This is Part II of Oliver and Juliet's Sailing adventures. You can go to Part 1 using the following link: www.oliverandjuliet.com

The Oliver and Juliet Diaries

Friday 14th February 2006

This is the night before we REALLY leave! Oliver and I are still in Thailand and are now highly illegal, having emigrated from Chalong on Saturday 4th Feb - a full ten days ago!

We intended to check out on Friday 3rd, when we came ashore to buy a few provisions. However, in the blistering heat the mind dulls and slows and it's easy to lose focus. On leaving the boat that morning, I grabbed the usual sunglasses, specs, sunhat, water, money, postcards and rubbish. I also took a change of clothes and stuffed them in the grabbag, because I almost always get soaking wet in the dinghy at Chalong, both in the spray as we hit the chop, and during the acrobatics required to get on and off the dinghy under the pier at spring tides. At Chalong there is too huge an expanse of mud at springs to pull the dinghy up the beach, so everyone ties up in the deep water by the concrete steps half a mile out along the pier. The chances are high of getting even wetter sorting out mooring lines bow and stern to stop the dinghy crashing against the heavily barnacled piles and the other tenders already heaving and bucking on their leashes in the confined space under the pier. The water level will be several meters different on our return, which requires a bit of forethought about where exactly to tie off the painter, otherwise we will return at high tide to find with dismay that our mooring lines are tied up on railings that are now a good swim away in fairly disgusting water! On this Friday, still wet from the antics down below. and with rubbish finally delivered to the sprawling pile at the top of the steps, I deftly slipped my longer more suitable skirt over my skimpy 'wading' one, and found a shirt to cover my bare shoulders (out of respect for the local Thais, especially here in the Muslim south) and finally set out with Oliver. As we sweltered our way along the pier in the merciless heat, it dawned on us that we had forgotten to bring our passports and the ship's documents necessary for "check-out! In a flash we visualized what we would have to do to get them: for a start, I would have to get wet up to the armpits all over again, untying the dinghy in order to extract it from the other dinghies jostling and elbowing each other amongst the pilings I could feel myself beginning to baulk already NO WAY were we going to perform that circus act, climbing like monkeys up over the razor-sharp, barnacle-encrusted, metal balustrades and leaping down on to Swifty, our newly-acquired dinghy, which is not soft and round and wide and stable like everyone else's inflatable, but narrow, hard, tippy and slippery as an eel to step on and off, and a right bucking bronco in those winds and tides Sundancer was far out in the anchorage - NO WAY would we dinghy all the way out there and NO WAY did we intend to repeat THIS WHOLE PROCEDURE all over again on our return to the pier with the papers! So that was that! We decided to put off our departure one more day!

Oliver and Swifty..  a short romance

Oliver and Swifty.. a short romance

On Saturday 4th February, we came ashore once more with the dinghy (that makes it sound SO easy!)) and went through Immigration without a hitch, only to be told by a customs official in the next room that we would be crazy to check out on a Saturday because he would charge us 800 baht instead of the usual 200 baht due on a weekday and since the Harbour Master doesn't work Saturdays, we would have to return on Monday to complete the procedures anyway. We couldn't believe it!

We had been ready to leave Chalong since 30th January, a good week ago, but crazy winds had prevented even the locals from sailing out of here, so we too had waited for a weather window. Now we were being forced by officials to wait even longer and we could feel the onset of that dreaded condition, common in the tropics, where you lose impetus, feel thwarted, get over-powered by the heat, lose the will to leave, grind to a halt, in short: Go Troppo

To get things moving and give us a sense that something was happening, we decided to use the time to get diesel from the fuel dock near the pier. We had been advised not to bring Sundancer alongside the fuel dock at Chalong, as it isn't suitable for yachts and one can sustain damage. So, as recommended, we went in the dinghy with some of our big diesel containers. We bobbed around in the dinghy under the giant piles of the pier waiting our turn, trying to catch the eye of the fuel attendants on the dock high above us. Eventually we were able to grab the bottom of the wooden stepladder and the attendant handed down the hose with the nozzle ready to go. We filled all the containers and just as he was finishing the last one, Oliver realized that the container he was filling must have a hole in the bottom, because diesel was beginning to splurge everywhere in the bottom of our dinghy! With great presence of mind he screwed on the cap and turned the container upside down, only to find the cap leaked as well!     We watched helplessly as our dinghy filled up with 30 litres of diesel and we bounced all the way back to Sundancer with diesel swilling around our ankles! How on earth would we clean up the mess without getting diesel in the sea? And one of us would have to board Sundancer glooping diesel all over her pristine white paintwork, just to get a cloth!

In the end, we decided to hoist the dinghy on to the davits and I climbed into her barefoot and spent the next couple of hours bailing out diesel (not into the sea, obviously) and washing her down with masses of lurid blue detergent!

The thought of 2 more days in the noise and hassle of Chalong was fast losing its appeal, so in an impetuous moment at 1610 we upped the hook and sailed off - despite the windy conditions - to Nai Harn where we found Simon and Christine anchored off the idyllic little bay by the Ao Sane restaurant on their well-loved boat Jemima-Jo. The winds whistled through Nai Harn at a helluva lick, but we were protected from any North East swell. We dinghied over to Jemima-Jo for a lengthy drink at sunset, still embarrassingly wobbly and unsure of ourselves on our newly-acquired Swift-gig, the dinghy that had caused us so much grief under the pier at Chalong! Neither Oliver nor I have had the everyday practice in a dinghy that most people clock up as a matter of course... and unlike the popular inflatable dinghy, Swifty is fibreglass, and the risk of causing a ding on our host's hull is 100% more likely, especially in a choppy sea.

I have noticed that in the company of Bob Mott, Simon, Francois and other experienced yachtie types that we know, Oliver and I allow ourselves to be considerably disempowered by their expertise and consequently become much more inept than we usually are! The reason we've never had much practice in a dinghy, is because we prefer to explore by kayak or swim. In fact we have done most of our trips without any dinghy at all, since we've nearly always been on our way to the duty-free port of Langkawi in Malaysia to pick up the famous Swift-gig, and need the davits empty for her to occupy on the return trip - only to find she's not been delivered yet, so we sail back to Phuket yet again with empty davits and still no dinghy! Now that we have finally taken delivery of Swifty, it's sad to see our sleek inflatable sit-on-top kayak, deflated and ignored in its holder on the stanchions, her smart red fabric now salty and faded, bleached pale by the searing sun.

Now Swifty really deserves a bit of explanation: I have to admit that she is one of our follies. Oliver has always been massively anti-liferafts after reading so many accounts of them failing to inflate on impact with the water, getting punctured on the very reef that has sunk the mother vessel (!) and once you are in one, you can't make headway in any direction, but are at the mercy of the seas and rescue services, which is fine in European waters where rescue really IS at hand, but rescue services are non-existent in Thai waters and probably everywhere else in South East Asia and nobody listens to channel 16 out here, so one would be drifting and Waiting for Godot. As a result, Oliver reckons some means of directing oneself just might be handy. Liferafts are expensive to buy, expensive to maintain and when you come to need one in extremis, it is a piece of equipment you will, by definition, never have tried out even in calm conditions, let alone violently rough ones, because a liferaft comes packed in its box ready to self-inflate and mustn't be disturbed on any account until the emergency arises. When Oliver saw an ad in yachting monthly with a photo for a non-sinkable dinghy with oars, protective awning and a gaff-rig sail that doubles as a life-raft, he got interested and ordered one from Singapore. We finally took delivery two years later after repeatedly sailing down to the duty-free port of Langkawi to pick it up, and always finding it had once again failed to arrive as promised! We might have known it wouldn't be quite all it was cracked up to be. We've subsequently discovered there were only ever two orders: ours and one other!!! So Swifty really is a two-off prototype - no one else has been so mad as to try her out!!! Although we are fond of her, she really is a nightmare!

What is more - we already have a perfectly good inflatable rubber duck dinghy, so why change? The rubber duck is a dream to jump in and out of and no worries about it scratching Sundancer or any other boat as one comes alongside or ties off behind. Our old inflatable dinghy is great for 6-8 people, but it is too heavy with its 15 horse-power engine for Oliver and I to heave up a beach above the high tide line on our own - especially at spring tide.

Swifty is light and easy with her 3 hp engine to lift or drag up a beach. The one great PLUS! Otherwise she is a total liability. Because her hull is designed to sail, she does just that: even when she has no sails up but is just tied off behind Sundancer at anchor, she 'sails' up to Sundancer and crashes repeatedly into her pristine paintwork! She does the same each time you approach in a choppy sea to tie up and get off. You have to constantly worry about holding her away from the boat and if you have lots to unload, life is tricky. As I have said, she is lethal to get on and off as her bow section is slippery with its glossy glass-fibre finish. She has no nice round soft sides to aim at and jump down on to or heave yourself over, if you are in the water. In no time at all, she herself had dings all over and Sundancer had the odd scar to show for it. But this is not all! The unsinkable aspect of Swifty is almost certainly dependent upon her sealed lockers, which offer excellent watertight stowage for general use, and of course for essentials for survival. Well, Swifty on her maiden voyage was found to leak badly into these lockers!!! And try as Oliver did to trace and fix the leaks, he was only partially successful. Our trusty liferaft was definitely DODGY if you ask me - chronically waterlogged and getting ever heavier to lift!

Consequently as we prepare for this four-day passage to the Andaman Islands, it is our safety gear or lack of it that runs through my mind in the dead of the night otherwise, I'm cool man!


Those of you who have read the account of our first sailing adventure may be interested to hear that this year I have been UNRECOGNIZABLE in my ability to chill, relax and not worry I am no longer so INSANELY cautious. In January we spent ten days with the family and lifelong friends Suzi and Sonya, sailing in Phangna Bay and exploring islands off Krabi, before dropping them off and doing a trip on our own on down to Malaysia and back in order to pick up Swifty. We are now no longer slave to the almanacs and cruising guides, and have tried out numerous new anchorages not listed, because in our view they offer good shelter from wind and swell.     We have got used to the eerie echoey clanging when anchor drags on rock and know to up it straight away and seek somewhere else We have had plenty of stiff winds this trip, but these days I feel delighted, no longer uneasy. We often have our spinnaker up. Sure, if the wind turns around overnight and we find ourselves anchored on a lee shore, I will sleep on deck so I can keep a beady eye on what's happening.    Because I am the one who actually drops the anchor and secures the bridle, I feel it incumbent on me that we don't drag!


So far this trip in 2006 has been characterised by us getting held up:  first, as I have said, we got stuck in Chalong doing this and that, and because of the wind, but mainly because our heads had gone troppo!  A common problem out here We met a couple on the pier at Chalong trundling their gas bottle off to be filled - Larry and Shelley, two Canadians our age who had sailed around the world. Larry had a vague way of talking as if his thoughts had simply floated off to the horizon in all directions and it was taking him a long time to gather them back together again! Shelley confided they might be in Thailand a while, taking time to explore China and South East Asia by plane, because they had differing opinions about what to do next: to risk the Red Sea pirates or the Cape of Storms? This couple was still fit, even though faltering stuck for a while, but likely to move on in the end. Some arrive and never leave - out of a conscious choice - and get actively involved in business, after marrying a Thai woman to make this possible, and either integrate or don't integrate into the Thai way of life. But there is another category of washed-up sailors in these parts, bleached, faded, fat, usually with Thai girl in tow Their eyes look suspiciously troppo and we figure they just terminally lost the umph to move on  I often wonder what happens to the sailor whose boat is falling apart, who's too old or ill to earn money to pay for repairs, and who's washed up far from home

As I said earlier, we got sick of being in Chalong in the end with all the noise, the dust and the thundering traffic. The car rental guy we dealt with on Chalong circle had a chronic cough from the fumes he has been exposed to all day long for the last ten years. His cough sounded awful and it struck us as tragic for someone so young. He had a big smile and a shifty look which tended to get on Oliver's nerves so that in the middle of many a desperate negotiation for the last vehicle available in Phuket, Oliver would suddenly grab my arm and say Let's get out of here, I don't like this guy! I would watch Oliver's retreating back as he flounced off across the street and stay to smooth our man's ruffled feathers because I know in the next emergency, realistically, he'll be the only one to find us a car for a price we are prepared to pay! We grew to like him over time, won over by his infectious smile. He always insists on us leaving photo ID with him when we take a vehicle, and Oliver always gives him his out of date Venice vaporetto pass, which sports a 'mug shot' of Oliver and looks official! The man is satisfied since he can't read English and he has no idea how inconsequential this document is! Meanwhile, we don't risk our passports And in duping the man, Oliver gets a small revenge for all those dodge cars we get given!

