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.




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...


Preparing for First Adventure

Next week I'm heading back to Phuket, this time as owner of my own sailboat. In the period since my last visit, I've been busy at work in Shanghai - and the boat has been busy doing all kinds of interesting boat things in Thailand. While I've been working on video games, she's had her bottom scraped, sanded, repaired and anti-fouled; sailed down to Langkawi, Malaysia to check out of Thai waters; sailed back to Thailand; experienced a not-small number of break-downs and failures; and racked up some impressive bills. All according to plan. No surprises... yet.

These days I'm working on a new plan - the plan I'll follow (or try) during the next visit. With 4 days on the ground (and water), I'm hoping to divide the trip into 2 parts. Part #1: preparing, cleaning and repairing things onboard. Part #2: sailing out of sight of the marina to Koh Phanak and anchoring there overnight.

During Part #1 I expect to make lists of what's needed onboard to make the boat a more comfortable and safe floating home. I'm taking with me no less than 43 items (25kg) from Shanghai - including the aforementioned tool kit, along with zip-ties, a collection of "boat clothes," sailing knives, LED headlamps, work gloves, various chargers/solar panels, bathroom supplies, and so on. These are the things I feel can be reasonably brought into Thailand under the guise of "vacation items" (yeah, the tool kit is a bit of a stretch). Another list of items, to be purchased in Thailand, includes stuff like tableware, cleaning supplies, cordless tools, an ice chest, bed sheets - all sorts of things I think would be hard to explain to Thai customs officers. (Then again, I'm arriving on a red-eye flight, and I've never seen customs people actually working at 2AM. Fingers crossed).

Koh Phanak

During Part #2 things get more interesting. I'll weigh anchor (actually, just leave the marina slip), raise the sails and... go somewhere! The plan is to sail towards the nearest island out of sight of the marina, with decent overnight anchoring - that being Koh Phanak (+8┬║ 10' 28.7", +98┬║ 29' 23"). The island itself features opportunities for dinghy exploring under spectacular limestone overhands along the entire west coast - and entrances to caves and hongs (an interior lagoon within the island, accessible from the sea) on the east coast. My goal in sailing to and anchoring at Koh Phanak isn't exploring though, it's to see how well I can sail single-handed to a known location, anchor and care for the boat. If all goes well, after a night on the hook, I'll weigh anchor (for real this time) and head back towards the marina. All in, this is a ~30 mile round-trip.

Once this mini-adventure is over and I'm back at the marina I'll have a chance to create a proper accounting of the boat and its need for improvement. More lists, more items to acquire, repairs to be made ad infinitum - as it is with boats.