Feb. 2003
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Check out Weeks ending: [1 Feb 03] [8 Feb 03] [15 Feb 03] [22 Feb 03]

Week Ending 1 Feb 2003 (Bob)

Enjoyable re-introduction to sailing - The Long Passages forepeak filled with stuff.jpg (13886 bytes)passage westward from Phuket to Galle seemed long, but we were at sea for less than 9 days as we enjoyed day after day of breezes from the north-east.  We traveled in company with 3 other yachts, Talinga Too, Argonauta 1, and Tramontana, and averaged about 120 miles per day.  The highlights of the trip?

  • Stuffed to the gills - Packed the forepeak with 'stuff' as we moved to the main salon to sleep off-shore.
  • Good time - Winds varied from 4 knots (and we motored thru this) to 22 knots, where we plowed along under double-reefed main and Yankee headsail.
  • Fish evaded us - We dragged a fishing line most days, but to no avail - 1 lure lost to a big fish, and no more bites.
  • Flying along - when the winds picked up to 20, we reefed a little but made really good time - perhaps our best passages since New Caledonia to Brisbane.
  • Rivers in the sea - One surprise we found were bands of rough water, 1-5 miles wide, as we traveled west from Thailand.  We concluded they were 'rivers' of current flowing north from the Malacca Straits that kicked up a chop when they met the nor'east winds, similar to the conditions created by the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the US, but not as dramatic.

Things that go Bump in the Night - A fear that always lurks in the back of our minds is hitting something while at sea; shipping containers, logs, whales or worse.  On our 6th day out, Tramontana, a fast 46 footer, reported hitting something hard at 1 AM, and losing her rudder.  For the next 3 days we monitored the situation as they coped by using a spinnaker pole as a rudder, and hand-steered the rest of the way to Galle.  Because of reports of strong currents near Sri Lanka, Talinga Too diverted from her course, and took her under tow for the last 24 hours and they arrived several hours after we did with very little drama.  This was a vivid demonstration of the experienced seaman's ability to cope with problems at sea, and the way cruiser's help others when necessary.

Welcome to a new country - Sri Lanka - We arrived at the vicinity of Galle harbor at midnight, and 'Capt Chicken Bob' decided to circle around outside the harbor area until sunrise rather than risk a night entry into an unknown port.  As it turned out, the port area is wide open, and it would not have been a problem but ... The details of our check-in are captured in the Sri Lanka Destination page, but at a high level it went like this:

  • Wait for the Navy - We called Port Control, and in about an hour were cleared in by the Navy (they are, rightfully, paranoid about attacks from the Tamil Tigers, and search all boats for arms and contraband) and entered the harbor.   
  • Enter the Harbor - The paranoia continues - the Navy has 75% of the entrance blocked with a submarine net, so we have to squeeze by the small opening near the tower with the 18-year old soldier armed with a machine gun.
  • Find a spot - When Jimmy Cornell and one of his rallies came through here a couple of years ago, he apparently talked the Navy/Government into building some facilities, so they floated a few 'pontoons' (hollow plastic floating objects), dropped a few concrete blocks with buoys, and built a 'brick s...-house' with showers attached.  We found a spot vacant between Quest and Knot Yet Two, 
  • Tie up - Hugh and David from Argonauta 1dinghied over and handled our lines as we backed deftly(?) into the space, and added to the spider's web of lines holding 4 boats to the pontoons and 1 buoy. Without their help we would have been dead meat!
  • Check-in - We found we are really in a Navy port, that 'oh by the way' happens to allow other boats to use. So we found the agent most cruisers use, plunked down our $170 cash, and let them grease the palms for us.  All of this under the watchful eyes of the vigilant Navy guys with their automatic rifles. But one glitch, Customs had to visit the boat. 
  • La Mordida - That is what it is called in Spanish countries, 'the bite' where the officials try to extract 'gifts' from you under some pretext.  The Customs official in his formal uniform and his lackey in civvies sniffed around the boat.  The job of the lackey was to 'hint' that they wanted this and that, and the official was to remain aloof.  Judi played the role of ' lets talk about your family, and how many kids you have', and Bob's role was to act totally ignorant of the hints.  They finally gave up, and left, having enjoyed a cold Coke and nothing else.
  • In the country - By midday we were legally in the country, walked out of the gates, and took a 'tuk-tuk' (3-wheeled cycle, reminiscent of Thailand) to town that reminded us of Kathmandu - dirty, colorful, and vibrant!

