A Sailing Voyage and Holiday with RYA Courses and Sailing Instruction.
The Cruise was from Phuket Thailand to the Similan Islands, then to The Andaman Islands India in Asia
The crew arrived and we completed all the final preparations for our trip on Meniscus before settling down for a quiet night and an early start the following morning. A lot of thought and organisation had already been put into planning this trip. We have collected quite a bit of information from the web including www.noonsite.com and collated this with a number of useful Google maps. We applied for our visas via Emotion Travel in Phuket at a cost of 5,200 Baht and been restricted to only 15 days which is rather a shame.
Andaman's - Formally a British colony now administered by India , the 300 or so Andaman Islands are the highest peaks of a submerged mountain range that stretches from Sumatra in the south to the Irawaddy delta in the north. There are literally hundreds of deserted islands to explore, each one seemingly more spectacular than the last. The beaches are magnificently pristine. The snorkeling and scuba diving is amongst the best in the world with an almost untouched marine eco-system and the fishing is excellent. There is a live volcano, thousands of square miles of untouched jungle, exotic and thriving wildlife and primitive hunter-gatherer tribes.
Mark the skipper - 'Its nice to be cruising and exploring in remote and un traveled areas again. These Islands are very un-spoilt with original forest, little signs of habitation and intrusion by man. We have seen some great wildlife, explored many places not even shown properly on our charts and met some wonderful people."
Glen Ainsworh - Originally from the UK, lives in Poland, RYA Yacht Master Ocean and owner of a Westerly Storm called Walusatu. He plans to do more cruising in his own boat soon.
Nick Jarvis - Lives in the UK, achieved his RYA Coastal Skipper on the trip. He enjoys sailing long distances and exploring remote places. He plans to go off chartering in the Med. After living for 2 years in the Antarctic, recording data on the ozone layer, he has some interesting tales to tell.
Kevin Black - A Kiwi and a Professional Padi and BSAC Diver who also achieved his RYA Coastal Skipper. He is planning on buying his own boat to run a sailing diving operation in the Caribbean some time in the future. He was very keen to do some diving in the Andaman's and see Manta Ray and Dugong. www.kiwidiver.com
Our first job on Tuesday 10th February was to clear Phuket Customs and Immigration before sailing. The wind was light and we pretty much motored around to Nai Yang and anchored for the first night. We had our meal and looked at the weather forecast and it soon became apparent that the wind was going to be light but would go North West the following afternoon - exactly on the nose for our trip to the Similans. It didn't take too long to decide that we should really leave straight away if we were to stand any chance of sailing at all. A quick couple of hours sleep and we shipped the anchor and set sail for the Similans - well we motored as there was no wind and it was quite a few hours before we managed any sailing at all but it was a very clear moon lit night - the moon was full.
Log 00.00 Course 330 Log 761.1 Wind NNE 1 - Anchor up, wind light but full moon.
Anyway a good short passage to get into the swing of watches and we arrived in the Similans at about midday in time for a swim and some relaxation.
The wind was again very light for our trip from the Similans to Port Blair. For the first day the wind was right on the nose and we ended up motor sailing north north west for 70 miles until it veered north easterly and we were able to get a course any where near our rumb line. We managed to sail for the next two days hard on the wind. This course took us inexorably towards Invisible Bank, a shallow bank with some reef awash. An area we had intended to avoid by a good margin (it is the only reef in about 500 miles of ocean and we struggled against the wind which was determined to take us there). In the end we sailed close enough to see breakers on the reef.
One unusual phenomenon that we encountered were frequent over falls or eddies in the water. I have seen these in the Ocean before when current is meeting another coming from another direction, coming up or down possibly over an obstruction or through some thermal change. However, I have never seen them with such regularity and we encountered them more and more frequently as we approached the Andaman's sometimes between three and ten mile intervals. I can only imagine this could be due the uneven bottom which varies from 400 to 3000 meters. These were noticeable even in the conditions we were experiencing with very calm very light winds. The patches were sometimes quite large and often produced and very short chop or confused waves from several directions, usually with an increase in wind which gave us a useful lift nearer the course we wanted.
