Pattaya Memoires 13
13. Rock the boat
Last month I met some old friends on a 6-week trip to Thailand. Ron is one of them. He is 57 years of age and went to Thailand for the first time some time in the mid 80s and has lived for 4 years in the Kingdom on a retirement visa, about 10 km outside Pattaya City. Although Ron is 17 years older than I am, we get along very well. We have the same roots. Ron told me before about his boat and his passion for sailing and that he has a boat. His boat was a German rescue vessel once, which was to be used to evacuate people from a large ship in case of an emergency. Ron rebuilt it into a leisure boat. He did a great job. How this vessel got to Thailand, we don’t know. Ron bought it a couple of years ago in Pattaya. He invited me on a boat trip to Ko Chang and of course I did not refuse this offer from my friend. The Pattaya bar scene gets boring anyway after a while so something unexpected, new and challenging (I wish I did not use that word) was something I could use and would enjoy. Plan was that we would sail to Ko Chang together. Ron’s girlfriend would take the bus and ferry to the island and she would stay with him on the boat, while I would look for a hotel. We would go our own way in Ko Chang and I would return by bus because the boat was to stay there.
We had to wait before we could sail off because the boat was in a hangar somewhere along Sukhumvit road in Pattaya for maintenance and also to get the water pump of the outboard engine repaired. Once the maintenance and the engine reparation were done, we still could not sail because the Thai guy who was supposed to transport the boat to the pier in Jomtien on his trailer was visiting his family in the North-East for “a couple of days”, of course without informing his customers. At last, 8 days later the boat was ready to sail. We checked the weather forecast for the east Gulf of Thailand on the internet and everything looked fine, nothing to worry about. We were ready for a party. We went shopping for eggs and bacon to prepare in the morning, some other foods, coffee, a bottle of Smirnoff and 2 crates of San Migs. Ron estimated the duration of the trip would be about 18 hours. It would be fun, nothing could ever go wrong. We left the pier in Jomtien at 11 o’clock in the morning. Ron informed me there would be three of us. Ron, me, and a certain “Wilson”. Once in Jomtien I did not see anybody else but Ron and me. Then Ron said he had an autopilot on the boat he called Wilson, named after the soccer ball Tom Hanks talked to in the movie “Cast Away”. Wilson was his imaginary friend. He was joking about “Wilson” back when we were planning the trip, but I did not realize this and thought there would be a third man on the trip. Stupid, even more because I saw “Cast Away”, although many, many years ago. I did not remember the “Wilson” thing. He got me by the balls on this one!
The sea was quiet and we enjoyed the views. It was really relaxing to sail between the coastline and all those small but beautiful islands. We had a couple of drinks, some food, and chatted and laughed away. We told stories and had a great time. We encountered all kinds of ships on our way to Ko Chang. Fishing boats, tourist boats, speedboats, big oil tankers… but most impressive were the warships of the Thai navy near Sattahip.
A few months ago Ron was about to sail to Ko Samet. When he got near the Sattahip naval base, he was approached by a speedboat of the Thai navy and was told to get his ass back to Pattaya or wherever he came from, because the navy were doing naval combat exercises. No civilian vessels where allowed to pass. Luckily this time no exercises were going on. We saw two very big warships and a few smaller ones. Ron told me the Thai navy also has an aircraft carrier, but unfortunately we didn’t see it. We had powerful binoculars with us so we could really see the ships very well. I asked Ron if we could get close to one of the Thai warships but he didn’t want to do that. “Hell, if we get close maybe they might think we are Muslim terrorists trying to blow up their ship, I don’t want the Thai navy to fire at us and blow us to pieces”, Ron said. Well, let’s say he had a point there. It was better not to take any unnecessary risks. At a certain moment we were checking Wilson to see how far we were from the coastline. We still could see land at that point. Appeared we were at 5 km from the coast. While we were checking this we were not paying attention to our surroundings and a tugboat passed us at only 50 metres! Actually we saw this far too late. Wilson is a GPS / autopilot, but not a radar. I hope and I guess the tow has a radar, otherwise we could have ended up as food for the fish! Once we were “around the corner” past Sattahip in the direction Ko Chang, we did not see land anymore. The sea got wilder and the waves bigger. A heavy wind was coming up. This was not according to the weather forecast. Sailing became much more uncomfortable, to say the least. The boat tilted to the left side because of the strong wind. The waves were really playing with our small boat. The boat went up and down and it was a challenge to pour a glass of beer, to be