Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Departure Lakshadweep

The morning 14th is the last time I go and drop off the security detail and I pick up the last batch of curry and parotha's. Soon enough we send our guests to the airport and it is time for us to settle the bureaucratic matters with locals and have a breather.

The parotha and fish curry cook in front of his tools of the trade

We have time enough so some crew are given opportunity to dive the Fish soup site and other opts for having a stroll on Agatti Island. I'm content in nursing my flu.

Agatti police station

Road to the jetty

It was an interesting sojourn to one of the most remote territories of India. The sad part was that we did not have the opportunity to see more Islands due to the recent piracy clashes with the Indian Navy and pending piracy threat from Somalia. They are now a real scourge of the Indian Ocean in their own right as per the current statistics and news.

Local cargo ship being unloaded

The western jetty on Agatti

Late evening we have everything cleared out, tenders on deck and ship is secured for sea. We heave up anchor and depart for Mumbai.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Tinakara Island, Lakshadweep

The morning starts with same routine of changing security details and picking up a hefty lot of fish curry and roti's for Indian breakfast.

Local cargo ship in the Agatti Is. lagoon

Meanwhile I have come down with a heavy head cold so diving is out my activities. In the afternoon we dive near Bangaram Island (SW side) and is according to all divers the best site so far. I could see bottom fairly clearly and there are deep rifts in the corals where the divers find small grottoes where the fish and other creatures hide.

Morning walk on Agatti Island

Local boat named after the pan-Islamic Indian Independence fighter

Next step in program is to set up BBQ on Tinakara Island and that takes us some time as we have to negotiate the coral reef between Tinakara and Bangaram, luckily most of it is buoyed to the resort that is at Bangaram but after that the rest goes solely on having a lookout sitting on the bow and showing the way.

Seasonal algae growth in the Tinakara lagoon

Coconut store

As we passed Bangaram a lot of people crowds the beach. According to our diveguide, Sikandar, they are local inhabitants of the Island and many have no jobs now when the resort is closed due to some business deal gone sour. The case is in court pending decision, meanwhile the resort stays closed. Well, I suppose they have gone back to their old profession of fishing and coconut harvesting.

Tinakara Island

We set up the BBQ and I walk around the Island, it is fairly big and in the middle is a couple of huts that is probably used for coconut storage and is also having signs of intermittent habitation as I can see fish hanging on a line for drying. It looked like it had been hanging there for quite awhile though.

After some time I meet a group of locals, they speak no english but with some sign language I get them to pick a few coconuts for me. The climbing technique still baffles me, I recall trying it out in 2007 in Maldives but still could not get up the trunk, I guess I'm more of a gorilla despite being born in the year of the monkey.

Coconut picking

At the beaches I can see countless empty bottles of alcohol, interesting considering Lakshadweep is a muslim community with zero tolerance policy.

William is also completing the started dive course and the two students are ecstatic having concluded their first dive.

Alok, my 3rd Officer

As the sun starts to set we pack up and make our way back to the ship, it would not be fun navigating the channel in the dark as it is lined with huge coral boulders just under the surface. Once we are in the channel we floor it and make it back just in time.

In the evening we go for night fishing with a local fish expert of some kind. No matter how many times we change fishing grounds the fish still eludes us. Eventually the night breeze becomes quite strong so we head back for the ship and call it a night.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lakshadweep, Agatti Island

So early morning we were carrying back the BBQ stuff and cleaning and packing it where every item belongs. Towels and chair covers to the laundry, crockery to the pantry and galley and so on. At last we knock off and get our well deserved rest while the night shift crew deals with the small things and cleaning up the yacht.

Sunset over Agatti Island

I got up in the morning for the change of security detail and curry and parothas. Later, me, Willie and Sikandar take out students to do their pool exercise for their PADI course. We take the tender to the entrance of the Agatti lagoon and anchor in 1m of water that will do instead of the pool. Willie and Sikandar gets into their stuff while I watch over the operation and sneak a few minutes of snorkeling. It is not very interesting as the bottom is more or less dead with a great deal of rubbish spread about, I can see some fish but thats about it.

When one ventures further into the lagoon you can find there are a lot of turtles living in it, big buggers swim away from your boat when you approach and you can also see them coming up to the surface for air. Turtles, unlike in Maldives, are not eaten in Lakshadweep. Yesterday when scouting out the route to Tinakara I saw two of them mating and Sikandar informs me that this is the mating season for them.

Once we return onboard it is just to change dive sets and be ready for diving the Solar site, used set are taken out and full sets put onto the tender. The dive site is only a few miles south of IE and was very much like the yesterdays dive at the Fish Soup. Once we return back onboard again we get to prepare for a beach BBQ at Sea Shells. Same gear is once again loaded onto tenders and minivans and crew gets into beach wear to set up the party.

I get a few hours of rest and I go and relieve Alok form the beach and stay there until the end. There is a fresh evening breeze blowing and my waterlogged sinuses don't like so I feel like I'm coming down with a head cold. The breeze continued until the early morning hours and I was done by when we packed up for the night at 3am.

Diving Solar

The 12th we dived the Solar site, name is due to the solar power plant next to it. It was just a few miles more south from the Fish Soup.

Pretty much the same as the previous dive at Fish Soup, there is a lot of fish here but the corals are not that spectacular as in Maldives due to bad bleaching some time ago. I could see signs though that the corals are slowly recovering but it is slow growing.

