Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Getting back into it

Can we still do this? How do we…..??

These are some of the questions we are quietly asking ourselves as we adjust back to boat life after a wonderful month back “home” on land in SA.

For “do this” in our first question, read…. sail / live happily in the cramped circumstances of a small yacht / put ourselves into travelling situations many would never attempt / use the bathroom facilities of a boat / be entirely reliant on ourselves when in need far from any help / sleep at ease on a bed rocking and rolling / sacrifice the comfort of living on land with transport at hand in a city that can easily satisfy your every need and desire.

The reality is that the questions pertaining to the actual business of sailing have been building for a while…. All the time we have been tied up in the relative comfort of a marina and not pitting ourselves against the sea. But enough about this crisis of confidence. The answer to the question is simply…. Yes. Or if not immediately, it will come back. Or we will learn again…. whatever is required. Just do it. (I see some Obama slogans here, sidling up to those of renowned sportswear…. How depressing not to be original!!)

So we have returned from a sojourn in South Africa: a marvellous visit, with hind-sight this was a much-needed break from the boat and to re-acquaint ourselves with the lives of friends and family and touch base with who we are. “Who we are”? That has become somewhat of a quandary…. resentment in our first year at having TRANSIENT stamped on various documents has been replaced with a certain pride at not being wholly defined by our land of origin. Nonetheless, back in SA we slipped awfully quickly into the role of who we were: that mantle is comfortable with years of familiarity. Narration of certain tales, particularly those of the worst storm / worst almost-collision moments, brought about a feeling of “Was that me? This feels like somebody else’s life I am describing….”

But we are back now, finding our home undamaged by the storms that apparently lashed it while we were away and finding also that it is easy to call this boat home… another mantle of familiarity is making itself felt. Picking up the threads of this life, we have undertaken two small excursions that have each, in their way, re-affirmed to us why we are cruising.

We are cruising because it gives us relatively easy access to places and people on land we would otherwise not get to enjoy. So we set off on a scooter over Sarasin Bridge, leaving Phuket Island for the Thai mainland province of Phang Nga.

With no real agenda, we enjoyed small beaches and locals fishing off broken piers; endless roads lined with stalls and shops selling mostly the mundane but also sometimes the exotic: fruit, shrines, unrecognisable foodstuffs; ugly electrical reticulation highlighting the beauty of ornate decorative arches; beautiful waterfalls in natural forests (notwithstanding that 80% of the forest has been replaced by plantations of rubber or fields of pineapples); a clean, freshly-gifted shrine deep in the forest; unexpected harbour areas made gay with colourful flags on brightly-painted boats; and we enjoyed the fact that we were the only tourists around.

We are cruising because it gives us relatively easy access to places on the sea we would otherwise not get to enjoy. After we had languished for a month in SA we decided we needed to take the boat out to check all its systems in preparation for another trip to Malaysia (to renew visas) in the next few weeks. Ketoro, of course, has been languishing for about 2 months at her current berth in the marina so we were aware that, as we have grown rusty, so must she…. So it was time to blow out the cobwebs!

With a newly-refurbished (and actually functioning) water-maker we set off to explore some islands about five hours away. Within 20 minutes the anchor was down and Rolf was in the water investigating why 1) we were getting no revs from the engines and 2) we were not getting the boat speed we should from the meagre revs we were managing and 3) we were getting no boat speed and distance readings on the log - which impacts on our interpretation of weather conditions available for sailing etc. We knew the answer to the third: growth (good solid green stuff) on the impellor wheel, which Rolf freed after repeated dives under the hull and swipes with a sturdy scrubbing brush. The answer to the first questions? Growth too: barnacles. Exuberant in their numbers on the propeller blades and shafts, providing such resistance that the engines achieved only half their maximum revs and changing the face and shape of the propeller blades utterly so that we might as well have had bricks flailing around in the water trying to achieve forward motion.

We resumed our trip, deferring the barnacle problem until our destination, and set about raising the mainsail to make use of the wind and attempt to ignore our burdened propellers. When the sail was near the top of the mast, the electric winch cut out. No problem…. Must have tripped out from over-heating when it lifted and decanted a hundred litres of rainwater that had accumulated in the folds of the sail. Add to the list of ‘look into at our destination’!

Well, we reached Ko Roi and anchored in one of our prettiest spots ever.

Giant towering rocks above us, greened with trees and bushes determined to find nourishment in apparently hopeless circumstances; fish eagles gliding high above the chattering of other bird populations and a calm sea which showed us to the small entrance to a hong.

This hong (pictured with Rolf the explorer), accessed only by that small hole at sea level, is huge, with walls soaring skyward, dense with mangroves and its own seawater lake: home to fish and crabs.

Ko Roi also provided a lovely beach…. and a magnificent backdrop to the necessary activity of diving under the boat with gloves, scrapers and brushes to remove the tenacious barnacles from their new home. Some time later the propellers were clean of barnacles and had been polished to a gleam with scouring sponges… and the result was engines that attained full revs and an extra 2 knots on our speed! The problem of the electric winch required the owner’s manual, screwdrivers, spanners, some deft short-circuits to by-pass suspect components and finally a few well-chosen words on ascertaining that the circuit-breaker is itself broken. A beer also helped the process.

The current status? General un-readiness for sea on the part of the boat and crew has been addressed and all are fit to go! But first we head off on a land exploration of Bangkok and the northern highland areas around Chiang Mai before returning to take our home off to Malaysia…