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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Chagos Time & History

Time has slowed down - after two weeks here we are truly settled in.

Cruising sail boats have been calling here for several decades. One of the main attractions was that you could live a "Robinson Crusoe" lifestyle without bureaucracy infringing on your freedom. With an idyllic climate, plentiful rainfall, sweet water wells, a sea full of fish and and a never ending supply of coconuts, the Chagos Atolls were paradise. Many cruisers stayed for a year or more, living off the land and the sea, just as the earlier Chagossians did.

Chagos has had a chequered history, being "owned" by the Portugese, French and now the English via the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Authority. It has been managed from Mauritius, Seychelles and now from London. It had a well developed copra industry and an established population with schools, churches, shops and appropriate infrastructure. Between 1967 and 1973 the main islands of Diego Garcia and Boddam were depopulated. England had leased Diego Garcia to the USA for 50 years, plus a 20 year option. Diego Garcia is now the largest USA military base on it outside the USA.

Cruising sailors then became the only people "allowed" to visit Chagos, with Diego Garcia strictly off limits. The Chagossians have continued their fight to return home in the courts and although they have won this right, the whole area was recently declared by the UK as the world's largest Marine Park in 2010. This allowed for no permanent habitation of the Atolls. This declaration also had a huge impact on anyone sailing to Chagos. Cruising boats can now stay for only four weeks, and then only after satisfying BIOT's requirements including wreck removal insurance and medical evacuation insurance.

The old church, the school, bakery and many other buildings are in various stages of decay. There is a cemetery at the north western end of the island and many stone dwellings through out the island, all struggling against the jungle of creepers and the invasive plantation coconut palms. We feel privileged to be here, though also saddened that the Chagossians are not yet allowed to return to their islands.

For further understanding of the plundering of Chagos see :

Also view the excellent John Pilger documentary " Stealing A Nation".

Monday, 4 May 2015

Chagos Welcoming Committee

It's taken 18 years since we first dreamed of this place, but we finally made it. Crystal Blues arrived in Chagos on Saturday May 2nd, after a three day voyage from Gan in the Maldives. Conditions on the trip were mostly calm - in fact they were too calm, with not enough wind to sail against the strong east setting current.

So we motored for about 200 of the 300 miles, arriving at the pass into the lagoon right on time, just before the high tide. The monsoonal change occurred on the last day of our passage - south easterly winds started here and south westerly winds further north in the Maldives. We had planned to be here before the change, and we only just made it.

After crossing the lagoon we anchored off Ile Boddam, in around 20 meters of water. As the anchor went down we were welcomed by a curious 1.5 meter thresher shark circling the boat. Using our fenders as floats, we then buoyed the last half of the anchor chain, to keep it up off the coral bottom. As the last float went in a nice sized black tip reef shark came to visit - the shark population here is somewhat daunting !

The water is perfectly clear and there are about 10 other cruising boats here, from many different countries. The BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territories) patrol boat came to inspect our permit on arrival.

Yesterday we walked across the island to the southern shore on a track marked by fishing floats tied to trees. The original village and copra plantation are in ruins now, but the plantation coconut trees have spread like vermin and taken over the island, crowding out the native growth.

At sunset we shared cocktails on the beach with other cruisers, pondering the future if this beautiful place. The hermit crabs formed the land based reception committee, scurrying about at our feet and generally providing great entertainment. We're hoping to spend 4 weeks here, weather and provisions permitting.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Departing Maldives, Bound For Chagos

Chagos has always been on our cruising radar - the place is big in cruising folklore.  Recent administrative changes by the UK government have limited the permit time to just 28 days, so the old cruising culture of three and four month extended visits has now gone.

Crystal Blues is as ready as she'll ever be, and Ley has provisions that will feed an army on board.

We expect a slow three day passage, as the Equatorial Counter Current is running at up to three knots from west to east and we need to cross it almost at right angles.

In the image at right our departure point is Addoo Atoll at the top, and our destination is Chagos Solamon Atoll near the bottom.  Its a distance of around 300 nautical miles.

But just look at those current arrows !

We have just dived and cleaned the waterline, propeller and shaft.  The outboard motor is stowed and the dinghy is lashed into the davits.

Immigration and customs was handled last night, the weather forecast is for calm conditions, so at 12:00 noon we're off.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Adoo Atoll, Maldives - Sailing South Of The Equator Again

After a very twitchy and uncomfortable overnight voyage south, Crystal Blues is anchored in 40 meters of clear water at Gan, in the Addu Atoll.  Turtles and dolphins swim around us and the environment seems pristine.

We did manage to sail for the entire passage, a rarity in this part of the world.  During the voyage we crossed the equator, sometime around the change of watch at 2:00am, but neither of us had the heart to celebrate - we were too busy just holding on.

