Friday, 22 February 2008

Indian Ocean Crossing to Maldives ... Feb 2008

Maldives 14 - 21 Feb 2008

***St Barbara all attached for our first night towing them***Welcome to Uligan, the lovely white sandy beach***The anchorage at Uligan, all calm for the moment***Fish for dinner, not much for the whole community***

We said our goodbyes to several departing yachts on 09 Feb from Galle. We had been delayed, firstly by a sheared plate that held our fridge compressor on and then by an engine leak. We were very lucky (and many thanks to Tonjuc off Yosun for his help) to find an Iranian engineer who had been flown in to overhaul a trawler in the harbour. He was an absolute gem and spent all afternoon working on our engine but would take nothing in return. The hospitality we have received by so many people in different places has just been outstanding.

So finally on 10 Feb 08 we left Sri Lanka for our passage across the Indian Ocean to the Maldives. Light winds were forecast so we motored in glassy seas. St Barbara, one of the boats we had done our Sri Lankan land travel with had broken down about 100 miles west of Galle. We were about 20miles south of them when we heard so detoured to help, Peter and crew member Sam had not been able to fix the problem of the engine overheating so we picked them up and we towed them in very calm seas to the Maldives. We did get a brief period where we both managed to sail and we stayed close by in case the wind dropped again and of course it did, so did a perfect manoeuvre at 2am in pitch black conditions and had them attached again in no time. Had we left them, well they were drifting backwards with the current and may well have ended up in India - at some stage!!!! We had never towed a yacht before, Peter had a long floating line ready and Mark set up a bridle on our stern and all went well and to plan. Except for needing to do a rather unexpected and speedy u-turn at one point to pick up a full jug of diesel (with lid securely on!!) which fell overboard while we were refuelling underway all went very well. We went a little slower and burned more fuel but conditions were so calm we hardly knew they were there.

The northern most atoll of the Maldives is called Uligamu/Uligan and they have a customs and immigration office there to process passing yachts. However if you check in here and not at Male first, you are not permitted to travel elsewhere in the Maldive group. They have since tightened their regulations even more and increased their fees, it seems they are definitely after the 5star resort market and not the self sufficient cruising community. We spent a week at anchor waiting for our friends on Gone with the Wind. The days passed but the snorkeling was disappointing after the Andamans and Surins, and although we were welcome ashore there are no restaurants or bars and liquor was not permitted ashore so not even happy hours on the beach.

Anchorage info: 07 04.80N 72 55.13E Dropped in 13.5m settled 19m, sand patches and coral bottom. Anchorage sheltered from east but not much else and deep
Cruising info:
Weather - changeable with some wind through. Boats ahead of us got rain and winds. Exposed to the east
Security - just not an issue at all, very small place, totally safe and secure
Phone/Internet - no phones, no wifi or internet although the customs did let us check weather on his computer briefly
Checking in and out - they come to you to check in, all in uniforms, very professional and extremely well mannered and pleasant. No charges and very easy
Money - no ATM's or money changers, need USD cash
What to do there - Snorkeling disappointing and we tried several spots at Uligan. There is nothing to do ashore
Provisions - Very limited fresh provisions - mouldy bread, a few tomatoes and little else, basic canned goods
Fuel and Water - diesel delivered in jugs to boat USD1.30 per litre, all easy as long as fuel boat has been in. We didn't need water.

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Unplanned Stop in Sri Lanka .... Jan - Feb 2008

Balvenie in Galle.............. Train trip thru tea plantation.......Sipping a nice cup of tea

29 Jan - 10 Feb 2008

We planned to do the trip from the Andamans to the Maldives nonstop, bypassing Sri Lanka as we had heard very mixed but mainly unfavourable reports on the harbour there. However after 7 rather tiring nights at sea with very changable conditions, and then a 20knot headwind just as we were passing the entrance to Galle Harbour we decided to get much needed rest and radioed to Port Control for entry into the harbour, just before sunset.

The following is the email update I sent to cruising friends following in our footsteps...

