Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Voyage Colombo - Mumbai

So we had the sailing orders and port clearance was done. All we were missing now was the relieving Chief Engineer, Phil, who was arriving at noon.

Colombo Port behind the cruise jetty

Engines were running and linesmen were standing by, crew was on stand by and we had permit to cast off and we are waiting for the taxi to arrive with Phil. Pilot was not needed as Colombo have this "rule" or custom that if the Master is confident that he can take out the ship without any assistance he can do that, this is usually asked by the VTS.

Dagoba next to the port

Eventually the taxi cruises on the jetty just on time and Phil gets out and climbs onboard. The crew collects the gangway and orders are given to cast off all the lines. As we are in the innermost corner of the port we move astern and swing around by starboard. Once our bow is pointing north we start making slow headway of 2-3 kts but are soon chased by the VTS who says "can you please speed up, we got other ships waiting to enter". As I'm on duty I have the handles so I increase speed, by the time we are passing the breakwater the log is showing 8 kts, I hope it was fast enough for them.

We are once again heading for Mumbai and the seas are calm and the sun is shining. At least the weather was better then when we were coming. Next 2 days goes in the routine of the sea, weather continues to favor us and crew is doing washdown of the yacht. On the morning of 21st we arrive a hazy/ foggy Mumbai.

It is incredibly hot and humid, the haze is ever present and gives hardly a miles visibility. it is that time of the year again. The end of the month goes in doing all ISM jobs and preparing handover to my relieving Chief Officer, Tsvetan Nenkov.

Sunday, 20 February 2011


So I woke up before the rooster and was on the pier by 5AM and there was my car and driver waiting for me as arranged by Upali. We started towards Trincomalee.

On the road

Military checkpost

Another checkpost

The highway

It was easy going and traffic was light, not surprising considering the hour. The road was a 2 lane carriageway with 2-way traffic. It was in good condition initially. At some point we stopped at a roadside restaurant and had some breakfast. Then on we carried, it was a 250km journey but the going was getting slower as the road detriorated. Also, the more east we came the more frequently were guard boxes erected by the road, these boxes could be simple makeshift things built by sandbags or by thick wooden beams or even  from tiles. The military was still ever present. I guess after so many years of internal strife with the LTTE it is hard to let go of the paranoia and unwind the security arrangement that is prevalent all over the country.

Arriving Trincomalee

When we reached Kantale, some 43km off Trincomalee, the road was so bad we could manage max 10-15km/h, it was just pothole after pothole, I reckon some persons would even become seasick in the way the road was rocking the car. It had not also helped that there had been some serious rainflooding a week earlier, I could still see all the temporary road repairs effected.  Eventually we arrived Trincomalee at about noon.

Hotel Welcombe

Hotel Welcombe

Andaman side of Trinco

Arriving Trincomalee is no highlight, the road is full of potholes and has barely any tarmac, a narrow strip in the middle on the road of which traffic on both sides are competing for. It makes one realize Trincomalee is a backwater and no surprise for me considering how close it is to Jaffna, the former LTTE stronghold. The visual impact of the port is impressive and reminds me a bit of the Norwegian fiords. The port is natural and huge and totally controlled by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Trinco city

Urban Trinco

I call up Mr. Jeyarajah who is our local contact. I meet him at the Welcombe Hotel who seems to be the only high class establishment in town. It is 3-stars and very quiet. We get in the car again and Mr. Jeyarajah shows us around town which does not take long as it is not very big. There is a fresh produce market and one supermarket and even ATM's available. The Gulf of Bengal side beach is marvelous with white sand beach reaching as far as the eye can see. Population majority Tamilian and spoken languages here is Tamil and Sinhalese. Mr. Jeyarajah himself is Tamil and speaks both languages fluently. When I ask him of where he lives he says he comes to Trinco only on business nowadays as he had moved his family to Colombo when the unrest was taking place.

Ashrof jetty from afar and a visiting passenger ferry

I can't inspect the jetty that is planned for Kalizma as I'm a foreigner, the ironical part here is that if I'd come with a ship it would be no problem. So, Mr. Jeyrajah drives me along the shores for me to get a peek on the Ashrof jetty that is the inside most jetty built in the Bay. It looks alright and clean. I am also informed that electricty and water supply is there and reliable so all seems to be ok considered from the infra structure side.

After doing our rounds of the city we head back to the Welcombe Hotel for a late lunch and I have some curries and crab in Indian "thali" fashion.

School girls after a long day

On arrival Trincomalee I saw advertised resorts and diving at the Tiruveli beach but it was some 16k's away and considering the time and the condition of the road I decided to leave these places, albeit interesting, un-visited. I instructed the driver to head back to Colombo.

