Saturday, 11 May 2019

Circumnavigation completed!

Since we launched Calliope seven years ago we've never used our foghorn, but we thought marking our circumnavigation with a noisy entrance to the bay off Kaś was in order, so we blared our way over our previous most easterly track before tucking into a narrow berth in the town harbour. (We wouldn't discover until three days later that we'd hooked our anchor round a huge rope on the sea bed, but that's another story). Much celebrating, particularly as it was Nicky's birthday too and we still had Tiggy, James and Calum from Miss Tiggy to join in the festivities.

So how does it feel? And what next? Has the sailing changed you? And where were your favourite places on this two and a half year round the world trip? Those are the questions people ask and the ones we wonder about ourselves.

Of course it feels great to have completed the circumnavigation. We are proud of what we've achieved and grateful to everyone who's been a part of the adventure - fellow crew members, our Oyster World Rally 'family" and our supporters back home. It's a huge undertaking but mostly it's been a case of taking one day at a time - some days much more eventful than others - and appreciating the huge variety of places and people we've been lucky enough to experience and encounter. But it also feels sad to have ticked off this goal we've been working towards for so long, and heart wrenching to leave our beautiful, strong and trustworthy Calliope behind as we fly home. There will be many more adventures but it's going to be hard to top this epic. We have made a whole new set of friends-for-life with similar interests. That is a real highlight.

What next is a thorny question and we know we're not the only ones wondering whether and how to return to our 'normal' lives. We set off thinking we would develop our thinking, but we haven't made much progress in common with many others of our friends on the OWR. The UK and the US have Brexit and Trump, both issues as intractable as the other!

Have we changed? Quite apart from all the experiences we've had and the new places we've visited, we have acquired new skills. Charles knows his way around the workings of the boat like a pro, Nicky can locate and start/stop lots of mechanical bits (but please don't ask her to take them apart). Weather planning and navigation have remained Charles's domain, while Nicky has learnt to plan meals for say, 6 people for 19 days, shop, cook and fill a freezer with minimal packaging waste. Very useful for long passages, perhaps less so when there's Waitrose just up the road! Perhaps more interestingly, we have practised the skills of tolerance, kindness and teamwork. There's just no space on a boat for grumpiness, grudges or grumbling. When everyone is under stress, you learn to act for the common good, rather than imposing your own feelings. We have become more self-sufficient and less afraid of fixing things, because, if it's just you there, you have to get on with it.

And so to favourite places (and those we'd rather not return to): it's so hard to choose. Some were geographically stunning (The Tuamotus, the South Pacific, New Zealand, Indonesia). Some were gloriously developed, with shopping and spa opportunities. Others were basic: the poorest place we visited was Suakin in Sudan; but it is always fascinating to shop in a local market and buy what is available.

Wherever possible, we visited schools and held eye clinics and those activities, which took us beyond being visitors and allowed us to meet local people, however briefly, Those stand out as favourite locations. Wonderful people: the mayor in Maupiti, gathering locals for eye testing by bicycle; the tea pickers in the highlands of Sri Lanka; the church choirs and dancers of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands; enthusiastic schoolchildren in New Caledonia, Tonga, Niue and Myanmar; entrepreneurial Indonesians, taking us on dangerous drives to remote, unvisited places; or the islanders of Fiji, surely the happiest, smiliest people in the world. The diving (to which Nicky is a recent convert) was astonishing in Fakarava South, Alor, Raja Ampat and Bonaire. Swimming with turtles and rays, snorkelling with humpback whales in Tonga. Out of the water, unbelievable animals: Komodo dragons, elephants in Sri Lanka, Galapagos boobies and tortoises, close encounters with kangaroos on Australian roads. And fabulous birds - fantails in NZ, tree-nesting peacocks, curious cockatoos, not to mention the ever-present 'alarm clock' cockerels of French Polynesia.

Even the places where our experiences weren't altogether happy had their moments. Plastic pollution is a huge issue in SE Asia. The sheer number of people living in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and their rapid economic development, and unformed concern for the environment means those coastlines are under huge pressure. Thailand's towns disappointed us, but the rocky islands were stunning; the Andaman Islands were beautiful and their history fascinating, though their officials were a nightmare; Galle "marina" was horrible and took its toll on our warps and fender covers but the walled town was exquisite. At times a Pollyanna attitude came in handy, seeing the best side to bad situations and being able to laugh at them and oneself. The Red Sea passage was a true test of sailing ability, as the wind was against and strongly against for a good portion of the voyage; it required teamwork and boat harmony with two armed guards on board for 15 days; and fortitude, faced with the disappointment of not being able to enter Egypt and being sent out again at night into a storm. (Greek) Cyprus and the Turkish coast, with their glorious spring wildflowers and herb-scented hillsides with monasteries, castles and towers, reminded us how much we love Mediterranean sailing. The Turks have implemented black water pump outs and there is a lack of plastic, compared to SE Asia. We have left Calliope tucked up in Marmaris and though others will be aboard this summer, we are planning a bit of land-based time - oh, and dinghy sailing in Aldeburgh, of course!

Thank you for reading our blog. It's been fun to know someone was out there caring where we were. If anyone fancies a circumnavigation, we are ready to help with advice. We are sorely tempted to visit the Pacific again!