We were held up several days in Nai Harn waiting for our US tax returns to arrive by Fedex so we could sign them and send them back post haste Amazing how accountants and tax men can catch up with you even in impossibly out of the way places and wield such power

We finally did Customs and Harbour Master from Nai Harn, walking over the hill from Ao Sane beach where we left the dinghy, and along the road inland to Nai Harn proper where we discovered a great local veg stall where I could buy coriander, Thai celery, chives, spring onions and various leaves that make rice salad and stir fry so tasty! We got a tuk tuk from there to Chalong where we finished the 'check-out' procedure. We went on to Phuket Town to get various odds and ends for the boat from the marine shops. Mostly abortive, but we found the most amazing old-fashioned hardware stores that stock absolutely everything in their dusty interiors; a stationery shop with EVERY item THICK with DUST and unruly haberdashery bursting out from its small section amongst the exercise books and rulers! And a second-hand bookshop to die for (more weight for the boat - so the purchases were unpopular!). My response to Phuket Town is ambivalent: I find it intolerably noisy with its traffic, building works, pneumatic drills, dust, dirt and uncovered drains. Yet I am fascinated by the murky interiors of all the specialist shops, often with attentive, knowledgeable shopkeepers who don't speak any English, but elaborate miming antics usually convey what we want It's either that or else you find a homely corner at the back of the shop with chair and TV and shopkeeper-so-riveted-to-favourite-programme that they are loathe to tear themselves away, and resent having to serve you or even take your money and if they do that, they open the till with their eyes still on the screen and feel for the change!

We got a swish taxi back for the price of a tuk tuk! He was a cool dude Thai who spoke no English, which was pretty normal and I don't expect them to. I think the onus is on us to speak Thai. The Thais are a nation who have never been invaded, but instead have done deals allowing other nations to pass through their territory in order to invade their neighbours! Arch diplomats, I guess So their own culture is uninterrupted. At least, this is what I have gleaned. I think this might explain their attachment to their own language and why they have not hurried to learn English in the way that many other nations have done.

Having checked out completely, we were now free to move further north up the west coast of Phuket to get ourselves into a good position for a day hop to the Similan Islands, which would be our last staging post in Thailand, before setting off on our four day passage across the Andaman Sea to the Andaman Islands. The next morning we weighed anchor and were well under way when the phone rang and it was Oliver's agent, saying there were a couple of scripts they wanted him to read as a matter of urgency

Downloading scripts always presents a challenge in this boating life. Last year we masqueraded as guests at the super-exclusive Datai Hotel in Malaysia to download the 200-odd pages free in their library! Now as we sailed up the west coast of Phuket, wondering what the hell we were going to do, I recalled an article I had read on the flight coming over from the UK about two hotels for the super-rich in Phuket - the Amanpuri and the Chedi - and later while perusing the Sail Thailand Cruising Guide I had noticed their position on a remote promontory on the West Coast. I had also registered that one could legitimately anchor there! We took the gamble that they would have wi-fi, and that we might be able to tap into it from across the water!

Sure enough they did!

In the end, we were held up for four nights in Pansea Bay anchored off the Amanpuri and Chedi hotels, waiting to download these 2 scripts from Oliver's agents in the US and UK, so he could read them and then hold the planned conference calls with the various directors and producers, all in an effort to line up his next job before we go out of range, as he will need to work as soon as we get back - an income tax bill has just entered left field and totalled our savings!

The only time I have peace and quiet to write this diary is after dark on deck - daylight hours are far too precious doing maintenance and repairs and installing new systems and trying out the famous swift-gig and of course improving her systems too! We are NEVER IDLE as you old-stagers to this diary already know So here I am on deck in the pitch dark, feeling my way across the page using the thumb of the other hand to mark the line I am on! I am writing in long hand

The only reason I have time is because Oliver is elsewhere up on deck locked into his computer for hours at a time - and this goes on every night - trying to connect up to the hotel wi-fi signal, which is frustratingly intermittent. His scripts take 20 minutes each to download, but the signal keeps fading after 5 tantalizingly, on his desk at home in the UK he has a little gadget that would save what he has already downloaded and continue from that point on, the next time he gets connected, but he forgot to bring it in the post-Christmas packing frenzy! Maddening! Instead, the download starts again from the beginning and fades just as it did before, after 5 minutes! You can imagine the FRUSTRATION! I can't bear all the effing and blinding, so I remove myself to the other end of the boat. The problem is, he also wanders around delicately trying to line up the signal, so I have to keep moving too! For his downloading operation, the boat has to be at a certain angle to the shore and stay steady, but of course a boat is forever riding around the anchor, shifting with the vagaries of current and changing tide and the slightest gust of fluky wind! To get it to stay still is like trying to restrain a rampant toddler in one place for 20 minutes - impossible! And a boat never sleeps, so you can't even wait hopefully for that to happen! Finally after 48 hours he achieved his download, read his scripts and had his conference calls the next day! We were ready to go! We needed one more thing from the wi-fi - a weather forecast for the next five days. After a lot more effing and blinding, we got that too. And I managed to send off e-mails about my pending re-accreditation as a psychotherapist.

We amused ourselves in the breathing spaces, watching the comings and goings on the beach of the clientele of these two hotels with their exquisite Thai style pavilions discreetly hidden amongst the trees on the headland - so different from the ugly scars made by the new hotels springing up everywhere in Phuket, which are superimposed crassly on the landscape, disfiguring it forever We were also thoroughly entertained by the antics of the staff of a giant motor yacht called Lady Christina that anchored next to us for 24 hours, complete with natty little white helicopter parked on the roof! At the press of a button, secret chambers would open up in the hull and disgorge luxury motor launches with glamorous 'cargo' which would zoom off to the beach to be met by a reception party bearing flowers from one of the hotels. We looked it up on the internet and learnt this was its maiden voyage and it is for charter. Eventually it took off south in the middle of the night.

Otherwise we had the whole stretch of sea to ourselves.

The winds had been so fierce in Nai Harn day and night and with so many expert yachtsmen around, we felt embarrassed to take the ridiculous Swifty for her first sail with all those eyes on us! Now we took advantage of the peace and quiet to try out her dinky little gaff rig sail. We sailed her over to the mooring buoys near the shore, to hitch her up so we could snorkel off the rocky points. On our return, we heaved ourselves up with a flick of the flippers and slippery with suncream, slithered over her gunwales in an accelerated nose dive into the cockpit! Undignified, but effective!

We decided to phone Gareth (the director of the marine services company that looks after Sundancer in Phuket when we mothball her and go back to the UK) to check on last minute details about arrival procedures in the Andaman Islands: he strongly advised us to engage an agent to act for us over there. Only then did we remember the four 'documents' that Bob Mott had given us when he came aboard in Chalong, saying we must have everything written out ready for the officials on arrival Not only that - one of the completed documents would have to be submitted to Port Blair a week before our arrival!    No time to lose - we should be there in a week, maybe less! All this would have to be completed before departing Phuket, because once on passage, with only two of us, we would be hard-pressed to get all this together: one of us would be on watch and the other sleeping And anyway, we would need the wi-fi connection to send off the e-mail to Port Blair. One customs document involved an inventory of ALL equipment on board (with gadget-happy Oliver, you've no idea how many items this involved - I think we had four typed pages worth!!!) it meant nose-diving into every nook and cranny on the boat. And I had to unpack all the fridges and hard-to-get-at stowage places to itemize wine and beer. In these parts one tends to provision for months at a time, because there is no knowing when you will be able to stock up again. They also demand an exact itinerary of what we plan to do once there, with dates! This is what completely stymied us and cost us another 24 hours, whilst we scrutinized the cruising guide and various computer downloads on the Andaman Islands! Fortunately Bob Mott had already given us some advice about where to go. Now suddenly we had to go through all the information with a toothcomb and itemize what we would be doing each day for a month!!! It took me a day, using Bob's notes, the Faraway website and the Andaman Sea Pilot.

To crown it all, we got an e-mail from Carolanne, our great Irish friend whom we met on the day skipper practical sailing course in Cape Town in 2005 saying she would like to join us, which we both really wanted to happen, but this complicated our logistics big time! After agonizing over our itinerary for another few hours, we managed to work out how to pick her up in Port Blair in the middle of our cruising trip and deliver her back at the end just before we finally checked out:  Carolanne's big thing is passages and she would have loved to sail back to Thailand with us at the end, but Gareth said, from his long experience in the Andamans, don't even think of having someone fly into the Andamans and then not fly out again - that would completely glitch their system and be a no-no! Then the agent in the Andamans sent a document that night by e-mail, saying we couldn't pick up any passengers at all! So we put off our planned departure early next morning for the umpteenth time. In fact we were beginning to wonder whether we should go at all and have Carolanne join us here in Thailand. The only complicating factor being - we had checked out, remember? So we had no choice but to go

Next morning further exchanges of e-mails establish that, as long as we pay a fat fee, the agent CAN make it possible for Carolanne to come to the Andamans! So back on track! We'd leave at dawn the next morning in order to get to the Similan Islands, our last staging-post before the passage, by nightfall..

Throughout the past week I had been saying to Oliver in muttered asides - what about the diesel? Each day we stay on, we're chundering through those diesel supplies that we got in Chalong - we've run the generator every day and motored up the West Coast of Phuket. When I finally nail him down just before we turn in, the night before our final departure, I discover we haven't enough diesel to motor to the Andamans and the weather has now been DEAD CALM FOR DAYS!! Oliver persuades me that what we have is a reasonable amount, but I am not totally convinced

We decide to leave at 6 am - that magic hour of half light when the imam's chant echoes eerily across the water.    I have not slept much, tossing and turning, finding it hard not to picture us running out of diesel mid-passage and drifting inexorably down to the weird whirlpools and treacherous currents off Sumatra in Indonesia - that's where all the un-manned yachts that drag their anchors in Phuket finally end up - we have heard of one such yacht that has just recently been picked up by the Indian Navy off the Nicobars and they are asking for a salvage fee of $50,000!. I wake up at 5.30 am and challenge Oliver again about the lack of diesel (NOT great timing, I admit!). He says he feels OK about it - he's evaluated the risk and feels it's tolerable, but if I'm going to worry about it all the way to the Andaman's, he'd rather wait one MORE day and unmothball the dinghy - by now all packed away as our life raft for the passage - and go and get some. I was NOT POPULAR! In fact I drove Oliver so mad that he started to cast serious aspersions on my personality: he accusing me of being UNADVENTUROUS AND HELL-BENT ON AVOIDING ALL POSSIBLE RISK! I was cut to the quick: that's not how I like to see myself! Not at all

Having discarded the diesel container that leaked in Chalong, we had to find another to replace it. Annoyingly our last spare diesel container was contaminated with an unidentifiable chemical. To liberate the container, we had to decant its contents into the precious plastic bottles I had earmarked for the watermaker!

