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

Sailing the Indian Ocean

A page of general bits and pieces on sailing the Indian Ocean. Some of it is from the Skylax blog, some from talking to fellow cruisers, and some from my own past articles and musings.



'Crossing an ocean in a small yacht is a bit like living your life backwards. At the beginning you die, then you get fitter and younger, and then when you arrive you have an orgasmic celebration and the idea that life is just beginning.'

Douglas Graeme

Gulf of Aden Piracy Updates
The Wrong Way to India
Chagos Regulations

Passage notes for Malaysia & Thailand to Sri Lanka
Galle/Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka


Gulf of Aden Piracy updates

From the Skylax blog 02-04-09

Yacht security in Gulf of Aden update

From the Cruising association website


Yachts to be included in Piracy Deterrence Operations in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia

The Maritime Security Centre, Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) aims to provide a service to mariners in the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Basin and off the Horn of Africa. It is a Co-ordination Centre dedicated to safeguarding legitimate freedom of navigation in the light of increasing risks of pirate attack against merchant shipping in the region, in support of the UN Security Council's Resolutions (UNSCR) 1814, 1816 and 1838. MSCHOA has been set up by the EU as part of a European Security and Defence Policy initiative to combat piracy in the Horn of Africa. The operation is described at:

In consultation with the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the EU has offered to include yachts in their piracy deterrence scheme within the EU fleet area of operation, that is to say Gulf of Aden and East coast of Somalia. Yacht skippers should not attempt to ask for a login and password for the official web site before a procedure to authenticate yachts has been put in place. This procedure is now being developed by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) in conjunction with MSCHOA and yachts will be advised of details as soon as possible.

In the interim yacht skippers may inform the centre of their intended plans using the contact details under: - Public Access Area, 'Contact us', where you will see a contact telephone number +44 (0) 1923 958545 and email address

More details later


From the Skylax blog 02-03-09

This information supercedes the older information below from the Skylax blog in December

The piracy question in the Gulf of Aden

Foremost on most cruisers minds is piracy in the Gulf of Aden. At the outset its important to stress there have been no reliable reported cases of piracy on yachts in India/Maldives or the Red Sea. Piracy is an issue in the Gulf of Aden and specifically off Somalia. There has been a lot of uninformed reportage on yacht piracy in the Gulf of Aden (and elsewhere), much of it just plain wrong. While there is a risk in the Gulf of Aden, there are higher risks of yacht piracy in other parts of the world, notably Venezuela. In 2008 29 yachts were attacked in Venezuela, 3 people were killed and 5 badly injured (data from the Caribbean Security & Safety Net). In 2008 there were 3 incidents of yacht piracy off Somalia and none off the Yemen with no-one killed or injured (according to MAIB statistics). It’s also interesting to note that two of these yachts were close to the Somali coast which has always been a big no-no in this area for fifty years and more. There have been other incidents in the Gulf of Aden in previous years and it is a worry for anyone transiting the area. That said there needs to be more objective assessment of the situation rather than the scare mongering so evident in the yachting press and on internet sites.


There are problems making these sort of comparisons. Some of these are outlined in the section on Piracy in the Introduction. Basically piracy is armed robbery in international waters as opposed to armed robbery at, say, an anchorage. The distinction is to some extent irrelevant as the outcome can be the same: injury, death and loss of possessions. Its not much help talking about piracy in this theoretical sense when the outcome can be so dire for yachts on passage and at anchor. None of us want to be the victim of piracy and for most the chances are slim. Some 250-300 yachts transit the Red Sea every year and for most the real concerns are the age old ones of cruising sailors, namely wind, sea and weather in general.


Some yachts will get together in Salalah and sail in convoy down into the Gulf of Aden to Aden or Djibouti or sometimes straight through to Eretria. Yachts wanting to sail in a convoy with other yachts must be able to do a similar speed under sail and power. Generally a diamond-shaped convoy shape with a yacht at each corner is favoured. There can be real problems here when yachts cannot make the same speed as others in the convoy and the group must slow down. General rules are that yachts do not show lights at night, VHF communication is kept to low power only, and some even take down the radar reflector.


