Snake in the Lego Bag!

What started as a calm and typical Sophie School day turned alarming when Leo ran up from his room screaming that there was a snake in his Lego bag!

Leo has a huge collection of Legos, and for the past couple months we had been storing his suitcase sized canvas Lego duffle bags in the generator compartment next to our bikes. During a short school break, Leo retrieved the biggest Lego bag and brought it to his room to play. As he unzipped the bag and reached in, he noticed a terrible smell, and then his hand touched something that wasn’t a Lego piece. At first he thought it was a toy snake, but then to his horror realized it was real! Real and big! Completely terrified, Leo ran upstairs to me and Hazel, screaming about the snake. Jamie was on shore running errands. Good times!

Our initial concern was whether the snake was alive or dead. As I comforted Leo, a flurry of thoughts rushed through my head. Several of our friends have experienced snake visits to their boats within the last few months. Vipers and pythons, oh my! What could be slithering around in his room? Then, I realized there was an overwhelming dead animal smell coming through the boat. Leo thought the snake was dead, but it took a minute for him to feel certain about this and I didn’t want to let him back in his room with a live snake. After peeking in to check that the snake was still motionless in the bag, Leo carried the duffel outside and dropped it on the deck.

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The kids and I got a much better view in the sunlight. Definitely dead. It was still coiled up and I couldn’t tell how long it was, but this was not a little sea snake like the ones we’ve seen while swimming in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The markings looked like a python to me. A python?!? In my child’s Lego bag!?! I felt sick.

Next, Leo thumbed through his army survival manual while I searched online. The closest matches were images of pythons and the other common snakes of Thailand looked quite different. Ok, python it is. But how did it get into the bag? How long was it in there? How did it get zipped in? Where did it come from? When did it slither onto Sophie? How many times had we been in the generator compartment during the last month? How many times had we lifted those Lego bags in and out of the compartment to get bikes out, access LPG bottles, do generator maintenance, etc.? Jamie can spends hours at a time in there working on the electronics or genet. Thank goodness Leo had been doing a big push on school this month and had taken a Lego break or chances are he might have opened that bag days earlier and… no, I can’t even.

On deck wasn’t far enough away from the smell, so we threw the bag onto the dock. When Jamie returned, he pulled the snake out using fishing pliers and we got our first look at the entire creature.

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The snake was about five feet long and dried. It must have been in that bag for a while. There was a snakeskin in there too. We may have picked it up in Malaysia. Who knows? We have no idea exactly when or where the snake boarded Sophie or which one of us zipped it into the bag, or whether there was a small enough opening by the end of the zipper for it to get in but not back out. We were all pretty shaken from the thought of a snake crawling around our home, but very thankful we never saw the live version. Jamie was kind enough to dispose of it all. Leo is mourning the loss of half his Lego collection, but there was no way we were keeping any of it. We have also carefully inspected Sophie and believe there are no other snakes lurking. We feel quite relieved, but remain vigilant.

Our mood changed quickly following this unpleasant event, with the arrival of our nephew Danny that night. The kids love having another cousin visit, and we are back in prime cruising form with all the new upgrades on Sophie.

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We started out with dinner at the same beach restaurant where we took Danny’s brother Stephen last month.

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We even got a break from all the Sumatran smoke for Danny’s first day out on the water, with spectacular views across Phang Nga Bay. Leo winched the jib out manually for an afternoon sail.

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That morning, Hazel had written a letter for school about Amelia Earhart and was thrilled when we sailed past the USNS Amelia Earhart anchored outside Chalong Harbor. A total coincidence, we had no idea it was there. Jamie hailed them on the radio to thank them for their service and share the story about Hazel’s project.

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We stopped for the night around the corner and enjoyed a quick swim just before sunset.

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The next morning, we motored to Racha, where we stopped for some snorkeling and hull cleaning. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but we only had about two miles visibility on the way from all the smoke in the air from the Sumatran fires.

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The beach bar at Racha had been torn down since Jamie and the kids were there with Stephen last month, and the wind was picking up from the west, so we decided to move to Beer Beach on the other side of the island. That turned out to be an overcrowded tourist boat day stop, so after a quick dinghy recon mission, we departed for Koh Phi Phi and dinner at Jasmine’s. On the way, Danny caught a big barracuda in the “Dandaman” Sea, our first large fish in a long time.

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Mojitos, Thai food, pizza, Settlers of Catan, beaches, snorkeling, kayaking and lots of swimming and diving are on the menu this week, and there hasn’t been a snake in sight. We still aren’t feeling very motivated to play with Lego yet, but we do feel very lucky.

Anchors and Other Stuff


Here’s a quick update on Sophie’s ongoing Thai makeover. Earlier this week, we replaced our old Lewmar “plow” style anchor with a new Rocna anchor. Rocnas are made in New Zealand and are considered by many cruisers to be the finest anchors in the world.


Our Lewmar anchor weighed 40 kg and came with Sophie when we bought the boat in 2008. Overall it has served us well, but we’ve dragged our anchor several times in the last 5 months, so Jenna and I thought it was time for a change. The Rocna weighs 55 kg, has a bigger spade to bite into the ocean floor, and features a roll bar that helps keep it set.


As you can see, the new anchor is significantly larger than this .5 liter beer bottle. Our nephew Dan, who has joined us for a 12 day Sophie Adventure Cruise, was kind enough to point out that the beer bottle is empty.


Getting the Rocna onto Sophie required choreography and teamwork. We used four ropes and it all worked perfectly. There was no shouting. Just smiles. The new anchor makes us happy.


Our old anchor was attached to the anchor chain with an inline stainless steel fitting. Many sailors do not like this kind of attachment because side pressure could potentially cause the stainless steel to bend and eventually break. In fact, we have a friend in Seattle who recently purchased a new sailboat, and he spent a week trying to remove this type of fitting from his anchor.


Our’s came off in three minutes, which is pretty cool given that it has been in use for 7 and a half years.


