Saturday, January 29, 2011

Trip to Colombo

 After being delayed for over a week dealing with getting the sail repaired and returned, we had hoped to take the train up to Colombo on Tuesday.  But there was yet another small delay.  The Harbour Master came to the concrete dock and said that all sailboats had to be moved.  We were stern-to on the south side of the concrete dock that projects into the middle of the harbor.   Almost all of the Bluewater Rally boats had departed on Monday; they had been docked next to us.  The Harbour Master now wanted the dock cleared of small craft so that it can be used by a commercial cargo ship if needed.  After all, that is how this harbor makes money – by commercial cargo ships, not by small pleasure yachts.  He directed us to move around on the north side of the same concrete dock and to raft-up with another sailing yacht.  He also gave Bill a tip about how and where to drop our anchor before rafting up.   He said if we dropped the anchor slightly off the starboard side before backing into place to raft up, then the boat would ride smoother and there would be less bumping against the inside yacht.  This worked extremely well.  And it turned out that being rafted up on the north side of the dock was much better and much more convenient than being docked stern-to on the south side of the dock.  When yachts are docked stern-to on the south side then they must stay well away from the concrete wall.  This means putting your dinghy into the water behind your boat.   To get ashore one must climb into the dinghy and use the lines to pull yourself to a ladder on the tall concrete dock and climb up.  At low tide this is quite a challenge for those of us who have had knee injuries and/or have arthritic hip joints.

Tuesday morning we moved and rafted up next to a small yacht.  Using the anchor technique was an excellent idea since our boat is much larger and heavier than the inside one next to the dock.  There is shore power available as well, which meant we could go to Colombo the following day.  Luckily the boat is from Denmark  and not from the USA.  Europeans have no problem with others climbing over their boats when rafted up.   The harbors are often so small in Europe that many boats get tied together.  People on the outer boats must climb over all the inside boats in order to get ashore.  We never do that in America.   So, at 05:45 Wednesday morning we climbed over our neighbor’s boat as quietly as possible, climbed the ladder and soon met our tuk-tuk at the security gate for the short ride to the railway station.  The 06:30 train is the express and takes a little over 2 hours from Galle to Colombo.  Bill had hoped to make it to Galle on Tuesday in order to have time to meet with someone at the US Embassy, but that didn’t work out.  We would have time for only a one-day visit with our friends.

Andy & Melissa sent a driver to meet us at the Colombo Fort Railway Station.  Wasn’t that so very nice of them!  Andy & Mel love Sri Lanka.  They have been coming here for years and were married here last year.   And after seeing how they live in Colombo, it is very easy to understand why they love Sri Lanka so much; as they live a very privileged lifestyle in this country.  Their condo is at one of the most prestigious addresses in Colombo.  They are very, very close friends with all the top cricket players, especially the cricket team captain.  And they also have close friends who are highly placed in national government.  Andy & Mel have opened a tea packaging factory in Colombo, and they are currently shopping for beachfront real estate where they will build a home.  
They gave us several options of things to do in Colombo during our one-day stay.  There was a cricket game that afternoon, but it was not an important game so would not be the best example of the sport.  We decided not to attend.  There was shopping.  Okay, maybe a little.  And we could visit their tea packaging factory.  That sounded the most interesting.  We enjoyed a marvelous lunch in an upscale popular restaurant.    Dessert was strawberry and red wine ice cream.  Sounds strange but it was astonishingly delicious!  Then we shopped a bit.  We rarely buy souvenir type things during our travels because we live on a boat and space is limited.  But this day we found 3 items that I couldn’t live without.  One was a small white square plate with the Sinhalese alphabet written in black.  Second was a large simple white bowl with the Tamil alphabet written in black around the rim.  I love these 2 pieces.  Art in cookware.  How perfect is that for souvenirs of Sri Lanka!  (Google is your friend if need more information about the Sinhalese and Tamil population and the recently ended long war.)  The third souvenir is a pair of throw pillow shams.  Now we have a pair from Cambodia and a pair from Sri Lanka in the main saloon.

Next was the trip out to the tea packaging factory.  We were required to don caps because the factory was in the process of a production run.  Health and food safety rules, you know.   Don’t want any loose hairs falling into those tea bags.  Andy and I were reminded of Lucy at the candy factory as we stood beside the conveyer belt moving small boxes of tea bags to the boxing area.

After the short tour we adjourned upstairs to visit with Andy’s business partners in this venture and to enjoy a cup of the tea that was being packaged that day. (Isn't that a pretty tea set?)  This particular day the factory was packaging Scottish Breakfast Tea to be shipped to Russia.  The factory does not buy tea or own any inventory except the machines.  They basically take packaging jobs from any company that needs tea packaged into bags – using the customer’s bag material, customer’s labels and strings, customer’s boxes and customer’s cartons.  They might be packaging Scottish Breakfast Tea for Russia today and English Breakfast Tea destined for Poland or Australia tomorrow.   Whatever the customer needs.

Driving back through Colombo in heavy traffic we spotted this polished old gramophone for sale on the roadside.  Wouldn't that be a great sofa table item.   None of us could figure out what that thing is on the far right. 

On the way back to the condo we stopped at an old hotel on the beach for drinks.  This was a setting straight out of a Hemingway or Somerset Maugham novel.  Lovely place.  A wedding party was being photographed.  The women looked so beautiful in their golden saris.  The white wedding sari was gorgeous.  Another couple was being photographed for their “coming home” photos.  Melissa said this is a normal custom in Sri Lanka.  After the honeymoon the couple is photographed when they return home.  That is a new one for me.  Haven’t run into that custom before.

