
over and fill the sails powerfully. We would feel a tremendous burst
of speed and then the wind would relax for a minute and then blow hard
The side of the island was sheer vertical limestone rising up 2 to 3
hundred feet out of the water. That island was by far the most uninhabitable
of the chain and in some ways the most stunning. There was hardly any
vegetation on it accept at the tops of the cliffs hanging out over the
sea. It was like sailing by a slate gray and orange wall pocked with
caves and stalactites and swallows arcing by overhead. By
this time Cate was up and about. She made me a yummy sandwich and gave
me water and a vita-milk for good measure. We talked and she sat up
on the cabin top for a while.
Recently I had all the cushions for the boat remade and we had been
using the old ones out on deck during the day. I had given most of them
away to Thai friends but we had kept two. While at Koh Tao one of the
cushions had blow away during the night. I felt a little bad about polluting
in such a way but I suspected it was blown to sea and would arrive on
the other side of the gulf in a few days to wash up on one of the islands
in the Koh Chang Marine Park.
I had kept a close eye on the last one all day until we reached the
first island in the chain. At that point I was looking for a good anchorage
and inspecting the conditions so I was not aware until one of the gusts
flipped the little cushion right off the cabin top into the sea. Cate
was in the cockpit and spotted where it had landed so we turned around
to retrieve it.
This was much more difficult then I though. We passed it two or three
times and I even ran over it once but every time it was just out of
reach as the cockpit passed it. The wind was not helping much either,
blowing it away from us or into us on the wrong side. Finally Cate just
jumped in and rescued it while I put the ladder down. It was full of
water and hard to pick up. It was nearly impossible for Cate to lift
it with one hand while holding onto the ladder, but I grabbed it with
both hands, lifted it up and then slapped it onto the cabin top again.
It wasn’t going anywhere full of water. It weighed about 25 pounds.
That was the episode of the cushion fiasco. Thanks to Cate’s bravery
we still have one old cushion left and the gulf of Siam is a little
cleaner then it would have been.
The wind blew us down the island chain.
By the late afternoon the wind was getting quite strong and I was considering
pulling down the Genoa. The boat was healing over a lot and I could
see the stress it was putting on the standing rigging. With the strong
wind the waves started to increase in size and there was, at one point,
even some surfing.
Since the wind had been blowing hard for a few hours the resulting waves
were almost two meters. I would say between 4 to 6 feet. We were still
heading on a beam reach so we were taking some of these larger waves
on the side of the boat. At one point the boat did some serious rocking
while Cate was in the cabin. She grabbed onto the handrail on the ceiling
while the bed and all its contents went spilling onto the floor. Then
we rocked to the other side and half the dish-rack came down on the
floor as well. It was mayhem and Cate was hanging like a monkey in the
middle of it. The vacuum cleaner stored in the bathroom came falling
down and burst open the bathroom door and out into the hallway. The
full crate of 32 eggs was placed on the floor earlier. I did not, in
any way, want 32 eggs smashed around the cabin in the process of sailing.
The crate slid across the floor and piled under the trashcan on the
Cate was screaming and laughing. I was very glad she was laughing because
I knew a few people who would have been screaming and crying. I adjusted
the sails and our tack to stop the rolling while she picked some things
up, checked the eggs and threw other things into safer positions.
We decided that since the waves had gotten quite large we would head
for the windward side of the islands and get into the wave shadow as
soon as possible. I turned on the engine and let loose the Genoa and
headed on a downwind run so as to avoid the waves on the beam. We made
good time with some rocking of the boat but not nearly as bad as the
first time. The waves looked pretty intimidating behind the boat as
they surged towards us, but they would just pass underneath us and move
on their way.
At one point we heard a loud bump at the back of the boat. “What
the hell was that?” I said. Then we noticed that the dingy was
right on the tail of the boat. I had tied her to the back with a long
rope before we began. What was she doing bouncing into the back of the
We watched as the dingy drifted back to the end of the line, which was
about 25 feet back. It then started moving as fast as the boat and when
one of the larger waves came up behind it, it started to surf down the
wave towards us at a very fast pace. It didn’t hit the boat again
but we watched in entertainment as it surfed down wave after wave. I
was very jealous and almost gave the helm to Cate and jumped into the
finally got behind the main island group and the waves died down. I
gave the wheel to Cate and took down and bagged both sails. I put the
foredeck in order and by that time we were watching another orange-tang
sunset through the spaces between the small cliff islands. It was wonderful
and the wind started to blow quite strong again. I was glad we were
safe behind the islands.
We motored through the archipelago towards the main park headquarters.
When we arrived I found that the channel next to where I wanted to moor
up was funneling the wind through the mooring. I had noticed quite a
few fishing boats anchored outside this area behind one of the smaller
islands. I usually make it a rule that if there are fishermen anchoring
somewhere that means it is one of the better spots to be. We motored
around the fishing boats and dropped anchor just north of most of the
As night fell completely quite a few boats anchored in the area.
We stayed there that night and when we awoke almost all the boats were
gone. The day was filled with some land activities but we spent most
of the time on the boat. In the afternoon Cate and I cooked some wicked
breaded chicken strips. I hadn’t had that type of food in a long
time. I cut up the chicken, Cate egged and breaded them and then she
DEEP FRIED them. Glorious! I almost passed out when I took a bite of
the first one. It was tender, piping hot and stupendously greasy. Yummy!
the time we had finished the chicken strips there were quite a few large
fishing boats back in the same place. As the evening came on, more boats
arrived. Half an hour later even more drove up. They anchored south
of us. A few anchored to the north of us. Some anchored to the east
and west of us. Pretty soon large fishing vessels surrounded us. Half
of them drove by us to see what we were about before they dropped anchor
or tied up to other boats. Cate always waved and she always got an eager
response. On one boat there were four guys hanging their heads out the
side windows staring at us. Cate waved and they all immediately waved
back. I could have sworn they did it in perfect unison, as if they were
waiting for Cate to initiate. It was like a musical. I think her commitment
to total arm extended waving is what always gets such good responses.
I tried a few casual waves but they were obviously not as effective.
We were surrounded. The fishing boats would tie up to each other as
well as anchor and there were as many as seven boats tied side by side.
It was quite a sight to see; rows and rows of boats all around us. Most
of them were in sets of two or three. I counted over 50 boats at one
point. The boats didn’t have all their lights on but enough to
create the feeling of a city. We were in a city of fishing boats that
all arrived between 5 and 6 in the afternoon and ran engines, fixed
nets and generators, chatted and just made a lot of noise. It was not
annoying as much as totally interesting. We could look 360 degrees and
see bright lights in abundance. We were all floating around in circles
with the tides and currents. The boats were brightly colored and had
many different lights on. They had red lights, green lights, fluorescent
lights, orange lights, purple lights and even the occasional standard
light. I felt the only thing missing was a beer light. That would have
completed the city image we were witnessing.
It smelled like a city even. Well . . . maybe a little fishier than
most cities. It smelled like the port district accept a little nastier.
It smelled of diesel and exhaust and of good food cooking. It smelled
of spicy curries, Thai omelets, fried fish with lemon, garlic, peppers
and a slight whiff of sugar. Maybe that last part was in my head but
I could have sworn . . . .
I must admit that it smelled like fish also. It smelled like fresh fish.
It smelled like two-day-old fish. It also smelled like really nasty-ass
fishy fish. That last one predominated but I could smell past it if
I allowed my nose to adjust.
It was a great fishing city on the water.
And what made it even more magical was how it had vanished almost completely
by the time we awoke the next morning.
I will close on that note. Six pages and a few photos is long enough.
Much love to my friends and family,