Sail away

(Emily) Some months ago, whilst we were in India, my dad had mentioned that he had some time off just before Christmas, roughly when we expected to be in Thailand. Dad is mad about sailing and, if he’s not at work flying planes, on the computer (sorry, Dad!) or at a Bruce Springsteen concert, then he’s likely to be found sailing the ocean blue. He’d proposed that we join him and mum (not a keen sailor but willing to leave the safety of land if it meant an opportunity to see us!) for a few days on a catamaran in mid December; all we had to do was get ourselves to the marina in northern Phuket on the right date. From the moment we’d scheduled it in, the prospect of a short luxury break became something to really look forward to, particularly at the end of some of the tougher days’ rides or when we found ourselves spending the night in a particularly depressing hovel!

So, although it was a sad day when Darren had to return his rental bike in Chiang Mai as it put an end to the chapter of ‘The Three Motoventurers’, we were all pretty excited to have the sailing trip and then Vietnam on the horizon. James and I were lucky enough that the guesthouse where we’d stayed for only a few nights in Chiang Mai were happy for us to leave the bikes out front in the gated forecourt, and the lion’s share of our kit in their storage room. I’m not sure if they realised they were agreeing to a whole month – the language barrier made confirming exact details a little tricky – but we were sure (-ish) that all would be fine. It felt very strange to be leaving our bikes all on their lonesome and walking away – after all, we’d been through so much together and, let’s face it, if something happened to them while we were away there wouldn’t be a lot we could do. Still, in some of the countries we’d been to, we’d just had the sense that people were inherently trustworthy  and Thailand was already one of those places. Optimistic perhaps, but it put our minds at ease.

That evening we took the night train down to Bangkok, a little adventure in itself. The way the train is laid out is simple but brilliant – a series of pairs of wide bench seats face each other tables along either side of the carriage then, at around 9pm, the guard comes along to lower a bed down from the wall above in addition to converting the seats below, effectively forming bunkbeds all along the train. Once you’re tucked in with your curtains drawn for privacy, it’s a pretty cosy little set up and they even provide blankets and a pillow. In fact, with the steady rhythm of the train on the tracks to drown out any murmurings and people moving about, you get a better night’s sleep than staying in a dorm! The only downside was that, arriving in Bangkok at 7am, we had to get up early for the beds to be re-converted on the train and then it was a long wait at the hostel before check-in. We had about 36 hours in Bangkok before a second night train down to Phuket so used the time to get some jobs done: a few last minute Christmas presents, picking up our Vietnam visas… oh, and posting the store room key back to the guesthouse in Chiang Mai which James had produced rather sheepishly (James: ahem!) from his pocket! Whilst out at Patpong market, James and I got heard an eerie ‘whooshing’ sound. We followed the lead of everyone around us, ducking under cover just in time before a wall of water came crashing down; we had only just avoided being completely soaked in an unexpected  deluge, the sort unique to tropical countries. No pitter-patter build up, just the strange noise and then, bam! We agreed that it might be a good idea to learn to listen out for the sound now that we were in monsoon territory – after months of desert riding we just weren’t used to it! That evening Juan turned up to say hi having shipped his bike in from Nepal a few days before so we went out for a few beers with him… well, the boys had beers and talked motorbikes, I went to have a pedicure!! (I figured I might as well cast off the whole ‘haven’t washed my hair for a week biker chick’ vibe and embrace the air of someone who goes sailing, ‘dahling’!)