Calliope -OUT.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Guest blog by William Kendall, published in Country Life, regarding the Andamans

My Week – March 2019
We travel with some tried and tested offerings when people are kind enough to invite us to stay:  the latest Emma Bridgewater mug, some delicious Pump Street chocolate from Orford and a caddy of Fortnum’s tea (OK, that’s enough plugs for your mates’ products, Ed.). It’s much harder to know what might hit the spot when you join friends who are two years into their voyage around the world.  But a week or two before we took off to The Andaman Islands, anxious messages, via the yacht’s email, appealed for more and more obscure essentials. Some were easy to find:  an expensive brand of granola, wholemeal flour for on-board bread baking. Then the requests became more urgent and technical. The engine was spluttering because of dodgy fuel taken on in Malaysia. It became clear that a large suitcase worth of linen shirts would have to be sacrificed to carry the dozens of diesel filters, solenoids and spare cables we eventually assembled. A dramatic phone call, even as we set off to Heathrow, had us diverting to a specialist chandlers on the Shotley Peninsula for a replacement oil sump cap. Moored off the seductive Havelock Island a day later we handed over our supplies to our hosts. The euphoric reaction made the effort of dragging so many spare parts across the world worthwhile. New friends from neighbouring yachts in the Oyster fleet were invited on board to share the joy. They enviously fingered davit cables and split pins as the tropical sun set over the Burmese coast. Our sailor hosts sat smiling, surrounded by such abundance and easily forgave us that we had forgotten to bring a replacement dinghy propeller.
The Andamans are a long way from the Indian mainland and that probably accounts for their multiple personalities. They are the ‘Islands in Flux’ as one local writer describes them in his collection of critical essays. The sea though is seductive and full of colourful fish. Giant Sea Mohwa trees reach down to the shore from the thick, wooded cliffs of uninhabited islands. If you forget the temperature and the species, this scenery could readily translate to a Highland loch. The locals are charming unless you, foolishly and illegally, visit a tribal reserve when the welcome will be less predictable. It’s a paradise archipelago. All that remains of a long-drowned mountain range, isolated from the rest of South East Asia. Its Indian government seems confused by what to do with the islands. They are ideal for high-end tourism but they are also a security risk. Then they are home to many of the world’s few remaining peoples who live untouched by modern life. Visitors like us are automatically suspect. Our exact location needed to be radioed in daily to the powers that be. Maybe they had a point. Annexing the breathtakingly beautiful and uninhabited Cinque Islands was very tempting. After dropping anchor in their lee I swam ashore to rename them New Suffolk and New Bedfordshire but Indian bureaucracy was one move ahead of me. As I reached the shore in my flippers and mask, I was met by an official from The Forestry Department who, after an exchange of friendlynamastes , warned me that I could only set foot on the perfect white sand with a permit from his superiors in Port Blair.
Time and tide have not been kind to Ross Island. Its ruins are held together by the chaotic root systems of the jungle now rapidly recovering this small land from any trace of the British Raj which made it home for over a century. The once glorious settlement demonstrates how quickly nature will reclaim its territory when we humans retreat. An earthquake in 1941 swiftly followed by the Japanese invasion were enough to seal its fate. The solid walls of what is left of the imposing Presbyterian church made me wonder if the colony’s claim to have been ‘The Paris of the East’ may have been exaggerated. The splendid Subordinate’s Club building certainly once had a large sprung teak dancefloor and a sign informed modern visitors that the island bakery made superb croissants for the residents’ ‘full English breakfasts’. Even at its height though I doubt that Ross Island was a patch on the real City of Light. The few remaining memorials in the churchyard point to nasty tropical diseases and brief lives. It would have taken a lot of dour Scottish expatriates to fill that church and, even if they did occasionally test the strength of the teak dancefloor and really did stuff their faces with croissants for breakfast, I know which Paris I would have chosen to visit, a century or more ago.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Suez Canal transit

Early in S/Y Calliope's life, when she went by another name, we took her
from Inverness to Fort William through the Caledonian Canal, which involved
snow, many small locks, close encounters with weirs and possibly the Loch
Ness Monster -- and scarcely another boat to be seen. Burgesses and
Skerritts were our happy companions on that transit.
Shipping approaching the Gulf of Suez

In 2014, with Pippa and friends aboard, we waited our turn and went through
the one-way Corinth Canal, west to east through the steep, narrow cut,
following a small cruise ship with only feet to spare each side and pursued
by a pirate-flagged two-master. In April 2017, together with the Oyster
World Rally fleet, we negotiated the magnificent locks and flooded Gatun
Lake of the Panama Canal and emerged into the Pacific Ocean.

So the Suez Canal was Calliope's fourth canal.
In Gwylan we had also been through the Chesapeake and Delaware canal and the Cape Cod canal, so that makes six!

