We arrived in Ko Miang island, one of the Similan Islands, this afternoon. Turns out there is some pre 3G Mobile phone service here even though the islands are uninhabited except for a park ranger station. The service was installed as part of a tsunami warning system. Anyway, the water is crystal clear and there were lots of fish when we swam around the boat. We will write more later. It is nice to have cell phone service wherever we go.
Tomorrow (Thursday) morning we will leave Yacht Haven Marina heading for the Semilan Islands. We need to sail south to the southern end of Phuket Island and then north and west to the Semilans. We will day sail the trip around Phuket before heading to the Semilans from Patong Bay. From the Semilans we expect to sail to the Surin Islands that lie on the Myanmar (Burma) border. There is no phone or Internet access in the Semilans and we no longer have the sat phone, so we will not be able to post a blog for awhile. We will be away as long as we have fresh water in our tank since our water maker still does not work, but no longer than three weeks.
At the end of February we will do a visa run to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via air. Loading of Sabbatical III on the freighter will be sometime in the March 5 to 20 window. So we are pretty much booked up for the next few months.
We have decided that there are too many pirates in the northern Indian Ocean and that the seas are too large in the Southern Ocean, so it makes sense to skip “over” these problems by putting Sabbatical III on a freighter and shipping her to Marmaris, Turkey. She will load sometime in March and unload in Turkey about 3 weeks later. Marmaris is the sailing capital of Turkey, located just a few hours sail from the Greek islands. This means that the planned circumnavigation will not happen, but the point all along is to have a safe and memorable adventure. We are looking forward to cruising in the Med.
After spending most of the month of December at the marina in Phuket doing boat repairs we left the dock on December 28th to start heading across Phang Nga Bay to Krabi Province to pick up Ben. Krabi is only about 32 nautical miles away as the crow flies, but you can’t go directly there because of all the islands in the way between Phuket and Krabi. There are also several areas in the large bay where the water is too shallow to cross except at a higher tide, so the timing of each day’s passage had to be planned out. We spent 4 days sailing through Phang Nga Bay stopping each day to drop anchor and explore the many spectacular islands that rise almost vertically out of the bay. The steep cliffs of these islands are famous for their many beautiful hidden “hongs” which are caves that are burrowed into the mountain, often opening into dramatic enclosed lagoons with emerald green water. Access to the hongs is typically by kayak, and sometimes the openings into the hongs are so small that you can only swim in. The mountains of Phang Nga Bay, as well as the hongs, are famous and you would most likely have seen them in many of the travel brochures or other ads for Thailand. There was even one featured in an old James Bond Movie (“The Man With the Golden Gun”) and it is now known as James Bond Island. Although James Bond Island was a bit underwhelming to us, compared to the other islands in the bay, its name has made it one of the busiest tourist destinations in the area.
We began at Koh Hong island where, in addition to the large hong, we were offered fresh prawns early each morning by fisherman on longtails. After spending a quiet New Years by ourselves in a beautiful anchorage 15 miles west of Krabi (Koh Kudu Yai) we sailed east towards Krabi in winds that often topped 30 knots. We arrived in Rai Le Bay (near Krabi) on January 1st. As soon as we pulled into the beautiful bay we got a phone call from Ben. He was on the beach and had watched us drop anchor. He and his large group of friends, all visiting Thailand, were all anxious to come to the boat. They had all attended the wedding of two of their Brown University friends in Bangkok (Sunissa and Nat) and were extending their celebration at the low-key backpacker resort area at Rai Le. Ben arrived on our boat at about 5:30 p.m. via a longtail boat ( the name of the noisy local wooden boats that carry tourists and just about anything else you can think of back and forth) with a half dozen of his friends. Soon after another 2 longtails arrived dropping off another 10 friends and we had a wonderful party onboard Sabbatical III. It was such a fun celebration to have Ben with us again, and then to be part of the celebration for his fantastic group of friends.
That night Ben went back to shore to spend one more night with his friends. Poor guy got hit with either food poisoning or the flu and was up sick all night. By the next day he felt better and he and his close friend Nathanial and his wife, Stephanie all came out to the boat. We had planned to take them all out sailing for 2 days, but by the time we had dinner it was clear that it was Nathanial’s turn to be sick so he and Steph headed back to shore where they knew they would be more comfortable. They both ended up being sick, as did many others in their group. It must have been quite a contagious flu, but neither Mark nor I got it.
Rai Le Bay was beautiful, but way too noisy with dozens of longtails zooming by in the anchorage all day long, so we were happy to lift anchor, with Ben on board and proceed to one of the nearby anchorages (to “Chicken Head Island” ) where we could enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. We then spent the next 6 days sailing back towards Phuket with Ben, stopping in all of the beautiful places we had discovered on our way to meet him, and finding several more. I am providing detailed notes on these anchorages later in the blog to aid other sailors. Highlights of the trip included watching thousands of fruit bats rise up out of the trees on a mountain near us and fly directly overhead as they crossed over to some distant island, swimming everyday in the emerald green water (always on the look-out for jelly-fish), exploring the “hongs” or inner lagoons of many of the islands (to enter the hong you usually have to paddle through a narrow entrance either on a kayak or a dinghy – in some cases you can only swim in), admiring the sheer beauty of the sea mountains and all the strange shapes of the stalagtites, watching monkeys on the shore, watching Ben climb up to the naturally carved walkways formed on the outsides of the cliffs and leap off (sometimes via a swinging vine), sitting on the deck every evening watching the clouds and stars, eating lots of mangoes, watermelon, bananas, mangosteen, rambutan, longan (Ben’s favorite). Eating too spicy curry. Making fruit smoothies. Being surrounded by natural beauty every single day. Having the anchorages all to ourselves at the end of the day when all the tourist boats would leave.
We arrived back at Phuket on the evening of the 8th and pulled into our marina slip on the 9th. On our last day on the boat together Mark and Ben had a chance to talk research and statistics and then we went to Nai Yang Beach where Ben and I were able to get a Thai massage at one of the 30 or so massage parlors that line the beach (they were great). The airport is just 5 minutes from the beach and we managed to get Ben there just in time for his flight back to Bangkok and ultimately back to New York. It was a great trip.
These are some photos taken after we left Yacht Haven at the northern end of Phuket Island and headed east through Phang Nga Bay in order to pick up Ben at Rai Le Beach in Krabi Province and bring him back to Phuket. More text and photos will follow in separate blog posts.