A few ways to set sail on the Andaman Sea, even if you can’t afford your own yacht.

With its good year-round sailing weather and proximity to at least 30 smaller, idyllic islands, Phuket has become the sailing and yachting hub for Thailand. And it seems the world’s taking notice, too. The organizers of the Singapore Yacht Show (www.singaporeyachtshow.com) recently announced a sister yacht event to be hosted in Phuket from December 2014 to sell the region as a charter destination, while many Mediterranean-based yacht owners and captains are seeing it as an increasingly popular winter destination.

The island is already home to four full-service marinas, all located on the eastern side of the island—Royal Phuket Marina (Koh Kaew), Yacht Haven (Laem Phrao), Phuket Boat Lagoon (Koh Kaew), and Ao Po Grand Marina (Ao Po)—and countless yacht charter operators providing various types of cruises. With peak cruising season beginning in December, now’s the time to hit the water.

One of the major draws of yachting is that it provides a better chance to really explore the smaller islands of the Andaman. When you are looking to book a trip you have three main options: either to hire a bareboat yacht, a fully crewed yacht or—the middle ground—a bareboat yacht with a skipper.

A bareboat charter is where you take full responsibility for the boat and the trip, which means navigating, mooring, motoring, cooking and cleaning. It can be likened to renting a mobile vacation home, where you have the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want. But before you set sail for the high seas do note that at least one of your party must have a marine skippers certificate (see Get Qualified).

Booking a crewed boat, however, can make for a much more relaxing holiday, as you don’t have to worry about doing any hard work. The downside can be having to stick to a more fixed itinerary. Many operators offer this option, with up to six crew members to take care of all necessities.
Hiring a bareboat charter with a qualified skipper means you have someone on-board to take responsibility for the navigation but you still get the feeling of sailing your own boat. The skipper will most likely look to involve you by asking you to help out with everything from raising the sails to dropping anchor.

Get Qualified
When it comes to bareboat charters, most charter companies ask for one to three years’ skipper experience on a similar size yacht. Keppel Bay Sailing Academy (6303-8448, http://www.marinakeppelbay.com) have yachts available for charter and also offer sailing courses. For those with no previous experience, there is the five-day live-on-board RYA Competent Crew course, in which you sail between ports in Singapore and Batam. The course ranges from $1,150 to $1,450, depending on when you do it. The next level is the RYA Day Skipper course, in two parts, shore-based ($1,050) and practical ($1,550), five days for each part, which certifies you to charter a boat yourself.


Hot Tropics
The good folks at Zouk have just teamed up with online cruise specialist Openseas to organize a five-day, four-night trip to Langkawi and Phuket on November 15. You’ll get to travel to two beautiful beachfronts in Asia on a luxury liner Costa Victoria, party with Zouk DJs like Adrian Wee and djB from dusk till dawn, and even learn Pilates and  how to mix your own cocktails. Sounds like a sunkissed plan.
PRICE: From November 15-19, $562 per person.
MORE: 6823-3153, www.openseas.com.sg


The Sail Spin
If you love meeting new people and want to hit the water with a minimum of fuss, this option could be for you. Organized by Sunshine Nation, a Singapore-based event and travel company that’s been up-and-running for about 18 months, The Sail Spin is a flotilla sailing event that takes place about 10 times a year involving up to 20 yachts cruising together through the Andaman Sea. Gather a group of friends and book a yacht to yourselves, or—if you’re more social—secure a cabin and go with the flow. While sailing generally requires a lot of preparation, The Sail Spin crew takes care of most of basics: your yacht’s pantry is fully stocked, while professional skippers take the ship’s helm. It’s not all about topping up your tan and sipping cocktails on deck, though; your skipper will be more than be happy to send some sailing tasks your way. The itinerary is a mix of sightseeing and partying (Koh Phi Phi), a touch of luxe (private beach dinners at high-end resorts; visits to two of Phuket’s chicest beach clubs, Catch Beach Club on Surin Beach and Xana Beach Club on Bang Tao Beach) and the adventurous (cliff jumping and kayaking). They also run a pirate radio station with DJs on-board, making even the less-glamorous jobs like cooking and cleaning more fun. Do note that while Instagram-ready scenery abounds, professional photographers are also on-board to document your trip.
Price: An upcoming Sail Spin event to setting off from Yacht Haven takes place Jan 30-Feb 4, 2014 (five nights/six days) from $3,500 for a double cabin or from $6,600 for a four-person, 32-foot yacht up to $31,200 for a 12-person, 58-foot deluxe yacht with private chef and special amenities.
More: 9006-6557, www.thesailspin.com


