Have you ever wondered what it would be like to win a sailing charter in Thailand? Sail + Leisure reader Meagan Elston, winner of our competition with Sunsail, shares her trip with us.
Barely minutes after I had received the email informing me that I had won Sunsail’s Thailand sailing competition, I called my friend Andrew van Zyl. After jumping around like two excited kids for a while, we eventually calmed ourselves down and set about planning our trip and our crew.
Fast forward two months and there we were on our way to Thailand. Call us a group of misfits if you like – six friends of varying ages and backgrounds, all first-timers to Thailand and ready to enjoy the waters off Phuket, one nautical mile at a time.
Our group consisted of Andrew van Zyl, our dedicated skipper and my sailing friend of a good few years, and Andre Rossouw, Andrew’s second-in-charge. Then there was cat-crazy Anneke Bornman, with no prior sailing experience. Anneke was responsible for keeping the party going and making sure there was music at all times. Heather Karabus and my mom, Caroline Elston, had a few key skills to offer too. Firstly, they were our chefs, gin-and-tonic makers, belly-dance instructors and, most importantly, they were the dinghy queens. And then there was me, a leisure sailor who had just won a bareboat experience but went around telling everyone it was a ‘barefoot’ charter experience. I lacked sailing jargon!
AO PO GRAND MARINA – KOH HONG
We were welcomed at Ao Po Grand Marina in Phuket by the incredibly friendly Sunsail staff. They helped us load up the yacht, a Sunsail 444, after which we received a very comprehensive briefing session. Once we felt ready to hit the turquoise waters, we waved goodbye. Andrew walked around our new home smiling from ear to ear, marvelling at the well-designed, spacious cockpit area, which we knew would be his man cave for the next week.
Our first stop was Koh Hong. As we approached, the sun was setting and we realised we had the entire island to ourselves. There was absolutely no wind and we anchored close to the cliffs. That night we had our first dinner on board. We were all in absolute awe of where we were and how lucky we were to be there, so much so that we decided to sleep on the trampoline on the bow that night. I was clever enough to tiptoe back inside – while the rest fell asleep under the stars – thus avoiding the mosquitos that descended.
KOH HONG – KOH YAO NOI
Andrew paddled out on the stand-up paddleboard, and Anneke and I swam around the boat. We were surrounded
by hundreds of gigantic jellyfish but miraculously neither of us got stung. We snacked on some local fruit and huddled around the map. We decided to sail out to the northern tip of Koh Yao Noi, which provided us with an exhilarating beam reach sail. At this point, Andre had become quite clued up on helping Andrew. The two guys would sit at the helm while Anneke and I sat on the trampoline and laughed every time a wave crashed over the bow. We arrived in Koh Yao Noi at around lunchtime. We had heard great reviews of Paradise Resort and couldn’t wait to have our first Thai meal. Paradise Resort certainly lived up to its name. Most of us went for the go-to meal, Thai green curry, and it was undoubtedly the best I have ever had. We all raved about the fragrant spices and balanced flavour of the curry and wished we could have ordered that same meal every day for the rest of our trip. Afterwards, we swam in the most divine pool from where we could see our beautiful Sunsail 444, anchored not too far from the resort. With full tummies and happy hearts, we fell asleep with not a care in the world.
KOH YAO NOI – KOH DAM HOK
Andrew woke the crew up at the crack of dawn with the sounds of Freddy Mercury and the smell of coffee on the go. Within minutes the crew were up helping with their chores; we raised the anchor and off we went. We got supplies from the local market on Koh Yao Noi pier before casting off to what would be an incredible day of sailing. We had extremely hot weather and 15 knots of wind from the south-west. Arriving in Koh Dam Hok was like a scene out of a movie; the last rays of the warm sun blazing on the island. Again, we had the entire place to ourselves. We felt as though we had just won a Survivor immunity challenge as we jumped off the yacht and swam to shore. Like true adventurers, we split up to explore. I took a walk on my own to the other side of the island and sat on the shore’s edge. I couldn’t help but let my thoughts wander. I could now completely understand why people wave goodbye to the rat race and sail the world. That night, Heather and Caroline made an amazing noodle-and-veg dish and what followed was something I’ll never forget. Heather gave us 10 minutes to get ready for our belly-dancing lesson. This saw Anneke and I scrambling through our clothes for any bits of loose material, shiny earrings or glitter we could find. Very unwillingly, the guys allowed us to cover them in sarongs and glitter and, before long, all six of us were on deck shaking our hips. After 15 minutes of belly dancing, we jumped into the warm water, outfits and all. What an incredible way to end off a fantastic day!
