Unintended Singlehander: Day 2, the grounding

This story continued from Day 1, two blogposts down.

We motored east as the tide began to ebb. Flipped up the fenders, one at a time. Not cool to keep them trailing, like fingers skimming patterns in the sand. Dawn was warming black into blue and the monolith islands ahead looked like construction paper silhouettes.

Nervous, excited energy made my stomach queasy. The tide carried us right on course, so I hopped below to start the propane stove for tea. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, click. The flame burst into the darkness and the red light came on. All good. Back in the cockpit, wood smoke signaled the start of the day. Cocks crowed, answered, crowed again.

Tropical mist muted the edges of stilt houses, sharp sterned boats, nothing could stay pointed, hard-edged. Zen of nature, at work on herself. The tea kettle whistled. Swinging below from the cockpit with a whimsical thought, I poured boiling water into the carafe over two Twinings tea bags. UHT milk was in the fridge.

Back up to steer, the morning mist was sweet and warm. Ahead in the channel, the sound a long tails, beamy stretch-style canoes used for fishing, each unique and elaborately painted by the owner. They were called Long Tails because Thai fishermen adapted the outboards with extremely long shafts. Well developed v-shape latissimus dorsi confirmed who were the most experience drivers, as the man became the fulcrum on which the whole boat turned. With a propeller sometimes 6 feet beyond the boat, the boats could turn quickly and the prop stayed well out of the way of their fishing nets. Outboards nestled under their arm like dad's putting their kids in a headlock, the driver controlled the speed and direction of the boat as if it was an extension of his body.

Sunrise illuminated the mythic monoliths off to port. Man with a Golden Gun was filmed there and the shallow, shifting sand banks made it tricky to navigate. Sailing alone, prudently I'd set my course the opposite and more direct course to Malaysia. Sipping my tea, the pull was too great. Nerves calmed, the adventurer inside won the debate.

Shoving the tiller to starboard, Tethys bow headed north into the shallow misty sage shrouded islands. Hopping down to grab the chart, three new waypoints were set and entered. Radar and necessarily fast plotting was going to be key. A longtail turned and headed toward me. "Not now!," I thought, realizing it was hopeless. A woman was standing in the bow holding 6 giant shrimp. Over the engine, I could hear the price, but feigning confusion and demanding crew below (I didn't relish anyone knowing I was sailing alone!) I waived her off with a "namaste" and what sounds like- khop khun kha- or thank you. Feigning confusion and a demanding driver, she persisted.

Laughing to myself, I realized I'd met my match and she was not leaving. Grabbing some baht from the chart table, I bought the shrimp and again thanked her. Smiling, they cruised alongside for the next mile, entertained and clearly knowing I was alone. Unafraid, it was another case of person helping person, woman knowing woman.

Passing a very large stilt house community, a light breeze came up. Loosening the reef nettles, the main hoisted easily and I went back to the cockpit to fall off the wind, trim the sheet and steer Tethys back into the channel. Depth sounder said 11 feet. Weather helm confirmed it was time for the staysail. While the jib was roller furling, the staysail was hanked on. Moving to the fordeck with constant glances to port and starboard, the sail ties came loose quickly and I hoisted the balancing sail. Even in such a light breeze, Tethys picked up speed.

Comfortable with the helm and course, but now moving at about 5 knots, my speed was faster than my plots. Water on the hull, more longtails, people laughing from the nearby homes signaled the end of a calm first morning. It was as if all of life was suddenly moving faster. We rounded the top of the bay, Tethys slowed slightly as I eased gently off the wind.

Leaning back, I considered getting my camera, when all of a sudden I was thrown forward with a gentle whiplash motion. The quick change made the staysail flap wildly and the main bounced with a loud clank of blocks on deck. Pulling hard on the tiller to try to hold our momentum, I prayed her stern wouldn't go more aground. The sandy bottom made a sound like a whale rubbing along our keel. Tethys rolled a little to starboard but resisted the turn. Rushing forward, I grabbed the clew and windward sheet and backed the staysail. The main was driving her towards the shallows, but backing the staysail so fast pushed the bow down and in seconds, we were picking up speed back into the deeper channel.

From the cockpit, I turned my back on Phang Na's tempting magic and set course for an anchorage, sweating. It was going to be a shorter day than expected, but shriveled from the adrenalin rush and now keenly aware of my lack of sleep the night before, I longed to anchor and sleep. Shemali Blue radio schedule was a few hours away and though they had no idea I'd gone this route, our anchorage was going to be one of their favorites, Ko Roi. Circling around the empty cove twice, dropping sails, then dropping the anchor in 20 feet of sweet mud, I backed down with the engine, shut it off, entered "OFF 1311" in the log and fell hard asleep.

My watch alarm woke me at 1730 for the planned radio call to Shemali Blue. Feeling drugged from sleep, I turned on the rado and listened. Their British lilt broke the silence.  I answered back. They repeated their call.  I answered again.  As they went into round 3 of calling, I realized the new radio install wasn't working.  Sad and a little nervous, I shut it off and started disassembling.  Working into the night, it was out with the new, in with the old and then, around midnight, a boatload of singing, drunk, Germain charterers entered our peaceful cove.

Tune in next week for Day 3!