Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Dutch yacht Capricorn with armed escort attacked by Somali pirates


The 21 metre Capricorn with a 42 metre patrol boat escorting them were both attacked by pirates after leaving the Gulf of Aden on an eastabout  transit of the Arabian Sea. The crew on Capricorn locked themselves in a safe room in the yacht while the six armed guards on the escort fought off the pirates.

For more go HERE

Danish yacht seized by Somali pirates


The Danish yacht was reported to be called ING and there is a Sailblogs site for them with a tracking map shown below. This puts them at a different position to that given below. It also shows their track across the Arabian Sea. We and others stopped our tracks after India although whether the Somali pirates access these tracking maps is not known. The route shows them on a direct route from the bottom of Sri Lanka (Galle?) to the Gulf of Aden and dangerously low compared to what was the higher safer route.




Somali pirates seized a Danish yacht with seven people on board, including three children, the Danish foreign ministry said Monday.

The ship was captured while traveling through the Indian Ocean, AFP reported.

It is now being sailed toward Somalia, the Ministry told the wire service.

The info so far puts the yacht at around 14N 58E which means it was heading directly across to the Gulf of Aden without detouring towards Salalah and then hugging the coast.

More HERE from the BBC

Sad News 22-02-2011

Hijacked Americans 'killed by captors' off Somalia

Picture of Scott and Jean Adam from Scott and Jean Adam first set sail on the 58-foot craft in 2002
Four Americans hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman have been killed by their captors, US defence officials say.

The US military said its forces trailing the vessel had responded to gunfire heard aboard but found all the captives shot when they arrived.

The yacht S/V Quest, hijacked on Friday, was owned and sailed by Scott and Jean Adam of California.

Also killed were two US passengers, Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle.

From the BBC website


New pirate attack on yacht off Oman Feb 19th 2011


The situation is looking grimmer this year for passages across the Arabian Sea to Oman and through the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea. This happened today (from the BBC)

Somali pirates seize American yacht crew off Oman

Four Americans sailing on a yacht off the coast of Oman have been taken hostage by Somali pirates, an international maritime watchdog says.

The S/V Quest, owned by a retired couple, was hijacked 240 nautical miles (275 miles) off Oman on Friday afternoon, Ecoterra told BBC News.

It is believed the yacht was en route from India to Oman.

While pirates usually attack cargo ships, they have hijacked a number of yachts in recent years.

Ecoterra said the capture of the S/V Quest had been reported by both its sources and by Nato's anti-piracy operation, Ocean Shield. Nato could not be reached immediately for comment.

Jean and Scott Adam, the yacht's owners, have been sailing it around the world since 2002, according to their website.

The couple wrote on the site that they had taken on two new crew members last year.

Mapping out their sailing plans for this year, they said they planned to sail from Sri Lanka to Crete in the Mediterranean, via the Suez Canal, making stops in India, Oman and Djibouti.

For more go to HERE

SV Quest website

For the live IMB PIRACY MAP


Skylax blog INDIAN OCEAN 2010


This edited blog will cover our cruising across the INDIAN OCEAN from MALAYSIA to SRI LANKA, INDIA, MALDIVES, OMAN AND YEMEN. The latest entries appear first. The first bits are around LANGKAWI where we are waiting for visas for INDIA and doing a few boat jobs.













Skylax position reports

We will be posting position reports with Yotreps from September 2007 WHEN WE ARE ON PASSAGE. Position reports can be found at Yotreps from either THE REPORTING BOAT LIST that displays our position and a brief comment on Google Earth or you can download the YOTREPS POSITION REPORTER and locate our track and other data (wind, wave height, bearing) on the world map.

Yotreps  has a side bar menu with the reporting boat list and also a button to download the Yotreps Reporter (reporter software) and instructions on how to use it. The software is free.

You can find Skylax either by our call sign or name:


Call sign   MGAY

Chandlers released from captivity at last

From BBC online

A retired British couple have been released by Somali pirates after being held captive for more than a year.

Paul, 60, and Rachel Chandler, 56, from Kent, were seized from their yacht off the Seychelles in October 2009.

Mrs Chandler said: "I'm enjoying being free". The couple said they were fine, but will undergo medical checks.

On release they were taken to Adado, then Mogadishu, and have now arrived in Kenya. The BBC held off reporting the release due to an injunction.

It observed the terms of the order obtained by the Chandlers' family which was intended to stop news organisations covering their release until they were safely out of Somalia.

Mr Chandler told the BBC: "We're fine, we're rather skinny and bony but we're fine."

For more info go to the BBC

Yachtsmen taken hostage in Somalia 2010


The following arrived today

From: European Union Naval Force Public Affairs Office <>
To: UK Author Yacht magazines
Sent: Mon, 8 November, 2010 11:46:36
Subject: Yachtsman safe after refusing to cooperate with pirates

You are receiving this email because you are opted-in to receive updates from the European Union Naval Force in Somalia - Operation Atalanta. If you do not wish to receive these emails, you can unsubscribe now.

Press Release

  Yachtsman safe after refusing to cooperate with pirates  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our Press Release Yachtsman safe after refusing to cooperate with pirates is published below:

A South African yachtsman, who escaped capture by pirates when he refused to cooperate with them, was safely taken on board an EU NAVFOR warship yesterday.

