Chinese New Year 2016

During this trip we sailed from Krabi Boat Lagoon south to Ko Pu, Lanta, and Rok. At Rok we spent our days diving in crystal clear waters and our nights rocking and rolling in the non-stop swell. Upon reading a forecast calling for massive winds, we decided to leave the limited protection at Rok and make our way up to Phi Phi Le. We then enjoyed a swell ride from Phi Phi to Racha, where we spent several days diving, drinking, and dining.

Prior to our arrival at Racha the autopilot had died. This meant we were hand-steering from day 2 of the trip. After repeated attempts to diagnose and repair, the problem revealed itself: a corroded wire! With that wire replaced we once again had autopilot and continued on our way.

From Racha we sailed north to Nai Harn Bay on Phuket. There we spent several days enjoying some of the world's best pizza. We then made our way back to the marina, heading directly into the wind and waves. The first hop of our return trip landed us on Mai Thon for a night. We then made the 15nm jump to Phi Phi Don, which ended up taking 7 hours and saw 30nm pass under our keel. Sailing to windward is a chore.

The last night of the trip was spent partying on Phi Phi Don's aptly named "Party Beach." A quick motor back to the marina in windless conditions marked the final chapter in this epic adventure.

We covered over 200nm, did 8 dives, speared 3 fish, caught 1 (big) fish while trolling, drank countless beers, and suffered only one flesh wound.


May-June 2015, Krabi to Points South

This was a May to early June trip with plans to sail from Synchronicity’s new home at Krabi Boat Lagoon to Phi Phi and points south. This trip was meant to focus on exploration of areas beyond my previous stomping grounds (the northern part of Phang Nga Bay - from Yacht Haven Marina to as far south as Phi Phi and Racha Noi).

Sunrise over Krabi Boat Lagoon

Sunrise over Krabi Boat Lagoon

For this trip, I’d also scheduled a rendezvous at Phi Phi with Jamie and Liz of sailing yacht Esper. I discovered their refit videos on YouTube and consumed these like candy. If you’re interested in seeing the kind of effort and thinking one can put into a year-long complete refit of a sailing vessel, definitely check out their refit videos.

Along for the ride was my friend Alicia Henry, who was taking her first extended cruise on a sailboat. We both hoped for good wind, clear weather, and a chance at snorkeling, sailing, diving, and exploration.

Weather at this time was described as “unusual” for the time of year. Late May to early June in Thailand should mark the start of the Southwest Monsoon season, but weather patterns around the area had stalled - or, more oddly, reversed. As a result, we had very little wind, a few moderate squalls, and calm conditions throughout the trip. Thunderstorms raged, but always out on the horizon, far from where we sailed or anchored.

Trip Route

Trip Route

5-30-2015 Saturday, at KBL Marina
07:03 - Systems checked and everything looking OK. Departed marina heading for Chicken Island. Whacked into the dock on both sides (port and starboard), teaching a serious lesson in the need for proper line use (warping) when backing out of the slip. My previous experiences leaving Yacht Haven (assisted by “boat boys” in dinghies) hid the boat’s inability to maneuver in reverse. Will ask for assistance next time - and more carefully consider my exit. Mistakes make for powerful memories!

Motored to Chicken Island in light headwinds. Along the way, discovered belt dust around the alternator. Also saw significant vibration of the alternator itself. The dust I’d seen before and assumed was related to previously experienced problems. The vibration was new. Arriving on Chicken Island I discovered a nut missing from the bolt holding the alternator to the engine. Seems the mechanic hired to clean the pulleys forgot to tighten (or replace?) this nut? Luckily, the alternator bracket kept things in place! The mounting foot breaking, or the alternator coming free from its position with the engine running would have resulted in catastrophic damage.

Checking the Engine

Checking the Engine

All of this is (yet another) lesson in the necessity to double (and triple) check the work done by 3rd parties on the boat’s mechanics. I’ve now lost count of the times so-called “professionals” have done shoddy, damaging, and dangerous work on the boat. If I could manage it, I’d do all future work myself.

Waited for the engine to cool down, then replaced the nut, tightened up the belt, and resumed our trip to Phi Phi.

Minutes prior to our arrival on Phi Phi I radioed Esper on 16, only to have them tell me they’d “just been rammed by another vessel.” Upon arrival, discovered Esper and crew in a state of shock. A local garbage collection vessel (a large, rusting, steel barge) had lost control of its gearbox and slammed into the back of Esper, damaging their newly constructed dinghy davits and Fold-a-Boat dinghy. This just weeks after leaving the boat yard and a year’s-worth of refit work! Thankfully, no one was injured (physically).

Esper at Anchor off Phi Phi

Esper at Anchor off Phi Phi

Took what whiskey I had over to Esper to help with damage to nerves and psyche.

Things got fuzzy from there.

5-31-2015 Sunday, at Phi Phi Don NE Bay
Took Jamie to shore with Alicia so that they could catch a long-tail to visit the police station elsewhere on Phi Phi. I then spent the morning removing the old wheel-mount autopilot, which had begun to disintegrate physically. During the removal process, cut my thumb on a wire from inside the pilot; this cut later become seriously infected and led to a hospital visit on Koh Lanta. Lesson learned here - take all cuts seriously and treat immediately with disinfectant! A literally painful lesson.

Long Tails on Phi Phi

Long Tails on Phi Phi

A nice dinner ashore with Alicia, Jamie and Liz on Phi Phi. Learned that Jamie secured a meeting with the garbage barge captain at the police station for the following morning. Fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

6-1-2015, Monday, at Phi Phi Don NE Bay
Took Jamie for another long-tail ride on his way to visit the police station, this time to meet with the captain of the garbage barge. He returns with cash in hand and a story that has a better ending than any of us had reason to expect. Compensation for the collision! Yay!

