It may be only a 3 or 4 day sail from Myanmar to the Andaman Islands but they are worlds apart in many aspects….welcome to the nightmare bureaucracy that is India. Clearing in took most of 1 day and included 3 different governmental departments and 16 men wandering around lifting floorboards, poking in cupboards and taking photos of our family photos. Finally we were deemed to be safe and harmless and were allowed to stay…and they even wanted a photo with us! That was just the beginning of the procedures. Our yacht positions had to radioed to the local port control every day. Sadly there are only a few islands where visitors are permitted to go ashore – you can anchor but not step foot on the beach. Approved satellite phones can be used (luckily ours was), Calum’s drone was bonded for the entirety of our visit, paperwork and information was a constant and the internet/wifi availability an absolute nightmare. Clearing out also took nearly 12 hours!
It is essential to appoint an agent to represent you on arrival. Ours was a charming local named Rathnam from Andaman Holidays who not only assisted with our arrival and departure requirements but fuel, shopping information, liaison services between us and the port control/coast guard and advice in regards to our movements amongst the islands. He also gave us the local rundown on what actually happened and why to John, the missionary gruesomely murdered on North Sentinel Island. The other incredibly helpful and friendly person, Umar, works on the dock and has done so since he was 9 years old. Now in his early 30’s, he has carved out an essential service for the yachts visiting Port Blair, looking after the dingy’s, assisting with fuelling and just being there with a friendly smile and a helping hand.
The main town, Port Blair, is chaotic and colourful and like other cities in India has sacred cows roaming the streets, disrupting the traffic and grazing on large mounds of rubbish on the road side. The air is filled with the sounds of honking horns as tuk tuks weave in and out of motor bikes and cars. The remnants of British colonialism lie dormant on Ross Island, just across the bay from the town while small speedy boats jostle for position to pick up and drop off their paying passengers as quickly as they can. The cellular jail, used by the Brits to house the local freedom fighters, was an interesting diversion from all things marine.
Alternatively the islands are a dream, the water aqua blue, the snorkelling and diving excellent. Our Oyster boats increased to 4 with the addition of Osterika (Oyster 55) owned by a Swiss guy, Patrick and his crew of 4 – Mauro (Italian), 2 lovely dive instructors Chantal (USA) and Elena (Swiss/Russian). In exchange for the use of our compressor to fill their tanks, the girls led us on some great dives and helped 2 crew, Kirsty and Kurt (Calliope), get their Padi Open Water diving certificates. Another bonus was 2 fabulous deep dives with a local man, Dickson, who with several friends, had discovered some of the best diving in the area, now named in their honour.
Our favourite anchorage Beach #7 on Havelock Island is paradise. Beautiful fine white sand, a few choices of onshore dining, and a forest walking track through tall leafy trees to shade from the heat of the day. On our last morning James and I swam the 400 odd metres ashore and walked to the western end of the beach which we had not done before. There, as large as life, was a sign warning of “No swimming, salt water crocodiles inhabit this area”…and we still had to swim back to the boat.
My birthday came and went with lots of lovely messages and a few well chosen gifts. I was especially thrilled by my gift from Sal and Will both of whom chose to donate to a charity for ocean health – something now very close to my heart.