the journey


Making it Happen

December 28, 2009

Story location: Thailand

I am dropping into space. Peering between my feet a few hundred feet off the deck there is my Coloradan friend, Billy, looking scruffy, sweaty, and tanned, grinning, clipped into his titanium-bolted-anchor attached to the reddish-orange psychedelically featured rock we have been climbing on up at Candlestick Wall. This is our last climb together in Thailand and a good one to end it on. It has been a few years now since Billy and I have been hanging off walls together, but the memories flash back like yesterday. Long full day climbs up the classic cracks of Yosemite, Zion, Indian Creek, and the crags of Boulder and Eldo. Multi-day wall climbs up El Cap, Half Dome, and the majestic walls of Zion. And quality multi-day adventures in the high alpine mountains of the Sierras and Rockies.

Memories that don't fade, memories I will always remember.
This trip is totally different, clipping bolts in Thailand with board shorts, no shirt, a rack of draws, and sweat streaming off our bodies all day while we monkey around some of the most impressively featured, colorful, and trippy rock I have ever seen. Not to mention we aren't alone. Sharing the climbing experience with our girls and some of our best friends has been pretty much perfect.

Peering out beyond the tops of the thickly forested canopy is Railay Bay, buzzing with the non-stop noisy long tail boats shuttling tourists from beach to beach. The merciless sun beats down on the murky blue water dotted with massive jellyfish and algal-covered hard coral masses. The golden beaches are filled with scantily-clad Italians, French, Scandinavians and Americans, here for their Xmas time winter respite from the cold lands they all escaped from.

As I keep lowering off the wall and back to terra firma it dawns on me that our time is almost up with our friends. For the last 3+ weeks we have been with 4 of our best buddies. Mike and Bronwen from Berkeley, California, and Billy and Deanne from Boulder, Colorado. All four of these characters made the big trip happen across the mighty Pacific to hook up with us in Thailand for some DK adventures sailing, exploring and rock climbing. The captain and crew, coined 'The 6-Pack' on a bareboat sailing trip we all took to the Greek Islands 4 years prior, were back together again.

After re-launching DreamKeeper from the Boat Lagoon yard, Nicole and I had about 10 days to explore before our friends arrived. It felt soooooooo good to be back on the boat in the water without the rush rush energy of needing to get to Thailand. We were 'here' and we were finally wrapped up with our insurance survey and all the big boat projects we needed to do. Time to change the energy. So off we went on a little re-con trip thru Phang Nga Bay, Koh Phi Phi Don and Railay Bay to scope out some good spots for later with the full crew, be tourists again ourselves, and get our rusty climbing bodies back in action.

10 days flew by and we were once again tying up DK so we could fly up to Chang Mai to meet up with Bron and Mike for 4 days before returning to Phuket and the boat.

And so the adventures began...

I could never do it justice in writing to describe the day to day reality of what we actually did, but I can describe moments that I clearly remember:

How it feels to meet your closest friends at the airport who you haven't seen for over a year and have just flown halfway around the world to hang out with you. Intense love, joy, gratitude.

Witnessing a powerful local experience in Chang Mai at sunrise with 10,000 monks lined up for miles down a street surrounded by Thai military and engulfed by thousands and thousands of people all meditating, praying, and offering food and money to the holy devotees.

Wandering down the old town streets of Chang Mai lined with hawker food stands, Buddhist temples, and weathered buildings all with character and history, and then sharing the experience over delicious northern Thai food at a riverfront venue.

Trying to load 4 more people and all their stuff, including climbing gear and ropes, all onto DK for 2 weeks all together on the boat. We pulled it off.

Billy and Mike shucking fresh "kung" (prawns) we bought off the local fisherman who pulled up to our boat in Phang Nga Bay. Then, "kung" on the barbie at sunset with cold brews and white wine surrounded by sea eagles and towering limestone rocky islands. Picture perfect.

