Phuket, February 19-23

It's been surprisingly hectic so far here in Phuket. We've had three major activities keeping us busy:

1. Kid's scuba diving course.Tim and Emily's diving course was wildly successful and has been the source of much enjoyment amid long checklists and occasionally stressful sailing preparations. We'd prearranged a private PADI Junior Open Water certification course with Pro-Tech Dive College -- located just two doors down from our guesthouse, with the "confined water" training in the guesthouse pool (built purposely to accommodate dive classes), an instructor who loves to work with children, and an additional instructor-in-training helping out. (All of this may sound expensive, but heavy competition among dive shops on Phuket keeps costs in check.)

What a good choice Pro-Tech Divers was -- it couldn't have been better! The instructor, Thien (a Vietnamese-American living in Thailand), was nothing short of amazing, and the kids could go back and forth to the shop and pool on their own. Tim and Emily both loved the course from start to finish and are avid divers already. (Emily has even changed her career aspirations from architect back to marine biologist, prompted by the diving as well as watching the pristine jungle hillside by our hotel being ripped down to create a building site.) There's no question that the success of the dive course and the kid's initial enthusiasm for diving was entirely in the hands of the instructor, and Thien certainly delivered. Meanwhile, the Pro-Tech shop owners, Davine and Matthew, have been extraordinarily helpful and patient with our numerous diving and non-diving questions.

The course consisted of two mornings of classroom work (complete with quizzes and exams), two afternoons in the swimming pool (photos 1-2), and two days of ocean diving -- one from the beach (photo 3) and one from a dedicated dive boat (photos 4-9). The underwater photos were taken with our regular pocket camera inside a waterproof housing.

2. Gathering provisions (Jennifer's domain). Although we brought a small amount of food from home, 99% of the provisions we'll need for two months on a sailboat were to be acquired here in Phuket. Jennifer spent one long, hot, exhausting day grocery shopping, with the massive purchases now piled in our thankfully large hotel room. (Photo 10 shows only a portion of the goods.) For the shopping, Jennifer hired a pickup truck with a driver and visited three large stores, all of which were above expectations for grocery shopping in Southeast Asia. (A round-the-world sailor's blog describing a provisioning stop in Phuket turned out to be quite useful in planning the expedition. Jennifer did better than the bloggers, who only managed to acquire 75% of the items on their list.)

The next major challenge will be getting the stuff moved from the hotel to the boat (another job for the pickup truck), then finding nooks, crannies, and spare square footage in people's bunks in which to stash it all. No doubt this activity will figure prominently into the next travelog.

One dramatic improvement for acquiring provisions was a suggestion on the part of our guesthouse owners (more compliments for them below) that we order our beverages through their distributor. The volume of drinking water alone that we'll need is staggering, not to mention Diet Cokes, beer, and soda water. (Fruit juices, 33 liters strong, came from the grocery store.) The beverages are due to arrive tomorrow, surely sending us into another wave of shock at the absurd amount of goods we're meant to load on the boat.

3. Managing boat, sailing, and immigration logistics (Alex's domain). We underestimated the number of tasks we'd need to take care of in addition to dive training and boat provisioning. No sooner does Alex cross one item off his list than two more are added. Here are a few examples, certainly not an exhaustive list: buying India and Myanmar "courtesy flags" to fly from the boat when sailing in those countries; preparing tenfold copies of boat specifications, passenger details, and gear lists (down to our wristwatches!) for checking into the Andaman Islands, where the regulations are pedantically strict; buying a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch, a favorite of the Myanmar boat immigration official, where regulations are more "fluid"; arranging the final details of scuba tank rentals and an air compressor to fill the tanks; learning almost daily of new regulations for various aspects of our trip that we hadn't known about previously; and so on. There's been more than a little stress dealing with some of these details in a country like Thailand, where quick action -- or even a solid reply -- are the exception rather than the rule. It's likely we'll sail away with some logistical issues still in flux, but we're optimistic that all will smooth out in the end, as also seems to be the Thai way.

With what little time we've had left after dive training, shopping, and managing logistics, we've mostly enjoyed hanging around the terrific Baan Suay guesthouse where we're staying. The owners are extremely helpful, and there's typical excellent Thai hospitality from the staff. We have a huge, modern, air conditioned two-room apartment at an extremely reasonable price. The pool table in the atmospheric bar area has been much used by the kids (photos 11-12), and it's fun and easy to meet other guests. We have ventured around the neighborhood some. It's a bit too noisy, crowded, and touristy for our taste, but despite the great restaurant at Baan Suay we felt we should branch out a bit with our eating (Thai food is delicious anywhere), and the kids wouldn't miss the beachfront souvenir stalls for anything.

There's a 9-hour time change from home but we've done well with jet lag. We moved to an early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule and never did suffer seriously from sleepless nights or sleepy days.

Our departure from home this time wasn't quite as flawless as the previous ones. We learned the day before we left that there would be no charts (maps) of the Andaman Islands or the Mergui Archipelago on the sailboat, a first hint of the numerous logistical surprises to come. Alex quickly called a nautical charts warehouse in Florida who FedEx'd them to us. Emily managed to leave her lunch box at school (full of leftover food just itching to fester for 3½ months), as well as a long reading assignment she was quite anxious to complete. Mobilizing our support crew back on the home front, Emily's friend Julia picked up the lunch box (and, we hope, cleaned it out), while family friend, house watcher, shoe shipper, and airport chauffeur Hector picked up the assignment, scanned all 35 pages, and emailed the files to us. We owe Hector big.

Last but not least, here's a podcast Emily made on the airplane, simultaneously describing and relieving her boredom on the 14-hour flight to Hong Kong. It's a large (0.67MB) file that doesn't open automatically in every computer configuration -- you may need to download it before playing it, or try the link using Internet Explorer.

Next: Two more days of preparations and boat-loading, then we're off.

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