WHAT REALLY MATTERS (THAI REFIT YEAR 2)
November 2013 - May 2015
Thailand (and briefly Myanmar and Malaysia)
Written in Belitung, Indonesia, February 2016
“The best way to remember
what truly matters is to almost lose it.
The worst way... is to lose it.”
Let me say this right away: I'm not expecting anyone to read another long treatise on our boatwork, so I'll use my Authorial Powers of Time Control to speed through many of the tasks that took months. In fact, I can probably condense them into just a few photos.
Besides, as you'll read, traumatic events of our second year in Thailand put the entire project -- and our lives -- into a new perspective.
It was strange coming back to Thailand after being away for nearly 4 months. The condo we'd rented was still available so we moved back in. It felt so familiar. Was this home? We hoped not.
We flew back via Seoul, Korea. Incheon is the best airport we've
ever been through. We had a long layover and went on one of their
free "transit tours" which included a stop at this museum. The
Korean royalty mannequins seemed oddly familiar.
True to form, Thailand welcomed us back with immediate surprises. The morning after our arrival we found a snake in the bathroom. "Not poisonous," we were told by the condominium guard. Still, we'd rather the snakes stayed outside. Which is where we put the one we found the following day that had been hiding in our folding table.
Migration was as we left her. And, luckily, there were no snakes or other infestations. Well, almost...
The previous year we had fiberglassed in this tube designed
to store our man-overboard pole under the wing deck.
But now there was something inside...
Alene monitored the birds daily until they
fledged, then spent several hours fishing
the nest out and cleaning the tube.
Our next surprise was, unfortunately, far more upsetting. We'd realized by now that our painting contractor, Gig, didn't know what he was doing. We'd already paid him for more work than he'd finished. We figured if he gave us the paint we'd bought we would release him from the contract and he would come out ahead. When we finally got him to show up, he said that plan wouldn't work as he hadn't paid for the paint -- though we had given him the money. He was planning to use our final payment for the chandlery bill. We had no idea how he planned to pay his workers in the meantime. Like so many contractors in Thailand, he had overextended himself and was now in debt. He refused to return our US$9,000 worth of paint and he left town.
After giving ourselves several (many) good solid kicks to the head for breaking a cardinal rule of contracts in Thailand -- never pay for more than you've received -- we moved on and hired the best painter on the island whom we had rejected the year before because he was so expensive.
We signed the contract with Mr. Oh and began working on our own projects. On the last day of February, Oh's four-man crew began to sand the boat. We'd decided that we needed to put another coat of primer on to ensure a good bond. Besides, the replacement red paint was on order and we had to wait for it... why not do something?
Oh, how we wished we'd hired Mr. Oh in the first place!
To help us relieve some stress, our friends on s/v Dalai offered to take us sailing for a little overnight trip.
The Dalai crew riding in true Thai-motorbike style.
Oh's crew was great. By the end of March, Migration was primed and sanded for the second time.
LUNCH TIME AT PON'S
We still went to Hareefeen Restaurant nearly every day for
lunch. Pon would still serve us whatever she felt like making for our ahaan
glahng wan surprise.
When Pon was particularly proud of a dish, she would take a photo with her phone. Why? we asked.
Her reply: Facebook!
Pon had a lot of cats which made Alene very happy and provided some good photo ops.
As a thank you for all the wonderful meals, Alene had a sign made in English to attract more farang (white foreigner)
customers. We put it up with the help of a group of cruiser friends. The sign worked... Pon was much busier after that.
NOT REALLY A SURPRISE
Since this was a total refit, we finally got around to checking Migration's rudder.
The shaft didn't look so good. It was 46-year old solid stainless and there was no way
to check for crevice corrosion. We decided we'd better make a new rudder.
We drilled holes to calculate the thickness and made lots of measurements.
We hired our friend Gram Schweikert to create the plans for a slightly modified design while we set about locating shaft material as well as someone on the island who could lay up and vacuum bag the new blade.
A rudder is more complicated than it looks.