Dinner was at a southern Indian restaurant in Cinnamon Hotel.  Again, a very upscale restaurant for Sri Lanka.  Andy ordered a variety of dishes and all were delicious.  Love spicy Indian food.  Then we returned to their condo and watched their wedding video, which Melissa had just received that day.  We were unable to attend the wedding (we were traveling Vietnam at the time); so it was especially fun to watch the video.   Our communal friends, Frank & Barbara of S/V DESTINY, had flown in for the wedding.  Barbara looked beautiful in her sari; Frank looked like a doctor in his light green long Sri Lankan style shirt.  Andy’s wedding costume was a hoot.  They wrapped many layers of cloth around and around him to make him look very fat.  And the jacket had huge rigid puffed out sleeves.  I think this was a traditional Kandy wedding costume.  (Kandy is a city in the mountains near the north/central area of Sri Lanka.)  Melissa’s wedding outfits were positively beautiful.   She was supposed to arrive riding on an elephant.  But it rained and that elephant was all wet and smelly (while still clothed in dark blue coverings), so Mel opted to walk to the altar and tiptoe around the muddy patches in the grass.   The video of the dancing and well-wishes from the guests was also a hoot.  They had a great wedding.  Sorry we missed it, and glad we were able to watch the video.

The next morning the 4 of us took the train from Colombo to Galle.  The train tracks run right next to the shore at some places and well away from shore at other places.    I think around 5,000 people died on Sri Lanka during the big tsunami in December 2004, and there is a lot of tsunami damage visible in some areas.    >   The property along the train tracks varies a great deal.  Some of it is true poverty; other areas have very nice homes with large landscaped lawns.   Then again, some areas are very picturesque, as seen by the photo below.

There was a pretty baby girl on the train that caught my eye.  She and her twin sister had big black dots painted between their eyebrows.  These were the only infants or children I have seen with those dots.

Andy & Melissa had tickets for the Galle Literary Festival.  Bill & I had not bought tickets because we thought we would be long gone from Sri Lanka by now.  (We are getting well behind schedule and need to get our butts in gear in order to get as far north as possible in the Red Sea before the winds start coming strong from the north.  We should be in Egypt by mid-March and that is a long way.)  Two of the events conflicted.  So Andy asked me to attend a cooking class with him, and Bill was to go with Mellissa to have lunch with Candace Bushnell, author of “Sex in the City.”   I did make it to the cooking class with Andy; but Bill was detained by the port people and never made it to the Literary Festival that day.  Oh well, he likely would have been the only male in attendance anyway.

The dish prepared in the cooking class was a traditional Sri Lankan specialty called Lampraise (pronounced Lamb-pree).  This is a Dutch-Sri Lankan dish.  It was quite involved and time-consuming; definitely something one would prepare only on special occasions.  It involved cooking 6 different things; then assembling all on a banana leaf or plantain leaf; wrapping into a packet; and baking.  Each packet was a large meal in itself.  I don’t know if I will ever have occasion to cook Lampraise, but now I know how to do it.  I definitely would modify it to better suit our tastes.  Sri Lankan food often contains dried fish powder or dried shrimp powder.  We do not like either of those; the taste is too strong.  I would definitely substitute roasted ground peanuts instead of the ground roasted dried shrimp. 

Michael & Linda on S/V B’SHERET arrived Thursday afternoon.  On Friday we shared a van with them for another half-day tour around the Galle area.  We visited the fort, the museum, the stick fishermen and a search for printer cartridges for B’SHERET.   We ate lunch at a "local fare" buffet place.  All the food was pretty spicy, but tasted fine to me -- except a local specialty of banana flowers and peppers that contained a lot of that dried fish powder.  Way too strong a fishy flavor.  At the fort I bought a simple cotton dress from a sidewalk vendor.  Bill was already in the van, so I borrowed the money from Michael.  It was supposed to cost 1800 rupee, but Michael gave her 18,000 rupee.  He had just arrived and wasn’t yet familiar with the currency here.  The woman took the money and hurried away.  Luckily, the tour guide saw what had happened and quickly confronted the old woman and got the money returned.  The tour guide and driver were pissed off and lectured the old woman about ripping off the tourists that are their livelihood.  They were really angry that she did not immediately return the money and instead tried to keep it.  No kidding.  $180 USD for a simple cotton shift would be absurd!!!  That is probably more money than that old woman makes in 6 months.  Poverty does not excuse dishonesty.

Linda was a good sport and tried the stick fishing.  She even caught a fish!!  Unfortunately, our camera decided to quit working and the last dozen photos taken are pure black.   Wish it had died 6 months ago when we were in an area where we could buy a decent camera.  Not much to be found around here in the way of good cameras, so I guess we will go back to using our underwater diving camera that takes such crappy photos.

When we returned to the port after the tour we stopped by our agent’s office to inquire about clearing out.  It normally takes over a day to get cleared out of here and we hoped to leave either Saturday or Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, can’t do that.  It is not possible to have the electric meter read and an invoice for electricity prepared on a weekend.  So it now looks like we will be leaving Monday afternoon – as long as the weather forecast remains favorable.   Even the best weather is a beat up to Cochin (wind against us for you non-sailors); we sure do not want to attempt it in less than favorable weather. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Another short day tour around Galle

The repaired mainsail arrived and we hauled it up on Sunday morning.  We (and all our neighbors, I'm sure) were very glad to have the sail furled back into the mast and stop all that clanging and banging.  The furling unit inside the mast always makes a lot of noise as the boat rolls with the water movement; nothing we can do to stop that.  The furled sail is the only thing that will keep it quiet.  The sail loft did a very good job with the repair.  Total cost to restitch one blown seam and replace leach tape was $175 -- $100 for the repair and $75 for transportation, including the required bribes paid to the Customs official for taking the sail out of the port and again when returning the sail back into the port.  

 We had been captive on the boat for 2 days waiting for this sail to be returned.  Now that the sail was back we could get off the boat again.  We called Marlan, the local "go to man" and told him we wanted a tuk-tuk to take us to lunch somewhere and then just drive around for a few hours.

The tuk-tuk driver took us back to the same beach we had visited earlier in the week.  Pretty scenery even if the food was only mediocre.    Bill had grilled jumbo prawns and I chose grilled tuna that turned out to be topped with a creamy sauce.  The prawns were too buttery and overcooked, and the tuna also was overcooked,  way too dry and full of bones.  This did not compare to the great lunch we had enjoyed by the seaside in the old Dutch fort.   Soon we were off on a long ride eastward from Galle along the shore main road.  We stopped at a sea turtle hatchery farm but decided to skip it because the entrance fee was higher than we were willing to pay to see more turtles.   I don't remember seeing any turtles since we entered the Pacific Ocean, and certainly none yet since entering the Indian Ocean.  But we saw plenty of them in the Caribbean so it is not the novelty to us that it might be to some tourists.  Alongside the road was an elephant, just to remind us that we are in Asia. 

