Cruising Phuket’s East Coast

6 January 2019 – Yacht Haven Marina, Phuket Thailand

As I write this blog, we are dockside at Yacht Haven Marina. Its a nice place, but its another marina.

An out of season typhoon, tropical storm PABUK just blew over us. It brought winds of 20-25 knots and heavy rains, mostly during the night. There were areas of Phuket and Thailand that were hit much harder, but we were quite safe in our marina berth. This was the first tropical storm in this area since 1962. Climate change?

When we left Pangkor two months ago, we thought we wouldn’t be at a marina for several months, not until we got to India. However, when arriving at Langkawi (the last stop in Malaysia), we were forced to take a dock at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club because the ONAN generator was broken (sump oil leak). Now we’re dockside again because of the generator, this time – its an electrical issue, one which is beyond my comfort level to repair. So, here we wait for the ONAN service technician to visit …..

As we left Langkawi for Thailand, we had good weather conditions. The sun was shining, and the winds were light, but of course “on the nose”. On day 1 (15 December 2018) we motor sailed to Ko Lipe and anchored there. In the morning, the weather had obviously turned for the worse, and since we were on a schedule and had to get to Thailand – we motor sailed into 20-25 knots of wind. We hadn’t done that since we were in the Caribbean. The decks were awash with salt water and there was salt spray everywhere. It was an ugly, noisy and uncomfortable passage. Diane was sea sick, the first time in years. We anchored at Ko Rock Noch in a lumpy but reasonably settled anchorage. The next morning, it appeared that most of the ugly weather had moved on, and we had a good beam reach sail into Au Chalong, the Phuket Harbour where we checked in.

Checking in at Au Chalong was actually quite easy, and cheap. All the government offices (immigration, customs and harbour master) were in the same building right on the end of the dock. This will be the same place where we’ll check out, eventually. This is a view of the Au Chalong Bay from the hills above (where Big Buddha is).

The contrasts between Malaysia and Thailand are many. Phuket at least is over-run with tourists, a vast majority of them are Russian. During our stay in Malaysia, we hardly ever saw any tourists, at least not in the places we visited. Phuket has cruise ships visiting – many! In Thailand, it appears that hardly anybody speaks English but in Malaysia almost everybody does. In Malaysia, you could see three distinct ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. It seems that in Phuket there are Thai people and there are tourists. The Thai language uses some funky alphabet script that is unintelligible, but the Malay language uses the same English alphabet that we are accustomed to. Therefore, street signs, advertising and shop services are 98% undecipherable to us, whereas in Malaysia it was nearly all understood. My impression is that the roads, electrical grid, plumbing and telecommunications wires in Malaysia are much better engineered and maintained, nearly to Western world standards. However, the contrast in Thailand is stark. You can’t help but notice all the wires on the sides of the streets. There are good highways, but noticeably less than in Malaysia. The food is similar in many respects, but of course the names and description in the restaurant menus appears different. I love Asian food and there are vast differences as we move from country to country. I love Thai food, I always have. Diane has to be careful that the food is not spicy but so far she has enjoyed the food. The price of gasoline and diesel is nearly the same, perhaps 5% higher in Thailand. The price of restaurant food is nearly the same, obviously higher if you get stuck eating in a tourist trap. The price of a massage is cheaper here. In Thailand, the going rate for a 60 minute massage is $16 CDN, whereas in Malaysia it was about $25 CDN, which I still found cheap compared to Canada. In Phuket, we found the Makro and Village Market grocery stores. They are a bit more expensive than what we found in Malaysia but are very European in style and selection. We also went to a huge hardware store, equivalent to Home Depot back home. This was just unheard of in Malaysia.

Another obvious difference is the amount of yachting services there are available in Phuket to service all those charterers. There are more marinas and yards, and they are noticeably flashier – and all full. We drove a scooter to Rally Tasker Sails to pickup some hardware – and I think it should be on every cruisers itinerary. It is simply the biggest loft I have every been to.

This picture doesn’t do it justice. This place is huge.

This is a “long tail” fishing boat, which uses a common automotive engine as a readily available and maintainable power-plant.

There is much variation among these boats, some have evolved from traditional craft types, while others have a more improvised look—the sole defining characteristic is a secondhand car or truck engine (gas or diesel). The engine is mounted on an inboard turret-like pole which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring. The propeller is mounted directly on the driveshaft with no additional gearing or transmission. Usually the engine also pivots up and down to provide a “neutral gear” where the propeller does not contact the water. The driveshaft must be extended by several metres of metal rod to properly position the propeller, giving the boat its name and distinct appearance. Engine cooling is provided by a metal pipe underneath the rear running board which is used as a rudimentary heat-exchanger. This is then coupled to the engine using rubber or plastic hoses. Clean water is then used as the coolant. Control is achieved by moving the engine with a lever attached to the inboard side. Ignition and throttle controls provide simple means to control the craft.

