Sailing to Sri Lanka

13 February 2017    Long Island to Port Blair, Andaman Islands
We were up before the cockerel crowed and set off as the sun rose.  It was a mixed sail - close reaching for the first couple of hours and then a beautifully smooth, two hour broad reach as we went past Havelock Island.  The final two hours were pretty gnarly as we lost the protection of Neil Island and had to cope with the confused 2 metre waves coming from Thailand.  Nevertheless, we made good time and arrived in Port Blair at 13:30, where we found four other yachts that have just come over from Thailand.

Our original plan was to clear out tomorrow, but we decided to try to get our provisioning, refuelling and clearance done today.  I rang Vijay Taxis; arranged for a car for 14:30 and topped up our diesel tanks with two jerry cans - we’ve only used 40 litres during the last week, so that made the refuelling easier.  Mupardee was waiting for us at the dinghy dock as well as Rajah, a friend of Vijay, who ferried us around.  

Early morning start

Our first stop was at the Harbour Master where we had to write out a list of every place that we’d anchored with the arrival date & time and the departure date & time.  They calculated our port fees at 3,316 rupees (£33) by a convoluted calculation linked to our gross tonnage.  Once we’d paid our fees, we were shown into the Harbour Master’s office, who formally signed our No Objection Certificate (NOC) which proves that we’ve paid up and that he has released us.

The next stop in the clearance process was Customs, but we first nipped off to the market to buy vegetables, soft drinks and half a dozen samosas.  It was just after 16:10 by the time that we arrived at customs and fortunately, they were still open.  They quickly issued our port clearance document - after filling in several ledger books of course.  I was expecting a very grand, formal certificate, but instead it was a disappointingly small scrap of A5 paper, with many rubber stamps to make it look official. 

There was then some confusion about the location of the Immigration office.  The taxi driver didn’t speak very good English, so I ended up speaking to Vijay on the phone, which didn’t help much because he doesn’t speak English very well either and seems to have a terrible phone.  We finally found the Immigration office, where there was more discussion, but we were eventually told that we had to see the Immigration team that was clearing in the other four boats.

On the way back to the dinghy dock, we stopped off to fill my two jerry jugs with diesel.  It was total chaos in the petrol station, with lorries, buses ,cars, tuk-tuks and motor bikes all jostling for position at the pumps.  There’s no such thing as politely queuing here – horns are tooting, people shouting and engines revving.  It took fifteen minutes to get served.

Rigging Adjustments

Back at the dinghy dock, we met Vijay who told us that the Immigration were still out on the water, so we piled our stuff into the dinghy and found the officers on a catamaran.  They’d just finished, so we were invited on board and our clearance was soon sorted out.  We were back on Alba by 17:30, tired, but pleased to get everything sorted out today.

Glenys stowed away her provisions and then cooked three meals – one for tonight and two for the first two nights at sea.  We’re all ready to leave in the morning.

14 February 2017    Port Blair to Galle, Sri Lanka (Day 1)
We were up at six o’clock and I did some adjustments to our rigging.  Yesterday while we were hard on the wind, I’d noticed that the front lower shrouds and the intermediate shrouds were a little loose, so I went up the mast and tightened them by half a turn.  I’ll keep an eye on it and might have to tighten a little bit more.

We then lifted the dinghy on deck, battened everything down and at 07:30, I called Port Control to ask for permission to leave.  To our astonishment, it was very simple – I gave them the number from our Port Clearance document, the number of souls on board, our destination, ETA and we were allowed to leave.  Phew!

It took us an hour to get out of the port, bashing into 4-6 foot waves and against the wind, but we were soon past Ross Island and able to ease the sheets. The next four hours were unpleasant because we had 2 metre confused seas on the beam, but by lunch time, we’d turned the corner and were running straight downwind with the genoa poled out to port, heading on a course of 245 degrees directly for Sri Lanka, 800 miles and 7 days away.

The Andaman Islands are on the same time zone as Mumbai which is much further west and consequently its been going dark just after 17:30 which is far too early , so we moved all of our clocks forward by an hour and went onto an Alba time zone.  This worked out well because we were able to watch the sun go down while having dinner and it was dark when Glenys went to bed at 19:00.

Overnight, we had a steady 15-20 knots of wind and a 2 metre swell directly from behind us, so we made good time, but we rolled and rolled and rolled. We’d be okay for a minute, but then a wave would catch us wrong and we’d roll up to 30 degrees every three seconds for a minute.  We’d then settle down with a gentle roll for a minute and then have another minute of chaos... It’s very wearing hanging on all the time and difficult to sleep.

Rolling Downwind

15 February 2017    Port Blair to Galle, Sri Lanka (Day 2)
We’re either getting used to the rolling or the conditions are getting better because life on board seemed to be more pleasant in the morning.  So far, we’ve seen nothing apart from the sky, the sea and flying fish.

My small task this morning was to remove the satellite phone from the box sealed by customs and download a weather forecast. The GRIB file shows that the wind should continue at NE 15 for the next four days and then, on Sunday 19th will drop to 5 knots, meaning that we’ll be motoring for at least 24 hours.

I calculated a routing using qtVlm, which works out the fastest route based on the forecast weather.  It predicts that we’ll arrive on the 20th, which is a day earlier than I expected – although we’re not getting excited yet.  Strangely, qtVlm wants us to curve 50 miles south of the rhumb line – I can’t see any reason to do that, so we’re going to sail down the rhumb line for another day and see what route qtVlm calculates tomorrow.

During the afternoon, the wind backed by 30 degrees, so the apparent wind went from dead behind to our starboard quarter and thankfully, the rolling decreased. We kept the genoa poled out to starboard and put a reef in the main at sunset. 

It was dark for my 7-10 watch, but the moon came out at 23:00 and the rest of the night was idyllic, bowling along on a broad reach at over 6 knots with 15-20 knot winds.

16 February 2017    Port Blair to Galle, Sri Lanka (Day 3)
Dawn brought us a pleasant day with 50% cloud cover and a very consistent 15-20 knot wind.  I downloaded a weather forecast and the wind is expected to increase by a few knots over the next couple of days, but will still die on the 19th.

Galley Slave

I played with my qtVlm routing software, using it to calculate the fastest route with just the wind data and then another routing with the wind and current. Interestingly, the routing using only the wind data was mostly along the rhumb line, but the routing using the wind & current data looped about 50 miles south of the rhumb line – obviously to take advantage of the predicted 0.5 to 1 knot currents, which swirl around in this area.

The Wind-only route was 507 miles taking 3 days 21 hours 45 mins, whereas the Wind-and-Current route was 540 miles taking 3 days 20 hours 25 minutes.  That’s an 80 minute time saving (1.2%), but an extra 33 miles to travel.  However, IMHO, the tiny 1% difference is insignificant when compared to the accuracy of the GRIB forecasting, so we’re going to continue to plod along the rhumb line, which is the shortest distance.

We didn’t touch the sails all day, just rolled along with the wind behind us.  When I woke up from my afternoon nap, Glenys pointed out a small fishing boat that we’d passed a couple of miles back.  It seemed very small to be 400 miles away from anywhere, but I guess we’re in an even smaller boat. 

The night was uneventful, sometimes we’d roll violently for a while, but most of the time we were peacefully gliding along under the moon and stars.  We didn’t see any other fishing boats or ships – we’re all alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean.