Work and Play in Koh Lanta

We left off the last blog entry with our arrival on the island of Koh Lanta, so let’s pick up there.  The first order of the day was to get to the Lanta Animal Welfare Center, so we found a tuk-tuk driver, agreed a price and were on our way.  Tuk-tuks here are amazing.  Basically, they are scooters to which has been fitted a sort of sidecar, which can take several people, or a couple with all their bags!  We loaded everything up and started out.  This island has only relatively recently started to be developed, so the roads are in various stages of construction, but all are dusty and pot-holed.  No worries though, as our driver expertly negotiated all the potholes and we arrived safely at our destination in about 20 minutes.

Just as an aside, let’s start with a bit of information about Koh Lanta. It is a small island, about 16 miles long and 3.7 miles wide, at the south-east tip of Thailand, in the Andaman Sea.  It is inhabited by about 11,000 people.  Most of Thailand is Buddhist, but here there is a mix of religions – Buddhists, Muslims and Christians.  The high season here is from November to March, when people flock here to relax, enjoy the beaches and scuba dive.  April and May are very hot dry months, followed by the monsoon season from June to October.  And while everyone in Thailand has been friendly, the people are particularly laid back and very welcoming.

So after the 6 months of anticipation, we were finally here! The Center was bigger than we had anticipated, and our very first glimpse was of the cats in “Kitty City”!  We were promptly greeted by a volunteer named Meg (unfortunately it was her last day, so we never got to know her, but we appreciated her friendly face when we arrived).  She took us through to the Center, to find the keys to our apartment, and arrange for us to be taken over there.

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Inside Kitty City. It is a fenced off area of the center where all cats awaiting adoption live.

The apartment was a pleasant surprise.  It is an upstairs apartment with a patio area and a roof deck area.  The apartment itself has one big bed/living room, with a separate kitchen and bathroom.  Although accommodation is available at the Center itself, it is more dormitory-style living and we didn’t think we could live without a/c and a private, hot shower for three months (we can live simply, but we are too set in our ways to rough it completely!).  We weren’t due to start at the Center until the following afternoon, so we spent time unpacking – yay!  No more living out of a rucksack for a while!  I checked out the kitchen and found a wok, pan and kettle, but no way of cooking.  We spoke to the landlord, who lives next door and he provided a gas cylinder with a burner.  I guess my one-pot cooking practice is going to come in useful!

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Our stove for the next three months.  Who thought we would have downsized from a 2 burner galley stove to a one burner.  The boat will seem luxurious by the time we get back 🙂

Once we were unpacked, we went for a walk to explore the area, and find a bite to eat.  There are lots of cafes and restaurants on the main road around the Center, but as this is low season many are closed.  We found one that had a good looking menu so we gave it a try.  The food was excellent.  We are going to be able to live well for very little here!

The next day, we slept in as this was going to be the first day of work.  We had been given the work schedule for the coming week on our arrival, and our first day off was to be on day 7.  Neither of us have worked a fixed schedule for over two years, so it was a bit daunting, but exciting.  Day 1 was an afternoon shift, where we were shown around the Center first.  Then Moray was taken to the “back of house’ where the healthy dogs live, and the sick cats and dogs are treated and cared for.  I went to “Kitty City”, which is where the healthy cats live, and where the welcome center, the shop and the café are housed.

Lanta Animal Welfare Center, or LAW, is a not-for-profit hospital, clinic and Animal rescue/adoption center.  It was established in 2005 by Junie Kovacs to improve the lot of cats and dogs on the island of Koh Lanta.  Since that time, it has grown to include mobile clinics on neighbouring islands to help animals there too.  Some of the animals that cannot be returned to their homes are cared for at the Center until forever homes can be found for them.  They find new homes not only in Koh Lanta, but all over Thailand, and far beyond, with many settling in the USA, Canada and Europe.

My main role over the next three months is as a Host in the Welcome Center.   I spent the afternoon with Perly-Ann who has volunteered at the Center for a few years now.  She is a Canadian expat who splits her time between Canada and Thailand.  She showed me the ropes for the Welcome Center and the shop, before having me shadow her on a couple of tours of the Center.

Moray’s role is as a general volunteer, so he works with the animals in the Center, which means he can be doing anything from feeding, walking and cleaning up after dogs, to taking care of very sick kittens in the Isolation area.  Dawn was his guide, showing him the tasks that needed to be done.

We returned to the apartment on Sunday evening completely shell-shocked.  Apart from the fact we haven’t worked in a while, the sheer amount of information that we need to learn seemed daunting.

The second day, we carried on the learning experience.  I spent the day with Perly-Ann and Madeline, another volunteer who was Hosting that day.  She had only been there a week but seemed very comfortable in the role.  She led the tours as if she had been doing them for ages.  I shadowed Madeline and Perly-Ann, trying to pick up tips, learn the facts that I would need to remember and generally soaking up information.  Moray’s day was pretty tough, as he spent the day in the cat Isolation area.  He was syringe feeding very sick kitties, and had to spend the day wearing a bin liner and gloves, which he changed every time he moved from one cat to the next, to avoid any transference of disease.  Given that it is about 95 degrees and 100 % humidity, it was miserable for him.  The other volunteers and staff are very helpful, though, passing on as much information as possible.  There is a large turnover and I will try to give a shout out to everyone who volunteers while we are here.  Right now, “back of house” we are working with Lauren, Bee, Chyna, Leanne, Dawn, Madeline, Tadeja, Kingsley, Laura, William, Anna and Lena, Marie, Libby, Abbey, Marie, Antonette and of course, Junie.  Meg, Candice, Flavia and Matthew were here when we arrived but left for pastures new during our first week. (Many people here are travelling round Asia and spend three or four weeks here before moving on to their next destination).  Madeline also works some of the time as a host, along with Perly-Ann, Laura G, Bernie and Mo, who all live on the island and come in a few times a week.

That night, we headed to the nearby Irish Embassy Bar where they host a trivia quiz every Monday night.  Several of the other volunteers also enjoy the trivia quiz, so we managed to put together a team.  The prize is 1,000 Baht off the team’s bar bill for the main quiz (worth having when you consider that a beer only costs 80 Baht!) and 500 Baht off the bill for the music quiz.  Between us, we covered several decades so we had quite a range of knowledge!  And we won the main quiz!!!  Now we just have to keep up the good work!

Tuesday was a little different, as I spent the morning learning how to look after the cats – there is a long list of tasks that need to be completed related to the cats, including cleaning litter trays and feeding the healthy cats who live in Kitty City, as well as cleaning the short-term and long-term recovery areas and feeding the cats who are recovering from surgeries and sickness.  Wednesday, and the rest of the week, saw me back in Kitty City, as a Host.  It wasn’t long before I was hosting and leading tours on my own!  Moray spent the week taking care of the cats in Isolation.  He did manage to walk some dogs though, which broke up the day.

The Center is home to about 50 dogs, so that is a lot of dog walking to be done.  I am amazed at the number of tourists who show up, just to walk dogs.  They have read about LAW on Tripadvisor and come along to help out.

We had now been at the Center for three days, so were considered competent enough to be allowed to work alone on certain tasks!  I got to lead tours by myself which is always a little nerve-wracking, but interesting.  It’s especially interesting when people ask questions, rather than just listen.  There have been several questions that made me stop and think, which is always a good thing!

Koh Lanta has a farmer’s market, which that sets up at a different site every day.  Thursday it is just at the end of the road where we are staying, so after we finished our shifts we headed over there.  We decided against buying any of the meat or fish, simply because of the flies crawling all over them (can’t shake off our “westernness” just yet!), but we did pick up some wonderful fresh vegetables and curry paste.  We also bought dinner – a couple of curries, rice and sweets for dessert – a pancake stuffed with coconut and a chocolate covered waffle.  All delicious, though the curries were a little on the hot side.

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some of the street food we bought at the market.  2 curries on the left, spring rolls, sausage on a stick, eggs in wonton wrappers and orange fish ball sort of things 🙂

Thais eat very spicy food, especially in the south.  Most restaurants are aware that most tourists can’t handle that much spice and are kind enough to ask if we would like ours mild, medium or Thai!

I need to be honest here and say that I did not enjoy my first week here.  Although I loved being with the cats, leading tours was stressful as I was afraid that I would forget something, and every task seems to have so much to learn.  I felt out of my depth and wondered what I had got myself into.  I was so relieved when our first day off came around.  The schedulers make every attempt to give people who are here together the same day off, so Moray and I were going to spend our day off together exploring the island.  The weather gods had other ideas!  For the first time that week, the heavens opened and showed us what monsoon season is like!  Ah well, we just slept late, surfed the internet and relaxed.  Which was probably just what I needed, because when I went back to the Center the next day, everything seemed so much less terrifying!  I realized that the tourists on the tour wouldn’t realize if I had forgotten something and I could always mention it later!  The other tasks are all written down, so I could just check the boards to remind myself.  And everyone is really helpful and won’t have a problem explaining something.  The second week went by in a blur!  New people arrived and got settled in.  Animals departed for their new homes in Koh Lanta, the United States and Switzerland.  We did more cooking at home, finally mastering the right amount of curry paste to use!  And in our second week at the quiz night, we had so many LAW people, we had to split into two teams!  Our team tied for third place, so we had to have a tie breaker – no, not an additional question – that would be too boring.  No, one member from each team was told to kneel on one knee, and then was given a jaeger-bomb.  The first to finish and put the empty glass on their head, upside down of course, would win!  And guess who went for our team…and won… Moray!!!!  That meant the team got a round of shots!!!!  Moray got his second shot, and I try to avoid shots if possible, so I gave mine to another team mate.  We did win the music round outright, so got the 500 Baht reduction in the bar tab, which is always welcome. [Update: we came second the following week :)]

The weather was kinder on our time off the second week, and we now had a scooter which we rented for a month, so we spent one afternoon in Ban Saladan, at the northern tip of Koh Lanta.  We walked through the small town, looking at the seafood restaurants along the waterfront that are built out into the water, on stilts.

Just past the ferry terminal is a little footbridge that leads to a Chao Leh (Sea Gypsy) village.  The Chao Leh are thought to be the first inhabitants along the coastal regions of the Andaman Sea.  They traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle, but today most live in stilt villages, surviving by fishing or taking tourists out on boat trips.  We saw one man working on his boat and he kindly allowed us to take photographs.

One thing that really struck me was how you can do more with less if you have to.  Compare the marker floats that we saw in the gypsy village with those that we saw in Clarke Harbour when we were in Nova Scotia in August 2016.  Necessity really is the mother of invention…

We stopped at a dive center to see about the cost and possibility of getting in some diving, but it looks as though that won’t be happening this time round.  The weather makes the chances of diving very slim and if we do go, the visibility will most likely be pretty poor.  For the same cost we can get a boat trip to visit four of the nearby islands, with some snorkeling thrown in, so we may choose to do that instead – watch this space!

On our next full day off the weather was much kinder, so we got to visit Lanta Old Town, which is on the east side of the island.  It is a very pretty little town, with great seafood restaurants built out into the sea on stilts.

We stopped at one for lunch.  The seafood was delicious and we tried some refreshing fruit drinks.

 

That evening we went to Time for Lime.  This is the cooking school and restaurant, on the beach, established by Junie Kovacs when she came to Koh Lanta, and is the major sponsor of LAW.  They have fantastic cocktails there which tend to have a local flair.  I had a mojito and Moray had a chillie margarita.

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Next was Pangea, a really cool beach bar.  We sat on bamboo sofas, right on the beach, watching the sunset, while listening to the DJ play some great music.  Life does not suck!

On the way back from the beach, we saw that the Funky Monkey was open.  Many of the restaurants here close down for a month at a time in low season, so this was the first time we had seen it open.  The draw for us was the pizza!  However, the main attraction of the Funky Monkey is that it is a karaoke bar.  I have always avoided karaoke bars like the plague, because I cannot sing and don’t want to be dragged up on stage.  My worst fears came true 😛 Thank goodness there is no video, that’s all I can say!

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The next week, I took a cooking class at Time for Lime on Tuesday and Moray took one on Thursday.  The LAW volunteers get to take one cooking class each, so I joined two of my co-workers, Libby and Marie, and 10 tourists, and learned how to make panang curry (including making the paste from scratch), and deep-fried papaya salad with Time for Lime soup.  The class was very relaxed, taking about 5 hours in total, but that was good because there was so much food to eat!  Of course, it also gave us plenty of time to sample the delicious Time for Lime cocktails too.  Moray’s turn involved making a green curry paste, fresh papaya salad and Pad Thai!

One of the lessons was on what should and should not be eaten that may appear on your plate based on ingredient preparation. Below you can see Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chillies and galangal (Thai ginger).  Top row are for flavor but not eating and the bottom row are the same ingredients but prepared in such a way that they are to be eaten

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We were also given a “taste of Thailand” which was a combination of ingredients that we added into a folded wild pepper leaf and popped into our mouths.  It could only be described as a taste explosion.  It consisted of the leaf, ginger, onion, lime, chilli, peanut, toasted coconut, dried shrimp and palm sugar syrup.

Below is a video showing the wok portion of making pad thai

We are now halfway through our third week at the Center and so far, it has been a happy time.  We have seen animals go their new homes, which is wonderful, but we have unfortunately had to say goodbye to two others for sadder reasons.  That’s the hard bit about this work – you can’t save them all, and sometimes it’s just kinder to let them go.  Thankfully, though, those situations are few.  There are always stories to tell, such as the time that Kao, one of our three legged dogs,  was being walked through the Blue Forest when a monkey jumped on her back – I’m not sure if Kao or the dog-walker was the most afraid!

We will post a group shot of our volunteer group, some shots of the center itself and some of the cats and dogs on our next post.

 

 

 

 

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Planes, Trains, Automobiles… and Tuk Tuks!

After a few weeks in New Bern preparing – renewing passports, obtaining visas, securing Sol Purpose, etc. we set off on our next adventure!

We had reserved the cheapest rental car we could find for the drive from New Bern to Raleigh.  We went to the airport in New Bern to pick it up and were handed the keys to the only car available – a bright yellow Mustang!  Moray was in heaven!  He was only sorry that it was less than a three hour drive to Raleigh!

On the way to the airport, we stopped at Snoopy’s Hot Dogs for a bite to eat – http://snoopys.com/ .  If you’re ever in Raleigh, you must try them.

We dropped off the car (much to Moray’s dismay!) and headed to the airport for our next piece of good luck.  We had been TSA pre-checked, so clearing through security took no time at all.  Of course, that gave us extra time before our flight so we sat down for a drink, and to watch the World Poker Championships.  I never thought I would enjoy that but after learning how to play in Georgetown, it’s fascinating to watch the professionals.

