Tuesday, February 28, 2017


At the west end of the Gulf of Aden is the much lesser Golfo de Tadjourna with the City of Djibouti guarding the entrance. On the 26th of February, we rounded the point to anchor at 07:45 (N11°35.942' E043°08.041') in front of the City and alongside 3 sailing vessels, friends making these same passages.

Typical trading vessel

Upon checking in, we were issued with "shore passes" so that we could visit the City of Djibouti, a large city with few pleasing features. The Visa and shore pass costs made this short stop expensive but we needed to top up on fuel and stock up on some groceries, especially fresh produce, plus we wanted to see the City.

We found the clothing bright and the mix of colours and patterns not necessarily matching. Even the traditional burquas, commonly just black, were colourful. A nice change. With few exceptions, men wore long pants but however we did see young boys wearing shorts.

We quickly learned that there were some sneaky tactics employed by some to part the dollars from us boaters. A typical tactic is an insistent helpful hand that in the end turns into an intimidating demand for money.

The other tactic we experienced was, without a shred of shame, a demand for more than an agreed price at the end of our taxi ride. A crowd had gathered to watch the showdown as Jordan had a real face-off, nose-to-nose, with our taxi driver who finally gave in to the original price after we started to walk away without any payment.

The buses were more fun and more welcoming and of course much cheaper. Like taxis, they were decorated with a faux fur dashboard cover - that had seen cleaner days - and a frilly cloth or vinyl trim around the outside mirrors, in a lame attempt to make it look like a flower blossom.

We were advised not to purchase a SIM card as internet was extremely slow, if it worked at all. So we trotted off to a major hotel to use their free WiFi and email family and friends. But at $10 per coffee, it negated the bonus of free internet. We have found Djibouti to be extremely expensive; a real culture shock after the affordable Asian countries.

Djibouti is now an independent country but was once a French Republic. Some still speak French and the Franc is used as their currency. Jordan was dreaming of delicious French pastries, but alas, none were to be found.

There were two distinct places to shop. One was a clean and modern supermarket with many imported western products priced almost twice what we would pay in Canada. In contrast, was the open air fruit and veggie market where the shelves were well stocked and where goats scavenged through the trash.

HOW much did you say!

At the market, we were able to find people who were willing to have their photo taken, whereas most others we encountered in the City turned away when a photo was requested. Big smiles were received when we showed them their photo on the camera.

Show me my picture!

Busy tossing her seeds

I managed to sneak a photo of this poor young girl who would hold out her hand for money. Begging was not an uncommon practice wherever we went. Avoiding eye contact limited those encounters. Distressing, as this is an expensive country for poor people to live.

Can you spare a Franc?

Djibouti is a city in contrasts. You have abject poverty somehow co-existing with a flourishing international business. Some make no qualms of blatantly overcharging to the point of ripping you off, however, theft is unheard of. Older money-changing ladies sit on the sidewalks with bags of money with no worry of theft.

After two days and in a weather conference with the other sailors, we thought it best to head out and into the Red Sea. It was best summed up in the conversation by two of us: "Djibouti has lost its charm." The other responded, "I didn't find any charm to begin with."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Early departure

The next morning at Socotra Island (Yemen), we woke bleary eyed after a fitful night's sleep as the strong north wind made our exposed anchorage rough and rolly. Our plans for this day had been to tour the Island, buy some produce, and find internet connection but with the winds it wasn't an option to leave Sea Turtle unattended on a lee shore.

With forecast for more of the same, we felt it prudent to cut our visit short and set sail. It was a disappointment not seeing more features of this unique island - in particular the cartoon trees that grow no other place on earth except Socotra Island.

Dragon Blood Trees (copied from internet)

Cucumber Trees (copied from internet)

Before we could leave, we had to wait for our passports and check-out document and some requested produce. When they were eventually delivered, we paid up for the services and said our goodbyes as Denis our Agent jumped back into the bobbing panga to head to shore.

Saying goodbye

In the swells that were now rolling in, it was a challenge hoisting the outboard off the dinghy and then the dinghy up on deck while the boat was bucking and rolling. Then even more tenuous was getting the now well-buried anchor up. When winching in the chain, the nose of the boat heaved up, putting incredible strain on the gear.

