January 31, 2007
We departed Port Blair in the Andaman Islands this morning at about 1015 hours and are sailing in 15-20 knot trade winds towards the Maldives. Sailing conditions are very nice and comfortable and we’re hoping that conditions hold for the 7-9 day, 1200 nautical mile trip west to the port of Male. Our course will take us in a southwesterly direction to the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, then more westerly to the Maldives chain, which run north and south for nearly 500 miles to the south of India in the Arabian Sea lobe of the Indian Ocean. The northern part of the Indian Ocean is known for its nearly perfect sailing conditions due to the lack of cyclones during the Northeast monsoon, and steady trade winds around the 15-knot mark.
Our ten or so day stay in the Andaman Islands was short but memorable. Port Blair, the main town, is a slice of India. We enjoyed a few meals out, Indian food of course, were able to get provisions at the local market, and found the people to be friendly and helpful. Cruising some of the outer islands was the highlight, and we enjoyed many dives on the beautiful coral reef, and sundowners on the aft deck overlooking white sand beaches, native rain forests and beautiful mangroves. Having been in a no-fish zone since we left Australia in 2005, it was great to hook up again, as well as spearing a few meals on beautiful reefs. At first we were plagued by barracuda, but finally broke the curse and caught a couple nice wahoo, the larger of the two being 27 pounds. Waaaaahooooooo! Graham and I speared some nice reef fish, the largest a giant sweetlips weighing in at 16 pounds. The freezer is still chokker with frozen fillet.
When we get some photos and logs of the Andamans cruise together, we’ll post them in SetSail. In the meantime, we’ll try to update you daily from sea on our passage west.
It has settled into a pretty lazy day out on the Indian Ocean. The weather is stuck on beautiful – not too hot, not too cool, trade winds in the 12-17 knot range – not bad for sailing.
Yesterday afternoon was interesting as we were making our way along Andaman Island. Port Control radioed us and asked us to move as quickly away from Ross Island as possible as they were planning on firing live ammunition. The Indian Navy sent out a chopper to check our progress and they buzzed us – too close for my comfort zone – for about ten minutes before heading off to target practice. We were still close enough to hear the shots.
While we’re getting our sea legs back, we’re experiencing some of the joys and annoyances of passage making. Last night around dinner time, we had an unexpected visitor. A sea tern landed on the dodger just above our heads and wanted to hang around. After a few photos, we tried to convince him that this was the closest he was going to be to land for awhile and should get back to his home. We’re all a bit short on sleep as we get used to the noise and motion of the boat and the ocean. On his early morning watch, Graham was the target of a misguided flying fish. It apparently flew over the bow, in through the dodger window and pinged him on the hand. We’re not sure who was more stunned and surprised, Graham or the fish, but both are back to normal, if you can call it that. Thane spotted dolphins off the starboard quarter this morning – the first we’ve seen in ages. After breakfast, we landed a huge wahoo nearly five feet long weighing in at 36 pounds. The freezer is full again and the fishing line is having a break.
At the moment, we’re rolling along nicely with the genoa poled out to windward and sailing close to our course, which takes us to a waypoint off the south coast of Sri Lanka. We’ve got 600 miles or about three and a half days before we round the corner.
Our first 24-hour run was about 180 miles, but we only made good about 142 miles towards the waypoint as we had to weave our way in and out of the Andamans yesterday and last evening to get into open ocean. Now it’s a long way to anything hard that we could hit.
The past 24 hours have been a bit more mellow than the day before. The winds have a bit more east in them than the forecasts have shown, but we gybed over to port and are now more or less on a direct course to our waypoint off the south end of Sri Lanka. If the winds hold steady at 15-20 knots, we should be half way between the Andamans and Sri Lanka by the time the dinner dishes are put away this evening.
The only excitement to report are four flying fish who ended up on our deck in suicide missions. I think this might be a record, but there are heaps of them out here.
The other situation was getting into a bit of a tangle with a small ship last evening. We were under sail with preventer on the main boom and a pole braced to windward holding out the genoa. This configuration allows us to sail nearly dead down wind. For the non-sailors out there, all this helps us to go “fast forward,” but makes it extremely difficult to change direction on short notice without a lot of ripping, tearing, snapping and breaking of all that stuff sticking up in the air catching wind. The ship had been on a collision course with us since I spotted it on radar about 8 miles off our stern quarter. When it was about a mile off and clear that he didn’t see our lights or sails (the moon was nearly full last evening), I called him on the VHF radio. After three attempts, I think I finally woke someone up. I requested that they alter course slightly to port and pass us, and he agreed. Well, all they did was slow down and maintain a collision course towards us. The object just got bigger and we could smell exhaust fumes. Then the guy comes on the radio with panic in his voice and demands that WE alter course to starboard. Based on relative tonnage, I was in no position to argue, but doing so put sails and spars at risk. As I altered course I reminded him that he was a power vessel overtaking a sailing vessel under sail -clearly the one who should be altering course and giving way. The %#@&*! on watch obviously didn’t know how to operate the autopilot or steer the ship properly. By the time we furled the headsail and got Moonshadow back under control, they were now directly in our path. I asked him to speed up as he was now impeding our progress. There was no response nor any apology offered. It’s hard to believe that there are people out there operating commercial ships on the high seas with such poor training, ignorance of rules of the road and just plain bad etiquette.
