Indian Bank etiquette, SIM stories and white rabbits

The first event of the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally was to be held four or five days after most of the participants had reached Port Blair so there was plenty of time to get settled, organise changing Australian dollars into Indian Rupees and further explore some of the wonderful sights and magical places we had visited the previous year.

The bank, as always was a bit of a challenge. People in India are intensely curious so when you are talking to a teller or even getting money from an ATM, they crowd round, craning their necks to look at paperwork or the ATM screen and watch what’s going on – even providing a running commentary to the people behind.

Useful comments like “ tut tut tut wrong pin“ or “ahhhh! you have insufficient funds for this transaction” (read off the screen) are very helpfully repeated in a loud voice with much head wobbling and a dramatic roll of the eyes.

Banking is not a private matter in India!

After an entertaining and rather prolonged time at the bank, (there was much paperwork involved in exchanging a few hundred dollars) we set out to purchase SIM cards for our mobile phones.

The previous year it had been virtually impossible for a tourist to obtain a SIM. We had been fortunate to have been lent SIMs by our agent (and Yacht Rally organiser) Rathnam, but this year we were able buy our own – however it was a bit of a mission!

Our driver took us to an anonymous elderly white building and after several false starts in a rabbit warren of winding passageways and steep staircases we eventually found the room we needed to be in.

It was quite unlike any other place that I have ever purchased a SIM. It was a small but high ceilinged room with peeling plaster and electrical wires looped haphazardly around the walls. Three desks were arranged along two sides of the room and other than some uncomfortable looking chairs, the only other furniture was some functional but rickety metal shelving and a desk fan.

The long wait for our SIMs

We had to supply a copy of our passport, one of our Indian visa and also our restricted area permit plus passport sized photos. Then we had a to fill out a lengthy form in triplicate.

When it came to my turn I didn’t have all the required paperwork but I did have a photo (we had found a little store over the road where we were able to get these done). One of our party kindly provided the relevant papers that were in the name of his wife and despite the fact we have different hair colour and style, face shapes and eye colour, the chap selling us the SIMs seemed not to notice (we probably all look the same to them!).

There was a minor hitch when they discovered to their great consternation that we weren’t staying at a hotel but on our own boats. Several phone calls later – including one to Rathnam – our salesman felt comfortable enough to provide us with our SIM cards.

After installing the SIMs we had to head to a little store near Port Blair’s Marketplace and purchase “top up”. We bought phone credit and plenty of data but in truth it was really a waste of time as there was rarely enough signal to pick up emails and as for anything else you might want to do (such as post a blog) forget it!

The market in Port Blair

One of the most fascinating places we visited on our previous trip to the Andamans was Ross Island, a short ferry ride from Port Blair.

On our way to Ross Island

The small island was originally first inhabited by the British in 1788 and then abandoned. In 1887 it became the administrative centre for the British-held Andaman Islands when 773 India freedom fighters were brought from mainland India as prisoners.

The fabulous view from Ross Island

The ruins on Ross Island are a reminder of the grand life residents had back in the day

These prisoners, over time, built houses, shops, offices, a hospital, Churches, barracks and a fine building intended for the Chief of the Penal Settlement which was called Government House. Today all that is left of this grand residence are a few remnants, including parts of the very expensive Italian tiled floor.

Ross Island is like a modern day Angkor Wat

Now Ross Island is rather like a modern day Angkor Wat, once fine buildings and other structures such as a fresh water swimming pool, have been taken over by a jungle of vines and creepers.

As you wander through the ruins you can well imagine the wealth and glamour of this little island with its officers clubs and gracious homes that contrasted so acutely with the terrible conditions that the political prisoners were forced to live.

In 1941 Ross Island experienced an earthquake which damaged a lot of buildings and caused many of the privileged Europeans to abandon their previously comfortable lives on the Island.

The Island remained the administrative centre for the penal colony until March 1942 when the Japanese invaded the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Nowadays it is used by the Indian Navy as a base and is a very popular tourist destination and home to a massive herd of deer, peacocks and most surprisingly very cute white rabbits!

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

“Incredible India” so good to be back

We hadn’t had our anchor down in Port Blair too long before we received the news that Customs and Immigration were on their way to our boat to clear us into the Andaman Islands. No rest for the wicked! Our catch up on sleep after a three night/four day passage would have to wait.

Incoming! Another six officials approaching

Certainly the check in process went very smoothly thanks to Rathnam, organiser of the inaugural Andaman Island Yacht Carnival but why oh why did we have to have six people from Customs and then six people from Immigration on board for the entry process? It would be much quicker and more efficient if two people from each department could check in three boats concurrently.

These two felt a little seasick but still appeared to be enjoying themselves

The real answer I think, is that sailing yachts are still quite a rarity in the Andamans (we were only the sixteenth yacht to arrive in 2018) and many of the customs and immigration personnel were simply excited, curious and eager to look around each of the yachts at anchor.