To add to the dilemma, the anchor and/or chain seemed to be hooked fast on rock or coral, giving a sickening yank on the chain as the boat heaved up and down. When it wouldn't free up, Jordan backed off and donned fins and mask to dive down to see what was hanging things up.

Fortunately we manoeuvred to get the hook free and up. SV Jubilee was making the same escape at the same time and having a worse time of it.

We hoisted sails and were on our way at 13:30 February 20th. (We later learned that Jubilee had to hire a diver and a 40-HP boat to pull his anchor free.)

Catching a good breeze

When it came time to taste the tomatoes that Denis had purchased for us from Socotra, we were pleasantly surprised. They were the freshest and most succulent we have ever tasted! They were not at all bland as many supermarket tomatoes are today. Maybe it was the goat manure! In any event, what a treat.

It brought back memories of the best arugula we ever tasted from another remote island, Easter Island of all places. And the delicious pamplemousse of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia.

We spent the first day and a half making some northing to be in the center of the Gulf of Aden before a more westerly downwind run straight to Djibouti. This tactic was to join the designated shipping lane where the 50+ freighters a day that transit this area are in the presence of multi-national navy warships to deter the threat of Somali piracy. We hugged close to the side of the lane watching as the big boys passed us going each way. The Gulf is flanked by Somalia to the south and Yemen to the north.

We were contacted by a passing French coalition warship asking if we were aware of the status of piracy in the area. We said we were and gave them our particulars before they wished us safe passage.

They were one of a few warships that passed us on their patrols. Their efforts have definitely curtailed piracy in this area to the extent that is has been attack free for the last couple of years. But it was a comforting feeling to know that warships were still patrolling the nearby areas to maintain the safe passage of us and major ship traffic.

Warship escort

Several times throughout our voyage through the shipping lanes, we heard the Navy warships n VHF requesting boats to report any suspicious activity. We also noticed a warship that seemed to be tailing us for several hours. Babysitting? LOL

We kept in regular contact with other sailing boats via HF radio even though we were well out of sight from each other, just to see how each was doing. How's the wind? Catch any fish? etc.

Speaking of fish, Jordan kept us fed with another fish similar to Skipjack Tuna but with meat like the Yellow Fin Tuna. We determined it was a Bigeye Tuna. It gave us fish steaks and fish cakes for a few days. And we were entertained by jumping dolphins once again...

Dolphin escort

Through our AIS, we identified freighter and cargo ships flagged from all over the world: Singapore, Malta, Spain, Japan, China, Denmark, Panama, Greece, Russia...Many noted "Armed Guards Onboard" on their AIS identification.

One day in a light following breeze, we put up our Thai-coloured spinnaker. Chanty definitely enjoyed the easy ride with the billowing sail. She loves to look out at the ocean waves too. We always have her harness on when she is in the cockpit during a passage as we don't want her to be another cat overboard that we have heard stories of from sad sailors.

Billowed brilliance

Are we there yet?

My chef Jordan decided it was time to bake bread once again. Then to use up excess produce, he continued with banana muffins and carrot cake. Days were a little cooler now so it wasn't too terribly dreadful to turn on the oven and the result was well worth it!

Galley goodies

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Our first planned stop on our passage from the Maldives to the Red Sea was the rarely visited large island of Socotra just off the point of Somalia and 150 miles off the Horn of Africa. On the 10th day of our journey just as we were pulling into the anchorage, Jordan suddenly jumped as he realized there was a good-sized fish on the line. Slowly reeling it in, it was indeed a 7 kg (15 lb) Yellow Fin tuna. You are always a welcomed arrival if you have fresh fish to share with the other sailors.

Yellow Fin catch

More than she can chew...

,,,and more than we can eat

We set anchor at 09:30 on February 19th (N12°41.105' E054°04.793') in an open roadstead alongside fellow sailors SV Jubilee and catamaran Lazy Jack. Rugged mountains and lofty sand dunes loomed large above us and other indigenous working vessels.

Wish we had a dune buggy!

Once again, we were required to check in with the aid of an Agent. We hailed the Russian Agent Denis on Channel 72 and were soon approached by a panga with Denis' helper Mohammed and a man from Port Control. A minimum amount of paperwork was done and a disproportionate large fee for exactly who knows what was apparently a requirement. We were at their mercy.