SO LONG, OCELOT
In March, we helped our friends Jon & Sue launch Ocelot. They were finally
finished with their own multi-year
Thai refit ordeal. We would miss their weekend visits which included kvetching about boat work in Thailand over Sunday brunch mimosas.
A happy day for Ocelot.
MORE FAUNA SURPRISES
A gorgeous beetle we found in the boatyard.
As well as a very friendly praying mantis.
Snakes under the boat and on the path to the condo.
At the local hardware store I noticed something sticking out of a concrete column...
A very large spider checks out our shoes, which are propped
against the wall to keep scorpions and other critters out.
A long-tailed lizard rests on our bicycle seat.
One of Pon's cats loved the motorbike.
April in Thailand means Songkran, and that means it's time to get wet again!
In early April, the red paint finally arrived.
This is not a modern art installation -- it's the pieces of the ventilation system Oh set up.
Within days we had gleaming bright red hulls.
Wait a second... that doesn't look so good.
Actually, the crew uses black spray paint as a marker so they
make sure to sand the entire area before applying subsequent
coats. (This is definitely not the best way to do it, but you try telling them...)
Unfortunately, there was a miscalculation when the paint was ordered and we came up short. So we couldn't finish the hulls before painting the deck. The hulls were covered to protect them. And the crew moved topside.
In April we were reunited with several cruising friends, and also made some new ones. We had great fun together. Earlier in the year, we'd become friends with the two young men who worked at the marina's fitness center, Khun Aun and Khun Med. Khun Aun was an excellent cook and we hosted several parties and cooking classes at the condo.
Celebrating Dick's birthday with Dick and Trish of s/v Geramar.
Khun Aun looking cool...
...and explaining Thai cuisine.
Ruthie and her husband Neal from
s/v Rutea became fast friends.
It was great to spend time again with Dick and Trish
of s/v Geramar, and Katie and Jim from s/v Tenaya.
Finally, more pool parties! Yes, there was talking and laughing.
I'd spotted a video on YouTube about toroids (things that are donut-shaped). In it, there was a person blowing a toroid bubble. Alene and I practiced every time we swam. And we taught our friends how to do it as well.
Aun's wife, Oh, and Jim from Tenaya learned fast.
Katie's (s/v Tenaya) birthday party (photos by Tenaya)
Another May Day rolled around which required
a Morris Jig.
We were invited to a wedding party in the little village
we lived next to. An interesting cultural experience with,
as you would expect, lots of delicious food. Everyone had
an opportunity to take photos with the bride and groom
in the special photo 'room' set up on the street.
ROAD TRIP TO MYANMAR
It was already time to renew our visas. We decided to rent a car and drive up to the Myanmar border. We asked Jim and Katie if they wanted to go with us. They are fun people, so of course they said yes.
Unfortunately, due to obtuse Thai visa rules, Jim and Katie were not allowed to leave the country so they stayed in Thailand while Alene and I took a boat across the river and stayed overnight in Myanmar.
A public "drinking fountain" and our hotel for the night -- Penguins in Myanmar?
Myanmar was so clearly a very different country with a fascinating culture.
And a very interesting alphabet.
Advertising in Myanmar: As American as Apple Pie or... Tylenol? Which brand of canned something
do you prefer: Ship, Bird, or Boy?
We returned to Thailand the next day. All four of us then drove north and east to spend a night on the gulf coast of Thailand.
We visited a cave and a waterfall and then had a great dinner overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The next day we
headed back to Phuket in time for a perfect sunset.
When you visit a Thai National Park, it is important to
remember your roots. Or someone's roots. Not sure.
The 12th military coup in Thai history took place on 22 May 2014. It was big news, of course, but not much changed in our lives. There was a curfew for a period of time but we were rarely out late anyway. (Although the day it was imposed, we were out to dinner with friends, so were in immediate violation.) Because Phuket survives on the tourist industry, the curfew was lifted on the island long before other parts of the country. It would be crazy to try to stop those drunk Russian and Aussie tourists from going out to the Patong sex shows.