After passing Invisible Reef we were forced to motor sail into the light NNE wind in order to make Port Blair. Approximately 30 miles out the Coast Guard Ship 74 - Akka Devi found us, circled us and then then hailed us. Switching to VHF we where asked for a comprehensive list of details about crew ship and destination while they kept pace with us (for anyone contemplating a visit to Andaman's make sure you give the number of people on board as crew and passengers if this is important for you next port clearance - once they have made a note you cannot change it). We contacted Port Blair Port Control on VHF 16 about 10 miles out. Our arrival time would have been approximately 0200 hours at that time but we were told to stand off until 0500 hrs. In hind sight maybe we could have requested permission to anchor at Ross Island. Anyway we were right between Ross Island and North Point at 0500 and were soon in the harbour and anchored.
Port Blair - N 11 41.3 - E 92 42.9
After reporting our crew and ships details to Port Control via Channel 16 then 12 we were told to wait for Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard to board us. We waited a while until after 0900 and asked Port Control if they could let us know when we would be boarded but were only told to stand by on 16. Later on we were told we would be seen after lunch. However, just before lunch Customs came to the dock and we collected them in our dinghy.
There were three officers dressed fairly casually and wore light shoes, not a problem on going below. They went through all our paperwork and took away pre-prepared lists of food onboard, ships inventory, a request to enter Andaman with ships details and crew list and copies of passport, boat registration and visa. We informed them that Nick would be leaving by air on the morning of our departure Monday 2nd March and this appeared to be no problem other than we should inform immigration. Their form were filled in and everything was duly signed stamped with the ships stamp and dated. The list of alcohol onboard was not required as we only had open bottles and a few beers otherwise we would have had to put half the items under seal and go back to Port Blair to have them un-bonded. Unfortunately as we had so little whiskey or beer with us we were unable to provide any to be taken away on request.
Just after lunch the Coast Guard arrived in a heavy duty 8 meter launch and six uniformed officers boarded us. We needed our fenders out for this as their launch is high sided and meant for crossing from the dock to ships. Two Immigration officers arrived on the dock shortly afterwards and were collected by dinghy. They were happy to wait for the Coast Guard to finish.
The six Coast Guard Officers removed their boots and came below perching themselves around our table. There were two different forms to complete but they both seemed to require the same information so once I had given the information for one form I started getting them to copy it form the other form. The forms were extensive, covering EPIRB serial numbers, MMSI, call sign, any communications equipment. However, they were soon completed and with copies of all our various documents all stamped and signed and a quick inspection of the vessel, some questions about the equipment they were all re-boarding their Launch and on their way.
The two immigration officers also removed their shoes and came below for the paperwork. Again it was soon completed and they took away their copies of our documents as well. Again we informed them that Nick would be leaving by air on the morning of our departure and again this did not seem to be a problem.
As a point of interest we were told by immigration that if we had applied ourselves rather than use an agent we would probably have got a 30 day permit. Kevin and Nick also managed to get 30 day visas and I met another yachtie couple who had just applied for an Indian visa and not specified Andaman's, they got 30 days on entry.
Once these three visits have been made we were officially allowed on shore and we were now ready for our visit to the Harbour Master but it was a bit late in the day and the office was closing so we made our plans to visit him the following morning. We did of course go ashore for some local curry and few beers. We found Ravi the taxi driver (09434262030 - firstname.lastname@example.org) and got him to shuttle us around. As we had limited time we kept him on to wait for us or collect us at given times. We tried the Megapore restaurant but preferred the food at the Light House the following night. We stopped at some less salubrious places for lunch and enjoyed some very pleasant India food every where we went.
There is a boy at the dock who looks after the dinghies and moves them around. He charged us 200 rupees the first night for just a few hours and the second day we told him 200 was too much and just gave him a 100 rupees which he was not very happy about. There after, without asking him, we gave him 150 rupees per day and 100 per part day and this seemed to work OK.
