January 2017 - Thailand & Andamans

1 January 2017   Ko Lipe, Thailand
Once again, we started the New Year feeling a bit rough - too much red wine last night.  Despite the headaches, we went for a scuba dive.  It wasn’t easy because I had to fill two tanks and then had problems with equipment after not diving for three months - I had to change a regulator that was free-flowing.

We managed to get away from the boat by 10:30, by which time it was raining and the wind had picked up, so the 1¼ mile dinghy ride to the dive site was challenging.  Glenys was very apprehensive, worried about the effect of water pressure on her eyes so soon after the operation.  Her Karma was not helped because her BCD inflator was leaking, so I had to disconnect it and she had to manually breathe into the BCD.  To cap it all, the visibility was about 3 metres with lots of plankton, so it wasn’t the best dive we’ve done.  We did see lots of fish and a few nudibranchs and the site is great, but our hearts just weren’t in it.

We had a quiet afternoon, and went easy on the booze over dinner.

2 January 2017   Ko Lipe, Thailand
It was a grey day, so we pottered about on the boat, doing a few little jobs.  I sorted out my To-Do-List and my To-Buy-List so that I can hit the ground running when we get to Phuket.  The plan is to spend a couple of weeks finishing jobs, buying spares and stocking up on food before heading off to the Andamans in the middle of January.

The afternoon was even worse with heavy rain, so we hunkered down doing more planning.  I spent hours looking at possible anchorages in the Maldives, so that we have a rough idea of what to expect.  Once we leave Phuket, I know that we will be sticking to a timetable dictated by the seasons, so I want to be well prepared.

Christmas Tree Worm

3 January 2017   Ko Lipe to Rok Nok, Thailand
We set off towards Rok Nok at 06:30 and encountered the usual strong wind as it funnels into the north side of the Ko Lipe channel, but it soon calmed down to 15 knots.  After two overcast days, our batteries were very low, so we motor-sailed for a couple of hours during which we noticed an intermittent “singing” sound from down below, almost like the sound a wineglass makes when you make it resonate by rubbing a wet finger around the top. 

It took me a bit of experimenting to pin it down.  The mysterious sound happened when we were motoring at 6.5 knots, but stopped when I turned the engine off and sailed.  I then tried sailing with the engine running at 1800 rpm, but not in gear - no sound, it only happened when we were motoring forwards. 

I initially suspected the Volvo Stern Gland, which has two rubber lip seals running around the rotating propeller shaft - perhaps they were dry.  I checked that I’d vented all the air out of the seal after we’d launched the boat and squeezed some more grease into the seal - no change.  I then suspected that the new propeller was resonating, but what would cause that?  

I ran the engine again at 1800 rpm, this time with full sails up and doing 7.5 knots - the resonating sound was more continuous.  It’s nothing to do with the engine itself, the stern gland is okay, so it must be either the propeller or the cutlass bearing.  Thinking back, I painted the end of the cutlass bearing with antifoul.  This is a rubber bearing with small grooves in the rubber to let water flow across the rubber - I’ve probably blocked the ends of the grooves and stopped the flow of water, so the cutlass bearing is running nearly dry.

We had a great sail for the rest of the day, hard on the wind, but in 15 knots with a clean bottom, we cracked along at 7 knots.  It took us seven hours to sail the 45 miles to Rok Nok where we picked up a mooring.  I jumped in the water and scraped off the antifouling from around the end of the cutlass bearing.  I also poked a small piece of wire into the ends of the grooves to make sure that they are clear.  We’ll see if the mysterious singing, ringing sound comes back tomorrow. 

Leaving Rok Nok

Rok Nok is a national marine park with scores of power boats bringing punters to lounge on the beach and snorkel, so we waited until they had gone and then went snorkelling.  It’s good to be able to jump into tropical water again.  

The Marine Park Rangers caught us at 17:30 and asked us for 400 Bhat (£8) per person and 100 Bhat (£2) for the boat.  I cheekily asked if the captain was free of charge and they said yes, so I save myself the cost of a good bottle of wine.  The fee covers us for five days at any of the Marine Park Islands, but we’re only stopping one night.

4 January 2017   Rok Nok to Nai Harn Bay, Thailand
Rok Nok lived up to its name last night because we rocked and rolled until dawn when we slipped the mooring.  We navigated between the two islands and motored for 30 minutes to check if our singing, ringing noise had gone.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t so I’m at a loss what to do next - my best guess is that the propeller is resonating like a tuning fork, but why?

The wind gradually picked up from 15 knots to 25 knots as the day progressed, but it was either on the beam or abaft the beam, so we had a cracking sail averaging 6.7 knots over the 58 mile passage.  We had to reef a couple of times and the seas built up to 2 metres, so it was a boisterous trip and we were glad when we arrived in Nai Harn Bay, after 8½ hours of being bounced around.

There are about 20 boats in the anchorage, but there’s plenty of room for more.  The wind is shrieking through the anchorage from the north-east and there’s a big swell from the west, but the swell is widely spaced and it’s not too rolly.  I went over to “Catamini” for a chat and they kindly lent me their phone to book a car.  I can’t get one for tomorrow, but I’ve booked one for the Friday, 6th - we have a lot of errands to run.

5 January 2017   Nai Harn Bay to Ao Chalong, Thailand
Early in the morning, we dropped the genoa and removed the genoa halyard - it’s become very frayed where it’s clamped at the bottom of the mast, so it needs replacing.  We then motored around to Ao Chalong, which is one of our least favourite anchorages in the world.  It’s exposed to wind and waves and can be very bouncy, the holding is okay, but it’s the centre of the Phuket tourist boat industry and there are literally hundreds of tourist, fishing and dive boats on moorings.

We normally anchor a long way from the walled harbour, but this time we found a space much closer - it was tight between various boats on moorings, but we came out pretty central.  After watching our position for an hour to make sure that we weren’t getting too close to other boats, we went to clear in, which was very painless and only took an hour. 

Now legal, we ran some errands - buying SIM cards for our phones; had lunch at a street food hawker; and walked to a nearby shopping mall.  Back at the boat, we seemed to be in a good position, well-spaced between the moorings and the wind was fairly light, so we decided to stay the night.

Another Squall Passes Over

Unfortunately, at 03:00, a huge squall came through - the wind switched 180 degrees and increased to 35 knots within seconds, followed shortly by torrential rain.

