Saturday, July 15, 2017

July 14 – Hermit Crab Racing

We woke up to a beautiful morning with all remnants of the storm having passed. We still had a lot of eggs to eat so we boiled a whole pile of them and added in toast, baked beans and cheese, plus cereal for a couple of the kids. There was no obvious toasting mechanism on the boat so we used the broil function on the oven, which didn’t stay lit unless the door was one quarter open, which heated the boat up nicely, but at least we could get that all important morning toast.

It didn’t take long for the tourist boats to start ripping by. The Thai longboats have to be seen to be believed. The boats are piloted by one person at the back and they hold a giant tiller that is about fifteen feet long with a wildly spinning propeller at the end. This tiller bar sits on a big swivel on the transom so that they can easily dip the prop in and out of the water and from side to side to control steering. The best part is that the engine itself is mounted right on top of the tiller, and most of them look to be old car engines, ripped right out of a vehicle and bolted to the tiller without any cover at all so all the belts and spinning wheels are exposed, right behind the pilot, which is why all Thai longboat pilots either have short hair, or are dead.

Our autopilot and other gauges still weren’t working so we fiddled around with the settings, the breakers, the battery switches and the connections but still could not get it to work. Fortunately the chartplotter was still working fine, and we had all the paper charts we needed for depths, so it was not a big deal – the only real difference is that we’d need to manually steer the boat instead of relying on the lazyman autopilot.

We had a fifteen mile sail to the south end of Ko Yao Noi where we anchored at a place called “Captain Ed’s Spot”. The boat came with an indispensable guide called the Southeast Asia Piloting Guide that is a fantastic resource for anybody cruising in the waters of this region. The section on Thailand is particularly good so we’ve been relying on it when selecting anchorages. This particular anchorage is one that we used during our last trip, and loved it so wanted to go back and visit this particularly nice deserted beach.

Well our particularly nice deserted beach now had a small resort on it and a row of beach umbrellas and loungers out front, but no people. I checked the chart again just to make sure we were in the right place. We were. So, as a word of warning to anybody reading this : GET OUT THERE NOW AND FIND YOUR PERFECT DESERTED BEACH BEFORE SOMEBODY BUILDS A DAMN RESORT ON IT! There is no time to waste, people.

Fortunately, a bit further north we found a new deserted beach, which was even better than the original one. We gathered up some drinks and dingy’d in and then started the hunt for hermit crabs, as the Olson family’s official sport is Hermit Crab Racing. Stella and I began scouring the sand, looking for little moving shells but I couldn’t find any. Suddenly Stella shouts, “I found one!” And then shortly after that, “I found another one! No, there’s two of them here!” Stella went on to find six in total and Magnus and I each found one so she was the champion crab recruiter for the day. Hermit crab racing is simple. Each person chooses a hermit crab and memorizes the shell’s markings and then gives their crab a little pep talk and perhaps a squirt of mineral water. Draw a big circle in the sand. Draw a small circle in the center to serve as the starting gate. Dump in the crabs and loudly cheer on your little racer. The winner is the first one that crosses the outer circle. If hermit crab racing is not yet a worldwide sport, it should be.

After the intense, wild and raucous crab races we went for a dip to cool the jets. With Ana and the kids beside me I grabbed them and said, “One day in February we are going to be sitting at home, suffering through a cold, miserable winter, and I’m going to say ‘Remember when we went for a swim after the crab racing when we were on our trip. And I said we’re going to remember this exact moment? The warm ocean water, the hot sun, the deserted beach and the amazing catamaran floating just over there? That was a great moment.’” I am sure we will remember to do this.

We decided it was time to go and nearly smashed up the dingy and occupants when trying to fight through the crashing surf. We did get it after a few attempts, and made it back with half a foot of water in the dingy. We pulled anchor and sailed south to the end of the island and then north-west to our anchorage for the night which was the Koh Rang Yai island group. The ladies prepared a remarkable pasta salad with the leftover eggs and that mystery vegetable we saved from breakfast the other day, along with the regular pasta salad ingredients, and it was awesome.

Captain Tony took the helm for a while to give me a break, and Maddy handled it for a while too. When I left the helm there was a steadily darkening sky to the west, and by the time I came back up we were in the midst of a full on storm, with the winds blowing right in our face. We had taken the sails down earlier so we were under motor power and she was slowed down to 2 knots at moments when the pontoons were getting buried in the huge waves. We held her steady and made agonizingly slow progress towards our destination. As we approached the island the waters and wind started to calm, blocked by the land mass. We went to the recommended anchoring destination but because we had lost our depth sounder and the storm had stirred up the ocean so much it was very hard to judge the depth, and we ended up touching bottom, so I hit the throttle and we got the hell out of there and went around to the other side of the island which was better protected and deeper.

After we were anchored and settled it took two rounds of Chang beer to settle the nerves. Tony and I also discovered that when we clink our cans together it makes the sound “CHANG!” so that’s our new toasting word. It sounds way better than “Cheers”.

We cooked a delicious dinner of spicy grilled chicken, beans, corn and that pasta salad left over from lunch. As this was to be our last night we tried to drink as much of the white wine as possible, which was moderately successful. We also had a rousing discussion on whether the internet was generally good for the world or bad. Ana thinks it’s bad. I think it’s good. Tony and Angela didn’t take a definite position when they sensed this was not the first time Ana and I had discussed this. In the end I won, Ana changed her view, and we all went to sleep happy.

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