Ready at last, we row (!) the dinghy across the bay in the dead calm of the early morning, to the publicly accessible Surin Beach, carrying 4 huge 30 litre diesel containers, and the perennial rubbish, change of skirt, sunglasses, specs, money and hat. As we approach the shore, we negotiate our way round alarmingly jagged black rocks that barely break the surface of the water, and then a wave unceremoniously picks us up and dumps us sideways on to the beach! We leap out and drag the dinghy up the sand between the empty sun-loungers. I change my skirt and dispose of rubbish, while Oliver piles up the containers on to our trusty trolley. At the last minute our fears that the chemical residue might contaminate the diesel got the better of us and we jettisoned that last dodgy container. Finally, we set off along the main road in search of a tuk tuk. We discovered a very cheery tuk tuk station and after a good deal of bargaining got one of them - a real gentleman - to take us to a diesel/gasoline station he knew not too far away. He drops us back on the beach and Oliver and I stagger down to the dinghy with our 90 litres of diesel. I stand chest high in the sea beyond the surf and hold the dinghy steady and help Oliver lift the three huge diesel containers into the dinghy. Free entertainment for the early morning sun-loungers!

Then we start rowing back to the boat about three-quarters of a mile away! At first we felt as if we were in mini whirlpools because the dinghy kept turning uncontrollably round in circles - you must by this time think we are completely inept! But actually, there WAS a good reason: Oliver figured out that we had too much weight forward and therefore effectively no skeg, so we had a major reorganization of containers (with precarious wobbles!!!) and Oliver sat in the stern to increase the skeg effect and I rowed, being lighter. Now we zipped along and got back surprisingly quickly. We were lucky the wind hadn't got up or the surf on the beach would have been impossible and we'd have been in a right pickle!

Once back at the boat, Oliver stayed in the dinghy and handed me the first two containers, which with superhuman effort I heaved up the stern steps on to Sundancer's deck. I had just put the second one down when I turned around to see Oliver catapult fully clothed (he doesn't take any 'wet' gear as he expects me to do all the wading!)  backwards out of the dinghy into the water (!), followed to my horror by the third container of diesel which seemed to slither out after him. It all happened in a flash: I was mesmerized by our precious diesel, certain it would go to the bottom, but miraculously it twisted and turned on the surface and never sank: a vivid illustration that diesel is lighter than water. I had a zillion instructions to the totally disoriented Oliver. The container that fell in the sea was the one that had a leaking screw cap which I had staunched by jamming a sheet of plastic under the cap before doing it up. It was this I was watching ducking and diving under the surface! I asked Oliver to grab the diesel and pass it to me. He looked blankly back at me in his spluttering state: of course, he thought the diesel was still in the dinghy! I motioned frantically and he caught it and shoved it towards me so I could hoik it out.

As he continued to tread water, still confused about what had just happened to him, I noticed all sorts of things floating up out of his pockets and forming a halo on the surface of the water all around his head! Like his precious little yellow plastic inter-dental brushes, rubber o-rings, his sunglasses-plus-rubber-floater-head-band and his hat of course! I fell about laughing, it was such a funny sight. Fortunately I had his wallet and ship's papers and passport in my bumbag!

Afterwards, when he turned over in his mind what had happened, he realized that he had lifted the diesel can on to the seat of the dinghy, so that it suddenly tipped and threw him out, and of course that's why the diesel slithered out and the trusty trolley, stowed in the bottom of the dinghy, didn't. Thank goodness, because that would have gone straight to the bottom, which would have been a disaster, because we use it a lot to carry diesel, petrol, gas bottles, provisions, water, wine and beer back to the boat.

I thought water must have got into the diesel, as I had noticed that can leaking in the tuk tuk as we went over ruts in the road. Oliver told me afterwards he uses a filter that takes out water, so he wasn't bothered.

When we originally unpacked Swifty and all her accessories, there were two things that puzzled us: the bimini cover for life raft mode had no attachment points on the hull of the dinghy to match the fittings on the cover, which meant the cover was useless and the main sheet for her gaff rig sail seemed to be missing Perhaps the manufacturers, losing heart at having only two orders, ran out of steam before she was complete

Now that we had time to kill, Oliver decided to fit a proper new mainsheet with block on Swifty instead of the incomplete system we had used until now. I was busy with something else when out of the corner of my eye I saw Oliver standing up precariously in the dinghy trying to fit the new mainsheet, whilst Swifty tipped wildly this way and that Mesmerized I saw him lurch sideways, losing his grip on the block he was holding in his hand, so it slithered into the water and sank like a stone  Too deep to dive for it and although we had the idea of attaching a magnet to a line and picking it up that way, it was already too late, because Sundancer as usual was romping around on her anchor chain and the block was out of sight, probably buried in sand

An hour or so later, Oliver happened upon an unopened package:  in it, the original swiftgig mainsheet together with it's very own tiny little lightweight blocks!!! It was easy to fit and he spent the afternoon sailing around the bay in Swifty, whilst I e-mailed Carolanne about our up-coming trip in the Andamans and informed her of the gob-smacking figures the agents had quoted to reduce her immigration, customs and port authority palava from three days to one! $250 flat fee plus $150 for arranging with those authorities for Carolanne to come on board with us for 10 days cruising (because despite the fact that she had booked to fly in and out on a return air ticket, it was still forbidden for her to set sail on a boat in the Andamans). Astonishingly Carolanne took all this in her stride: I suspect the lure of a holiday out of range of mobile phone/blackberry coverage, and the possibility of an entire night's sleep without interruptions from London, New York or the Far East, demanding advice on some legal issue - more than outweighed the paltrey sums of money involved! This could explain her passion for ocean passages, since they are guaranteed out of range!

After such a long saga of false starts and procrastinations, we really did leave Pansea Bay the next morning - in the dark at 5.30 am to give ourselves a bit of practice for the Andaman Passage. It was magical, but strewn with fishing vessel lights as they all went about their unpredictable haphazard business. I found it very difficult to judge distance, often finding we were much closer than I had thought we were, which was unnerving, but the new stabilized binoculars are amazing for seeing in the dark - so at least we could focus on the boats and figure out what they were busy with, for example, pulling in a net, which meant they wouldn't be moving for the next few minutes at least!

That day we had excellent winds and made the Similans by 4.30 pm just in time to get a great yellow mooring buoy in the channel between Koh Miang and Koh Ha - the little rocky islet. It was a relief to get a buoy as the anchoring depths were really too deep for our anchor tackle. We were just settling in to enjoy the delightful peace and beauty of the spot when a posse of diveboats arrived and swooped in on the other buoys all around us, loaded to the gunwales with divers of all nationalities. Some of these were huge industrial machines boasting loud compressors that roared and hissed all night as the boats continually swopped places on the buoys and zoomed off for night dives. The exception to these was a delightful old fishing boat, loaded up with backpackers, the gunwales only just clearing the water. In the crowded stern section was a jumble of tables and chairs, cooking utensils, washing flapping on rickety lines, and of course the ubiquitous dive tanks. Upstairs in an add-on 'polytunnel' on the roof were sleeping bags laid out like sardines and an open air platform where people sat around and chatted. It had a relaxed air about it. We got a lot of enjoyment watching the little boat as it left its mooring and nosed about the rocky islets, weaving between the other moored boats, doing a little sunset cruise just for the hell of it, and a similar breakfast cruise the next morning. They were so chilled and un-industrial : a refreshing whiff of hippiedom in the middle of the noisy chaos.

That night we had loads of wind, but our mooring was out of the worst of the swell and was firm. We slept well.

The next day there was a strong northwest swell as we kayaked over to the northeast bay to snorkel. It was an arduous paddle and I took umbrage because Oliver had the audacity to criticize my paddling style! When we hitched up to a buoy for our snorkel, I must have forgotten to secure my sarong, because as I was swimming back to the kayak after our swim, I was diverted by this amazing flash of what I thought was an indigo blue giant clam nestled in a bowl of the coral! I swam over to investigate, to discover my sarong floating on the bottom in 15 metres!

I insisted on retrieving it, so we paddled all the way back to Sundancer in the bucking chop, to get a fish lure with horrid hooks and a diving weight and line. We battled all the way back and I 'fished' for my sarong. After half an hour trying to defeat the current, which kept sweeping the lure away from my target, I finally hooked it! We still had to paddle back to Sundancer and by now we were starving and I was NOT popular Especially as the snorkelling had not been that remarkable either, which was disappointing as the Similans are given the rave in the books.

Back at the boat we both felt deflated and very tired and pervaded by a weird, unsettled, queasy feeling that lingered, unwelcome, probably due to the fact that our bodies had been working so hard all morning to stay stable in the violent motion of the water - a kind of sea-sickness, I guess. Late that afternoon we motored up north to Koh Similan with a view to staying the night and leaving at 2 am for the Andaman Islands.

On the way up we battled against a nasty swell and current and northwesterly wind which would have headed us if we were on a course to the Andamans. We decided we were too exhausted and irritable and weird to leave that night, so we put off our departure yet again. How many zillions of times have we done this now???!!!

We managed to find a suitable buoy at the Koh Similan northern anchorage, which was a relief, because conditions were quite extreme, and again we were in about 25 metres depth, which is a bit too deep for us to feel safe with our 55 metres of anchor chain. We noticed an Oyster coming in at dusk, heeling like mad in the ferocious winds. The Oyster anchored over on the island opposite. It had a massive white internet receiver on the stern which ruined its rather pretty profile. 800,000 worth of gear all in all, Oliver told me. We have noticed that these very expensive, ship-shape, immaculately kept and expertly skippered boats are often British Watching the Oyster sailing in those conditions confirmed our decision not to leave that night.

At 3 am I was up to keep my tryst at the full moon with my women's meditation group, who meet on the night of the full moon at home in the UK at 8 pm. We are 5 women who have met once a month since 9/11. Should one of us not be able to make the meeting, we always have a cushion for that person to mark her place on the five-pointed star/circle where we sit. None of us would ever dream of missing the meditation, wherever we are in the world, but this does ask quite some commitment from me in the tropics - 3 to 5 am on a boat in whatever circumstances! Mind you the next one would be during the night on my long haul flight back home to the UK, fortunately when everyone else was sleeping, or I would have looked a right weirdo!

I crashed out for a couple of hours before waking up to our last day in Thailand.

The Koh Similan anchorage was magical - striking smooth rock formations piled up high on top of one another, silhouetted against the sky and forming a natural harbour. A few yachts were anchored here and there and only one dive boat. We watched all the comings and goings with interest, especially of the local liveaboard flat barge that was nosing around the bays of the island. It took us a while to figure out what it was up to: it had huge concrete blocks, coils of thick warp (rope) and lots of yellow and orange buoys on the roof along with a kind of conveyor belt with drop off and a little house to live in: after a lot of scrutiny through the binoculars it dawned on us that it was laying buoys. The diveboat next to us, called Sundance, was clearly servicing this barge: a cool dude Thai guy wearing a pale blue bandana tore around in a white dinghy with style and verve. He seemed to be the local messenger, especially at the beck and call of the buoy layer and the dive boat. He dashed around with great panache and seemed to derive a lot of fun from his job. He would smile and wave cheerily at us as he careered by.

We watched a huge black motor cruiser come in - about 100 feet long.  We called him Prospector Man - as opposed to Brochure Man, whom we met at Yacht Haven at the end of our last trip. Brochure Man was an ex-RAF engineer, with a young Japanese wife and baby, who had bought an impressive new Tayana sailing yacht direct from the factory in Taiwan. His wife was afraid of sailing and on their maiden voyage in the middle of the ocean the engine caught fire! I imagine it was a very frightening experience He finally managed to get the fire under control and had been in dispute with the manufacturers ever since about compensation.  Brochure Man's boat was 56 ft long and it was becoming obvious that his wife didn't really want to sail and the boat was too big for him to sail on his own. So he was adding mod-cons like in-boom furling to help him, but with a sense of doom he told us he was finding out, through bitter experience. that these new mod-cons constantly went wrong, causing him endless grief!    Oliver drew the conclusion that Brochure Man must have been seduced by the glossy brochure into making this unsuitable purchase!

