february 1 2006 : kandy, sri lanka
Today we were finally off for the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. It was an hour and fifteen minute train ride back the way we came the day before and once again the train left at the crack of dawn. We found our way to the train station in the dark and even managed to get a couple of prime seats.
As soon as we got to the elephant orphanage we got the feeling we weren’t going to like it that much. Admission prices were listed on a board which gave a local price of 50 Rp and a tourist price of 500 Rp. Can you imagine visiting the Statue of Liberty and having it say Americans $10, Foreigners $100? We know we are only talking about five bucks here, but come on. Once inside we went straight for the feeding which takes place first thing in the morning. We walked up the hill and found dozens of elephants roaming around tearing apart tree limbs and feasting on palm leaves. We were able to walk right up next to them which was really cool, but then the mahouts (elephant trainers) started their real work, which was to rip off tourists.
The park was set up originally to save abandoned or orphaned elephants, but from the looks of things it is now a breeding ground with the sole purpose of getting tourists to pay mahouts for a picture of them. The mahouts were aggressive and rude, but we managed to avoid them as much as possible and do our own thing. Of course they would run over whenever we got too far away from them and tell us we were in great danger, but would we like to pet the elephant and take a picture?
Despite all of that it was still really cool to see elephants in a relatively un-zoolike environment. There was one three legged elephant who had a run in with a land mine, and there were about half a dozen really small young ones roaming around as well, usually sticking pretty close to mom. After feeding time they had a bottle feeding, which we had assumed was to feed the babies, but was actually a pretty disgusting display set up for tourists to get their picture taken while holding a bottle to a chained up full grown elephants mouth. We gave that a pass and instead walked down to the river to wait for the elephants to come down for their daily swim.
The river setting was beautiful with shallow water and local women doing their laundry nearby smacking the clothes against the rocks. The elephants need to come right down the street to get to the river and it was a pretty amazing sight to see. We were sitting on the sidewalk when we first saw them coming, but they weren’t staying in the street and pretty soon we were climbing up walls to get out of their way as they stampeded down to the water.
We spent two hours just sitting on the rocks at the waters edge watching the elephants play in the water. The babies were playing and climbing all over each other. And we watched two elephants go through a pretty elaborate mating display before sneaking off to the other side of the river to have sex. For some reason a mahout chased after them though and broke it up just as they were getting going. However most of the time they were left alone to just be elephants.
We had a quick lunch of short eats, which is a selection of different snack foods that they set out on a plate in the middle of the table. You then eat whatever you want and they add up what you ate when you are done. We tried a couple of different fish rolls. They looked like breaded cheese sticks, but instead of cheese they were filled with a dark fish. The other ones tasted pretty much the same to us but were rolled up in little balls instead. It was all pretty good and we have now decided that the snack foods are the only way to go here in Sri Lanka. Real meals never taste as good.
Overall, it was a pretty fun day. The elephants seem to be treated pretty well, but it was still disappointing to find that the place that calls itself an orphanage was anything but. It was a lot less like the free ranging park that we had envisioned it would be and more of a park where a lucky few mahouts get to make more money than anybody else in the entire country.
On the train back to Kandy there were no seats at all so we sat down in the open doorway and watched the train tracks fly by our feet. At one point a young local guy approached us and struck up a conversation. He was really nice and was anxious to practice his English. In exchange he insisted on having us try all sorts of different fruits. He bought a bag of what we thought were nuts, but then started rolling them in his hand until it was soft and tasted pretty much like a big grape. We had a nice conversation and exchanged addresses because he wanted to write us a letter “in English.”
At one stop we had to wait a while for the train coming in the opposite direction to pass us. While sitting there the train conductor came down and started chatting up Ali. He was pleased when Ali told him that she liked sitting in the doorway because you got the best view. He just nodded as if Ali had learned one of the great truths of riding the rails.
february 3 2006 : galle, sri lanka
Yesterday, for the third day in a row, we found ourselves walking down the streets in the dark. Our train left at 6:25 and for once we had scored a couple of first class tickets in the observation saloon. All this really meant was that the seats had an extra inch of padding and the car was at the end of the train with two large windows facing out the back. We had to switch trains in Colombo though and were once again battling for seats with locals. This time we got smart and split up, each of us fighting our way on to a different train car. Ali battled her way to a very impressive win with two seats next to a properly working window and six hours after leaving Kandy we were back in Galle.
