Surin Islands, Skylark Style
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Surin Islands are known to be absolutely spectacular so we made it part of our itinerary. Our plan was to depart Patong midday and sail through the night on a 105NM passage to the Surin Islands. We planned to arrive early morning, pick up a mooring, and sleep. All of us on board are airline pilots who regularly do red eye flights, so we figured this would be easy. There would be four of us. We could rest whenever, chit-chat, maybe even have a beer and not have to talk to ATC. How nice does that sound? Well, ultimately we found it to be more exhausting.
The night before our departure, we enjoyed sundowners at the cliffside Reggae bar. We ordered Grab delivery from a nearby Thai restaurant to bring on the boat. We debated on staying up late and sleeping in or going to bed at our usual time. Fatigue management is important for aviation, and we wanted to put the same amount of thoughtfulness into our night passage. We ended up having a big dinner and going to bed around our usual 9pm bed time. 9pm is also known as sailors' midnight.
In the morning, we departed on our 105NM journey and soon to be first night passage on Skylark. We had descent quartering tailwind. We had been looking at predictwind to see the best routing options and opted to take the route that passes to the east of the Similian Islands. Justin was fishing off the back and thought he got a bite of something and asked Chris to slow down. Right at this moment a huge gust of wind came. Unable to head up into the wind quickly since there was a nearby boat, the fishing line snapped. Either it was something big, or we caught a fish trap. We will never know. Maybe a little mystery its better than the trash bag we caught later on the trip.
As the evening approached, we made a gorgonzola gnocchi with bacon and watched a beautiful sunset.
There were still many fishing traps around, and as night approached the fishing boats were lit up with their neon lights. After dinner I made dough for a zoph bread! Our plan was to pop it in the oven prior to sunrise and have a sunrise zoph!
Nadia and I were planning on just staying up all night and making midnight snacks like nachos and popcorn, but when 10pm hit everyone was feeling tired….Maybe bacon and blue cheese gnocchi for dinner is not the best choice before staying up past our bed time. Or perhaps our circadian rhythm was super strong from going to bed at 9pm and waking up at 6am every day for over a week. Nadia and I took the first rest and the guys were on the first watch.
There were so many fish traps, and most of them were not lit up. Just when we thought we were away from a patch of fish traps and could let our guards down, we would see a rouge trap. The consequence of getting a line from the fish trap in our prop could vary. While under sail, we would probably drag it a bit and might be able to backwind the sail and exit the situation. If the engine was running, which, with the lack of wind, it was a lot that night, either our prop linecutter would do its job and slice it up immediately, or perhaps it would get stuck and we would be immobilized. If the latter happened, we might have to jump in the water and cut it off the prop. We could use our new dive gear or free dive it….Either way, we aren’t too keen to go for a night dive if we are only going to see a dirty rope and not something exotic like a Manderin fish (a rare fish we saw on our only night dive ever…Chris doesn’t believe in night dives since it disrupts Happy Hour).
To avoid the possibility of hitting a fish trap or some other debris, we maintain “OUTSIDE WATCH.” This was a term we learned working in Japan, where it’s required by aviation law to maintain a continuous outside scan, known as outside watch.
During my time on watch, I kept my eyes open and maintained outside watch as I did not want to be the one responsible for immobilizing the boat because of a fish trap at 2 in the morning. We have night vision goggles on board and used them a lot. There were a ton of fishing boats around and we were extra diligent to stay out of their way, as we were not sure the size of their nets. Plus, with their bright lights, their night vision is likely to be low and they might not see us. When we fly at night over Asian waters, we are used to seeing many fishing boats down below, sometimes so many it looks like a city! We now know what if feels like to be amidst them on the water, and it’s certainly not relaxing.
Dawn was approaching and we still had not hit a fish trap. We were all awake now and excited for the sunrise breakfast. The smell of zoph was escaping the boat and flooding the cockpit with an amazing aroma. We started the generator to get 230Vac to our precious Nespresso machine. We were hesitant to have a coffee since we wanted to nap, so luckily we were able to use up some of the useless decaf Nespresso capsules we rarely drink to have the coffee experience without the caffeine. Our bread was accompanied by smoked salmon, brie and butter. I was later told by Justin that this was his favorite memory of the trip.