Right on time, our flight left Raleigh for the short trip to Atlanta, where we had a couple of hours layover.  We used the time to recharge our iPads, ready for the long flight ahead.  Again, right on time our Delta/Korean Airlines flight took off for the almost 14 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.  The flight was full and we weren’t able to get seats together but we did have seats with no one in front, which gave us a little more legroom.  The flight, food and service were all excellent.  There were many movies to choose from, and I watched four (although truth be told, I probably dozed off at least once in each of them!).  We arrived in Seoul at 4am local time, and as we left the plane and headed to the transfer area, the airport handed us vouchers to get a free drink and breakfast sandwich.  That was very welcome, as we had a five-hour layover here.  The airport was very comfortable, with lounge chairs, rather than only the usual hard chairs at the gate, so the wait wasn’t bad at all.  And once again, right on time, we boarded a Korean flight for the last leg of our journey to Thailand.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many cabin crew on one flight!  Once again, the service and the food were excellent.  As all the writing on the packages of food was in Korean, we weren’t entirely sure what one item was.  It looked like it should be yoghurt, but it came with a packet of soy sauce.  The Korean lady sitting next to me explained that it was soft tofu.  You pour the soy sauce on top and eat it, much like pouring honey on top of greek yoghurt.  It was delicious!

Two nights in Bangkok…

Very soon we were coming in to land in Bangkok.  Immigration was painless, and we got our 60-day visa stamped without a hitch.  The bags were waiting by the time we got to the carousel, so the next stop was an ATM to get some Thai cash – Bahts.  Next task was to get a SIM card so that we could use the phone while in Thailand.  This proved a little more problematic as we couldn’t get the card to work in the phone, but eventually we got it working in the iPad, so it looks as though we will be using Skype to make phone calls!  We will therefore not have a physical number we can be contacted at while here in Thailand, but we do have email and Facebook.  Next stop was to head out to the meeting area where we had arranged for a driver (whose name was Sombat) to meet us and take us to our Air Bnb in Bangkok.  As we pulled out of the airport, I got my first sight of Asia.  The first half hour of the drive was much like being on a major roadway in the West, but the closer we got to Bangkok, the more it changed.  The drivers are very aggressive and seem to make up the rules of the road as they go along.  Also, there are a million scooters, whose riders don’t follow any rules at all!  It’s a bit of a shock to see a whole family on one, two-seater scooter, none of them wearing helmets.  The kids just perch in front of their parents casually.  Anyway, somehow, everyone seems to find a way to where they want to be!

The further into Bangkok we got, the narrower the roads became until they were about the same width as the car we were in.  And, unlike the US, there is no grid pattern – streets head off in all directions.  We wondered how many times we would get lost trying to find our way to our apartment.  Even the driver got lost twice, but eventually, we pulled up in front of our apartment building.  We picked up our keys and headed up to the 13th floor (thank goodness for working elevators!).  It was a nice apartment with a mini-kitchen, wet-room, air-conditioning and king-size bed – yes, a bed that we can get in from both sides!  If you have ever spent time on a boat or in an RV/caravan, you will know what a big deal that can be!

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View of the Chao Phraya river from our apartment

We took showers, which made us feel better, and then set off to walk to the Thai Travel Clinic, to get our vaccinations taken care of.  Now I have lived in Texas for a long time, and thought I understood (if not enjoyed) heat.  I was wrong – the heat and humidity was indescribable, especially for two very tired travelers.  By the time we got to the clinic, we were soaked through!  Everyone in the clinic spoke English, so it was a very easy process.  We filled in some paperwork, met with a doctor, who checked where we going and what we were going to be doing, before recommending that we have vaccinations against Japanese Encephalitis as well as the Rabies pre-exposure shots.  We were happy to hear that the recommendation for the Rabies shots has been reduced from three to two!  Moray also needed to get a Tetanus and Diphtheria shots, as his last one was about 12 years ago.  The doctor wrote a prescription for each of us, which we took to the clinic’s payment department.  After paying the vast sum of $80 – yes, you read that right; not the $2,400 the US wanted to charge us just for the rabies shots – we picked up the vaccines from the pharmacy, took them back into the clinic and had the shots.

We started back towards the apartment, stopping off at a street vendor to buy some chicken satay.  Three sticks of satay cost 20 bahnt, which is about 70 cents.  Absolutely delicious!  Then we continued our walk until we came to the central train station – Hua Lamphong.  We stopped there at a bar and sampled our first Singha beers.  Finally, back to the apartment for a good sleep after two days of travelling.  As we were to find, all Thai beds are very hard, but we had absolutely no trouble sleeping!

We woke the next morning to the great news that the 12 boys and their coach had been discovered alive in the caves near Chiang Rai.  The country is hanging on the story, which as you can imagine is on every TV, 24 hours a day.  For us, this was to be a sightseeing day – a market, a temple or two and a palace.

We walked around our neighbourhood for a little while, which was fascinating.  Every building has items spread out on the street for sale (so much so that everyone has to walk in the road).  In our particular neighbourhood, the items were all car parts, each store front selling a different part.  And of course, none of these parts were new or boxed up and stacked tidily – they were reclaimed parts piled high!

Our first sightseeing destination for the day was Chinatown, where we spent a couple of hours, looking at all the merchandise, sampling street food and taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the market.

We also walked down to the river to see how the water taxi service worked.  While there we saw how heavily populated the river was with fish as the locals feed them.

Then we headed to our first temple.  Bangkok and the northern parts of Thailand are predominantly Buddhist and so there are hundreds of temples and shrines.  We selected just a couple of the most famous to see in our two day stay.  The first was Wat Pho, which was built by King Rama I in the 16th century.  There is a school there, as well as a massage school where the 4 types of massage are taught.  Visitors can get a massage at the school, but we decided to give that experience a miss, just for now.  The temple itself is stunning – I will let the photos do the talking.

My favourite part was the Reclining Buddha.  The statue is about 50 feet tall, and about 182 feet long, and fills the temple.  The statue is covered in gold leaf, apart from the soles of the feet.  These are about 16 feet long and are covered with mother of pearl.

As this is a temple, and the Buddha is so revered, all visitors have to remove their shoes and leave them outside the temple.  There are huge racks of shoes and it seems that there is very little problem with finding your own shoes when you leave!  Another form of respect is to be covered from head to knee.  At this temple complex, there are robes to put on to provide the required coverage, but we had read about this in advance, so had worn long shorts and tees that covered our shoulders.

Wat Pho is actually a whole complex of temples, with a huge number of images of the Buddha.  The gold and glasswork on the temples and the Buddhas are absolutely stunning.  We spent a couple of hours here, just awestruck.

After a delicious lunch of green curry and garlic chicken, we set off to look around the Grand Palace.  We had to buy a pair of trousers for Moray, as his shorts were considered too short!  I think they are on to something here, as at least 25% of the men and women in the Palace complex were wearing the pants and sarongs made of the same Thai fabric!

I had thought Wat Pho was amazing with the amount of gold and jewels on display, but it paled into insignificance when we saw the Palace.  The King is held in high regard by many in Thailand, and it is a crime to say anything against him.  The wealth on display was staggering.  One part of the palace was being restored by a team of artists, repainting the wall decorations.

By this time, we were both very hot and the jet lag was beginning to take a toll.  Neither of us relished the long walk back, so we made our way to the nearest water taxi stop.  We knew there was a stop very close to the apartment so that would save us about a two hour walk.  When the taxi comes in, there is a lot of commotion – the man on the back is using a whistle to give instructions to the driver at the front.  They pull in and if there are several people to get off and on, they tie off with one line only.  If there are only a few, the passengers literally leap off and on while the driver holds it against the pier as best he can.  We jumped on the taxi when it arrived, and made our way inside.  They pack as many people as is physically possible into each boat and the river is chock-a-block with boats.  It’s amazing that there aren’t lots of disasters every day, but somehow, just like on the road, they seem to avoid each other.  A few minutes into the journey, a ticket collector came along and we paid for our ticket which is the same for one stop or the whole route, the vast sum of 15 baht each (about 45 cents each).  Next door to our apartment building was a bar where we had a drink while enjoying the phenomenal view of the river.

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relaxing at the River View

After showers and a nap, we headed back into Chinatown.  We saw a place that said Chinese Hot Pot and Dim Sum, so we thought we would give it a try.  With hindsight, not one of our best decisions, but it was an experience!  Basically, it was a Chinese fondue.  It’s a set price, and they put several bowls of raw ingredients on the table.  Instead of a place mat, each place at the table has a hot plate on which they place a bowl of water.  Once it comes to the boil, you drop in the various ingredients and make a sort of broth with whatever you choose.  We weren’t sure how long everything would take to cook, as we didn’t know what everything was, but we gave it a go, and it was fairly tasty!  We know that some of the ingredients were tofu, sausage, squid, fish, chicken, beef, dumplings and noodles.  There was also lettuce and several other green leaves – possibly basil and some other herbs!  I’m sure we were the source of much amusement to the regulars, but it was fun, though maybe a one-time experience!

As we had feared, the maze of streets proved a little daunting in the dark and we took a couple of wrong turns, but eventually we found our way back and fell, gratefully, into bed.

After a good night’s sleep we woke bright and early.  We packed up our bags and tidied the apartment before heading for Hua Lamphong train station.  Several tuk tuk (local taxis) drivers called out to us, but it wasn’t a long walk, and we were soon at the major road intersection in front of the station.  Crossing this road without bags would be bad enough, but with bags, it proved to be an absolute nightmare.  There doesn’t appear to be any time allotted for pedestrians to cross the road, so you have to understand the sequence of the traffic lights AND have a deathwish to get across!  We decided that the best thing to do would be wait next to a local and follow their lead.  It took a few minutes but eventually we were safely across and in the station.

Train travel is very reasonably priced in Thailand so the station was already packed with travelers.  We weren’t going to be leaving until the evening, so we dropped off our bags at the Left Luggage area for the day.  I didn’t worry much about security but I was a little concerned when I saw the sign advising people not to have any food in their left luggage because of the rats!

Without our luggage, we were now free to spend the rest of the day sightseeing, but first we stopped at the station food court to get some breakfast.  There are several food stations, all selling different kinds of food.  You decide what you want, find the price, then go to a ticket office and buy a ticket equivalent to the price of your meal.  Then you take it to whichever station you want to pick up your food.  We paid 40 Baht (roughly $1.40) each for a bowl of rice with two additional items.  I had a fried egg and ground chicken, while Moray had green curry and an egg.  There isn’t really a concept of breakfast food, lunch food and dinner food here – all meals are available at all times.  I’m afraid after breakfast, I caved and went to a coffee shop for a cappuccino!

Our next task was to brave the intersection again, to go to the travel agent’s office to pick up our train tickets for that evening.  We were going to travel by sleeper train, which is a popular mode of transport for travelers and locals, so the trains get booked very quickly.  Knowing that, we had booked online through 12GO, and they had our tickets waiting.  That done, we headed toward the river to take a water taxi over to Wat Arun, another of the most famous temples in Bangkok.  Unfortunately, I had packed up my wrap, so I had to rent one to cover my shoulders.  This temple was even more stunning than Wat Pho, with a huge amount of gold and coloured glass.  The giants guarding the temple were a sight to behold!

After visiting the temple for a while, we headed over to the café area, where there were misters blowing, which were a godsend in the heat. Moray had a Magnum ice cream, while I decided it was time for me to be adventurous.  There is a very common fruit in Asia called durian.  It can be bought at pretty much every market stall and is very popular.  However, there is one big drawback – it stinks like sweaty feet!  It is so bad that lots of hotels and apartments ban you from bringing them on premises… seriously!  As it is such a staple here, though I wanted to try it, so I decided to start small with some durian ice cream.

Next we took the water taxi to Wan Lang Market.  I had to video the taxi docking and disembarkation as the captains and crew really know what they are doing.   Keep in mind that this is a fast flowing river.

We had lunch in a little café, before taking a look around the market.   It was fascinating but the best part was all the different foods.

They had a pancake stand where the owner wiped a ball of “dough” onto a hot plate to make the pancakes…

After a couple of days of walking in the intense heat, we decided we would like to spend some time on the river, but rather than pay for a private longboat tour, we just rode the taxi all the way to the last pier, then turned around and came back again.  The changes in building styles and quality as we made our way along the river were very interesting to see, as were the various styles of boat on the water.  We spent a pleasant, and much cooler couple of hours doing this!

There was also a lot of barge traffic on the river.  However the local barges were very different from those that we have seen in the US, although equally well captained…

It was time to head back to the station, where we found a stall selling noodle soup.  We chose one beef and one pork – it was excellent.  Now I had succumbed to a western craving for cappuccino that morning, so now it was Moray’s turn.  There is a Dunkin’ Donuts in Hua Lamphong station and it was doing a roaring trade!

It was almost time to leave, so we picked up our bags and boarded the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a journey northwards of about 700 miles.  The train is split into first, second and third class.  Third class tickets give you a seat in a carriage with no air conditioning or fans.  Second class tickets give you a seat which converts to a bed in an air conditioned carriage.  There are about 50 beds, one row below and one row above, on either side of the carriage, all with curtains so that they are private.  First class tickets give you a private carriage with up to 4 beds in each.  We had chosen second class, so we boarded our carriage and found our seats.  These were two seats facing each other.  Once we got going, an attendant came round and prepared the beds.  He converted the two seats into a bed, and then made up the bed.  Next he pulled down the top bunk and made up that bed.  He was incredibly efficient!  There were little luggage racks for each pair of seats, so it was a little crowded but perfectly easy to get around.  As it was already dark by the time we left, we each settled into our bunks, curtains closed to read and to get as much sleep as possible.  It was actually very comfortable, but the lights weren’t dimmed, so it was a bit bright.  I still managed to get enough sleep though.

Around 6am, the carriage attendant gently pulled the curtains a little way back to start waking people up.  There is a kitchen car on the train, and it’s possible to order breakfast when you board the train so that it can be delivered to your seat in the morning.  We were planning on getting breakfast in Chiang Mai, so we didn’t order anything, but I did go the kitchen area and get a coffee.  I was in the top bunk which has no windows, so I sat on Moray’s bed and watched the scenery as we passed.  It was like being in a different country from the sights of Bangkok.  We were passing through areas of jungle, rice fields and banana plantations, all against a backdrop of mountains.  It was breathtaking scenery.

As we were travelling the carriage attendant came along the carriage, preparing the train for the return journey by clearing away the used bedding, putting out fresh bedding and putting up the top bunks.  Finally, he converted the lower bunks back into seats where we sat for the rest of the journey.

Markets and Massages

Right on time, at 8:00am, we pulled into Chiang Mai station.  Moray negotiated a price with a taxi driver who took us to the Kamala Guest House, right on the edge of the Old City.  We were too early to check in, but we were able to leave our bags.  That done, we headed just down the road to The Cat House – where we enjoyed the breakfast burritos, with a bowl of lentil curry.  Even better, we got to meet the resident kitten!