Around 1PM we depart for Koh Ha (Five Islands), some 23nm south of Phi Phi. Motor sailing we make 6~7 knots, then sail for a while at 4~5 knots, and eventually arrive at our destination by 6PM.

During this time the alternator belt is being destroyed per usual. I know it will need to be replaced during our stay at Koh Ha. The constant stress of this unsolvable problem fills me with frustration and anger. I’ve never encountered a mechanical problem so mysterious and persistent. Is it me? Is the boat possessed?

We arrive. Koh Ha is stunning. We have the small group of islands completely to ourselves. We grab buoy moorings in 15~20m of crystal clear water. Large fish of many different species swim in massive schools beneath the boats. Cliffs rise dramatically on all sides. Birds swoop and cry overhead during daylight, to be replaced by giant fruit bats during the night. The moon on this first night is full and bright.

Fun at Koh Ha

Fun at Koh Ha

There are thunderstorms at night and we all sleep lightly, knowing that our unsheltered position within these small, offshore islands can be compromised by weather at any moment. It’s a bit of a risky place to stop, but made worthwhile by the stunning rock formations, flocks of sea birds, and beautiful water.

Massive Thunderstorms

Massive Thunderstorms

6-2-2015 Tuesday, at Koh Ha (Five Islands)
We swim, explore, and visit. There are periodic squalls, but we ride them out without issue. I use the speargun to catch a very large grouper, which we BBQ for dinner. Learn that large, freshly caught fish are very stinky. Who knew? YouTube videos on spearfishing do not teach you to expect this! Go scuba diving with Jamie - and we recover the spear (which disconnected from the gun) and a weight pocket (which disconnected from Jamie). Visibility is amazing and the sea life in this area is beautiful, abundant and stunning.

Preparing to Spearfish

Preparing to Spearfish

Another dinner at anchor, with newly found best friends, and an end to a perfect day. This is the life.

6-3-2015, at Koh Ha (Five Islands)
At first light I undertake cleaning the engine bay of belt dust and replacing the (now mostly destroyed) alternator belt. Fortunately, I have 4 new replacement belts on board, and I’ve done this job so many times it takes me less than an hour to complete. I barely break a sweat. Should I be proud of this? I think I’d prefer a non-broken boat! Once again, at the end of the job, everything looks aligned, tight, and on-spec… but previous experience has taught me to expect the worse.

I fire up the engine and let it run - expecting to see a small bump of belt dust accumulating on the face of the alternator after 15~20 minutes. A half-hour passes… no belt dust. An hour later… no belt dust! Problem solved?! Over the coming days, it’s confirmed - no more belt dust, no more problems with the alternator or belt! Amazing sense of relief.

Farewell to New Friends

Farewell to New Friends

We say farewell to Liz, Jamie, Millie, and Esper. It’s a bittersweet departure as I’ve fallen in love with both Koh Ha and our new friends. It’s been a couple of days which I find myself wishing would last forever. We momentarily occupied our own private paradise where the outside world couldn’t intrude and our lives were easily focused on being together and having fun. I can’t imagine a more perfect state of existence.

Happy People in Paradise

Happy People in Paradise

The hop to Koh Lanta is another 20nm, which takes about 4 hours with a favorable current and wind. We motor sail the entire way. Anchoring is easy with 2~3m of water under the keel and a soft mud bottom. I put out entirely too much chain, knowing we’ll be here for a couple of days and leaving the boat unattended while we explore the island. I needn’t worry - throughout our stay the bay is never anything but eerily placid.

On shore, Koh Lanta, in the so-called “Old Town” is absolutely charming. Long houses are built from the street out over the water, suspended over the bay on stilt legs. Depending on the tide they’re either hanging above tranquil water or flats of mud. Bed and breakfasts, cute cafes, and handicraft shops line the streets. A peaceful island paradise.

At anchor in the bay, the boat is so still you’d think it was on the hard. Without threat of storms to blow us out of our precarious paradise, I sleep like the dead.

6-4-2015, at Koh Lanta, East Bay
With the boat firmly anchored in a tranquil bay, we rent a motor scooter and head off to explore the island. Winding our way north to reach a passage over the mountains dividing the island east and west, we pass farms, hotels, villages, and schools. The island is predominantly Muslim, with the usual smattering of Christians and Buddhists found in southern parts of Thailand. The people are extremely friendly, with the traffic and pace of life feeling more comfortable than on bigger islands like Phuket. There are no traffic jams here.

Lanta Lighthouse

Lanta Lighthouse

We visit the Lanta National Park at the southern tip of the island, and climb to a lighthouse we’d passed on our way into the eastern bay of the island. It’s very interesting to look out on a body of water you’ve recently sailed, and get a proper perspective on the distances between shore, shallow water, reefs, rocks, and the deeper waters where you’ve sailed. From above, the distances look much shorter, the hazards more significant, and the margin for error much smaller. A reminder to be more cautious of the land.

6-5-2015, at Koh Lanta, East Bay
Early morning we raise anchor and head back north. This is the longest single leg of the journey and leaving at 5:30AM, I expect we’ll need 5~6 hours to get back to our original anchorage in the northeast bay of Phi Phi. The journey is uneventful and we’re helped along by the current and wind, motor sailing at 5~6 knots. Around 12-noon we arrive at Phi Phi and drop anchor. We’ve come full circle without too much incident… not counting the garbage barge crashing into Esper, the nut missing from the alternator, and my visit to the hospital on Lanta for a thumb slicing. Pleasure it seems comes with a price.

A Small Price to Pay

A Small Price to Pay

6-6-2015, at Phi Phi, Northeast Bay
At 7:10AM I begin checking systems and we’re under way by 8AM. We thread our way through the narrow channel which forms the entrance to the river where Krabi Boat Lagoon is located. Just before 12-noon we arrive in the marina and tie up in slip B-13. No bumping into the slip this time. Things are easier going forwards rather than backwards.