I woke up because of the change in motion and rushed onto deck to find that our anchor had dragged and we were very, very close to a big dive boat.  I started the engine, and motored into the wind and rain. By this time, Glenys was in the cockpit (naked like me) and we pulled up the anchor to escape the maze of the mooring field.

While Glenys held us in position with the engine, I grabbed our Samsung tablet to use the Navionics plotter app and found that the Android operating system had decided to upgrade itself and would only show me a humorous little R2D2 look-alike.  Bugger!  I turned on my laptop and left it to boot up while I rushed back onto deck. 

It was a tense ten minutes, with Glenys on the wheel and me on the bow of the boat, shining a torch into the horizontal lashing rain, dodging the moorings and boats and guessing where to head in the pitch black night.  Of course, the stinging rain was hitting parts that needn't be mentioned - it wasn't a pretty sight. Twenty minutes later, we dropped the anchor in an isolated place a mile from any other boats and went back to bed.

6 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
After a restless night, we were up early and motored back to Ao Chalong - the weather forecast was for settled conditions and we’d hired a car for the day to start buying spare parts and provisions for the Indian Ocean.  Our first job was to drop off two dive regulators and a BCD for servicing at a dive shop close to the end of Girly Street - it’s not actually called that, but it’s packed with lots of bars and massage parlours .

An expensive pile of boat spares

After negotiating horrible traffic for 30 minutes, we arrived in Boat Lagoon and spent a couple of hours wandering about buying spares from my long list.  I love Boat Lagoon - it has the best marine services in the whole of East Asia. You can buy stuff that isn’t available anywhere else -  I bought filters, toilet spares, zincs, etc, etc.  I also bought 10 metres of 8mm chain and 5 metres of 1½” toilet hose from AME Chandlers and arranged for them to send it to their shop in Ao Po Marina, so that I can pick it up next week - it’s far too heavy and bulky to take in the car. 

Our original genoa halyard was stainless steel wire spliced onto double braid rope and I’ve been agonising whether to stick with this old fashioned method or convert to Dyneema - both expensive options.  I chatted to David, the rigger at Precision Shipwright Services and he suggested that I just use cheaper Double Braid.  It will stretch a little bit, but will I care about a couple of creases in the luff of my genoa in high winds?   I don’t think so.  I bought double braid and David spliced an eye into it for me within an hour - sorted!   

Despite seeing a dentist in Penang only a month ago, a small bit of filling has fallen out of one of my teeth, so I managed to get an appointment today in Boat Lagoon.  They did two fillings - one at the bottom and one at the top, so one half of my face was frozen and I missed lunch.  We travelled on to Tesco, where Glenys did a “medium” (one big trolley) shop and I sneaked off for a Big Mac.  

It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare getting things back to the boat at Ao Chalong, with a ½ mile walk along the pier back to the dinghy, so I dropped Glenys off at the end of the pier with our shopping; returned the car and then we bummed a lift from one of the tourist Song Thaews .  It didn’t help that the gate to the pontoon where we park the dinghy is always locked.  Don’t ask me why, it’s some Asian Logic.  All the commercial Thai tourist boats have the same problem - everyone just climbs around the gate with all their bags and boxes of provisions.  

Egg & Chips - The Ultimate Comfort Food

We were back at boat by 17:15, so we decided to head over to Ao Chalong East;  anchored at 7°49.06N 098°22.77E in 5 metres of water and cracked open a well-deserved beer.

7 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
Overnight, the anchorage became a bit bouncy with the wind and swell coming in from the exposed east.   I looked at the weather forecast and a big low pressure system has formed to the west of Phuket.  The forecast was for the Low to slowly head north, twenty miles from the west coast, which would give us strong southerly winds, so I decided that we should go over to the north side of Ko Lon Island, which should give us protection from the south winds.

Unfortunately, the new anchorage was more exposed to the existing East winds, so it was pretty miserable being bounced around for three hours.  At midday, I checked the weather forecast and the low had headed east and was passing directly over us, so the wind wouldn’t be coming from the south -bummer!  I swallowed my pride and we upped anchor and headed back to where we’d started. 

The rest of the afternoon was a miserable, grey day with lashing rain, so we sulked down below.  This low pressure system has completely disrupted the NE monsoon winds that we need to get to the Andaman Islands and it looks like we’ll be stuck in Thailand for a week longer than planned. 

We were at our lowest ebb, so Glenys made Egg & Chips for dinner - the ultimate comfort food.

8 January 2017   Ao Chalong East, Thailand
It threw it down all day, so we lurked down below.  Glenys was investigating a two week land trip that we want to do in Sri Lanka, looking at good places to go hiking and accommodation.  

Having recently bought a year’s subscription and 500 minutes air time for our Satellite Phone, I spent most of my day trying to get it working.  I haven’t used the sat phone for over a year and I’d forgotten how it all connects through to my laptop.

Random Photo - Typical Thai Street Wiring

Unfortunately, I’ve also upgraded to Windows 10 and the standard Iridium driver was crashing the laptop, so after a couple hours of tearing out my hair, I downloaded a new driver, which at least didn’t crash my laptop. 

We use an email compression service from a UK company called Sailamail and they supply a utility which controls the type of data being sent via the sat phone and also reduces the size of the data to reduce the cost of using the sat phone.   Well, it used to work fine on Windows 7.  I got in touch with Sailamail and they said that I needed to buy a small firewall box from them at a staggering cost of £500.  I was not a happy bear.

To cut a long story short, Windows 10 and its applications expect to be connected to the Internet, so when they see the satellite phone connection, they all try to get access to the internet and the narrow little bandwidth of the sat phone simply gets overloaded.  Sailamail haven’t found a bulletproof way of stopping this behaviour with software, hence their hardware solution.

It took me hours to come up with a (free) solution that works.   I’m using the built-in Windows Firewall to prevent everything accessing the internet except the Sailamail email compression utility.  When I want to be in “SatPhone Mode”, I simply load a file into the Windows Firewall application and then when I want to switch back to “Wi-Fi Mode” I reload another file.  It sound like a chore, but it only takes five minutes and I’m often in either Mode for weeks at a time.

So that I won’t forget how it all works, I’ve published my notes on our website.  It’s very dry and technical, but if you’re really interested in how to get an Iridium 9555 sat phone working with Windows 10 then have a look at Configuring a Sat Phone.

9 January 2017   Ao Chalong, Thailand
We were planning to go into Ao Po Marina tomorrow and hire a car for the next day to do a huge provisioning run.   Unfortunately, the marina office sent us an email this morning saying that there are no cars available for hire - unbelievable!  So we’re just going to have to stay in Ao Chalong and hire a car here.  This is not good news because of the horrible logistics of getting loads of provisions from the car, along the ½ mile long pier, into the dinghy and back to the boat nearly ¾ mile away.   