We entered the atoll via the northern pass around 9:00am and were safely anchored within the hour, just before the first of many squalls bore down on us.

We have a 100 meters of anchor chain out here, but I'm always very watchful the first day or so after anchoring, specially when it repeatedly blows at 30 to 40 knots with little warning.

This is the most southern point of the Maldivian island chain, and will be our stepping off point for Chagos and then Mauritius.

Adoo Atoll is small, but heavily populated.  The British military ran an air base here until the 1970's (see the airport in the bottom of the photo above).  The old officers mess has been converted into the low key Equator Village resort, so we can go ashore for a beer if the need arises.  Right now the original runway is being extended, and the airport has recently qualified for "International Airport" status, though the only international flights so far are private jets delivering the rich and (sometimes) famous.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kudahuvandhoo Island, Maldives

Continuing our journey south, we spent two nights in the protected fishing boat harbour at Kudahuvandhoo, South Nilandhe Atoll.  As you can see from the image at right, the local people gave us a very warm welcome.

Our second day there was "National Language Day" - a celebration of local culture that included a special lunch time meal at the school, with all the food cooked and served by the children's families.  The children dressed in traditional costumes, instead of the standard all-white uniforms.

For the entry here, once again we sounded the pass through the reef before entering, using a Laylin SM-5 handheld depth sounder from the dinghy.

This is another harbour that offers a typical minimum of 3.5 meters at low water.

We berthed stern to the quay, with the bow tethered to one of the buoys provided within the harbour.  Handling that maneuver was a first for us, with only two on board we needed to get it right first time.

Once we had the bow tethered we paid out line and reversed towards the dock, then used the dinghy to land the stern lines to the wall.  Managed to avoid tangling lines with the propeller, no stress at all ....

One thing about the Maldives, when you pass a line ashore to someone on the dock, they often actually know what to do with it.  On this day the guy who put his hand out for our stern line whipped a perfect bowline onto the wharf ring in about 5 seconds flat.  If only that happened all the time !

Solar Power Plant Project

The Maldives government has committed the nation to being carbon neutral by 2020, an adventurous target.

Kudahuvandhoo is home to a pilot project to test PV (solar) power as an augmentation to the existing diesel generation systems.  We met Joachim Gaube and Harald Gaube, German engineers who planned and implemented the PV project here.  Panels installed on the schools, the power house and the hospital have produced 44,000 kilowatt hours in two months, saving around 15,000 liters of diesel fuel.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Iridium Go! - Game Changing Satellite Transceiver

For many years we've used our Icom HF / SSB radio for email and weather updates when at sea. Planning our crossing of the Indian Ocean this year, we knew that HF radio propagation was at best fitful and often impossible. So once again we looked at the satellite telephone market place for a backup communication system for Crystal Blues.

In the past we had been put off by the inflexible and costly satellite useage plans.  However the game has changed with the availability of the Iridium Go! satellite terminal.

There are several important new features. Firstly, the availability of an unlimited data plan for US$125.00 per month.  This allows us to use the system extensively, without incurring additional data costs, and includes a monthly allowance of 5 minutes for voice calls.

Secondly, the "plan" can be suspended at the end of any month, and re-started when required for a fee of US$50.00.

So when we arrive in an area with consistent cell phone coverage we can turn off the Iridium system and reactivate it when we need it, without losing our unique phone number.

Finally, this isn't so much a telephone as it is a transceiver. It doesn't even come with a handset.  Instead, it creates a local wifi hotspot that can be accessed by smart personal telephones, iPads and personal computers.  Free Iridium software apps provide voice call, messaging and email services.

After hearing good reports from other sailors we ordered a system and started to plan the installation.....

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nilandhoo Island, Maldives - Paradise For 2000 Peaceful Souls

Anchor Off The Bow, Stern To The Wharf At Nilandhoo
Traveling south down the Maldives atoll chain, we decided to look for a town with a friendly harbour - being enough water for our keel and space at the wharf.

We found that and more in peaceful Nilandhoo.

There are two harbours here, though the eastern entrance and harbour is very shallow and less attractive.

The north-western entrance provides deeper water (5.0 to 7.0 meters all the way) and leads to a small concrete wharf that has a fueling station, ice works and fresh water supply.  There is room for four or five vessels moored stern to the wharf.

What more could we want ?  So in we went ....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

50 Shades Of Blue - Maldives South Ari Atoll & LUX* Resort

Never Mind 50 Shades Of Grey - here there are 50 Shades Of Blue.  We spent three delightful days on the Lagoon at Dhigurah, South Ari Atoll, Maldives.