His yacht had been located by the EU NAVFOR warship FS FLOREAL on 6 November when it was discovered to be sailing suspiciously close to shore. Despite numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact the yacht, including a flypast by the ship’s helicopter, no answer was received and the French warship launched her boarding team to investigate further.

Upon approaching, the team came under fire from the yacht and a Mayday call was recieved making it clear that pirates were on board and that the crew of three were under their control.

The FS FLOREAL remained in the vicinity of the pirated vessel. The yacht eventually ran aground near the shore during the early morning of 7 November. As a result of the grounding, the pirates attempted to remove the three crewmembers ashore. The South African skipper of the yacht refused to leave his vessel and the pirates left with the remaining two crewmembers as hostages.

Once the pirates had left the yacht, the skipper was rescued by the EU NAVFOR warship FS FLOREAL. He is confirmed as being safe and is currently on board another EU NAVFOR warship.

The whereabouts of the other crew members is currently unknown, despite a comprehensive search by an EU NAVFOR helicopter.


This Press Release is also available on:

Please find video material about "European Union Naval Force Somalia - Operation Atalanta" published in the TV-Newsroom of the Council of the European Union:




Aden is one of those signposts of the sea that once seen will not be forgotten. The razor-back ridge of Krater rears up out of the sea and provides a safe haven and a huge natural port behind it. Krater, as its name suggests, is an extinct volcanic crater. The dry basalt slopes of Aden shimmer in the heat and seem to radiate heat right out to sea and as you get nearer you can pick out white houses dotted around the slopes. It is a welcome sight whether you are coming from the east or the west.


When you are 10 miles out you need to call Aden Port Control on Channel 16 or 13. The latter is the working channel. You will be asked to call up again when you are off the breakwater. The approach channel is well buoyed and the paper and electronic charts pretty accurate for the approaches and the harbour.

Follow the buoyed channel in and anchor off the Prince of Wales quay. The bottom is mud and clay, but not everywhere good holding. There is also a lot of junk on the sea bottom: old tyres, moorings, bits of pipe and steel-work. The wind generally blows from the east but can swirl around sometimes and there is also a fair amount of tide ripping through the anchorage.

Clearing in

Take your dinghy to the west side of the Prince of Wales quay and go to immigration who are on the east side of the quay. You need three crew lists and they will keep your passport and give you a shore pass. Then go to customs, also on the east side of the quay, where you will be entered into the log and who require a further two crew lists.

To clear out you need to go to the Harbourmaster on Ras Marbut where shown on the plan in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide and get a clearance document from him that you take to customs and then to immigration where you hand back the shore passes and get your passports back.


The intermittent crude oil pollution which used to afflict yachts in the anchorage seems to have been fixed. Certainly when I was there and talking to others there does not seem to be a problem. However the oil pollution did use to be intermittent so that you could be there for a couple of weeks with no problem and then wake up to an oily sludge washing over your topsides from the wash from workboats. Lets hope it is a thing of the past.



Sadly Omar the taxi driver died eight years ago. However you will come across a lot of taxi drivers (‘I am Omar’… ‘No, I am Omar’…) and ‘guides’ who can show you around and drive you to where you want to go. The Sailors Club is still there, but see below. Aden has changed a bit since I was here last, but is still essentially the same: welcoming, convivial, and you can just about get most things.

Restaurant crew


The Aden bunkering company still provides fuel. You go alongside a barge tied to the shore, go to the office and pay for the amount you think you will need, take the chit to the office beside the barge where they will fill you up. If you use less than what you paid for, then they will refund you that amount. There are requests for gifts which are best left until you have filled up.

You can get water on the Prince of Wales quay ($10 for a ton) which is said to be potable, though its probably wise to treat it.

The laundry man Achmet (‘Baba Achmet’) is still there and will do a good job sorting out your laundry. He can also get gas bottles filled. Alternatively you can take it yourself to a laundry nearby on the main road.

In Krater a new mall has opened, the Aden Mall, which has a huge LuLu supermarket. Fruit and veggies are best bought from the carts around the port area. The fruit and veggies are still excellent and keep well since they haven’t been refrigerated.

There is a small chandlers/dive shop, Al Waleed, which has a surprising amount of stuff in it. Waleed, the owner, is also very helpful in sourcing stuff.

The Sailors Club

It’s become a bit of a dive and regularly has prostitutes in of an evening. They dance around with clients with a burka on. Apparently if you lift the burka to see her face, that’s it, you have contracted to have her for the night. They still do good food and now serve beer though it’s $4 a can.

 And of course everyone is still chewing qat






The EM (early March) Convoy


I’m not going to dwell on this except to make a few mild observations. As a friend said when we arrived here in Aden: ‘the funeral is over, lets get on with the sailing stuff’.

Organising a convoy for 20 boats is a daunting task and logistically difficult keeping all the boats together.

The 20 boats were divided into four groups of five with each group of five organised with a group leader in front with two pairs of yachts behind. The suggested distances were 200 metres between boats and 0.25 of mile between the groups. In practice this was impossible to maintain and the convoy became looser and looser as the days went by.

There were a lot of complaints from yachts that didn’t want to be in a group and so swapped to another group and complaints within groups that boats were too close or too far apart. One of the things about this sort of convoy is that it brings out latent authoritarian tendencies in certain individuals who are either wanna-be admirals/generals/officer class of the worst variety and who get increasing more and more stentorian as time goes on.

