With Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the Sea of Waterspouts behind us, when we left off the previous section of the story it was dawn offshore of the island of Ko Samui, Thailand. We were on a tubby fifty-foot (fifteen metre) wooden sailboat. Opposite us, there was an eighty-foot (twenty-four metre) ugly Thai fishing boat, with a bunch of guys on it carrying AK-47’s.
A small skiff pulls off from the Thai boat and comes alongside.
We’re all happy to see that our crewmate Bert is on board the skiff. That’s very good news, made us all feel better.
And it’s also good news that on board the skiff is the first delivery of the reason for this whole cockamamie curious adventure—silver-foil wrapped one kilo compressed bricks of the finest herb that grows in Thailand.
Lots of silver bricks.
Many more bricks than are in that photo. Many more bricks than we’d been expecting. The Thai sailors formed a human chain and started shifting the load.
Now, during the trip over from the Philippines, I’d removed all of the built-in settees, and desks, and tables, and cupboards, and shelves, and every piece of inside cabinetry. The boat was a totally hollowed out shell, prepared for bulk cargo.
So we started packing that big empty space. I worked down in the interior of the boat, taking silver bricks from the human chain and fitting them into every available nook and cranny.
We started by filling the forepeak and the front sleeping cabins, floor to ceiling, with every possible gap stuffed full. The bricks kept coming. We filled the bathrooms. More silver bricks. We filled the front area. The bricks kept coming. We put bricks under the floorboards. We filled the main salon from the floor to the ceiling. Finally, there wasn’t room for one more brick inside the boat. We had to keep the galley and the engine room clear, and the aft bedroom. Oh, and the anchor chain locker way up in the very front of the boat. Other than that, we filled up every cubic inch of space below decks, packed her solid from stem to stern.
And still, the human chain kept delivering silver brick after silver brick.
So we started stacking it on the deck. We built it as aerodynamic as possible, but when it was over there were two large piles on deck, with about a thousand pounds (450 kg) of silver bricks in each pile.
And at the end of the load-out, all up?
We were packed to well beyond the brim with about 12,000 pounds (six US tons, call it five and a half metric tonnes) of Thailand weed. The crew was going to be reduced to sleeping under a tarp on the deck. Every available cubic foot of indoor room was packed solid.
The instant the final brick left the Thai boat, they fired up the engine, loaded up the crew, tied off the skiff, and took off. At the last minute before they left, Bert told us he was chickening out of the adventure. He’d decided to stay in Thailand with his wife. He got back on the Thai fishing boat, all shamefaced, and disappeared over the horizon with the guys with the AK-47’s.
So we were left short one crewman, with an overloaded boat and two large shiny piles on deck. We lashed them down a solidly as possible, covered them with green tarps, and got underway toward our final destination as soon as humanly possible. It was not a place we wanted to hang around.
Now, as you may or may not recall, I got this sea story underway by saying:
“A wealthy friend made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was to fly to Hong Kong, where I’d be the First Mate on a sailboat he’d bought and wanted delivered back to the US. The whole thing was figured and planned out, he said.”
So now, all that was left was to deliver the boat back to the US. And from where we were, that meant retracing our steps through the Gulf of Thailand to the South China Sea; from there out past Taiwan; and finally, in one long shot, across the entire North Pacific Ocean to California.
We’d been at sea for about three weeks to get to Thailand. From where we were sitting to California is another 8,700 miles (14,000 km). And figuring a hundred miles per day, Thailand to California works out to about another three months at sea … no time to lose. As soon as the load was lashed down, we got underway.
If we’d been cautious on the run in, we were downright paranoid on the way out. We watched the radar like hawks watching for mice. Or perhaps more like mice watching for hawks … any boat we saw, we tracked it, and plotted its course, and moved away from whatever direction it was going. As a result of dodging and running, we didn’t actually see one boat, except on the radar, for that whole first part of the trip.
Days stretched into weeks. After about four weeks we’d made it back up north through the South China Sea to the channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
And there, rounding the corner to pass Luzon Island, with the entire Pacific Ocean yet to be crossed … the engine died. Turns out it wasn’t a proper marine engine. There was an oil vent up on the side of the crankcase. Unknown to us, it was never designed to be run at an angle, such as when a sailboat is heeled over. Who would put such an engine into a sailboat? Madness!
So we had the engine running while we were sailing, and it ran out of oil and promptly beat the big end bearings into insensibility. The skipper and I disassembled it and shimmed the bearings. Twice. No joy either time. It wasn’t just pining for the fjords. It was dead.
And that’s very bad news. We’re about to cross the entire width of the Pacific Ocean and we are back in the 18th century. No power. No generator. No battery charging. No electricity. No radio. No lights. Dead.
But there was a bit of good news in the death of the engine. Since the load-out, for nearly a month I’d been sleeping on deck. Rain or shine. Since the engine was kaput, I figured I could pull some bricks out of the main hold, tunnel in, and make myself a sleeping space.
So I did that. I started tunneling in just under the deck at what had been the main entrance, and I stowed the bricks in the engine room. It didn’t matter since the engine was really most sincerely dead. And for the remainder of the trip, I slept in a 3′ x 3′ x 7′ (1m x 1m x 2m) tunnel into the load. There was five feet of weed under me. There was five feet of weed to the right and left of me. There was twenty feet of weed in front of me.
And on deck, immediately above my head, was another thousand pounds of herbal madness. Overall, I was cradled in my sleep by a total of about twelve million dollars worth of ganja.
Clearly, my most expensive mattress ever … and I’m here to testify that while compressed one-kilo bricks of the famous Indian hemp make very good insulation, and kept me nice and warm in the cold North Pacific … they make a lousy mattress.
My best wishes to all in this crazy life, and, as you might expect … to be continued …