Posted by: catamarantwooceans | January 3, 2013

Sailing the Andaman Islands

21.12.12 – Friday – After doing a few jobs around the boat, we went ashore. We went to the port control building to ask about filling water. "Go to the harbor master’s office. You need to speak to the manager". So back we went on Vijay’s cab to the same office we visited the day before. Mr. Kumar was all smiles "Call the port control on the radio, they will take care of you". Great!

It was already lunch time so Vijay took us to Anapurna vegetarian restaurant, where I wanted to try their Thali and get Sven to have it for the first time.

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                                Vijay – super taxi driver

We then went to an internet café with the worst, slowest internet connection in the world. Trying to publish my posts about the Similans and Surin  and the way to the Andamans was not successful. On to the market for some fruit and veg; markets are always colorful and nice.

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Vijay picked us up at the roundabout with the Ghandy statue in its middle; it turned out he already collected our laundry and we went straight to the boat basin where Mupardee, the boat boy was ready to bring our dinghy to the dock.

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Back at the boat we wasted not time and motored to the ship dock as instructed by port control in order to fill up our water tanks. A party of 15 people waited for us on the dock. A guy brought over a trolley with a long 4 inches fire hose. My water tanks have a 1.5 inch inlet. I cut one of the 6 liter plastic bottles I have on board to make a funnel and the water started flowing. All went well until a functionary entered the scene and stopped the operation. a few telephone calls reversed his ruling and the tank was filled.

One of the guys brought a paper stating that we took 1 ton of water, the tank’s capacity is only 250 liters but obviously this was the minimum they charged ships for. "Where do I pay?" I asked. More discussions in rapid Hindi took place and after a few more telephone calls another functionary came with the surprising: "It is already paid!"

Back to the anchorage we went, put the laundered covers on our mattresses and had our last tuna portions with home fries and white wine. Good Night!

22.12.12 – Saturday – If I thought I could sneak out of the harbor and sail to the islands without more of the local special scrutiny – I was mistaken. As we glided in the direction of the exit a pilot boat was in pursuit, waving for us to stop and call port control. They wanted to know and authorize our plans which were approved only the day before by all the relevant functionaries.

Out of the harbor the wind was exactly from the direction we wanted to go to; with only 20 miles to go we decided to do the "Tack of the Day" play but quickly discovered that in addition to the wind there was an adverse current running and the best we could do tack to tack was 140 degrees! Common sense returned and we motored to the uninhabited southeastern part of Haveloc Island.

We were trolling all the way, certain to get a fish for dinner; after all, the Andamans are famous for the abundance of fish in their waters. Not for us, at least today! We’ll try again in the evening.

We anchored at 10 meters on sand, had lunch and a nap and then went ashore to investigate the flora and especially the mangroves which professor Sven is an expert on.

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Surprisingly the beach and mangroves had but little life in them; the trees inland were magnificent though.

Back at the boat, we gave the 1700 position report required by the port control using the Iridium. The procedure is to call every day at 0800 and 1700.                                                                             I went fishing, knowing that if I catch nothing our meal will be a vegetarian pasta dish, but here the legend became true and I caught two lovely snappers which were excellent baked in the oven.

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Music by Mahler and Grieg for the soul and fresh mint tea for the weary bodies signaled the end of the day.

23.12.12 – Sunday – We left our anchorage to go to Havelock beach number 7. Every village, beach, town and even the port area have their number. Havelock 7 has a backpacker resort and a few basic restaurants. We anchored near the way-point recommended by the guide and I went snorkeling to check the bottom. I saw we could easily come a lot closer to shore and that we did dropping anchor at 6.5 meters.

It was still early morning and the low sun made the surface opaque; we could, however see an area that was darker. I swam over and found a nice reef with a lot of fish. The most impressive were two Napoleon Wrasse which majestically crossed the width of the reef.

We went ashore and negotiated a ride to town and back in a small minibus. We visited the port, where ferries brought people from Port Blair including white skinned foreigners. There were a lot of "Hotels" the rooms of which were invisible to the naked eye.

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Next we went to town, a very modest affair, where we roamed the local market, buying some fruit and veg we needed.

I seems one of the main crops on the island is the betel nut; we saw a lot of plots full of areca palms and many places where they put the nuts to dry.

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Back to the boat, we had to cross some breakers which filled the dinghy with water and got us wet all over.