We sailed close inshore all the way round the bottom of Sri Lanka, several fishing boats came by, but most were mainly large tender size with 2 or 3 onboard and quite big outboards, they all wanted cigarettes or anything and just hung around if we didn't give them anything so we ended up throwing the odd packet of cigs and biscuits and they left. Everyone we encountered was friendly but they come pretty close. Entry into Galle is very straight forward, channel marked clearly, room inside for dropping sails, if there is a swell running there are breaking areas and would be uncomfortable to anchor for long. You have to wait for the navy to come out, they do paperwork onboard then steer the boat into the inner harbour. We used Windsors agent (VHF 69 I think) called Nana he was fine, USD200, along with the odd bribes. We tied up to the big concrete wall, it was great for the 1st 10days but then a swell came in and both there and the stern to pontoon got a little lively. Need plenty of fenders on wall!!!!! Its ok, just depends on your sea conditions at the time. Very secure, we could see 5 towers with armed guards, they do let off depth chargers at night in the harbour which takes some getting used to, this is to deter the Tamal Tigers from swimming in and blowing it up.

Nana gave us a card for Deedee Yacht Service, he has a couple of tuktuk drivers that hang around the main gate out, they will take you anywhere, get laundry done, etc. They charge 300r an hour (100r about $1.08US) and are very good. Ekka has the best English and he was also our guide for our inland trip we did. We did 3nights 4 full days, leave 0730 back 1830. 1st day along south coast then inland to an underground temple (worst stop) then on up into the hills to Ella. High up but not cold, didnt need fleece or sweatshirt. Great tiny wee place in middle of nowhere, stayed at Ella Gap Guesthouse, very good. Would have liked a spare day here as there is some good walking around. Next morning got the train (great train station)at 9.50am to ???(the boys organize everything), really really good, beautiful scenery, real must do. Then they picked us up again and off to a tea plantation and factory which was interesting then on to Kandy in time for Cultural Dancing and Firewalking, not a great venue but worthwhile. Stayed 2nights Plantation House in Kandy. Day trip up to Sigiriya, 5th century palace remains on top of SriLankas answer to Ayers Rock, quite a climb but Robert from Theleme made it and he's 71. Really enjoyed it, we were there Independance Day so quite busy with locals. On way back stopped at Elephant Orphanage, we got there while they had all been taken down to the river for bath time, about 50, all sizes, it was great. Then to Cave Temple at Dambulla, we've seen many a Buddist Temple in our time but were both pretty impressed by this one all in caves, again got some exercise climbing lots of stairs up to it, phew. (great lunch stop, even had iceream, yummy) Back to accom in Kandy. Next morn Buddist Temple in Kandy, it actually wasn't too bad either, worth the stop. Then craft shop stop got overrulled, as did spice and herb gardens (me and 4 blokes - what chance did I have!!!). It was a long day back to Galle as the Tamal Tigers let off 6 bombs during the Independance Weekend so we did a few detours, but came back down the west coast to Galle.

We never once felt threatened or unsafe, it is a shame they have the unrest there, this is an outstanding country, reasonably prosperous - certainly way above our memories of India, the people are lovely. They lost around 47,000 people in the tsunami which has just devastated some areas, they really need the tourism in the coastal areas to get things going again. Our tour cost 60,000R for the 2 of us, there were the 5 of us in a new minivan with driver and guide, all meals (they were very good), soft drinks with lunch, all entrance fees (Sigirayi is 20USD) guides where needed, train ticket in observation car, accomm - own bathroom, basically everything except alcohol and tips for guides at 'attractions' (we did 100R pp). I didn't think the tour was cheap but we were very happy with it and the standard of everything.

Back in Galle, the fort area is worth a walk around, especially peeping into the "Notaries/ Solicitors" offices, who dont seem to have power and still use manual typewriters, even more backward than Andamans. Also get a tuktuk out east along the coast (the boys will take and wait) for lunch to one of the lovely beaches.
For provisions Mikes Yacht Services deliver right to the boat (its a bit of a walk from the entrance to the boats so this is a good option) prices are regulated and he will take credit card at no extra charge. He will organize tours too, USD65 per day for car and driver, everything on top of this.

Overall we really enjoyed our unplanned stop here, but the harbour is a little like Penang - be prepared to rock and roll (more of a surge really and free salt water wash as water comes up under the wall as certain times of the tide). Things were more expensive than we thought they would be, oh diesel Nana does 96R per litre, we filled water from shower block into tanks and just filtered it. Sim card 300R and 1200R calltime did us for calls home and texts.

Overall ratings for Sri Lanka.....Anchorage 8/10, its free, secure and was great while calm
Tour 8/10 good vehicle, guide and accomodation and sights
Provisioning 9/10 could get nearly everything, including more marmite for skipper