As you can see, there is no bend to our fitting.


We are using a simple shackle to attach the Rocna to our anchor chain. Rocna has an excellent anchoring knowledgebase on their website, and they recommend using this approach.


We replaced our anchor bridle, the 2 ropes that we clip on to the anchor chain once it has set. The bridle acts as a shock absorber and distributes the load from the anchor to each hull. The old bridle was hard and calcified, covered with dead barnacles and other marine mysteries. The new bridle is soft and shiny. We also bought a completely new anchor chain. We won’t replace the chain until we haul Sophie out of the water for bottom painting in December.

Between the new anchor and chain, we hope to have worry-free nights for years to come.


We’ve had some other work done in Thailand this past week. Sophie has a wooden seat on each bow pulpit. The original seats were made from marine plywood and were beginning to delaminate.


We replaced them with solid teak. They are now too nice to sit on.


We installed a West Marine plastic engine mount on one of our stern pulpits for the engine to our small dinghy, The Baby.


The mount is designed to attach to the pulpit where a horizontal tube and a vertical tube meet to form a “T”. We didn’t have one of those, so we asked a local guy to make one for us by welding a new piece of stainless steel to our pulpit.


We had the local rigger Rolly Tasker make a custom bridle for our big dinghy, making it easy for us to raise the dingy out of the water using our stern dinghy davits. The bridle is made from 10 mm Dyneema cored rope. We also replaced the dinghy davit ropes with Dyneema as well.


Our microwave oven bit the dust 2 months ago, and Jenna brought one back from the US with her in August. We couldn’t buy one locally because all appliances in Asia are 230 volt, and Sophie is a 110 volt American boat. We had to get a local carpenter to recut the wooden face plate in the microwave cabinet in order to get the new appliance to fit. Hi Dan!


Finally, we got new fender covers. I know it’s a relatively minor thing, but it means a lot to us. They look nice!

That’s about it for now. Please stay tuned, because later today Jenna is going to do a post an out the most terrifying thing imaginable that happened to us this week. It’s awful!





A Calm Between the Storms

We mentioned a few blogs ago about how our nephew Stephen joined us for an epic 3 week visit in August, helping me with childcare and Sophie School during Jenna’s visit to the United States. Stephen returned to his home in Los Angeles on September 1st. His brother Daniel — aka “Dan da Man” — arrives on October 1st for a 2 week visit that we all hope will be equally epic.

So for the four of us on Sophie, September has turned out to be a calm period, similar in a way to the flat calm water in between two massive cannonball dives from our cat’s roof. How did we choose to spend our September?

Our Cruising Area
Sophie has been cruising a patch of the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket (on the left of the map) and the Thai mainland (on the right) over the last 10 weeks. For September, we started out at the Yacht Haven Marina on the northern tip of Phuket and then worked our way clockwise as we visited “James Bond Island”, Ko Hong (Ko is Thai for island), the town of Krabi, and then Ko Phi Phi Don. We are currently back in Krabi for a few days and will head west to the Ao Po Marina on Phuket in time for Dan’s arrival.

Here is a quick runthrough of our September activities.

James Bond Island
Ko Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island, is the location from the film The Man With The Golden Gun where Roger Moore — wearing a wool plaid sportcoat — lands his seaplane on a beach in order to rescue a bikini-clad Britt Eckland, kill Christopher Lee, and recover the stolen Solex Agitator in order to help the world overcome the energy crisis created by the early 1970s OPEC oil embargo. In the movie, the island is remote and pristine. Roger Moore never breaks a sweat.
In reality, this island was one of the worst tourist traps we’ve visited on the entire cruise. There were 2,000 tourists trudging shoulder-to-shoulder from the landing beach up to the photo spot and then to the other beach which was filled with 20 shops selling plastic toys and wooden elephants. After 10 minutes I couldn’t take it any more and had to go back to the dinghy. I doubt we will return.

Ko Hong

After one night at James Bond Island, we headed 20 miles southeast to a mooring on the north side of Ko Hong, an island that is a national park. We spent a week here and loved every second of it. It was a great place for us to get back into tropical cruising mode. Jenna was able to get the kids back on track at Sophie School after the Jamie and Stephen teaching experience. I was able to get multiple boat projects done. We swam several times a day. We took the new dinghy and bombed around to the south side of the island to hang out on the beach (pictured above). We had sunny weather for a week. It’s a very happy place.


I love Krabi.

It’s a city on a river on the mainland another 20 miles southeast from Ko Hong. We came here to restock our groceries and to renew our Thai visas at the local immigration office. As I’ve mentioned before, Krabi has a small karaoke marina on the river, and there is an esplanade that connects the marina with the town. For the first time since Penang, we were able to break the kids’ bikes out and ride up and down the waterfront.


Hazel eventually developed the confidence to ride on city streets, so we took off to a cluster of local restaurants built on stilts over the mangrove.

I had the fish.

This was Jenna’s first visit to Krabi, and the kids loved taking their mother by the hand and showing her the town. We walked the market stalls, played Jenga, sang karaoke, and even found a coffee shop that let us watch the Patriots-Steelers game.


We visited the Buddhist shrine located at top of a local temple. The 1,260 steps up were quite an effort for all of us, but Leo believed that the view was worth it.


Phi Phi

phi phi

After Krabi, we headed back down to Ko Phi Phi,  where we spent the next 10 days. I thought I would provide a map to give you some perspective. On our first night we anchored off the restaurant Jasmin on the northeast coast. This anchorage provides good holding and protection against westerly winds. We dinghied in to the restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal after a full day of school.

The seas were bouncy when we woke up the next morning, so we headed around the corner and grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. The main town of Ko Phi Phi Don is located on the isthmus between the two sides of the island. We continued our pattern of school and chores during the day followed by a late afternoon dinghy trip into town for a walk and dinner. We started using our small dinghy, “The Baby” every day and enjoyed it a lot.

