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Claire's Sailing Holiday from Langkawi to Phuket

Claire's Travels - her story and her experiences on her RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper Course RYA Courses, Instruction, Voyages, Cruises, Yacht Charters, Crewed Charters and Deliveries
Langkawi, Malaysia and Phi Phi, Lanta, Taratao, Butangs, Phuket, Thailand in Asia


Having gently hinted to Mark that he needed some updated trip reports on his website, it seems only fair that I write a report of my own, to give the perspective of someone who had a sailing holiday from Phuket to Langkawi and back again in a bid to firstly become RYA Competent Crew and then a RYA Day Skipper. Also see Claire's comments on our Comments Page.

The trip began on a sunny Wednesday morning - I arrived in Ao Chalong by tuk-tuk from Karon where I'd stayed the night before. Identified the café meeting point easily enough and sat myself down. Mark appeared pretty much straight away, and my fellow guests for week one, James and Todd, arrived shortly afterwards. Mark left us to get to know each other whilst he went to sort out the immigration paperwork.

James & Todd are both ex-pats (James from the UK , Todd from Canada ) who now live in Hong Kong . James runs his own companies, and Todd works for a Swiss bank. Both were here to do their Day Skipper RYA Sailing Courses. I guess I'd best introduce myself too - I'm Claire, from the UK , and I'm just starting a 6 month sabbatical from work.

Paperwork complete, the 4 of us made our way down the pier to clamber into the dinghy to get to the Meniscus. I had a hate/hate relationship with that dinghy - I'm sure it was lovely as far as dinghies go, but I'm not particularly steady on my feet at the best of times...

Claire Claire Claire
James Mark Todd

Once aboard, Mark stowed our luggage in our cabins for us, and we hauled up the anchor straight away, making for Ko Phi Phi. By now it was about midday, the sun was beating down - time for a nice cool drink. "Cup of tea anyone?" was Mark's first question. He does like his tea.

James & Todd started off the helming, whilst I took in what was going on (sat sunning myself), keenly attentive. Mark meanwhile was rustling up a delicious chicken salad (trust me, on this trip you won't go hungry).

At some point in the afternoon, some wag suggested that I should take a turn on the helm. Now, my sailing experience was limited at this point, and I hadn't quite got the whole thing sorted - 'push the tiller left to port and the boat goes right or starboard'. Never mind, we eventually got back on course, and got our first hour of night sailing under our belts before arriving at Ko Phi Phi at 7pm.

Dinghy to the shore, and moored up against a barge. We were lucky enough to be on Ko Phi Phi for Loy Krathong - a full moon festival that's held once a year - Krathongs (candle wreaths made from banana leaves) are lit and floated on the sea, ridding you of your faults. Lovely.

We ate on shore at a local restaurant, Lemongrass, which served delicious food for a very bargainacious price. Back on board for our first night. Be warned, Phi Phi is party island - and the clubs DO go on til 3 in the morning (Top tip: bring earplugs, and possibly some sleeping tablets if you're a poor sleeper). It was a hot night, so James & Todd elected to sleep on deck. I dithered about - shuttling between my cabin and the deck.

Prompt start the next day - up at 6.30 and set sail by 7.15. I volunteered to make breakfast (Mark cooks lunch and dinner, guests do breakfast and the washing up). My inspirational choice was toast. I don't think the others were that impressed.

A long days sail to Ko Lanta - the first couple of days were quite long sails as we try and build the miles from the more crowded resorts to the quieter bays. This means plenty of time to get to grips with the helm, and sail handling and trimming. Mark's Instruction is very much by letting you experience it - he soon gets a feel for what you know & don't know.

I may as well confess now - at this stage, I didn't think I'd even reach competent crew level by the end of my second week. It all seemed very hard. Mark later also admitted that he'd had some doubts about my ability too..(only as far as Day Skipper was concerned - Mark)

We sailed for 8.5 hours that day, and had some pretty good sailing conditions, gaining our first trip record of 5.8 knots.

Arriving at Ko Lanta, we moored on the east coast of the island, at Lanta Old Town . For dinner, we decided to go onshore again, to have dinner with a friend of Marks, Graeme, who lives in a house on stilts over the water. Graeme cooked us a proper roast dinner which we ate on the deck at the back of the house, and we all made use of the shower facilities!

Lanta Old Town
Lanta at dusk
Fishing off Taratao
Desrted Island

Following day we had a far more respectable start to the day - the boys took over the breakfast duties (I must confess again - I only made breakfast the once the whole trip, as the boys were so good at it), rustling up French toast. We had a nice short morning sail over to the island of Ko Muk - famous for the Emerald Cave . We stopped for a swim, then headed off to explore the cave in the dinghy. When we got to the cave, it was full of hordes of tourists - but just a few minutes later, the place was left to the 4 of us which was wonderful. After lunch, we headed off for another shortish sail to the island of Ko Talibong , where we had dinner on deck.

