New Year in Koh Mak

Koh Mak is one of the smaller islands off the south coast of Thailand near the Cambodian border. From what I can tell, Koh Mak’s economy is largely based on rubber plantations but like many of the islands around this area, expanding tourism is also starting to play an important role. A speed boat from the mainland leaves daily and makes Koh Mak an easy destination to get to. There are a number of resorts offering reasonably-priced accommodation and you can find everything from youth hostels to luxury bungalows. There are many beach bars and restaurants which serve fabulous food and tasty beverages whilst offering a chilled-out atmosphere in the tropical sunshine.

Motor boats offer fast transport to Koh Mak from the mainland

One of the many rubber plantations on the island

The first travel blog I read about Koh Mak was, unfairly I think, very uncomplimentary about the entire island. It described the beaches as ‘decent enough’ but nowhere near ‘good enough’ in comparison to other Thai islands when you’re looking for a true Thai tropical paradise. To be fair, I have never been to the neighbouring islands of Koh Kood or Koh Chang to compare, but I have been to enough stunning tropical islands that my level of beach snobbery is up there with the best, and I certainly wouldn’t discount Koh Mak as a place to visit based solely on its beaches. Even in the high season, the island is not overpopulated with tourists and it’s very easy to find your own deserted patch of white sandy beach with turquoise warm waters to swim in. I must admit that the snorkelling could have been a little better, but it’s possible to rent a kayak from one of the various resorts and paddle to small neighbouring islands which offer clearer waters and healthier coral reef for snorkelers to enjoy.

This beach is good enough for me

We rented a kayak for the day to explore some of the smaller peripheral islands

The ambience of the whole island was wonderful. For me it offered a characterful mix of peaceful, quiet relaxation with the vibrancy of night bars, markets and clubs for the times when I felt more energetic. Also, the best Thai massage I’ve ever had was in Koh Mak for the bank-breaking sum of 250baht an hour (about £5.50)!

Koh Mak is quite a small island and it’s easy to explore the whole thing in just a few days if you rent and bike or scooter. We visited the main view point overlooking the bay, a local Buddhist temple, various market stalls, piers and beaches and enjoyed the interesting art sculptures scattered around the place.

We rented a scooter for a few days

A lovely view of the bay from the highest point of the island

This is the evening view from the pier at Cococape beach bar

A sacred tree at the Buddhist temple

One of the four Buddhas

One of the interesting sculptures

New Year’s Eve was one of those wonderful evenings that ended up being unexpectedly fabulous. We’re all familiar with those New Years Eve events which are planned for months in advance, the expectations are wild and when it comes to crunch time – the result is a big fat disappointment. This year was not so! Despite some initial difficulties finding somewhere to have dinner, we ended up eating at our favourite pizza joint, followed by a visit to a fun beach bar where we danced to some great music and enjoyed the midnight fireworks. We took the party back to our Airbnb which just so happened to be one of the nicest places to stay on the entire island – Garden Villa. This house is beautiful, large and very luxurious, not at all what Alex and I are used to and it was a real treat for us. It was great fun to spend New Year with my wonderful family in such a stunning location. We were all very merrily drunk and danced in our living room until the not-so-small hours of the morning. Alex even demonstrated his super-cool skanking abilities, by the end of the night, we were all ‘skanking’ – he’s such a trendsetter.

Psychadelic camper van at our beach bar

New Years Eve fireworks at the beach

Garden Villa – our luxurious mansion getaway

This is what skanking looks like

The whole gang

People on the island are very friendly and there’s a general laid back attitude that really soothes the soul after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Even though Koh Mak was more ‘built-up’ in comparison to many of the Pacific islands we’ve visited,  it was nice to be back in a somewhat familiar environment.

Alex’s Photo Picks from the Last Two Years

As you are probably aware Sarah and I have been in Thailand for the last 6 weeks or so, bar a one-week side-trip to Cambodia for the sake of getting our Thai visas renewed inexpensively. It’s been wonderful spending time with Sarah’s parents and exploring places by land. There have also been moments of nostalgia. I’ve spent this morning looking through our photographs for the last two years and there are a few that really stand out for one reason or another, so I thought I’d share them with you here. Many of them you will have seen before but there are a few that we either didn’t have (because they were taken by someone else and we only acquired them later on) or which didn’t fit in with the subject matter of whatever blog post we were writing at the time.

We’ve had so many incredible experiences that it was hard to cut down my selection (it’s probably still a little long- sorry about that). There are also one or two that I would have liked to have included here – some videos from the first passage from Bermuda to St. Maarten – but which I don’t have access to at the moment because they are on an ipod that I left in New Zealand. I will post these later; they give some insight into my mental state during that passage and why I don’t think I’m well-suited to single-handed sailing.

