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?