December 2014 Sailing

Trip made between December 12th and 21st to celebrate my 42nd birthday. We sailed from 15th until 19th between Yacht Haven Marina and Koh Racha. Had lots of good wind, fast sailing, fun diving, and mechanical excitement. During this trip I installed two new 270 watt solar panels on the boat's arch. And installed an MPPT charge controller to compliment the new panels. So much power!

Route 1 (green dots) was the first day out of Yacht Haven Marina (YHM). Our planned destination was Ko Mai Thon, but we didn't make it quite that far. Towards the end of the track, you'll notice a sudden turn to the east, with an overnight stop at the south of Ko Yao Yai. This was the result of a mechanical emergency. Seems someone forgot to "burp" the PSS seal on the prop shaft. As a result, the prop shaft and surrounding hardware became overheated, started making unhappy metal friction sounds, and was on the way to a complete meltdown. Fortunately, I heard the sounds and stopped the engine before things got terrible.

Solved this problem by burping the seal, a process I'd not yet taught myself. Further evidence in my theory that "the thing you don't yet understand will be the next thing to break." Also further evidence that the guys responsible for managing the boat when I'm not around (and burping the PPS seal when bringing the boat out of the service yard) cannot be trusted. In future I will be more diligent about checking their work and also inspecting major systems before leaving the marina.

Route 2 (yellow dots) was the route on day 2, this time heading to Ko Racha (Raya). We had favorable winds from the northeast of 10-15kts, allowing for average sailing speeds of 5~6kts.

Route 3 (purple dots) was the first leg of the trip back to YHM from Racha. Winds and waves from the northwest at 15~20kts made a direct sail impossible, so the day was spent on several long tacks towards Ko Mai Thon. We left Racha at around 11am and arrived on Mai Thon around 5pm, with average sailing speeds of 5~6kts.

Route 4 (orange dots) was the last leg of the trip, heading back to YHM from Mai Thon on day 4. At this point in the trip I discovered a serious misalignment issue with the alternator belt (which I had replaced at anchor on Racha) - meaning that the belt was being "chewed" severely. Tried to sail as much as possible, but the winds shifted from the northeast to almost entirely northerly, leaving no option but to motor back. The belt survived the abusive motoring - props to belt-maker "Bando" - and we made it back to the marina by 3pm.

These tracks were recorded by my newly purchased Delorme InReach, which performed great while out on the water. It was able to send and receive text messages wherever we happened to be - and kept excellent track of our progress for friends back home to see.

If you care to send messages or keep tabs on the next trip, check out the Current Location page.

Koh Yao Yai - South Bay
Rolly anchorage. Open to the south, making it suitable for both northeast and southwest monsoon season. I've stopped here overnight in both seasons. Every time I've anchored here it's required the use of a 2nd (stern) anchor to reduce rolling. Seems there's always swell coming from the south into this bay, regardless of the prevailing wind direction. There are no shore-side facilities or tourist beaches, making it a nice, secluded anchorage. Mud bottom, easy holding. I always anchor in 5~10m here.

Racha - West Bay
Anchorage is open to the west, making it suitable only for use during the northeast monsoon season. We initially dropped anchor on the south side of the bay, but moved after I went for an inspection swim and found the seafloor littered with coral heads (AKA "bommies" if you're an Aussie). Re-anchored on the north side only to find the anchor unwilling to set. After it finally set I swam to check it and discovered it had become lodged under a "farm" of cement cubes. Required a dive to free it from these cubes on the morning of our departure.

This anchorage gets a lot of traffic from water taxis bringing tourists from Phuket, fishing boats (both local and tourist), and dive boats. There were also a large number of private/charter sailing vessels in the anchorage, making it one of the more crowded places I've visited (rivaled only Phi Phi's Tong Sai Bay). Still, this is one of my favorite islands in the area, and my (current) favorite place to dive, so the traffic and crowd were acceptable.

Coral, sand, and rock bottom. Difficult to get anchor set. High potential for anchor to get fouled on something. There is a single public mooring buoy, but it was occupied the entire time we were here.

Ko Mai Thon - West Bay
We tied to a private mooring and I took a swim to check the condition of the attachment. This is a small, beautiful little bay, which offers wonderful protection from the NE monsoon winds and waves. Water at the mooring was 5~8m in depth and crystal clear. Lots of fish and coral to be seen, which probably makes it a popular spot for snorkel boats during the daytime. Would be difficult to moor or anchor in this spot if more than two other boats were already present. There's a beach inside the bay, with access to trails leading to the east side of the island. Will return here someday to explore those trails and the other side of the island (where there's a 5-star resort).

Sand and coral on the bottom. Didn't try to anchor, but would be concerned about getting fouled. Hope to dive here next time and get a better understanding of the bottom conditions.


September 2014 Sailing

During this trip I went alone to Phuket on a 5 day trip with the intention of replacing the charging system and related wiring. Decided to stay through the end of a Chinese holiday (of which I was unaware when I purchased my plane tickets), resulting in a trip that lasted from September 22nd to October 9th.

Was successful in replacing the charging system using a new kit from Balmar - which included alternator, charge controller, and charge splitter (Duo Charge). While doing this replacement I also installed a boat-wide master fuse, secondary fuse panel (for assorted items that are not switched off by the main battery switch), a new main battery switch, and lots of new wiring. Other minor repairs and upgrades were also made during this time.

Koh Racha Sailing and Diving Trip from American McGee on Vimeo.

