005 - Our First Charter!
Updated: Apr 7
In January 2016 we booked a holiday to Thailand to see family and friends. Keen to not lose any skills I also thought it a good opportunity to charter a catamaran.
Thailand was having a light festival and is a fantastic country; and with a little research, I found out that the ideal cruising ground at this time of the year was around Phuket. The other areas at that time of the year are less favourable and some charter companies move their boats from Phuket to Pattaya as the seasons and weather changes. January is a time for sailing in Phuket.
This was to be our first charter and we wanted to sail ourselves. We found a company willing to let us charter one of theirs called Elite Yachting. They were super helpful and we flew down to Phuket and stopped in a hotel to provision before getting on board. We bought what food and liquid we felt we might need and caught a taxi to the Yacht Haven Marina on the north side of the island.
Once the paperwork was completed we made our way down the pontoon and past a huge selection of mono and catamarans to the boat we’d chosen… a Mahe 36 (made by Fontaine Pajot). We didn’t really choose it, if truth be told. Finances and lack of experience dictated that it was pretty much all that was available.
After schooling us on how things worked, the agent then taxied the cat out of the marina (I think he could tell we would have to get used to handling a large cat in small spaces) before jumping off and waving us goodbye.
I’d bought the Southeast Asia Pilot and planned the trip from the UK. The guide turned out to be very useful. Our first night was to be between Koh Hong (not to be confused with Ko Hong) and Koh Yai. We decided to halt for something to eat for lunch near Koh Wa Yai which was on the way. We anchored fine and did some unpacking before eating whatever was likely to go off first in the hot Thailand weather. When lifting the anchor back up, I made a beginners error as I hadn’t checked the chain piling up inside. It suddenly jammed and (because the windlass fuse had tripped) would neither go up nor down. As hard as I could try I could not free the chain. Plus, with the anchor neither down nor up we were in trouble. Pook called to a local fisherman who kindly came aboard and tried to help us untangle the chain that was fast stuck in the chain holder. He was a very kindly man but did not know much about the mechanics of a windlass so instead he sold a huge prawn to Pook and bode us farewell. I spent the next half an hour taking the chain holder off the boat so that I could free it up enough to manually free the chain and winch the anchor into the boat. A quick call to the agent and the fuse was back on and we once again set off.
When we reached Koh Hong and Koh Yai (1 in the map) we thought we’d found heaven and nestled the cat between the two rock islands. A lovely evening meal of the large prawn from the helpful fisherman and we tucked in for the night… our first ever.
Not that it turned out to be a perfect night, as in the early hours I sensed we were rocking more than I’d anticipated. I got up and looked out of the cabin window expecting to see the high rock faces of the islands. What I saw instead was the complete darkness of the open ocean. Confused, I decided to get up and take a better look and to my horror I realised we had drifted. Miraculously we drifted away from the rock walls of Koh Hong behind us and then south along the island of Koh Yai without touching anything! I woke Pook and started the engines and we managed to lift the winch and move further from the rock face of Koh Yai.
I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night and after breakfast we set off for Koh Phing Kan or its more famous name of James Bond Island. For those of you who haven’t seen “The Man with the Golden Gun” this island features in quite a few of the scenes as being the home of the villain. We decided to anchor on the south side of Koh Yang and use the dinghy to get a closer look of the island and take pictures. Now to our untrained and inexperienced eyes Koh Deng Yai looked like Koh Yang. So when we rounded the island instead of heading towards Koh Phing Kan we headed for the wrong island (Koh Raya Ring). It was quite a while later that we decided we’d messed up, and looking at the map in hindsight, the charted current here was probably why it took a worryingly long time to get back to the boat (or little 4 or 6hp engine was woefully inadequate). I was becoming quite worried that we would run out of fuel.
Once returned we lifted anchor and decided to get closer to our destination and “discovered” Koh Yang round the corner! We dropped anchor again, made sure there was plenty of fuel in the dinghy and set off again. Now after all that you’d have thought we’d have gone ashore, but the cost vs benefit conversation, plus the significant lack of mooring places on the island meant we gave it a miss and just took photo’s.
We then headed south via Koh Roi to Noppharat Thara Beach at Ao Nang (3) and bought some provisions and stayed the night. The reason for this was to get an early morning visit to Rai Lei Beach whose view was meant to be breathtaking.
