Tuesday, January 31, 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...

Friday, January 27, 2017

India: yes or no

Once settled into Sri Lanka at Galle, the first order of business was to apply for and get a Tourist Visa for India, our next stop. India requires a Visa in advance of arrival which can be obtained through one of their foreign embassies. It would be a last stop for fuel and top up on stuff before the big jump across the Arabian Sea on our way to the Mediterranean. So it was off to the India Embassy located in the City of Colombo about 120 km up the coast.

We hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to the bus station. There must be more tuk tuks here than cars or motorcycles, they are everywhere zipping in and out of traffic!

Tuk tuks everywhere

At the bus station, we purchased tickets for Colombo. But we did not know that we should have purchased tickets for the Express bus that took the fast toll road. So the trip took us about 3 to 4 hours to go the short distance as the bus travelled through all the little towns and villages, making numerous stops.

Once in Colombo, we were told that all India Visa centers were closed as it was a holiday in India!

Stopping for a cold juice before the return trip to Galle, we noticed how complicated the written language here is. It's a good thing that most folks here speak English.

Can you read it?

We thought it would be quicker to take the train back to Galle. But once again, we were on the slow train, not the Express train. Crowded and having to stand made the 2-hour ride seem like 4. Live and learn!

Train travel

The next day, January 27th, we gave the Colombo trip another shot but this time we caught the Express bus. It was so much more direct and quicker without any stops.

At the Visa center, we were told that it would take 6 to 8 days to process a Visa which was much longer than we wished to wait. He then suggested an eTV - an electronic Tourist Visa - which for a $300 fee, he could have it done and sent to us the next day by email. Much better.

With payment made, we went for lunch and Googled electronic Visas. Unfortunately, we discovered that they are only for travellers who fly into India and cannot be used by cruisers or land travellers. And we had told them at the Visa center that we would be cruising on our sailboat to India.

Back to the Visa center. We told them what we had found out on the Internet and they agreed to cancel the Visa and refunded our money. So for the second time, we went home defeated.

With everything against us, we have decided to forget about India and we will sail to the Maldives instead. No advance Visa is required and we can possibly get fuel there with a little difficulty.

Final answer: India no. Maldives yes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Sri Lanka...it seemed like it was never going to happen. We had planned to be in this country more than a year ago, but we encountered numerous delays. As sailors say, "Our plans are written in sand, at low tide." But we pulled anchor from Chalong Bay (Phuket Thailand) on January 16th at 11:30 for, finally, Sri Lanka.

Up until now, it seemed as though we were sailing away from Victoria our home port, but now it feels as though we are heading towards it as we resume our westward-about journey.

The seas on this passage were not what we had been expecting, or hoped for. The first 2 days were great sailing and we made good time. But most of the remainder of the voyage gave us a real mixed bag of confused seas leaving us feeling like we were in a washing machine. Not a comfortable feeling at all, being tossed from side to side continuously.

Now out at sea in these conditions we had to resume the habit of "One hand for yourself and one for the ship" to avoid being tossed about. Even when there was a lull in the wind, the waves were still agitated. We were constantly making sail adjustments and did more motoring than we wanted.

We had short-period swells of up to 3 metres, although they didn't give us as much trouble as the choppy 1-metre wind waves. In spite of very little sunshine and skies plied with clouds and several storm cells, we were teased with a couple of rainbows.

Rainbow respite

Small dolphins cavorted at Sea Turtle's bow at least 4 different times that we spotted them - always a thrill to see them once again. It has been a while.

Another clue that we are once again in pelagic waters is the presence of flying fish. Chanty discovered a couple that had slipped through our slightly open pullman hatch during the night (open for a bit of a breeze). She was ecstatic and each time played with them as she jumped in the air and tossed them all around leaving scales for us to clean up (yes, we then closed the pullman hatch).

She also senses when 1 or more are on the deck and makes frantic pleas for an exit out to apprehend them. However we don't allow her out of the cockpit on passage unless the seas are relatively calm and she is escorted on leash by Jordan who says "Let's take a walk around the block, Chanty."

It's mine and I'm keeping it!

We would likely have had a sea collision 2 different times if we hadn't been keeping a close watch, which we always do. In such a large ocean with so little traffic, it sure makes you wonder - 2 tiny dots in this great big space heading directly to each other!

Using our newly installed AIS system that tracks and identifies close traffic, we radioed closing ships to ensure they saw us. In the first case, we contacted the freighter and after a pleasant conversation, he changed his course. In the second case, the tanker did not answer our radio calls in spite of calling his ship name, so we changed our course. It's always a bit more difficult for a sailing vessel to change course than a motoring vessel.

Passing after course change

Finally around 18:00 hours January 24th, the seas began to calm as we rounded the bottom of the large island of Sri Lanka and about 15 nautical miles offshore. The south point of the Island is one of, if not the busiest spots for large ships on their various destinations globally. We kept a vigilant watch out and attention to the AIS to keep a safe distance and out of the way of the big boys.