We had got off to a bad start in Egypt, having been refused entry at Port Ghalib because not all
crew members had been vaccinated against yellow fever and we had stopped in
Sudan. A new regulation, issued only a week earlier, not mentioned on any
website and unknown even to our agent Mohamed, stated that anyone having
been in Sudan must either produce the certificate or spend six days in an
Egyptian hospital. We were too tired to argue, as we should have, that a)
the regulation hadn't been publicised and b) we had been in the northern
part of Sudan, which is not regarded by the WHO as a yellow fever area.
Twenty officials took two hours to decide that we couldn't stay and sent us
back out at 9pm into 25 knot wind and weather, some waves breaking over the
spray hood and into the cockpit , to tack out away from the Egyptian coast
towards Saudi Arabia - not a destination which welcomes tourists on yachts -
and back again. Bone weary, then, and just after nightfall the following
evening, we took shelter in Sagawa bay and slept, and waited for two days
for the wind to die down. Two more days of fluky wind - sometimes enough to
show our beautiful asymmetric sail with its Egyptian goddess Isis to
The pontoon of the Suez Canal Yacht Club
Egyptian locals - and sometimes motoring straight into a northern breeze
through oil fields and rigs, brought us to Port Suez, where we tied up fore
and aft to two buoys outside the Suez Canal Rowing and Yacht Club. Alas,
its days of grandeur were long gone.

There was a pontoon to which we were ferried by ever-helpful Karkar, five or
six officials watching American sitcoms in a hut, who inspected our
passports and bags each time we passed them and a sea-view veranda with
tables and chairs, but no refreshments (and most definitely no alcohol) available.

Some of the houses in the area were quite grand and showed signs
of French style, with eaves and shutters, but the roads were potholed and
dusty, the pavements irregular, dusty and litter-covered and even the
ubiquitous feral cats were mangy and dusty. The town of Suez is
traffic-choked ...and dusty. They do make the most delicious
freshly-squeezed orange juice and sell wonderful, soft pinky-creamy garlic
from motorbike-drawn carts in the narrow lanes. The locals were friendly
and pleased to see us.

Mr Heebi, our agent, explained the processes of clearing in to us, but we
could have done with a guide to the Suez Canal. When was this "ditch in the
desert" built and by whom? Nicky's father went through it a couple of times
on military service and they raised their guns occasionally to look fierce.
Perhaps they taught the Egyptians to do the same - there were military
Floating bridge
everywhere and our pilot on the first day, Mr. Khalid (whose volume control
button we ached to turn down) told us we weren't allowed to take any
photographs "for security reasons". We noticed new channels and extensions
to the Canal had been dug, but there was no explanation. At intervals we
saw swing bridges which could make crossing from one side to the other
possible, as well as bridges in sections. Each 100 metres there was a sign
showing how far we had to go.

The most impressive thing about the Canal was the ships transiting it,
including the newest 20,000 container ships. The Suez Canal is wide, has
several channels in places, and the Great Bitter Lake in the middle which is
a giant ship park. There is a northbound procession and then a southbound
procession. It's about 100NM in total so longer than the Panama, but it's
all at sea level. Completed by the French together with the Pasha, Disraeli
then managed to buy a controlling stake for £4m which was obviously pretty
smart. Napoleon had earlier wanted to build a canal, but was dissuaded by
his chief engineer who avowed that the Mediterranean end was 10m higher than
the Red Sea end!

At the end of our first day, we arrived in Ismailia and tied up alongside
the Yacht Club there. We didn't leave the boats, which were much
photographed by locals. We had dinner aboard Calliope. It was the last
night the three yachts were going to be together, so the crews of Calliope,
Miss Tiggy and Lisanne devoured the contents of the drinks cupboard and a
bottle each of whisky and rum went down after beers and wine, so sleep was
short and we were awoken far too early at 5.30am by our new pilots arriving.
Ahmed was much better company than Mr. Khalid, though his English and our
Arabic were limiting factors on conversation. After seven hours, he was
taken off the boat and we motored out of the Canal, through a dredged
channel. As soon as we could, we got the sails up and 28 hours later after
a bumpy but fast ride (not helped by the lack of sleep the night before and
on passage and our hangovers), we berthed in Limassol Marina in Cyprus.

Kolossi Castle
What a beautifully appointed, modern place, with super-helpful staff and
everything a tired yachtie could ask for. That first night, we staggered as
far as the first restaurant, Wagamama's, and decreed 'no further'. It was
fantastic to be reunited with Tiggy, who'd been in Tasmania for her father's
90th birthday and had fully expected to come back on board in Port Ghalib.
We have washed and washed Calliope and all the ropes removing salt and red
sea dust. We have polished the stainless, and she is beginning to look like
Nicky and Tiggy in Omodhos
her true self. We have been to a supermarket, Lidl, and been amazed at the
variety of goods on offer, and over-bought supplies as a result. Four days
later, having hired a car to explore parts of Cyprus and loved the spring
flowers and ancient monuments (Kolossi Castle, of the Knights Templar, was particularly impressive),
as well as taking a bit of R&R at the spa, we are just about to leave
Limassol for the Turkish coast. We are much refreshed and ready for the
home straight! We are about 200NM from Kas where we will cross our furthest
east path, and another 50NM to Marmaris where we have a berth for a year.
We are both ready for some time at home, to see Pippa after her operation on
her spine, Richard, Kit and Guy after their loss of Ishbel, and Nicky's
parents in Geneva. Homesick - yes and no as Calliope is so much home.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Galle, Sri Lanka to Port Ghalib Egypt

Lisanne left Galle in Sri Lanka a couple of days before us, so our passage
was just in company with Miss Tiggy. It was 450NM and took three days (and
nights). Amazing how similar these Oyster 575s are - we arrived in Uligamu
in the very north of the Maldives just 1.5 hours before Miss Tiggy. We saw
lots of shipping round the south of India: it's always entertaining to check
out on AIS where each ship is from, where it's bound for and its dimensions
(huge!) and speed. Activities on board: fishing (unsuccessfully), sewing
alterations to a dress of Tiggy's, baking (bread and oatmeal raisin cookies)
and stainless steel polishing. At 0900 on 10th March we spied
Gaamathikulhudhoo to port and realised names in the Maldives were going to
be just as challenging as those in Sri Lanka. We dropped anchor in Uligamu
and were welcomed ashore for supper on the quayside, together with a German
family sailing round the world with their two boys aged 4 and 5 - now that's
a real challenge! In the morning we swam with manta rays, up close and
curious about us.