Just as we were about to tell the driver to turn around and head back, he did exactly that and then pulled over to an area where men fish each day in the surf.  This was a lovely small seaside park.  I thought by now we had seen every manner of fishing known to man, but I was wrong.  These men don short loin cloth garments and wade into the surf; climb poles and fish with tiny bamboo poles and very tiny fish hooks.  Very picturesque but I am not so sure about how productive this manner of fishing is.  The men blamed the wind for causing them to not catch any fish.  I am just not so sure how many fish are feeding as the surf crashes in towards the beach.  After about 10 minutes they climbed down and came back ashore, asking for payment for their efforts.  Bill gave them 300 rupiah; they wanted 500.  Bill told them that if they wanted 500 then they should have said so before they tried to fish.  After all, we had not asked them to go try to fish; they had volunteered.

Nearby there was a spot where a lot of people were playing in the water.  These were the only people we had seen in the water during our long ride along the shore.  I could understand why, because the surf really does come crashing in and swimming would be dangerous.  The water is quite deep right up to the beach.   I asked the driver why the people were in the water here and he pointed out that there were large flat rocks about 100 meters offshore that created sort of a pool of seawater.  The people could not be washed out to sea from this pool area.  He said this spot gets very crowded on Sunday mornings as the Sri Lankan people come to bathe in the sea.
The next stop on our return route to Galle was a Spice and Herb Garden.   This was an ultra nice facility; the nicest structure and grounds that we have seen since arriving in Sri Lanka.   A river ran alongside the garden and it was beautiful setting.  Our guide had been studying to be an herbalist and was soon to graduate.  The Spice and Herb Garden  specializes in Ayurveda, a/k/a Ayurvedic medicine.  
I realize many people believe in this stuff, and I do grant that some of it does work.  But it was all I could do to keep my mouth shut when this guy was telling me that rubbing a mixture of clove oil, lemon and other spices onto my scalp each day would prevent Alzheimers.  Or that rubbing my face with sandalwood cream and sandalwood oil each day would prevent wrinkles.  Or that by taking 2 spoonfuls daily of a clove oil mixture would cause me to lose 5 kilo of weight in one month.  If these natural products did all these claims, this place would be a multi-billion dollar industry.  The guide offered us massages with the natural products for a modest fee.  We declined.  With all the skin allergies I have, the last think I would want is to have any of these natural products rubbed into my skin.  

This was not a productive day for our tuk-tuk driver.  We understand how this works.  The driver receives a commission based on what the customer buys or spends at each shop or tourist stop.  We did not buy any spices or herbs and did not have massages, so no commission to the driver.  We later made sure that he was paid appropriately for his time.

We had done enough sight-seeing for the afternoon.  We visited an ATM and stopped at Mike's Yacht Service Center -- which turned out to be his home as well as his shop.  We arranged for cases of Cokes, Diet Cokes and many other items to be delivered to our boat on Thursday afternoon.   Might as well have the heavy items delivered right to the dock.  Mike even handles fresh produce but who knows what the quality will be.  I ordered a kilo of potatoes, a kilo of onions, 500 grams of green beans and a kilo of tomatoes -- half red and half green.  Plus one small bunch of lemon bananas.  I also ordered a couple kilo of frozen boneless chicken breast and ham deli meat for sandwiches.  Hope there is room in the freezer for it.  I like this delivery service!

Back at the concrete dock they were wrapping up the movie filming set.  All week a German production company has been filming a movie using a boat going in and out of the harbor daily.  It is a period piece set prior to WWI.  Based on the costumes it appears to be much, much earlier than WWI to me.  They had converted and dirtied a fiberglass schooner to look like an older ship.  Those masts might look like wood, but they are really aluminum painted dark brown.  This boat cleaned up quite nicely after the movie crew departed.   The funny thing is that this boat arrived in Sri Lanka the same day we did.  In fact, this boat cut closely directly across our path (how rude!!) when we were sailing the last day towards Galle.

Galle is very much a commercial harbor.  Parked up on top of the concrete wharf where we are currently Med-moored are 3 commercial ships from Houston.  What a coincidence for us to run into boats from our hometown more than halfway round the world.  These 3 boats are owned by Global Geophysical Services, and I swear they look exactly like the one that was moored in Serangan when we were in Bali in September 2009.  These are the GLOBAL MIRAGE, the GLOBAL VISION and the GLOBAL QUEST.  I don't remember the name of the one that was in Bali but I think it was the GLOBAL MIRAGE.

As always, you can click on any photo to see a larger image.

This morning a ton of water was delivered to our boat.  We certainly cannot operate our watermaker in this filthy water, so we opted to purchase water.  It was delivered in a truck and pumped into our tank.   We stopped them at 700 liters and tried to get them to give the rest to our neighbor on the port side, but that was not allowed.  This afternoon a truck delivered diesel.  After our last passage experience, we want to always be certain that we are fully loaded with diesel each time we set out to sea.  We burned about 600 liters of diesel during that last problem-riddled passage.  Cochin is less than 500 miles and fuel can be purchased there, but we still want to be totally loaded with diesel before leaving Sri Lanka. Bill is gone now to visit the Harbor Master and confirm that we will be allowed to remain on this dock until at least Thursday afternoon.  Most of the Bluewater Rally boats left early Saturday morning and we have heard that the Harbor Master now wants all boats off this concrete dock so he can use it for a large commercial ship.   If we must move off this dock, that will change our plans for the week.

If our boat is allowed to remain where we are currently docked, then we will take the early train to Colombo tomorrow morning to visit friends Andy & Melissa of S/V SPECTACLE.   They have a condo in Colombo and are here for a few months while leaving their boat in Bali.  We last saw Andy & Melissa in New Zealand.  After visiting with them for a couple of days, we will return Thursday morning, receive our provisioning delivery on Thursday afternoon and clear out.  Hopes are to depart Sri Lanka either Friday or Saturday and head to Cochin, India.  It is getting late and we want to be into the Red Sea by the end of February.  If the Harbor Master says we must move off this concrete dock, then we cannot go to Colombo.  If he says we must move, I cannot imagine where they will move us to.  All the spaces on the crappy flimsy blue plastic floating docks are full, with more boats arriving daily.

