Thursday, June 25, 2015

Winding down the west coast towards Satun


With the cruising season winding down we made the decision to commit to having some work done in the ship yard in Satun. So we made a slow meander back down the west coast of Thailand, past all our favourite spots.

Rolly Nai Yang. Check the angle of the yacht on the left.
We had a hot and uncomfortable day motoring all of the 50 NMs from the Similans to Nai Yang in rolling and confused seas. We were hot and bothered and fed up by the time we reached Nai Yang. The reward is a great anchorage with clear water, a white sandy beach and restaurants galore. Unfortunately the rolly conditions we had out at sea also rolled into the anchorage. It's OK if you have a catamaran but the mono hulls dipped and curtseyed relentlessly. Fed up with living on a moving platform we ducked around the corner to Bang Tao where we could tuck behind the headland for some peaceful days.

That's a big cleaver for a little girl!
Bang Tao is much quieter and we enjoyed the more simple local restaurants along its shores. I loved seeing this little girl playing "helping" with the rather large cleaver. No super protective parents here! The children are part of the natural fabric of life where they are obviously loved and important, but aren't always centre stage. They seem to learn to respect that things like fire and sharp knives are dangerous from experience, not from being wrapped in cotton wool.

Nai Harn

Nai Harn towards the south western side of Phuket is many a sailor's dream. From the bar you can peruse the boats and watch the sun slip to the horizon on yet another perfect Thai day. Laundry is done fairly cheaply and restaurants and the usual tourist stalls are a plenty.
It's hard to find nice places that aren't overrun with tourists, but one very special place that hasn't been spoilt yet is Taratau. The island is quiet and the facilities basic. There is a large restaurant,  come canteen, that caters for large groups where the food is good and cheap. Generally however you have to make sure you have everything you need as there are no shops at all. A Seven 11 will definitely not be found here.
During our rambling we were very impressed to find the Taratao power station that consisted of an array of solar panels as well as a brand spanking new generator. Rob's eyes lit up when he saw the massive battery bank. Many of the islands that we visit  are solar powered and come six or seven o'clock it's light out folks!

Koh Taratao . Solar powered island.

Now that's a battery bank!


Taratao also has a very impressive cave which you reach by long tail boat. Access through the cave is via floating rafts that are pulled along by ropes. The formations are amazing and glisten in your torch light. With our guide we rafted and walked deep into the pitch black caverns far into the hillside. The guide had no English and we little Thai so it was a quiet tour! It was a little disconcerting to see him smoking and dropping his butts into the water. In Australia that would have been a hanging offense. Regulations and controls over areas of natural beauty are tightly supervised. (Unfortunately, not so the Great Barrier Reef but don't get me started!)

Bat Cave Taratao

Back form the Bat Cave steering by foot

It was with some sadness that we left beautiful Taratao and reluctantly pointed our bow towards Satun and what we knew would be a hard three months in the ship yard and on the hard stand. On the positive side we were looking forward to seeing our old friends at the yard from two years ago and giving The Doctor a bit of a well needed spruce up.

Our last beautiful anchorage before we go to the ship yard.

Next post is from PSS shipyard where you will see The Doctor transformed into a mega yacht! Well not really, but a much classier version of the old girl.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015



Koh Similan early in the morning before tourists

The beautiful Similans are located only 34 nautical miles off the west coast of Thailand. They are an absolute treasure with incredibly clear waters and masses of huge fish. Because of the National park status of the islands, the fish have been allowed to grow into handsome big specimens.  The island group comprises of nine islands, hence the name Similan, which comes from the Malay “Sembilan” or number nine.  Unfortunately, the islands are so close to the mainland that it opens the door to mass tourism, with literally thousands of day trippers coming to the islands every day in the dry season. Thank goodness for the raging winds and rain of the wet season.  Perhaps the islands have a chance to recover from the tourist invasion in the off season.

Koh Similan

Being on our own boat we have the luxury of being able to tarry after the hordes of tourists have gone. We can enjoy in peace the pristine beauty of the islands for a few hours in the early morning and evenings. The snorkelling is spectacular and we went out two or three times every day until we felt quite water logged. Apart from the rich array of fish and turtles there is one island just north of Koh Muang where massive smooth boulders the size of houses tumble down through the deep sapphire water into 35 metres of deep clear blue.

These are like the huge boulders that you can dive around in 35 mts of clear water. Koh Similan

Most yachties don’t stay long at the Similans. Some have been so miserable that they have had to beat a hasty retreat in the early hours of the morning because of the constant swell that plagues the islands. We stayed four nights. Of the four, one night was dreadful due to the rolling of the boat, the second was bearable and we were lucky enough to find anchorages where we had two good night’s sleep. It is testing though, and we played a not so amusing game of musical moorings in search of a calm night.



This might help...


You can see the impact of tourism by the amount of plastic rubbish that floats through some anchorages, especially the more popular island of Koh Muang. Rob decided to do his civic duty and motored around the anchorage using our scoop net to collect some of the detritus.  Two rangers became very suspicious, perhaps thinking that this man was actually fishing in the marine park! When Rob held up the collected plastic they smiled broadly, with relief, I suspect.