On arriving at the Harbour Masters office I found I needed copies of my Customs, Coast Guard and Immigration papers and had to go and get these before the paperwork could be completed. However, it was easily done and all I had to do was wait for about 2 hours. It turned out that the Harbour Master was doing an inspection. Once he arrived I was quickly seen and we went through my proposed list. I had basically listed everything so we crossed off those islands which required Forestry Office approval (such as Cinque, Interview, Reef etc) and those Islands that were restricted anyway. With our plan submitted and agreed all we had to do was re provision, check email and see some of the town. At this point all the fuss about the Indian bureaurcratic hassle seemed totally exaggerated. The paperwork itself had been relatively easy and the officers had completed their forms themselves. All we had had to do was wait, no real problem for us although have heard of people waiting for several days.
Port Blair is a bustling town with a fruit and veg market. There seem to be most things available for boats if you need them. The ubiquitous old Ambassador taxis, tuk tuks, buses and of course the cows are everywhere. The cows seem to spend most of their time rooting through the rubbish directing traffic from traffic islands or waiting at bus stops. The buses are also easy to get and reasonably frequent although nobody ever knows when the next one will be. It has certainly seen better days and could do with a lick of paint but otherwise it is much the same as any other town in a country which is not over affluent.
South Bay, Rutland Island - N 11.21.3 E 92.39.1
We sailed out of Port Blair and west of Ross Island passing about a mile off shore down to Rutland Island. We cruised into the large eastern bay on Rutland Island. This bay had a number of beaches on the southern shore and looked as though it might have good snorkeling too. Many trees were down and the shore line looked as though there had been quite a bit of damage from the Tsunami.
The Southern bay had a long beach with a small river estuary flowing out near the centre. The beach is steep too east of this and shelves to shallower reef to the west. The reef here is mostly dead with new growth forming on top. There were several sets of turtle tracks here as well as signs of wild pigs, monitor lizards, large birds and possibly some sort of cat. The forest behind is quite dry and easy to walk through with a considerable amount of damaged and dead trees from the Tsunami. It was a very beautiful spot and worth staying longer.
Passage Island - N 11.11.4 E 92.39.7
A long Island laying north to south. Even in light conditions it seemed quite exposed and unsuitable for a night anchorage. We anchored in about 17 meters in sand and broken coral. Close inshore the bottom was covered with large boulders and coral heads with a large number of reasonable sized fish swimming amongst them. A good area for diving, snorkeling and fishing.
Sisters Islands - N 11.11.4 E 92.43.6
We found Sisters Island a little more sheltered and a better option for over night anchoring although it would be prone to swell in stronger conditions. We anchored in 11 meters of water on sand and broken dead coral south of the narrow gap between the islands. There is some snorkeling over stag horn and table coral and some fish, including a 3 meter moray, but not abundant. The best snorkeling was probably along the rocky shore. There is a white sand and coral beach piled up on the northern shore which had quite a swell even with little wind.
Chiryatapu - N 11.29.7 E 92.41.6
Well sheltered from the North, we anchored in 12 meters about half a mile east of the normal harbour in a small pass in the reef. This seemed a more pleasant anchorage than the one near the small boat anchorage although that was closer in shore. The snorkeling on the reef here was good and there were a number of large fish on the reef. Ashore all we found was a couple of shops with little in them, a government guest house and a few houses on the hill. There is some development taking place so maybe it will be more dynamic in future. We learned that there was a restaurant 9 km away in Burmanala so we jumped in a tuk tuk and went for a quick meal. It was pleasant drive through the hills and we passed through a small village (which might have been Burmanala) where we were able to get a few vegetables. The driver was in a hurry to get back to meet another client so we went haring off back to Chiryatapu. Kevin on the port side, me on the starboard taking great delight in hanging out of the open doorway to keep the thing upright as we rounded the corners at break neck speed. The driver had asked for 200 Rupees at the beginning but wanted 600 when he dropped us off. Well a deal is a deal so he only got 200 - he was n't happy!
Jolly Bouy - N 11.30.7 E 92.37.0
Sailing through Macpherson straight we stopped at Jolly Buoy for lunch and anchored on the sand bar north east of the steel mooring in 5 meter. People obviously visit the island as there some sort of day resort there with some small building and sun shades there. Some pleasant snorkeling and natural forest onshore. Many trees have been felled along the shore line by the tsunami and the west coast is particularly badly hit. When we had finished our swim two boats arrived presumably loaded with local tourists. There was an officer in a brown uniform who asked us for our permit but seemed content when we told him we had only stopped for lunch and we were going on.
