Monday, 28 April 2008

ANDAMAN ISLANDS March & April 2008

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands run in and extensive island chain over 800nm long in a roughly north south line 350nm west of Peninsular Thailand. It is a geological extension of Sumatra and as such received extensive damage from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off Northern Sumatra in December 2004. The damage and necessary reconstruction work has put the Car Nicobar group to the south off the cruising map. Permits are impossible to obtain and even Indian nationals must obtain permits to enter the area.

Taipan arrived Port Blair the capital of the island state at 300am on Monday 10th of March. We had reasonable conditions for most of the trip and caught several fish at the Invisible Banks 40nm south of Port Blair

Clearing process was surprisingly fast and all formalities were completed by 7.00 pm that evening. Or so we thought!. A visit to the Port Captain on Tuesday morning put paid to that idea!. We were advised that because we had several Wildlife Sanctuaries listed on our itinerary we needed to obtain permits from the Wildlife Warden. No Worries! 4 days later and much frustrated in the attempt we had the permit and only needed to find someone to pay to ratify the piece of paper!... Well eventually we discovered that the 3 days we wanted to spend around wildlife sanctuaries was going to cost us in excess of A$1000 so we abandoned those plans and cleared out as fast as possible.

David with Ravi and Vicki from Sarenity

Ravi was our guide and driver and he was very good. During our wait he showed us round the island and took us to some great restaurants. Introduced us to Tasneem the lovely young Indian Wildlife Researcher who is writing a handbook for visitors on the flora and fauna of the Andamans.
Contact Ravi at 09434262030

Do not put any National Parks or Wildlife Sanctuaries on your Itinerary if you want to have a hassle free visit.

Friday 14th we are cleared to leave the harbor and headed south to

Chidyatapu. 11 30.17N 092 40.76E Very pretty spot with some infrastructure ashore which looked like a logging camp and we didn't go ashore to investigate. Unfortunately it was very rolly and we were pleased to leave the following morning to negotiate the Mc Phearson Strait between South Andaman and Rutland Island. Weather was superb and remained so for over 3 weeks. After leaving the strait we entered the Mahatma Ghandi National Park. This is a very beautiful area with many islands set in the crystal clear water just begging exploration. Next time! Sailing north on the west coast we pass a group of palm leaf huts of the Jarawa Tribal s. They are a nomadic tribe living much as they always have in the remote west of the Middle and South Island. Many hectares of forest are Jarawa Tribal Land. Going ashore here is not permitted.

Port Campbell 11 55.3N 092 35.9E in 6 meters on mud. This is real wilderness and its tribal land. Superb anchorage and given more time would have spent several days here to appreciate the abundant bird life and amazing trees. Defence Island is particularly beautiful.Sunday and motoring out of the anchorage beware of the unmarked reef in the middle of the bay. It extends along the 10m line for a mile or so from at least.....11 56.91N 092 35.0E!!
backtracking to our entry track we exit the area successfully and unscathed other than a scratch or two.... and a little stressed to continue north.

Spike Island 12 17.52N 092 44.4E 6 meters Mud. Two days spent here enjoying oysters and exploring in the dingy. There are tribal huts ashore here so no landing but again very spectacular flora. Several small boats of Jarawa came past but kept at a distance. The entrance here is well charted but inside is a fairy tale!.. beware the reef stretching to the north of the 1st island on the south after you pass spike island coming in from the west.

Interview Island. South Anchorage 12 47.35N 092 39.85E 8m on Sand. Very well protected despite the swell apparent. None in the anchorage. Startlingly clear water but a few snorkels later we are disappointed to say there is no corals to see here and very few fish. Double headed Parrot Fish were in evidence but little else. South Reef Island has some patches of live corals and some fish but nothing much. It is however very good fishing off the inside southern tip and we bagged a Red Emperor, Coral Trout and a Sweet Lips. The dingy ride was also very interesting with spectacular white limestone rock formations cut with caves. Deer roam this and many other islands and continue to devastate the forest. There is also a population of approximately 40 wild elephant here. They are the remnant population of a failed forestry project and were abandoned here some years ago. They are also doing irreparable damage as they are not indigenous to the Andaman but were bought there to assist with logging. We were advised by Tasneem that they are potentially dangerous.