The old alternator:

The new fuse panel:

Here's the batteries after re-routing all the wiring through the new fuse panel:

The old alternator, controller, and wiring:

The new alternator:

After getting the new charging system installed I left Yacht Haven Marina and sailed south. First night was spent on Koh Rang with a tentative plan for either Koh Racha or Koh Phi Phi the next day. I hoped to find a dive shop and get my Open Water certification.

On Koh Racha I found Aqua Raya, a nice little dive shop operated by Singh and his family. They helped me get my certification and buy dive equipment for the boat. Now I can dive to check moorings, unwrap fish nets from the prop, and maybe even just to look at fish! The diving on Koh Racha was great - with nice clear water, some interesting wrecks, and some beautiful coral.

There is no ATM on this island (except for some sort of "emergency ATM service"), very little by way of infrastructure; but it's a beautiful little island filled with nice and trusting people. Definitely planning to return there soon.


July 2014 Sailing

During this trip I traveled with my business partner and his wife from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Phuket. From Phuket we sailed south towards Phi Phi, with a few days spent at different anchorages in between Yacht Haven Marina and Phi Phi.

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Phuket Trip from American McGee on Vimeo.

During this trip we anchored at a number of locations including:
Koh Yao Yai @ The Paradise Resort
Koh Phi Phi @ north east bay
Koh Yao Yai @ a bay just south of Paradise Resort
Koh Phanak @ a spot on the south east

During the southwest monsoon season all these anchorages are on eastern shores to avoid wind and waves. We avoided those things at all anchorages except on Koh Phanak, where the swell still managed to wrap around the southern end of the island.

Several nights were spent at the anchorage on Phi Phi, where we used long tails to access nearby snorkeling sites and to make a 'grocery run' to Tong Sai bay.




Ko Wa Yai

Ko Wa Yai. No idea what the name means, but it's the largest island in the bay leading to Yacht Haven Marina. We anchored around HERE in about 3m of water (at low tide). With the tide we were able to get here in about 1.5 hours motoring from Yacht Haven (no wind, no sailing).

The island is visited by a small number of speed boats and long tails carrying tourists during the daytime. Around 4pm these all depart, leaving the island mostly deserted.

Ko Wa Yai

Ko Wa Yai

The island has a hiking trail, bar, and restaurant. There's a bathroom that might be one of the smelliest and dirtiest in Thailand (at least in my experience). And there's an outdoor shower setup which wasn't working (no water) when we were visiting. There are also some bungalows and areas for camping. The beach and surrounding area are kept very tidy.

The west side of the island features a nice sandy beach with very shallow water extending far into the surrounding water. This is the side we anchored on for the night.

Ko Wa Yai Beach

Ko Wa Yai Beach

The sunset from this anchorage was nice, setting over the distant hills of the Thai mainland to the west. Ko Pay Yu is 1.3nm west-northwest of Wa Yai. Had the wind or swell come up, we could have tucked into the eastern side of Pay Yu, but the forecast during our stay called for very light winds all night.

Ko Wa Yai Sunset

Ko Wa Yai Sunset

Ko Wa Yai is the largest island you'll pass (and the last big one) on the way out of the bay from Yacht Haven Marina. Just east of Wa Yai is Wa Noi - forming a gate to the channel with Ko Than An to the south.

Ko Wa Yai From Afar

Ko Wa Yai From Afar


Railay and Krabi Sailing

Sailing Trip - March 28th to April 6th, 2014

Arrived from Shanghai Saturday morning (3AM). Spent Saturday and Sunday getting the boat ready, buying supplies, and planning the trip. From Monday to Saturday we'd be out sailing - then flying out of Phuket late Saturday (Sunday morning, 2AM). With three people onboard (myself + 2 guests) and lots of distance to cover, this was one of the more involved trips I've undertaken in terms of prep and planning.

Throughout the trip winds were very light (3~10kts). Late day sea breezes made sailing possible from around 3PM until sunset. Thunderstorms on the last day of sailing (Saturday) brought 15~20kts winds, which made sailing back to the marina fast and exciting - at least until we needed to turn West into the bay where the marina is located, and had our nose directly into the wind. Cloudy weather later in the trip made the 30~34c daytime temperatures more bearable.

The Trip
Day 1: Yacht Haven Marina to Ko Yao Noi - 24nm
Ko Yao is a group of islands between Phuket and Krabi in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. The two biggest islands are Yao Noi and Yao Yai. "Yao" means "long" in Thai, while "Noi" and "Yai" are "little" and "big" respectively: Little Long Island, Big Long Island. The other Long Island (with a population of 7.7 million) is the most populated island in the US, while the Long Island group in Phang Nga Bay has a population of less than 10k people.

You can read more about Ko Yao's history and details HERE.

Ko Yao is a convenient place to stop overnight when heading from Yacht Haven to places like Phi Phi or Krabi. As this trip was taken during the Southwest Monsoon season (May to October) we anchored on the East side of Ko Yao Noi to avoid the onshore winds and swell coming from the West.

From Yacht Haven during this season the nearest anchorages are found at the Northeastern end of Kao Yao Noi (the Northernmost of the two big islands). It's about 24nm from start to stop - and care must be taken to sail well North of the island group to avoid the large, shallow sandbank that extends well into the bay.

Paradise Beach on Yao Noi

Paradise Beach on Yao Noi

Tucked away inside the first large sheltered bay, and with moorings for a handful of yachts, Paradise Koh Yao Boutique Beach Resort & Spa makes for a good stop on the first night out from Yacht Haven.

The water here is murky and the beach (beyond the sandy area near the hotel) is a massive expanse of mud/rock during low tide. That shelf of mud extends out from the beach for a significant distance, so approach anchoring here with caution. We anchored in about 6~7 meters, just inside of the line of mooring buoys. Both times we stopped here I anchored instead of using the moorings, but I will consider using the moorings if I visit again.

