Diary of a Passage. Phuket to Sri Lanka.
There was chaos until the moment we pulled up the anchor and slowly motored out of the wide-open bay of Kata Beach.
I had spent the morning doing last minute shopping of fresh veggies and things like cheese that we know is relatively cheap here and won’t be again for a long time! We eat a lot of cheese on this boat and I have been stocking up on kilos of it! Taking over half of the Captains beer fridge even, which he is less than impressed with!
The fresh market was bustling in the early morning heat, the ladies loving the sight of the 2 of us there, and delighted in touching and seeing Emelia’s blonde hair! She was given treats of sweet biscuits and flowers by lots of the vendors and it made for a lovely last market experience in Thailand. Thailand has had the best fresh markets and Emelia and I have spent many a happy hour browsing them.
We stopped at the flower stand and bought two bunches of marigolds on red ribbon. The boats here use them as an offering to Buddha for safe passage on the water. We figured with a big sail coming up, our longest yet, we could do with any help we could get!!
Back at the boat, I finished up the load of washing while the family put the last of the loose items away and had their last swim.
We had light airs and calm seas as we headed out into the big blue, downloading as much music and podcasts as we could before we lost internet.
The sail was raised and we were truly on our way!
Only 1100 miles to go! This should take us around 7 to 8 days, depending on how much wind we get and any current. Hopefully we do it quickly!
We left at 1.30pm local Thai time, on the 15th February.
It was a very easy first day, with both sails up we flew along on settled and calm seas, with a good breeze on the beam.
Every now and then we would hit these weird current patches, where the seas would rough up and we would bounce along for 10 or so minutes until it calmed again and there was smooth sailing until the next one came toward us, it was a strange experience.
We were starting off right, with speeds of 8 to 10 knots for most of the day. Champagne sailing conditions!
For those who don’t know, it’s pretty fast for a cruising boat, especially one as laden as we are at the moment with all the food and alcohol we have managed to pack away!
Night came slowly, sunsets linger here.
We decided to reef the main before dark as winds were 18 or so knots. Easier to do in daylight and then just leave it that way all night.
Still the reef in the main didn’t slow us down, it was funny! We flew just as fast! There was no moon to start with as being near the end of the cycle it was slow to rise.
Both of us had pretty uneventful night watches, the current lines still came every now and then rocking our stability but as during the day these passed quickly.
Getting back into the rhythm of it all takes a couple of days usually.
By the second watch for me waking up was very hard. I felt the tiredness keenly.
As the sun peaked its way above the horizon I decided it was fishing time.
The kids were watching a movie they didn’t finish before bed last night and Chae was sleeping after his watch.
I went about my business putting both lines out, one with our favourite lure on that Chae have got more of in NZ, the deadly squid 360!
As I was finishing my toast and coffee the line screamed, reel smoking I look out to see a giant Sailfish leaping through the air!
I couldn’t believe it.
Not ideally what I was hoping for, but what a play getting it alongside the boat!
As we had it near we saw its mate in the water next to it, swimming around.
We have never kept a sailfish and have caught a few now. I feel they are just too magnificent to kill so Chae had the unenviable job of trying to get the lure out of its beak. One wrong twist with those sharp beaks and you are in a lot of trouble. People have been seriously injured by them, and marlins, so we are all aware of the dangers!
The fish was furious, as you would be I guess, and slapped the boat and water with its giant tail to try and get away. Chae ended up having the second hook on the lure go through his finger and out again, effectively catching him along with the fish!! Luckily the hook was brand new and super sharp so it came out easily for him while he wrestled with the giant fish.
With lure out, we watched it swim slowly to regain its balance after the stress of the fight and the release. We watched the other one swim around it as we turned the boat back into the wind and headed off again.
We have not caught any fish since before we got to Indonesia. Well, we did catch some, but they were all small and we usually caught more plastic with the lures out so we gave up over the last year.
This was one of the reasons we decided on crossing the Indian.
We LOVE fishing. Like truly love it.
The sound of the reel flying out brings everyone to the back to see what is happening no matter where you are or what you are doing on the boat. It’s damn exciting and I would far prefer to eat fish over meat most days.
We found in the Pacific where fish was plentiful and meat was not, we all felt healthier and meals were lighter. I’m looking forward to this year and the meal changes and the excitement!
A lazy day was spent aboard. Sleeps interspersed with book reading, movies, games and eating for the kids.
Lunch was made by Emelia and we all just mooched around, getting used to the endless movement again.
Midafternoon the line screamed again. The Captain’s turn on the rod this time and he had a spectacular leaping bull Mahi Mahi!
