Underwater World

…as seen through the lens of Pipistrelle’s snorkelling team!

Progressing south through the azure blue atolls we have captured more wonderfully colourful marine life.  While most can be identified through our own knowledge and by referring to books we have on board, we rely on external input from our friend and expert, Oliver Straub for correction and 100% accuracy. Watch this space!

The many feather tailed sting rays, bright purple crown of thorns, a few reef sharks, ebony and picasso triggerfish have all been so-called ‘Kodak moments’ but have escaped the click of the underwater camera.

On the same theme, enthralling are the amusingly acrobatic performances provided by hundreds of schools of dolphins.  Sometimes they are curious about Pipistrelle’s black hull and come close by. Generally though they are unfazed and more interested in showing off!   Captured on camera in mid-flight before diving again …

View from the masthead – Sage and Silver Girl below anchored between coral heads (the dark patches!) that provide great snorkelling.

Though diving has eluded us for most of our time in the atolls, we did have one golden opportunity thanks to other yachts we caught up with along the way.  With apologies to our readers who may not be quite as inspired by the deep as we are, here are more underwater shots …

We are now in the Southern Hemisphere, anchored safely in Gan on Addu Atoll, having paid our respects to Neptune the other night when crossing the Equator! More to follow soon.

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Uppermost in our minds over the past few days as we cruise through the beautiful atolls of The Maldives, is that picturesque island chain of Vanuatu which has very sadly been devastated by Cyclone Pam.  We were fortunate enough to spend a month there on Pipistrelle in June 2013.

Our thoughts are very much with the friendly islanders, and those not only  in Port Vila on Efate, but the thousands who live a very simple existence on less populated and accessible islands. Their villages are simple, and for us Westerners, very humbling; they are generous; they smile and we have fond and lasting memories of our time there.

Starting in Anatom in the south, we sailed to Tanna, then to Port Vila and left to sail onwards in Espiritu Santo.

To read about how we found it then, just click on ‘A Month in Vanuatu‘ and ‘Postscript to Vanuatu‘.

We sincerely hope that casualties have been kept to a minimum, and that international aid can help the population rebuild its life within a relatively short period of time.

Island Children

Island Children

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Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives

Who could resist diving from Pipistrelle into the tempting crystal clear waters of these islands?

So we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here, and publishing this post out of sequence.  This is because it is delightful to be back in the aquarium after such a seemingly long but fascinating stint of admiring the different cultures of South East Asia albeit without such beautiful underwater opportunities.

A particularly magical anchorage called Rasfushi is within a coral reef at 06.42.82N and 72.55.37E.  We have spent the last two nights here exploring the reef either direct from Pipistrelle or taking the dinghy and tying up to one of the strategically placed mooring buoys.  Apart from a fishing boat, we were the only other vessel here.  The snorkelling is fantastic, in fact the best we have had since Labuanbajo, Indonesia (click on link to see ‘Diving and Dragons‘ in 2013)!  A great way to cool off in the heat of the day – and it is HOT!

Here some below the water line shots.

Following shortly will be a summary of how we reached the Maldives – our passage from Trincomalee in Sri Lanka to Uligan, the northernmost island in the chain where we cleared in to the country.

Our travels up country in Sri Lanka are still pending publication and will appear on your screens in the next few days.

A Tale of Two Ancient Cities, ‘Up Country in Kandy’, A Great Train Ride are all  just published!

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The Slowest Passage Ever!

Pipistrelle sails from Sri Lanka to The Maldives

The passage south from Trincomalee along the east coast of Sri Lanka is best undertaken with northerly winds, as a northerly flowing current of up to 2.2 knots was running when we left on 28th February.  No such luck – yes, we had the adverse current, but no, we did not have northerly winds!  The breeze we did have was light, and came from the south east!!!

Consequently our first 24 hour run was the sum total of SEVENTY-FOUR miles.

Once we had rounded the south of the island and were heading west, we had up to 5 knots of current with us, and this eased to 2 knots for the remainder of the passage to Uligan, the northern Maldives.  But the light winds continued with no more than 13kn for the entire trip.  We poled out, poled in, tried twin headsails, and reefed the main to prevent flogging (therefore noise!).  Alas, the iron headsail came into its own for SIXTY-THREE long hours.  No need to gloat any more about our 2 hours of motoring on the previous passage.