The other nonsense is that there was a lot of bad second-hand knowledge about piracy in the Gulf of Aden that was pedalled as first hand experience. In fact I was the only one who had been through the Gulf of Aden previously and I kept my trap shut in the interests of not starting lengthy and useless debate. For example I was asked how you could identify the pirate skiffs from the local fishing skiffs (all pretty much identical boats) and there was a deal of dissatisfaction expressed when I said that would be hard to do until they were at the sort of distance where you could identify through the binoculars that there were a lot of men with automatic rifles in it. By then it was probably too late. Well frankly that’s how it is.

On the same matter local fishing skiffs were treated as pariahs and I made a point of waving and smiling at them and trundling over to several of them to give them biscuits and nasty Marlboro. These local fishing guys are so smiley and friendly it seems a travesty not to respond in kind.

Small but perfectly formed and big enough for two

By the time we were halfway into the convoy Lu realised this was a really bad decision, that we should have cruised the Yemen coast in a smaller group of say four or six, and that she would never live long enough to pay me the brownie points I had earned.

Anyway we arrived safely in Aden, scarred, but safe. As one of the convoy members put it: ‘Did you know that in Somalia the pirates are buying T-shirts saying: I survived the convoy’.

 And the convoy reaches Aden... the funeral is over





Annotated Google Earth Salalah

For more annotated Google Earth go HERE

Salalah (Mina Raysut)


 Salalah: the anchorage in the basin

We spent little time in Salalah as we had 36 hours before the convoy left. Ah yes, the convoy. This was not my choice, but then I have a shipmate who has a vote as well and Lu was still feeling fragile and nervous after her sad time in the UK. So the convoy it was. On hindsight she readily agreed that it was the wrong decision.


The approach to the port is straightforward with a bright fairway buoy (Fl2s) and the channel well marked with lit starboard and port hand buoys. Port control operates on Channel 13 and are on the ball. It’s a big port so you may have to wait for ships coming or going or keep just outside the marked channel where there are good depths. We came in at night which was straightforward and no real problem apart from picking your way through all the yachts at anchor which didn’t show anchor lights (most of them).

Port control will talk you in and keep tabs on you and you need to let them know when you have anchored.


With 20 odd boats there waiting to go on the convoy and other free-rangers waiting to leave, the anchorage in the basin was packed to say the least. Everyone was anchored on top of one another and you could easily chat to adjacent boats we were all that close. Fortunately it doesn’t blow hard in here and the holding in mud is good, so you could use a shorter scope than normal to swing clear of the other boats. A number of boats anchored in the SE corner with long lines ashore to the rocks.


Mohammed is the main man, the only real agent for yachts here, and he does a good job. He charges you $50 to clear you in and out and there are another $30 in customs and immigration charges. These two latter charges are taken on a credit card (i.e. you can’t use cash) although Mohammed can pay them and charge you cash. You also need a visa to leave the port area which costs $35 per person.

Mohammed supplies diesel in 20 litre jerry cans (1$ a litre), can organise hire cars, and generally solve most problems.

He really is an OK guy, though sadly a number of boats left this year without paying his full bill. You know who you are and shame on you.




Position Reports


We will be posting position reports on Yotrep again when we leave Aden and head up the Red Sea.



Across the Arabian Sea


Previous to this trip I’ve set out from Cochin and curved around with the wind towards the Gulf of Aden and Salalah. The logic of this is that the NE monsoon initially blows from the north and even the NW close to the Indian coast and then gradually clocks to the north and then NE and east. So you can effectively cruise around on a close reach towards Yemen or Oman.

The problem now is that with cruiser gossip about piracy being what it is, and also some actual attacks on ships along this route, most yachts have decided to head north through the top of the Lacadives and then head west for Yemen and Omen along around 15 degrees north. This is more or less what we did and it does mean being pretty close hauled up through the Lacadives. In practice we shaped our course to the wind (it oscillated between NW and NE mostly veering to the NE at night) and wriggled our way through the Lacadives. The channels between the islands are all wide and deep and the islands are not too badly lit.

Once clear of the northern Lacadives it was a matter of sailing pretty much along the rhumb line climbing up towards 15 degrees north and towards Salalah. The wind further north tends to be a bit more patchy than further south and yachts that sailed a rhumb line course from Cochin or Uligan in the Maldives had a better trip and more wind than yachts that went north to 15 degrees and then west. In fact we sailed more than most of the other yachts that took this northerly route, though you had to be patient and boat speed was often only 3-4 knots.

In the north currents are also more variable than further south where as described in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide you can usually carry a favourable current for the whole trip. In the north currents seemed almost to be diurnal with 12 hours of current against (0.3 to 0.8 knots) and 12 hours of current with you (0.5 up to 1 knot and more at times).

Overall it was an easy trip with the seas slight and even flat calm at times. We had a couple of visitors of the Avian kind including a little swallow (?) that decided it was much better off inside the boat than outside and made itself completely at home before flying off for land when we were close to Salalah. Unlike previous trip we caught no fish…

  I just want to sleep...    Me too

One thing that was obvious was that ships and fishing boats were pretty wary of us, no doubt wondering whether we were a pirate skiff. We carried only a small all round white light above the bimini except when ships got close and we turned on the nav lights. We also took down the radar reflectors. Two ships must still have picked us up on radar and made 90 degree turns to avoid us. Fishing boats also tended to give us a wide berth. One other yacht did run into a drift net a couple of hundred miles out of Salalah and had to wait until morning before cutting themselves free.




