Friday, October 8, 2021

Thailand Part 3 with Diego & Ana

 The World Changes

It was Jan 2020 and I was lounging in the yacht early one morning reading the news of the world on my phone when the Covid headlines finally became too loud to ignore. There can be no safer place than a seaworthy boat during a viral pandemic. But alas, we were restless and willing to roll the dice. We bought airfare to Chang Mai and set our sights on Northern Thailand. 


Goodbye Phuket

Chang Mai

The first thing an American does when arriving for a lengthy stay in a cosmopolitan foreign city is to locate the Mexican Restaurant. It happened to be around the corner from our apartment and was always filled with other Yanks. Then I joined a gym (because – tacos!). High on Aleja’s list is finding Salsa dancing. We did that too. This place is better than I remembered from ten years ago. The temp is divine and the delicious restaurant options are plentiful. Fredrik - - -A Real Reuben Sando!!


Remnants of the ancient walls of Chiang Mai




We visited every tourist attraction


Reclining as the Buddha but completely oblivious


The attention to detail always astounds me




Childhood Meditation

Adult Meditation

Shargies!!!

Shargies!!!

This is a term of endearment for Argentines since their default setting for every other letter in Spanish is “Sh”. Diego and Ana are our Buenos Aires family. They housed us and fed us and toured with us and drove 2000 miles to visit us in Brazil. They are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They arrived one evening in time to witness us win at trivia and then we celebrated our reunion. The next day we rented scooters and buzzed around the ancient city and enjoyed the archeological ruins and each other’s company.

It's Thailand, of course we went to a drag show!


Chiang Rai & Chiang Dao

Thumbs up on Rai and thumbs down on Dao. Your results may differ. There is the “sweet-spot-o-tourism”; the narrow timeline in which a place has outgrown its dirt roads, added espresso machines & international cuisine yet still hasn’t become Bangkok. Chang Rai is in the perfect Goldie Locks zone, Chang Dao hasn’t graduated yet. We went back to Chang Mai and got in a few more nice days before the farmers started burning off their fields. The air pollution quickly became so bad it made Bangkok look appealing.  





A Week In Bangkok  

This is not my favorite city. The only reason we came was to get our visas for Indonesia. No luck for AB. They told her she would need to go back to Colombia to apply. It’s not easy traveling on a Colombian passport at times. However, there was another way: She could fly to Singapore, and hire an agent. It was the only chance we had. We bet the farm on a maybe, tried not to think of the negative potential outcomes, and left the filthy metropolis of Bangkok to return to the islands and Diego and Ana. 


Seems redundant right?


Koh Lanta For a Third Time

A couple months before this pic we were anchored with the boats in the background


We got 3 nights on this island (we’d anchored here twice before) with the Shargies and then we had to say goodbye. We got almost a month in total with these two. Diego and Ana – Argentinians are categorically wonderful and these two are a couple of the best. We miss them constantly.

Nothing wrong with Krabi!

Krabi

The plan was for her to fly to Singapore, spend the night, and early the next day pay the visa agent to get everything processed and then hop a flight to Bali that evening. She was feeling guilty for all the extra costs. We kissed goodbye at the Krabi airport and she whispered, “People think they want an exotic pet but do they imagine how much more they cost?” Everything about her is worth it.

Got to party with Matt Lewis for a night. He sailed with me 10 years ago


I arrived in Bali and checked into a dump for the next 3 nights. It’s really hard to know how thin the walls are from pictures. Aleja joined me 24 hours later and the cough started the next day. We moved into a different place that was much better and then I lost my sense of smell. I’m pretty sure I’m one of many who brought Covid to the Island of The Gods.



But that’s in the next dispatch.

Your man on point,

Bobby Guling












Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Thailand & Malaysia Part 2


Malaysia

We hopped a short flight from Penang back to Langkawi (a large island off the mainland of Malaysia). We rented a scooter and explored the island. The sweating never ends. Ice cubes and aircon are humanities revenge against the elements and we took more than our share of both. The yacht and her purring aircon got us thru the midday kiln heat in that breathless marina.


Evenings were spent watching the sun set thru masts as the ice cubes softened the adult beverage of choice. Eventually we provisioned the galley and tanks and slipped the lines to sail back across the border into Thai waters.




The women can only expose their faces to their husbands. How do they eat?


In cloistered mini dining chambers.
The waiter knocks and averts his eyes while passing thru the food



Our tranquil exit from Langkawi





Koh Lipe

We loved it the first time and it lived up to its memories the second time. We picked up the same mooring ball we had hung on a few weeks before, launched the dink and buzzed back over to the islands east coast, drank deeply, hid from the sun and gorged on massaman curry. Veteran tip - Never order any protein other than seafood on a small island. 


