25 February, 2009

The End ..

As promised, here is the final instalment of the adventures onboard Enzwell.

The last blog finished with us seeing in the New Year at Phuket. After a couple more days in the anchorage there – it is not the most pleasant one in the world, lots of swell – we headed off north up the Phuket/Thai coast.

After about four dayhops, we ended up at a lovely little island called Ko Phayam. It is just south of the Thai/Myanmar border. A yachtie friend describes Ko Phayam as how she remembers Thailand about 20 years ago. We had five days there but I could easily have stayed two weeks. A very laid-back place, no cars, just a couple of wide concrete tracks through the island for motorbikes.

Obviously quite a few people think they have found paradise, as there is a surprising number of expats living there; and due to that there are quite a few good cafes and little nick-nack shops, and a German bakery. The coffees and cinnamon wheels went down real well! Phayam also has two large sweeping bays, and the anchorages on the south coast were good. Not so on the north coast – where the main township is – as the wind was howling.

We arrived at Ko Phayam on Shane’s birthday, so had the obligatory dinner out with yachtie friends. We also had another great night at a bar/restaurant called the ‘Happy Hippy Bar’.

Quite a few bars in this neck of the woods seem to have a Reggae/Caribbean theme, and the HH Bar was no exception. We had a great meal there, and I particularly enjoyed Happy Hour, where the pina coladas were about $NZ4.80 each. Even at ‘full price’ they were only about $8, so I gave them a bit of a nudge…….. The bar staff didn’t skimp on the alcohol content either, as Shane found out when he got his Long Island Iced Tea – it was like rocket fuel!

We were at Phayam with four other yachts that we had been travelling up the coast with. One night we all went ashore and had a great beach barbecue, a few wines and beers, and a sing-a-long to Shane playing his guitar.

After Ko Phayam it was off to firstly the Surin Islands, and then the Similan Islands. Both lots of islands are world-renowned for their marine fish and diving sites. We obviously missed the best spots at the Surins, as we thought the snorkelling there was only average, but we really enjoyed the Similans.

The water clarity at the Similans was spectacular. Everything from the deep azure blues, right through to almost clear where the water hits the beach. We went for a dive one day; I was snorkelling on the top and could see virtually exactly the same as Shane was seeing diving 40 feet below me. Lots of beautifully coloured fish, and some good coral.

We went for a walk up to the top of this hill. This is known as ‘Sail Rock’ – this one big rock appears to be sitting precariously on top of the rest. The view from the top of the hill was great, overlooking the bay where we were anchored.

The area around the Similans is a Marine Park; not that you would ever know going by the frequent behaviour of the locals. We returned from a dive one day to anchor off one the islands in the Similans, right out the front of Park Headquarters. One of the Thai Navy ships was already anchored in the bay – about 100 metres offshore – and we are greeted by the sight of personnel onboard the navy ship with their fishing rods out. The park ranger arrived a couple of minutes later to collect our marine park fees. We paid him, and pointed out the navy guys fishing. He went and spoke to them, the rods were put away, but the guys were back fishing 15 minutes later……… Aside from that, we saw many many fishing boats in the distance that appeared to be within the five-mile no-fishing zone. And they will wonder in a few years why there are no fish left…….

Lots of day trippers come over to the Similans each day, either by longtail or speed boat, but once they are gone at the end of the day, we pretty well had the place to ourselves.

After two weeks travelling north, it was time to head back to Phuket, and in to Boat Lagoon Marina to get a couple of things looked at on the boat. We made our marina stay as short as possible, partly because due to the marina’s shallow basin. The bottom of the boat was sitting in about six inches of mud at every low tide!

Our next stop was Panwa Bali, a calm anchorage not too far from Phuket Town. We were there for Chinese New Year, so went and saw the festivities with Roger and Julie from the yacht Tradition. They are both working in Phuket, so know where to go and what is on.

We didn’t think much would be able to match the great CNY we had in Penang last year, so we got a real surprise.

After having a good wander around Soi Rommanie – the Chinese part of the Old Town – we went back to the main park area where the stage was, to watch the show.

It was fantastic – a troupe had come over from China specifically for the Chinese New Year celebrations in Phuket.. There was a young Chinese gymnast (she was so flexible she could just about turn herself inside out); a fantastic Mongolian opera singer; and girls who were spinning plates on the ends of sticks – by themselves and while standing on other performer’s shoulders. All very spectacular, and we managed to score seats up quite close to see all the action.