The Maldive atolls are gorgeous and reminded us of the Tuamotus, except that
they have been developed so thoroughly that it's hard to find a space which
isn't covered in resorts, with their little thatched huts on stilts. These
Ready for collection by Four Seasons room service
unfriendly resorts don't welcome outsiders, even those very few arriving on
yachts, and trying to have dinner ashore was like trying to hitch a ride on
a cruise ship - impossible. Most wouldn't allow us to anchor in their
"private" lagoons and we struggled to find anchorages as the sea bottom goes
from too deep to nothing very steeply. We attempted to stop at
Vaikaramuraidhoo (another challenging name) but couldn't get the hook to
stick. However at Dhandoo we found a beautiful spot, next to a narrow sandy
Tiggy and Kurt at beach BBQ
beach. Kurt spent a couple of hours picking up rubbish and created a
sizeable heap. He contacted the Four Seasons resort nearby and they
promised to collect and dispose of it all - result! Together with Lisanne
and Miss Tiggy, we had a great beach barbecue and the following day we
filmed our video contribution for the Oyster World Rally's closing party in
Antigua, including a rousing (if not tuneful) rendition of True Blue. We
also had two very good dives with a local company which is not attached to a

Male, the Maldives capital, has been linked since our charts were printed by
a bridge to Hulhamale, where we anchored amidst many power boats and their
ancillary dive boats. Sea planes passed so close overhead that we feared
for our mast and were able to inspect their undercarriage in detail -
interesting to see that most have only one float and land on water at a
steep angle. Hulhamale is growing as land is reclaimed and there was a
constant stream of barges carrying rubble past our boat. The town has wide
new roads (but no pedestrian pavements at all) and is covered in cranes with
high rise apartments going up everywhere. We're not sure why and for whom.
Still, Charles had a haircut, Nicky a pedicure and Kurt bought some tee
shirts and we stocked up on food at the market and supermarket. One evening,
looking for nightlife, we went to the only place serving alcohol. The taxi
took us to the airport and we had to walk half a mile from there to a grotty
hotel bar. Ah, but the beer tasted delicious.

Customs inefficiency (a consignment of weapons had been left at the airport)
meant we didn't get away from Male until 10pm on 18th March, after taking on
board Danny and John, two ex Royal Marines who were to keep us safe on the
next leg of our journey. They have been through the dangerous Gulf of Aden
dozens of times, but usually keep watch from 13 storeys up on a bridge 50
metres wide, on Hapag or similar container or cargo ships. This was a new
experience for them and they handled it well, keen to join in and help hoist
the asymmetric sail, set the pole or simply trim sails ("pull the red one"
was the kind of instruction required). They were eager to wash up and very
appreciative of the cooking, especially when it was traditional and English
(apple crumble, bananas and custard)! With two extra crew doing a watch
each, we got more sleep, though daytimes still usually found one or two
people slumped asleep in the saloon - John was a master of grabbing 40 winks
whenever he could. Danny, despite not eating fish, developed a passion for
trying to catch it, but was daily disappointed, apart from a baby tuna which
we released more or less intentionally. Miss Tiggy and Lisanne had Polish
guards on board, some of whom suffered from seasickness; fortunately that
wasn't a problem for us.

At night, we sailed in arrow formation, with Calliope leading as Danny was
in charge. We had some excellent sailing, maintaining 9 knots of boat speed
for hours on end on a beam reach, making 780NM in 4 days which is just
faster than our Torres Straits passage. Then, eight days out, the wind
failed, we started the engine but the following morning it started
stuttering. So we thought we might need to head for Salalah in Oman, and
find or fly out an engineer to fix it. After emails and phone calls with
helpful Dylan from New Zealand, it turned out Charles had failed to tighten
the fuel filter sufficiently last time he had changed it and it had worked
loose so the engine was drawing in air.

