Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arrived in Male

It seemed to take forever to wash the mud off the anchor chain when we left the Bolghatty House Marina.  We had been berthed stern-to with a lot of anchor chain out to hold us steady in the strong current that switched direction several times each day with the tides.   I’m sure our friends on the dock waving goodbye wondered why Bill was being so meticulous about not letting mud get into our anchor chain locker.  Two reasons.  We don’t want to smell mud and the smell would be noticeable down inside the boat eventually.  And, more importantly, our chain locker drains to a gray-water bilge and mud might clog the drain.  As Bill washed down the anchor chain we drifted with the building current.  We had left the slip at slack high tide, but that doesn’t last long.  Current was already building on the out-going tide.  Several times I saw depths under our keel as low as 3/10 foot.  Gosh, I hate shallow water!  At least we knew it was a very soft mud bottom and we could plow through it a bit if we did go aground.   Finally Bill finished washing off the mud and we motored around to the Quarantine anchorage in front of the Malabar Hotel.  S/V ESPRIT was already anchored by the time we arrived.  We both planned to get an early start on the out-going tide the following morning.  

We did not set an alarm and were a little late leaving.  ESPRIT was out at the crack of dawn and were about 2 hours ahead of us.  As we motored out of the long channel an Indian warship came rapidly past our port side – with 5 guns manned by teams and another man standing on the bow with an automatic weapon.  Glad to see them headed out for patrol while we would be sailing down the coast.  Much later about 70 miles south we heard an Indian Coast Guard ship hailing commercial ships saying that they were doing Anti-Pollution Exercises.  That totally cracked us up.  There is so much pollution of every kind in India that you cannot believe it.  The air is so bad that it is impossible to see the land from less than 1 mile offshore.   The trash in the water is not as bad as in Indonesia or Malaysia, but there is still plenty of it.  The tides causing such strong currents in the many rivers washes trash back and forth for miles daily.  It never goes away.  Just back and forth.

Once we cleared the coastal fishermen, it was clear sailing the rest of the way.  Closer to shore the fishing boats were operating individually.  Once past 50 miles offshore, the fishing boats operated in groups of 5 to 8 boats.  Each boat was fishing independently, but they stayed very close to one another.  The Somali pirates have captured many Indian fishing boats and currently hold more than 200 Indians hostage.  These boats have no insurance and the families don’t have the kind of money required to pay ransom, so these hostages have no hopes of being released.  It is a real problem.  Guess by staying in groups they hope to mitigate the chances of more boats being captured.

During our first day and night we were about 50 NM off the coast when hordes of tiny insects filled the cockpit.  Why in the world are insects way out there?  There is nothing for them to feed on out over open ocean.  Winds were perfect and seas were almost flat.  Perfect sailing conditions for the first 24 hours.  We were taking it very slow because Friday is the Holy Day in the Maldives and we would not be able to clear in until Saturday morning.  We were trying to time our arrival appropriately and did not want to sail over 5 knots.  Saw a good bit of commercial shipping traffic all down the coast of India.  Ships always traveled in groups – at least 2 together and sometimes a group of 5.   Covered 136.9 NM during the first 24 hours.

The second night out I was a little more nervous because we were farther off the coast and farther south, soon past India altogether.  There have been no reported pirate attacks in this area, but that doesn’t mean anything given the increase in the number of pirates out there this season.  We passed across the 9 Degree Channel; saw 3 small groups of commercial ships headed toward the Red Sea.  As we neared the 8 Degree Channel we saw what turned out to be the final group of Indian fishing boats off to the east.  In the 8 Degree Channel we saw only 2 cargo ships headed toward the Red Sea, loaded high with containers. They were already moving at 18 knots.  Good luck, guys!  

After crossing the 8 Degree Channel north of the Maldives, we saw no more marine traffic – at least not during daylight hours.  Around 03:00 an unlit boat passed south-to-north on a parallel course 1 mile off our port side.  This unlit boat went between S/V ESPRIT and us.  It was impossible to see anything by only starlight.  But it showed up very clearly on radar.  We assume it was a simple fishing boat.  

The wind died on the second day so we motored or motor-sailed the rest of the way to Male.  It got noticeably hotter as we progressed farther SSW.  And we thought India was hot!  Sailed 139.6 NM during the second 24 hours of this passage.

Day 3 the wind picked up a tiny bit to a whopping 7 knots and we could sail 3.4 knots boat speed-over-ground.  That was too slow, so we continued to motor-sail; getting hotter and hotter.
 About 17:00 hundreds and hundreds of porpoises arrived to put on a show for us.  They filled an area of more than a quarter mile in each direction, completely surrounding our boat.  These were the smaller type porpoises, not the large bottlenose type.  Bill calls them spinners because they love to jump high out of the water and spin and flip.  Sometimes they do this in what appears to be formations.  

They were speeding toward us from every direction.  Then they would play in our meager bow wave.  It was a delight to watch them play and jump and spin.  This was almost as large a pod as we had seen outside Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas 2 ½ years ago.  There the water was roiling with porpoises.  This time they weren’t quite that dense, but there were easily between 700 to 800 of them showing off.   What a delight for our final day at sea in the Indian Ocean.

