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 region’s clouds can morph quickly from white to leaden gray and then, in squalls, to an ominous bruised purple. During one such burst, Sea Quest’s gennaker was ripped from leech to luff.|
The now-sated children returned to the boat clutching their haul of souvenirs. With only inches under Sea Quest’s keel, we eventually nosed our way to the fairy-tale scenery of the Ko Raya group of islands. Our skipper was suffering a headache from dehydration the next morning, so Marina and I took charge, launching the dinghy to search for a remarkable cave we’d seen mentioned in a particular guidebook.
Word is that if you’re lucky enough to visit these islands before 1000 or after 1600, when you have the place to yourselves, you’ll be unable to locate the hidden hongs on your own. Most are invisible unless you know exactly where to look, and then you have to muster up the courage to wind your way blindly into the darkness. In our case, it took some careful searching of the coastline, but eventually we hauled up on a gloomy beach smelling of the dung of the bats and swallows that flitted overhead. Inside the shadowy cave, we found a shrine in the elaborate shape of a mosque. Although it’s usual to find Buddhist and sometimes even Taoist shrines in awe-inspiring places, we’d never before seen Muslims make a shrine like this.
We headed south again, this time setting a course to the honeycombed island of Ko Phanak. Without a careful watch on the comings and goings of the tourist boats, however, it’s doubtful we’d have discovered the sea-level passages that led to the secret open-air chambers of the island’s interior. We found them to be havens for wildlife in the hours around dawn and dusk. Monkeys came down from the cliffs to frolic on the sand, sea eagles wheeled overhead, kingfishers darted past in a flash of color, and spectacular butterflies rode sunbeams. At our feet sat amphibious mudskippers fanning out blue-spotted dorsal fins in a courting ritual. The more soberly clad females shyly observed this display with bright eyes comically rotating on stalks. Overhead, awkward-looking black and white male hornbills supporting ridiculously large beaks announced their presence with a rasping cackle before flying to another branch, followed closely by their mates.
Our family cruise was winding to a close, and the weather was again deteriorating. We decided to take shelter on Ko Phuket, at Ao Po, close to the airport. As the visitors packed up and made ready to leave the boat, Sophia enthusiastically claimed that her favorite memory was swinging out over the water on the end of the dinghy boom.
“That,” she exclaimed, was “real cool!” Conner’s close encounter with the unknown, especially with wild monkeys, had also left him in raptures. “I want to be a skipper when I grow up so I can do more of this cruising sort of thing,” he said. We also discovered that he nurses a secret aspiration to write. I found a crumpled page from his notebook, a first attempt, he told me, at a cruising article. It read, complete with his creative spellings: “If your familey wants to go some ware go to Thailand, Phuket. It is cool for the kids. Fun playses to go like Phi Phi. There is beutiful snorkeling. You can feed monkies, kayak, ride elefants, and many more fun things. Lots of fun for the parents to. So come on down to Phuket, Thailand!” He’d added his byline at the end: Connor Batham.
We hadn’t realized how astonishing the islands would prove themselves to be, so full of encounters to fire the children’s imaginations. They’d climbed, paddled, snorkeled, learned seamanship, and, in squalls, had even capsized on the paddleboard and kept their heads. They’d proved their courage and resourcefulness. Phang-Nga bay had indelibly imprinted itself in the children’s memories and met everyone’s highest expectations, all in a land beyond belief.
What we didn’t at that moment realize was that this trip would be our swan-song voyage aboard Sea Quest. Soon after the departure of Marina and the children, Michael and I decided that we were ready to return home. We’d lived and cruised aboard Sea Quest for 18 years, sailing the farthest reaches of the Pacific in the great triangle extending from New Zealand to French Polynesia to Japan, including a five-year side trip into Southeast Asia. Our wanderlust finally sated, we were ready to hang up our watch caps and in the future ride the roiling seas and the heaving horizons only in our dreams.
After tens of thousands of miles and countless Pacific and Asian landfalls, the Bathams sold Sea Quest in Malaysia and are making a go of living ashore in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. They sail their daysailer Wakatere for a week at a time, fishing for their dinners and still getting a kick out of life.