To Thailand…and Back – What An Adventure!

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By Heather Hild Atwater

This was a BIG deal! Travel around the other side of the Earth to Thailand to see Phuket, experience the culture, and sail around the islands off East Phuket for ten days. Whoa, Nate and I were very excited to do this. Thailand and Phuket in particular, where this flotilla takes place, are both interesting and a little scary because it is so different from the United States in so many ways. On the surface, they drive on the other side of the road, they have not only a different language but an entirely different alphabet, they praise different Gods, their places of worship are extremely colorful and lively, they are governed by a constitutional monarchy, they view woman very differently, just to name a few things. But one thing the USA and Thailand have in common is the sailing and the water. The Andaman Sea is the body of water surrounding Phuket and there are thousands of small islands and rock outcroppings to sail to that are Instagram-worthy. They are dialed into the tourism trade and there is even an Instagram tour. However, we came for a different experience; on a yacht, for ten days on the water, and that is what we got, good, bad, and exceptional!

Day One- AO PO Marina and the Sunsail Base

Now, Nate and I have done quite a few of these flotillas, so we could tell right away that this Base had it going on. Ash, the base manager and ex-marine, ran this base very well. It is not that we did not have issues, WE DID as you will see, but it is How he handled them. To begin, our boats were ready four hours early, which meant we could do the Skipper & Mate briefing early and the boat check outs in plenty of time to stow our gear and the dry provisions aboard our home for the next ten days.Welcome dinner

All was done in time for the group of us, eleven souls in all, to speed away to the private Naka Island for dinner I planned at the Rhum Chapel for our Meet and Greet Party hosted by Offshore Sailing School. After the speed boat ride, we were greeted by golf carts on the end of the long pier to escort us to our dinner venue, an upscale eatery with swings for chairs amidst a very fancy resort setting. The food and drinks were exceptional and the sunset even better. A great kickoff for our time together.

Day Two- Sunsail Base – day stop Koh Panak – Night anchorage Koh Hong

After morning Yoga, the daily Navigation meeting, and attending to a few missing and broken items (like a whole new refrigerator on one boat), we shoved off the dock at 10:30 am to light breezes from the ENE at 4 knots. We practiced putting the Mainsails up and down shaking out the reefs from the previous charters, then we powered Northward to our day stop at Koh Panak.  For those of us that were not already aware, it began to sink in that this was going to be a HOT trip with predominantly light air…. but more to come on that. Most participants swam at this spot after we anchored, and some dinghied around to see the caves and interesting rock formations. We were warned of the current in these areas, so we threw out a line every time there was any current. There was not much current when we first swam but it increased after the dinghy ride, and we used the line then. Onward to our night anchorage not much further North is Koh Hong, a famous spot in those parts, known for its ‘Hong’ which is Thai for ‘Room’.  We were offered kayak tours by local men who paddle you around through the ‘Hong’ and it is truly beautiful. The rock formations take on certain shapes, a face, a bird, an elephant…. which the imagination can see once it is pointed out J. Our guide called himself James Bond 2 and the area is very similar and not far from where a James Bond movie was filmed. Fabulous! We are enthralled and get back to the boat to see some dark clouds over the mountain. Nate checked the radar and there was no indication of anything but still we kept a look out. The wind was light and from the NE until we saw the wind approaching from the South and quick. It was whipping up the surface of the water and coming fast. I radioed the other two boats to get ready on the helm as it hit, and we all moved into action as we realized we were all dragging anchor; in fact, all the boats in the anchorage were dragging. Before we knew it, one of our boats had dragged into a moored barge and was having a lot of difficulties maneuvering. At this point I advised them to try and put fenders out. We saw the wind in excess of 52 knots and had our hands full to pick up our own anchor and move further away from land as now we were in a lee shore situation. The puffs came through sporadically and you could see them coming across the water. The storm lasted about 30-40 minutes.Thai fishing boat

As soon as it was safe, we put down our dinghy and Nate went to assist the other boat. Aboard Thisara, we anchored, with difficulty, finally hooking shortly before sunset. I notified Ash at the Sunsail Base of the damage from the storm. As it was evening now, we began making a supper of Chicken Thai Curry with celery and curried rice. Nate spent time with the other boat walking through the event. Sleep was welcome even if it was light.

Day Three- Koh Hong to Paradise resort on Ko Yao Noi

We witnessed a stunning sunrise over Koh Hong. At our 8am Navigation meeting we informed everyone we would be combining crews onto the two remaining boats as the third boat had damage to the props and needed to be towed back to the base. By 10am we had made the moves of people, gear, provisions, etc. onto Thisara and Rahwai and were ready to pull up anchor. We bid the third boat farewell as she was towed back to the base to assess and repair.

On to our next destination…. except one problem, Rahwai radioed us with an overheating Starboard engine, Ugh! Nate tried to fix it, checking the strainer and coolant lines. Thai ancorage

Water was pumping through but there was coolant in the pan and overheating…we had to call the base to return…. they ended up finding a hidden leak under the engine of the coolant line which they repaired using a 4” piece of the boat hook. Wow, OK…Now we are on our way to our destination! The wind picked up out of the South and when we arrived at the ‘good anchorage in all weather,’ we find it is not viable and head a little further to find mooring at the Paradise Resort on Ko Yao Noi, thank goodness. Because shortly after both boats got fastened to the mooring balls (and it was no small feat as there was no pennant on one and Shiraz and I had to dinghy over from our boat to pass lines through an underwater splice that thankfully looked very sturdy, if not easily reachable). This storm was less about the wind this time, and more about the lightening. It put on quite a show. We had considered going into the resort for dinner but by the time the storm passed, we decided to eat aboard: Lady Pie’s, salad, and chocolate for Shiraz’s Birthday dinner.