It was another grey day, so we had another day on board.  I sent an email off to Pekka, the manufacturer of our propeller, telling him that we were getting a singing-ringing noise.  He came back saying that “It seems that propeller is singing (kind of resonance with your hull).  You can usually fix the problem by applying anti-singing edges to the propeller blade trailing edges.”  I Googled the problem and found this:

Our Singing-Ringing Propeller

Some propellers in service produce a high-pitched noise, often referred to as Singing. This sound typically is a clear harmonic tone much like a humming or ringing wine glass.

More of an annoyance than anything harmful, the causes of singing are not completely understood. Many theories have been put forward to account for the phenomenon of Singing, but it appears to be affected by critical factors for which the theories make no allowance. For instance, in some cases when a twin-screw vessel has one propeller that sings, the noise is eliminated just by switching position of the propellers.  

The singing is a function of propeller diameter, RPM, boat speed and trailing-edge geometry.   In most cases it’s impractical to alter the diameter, RPM or speed, so the main strategy has been to modify the trailing-edge geometry.

Most Propeller professionals are familiar with the Anti-singing Edge – a Chamfering of the Trailing edge, typically on the Suction side. The intent of this shape is to avoid the creation of curving flow eddies by cleanly separating the flow off of the blade.

Pekka offered to do the work for me, but we’re now too far away, so he sent me a drawing and instructions.  It’s not a particularly difficult job - I just need to file a chamfer along half the length of each of the trailing edges.  Unfortunately, it will have to be very precise, so I can’t do it underwater and I don’t want to remove the propeller again, so I’m going to leave it until we next haul out.  Unless the singing-ringing sound drives me mad… 

Our stainless steel holding tank (which temporarily holds effluent from the front toilet) has been leaking for a year now - not a pretty sight.  With a heavy heart, I pulled the front toilet to pieces.  It’s an unpleasant job, with the main problem being getting the 1½” diameter, wire-reinforced hoses off the various fittings.  The fittings are (of course) inside cupboards and very hard to get at, so I ended up cutting off most of the hoses.

Hacking off  a Hose

By the end of the day, I’d removed the four hoses, the two valve assemblies and the holding tank.  I rinsed out the holding tank by dunking it in the sea a dozen times - it needs several small holes welding up.  The main valve at the bottom of the holding tank has seized up, so I soaked it in Liquid Wrench and I’ll have a go at freeing it tomorrow.

10 January 2017   Ao Chalong, Thailand
I did some more admin in the morning.  “Sea Monkey” gave us a hard disk with loads of movies, so I spent the morning copying 50 movies and half a dozen TV series over to my laptop - it should keep us going until South Africa.

In the afternoon, I did some more work on the toilet.  I tried to free the valve, but it wouldn’t budge and I ended up snapping off the handle assembly, so I need to get a new valve.  I tidied up everything else, so it’s all ready to be reassembled when I get the holding tank welded and the new hose delivered.

In the evening, we went to beach for a meal with “Sea Monkey” and “Conrad”.

11 January 2017   Ao Chalong, Thailand
The weather forecast is starting to look a little more promising and we’re hoping that the NE monsoon winds will return in about ten days’ time.  I had another planning day and spent an hour printing out all the paperwork for checking into the Andaman Islands - a special letter to customs; a detailed itinerary of all the anchorages that we plan to visit; an inventory of all the equipment and supplies on the boat; ten copies of each Passport; ten copies of each Indian Visa; ten crew lists, etc, etc.  All have to be stamped with our Alba rubber stamp and signed.

We’re expecting it to take two days to go through the clearance procedures when we arrive.  They say that the British Empire invented bureaucracy, but that Indians have perfected it.  We’ll just have to be polite and patient.

Calculating routes on four different dates

With a firmer departure date in our heads, Glenys has been finalising our trip to Sri Lanka and actually booked some accommodation.  It looks like we’ll be visiting a Safari Park and doing lot of hiking.

The ocean crossings that we've done to date (North Atlantic and South Pacific) were fairly straight forward with firmly established trade wind routes. Crossing the Indian Ocean will be a little more complex because the route goes from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere encountering several weather patterns.  At the end of the voyage, we’ll be faced with a 1,000 mile passage between Madagascar and South Africa, which is fraught with strong weather fronts and currents. 

So far on our circumnavigation, my weather forecasting and route planning has been very simple.  I download GRIB files using our satellite phone and then predict the wind speed and direction that we will encounter using mental calculations and piece of paper. While sailing across the Pacific, I even resorted to sticking small bits of paper to my computer screen to show our forecast positions, so that I could view the expected wind speed and direction.

This manual approach has worked okay, but I've decided that it’s time to have some routing software to help me.  This will calculate a number of routes based on the weather forecast and our expected departure date.  I investigated some options, both on-line and local programs and after a lot of work, I’ve decided to use a standalone program called qtVlm.  (It’s a horrible name, but a good piece of software.)  If you want to know more, I’ve published an article called Weather Routing.

12 January 2017   Ao Chalong, Thailand
At 07:00, we motored back to Ao Chalong and anchored well clear of the damn moorings.  We then headed ashore and picked up another hire car with the intention of doing our major food provisioning and to get a few other jobs done.

The long walk down the Ao Chalong Pier

As always, our first stop was at Boat Lagoon, where we picked up the laundry which we left last week.  I took the holding tank to the stainless steel fabricator, who repaired the leak while I waited.  I haven’t been very successful in finding cheap engine filters, so I bit the bullet and bought some Volvo filters - £13 for an oil filter and a staggering £30 for a fuel filter. 

After our technical spending spree, we went to Macro, which has been recommended to us by friends, but it’s geared for bulk “cash and carry” and wasn’t much use to us.  We bought a dozen boxes of wine and some cases of beer, but it wasn’t any cheaper than Tesco.  We didn’t have much luck at Tesco either, the big store seemed to be running out of the things that we wanted, like breakfast cereal & tins of tomatoes -  they didn’t even have any potatoes. 

Nevertheless, when we arrived back at Ao Chalong, we had a car packed with stuff.  We paid 200 Baht (£4) for the privilege of driving the car to the end of the ½ mile long pier and then lugged the stuff onto the pontoon.  It took two trips in the dinghy to get it all back ¾ mile to the boat, dodging the scores of tourist boats coming back from their day trips.  I then had to go back ashore to return the car.  The moon had risen by the time I got back to the boat - a long day.