Pulling super dingy up to the "Grateful Wall" at Koh Yao Noi in intense currents and waves next to razor sharp limestone rocks. Off-loading climbers, photographers and gear and watching everyone scramble up the scary, crumbly, vertical wall to get to the base of one of prettiest and remote rocks we climbed at in Thailand. Not only was the place dramatic, the climbing amazing, but we all had to earn it to be there.

Sailing to Koh Phi Phi Don with Mike at the helm on a beautiful beam reach of 15 knots...sun shining, wind-waves small, and DK humming along threading the needle between numerous Thai commercial fishing boats on another gorgeous Thailand day.

Pulling DK out of Phi Phi's Tonsai Bay at midnight with all of us in our underwear to escape the maddening 4-foot rollers that were coming into the bay. The troops rallied for that one.

And then there was Railay.

Climbing, climbing, climbing and being back in the climbing circle of people I was once a big part of. Catching up with my Colorado friend, Shrerab, and her new husband, Eric. Seeing the joy in Nic and Bron after their multi-hour photo shoots and all of us swapping stories over cold Chang beers and thai food at our favorite haunts at sunset.

But most importantly, what I will always remember, are the times where we just hung out, caught up on our lives, talked about our future dreams and reignited the sparks to keep our friendships real.

We hate good-byes. But once again they had to be done.

We wished all our buddies safe travels back to their winter worlds in America and we are alone again on the boat. The transitions are the most difficult, but time heals and we busy ourselves again with all the preparations that need to happen for this leg of the big journey, sad to be away from our people but still excited about the new countries, new oceans, and new adventures awaiting us.

Much love and thank you to you 4 who made it happen!

***And not to be outdone, the multi-talented, Bronwen, just wrote a great little story on her own BLOG site. CLICK HERE to connect to her website.


December 26, 2009

Story location: Railay Bay climbing and other misadventures around Phuket, Thailand

Written by Colorado mountain girl, supermodel, and DK salty mate Deanne Buck

3, 30, 300, 3,000, 30,000. Three weeks in Thailand summed up by one number.

Three weeks in the tropics. Three weeks in December leaving behind the 3 degree weather enveloping our mountain home in Colorado. Three couples (Bron and Mike, Gar and Nic, Billy and myself) aboard the forty-foot Dreamkeeper. Sometimes, three is the perfect union...

So, the saying among climbers new to Thailand limestone goes something like, "30 pitches before a newcomer feels comfortable with the style of climbing in Railay." Knowing when I got to 30 implies that one, I was counting, and, two, it was someone other than myself at one end of the climbing rope. For me and my style of climbing (read: gripped in the face of irrational fears on most any climb), I could have climbed 3, 30, or 300 routes. The number didn't matter, I still brought myself to every climb. What this means to the non-climber is that when we face fears, sometimes familiarity does nothing to alleviate the reality that are challenging ourselves to redefine and push ourselves at any moment. And, when I started climbing 15-odd years ago, I thought it was about being physically strong enough to get myself to the top!