Recently the increased piracy against merchant shipping (the real targets for pirates) in the Gulf of Aden and off the east coast of Africa has prompted the EU, USA, Russia, China and India to increase the naval presence in the area. A safe corridor has been established where the chances of a naval vessel being nearby is increased when using the corridor. The joint command cannot guarantee you will be safe in the corridor, but the odds are that you will be. The safe corridor is shown below and west bound ships will use the northern side and east bound ships the southern side of the corridor. Each separation lane is 5 miles wide and the two separation lanes are separated by a 2 mile buffer zone.


The location of the corridors is as follows

West bound northern corridor: 14°30’N   053°E   14°25’N   053°E   course 252° to 12°00’N   045°E   11°55’N   045°E

East bound southern corridor:  11°53’N   045°E   11°48’N   045°E   course 072° to 14°23’N   053°E   14°18’N   053°E


Recommended communication procedures are

  • Call for help on VHF Ch 16 and MF/HF DSC.
  • Contact UKMTO phone +971 50 552 3215   Email UKMTO@EIM.AE

If no answer call Marlo Bahrain +973 3940 1395  Email ARLO.BAHRAIN@ME.NAVY.MIL


From the Skylax blog 21-12-08

Pirate Alley

'Safe' corridor set up by combined task force through the Gulf of Aden

 As the waters of Somalia pop up in the news every day with yet another ship hi-jacked by pirates operating out of Somalia, it’s interesting to take a look at the piracy map from the IMB (International Maritime Bureau) and the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. There are a lot of ships out there getting hi-jacked and a lot more attempts. (Note: I find the map a bit clunky and slow, but it may just be my computer.)

Looking through the data that comes up on the map for 2008 it’s interesting to see that the two yachts which the pirates boarded were very close in to the Somali coast, one off the east coast and one off the northern coast. The strategy for this bit of coast has always been to keep closer to the Yemen coast, around 100 miles off Yemen, which keeps you well away from the Somali coast.

 With all the pirate activity going on here the naval fleets of the world are finally sending warships into the zone. A Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) has been set up by the Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150) to provide a safer route through the gulf. The patrolling warships cannot guarantee that attacks won’t happen in this area but yachts sailing through the gulf will be much safer along this patrolled route. Warships in the group are given a certain sector of the MSPA to patrol so yachts should be able to reckon on one of them being nearby. Yachts going through in a convoy may be able to set up a radio sched with the MSPA though there are no details for doing this at present.

 The co-ordinates for the ‘safe’ corridor are as follows. I’ve put them into ‘gates’ and they run from WEST to EAST.


Gate 1: Waypoint: 12 35N 045E   Waypoint: 12 15N 045E

Gate 2: Waypoint: 13 40N 049E   Waypoint: 13 35N 049E

Gate 3: Waypoint: 14 15N 050E   Waypoint: 14 10N 050E

Gate 4: Waypoint: 14 45N 053E    Waypoint: 14 35N 053E


I’ve plotted these waypoints roughly onto google earth so you can see where the ‘safe’ corridor runs.


The Wrong Way to India

A passage eastabout from the Mediterranean

This is an article I wrote on going the wrong way at the wrong time from the Med to the Indian Ocean. We sailed on from India to SE Asia and then I sailed the right way at the right time back to the Med.


 'This is the BBC World Service. There are reports that Eritria has invaded the Hanish Islands near the bottom of the Red Sea and occupied Greater Hanish Island. A number of Yemeni soldiers manning the garrison have been killed and the commander of the Eritrian force reports that 80 soldiers have been taken prisoner. The Yemeni government is sending forces to repel the invading force including a number of naval craft and Mig fighters'. None of us said anything but just looked at each other as we tacked towards the Yemen coast under Greater Hanish. We had spent five days in the anchorage at the top of the island wistfully hoping the strong southerlies would die down a little from the 30-35 knots they were blowing at. Partly because we were getting frustrated at just sitting there and partly because Colin had to fly back to London, we had decided to buckle down and beat to windward whatever the wind Gods were doing in this part of the world. Now it seemed there was going to be a bit of a war as well.

