CRUISING 2020 – THAILAND/MALAYSIA
25 March 2020 | Thailand
Glenys & Henry Taylor / Mellegers
In a word, GREAT! Ostensibly a carbon copy of last year - which we did not write up as it was much the same as our 2018 sortie to Thailand. But in the enforced Malaysian lockdown COVID 19 and looking for home/land based things to do, we thought it useful to document our recent 6 weeks.
Our Thailand sortie is normally 8-9 weeks but with other "necessary" travel on either side of cruising season, we had to cut our time short to 5 weeks cruising this year. We started with a 3-day scramble of provisioning and engine readiness to exit our home berth at Royal Langkawi Yacht Club in early February and "hurried" the 300 miles up the island chain to join our friends in Koh Phayam. We no longer passage at night in Asia: the fishing boats, nets and traps are prevalent and impossible to see, so we have essentially become cruising day trippers. The other benefit is that we see the scenery - stark and beautiful islands and rocky outcrops that we missed during our overnight passages in the past years.
Our cruising group, AKA the "Andaman Adventurers" (AA's) have been cruising together for 10 years - a core of 4 sail boats including Dreamcatcher. Recently another 2 sailboats and one motor boat have joined the group, making for a jolly fleet of 7 and in turn making for some great on board cocktail and dinner nights.
Our solo trip north from Langkawi saw us in a series of one night anchorages simply for restful dinners and sleeps, with the exception of Phuket for 2 nights where we needed to clear in to Thailand. We're used to that process after many years but still get frustrated by the fact that of the CIPQ offices need a copy of passport, boat insurance, boat registration each.... They've got the technology, why can't it just be scanned once on arrival at the office, then data-base accessed by all departments in the same building on the same floor?! Case of chronic government job creation, we think.
We joined the AA fleet in one of Thailand's northernmost islands, Koh Phayam - a low key gem of an island with white sandy beaches, funky seaside restaurants (and I use the term "restaurant" loosely), bars and an eclectic selection of visitors from Europe. It's our third trip there and we love it. The one road (to the other side of the island) is about 5 km long and it's easy to hire a motor bike taxi - there's no cars, which is a relief. The walk is lovely, made fragrant by the hibiscus, fruit and cashew nut trees. The latter fascinate us: a thin apple-like fruit growing on the end branches of a rangy tree, that eventually pushes the nut out from its bottom! It looks a bit like a poo coming out. Not very appealing visually but we know how we all love those nuts. One fruit, one nut, so no wonder they're expensive. And the cashew trees are fragrant - it's a lovely, lush walk. There's a few restaurants on the northern eastern beach at the end of the walk and a shop or two selling fresh veggies and eggs. Our days are spent dinghying, kayaking, lunching, observing cocktail hour, and dinner with our cruising mates.
A few days on we strike out for Koh Chang - the furthest north island in west Thailand and a mere 5 miles from Koh Phayam. We went there last year with our friends on Rascal but didn't have a good experience; got caught in a whirly current and left a couple of hours later. This time, we anchored on the northern side of the bay, dropped our hooks and spent an idyllic 4 days there. A 3 km long beach truncated by a rocky headland that was topped with a new Buddhist temple, offered great walks and we fell once again under the spell that only remote islands can deliver - no airport, no ferry, no tourists, no dive boat operators, no cars and this island, not even one motor bike. We nested at the Sunset Bar - a confused patchwork of branches, tables, makeshift bookshelves and bottles. A friendly place with a modest menu and cold beer. Easy to while away the days - one could lose track of time here. On departing, one of our friends got their anchor tangled on a bombie in the northern part of the bay and it took many hours to free it up and even more time to release the spines of a sea urchin that got tangled up with his fingers in the process (ouch!).
Back to Koh Phayam for a few more idyllic days before starting our passage south. 3 of our fleet set off instead for a few days at the Surins and we all re-united later at the Inland Waterway. Rascal and ourselves passaged south to a small group of high islands between Koh Phayam and the inland water way - very scenic, but strong currents and a little bit of trouble getting the hook set amongst the rocky islands and rocky bottom. We did an unsettled anchor watch for a couple of hours and decided that it wasn't a good bet for an overnight stay with the wind forecast to 16-20 knots so we powered down to the northern end of Thailand's "inland waterway", which is essentially the 20 mile sheltered sea passage on the eastern side of Koh Ra and Koh Phra Thong. It was windy, but we found great shelter about half a mile opposite the native village and in front of the mangroves: good holding in 8 meters of mud and the wind blew over the top of us. We had a lovely dinner on board our friends' boat Rascal and stayed put for much of the next day: it was peaceful, deserted and a good time to potter at a few boat jobs. Late afternoon we motored down to the southern end of the waterway where we rendezvoused with the other boats in our group. A deserted, pristine place. But.... very strong currents, so make sure your dinghy engine works because oars won't!! We gathered wood for the BBQ fire and all got together on the beach with drinks, food and blankets. Several hours later in the soft darkness, mellowed and with full bellies, we ponder our fortune: how did we get so lucky to find this silent, calm, solitary place. We marvel at the stars - there is no ambient light so we can see thousands of them. We leave the beach spotless apart from our embers and the tide takes them away during the night. It's as if we've never been there as our small fleet head out next morning from the anchorage, steering 255 then 250 for an hour as we clear the northern boundary reef to head south.
