1 February 2017 Chidiyatapu, Andaman Islands
We had a chill out day. My jellyfish sting is still looking angry, but it’s better than yesterday, so I nipped ashore and organised for us to go diving tomorrow morning with Lacadive.
For the rest of the day, we worked on researching the Maldives. We have various blogs and cruising notes written by other boats that have passed through the area in recent years, so we extracted information on anchorages, copying and pasting it into a summary document, which will act as our cruising guide while we are there. We also have a set of KAP charts, which are essentially Google Earth Images.
The Maldives has hundreds of small atolls and sand bars where it would be possible to anchor, but with only seven or eight weeks there, it will be hard to choose where to go.
2 February 2017 Chidiyatapu, Andaman Islands
We were up at 06:15 and loaded our gear into the dinghy to go ashore for breakfast at the Lacadive Scuba Centre. Unfortunately, there was a very low tide and it was impossible for us to get ashore, so we rang the dive shop and arranged for them to come and pick us up from Alba. We did two dives on the north coast of Rutland Island.
The first was called Suwarmundi and starts in a bay at 11°25.80N 092°41.01E. From the sandy anchorage, we headed south west to the rocky reef and then headed east to the point. There wasn’t a huge amount of coral, but there was a good variety of fish and a rocky wall where there were half a dozen Painted Lobster hiding under rocky ledges. At the end of the dive, we were led further east across sand flats where there were Garden Eels.
The second dive was called Stingray City and started off as a muck-dive under a pier at 11°27.64N 092°40.69E, where there were some interesting fish. We then headed north-east across sand flats populated with rocky outcrops, numerous old tires and Bluespotted Stingray. It was an interesting dive and we spotted a lovely little Pale Headshield Slug.
Both dives are exposed to swell and current, but you could do both dives by yourself - restrict yourself to the bay at Suwarmundi and dive under the pier - forget the sandy area. Two other dive spots in the area are the Pinnacle at 11°28.68N 092°42.21E and a Wreck at 30 metres - there’s a red mooring ball on the wreck about 150 metres to the south west of the pinnacle. Both are exposed to current, so go at low or high tide.
We had a great day out and were treated to a nice curry lunch at the dive centre. With our own equipment, it cost us 2,700 rupiah (£27) per person per dive and was well worth the money.
3 February 2017 Chidiyatapu to Port Blair, Andaman Islands
It was another early start because we wanted to head north to Port Blair against the north winds and we’ve observed that the wind picks up towards midday. It was a boring three hour passage, motoring directly into the wind and waves, but we arrived in Port Blair by 10:00 and got on with some jobs.
While Glenys did a bucket load of washing (literally) and hung it out to dry, I put 60 litres of diesel into our fuel tank from our three jerry cans. There’s nowhere to get diesel here, so jerry-jugging it is the only way to go. The Customs officer told me that it was illegal for foreigners to buy diesel from the local petrol stations, but he then told me that they turn a blind eye to “small” amounts. It’s a ridiculous situation because the Andaman’s are 300 miles from the nearest land and it’s 800 miles to Sri Lanka, so everyone needs fuel.
After lunch, we rang a local taxi driver called Vijay (tel: 993 326 1914), who speaks reasonable English and is used to running cruisers around to provision and get fuel. By one o’clock, we were in Vijay’s ancient Ambassador taxi cab and he took us around town. First stop was an ATM to get cash and then the vegetable market. Unfortunately, the Mubarad Hypermarket (which didn’t look very “Hyper”) and the alcohol store were closed for lunch (which lasts from 13:00 to 15:00), so we cut our trip short, picked up some bread, filled three jerry cans with diesel and headed back to the anchorage.
Vijay had quoted me 200 rupiah (£2) per hour, but on the way back he started to say that he had a minimum charge of 500 rupiah, which pissed me off a little - I hate it when I agree a price and then people start to wheedle a better deal. After a little friendly discussion, I agreed that I’d pay him two hours, which was fair - it would have taken us four hours to do it by ourselves.
We were back on Alba by 15:00, so while Glenys stored her provisions, I poured a further 40 litres of diesel into our fuel tanks, which are now full. With two empty jerry cans, I decided to go back ashore; grab a tuk-tuk and buy some more fuel. As I walked towards the main road, our man Vijay was cruising by, so I agreed 200 rupiah for him to take me to town and back to get diesel and stop at the alcohol shop.
