Andaman Islands

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Did we leave Quo Vadis in Phuket and set sail in a front-loading washing machine? -it seemed that way as we crossed to the Andaman Islands…
It was a very boisterous sail, all the way. We departed Phuket early on the 10th of January in a good ENE breeze, it picked up and so did the waves, we were soon beam reaching across big seas with tiny sails.

The Andaman Sea, that stretch of water between Phuket and the Andaman Islands, is known for its strange currents and confused seas, -we got them! At times, for no apparent reason and even in very deep water, presumably because of a current welling up from beneath, there would be patterns of conical waves like witches hats, -most unusual -and most disturbing to the motion of the yacht!
The distance was not great, only a little over 400 miles, but we had to take it slowly because of the conditions and then also, to heave-to for several hours awaiting daylight before entering Port Blair on the 13th.


Once out of the wind and inside Port Blair harbour conditions settled nicely, -although even there, the breeeze continued briskly for several days making the long dinghy rides ashore very wetting!
Unlike some who we know had taken longer to do so, we were able complete our clearance formalities within the course of that day. It was a clearance unlike any other we had experienced however. The officials were all friendly and pleasant, but the repetition and paperwork was unprecedented!
The Immigration were the first to visit, 2 men on board, we needed to collect them from the dock in the dinghy, (giving their neatly pressed uniforms a thorough soaking). They were not difficult people, but we got our first surprise when we were given only 15 days entry whereas others were given 30. Apparently the time allowed depends on where the visa is given. Ours were from Bangkok where they stamp it as allowing 15 days only in the Andamans, however, others got theirs from Kuala Lumpur where is no such stamp and 30 days are automatically allowed. That is just one of the many idiosyncracies in the Indian bureaucracy and although it didn’t concern us as we had no intention of staying more than 15 days, some who came expecting to stay longer were very disappointed.
Next came the Coastguard, 7 men, each with dirty black shoes, landing off their boat which came alongside. They walked all over our white decks and crowded below. There were many more forms, lists required, stamps and signatures, for the most of which we saw absolutely no purpose or relevence to our visit.
Thirdly came the customs, some time after dark. There were 3 men with similarly dirty footwear and many forms to be completed, but not before they had demanded drinks…
Unfortunately although still at work, they were not content with chilled water, requesting at least tonics all around and our refusal created a rather bad atmosphere for the rest of their visit, resulting in a very thorough inspection of our boat and our alcohol stores being bonded for the duration of our stay! (Later, in talking with other boats, we found that the way these guys worked was quite inconsistent, the only constancy determined by whether they were offered alcohol or chilled water!)
We had a very sound sleep for the night, but the following morning we had to go to see the Harbour Master for the next stage of our clearance, to ask for permission to visit other places.


The harbour at Port Blair is the main point of entry for the Andamans and is also a major naval base. It is busy with many comings and goings of small and large ships, a great variety of passengers and freighters; and are all tightly controlled.



There is only a very rough concrete dock for us to leave our dinghies when we go ashore. Fortunately a very agile and willing young man is there always, he will moor our dinghies out, baby-sit and retrieve them when we return, -for a few rupees.



Understandably, he soon became known as ‘monkey boy’!

Getting a ride the 2-3 km into town is not a problem, there are many eager ‘rickshaw’ and taxi drivers waiting on the dock at any time, the problem is in negotiating the best deal, but everyone developes a favourite and no other will do. They take you where you want, will arrange laundry, fuel and fresh water supplies, -for a negotiated and usually eventually reasonable -price.
Our visit with the Harbour Master proved to be a very pleasant 30 minutes with 2 nice gentlemen, the harbour master and the pilot captain, both about 70 years old. They were in a cool comfortable office, we pored over charts and got good advice about where we could and should go in the Andamans.
It is required to present him an itinerary of day by day intentions and when out of the port to radio in to Harbour Control twice daily confirming the boat’s position. There are many islands out of bounds and other’s for which it is neccessary to have further permission from the forestry department and to pay heavy fees, particularly if diving is intended. Fortunately as our itinerary was limited we were finished after the Harbour Master visit, -we could now enjoy our first taste of India…



…with Ghandi statues, Mosques and Hindu temples, wandering cows,’rickshaws’ and Morris/Ambassador cars… not forgetting delicious samosas, bajia, sweets and other tasty delights…

After the internet and the bank we joined others at the ‘New Light-house’ Restaurant for a great curry lunch, the first of several there.

Later, we checked out the shopping. We found a good range of vegetables and fruit in the markets although as much if it was imported from the mainland, it wasn’t always so fresh…



and in the ‘supermarkets’ there were just limited supplies of dusty groceries. Prices were reasonable however and we found some things we needed.


The people are pleasant, welcoming, not ALWAYS trying to do a dirty deal.

For us new to India, the signery is intriguing…



…in the double meaning of uncertain English!

Walking back to the port we passed by the commercial ‘laundry’,


washing drying along the roadside,


and where later we saw our own sheets, towels, boxers and tees  similarly arrayed…


The town doesn’t have many tourist attractions, but one place well worthy of a visit, is what is interestingly referred to as the ‘Cellular Jail’.


Up on the hill above the harbour , it was built by the British to house recidivist prisoners from the mainland, some were political, but mostly they were just bad with so many criminal contacts that they were uncontainable in any mainland institution.


The archictecture is striking, stone cell blocks as arms radiating from a central control point with a 360 degree view


the accommodation in large cells opening off airy corridors.



The cells seemed large and luxurious, but the tales of beatings by the guards, forced meaningless labour and the presence of the dual gallows in the grounds suggest that a sentence spent there might not have been all that pleasant…


Another relic of the British occupation is Ross Island, at the harbour entrance, also preserved as a public memorial and is where the British administration of the Andamans was based.


We spent little time ashore there, we only went there as we wanted a crocodile free, clear water anchorage to clean our underwater, -but even to do that required special, exceptional consent from the Harbour Master!

It’s not far out of town into countryside among farmlets and small villages with roaming Hindu cows.


It’s dusty, dirty and there’s plenty of cheap labour…


…still now, in 2009, the road re-sealing gang carry gravel in baskets (not even a wheelbarrow!) and sprinkle tar from a leaking bucket… To us, this is needless and unattractive toil;


 but this cycle truck gave me ideas for modifications to the Merlin!

We were here for only a limited time and couldn’t get to visit many of the islands, but we did take a trip out to Havelock for a few days.
It is one of the bigger outlying islands and also more visited by tourists than most, but they come for a back-packer experience rather than to lounge in luxury resorts as, although the potential may be, there are none!

We found it very reminiscent of the island of Santo in northern Vanuatu.


Like there, the white sand beaches are spectacular and uncrowded;


and most of the island is little developed with very basic lifestyle for many.



In spite of logging in the past there is still jungle with many beautiful trees


and plantations of betel palms and bananas.


About 10 km across the island from our anchorage is the small town


which is little more than a cluster of shops at a meeting point of the main roads


but it is somewhere to get a haircut


and the village market has some of the best locally grown vegetables ever!


Fresh and green as the island may appear, not far away where the ferry boat lands and by where every visitor to the island must pass, are the signs still, that this is India,



a country where the attitude to dirt is different!


Our time at the Andamans was far too short, we had to move on, but it was a great taste of the culture and has awakened an urge to see more of continental India.

The outward clearance was more straight forward than the inward, but it took all of another day of form filling; it only finished the next morning when the Immigration men visited the yacht at 6.45 am to finally stamp our passports and allow us to leave at 7.00, -they came!

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