We couldn’t believe it. One full day in and 2 excellent fish!
There was excitement as it was brought on board and we watched the colours fade and change, amazing how they do so.
Mahi is the favourite fish on Waterhorse, closely followed by tuna, and we were delighted as it’s been a long time between Mahis.
Mahi Mahi is a very good fish for eating as they reproduce and grow extremely fast, making them a self-sustaining species.
They are almost impossible to catch commercially so that is another plus for us landing this one. We know it’s not over fished.
All this social responsibility with eating! We try anyway!
Dinner was ready a premade lasagna that was defrosted and about to go in the over so the Mahi was filleted and will be tomorrow night’s dinner.
The quiet day morphed into the easy night. 3 hour watches each again, lots of coffee and shifty winds. Still sailing along nicely, getting nice speeds of 8 plus knots and the sea was a rolling gentle surface for us.
Today we passed through the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
We had wanted to stop here, not at Sentinel Island obviously, but the permits and visa processing was remarkable and unachievable really, plus the costs are almost prohibitive so we gave up on that idea. Maybe next loop around…!!
There are many large channels that run between all the island groups and we chose the Sombrero Channel to pass in. It gave us good wind angle to get to it from Phuket and also hopefully a nice ride downwind to Sri Lanka’s port of Galle that we were headed for.
We passed just before dawn and I could smell the change in the air and even though I could see nothing in the pre-dawn darkness I knew they were there, looking at my charts.
The air at sea has almost no smell, it’s weird. So, when you get a significant change, like the smell when filleting the fish yesterday, it becomes much more intense.
The same happens with land. You can smell it. I always thought people were a bit whack talking about smelling land and all that pirate rubbish but it’s the truth. Now that I’m a legit seafarer (ha-ha) I understand what they were talking about.
It’s a briny type of smell. Like when the tide goes out and you have exposed reef or beach and there is just that sort of salty brine smell. Like a jar of Olives when you open them.
Sometimes it’s a greener smell for want of a better explanation. Like a tree and lush floral and garden type of scent.
This one was a most defiante briny smell.
The sun rose gently like a giant glowing orb behind me and the kids slowly woke up.
Day 3 of a passage is maybe the hardest as you are out of sleep but still need to do the same usual things when awake.
Once Chae was up I went for a nap. Only to be woken not long after by the reel screaming off line.
Up to the helm, turn the boat into the wind to stop it, all as quickly as I could as the line was running out faster than a robber’s dog!
Then it leapt, oh boy what a fish. The biggest marlin we have seen yet and unfortunately, he decided the lure on the smaller of the 2 game rods was good for him.
He was too big. The reel couldn’t stop him and we watched with awe, and a little bit of horror, as he spooled the entire 400m reel of braid and nylon and sprang off across the ocean, leaping and slamming himself into the sea.
The reel was like burning metal inside from the heat of the line peeling off so fast! The kids were amazed at the heat generated by it moving so fast while the fish ran.
Nothing we could do! We have never managed to get a marlin to the boat. Once in Fiji the Captain got it to within 10m but that has been the closest. They are supremely powerful creatures.
With the excitement over I headed back to try and sleep only to be bothered by Libby, coming in and out to have a cuddle. Lovely, no doubt, but it wasn’t helping the sleep.
The rest day basically went on like this. Me trying to catch an hour or so and each time someone waking me up! The joys of night watches and long passages!
I gave up around 4pm and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t happening.
What a treat the Mahi Mahi was for dinner. It was delicious. Often, we have a conversation along the lines of this…. “if you could have one fish to eat for the rest of your life what would it be?”
Legit question when you live on a boat.
There is always the great debate between Mahi and Tuna! But I have to say, Mahi is the all-time favourite of the Captain and I!
I headed off to bed at around 7pm, finally! Excited for my well needed sleep by that stage.
Ha, it was to be short lived. I lay down, looking up through our hatch at the beautiful asymmetrical spinnaker we had been flying all day in the light winds and drifted off, only to be woken 15 mins later by an almighty ripping sound.
Jumping up and poking my head out the hatch there was no more pretty sail…
Racing upstairs the Captain and I both stood in shock as we watched the sail billowing out the leeward side of the boat, flying like a flag from the tear right down the edge.
Oh. My. God.
The kids rushed out to see and we headed to the tramp to pull it onto the boat and lower the pieces down. What a bummer.
This was going to be a downwind sailing trip and it was meant to play a crucial part in the trip, in fact for the year. And it is totally stuffed. Unrepairable. Gutted.
