How to cope when there's trouble in paradise

An incident in an idyllic anchorage takes the wind out of Liz Cleere's sails. Will the kindness of strangers – and friends – see her through?

3 mins

With the storm clouds gone, we made our way to a gentle spot just east of Phuket along the coast of Ko Yai. Jamie dropped beneath the clear water to scrape the hull of gathering barnacles, while I tried a spot of unproductive fishing. It was our first quiet night in two weeks.

Ko Yai was a welcome break from hectic Ao Chalong, but we had to leave the next day for Phi Phi Don to hook up with a new friend we had met through social media, American McGee. A name to conjure with – to be honest, we weren’t sure if it was a wind-up – but we thought 'What the heck?'. If we didn't get along, we'd make our excuses and skedaddle.

The next morning we set off on a short hop across the bay towards our meeting point. We sailed past fishermen pulling up fish traps from the shallows, the sun shone, a gentle wind blew and we found just the spot to anchor. 

The thing about Phi Phi Don is that we didn’t like it all that much when we first dropped the hook in hectic Ton Sai Bay. But American assured us that this anchorage was altogether a quieter and prettier place.

With just a couple of small hotels on shore, a few holiday makers playing in the surf, and the usual long-tails coming and going, it seemed American was right. Jamie relaxed in the cockpit with a cup of tea and searched for a wifi signal, while I did a bit of tidying-up below. If we were going to receive visitors, I had to find somewhere to hide all the clutter that quickly piles up in the saloon.

Thwack! Thud! Crash!

What in hell’s name was that?

I flew on deck to find an old steel boat the size of a house backing away from our stern. She’d hit us! 


The boat that did it (Liz Cleere)

Jamie was frozen with rage and incredulity. I ran around like a headless chicken. We had recently spent over a year in the boatyard having the boat re-fitted. Now this happens?

Why? Why? WHY?

All it had taken was one skipper not paying attention for our davits (a small, manual crane), swimming platform, dinghy, guard rail and God-knows-what-else, to be crushed. The dinghy, now swinging at an odd angle from the broken davits, had taken most of the impact, acting like a large fender. If we had been hit anywhere other than the stern, SY Esper would be starting a new life as Phi Phi Don’s latest wreck dive right now.

What should we do? The offending rust-bucket was operated by local Thais who spoke no English. Our language skills were confined to the usual greetings, thank-yous, and various foods and drinks. The boat was now anchored a little way off. The crew were ignoring us. 

Our dinghy was inoperable, so getting off the boat to confront them wasn't an option. We looked towards the shore. Through binoculars, I watched people dawdling in the lapping waves, drinking beers, sunbathing and playing with the kids. No-one looked back at us. There were no other yachts. We were alone.

I remembered what we had been told by the old salty bar-flies:

“It's the Wild West here, mate.”

“Don't have a collision and expect help.”

“You're on your own out there. Make sure you are self-sufficient.”

As we continued to gasp like flailing guppies, American called us on the VHF. He could see us, was on his way, would soon be there. And just like that, the sound of this single friendly voice calmed us down. Realising we had someone to share this nightmare with – someone who would understand and empathise with our pain – broke the spell. We began to look on the bright side: we were insured, we were unharmed, we were floating. 

While American anchored close by, we called Jia, owner of the shipyard where SY Esper had been re-fitted. Like the true friend he had become, Jia showed the right amount of sympathy and practical aid. What could he do to help? Could he send some workers up to Phi Phi immediately? (a kind, but unnecessary, offer). We must report the incident, these people must not be allowed to get away with such irresponsible behaviour. He would speak to Phi Phi's police chief to smooth Jamie’s path before going to the police station. 

And he promised we would go straight to the top of the queue for a place in the boat yard, at no charge.

It was too late to get anything done that day, so American and his friend Alicia came straight over with whiskey, wine, crisps and nibbles. While the sun made its usual spectacular dive below the horizon, we drowned our sorrows and toasted new friendships. One of the greatest joys of this alternative lifestyle is the people you meet, both those on land and on other cruising boats.

Cheers Jia! Cheers American!

Writer Liz Cleere and photographer Jamie Furlong are travellers first, sailors second. Their blog, Followtheboat, is a travelogue about two people and their cat Millie sailing around the world in a non-specific zig-zag. They also publish video diary updates on Patreon and YouTube every week.

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Main image: Police on the move in Thailand (

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