On day 10, we entered the IRTC or Internationally Recommended Transit
Corridor. Between the two channels is a wide strip (all imaginary of
course, just lines on a chart) like the central reservation on a dual
carriageway road. Our entry and crossing to the middle was a bit like a
hedgehog deciding it likes the look of the middle of the M25 and required
careful timing. Once there, we had huge ships on either side of us and a
Japanese air force plane which buzzed us daily to check all was well and to
advise us to call Coalition Warships on channel 16 if we saw anything
untoward. We didn't, and even felt so relaxed we stopped briefly for a
swim. That was a first for Danny and John - a dip in the IRTC!
IRTC dodging ships

The wind died completely and as we motored on, calculations were made of how
much fuel we needed and had left. Might we have to stop in Djibouti - very
expensive if you have weapons on board? Fortunately the wind came up again -
and as we turned the 'elbow' of the Bab el Mandeb it built to a top speed of
45 knots (Force 9). Even with a pocket handkerchief of sail, we were
flying; our top speed over ground was 16.7 knots, a record for Calliope. It
wasn't comfortable, crashing into waves, and there were some hair-raising
Lucky the Bear in body armour
moments including a carefully executed gybe in 40 knots. We were all pretty exhausted (and Danny and John were wondering why on earth they'd agreed to this contract, I think) as we then had to make to windward to avoid the lee shore of some islands, with the boat heeled at ridiculous angles - a real challenge to use the heads, take a shower or prepare food in the galley. On the plus side, the weather acted as a deterrent to flimsy skiffs with Somali pirates and we saw not a single one.
Nicky and Lucky in body armour

On 2nd April, 16 days out after a long slog into northerlies (the wind in the Red Sea turns to northerlies at this time of year) we motored alongside the James Cook, a scruffy-looking
ship anchored at 17 degrees North, and a RIB came out to collect Danny, John, all our flak jackets and helmets (unused), the weapons (only fired once as a test) and a large box of ammunition. The following day, we saw
breaking reefs and land - Sudan. We anchored at Khor Narawat, a bay with a very dusty shore and dusty mountains visible in the distance, and after a well-earned and anticipated beer/wine or two, slept soundly. We'd made it into the Red Sea. We had sailed 2700NM from Male, the same distance as an Atlantic crossing; much more varied in winds, upwind, downwind, beam-reaching, straits, islands, masses of shipping in comparison to the
trade wind trans Atlantic or trans-Pacific. As a result much more tiring although we are now seasoned and able to find sleep in the watch patterns.

With gentle more favourable winds on the beam finally helping us up the Red Sea, we had been rushing to try to make it back to England to attend the funeral of Charles's brother's wife, but visas and airline schedules made it impossible; no flights for 3 days from Port Sudan and we couldn't go via Saudi Arabia anyway. That is very sad and our thoughts are with Richard,
Suakin ruins
Kit and Guy.

Our agent in Suakin, Mohamed, was charming and efficient, with a snow-white robe and cap and a deep, gentle voice speaking excellent
English. He handled every request: laundry, gas bottles to be filled, fuel, shore passes, local SIM cards and currency. We went ashore for an excellent meal of grilled chicken with locals, in local manner - no cutlery, no napkins, many cats winding themselves around our ankles as we ate. The following day we visited the market and (sort of) supermarket and attracted lots of attention. Blue-eyed
Transporting sheep to Saudi Arabia
foreigners are rare here and several selfies were requested. The town is desperately poor, dry and tumble-down. Water is delivered by donkey-drawn carts and goats wander the streets amongst rusty cars and beggars. Old Suakin, connected to the modern town by a causeway, is in ruins but well worth a visit. Until 1945 it was still a slave port (the last in the world), constructed entirely of white coral blocks and wooden joists.  They've all fallen down and the whole island is rubble, with the odd elegant gate, doorway or minaret hinting at past glories. The Turkish government is financing a rebuilding project; what they've done so far is tasteful and
Nicky and Suakin schoolchildren
authentic, but it's an immense job. Locals were paddling, fully dressed, in the shallows and Nicky acquired a gaggle of schoolgirls and was glad to give away some exercise books, pencils and tee shirts; this is the poorest place we've been to on our travels. It's somewhere I doubt we'll ever return to, but am so glad we had the chance to visit.

We pressed onwards after only one night, knowing that northerly winds (we
get very accurate weather forecasts in "grib" files over the Satphone) were on their way, passing Port Sudan at night, with its oil refineries blazing. The border between Sudan and Egypt is disputed, so the question of when to
change courtesy flags was tricky. The Sudan one had to be cobbled together on board, using an Oman flag and some scraps of black material - a fun sewing challenge!  Having delightful and
competent Aussie Kurt on board makes it less tiring; this would have been a long slog two-up.

We were aiming for Port Ghalib in Egypt, nearly 1000NM up the Red Sea from
Aden; it's been a month since we left Galle, and we have had very little
time ashore in that month, and only 3 nights at anchor (ie not sailing since March 18) so we need some land time. We are now 3500NM sailing from Male, which is the same as Galapagos to Marquesas in the Pacific and that is all downwind.

Our plan was to head off to Luxor and Aswan. We were well and in good spirits.  Then we arrived in Port Ghalib only to be asked for Yellow Fever vaccination certificates. Kurt, Calum and Steve from Miss Tiggy and Matt from Lisanne did not have them. After much arguing we were sent out to sea at 9pm into 25 knot winds on the nose, and told to go to Suez and stay in transit.  Arguing that Sudan doesn't have Yellow Fever in the north where we had been was to no avail. Apparently it's a new regulation introduced on April 1st, and the harbour master and agents who had been aware we were coming since January 11th, didn't tell us.  Yes, you can argue it's Africa and we should all have had them. Anyway after 24 hours of beating into the waves and wind, when already very tired we have
arrived and dropped anchor in a large windsurfing bay and will shelter here for 48 hours until we head for Suez 2 weeks earlier than planned and then into the Med for Cyprus or Turkey or Israel.

