006 - Training Cannes & Thailand!
Updated: Apr 7
By the Yultide month of 2017 our catamaran experience had grown. This was due to a ten day trip from the Cornish coast and across the Irish sea to Ireland where we had the most beautiful fish chowder I have ever tasted. It culminated in a second crossing past the Isle of Man and into Scotland.
This was all under the experienced eye of our trainer and now friend Jim Duerden at Topcat Cruising School. Jim loves to park his 39ft Privilege into little sheltered coves and harbours and this provides a wonderfully and diverse experience to those in his care.
Keen to find our ideal cat we decided to go to the Cannes boat show and looked around the Xquisite X5, Privilege’s Series 5 and the New Saona.
Cannes is a beautiful and historic place to go to and we found we were almost spoilt for choice when it came to little café’s and bars offering tapas or little bites of meat or cheese dishes.
Our favourite part however, was around a medium sized market at the end of Rue Gazagnaire called Marché Forville. In the market, you will find a myriad of flowers, fish, fruit and vegetables as well as dairy products, spices and poultry. Around the market are lots of shops selling hardware, smoked fish and a butchers that offers British cuts of meat.
There is also a lovely outlet where you can sit and eat oysters or a snack with a glass of wine or two. We opted instead to share a paella from the market that we ate sat on the steps. A lazy affair whilst watching the locals go about their daily lives.
Not all boats at the show were to our liking. We had read about the Leopard 48’s daring front sitting area that had come under a lot of criticism for how it would deal with a big sea over the front. This to our minds was a worry. However we were just not keen on not being able to see the front end of the boat at all. I am 5ft 10” and I had to stand on my tip toes to get a glimpse, Pook had no chance. So it just didn’t offer us enough of what we were looking for in a round the world boat. So it was a nice boat, it just didn’t float ours.
We also toured the Neel 51. We had read online about poor build quality and, whilst some of the units felt a little thinner than other makes there wasn’t really any red flags in that regard. Walking round this huge trimaran I could see all of the advantages the literature talks about. The large lounge/galley area was stunning, the “garage” was immense and I became really excited by the prospect of having a good area to keep my bikes. I was very impressed and Pook liked the outlook from the upper cabin. What we didn’t see however was a lot of cupboard and wardrobe space here, and the shower (for the size of the boat) was also tight on space. We could probably live with this, but the killer for us was the actual thing we liked about it. At over 29feet wide we just felt it was just too big for two.
So, with our knowledge increased and our hearts still set on our dreams, we decided to charter yet again whilst in Thailand. As we’d had such a good experience with Elite Yachting, we once again booked to charter the 36ft Fontaine Pajot Mahe “Happy Eva”.
After all the usual paperwork, we loaded our food and drink stocks and set off (Shown in Yellow on the map). Almost immediately we found it did not tack very well. It seemed to turn to port just fine but turning to starboard was a challenge and it seemed sluggish. Blaming our poor sailing skills we decided instead to motor to the Ao Po Grand Marina where we picked up my parents and Pook’s brother Tor.
With our obvious “poor sailing skills” in mind we decided to not embarrass ourselves and motor sailed in between Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi and over to Krabi. We spent the first night here and in the morning headed back towards Koh Yao Yai before turning south of the island to show them Koh Khai Nok. Despite my Dad’s nervousness about being on a “little” boat “offshore” my parents seemed to enjoy it and even had a go at the helm.
By the time we reached Koh Khai Nok, the tourists had invaded and it seemed just a little too busy. I offered to take them ashore in the dinghy but they said they were just as happy looking at the island from the boat. So there we are in a lovely catamaran and I can feel the eyes of the land-lovers staring at our beautiful luxurious vessel (OK it’s a rental but they don’t know). I, the man at the helm, am slowly motoring around the island purveying all around me. Feeling like a suave and sophisticated Jacque Cousteau, I watch on to the holiday makers as though I am observing how the “other” land stuck people live.
Whilst I am momentarily in my fantasy dream-like state, the boat suddenly makes a gnarly sound and stops. Holy Shit! I am emotionally torn from my euphoria back into sharp reality. My parents looking at me quizzically start asking if it is supposed to make that noise. I quickly put the cat in reverse and we come away easily (thank god I was dreaming so slowly!). We find a deeper section of water and I mask up and jump in to inspect the bottom of the boat. Thankfully there was no damage but I had done nothing to make my nervous father feel any better. He happily reverted back to his “are you sure these don’t sink… and where did you say you kept the life jackets?” mode.