13 January 2017   Ao Chalong to Ko Yao Yai East, Thailand
The weather forecast is looking good to leave for our three day passage to the Andaman Islands later next week - the NE monsoon winds are finally kicking in.  We’ve decided to wait until the 21st to make sure that the north-easterlies are established and, by leaving on a Saturday, we’ll arrive on a Tuesday and not have to pay overtime.  

So, we’ve got a week to finish off jobs and buy any further spare parts and provisions.  Our plan is to head north to the hongs for a few days and then come back to Ao Chalong to finish off our chores.  

After tidying away some of the provisions bought yesterday, we headed ashore once again.  I wanted to pick up our two dive regulators and a BCD, which I dropped off a week ago to be serviced.  Annoyingly, they weren’t ready, so I’ll have to wait until next week to pick them up.  I then headed off to Nina Cars and booked another car for Thursday next week for our final spending spree.

Another Load of Provisions

Glenys walked to the Villa Market supermarket, which is a little more expensive than Tesco, but stocks a surprisingly wide range of goods - mostly aimed at Westerners.  After the frustrating time yesterday, she was able to tick a lot of items off her list - tinned tomatoes, a couple of tubes of tomato puree, tortillas and even Tinned Salmon!, which we haven’t seen for months.

As soon as we got back to the boat, we upped anchor; motored 25 miles up to Ao Po Marina and anchored just outside the marina.  I scooted in, persuaded the guys on the fuel dock that I didn’t need to pay for entering the marina (God help me…) and walked to the AME chandlery.  My 10 metres of chain and the 5 metres of hose for the front toilet were waiting for me, so I lugged them back to the dinghy and back to the boat.

By this time it was 16:30 and we needed to find a home for the night.  We tried to anchor to the west of Ko Nakha Yai at 08°03.47N 098°27.32E, but even at 10 metres depth, the chain was rumbling noisily over coral or rock, so we ran away.  The wind was coming from the east, so we headed 4 miles over to the north-west point of Ko Yao Yai and anchored at 08°06.64N 098°31.69E.  Unfortunately, by the time that we arrived in the anchorage, the wind had switched 180 degrees and was coming from the west making it very uncomfortable.

We now had 30 minutes until the sun went down.  Glenys looked at the Navionics chart and found that someone had placed a marker for an anchorage in 5 meters depth on the other side of the headland on the east side.  What a difference a mile makes.  We anchored at Ko Yao Yai NE at 08°06.72N 098°31.95E in 10 metres of water and it was lovely and calm.  We collapsed with a cold beer.

14 January 2017   Ko Yao Yai East to Ko Yang, Thailand
It was a nice peaceful night.  We chilled out for a few hours and then motor-sailed through the Hongs.  We’ve been to a few places in the world and the scenery here is high on our list of favourites - 300 foot high, domed limestone islands rise impressively out of the sea.  This was only marginally spoiled by the scores of tourist boats chugging or screaming at high speed past us.

Nice place to do some sail repairs

Around midday, we arrived at Ko Yang and anchored in 6 metres of water at 08°15.87N 098°29.26E.  This is a stunning anchorage next to a small island with a very extraordinary pinnacle of rock - very phallic, hence its name.  (I googled the dictionary definition for Yang - In Chinese philosophy, the active male principle of the universe, characterised as male and creative and associated with heaven, heat, and light.)

It was blisteringly hot in the afternoon, so we did our own thing and rested.  Glenys made Water Buffalo Vindaloo for dinner - very nice.

15 January 2017   Ko Yang, Thailand
We were feeling dynamic today and ticked off a few jobs, while occasionally stopping to stare at the grand scenery around us.  While we were pulling up the genoa the other day, we noticed that there was some serious wear on the luff, so we dropped the genoa onto the deck, Glenys set up her sewing machine on the front deck and spent a couple of hours doing the repair.  She then made some new safety lines out of tubular webbing - our old ones are at least three years old and probably weakened by exposure to the tropical sun.

Meanwhile, I was banished to the front heads to rebuild the toilet.  It went fairly well.  I’ve been unable to buy a valve to replace the one that has seized, so I’ve re-plumbed the hoses to bypass the holding tank.  Once I find the correct valve, it will only be a couple of hours work to fit the valve and replumb the system.

Our deck-wash pump has been tripping the fuse-switch after running it for a couple of minutes, so I suspected that one of the bearings had seized up.  I removed the pump and stripped it down, but everything looked okay, so I then suspected a faulty motor winding - I tried to change the motor with one from an old spare pump, but that was seized up.

After rebuilding and replacing the pump, I tried it again and it tripped the fuse after running for only one minute.  Perhaps it was a faulty trip-switch?  I moved the wire over to another pump trip-switch and guess what?  The damn thing works okay.  The trip-switch that I’ve been using is rated for 10 Amps and the specification says that the pump draws 12 Amps.  Duhhh - two hours of my life wasted.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any spare 16A trip-switches, so it’s gone on the shopping list.

By three o’clock, we’d had enough - it was too damn hot, so we languished in the cockpit reading a book. 

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.  

23 January 2017 Nai Harn Bay to Port Blair, Andaman Islands (Day 3)
At 07:00, we had less than 140 miles to go, so there was no rush and we had a relaxing day without having to push the boat too hard.   It was pleasant weather with 80% cloud cover and a 15 knot wind from the ENE putting us on a nice reach.  

To the east of Port Blair, there’s a sea mount called Invisible Bank that rises from 2,000 metres depth to less than 100 metres and in some places there are breaking rocks.  We wanted to give this a wide berth and the route calculated by qtVlm put us to the south of the danger, so I decided to follow the calculated route.  It meant that we’d have to turn 30 degrees further upwind at sunset, but I reckoned that it would be 60-70 degrees on the starboard tack, so would be okay.

Port Blair, Andamans

Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that the wind was slowly backing, so when we passed south of Invisible Bank and changed onto our new course directly for Port Blair, I found that that we were hard on the wind.  The actual wind direction was 20 degrees less than the GRIB files were forecasting, so my expected pleasant 60-70 degree close reach was a full-on 45 degree beat.  I was really cross with myself because we’d spent all day heading too far west. 

The first half of the night was a bit bouncy, with 15-20 knot winds and 2 metres seas, but after three o’clock, the wind started to drop and veered a little bit, so the motion much more pleasant.