The boat was fine, despite being covered in an inch of dirt. Bum has truly never been so dirty, but there is really nothing that can be done about it until we get out of here since the entire harbor area is surrounded by a dusty dirt road. Most of the boats here now are new arrivals. Nobody seems to stay long in Sri Lanka. Last night we were having drinks on the neighbors boat and were shocked to hear that everybody seems to hate the place. Everyone was saying how dirty the country is and were putting down the people, essentially calling them lazy for not having run a new fresh water line out to the dock for us to use. It was just weird to hear how differently people can view the same place. One boat that came in yesterday morning actually left the same day. I can’t imagine after a nine day passage only stopping for six hours to refuel. And another boat was leaving after just one night. Remember too that it cost $170 to clear in here. That makes for an expensive day in Sri Lanka.
february 6 2006 : midigama and mirissa, sri lanka
After a day on the boat getting diesel delivered and the tanks topped off we were ready to get out again. This time we loaded up and headed for Midigama which is a tiny town, actually more just a name than an actual town, that a tuk-tuk driver had recommended to us as the best surfing in Sri Lanka. We had our driver drop us off along the beach where we saw a couple of rough looking places to stay. We picked the least rough of the bunch, mainly because it had blue paint over the cement blocks, and checked in.
The owners were friendly and it was most definitely a surf hangout. Everybody there was 20-40 and were perfectly content to sit on the beach all day surfing, eating, and napping. I went for a surf right away. The paddle out to the break was a pretty long one and I was pretty well knackered by the time I got out there but still had a pretty good surf. It was by far the biggest surf I have attempted and it quickly showed me that it could kick my butt. During one set I got caught inside and pummeled. I was pinned down underwater for what felt like a minute but was probably only about 5 or 10 seconds. It’s kind of an exciting experience though, you are just down there trying to keep your cool and not to fight the wave, while reaching for your leash so you can pull yourself back in the right direction, since your board will always float and be at the surface where you want to be. Anyway, after a bit of a bashing and some new reef rash on my feet I paddled back in to find Ali relaxed and reading a book.
We decided to take a walk back to the nearest town which we had thought couldn’t be more than a mile away. We severely underestimated the distance, but kept going anyway. At one point we walked by an old lady with three young girls, who were wandering around an empty lot where a house must have stood a year earlier. The old lady waved us over and they all seemed delighted when we did. She spoke fairly good English, but the girls didn’t speak any. They seemed to really like Ali and told us how beautiful her laugh was, and marveled at her bright white smile.
The two youngest girls ran off to a nearby shack, which now served as their home, and came rushing back holding two hand-woven “friendship” bracelets. The youngest girl was super shy but managed to tie one of them on my wrist. She was absolutely beaming when she finished and I told her how much I loved it. Ali and I were sort of ashamed for not having a single thing to give to them in return, but not even for a second did it feel like they wanted, or were expecting anything. It was really a great experience.
Continuing down the road Ali and I couldn’t stop talking about how sweet the locals have been to us. As we were walking past a house that obviously had some sort of party going on, an older man stopped us and insisted we join them. We politely declined at first, but he was persistent, and after meeting his nephew, who was about our age, we were persuaded to join the party.
They were a family of Buddhists and called the party an alms giving, which was for their grandmother who had died five years earlier. I might not have gotten all the details right, but from what I gathered they go to the temple to worship her and leave food and gifts for her spirit on this day every year. This had all been done earlier in the day and now it was simply a party. There were about thirty people there who all welcomed us before quickly ushering us inside to eat. We were served up big plates of rice and an assortment of dishes to go with it; fish, chicken, a few curries, vegetables, and on and on. We began to eat like the rest of them, digging in with our hands. But after a couple of minutes the younger group insisted that we eat with a spoon, which was nice since we weren’t very adept at eating rice with our fingers without making a mess.
Everybody was extremely friendly and we were having a nice time. It felt just like a family reunion back home. The older man who had stopped us on the road turned out to be the uncle of the younger group we got to talking to. After he had asked Ali her name for the twelfth time, they laughingly explained to us that he had been into the Arrak. We laughed as well, since it doesn’t seem that there is a family anywhere who doesn’t have an uncle that hits the sauce a little too hard.
While Ali answered questions about our life in America, I joined in on the cricket match going on out in the yard. I had never swung a cricket bat before so I was pretty excited when I hit the first pitch all the way across the road. Then they told me that wasn’t good since apparently if this had been a real match there would have been a guy there who would have caught it. I then tried bowling, but despite being a pretty fair baseball player, they hit everything I threw at them. Ali continued to be questioned by the girls and had to assure them that we would have children soon. They also asked if I had a brother, because one of the girls was still unmarried at twenty-seven and they were certain that what she needed was a good American boy to take care of.