There is also a lot of Napoleon Maori Wrasse among many other species but they are quite camera shy, so it is hard to catch them on the lens.

I let the pictures speak for themselves again:


Aliens are here


Black pyramid butterflyfish

Dash-dot goatfish in front

Like moon landscape

...more moon coral...


Sea star

Threadfin butterflyfish

Tuna (?)

The big one is a parrot fish

Masked bannerfish

Black pyramid butterflyfish on right

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Another day in paradise

11th morning I am sent ashore to change our security detail and at the same time I pick up more of the local fish curry and parothas that has been a great hit among the Indian crew onboard. I come back on time for breakfast and after that the diving preparations begin.

Our security detail

Jetski's are pulled out from the lazarette and put on standby for guests. Towels and sun lotion is laid out. Finally the guests leave for diving and there is an hour quiet onboard.

Ad on AGatti

Sunset over Agatti

Upon return there is a request for beach BBQ preparations and evening goes there sending materials and then finally lugging it all back. Chairs, tables, gazebos, parasols, cutlery, crockery, glassware, music, beach gear, roman candles, towels.. it is a long list. Once back onboard it all has to be cleaned and washed before we can knock off for another day.

Diving Fish Soup

The 11th morning we prepare for diving, our dive guide, Sikandar, briefs us of the site and tells us the name is derived from the plenty fish that frequents the area. I suggested changing it into "Bouillabaisse" as the dish requires traditionally for some 7 fish to be put into it. The site is just a mile or so south of IE's anchoring position.

Gear is taken out, rigged together and stowed onboard. Checklists are completed and off we are to enjoy the wonders of the dominion under the sea. I let the pictures speak their own language ...

A spiky sea star

Sea anemone

Sea anemone

Orinetal sweetlips and White-spotted grouper below

Sea cucumber

Over a brain coral garden

Soft coral

School of fish

Spotted a turtle

Bennett's butterflyfish

Soft coral

Giant clam

Giant clam

Friday, 11 March 2011

Agatti Island

Next day half morning goes in preparing for the guests arrival and coordinating the shore transport as well as mapping out reefs.

Agatti Is traffic tower for shipping

Local sheds

Agatti fire engine (I think out of commission)

Early morning I take Anil ashore as he wants to buy some pickle and other condiments from Agatti while we check out the safe route into the lagoon. I follow him as the tender is minded by our Deckhand and we walk some 150m inland, the roads are in the Indian fashion chaotic and winds here and there. I can see signs of hotels and restaurants and shops selling mobiles and daily small stuff one may need. People eyeball and smile at me as I'm a foreigner. Everything looks very rural and original.




AIBAR beach looking North 

We haven't gotten our breakfast yet so we quickly pop into a restaurant and order fish curry and parothas. The dish is so good that we practically hoover the plates empty and we order some more to go for the guys onboard. While I have a masala chai, Anil goes on a motorbike with our diveguide Sikandar to find some pickles. By the time they arrive back I'm on some fresh paan and we head back North towards the lagoon exit and head to Bangaram and Tinakara Island to chart the route there as well.

Bangaram in the background 


The atoll entrance to Bangaram is crystal clear and Sikandar guides the coxswain from the bow to avoid big coral heads that clutter the channel. There are some buoys but unless one knows how the channel is, it is difficult to interpret what they are warning for as the shapes and colors are not necessarily IALA standard. At first we tried rounding Bangaram on the SE but the water got just too shallow, the sandbank had filled the lagoon, so we ventured back to the entrance and rounded Bangaram on the SW. Bangaram also has a resort that has a permit to take foreign visitors but the resort is closed due to litigation. We can see people milling around and Sikandar tells me they are locals.

The emerald waters of the atoll

Once on the NW side we entered the lagoon (Bangaram is shaped like a crescent) and the depth went to well over 20m and we speed up until we come again into shallow waters and wind our way on the E side of the atoll at the ridge between live coral heads and the white bleached area. We came to the beach of Tinakara and turned back as time was getting short and guests were arriving soon. We could use speed now as the route was plotted into our GPS and we knew how the channel was. Soon enough we were back onboard IE and the tender was given a going over before heading towards Agatti Island and the airport.

Tinakara Island

The wind has picked up so while I go ashore to receive guests, Avnish moves IE into lee and anchors north of the North Eastern jetty. We sit at the AIBAR (Agatti International Beach And Resort) and wait for the plane to land. The resort is just next to the airstrip that is located on the extreme south end of the Island. AIBAR is the only resort on the Island that can accept foreign guests, next to AIBAR is a new resort called Sea Shells but as far as I understand they do not have the permit to accommodate foreigners. However I never got a straight answer whether I as a foreigner could venture into the village area and get lodging at one of the guest houses there.

Agatti commercial jetty (half way Island)

There are 2 planes arriving every day from Cochin, one carrier is Indian Airways and the other Kingfisher Airlines. It is not necessary to sit  in the terminal and look at a screen to see if the plane has landed, we can see and hear the plane and we get up and hurry to the terminal.

KFA has landed

While the girls receive guests I get the luggage organised on a local boat and it is accompanied by one deckhand to IE while we load the guests on the tenders. Once we're all set we start towards the ship at the tune of 30 knots and it does not take long before we have the guests onboard sipping welcome drinks and making themselves at home while the stewardesses are distributing luggage and unpacking it.

Passing the other commercial jetty (NW)

The rest of the afternoon and evening guests enjoy onboard.