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Thailand - late 2011, early 2012



November 30 - Koh Chuku

Baraka is anchored just SW of Koh Chuku, a tiny islet 1/2 mile E of Koh Tanga. This is our first Thai anchorage this year. Nearby is a Dutch yacht with a family, and colorful Thai fishing boats come and go, resting on nearby buoys. Our anchorage is bouncy with the small swells that wrap around Chuku, helping us get used to boat motion after too long in marinas. Nights are hot and sticky, but the breezes here are keeping the mosquitoes at bay. Ashore there is a pretty white sand beach to explore, some rock arches, and good snorkeling and kayaking. We will stay one more night, then sail north to the Koh Rok Group.

We originally had planned to anchor just west of the gap between the two Tangas, but an odd surge from the west made us nervous. We have learned to respect these instincts. Then we had to anchor twice here, when a current set us too close to the reef. Both of us woke up often to check our position, but we are properly set, and the winds are as forecast.


December 2 - Koh Roc Nok - Anchor Dramas

After an easy daysail/motor up from Chuku, we grabbed a park mooring near the gap between the two Roc Noks. Clear water! We could see every sand wrinkle on the bottom. Dave and I donned masks and swam around to check the mooring. Very solid, on a massive block that could hold a freighter, but the depth under our keel was too shallow for the following morningís low tide. Hmmm. So we gave up our nice mooring, and found deeper water to drop the hook. I tried to lay it out between bommies (coral patches) on sand. During the night the wind shifted from W to N, and we wrapped around a coral head. When this happens we can hear the chain growl, an alarming sound. Baraka started rolling a bit miserably in a swell wrapping around from the east. Not a restful night.

At first light we tried to raise anchor and get away. No joy, our chain was looped under a chunk or coral. Dave dove to figure out the problem and how to undo it. Then he motored forward while I fed out more chain until we were clear. Second try this worked!

We motored through the narrow channel between the Roc Noks for open water, but by the time we got through I was getting ankle deep waves over our bow. Dave looked at alternative destinations, to see if one might give us a more favorable angle, but I voted to duck back into shelter rather than spend a day bashing to weather. This time we found a park buoy in a quiet spot in deep water. We will spend another night here to let the winds lay down a bit.


December 3 - Racha Yai

We are so glad we waited out a day at Roc Nok. The night winds howled 30 knots, while we bobbed in the lee. We kayaked ashore to explore, climbing the tsumani escape path to the highest point, up winding stairs that never seemed to quit. They finally wound down again to a rocky shore, then back to the main beach where we rewarded our tired selves with a cold Chang beer. We then snorkeled in the clear waters among coral, nice tropical fish, then kayaked home. Nice day, and much better than bashing our way north! This morning we slipped away early and had an easy motor sail to Racha Yai. Phuket is only 10 miles away, but Monday is the Kingís birthday holiday, so we will park here as we canít clear in to Thailand yet. We caught a mooring buoy and settled in, then noticed a massive front headed our way, from the west. Yikes! We doubled the line to the mooring, and ran the engine in case the mooring failed. Dave turned on the radar to track the front, which arrived in 2 waves, with plenty of wind, breaking seas, but only moderate rain. He also set an anchor watch ring on OpenCPN, to give us immediate warning if the mooring failed. An hour later all was quiet.

Tonight the resort ashore released a series of fire balloons, quite spectacular.

On the way here our autopilot failed, hopefully a connection problem, and the head is partially clogged. Tomorrow we will sort both out, and visit the beach to find out how they do the fire balloons.


December 7 - Ao Chalong

Baraka is anchored next to Scarlett OHara and Estrellita on the east side of Ao Chalong, a huge shallow bay on the south end of Phuket. When we arrived Storyteller, with Harmonie aboard, were also anchored here, so we have had a fun time catching up with good friends. The anchorage is flat calm. We have been able to sleep all night for a welcome change. First priority was a full rebuild of the head. Success! We took the dinghy across the wide bay to town to clear in to Thailand, dropped our laundry off, then caught a songthaw to Big C, a shopping center, to get SIM cards for phone and internet. We are again connected, yay! albeit the 3G internet is painfully slow. Dave needs it to research our autopilot problem.

We joined Estrellita and Scarlett on the beach for a great dinner last night. My fried squid was 80 baht, less than $3. We sat at a table on the sand as the sun went down and stars came out. Down the beach someone released a few of the fire balloons. Magical evening, good food and good company. Weather is still a little unsettled, so we may stay another night or two before curling around the bottom of Phuket to Nai Harn.