But I digress from Prospector Man, who was a lean forty year old German, dark-haired and swarthy, with a bevvy of teenage boys and girls who hung out in the dinghy with him or else lounged around on the upper deck of the sleek black motor yacht The scenario was a bit baffling. Oliver decided they were teenage jet set and that the German was a charter skipper! They had all sorts of amusements on board like jet skiis, but didn't seem to be having a lot of fun, mainly because Prospector Man was constantly prospecting for a suitable buoy, never satisfied by what he had, probably because his boat was so big and heavy. He'd dinghy and dive, checking out the concrete footing and ropes of the mooring buoys, whilst the young people waited listlessly in the dinghy. At last he would find one that met his criteria, dash back to get his STONKER (the 100 ft black motor yacht) only to find that in the meantime another boat had arrived and gazumped him on his chosen buoy, with the result that he would have to start prospecting all over again! We watched him miss several buoys in this manner, as his cargo of teenagers got more and more droopy

Overnight we had had the company of a French ketch and a French sloop sailed by two couples who were clearly friends. The ketch was meticulously cared for: the skipper had to weave his way across the deck, it was so cluttered with gear, but everything had its place and he was constantly fiddling and adjusting all the details. They were obviously preparing for an ocean passage. Everything was incredibly ship-shape, even bordering on obsessive compulsive! He and his wife were a nice looking couple and a bit later they took advantage of the brisk morning breeze to sail out, eventually a tiny speck in the huge blue yonder.     They were clearly not on a heading for Port Blair in the Andamans, but evidently making for the Duncan Passage or the Ten Degree Channel, to cross the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka and The Maldives or perhaps even Chagos, a tiny archipelago just south of the Equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Oliver dived to scrub the barnacles off the speed log on the bottom of our hull in order to get it working again (we have to do this every time we anchor for more than one day) and re-fixed his kick-up rudder preventer block, which often works its way loose. Finally he succombed to my nagging to get out the storm sail and check that it will hank on over our genoa on the roller furler. We gave it sheets and rigged a tack to attach it at the base, should we ever need to use it.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the ketch couple hoist their main on the mooring buoy nearby and sail off.

That gave me an idea. The wind dropped completely around midday. Inspired by the ketch couple, I raised our main on the mooring buoy in order to put in the 2nd reef, which I had started at Pansea Bay, only to discover then that the reefing line was too short and had had to abandon the job. Now I cut a new longer line off a reel and I whipped the ends to stop it fraying. Since Oliver thinks reefs are superfluous and that we will never ever need them  (Bob Mott never did when he had Sundancer, so why should we?), he had never bothered to find out how the reefs worked. It was I who had searched in Nigel Calder's book on boat maintenance and with the help of his excellent diagrams had worked out how to rig the reefs and how to use them. Much earlier in our trip I had put in the first reef 'just in case'. When I got to actually rigging the second reef at Koh Similan, by some amazing fluke I wasn't tall enough to reach the second reefing cringle (we hadn't yet twigged that you can rig the reefs with the sail still in the sail cover, which is much easier because you can reach all three cringles with no hassle), so I had to get Oliver to help - which meant that he got to rig the reef that day and therefore gained first hand experience of how the reefing system on Sundancer worked, which was soon to save our bacon, because in extremis, it often turns out to be me on the helm and Oliver out on deck by the mast battling with the lines, because he is stronger. But I am running ahead of myself

We had already worked out our route to the Andamans and figured that it was more sensible to leave at midnight, favouring a daylight arrival in Port Blair four days later.

But with the mainsail up, we were now humming and hah-ing about whether or not to leave right then - at 1300 on 14th February, two weeks after checking out! By now the lively morning wind had dropped away and there was a real danger we would be becalmed. I said to Oliver, Why don't we leave now? It's a gorgeous tempting day, cloudless and inviting and we can get our confidence by nightfall. If we wait till this evening, the wind will come up strong again as it does every evening at the moment and we'll be tempted to put off our departure yet AGAIN! At least this way we can trick ourselves into leaving!

It was dead calm. We were ready. So we left. Completely daft, because, as we might have guessed, it was the calm before the storm!  Unlike most other people, we don't 'do' weather-forecasts in the tropics: Oliver can't see the point because the forecasts don't give any information about the myriad local variations However, before leaving the Amanpuri and Chedi Hotels, he had made an exception and we HAD downloaded the week's wind and wave patterns in the Andaman Sea region of the Indian Ocean.     Even these gave no indication of what would hit us in the dead of that night

Indeed we were soon becalmed on a glassy sea and had to motor for many hours. We had a romantic sunset with a glass of wine on the side deck to celebrate our first ever night passage, when the wind ruffled into life, so out with the genoa. I cooked dinner and later went to sleep on our sea berth in the saloon, only to be woken by Oliver at midnight.

Close the hatches! I rushed around closing our zillion hatches and returned to base. Oliver was at the wheel, swinging it vigorously backwards and forwards from one side to the other in equal measure. I've got to slow the boat down, but I don't really know how we're going too fast! The seas were now running high and everything was bucking and crashing.    A huge cloud had been sitting on the far horizon behind us all day, brooding, brewing up and fuming from a distance. We had remarked from time to time how extremely slow moving it was. Our previous experience of storm clouds in this northeast season is that they may bring the odd bit of lightning, but not much wind and generally just a short shower of rain, if that. This one unleashed the works on us:  thunder, lightning and torrential rain. Winds gusting up to 40 knots howled and screamed in the rigging.   

The seas are too big to turn into the wind.    Too late to reef! We had full sail up, except for a slightly reduced genoa!!! It's taking all my strength and concentration to keep the boat as close to the wind as I can, somewhere between 30 and 60 degrees. That way at least I can keep control. The wind seems to be backing, it's all I can do to keep following it!

Rain was teeming in the saloon doors. I closed one and stood and listened to Oliver from the other. There seemed no point in me going out and getting soaked through, unless I had to! We never wear oilskins in the tropics, though in fact I could have done with my Caribbean pair right then! It never occurred to me to look for them, however. My mouth was dry. Was this the end? It was night, pitch black we couldn't see a thing. The rigging wouldn't be able to bear the tremendous forces on it and would break for sure! I decided not to say anything negative, as I felt that would not be helpful for Oliver who was struggling himself at the wheel and needed all his focus engaged there - not distracted by my fears! After careering blindly for what seemed like eternity, with lightning all around us (yachts often get struck in this part of the world), there was a sudden lull.

 Quick!  We may be in the eye of the storm and then it'll start up again. Take the wheel and go up into the wind and we'll furl the genoa some more and take in a reef or two. We managed to do this in bucking seas, Oliver illuminated by lightning like a strobe show in a disco! I should have thought to take the photo! I meanwhile was blindly (because no reference points - couldn't see a thing!) turning the boat head to wind, but it was like trying to chase my own tail - the wind was swinging through 180 degrees, or so it seemed. I seemed to drive forever:  my eyes glued to the Tac Tic wind meter which shows the angle of the boat to the wind. Thank goodness Oliver had helped me rig the reefs that morning Now I was thinking, What luck! as Oliver battled on the foredeck in these atrocious conditions! Finally the reef was secured and I started to set sail again. As I came off the wind I thought I was going mad - the COG (course over the ground - our course over the seabed) on the GPS was reading preposterous numbers. I was totally disorientated, as when you've been blindfolded and turned around and around and then set free!

Our track on the computer during the storm showed tight circles and crazy zig-zag twists and turns. It was only now that we realized we were in horribly confused seas. But our dinky little reefed main and smaller genoa were a great comfort. We were totally whacked and it was only 2 am - four and a half hours to go till daybreak!

In the Bay of Biscay in the summer, only one four hour watch is totally in the dark - the others go in and out of it: there are only six hours of darkness, if that. Here in the tropics you have twelve hours in the pitch dark. How we got through that night I don't know. It totally rattled our confidence and made me wonder what on earth was making us set out on this stupid venture? Why didn't we just stay and enjoy exploring the Surin and Similan Islands instead? What made us voluntarily put ourselves at risk and subject ourselves to adrenalin-pumping, dry mouth, fight and flight survival scenarios? I came across this quote in one of the sailing manuals, which seemed apposite and made me laugh:

'He who goes to sea for pleasure would go to hell to pass the time!' Anon

Still on super-alert, as we hurtled into the night, other paranoid thoughts jostled for attention: What if we get hit by a whaleshark? It could happen at any time! I love these creatures - they are extraordinarily beautiful. But many a boat has sunk after being struck by a whale - so why not a whaleshark? We ourselves had had a nail-biting encounter only the day before, shortly after leaving the Similans: we were motoring along at full speed in broad daylight when an enormous whaleshark  (15 metres or so) chundered straight across our bow, pausing for no one , completely intent on her own mission. Perhaps to her we were just a poxy bit of flotsam! We would have hit her if we hadn't 'slammed on the brakes' by throwing the engines full speed astern! The whaleshark just surfaced and dived and surfaced and dived right across our bow! I found her inspiring , the fact that nothing would distract her from her purpose: I admired her power and impetus!

I finally drifted off to sleep and woke at dawn to find a somewhat calmer situation, sunny and benign, with good winds, though the sea was horribly rough all that day and the following night, making us bounce and CRASH and skitter over the waves. A monohull would have ploughed its furrow through them and possibly been more comfortable. By the end of the day we were exhausted from bracing ourselves. And deafened from the racket.

By evening there were threatening 'stonkers' of storm clouds all around us. As Oliver said, At sunset they close in like Count Dracular, sparing no prey! The wind started to build, so we took in a reef , we didn't want a second night of terror

In fact the wind dropped a little and we could've done with our full main and genoa.

It was almost impossible to sleep in the saloon-bed with the violent slamming and jolting as the boat whacked the waves. The impact was not only physical , it was LOUD! Instead of drifting off to sleep as I usually do, cradled by the ocean, I remained on super-alert, bracing myself against every predicted crash! Oddly enough it was quieter out in the cockpit where the racket was marginally more remote , one wasn't right INSIDE the crashing as one was in the saloon. Even so, whilst he was helming during that initial period of the passage, Oliver resorted to music on headphones to shut out the din!

On our third day, the sea gradually reduced to slight waves and the day was benign and sunny , far too frazzling in fact. We were knackered, especially Oliver, who was demented, driven to do stuff when he was totally past it. We had been warned about this problem by Chas, an experienced American sailor we had recently met in Telaga Harbour. He advised us about sticking to rigorous 3-hours-on and 3-hours-off watches, even if it doesn't seem necessary, otherwise you can become overtired without realizing it and that's when you start to make errors.

We decided to put up the parasail to help us along , a glorious canary yellow, frilly spinnaker , a highly unconventional 'one of its kind': it is supposed to tolerate higher winds than a regular spinnaker, because it ingeniously spills wind through its frilly vents.

But on this occasion, boy did we curse it! We only had 9 knots of wind and could not get it to fly consistently. We learnt it needs a very particular wind angle , namely 150  to 210 degrees exactly, which is essentially a following wind. It won't tolerate any deviation from that narrow band and that was frustrating. I learnt to keep it flying by using the helm, but more often than not this meant sailing off course! We decided it was a '10 knot sailor' and put it away and ran the genny and the electric engines for one and a half hours. Then at 1500 the wind picked up a treat and we let out the genoa and scudded along on a beam reach surfing the swells , literally flying and skimming over the top! The northeast monsoon winds stayed constant into nightfall at 13 knots, increasing to 18 knots. We were doing a consistent 8 knots over the ground. Exhilarating sailing. I was in the galley down below preparing dinner and it was as noisy as being outside, with all the underwater sounds streaming against the hull, roaring and sizzling and hissing... Outside, Oliver was in his element. 

