Friday, December 26, 2008

Surin Islands; Christmas and Boxing Day

Waking up in our beautiful anchorage on Christmas day was a real treat. Up early once again, and in the early morning light we got a clearer picture of our bay and its surroundings. It was more a combination of bays really with several idyllic looking sandy beaches interspersed by rocky outcrops dropping into the sea. The hills all around were covered in lush tropical forest and the morning sounds emanating from it were intriguing. Above the general murmur of the forest we could make out more distinct animal noises - who knows whether they were the bats, or crab eating monkeys, or...

The water was calm and Ian took an early morning row across to the shore in the dinghy. The transition from deep to shallow was indeed rapid - and the water itself appeared clear, but different from Similan in that without a sandy bottom it was less obviously clear. There also appeared to be a big variation in depth.

Back onboard Kika Kristin was busy inflating the kayak, and set off the across bay in the general direction of the treacherous rocks in the centre, then across to the other side and along the opposite coastline towards the Park HQ. Nick and Ian relaxed on Kika's deck reading, occasionally pausing to track the progress of the Viking conquest in the binoculars. After some time Kristin disappeared from view and after some debate the boys assumed she'd made it into the channel between the 2 islands...but had she?
On board the kayak Kristin was busy paddling towards the white sand of the beach. It'd been a long paddle across the bay and her mind was focused on the mojito or caipirinha she'd have when she arrived. Perhaps she'd also have a massage on the beach to relax those muscles tired from all the paddling. And then a nice plate of Tom Yum soup for lunch would be perfect...ah how envious the boys would be when she returned later! If only she'd bought those prescription sunglasses she'd be able to see beyond the line of Longtail boats on the beach and onwards to the bar and restaurant. As it was, she was practically ashore before she noticed the boats were not in that great a condition - perhaps though paint and spare parts were in short supply out here in the Surins. As she waded ashore a group of kids arrived - and she took one of them for a short ride in the kayak which he loved. And then dragged the kayak onshore and walked up the beach. A group of men appeared not to notice her although they appeared friendly enough when she spoke to them. Having realised this was not the normal village 'resort' she asked if it was OK to look around, to which they said 'yes'. There were groups of huts arranged in rows behind the beach, and wandering around it became clear there wasn't much in the way of cocktails on offer! The idyllic beach was not quite so ideal and Kristin felt for them. And so after a gesture of goodwill to buy some small bracelets they'd made, she beat a hasty retreat away in the kayak, relieved to be paddling towards the 'real' village resort.
Meanwhile the boys had decided to do some snorkelling off the boat. First off the boat in a new environment is always Captain Nick, who in the first instance dived down to check the anchors. Back on the surface and snorkelling he was quickly swimming away. A somewhat reluctant Ian was quietly preoccupied with the fact he couldn't see the bottom of the water around the boat! After Nick's early reports that the coral was 'amazing' Ian persuaded himself into the deep and swam off towards Nick. The water was clear dark blue and within about 30m the coral rises up suddenly in front of you to about 1m from the surface.

The colours and variety of coral were indeed amazing. Imagine any illustrated book you've seen of a reef, all the coral varieties and colours on a page, and you have some idea of what it was like to swim on this reef. From blues, to purples, to pinks, to greens, it was a fantastic example of a garden at sea. Perhaps not so many large fish as in the Similan Islands but such abundance of coral and many many small fish living out their lives amongst its branches and tentacles.
Interestingly as we swam closer to the shore the water became deep again so by luck we'd actually managed to anchor alongside one of the best sections of reef. After a while we headed across the bay by dinghy to the area most frequented by other snorkellers and realised here too it was vibrant and beautiful. It also became very shallow and it was a challenge navigating between the coral heads without touching them. Interestingly when the bottom looms up like this one experiences similar anxieties to when it is too deep to see the bottom. The ideal snorkelling comfort zone appeared to be of 2-10m!

In anticipation of anchor raising faff Nick took the opportunity of visiting a dive boat in the bay for them to check his regulator. Generously they replaced the regulator and the hose for him without any charge.

As it was getting later in the afternoon, and there was no sign of Kristin, the decision was reached to go searching in the dinghy. Across the bay was easy and speedy but as we rounded the corner to head up the passage between the two islands it became extremely shallow. Scanning the horizon as sharp-eyed Nick spotted an orange spec on the beach and as we slowly closed in on the beach it was clearly our Viking crew preparing to launch herself home. Our arrival meant a Christmas Day beer on the beach and a chance to get some mobile phone reception for those Christmas messages. And then heading back home we noticed huge schools of jelly fish ominously in the water. Hmmmm, perhaps not what some of the crew wanted to see!!