Leaving the southern bay to head further up the island we hooked a nice size Bar Cheeked Coral Trout as we sailed across the rocky reef area south of South Reef Island. Our next anchorage has a all tide shore access so we can get ashore..watchful of elephants!

Middle Interview Island 12 48.60N 092 39.53E 8 meters on Sand. Litter ashore was a shock but to be expected on
such an exposed shore line. South West Monsoon would really thrash this coast. A large wooden bowl, once used to pound tarot or grains perhaps, was found washed up on the shore and now graces our foredeck, doing service as a rope holder for the present!

 Thursday 20th March sees us heading north to North Reef Island 13 04,587N 092 42.430E 10m on Sand in crystal clear water again. Unfortunately the reef is very damaged and there are many fallen trees ashore. This is a sanctuary and wildlife park....! so don't put it on your itinerary! The anchorage is really very beautiful and snorkelling or not.. its a very nice place to while away a day or two..maybe dont go ashore?

Good Friday and we are still enjoying that Coral Trout. Hooked up a few biggies trolling but they all got off. Think a longer run might be necessary.. we only lost one lure though. Squid fishing at North Reef very rewarding so squid on the menu for the next few days. 22nm to the north to Paget Island.13 25.03N 092 49.61E 8m on Sand. There are two islands here and we swam and walked on the southerly one which has easy all tide access and good walking because the deer have decimated the undergrowth! This end of the Andaman group has been raised by the earthquake by up to 1500mm in places and the damage to the reef is mostly as a result of this. The southern end of South Andaman is lower by a meter and many rice farms reclaimed from the mangroves have been reclaimed by the sea. Charts are a fair way out requiring constant attention. Leaving Paget we hooked up on two Giant Trevally for a good bit of sport and fair eating while fresh. This always happens when the navigation is at its most critical.!!!

Excelsior Island in the Table Island Group now on the north east side of North Andaman. We sailed through the strait south of Landfall Island with ease in spite of the complicated looking chart. Excelsior is a truly beautiful spot. 13 25.74N 093 05.84E 10m Sand. Well protected from just about everything here. Three very pleasant days spent here exploring on foot and by dingy with no luck trolling but some good strikes. Snorkelling was very patchy and for the most part disappointing however we did find a few good small patches to keep us amused for several hours each day. The best was the closest patch to the east of Taipan.

Smith Ross Island. 13 18.03N 093 03.95E 9 m on Sand. A good size Yellow Fin Tuna safely in the fridge on route. Smith Ross is also a Park so don't put it on the itinerary!.. the snorkelling here was great in very small patches. Good protected anchorage and park facilities ashore. On North Andaman just west of the anchorage is the town of Diglipur where there is a market each day but not needing anything so we didn't go.

Maya Banda 12 55.33N 092 53.63E 10m mud. Nothing to recommend it! Its a long way in out of the way and having gone ashore I cant think of any reason to do so. Maya Banda is the filthiest
place we have ever visited. Not exactly unfriendly but decidedly off hand.

27th March and we sailed to Outram Island south anchorage picking up a nice Wahoo on the way. Outram South 12 12.34N 093 05.72E 12 M on sand. This was just an overnight stop and in the morning we went to North Button Island to snorkel. The clarity of the water is unbelievable. We drifted for several hours on the southern side but the corals although plentiful and all very similar. Very few fish of any size although there were plenty of varieties of small ones. The fishermen are netting everything in long nets which we regularly found fouled on the coral. Tasneem tells us there has been an alarming and noticeable decline in fish numbers in the past 2 years and researchers are very worried about sustainability with the illegal fishing a problems.

Inglis Island 12 08.07N 093 06.50E This has to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Andaman. My camera died back at Outram though so I don't have any pics for you! The exceptionally clear water and good corals and plenty of small fish made this spot our favourite snorkel spot. On the north side, using the Power Dive Hookah, we cruised with 2 enormous double headed parrot fish for some time which was a highlight. The current here can get pretty strong though so you need to pick your time. Heading in to Havelock #3 for the night we snatched another big GT and gave it to Spirit of Ireland. They invited us over to sashumi and we had a delicious meal aboard.

