March 2017 - Sri Lanka & Maldives

1 March to 9 March 2017
At the beginning of March we were on a road trip around Sri Lanka, which is covered in a separate article .

10 March 2017   Udawalawe to Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Saranga met us at the bus station in Matara, took us to bakery to get some “shorts” (samosas, etc) and then called in at a laundry to drop off our dirty clothes.  This small laundry is tucked away in a  back street, but is supposed to be the best in Mirissa and is used by many of the Guest Houses.  They air dry everything and tend to use an iron to help semi-dry the clothes before pegging out.  The iron that they use is a wonder to behold.  It’s a huge cast iron device into which they place burning charcoal made from coconut shells - must be a hundred years old.

We’re planning to leave Sri Lanka in a few days, so we arranged for Suranga to take us shopping tomorrow.  He was uncertain if the liquor store would be open on a weekend, so I jumped into his tuk-tuk and we went to Weligama, where I bought five cases of beer and a couple of bottles of the local rum.

It’s so much hotter on the coast than inland and there was no breeze in the afternoon, so we suffered on our hot, stuffy boat with all the fans going.  We had an early dinner of egg and beans on toast and had an early night.

Ready To Party

11 March 2017  Mirissa, Sri Lanka
The weather forecast shows light and variable winds for the next two weeks, which means that we’ll be motoring for all of the 400 miles to the Maldives.  Our visas expire on the 20th March, so we’ve decided that we might as well leave on Wednesday 15th.  We want to visit Galle town for a day, so we’ll catch a bus from here on Monday, sail to Galle and clear out on Tuesday and then leave early the next day.

After breakfast, I topped up our diesel tank from our three jerry cans and then we spent most of the day stocking up with food, drinks and fuel.  Saranga ran us around for 2½ hours in the morning and then late in the afternoon took me to get more fuel and pick up our laundry.  By the end of the day, we were fully stocked up and ready to sail to the Maldives.

Tomorrow is a full moon and a national holiday called “Medin Poya”, so there was a lot of partying going on in the evening.  There were lots of young men (15-30) wandering around, wearing sarongs with bare chests and paintings on their backs.  By five o’clock, most of them had consumed copious amounts of Arrack and showed no sign of stopping until midnight.  Small parties were happening with drums, trumpets and trombones playing while everyone manically danced.  It was very crazy, so we stayed out of the way and had a quiet night in watching a movie.

12 March 2017  Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Saranga told us that there was a parade in town starting at about nine o’clock.  We found the Buddhist temple and there were a lot of people milling about.  There was a drum and flute band playing in the temple; children dressed in brightly coloured costumes and half naked young men who looked like they’d been up all night partying.

Medin Poya Parade

It took the “organisers” an hour to round everyone up into a line - total chaos.  Eventually the parade started at about ten o’clock.  The main road was lined with locals six-deep, with hawkers selling helium balloons, ice cream and rattle drums made from old tin cans.  The parade turned right onto the main road, but for some reason the twenty policemen didn’t think to stop the traffic, so it was mayhem.  Buses, trucks, tuk-tuks and motorbikes, were trying to move in both directions while the parade took up at least half of the road.

Eventually, the police got their act together and started a one-way traffic system, which at least allowed the parade to move forwards.  It was a carnival atmosphere with small groups of children, teenagers and adults, dressed in brightly coloured outfits and accompanied by drum bands - great fun.

After an hour, we’d had enough and went back to the boat to do some jobs.  We removed the bimini and Glenys repaired a zip that was coming loose.  Meanwhile, I donned snorkelling gear and spent an hour cleaning the propeller in the grim, dirty water.  I’m glad that I did the job because the propeller had a layer of barnacles and then soft growth one inch thick.  We should be able to motor a little faster now.

Our afternoon was a quiet affair - it’s too damn hot to do anything, except have a siesta.

13 March 2017  Mirissa, Sri Lanka
Despite the no-wind weather forecast, our plan is still to leave Sri Lanka in two days’ time, so I was up early doing some administration.   I contacted our Sri Lanka agent (Isle Shipping) and arranged to be cleared out tomorrow, with the intention of leaving for the Maldives the following day.  

It’s a 440 mile passage, so we would like to leave at dawn on the 15th to give us a chance of arriving during daylight on the 18th.  If we stay in Galle port overnight, we won’t get permission to leave the port until after 09:00 because the Navy don’t start work until then.  Therefore, I’ve asked the agent if we can anchor outside the port overnight, so we can leave early.

Walking around the wall of Galle

I then sent an email to an agent (Real Sea Hawks) in the Maldives, appointing them and supplying the relevant, completed forms. A guy called Assad came back quickly, confirming that there are no extra charges for arriving on a weekend and that we can buy fuel in the small town of Uligama.  Fruit is very difficult to obtain in the Maldives, so the agent asked if we could bring some pomegranites and pineapples...

