Thursday, January 31, 2008

Season 4 Photo Journals

Season 4 Route

Indonesia to Thailand Sailing

Australia Driving and Sailing

Continue reading "Season 4 Photo Journals"...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Passage Blurbs: Thailland to Maldives

View Map of Location

Uligan Atoll, Maldives: 58 Feet in Sand
Trip Summary - 1581 nM, 290 hours, Ave 5.4 Knots
Nautical Miles to Date - 23,611

Outer Anchorage

Route from Thailand to Maldives

Night 12 - Jan 28, 2008

1495 nM down - 40 nM to go Slow Calm Day - Slow Sailing to Arrive Tomorrow AM See Blog: Passage Making

KT kicking it
Night 10 - AIS Sandwich - Jan 26, 2008

1287 nM down - 245 nM to go Light Wind on the Nose - Motoring

Billabong Sandwich: from our new AIS system
The Arrows are container ships tracks
Billabong (+ with Rings) length:12m speed: 5kt
Port- Tanker length: 340m speed:15kt
Starboard- Container length: 272m speed: 22kt

Night 8 - Jan 24, 2008

1062 nM down - 464 nM to go

Playing with Dolphins

Night 7 - Jan 23, 2008

910 nM down - 615 nM to go

B-Day Feast: Sashimi and Brownies

Night 5 - Jan 21, 2008

594 nM down - 931 nM to go

Caught FOUR Tuna at Once Kept Two - Freezer is Full

Night 3 - Jan 19, 2008

340 nM down - 1192 nM to go

Mahi-Mahi and Ice Cream

Continue reading "Passage Blurbs: Thailland to Maldives"...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Passage Making

Current Location: Indian Ocean (underway from Thailand to Maldives)
Current Position: 05 59.4 N 079 39.3 E
Next Destination: Maldives

Ahhhh. The joys of passage making. The fresh sea air, crystal blue oceans, all the open space, and endless amounts of time. NOT! Try, motion sickness, headaches, never ending noise (either from the waves, winds, rigging, or sails), sleep deprived days, and endless amounts of boredom. I am not a sailor, and after four years of cruising can honestly and accurately state that I will never be one. I endure because it is a means to an end, but that doesn't mean there is an inkling of joy. Because of this it always entertains me to meet true, hearty, love-to-sail, sailors. I don't believe there are many of them, while most of us don't love passages, few hate them as I do, but few also relish in them. On this passage we are traveling with a couple who I believe actually enjoy the passage, even look forward to it. For a few days we were in VHF range with Uhuru, and Rudy (the husband of said couple), would call us occasionally to say hi. He sounded as though he was ready to spout rows of poetry at any minute. Ahhhh, he would say in his thick accent, this is beautiful, so beautiful, we have wind and are sailing, and ahh it is just wonderful. And he would say this as I watched their little 27 foot (yes, two-seven FEET) boat roll from side to side, just watching made me feel like hurling. They have no refrigeration and attempt to keep their boat light, so Chris and I spent much of our time pondering what they eat on passage since we know they hadn't done a major provision like us. When they caught a fish Rudy would call and tell us about the succulent meal they had. And when they caught extra fish, they salted them and set them out to dry. Rudy called as the sun was setting one evening to report, "this was a most magnificent day, I just took a perfect photograph, with freshly salted fish still dripping from the lifelines, dolphins playing beneath, and the white caps of the waves in the background." Then he sighed with what sounded to me like full contentment. While I didn't share his enthusiasm he did make me smile, and I could almost imagine that maybe I too was enjoying myself.

The one thing I can agree with Rudy on is the fishing. Finally, after the fishing drought of Indonesia, we are enjoying catching something other than plastic bags! On our third day out we caught a 1-1.5 meter Mahi Mahi. Fresh fish tacos at last. Then on the evening of the next day, just as the sun was setting, all three lines went - bam, Bam, BAM! We've got three fish, Chris yelled, as I started clearing cushions away. He unhooked the first (a yellowfin tuna) and threw it into our fish bag. He was dropping the line back in the water (to get it out of the way while we pulled in the other two), when BAM another tuna hooked on! The hook was only a few feet from the stern, he hadn't even finished letting the line back out. This was a true feeding frenzy! After that he left the lines piled in the cockpit rather than throwing them back in. We kept two of the four tuna, and I was a happy camper eating sashimi the next day at lunch. We didn't fish for the next couple of days, waiting for room in the freezer to open up, but with three to four days left till we reach the Maldives we are at it again, and I have no doubt Chris will reel in something tasty.