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It was still too early to check in, so we took a walk into the Old City to find somewhere to get a foot massage.  None were open at that time, but the owner of one said that he would be opening in about 30 minutes, so we went to a nearby café to have a smoothie (Moray) and a coffee (me) while we waited.  Then it was time to take our dirty feet and swollen ankles to be massaged.  We each had an hour-long foot massage, which included a 10 minute shoulder and neck rub.  It was wonderfully relaxing and cost us the grand sum of 471 Baht, including the tip.  Yes, you did read that right – $14 for an hour-long massage for 2 people!

Our next stop was a wonderful café, where I had chicken satay and spring rolls.  Moray opted for the spring rolls, vegetable tempura and banana flower salad.  All the food was excellent.  This was a café selling excellent Thai food, but owned by a British expat, so we asked him where would be the best place to watch the World Cup Final matches.  He gave us a few suggestions in various areas of the city.

Finally it was time to check in, so we headed back to the hotel.  We weren’t too happy to find our bags sitting in the lobby, with no one there, but it appears that nothing had been tampered with.  The receptionist returned and asked for our passports, as is usual.  However, she didn’t notice when she opened mine, that she dropped the exit document into the trash!  Luckily, I spotted it and the precious piece of paper was retrieved!  The room was small, with nowhere to put our clothes, but there was a nice big bed, and a great shower, so all was good.  We took showers and turned on the TV to find it was showing Harry Potter – in English!

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the view from our apartment in Chiang Mai

The next morning we headed out to find breakfast.  The area we were in has a lot of tourists and most places were offering American breakfast.  This wasn’t what we were looking for so we kept looking until we found a place offering both American AND Thai breakfasts.  We chose spicy ground pork with sweet sausage wrapped in a kind of omelet – very tasty.  Then began another day of sightseeing.  Chiang Mai was a walled city, but only a few parts of the wall remain today.  Where the wall used to stand, there is now a waterway surrounding the old city.  We walked to Tha Phae Gate, which is one of the four remaining gates into the city.  At the gate, people were selling bird food, and visitors were feeding the pigeons.  The birds were sitting on people’s arms, while photographers roamed around taking pictures.  There was even a bride and groom having their pictures taken.

From the gate, we walked down the main street, called Walking Street, to Wat Phan Tao.  This was very different from the temples we saw in Bangkok, being more influenced by Burma’s (now Myanmar) form of Buddhism.  Outside was much more austere, but inside was just as opulent, with lots of gold.  As we approached the temple, a local man tried to get us to hire him as a driver for the day.  He did not want to take no for an answer, and kept changing his tactics.  When he asked if we were father and daughter, I couldn’t stop laughing and just started to walk away, at which point he tried another approach.  He told Moray that his beard made him look like a monkey!!!!  Not an approach that I would think works with many people!  Although Moray laughed and joked with him, it probably won’t surprise you to know that we didn’t hire him!

The next temple was Wat Pha Singh, which again was very beautiful.  There was a Buddhist couple who had given a basket of food to one of the monks and were receiving a blessing in an elaborate ceremony, which was fascinating to watch.   We were amazed at how still the monks at the front were sitting.  It took a few moments to realize that they were actually statues – they were as lifelike as anything Madame Tussauds has to offer!

We then made our way around the edge of the old city until we came to Suan Buak Haad City Park.  It’s a lovely park, with trees, grass and a lake fully stocked with fish.  People were feeding the fish, or sitting under the trees having picnics.  All around the edge of the park there was exercise equipment for general use, with instructions in Thai and English.  One of the teachings of Buddhism is that to have a healthy mind you need a healthy body, and this was written at each of the pieces of equipment.  Unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone other than ourselves try out any of the machines.

After stopping at a café for noodles, we made our way to Wat Chedi Luang.  This was the most unusual temple we saw in our whole time in Thailand.  It was wooden, rather than stone, and very plain on the outside.  Inside, it was just as ornate as any other temple we had seen.

We popped back to the hotel to take showers before we headed back to the massage place to get an hour long Thai massage.  Can you see a pattern developing here? 🙂

The evening was to be spent at the Night Market.  There were a couple close to our hotel.  The first was a street market, with stalls along the side of the road, leading to an open square, surrounded by various food stalls.  In the centre there were Thai dancers performing traditional dances.  We had a bite to eat here, and then continued along the road to the covered Night Market.  It was all very colourful, with lots of beautiful silk and jade items for sale, but it didn’t seem to have the atmosphere I had anticipated.  Many of the stalls had signs that the price was fixed, so it was clear that haggling wasn’t an option.  Not what I had been expecting and a bit of a let down.

A little disappointed, we stopped at a cocktail bar for mojitos, where we were chatting with an Indian couple who were in town for a conference/mini-break.  This was their first trip since their children had left home and they were thoroughly enjoying themselves!  We also chatted with an Australian expat, who was a sailor.  We talked for a while about sailing in Australia, before it was time to head back to the hotel.

The next day, after a lazy morning, we headed back into the old city to see the Three Kings Monument, which is a sculpture of King Mengrai, King Ramkamhaeng and King Ngam Muang, who are the founding fathers of Chiang Mai.  They stand in a plaza where the royal palace once stood.

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Moray visited another nearby temple, while I waited outside, as I was wearing shorts!

Back to the hotel for a shower, before round three of massages!  This time Moray opted for a shoulder and neck massage, while I treated myself to a pedicure.  I felt so spoiled, with my lovely soft feet, and polished nails!

That evening, we planned to try another night market.  This market is held every Sunday from 4pm till 11pm.  It is held on the main street through the old city, called Walking Street, which is closed to all traffic, even scooters, for the duration of the market.  We wandered along the street, just taking in all the sights and sounds, until we reached the end of Walking Street.  We then made our way to Huen Phen, a restaurant we had found on TripAdvisor that specializes in northern Thai, or Lanna, food.  We settled on the set meal, as this gave us the opportunity to try a number of dishes, along with sticky rice.

A couple of the dishes were spicier than I would have normally chosen, but they were all delicious.  Accompanied by local Chang beer, it was a wonderful meal.  We then headed back to the market.  By this time, the street was absolutely packed, and in addition to the earlier sights and sounds, we could hear people haggling over prices.  This was more like it!  There were so many lovely local handcrafted items to choose from as souvenirs – silk scarves, sarongs, bowls made from coconut shells.

There were even bags made from teak tree leaves, which were very beautiful and incredibly strong.  We jumped in and bought some items after a few minutes at each stall, working on getting the best price.  It was a lot of fun!  But, as much fun as that was, the most bizarre, yet entertaining thing about the market was the Band of three Thai men, one a local police officer in uniform, singing “Hang down your head Tom Dooley”.  I don’t think I have the words, so please see for yourselves…

All shopped out, we made for Annie’s bar, to watch the World Cup final match.  We got there a little early, while the owner and his friends were playing their favourite tunes.  Their rendition of Hotel California is probably one of the best versions (apart from the original, of course) that I have ever heard.  The place gradually filled up, and I think it was a pretty even mix between supporters of France and Croatia.  It was a packed bar, lots of audience participation, and at the end, well… we all know what happened……

We were up bright and early to get breakfast at the Cat House, before being picked up from our hotel at 8:30am.  After a couple more stops, we were all dropped off at the office of an adventure company, where we were given a little instruction on kayaking, kitted out with safety gear, and loaded into a minivan.  After a 90 minute drive, we arrived at our first stop, which was the Chiang Dao cave in Doi Chiang Dao Mountain, one of the last teeth of the Himalayas.

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Doi Chiang Dao Mountain, its top enshrouded in clouds

Don’t worry – this wasn’t THAT cave!  At the entrance to this cave system, there is a Buddhist monastery, so all the girls were given sarongs to wear.  We walked through the monastery area into the cave.  At the mouth, and in several places inside the cave system, there are shrines, with statues of the Buddha.  We walked for a while, looking at the wonderful stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the huge number of bats.  Then we were met by a guide, as there are over 12 kilometres of caves in the system and it is easy to get lost.  She led us through the caves, at some points, through gaps that we had to crawl through.  We hadn’t actually signed up to do the cave part of the tour, and at this point I was beginning to regret that I hadn’t stuck to my original plan, but the spectacular caves were worth it!  The route out was much easier, and soon we were back in the daylight.

Above ground, the monastery had some more shrines and a chedi.

The monastery has a little restaurant, and we were all provided with a plate of sticky rice, fried egg and garlic & basil chicken.  It was delicious.  After our meal, we took another 20 minute van ride to a river, where we were to start our kayaking trip.  Back in the office we were told that we would get a little time to practice, but when I saw the speed of the water, I wondered how we were going to practice without getting swept away.  Moray was first in, with the instruction “Get in, turn 180 degrees, head 100m down river, then eddy out (turn round and face back up river to stop)”.  Really, was it going to be that easy?  He was amazing and did it with no problem at all.  I was next and managed to follow his lead, which gave me more confidence.  The other 7 kayakers, along with 3 guides, all followed, with only 2 spills, and soon we were heading down the Ping River, through the jungle.  It was very peaceful, and most of the time very relaxing.  Every now and again, there would be a quick current change which led to some frantic paddling, but it was all good.  At one point we reached a little weir, so we had to drag the canoes out of the water, past the weir, then drop back in and start paddling again.  I had a couple of mishaps when I misjudged the current and went swimming, but the guides were there to reunite me and my kayak, and I continued on my way, a little bruised but in no way put off!  The whole trip down the river lasted about 2.5 hours, and we loved every minute of it!

It was a long ride back to the hotel, but they dropped us right at the door, so we headed straight in to take showers.  We had dropped off some laundry at the reception that morning, and it was waiting for us, clean, dry and folded – not bad for 40 baht per kilo!

We walked into the old city to pick up some street food, which we ate outside a bar, while listening to the live reggae band inside.  The satay, sweet sausage and Pad Thai were all delicious – the tripe that Moray felt compelled to try, not so much!  We stayed and listened to the band for a little while, but were pretty tired after an energetic day, so turned in early.

The next day was another early start, with breakfast, followed by a taxi to the airport.  The journey was easy, and we were dropped right in front of the check-in gate.  Security was efficient and speedy, and soon we were sitting at our gate.

Phuket – remember, that’s pronounced “pooket”!

The turbulence we experienced on the descent into Phuket forewarned us for the torrential rain that was coming down in Phuket.  This is the rainy season but so far we had managed to avoid any bad weather.  Rain is going to fall at this time of year, but we just hoped it would stay away while we were exploring the country!  Anyway, first things first.  Moray negotiated with a couple of taxi drivers before he found one that would charge a reasonable fare to take us to Patong, about an hour’s drive south of the airport.  We drove over a couple of mountains, and through several little towns, most notably a strictly Muslim town, called Kamala.  Finally we arrived in Patong.  As we weren’t staying in a hotel, but a condotel, with apartments, the driver had a little difficulty finding his way, but soon we were checking in and heading up to our 8th floor apartment.  We were very relieved when we opened the door.  After we had booked the place on Airbnb, there had been a couple of negative reviews, but we were pleased to see that they were unfounded.  The apartment was clean, had a well-equipped kitchenette, a huge bed, and a big bathroom.  The only downside was that, in order to preserve electricity, the power only came on when the key was inserted into a socket inside the door.  This meant that we couldn’t leave the a/c running to come back to a cold room, but it was such a good a/c unit that it really didn’t take too long to cool everything down.

The very first order of business was to get to the hospital to get our second rabies shot.  This cost a little more than the first round in Bangkok, but was very quick and painless!  We were walking back to the apartment when the heavens opened again.  We hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast, so we ducked into the King Kong Seafood Bar.  It served great Thai food and drinks, the prices were reasonable, and Boney M classics were playing the whole time we were there!  We waited out the storm, before making a run back to the apartment.  We plugged the computer into the enormous TV in the room and watched “I am Legend”.  When that was over, we turned on the TV, to find that one of the stations was ITV classics in English.  We watched a couple of episodes of “Come Dine With Me” before the storm caused a loss of reception at about 10pm.

The next morning it was still raining, so we relaxed with our IPads for a while.  The rain let up a little late morning, so we headed out to explore.  We spotted a Chinese restaurant that was packed, so we went to take a look.  There were several long tables, and you just sit in spaces when they become available.  Luckily, just as we arrived a couple of people left, so we took their places.  The food was absolutely delicious and by the time we left, there was a line about 15 people long.  In fact, every time we passed by this restaurant over the course of our stay, which was twice a day, there was a long line outside.  And in all that time, apart from ourselves, we only saw one other white face – it must be on the radar for all the Chinese tourists as the best place to eat.

We continued our walk through Patong when the rain started again, so we went into a covered market area to look at the stalls.  It was much the same as the market in Bangkok, with sarongs, silk clothing, and tailors offering to make Moray a suit for $100!

Next we took a daytime stroll along Bangla Street.  This is a long street of pretty much nothing but bars, and it ends at the beach.  All the bars are open to the street, so we sat with a beer and watched the people passing by.  Every so often, a street seller would try to sell us a watch, sunglasses or other items.  Some just took no for an answer and walked on.  Others tried a little harder and there was some light-hearted banter – especially when it came to sunglasses.  When Moray pointed out that he was wearing sunglasses, they said yes, but they are terrible – these are better!  I’m glad they didn’t try that on me as I was wearing my Maui Jim’s!!!

Next it was back to the condotel, to book tickets for an upcoming adventure.  While we were there, we chatted with Nick, the owner for a good while about our plans in Koh Lanta.  He gave us some great ideas and tips for things to do when got there.

Later that evening, it was back to Bangla Street, to experience it in all its glory!  At night, the street is closed to traffic, and it is packed with tourists.  This is the seedy underbelly of Thailand, the side that unfortunately many people think is the only one Thailand has.  This is where you find the sex shows, the lady boys, the go-go dancers in all the bars.  This is where people are walking up and down the street with signs advertising live sex and ping pong shows, as if it is normal.  But that’s just it – here it IS normal.  It’s business, pure and simple.  And like any business that wants to be successful, they keep their premises clean.  There’s not a single piece of trash or graffiti anywhere.  And the tourists flock here to witness it all.  There were families with young children walking around amidst all the Thai people selling shows, groups of young people determined to drink themselves into a jail cell, older expats accompanied by their young Thai companions and couples like us, just curious to see just what all the fuss was about.

After walking the length of the street, we returned to a bar where we had heard a live band playing.  They were excellent, and had a varied repertoire, covering Bruno Mars to AC/DC!  The drinks prices were reasonable too, so we stayed for a while to listen before moving on to another bar.  The music there was not as good, so we decided to move on again.  We were walking around another part of the street when we saw that a drag show was about to begin.  We stayed for the whole show which had several acts, all lip-synching to songs by such icons as Marilyn Monroe and Tina Turner.  It was awesome!  At the end, they all came out to take pictures with us, all for a “donation” of course!

Moray played a couple of rounds of pool at this bar, winning one, which cost him a round of drinks, but winning the other which resulted in us being presented with tequila shots!  When the shots come out, that’s my cue to leave, so we headed back to our apartment.