With that out of use, we put the main and Genoa back up and I headed back to bed after I had stuffed the pile of silky fabric under the steps at the front of the boat.
Luckily (in a way) it had only cost two cases of beer, as we acquired it off another cruiser who had been given it but never used it as it was the wrong size for his boat.
Still, it would have made the trip easier.
We will look into seeing if we can get another when we make landfall.
The night flew by.
We had good wind and the boat was humming. On my 10pm to 1am watch I hit a new boat speed record for this trip of 12.5 knots! The boat speed did not drop below 8 knots the whole 3 hours. We were flying!
The sails were reefed and we still didn’t slow! (for non-sailing peeps, a reef in the sail is where you lower it slightly, or roll sail away with the headsail to give less sail area so it’s safer and easier to manage)
The night ticked on as we made miles under the keels.
I left the captain to sleep as long as he could this morning. He struggles to sleep during the day so I didn’t put the rods out at dawn as it would be more than likely we would get a strike and it would be his sleep over.
The kiddies and I mooched around the boat making breakfast and reading.
I spotted 3 dolphins swimming next to the boat at one stage when I came down from the helm. Just riding alongside checking us out.
The winds had dropped so the main sail was banging around and just making a nuisance of its self. When Captain got up we decided to put it away. Oh, if only we had the asymmetrical in these conditions today!
I finally got my long-awaited day sleep I didn’t have yesterday and it was glorious!
Mahi Mahi for lunch with a big salad, we were all feeling refreshed and well fed.
The afternoon was spent motor sailing in the light winds.
The dolphins came back to see us on and off through the day. Sometimes jumping and playing by the boat, sometimes just swimming below the surface alongside us. They are the most graceful and beautiful creatures. At one point the 5 of them put on a marvelous show off splashing and leaping right at the back of the boat!
We hooked a small skipjack tuna, Noah wound it in and we let it go. Still waiting for that big tuna… I hope I don’t regret the chance for some sushi on passage…
More reading and resting for the afternoon. The breeze was refreshing in the cockpit, and with the upholstery work we had done in Thailand it is a really nice area to hang out in now. We don’t have to punish our butts on the hard fiberglass seats with the skinny ineffective pillows we used to have!
At one stage the big game line had a touch on it but whatever it was swam off, only for us to look back to see it was still running right in the water, with giant black fish shape stalking the lure in the waves behind us!! Unbelievable!
It was big! And it followed the lure for around 5 minutes before having another go! It took it and excitement was building as I went to get the rod from its holder, when all of a sudden it got off!! We were dumbfounded! The giant fish had managed to sneak another day of life as it looked suspiciously like a big tuna and it would have not been let go like the smaller ones!
Soon dinner. One of the pre-made passage meals, a beef korma curry. It got us talking about how amazing the curries will be in Sri Lanka! We are all excited for new tastes and foods!
I headed off for my early sleep and the captain sorted the kids for bed.
Again, the night flew! It seems the wind likes to blow in the darkness around here! There is only a sliver of a moon which doesn’t show its face until after 2 am either, so it is absolute pitch when I come up. Cloud cover has shrouded the moon that is left of the crescent and it is a true darkness, hurtling along at up to 11knots of boat speed.
The speed things for non-boaties goes like this… Take the speed in knots and multiply it by 1.852 to get km/ph. That gives you a better idea of it. I mean it’s not breaking any records but it sure is fun for us!
We have a boat made for cruising rather than racing and she is laden at the moment. These boats can sail pretty well but were mainly built for the charter market. You fly somewhere exotic and hire the boat for the week kind of thing. Excellent for anchorages and cocktail in the sun. Ahhhh, cocktails in the sun! It’s been a few days without one now.
We don’t drink on passages. It’s just not really the done thing. You need your wits about you and a clear head for if something was to go wrong or the weather changed suddenly. I’ll be looking forward to one in a few days though!
The morning unveils itself into a shadowy half-light as the sun creeps up behind big clouds. We have not had clouds yet this trip. It has all been clear skies and sunshine.
The wind that had been on the beam all night, pushing us along with gentle force, has started to turn to come more behind us.
If only we still had the asymmetrical!
I go downstairs to find Emelia and Libby tucked up in bed together chatting. They are very cute when they are friends.
Libby talks her big sister into making her pancakes and I watch the mess unfold as I sit outside with my eggs and toast. It may be messy, but they have a great time.
Their independence is growing more out here than I think it would have been allowed to, if we’re back at home.
The lines were put out and we settled into the day.
It was tiresome today. I tried to have some catch up sleep 3 times during the day but each time I was woken within 30or so minutes of finally falling asleep. It was like I was just not meant to have any.