24 January 2017 Nai Harn Bay to Port Blair, Andaman Islands (Day 4)
At dawn, we were five miles from the Port Blair entrance, so I contacted Port Control on VHF 16 and they gave us permission to enter.  By 07:00, we were anchored at 11°41.08N 092°42.58E in 12 metres depth.  We made good time, sailing 417 miles in 65 hours, which is an average of 6.4 knots - helped by a ½ - 1 knot current all the way.  I’m also pleased that we only used the engine for one hour, which is a welcome change.

I reported our anchorage position to Port Control and then the waiting to clear in started.  In anticipation, I laid out all my multiple copies of paperwork on the saloon table and connected our printer in case more documents were required.  I also disconnected our satellite phone and stowed it away in a plastic box with a snap-on lid.  The Indians are very sensitive about satellite phones because a couple of years ago they had a terrorist attack (involving a sailing yacht) which was coordinated by satellite phones. 

I gave Port Control another call at 0930 - apparently the Coast Guard will be coming.  A couple of hours later, I called again and they said that Immigration would be coming first.  Just before lunch, we heard that Immigration were arranging a boat to come out to us, but the first to arrive (a couple of hours later) were the Coast Guard, accompanied by a guy from the Harbour Master (I think).  They brought their 40 foot launch alongside and five guys in big shiny boots stepped aboard.  The officer in charge was very courteous and spoke excellent English.  

The Coast Guard asking questions

We all started in the cockpit with the officer asking various questions and filling in a form.  I popped down below to get copies of some documents for him and that seemed to be the signal for everyone to pile down into the saloon.  It then degenerated into chaos with two guys opening cupboards and photographing things, with Glenys trying to control them. 

The other three then started to fire questions off at me “What was our MMSI number?”; “What’s under the floor boards?” and “What’s a Solar Booster?”  The last one threw me until I realised that the guy had found our solar panel charging unit in one of the lockers. 

They were interested in our navigation and communications equipment.  They’re very sensitive about sonar and echo sounders, but I managed to fob them off by saying we have a depth gauge.  The satellite phone caused a little bit of stress, but they accepted that I’d disconnected it and stowed it away.  I promised not to use it.

One of the guys quizzed me about our fuel tanks and how much fuel we had.  I told him that we had 440 litres capacity and 400 litres of fuel.  He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that we’d only used 40 litres of diesel coming all the way from Thailand.  The officer explained that we were a sailing vessel, which didn’t use the engine much.  He didn’t seem very convinced, but let it pass.

After a fun hour, they’d acquired enough information and copies of paperwork, so they had us pose for a group photo and left.  We printed out some more copies of paperwork and waited for Customs and Immigration.

By this time, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and we didn’t have much hope of getting anyone else out to the boat.  However, I’m not one to give up, so I informed Port Control that we were finished with the Coast Guard and were now waiting for Immigration and Customs.  Port Control said that they would contact them and find out when they were coming out.  

Our Sat Phone all sealed up

I’d heard nothing back after fifteen minutes, so I called them back and was told that customs would be coming out today.  Twenty minutes later, Port Control called me and told me that Customs were waiting on the dock - you could have knocked me over with a feather...  I zipped over in the dinghy and found two Immigration Officers on the dock.  Mildly confused, I took them back to Alba and we started to fill in their various forms.  

Half way through the process, one of the Immigration officers received a phone call saying that Customs were waiting for me on the dock, so I left Glenys filling in the forms and headed back to pick them up.  We then had four guys on board.  We finished with Immigration and Glenys took them over to another boat, while I handled the customs guys. 

I was very nervous, having read about major hassles with one of the customs officers, but they were really nice and there was no hint of bribes.  (Immigration told me that there was a corrupt Customs officer, who caused problems a couple of years ago, but he is no longer here).

The Customs officers went through my inventory and my little ruse of writing down 12 bxs of wine rather than 40 litres seemed to work so, with a little additional distraction, they were soon stamping our inventory.   I was very surprised that they didn’t want to search down below, but they seemed to be content to sit in the cockpit and just ask questions.

We had a little hiccup with the satellite phone, but they liked that I’d already disconnected it and put it in a separate box.  They used a piece of printer paper and sellotape to seal the satellite box and the job was done.  All cleared in within one day and no fees - it’s a miracle.

After dropping Customs and Immigration back on the dock, we collapsed with a cold beer and, needing to catch up on sleep, we retired early.

25 January 2017 Port Blair, Andaman Islands
We had a lovely night’s sleep.  Port Blair is in the top ten of natural harbours in which we have anchored.  Apart from one entrance channel, it’s totally land locked and is deep in most places - the Indian Navy has a big naval base here with a couple of warships at dock.

Mupardee looks after our dinghy

After breakfast, we headed for the dock between Chatham Island and the mainland, where we were met by Mupardee.   There’s no really safe place to leave a dinghy because there’s quite a surge around the concrete dock.  Our man, Mupardee, has cornered a niche market and looks after yachties’ dinghies while they go ashore.  He always seems to be there and is very helpful.  

He takes your dinghy off to a mooring line away from the nasty, sharp concrete dock and then brings it back to you when you’re ready to go back to the boat.  For this service he charges a small fee.  This is a negotiation, which started at 300 rupiah (£3) for a full day and 150 rupiah for ½ day. I negotiated him down to 200 rupiah, but later found out that I’d been weak and other people were paying 100 rupiah.  I’ve now beaten him down to 150 rupiah for tomorrow and no doubt could beat him down to 100 Rupiah, but I think that he does such a valuable job that I might just pay him 200 rupiah.  I think I’m getting soft in my old age.

We caught a tuk-tuk to find the Harbour Master.  The driver spoke hardly any English and had no idea where we wanted to go, but after much pointing at Google Maps on my phone, we were dropped in the general area at some port authority.  Fifteen minutes later, after many confused conversations, we discovered that we were in the wrong place and walked back to the Port Management Board.

At every entrance into any government building, there are guards with serious looking weapons and it took some explaining to get us into the compound.  The guard spoke hardly any English and didn’t understand “Harbour Master”.  I said I needed to pay “Port Fees” (which I didn’t), but the concept of me wanting to pay something seemed to override any fears of me being a terrorist and he let us in.

Once in the building, we asked for the Harbour Master and were pointed upstairs.  I went into the Harbour Master’s Assistant’s office and they asked if I wanted to clear in or out - phew!  - found the right place.  We were shown into a palatial office, the size of a half a tennis court, where the Harbour Master sat behind a huge, 10 foot long desk.

