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Martin & Sue


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'Are we having fun yet??' - The Highs and Lows of the Cruising life


It was meant to be a Passage to India but nasty squalls, thunderstorms, lumpy seas and unseasonal weather conspired to turn Mandolin Wind’s round trip from Phuket to the Andaman Islands into a Passage to Nowhere.

The Andaman islands belong to India and are a 3 day, 2 night sail due west from Phuket. We set off with high hopes -  for, according to our research into the Andaman Islands, the fishing was great, the beaches pristine, the water crystal clear and the Indian food fabulous.  In addition, we had read in the Andaman Sea Cruising guide that February is a good month to visit the Andaman’s and that we could expect warm, sunny conditions with light to moderate winds.  
We made a promising start in a comfortable 10 knots of breeze, one metre seas and a good forecast. However, things started to deteriorate when we hit the first of the many overfalls that characterise this part of the Andaman Sea. These tidal anomalies are not something that the pilot guides mention in any detail but they have the effect of stirring up very unpleasant 2-3m washing machines seas for stretches of several miles. During that first day and night we encountered an overfall every hour – not on its own too much of a burden but by evening the wind had risen to a steady 20 knots and the wind waves were hitting the large southerly swell with a vengeance – causing confusing seas that can only be described as being of ‘cement mixer' consistency.  
  By first light conditions had not improved and we had the added problem that there were some very nasty storm clouds around us along with several very active thunderstorms. The now 3 metre seas and cross swells were still conflicting to make the seas stand up and, even more worrying,  putting a lot of pressure on the sails as they slatted violently in tune with the side to side bouncing of the boat.
Above: As if the conditions weren't trying enough, a 'water spout' appears in the already threatening sky

As the large swells and conflicting wind waves continued to battle it out, it became apparent that if we had wanted to design a recipe to make seasickness prone crew members feel seedy, then these would be the exact conditions.
With our wind instrument now registering a good 25 knots and rising, and the skies turning thunderously black all around us (not to mention the crew who were verging on seasickness) it became apparent that it was decision time.  It was at this point that the headsail decided to blow out with about a 1 metre rip just in from the leach. Luckily we managed to furl the beast before the ever-expanding rip made it impossible to bring in – certainly, if it had ripped out the sheets (ropes) we would have had a real problem as the foredeck was not a nice place to be in these seas.

With only our main for sail drive and aware that once we made it to the Andamans (where there was only limited services for sail and boat repairs) we still had the return trip to contemplate, we made the difficult decision to abort the trip and return to Phuket. 
This choice was not made lightly for we knew that once we turned the boat and headed back, we would be punching into the choppy seas. However, given the circumstances, we felt it was better to err on the side of caution.
Above: the tear in the headsail
Below: Radar showing approaching rain


Conditions aboard were bouncy to say the least, but one benefit of turning into the waves was that the motion no longer involved the awful yawing that is definitely a major contributor to the ‘seasickness recipe’.

At change of watch at 11.30pm a solid wall was visible on the radar directly across our path – its mass giving us no hope of dodging around it.

We quickly put in a second reef (reduced sail) just before we were hit with 37 knot gusts, accompanied by torrential rain.  These 30+ knots conditions lasted for the next 6 hrs. The seas only rose to about 3 metres but were still incredibly confused due to the overfalls so despite punching into them, we would occasionally get a wave from the stern.
By 10am the next morning the wind and waves started to ease and by the time we had returned to our starting point later in the day we were motoring in flat calm conditions... typical !!! . It was only when we decided to drop the main completely to stop it slatting that we discovered that two of our battens had splintered and torn out of the batten pockets. Given that the battens are 12mm thick solid fiberglass we could appreciate the force that must have been exerted on the sail to break such sizable stiffeners.
Above: calmly at anchor after a 70 hour passage to nowhere
Above: The splintered batten in the mainsail

Although disappointed that we had not succeeded in reaching the Andamans we felt that, given the circumstances, we had made the right decision. So rather than dwell on what could have been, our thoughts turned to the logistics of how we were going to explain to Thai authorities that we needed to check back into Thailand. The complication was that we had not actually checked into another country and although in theory there should not be a problem since we had entered international waters, we knew that Thai immigration could be tricky and that they were not very adaptable when faced with circumstance that did not fit into the standard mould. ie the old " oooh, big problem " syndrome


However, after a bit of negotiation and a payment of a $60 ‘overtime’ fee, we were checked back into Thailand and set to explore some of the lesser known islands north of Phuket.

But first we had to get our headsail repaired!

We decided to hire a motorbike to transport the headsail and, although this seemed like a sensible idea at the time (for after all, we had seen the locals carry all manner of things on their bikes), it was not long before the discomfort of carrying a large, tightly rolled headsail between us began to outweigh the money we were saving by not hiring a car! However, all went well and it was expertly repaired at Rolly Taskers huge sail loft.

Above: The 'heady' on the floor at Rolly Taskers - reportedly the largest sail loft in the world

With a good 2 months left of the cruising season we decide to head north towards the Myanmar border  and when we discover Koh Phayam, all our disappointments at failing to reach the Andamans disappeared. Phayam is what Phuket must have been like 30 years ago.

