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.