The next day was a lazy one, reading and relaxing.  We decided to have another foot massage, but the experience was nothing like the one in Chiang Mai.  The place was very small, so that every time someone wanted to pass by, our masseuses had to stop what they were doing to let people through.  Moray’s masseuse kept yawning and looked like she would fall asleep at any moment!  Ah well, our feet still felt good afterwards!

The highlight of our Chiang Mai trip came on our last day.  We had a lazy morning before being picked up outside our condotel.  After a couple of stops at other hotels to pick up passengers, we were driven just north of Phuket to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  This sanctuary rescues elephants and educates visitors about them.  Many outfits in Thailand still take visitors on elephant rides, but it is now known that this damages the elephants’ spines, so places like the EJS are trying to stop the practice.  As we pulled up, we were greeted by two elephants.  I must admit, I had been a little nervous about being close to an elephant, but they are incredibly gentle creatures and my apprehension dissipated immediately.  There were a lot of visitors, but we were all gathered in the meeting area, where we were given some information about the different types of elephants in the world, the elephants found in Thailand and the elephants in the sanctuary.  We were going to see Asian elephants, which are smaller than African elephants.  We were especially excited to hear that the group we were going to meet had three babies!

We next went to the food station to fill buckets with bananas and watermelon, before heading up to meet the elephants.  We spent about half an hour feeding the elephants, which was a lot of fun.  For the babies, we had to start the peeling process, then hand the banana to the elephant, who took it with the “finger” at the end of their trunk.  They then squeezed it in their curled trunk until the peel came off, before eating it!  Some of the elephants were very picky, and would throw away bananas that they were given, and accepting only watermelon.  And some couldn’t wait to be fed, and dived straight into the buckets!

After feeding them, we headed back down to the meeting area for a little more instruction, before removing our shoes, donning swimsuits etc. (sexy time as the local mahouts called it).  Now the real fun was to begin!  We walked back up to a dirty, muddy pond, and got in it with the elephants. We were going to give them a mud bath!  Elephants use the mud to remove insects etc. from their skin, so we helped them by rubbing the mud into their skin.  Of course, if we threw mud at each other, it all added to the fun!

After about 20 minutes, just long enough to cover 6 elephants and about 25 people with mud, we left that pool and headed to another.  There we scrubbed the mud off the elephants and played around in the water with them.  The babies in particular were so much fun.  They loved the splashing, and kept rolling over in the water with only their trunks above the surface!

All too soon, bath time was over, and the elephants were taken back to their area.  We all headed down to take showers and put on dry clothes.  We were then treated to a lovely meal of massaman curry, pad thai, steamed rice and fruit.  We got to try dragon fruit and mangosteens for the first time, both of which were delicious.

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It was almost time to leave, but not before we were all given a gift of a local-made traditional woven top.  This is what the mahouts traditionally wear and is a lovely memento of a great day.

After being taken back to our hotel, we had one last night in Patong, so we ate dinner at a roadside café, and then went back to Bangla to listen to the band we had enjoyed so much a couple of nights before.  It was a great night out and a nice way to end the “holiday” part of our trip to Thailand.

We stayed a little longer than we should have, and probably had a drink (or two!) more than we should have before heading back to our hotel, given that we needed to get up at 6am to pack in time for our 7am pick up.  I woke the next morning and went into the bathroom.  Gradually it dawned on me that it was daylight.  I went back to the bedroom and realized that it was 6:35am!  Panic stations!  We ran around the room stuffing everything into bags as fast as we could.  We got down to reception and asked if they could do their check of the room quickly as we were being picked up at 7am.  They were very understanding and went straight up there.  Just as well, because we had missed our IPad charging cables which would have been a disaster!  Just as they were handing back our key deposit, the van showed up!  We spent the whole time in the van trying to calm down, and every now and again, bursting out laughing!  The van ride was to Old Phuket Town, where we boarded a ferry.  Recently, there have been a couple of incidents involving the ferries here, over 40 died in a sinking this month 😦 , but this seems to have all been taken to heart, and as everyone boarded, they were handed a life jacket and told to put it on and keep it on.  There were even police on board to ensure that jackets were worn at all times.  Still, the ferry was very crowded, mostly with tourists going to spend the day at Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Ko Pee Pee).  This is the island featured in the Leonardo Di Caprio movie, The Beach, and has become incredibly popular.  The journey was about 2 hours, and as we approached the island, we had a wonderful view of this stunning island.  It rises up almost vertically from the sea, with what look like stalactites on the cliffs.  The top of the mountain is covered with jungle, and it’s an incredibly beautiful sight.  There were very many boats taking people on tours, scuba diveboats, snorkeling boats and ferries.  We even saw a couple of charter catamarans anchored in front of the caves.  Maybe we’ll get to bring Sol Purpose here one day.

About 10 minutes later we arrived at the dock on Koh Phi Phi, and the mass exodus started.  Most people were spending the day on the island so headed to their tour boats.  A few, like us, were heading onward to Koh Lanta, so we boarded another, smaller ferry.  This was to be another 90 minute journey.  The boat was much smaller and faster, and the water was a little rougher, so one poor young man had a miserable ride.  It was pretty uneventful until we approached the ferry port in Ban Sala Dan, Koh Lanta.  The water got shallower and shallower, and we could see the rip currents.  The captain slowed the boat right down, and basically timed the waves so we surfed in rolling from one side to another!  It was nerve-wracking and more than a little insane!  This is one place we won’t be bringing Sol Purpose!  We made it in safely, and disembarked on Koh Lanta, our home for the next three months.

Random observations

We had a wonderful two weeks travelling around Thailand.  We stayed in three different areas of the country, and it was almost like three different countries.  The area of Bangkok we stayed in was not touristy, so it was a good insight into how people actually live in a big city in Thailand.  Of course, we also saw the touristy side, with the temples and palaces, which were incredibly beautiful, but leave you with an uneasy feeling about all the obvious wealth on display, when the people live such simple lives.

Chiang Mai was stunning in another way.  The jungles, banana plantations, the mountains and rivers are beautiful.  The city is touristy, but is more aimed at backpackers, so is much more laid back.  Of the three places we visited, this was by far my favourite and I would go back in a heartbeat.

Phuket was insane.  It’s like a seedy Las Vegas – it’s brash, naughty, irreverent, but you can’t look away!

All in all, a fantastic introduction to Asia!  Now it’s Koh Lanta, and the Lanta Animal Welfare Center.  More soon!

End of a Season

After a couple of relaxing days in Governors’ Harbour, we set out for Spanish Wells.  We left early, to make sure that we made it to the Current Cut at the right time to get through safely.  We pulled in to the fuel dock at the Power Plant in Russell Island to fill up the diesel tanks, before dropping anchor, right next to our friend, Holt, on Agandau!  Over dinner and drinks that evening, we discussed where we planned on going next.  It turned out that we were all looking forward to visiting Harbour Island, so we agreed to hire a pilot to guide us both through the Devil’s Backbone – an area of reefs which can be treacherous, but cuts down the journey to Harbour Island.

On Saturday morning, Captain Clayton joined us on board Sol Purpose and steered us through the Devils Backbone, closely followed by Holt on Agandau.  It was a little nerve-wracking watching the beach get closer and closer, as we avoided areas of reef, and we were glad we had hired the pilot.  He also gave us tips about getting through without him when we left for the Abacos.  And to cap it all, Captain Clayton’s wife bakes bread, and he brought a loaf for each boat!

Once we were through the Devils Backbone, the pilot jumped into his boat, which we were towing, and headed back to Spanish Wells, while we continued on to Harbour Island, and dropped anchor.  We then went ashore, to have lunch.  Holt had injured his foot quite badly a few days earlier and was having a little trouble walking, so we were delighted when a local guy, Derek, gave us a ride to the fish fry area on his golf cart.  We had a nice, but pricey, lunch, before heading back to the boats.

The next day, Moray and I headed back to shore to visit the main attraction of Harbour Island – the pink beach.  The beach is made up of sand and crushed coral, which in certain lights can make the beach appear pink.  I think we might have been there a little early in the day for the full effect, but it was certainly a very pretty beach.  There were people surfing and kayaking, more like a beach in the Mediterranean or Florida than any beaches we had experienced in the Bahamas until now.  We took a nice stroll along the beach and then back to the boat.

The next morning, Sol Purpose and Agandau set off together to head back through the Devils Backbone and then north to the Abacos.  When we made the original passage with the pilot, we had recorded our track, so we were able to use that as a guide, as well as just looking out for coral heads.

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our route back out through the Devils Backbone.  Coral, coral everywhere and lots of ways to sink

Once we were both through, we set sails and motor-sailed to Lynyard Cay in the Abacos.  We had a pleasant night at anchor, and first thing in the morning, Agandau set off for Marsh Harbour.  We stayed for a few hours longer so that Moray could fish, before we too headed to Marsh Harbour to find a safe place to ride out the latest weather front.  We were just getting settled, when Sofira pulled into a marina in Marsh Harbour!  We headed over to Snappas bar and grill, and got caught up over a few beers.  We had just got back to Sol Purpose when the heavens opened!  The rain continued all night and the next morning, so I took the opportunity to make some bread.  Once the rain stopped, we headed ashore to explore.  Moray finally managed to find a pair of fins to replace the ones he had lost in Georgetown, so that we would now be able to go snorkeling and diving together (up till now he had been using mine when he went fishing).  That evening, we met up with Bob and Clare, and Dale (Bob’s brother) who had flown in for a two week vacation.  We went to the Jib Room for BBQ and Limbo night!  And yes, after a few drinks we were persuaded to limbo.  We were terrible, but it was fun.  The professional there was unbelievable – the limbo stick couldn’t have been more than a foot off the ground when he went under it!

The next day was taken up with laundry, grocery shopping, baking and cleaning the boat.  Clare flew out to Boston, for her daughter’s bridal shower, and shortly after, Sofira headed off to Great Guana Cay.  We had decided to stay for a couple more days, which turned out to be a good thing, because the next day, we heard a knock and there was Skip from Prodigal.  The last time we had seen him was in Boot Key, in January 2017!  We joined him for drinks on his friends’ boat and it turned out that we had met them in Wayfarers Cove the previous summer, when Sol Purpose was out of the water!  Small world!

The next morning we left Marsh Harbour, heading out towards the Man O’War cut.  We wanted to take a look at the conditions at Fowl Cay, where there is great diving.  If it wasn’t suitable for diving, we thought we might just continue out to go fishing, but the conditions were not good at all at the Cut.  We decided to just head straight to HopeTown and stay there for the night.  We dropped anchor and took the dinghy into the town.  We swam in the pool, and Moray got to take a shower.  I wasn’t so lucky, as the ladies’ showers were locked, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  We went to the Lighthouse, and while I waited at the bottom, Moray went up and got a great view of the town and anchorage.  The lighthouse is the last man-operated, kerosene-fueled, lighthouse and has been preserved by the locals, who bought it in order to prevent it being turned into an automated lighthouse.

The next morning we headed over to Mermaid Reef, and spent a couple of hours snorkeling – my first time since hurting my ankle in February!  We had a great time, watching a huge variety of fish, and just floating around the reef, before heading back to Marsh Harbour to ride out – yes, you’ve guessed it – another weather front!  Everyone had had the same idea, and the anchorage was pretty full.  We spent quite a while looking for a good spot, during which time I managed to run aground 😦 but eventually we found a nice safe spot and got settled in.  The front passed through pretty quickly, and the next morning we headed over to Great Guana Cay, dropping anchor in Fishers Bay.  Over the course of the afternoon a few more boats arrived, but it was a quiet anchorage.

We spent the next morning exploring the area, in particular, checking out the local dive stores to see whether we could rent tanks or get refills there.  We were desperate to get some diving in, and it looked as though the conditions would be perfect the next couple of days.  Dive Abacos could do both, so we arranged to go back just before close of business, to rent two tanks which we could use the next day.  That decided, we headed to the beach and took a nice walk before dropping into Nippers for a beer.  There was a group of people there already, and as soon as I spoke to Moray, one of the women – Anne – said “are you from Bristol?” !  So to all of you who say I have an American accent – you are wrong!!!!  Anyhow, it turns out that she is originally from Knowle Park, not far from Novers Hill where I grew up!  Once again, it’s a small world.

Later that afternoon, we picked up the dive tanks, before heading to Grabbers for dinner, before an early night to prepare for diving the next day!  Very excited, we left bright and early the next morning, and headed out through the Whale Cut, turning right towards the reefs to drop anchor.  We got all the gear in the dinghy and headed to the reef.  We dropped into the water for our first dive of the year!  We spent 75 minutes just cruising along the reef, which although not a pretty reef, had really interesting structures and lots of life.  We went back to Sol Purpose for lunch, and then Moray went fishing, as we were not in a nature preserve.  He didn’t catch anything, but I think he had a good time snorkeling and checking out potential future dive sites.  We headed back to Fishers Bay, where Moray returned the tanks and picked up two more.

The next morning, we went in the other direction and went to Fowl Cay Reserve to dive.  There are several mooring balls for small boats and dinghies, in order to protect the coral, so we picked one and dropped down to the reef.  We spent a leisurely 90 minutes cruising around the reef, which like yesterday, was interesting more for its structure than colour, but was teeming with life.  I was particularly pleased to spot a peacock flounder hiding in the sand.  I was getting cold, so we surfaced, only to find that it was raining!  Not a problem when you are under the water anyway!  We spent our surface interval having some lunch and warming up, before selecting another mooring ball and heading back to the reef.  This time, we were accompanied for the whole dive by several grunts, who just stayed with us, even when the reef sharks also decided to join us.  In total we saw 4 sharks on this dive, all of whom checked us out and continued on their way.  While I am well aware just how dangerous they can be, I can’t help but be in awe of these beautiful creatures, and every time I get to swim with one I feel very privileged.

After two great dives, we headed back to Fishers Bay to return the store tanks and get ours refilled, in case we would be able to get another dive in the next day.  We knew that wouldn’t be the case pretty soon after looking at the weather forecast, so we decided to just spend the next day chilling out on the boat.  By this time, Agandau was also in Fishers Bay, so we spent some time with Holt too.  He decided to go up to Nippers to check out the Sunday BBQ, which is infamous.  We decided against going, but we enjoyed watching all the boats full of tourists being brought over from Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour to participate in the festivities.

Our next stop was Treasure Cay.  When we arrived, we dropped anchor, closely followed by Holt.  Just then, another boat hailed us to let us know that he was about to leave.  Holt was going to be staying for a few days, so as soon as the mooring ball was free, Holt tied off to it.  We all went to shore to take a look around, and to have drinks and food.  We saw Chuck and Sabrina, who we had last seen in Georgetown, so chatted with them for a while.  It was also bingo night, so we played a few cards, and Holt won a bottle of wine!