Havelock 12 02.14N 093 00.34E opposite the Forrestry building and a short walk to the village. This was a great village and I so missed my camera. People were really friendly and we ate in the small restaurants. Really just very basic sheds constructed of timber in the weather board style. Narrow frontages and mostly 2 storied. Very little glass in evidence..shutters are the order of the day. There must have been a special on blue paint.! This place is a must visit. Two great fruit and vegie markets at night and chai and curd to die for!. Internet service by pigeon I think but it exists!
Great traditional Indian street food. We went from here to Henry Lawrence and to Inglis for more snorkelling but Inglis definitely has to be the best. Rumours of crocodiles were put to rest for us by the local fishermen who insisted that there are no crocs any where near here. "Maybe down the south end of Havelock on the west side!"

Outram Harbour...12 15.03N 093 05.76E 7m mud. The perfect weather started to look a little less perfect so we anchored here hoping for protection from the forecast SW and SE weather. It was a blessing that we did because the next 3 days were less that pleasant. However we were very snug in our anchorage and were soon joined by Spirit of Ireland and another French yacht seeking shelter. We could hear the Black Andaman Woodpecker ashore but unfortunately didn't get a look at one. Ravi has promised to show us next time we visit!

During our stay at Outram Harbour (there is nothing here) we were visited by several groups of fishermen. One group of 10 men boarded Taipan to get a finger of one of them bandaged up. He had a nasty gash from a fishing knife inflicted the previous evening. It was looking remarkably good. 
They had packed it with turmeric??? I cleaned and dressed it in the conventional way somewhat unsure whether is would be better than the turmeric though.

Some other younger lads came aboard for a look and were hysterical with laughter when they met our stuffed cat, Mrs Chippy. We gave them some old clothes which they seemed very pleased with but they really wanted pens??? Next day they came to give us a fish and the smallest Lobster I have ever seen.

With our visa due to expire we used the last couple of days to relax at Havelock #7. Truly a beautiful beach. This is the major tourist destination in the Andaman and many day trippers come from Port Blair by ferry to see Havelock #7 Interesting to watch Indian women in beautiful saris wade out into the breakers to bath with their men folk who wear fairly regular attire! They hire bathing costumes on the shore! Backpackers seem to gravitate here also and it is possible to scuba dive with an elephant for $1000US we were told!..The elephant has no real say in the matter though and is sometimes a pretty reluctant starter.Sunday 6th of April and we headed off to Ross Island just outside Port Blair and anchored to visit the ruins of the British Command Post abandoned in 1945 after WWll occupation by the Japanese. The colony was established to incarcerate Indian Militants during the latter 19th century. These Freedom fighters, hero's of India, were attempting to oust the British Rulers from India. The Cellular Prison is a formidable place and a lot of it remains. We went to a light and sound show one evening which was very well done and well worth the effort. Ross Island itself was a thriving settlement with extensive buildings of stone erected using Indian convict labor. The buildings are now being destroyed by the Strangler Figs but the effect is awesome!...(Thank you to Thomas from Spirit of Ireland for the photos of Ross Island.)

Clearing out of Port Blair is a lot easier than clearing in but it still took 2 days and we didn't leave for Phuket until Wednesday the 9th of April Our freezer full of fish, a good belly full of Indian bureaucracy..and great Chicken Masala cooked for us by Ravi and served aboard Taipan. Tasneem also paid us a visit aboard before we left and we hope to keep in touch and look forward to the completion of her handbook.

Return journey was very peaceful, light wind, some with spinnaker flying but mostly motoring.

More fish at Invisible Bank and Pilot Whales on several occasions during the trip.

We hope to return to the Andaman's again nest season and look forward to catching up with Ravi and Tasneem.

In summary it is not the snorkeling paradise we expected but the fishing was fantastic and the solitude was great. Water is clear and the forests are just awesome. Culture? Well there isn't really any indigenous art or craft and the tribal peoples are pretty much out of bounds.