We left Koh Tao in the early afternoon. It was just Cate and I. Catelyn is one of my good friends. I have known her now for over ten years. She is calm, collected and generous. She is smart enough to really understand the issues in other people’s hearts and heads yet also compassionate enough to help as much as she can. She has helped me on more than one occasion. She says she is tired of that role but I don’t think she will ever stop playing it. At least I hope she won’t. She is getting a PhD in acoustics at Penn State and is book-smart in a sick ass way. I have to brag about that just a little. I wouldn’t say I am jealous as much as just proud. Being proud of your friends? That seems a little strange. Well, maybe not all that strange.
The day before we left for the Ang Thong Marine Park, she had made a tasty batch of beans but they were pretty hard on the GI tract. The smell they put off while cooking was heavenly but the smells they made me put off were hellish. Fortunately or unfortunately they were doing some evil work on Cate’s stomach so she wasn’t around to witness the horror. She was sleeping most of the beginning of the journey. She also had a headache to boot. I wish living on the boat were easier. I know it is difficult in more ways then one. We took leave of Koh Tao at around two on a beautiful afternoon. The sun was shinning and the waves were small. The sky was filled with high stratus clouds and some small puffs here and there at lower levels. Off in the distance over the mainland hovered the usual cumulonimbus clouds rising up kilometers into the atmosphere. Clouds are such beautiful things.
As we motored out of the bay on the west side of Koh Tao the wind was blowing gently out of the Southwest. Cate was asleep on the main bunk while the engine rattled and banged away. It is a comforting sound yet after a few hours you notice that your fingers and toes are also rattling to the same clack clack as the engine and so are your liver, stomach and kidneys. I was hoping we could sail most of the way to the Ang Thong Marine Park, but this didn’t seem to be happening. There was enough wind to raise a sail though so I did. I ran up to the foredeck and raised the Genoa. In just about 2 minutes it was up and I was back in the cockpit cranking the winch and trimming the sail. The breeze began slight but increased as we motored along. In just a half hour I decided to also raise the main. That took about 1 minute 30 seconds and I was back in the cockpit and the boat was starting to do her comfortable ten-degree heel. The sails were starting to fill properly and pretty soon we were going fast enough to turn off the engine. One sound I truly love in this boat is the sound of the drive shaft spinning while the engine is off. Once the engine is shut down and the wind is strong enough the water moving under the boat will spin the propeller. The engine is in neutral so the propeller is free and when we are cruising the drive shaft makes this soft clunking as the prop spins with the passing water. It is a sound that goes along with full sails, a nice breeze in my hair and the sound of lapping water passing by the hull.
That afternoon was full of that sound. I found a comfortable seat on the side of the cockpit just behind the winch. It was a position Tony and I found ideal to pilot the boat but it was not that comfortable. I had finally realized that if I purchased a few cushions of the correct dimensions they would transform that seat into a perfect piloting position. I made the purchase and they worked wonderfully. The steering wheel is a bit more of a reach but it is just about perfect otherwise. I found I could even dip my left foot in the water as we cruised along. It is also perfect to adjust the winch, which is positioned just below the crotch. I have a good picture that captures this position and also makes the winch handle look very phallic. I swear it was not on purpose. I spent most of the afternoon in that position adjusting the Genoa as we sailed along at 5 or 6 knots. It was pretty heavenly and my heart felt light to have a good friend on board and such ideal winds to cruise under. The wind slowly shifted around all afternoon until it was coming out of the northwest. This made the tack progressively faster and faster as we drifted from a close haul to a pleasantly brisk beam reach. The strength also increased until it was blowing quite hard by early evening. I was also loving the fact that I was doing everything. A strange thing to say I know but I was not sure I could handle the boat completely on my own yet. I proved that in decent to semi rough conditions with a faulty exhaust system problem I could quite easily handle the boat on my own.