While others were chasing whale sharks on the outer reef, or manta rays on the inner reef, we relaxed, read books, swam and beach combed.  This is a very peaceful anchorage, with easy access from the ocean.

The entrance over the inner shoal showed around four meters at low tide (03deg 31.77 North, 072deg 54.34 East).

The anchorage is marked just off the sand spit islands in the this image (03deg 31.03 North, 072deg 54.74 East).

Whilst you could anchor further to the north, it is advised not to anchor further south, to stay clear of the seaplane landing area there.

Many resorts in the Maldives do not welcome cruising sailors, applying steep landing fees or simply banning yachts all together.  In fact we have friends who were literally chased out of the anchorage by security guards, at the nearby Hilton resort.

So we were pleased when on our second day a catamaran approached us with a crew and guests from the Lux* Resort, to the south in the image at right.

Monday, 13 April 2015

View Open CPN On The iPad

Open CPN is a very popular navigation program for cruising sailors. Now, with the advent of accurate charts derived from Google Earth satellite images, it plays a very important role for us in tropical areas.

Like many boats, Crystal Blues has the navigation PC installed below decks at the nav station, locked down in a safe and (hopefully) dry location.
This PC Screen Image Is Taken From Our iPad - Note The Extra Icons In The Bottom Right Corner

However we really want to see those Google Earth charts when we are up on deck, moving around in the cockpit and at the wheel.

The iPad is the perfect tool for this, portable, stable and with good battery life - but Open CPN doesn't run on the iPad.

The iPad does have WiFi capability, so in theory at least we could connect it to our PC down below at the navigation station, which is exactly what we do.

So how do we connect the two ?

We use Splashtop Streamer, a free shareware application, to stream the PC screen directly to our iPad.

This allows us to see the PC screen from anywhere on deck (in fact anywhere on the boat), and provides basic mouse and keyboard functions to control the PC as well.

So, I can stand at the wheel and see the display from Open CPN, or from our Transas Navigator ECN  package, in real time.  I can review my Sailmail GRIB files as well, without having to "go below".

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Maldives - Viewed Through A Plastic Bottle

Beautiful, Idylic Sand Spit Island ?  Not Really ....

Every country we've sailed through has its share of waste littering the shore line.  Of course much of this pollution is plastic, blown across the seas from who knows where.   Going ashore yesterday on a nearby sand spit we were not surprised to see the typical range of shampoo and water bottles, rubber thongs (why are they always the left foot ?), coke containers and chunks of fishing net.

However we were not prepared for the local rubbish.....

Google Earth Charts - A New Aid To Navigation

The Red Icon Shows Our Position, Safely Anchored In The Lagoon At Dhanghethi Island
 We have multiple electronic charting systems aboard Crystal Blues, with multiple sources of navigation data.  But they are all inaccurate in many parts of the world.

In some cases smaller nations simply can't afford to fund extensive maritime surveys.  Further, the electronic charting companies often simply won't pay for the latest data, so we rely in many cases on data and soundings that were collected by master mariners (sometimes) centuries ago.

This means that many islands and reefs are not exactly where the charts say they are, with the errors being both substantial and dangerous.

The image above is captured from our Open CPN navigation software, using charts created from Google Earth images.  It doesn't have depths and soundings, but in these tropical areas we can use the water color to plan our route and we certainly know exactly where we are at all times.

Contrast that with this image of the exact same area, extracted from our (expensive) ECDIS based charting package.

This puts our position as outside the lagoon !  In fact it doesn't show the lagoon clearly at all.  I estimate the charting error places the island at least 500 meters further east than it actually is.  Not surprising, when you think it was probably positioned by a 19th century chronometer and sextant.

So charts made from Google Earth images are now a valuable part of our navigation tool set.

You can produce your own, it's easy and fast so long as you have a decent internet connection.  Here is how it's done :

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Cruising South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Inside The Lagoon At Dhigurah Island - The Gin & Tonic Was Excellent
As you can see, the weather here has been dreadful ..... some boats (including us) complain about the heat in the afternoon, when its well above 90 degrees farenheit in the shade.

However the mornings are glorious and the sunsets are special.  The water is clear and the swimming is fabulous.

We're 210 miles north of the equator, which we plan to be well south of before the end of this month.  But its slow travel, a few miles each day.

We're re-adapting to cruising in coral reef areas - it has been a while for us.

Today we moved from Dhangethi to Dhigurah, choosing to stay inside the Ari lagoon instead of making the transit at sea.  Only a 10 mile transit, but Ley stood watch on the bow looking for coral patches and we navigated completely using charts made from Google Earth - they are the only accurate reference we have.