After three days at the mooring, a wind from the south picked up, so we decided to head around to the Monkey Beach anchorage on the northwest side of the island. What a great decision! We spent a week here and think it is one of our favorite spots of our entire trip. Jenna said “When we left the US, I assumed all of our anchorages would be like this.” Monkey beach is around the corner from the town, so you can’t really see it. There is a nice beach. The beach has monkeys. There is coral and great swimming.


The beach on the north side of the isthmus has a great scene, so we took The Baby in every day for meals or to conduct Sophie School sessions on shore. I have to say the kids did a great job at school throughout the entire month. They have an excellent teacher.

We celebrated Leo’s 11th birthday at Monkey Beach. Jenna made him an apple pie, along with linguini with clam sauce. It’s his favorite meal.


Leo enjoys his new underwater camera and is spending a lot of time under the boat. He says it was his best birthday ever.

After a week at Monkey Beach, we woke up one night and discovered that the boat was dragging it’s anchor during a violent squall. Jenna and I stood an anchor watch, and the next morning we headed back up to Krabi. We’ve had heavy rain for the last two days and are glad to be on a dock again. Tomorrow we will leave and start heading west towards Ao Po on Phuket. We will be ready for the cannonball splash DandaMan creates when he arrives on Thursday.

We’ve had mostly sunny weather this month. All of the machines on the boat are working. The kids are back on track at school. We like Thailand, and we love to have the opportunity to share it with family and friends. And Hazel can now drive a dinghy.

Girls Week

Now that we have a month without visitors on Sophie, in addition to enjoying some relaxing family time with Jamie and the kids, I’m finally making a dent in triaging the tens of thousands of photos I’ve taken this year. Here’s one about Bali.

Our fabulous friends, Maureen and Elizabeth, joined us for “Girls Week” in February. Jamie graciously offered to take care of the kids while I played with the girls. We toured all around Bali, hiked, cycled, feasted on local dishes, and even managed to squeeze in a little time to relax at the beach.

Before Maureen landed, Elizabeth and I visited the Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple, the southernmost major temple in Bali, that has incredible views of the Indian Ocean. Bali is where we got our first real look out to the Indian Ocean after many inland sea passages across Indonesia.

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Amphitheatre gate at Uluwatu Temple.

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Clifftop view at Uluwatu.

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Love the monkeys!

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Ganesha statue

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Inner temple gate at Uluwatu

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Monkey gate.

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Elizabeth with our guide.

Nothing says vacation like tropical flowers and lemongrass in your lunch drink.




Garden canopy

Temple in Kuta.

A temple in Kuta, Denpassar


We also enjoyed high tea at the Fairmont, Sanur Beach.


We found a perfect little beach warung with  tasty local food and plenty of Bintang to help welcome Maureen.

Potato Head Beach Club

One of my favorite Girls Week experiences was lounging by the beach and people watching at the Potato Head Beach Club. This place reminded me a little bit of the time we celebrated Elizabeth’s 40th birthday in Vegas, only with a more mellow crowd scene. IMG_5329 (1024x675)IMG_5323 (1024x677) IMG_5327 (1024x673)

Surf's up!

Surf’s up!


We treated ourselves to the renown Ku De Ta restaurant and nightclub in Seminyak for dinner. Bubbles were obligatory.

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Bubbles at Ku De Ta

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Ku De Ta

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Girls Week dinner – Ku De Ta

Road Trip

One of our best adventures was a downhill bike ride from the ridge in Kintimani through small villages on the way to Ubud.

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Overlooking Mount Batur from Kintimani

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Cycling through a village

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Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music and art.

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Visiting an elementary school on our trek.

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Balinese children finishing up their school day.

Leading the end of day prayer

Leading the class in end of day prayers.

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School’s out.

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Entrance to the family temple inside a traditional Balinese home.

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Google Street View vehicle capturing a neighborhood on our bike route.

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Here is the corner where we saw the Google Street View vehicle in case you want to hunt for it. :-)

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Guarding the gate.

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Rest stop to see a temple after our one uphill section of the ride.

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We decided to try durian at a local fruit stand.

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Durian smells bad, but tastes delicious. It’s slightly alcoholic and considered one of the best ways to catch a tiger in Indonesia. We did not catch one.

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Mangosteen, my favorite tropical fruit.

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More durian.

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Newly harvested rice drying in the sun.

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Wandering rooster. In general, chickens and roosters roam free in villages.

Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtedal

After our bike trip, we stopped at the Monkey Forest in Ubud. This is a sacred site for Balinese Hinduism, the predominant religion on Bali, which incorporates aspects of Animism, Ancestor Worship, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Also, the monkeys here were very cute.

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Mama and baby macaques.

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Grooming and snack time.

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Monkeys petting monkeys.

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Baby macaque hands look like newborn humans. The rest? All monkey.

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Peeking in from outside the gate at Pura Dalem Agung Padangtedal.

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Can you see the live monkey?

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This one found a few seconds alone to enjoy its snack.

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Climbing down towards the Bathing Temple.

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Maureen at the stream overlook.

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Monkey see, monkey do.

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Stream by the Bathing Temple.


The city of Ubud is promoted as the cultural center of Bali. While I can imagine its allure and charm thirty years ago, we encountered a large number of tourists and souvenir hawkers, a stark contrast compared to the quiet Balinese countryside we enjoyed so much on the cycle tour.

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One of the more quiet streets in Ubud.

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Waiting to cross the street in Ubud.

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Carvings above a doorway.

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One symbol of Ubud’s commercialism was the Starbuck’s we found inside the entrance to one of the temple gardens, at the Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati.

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Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati

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Reflecting pools.

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This appeared to be a very cool tree house overlooking the grounds next door.

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We saw so many intricate details on the temple entrance.

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Another temple garden gate.