Our two-month visas were up so we checked out of Thailand on 12 February. We first headed east and went to Krabi. We hadn’t been to Krabi before so wanted to check it out.

Krabi is a bit of a mecca for rock-climbers. High limestone walls border the southern part of the coastline. No cars in this part of Thailand. Everything has to come in on longtails – tourists, all food/drink for the many resorts, and staff for the resorts (who came in every morning by longtail at 0600 hrs, and went straight past our boat……… their very loud engine roaring by).

And did I mention that all the plastic drink bottles have to come in by longtail too??!! We went for a walk one of the days we were there, and the locals were collecting up the plastic water bottles and cans – as you can see, they had a few!

After Krabi we stopped at Ko Rok Nok, another beautiful spot with lots of fish and great swimming and snorkelling. We left early to head down to Ko Lipe, just after the sun had got up!

Our last stop heading south was at Ko Lipe, yet another lovely island. Ko Lipe is not too far from Malaysia. Again, lots of great little bars and cafes; somewhere that would be neat to go for a couple of weeks in the middle of a cold NZ winter just to chill out, relax and read books!

We are about an hour away from Langkawi, where I will have my last week on the boat. I am busy packing boxes, to send everything home. I head back to NZ this Thursday and Shane will follow in about two months. He is going to stay in Langkawi and look after the boat. Hopefully it won’t be too long on the market before it is a great new home for its next owners.

The last three years have been a great adventure. We have made many new friends amongst the yachting community – too many to mention individually, but as a body, they would give you the shirt off their sunbaked backs if you needed it, and always with a cold one ready. The highlights of the three years would have to be: cruising the Australian east coast; the World Rainforest Music Festival in Borneo; seeing the orangutans in Indonesia; and spending time in some very beautiful bays and anchorages that are well-off the usual tourist path. Doing what we have done has given us a new perspective on life, and how people in other countries live. By seeing them in their everyday life it has certainly made us realise that one does not need money to be happy. Most of the time on the yacht has been wonderful, but as with anything, things go wrong; there have been equipment and instrument failures, and we haven’t always had perfect weather……..

We hope that you have enjoyed reading our travels. We must make special mention and thank Doug ‘”the Piano Man’ – it is good to know that someone has been reading these blogs. We appreciated your comments Doug!

We look forward to seeing you back on “the land” soon, when we become landlubbers……

Heather and Shane

PS. For those of you interested in checking out the listing for the boat, go to www.leemarine.com 1996 Roberts 434 Pilothouse ketch (44 foot)

02 January, 2009

New Year in Phuket

Firstly, a Happy New Year to everyone. We hope that you all had a great festive season.

It has been an appallingly long time since we have updated the blog, so here we go…..

The last blog finished with us on our way to Penang. We both really like Penang, so we had another week there, doing a bit of sightseeing and shopping. Unfortunately the marina hasn’t got any better; there was still lots of rocking and rolling with all the ‘wash’ coming through from the ferry terminal right next door. Everyone sort of puts up with it though, as the marina is in a fantastic location, right on the doorstep of the centre of town.

After Penang we did a straight run through to Langkawi. As you can see, it was a hard trip for Shane!

Four days there were spent doing a bit of sightseeing, saying goodbye to friends we won’t see again as they are heading west, and also stopping up on duty-free refreshments!

We stopped at a couple of islands on our way north to Phuket – Ko Muk and Phi Phi Don. The islands were as beautiful as ever.

Then it was straight up to Phuket, and a booking we had at Ratanachai shipyard. Enzwell badly needed a paint, and we could no longer delay the inevitable…….

Ratanachai is a shipyard near Phuket town (the commercial part of Phuket, not where the tourists really hang out). The yard used to be solely for fishing boats, but has become popular for yachties over the last few years, as they were very reasonably priced. That was until this year, when they bumped their prices up 50 percent L . Unlike most modern shipyards – which lift boats out of the water using a travel-lift or sling – Ratanachai uses a frame on railway tracks. The railway track goes down in to the water, and the platform is put in to the water, under the boat, and then a strong steel pulley drags the platform out of the water, with Enzwell safely mounted in to place on the top.

As you can tell, the water near the entrance to the shipyard wasn’t overly clean (to put it mildly!). We watched from the boat, as yard employees jumped in the water to ensure that the frames on the side of the platform were correctly in place. They were just in their ordinary work clothes, and had basic breathing apparatus.

