12/02/2013, North Button Island
We didn't notice at first the dark black lines at the water's edge. Fish! Tiny transparent fish in their billions, so many that they formed a black line about a foot wide, stretched the half mile or so length of the white sand spit. The long sand spit stretches out to the West of North Button Island. The most Northern of three button shaped islands in the Northern part of the Andamans. The island is uninhabited, but teems with bird life, and fish in the surrounding sea. Snorkelling in the clear water we saw lots of different fish, the most remarkable being school of metre long hump headed wrasse. Harmless but a bit scary nevertheless. They were quite happy to have us stare at them and follow them around.
The crystal clear seas hide one tragic fact though. Everywhere we have snorkeled there has been almost no live coral. The bay floors are just bleached dead coral. Apparently the coral died following a hot summer in 2008 or 2010. We were told that there is still coral below the 10 mtre mark but it is only visible to divers. The destruction of the coral must also have led to a loss of fish life as well. Despite that the islands are a beautiful site with their glorious vegetation contrasting with the marine colours.
Our friends on Storyteller departed this morning to head back to Phuket and Langkawi where they have more guests to pick up. We said our goodbyes over an excellent meal on board their boat last night. We plan to stay another week before returning.
10/02/2013, Henry Lawrence Island
The crocodile's eyes moved almost imperceptibly. It slowly slid down the bank, just a slight swish as it entered the water. Quick, a sharp blow from the kayak paddle and the croc reared and then turned angrily to wait. Well almost, except we didn't actually see a saltie as the salt water crocodiles are known here. However, we were prepared - we had a plan
We had bumped the short distance North round Havelock Island's small but busy wharf and headed for the next island North. Although a short distance it was into wind and quite bumpy.
Suddenly the sea flattened and we were tucked up behind a reef on the South end of Henry Lawrence Island. The colours of the sand and the reef, contrasting with the sandstone cliffs and arches and the overhanging with the trees of the forest were absolutely magnificent.
To the West of the anchorage there is a deep cove which we explored by kayak. Past rocks cloaked with small sea birds we turned into the cove disturbing some nesting kingfishers. The cove has cliffs to East and West which enclose mangroves and deep watery passages. The water runs fast through these mini rivulets, and you paddle deeper and deeper into the darkness of the island. Sudden splashes made us think crocodiles! However, they were probably waves splashing or birds fleeing from us. Our theory that a firm blow with a paddle might dissuade a hungry croc, seemed less credible. Maybe we would just have to wrestle with the croc, a la Indiana Jones. Anyway no crocs were sighted but the jungle river feeling was stupendous.
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.