Eventually I gave up. It obviously wasn’t meant to be. Ha ha, life on the high seas, again!
Instead I made an excellent lunch of Mahi Mahi tacos which we feasted on and then Libby’s favourite tomato and veggie soup for dinner.
I got woken earlier as the wind had got up and we needed to put a reef in the sail. The seas were building too. Oh yay.
Reef put in, I went back down for another half hour of rest before I came up for good.
The wind was stronger but nothing too bad as the waves were still only around 1.5 to 1.8 m, although it’s very hard to tell in the dark.
An uneventful 3 hours passed and I was glad to be back in bed.
I wasn’t ready for the rude awakening I got for my early morning shift. The Captain told me he had given me an extra hour sleep. That is nice I thought, I wonder why…. Then I got upstairs and understood.
Shit had got real! He knew I would have been freaking out with the wave height and the boat surfing down them that he stayed for an hour longer.
THANK GOD. Because even the 2 and a half hours before the sun came up were torturous for me.
It is the noise of the waves, the swish if the boat as it surfs down them and then the not being able to see where the swell is coming from or be able to watch and anticipate the bigger double waves that slide under us as we fly along in the pitch dark early morning.
Emelia woke up at around 6am, indignant that I had not woken her to do the early morning watch with me. “you promised” she berated me. Well yes, I may have told her I would but having her up with me when I was feeling less than 100% was a stupid idea!
She eventually understood and went back to bed.
As the sun came up the world made sense to me again, and even though the waves were larger than they had been on the trip until now, I could watch them and I felt better about it all again.
The kids slowly roused themselves and decided to make pancakes for breakfast again.
The day slid by in a combo of short naps, eating, reading and fast boat speeds.
The wind kept up and the waves only lessened slightly as the day drew to its close.
Dolphins joined us during the day several times, their antics delighting us. It never gets old seeing their antics and playfulness next to the boat! We love it.
Premade passage meal #5 was had, with a delicious yellow chicken curry. It made us reminisce about the food in Thailand and wonder what it will be like when we get to our destination. We all enjoyed the food so much in Thailand!
Dinner done, I headed off for my early sleep. The wind had dropped slightly over the evening and the waves were chilling out. It was shaping up to be a good night’s sailing, our last night sailing as tomorrow we would be reaching the promised land!
The final day!
Chae woke me for my watch and also gently nudged Emelia awake. She was snoozy but excited come up for her proper night watch.
We sat at the helm together, in the darkness, only illuminated by the glow of the screen in front of us, making sure we were keeping out of the way of the large tankers and ships around us.
We surfed down the waves, flying along, the taste of the destination was so close!
Suddenly at one stage I got a smell, it was a weird smell, like you had freshly dug the garden and the soil had been turned. Not an unpleasant one but very distinct and different.
‘What is that?’ We both asked each other? ‘did you fart?’ Emelia asked? With laughter, I denied it and we realised it must be the smell of the land that we were skirting. The wind had come around the island as we approach and it was the smell of the land blowing toward us at sea.
It was a completely new land smell. Not lush or reef type smells but an earthy and damp smell.
Without seeing land, we knew it was there!
As the sun rose behind us the grey clouds slowly lifted and we turned around the bottom of the island headed directly to Galle Harbour.
The waves built as we came around the bottom of Sri Lanka, the wind was funneling down directly behind us so the sails were annoying with their banging and flapping as we surfed the short-wave length toward the finish line.
Sails put away and engines on we smoked down the island, current behind us and flying down waves we didn’t drop below 10 knots the whole time! It was exciting!
We passed many boats out for whale watching tours, the waves sloshing them around on the open seas. I felt for the people who were on them as they would have had a rough ride! We were tempted to go out and see if we could see the whales but we figured we needed to get to port and we would see them on our way out to the Maldives when we leave.
It seemed to take forever, those final few hours. Like you are waiting for something really exciting and it just isn’t happening!
I managed to get 2 loads of washing done and hung out under the coach top, which dried in record speed!
The boat was tidied and things put back where it all belonged. The mess a child makes on a boat seems unbelievable, actually make that 3 children!
Finally, a call to the coast guard as the harbour entrance was in sight. We were lucky, they issued us clearance immediately, no waiting or anchoring out, just straight in!
It was done! The passage was over! We had done it, the longest passage we have done miles wise but in the shortest amount of time! 1100 miles in 6 days and 2 hours!!! We were stunned and couldn’t believe it!
After we had tied up at the rugged concrete dock, the sense of achievement was high!
Our best passage yet! Maybe there is a sailor in me somewhere after all!