Phuket, Thailand

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Wed 15 Dec 2010 07:01
We got away from Rebak, rather reluctantly, a couple of weeks late and “island-hopped” up to Phuket, the holiday resort island off the west coast of Thailand.  We wanted to avoid the fishing boats and long, buoyed nets at night.  The boats often fish in pairs with a net stretched between them.  It is said that there is plenty of depth to sail over the net but it is unsettling and can lead to dis-orientation and muddle at night.  So, wimpish mariners sail by day.
Fishing boat
One of the fishing boats that often operate in pairs, a quarter of a mile or more apart, with a net towed between them.
The first night’s anchorage was attractive, and quiet once the tourist boats had gone off for the night.  We were away by the time they returned in the morning.  The second night we picked up a mooring off the HQ of a national park.  It must be reckoned to be a pretty island because the French version of a “Survivor” series was filmed there but unfortunately there was a moderate swell running so we rolled around all night.  By the end of our third day we had reached Ao Chalong (Chalong Bay) at the southern end of Phuket where everybody has to check in to the country.  This is a big bay and unpopular with yachtsmen because it is shallow, there is a lot of mud at low tide and there are loads of very rough crustaceans on the jetty steps to cut one to pieces when landing loaded with ships papers.  Conditions were kind to us - neap tides and minimal swell - so we wondered what all the fuss was about.  There is a convenient all-in-one check-in centre at the root of the government pier.  However, there were so many forms to be filled in (with carbon copies) for Immigration, Customs and the Harbour Master, under time pressure, that it was a bit like doing exams albeit with helpful foreign invigilators leaning over the desk to give guidance.  Mentally exhausted, (Mags reckoned I was making a fuss; I think she was better at exams), we stepped a few metres along the quay to a touristy restaurant and had our first Thai shock.  The local food was excellent. 
Log Tails often used as tourist boats
Traditional boats with traditional means of propulsion.  Each has a second hand engine, from a great variety of sources and often un-silenced, pivoted and balanced over the stern of the boat.  Aft is a long tube carrying a shaft with a propeller (long-tail) and forward is a substantial tiller.  The helmsman presses down on the tiller to lift the prop. out of the water in the shallows and at the end of the voyage swings the whole device through 180 degrees to rest the prop. in the middle of the boat.

We were due at the Boat Lagoon at 0800 two days later so we anchored for the night off a small, palm-fringed island a couple of miles from the entrance to the marina approach channel.  Timing was important because the long, winding channel is very shallow and we were trying to get in on a very low high tide, if you get my meaning.  We ploughed through the mud three times and stuck hard on two further occasions.  It was really very fortunate that each time we were hard aground natives happened to pass by to direct us to the deeper water a few metres away.  We got off with heavy use of the engine; high revs and black smoke.
The way to Boat Lagoon, Phuket
The way in to Boat Lagoon, Phuket, Thailand but you would do better to take a pilot!
This place is the real business.  Three travel hoists, at least five chandleries, numerous restaurants of varied ethnicities and prices and businesses offering every marine service.  It is criticised  because it is said to be extremely hot and windless, being built in a mangrove swamp, but it seems fine at this time of year and it certainly has a “buzz” unlike other places.  The other night we tried out the smartest restaurant.  The food was fine but the evening was a particular success because we were lucky enough to enjoy a great seven piece jazz band.  Really enjoyable trad. jazz.  Much of the work here is of an excellent quality – I should think that the carpentry and joinery, stainless steelwork, canvas work and painting is as good as anywhere in the world.  There is a huge sail-makers down the road and a company that makes and repairs dinghies.  Including ours – in less than two years the handles and patches have fallen off.  The expert says that the welds in the tube will be next.  An absolute disgrace!  It’s not fit to float in the bath.  I phoned one day; the man came and took it away the next morning.  We await his report with trepidation.
It is very hot – we have all the fans blowing in our faces down below but it is pretty exhausting doing any work or making any effort in the open.  It is also sometimes very wet; it seems the north-east monsoon is late settling in this year and we are not yet enjoying the promised clear skies, sunshine and moderate temperatures.
The first night here we found a very good French (Swiss/French) restaurant.  The second night our mates from last year, Tapestry and Troubadour came down from the Yacht Haven marina further north to join us for a great re-union evening.  Since then Troubadour has motored down and is on the hard with her mast out; there is no haul-out facility at the Yacht Haven.  They have the same problem with their rigging as we had in New Zealand, though after 12 years rather than two.  It’s good to see them all again but of course it points up the fact that we haven’t yet made up our minds whether to do the Indian Ocean and Red Sea this time or stay for another year.  In some ways we are mentally geared up ready to join the gang and go; but there is such a lot that we find is necessary to be done before we could trust ourselves or JJ Moon to cross an ocean that we can’t see we shall be ready in time.  And even if we were, we should not have seen anything of this part of the world.  But do we want to see much more of it?  We have to keep off the subject in company otherwise we could get very boring.
We were hauled out on Saturday (loads of mud lying on top of our wings), our chosen contractor has come up with an acceptable quotation for the work to the hull and it is under way.  Other highly recommended artisans have measured up for work to the teak decks and some varnishing but we are not committed there yet.  Now it’s a case of chasing things up, assessing priorities and getting at least the essential work done as soon as possible.  There is some rather daunting work to the engine that seems likely to be necessary, and a new spray-hood over the main hatch.  We shall see.
Lift off.
Most travel hoist gangs invite boat crews to step ashore aft once the boat has been lifted sufficiently for the deck to be level with the dock.  At the Boat Lagoon they bring the boat ashore and take off the crew by fork lift truck.  Without even the luxury of a palette; one foot on each fork and “hold on with both hands please Sir”.  Hmmmm!
I detest living on the boat on the hard - dodgy ladder to climb up and down, loos a good walk away, care needed walking around on deck, no refrigeration, no washing or washing up on board; I won’t go on - so the first thing we did when we arrived was to try to book a room round the edge of the marina.  The smart hotel controls all this accommodation and we were told by friends that there would be a plentiful supply.  To our dismay everything was occupied until further notice.  We contemplated various rather un-attractive alternatives but in the end took a room in the hotel itself for a month.  It was all rather odd because Mags went and discussed the situation fully with the hotel reception desk, obtaining prices, asking when rooms would become available and generally getting nowhere.  She was told they would not take bookings for any accommodation for more than a few days until the middle of January.  While she was doing this, before she arrived back on board, I had found a hotel bookings company on the web offering five rooms for the month period that we wanted.  We signed up, at the same price that the hotel was quoting Mags for rooms which were not available and when we turned up they did not turn a hair and welcomed us with open arms.  This has reduced the number of things we can afford to have done!
We hired a car the other day and drove round the island.  Much of it is pretty tatty but there are some nice spots.  We ended the day having supper at a good but inexpensive beach restaurant with our mates.  We have also enjoyed “the ultimate Sunday brunch” as part of a big party at a very exclusive, five star boutique hotel – so exclusive that there are no direction signs anywhere, even on the tightly guarded entrance gate.  The cost of the meal was actually quite reasonable, considering, and the food was simply outstanding......but you don’t want to hear any more about that.
A large Buddha, Ao Chalong
Keeping watch over the bay of Chalong is this mighty fine very large Buddha.