One of the highlights of Ubud was the French-inspired Balinese and Indonesian cooking at Mozaic Restaurant Gastronomique, where we enjoyed signature cocktails and the chef’s six course Surprize Menu with wine pairing. Outdoor garden pavilion dining turned out to be more thrilling than we anticipated, when a torrential downpour with huge lightning strikes blew through during our meal. We were far enough under the roof to avoid getting soaked, but it felt like we were about to be hit by lightning at any moment.


Sea grapes and six variations of local seafood, served on stones.


Gnocchi with mushrooms and sage butter


This incredible platter of local fresh fruit, spices and herbs was intended to be an educational prop for our waiter to explain the menu, but we ate every last bit of the fruit and some of the herbs. Our waiter’s face may or may not have looked a little horrified when he discovered this.

In Ubud, we also had an incredible view from our hotel room, looking across the rice fields towards the volcano.

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Watching ducks cross the rice fields with Mount Agung in the distance, in Ubud, Bali

Sacred Herons of Petulu

Just before sunset, we stopped in the small town of Petulu, on the northeast outskirts of Ubud where each night, thousands of herons return to nest. Legend has it that these birds, who arrived for the first time in late 1965, are the reincarnated souls of people killed during mass murders that followed a failed coup attempt that same year. The birds all roost within the village limits each night and fly away during the day. This massive bird arrival is an incredible scene, and only felt a little like we were on the set of The Birds. Mysterious and beautiful. Somehow, we managed to escape unharmed.

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Sacred herons return to Petulu

Everywhere you look, birds cover every tree, every rooftop, everything.

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These pictures hardly capture how densely packed every tree and rooftop was.

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Cattle egret, Petulu, Bali

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One of the Petulu herons

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Petulu village

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Rooftop perch.

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Two of my favorite people in the world, birdwatching.

Barong Dance at Batubulan

In the village of Batubulan, we saw a Barong dance at one of the temples. .

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Batubalan, Bali

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Statues, Batubalan

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More temple details, Batubalan

The Barong Dance, a traditional Balinese story, portrays the eternal struggle between good and evil. The Barong, who is half-lion and half-dog, battles Rangda, an evil witch.

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The Barong

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Balinese dancer

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Barong Dance

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The Barong

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A traditional gamelan orchestra.

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The girls.

Batik Fabric

We visited a batik fabric factory and learned about the dye and wax process as well as traditional fabric weaving.

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Adding wax to a batik pattern.

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Tools used for batik designs.

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Applying wax before adding the second of many colors.

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A batik design, nearing completion.

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Traditional loom weaving.

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The finished pattern.

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The fabric pattern is pre-dyed on the thread.

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Dying batik fabric.

Goa Gajah

Another site we visited was Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, home to one of the oldest Ganesha statues in Bali.

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Entrance to Elephant Cave.

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More offerings.

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Rock formations outside the cave.

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Pools outside the cave.

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Making an offering.

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One of the shrines.

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Garden paths at Goa Gajah.

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Magnificent tree roots.

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On our hike, we foraged for berries with our guide. He promised these were edible. They tasted a bit like bland blueberries.

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We planned to hike to a shrine in the forest, but were cut short by a raging stream that was too high to cross.

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We also came across this little guy. He’s not deadly, but has a wicked mean bite.

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Elizabeth in the tranquility garden.

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On our way out of Goa Gajah.

Mount Agung

One of our lunch stops overlooked rice fields on the slopes of Mount Agung.

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Pura Besakih

The Mother Temple, Pura Besakih, is a giant complex located on Mount Agung and it is considered the most important and holiest temple in Balinese Hinduism. The mountain and temples provided beautiful scenery, but there were hawkers almost everywhere along our path trying to convince us to buy their wares, including a tenacious pack of six year old girls who followed us halfway up the hillside. Cute, but no thanks. I loved people-watching here, especially the Balinese women who passed us on the steps, balancing their offerings in baskets stacked up high on their heads.

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Sanur Beach

We really appreciate our amazing husbands, Jamie, Troy and Steve, who stayed home and watched the kids all week so we could spend some quality girl time. Next time, though, we found a better option in Bali. Just need to figure out what to do with the kids…

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Our one Sophie Adventure Cruise destination trip of the week was to the neighboring island of Lembogan, where we rented bikes and pedaled a lap of the island.


Mooring at Lembongan, Indonesia


Villas and caves, Lembongan, Indonesia


View across the bay, Lembongan

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Scrabblemaster E and the kiddies


Seaweed farming off Lembongan


Local mooring field, Lembongan


View from the hilltop of Lembongan Village and Bali in the distance

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Vacation fun.

Thank you for am amazing week, Maureen and Elizabeth! It was incredible to explore Bali with you and add another chapter to this crazy and wonderful adventure. I am so lucky to have you in my life.

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Sophie’s Thai Makeover


Thailand is a great place to relax. It’s also a great place for cruisers to get stuff done.

It has been 18 months since Sophie left New Zealand, which is the last place where we had significant work done on the boat. Most of the repairs we did in New Zealand were structural in nature, including re-glassing some bulkheads, machining our roller furling foil, machining our boom gooseneck, and installing new rudder bearings.

Now that we are in Thailand, it’s time to take advantage of the excellent and inexpensive marine services industry here and have some new work done to our home. Most of the additions to Sophie this time are in response to the ongoing, relentless onslaught of the tropical sun. We are very excited about these upgrades, which are making our home look shiny and new.

Sophie is our home, our classroom, our workplace, our movie theater, our garage, our laundromat, our power plant, our municipal water and sewage service, and our dance floor. Don’t forget about the dance floor part. It’s the platform for Sophie Adventure Cruises, our nickname for how we go about sharing our lives with friends and family. Any time we do upgrades here, it’s a big deal for us.

We’ve just done some upgrades that make us happy in a Christmas morning-kind-of-way. Let me walk you through what we’ve done so far.