Spending 333 hours (24 hours a day for 2 weeks) with 6 people in a 300 sq. foot space is the best (and fastest) way to get to decide whether you can be friends for life. Granted, it's not for everyone; in fact, I am surprised there is not a reality t.v. show on this yet. Fortunately, we have had practiced. Over four years ago, the same crew sailed around the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. This was our reunion tour to refresh our boat handling skills (read: sipping cocktails at sunset on the boat's bow) and a great excuse to crash Gar and Nic's mostly solitary world circumnavigation. After a few days of catching up on what has happened since we were all last together, we dive into the really deep and important conversations- dreams, hopes, fears, plans, pitfalls, and, perhaps the most defining topic for all, "what would it take for you to..." There is something really refreshing about spending all day and night with someone, thinking you have (un)covered every possible angle of their personality and psyche, and then realizing you have completely over-, or under-, estimated their walk-away threshold. For instance, Billy and Bron were in complete agreement that it would take $3,000 for them to swim from Dreamkeeper through the longtail boat channel to the beach, walk to the base of a 700 foot wall and climb it in the sun at high noon. Billy said, $3,000 was pushing it- but that was his threshold. Bronwen was willing to negotiate down, but NO LESS than $2,501. Gar didn't think it would be that hard and would have been willing to do it, "EASILY for $1,000." Mike would be willing to do it, "probably, for $3,000," but I could tell that if pushed, he would take no less than $5,000. Nic did not want to answer THIS question, she wanted to know, "If you could only have one animal, but you have to have 12 of them, what animal would choose." (The answer to this is for another blog). For myself- I hate to admit this, but I would have done it for $300. What does this say about my personality and psyche? I guess when 6 people spend 2 weeks together on a boat, not only do we get to know them better, we get to know ourselves, as well..

The last number left is 30,000. This will be the approximate number of miles Gar and Nic will have travelled when they dock their boat in Sausalito, California sometime in 2011. Even though, I am back in the Colorado snow (and 3 degree weather), part of my spirit is still with them. As it was when they pushed off on this journey over three years ago, there are a lot of us from various corners of the globe riding the bow, blowing in the wind of their sails, and looking down from the stars at night sending our support, admiration, strength, and courage. Thanks Gar and Nic for letting us into your world!

The Yard

November 15, 2009

Story location: Boat Lagoon, Phuket, Thailand

Under pitch black pre-dawn squally skies we left Pulau Langkawi and the memory of the "toilet project" behind and headed north towards Thailand. We were in a hurry to get to the Boat Lagoon Marina and Yard in Phuket. Having scheduled an insurance survey and a date in the yard to haul out and get work done put the pressure on. Since Bali we had been trying to line up a surveyor, find a good boat yard, and arrange all the details that go along with all this. On top of it, we decided in Singapore that we would update our electronic chart-plotters and add an AIS system. Arranging times and locations for all this to happen had been a non-stop process wearing us out mentally and emotionally for months. To put it bluntly, we were really tired of dealing, and the reality was that we hadn't even made it to where the real work would take place.

After getting a bid from Mick of Octopus Electrical in Boat Lagoon, Phuket,(a very supportive and super helpful guy) for our new Raymarine electronics, we, unfortunately for Mick, opted to save some money and buy it in the U.S. online instead and have it shipped Fed-Ex internationally "duty-free" to Langkawi. We were worried about doing this with expensive electronics, but in hindsight, it really was a great decision. In 4 working days time we had all our new goods delivered right to the marina and put on the boat to be installed in the yard in Phuket. We saved thousands of dollars doing it this way, as Mick Can only deal with Aussie gear and prices. Phew, what a relief that was to have everything arrive intact! After months of research and countless emails, we had finally put closure on at least getting the goods. Check that one off the list. Next the install.

Entering Thai waters we darted and dodged around the fishing fleet and headed for Koh Rok, a nice little island out by itself in the Andaman Sea. After another long 80 mile day sail, we grabbed a mooring in the clear water right before sunset, our first island in Thailand. Surrounded by fishing boats and a little sloop from Brazil playing house beats (a first), we relaxed in the protected anchorage under starry skies and appreciated another successful long day.

Another pre-dawn departure and we headed directly into the northerly winds and massive thunderstorm rain squalls motor-sailing towards the island of Phuket. We passed Phi Phi island and into our first onslaught of tourist mania. Jet boats of all sizes and speeds passed us with their day-trip tourists as we grew nearer to land. We dropped our hook at an island outside of the Boat Lagoon Marina channel before dark next to a Kiwi boat named "Wave Runner" and cracked open a much appreciated cold one as the swift current pulled our boat in strange directions. Our last long day sail for months. We had finally made it.