Getting ashore in the dinghy is a bit tricky. There's a narrow channel cut through the mudbank leading to a wooden pier near the hotel. Skinny logs rise out of the water (or mud, depending on tide) and mark the Northern edge of the channel (the right side when heading towards shore). From the moorings you want to swing out wide (northeast) away from the first channel marker, then head straight in. Trying to cut the corner at low tide will result a prop vs. mud fight. I've marked the route and overall mudbank on the map below. View this location with Google Maps.

Paradise Anchorage & Dinghy Route

Paradise Anchorage & Dinghy Route

During our first stop at Paradise the bar/hotel staff were a bit standoffish (bordering on rude) towards us. When we returned a few nights later and rented a room they were (of course) much more welcoming. Since the only way to get to this hotel is via water taxi (or your own boat), the room prices are cheap, but the consumables (beer, food, etc) are relatively expensive. Captive customers can't complain.

Day 2: Yao Noi to Krabi via Koh Hong - 15nm
Headed South towards Krabi and stopped at Koh Hong along the way. "Hong" means "room" in Thai and Koh Hong is a prime example of this famous geographic feature commonly found throughout the islands of Phang Nga Bay. Characterized by a small inner lagoon accessible by dinghy or canoe, Hongs are spectacularly beautiful. We anchored in 10~15m of water just off the North entrance to the Hong. View this location with Google Earth.

Koh Hong from Above

Koh Hong from Above

From Koh Hong we made our way to Krabi and Railay beach. Railay is accessible only by boat due to the high limestone cliffs that separate the peninsula from the rest of the mainland. Our first anchorage was off the beach dominated by the famous (and expensive!) Rajavadee resort. These guys wouldn't even allow us to buy a drink at their bar, so I moved to a different anchorage while my guests went on foot to find more affordable accommodation for the night. Read more about Railay Beach on Wikipedia. View the western anchorage on Google Maps. View the eastern anchorage on Google Maps.

This time of year the swell coming in from the West is pretty severe, and it's difficult to find an anchorage with sufficient shelter from the endless procession of waves. I eventually anchored off the eastern side of the peninsula, around the middle of the bay. Better than the western bay, but the rolling was uncomfortable enough that I dropped a kedge and swung the bow around to face the waves. Using a kedge is becoming routine and I'm considering the purchase of an anchor specifically for this use - wrestling with either of the two massive storm anchors for this use is no fun!

Getting shore inside this bay is made difficult by a mudflat extending several hundred meters from the beach and which is complete exposed at low tide. That means securing your dinghy at the edge of the water and walking to shore across the hard-packed mud. The beaches on western side of the peninsula are all sand and provide easier access at low tide, but you'll find anchoring depth is much further away from shore.

Like many beaches in Thailand, the east bay beach at Railay is lined with bars and clubs. At night these guys crank up the flames, music, and lasers; anchor too close and sleep will be difficult.

My guests found comfortable and affordable rooms available at the Railay Bay Resort & Spa. They reported no uncomfortable waves in their room.

One thing to keep in mind about all the anchorages around Railay is the constant boat traffic. Taxi boats zoom in and out from these popular beaches from sunrise to sunset, making life onboard very roly-poly.

Day 3-4: Koh Poda - 2.5nm

Koh Poda and Koh Kai (AKA Chicken Head Island) are a short distance (2.5nm) from Railay Beach and offer beautiful white sand beaches along with some of the best snorkeling in the area.

I anchored at Koh Poda two times in as many days and could have spent many days here enjoying the seclusion and quiet.

Tourists fill the beaches on both islands during the day. Having a dinghy makes exploration of snorkeling areas away from the tourists possible. Uncertain what facilities are available on the islands as I never went ashore.

Koh Poda Sunset

Koh Poda Sunset

I anchored in two different locations near Koh Poda - the first time in-between Poda and the small islet to the north. This makes an excellent location for dinghy exploring and provides swimming access to snorkeling. Second time I anchored east of that islet in an attempt to avoid wind and waves (mostly successful on both counts). At the 2nd anchorage I did drag anchor (in the middle of the night!) and ended up putting out more chain, which solved the problem. Uncertain if the bottom here isn't as sticky or if I simply didn't have enough chain out in the first place. The tidal currents around these islands are pretty strong.

View the anchorage off Koh Poda on Google Maps.

Remaining days were spent getting back to Yacht Haven, with an overnight stop at Paradise resort. Basically the first two days in reverse.

Note: GPS positions were selected from Google Maps (while sitting safely on my sofa at home in Shanghai) and only represent a rough approximation of anchorage position. Use caution and common sense when approaching and selecting your anchorage.

During this trip I fixed or installed the following items:
Tightened alternator belt, adjusted head door (to keep it from swinging open/close while under way), installed another fan in the aft cabin, general cleaning, removed ugly green garden hose from lifelines (was there to prevent chaffing of spinnaker lines - but I'm not using a spinnaker, so...), bought and prepped a new dinghy, marked lockers (with label maker).

During this trip the following things broke or died:
Alternator (bad diode), fresh water faucet in galley (slow leak while water pump is on), jib furler jammed at top of mast (required climbing the mast at anchor to repair), alternator belt required replacing (result of overcharging), killed a house 12v battery (overcharging), shower sump water pump died (replaced with spare while under way).

Resolved issues and improvements:
Electrical issues have been solved since my return to Shanghai. Swim steps and wooden window frame covers have been fabricated and installed. Leak over nav station has been found and fixed. Wooden block being fabricated to fit into forward deck cleat - this cleat frequently catches the jib sheets when tacking, often causing a failed tack. An image of this "cleat cover" design is below.