Tetra in the Med

I had left Turkey in September and sailed Tetra down to Cyprus where Colin and Frank were to join me. Tetra is an old fashioned long keel yacht built by Cheverton in the Isle of Wight in 1962 and rather small yacht at just 31 feet for this sort of voyage against the prevailing wind and current. At least she does steer herself to windward with nothing more than a bit of rope tying the tiller off so really it was a matter of the three of us accommodating ourselves in the space available along with the truckload of provisions from Orfanides supermarket in Larnaca. Once through the Suez Canal we pottered around the coast a bit before picking up a good northerly blow reaching Massawa in Eretria in something under 5 days. Even loaded down the old lady had averaged 130 plus mile days.

As we listened to the BBC World Service at the southern end of the Red Sea there were some strange theories about the reasons for the Eritrean invasion. The most popular was that the Hanish islands were going to be turned into a tourist resort by an Italian company. You have to wonder whether anyone had done their homework and worked out why these arid, volcanic and quite unattractive islands, at least in the tourist sense, without even a decent beach, would make a good tourist destination when there are much better places scattered all around the Red Sea. The only thing they have in abundance is fish and maybe some oil underneath them. The only occupants we came across were Yemeni fishermen who were as piratical a looking bunch as you could wish for, but after the exchange of a few gifts we were showered with more grouper and snapper than you could reasonably eat in a week. In their leaky old dhows, constantly pumping to keep them afloat, the Yemenis were after shark for the dorsal fins which can fetch up to $300 a kilo in Hong Kong. Every evening they came in and anchored nearby and if successful hoisted their sharks aloft and cheered.

The problem is that I knew that the wind and current would be against us, but only in theory. The bruising reality of beating to windward in 30 knots and against the current meant that a days run was lucky to be 50 miles and it was difficult to sleep, eat or do anything except wedge yourself in the cockpit and turn your head away as green water cascaded over the deck and into the cockpit. There are times I wish for 150 feet of ocean-going motor yacht instead of 31 feet of old fashioned sailing yacht. Our worst patch was 12 miles made good in 10 hours, but eventually we made the small strait on the east side of Bab el Mandeb and as we passed through the 'Gate of Tears' we had our own personal version of why it was called thus and it had nothing to do with sorrow at leaving the bottom of the Red Sea.

In the Gulf of Aden the wind dropped to 20-25 knots and the current also lessened although there was still enough of it to make it slow going. The coast is real 'Lawrence of Arabia' stuff with sand dunes, crusty brown old lava flows, brown rock and hardly a blade of vegetation anywhere. This is rugged desert country although the high mountains depart from that picture of rolling sand dunes going on forever which normally make up notions of the desert. At sunset it was mesmerising as the land turned to a ruddy brown and seemed to be outlined in a ghostly mist although that may have been helped by the encrusted salt on my eye-lashes. The oil refinery at Little Aden in the approaches to Aden proper was a welcome sight.

In the bumpy bits at the bottom of the Red Sea I had rashly promised all sorts of things to Colin and Frank to avoid a mutiny. Amongst these promises was a slap-up meal with all the beer they could drink. The thing is, nobody had mentioned that in the last war in 1994 the north had won and being more fundamentally minded than the south, alcohol was banned. Except for a few of the large hotels where beer was $5 for a small can. It was an expensive promise but Yemen is probably one of the few places in the world where you can duck out to borrow a handful of riyal from Omar, the local yachty’s friend and taxi driver, in order to pay the overwhelming bill.

