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Cruise to the Andaman Islands

We departed Phuket on 11 February sailing for Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.  There have been several good reports from earlier cruisers on details necessary for an enjoyable cruise to the Andamans and I shall not repeat their useful information; however, I have added a section below links to those pages and some updated information regarding formalities.  

Our 400 nautical mile trip over was uneventful.  The winds were light at best, so it was a combination of sailing and motor-saililng.   The weather was great for the whole trip with a few showers but mainly sunny days and clear nights.  The stars at night were beautiful especially there was only a new moon.  

The seas heaping up due to the conflicting currents.One of the most curious things about the crossing between Thailand and the Andamans are the occasions of heaped up seas (see photo on left).  This photo was taken when there was virtually no wind.  I suspect this sea state is due to conflicting currents meeting.  There are dramatic changes in the sea depths along the way, varying from 50 meters to over 3000 meters and the changes can occur over short distances.  Fortunately we had been warned of this and were not too surprised.

Villa G is not a fast boat and we had no hurry, so it was a 4 night crossing to Port Blair the entry point to the Andamans. We arrived about 8am to a busy, but pleasant port which is a big bay protected all around.  We were directed by port radio to an anchorage area to await visits from officials.  At 2pm we were notified to come to the jetty in our dinghy and fetch the customs officials.  I brought them back to the boat and Susan served soft drinks and cachew nuts around the table in the cockpit as we went through various bits of paperwork.  They were followed by immigration officials at 3:30pm.  We still could not go ashore as we needed a visit from the Indian Coast Guard/Navy.  We got a good night's rest and the Coast Guard came to us in their own launch at 9:30am.  They too had forms to fill but mainly wanted photos which they took with a new Canon SLR digital camera.  We were then clear to go ashore and visit the Harbour Master. 

Port Blair HarbourThe first thing you notice when you go ashore in Port Blair is that all the vechicles are old.  It is like being in a movie set surrounded by vintage cars.  Vijay, the driver of an old Indian Ambassador, met us at the jetty and drove us for the day.  One of the pleasant surprises was having a meeting with the Harbour Master himself after his associates had gotten all of our paperwork sorted out.  And we were served tea too with milk and sugar!  It was a nice tea, so Susan asked the brand which was Red Label and available in the towns shops.  We brought back quite a bit of it.  Recently I noticed it is a product of Unilever.  So much for "local" products.  

We had a nice lunch overlooking the sea at the Seashell Hotel and then did shopping for fruit and veggies in the central market.  What we subsequently learned is that the market is better on Havelock Island than at Port Blair.  On Havelock a lot of the fruit and vegetables are local and fresh; whereas in Port Blair most come from India.   

The authorities only give cruising permits for 29 days, so it required us to limit our travels.  It is a pity one cannot stay for 2 months.  After our second night we  left Port Blair and headed south to some very isolated islands.  They were very beautiful and we only saw a couple of other sailing vessels and a few local fishermen in small boats.  One thing that hit me over and over again on this trip is how well India has managed to protect the environment of the Andamans.  There were no large commercial fishing vessels (in contrast to the hundreds seen daily in Thailand and Malaysia) and tourism is restricted mostly to Havelock Islands and a few un-developed islands.  As I learned in Havelock, one way they control the growth of tourism is to restrict the availability of alcohol sales licenses.  Could one imagine the amount of tourism in Thailand without the ever-present cheap booze?  

I'll forego a detailed itinerary, but do wish to hits some highlights.  Firstly, for me it was going to Havelock Island and diving.  The waters were teaming with fish.  All sorts of fish from the usual pretty colored ones to white tip sharks and giant Wrasses.  I organized four days of diving with Barefoot Scuba.  They are a large operator with a lot of staff.  Most of the dive masters are Indian and the more advanced staff are from Europe and have 10 to 15 years of experience.  I thought the best instructor was Ann Hospitale.  She was very knowledgeable, stuck to protocol yet was very practical.  Most of the dives were reef dives, but one was a night and one dive was a wreck dive on an Japanese freighter that had run aground.  The best dives were on isolated pinnacles that come up about 25 meters beneath the surface from surrounding deep water.   Barefoot also has a very nice resort on Havelock Beach 7 which reminds me of Golden Buddha Beach Resort, but with Indian food.  

Isolated Andaman Island

We had nice anchorages at Ingles Island and North Button Island.  We had these to ourselves.  What was so amazing was the clear water and cool nights.  I do wish we had been able to stay longer.  Of course with such nice waters we did a lot of snorkeling and learned better methods for getting into and out of our dinghy.  Fortunately, with these islands being un-populated Susan was able to get some practical experience cooking for us.  We had brought lamb, pork, chicken and steaks from Phuket which served her well!  

One day we did a sail out to Barren Island which is 45 nautical miles east of everything else.  Barren is an active volcano and it was the first we had seen up close.  We came back with a film of grey ash over everything.  In the photo below you can see the lava field and the volcano cone.  We saw smoke coming from the cone, but it looked pretty benign to us.  What was not benign were the seas.  As Barren Island simply pops up out of 2000 meter waters there are lots of complex currents around it.  Hence, the water was quite choppy even though we had only light wind.  