Above and Right: Why we loved Phayam ....
Above Phayam and Below Nai Harn: Which beach would you prefer??

There is not much to see – only lovely sandy beaches un-cluttered by deck chairs, the occasional low key ‘resort’ hidden amidst the palm trees and a few ramshackle beach restaurants.  The only tourists in sight are a few aging hippies who obviously discovered this place in the 60’s and never left!

Below: Relaxing in front of one of the low key 'resorts' on Phayam
Below: Hut at bargain basement prices!

We spent 2 weeks enjoying the solitude – doing little but swimming, chilling out in the cockpit and walking on the beach. Oh, and of course socializing with the 3 other Aussie yachts anchored nearby! Once or twice we hired a motorbike and rode along the narrow concrete paths that are the only roads on the island (which is car-free).


Below: relaxing with the crew of Nimbus & Braveheart
Below: Doesn't this bottle hold one standard glass??


All too soon we are out of time (for our Thai Visas need renewing) and we make our way back towards Phuket, stopping at some lovely anhorages on the way to explore the underwater life. We are amazed at how crystal clear the water is - although sometimes it is a case of 'all the better to see the jellyfish' in!
Above: Luckily these blubbers are not dangerous but they tend to put one off swimming. Luckily it is only at certain times of the tide that they prevalent.


Above: All in a days snorkelling!
Above: happiness is a clean prop

Once back in Phuket we leave Mandolin Wind safely in Yacht Haven Marina and fly out to Penang for a visa run. It is a flying visit but Penang is a great place to spend a few days - it is worth going there for the Indian food alone! However, we are also on a mission to hunt down some sugar soap ( Tri sodium Phosphate ) - a concoction that is wonderful for lifting scum off dirty hulls and transom steps. We find what we want at 'Chemical Ali's' - a tiny dingy shop crowded with bags of chemicals stacked on top of each other, flasks of liquid and any number of pretty unhealthy looking substances. The shop owner is a very ancient and decrepit chinese gentleman but he knows his chemicals and we depart with 3 kgs of white powder in hand.
Hang on – 3 kgs of white powder in unmarked plastic bags?? And we are flying into Thailand that has the death sentence for drug trafficking?? Luckily all goes well and we have no trouble with Thai customs – although we do take the precaution of attaching an information sheet on Tri Sodium Phosphate to the plastic bags when we pack them in the hull baggage (and notice when we pick up our bags that the sheets have indeed been examined!)


Below: there is barely enough room for an aisle in the tiny shop. All the plastic bags are full of different chemicals.
Below: Looks like it could be out of a sixties science school lab



Back in Phuket we decide that it is time to bite the bullet and source a new dinghy. Big Bertha, as we affectionately refer to her, was on Mandolin Wind when we bought her and is probably (read definitely) too big for our needs. However, she conveniently fits  snugly between our hulls (making for secure, rock free travel whilst under way) – plus, she is a blessing when the surf is running and we have to blast our way in or out of shore whilst trying to avoid getting dumped! However, Big Bertha has seen better days and her inflatable sides are drifting apart from the aluminium floor and no amount of reglueing seems to stem the leaks.

  So, despite the fact that we could purchase a new dinghy for not much more than a refurbishment, we decide (for the reasons above) to give Big Bertha a makeover – including new hyperlon tubes and sunbrella covers to replace the original PVC tubes. The original tubes are hopeless in the tropics and inveritably fall apart at the seams as the glue fails in the heat. We only keep the aluminium hull and even that has some serious parts cut out and new skin welded in.
Above: Big Bertha might not be the flashest, but she usually stands out as the biggest dinghy of the pack
Below: a 'new' dinghy deserves a new cover! Hand made on board with lots of TLC and swearing....


With a 'new' dinghy our 6 hp outboard seems a little tame - but luckily we run into the crew from Ridge Didge who just happen to be looking for someone to swap a 15hp for a 6hp outboard as they had just bought a smaller dinghy and the 15hp is too heavy. Soon the deal is done and we are very excited that big Bertha is finally able to get up on the plane with two passengers on board. We now scoot around everywhere at a great rate of knots. (it does not take much to excite us long term cruisers!)



The dinghy is completed just in time for our visitors to arrive – none other than the crew of Southern Mist (one of our ‘buddy’ boats from Sail Indonesia). Phil has devised a cunning plan (to avoid the ole ‘visitors are like fish – both go off after a few days’ syndrome) which involves sharing time between Two Up and Mandolin Wind. This plan certainly works a treat and we all have a great time touring between Phuket and Langkawi.


Above: and a good time was certainly had by all!
Above: Phil and Chris searching for shade on the trampolines
Above and right: 'It's a big thing when you look into it' - inside one of the many caves in Phang Nga Bay
  It was a great way to end our second season in Phuket. The 2011 cruising season certainly provided a great deal of variety – some good, some bad - but all adding to the store of wonderful memories for future reference!  
Link to next story: Europe 2011