Cruising up to the Surin Islands


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March 19th 2016
Published: March 27th 2016
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Flying From Whistler, sailing Langkawi to Phuket, and cruising up to the Surins and Koh Phayam, & back to airport


After my return from Canada, and some great snowboarding at Whistler/Blackcomb, I returned to Luna Ray at Rebak Resort Marina, Langkawi.



This blog has been written with info to help others that might visit the area so has some factual boring details which I’ll put in italics. Please avoid the obvious comment that it should all be in italics !



After a few days re-adjusting to the temperature, doing some boat jobs and frequent visits to the pool, I left on my own. I have moved the boat a couple of times on my own short distances but this was my first proper time as a solo sailor on Luna Ray. I anchored outside the 2 manmade islands at Telaga Harbour (the anchorage inside was far too tight to do it on my own).

The next day I did the immigrations stuff and got lunch and some more supplies and then I was off. Sailing to Phuket overnight - a proper passage alone and also in an area where its recommended you do not sail at night due to numerous unlit obstacles. I was inspired by a fellow cruiser who had done the trip in reverse. The advantages are, less sitting in the sun, generally better winds at night and doing it all in one go I would have to do less dropping and lifting anchor by myself



It wasn’t a great start as first the anchor winch which has been without its stripper for a while, which means I normally have to lift the last 10 m of chain, now had stopped working altogether. Also the main furler was in a really bad jam so I was only able to pull out half of our already small mainsail. But I was away, with some trepidation.

It was a slow start coming way from the high wind sheltering mountains of the NW coast, but the evening set in things were going well. My predicted 15knots of wind became more of a steady 20 knots on a tight reach, with gusts to 25. A bit stronger than I wanted for my night alone but at least I was moving fast.

As the sun set I was getting into good open water, and I didn’t have the comfort of moonlight until about 11pm but the brightly lit squid boats made a good replacement.

As the night progressed I was pretty hyped up and was having a loud singalong at around 10pm, as I stood in the cockpit looking over the dodger watched the fishing boat movements ahead. I suppose its things like that that I was able to do alone. While it was ‘lonely’ it was nice not having to consider others around me, eating when I wanted, not worrying about their schedule or being noisy, plus the exhilaration of the adventure . There was quite a lot of traffic, the usual trawlers but also several huge fishing boats maybe 3 times their size which I think might have been collecting up the catch from them. As I weaved between them I was relieved they were all well lit (as far as I know!).



In the early hours the wind eased a little and I got some brief naps when boats were not too close. I had seen one of the many large polystyrene blocks that are dotted around the sea (which I think are either moorings or marking fishing pots), but only after I passed it. With huge relief the first light came around 6 am and with it vision improved - at the same time it surprised me how many of these large blocks I was now passing - most likely I had passed many without ever realising it - it could explain those couple of big bangs I had heard on the hull in the darkness which I assumed were just wave slaps.



I got a few more 10-20 minute naps in the late morning as the Phi Phi’s and Phuket came into view. The wind dropped out so eventually I succumbed and put the motor on, after it warmed up, I literally put into gear for 10 seconds and the wind returned - good one Neptune, tricked me again! Later motored the last few miles into Chalong Bay at around 4 pm - I had made it! (120 miles in 25 hours). Phew !!!!



The next day I went ashore to complete the usual immigration formalities and then did a big shop at the Villa Supermarket.



Lately we have been using our rubbish bin to store deck water for showers (after its been cleaned of course) but its developed leaks which we solved by
the relief of first lightthe relief of first lightthe relief of first light

The Koh Roks on the horizon
lining it with a bin bag however the liner must have leaked too as I found it empty. So that afternoon I took the dinghy to the beach where tourist speed boats pick up punters just north of the pier. I pulled out one of their hoses, rinsed and emptied the dinghy, and then half filled it with fresh water and slowly motored back to Luna Ray. I had collected way more than the 80 litres I can store in the bin so used the rest to rinse off the decks which were pretty salty after the night sail.

I had planned to head around to the west side of Phuket that afternoon but when I saw it was now 6 pm I put it off until the next morning. Actually it was only 5 pm but i had forgot to change the clock.