Heading across to the Red Sea


As we get ready to head off for Salalah and the Red Sea there will be no position reports... not that I think too many Somalis are looking at them anyway, but it makes sense to take all precautions. As I've written before, the statistical risks are a lot less than other parts of the world, Venezuela and Brazil for starters, but that doesn't do much for the gut feeling in your stomach before setting off. Even when you've done this trip a couple of times before, still I get a few butterflies and a bit of queasiness thinking about it.

I'll detail the sort of precautions, convoy details and any other relevant stuff after we are through, most likely a lot later given the dearth of internet connections before the Mediterranean. For now I'll briefly run through a few things.
  1. Most yachts are going through in convoys, some of them quite big (20 + boats), some much smaller with just 4-6 boats in them. A few of these convoys claim to have special contacts with the Yemen Coastguard, MSCHOA, and in some cases the navy of a particular country. In fact any of us can and have contacted these agencies and their advice is always DO NOT GO. They cannot offer special protection, this comes only from private security firms and costs tens of thousands of dollars. In fact one we contacted out of curiosity laughed when we said our cruising speed was 6 knots. Some yachts are going it alone and some yachts are even cruising the Yemen coast.
  2. Position reports on the various radio nets operating are given using a code. More details later but you can easily make up your own. VHF communication is on low power only.
  3. Most boats will run only a small white light at night. Radar reflectors are also being removed.
  4. Most yachts do not carry firearms.
  5. Some of are carrying a bottle of champagne to toast the gods on a safe arrival in the Red Sea.


Annotated Google Earth Cochin

For more annotated Google earth maps go HERE

The coracle people



India is the Asian Tiger, an economy projected to grow at close to double digit figures and an economy set to rival China in the future. The evidence is everywhere. No longer do you see the old Morris Ambassadors, a British car from the early 1950’s built here, or the old Royal Enfield Bullet, a single pot 350cc motorbike built here until recently. Instead there are modern Suzuki cars built under licence, the whole Tata range of cars which offer everything from super-minis to 4x4’s. The motorbikes are mostly Honda Hero’s built under licence. India is swiftly moving into the 21st century and the Indians themselves know this and are proud of it.


It all comes with a whiff of arrogance and it’s little wonder that India’s neighbours have coined the phrase ‘the ugly Indian’, a phrase piggy-backing on the phrase used during the Viet Nam War to describe ‘the ugly American’. As a tourist you see little of it and the locals are just as smiley, just as friendly, just nice people to be amongst. But on the margins the untouchables and gypsies are still there even if, in Cochin at least, they are banned from begging and soliciting.


On the river some of these people come out at various states of the tide to fish with small surface nets, gather firewood from Bolghatty Island, and retrieve bits of discarded rubbish that might be useful to them. They live in an encampment under one of the modern apartment blocks being built in Ernakulum and their brightly coloured washing adorns the shore line. On the river they come out in round woven coracles almost identical to those that were used in Ireland. They are wickerwork with some sort of waterproofing between the weave and how they paddle these big baskets with a single paddle is beyond me when the boat has neither stem nor stern. Still paddle them they do, although when the tide is running strongly it takes a lot of effort to avoid being swept onto the yachts at anchor.


They keep pretty much to themselves although now and then they will ask for water or a cigarette. On the shore where you leave the dinghies there will often be one of the young girls with a baby on her hip gently asking for money, I say gently because begging is banned in Cochin and you don’t get mobbed the way you do in Mumbai.

 One of the last canoes ferrying goods - though the lateen rig has gone to be replaced by a long-tail powered by about 4 HP at the rate he was going.


The large ‘canoe’ style boats with a rough lateen sail that used to ply the river are pretty much gone to be replaced by motorised barges. There is still the odd smaller canoe ferrying goods upriver though these are also motorised. This time around I’ve seen just one canoe with a sail.


Outside of Cochin much of what goes on is small scale agrarian with small-holdings growing everything from market vegetables to spices like pepper and cinnamon, a bit of rice and small mixed orchards with fruit, cashews, and coconuts.  You can take organised trips into the waterways south of Cochin and it is a ‘must do’. To get up the canals you are poled along as the waterways are pretty shallow in places. Out on the larger stretches the canoes have outboards to get around and sails are rare these days.


The Asian Tiger is running on oil and the old sailing craft are dying out… except there are three local windsurfers in Cochin now.


 The coracle families





Nasty touts in Galle


I love Sri Lanka and we had a good time there and a good trip with our driver and guide into the highlands. But two boats I know of have had a bad experience and a nasty con with one of the drivers/guides that tout at the gates of the port. I don’t normally diss locals like this, but in this case I know both of the boats well and trust their opinions on the matter.


Seman (I think that is how you spell his name) is one of the touts outside the gates of the port. He will organise a mini-bus and driver who will give you an experience from hell. Both of the groups who used Seman were subjected to a tour which ignored their requests to go to places they wanted to see and instead they were carted around to places where the driver gets a kick-back. Now this is fairly common but the difference in this case is that the driver will wind up being more and more irascible and eventually will ask for more money and in both the cases for the boats I know of, will in the end say that he will inform the police that he has been assaulted unless a substantial payment is made. Seman will then subject you to nasty phone calls and text messages telling you that his ‘life has been ruined’ and unless you pay up, the police will prevent you from leaving Galle.