The tuna came in handy for Chris' birthday as well. On the 23rd we had a birthday celebration with heaps of sashimi followed by some warped brownies (brownies don't set too evenly when baked in a moving boat, they come out looking a bit like a topography map of the ocean floor).

And then came probably the most tiring night of the passage. As we came by Sri Lanka (where we didn't stop because of civil unrest), the shipping traffic was amazing. Huge freighters everywhere. We would've preferred to pass the area in the day, but as it was we were in the thick of things around 10pm and through to the morning. I took first watch, with Chris telling me to wake him for anything at all. I should explain that I'm not very good with freighters, especially at night. There is something about their lighting scheme that causes me trouble with figuring out how far away they are, and more importantly whether I'm in their way! Chris had only been down for about 30 minutes when he heard me turn the radar on. He asked if I was okay and I said there was a light that looked close but I couldn't see it on the radar and would he mind looking. One look and he said, That ship? It's miles away! He turned on the computer and the AIS (a very-nice-to-have ship tracking unit) and sure enough it was 12 nautical miles away. But it was sooo bright! As Chris went back to bed he commented, this is going to be a looong night!!! After that I managed okay on my first watch, now having a sense for the distance of all the lights on the horizon.

A few hours later, about one hour into Chris' watch I woke up and could hear him yelling. I had one ear plug in so I couldn't make out what he was saying, but I also noticed a bright light shining into our boat. I jumped up and rushed out, realizing at the same time that his voice didn't sound stressed, and he was saying, "No, no smokey, sorry". I put on a shirt and asked if everything was alright, yes he said, just a couple of fisherman. They stayed another few minutes asking again, "Smokey-smokey? Beer?", to which we replied no. By now my heart was back to a normal beating pattern and Chris and I had a good laugh over the visit. Probably the only three English words the fisherman know are; Smokey, Beer, and Fish. Throughout Indonesia and on into the area we will be traveling into, fisherman like to scope-out vessels going by. Curiosity, the chance for freebies, and probably boredom, send them buzzing like mosquitoes to a light towards yachts. If you aren't expecting it (and even sometimes when you are) it can be disconcerting; a fast approaching, unlit boat racing at you in the middle of the night. But in the end they tend to be very friendly and full of smiles (even if it is midnight). I think that a lot of the bad press some waters get is from such events. Even a boat ahead of us reported back a couple of weeks ago that they had been approached and had to turn on the engine to, as they put it, get away. Our guess is that it was just a curious fisherman taking a look and that the cruisers didn't 'get away' from anything. But it is hard not to be paranoid when you are out here alone, and perhaps the fisherman would be more successful at getting some freebies if they approached at more appropriate hours!

At about 4am I was back on watch. About an hour into my watch more lights appeared in front of us. I watched them for a bit; I could figure out the general direction they were traveling, but was having trouble (as usual) with the distance. I'm sure it's a good 10 miles out, I thought. But I figured I'd give the radar a look anyway (the lights did look a little bright). Chris, of course, heard the radar go on and asked if I wanted him to look. I told him no, that I thought it was pretty far away and was only double checking. About that time the radar had finished its warm up and I said, "OH, it's closer than I thought, only 2 miles away!" Chris got out of bed, looked out the cockpit and said, "Um, go starboard, now!" We went as far starboard as we could (we were already tight on the wind), and Chris looked at the AIS. About the same time the huge shape of the ship took form in a dark, massive way. Yep, I was just a wee bit too close for comfort. It was no dramas, we missed him, and neither of us panicked, but it puzzles Chris (and myself) how I can't tell the difference between a boat 12 miles away and one only 2 miles away! At that point we decided just to leave the AIS running, and boy did it make my life easier. I told Chris it's a good thing we didn't encounter this much shipping traffic in our first year of cruising, otherwise I might not still be out here! In our first three years of cruising (up until Australia) we hardly ever saw a thing out here, and now, on an hourly basis we see more ships than in all those years of cruising. Anyway, I'm so glad we have the AIS system, I'm guessing it will save us both a few grey hairs!