We stayed one full week at Havelock #7 beach.  This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia, if not the whole world.  The Barefoot resort is hidden behind a forest of 50 to 70 meter tall trees.  On a couple of mornings just after sunrise we saw an elephant being taken for a swim and a walk.  One can take a motorized rickshaw to Havelock Village #3 for shopping.  The market there is excellent, but it is best to come in the late afternoon after the heat moderates and all the vendors are open and have newly acquired produce.  

Our 29 day permit was up too quickly and we had to return to Port Blair to "check-out".  This is all done on land, but still requires a visit to Harbour Master, Immigration and Customs.  We shared a taxi and lunch with a charming Swiss couple, Karin and Jean-Francois Rossat of SY Intiaq.  As we wished to depart on the following morning, immigration required us to meet them on the jetty at 7am before our departure to get our passport exit stamps.  They were there and after chatting and meeting the officials families (it was a Sunday) we were off again.  

Our sail back to Thailand was most pleasant.  Again the wind was light and we mixed sailing and motorsailing.  To cut an overnight from the trip, we stopped in Thailand's Similan Islands for the last night and then day-sailed down to Nai Harn on Phuket Island.  

All in all, I must say that visiting the Andamans is a great pleasure.  The people are quite friendly and since English is widely spoken it is quite easy to get about.  This is one place where time does not more too quickly and the pace is quite relaxed.  While it is quite fashionable for cruisers to complain about the bureaucracy, it was not really so bad.  All the officials were quite polite.  Fortunately we had downloaded all the forms to fill-out and print before arrival (see how to get these below).  One has to marvel at the protected natural environment and take the opportunity to enjoy it.  There are not many of these left!

 

Information for Sailors going to the Andaman Islands

If you are comtemplating going to the Andamans I recommend starting with information assembled by Ley and Neil of SY Crystal Blues.  From there you can get links to download the necessary forms for port clearance and other important links for information.  Additional information for the Andamans has been put together by the Hacking family.  They also have a cruising guide to the Andamans, HERE.  Thus, I am only adding updated information and a few maps that we found helpful.  

Don't forget to consult your copy of the Southeast Asia Pilot.  It's info is good and the anchorages are well covered.  

There seems to be some confusion about email to the Port Blair Harbour Master.  We got an address from them while there and they do actually use it:  portblairradio at rediffmail.com  

When we met with the Indian Coast Guard they gave us email addresses and asked that we report daily at 8am.  To those addresses we added the email address of the Port Blair Radio.  Most days we did not make radio contact, but we always send emails.  On our last day in Port Blair we were told that our emails were received and appreciated.  The Coast Guard stressed to us that they were there to provide support and even rescue should that be needed.  You can set these emails addresses up in Sailmail with a template with your current location and personal details.  They like to know the number of persons on board as well as names of other boats in the anchorage.  The addresses to report to are:

pblmrccpb at sancharnet.in

mrccptb at indiancoastguard.nic.in 

portblairportradio at rediffmail.com

Phone numbers were given too:  +913192242948(fax)  +913192245530(tel)  

For local communications we found Iridium to work and when in mobile phone range used our mobile phones with Thailand sim cards.  Specifically we use AIS's One-2-Call.  Be sure to activate international roaming before leaving Thailand.  Unless one needs a lot of calling, this is probably the cheapest and certainly the easiest way to call in the Andamans.  

You can report by VHF radio at any harbour where there is a harbour master.  This means most places where the ferries go.  If you have HF (SSB) radio, they do enjoy having you report in at 8am and 5pm.  There is some conflicting information about the need to keep to the itinerary given to the officials.  It is real simple.  You do not need to do so, but you must report your real location.  They use spotter plans and helicopters and may try to contact you on VHF ch16.  Now having said that, you must not go to a marine park and actually go ashore if you have not pre-paid for that location with the Forestry Department.  There are some marine parks you should not go to at all unless pre-arranged with the Forestry Department.  Ask the Harbour Master about any marine parks you are potentially interested in going to.  He will tell you which one are permitted for anchorages without pre-arrangement and which are not.  

Unless you need something really special, getting provisions at Havelock's #3 Village is likely to be your best bet.  

Always bring copies of you Cruising Permit and Crew List when going ashore.  Copies of Passports too would make sense.  It seems that whenever policemen see a cruiser come ashore they are required to get this information and relay it to Port Blair.  I was thinking that most of this info was just going into a big hole, but one day when I came ashore at Havelock Harbour, the police wanted my Cruising Permit, Crew List and Passport numbers.  I only had the permit, but it was copied such that the permit number was not readable.  He took me to the head of police at the central station who got out a ring binder and dug through telexes until he found the one with details of our Permit.  Wow, amazing the amount of paper consume in India.  

Havelock and Port Blair are the only places where a map might be useful.  I got some tourist maps from Barefoot Resorts and they can be downloaded  HERE.

 

 

 

Travels of the crew of Villa G