Also in Treasure Cay we saw Kevin and Caroline on Redtail and Charlie and Michelle on Rascal.  We got to catch up with both of them, bringing our 2017/2018 sailing season full circle, as we had been with them in Wayfarers Cove at the beginning of the season, and were ending our season with them in Treasure Cay.  Yes, this was to be the last day of our Bahamas adventure, as we saw that the weather was forecast to be variable, with few windows of opportunity to get back to the United States, especially as we were hoping to cross back to North Carolina in one trip, rather than cross to Florida and then work our way up the East Coast.  So on Wednesday, April 25th, we left Treasure Cay and headed out the Whale Cut.  From there, we headed north to Morehead City.  We sailed some of the way, and motor sailed the rest, and for the most part, had reasonable conditions, if a little lumpy.  We saw one nasty squall, but we had been tracking it on radar, and had dropped the sails before the squall hit us.  So then it was just a case of riding it out and waiting for it to pass.  It wasn’t too long, and from then on, we had a great trip home, arriving in Morehead City at mid-morning, on Saturday April 28th.  We had covered the 487 miles in just 73 hours which gave us an average speed of 6.7 knots which was great for Sol Purpose.  We also got a chance to sail with double head sails when the apparent wind dropped below 8 knots.  With the Code 0 and full genoa out on opposite sides of the boat we were able to sail very close the the apparent wind speed.

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code 0 out to port and genoa to starboard

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5.3 knots of apparent wind, 6.5 knots SOG and 4.5 knots of water speed… good times!

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to clear in through Customs and Immigration in Morehead City at the weekend, so we spent a couple of days on board.  However, we were in a marina, with TV and internet, so it wasn’t too much of a hardship!  Bright and early on Monday, Customs and Immigration officers came to the boat, checked through our freezer and fridge, checked our passports and gave us the OK.  We dropped the yellow quarantine flag, and left Morehead City.  We spent a pleasant day motoring along the ICW and the Neuse River, before arriving in New Bern Grand Marina just before 4pm.

We have a had a great winter season in the Bahamas, visiting familiar places, discovering new sights, catching up with old friends and making new ones.  Now we are in New Bern, which we consider our home from home, where we will spend the next few weeks working on the boat, and preparing for our trip to Thailand.  The next installment of this blog should be very different, so watch this space!

George Town and Beyond

The combination of weather and the Georgetown Cruiser’s Regatta saw us spending a month in Georgetown.

The days up to the start of the Regatta had a bit of a routine.  Moray played volleyball in the afternoons, while I relaxed on board, sat on the beach, or swam.    One such day, we were sitting on board, when we spotted some dolphins.  They appeared to be waiting around rather than just passing through, so Moray got into the water with the GoPro, while I recorded the encounter from the deck.  It was so cool!

Another morning, I went to a bread-making class given by Dana, on board s/v Corsair.  She has been perfecting her bread recipe for many years and was kind enough to share it with us.  I have since made the bread several times and it hasn’t failed yet!

The Regatta started on March 1st, with the traditional opening event of the Poker Run.  Having learned our lesson last year, Al & Sue (along with Al’s daughter Tara) took their own dinghy and we took ours.  That way, we managed to arrive at each of the bars relatively dry!  We didn’t win the Poker Run, that was won with a hand of 4 twos, but had a great time!

The next day started as usual, listening to the Cruisers’ Net, to see who had arrived, who was departing and who needed help.  The cruising community is a great one for helping fellow cruisers in need, and we like to participate in that.  Most of the time, I have to be honest, it is Moray’s skills that are required – such as hoisting our friend Ron up the mast of Compromise to fix a stuck sail, or helping someone with a broken outboard.  Once the net was over, we headed to shore for the next event of the Regatta – the Coconut Challenge.  Along with Al & Sue, we won this challenge in 2017, so felt the need to try to defend our title.  It wasn’t to be, but we had a lot of fun!  The weather was lovely, so Al & Moray set out to go spearfishing, closely followed by Mike from Intrepid and Mennow from Eyra in Mike’s dinghy.  About 4pm, Mike returned, happy to have caught a grouper.  There was no sign of Al & Moray, so I started calling them on the VHF radio.  I got no response, but at that point I thought that maybe they were out of range.  When it got to 5pm, I was starting to worry, and started calling people to see if they had seen them.  At 5:30pm, with only 45 minutes to go until sunset, I picked up the radio to put out a general call to the harbour that we had two missing boaters, when I heard shouting.  A catamaran, called Bikini, had pulled up next to Sol Purpose and, towing our dinghy.  Moray and Al came aboard and the catamaran took off.  The dinghy was full of bloody water, which came from all the cuts and scrapes over Al and Moray’s arms, legs and feet.  I called Sue to come over, and started trying to clean up their cuts.  Here is Moray’s account of what had happened:

“Went out spear fishing a few days ago and had a bad return trip home in the dinghy. Myself and Al were returning from an unsuccessful trip when I misjudged both the route back on the North side of Fowl Cay and the wave action. We were caught on top of a large swell which lifted the outboard out of the water. The dinghy turned side on
to the waves and the next swell broke over us and flipped the dinghy over.
We were ejected onto a shallow reef that was just below the surface. Al was carried away from the dinghy and managed to grab hold of the fuel tank. I was caught under the dinghy and hit by either the outboard motor or dinghy transom which knocked my chin onto the coral and I bit through the edge of my tongue.
Luckily for me I had scuba boots on and was able to stand up on the coral to right the dinghy while Al was washed across the coral with only a shorty wetsuit to protect him.
Everything in the dinghy fell out when it overturned.  The exception was the oars which were strapped to the inside. Luckily, when the anchor fell out, it dug in and held the dinghy off the shore. I had to pull myself forwards on the anchor rode to get to the anchor to unset it. Timing was everything as the waves were constantly breaking. I reset the anchor about 10 feet further towards a deeper section of water repeatedly until the dinghy was off the coral. Al met me there with the fuel tank.
The engine had been under water for about a minute and was therefore full of sea water so we had to break out the oars and paddled for 45 minutes until we were able to hail a passing catamaran. Nancy and John on Bikini towed our dinghy while they tended to our cuts and scrapes. I will be forever in their debt as we still had 3 miles to cover before we would have got back to our boat.”

 

 

Once Sue had taken Al back to Stout Wench, we took stock of what had been lost from the dinghy – an IPad, the VHF radio (which is why I couldn’t raise them), two pairs of fins, two pole spears, two lifejackets, two masks, and one broken dinghy outboard engine.  Those things could all be replaced.  The fact that the two men were alive, if a bit battered and bruised, was the best thing.  It’s a stark reminder of how quickly the sea can turn on you, if you aren’t completely vigilant.

Anyway, remember that wonderful cruising community I mentioned? When Moray put out a very subdued message the next morning, thanking Bikini for rescuing them, and asking if anyone had spare fishing gear, fins etc. that we could buy, we had a constant stream of calls and visitors, checking that everyone was really OK.  Bill from Spiraserpula, Holt from Agandau, Mike from Intrepid and Mennow from Eyra spent the morning working on the outboard engine.  Various people had spare equipment we could buy at very reasonable prices – Fred and RuthAnn from Shooting Star provided a VHF radio while John from Sam the Skull and Mennow from Eyra had fishing and snorkeling gear.  Everyone came together to help and we are very grateful.

Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, the outboard motor finally gave up the ghost five days later, so we resigned ourselves to buying a replacement.  While we were searching for one, that great community gave us rides so that we could continue to join in all the fun of the Regatta, rather than just sit on Sol Purpose and watch from afar.  We particularly enjoyed the two days of racing on Spiraserpula, both the In-Harbour and Round the Island races.  Thanks to Gayle and Bill, and Bruce and Kaye, for a great couple of days!

 

 

Once we determined that no one had an outboard motor for sale that would fit our needs, we went over to Georgetown to see about buying a new one.  Moray borrowed a small outboard from Darryl and Yulia on 3 Pearls.  It was just enough to get him from the Georgetown anchorage into town, so he went in and visited a couple of stores that he thought might have what we were looking for.  Unfortunately, they did not, but one mentioned that they had a customer that morning who had bought a motor as an upgrade and that he might be looking to sell his previous one.  We got in touch with Wright on Raven, and long story short, bought a basically brand new engine from him.  It wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, but given the circumstances, it was perfect!  We were now mobile again!

By now the Regatta was over, and a weather window was approaching when we would be able to continue our trip through the Bahamas.  Moray braved his memories and went back to the scene of his near demise, to see if he could find anything.  Unbelievably, he came back with one of the life jackets and his pole spear!  He found the weight belt too, but was unable to retrieve it due to the strong surge.

It was time to move on, so early on Thursday morning, we set out with Bill on Providence and Al & Sue on Stout Wench for Long Island.  The conditions looked perfect, but when we went through the cut at the south end of Elizabeth Harbour, the waves were brutal, so all three boats decided to head back and stay for a few more days.  So back to more volleyball, swimming, relaxing until Sunday, when Stout Wench and Sol Purpose set off again for Long Island.  This time, the conditions were perfect, and we had a pleasant crossing, arriving in good time at Thompson Bay.

On Monday morning, we all four went ashore, and rented a car for the day.  First of all, we headed north to visit the Columbus Monument.  Various islands lay claim to being the first place that Columbus landed in the Bahamas, and this point on Long Island is one of them.

 

 

Next we took a drive to Stella Maris, to take a look at the cave.  When we were here previously, the nearby Stella Maris resort used the cave as a restaurant experience with a weekly cave dinner.  Inside the cave were stone seats and tables, a bar, a buffet, a bonfire and a live band.  It was, therefore, quite sad, and even a little creepy to walk around this now abandoned venue.  The remains of the bonfire was even still there.

From there, we continued south and stopped off at Max’s Conch Bar and Grill for lunch.  As recommended by various posters on Trip Adviser, we tried the fresh conch salad.  Max himself makes it to order right there at the bar.  We were not disappointed with that, nor with the coconut shrimp!

Next stop was Dean’s Blue Hole for a swim.  The hole drops down to over 600 feet, and as well as being the deepest blue hole in the world, is the home of one of the world free-diving championships.  Moray had brought along a dive computer and swam as far down as he was able – to about 53 feet.  It shows just how impressive the professional free divers are, that they can get to the bottom!  The record for the type of dive Moray attempted is 406ft.  The record for no limit free diving (with a sled and balloon) is 702ft!!!!

After dropping off the car, we had one quick drink at the Souside Bar, before heading back to our boats, to get ready for the next part of our journey.  Sue and Al were going to be heading up to Cat Island, while we wanted to take a quick detour to Rum Cay.  We went there last year, but only to the north end of the island, so we wanted to see what the south end was like.  We sailed to Calabash Bay at the north end of Long Island that day and the next day, left early, and had a great day of sailing, arriving at Rum Cay around 4pm.

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flying the Code 0 on the way to Calabash Bay.  Our stop on the way to Rum Cay

There were a few other boats there, all preparing to ride out a northerly blow.  The next morning, Moray went out to see if there was any fishing and came back with an big lobster!  Great job!

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In the afternoon, we went ashore to explore a little.  The island has been very badly hit by hurricanes over the past few years, and the population has dropped from 200+ to around 40.  The marina has been destroyed, with one sunken boat still there as a sad reminder of the storms.

We walked back along the road towards the government dock, which is currently being rebuilt and looks as though it will be a very sturdy structure – I have never seen so much rebar!  We stopped off at Kaye’s Sand Bar for a beer.  This is another bar that has managed to survive despite the storms, and now houses a small restaurant and grocery store.  We had read that in the past people had enjoyed the goat curry served there, and we were looking forward to trying it.  Unfortunately it was not on the menu, but Moray told the owner that he had heard how good it was, so she agreed to make it the next night!  We rounded up a couple of other boaters – Tom and Linda from Toucan – to join us!

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Kay’s Sand Bar

The next morning, Tom and Moray went out to find more lobster, but this time were unsuccessful.  We relaxed for the rest of the day, before heading over to try the goat curry.  A few other people had arrived in the harbour too, so luckily there was enough for eight!  The curry was delicious, and went very well with the $3 beers and $5 jack and cokes!

A recurring theme this season has been the cold fronts passing through the Bahamas, bringing unfavorable winds and sea conditions, and another one was approaching.  While Port Nelson was a great place, we wanted to move on before the next front came through, so we started out just before sunrise towards Cat Island.  We were hoping to get to New Bight by sunset.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  We dropped the hydro-generator in the water and that, along with the solar panels, enabled us to run the watermaker so that the water tank was full when we arrived.  All this while under sail alone!  At times at 8.5 knots!  Fantastic!  To preserve as much power as possible, we manually steered until we reached Hawkes Nest Point, at the southwestern tip of Cat Island.  At that point we were no longer able to sail, so we turned on the motor and headed towards New Bight.  As we approached, we were hailed by Bob and Clare on Sofira!  Finally we had caught up with each other for the first time since leaving New Bern!  As we anchored, we had a welcoming committee of Bob and Clare in their dinghy, and Stout Wench on the radio!  We had thought that they might have already left, but now it seemed there would be a party!  As soon as we were settled, we all headed over to the Fish Fry, where we were made a beeline for AnnieBo’s bar.  We were amazed, and delighted, when Annie obviously remembered us from last year (actually, is that a good thing or not???).  We had a few drinks there, as well as some delicious crab soup from a shack across the street.  It turned out that there was a birthday party in the sailing club that night, and we were invited!   We had a blast, and eventually headed home just after midnight.  I understand that the party went on until after 2am, when the police ordered the music turned off!

Stout Wench left very early the next morning, heading for Eleuthera before the next cold front could hit.  Just before lunchtime, we joined Bob and Clare for a walk, before they too had to head north.  We decided to spend one more night, as we hoped to get some groceries the next day before moving just 6 miles north to Fernandez Bay, where we hoped to find a little more shelter from the coming winds.  So on Monday morning, we took a stroll up to the grocery store and managed to get pretty much everything we needed.  The only disappointment was that the bakery was closed.  We had bought delicious hot cross buns there the year before, but this time it wasn’t to be.  We motored the short distance to Fernandez Bay and tucked into the Bay as close to the shore as we dared.  Shortly after our arrival, the winds started to pick up, so we took advantage of the wind generator to watch a couple of episodes of Lewis, one of my favourite British detective shows.  Now that we have watched all the episodes we had, we decided to try a new British TV Series, called Black Mirror.  It’s very interesting and thought-provoking, but also a very disturbing look at what technology is doing to us as human beings.

Ah well, it didn’t stop either of us getting a great night’s sleep, and Moray woke up raring to go fishing!  He had a good time, but didn’t find any lobster, unfortunately.  I spent the time working on a sweater hat I am sure I will need in New Bern this winter!  We also enjoyed a Happy Hour on Bright Ayes, a 47′ Caliber.  Wayne & Betty were great hosts and it was interesting to see the larger version of our boat.