So it's 200 NM to the Suez Canal, and 400 NM to Marmaris in Turkey. So we are indeed in the home straight. Those 600 NM would once have seemed like a major voyage; but, of course, they could easily be 1200 NM of "tippee" sailing, if the northerlies continue blow in the Gulf of Suez as is their custom and we need to tack back and forth, rather than taking a straight route.  Calliope will be looking forward to some TLC and a bit of a rest.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Sri Lanka

It's definitely true that experiences are memorable not just for what you did, but for whose company you were in. That applies to the Oyster World Rally and our friends who continued onward from Lombok, where we parted company. They are now almost all back in the Caribbean (apart from a couple of other breakaways in the Cape Verde Islands). We miss them and celebrate their circumnavigations. We still have some way to go, but there's a sense of being on the home straight.
Marlan and family
We've met some real characters along the way, for instance Touare, our hitch-hiker in Maupiti with his dog. And there've been some exceptionally helpful agents whose local knowledge and ability to get round obstructive bureaucracy has been invaluable. Chloe in Nouvelle Calédonie was wonderful, Rathnam in the Andamans tried his best, while Humar on the dock at Port Blair (he's been working there since he was 9 years old) gave us peace of mind looking after our dinghy - like the boat boys in Kupang.
Eye clinic Tea Research Institute
In Galle, where we've been for ten days, we've had an agent (GAC) who completely ignored us. Fortunately several locals stepped up to help. Marlan (real name Henry William Jayasuriya) greeted us the first time we stepped through the heavily guarded port gates, having presented our security passes for scrutiny. "My job is to make your stay pleasant", he announced. When we asked what his services would cost, he told us "money is only coloured paper" - and he's right, the banknotes are bright and slightly like Monopoly money. His determination to help knew no bounds and he has organised trips, sourced hard-to-find boat parts and invited us to dinner in his home. He and his friends have sad stories to tell about the tsunami and have shown us the shells of what were once their homes and the photographs of mother, nephew, daughter and son who died or disappeared that day. Goring, who drives a tuktuk, introduced us to his village - after the tsunami he moved away from the coast to a new settlement built with German charitable funds. We gave away about 60 pairs of glasses there, including some to the army bandsmen, who showed us their instruments in return (no double entendres here!). Pahan's sister runs a restaurant, Sea Breeze, on Diwata Beach very near the "marina" (it doesn't deserve that name, being unequipped and unfriendly to visiting yachts). Pahan drove me and Tiggy around all the shops in Galle in search of plain tee shirts we could have printed with our boats' names. He's a slight, modest man who responds to expressions of gratitude with that wonderful wobble of the head, neither a nod nor a shake.
Tea plantation
Sri Lanka hasn't really been a sailing destination and we are conscious that we've only scratched the surface, although every hour on the road is a nerve-tingling, hair-raising experience, with overtaking on blind corners common practice. Buses have priority and pull out into the traffic with no warning. Sometimes they don't even stop for passengers to leap on or off, staying in the traffic lane and merely slowing till their fit customers leap on or off. With James and Tiggy from Miss Tiggy, we headed 'upcountry', via Ula Walawe game park, where we saw many elephants and exotic birds, as well as a crocodile displaying its jaw full of teeth. In Ella, we climbed Little Adam's Peak and enjoyed the cool air and views of hazy mountains. Seated backwards in the Observation Carriage, we took the wonderfully scenic train to Nuwara Eliya and had High Tea in the Grand Hotel, near the racecourse and artificial lake with Boston-style swan pedaloes. Our hotel, gloriously situated in the midst of tea plantations, had a (lumpy, sloping) golf putting green, a (pitted, unenclosed, sag-netted) grass tennis court and hilariously Fawlty Towers-style service (our polite comment on trip advisor was 'haphazard'). We made use of all the facilities and Charles and I ran an eye clinic at the Tea Research Institute, where some of Sri Lanka's poorest workers lined up patiently in a Pentecostal nursery school to be seen and we ran out of glasses. Yesterday we sent the pastor some more from Galle, which was an experience in itself, as the glasses were parcelled up, wrapped, taped and taped again, while we were directed from one part of the British-built post office to another. The old town is a wonderful mix of Dutch and British colonial buildings, with glorious terracotta tiled roofs.
Galle Fort
Galle Fort cricket
Ella train
Tiggy shopping in Galle market
Ella train
Back in Galle and finding the "marina" as unwelcoming as ever, we treated ourselves to a couple of days at Why House. Absolute bliss, with its refreshing pool, exquisite food and the attentions of its manager, Hen (and her dogs). We were woken by a peacock screeching at the top of a coconut palm and lulled to sleep by tropical rain. Meanwhile lots of English friends have also been enjoying Sri Lanka and we met up with Penny and Adam, Anna and Dan. Experiences are truly enriched by the people you share them with. We are looking forward to the next stage, diving in the Maldives with Miss Tiggy and Lisanne. It's a 3 day passage there (depends on the wind, which looks sadly lacking…). Coming from the Andamans, we left at the same time as Miss Tiggy and after 5 days out of sight of one another, arrived within an hour and a half in Galle.
The last of our olive oil - bought in Las Palmas Nov 16!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Andaman Islands

We left Mike and Harriet in Thailand. They had a nightmare of bureaucracy in
leaving the country as immigration wouldn't let them leave Phuket and sent
them back to where we had cleared into Thailand, even though the immigration
officials there had told us very clearly that, with a copy of our entry
document, they would be able to leave. Ridiculous and without any logic at
all. So we are sorry Mike and Harriet had all that hassle as we had had a
lovely time with them; the further north away from the spoilt areas south of
and in Phuket you go, the clearer the waters, the more it feels like
Thailand must have been in the past. I am afraid it is all rather messed up
now, and we won't be hurrying back to Thailand or Malaysia, unless it is to
Amanpuri where we had dinner. It is the original Aman hotel and as gorgeous
as the other two we have stayed in - Bali and Morocco.