We never did get to town that day, but managed to get back to the hotel before sunset. When we pulled up our seats on the beach to watch it, we ordered a couple of beers and found out that the hotel could no longer serve alcohol. Apparently a new local government had passed some sort of crazy law and left all these tiny places that depend on tourists unable to supply them with beer. Most of the other people had been there a few days so they had all gone into town and stocked up, but nobody shared that bit of info with us so we watched a beautiful sunset and called it a night.
We had quite possibly the worst night of sleep ever because our room was right next to the road. Didn’t seem like a big deal until we tried to sleep. It sounded as if the trucks were passing about two feet away from us and we were lying on the shoulder of the road. The next morning after a quick sunrise surf when I determined that these waves were officially out of my league we packed our bags and headed down the road farther to Mirissa Beach. Ali confided to me later that she was glad that I didn’t really like the surf there because she didn’t think she could stay there another night.
Mirissa is one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen. It’s got everything; crystal clear water, swaying palm trees, spotless sand, and tucked away in a corner is a nice surf break. We found a nice little cabana tucked back in a garden across the street from the beach and went for a walk along the beach. At the other end of the beach is a big grassy rock hill that you can climb for an incredible view of the entire bay.
Then set off to go have a surf. I had been warned that there were sea urchins on the rocks which surround the surf break here. I carefully made my way in to the water and paddled out. Once again the waves were a bit beyond my skill level but I caught a couple in between getting pounded by a few more. Eventually I got caught by a set that wouldn’t let me gain any ground and I was washed nearly all the way back to shore. Way too tired at that point to try and paddle back out I turned and made my way back into shore. Getting back in was far more tricky than getting out though, since the waves were pushing me right in to the rocks. I paddled for the area that I thought was safest and just went for it, but misjudged a little bit and ended up with sea urchin spines in my hands and feet. Those things suck. It’s like porcupine needles being jabbed in to your skin. Ali was able to pull a couple out of my hands but the big one in my toe was buried deep. We tried to dig that one out the next day at the boat but with no luck. I’m finding that surfing here in Sri Lanka is not for beginners or the faint of heart. I’ll take my chances over the shallow coral break in Hikkaduwa, but the rest of the beaches I’ll leave for the experts.
After that we walked back down the beach to a little reggae bar/hut that we had seen earlier. This place served cold beer, and as it turned out had the best food we’ve had in Sri Lanka. This was like the quintessential beach bar. Reggae music, friendly laid back guys running the place, and that beautiful beach just one step away. Ali and I spent the entire day there, eating, drinking, swimming, and repeating.
I asked one of the guys if he would show me how to play Carrom, a traditional Sri Lankan board game. He was eager to play and quickly called over another guy and started setting up the board. The game is sort of like billiards except instead of balls you use chips similar to checker board chips, which you flick with your fingers to try to get in the small holes in the corners of the board. The game quickly turned competitive and Ali bowed out to let an Israeli guy take over her spot. We played that until it became too dark to see the black pieces any more. We decided that this would have been the ultimate college game since it can be played with two or four people. Our game in college was Spades, and we were always struggling to find a fourth guy to play with us at three in the morning. This game would have solved that problem. At the end of the day, after about six hours of drinking and two full meals our bill came to $15, including a 25% tip. Nice.
This morning we laid around on the beach for a while and went swimming. This is one of those beaches that has a big barreling wave that breaks all the time. We think it’s fun anyway, since it gives you something to play in. A couple hours of that and then back to the reggae bar for lunch before grabbing a tuk-tuk and heading home to the boat again. Ali and I are terrible about bargaining with the tuk-tuk drivers here in Sri Lanka because it never seems like they are asking an unfair price. Today’s ride was about 40 minutes and cost us 800 RP ($8 USD). With gas at about $5 a gallon we don’t see how this guy could be making more than a dollar or two by the time he gets himself all the way back home.
And in case anybody is wondering, the reason we haven’t done any sailing here in Sri Lanka is because we’re not allowed to. In theory we could sail to Colombo and stay in the port there, but we aren’t allowed to just sail along the coast pulling in to any of the beautiful bays along the way. So it’s not that we just don’t feel like sailing, though that is probably true as well.
february 10 2006 : galle, sri lanka
Back on the boat the other day we didn’t have much to do so we went into Galle and got a few internet related projects done, picked up a handful of groceries, and ate some terrible Italian food. That was about the extent of our day, not too exciting.
