There’s a buzzword on Phuket right now: superyachts. New legislation allowing Thai-registered superyachts to acquire charter licenses means that the Thai government and tourism ministries are pushing hard to make Phuket the number one destination in Asia for these lavish cruisers of 24 meters or above, with ambitious plans to spend around $201 million on taking the island from 100 superyacht berths to 250.
The growing infrastructure required to accommodate the hoped-for tide of sea-going palaces also means that Phuket’s charter sailing industry has never been in better shape. Visitors looking for competent crews, superb facilities, beautiful cruising grounds and a buzzing apres-sail culture are flocking to the island thanks to a range of charter companies whose boats cater to every nautical whim. Perhaps this is also your next holiday destination.
“Phuket offers some of the most amazing cruising grounds in the world,” says Vishal Sood, whose charter company Jabudays has operated on the island since 2007.
“There’s something for everyone. You could go on a day trip or go out for a couple of nights or take a boat out into the Andaman for a whole week—there are just so many places to visit and see. Sailing through Phang Nga Bay you have stunning limestone cliffs, sea caves which you can kayak through, snorkeling in perfectly clear waters, then at night the water is illuminated with phosphorous plankton.”
Sood’s fleet at Jabudays boasts catamarans, monohull yachts and motor-sailing yachts that can accommodate everything from couples looking for a romantic cruise to parties of 40-60 people. “We focus mostly on bigger groups and day charters,” says Sood. “We’re also in the crewed rather than bareboat market, meaning we provide a captain, crew and service staff like chefs.”
Elite Yachting Phuket
This, he says, is generally what the market in Thailand wants, with many of the people booking Jabudays’ services having very limited to no yacht-going experience. “It’s a different market from Europe and Australia, where there are more bareboat people who are used to the ocean. In Phuket people typically have been on a boat one or two times in their life, and the island suits crewed charters. Hospitality on the island is very good, so there are waiters, cooks and all those services.”
For those whose sea legs are more advanced, the island does also offer plenty of opportunities to get your hands on the tiller yourself. Zara Tremlett is the marine manager at Yacht Haven, a state-of-the-art marina on Phuket’s northeastern coast which accomodates up to 320 vessels. There, she says, many of the charter operators support the bareboat market.
Photo credit: Phil Blake
“Thirty percent of our occupancy is from charter companies,” she says. “Elite Yachting, Asia Marine, Dream Yacht Charter—almost all of them are bareboat charters, though they will provide a crew if you’d like one. There’s also a sailing school operating here called Yachtpro. The sailing here is really for everybody. Compared to the Caribbean, where you have constant trade winds that can be intimidating for novice sailors, Phuket is much more approachable.”
Then at the very top of the market you have the superyachts. Though Thailand’s superyacht charter legislation is still young, the boats are already coming. The jewel in Phuket’s superyacht crown is a vast, 41-meter, Norman Foster-designed wedge of aluminum called the Ocean Emerald. Thailand’s first superyacht licensed under the new charter regulations is capable of cruising the seas at 12 knots despite her 346-ton weight loaded with twin jet-skis, five lavish suites and expansive teak decks surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows. For upwards of $28,000 per day, says Sood, whose company charters her, you can take a leisurely cruise with up to 50 guests for anything up to 12 days. Of course, $28,000 is just the starting price. Factor in fuel and other essentials like Champagne and you’ll be in for a lot more than that.
At the other end of the scale, things become a whole lot more affordable. “Charter sailing is really for everybody,” says Richard Hayes, a retired pilot whose company, Tiger Marine, has been running crewed yacht charters on Phuket for five years. “We have an Axopar 28 which runs a crew of two and takes six passengers. A full day will cost $1,589 or $1,086 for a half day. You’ve got a cabin, a toilet, all your comforts. It won the Dusseldorf Boat of the Year Award this year.”
In between the two scales, Tiger Marine also operates Silver Lining, a 30-meter-long, 7.6-meter-wide, sail-powered mega-yacht which has clocked up a round-the-world trip. For a cost of $7,843 per day in high season, she sails with a crew of five and accommodates up to 10 passengers across five cabins, each of whom get a daily ration of six beers and 375ml of wine.
So what does an average Phuket yacht charter involve? The possibilities are vast, with cruising that stretches all the way to Myanmar allowing for trips that can go on for a week or longer without running out of new islands and places to explore.
Ao Po Grand Marina
Hayes says that the most popular destination for charters from Phuket is Phi Phi, but that not every boat can reach the island for a day charter, and you can rack up considerable extra fuel charges. His one-day itinerary recommends exploring Phang Nga National Park, the dramatic, crescent-shaped bay that hugs Phuket’s western shore. Leaving from Ao Po Grand Marina, you’ll get to take in Khao Ping Kan, the island made famous by James Bond in The Man With the Golden Gun, and the idyllic kayaking caves of Koh Hong and Koh Panak.
Back on dry land, Zara from Yacht Haven also stresses the sense of community at Phuket’s marinas. “We try very hard to create a community here,” she says. “We welcome cruising yachts and guys sailing round the world but we also have a lot of tourists coming through from charter companies. There’s a huge restaurant here called The Deck, and on the last Friday of every month we hold a free barbecue for the community—yacht owners, crew, whoever’s around.”
Phuket might have some way to go before it welcomes a yachting jetset more at home in Monaco Harbor than Patong Beach, but for those who want to explore Southeast Asia’s most stunning marine landscapes and end the day with a cool beer, there’s nowhere else quite like it.
$1 = THB$24.87
Ao Po Marina. 113/1 Moo 6, Paklok, Phuket, +66 (0) 76-336-200, 085-794-7600. Open daily 8am-5pm.
Asia Marine. 20/99 Moo 2, Phuket Boat Lagoon Marina, Thepkrasatti Rd., Koh Kaew, Phuket, +66 (0) 76-239-111. Open daily 8am-5pm.
The Deck. 33/6 Moo 6, Kamala Beach, Phuket, +66 (0) 94-490-3269. Open daily 8am-10:30pm.
Dream Yacht Charter. 141/2 Moo 2, Maikhao, Phuket, +66 (0) 76-206-492, 081-970-4020. Open daily 8am-5pm.
Elite Yachting. 20/107, 109 Boat Lagoon Marina, Phuket, +66 (0) 76-273-476. Open daily 8am-8pm.
Jabudays. 177/29 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Rd., Srisoonthorn, Phuket, +66 (0) 85-666-5504, +66 (0) 76-620-214. Open daily 8am-5pm.
Tiger Marine. Dock K2, Thepkasattri Rd., Boat Lagoon Phuket, +66 (0) 81-893-9742, +66 (0) 89-866-4401. Open daily 8am-5pm.
Yacht Haven. 141/2 Moo 2, Maikhao, Phuket, +66 (0) 76-397-908. Open daily 8am-5pm.