Each day we explore our new locale by dinghy, looking at sea life and the shoreline.  Today we saw numerous turtles, a beautiful grey crane, many bats and of course a lot of fish.  Ley was escorted on her beach walk by four small reef sharks - tracking her from the shallows.

Further off shore, our local friend Captain Najib took his guests swimming with the whale sharks, then brought them in closer to us to see the manta rays.

Najib captains Dream Maldives, an 82 foot catamaran that hosts just 12 guests (check it out here).

We've been fortunate to spend some time aboard with he and his guests, and to learn the whale shark locations from him.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cruising In Malé, Maldives

Ley, Diving At Last In Clear Water, Just A Few Miles From Malé

Malé was a surprise to us - certainly more sophisticated and "switched on" than we expected.  From a cruising sailors perspective it is an excellent place to provision before exploring the atolls and offers a very complete range of boating support services.

Arrival Formalities

You should appoint an agent well before arrival, agreeing on fee's and charges at the time.  If you are clearing in at Uligamu in the north, Real Sea Hawks provide great service through Assad, one of the business managers.  Unfortunately that same level of confident service is not always provided in Malé.  So if you are clearing in to Malé you will need to "manage" the local representative somewhat more.  Alternately you could utilise Antrac, a competitive agency in Male who provide outstanding service here, though at a more expensive price.

Clearance here is simple enough - call Harbour Control on approach and advise them who your agent is.  Anchor at the nominated location and wait for the visit from Customs, Immigration and Coastguard.  They will all come together, along with your agent.  Calling your agent on arrival will speed things somewhat - in the end we waited four hours, anchored in 42 meter water on the northern side of the island.  The arrival inspection location, provided by Real Sea Hawks, can be downloaded here.  All of the officials were perfectly professional.  There were a brace of forms to be completed, and they did want a complete schedule of all drugs and medicines on board - we keep that document on file and updated, so it was simple for us to print it and hand it over.

Hulhumale Anchorage

After clearance yachts are required to move to the lagoon anchorage at Hulhumale.  The new entrance there is shown accurately on iPad / Navionics, and the lagoon is generally 6 to 8 meters deep throughout. Anchorage at the northern end is suggested to keep away from ferries and commercial traffic.

SY Morning Glory Loads Diesel From The Fuel Barge In Hulhumale Anchorage
This is a busy place, specially on Friday's and Saturday's when the expedition boats discharge and reload with passengers.   Aircraft and construction noise also make a contribution during daylight hours.

 The water is clean enough to run your R.O. plant, and potable water can be delivered by barge or taken on-board at one of the docks (south of the ferry terminal).

Diesel fuel can also be delivered by barge - we paid US$0.72 per liter for excellent quality fuel.  The contact details for fuel and water are included in the Cruising Services Guide you can download here.

Hulhumale Island

Hulhumale Island is a dormitory suburb, growing rapidly and housing many airport workers.  A causeway now connects it to the airport, and a regular bus service is available.  Local taxis are available, and shops near the ferry terminal offer a basic range of goods, including some restaurants.  However the real action is across the water on Malé.

Good Friday In The Maldives

Today was our first morning away from
Malé, in a quiet tropical anchorage.  Ley woke, checked our favourite newspaper The Age online, and realised that today was Good Friday.

Oops, we do lose touch so easily out here.

After breakfast she started on a bread recipe, and by 11:00am we invited friends from a nearby yacht for coffee and Hot Cross Buns.

What she produces in that compact galley is amazing. I am the best fed crew that I know.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Fire At Sea - A Cruising Yacht Burns

Our friend Laszlo Torok is recovering from significant burns after a fire engulfed his cruising boat, 11 nautical miles off the east Australian coast, near Surfers Paradise.

Television news showed the fire destroying the yacht, which eventually sank in 65 meters of water. Check the video here.  Laszlo tells me he is recovering and will be 100% in a few months, but he is obviously a very lucky sailor.

Wanting to learn from this tragedy, I asked Laszlo what caused the fire - was it a propane leak, or an electrical failure ?

Laszlo believes it was probably a faulty high pressure fuel injector pipe on the diesel engine, spraying a fine mist of diesel that eventually ignited.  He tells me that commercial trawlers have suffered similar fates in the past year or so on that coast.  His center cockpit vessel had space for storage in the engine room, so he did have solvents and fuels stored in there.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Arrival In The Maldives

Before we can see the land, we study that landfall on our charting system.  The approach to Male, the capital of the Maldives, is specially exciting - just look at all those reefs.  Crystal Blues arrived in Male on Sunday morning, after a five day crossing from Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.

From closer in, Male rises from the sea in an amazing display of tight communal living on a very small tropical island.