Darren, James and I made our way down south the following evening (another sleeper train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, then a further four hour bus journey down to the island) and quickly discovered that Phuket is well versed in the tourist sting – 600 baht for a taxi to the marina, a fifteen minute journey that would have cost less than 100 in the capital! We declined the taxi (offered in conjunction with the bus which, we suspected, could have dropped us off near the marina themselves) and arranged for the friend of the café owner where we had lunch to take us for a fraction of the price. My parents were due in on a late flight so it fell to us to do the grocery shopping; at Tescos, no less!! I get an abnormal pleasure from supermarket shopping in foreign countries (a phenomenon shared by Darren it turns out!) so was quite excited by the prospect but it actually turned out to be a bit stressful – we were completed out of practice with bulk grocery shopping and, more importantly, the alcohol department was only open in the morning and then from five in the afternoon (it was about 3pm at this point!) This was a major problem – I had been anticipating the regular imbibing of wine as one of the major highlights of the holiday – and the shop was too far from the marina to come back again later. Bizarrely, however, there was an exemption to the (inexplicable) alcohol purchasing rule; you could buy goods outside of set hours so long as you spent over a certain amount – i.e. a lot! Well, if you’re going to force us…! So, back at the marina we were shown down to our catamaran (very flash!) and with the fridge now stocked (with liquids anyway!), we waited to Mum and Dad. It was half one when I finally saw their figures appear in the distance and I ran to the end of the pier to greet them – a very happy reunion! We cracked open the prosecco (James: that Em had insisted on getting!), and spent the next three hours catching up on news from home before, tired and slightly inebriated, bunking down in our (rather spacious) cabins, in eager anticipation of getting out on the open waves in the morning.

The week sailing was fantastic, and completely removed from the reality of our biking lives which by now have become the norm. It was great to see my parents for the first time since Istanbul in June and I was delighted, despite copious piss-taking from James and Darren, (James: copious might be a bit strong!) that Mum had brought decorations to string up on the boat, including some knitted Christmas figures that she had made when I was a child – very nostalgic! We hadn’t expected to have a Christmassy experience at all this year but she had determined to bring Christmas to us, mince pies and all (yes, really!) Sailing out of the marina on the first day (well, motoring really as there wasn’t any wind) we opened presents that the rest of my family had sent from home, including a really touching gift that Jessie and Lizzie (my younger twin sisters) had made with their own fair hands – t-shirts with ‘Motoventurers’ emblazoned down the back!! Look out for their regular appearance in future photos!

Unfortunately, it did take me a while to find my ‘sea legs’ so the rest of the first day I could be found curled in a ball on the netting at the front of the catamaran while James and Darren took it in turns at the helm under Dad’s instruction. I managed to avoid spewing (James: Em prefers to save it for those occasions when we’re invited to someone’s home!!) but it would seem that I’m certainly more at home on a bike than a boat! Luckily, my green gills only lasted 24 hours and from then on I was able to fully enjoy life at sea… and what a tough life it was! Reading trashy mags all day and chatting with mum while Dad, James and Darren saw to the technicalities of sailing, then mooring up by a deserted beach or isolated rock stack at night to enjoy a tasty meal whipped up by James from whatever fresh fish or giant prawns we’d been able to purchase from a passing fishing boat earlier in the day, accompanied by copious amounts of wine, beer and gin and tonic! Mornings were equally challenging – starting the day with a bowl of rum porridge (Dad’s staple, though usually without the rum at home!) and having a little snorkel around or visiting an uninhabited strip of beach for an hour or two before setting sail again… hard times! It was great not to be working to any kind of schedule, and any decisions that needed to be made (what beach shall we visit today?) were hardly taxing. It was a chance just to sunbathe, play Scrabble and cards (Dad demonstrated an annoying ability to win at whist, despite being unsure of the rules, drunk, blind – he’d mislaid his glasses – and half asleep the first time we played!!) and generally do not much at all.

Admittedly, the weather wasn’t great – Phuket and the surrounding area had been experiencing unseasonably late storms in the previous weeks and although we, luckily, didn’t have any ‘high seas’, the skies remained overcast until the last couple of days – but it was still incredibly warm and, in fact, the cloud cover probably did us all a favour; James, Darren and I still managed to lobster up pretty good! We visited the island of Ko Phi Phi, and also moored up one night by ‘The Beach’ (as in from the film) but one of the best things about having the catamaran at our disposal was that we could get away from the typical places that drew hoards tourist charter boats each day (by mid-morning there were 70 lined up along ‘the beach’, so many that those on the beach couldn’t access the water!!) and discover equally stunning, yet untouched, locations. The environment through which we were sailing in the Andaman Sea is absolutely staggering – hundreds of limestone stacks rising out of the water, often concealing hidden lagoons deep within; it all had a rather prehistoric air to it. It was particularly stunning to see in the early morning light or at sunset (and all the better accompanied by a drink in hand!) 

