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.


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.