“Alright,” Captain Francois said as we left the harbour of Chalong in Phuket, “let’s hoist the sails.”
The sun was setting behind us, splaying it’s raw beauty of orange and yellow as it set behind the Big Buddha on top of the hill, 6 K’s outside of Chalong. We had just received the reconstructed lever that directs the engine to push us forward, backwards or just idle softly. It needed testing and so a trip to the outer islands of Thailand’s west coast, picturesque scenes taken from travel magazines, was called for.
We were sailing dead on into a threatening cloud that seemed to dare us to come closer. The captain double-dared and the rain hit us on an angle. But as we reached the protective bay of Koh Yao, where only two fishing villages (of Muslim faith) resided, the rain subsided. We dropped anchor in 8 meters of water and as the stars came out I helped Kira in the galley prepare a rice dish of mango, chilli, coriander, garlic with tuna cakes washed down with a couple of beers.
Now this was sailing. Tropicbird didn’t have a fridge so there was no point in having alcohol. This boat, the illustrious San Miguel, a dreamy 47-foot sloop with a crew of 3, my addition making it 4, had all the spoils that proper sailing come with.
After dinner we watched the lightening show, nothing short of Pink Floyd’s Pulse concert. It reminded me of Darwin in the wet season, sitting on the beach watching earth-shattering clouds rupture with flashes and strobes of lightening in every direction and ear-drum piercing thunder.
The perfect weather to bring out the guitar and provide some tunes on the quiet waters of the bay.
The next morning, with the dinghy providing some motor issues and the shore being to far too row, we sailed out to Koh Hong, an island surrounded by towering rock-faces and jungle vegetation with an inlet of water a meter deep, surrounded by mangroves and with the residing tide, a sandbar enticed a blue-grey water bird with yellow feet to land on it and fish for whatever it eats.
Walking around under the rocks while boatloads of tourists chugged in, looked around and chugged out. We headed back to the beach side and as Francois and Kira checked out the beach, the water called to me and I swam out in knee-deep water to the underwater cliff edge and snorkeled down 4-meters, avoiding the 18-meter drop to the blue depths below. I floated about as curious fish came up and checked out the human jelly fish invading their territory. I also avoided the dinghy sized jelly fish that were pulsating about.
I rejoined the captain and Kira and we headed back out to the boat. As we passed the ridge I pointed out where I snorkeled. Francois dived in as Kira and I continued to paddle to San Miguel. I raised the anchor, which is like trying to lift a granite rock the size of a small Fiat, and we headed over to Krabi, the southern point of the mainland of Thailand.
We anchored in 6 meters of water as the sun set and we paddled the 20-minute pass over calm waters, passing a small catamaran. As we beached and tied the dinghy we heard a heavily accented South African voice call out to us.
“What the hell are you guys doing here?”
We turned around to greet South African Francois, a fellow sailor we had met at Phuket’s Cruising Yacht Association and had confirmed the story of Rodriguez and the Search for Sugarman.
“Come on,” he slapped Francois on the shoulder. “Let’s get you a beer.”
He was working on the catamaran, sailing groups of tourists that chartered the boat for such an expedition.
We sat at the bar on the beach and watched another storm roll in before the heavens cracked open and flooded every possible space made for walking. It was as though the skies looked down and said, ‘Hmm, footpaths. Challenge accepted.’
So we sat and drank for the next two-hours, meeting an Aussie couple living in Singapore, the crew of South African Francois’ boat before we headed out to a reggae bar and partied with the staff (because there was no one else) and the owner’s adorable little kid that danced with us.
I found a stick that the staff had twirled and applied my skills to it. But I learned that twirling while drunk isn’t the best idea. Especially when the stick is over a meter long and made out of very hard, unbreakable material that really leaves a mark.
Right on the left side of the left brow, under the eyebrow.
As the rain stopped and the party died out, we headed back to the beach, emptied the dinghy of water and paddled back to San Miguel for a good night’s sleep.
The next day we paddled back to the beach on the far side to snorkel (which was like swimming through a poorly recreated marine park that was left in the hands of a 57-year-old retired councilman).
Back on the beach I watched as a couple of tourists with ropes and climbing apparel crossed my path. I followed them into the brush and came out behind them at the entrance to a huge cavern. I left them to their climbing wall and explored the cavern, lined with stalactites coloured in green with a grey dusty ground covering the floor of it.
I clambered over the boulders and looked out at the green jungle vegetation, spread out like a carpet from the 60s across the beach.
I headed back and watched as boat load after boat load of tourists were dropped off at the beach. I walked down and crossed paths with Francois.
“You should go check out the dicks,” he said as he continued on to check out the cavern I had just exited.
“Check the what?” I turned back as he kept walking.
I wasn’t sure if I had heard ‘dicks’ or ‘decks’. I made my way to the end of the beach, passing exclusive looking resorts, the kind that made a ‘happy-to-sleep-on-the-beach’ nomadic adventurer like myself become repulsed by what man has done to nature for our own 60-second pleasures.
At the rockwall I saw Kira standing before a Hindu-shaped temple – surrounded by penises of all shapes, sizes and made from every material known to man – wood, metal, cloth and plastic.
“What the…” I stood in awe.
All through Indonesia I had seen in every souvenir shop bottle openers, flip flops, everything you could think of, in the shape of a penis without finding out why.
“It’s a sacrifice the fishermen make to this goddess,” explained Kira, reading from the sign. “The cave represents a sacred womb which is why they give phallic offerings.”
That and maybe because every island in Thailand is phallic which might explain the highly lucrative (and legal) sexual trade in the land of a thousand smiles.
We returned to the dinghy, making our way through the throng of tourists that were crowding the beach, pushed it into the water and paddled back to San Miguel. We got her ship-shaped, raised the anchor and headed back to Phuket.
Next stop, Sri Lanka, Chagos Archipelagos and the east coast of Africa.