Off they go to Beach House 57

A couple of them regretted their decision to come aboard as they felt extremely queasy – even though the anchorage seemed very calm to us.

The process was very smooth and painless and soon we were piling into the dinghy to go ashore to meet up with old friends and visit some of our favourite places from our previous visit in 2017.

Arriving at the dock we were greeted like long lost cousins by Uma who had done such a good job looking after our dinghies the previous year.

Uma who took great care of our dinghies every day

Then we became reacquainted with our favourite driver Vijay who had been appointed to be charge of all the drivers this year (probably to ensure the prices weren’t hiked up).

Vijay and his brilliant Ambassador car with the Yantaras

As we walked out to get in Vijay’s lovingly kept but rickety old Ambassador taxi, we were impressed by the poster heralding the inaugural Andamans Yacht Carnival and bearing the reminder “Incredible India”.

Proud to be part of the inaugural Andaman Yacht Carnival

Our first stop was to Rathnam’s new office where we caught up with Rathnam, his wife Sushma and their daughter Hansika. We also met Rathnam’s brother Manu who had come over from mainland India to help with organising the rally. Our next stop was a good meal at the restaurant at TSG Hotel where we were to return a few times as it was one of the few restaurants that served alcohol with meals.

The restaurant at the TSG Emerald View Hotel

Kingfisher Beer

As in mainland India, cows wander in the streets wherever they wish

As we tucked into our first delicious Indian food and our first bottles of Kingfisher, we reflected how great it was to be back in Port Blair with the colourful and hectic streetscapes: cows and goats wandering; saris of every hue – bright fuchsias, riotous scarlets, electric limes, royal purples and chemical limes; tuk tuks hurtling around corners and the rest of the chaotic traffic with horns blaring and smoke belching from trucks bearing the slogans “horn do” and “please sound horn “ on their rear ends.

There are plenty of goats wandering the streets too

We love all the colourful clothes that people wear

Incredible India indeed!

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

Setting sail for the Andaman Islands

At last the long awaited day had come when we were to check out of Phuket and set sail for the Andaman Islands to take part in the inaugural Andaman Islands Yacht Carnival.

A poster for the inaugural Andaman’s yacht carnival

We had fallen in love – on our first visit in 2017 – with the beautiful and isolated Andaman Islands which with the Nicobar Islands, is India’s southernmost outpost. We couldn’t wait to get back!

Our daughter in the Andaman Islands in 2017. Who wouldn’t fall in n love with the place!

During our first visit a number of us “yachters” as they like to call us, suggested to Rathnam, the agent we had used, that he organise a Yacht rally and it turned out that he had already been thinking about doing this. We gave him contact details of Rally organisers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and all made suggestions around cultural and other activities.

Our agent Rathnam and wife Sushna

The only way to travel to the Andaman Islands apart from arriving by yacht, is by air or boat from mainland India. This is about to change however, as an international terminal is in the process of being built.

The trip is around 400 nautical miles from Phuket in Thailand, for Bali Hai that is around a three day, three nights.

This map shows where the Andaman Islands are situated

We set off in the company of Beach House, a Perry 57 catamaran, You You, a 36 foot Colin Archer double ender and Yantara, a 46 foot custom built yacht with a Sparkman and Stephens hull. Quite a mixed bag!

Our little flotilla on the GPS – like ducks in a row

The first day and night were uneventful. There was no wind at all which meant the sea was like glass and we had to motor sail which was disappointing.

The good ship S/V Yantara

S/V Beach House

Late in the first day we heard from You You that they were experiencing problems with their seawater pump. At first they thought they could mend it but we found out later that sadly, they had to turn back.

We also had a slight hitch when moving along in water 2000 metres deep – the engine noise changed and we weren’t making good headway – a piece of rope round the prop was suspected and poor Capt’n Birdseye had to jump into the ocean blue to ascertain the problem. Fortunately he was able to free the rope quite easily and soon we were on our way again.

Capt’n Birdseye dressed only in his mask and snorkel

This was the rope wrapped around our propeller

That evening we enjoyed the chicken curry I had precooked before leaving and settled into our normal watch sequence – the good captain went to bed at around 9.30 pm and tried to sleep (it’s never a good sleep on the first night) and then at 1.30 am it was my turn to sleep until 5.30 am when I took over again for a couple hours.

One of the best parts of an ocean crossing – watching the sun rise each morning

While on watch at dawn that second day I sighted a group of pilot whales move slowly round the back of the boat. A magnificent sight! Again, we motored all day until at last at five pm a breeze blew up and we were finally able to switch off the motor.

Wind at last and sailing!

In only 10 -12 knots of wind (on our beam) we were humming along at around seven knots and we continued like that until 8.15pm when the wind dropped and we started to motor sail again.

After another beautiful sunrise we were able to switch off the engine again and sailed the rest of the way to Port Blair.

