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Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11, 2010-Night Moves, v3

At 6:00 PM the northerly swell arrived.

It started out small but by 6:30 you could surf on it; long, dark, rollers sweeping in from the North. We had no idea where they came from (other than the north) since the wind was from the east but they were here, they were big, and it was the last straw for the anchorage we were in on the north end of Koh Yao Yai.

Damn! We had to move, no question about that.

It was disappointing. Earlier in the day, while sailing past, we’d scoped out this place and in a settled easterly wind it was a gorgeous: 20 feet of clear water, complete protection from the East and a nice white sand beach to look at while sipping our 5:00 glass of white wine. We came back and anchored that afternoon with high expectations.

We didn’t ask for too much: Just give us the predicted easterly wind, the wind we had all day, the wind in the forecast, some flat water, and let this place be as nice in the night as it was when we saw it in the daytime.

Nature laughs at us.

First there was the tide against the wind. We had the easterly wind alright, and some northerly, and also some southerly, but no matter which way the wind blew we faced south into the flood tide. Bummer! When the boat does not swing to the wind direction the motion is not comfortable and the ventilation below doesn’t work. But we can live with it.

Then the squalls came. First out of the south, then the west, finally the north. Rain, wind, waves. Ugly! But squalls blow over, we can wait these out.

But when the swell arrived…We’re moving, NOW!

Not much light at 6:30 PM but we decided to go to Ao Labu, a big bay to the south of us about 5 miles which we rejected earlier because it was shallow and you couldn’t get in very far, plus we knew the easterly winds would fairly whistle through the bay due to the low isthmus on its east side. We knew all this; we’d been there before.

wingssail images-judy jensen
Planning a night move

And what choice did we have? We couldn't stay where we were and on this part of Phang Nga Bay there are damn few anchorages and none which are very good. Ao Labu it is. Besides, we knew the place and we felt we could go in after dark. Night moves are sometimes required.

In the growing darkness we weighed anchor and began motoring rapidly south along the Yao Yai shoreline not taking time to set the sails or even to switch off the gas barbeque but comforted at the fact that we were taking action rather than sitting in the heaving swells all night and hating every minute of it, unable to relax for a moment; we had regained control of our own destiny. The move itself was uneventful; Wings did her job, engine running smoothly, autopilot working, navigation and steaming lights on. The distant headland guarding Ao Labu was still visible when we got underway but in the gathering gloom it soon turned into a black shape and I watched it as we drew nearer, Judy frequently ducking below to track the position and progress on the electronic chart displayed on the computer in the nav station. She gave heading changes to me which guided us down the coast and finally around the corner into Ao Labu where, thankfully, the swells were blocked and the wind was gentle and steady out of the east.

So that is how we came to anchor at Ao Labu in the pitch black night, navigating by electronic chart and the depth sounder, creeping our way in until we got to 18 feet and there were anchor lights around us. We dropped the hook.
After that things got better; it was calm and we could rest the night.

Tomorrow morning we’ll see where exactly we are.

Click here for another image of the Ao Labu chart

Click here to see the log book pages of our sailing trips in March 2010

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Thailand

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Friday, March 05, 2010

March 1, 2010-East of Lanta

We had sailed Wings around the south end of Lanta Island looking for shelter from strong NE winds on a dark afternoon in November ’09 so when we anchored off the Old Town on February 27 this year it was our second visit.

On that other occasion the whole mood of the place was gloomy and foreboding: it was late in the day and gusty and a nasty chop made crossing the shallows of Lanta Flats seem impossible. A lee behind Koh Po offered a place to drop the hook and that was as far as we got. We left the next morning without further exploration.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Saladan Stilt Buildings, Lanta Island

This time we arrived at noon on a calm sunny day with a carefully charted route and found it easy to across the flats and reach Talat Lanta where we anchored, glad to have finally achieved our goal of visiting Old Town.

I can’t say for sure what the draw was: no fellow cruisers recommended it to us or could even say they’d been here and there are no stunning beaches. It is not a snug anchorage and there are not even any resorts or tourist attractions. The guidebooks barely mention the place. But we did hear that the Old Town of Talat Lanta was “real”; an authentic Thai village with wooden buildings on stilts over the water and a local mix of Muslim, Buddhist, and Chinese culture still untouched by crowds of visitors. Add to it that is on a large protected body of water with miles of virgin shoreline, several potential anchorages which no-one we know has ever bothered to use and there are no other towns or villages…that’s enough to motivate us to come a bit out of our way and nose Wings into this place for a look see, even twice.

Now, two days later, I can say it was a good move; Talat Lanta is charming. We found friendly people and a quiet but festive mood in town with Chinese lanterns hanging from the eves of the buildings and food vendors set up shop on both sides of narrow lanes of small shops where we browsed with nothing particular in mind to buy.

On a rented motorbike we spent a day touring the rest of the island; zooming around empty roads with the wind blowing in our hair and stopping at every interesting spot. We had lunch at Saladan Town and watched the ferries come and go. We had a beer and looked at the view at the “Top of the Hill Bar” where we had to wake the Rastafarian bartender who was sleeping on a table. We got a haircuts and massages at some other out-of-the-way place along the way and generally whiled away the afternoon. Back at Old Town we had a nice meal on a restaurant on a pier and watched the moon rise over the anchored boats.

Lanta is a quaint and peaceful island but it is the natural surroundings which give it its true magic. Endless mangrove forests are backed by rolling hills carpeted in lush green jungle and nearby tall limestone islands with vertical cliffs rise straight up from the sea. At midnight under a full moon I sat on Wings’ deck and gazed 360 degrees around the horizon at distant islands and shorelines, all silent and dark. Other than Old Town few lights are on and there are no fishing boats on the water or aircraft overhead; no signs that humans have ever come here. It is almost like we were on a different planet or in another time.

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Thunderhead over Lanta

Nature did provide spectacular displays in the night skies however; each afternoon thunderheads formed off to the east and by sundown they drifted toward Lanta and towered overhead. At nightfall they began to flash with lightning and the thunder rumbled for an hour or two. This show we watched nervously but the lightening storms spent themselves far aloft and did not get close to us.

It has just been Mother Nature reminding us who is in charge.

Tomorrow we will leave this place and I don’t know if we will ever come back but at least we got here once.

Click here to see more of Lanta.

Click here for more cloud shots.

Click here for more images from our sailing trip onward from Lanta.

Click here to see the log book pages of our sailing trips in March 2010

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, East of Lanta, Thailand
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