The similarity of the behaviour and the con at the end (‘my driver says he has a broken arm from being assaulted and must go to hospital… he will inform the police he has been beaten up … unless you pay a $100 dollars… etc.) in both cases suggests this is not an isolated incident and my advice would be to book with another tout or agent. The Windsors, Dee Dee Yacht Service (who we used) or anyone except Seman should give you an enjoyable tour through the highlands. Or take local transport (bus and rail) or hire a motorbike or car.






We arrived off the entrance to the buoyed channel at 2300 and I hummed and harred about a night entry. Then I spotted a ship heading for the channel and pulled in behind confident that he drew a lot more than us and would have a pilot on board.


Fat chance. It turned out to be one of the large dredgers keeping the channel dredged and it was operating in the buoyed channel. Less than halfway down it stopped, turned around, and began dredging. Cochin is not an easy one for a night entry as the buoys are a considerable distance apart and in the haze that afflicts this coast you need a pair of binoculars to pick up the next buoys. Or buoy. As the channel gets closer to the entrance between Vipin and Fort Cochin you only get single buoys (either port or starboard) and not pairs of buoys as further out.

 Mr Bijou does the paperwork


Still we got in safely and anchored off the Malabar jetty ready to clear in on the morrow. Most of the formalities are as detailed in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide and customs duly came out to us in the morning. They now ask for a beer or three for the guys in the boat but are otherwise polite and helpful. Mr Bijou, the customs officer, filled in much of the paperwork or advised me on what to put where, and then was waiting ashore to help. You go to the Harbourmaster first and will need 440 rupees (approx. 50 rupees to one US$). You can only pay in rupees. Then you go to customs and Mr Bijou guided me around the various offices to get the paperwork done. And finally to immigration.


You may be met by an ‘agent’ these days (usually Nasir Boat 72 or Nasir & Ibrahim) and these guys are OK. They will help you clear in and take you to an ATM to get rupees. I used Nasir and Ibrahim who later came and guided me into the Bolghatty anchorage. I gave Nasir 500 rupees for his services (he had been with me through the offices and on the boat for 4 hours or more) which was probably a little over the odds, but not much.


The channel into the Bolghatty anchorage is as shown in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide but has now been buoyed! The waypoints below give the track in which has around 2.5 metres least depth AT OR CLOSE TO HIGH TIDE. The largest draught boat to get in here drew 2.8 metres so it probably entailed a little dredging through the soft mud.


Bolghatty anchorage waypoints:

1.   Turn to channel 09 58.20N   76 16.57E

2.   1st set of buoys 09 58.39N   76 16.52E

3.   2nd set of buoys 09 58.64N   76 16.27E

4.   3rd set of buoys 09 58.80N   76 16.21E

5.   Anchorage 09 58.63N   76 16.27E


Bolghatty anchorage


The anchorage is as shown in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide. You need to keep the west side channel free for mini-tankers and other craft going up and down the river and leave some room on the east side free for the local ferries. Anchorage is in 3 metres on mud.


These days yachts use their dinghies and can leave them over by the tripper boat pier or at the Bolghatty Hotel pier. There is a water tap close to the Bolghatty Hotel pier (100 rupees for a month). The bum boats (Nasir and Nasir & Ibrahim) will get diesel, petrol, gas, take away rubbish, laundry, and generally help out where they can organising mechanics, gardiennage, and anything else.


On the edge of Bolghatty Island a marina is under construction. The piles are in place though there is no sign of the pontoons yet. It looks like there will be around 25-30 berths here, maybe more. There are rumours that anchoring will then be prohibited in the river, but I suspect a lot of the berths will be dedicated to the waterside apartments and villas immediately behind the marina. Lets see…


The Bolghatty Hotel itself has been massively renovated and whole new buildings have been built. It has a bar and a restaurant (buffet 350 rupees and not at all bad) and is pretty swish. Tripper boats now operate around the anchorage carrying predominantly Indian tourists … ‘these yachts from Britain, USA, Australia…’



Ernakulum market


The buzz and cacophony of sounds in Ernakulum come as a bit of a surprise as the anchorage is not at all noisy. Once you get to the main street there are Tata buses charging you down, auto-rickshaws careering in and out of the traffic, and people everywhere.


In town there is still the wonderful warren of alleys with shops selling everything from saris, pots and pans, hardware, sacks of rice, books and stationery, sticky sweets and sticky snacks. The wonderful fruit and veggie market near the canal is still there and there is a ‘supermarket’ not far from the dinghy dock.


You can still get around Cochin by the local ferries which run all over the place including Willenden Island (where you clear in) and Fort Cochin. These are calmer more sedate places compared with the hustle and bustle of Ernakulum and well worth a wonder around. Oh and the Taj Malabar Hotel still does a wonderful Sunday buffet lunch at 750 rupees a person.











Gulf of Mannar



In the Gulf of Mannar the NE monsoon is funnelled through the gap between the bottom of India and Sri Lanka. This gives rise to winds of 20-30 knots gusting out of the gulf and raises a considerable sea. So far so much the same as in Indian Ocean Cruising Guide.