We next moved up the coast to Orange Creek, as they have a grocery store and laundromat.  The anchorage was very rolly and uncomfortable, so we stayed long enough to get the groceries and do the laundry, before heading back down the coast to Bennetts Harbour.  It was much more settled there, so we dropped the dinghy in the water and Moray sped to shore to get to the bakery before it closed.  He managed to place an order for Hot Cross Buns for the following morning.  My hero!  After a pleasant night’s sleep, we went ashore to take a walk around the settlement.  We wanted to check out the few restaurants and see if one would be serving dinner that night, given that it was Good Friday.  Our first choice would have been Yardie’s, where Odette serves up wonderful conch salad, we were told.  Unfortunately, she had gone home for the Easter Holiday, so Yardie’s was closed.  Next we tried Sammy T’s, but weren’t sure about it.  Finally, we took a look at the restaurant in Pompey Rocks resort.  It looked nice, and had a reasonable menu, but no one was about.  So we took a card and decided to call later.  When we were leaving the restaurant, we met Tony and Penny.  They have been visiting the island for short trips over the past 8 years, but this year decided to rent a cottage in the resort and stay for a year.  They seem to have really become part of the community, helping out with various festivals and businesses, as required.  What a great way to spend a year!  This nomadic life we are leading is amazing, but there is much to be said for becoming part of the community in these wonderful islands, too.

We headed back to Sol Purpose, stopping off at Andrew’s bakery (aka, the kitchen in Andrew’s house!) to pick up the Hot Cross Buns.  They were absolutely delicious, and I wish Andrew all the best with the future venture – the Bed & Breakfast right next to the government dock.  If the buns were anything to go by, the breakfasts are going to be delicious.

Moray placed a call to Chef AJ at Pompey Rocks, and made a reservation for dinner, before heading out to spearfish.  He stopped off at Jennabird and told them that the restaurant would be open, if they would like to join us.  So we all headed over to shore just before sunset to have sundowners before dinner.  We had a great evening with Harry and Alicia, eating conch fritters, lobster fettuccine and fried grouper.  Great food at good prices – I would recommend it!

First thing the next morning, we set off for Eleuthera.  We decided to bypass Little San Salvador this time and make straight for the Blue Hole near Rock Sound.  As we were approaching, we heard that there was a festival going on – the Rock Sound Homecoming, with three days of live music, food and drink vendors and fun.  We changed course and dropped anchor in Rock Sound.  Immediately, we could hear the music!  After settling in, we went to shore to join in the festivities.  Almost immediately, we ran into Kevin and Caroline, on Redtail.  We hadn’t seen them since the day we arrived in St. Augustine, so it was great to hear their adventures.  Unfortunately, this included Kevin rupturing his Achilles tendon, playing Pickleball, so their activities have been a little curtailed.  They still seem to be having a wonderful time, which is what matters.  We also met with the crews of Zingaro and Freya, and all had a great time, eating, listening to the very loud music and dancing.  The festival was amazing – in particular, the biker club who had come in from Nassau on the supply boat.  I’m not sure I can adequately describe the sight of a biker club, all in full leathers, line dancing in the street…..  so I will let the video speak for itself!

We didn’t stay until the bitter end, but I can assure you the music kept going until 3am….

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sunset at Rock Point

After a lazy day, and loud night with the music again going until the wee hours, we decided to pick up anchor and head over to the Blue Hole, so that Moray could snorkel and fish.  We were the only boat there, and although the fishing wasn’t good, it was nice and peaceful after the fun atmosphere, but noisiness of the past couple of days.

Our next stop was to be Governors Harbour, and the forecast was for a good sailing day.  We decided that we needed to start practicing sailing off the anchor, and being the only boat in a wide open area, this seemed like a good place to try it for the first time.  We set the mainsail, and, using the windlass, pulled up the anchor.  I turned toward our heading and away we went – it was an amazing sense of achievement!  Next, we have to do it in a crowded anchorage, but baby steps!  We had a glorious morning of sailing and arrived at Governors Harbour.  The holding there is not the best, and even with our fabulous Mantus, it took three attempts to set the anchor, but eventually we were safely anchored and could relax.  We watched two other boats come in and struggle to get set, but all was well.  We will be here for a few days, while the next weather front comes through, before heading towards Spanish Wells and the Devils Backbone.

Through the Exumas

After a couple of nights rolling in West Bay, we grabbed an opportunity to move across to Highbourne Cay.  We were very fortunate in that we saw several squalls to the right and left of us but we had a great run straight through the middle, all under sail.

We dropped anchor just north of the entrance to the marina, just as the rain started.  We spent a comfortable couple of days here, and Moray managed to get some spearfishing in.  He brought back an amberjack which we had for dinner, but what he really wanted to get was a lobster!

The forecast was for the wind to clock round once again, so we decided to relocate to Lobster Cay.  After pulling up the anchor, we took a quick detour to Allen’s Cay to see the famous iguanas.  Last year, we had gone straight to Highbourne Cay and then south, so we had missed them.  The Cay itself was very pretty, and in different weather would have been a lovely place to spend a couple of days.  However, just as we got there, the rain started, and the iguanas took cover!  Ah well, we got a video so it’s all good!

Next we headed down to anchor at Lobster Cay.  Once Sol Purpose was secure, Moray headed off to do some spearfishing.  Lobster Cay lived up to its name, and a happy Moray came back with his first lobster of the season.  I had already started preparing dinner, so we put it in the freezer for another day.

We had planned to stay at Lobster Cay for a couple of days, before continuing south, but for the first time in a long time, we had desperate need for an internet connection.  We usually manage fine without one, but we had a Skype chat set up which we couldn’t miss, so after a safe but not too comfortable night, we headed back to Highbourne Cay and had our very important Skype call.

Now that everything is settled, I am able to put this in the blog!  We are well aware of how lucky we are to be able to live this life, so we had planned on doing volunteer work while on our travels.  It hasn’t been as easy as we thought to find the type of placement that we would both be happy doing, in a place we both want to visit, and without breaking our budget (who knew that “volunteering” could cost so much!).  After a lot of research, we found what we thought fit the bill perfectly, and applied – hence the “interview” on Skype.  Everything went well, so this summer, we will be helping out at Lanta Animal Welfare Center, in Koh Lanta, Thailand!  The center rescues, treats and finds homes for the stray dogs and cats on the island.  We will have a couple of weeks traveling around the country and then will be in Koh Lanta for almost three months.  We have rented a little apartment to stay in near the center.  I am so excited – both for the opportunity to visit Thailand for the first time (for me) and for the chance to spend some time with cats, as I am so missing having mine around.

OK, that will all be covered in a future blog entry, so let’s get back to the Bahamas!  When we woke up, the weather was perfect for a day of sailing with the Code 0, so we headed out for Normans Cay.  As soon as we unfurled the sail and switched off the engine, there was a knocking noise.  Moray investigated and figured out that it was the propeller.  It appeared that the cutlass bearing strut was a little loose, so rather than risk damage to the prop, we had to switch the motor back on and furl the Code 0.  Our lovely sailing window was a bust, but we motor sailed with the genoa, and arrived in good time at Normans Cay.  Instead of the anchorage we had used last year, we settled in near the beach on the West side of the island.  The water was quite shallow and perfectly clear, so as Moray dropped the mantus anchor, he was happy to see it disappear in a puff of sand!  There was no need to dive the anchor to check that it would hold, but as we were not too far off the beach, I jumped in and swam to shore and back.  Moray went snorkeling, tightened the cutlass bearing strut and saw a couple of eels, but not much else.

The next morning, we took the dinghy to the beach and walked around to the other side.  We wanted to see whether any progress had been made on the marina that was under construction when we were there before.  Basically, the answer is no!  There are now entrances cut through, but these are closed off as there is no infrastructure in the marina for the boats.  There is a new dock to tie off to, for large boats, which I assume stop to eat and drink at MacDuffs.  We had planned to revisit MacDuffs, as it was the first place we had had a Kalik in 2017, but after hearing that they have put the price up to $10 per beer, we decided to give it a miss!

After having another swim to the shore and back in the crystal clear water, we headed out towards Shroud Cay.  We planned to use the same anchorage as last year, in close to the entrance to the mangroves.  Unfortunately, we didn’t read the tide tables correctly, and were dangerously close to running aground, so we dropped the anchor where we were, and settled in for the night.  The next morning, as soon as the tide started to rise, we moved in to where we wanted to be and re-anchored.  That done, we had a leisurely breakfast, while we waited until it was almost high tide.  That is the only time it is possible to get the dinghy across a sandbar, into the mangroves, and then through to Camp Driftwood.  We had a fun half hour or so, playing in the cut, being swept into the beach, then running round and doing it all over again!  Once the tide turned, we jumped in the dinghy and took a gentle trip through the mangroves.  It was beautiful, but we only saw one turtle, which was a little disappointing.   We love this anchorage, because most people seem to stay at the other end of the island, on or near the mooring balls.  We could see their masts, but we were the only boat in our anchorage, and it almost feels like your own private island!

As soon as the tide was high enough the next morning, we made our way down to Warderick Wells.  We anchored and dinghied over to the park office, to make a reservation for a mooring ball for the following evening.  Then we went over to one of the snorkel sites and spent an hour or so with an eagle ray and a lemon shark, as well as all the usual suspects.  Spectacular!  We took a look at a couple of other sites, but there wasn’t much there, so we headed back to Sol Purpose.  Our boat was the only one on our side of the anchorage, so once again, we had peace and quiet for watching the sunset.

Next morning, we pulled up anchor bright and early to make it out through the cut to get to the south mooring filed at Hog Cay.  Once there, we radioed the park office to let her know which mooring ball we had picked up.  There appeared to have been some confusion the previous day when we made the reservation, as the ranger thought we had meant we wanted to be at Emerald Rock mooring field.  She told us that the Hog Cay mooring balls were no longer maintained, so she suggested that we dive the mooring just to be sure.  There is no anchoring allowed there because of potential damage to the rare stromatalite formations, so that would not be an option for us if the mooring didn’t hold.  Moray jumped in and took a look, and confirmed that everything looked fine, especially as the winds were not going to be strong that night.  Once secured, we headed over to Hog Cay to hike.  We beached the dinghy, found a spot with a lovely view out over the Sound, and ate a picnic lunch.  Then we donned our hiking boots and set off along the ironshore to walk the full length of the island.  First of all, we headed up to the northernmost tip, where there is a cairn.  In true Scottish tradition, Moray added a stone to the cairn!  We then headed along the trail towards the south.  The views were fantastic, and we even found a blow hole, which sounded just like an old man snoring (actually it was kind of creepy!).

We made it all the way to the southernmost tip of the island, before heading back.  Hog Cay is not very big, but the combination of the heat and the ironshore made it feel like quite a trek.

Back at Sol Purpose, we both jumped in for a swim to cool off.  Moray’s pet spotted eagle ray seemed to have followed us round from yesterday’s snorkel site, so he grabbed the GoPro and took a video.

Once again, we had the privilege of being the only people in the mooring field.  While we love being around people, the feeling of being the only people to experience a particularly wonderful sunset or sunrise is amazing!

The next morning saw us heading back to O’Brien’s Cay and the Sea Aquarium, which we had enjoyed so much the previous year.

From there, Moray snorkeled the sunken plane which would make a good dive site at slack tide due to the 2 deep channels that feed the area.  Quite good fish life because of this.

We snorkeled for an hour or so, then headed back to Sol Purpose.  Our run of bad luck was apparently not over – as Moray was pulling up to Sol Purpose, the bolt which allows our outboard motor to tilt, snapped.  So now we are without wind power, and possibly a means of getting to shore 😦  We pulled the dinghy and motor back out of the water and secured them, before pulling up anchor and heading to Pipe Cay, which is where we planned to ride out the next weather front.  We arrived just before sunset, and were surprised to see so few boats in such a protected anchorage.  During our trip, we heard several people calling the Exumas Land and Sea Park, so we assume that they filled up the moorings, rather than anchor.  Moray started work on seeing if he could fix the outboard.  Over the course of the three days that we were waiting out the weather front, he managed to unseize/drill out the rusted bolt and remove it.  He found a replacement part on eBay and ordered that, so that we could pick that up in George Town, along with the replacement wind generator parts.  He made a temporary fix, using 2 shorter bolts.  It’s not perfect, but it should work until we get the new part, if we are careful.

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Both ends of the sheared bolt seized in the outboard tilting mechanism

After three days of fixing motors, reading and generally relaxing, we grabbed a break in the weather and headed carefully through the shallows down to Staniel Cay.  We saw lots of boats anchored at Big Majors, but very few at Thunderball Grotto, which we prefer because it is so much closer to access shopping etc.  Especially with a dodgy outboard motor!  At last we were able to get rid of some bags of trash – the flies were beginning to arrive, which is never good!  We were excited at the thought of being able to grocery shop for the first time in over a month, which was our plan for the next day.  Not so fast!  As we got ready for bed, the toilet decided it no longer wanted to flush.  Not an acceptable situation in a house, but in a 40 foot boat with a not-so-reliable dinghy motor, definitely not acceptable!  So first thing the next morning, instead of our grocery run, Moray had to take the toilet and sanitation hose run apart, literally… so gross 😛  The blockage was found and cleared – that’s all the details needed!  Then, of course, showers!  You will be glad to know that we have no pictures of that 🙂

Finally, we went to shore and dropped off a month’s worth of laundry, including the “curry comforter” before heading to the grocery store.  While we have plenty of canned and frozen food, it was so nice to have fresh vegetables, milk and eggs!

That evening, we headed to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, to have a couple of beers and some conch/grouper appetizers.  We chatted with Mike and Sarah, and their guest Amy, from Intrepid.  We then all headed to Intrepid to play Mexican Train before we headed home.

The next day, we noticed another boat arrive, searching for a good spot to anchor.  The tide was on its way out, and pretty soon we realized that the new arrival was on the bottom.  Mike and Moray went over in their dinghies to try to help out, but the boat wouldn’t budge.  As the boat was beginning to heel more and more, the crew, along with Mike and Moray, decided to go snorkeling until the tide lifted her enough to move.  It worked out perfectly – they were all happy to snorkel, I got to sunbathe on the boat, and the “little red boat” was eventually moved somewhere deeper.

Our next stop was to be Little Farmers Cay for the 5F’s weekend.   We decided to drop the hydro-generator in the water, before pulling the dinghy into the davits.  With that running, and the solar panels, we were able to run the watermaker en route, even though we were sailing!  I also thought it would be a good day to practice manual steering under sail, so that we wouldn’t need the autopilot.  I had a few blips, but for the most part, I kept us going in the right direction!  There weren’t as many boats as we had been expecting, so we had our pick of anchoring spots.  That night we went to Ty’s for dinner.  There we met Greg and Jodi, from Moon Pie.  They are first year cruisers and seem to be having a wonderful time.  They are taking their time and checking out all the secluded spots that we love too!