I also passed the local airport but it is controlled by the Sri Lankan airforce and does not have regular flights to it. Mr. Jeyarajah told me has seen at times small 8-10 seater planes landing there.

After heading out on the "highway" again I get a call from Captain Bruno telling me he has received sailing orders, Indian Empress will depart next day at noon. I acknowledge and sit in the rolling car watching the local populace going about their daily business. When we get on better roads and start coming near Habarana I ask the driver to look for and stop at an ayurvedic centre.

Women doing the laundry

He stops at Araliya Herbal Spa that looks good enough and I get in and ask for a massage with a steambox treatment thrown in. They don't speak English so the driver translates and I get asked to enter the treatment room. I change into shorts and an old lady starts applying herbal oils accompanied with vigorous massaging. In an hour she has gone all over my head, back, legs and arms and she stops and I am asked to get to the steambox room.

There I am laid into a steambox that looks like a coffin with a hole in one end. My head is outside the box, thats what the hole is for. I lay on a trellis that is covered by herbs and steam is rising from below. On the bottom there is a water tray that is heated by fire and producing the steam. Either the time was too short or being a sauna hardened Finn I feel the steaming time was too short as I was only barely starting to break a sweat when they call me out and tell me the treatment is finished.

Oh well, all good things ends at some stage, from there it was on to the shower and through the cashier I continued the journey towards Colombo. The sun was setting now and it was getting dark, as we neared Colombo the traffic was getting denser. Nothing of the traffic scarcity in the morning, this was full on rush hour and we were making something like 40-50km/h at best. Eventually I arrived Indian Empress around 2200hrs after spending some 14hrs for the back and forth journey...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Weligama Bay to Colombo

So in the evening we got instructions to prepare for BBQ and we set it up in a record time of 45 minutes only. Avnish was handling the shoreside while I had my duty to take care of. At midnight the party was topped off with a short fireworks display.

Weligama fishing harbor

Soon after everything was packed in and onboard we heaved up anchor and departed for Colombo at 0230hrs. After an uneventful sail we arrived next morning to Colombo and moored at the cruise terminal. The jetty was in fact was just a cleaned up and cordoned off area used by the cruise ships, the next berth was already occupied by a container carrier. Well, at least it was better than the previous berth where we were rolling in the swell that came in from the north entrance.

Another (old) Colombo visitor

In early afternoon the guests disembarked and crew started to prepare for sea as e were expecting sailing orders the same afternoon.

Me and Avnish decided to take advantage of the lull and went ashore for a massage and a seafood dinner at Lavinia beach. The massage was good although expensive compared to Thailand.

The dinner at the beach was delicious. The restaurant was setup just by the railroad tracks and between the beach. It was quiet and tidy, the beach was stretching into the distance with the highrises of Colombo business district looming far away.

While I was chatting with Avnish suddenly a ball bounced on the table and from there straight on my left eye. It turned out some youngsters were playing cricket a bit away and the ball had strayed in a high trajectory which ended on my face. Luckily it was not a real cork cricket ball, my left eye would probably be blind by now. Nevertheless it was a shock and the eye hurt quite a bot but as there did not seem to appear any lesions or blurred vision we carried on as usual and had our dinner that was crab and prawn curry Sri Lankan way.

After finished our dinner we paid and left back for port. When we arrived onboard there was still not any sailing directions issued. I was not in a hurry to sail.

Next few days we were still waiting for sailing orders and I got orders to go and check out Trincomalee port for a possible monsoon berth for Kalizma. As 17th was a public holiday in Sri Lanka I booked a driver for the 18th at 5AM.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Galle to Weligama Bay

Later the guests get up and venture to the Dutch Fort and to Nico’s on Talpe beach while Avnish was looking after all the arrangements. He was a lucky bugger as he managed to slip away and get some Sri Lankan crab curry at Unawatuna beach, but so was I too, as you will read.

Monitor lizard at the Lighthouse

I had a filling fall out during the voyage and our agent, the trusted Mr. Upali, took me to see a Professor in dentistry (sorry, forgot his name). The outfit looks worn out and run down but I can see the equipment is better than foot driven drills. After some sitting waiting for the examination room to be prepared from the last patient I chat with the Professor and he tells me he has practiced dentistry on Harley street in London and still goes every year to UK for lectures in medical universities, then the nurse announces the room is ready and we get down to real business. 

The Lighthouse restaurant

Artwork at the Lighthouse

He takes one long look in my gab and fixes the tooth in no time. The Professor tells me that the cost of the procedure will be 5000 LKR and I tell him straight away to go ahead. Afterwards Upali tells me he nearly fell off the chair as the price for a filling in Colombo is the double. In Thailand the price is somewhat the same as of the good Professor.