Sea Turtle (red) in a forest of freighters

We were especially on edge as the downpours at time reduced visibility to less than a nautical mile. You can imagine if we couldn't track traffic and a huge freighter came barelling head on at 18 knots out of a heavy veil of mist, it wouldn't leave much time to avoid it. Thank God we have AIS because we discovered just before leaving on this passage that our radar had given up the ghost.

It was the early morning of January 25th that we made our close approach to Galle Harbour. We contacted Harbour Control and a required Agent on VHF radio at 08:00 and then stood by at anchor (N06°02.018' E080°13.560') by the breakwater that protects the inner harbour. We were not allowed to enter until Harbour Control authorities came out a couple hours later to inspect then escort us in.

Directed in, we tied up to the sea wall to resume a parade of officials with a myriad of forms that lasted a few hours. This included our Agent, Customs, Immigration, Health, Security, and the Harbour Master. Even the head lady from Customs who wanted to see what the inside of a yacht was like.

Finally about 14:00 and $400 later (including the extravagant Agent fee), we were finally officially checked into Sri Lanka in the town of Galle and were free to leave the boat.

We moved Sea Turtle so that she was Med-moored (tied up stern to) at the sea wall (N06°01.945' E080°13.989') tucked between 2 other sail boats. The one beside us we had befriended before in Thailand. There were now 4 sailboats in Galle and more expected soon.

Hoisting courtesy flag on arrival

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Langkawi daze

As mentioned before, we had to order a new second-hand SSB/Ham marine radio from the internet and have it delivered to Malaysia as Thailand does not allow them to be imported. This means that we had to sail back once again to Langkawi Malaysia to pick it up. And we thought we had left there for good!

Once we confirmed that the radio had been delivered to the marina of Telaga Harbour of Langkawi, we decided to do another overnight voyage rather than stopping and anchoring along the way as we had okay sailing and motoring weather. We pulled anchor January 5th at 10:15 from Chalong Bay of Thailand and anchored January 6th at Telaga Harbour, Langkawi at 12:30 (N06°21.785' E099°40.887').

Upon examining the radio when we picked it up, Jordan discovered that the microphone receptor on the radio had a male end where a female end was required in order to use our microphone. Also the power and tuner connections didn't match. After searching high and low for a solution, we met with a technician who gave Jordan a fairly simple way to solve the issue. Simple, but it took a lengthy period of time.

With the radio all hooked up, we next need to connect to a radio net that SV Shearwater has told us about. If successful, next is to return once again to Phuket (Chalong Bay) Thailand to pick up a new prop for our outboard engine (none available in Langkawi without a lengthy wait).

Jordan thinks that when he was trying to push and pull Sea Turtle when she was aground that the rubber of the prop had slipped. He has put pins in it so we can use the dinghy in the meantime but a new prop is needed for a permanent solution. We have found a dealer in Phuket that is holding one for us until we get there.

Some of the sunsets in Telaga were amazing, a pleasant punctuation to end the day of boat jobs...

Telaga, Langkawi

Another distraction to our boat jobs: Chanty shenanigans. Like when she tried to get too close to the fish and climbed down the step that hangs over Sea Turtle's side and fell in. She found the safety screen we attached to the stern for such an emergency and she scurried up, soaked and forlorn.

Showered and towelled off

Next off to the Mediterranean. We will post next when internet is available...

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A new year

We began our sailing adventures in September of 2009 and here it is 2017. Wow, time sure flies when you are having fun. Another new year of sailing adventures to look forward to - all the excitement and pleasures as well as all the struggles and discomforts. No, it's not ALL fun all of the time!

To start the year, Jordan spent the morning scouring the internet for a possible solution of why our Frigoboat refrigerator keeps overheating and must be turned off. We just had it looked at by a professional on December 29th and thought all was solved, but apparently not.

He discovered a solution on the internet posted by others having the same problem and decided to give it a try. He straightened a specific pipe and then lightly banged on it to get a possible blockage to move. It worked, but again, for how long? Time will tell. Maybe this time we will be lucky.

After spending a quiet and pleasurable evening, we pulled anchor at 13:15 on January 1st from Koh Naka Yai on the east side of Phuket (Thailand) returning again to Chalong Bay, but this time we decided to anchor on the east side of the Bay (N07°48.865' E098°22.945') at 16:45. The west is so very busy and hectic but the east is much quieter, calmer water, and with less boats too.

Our feline Chanty is enjoying both sailing and motoring now. She came up on deck, looked around, played, and then even had a nap in the cockpit as we motor-sailed. She totally ignored the sound of the motor.

On the 2nd, we re-anchored and unfortunately in the hectic west side of Chalong Bay which is less than half an hour away (N07°49.208' E098°21.468') as we wanted to get an early start in the morning and needed to be close to the dock where we could easily rent a car. The next day we totally filled the car with provisions to get ready for our long passage coming up.

We had started to see windy weather as was predicted. To get out of the fetch on the 4th, we moved from the rough west side back to the east side of Chalong for more protection (N07°48.972' E098°22.974'). It made for a much more pleasant sleep with less bouncing around.