On 21 December, our guests from Canada arrived at the pier in Au Chalong. Jimmy and Christine Thom, with their son Jackson. They were quite tired after the 36 hour travel from Ottawa (and 12 hour time difference), but apparently arrived without illness or lost baggage, remarkable! The next day, we took them to a few of the local shops for provisioning and then up to see one of the major tourist attractions of Phuket, Big Buddha. This is a FREE tourist attraction and also an active temple with monks praying.

As we came down the hill, we stopped off at a tourist elephant ride place, where 3/5 of us rode an elephant. Jimmy and I decided to spare the elephants from the agony of carrying us. I think that Diane, Christine and Jackson enjoyed their ride.

There were lots of pesky monkeys up there, and these two were annoying each other. This is “male on male” contact, by the way.

Diane enjoyed this swing on the beach at Ao Chalong. The water and beach look very inviting.

We motored up to an anchorage at Ko Rang Yai, well opposite Boat Lagoon Marina. This, like all anchorages in Phuket, has the possibility of being a nice comfortable anchorage. However, during the day, dozens of boats come from the mainland with thousands of tourists.

Parking space is limited.

We did find a spot, away from the tourist boats.

Since we had managed to buy a turkey last week in Makro at Au Chalong, Diane prepared an excellent Christmas dinner with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots and even cheese cake. Its a tradition, and one that we’ve always managed to maintain. It was great to be able to share our Christmas meal with friends.

Jimmy found a TV on the beach, but there was no hockey playing.

The next day we motored up to Ao Po Marina and anchored outside. As I entered the marina office to inquire about the possibility of a berth, the answer was “We’re full”, not “sorry, we’re full”, or “we’re full at the moment” or “there maybe a spot opening next week”. These assholes wanted to charge me 550 baht (about $22 CDN) for dinghy landing rights (to come and talk with them in the office). I refused, and told them that they were rude and would never bring my boat to their marina. What’s the big deal? Well, $22 to park my dinghy for a few hours is actually MORE than I paid to keep SV Joana at Pangkor Marina for a 24 hour period, including water and electricity. Ao Po Marina is obviously a high class snooty place and will never get many cruisers staying there, as evidenced by the lack of masts at the docks. It was nearly entirely full with charter boats and gin palaces.

Next, we motored North to see James Bond Island, another popular tourist attraction in Phuket’s spectacular Phang Nga Bay, an area of 400 sqkm. James Bond Island, with its signature rocky pinnacle, has been a major attraction ever since it was featured in the 1974 Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”. This time, I stayed on the boat and the other four went ashore with the dinghy. Still, they had to pay the park fees to come ashore.

Our final stop was at Yacht Haven Marina. They never responded to my email inquiry about a berth, but were friendly when I went in to speak to them in person. They had a number of berths that were “reserved” (and have been empty for weeks) by assholes who never bothered to tell them that their plans had changed. This happens all over the world. If you don’t show up for your berth, and you haven’t communicated with the marina – the marina absolutely should give up the reservation. I only had to wait 24 hours to get a berth. This place is nice, but it is very isolated.

Here is a local that is harvesting blue bottle jellyfish from the sea. They apparently have some commercial value. Its a treat for me, because it means there are less jellyfish when I go in the water

Unfortunately, the weather conditions dictated where we cruised and what we did. With light Westerly winds forecast, we decided to keep our boat on the East side of Phuket Island and did not want to risk anchoring in a bay exposed to the West, the open Indian Ocean. We’ve heard that the water clarity on the West side is noticeably clearer than on the East side, but swimming and water-making is still possible. Also, with the light contrary winds, we never hoisted our sails, not once since after arriving in Phuket. Our guests departed on 29 December, moving on to an AirBnB on the West side of Phuket in the neighbourhood of Patong Beach. Here, they got to see fireworks and Chinese lanterns on New Year’s Eve, together with a hundred thousand other tourists on the beach. Apparently, it was a mad house, an unforgettable time. As usual, Diane and I fell asleep at 10pm and faintly heard the boom-boom sound of the fireworks at midnight. Here it is, 2019, a new year.

In closing, I have to include a photo and description of a particular species of monkey we’ve seen. When we were berthed at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club a month ago, we befriended Walter and Jackie, South African circumnavigators. At the poolside, we had many interesting conversations and were enthralled with the Dusky Leaf Monkeys that lived in the trees just nearby. These monkeys feed on young leaf shoots and were almost always “overhead”. Jackie took this photo and sent it to us.

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