Now that we were out of the Land and Sea Park, Moray wanted to do some fishing, but the current was too strong.  We watched the cruiser’s race, while other boats arrived and anchored, among them Intrepid and “little red boat”, which we soon learned is actually called Quintessence!  Around 4pm, we headed over to the yacht club for the cruisers’ welcome party.  We met up again with Bill & Gayle and Mike and Sarah, and were introduced to Ben and Kristine from Quintessence.  It was a fun evening, but ended on a slightly sour note for me.  Flip flops and walking on gravel in the dark don’t make for a good outcome.  I turned my ankle badly so we had to make our way slowly back to the dinghy.  We hadn’t made a good job of beaching the dinghy, so poor Moray had to swim out to get it!  Ah well, we eventually made it home safely.

I woke the next morning to a bruised, swollen, painful ankle, so sat with it up on a pile of cushions while we watched the set up for the racing.  Then we headed out in the dinghy and rafted up alongside Intrepid and Quintessence’s dinghies to watch the races.

The next day, the gang (Mike, Ben and Moray) went spearfishing and came back with a lionfish (for Mike) and a lobster (for Ben).  I had just put some fresh biscuits in the oven when Ben called and invited everyone over to share the lobster and some fish he had caught previously.  He grilled up the fish, and the other two boats provided salads and biscuits.  It was delicious – we are definitely living the life!

The regatta finished on Saturday, but we stuck around on Sunday, because Ty’s Bar & Grill throws a great Superbowl party, which of course we attended!

The partying over, it was now time to get down to some serious sailing/fishing!  We headed down to Musha Cay, followed closely by Intrepid, Quintessence and Catsaway.  We dropped anchor in Musha Cay, right in front of the beach.  The water was so clear and calm, I dropped in for a swim, to try to relieve my sore ankle a little, before we all dinghied round to the next island, where Sarah and I sat on the beach, while the others went snorkeling/spearfishing.  Moray had a battle of wills with a lobster, but the lobster won, I’m afraid.

By this time, Moray was getting a little frustrated at his lack of success with spearfishing this year.  He decided to get up just before dawn, and head back round to the little island to try his hand again.  After an hour or so, he came back with a good sized lobster, and a lionfish, which he took over to Mike.  [Morays Notes:  I had got in the water just before the sun came up and swam with 4 spotted eagle rays, 2 reef sharks, 2 turtles and a nurse shark.  It was fantastic :)].  They all then decided to go fishing so he went out with them again.  I wasn’t there, so this is all third-hand, but my understanding is that he got two more lobster and then went back in, a little way away from the others.  They were alerted by him yelling “I need a boat over here, now!”  They rushed over to him and he lifted the pole spear, which was bending like a fishing rod, out of the water with a huge hogfish on it.  The reason for the urgency, apart from the fact that it was heavy and he didn’t want to lose it, was the fact that a curious shark was slowly making its way towards him!  Fish and hunter both made it into the boat safely, and an absolutely beaming Moray presented me with the 10lb fish!

The next morning, the other boats decided to head to Rudder Cut Cay, to snorkel the Mermaid statue.  We decided to give that a miss and instead took a quick run down to Lee Stocking Island.  We had missed this spot last year, so we wanted to get there this time.  There were already quite a few boats there, but we found a spot and got settled.  Moray went to look for good snorkeling spots, but found the current to be too strong.  Lee Stocking Island used to be the home of the Perry Institute for Marine Science, but it abruptly closed down a few years ago and the island is now deserted.  There is some talk that it has been purchased and will be developed into an eco-resort, but we didn’t see much evidence of that as yet!  I strapped up my ankle in walking boots – what a great look in hot weather! – and we took a walk round the island.  It is like a ghost town, with the buildings all still there but completely empty.  There are pools for the fish research, and pens for animals, but all abandoned.  We walked along a couple of beautiful beaches, and then down the runway, before heading back to the boat.

There was now yet another weather front approaching.  There were a couple more places we wanted to see, but the winds would make these uncomfortable at the very least, so we decided to head straight to Georgetown.  We could be safe there, get some provisions and maybe even pick up the spare parts we had ordered.  We picked up the anchor and started heading towards the cut, but realized that our timing wasn’t great and that it was a bad time to try to go through.  So we went back, dropped anchor for a couple of hours and waited for the tide to turn, before making another attempt.  This time it was fine, and we had a great sail down to Georgetown.  We dropped anchor just in front of Chat ‘n Chill, next to – would you believe it – Intrepid and Quintessence!

Georgetown is summer camp for adults!  Every morning there is yoga and aquarobics, every afternoon there is volleyball, and there are always people around to chat to or to help when needed.  Of course, our spare parts haven’t yet arrived so while we are here we will be spending our days chilling, Moray playing volleyball, me chatting with other people on the beach.  My ankle is still bothering me, so it’s also a good opportunity to just nurse it, so that later in the trip, I will be able to dive.  One thing we do a lot of in Georgetown is socialize.  With all the lobster Moray had caught while fishing with the other guys, I made Thai lobster curry for dinner for Intrepid, Quintessence and Duchess.  We managed to get 8 people around our table!  It was a fun evening, and thanks to Mike, Sarah, Ben, Kristine, Joyce and Matt for not only helping to catch the lobster but for enjoying it with us.

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from left to right, Sarah, Mike, Kristine, Ben, Me, Moray, Matt and Joyce

After several phone calls and emails with DHL, our wind generator parts arrived in Georgetown.  It was also the day that the propane guy was in town.  So we moved Sol Purpose across the harbour to town, and Moray headed in to get, propane, gas/petrol for the dinghy and the wind generator parts.  He managed to get the petrol and the parts, but unfortunately, it appears that the o-ring in our propane tank had worn through, making it impossible to fill.  Ah well, that’s why we have two!

We took Sol Purpose back over to Chat ‘n Chill and were able to tuck into a little spot, much closer to the beach.  That was great as it made for a much smoother night.  Another reason for a much better night was that Moray fitted the replacement parts and now we could use the wind to charge the batteries.  Yay!

We had missed a few islands on the way down to Georgetown, so we decided to head back north for a few days.  After a spirited sail, we dropped anchor at Black Cay, near the north end of Great Exuma.  This is an uninhabited island, with a couple of beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and very few other boats!  After the hustle and bustle of Georgetown, it was nice to chill out for a few days.  Moray settled into his routine of heading out at slack tide to spearfish, while I read.  We also took advantage of the lack of dinghies heading back and forth to swim, which was wonderful.

Moray was not having much luck getting fish or lobster, and felt that he was failing in his role as hunter-gatherer!  So he decided to try to get a coconut instead.  As you can see from the video, it’s just as well that there are grocery stores in Georgetown!!!

On Saturday, we took the dinghy to White Cay, to visit the swimming pigs that live there.  They are very tame, as they are fed by all the visitors, but that meant they are quite happy to search around inside your dinghy for food!  Moray managed to get some great pictures of the piglets though.

From there, we headed across to Exuma Point on Great Exuma.  Every Saturday, they have an all-you-can-eat buffet, with cracked conch, grouper fingers, chicken wings, ribs etc. etc.  They even have their own version of Mack (for our Waterford friends).

The weather forecast once again gave us a little cause for concern, so we headed back to Georgetown and managed to tuck close in to Chat ‘n Chill again.  Moray got back into the routine of afternoon volleyball, and I relaxed on board or on the beach.

We went to trivia night at St Francis (our first time there) and along with Bruce & Kay from Laura Belle, won second place – bottle of wine per boat.

The winds started to pick up yesterday, and we had some fun and games in the harbour.  One catamaran had been moved a couple of days earlier from anchor to a mooring ball, as the owners had flown home for a short visit.  Around midday, we heard a call go out for assistance.  The mooring ball had snapped from it’s base and the catamaran had taken off on its own.  Moray jumped in the dinghy and headed towards it, as we were very close.  He and about 11 others first of all had to get on to the cat to disentangle it from another boat, which it was now dragging along for the ride.  Then they had to figure out the anchor locker etc and get the anchor down and secure.  As they had to do all this manually, it took a couple of attempts, but eventually, everything was secured.  Quite a lot of excitement, but it shows once again, what a great community this is.  The weather wasn’t brilliant, and the situation could have been dangerous, but they worked together and kept all people and boats safe.  Well done, guys!

This morning we braved the choppy waters to head over to Georgetown, so that Moray could go to the softball practice, and I could get off the boat for a little while.  I even got to go to a grocery store!  The supply boat arrived this morning, so we were a bit early for the fresh vegetables, but we got everything else we wanted.

The winds are once again not co-operating with our plans, so we are just taking it one day at a time right now.  I’m not sure when we will be moving so I will sign off for now and say, watch this space!

Southward Bound Again

So at last the day had come! On Saturday, December 16th, we wrapped up in thermal clothing, waved goodbye to Bob and Clare, and departed New Bern. We had done our last grocery shop and had just about enough beer 🙂

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We were very lucky in our choice of departure date, because the tides and currents were with us all the way to Morehead City, and we saw speeds up to 8 knots! That gave us plenty of daylight to get out through the Beaufort Inlet before starting our offshore passage. The seas were calm, and we had a peaceful, uneventful trip, motoring all the way but at least making progress South.

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hard to believe this was 30 miles offshore in the Atlantic

We were once again joined by a pod of dolphins for part of the trip…

Our timing was perfect and on the morning of Tuesday, December 19th, we arrived at St Augustine, Florida with a high tide and just as the bridge was opening. Perfect! We tied off to a mooring ball, checked in and headed straight for a well earned hot shower! Then we made the trek across the bridge to a dive store to get our scuba tanks inspected and filled, ready for the Bahamas. We wrapped up the day with a walk around the city, dinner and drinks in a couple of the many bars!

St. Augustine proved to be the perfect place to spend Christmas. There is a very active boating community in St. Augustine and there were plenty of events scheduled. We went to the Wednesday night gathering at Ann O’Malleys, where there was pizza, cheap beer and a White Elephant Christmas gift exchange, which was a lot of fun!

While we were in St. Augustine, we tried to visit as many of the sights as possible. We walked down to, the Fort (Castillo de San Marcos), the Fountain of Youth and the Old Town, which were all very interesting but a bit Disney-esque.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Visitor Center, which is more like a museum telling the story of the city. It’s well worth a visit. Another day, we visited the Flagler College and took a tour. The college was originally a hotel called the Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler, the railway tycoon, in 1888 to house his wealthy friends when they spent the season in Florida. He charged by the season and it cost $4,000 for the winter season whether you stayed the whole time or a weekend. The windows and chandeliers are all by Tiffany and are stunning. The building is now a hall of residence for freshman college students – wow! Liverpool University was great but had nothing on that!

At the boaters’ happy hour, the night before, we met several great people, in particular, Charles and Rachel, who, via FB, had been helpful when Moray was asking for suggestions on places to spend Christmas. During our conversation, we discovered a mutual love of sushi, so on Thursday night, they very kindly picked us up and drove us to a fantastic sushi restaurant called Corner Sushi. We had a great meal and even better conversation, before they drove us back to the marina.

On Christmas Eve, Charles texted us and invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner! It was wonderful! We met Rachel’s family which was great, before eating fresh made seafood chowder (by Charles) and bread (by Rachel). It was so lovely to be included in a family Christmas and reminds us once again that there are amazingly kind people in this world.

We had a quiet Christmas Day on board. It was a lovely, relaxed day. We made calls to our families, opened presents all day, played cards and even had turkey, roast potatoes and brussel sprouts! Yes, it is possible to cook a Christmas Dinner in a tiny boat galley!

On Boxing Day it was time to leave. First of all, at peak travel season, the marina limits transient boats to a seven day stay, and second, the weather was perfect for the next leg of the journey south. Moray made one last run into the city to pick up packages from the Post Office, before we released the mooring ball and headed back through the St. Augustine Inlet, before turning south toward Fort Lauderdale. The weather was great so we got to sail, most of the way. The evening of the second day saw a few storms, so we motored the rest of the way, arriving at the Port Everglades Inlet at daybreak. Once under the bridge, we pulled into the Fort Lauderdale fuel dock to refuel. Another sailboat pulled around us and tried to dock in front of us, managing to hit us in the process. Luckily no damage was done to Sol Purpose, but an apology was not offered, which left a nasty taste. Anyway, once refueled, we headed a little farther north into Lake Sylvia. We had spent a night in this anchorage on last year’s trip down, along with Charlie and Bob. We got there to find that there was plenty of room, so we anchored and settled in to wait for a weather window to cross over to the Bahamas. The anchorage is surrounded by high end houses which make for a nice backdrop at night.

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Gas lighting in one of the waterside house gardens

Last year, we had only stayed for one day, so we hadn’t gone ashore. This time, we put the dinghy in the water, crossed over the ICW (now that can be a scary trip in Fort Lauderdale!) and went to the Southport Raw Bar. They have a dinghy dock, which costs $10 per day. However, if you spend $10 in the restaurant/bar, the fee is waived so thats what we did. After appetizers and beers, I went grocery shopping, while Moray walked to West Marine to try to get some engine oil. He didn’t succeed in that, but the grocery shopping was successful!

We had hoped to get over to the Bahamas by New Year, so that we could experience Junkanoo, but the weather showed no signs of co-operating. So we did a little research and found that downtown Fort Lauderdale was having a New Year’s Eve celebration, with free live music, street bars and food vendors, and at midnight, an anchor drop. It was about an hour’s walk, but that’s fine. So we dinghied over to the Southport Raw Bar, had the obligatory $10-worth of beer and snacks, before setting out towards town. The walk wasn’t bad at all, and once we arrived, we were very impressed. The downtown area had been closed to traffic and there was a stage with live music at each end. The music was great, and there were plenty of eateries and bars, although we had taken a cooler full of beer with us! We had a fantastic evening there, culminating with the anchor drop, which was fun. The evening wasn’t over, though, as the bands played for another hour, so we stayed until they stopped and then started the walk back. Funny, it seemed much further…. Anyway, we got back to the dinghy, across the ICW and home to Sol Purpose safe and sound, around 3am! Not bad for two old fogies, huh!

The festivities over, now it was just a waiting game. The weather has been crazy all over the world this winter, and Florida and the Bahamas are not exceptions. A couple of times we got ready to leave, only to find the morning of departure that the forecast had changed completely, so the trip was aborted. It did give us an opportunity to take the longest city bus ride ever, to get to a movie theater to see The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman. I’d highly recommend the movie, but possibly not the 2 hour each way journey! We went out for another night and met Liz and Mary Ann. They were later met by Mary Ann’s husband who gave us great advise on restaurants and so we had one more night of Sushi before we left the US 🙂

Finally, on Tuesday, January 10th, we decided that the forecast was not perfect, but good enough, so we headed out. When we actually pulled up the anchor, it was pouring with rain, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking we were mad! However, as soon as we got out through the Port Everglades channel, the weather cleared up, and we had a great day, even though we were motoring. We seemed to pass between all the squalls, and arrived in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands, almost exactly 24 hours after we set out. The marina allows boats to pull into a slip, free of charge, in order to complete the customs and immigration procedures. They drove Moray to the airport to get all of that taken care of, while I had to wait on board. Although he had to wait a little while, because a couple of planes arrived while he was there, it was all painless, and he was soon back on board, with stamped passports, a fishing permit and cruising permit for 6 months. We left the marina and headed back outside the harbour to anchor.