So we stopped at Kho Surin for the night on the way over to the Andamans, a
good snorkel in clear waters the following day, and two days over to Port
Blair in the Andamans. We have been joined by Kurt, a 30 year old Aussie
crew, who is quite new to sailing but has built solar plants and gas plants
Cellular Jail
and is very practical and easy going - just what you need on a boat.

Port Blair is next to Corbyn's Cove. We didn't see Foot beach or Brown river. The Andamans are "strategic" to the Indians which means it is full
of bureaucracy and restrictions. It takes 2 days to clear in and nearly 2 days to clear out, because of the love of sequential paper: Port Authority,
Customs, Immigration in that order both times, each one requiring ship's docs, crew list, list of goods on board and some want it again on the way out, plus report your position twice daily, provide a declaration where you
have been, a photo of your track etc. "WHY do you need this?" is not a
Beach 7
question they ask. Maybe the British taught them. Our colonial history here
is not great featuring the cellular jail which housed 763 individual cells
for prisoners including many political prisoners at the time of "The Indian
Mutiny/First War of Independence".

How the economy works is not so clear. 500,000 tourists come a year, almost
all Indian, relatively low-end. Diving used to be world class, but a
combination of 2004 Tsunami and 2010 bleaching due to warm water means you
Splendid trees
only find good coral and fabulous marine life (amongst the best we have
Instructions for a beach
seen) if you dive between 20 and 30m depth. That would be fine except the
local dive companies who used to use game fishing boats are no longer
allowed to do so because that comes under Agriculture/Fishery and they won't
allow diving from fishing boats.
We did manage to do some good diving from
the back of Calliope by taking the dive guide who discovered all the sites
with us. He was thrilled as he isn't allowed to go to the places he
discovered. And it's not clear game fishing is allowed any more though it goes on. So the diving is try-it-out/PADI OW for the Indian tourists who pay half what is charged elsewhere, and the high end diver doesn't come. Our
agent worked out that one international gamefishing person is the economic
equivalent of 375 local tourists.

But some good news; logging has been severely curtailed due to a Supreme Court order of 2002, which also banned the use of the Trunk Road through the tribal areas (not implemented). Indian Premiers keep announcing plans like 1m tourists p/a, and a nuclear power plant, but they don't happen. Little commercial fishing, so not sure what makes it all tick if it isn't government, military, some marine services and the tourism. It has
definitely been worth the visit but give me Indonesia and its smiley people
Ross Island - British Empire until 1943
any day. However, we much enjoyed having William and Miranda to stay and visit Cellular Jail and Ross Island together.
Buying fish off the locals - better return than buying lures

The Andamans are beautiful but it's very frustrating not being able to go
ashore on many islands. Understandably we were warned off North Sentinel
where a foolish American missionary was killed by a poisoned arrow a month
or so ago, but all we wanted was to wander along a beach, well away from
tribal lands. I missed the interaction with locals, whether through eye
clinics or school visits - even the children we encountered seemed wary of us. However the samosa-seller at Radhanagar Beach was delighted to see us as each time we passed we bought a bag full of delicious snacks.
We are now on our way to Galle in Sri Lanka which will take 5 or 6 days: so far great sailing conditions and we are making 8 knots with our asymmetric sail up and about 20 dolphins playing in our bow wave. It doesn't get much
better than this!

Friday, 1 February 2019

Malaysia and Thailand

When we set off from a place, we record it in our beautiful logbook and
write "towards" the next destination, acknowledging that although you may be
intending to go there, things do not always go to plan. We seem to have had
a few changes (by no means necessarily bad) in our sailing adventures in
Malaysia and Thailand. It felt wonderful to get back 'home' on board
Calliope after our fantastic time back in the UK for Pippa and William's
wedding and our holiday/honeymoon with them and Alex and Michael in South
Africa. The Malaysian coast, though, was less tempting than we'd hoped, with
dirty water and numerous fish farms, so we pressed on past Penang to


At the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina, we partly dealt with
those machines that had been working perfectly when we left the boat but now
were not working well - freezer, fridge, watermaker and started to provision
for the weeks ahead. Langkawi is an odd place - a duty free zone, it
Hole in the wall
attracts thousands of visitors a day through its busy ferry terminal; they
then embark on a theme park-like experience of zip wires, boat trips, animal
petting zoos ... all very organised and passive. We wanted to visit the
Lake of the Pregnant Maiden but by 9am the hordes of guide-led tourists
dissuaded us and we sailed away with Mike and Harriet Bane on board to an
idyllic spot called Hole in the Wall: a narrow inlet to the Kilim River
where sea eagles swooped and skinny monkeys scampered along the rocky shore.
We enjoyed a lovely goose-winged sail to Tarutao, a national park where we
watched the red sun set at the same time as a reddish moon rose (it was even
redder and fuller the next day (22nd January) and much-photographed!)

