Passage to the Maldives


Friday 1 April 2016

Uligan, our port of arrival

Uligan, our port of arrival

Adina departed the small fishing harbour of Mirissa, Sri Lanka, at 5.40am on 28th March, just as it was starting to get light and at around the same time the early morning fishing boats were heading out. The Coastguard came down to ensure we were indeed leaving which was a relief as we were never quite sure the message of our early morning departure had got through and didn’t fancy them chasing after us. With no wind we motored our way into Galle to complete check-out formalities. Galle Port Control aren’t exactly known for their efficiency and our check-in had taken a long time so when we anchored outside the port at 8.20am we braced ourselves for another long wait.

Our agent phoned to notify us that a cargo boat needed to leave the port before we could enter. At 9am the cargo boat radioed Port Control and told them they were ready to leave and waiting for the pilot boat. It seemed incredulous that a pilot boat was needed for a cargo container to motor straight ahead out of the port entrance and turn left to open sea. Forty-five minutes later the cargo boat radioed asking where the very necessary pilot boat was to which Port Control responded they would try to find out! The pilot boat finally appeared with six men and accompanied the cargo container which moved straight ahead, out of the port and turned left to the open sea.

In theory we were next in! Please can we wait 20 minutes for the Navy to come to our boat to check us before we enter the harbour. Oh boy! Eventually we got in and tied up where the cargo ship had been, trying to fend-off the big black tractor tyres that leave nice black marks on your hull. Then the good news – our agent had been super-efficient and had run around and got all the paperwork done and we waited only fifteen minutes before we could set off. Luckily no pilot boat for us; we could motor ahead and turn left into the open sea.

We looked back at Galle and waved goodbye, full of fond memories, a little sad to be leaving friends behind. The day before we left, our faithful young tuk-tuk driver, Suranga, had driven Susie around directing her to the right places for all our provisioning and shared more of his life stories with her as they went. In the morning he goes out on a whale watching boat and then in the afternoon and at night he drives his tuk-tuk to try to make more money. He supports his wife, two kids and mother and his biggest debt is his new tuk-tuk, and he confessed he had failed to pay the last two months’ instalments as he had needed the money for medicine for his youngest child. He was just one of those good honest eggs in life and we loved him to bits. He’d drive around tooting and waving and smiling at his friends. Each time we would ask the price and he’d either say “No, don’t worry, it’s ok” and then, when pressed, charge us the local price not the tourist price. And each time we’d give him a little more as he’d always had to wait around while we did something but still he would protest. One of those people karma will one day see right. We bade him farewell and slipped in some extra pennies to ensure he wouldn’t miss his next tuk-tuk instalment. If you ever need a tuk-tuk driver in Sri Lanka we know just the man!

Out at sea the weather forecast showed very little wind and we could foresee ourselves motoring four days to the Maldives. Much to our surprise we had some coastal winds as we left and rapidly got all our sails up. Adina was loving the new sails and off we shot. Three hours later the wind started to fade. In this wind our big old dacron sails would start flapping and flogging and we would have to put them away. But we watched with glee and amazement as our new sails kept us going. We are not about to become marketers for North Sails as that’s not part of the deal, but we were really impressed. We know our new laminate sails are meant to hold their shape and while we’ve noticed they are a lot lighter and easier to handle, this was an unexpected bonus; in lighter winds we can keep going for longer. But no sail can operate in zero wind and it wasn’t long before we started to motor.

And that in essence became the story of our four day passage. We motored and got the sails up whenever there was any hint of wind. A night-time squall of 30 knots of wind and heavy rain reminded us of what we can look forward to when we turn south and head towards the equator. Once more we joined up with shipping traffic bound either for India or the Suez Canal. On our chart plotter our AIS allows us to see information about the assorted ships around us. The destinations of those heading for the Suez Canal made interesting reading as many had used their destination fields to scare off any pirates, with destinations including “Armed guards” or “Security onboard”.

The fishing lines went in and when we landed a Mahi-Mahi we knew we were back in open seas. It’s been a long time since we have caught anything and in fact we just gave up trying to compete with the fishing fleets of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Hopefully now many good fishing days lie ahead.

We chugged along. Night-time means 3 hours on watch, 3 hours sleep. Books were read and Monopoly deal was played. If you haven’t tried the card version of Monopoly, go and get it! While travelling in Sri Lanka we met a family whose daughter noticed us playing. When we got talking she confessed it has become a travellers’ addiction. With her travelling friends it had got to the stage the game was banned at certain times of the day as they were playing it too much! We read books, looked for wind, looked for shipping and looked forward to the Maldives.

Murphy’s Law had us forecast to arrive in Uligan in the north of the Maldives at 10pm – in the dark and into an atoll which means coral. But we’d done our homework, looked at the satellite images and had an anchorage well offshore from friends who had been here a few weeks ago. A beautiful sunset and a big school of dolphins made for a nice welcome to the Maldives. We slowly edged our way in, Susie at the bow with torch, Tom on the helm with binoculars. The anchor went down in 26m of water and we went to bed!

Morning dawned, no wind, flat blue, blue sea and we were surrounded by low lying islands as far as the eye could see. Heaven – only one thing for it – a swim!

Our agent Assad and all the officials turned up right on schedule at 8.30am. Paperwork flew like it was a card game – they clearly pride themselves on an efficient check-in and all credit to them, it was the best check-in we’ve ever experienced. Complete with ice-cream and a SIM card!

Over the next month we plan to move through the entire length of the Maldives from north to south. Depending on the weather we may stay a little longer. A lot of snorkelling, a lot of white beaches. It’s good to be back exploring and anchoring.

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