About 19:00, the sun had gone down but it was still light enough to see, another pod of at least 100 porpoises came to visit us.  Many of these were standing straight up out of the water as they performed their acrobatics.  Many were twisting 3 times around as they jumped high.  Lots of splashes; they were having a great time – this time all on our port side.  But there was insufficient light for our crappy camera to get any photos.  

Much later in the night, after the sliver of moon was already gone, I could hear splashes again all around us.  I assume more porpoises were playing in the dark.  

A couple of hours before the first large pod arrived at our boat, S/V ESPRIT reported they had seen a small pod of whales swim past their port side.  Jaime said he also saw a sailfish jump in the distance.  But they were not visited by the huge pod of porpoises that came to see us.  ESPRIT remained 5 to 7 miles ahead of us the entire passage.  Each of us continued to keep our speed down so that we would arrive at Male shortly after daybreak rather than in the middle of the night.  My favorite thing on the final night watch was looking up in the sky at the Southern Cross.  Don’t know when we will be seeing that star formation again.

Shortly after 07:00 on Saturday morning we anchored in the designated spot for clearance into Male.  The water is very deep in these atolls, but there is one spot at the SW side of Male that is only 20 meters; that is where arriving yachts are supposed to anchor.  We had sailed 118.4 NM during the third 24-hour period of this passage.  Total trip from Cochin, India to Male, Maldives was 394.9 nautical miles and took 71 hours.  Could have shaved at least 6 hours off that easily, but did not want to arrive at an atoll during darkness.  

Male is a very busy place!!!  There are ferries of every sort moving fast in all directions to the many different tiny islands in this enormous atoll.  And resort private ferries zipping at high speeds crisscrossing the regular ferries.  Add to that 20 cargo ships and the local fishermen and dive/tour boats – and this place is really hopping!  This will take some adjustment on our part.

Despite having emailed our agent 72-hours in advance of arrival, again 48-hours in advance of arrival, again 24-hours in advance of arrival, again 12-hours in advance of arrival, and yet again 30 minutes in advance of arrival (and hailing him on arrival on the appropriate VHF channel) – the agent was a no-show.  Four officials arrived to clear us in and we again printed all the information we had provided to our agent days earlier.  They called our agent and he asked us to give our passports to one of the officials and he would collect them and get us cleared in with Immigration.  Four hours later we were still waiting for the passports to be returned.  Finally, Katie on ESPRIT called the agent and he said it was now okay for us to move to the “safe” anchorage north of the airport on the next island, and he would return our passports to us there later.  Really getting our money’s worth out of this required agent, aren’t we?

We managed to avoid all the zipping and speeding little boats and ferries and made our way safely to the “safe” anchorage.  This is a crowded anchorage.  Something else we will have to adjust to once again.  Many of the large tour/dive boats are anchored with multiple rope lines rather than anchor chain.  These ropes pointing off in opposite directions from the bows of many boats makes motoring through this crowded anchorage a true challenge.  We opted to drop anchor at the rear of the pack, close to where the ferries go back and forth; so our anchorage spot has a lot of wave action.  The waves we can handle; doesn’t bother us.  What does bother us are the flies!!!!!    

The agent’s representative, Abdul, arrived with our stamped passports at dusk.  We were on ESPRIT for drinks so that made it easy for him; cover 2 boats at once.  We still have not seen or heard from Mohammed, our supposed agent.  Now that we have our passports, we can go buy SIM cards for the cell phone and 3G.  Bill is off with Katie this morning to search for these.  There is one very annoying thing we have encountered already (besides the millions of flies) – we are not supposed to leave our dinghy tied anywhere along the dock or wall.  That means only one person can go ashore at a time; the other person must take the dinghy back to the boat.  Since I am in a pissy mood this morning (I did not want to cover up in this heat to go ashore and women should be covered in this Muslim country) Bill volunteered to be the one to take the ferry over to Male and find SIM cards.  He gets to wear shorts.  Whoever said life is fair?

A ship finally has been named for our transport.  Unfortunately, it will be a bit later than originally stated by the shipping agent.  So we will be in Male for several weeks – sitting on the boat the entire time because we are not allowed to leave the anchorage and only one of us can go ashore at a time.  The good side is that gives us plenty of time to prep BeBe for shipment.

BTW, when we were clearing in the Customs official told us that there are 39 Somali pirates in prison in the Maldives.  I have no idea where they were caught or when.  

While waiting in the Quarantine anchorage we watched yet another new manner of fishing.   We truly thought we had seen every manner of fishing imaginable by now.  But this one takes the cake.  If you look very, very closely in the water next to the boat in this photo (right near the back side of the white top cabin) you might be able to see the snorkel tube of a man in the water.  He is being towed by a rope tied to the boat.  He is looking for fish (remember, it is very deep here).  Then he points which direction the boat should proceed.  Now, while he is in the water looking for fish the men above are throwing chum into the water.  They throw small fish and pieces of fish in the water to attract larger fish.  My goodness, I would be afraid of attracting sharks.

Once the swimmer decides the fish he can see are in the right position, he signals and most of the men in the boat quietly get into the water and start deploying and arranging a large net.  The boat circles around and the net is closed up.  All the men get back into the boat.   Soon they are pulling in the net.  On this foray they collected a haul of fish several feet deep in the net.  Most of the fish were 2-feet in length, some greater.   An unusual way to fish.

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