As I write this it is just after lunch on Friday. We are now close enough (about 410 miles) that I've started working out the math, on how much longer it will take pending various speeds. We've had good wind almost the entire trip, up, of course, until now. Now it is on the nose and quite light. On top of that we have a current against us. Boats last week reported terrific positive currents and so we've been looking forward to them since leaving, but have yet to find this magical current. I was quite excited this morning because all we had to average was 5.4 knots and we could arrive by the end of Sunday. That should be so easy, especially if we have current with us. But, alas, things don't look good, we are now barely making 4 knots, and since we aren't on course (thanks to the crappy wind direction), we are really only making 3.5 knots towards our destination, and are over 12 miles off course (by the way upon waking Saturday morning we were more tha 22 miles off course). At this rate we'll be lucky to arrive by Tuesday afternoon! Ah, yes, the joys of sailing!
Continue reading "Passage Making"...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nai Harn

View Map of Location

33 Feet Good Holding
New dinghy dock to help get ashore

Nice Beach + Resort

Continue reading "Nai Harn"...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Day at the Grocery Store

Current Location: Nai Han Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand
Current Position: 07 46.57 N 98 18.05 E
Next Location: Passage to Maldives (potential start: Jan 17, 2007)

Everyone thinks we've got it easy. That life aboard Billabong is one big vacation. Non-cruisers laugh or give us "the look" when we mention that we had a tough day, or that we have too much "work" to do. Okay, I'll agree that we've got it pretty good, but it's not all strawberries and pink champagne.

We don't write much about our day-to-day chores or mundane tasks. We figure that complaining about how tough life is will only lead to a rolling of the eyes or bore the few dedicated visitors that we have. But on this occasion we bring to you a day at the grocery store, just to give you a taste of the other side of our life!

First imagine YOUR day at the grocery store. Nobody loves going, but it's not that bad; hop in the car, drive to the nice, big, air conditioned, one-stop grocery store, buy everything you need, roll it out to the car, drive it home, and carry it the few steps from the garage to the kitchen, where there is ample cupboard space awaiting. Fairly simple, definitely straight forward, and no big dramas. Alright then, let's see how our day went.

We were lucky enough to score a rental car. This being the high-season, most cars were rented out, but prices were high (for Thailand anyway). We arranged a truck with a covered back (as we needed to drop of our settee cushions for repair) to be delivered to Nai Han Beach between 8:30 and 9:00am. While I waited with the heaps of stuff we had brought in Chris went to meet the guy bringing the car. We couldn't believe our luck. Most of the rentals we had been in or seen in Thailand were barely running pieces of crap. The truck we ended up with was in premium condition, had a terrific air conditioner, and a working radio to boot. On top of that, the guy was actually on time and had arranged his own ride back so we didn't have to drop him off anywhere. Our day was off to a good start.

We were happy to have a truck for the extra protection and safety for driving around Phuket. We have driven is some crazy places, but nowhere has been as bad as Thailand. There are no rules. Cars and scooters will drive in any lane they want, change lanes without looking, and even drive against the traffic on the wrong side of the road. You have to be aggressive and confident, otherwise you'll find yourself stuck at a turn for hours waiting for a chance to enter the flow of traffic. Road signs and traffic lights are only suggestions, not requirements. Red light? No worries, just zoom on through if you can make it without getting creamed! We almost took out one scooter when he passed us on the right while Chris was making a right hand turn … Chris had done everything right; slowly braked, moved to the right edge of the lane (leaving room for cars and scooters to go around us on the left), turned on his right blinker and then began making the right turn, and still this guy tries to zoom by us on the right! Luckily Chris saw the scooter out of the corner of his eye and braked just in time.