The internet was fun though. We got caught up on the latest postings about us on the internet bulletin boards. On one of them the subject of Bumfuzzle has become the most talked about posting there has ever been. One particularly funny post was by this crazy stalker-type guy from New Zealand. He has made over 50 comments about us but yet he still had this to say:
PLEASE PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING BEFORE REPLYING AND MAKING COMMENTS TO THIS THREAD.THIS THREAD HAS BECOME SO LARGE AND COMPLEX, THAT UNLESS YOU READ EVERY POST IN CONTEXT, YOU RUN THE RISK OF MAKING A REPLY THAT WILL CAUSE MANY HEATED ARGUMENTS. I BELIEVE THE ABILITY TO READ ALL THE POSTS AND MAINTAIN CONTEXT HAS BECOME NEAR IMPOSSIBLE.PLEASE LET THIS TOPIC DROP AND SINK TO THE BOTTOM, NEVER TO BE DREDGED TO THE SURFACE AGAIN.PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS POST.
Pretty funny huh? The guy can’t stop talking about us yet he demands that everyone else on the bulletin board stop talking about us. He’s like an alcoholic telling you to get this bottle of vodka out of his hands as he is gulping down another drink. Click here to check it out for yourself, though we warn you there is close to 300 postings. http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1541
Since life on the boat in Galle harbor is so boring we were back on the road again the next day. We decided to head back to Hikkaduwa again for some more surf and sun. This time we found a better, and much cheaper place to stay which was once again right on the beach in front of the main surf break. The guest house wasn’t actually all that nice, each room came complete with a giant cockroach and no hot water, but in Sri Lanka you can’t expect a whole lot more than that. Our hotel proprietor also stuck us with an extra 500 Rp charge for our room insisting that we must have misheard her when we asked the price. We know she was lying but she wasn’t backing down and we had mistakenly paid before going over the bill closely so she already had our money.
The surf the first day was pretty small and sloppy, which made it pretty good for me. Especially since it meant only about a half a dozen guys were out there trying to catch the same wave. We wandered around that night trying out a few different bars before settling in to one that was packed full of people for the sole reason that it was showing The Mask of Zorro, quite possibly the worst movie ever made by one of Hollywood’s worst actors. We can make those sort of comments now that we are “in the business.” By the end of the movie the guy across from us was sleeping with a lit cigarette in his mouth and I had to go wake up the only waiter in the place, and he seemed quite happy that I did so before everybody left without paying their bills.
Surf the next day was much bigger and because of that there were close to 40 guys battling for every wave. It was a pain in the butt, so most of the afternoon was spent just laying around on the beach and reading before dragging ourselves out again that night for the sequel to the Zorro movie. We did find a restaurant serving cheeseburgers made with beef from Australia, which were the first good burgers we’ve had since we were in, well, Australia. It’s the simple pleasures.
We’ve also become addicted to rotti, the one food in Sri Lanka that we really like. We found a tiny little shack in Hikkaduwa that made them fresh with just about any ingredient imaginable, and we even had our tuk-tuk driver make a detour on our way home today in order to pick up a bunch of rotti from our favorite little place in Galle before going back to the boat. They serve much the same purpose for us as cold pizza does back home.
february 12 2006 : galle
Yesterday we set about getting ready to leave Sri Lanka. In the morning we brought in a last load of laundry, and stopped to see the agent. We found out that there are no more fees due, which was a nice surprise since we had read that there was a $100 port fee and we had been expecting to have to pay that upon leaving. After that we tuk-tuked into Galle to pick up some fresh bread, vegetables, peanuts loaded with hot chili salt, and 20 vegetable rotti.
We stopped in at our favorite little rotti restaurant and told the nice toothless lady that we wanted 20 rotti. She didn’t seem to understand that so I wrote down the number 20 and pointed at the basket full of rotti. She looked at me like I must be nuts and I think said as much to her friends nearby. But she then wrote down 20 x 15 = 300, indicating that we would have to pay the exorbitant price of $3 for that many rotti. We happily agreed, and she finally filled a bag for us. That’s when her son, who usually serves us, walked in. He just smiled knowingly as we said goodbye.
After that we stopped in at the pharmacy. Ali and I had absolutely no drugs on the boat until Thailand when we both got sick for the first time on the trip. We’re those people that claim that they never get sick, but I swear in our case it’s true. We haven’t been to a doctor in so long that we don’t even have a doctor to go to. We’d have to get out the yellow pages and start cold calling them. So when we got sick in Thailand we went into denial. My cold went away but two weeks later Ali was still coughing and so we finally went into a pharmacy and bought some antibiotics which seemed to do the trick. Then we started thinking that it probably is a good idea to have some more on the boat just like all the cruising books tell you to do, so we went in and got more here in Galle. A seven day series of “prescription only” antibiotics cost 65 cents here over the counter. No wonder we have health care issues back home.