Mohammed was very accommodating, offering to arrange for laundry services and any sort of Island tour. Our first question was cell phone coverage with data plan to access internet. We could only get internet after 17:00 (power is off till then) at Denis' house by suing his WiFi. At this time, no SIM cards are available for the local public but may be in the future.

With daylight to spare, we headed to shore, landing on the beach in a slight surf. From there, Mohammed and the officer drove us to town about 10 km down the coast for a look around. On the way, travelling on the paved road, we noticed a fair amount of construction scattered over the rocky barren land roaming with goats. Impressive rock masonry was juxtaposed with trash, mostly of the plastic type strewn about.

Once in the dense town center, the roads became rough and much of it unpaved. Lots of pedestrians milled about or were going about their daily activities but what was conspicuous was the almost total absence of women. What ones we did see were cloaked in black berquas with only the eyes showing. It was all men and goats at about a 1:1 ratio.

When we inquired where the women were and if they were required to dress that way, we were told that they stay at home doing the domestic chores and as for berquas only of black, they apparently wish to dress that way. It was the Muslim way. Okay, enough said.

Typical Socotra street scene (copied from Google Earth)

Rather than pants, the typical dress for men is the wrap-skirt called a futa. Most wore scarf type of affair on their head that was wrapped like a loose turban when it wasn't just slung over the shoulder. Many men walked along holding hands with their buddies.

Being there at lunch hour was good timing as we wanted to sample their island cooking. Of the couple places available, we chose a wee busy rudimentary open-air concern that, judging how busy it was, suggested it was a good choice.

We were conspicuous foreigners so inquisitive eyes were on us as we plunked ourselves down on rickety benches at a rickety table that was promptly cleared for us. As the fish was sold out, Mohammed insisted on quickly fetching a Grouper from his home that he just caught for them to cook up for us.

In the meantime, friendly patrons at the next table brought over a big plate of barbecued fish filet for us to start on. Then the kitchen food just kept coming: Pepsi, bottled water, soup, large flat bread, vegetable curry dip, flavoured rice, tray of chopped up fresh vegetables, barbecued fish, and barbecued chicken for our Agent and driver.

We dined the Muslim fashion, eating without utensils using our right hands all sharing from the same dishes. What was left over, the goats, being opportunists that they are, managed to snatch a tray off the table. The proprietors didn't even shoo them away. They love their goats. When it was time to leave, we were told that it was all on the house!

On our way back to Sea Turtle, there were 2 grounded freighters, casualty of that notorious pair of cyclones a week apart that rolled right through here about 14 months ago. A salvage crew was working on 1 in an attempt to re-float it out soon. When Mohammed said he knew the Captain and we could go aboard, Jordan eagerly said yes. We clambered over the rocks and up the ladder and were welcomed by Captain and workers.

If this hulk could talk

The Captain showed us all around, through the engine room and bridge of this tired old 1980 freighter ending up in his cabin for tea and lots of conversation about plying the local pirate infested seas.

By the time we got back to the dinghy, an on-shore wind was kicking up the seas with good-sized surf crashing onto the beach. We said our thanks and goodbyes to our hosts of the day and with quick timing shoved off between breaking waves. Not wanting to do this rough beach landing again and in the dark, we reluctantly had to pass on an invite to the Agent's home planned that evening for internet.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Covert passage

We left our new-found paradise, the Island of Uligan of the northern Maldives, on February 9th at 09:00. We soon saw dolphins once again as they pranced about the bow wave. Dolphins and sea turtles have been a pleasant and common sight in the area of the Maldives.

1 of about 30 off our bow

As expected from previous weather checks, we motor-sailed in a very light breeze for the first 10 hours after which the winds filled in for a pleasant beam reach for much of the trip. We ran mostly right along our rhumb line as we made our way to Socotra Island (Yemen).

Even though the threat of piracy has been virtually wiped out, there was still a measure of trepidation for this passage. We decided to run as invisible as possible. AIS was set to receive only, no navigation lights at night, and radio contact with 2 other passage boats were made with pre-set coded references (Popeye, Brutus, Olive Oly, and Jeepster!) on pre-prescribed frequencies and times.

