Sailing to the Andamans

16 January 2017   Ko Yang, Thailand
I woke up at five o’clock, worrying about the timing belt on our engine and thinking that perhaps we should get it replaced here in Thailand.  One worry is that if the belt breaks then the timing on the engine would be thrown out causing massive damage to the engine.  The other worry is that if it breaks in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, then we’d be in a world of hurt.

I was up before dawn, looking back at my records and found that the timing belt was last changed in August 2013 and it’s done 1,350 hours over 3.5 years.   Volvo recommends changing it every 2000 hours (or sooner if it appears worn or cracked) and I’ve read various opinions on the Internet with people suggesting that a timing belt ought to be changed every 3-6 years.  

Do we look like we're ready to go?

Over the past three years, we’ve averaged 380 engine hours per year, so the timing belt should be good for another 1½ years - that should be enough to get us to South Africa.  I looked on the internet and it would appear that Volvo single overhead camshaft engines are of a “non-interference” type, so if the timing belt breaks there is no danger of the valves hitting the pistons - the engine will just stop working.  I carry an old, but sound timing belt as a spare, so I should be able to get the engine working again.

Being a worry-wort, I did a thorough inspection of the timing belt, hand-cranking the engine to look at every part and tooth of the belt.  Everything looks to be in good condition, with no signs of wear or cracking on the belt.   The belt moves 7mm when pressed hard with thumb, so the tension is normal.  Perhaps I can sleep soundly tonight and we can still leave on the 21st.

In the afternoon, I went for a little trip in the dinghy and the damn thing conked out on me.  I could run it with the choke open, which got me back to Alba.  I checked my inline fuel filter and there was lots of water in the filter bowl - it looks like I’ve bought petrol from somewhere that has a lot of Ethanol in it.  

I had major problems in the USA because of petrol with 10% Ethanol, which attracts water and then splits into different “phases” causing carburettors to block up.   I pumped half a litre of the fuel from my fuel tank through my inline fuel filter and into a bottle to throw away - there was quite a bit of water.   I then removed the carburettor and blew out the various ports, reassembled it and the outboard works fine.  Just to on the safe side, I’ve added some Star Tron enzyme fuel treatment to all my petrol, which should hopefully get rid of the problem. 

Poled Out Genoa

17 January 2017   Ko Yang to Ao Chalong East, Thailand
We’ve not used very much fuel since we last filled up in Telaga, Malaysia, so I topped up our tanks with the diesel from our three jerry cans.  The fuel is over a year old and I think that it’s a good idea to mix it in with our nearly full tanks of fresh fuel rather than wait until we’re nearly empty.

With our fuel tanks full, we motor sailed down to Ao Po Marina, where we went onto their fuel dock and filled up jerry cans with fresh diesel.  That only took 20 minutes, so we were soon on our way.   The wind had picked up from the north and we had a lovely sail south.  With the wind directly behind us, I rigged up our main-sail preventers and poled out the genoa.  It’s the first time for over a year, so I was pleased that I remembered how to set it all up and that the spinnaker pole worked OK.

We anchored in Ao Chalong East in 6 metres of water at 07°49.01N 098°22.87E.  it was very hot in the sheltered anchorage, so we put up the boom awning and languished in the heat, reading a book.  When it got a bit cooler, I actually played my guitar - first time for about two weeks.  I think that I’m finally starting to relax after a manic two weeks of jobs and running around.

18 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
The forecast is still looking good to go on Saturday 21st, so we had a bit of a safety morning.  I tested the EPIRB; inspected the lanyard on the life raft; checked and adjusted the steering cables; tested our three bilge pumps; and fixed the lock on the gimballed cooker.  I also changed the 50lb line on my fishing rod in the anticipation of the fabulous fishing around the Andaman Islands.

Meanwhile, Glenys emptied out the contents of our three “Grab Bags”, which will be taken with us if we ever have to abandon ship.  Everything was okay apart from some AA batteries that had leaked.  Fortunately, we keep the batteries in a separate sealed container, so no damage done to anything else.  