Here is a photo of our newest neighbor on the starboard side.  As I said, this is a commercial port.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Just goofing off

By the 4th day in port Bill was getting bored just sitting on the boat.  After a 2 day delay the North Sails guy had finally gotten our ripped mainsail out of the port and to the loft for repair.  Customs had demanded bribes for each of the 10 boats sending sails out of the port for repair, and this delayed the repair process by almost 2 full days.   The laundry we had sent out had been returned, smelling all nice and clean again even if it was washed by hand instead of machines.  Most of the little repair items on our list from the recent storm damage had been effected.  Most of our sailing friends have gone off to do island tours for several days.  We are reluctant to leave our boat on the flimsy blue plastic floating dock to go touring (without electricity to keep our batteries charged, thus the freezer frozen), so we were sitting on the boat just getting more and more bored.  We are each reading political books and not particularly interested at the moment.  Reading is our normal escape into oblivion but the adjectives used in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars" is really just pissing Bill off, so reading isn't in the cards right now.  So, what to do when bored?  Well, just get out and start walking, of course.  Ought to be okay to leave the boat for a few hours.

Just outside the port security gate we hailed a tuk-tuk and told him to just drive.  Anywhere.  Just turn right and drive and we will see what can be found.  We ended up at a delightful little beach filled with European tourists and tiny hotels and bars/restaurants.  Bill chatted up a couple of young women from London on holiday.  They told us that all the small beach hotels stay booked and one must reserve well in advance.  Funny that.  Would not have thought of Sri Lanka as a big beach tourist destination.  Seems to be very popular with Europeans.  After a cold beverage we moved on to wherever the tuk-tuk driver wanted to take us next.

Next stop was a coconut factory.  We had no idea what a coconut factory might be.  I thought maybe it was to process coconuts for candy.  Nope.  This coconut factory produces various household things.  First they soak the coconuts in water for 30 days.  Then the outer husks are removed and shredded.  Then the fibers of the outer husks are separated from the moist hull part.  The fibers are then dried and used to produce rope.  The moist hull material is further separated into 2 components used in nursery plants.  They obtain a fibrous material that acts like mulch and a very moist material that is used to make soil less dense, sort of like natural vermiculite or perlite  

The remaining fibrous parts of the coconuts are used to make mattresses.  These are nothing like the mattresses we are familiar with, but they are the customary mattresses for this part of the world.  Goodness gracious me!  I could never sleep on one of these mattresses.  I would be worried to death about insects.  

The tiny old women working in this factory were a sight to see.  With the exception of the younger woman in the red shirt, every one of them was chewing betel nut, which first is red and then causes the teeth to turn black and the front teeth to rot away.  It shocks one at first when they smile exposing the black teeth and gaping holes with red stains all around the mouth.  This isn't the first culture that we have encountered that chews betel nuts but the whole concept still escapes me.  Why would anyone want to chew that stuff!

The ride to and from the coconut factory was "colorful."   We enjoyed people watching (and cow and goat watching in the middle of the road sometimes).  Unfortunately, the tuk-tuk ride was too bouncy to allow us to take any photos.  Our driver was the nicest man imaginable.  When I asked if the coconut factory also produced coconut for food, he wanted to know if we had yet eaten Sri Lankan curry made from coconut milk.  When we said we had eaten coconut milk and coconut cream curries in other countries but not yet in Sri Lanka, he insisted that we must come to dinner at his home the next night and his wife would cook Sri Lankan style curry for us.  He was most sincere in his invitation, but we declined.   We would feel bad about the extra cost of food for him to feed an additional 2 people. 

Next stop was a jewelry, lace, clothing and batik factory.  This was an Islamic business and the men were extremely nice and polite.  They showed us how stones are polished in the old water tray method; but that really is not used today at their factory.  They use modern electric polishing wheels.  The stones were pretty and the jewelry nice; but I am not in the market for any jewelry.  I thought about buying a traditional moonstone or amethyst bangle replica for our granddaughter.  But $400 is too much to pay for a bracelet for a 9-year-old girl.

There were a half-dozen women making lace by hand.  This is the first time I have seen this process.  It is very time consuming.  It takes one woman about 5 days to make a lace collar about 3-inches wide.  Some of the lace was very pretty and I was tempted to buy something.  But what the heck would I do with it?  The batik was the same old batik process we have seen a dozen times.  Nothing new there.  I have no need for any batik.  The clothing and wall hangings were nothing we were interested in buying either.  Really have no use for any of it.  Sorry guys; but no purchases from these tourists today.

Next stop was a supermarket where we searched hard to find something to our liking.  I am very glad we stocked the boat so well in Singapore and Phuket.  There isn't much in the way of food that we will buy in Sri Lanka.  We have found 2 things locally that we like very much.  They have very tiny oranges that are easy to peel and are delicious.  Fabulous snack food.  And I thought we had seen every type of banana known to man, but I was wrong.  Here in Sri Lanka they have a small lemon banana that is wonderful.  Previously the Lady Finger bananas grown in Central America and Tonga were our favorite.  The lemon bananas of Sri Lanka are our new favorite.
BTW, during our recent passage through hell Bill grew a beard.  It was not intentional.  It was simply too rough to shave.  So he let it grow thinking he might keep the beard while we are in the Muslim countries of the Red Sea.  After all, they believe all men should have facial hair and should never be clean shaven.   Bill finally shaved it off today.  He said it was too hot to have all that hair on his face.  So back to normal again.

As always, remember that you can click on each photo to see a larger image.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lovely lunch in Galle with friends

After finally completing the official clearance dance about 14:30 on Sunday our friends Bill & Amy on S/V ESTRELLITA accompanied us on our first venture outside the military port of Galle Harbour.   They introduced us to Marlan, a guy who usually stays just outside the security guard station.  Marlan can handle just about anything one might want.  If it is available in Sri Lanka, Marlan is the man to see.  We arranged to bring him several loads of laundry the next morning.  Once our boat is moved to the concrete quay (the only place in the port where electricity is available), then we will arrange with Marlan for a little tour of Sri Lanka.  