What did change is that the new government cracked down on illegal buildings and businesses along the shorelines. This was most evident on the west coast of Phuket where all the tourist beaches are, but even our little village wasn't immune and brand new structures that had been built in the time since we arrived were ordered to be dismantled.
These pictures are from July when the orders finally took effect. Those who had just built the little internet
café six months before, took it down with little fuss and rebuilt it across the street. But some people had lived
on the water for a very long time and it was much harder to leave their homes.
A CLEAN DECK
Work on the deck was continuing throughout May.
It was a huge job to lay out the sections for the non-skid. And this was the second time we'd done it.
By the end of May, we had a freshly painted deck.
We covered it immediately.
ANOTHER RAINY SEASON
June started the rainy season -- our second -- and that meant it was time for more tent problems.
A serious break of the main support across the top.
Our friend Chai had his workers re-weld it.
You can imagine we were a bit nervous...
We had to create this ridiculous ladder
configuration to constantly replace the
wire ties holding the side curtains and
the lacing holding the top. I spent a lot
of time up there.
June also meant it was birthday time for Alene. So we took the day off and had some good fun.
ANOTHER VISA RUN
A quick trip to Kuala Lumpur to renew our visas.
And do a cartwheel, of course.
Finally, the last of the red paint arrived. On the first of July we took the final photo with Oh's crew. We were finished painting!
We were much happier (and taller) than they were.
JUST US TWO
And now it was up to us. Not only did we have plenty of other projects still on the list, we had to put the boat back together. It was a big job. Much bigger than we expected. Why are we continually surprised by how long boat work takes? You would think we'd have learned by now....
We moved all the parts back to the boat from storage. No, I was not trying for a cool Buck Rogers look
on our motorbike -- that's the bow pulpit.
The first hatch is installed.
Our daily work area. We covered the deck to protect the new paint. It was a pleasure to just work together
and not have to deal with managing Thai workers.
We spent a lot of time drilling holes in the boat.
The new side portlights.
The first reinstalled port and chainplate. Every step made us so happy.
Except when we made mistakes and had to clean up the extremely sticky butyl tape.
So many screws!
New titanium forestay chainplates.
Alene is strong but we still decided to
install larger primary winches.
LIFE IN THAILAND
Though ridiculously busy on the boat, we still made time to experience life in this interesting land.
We never got used to the way kids got to school.
The frangipani trees continued to bloom and, miraculously,
many of the blossoms ended up on Alene's bike every morning.
Selling mattresses door-to-door; a tough job without
So many different kinds of eggs... and Thais don't even
Thai ice cream sandwiches. Two slices of white bread with
ice cream in between.
Impressive ride-sharing to work.
Intelligent design: Try to open
#11 while the key is in #10.
It's very thoughtful that the new marina office has the hours posted...
... but written to be read from the inside?! This type of
mistake, so easy to avoid, is incredibly common.
It was now September and our new rudder was finally progressing. Lots to organize: delivery of the stock from Taiwan, welding of supports, and construction and vacuum bagging.
The rudder shaft log and bearing were old and some of
the wood was rotten. So...
...might as well rebuild that also.
We lengthened the rudder by just a couple of inches.
But that made it too long to go into the boat. We had
to dig a hole in the asphalt.
The test. It fit!
Because we'd torn apart and rebuilt Migration's hull, and she
had been sitting on the hard for so long, her shape had shifted.
When we went to install the shaft and strut, nothing lined up
like it used to. Another project.
ANOTHER VISA RUN
Too bad we hadn't applied for retirement visas when we were last in the US. We seriously hadn't thought we'd still be here. Another 3 months had gone by and it was time to renew again with a quick trip to Kuala Lumpur.
We made the most of it by visiting the very cool DINING IN THE DARK restaurant. Alene
also got a police patch from the KL Tourist Police.
We returned ready to tackle the last jobs. We were getting so close. We even gave the yard a tentative launch date.
It was a happy day when Migration got her name back.