KOH DAM HOK – PHI PHI
We had had spectacular weather thus far, and we’d also been lucky enough to have all the islands to ourselves. However, a part of us couldn’t wait for the chaos that awaited. We had heard so much about Phi Phi Island – the ‘alcohol buckets’, beach parties and absolute mayhem. We motored into Phi Phi and along the way picked up several pieces of poly-rope and plastic from the water. This was the first time we had seen pollution in the water to this extent and it dampened our grand entrance to ‘civilization’. That night all six of us headed out for crabs and noodles. Anneke was the happiest of all to be on land, as this meant her cat-obsessed self could run around after the thousands of street cats on Phi Phi. She patted them, gave them names and practically took selfies with each of them.
The next day we all went our own way – Andrew went diving, Anneke, Andre and I went for massages and Heather and Caroline went shopping for extra food supplies. That evening we joined the fun at the beach party, with Andrew having to calmly round up his rowdy crew and steer us back to the dinghy.
Phi Phi had lived up to our expectations: crowded and expensive. But, what we hadn’t realised was just how much we missed the peace of the islands. So, we decided to sail to the islands around Ko Racha Yai. We sat around the chart map and started planning, but the wind conditions suddenly changed and our sailing plans had to be altered. We would be going directly into the wind if we sailed west, so we stayed anchored in Phi Phi for one more night. We ate dinner like kings on board, enjoying Thai noodles, dragon fruit and pieces of mango.
PHI PHI – KOH NAKHA NOI
You wouldn’t have found a more excited crew than us as we left Phi Phi. We had missed the open ocean and the exclusivity the islands afforded us. Phi Phi represented far too much of a ‘gap-year syndrome’ for us. It was a full day’s sail from Phi Phi to Koh Nakha Noi. We had very little wind so we motored most of the way. As soon as we dropped anchor, we were in the water swimming and kayaking. We even managed to wakeboard on the stand-up paddleboard behind the dinghy with its 10HP motor. Our hearts were happy that we were alone again, surrounded by nothing but natural beauty. After walking along the shore, we ate noodles and drank the last few beers.
KOH NAKHA NOI – KOH HONG
We sailed back to the beautiful island of Koh Hong, where our adventure had started, and spent the day kayaking through the caves while the birds and bats flew around us.
The last night was one of mixed emotions. Over eight days this group of total misfits had become not only keen sailors but also a family. The sailing bug had bitten us all and none of us wanted to stop sailing and hand the boat back. Each one of us left knowing we had the most incredible holiday experience. We had some amazing seamless beam reaches, we learnt to belly dance, we ate great local food and had numerous islands to ourselves.
We all left with a different top experience. Andrew had added miles of sailing experience to his logbook, Andre now knew he wanted to go off and do his sailing courses (as well as a barman and belly-dancing courses). Anneke had a photo library filled with every cat in Phuket. (Watch this space for her 2020 Thailand Cats calendar!) Heather left with a weaker liver and darker tan, while Caroline felt completely and utterly relaxed. I climbed off the yacht knowing that this was exactly the way I wanted to spend all my holidays in the future and I immediately started planning my next sailing trip.
For a hassle-free excursion, choose one of Sunsail’s food and beverage packages before you arrive.
It’s recommended that you provision for the first 36 hours onboard and/or for a minimum of 30% of the duration of your charter as there are no restaurants in the northern bay. Some smaller islands only cater for lunches, and low tide may restrict access.
The nearest Tesco Lotus supermarket is a 30-minute drive from Sunsail’s base and a two-to-three-hour round trip from the marina.