Colin left us in Aden and flew to Oman where he was due to fly back on Christmas day. Frank and I reinforced the rudder with a steel band welded up at the local garage and carried on beating up the coast against the wind and current. We spent Christmas in Balihaf, a near deserted bay that looked like something out of Beau Geste with a ruined sand coloured fort set in a sand coloured landscape. Huge sand dunes several hundred feet high rolled on into the distance nearby punctured by black lava plains and peaks. Christmas pudding complete with custard was conjured up by Frank although the visiting locals preferred the biscuits and tea with a minimum of 5 teaspoons of sugar.

Somehow I had never thought of Yemen or even the Middle East as volcanic, but it is scarred by lava flows and there are small peaks and craters everywhere along the coast. The beaches here are the best in the world and the water so clear that you can see the bottom at 10 metres. Fish are abundant and in the end we had only to put out the line and within an hour you would have a good sized tuna of some description or occasionally dolphin fish. We had to declare no-fish days in the end because we got so sick of it, and I love fish.

Mukalla is some 300 miles up the coast from Aden and is like a different world, a sort of mini-Manhattan from the distance although closer in it is a little more derelict. The British influence is still much in evidence along the coast, but it did come as a bit of a shock to find Omar (another Omar) the immigration man reading not just E M Forster’s A Passage to India but also a critique of the book. We spent a week here stocking up with fresh fruit and vegetables and generally relaxing before setting off for India. Omar was rewarded with a bottle of Cypriot brandy for smoothing the way and it is worth noting that in countries where something like alcohol is banned, it is a currency with which you can get just about anything.

Most yachts on a west to east passage choose to come down the Red Sea in July or August and then cross to India or Sri Lanka on the tail-end of the southwest monsoon in September or October. In my research for crossing the Indian Ocean at the wrong time of the year I had little to go on except for an account of a crossing A.G.H. MacPherson made in Driac in 1937. MacPherson is little remembered these days, but if you visit the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich you will come across the MacPherson collection, a wealth of nautical pictures and prints collected by MacPherson over many years and then bought by Sir James Caird for the museum. (Spell Driac backwards.) MacPherson started sailing late in life in his late fifties and the boat he sailed in was not dissimilar to Tetra at just 32 ft and of similar shape and displacement. His description of beating out of the Gulf of Aden was none too encouraging: ‘… accused Niko (a hired hand from Paxos in Greece) at first of steering his favourite course of WNE; but the cause was soon apparent …. with the current dissipating some of our hard-earned winnings’. MacPherson tacked 230 NM up the coast to Oman before heading SE for the tip of India. We in fact only went about 100 NM up the coast before attempting to tack out of the Gulf of Aden. With some effort we finally broke free of the current and it is an indication of how hard we were pushing that we covered 120 miles hard on the wind in the first 24 hour run before we realised the current was no longer pushing us back. The only problem was that we were headed for the Seychelles and not for India.

One of the reasons for tacking out of the Gulf of Aden and trying to stay high was not just to get a more favourable slant towards India, but also to stay clear of Somalia and Socotra. Socotra, the large island on the southern entrance to the Gulf of Aden has long had a reputation for piracy. However the state of anarchy in Somalia and the rapid evacuation of the American peace-keeping force in 1995, leaving behind a sizeable amount of modern weaponry, exacerbated the situation and in 1995 at least 15 ships and yachts had been seized by pirates operating out of Somalia over an 8 month period. In 1996 the area was declared a no-go zone for shipping of any sort. Consequently yachts have tended to hug the Yemen coast and keep well clear of Socotra. As it was we slipped past just 60 miles off the coast and within the known zone for piracy, running no lights at night and keeping a good watch out by day.

It is one thing to sit down with charts and pilots to sort out how you are going to get somewhere. It is quite another to be out there with currents pushing you back and daily runs of 50 miles however hard you push it. Looking at the wind direction for the time of year I reckoned it would be blowing in an arc so that on the W side of the Arabian Sea it was a true northeast going to north in the middle and northwest towards India. After we had been hard on the wind and heading down towards the equator for ten days with only northeast I had to admit that my protestations to Frank that it was all going to be alright and the wind would become more northerly, sometime, were beginning to sound a bit hollow. Privately I was beginning to think that the Seychelles might be a nice place to go anyway. And then one morning we were magically heading east and a few days later ENE towards Cochin in India. In the end we got down to just 9º above the equator and by the time we reached Cochin had covered something over 2100 NM hard on the wind when the direct route is just 1700 NM. It took three weeks to do it. On the return trip a year later it took Tetra 13½ days to get from Cochin to Mukalla, a 126 miles a day average and testament to going the right way at the right time of the year.