AND EVERYTHING CHANGES
Thank God it wasn't that cliché phone call that "changes your life forever". Though it could have been.
Alene had gone to town on the motorbike to run a slew of errands. I was in the condo recuperating from a bout of bronchitis. I was feeling better after lunch and was just getting ready to head to the boat when my phone rang.
"I'm OK. But I had an accident."
She said she was fine, but when I arrived a half hour later with our Thai friend, Toi, it only took one dismayed glance at Alene's blood-spattered face to know that this was serious; something her adrenalin -- and lack of a mirror -- hadn't allowed her to realize.
There followed the ambulance ride in Phuket traffic (forget about getting to the hospital quickly if you had a heart attack...), the emergency room, the phone calls, the meetings with doctors, the second opinions, the surgeon recommendations from relatives and friends in the US, the flight to Bangkok, the surgery...
But she was alive. And whole.
A truck had pulled out across the road directly in front of her. There was no place to go. She broadsided it.
The helmet probably saved her life.
She was bruised. She broke her nose. Several bones around her left eye were crushed. She now has 2 titanium plates installed.
But she did not break her neck. Or end up in a coma.
All the months of anguish and frustration. The money and time wasted. It was nothing.
Everything would have been nothing if I'd lost my love.
God. Guardian Angel. Luck. Fate. The way the atoms were lined up that day...
After 5 days in the Bangkok hospital and a few more recovering in
a hotel, Alene took a little boat ride on the river.
Alene couldn't fly so we had to take the overnight train and then a bus back to Phuket.
This is our friend, Toi, who was wonderful in dealing
with the police and helping us. Thank you, Toi.
We hung out at the condo while Alene recovered. After several days, I went back to the boatyard to continue working.
By now it was clear the yard thought we were never leaving as Migration was always boxed in by other boats. (That's us in the tent...)
There was plenty to do: Continuing repairs on the mast, rewiring, and adding new sailtrack.
We'd planned to take a break to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Vietnam in mid-October. When we had to cancel, they changed their plans and came to visit us. That was really sweet.
If you've seen The Man With the Golden Gun, then you'd
recognize this rock which is the main tourist attraction of
Phang Nga bay.
By late October, Alene was well enough to start working again and we finished installing the hatches, ports, portlights, and deck hardware. Migration was sealed up against the elements.
Things started to happen.
The tent came down.
OH, HAPPY DAY!
The masts went up...
(with the caring assistance of Neal and Ruthie of s/v Rutea)
Migration got her name back on her bows...
(again with Neal and Ruthie's help)
Transducers and thru-hulls installed...
Anti-fouling bottom paint...
Prop and zincs...
Back aboard came everything from the condo.
The interior went from this...
And then, the day arrived.
We were going back in the water.
The yard team rolled the trailer under Migration and suddenly our spot in the yard was...
Our friend Toi brought traditional Thai offerings for the launch and garlands for the bow. In keeping with Thai tradition, we also lit off a string of 1,000 firecrackers which was very exciting as Alene held them on a boat hook over the water trying to keep from blowing up the freshly painted deck. It was a great day. That night, November 19th, we moved back aboard.
We exchanged this view...
...for this one. Home, sweet home.
You know you've been on land too long when...
... the tent over your boat has its own garden,
... and you can find that tent (with your boat under it)
in three different images on Google Earth.
Migration had been on the hard for 1 year, 8 months, and 1
Only 1 year longer than we'd planned.
NOT FINISHED YET
There was still so much to do: our storage unit was full of stuff, the engine had to be moved up to align with the new position of the shaft, electrical and plumbing systems needed reconnecting. But we were floating and that was awesome. We spent the next week unpacking boxes and trying to remember where we used to stow things. Alene then headed to Cincinnati so she could celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. I stayed aboard Migration for a couple of weeks more before heading to Long Beach, CA.
Before I left, Dick and Trish returned
from a trip to Holland. Surprisingly
when they appeared back in town,
so did gifts from Sinterklaas. Having
no clogs, I left my sandals out and it
worked: chocolate letters, Dutch cheese,
and celebratory champagne!
