Andamans, Surins and Similans

Thursday, March 27th, 2008
There is a danger when revisiting a place where one has fond memories. Time has a habit of enhancing the good and fading the bad. Last year the 7 week 1000 mile round trip to the India’s Andaman Islands in the company of the Bentley family on s/v Shayile was by far the highlight of our cruising. The 2008 rerun, this time in the company Neil and Ley Langford off s/v Crystal Blues, was approached with great excitement but also certain amount trepidation – would it live up to our memories? We need not have worried – the islands yet again provided fantastic fishing (over 75kgs of fish caught), flavoursome food, friendly people, and fantastic anchorages making a memorable 5 weeks and enhancing our opinion of the Andamans as the best cruising destination in Asia.    

On the whole we are not big fans of long passages. Mum and Dad tend to get grouchy after keeping watch 3 hours on/3 hours off for the night shift; the kids, whilst fantastic at playing together for hours on end, do require entertaining; oh and there is the 4 hours school do be done each day. This 400 mile outbound passage from Phuket to Port Blair though was an absolute delight. Setting off in the first week of January we experienced clear cloudless skies with easy winds. The moonless nights enhanced the millions of stars of the overhead galaxies and dolphins played in the bow wave on numerous occasions. If one was to get picky – a bit more wind would have saved some motor sailing.  
It is easy to tell when you are nearing the Andamans – the fish start biting. Nicky scored the first on her new rod – a juvenile tuna which we put back. We landed a huge barracuda and lost two lures in quick succession. Boy it was good to see fish again after the wastelands of Thailand. On the final night both boats picked up an unlit vessel on the radar. The strong signal which mysteriously appeared just vanished leading us to believe we had just been buzzed by an Indian submarine – welcome to the Andamans.  
Port Blair is a wonderful city oozing character and steeped in history. After the usual professionally bureaucratic 2 day check in (immigration, customs, coast guard, harbour master and finally the highly inefficient forestry department for national park permits) we enjoyed showing Neil and Ley some of the sights, smells and sounds. A tasty curry, new fish lures, haggling at the local fruit and vegetable market, seeing chickens dressed (or undressed) on the spot, oven fresh curry puffs and samosas and the thrill of the local taxi/trishaw drivers – beep, beep!  
Our intention this year was to extend on our 2007 trip by going further south and by visiting the rather wilder and more rugged west coast. The west coast section was made all the more challenging when the authorities informed us the Andaman and Homphrey Straits which bisect the middle island were off limits as some yachts had strayed into tribal areas. This added some 160 miles to our route. Heading south we visited an old favourite – North Cinque Island where we met friends Tom and Fran on s/v Dagon and explored Sisters Islands. Sisters had some fabulous snorkeling with water visibility over 30 metres and beaches littered with colourful shells. Unfortunately the anchorage was exposed and the anchor holding dreadful so we headed north again to Rutland Island where we were reunited with s/v Dagon and s/v Crystal Blues. What a delightful anchorage – fresh turtle tracks and egg nests on the beach, huge manta rays lazily feeding off the reefs and some great fishing.  
Rob off s/v Shayile is an expert fisherman landing some spectacular fish last year (including a 25kg tuna and 42kg sailfish) and we were worried that our source of sushi would dry up without him. With no commercial fishing though there are enough fish to make a rank amateurs like us look good. In a few days we picked up two good sized yellow fin tuna (which made spectacular sashimi), a rainbow runner, brassy trevally and a poker-dot cod. Later on we added a huge giant trevally, more cod, barracuda, an array of very annoying pike with very sharp teeth plus a couple of fish we never identified. Our luck versus other boats was sufficient that we picked up the nickname – the man with the golden rod. However, the larger fish continued to evade us, swimming off with our lures with frustrating regularity – more lessons required Rob!  