We jumped into a couple of tuk-tuks and were off to the old Dutch fort.  Every Asian country we have visited has had a slightly different version of tuk-tuks.  The ones here in Galle are sort of like a 3-wheel small motor cycle with a bench seat passenger cab that will seat 2 adults.   We rode in 2 tuk-tuks this day and each ride was 150 rupiah, about $1.35 USD.   While walking through the old Dutch fort area I saw this old man with his grandson standing behind a tuk-tuk.  So here is a photo of the local manner of dress and an example of the most popular local transportation.  

We got separated from Bill & Amy because we needed to stop at a ATM and obtain local currency, but our driver phoned Marlan and learned where the other tuk-tuk had taken Bill & Amy.  Soon we were reunited outside a nice restaurant inside the old Dutch fort overlooking seaside.  I opted to try something new -- deviled cuttlefish served with noodles.  This was delicious!  Cuttlefish is very similar to squid.  Deviled does not have the same definition as we know it.  It is nothing like deviled eggs or deviled ham.  Deviled in Sri Lanka means a particular type of red sauce and can be either bland, medium or hot.  I chose medium and it was delicious. 

After lunch we walked around the old Dutch area.  I think this might have been declared a UNESCO site because it appears that renovations are underway on every block.  The architecture is interesting.  This is the type of area where one can spend days peeking into the shops.  There are lots of small jewelry shops, many wood carving shops and several old mansion museums.  We wandered around one of the museums and watched a man polishing stones and jewels with an old-fashioned wheel and water tray.  If one enjoys jewelry, this is a good place to find it.

Bill Betts insisted we walk down a particular street.  Soon we understood why.  Amy is always picking up rocks.  A few days earlier she had picked up a pretty piece of quartz off the road and put it into her pocket to keep.  Unknown to her, Bill took that quartz to a small jewelry shop and had it mounted into a pendant.  We walked into the shop and Amy was totally surprised to be handed her pretty light green piece of quartz mounted in a heavy sterling silver band as a pendant.  She selected a heavy sterling silver chain to match the mounting and the result was lovely.  How very special is that!!  Not every woman is lucky enough to have a partner so thoughtful!  

We walked about half way back to the harbor area, stopping for fresh fruits and veggies and bread along the way.  We had the traditional ice cream cone from a street vendor.  Saw lots of shoe repair vendors along the roadside. That reminded me of South and Central America.  Some things are the same worldwide.  The people try to eek out a living as best they can with whatever they can.   

We were getting blisters and decided to catch another couple of tuk-tuks back to the harbor.  So ended our first day in Sri Lanka.

Our circuitous route

Here is an enlarged image of of the difficult part of our track for the passage from Phuket to Sri Lanka when we were repeatedly locked inside the LOW.  The red numbers are explained below.  The shipwreck icon indicates approximate waypoint where S/V Bachas was abandoned and crew rescued by passing cargo ship Maersk Europa.  Only the degrees and minutes were reported in the distress call.  We did not get the seconds so the waypoint is not exact.  We were between points 6 and 7 at the time S/V Bachas was abandoned.

  1. One day past Nicobar Islands we encountered the first squall exceeding 40 knots.  This did not force us to change course.
  2. Encountered the large squall from the SW that lasted hours and forced us to begin moving NW. (Sorry; I realize that #1 and #2 are not shown on this close-up image.)
  3. Hove-to for the first time and contacted Commanders Weather.
  4. Point where we broke free from the LOW for the first time; then were able to tack towards SE tip of Sri Lanka.
  5. Encountered strong westerly winds (40+ knots) when approximately 43 NM from SE tip of Sri Lanka; turned south hoping wind would abate.   
  6. Heaved-to for less than an hour  (So frustrating to be only 35 NM from tip of Sri Lanka and not be able to get there!); then hit very hard with strong wind and forced to ride with the storm for next 10 hours. 
  7. Reached the eye wall and were turned NW.  Continued several hours and broke out of the LOW for the second time.
  8. Turned south as per instruction from "Dick" at Commanders Weather and soon again encountered 40+ knots of wind.  Turned around and fled north.
  9. Reached calmer winds farther north and heaved-to for almost 24 hours, drifting mostly westerly while hove-to.
  10.  The following afternoon as soon as winds showed a hint of NNE (5 degrees), we sailed south towards that same waypoint on the SE tip of Sri Lanka.  Reached it in calm conditions on this fourth attempt and turned west beneath the island headed to Galle.  Calm conditions all the way to port because the LOW had now moved much farther south and west to the Maldives, where it dissipated.
Here is an image of our entire track for this passage.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sri Lankan clearance dance

Clearing into Sri Lanka on a yacht is different than other places we have visited. 

1. One must receive permission from Galle Harbour Control to get near the outer breakwater.   Port Control will not allow you to approach until your agent contacts them first.  So arriving boats must have a method of contacting their agent, either email or satellite phone (or VHF radio once you get within radio range). 

2.  Next a Navy gunboat comes out and directs you to a spot to anchor just inside the breakwater.   You might wait there 10 minutes or many hours.

3.  Normally the next step is that the gunboat returns and tells you to raise the anchor and move to a large rusty mooring and tie off.   We lucked out and skipped having to tie off to the nasty mooring.   The naval officer (only 1 for us) came to our boat at anchor.  I think this happened because there was a huge sailboat tied to the mooring; there were 7 boats waiting to be cleared in; and the officer wanted to get on with his work, finish with us and get us out of his area.

4.  When your boat is secured to the rusty mooring, a couple of Navy officers arrive to conduct your "interview" and search your boat.  Again, the wait for the officers might be only a few minutes or several hours.  The interview is very informal.  For whatever reason, our boat was not searched.  We were the only boat cleared in that day which was not searched.  Have no idea why.

5.  The Navy officer really liked Bill's polo shirt with BeBe embroidered on it.  He said he needed a size small.  Bill gave him a size XL shirt; the last new one Bill had.  The officer said he has a collection of boat name shirts filling up an entire wall at his home.  He did not ask for cigarettes or booze, just the boat name shirt.