So, without further ado, in chronological order:

 

 

Leaving the Las Perlas Islands on the way to Galapagos we caught our first fish of the voyage! Unfortunately, something else got there before I could pull it in…………….

 

 

This view was a welcome one –  making landfall at Pitcairn Island after three weeks at sea. At the time we assumed that this view heralded an opportunity for a rest. Little did we know we’d soon be trundling off to Mangareva at full tilt on an emergency medical evacuation!

 

 

Pitcairn’s reputation for less-than-ideal anchorage conditions is not ill-deserved. We woke up one morning during our second visit to the island and were excited to see another yacht in the vicinity. AIS identified them as S/V Maya. We hailed them on the radio but for some reason they seemed reluctant to stop by for a visit, so they sailed on without anchoring. These pictures of Bob taken by Asma give some inkling as to why they may have decided on that course of action, and why they sounded so baffled on the radio when we told them that we were comfortably re-anchored at Bounty Bay. We have since become very good friends with Herbert and Asma and have laughed merrily over our first encounter with one another. Apparently Asma turned to Herbert and said “I’m sure they were very nice people but now they must be dead, so we’ll never know!”

You can just see Bob’s mast beyond the breaking wave 🙂

 

And here we are nonchalantly raising the anchor:

OK, that was a lie. It wasn’t nonchalant at all. I couldn’t actually stand on the foredeck so I had to do everything braced against the pulpit railing and supported on one knee. Despite my best efforts to control things, the windlass and bow roller came under tremendous load as the anchor was torn from the sand by the rise of a particularly large swell. There are other pictures of the situation above where you can only see the boom and the tops of our heads, but I like this one because you can at least see that there is a boat in there somewhere!

 

 

Now we move on to the Gambier Islands. Below is the stunning view from the peak of Mount Duff. You can see the capital town of Rikitea in the bottom left. The tiny strip of land in the upper right of the photograph is the airport island. The Gambier Islands were truly spectacular. Sarah and I have already discussed that if we were to do a similar trip again we would prefer to sail direct to Marquesas from the Galapagos Islands and then head South to spend the bulk of the cyclone season here in the Gambiers instead of the other way around.

 

 

 

Provisioning in the Gambier Islands was sparse. Being Bermudian, I have a physiological NEED for mayonnaise. So, we decided to try to make it. Below is one of the earlier attempts. Since it wasn’t working by hand-power alone I decided to try an electric whisk………. which we don’t have. So, we improvised!

Note the not-remotely-mayonnaisish gloop in the jar in my left hand. I was not a happy bunny, as you may be able to tell. Fortunately, later attempts were much more successful.

 

 

A typical afternoon scene from the island of Taravai, where we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Gambiers. Complete with grumpy, sneaky horse who attempted to steal lunch, dinner, or rum whenever possible. The problem with being a horse is that one struggles to be inconspicuous, but Dior put in a good effort and was sometimes successful.

 

 

 

We spent a day clearing away the brush from beneath the coconut palms, and made several big fires to dispose of it:

 

 

Unfortunately the heat of the fires produced an unforeseen hazard – spider rain. It literally began raining spiders as they leapt from the trees to the ground. This one landed on Jesse, and Sarah somehow managed to convince him to remain motionless for long enough to snap this shot. He wasn’t taking his eyes off it though, and was poised for some quick action in the event that it should have decided to make a run for it upwards!

 

 

During a sail from Taravai to Rikitea to pick up some supplies, David from S/V El Nido got this shot of Bob. Sarah particularly likes it because if you zoom in on us in the cockpit you can see a lovely bit of impromptu romance 🙂

 

 

Finally for the Gambier Islands, a beautiful shot of Bob lying to a home-made mooring on the South Coast of Taravai, on a wonderfully calm evening.

 

 

 

We both love this shot, taken during a hike in Marquesas. We are on the island of Tahuata. In the distance is the big island of Hiva ‘Oa, and between the two runs the Ha’ava, or Bordelais Channel.

 

 

In Nuku Hiva Sarah took a few dance classes in the local style, and was honoured to be invited (well…… to be honest it was more of an instruction than an invitation!) to perform with the dance troupe in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people. Here she is in her dance regalia.

 

 

Better yet, for the first time we are now able to offer you a video from one of the performances (yay for fast internet!). Along with some other cruisers and the troupe of local girls she performed two dances, of which this was the final section of the second. I apologise for the shoddy standard of the work on this one. The reason for it is that Sarah is dancing and I have been tasked with capturing the moment. The sound is particularly poor, because it seems I had my finger over the microphone for most of the performance.