The autohelm is coping fine - not hot at all, he informed me, as if this mundane piece of information might help anchor me to the boat. For I was awestruck, as if in the presence of God...

The moon wasn't up yet and the stars were phenomenal , thousands and thousands in a star-studded tapestry unlike anything I have ever seen before. We were engulfed in the deafening sound of rushing water, peering out into TOTAL BLACKNESS , sheer blind hurtling into the void! The only light was the streaming phosphorescence in our double wake. It was an exercise in TRUST! Can you trust in the universe that there isn't a whale, container or log that we will hit? For sure, if we had, at that speed we would have shattered into a million pieces!    It was magical and terrifying all at once. At first I struggled to enjoy it to the full, I was too frightened.    But as I got used to this edge, I was able to surrender into the FULL sense of exhilaration, awe and wonder. In the sheer pristine beauty of it all, my mind seemed to expand, awakened by the startling presence of a myriad stars, winking jewels in the intense blackness, amplified by the crisp night air. Shooting stars streak their glooping threads across the spangled black and sputter out. The scintillating sparkles in the effervescing, iridescent, phosphorescence of our wake held me in thrall. I had entered a portal to another world.

Daylight dawns on the 4th day and we haven't seen another boat for 72 hours now , not a living thing nor barren rock on the horizon. Just a school of dolphins about their crazy antics , shooting straight up out of the water and bomb-dropping back into the sea in a shower of spray! Their energy was infectious and I couldn't help laughing out loud.

Totally alone out here, days from anywhere, at the mercy of every weather event that drifts by, we had 3,100 metres (11,000 ft) of sea underneath us , imagine if we sank! Such thoughts made me feel precarious However, generally the wide horizons and huge expanse of sea engendered a forlorn sense of peace, which I rather liked.

Oliver and I are now very very tired, he more so than me.    I think he must have had the more strenuous watches. We talk about the technical improvements we want to make, and remind each other of safety procedures, pretty rudimentary on our boat, and namely: Carry a torch in your pocket at all times in case you fall overboard, and if you're on watch, you get the knife! On this trip I've been assembling the grabbag in case we sink, adding to it as I think of new useful items. Some items I don't have on board like energy foods. I make a mental note to buy some in future. Swiftgig (our dinghy) is prepared with water in her bowels and sail at the ready. We have forgotten the handheld GPS at home.    At first I felt angry about this: the temptation is to blame Oliver, but unfortunately I am equally responsible! So we write our GPS position on post-it notes every half hour, ready to grab if we have to leap into Swiftgig and phone Her Majesty's Coastguard in Falmouth on the Sat phone! Who would ever come and pick us up out here?

Not the Thais, say HM Coastguard (Oliver phoned them for a chat before we left the UK) Maybe the Indian Navy if you are lucky enough to be in their waters

I have two grabbags packed. And I have a list as long as your arm of things we have to gather up at the last minute: they cannot be packed because we use them all the time: Lifejackets (which we keep ready in the cockpit), head torches, sat phone, mobile phones, charts, parallel rule and dividers Part of the drill in the event of sinking is to deploy the Epirb, which sends out a satellite signal of all our details, position etc, although unnervingly you have no way of knowing whether it's working and whether anyone has actually received your signal, and whether anyone is actually able to respond. You are left in agonizing uncertainty as to whether anyone will do anything to help you and know realistically that in these parts of the world you will simply be left to rot

At 12.30 midnight, the winds seemed to be building. It was madly exhilarating! At 18 knots, we put in 1 reef , we are getting good at this reefing business by now! We would never have reefed if we hadn't had that cracker of a storm on the first night, which shook our confidence it was frustrating, because the wind moderated in fact to 12 knots, so we weren't going as fast as we might have. However, it was my watch through the night and this meant I felt at ease and sat out on the side deck watching the wake and scanning for ships and writing this account by the light of the moon and by moving my finger down the page to mark the line I am writing on, in an effort to keep it legible and not write over what I have just written, which I have discovered renders it completely illegible!

About 2 am I heard a strange squeaking sound and something made me walk up to the bow. What I saw, took my breath away, it was so exquisitely beautiful. In the inky black waters I could see the phosphorescent trails of two dolphins as they played in the bow wave, rubbing ecstatically against the hull, swimming at the same speed as the boat, and then accelerating forwards in formation to weave the great rhythmic arcs of a figure of eight leaving the phosphorescent patterns they had woven behind them in the water, to slowly decompose like vapour trails in the sky. It was only by these ghostly traces that I knew they were there! It was sheer magic!

I stayed on watch for 5 hours to let Oliver sleep. When he awoke we shook out the reef and had good fresh winds, which carried us into Port Blair.

Six hours out of Port Blair : we attempted, as advised, to call Port Blair Port Radio on the SSB. Zero response. Two hours out I called them on channel 16 VHF. All went fine until the official started requesting detailed information about the boat and us. I was caught completely unprepared, expecting to be informing him only of our ETA and name of vessel. I was hunting for the MMSR number, when he asked me to spell the name of the vessel in phonetic alphabet. This is normal practice in certain parts of the world, but we have never been asked to do this in Thailand or Malaysia. I was tired and disorientated after the four-day passage. The phonetic alphabet! My mind was completely blank! I haven't used the phonetic alphabet since our radio course a year ago! I bravely embarked on Sierra Uniform

Oliver what is N? I panicked. He looked blank. I abandoned the radio and rampaged around trying to think which of our books might show the phonetic alphabet. In the background I could hear the radio crackling to life and the irate voice becoming more and more exasperated.

Sailing vessel Sundancer, this is CONTROL - phonetic alphabet please!

The voice was growing more emphatic with a steely edge.

Finally, mortified, I started again: Sierra, Uniform, (pause) Nicobar (!) Delta, Alpha, Nicabar (I blurted again!), Charlie, Echo, (Pause Oliver prompted me: Romeo.) Romeo!

The man on the radio showed no mercy: Name of master please in phonetic alphabet! Oh God!

Sierra, Tango, Alpha, P P for Papa (Oh! That's it! In my flailing around I'd happened upon the right word quite by chance!), Lima, Echo, Tango, Oscar, (Oh God, there it is again, the wretched 'N') NICOBAR!!!

What a shambles! I felt utterly humiliated and very very foolish! Part of the colourful entertainment in the Andaman Islands, we were later to discover, when trapped in Port Blair enduring days of bureaucracy, was to catch the odd surreal conversation between CONTROL and some other yachtie driven demented by CONTROL's insane demands

I realized I wasn't alone in failing to respond with military precision, when I later happened upon one such exchange between CONTROL and a boat called Freedom Fighter who was evidently on the point of entering Indian waters just like we had, after an exhausting passage

Name of sailing vessel please! barked Control.

Freedom Fighter, said a faded female voice.

Say in phonetic alphabet please!

Free / dom / Fight / er! came the earnest response.

Say in PHONETIC ALPHABET, PLEASE! Control was growing impatient.

You know, ummmmm LIBERTY! Errrrrrrr LI BERATION!

That didn't do it for Control.

Silence.

Out of exasperation, the woman cast around, flinging out any similar words that might do the trick. Anything!

EMANCIPATION! rang out across the air waves. I couldn't help admiring her sheer inventiveness.

INDEPENDENCE! She was on a roll, now.

SELF- RULE! she blurted out, ever hopeful.

Control seemed bemused for once and at a COMPLETE loss for words!

Errrrrrrr NO RESTRICTION! I could tell she was tiring. Who wouldn't be in her shoes?

NO LONGER A SLAVE!!! She dealt her trump card - if this didn't work, she manifestly had no more ideas!

I SO empathized with her! But I also suddenly realized I had no business listening in on this channel and switched back to Channel 16 wanting to afford her some privacy at least for her dying throes .

Typical: once my own ordeal with CONTROL was over, the first sailing book I picked out flopped open to a page displaying the whole phonetic alphabet from A to Z. There was the missing "N": N for NOVEMBER! So I printed it out and spelt 'Sundancer' and 'Stapleton' and stuck it all next to the radio to avoid future fiascos, along with the MMSR no.

An important word about CONTROL, before I proceed. From now on, every time I write "This is CONTROL!", you, the Reader, must imagine the words pronounced with a thick Indian accent: roll the "r" as in "rrrrr.." and swallow the first syllable CON .. Go on! Start practising! You must get it right! It's very important to get the EFFECT! Now emphasize the last syllable, dwelling on the "-TROL" for at least two beats longer than normal: imagine the "o" sounding like a cross between 'bowl' and 'bawl': in fact it sounds like con-TRRRORLL. I will write it in capitals in my script to indicate CONTROL's sheer weight and bossiness, but you must always hear it as con-TRRRORLL !!!.. said in a kind of sinister drawl of someone sent to persecute you and relishing that role!

At 11.15 we had our first real taste of (PORT) CONTROL who ordered us to proceed to anchor at a prescribed lat-long off Ross Island, next to a sailing boat called The Iron Lady. Once in the lee of Ross Island we paused to take down the mainsail, only to be rudely interrupted!

Sailing vessel Sundancer. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Please proceed straight to lat/long X.
For God's sake! Talk about harassment! However, we were determined to finish getting the main down. He instantly gave us more grief. If a voice could rap you over the knuckles, ours would be black and blue by now.

Sailing vessel Sundancer. I said PROCEED STRAIGHT TO THE POSITION NEXT TO THE IRON LADY!

Then a minute or two later: Sailing vessel Sundancer, have you put down your anchor?

No. Not quite We were still searching for the right spot, not too close to The Iron Lady.

Sailing vessel Sundancer! This is CONTROL PUT DOWN YOUR ANCHOR NOW PLEASE!

As directed, we anchored off Ross Island in the channel between Ross Island and the Aberdeen Jetty, which was about a mile away across a rough and windy channel. We thought we would have to pick up the officials in our dinghy : the tiny Swiftgig (!) with 3 hp engine. But fortunately two customs officials arrived with our agent called Siraj in his launch. We had to fill in forms and fortunately we were well prepared with pages and pages of printed inventories of all our equipment and stores and personal effects. When it came to our list of alcohol, they sighed and said if we mentioned any alcohol they would have to do a bond, which made them feel very very tired at the thought of all the paperwork involved! They suggested we crossed out the 52 beers and 7 bottles of wine, 1 tequilla and 2 whiskies on the form! And put 'Nil' next to the crossing out! We had been warned they would require whisky as a bonus/bribe (which is why we had bought it) and kept saying pointedly that we don't drink whisky. But they weren't interested. A yachtie told us later that they are tired of being given cheap undrinkable Thai Whisky! They were very pleasant and personable. They said the yacht next door was a problem because they had a gun on board. Everything has changed since 9.11 they said. Even here we have to be careful.

They left and Siraj returned with two immigration gentlemen. That all went smoothly. They told us there was no crime and to expect no trouble: we were safe here in the Andaman Islands.

Each time an official arrived, they left big black footprints as they stepped on to our white decks; spanking white after the ferocious rain storm on the crossing! Oliver firmly required that the astounded officials take their shoes off before proceeding! They looked very uncomfortable and a little ludicrous in their uniforms, epaulettes and socks!

Previously, Oliver and I had heard Iron Lady talking to Port Control who ordered the skipper (a German with his wife and tiny baby on board) across to the Aberdeen Jetty in his dinghy to pick up the immigration officials. The skipper was replying in his clipped German accent that he had a small dinghy with a 1 hp engine, could the officials come across on the ferry to Ross Island, which was only 300 m from his boat? And he would pick them up from there. No came the answer, he was to cross the channel. I am not prepared to do that! he said, The sea is too rough!