6.  Then a small Navy skiff guides you into the main harbor.  Galle Harbour is a Navy harbor.  During the years long war with the Tamil Tigers this harbor was mined.  The Tamil Tigers were finally wiped out a couple of years ago.  One assumes all the mines have since been removed.  The small skiff guides you to one of several options to berth, depending on what is available.  The 25 boats participating in the Bluewater Rally are now in Galle Harbour.  Add to that number the normal annual cruising yachts, and this little harbor is completely filled with visiting yachts.  There are 2 remote floating plastic docks on either side of the harbor, and a primary floating plastic dock in the rear of the harbor.  We were guided to the primary floating plastic dock --  right next to our friends Bill & Amy on S/V Estrellita!!!  What a surprise!!  Ending up being berthed right next to them.  They were leaving the next morning to press onward to Cochin, but at least we had a day to visit.  This "dock" is really stretching the meaning of the word.  It is just a bunch of blue plastic cubes interlocked together and floating in a long strip.  It is barely secured to some very lightweight underwater concrete blocks, which move as boats bump up against the "dock."  The whole arrangement is very unstable.  Everything was wiped out during the big tsunami in late 2004, and this is the best they have been able to come up with as replacement facilities.  There obviously is no electricity or water available on this "dock."  

7.  After your boat is tied off on this "dock" then you wait for your agent to appear, accompanied by the Customs officer; another wait of several hours.  This official is an absolute total jerk and makes his job a joke.  He makes no pretense of doing his job as a Customs officer.  He is simply on a personal shopping trip.  As instructed by our agent, prior to arrival we had prepared a printed list of all tobacco, spirits, wine and beer.  Bill handed the list to the Customs officer and the man said to show him the cigarettes.  We have 4 cartons of Marlboros that will be needed to give to the pilots in the Suez Canal, plus 6 packs of French cigarettes purchased back in Trinidad in September 2006.  Don't you know those old things are dried out and disgusting.  The Customs officer came right out and said "I will take a carton of the Marlboros."  To which Bill replied, "No; those are gifts for our friends in India.  You can have the 6 blue packs, but you cannot have the Marlboros."  They went back and forth several times, but Bill refused to give up a carton of the Marlboros.  Next the official wanted to see the spirits on our list.  I showed him the bottles and mentioned that I thought all the bottles were opened.  He found 1 bottle of rum which was still sealed and said, "I will take that bottle of rum; it is still sealed."  I told him that he could not have that bottle of rum because it was our only bottle of rum.  So next he wanted to see the wine.  Bill opened the floor locker and showed him the stacked bottles of wine (several cases).  Again, with the "I will take a bottle of wine."  At that I turned around and said most emphatically that this was my wine and it had to last until we get to the Mediterranean and that he could not have any of my wine.  Bill spoke up at this point and said we wanted to bond all alcohol and cigarettes.  Our agent jumped right up and whipped out the paperwork to start the bonding process.  The Customs officer was not at all happy with this course of events.  It would require him to process a lot of paperwork for us to bond stores aboard our boat and then to refund the bond upon our departure.  Suddenly he decided that accepting the 6 blue packs of cigarettes was going to be all he was going to get off our boat, so he took those and left without processing our bonding request.  Great!  Navy done; Customs done; only 2 more officials to deal with and we would be officially cleared into Sri Lanka.

BTW, the only other docking option in Galle Harbour is a high rough concrete quay.  There is electricity on this concrete wall.  That is where we hoped to be berthed so that we can leave the boat for a few days to travel around the island.  We would not feel that the boat would be safe left on the flimsy blue plastic floating docks.

8.  You still cannot leave your boat until all the officials have visited you, accompanied with your agent.  We wanted to go to lunch with our friends but were stuck on the boat for several more hours.  Eventually the Practique (Health) Officer arrived with our agent.  This was a very nice guy.  He wanted to see our Yellow Cards (the International Vaccination forms) and our "de-ratting" (fumigation) certificate.  Hey, guess what!  Neither of those are a problem!  We do each have International Vaccination forms, last updated with boosters in New Zealand in March 2009.  All our yellow fever, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis, etc., vaccinations are all up-to-date.  And we also have a proper fumigation certificate.  We prepared one in Panama in March 2008 because we knew the Galapagos Islands would want to see one.  Sri Lanka did not care that this certificate was more than 2 years old; the official was just delighted that we had one.  Only 1 official remained to clear us in!

9.  Shortly after 13:00 the Immigration Officer arrived with our agent.  Remember we started this process with the Navy inspection around 07:00 so already this has taken the better part of a day.  The Immigration guy could not walk on the flimsy floating blue plastic dock.  Someone had to hold his arm to keep him from falling.  Bill helped him step aboard our stern steps from the dock.  He came downstairs and we processed more of the umpty-jillion forms required.  In addition to all their forms we also had to provide a total of 9 crew lists and 9 copies of our passports and 6 copies of our boat documentation.  The officer gave us each a blue piece of paper and said these were our passes allowing us to move around Sri Lanka.  We would have to come to the Immigration office with our agent and have our passports stamped (he did not have the correct stamp with him; it was only at the office); then we were free to walk out of the port and go wherever we liked on the island.  He warned us that we must keep both our passport and our blue pass on our persons at all times while in Sri Lanka.  

And then he asked for a bottle of rum to take back to his office.  No hinting around that he would enjoy a gift from us; just flat out asked for a bottle of rum to take back to his office.  Bill whipped out a glass and said that he could not have a whole bottle but that he was welcome to a drink if he wanted one.  Well, yes; as a matter of fact he would enjoy a rum and Coke.  He then proceeded to drink 6 rum and Cokes!  I had thought he was drunk when he arrived and couldn't walk straight; he was most definitely drunk by the time he stepped off our boat.  He also asked for cigarettes and I told him that we do not allow smoking inside our boat.  Around 14:30 he said we were finished except for coming to the office and having our passports stamped, and he finally left.