Cocooned in the hard acorn of Great Sensations we were routinely lulled to sleep by the gentle undulations of the sea. We would awake to her melodic gurgles lapping at the waterline. If you are roused from slumber with the sunrise you’ll get maybe 2 hours before the tropical temps flip the perspiration switch. 
Beautiful Koh Lipe on the south side

What a glorious breakfast it is without the burning orb forcing one into the shadows. The heat of the day was vanquished with a backflip off the gunnel, and in the evening the twinkling stars grinned at us with no city glow to diminish the shine in their smiles.  


Koh Muk

We motored to Koh Muk and anchored in 25 feet of water. We were still really far from the rocky cliffs. Most all of these anchorages are rolly open roadsteads. The wind blows 18-22 knots all night and even if the fetch is short the ground swell rolls around these little islands and rocks us. 

Hanging on the rope that marks the entry

We’d come to explore a hidden cave that one had to swim to through a long sunless black tunnel. It was a little gripping since it curved and the end wasn’t in view for 50 meters and it was too deep to walk. The locals had placed floats with reflective tape so our headlamp could bounce the light against them to mark our path in near total darkness. 

Ahh...daylight and the way to land



Koh Lanta

This was a repeat anchorage for us. It’s a beautiful cove but shallow enough that we were still too far outside its protection to save us from the rolling swell.


The wind stayed at 20 knots and it was a crowded anchorage. I didn’t sleep well. The next morning the windlass made only a clicking noise and quit. I had to haul it off the bottom by hand in 20 knot winds in short quarters with a lumpy sea. Aleja helped by driving into it but that came with its own complications since I’m facing forward, we can’t hear each other, and hand signals are impossible while I heave. The chain section was rather easy but once the anchor came off the bottom it got tough. With Aleja’s help we got it on deck without me getting a hernia. 

Dodging nets and boats in my self imposed race to the slip



The Race To The Slip

I picked a waypoint 45nm away at Koh Yao Yai. For only another 15nm I could be back in the slip, plugged in for aircon and sipping fine Venezuelan rum. My stiffening back was my inspiration for perfectly trimming the sails endlessly and accurately hitting every waypoint so as to shave down our time enroute. 


I didn’t want to haul that anchor again but I promised Tobin I wouldn’t be in motion after dark. My old skills didn’t betray me and we beat sunset by ½ an hour. I sent the following pic as proof to my friend and we both slept soundly. 



Nothing wrong with phenomenal Phuket

Marinating In A Marina

I compiled a to-do list of all the things I felt Great Sensations could benefit from. I sent it to Tobin and got started the next day. I spread the chores over 2 weeks and we savored our life of luxury onboard a comfy yacht in a marina.  


I may have betrayed the brotherhood by teaching Aleja the secret life of old white men. We played bingo at the yacht club, shopped in chandleries for boat baubles, and scootered to ancient English pubs for trivia night. She is definitely having a cultural experience living with me, just not the one she thought she was going to get. 

We got a personal tour from the French captain who had a crush on my girlfriend

There are certain demarcation points in life that make effective tally lines in which one can score their existence. I ranked high enough on another man’s friendship list that he entrusted me to sail his boat back to his slip and call it home for 40 days. I’m far from perfect but Aleja loves me and Tobin Alexander trusts me with something as momentous as this. I’ll shut up now and take the win.


Your salty man on point,

Captain Bob


Friday, September 3, 2021

Thailand & Malaysia Part 1

Our check in routine begins with peeling back the sheets and scrutinizing the mattress for nasties with our flashlights. We had just arrived in Phuket Thailand from Rangoon Burma and the place we had booked online came with bedbugs at no extra charge. We showed the madam, she nodded, we strapped our backpacks on and relocated to a nicer place up the block. Bedbugs will move into your belongings, are very difficult to rid yourself of, and will take pleasure in ruining your life. We certainly didn’t want to import them to our friend’s yacht. 

And then the fun began! 


We had come to Phuket to meet my friends Tobin, Therese & Maddie, and to sail for a couple weeks on their luxuriously appointed yacht. We’d met 10 years earlier when I was in Singapore managing the refit of a yacht I use to captain. I spotted them on the dock walking with their dachshund “Why did the Texan get a dachshund” I queried, and then quickly followed up with … “So he could ‘get a long little doggy’!” Turns out they were from Texas and though my joke fell flat we became good friends. We had stayed in touch over the preceding decade and when they learned we were in SE Asia they invited us to cruise with them for the Xmas/NYE timeline. They fell in love with Aleja immediately as we slipped the dock lines and motored out of the marina. 


Great Sensations is an Island Packet 420. Built in 2002 and upgraded regularly ever since, this beauty keeps getting better. She now has aircon throughout, a washer/dryer, a thrumming generator to power them, a bow thruster, a water maker, top of the line chart plotter navigation monitors, and full solar panels with a wind generator for those evenings when you prefer the peace and tranquility of a quiet anchorage. We lived in luxury for a week as we sailed down island from Phuket, Thailand to Langkawi, Malaysia. 