Then you will have to wait, said Port Control spicily.

Now and again the immigration officials on our boat got into a lively exchange in Hindi with Siraj. He did a lot of gesticulating. Oliver guessed they were requesting he drop them at The Iron Lady! He acquiesced in the end.

We later learnt that the Indian officials are accustomed to dealing with big ships alongside the quays, but hate getting wet and seasick going out to distant yachts at anchor!

After lunch the Coastguard posse arrived in dashing white uniforms and epaulettes. Their commander proudly told us that it was he who had picked up Kilo, the brand new catamaran that had recently drifted into Indian waters from Thailand. We had heard about Kilo in Phuket where it had dragged anchor in the night at Kata Beach when the Swiss owner was ashore, and disappeared over the horizon and the story was that the Indian Navy had picked it up off the Nicobar Islands, south of the Andaman Islands, still with its anchor down, so strictly speaking no salvage fees should be payable, nevertheless the Indian Government was asking $50,000 salvage fees. Since it was a Thai registered boat, the Thai government were doing the negotiation.

I told this proud coastguard official that a lot of people were talking about him in Phuket! He didn't know what to make of that

They were very concerned about our gas, because a Thai motor yacht had exploded a week previously in the Inner Harbour: an Aussie friend of ours, Glenn, was there and saw it happen. Three men drew up in a dinghy and one went aboard and down below to tinker with the engine. The next moment a huge fireball lifted the boat right out of the water and the bottom fell out along with the Thai man who was badly burned. The others were OK.

The coastguard was also at pains to tell us not to go within sixty miles of the South and North Sentinel Islands. The previous week two local fishermen had fallen asleep and drifted too close and had been shot with poisoned arrows and buried by the Sentinelese monsters. No one can go near the Sentinelese apparently, not even officials. The Indian Government policy is to leave these hostile indigenous people alone. So no justice for the dead fishermen. But everyone on the Andaman Islands that we spoke to, seemed to accept that without question.

Anyway the coastguard wanted a copy of our itinerary and tried to dissuade us from going to Twin Islands and the Labyrinth Islands on the West side, because of the killing on Sentinel Island. He was also against us going through the Homfray Strait because since the Tsunami the islands have tilted and are 1 m shallower/higher in the northwest corner and 1 m deeper as you go south. Indeed the tide timetables have a note advising sailors to add 1.03 m to all tides in the south since the tsunami! He says the Homfray Straits and Austen Straits haven't been surveyed since the tsunami and may be too shallow. We have subsequently heard of a couple of yachts going through the Homfray Straits with no problem, which made us wonder whether the Coastguard had a hidden agenda to deter yachties from making contact with the Jawawa people who live at the western end of the Homfray Strait.

The coastguard requested a photograph with us on deck (we took one too) and gave us a brochure with loads of contact frequencies (such as, channel 14 manned day and night by the coastguard : we never managed to get them in all the time we were in the Andamans!) and telephone numbers (none of which worked) and an e-mail address (which didn't respond). We were asked to contact them once a day with our whereabouts and proposed movements. We've given up.

At last they all left and, exhausted, we were about to crack open a beer and celebrate our arrival and crash into bed when Channel 16 crackled into life: Sailing Vessel Sundancer, this is CONTROL. You are to up anchor and go to lat/long X in the Inner Harbour.

It would be pitch dark in 10 minutes! Oliver replied that he didn't want to be entering a harbour he didn't know, a couple of miles away, after dark when he was so tired.

Sailing Vessel Sundancer, this is CONTROL. You have a chart of Port Blair harbour? Up your anchor immediately and proceed to lat/long X. We looked at each other helplessly and cursing and swearing, we obeyed. Our computer malfunctioned so the course in was a shambles. The paper chart showed starboard markers and lights flashing that didn't exist. Our depth sounder didn't work (some barnacle must have wandered on to it during the passage). In the dark we picked out numerous small boats and ferries plying back and forth across our path as it was rush hour: 1715. Once in the blackness of the Inner Harbour: we peered into the gloom to discern the yachts at anchor we were supposed to join. The computer was showing a depth of 1.6 m. I was alternately scanning the water beyond the bows with a flashlight in case there were any boats at anchor without lights, then rushing to the stern steps to dip the manual depth sounder into the water to get a reading.    At last a friendly Aussie (subsequently we saw a lot of him) called Glenn shone his flashlight and confirmed it was safe where we were planning to anchor. At last we dropped the hook, too knackered to celebrate. What a horrid beginning!

We hadn't been there long however when we had the oddest visit from four enthusiastic Indian naval cadets in a rubber dinghy. They were on patrol they said, and plied us with questions. Although we were tired and jaded, something about their enthusiasm disarmed us completely and to their surprise we invited them on board and showed them around, which was clearly a novel experience for them. Their eyes were out on stalks! We had a refreshing conversation with them about their lives and their philosophy and they left us feeling a lot more cheerful about our first day in India!

Next morning by 9 am CONTROL was on the radio ordering us to the jetty to meet our agent in fifteen minutes! We rushed to get Swiftgig out of lifeboat mode and into dinghy mode, gathered all the ship's papers, handheld VHF, hats, sunglasses, shirts and skirts and rubbish and headed off towards the Chatham Island Bridge, unsure of where to find the jetty in amongst the confusing array of docks and quays. Eventually I saw an Indian lad in a white shirt waving his arms like mad on a ruined stone structure with some steps. All very rudimentary. He insisted on looking after our dinghy and shoo-ed us up across some waste land towards a deeply rutted tsunami-damaged track. ..

Siraj pulled up with his driver and bundled us in and took us to the Harbour Master. The building was adorned with moralistic mottoes written large across prominent architectural features: First deserve, then desire, A little bit of attitude makes a great deal of difference and so on. The wall on the first floor had massive horizontal cracks : tsunami damage, they said. Eventually, after a long wait we were ushered in to the Harbour Master, who said he'd been in the merchant navy, been to Cape Town and Britain and had skippered a tall ship as a charter boat out of Malaysia. It was not long before we got into a philosophical discussion about life and greed! It seems characteristic of the Indians, here at least, to talk philosophy within a few moments of greeting! The Harbour Master asked me to fill in a form about our itinerary, though he kept interrupting his conversation with Oliver to insist I didn't go into detail! As I laboriously wrote every port of call, he kept saying : It's OK to keep it brief! Fortunately I'm a pedant by nature, because it later turned out that you couldn't go anywhere that hadn't been listed!

The Harbour Master told us we mustn't bother to contact The Coastguard, they had no business requesting that of us! He observed dryly that everyone here must look as if they are busy in order to justify their jobs! The Harbour Master clearly didn't get along with The Coastguard who was far too uppity for his liking, especially as The Coastguard was supposed to be taking orders from him! According to the Harbour Master, CONTROL was also supposed to be subordinate to him! This was news to us.

Oliver seized the moment to lodge a complaint about being ordered to move the night before, after dark, when he considered it dangerous, and the Harbour Master immediately phoned Port CONTROL and said, That anchorage is not suitable for elderly people! !!!!!

He prescribed a new anchorage just off the reclaimed land where the Port Authority offices were, presumably to make the dinghy journey shorter for the officials. However, when he showed Oliver the location on the chart, Oliver exclaimed, But isn't that totally exposed to the northeast? It's the season of the northeast monsoon!

No, it's fine. With his weighty authority, the Harbour Master aborted this strand of the conversation.   Later that day the VHF radio was crackling with complaints from sailing yachts Shah and Sea Fever who had been ordered to anchor there earlier in the day. They hadn't completed all the formalities and night was falling. Sailing yacht Shah requested to enter the Inner Harbour. CONTROL said No, you haven't completed formalities and therefore are not permitted to enter the inner harbour. This went on for a while till the young Englishman on Shah suddenly seized the initiative:  I am the skipper of this vessel and I am responsible for its safety. I consider it unsafe to stay here overnight in these rough conditions on this lee-shore. I am not prepared to endanger my vessel. I am going to move. Which safe anchorage do you propose? CONTROL went silently apoplectic. The radio went dead, until CONTROL eventually returned with a lat/long at Ranger Flats where we were. When Walter, on Sea Fever II, also arrived at Ranger Flats, he told us that that afternoon, he had had the chief customs officer lying on the deck and throwing up over the side, the Port Authority anchorage was so rough.

But I digress

Mr Sulaiman Jadwet, Siraj's boss, mysteriously showed up during the latter stages of our meeting with the Harbour Master and Carolanne was mentioned - as a visitor who is flying in and out and wants to come aboard and cruise locally with us during her stay. The Harbour Master grandly tells us: There is no system to permit this, and then drops his voice and adds, but we can make an arrangement! (Try and imagine this last sentence said in a Bengali accent!) At this point in the elegant choreography, understood only by Harbour Master and Agent, we were ushered out

The driver for Island Travel drove at breakneck speed, leaning on his horn and over-taking recklessly on every blind corner on the narrow road whose ragged edges crumble to dust. The road was streaming with men pulling handcarts, women in brightly coloured saris, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, holy cows, chickens, dogs and cars all weaving in and out in a tapestry of chaos. The driver overtook in the face of on-coming vehicles, when there seemed no possible room for manoeuvre, no other outcome conceivable than a head-on collision. I kept envisaging a catastrophe: a tangle of legs, cows' horns, wheels, and produce flying in every direction, but miraculously the impending impact always resolved itself by split second, last minute deference by the other party!

That lunch time we went with Sulaiman to the only restaurant in evidence: The Lighthouse Residency, where Indians and foreigners eat. It was there that we first discovered that everyone here plays cricket and are cricket mad! Out on a dusty green on the foreshore a game was in progress, visible from the restaurant window. The young waiter informed us proudly that he plays cricket too - but not on this green (brown actually): this is for rich people only. We were later to see cricket games in progress in every conceivable patch of dust all over the countryside and on the beaches.

Sulaiman Jadwet was interesting. He was the youngest of four brothers all working in associated businesses: island traders, import-export and travel - they had big offices in Mumbai and Kolkata, evidently, though Sulaiman's office, here in the Island Travel bureau, was modest: tiny with no window.

He told us there was a strategic naval base here because India is not on good terms with China (who have leased the Coco Islands, which lie to the north of the Andaman Islands, from Burma), nor are they on good terms with Burma (Myanmar), who have more islands to the north of that.    A lot of refugees from the Burmese junta arrive secretly on boats and settle in the remote jungle of the Andaman Islands, and it seems that many survive, because the Indian navy and coastguard have a hard time finding them in that terrain.   

Sulaiman is frustrated by government policies, which stipulate that no resorts may be built within 500 metres of the coastline, because this deters not only businesses like his own, but all the big players from investing in the tourist industry. It's also hard or impossible to buy land - the Indian government owns most of it. So the Andaman Islands don't develop for tourism. This means no low cost flights: the cheapest will be $400 US from Chennai. The boat takes three days from Kolkata. The ship Nancowry that docked today from Chennai with 1,113 passengers on board, had only 31 foreigners. There are no tourists here except for the very occasional yachtie and backpacker.    For this reason, these islands are totally unspoilt and this explains why there is nothing corporate in Port Blair, which means there is a charming innocence about the place:  there is commerce, but it's not commercial, if you see what I mean. People say it's India at it's most rural.

We later learned from other people that the ban on travellers to the Nicobar Islands to the south isn't to protect the 'natives' as claimed, but because there is a secret air force base there. Even local Indian settlers with high status are not allowed to go to the Nicobars unless on certain essential business to do with the Administration, in which case they are granted a special permit.

After lunch, we said goodbye to Sulaiman and went off exploring on our own.