A cargo ship passes as the sun rises

During the third day we spotted S/V Asterie (from Western Australia) on our AIS (Automatic Identification System) and we enjoyed talking to them on the radio and catching up on their experience of the trip so far.

We also kept in touch via the radio with Beach House and Yantara and enjoyed hearing about their competing fishing stories. Yantara’s boat guest even hooked a marlin!

Heave hoooooo! (Photo credit Jill Sheppard S/V Yantara)

The marlin before it got away

But there were compensations

S/V Asterie on the horizon as the sun comes up

Early on the fourth morning we finally arrived at Port Blair. Beach House, Yantara and Asterie led the way in and provided early morning amusement on the radio responding to Port Blair Port Radio’s questions with the consequent misunderstandings and long pauses.

Nearly there!

The young man asking the questions had a very strong accent and it was obvious he too was struggling to decipher our accents. Both sides talking “proper” English as far as they were concerned, both not understanding what the other said.

An example: question “What is your boat’s entire length”. “Errr 12 tonnes?” came the tentative answer.

By the time it was our turn I think the radio operator must have located our details which had been provided to Rathnam, our agent and Rally organiser – or the operator was too busy to ask us the complete list – as thankfully we only had a few questions to answer.

At anchor at last we were happy to have arrived in the Andaman Islands once again and to be starting another adventure.

At anchor in Port Blair

If you would like to read more about the inaugural Andamans Yacht Rally and our trip up north follow the link below:

Maintenance, a sinking boat and leaving for the Andamans

We had a beautiful couple of days at Koh Phanak in Phang Nga Nay but too soon it was time to leave for Ao Chalong in Phuket to do some boat maintenance and prepare for our trip to the Andaman Islands.

Farewell to Phang Nga Bay

One of the urgent jobs was to get some new blinds for our hatches as the original covers that came with the boat had degenerated in the sun and looked extremely tatty. Not a good look when just about to put your boat up for sale (leave a message if you’re interested!

We contacted the lovely Aod (pronounced Odd) who had previously organised the recovering of our sofa cushions and some canvas work- at a great price and with a fantastic job done (message me if you would like his number).

Our sofa cushions still looking good

Capt’n Birdseye went to collect him but there was such a huge swell that it would have been impossible to bring landlubbers Aod and his assistant in those conditions. Even the experienced sailor would feel uncomfortable!

So we decided to go round the corner to Nai Harn Bay where Aod said he would meet us the following day.

Sunset at Nai Harn Bay

It was beautifully calm at Nai Harn although landing on and taking off from the beach was rather hair raising as there was an unpredictable surf which could easily swamp the dinghy or almost tip you up. Fortunately we discovered that the “Yacht Club” as was, had stopped charging a fee to park your dinghy at their little floating plastic jetty so that’s where we headed for when we went ashore.

As we were leaving Ao Chalong we were saddened to see a smallish catamaran sinking at anchor not too far from where we had anchored. It was such a shock to see a perfectly good boat’s demise and wondered who she belonged to and why hadn’t they checked on her? We tried to ring the yacht club as we thought it could possibly belong to one of its owners. Unfortunately the phone call went to messages and after trying three times we gave up.

Heartbreaking to see someone’s hopes and dreams sinking into the blue

It was good to see Aod again and he took away some of our shade covers to restitch and measured up for our new blinds. In just three days we were back at in Ao Chalong with a perfect job done at a very reasonable rate.

A great (and inexpensive) job done

The blinds roll up neatly and are fastened by Velcro

Another very amiable person to deal with was Paul of Octopus Marine, an obliging and very tolerant Aussie electrician who we employed to connect wires to enable new functions, update our chart plotter and to give our electrical system a “once over”.

The tolerance and Paul being an-all-round good bloke was in evidence on the Friday night when Capt’n Birdseye was installing a new starter battery and suddenly we were plunged into darkness with fridges, freezer and stove out of action. He thought he had fused the whole system! Despite being out for the evening Paul came to our rescue and after checking everything, discovered that the system was fine and said that if the good Capt’n had simply continued to install the new starter battery, all would have been well.

The wiring for the new chart plotter functionality required turning half the boat upside down. The other half of the boat was turned upside down with a repair to the bilge pump. There was stuff everywhere!

Mess everywhere!

Once it was all put back together we rewarded ourselves with a meal at the Mahasamutr restaurant which is on the headland above Nai Harn Beach and has the finest view, as well as great service and really good food.

Mahasamutr has several lovely very decks

It’s a great place to watch the sun go down

We enjoyed the good restaurants and the glorious sunsets of Nai Harn but soon it was time to go back to Ao Chalong to do our final provisioning for our trip to the Andaman Islands and to catch up with more friends from the Sail2Indonesia Rally.

The fabulous view from Mahasamutr

One of the stunning Pinisi boats anchored at Ao Chalong

On the way back we were once again cursed by plastic – there is so much in the ocean it’s almost inevitable- when a bag became entangled in our prop. We were in a busy spot along the route that all the tourist boats

Take back to the jetty but there was nothing else for it – Capt’n Birdseye had to hop over the side to cut the offending plastic away.

