January 15, 2007
It’s hard for us to believe, but the first leg of our journey across the Indian Ocean has finally begun. Hard to believe, I say, because only a few days ago, our new main sail was in the loft being re-cut - and just three days ago we were installing a new depth gauge. I guess you could say that these were two things that we couldn’t leave home without, so a week ago I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that we’d be getting away on schedule. While I was sorting the boat out, Merima was busy putting in provisions to carry us to the next real grocery store, which is about four months and 6,000 nautical miles away.
Joining Merima and I for the first half of the trip are Thane Roberts and Graham Jones. I met Thane in Mexico more than ten years ago when we were both starting out on our circumnavigations. Thane finished his circumnavigation on his yacht Shakti and recently experienced the second happiest day in a boat owner’s life, the day he sold her. To reinforce his decision, he came to Thailand a week early to give me a hand with the final preparation of Moonshadow. Watching my stress and frustration over the past week I think he’s quite happy to be an “ex” boat-owner. It’s always great to have on board someone with with a world of experience, who also has some “local knowledge” of the waters we’ll be navigating. Graham, of course, is a regular “Moo-Crew” and we appreciate having another experienced bluewater sailor on board who is familiar with the boat and our way of doing things.
The Andaman Sea Rally was canceled this year due to lack of interest. With a $600 entry fee, it’s no surprise. The good news is that those of us who were somewhat interested have banded together to organize a rally amongst ourselves, headed up by the crew of the yacht Intrigue. The pre-rally meeting was held last evening on board the beautiful 80-footer, anchored in the lovely Nai Harn Bay near the southern tip of Phuket island. Samples of wine and spirituous beverages to be carried by participants were submitted to the rally committee for scrutiny. A turning mark at the Similan Islands, sixty some miles northwest, was suggested as an overnight stop. After the meeting Gary and the crew of “Intrigue” put on a great barbecue steak dinner. We told jokes and lies for a couple hours, all crews returned to their respective yachts to rest up for the start today at 1000 hours Thailand time.
We were on the starting line at 0900 hours, but the winds were less than ten knots so we had to motorsail. Winds remained light throughout the day. We stopped the engine for few minutes to sail, but in dropped away quickly. Most of the day the winds were 1.5 knots gusting to 2.5 knots. We reached the Similan Islands in time to enjoy a dive before sunset. The Similans are a line of small islands and rocks which are a national park. The water is clear, the fish life prolific and there are plenty of moorings for visiting boats to protect the reef. After our dive, we enjoyed a barbecue dinner retired early. Based on the wind forecasts, the trip to the Andamans would be a motorboat ride, so we plan to head off at noon on Monday to time our landfall for early morning in Port Blair.
We had a relaxing Sunday evening on the mooring at Ko Miang, chatting till we faded away after the barbecue dinner. The water below Moonshadow was crystal clear and we could see the giant mooring we were tied to as if it was within arm’s reach. On Monday morning we motored six miles north to KO Similan and picked up another mooring and spent a couple hours snorkeling in the clear waters there. There were plenty of fish on parade, and the usual loud and fast dive and tourist boats. On one dive I dropped down to about 25 feet and stuck my head under a piece of coral. Staring back at me was a white-tipped reef shark, with its tail crossed over another about the same size.
At noon we shook off the mooring line and took a lap around the beautiful bay. Everyone enjoyed the rocky shoreline, which made for some great photo opportunities. We then set a course for Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, approximately 340 miles northwest. Winds were light and seas were calm so we motorsailed most of the day. The breeze finally filled in the afternoon so we could shut down the engine and sail at a respectable speed. Winds throughout most of the evening were about 10-13 knots from the NNE so we were moving along quite nicely, but the seas were confused a bit, making the ride was a bit bumpy. During the 0300-0600 watch the breeze picked up to 16 knots and moved aft of the beam, and we were scooting along at 10+ knots for an hour or so, before it moderated back to the earlier levels.
As it’s been more than a year since we have done a night passage, we have gotten to experience some things that we haven’t seen for awhile - bioluminescence, satellites passing overhead, beautiful star-filled skies, cool evening breezes on our faces, and the Southern Cross constellation to our south. The combination of it being our first night at sea, along with the lumpy conditions, didn’t allow anyone too much sleep - we’re a bit slow today.
I put out the fishing line at first light this morning and caught a small barracuda. While it was great to hear the buzz of the reel peeling out line again, we tossed it back in hopes of snagging something more flavorful, like a mahi-mahi or a tuna for dinner. At least we know the lure is still attractive to something out there in the big blue sea besides plastic bags.
It appears as if our first leg is going according to plan. At noon today, we had covered 185 nautical miles since we left the Similans, which will time our landfall in the Andamans around first light tomorrow morning. If we can wade through the lengthy check-in process in one day, we may be in for an Indian dinner in Port Blair tomorrow evening.
January 17The winds that were forecast to be less than ten knots on our journey to the Andamans, but filled in at an average of 13-17 knots and remained with us for the rest of the trip. The evening was uneventful, and we covered the last 156 miles of the trip in less than 19 hours, dropping the hook in Port Blair just after sunrise this morning.
The only drama we had was a clogged head. Graham appointed himself “sewer man” and replaced a clogged pipe. It was an ugly job usually reserved for the skipper/owner. It’s nice to have good mates aboard who know how to fix things.
It’s just past noon and we’ve only seen Customs so far. We were able to give the boat a bubble bath and general tidy up while waiting for them. Dealing with Immigration, the Port Captain and the Navy should eat up the rest of the day. We can’t wait to get all this behind us, get out to some of the outer islands, and do some diving and sightseeing.
We plan to hang out in the Andamans till the end of the month and then head west to the Maldives.