Had a good wind to bring me around the island and despite keeping a clear 2 miles off the coast, coming up the west side the winds were still flukey. 3 knots rising to 25 knots and back again within a couple of minutes is not unusual and more than a bit
Fishing boat heading homeFishing boat heading homeFishing boat heading home

The Big Budda in background
frustrating. I managed to get all the way to Nai Yang Bay and anchored just south of the airport. A couple of days later I walked to the airport and greeted Naomi and Alex back from Australia - though not quite as planned as I was waiting at the wrong gate (again!).

Our plan was to sail north and visit the Surin Islands, but Her Royal Highness Naomi couldn’t be bothered to sail all the way!… hence me picking them up in Phuket.



That evening, a guy sped his dinghy over to us from a nearby motor-cruiser and in a panic blurted out that there had been a 7.9 richter earthquake off Sumatra and a tsunami was expected, before heading to shore. Not knowing when the wave might hit we got into a little panic about whether we should immediately motor out to deep water or head to higher ground on land - worse still this was a particularly shallow anchorage. We checked the internet and found the quake had only just happened and any wave would not reach us for a few hours.

While Naomi slept I scoured the internet for news of damage to its first place in range, Sumutra, and had the relief that there was no warning issued for Thailand. At about 11pm they issued an ‘All Clear’.



We sailed 36 miles north the next day and dropped anchor in 4.5 m at Ban Bang Ya (N8 43.333 E98 13.61). There are rocks dotted about north of this spot but these extend out westward from the north end of the bay which we hoped would give us some protection from the waves that come with the frequent NW afternoon winds, and we had a comfortable night.

The next day we sailed the rest of the way to the Surins, well motored most of the way, only getting a little wind when we were just coming into the bay where we picked up a mooring on the south-east side of Ko Surin Nua (anchorage ‘A’ in the SE Asia Pilot )(N9 25.401 E97 53.869). There are 3-4 orange mooring buoys here, be aware the one we picked up allows you to hang over the reef and we actually bumped on it that night so if you take this one keep the mooring buoy close. There are nice beaches along here with good snorkelling away from the beach. Toward the west there is a small inlet with a tiny beach and a small fresh water stream.



Alex who can only just doggy paddle has really taken to snorkelling. It was great to lead him around the colourful coral and fish.



The park ranger visited us a couple of days later and charged us 500bht each (AU$20)(for 5 days) (but not Alex though kids can pay 300bht) and then 200bht for mooring/anchoring per night. We payed for 2 nights and despite seeing him again 4 days later he only charged us an extra 200 for our then last night but curiously not for the intervening days.



From here we moved to pick up a mooring in the southern end of the channel between the 2 main islands in 15m, there are others in this channel but maybe too close to the reef for using overnight. This is a good spot for visiting the Park HQ which has a ‘co-op restaurant’ and a small shop. From here you can take a nice 2km nature trail to the bay on the west side (Ao Mai Ngam) where there is another restaurant. Tasty cheap food in a beautiful setting.



A curious sign on the beach list offences in the park, which include the worst - 5 years jail for collecting shells, and amusingly you can get a 500bht fine for a starting a ‘twitter scandal’!



From the mooring you can see the Sea-Gypsy Moken village in the bay to west. We had some reservations about visiting this apparently ‘untouched culture’ as we thought we would be quite conspicuous if we were to rock up on our dinghy however we saw a couple of speed boats heading that way so thought we could blend in. On arrival, finding 6 large speed boats lined up on the beach and groups of 20 tourists being lead around, our gawking was quite inconspicuous. Like many Thai ‘authentic’ sites are now just spectacles - the straw stilt huts were strangely uniform, neatly numbered while the locals lay around in the shade hawking their trinkets. According to the cruising pilot these people cannot count beyond the fingers on their hands - I was wondering how the family in hut 63 found their way home!



I took a pic of the suggested snorkelling spots in the island and visited most so have rated each one in an the annotated diagram along with some anchorage info. The pilot says there is great snorkelling in the main channel but after a good hunt around we found it was actually very poor, mostly dead coral rubble - perhaps it was destroyed by the 2004 tsunami.