We returned to Migration in late January after spending the holidays with family. Over the next month and a half we focused on doing whatever was needed to get Migration ready for sea. After the coup last year, the rules had changed for foreign boats. Customs was no longer granting extensions; we had overstayed our permit by nearly a year. We wanted to leave Thailand and reenter so we could get a new permit. We also needed to sail to Langkawi, Malaysia to have the boat measured for a new mainsail.
On March 4th we untied Migration from the dock and motored away from Ao Po Grand Marina.
Alene needed to celebrate.
Our first night at anchor.
A few days later we headed to Lankgawi and actually sailed! It was heaven.
We took 4 days to sail the 140 miles to Langkawi, stopping
at some nice islands along the way.
We stayed a week in Langkawi, meeting up with our friends Astrid and Phil who were living there. Phil measured and designed our new main.
LIMA was in town -- an international military air and naval convention. There was a terrific air show.
Together - Safer - Everywhere. It is very strange and sad
to walk through a convention hall of weapons systems.
We took a week to get back to Ao Po Marina. We spent one whole day at an anchorage where we were the only boat. The wonderfulness of living aboard Migration was flowing back into our veins.
When we returned to Thailand, we got to work emptying out the storage area.
It took many trips to move everything to the boat.
I love getting rid of stuff. This, and more, was all given away.
One of the most important jobs we had to do was change the mounts so the engine would be properly aligned with the shaft's new position. Unfortunately, the new mounts we'd put in were terrible. So we reinstalled the old ones with spacers underneath. We got a little tired of lifting the engine up and down.
Lifting the engine with a borrowed come-along.
We also spent days dealing with the medical expenses reimbursement from Alene's accident. The driver had admitted fault and his insurance company was supposed to pay. At the same time we were tracking down missing and broken pieces that our carpenter, Nhoon, had not returned. Both projects were a source of great frustration, but we finally prevailed, sort of. Besides, we were nearing the end of the ordeal and we had a new appreciation for what we (especially Alene) had been through.
The missing and broken pieces of our American maple headliner. Here's the story about Nhoon carpenter.
Though we no longer had the condo for parties, we couldn't let birthdays go unnoticed. We celebrated Mia's 16th birthday onboard Migration (and all over Phuket!) with the whole s/v Mojo crew.
Waiting for the birthday waffles.
We wanted to do something for the many friends we'd made in Thailand. We went out on three separate daysails with a total of 35 guests aboard.
That last photo is our enthusiastic friend, Beer, who was our outboard motor repair guy. (And yes, that's
really his name.) We swam into a hong and he decided that a walk in the mud would be fun.
Another May Day already? Time for a Morris jig to dance
the sun down. This time at our former neighbor's condo, Lori and Larry.
We threw a big dock party and invited nearly everyone we knew. Dozens of people came; even some we didn't invite.
Unexpectedly, people brought all kinds of going-away gifts.
Unbelievably, the day came when we realized that we'd done enough. Everything wasn't finished, but the boat was ship shape enough to leave.
So what if there were boxes everywhere?
We gave away the last of our stuff, sold our motorbike, and then said goodbye to some of
our best friends: Khun Ar, Khun Med, & Khun Aun.
We went to customs, immigration, and the port captain and officially cleared out of the country.
We logged our departure in the port captain's book on 30 April 2015 -- two years and five months after
arriving in Thailand.
And then we sailed away.
On to new adventures aboard Migration, our beautiful home.
It might have been different.
Instead, the universe granted us a reprieve from the sorrow that eventually finds us all.
It's good to remember how good we have it.
It's good to remember what really matters.
Be Good. Be Safe. Have Fun.
Where we went November 2014 - May
2015 (after launch)
400 nautical miles traveled this period.
36,981 nautical miles aboard Migration since leaving Long Beach in June 2005
THIS MIGRATIONS' DO GOOD:
The greatest wealth is health.
And recognizing that you have it.
This site was last updated 11/22/17