As a man who once exalted in the role of “The Captain”, I was now thrilled to be reduced to crew. It promised all of the joys of cruising with none of the responsibilities or expenses. It lived up to its promise. I’ve sworn off boat ownership indefinitely but more than occasionally I catch myself shopping boats along the Dalmatian coast. Bad habits die slowly. 

Our Traveling Companions Daughter 

Madeline Alexander is an interesting case study in growing up abroad. I met her when she was 9. She’s now 21. Her parents are both Americans with perfect Texas accents. Maddie has the same accent, though she’s never lived in the USA. She’s lived all over Asia and is perfectly fluent in Mandarin. So when she arrived in Boston for her first semester of university and the kids would ask her where she was from… You can imagine the shenanigans: “I was born in Phuket, Thailand but mostly raised in Singapore”. Blank stare. “But you’re white and you sound just like me.” I went to English speaking schools.” “You don’t sound English. Where are you really from?” “You caught me – I’m from Texas.” Then she would turn to the Taiwanese guy and speak to him in lightning fast Mandarin. 

While we were sailing around her mom read her a headline from Florida that said 2 Carnival Cruise ships had collided. Maddie said – “I hope no animals were hurt!” We laughed. She didn’t get it. Tobin said, “She looks American, She sounds American, She might smell American – not American!” 

The approach to Maya Bay. Made famous by the Dicaprio movie The Beach


The Anchorages 

We anchored off Phanak, and Ko Yao Yai islands, but our 2 favorite anchorages were Koh Lanta at the southern end and Koh Lipe on the north side (though we made the rolly mistake of anchoring on the south side for one night). We spent Xmas on Koh Lanta. Fire spectacles on the beach, fresh seafood, and endless cocktails made for a luxurious celebration of our lord and savior amidst the pageantry of Buddist Thailand. 



We made it to Koh Lipe in time for Therese’s birthday with the swarms of Swedish backpackers. It’s so odd how certain islands attract a given nationality over others. 

Koh Lipe was our last anchorage in Thai waters before we made the short hop to Langkawi Malaysia. We managed only 10 minutes of sailing in total and it was on our final approach to the Marina in Malaysia. Sometimes the gods of wind just don’t share your travel plans. 

New Years In Langkawi 



We cleared customs and immigration, enjoyed the international cuisine and rang in the New Year that would go down in history (Good old 2020) in a small harbor on a large island just off the coast of mainland Malaysia. 


 The Alexanders awoke early the next day to catch their flights and Tobin handed me the keys to his boat. That’s unheard of. Possibly, the highest praise one can give to another is trust, and when one entrusts to another their most cherished object, that's really special. All the more exceptional when that object represents the lenders dreams. He didn't loan me a commodity. He entrusted to me a large piece of his retirement reveries. I was honored beyond words. Tobin Alexander – a true mensch whose inclusive spirit and generous trust attest to his honorable actions. Needless to say; I’m a huge fan. 

"The Tobin" entertains the local boys


The Nelsons 

In 2008 Suzi Roberts and I were in a beach front bar on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island chain looking over charts of the surrounding seas. All the sailboats that we had sailed across the South Pacific with were headed thru the Torres Strait to Darwin Australia. I had a wild thought to instead sail over the north of Papua New Guinea and through the entire eastern Indonesian archipelago to Bali. No one does that. Gene Nelson was the only other person who had the same idea. We shook on it and made a pact to buddy boat the 4000 nautical miles together in support of each other. We didn’t see another Western boat the entire way. And oh the places we went together. Wow! 
Eating coconut crab on Barraveigh in the Admiralty Islands of Papua New Guinea 2008


Gene skurfing in the western Solomon Island Chain with their yacht Emelia in the background while the locals looked on 2008



Gene had been diagnosed with throat cancer and the family was all together in Penang for his surgery and recovery. We left Tobin’s boat in the marina and caught a flight to see them. We rented a room nearby. Our first meal was at an authentic Indian restaurant. Aleja and I immediately made eye contact after the first bite and in perfect chorus said, “Let’s eat every meal here”. We almost did. 


We toured the city in between daily overloads of fantastic Indian cuisine and hung out with Gene in the evenings. 


Gene Update 

Somewhere in Eastern Indonesia after many drinks and songs 2008


He made a full recovery and flew back to his boat that is anchored in Kilifi, Kenya. We flew back to Tobin’s boat and sailed it back to Phuket. But that’s in the next dispatch. 
Great Sensations in the pretty little marina of Telaga Harbour Langkawi Malaysia



Your man on point, 
Able Seamen Bobby

P.S./ Lots of sailing memories huh? Do I need another boat in my future?