true half of the bottle landed on the deck, fuck! On top of that, we had problems again with the engine, which was supposed to have been repaired. Before Ron checked the engine he told me to take the key out of the keyhole in case he fell in the water. That way the boat would stop and Ron would be able to swim to the boat. He could not repair the engine so we were forced to sail at half speed. Fxxx that very much. Ron phoned his friend ashore and this man informed us that we were in this shit because of a storm above China which caused a very rough sea in the Gulf of Thailand. Great, that was what we really hoped for! Night fell and the boat was rocking even more. More than we wished for, the front of the boat would hit a big wave causing a hard crash. It was extremely cold and more than often we got a splash of seawater over us. We were dressed like fxxxing Eskimos, but we were in Thailand, people back in Europe think we enjoy the warmth and the sun but we were shivering and freezing!! Can you imagine what it takes to take a piss on a small boat in a situation like that? We had to hang over to one side of the boat, cling on to one of the poles that carried the roof, and piss. Sounds easy, but on a rocking boat it wasn’t at all. As the boat was tilting to the left we pissed on right side, but at moments the boat could go from left to right in one second. I was taking a leak at such a bad moment and while I was pissing the boat swung to the right. It felt like I was going down under, cock first!! Shit man, I dreamt about taking a piss in X-Site, what a complete different experience. I could lie down on deck but sleeping was impossible. Ron could also lie down, but just for a couple of minutes, because every 10 minutes or so he had to take a look at the water to see if no ships were in our way. At some point we had to make a detour because 2 fishing boats were in front of us. Probably they were dragging a net between them. Ron did not know how deep the net was but he did not want to take the risk of getting the propeller of the engine strangled in a fishnet. I went inside the cabin to try to get some rest, but I noticed that all our stuff was wet! Ron forgot to close one of the small windows in the front so all our stuff was soaking wet. Fxxx that very much also! At a given moment in the middle of the night we heard a flapping noise coming from the side of the boat. The zodiac which was on top of the roof apparently came loose and risked coming off and being lost. Ron got to the side of the boat and started to try to tighten the zodiac to the roof again. This was not without risk! I kept an eye on him at all times, because if he fell into the water I would never hear it, the noise of the water against the boat and the howling wind prevented that. Fortunately, Ron is an experienced sailor and he knows his boat through and through.
After a very uneasy and restless night, finally dawn came. We had been on the boat for 19 hours by then and were completely exhausted. Our backsides hurt like hell. The sea still wasn’t any quieter, the weather hadn’t changed. It was impossible to make coffee or prepare eggs and bacon in the morning as we had planned. We had 5 more hours to go. It was a nightmare and time passed very slowly. Finally we reached Ko Chang after sailing for over 24 hours. We let down the anchor next to one of the 2 ferry ports. The boat cannot stay there, but Ron needed to make arrangements with an English friend of his to find an appropriate place for the boat. As the boat was still rocking up and down we wanted to get ashore ASAP. We put the zodiac in the water. When Ron tried to start the small outboard engine, the rope snapped. No problem, Ron has a backup for about everything on the boat so he has a second small outboard engine to replace the broken one. When trying to start that one, it didn’t work either. Then Ron realized he put the same oil in both engines while they need different kinds of oil. So much for the backup theory. We had to row to the shore. When arriving there we stepped out of the zodiac to pull it ashore. But the underground of the pier was very slippery so we both slipped and were standing up to our waist in the water. Problem was that I had my brand new smartphone on my belt. It got wet and was as dead as JFK. Fxxx that very much, damned!! When we pulled the zodiac ashore, Ron realized we were not at Centerpoint, but at the other ferry port. Plan was to go to Centerpoint because there we can rent a motorbike. No problem, we paid a woman at a drink stand 100 baht to look after the zodiac while we took a taxi to Centerpoint. There we both rented a motorbike. The 100 cc bikes had manual gear. I gave my passport as deposit, Ron his Thai driving license. I did not know Ko Chang at all. Ron advised me to shift the bike in 2nd gear when going up a mountain, if you go up in 4th you will stall. This appeared to be true so this advice was very important. I went with the bike over the mountain towards White Sands beach, were I rented a bungalow. My holiday in Ko Chang could finally begin… within a couple of hours of well deserved sleep, of course.
Thanks for reminding me why I don't like small boats!