South of Wood Masons Bay - N11.23.7 E 92.35.2
We anchored close to shore, in about 6 meters, just south of Wood Masons bay, close to the headland and just off the beach. Ashore the beach was steep too with turtle tracks and forest. We snorkeled off the head land and saw many large fish amongst the boulders including 3 reef shark which came and gave us a very close inspection.
Twin Islands - N 11.24.0 E 92.33.3
Around and between these two islands there is plenty of reef, some dead and some covered in what looked like new growth . Some large heads were dangerously close to the surface so care was needed to navigate between the islands. The snorkeling and diving was very good, some patches of nice coral with Manta Rays basking and feeding around the area. We anchored briefly in about 6 meters on the sand bar. Kevin and Glen diving and Nick snorkeling, I dropped them close to a group of Mantas and Kevin was able to get close enough for some photos. I stayed in the dinghy and went to scout for another site. Nick was with Glen who had finished his dive and had problems with his regulator so I dropped him back at the boat and went to scout again. Finding another Manta and some better snorkeling I returned and we went off for another drift dive over patches of very nice coral.
Cape Barwell - N 11.50.4 E 92.30.9
Sailing along the West Coast we found a barrier reef not marked on our charts. Just south of Cape Barwell was a large gap and we tucked ourselves in out of the north westerly wind in about 5 meters. A river with mangroves comes out here. However, the source of the river seems to be a low lying swamp area which was now a completely dry pan studded with trees. There were a lot of signs of pigs, cats, plenty of bird life and we saw about a dozen deer and a pig. A very nice spot for exploring with plenty of reef to explore as well.
Homfray Strait - N 12.18.4 E 92.51.8
We arrived at the western approaches quite late in the day and we had expected to anchor and wait until the following morning. As we found it reasonably easy to work our way in, we sailed through in the late afternoon on a rising tide. This worked out well as the current was with us most of the way. Some care is needed both in the entrance on the west side and a good watch is essential whilst sailing through but it was not at all difficult and made a pleasant cruise with lots of birds, King Fishers and a very large Salt Water Croc lurking on the bank. There are still electricity pylons near the ferry crossing (The Andaman Pilot states that they have been removed) and we passed close to the southern shore in deep water with plenty of clearance on our 15m air draft.
We anchored in 3 meters of water on the eastern approaches at sun down in calm conditions otherwise the anchorage would not be a good one.
Havelock No 7 - N 11.58.9 E 92.56.6
Anchoring in about 7 meters we were close enough to some reef to swim from the boat. Otherwise it is a sandy bottom in this area. A Dugong is reported to be regularly sighted there so there is probably sea grass elsewhere in the bay. The beach is nice enough but prone to a nasty swell which is quite capable of tipping crew out of dinghy's as we discovered. This bay is very touristy and has a couple of more expensive resorts as well as other more basic resorts and restaurants. It is possible to take a tuk tuk from here into town or Laccam Harbour.
Laccam Harbour - N 12.02.5 E 92.58.8
Call Havelock Port Control on Ch 16 and switch to 10 before entering and tuck in behind the reef and away form the main pier where the daily ferries from Port Blair dock. It was easy enough to get ashore here amidst all the rubbish and bottles. There are a number of restaurants and shops and a post office here. There is a fresh vegetable and fish market at Village No 3 which is about 30 mins walk away. Very slow internet was available (this was the only other place we found it) but it was not really working when we visited.
Peel Island - Nicholson Island - John Laurence Island - Henry Laurence Island
We explored the channels between these islands and found it easy enough to negotiate. There shore line is mostly mangrove. There is plenty of life around but without beaches and reef for snorkeling we went on to Inglis.
Inglis - N 12.08.1 E 93.06.5
Anchoring off the spit on the west side we found a great beach and pleasant walking in the forest and beach. There were numerous deer in the forest and coming down onto the reef. Plenty of other wild life was also in evidence but we did not see any sign of the snakes which are reputed to inhabit this island. It was certainly one of our nicer anchorages.