Another long sail the next day down to the island of Ko Tarutao which is one of the main national parks. We were really starting to get to grips with the sailing thing now - the boys were on navigational duty, and Mark was taking the opportunity to talk us through the safety requirements and engine briefings - handily for me, I was able to cover this when the boys did to give me a head start for the day skipper.

Dinner on board again, and by this time we'd settled into the routine of early mornings and early nights - hence I headed off to bed at a shameful 9.30 (but believe me, it got worse).

The next morning, we caught our one and only sighting of a dolphin - a beautiful sight, lazily rising and falling beneath the water. My attempts at photography just ended up as about 20 pictures of the sea though. Not a dolphin in sight.

We arrived in Langkawi on Sunday lunchtime, then spent the afternoon practising our tacking and gybing, and practising Man overboard drills which was great fun (NB. No, I was not the man overboard - that was actually a bucket tied to a fender). After our lesson, we moored off another deserted beach (apart from a monkey) and James, Todd & I set off for an explore. After some dam building (and destroying), we had a swim back to the boat and then headed off to moor for the night just outside the marina.

We took the dinghy to the shore, and ate dinner at one of the restaurants there - the boys had the most amazing tiger prawns.

The following day, we practised berthing, as we finally arrived in the Marina . The boys elected to go to their hotel for the night, and the 4 of us arranged to meet in the town of Cenang for dinner and a few drinks that evening. I spent the afternoon using the shower at the Marina (which is a really good one) and getting some laundry done. The boys were now certified day skippers, and I had actually, miraculously completed my competent crew.

It was sad to say goodbye to the boys on the Monday - unusually, I was the only guest for the route back (as someone had pulled out at the last minute). This was good, as it meant great 1:1 tuition, but bad because it meant LOTS of hard work!

Mark & I decided that we'd take it nice and easy on the way back, as we'd effectively gained a day by the boys' early departure. So we tootled off, nice and calmly on the Tuesday afternoon, ready to sail back to Taratao.

Unfortunately, it seems that the sun had only wanted to shine on the boys. The rain clouds gathered 'OK' I thought to myself, gamely 'some rain would freshen things up'. Minutes later, as the rain began to fall, I could literally feel the ions zinging around. Yep, that's right. A thunderstorm.

Now, I quite like a good storm. Especially when I'm indoors, watching the light show from the comfort of my sofa. I'm not entirely convinced of a thunderstorm when at sea.

You can imagine the scene - there I am, in my bikini and shorts, with Mark's spare, bright yellow raincoat over the top, looking like I've had about 20 buckets of water chucked over my head. ' Keep a lookout for other boats ' says Mark. Hilariously. It would have been a simple instruction had a) we been able to see beyond the front of the boat b) I been able to open my eyes without getting a gallon of water in my contact lenses and c) it not been pitch black. So we have the thunder rolling & crashing, the lightning giving us brief flashes of light.

Anyway, we survived the storm. But it ' s my first Salty Sea Dog story for when I ' m telling my sailing stories over a rum at the bar.

I was so overcome with joy at surviving the storm, I ate my dinner and went to bed. At 8.30. Will I ever live it down?!

We had another long sail on the Wednesday - from Taratao straight up to Ko Muk - a distance of 50 miles. We hadn't originally planned to sail so far, or indeed go back to Ko Muk, but we had fantastic sailing conditions, so we thought it would be rude not to take advantage of them. Unfortunately it was cloudy and rainy all day, which made me a bit grumpy - I mean, the rainy season was meant to be OVER.

And I admit it, I ' m a bit of a fair-weather sailor. To me, a good day means: ' lots of sunshine and about 12 knots of wind ' . To Mark, a good day means ' sod the sunshine, it ' s all about the wind '

Emerald Cave
Pang Gna
Kho Mook
Kho Rang
A Bramany Kite
Kho Petra

So Wednesday was a good day in Mark ' s eyes - we had some really good sailing (which I agree with - we got the boat up to 7.1 knots - read it and WEEP James & Todd!), but it RAINED. On and off, all day.

On Thursday we had a short sail to Ko Lanta - in the rain again - and decided to give ourselves the afternoon off.

I feel that the sun was waiting for me to earn my sailing stripes before it came back.

The Friday wasn't looking promising either - rain looked set in for the day, and Mark & I were in no hurry to set off for our days sail, loitering around eating Graeme ' s full English breakfast until 11am

We left Lanta Old Town with a Plan A and a Plan B - Plan A was to do a couple of hours sail around the Southern tip of Ko Lanta, and then spending the night in the port to the North West of the Island. Plan B was to press on to Ko Phi Phi, which was about a 6 hour sail.

