Thursday, February 3, 2011

Arrived Cochin, India

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.


  1. Glad you weren't caught in quite the same kind of storm as a few weeks ago! Be safe, as the situation in Egypt seems to be getting worse.

  2. Hi.
    I was in a similar predicament to you this time last year. I thought it was crazy to sail thru this pirate infested waters at 5 / 6kts when ships doing 20kts are being seized.

    I had a plan to get my 32ft boat on as deck cargo on a ship heading for the Med. I work on merchant vessels and this didn't appear to be a problem.

    So I sailed from Langkawi to Cochin. I then visited the shipping agents who were friendly and helpful. They took my details and contacted head offices etc. But it all came to nothing. The conclusion was you should go to Mumbai or Colombo or Port Klang. So in the end I continued to Salalah, Oman which is a major container port. Of course to get there meant sailing thru the N Indian ocean where the pirates are. Other yacties thought that this section is safe.... I'm not sure but anyway nothing happened to me or any of the other 150-200 yachts that year.
    Salalah was great - easy atmosphere, friendly people. So again I visited the shipping agents. The container ships heading to Med leave frequently. I just had to chose which ship / date I wanted and what destination in the Med I wanted. The price seemed good also. My boat is shorter than a 40ft container but it is wider. So then you have to pay for the containers either side of mine. OK. And rent a flat rack container. OK. And then build a cradle. But it doesn't need a cradle (just put it on the flat rack and weld on some supports). The answer to this was no. You must have a cradle. Sit the boat in the cradle and then lift boat + cradle onto flat rack. Then you need a surveyor to verify it is secure ($1000 for this service!) and then there is the paper work. 'You will need a separate agent for this as this is a "Export from Oman" compared to a "trans-shippment" ' The agents normally only deal with trans shipments.
    So in the end I joined a small group of yachts (7) and sailed along the Yemen coast to Aden. We stopped at 3 places on the way and it was a very good trip. We found the Yemen people very very friendly. Helpful all the way. The Gulf of Aden is probably the safest part of the trip as there are so many military ships there patrolling.
    Obviously this year you have the added problem of trouble in Egypt. But I don't think it will affect the Suez canal - that's too important.
    There are some good marinas in Egypt now. I left my boat in Hurgada marina for a month when I flew home. Marina berth and flights to Europe were both cheap. And the transit thru the Suez was OK. Bureaucracy in Egypt was bad so was delighted to get into the Med.

    PS. I see that there are yacht transporters this year. I'd have done that if they were available at convenient ports last year.
    SY Rival Chief

  3. Kim
    While I appreciate that you were faced with the same decision last year, the circumstances have changed drastically since then. During the same period last "season" there were 6 pirate attacks in the Northern Indian Ocean and 7 within the Gulf of Aden.

    For that same period this "season" there have been 10 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and 78 attacks in the Northern Indian Ocean.

    I would have guessed that pirate activity had quadrupled this year, but it is a LOT more than only 4 times higher.

    As for sailing along the coast of Yemen, that was fine in years past -- but simply too dangerous today. Al Queda has a large presence for about 260 miles west of Al Mukalla. They have smuggled more than 70,000 people up from Somalia during 2010. There is believed to be a Yemeni Coast Guard official working with them. For an American to go along the coast of Yemen today would be very unwise.

    Glad you made it through safely last year.

  4. Hi,

    I would have definitely chosen the shipping option last year if it hadn't been strewn with obstacles. So if I was you this year I would go for it.

    But as for Yemen we actually saw and felt no danger. Last year, before we arrived and while we were in Yemen, there were reports on the international news regarding Al Queda in Yemen with American Govt intervention there. Sana'a was closed off for a period due to rebel activities. Looking back at news bulletins and comparing this year and last year.... there doesn't appear to be any difference. We spent 3 days in Al Mukulla wandering around the city centre being greeted with 'Welcomes' and 'thank you for coming'. We had Americans in our group and we saw no difference in the way they were treated compared to the rest of us. Even after reaching the Med we all agreed that Yemen had been the highlight of the trip from Langkawi to Turkey.

    Regarding pirate activities - I now know that last year was twice as active as the previous year. And yet we all went thru with no problem. But this time last year I was nervous like you, I was getting pressure from loved one at home wondering what the hell I was doing there. And there was indirect pressure from other yachties who were intent on sailing the regular route with increased concern.

    But if anything did happen then you have to take responsibility for it. You have to answer for it to your spouse, family and yourself.

    So take the ship and don't feel guilty.


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