The Plans - For the next few months, we will be traveling though some of the less settled areas of the world. We plan to monitor what is going on with our radios and email, and plan to stop at the places that seem the safest. 

  • India - Has their problems with Pakistan, but the southern coast is safe. We do not plan to stop here.
  • Maldives - Vacation spot with no known security problems.  Time permitting, we will stop for a few days.
  • Oman -  An unsettled place, but we know of no current problems there.  It is a major provisioning stop before entering the Red Sea so we will stop there.
  • Yemen (Aden) - Scene of the 'USS Cole' bombing.  Often unsettled, they are miffed at US attacks on terrorists in their country, we will stay away from it.
  • Djibouti - Site of a large US armed forces build-up; foreigners may be targets so we may give it a miss.
  • Red Sea entrance - Traditionally the most dangerous for yachts as targets of piracy, we believe a large US Navy presence may make this safer, and have heard that the Navy is only a VHF call away. We plan to travel in 'convoy' with other yachts and count of 'safety in numbers' and mutual aide if necessary.
  • Eritrea - Always dangerous, we plan stay away, although others plan to stop there.
  • Sudan - Apparently friendly to cruisers, we will monitor the yachts ahead of us.
  • Saudi Arabia - On the east side of the Red Sea, they do not welcome yachts, so we stay away.
  • Egypt - Safe, by the time one has made it this far north in the Red Sea, one heaves a sigh of relief.
 

Week Ending 8 Feb 2003 (Bob)

Sri Lanka Hill Country - We planned an inland tour, in company with the crew of Argonauta 1 and hired a van and driver from Mike's Yacht Services.  Our report, in a nutshell is that the countryside is very pretty, the driving atrocious, and the cool air in the mountains was wonderful.  Here are the highlights:

  • Pretty southern coast -  As we sailed by the southern coast of Sri Lanka the haze obscured it, even 10 miles off-shore.  From the highway it was quite nice, with pretty beaches and some basic resorts. A feature of Sri Lanka are posts stuck in the sand, where fisherman hang out in 5' of water, fishing.  We saw lots of posts, but only one with a fisherman, and our guide told us he was 'fishing for tourists' - take his picture and he will ask for a contribution.
  • Nuwara Eliya - Seven hours from Galle, this looks a little like a Bavarian mountain town with temperatures to match. Lots of resorts, a few golf courses, and clothing outlet stores.  Sri Lanka produces a lot of the clothing sold in the Western world (check your labels!), and we missed the stores because we came on a holiday (Independence Day),  but friends bought an Eddie Bauer windbreaker for $3 (try $75 in the real store).
  • The Hill Club -Sri Lanka Hill Club boys dressed to kill.jpg (14972 bytes) As the sun set, and the 15° temperatures (60° for you Yanks) set in, we looked for a hotel and settled on The Hill Club.  This turned out to be a little piece of snobby England in Sri Lanka, with stone walls, uniformed waiters, separate entrances for men and women (not enforced) and a 'Gentlemen must wear Coats and Ties sign'. We, like most others, had none, so we borrowed ones - jackets with sleeves too short or waists too narrow and ties with garish paisley patterns or small pinstripes - it was a hoot!
  • Kandy - The drive from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy was delightful, through mountains passes with views of lakes and huge tea plantations and past colorful veggie stands. We arrived in Kandy early enough to visit the premier attraction - the Temple of the Tooth. This temple was built specially in the 17th century to house a tooth, reportedly having belonged to Buddha.  Long lines of visitors, some tourists, but mostly Sri Lankans pass through the temple each day to view the shrine that contained a 7-layered casket - in the center lies the tooth, only shown to high-level people on special occasions.
  • Tea Plantations - On Sri Lanka tea plantation.jpg (17136 bytes) our drive down the mountain, we could not resist a stop at one of the tea plantations, where a sari-clad young lady showed us the intricacies of picking and packaging tea - an 18-hour process conducted in 50-year-old machinery.  Thousands of acres of neatly terraced tea fields, being groomed and picked, and at the end - a neat package of Orange Pekoe or Earl Grey tea.
  • Sigiraya (Lion Rock) - In the 5th century, the 3 acres atop a plateau was fortified by one of the kings of the area.  Steps were carved in the rock, and buildings were built on top.  We had seen beautiful pictures of the rock, and decided to climb it - but Mother Nature had other ideas.  She tried to warn us with light drizzle as we approached the base, and gave us a final warning with a brief, intense shower as we got out of our van, but no - would we listen?  So, after a 45 minute vertical climb of 700', we stood atop Lion Rock and the heavens opened!  It poured, and blew, and poured some more.  We saw naught, and finally gave up and descended the steep stairs, and bought the postcards.
  • Kandalama Resort - With our 'drowned rat' impersonation on, we decided to detour on the way back to Kandy, and stop at an 'architecturally designed' hotel (aren't they all?) at Kandalama, designed by a renown Sri Lankan architect.  This is a beautiful resort, in the middle of nowhere, where the architect has blended the design of the hotel with the hills behind it, and the lake in front - with modern decor, a little severe with a lot of white and black.  Whether the guests paying $200/night enjoyed our wet T-shirt show is questionable, but we ate their scrumptious buffet, drank their wine, and had a great time.
  • Elephant Orphanage - OnSri Lanka elephant orphanage.jpg (18349 bytes) the way from Kandy to Colombo is the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnewela.  Set up by the government in 1975, they raise several dozen elephants at any time.  During the day they feed them, bathe them, and march them between areas and we get to watch it all for a nominal fee.  It was a lot of fun, and watching the young elephants playing, jostling each other, or being bullies was a real treat.
  • Crazy drivers - A history of a tour in Sri Lanka would not be complete without a diatribe about the driving -  it is the most selfish we have seen so far, bar none.  Narrow one or one and a half lane roads are shared by pedestrians, bicycles, 3-wheel tuk-tuks, oxen-drawn carts, cattle, cars, vans, trucks, and kamikaze buses.  The rules of the road are:
  1. Size counts - bigger has right of way over smaller.
  2. Life is cheap.