There are apparently only a handful of places in Port Blair where you can buy booze and it seems to be highly regulated. Forget the nice off-licenses that we have in England, here it’s a dingy back-street place. The shop is a counter opening on to the street, which is protected by thick steel bars. There’s a crowd of men jostling for position and shouting orders through the bars, where guys that look like East-end Gangsters hand out half bottles of hard liquor to grasping hands. I was only able to buy 12 bottles of Kingfisher beer because one person can only buy 6 bottles per day (I had Vijay’s ration).
4 February 2017 Port Blair, Andaman Islands
By nine o’clock, we were handing our dinghy to the cheery Mupardee, who always seems to be hanging about the dock to make a few rupees from cruisers who happen to turn up. The sailing season in the Andaman’s is only a few months long, so I wonder what he does for the remaining nine months.
We caught a tuk-tuk to Aberdeen Jetty where the ferries depart for Ross Island. After buying a ticket for 200 Rupiah (£2) each, we were allocated to the good ship Sophia at 09:30. It was barely-controlled chaos in the waiting area on the loading dock, with hundreds of Indian tourists milling about clutching tickets. Every so often an official would call out the name of the next boat to depart and part of the crowd would surge forwards towards the barrier. Our boat was 30 minutes late, but the colourful spectacle was fun to watch.
Ross Island was the administrative centre of the British. In 1860, a penal colony was established and the land cleared by 200 convicts overseen by 50 soldiers. The colony grew in size and in its glory days, there were 500 people living on the island, with a palatial Governor’s residence; frequent garden parties and their own bakery producing European luxuries like croissants.
The Japanese captured the island in the Second World War and thereafter the buildings went into a steady state of decline. The island is now owned by the Indian Government who is maintaining the historical aspects of the island. We spent a pleasant couple of hours strolling around looking at the many old buildings, which seem to be held up by the tree roots growing all over them.
We had an excellent lunch of Butter Chicken and Vegetable Dopiaza at the New Lighthouse restaurant, which is only 200 metres from the Aberdeen Jetty (next to the small aquarium). The ground floor looks a bit functional, but there’s a lovely upstairs room, which is big enough for half a dozen tables and is a light breezy place overlooking some nice gardens.
After lunch, we strolled up to the Cellular Jail, which shows a very different side to the British in India. Despite the luxury of Ross Island, the Andaman’s was a penal colony, primarily populated by political prisoners caught rebelling against the British Empire. An official investigation into the penal colony found that the conditions were better in the Andaman Islands than in other Indian jails, so (shockingly) measures were put into place to make the conditions more arduous.
The British Government decided that solitary confinement and hard physical labour was just the ticket and specially built a huge seven wing, three story high prison called the Cellular Jail. This contained 500 individual cells where prisoners were kept in solitary confinement. In rotation, the inmates were taken to work houses where they were tasked with producing coconut oil, some spending all day pounding coconut husks while others were chained to a yoke and forced to grind the oil.
The prisoners were given impossible production targets and failure to achieve the quota inevitably led to beatings. It was a cruel place, managed by vicious people. Many inmates went on hunger strike and are regarded as martyrs by the Indian people - they were basically Freedom Fighters against the oppressive British rule. It’s a sobering place.
After having a large lunch, we always have the dilemma of what to eat in the evening. Our predicament was solved tonight by Glenys suggesting bacon butties - she has bacon? Bring it on! What a perfect day, Indian Curry for lunch then Bacon, Tomato and Brown Sauce butties for dinner.
5 February 2017 Port Blair to Havelock Beach #7, Andaman Islands
We were up early again - faced with another 20 mile upwind bash. When we were ready to leave, I called Port Control (with some trepidation) and sure enough, there was confusion about clearance papers. They kept us hanging about for fifteen minutes while they checked their records and allowed us to leave port - I’m not looking forward to the clearing out process.
The wind was lighter than expected and we were able to sail for a couple of hours out of the four hour trip to Beach#7, Havelock Island. We anchored in 11 metres of water at 11°58.89N 092°56.88E on nice firm sand. The anchorage is lovely, with a long white sand beach and well protected from the prevailing north-east winds.