By this stage it was clear we had a fuel problem. Having last refueled in Langkawi, Malaysia at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club we found the fuel we had picked a nasty contamination which, despite being dosed with biocides, was clogging up our filters with alarming regularity. Given the extent of the west coast trip and given we would be doing it alone we decided to be conservative and cancel the trip – we would have looked very foolish 200 miles from help if the engine developed a fuel related problem. As it turned out this was the right decision. Crystal Blues had also developed a water maker problem and was keen to use our water maker rather than cut down on washing! The two boats therefore became rather loosely joined a mid-ships. This proved no hardship as both crews enjoyed their wine, food, and fishing. On top of this Neil and Ley make great surrogate parents and very creative teachers and the kids were always keen to jump ship. Ley is also a wicked cook! The kids embarked on a number of projects including learning to use a hooker – scuba diving without the tank.  
Heading north we hit possibly one of the world’s finest beaches, Havelock No.7. This year it proved quite crowded with four other vessels in the anchorage unless you compare it with Thailand where in places like Nai Harn it can be 60! We were privileged to get an extended sighting of the very rare and equally timid Dugong (sea cow) as well as numerous turtles and retired logging elephants strolling the beach and cooling off in the surf. Also some enterprising Italian archeologist and his wife had set up a small treasure of an Italian restaurant nestling in amongst the coconut palms. His motivation for the venture was ‘Í just loved the place’ and should be an inspiration to us all that we should follow our dreams. The simple food was superb.  
Whilst at Havelock we used the opportunity to take off the fuel filters and give them a much needed clean. Unfortunately when replacing the units one of the brass nuts shattered leaving us a real headache – how were we going to repair this and get back to Thailand? Unbelievably, especially as less than 40 yachts visit these islands each year, two yachts came to our rescue. Joe off s/v Tweed combined with Tom off s/v Dagon had tools for flaring copper pipe and replacement 3/8ths brass flange nuts – thankfully we were not on the west coast.  
From Havelock we circuited over a week to Long Island visiting the town of Rangat, back past Middle Button for some world-class snorkeling, to Inglis Island where we spotted our first crocodile (needless to say this curtailed our swimming) and returning back to a favourite spot on Havelock only to find the Indian navy out in force. Over the next few days three large landing craft entertained us with multiple beachings and landing simulations. Jon also entertained us by having his hair shaved off.      
It was very sad to leave the Andamans but we left with very fond memories. However there was no time to rest as we had a rendezvous with the Johnston family at the Surin Islands some 60 miles off the Thai coast. Sailing in early we found Lorence, Yan-Yan, Brendan and Kyra plus luggage sitting on a remote pontoon having been deposited there by speedboat, pondering their next move if their ‘lift’ did not materialize. For the next week we enjoyed snorkeling, kayaking, walking, and catching up on the news from Hong Kong over some fine whisky and wine. Alex and Nicola loved having other kids on board and the four played fabulously together. From the Surins we had a final visit to the Similan Islands before returning to Phuket to drop off our guests and make final preparations for returning to Singapore. We had finally heard Alex had been accepted into Tanglin School – term starting April 1 st. Sadly our cruising dream now had a definite end date 14 days shy of the 2 years we set out for.  

3 Responses to “Andamans, Surins and Similans”

I can’t tell you how my eyes fill with tears each time I read your blogs – and i can quite see how yours will do the same next week! Good luck in singapore!

Said by: tina on March 30th, 2008

Good luck settling down in Singapore. I’m sure that it won’t be long till you are planning your next adventures. How about the pacific islands and on to NZ.

Jon I like your new haircut. Did Nicky and Alex cut it. I get Sam and James to do mine with similar results.

Loved the recent blogs on the Andaman Islands what an amazing trip. Still working on Euphymya.
Kia Kaha (be strong)
Bill, Euphymya, James and Sam

Said by: Bill on March 30th, 2008

Jon, what a change, what happned to your haircut, my goodness you look like a military .

Your family look great…


Said by: Ramzi on June 14th, 2008