Taken at 1100 hours, and it is hot. Working on the rigging now. We should get lifted in a couple of hours. Seas are good.
PS. We are at the airport now and Sabbatical III is on the ship.
We just spent the last 3 weeks sailing along the west coast of Phuket and then out to sea about 100 miles north and west of Phuket to visit the famous Similan and Surin Islands. We had a wonderful time:
Koh Miang and Koh Similan. Crystal clear water, beautiful boulders leading down to the sea , jungle, white powdery sand beaches, lots of fish, good snorkeling, great sunsets, trying to get to shore from the dinghy without getting soaked (it was impossible not to get totally wet as the breakers were so big that you had to anchor your dinghy well away from shore and then swim in). Going on waterlogged hikes with Wind Pony and Dedalus… after we all ended up swimming to shore holding our hiking shoes up over our heads to try and keep them dry (in vain). Climbing to the top of the look-outs on both islands.
Dinner tossed to us from a fishing boat in Koh Ra (written about previously). Not raw fish as you might expect, but some chicken on skewers and Thai papaya salad (very spicy) and sticky rice in a plastic bag. The most unexpected gift and gratefully eaten.
Unexpected discovery of Koh Ra and Golden Buddha Ecolodges
An abandoned looking pier near our anchorage at Koh Ra on the west coast of Thailand (not too far from the Burmese border) turned out to be the gateway to a lovely and partially paved path to a lovely, very rustic ecolodge. There we met Mike and Sue, an English couple on a one month vacation who had just checked into the lodge (non-sailors). We felt an immediate bond with them and ended up spending the whole day together, starting with an amazingly fresh and delicious buffet lunch on the verandah of the eco-lodge with the other dozen or so guests. (Many thanks to Laurie, the German woman who runs the lodge for her kindness) A self-guided walk through an easy, but beautiful jungle path was lots of fun, with many wonderful trees, vines, birds and glimpses of monkeys. Sue and I bonded over having mothers the same age, and then were delighted to find out that we were born within a month of each other (and she looked so young!). After a great walk, lots of conversation, and some tea on the verandah of the ecolodge, they came out to our boat for sun-downers. We all agreed that the accommodations on Sabbatical III are a step above the accommodations at the ecolodge…. Hey we have electricity any time of day, not just from 6 to 10 pm , there are no spiders or ants in the bathroom, and our toilets actually flush. We said goodbye and the next day sailed down the coast to another ecolodge on Ko Phra Tong (Golden Buddha Island) that we knew Mike and Sue were headed to a few days later. It was amazingly beautiful but too rolly an anchorage to stay for more than one night, so Mark and I just spent the day there enjoying the 10 miles of golden sand beach, the delicious lunch on shore and then we left a surprise note for Mike and Sue to find when they checked in. They later e-mailed us their puzzlement to hear upon arrival that someone had left a note for them. All they could think was, “But who in the world even knows we are here?”.
Our position was N 09 14.377 E 098 18.975 at Koh Ra and N 09 07.771 E 098 15.128 for Golden Buddha
Other sailing notes :
Koh Miang in the Similan Islands was lovely, but quite rolly. Still worth a visit if conditions are calm and you can get a mooring ball that is well tucked into the bay (no anchoring allowed there). There are a set of mooring balls on the west side of Koh Payu Island, which is just north of Koh Miang, which might be useful under some conditions. Restaurant on beach. Expect to get wet so go to shore in your bathing suit.
Our Position N 08 34.393 E097 38.181
Koh Similan – Our Position: N 08 39.945 E 097 38 662
8 working mooring balls when we were there. It was possible to pick one up almost any time of day. Sometimes the balls are picked up by the tour boats, but they only stay a few hours. Lots of tourists arrive during the day to swim, snorkel and have lunch, but they all leave by 4:30. The boats were not as noisy as the longtails we have seen elsewhere in Thailand, but the sheer volume of them, and the hundreds of tourists disembarking throughout the day is certainly a drawback to the place. You will see lots of dive boats there as well. It looked like a great place to go diving. Restaurant on beach.
Surin Islands – Our position: N 09 25.543 E 097 51.346
We spent three nights there, but did not like it as much as the Similans. The water is pretty clear, but not terrific and there was noise from the long-tail boats. The wind had also picked up when we were there – so much so that we were not really comfortable taking the dinghy to shore and the wind howled through the rigging all night. The hills surrounding the anchorage were beautiful, however, and we heard there was a challenging hike through the jungle.
Ao Bang Tao – Our position: N08 01.600 E 098 17.02
A comfortable and attractive anchorage on the NW side of Phuket. A great place to stop when heading to or coming back from the Similans or from Surin. There are lots of restaurants and hotels on shore but we did not check them out. Quiet.