According to the weather forecast, the following day was due to be torrential rain, so all in all, it wasn ' t looking good . .. . until we rounded the tip of Lanta, and found WIND.

Now, I ' d been much more of a ' pass me a G&T and the sun cream ' kind of sailor so far, but I became a TRUE sailor that day, cos I didn ' t whinge at all about no sun, and nor did I whinge about helming . In fact, I LOVED my sailing that day - we managed to get fantastic speeds (7.8 knots was our record, which is very good for a big, heavy, ocean going boat towing a dinghy) and just shot all the way to Ko Phi Phi.

AND Mark said I was good on the helm, that often women make good helmsmen and they concentrate well.

So we moored up in Phi Phi overnight. Phi Phi is a very popular island, but no one ' s quite sure why it ' s SO popular. The film ' the beach ' was filmed at the adjoining island, and it ' s certainly very beautiful, but it ' s now a party town. Having had my now customary early night (a shocking 8.15pm), I woke up at 1, and came up on deck for a couple of hours, having a bit of a singsong to the music from the clubs on shore. They do like Shakira A LOT.

Saturday we expected to be another dreary day, and once again, it wasn ' t looking good, as it was drizzling as we left Phi Phi. Because there are 2 islands so close to each other, it creates a kind of wind tunnel. I was in the midst of trying to haul the sails up when we got hit with 38 knot winds. (Which is very fast - remember the Beaufort Scale from school? It ' s force 8 which is officially a Gale - or Very Windy Indeed). You can imagine me trying to cling onto the mast for dear life whilst winching and trying to re-hook in a sail slug (clippy thing) that had come loose. It was not a glamorous moment.


Just 2 short little hours later, the sun decided that I ' d paid my dues once more and decided to smile again, for the rest of the day. Lovely. We dropped anchor at an island called Ko Rang, just off Phuket, having clocked 298 miles on the trip, at about 3pm. I had a swim and a walk on the deserted beach, then swam back to the boat for my bath (shampoo actually works very well in salt water). A lazy couple of hours was then spent lying on the foredeck, looking at the sky, listening to my ipod. Bliss.

We had a really lazy last couple of days on board to reward ourselves for our exertions - sunbathing at Ko Rang, we didn ' t leave until 3pm on Sunday, then sailed down to Phuket Town Harbour where we moored overnight opposite some oil tanks in the main port. Not very picturesque, but good practice at dodging things and helming through shallow waters (which I do NOT like doing - I mean, when the depth gauge is flashing at 0.0 metres (under the keel), you kind of expect to hear that grinding noise as you run aground. But we survived.

On Monday morning we had a sail up river which was interesting - we saw some massive tuna being offloaded from fishing boats - they looked like whales. I also provided a source of great excitement to a number of fishermen. As Mark said, they ' ve been away at sea for a month: the sight of a farang (foreigner) woman in shorts is the height of excitement.

Here be Dragons

We then had a motor down to a bay near our start point where we anchored up for the night. Mark ' s friend Gerry ' s boat was moored up there too - a beautiful wooden (schooner? Sloop?) thing that he ' s restoring called the Sapphire.

We went ashore for dinner, and met up with Mark ' s girlfriend Dang. It was a real family-run restaurant set on the beach, where each main course was £1 and each accompaniment was £1. Seriously yummy too.

So I disembarked the Meniscus on the Tuesday morning - bruised and battered (I told you I was clumsy) but the proud owner of a Day Skipper certification.

My top tips:

•  If you're feeling all at sea ('scuse the pun) on a course - just ask Mark to take you through things really slowly and specifically - when you're learning 'on the job', sometimes it's hard to figure out WHY you're doing things.
•  Earplugs are a great invention
•  There is a shower on board, but I didn't use it - instead I bathed in the sea and rinsed
. . off with fresh water on deck, or used showers onshore
•  Laundry is really cheaply done onshore, so make the most of it - it's about 50 Baht to get a
. . kilo of washing done.
•  There's a cash machine at Langkawi if you need to get some Malaysian Ringitts
•  If you take a rain jacket, you won't need it - if you don't take one, you'll need it
•  Beach towels take up loads of room and take ages to dry. Use a sarong instead.

Claire's Travels - her story and her experiences on her RYA Competant Crew Course & RYA Day Skipper Course, RYA Instruction, Voyages, Cruises, Crewed Charters and Deliveries
Langkawi, Malaysia and and Phi Phi, Lanta,Taratao, Butangs, Phuket, Thailand in Asia

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