Galle Harbor Review - Galle is the only game in town as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, and since they only get 100-200 boats per year, most in January-February, there is not much in the way of investment in marinas, so:

  • No floating docks or electricity - there are some pontoons but they are not connected to land.
  • Shower stalls are basic, but OK; toilets could be used as last resort.
  • Dinghy dock - basic but passable.
  • Depth charging - they had stopped that, presumably as part of the peace talks with the Tamil Tigers, although the Tigers staged an incident 2 days ago, and last night there were explosions every couple of hours.
  • Getting things done - there are lots of people who will volunteer to help, Mike's Yacht Services, the Tuk Tuk drivers, and hangers-on around the docks.
  • Sharing the port - lots of other ships use this port, and we returned to find the boat covered in cement dust from a ship being unloaded and had to spend a day washing and rinsing it off.

Getting ready to move on - We are working off our 'to-do' list of things needed for the next leg to Oman, and plan to be out of here next week.

Week Ending 15 Feb 2003 (Bob)

Final Preparations - It seemed like we were on a treadmill that wouldn't slow down as we prepared to cross the next section of the Indian Ocean:

  • Get veggies and fruits - 'Andrew' took us around to the market in town where we over-paid for fruit and veggies, but felt we were well supplied for the trip ahead.
  • Make an abortive trip to town to look at generators as a solution to our charging problems - decided to press on with no new equipment.
  • Last laundry service - Judi spread it around 3 different people so we wouldn't overload one of them.
  • Fill propane and petrol and water containers.
  • Fix last-minute problems with bilge pump.
  • Climb the masts, check rigging and change spreader lights.
  • Receive mail, sort and send out replies.
  • Run, run run - by Tuesday afternoon we were worn out, and looking forward to leaving.

