Friday, November 28, 2008

Malay Medical

On the cruise down, with the fresh winds and fine sailing, we worked the boat and sail rather vigorously - lots of tacking and jibing. I wrenched my shoulder and kept using it, and the pain persisted and eventually required a doctor visit. Sprained outer rotator cuff. Crappity crap. I was warned by all around here not to go to the main hospital, which is apparently new, modern, immaculately scrubbed, and devoid of decent professional staff. Instead I visited the clinic of a favored indian physician. Quick exam, advice for treatment, and 3 different meds: $11.50.

Andaman Islands, Etc.

Two Weeks at Sea

I've just returned from sailing up and down the Thai Andaman islands – stunning! More students this time, so at Phuket Mark, Jimmy and I heaved over to Aeolus, a 35' Beneteau Bahamian sloop. Aeolus is the god of wind, as featured in da Odyssey – a bestseller from way, way back. Along with Chris, the owner and instructor-in-training, and Skip, the instructor. We sailed up in the Kay Sira, and in tandem with her back down, dropping anchor at some beautiful uninhabited islands as well as a few tourist hot spots. Sailing up, we had very light and poor winds, but coming back down the seasonal North Easterlies kick in with a thump! We had great sailing back down, almost 7 knots at one point.

I can now handle a crew, plan and pilot passages, plot position by GPS and dead reckoning, plot Course to Steer vis a vis leeway and tidal stream, moor, identify buoyage and lights, identify horn and bell signals, etc. Next week we begin the Yachtmaster theory portion – lots of complex tidal work, navigation, and a painfully thorough drilling of the IRPCS (International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea).

Am told there are lots of summer jobs in the Med and Aegean skippering charter and flotilla boats. Hmmmm. I'll be qualified for that, if I don't fuck up.

Wally World

Wally is an American who lives on a tiny Thai island and runs a barebones resort. It's the stuff of novels: diesel generator held together with twine and soldered coathangars. Wally is a self proclaimed 'Fat Old Fart' who is beloved by Yachties who drop anchor there for a home-cooked meal and cold beer. He is famous in these parts for his Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, which book up months in advance.

Ao Nang – En Route to Phuket

Arrived Tuesday late at the stunningly beautiful Ao Nang in Krabi province. Finished up off the beach with some Man Overboard exercises under sail, then anchored 500m off the beach. Since the boat is named Kay Sira, apparently it's logical to name the dinghy 'Doris'. The immediate area boasts some of the most picturesque geology on the Thai coast – huge monolithic towers jutting up from the sea. The town is a jumping off point to many popular spots, such as Ko Pi Pi, as well as what some call the most beautiful rock climbing in the world. I'm writing at 6:45 AM while sitting on a bench above the beach, and have a 7:30 rendezvous with Barry and Doris. The entire crew met up early last night after Barry and Lynette had moto'd into Krabi Town to find roof tiles for their Langkawi house. Sourcing good quality building materials in SE Asia isn't that much of a problem, but finding any kind of aesthetic variety is often quite a challenge. Upon meeting up the sky decided to grace us with a healthy downpour, and since an open dinghy in the rain is not much fun, short beers became long, and the rounds added up. We basically got trashed, waiting for the rain to stop.


I used to like Thailand, and might still, if I keep to my word never to stay in Phuket/Patong again. It really is the worst of SE Asia. To add insult to injury, prices for tourist services all along the West coast of Thailand are fixed. A Thai Massage is Bt200 an hour, no matter where you go, no matter which island. From island X, there are a gazillion longtail boats that will take you to island Y. But you know what? They all charge the same inflated rate. In Patong, our Australian hostel-keeper mentioned that a taxi driver was shot to death in front of his business (22 times) for undercutting the local price structure. It's really off-putting that Thailand is putting the big squeeze on tourists. That's why I like Malaysia.

Big Drinking

Did I mention that Langkawi Island is entirely tax and duty-free? A 1-liter bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin costs about $12.50 US. My room at this little hostel costs about $8.50 a night. This place has Fandango written all over it.