Today with lots of weather overload everyone is looking at their grib files and waiting for a window where the gribs give 15-20 knots for the gulf. As I’ve mentioned before, gribs are not good at picking up anomalies caused by local geographical features, not too mention squally weather around fronts and lots of other weather situations. Gribs give a broad paint-brush picture of weather but the algorithms cannot (yet) pick up local variations.


In the case of the Gulf of Mannar the 15-20 knots predicted by the gribs turned out to be the usual 20-30 knots you usually get through here. For the three times I’ve done this passage at various times with the NE monsoon this has always been the case.


For Skylax this was a fast trip if a little splashy and a bit uncomfortable after the pleasant downwind trip from Malaysia to Sri Lanka with the NE monsoon aft of the beam. Because the wind funnels out of the gulf along the edges, the wind at the beginning was tight and we could barely maintain the rhumb line course. As you get further into the gulf the wind goes a bit further aft and for most of the trip the wind was 60 degrees apparent at 7-8 knots boat speed. As you get towards India the wind goes further aft until it aft of the beam and boat comfort improves dramatically.


From India down to Sri Lanka the pattern is the same with the wind tight on the nose and gradually going aft until you drift around the corner to Galle.


 This fishing boat off the bottom of India had over half a mile of surface net out ... eventually  I got around it



Annotated Google Earth Galle

For more annotated Google Earth maps go HERE

Sri Lanka


 Pole fisherman on the coast around from Galle... said to be the oldest continuous form of fishing in the world


If you are prone to internet and cruiser rumour then the likelihood is that Sri Lanka does not figure on your list of destinations to visit in this part of the world. Internet forums and nautical chat-rooms are full of stories about how awful the place is, how bad Galle harbour is, and how you get ripped off for anything and everything. Well that’s the rumour mill at work and any cruisers loss for not visiting this wonderful island.

The truth is that there is minor corruption, Galle harbour is pretty much like it was when I last visited it 13 years ago despite plans to make it more yacht friendly, and clearing in and out carries minor penalties in the way of ‘gifts’ if you are a soft touch like me; but otherwise Sri Lanka remains one of the most spectacular tropical islands in the world and the Sri Lankans themselves, the everyday folk you meet in the street, some of the nicest people on this planet. All this despite a devastating civil war, the 2004 tsunami and internecine political rivalry that often spills over into violence.


I met Anil while looking for an auto rickshaw in Galle.

‘Come with me or they will charge you tourist prices’ he said. ‘I know you, I’ve seen you around the harbour… where is your wife?’

I explained she had to go back to the UK because of a death in the family. ‘So sorry’, he said, ‘so sorry for your wife’.

And then he proceeded to tell me about the tsunami. ‘I lost my fishing boat, my young daughter was swept out to sea and drowned, for four years we have been living in a camp, but now we have a small house. Sadly my other daughter has polio.’

I listened to this catalogue of disasters and grief told to me quietly and with restrained dignity by Anil and wondered how he could still be so helpful, so warm to me, by comparison the rich foreigner.

‘What can I do?’ I asked.

‘Tell others’ he said. ‘Tell them we are still here’.

‘Maybe a mosquito net’ he said, ‘For my daughter’. I gave him the meagre 500 rupees he needed and he blessed me and held my hand.

A small price in the face of need and, after all, what goes around comes around.


Or does it? Touting is a sophisticated way of life in Sri Lanka and touts are adept at spotting opportunities and exploiting them. Two days later I was waiting for a friend around the same area. Up popped Martin who told me how he had lost his fishing boat in the tsunami. Also my wife and my younger daughter. And my other daughter has polio. Maybe you could buy me some milk powder… Now just maybe the similarity, the almost exact ‘coached’ nature of the stories, is coincidence. Or not. I didn’t buy him any milk powder and really the amounts are small (1US$ is approx. 150 Sri Lankan rupees), and what goes around comes around.


The Highlands

From the coastal flats you head up into the highlands, to old colonial retreats in the cool of the mountains like Nuralia at some 6500 ft (take some warm clothes), past Buddhist temples, through tropical rain forest and waterfalls dropping hundreds of feet, and of course through vast tea plantations.

This is another Sri Lanka away from the booming surf on golden beaches and proas setting out through the surf to set nets in the inshore waters.

BOP tea party in the highlands ... we can all become tea snobs. BOP: broken orange pekoe


Most yachties will organise an excursion in a mini-bus with a driver from Galle and this is not a bad way to go. It depends on your driver and sometimes on the accompanying guide. Some of the drivers are just not amenable to your requests whereas others will listen to what you want. Alternatively take local transport and even if you take a mini-bus, its worth doing a morning trip on the slow train than winds up through the mountains – the drivers will usually put you on the train at Ella and collect you from one of the stops along the way.

Don't miss the slow train


Around Galle

Around Galle you should take time to wander around Fort Galle which is now being slowly renovated. It is a wonderful mix of old Portuguese, Dutch and English colonial architecture with little gem shops, a museum which also has gem and jewellery shops, art galleries and everyday shops in the old buildings. And if you tire of the touts you can always pop into the restored elegance of the Fort Galle Hotel for a cold drink or a cappuccino on the veranda and spoil yourself with a little old world charm – though it comes at a slighter higher price.


Yep, the British were here...





Downtown Galle


Procedures for clearing into Galle are pretty much as I have detailed in Indian Ocean Pilot.