We tore across the teal green sea at a wonderful pace and reached the northern most island in the chain at about 5 pm. I had considered anchoring there if the weather was not too rough but the wind was increasing and the island was more exposed than I wanted to deal with. It was also in fairly deep water with the shallowest areas around 45 feet. Had the conditions been gentle it would have been a perfect place to start a nice southerly journey through the Ang Thong Islands. But since the wind was blowing at about 30 to 35 knots at that point I decided to continue on to the larger islands further south.
We sailed close enough to that first island to get a good wave shadow but no wind shadow. We went ripping along the side of the island. The wind would circle around the island in stiff gusts and heel the boat over and fill the sails powerfully. We would feel a tremendous burst of speed and then the wind would relax for a minute and then blow hard again. The side of the island was sheer vertical limestone rising up 2 to 3 hundred feet out of the water. That island was by far the most uninhabitable of the chain and in some ways the most stunning. There was hardly any vegetation on it accept at the tops of the cliffs hanging out over the sea. It was like sailing by a slate gray and orange wall pocked with caves and stalactites and sparrows arcing by overhead. By this time Cate was up and about. She made me a yummy sandwich and gave me water and a vita-milk for good measure. We talked and she sat up on the cabin top for a while.
Recently I had all the cushions for the boat remade and we had been using the old ones out on deck during the day. I had given most of them away to Thai friends but we had kept two. While at Koh Tao one of the cushions had blow away during the night. I felt a little bad about polluting in such a way but I suspected it was blown to sea and would arrive on the other side of the gulf in a few days to wash up on one of the islands in the Koh Chang Marine Park. I had kept a close eye on the last one all day until we reached the first island in the chain. At that point I was looking for good anchorage and inspecting the conditions so I was not aware until one of the gusts flipped the little cushion right off the cabin top into the sea. Cate was in the cockpit and spotted where it had landed so we turned around to retrieve it.
This was much more difficult then I though. We passed it two or three times and I even ran over it once but every time it was just out of reach as the cockpit passed it. The wind was not helping much either, blowing it away from us or into us on the wrong side. Finally Cate just jumped in and rescued it while I put the ladder down. It was full of water and hard to pick up. It was nearly impossible for Cate to lift it with one hand while holding onto the ladder, but I grabbed it with two hands and then slapped it onto the cabin top again. It wasn’t going anywhere full of water. It weighed about 25 pounds. That was the episode of the cushion fiasco. Thanks to Cate’s bravery we still have one old cushion left and the gulf of Siam is a little cleaner then it would have been. The wind blew us down the island chain. By the late afternoon the wind was getting quite strong and I was considering pulling down the Genoa. The boat was healing over a lot and I could see the stress it was putting on the standing rigging. With the strong wind the waves started to get large and there was, at one point, even some surfing. Since the wind had been blowing hard for about an hour the resulting waves were almost two meters. I would say between 4 to 6 feet. We were still heading on a beam reach so we were taking some of these larger waves on the side of the boat. At one point the boat did some serious rocking while Cate was in the cabin. She grabbed onto the handrail on the ceiling while the bed and all its contents went spilling onto the floor. Then we rocked to the other side and half the dish-rack came down on the floor as well. It was mayhem and Cate was hanging like a monkey in the middle of it. The vacuum cleaner stored in the bathroom came falling down and burst open the bathroom door and out into the hallway. The full crate of 32 eggs was placed on the floor earlier. I did not, in anyway, want 32 eggs smashed around the cabin in the process of sailing. The crate slid across the floor and piled under the trashcan on the first rock.
Cate was screaming and laughing. I was very glad she was laughing because I knew a few people who would have been screaming and crying. I adjusted the sails and our tack to stop the rolling while she picked some things up, checked the eggs and threw other things into safer positions. We decided that since the waves had gotten quite large we would head for the windward side of the islands and get into the wave shadow as soon as possible. I turned on the engine and let loose the Genoa and headed on a downwind run so as to avoid the waves on the beam. We made good time with some rocking of the boat but not nearly as bad as the first time. The waves looked pretty intimidating behind the boat as they surged towards us, but they would just pass underneath us and move on their way. At one point we heard a loud bump at the back of the boat. “What the hell was that?” I said. Then we noticed that the dingy was right on the tail of the boat. I had tied her to the back with a long rope before we began. What was she doing bouncing into the back of the boat?
We watched as the dingy drifted back to the end of the line, which was about 25 feet back. It then started moving as fast as the boat and when one of the larger waves came up behind it, it started to surf down the wave towards us at a very fast pace. It didn’t hit the boat again but we watched in entertainment as it surfed down wave after wave. I was very jealous and almost gave the helm to Cate and jumped into the dingy myself. We finally got behind the main island group and the waves died down. I gave the wheel to Cate and took down and bagged both sails. I put the foredeck in order and by that time we were watching another orange-tang sunset through the spaces between the small cliff islands. It was wonderful and the wind started to blow quite strong again. I was glad we were safe behind the islands.
We motored through the archipelago towards the main park headquarters. When we arrived I found that the channel next to where I wanted to moor up was funneling the wind through the mooring. I had noticed quite a few fishing boats anchored outside this area behind one of the smaller islands. I usually make it a rule that if there are fishermen anchoring somewhere that means it is one of the better spots to be. We motored around the fishing boats and dropped anchor just north of most of the boats. As night fell completely quite a few boats anchored in the area. We stayed there that night and when we awoke almost all the boats were gone. The day was filled with some land activities but we spent most of the time on the boat. In the afternoon Cate and I cooked some wicked breaded chicken strips. I hadn’t had that type of food in a long time. I cut up the chicken, Cate egged and breaded them and then she DEEP FRIED them. Glorious! I almost passed out when I took a bite of the first one. It was tender, piping hot and stupendously greasy. Yummy!
By the time we had finished the chicken strips there were quite a few large fishing boats back in the same place. As the evening came on, more boats arrived. Half an hour later even more drove up. They anchored south of us. A few anchored to the north of us. Some anchored to the east and west of us. Pretty soon large fishing vessels surrounded us. Half of them drove by us to see what we were about before they dropped anchor or tied up to other boats. Cate always waved and she always got an eager response. On one boat there were four guys hanging their heads out the side windows staring at us. Cate waved and they all immediately waved back. I could have sworn they did it in perfect unison, as if they were waiting for Cate to initiate. It was like a musical. I think her commitment to total arm extended waving is what always gets such good responses. I tried a few casual waves but they were obviously not as effective. We were surrounded. The fishing boats would tie up to each other as well as anchor and there were as many as seven boats tied side by side. It was quite a sight to see; rows and rows of boats all around us. Most of them were in sets of two or three. I counted over 50 boats at one point. The boats didn’t have all their lights on but enough to create the feeling of a city. We were in a city of fishing boats that all arrived between 5 and 6 in the afternoon and ran engines, fixed nets and generators, chatted and just made a lot of noise. It was not annoying as much as totally interesting. We could look 360 degrees and see bright lights in abundance. We were all floating around in circles with the tides and currents. The boats were brightly colored and had many different lights on. They had red lights, green lights, fluorescent lights, orange lights, purple lights and even the occasional standard light. I felt the only thing missing was a beer light. That would have completed the city image we were witnessing.
It smelled like a city even. Well . . . maybe a little fishier than most cities. It smelled like the port district accept a little nastier. It smelled of diesel and exhaust and of good food cooking. It smelled of spicy curries, Thai omelets, fried fish with lemon, garlic, peppers and a slight whiff of sugar. Maybe that last part was in my head but I could have sworn . . . . I must admit that it smelled like fish also. It smelled like fresh fish. It smelled like two-day-old fish. It also smelled like really nasty-ass fishy fish. That last one predominated but I could smell past it if I allowed my nose to adjust. It was a great fishing city on the water. And what made it even more magical was how it had vanished almost completely by the time we awoke the next morning.