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