Our New Ride

Sophie has a new dinghy! When you are out cruising, your dinghy is your car. You use it for everything. Sophie’s old dinghy was a Walker Bay Genesis RIB with a 20 HP Honda four stroke outboard. We bought it new in 2008. It was a great dinghy for a long time, but over the last two years it’s fabric began to fray, it’s hull began to leak, and the engine became so finicky that I was the only one in the family (including #Stepheniswinning) who could start it.

Jenna, in particular, did not enjoy having a dinghy that she couldn’t start, especially after she was caught out in rain squalls once or twice. So for the last six months we’ve been dinghy shopping.

We settled on a Highfield Ocean Master 3.5 meter RIB with a 30 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard and Hypalon tubes, all purchased from Cholamark Boats in Phuket. We first rode in a Highfield with our friends on Nalukai last Christmas. Our new dinghy has a heavy duty, reinforced aluminum double hull, which will be strong enough to withstand the demands that Sophie Adventure Cruises puts on a tender. We also ordered a Sunbrella tube cover in “Sophie Green” along with a grey engine cover.

The boat is designed for a center console with steering wheel, but we decided to forego this option. The result is a cavernous interior that will hold 8 adults, and we think that the Tohatsu has enough oomph to get up on a plane with such a heavy load. Please also note the aluminum transom reinforcements, the multiple welded attach points for lines, and the nonskid surface on the deck.

We like the design of the bow. It features a cushioned seat with an integrated 35 liter fuel tank and fuel gauge. Above that is a nonskid bow platform with a cleat and anchor roller. It’s now quite pleasant to step down from the dinghy onto Sophie’s transom.

The bow platform also makes an excellent launch pad for doing can openers.

On the transom, we mounted Beach Master retractable wheels. (Yes, I know, an Ocean Master needs a Beach Master.) These are made in New Zealand and are easily the strongest dinghy wheels we’ve seen yet.

They’ve worked flawlessly on five beaches so far, including a landing amidst the chaos known as Maya Beach on Phi Phi Le. The only downside to this arrangement is that the weight of the fuel tank is now located in the bow, requiring someone with the strength of a bull to lift and pull from the front of the cart.

The best part of the new dinghy? It has an electric starter, powered by a battery located in this cute little box. Actually, this is a wonderful feature, especially after the last 5 months of prayers and frustration that were often required to get our old dinghy running. The best part of the new dinghy is the confidence it gives us to go longer distances, crushing through waves in the process. We’ve already done a 10 mile trip with #Stepheniswinning, and we hope there will be many more to come.

Our New Baby

We liked the idea of buying a new dinghy so much, we bought two! This is a Highfield 2.5 meter Roll-Up with Hypalon tubes, a 3.5 HP Tohatsu 2 stroke outboard, and Sunbrella covers that match the covers on her older sibling. We call this craft “The Baby,” and the name works. The Baby weighs 50 pounds, including the motor.

When we are underway, we can deflate The Baby, roll it up into a bag, and store it in a locker. We will mount the engine on a stern rail.

It’s quite common for cruisers on bigger boats to have a second, smaller dinghy. Small dinghies are easy for two people to carry up a beach if you are landing in surf. They are useful for exploring shallow waters, including the Hongs here in Thailand. They make great platforms for the kids. We told Leo and Hazel that they could drive The Baby on their own once they had read the engine manual and passed a driving test. It was so much fun to watch Hazel sitting in the dinghy, Tohatsu manual in hand, going over the different parts of the motor for over an hour. She started the engine on her own yesterday, and 30 minutes later was giving her mother instructions on how to drive The Baby. Living the dream …

New Exterior Cushions

The tropical climate has been especially harsh on our exterior cushions over the last two years. The stitching was disintegrating, interior foam had deteriorated, and the white vinyl surfaces had turned a grayish-black. I had tried every combination of cleaner-detergent-vinegar-bleach-shamanism imaginable, but the original color wasn’t coming back. So we replaced them all with new cushions made from closed cell foam and with a slightly more ergonomic design. The overall effect is to make Sophie look brighter and cleaner. For the flybridge, we even added circular cushion back rests. These make Jenna very happy.

The forward cockpit looks clean and inviting, especially for couples at sunset.

The aft cockpit looks like children have never visited the boat. For now.

Addressing UV Damage on the Flybridge
Sophie’s flybridge, the place up top where we steer and sail the boat, is very exposed to the sun. Some of the material up there required repairs or replacements.

Our bimini, which we rarely used in Seattle but has been up pretty much nonstop for the last the three years, was starting to lose it’s seams and stitching along the zippers. We had them all repaired.

The same goes for our wheel cover.

We have mesh netting on the rope wells on either side of the wheel. The old netting had disintegrated. The new netting looks quite nice.

New SUP Covers

We love our stand up paddleboards, but the plastic travel bags we bought for them in San Diego 30 months ago started to leave a trail of silver dust behind them wherever they went. Two months ago, they literally disintegrated and turned to dust wherever you touched them. These new covers are made from Sunbrella and will hopefully last longer.

New Interior Leather

Sophie’s salon cushions and master cabin couch cushions were originally covered in ultrasuede, and we could run these cushion covers through the washing machine whenever they started to get dirty. But the tropics eventually took their toll, and everything soon became a dull, spotted grey. We met some friends in Langkawi who had switched to leather about four years ago, and their interior looks great. We decided to take the plunge. From my perspective the salon looks brand new, but I am a little scared to sit on them.


I think that the sofa in our cabin looks great as well. I especially like Hazel’s invention for opening cabinets at the pull of a string.

New Ink
Not all of our Thai cosmetic upgrades happened to Sophie over the last month. The crew got some cosmetic upgrades as well, in the form of tattoos.

As we’ve mentioned previously in this blog, we’ve added five tattoos to Sophie’s crew since we started this adventure. Jenna, Dan, Max, Becca and I all got tattoos in French Polynesia. Now that we are in Thailand,  #Stepheniswinning and I decided early on in his trip that it was time for two more. We found an interesting tattoo parlor in Phi Phi with an excellent artist who used traditional bamboo and decided to give it a go.