We walked with our agent over to the Immigration office and accomplished that final step and were finally free to walk outside the port.  The guards are armed with German made semi-automatic 12-gauge shotguns.  There are guys with guns all over the place inside this naval port.  Each time we leave and return the guards record our information and check our passports and passes.  Probably the safest docks we have ever stayed at.

We left with Bill & Amy to find a place for a late lunch.  Finally. 

Oh, yeah.  Almost forgot.  While the gate guard was recording Bill's information I read the sign posted on the wall behind the guard.  As I whipped out my camera to take a photo of this sign, the other guards standing nearby starting laughing.  They know what goes on around this port and the officials demand bribes to do their jobs and clear in boats.  Here is the sign posted at the port entrance guard station:

We printed a copy of this sign and gave it to arriving friends the next day.  They placed it on the table when the Customs officer came to process their clearance.  When the Customs officer started to ask for things, our friends just tapped the paper.  He quickly gave up and finished their paperwork without further hassle.  I recommend that all future cruisers do the same.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Our passage through hell -- Part One

This passage turned out to be a major learning experience for us and a true test of our sailing skills, as well as a true test of our physical capabilities and emotional well-being.  It was far too rough to update this blog during most of the passage.  I am writing this posting from handwritten notes that I  updated daily.  I will attempt to adjust posting dates when finished with all postings so that the entire trip appears on the blog in consecutive day order.

Day #1 -- We departed Patong Bay on the island of Phuket, Thailand at 10:00 on Monday morning 03 January 2011.   Barometer 1008.5  The genoa was poled to starboard , mainsail midline and mizzen on preventer to starboard.  Winds were predicted to be from the NE but as soon as we cleared the coastline the wind proved to actually be coming from the SE.  Sailing conditions were great from 10:00 to 18:00; a little lively with 2-3 meter swell on 5 second from the SE on our aft port quarter causing the boat to twist and roll somewhat uncomfortably.   For our non-sailing friends, any time the swell is equal in seconds to the height of the swell in feet then it is comfortable.  For example, an 8-ft swell on 8 seconds is ideal.  And 8-ft swell on 10 seconds or higher is almost imperceptible.   An 8-ft swell on 6 seconds starts to get a little rough.  An 8-ft swell on 5 seconds is noticeably uncomfortable and it only gets rougher as the time shortens.  Having 2-3 meter swell on 5 seconds was decidedly uncomfortable.  Not dangerous in any way; just uncomfortable.  At 01:00 Tuesday morning a squall moved through.  We took in all sails and motored until 08:00.  Bill checked in with the SSB net at 09:30 (Thailand time).  We were doing 7.5 - 8 knots boat speed in 12-15 knot winds from the SE.  Total distance sailed was 135 miles, of which 124 NM were actual miles-made-good toward our destination.  Barometer 1007.3  

Day #2  Experienced continued good sailing through mid-day.  Then winds slackened and the boat started rolling.  Started the engine and motor-sailed due west several hours to lessen the rolling.  We were getting queasy and had no appetites.  I took advantage of the calm to steam almost all our fresh produce since it was already almost a week old, but we were not interested in eating any of it at this point.  Yogurt, granola bars and snack crackers were our food items of choice.  We passed through a field of debris that appeared to have resulted from a fishing boat going down recently.  There was a large solid table floating upside down (fish cutting station?); many fishing floats and flags; many jumbled bundles of floating lines; a couple of small suitcases;  several large black plastic trash bags; and other typical debris one might expect from the interior and deck of a small commercial fishing boat.  We search the area and found no people and did not know where to report this apparent ship sinking -- India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or Myanmar?  Tuesday night was a new moon but it was obscured by heavy cloud cover.  For our second night at sea I was treated to stars that went on forever and Bill was treated to squalls again.  A small pod of tiny brown porpoises came to play with our boat; but soon lost interest, probably because we were going so slow.  The second day distance sailed (MMG) 145 NM.  Barometer 1006.7  (NOTE:  All weather information available to us thus far had been incorrect.  All GRIB files and Buoyweather indicated that winds should have been from the NE, yet all weather was coming from the SE and S.  We should have turned around right then and stopped in Indonesia until these weather inconsistencies were sorted out.  We should not have continued on this passage when we knew the GRIB files and all weather information did not match what we were actually observing.)

Day #3 --  Early this morning we passed south of the Nicobar Islands, which are administered by India and off-limits to visiting yachts.  India is doing everything possible to not intrude on the ancient jungle tribal way of life on the Nicobars.  Let these people live as they have for centuries.  Some people might remember the photo after the big tsunami in late December 2004 of a man clothed only in a loincloth aiming a spear at a rescue supply helicopter.  That happened in the Nicobar Islands.  These folks just want to be left alone and want nothing to do with modern mankind.  Closest we came to the Nicobars was 8 NM off the southernmost coast of the southernmost island.  Swell was now a full 3 meters on 4-5 seconds and coming from 2 directions, SE and S.  Conditions were very rolly; for 10 hours it was very much like the Gulf of Carpentaria on the northern side of Australia.  We each took Scopace and took turns sleeping all day.   Winds were from the SSE at 10 - 20 knots and lots of small squalls.  The clouds truly did have a silver lining with the sun setting behind as we sailed westward.  Conditions were much more comfortable and less rolling. Lunch for me was another "foreign language" experience.  The yogurt purchased in Thailand turned out to contain corn and red kidney beans.  That was a surprise I could have done without.   Obviously I should have looked at that label a little closer.  The barometer was dropping and we were watching it closely.  Miles-made-good sailed today totaled 178 NM.  Barometer 1006.3 at 15:00.  Barometer 1003.0 at 17:00.   Barometer 1004.5 at 18:20.

Day #4 -- S/V Estrellita arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday after a very uneventful fast passage.  Today we were slightly more than half way and hoped to arrive in Sri Lanka in about 3 more days.  However, a 40-knot squall soon changed that idea.  This day we sailed 158 NM, of which only 145 were MMG.   Wind and swell from from the SE and from the S; very confused and close together tumbling.  We were still able to sail westward as we passed through several 30 - 35 knot squalls.  One squall moved up from the S very suddenly at 40 knots and lasted 1 1/4 hours.  I attempted to film a short video and will try to upload it later if it worked.  This squall passed so quickly that seas flattened and did not build at all.  Afterward there were many more squalls packing 30 knots wind only; no rain.  Strange.  Don't think we have previously encountered squalls without rain.  Barometer 1007.7  That is good.  About what it was when we left Thailand.