Yachts arriving here call up Galle Port Control on Ch 16 and you are requested to anchor off the harbour while the navy comes and checks you out. You are then allowed to enter the harbour which has a boom across the entrance with a narrow channel around the southern end. The navy will then direct you to go on the pontoon near the entrance (stern or bow-to with an anchor out) or anchor fore and aft in the inner part of the harbour.



All yachts must have an agent which will be either GAC Shipping or the Windsors. It’s best to email the agent with details of your boat and crew before arrival so they can do the relevant paperwork and have it all ready on your arrival.

Once berthed in the harbour the agent will come out with customs (who will angle for a bribe, usually alcohol or cigarettes) and quarantine who may also want a little ‘gift’. Yes I do usually give them a little something, usually cheap vodka or rum I have bought in Langkawi for next to nothing, but lots of yachts do not.

Your agent will then take you ashore to get a shore pass from security and to immigration.

In 2010 GAC shipping cost $US225 and the Windsors cost $US200.

GAC shipping:

Windsors:    Don’t always expect to get an answer from the Windsors, but they will usually have got your email and will have the paperwork ready on arrival.


You need to give details of

·         Crew on board including nationality and passport numbers. If anyone is flying out of Sri Lanka list them as passengers and not crew.

·         Boat details including LOA, beam, draught. Flag, port of registry and registration number.


 Transportation: Port Galle to Galle town was 100/130 R Sri Lankan in 2010


In the harbour itself water and diesel must still be arranged by jerry cans. The agent (GAC or Windsors) can arrange to get diesel. There are water taps in the harbour where you can fill jerry cans and the water seems to be good, although you should still treat it.

Various ‘agents’ who wait outside the gates for yachties can do laundry, arrange trips, and take you into Galle in an auto-rickshaw. They are all generally helpful and prices are around the same for most of them. Mike runs a provisions shop and can fill gas bottles and can bring the groceries and anything else into the port area ONCE for any particular yacht. His prices are fair. Dee Dee can arrange laundry and most other things. Marlin seems to be in semi-retirement but is around.

Any of these and the Windsors can arrange trips into the highlands and you should do this – the highlands are where the big tea plantations are and there is more than just tea to see.

There is now a good supermarket, Sea Fair, a short walk away from the harbour and there is good fresh fruit and veggie shopping in Galle itself.

There are good hardware shops in Galle, but the chances of getting even basic yachting equipment like multiplait or marine stainless steel is next to non-existent. Basic mechanical repairs can be carried out and you can probably get things knocked up in local engineering shops.

And then a little pampering in the Fort Galle Hotel




Malaysia & Thailand to Sri Lanka


Leaving Malaysia (usually Langkawi) and Thailand (usually Phuket) the winds will usually be fresh NE-E for a bit before dying off in the wind shadow of the Asian peninsula. Up to the Nicobars the wind has the usual diurnal variation going from NE-E in the morning to light SE in the afternoon and variable easterlies through the night.

Yachts leaving from Langkawi will usually head for the Great Channel between Great Nicobar Island and the northern end of Sumatra as it is closer to the rhumb line than more northerly channels. Yachts leaving from Phuket will usually use the Sombrero Channel.


Overfalls & ‘whirlpools’

In the sea area east and west of the Nicobars you get upwellings from the sea bottom even though you can be in very deep water. You will see areas of disturbed water a bit like tidal overfalls and the sort of whirlpools you get in places like the Messina Strait in the Mediterranean. At first these can be a bit intimidating and there is a bit of water being thrown around in the steep waves and the boat will be swirled around a few degrees either side, but they only cover a small area and you will soon be through them until you get to the next lot.



It must be remembered that the Nicobars belong to India and are off-limits to yachts. The Indian navy and air force patrol the area which have sensitive military installations and are not lenient with boats that pull into an anchorage in the Nicobars.


Nicobars to Sri Lanka

There is usually a good west-going current in the Bay of Bengal although it seems to be best if you stay higher, around 7 degrees North. Staying north also seems to pay dividends wind-wise and you will usually have more consistent winds around 7 degrees as opposed to 5 degrees. Once clear of the Nicobars the NE monsoon usually blows quite consistently around 10-20 knots although there are days when it can drop below 10 knots for a time before kicking in again.

Another advantage of staying around 7 degrees is that you are clear of the rhumb line course for shipping coming up the Malacca Strait and heading west to Sri Lanka before crossing to the Red Sea and Suez. You will come across a few fishing boats, usually beaten up old Bangladeshi, Indian or Sri Lankan boats, and a few stray ships heading to Bangladesh, the Andamans and Burma.

Once you get near Sri Lanka the wind is channelled down the west coast of Sri Lanka and around the bottom, often getting up to 30 knots or so. The current here is SW going west around the bottom of Sri Lanka and often runs at 2 knots or more. Staying north means you can just turn SW to go with the current and the wind and follow it around. As you approach Donda Head the wind will often die to nothing.

Around the south side of Sri Lanka there will be fishing boats around, but not too many, and its useful to stay around 10 miles off the coast which keeps you out of the separation channel for ships and away from some of the smaller fishing boats.


There are few who do not find this passage a pleasant and easy one with comparatively benign seas and good winds. Squalls do occur and can blow at 35 knots or so for an hour or two, but compared to the Atlantic and Pacific they are less frequent and not as violent.


