Grounded on Koh Phayam

27 Jan
dirt trails all over Koh Phayam

Totem is not aground, but happily anchored in a wide bay fringed by a soft beach, backed by palms and cashew trees. Welcome to sleepy Koh Phayam, antithesis to Phuket’s noisy traffic and crowded beaches, where dogs sleep in the street and cars have yet to arrive.

dogs sleep in the street

About three miles long from north to south, and maybe two miles wide, life on the quiet island seems to center around rustic tourism sprinkled with cashew and rubber tree plantations. Guest houses peek from behind the trees, where one advertises “special: electricity, 6pm-6am”.

gas station
gas station, Koh Phayam style

A single lane road accommodates the odd motorcycle, and is paved for about half the length of the island- between the wide bay on the northwest corner and the commercial center on the middle of the eastern shore.

Treating ourselves to sundowners at a beach bar the evening we arrived, our friends tell us it reminds them of Phuket in the 1980s. No touts, no vendors on the beach…heck, no power or water utility! Just a handful of open-air restaurants and the odd fishing boat, and no light pollution to hide the stars at night.

Day one: Koh Phayam
kids play on the beach, parents enjoy sundowners above, everybody’s happy

Quiet as it is, it’s hardly undiscovered. During the couple of weeks we’ve spent here, at one point there were 18 boats in the wide curve of the northwest bay at the NW corner, additional boats along Ao Yai, the long beach to the southwest. Little development is apparent from the water, but rustic bungalows and open restaurants dot the shoreline. With beautiful sunny days and a cool breeze at night, it feels perfect.

Buffalo Bay

One of the first landmarks we see on shore appears to be a shipwreck when we scan through the binoculars. On closer examination, it’s actually a beach bar.

Hippy Bar

With construction style that takes rustic to a whole new level, a collection of airy spaces are made entirely from wood that washed up with debris after the tsunami in 2004.

Hippy Bar

During the day, the kids spend hours on the beach playing with their mates from Utopia.

beach treasures

At the same time, Jamie’s been spending hours over on their boat- trying to get Utopia grounded. Oh, they’re well grounded humans, confident and level; the problem is the boat. There’s been some stray current on board that’s apparently not grounded, and it’s the root of some growing problems. They’d been to see an “expert” in Langkawi, who dismissed it as “just spurious voltage”.

Totem and Utopia

Well, that “spurious voltage” is dissolving aluminum parts on the boat: the toe rail, the mast, aluminum tanks, and more all show signs of increasing corrosion. The Utopia crew has their eye on crossing the Indian Ocean, and had to take this seriously.

Part of the problem with diagnosing the problem is that the electrical system on board was kind of a mess, despite spending thousands of dollars with electricians in Australia to have wiring done. What finally became apparent is that the electricians had neglected to wire in an earth ground on multiple devices. It took days to unravel all of it, one piece at a time, but the stray current sources were all finally locked down and fixed: just in time for a birthday.

Andrew's birthday!

Bocce, barbecue, cake, beach, and no worries: a perfect birthday celebration! Just a few more weeks along the continuum of cruising in Southeast Asia.

Electrifying followers know that reading this on the Sailfeed website charges up the Totem cruising kitty!

This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


  1. Behan Gifford

    Hey Greg, thanks for your comment! First, to be clear, this isn’t Totem with the corrosion issue- it’s another boat. Corrosion can be complex and Jamie spent quite a lot of time to come up with the diagnosis- it seems quite clear that a very poor job was done by the electrician hired in Australia. Now the question is more one of how much damage was done, and what the implications are (how to ensure the mast still has sufficient integrity, that leaks in aluminum tanks aren’t setting them up for imminent failure, etc.). Love your sister’s blog!

  2. Greg Brooke

    Hello. Excellent blog!

    This was brought to my attention because of your misc. corrosion issues. I wasn’t told that you had isolated the stay currents. This should reduce the problems but corrosion can have complex causes and from the list of items that you identified there could be other considerations; I.E. galvanic corrosion.

    I’m willing to provide my 2 cents but I’m not an expert nor do I have proper knowledge of your boat …..but I’m a jack-of-all-trades engineer and I’ll do what I can.

    I understand that you have been in communications with with sister, Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks who is traveling with her family through Europe. It’s pretty great that people can connect so easily but there’s nothing like being there to really know the experience.

    Here’s a link to and anode source as an fyi.

    Look forward to hearing from you. Greg Brooke

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