After provisioning and a New Year’s celebration of Patong fireworks with Pollen Path and Lighten Up, we set forth on Jan 7th to head north along the west coast of Phuket to Ao Bang Tao and Ban Thap Lamu, some 60 miles north of Nai Harn Bay. Ban Thap Lamu anchorage was spectacular – a quiet anchorage inside a river mouth, opposite a busy fishing village. Water front piers hid excellent machine shops, a boat haul out facility and excellent markets.
A 36 mile sail in beautiful NE winds saw us into Ko Miang, Similan Islands at lunch time. We pulled up a mooring in gin clear water and watched the fish (and divers) swim by. Tent accommodation on the beach for land lubbers and a restaurant to boot! The usual white sandy beaches – another paradise was awaiting us. The granite boulders framing the beaches was a welcomed change to the limestone kharst features around Langkawi and Phuket. On talking to Tom and Liz on Feel Free who confirmed a decreasing breeze in a day or so, we decided to leave a day early and head for the Andamans.
All passages have been planned around the full moon! So westwards we headed in 8 – 12 knots NE wind, which set the scene for the next 400 miles. We pulled up the sails, trimmed for course and pulled them down when we arrived! Calm sea, good sailing winds and a near full moon! The only sightings of life were a few ships to our port that were coming through 10 Degree Channel and heading for the Malaccan Straits. Peter was excused when I found him asleep at night ‘on watch’ with the egg timer (aka snooze alarm) off! We could have put our ‘jamies’ on and gone to bed every night! The scary thought is that some people do this!
Three days later, at 0500, land ahoy! At 0930 we were anchored in Port Blair, ready to receive the Coast Guard and Customs, whilst leaving Immigration until the next day, Monday 16th January, as they had disappeared. During Sunday evening, another yacht (Swan 46) Leila came in for a quick visit. So after clearing customs, off we went on another adventure.
We had Ravi, who assists all the yachts, waiting for us at the pier, along with a young boy, Mopety, who looked after our dinghy for a small price. Mopety was asking all the yachts for a diving mask. We decided to give him one of our spares, even though it was pink. There was much excitement among the boys when we docked as they could see the mask in the dinghy. Mopety was very excited and explained to Peter that he can now catch larger fish as he can see them! This will help him earn an income. Ravi organized our washing, drove us round and even made us breakfast. He is very well liked by all the yachties. At the time of our visit, his wife and three daughters were visiting mainland India for a relative’s wedding. Ravi was very proud that his wife and daughters were a lighter skin colour than him. Ravi and the others ashore all knew how many we were and on which boats!
The Andaman Islands is India at its finest – the food, the colours; the life without the hassle, touts and poverty. The women wore saris of bright orange and lime green, lime green and electric blue, violet and blue, and bright yellows. We went to the gaol – although a depressing and tragic history of penal settlement (much like Australia), it was informative and interesting. The Anthropological Museum is somewhat simple, but it gives a good overview of the tribal groups and customs of the different indigenous peoples. There are homeopathic pharmacies and vegetarian restaurants – Annapurna being the most brilliant!
The Harbour Master at the time was an educated man with 25 years experience in the merchant navy. He is trying to make it easier for yachts to visit. He reiterated what we already were aware of – keep away from the Sentinel Islands in the south as they do not want to have contact with the west, and will shoot arrows at you! Sounds logical to us!
After 4 nights in Port Blair we were off to explore the islands, magical Havelock #7 Beach the first anchorage. Such an unassuming name for a truly stunning beach, reputedly being the best in SE Asia and 6th best in the world! We were greeted ashore with a white sandy beach, crystal aquamarine water and rainforest to the sand, with pandanas palms interspersed with other plants of the understory. A low key resort hides behind the rainforest at the northern end of the beach. Indian tourists frequent this beach. Untouched and out of the reach of wretched development. Amazing corals! Bright pink corals that we have not seen before and large fish!
We swam with an elephant, an old boy with large tusks. An English man has been writing a book for 12 years on elephants, and this is his last piece to film. The local bus took us to the ‘market’ which is in a village called GovindaNagar. In a small ‘shop’ there, we sat on the lino floor with an elderly gentleman and purchased a silk and cotton Sari, hand woven in Kolcuta. There is an eco resort at Havelock Island called ‘Barefoot in the Andamans’ and has a website. So very peaceful.
Onward and northwards, we made our way in and out of rainforest islands, seeing only a few ‘longtail’ fishing boats. This is the first isolated territory we have seen since the Kimberley. (The three other yachts had now left and we were the only yacht in the Andamans!!) We stopped at a small island with a beautiful beach and a sand bar for a swim and a walk. For some reason, only known to sand flies, I ended up with over 200 bites and Peter with none!
Our journey continued to another island inshore where we took a ferry ride up the mangroves to a small village. One guy wanted us to ‘adopt’ him and was most upset when we said no! He was asked to leave us alone. Indian Independence Day is Jan 26 – so we stayed at Long Island to share the celebrations with Australia Day as well. Local village women use chalk to decorate the ‘pavement’, which becomes a competition. As the next day was my birthday, we opened a bottle of Shephard Hill! What a treat!
It was time to keep moving, so off we went on the 27th up the Homfray Strait – a small strait, unchartered, separating two major islands that make up the Andamans. It was indeed a wilderness – rainforest, mangroves and much wildlife. We saw some more dugongs and although no crocodiles, we believe they are lurking somewhere! Even though we were not sure of where we are going, we had heard of another yacht that traversed the next strait which took us back to the east coast, a long way south of where we came in. Some fishermen we saw said it would be ok for us..at least that is what we thought they said! We traded some sweat biscuits for fish, which we thought was a bargain. The depth in the straits varied from 10 to 50m.
On returning to Port Blair we finally caught up with Jacana. Very tragically a Thai charter boat anchored next to us exploded just after sunset due to a propane leak. Luckily they had been ashore and although badly injured, they survived. Peter and Dan went off to assist. There was much confusion with the authorities over the VHF as to what boat it was…and they came around to check that we were all ok. We figured we have had enough character building for a while!
All in all it was an unbelievable experience in the Andamans. We were made to feel very welcome and often sat with local people enjoying ‘Cha’ – long tea. We could not believe that for most of the time we were the only yacht there! Having given up being brave soldiers – we like fair winds and calm anchorages, we will leave a beautiful spot to move after dark if a bad forecast comes in!