We then walked over to the vegetable stand where a nice guy who spoke really good English started chatting us up. He helped us pick out good vegetables after grabbing the bad ones that we had picked already right out of our hands. He seemed like a nice guy so we asked him where we could buy a Carrom board. After playing Carrom in Mirissa Beach I was hooked and wanted a board on the boat so I could kick Ali’s butt every now and then. He told us there was a store nearby, but that he knew where there was a factory and that it was right on the way back to the harbor.
He told us to wait and then ran off to fetch a tuk-tuk driver for us. When he got back with a tuk-tuk he told us the driver didn’t know the place but that he would take us there. We were starting to feel like we were about to be taken on a ride that would end up costing us a bunch of money, but we had made that pact with each other back in Bangkok to try and let our guard down and see what happens. So once again we just rolled with it and we all piled in the tuk-tuk.
Sure enough the factory was on the road right before the harbor. It was actually just a big room, but I guess if you build a lot of just one thing then you can call yourself a factory. There was this skinny little lady working on the frame for a board as we walked up and she seemed a little surprised to see us. Our friend told her what we wanted and she invited us up to have a look around. We found the board we wanted and after a little bargaining we reached a price that everybody seemed happy with. It may have been a little expensive, but we were just happy that we got to buy it direct from this nice lady. She didn’t have the playing pieces though, so our new friend told us he would get them for us and meet us back out front of the harbor in an hour. Before we left I saw the lady give him 60 Rp (about USD 60 cents) and figured that was his cut for bringing us there. Seemed a little cheap to me but what do I know?
Now out front of the harbor entrance with our pieces, we noticed right away that the price on the box was 60 Rp. The money exchanged had simply been to buy the pieces with. Ali and I were headed back to Galle as we had forgotten a few things earlier. Our friend was headed that way too, so the three of us hopped in a tuk-tuk and drove back to town. Out front of the bus station we had a nice chat, and we gave him a Bumfuzzle baseball cap. He pulled it on happily, we shook hands, and said goodbye as he raced across the street to catch his bus home.
Alright I have to go practice my Carrom playing before Ali works me over.
february 14 2006 : en route to maldives
Yesterday morning the Navy showed up right on time at nine o’clock. We had our clearance papers but had to wait for them to board the boat and give us permission to leave. They came on and asked for a crew list. We handed one over and then they asked me to sign it. I signed it, everybody smiled and shook hands and we were off. It is amazing how much officials love their paperwork.
As soon as we pulled out of the harbor we noticed a big swell. It seemed to be coming from about three different directions at once and was making things really uncomfortable. We both started popping motion sickness pills, but expected that once we got clear of land the swell would flatten out. It was running about six feet at the time. There was no wind throughout the day and we motored along bouncing every which way until evening came and the wind picked up. Throughout the night it picked up to 25 knots and we had some pretty big seas. Probably the biggest we’ve seen in a year. We double reefed the main and sailed through the night easily enough with just a lot of noise and the occasional wave slapping the boat and washing over the top. We had a full moon which always makes things easier though.
At one point last night I was outside on watch when a particularly big wave slammed into us and woke Ali up. She came outside to make sure everything was okay and I said maybe we should put in a reef. That made her mad since every night before going to bed she runs through a big long list of things I have to do while on watch and one of those things is to wake her up as soon as we need to reef, but she says the only time we ever reef is when she comes outside to check on things. That’s actually true but I think it is just because we both have different tolerances for what we feel is safe. But she says for her to feel safe enough to sleep she needs to trust that I’ll wake her up. So anyway, we put the reef in and before going to bed tonight I once again, for the hundredth time, promised to wake her if we needed to reef, only this time I meant it.
In the morning Ali woke me up to tell me that the screecher line from up front had washed overboard during the night and was stuck under the boat. Off the back of the boat I could see the line underwater and with the boat hook we managed to at least get it up on deck though it was still stuck under the boat. It’s most likely wrapped around the propeller so for now we are without our port engine. The forecast is for the wind to die down to under 5 knots by tomorrow so if that happens I should be able to jump in for a swim and get it unwrapped.
One nice thing about this trip so far has been that Ali felt like doing some home cooking for us before we left. She whipped up peanut butter cookies and potato salad for us to snack on during the passage. I proclaimed the potato salad to be the best in all of Sri Lanka which she didn’t take as a compliment, but I swear it was.
february 16 2006 : en route
Only a hundred miles to go now before we reach the Maldives. Yesterday morning the wind died down enough that it was safe to dive under the boat and unwrap the screecher line from the prop. By the afternoon the wind has all but disappeared, though thanks to a strong current we are still making four knots.
