January 9, 2008
OCEAN PASSAGE THAILAND TO MALDIVES
Initially we were able to sail slowly with
the 8-10 knots of wind offered but that soon fizzled out & the iron
horse carried us through the first night, which turned out to be
amazing. I was entertained by a continuous lightning show of
unthreatening electrical activity flashing all around. No thunder or
rain. In fact, the skies were absolutely clear and the breathtaking
abundance of twinkling stars reflected in the glassy seas. It was
impossible to determine where the sea ended and the sky started so the
question all night was...
Ship or Star????
Still no wind. We are now concerned if this continues because we do not have enough fuel to motor the 1400 miles to the Maldives. And there is every possibility that fuel will not be available at our destination. There is not much in the way of facilities, no restaurants, no shops or stores, no resorts. Just a Muslim village that doesn't mind cruisers anchoring in their bay as long as we do not stay ashore past 6pm! But the goal is a peaceful respite with a chance to swim and relax for a week or so.
I cooked a few sauces to use up my fresh basil & the tomatoes that went from green to overripe overnight! With the motor running it is a good opportunity to charge the computers, some power tools, and best of all.... I can have the fan blowing on me!!! It is smoking hot in the boat with no wind.
Gord is still not feeling well with the bronchial infection he contracted before we left. Luckily we still had the leftover Amoxicillan from our bout of flues in Fiji while Mom & Dad were visiting. But the drugs made him queasy and sensitive to the sun.
Still no wind. We motored thru the night on glassy seas, dodging ships and squalls as we skirted around the southern end of the Nicobar Islands, where cruising boats are not allowed to stop. At various times we tried to sail with the 2 knots of wind but the slapping sails against the rigging just drove us nuts and our progress was practically non-existent. So again we motored, using up our precious fuel. Dolphins jumping beside the boat broke the stillness of the molten shiny oily seas.
Finally a breath of wind prompted another try at setting the sails. With about 5 knots we were able to make 4 knots of boatspeed over the ground with the help of the current. We skirted up above the shipping lanes after rounding the Nicobars, heading north in the hopes of avoiding so many of the ships that we had been encountering.
Sailing conditions were excellent, with a current in our favor. We caught a nice Mahi Mahi, small by our standards, but just the right size for a few meals without having to sacrifice freezer space. Lots of dolphins came to play during the day and lots of ships kept us busy at night. We had an outstanding 24 hour run of 170 miles.
We had a record 24 hour run of 184 nautical miles!!!
We dropped down 40 miles offshore of the tip of Sri Lanka to avoid the shipping. The wind came with a vengeance. 25 knots in the face! The boats pounded and bounced, sliding off 2-3 meter waves, with green water filling the cockpit. Whoever was on watch was guaranteed a soaking!!! The boat, inside & out, got coated with crusty salt. We maintained an incredible boat speed of 9 to 10 knots mostly because of the help of a favorable current. We broke out daily 24 hour run of 187 miles!
After having endured 4 of the worst days at sea we have encountered to date, alas, today is SO PEACEFUL. The wind blew itself out and the seas are flat. Feels like being tied to a dock! Got caught up on some boat chores and cleanup and decided to put a fishing line out as our Mahi Mahi had been so delicious.
Suddenly there was excitement in the cockpit when our meat line went "twang" like a guitar string! But it was impossible to pull in the line with the weight on it...Easy to sever a finger with that much pressure. To begin with Gord figured that whatever we hooked was maybe a couple of hundred pounds, but when we got a look at the three foot spike of the giant Swordfish, we upped that by two times!! The problem was the thing wasn't really fighting because we weren't moving long enough to really put pressure on it’s mouth. At one point Gord stopped the boat to see if he could figure out how to dislodge it only to have it basically pull them backwards.
At one point we brought the boat to a complete standstill so we could dislodge the hook but the creature started to drag us backward! A head bigger than Gord's body loomed behind the boat. Probably 400-500 pounds! Okay what to do now. We really didn't want to lose all our fishing tackle cause fishing in the Red Sea is superb. But we clearly did not want this creature anywhere near our boat either!!
As we watched the line zigzag as the fish went deep, we contemplated a solution. We had none! We started the engine just to get some forward motion again and waited. Thought maybe we could tire him out or with any luck the line would break at the lure. We use non-barbed hooks so we hoped maybe the Swordfish would spit out the lure.
Luck was with us because finally that is exactly what happened! We were never so happy to lose a fish ever. So that was our excitement for the day!
There were 4 other boats in the anchorage, from Holland, France, Germany and US. The customs officials came to our boat and checked us in. It was the smoothest, most organized checkin we have ever had. They even filled in all the paperwork! You do need 5 copies of your crew list in addition to boat papers and passport. And good thing we had a boat stamp. They love anything that looks official.
Uligan is a lovely, remote sandy atoll, only 2 meters high at the highest point and threatened to be gulped up by the sea within 30 years if global warming persists. There is a complete ban on alcohol in the Maldives which is good because we have seen so many islands where alcohol presents a huge problem. We were only allowed to go to shore between 6 am and 6 pm and were not allowed to have locals aboard or give gifts without the customs permission.
We were led down the jetty and through an overhead sign that welcomed us to "Uligan" which was formerly Uligamu.
Pretty much every man in the village was named Mohamed, Hassan or Abdhulla! We were led through a labyrinth of walls to the inner village where sandy streets were swept spotless of even a fallen leaf!
The architecture was such that we have never seen before, all the buildings being made of coral and mortar, picturesque, orderly and immaculate.