Needless to say, the five days passed very quickly and all too soon it was time to return to the marina in Phuket. After a final lunch together and a teary goodbye, Mum and Dad went off to catch their flight back to the UK (Mum desperately hoping that it wouldn’t be disrupted by snow and prevent them getting home for Christmas) and we caught our bus back up to Surat Thani where we would meet the connecting night train to Bangkok. The bus driver was a bit of a lunatic and the films they were showing on the overhead monitor were hardly of a ‘family nature’ but, given the pouring rain, we were thankful not to be doing the journey on our bikes. One overnight train journey later and we were back in Bangkok and the now familiar Lub-d hostel; it was almost as if the sailing trip had all been a dream, but for the constant sense of swaying that we were all still experiencing (I had it for at least a week afterwards; further proof that I should stick to dry land!) It was Christmas Eve and the hostel was laying on a party so we put on our glad rags (oh no, that’s right, we don’t have any…) and headed over to the sister hostel with Juan and a couple of guys from the hostel, having ourselves a little tuk-tuk race on the way. It was a hilarious evening, if not quite your usual Christmas Eve fare. Some of the staff put on a performance of ‘Lady Marmalade’, complete with lady boy resplendent in hotpants, corset and suspenders (James tried, and succeeded, to orchestrate a photo opportunity of said lady boy giving Darren a kiss…) and the beers and tequila shots were flowing. I somehow managed to come third in a quiz about Thailand (?!), winning yet more beer, and James was gifted a huge bottle of Vodka for coming first in a ‘match the staff to their baby photos competition’! Indeed, winning was evidently in our blood that night as we then joined forces in a ‘pop the balloon between your bodies’ contest and were once again victorious, claiming a hostel t-shirt each and a free night at Lub-d as our spoils. Darren, meanwhile, may not have won any competitions but he was certainly a hit with the ladies (James: or should that read ladyboys!?) Compared with our modest return to the hostel at 1am, Darren’s coming back at seven in the morning did not pass without comment!!!….

For latest photos click here.

9 Responses to “Sail away”

  1. joanna says:

    truly awesome x

  2. Jackson says:

    Thanks once again guys.
    After a thoroughly rubbish day here, your latest stories have put a smile on my face. take care

  3. Lorna Souch says:

    lovely to get a bit of a bearing on time scale. so much seems to have happened here in the past 7 wks it’s hard to imagine where you guys might be now! We’ve had chance to catch up with those sailors since they got back and suffer post Panto Blues…now we are just desperate for Half Term- remember those, Em? Only a week to go!
    Great reading, keep it up! lots of love and hugs from all in Totnes xxxx

  4. Rosy says:

    Sounds fab guys – although must seem a long time ago now! Leo and I got the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and loved the little bunk beds! Did my bike CBT today – nowhere near your ‘pro’ riding, but little steps…. xxxx

  5. Angi says:

    Hi James and Emily! Still coming to check out your adventures :) sounds like you guys are doing great. I love reading your stories. Sailing trip sounded awesome!! Take care…

    Angi (and Aric) from DC

  6. julian says:

    Hi bestbaby(3) and James.
    Just accessed your site for first time in a while and have only read this day’s blog so will now work backwards! Again we are so glad that the sail trip was able to be organised for your time in Phuket and it was brilliant to see you again.
    More superb writing from you. Will now dive back into it.
    Lots of love from dadincarib X

  7. Darren says:

    James and I never did end up beating Lizzie’s water speed record. Missing your company.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Haha, I knew it! Ah well, chin up boys-we can’t all be naturals at the seafaring life… (definitely noooo a fluke)
    I well wanted to be joining in with that whole sailing portion of the trip-it looked much fun to be sure.
    Btw, I just read dad’s ‘sign out name’ as ‘dadinacrib’ and thought he might be trying to get onto some MTV programme or something!
    Can’t wait to hear more xx

  9. Mama/Kate says:

    Ha. Next news it’ll be muminamanger!
    Loved your account of the sailing. So glad we got to do that with you – you’re such great company. Darren, too. Great to see first-hand how well and happy you are.
    Lovemamainthegardenxxxxxxx

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