First Impressions

Trincomalee is a huge natural harbour on the north east coast of Sri Lanka, providing protection from prevailing winds.

While Chris and Sophie have gone off travelling further afield on the island, we have stayed on Pipistrelle and explored parts of the town. Here are first photo impressions of Trinco shoreside:



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Double Celebration!

Yes, we made it yesterday 8th February and anchored at Town Bay, Trincomalee in the afternoon after completing clearing in formalities. The first good reason to celebrate after a week at sea!

The second was to celebrate Bob’s birthday, which we did with present opening in the morning while still underway, cake (with flickering candle) in the afternoon, then bubbly on board prior to a meal ashore at The Dutch Bank Café in the evening with decent candles decorating a cake magically produced by the waiters.

The whole passage covered just over 1,000 nm – well, 1,018 to be precise – which we did in 7 days, with 178 nm the best 24 hour run. We used 2 (yes – TWO) engine hours, and ran the generator for 19.

By the way, that fish … it got away, swallowing lure and trace in the process. Seeing it jumping in the distance, it could have been tuna and was definitely over a metre long.

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Pancakes at Sea!

With ‘just’ 300 miles of the total passage of just over 1000 nm to run, we’ve started the countdown to landfall – hopefully in two days time.

Averaging 6.5 kn and sailing under main to port and poled out genoa to starboard, the first reef has been shaken out this afternoon and Pipistrelle’s ‘go faster’ stripes revealed. We need to maintain the 24 hour runs of 160 nm of each of the last three days to keep up momentum. The first couple of days of 110 nm and 120 nm were damp squibs for us.

So far the most wind we’ve seen was a few gusts of 23 kn in 1.5 m seas and a few drops of rain. All reasonably comfortable, so much so that Sophie produced pancakes for breakfast – a challenge to Chris’ scrambled eggs and bacon the day before.

With freezer contents diminishing as we progress, there’s room now for fish. So the fishing line is out to meet requests for mahi-mahi or tuna – we’ll see.

And finally a little puzzle: What sits in a corner, yet goes around the world?

(Answers by email to the normal addresses please)

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Anchors Away!

Finally on passage from Phuket to Sri Lanka, we set off from the lovely anchorage at Koh Kala (and the Nikki Beach Resort) on Sunday, 1st Feb. Not bad to begin a new month at sea with a waxing moon to light our way at night and brilliant daytime sunshine powering the new solar panels.

But progress was slow and wallowy to start, with Pipistrelle making 4 kn, even running under twin headsails.

Yesterday, 3rd Feb, with about 20 kn wind, Pipistrelle came into her own; poles down, beam reach and we were sailing at 8 kn!

Early this morning we sailed through the ‘Ten Degree Channel’ between the Nicobar Islands to the south and Andamans to the north. That waypoint marked 340 nm.

As always, it take three days to settle into passage mode and with Chris and Sophie on board along with a cunning watch regime, we’re all getting heaps of sleep, time off and help from two expert sailors.

All is well on board!

Follow our daily positions by clicking on the ‘Where Are We Now’ page.

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Refit at Yacht Haven Phuket  – Phase 2

That end-of-year project announced in an earlier blog article arrives!

To recap, in April last year we used Marly of Yachts Repair in Yacht Haven Phuket to strip and revarnish the cabin soles in the saloon and galley, which were showing their age.  That part of the story has already been covered in the blog article Refit at Yacht Haven Phuket.

Teak decks are well past their prime after 14 years, having spent most of their life in the tropics, and also having had big seas crashing over them during numerous ocean passages.

We were so impressed with Yachts Repair’s approach, workmanship and attention to detail, we decided to bite the (££) bullet and ask Marly to replace the teak decks from the cockpit forwards.  He estimated work could be completed in approximately 5 weeks, and suggested it would definitely be better for us not to be living on board during that time.  A good excuse for some land travel.  (See the blogs on Myanmar and Indochina.)

So on 2nd December we left Pipistrelle in the capable hands of Marly’s team who were already hard at work, with a couple of sets of friends kindly offering to keep an eye on things whilst we were away.  Marly also sent us frequent emails and photos – the bare GRP; the tent like structure covering fore and side decks; and new deck planking etc. as the project progressed.

Gluttons for punishment, we had also commissioned more revarnishing below decks in our absence and on returning from our travels on 2nd January after four weeks away found that living on board immediately was not a viable option.  The final, final coats had not been applied and the team was still very busy completing the decks.  So the easy solution was to decamp to an air conditioned room/studio at Chamil Tours just outside the marina until work was complete.

Meanwhile Chris and Sophie arrived from the UK to join us and after an initial few days’ relaxation at Patong Bay, helped us greatly in commissioning Pipistrelle and provisioning for the trip.

On 22nd January with Pipistrelle spick and span, we finally slipped our mooring  lines and left Yacht Haven for the next stage of our journey.  We have been filled with admiration for the professionalism of Yachts Repair, under the leadership of Marly.  Nothing is too much trouble.  If it is not right, it is fixed, all with a big Marly smile!  The cost of the work in our view is very good value.  We found we had in fact hired a cabinet maker, whose expertise is in restoring boats to their former glory.  Pipistrelle’s new decks look fantastic, and even Superyacht managers were admiring the quality of the work, and asking Marly for quotes.

Before we left, we invited the team to a small pontoon party to thank them for their hard work.  We will never forget these people; most of them are craftsmen and all were a joy to have on board!