‘What’s that smell’ said Frank. ‘India’ I replied. A combination of smoke and dust and steam. The smell of land and fecund vegetation. After the Red Sea and the Sahara, all baked rock and sand, the palms lining the shores at Cochin are a vision of the Tropics. We were shocked by the verdant green of the jungle after not seeng any real vegetation for several months. Closer in the green opens up to the dust of Cochin and dust-coloured buildings around the edge of the water.

Much of old Cochin still stands on Fort Cochin at the entrance on the starboard side of the channel. Warehouses line the water, Diaz and Son, Harrison and Co, the Seagull Hotel, reminders of past powers and old trading companies from the golden days of the spice trade. Cochin was known to Roman sailors and Nero was said to wear only  silk imported from this area. Vasco de Gama died here in 1524 looking after the Portuguese interests in the port and was buried on Fort Cochin until his body was returned to Portugal 14 years later. The Dutch replaced the Portuguese and in 1795 the British arrived. They controlled the outer port from 1795 until independence shipping out tea, pepper, spices and coir. In the early 1920’s Willoughby Island where yachts clear into Cochin was built from mud dredged out of the channel so that the harbour could accommodate ships drawing eleven metres, the maximum draught of the Suez Canal.

There are reminders of an older civilization in the entrance channel. Great cantilevered Chinese nets hang over the water on either side of the entrance with an ingenious system of stones on the landward end to adjust the balance. The net is lowered into the water and when the head-man decides the time is right, half dozen pairs of hands pull the pole down and whoosh the net out of the water. I didn’t see them catch very many fish but then perhaps it was the wrong time of the year.

Cochin is built on islands in an estuary and much of the communication is by boat. It has been called the Venice of India, but it’s better than that because it is a real working port and city with none of the tarted up façade of a tourist town. Old pinnaces with BMC diesels ferry the population around and for 15 rupees (less than 30 pence) you can do the whole harbour circuit. Sailing canoes with patchwork sails carry all sorts of goods, flour, rice, fruit and vegetables, tins of dried milk and ghee, to the different parts of Cochin around the spits and islands. The canoes are poled until a favourable wind lets them set a sail made of old sugar and flour sacks stitched together. Around the Bolghatty Hotel where yachts go to anchor after clearing in at Willoughby, dugouts follow the tide line to catch small fish and prawns. Throw-nets are used and I found a renewed respect for the balance needed in these frail craft when I missed the last ferry back and had to haggle with a lone fisherman for a ride. The old gnarled fisherman made me lie on my back in the bottom of the dugout amongst all his slithering shiny fish and then went like stink for the yacht anchorage. My extra weight in the dugout caused it to leak a bit faster than normal and he was worried he couldn’t keep up with the baling. For days afterwards I discovered little fish lodged in my shoes and my clothes.

Shifting cargo around Cochin

Cochin is becoming more popular with cruising yachts in this part of the world. You get a hurricane proof anchorage off the Bolghatty Hotel, some of the cheapest living and the best fruit and vegetables in the area, and with a bit of looking around and ingenuity you can get most boat repairs done. India makes a lot of stainless steel goods and you can get stainless thermos flasks, food containers, dishes and tumblers, and in the backstreets there are a few workshops which will weld stainless steel boat bits as long as you supply a clear and precise drawing.