We’ve seen quite a few ships on this passage. Most of them have been to our north on a direct heading for the Red Sea, but last night during Ali’s watch she had to maneuver around one. It had all of its lights on but was just sitting out there doing absolutely nothing.
february 18 2006 : uligan, maldives
After an easy four day passage we arrived at the island of Uligan in the Maldives yesterday morning. The island looks very similar to the Tuamotus back in the South Pacific, flat and small with a beach around the outside and the center covered with palms. The anchorage is pretty deep, at fifty feet, but we found a place amongst the other half dozen boats and were quickly situated. I dived in to have a look at the anchor, but surprisingly the water clarity wasn’t very good. I had to dive down thirty feet before I could see the bottom. By the time I did that and climbed back on the boat, I found Ali already had onboard a full compliment of island officers.
There were four guys on the boat; customs, immigration, health, and a port authority officer. They were all dressed up in nice uniforms and were very efficient and friendly. No funny business with these guys, and certainly no hint of them wanting any sort of baksheesh. In fact they gave us a list of the island rules, which included times to display an anchor light, a curfew for being on the island, no alcohol on the island, no locals on our boat, and no local vessels are allowed to approach our boat. I guess we can rule out there being a beach bar serving cold beer and cheeseburgers.
Also, they requested nine crew lists from us, proving that even way out here they are not immune to the paperwork shuffle. Nine crew lists is like one for every person on the island. They also asked us if we had a ships stamp. A ships stamp is just a stamp with your boat name and registration number on it, it’s not like some official government stamp or anything. We don’t have a stamp, which we are starting to realize is a mistake, and so I had to give them a fingerprint on every piece of paper instead. I don’t know how a fingerprint is equivalent to a stamp with a boat name on it, but there you go.
When we had left the other day another boat had told us they were leaving that afternoon. They said, “Of course you’re way faster than us so we won’t see you again until Uligan.” To which we replied that they shouldn’t be so sure. So we weren’t surprised, but they sure were, when we pulled in yesterday to find them already here. We are truly the slowest sailors on the high seas, despite appearances. Actually we could have made this passage about 12 hours faster pretty easily but probably would have come in just after sunset, which wasn’t going to work here, so we just took our time and came in the next morning. But when the officers asked us if there were any other boats behind us we felt pretty confident telling them that there shouldn’t be any more today.
So we were a little shocked when four other boats pulled in throughout the afternoon, meaning they made the trip in just three days. Since the winds were so light the only explanation I have for it is that since monohulls only have one engine to move their big heavy boats they generally have much larger engines than we do and easily motor at 6+ knots, whereas we have two small engines and with only using one engine at a time only motor at 4 knots. Of course we actually sailed most of this passage so maybe it truly is that we are just really slow sailors. In fact, at one point during the passage I said to the boat, “Come on you slowpoke,” to which Ali quipped that SlowPoke might have been an even more fitting name than Bumfuzzle.
Ali and I took it easy the rest of the day, not doing anything but enjoying the sensation, and relaxation, of being at anchor. I took the dinghy down for the first time in over a month and went about repairing it once again. This time instead of glue I tried a new remedy, 3M’s 5200 sealant. While waiting for that to set we sat on the boat without a means of getting around. So of course we weren’t surprised in the late afternoon when a group of about fifty manta rays came in to the area to feed. They were about a hundred yards away but we were able to watch their huge wings glide slowly along the top of the water. A few other boats went out in their dinghies and cruised right through the middle of them without seeming to disturb them at all. It looked pretty cool and we’re hoping that it is a nightly ritual with these guys.
I’ve just pumped up the dinghy and it seems to be holding air for the moment. I’ve got my fingers crossed but it’s still way too early to tell if this worked or not.
february 19 2006 : uligan
Yesterday’s huge project was cleaning the boat. The dirt that had piled up while we were in Galle was unbelievable. It was caked an inch thick over every surface of the boat. We spent three hours on that project but man does it feel good to be able to sit in the cockpit without feeling filthy.
Last night we went ashore for a dinner put together by some of the locals for the cruisers. Well, for $7 bucks a head actually. It was nice though, fresh grilled fish, rice, curries, and a whole bunch of other stuff. During dinner we came to the realization that cruisers truly are no different than any other group of people in one respect. You know when you go to your spouses work Christmas party and you sit there staring at the wall all night trying not to drink too much while the conversation all around you revolves around one subject, work. TPS reports, the boss, that snotty receptionist at headquarters, the same stuff they talk about all day long at work. Cruisers are the same way. There is no other subject besides cruising. Everybody is really nice of course, but man, if you really don’t care about marine insurance, or epoxy, or what the holding was like in an anchorage 3000 miles earlier, then you are out of luck. Oh well, good dinner.
