Monday, February 06, 2017

Ferry foray

Uligan Maldives is serviced by a small ferry boat, picking up and dropping off passengers and giving "carry on" a new meaning. It hops from island to island as the main link between neighbours.

So early one morning at 06:00, we jumped aboard to see a town 2.5 hours to the south. The beamy wood boat was nicely finished and the passengers sat on rows of wooden benches open to the sea breeze or lounged on the roof deck with a very low railing.

Looks safe!

First stop was a quick one at the pier of Mulhadoo, a small island an hour to the south. We watched from the deck as a gaggle of passengers with a motley assortment of cargo joined us for the trip further south. One of the passengers was a strikingly beautiful woman who later consented to a photo ashore.

Approaching Mulhadoo Island pier

Village beauty

A type of Maldivian fishboats

Second stop, our destination, was at Dhidhdhoo Island about another hour and a half further south with a population of about 3,000. It was 08:30 and we had until 15:00 to explore. Unfortunately there was very little of interest or to discover at Dhidhdhoo, making the hot day rather long...

Commerce and supplies were still very basic. We saw a good-sized school, a clinic and hospital, a simple pharmacy, and a small bank where we got rufiyaa (Maldivian currency) from the ATM. The grocery stores we noticed were only slightly bigger than ones at Uligan with a bit more to offer. There are very few vehicles - an ambulance, police car, taxi car, small cars/trucks; bicycles and scooters however seemed to be the main mode.

Walking along a street, we came across a man looking for help. Jordan stopped to see what he needed. He had the base of a huge dead palm and needed to load it into the back of a truck. Two other men saw the situation and between the four men, they were able to struggle with big muscles and loud moans and finally get it into the truck bed!

Group effort

We found a couple of basic (with a capital B) cafes and after some enquiries found a couple of suitable restaurants of which we patronized while watching shadows move from west to east. One of the restaurants was tucked away in one of the ubiquitous, austere, back alleys. Behind the stark exterior, we found a contrast in ambiance where the cozy tables sat semi-screened by shrubs under a gazebo roof.

Upon seeing a humble shop with 4 tailors busy at their machines, we engaged them to make us a courtesy flag for Yemen as it quite likely would be our next passage stop on our way to the Red Sea. The simple horizontal red, white, and black striped flag cost us only 20 rufiyaa ($1.70).

A quick sew-up

As we walked the streets of sand, it was disappointing to see all the garbage strewn about contrasting the neat and clean Uligan Island. The seaside was even worse with disgusting piles of garbage, the dominated ingredient being plastic, primarily water bottles. This sordid legacy to nature of our era is most obvious as seen from the travels on the oceans and shores of the globe.

Garbage galore

Jordan noticed large granite boulders used in making their breakwaters and realized that the geological formation of these islands is only coral, begging the question, where did these rocks come from? The response to his enquiry is that they were all barged in from India, far away to the northeast.

From India to Maldives

The lazy day ended with the uneventful return to serene Uligan.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Paradise again

As we approached our new anchorage in the Maldives at Uligan Island on February 4th, we could tell we were once again in a paradise setting! Palm laden tropical islands ringed with white sand beaches. The clear waters were a beautiful light turquoise colour displaying a carpet of coral that seemed to be begging us to come for a snorkel.

But first we had to do the official check in. A neighbouring boat that we had been with in Galle Sri Lanka was also here and they hailed Customs for us on the VHF. We were not allowed to leave the boat until the officials had come to Sea Turtle to do the due process.

Apparently we were supposed to contact an Agent but we had not yet done so by the time the Coast Guard boat with the entourage of Security, Immigration, Health, and 2 Customs officials came out to Sea Turtle. These officials went ahead and filled out all the forms for both of us and Chanty that the Agent would normally have done at a cost of $50 US for his facilitating services. In any event, we were still required to pay a government check-in fee of $65 US. However, we were informed that we would have to hire the Agent for the check-out procedure.

With the check in done, we settled in for a peaceful dinner and cocktail in the cockpit, invaded by the lazy serenity of our setting. And no mosquitoes!! Chanty, after being relegated to the cockpit or below for so long, now strolled continually around the decks of Sea Turtle, taking everything in. Do cats also appreciate the natural solitude? We think so.

The next morning we went ashore to meet the Agent and made arrangements for fuel, obtained a SIM card for cell and internet coverage, and got suggestions of what we could do during our time at Uligan.

We accepted the Agent's suggestion of dinner at a very tiny resident's veranda cafe. A very basic affair requiring prior notice. The meal was excellent and enjoyed by both us and 2 from SV Jubilee.

Part of our day was spent strolling through the tidy, white sand streets of the village accepting pleasant nods from the shy natives. This small Island (2.5 x 0.8 km/1.6 x 0.5 mi) is very basic with 2 mosques and a couple of very small 1-room grocery stores offering the bare essentials. There are no banks, no malls, no bars (alcohol is forbidden for Muslims), no stores, and no cars (only a few scooters). Out of place were the smart phones in everyone's hands.