Sailing throughout the night was fast, if not a bit lumpy. Since noon yesterday, we made good (miles towards our destination) 171 miles.
February 3Whew, its been such a busy day I’ve almost forgotten to write!
Here’s a brief summary of our day. I marinated a batch of fish which we put out to dry into jerkey. After breakfast of rice pudding, we gybed onto starboard and set the spinnaker. Winds have been light, about 10-15 knots, so the kite added a knot or so to our speed. We then cleared the deck of flying fish carcasses. Seas were fairly calm so I pulled apart one of the watermaker membranes and replaced a faulty end cap. Water quality is back up to excellent. The middle of the day was consumed by reading, conversation, listening to music, eating, naps and watching the fish dry. In the late afternoon, a rather nasty squall line appeared on the horizon and was overtaking us. Winds became very shifty. We took down the spinnaker and went back to a poled-out genoa. There wasn’t much in the clouds but a short bit of increased breeze. We’re back to just over ten knots of wind and speeds of 6-7 over the bottom.
From noon yesterday to noon today, we sailed 172 nautical miles, and made good 162 to our waypoint. As of this writing we have about 700 miles to go to Male.
It’s time for a sundowner.
It’s been another day of rather light winds which keeps us tacking downwind, back and forth across the rhumb line. We logged 169 miles and got 163 miles closer to our way point. As of this writing we have 559 miles to go to the Maldives.
The biggest excitement we had during the day, aside from Merima’s great meals, was sighting a pod of 20 or so pilot whales off the starboard quarter this afternoon. The only other notable event was a brief rain shower, the first drops we’ve seen in at least a month. A little more could have washed the decks nicely instead of turning dust to mud.
We expect to round the southern tip of Sri Lanka early tomorrow morning, but with visibility limited by haze and our course taking us well away from the busy shipping lanes, we may not even get a glimpse.
Yesterday afternoon was full of sea life experiences. I already reported that we encountered a pod of pilot whales. Shortly after, we were chased for about a half hour by a large pod of dolphins, a number of which were jockeying for prime position right under the bow of Moonshadow. We spotted a huge manta ray, whose wing tips broke the surface of the sea as it flew along. Later on we saw dolphins in a feeding frenzy, chasing small tuna who were leaping out of the water to escape becoming “chicken of the sea.”
The winds picked up a bit as we rounded the southern end of Sri Lanka, and we have been sailing fast up until about noon today. The log showed that we sailed 205 miles, and we made good about 174 miles towards Male. At noon today, we had just 414 miles to go.
The two wahoo we caught have gone a long way. So far we’ve had wahoo jerkey, wahoo sashimi, wahoo steaks, wahoo burgers, curried wahoo, wahoo carpaccio and poached wahoo. I think we’ll run out of recipes before we run out of wahoo.
Since we cleared the southern tip of Sri Lanka, we’ve been sailing a more or less direct course westerly to the port of Male in the Maldives. Winds have been up and down, and last night we had to turn on the engine for the first time in 1000 miles as the breeze dropped to less than three knots and left us stalled with the sails flogging. After eight hours of motor sailing, the breeze came up again and we were able to shut the engine off and set the spinnaker.
We’ve not seen too much out here other than a friendly pod of dolphins late yesterday afternoon and again this morning. We also were chased by a small fishing boat who approached us wanting cigarettes and booze. We managed to repel them without incident. We’ve finally eaten enough fish to have a small space left in the freezer, but towing a line all day today has been without any joy.
With more than a knot and a half of current from behind us, we’ve had a good day’s run. We made 198 miles towards Male from noon yesterday to noon today, and we are now within 200 miles of our destination. If conditions hold, we should arrive there in time for happy hour tomorrow evening.
Our last night at sea was most pleasant as we glided along in relatively calm seas, wind abaft the beam, breeze strong enough to keep us moving at a nice clip – and no pesky shipping traffic or fisherman looking for vice handouts. Our noon to noon run from yesterday was 186 nautical miles, which put us within 28 miles of landfall in the Maldives. Before moonrise last night, the sky was probably the most brilliantly lit by stars that any of us had ever seen before. As we head back closer to the Equator – within five degrees, to be specific – the temperatures and humidity are rising again.
Although we have greatly enjoyed the wahoo we’ve caught, brilliantly prepared by Merima in a plethora of ways (fish cakes last night), we were happy to catch a small yellow fin tuna this morning. Just before noon, Merima was cleaning a head of cabbage and noticed a turtle resting on the branches of a bamboo plant floating in the ocean. It seemed to be excited by the prospect of some fresh, well, almost fresh greens. I’m sure the turtle got quite a start when his raft was literally pulled out from under him a few seconds later when our lure snagged a branch. We managed to free our lure from the encrusted branches, and hope that all inhabitants return to their peaceful drift on the Indian Ocean.
Land ho was called at 1545 hours when we first spotted some low trees from less than 10 miles off shore.
We made landfall at Male at about 1700 hours, which got us to a snug anchorage just in time for happy hour on board. Male is a very interesting city, reminiscent of Singapore, only smaller. It is quite a shock to encounter a modern city, on a small island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We can’t wait to do some exploring.
A few statistics on the trip:
- Total distance on the rhumb line: 1252 nautical miles.
- Total miles sailed (from the log): 1425
- Total time enroute: 175.5 hours or 7-1/3 days
- Average sailing speeed: 8.11 knots
- Average speed made good: 7.13 knots
- Engine hours logged: 9