We had planned an early morning arrival and all was going to plan until huge black clouds began dumping rain on Male ahead of us. So we altered course and headed out to sea, away from the tropical storm. We tracked the storm on the radar and when it started to dissipate we headed back to Male.

Our emailed instructions from our agent, Real Sea Hawks, asked us to drop anchor in 40 meters and wait. Ley lost sight of the anchor at 17 meters, the water colour and clarity is stunning. We waited for 4 hours, but the officials were pleasant to deal with and after clearance we motored to the anchorage near the airport.

The lagoon anchorage in Male is just past the end of the runway and with building construction at the far end there is plenty happening. Neil is in "plane spotting heaven"with ancient Twin Otter sea planes continually flying overhead. We slept well at anchor that night and headed into Male town the next day for provisions.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Indian Ocean Clearance Diving

Can He Touch The Bottom ?  No Way....
On Tuesday night we hooked up on a surface net, where the top rope was directly buoyed on the surface.

I felt it pass under the keel around 9:00pm and then was amazed to see Crystal Blues slow down to a crawl as the line hooked onto the skeg and we started to drag the net to the south.

It was strange to be heeling over, sailing on autopilot, but going absolutely nowhere. As I turned to get the diving gear ready it broke free, assisted by the boat heaving on the light swell that was effecting us at the time. A lucky break.

Then on Friday, Ley noted a small white object trailing the rudder, about half a meter behind the stern. It danced and dived in the water, and got kind of excited when the boat speed hit 8 knots. Having sailed through an area of fishing nets we figured we had something hooked up somewhere under the boat.

Fish Line & Float Trailing Us For Days
Yesterday I took the plunge and swam in the deepest water that I've ever been in - 4,484 meters according to our charts. I must say it was amazing - so perfectly clear that I felt like I could see forever. Crystal Blues was like a toy floating above me in a light blue field. The clarity was at first disorienting, I've never experienced anything like it.

It took only seconds to cut the light line holding a fishing float to our skeg - looks like we hooked up the vertical suspension line on a submerged net, and it broke away from the net as we passed over it.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Passage To The Maldives

Three days in to our passage from Trincolmalee, Sri Lanka, to the Maldives the weather has been kind to us once again. Sunny days, dry weather and just enough wind to sail. As you can see here the sunsets have been beautiful.

All is well on board, the basil is growing like mad and we expect to arrive in Male on Sunday afternoon. Ley has caught no fish, except for the squid and flying fish found dead on the deck this morning.

We have sailed 406 NM and have 259 NM to go. Luckily we have had up to 2 knots of favorable current for the past two days so we covering miles very comfortably.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Travels In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Between the old Honda Motorbike and a fairly battered Toyota van we managed to cover a lot of ground here in Sri Lanka.  We never did get to one of the nearby wild life parks, but that didn't prevent us from sharing the roads and tracks with wild elephants, mongoose, peacocks, lizards, squirrels, deer, water buffalo, monkeys of many kinds etc etc.  That's not to mention the thousands of cattle and goats that roam free here and do really own the roads, though the local bus drivers would disagree.

Ancient City of Polonnaruva ruins
Traveling without a local guide is kind of unusual here, and the various historic sites make it a challenge, but Google Maps and an almost infallible 3G network made the navigation simple.

We spent a lot of time on back roads and tracks, and were never without a phone signal.  Even better, we were never without smiles and welcomes from the local people.

In one local town we waded into the river to watch the elephants being scrubbed, ate great local food and generally felt that we were very welcome everywhere.

The historic sites here are plentiful and spectacular, if a little expensive for foreigners to enter. But do pay the money and walk on to see some amazing sights.

Sigiriya - Water Gardens Leading To The Lions Claws
At Sigiriya we climbed the 830 steps (sure I counted them all) to get to the site of the palace.  Having proved to ourselves that we are definitely "getting older", we spent 30 minutes recovering before exploring the palace site.

Perched on top of a monumental chunk of rock, this was certainly a defendable site for a palace.  An amazing perspective on the countryside from up there, a forest of green punctuated with lakes as far as the eye could see.The next 830 steps (down) were very much easier.

From  our base in Trincomalee we were able to travel widely and return to the boat each evening.  Some of the island's attractions, including the national parks, do really require overnight travels, but we were keen to get moving again. 

A collection of our Sri Lankan images can be viewed here.

Sigiriya - Cave Frescoes
So we have refueled and provisioned for the next stage of our journey.  We cleared with customs and immigration yesterday evening, the Navy inspection boat has just departed and the dinghy is in davits ready for the passage.