Cochin is a secure place to leave a boat and we spent two weeks travelling up the coast to Bombay and on our return Tetra was sitting there safe and sound. You can hire wonderful 1950’s Morris Ambassadors which are still made in India and with a driver the cost is minimal, around 6 rupees (14 pence) a kilometre. From Cochin the coast up to Goa is little travelled and there are wonderful deserted sandy beaches, thick jungle, and not a lot of tourists in sight until you reach Goa itself.

Few yachts cruise the west coast of India. For every port you visit you must clear in and out, a labyrinthine process which can take anything from four hours to a full day. In practice most yachts come across on the tail of the southwest monsoon in August to September and head towards either Bombay, Goa or Cochin. The officials in these three harbours are used to visiting yachts and can cope with the clearing in process. Of these harbours Goa and Cochin are the two worth bothering with. From Goa you can get a fast catamaran ferry to Bombay and spend some time visiting there if you are so inclined. The anchorage off Panajim is a bit out of it but well protected. Ashore in Panajim there are lots of good restaurants and adequate shopping for supplies.

Cochin is the overwhelming favourite of the three harbours and many yachts will make straight for here from Oman when going east and from Sri Lanka or the Maldives when going west. Cruising along the coast is also complicated by the fact that you need a visa BEFORE you arrive and those visas start running from the day of issue. That can mean you only have a month or two left to run on your visa and it is difficult to get an extension in India.

Sailing along the west coast during the NE monsoon is literally a breeze with land and sea breezes prevailing. Up to 20-30 miles off the coast the land and sea breeze effect is well developed and consistent. The sea breeze normally fills in around 1200 and blows onto the coast at around 10-15 knots until it dies in the evening and the land breeze takes over around 2200-2400.

Around the state of Kerala there is much to see if you feel disinclined to make a long trip through India towards Bombay and the north. Kerala has the same sort of Portuguese and old English architecture you find at Goa, but without the tourists. In the backwaters south of Cochin there is a maze of waterways, some served by small ferries and others by poled canoes. In small clearings and on larger plantations the pepper vines that the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English fought over grow curling up around trees as high as 10-15 metres up. I have a lot more respect for black pepper after seeing how laborious the process of gathering the tiny fruits from the twisting vines is.

You can’t take your yacht into the waterways and in any case the relatively shallow depths and shifting banks would make it very difficult, but you can get around on local craft and the ferries. The jungle is overwhelming and the bird life prolific. And it is all so quiet you can hear a coconut drop at half a mile. Further south there are long sandy beaches of the sort that make tour operators drool at the mouth and small shacks serving freshly grilled tiger prawns. There are few good anchorages and in case you can’t go ashore if there is a policeman in sight so it is best to travel by land leaving the yacht in Cochin.

From Cochin we sailed down to Galle in Sri Lanka and then across to Thailand and Malaysia. In all Tetra clocked up some 7000 miles, much of it to windward, by the time I reached the Dinding River on the west coast of peninsula Malaysia where I was to leave her for the southwest monsoon and the rainy season. Frank returned to teaching in New Zealand after his sabbatical and I returned to noisy bustling London. In late 1996 and early 1997 I sailed Tetra back to Turkey.



Qat   Pronounced 'gat'. This is the national narcotic of Yemen and it seems that the majority of the male population indulge in it. It is a small evergreen bush, Catha edulis, cultivated in the highlands and trucked down daily to the markets on the coast. The leaves are chewed to produce a mild stimulant effect and every afternoon you will see Yemenis sitting around chewing qat. The stated attributes are a peaceful disposition, heightened sexual prowess and even more heightened sexual prowess. The leaves are chewed into a mulch and by the end of the afternoon the user will have a large pulpy ball of the stuff extending the cheek pouch. It has no immediate effect and it was explained to me that the couple of leaves I tried were not enough and I should continue chewing for a few days until a cumulative effect kicked in. It is not cheap and it would appear that a good deal of the income of the average Yemeni goes on the stuff.


