The 172-foot motoryacht Taipan III is the first western-owned luxury charter yacht to make Thailand its year-round home. We spent a few days onboard off the coast of Phuket.
Thailand is full of beautiful islands that are beginning to lure more and more charter yachts, including the American-owned, 172-foot Taipan III
Editor’s Note: In August 2008, Taipan III completed a three-month refit that included rebuilding the air conditioning system, rebuilding the generators, replacing propellers and shafts, rebuilding a main engine, replacing all stateroom overheads, refinishing varnish work, and painting the exterior. A new captain, Frank Ruggeri, has taken over for the captain our editor met, and the yacht’s weekly base rate has been changed to include at least some bookings in the $100,000 to $120,000 per week base rate range..
Thailand is one of several exotic cruising areas that have welcomed an increasing number of crewed charter yachts in recent years. Southeast Asia in general is now receiving at least a half-dozen transient charter yachts during the prime cruising months between October and April. The trend comes as more marinas spring up to support larger vessels, and as yacht owners look for alternatives to increasingly crowded and expensive Caribbean and Mediterranean waters.
The 172-foot motoryacht Taipan III is the first Western-owned charter yacht to call Thailand home year-round. Built in 1981 by the CRN shipyard in Italy, the yacht has an American owner who has positioned his yacht in Southeast Asia because operating expenses are far lower than in his previous cruising ground off the south of France. The owner also enjoys the friendliness of the Thai people—whom he has come to like quite a bit since marrying a local woman a half-dozen years ago.
Our charter took place east of Phuket, a destination brimming with tiny, uninhabited islands that is spectacular for watersports and simple sightseeing away from the rest of civilization. Empty bays seem tailor-made for PWCs and water skis, and there are reefs (some over-used, and some pristine) for snorkeling and scuba diving. I did just one dive during my visit, and during that 40 minutes underwater I saw at least eight species of fish, coral, and urchins that were new to me. It was one of the better dives of my life, followed by an afternoon of swimming in water as green and clear as a fine emerald.
Above the surface, the view is just as breathtaking. It’s hard to comprehend exactly how these islands came to be. They look like giant rocks that fell from the sky, mammoth droplets from the tips of The Creator’s fingers, only frozen vertically without slopes or beaches that actually connect with the water. In most places, there are crevices and caves full of stalactites where sandy stretches would otherwise be, nooks and crannies begging to be explored by kayak. If I’d had a full week in this place, that’s exactly how I would have spent it, with camera and paddle in hand.
Where there are larger beaches, most are home to fine resorts with good-quality restaurants serving Thai and Western cuisine. But plenty of smaller beaches are all around, too, offering a kind of solitude that is virtually impossible to find in the world’s more popular cruising destinations. On any given day, we could take Taipan III’s dinghy ashore to a remote, sandy stretch and stay as long as we liked without seeing another soul. That is, except for the yacht’s crew, who would join us with cold drinks and snacks whenever we requested them.
On shore, the luxury resorts are far outnumbered by local towns that range from poverty-stricken to middle-class. This is a place still coming into its own as a tourist destination, and if you spend any time at all exploring, then you will encounter villages where women sew garments by hand to earn a living, with small children tugging at their sides.
Some of the people in the villages appear well-fed, while others look emaciated. Begging was not a problem during my visit, but I did feel compelled to reach into my wallet a few times and offer small change to locals in exchange for things as basic as letting me take their photograph. One could argue that this will encourage begging, as is now the case in the Caribbean, but when children appear to be hungry, it is difficult to resist.
Interestingly, bargaining is a large part of the culture here, so even when I was purchasing goods from people who had little in life, they expected me to bargain with them. It was taken as an insult to them if I refused to haggle. Thus, I returned home with $6 and $7 scarves that would easily cost $25 to $35 in U.S. stores, as well as a $20 handbag for which I was later offered $50 by a woman on a Washington D.C. Metro line. Silks, as you might imagine, are everywhere, and are available in every color of the rainbow.
Overall, I enjoyed Thailand and think it has excellent potential as a charter destination. I would go back again, and again, and I don’t think I could explore all of the islands in a lifetime. Taipan III should be commended for making the location its base, becoming the first of what hopefully will grow into a fleet of Western-managed yachts offering charters in the area.
Having said that, I do believe the yacht herself requires some refitting in order to be worthy of the $160,000 base rate she charges for 12 guests. (See The High Five for more on that.) Like Thailand itself, Taipan III is still coming into her own in terms of luxury charter, but she shows a great deal of promise that is exciting on the worldwide charter market.