We'll depart here in an hour or so and sail to Male in the Maldives.  Our transit time should be four to five days.
Sigiriya - fabulous views from the palace on top of the rock.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Alfred Normandale - Wooden Boat History

I have to admit I'm a sucker for wooden boats.  As a child my father initiated me into the ways of these special creations - the unique joy that comes from sanding, painting and generally mucking around with wooden craft.  I was fortunate to spend many weekends at Blunts Boatyard (and here), where the smells, touch, curves and folklore of wooden craft entered my DNA.

So when this grand old lady motored past three weeks ago my heart beat just that little bit stronger.  Very little wake, 8 knots, and the sound of ..... well, very little sound, except that very low growl that can only be a Gardiner diesel.  I was hooked.

The Alfred Normandale is the official pilot boat here in Trincomalee.  Researching her provenance I learned from the crew that "she is English Sir" and is named after one of the first Harbour Masters in Columbo. Trying to trace that has proved difficult, but with the help of Hans Houterman (www.unithistories.com) I suspect that he was Alfred Normandale, born in Scarborough UK in 1853.  He is listed in the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London (Guildhall Library Ms 18567). He would be really proud to see this old girl still serving.  This is certainly the oldest wooden boat I've seen in official government service.

Some days later we invited the Trincomalee Pilot aboard Crystal Blues - Captain Lakshi is the sole Trincomalee Pilot and also the Deputy Harbour master here.   

We spoke of ships and pilotage, and he spoke of his education in Australia where he did specialist maritime studies. He also commented how comfortable the Alfred Normandale was at sea, even in big conditions. They don't make them like that anymore.

Captain Lakshi is one of the local officials who have worked hard to make cruising sail boats welcome here this year, for which we are very grateful.  

For more images of the Alfred Normandale, click the link the link below.   Further information on her history would also be appreciated....

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Man Overboard - Improving The Odds

Moneypenny On The Wind / Photo : David Wallace
An email last year from my brother Peter showed his crew on the way to another race win aboard the very slippery Moneypenny - but also underlined the changes in crew behaviour that are needed to improve our odds of survival at sea.  In the photo Peter is wearing a PFD - here are his words on the issue :

"As you'll see from the photo, I've taken to wearing a PFD all the time now. We rescued a guy from the water a month ago after he was hit by the boom on his boat and ended up in the water, face down and unconscious. 
We managed to get to him before his own boat could turn around and it's lucky we did. He survived and it was a good test for me and my crew in rescue and first aid etc. He wasn't wearing a PFD but a guy on his boat was so he jumped in, inflated, swam to him and held his head above water as best he could. He'd been face down for about 90 sec before his crew mate got to him, and we got to them about 2-3mins after that. He was indeed lucky.

It underlined the theory that without a PFD your odds of survival, or of helping someone else survive, are severely limited. Also, as you'll see, the width of the cockpit on our new boat is pretty big for a 35 footer, I have really struggled on big weather days to get across to the opposite side in the tacks, there isn't much to hang onto. So, PFD's from now on for me."

So great teamwork from the Moneypenny crew that day certainly helped save a life. But what happens aboard a typical cruising boat, with only two people on board ?  How can we handle man overboard (MOB) situations better ?  With the off-watch crew member most likely asleep, even when wearing a PFD, how can we survive a fall overboard mid-ocean ?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Road Master

Frustrated in our search for a rental bike, we asked the owner of a local restaurant for advice.  His solution - you can rent mine !  Kumara Alwis runs the beautiful Dutch Bank Cafe, an oasis for travelers here in Trincomalee.

Kumara wheeled out his classic Honda CD200I Road Master, an old bike he "keeps around because he loves it".  We now love it too.

Its quirky and eccentric, doesn't like changing from 2nd to 3rd gear, doesn't like idling very much either, but it has given us hundreds of kilometers of fascinating travel in and around Trincomalee.  Slow, solid and comfortable, the bike turns heads wherever we go.  We've given it a fresh oil change and some mechanical adjustments and its a quality ride.  Thank you Kumara !

By the way, Kumara's cafe, with attached accomodation, has a good range of western and local food.  It's a stylish renovation in a historic building right on the waterfront - we can see Crystal Blues riding at anchor through the front windows.  With aircon and wifi, it is a welcome stop for many and is perfectly placed for visiting sailors.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Sri Lankan Smiles

Our first day in port and right on 18:00hrs we received a call on the VHF radio from our agent Ravi ... "can you please come to the dock, Immigration would like to visit your boat".  Of course we could, and I was at the dock in our dinghy just a few minutes later.

Two very well presented Immigration officers stepped aboard and off we went.  A fast dingy ride and a visit to Crystal Blues was our pleasure.

Since the civil war ended, cruising boats are a new thing here. Understandably, the government teams have little experience dealing with the sailing / cruising community.