This is Stephen’s first tattoo, and we all really like the design. It was also a little scary watching a guy wearing a Steelers shirt jab bamboo needles into the arm of a guy wearing a Pats shirt. But it was all good in the end.

This is my eighth tattoo and the second one that is not cancer-related. Some day I plan to have as many tattoos that I chose as I had from my cancer treatment. “Were’d you go?” is the chorus to a Clash song I used to sing with my older children when they were kids. It’s a reminder to me that I have a bigger family than the ones who are fortunate enough to be with me right now. It’s about travel, expectations, culture, experience, separation, loss, and hope.

To me, it’s perfect. Just like all of the fancy new upgrades to our little floating home. New dinghies, cushions, canvas, leather, and ink. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?



Jenna left Sophie two weeks ago for a trip back to the United States. She went there to attend a high school reunion, visit with family, and participate in her cousin Eric’s wedding. Two weeks is a long time to be away from Sophie, and it’s the longest time we’ve been apart since we got married.


How on earth was I going to manage the kids and the boat for two whole weeks without some adult assistance? As soon as Jenna left, Hazel went through Jenna’s wardrobe and modeled all of her clothing. That was a lot of fun, but it only killed two hours. I suggested hiring a live-aboard Thai nanny for a couple of weeks, but somehow that got ruled out.

Fortunately, Stephen Utzschneider came to my rescue. Stephen is the oldest of my 30 or so nieces and nephews, and he agreed to take one for the team, fly out to Phuket, and be my wingman for two weeks, helping out with the dishes, laundry, cleaning, schoolwork, and all the other things guys do on a boat in Thailand when the wife is out of town for a couple of weeks.


So why is Stephen #Winning? Well, Stephen has a younger brother named Daniel, and Daniel will be joining us in Phuket for a visit next month. Like most brothers, Stephen and Daniel occasionally compete with each other, and they are apparently competing over who is going to have more fun on their Phuket Sophie Adventure Cruise.


But Jenna is not here, and her absence raises an interesting philosophical question: does a visiting nephew have more fun on Sophie in Thailand when Jenna is on board, or when she is gone? This is something Stephen and I have discussed over breakfast beers during the last week. On the one hand, Jenna is among the top five most fun people in the world and has partnered with me on this epic, globe-circling adventure cruise. On the other hand, there is breakfast beer.

Stephen and I have concluded that just like there are multiple types of intelligence, there are multiple types of fun. Stephen vs. Daniel will not be a linear comparison. And I will let all of you vote with your comments next month after Daniel’s visit on whom you think had more fun. But since Daniel has not yet stepped onto the playing field, I have to say that Stephen is winning. He’s off to a great start.


Stephen was greeted with bright sunshine and a slight easterly breeze on his first morning on Sophie, so we left the Ao Po Grand Marina and headed south to Koh Racha Yai, an island 14 miles south of Phuket. Our initial destination was “Beer Beach”, a small enclave on the northeast side of the island. But the seasonal monsoon had disappeared, so we picked up a mooring in the bay on the west side of the island and enjoyed one of the nicest silica beaches in Thailand. Hazel got her surf on, and we all got to snorkel the reefs.


The bay had a nice restaurant on a hill directly overlooking the beach. Stephen and I spent hours there discussing who was going to have more fun while we watched the kiddies play in the surf. We also made friends with a couple from Australia, who observed (after seeing the kids and me) that my wife must be very beautiful, because Leo and Hazel certainly didn’t get their looks from me.

I love Ozzies. I really do.


After Rocha, we headed east to Phi Phi Don, where we grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. Sophie is one of the boats on the left side of the photo. This island was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami, which came in on both sides of the isthmus, destroying every building in town and killing thousands of people. Thankfully, they have rebuilt. The bay to the right has an excellent backpacker beach club scene, and we spent hours there hanging out, eating pizza and playing board games.


We had fun.

After a couple of days of this, we decided to head around the corner to Laem Tong Beach, the home of Jasmin restaurant and Peter, the Scottish dude whom we had met before. First we pulled into Maya Bay on Phi Phi Le, but the strong westerly wind made the bay untenable for Sophie. We grabbed a mooring off of Jasmin, but a 70 foot fishing boat kicked us off the mooring. We dropped a hook with a lot of rode, which was a good thing, because an hour later a squall with 50 knot winds came though and kicked the widdershins out of us. That fishing boat was joined by another 40 foot boat, and they both dragged the mooring for over a mile during the squall, missing Sophie by 100 feet.


But the weather cleared, and we were able to head into Jasmin for dinner. The kiddies enjoyed playing on the beach.


The next night we helped Jasmin (above) and Peter evaluate whether or not to add cheeseburgers and ribs to their menu. The samples were excellent. I know, I know, it’s a lot of work. But when you are called, you need t do your job. Later that night I took over the stereo and played DJ for their 100 guests. I tried to only play bands from Scotland.The Proclaimers even got me a hug from Peter.


Aster a few days of this, we decided to head over to Krabi, a city of 50,000 on the Thai mainland. We were low on produce and beer and needed to stock up. It was a great decision. I love love love Krabi; it’s one of my favorite stops in the last year. Why? It has a cute, clean, safe marina that hosts karaoke at night.


On the one side of the marina is huge park with playgrounds, running trails, and soccer fields. On the other side the of the marina is a waterfront promenade that leads you into town.


Krabi itself is a real Asian city with a little bit of backpacker tourism thrown in. We were able to take Stephen to food stalls, wet markets, and crowded city streets.


They even had public art that I can only describe as Planet of the Apes traffic signals.


They have a nice Buddhist temple on a hill.IMG20150823154802

While there, Hazel contemplated her inner warrior goddess. She says that meditation helps her win at Settlers of Catan. It must work, because she has been crushing us.


Meanwhile, Stephen has been an excellent influence on Leo. They go off and have their bro talks, and afterwards Leo returns and asks “Dad, what can I do to help?” It’s really nice to watch them interact, especially when Stephen helps Leo with his Sophie pull ups.