Photo of Bali Hai courtesy of Paseafique who took this as they came in to anchor

It was great to catch up with the crew from Pasifique who had dropped briefly into Phuket from Langkawi before setting sail for Sri Lanka and also to catch ch up with the Beach House crew who we hadn’t seen for at least half a year but who we were sailing in company with to the Andaman Islands.

A lovely catch up with the Beach Houses and the Paseafiques

The following day was our last before setting sail for India again so Beach House, Yantara and Bali Hai spent the day buying last minute produce, making meals for the trip and readying our boats for the three day, three night trip.

Mini frittatas ready for our trip to the Andaman Islands

The Beach Bar

That evening we had a celebratory meal on the sand at the Beach Bar, Panwa Beach Resort in Cape Panwa, just round the corner from Ao Chalong. We reminisced about last year’s visit to the wonderful Andaman Islands, anticipating our second trip with excitement and curiosity – this time as part of the “Sail Andamans Yacht Carnival.”

Pre-Andaman Islands get together

And we’re off – Beach House too!

Hanging in hongs, amazing mazes and a captivating cave

Close to the craggy cliffs of Koh Phanak, in the Phang Nga area of Phuket, we disturbed half a dozen gun metal grey herons, feeding in the shallow water at the entrance to a hong. Startled, they flew out into the bright sunshine as we drew near.

A heron flies out of the cave mouth

Craggy cliffs on Koh Phanak

Glorious Phang Nga Bay

Minutes earlier we had seen a pair of kingfishers flashing red and azure as they helter sheltered past us. Who would know that the close-by island of Phuket was heaving with tourists- it seemed to us many more than were there the previous year – and yet here we were enjoying peace and solitude only a short boat ride away from the throngs of tourists.

Tourist boats in front of a cave on Koh Phanak

Koh Phanak does get busy to be sure but if you time it right you can explore the hongs (literally “rooms” – caves open to the skies, often with hidden entrances) undisturbed by other people.

Perfect! we thought, no tourists!

We thought we had timed it perfectly when we took our dinghy through the threshold of the cave system that, it is purported, stretches right through the island.

Into the cave we go

With me on the flashlight and Capt’n Birdseye on the oars we slowly made our way through the maze – marveling at the stalactites and stalagmites and other amazing rock formations. Sometimes we came to a dead end and had to backtrack and try a new route. After about twenty minutes we reached a point that we could have just about squeezed through if we crouched down in the dinghy but we were concerned that the tide could still be rising and we might get trapped.

Inside the cave

As we were contemplating whether to press on or go back we heard this strange rumble. It seemed to come from far away but then became louder and louder. We quickly realized that the noise was actually the sound of excited human voices and it was getting louder and louder.

Deciding to turn back, we slowly made our way through the tunnels while the ever increasing cacophony of voices grew ever more strident.

About ten minutes from the entrance we found out why the noise seemed so extreme – we encountered a veritable flotilla of kayaks – literally about thirty of them, each with a guide and carrying two or three passengers. There must have been well over fifty over-excited tourists all yelling at the top of their voices (some screaming with fear!).

As we edged our way through the throng (no road rules applied here – the kayakers just kept on going!) we promised ourselves to only go exploring in the early morning or late evening and not to assume that just because all the tourist boats had disappeared, and it was after 4 pm, that we would have the place to ourselves.

A small gap reveals a beautiful Hong inside

We finally reached the cave entrance and decided to motor round to the other side of the island to see if we could find the other entrance to the cave system we had just been in.

On our way round we marvelled at the dramatic overhanging stalactites and the small gaps in the rock walls through which we could see enticing hidden lakes.

Dramatic overhanging stalactites

Our attention was caught by a small beach and what looked like a staircase built into the cliff face in one corner of the cove.

This small beach caught our attention as we motored by

We couldn’t resist the invitation “climb me” that the rickety stairs seemed to be making so we drove the dinghy into the beach and with some trepidation started to climb up.

We just had to see where these steps led

Inside the cave there were some amazing rock formations

We took a few paces in the cave and waited for our eyes to adjust. It was pitch black and we could see nothing at first but gradually we were able to see that we had entered a large cavern. Fortunately we had a flashlight but once switched on we could still only see just a small radius around us.

Thank goodness for the flashlight!

We pressed forward slowly and as we made our way deeper into the cave system were amazed at some of the rock formations that we could make out with the help of our flash light – columns, falls, ghostly figures looming at us in the dark, dank atmosphere.

Ghostly figures loomed out of the dark

Suddenly a chink of light appeared and as we approached it we could see something glimmering on the other side of the opening – a hidden lake in a fully enclosed hong! Such a stunning sight and the bright light reflecting on the water was a massive contrast to the stark interior of the cave.

