Catamaran Sailing on the Andaman Sea

by Lori Blackburn

“YES! I’m IN” screamed my enthusiastic reply to Amy and Juan’s question: Will you go sailing with us? Does a pirate like rum? Do fish swim in the sea? Sign me up, baby! Next stop: heaven on a catamaran. 

Over the last year, I had followed Amy and Juan’s exceptional sailing trips. They would invite a lucky group of friends to explore Thailand by sailboat. I’d seen pictures showcasing carefree grins as they lounged on deck while their boat cut across the waves. They walked windswept shores covered in Jurassic boulders and climbed palm trees on deserted beaches.  Once they traded street clothes for bikinis and board shorts, their days became balmy breezes and exotic locations. Take me there

If you have the heart for sailing, then the world becomes magic. Everyday life disappears the further you get from land. Once you board a boat, your perspective changes to nature, weather, teamwork, and adventure. 

Ten years ago, I joined my first sailing trip. I arrived at work on a Monday and impulsively booked a sailing trip in Greece. I’d already visited Greece twice, but sailing the Cyclades Islands changed my life. There was a certain skip in my walk after Greece. Now, I always find time for sailing whether it’s an afternoon aboard a historical schooner in San Francisco, a week on a luxury catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, or a sunset sail in Redondo Beach with a racing team. 

This time it was Thailand. Amy and Captain Juan planned our week-long sailing trip like clockwork. I received the itinerary, packing list, and details. The week before departure, Juan started sending us breath-taking photos of our destinations. Wow – what a way to build excitement! 

Our crew of eight people met in Phuket on a Saturday. Everyone was fun, outdoorsy, efficient, and laid-back. The perfect group. Amy booked a villa and organized rental cars, which were important for airport transfers, grocery shopping, logistical tasks, and transportation. 

On Sunday, we split the grocery shopping and marina check-in duties. Two rental cars were handy! Afterwards, we left the rental cars at the marina where the car service collected them. Easy breezy. Our boat was a 2016 Catamaran Nautitech-40 Open named Jetset which we rented through Sweet Dreamers Yacht Charters www.sweetdreamerscharter.com. It had a kayak and motorized dingy for exploring. 

Life is different aboard a sailboat. Our mornings began at sunrise near a beautiful cove or island where we had moored overnight. Some people slept outdoors on deck. Others took the cabins. What a beautiful way to start the day! Captain Juan prepared for departure. Tom made coffee with his fancy coffee pot which we nicknamed Alicia (pronounced with an Italian accent!). Jak and Tabbi competed to make perfect pancakes. Jan kayaked while Natalie jumped overboard for a swim. Amy set the table while I scurried around taking pictures. After breakfast, we set off for new places – coves, caves, deserted beaches, hidden lagoons, and popular sites. We’d drop anchor offshore then pile into the dingy where we’d arrive like windswept bohemians. There is such a rakish beauty to traveling by sailboat. You feel alive. 

Sailing is about teamwork and group dynamics. Your crewmates create the trip just as much as the destinations. Everyone has a story to tell. These are our stories…

Juan Estrada // Spanish // Architect 

Cooking. Photography (IG: @juancarlosestradagomez). Gardening.

I grew-up by the seaside in Malaga, Spain. My father, a yacht captain, introduced me to sailing. I eventually got my skipper’s license. I love hosting friends and creating experiences, whether that happens at home or at sea. I’m lucky to spend several weeks each year on sailing trips. In Europe, it was mainly in the Mediterranean Sea, including Balearic Islands (Spain), Ionian Islands, Saronic Islands (Greece), and Dalmatian Islands (Croatia). 

Since moving to Thailand in 2017, Amy and I have organized three sailing trips around Koh Samui and Phuket. Unlike Spain in the summer, Thailand doesn’t have busy boat traffic. Thailand’s boat density per beach is low making it ideal for sailing. When you travel by boat, you can access secluded spots. Paradise becomes exclusively for you. 

For this trip, I based our route upon meteorological conditions, seasonal weather, and a progressive wow-factor. We started by visiting caves in Ao Phang Nga National Park, limestone formations in Krabi, snorkeling in Koh Phi Phi Islands, and more. I engaged the crew in daily destination decisions and added flexibility for group choices.

When planning a sailing trip, I recommend securing a crew first. Most people like the idea of a sailing trip, but few can commit. Next, contact several yacht charters for boat options and prices. If you don’t have a skipper’s license, then hire a bareboat with skipper. The skipper facilitates the boat and route so you can relax. Need someone to buy groceries and cook meals? Then hire a hostess. For our trip, we preferred to do everything ourselves, but it’s nice to have options.

Juan’s Tips 

1- Provisioning: Don’t over-buy groceries. Schedule both onshore dining and onboard meals. 

2- Avoid heavy luggage. Include a headlamp and nautical footwear. (i.e. anti-slip aqua shoes for rocky coastlines)

3- Respect the sea. Be conscious of obstacles in the boat and outside. For example, be aware of currents when you swim, rocks, sea urchins, jellyfish, and waves when approaching the beach in a dingy.