The next morning at high tide we followed the line of sailboats in through the narrow channel that connected the outer bay to the marinas at Boat Lagoon and Royal Phuket Marina. It wasn't too bad and we didn't go aground, but it did get shallow in spots. We eventurally tied up to a slip and I quickly changed and then was off in a taxi down to officially check us into Thailand at Ao Chalong Pier at the south end of Phuket.

When I arrived back a couple of hours later Nicole had already stumbled across our good friends, Terry and Karen on the boat "Sora", whom we hadn't seen since New Zealand in the South Pacific. They have been doing a big re-fit on Sora in the Boat Lagoon Yard for almost 7 months and had local knowledge of pretty much everything. Not only is it fun to see old cruising buddies and share tall-tales, but such a treat to have them meet you when you arrive in a new country, show you around, point you in the right direction, and help get you sorted out with all your needs and wants. On top of that, they continually took us out to great local Thai eats at night and we all partook in the unbelievable Vegetarian Festival in downtown Phuket (which we will definitely describe in a future story).

We were looking forward to a mellow next day as we thought we had a full day to slowly clean up the boat and get her ready for her insurance survey. But, the next morning, after contacting our insurance surveyors, they informed us they wanted to start that same afternoon, as there was so much to go through. Ayyeee! Man were we tired and our boat was a mess from passage, but we didn't really have a choice. So we powered out the cleaning, with Terry and Karen even stopping by to take our laundry in (you guys rock!), before Jimmy and Carolyn from Siam Surveyors came by to start the survey. They went through almost every inch of our boat with Nicole and I helping to pull everything out of lockers, drawers, and cubby holes. Overall though, everything went really well and they were both extremely friendly and so ended part 1 of our survey.

The next morning they were back again to finish up Part 2 of "in the water" that continued with Part 3 "on the hard" once we lifted DK out of the muddy Boat Lagoon water and into her cradle in the "hot as hell" (where it was common for me to go through 3 or 4 t-shirts a day saturated with sweat) boat yard. This was our first haul out since New Zealand almost 2 years prior and we were looking forward to having her bottom cleaned up again along with all the other things we had on our lists.

And so began 3 weeks of non-stop boat yard work. Nicole and I each had on our own lists managing projects, supervising workers, and doing miscellaneous other things on the side. Our nice cleaning job we did on DK for our insurance survey quickly turned into a disaster in the following days as the boat began getting ripped apart. 4 guys underneath the boat sanding, 8 people on deck and inside stripping and sanding varnish, me running around taking off instruments or deck hardware and pulling wires through the tightest spaces.....and Nic constantly running around moving things off the boat to protect them or on the phone arranging contractors to come look at sails or dodgers or fire extinguishers.....

We lined up Nhoon and his team to do some small carpentry jobs as well as some big varnishing projects both inside and outside on DK. All our interior doors and companionway stairs along with many other pieces were taken to his shop to be sanded and sprayed, but most of it had to be done down below in the boat. Living on a boat in the tropics with no AC when you are doing a major sanding and varnishing job is not cool. Not at all. Fortunately, Terry and Karen had been living in a "long-term" leased studio space that they rented out from the hotel next to the marina and told us the details. So, we copied our mentors 'Thai-Terry' and 'Miss Extremely Organized Karen' and arranged our own "month-long" studio rental from the hotel. We moved in that first night, the smartest decision we had made in a long time. Air conditioning, a nice shower, a small kitchenette, and a clean bed were huge luxuries we have never had before when we had been in a boat yard, as we have always opted to just stay on the boat (and literally sleep in the project mess and pee in a bucket). But here, for one month, was only costing us around $300 U.S. and with the insanely hot and humid temperatures everyday, teak dust-filled cabin, and varnish off-gassing, our studio made all the difference in the world.