Sand street with Sea Turtle at end

Houses in the past were built from coral, as a building block, extracted from the sea (but is now prohibited) which was a contributor to a decline in the health of their reefs.

House built from coral

There was also the bleaching of the coral from fishermen and from sea temperature rises. There seems to be somewhat of a redemption with these recent restorative efforts.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Passage news

We broke from Galle Sri Lanka February 1st at 14:30 to continue our westward passages. Next stop, the remote Island of Uligan (aka Uligamu) in the north part of the Maldives, about a 3- to 4-day sail away west.

The Maldives archipelago is in the northern Indian Ocean just off the southwest coast of India. It consists of 26 ringed shaped atolls with 1,190 coral islands and stretches in a long chain north to south. It is the lowest nation in the world. Average height is 1.5 metres above sea level!

Our first 10 hours was motoring in calm seas, then once away from the lee side of the land mass, we had wind, substituting the drone of the Beta for the working sails. Sailing is always the more pleasant mode but also for the reason of fuel consumption concerns. So we sail as soon as possible. Fuel top-up is apparently available at our next stop, but after that, it's a long way to the next possible available diesel.

We passed through one of the world's busiest shipping routes keeping an eagle eye outside and on the AIS display. (AIS, an electronic instrument that displays the details of other ship traffic within about 40 nautical miles and overlaps onto the electronic charts. It shows ships' names and details including speed, direction, point of closest contact and time, etc.)

We do faithful checks every 15 minutes or more frequently in busy areas. It is interesting to see details on the AIS of different itinerant vessels on voyages to far off places on the globe and picturing the lonely life aboard as they disappear over the horizon.

Freighter crossing our path at sunset

We had a great beam reach sail most of the way, with winds and seas of various strengths requiring 1 or 2 reefs and seeing 7 sustained knots at times. One 24-hour period, we did 158 nautical miles, a record for modest Sea Turtle. Our typical passage average is 110 NM per day, but the following current booted us along nicely, thank you very much.

Twinkling stars covering the canopy above with their brilliance was a fine sight after not seeing such brightness for a long time. The sliver of a moon passing us almost directly overhead ushered us towards the horizon as the night progressed. Night transformed to day as the morning sun eked over the horizon as a bright orange-red fireball.

Once we were surprised to see a fishboat, not much larger than Sea Turtle, bobbing and rolling through the waves and swells 125 NM away from closest land! The crew all boisterously hollered out a greeting to Sea Turtle with lots of smiles and waves.

Finally late in the afternoon on February 3rd, the winds started to die and at 19:30 we reluctantly had to start the motor. The nice thing about no wind is the seas calm down for a smoother ride, making it easier for us to shower on deck.

Then after 3 days, it was Land Ho! We spotted 3 low lying atolls off in the distance. Passing between 2 of the islands and around to the lee side of Ha Uligan, we set anchor in 18 m (60 ft) deep of water with 9 m (30 ft) clarity at 15:00 (14:00 local time) on February 4th at N07°04.951' E072°55.126'. We shared the reef-side anchorage with 2 other sailboats making the same passages as us.

Approach to Ha Uligan

* Ha means Island

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Our scoop on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka deserves more time than what we could spare to get a full picture. But from our limited time in southern Galle (7 days) of this island country, this is what we experienced.

The people are extremely friendly and most speak at least a fragment of English which is of course always helpful in getting directions or help finding what you need. Many of the local men still wear the traditional sarongs, fabric wrapped around the waist.

Fuel and provisions are available and the plentiful, cheap tuk tuks are the way to go. For longer distances, the trains are frequent and buses are constantly available to wherever you need to go. Again, very cheap - even Express First Class (avoid the slow ones for long distance!)

Groceries and produce, although not necessarily cheap, are abundant and what limited Western food products you see are definitely expensive.

Around Galle, we would surely recommend seeing the old fort and colonial buildings within, and a visit to the funky, albeit touristy, beach town of Anawatuna for shops and eats. Then there are the gem merchants with either cut stones or jewel settings.

We wished that we had spent more time at Unawatuna. It had a nice beach and lots of skinny winding streets lined with shops of all sorts. It would have been fun to walk around but we ran out of time. However on our last night we did have a nice candlelit meal at the beachfront restaurant.

If a cruiser didn't stop at Sri Lanka, they wouldn't see the more unpleasant features. For example, the strict inner harbour control dictates many procedures. There is more officialdom than anywhere else with numerous department inspections and copious amounts of paperwork to get checked in. It's required to employ 1 of 2 available agent companies to facilitate the process. Ours cost us $300 US for that service. Others paid less with the other agent.

The visiting sailboats are ushered into the innermost part of the harbour and can either Med-moor or tie alongside of the concrete sea wall. The surge made it rough on lines, and for those who tied alongside, there was more than 1 blown bumper. We Med-moored and used our dinghy to get to the sea wall, and at low tide, it was difficult to get from dinghy to top of wall.

Sea Turtle Med-moored in Galle

The water at times was full of debris and no one would use their watermakers here. And there are no water taps on the concrete sea wall for hosing down a salty boat, etc. We were fortunate to arrive during a rainstorm so Sea Turtle was not salty. The only personal shower was pretty rudimentary and a ways away so we just did our usual on-deck solar shower when it was dark out.