Weligama Bay

Note the table legs are made of old engine blocks

After this we go for lunch with Upali to Lighthouse restaurant. The venue is very nice with seating out in the shade with the Indian Ocean swell crashing onto the rocky beach promontory in front of the establishment. The entrance to the restaurant is lined with metal sculptures picturing people at war several hundred years back. 

The Japanese designed house in Weligama

Mirissa fishing Port

We are being served by a beautiful Sri Lankan lady named Jaisha (if memory serves me right). Lunch was curry and rice and this is in the Sri Lankan way served almost like a South Indian Thali. I was brought a plate and several bowls of curry and vegetable dishes, the main being crab. The food was very delicious and we washed it down with local Baron Beer which I found better tasting than the other local brand Lion Beer. After lunch Upali brought me back onboard and the evening goes waiting for the guests to return back.

Lucy & Avnish

Indian Empress at end of infinity pool at the Japanese villa

Next morning we depart Galle at 6am for whale watching with a naturalist onboard to guide us. We sail out tothe 1000m depth contour and head east towards Weligama Bay and Dondra Head. After some 4 hrs of circling back and forth the whales still eluded us and I think also the other local whale watching boats also did not catch a glimpse of anything else but us. It was not that nice to look for whales as this is the southern point of Sri Lanka and is the place where all commercial cargo ships converge enroute to Malacca Strait or Middle East, so the traffic was quite heavy going. As the morning had gone and whales were not being cooperative we headed for Weligama Bay and anchored off Mirissa Point.  

Lucy & Jessie

Baron's - local beer

After arrival we went ashore with Avnish and checked out various places to have BBQ and so on. Eventually some local expats joined up and ferried us around to different venues. One building we visited was in a fabulous location but looked like an unfinished building site as the cement slabs had not been painted.

Beach beauty at Mirissa point resort

Finally we had a very late lunch at Mirissa Point and I went back onboard to coordinate BBQ and Avnish to set it up. When I was arriving IE it was being the focal point of the village and had small boats of every size and shape buzzing around the ship like flies on a fresh cowturd. On some fishing catmaran I counted up to 15-17 persons, maybe it was the whole family as the people onboard consisted from small kids to elderly matrons.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Voyage Mumbai - Colombo - Galle

Our cruise to Lakshadweep had been foiled by the sudden appearance of Somali pirates in our intended cruising area so we did not leave as planned. We sat for another 2 days and had a hectic time preparing backup cruises for Sri Lanka and up the West Coast of the subcontinent to Diu Island, Gujarat.

Dolphin Rock in Mumbai

Then the orders came to sail for Sri Lanka.

We quickly got our agent mobilized, port clearance and last minute shopping and so we departed for Colombo at midnight 8th. We were in a hurry and burned fuel to the tune of 20 knots, our three 6270 kW main engines were guzzling up diesel hundreds of tons every day. By the time we reached Gulf of Mannar we got bad weather blowing from the NE. The center engine started taking in water through the exhaust so we had to stop it but as we were almost there it did little difference to our ETA.

Another old Colombo Port visitor

Eventually we made arrival Colombo on the 12th at 3am. We tied up near the northern entrance and were still rocking of the swell outside of the port. The port of Colombo is growing massively, huge land filling project is underway to enlarge the container terminal outside of the old harbor. This could not be seen in April 2010 when I stopped there to refuel Kalizma. The Sri Lankan industry must be booming after the Tamil Tiger problem has been gotten rid of.

M/y Indian Empress in Galle

We got guests onboard from the airport and continued our voyage at 5am towards Galle where we arrived at noon. Galle had remained the same from my last visit there in 2008. The port had restored some yacht pontoons and moorings that had been demolished by the 2006 tsunami but otherwise everything looked more or less the same. Even the pilot cum Port Captain was the same. The publicans were also the same, scores of people asking for booze and cigarettes left and right.

Another Galle visitor, perhaps for whalewatching...

Luckily we got Avnish doing the Purser bit as I always have a problem of telling people politely they got enough, now scram. Once the formalities are cleared we get some expat bum named Geoffrey seeking entry onboard on the excuse that he has a friend of a friend who knows the guests onboard, yeah sure I also use this excuse when I want to go meet unknown rich people, works every time. Only God knows how he managed to get into an ISPS controlled port.

The LTTE gunship cum trawler

The forward mounted 50 cal machine gun

There also was an impounded ex. LTTE gunship tied up in the port, an old fishing trawler equipped with 50cal machine guns mounted forward and aft. I could imagine the Somali's could put it to great use being the scourge of the Indian Ocean.