We don’t think this guy is long for this life……. He continued his nicotine fix right up until the eleventh hour, sucking away on his cigarette until the last available minute. The cigarette then got thrown in the water, he put on his mask, and was under ‘Enzwell’ diving in the swampy filthy water. Shane and I both decided – rather him than us!

And then the hard work began. We had five weeks until we were flying home to NZ for a visit, to get the boat painted and get it back in the water. We knew we should comfortably get the job done, but you never know in Thailand. Things happen – like the first day we were in the yard, another yachtie was complaining that workers hadn’t turned up for work. To which the reply from the yard supervisor was they were only doing half a day as it was ‘temple day’. Things like that just have to be factored in to the job….

The yard was like a trip back in time in some respects. All the workers clocked in. The ‘nearly start time’ siren went at 7.55 a.m., the ‘start’ siren went at 8 o’clock, and then again two hours later for smoko. The end of the day was at 5 pm, and when the siren went to signal that, there was a steady stream of workers heading out the yard gate. No overtime or extra work done here……

We had a few neighbours while we were in the yard. Roger Rat and his family were living in a nearby drain. We hadn’t even got the boat finally settled to it’s final place in our little part of the yard, when Roger stuck his head up from the drain to see what was going on…… Fortunately they decided their home in the drain was OK, and didn’t try to move on to Enzwell! There were quite a few rats in the yard, and also a few BIG cockroaches, so I always had my wits about me!

There was a lot of preparation work to be done before we could do the painting. Getting the old paint off, sanding, fairing, it all took time…. Just before we were about to start the painting, we had to get a big ten put up right around the boat, so that no over spray went on to nearby yachts.

This is what Enzwell looked like one she was ‘tented’. It was hot enough working on the boat before the tent went up, it was like a sauna with it! The temperature on the deck was over 45 degrees Celsius. The sweat was just dripping off us! The conditions were a bit trying, but as they say, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel as the job was not far off being done.

I had to leave Shane and the boat in the yard, and head home two weeks earlier than planned, as Mum passed away. In my absence, Shane got the work on the boat finished, and the boat was back in the water a week before he flew home.

Although the first part of my trip home was somewhat sad, we both had a good time in Wellington, catching up with friends. Shane was rapt to be in Wellington for the birth of his first grandchild Ethan.

On December 16th we were on the plane and heading back to Phuket, bringing a few goodies from NZ to enjoy back on the boat. We stayed in the marina for a couple of days to finish painting the deck, and then it was down to Panwa Bali at the south end of the island to celebrate my birthday.

Our Christmas Eve dinner was in a nearby bay – Nai Harn - with fellow Wellington Roger and Julie from the yacht ‘Tradition’.

The bay has a lovely big calm anchorage, and is a popular Christmas stopover for yachties.

Two nights later we went over to Tradition for dinner, and took over some of our ‘goodies’ – a pavlova all the way from NZ, topped with strawberries and whipped cream.

Every mouthful was savoured! All the sugar was a bit too much for Shane, who spent most of the next day in bed with a crook tummy…!

We headed around to Patong Beach for New Year. Patong is the tourist hub of Phuket, and is where all the bars and nightlife is. We had also heard that there was a great fireworks display at midnight.

We went ashore and had dinner, and then wandered down Bangla Road, the main area for nightlife. Past throbbing masses of tourists, jammed-packed bars, and lots of good-looking Thai ladies, who used to be men…….! A lot of the hotels put on beautiful dinners, and quite a few had beautiful ice carvings on display.

Later on in the evening, we headed down to Patong beach. The Thais have a tradition with lanterns, where you put all your worries and stresses in to the lantern, and float then float the lantern away, sending all your worries and stresses with it. It can be done either by sending your lantern in to the air, or floating it away on the sea.

These two lanterns are just about to be sent on their way. Hundreds and hundreds of these lanterns filled the sky on New Years Eve. It was quite a sight. We came back to Enzwell, and sat on the boat and watched the fireworks. There were fireworks going all night long, but the display at midnight was spectacular. Fireworks were going off not just in one place, but the whole length of the 2.5 kilometre beach!

And so to 2009. We are, as they say, “swallowing the anchor”, and the boat is on the market. We have enjoyed our travels around Australia and Asia, but late March will see us return to Wellington and head back to work. Hopefully we’ll get at least one more blog done, updating on our travels around Thai waters before we head home!

Heather and Shane