There’s a pastel-like touch to the Yacht Haven at four o’clock on a sunny afternoon. The dipping sun slants through the white of the yachts’ masts, creating a pleasing optical effect – ‘splintered sunlight’ so the poet had it.
In the distance the putt-putt of a boat coming in to moor is gradually replaced by laughter and joking as the crew disembarks. A large tabby cat strolls by and slips under an electric buggy for a nap. Peaceful indeed...
A few minutes later we board June Bahtra – a traditionally fitted out Chinese junk that is one of a fleet of three operating out of the Yacht Haven. She’s small, compact and instantly accessible.
We sit in an alcove just afore of the helmsman and take in the view as June Bahtra eases out of the ‘No Wake’ zone past superyachts, reconditioned tubs and several exotic vessels that could only belong to the über-rich.
Our tour companions are all from Sweden and enthusiastically tuck into the beer and wine provisions (four free drinks per person). The sun is sinking in the west and 30 minutes out crew members unfurl the junk’s sails, cut the 165hp Isuzu motor and wheee! we’re sailing on the smooth waters of Phang Nga Bay.
To the east, the mainland juts out and Phuket’s east coast, silhouetted in the setting sun, is fading in the distance. Nui, our boppy guide, emerges out from the kitchen hatch with a plate of vegetarian spring rolls and announces, ‘Tuck in soon! Spring rolls go hard once they’re cool.’
Personally, I feel that every single human being should experience what it feels like to be under sail at sunset in Phang Nga Bay with a glass of red wine listening to Moby and Massive Attack on the ship’s sound system.
That’d change the world for the better. Pretty soon all eyes aboard and about $3,000 worth of photographic equipment is facing west and gazing at Phuket’s finest free show – the sunset.
The junk’s onboard lights flip on and the cook serves up a variety of dishes: chicken and cashew nuts, fried vegetables and whole steamed fish with rice as well as some decidedly tame tom yam goong – usually an incredibly spicy dish guaranteed to send tears coursing down your cheeks. It’s hearty stuff – guaranteed to stave off any mutiny and it all slips down rather well with the wine and all.
By now it’s pitch dark and the only sounds are that of hearty Swedes tucking in and the strangely comforting creaking and groanings of the wooden ship. June Bahtra looks exactly like one of those wooden toys that people without kids think cool to give to your kids and you end up falling over in the dark. It’s chunky and functional and the genuine stuff but it also has very comfortable nooks and crannies to stretch out in and the foredeck is covered with soft plastic cushion-like material, just in case you decide to eat your meal Thai-style, sitting on the floor.
This tour lasts three to four hours, depending on the weather. It’s not a physically demanding one; neither is it too long or boring. The junk is the real thing and the views of Phang Nga Bay sublime. We arrive back at the hotel at about 21:00 which gives us time to plan an evening out afterward.