In the afternoon, we tried the snorkelling on the headland to the west of the anchorage. The water was fairly clear, but there was hardly any coral and the sea-life was uninteresting. We looked in a few different places, but the reef is mostly rock. Glenys was feeling a little nervous because she’s read that an American tourist was killed by a crocodile on this beach only five years ago, so we soon gave up on the snorkelling.
In the evening, we were invited by Peter and Lynne for sun-downers on “Sun Chaser”. It looks like we are the only two cruising boats in the Andaman Islands at the moment.
6 February 2017 Beach #7, Havelock, Andaman Islands
After a lazy start, we took the dinghy ashore. There’s a persistent swell coming into the bay, which doesn’t make Alba roll, but causes breaking waves on the beach, so we had to carefully time our approach, darting in between the big waves. We managed to pull it off with both of us remaining fairly dry.
We strolled along a path in the pleasant shaded area behind the tree line and onto the main road leading from the beach, where there are small restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. About 400 metres along the road, we found a small place renting motorbikes for 400 rupees per day plus 100 rupees for a litre of petrol.
The road is in very poor condition and it took us 20 minutes to drive the five miles into main town of Laccam, which is spread out along a good condition road. There’s a vegetable market and small supermarket next to the central roundabout; turning west took us down to the main ferry dock; and turning east took us past scores of small hotels and diving shops. We called in at Barefoot Divers, who are supposed to have the best boats and equipment - we’ve arranged to go on a two-tank dive trip on the 8th.
We had lunch at Barefoot Bayside Brasserie, which is next to the Ferry port. They couldn’t provide many of the items on the menu and the curry that we had was bland and uninspiring - one to cross off the list. There wasn’t much else to do or see in town, so we jumped back on the bike and headed back. About a mile from Beach #7, we stopped off at the trailhead for Elephant Beach.
It’s a very nice 2 kilometre walk through rain forest down to the beach, where the snorkelling is supposed to be very good. There were huge patches of mud despite there being no rain for weeks, so I guess that it would be treacherous after rain. The tourist blurb warns of leeches and “reptiles” after heavy rain. I’m guessing that by “reptiles” they mean snakes - we read in the local paper that a man in Port Blair had discovered a King Cobra in his house…
The beach used to be frequented by wild elephants, but alas they are no more. However, we did see plenty of elephant tracks in the mud, so I guess that someone must bring elephants down the trail. There were jet skis whizzing about, so we didn’t bother to go to the commercial “Elephant Beach”, we stared at the blue sea for a minute; scurried back to the shade of the forest and walked back to the motorbike.
Back at Beach #7, we couldn’t resist buying a couple of samosas for our evening meal (despite eating huge curry for lunch). Worryingly, the breaking waves seemed to be a little larger than in the morning, but we managed to launch the dinghy without being flipped over.
7 February 2017 Beach #7 to Beach#3, Laccam , Andaman Islands
First thing in the morning, we did a few chores, including running the water-maker to top up our tanks and then motored around to Laccam Harbour. We asked Havelock Port Control for permission to anchor to the east of the ferry terminal and then looked for a place close to Beach#3, which is where Barefoot Divers are based. Our initial attempt was close to a reef at 12°02.167N 093°00.053E in 8m, but the anchor dragged, rumbling away over what I assume was coral rubble.
The water visibility was only about 5 metres, so we couldn’t see the bottom, so we just headed a little further away from the reef and anchored at 12°02.229N 092°59.944E in 11.5 metres. The anchor seemed to hold well with no ominous rumbling noises. I snorkelled down to check the anchor and found it was buried deep into nice white sand, so that’s good enough for me. We’re rather exposed, but should get some protection from the reef to the east of us. It’s fine in these very settled conditions, but in strong winds it would be bouncy. The good news is that we’re only about 500 metres away from Barefoot Divers.
After lunch, we went snorkelling on a reef at 12°02.096N 093°00.392E. There’s a mooring on the point of the reef and it’s one of the better places that we’ve snorkelled in the Anambas with at least some coral. Unfortunately, the visibility was poor - we went at low tide, so I’m not sure if that was a contributory factor.
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