Amy Patcharaporn Anantasuk // Thai // Real Estate

Travel. Photography. Movies. 

This is my third sailing trip with Juan. I feel happy seeing people enjoy their first sailing experience, especially because most people are as excited as me! When planning the trips, Juan’s expertise is chartering and managing the boat. I handle everything else from securing flights, rental cars, villas, and crew members to planning groceries and meals. In addition to managing the group’s accounting and expenses, I’m also the boat’s DJ with my playlist.

Sailing is lots of fun, but it’s important to act responsibly. At the beginning of each trip, we brief everyone on proper protocol. This crew had solid sailing and outdoor experience which made it easy. We discuss topics such as conserving the boat’s limited water supply and acting safely. Sailing is not a joke. If you get injured, we are far from land. We also train the crew on launching and driving the dingy. It makes them feel integrated in daily tasks and gives them freedom to go ashore.

I love each trip especially because I’m building my sailing skills. I’m on a learning curve and I’m more aware of everything. I’ve learned sailing essentials such as driving the dingy and maneuvers like setting-up sails, pulling ropes, dropping anchor, and securing the boat to a mooring buoy. I plan to study for my skipper’s license soon. When I’m on a boat, my mind shuts off from the everyday world. I recharge in the open air. It’s a special time where I see my life from a different perspective. I feel free.

Amy’s Tips

1- Enjoy each moment to the fullest! Savor the freedom and fun because these trips fly by. 

2 – Choose a smart combination of crew members. Teamwork is essential. Make sure that personalities match otherwise, it could be explosive. 

3- Most charter boats have a Cruising Guide with reference maps, nautical warnings, destination tips, and onshore dining guide. They are a great resource. 

Jak Drinnan // British //Architect

Kitesurfing, Sculptural Art, Sailing

This was my second sailing trip with Captain Juan and Amy. I joined the previous trip to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao in June 2019. They were both incredible trips, however I felt more prepared for the experience this time around. We also had a bigger crew which brought a better dynamic. The boat was fantastic. Everything was provided. The hardest part was leaving at the end! 

I would encourage others to join a sailing trip because it’s a unique way to experience a destination. You have the ultimate freedom to come and go on your own time You can also avoid the crowds. Thailand is beautiful. There are pristine beaches and exceptional ocean landscapes where vertical limestone cliffs emerge from tropical blue sea. It is quite special waking-up in the morning surrounded by nature. We were usually alone in stunning national parks before the tour boats arrived.

My favorite place was Monkey Beach in Koh Phi Phi. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a perfect beach. Koh Racha Noi is located just south of Phuket. It had the best snorkeling I’ve experienced in Thailand. I plan to return for scuba diving later this year. 

Jak’s Tips:

1 – Pack your bag as normal, then remove 80% of your stuff because you won’t need any of it!

2 – Cover-up during peak daytime hours. It’s easy to burn, especially when the sun reflects off the ocean.

3 – Wear proper footwear. A few barefoot days working on the boat can absolutely ruin your feet!

Jak Drinnan // British //Architect

Kitesurfing, Sculptural Art, Sailing

This was my second sailing trip with Captain Juan and Amy. I joined the previous trip to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao in June 2019. They were both incredible trips, however I felt more prepared for the experience this time around. We also had a bigger crew which brought a better dynamic. The boat was fantastic. Everything was provided. The hardest part was leaving at the end! 

I would encourage others to join a sailing trip because it’s a unique way to experience a destination. You have the ultimate freedom to come and go on your own time You can also avoid the crowds. Thailand is beautiful. There are pristine beaches and exceptional ocean landscapes where vertical limestone cliffs emerge from tropical blue sea. It is quite special waking-up in the morning surrounded by nature. We were usually alone in stunning national parks before the tour boats arrived.

My favorite place was Monkey Beach in Koh Phi Phi. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a perfect beach. Koh Racha Noi is located just south of Phuket. It had the best snorkeling I’ve experienced in Thailand. I plan to return for scuba diving later this year. 

Jak’s Tips:

1 – Pack your bag as normal, then remove 80% of your stuff because you won’t need any of it!

2 – Cover-up during peak daytime hours. It’s easy to burn, especially when the sun reflects off the ocean.

3 – Wear proper footwear. A few barefoot days working on the boat can absolutely ruin your feet!

Andrew James // British // Property

Swimming. Chess. Sailing 

This is my second trip with Captain Juan and Amy. Last year, I joined their trip around Koh Samui. This trip had better landscape, easier sailing conditions, and calmer sea. On our previous trip, the sea was rougher with the occasional storm which added to the excitement. 

If you’re interested in entry-level sailing, then Thailand is the best in the region. It offers excellent routes, marinas, and charter sailing. I enjoy these trips because I can practice my sailing skills. I assisted with various maneuvers such as helping navigate through marinas, raising sails, mooring to buoys, and anchoring. Catamarans are fun cruiser boats. One perk was that Jetset had a water-maker meaning we didn’t need to re-fill our water tanks at marinas. That was great because the only floating pontoon along our route was at Koh Phi Phi which wasn’t convenient to reach.  

