Wednesday, January 21, 2009

19 January 2009

Photo at right shows Ali after her very first scuba dive... the smile says it all!

Koh Phayam was hard to leave! We spent another couple of days there before heading south to the Surin Islands, famous for their diving. A good wind had us there in under eight hours – wonderful to be sailing properly and not using the engine! Anchored at Koh Surin Nua (Lat 9 26.40N; 97 51.26E) in what looked like a protected bay. However the north-easterlies sent bullets of wind gusts across the island all night long causing us to roll and pitch, and in spite of 50 m of chain out the first night, we dragged and had to re-anchor in the morning.

The snorkelling was disappointing. There was a lot of plankton in the water, with a lot of tiny stinging creatures so we didn’t stay in for too long. The tides and seasonal conditions were against us. Even though it's the best time to go there you can still be unlucky with local conditions. Three other yachts were there as well, two Australian catamarans and one English couple in a small monohull. They were very friendly, as we've found Aussie yachties to invariably be, and we were invited for sundowners the first night and to a Scrabble tournament the next morning! Lex declined the Scrabble opportunity but Ali and I motored over in the dinghy for a pleasant couple of hours. Ali’s become a decent opponent in Scrabble these days. (Jo won her game of course)

Brad and Gwen from the Gwendolyn walked across the island to meet us for lunch on our side, and we walked back with them, through some beautiful forest, and stunning picture-postcard bays. The water is that impossible-looking blue you see in travel posters… Magnificent trees, and lots of familiar Top End species. There are gliding lemurs on the islands but they stayed out of sight.

After three days here we sailed over to the Similan Islands, and found much better snorkelling. The water was gin clear and the fish stunning – saw more new varieties, plus turtles, banded sea-snakes, moray eels (HUUUGE moray eels!!) and giant trepang of all kinds of colours and patterns. The water is so enticing you just want to jump into it every time you look at it.

Koh Similan was the first stop, and the bay we moored in had massive granite boulders the size of tall buildings lining its sides, which made for some great diving. Dive charters came and went during the day, but it wasn’t crowded, apart from a few hours in the mornings when there were lots of people on the beach from the charters. We did a good walk through dense rainforest and up some enormous rocks for a couple of hours. Really tests those sea-legs and the underused muscles!

The Surins and Similans are both national parks. It’s interesting to see the different approaches the parks have to visitors, compared to Australia. At home we’ve become so safety conscious – read law-suit conscious perhaps – that our parks are full of boardwalks, steps, fences, rails, safety everywhere. The parks we’ve been in up here are more like Australia 50 years ago. No guardrails anywhere, the odd rope to help you haul yourself up steep rock faces, and the occasional wooden path or bridge that are a public liability nightmare! You certainly felt like you were in the middle of the experience, no cotton wool anywhere.

We spent almost a week in the Similans – didn’t want to leave, but we were running out of water and supplies. Met some great Canadians the last couple of days who sailed in from the Andamans having run afoul of Indian bureaucracy there. Since the Mumbai terrorist attacks India has tightened up security and the Andaman officials seem to take their job extremely seriously. Wouldn’t have thought a yacht represented a likely terrorist vehicle, but there you go.

The Canadians, Jerry, Connie and Peter, invited us to dinner on board, and then Jerry took Ali for her first scuba dive the next day. She’s wanted to try it for ages, so she was over the moon when it finally happened. She did really well, followed all Jerry’s instructions, and went down to 9 metres. The look on her face said it all. (Lex is now looking for a larger boat so he can carry all the dive gear he can see we’re going to need…)

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