PHUKET: KATA BEACH: PARADISE LOST.
24 March 2017 | Kata Beach early 0730, before the onslaught!
CRUISING FEB/MARCH 2017
We started our cruising venture in Nai Harn Bay after a lively overnight run from Langkawi - more later - and after 4 days motored up the west coast of Phuket to drop the hook into the wide accommodating Patong Beach one Saturday morning. Great Bay - sandy bottom, good holding, no obstructions: what more could a boater ask for? We were a little bewildered as to why we were the only sailboat there (save a couple of charter vessels). Soon to find out we were to become the rounding mark for a swam of noisy, intrusive jet-skis. We tolerated this until they ceased at 1800 hours, which was when the boom-boom disco music started: now, we don't mind a bit of booty-shakin' chords, but this was the wearing techno-rap that went on till well after midnight. First thing Sunday, before the jet-ski onslaught started, we moved south to the "quieter", beautiful Kata Beach. Same thing - jet-ski hell. We decided to move again on the Monday morning, but - horror of horrors - we discovered the alternator had died and we had insufficient amps "in the bank" (genset not available) and were concerned that we might get the anchor/chain half way up and run out of juice, so to speak. So, twixt the shenanigans of phone calls and dinghy/taxi trips to Boat Lagoon's AME for the alternator repair, the fact is, we were anchored in Kata Beach for nigh on 5 days and nights.
In the 80's and 90's this broad sparkling bay was peppered with sailboats - eager participants to the Kings Cup and months of follow-on cruising. The beach was lined with plump dinghies. Now, there are only plump tourists and the bay is bereft of any form of elegant craft. The laughter of sailors, the Aussie accents, the good-natured banter of the Brits and Kiwis, the French and Germans - gone. Only tourists from the Caucasus. This doesn't come as a complete surprise to us, having lived in Asia for decades, and spending a couple of months a year in Phuket, but it was overtly blatant this time around and we felt like aliens in what we regard as our own back yard.
We cannot begin to describe the angst, frustration and pure anger we felt towards the morons on the marauding jet-skis. Several times a day we saw ski riders deliberately target placid kayakers and stand-up paddlers, delighting in toppling them and speeding off, without considering the possible resulting injury. The jet skis came at ramming speed towards Dreamcatcher, doing last-minute turns, creating waves that sent our 20-ton boat rocking violently with splats of sea water over the sides and through the hatches, from the rooster tail water exhausts. We couldn't stand anything up in the boat in what should have been a calm anchorage - not a water bottle or anything that might spill or fall. Shouts of abuse and "stay away"(stronger terms were used) fell on deaf ears and some assholes came back for second and third swipes at us. One sailboat arrived on the third day and we felt a little relieved that we might no longer be the centre of attention: alas, they weighed anchor after only 2 hours of assault and left us once again alone as the punching bag for the jet ski riders. The mid to late afternoon ones were worst, having had a skin-full of beer at lunchtime, they were reckless. Mostly male, mostly Russian.
The blame is twofold: firstly the idiots driving the jet-skis and secondly the vendors who rent them out. The latter clearly have no guidelines for their customers and appear to have no understanding that a jet-ski is a vessel and as such is bound by the Colregs, the same as all other watercraft. They were clearly not advising renters to "stay clear of anchored or moored vessels by X meters". A bigger-picture blame would be the Phuket Beach governors who clearly don't take an interest in what's happening. In the week we were there we never saw a Thai Navy or coastal patrol vessel demonstrating any form of governance over the jet-ski crowd. Surprising, given jet ski people were killed and injured only 2 weeks prior in the same bay.
On the brighter side, our dinghy sorties to the boat/longtail area of the beach (albeit through the scowling bathers!) were pleasant: the Thai paddle guys helped land and launch the dink for a few Baht, Villa Elisabeth had cold beer and hot Wi-Fi and the mini-mart was a few steps away. This became our afternoon routine - get email and cold drinks to take back and decompress at sundown in the cockpit.
Halleluiah!! Alternator and offending fuse fixed and on the following Sunday we were able to return to the more civilized Nai Harn Bay - not a jet ski in sight. Relief. Dinghy Dock. Sunsets Bar. Great Thai restaurant. Friends in Rawai. We are happy again.
What a pity much of Phuket has lost its sheen, at least for the cruiser/sailor. Its' swamping with Russian tourists - most of whom, sadly, are novice travelers with little grace - and the jet-ski addiction will keep this little ship away from its west coast, likely forever.