Compensations were hooking a reasonable sized mahi mahi, our first in a long while.  Though electric storms were about, and the sky looked threatening at times, it only rained for about 30 minutes during whole trip.

Finally we anchored off the small island of Uligan at 8.30 am on Saturday, 7th March, 7 days and just short of 700 nm after leaving Trinco.

A further noteworthy Pipistrelle statistic – during this passage we overtook our total 2014 mileage of 1,200nm!

How beautiful this is with its lovely sheltered anchorage.  Here a panoramic view looking aft from Pipistrelle.

Asad, our agent duly arrived by launch accompanied by officials to enable us to clear in, including Customs and Immigration.  The Health man was absent – he was off sick!  We were bowled over by our welcome which was refreshingly friendly  and all formalities were completed without fuss.  Assad even brought us a gift – a freezing cold tub of ice cream!

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Lasting Impressions

From Nuwara Eliya we took the train back down to Kandy where we stayed at the Kandy Hills Resort again before being collected there by Sanju for the drive to Pipistrelle and Trincomalee.

So what were our impressions of ‘Trinco’?

Firstly, it was an interesting and worthwhile choice of anchorage for our three week stay in Sri Lanka.  The alternative was Galle, in the south of the country, but past and current reports are not good, with poor moorings in a busy commercial harbour, where your boat is likely to be covered with cement dust from unloading ships.

2015 is the first time this huge natural harbour (one of the largest in the world) has been open to sailing yachts since the Tamil Civil War, and we were the 6th yacht to arrive.  Last year just one sailing vessel put in there in an emergency situation.  Consequently, no thought or planning had been given to the unfamiliar needs of yachts, and as the harbour is under military control, some aspects of life were not easy.  When we first cleared in Pipistrelle’s hull was checked by naval divers for explosives and our 48 ft. vessel was being treated like a ship of 500 ft. with accompanying restrictions!  For example the port authorities wanted to levy a fee for fuel and potable water deliveries to the quay.  After a meeting between various officials, our agents, GAC, and Behan and Jamie from Totem representing the yachts at anchor, the subtle differences between a small yacht and a large vessel were acknowledged and many of the restrictions were lifted.  These steps will certainly help those sailors who follow in our wake in future and make Trincomalee a destination of choice.

To help with orientation ashore, Connie and Tony from Sage, another Wauquiez, had produced a laminated map of the town, and arranged for rubbish to be collected on a weekly basis (there are no facilities within the harbour limits or in evidence in the town).

For more about Trincomalee formalities see the recent post on Noonsite at www.noonsite.com with the link to Totem’s informative blog on the subject.

There is a regular train service to Colombo.  First class on the overnight sleeper is cheap and public buses go to many destinations across the country.  The town itself appears poor, but most provisions can be bought here for prices on a par with the UK.  Food City, part of the Cargill’s chain, is the best local supermarket; there are various shops and stalls selling an extensive range of produce, as well as the daily open market; hardware shops, chemists, bakeries, phone shops, tailors, laundries, the post office and so on all exist even though they may take a little effort to find!

As mentioned above, we used the services of Colombo based GAC, to act as our agent, and their local man is Ravi.  He did his best to act as an intermediary between us and the authorities in the face of adversity, but we understand he is expensive for arranging other matters, like laundry or tours, and would advise opting for Sanju instead.  See Sanju Tours.  

Whilst we explored Trinco to a certain extent while Chris and Sophie were travelling, they came back from their week away, we celebrated Chris’ birthday together, left them in charge of Pipistrelle and off we went.  They certainly got to know the vicinity extremely well and maximised their time visiting various attractions such as the Naval Museum, going for a boat trip across the harbour, Uppuveli & Nilaveli beaches, Dutch Bay, Fort Frederick  … so a thumbs up from them!

With Pipistrelle ‘provisioned up’ and nearly ready for sea again, on our last full day we had a few hours to spare so went for lunch at the nearby JKAB Park Hotel and used their sizeable, clean swimming pool to cool off and relax.