To their absolute credit, officers Ruwandike and Nadeera were both courteous and obliging.  They clearly wanted to understand the new people and vessels they were now dealing with.  They looked over the entire boat, asked a lot of questions and we were very pleased to have them on board.

An Emergency Dive

On our second day in port I (foolishly) managed to drop our hand held VHF radio into the the water, right at the wharf.  There is a first time for everything ...

So we contacted Trincomalee Port Control by VHF and requested permission to move Crystal Blues into the dock.  Permission granted, we raised anchor and set up fenders and boards ready to come alongside the concrete wharf.  Once berthed I donned wetsuit, mask, fins, gloves and regulator and disappeared over the stern, using the hooka breathing system installed on Crystal Blues.

What a trial - very limited visibility in 5 meters of water, and bottom silt that was easily disturbed to close down visibility in the area completely.  It took 15 minutes and a number of dives, but eventually I found the radio.  I surfaced a very happy sailor, and the local harbour police were on hand to assist.  We are grateful for their co-operation.  More Sri Lankan smiles, we are pleased to say.

Most importantly, the radio that spent 2 hours on the bottom is still working perfectly - Icom waterproof is really waterproof.

Dolphin Girl

I had to show this photo.

One day out of Trincomalee and Ley is getting close to the dolphins.

Though she's forgetting that she's supposed to stay inside the life lines.

However that's her seat up front, and she's determined to use it.  No harness, no PFD.  At least I was on deck watching.....

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Relaxing In Tricomalee

Ley Raises The Sri Lanka Flag In Trincomalee
There is no other way to describe it ... we can relax now.

Our arrival concluded an 1100 nautical mile passage, in 8 days and five hours from Langkawi, Malaysia. Already in the port here were six other cruising boats and one very large ocean research yacht. Until just last year, a sailboat hadn't been seen in this harbour for 27 years. All boats had to berth in Galle in the south, under military control, where conditions were less than ideal. What changed ? Our friend Larry Mimms changed it all .... last year he sailed to Galle and there approached the authorities to allow him to sail up here to Trincomalee. It worked, and the rest is history. This year, as one of the first arrivals, Behan Gifford from SV Totem has done great work liaising with the local authorities and helping them understand the cruising boat culture.

So we are anchored in one of the best protected harbours in the world (seriously),  only 300 meters off shore in Town Bay, with the city at our doorstep, but can barely hear the traffic .... there just isn't any. A few buses, a few cars, tractors, tuk-tuk's and motorcycles. Lots of people walking, beautiful coloured sari's on the women and smartly dressed young men. Trincomalee is like a smaller version of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, very relaxed. It is different though - there is more awareness of the outside world here, more people speak English. Every one is friendly, keen to get ahead, tourism is starting to grow.

The 26 year Sri Lankan civil war finished only in 2009, and while no one here will forget those terrible times (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_Civil_War), the population is getting on with life in a very positive way.

The ships agent here (the amazing Ravi) can solve most problems and has made the check-in process very simple. All the authorities are co-operative and friendly. We expect to stay here a couple of weeks and will do some local touring.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Seven Days, 960 Nautical Miles

Just over one week into this voyage and we are traveling well.

960 Nautical Miles Sailed
148 Nautical Miles To Go
0 Fish
Course 283 degrees
Speed 6.9 knots
Ley has read 5 books (!)

Last night the winds finally lifted a little and moved more to the north.

Crystal Blues finally had "a bone in her teeth", with the apparent wind at 75 degrees to starboard, 9 knots true, and we were skating along in the dark at 6 to 7 knots, flying the mainsail, genoa and staysail.

Honestly, I'd fly more sails if we had them, as we're keen to make landfall, but the big MPS seen in this photo became hopelessly jammed in its snuffer two days ago, and we need to sort it out on land.

Around 300 miles out from the Sri Lankan coast we started meeting local fishing boats - small steel affairs with diesel engines and equipped with trolling lines, traps and nets. They do it all. The first boat chased us for miles before drawing alongside to trade - fish for cigarettes seemed to be the deal. Whilst we do carry cigarettes for trade, I didn't want to get close to them at sea, so we smiled and waved and said a gentle "no thanks". The fish they were offering was huge, but dried and salted - not to our taste. A second boat early today was a real comedy, with some very funny antics on board, crew jumping all over the roof of the wheelhouse. basically they seemed really happy to meet someone out here, wanted to know where we were going etc.
I was a little reticent to bring out the camera and photograph them, until I saw one of them was photographing us ! After that it was a bit of riot as they played stupid games on top of the wheelhouse, all this in a very rolly sea that has us moving around very cautiously. These Sri Lankan fisherman have a great sense of humour.