Oh, and we got the, “Oh, you’ve only been gone two years, you are really hurrying” line again. This coming from a couple who were at least twice our age. That one sentence always puts this abrupt awkward end to any conversation we might have been having up to that point. What is this fascination that older cruisers have with comparing their amount of time at sea with other people? As if we are supposed to be so impressed that they’ve taken 11 years to sail halfway around the world. Not everybody wants to spend the rest of their lives on a boat. Sometimes this cruising crowd really drives us nuts.
Turned out that my dinghy leak was not fixed. It held air for hours and then when I put the dinghy in the water and stepped in, it started blowing again. Taking a closer look at it I could see that I hadn’t let it set long enough and the caulk wasn’t cured completely. So once again I cleaned it up, caulked it, and put a big fat patch over it and caulked that up.
So today, facing the prospect of another day stranded on the boat without a dinghy we decided to join the tour boat that was going out and cruising around the nearby islands. The boat motored across the bay to a little island and we all hopped off. I still don’t really know what we were supposed to do there. We walked up and down the street like we were a parade procession. We each got a coconut to drink and then we filed back out to the boat.
The next stop was a little better. We all piled in to a little restaurant and had a really good lunch of rice, curry, and salad. Then we wandered over to the boat building sheds. Here on this tiny island in the middle of nowhere were a couple of dozen guys building huge wooden fishing boats using the most primitive tools I could imagine. And yet the boats, over 70 feet in length, looked absolutely perfect.
Next stop was to a little deserted island for some snorkeling. We were all eager to get in the water by this point and quickly grabbed our snorkel gear and headed off in different directions. Within ten minutes everybody was back at the beach talking about how terrible the coral was. All the coral was dead, there was no color whatsoever and very few fish. Not exactly what any of us had envisioned of the Maldives. Maybe the tour guides just didn’t have a clue, or maybe that is really the way all the coral is around here, none of us know.
Also, I should mention, just like in Sri Lanka we aren’t allowed to sail anywhere else here. There is a designated area for us to anchor and that is it. Because of that most boats are only spending a couple of days here to rest before moving on.
february 21 2006 : uligan
Alright, its official, we can’t stand cruisers. We know that cruisers are supposed to be this great, super tight knit group of fun loving people, and maybe it’s just us, but we’ve seriously had it with them. Yes we have met a handful who are really nice people that don’t drive us crazy, but today was the final straw for the rest of them. I wrote about this just two days ago. Two days! And yet, while clearing out with customs today I was talking to another cruiser and had the following conversation.
“So how long have you been out?” This is how these cruisers start this conversation every time. The second they ask this question Ali and I both know exactly what is going to follow. The truth is that they really couldn’t care less how long we’ve been out. The real reason they ask is that they want to tell us how long they’ve been out. “Oh we left Florida a little over two years ago now.” Pause. “Wow, you’re really hurrying then.” Every freaking time. It’s like the movie Groundhog’s Day.
He then paused about a tenth of a second before continuing and saying, “We left in October of ’95. Spent three years in New Zealand, two in Australia, blah blah blah blah blah.” I told him that it sounded like they were going awfully slow, which seemed to confuse him, and pretty much ended the conversation.
Back at the boat I mentioned to Ali that was the second time that guy told us he’d been out sailing for eleven years. But she told me that this was actually a different guy. I have a hard time differentiating between guys with scruffy gray beards. Nothing against beards, but come on, it’s just such a sailor cliché.
So within three days we had two separate eleven year cruisers, who were well into their sixties, tell us that we were hurrying. And then unsolicited, try to tell us their entire cruising resumé. The next time anybody asks us how long we’ve been out I am just going to walk away, right there in the middle of the conversation.
On a lighter note, it seems that we conquered our dinghy leak. Yes, that seam has one big ugly patch over it with white 5200 caulk all over the place, but it’s holding air. I was really thrilled with that. So today, after 36 hours of leak free dinghy I was more than a little upset to come outside and find a half deflated dinghy once again. I assumed it was my latest patch job, but just to double check I got out a spray bottle with some soapy water in it and gave the patch a few squirts. No bubbles. Then I squirted the patch we got in Thailand. No bubbles. So then I started squirting the whole dinghy. And wouldn’t you know it, the seam on the other side of the dinghy started blowing huge soap bubbles. How can a seam that hasn’t leaked a bit suddenly start to leak the minute I stop the leak on the opposite side of the dinghy? Crap.