At the intersections, the corners were aesthetically rounded and long straight coral walls bordered all the streets. The population of the village is 459, definitely Muslim but with a pronounced Arab appearance.
Our guide reported Maldives to be one of only 2 real Muslim countries in the world, the other being Saudi Arabia!
We soon got it that a guide was required to be with us at all times. Our first stop was to a small store called "Sailor's Choice" catering to the yachties with a few minor grocery items. Long wooden shelves contained a few items to add to the lauder. Potatoes, eggs, onions and some canned goods. Yachties are the only source of income on the island, as there are few jobs and no income from any other outside sources. I bought 2 papaya and 2 sweet potato for $1 US, which is the currency of choice in Uligan.
We met up with another group of cruisers and congregated for a fresh coconut drink. After lengthy negotiations, the way of doing business in the Arab countries, We all made plans to do an island excursion later that week.
We wondered through the village, everyone very friendly. It was extremely hot and I felt sorry for the women, covered head to toe in their colorful attire of tight black leggings and tunics with baka. The presence of women was very scarce and they certainly turned away whenever you tried to photograph them.
There were not many villagers in sight and no middle aged men. Our guides were always mid teens, extremely polite, genial and gentle, asking for nothing in return. Boys wore the same styles as western boys in the States, many with T shirts obviously given by cruisers displaying California or yacht clubs logos.
The younger girls would run and hide if you approached. The girls marry out of grade 10.
The women visible were all hard at work, mostly sweeping the sand free of leaves and debris.
The female school children were also dressed in long cover-up attire. We passed the elementary school and learned that the children had to go to Male to attend High School. There are no universities. We were surprised that a village this small had a health care unit and in fact, the ambulance was the only vehicle on the island!
We visited the first internationally sponsored Energy Resources Pilot Project, a micro integrated system of a field full of AC/DC wind generators, solar power, and diesel generators. The president was just here a week ago to open it formally!! The brand new project supplies the village with 4 to 5 hours of electricity each evening.
There was to be a grand opening in a few days with international television
We clambered over some rocky outcrops that gave way to a beautiful beach.
We walked pretty much the full length of the island learning about the Maldives from Hassan, our 19 year old guide who spoke very good English.
Our last stop was to watch the local men build a community fishing boat, an impressive structure, huge and made of teak and hardwood. They were building the boat solely with hand tools, no plans, the drawings they said "in their heads!" They had dug a hole in the ground to support the keel and built upwards from there.
By the time we returned to the boat we
were ready for a swim.
Sampling the Local Food
January 23, 2008
All the yachties were invited to shore for a Traditional Maldivian Dinner. Again, very few women were in sight and the young boys served us an array of local dishes.
It was a good chance to meet some of the other cruisers in the anchorage as there was now 10 yachts there.
Island Hopping Tour
A group of us went on a tour of some of the surrounding islands in one of the local boats. The island boat was a traditional wooden boat with a roof overhead and open all around.
The engine was an ancient Yanmar two cylinder that turned over slow enough to count the rotations of the crankshaft. The whole boat shook from the vibrations. Our captain steered the craft by placing his feet on the long wooden tiller.
Our group sat on benches along each side of the boat, trying to stay out of the spray. The boat putted along through the choppy surf, stopping at several large towns on islands about 10 miles from Uligan.
The areas were again swept spotlessly clean. The buildings were made of coral and mortar, similar to those in Uligan. There were not many people on the streets and any women we encountered ran away and hid.
The towns were interesting but very similar with few amenities. We had lunch at a local restaurant which served only Skip Jack Tuna in all forms, deep fried balls, cakes, pastries, with different spices and curries. Outside, fish lay on racks drying in the sun. creating a very unappetizing odor. Internet was not working. There were a few small shops with limited produce (oranges, limes, potatoes, onions).
We visited the local school, a clean modern complex but sparsely furnished. We talked to the Indian principal and were surprised to learn that the school did not teach vocations or skills that might be used to obtain jobs on other islands.
Women, wearing their burkas, were working in the library.
A classroom of students were reciting scriptures from the Koran. The girls in the classroom were very shy and tried to hide from having their photos taken.
We returned to the harbour where our boat was waiting to take us on a snorkeling adventure. While the boys packed diesel fuel I took a few photos of some of the interesting and unusual boats that were tied beside our little craft.
To snorkel we went to a reef off a deserted island, as in these Muslim countries women do not expose themselves by wearing swimsuits! In fact, it was rather hard to get in and out of the water off the boat but the older man in the group was always right there to offer his assistance and did more than enough googling as the women struggled aboard in their bikinis.
The water was quite rough with the windy conditions but the snorkeling was quite good, with lots of fish life and coral.
We returned to Uligan, passing several islands that were in the process of building more exclusive resort facilities where stars like Tom Cruise frequent. A boat full of friendly smiling locals waved as they passed us with their loads of sand. We learned that the sand used for the cement walls of buildings in all the towns has to be brought in from other islands so their own islands don't disappear!
The locals put on a Pot Luck BBQ where each boat was to bring a dish from their country (made from provisions bought in Thailand!).
So what is a traditional Canadian dish?? I made a chocolate cake and pasta salad. There were lots of rice dishes as our food stores are a precious commodity!
It was a long hike in the soft sand to reach a large spit where the locals had decorated a picnic spot with twigs and lanterns.
The boys grilled fish over an open fire while the beat of the bongo drums resonated over the sound of the gentle surf.
We went ashore to start the series of visits to Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Harbor Master, etc to check out.
By the time we pulled away from the anchorage, there were 22 boats in Uligan. The wind was strong and gusty but we hoped it would settle over the next couple of days.
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