December 13 - itís a boat

We have continued to linger here in comfortable Ao Chalong. My back was acting up, so for the past few days Iíd kayak ashore and enjoy a Thai massage in a little beach shack. The masseuse seemed to understand my back problem, despite the language gap, and each day I was better. A full hour massage is 300 baht - less than $10!

After too many days vegging here, we decided this morning to wander west a little to nearby Nai Harn. We loaded the kayak and dinghy, stripped off covers and secured the decks and below. I removed the snubber and was raising anchor when Dave found a problem. The tachometer and ampmeter were misbehaving. Dave quickly determined these symptoms were the result of a slipping alternator belt. He spent the day replacing it, a bigger job than it sounds, as the alternator belt can only be accessed after removing both engine-driven refrigeration belts, and that revealed a second problem with the idler. 7 hours later Dave was finally able to put tools away, both problems fixed.


December 16 - Nai Harn

After Dave spent a day on the engine belts, we tried again to get around the south tip of Phuket to Nai Harn. Success! Dave had rigged our 20-year-old Moulin Rouge wheel-drive autopilot to test it as a backup. It may work, but we need to calibrate it in flat waters, not the chop off the cape. We anchored in Nai Harn, almost exactly on the spot we anchored 11 months ago. Ashore we enjoyed a spicy curry dinner at Jungle Beach. We are hunkered down again as some unsettled weather blows by - squally thundershowers and gusty wind is forecast for a few days. Not a bad place to hunker, a chance to work on more boat projects and kayak around the pretty bay. Nai Harn is a favorite beach for the ex-pat community, many from Russia (menus are in Cyrillic), and the sandy beach is lined with colorful beach umbrellas.


December 22 - Ao Sane

Baraka is anchored at Nai Harn, just off Ao Sane, aka Jungle Beach. The bay is filling up for Christmas with yachties who are coming for special dinners ashore and reunions afloat. A few days ago Lotus arrived. My veg bin was empty, as was the egg crate, so we joined them yesterday to take a songthaew (truck with benches) into Chalong where we rented a car from the delightful Breton at Ninaís cars. The scarred car bore testimony to many encounters, but we managed not to add any new bashes, though we did get lost wandering through Phuket Town. Dave drives like a maniac here. He has to gun it to insert the car into dense traffic. Lanes come and go with many obstacles, and motos flow by, some going the wrong way on our side of the road. Phuket has 10,000 moto accidents each year, many of them farangs (foreigners), with a 1% mortality rate.

We drove to Boat Lagoon where Dave bought 2-part epoxy for a deck repair, a new fuel tank for the outboard, got a loaner display for the autopilot. We grabbed a cheap lunch at the hawker stalls. Then we took the bypass road to Central Festival for first world grocery shopping with prices to match. We have avocadoes, juicy tomatoes, even shredded wheat and taco shells! Back in Chalong we visited the Chinese fruit stand for pineapples and bananas, and yet a few more hot air balloons, then found Cholamark for glue to rebed the dinghy cover. Michel kindly ran us back to Ao Sane with our trunkload of goodies where we loaded up the dinghy on the beach, and enjoyed yet another massaman curry dinner before going back out to Baraka. Hugely successful day - we got everything on our list except more internet time.

Once again we forgot to bring a flashlight and had to dinghy out to the boat in the darkness. This is dangerous and stupid on our part. We tend to forget how quickly and early night falls so close to the equator. Baraka is easy to find - Dave maintains the solar garden lights that ring the lifelines, and we added a blue strobe flasher. Thereís also the masthead anchor light, but local fishermen are not looking upward, so prudence dictates the more lights the better, and strobes are the best.


Christmas 2011 - Nai Harn

Christmas this year finds Baraka in a bay on the south end of Phuket, Thailand. The bay filled up with yachts as we gathered to socialize with cruising friends, many of whom we met in assorted islands during our Pacific crossing several years ago. 8 people sat in our cockpit Christmas Eve, and we joined a dozen others ashore for an upscale Christmas dinner at the yacht club resort here in the bay. Fun to be around so many good friends, though it is hardly Christmas to us here in the tropics. We strung lights up the forestay and backstay, and hung our stockings, even played a little Christmas music. This underscored just how far we are from family, and made me homesick to be with them.