We finally sorted out the wrinkles with the satellite data system. It was another case of too many networks. Our navigation PC has 2 ethernet connections running concurrently - WiFi to the Iridium Go! satellite device and wired to the boat's own ethernet network (for printers, network disc storage etc). Windows 7 normally handles these scenarios well, and can even route from one net to another. Seems that the new software from Sailmail and Predict Wind simply couldn't handle it though. We've had a series of very constructive emails with Jim Corenman of Sailmail, in the USA, who is now working on an update to the Sailmail program that will handle concurrent network connections. Jim has been a delight to work with, and we find the the Saildocs service is proving invaluable for weather forecasting at sea. I think we have the best of both worlds, using the Sailmail / Saildocs mail software and then having a choice of HF radio or Satellite for the transmission link.

We've moved through a couple of time zones now, putting the clocks back another hour yesterday just so the sun would set "at the proper time". So our local time is now UTC minus 6 hrs. Each evening we participate in a loosely organised radio network for vessels crossing the Indian Ocean. The Jupiter Net provides a facility for emergency radio relay, position reporting and general discussion. High Frequency radio conditions out here are not great, but the reporting and conversations are welcome. We look forward to joining some of the other boats in Sri Lanka and points further south.

Right now the wind has decided to retreat again, swinging behind us and reducing in strength until its just a frustrating little breeze, so the engine is back on. We hope it comes back soon.

Our position is clear at : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues

Friday, 27 February 2015

Half Way, Slow Travel, But Beautiful

564 nautical miles sailed / 4 days and 4 hours/ 33 hours on the engine/ 8.4 knots top speed
1 fishing lure lost (a big log bit it)/ 0 Fish caught/ 0 Whales/ 12 Dolphins
Decreasing wine list/ Blue skies / Puffy clouds (again)

We passed the half way stage today, as of now we have just 550 nautical miles to go. Ley and I are settling in to the routine, she's off watch asleep right now. I think her fingers are tired after all the text messages she's been sending on the new Iridium sat phone system.

Incidentally, turns out that system is still somewhat "buggy" - it has stopped handling our Sailmail email and also refuses to download Predict Wind forecasts or Grib files. So we're back to using the HF radio for our mail links. Predict Wind support tell us that we need to "upgrade our software". Where have I heard that before ... its not gonna happen till we get to Trincomalee.

Honest, We Didn't Hook It - Its A Little Undersized - 1.5" Flying Fish On Deck
The weather is still docile, we've settled into a pattern of sailing with the winds during the day and starting the engine when the winds drop, usually in the early hours after midnight (down to 2 or 3 knots). Last report showed some rain ahead as we approach the Sri Lankan coast in a few days time. The shipping density has decreased as we've edged north away from the main route. Only two vessels on AIS within 25 miles of us at this time.

Thanks heavens for the ocean current here - right now we have only 4.0 knots of boat speed, but are making six knots over the ground. Water depth here is around 2.7 kilometers (!). The boat is steering a course of 266 degrees, but the actual course is often closer to 280 degrees. Fortunately its all going our way.

Our position is clear at : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues

Thursday, 26 February 2015

South Of Great Nicobar Island

We're two and a half days out from Langkawi now, having traveled 340 nautical miles from our start. Our
destination, Trincomalee, is about 760 miles ahead so we're not quite 1/3 of the way across.

All is well on board. Crystal Blues is sailing well (despite the wine list), and the weather has been kind to us. A mixed bag of light and medium winds, mostly very light, so we've motored for just over 23 hours so far. Ley has been dragging fishing lines each day, but no fish have been tempted - very smart fish around here.

The past 18 hours have been under MPS and mainsail, easy sailing in winds from 4 knots to 14 knots. Right now its gone light again, so we're slopping about with sheets flapping and sails slatting - fairly constant direction changes needed to keep things flying. Not pleasant ! We're hoping the wind will come with the sunrise, in an hour or so.

Adding More Leather Protection To Chafe Points
The northern tip of Sumatra (Indonesia) passed to the south of us some hours ago, so we're now in the Bay of Bengal for the first time, with a generous one knot current pushing us towards Sri Lanka. This is a very busy area for shipping, and we are constantly on watch as ships move through the Great Channel, arriving and departing East Asia.

Ley and I have been busy on small maintenance jobs, mainly on deck, adding and replacing leather covers on chafe points and polishing stainless. All our systems are working well, the only casualty so far is a failed AIS transmitter, though the receiver stage is working fine. That will be dealt with in the Maldives.

The catering on board is up to to it's usual standards, so we are not starving. We have good food, sunshine, blue sky, and fluffy white clouds - its all very pretty except for the lack of wind. We carry enough fuel to motor about 80% of the distance, so we'd like another couple of days of good wind. Cross your fingers for us.

At sea here : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues