Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Entry: Kika Sailing Adventures TM Part 1

Like all customer-focused tour companies, showing up at the airport to collect your guest is a good first step, and Kika Sailing Adventures TM is no exception. Sparing no expense, the top man was despatched for the job, using luxury local transport (back of a scooter for 30km) and arriving well in time to be stationed along with all the other greeters just through Arrivals. Adhering to the local Thai custom of smiling at all pasty white foreigners, KSA's man was suitably beaming and after greeting formalities were completed we headed off into town by shared minibus.

We carefully explained to the driver that we wanted to go to the boat pier, and then sat and chatted along the way until the bus reached its last stop - only to be told our stop - Ao Chalong - was the first one of the journey - about 20 mins back! Nick has acquired many skills whilst overseas but bargaining does not seem to be one of them! We hastily agreed to the first price the taxi driver offered to take us back to the pier and soon we were heading out across the harbour to Kika.

Nick had dropped a few hints that he'd been working on the boat and things might not be as ship-shape as normal on board. One of our first tasks was to top up the water tanks onboard which involved ferrying 170 litres of water across the anchorage by dinghy and then lugging them onboard! I wondered what else might be in store for the new crew?
Well there was also the trip to Tesco's Lotus Market - yes Tescos with practically a whole aisle devoted to fish sauce. Job done we headed across the bay to a quieter anchorage, dropped anchor and headed ashore for beer and delicious Thai food.
Up bright and early we headed for Koh Pi Pi managing about half distance under sail before having to resort to the engine. A good time for some refresher training perhaps? KSA are an unconventional sailing company and they have a pioneering approach to crew training. On being welcomed aboard all crew are handed and asked to memorise the 'Competent crew' Handbook. Normally one might then expect to start work on menial tasks like hanking ropes and swabbing the decks, but no, not on Kika. Kika's approach is that all new crew get to stand at the helm and bark orders at Nick to hoist and trim the sails, raise the anchor etc. Unconventional eh? but who am I to complain!

We arrived late afternoon and after dropping anchor were all set for a swim until Nick pointed out that the boat was surrounded by small blue jellyfish! 'They'll be fine' said Nick. I obviously appeared reluctant. Not a man to be easily discouraged Nick offered to swim with his wetsuit on to see if they stung him! Off he went, returning to report gleefully that he hadn't been stung - although he later revealed it had in fact been like swimming in jelly! You won't be surprised that I decided to postpone my first experience with my new snorkel for clearer waters!!

Meanwhile we heard the distant rumble of a large diesel engine, and a Thai Long Tail boat plied across from the opposite side of the bay. There's no doubt they look great and in these local waters they are one of the best ways to travel - but you need ear plugs! They are really noisy, generally consisting of dubious adaptations of diesel engines from motor vehicle to boat, precariously mounted high up on the back of the boat with a long tail (drive shaft) to the rudder and propeller. Our tranquil anchorage appeared to be on the equivalent of the M25 for Long Tail boats ferrying tourists around Pi Pi, so it wasn't the quietest spot! As night fell we also had the nightclubs on the beach (about 500m away) to contend with. It was an interesting night's sleep.

An early start next day saw us heading under sail for Pi Pi Leh, in an attempt to beat the tourist rush. The elements were not on our side though and we were being overtaken by all manner of other craft, so we switched to engine. Pi Pi Leh is a beautiful island - high cliffs and hills rising vertically from the sea. It has achieved latter day fame as the location used to film 'The Beach' and when we arrived at our next anchorage - a beautiful bay surrounded by cliffs with a white sandy beach, it was already busy. We picked up a mooring buoy and I got to finally christen my snorkel, scaring the many fish and exloring the coral in a tiny sandy bay near Kika.
But then carnage ensued. Boats of all sizes began arriving en masse. In the space of just 15 mins pandemonium had descended on this tranquil spot. At one point there were probably more people snorkeling than there were fish in the sea. We decided to head off in the dinghy around the edge of the island, and when we returned an hour or so later it was already quieter. And by about 3pm there was almost no-one left. A few other yachts arrived late in the afternoon to stay for the night and you could suddenly appreciate how beautiful a place it was. We were joined onboard by an entertaining Aussie couple moored across the bay. Grant & Les, who were cruising on a local yacht, had stopped by for some ocean passage stories as they were thinking of doing a long voyage themselves. Nick was happy to oblige, particularly as the beer flowed. I toyed with the idea of pretending I'd been onboard for a while but I think given my skin colour and general lack of boat coordination it would have been a joke hard to carry off. No matter, we laughed the afternoon into evening anyway.

Oh and at least we now knew the secret of Thai anchorages - get there early or late, hide up while the tourist rush is on during the hottest hours of the day, and maximise the enjoyment from early morning and late afternoon tranquility.

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