Jarawas Tribe

He was extremely pleasant, spoke excellent English and we started to go through our planned itinerary asking questions about where we were allowed to go.  There are many restricted areas in the Andaman Islands either for nature conservation or to protect the Indigenous Andamanese people, who live in reserves.  I gleaned this information:

The Andamanese people are the original aboriginal inhabitants of the Andaman Islands.

The Andamanese are pygmies, who lead a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and have lived mostly in isolation for thousands of years.  They arrived at the Andaman Islands around the latest Ice Age about 26,000 years ago.

By the end of the eighteenth century, when they first came into sustained contact with outsiders, there were an estimated 7,000 Andamanese divided into five major groups, with distinct cultures, separate domains, and mutually unintelligible languages.   In the next century, they were largely wiped out by diseases, violence, and loss of territory.  Today, there remain only approximately 400–450 Andamanese. One group has long been extinct, and only two of the remaining groups still maintain a steadfast independence, refusing most attempts at contact by outsiders.

The most isolated are the Sentinelese who still live in their original homeland on North Sentinel Island, which lies only 20 miles to the west of the main Andaman Islands.  They are largely undisturbed and have fiercely resisted all attempts at contact, to the point of firing six foot long arrows at anyone who approaches their island.  In the summer of 1974, the Indian government organized an expedition to the Andaman Islands and produced a film about the native peoples of these islands - they weren’t welcomed.   https://youtu.be/kib-Zl3dQdk

The Andamanese people on the main island are called Jarawas and are being threatened by a trunk road that has been constructed through the middle of their reserve.   This has allowed access to tourism.  It is forbidden to have any contact with the Andamanese, but there have been many interactions, so some of the Andamanese are now wearing western clothes and their culture is rapidly being eroded. 

The Harbour Master told us not to go to Twin Islands because of conservation issues and not to go through the Andaman Straits, which is a winding causeway that cuts the main island in half.  We were hoping to sail up the west coast and then navigate the Andaman Straits to the east coast and then explore the islands on the east coast.  However, the Andaman Straits passes between two indigenous reserves and there is a chance that we might have contact - this would cause major bureaucratic complications. 

Indians love paperwork

Other boats have raved about the wonderful experience of negotiating the Straits, but it will only be a short “river” passage and we’ve already had long excursions into the Darien and Orinoco deltas, so we’re going to be good cruisers and avoid the place.  In my humble opinion, the Andamanese people need to be given the chance to decide on their future and need to be left alone.

After a fifteen minute chat, the Harbour Master summoned another guy (called Das); ripped a strip off him saying that he didn’t have time to handle the detail of changing a yacht itinerary; handed him our papers; and then, nice as pie, asked us to take a seat on one of his couches and read the newspapers while our documentation was being sorted out.

Fifteen minutes later, Das returned and we were escorted down to the ground floor.  Das was not happy because we’d bypassed him and gone straight to the big boss.  He politely asked that in future we go and see him first.   Das is the Signal Superintendent in charge of Vessel Related Charges.  All cruisers should ask for him first.  (He’s on the ground floor - from the main entrance turn immediately right through a door and proceed past some small booths to his office in the corner.)

We apologised profusely and told him that the reception desk had directed us upstairs and the assistant had taken us directly to the Harbour Master (God).  Das seemed to be placated by our apology and had one of his minions take photocopies of our other documents and we were finished. 

One cannot but marvel at the bureaucracy of the Indian Government.  Paperwork is king.  While we were in the Harbour Master’s office there was a constant stream of civil servants bringing him documents to sign.  Every transaction seemed to have at least four documents.  While we were with Das, we looked in awe at a pile of paperwork piled in the cubicle of one of his staff.

We're in India

Having completed our clearing in process, we walked into town, which is a riot of people, colour, traffic, smells and noise.  There are hundreds of Tuk-tuks and motorbikes crowding the streets, with people weaving their way through the traffic.  Every other vehicle seems to be tooting a horn and there’s an all pervading smell of curry.  It’s glorious.

Yesterday, the Immigration officers told us that the best telecom provider is BSNL, which is a government controlled telecom company.  Unfortunately, SIM cards can only be bought at the main BSNL office, so we caught a tuk tuk up there.  Expecting a paperwork nightmare, it was actually very simple - I supplied a copy of my passport & visa plus a passport photo, paid 230 rupiah (£2.30) and we were handed a sim card with 1 GB data. 

After a short walk back to the Aberdeen Clock Tower in town, we had a curry at the Gangan restaurant, which was okay - our first real Indian Curry.  We spent the next couple of hours exploring the town, then caught a tuk tuk to the National Park Authority in Haddo    

There are a lot of Salt Water Crocodiles in the Andaman Islands, which have been known to occasionally grab tourists and drag the bodies off to their lairs.  We’re obviously keen to avoid this, so the plan was to ask the National Park Authority where the safe and dangerous areas were.  They told us to go to an office on Chatham Island, but after we’d walked fifteen minutes to get there, they were either closed or we’d been sent on a wild goose chase - very frustrating.  

We were mildly dehydrated and tired by the time we got back to Alba, but invited Mike & Jennifer from “Mahili” over for a beer or two.  

26 January 2017    Port Blair, Andaman Islands
It was India’s Republic Day, so we were up early to get into town to see the celebrations.  We jumped in the dinghy at 06:45, but the outboard broke down when we were half way towards the jetty  - it’s 0.8 miles from our anchorage to the jetty.  I immediately suspected that the carburettor had blocked up again and could see water in our in line filter. 

Busy in Port Blair

We started to row back to Alba, but “Mahili” spotted us and came to our rescue.  They took us back to the boat and waited for fifteen minutes, while I removed the carburettor, cleaned and replaced it.  Unfortunately, it still wouldn’t start, so we cadged a lift ashore with “Mahili”.  Being a public holiday, there weren’t many tuk-tuks about, so we ended up squeezing all four of us into one tuk-tuk, which was tight.

It was very busy in town, with the main road blocked off by police and thousands of people milling about.  It was a noisy, colourful scene with horns tooting, vendors shouting and ladies dressed in brightly coloured saris.  We walked to the sports stadium where policemen guarded the gates, frisked everyone and searched bags.  I even had to take a photograph with my camera to prove that it was real.  They appear to be on a very high alert for terrorist activity.

