A Charter in Phuket

By the time we were finishing the work in South Korea and were preparing our return to Australia we thought we deserved a holiday to recharge batteries after two years of hard work building the drill-ships. We thought we could not leave Asia without visiting Thailand, so we decided to visit Phuket, but also that part of the time would be spent on board a sailboat. We contacted a charter company and booked a boat for one week, the story of this trip we tell below:

Day one:

We arrived in the Yacht Heaven Marina at 11:00 am were the charter company agents were awaiting us. We left our belongings and the shopping bags onboard and went back to the office to fill the forms. There we received information about the best places to visit, where the anchorages were good to spend the night and the weather forecast for the next week. We would probably have good weather with 15 to 20 knots winds during the first 3 or 4 days and lots of rain and 20 to 25 knots gusty winds for the rest of our stay. We decided to visit first the south part of the bay which is more open to sea and wind, and leave the more protected northern part for the last days.

We set our first stop to the Ko Yau Yai Island, the largest in the bay and approximately 18 miles away from the Marina. More or less in the middle of the west side of the Ko Yau Yai there is a resort where we could use the swimming pool and have our meals in the restaurant instead of cooking on board.

After finishing with the papers we went to the boat to receive the instructions about the boat’s systems and equipments. Our boat was a 36 foot yacht with 3 cabins and one heads. We left at 2:30 pm. The space between piers was so tight that it was necessary to call the Marina's rescue boat to tow the boat by the bow and put it in the right direction to avoid collision. There is a big sand bank at the entrance of the Marina with an old sailboat left stranded in the middle, not a good sight for those who are leaving for a week on board. To avoid the sandbank it is necessary to turn 90 degrees as soon as the last pier is left behind and have a close shave from the luxury yachts moored outside the pier.

Motoring to leave the Yacht Heaven Marina.

We kept motoring for about 30 minutes until reaching the channel entrance, when we raised sails for a good downwind afternoon sailing. We arrived in Ko Yau Yai in the evening but the crew were too tired to go ashore, so we had a quick meal on board and went to bed.

Enjoyng the sailing to Kho Yau Yai.

Arriving at Ko Yau Yai.

Day two:

The wind blew all night until almost dawn, the boat jerking a lot, but the anchor held well. We woke up early, had a quick breakfast and got ready to leave. When we were about to raise the anchor a small fishing boat came close and offered us the catch of that early morning, some fish and four tiger prawns. Our lunch was guaranteed.

We left Ko Yau Yai to Phi Phi. We motored for one and a half hour in very light winds until we saw a small island in our way. We checked the pilot book and found it was Koh Khai Nai Island, and that the anchorage was ok in good weather, and since the wind had not showed up yet, we decided to stopover there. When getting closer we noticed that quite a few power boats were anchored in the surroundings and that there were some huts ashore, the island not being so empty as we were thinking, but decided to stop there anyway. Later we would discover that it was a popular place used as a tourist boats stopover, taking hundreds of visitors there daily. We went for a stroll on the beach, drank some coconut water, and went back to the boat to resume the trip.

Kho Khai Nai looked as an empty place from the distance...

… but when we arrived we saw that the place was a busy tourist spot.

When reaching the south tip of Kho Yau Yai we changed course to south-east, pointing towards Phi Phi. The wind started blowing and soon we were sailing in a fifteen knots broad reach with some dark clouds approaching. In short time the wind increased to twenty knots with twenty-five knots gusts, and then came heavy rain. It lasted for half an hour, the wind resuming to fifteen knots again.

Heading to Phi Phi.

Phi Phi actually is a group of islands, the main island being Phi Phi Don where there is a village with hotels for the tourists. We arrived late in the afternoon still with enough sunlight to find a good place to drop the hook. The anchorage point is close to the channel where traffic is intense for most of the time with crafts coming to and fro.
After having a shower we put the dinghy in the water and went to visit the town, where we would dine.

Looking for a place to drop the anchor.

Day Three:

We left the boat in the anchorage and bought a day trip to Phi Phi Lay. This is a beautiful island with many secluded bays and lagoons, pristine waters crowded with colourful fish, a perfect place for snorkelling.

Loh Samah Bay at Phi Phi Lay.

Pileh Cove at Phi Phi Lay.

Maya Bay at Phi Phi Lay.

We landed late in the afternoon but still in time to have a walk across the main island and to visit the bay on the other side. After having dinner, we took the dinghy and went back to the boat.

Back to Phi Phi in time for a stroll to the other side of the island.

Day Four:

We left Phi Phi early in the e morning. Our destination for that day was the Koh Doeng Islands, near Krabi, but with a stopover at Koh Yung, or Bamboo Island. We read in the pilot book that there was a restaurant in the island and that it was a good spot for snorkelling.

Bamboo Island is a national park and to disembark there is necessary to pay 200 Brath per person (about AU$7.00), however the park official charged 500 Brath for the family. The restaurant there is very simple and only served fried rice, but the snorkelling on the corals not far from a white sand beach was worth the stop.

The white sand beach and the snorkelling in the corals were worth the stop at Bamboo Island.

We returned to the boat after lunch to resume the trip, leaving for Krabi, the next call. We sailed most the afternoon in perfect conditions, 10 to 15 knots broad reach, but we knew that the weather forecast was not promising, a cold front approaching and heavy clouds coming ahead. Our plan was to anchor for the night at Koh Doeng, but when we were approaching the island a thunderstorm brought 30 knots winds. We realized that the anchorage near the islands would not be safe in that condition, so we decided to go further, to Ao Nang beach on the continent, a haven that offered better shelter.