We successfully launched DK yesterday morning back into the muddy lagoon but it wasn't over yet. On the way to our slip I realized I couldn't turn left very hard over on the wheel....thankfully I only needed to make a small turn left and a big one right. We made it in unscathed and tied up, but both our nerves were on edge. I immediately started looking at our steering and noticed that our autopilot tiller arm had shifted over not allowing our main tiller arm to turn as much. I think it had been slowly moving for weeks. I dug right in with my tools and pulled off the arm. Back to the chandlery again for a new bolt, then a run around town to find the right drill tap, and back again hours later to reinstall. For the next 2 hours I worked underneath the helm in the smallest space, in 100 degree humid heat, covered in grease and lanocote attempting to re-tap and re-mount the unit. I actually had a pool of water beneath me from my sweat and my shorts hung off me completely saturated and dripping like I had been swimming in the pool. My back was tweaked, I was covered in grease and completely exhausted. Nicole says she heard moaning noises coming from me that she had never heard before. I don't doubt it. This just isn't supposed to happen AFTER you re-launch your boat AFTER 3 solid weeks of working on her. It wasn't OK. I was a wreck.

As I write this I am relaxing in our air conditioned studio for the last time. Overall, we are happy with what we did and what we have accomplished, but we are both drained from the stressful reality of doing so many things in a short amount of time non-stop for weeks and dealing with making decsions and logistics around our boat for months. We haven't had much of a balance in our life and it's time to find that again.

So we know many of you are either sailors or arm-chair sailors interested in the details so we included the bulk of our work below from this haul might find this interesting, or maybe not, but here it is anyways:

Bottom Job (contracted out to Precision Yacht Services):
-sanding and 3+ coats of Micron 66 antifouling
-sanded and cleaned up Maxprop
-greased Maxprop and changed zincs
-cleaning, washing, and polishing Hull Topsides with electric buffer

Carpentry and Varnish (contracted out to Nhoon Woodworking):
-strip, sand and varnish exterior cap rails and cabin side strip
-sand and varnish cockpit table
-sand and varnish interior companionway stairs, companionway, interior doors, galley rails, head drawers, head door trim, v-berth mirror trim
-new carpentry with varnish for v-berth hatch, instrument panel, and small assorted misc.

Electronics (all installed by me):
-removal of old radar, chartplotters, navpod, and wires
-installation of new Raymarine 24" 4KW digital radar radome with modification of stainless mount on mast
-installation of new Navpod at helm
-installation of new Raymarine C-90wide chartplotters at helm and navstation
-installation and configuration of new Raymarine AIS500 send/receive system with separate antenna
-mounting of radios on newly built teak panel
-all new wires run and old ones organized and cleaned up

Miscellaneous to satisfy us and/or our insurance carrier:
-opened up aft water tank and installed a new venting hose for it
-repaired our engine exhaust hose leak
-grinded and fiberglassed a small crack under engine mount
-replaced fuel fill hose on diesel tank #2 to comply to standards
-put fuses on all our Hella Turbo Fans
-changed out some rusty hose clamps on hoses
-had halotron gas fire extinguishers serviced
-ordered new "not expired" flares
-ran around town to get engine oil, some tools, and other random boaty things we need for upcoming travel

Sails (we had Ket from Local Sails do the work):
-inspect, repair and reinforce all 3 working sails
-design and create a brand-new 90% furling head sail for our upcoming travels upwind

-new "strata-glass" windows put in our dodger to replace the worn out Lexan ones we couldn't see through anymore
-hatch covers made
-cockpit cushion zippers replaced

So there you have it my friends. We are way behind with our website stories and photos, but now you know why. We must admit that DK looks and feels great, but we are both ready for a break from projects and it's high time we had some fun on DK again. Balance.

So it's out the channel and off to the islands around Phuket tomorrow for about 10 days of exploring and messing around, with hopefully some adventures rock climbing and kite surfing thrown in. Then the real buffonery begins when 4 of our closest friends show up in Thailand for a couple of solid weeks together on DK! You can bet there will be good stories to write about then.