Leaving Malaysia


Telaga Marina: jungle all around, sea eagles surfing the thermals overhead, and huge hornbills that you could easily mistake for a pterodactyl. Not in the picture obviously but around and about.

So the time has come. We have visas in advance for India. Tomorrow we go to get fresh stuff, some meat, fruit and veggies, eggs, that sort of thing, before leaving Thursday for Galle in Sri Lanka. Its been some time since we have been on passage and like all departures we have a few butterflies about leaving Telaga Marina where life is easy and heading out into the Big Blue seems like something utterly new. Still a few days at sea and we will settle back into the rhythm of old Mother Sea and life in a small capsule bouncing along the surface of the watery stuff.

Great Hornbill (this pic is in Thailand but the species is the same as those in Malaysia). Looks like a Pteradactyl to me...? Photo Chris Huh




Finally the funds for the Galileo project have been okayed by Brussels and the construction and launch of the satellites will start with enough operational satellites launched by 2014 for the system to be up and running.
The delay has not been all bad news.
Galileo will now be compatible with the US GPS and Russian Glonass systems.
Civilian users will not have to pay for the service for an accuracy of a metre.
Commercial firms can pay for an enhanced system with an accuracy to centimetres.
The Rescue Services will also have access to the enhanced system.

By 2014 there should be 16 satellites in orbit although the plan is to have 22 to allow for redundancy.

For more info go to the BBC.

An unhappy Christmas story


I've sent this email to a few people who I thought might be able to put a bit of pressure on the relevant Malaysian authorities, but no joy yet, so I'm posting it here. The police and coastguard seem reluctant to investigate so far.

Telaga Marina/Langkawi/Malaysia
Around 1800 on the 27th Dec Geoff Moore (52) of s/y Beach House, a 45ft aluminium Adams design, and Giles Finlayson (58) of s/y Petrel, a 40ft C&C sloop, were ferrying diesel back from the fuel dock in the marina to their boats in the anchorage. It was early evening in good light. A wooden fishing boat (40ft?) with a large outboard on the back came up from behind and ran over the top of the dinghy. Giles was thrown into the water and the fishing boat then ran over him with the outboard. The fishing boat stopped and then continued on despite pleas from Geoff to help him get Giles out of the water. Geoff dived off the dinghy and somehow managed to get Giles back into it. Another fishing boat then brought the dinghy back into the marina.

We were having drinks on another boat when we saw the dinghy coming in and Geoff shouted to us to come and help. Fiona Smaill on s/y Sayonara is a doctor so we bundled her into the dinghy and raced over to the dock. Giles was in a mess with both arms lacerated by the outboard and multiple broken bones in both arms. Under Fiona's guidance we gave first aid and collected bandages etc. from Skylax and she attended to the wounds. I got the marina to call an ambulance.

Giles was taken to Kuah Hospital where it was quickly decided he needed to go to the mainland. On the mainland he was in theatre for 13hours for surgery on for his right arm and then moved to Penang Hospital for further operations. He is there now, and when the infection is under control they will begin to piece back together his shattered left arm.

As Geoff had accompanied Giles to the hospital I made a preliminary report to the police on 28th December and Geoff then made his report on the 30th December.

Geoff's dinghy the next morning... and Gile's blood.

Giles is doing well now in Penang Hospital after some long operations on his arms which were broken in multiple places. His deep lacerations from the outboard are also healing well, but it will be some time before he is back on his boat.


Good name


Good name for a yard in Port Klang.

Sailing in Paradise


This book is just recently out. You can buy it from online booksellers of from Adlard Coles Nautical

From the Adlard Coles Nautical website:
Sailing in Paradise
Yacht charters around the world

This comprehensive guide to the world of chartering, compiled by Rod Heikell, shares the breadth of his knowledge and experience, recommending types of charter, best types of boat, as well as essential information about the world's cruising areas.

Taking a practical approach, he explains everything prospective charterers need to know before setting sail: visas required, healthcare, money, and what to expect from foreign harbours and anchorages. At the heart of the book is a country by country round-up of charter areas around the world with pros and cons, best times to go, wind and sea conditions, harbours and anchorages, eating out, safety, documentation requirements and getting there. Each area is illustrated with a map and colour photos.

This unique guide is a must-have reference for charterers the world over, and a mouth-watering appetiser for those dreaming about where they would like to sail in the future.

About the Author(s)

Rod Heikell has spent 25 years cruising all around the world. He has sailed his own as well as charter and delivery yachts across the Atlantic, around the Caribbean, across the Pacific and to South East Asia, and his pilots are referred to by the cruising sailors who rely on them as ‘the bible’. He is a columnist for Yachting Monthly magazine, and the author of the Adlard Coles Book of Mediterranean Cruising.

Amel Sharky


Again from Thailand I spotted this in the anchorage at Ko Muk. So if you think your boat is looking a bit too beige you can always get some eye-catching graphics in Thailand. Gives a whole new dimension to the other wise beige appearance of an Amel and might be worth considering as an anti-pirate device...



Kickapoo Joy Juice?


First something frivolous from Thailand before we set off into the Indian Ocean and towards Pirate Alley.

Really you do buy cans of this stuff in great expectation, but I have to report it tasted mildly lemon flavoured (as it says on the bottom: citrus flavoured carbonated drink) and perhaps I didn't drink enough of it but it's neither intoxicating nor does it boost the libido. Hey...we both tried it.


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