Minerva Reef - N 12.03.9 E 93.08.9
Having heard that this was a great reef for fishing and diving we decided to visit. Anchoring in 12 meters on a sandy, broken coral scour. Diving to about 20 meters there were some interesting fish and some nice corals - Snorkeling around and drifting in the 1 to 2 knot current also did not reveal anything spectacular so we obviously missed the best part of it. However, we did see a number of large turtles cruising along on our sail south.
Neill Island - N 11.41.4 E 92.42.9
We anchored close inshore here in about 6 meters of water close to the reef and just south of the sand spit on the western end. The island is surrounded by reef and we opted to swim ashore at this spot where there is little reef, rather than use our heavy dinghy. It may also be possible to get ashore near the pier on the north shore. Snorkeling here was excellent with plenty of large fish and good coral. Ashore there is a road and track system running the length of the island and linking the village and the pier and it is very pleasant walking around this clean and friendly island. There are a number of resorts and we were entertained well by Sanjay at the Coconut with some excellent fish for dinner. There is also a Dugong called Luna (because of a crescent shaped scar) here.
Port Blair - N 11 41.4 - E 92 42.9
We requested an anchorage off Ross Island but were refused by Port Control who insisted that we come inside the harbour to anchor. We returned to Port Blair to re provision, drop off Nick and complete our formalities before leaving for Phuket. We found Ravi again who shunted us around in his ancient taxi - the bank, internet, the market and of course a few more King Fishers and another nice meal at the Light House. The following morning we dropped Nick at the airport but luckily found out that he needed a copy of our Immigration entry forms so that he could depart. Copies presented, I went on to the Harbour Master and spent an hour an a half there completing their forms and paying the port dues. On to customs but there was nobody there and I had to wait for two and half hours before the same three officers who had cleared us in turned up from apparently clearing a ship (although I was reliably informed that they had left the ship some time before). They obviously recognised me and the first blunt question asked was - "Have you had any crew depart from your vessel?" I replied that one had already departed as previously informed. "Where is your permission for him to depart?" was the next blunt question. I replied that we had already informed them when we cleared in and we have not been made aware of any need for permission to leave. We have also presented the Immigration documents at the airport and I provide them with a copy of his flight ticket, passport and Indian visa. All three were blunt and sharp with me and not at all relaxed and amicable. I was equally blunt and firm but very polite as I insist they we have complied in every way with their requests and have done nothing wrong.
"Sir! I am really sorry but we have already informed you that this gentleman would leave and I am absolutely sure that we have received no instructions to request permission for him to depart. Please accept my apologies but please understand that we have no intention of doing anything wrong. There is no benefit to us"
It seems clear to me that they have remembered everything and have been intent on playing some sort of cat and mouse game since the moment we cleared in. Anyway game or not we certainly got not instructions to request permission for Nick to depart. One thing that did seem to help was that I had remembered the name of the senior officer.
Now there is much muttering between themselves and they are all looking very serious. They give me the passport photo and plane ticket back and tell me to go back to the airport and get immigration to verify that Nick has actually left. Fortunately I hear one say quietly in English that the airport is already closed. Now I refuse to go and demand that they write a request for the information they require. I tell them I will attempt to get whatever they need but as I apparently have already failed to do something that they have apparently told me they must make their requirements absolutely clear. They will not write anything down. In the end they ask me to get Immigration to stamp and sign the Passport photo that this person has departed they will accept that.
I go back to Ravi and we go straight to the immigration office (not the airport) and find that the immigration seem quite happy but the officer concerned is not there and will be back at 15.30. I am now concerned that Customs will disappear so I go back and tell them that I will not be able to return until 1600. I also tell them that we must leave today as our visas will expire, this does not seem to have occurred to them and they suddenly seem to change tack. They assure me that they will still be in the office until I get back.
It is now still only lunch time and it seems as though everything could still be completed by mid afternoon. I try calling Meniscus on VHF but my handheld will not get through the buildings or over the hill. We set off for the airport just in case there is a chance of getting the clearance there but sure enough there is no immigration there and all I can do is wait until 1530. I still cannot get out on VHF either. I go back to immigration and one of the officers who cleared me in is back so he takes the details and copies of the flight ticket and passport and starts checking presumably for confirmation that Nick did leave. He is friendly and tells me that people often leave and normally it is no problem, he cannot understand why Customs want the information. I still have to wait for someone else.