Day Four- Ko Yao Noi to Railee BeachShiraz at helm

Navigation meeting at 8am on Rahwai- For fans of HOT YOGA this might have been perfect, but we decided it was too hot for yoga. We were off the moorings by 8:30am and enroute to Krabi Island where it is stunning. We motored through these Islands and rock outcroppings, stopping at Ko Hong Krabi to dinghy into the Hong. The timing was perfect as low tide approached. We easily dinghied through the opening into a lagoon where other long boats had gathered to enjoy this gorgeous spot. We waded around and explored the Hong, heading back to the catamarans for pasta salad lunch. After relaxing for a bit, we continued to our final destination for the day, Raliee Beach. We anchored off the North Beach by around 2pm with plenty of time to explore the beach and hike a bit. Again, the scenery was stunning, and the food ashore was very tasty.

Day Five- Raliee Beach to snorkel at Chicken Island and then on to Phi Phi Don

We motored a short distance to anchor off Chicken Island and most participants snorkeled or enjoyed the beach and view. Good snorkeling, lots of colorful clams andgroup shot beautiful beach! Lunch on the hook there and then onto Phi Phi Don where we anchored off the Phi Phi relaxed resort and all enjoyed a group meal in the beach-side restaurant. It was a red shirt kind of dinner and we got some fun pictures on the beach. The food and drinks were pretty special. So much so that I later emailed them to get the recipe for the blender drink that was made from mint, blended with honey, fresh pineapple, and pineapple juice. It was bright green on the bottom and white frothy on the top with a beautiful orchid for decoration. I still don’t know anything beyond the ingredients; the language did create a barrier to figuring out How to actually make it.

Day Six- Phi Phi Don to Koh Lanta

Early morning anchors up to sail to Koh Lanta. There was a West breeze, so we raised the main and unfurled the Genoa on a tight reach to Koh Lanta. It was a much-appreciated good long sail!  When we arrived at the anchorage and were finally hooked by using the auxiliary anchor, around 12:30pm we went ashore to explore. Some participants just made the elephant tour I had previously arranged with a meet up at the giant Lobster sculpture. To the left of the huge pier was a shipwreck and behind it a Muslim village which we, out of respect, stayed out of.  You could however hear their call to prayer extend out over the water, which was unique. The village of Koh Lanta is built on stilts and there were various shops. Everything from a 7-11 to a mom-and-pop vegetable stand, jewelry vendors, dress shops with jars of Marijuana, tee-shirt shops with local spices, and soaps, plus all kinds of trinkets. The restaurant where we all met was good too, right on the water, actually on stilts, with tasty food and drinks. This was our furthest destination and definitely worth the nautical miles.

Day Seven- Koh Lanta to Phi Phi Don Tonsai Bayblessings before snorkeling

We started the day with all hands-on deck to pull up the auxiliary anchors and clean off the muck, fun, fun!  Then we powered up to Phi Phi Don arriving in the very busy Tonsai Bay. It was a bit of a challenge to find a spot to anchor as there were many moorings and not too many openings for anchoring. But we managed and felt comfortable going ashore to check out the lively port and all it had to offer. Nate made arrangements for the Long Boat tour the following day and all enjoyed the shops and restaurants, some even hiked up to a vantage point to get a better view.

Day Eight- Phi Phi Don Tonsai Bay to other side of Phi Phi Don Northeast Anchorage

We started the day with a really cool Long Boat tour of Maya Bay, stopping first to snorkel and then visited the overrated beach filmed for the movie, “The Beach,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  What a tourist trap! You could not even swim on the beach…. what’s the point? LOL. It was pretty, the snorkeling was great, and the Long Boat ride was fun. Back in Tonsai Bay we found a quick lunch spot to enjoy some good, local food. After, we headed back to the boats to pick up anchor and headed to the other side of the Island for a quieter anchorage for the night. We wondered if we would get hit by another squall, but it passed us by this time. We anchored off a lovely beach with several resorts and restaurants, and a lovely evening ensued.

Day Nine- Phi Phi Don to Koh Yai Yea

Aboard Thisara, we awoke to Vince and Tammie cooking bacon, eggs, and delicious home fries.   After indulging in this feast, both crews picked up anchor and sailed as long as we could toward our destination. When the wind pooped out, we motored to our base harbor. It was on the Southern tip of the Island of Koh Yai Yea, a kind of desolate fishing area with several moored fishing boats. As we approached, we passed several fishing vessels of unusual design, fishing in a pack, or so it appeared. We had been told this was a Muslim village. We found a good lunch spot, so we all went ashore. Our boat finished at the restaurant earlier than the other boat and we dinghied out to find the wind had picked up a bit. We got soaked on our way back to the boat and found just as we arrived that our anchors were dragging again…. right into the other boat!  Quickly, we started the engines and picked up anchor, sending Vince and Shiraz to the other boat in case they started to drag also. The bottom was the same fluffy mud as in Koh Lanta so we wasted no time in using the auxiliary anchor. This Danforth type anchor dug in and held very well, where the plow type they have on the Windlass just did not grab.

Day Ten- Koh Yai Yea to the Sunsail Base in Phuketdessert

It is the last day and we had decided to be at the base by noon in order to do the boat check-outs, shower and relax in the AC before the Final Dinner at Port of Call restaurant that evening.  All went according to plan. That night while we were eating there was another squall but this time we were AT THE DOCK! As branches flew by, we were secure in knowing that we were all safe and sound with the experience of a Lifetime fresh in our memories.

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