Friday, 26 December 2008

Captain's blog - visit Galle

We arrived Galle roads at 7am 18th Dec and I contacted the Port control. Port Control instructed us to proceed in and a naval patrol boarded us to do inspection. Once clear the sergeant asked for whisky… oh well. We entered the harbor basin that was boomed off except a 10m gap at the breakwater that was guarded by armed sentries. We moored at the “New pier” (N of Gibbett Island), a decently fendered cargo pier but not really suitable for yachts. Everywhere was a military presence and small guys patrolled around with big assault rifles slung on their shoulders or carried in various fashion. The LTTE threat was taken seriously.

Fishermen outside Galle

Then our agent, Mr. Upali Gooneratne, boarded with all the officials in tow, there was Port Health, Custom, Immigration and Security. They all needed whisky too, must be the dusty paper shuffling making them thirsty. Bunkering was to start at 1300hrs by truck. Lastly I was also visited by the Harbor Master and we chatted about Port of Galle and future plans of re-developing a yacht marina (I found out there had been a yacht marina that had been swept away by the 2004 tsunami.) Harbor Master also commented on some yachts that in his opinion were smuggling people to Europe, Asian crew was duly registered on the crew list but when the yacht arrives Europe it would be met by snake heads and the Illegal Immigrants would be taken away to their unknown destinies. First time I ever heard about such activities.

Galle harbor, wavebreaker entrance on extreme left with armed guards

After all red tape was cleared, I went with Mr. Upali for some shopping for ships provisions. At the same time we drove a short loop in Galle city and the Dutch Fort. The city has a population of only abt 100.000 and has not much to offer. Surprisingly I saw quite a few foreigners on the streets. The drive in the Dutch Fort was nice, there was a Dutch reform Church and all buildings were left after the colonial period and looked very quaint but unfortunately they were in a more or less dilapidated state. Once our shopping was done we headed back to the ship to wait for the bunker truck that was now late.

Galle Dutch Fort

At 1330hrs there was no truck forthcoming and we started calling around and we got replies that the “truck will be there soon”, “truck is at the gate”, “Truck is there” – all was essentially figments of imagination and as we called higher up the ranks it was revealed that the truck was late, very late. Time was now our enemy as the sunset would leave us rolling our thumbs until next morning as port regulations did not allow movements after darkness. Fuel truck finally arrived 1630hrs and it was past 1700hrs before bunkering got started. The sun was setting fast.

Dutch Fort old lighthouse

Mr. Upali had arranged clearance in advance and Navy guys were standby to do their inspection and we stated our departure to 1800hrs for the Port Authorities, Harbor Master gave us permission to leave as long as we could see. I said I have x-ray vision. Vivek started up the engines to warm up, pumping was going on and finally we got the hose disconnected at abt 1810hrs, amount was verified, papers signed and people were showed the gangway. At 1810 I ordered all ropes cast off and we were clear off the pier at 1815hrs. Port Control was already telling us on VHF that we can’t exit the port while I was passing the breakwater barrier along with the last rays of the sun. We eventually managed to do our visit in one day, phew, but it was a close call. All was thanks to the Custom Officer accompanying the fuel truck that decided to stop for a 2h lunch and get drunk. While bunkering went on I could see him staggering around the pier, there was for sure no whisky forthcoming to him if he would have asked (he did not).

Evening when sailing along the Sri Lankan coast was littered with fishing boats, they looked more like narrow dinghies and had a smaller pontoon rigged on the side for stability, we had to get 10’ offshore when we cleared all fishermen. Once out on the Gulf of Mannar we got a good NE’ly force 4-5 and a swell as well.

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