Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back to The Salt Mines

The boat is on the hard at Phithak Shipyard, Chelibang, Thailand near Satun. Definitely not on the tourist trail across Thailand. The shipyard is up a creek off a river on the Thai coast NE of Langkawi, Malaysia. 

They have traditionally catered to the Thai fishing fleet but over the last several years have moved into doing work on yachts. They have a well earned reputation for doing beautiful work hull painting and interior/exterior carpentry at prices cheaper than Phuket and far, far less expensive than could be found in the western world. The people are very sweet and dedicated and there's a little English spoken. The flip side is that there's no developed yacht service industry around the yard. If the yard doesn't  have something the great easter egg hunt begins.

I got into Langkawi on the 5th and brought the boat over to Phithak and hauled out on the 9th. Cresswell Walker, author, cruiser, statesman, bon vivant helped me bring it over. That made things a lot more fun. Since that time I've settled into the area. The boat will be all ripped apart inside, not habitable. Basic accommodation is available in Satun about 20 km from the yard.  My place has hot water and  television and  I even have two English language channels, the golf channel and the soccer channel. I've rented a motorcycle for transport and bought the very best helmet I could find.

 I buggered the aft transmission seal pulling the prop shaft. That little screw up is going to cause me some grief. The nice new prop I had carried with me half way round world proved to have the wrong shaft taper. What fun. So a ferry trip back to Langkawi was necessary to ship the prop via FedEx back to the company who, this time, knows what prop to send back to me. But that was a chance to see Glen, Marilyn and Jaryd from 'Tin Soldier' and Steve and Linda from 'Linda'. These are dear friends who we've cruised with across the Pacific and we won't see them for quite awhile. It was a fun time but a sad goodbye. Tin Soldier is flying home for a year or so and Linda is headed across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and then home, eventually.

So now the work is progressing. We'll have the teak decks removed, faired, glassed over and painted with non-skid. There will be some interior carpentry done. There will be a bottom job and I'll install the new prop and a new prop shaft seal. Now I may end up rebuilding a transmission.  I've got the rig ready to pull. The bottom job is under way. The interior work is going well. 

The rig will be pulled in a few days and they'll build a shed over the boat to protect from rain. Then the deck work will begin. Every bit of deck hardware will be removed before painting and replaced afterwards. The whole thing should take a couple months. So far I'm pleased with the work I've seen but the organizational pace is slower than in the west. I've been here eight days and we don't yet have a definite schedule for a crane to pull the rig, etc.

There is also a very nice group of dedicated yachties having work done at the yard. These are nice folks from all over the world and if someone doesn't know something it's pretty sure someone else will know and will be available with advice and help. Besides that they're a lot of fun. The Thai and Burmese laborers at the yard are nice and hard working. The skilled people are very skilled. They do have a lot to learn about yacht equipment and hanging around supervising is a very good idea. 

My daily ride out to the yard in the cool of the morning is through miles and miles of rubber plantation. The small villages on the river are very Muslim and oriented towards Malaysia and fishing. Satun is a little more typical of rural Thailand and at the edge of a range of limestone karst hills.  It's very jungly and there are monkeys along the roads. By mid morning the heat has arrived and most days it's in the nineties. By mid afternoon the towering cumulus have built into isolated thunderstorms and when it rains it comes like someone has opened a giant faucet.  There are many, many local places to eat and drink and some who cater to the small western community. Increasingly the yachties from the yard are becoming a factor in the local economy. There are a few foreign expats who are very nice and a few sad old derelicts.

 Every day I learn a little more about this place. Most of the time I'm having fun but I miss Janet a lot. About  0400 any morning the job ahead seems pretty daunting but each day seems to bring some progress. It will be a very big event when the boat goes back in water all rigged up, spiffy and polished. I'll keep you posted.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet

Friday, March 4, 2011

Return from Earth: Southern Cross

Leaving home felt like going to a knife fight.  With a feeling like a big lump of lead in the stomach. Like saddling up to go out on a little walk in the night.  Why? I don't know. Does home seem a little more precious as we get older? Janet is so sweet, if she doesn't make it to the boat any sooner than we plan it will be the longest we've ever been apart. I didn't get to see some friends I wanted to see or spend enough time with some I did. Not enough time with family. My golf game sucks. Depressing. Whatever.

It was 6AM and chilly and rainy and the Horizon Q400 I was on from Arcata to LAX was mildly uncomfortable, too cold, no pillows, no blankets, running a little late. The day before I had finally got around to putting some music on my iPod. Last season I made a disastrous botch of syncing it with the laptop. That  spastic technical spasm cost me about 55 gigs of stored music, gone forever.  I was looking at heading out for months with the only tune I had aboard being Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue". So Janet had a bunch of music on her computer that she got from an Aussie friend in Bundaberg. I didn't even know what was there but I synced up and downloaded about 15 gigs and finally got around to looking at it on the way to LAX. Looked at 'artists', quite a nice list actually, and there was Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  Looked at 'songs' and there was "Southern Cross", every cruisers anthem and high on my list of greatest songs ever.

Ah yes...."Got outa town on a boat for the southern Islands"....yep, we've all done that.."sailing a reach, before a following sea" ..a good start..."she was making for the trades on the outside".....but it's not the tropics yet...."and the downhill run to Papeete"....forget the reality, is there a name which congers up more romance than "Papeete"? ......."off the wind on this heading lie the Marquesas"....Fatu Hiva, one of the greatest landfalls ever..." we got eighty feet of waterline, nicely making way"....yeah, probably a big ol' wooden schooner......"in a noisy bar in Avalon I tried to call you"....wonder which one that was?....."but on a midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away"....a heartbreak....most of us have been there a time or two.

And the song goes on, if you aren't familiar with it you probably aren't reading this blog. But what a song! Adventure, escape, romance, desire, mystery, heartbreak, renewal and rebirth, with an edge, what more needs to be said?

So now I'm in 'World Business Class'  (read First Class)  on a Delta (old Northwest) 747, a little perk from years of slaving in their service.  At 35000' intense sun is coming in through the windows. I'm warm and cozy  looking down on scattered cumulus and a big sea. There's plenty of wind on the surface and a well organized swell, both from the northwest. It would be a good day to make time towards Papeete. With a little luck I'll be in Malaysia and back on the boat tomorrow and beginning to begin the long planned projects. There are many trade offs in the cruising life style. There is loneliness. There are hassles and frustrations and the usual crap from life. But there is, in abundance, adventure, escape, romance, desire, mystery, rebirth and renewal. Plenty of reason to keep coming back for more and, once in awhile, singing along to "Southern Cross".

Love to all,
Bill & Janet