A chink of light appeared

A stunning sight was revealed

The sun was getting low in the sky so we didn’t linger for long in the cave. It was good to get back into the fresh air just in time to take the dinghy to Bali Hai for a drink at sun down.

The sun is beginning to set. Time to go back to the boat for sundowners

Sailors’ market, party time, reunions and farewells

A sailors market with a lots of interesting activities and opportunities to speak to expert riggers, marine suppliers and other trades people was held on themorning we arrived at Yacht Haven Marina.

Looks good enough to eat but these were to make hot compresses used in massage treatments

Vegetable carving, towel folding, batik painting and lots of other crafts were in full swing when we arrived.

A towel elephant in the making

Easy once you know how!

The market was the penultimate event of the Sail Thailand Rally and one which was very much enjoyed – especially, from my perspective, the free massage!

Everyone busy at work at the Sailors’ Market

Some amazing vegetable carving happening

We had no problems getting into the marina but were irritated to have the office staff tell us we were tying up to port and then when we were almost at the entrance, changed it to starboard. If it had been the first time we wouldn’t have minded but it has happened to us at least once before. The marina staff are probably the nicest and in every other way, the most efficient of all the Phuket marinas so its a shame that they let themselves down in this way.

The batik painting was very popular

Some people did an amazing job

Sunset at Yacht Haven Marina

The last event of the Sail Thailand Rally was the Phuket cruisers party – an annual event open to cruisers who are in the locality. Numbers are limited so unless you are part of the rally you have to be quick off the mark to get on the invitation list.

So great to catch up with friends from the 2015 Indonesian Rally

It was great to catch up with some of the boats from the 2015 Sail2Indonesia Rally some of who we hadn’t seen for a good while. One was Kiwi Boat Sun Chaser, whose skipper we had last heard a year previously, at the dead of night, half way across the Andaman Sea, en route to the Andaman Islands. There was another Kiwi boat Carrie and US boats Island Bound, Persephone and Enchantment. Quintessa and You You were also there. Quite a reunion!

A number of the boats were soon to be boarding a Sevenstar Yacht Transport (the main sponsor of the party) container ship heading for the Mediterranean. There was a lot of excitement about the new adventures ahead for this fortunate bunch.

It was as a great way to end the rally, enjoying great food, free drinks and live music with many of our friends, old and new, all on a the brink of a new adventure – either in Europe, or crossing the Indian Ocean on the next stage of their round the world trip, or closer to home like us, planning other trips to the Andaman Islands, or on the East Malaysia Rally or a slow trip back to Australia.

Another lovely meal together

We had a couple more great nights together before we all parted ways and a last long lunch on Nai Yang Beach with Quintessa’s Tasmanian crew before they were homeward bound.

A very enjoyable lunch with these good people from Tasmania

The following day we also headed off – to spend a couple of days relaxing and exploring in glorious Phang Nga Bay.

The morning after the spectacular night before

IIt had been a spectacular night at Port Takola Marina – the Sail Thailand fleet had been invited to the wedding celebrations of the owner/manager Matthew Na Nagara and his beautiful wife Liu – but the next morning some of the fleet were feeling a little tired and muzzy.

Dancing the night away

However, most of the participants were up early and raring to go as they were signed up to go on a tour put together by the rally organizers. This included a visit to crystal clear pools and waterfalls, hot springs, and a massive climb up 1237 steps to Wat Tham Sua (“Tiger Cave Temple”), one of the most famous monasteries of southern Thailand.

Our crew for the Sail Thailand Rally

We had elected not to go as that morning our crew of the last few weeks from S/V Anthem were leaving for Darwin from Krabi airport and we wanted to be there to farewell them properly (nothing to do with those steps I promise!).

That evening at dinner on Ball Hai we heard all about the excursion from Quintessa‘s Tassie crew who had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

The following day we went back to Krabi Town to meet with the Quintessas for lunch at a little cafe and ate numerous delicious dum sum which cost, including drinks, around Australian $3 a head!

Stormy weather approaches Krabi

Night falls over Krabi Town

After a peaceful night in our anchorage opposite Krabi Town we made our way towards Yacht Haven Marina in Phuket where the last events of the Sail Thailand Rally were to take place.

Stunning Phang Nga

Despite having spent extensive time cruising the Phang Nga area in 2016 and 2017, we were still amazed by the stunning beauty of this intriguing place.

Some of the limestone karsts make strange shapes

Limestone karsts thrusting skywards, lonely white-sand beaches, stalactites hanging precariously from towering cliffs, secret cave entrances, glimpses of inland lakes, hidden hongs and mysterious cave systems burrowing their complex way hundreds of metres into the rock formations. Bewitching Phang Nga Bay!

What a view!

We anchored in one of our old haunts between two massive karsts with a wonderful view into the distance. We were longing to dive off the boat for a swim round the the boat and Capt’n Birdseye was keen to try his new full face snorkel mask. Although it looked rather strange he found it was excellent – much better visibility than a conventional mask and no need to blow through the snorkel when you come up from a duck dive.