Grab Bags

We have an amazing list of stuff, including flares; fishing gear; a chart of the Indian Ocean; a GPS; nylon stockings (to filter plankton); and an indispensable roll of Duct Tape.  Of course, there’s also a copy of “Adrift” by Steven Callahan, which tells the tale of him spending 76 days in a life raft - it has some handy descriptions of how to survive. 

Glenys started the generator, but it cut out before she had the chance to run the water-maker.  With a sinking heart, I had a look in the engine room.  I pressed the override switch which disables the various sensors and turns on the fuel pump and saw that diesel was gushing out of the primary fuel filter.  I have no idea why, but I changed the filter and the seals and after bleeding the diesel lines, the generator sprang back into life.

We cleared out the aft lazarette locker.  For the past two years, we’ve been carrying around a 3 foot aluminium seat for our AB dinghy.  We never use the damn thing and it’s been cluttering up our locker, so it went on the skip pile, which is building up on our aft deck.  We also inherited a folding fish trap when we bought Alba, which has only seen the light of day twice - both times we caught nothing, so that’s on the pile as well. 

19 January 2017   Ao Chalong East to Nai Harn Bay, Thailand
The alarm went off at 06:50 and we were soon on our way across to the dreaded Ao Chalong.  We anchored half a mile to the east of the harbour; had breakfast, while checking that we weren’t dragging our anchor; and then went ashore to pick up the car that we’d hired for the day. 

Glenys started to walk towards the car hire place (lugging our empty cooking gas cylinder) while I went to collect our two dive regulators and BCD, which I’d put in for a service two weeks ago.  I was hoping that I would be able to simply collect and pay, but this is South-east Asia.  I’ll not go into details, but I had to hang around for an hour; and I had a major rant at the manager on the phone who wasn’t at the shop; and then I actually ran ½ mile to the car hire place, so that I could work off my desire to punch someone. 

Our stash of wine beneath the front berth

On my return to the dive shop, my gear was waiting for me and the managers were huddled in the shop office.  They placated me by reducing my bill by 50%, so I paid £100 instead of £200, so my obvious displeasure worked well.

We drove through the terrible traffic to Boat Lagoon, where we had our cooking gas cylinder filled.  The gas place is opposite Boat Lagoon and is the easiest gas filling station in the world.  There don’t seem to be any safety checks - you hand the cylinder to the guy, he tells you the weight of gas that he’s going to put in; you pay the cashier; and collect your filled cylinder - ten minutes and you’re out of there.  

After a brief stop in Boat Lagoon, we headed back to Tesco supermarket, where we bought our last minute provisions - lots of fresh vegetables, meat, three cases of beer and another 23 litres of boxed wine.  I was going to buy more wine, but I think that we now have an “Embarrassment” of wine on board.  Goodness knows what the Indian customs in the Andaman Islands will think when we declare 40 litres of wine… 

Back at Ao Chalong, we paid the 200 Baht (£4) fee to drive onto the pier and then visited Immigration, Customs & the Habour Master to clear out of Thailand.  We then had a bumpy and wet ride back to the boat, with two foot waves and a head wind - fortunately, Glenys had the foresight to bring along a shower curtain to protect the provisions.  Despite bouncing about, we managed to get the 20 kilogram cooking gas container and the provisions onto the deck without losing anything, although we both got soaking wet.

Dinghy stowed and all ready to go

It was 16:30, by the time that we had everything on board and the dinghy lifted on the davits.  The wind and waves were coming from the east, directly into the anchorage and it was pretty gnarly on board - did I say that I hate this anchorage?  So, we ran away and motor-sailed for an hour to Nai Harn Bay, which was very calm and nice.  As usual, we collapsed with a cold beer.  

20 January 2017   Nai Harn Bay, Thailand
It was a grey overcast day and we had the odd shower, but the weather forecast still looks for leaving tomorrow.  There’s more rain forecast than I originally thought, so we might get a bit wet, but the wind should be good.