We will definitely return again to Krabi.


Right now we are anchored off Koh Dam Hok. It has a beach bar scene to the left, and a coral wall on that island to the right. We’ll stay here for 2 nights, then head back to Ao Po Grand to collect Jenna.

We miss her very much. The kids have worked hard at school despite all of the distractions. The boat is relatively clean. All of the machines are working. But it’s not the same boat without her. And Stephen stays with us for another week after Jenna returns. So this whole question of whether or not you have more fun on Sophie if Jenna is here, for Stephen, is irrelevant. For him, it’s an “and”, not an “or”.  He gets the best of both worlds.

#StephenIsWinning. So am I.

Anchorages and MARINAS from Singapore to Phuket

IMG_1178Here is another post for boats following in our footsteps, where we document our stops on this 500 mile stretch of water in Malaysia and Thailand. Please note that this is the first time I am doing one of these waypoint blog posts where I include information on multiple marinas where we stopped. Yes, marinas. We’re not in Tonga any more.

Before we left Singapore, we were told that boats were fleeing Phuket to avoid the rainy, windy season known as the “southwest monsoon.”  The best time to head north to Thailand was during the “northeast monsoon” between November and March, when the weather is drier, the water is clearer, and a gentle wind blows from the land.

Now that we are up in Phuket, people here are telling us that the concept of a summertime southwest monsoon — aka the bad, rainy season — has become increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps it is a result of global warming. Our weather has been sunny, the water is clear, and the winds are quite gentle. For us, this has been a great time to begin exploring Thailand. And we recommend all of the anchorages and stops in this post to boats following us, with the exception of the anchorage in Telaga if the weather is squally.

Pulau Pisang
01.28.817N, 103.14.721E
We anchored behind this island on our first stop in Malaysia. It’s about 40 miles up the Malacca Strait from Singapore. It was nice to be on the hook again after a month of city life in a marina. Good holding in 20 feet of water. It was calm enough for me to scrape Singapore barnacles off our hull and props.

Pulau Besar
02.06.603N, 102.20.629E
This was another anchorage 70 miles up the strait from Pisang. We wound up anchoring on the south side of the island because it was getting dark when we arrived. It was little rolly.

Port Dickson
Admiral Marina
02.28.573N, 101.50.704E
marinaWe stayed at this marina for almost a week, using it as our home base for Sophie during our three day visit to Kuala Lumpur. The marina is clean and the staff was helpful. Their fuel dock was broken, but they brought 800 liters of diesel in jerrycans to Sophie’s dock. Once again, I got to pour them into our tanks. It was character building. The marina has a pool and an air conditioned bar with WiFi. That’s about it. We took a cab for the ten minute ride into town to clear into Malaysia Immigration/Customs/Harbormaster. It was a straightforward and friendly process. TripAdvisor claims that the best restaurant in Port Dickson is a pizza place by the beach. Do not eat there. In hindsight, we regret not making the effort to visit Melaka on a day trip, which is supposed to be beautiful and historic. But after our time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, we wanted to get back into cruising mode.

Port Klang
Royal Selangor Yacht Club (RSYC)
03.00.322N, 101.23.413E
MLYS1999This was our next stop up the coast, and we docked in front of a beautiful facility on the river that connects Kuala Lumpur with the Indian Ocean. There was a strong current in the river, and Sophie strained against the floating dock. The RSYC has a reciprocal relationship with the Seattle Yacht Club, and during our visit we met the RSYC commodore and exchanged burgees with him. They had a big restaurant, a good bar, and a nice pool. We stayed two nights.

Pangkor Marina (Marina Island)
04.12.685N, 100.36.074E
MLYS2012Our next stop was 40 miles up the coast from Klang, and our arrival here was a little stressful. The sun was setting, we were hit by a squall, the marina entrance was not clearly marked on our charts, and we had to motor 3 miles past the marina to avoid a big reef that runs north-south through the channel. Other than that, it was great. The marina looks like it will be an awesome facility when construction is completed in 3 years. They have a boatyard with a haulout that is big enough to lift Sophie. And we met Jack and Jackie on Barbara Ann, who have subsequently become our friends.

Straits Quay Marina
05.27.539N, 100.19.094E
IMG_1012We loved loved loved Penang. It was a 90 mile run up the coast from Pangkor, a longer trip for Sophie than for most boats, because our mast cannot fit under the two bridges that connect Pulau Penang with the mainland. For our first night we anchored outside of the marina, but it was rolly. For the next 6 days we had a dock at this friendly and inexpensive marina with a promenade featuring 10 restaurants. Nearby access to two supermarkets for provisioning. Easy access into town. Great culture. Monkeys who steal beer. Penang has it all.

Kuah, Langkawi
06.18.733N, 099.50.801E
This was our first stop in Langkawi, and we stayed here for one night. There was excellent holding for our anchor, and we could easily check in to Immigration and the Harbormaster. The marina at Kuah was under construction, which made it off-limits for us. The city itself reminded us of Indonesian cities like Ambon or Sorong, full of small businesses but not easily walkable, so we moved on.

Telaga, Langkawi
06.21.764N, 099.40.677E
telagaWe spent over two weeks here, first in the anchorage and then in the marina. It is a great spot, and we will return here later this year. The holding in the anchorage was terrible, and multiple boats (including Sophie) dragged their anchors during squalls. The marina was much more protected and featured several excellent, inexpensive restaurants. They also had a machine that used an electric motor to pump diesel fuel directly into your boat. This was a first for us in almost 10 months. It is easy to rent a car for a day to head into town. Langkawi is a duty free port, which means there are no taxes paid for alcohol or for boat parts you ship in from the United States.