We anchored between these two rocky islands

The next morning we took the dinghy for a spin so we could swim in a the sheltered and shallow green waters of Koh Kudu Yai – famous for the Indie film festival organised by Hollywood actor, Tilda Swinton

Splendid sunset view

The entrance to Koh Kudu Yai

On the way back in the dinghy we reminisced about a previous time whenwe had anchored in the same place and riding back thought Bali Hai had disappeared! It happened to us again but this time we knew it was just a trick of the eye – Bali Hai was hiding (see photos!).

Now you see her, now you don’t!

The next day we arrived at Yacht Haven Marina and anchored outside as we had arranged to enter the following morning at slack tide (note to anyone intending to stay in Yacht Haven, there are some wicked currents that can make getting into a pen very tricky so go in at slack tide and at the time the office suggests.

View of Yacht Haven Marina en route to dinner

With Balii Hai safely at anchor we took our dinghy in our to meet up for dinner with various other boats at Papas and Mummas – a quirky restaurant built over the water just along the shore from the marina.

The crews of You You, Quintessa, Bali Hai and Osbourne Star at Papas and Mummas

It’s a very much “DIY” restaurant- you don’t have to cook your own food but it’s virtually DIY the rest of the way, for example you grab a menu and find a table and then while you are thinking about what to order, you help yourself to a drink from the fridge, open it with the opener provided on a string next to the fridge and grab yourself a glass.

Next, you go up to the little counter in front of the tiny kitchen and place your order. Before long your beautiful freshly cooked stir fry, or coconut milk curry or fresh fish arrives at the table. And the food is delicious!!

Visiting crew from Quintessa and behind, the DIY bar fridge

While we were enjoying our meal a wild wind whipped up suddenly bringing in massive black clouds and then a tremendous thunderstorm. With the thunder cracking overhead and driving rain outside we were kept snug and dry by storm covers unrolled and secured by the restaurant staff.

“Mumma” enjoys a drink with the Quintessa crew

Although we enjoyed the storm we were very disappointed that we were unable to witness the total eclipse of the moon, which was even more special as it happened to coincide with a full moon that was closer to earth than it had been or would be, for many a year.

The rainstorm carried on for quite some time and we were a concerned that taking shelter in the restaurant would hold up closing time but no one seemed to mind and in fact “Mumma” enjoyed a beer with us and even posed for photos.

The amazing moon

By 10.30 pm the storm had cleared and through the residual cloud we were able to just glimpse the extraordinary moon.

What a party What a night!

We had anchored for the night outside Port Takola Marina in Krabi, on the Thai mainland, as we had arrived late in the afternoon on a falling tide. After a quiet night in the river near the marina entrance we took Bali Hai to Krabi Town to meet up with yachtie friends for lunch. Although the river gets very shallow, there is a well defined and well charted channel that took us to a great anchorage at the mouth of a tributary just opposite the town itself.

Table for 13 please!

A short dinghy ride to a secure and well maintained floating jetty (close to the “floating” (on mud) restaurant) and we were just a few minutes away from May and Mark’s – a little cafe recommended by our mates from Charon who always pick out the best in eateries. There we met up with the Quintessas and their Tassie (Tasmanian) crew, Smart Choice’s skipper and his crew from Yantara and the Charons. Thirteen was quite a large number to accommodate in a small place but after one kind couple swapped tables and a bit of shuffling we made it.

Lunch was long and ranged over many topics. One of the remarkable facts about this gathering was that by coincidence the skipper of Charon had known the Tassie crew on Quintessa for more than 20 years – since their two sons were in primary school. It really is such a small world.

Fruit and veg shopping at the local market

After a quick shop at the fruit and vegetable market next door to the cafe we walked back to the dinghy dock. We really liked the atmosphere of Krabi and promised ourselves to come back and explore the place properly one day. It felt much more laid back than Phuket, less frenetic and less geared to full-on tourism.

Dusk at Port Takola Marina

We leisurely made our way back to Port Takola Marina, calling on the way to alert them to our arrival and to find out which side to put out our lines and fenders. As we approached the entrance a little dinghy popped out to lead us in.

Tying up was very easy thanks to Marina manager Sebastian – a “tres charmant” Frenchman – and his dock assistants. There were quite a number of boats arriving and only one (albeit very well built and appointed) dock available at the marina so far, but Sebastian had done a great job in planning and allocating suitable spots for all the boats of different shapes and sizes.

On the advice of Sebastian, we went to dinner that evening to a restaurant on the river – just a short walk away- called Ban Ko Lek. The restaurant was very full but we didn’t have to wait for too long to be served and the food was delicious. The only downside was the walk home – the walk itself was quite lovely, strolling through fields and listening to frogs calling but as we passed a group of houses a pack of dogs started barking and rushing at us which was quite frightening. We growled back at them which whipped them into a frenzy and some of them started howling and there was lots of growling around us in the pitch dark. Fortunately they didn’t follow us and the rest of the walk was uneventful.