The first thing you have to know when provisioning in smaller foreign countries is that there is no such thing as running to 'the' store. Not if you want the majority of items on your list. On average we visit at least three stores when doing a major provision. Our fist stop was Super Cheap. A huge warehouse-like store where all the locals shop. Super Cheap is great because since it's a "local" store the prices haven't been marked up. On the downside, it's not as clean as Farang (white-person/tourist) stores, has no air-conditioning, and is contaminated with a ripe fishy smell from the meat section. The most difficult thing though is that there is no English to be seen or heard. Most the time it's not a big deal, I can recognize the brand, or figure out the contents by looking at the picture on the can. But it does take longer, and many times it's hard to be 100% sure that you really are buying what you think you're buying. The one item I finally gave up on was dark soy sauce. The soy sauce isle was huge. At least 20-30 different brands with about 10 different types per brand, and here's a product that truly doesn't have any pictures or English to help out. I found the white soy and the normal soy, but couldn't figure out which one might be dark soy. One of the workers kept smiling at me as I went from bottle to bottle, but in the end the best he could do to help was to tell me "Soy-a-sauce" … yeah I got that. Finally I figured it wasn't worth saving 50 Baht for … I'd just buy it at a Farang store where there would be some English. The one upside about shopping in foreign countries is that you get really excited when you find the EXACT thing you are looking for. When Chris came back to the cart he had 15 packages of the coffee we like with him - I gave him a huge smile and shouted out "You Scored!". I never recall getting so excited when grocery shopping in America.

We checked out, loaded up the car (it was nice to have rented a car and not have to lug everything onto a bus), and then were off to the next store. Our next stop was Macro. Another warehouse type store (where everything is individually packaged, but then sold in large quantities). Macro is a much more pleasant experience than Super Cheap in that it doesn't smell, is cleaner, and has a wee bit of air-con. While a lot of locals shop at Macro it also caters to Farangs, so there is some written English and a few of the workers speak a bit of English. They didn't have as much as we'd thought they'd have, so we realized that we would be adding a fourth stop to our plan.

Tops was third our list. A real Farang shop, in a high-end Farang Mall – with horrible parking. It took us about 30 minutes to find a spot - round and round the lot we drove, avoiding people and cars who didn't bother to look. Luckily it was Monday, we'd heard that the weekends are even worse. Double parking is allowed - there are signs in Thai and English that even give the rules for double parking; leave the wheels straight, the parking brake off, and the car in neutral. Then when a person needs to get out, they just push your car forward or backwards so that they can back out! Because the Central Mall and Tops cater mostly to Farangs it is fully air conditioned and quite clean. In Tops all the tags are in both Thai and English. The mall itself contains common American stores (like Gap, Bebe, Warner Brothers, etc). The huge downside is that everything is marked up. Even identical products cost more here than they do at Super Cheap or Macro … but hey, at least you know that you are indeed buying tuna and not mackerel or some other meat concoction!

Finally, after running a few other errands, we were ready to tackle our fourth market … Testco. Testco is in another mall and caters to a mix of Thais and Farangs, so most things are tagged in both languages, and prices aren't marked up as much as Tops (but still higher then 'local' markets). We loaded up on the final items that we couldn't find elsewhere, and were finally ready to call it a day. It can be a little depressing when you look at your shopping list and notice that about 25% of the items still aren't marked off. This, however, is normal. When I make the list I put down everything I WISH we could buy (within some realms of reason), of course it's all a pipe dream as there isn't a country we've been to where I've managed to find everything. And now that I have favorite food items from a variety of countries I have a feeling that even back home there will be items I won't be finding!