Cleat Cover

Cleat Cover

After an exciting (and tiring) trip up the mast to fix the jammed jib furler, I purchased a sturdy climbing "work harness" and ascender/descender devices (along with climbing rope, helmet, gloves, etc - the whole kit). Using these I'll be able to ascend (and descend) the mast solo and in relative comfort.

No video from this trip as I was too busy sailing, cooking, cleaning, repairing, and having fun to get out the GoPro!


Chinese New Year 2014

Just ahead of Chinese New Year 2014, I arrived on Phuket with a couple of extra free days before my friend Jacob would also arrive from Shanghai. A small list of repairs and improvements outlined tasks to fill the time. Phuket at this time was experiencing record low temperatures - down to low 20s (Celsius) at night.

Phi Phi Sunrise

Phi Phi Sunrise

During the 'free' time I installed more LED lighting throughout the boat - in the head, aft cabin, over the nav station and in the forward v-berth. In addition, I performed surgery on several of the white LED lights - to outfit them with an extra on/off switch and cluster of red LED lights. This way the head, saloon, and nav station can remain lit at night without any impact on night vision.

Out of this, my favorite LED addition is in the form of plastic encased (waterproof) strips of LEDs controlled by a IR remote. I installed these in a recess below the settee cushions in the saloon - so that they provide ambient light without being directly visible. Via remote these strips can be adjusted for brightness and color - literally emulating every color of the rainbow (also set to flash, oscillate, and behave like an insane disco). The best part is that they can be set to a dim red, which nicely illuminates the entire cabin at night. On Taobao (Chinese shopping site) these cost less than $15USD for a 2 meter strip with remote.

Beyond that, I added more 12v fans throughout the boat. Biggest impact on comfort was in the head, where a shower can now be had which is cool and refreshing - before, it was a miserable sauna. Why the previous owner didn't do this is beyond me. Then again, he'd filled the boat with 12v "computer fans," the sort found inside tower PC cases, which were barely effective. Those are all gone now.

Completely removed and cleaned the anchor chain, cut off 3 meters that were corroding in the bottom of the chain locker. Re-marked for depth, re-attached bitter end. As I was bringing the chain back onboard the windless jammed then broke. There's a metal chain guide that helps the chain come off the windless gear - and this had moved sideways, then jammed. The chain guide sits atop a hard plastic spacer. Discovered that the bolt holes holding this plate in place were stripped - likely due to corrosion between the SS bolts and aluminum windlass base.

Managed to clean the bolt holes, replace the (bent) bolts. Crammed a bunch of washers in between the spacer - and everything snugged down tight. This repair worked fine (at the marina and over the subsequent days of use). Have purchased thread repair kit and aluminum epoxy - one of these two things (or both in tandem!) should fix the issue more permanently; something I'll take care of on the next visit.

With repairs and improvements (mostly) done, I went to buy groceries and supplies. Tesco on Phuket is a 30 minute drive from the marina and has a wide selection of hardware, food, and other supplies. Hiring a car for the round trip (with the driving waiting for 1hr while shopping is done) costs ~1000baht (30USD). All the food and supplies for the trip cost a little over 100USD; this supplied breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two people for ~4 days.

Next day, Jacob arrived. We set off towards Koh Phanak. Light winds meant we had to motor sail. Arrived at Koh Phanak - same first night anchorage as was used on the previous trip (Anchorage Location). This time the tide was out, so where we'd previously found a cave that could be accessed and explored by dinghy, we instead found a muddy beach - the cave now inaccessible via dingy. We walked inside to explore, found we couldn't get very far - then had a difficult time escaping the muddy beach with our shoes (they kept getting sucked into the knee-deep mud). Emphasis here on MUD.

Here's a map showing our route - from the marina to a night at Koh Phanak. then to the Southern bay of Koh Yao Yai, then down to Phi Phi.

CNY Trip Route

CNY Trip Route

Next morning we motor sailed around the North end of Koh Phanak. Depth here (at low tide) showed ~0.1 meters for at least 20 minutes. I wasn't too worried about hitting the muddy bottom or getting stuck - the tide was set to rise.

Sailed down the East coast of Koh Yao Kai - flirting with the idea of heading to Koh Hong, but ultimately decided to press for an earlier arrival at the South bat of Koh Yao Yai, where we would anchor for the night (Anchorage Location). Due to a cross-wind and wave action, it was necessary to set a 2nd anchor off the stern quarter so that we could get the bow pointed into the waves. Things were *very* roll-y before the 2nd anchor was down.

Attempted snorkeling in the Southern bay, but found the reef off the western point completely dead and destroyed. Sad. There was an impressive brush fire burning on the island. Seems the region was suffering a severe drought during this time; pretty apparent if you've been to Thailand in the past and seen everything green and lush.

Next morning we headed to Koh Phi Phi. Had some good wind and made the trip in ~3 hours. Anchored in Tong Sai Bay (Anchorage Location). Went ashore for diesel, supplies, and lunch.

At this point, there was lots of uncertainty about how much fuel was being consumed. Would we have enough? Run out halfway back to the marina? Were we consuming 4+ liters per hour (which is apparently normal) or less? More? Ultimately, we calculated it must be in the ~2 liters per hour range @ RPMs of ~2.3k. This moves the boat at 4~5kts (depending on tide/current).

Tong Sai Bay is busy during the day with large numbers of big tourist boats coming and going. Lots of wake action to keep motion on the boat lively. Snorkeling here is really good though - we anchored within swimming distance of the reef on the western side of the bay.

We found diesel in a little back alley, bought 50 liters, contained in an odd array of laundry detergent bottles and other random jugs. A big mess was made while trying to refill the boat from these random containers. Some sort of handheld pump (with filter!) is badly needed for this. I noticed a huge amount of dirt and debris in the bottoms of all the containers.