Day #5 --  At 07:45 several dozen tiny brown porpoises came to play with our boat; stayed around a long time even though our boat speed at the time was only 4.7 knots into current, motoring, with no wind and dead-flat calm seas.  Around 09:00 we passed a very large sailing yacht motoring in the opposite direction at speed of 15 knots.  I could see from their AIS signal that we were on a direct collision course and immediately moved well out of their path.  S/V Red Dragon was 52 meters long, 10 meters beam and 4 meters draft.  Love their AIS Class A  that provided us with all this information.  We have an AIS receiver but not a transponder:  we can see them but they cannot see us on their electronic charts.  Little did we know at the time that this mega yacht was probably fleeing the approaching severe weather.  Would have been nice if they had warned us about it.

Around noon a large very dark system approached from the SW.  (Remember, absolutely nothing in any weather information we could obtain had indicated anything to come from the SW or W.)   There was no way to avoid this rapidly approaching weather system.  It hit us with sustained 35 knots, gusting in low 40s for 7 straight hours.  Winds then moderated to sustained 20 knots, gusting 28 knots, for an additional 5 hours.  I personally would classify what we were experiencing as a gale, not a simple squall.  All forced us farther NW than we wanted to go.  The seas were large and rough.  The GFS and NOGAPS weather files had been consistently wrong all week.  There were no predictions for wind from the SE, S or SW; yet that is all that we experienced.  We saw no winds from the NE; yet that is all that had been predicted.  After 18 hours the winds finally abated to consistently 20 knots, sometimes a few knots less.  Seas remained large and confused.  We sailed 158 NM this day; of which 135 were MMG.  We were tired and could not understand what the heck was going on with this strange weather.  Without knowing what was going on, how could we know where to go?  It was very frustrating.  We decided to heave-to and attempt to sort it out.  (Our non-sailing friends can Google the term "heave-to" to learn about this very valuable sailing trick.  I don't feel like explaining it now.)   We needed to rest and heaving-to provided the opportunity to sleep for 4 hours.  Barometer 1004.6 

Day #6 -- Before starting again this morning after heaving-to for 4 hours, Bill sent emails to 2 sailing friends who were safe in ports and had internet access and requested any weather info they could provide for our location.  We also sent an email to Commanders Weather.  We had set up an account with Commanders Weather in October 2008 but had not used this service.  Thank you God for sending me the memory about Commanders.   Winds were down to the 15-knot range from the SSW when we resumed this morning.  Still none of those predicted NE winds materialized.  Seas calmed substantially, but only briefly.  There were repeated 30 - 35 knot squalls all day.  In the early evening we heard back from Commanders Weather with weather routing instructions.  It was our good luck to get a weather adviser named Ken Campbell.  Ken had once participated in the Volvo Open Ocean Race and had visited this area.  It helps a lot when someone is really familiar with an area and not just sitting at a desk attempting to analyze something they really know nothing about.   Ken said there was nothing to be done except press onward to the NW.   He gave us a latitude and longitude to shoot for and said that if we could reach that waypoint then we would be able to break out of the grips of this LOW.  If we continued NW then eventually we should encounter winds from the W or NW, which when light enough should allow us to tack and turn south and sail either along the eastern shore of Sri Lanka or tack SW direct to the SE tip of Sri Lanka.  Barometer 1004.2 

Day #7  -- Weather same.  Still pinched as westerly as possible to avoid getting forced too far north into what the US Navy weather website indicated was the really severe developing LOW system.  We heard back from our sailing friends.  One was traveling and could not help.  But Michael on S/V B'Sheret came through with info from a large file he was able to download while he had good internet access.  There were multiple small LOWs forecast right in our path.  At this point we were no longer bothering to keep track of miles sailed each day.  What possible difference did it make?  All we wanted to do was break out of this horrible weather.  There was an attack of dragon flies filling the cockpit around 04:00 when way the heck out at sea.  Where did those come from?  Barometer 1004.3 

Day #8 -- Weather same.  We both were getting very tired.  The stress and lack of proper meals and dehydration were taking tolls on both  us us.  At daylight (the beginning of day 8) we were 129 NM from the closest point of eastern shore of Sri Lanka.  And we could not get there because of the SW winds!  But this day we were getting very close to that waypoint where Ken Campbell said we should be able to break out of this LOW.  We desperately hoped to encounter light westerly winds later this day.  Everything inside the boat was damp with sea air.  So many clothes were wet with rain and splashing seawater.  The boat smelled like a wet dog.  Hey, wait a minute.  Maybe that was just me!  Barometer 1003.9 

During the late afternoon we arrived at the "tacking" waypoint and it was like someone flipped a switch.  Ken Campbell had done a superb job of predicting exactly where we could break out of this storm.  About 15 miles from the waypoint the wind instantly shifted 40 degrees higher.  That did not last and soon it was back to the SW.  Ken had warned us about this -- that there might be several "false" wind shifts before we encountered the true shift of wind direction.  Sure enough; a couple of hours later the wind instantly shifted 60 degrees higher.  I corrected course to the new point of sail and several minutes later the wind again instantly shifted 60 degrees higher.  THIS WAS IT!!!!   We could now turn and head directly towards the SE tip of Sri Lanka!!!  This was much more exciting that crossing the equator for the first time or any of the other typical sailor "highs." Barometer 1006.6  We set course for the new waypoint and enjoyed calm sailing in light westerly winds for 7 hours.  And then the winds suddenly started building dramatically -- straight out of the west.  Much, much later we realized that the LOW was again building just behind us.  We got to a point 43 miles NE of our much-desired waypoint on the SE tip of Sri Lanka when the 45-kt westerly wind forced us to turn.  We had a choice.  Either turn south or turn north and go back to where we had just come from.  We opted to try south.  Not sure that was a wise decision.  Maybe we should have begun fleeing north right then.  Barometer 1003.1