We had mixed feelings about the Similans:

Crystal clear water, beautiful, spectacular, magical.

Too many tourists, too much rubbish, challenging and uncomfortable anchorages.

Sorry we went? No. Go again? Yes!

Post Script: The Thai government has now started implementing more stringent regulations to protect these islands. They are now capping the number of tourists to 200 per day and are requiring tour boats to take their rubbish back with them.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

From sleepy Surins to cruisy Koh Phra Thong

We had some urgent paperwork to attend to concerning both Diana's visa and boat clearance so it was time to leave the tranquil idyll of the Surins and head for Nai Yang on the Phuket west coast. We left with a 15-20 kt easterly blowing and so it was beam reach bliss all the way and The Doctor proving what a fine sailing vessel she really is. Miraculously we sorted all bureaucracy in under an hour, did 3 big shops at Villa, Tesco and Makro, found a beautiful gift for Megs special birthday and got it posted off and had all provisions on board and cold beer in hand by 9 pm. What a day!!!!!

Now that's a flat anchorage

We thought we should spend some time on the inland waterway just north of Ban Thap Lamu, the navy base anchorage north of Nai Yang. Flat anchorages without the incessant roll that plagues the west coast of Thailand in the dry season  were calling  like some siren call in the early and sleepless hours of morning. The bar crossing at the southern entrance was pathetic compared to the Ballina crossing we did a few years back (refer to the now best seller Tell Tales) . Once inside, the sea flattened out and it was still, flat and roll free. Some of you might not fully understand what roll is so here's a quick explanation. Wind out at sea creates swell which moves to shore and then breaks. We try and anchor out of the swell but on this coast it's not easy as it comes from the west. Swell is roll and when you lie side on, it rocks the boat from side to side as you would a baby in a bassinet. We have a ship's bell at the navigation table and when it's bad the bell striker actually hits the bell and we hear a loud ring. That is our signal to abandon ship and we pack up personal items, Motley and phones and sleep ashore on the sand. Not really but it's a thought. The inland waterway, thanks to the sand bar, has no swell and it's like being in a marina, ahhhhh bring it on.
Wilson's new buddy

Wilson is an old soccer ball we found lying on a beach somewhere and it lived in the dinghy. You may remember the fine movie with Tom Hanks called Castaway where he has a Wilson brand soccer ball which  he paints a face on and he grows to see it as his one and only friend. Tragically, it floats off and he swims out to save it but to no avail. Well, we found it it in Thailand and it was chucked into the dinghy where it became a nuisance. Everywhere you put your feet, there was Wilson asking to be moved or thrown back in the sea. Well, we pulled up outside a small village on the mainland side of the water way, went ashore, had dinner and wandered back to the dinghy. On the way back a vegie truck pulled up and as I was sourcing fresh produce Diana headed back to the dinghy. Some school kids had seen Wilson in the dingy and had taken him and were playing soccer on the concrete pad near the jetty. Diana joined in and the game switched to keep it off. There were squeals of fun and all the local mamas and papas watched on with smiles all round. These kids lived on an island and got to school each day via long tail. As they climbed aboard to head home one of then walked towards Diana to return the ball. But Wilson had found a new home and she promptly offered it back. It was flat and slightly perished but it was a ball that worked like balls do. Their grins say it all.

School's done ........going home with Wilson

On the seaward side of the water way is an island called Koh Prah Thong and its unique in a topographical sense. Its composed of grey sand and is mostly savannah. Paper barks are everywhere and the island is covered in sand tracks.

savannah complete with sand tracks look close and you'll see a herd of elephants just below that far hill

 We took a half day tour on the back of a Toyota ute and as the photos will suggest, it was like being back in Oz or maybe the open plains of Africa.. Dry, sandy, treeless and flat. The only thing missing were a herd of elephants, or a giraffe loping along. I suggested they make up some models and place them here and there but it was seriously lost in translation. There is a big bird that is native to the island and it's some type of crane. They float around on the thermals and look like a small plane looking for a landing site.

early morning magic in Thailand

 We loved this anchorage and stayed nearly a week. There are low key resorts with great home cooked food and the time seemed to slide easily away. The Thai massage we had on the beach was quite special. The lady is an instructor and she is busy, especially since she charges 500 bht and the flash Golden Buddah  resort wants 900. We booked for 8am and I went first, Diana decided to go for a walk along the beach. Early morning on these islands is magical. There is the soft wash of waves on shore, the sweet sea air, the swish of the casuarinas that line the shore and before you know it you are gone. There was something very soothing about this island, something gentle and unhurried. Something  that makes Thailand a hard place to leave. Till next time. Rob.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

The West coast of Thailand: Phuket to Ranong

The magical island of Koh Phayam
At last we broke free of the marina and made our way around the bottom of Phuket Island and up the west coast of Thailand. The NE monsoon was establishing itself which makes the west coast a well protected area for sailing. One of the first stops was the infamous Patong Bay. It's not really Thailand at all with its sleezy bars and Thais looking to make  a quick buck. Although an unusually quiet year, there were still lots of Aussie, Russian and German tourists. Russians are a big influence in Phuket with  many signs and menus in Russian language. Desptite all that,  Patong is a good place to stock up with supplies of food and drinks. The anchorage was abysmal though and the NW swell rolled the boat miserably from side to side. We had to hold on when moving around the boat and pouring a cup of coffee was only an approximation, with most of the coffee ending up on the bench. We had to stay one night unfortunately but left at first light in the morning.