Founded in 2008, Jabudays offers customized cruise-based events including weddings, teambuilding exercises and company retreats. Their Turkish Gullet flagship, the 75-foot Jabuticaba, can cater for up to 60 people for day charters and also be used for longer island-hopping cruises, sleeping 12 in six cabins. Where the company excels, though, is in tailoring one-of-a-kind experiences, under themes like meditation and yoga cruises, adventure cruises, and networking events. Programs can involve nights spent at luxury hotels where the fleet docks or stop-offs for scuba diving or even kite surfing—it’s down to your preference. The spacious yacht, is also the site of much luxury, replete with sunbeds, while massages, live music and bartenders are all available on-board. Detailed sample programs are provided on the website and you’re invited to tweak them to your liking.
Price: Day charters and customizable tours like yoga and meditation charters start from B52,000 ($2,066), while overnight charters are from B190,000 ($7,550) with a minimum of eight people.
More: +66 08 5666-5504, www.jabudays.com


Tiger Marine Charter
Tiger Marine is a charter operator that offers fully crewed cruises, especially suited to those new to yachting. If you’re a first-timer, Zimbabwean owner Richard Hayes assures us that his flagship catamaran, the 70-foot Shangani, makes the ideal starter boat due to its sheer size, comfort and stability. Setting off from Ao Po Marina, the company’s most popular run is a day charter through the idyllic Phang Nga Bay to what Hayes dubs his “private beach,” a clear sweep of sand that he’s negotiated exclusive access to with the owners. Here, the scene is set with proper dining tables, beach games, massage benches and live music. Other attractions are the water Jacuzzis anchored just off the beach, aqua slides and water trampolines. Three-day and week-long charters are also available, taking in everywhere from Krabi to the Similan Islands, though cruising on the west coast of Phuket is only an option during high season, as between May and October the monsson winds mean the seas are too rough.
Price: From December to March, B172,500 ($6,854) a day (24-hour period) for 15 people, cheaper in the quiet season. Large groups of up to 50 come in at B187,500 ($7,450) for a day charter.
More: +66 08 1893-9742 or +66 08 9866-4401, www.tigermarinecharter.com


Elite Yachting
Founded back in 1993 by two Swiss sailing enthusiasts, Elite Yachting now claims to operate the largest independent bareboat fleet in Phuket, with 22 yachts ranging from 32-50 feet, including seven catamarans, in different price categories. Bareboat bookings require a “marine skippers certificate” and at least one year’s experience (recently reduced from three) on a similar-sized yacht (you can also hire a qualified skipper to accompany you). Bookings are taken one year to one week ahead of the trip. Christmas and New Year is their most popular period, with most yachts booked out up to eight months in advance. A suggested one-week itinerary involves visiting Phang Nga Bay National Park to see the spectacular limestone sea karsts—full of secret caves to explore by dinghy. Then cruising by the long sandy beaches of Krabi, enjoying the nightlife of Koh Phi Phi, where you can also arrange some diving, before kicking back at a secluded island. However, the sea’s your playground and you can go anywhere from the Similan Islands off the west coast of Phuket all the way south to the Butang group on the Malay borders.
Price: Monohulls start from 190 euros ($324) per day while catamarans are from 370 euros ($632) a day. Hiring a skipper costs an additional 120 euros ($205) per day.
More: +66 08 1968-4188, www.phuket-yachts.com


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