One of my favorite places was Koh Racha Noi where I snorkeled in the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Alternatively, my least favorite place was a creepy bat cave we explored by dingy and kayak. We tried to reach a hidden lagoon through a sea cave with a colony of bats perched above us.  It’s important to be open-minded when experiencing nature, but I was glad to leave that cave! I encourage others to go sailing. In addition to great times, any beach you’ve ever visited feels completely different when you arrive by boat. There is always something new to discover.

Tom’s Tips:

  1. Don’t get drunk the night before boarding a boat, otherwise you’ll surely get seasick. 
  2. The day-to-day jobs on the boat are great exercise, so don’t be afraid to jump in and help.
  3. Buy full-length UV-protective clothing. The sun is merciless. 

Natalie Chelliah // British // Architect & Interior Architect 

Fitness. Yoga. Baking.

Last summer I joined my first catamaran trip with Captain Juan and Amy. That trip was amazing because we explored off-the-beaten-track islands and even squeezed in a diving trip. However, this recent trip around Phang-Nga Bay and beyond blew me away. We had a bigger group, better boat, and more jaw-dropping scenery. I wanted to stay longer! I appreciated the variety of places and our fun, adventurous group. The beaches were paradise. Everywhere was quiet. We had many places to ourselves.

This trip was full of highlights. We explored islands by dingy, kayak, and snorkeling. Relaxing on the empty beaches was priceless. It was my first time to visit beautiful Krabi and Railay Beach. Next time, I’ll trek to Railay’s viewpoint. We also moored at Phi Phi Islands’ Monkey Beach – a secluded beach that is empty except for day-trippers. Once everyone left, the beach was ours. We didn’t see any monkeys, but it had the softest sand. We swam in crystal clear water with towering karst cliffs as our backdrop. I’ll never forget it.

If you join a sailing trip, remember to be flexible because things can change. For example, our catamaran’s power system was broken resulting in no air conditioning. The first night I couldn’t sleep because it was too hot below deck, but once we adjusted the fans and cabin’s natural air flow, it was fine. Despite the air-conditioning, this boat was an upgrade from our last catamaran. It was newer, more spacious, and had a better floorplan. It was very comfortable! Now, the only way is up, so I hope we get the best boat for our next trip!

Natalie’s Tips:

  1. 1. Pack light! You’ll wear less outfits than you think. Most of the time you wear a bikini and shorts. 
  2. Bring a couple card games for the evenings. We enjoyed Code Name.
  3. Bring a drone if you have one! Captain Juan captured many scenic moments with his drone.

Jan Hempel // German // Project Manager Timber Construction

Traveling. Hiking. Skiing. Sailing

Sailing in Thailand is wonderful because of the warm, sunny weather. You can stay outside all night. Even the rain is warm! There is diverse scenery with rocks for snorkeling, lonely beaches to relax, shady forests for a walk, and busy cities to go out.

Although this trip had almost no wind which limited our ability to use the sails, it had the most sightseeing, activities, and fun. I really enjoyed it! This trip also had the biggest and best crew I’ve joined so far. We had a good mixture of interesting, easy going, and funny people. I appreciated how nicely everyone fit together and got along.

I’ve been sailing for about ten years. In Germany, I co-own a vintage sailboat, a 1972 Hallberg Mistral 33 named Elouise. I’ve enjoyed regular sailing in the Baltic Sea, Netherlands, and Croatia. The mixture of planning, action, and calm moments is exciting. I love the silence and freedom. This was my first time onboard a catamaran, which are more spacious and steadier than monohull boats. Jetset was perfect for eight people. 

I loved the variety of places along our route. We explored sea caves with interesting rock formations and hidden lagoons. We visited Koh Phi Phi’s party beach where we drank buckets of gin and tonic. We even had James Bond Island to ourselves between tourist boats. Another fun moment was our catamaran day party. The weather was perfect. Jak made Cuba Libres and Mojitos. We hung out, listened to music, and laughed. Life was great. We were grateful for this experience.

Jan’ Tips:

1.) If you are new to sailing, start with short trips and slow wind. This helps you adjust to the movements in calmer conditions. 

2.) Be flexible with your crew because you are a team. You’ll share small spaces, cooking duties, bathrooms, and decision-making. 

3.) If your boat has a galley or indoor area, stay outside to avoid sea sickness. Look at the horizon to help your body adjust to the swaying.

Jetset’s Sailing Itinerary

Sunday – Phuket – Phang-Nga Bay. Explore caves and hongs.
Monday – Phang-Nga Bay: James Bond Island – Koh Roí – Koh Yao Noi -Koh Pak Bia
Tuesday – Hong Island – Railay Beach. Party in Ao Nang
Wednesday – Koh Pu – Bamboo Island. Party in Koh Phi Phi
Thursday – Koh Phi Phi – Phiphi Lae (Maya Bay)
Friday – Racha Noi – Racha Yai for snorkelling
Saturday – Koh Rang Yai Kai – Koh Naka
Sunday – Return to Phuket Heaven Marina

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