We shared the busy anchorage of Patong, Phuket with this big baby. They weren't rolling!

We had set ourselves a goal to get right to one of the most northern islands on the west coast, just short of the Myanmar border by Christmas. The cruising grapevine promised that the bay at Koh Phayam was spectacular and traditionally a place for orphans to share Christmas. Five days of uncomfortable sailing with the wind and  short nasty waves on the nose got us there in plenty of time. We sailed in company with and old mate from Fremantle on his boat Watanie II. It was worth the bash north. Beautiful white sandy beach, low key restaurants ashore and a quiet island safe enough to explore on motor bike.

Koh Phayam....ah

Twenty boats filed into the bay prior to Christmas, with friends old and new friends on Honeymoon, Rum Runner, Wandoo, Muscat,  Fayaway and others. Some of us joined up for a scrumptious lunch at a French run restaurant overlooking the water. Days idled past filled with socializing with friends and exploring the island.
New Year was a blast and the best one ever. The venue was the Hippy Bar right on the beach. The place is constructed from recycled wood from the tsunami, old bits of coiled rope and flotsam. It's very creative but it's hard to see how it all holds together. It is run by some very cool Rasta Thai guys who mix a mean Mojito and play very danceable music. We danced the night away and finally brought in the new year by setting off paper lanterns on the beach. 

Paper lanterns to bring in the new year 

The navy ship anchored in the bay let off fireworks from the back of their boat. I can't ever see the Australian Navy getting into the New Year like that!

The Hippy Bar. a great venue for New Years Eve

Part of the Hippy Bar. Would it pass survey??

 We did a day trip by ferry to the city of Ranong so Rob could have his passport stamped. It's a functional bustling town with good supermarkets and probably every service you would ever need. I made a futile attempt to have The Doctor's boat stay extended. It was not something the customs had done before so after two hours of polite paper rustling I suggested it might be easier if I went to Phuket to do the check in. They quickly, and with relief I think, agreed.

All on one anchor!

One of the fishing boats came and anchored about 15 metres away which is usually considered pretty close. The skipper started doing charades with Rob and it went something like " You come" Rob dutifully went over with a bowl and his wallet looking forward to a feed of nice fresh prawns. He got the prawns alright but no repayment required. The skipper wanted a lift ashore in our dinghy so he could meet up with his girlfriend. The whole procedure was repeated several days later when we met him on the beach and he needed a lift back to his boat. AND we got another big bowl of prawns which we cooked up and shared with friends.

After nearly two weeks in beautiful Koh Phayam we pulled anchor and pointed the bow south again.
This time instead of hugging the coast we made our way to the off lying Surin Islands.
 Only about 30 miles south, we had the wind behind us and a great sail. Good sailing doesn't happen too often in Thailand due to lack of wind so when it happens it's just icing on the cake. Rather than taking turns to be up on deck to keep an eye out for fish traps and nets we both sat in the cockpit lapping up the wonderful sensation of motor off and wind in the sails.

Going ashore for lunch. Surin Islands 

We tried most of the anchorages around the Surin Islands, but only one was flat and escaped the swell coming in from the Bay of Bengal. We anchored there first and in retrospect we should never have left. 

Rated as one of our best ever anchorages 

It was right up there with the best anchorage EVER. A best ever anchorage ticks the following boxes. Protected from the prevailing wind and swell. White sandy beach. Clear water. Interesting snorkelling. Hard sand and shade for doing yoga on the beach. Just plain beautiful.

The perfect yoga beach 

Being keen on doing yoga whenever possible, I gathered up my mat and towel and paddled to the nearest beach before breakfast.  A monkey was on the beach, but being shy and not that into yoga disappeared into the jungle. After gently moving along the hermit crabs , I spread out the mat and had a wonderful hour of yoga with the lapping of the water as background music. I was just into the last few minutes of meditation when I heard a mad splashing at the waters edge only a few feet away. Unbelievably quite a large fish had landed at my feet! What to do? It would be a perfect meal for two. As I was wondering how to capture it, it flipped itself back into the water. Initially disappointed, I then decided the fish deserved to live as it had obviously already escaped the jaws of something large that had chased it onto the beach.

Surin Islands 

We shared the anchorage with a couple of other boats and joined them for drinks on the beach at sunset after we had picked fresh oysters off the rocks. Cant get much better than that!