We've now spent a whole day grocery shopping, moving from one crowded store to the next, attempting to decipher foreign labeled foods, and dealing with crazy Thai driving in between. We are both exhausted and I can think of nothing better than sitting back with a cold drink. But we still aren't even close to being finished. I long for a garage where I could leave the groceries in the car till the next morning … or maybe even on the kitchen floor. Instead we return to Nai Han Beach, where at least we are lucky enough to have been able to tie the dinghy up to a floating dock (much easier then launching a full dinghy through the surf from the beach). First we unload the zillions of bags worth of food from the car to the top of the steps leading down to the dock. Next we go back and forth, back and forth, lugging bag after bag from the steps down the dock. Then Chris gets in the dinghy and I hand the bags over to him. With every transfer we try to remember which bags have the heavy squash-able items and which backs contain the bread, eggs, and other items you wish to get to the boat in a somewhat familiar shape. We are impressed that we've managed to fit everything into the dinghy for one trip (we thought for sure that this would be a two or three dinghy trip grocery run) – mind you, the dinghy is nearly sinking and bags are stacked quite high. I climb over everything and off we go. With all the weight every little ripple in the bay sends some spray into the dinghy and we can only hope that nothing is getting wet that can't handle it. Finally we are back to Billabong. I hop off and stand at the stern while Chris hands up the bags and I place them in the cockpit (what, are we on transfer #5 now?). Then, almost done, it's me down below, with Chris handing bags down from the cockpit. At long last everything is aboard. Unfortunately because we are at anchor, and especially because this anchorage has been known to get rolly, I can not just leave the bags and boxes for tomorrow. But there are no roomy cupboards awaiting -- just small spaces that have to manipulated and pieced together like a puzzle in order for everything to fit (and not break underway). I spend a few hours unpacking and packing, moving, shifting, storing, cleaning and organizing, before I'm just too beat to finish. I figure I've put away all the breakable items and have placed the other stuff in canvas bags under the table, so even if a swell comes in or there is some emergency where we have to move the boat, things are stored well enough and out of the way. At last I can enjoy that cold drink!!! Of course it is also well past dinner time and we are both starving, but one of the additional errands we ran was filling the propane tanks, so the bottle is not currently hooked up, and anyway, I'm to beat to cook. Croissants and Nutella it is!!!

It takes me another almost full day to get everything stored. The most amazing thing is that everything actually fit. Chris always comments that he can't believe how much stuff I can squeeze in!

So now you know that it's not an endless vacation out here, but I'll tell you what we do have – a terrific trade-off. It might take us two full days to grocery shop, and sure we don't get everything we'd love to have, but there is no question that in return we get one hell of a good time!!!

Continue reading "A Day at the Grocery Store"...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Years Patong Thailand

Patong Anchorage
Current Location: Nai Harn Bay, Thailand
Current Position: 07 46.57' N 98 18.00' E

There are some things that you must do at least once. That was our thought when we headed for Ao Patong for New Years. We had been warned about the crowds of tourist and the lack of any control whats-so-ever, but according to some friends it is the place to be in Thailand for New Year's, as it really goes off.

On first sight, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was the first thought that crossed my mind. A huge cruise ship was anchored in the bay, with a few smaller cruise-charter ships nearby. The anchorage had at least 60 yachts anchored (with more yachts coming in behind us). Jet Skies, ferries, local long-tail boats, and seaplanes zoomed around coming and going in every direction. A few high-rise hotels loomed over the umbrella-clad beaches.

Ashore hordes of tourist swarmed, ate, sun bathed, and meandered. Skin, skin, and more skin glistened in the hot sun. It was as though there was a competition to see who could wear the least amount of clothing without being fully naked. The streets were lined with trinket shops, restaurants, bars, and more bars. You could get a knock-off for anything here, DVD's, clothing, sunglasses, handbags, and jewelry. As you walked locals thrust pamphlets at you, "good food, two for one drinks, need a suit?, you need tuk-tuk?, taxi-taxi, you want Rolex?, we give you good price, and so on. You couldn't walk more than two steps without someone trying to sell you something.

Of course the first place we hit wasn't a restaurant, shop, or bar. Oh no there was a much, much more exciting place for us cruisers. The Carrefour. A huge French supermarket. I was soooo excited when I heard there was a Carrefour within walking distance. As promised it was huge (and air-conditioned). But I wasn't ready for how crowded it was. Most our time was spent maneuvering around people and carts rather than shopping. One thing we have observed, especially in Singapore and Thailand, and I realize that this is a HUGE stereotype because of course the entire culture is not truly like this, is that in this region, locals seem to only be aware of their own space. They could care less if they park their cart in the middle of the isle blocking everyone and causing a huge pile up. They will cut you off, run into you, and cut in line, as though no one else exists. "Excuse me" doesn't seem to work, they either ignore you, or give you a small glance, then move an inch (not enough to actually allow you through), and then when you slightly bump them (as there is no other way to get by) they give you the evil eye, no matter how much you apologize. It is an experience, and one that really tries your patience. But what is truly ironic is that they are only like this in crowds (walking crowded streets, shopping, buses, trains, etc). When talking with them or alone they are the friendliest, most polite people I've ever met. I just don't get it.