We were hoping to stay and eat at the restaurant at Koh Khai Nai as we had the previous year, but, by now time was ticking on. Plus my parents, fearful that the “proper land” was out of sight were more than happy with Pook cooking and us making headway. After lunch we headed towards The Phuket Royal Yacht Marina but found that by the time we got there the steering was getting worse and turning to starboard was nearly impossible. The entrance to the marina, especially at anything other than high tide, is a tight affair. The designated low tide route twists like a snake between concrete posts and sand banks, twisting up it felt exactly like a game of snakes and ladders.
As we tiptoed up the narrow and shallow estuary I felt like Sean Connery directing the submarine through the minefield in ‘Hunt for Red October’. Sand banks and who knows what else were just inches (well probably 10 feet to be exact) around us. Steering was so bad, that in order to turn to starboard up this most wiggly of entrances, at one point I had to do a 270deg turn to port. Although nothing had actually visually altered on the boat, we felt like poor sailors as our boat limped into the marina amongst the stunning yachts. There we telephoned the agent to complain about the boat’s lack of starboard direction and they offered to send an engineer in the morning. So we stayed here, which, by all accounts was not a bad place as there are some nice bars. Once again we could pretend that we were part of ‘the club’ by congratulating ourselves that “of course that is our yacht over there! .. no not that one, the smaller white one behind it” (OK it’s a rental).
My parents were not due to spend any more than a day or two on-board so they left in the morning. The engineers arrived later that day and I explained about the difficult steering from day one and the grounding on day two; and after looking to see if there was any damage to the rudder, they took the steering apart but could not fix it. They found the teeth in the cassette behind the helm has sheered and left to get spares. We were very hopeful they would not be long but they did not return. Instead the agent called to say he’d be there in the morning (day 3) and bring us back to Yacht Haven to get a replacement. We were quite gutted.
Day 3 was a busy day with a very early start so we could get out on the high tide and hobble back (Shown in in red on the map) to Yacht Haven. Here they had a team ready and immediately exchanged the 36 Mahe for a Lagoon 400 which had air conditioning!
After the formula 1 style change of vessel with many Thai workers frantically taking food
and drinks from cupboards and moving them into the new boat, we decided we’d make the best of the sailing. So (Shown in blue on the map) we set sail straight to Koh Rachi Yai and got there in the early evening. The sight before us was nothing short of beautiful. But private. So, after a short conversation with the hotel, we decided to dress up a little and go ashore for a five star meal. It was a beautiful place and we sat and ate a huge platter of fish as we watched the sun go down. Needlessly excessive sun downers drank, we walked back up the quite wobbly pontoon in pitch darkness as the night’s poorer weather came in. After the excitement of the previous day we had a welcome lie-in. Enjoying the view we had a lazy brunch followed by a midday swim in the warm waters. Then it was time to head off again and it was early evening before we found an anchor at another nearby island called Koh He.
The next day we decided to head back and reached Koh Yao Yai and called the Ao Po marina to get a berth. They couldn’t fit us in so we anchored off Koh Naka Noi and took the dinghy ashore for a bite to eat. The restaurant sold some lovely seafood, but as nice as the Blue Spot Grouper looked, it was a little too pricey for us.
The following day we went to Ao Po Marina and were asked to park in the only space available, which was squeezed in on the large pontoon for BIG boats… we thought the 400 was quite a large boat until we parked here. Some of these super yachts were available for charter. The Superyacht next to us was we think the Saudi boat ‘Sarafsa’, an 82metre luxury 12 berth. At the time the hull was being cleaned by locals. They used pipes to breathe under water as they scrubbed the hull. It all looked very primitive but they seemed perfectly at ease doing it.
The prettiest boat however was behind us… the drop dead gorgeous 54 metre Tiara. A 10 berth stunning aluminium monohull. I don’t know what the owner does to afford that and we will never have that kind of money; but whoever it is, they chose well. We borrowed a stock photo to show you what the whole thing looks like. It was very special to look at and no doubt to sail, making every catamaran look like an abomination compared. Beauty personified - if only it didn’t tip over!!
We lazed around for most of the day chatting to other owners and charterers and had a swim in the infinity pool. By now we were almost regulars at Ao Po and after a final night in our “local” restaurant we sailed back to Yacht Haven. A lovely second experience and one that we will cherish the memories and photographs for a long time.
I don’t know about you, but sailing for me is a fantastic way to see places, and I for one feel like a million dollars on-board a boat, even if it isn’t mine. It gives a strange pleasure of watching the world from a totally (and exclusive) point of view. Even if this isn’t the reality as boats take patience, worry, work and money. The moments of joy they bring are totally unique. Getting off the Lagoon in Yacht Haven felt like losing a dream that only a seldom few could attain and that I wanted more than ever.