Using the dinghy to head ashore for dinner, we ran smack into a coral head! The tide was out, sun was down - and we had no idea they were lurking about. No damage done. Lesson learned: There are coral heads waiting for you at low tide. Head towards shore slowly, use a flashlight at night - and don't head straight for the Eastern beach. Better to head straight up the center channel, then head left or right once nearer the shore.

At night the island is really noisy. Even anchored out in the bay it's easy to be disturbed by the light and sound coming from the beach-front bars and clubs. I remember Phi Phi from my first visit a decade prior - and it's change a LOT. Tourists are crammed into every square inch, there are shops everywhere - OK if you want to restock groceries - and the place literally stinks (probably accentuated by all the clean air being breathed for days on the boat).

We left Phi Phi early the next morning and headed back to Koh Yao Yai. With good wind, we made the West coast of Yao Yai in a few hours, then dropped anchor is a secluded bay (Anchorage Location). After the crowds, noise, and stink of Phi Phi we wanted to spend the final night far away from signs of civilization, and this bay was well suited to that desire.

I woke the next day with severe food poisoning, which I blame on Phi Phi. Thankfully, Jacob was able to get us back to the marina without any problems. If you're going to eat and drink on Phi Phi - stick to beer (in bottles) and food that's been thoroughly cooked. Avoid at all costs froofy drinks in oddly shaped glasses... but then I probably didn't have to tell you that.

On the next trip I'll continue upgrades and improvements - still some lights and fans to install. The sink drain in the head needs some attention (run new hose?). Need to replace or remove the salt water pressure faucet in the galley - the old faucet is corroded beyond recognition (salt water, yay).

Phuket Sailing (Chinese New Year 2014) from American McGee on Vimeo.

You can also see video of this adventure by clicking HERE.


Birthday Trip – 2013

Phuket Sailing (Birthday, Dec 13th, 2013) from American McGee on Vimeo.

During the week leading up to Friday, December 13th, 2013 we sailed around the Andaman Sea, East of Phuket Island. Over the course of four days and three nights we stopped at four different islands: Koh Phanak, Koh Yao Yai, Koh Kai Nok, and Koh Rang Yai. We spent the night at three different islands (all the previous ones, except Koh Kai Nok, where we only stopped for lunch and snorkeling). The video above shows some of what we did and saw, though we kept finding the camera's battery dead, so there's a lot left out. Here's a quick overview of where we sailed and stopped:

Phang Nga Bay - Trip Map

Phang Nga Bay - Trip Map


Problems Starting Off

We arrived on Phuket at 3AM, Wednesday morning. Our plan was to spend Wednesday getting the boat ready for adventure - cleaning, shopping, stocking provisions, and putting things in order. We expected the unexpected, but still figured a full day would provide enough time to prepare. We were almost proven wrong.

The first problem, discovered shortly after hopping onboard Wednesday morning - dead batteries. The two house and single starter batteries were completely flat. I'd noticed our mast light was ON as we drove along the road above the marina the night before - but figured someone working on the boat must have done this for a good reason. Turns out many things (radar, VHF, radio, interior lights) were left on... who knows how long... and the batteries run down. We charged the batteries from shore power, started the engine and left it running a few hours, thinking this would resolve the issue.

After a few hours of running the engine, I realized the batteries weren't getting a charge. I checked the wiring only to discover the alternator wiring harness was completely detached from the alternator! Later poking around revealed an even bigger problem: one of the house batteries was connected backwards! Insanity! It took from late afternoon on Wednesday until early morning on Thursday (our planned departure date) to unravel all this. The electrical repair guys came, scratched their heads, and got to work fixing everything.

(I still have no idea who disconnected the alternator, put the battery in backwards, left everything turned on - or why. ????)

We'd set a hard departure time of 1:30PM on Thursday - leaving any later we wouldn't have enough time to get to Koh Phanak (and anchor) before the sun went down. The electrical problems were solved by 1PM... but I then discovered the depth gauge and wind instruments were not reading correctly! "Ah, F it!" I said. We have a manual depth log on board (a weight on a string attached to a reel with a mechanism for measuring how much line has been let out) - that would suffice. Sails work? Motor works? We have food and water? A manual depth gauge? Enough! We left!

Leaving Problems Behind

We could have stuck around the marina trying to diagnose and repair the instruments - but I'm glad we didn't. Over the next couple of days the depth gauge proved itself to be sentient. It worked flawlessly until moments before it was truly needed (to anchor), at which point it would lose its mind. After seeing it repeat this behavior twice, we just gave up on it - relying instead on the trusty manual depth log.

Keep in mind, this was my first trip out alone - not just on this particular boat, but on any large sailing boat, ever. I was nervous about a LOT of things, not the least of which was running into shallow water and ending up on a sand bank. As a result of the broken depth gauge I stayed as far away from shore and shallow water as possible - we were always anchored further out than any of the other boats in sight.

Once out there - away from the marina - things did start to feel a lot better. We motored, then sailed, to Koh Phanak. Being one of the nearest big islands with an overnight anchorage, it would be our temporary home for Thursday night. We arrived before sunset, dropped the anchor, then hopped in the dinghy for some exploration. The island is home to a massive cave, the entrance to which can be found on the Western shore, up at the Northern end of the island. We only explored inside for a short distance before the darkness was too much and we were forced to turn around. I want to return to this place and explore more in the future.

Fun Sailing and Birthday Dinner

Friday morning we started off towards Koh Yao Yai - the largest island to the East of Phuket. Sailing South for several hours, we eventually arrived at a white sand beach along the Western coast of Yao Yai. There's a newly built beach resort here - along with a small Muslim village. Not many tourists have found this location, so we had a quiet time anchored here - and enjoyed a yummy dinner at a small cafe on the beach. I turned 41 on my own sailboat, so I was quite happy!