We anchored on the north of the bay and went scuba diving and even went ashore to take some photographs of the view looking out. We were only ashore for 10 minutes before we were asked to pay and having not taken any money ashore we jumped back in the dinghy and went back to have a lunch (having taken the photo’s anyway)
We spent a good few hours watching the fish, snorkelling and looking around before setting off for an anchorage just north of Koh Dam Khwan (strangely listed in Google Maps as Ko Po Da Nok). This was a fantastic anchorage and we were able to watch the tide rise and fall with nature giving, then taking away the most stunning white sand path between Koh Dam Khwan and Tup Island. This was so stunning in fact that a newly married couple whizzed in to take some wedding photo’s. After the tourists had long since sped home in the high speed boats we enjoyed yet another beautiful private sundown looked on only by the brief swarm of hundreds of bats heading either for Koh Yao Yai or Phi Phi in search of food.
The next day we travelled to Phi Phi Leh (4), also known as Maya Beach, another quite famous film location used in the film The Beach. It was again stunning and more swimming and pictures were taken. But, we wanted more so we then headed and found a mooring in the busy south bay of Phi Phi Dom. It cost us a little money but it was really very busy with day boats and we didn’t want to a) get in the way of traffic and b) swing and hit something. Phi Phi Dom was recovering still from the Tsunami of 2004 and much was still being done to bring it back to its former glory. I have no idea if that was actually being done as looking at the building works going on, I think they were over commercialising a once beautiful island with big buildings and roads etc. Phi Phi however was PACKED with tourists and because we’d enjoyed such an unhindered view of the places visited so far this went from being one of our most anticipated places to one we are yet to return to (2020).
We got going early the following morning, partly because of the wash and noise caused by the endless day boats taking people places but also because Ko Racha Yai (5) was on our visit list and the sail back up from there to Koh Khai Nok would be against the wind. We decided not to stay at Ko Racha Yai but took a few photo’s before pushing on north. As expected we made very slow progress and for the first time on the holiday, popped a motor on and decided to motorsail.
Ko Khai Nok is east of the southern tip of Ko Yao Yai and by the time we reached it was packed full of tourists. It did have the clearest sandy pool on its northern side that I have ever seen but sadly spoilt by the literal car park of day boats. If we were to visit again we would try and get there early before the tourist rush.
What the tourists probably miss however was the most beautiful anchorage on the island just north of it though called Ko Khai Nai (6). A tiny island with just one restaurant perched on its rocks. We anchored and took the dinghy ashore and were met by smiling staff with cold hand towels… it was heavenly. They suggested we move our cat a little and pick up a mooring and even offered to do it for us. We had a lovely meal but as the staff were due to leave soon for the evening we had to order our food quickly. They said we could sit and drink all night if we wanted but the chef and waiting staff were going. We didn’t stop too late and were back on the Mahe in time for a sunset I will remember forever.
The following morning and we set off for the Ao Po Grand Marina (7). It was our first and only marina of the holiday and they had only one spot left. We were put on the outside of the most southern pontoon and actually very close to the marina facilities. We met a lovely couple from the UK who had just bought their Lagoon 440 and were preparing it for some coastal use. We got all dressed up and enjoyed a lovely air conditioned meal in the restaurant and a peaceful night’s sleep.
We had to get going fairly early and were told to stick close to the pontoon when leaving as it was very shallow. We made another schoolboy error in not sticking quite so close as we should have, and despite having a little over 3ft draft, the Mahe ground to a halt in the mud. I immediately tried to back up but despite using full throttle, the twin 18hp engines were not doing it. A couple of people came out with dinghys and tried to push us nearer the pontoon but to no avail; and with the tide going out fast we had to think quick. A crew member from one of the bigger boats grabbed a line and tied it off to one of the moored yachts and used his winch to pull us off the mud. Whilst doing so another crew member kept it straight and away from hitting other boats and took us to the pontoon normally used for the largest of boats. We thanked them all very much and I noticed that the prop had caught the line of our dinghy and snapped it. I dived in and freed it off and retied the line on the dinghy.. thankfully we only lost about a foot of line and still had plenty left.
We sailed back to Yacht Haven Marina and sadly handed her back to the charter company. All in all it was a great first charter in a beautiful location and taught us a huge amount.