Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Similan to Surin Islands

We set off just before dawn, slipping quietly out of the bay. A larger navy ship had arrived on one of the outer moorings, and down on the beach a group of the Burmese were sitting in the water. We felt relieved to get away so we wouldn't have to witness their leaving.

As we headed out past Island 9, the most northerly of the Similan group, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, and already the day felt like holiday again. There was a healthy wind but unfortunately it was over the bow and of little use to us to complete the 45 miles to the Surin Islands before dark. And so we were motoring. Although often more efficient than using the sails, as you can head directly for your destination, the use of the engine is more tiring. Outside on deck Kika's diesel hums nicely, at a constant 2000 rpm she can usually cruise at 5 knots. Below deck though the noise is less calming, and there is little that is relaxing when down there whilst motoring, unless of course you don't want to hear what is happening upstairs!

The boys spent the first part of the journey on deck practicing Christmas carols! When you're out at sea it doesn't really matter if you don't know the words nor if you only hit half the notes. Full marks were awarded for enthusiasm, and singing the first verse of every carol they knew constituted a good attempt at a Christmas carol service.
Kristin remained blissfully unaware of events down below catching up on emails.

Not content with frightening the fish with their singing, Nick headed below and returned with his trumpet, and a music book. This dress rehearsal (for the main concert was scheduled for the evening) got under way with 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer' and progressed quickly on to 'Happy Birthday to you', followed by the first few lines of a multitude of Christmas-themed Easy Listening tunes! Lack of breathing practice ensured that the concert was a fairly short one!

Our first note-worthy event was early morning fish drill. The clicking of the line as it went out sparked us into action. Our bait - a sparkly plastic pink squid - had only been out an hour and was quickly delivering results. Nick reeled in close to the boat and we could see the largish silvery fish fighting hard just off the stern. And then the line went slack...the prize of our first fish eluded us for now. The squid went back in and we returned to amusing ourselves. A couple of hours later fish drill no. 2 ensued. This time full crew were in attendance and whilst I tried to keep us on course, Nick and Kristin reeled in and fought with a large fish with nasty looking teeth just to my left. It turned out to be a barracuda, the hook well embedded in its vicious looking jaws. After a struggle the fish was landed, and it was an impressive specimen, but sadly not one we could eat because of the potential toxins they carry. Fishing success still eluded us!
The head wind continued to strengthen all morning and we were making just over 4 knots when our first man-overboard drill was initiated. In one gust Nick's swimwear, disappeared off the side and the crew swung into action, slowing and turning the boat and heading back over the wake. All eyes on lookout but to no avail. It seemed we'd been too slow to react and they'd sunk quickly. We reset the course feeling a bit deflated!

To avoid further mishaps the other washing was removed from the rails, but less than an hour later Nick's hat was taken by another gust, and we were into our second man-overboard drill. This time the reactions were faster and we got the boat to within a few feet of the it sunk! One hopes that our success in retrieving a crew member over board would be more successful. Joking apart it was a very good lesson in how quickly you need to react and work together to mount a successful rescue!

Nick's wardrobe was getting more and more depleted by the hour but luckily we were making good progress to the Surin Islands. We arrived late afternoon in a beautiful calm bay surrounded by hills covered in lush forest. The bay was fringed by golden beaches. We took the advice of the sailing guide and approached with caution - but even we were unprepared for the change in depth...from 45m, 30m, 20m, 11m, 4m, to 1.7m...all in the space of 3 boat lengths. Without a sandy bottom it was hard to see what lay below until you were right on top of it. There was also a huge boat at anchor close by making it hard to find a suitable spot. After a couple of approaches we decided to try one of the free moorings the other side of bay, but after easily picking the buoy up we realised the boat was a couple of metres away from dropping onto the reef. And so we very quickly moved off, flirted briefly with another dodgy mooring further out, but then decided to head back to where the large boat had just vacated its anchorage. Now against the clock, we sped over and found a spot. To feel comfortable we had to drop our normal anchor on the bow, and another from the stern. A few mins later though we were secure just as the light faded completely! Just-in-time anchoring.

As if they'd been waiting for us to arrive the Park Ranger boat arrived from nowhere - three friendly rangers wishing us Happy Christmas and then asking us to part with 1400 Baht. Our experience of Rangers is that they have some of the most appreciative smiles you'll ever see if you offer them alcohol, and these were no exception. A half bottle of gin waved in their direction elicited 'ooohs and aaahs', dazzling teeth and most importantly the offer of a discount. And so we finally parted with 1200 Baht and a pledge not to charge us anymore however long we stayed!

Kristin had been busy all this time preparing a delicious Christmas Eve dinner of marinated chicken, rice, pineapple salsa and vegetables. We cleaned up, showered, put on the best we had for dinner and enjoyed another great meal on deck. We also broke into the Christmas panettone and the evening finished with the trumpet reappearing. We weren't entirely convinced our neighbours across the bay appreciated the renditions quite as much as we did...but we hoped they had some Christmas spirit on board!

Surin islands anchorage: N9deg25.6' E097deg53.5'

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