Sarah has stipulated that I must make it clear to you here that she only had two days to learn both of the dances, and wishes it to be formally noted that she is opposed to the publishing of this movie in the first place. Ah well, win some lose some. For the greater good, here it is:

 

 

This spectacular waterfall is located on the island of Fatu Hiva. We were fortunate that it hadn’t rained for a little while when we visited. If it had we would not have been able to get anywhere near it. It was a beautifully refreshing swim after a hot hike.

 

 

 

Down to the Tuamotu Archipelago now, to the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea. Sarah snapped this beautiful shot of a yacht that was anchored astern of us as a small squall came through. I love the misty effect caused by the rain pelting down onto the surface of the sea, and the yawing and slight heeling of the boat as the first gust of wind hits.

 

 

 

The squalls soon passed, and we sailed across the lagoon accompanied by a pod of dolphins to a spot known as ‘7 reef’. It was probably the most spectacular spot that Bob has ever anchored. When this shot was taken we had nipped over to a motu about a mile from the anchorage to collect coconuts, and stopped off on this spit of sand for a snorkel. Bob is just out of frame to the right.

 

 

The diving at the South Pass of the atoll of Fakarava was the most spectacular we have done. The site is famous for having a particularly high density of sharks – a sign of a healthy reef ecosystem.

 

 

This shot of a friendly rooster in Rarotonga cracks me up every time. Doesn’t it look photo-shopped? I promise it’s not!

 

 

Leaving Niue we were a little nervous, as the rigging had just broken and been repaired for the second time. As we came out from behind the island we were greeted by a large black cloud. Fortunately we managed to outrun the worst of it and were treated to this beautiful backdrop:

 

 

A day of ‘racing’ with our friends Rick and Jasna aboard their boat ‘Calypso’. At the pre-race skipper’s meeting Rick warned the other skippers that anyone overhauling Calypso was liable to be mooned. One skipper complained and implied that his children would be psychologically damaged by such an experience. Rick responded that he was terribly sorry but he could not afford to be discriminatory and that for moral reasons he was obliged to treat everyone equally. Fortunately for the family with the delicately-dispositioned children they were out of range, but these guys, one of whom was our friend Asma, ended up in an unfortunate tacking battle with us and were subjected to the view not once, but several times. We were dubbed ‘Team Los Culos Blancos’ (why Spanish I have no idea – we were in Tonga!) and awarded a special prize at the prizegiving! Let’s face it though, we weren’t going to win prizes for anything else……….

 

 

At the ‘Coral Garden’ in Tonga we met this incredibly brazen anemonefish. Perhaps a male guarding the eggs, it had no qualms about challenging a creature many, many times it’s own size. I was not intimidated……….. but then I did swim away, so I’m pretty sure he’ll chalk that up as anemonefish 1, biguglyungainlything 0. Fair enough.

 

 

Also in Tonga: Sarah must have taken a hundred shots of the fruit bats trying to get a really good one. I think she managed it with this:

 

 

And finally! Videos can never do justice to actual, real-life experiences but I really like this one. It is a short video of a swim-through at a reef in South Minerva. We spent hours exploring these channels and caves. It was the best snorkelling either of us have ever done. Here’s a small taster of why:

 

Finally, just a quick note to say that we will (I promise!) do one or two blogs soon about our travels in Thailand and Cambodia. Until then, stay warm and enjoy yourselves!

Merry Christmas from the tropics

We’ve been especially busy since leaving Tonga almost 6 weeks ago, although in many ways it feels like we only left yesterday. We set sail to New Zealand with a stop off at Minerva Reef. We were expecting to wait at Minerva for just a few days for an appropriate weather window to continue our journey to New Zealand, but ended up staying for a whole two weeks. It turns out that being stranded in such a remote location (no shops, no buildings, in fact – no land at all!) was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had!

Minerva Reef – no land but the protection from the seas made it a good place to anchor.

A view of our friends boat ‘Local Talent’ from the top of Bob’s mast with reef in the background

 

Here are a few shots from various snorkel trips. The reefs are amazingly healthy and host a wealth of diversity – it’s the best snorkeling either of us have ever done!

Alex did an excellent job of hunting and gathering and brought us back this fabulous lobster for dinner. Another day he brought back an octopus. Fine dining on Bob even in the remotest of places.

 

At low tide the water is shallow enough to take a walk on the reef. We put on the crocs and went for a wonder to the outer reef – here are some shots of our walk on water.