We found a concrete seat, which was partially in the shade and waited patiently with the hundreds of locals. Eventually, there was a parade with five units of soldiers, who looked very smart, marching in their dress uniforms.  We then had an hour of interminable speeches and a helicopter flew past with the Indian flag suspended below - it was mind numbingly boring.  The local people sat around us were very shy and I couldn’t get anyone to interact with me - very different to Indonesia where we would be surrounded by chatting kids.

Cool Hats

They then had a long parade with various groups marching around the arena - army, navy, coastguard, schools, etc, etc.  After twenty minutes, there seemed to be no end to it, so we ran away.  It was much more interesting watching the locals haggling at the shops back in town.  After a really tasty curry for lunch in a Hotel Green Park restaurant,  we caught a tuk-tuk back to the boat.

I immediately tackled the outboard.  My first job was to empty all of the petrol out of the fuel tank because I suspect that it has phase separated.  I now have 10 litres of bad fuel, which I’ll have to dispose of somehow.  I then put new fuel in to the tank and pumped the new fuel through the pipe work all the way to the carburettor.  I then stripped down the carburettor, cleaned and reassembled it.  Thankfully, the outboard runs okay.  No doubt we’ll be very nervous about breaking down for the next couple of weeks.

In the evening we went over to “Mahili” for a beer or two.  It’s funny how sometimes you just seem to “gel” with some people.  We’ve only met Mike and Jennifer 48 hours ago, but we feel like we’ve known them for ages.  They’ve been cruising for ten years and have the same mentality as us - much different to the people who chose to stagnate around the Malay Peninsula.

27 January 2017    Port Blair to Chidiyatapu, Andaman Islands
We were up early because we’re in the same time zone as Delhi, which means that the sun rises at 05:30.  At seven o’clock, I called Port Control to request permission to leave the port.  They came back five minutes later and told us that the Coast Guard have refused permission because they have no proof that our satellite phone had been sealed by customs.

Holy Cows wander everywhere

We waited an hour and I tried again.  Apparently the Coast Guard still have to speak to Customs - standby...  I tried half an hour later - standby…  At 09:30, Port Control called and asked me to take our Customs clearance to the radio tower.  I took all our paperwork and also the satellite phone in its sealed container.

The Port Control tower is inside the Chatham Sawmill complex and I found my way up the rickety stairs to the VHF room.  They looked at my documentation and the sealed sat phone and sent a fax to the Coast Guard saying that they’ve seen the Customs clearance and if they’d heard nothing back in one hour, Port Control would grant departure clearance.

One my way out of the complex, I noticed a sign for the Forestry Commission and, after asking around, I ended up in the Wildlife Office.  I found someone who could speak a bit of English and I was eventually taken into an office of a superintendent.  My main purpose was to see if they had any information about the location of saltwater crocodiles.  It was like a Monty Python sketch.

“Do you have information showing the locations of crocodiles?”
“You want to find Crocodiles?”
“No, I want to know where there are no Crocodiles”
(Much head wiggling).
“I want to know where it’s safe to swim”.
“Crocodiles are not in tourist places”
“Yes, but….”

After 30 minutes, it was clear that they had no idea about the locations of crocodiles.  The only advice I obtained was that crocodiles will “probably” be near mangroves and that crocodiles will “probably not” be on ocean facing beaches.

I think yellow areas are National Parks

During the protracted conversation, they mentioned a few places where we have to get a special permit from them e.g. Cinque Islands.  These places are in National Parks and there is a hefty fee of 500 rupiah per person per day and 1000 rupiah per boat per day (for us that would be £20/day). 

I asked if they had a map of the boundaries of the National Parks.  No chance.  So how do I know where I can or can’t go?  They referred to the Restricted Area Permit, which is issued by the Immigration office.  This states places that we can go and specific places that we can’t go - such as Twin Islands and any of the Andamanese Reservations.  So the basic rule is that I have to abide by the Restricted Area Permit.

However, this is not as clear cut as it seems, because the Restricted Area Permit specifically allows us to go to the Cinque islands (during the daytime), but there’s no mention that a special (expensive) permit is required.  The Harbour Master told me that we could go there.  There’s further confusion because other cruisers have reported that the fees are only applicable if you go ashore.  We’re going to go to the Cinque islands as a daytrip and not go ashore and we’ll see what happens.

I was back on board Alba by 10:30 and at 11:00 on the dot, I called Port Control.  After a delay of a few minutes, they got back to us and gave permission to leave.  Thirty seconds later, I was pulling up the anchor.

Crocodile Nets on Chidiyatapu Beach

It was a tough bash to get out of the harbour, directly into a 15 knot wind, but we were soon past Ross Island and heading south on a reach.  We’ve heard reports of good fishing along the coast, so I put out two fishing lines, but no joy.  We arrived at Chidiyatapu Beach and dropped anchor in 15 metres at 11°29.28N  092°42.40E.  (There’s a large breaking rock at 11°28.68N  092°42.21E, which you can go either side of.)

The anchorage is pleasant enough, with a beach that is supposed to be popular with the locals at weekends.  There’s a fringing reef along the coast that we’ll go to explore tomorrow (providing that Glenys doesn’t spot any Crocodiles).

28 January 2017    Chidiyatapu, Andaman Islands
The internet coverage on the mobile phone network is absolute rubbish.  We were unable to pick up any emails when in Port Blair, so I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that we had a good enough connection to download my back log of 200 emails.  I’ve been subscribed to a Hallberg Rassy Yahoo Group and I receive about 20 emails a day about postings, which was interesting when I had a good connection, but it has blocked any other important emails, so I’ve unsubscribed from it.

The main reason that I want access to my email is that it’s the only way that we can download GRIB files now that we can’t use our satellite phone.  I was relieved to be able to obtain a GRIB file and the weather looks to be good for the next seven days with light 10 knot NNE winds.

After sorting out our admin, we made some sandwiches and went ashore.  The tide was in, so it was easy to chain our dinghy to a tree at the high water line.  Walking along the beach we came across a very sturdy net, which encloses a swimming area that is protected from crocodiles.  There’s a life guard on duty overlooking the area.  There’s a notice board saying “Swimming not recommended” and says that the most recent sighting was 3 months ago, so that’s stopped us going snorkelling.  

Crocodile Sightings

The area behind the beach has picnic tables and seating and looks very organised.  We walked north out of the beach area along a narrow road leading through very pretty forest with huge trees and then along the seashore.  After a mile, we came into a small village where we were surprised to find a “Biological Park”.  It was only 50 rupees (£0.50) per person, so we went in to have a look.  