To sum up, Trincomalee has a lot to offer.  We are happy to have made its acquaintance!

Equally, we thoroughly enjoyed our brief travels inland from here.  The Sri Lankans are charming, helpful, friendly folk though with some notable exceptions their driving is terrifying!

See A Tale of Two Ancient Cities,  ‘Up Country’ in Kandy, A Great Train Ride, A Nice Cup of Tea and World’s End.

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World’s End

At the unsociable hour of 05.30 we were collected from our hotel for the drive to the Horton Plains National Park, a high plateau and the World’s End Walk where the plateau stops abruptly.  Clouds can roll in from 10.00 and at a height of 2,000m, views are obliterated.  We had bought entrance tickets (US$20 each), eaten our packed ‘breakfast’ and were walking by 07.30.  It was still very cold and fellow hikers were wrapped up in hats, gloves, thick anoraks etc.  Just like being at home at this time of year with mists and heavy dew.

The hike is a circular 9km and was busy with walkers, the more so later in the day especially as many Chinese tourists were on holiday celebrating their New Year.  World’s End is a 780 metre sheer cliff, offering spectacular views and on a really clear day it is possible to see the sea – we didn’t, even though we were blessed with cloudless skies.

By 8.30 we were thankfully warming up and in T-shirts and walking our way to Mini World’s End with its look out point and on to World’s End proper where we admired the undeniably breathtaking scenery from the viewing platform. But unfortunately the idyll was shattered in seconds.  Having moved away from the unfenced edge to go and sit on some rocks, we heard female screams, as a young Dutchman on honeymoon fell over the edge.  A bush broke his fall about 50-60 metres down, and he could be heard by his distraught wife and friends, but could not be seen.  We were obviously extremely relieved to learn later that evening he held on for the next 3.5 hours until he was finally rescued by the army and helicopter.    A very lucky man indeed, and the first person to survive such a fall there.  The incident was widely reported in the international media at the time.

In reflective mood we continued our walk looping back across the plain to Baker’s Falls, and then to our driver and van to take us back to Nuwara Eliya in time for lunch.

The Verdict: good exercise and spectacular views in clear air and sunshine.

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A Nice Cup of Tea!

What was it to be? Premium quality silver tip – green leaf – orange pekoe – broken orange pekoe (BOP) – broken orange pekoe fannings (BOPF)?  Or just simply ‘dust’, available in three different grades?

A cup of afternoon tea was definitely high on the agenda, having just travelled for 5 hours on the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.  After a quick snack at Mount View Cottage we set off with our driver for the Mackwoods Tea Plantation, which is geared up for visitors to watch the tea manufacturing process and enjoy a cuppa in their lovely old café.

Mackwoods is one of the largest plantations, employing over 1,000 staff.  We saw pluckers outside, watched leaves being withered and rolled in the factory to start fermentation, then dried using heat and graded before finally being packed in bags or tea chests for transportation to Colombo and the tea auction house there.  It is then distributed across the world.  Though the British began the industry in the 1870’s, interestingly the Middle East is the biggest export market today, followed by North Africa.

In this region the scenery is spectacular in its own way, as manicured tea bushes grow wherever possible, covering total hillsides and valleys in varying shades of green.  No wonder, because the warm climate, altitude and sloping landscape are ideal for growth and make Sri Lanka the world’s 4th largest producer.  A plucker’s objective is to pick by hand between 20 and 30 kg (that’s 44 to 66 lbs) a DAY and the whole process from picking to bagging for shipment takes just 24 hours.  Some statistic!  But remuneration is a pittance, the labour Tamils, originally brought over from India who live in basic huts called linehouses.

Nuwara Eliya became a singularly British creation, having been ‘discovered’ by John Davy in 1819, and subsequently became known as a place where English fruit and vegetables could be grown.  Coffee was one of the first crops grown here, but after its failure due to disease in the early 19th century, the colonists switched to tea, and the town quickly found itself becoming the Hill Country’s tea capital, a title still proudly borne, though we understand all plantations are now owned by Sri Lankan people.

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