We usually could make regular, twice daily, HF radio contacts with cruising comrades SV Jubilee and also SV Wai-O-Tira who were ahead of us. Progress reports were exchanged giving weather conditions, traffic sightings, and fishing endeavours and pleasantries etc. We were the smallest and slowest boat by a bit so it was nice to hear what we could expect the wind conditions to be ahead.

The lazy days were punctuated with the setting of an orange sun off our bow and the rising full moon off our stern.

Rising moon

During lonely night watches, the stellar brilliance elicits quiet contemplation. The enduring celestial display above was ancient seafarers' chart plotter and we were looking at the exact scene. The Big Dipper and North Star to starboard and the Southern Cross to port.

The solitude of the passage was made more palpable with the virtual absence of sea birds and we took it as the gauge that measures sea stock. It took us days of trailing a lure before we caught a small Mahi Mahi and just in time as our processed fish supply was about to become the canned type.

However we did see a lot of flying fish, pods of dolphins (the spinner type too) that frolicked in our bow waves, and even a pod of pilot whales that crossed our stern.

Chanty and Jordan relaxing in the back yard

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Pleasant sojourn in Uligan

We take any chance we can get to snorkel reefs in clear waters so here at Uligan Island of the Maldives, we had just that. We saw lots of little fish and a Crown of Thorns, a relative of the starfish which eats away at the coral. As pretty as it is, it's considered a nuisance.

What will we see...

Coral predator

We had arranged for a fuel delivery through our Agent and it was delivered by a small boat carrying 2 large barrels of diesel. All 3 boats in the anchorage took advantage of having full tanks for our upcoming 1,900 nautical mile passages towards the Red Sea.

Delivery of fuel

We heard from our Agent that there was a 100-year-old wreck on the outer ring and the thought of a wreck dive got Jordan's attention. Surprisingly, there was dive equipment for rent in the small Uligan village and a speedboat and crew were available for hire. So 2 persons each from SV Jubilee and SV Atea and Jordan headed out (I am not a diver).

From a ways off, the wreck site was made evident in the crashing surf by the remnants of the steam engine that stood as a beacon, tall and defiant after decades of assault from the harsh elements.

Even though the seas were like glass, there was a generous swell rolling in that pestered their dive in the shallow water. Other than the motorus erectus, the large drive shaft, and prop lying exposed there was little else to see.

Motorus erectus

The health of the coral was also a disappointment but in spite of that, there was an abundance of sea life. There were various schools of fish shimmering in shades of silver and blue sashaying about and in their shadows were a motley profusion of fish of intense colours skittering about. Morays, shark, large stingrays, and even a deadly stone fish were spotted.

The highlight of the trip was on the return when the eagle-eyed speedboat captain stopped at a school of feeding manta rays. The excited divers quickly dove in with snorkels for an exhilarating encounter with these regal aquatic flyers.

Multitude of majestic mantas

And yet further along, the thrill continued as large pods of dolphins cavorted in the bow wave of their boat to top off their memorable excursion.

SV Jubilee had made arrangements through our mutual Agent for a traditional Maldivian evening dinner at a local villager's house. Escorted by our Agent, he introduced us to the shy hosts in their humble patio setting and translated and explained the spread.

The table was set with fancy porcelain dishes and delightfully fragrant frangipani blossoms were spread around. (They called the flowers by another name but we remember them as frangipani as in the South Pacific.) Jordan asked if they typically grew the trees in their yards but we were amused to find that, no, the flowers were courtesy of the dearly departed - the only frangipanis were in the cemetery!

Next to the table was a smaller table laid out with buffet-style food consisting of tuna curry, fish curry, grilled fish with a coating of unusual spices, rice, a salad made from small pieces of green leaves only grown in the Maldives, fresh papaya, and hot sweet tea. The meal was scrumptiously delicious and some went back for second or third helpings.

After dinner, we settled up our expense accounts with the Agent and he gave us our check-out documents and stamped passports. Our departure from this quiet paradise was to be the following morning.

From here we expected favourable winds to do about a pleasant 10-day passage across the Arabian Sea to an island of Yemen called Socotra and then continue up the Gulf of Aden to the entrance of the Red Sea. This crossing, up until 2 years ago, was the world's most dangerous waters where the infamous Somali pirates harvested their catch.

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.