Wednesday, February 4, 2009

I finally met the skipper...

4 February 2009 - Phuket, Thailand. Still at the Phuket Hilton. New plan is to depart on the 6th (was previously the 5th) so I have one more day of beach and sightseeing tomorrow.

Last night I had dinner with the skipper of the boat, John C, so reality is setting in and I’m getting nervous-excited-freaked-out-anxious. He explained at dinner how we're rarely going to have internet because we're going to "be out in the wilderness." I had had this fantasy that we would be sailing into marinas and having all the trappings of the civilized world on a fairly regular basis. We should have it in places like Port Blair when we go through customs/immigration to enter the Andaman Islands...but not most of the time. Yikes! I can't even imagine what this is going to be like. Here in Phuket he's anchored offshore somewhere and dinghies out to the boat.

He's got a very very thick Australian accent and does that ayyyyy thing that's kind of like a sigh and sort of lulls his words into a pleasant melody. I'd spoken with him on the phone two or three times in the beginning of arranging this madness, but the calls were awkward with a time delay and me never understanding everything he said. But I always liked what I could understand him saying and he always throws in a parable that puts me at ease. (One thing he keeps telling me is that the key to this trip for me is to have no expectations be cause “the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment.”)

I'm at an obnoxious American resort so our introduction took place in a massive, somewhat posh lobby with all kinds of lounges and bars around. When they finally walked in a little late, I wasn't sure it was him other than that he was smiling and coming toward me. He's much taller than I expected and seems 20 years younger than I'd conjured in my mind. She’s a little younger than me, a beautiful Thai girl with long black hair and big white teeth. He raves about her cooking and she helped us order at the authentic Thai restaurant. They've been dating 10 months and she didn't speak English when they met. They both started smiling really big as he described how she spent their first sailing trip seasick.

He's quite normal and smart and cool. He told me stories of guys who didn’t make the crew selection process because one seemed like a drinker and the other was into extreme sports. He needs people who are easy to get along with and not "rockstars" who think they know everything. I'm sure living on a small boat does require precision selection at the start. He says there's always someone on the boat who "takes up too much space" and is always in your face, always talking. He obviously tries hard to get the right mix of people. He's into kinesiology and healing...likes all the new agey stuff and recommended I read The Power of Now which he thinks he has on board. He has tons of movies and recently watched a documentary on banking the federal reserve systems...he loves documentaries and romantic comedies. So...he seems like a normal decent guy. I had gotten a really good vibe from him in our early telephone conversations and meeting him in person definitely affirmed the good vibe.

He’d worked all day on the anchor and said they have several more shopping trips planned to load up on food. During dinner he took a call from Penny, the forty-something British artist woman who lives in Japan and knows how to sail. The crew to start will be six of us including JohnC, his girlfriend, me, Penny and then two Australian girls in their early twenties, Allysa and Fiona, who are friends and avid surfers. Fiona has sailed with John before and is only going to Andaman with us.

So what else?... he’s been sailing around Borneo most recently and just did a regatta. He's never circumnavigated the world, but plans to with this trip. He’s going to leave the boat in South Africa for three months and fly back to Sydney, then pick up again and sail to the Caribbean from there. The Millennium is his second boat and has gone 80 thousand nautical miles (27 thousand nautical miles circles the globe, if I remember correctly). The sea passage from Andaman to the Maldives is like 10 to 13 days and the first two days are the roughest with everyone a bit nervous and sleepless, getting into the routine of 3 hours on watch, 6 hours off. His longest sea passage to date is 23 days. He seems to be vetting me for my capacity to do night watch. I said I’ll do anything to avoid cooking and that there's a good chance I’ll like the night. I didn't mention there's also a good chance I may turn into a stark raving lunatic and cry like a baby until we get to shore.