The shrine at the Ban Ko Lek restaurant

The following day was to be the Sail to Thailand welcome to Krabi party but this wasn’t just any ordinary party – we had been invited to the wedding celebration of Matthew Na Nagara, who with his father, is developing Port Takola Marina, and his beautiful bride Liu Sinut.

Posing on the dock at Port Takola next to Bali Hai with our boat guests

The official (and traditional) ceremony had already taken place but this was to be the big celebration party and boy it sure was big!

Before the festivities began two elephants were brought to a spot near to the massive open sided marquee (looked more like a permanent structure than anything). Elephants have a strange effect on people and even the toughest old salts enjoyed getting up close and stroking their curious crinkly hide.

Elephant love

We had a brilliant evening of celebration – professionally compered by Matthew’s brother Mark, a radio broadcaster, and former Miss Thailand and actor, Boom Panadda Wongphudee.

Posing with the bride and groom

We were entertained by The Royal Thai Naval Orchestra, Nadda Viyakarn, one of Thailand’s most famous singers, and later a another really great rock band with an amazing sax player . The food was fantastic- especially the banana roti for dessert, and of course the yachties were very happy to have beer and wine provided too.

Nadda Viyakarn, and the Royal Thailand Naval Orchestra entertained us in style

It was a very special night and for the stayers particular fun – dancing round the bride and groom to rock and pop music from throughout the decades.

Dancing round the bride and groom

Then they joined the circle

What a party! What a night! Thanks Matthew and Liu and Port Takola Marina for inviting us to such a magnificent night and for such a generous welcome.

There was traditional entertainment too which was much enjoyed

Land travel and new sailing adventures

Our sailing adventures over for 2017, we embarked on some land travel in November, leaving Bali Hai on the hard standing in Rebak Marina, Langkawi, in Malaysia.

Bali Hai goes on “her holidays”

First stop was a flying medical visit to the island of Penang where we also met up with yachtie friends from Charon and Shakti. Thanks to a recommendation by the Charons we stayed at the he excellent boutique hotel Le Dream and enjoyed a great Chinese meal together at the wonderful Tai Tong restaurant in Georgetown.

Dinner with the Charons and the Shaktis

Leaving for Vientiane in Laos in early November we travelled from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur then from KL to Bangkok- a convoluted route but it was a lot cheaper than any of the other options.

The colourful streets of Vientiane

Poor Laos – the country was bombed to hell even though it was never at war.

Tragically many innocent people continue to lose their limbs from ordnance in their agricultural land and near their homes

Monks in Vientiane busy repainting their temple

Keeping fit on the banks of the Mekong River

We spent a few days exploring Vientiane before taking a mini bus to beautiful Vang Vieng where we stayed right on the river at the Elephant Crossing Hotel which had spectacular views over the mountains.

The glorious view from the Elephant Crossing Hotel in Vang Vieng

These mountains are riddled with caves

Many of the caves have an mage of Buddha near the entrance

This one was called the elephant cave for obvious reasons

After an adventurous few days caving, tubing and hiking we climbed on a minibus again to drive to Luang Prabang.

A group about to go tubing in a cave at Vang Vieng. Such fun and being in a group of two our guide took us deeper into the bowels of the mountain.

A short but pleasant hike after exploring a number of caves

No one could have prepared us for the breathtaking views that we experienced as we crossed the mountain ridges. The journey would have to rate as one of the most fabulous I have ever experienced. Thanks to the Yantaras for recommending the ride without talking it up. It totally exceeded expectations.

Looking back at the hair pin bend we had just traversed – hair raising!

Such a glorious view!

Luang Prabang is a gorgeous town situated where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers meet. The French colonists left a legacy of gracious architecture and fine dining and this mixed with the natural beauty of the town, the many outstanding Buddhist temples and the lively markets makes it a bucket list destination.

The view from our hotel in Luang Prabang

Left behind when the French left Luang Prabang

A typical alleyway in Luang Prabang

There are many French villas in Luang Prabang

Busy streets but just a stone’s throw away…….

……a serene and quiet stretch of river

Coincidently the Shakti crew arrived in Luang Prabang the day we did and we enjoyed some great meals together and shared a wonderful day at an elephant camp.

Many beautiful temples and lots of traditional Laotian architecture to enjoy

The bamboo bridge close to where we stayed

We also spent a delightful day at the Kiang Si water falls. Although pretty crowded, the falls were spectacular and definitely a must-see destination.

The Kiang Si water falls were spectacular

We loved visiting these majestic creatures

From Laos we flew to Vietnam stopping overnight in Hanoi and leaving our heavy suitcases at our Air B n B before heading for the royal city of Hue.

