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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!