We made it to the outer reef

 

One of the highlights for me was diving with a 10-foot tiger shark in North Minerva. We had heard there was a resident tiger shark lurking around the pass of the atoll and a group of us were keen to check it out. I would have been seriously freaked out if one came along unexpectedly when Alex and I were diving on our own, however, we planned the expedition with some friends in the hope that we would actually get to see this magnificent beast and I felt like we had safety in numbers. During the dive I was busy recording all the small fish species around me when I looked up and saw the stripy grey sheen of something huge about 10 meters from us. The tiger shark made a slow, wide circle around us and was followed by about 20 grey sharks – she made the grey sharks looks like insignificant fish bait. Our friend Gail (who was snorkelling at the surface and had a birds-eye view of the whole thing) must have thought we were about to face a mutilating and gruesome death. Fortunately we survived and it turned out to be another amazing wildlife experience that I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about when I’m old and wrinkled.

Our passage to New Zealand was wonderful! There was no drama, no breakages, no storms – just relatively smooth sailing for the whole journey and we made a safe arrival in Opua in early December. We picked up our new campervan ready to explore the country by land in a few months time. Otherwise, we spent most of our time preparing the boat and the camper van to be left for a couple of months while we’re in Thailand (and Alex in Australia for a few weeks) visiting my parents.

Sailing into the sunset – leaving Minerva and heading for New Zealand

Land-Ho! Arriving in New Zealand

Alex giving our new camper van (Jacangi) a wash

Bob on her pile mooring in the Kerikeri river. What a lovely home for her over the coming season.

I’ve been in Thailand now for almost two weeks and it’s so wonderful to be in this colourful and vibrant country with my family, some of who I’ve not seen in almost two years! Alex is enjoying the festivities in Australia with his brother and other family members. He will fly out to Thailand to meet me on the 27th of December ready for tropical New Year celebrations on the Thai island of Koh Mak.

Drinks at the Vanilla Sky Bar

The stunning view of Bangkok at night

The family having Christmas eve drinks in a bustling Bangkok street bar

Christmas morning with presents under the ‘tree’

Finally, I’ll leave you with some festive wildlife. Believe it or not, there’s an underwater species known as the ‘Christmas tree worm’. They are a type of tube-building worm that lives in coral reefs and get their name from their Christmas tree-like appearance. Each worm has two brightly coloured crowns that project from its tube-like body which are used for respiration and to catch food. They are about 1.5 inches in length, come in a variety of festive colours and recoil quickly into their burrows when they detect movement by a large creature in their vicinity – it makes them good fun for snorkelers.

Merry Christmas.

Fun, cute and colourful Christmas tree worms – Spirobranchus species

 

 

New Zealand Arrival

Hello everyone,

I’m just posting a quick one now to let you all know that we had a stonking run into New Zealand -155 miles in the final 24 hours – and arrived just before dark on the 28th. Sarah has some wonderful pictures and we intend to do a proper blog in the near future. South Minerva Reef was particularly spectacular.

 

Since we arrived we have spent far, far too much money buying all sorts of boat bits that we have been denied for the last couple of years. We even invested in a major luxury -a water heater! (It’s freezing here. Well………. 16 celcius really, but it might as well be freezing after two years in the tropics. We’re bundled up like the Michelin Man)

 

Bob is tucked away on a pile mooring up the Kerikeri river. The anchor has been removed, the chain reversed, the water maker ‘pickled’ for storage, the main engine flushed with fresh water, a float switch installed on the bilge pump and over the next week or so we’ll remove the sails and put her to bed. We have picked up our camper van, Jacangi, but even she will be abandoned for the next two months as we fly (shock/horror! Flying is cheating!) to Thailand to visit Sarah’s family.

Nearly There

As of noon today, Sunday November 26th, we are 200 miles from Opua, the most northerly customs port in New Zealand and our destination. It’s a lovely day – the sun is shining for the first time since we left Minerva. We shook out the 2nd Reef this morning and are plowing along at nearly 6 knots under a single-reefed mainsail and full 110% working jib on a lovely beam reach. The seas are considerably diminished compared to what they were a few days ago and the motion is gentle and agreeable. Despite Sarah’s scopoderm anti-seasickness patch having expired beyond it’s 3-day lifespan two days ago she’s bounding around the cabin doing such productive things as making bread with the last of our flour and has even hidden the last of our olives in the dough. We’re down to our last half a courgette, a third of a cabbage, two small potatoes and two small onions as far as ‘fresh’ provisions go, so it looks like we got it just about right and won’t have to relinquish too much to the New
Zealand biosecurity officers upon our arrival. Maybe a coconut or two. Then again maybe we should make the effort to eat them before we arrive. After all, we might not see coconuts again for quite a while.

We’re looking at a night-time arrival in Opua, perhaps some time around midnight tomorrow (Monday) night. Subject to the winds of course. We have been exceptionally lucky on this passage not to have needed to motor at all. The mast is still pointing up. Spirits are high. It’s been almost three weeks since we saw land and we can almost smell it.