Jambiya   The ceremonial curved dagger worn in a special belt. Simple jambiyas can be bought cheaply in shops in Mukalla and Aden. Ornate jambiyas and the more expensive dhuma, a slender version of the jambiya, can cost upward of $200-300 depending on how ornate they are. The most expensive are those with handles made from African rhinoceros horn and in fact Yemen is the main consumer of rhinoceros horn sadly endangering the survival of the specie because of poaching to satisfy the Yemeni demand for the stuff.


Rifles and sidearms   By right males can carry a rifle and a sidearm in Yemen. Many do not but a fair number wander around with automatic rifles, usually Kalishnokovs, many of them with customised stocks and fancy engraving on the chamber and barrel. Lesser numbers carry sidearms. It is not uncommon in a hotel or restaurant to find at the reception a collection of rifles that have been handed in. Strangely enough you get used to the sight of men walking around with an automatic rifle slung over the shoulder and most people do not feel overly threatened.


Boatbuilding   Most traditional boatbuilding takes place along the Red Sea coast in the Timahah region. There are basically two types of craft constructed. The huri is transom sterned with a high bow and anything from 5-6 metres up to 15 metres. The sanbuq is double-ended, of heavier construction and usually around 15 to 20 metres. The huri is normally powered by twin outboards and is used for coastal fishing although they can often be seen some distance offshore even in bad weather. The sanbuq is used for fishing and transportation along the coast. The sanbuq is usually powered by an inboard diesel and will have some loosely defined living accommodation. They all leak and it is not uncommon for sanbuqs to have one or two auxiliary engines to drive large pumps in order to stay afloat. I've seen them pumping continuously from one pump with the other pump started at odd times to help out and we are talking big bore hoses here. I estimated one sanbuq had to be pumping out 30+ gallons a minute. The boats are built by eye with no plans although a few formers may be used. Timber is imported, mostly pine, spruce and zinjil, a red hardwood from Indonesia. No doubt steel and GRP will take over in the future but for now the leaky but beautiful sanbuqs and huris are still built.


Entry formalities   In the approach to any major port call up Port Control on VHF Ch 16 or 13 when 10 miles off. You will be asked for an ETA and asked to call up again when 2 miles off. Night entrance is prohibited so time your arrival for daylight hours. On arrival you must go ashore to customs, health, and immigration. If you do not have a visa your passport will be retained by immigration and a shorepass issued. Small 'gifts' ranging from a few dollars or a few packets of cigarettes (preferably Marlboro) may be asked for.



Trains   India has one of the largest railway networks in the world and it is still expanding. Rail travel in India is a delight where you will encounter people of all types travelling to all sorts of places. Workers returning from long stints in other parts of India, travelling salesmen, sons going home to see mum, students, beggars and itinerant musicians. The railway stations are a microcosm of life in India and on slow trains you can jump off to buy a thali (rice and puri with a sauce of some description wrapped in a banana leaf), pots of curry and rice, sweet cakes and sticky buns, fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice. The train clatters along at a sedate rate (mostly) allowing you time to gaze out at the landscape of the Indian sub-continent without an organised itinerary of things you should see. Travelling by train is to be recommended although in 2nd class, and you can only get 2nd class to some destinations, restrict journeys to 10 hours or so unless you are particularly masochistic.


Cars and motorbikes   For the mechanically minded India is a bit like a living motor museum. The 1950's Morris Ambassador is still manufactured here although it is being replaced by Japanese joint venture products like Suzuki and Mazda cars. The 350cc single pot Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle of the 1950's is also still made and much in evidence. The Bullet has special significance for me bringing back memories of teenage years when I bought one, stripped it down and rebuilt it. Never did get the clutch quite right. The hollow 'poom' of the exhaust of the Indian Bullet is like a sound-bite back to those years although sadly, like the Ambassador, it is being replaced by soulless modern bikes made under license to Yamaha and Honda.

You can hire a car and driver, which will inevitably be a Morris Ambassador, at relatively low rates, and it is a wonderful experience, a bit of post-colonial nostalgia, to be driven around the country in one of these cars. You can also hire a Royal Enfield Bullet with a bit of looking around and take yourself off on a thudding ride around the country.