It rained cats and dogs in Hue

The Citadel was flooded

Sadly we had constant rain the whole time we were in Hue so we’re unable to do much sight seeing although we did spend a day exploring the royal citadel which was very enjoyable except for the thorough drenching we received.

A sodden royal citadel

…but beautiful inside

Water water everywhere!

Back in Hanoi it was family time – many of our wider family gathered there to attend the wedding of one of our nephews. We had a wonderful time celebrating twice over – first at a Western style wedding and then a traditional Vietnamese style wedding day.

All too soon it was time to move on again – this time to Brisbane where we stayed with our son and partner. Over the Christmas period we were joined by sailing friends Jan and Jack from Anthem who had flown in from Darwin for the occasion. While they were with us, we met up with Cindy and James from You You who were also home for Christmas.

Christmas festivities

Yachties coffee date

After a busy month in Brisbane catching up with family and friends it was time to be reunited once again with Bali Hai.

We arrived back at Rebak Marina on 10 January to Bali Hai looking the bees knees with her hull polished, her bottom anti fouled and with a very smart brand new propeller. Ready and waiting for the Thailand Rally starting on 15 January 2018.

Always so good to catch up with our sailing buddies

The romantic tale of a recaltricant engine and a happy love match

Penuba, one of the stops in the 2015 Sail2ndonesia Rally, is a small, sleepy town on Pulau Selayar in Riau Province. 

Penuba from the water
We had been made very welcome there during the rally and had enjoyed staying in its well protected and deep harbour which had been highly prized by the Dutch well over a century earlier. 

The rear of the shop houses built by the Dutch on reclaimed land
One of our 2015 rally fleet members (a German born Canadian) had spent longer than he intended there due to engine trouble. In fact he was late in arriving due to engine problems and was forced to return after leaving to catch up with the fleet, as his engine was still playing up. 

Thelassi, our friend’s yacht with the recalcitrant engine
On this return visit he was helped by a young lady who lived with her family in Penuba and spoke excellent English. She was very happy to help our friend find the mechanics for the job using her father’s excellent connections. 

The jetty at Penuba where we parked our dinghies

The rest as they say, is history. They are now happily married and live in a very pleasant, cosy, beachside cottage on the adjacent island of Pulau Singkep, just minutes away from the main town Dabo. 

The beautiful view from the happy couple’s home

We had last seen our friend at Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia in November 2015 so we were looking forward to catching up with him and also to meeting his wife. 

Walking in the dusk in Penuba

We arrived in the early afternoon and went ashore just as dusk was approaching. Much to our dismay the great little restaurant where we had eaten during the rally was closed – as was every eating place (and there are only about three) in Penuba. Apparently we had arrived on the eve of an important religious holiday!

The Chinese temple

We walked along the small main street which had been built on land reclaimed by the Dutch. The timber walkways and shops are very rickety and look like there hasn’t been much maintenance work done since the Dutch left! 

The rickety walkway over reclaimed land at the entrance to the shop houses
However, each shop is a magnificent rabbit warren of all kinds of goods from fresh fruit and vegetables, to umbrellas, engine oil, notebooks, rice, hats, dried fish, plastic bowls, rope, snack foods and sweets (candies or lollies), pots and pans and brushes – anything you could think of. 

Pretty sure you could buy all the essentials of life here (except for wine!)

We wandered around the waterfront rather disconsolately (we were looking forward to eating off the boat!) but just after we past the Chinese temple as we heard a disembodied voice coming from the shadows in the half light calling our names. It was our friend and his wife!

A lantern in the Chinese Temple
The happy couple

Later on we made a scratch meal with the Yantaras and had a great reunion on Bali Hai. 
The following morning we were inundated by children from the stick village on the tiny island off Penuba town. Apparently their families were Orang Laut (literally Sea people) who at one time lived on sampans but some years ago were granted permission to build homes on the island. 

The children arrived in sampans which they carefully and capably manouevred round to avoid damaging our top sides
The children were so beautiful- happy, enthusiastic, eager to learn, polite and full of energy. They loved being shown round the boat, especially having the water maker and the chart plotter explained (through sign language mainly). 

Our happy visitors
You could tell that they were born to be on the water – even some very tiny ones rowed out to our yachts and they all hopped in and out of their quite unstable sampans with dexterity and confidence. 

Born to it! The children were so nimble and confident on the water and around boats
The first to arrive, two girls and two boys, were happily settled when another five arrived. And then another three. After that they kept on coming and we had to ask some to leave to make room for the next three sampans incoming!

A boatful of visitors
At one point there was so many kids and twice as much confusion and one poor little one (he can’t have been older than four) was left behind. Capt’n Birdseye hoisted him into the dinghy and his sister rowed her sampan back to pick him up. 

This little one got left behind! I almost kept him he was so cute.
In the end we had to ask them all to leave as we had an important lunch date to get to so they obediently filed off the boat clutching their notebooks and pens we had given them as though they were the Crown Jewels.