Phuket to Similan Islands, February 24-29

Our final two days in Phuket proved to be nearly as busy as the preceding ones, even though the kids were finished with their dive course. We still had quite a few pre-sailing tasks to wrap up, our friend Jean-Claude who would accompany us to the Andaman Islands made his appearance, and the day before our charter actually commenced we loaded our gear and provisions onto Cyrene (photo 1), our home for the next two months.

Cyrene Day 0: Loading

It was quite a journey for the mountain of goods from our third floor hotel room into the boat: first moved into a pickup truck (two full loads), then driven across the island to a beach where the boat was anchored, then moved again into small dinghies (several loads; see photo 3 for size reference), and finally ferried out to the boat, where our food, water, beverages, and gear pretty much filled the main sitting area and all of the deck space. We were discouraged when there was a sudden downpour immediately after loading -- quite a bit of our stuff got wet, but miraculously the only irreparable casualty was a Michael Crichton book of Tim's that he's been avoiding reading anyway. That same afternoon we visited the Phuket immigration office and checked out of Thailand (lots of paperwork, but not too painful), since we're leaving the country when we sail to the Andaman Islands.

Cyrene Day 1: Departing (not)

At very long last, after a full week of preparations, we took possession of the boat. We were raring to go: We'd quickly unpack only what we needed, get "briefings" on boat operations from the charter folks, deal with any lingering issues, then be on our way. Wow, were we optimistic. Despite our massive amount of stuff and limited storage space, unpacking wasn't the bottleneck. When it took 45 minutes over coffee for the charter company just to run a deposit on our credit card, we started to suspect that the check-out wasn't going to proceed quickly. As late afternoon approached and we were still looking over the toilets (heads, in nautical-speak), electricity, autopilot, and numerous other critical systems, it became clear we wouldn't be sailing anywhere that first day. Our plan had been to sail a couple of hours that afternoon, then 4-5 hours on Day 2 to reach the north end of Phuket, where we would be well positioned for a fairly moderate sail on Day 3 out to the Similan Islands.

Not to worry, we had few hours slack in our schedule. We could get up bright and early on Day 2, sail a couple of hours to Kata Beach where we'd pick up Jean-Claude, then on to the north end of the island with time to spare.

Cyrene Day 2: More delays

Once again, we were over-optimistic. Karol, the boat's charter manager, was already planning to bring a few missing items to Kata Beach on the morning of Day 2, but she wasn't prepared for some more serious problems uncovered during our first two-hour sail (photo 2; Emily obviously wasn't concerned about the problems): one of the two engines wasn't working properly, and some sail lines were frayed nearly through. (These problems may sound bad, but boats are extremely complex and difficult to maintain. Overall, Cyrene was in very good shape.)

By late morning we had an army of repair people on board. They were finished by early afternoon,
and we bid another "final" farewell to Karol. Tim and Jennifer went for a quick scuba dive, then we departed for our north-end destination. Within the first 15 minutes, the repaired engine failed again, so we turned around and called the charter company for the umpteenth time. A few hours later we dinghied to the beach to fetch the army of repair people, Karol, and a new engine -- a tight fit in a small dinghy. Soon a full-scale engine replacement was underway. (We seriously regret not having taken photos of that operation, for this travelog if nothing else.) By the time the new engine was installed and tested, it was too late to sail anywhere that day.

So now we'd sailed approximately two hours, reaching the location we'd expected to reach on Day 1, and we'd still be there on the morning of Day 3.

Cyrene Day 3: Passage to the Similans

Fortunately, our boat troubles pretty much ceased at that point, except for a few minor issues (notably, a finicky head) that we could handle ourselves underway. We could still stay on schedule with an extremely long Day 3 sail from Kata Beach to the Similan Islands. The three adults got up at the crack of dawn and set off for the 60-mile passage. Underway, sailboats can usually make 5-6 knots per hour (knot is nautical-speak for a distance just over a mile), in a straight line with good winds. That doesn't count time moving in and out of anchorages, taking sails up and down, tacking and jibing instead of following a straight line when the wind direction doesn't match the destination, and periods of low wind, so the average over a long period is typically less.

One of the reasons we chartered Cyrene is that she's a very fast catamaran. We began the morning shooting along at 7-9 knots in medium winds, although in the end it took us about 12 hours to make the 60 miles. During the sail we saw the gamut from perfect winds under sunny skies, to a hot spell with no winds, to brief but driving gusts and rain. Jean-Claude hadn't spent much time on sailboats before so he was busy getting his "sea legs," but overall we declared the passage a success, and good practice for our longer passages to come.

Cyrene Day 4: Rest and recreation at Ko Miang

Thailand's Similan Islands are known for their white sand beaches, large rock outcroppings, turquoise water, and excellent scuba diving (photos 3-7). When Alex and Jennifer visited in 1992, there were only a couple of boats around. Things have changed drastically -- now the most popular anchorages and beaches are teeming with tourists.

Nevertheless, we greatly enjoyed our stop at Ko Miang, also known as Similan #4. We did a couple of dives, the kids snorkeled incessantly searching for unusual shells, we walked through the jungle up to a viewpoint (where photo 1 was snapped, with zoom), and had lunch at a typically delicious Thai island beach shack. Rested and relaxed, a couple of hours before sunset we pulled anchor for the long passage ahead.

Please enjoy Emily's latest podcast, Scuba Diving: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's considerably more elaborate (and considerably larger, at 3.0MB) than the previous one; she even composed the background music herself. We've had a lot of time on passage! As before, you may need to download the file in order to play it.

Next: 343 miles of open ocean to India's Andaman Islands

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