Entry and exit formalities   You must have a visa before you enter India. Entry into India is labyrinthine in what can only be described as Dickensian surroundings. It can take a swift 4 hours or may take a day if the requisite officials cannot be seen in normal working hours (0900-1700). You should have a small amount of rupees set aside for the harbourmaster's fees (around 500 rupees should do it) as these cannot be paid in foreign currency. The procedure is time consuming but it is all carried out pleasantly and politely.

In the approach to any major port call up the coastguard on VHF Ch 16 or Port Control on Ch 16 (changing to Ch 12) when 10 miles off. You will be asked for the yacht name, registration, number and names of crew and your ETA at the entrance to the harbour. When at the entrance call up again to get permission to enter.

Customs will come out to the yacht where valuables, navigation gear, firearms, etc. will be itemised. You will be asked to sign various forms to state you have no firearms (other than those declared) and no class A drugs on board. You can then proceed ashore to the harbourmaster who will fill in a number of forms and make a small charge (to be paid in rupees only). You must then go back to customs where your boats papers will be locked away and a receipt for them issued. You must then go to immigration and be stamped into the country.

If you have to move within the harbour written authorisation must be obtained from the harbourmaster. This basically entails you writing him a note of your intentions and he will then issue permission.

To exit is basically the reverse of this procedure.

For every port in India you must enter and leave in this manner. You cannot cruise 'between' ports once you have cleared into the country and clear out at the last port.


Rod Heikell   1997


Indian Ocean Cruising Handbook  by Rod Heikell published by Imray 2nd edition now out.



Chagos Regulations

NOTE   In 2007 new regulations were introduced for yachts intending to stop in the Chagos archipelago. At the time of writing the following regulations are to be implemented, though things may change in the future.


For the latest information on regulations, charges and permitted anchoring areas go to:

1.           All yachts must obtain a permit IN ADVANCE from the British Indian Ocean Territory Administration (BIOTA) in London.

2.           Mooring fees for the Chagos Archipelago have been raised from $100 per month to £GBP500 per month. IMPORTANT NOTE: tHIS HAS NOW BEEN REVISED TO £GBP100 PER MONTH.

3.           On application for a permit a Visitor Permit Request will be sent. This must be filled in with the dates that a yacht will be in the reserve and sent back with the mooring fee to BIOTA. At present there is no way of paying over the internet but it is hoped that in the future a system will be in place so credit card payments can be made.

4.           Once the form has been completed and payment made then the BIOTA Permit, the regulations governing the reserve and the co-ordinates showing where yachts can moor will be sent. It is expected that moorings will be laid at some time in the future.

5.           Yachts attempting to enter the Chagos area without a permit may be liable for a term of imprisonment up to 3 years and/or a fine of up to £GBP3000.

6.           Regular patrols of the Chagos area will be made and visitors must abide by the regulations concerning the marine reserve (no fishing, fires, damaging coral, harming native species, etc.), must keep pets on board, and must conform to customs regulations regarding illegal drugs, firearms, etc.

British Indian Ocean Territory Administration, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH,

United Kingdom. Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7008 2890 or 2691  Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7008 1589 e-mail:

In an environmental report entitled the Chagos Conservation Management Plan (2003 by Dr Charles Sheppard) the damage caused by yachts both in the anchorage and in activities ashore is specifically mentioned as having a detrimental effect on the marine reserve. Given that visitors here illegally speared fish, set up permanent moorings in the coral, set up makeshift camps ashore and cut wood for barbecues and fish smokers, then it should come as no surprise that drastic action would follow. Sadly future cruisers will either have to pay the hefty permit fee or as is more likely, avoid Chagos altogether. As the SSCA says... 'Leave clean wake'.


Malaysia &Thailand to Sri Lanka

From the Skylax blog 09-02-19

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.




Galle/Sri Lanka

From the Skylax blog 09-02-10

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



Sri Lanka

From the Skylax blog 09-02-10

 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...




From the Skylax blog 10-02-10



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.





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