Light wind, sails up. Though we leave our main at rest and just use the headsail and mizzen. We passage the 35 miles into the Navy Yard - Bhan Thap Lamu and drop anchor in the dead calm of the inlet in company with fishing boats, dive boats, destroyers and frigates. We had 10 on board Dreamcatcher for drinks before dinghying to our standard on shore eatery: the Navy Wives Club. Zero out of 10 for the décor, 10 out of 10 for the food and prices. A great evening and catch up with some of our cruising group who had re-joined us from the Surins.
Departure early the next day for our "home away from home" at Nai Harn Bay, Phuket, where we have a fantastic dinner evening aboard Aquavit. The next day is spent tidying up Dreamcatcher and lunching with land-based friends and the day after, clearing out (immigration/customs/port captain) followed by a sumptuous dinner at a beautiful villa overlooking the Andaman Sea, owned by Michel & Chalinee, part of our cruising group. We say our warm farewells as we won't see most of our group until late in 2020 as they return to their European homes.
Dreamcatcher left solo the next morning east-bound from Phuket to Koh Lanta Yai, the Pimlai anchorage, named so for the resort that arcs over the bay. Koh Lanta is quite a grand island - in 2018 we slow-passaged down its verdant west coast, admiring the hills, trees and sandy inlets. We anchored at Pimlai about 1600, were just getting settled in to cocktail hour when at dusk a very large diving boat took up a very small mooring about 4 boat lengths away: if the wind turned westerly and we sat back on our chain, we'd be too close for our liking. So, in the dusk we re-anchored to a safer place. Calm night, and we departed mid morning for the lovely Koh Muk. We were fortunate to get our favourite spot in our favourite anchorage: no-one else around. We kayaked to the beach, made hot dogs on board, swam and had a lovely time for 3 days. But during the early evening - the anchor that had held us for nearly 48 hours had freed itself (with no wind pressure) and we found ourselves drifting out of the anchorage. So, in the dark, we changed anchorage to a new safer spot. We motored around to the main bay later that morning to find it deserted: where are all the boats? This anchorage, that normally holds at least a dozen boats, was totally unoccupied. We settled the boat then kayaked in to shore where we found cold beer, hot phad thai and had a great swim before returning to Dreamcatcher. Four other boats came in to anchor during the evening, but were gone by morning.
We continued south and anchored at Koh Phetra's west side about 4pm, again alone. This is a magnificent north/south rock formation and is breathtaking during late afternoon and dusk when the sun's crimson rays wash its own colours. It's worth staring at for an hour or so with a cold drink in your hand (photo). From there, early next morning we passage south again to Koh Tarutao, Thailand's southernmost island on its western side. It's a good blue sky carefree day apart from the 10 mile slalom section of fish traps - we spend a couple of anxious hours avoiding them. Getting one of the warps wrapped around the prop is an awful situation and renders the boat engine useless. Adrift with no wind and no engine is not a comfortable scenario. There's no-one but an angry Thai fisherman around to help.
We arrive in our familiar anchorage at the northern end of Tarutao, again, alone! There are new moorings laid and we tried to get one but its warp and the plastic collar around it are too thick and made it impossible to secure it to Dreamcatcher's cleats so we let it go and drop the hook clear away. A quiet night on board, only joined by one other sailboat who left at daybreak. Koh Tarutao is a magnificent island: essentially unpopulated, grand, verdant with long white beaches. We plan to explore it more next time. And then mid-morning the following day, we head for Dreamcatcher's home, Royal Langkawi Yacht Club.
Two days to de-salt, launder and clean out the boat, re-install the dockside aircon and pitch the awning....and we're on the ferry home to Penang. A wonderful 680 miles over 5 weeks. And now, full lockdown isolation at home, so we become armchair sailors.
Wonder where we'll cruise next season?
Will leave you with an amusing quote from Sir Francis Chichester.....
"Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to it do it drunk".