Back on Kika, we treated ourselves to a variation of Coq au Vin, followed by Spotted Dick! Yes, what's Christmas Day without a pudding and Nick eagerly created our own using a recipe kindly supplied by Mrs Jenny Ager herself!! And the crew can confirm it was a fitting tribute from a son to his Mum!
Boxing day

Just another day in the tropics, waking up at dawn and gradually watching as the world around wakes up. We actually had some rain overnight so the spray hood was up over the hatch. As Ian unsecured it and pushed it down there was a nasty tearing sound. Closer inspection revealed a split along one side! Having just watched Nick repair the damage to the wind chute caused the day previously, it was a case of picking a suitable moment to confess to today's misdemeanour. No sense in waiting and Ian broke the news to a Captain who appeared close to boiling point! with a slightly furrowed brow and a 'hmmm that is nasty', Captain Nick spared Ian the fate of being keel hauled and instead stormed below. Anxious moments on deck fretting about the punishment and then the Captain reemerged promptly handing over a sewing kit and a book on how to stitch sails! Phew, fair and just punishment!

Today we planned to move around the island, but Nick is keen we wait for nature to be on our side ie. the wind to be blowing us off the reef, as we have the complication of raising two difficult anchors. Not having to fight the elements to keep us off the reef whilst possibly having to dive to free them, was very sensible. Stubbornly refusing to move from the stern all morning, the wind finally moved round about 11. Action stations - Nick and Kristin off in the dinghy to haul up the stern anchor, leaving Ian at the helm with engine on tickover anxiously watching the depth gauge. After several minutes of hauling, the dinghy crew returned tired but stern anchor in hand. No time to rest though we still had the normal anchor to raise. Thanks to the electronic windlass (winch) it would be a less physical task but there were still anxious moments whilst we waited for it to free itself from the depths. But free it did, and after much less of a struggle than anticipated we headed out of the bay and raised the sails.

Our plan to tack our way round the top of the island to the other side was going well. The wind was in our sails offshore and a single tack brought us back into the channel between our island and the next one north. It was a relaxing sail but we were covering good ground (or sea!). As we entered the channel though the wind died and we spent the next hour or so drifting through with the current. There's nothing like a diversion to keep us occupied whilst waiting for the wind and Nick pointed out the fishing boat about 300m away, suggesting Kristin might want to try a Viking raid and procure us some fresh fish. Never one to turn down a challenge, our Viking loaded her weapons into the dinghy, and with a rush of blood to the head as she hurriedly lowered the outboard, managed a well choreographed head over heels straight over the back of the dinghy. And wouldn't you know it, that was just the point where a big gust of wind lurched us forward at 1.5 knots! At last a proper man over board drill although we were lucky the dinghy was still attached. As Kristin plaintively called 'I won't reach' Nick leapt aboard the dinghy only to find young Kristin had the key round her wrist! Improvising well he held the cutout switch and motored the 50m to pickup her up.

Returning to Kika a few moments later, the fishing boat was now a further 100m away. A soggy but undaunted Kristin headed off on her quest. As she got further out the waves grew but our Viking bravely fought on. What might these fishmermen think we wondered as they woke from an afternoon doze to the sound of an outboard? Expecting to see another motor boat they instead see the mirage of a bikini-clad blond Norwegian approaching by dinghy. Is this the stuff of dreams? They pinch themselves hard and wipe their eyes, only to find the image has become clearer. A semi-naked woman drawing alongside and gesticulating wildly. After days at sea it must be unbelievable! Apparently it then took several minutes of gesticulation for Kristin to make them understand she wanted fish, although one suspects they knew straight away and prefered to maximise the time they had with our supermodel. Understood they did though, and what's more they generously threw fish of all shapes and sizes into the dinghy, and then refused payment! A triumphant Kristin returned to the mother ship seemingly empty handed, but then revealed 12 fresh fish including several grouper and the biggest squid we'd ever seen. Their generosity was humbling, although Nick and Ian suspected they might not have procured quite so much of a catch if they'd been in the dinghy! A return gift was in order though and a bottle of gin was raised from the depths of Kika's liqueur cabinet and Kristin despatched to deliver it. It proved to be the perfect return gift.
Fish processing began in earnest on deck and after an hour of gutting, deboning, deinking and filleting we had fish prepared in all shapes and sizes. We motored the last couple of miles to our new anchorage and picked up a mooring buoy right in the middle. Forests ran down to the edge of the water and in the distance the beach actually had people on it. It seemed to satisfy everyone - we were the only boat there, we had better access to facilities and mobile reception and we could see the bottom in the water around the boat!

That night we feasted in squid cooked in Thai style, and goujons of grouper fried in breadcrumbs. Delicious!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are still sailing and must have extended your trip somewhat.

We've just passed through Thailand on our way home to New Zealand. We are hanging out in the Philippines for a while before going north again.

Your trip sounds unbelievably cool.

Keep having fun on the yacht. As you once said to me "You make your own luck" and it looks like you certainly have.

Kind regards,

Mark Hamlin (ex-Actix colleague)