Pulau Singa Besar, Langkawi
06.13.598N, 099.44.800E
MLYS2857We left Telaga for 5 days with our friends Misti and Abi to enjoy watersports in this anchorage 9 miles south of Telaga. We swam, paddleboarded, barbecued, drank, and played a lot of board games. We were back in Sophie Adventure Cruises mode, and it was a lot of fun. We were told that a local cruiser organizes impromptu bonfire singalongs on the beach here every Saturday night, but he had to cancel the week we were there.

Ko Lipe, Thailand
06.29.651N, 099.17.774E
IMG20150722183737We finally left Malaysia and spent two nights anchored on the north side of Ko Lipe. We never went to shore and instead spent our time padleboarding, swimming, and conducting Sophie School. The Ko Lipe area is part of a National Park, and we used a park service mooring even though we were warned to not trust any moorings in Thailand. After we tied up to the mooring, we ran both engines in reverse at 2000 RPMs, and nothing broke. Ko Lipe becomes much more crowded with the beginning of the high season in November, and we will return.

Ko Tarutao
06.42.456N, 099.40.072E
THAI3030After Ko Lipe we motored 25 miles east to visit another Thai National Park at Ko Turatao. Initially we anchored on the northwest tip of the island (06.41.764N, 099.38.249E) in order to visit “Crocodile Cave”, a spot where you pull yourself a couple of hundred meters along a rope on a raft to check out stalagmites and bats. But as we motored a mile up the mangrove in our dingy to reach the cave entrance, we saw a massive thunderboomer cloud approaching from the east. Our dingy motor has been a little tenuous lately, and Sophie was anchored in a very exposed area. So we punted on the idea of the cave (for now), got back to the boat, and motored around the corner to a much more sheltered anchorage. We anchored in 40 feet of water and marveled at the hundreds of basketball-sized jellyfish slowly bouncing around the bay. We did not swim.

Ko Rok Nok, Ko Rok Nai
07.12.815N, 099.04.156E
THAI3018Our next stop was another Thai national park, and we picked up a mooring in the channel between these two small islands. Our first week of “monsoon” weather in Thailand was perfect, the water was crystal clear, and there were thousands of reef fish swimming under Sophie. We enjoyed a grand afternoon cavorting in the water. The next morning a bit of a squall showed up, and we were directly exposed to a southerly wind that would have pushed us onto a reef in about 5 seconds if our mooring line broke. We decided to leave that morning, knowing full well that we will return.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Ton Sai Bay
07.44.051N, 098.46.304E
WP_20150727_002Phi Phi Don is a backpacker tourist island and is very, very cool. We anchored in the main harbor, slightly to the west of the route that the ferries, speedboats, and longtails use. Next time we’ll anchor to the west, away from the traffic and closer to the wall. The village reminded us of a bigger version of Gili Air, with 10 blocks of walking streets filled with backpacker bars, dive shops, tattoo parlors, and foot massage stands. Wandering these streets were Russian girls in bikinis and Australian bros with bad tats and hats, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We stayed two nights and enjoyed some great people watching. We also caught up with our friends on Garuça Cat, whom we hadn’t seen since Bali. We will definitely be taking our nephews Steven and Dan here when they visit in the next few months.

Ko Phi Phi Le, Maya Bay
07.40.815N, 098.45.847E
pp1This day stop was literally spectacular, meaning “of or like a spectacle; marked by or given to an impressive, large-scale display.” Phi Phi Le is where the Leo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed, and it is apparently a required stop for every tourist who visits Phuket, which is 20 miles away. We arrived at 7:00 AM to grab one of the few mooring balls there, and by noon we counted over 50 high speed (500-1000+ hp outboards) tourist boats in the little bay. They would roar in, wait for their landing instructions from the BTC (Beach Traffic Controller), drop a sand hook off their bow, back 150 feet up to the beach, unload 20 tourists, then roar away. We counted a couple dozen of these boats lined up on the beach at one time, and later heard that during high season there are 2,000 boat trips a day to this little bay. Thankfully there is buoyed off swim area on the beach, and we simply sat in the water and marveled at the spectacle of thousands of tourists doing spinning panorama shots of themselves with their GoPros on selfie sticks. 

pplRemember, we’ve had most tropical beaches to ourselves for the last year, and this was a little more crowded. Phi Phi Le is a National Park, and we had to pay a beach landing fee of $40 for the family to enjoy the scene. It was worth every penny.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Laem Thong
07.46.744N, 098.45.956EWP_20150728_001
After the spectacle, we motored back up to Phi Phi Don and dropped the hook off of the sea gypsy village on the northeast coast of the island. It has a beautiful beach, nice coral, and wasn’t very crowded. There is a beach bar there named Jasmin, and we enjoyed a seven hour meal there, swapping stories with Peter, the Scot who’s married to Jasmin and serves as the restaurant’s official greeter and beer pourer. IMG20150728174023He’s quite a character, telling stories about Leo DiCaprio, Amy Winehouse, and his dark past in London. We will definitely be back.

Chalong, Phuket
07.48.965N, 098.21.574E
chalongWe could have stayed in the Phi Phi for a month (the kiddies never get tired of the fact that the islands’ name is pronounced “pee pee”), but we needed to officially check into Thailand so we motored over to Chalong harbor on the southern end of Phuket. On our way we caught our first tuna since November, thanks to advice we got from Peter. Apparently tuna and whale sharks are running through the islands here for the next few months, so we’ve got our lines back out after months of the fish nothingness that is otherwise known as Indonesia. Chalong has a one stop check-in center (Immigration, Customs, Harbormaster) all located in a single building at the end of a big pier that juts into the crowded harbor. Better yet, these different agencies use computers to share your information across their offices, so we only had to fill out a form one time, and that was on a computer! Amazing. We only spent one night here and anchored out from the main fleet. There are plenty of bars and tourist restaurants in the area, but we only stayed one night.

I continue to write on this blog that things on our little adventure keep getting better and better, and at some point you might begin to think that I am guilty of exaggeration. How could this be possible?

Come to Thailand, and you’ll understand.