Anyway, we managed to survive the grocery run and returned to Billabong for lunch. The anchorage was crazy. The pleasure boats used the yachts like a slalom course, weaving in and out. The boat rolled and rocked with each boat that passed, and you had to yell to be heard over the noise. After lunch we decided to head back in for some knock-off shopping and people gawking. Neither of us really enjoys the haggling and bargaining that must be done when shopping. It's a nuisance, and you know that no matter how low you get the price you are probably still getting screwed. I'd much prefer old fashioned, non-negotiable, price tags. That said, I do enjoy be able to afford Billabong clothing (even if they are knock-offs). After a couple of hours we decided we'd had enough haggling and needed to return to the boat for a rest if we were going to make it till midnight.

In order to save fuel and make our dinghy less desirable for theft, we tend to use our small 2-horse outboard engine when we don't have far to go or have to carry the dinghy up the beach a long ways. The downside is that we just putt-putt along and can't really get out of the way of anything very quickly. As we were making our way back to Billabong two jet skis came zooming around a yacht, weaving and laughing, and not paying attention. One of the guys was looking at his friend saying something and not looking at where he was going, which was right for us. Chris tried to turn away, but of course they were coming fast and we were barely moving. Luckily the guy's friend saw us and said something and at the last minute the jet skier turned right. He came within inches of hitting us, and sent a flood of water into the dinghy soaking us. As you can imagine neither of us were very pleased and a wee-bit of yelling took place. The jet skier did slow down and look at us before speeding away, continuing to weave and going entirely too fast for a crowded anchorage. He didn't even yell sorry, let alone come over to apologize. Chris would've gone after him, to what purpose who knows, but our little engine catching a jet ski would've been a joke. I understand the joy of a jet ski, heck I'll even go as far to say that I enjoy playing on one, but what I don't get is what about them turns reasonable people into thoughtless pricks. The bay we were in is HUGE; joy riders could easily go beyond the boats and then zoom around trying to kill each other to their hearts content. But within the anchorage there our local boats, people swimming, dinghies, and such chaos; why play there, endangering yourself and others??? Friends have actually seen a jet skier fly, out of control, into the side of a steel yacht, splitting his chest open in the process! I could go on and on about this, but what's the point, the important thing is that we weren't hit and thankfully all our bones remain whole and intact.

Around 8pm we headed ashore for dinner and the evening festivities. At night the main drag is closed off to cars. Already the streets were crowded. We found an out-of-the-way restaurant where we enjoyed (yet another) outstanding Thai meal. During dinner we people watched. The first thing you notice about the people in this area of Thailand is the number of white male - Thai woman couples. Especially younger women with older men. We had noticed it a bit in the islands, but in the Phuket province these mixed couples are everyone. There are a number of theories as to why the Thai women go for the older white male, everything from status to money to a preference in physique. The mixed couples aren't so surprising but the difference in age in some of the couples is shocking.
Locals walked the streets selling trinkets and some funky colorful hats. I thought it would be fun to have one (kind of like a souvenir for later) and Chris was sport enough to actually wear it; even after I couldn't stop laughing! We tried to ask if they had any special meaning, but we know no Thai and the locals only spoke a word or two of English, so all we learned is that they come from northern Thailand, and are funny-looking hats!!! We call it the Thai Happy Hat.

