On the 6th of March I arrived in Phuket by bus and I checked in at the Sunwest hostel. Back in Bangkok I had found a sailing boat which I could join on its cruise from Phuket to Australia. All I knew was that it was a 15m long Bavaria 49, and that it would arrive somewhere in Phuket, sometime around the 8th of March.
On my second day in Phuket, Nicolas from France contacted me. He was also going to join the crew in Phuket. Before he had arrived in Phuket he had actually been on a very similar trip as I had been, traveling here overland all the way from France.
After two more days we met up with Piotr, the “new” Polish skipper who flew in from Warsaw.
All this time waiting, I was stuck in Phuket town. Unlike the beach areas of Phuket, where all the party is going on, Phuket town itself is dead. I used the timeout to get my last cheap hair cut and cheap Thai massage (around 5 USD each). The Thai massage, an hour of pain for me, was my first and my last one however. I didn’t know before that a Thai massage is more like a Yoga lesson where your body is bent all over.
Finally, on the 10th of March we got a message from the “old” skipper, that the boat had arrived in Phuket. We took a taxi to Chalong pier in the south of Phuket, where the boat was anchoring, and we met up with the “old” crew. This was Vito, the Polish skipper, and Bart, another Polish sailor. I found out that Toone (the name of the boat) was actually on a boat delivery from Turkey to Australia and Bart and Vito had been on the boat since Yemen. The crew had been bigger at times, but the rest of the old crew had all left the boat. Major issues with the boats condition and long unplanned stops had apparently been some of the reasons why they left. I would soon get to know these problems all to well myself. Another reason for leaving the boat could have been its sailing course along the coast of Somalia, were pirates had just recently killed another crew on a sailing yacht. Anyway, the crew for the trip from Phuket to Singapore was now complete.
Once at the pier, we took the dingy to get to Toone. We actually had to row the dingy in quite rough waters, because it’s engine was broken, but we eventually got there.
It was my first time on a sailing boat on the sea and for the first 5 minutes in my cabin I actually felt a bit dizzy. The rooms were spinning and it reminded me a bit of the spinning rooms you sometimes get when you’ve had to many drinks. Fortunately this condition lasted only 5 minutes and I never felt sea sick ever since.
The next day we sailed to the Haven Marina in the north of Phuket. On this first short trip I learned my first basic sailing knots, which are needed to attach the fenders to the boat and to fix the boat to the pier.
The reason for our stop at the Haven Marina was the need for the boat’s sail and spreaders to be fixed. However since it was weekend and the shops apparently closed the captain decided to sail to some of Thailand’s more beautiful destinations.
First we visited Ko Panyi, a fishing village near Phuket, which is only accessible by boat.
The next stop was the nobel holiday resort Tonsai, which is well known for rock climbing and also accessible only by boat. Here we anchored and took the dingy to the beach to explore the night life of Tonsai. In one of the bars we got to see this fireshow (the videos here are taken with an ipod touch 4G)
When we got back to Phuket on Monday we stayed at the quite fancy Royal Phuket Marina. We took the sail and the spreaders to the repair shop and had to wait for a couple of days for it to be fixed. While waiting we became friends with the waitresses at the marina’s restaurant. They were very kind to show us around in Phuket and took us along on a party on this quiet beach one day (see video).
On the 16th of March we left Phuket for good and sailed towards Singapore. Up to now, for the sailing rookies Nicolas and me, the sailing had been more like a recreational cruise. However for the next 6 days on the sea the daily routine included some tasks for us as well. We were now introduced to more of the sailing basics, like reading the charts (graphic representation of a maritime area), and knowing the navigation lights of other boats. Our mainjob now was to do watches. Every 18 hours I had to do a 6 hour watch. On a watch you basically have to be on deck all the time, and look out for approaching obstacles on the sea, like other boats or fishing nets. You also have to read the charts and adjust the boats course every once in a while. Besides the watches each one of us (except the captain) had to cook and do the dishes every third day. That’s pretty much all the work there is to do while on the sea. The rest is enjoying the ride. During the first days I spent a lot of time just starring at the sea and enjoying the view which can be quite amazing at times.
The watches at night were the least popular. It’s when everyone else is asleep and you are alone on the deck in the dark. However I still really enjoyed them sometimes. It’s a very peaceful and somehow dramatic vibe when you sail along the coast at night. You can see the busy coastline with all its lights from the cars and houses in the distance. But you are far away from it, surrounded by the dark sea and you can hear nothing but the soft sound of the waves breaking on the boat.
Somewhere near the coast of Malaysia I also experienced my first storm with around 70 km/h. It was quite startling for me when I saw the first time how far the sailing boat can actually tilt. I had the feeling that we were capsizing any minute. To get more comfortable with the tilted boat I had to learn and become aware of the fact that the heavy keel on the bottom of the boat makes it almost impossible for the boat to actually capsize, no matter how far tilted (the more tilted, the stronger the force of the keel pulling the boat back to a straight position).
Another interesting thing I learned was, that on a sailing boat it is quiet easy to enter certain countries unofficially, thus without registering with the border police. I’m not saying that we did that, though.
On the 6th day on the sea we encountered more and more huge freighters. They were all going to or coming from Singapore, which has one of the biggest and busiest harbors in the world.
On the 22nd of March we checked in at the fancy Raffles Marina in Singapore. The day after, our old captain Vito left the boat and caught his flight back to Poland. The rest of us planned to stay at the marina for a couple of days in order to get everything ready for the trip to Bali. How a couple of days turned into a couple of weeks you can read in the next post.