We had planned to spend some time in the Berry Islands, as we had heard how beautiful they are. Unfortunately, the crazy weather patterns continued, meaning that there would be north winds. Unless you go to a marina (which we neither want to do, nor can really afford), there is nowhere that offers much protection in those conditions. So after spending a couple of nights anchored outside the marina on the west side of the island, we took a short trip round the top of the island, to an anchorage on the east side. The plan was spend a day or two there, then start heading down the chain, tucking in wherever we could, all while keeping an eye on the weather.

Now there is a belief that you can get away with breaking one or even two rules, but break three and disaster will happen. So what three did we break, I hear you ask! Well first of all, don’t be lulled by the conditions where you are – the seas were flat calm in our anchorage, but as we were to discover, not on the other side of the island. Second, ALWAYS stow EVERYTHING – don’t get complacent and think, it’s so calm nothing will fall. And third, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, bring glass on board. We had made it round the top of the island, almost to the anchorage. The waves had been higher than we anticipated, but we could see that they were much better in the anchorage. Unfortunately, as we turned to head in, we were caught broadsides by a big wave. There was a loud crash as everything on the port side of the boat made a break for the starboard side. Most things were OK, but we had a couple of jars of curry sauce in a cupboard that wasn’t locked…. Oh the mess! I have no idea how the red curry sauce could get so far, in so many different directions! It was all over the floor, the doors, in the bathroom, but worst of all – the bed. Just to complete the meal, a bag of rice fell out of the cupboard, opened up and spilled all over the bed, mixing with shards of glass from the jar. We should have taken pictures, but just take our word for it – it was a disgusting mess. The only saving grace was that it was a Balti sauce, and not my favourite, korma!

Mess all cleared up, we decided to go to the Beach Club ashore and get a drink, followed by dinner at the Friday night Grill and Chill at the marina. We looked up exactly where the Beach Club was, only to discover that it closes at 4pm – and it was 3:45pm. Could this day get any worse? Well, we took the dinghy to the beach, along with our trash, and started the 2 mile walk to the marina. About halfway, as we turned on to the marina road, the heavens opened. Luckily, a great couple, Shakira and Herbie, stopped and gave us a ride, trash and all, down to the marina. They were going to be coming to the Grill and Chill later, and said they would give us a ride back to the beach. We got out at the marina, dropped off the trash, and went to found out about the Grill and Chill. What a day – because of the rain, they weren’t going to hold it that day. When we asked where the nearest bar was, we discovered it was in Bullocks Harbor, about another mile away. With the rain pouring down and not showing any sign of stopping, we decided to just make our soggy way back to the Beach Bar, down to the dinghy and back to Sol Purpose. As we approached the Beach Bar, we could see that there were lights on and people there. It turns out that part of the week, they only serve breakfast and lunch, but at the weekends they also serve dinner 🙂 Yay! We tucked into grilled pork chops (me) and blackened hog snapper (Moray), accompanied by the first Kaliks of the trip. It turned out to be a great day after all!

After the early morning ritual of listening to Chris Parker, reading our other weather forecasting websites and looking around, we decided that the best course of action was to reluctantly say goodbye to the Berry Islands and head straight down to West Bay, on New Providence. We had a great trip, making a tankful of water as the motor was running, and enjoying the sunshine. Moray threw out a line and about 2 miles outside the anchorage, he finally got a bite. It must have been a big fish, because not only did it get off the line, it took half the lure with it. Ah well. We came into the anchorage, dropped the anchor and backed down on it for a while. We remember only too well the incident with Debbie, Sue and Stout Wench last year, and dragging is not an option! The wind picked up shortly after sunset, which although it made for a rolly night, provided us with enough electricity to watch the rest of the first season of This is Us. (We are so far behind in our viewing!)

So, while it hasn’t been the season we envisioned so far, we had a wonderful Christmas, with new friends, a great New Year’s Eve, and are sitting in the Bahamas, with adult beverages, watching TV. Life is good.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Back across the pond

We spent the last couple of weeks in the UK relaxing and preparing for our return to Sol Purpose.  We got most of our UK Christmas gifts bought, wrapped and mailed off (so organised!), and I made a few more Christmas items for the upcoming craft fair.  We contacted the marina to see where things stood with the repairs and booked in for the remaining work that needed to be done (more of that later).

One thing we had planned to do in Bristol was try one of the many Escape Rooms that have sprung up recently.  The one we selected was Puzzlair.  We chose the Secret Agent Room, which as you can guess is a James Bond themed room.  There were a lot more puzzles to solve and some were a lot more devious than the ones we had experienced in the New Bern Escape Room.  Added to that, this time it was just the two of us, rather than 6 people.  We needed to get a few clues, but we made it out within the hour!  Next time we go, we want to get a group together and try to break out of the prison van (take a look at the website!).

The next week we went to the Concorde exhibit at the Bristol Aerospace Museum.  Concorde was designed and built between France and the UK and the last concorde to fly is on display here.  It was great to walk through the plane and learn details about the ridiculous design and build costs that were incurred.  That was only eclipsed by the amazing details of the planes engineering and performance.

We also had a great night catching up with Sue & Dave Harding and Debbie Haynes.  I worked with Sue and Debbie many years ago, before I left for the USA.  It was a great trip down memory lane!  See you next time I’m back!

We rounded off the 4 month trip just as we started it, with an evening at Avery’s, tasting wine and watching a classic movie – this time, a Cary Grant classic, Arsenic and Old Lace.  Cary Grant, then known as Archibald Leach, was born in Bristol and is one of the city’s favorite sons.

On Tuesday, October 31st, at the totally unacceptable hour of 4am, we headed to Bristol Airport to start the mammoth trip back to Sol Purpose.  Flight 1 was to Brussels, then Flight 2 to Newark.  That was all fairly uneventful and we arrived in New Jersey at around 2:30pm.  We picked up a rental car and headed for North Carolina.  Moray was a trooper and drove the first 6 hours, so that I could grab some sleep.  Then I took over for the last part of the journey.  Given that it was halloween, we looked out for ghosties and beasties all the way back, but all we saw were several deer, just as we approached Wayfarers Cove Marina.  We pulled into the marina at around 1am, climbed up a ladder into the boat, and crashed in the rear quarter berth for a few hours sleep.

Jet lagged, but needing to get on, we realised the holiday was over!  Before Sol Purpose could be put back into the water, the propshaft drip seal needed to be replaced.  We had started on this task before we left, but had been unable to complete it.  The boatyard guys had worked on removing the old seal while we were away, but we needed to replace the seal ourselves.  After a couple of hours of Moray working from inside the tiny engine room space, while I stood outside under the boat, we got it done.

While Moray was working on various little tasks, I moved some things around so that I could unpack and put our bags back into the storage below our bed.  That meant I had enough room to move other items to the rear quarter berth, and make up our bed.

One of the problems of being on  boat that is out of the water is that there .is no a/c which makes cooking on board almost unbearable.  Added to that, the fact that we had not yet replaced the water tank, so we had no water for cooking, and couldn’t drain water out into the boatyard, meant that meals would be sandwiches or takeout.  Wayfarers Cove Marina, while very pretty and with an excellent boatyard, is literally miles from anywhere, making takeout totally impractical.  Luckily, Gail and Bill on Spireserpula, who we had met in the Bahamas, were also out of the water in the boatyard, and had found some restaurants.  We thankfully joined them for dinner and enjoyed catching up with their adventures over the summer.  Then we headed back to the marina and up to the boaters’ lounge to watch game 7 of the World Series.  Woohoo!  Finally!  The Astros did it!!!!!  Very tired, but elated, we headed back to the boat and spent the first night in our own bed in over 4 months!

The only thing left to do before putting Sol Purpose back where she belongs was to finish the bottom paint job.  The boatyard had done most of this just before we came back, but the last part – painting the patches where the stands had been – is done once the boat is back in the sling.  The original plan was to do this on Thursday, but the boatyard is a very busy one, and when we realised that they weren’t going to get to us that day, we did the only thing we could – we got in the car and drove to New Bern to go to Duelling Pianos at Circa 1810, with Bob and Claire!

The revised plan was to get back in the water on Friday, but unfortunately, the boat lift broke that morning.  By the time the repair was done, it was too late to get the painting done and dried, so we resigned ourselves to waiting until Monday.  This was very frustrating as we had planned to spend the weekend installing the new tanks and getting the subfloor replaced, once back in the water.

On Saturday morning, we noticed that there was a gantry not being used in the boatyard.  We put it up against the side of the boat and figured that we should be able to lift the tanks up to the two platforms and then into the boat.  I was not too keen on this, but we pressed on and managed to get the new diesel tank on board and into place relatively simply.  Inspired by that, we moved on to the water tank and got it into place.  That meant that Moray was able to plumb everything in, while I drove to Oriental to fill the jerry cans with diesel.  I made one run, and we emptied the cans into the new tank, with fingers crossed that nothing leaked.  Everything was great, so I headed back and refilled all the jerry cans.  While I was away, Moray closed up the inspection hatch on the fuel tank, which we had left open during the first fill so we could see that everything was working properly.  We started to pour the next can in, when suddenly Moray yelled for cloths etc.  Diesel was not going into the tank, but down the side of the boat.  After a few minutes of panic, he figured that the only difference was that the inspection hatch was now closed, so the problem must be the tank vent.  He reopened the hatch and the problem was resolved.  On further investigation, he discovered that the tank vent had become clogged by a mud dauber, a wasp that builds its nest using mud.  It had got into the thru hull vent during the summer and done its thing!  Once that was cleared out, the problem was completely resolved.

Next, Moray reconnected the water tank and water maker, before working on the final fitting of the plywood subfloor.  It took a few lifts in and out, with a little sanding each time, but eventually it fit perfectly.  This made walking around the boat so much easier!

Monday came, and I headed off to the boaters’ lounge to watch TV and knit, as I would not be able to be on board when they lifted the boat.  At around 3:30pm, the paint was dry and the time had come!  Slowly, Sol Purpose was lowered into the water, the motor started and we made our way round to a slip.  We were finally back in the water!

The only task left to be done while in Wayfarers Cove was to replace the teak and holly veneer.  As this needed to be matched up to the veneer in the forward cabin and galley, we hired a professional, Rick Vogt.  He was great and gave us lots of advice for refinishing the existing veneer, which we planned to do ourselves.  He was held up by the weather to begin with as it rained for a couple of days, making it impossible for him to bring the veneer to the boat.  Once it stopped, though, he got the veneer measured, cut and into the boat as quickly as possible.  I have to say, it looked amazing, which showed just how bad the rest was!

During the work with Rick we got a message from Ron and Karen, two friends who stayed on the same dock as us in Kemah.  They left to go cruising three years ago and were heading back down the ICW towards Florida in their Benetau, Polite Compromise.  They found out where we were and turned up at Wayfarers the next day.  We went out for dinner that night and went to Duelling Pianos the following night with Bob and Clare.

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Moray, Bob, Ron, Debs, Clare and Karen.  Texas cruising chapter

That Saturday we took our rental car and drove to Washington (NC) to meet Al, a cruiser friend we had met last winter in the Bahamas.  He was on the hard in New Bern working on his boat, Stout Wench, before heading South to the Bahamas again.

On Wednesday, with our fingers crossed, I helped Moray cast off and leave the slip, to single-hand the boat to New Bern.  Once he left, I drove to the airport at New Bern and turned in the car.  Claire picked me up and took me back to New Bern Grand Marina, where we waited for Moray to arrive.  His journey up was thankfully uneventful.  He switched between the two tanks with no issue, so that was great!  Having the increased fuel capacity of the boat, from 60 gallons to 140 gallons, is going to make our future cruising plans so much easier.  If you are interested in the full details of the tank project see the following blogs…

Sol Purpose has no Sole (part one)

Putting the Sole back into Sol Purpose (part 2)

Thursday morning, Moray headed up to the boaters’ lounge to do some last minute study for his FCC Technicians exam.  I started work on removing the varnish from the teak and holly veneer in the forward cabin and the hatch covers.  After a few hours, I cleaned everything up and prepared for Moray’s birthday celebration.  Bob and Claire came over for a light meal and a cocktail.  Then we headed to the Bear Town Escape Room where we escaped from Poe’s Study.  That was a lot of fun, and we got out with 14 minutes to spare.  From there, we went for a meal and then for a few drinks at Prohibition, our favourite bar in New Bern.  It was a great evening, and I think the birthday boy enjoyed himself.

It was back to reality the next day, with Moray spending one last day studying and doing practice exams, while I removed more varnish, this time from the galley floor.  On Saturday morning, Moray headed off to Morehead City to sit his exam, which I am very happy to announce, he passed!  He is now able to broadcast on the SSB, another big step needed for our trans-Atlantic crossing.

By the end of the day, the floors were clear of the old varnish, and had been treated to remove as many of the water stains as possible.  They would have to sit for a couple of days to dry out properly, before we would be able to start on the re-varnishing. We were trying to figure out how to do this, while living on the boat, as we wouldn’t be able to walk on the floors for several hours each day.  Moray contacted Tom and Joy, and they kindly agreed to let us stay on their boat, Belle Ile, which is in the same marina, up for sale.  This was an absolute godsend, and we can’t thank them enough for their generosity.

Over the next week, we sanded and applied a coat of varnish each day, before heading over to Belle Ile each night to sleep.  As cooking wasn’t an option, we made the most of a number of the eateries in town, apart from Thanksgiving.  Beth, from Happy Girl, organized a Thanksgiving Dinner for the marina, and about 30 people attended.  Bob and Clare joined us for the dinner and then a few hardy souls braved the chilly weather to sit around a fire pit, drinking beers and getting to know each other’s sailing past.  It was a lot of fun!

The enforced exile from the boat gave us a good excuse to walk up into town and look at the Christmas decorations, especially the Santa’s grotto, with falling snow!  It was magical!

Once the 8 coats of varnish were applied and dried, we were able to empty out the storage unit and put our home back together.  There’s nothing like sitting on your own sofa, watching TV!  That done, we set to finishing off a few tasks, such as repairing some broken zippers on the enclosure, and replacing the rusted out clips on the dinghy straps.  Moray cleaned up the dinghy and attached some patches to protect the sides from chafing on the davits, while I made a cover to protect the gas can from the elements.

All this time, we were watching the weather and were excited to be getting ready to leave around December 7th, the same time as last year.  Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and as the leaving date approached, the weather window disappeared.  Oh the joys of sailing – never make plans!  Resigned to the fact that our departure would be delayed, we put together some alternative routes and started looking forward to those.  But now, it has been raining for the last few days, and we have both had colds, so we’ve had an enforced stay inside the boat.  It’s actually been nice – watching TV (both of us) and knitting (just me!).  Oh, and of course, watching our friends’ posts about the snow in Houston!

Our current hope is to star tour southward trip in two days – fingers crossed!