We approached the Surin Islands and were on a fatigued lookout for a mooring. As we rounded the corner, we lost signal to our cell phones and the pokefi. We saw a fishing boat on the most beautiful mooring. There were two other moorings further out, but they looked a bit exposed. We tried to anchor but had no luck. We decided to head over to another group of moorings about 10 minutes away (that had cell service, too), and as we were nearly there we saw the fishing boat leave. We expeditiously turned around and beelined it for the mooring. The spot was spectacular with super blue water around and a reef for diving. We hooked up Skylark to the mooring and just like that, our first night sail on Skylark was a success!
The Surin Islands are paradise. After we arrived, we took a nap since we just had a stressful, fish-trap filled night sail. Previously on our trip, we had moved somewhere new every night, but now we wanted to stay for at least a few nights since we had the best mooring ever and it had been such a long journey. We needed some rest.
We relaxed most of the day, swam in the crystal clear water, and had a fancy lunch of chips and nuts. We packed up the cooler and went to the beach for sundowners and a beach BBQ. Lamb Sausage with greek style potatoes.
The most amazing thing happened when looking for firewood. Nadia found a stick that looked like a hat rack. We were able to store our bags and hats on there in style. Just because we are somewhere remote doesn’t mean we have to rough it and put our bags on the ground!
After the bugs came out on the beach, we packed up and went back to Skylark for a glass of our classy boxed wine and a piece of chocolate on the bow. A super peaceful sleep at a calm anchorage.
We woke and had an amazing omelette from the Omelette King, AKA Chris. With the Brazilian hot sauces and a dark blue kaazar Nespresso, it was the perfect start to the day.
When we returned to the boat, Chris and I wanted to dive on the mooring. My new fins were giving me blisters on my right heel, but I still wanted to go for a quick dive and get some photos of us diving near the boat. I did a big step entry off the swim platform into the water and one of my fins came off! I tried to grab it and it slowly started sinking. I tried to reach down and get it, but I couldn’t quite reach it, so I started letting air out my BCD. Because there was only about 70bar left, I was super buoyant and couldn’t get below the surface. I began yelling to Chris and he initially had the same problem and then managed to get down and grab the fin while it was still within site at 4 or 5 meters. Crisis averted by Chris.
The park rangers visited our boat and charged us 500 baht per day for the boat to be there. We planned to stay for three days so paid a total of 1500 baht. Given our prime spot mooring, this was perfectly fine with us.
We went to the restaurant located about 20 minutes away by dingy. On shore was the most beautiful beach on the other side and only a few tourists. We also dropped our trash off and were pleased to see they had recycling facilities…
One of our favorite attractions on shore was the nearby cell tower.
Just kidding. It was a quick email check and then we went to have a fantastic Thai lunch at the touristy looking restaurant. We all has massive fruit shakes. Nadia and I had coconut and Chris and Justin had mango. The shake was so big it lasted all of lunch and the whole 20 minute dingy ride back to Skylark.
That afternoon we dove the same location and had another beach bbq.
Our pots had a dark black film on them after the bbq, and we were able to do some of our dishes in the sea to conserve fresh water.
We decided to do a day sail back to Phuket and planned a stopover in Thap Lamu. We woke up early and watched a beautiful sunrise and then began our journey. Nadia and I made a platter of nachos and wings for lunch. After consuming about 5000 calories a person, we began to look for dinner options. There were some restaurants near the pier near our anchorage and the pictures looked good online. We were hoping we would be hungry within the next 12 hours for a Thai feast on shore. It was perfect gennaker conditions and we got to try out our gennaker for the first time.
The guys went to shore to buy some fuel in a jerry can, and they went barefoot, as that was standard footwear the last few days. Nadia and I stayed on board to drink a cocktail and pack up the gennaker. The guys were also going to look for a restaurant while they were on shore. We got reports back that there were no suitable restaurants available, and that they greatly regretted not wearing shoes. The pier was super dirty and full of garbage. The pictures of the restaurant’s looked descent online, but we were assured we would not like it. We then decided to just cook a simple pasta on board. Chris and Justin arrived back and they were really grossed out with the condition of their feet. Justin had a couple of cuts and was worried about an infection given they just walked barefoot through a dump. The guys sat on the back of the boat for about 20 minutes using alcohol wipes and cleaning their feet thoroughly. Once their feet were clean we kicked back and watched Captain Ron. Perfect boat movie.
The following day we went to Cafe del Mar on Kamala beach and were able to go barefoot safely and enjoy sushi and cocktails. The rustic beauty of the Surins we will never forget!