Tuesday, 12 February 2008

An Island Holiday With Tui Tai, Plus Rickie & Steve Of Course ...

January 26 is Australia Day back home. Here in the Andaman Islands it is most definitely Indian Independence Day. However even that very important day is somewhat masked by the most important event of all - the Australia Day Cricket Test ! The Andaman people are Indian to the core, and cricket is their second religion. Ancient radios oozed cricket commentaries in every little market stall. People eat, sleep, gamble and live cricket. They absolutely worship Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. For the first time in my life I regretted not playing more cricket at school .... no, I couldn't discuss the batting performance of the various team members, the speed of fast bowlers, the results of the first test or anything else truly cricket. Which of course confused the locals - wasn't I an Aussie ? So we pretended to know more than we did, and watched local folks playing on parched wickets, with village teams in perfect whites, but only one bat between them all. Welcome to India.

Cruising In Company

We joined sailing buddies, Jon and Sandra Stonham, with their children Alex and Niki, on SV Tui Tai for our Andaman adventure. The two boats are well matched performance wise, and with flat seas and a 15 knot breeze just forward of the beam, we covered the 392 nm in two and a half days. The moonless nights were brightly lit by star light and the bio-luminescence in the sea.
The only down side of this passage was the failure of our water maker, which blew a seal. Cruising without a plentiful water supply was a new experience for us - fortunately Tui Tai was able to make enough for us all.

Paper Work and Procedures

Port Blair, the Andaman Islands capital, is steeped in British tradition, and the clearance procedures are a lengthy experience. Customs, Immigration, Coast Guard, Harbour Master and the Forestry Department all require written requests before providing formal written approvals. Detailed itineraries need to be planned and submitted, and twice daily radio check-ins ensure that the authorities know where we are at all times. It took us two days to clear in, including arranging with the Harbour Master to take on water at the commercial dock. Port Blair water is not potable, but is fine for washing and showering. Clearance requires lots of paperwork - we will add the full range of forms to the down-load section of this website over coming days.

Samosas, Saris and Shopping

Transport on the island is by local bus, taxi or the more popular three wheel, motor powered tri-shaws. Horns tooting, Indian music, overtaking and threading your way through the wandering herds of cows and goats, buses and cars, motorbikes and pedestrians, makes for an exciting ride. The brilliant colours and sounds of Indian life surprise you at every turn. Women in beautiful saris gracefully parade by. Smiling faces, friendly welcomes, and well stocked markets made provisioning a fun experience. The food is sensational, and Port Blair is hard to leave.

On the sail over we (Crystal Blues) lost two beautiful Mahi Mahi right off the stern - lack of practice on our part ! Fortunately for us, Jon Stonham, aka the Man with the Golden Rod, managed to bring home a wonderful selection of reef fish. We dined high on the bountiful sea.
We caught squid when at anchor, getting ink all over us and the boat. Crystal Blues seemed to specialise in catching large fish that were poor eating - Dog Tooth Tuna and Barracuda. Jon caught Polkadot Cod, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Rainbow Runner, Yellow Fin Tuna and King Trevally.

Our Favourite Andaman Anchorages

Isolation, drift diving over coral gardens, fishing at sunset, sandy beaches, gin-clear waters, friendly villages, cool nights, good sailing winds, water temperature 28deg - what more could a cruiser ask for?

We specially enjoyed isolated Rutland Island latitude 11deg 21N, longitude 92deg 39E. Most mornings we discovered fresh turtle tracks on the beach, for it was egg laying season. Each evening we'd be out in the dinghy trawling along the reef for dinner. We made day sails from here to isolated reefs where we swam with schools of large Double Headed Parrot fish, Moray Eels, crayfish hiding in rocks and millions of beautiful reef fish.

Havelock Island, beach #7, latitude 11deg 58N, longitude 92deg 57E was also a favourite. Three elephants walk briskly along the white sandy beach most days, the females occasionally splashing in the shallows, then head into the trees for their daily watering. The bull elephant stopped at the local spa and was fondly bathed by his two faithful mahouts. Ashore we discovered a great Italian restaurant. We have never seen so many hippies, some young, some not so young, but all fairly affluent. Fortunately tourism here is low key, back-packer based and easy on the pocket. The local market town on Havelock Island is a delightful experience. We brought dozens of ginger spiced samosas, enjoyed a glass of chai and stocked up on freshly grown produce picked at local market gardens that afternoon. Ley visited a local primary school, accompanied by a gaggle of dark-eyed giggling girls. She left a welcoming message on the chalk board for the teacher, who was at lunch ...

There Are Some Challenges

Havelock #7 beach often has great waves, just perfect for boogie boarding and body surfing. We swam most days, catching a few waves and chilling out before the late afternoon fishing. However arriving by dinghy on this beach was often challenging. Stripping off to minimum clothes became the norm, pull the dinghy up above the high tide mark, get dressed, spray on lotion to ward off the sand flies and only then relax! It is still our favourite anchorage.

At Inglis Island you can anchor in a stunning passage between two islands, inspect the reef by dinghy, trawling a lure as you go, catch a Polkadot Cod, oohing and ahing over the underwater delights. We were all looking forward to a beach walk and drift dive the next day. And then we spy a crocodile! Inglis Island, latitude 12deg 08n, longitude 93deg 06E, so beautiful, so dangerous.

The biggest challenge is dragging yourself away... unfortunately, visitors to the Andamans are only allowed 30 days. We had a fabulous time exploring with the Stonham family. It was a real holiday among gracious people, and we hope to return some time.

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