As we began to talk to the locals and negotiate with them, we noticed an interesting feature: the men do a head wobble as part of their language! The head literally wobbles from side to side with the neck as a pivot: the neck joints loosen so the head disengages and wobbles like a ping pong ball balancing on a fountain jet of water. The wobble seems to mean Yes or, I can do that for you, sure! Oliver and I were always too mesmerized by the wobbling to pay attention to what it actually meant! The waiters did it. The shopkeepers did it. Everybody seemed to do it.

The town was a feast of colour, teeming with women in saris, flamboyant like flowers in full bloom, immaculately clean, ironed and starched. I was entranced with these women sailing along the street in full colour - turquoise and bright purple, flaming red and orange, red and yellow, magenta and violet, peacock blue, emerald green with a dash of red, lilac, shocking pink. Almost every other shop sells cloth for saris for the home market.

Talking of clothes, Oliver had forgotten to change out of his shorts - or rather, it had never occurred to him to wear long white trousers in the first place, for the grubby, stinky muddy dinghy ride! I was wearing a knee-length skirt. It didn't take me long to realize that we were the only people in town showing a leg! The men are all dressed immaculately, not only in smart white shirts and trousers, but starched and ironed with creases just so - something we could never hope to achieve: creases - yes lots, but not in the right places!

The dust, dirt and noise of the streets was phenomenal.    Open sewers in places made you want to retch. The main street was on a hill with jostling people streaming up and down about their business. The shops, some of them impossibly narrow, spilled out on to the pavement with their wares: hessian sacks of rice and pulses open for perusal, hanging bananas and dusty pineapples, carts selling grapes smothered in flies, apples and bright oranges. Vendors crouching on the street displayed betel leaves spread out like fans in a basket: they were trading the addictive betel nut. The older woman who served us in the ironmonger looked as if her rotting teeth and gums were permanently bleeding, until I tumbled that her saliva was stained with the betel nut she was chewing!

Kiosk-like structures on the pavement sell the radical local newssheet, hanging in bundles from pegs on a string. Unfortunately, when I helped myself to one, the whole lot showered into the dirt on the pavement! I noticed an article complaining about the non-stop noise of the Imams who broadcast their teachings through loudspeakers day and night from the various mosques. The constant racket even carried across the water to our anchorage at Ranger Flats! The article pointed out that this is the season of important exams and the children all need peace and quiet to study: the racket of the Imams is distracting them and will jeopardize their results!

Most shops sold a random, bizarre combination of goods - no stretch of the imagination could figure out the logic - one shop boasted fragrant garlands of fresh flowers as offerings for the nearby temple, baseball caps, cricket bats, betel nuts and leaves, and, in amongst all this, the odd computer game and electrical gadget!    Shops seem to be open 8 am till 8 or 9 at night.

At the bottom of the hill is the Aberdeen Bazaar - a meandering rabbit warren of stalls all undercover and winding higgledy piggledy this way and that - starting at the open sewer - selling fresh vegetables, some of which are recognizable, but most of which are not, including lots and lots of leafy veg of all descriptions, sold in huge bundles, obviously for large families!

Holy cows wander around the bazaar, weave across the street and lie down in shop doorways obstructing the exit for all customers. An obstreperous bull periodically causes a commotion because no one dare move him on.    I saw one sight that made me sick to the stomach: a holy cow with a massive ulceration between the cloves of its hooves, bloody and swarming with flies, so huge that it protruded out of the bottom of the hoof as well - it was hobbling on three legs in frightful pain and should have been put down or at least have antibiotics, but it's a holy object, therefore it is forbidden to cull and antibiotics are probably not affordable.

The fruit market was across the street from the Aberdeen Bazaar at the entrance to the bus station, which was constantly coughing and spluttering with buses crammed with people, their heads and arms and baskets bursting out of the gaping windows, which are deliberately built with no glass, pleasantly draughty in the heat

It was striking that there was no beer or alcohol to be seen in Port Blair (obtainable only at the Government Store, they say, and not for sale on salary days). I saw no Western food or snacks of any sort, other than in one shop where I spied a couple of elderly Cadbury's chocolate bars.

Oliver and I needed to re-stock on butter for our toast - how I regretted not getting a huge stock in Thailand! There was none to be seen here. Then we discovered the Cooperative Store, again a government store where prices are cheaper. I found weevils in the cashew nuts. In the midst of all the dusty toiletries (everything in Port Blair is covered in a layer of dust), Oliver spied a domestic upright fridge. He opened the door triumphantly, only to discover it was packed full of books!    It was so NOT what we were expecting - we got the giggles. Soon after this we found another fridge and inside was butter!  We didn't buy any because I still had enough for the next week - I was only prospecting so I could provision quickly and efficiently for Carolanne's visit later in our stay, when we would come back to Port Blair to pick her up. When that time came a week later, with only a few hours to provision, I learnt that ALL the food, except for poultry, comes from mainland India, by ship or air, which explains why it is relatively expensive - although diesel is tax-free and cheap. When I asked for butter on this occasion, they informed me there was no butter to be had anywhere on the island - all stocks had run out and there wouldn't be any till Friday, when the next boat came in from Chennai! That was three days' time:  too late for us! So we had bread, but no butter and would have to amend our ways.

All day long at anchorage CONTROL calls us on the VHF with some instruction or another: Sailing vessel Sundancer, this is CONTROL Finally we took to escaping his clutches by going ashore.

We went back to the Lighthouse Residency for their 'Lighthouse Biryani Special with Chicken, Fish and Prawns', only they never ever had prawns or fish in stock, so we just had plain chicken!

We met an engaging 30 year-old Israeli in the Lighthouse Residency who told us that lots of Israelis travel in India after their military service, which is compulsory, although you can get exemption if you fundamentally disagree with war. The conscripts stay with the same unit all their life, serving for six weeks every year - everybody gets off work for this - it's all scheduled into the system in Israel. So you make friends for life and many enjoy this aspect of conscription. He says he never questioned going into military service - he was brought up for it, everyone is. After travelling the world, his eyes have been opened to other ideas and he is now very torn. He would fight to defend his country against invasion/annhilation. But he now works for an environmental organization and his colleagues are Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Jordanians..

              

We visited the Cellular Jail where we saw the truly remarkable, powerful, poignant portraits that the prison photographer had taken of every inmate from 1857 to 1942 (when the Japanese arrived). Here was a gallery of India's freedom fighters, many of them non-violent, who remonstrated against British rule in India and were condemned to solitary confinement for life on these God forsaken islands. Many of them died after cruel beatings, torture and forced labour in the burning sun, and also as a result of forced feeding during a widespread hunger strike. The British had set up their ballrooms and high life on Ross Island where we had first dropped anchor, and built one jail on Viper Island in the Inner Harbour, one on Chatham Island (the current seat of 'CONTROL') and lastly the Cellular Jail in Port Blair itself - all were sites of barbarous atrocities. I thought I could detect an ambivalence in the Indian people towards the British. I now understood the full force of the reasons why The colonial legacy is strong and complex and often a mixed blessing: the amazing railway system was built in colonial times.  I understand, amongst other things, the British gave the Indians the map - the idea of a unified India, along with the English language and cricket which is clearly regarded as a Good Thing.

We visited a very interesting anthropological museum and learned the amazing fact that some of the tribes on these islands have yet to discover fire! They are hunter-gatherers who do not cook. The Sentinelese and Jawawa, both reject contact with outsiders.    Until recently the Jawawa would ambush intruders with poisoned arrows! Evidently the Sentinelese continue this practice, judging by the recent deaths The Jawawa apparently are now unpredictable and inhabit the western coast of North Andaman Island, especially Interview Island. We heard stories of some intrepid yachties who had encountered a group of Jawawa on a beach at the western end of the Homfray Strait, but the authorities are drastically at pains to discourage any such contact. The Jawawa carry out unusual ceremonial practices for their dead:  they bury dead infants and young children under the floor of the home, but they wrap adults up in a bundle and leave them on an open platform in the treetops for three months. Then they wash the bones and make necklaces from them!

The Jawawa and the Sentinelese are the most numerous of the indigenous people, either living deep in the jungle or else forming fishing communities near the shore in certain remote areas. The Onge on Little Andaman are now driven to the northern and southern tips of that island. They are said to cook, but under the fire! They and the Andamanese had contact with the settlers and as a result are far less numerous: the Andamanese - who were lured into a Home on Ross Island by the British to civilize and save them, have been decimated by disease, namely syphilis contracted from the British, and only 24 remain, two women of child-bearing age, both of whom are ill and probably infertile. All these tribes on the Andaman Islands are negrito (very small Negroid) of unknown origin.

In the Nicobar Islands, the Stompen and Nicobarese are mongoloid. The former are very sickly and small in number, but, just to confound matters, the Nicobarese thrived on contact. They live in numerous cooperative communities along the coast exporting coconuts and fish. These Nicabarese have animist tendencies and they plant model outriggers on stilts out to sea, in order to protect their fisherman from the dangers of the ocean

The aborigines of the Andaman Islands believe that, because of the wrath of a certain god called Puluga, there was once a great cataclysm, which resulted in large tracts of their land being submerged. Man and beast in large numbers were drowned. One man survived atop a tree, and so did a woman, and together they gave rise to many children as a result of this mythical catastrophe, the Andaman tribals have always been wary of the sea and even in their boats will never leave sight of land   The recent tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 must have done their heads in!

The tsunami has wrought a massive change. Not only did the Wave devastate countless lives, boats, homes, habitats, shorelines and buildings, but it caused the ground underneath the islanders to shift forever.. The islands tilted during this seismic event with the upper northwest end shallower and the southern end 1.03 m deeper than before, so many beaches have been lost.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, sometimes known as the Bay Islands (as they are at the southern end of the Bay of Bengal), are a mountain range thought to be thrown up at the time of the Himalayas and the Arakan Yomas in Burma when, as a result of geological activity 150 million years ago, the South Asian plate crashed into the China plate and submerged, creating a continuous mountain range that extends through Burma all the way down to Sumatra and Java and the rest of Indonesia so the string of islands that extend from Burma down to Sumatra are actually the mountain tops peeping up above the surface of the Indian Ocean dividing the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca to the south. The Andamans consist of 204 islands and islets, in a string 600 km long and in places 60 km wide. There are many natural harbours throughout the island chain. The highest hill is 732m. The Duncan Passage, which is 50 km wide, lies between Rutland Island and Little Andaman further to the south. The turbulent Ten Degree Channel separates the Andaman Islands (in particular, Little Andaman) from the Nicobars, which are even further to the south.    The sea valley off these islands is 15,000 ft deep, 25 miles wide and 600 miles long and forms part of a volcanic arc that includes Krakatoa.

We learnt the Andaman Islands may be named after Hanuman, the supernatural sidekick of the King of the Monkeys, who helped Ram rescue Sita, his queen, from the King of Lanka, who had abducted and imprisoned her, accoarding to the Ramayana epic.

Ptolemy of second century Alexandria describes the Andamans as the 'land of cannibals'. After studying Buddhist texts in Sumatra in 671 AD, the celebrated Chinese traveller I'Ching called the Nicobar Islands the 'Land of the Naked', when his Persian ship called in there en route to India to visit various Buddhist Holy Places. Arab merchants on their way to the Malacca Straits in the 9th century mention the islands, as does Marco Polo in the 12th century, and seafarer Alexander Dampier in the 17th century, after Eastern trade routes opened up for Europeans round the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa.

Clearly visits to the islands down the centuries were sporadic and infrequent, probably due to the violence of the typhoons for which the Bay of Bengal has always been renowned. In 1789 the British profited from this inaccessibility to build a penal settlement on Ross Island and the Andaman Home for aborigines. As we have already discovered, they later expanded the prisons in order to incarcerate political insurgents

The Japanese captured the Andamans in 1942 and executed the British. Maybe that is why no white people remain

It was the Japanese who first built runways in the Nicobars.

