09/02/2013, Havelock Island
Time magazine described the 7km beach on Havelock Island as the best beach in Asia, and it probably is. A beautiful white sand arc encloses a bay of crystal clear water. The backdrop of virgin forest is pierced by a single small road which brings a small number of day trippers to the beach. Getting ashore is a bit of a challenge as most of the beach has breaking surf. We used Storyteller's dinghy to get ashore by anchoring outside the surf and swimming in.
An Indian bus appeared so we took it for the 14km journey to Havelock Village 3, rumoured to have an internet cafe, ATM and shops. It had all 3, a large market square surrounded by small shops selling everything from hardware to cashmere. small cafe with computers for internet absorbed Sue while the rest of us explored the small village. The journey costing all of 5 rupees was memorable. The bus seemingly lacking shock absorbers, charged at breakneck speed along the single track road, horn blaring. Horn blares signify either get out of my way, you can pass, or overtake me, depending on context. The bus seemed to frequently fly in the air as it dropped up and down the small hills and ravines careering round hairpin bends. We consoled ourselves that it was probably safer in the bus than on a tuk tuk. Still there were sighs of relief when we alighted. Village 3 is the centre for the backpacker and dive community. Tiny wooden shacks to small apartment type resorts, most of them very basic, follow the line of the beach, and hum to the sound of dive compressors.
We decided to return to Havelock 7 by car and the difference was astonishing the road almost seemed smooth, as it curved through the small settlements, vegetable gardens and paddy fields. The cost was a bit more 420 rupees, about £5 but the comfort was worth. Near the beach there is a delightful resort(resorts here are small grass huts and a larger one for eating, all hidden amongst massive hardwood trees) where excellent Indian and Italian food is served, along with beer (not common) around here. We retreated here for a feast before returning to the boat, walking through the forest parallel to the beach. We passed the resident swimming elephant, apparently he may or may not dive with you depending on mood. The forest itself is remarkable, tall fig trees create beautiful shady groves, circled by clumps of palm trees. Birds call and can be seen moving in the trees. In the evening sea eagles circle the bay. A flat anchorage as well, heaven!
06/02/2013, Neil Island
Following a glorious sail round Rutland Island we had to bang back up wind to Port Blair where we stopped for a day. We topped up our fuel and beer supplies and then went to see the jail.
The cellular prison is a remarkable building, a "monument to the brutality of the British" it says at the entrance, and I'm afraid it is. The building is based on Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison with just one jailor. They had more than one jailor but the design is similar. The prisoners were kept in seven long buildings arranged as spokes of a wheel with the observation area at the centre. The jailors could watch all seven wings simultaneously. Three of the wings remain, restored as a monument. Long lists of freedom fighters are now engraved in the central observation centre, and outside there are statues to famous political prisoners held there, mostly during the first half of the 20th century.
By all accounts the conditions were appalling the political prisoners were given impossible tasks of grinding nuts to make oil, enforced by a regime of whipping, solitary confinement and executions. What is perhaps most striking is the sheer size of the building. So many people interred in Britain's own gulag. It continued operation unreformed until 1936 but then continued with a slightly more lenient regime until independence.
After that Ravi, our taxi driver and local expert took us to the excellent market and then to a restaurant for some excellent curry and beer. The combination is unusual. Here you had to drink outside and eat inside.
We are now anchored off Neil Island, yet another pristine bay and Storyteller and Lady Kay have it all to themselves, even better. Low cliffs with remarkable sea arches enclose the bay. The sea is crystal clear and the sky at night deep black except for the numerous stars and the milky way.
Quite a place.
04/02/2013, Rutland Island
As we raced along at 7.5 knots with one reef in the mainsail we suddenly realised how little proper sailing we had done recently. A lot of the sailing around Thailand and Malaysia is motorsailing, or at best sailing in light winds. Here there is a steady trade wind and with the right wind angle and sails away we go. The air temperature and sea temperature here is ideal, no overheated nights.
The islands are mostly uninhabited and there are hardly any other boats around, apart from the occasional small fishing boat. Last night we were joined in our anchorage bay by a massive very snooty British super yacht called Twizzle. They had passed us on the way to the Andamans without a word. They continued that policy. No g and t s on the fore deck with them. The fishing here is very good, although it has to be said our catch rate has not matched that of Storyteller who produced for us a delightful Rick Stein tuna carpaccio.
We finally did some snorkelling and found lots of fish but sadly the coral was mostly bleached. Hopefully we will find some better reefs. The islands themselves are just glorious with long white sand beaches backed by virgin rain forest, many of which are leatherback turtle laying sites. Presumably there are indigenous tribes in the forests, but we have seen not a sign of anyone along the shorelines.
01/02/2013, Andaman Sea
We left Port Blair first thing in the morning and sailed South to our first anchorage at Chiryatapu. This is a pretty anchorage on the end of the main Andaman Island and is a good stop-over on the way to the uninhabited islands to the south. We are now a sailing boat again as we have the consistent trade winds up here, unlike Thailand. Michael had a few strikes on the way but the fish got away, but then we caught a massive, beautiful sailfish the size of a dolphin. We managed to get it to the boat and tried to remove the hook, but in the end it got away with our lure. We were both rather physically and emotionally drained after this experience and didn't put the lines out again. The first anchorage was very pretty with crystal clear water, but I didn't go swimming as crocodiles are supposed to be a problem here.