Evening came; it gets dark before 5 p.m, they keep the same clock as the one in India, so many miles to the west. This was the time for fishing. Five minutes after casting we had a one man meal snapper on board. Then our luck changed; I caught a big one and as it came up we saw a big puffer – inedible. We got two smallish ones that made a one man meal and throwing the last piece of bait another fighter took the hook – a big remora; disgusting fish which we cut loose immediately.

We had the fish steamed with ginger and soy sauce accompanied by rice and Dal – green lentils.

24.12.12 – Monday – Our destination of the day was Kwantung strait between John Lawrence and Henry Lawrence islands. We sailed out of Havelock 7, going northwest with the northeasterly wind, then turned and motored through the channel leading to Havelock port and when out of it sailed again, doing one nice tack to our target.

The coordinates in the guide book led to a point north of Wreck Point but we chose to go south of it, where a sandy beach fringed by rocky outcrops on top of which the jungle put big trees as sentinels beckoned.

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We could go quite close to the reef that goes along the shore and anchor at 6.5 meters on sand. We went ashore and professor Sven was happy to find some sea weed and sea grass, some of which were atypical to the area according to the books.

We checked out Wreck Point; a bay enters the island near it but is blocked by a line of coral heads, maybe they gave the place its name.

Back at the boat Sven spread his findings and gave a short lecture, promising that the examination will not be a difficult one.

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Planning dinner is easy in the Andamans; you throw a baited hook in the water and can be sure you’ll get the protein you need. I started fishing at 1630 and brought up two meals for us. We chose to have the filleted snapper, grilled in the oven.

Just past ten o’clock we both retired to our cabins; the shrieking wind and rain drumming on the deck woke me up. Coming to the saloon I met Sven, who was also ejected from his bed by the noise. The wind was 30 knots and it rained so hard nothing was visible outside. I had the exact coordinates of the anchorage and kept monitoring it plus the depth and the wind velocity to see that we were not moving. Luckily the wind was from the southeast, so had we dragged it would have been to open water and not the reef.

After 40 minutes the squall passed and wind became 3 knots. Back to bed, but not for long; another squall came through. It became clear I had to do something in order to be able to sleep – drop another anchor. As the wind subsided we put the CQR in tandem with the Delta. It goes without saying that there were no more squalls that night!

25.12.12 – Tuesday – Inglis Island is just a little over 5 miles from our anchorage. We had to make a big detour around the reef on the south of Henry Lawrence after which we opened a reefed jib – the wind was 22-24 knots and the sea quite rough – and sailed at 5 knots to Inglis. Trolling was not forgotten and I replaced the "tiger stripes" lure with the red and white one.

At one mile to target I rolled the line back and saw something clinging to the lure. Surely it’s some weed or a plastic bag; but no! It was a small wahoo which had its tail partly broken, probably by a shark. Sven is an advocate of humane treatment of the animals we kill for food and insists on pouring some Fijian rum, which none of us drink, into their gills; the thing really works – the fish becomes comatose immediately.

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Once anchored by the sand-spit on the northwest of the island we went ashore. This is what the guide says about the island: "The magnificent island makes the effort of getting to the Andamans worth while". The first thing that greeted us was a river of rubbish on the beach; the place could have been a gem, what a pity!

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We entered the rain forest, still dripping wet from last night deluge, looking around for the deer and especially the snakes that are reputed to inhabit it. The only interesting fauna we saw were hermit crabs, some of them with one big pincer covering the opening of the shell.

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Going round to the southwest part of the island, Sven was happy to find some weed and algae as well as fish and crabs in tidal pools. I saw what I thought was a mud-skipper fish climbing a vertical rock to more than 2 meters above ground, but Sven said it must have been a kind of crab. The rock formation at the end of that beach was impressive, with different colored strata and a few caves revealed by the going out tide.

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We sailed on to Outram Island, 5 miles further to the north and anchored for the night on its southeast corner, protected by a reef from the easterly wind. This time we put the two anchors arrangement early and also the rain catchment gear; does this mean there will be neither wind nor rain? Time will tell.