Farewell for now, friends, I'm meeting my crew in a bit for dinner on the beach.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Running Away to Sea


Hey everybody, I've run away to sea! I'd tossed around the taking sailboat training for some time, doing 'daydream' web research as far back as 2002-2003. I learned a bit about the certificate programs available through US and UK-based organizations, but only this year researched in earnest locations that I might like to train. Here I am in Langkawi Island, Malaysia learning how to sail from a British instructor who's been sailing for some 30 +/- years. He's amazingly knowledgeable: he often trains sailing instructors and serves as an examiner of examiners. That is to say, if you want to become a master sailing examiner, he's the guy that will either train you or test you (but never both).

I arrived in Langkawi after a grueling flight to Singapore, and two days recovery in Kuala Lumpur. It's amazing to be back in SE Asia, I love it here so much. The easy going lifestyle, the interesting people from all over the world, the warm water and fantastic natural beauty really make me happy.

I arrived on the Island at 9:30 AM and by 3:00 that day was sailing off to Rebak island with the instructor (Barry) and his wife (Lynette), and two other students. Of the two, Jimmy – and Aussie – is far more experienced, having served on superyachts as Engineer. He's about 35 and worked his way up from charter fishing boats and backpacker surfing excursions in the south pacific. Our other crewmate is Mark: Dutch national of Dutch and Philippine parentage, born in Bahrain, raised in Japan and the Hague, now calling Singapore home and he just dropped out after one year of civil engineering at UBC (Vancouver).

Boring people, I've come to learn, don't choose a career on the sea.

My course program is 7 weeks: 1 week aboard for Competent Crew; one week on land in the classroom (9:00-5:00) and two weeks aboard for Day Skipper; then one/two again for Coastal Skipper. Also fitted in are one-day courses in Thailand for VHF radio operation and Diesel mantenance. For the practical sailing components we'll be cruising from Langkawi to Phuket and back, then later from Langkawi to Myanmar and back.

The second program is six weeks of sailing and one week of classroom prep for the Yachtmaster exam. I'm considering taking this course as well. With this certificate, I can skipper a sail vessel up to 80 feet or 200 tons. Damn, that's a big fucking boat.

Subsequent courses include Yachtmaster Ocean, which requires an ocean passage of 2500 miles, and Cruising Instructor, a teaching certification.

Sea Hippies

Barry, my instructor is a hugely entertaining character, in addition to reminding me very much of Wallace, of Wallace and Grommet fame. He's retired from the British Army, where oddly enough, he spent much of his time on loan to the Royal Navy, training sailors. Among the great stories that he and his wife Lynette shared with us, was the time they were living in Kuwait. Yeah, they we're captured by the Iraqis, held captive for some 4 or 5 months at a hydroelectric installation as human shields. When he retired, their children were in their very early twenties. The kids took over the house payments, B and L bought and outfitted a 42 foot cruising yacht, and set off to circumnavigate the globe.

After cruising the Med for a few years, they hit the Caribbean, and liked the area so much they stayed and ran charters for three years. Oh, and they loved the parties, too. Eventually they made their way to Langkawi, and continued their charter business here. In the off season B frequently flew back to the UK to teach, so when demand for instruction grew in SE Asia, B and L started their school. Now they spend the off season at their cottage in Spain. Life's tough for them.

Classwork – Shorebased

An interesting weekend finding suitable digs in Pantai Chenang, the little tourist beach town near the harbor with all the guest houses, little hotels and larger (and often run down) resorts. Mark and I set off together, as Jimmy had secured lodgings earlier. We found a good bargain at one place – double room with fridge, hot shower, and air-con), but then decided it had no soul and was still too expensive, so moved to a cheaper and somewhat run-down guesthouse (no fridge, no air-con, no hot water). I'm paying about $10 a night and Mark about $7 for singles. I pay more for the private bath and porch. The place is popular with backpackers, so there's a social scene going on around. More pleasant.

Today marks the end of day two of class. We've covered tides, tide tables (far more complicated than I had imagined), chart reading, Admiralty Almanac, LAT/LON coordinates, position fixes, course plotting, magnetic/true bearing correction, and standard navigation buoyage.

Day Four of Class is done

Dead reckoning, estimated position, track over water, leeway. Stern line, rum line. My brain is mush, but I've learned an amazing amount.

Friday: Passed my Day Skipper Theory exam. Ship off to Thailand tomorrow for a week of piloting and navigation, and island hopping. Back in two weeks.