The following day we left for the Cinque Islands which are a group of uninhabited islands surrounded by pristine reefs and home to turtles and wild deer. We had a wonderful sail down as the wind had increased, and Michael caught a reasonable sized tuna on the way. We are allowed to anchor in the Cinque islands, but we are not allowed to go ashore. Apart from our three boats, the only people around are a small group of fisherman that work out of rowing boats and have a sightly larger boat with an engine that they sleep in. Our first anchorage was rather too rolly so we moved to another, more sheltered site. The scenery is awesome and the snorkelling, which we are about to undertake is supposed to be magnificent. Let's hope so.
30/01/2013, Port Blair
We are in Port Blair harbour for the third day, planning to leave tomorrow morning.
The checking in took almost two whole days. The first day we were boarded in succession by three groups of between 3 and 8 people, customs, immigration and harbour police. Each group and each member of each group required one or more copies of all the paperwork, and these all had to be stamped by us on the front and back (in addition to the stamp already there) and then stamped by them with several different stamps, front and back. All stamps then had to be signed. We expected to have to provide around four copies of each form, but in the end we must have provided at least 15. As you can imagine, this took some considerable time! They asked us nothing about wine, but Storyteller were given an allowance of two bottles a day and the rest was taped up and bonded!
When this first day was over we heaved a sigh of relief, expecting the visit ashore to the Harbourmaster for the cruising permit to be a bit of a doddle as previous blogs suggested - NOT the case! However, we did manage to finish before lunch and were just thinking about the taste of cold beer and a curry when immigration called our wonderful taxi driver to say we had to all visit their office. Off we went wondering what on earth they wanted now and were all seated, facing different directions in the middle of a rather shabby office. They asked Storyteller for one document which they then copied yet again and then off we went again. We had just got into the taxi when they called Lady Kay back and demanded yet another copy of our itinerary. Not sure what point they were trying to make.
AFter changing some money we finally made it to the recommended Indian restaurant, but after sitting down found they did not serve beer! We eventually did have a good meal though, but as we left we found that there was a bar downstairs that did serve beer - shame! The next port of call was to get SIM cards. This actually took over 2 hours and they have yet to be activated!
On a lighter note, Port Blair is delightful in a very Indian sort of way. We are already planning our next year's trip! Our taxi driver, Ravi, and his friend drive 1960s English cars that have been glued together and painted white. They even have flag poles on the front of the bonnet. The driving is much worse than Phuket, (can you believe it?) and the only thing that anyone slows down or gives way for is the wandering sacred cow that steps straight out right in front of you. The population is a mixture of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh and the women dress in beautifully colourful saris. All the signs are in English, and just about everyone speaks English which is good. The market is similar to the ones we are used to except that live chickens and goats are slaughtered on site as they are bought. I avoided this area!
We all plan to leave tomorrow morning, having fixed our various boat problems and are looking forward to a swim.
26/01/2013, Andaman Sea
We made it to Indian Territorial Waters! We're safely anchored in Port Blair, the main town in the Andamans. We arrived in convoy as Storyteller and Kalypso caught up with us by first light. A perfect entrance. We were surprised to find how much commercial shipping is based here. There are tugs, passenger ships, ferries, bulk carriers and general freight ships. A lot of the freight ships and ferries look a little dilapidated. The harbour is a deep inlet, rather like Falmouth with lots of watery fingers cloaked in trees and vegetation. With the exception of the dockside and town to the East of us there is relatively little inhabitation, although one peninsula has a lot of prefabricated housing. The temperature is less extreme than Phuket, mellowed with a pleasant see breeze. We now have to wait for customs, immigration, the navy etc to clear us in, a process that can take two days. A good opportunity to rest while we wait for them since it was a surprisingly tiring passage.
Our theory is that a short passage - three nights and two days is worse than a long one because after three days you get into the routine of 3 hour watches. Our last day saw us attempting to even up the fishing stakes unsuccessfully. Three strikes from large fish and one catch of a tiddler which was swiftly returned to the sea. We did though see lots of dolphins and hopefully will manage better fishing around the islands.
Most of the final day and night we were able to sail without engine assistance as a pleasant 15 knot trade wind powered us towards the islands. The slight hitch was that our engines would not start. Eventually we got one going. A nifty device called a pathmaker had seized so that power only went to our house batteries, not the engine start batteries, so the engine batteries were dead. Hopefully we have a solution, but overnight it meant that we kept one engine running so as to be sure that we had at least one engine to anchor with in the morning.
Our friends on Storyteller had problems with their VHF radio. Someone modified their aerial to add a fancy identifying device called AIS. The effect was that their radio had a distance of 1 mile not 20 which the Harbourmaster here did not appreciate.
Anyway all three boats are anchored together next to a couple of super yachts and a small cruising boat waiting for permission to explore the glories of the Andamans