26.12.12 – Wednesday – Two Oceans and its crew passed a quiet night in the Outram anchorage. No big wind, no rain… The day’s first objective was visiting the Button group, three islands aptly named South, Middle and North Button; the last two got rave reviews from the guide as well as a few cruisers blogs. In South Button you have to anchor at 25 meters and it is open to the northeast which is where the wind was coming from at 18 knots; not for us! We approached Middle Button, where the anchorage is also completely unprotected to see that a big swell was running in it so we turned to the North and last Button hoping for the "Superb snorkeling with manta rays, dolphins and giant leatherback turtles" that are supposed to be frequently seen there.

The island itself is pretty with sandy beach, sandstone outcrops and jungle.

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This group is under the control of the forestry department so we are not allowed to go ashore. We anchored, disregarding the swell, and jumped in to experience the underwater scene. Big disappointment; visibility was limited, the reef mostly dead; although I did see a lot of reef fish there was no sign for the other promised attractions.

On we went to Long Island, good wind from the starboard quarter made for smooth and pleasant sailing. The guide says nothing about this island but blogs mentioned a village, which we found on the south coast. We anchored at 5.5 meters on sand, excellent holding, at 12 21.662 N 92 55.586 E.

After having a big pizza washed down with an ice cold Chang beer, we both took a nap and then went ashore. The village is poor, most of the houses built of wooden planks and in a state of neglect.

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                                     pic by Sven

The people were not very communicative apart for a few children who were glad to speak to the "tourists". I’ve been to places that were much less affluent, where there was no electricity, still the people were smiling and happy; I did not get that feeling in the village on Long Island.

2.12.12 – Thursday – One of the attractions of the Andamans is the Homfray strait, which is a narrow pass between Baratang Island and Middle Andaman. "Unique experience…narrow waterway dwarfed by the towering trees …anchoring overnight is fascinating with the sounds of the jungle" thus enthused the guide. Surely we had to go there! We decided to forego the night stay there and just go up to the ferry crossing where high voltage electricity lines crossed the strait.

We went in a little before high tide; the east side of the strait has depth of 2 meters in places but we never saw less than 3.9. The channel meandered between densely wooded banks and we were searching them for salt water crocodiles and perhaps a glimpse of a tribesman, those stone-age people living on Baratang, we saw neither.

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The strait reminded me of Chagres river in Panama and of Rio Dulce in Guatemala; it is certainly far behind them in beauty but still worth visiting. When we reached the power lines we turned back. Our original plan was to spend the night in North Passage Island but since the day was young we thought we could go further south and shorten the next day distance. Coming to a point northwest of the island, I had to decide whether to circle around its eastern side or shorten the way by going through the channel to its west.

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The long way was safer since the chart was not so detailed for the west channel; initially that was my intention, but as we approached the eastern point of the strait the channel seemed so clear and inviting, especially when we saw that there were buoys marking it. We opened our sails to the first reef so as not to sail too fast and followed the channel to the south; the green and red buoys instilled a sense of confidence. I was looking at the C-map on the computer, the Navionics chart on my smartphone and of course the sea surface, looking for signs if shoals and reefs.

Once we passed a red buoy and the reef near it we turned towards the next buoy.

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The Navionics chart showed a reef ahead, I aimed to go around it but the pull of the buoy plus the fact that the depth was 15 meters lured me into turning right.

Then things happened very fast, I saw a change in the color of the water, turned the wheel rapidly to port but not quickly enough. We scraped the reef. Once clear I was so mad at myself; this has happened too many times lately, I need to start acting more cautiously!

When we reached the anchorage in the bay north of Duncan island I went into the water to check the bottom. There were just a few paint scratches, nothing serious; lucky once again!

28.12.12 – Friday – A quiet day. We left the anchorage to sail to Neil Island, 19 miles away. Flat sea, calm wind, we glided effortlessly along, enjoying the ride. We anchored near the short west coast of the wooded island.

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As the tide went out we saw that the shore was barred by very shallow reef; we took the dinghy to the sand spit you can see on the left of the picture and carried it over to shore. When we’ll come back the water should be higher. I asked a guy on the beach for information about the island. his accent made me ask him where he came from. "Israel" he said and was surprised to hear me answer back in Hebrew. We later met him with two other Israeli girls.

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We walked 30 minutes to the village, seeing a lot of resorts and restaurants on the way. The village had a nice market, shops, restaurants and even an internet café which we did not have time to use. Tomorrow we will go back to Port Blair for shopping and communications and then proceed to some of the islands on the south.

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