In honour of the London On-Water Yacht and Boat show we wanted to share one of our traveller’s most inspiring and intrepid boating experiences. Clive Forestier Walker of the Royal Yacht Squadron led a remarkable yachting expedition to the little known Mergui Archipelago on Burma’s south coast. Chartering nearly every yacht available for this area, he kindly shared his story with us.
Philly: What inspired you to travel to this little known area of Burma?
Clive: As a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron we have a very active yachting programme. Three years ago we sailed in Thailand, leaving from Phuket and we explored the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea which are largely uninhabited. I knew the nearby southern area of Burma could be similar and suggested it to other members of the Squadron for our next warm water cruise-in-company. From previous experience I imagined maybe 40 people would show interest, but nearly 100 signed. That’s where it all started.
Philly: How did you manage to get hold of the yachts?
Clive: With very few yachts based in Burma we used specialist sailing agents to source the boats. Burma Boating was particularly helpful with very good service, and we had twelve yachts chartered in total. Most of the boats came originally from Thailand but all had to have a Burmese permit and a Burmese guide, employed by the Tourism Ministry – who were brilliant chaps. Some of the craft were catamarans, we also had schooners and other types of yacht. We even had a 110 foot William Fife of Scottish design which was massive. On the first evening everyone climbed abroad for a drinks party, it had enough space for everyone quite comfortably.
Philly: Logistically, how did your travel in the region work?
Clive: We flew into Phuket, and crossed the border into Burma near Ranong. Some from the squadron were slightly worried about the number of backpackers crossing the border causing delays, but we had no trouble and we boarded our boats ready and waiting on the Kra Buri river that leads out to the coast. Arriving in Ranong was a blast to the senses, there were lots of men and boys offering to take bags and for a handful of the local currency-kyat, all was arranged quite smoothly and we sped off, spray flying on water taxis to our individual yachts.
I made it clear from the start with the boating agents that everyone on this trip was a keen yachtsman and wanted to be involved with the sailing. The very capable local crews took this on well. Our Burmese guide had fantastic English and whilst we had a circuit around the Mergui islands in mind, each evening I’d sit down the skipper and our guide as a translator and together we would decide on what to do for the next day, radioing the other boats with a rough plan.
Philly: What was the area like to sail in?
Clive: There are good sailing conditions, we had calm days towards the beginning so we had to motor, buton the last two days there was a forty knot wind so we had the sails up. The islands of the archipelago give plenty of shelter for overnight anchoring and in the open sea the winds are steady without the violent gusts you find in the Mediterranean like the Mistral or Meltemi that can make conditions difficult.
This coastal region has lots of islands and a few fishing villages all largely untouched with no hotels, restaurants and indeed no mobile signals or wifi to destroy the incredible peace and beauty. There are huge beaches with jungle reaching down to the sands. As we’re a sociable crew we organised a few evenings, we had a bonfire on a beach and having had the winter’s Scottish Reeling Party at Cowes cancelled, we held it in the Mergui Archipelago. It was a fantastic night although next time we will have to bring a bigger speaker for the music.
Our guide took us on our dinghies through wild mangroves swamps where he knew exactly where kites, wild boars, monkeys, even eagles were living. It was magic. The snorkelling was good and we also visited little villages on the way. Some of the group had brought some useful kit for school children and locals – shampoo sachets for example, and I brought some footballs and football pump – practical things really, for people who are largely ignored by the mainland authorities.
People in the Mergui Archipelago were very nice and wanted to talk to us despite having little to no English. We didn’t visit all in one go, just small groups of us went along and it was a lovely experience.
We were the first yacht club to sail in the Mergui Archipelago at the scale that we did and I do think the region will remain unspoiled for the next 10 years or so. It’s beyond the day trippers’ reach and too difficult to reach for the uncommitted.
Philly: What was the food like?
Clive: Food on board was delicious. The massive fruit, fresh eggs and spiced up salads for lunch were wonderful. We fished and caught groupers and king fish. There were local fishing boats all around us so some evenings our guide and cook would hop in the tender with some beers and bring back prawns the size of lobsters. Our Thai cook also could make a mean cocktail and we had all refreshments organised by Burma Boating so we didn’t have to worry about running out wine at dinner.
Philly: How did combining the yachting and overland exploring work?
Clive: I and a few other members of the Royal Yacht Squadron were able to include a wider holiday in Burma after the sailing to see the main highlights of the country. It works very well in combination with the yachting and Matt from Experience Travel Group organised this part of the trip for several members. We travelled into the northern remote region of the country to trek around Keng Tung, journeying on into Thailand, crossing the border into Laos for an exciting three days on the Mekong with our own private boats with lovely Luang Prabang as our destination.
Philly: Do you have any other sailing adventures on the horizon?
Clive: Our next yachting adventure will be closer to home along the Essex and Suffolk coast in our own boats. For warm water we will be in New Zealand and perhaps the Seychelles in 2018.
We wish Clive the very best with his next sailing adventure and would like to thank him for taking the time to talk about his experience yachting in Burma. If you were interested in exploring the Mergui Archipelago too, I have included a suggested itinerary for inspiration, of course we can change and tailor the holiday as you so wish.
In this particular itinerary, we do include a cruise with the Mergui Princess boat however it runs on motors only. Should you be particularly interested in yachting with sails, do let our specialists know and we can put you in touch with Burma Boating on Clive’s recommendation. As with his holiday, we can then organise ground arrangements around this.