We spent a pleasant hour wandering around the place, which is shaded and has various enclosures with local wildlife, including saltwater crocodiles, wild boar, monitor lizards and deer.  The enclosures are very large and natural, which is good for the animals, but makes it very difficult for us to see them.  We didn’t see any crocodiles, but there were some huge Water Monitor Lizards, the wild pigs were amusing and there’s a herd of beautiful “Bambi” type deer.  

There are informative display boards and we found some interesting information on the indigenous native people.  I hadn’t realised that there are six different tribes living in the region who have completely different languages.  The tribe who lives on South and Middle Andaman are called the Jarawas and are the only ones that we have any chance of seeing. 

After leaving the Biological Park, we walked a little further north through the village and came across a beach with two dive centres.  The first one was closed up, but the second one is called Lacadives and is run by a guy called Nigel, who speaks excellent English.  He charges 3000 rupees (£30) for a dive, so we’re going to do a two tank dive with him, in a few days when we come back north.

We walked back to the beach and joined a well-worn path at the south end of the beach, which steadily climbed up through forest to the lighthouse on the headland.  There are some impressive cliffs on the east coast.  It was a pleasant two mile hike (there and back).

Rutland South East, Andaman Islands

By the time that we returned to our dinghy, the tide was very low and we had to drag the damn thing 100 metres across the sand to the sea.  Fortunately, the sand was hard packed, so our dinghy wheels worked well.  Back on Alba, we risked a cooling swim around the boat and collapsed.

29 January 2017    Chidiyatapu to Rutland South East, Andaman Islands
After breakfast, we headed south, motor-sailing because the wind was very light and anchored in Rutland Island SE in 11 metres at 11°21.22N 092°39.55E.  There’s a beautiful white sand beach here, but the north-east swell hooks around the corner making it a bit rolly.

Nigel in the dive centre told us that there are no crocodiles on the south coast of Rutland - they prefer the western coast.  Another tip he gave us is that it’s best to swim at low tide -apparently crocodiles come out of the mangroves at high tide.  With this in mind, we went for a snorkel at the tip of the headland next to the anchorage, but we were constantly watching out for crocodiles and Glenys didn’t stray very far from the dinghy.

The snorkelling was very disappointing, with no coral.  Instead, the sea bed is mostly rock and the water visibility was poor.  There are plenty of fish including some huge Bumphead Parrotfish, but I couldn’t get close enough to get a decent photo. We gave up after twenty minutes and went to the beach.

The wave conditions were fairly calm, but there were still breaking waves on the shore, which meant that we had to jump into waist-deep water to control the dinghy.  With the dinghy safely pulled up the steep sand, we walked along the beach looking for seashells, but there was nothing of interest.  There are tracks of turtles going up to nests, but it looks like the local Monitor Lizards are good at raiding the nests - there were many nests dug up with egg shells scattered around. 

We soon gave up and retreated back to the boat.

30 January 2017    Rutland South East to South Cinque Island, Andaman Islands
It was a fairly rolly night, but not too bad - apart from something “clicking” in the cupboards next to my head.  Damn irritating because it was intermittent and I couldn’t find out what was causing the noise.  After a leisurely breakfast, we upped anchor and headed towards the Cinque Islands and had a pleasant 4-mile sail with a 10-15 knot North-east wind.

There was a swell coming from the north-east and it seemed likely that the anchorage at 11°18.74N 092°42.40E would be untenable, so we headed to the south side of the island around  11°18.25N 092°42.16E.  The seas were calm and it looked like a good spot off a beach, but we couldn’t find any sand patch to drop our anchor.  To me, it all looked like rock or coral, so after ten minutes of searching, we gave up and headed south.

Two Octopii

We finally dropped our anchor at South Cinque Island in 7 metres of water at 11°15.86N  092°41.64E.  It’s a gorgeous looking bay with a white sand beach, backed by forest and some cliffs on the headland.  Even better is that our anchor is completely buried in good holding sand.

We hopped in the dinghy and went snorkelling next to some rocks near the shore to the north of our anchorage.  The water was nice and clear, but there was no coral at all - just flat rock.  However, there were plenty of fish darting about and the day was saved by Glenys finding a couple of large octopii, which were hidden in a crevice.

The way that they camouflage themselves is incredible.  One was tucked right into the corner of the crevice with just a single eye visible, while the other was a little more visible, but had altered its colours to be the same as the surrounding rock.  Interestingly the octopus on the outside had a single tentacle stretching back and touching the other one - almost like a male giving reassurance to his mate.

After lunch, we went snorkelling again on the large rocks off the point to the north of the anchorage, but again there was no coral apart from a few scattered isolated clumps on the rock.  It didn’t matter too much, we spent a happy hour diving down and looking at the plentiful fish.  There were some huge 3 foot Bumphead Parrotfish and a very photogenic Blacktip Grouper .

In the late afternoon, back on the boat, Glenys noticed some dark shapes swimming around the boat.  I grabbed my camera and lowered myself into the water to find that there was a shoal of ten Rays, with a 4 foot wing span, swimming around.  Unfortunately, the light was poor and the Rays kept a watchful distance from me, so I couldn’t get a decent photo - I think that they were Devil Rays , which are similar to Manta Rays, but smaller.  As the sun went down, a small group of Spotted Deer arrived on the beach to forage.  I like this place even though it's rolly.

Nasty Jellyfish Sting

31 January 2017    Rutland South East, Andaman Islands
A couple of days ago, I noticed a weal and a dozen spots on my right shoulder, which I assume was a sting from a jellyfish obtained when we swam around the boat after our hike.  I didn't feel the sting at the time, but over the past few days it has become inflamed and there are blisters forming on the weal.  I washed it and applied some antibiotic cream.  Later in the day, I washed it again, broke a couple of the blisters in the process and then applied some Betadine antiseptic wash.

We were planning to go snorkelling this morning, but my jellyfish sting looked so bad that we abandoned the idea and headed off for an anchorage on the west coast of Rutland Island.  Unfortunately, by the time that we got there, the wind was 15 knots from the north-west bringing 2-3 foot waves into the anchorage.

There was nowhere else close by, so we carried on for 12 miles, past Jolly Boys Island and back to Chidiyatapu West .  We anchored further west than last time at 11°30.02N 092°41.67E in 9 metres of water.  We’re very close to the Lacadive Scuba Centre and we’re hoping that my jellyfish sting will be starting to heal tomorrow and we can go for a dive the following day.

There are more photos in our Photo Album section.