The islands off southern Thailand's Andaman Sea coastline grace Sea Quest's husband-and-wife team and their crew with the splendid sights of a fitting finale to their cruising sojourns. From our November 2012 issue.
|The visiting crew included Sophia Simon (left), Marina Batham (center), and Connor Batham (right), who befriended a monkey en route.|
The weather pinned us down in Ko Phi Phi Don. When it lifted, we set off on the 20-mile sail to Ko Dam Hok, known also by the moniker Chicken Island, which the rock formation on its south end resembles. With the bright gennaker gaily set, we enjoyed smooth sailing until the clouds morphed from white to leaden gray to an ominous bruised purple while the water churning under our keel strangely brightened to luminescent jade. An early gust from the oncoming squall overpowered the old gennaker, ripping it from leech to luff, its torn remnants streaming ahead like circus pennants. By midafternoon, with the squall gone as quickly as it’d come, we dropped anchor near tourist boats in a picture-perfect cerulean lagoon over which towered a giant pinnacle of rock.
Connor and Sophia launched their paddleboard while we enjoyed a steaming cup of tea. But the mood was shattered when a strong gust of wind sent the teacups flying. Connor and Sophia, having noticed another advancing squall, had hastily relaunched their paddleboard off the beach to return to Sea Quest. However, the force of the ensuing gusts capsized them. The kids, now in deep water, sensibly clung to the overturned paddleboard as Michael drove the dinghy to the rescue. Sheeting rain masked the now-deserted beach. Nearby islands disappeared into the gloom. This anchorage, so peaceful just an hour earlier, was no longer safe. The bay’s towering rock pinnacle was causing the wind to accelerate to over 40 knots. As repeated williwaws swept the bay, a nearby fishing boat hastily hauled in his anchor. We followed suit.
Well away from williwaw-producing mountains, the local boat anchored among other fishing boats. We joined them and were rewarded with a reasonable night’s sleep. Early next morning, we relocated to a spot off a nearby sandy isthmus to swim over reefs abounding in parrotfish and red corals.
Later, however, we moved back to the spectacular anchorage from which we’d been blown from the day before. To entertain the kids, Michael rigged the boom we use to hoist the dinghy as a swing so they could catapult into the sea—a strenuous game they kept up for an hour or more. Unwilling, however, to spend another night under the gust-prone rock, we set sail for the Ko Hong island group, in Krabi province, 12 miles distant. Along the way, Connor and Sophia practiced seaman’s knots, soon learning to tie clove hitches, bowlines, rolling hitches, and sheet bends. The weather seemed more settled now. When Sea Quest dropped anchor, she lay peacefully floating in a pool of ever-changing shades of green—soft turquoise over the sunlit sandy bottom, almost black where the waves undercut the high cliffs. A graceful curtain of water droplets, like a jeweled veil, fell from the limestone stalactites on the cliff walls.
In delightful anticipation, Connor and Sophia had the paddleboard launched in a flash. They were seen disappearing under the curtain of drops into a deep fissure that suggested a secret cave, or what in Thai is called a hong. We followed in the dinghy. The hong’s inner walls were stained with black and red oxides in a fantasy of forms. Under a cave-like overhang, ribbon-festooned Thai fishing boats were moored, their crews napping away the daylight hours in the cool shade. We paddled quietly, birdcalls and nature’s sounds enveloping us in serenity. The primordial pool was a nursery for thousands of glinting fish, creating a hunting ground for cobalt-plumaged kingfishers and a home for hundreds of palm-sized starfish sprinkled across the sandy bottom like reflections of the night sky.
Aboard the boat, we’d fallen into a comfortable domestic routine. By the time the crew emerged sleepily from their bunks, Michael would have ready stacks of pancakes, bacon, and tropical fruit. The BBC world news crackled over the airways. Later, we switched to the local FM station to catch the quaint sound of Westminster chimes followed by a gentle female voice intoning, “It is now eight o’clock in the Kingdom of Thailand!” Then Thai voices sang the national anthem. When we’d peek on deck, an inconceivable landscape worthy of a science-fiction fantasy would greet us: vertical islands towering above their narrow bases, pinnacles standing like obelisks, the razor-back ridges of blade-like islands split almost to sea level, and, as far as the eye could see into the haze of Asia, a beguiling verdant land.