Sri Lanka to the Maldives - Wednesday the 12th arrived, and we extricated ourselves from the web of lines tying us to a mooring ball and pontoon, with the help of crew from Hanuman and Blue Point we got underway by mid-morning.  We found we were traveling in company with two other yachts: Hesperine and Piquet, and set up radio schedules to stay in touch for this 4-day passage. Details of the trip reside on our Ship's Log, but in summary:

  • Squall line - The trip started with a bang as we ran into a squall line at sundown the first night, and fought 20-30 knot winds for several hours until it blew over.
  • Moonshine - After the first, the nights featured bright moonlight as the moon filled in, approaching the full moon on our arrival.
  • Light winds - We had light winds most of the way, and alternated between motor-sailing and drifting slowly on seas that started as choppy and confused and ended nice and smooth.
  • Fishing - Judi popped upright as the fishing rod snapped over, and she hauled in a 4# yellow-fin tuna, fresh food for the next couple of days.
  • Landfall - The Maldives came into view at sunrise on Sunday morning and by noon we were anchored in a beautiful spot, reminiscent of the best of the Pacific islands.

Week ending 22 Feb 2003 (Bob)

Uligan, Maldives -Maldives Uligan waterfront.jpg (10306 bytes) This small island is at the northern-most atoll of the Maldives - it has been a fishing village for many years, and recently has become a yachtie stop-over on their way to the Red Sea.  With only 300-400 inhabitants, the village is neat and tidy, the people reserved but friendly, the beaches are clean and white, and the water teems with fish.  The clear water under many boats look like aquariums, and many cruisers troll lines behind dinghies or off the stern for a fresh meal.  Some of the things that stand out in our memories:

  • Fantastic sea-life - The atoll is full of sea-life, with dolphins in the anchorage, fish jumping everywhere, cuttlefish schools collecting under each yacht, and a mass of fish around the jetty that seemed at thick as jelly.  We went snorkeling one day and saw:
    • Moray eels - 3-4' long poking out of several coral opening.
    • Sting rays - some up to 5' long lingering on the sandy bottom.
    • Parrot fish - lots of them nibbling on the coral.
    • 'Cleaning stations' - spots where small fish eat the parasites off of larger fish
  • Neat town - The village buildings are generally built from coral blocks, with neat houses, straight wide streets, and street lights that burn all night long.
  • Real danger from Global Warming - Everywhere we went on the island, we were no more that 10' above sea level, so it is clear that a 1 or 2 meter rise in the sea levels will have a devastating effect on this country.
  • Dinners Ashore - Our first night here, the main facilitator on shore (AMSCO) had organized a dinner for the cruisers, and for $5 we enjoyed many tasty local dishes and an evening of good conversation.  As a Muslim island, no alcohol is allowed, and thus sweet hot tea was the drink of choice.

First World treatment by officials - On arrival at Uligan, one calls Customs, and they organize an armada to welcome the yacht in one of the most professional displays of officialdom we have ever witnessed.  

  • Within an hour a runabout came alongside with five (5) officials, all of whom removed their shoes before boarding.
  • Customs seemed to be in charge, and they requested 5 copies of our crew-list and a photo of the yacht.
  • Immigration stamped our passports, and welcomed us to the island.
  • Customs and Police checked thru many lockers, but never indicated they wanted anything, unlike Sri Lanka and other places.
  • Paperwork flew as we filled out form after form, each politely described and clearly presented.
  • At the end we were briefed on the island and "do's" and "don'ts" regarding the islanders, and the process we would have to follow at the time we checked out - a welcome and new experience.

Any country would do well to observe these guys do their work, and learn a couple of lessons from them.  It was a very gratifying introduction to a Muslim country as we approached the volatile Middle East.

Fuel Top Up - We had used 150 liters of diesel to get here, and the island has made provisions for people to buy fuel.  So we brought our jerry-cans to shore where fuel was pumped, through our filter, into the cans.  As we set to return to the boat, a new supply of 55-gallon plastic drums arrived, and the guys dumped them overboard from a native sailing craft onto the beach, to be floated ashore - very practical!

Ready to move on - By the end of the week, we felt pressed for time, and although we would have liked to stay longer, the sailing season in the Red Sea was beckoning, so we reluctantly bought a few fresh items, checked out, and tied all items on board in preparation for the 1300 nautical mile passage to Salalah, Oman.  We left Saturday morning in company with Herperine, Arterie, and Herodotus, while Barnacle B headed south to the Chagos islands.

 

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