Although fuel is available, getting it into your tanks is another matter. First, we had to prepay for an exact amount to be delivered. If we ordered too much, no refund, or too little, it would be extra delivery charge. Of course with a big passage coming up, we wanted to be totally fueled up. We were lucky, or should I say that Jordan is a good estimator, as we had only 5 litres extra of fuel. We put it in a large pail and gave to another boater.

To get the fuel from truck to tank is by a long hose and gravity fed. One's boat's inlet was higher than the truck's outlet so they were in a dilemma on how they were going to do it. We didn't hear the final solution. The problem for us with that system is the shut-off was at the truck, so when we knew our tank was full, we shouted Stop! but to get the hose out of our filler resulted in a lot of spillage.

Water delivery is available and as we were about to order some to top up our tanks, we were hit by a downburst for about an hour and that was more than enough to fill our tanks and jugs.

Second-hand information told us of a boat that ordered water. We don't know how much the boater ordered but a ton was delivered which was way too much for their small vessel. They were not allowed to put the water hose into another boat so they used some to wash their decks and then gave some to a neighbouring boat by using buckets!

What we must say is even though our agent was expensive, they efficiently handled not only the check in and out, but also facilitated the fuel order, delivered us to ATMs and to get a SIM card for our phone, and basically were always on call for any problems or questions.

We found out the hard way that smart phones here are cheaper than the duty free port in Malaysia. A few minutes before checking out of Sri Lanka, our near new cell phone slipped out of Jordan's pocket into the ocean! Oh no! So off to the Mobile Centre with a tuk tuk.

We saw long fishing boats with a wide bottom and narrow top that we had never seen before. It looks like you have to really squish yourself into them.

Unusual style of boat

So to sum the pros and cons, it is a place to rest after a 9-day passage, get fueled up and topped up on things, and see a few highlights, but not the nicest harbour and an expensive check in for just a few days.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Rambling around Galle

We ran around Galle (Sri Lanka) with a tuk tuk finishing up a few errands and stopped to visit the Galle Fort of 1588. Built by the Portuguese and Dutch, it stands guard at the Harbour's entrance. Within its ramparts is the Old Town, its buildings densely packed in the narrow streets.

Old Town Galle within Fort

Having received a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, a lot of the old colonial buildings have been restored to their original splendour offering eateries, boutique hotels, and shops. After a delicious lunch in the small Peddler's Cafe, we walked along the top of the old perimeter walls, at times looking straight down into the rugged sea.

Section of Fort Galle

Lighthouse in the distance

Within the Fort is also the National Maritime Museum which we strolled through. It was badly damaged in the 2004 tsunami but has since been renovated. Many of the Museum objects were never recovered. Actually in the south of Sri Lanka there was a tremendous amount of damage done and thousands died due to that tsunami.

Leaving the Fort, we hired a tuk tuk driver and tried to rent a car so we could travel up to the north end of Sri Lanka. (We wanted to see the fascinating Sigiriya, a massive sheer rock column of which you can climb the 1,200 steps to the ancient ruins of a palace and fortress. Check it out if you ever get here.)

Our driver took us everywhere and we only found 2 rental places still in business. Both were very expensive and charged extra for mileage, and as we are anxious to get sailing onwards, we decided against it.

Over the next couple of days, a few more sailboats came in. They too are on their way to the Med via the Red Sea. One old sea dog is 80 years old and has sailed several years on a boat he built completely himself. His dream was always to complete a circumnavigation so he decided to do a quick 2-year circumnavigation solo and is now heading home to his wife in Bulgaria. Never too late to realize your dreams!

Oodles of fishboats at harbour entrance

8 boats so far...

We had planned on having water delivered to fill our tanks (the harbour is too dirty to make water ourselves). But one afternoon, the skies turned dark and the lightning began and the clouds started dumping torrents. It poured. And poured. We almost felt like taking on animals in pairs! We opened up the deck filler caps to the water tanks, plugged up the scuppers, and let the flooded decks fill the tanks to overflowing.

Sri Lanka is known for the mining and production of many different gemstones. So with an excess of rupees (local currency), we went shopping. We found some interesting gems and purchased a few.

Still with extra rupees, we went out for dinner to the funky little beach town of Unawatuna, close to Galle. Love saying that name, kinda sounds like You Want A Tuna! We had a local cuisine, Sri Lankan Fish Curry, at a candlelit beach restaurant, and returned to Sea Turtle with almost no rupees.

It will be good to let off the ties to Galle as the scourge of mosquitoes that visit our cabin each night is enough to drive you mad. Even with screens, they find their way in...scratch, scratch, scratch. Along with a pack of 7 dogs and flocks of crows, all visiting the sea wall where boats are tied up to.

We let loose our lines February 1st after checking out with the officials to sail to a new destination for us, Uligan, a remote northern island of the Maldives in the NW Indian Ocean, with only about 600 inhabitants. Will it have internet? Stay tuned...