When a Thai official decided to push it, to insist that that the letter stating I was officially Captain of the vessel while the owner was out of Thailand and that the money we'd already paid for extending our visa wasn't enough, I called his bluff. "If you do not pay, then you must leave Thailand", he said. "Ok," I replied, calm and determined not to pay the bribe. "Alone?" he said. "Yes," I replied, less calm and mind awhirl with an adrenalin rush.
Officially checked out of the country and with 24 hours to leave, the sweat making my shorts stick to the taxi seat were, this time, not just due to the tropical heat. Nancy always wanted me to single-hand Tethys, her 38 foot Colin Archer one-off double-ender we'd been sailing together for two years. Loving a challenge, gaining skills and independent, she'd encouraged me to try all kinds of tasks so far. Single-handing, or sailing alone, was one of the last things on the wish list.
Back in Seattle for a round of boat show and yacht club talks that were our main source of clients, income and publicity, she'd no doubt be 1. proud 2. worried 3. want explanation that would take time I now did not have. Offices were closed for the day and a fax or email to her would only cause 1-2-3, so plan B moved to plan A, I readied the boat, made a clear plan with cruising friends in the unlikely, unpleasant, unthinkable instance that something went wrong.
A wicked strong current between Phuket's north end and the mainland meant Tethys would need every help I could give to make it out without disaster. The day before while the current was on the ebb, a big steel boat from Australia had been pinned against the dock behind us, crushing a dinghy and bouncing into a couple of boats. That was not a scene I wished to repeat and drastically underpowered for her tonnage (19 tons) with only 22.5 horsepower and a very full keel for the current to grab, Tethys always required finesse to maneuver. Slack tide was at 0400, so leaving in the dark was the best option.
Mangrove branches pinned against the dock finally floated loosely. It was time to go! Carda, mom of Ellie the precocious 4-year old who'd announced herself in full proper British English a few days before, cast me off with a quiet wave, hands together in a sign to wish me peaceful travel. She and husband Peter, who'd met while both working in Tanzania and now had their steel boat Shemali Blue moored three slips away would be my daily check in team. Experienced cruisers, they'd also poured over charts and knew the likely stops or contingencies I might choose enroute to Malaysia.
Tethys nosed out into the channel. Fenders up, course set, dawn starting her slow tropical rise and Venus smiling over my shoulder. We were off!
Tune in later this week for the next part of the voyage!