Our plan was to stop at the Koh Doeng, but there we would not have a good shelter in nasty weather.

We were not the only ones searching shelter at Ao Nang.

Day Five:

The storms kept coming and going during all night and although the anchorage was protected from the wind, the waves were catching us by the side and we rolled all night. We waited for a break between two rains to put the dinghy in the water to visit the village. There are many resorts crowded with tourists in that region, people that go there looking for an "empty and calm" secluded place to relax.

The village at the Ao Nang beach.

Relaxing time before continuing the trip.

Despite being in the continent, the roads to Ao Nang are very bad and the best way for the tourist to arrive and leave is by sea on small local fishing boats that come close to the beach until getting stuck in the mud. At low tide people had to walk about 50 metres on the mud carrying their luggage on their backs to get on and off the boats. We arrived in high tide, so we motored the dinghy up to the beach, but nevertheless we had to carry it stepping in the mud until we went into the water to go back to the boat.

Tourists boarding the boats to leave Ao Nang.

We left just after lunch. Our plan was to sail about eighteen miles towards the east side of Koh Yau Noi and stop close to another resort that also welcomes boaters to use the pool and the restaurant. As soon we left the area protected from the wind we realized that it would not be an easy task sailing against waves, current and the strong winds that still prevailed. The storms kept coming periodically, bringing stronger winds and heavy showers, lasting between 30 minutes to one hour, and to get things worse we discovered that the engine's cooling water was not circulating properly, and every time we put more than 1200 RPM the alarm beeped.

Leaving Ao Nang behind.

We would like to cross through a group of island called Koh Hong Krabi but on those conditions and not having confidence on the engine we decided to leave the islands by the side. By 6:00 pm the normal wind dropped completely leaving only the occasional storms, and we were only half way from our waypoint. We turned the engine on at low RPM and continued going, doing one to two knots on the GPS. We arrived late at the resort bay, gave up the swimming pool and restaurant dreams and went straight to bed.

Some islands of the Koh Hong Krabi archipelago.

Day Six:

We woke up early to try to unblock the cooling water intake. The current was strong, more than one knot, and I had to be tied to the boat with a rope to not be carried away. I couldn't fix the problem, so we decided to leave the place since we would have a long way to go that day.

We left with no wind against the current doing 1.5 knots with crippled engine. By the middle of the morning came a light breeze that didn't changed our speed, but at least allowed us to turn the engine off and start sailing. By lunch time we were at the northern tip of Koh Yau Noi, when the wind changed direction and increased in intensity. We would have more wind again but this time the current were helping us. We sailed on these conditions for two hours until dark heavy clouds started coming over us and the wind got stronger. Our plan was to visit Khao Phing Kan island, better known as James Bond Island because it was a scenery for one of the 007 movies. Being famous and easily accessible by the tourist boats, the island is crowded during the day. We would rather just pass by, take some photos and go to any other island nearby, probably as beautiful as Khao Phing Kan but less popular.

By mid-afternoon the thunderstorms came back bringing 25-30 knots winds and heavy rain that lasted about half an hour, only to begin a few minutes later. We gave up James Bond Island and set our heading to Koh Hong. This area receives lots of sediments that came from many rivers, the draught decreasing suddenly from six meters to two meters, while the tide current might be over 3 knots. We were sailing again against a strong ebbing tide and the wind on the nose. In one tack we were doing two knots on the GPS, but on the other tack the current took the boat drifted sideways and we sailed backwards at the same two knots.

We spent most of the sixtieth day fighting against thunderstorms and tides.

After sunset the thunderstorms got worse, or they seemed so in the dark. We were twelve miles from the Marina and five from the place we intended to stop. The next day we had to return the boat at noon, so we decided to turn on the crippled engine and settled our waypoint direct to the marina, this way we could at least sail in the lee of the island and avoid the stronger currents. Motoring at 1.5 to 2 knots, we entered the canal that leads to the Marina at 10 pm, arriving there after 1:00 am. We anchored outside the marina since at that time we would have no assistance to manoeuvre between the piers and to park the boat on the finger.

Day Seven:

We woke up late and had a relaxed breakfast talking and remembering the past week experiences. About 10am we called the marina service by the VHF to inform that we were coming in and asking for the support of the marina boat to guide us between the sand banks. Again we passed very close to a mega-yacht moored outside the pier and had a sharp 90 degrees turn to enter the marina. We caught our things and left the boat, still in time to eat a delicious pad thai in a local restaurant nearby before going to the hotel where we would stay for the next few days.

This was our first experience chartering a boat and we really enjoyed it. It is an interesting option to someone who doesn’t have time to do a long cruising but want to visit different places during a short holiday, but it is definitely not the same as cruising in your own boat. It is more like as staying in a hotel, it is good for a short time but you do not feel as comfortable as in your own house.

About the boat, it was just right for a short cruising in protected waters, for gunk-holing during the day and anchoring for the night. The interior space is compromised by the three cabin layout and the option for having more comfort in the external areas. The galley and heads are tighter than in some smaller cruising boats like the Multichine 28, and our personal clothes and food for one week filled all lockers and shelves. We only sailed in relatively protected waters with no significant waves and maximum wind around 30 knots, and on those conditions she performed well, but if I went for a long offshore passage I would definitely feel safer and happier if I was onboard a Samoa 34, Samoa 36, Multichine 36 or Kiribati 36.