After dinner we hooked up with friends at an Irish bar, and then made our way to the Tiger Bar. The Tiger Bar is a huge long room with multiple bars. In the back girls dance on the bars and around poles. It is considered a 'girlie bar', but not like what you would find in the States for two reasons. First, it's against the law to strip or go naked, so all the girls are covered (although just barely). Secondly, there is a very, very large chance that the girl you might be checking out is actually a male (or girl-boy as they are called here). And no, you probably can't tell!!! It is hugely entertaining trying to decide who is female and who is male, and even more entertaining watching the male patrons goggle over the dancers; especially the ones that you know are girl-boys. There was one dancer at our bar that we just couldn't decide, the vote amongst our group was split 50-50 between female and girl-boy. Larger hands and feet leaned towards girl-boy. But the narrow waist with perfectly curved hips made us think pure girl. The face was hard because some features seemed pure female while others made you think girl-boy. Chris was convinced girl-boy but I was convinced girl-girl; at least until right as we were getting ready to leave. A group of young men came in and ordered drinks. The main goal of the dancers is to get you to buy more drinks (including drinks for them) and to stay longer. So, when fresh meat enters, the dancers swarm over to flirt, talk, and show some skin. Our dancer-in-question went over and sat on one of the guy's lap. They talked and flirted and at some point they kissed, full on major make-out. When the man was looking away the dancer looked at me and put her finger to her lips in an 'shhhh' motion, and then winked. My guess at the meaning was "hee hee you know, but he doesn't don't give away my secret another clueless tourist hooked!!!" The really funny thing about all this is that anyone who visits Thailand, and especially Patong, has to know that girl-boys are a HUGE thing and that they are everywhere. Even Lonely Planet mentions it. So when you enter a girlie bar you know that at least 50%, if not more, of the women are really girl-boys. That being said, you'd think you'd be a bit more careful about whom you went around making out with!

As midnight approached we made our way through the crowded streets to the beach. It was crazy .. thousands of people everywhere. And thousands of traditional lanterns floated in the sky, mesmerizing us. It was as though a new galaxy had been created. The lanterns are about waist or chest high - thin paper shaped with wire over a ring that is lit on fire. The air beneath the paper canopy heats, and the lantern soars into the sky. Once in the sky they are a sight to be seen, but it's not as easy, or safe as it sounds. Thousands upon thousands of people line the beaches, and at least a hundred of these are trying to send up a lantern, a flaming torch. And it is not always successful. First you have to have a bit of patience, waiting for the air to become sufficiently hot. Second, you need to wait for a lull in the wind so that the lantern has a chance to rise a bit before the wind takes it sideways. More than one lantern came blowing over the tops of people's heads, sometimes catching the paper on fire - creating a flaming ball that bumped from person to person! Usually some drunkard, chasing it down, trying to catch it before it caught something or someone on fire, followed it! Chris and I tried to launch two, but both of ours ended up falling into the surf (at least we didn't catch anyone of fire)! The lanterns are supposed to be good luck (you make a wish as you send it off), so it's hard to not be discouraged when your good luck lantern goes plummeting into the sea, but Chris and I took it well and aren't reading too much into our lack of success.

On top of watching your back for wayward lanterns you also have to keep a keen eye out for rogue fireworks. There are no laws about fireworks here, anyone and everyone can buy them and set them off. Not only that but most of the drunkards were going for maximum startle effect, meaning setting them off near the crowds so they could watch everyone jump! In addition to random, private fireworks, at midnight a firework show went off. There was no coordination, no theme, no real rhyme or reason to anything, but it was amazing nonetheless, especially with the thousands of lit lanterns floating in the background. There was something about the unorganized feel, the chaotic energy, and the lack of rules that made the firework show amazing. More than once, Chris and I have said to each other, "Can you imagine this being allowed in the States?" New Year's in Patong was another such event.

We ended our evening with Nutella Crepes from a street vendor, and called it a relatively early night (compared to the masses that continued to party). Throughout the night we'd hear an occasional firework go off. Even the next morning, when Chris went in to get us McDonald's for breakfast, a few stragglers were still setting off fireworks! And the most amazing thing, by 9 am the streets had already been swept clean - you'd never know the madness that had gone on the night before.

Hectic. Crazy. Crowded. Pure Madness; and one of our best New Year's aboard Billabong!
Continue reading "New Years Patong Thailand"...

Around Thailand Route and Blurbs

Our route around Thailand

Nai-Harn Anchorage

New Years at Patong

Dec 27th Ao-Chalong

Dec 26 Koh Hong

Dec 26 James Bond Area

Dec 24 Tham Phra Nang Krabi

Dec 24 Koh Dam Hok

Dec 24 Koh Dam Khwan

Dec 23 Phi Phi Don

Dec 23 Phi Phi Le Coral Garden

Dec 22 Phi Phi Le

Dec 20 Koh Muk

Dec 19 Koh Phetra

Dec 18 Ao Pante

Continue reading "Around Thailand Route and Blurbs"...