We had planned to leave the Surins on the 20th of February, but with little wind and leaving on a Friday is usually avoided by sailors, particularly for those a bit superstitious we decided to enjoy a couple more days in tropical paradise and leave on Saturday 22nd February which allowed us a few days at the Surin Islands. Our first night we hooked onto one of the three moorings at 09deg25.503’N/097deg53.814’E before sailing in NE 15/20knots around to the northwest bay and grabbing another mooring at 09o25.709’N/097o51.354’E. Such a beautiful location. Lazy days swimming, relaxing, and drinking red wine while enjoying the dark lyrics of the slightly disturbed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, amongst other old favourite tunes.
So what do we do on passages? This is our longest to date, but essentially each day is the same regardless whether it’s four days, ten days, or longer. Sometimes we spend time adjusting the sails for a few hours as we dodge squalls, or set up and fly the spinnaker for a few hours if the weather is fair. But mostly we set the sails to get the best speed and enjoy the ride, which is really never faster than riding a bicycle. I’m usually off to bed at 8pm and back up at 11pm for watch while Wayne goes below for his 3 hour sleep. We exchange every three hours until I return on watch at 5am for my favourite time of the day – sunrise. By the time Wayne rises at 8am I’m starving so I whip up cooked eggs, toast and hot coffee. We then generally stay awake all day. I keep myself busy by making lunch and dinner, staring out to sea looking for other vessels, filming dolphins playing at the bow, and typing blog notes on my iPad while Wayne keeps an overall eye on Blue Heeler.
We both navigate using C-Map charts on our Standard Horizon chart plotter, plus iNavX on iPad. Every 4-6 hours I’ll record our position in the log, along with other useful information, such as engine hours, whether there’s been any radio contact, house amps, etc. We use the engine hours to determine how much fuel we’ve used, which in most cases is used only to charge our batteries.
When the weather is fair Wayne dusts off the fishing gear and sacrifices another Rapala to the gods of the sea. I then set about preparing a curry for dinner. We read books, usually about our destination or I may even drag out the guitar and pick a few notes, do a few yoga moves or setup the iPad and watch a movie. My random selection of movies to watch on this voyage ironically included Awake, The Big Sleep and an old favourite, Groundhog Day. Obviously night watches were in the back of my mind when I chose them. Conversely, Perfect Storm nor Castaway did not make it to my entertainment folder.
In the middle of the passage we don’t think much about the fact that we are at least 1000kms from land and if anything went wrong we’d be on our own. Once you’re out here it’s too late for that, so all the preplanning work we did before we left was vital.
I’m delighted to finally use our Iridium satphone, which we never used throughout Asia. HF skeds prearranged with others weren’t successful, leaving us thinking that we have a problem with our HF tuner. Whereas the satphone works just like a mobile phone and I can update my blog too. When used sparingly I think it’s pretty good value to have a satphone.
After seeing no boats for seven days, there were plenty around the southern coast of Sri Lanka. We entered the shipping area at night and by morning we were approached by a few fishing vessels. I was a little daunted by their approach as they tended to head directly at us. They were friendly enough usually holding up a fish or cray and suggesting we hurl them a few packets of smokes in exchange.
And now we’re at Galle Harbour. We arrived on Sunday 2nd March 2014 and anchored outside the southern breakwater. We’d contacted our agent, Windsor Reef Navigation, three hours before arrival and also Port Control to arrange the Navy to come out to the boat. Two navy guys boarded Blue Heeler and after complaining that they’d had to wait two hours for us to arrive (not sure why that was), they directed us to the pontoon area on the inside harbour where we had to anchor ‘med’ style. That is drop the anchor and reverse to tie up on the floating plastic dock. They had no concept of how much chain to lay and expected we drop the anchor much like a large ship. Wayne deftly manoeuvred while I laid out 60m of chain from the bow. Others were waiting on the jetty and grabbed our stern lines. We filled out the necessary forms and of course the navy guys were keen to receive anything for their trouble. We’d be alerted to this and had a few packets of cigarettes on hand and gave them one each. I think they were after a bottle of gin.
Once moored we had our agents come aboard and complete all the necessary forms. We had to declare how much alcohol we have on board. Those who know us well would know that of course we don’t carry any booze, except for one carton of beer. Within a short while, we had two immigration guys sitting aboard with their rubber stamp and paperwork. Once completed our agent said “Now you give him a compliment”. I thought, “My, that’s a nice shirt you’re wearing”, but thought perhaps not. I then deflected the request to the skipper. Wayne feigned a questioning look, and the immigration guy said “A gift”. Aha, so here we go. Of course with no alcohol on board, only some beer, all we could offer was two cold beers. They didn’t look too happy with the offer, but hey, that’s life. Next, we had the Customs official. Luckily for us he was too scared to jump six feet to the floating dock and didn’t even come aboard. No bonus for him! When our agents departed, they too wanted a smoke, so out came a couple more packets. All in all we lost two beers and four packets of smokes. Better than the boat next to us who lost three bottles of booze! So remember, don’t carry any liquor, okay?
Our first day out we were met by a fellow named Ekka, who runs his own tour business. He drove us around town to get internet, money and a few groceries. We’ll probably use his services while we’re here. I don’t know much about Sri Lanka and must say I never expected to be here. My dad was here back in 1956 when he used to be a seaman and I expect a lot has changed in the almost 60 years since he visited Colombo. I’ll be sure to send him some updated photos!
Passage summary:1100nm trip takes between 6-10 days. Timing – refer to passage bible, Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes. The NE monsoon provides good winds during Dec-March, and winds are more consistent by March. We experienced consistent 15/20 knot winds from the Nicobars to Sri Lanka, approx. 750nm. Trip took us eight nights. Leaving from Surins allowed us to visit the west coast before the passage although many leave directly from Phuket. Fresh veggies and frozen chicken available from Ko Phayam on Myanmar border. Clearance into Sri Lanka – we made contact with Windsor Reef Navigation beforehand. mailto:email@example.com. Fee is US$225 inclusive of all clearance fees (Mar’14). Courtesy flags – available from Rolly Tasker in Phuket or S&K Printing in Kuah, Langkawi. S&K can also print paper charts if needed for MRY12.00 (Feb’14) Online Visa Application (ETA) – obtained online beforehand. Only US$30 each at Feb’14. Buy cheap cigarettes before you leave!