Glenys tidied away all the provisions that we bought yesterday and I put the dinghy on deck, so by lunch time, we were ready to go.  I spent the rest of the day doing administration.  I thought that living on a boat would free me from paperwork, but it looks like all the countries in the Indian Ocean are an administrative nightmare.

I first sent off an email giving our “Notice of Intended Arrival” to the Indian Authorities in the Andaman Islands.  I then prepared and sent off the signed documentation to our (mandatory) Clearance Agent in Sri Lanka.  I also sent off an email to a Clearance Agent in the Maldives.  We won’t be there until April, but it’s good to know what documentation he’ll want.  The clearance fees for Sri Lanka will be $350 US and it will be over $1,200 US for the Maldives, so it won’t be a cheap trip.   

I’ve been a bit worried about declaring 40 litres of wine (in 12 boxes) when we arrive in the Andamans.  It seems to be over-the-top and Indian customs officers are not renowned for being kind.  So, I’ve come up with a cunning plan - I’m not declaring the number of litres, instead I’m declaring that we have “12 bxs of wine” and “8 btls of spirits”.  Hopefully they will see the number and not the unit of measure…  

There’s only one sleep to go, the sun is going down and we’re having a nice cold beer;  looking forward to three days’ sailing and arriving in India - we can’t wait to try out a real Indian Curry…

21 January 2017 Nai Harn Bay to Port Blair, Andaman Islands (Day 1)
The weather forecast hadn’t changed, so we were good to go.  I used qtVlm to calculate the best route, which predicted that it would take us two days and 15 hours to get to Port Blair.  If we left at midday, we’d get there at 03:00 on the 24th, so there was no rush to leave. 

Sunset heading for Andamans

We spent the morning pottering about, tidying up and Glenys cooked a pork stew, which will feed us for the first two evenings.  As always when waiting to depart, we’re very restless, not really nervous, just hate the waiting.  After a sandwich at noon, we cracked up and pulled up the anchor.

The first part of the afternoon, was lovely with the wind abaft the beam at 15-20 knots, but the wind slowly backed, so we ended up with the apparent wind at 60-70 degrees.  Fortunately, the wind strength dropped to 10-15 knots, so it was pleasant even though we were harder on the wind.

Overnight the wind gradually veered by 60 degrees, putting the wind at 40 degrees off our starboard quarter and causing the genoa to lose the wind behind the main.  So, at our 04:00 watch change, I was doing the pole dance on the front deck, rigging up our spinnaker pole so that we could pole the genoa out to windward on the starboard side.  With this configuration, the genoa stays filled all the time and we rolled along happily at 6 knots.

22 January 2017 Nai Harn Bay to Port Blair, Andaman Islands (Day 2)
We had nice sunny conditions for most of the day, although the wind was very frustrating in the late morning – varying in strength between 8-15 knots and veering about 40 degrees.  This meant that we had to keep gybing the genoa because the sails kept slating.  

A long cloud lane was building up to the north of us, which seemed to be causing the fickle conditions, so I changed course 40 degrees and sailed underneath it.  This seemed to put us in a more constant wind stream and we were back to 5.5 – 6 knots, without the sails banging.

The seas are steadily getting bigger and the endless rolling is starting to get very wearing, but we're getting into the routine of our three hour night watches – 7-10; 10-1; 1-4; 4-7.  

When I got up this morning, we had breakfast and then Glenys went to bed for a few hours. Meanwhile, I downloaded some new GRIB files and recalculated our route using qtVlm.  The route wasn’t much different, but it showed that we would get to our destination at 08:00 on the 24th.  After lunch, I went to bed for a few hours.  These “day naps” allow us to catch up on sleep and breaks the monotony of sitting in the cockpit staring at the sea and sky.

So far, the sunsets and sunrises have been rubbish and last night was really dark because we had total cloud cover and only a quarter moon.