We caught a local bus into Galle and had a Tourist day out.  The old town is an interesting place.  As usual in South-east Asia, the Portuguese arrived first in the early 1500s and then the Dutch arrived a hundred years later and took control. The fortified old town, with it’s lovely, narrow streets was built by the Dutch and still retains much Dutch architecture - surprisingly, the British didn’t follow their usual tactic of burning the town when they took over in 1800. 

From the bus station, it was a short walk around the cricket stadium, entering via a tunnel through the thick walls.  Inside, we wandered over to a notice board with a street map, where (unsurprisingly) an old guy immediately struck up a conversation with us.  Instead of the usual, “Where are you from?”; this guy amazed us by asking “Are you from a yacht?”  

In a way, I was dismayed that we’d been compartmentalised so quickly.  Was it the deep suntan?  Or the ten year old t-shirt? Or Glenys’ sun-bleached blonde hair? Or our bowlegged, swaying walk from years on a roiling deck? Who knows - at least the guy got my attention for a couple of minutes – until he tried to get us into a tuk-tuk, so that he could show us his batik and wood carvings...

Downtown Galle

We had an enjoyable, if hot, stroll around the walls – there are some interesting old colonial buildings around the edge of the compact town and fabulous views of the surrounding sea. We then ventured into the town and walked through some of the pretty, narrow streets, finishing off in Pedlar Street, where I bought Glenys a belated 60th Birthday present of a Moonstone pendant and earrings.  Moonstone is one of the semi-precious gems that Sri Lanka produces and it has a nice blue glow inside when the light catches it.

After a mediocre lunch in one of the many sanitised tourist cafes, we walked out of the tranquil fort into the mayhem of the commercial district of Galle.  We looked around a few of the local shops, where Glenys bought some Buffalo Curd, which is a local delicacy served with Honey for breakfast.  We also bought six pineapples - four for the agent in the Maldives.  Pomegranites were an outrageous price, so we didn’t buy any.

Back on the boat, we tidied up in the afternoon and had a quiet night in.

14 March 2017   Mirissa to Jungle Beach, Sri Lanka
We had an early start; checked the engine; prepared for sea and left Mirissa at 08:00.  We were a little concerned about the tight berth that we’d squeezed into, especially because one of the 50 foot charter catamarans had parked at the end of the pontoon, partially blocking our exit.  However, the crew gave us a hand and with one of them on the bow of the catamaran pulling our stern out, it was a doddle to extract ourselves.

There was no wind, so we motored to Galle, stopping half way for an hour to make some water.  I contacted Galle Port Control who made us anchor outside the breakwater to await Naval clearance.  Although we anchored in roughly the same spot as before, our anchor rumbled over rock or coral. I emailed the agent, to say that we’d arrived and he rang me back saying that the Navy had given permission for us to enter the port, which saved us some time.

Galle Marina

The “marina” had quite a few med-moor berths available, but one of the concrete walls was vacant, so we moored alongside.  We’d only just finished off tying our ropes when the Agent representative arrived with two Navy guys.  They  stepped on board and immediately went down below with their big boots on.  They wanted a copy of our clearance from Galle to Mirissa, which meant that I had to photograph it, transfer it to my laptop and then print it out, which took ten minutes, so I shooed them into the cockpit out of the way.

The agent then had me sign some forms and went away with our passports to get the necessary clearance from Immigration and Customs.  An hour later, we had everything completed, including permission to leave the port and a special clearance to anchor at Jungle Beach overnight.

I’m glad that we didn’t spend more than a couple of hours against the wall in the “Marina” because there was quite a surge as the prevailing south swell worked it’s way into the port.  Apparently, it was worse last week, but Alba was still straining and snatching at the ropes as we were pushed about. 

I’d deliberately gone alongside where there were two car tyres to give us some protection in addition to our fenders, but we had a few resounding thumps from the hull as we bounced about.  Upon investigation I found that, in the middle of one of the tyres, there was a thick iron loop sticking six inches out from the wall.  As we surged against the wall, the tyres were compressing and the iron loop was slamming into our topsides.  I was annoyed to find four or five small gouges in our beautiful, shiny, recently painted top stripe.

Jungle Beach Anchorage

By 14:30, we escaped Galle harbour and motored a couple of miles to anchor off Jungle Beach at 06°01.18N 080°14.25E in 9 metres of water on sand.  It’s a lovely spot next to two small beaches with an impressive white pagoda on the high hill above the bay.  The headland sticks out enough that bay is well protected from the southern swell.

After cleaning the dirt and slime from three weeks in Mirissa from our fenders and ropes, we had a quiet afternoon and evening.  We’re both feeling more apprehensive than normal about this trip.  It seems very wrong to be leaving port on a long passage when there’s no wind forecast for the foreseeable future.  If the engine fails, then we’ll be faced with a very, very slow passage - it could take us two weeks to sail 400 miles…