Okay, on a seriously lighter note, we got to swim with dolphins right off the back of the boat. Yesterday morning Ali saw five of them swimming very slowly right behind us. We quickly threw our snorkel gear on and jumped in. They didn’t seem to mind us at all. They were swimming away from us and keeping a little distance, but then they spun around and swam towards us. Right then this lady comes flying by on her dinghy, 30 feet in front of us and right over the top of the dolphins, and scares them away. Freaking idiot sees us snorkeling and yet feels it necessary to fly right in front of us at full speed. Seriously, the Maldives have not been a good stop for bonding with the cruising fraternity. While Ali and I were battling back against the current towards our boat, an eight-year-old boy from another boat came out and picked us up, and in the process redeemed our faith in the goodness of cruisers. For a day or so.
Aside from that there really isn’t much to report about here. Oh we are short another boat safety device, the other day I dropped the battery pack for the strobe light overboard and it sank faster than I could swim. The light was attached to the life ring and I noticed it had water inside the bulb compartment. So I unscrewed the cap and watched as the tube that holds the batteries slid right out and in to the water. I dived in within a second but couldn’t catch it. The water we were anchored in was 65 feet deep but I decided to try and swim it anyway. The current was about two knots so I swam to the front of the boat to begin the dive figuring the current would take me right to it. I dove down and down and down, deeper than I’d ever gone before, but at 55 feet I thought my ears were going to explode out of my head and I had to turn back.
We’re taking off tomorrow after only a few days in the Maldives. I think Male, the capital of the Maldives probably would have been more our style. Uligan was nice, but there wasn’t much to do here. You can’t go anywhere else with the boat, and the coral is completely bleached out. The beach is beautiful though and the water is teeming with wildlife all day long. This place has also got the best weather we’ve ever had anywhere. During the day it is blue skies and not too hot, while at night it is cool. And best of all there isn’t a bug in sight. Overall, the Maldives get the thumbs up, we got a lot of boat work done (Ali did so much work cleaning inside the boat that I am not allowed in for at least a week) and it was a nice rest stop pretty much directly on the way to the Red Sea.
february 24 2006 : en route to oman
Already day three of the 1250 mile passage to Oman. The weather the first couple of days wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great either. The wind was always on our nose but with a little adjusting we were able to motorsail pretty well. By the second day we had caught a really favorable current and now on day three find ourselves flying along at close to 7 knots with under 10 knots of wind, which is unheard of for us.
Not much going on out here though. There have been quite a few ships, which is something we’re not used to seeing much of on these long ocean passages, but I suppose it makes sense because anybody heading for SE Asia is coming right out of the Red Sea where we are headed.
We’ve had the fishing lines out constantly but haven’t caught a thing. With absolutely no meat onboard, unless we count the little chunks in a can of chili, we find ourselves dreaming about a big mahi mahi dinner. Amazingly, Uligan, a town of 450, with dirt roads and homes made of coral, didn’t have a frozen foods section.
february 26 2006 : en route
Yet another extremely uneventful passage underway. The Arabian Sea has lived up to its reputation as a pretty benign stretch of water. The winds have still been on our nose and very light so we haven’t been making very good time, but when everything is this calm you can’t really complain too much. The winds are supposed to pick up and shift in a day or so and hopefully we’ll get moving a little better then. Still no fish but we did find some meat on the boat. We’ve reached a new low here on Bum, we’ve eaten hot dogs from a can. Full size normal looking hot dogs in a can. We made sure to bury them underneath a can of chili though, and without having to look at them they were pretty good. We are really not very good at provisioning the boat for these long passages.
Sort of a strange day yesterday out here. Throughout the day there was a sailboat slowly closing in on us which wasn’t a big surprise since everybody that was in Uligan, about a dozen boats, would be following the same straight line from there to Oman. But right as he pulled ahead of us, about 100 yards away, a big ship came along and passed right next to them, while at the same time we had a little Sri Lankan fishing boat pull up alongside us asking for a handout. 350 miles from land and all of the sudden we had three different boats within 200 yards of us.
We really couldn’t believe the Sri Lankan boat, since he was nearly 800 miles from home. Hard to believe that they would need to go that far to fish, and then not even offer us a fish to trade. By dark though the only one left was the sailboat, and by morning even he was gone and we were alone again. We much prefer not to see anybody out here while on passage.
Ali did the budget the other day and we found out that for the very first time of the trip we spent under $1000 in a month. Amazing what a combination of having no boat repairs and cheap food and beer can do for our wallet.