I take the opportunity to dash off and get my internet checked and go back to Immigration at 1515. When I get back the other officer who cleared us in is back and I can now assume that he was the senior of the two. When I smile at him and say hello he barks back asking why I did not get permission for my crew to leave. I immediately apologise but state firmly that we did inform everyone when we arrived but received no instructions to do so. He does not look pleased but also does not pursue the matter, instead giving instructions for his colleague to give me a certificate for Customs. I watch as this is done and this Certificate now takes some time to draw up as computer skills especially in Word are obviously not at their best.
Once I have the certificate I can return to Customs to get the clearance form from them. This form is required by Immigration to give me my final port clearance. Now with my certificate in hand the Customs men are all smiles and profuse appologies for the delay. Did we have a good stay - they hope we will be back soon - Bon Voyage!!
Now back to Immigration for the last time to collect my PC - Port Clearance. Again I wait and it is now 1800. I get up and ask one of the officers how long it would take and would they mind if I went for a quick cup of coffee and some water as I had not had time to get anything to drink or eat all day. This seemed to have an effect and my Port Clearance duly arrived and two officers who had been playing computer games came over to ask when I was leaving.
"Right now!" - I said
"Now?" they said?
"Yes our visa expires today!"
"OK we will come with you."
So they jumped on a motor bike and came to the docks where we fortunately met Glen and Kevin and all got our passports stamped.
Back on board we soon had the dinghy and anchor up and after obtaining clearance from Port Control we left the harbour. What a day! Yes - India Bureaucracy can be very tiring. All in all it was not the paperwork but the waiting...................................................................... that was the problem. A small job can and does take a very very long time not to mention the fact that even they do not seem to know the rules or else can change them - Beware!
So we passed out of the harbour and started getting everything set up. Its not the way to start a long passage but I got the dinner cooked and then my watch up until 2300. It took me till after then to get everything checked and stowed, get the stay sail and the head sail set, double check fuel and water etc etc. Anyway we were off motoring into the light wind again. I had managed to get a forecast and...............do you want the good news or the bad news? A low is forming off to the south west and we have about 2 days of north easterly winds with rain covering most of the area on the second day and then after that it will go easterly - right on the nose. I suppose the good news is that it will also go very light when it does so!! Hmmmm. We plan set an easterly course while motoring and sail when it is north easterly. Overnight we motor and with just the main and stay sail set. By early morning enough wind has come up and it has gone north east so we are sailing by the time we pass Invisible Bank, not so fast but its ok. There was a strong southerly current and we were close hauled. Our rumb line required was 120 degrees but as the day wore on we were making more like 150.
Log 0900 course 110 Log 443.0 Wind NE2 - Sailing well, past Invisible Bank
By the end of my watch that night the wind has gone light and we have been crashing through some of those patches of over falls. This time the wind is a bit stronger and and the waves are much rougher. We have passed through a number of patches where the seas are comparable with those similar to 20 - 25 knot winds we only have 12 knots. Sometimes the waves are just confused and sometimes they are in lines like surf breaking. On one occasion the waves are actually coming back in short steep rows with white crests but in completely the opposite direction to the wind. I get the motor on and head east before going to bed. We motored all night and the wind became very light and variable. However, we had motored back above our track.
On the second day the wind picked up again as the sun came up and we were soon sailing again.
Log 0900 Course 115 Log 548.4 Wind NE 2/3 - Sailing full and by clear skies (still no sign of rain)
The wind came up to 19 knots and we had an excellent sail for the day reaching speeds up to 7.5 knots in calm seas. We seemed to have passed the disturbed water in the night. The day remained clear with some signs of cloud building but definitely no rain in sight.
From the third day on it was a very calm crossing as we mde our easting passing north of the Similans and only then turning south to eventually pick up some wind and sail down to Nai Yang for a well deserved trip ashore for a few beers and a meal and a good nights leep. Then back to Phuket to clear into Thailand again We had had a very nice crossing with not much wind but lots of sun and no sign of the forecast rain and some more beautiful moon lit nights.
A Sailing Voyage and Holiday with RYA Sailing Instruction.
The Cruise was from Phuket Thailand to the Similan Islands, then to The Andaman Islands India in Asia