We arrived Cochin (or Kochi or Kotchi, depending on which chart you prefer) early on Thursday morning. We wanted to run the watermaker in order to have sufficient water to last however long we would be in the port, so we sort of drifted for awhile in order to accomplish this task. The generator is required in order to operate the watermaker and this job is best done out at sea. By 10:00 we were anchored in front of the swank Malabar Hotel, right next to Port Control.
The passage from Galle Harbour, Sri Lanka was worse than we expected. Jimmy Cornell's book states that this area is usually rough. Man! Is that ever an understatement! This was as rough as that notorious area NW of Aruba in the Caribbean. Except that this was a much larger area of rough. Seas were large and stacked - 3 meter swell topped with 1 ½-2 meter wind waves. Winds were 30 knots sustained, gusting 35. These conditions lasted about 40 hours. We were both queasy for 2 full days; couldn't eat, headaches, lethargic, but not throwing up kind of seasick. Bill was convinced we were getting back into the same kind of storm conditions that we had experienced in the Bay of Bengal a few weeks ago, but it never got anywhere near that level. Again, the GFS and NOGAPS weather files were totally wrong. However, the spots forecasts were correct. We abandoned using the larger area forecasts and started using just the spots to determine where we should go and when. This worked very well. At about 7 degrees 30 minutes latitude the conditions abated quickly and soon there was almost no wind and the seas were normal. Once in the lee of the coast of India, the seas became very calm and winds were just strong enough for us to sail. Great sailing conditions for about 8 hours. Then we were forced to motor. You just cannot move a 54,000 pound boat in only 6 knots of wind. After the rough conditions during the first part of this passage, I was quite happy to motor over windless calm seas for the duration of the trip. Total trip: 414.6 NM in 69 hours; avg 6 kts.
Wednesday night was video arcade night with fishing boats of every description and lights of every conceivable color combination flashing in every direction. It took me 7 hours to get out of those fishing boats surrounding a long 25-meter bank just offshore and just south of Cochin. Stressful!! Once I finally broke out of those fishing boats, I awakened Bill and he took over from 03:00 until our arrival in the port.
Nazar (boat #54) met us shortly after the anchor was set. Naizar is the "go-to man" in Cochin. I think he has 3 boats, but we know him as boat #54. Next the port officials came to the boat to confirm our identities. The anchor was barely down before they arrived. We had already tidied up and changed into "meeting the officials clothes" and were ready. Friends on another boat had warned us that the officials arrive rather fast here in Cochin and that we should be ready quickly. Next was the Customs man. What a change from Sri Lanka!!!!!
The Customs officer was named Gibi John and he was the spitting image of a friend back in Texas named Larry Shelton. We nearly fell over when he said he would enjoy a Red Stripe beer. Gibi John has different color skin and hair, but the facial expressions and body movements were exactly like Larry. Gibi John is quicker with a smile than Larry, but everything else about him reminded us very much of our old friend back in Houston. Gibi John sat in the cockpit and filled out 6 to 8 pages of clearance papers, each set in quadruplicate. Then a boat took us and Gibi John to the port authority area and we met up with Nazar.
Clearing into India requires a horrendous amount of paperwork. The local officials blame this on the British, but the Brits have been gone for something like 64 years so they have had plenty of time to change the paperwork if they really wanted to do so.
Nazar walked us through all the clearance processes. First was Port Authority, where Nazar paid our port fees and said we could reimburse him later after we visited an ATM. Next was back to Customs where Gibi John walked us through several offices shunting papers. Then a tuk-tuk ride with Nazar to the Immigration office; then back to Customs for passport clearance there also. Finally we were officially cleared into India - only took 6 hours. And not one person even hinted they wanted a bribe of any kind. Everyone was very professional and courteous in the performance of their jobs.
Later Nazar visited the boat and loaned us a sim card for the cell phone. A sim card for the internet modem will have to wait until tomorrow. He also took our dirty clothes away for laundry service. We would have liked to have him take us somewhere for lunch, but that never happened because it took so dang long to get cleared in at the various offices. Tomorrow Nazar will guide us to the marina at high tide. Our first night in Cochin will be spent at anchor right where we are. Late in the afternoon 2 boats that we know that are participating in the Bluewater Rally arrived and anchored next to us. Another 2 boats we know will arrive shortly. They are turning back.
Chris & Trish on S/V SAPRISTI and Bill & Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA have decided to turn back because of the recent flurry of Somali pirate attacks and the civil unrest in Egypt. We know this was an agonizing decision for them. It won't be the same without running into Bill & Amy every now and then. I think they plan to return to Thailand and possibly even Singapore. Maybe take the South African route later this year or next. These 2 boats are not the only ones turning back. A good number of boats followed the traditional route to the Maldives rather than coming north to India. There have been 3 Somali mother ships operating for the past couple of weeks, mainly in the region between the Maldives and Salalah. A few days ago the Indian Navy captured one of those boats, a fishing boat. They removed the 13 Somali pirates and 7 hostage crew members, and sank the boat. That leaves 2 mother ships still operating at the moment. The boats in the Maldives held a meeting 4 nights ago. Some are turning back to Thailand; some are going to Chagos to wait for appropriate weather to sail south to Capetown; and some are continuing to the Red Sea. Those going to Chagos might have a serious problem because they must obtain a BIOT permit from the UK before arriving in Chagos or they will be told to move on and not allowed to stop. And the new rules for the BIOT permit limits a boat to a stay not to exceed 30 days, non-renewable. Best guess is that those folks will return to Sri Lanka in order to obtain the BIOT permit and then sail to Chagos. Factor into that mix the fact that it is cyclone season in the Southern Indian Ocean through May, and these folks have major logistical problems.
As you can tell, we are monitoring the situation carefully. The most worrying thing to us at this moment is the civil unrest in Egypt. It would be a major, major pain in the butt if they were to close the Suez Canal while we are in the Red Sea. That has only happened in the past during wars. Looking forward to getting internet access to find out what has been happening in Egypt during the past few days. We are much more worried about that than we are about the Somali pirates attacking cargo ships over 560,000 square miles of ocean.
BTW, I positively LOVE Cochin! Haven't seen much yet, but really like what we have seen. And the people are oh-so-hospitable and friendly. Looking forward to some good Indian food. Wish we had gotten in and out of Sri Lanka a lot faster so that we would have more time to enjoy Cochin. That Red Sea weather deadline holds over our heads and we can't dally long.