Patong Bay – Our position: N 07 53.57 E 098 16.973
Patong is probably the most touristed city in Phuket….just filled with restaurants and bars. But its main attraction is the sex trade that goes on there. It was pretty overwhelming just in terms of the sheer masses of people that were wandering the streets there, either selling or buying… well, you know what. Also sheer masses of rather perplexed looking tourists probably wondering what the heck they were doing there. We went into town with our friends Karin and Jean Francois from Intiaq and had a nice dinner with them at an Italian restaurant (a nice break from the Thai food) and then spent an hour or two just wandering around gawking. That was enough really for us.
Nai Harn – Our position: N 07 46.35 E098 18.073
Last good west facing anchorage before you hit the south coast of Phuket and the big rolly anchorage of Ao Chalong (which we avoided due to its constant roll). It was a lovely anchorage with several outdoor restaurants on the beach, at least 100 masseuses, and heaps of the typical Thailand tourists (Chinese and Russians). We ended up spending 3 nights there and visited with our friends on Dedalus as well as Caminata and Bichu Vermelho.
We are now berthed at the Royal Phuket Marina on the eastern side of Phuket. The boat will probably not move again until we head out into the bay just north of here to get picked up by the Danish freighter “THORCO SVENDBORG” for the ride to Turkey. Best estimated pick-up date for that is now March 12-13. We have a Turkish boat next to us in the marina and they have guaranteed us that we will love Turkey!
This morning we left Koh SurinTai island, which is right at the Burmese border, and began our one week return trip to Yacht Haven in Phuket. We did not expect to go anywhere today as the winds were forecast to be strong with rough seas, as they were yesterday. It gusted to 30 knots last night in the anchorage at Surin. But a weather change occurred overnight and the skies were blue and the winds light when we awoke this morning. So we called our friends on Dedalus, with whom we have been traveling for the past two weeks, and asked them if they were up for leaving. They were.
The wind was from the north at 15 knots and we made good time heading east for Koh Phra Thong (Golden Buddha) island about 30 miles away. As the day wore on the wind shifted to northwest and then west. We had hoped to anchor in front of miles of beach that make up the western shore of these islands but the unusual west wind brought breaking surf to the beaches. So we headed around to the other side of Koh Ra and anchored off a channel used by the local fishing boats. Minutes after we dropped anchor we heard men yelling behind our boat. We ran out on deck and there was a very large steel fishing boat (80 feet long) with her crew of young men all shouting and gesticulating. What they wanted to do was get close to us and throw us some packages. At first we thought they wanted to give us squid, prawns, or fish, but it was clear that they were just heading out to sea to fish, not returning. The captain came out of his pilot house and did that great Thai bow and pantomimed eating. As he skillfully pulled his ship to with 15 feet his crew threw us packages of barbequed chicken pieces on skewers, sticky rice, and spicy green papaya salad with crab. I threw back cans of Malaysian beer, much to the crews delight. We all bowed and waved to each other as the older Captain yelled “I love you” which may have been the only English he knew. A random act of kindness by the warm and friendly Thais.
We arrived in Ko Miang island, one of the Similan Islands, this afternoon. Turns out there is some pre 3G Mobile phone service here even though the islands are uninhabited except for a park ranger station. The service was installed as part of a tsunami warning system. Anyway, the water is crystal clear and there were lots of fish when we swam around the boat. We will write more later. It is nice to have cell phone service wherever we go.
Tomorrow (Thursday) morning we will leave Yacht Haven Marina heading for the Semilan Islands. We need to sail south to the southern end of Phuket Island and then north and west to the Semilans. We will day sail the trip around Phuket before heading to the Semilans from Patong Bay. From the Semilans we expect to sail to the Surin Islands that lie on the Myanmar (Burma) border. There is no phone or Internet access in the Semilans and we no longer have the sat phone, so we will not be able to post a blog for awhile. We will be away as long as we have fresh water in our tank since our water maker still does not work, but no longer than three weeks.
At the end of February we will do a visa run to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via air. Loading of Sabbatical III on the freighter will be sometime in the March 5 to 20 window. So we are pretty much booked up for the next few months.
We have decided that there are too many pirates in the northern Indian Ocean and that the seas are too large in the Southern Ocean, so it makes sense to skip “over” these problems by putting Sabbatical III on a freighter and shipping her to Marmaris, Turkey. She will load sometime in March and unload in Turkey about 3 weeks later. Marmaris is the sailing capital of Turkey, located just a few hours sail from the Greek islands. This means that the planned circumnavigation will not happen, but the point all along is to have a safe and memorable adventure. We are looking forward to cruising in the Med.
These are some photos taken after we left Yacht Haven at the northern end of Phuket Island and headed east through Phang Nga Bay in order to pick up Ben at Rai Le Beach in Krabi Province and bring him back to Phuket. More text and photos will follow in separate blog posts.