Next morning, we headed South again, looking to explore Koh Kai Nai or Koh Kai Nok, two tiny islands renowned for their clear waters and excellent snorkeling. The pilot guide suggested possible anchorages and mooring buoys - and Navionics showed other sailers commenting on anchorages around the islands. Clear warnings go along with these suggestions - "reef rises suddenly from the deep water" surrounding the islands - how suddenly, we'd soon find out.

We approached Koh Kai Nok and sailed around at some distance, looking for a suitable place to drop anchor. I'd heard from others that picking up mooring buoys is a BAD idea, so that wasn't an option. I selected a spot in the lee of the larger island and began a slow approach. Without a depth gauge, the manual log line had to be thrown over and checked frequently - an idea I later realized was foolish.

The reef here rises like a wall from the depths - water under the keel going from 50+ meters to less than 2 in a matter of meters. Still, we got the anchor down (somewhere!) and then sat on the boat, watching to see if we were dragging - or if the wind was going to shift.

Things looked stable, so we headed for shore. It's a shame the GoPro's batteries were (again) dead at this point, because we enjoyed some beautiful snorkeling. An awesome lunch was had at a secluded restaurant (truly secluded - you can't get to it without a boat!), and we then returned to our own boat.

Upon returning, I realized what a precarious position the boat was in. The stem was less than 5 meters from the edge of the reef - such that any shift of winds would have put the boat on the reef in seconds. Luckily, the wind held and I was able to get the anchor up and our keel away from potential disaster. As if to illustrate just how dangerous it is to go in near to this island - as we sailed away, I watched a chartered (Sunsail) boat get up on the reef and stranded. They went in too close. I'd NOT recommend this island as an anchorage unless you're feeling really brave and/or lucky.

Last Night

By the last night out, I was much less nervous and much more comfortable with being out on the boat. I'd not crashed into anything, nothing had caught on fire, the batteries and engine performed as expected, and no one got seasick. After exploring Koh Rang (where we'd anchored for the night) I relaxed in the cockpit and thought about the trip so far. I'd learned a lot - experienced a lot - and been challenged more than a few times. In short, I'd done and felt the things I'd hoped to do and feel when aboard my own sailboat. It had been a great birthday trip.

Returning Home, Things to Do

Safely back the marina, I made a list of items to repair or improve (on the next trip):

- A new set of Nexus sailing instruments have been ordered from Hong Kong.
- Install new instruments on next visit.
- A handful of old lines have been replaced (main traveler, jib furling, topping lift).
- LED lights still need to be installed (next trip).
- Order new fresh water pump, replace on next trip.

The next trip (during Chinese New Year) I'll be going alone. Most of the time will likely be spent on repairs and improvements, but I do hope to get some (solo) sailing in for at least a few days. More to come...


First Adventure

Back in Shanghai after another trip to Phuket, I'm excited about all that was accomplished and all that's yet to come. First things first, I had a wonderful day of sailing aboard my "new" sailboat. She moves with purpose and power, even in a fairly light wind. There's a solid, sure feeling about this boat.

From the marina I sailed out a couple of miles and went through a variety of exercises - raising and lowering (and reefing) the main, furling and unfurling (then reefing) the jib, dropping and setting anchor, moving under engine power, and of course lots of sailing around with the engine off. All of this taught me tons about where the "controls" are, how various systems operate and how to interface with the boat.

Of course, I first had to exit the marina - and that was more than a little nerve wracking, it being my first time to undertake this maneuver on my own. To avoid trouble (or hitting something) I was given a dingy "tug" to help push me around if needed. And it was needed! After some trouble finding reverse and backing away from the slip, I then had trouble finding forward and slowing down... as my stern glided ever so gently towards a catamaran in the slip behind mine. Dinghy tug saved the day, I found "forward," and away I went. Note to self: learn how the throttle/gear selector works while still tied to the dock.

Anyway, I made it out and here's what it looked like:


My plan was to spend at least two days sailing and spend one night at anchor (see previous post). Instead, I spent three days focused on cleaning, maintenance, and repairs dockside, then just one day sailing. There was a lot more work to be done that I had imagined, including:

Removed the old shower sump pump and replaced it with a new one. The old one had seized and even done some damage to the wiring/breaker. I replaced the pump, wiring and on/off toggle switch. While I was at it, also replaced the tubing from the bilge to the pump and from pump to outlet. Still need to look at the wiring and breaker - a project for the future. Seems a previous owner (or the builder? hard to believe?) used single strand copper wiring for a number of electrical connections. This is bad because single strand wiring is more prone to breaking under the flex loads it'll experience on a boat. The old pump:

I don't mind repair work or installing new hardware, actually I really enjoy this kind of work. Still, this next job wasn't my favorite. The old 'black water' tank was just sitting in place, not connected to the head/toilet. It was taking up space and making a smell... so it had to go. Getting it out would have been easy if someone hadn't welded mounting brackets onto it after placing it inside a compartment. That meant sawing off the brackets and a bit of lifting/prying work. In the end, it took three men to wrestle the half-full tank of yuck out of the compartment and off the boat. The tank:



Lots of other little chores were dealt with... buying "house stuff" for the galley, head, and cabins. Cleaning - lots of cleaning. And I made a full inventory of items I'd like to replace/improve. Top of the list of things I can handle on my own is replacing all the original incandescent lighting with new-improved LED lighting. It's amazing how much heat the old lights produce (and energy they waste) - not a good thing when it's already 32c and 80% humidity! Below is a picture of an old (original?) light. I'll be ordering a set of LED lights from a marine products manufacturer in China - then installing the lot of them when I return to the boat in December.



There was no "synchronicity" moment on this trip (that I can recall) but I did have a great time and found a smiley face in my beer to back that up:


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