Over the week we circumnavigated the islands clockwise, and ended our stay at the Koh Satok, a little island on the NE, which we thoroughly regretted.

There was a cute beach there and a few baby sharks prowled the shallows.



We were pleased to collect a mooring there on the east side that a long tail had just dropped but found it was over some bombies. They might not have normally been a worry but the tide was astronomically low that evening (apparently 30 cm below Chart Datum) so later we moved out to deeper water to anchor in 20 m.

It was a wise move as the wind from the east was stronger than expected, only 12 knots but it was creating some sizeable waves, and by 3am it was getting quite uncomfortable. I sat on anchor watch for an hour or so, studying the depth sounder as we had been pushed over only 12 m depth now, wondering where the edge of the reef was, until I suddenly became convinced we were dragging.

Engine on, Naomi up, anchor up by headlamp and we motored around in the darkness at 5am to the much more comfortable west side.

The depth sounder was being unreliable so we were cautious about getting too close to the island and dropped anchor in 37m ! (a new record for us). I thanked my lucky stars the next morning that Naomi had brought a new solenoid to fix the windlass.



We motored east for a couple of hours before there was a NE usable wind, which conveniently shifted around to the NW/W as the day progressed allowing us to follow the curve of the maritime Myanmar/Thai border and reach Koh Phayam just at sunset. We anchored in the SW bay in 5m with no other boats, but 17 resorts/restaurants lining the beach.



A little surf builds on this beach so best to land the dinghy at the northern end. We landed in the middle and from here a 500 m walk brought us to a collection of tourist shops, where we rented a scooter. Had great fun touring the island on the little concrete paths (saying roads would be too grandiose) - at times it felt like having your own transport to tour a huge amusement park, and others it was like following a hiking trail but with the laziness of not having to walk.



We visited the Hippy Bar for lunch in Buffalow Bay (the NW bay) where several yachts were anchored- an amazing place with intricate buildings made from driftwood, including a mock bow of a ship jutting out into the sea. Good cheap food too.



Got an email from our friends on SV Ananda who had said they thought they had seen us scooting passed them- they had been here 3 weeks! So we met them for breakfast the next day, giving Alex a chance to play with Millie one last time.



Sadly we had no more time to linger longer and set sail south that afternoon, going inbetween a collection of islands about 15 miles south (passing east of Koh Luk Kam Tok and dropping anchor off the SE tip of Koh Kam Yai in 8m (N9 28.205 E 98 20.409)). We had a comfortable night and it seems we had found the locals favourite spot as later that night we were surrounded by the multicoloured flashing anchor lights of several fishing boats.



The next day was a long one, 11.5 hours but easy, either motoring or downwind sailing in 10 knots of wind. We dropped anchor under sail near the same spot in Ban Bang Ya again.



The final 40 miles to Nai Yang, near Phuket airport, was pleasant and as strong on shore winds were predicted that night I tried to anchor us up nice and close behind a rocky spit to avoid the worst of the swell. As it happens it wasn’t that windy.

We went for a beach stroll to the runway but timed it badly to see anything taking off, and found somewhere to eat. When Alex and Naomi had eaten through half of their meals I was getting annoyed that mine hadn’t arrived yet. It was at this time the waitress came to tell me my food was not available! and could I order something else! I did not leave a tip that night!



Only in the light of the next day did I see that we were really close to the shallow rocks, but we didn’t have time to move the boat as it was time to go to the airport as Naomi and Alex were leaving me.



The first taxi we came across was some funny rickshaw thing - really a motorbike with a huge side-car. We had some sad goodbyes and I walked back to the beach alone to find a little breeze from the south was pushing the boat really close to the rocks. I ruches back to Luna Ray and tried pulling in some chain but this only brought me closer!

Getting the anchor up on my own was stressful struggle. I was running back and forth, pulling up the chain at the bow which pointed the boat closer to the rocks, then to the cockpit try to steer away, the rocks looming right off the side of the boat at one point. In the end I was too close and had to reverse away and luckily by then the chain was short enough that the anchor could be dragged.



Not a great reintroduction to being a solo sailor again.

There's plenty of extra pics to see, Luke



Luke


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