Baraka is in a squash zone, a pressure strip between a large high and low - in this case an Indian Ocean cyclone. Winds howl through the anchorage and give us sleepless nights, though we are safely anchored. We moved the boat across the bay Christmas Eve when swells started rolling in to the anchorage. Yesterday we made it ashore unscathed for Christmas dinner, but got drenched in the surf on the way home afterwards. The winds are steady in the 20s, gusting into the 30s, and will last another day, then return New Yearís Eve. Dave has the riding sail up, which keeps our bow pointed into the wind, and the flopper stopper, which helps dampen our roll, but the boat is still lively, dancing in the gusts.

Today is Boxing Day, anniversary of the huge tsunami that killed an estimated quarter million people in this region. At neighboring Phi Phi Don, 2000 were swept from a single beach. Hardest hit was the northern end of Sumatra in neighboring Indonesia, which was literally erased. There are still a few scars remaining, though most of these Thai resort areas have rebuilt as before. The most obvious legacy is new signs pointing to tsunami evacuation routes.


New Years 2012

Great start to 2012! We are still tucked into the east side of Ao Chalong, though the forecasted bad weather keeps sliding out. Quite a few other boats came here, too, so last night several dozen yachties went in at low tide to the beach restaurant for a fun meal with many friends. Up and down the beach people were firing off huge rockets - the sort seen at professional shows, though these were of dicey quality from local Chinese stores, and the igniters tended to be in various degrees of inebriation. Nothing safe and sane about a Thai new years.

Au Chalong is a giant bowl of a bay, several miles across, overlooked by a gigantic Buddha on a hilltop, lit at night. By midnight the bay was ringed with fireworks, blasting continuously from hundreds of beaches, spectacular! The highlight was the fire balloons! We took ours ashore, and lit them through the evening, with hundreds of others doing the same, so the sky was dotted with drifting lanterns. Canít believe weíve never seen these before - they are way cool. You open the tissue-paper "balloon" - these cylinders vary from 2 to 5 feet high. Centered in the open base on this wires is a waxy wick thing that you light. Then you gently hold the balloon until the air inside is hot enough for lift-off. The balloon arches up into the sky on a track shaped by the breezes, and ascends into the clouds 10 minutes later. Fantastic!

This was an aupicious beginning for 2012. By this time next year we should be in Africa.

On the near horizon is a trip to the Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat, and a loop of northern Laos in January. I found a Discovery Pass from Bangkok Air that will allow us to fly a circuit to see a bit more of SE Asia before we move on.


January 4 - Royal Phuket Marina

Baraka waited for high tide, then threaded our way along the mangroves in a dredged channel. We had our track from last year, which was helpful. Much of the way there was less than 2 feet under the keel, and in one spot we read zero (with our prop wash stirring the silt up), but we slid in ok.

Royal Phuket gave us a slip at the superyacht dock so we are nestled in with the big boys. Dave rewired our electrical cable to fit a huge 50 amp plug. One settled, we dug the bicycles out from the bilge, and re-assembled them. The shortcut to boat lagoon is closed off with barbed wire, so we have an easy 10 minute bike ride instead. We loaded the stinking mountain of dirty laundry on the handcart and strapped that to the back of a bike as a trailer. This worked badly - the handcart would develop a wobble side to side, oscillating wildly and eventually spill over. Oh well, good in theory.

Dave took our quadrant stop in to be rewelded, and the stanchion we bent leaving Rebak. Our autopilot is back, hopefully repaired.


January 9 - Hotel California

Baraka is booked here at Royal Phuket Marina until February 1. Then the slip is reserved for another yacht. Only problem is that we can check out but we canít leave - the tides arenít deep enough for another 5 days, until Feb 5, to make it out the channel. The marina is scrambling to find us another slip, as there is no place to anchor.

We leave tomorrow for some land travel - to Siem Reap with its Angkor Wat ruins and Khmer Rouge scars, then to Laos for a more rustic SE Asian experience (think insects and squat toilets).

Dave has had good luck in getting the repairs list done - the bent stanchion is straightened and reinstalled, better than before, and a small deck leak is properly repaired. The quadrant stop has been rewelded for better clearance. Mr. Phon is replacing the outside instrument Plexiglas cover and the plywood base under the toilet. The jib is being restitched by Kek. I reglued the dinghy cover velcro, and marked the anchor chain. Best of all, Octopus repaired the autopilot display/control unit! at a very reasonable cost. There are still a few more projects, but these are the big rock items so we feel deserving of some play time away from the boat.

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