Other experts in their field were Graeme from Stem to Stern, an engineering company.  Graeme had helped us in March during routine maintenance, but when we returned in November we knew we had a problem with the Lewmar deck winch, used to haul the main and the headsails aloft, as well as hoisting Bob aloft in the Bosun’s chair for mast and rig checks.  As well as most of the other deck fittings, Marly wanted the Lewmar winch removed, and apart from finding that the electric motor was filled with gearbox oil, the key in the shaft had corroded as well, preventing separation of the gearbox from the winch.  Certainly not the best advertisement for Lewmar.  But Graeme solved the problem.  It took much head scratching initially to find a solution to remove the gearbox, followed by 2 days implementing it using tools he had made himself especially for the job!

Somsak of AEM Electrical Engineering provided and installed our solar panels, and again came up with ingenious solutions to several electronic issues.  One of these was installing cabling and a switch on the chart table to enable the engine room fans to run even after the engine has been turned off, thus reducing the engine room temperature to an acceptable level without having to wedge the door open and let the heat escape into the saloon.

Finally we returned to the Rolly Tasker sail loft – the largest in the world – to have our staysail checked for the Indian Ocean passage, a couple of small rigging repairs done, and two replacements cut for running rigging – staysail sheet and spinnaker halyard.  David now runs the rigging department and could not have been more helpful.  Service with a smile and everything expertly done at Rolly Tasker!

See also our Customer Service page for further contact details.

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New Year in Luang Prabang

Later that same morning we took an interesting flight northwest from Vientiane across lakes and mountain ranges to Luang Prabang, to land 700m above sea level beside … yes you’ve guessed … the mighty Mekong River!  This 2nd largest city in Laos is on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong, another UNESCO world heritage site with a population of about 15,000 – not including tourists of course.  This is where hundreds of monks live in different monasteries and pagodas.  It is also the last seat of the Laotian monarchy, abolished in 1975.

We stayed at the very friendly and comfortable Villa Chitdara, owned and run by a charming Lao couple who had lived in France for over two decades and returned to their homeland three years ago.  Being New Year’s Eve we found we had to book a table for dinner (not as easy as it sounds even in Luang Prabang but we eventually managed a reservation!).  We would not have gone hungry though because lunch in the open at the Three Nagas restaurant was quite a feast.  Batteries recharged we set off to the Wat Mai Temple with its carved gilded facade.

Later we climbed 300 odd steps up Phou Si Hill where visitors were thronging around the That Chomsi Temple for sunset.  With good views of the town, the river and surrounding mountains, we did not stay to watch the sun go down; there was too much cloud forming and perhaps we’re becoming just a little selective about what we consider to be a stunning sunset!

What we did capture in a golden light was the former Royal Palace with its ornate exterior and at dusk the Wat Xieng Thong.

Our hosts at the hotel had laid on celebratory New Year’s Eve drinks and canapés, and having met a very pleasant German couple (Elaine was in her element) we spent our New Year’s Eve together, before returning to the hotel just before midnight.

New Year’s Day found us stopping off at the National Museum to start with.  Highlights were an extremely clever portrait by a Russian painter of the former king, whose eyes and feet pointed at you wherever you stood.  Unfortunately photographs were not allowed in the extravagantly furnished interior.  There was also some lunar rock on display, donated by Richard Nixon to the Laos people in 1970 after the first landing on the moon.

Then we joined a very pleasant and comfortable boat for a day trip up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves.  There are two caves, both filled with buddhas and rather reminiscent of Pindaya in Myanmar, though not as impressive in our view.  But at least we got some good exercise climbing to the higher of the two caves.

After lunch on a restaurant boat it was a pleasant journey down stream, with the skipper weaving a serpent like course to avoid rocks, rapids, whirlpools with few channel marks.  He clearly knew the waters well and we felt quite relaxed on his pretty boat.

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Landlocked Laos

Our tour took us on to Laos, another communist country, with a population of 7 million, of whom 200,000 live in Vientiane, and 70,000 in Luang Prabang. Over 70% of the landlocked country is mountainous, originally ruled by the French, with a Laotian Royal family.  80% of the population still lives in villages.  In 1959 the communists took control of the country removing the Crown Prince and his family for “re-education”; they were never seen again.

We flew to the capital, Vientiane, and stayed for one night at the comfortable Orchid Hotel, very close to the Mekong River and a night market.  What a change from Cambodia and Vietnam; nobody bothered us trying to sell their wares, no begging, no plastic and other rubbish on the streets!

Short of time here, we managed a morning’s sightseeing taking in the Temple at Wat That Luang Tai, the most important monument in Laos. Then our driver and guide took us on to Patuxay, built in 1969 by the French in the style of the Arc de Triomphe with an Indochinese flair.   Strangely, ti is made of concrete using materials originally intended for an airport to be built by the Americans.  From the top is an interesting view over the city – not exactly the Champs Elysée though!

At the end of this road are two temples, Wat Sisaket, the oldest Buddhist temple in Vientiane, and Phra Keo, where the Emerald Buddha used to be found.   The original was reclaimed by the Siamese in the late 18th Century and is now in Bangkok, Thailand.  Nearby is the Presidential Palace that is not open to visitors.

Wat Sisaket:

Phra Keo:

Our whistlestop tour was well worthwhile, and we wished we could have spent more time here, in the relaxed atmosphere of an emerging modern capital.

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