We arrived at the northern tip of Phuket Island, Thailand late in the afternoon of December 5th and are tied up at the dock at Yacht Haven Marina at the north end of Phuket Island. We left Rebak Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia on November 28th, and only about 10 miles later entered the waters of Thailand. The whole week we moved north slowly, sometimes sailing just a few miles a day, trying to stop at many of the lovely anchorages that are along the way. We were able to do a lot of swimming and snorkeling for the first time since we left Indonesia more than a year ago. We didn’t swim in the ocean at all when we were in Malaysia as they have lots of nasty jellyfish there – some of them deadly poisonous and some of them just big and ugly and able to inflict quite a nasty sting. But since we entered Thai waters, the scenery and the water both changed dramatically (see photos). The weather was good the whole week and we loved being back at sea again – sleeping with the hatches open and the sea-breeze coming through (well, a bit of a breeze, anyways, it is still bloody hot). It is generally pretty windless here, but on the two days when we had to do 40 mile trips we got very lucky and had both the right wind and the right current to move us along quickly and we had lovely, fast sails, going an average of 8 to 9 knots on our best day.
Our first night at anchor was marred a bit by two events. We had finished inflating our dinghy so that we could go to shore at the first Thai Island (Koh Lipe) and then were trying to move the dinghy engine onto the dinghy when we found that something had seized up in the engine mount so that it could not swivel. It is not really possible to steer a dinghy unless you can swivel the engine, so Mark spent quite a bit of time trying to fix it, but to no avail. We had friends nearby (Rob and Mieke from the Dutch boat Stomper), who offered to take us to shore, but we decided to just stay on the boat and enjoy the lovely views. At about midnight, our quiet, peaceful anchorage suddenly erupted in loud, booming music and we discovered that we had anchored just across from a very late night disco on shore. The very bad and very loud music continued till after dawn! First thing in the morning our friends dinghied to shore to buy Thai sim cards for both of us and then we both sailed just 6 miles away to a very beautiful, deserted anchorage where we knew we would have peace and quiet. It was delightful and they invited us for dinner on their boat, picking us up in their dinghy.
There are many beautiful and famous islands here in Thailand, but perhaps the most popular one with tourists is called Phi Phi Don (that’s pronounced Pee Pee by the way). It is incredibly beautiful, but its beauty has been seriously marred by the vast number of tourists and tour boats that now flood the place. Ton Sai Bay, which is the largest and most protected bay on the island, is just filled with tourist boats of all shapes and sizes, all taking the multitudes out on day trips to snorkel or dive, or just sightsee. We spent one evening in the bay and were amazed by the volume of boat traffic in the small harbor. Our boat was constantly being rocked back and forth by the large wakes created by the boats speeding by us. Many of the boats came within a few feet of our boat at full speed. There are also a lot of people chartering sailboats. Most of the charterers are not very experienced and we always worry that their boats will drag during the night because they don’t set their anchors carefully. At any event, we really wanted to get off the bouncing boat and go into town as it is quite famous for its restaurants and shops and we weren’t sure how we were going to arrange this without a dinghy. Luckily for us, we were once again anchored next to friends, this time an Australian boat named Spirit of Sobraon whom we had met in Malaysia. Garry and Wendy came over in their dinghy and took us to shore and we had a wonderful evening wandering around town, enjoying the shops, eating our first Thai restaurant meal (delicious of course), and just being amazed by the number of tourists that were there. People from everywhere imaginable, including a large number of Russians, Israelis, Australians, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. It is very disturbing to think of what happened here during the tsunami that hit S.E. Asia in 2004….. there were a vast number of casualties when the huge December tsunami hit the coast here. Since that time, when pretty much everything was destroyed here, the place has been re-built and has since become one of the top tourist destinations in S.E. Asia.
The most beautiful anchorage of all was the one we went to the next night. It is called Phi Phi Le and it is truly magnificent. It is a beautiful lagoon, surrounded by soaring limestone cliffs with a beach which was made somewhat famous by a Leonardo DiCaprio movie called The Beach and all the tourists want to see it. It really is beautiful, but if you go there between 8: 00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. the place is just filled to capacity with loud tour boats (loud engines) coming in and out constantly and hundreds of tourists on the beach and in the water. After 4:30, however, the place pretty much empties out and that is the time for sailors like us to come over. We got there at 4:30 and had only one other sailboat there with us and a couple of small tour boats. By 6:00 p.m. it was just us and the other sailboat and we had the most magnificent evening. The sound of the waves breaking on cliffs behind the boat was really something special and we sat outside until long after dark. By 8:00 the next morning there were at least 10 boats in the anchorage and more coming every minute so we untied ourselves from the mooring ball and headed out to our next spot. Having your own sailboat in these places is really the best possible way to travel.
Now we are once again in a marina. We would prefer not to be, but we have lots of repairs that need to be made. Our water maker is still not working, our generator is leaking water when it Is on (so we can’t run it), our dinghy engine does not work, our bimini (which gives us protection from the sun in the cockpit) is completely worn out and needs to be replaced, and the wood on the companionway door is all peeling off, making the door difficult to use and ugly to look at. Thailand has a good reputation for being a place to make boat repairs and we hope that this will turn out to be true. We rented a car for the month and have already found it to be really helpful as our marina is on the northern tip of Phuket and it will give us the flexibility we need to get around the island.
Lots of good food to try here. We have already discovered that the fruit is abundant, inexpensive and delicious, so we are quite happy.