Sea Urchins
Although the water was blissfully warm and a very pretty greeny-blue, up
till this point it had been opaque - we think it was so shallow that sand
was constantly stirred up. However in Ko Tanga we found some fun
snorkelling in clear water around huge boulders. That afternoon we dropped
anchor off Ko Lipe (Ko means island) and enjoyed the slightly hippy vibe -
lots of tie-dyed clothes, beach bars and little boutiques. We had a massage
on the beach and supper ashore, then suffered until the early hours as the
partygoers' loud music and Chinese New Year celebrations carried far too
clearly across the bay. The following day we part-cleared in to Thailand
and very nearly lost our passports in the process - they got bundled up with
those of a tour group heading back to Langkawi. Now THAT would have made us
change our plans!

Near Ko Phi Phi
There are some extraordinary rock formations in Thailand and one lunch stop
we swam below towering Ko Rok Nok, a group of pinnacles which looked like a
film set, emerging from nowhere in the middle of the sea. Next stop was Ko
Phi Phi (pronounced pipi), a gorgeous setting which has been spoiled by the
sheer numbers of tourists. The anchorage was one of our bumpiest ever,
mostly due to nonstop comings and goings of boats. Definitely not

24th January, Charles's birthday and sadly no wind at all. We motored to Ao
(means bay) Chalong on the south coast of Phuket island and successfully
cleared in completely to Thailand, visiting immigration, the harbourmaster,
customs and quarantine (thankfully all located in the same building) and
presenting passports and photocopies thereof, ship's papers, crew lists
(ditto photocopies) to each of them. What do they DO with all the paper?!
Here's another example of plans changing. We motored towards Yacht Haven
Marina in the NE of Phuket Island. Triple chocolate cupcakes were eaten,
candles blown out and happy birthday sung. Night fell and we came within
sight (sort of) of the marina. Suddenly, very gently, we stopped - we had
run aground on a sandbank. The tide was rising, so we dropped anchor and
waited. At that moment, the heavens opened and we were deluged with warm
rain. We opened the Dom Perignon 2009 the Banes had brought with them and
instead of the slap-up meal ashore we'd been hoping for, enjoyed corned beef
hash with our Champagne. A feast! The following morning we attempted to
enter the marina but ran aground again, so managed to negotiate a berth in a
deeper part where we were able to complete repairs to the freezer and
watermaker and take on 1100 litres of diesel. Thanks to a hire car, we
could get to supermarkets (Tesco and Makro) and Mike and Harriet managed an
evening in Old Phuket Town. Charles and Nicky saw rather a lot of the main
road and ugly modern development along it - and became familiar with the mad
driving practices of the locals: U turns on dual carriageways are a

It was time to head north, but sadly the strait to the north of Phuket has a
low bridge we couldn't fit under, so we had to sail all the way round the
south of the island, passing US Warship 2, an aircraft carrier bristling
with planes and helicopters - quite threatening when seen from up close.
The west coast of Phuket is the most developed and we sailed past Karon,
Kata and Patong beaches with their hotels, parasols and jet skis, to anchor
below Amanpuri, the original Aman hotel - we are such fans, having stayed in
Amandari in Bali and Amanjena in Marrakech. Fabulous cocktails and dinner
ashore set us up for the next day, where we had to go back (by taxi) to Ao
Chalong and clear out of Thailand, presenting the very same papers and
photocopies to precisely the same officials... Our crew list now includes
Kurt Benson from Australia, who will be a big help on some of the longer
passages ahead.

Two more days followed with the Banes. Fishing, to Mike's chagrin, was
dismal - the lines were bitten through by huge fish ("the ones which got
away") or possibly cut by floating debris, of which, sadly, there was still
far too much. But some squid and cuttlefish were purchased from a passing
fishing boat, and what a lot of those there are - a veritable Armada sets
off from shore each evening and the horizon is bright with their extended
dazzling 'arms'! We found a picture-perfect deserted anchorage near Yipun
Island, though the snorkelling was poor, the water greenish with suspended
nutrients for all those super-strong fish. Much fun was had puzzling over
cryptic crosswords, with success except when it came to the Listener which
we were unable even to start to solve. Mike and Harriet left us at the
Golden Buddha Resort, where we enjoyed a fine farewell lunch before sailing
west to Ko Surin. Another plan had to be revised; unable to get our anchor
to hold, we had to give up on the anchorage on the east side of the island
and motor round to the west. We were ravenous by the time we anchored after
9pm. It was all worth it to wake up and snorkel, drifting with the current
in crystal clear water, trailing the dinghy behind us, above busy coral
heads - lots of little Nemo clown fish, parrot fish and puffers.

So that's it for Thailand. I'm disappointed not to have met more locals and
seen more inland, but glad to have passed through. We are now on course for
Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, which are Indian and where we anticipate
much bureaucracry to go with the hassle we had getting our visas back in
December. Winds are light but with our huge asymmetric sail up, we are
making good progress and hope to arrive in two days' time. Flying fish
scatter in our path - otherwise there's nothing to see but the sea. Lots to
read and Charles and Kurt have done a heroic amount of stainless steel
polishing today!