Saturday, 28 June 2014

Dobers in Tobers

1996 was a good year. England hosted Euro96 and reached the semis. Gazza's volley shut the Jocks up. The Spice Girls were telling us what they wanted while Robbie Williams divorced Take That. Foot and Mouth ravaged the British countryside and Newcastle United narrowly missed the EPL title. That was all background noise as, in May of that year, I embarked on a great adventure.

I was 22 and had been in the Royal Navy for five years. I was based at Faslane anxiously awaiting my first Submarine draft. Smudge, an experienced Chief Petty Officer approached asking if anyone was interested in a two week sailing expedition. I was too busy playing Uckers to give the idea much thought and quickly dismissed it. However, Smudge was struggling to get a crew together and managed to persuade three young, inexperienced lads to join him. Myself, Roddaz and Evs.

At 0800 on Friday 3rd May 1996 three wary lads were boarding a 32ft (10m) sailing yacht under the watchful gaze of Captain Smudge. He would train us as deckhands and navigators over the next 14 days on this Sigma33 yacht named Scorcher. Our immediate concern was the limited space as we quietly and unceremoniously slipped from a bleak Faslane jetty.

Our first port of call was Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. We all chipped in and bought 10 slabs of booze. 5 McEwan's Export (red) and 5 Foster's (blue). That purchase defined the theme of the expedition. We stayed long enough to stow the crates and then set off for Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Arran is a large island in the Firth of Clyde. There was no jetty so we moored offshore, sheltered by Holy Isle.

We used a small dinghy to reach shore where we proceeded to drink with abandon in a small bar. On our return the dinghy deflated and started sinking halfway back to Scorcher. We managed to recover but had a wet sleep and Evs somehow lost a shoe.

Next we resupplied at Campletown before rounding the Mull of Kintyre and making it to Craighouse on the rugged Isle of Jura. We marveled at the whisky distillery before making our way up the narrow Sound of Islay to Scalasaig - the main village on the remote Isle of Colonsay. We quickly located the island's shoddy excuse for a bar where we were surprised to meet some old American tourists tracing their ancestry!

This was also where we traded Royal Navy bread and cheese for fresh fish with some Geordie fisherman from Amble. A bizarre transaction at 0100, in pitch black, in this remote island's harbour.

After Colonsay we sailed NE past the infamous Gulf of Corryveckan to Oban. Here we picked up a temporary crewman for a few days. I don't remember too much about Topsy other than his name and the fact he used the word penis instead of more banal terminology. He regaled us with his premature-ejaculation-prevention strategies which included....... thinking about kittens. Strange lad.

Next was Tobermory on the spectacular Isle of Mull. This is where we had our first shower in a pub after a week. It was a well needed exercise. The Navy vernacular for shower is dobie giving the title of this post - Dobers in Tobers.

I don't think I'll ever forget Evs standing behind the bar in a pair of boxers pulling his own pints.

Rounding the Ardnamurchan peninsula (Britain's most westerly point) we arrived in Mallaig, a small fishing port that felt like Las Vegas to us. In Mallaig we went to a disco where we saw an old fisherman in blue overalls and yellow wellies bopping away like John Travolta. I ended up sleeping rough on the beach only to be woken in the morning with a cup of tea and toast from an old dear living nearby. Evs rutted with Ali - Mallaig's local silverback in The Marine Bar. Being exotic sailors we all managed to pull lasses - mine going by the Gaelic name Shelagh.

The most northern point of our journey was Inverie - a tiny mainland village unreachable by road. Here, on Saturday 11th May 1996 we watched Man U beat Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup final. We also drank beer in the UK's remotest pub and fought over a game of monopoly before returning to Mallaig for more partying.
We returned to Faslane via the Crinan Canal saving us a long journey around the Mull of Kintyre. We bought a small dart gun to keep annoying seagulls at bay. Evs and I had a swamping competition in the forends - I think I won. We'd sit on the bow with a can of red enjoying the motion of the boat and Scotland's sublime west coast scenery.

We learned sailing skills, made lifelong friends, drank a lot of piss and saw some places very few people will ever have the chance to see.

Even after all the travelling I've done since then, this is still one of the best things I've done. A fantastic experience.


Enjoying beer with the spectacular west coast of Scotland behind. Smudge and Roddaz enjoying bananas with a bleak Faslane in the background.

Evs - the silverback - contemplating his ancient ancestors. "What do you mean?" was his catchphrase.

Boozing in the 'hard as f*ck' seat on the focsle. Navigating our way through the Crinan Canal. A beautiful looking boat.

Captain Smudge 15 years later in Thailand in 2011. A reunion involving equal measures of binge drinking and reminiscing. Laughing about how four regular lads from four regular places (Geordieland, Hull, Grimsby and Ayrshire) enjoyed a thrilling adventure. Still to this day I often reflect on how the wind would propel us silently yet powerfully through the Atlantic swells while expecting pterodactyls to come soaring over Scotland's remote prehistoric mountains. Happy days.

Chaing Mai

The rainy season has arrived after months of heat. In Trang and Phuket I used to find the rainy season oppressive and suffocating as it rained for days on end. However, in CM the downpours occasionally punctuate the sunny weather - far better.


I left my girlfriend after 7 months together. Despite her youth and beauty I think I simply prefer being on my own - free and independent, no BS. However, I've preemptively located CM's 5 soapies in case of emergencies. I moved back to my original room with a pool for easier sunbathing.

Learning Thai

I'm loving it. Since having a teacher I've noticed a significant improvement in conversational and reading skills. A few weeks ago we went on a rice planting field trip. Another time we cooked Thai food. I've always wanted to speak a foreign language fluently and this is the best chance.


Northern Thailand is an ethnic melting pot. Where I live there are many TaiYai. They are the Shan people of Burma. They have a unique language and script. Here's an example looking like a hybrid of Thai and Burmese but distinct from both. Fascinating.

Drinking buddy

As a single lad I've started drinking a bit more. Alasdair is partly to blame for this lapse. We have a lot of fun in the local haunts. Left is the Burmese Market Bar. We stupidly drank there until 4am despite the curfew.

This bloke (all the way from Chile) was delighted when they beat Spain in the WC. I was somewhat less impressed with England's dire performances.


I've been teaching 11hrs/week at this school for 500bt/hr. This is not the end of retirement but something to keep busy. I've also been tutoring Owen on Saturdays. Canny crack. I've been retired one year already - life flies by!

CMFC did it again. They beat Krabi FC 1-0 with the help of a very biased referee. I made a two minute video which has the goal and some locals eating insects.


rien ru sueng gan lae gan = getting to know each other

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