Archive for December, 2005

Tsunami Stories Thailand – Interview with USL Code Mariner Bill O’Leary (who has lived in Phuket for 18 years).

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

Q1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an Australian professional USL code mariner who arrived in Phuket Thailand in 1987 onboard the famous racing yacht “Stormvogel”, after working on the movie “Dead Calm” staring a very young Nicole Kidman with Sam Neil and Billy Zane.

Bill at Amanpuri, Phuket.

I joined Amanresorts at Amanpuri on the west coast of Phuket back in 1988 working with Adrian Zecha to set up the cruising arm of Amanresorts called Amancruises. Since then 19 more Amanresorts have been built around the world. The company has become famous as the top boutique resort chain in the world catering to haute monde guests. Amanpuri is by far the number one celebrity hideout in asia.

I married my Australian girlfriend Carolyn in 1992 and we have four
children. One boy aged 12 and three girls, 11, 7 and 3. We all have Thai resident status as expats living in Surin Beach near the Amanpuri. During the 18 years here I have pioneered development of the Thai marine leisure industry as a founder, director, manager and shareholder of many Phuket based companies both with Amancruises and outside. These company’s include Amancruises, Thai Marine Leisure, Phuket Yacht Services, H20 Sportz, Phuket Water Taxi, Steppa Boats, Hot Surin, Hospitality Contracts and Emerald Isle.

As a part time writer, I’ve co-authored (with my friend Andy Dowden ) ‘Sail Thailand’ through to the 4th editions and recently published the very popular sailing guide to the entire Andaman Sea called “The Andaman Sea Pilot.”

Phuket has fully recovered.

To buy the book (all funds donated to educating children orphaned by the Tsunami) and read some of the incredible stories Bill O’leary has collected see his

Q2. Where were you when the Tsunami hit?
I was onboard “Blowfish” a 38 foot speed boat I built ten years ago. I
was with Anil Thadani, the owner of “Blowfish” and an investor and director of Amanresorts. On board we had Anil’s family with wife and 2 teenaged kids, the Need family with 2 kids and myself with three of my own small children.

We were motoring slowly out of the Boat Lagoon, a marina on the east coast of Phuket when my mobile phone went off. It was Richie, our Australian beach boy back at the Amanpuri Resort on the west coast.

He was down on the beach and explained his terror that all the water had receeded out hundreds of meters very suddenly. All the boats were dry, the swim platform was dry and fish were stranded on the sand. I knew immediately we were about to be hit by a tsunami. I only knew these warning signs because I had narrowly missed being hit by a 26 meter tsunami on the north east coast of Florres on the December 12, 1992.

We were suppose to be in the bay on that day but had cancelled because Adrian Zecha could not join us. I studied about tsunami’s and we put in a tsunami warning system in our Aman hideaway hotel “Amanwana” the tented camp on the north end of Moyo Island. The two occurances that gave warning were the shake of an earthquake then the receeding of the waters. If these happened together then it meant trouble. Even if there was no shake but the water receeded past it’s lowest low tide quickly then that was also another warning sign.

We went to sea, because the deeper the water the safer during a tsunami. We could have turned back but we didn’t know when it would hit and we may not have had enough time to get to high enough ground. So we went to sea and found shelter between Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi Islands and jumped the wave there in deep water after it had hit the north end of the islands.

More info on this event and people I’ve never met writing about the
tsunami in Thailand see my website: We jumped the wave and were safe.

Q3. What was it like? How did it affect you, your family, friends and business?
The wave wiped out my entire office and workshop in the south end of Bang Tao Bay. The wave came through that area at about 4 meters, retreated then came back about 15 minutes later at 5 meters and stayed up for about 45 minutes like a washing machine. It came in about 1.5 Kilometers stopping 12 meters from the back of our family home. Between the waves a few of the local villagers who were safe on the mountain went back to their homes to collect money and land title deeds etc.

There was this terrible smell at the back of our house a few days after and they found one of these ladies bodies stuck under some rubbish (she was the mother of one of our captains ). She had gone back to get money and land title deeds between the waves. There was over 120,000 baht and 2 land deeds still stuffed down her panties when they found her. She was so bloated and black the documents were the only way to identify her body.

The effect on all of us has been like a low grade depression. You know, irritable and restless, sullen and lazy then over emotional. Pretty much run of the mill PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of our boat captains have been ‘spooked’ and now they can’t go to sea anymore.

Business was terrible but it’s coming back. You can’t keep Phuket down for very long. It’s just such a wonderful place and easily the best beach destination in Asia. Everyone who has traveled a lot knows this.

To buy the book (all funds donated to educating children orphaned by the Tsunami) and read some of the incredible stories Bill O’leary has collected see his

Q4. Why did you decide to write a book about theTsunami?
I was stuck in my own head for the first few days, weeks after the
wave. Consequently, I didn’t do much for anyone in need. I was more interested in fixing up all my own responsibilities etc. But then the depression started to sink in and most of my businesses were really going to the dogs because of the zero tourism.

I was stuck in this lethargic depressed state for most of the year.
Writing is the only way I every seem to gain any clarity in my life. I don’t have many concrete thoughts going on. If I really want to know how I feel I have to write it down. I started to write my own tsunami story and asked friends to write theirs too. Soon there were a few really good stories and I got the idea to keep collecting and make a book to help all those kids who lost their parents in the wave. I knew that people would be interested in the stories because it was such an amazing and rare phenomena. Possibly never to be repeated in our lifetimes. This would make any collection of stories about it timeless. The idea took hold and now the end product is even better than I thought.

To buy the book (all funds donated to educating children orphaned by the Tsunami) and read some of the incredible stories Bill O’leary has collected see his

Q5. What is in the book/e-book?
It’s called “Tsunami Stories Thailand” and is a collection of 16
personal stories of the wave from people in Phuket, Khao Lak and Phi Phi. It’s also an e-book in PDF file which can be downloaded from for $5 or ordered in hard copy from there to ship anywhere in the world.

The stories, by necessity follow the same format with activities prior
to the wave, then courage, despair and hope during and after the ordeal.

The stories are very different and show the unique characteristics of the wave and also a unique peek into the human condition.
The stories show us the myriad of human emotions at play during and after this rare natural disaster.

Q6. Where do proceeds from the book go? Where can we
buy the book?

To a charity fund set up to care for and educate a select group of
children orphaned by the wave. The book can be bought throughout Thailand at all Book-a-Zine outlets and Mariott hotels as well as over the internet from the

We’re still working on where best to offer the book without having to pay the usual 40% to the bookstores.We want all the proceeds to go to the kids.

Q7. What is the Minor Tsunami Recovery Fund? All this info on the Minor Tsunami Recovery Website

Q8. Is Phuket ready for tourist visits now?
Sure. It’s fantastic. Fully recovered.

To buy the book (all funds donated to educating children orphaned by the Tsunami) and read some of the incredible stories Bill O’leary has collected see his