Independence in India came in 1947.

It transpires that many of the settlers on the Andaman Islands descend from the convicts and freedom fighters who came from all over India. They intermarried to form a society not bothered by caste, colour or creed. There are also lots of Bengali (from Kolkata), Tamil from Tamilnadu near Chennai (formerly Madras) and Hindi settlers. Burmese too. Nowadays the settlers fear migrant labour, especially the Bangladeshi, who allegedly bring HIV/AIDS.

Yachtie stories have it that there are armed Burmese living in the jungle on Long Island, as well as traveller hippies who 'disappear' as far as immigration is concerned. This is why they are loathe to let Carolanne fly in and leave by boat - in case she disappears!

There are many different types of forest in the Andamans:  mangrove tidal swamps which provide amazing breeding grounds for fish, littoral forests on the plains near the coast that are influenced by the sea, evergreen forests on loamy valleys or fertile hills, deciduous forests on poor dry soil of the undulating hills, and forests on parched shallow soil of the high hills. Behind the dazzling beaches are the most richly clad forests, which include the Pandanus - a fragrant screw pine, creepers, orchids and hibiscus flowers.     There was a large Saw Mill at the entrance to the Inner Harbour in Port Blair - of the timber produced, there is first class padouk (43m lengths!), koko, chuglam, marble wood and satinwood. The Lonely Lady Schooner that did the 1968 circumnavigation with lone skipper Sir Alex Rose was built of padouk. Our friend Glenn, who is a carpenter by trade, visited this old sawmill and was blown away by the original old machinery, still working though he ruefully commented on the lack of health and safety measures

Among the birds that frequent the varied forest habitats and waterways, we should be looking out for the while bellied sea eagle, the Andaman pale serpent eagle, the Andaman dark serpent eagle, cuckoos, kingfishers, parrots and swallows.

Snakes we might come across are cobra, hamadryad, blue krait, various sea snakes and pit vipers. Needless to say, we saw none. In the forests are wild pig, wild cat and iguana. And there is the Andaman Green Turtle.

We had seen all we wanted to see in Port Blair and were now ready to leave. We took off the bridle in readiness to pull up the anchor chain and called Port Control to request permission to proceed. What is your destination? he barked. ETA? I told him Chiryatapu, 1600. What is your itinerary?

The Harbour Master has stamped our itinerary, I replied confidently and reeled off a string of islands.

HAVE YOU GOT A PERMIT? This was his trump card that took all the wind out of my sails.    You need a special permit to visit Jolly Buoy and the Cinque Islands, Control asserted. We could not believe our ears! WHAT?!!! This was getting Kafkaesque!!!

Sailing Vessel Sundancer, this is CONTROL Go in your dinghy to the jetty. Your agent will meet you at 10 am. It was 9.45. We had the rigmarole of getting the dinghy down in a frantic hurry.  Grab sunglasses, hat, money, papers, glasses and decent clothes. We abandoned the boat, thinking we were only going for half and hour:  in fact we were ashore until well after dark, going with our agent from this floor to that in the forestry department, while the bit of paper was initialled by the associate head, the deputy head, the chief honcho and everyone else besides.

We hadn't left any lights on on the boat and had no torch to flash on the water on the way back. In the pitch dark, we had to feel our way through the oozy mud in the deep ruts of the tsunami-damaged track that led back to our dinghy. Our boat lad charged us 80 rupees plus a pair of goggles for the overtime! We arrived aboard and looked at the permit for the first time: it said we needed still another permit from the Wildlife Department! Defeated, we e-mailed our agent who said he would get it. Next morning CONTROL was on the VHF: Sailing Vessel Sundancer! Proceed to the jetty immediately! Your agent is waiting! The agent had the permit. We gave it a quick scan: on the bottom was stamped NO SNORKELLING! This was preposterous! Why else would one go to the Cinque Islands? Others we have spoken to are still waiting for their permits even though they applied a week ago! Our agent did expedite things but what sort of result is this?!!!

Finally CONTROL agreed we could leave. By this time we had wild fantasies of calling our boat Out of Control!

It was our first morning away from Port Blair and it was heaven to wake up at the idyllic anchorage in Chiriyatapu amongst the pristine wooded hills of the MacPherson Strait knowing we would not be disturbed by the crackling of the VHF bursting into life with yet another bossy order from 'CONTROL' We had the sole company of Glenn on Firefox, and Walter on Sea Fever II, peacefully at anchor across the still water when suddenly Tom on Feel Free motored round the point to join us.

At that moment there was a roar from the skies and a coastguard helicopter swooped down within inches of our mast, sending spray flying and kept zooming in and out in a menacing fashion. The noise was deafening and we could see the men like insects in fluorescent orange space suits peering down at us from their bubble. We could only surmise they were trying to read the name of our boat?! After swooping in a number of times from different angles and hovering dangerously close to our mast, they buzzed off and did the same to all the other boats. Tom, who was nosing around trying to find a spot to anchor, took a photo of the helicopter half way up our mast and brought it over later!     The whole episode was most menacing and unpleasant. Especially as the Harbour Master had made some comment like, Don't let the Navy board you under any circumstances. Offer them something to go away! What did he mean? Why? Had he said the Navy or the Coastguard? I wished I had paid more attention at the time

Tom came over with the photograph and told us about a close shave he and his wife had just had on their yacht Feel Free. They had visited the Cinque Islands without a permit and were chased by a warship as they made their way back to Rutland. The Navy ordered them to stop, they wanted to board! Tom and Liz were beating into the wind and refused to stop as they would lose too much way and it was already getting dark and they needed to make landfall. The Navy spokesman agreed they could continue at 3 knots with reduced sail and the Navy lowered a dinghy into the waves with 8 men in full uniform, carrying guns, but no lifejackets. The dinghy bucked and bobbed in the seas, trying to catch up with Feel Free and were within ten metres when their engine failed! Tom and Liz were not going to stop and help them - they didn't have the required permits and that would be suicide! So they belted off and the Navy called on the VHF Feel Free you are free to go! What a narrow escape!

Later we watched Glenn and Walter and Tom and Liz whizz off in their dinghies and protective suits to the coral reefs and rocky points to spear crayfish. They had planned to meet here and have some fun together before Walter and his Thai girlfriend headed off to Chagos - their boat had that unmistakable Chagos-bound look - gunwhales low in the water, weighed down with 4 - 5 months' worth of provisions - planning, like all the others in the seasonal Chagos yachtie community, to stay until the monsoon turned around, so they could sail back to Thailand with the South West Monsoon driving them from behind. Apparently about a hundred yachts each year do this. A few go on to Africa.. Most come back. Glenn was in two minds himself about whether to go or not, but, although he is an incredibly seasoned solo sailor, he didn't fancy the rigours of that whole passage and stay on his own. He is always full of interesting yarns and useful tips and makes it his business to mix with the locals wherever he is. A rough diamond loner with a big heart, we have bumped into him a number of times and are always delighted to have him aboard for a chat, though he usually sits in his dinghy and chats from there!

Our wildlife and forestry permits dictated that we HAD to go to Jolly Buoy and Redskin in the Labyrinth Archipelago on 22nd Feb no matter what the weather conditions! We weren't allowed to change the day. Of course, we could decide not to go at all, but that was unthinkable after all the bureaucratic hassle we had gone through in order to get the permits in the first place... So we made our way up through the narrow Macpherson Strait, only to be hit by high wind as we came out of the western exit. There were a few underwater rocks awash to be careful of (of course no longer awash because of the 1m deeper post-tsunami situation) but what was MOST disconcerting was the line of breakers out beyond the islands, which was almost uninterrupted the whole way down the coast:  we realized afterwards, that it was where the drying reef extends a long way off the west coast of all the islands. The Jolly Buoy anchorage was totally exposed to the raging northeast wind - no way could we anchor on that lee shore! There seemed to be breakers interrupting our route to Redskin, so we abandoned that idea and made a bee line for a sheltered spot between Malay and Hobday islands, negotiating our way up a narrow channel, around a shallow shoal, to a spot where we dropped anchor - on rock, it turned out: the anchor chain grumbled and echoed eerily in the depths with a loud metallic ring and juddered on the capstan. We didn't like the sound:  it meant the risk of the anchor catching in a crevice, so we hauled it up and, abandoning our mission, motored, head into the teeth of the wind, all the way back to where we had come from.

The next day we spent in Chiriyatapu. We noticed boats like Ilala, who were heading north, were leaving at dawn to make good headway before the head wind aroused itself and set in for the day to slow them down. I slept on deck a lot during our times in Chiryatapu (which, incidentally, means 'the beach of birds') and drank in the sounds of the dawn and the sea at night. It really was the most beautiful spot, with Rutland Island sparkling exquisitely across the channel.

Any engine sound reverberates through the water here. I scan the Macpherson Strait for sign of a boat, but there is none. Not even the cargo boat that plies across to Rutland every day at 9 am carrying provisions. Thoughts turn inevitably to submarines. We know they are here. When you drop your anchor and it clangs eerily on rocks, you can't help wondering if you're hitting a sleeping submarine! It's spooky, I tell you!

24th February was our date for the Cinque Islands. We set off early in a strong northeast wind. The permit was only for a day stop with 'NO SNORKELLING'. It was impossible to anchor in the bay at North Cinque as the wind was whistling through. So we went round to Middle Cinque and found shelter there off the south coast of North Cinque. Whilst aboard Sundancer at anchor at 9 am, the coastguard buzzed us in their helicopter, sending spray into the cockpit as they zoomed in and out. We had the brainwave to run out on deck holding a permit in each hand and waving them at the space age figures inside the cockpit. Satisfied, they beetled off Talk about Big Brother is Watching You! What a crazy business.

As well as being subject to this on-going surveillance from the sky, every yacht visiting the Andaman Islands is ordered to call in to Port Blair Port Radio at 0800 and 2000 every day on the HF radio to give one's GPS position (Lat/Long), where one has come from, and one's program for the next day! Our HF radio wasn't functioning very well, although Oliver improved it lots by re-routing the aerial, which had been installed by others to run right through the hotbed of electric cables connected to our 144 volt battery bank - we have 12 batteries on our boat to power our electric engines! That got rid of a lot of interference, but not enough to really be able to hear the other person clearly, so we e-mailed our positions to our agent every day, using the satellite phone and he in turn informed Port Blair Port Radio of our movements.

Oliver startled a shark when he first went in off the boat that morning at Cinque. We capsized the kayak going into the beach and had to spend some time diving to retrieve the contents! On the beach we found loads of rubbish - especially plastic bottles.    We have heard that some research body has sampled sand from some of the most remote beaches in the world and tiny microscopic plastic bits were found in every single sample. I found that deeply disturbing.

We paddled back to the boat from the point, or rather Oliver paddled and I lay across the front of the kayak with my goggles in the water looking at the coral banks which were the most beautiful I saw in the Andamans.    The clarity was wonderful with white sand on the sea floor between the exquisite banks of reef. The fish weren't numerous, but pretty and colourful. Oliver saw an Andaman Green turtle while I had my head under water. He also saw deer on the island under the trees. In fact, he was the one with sharp eyes that day

Soon it was time to set off for Rutland and hopefully find a suitable overnight anchorage before dark. We found a bay on the southern shore of Rutland, badly damaged by the tsunami. No sooner had we anchored, when we had a visit from some fishermen - a young boy and an old man - who paddled out to us with two tiny lobsters.     We hadn't the heart to say no and figured we would release them. How many rupees? The man spoke no English, only a strange language of his own and gesticulated a lot. The boy knew a few words: No money! he insisted, so we bartered: 2 cokes, crackers, sugar and fish hooks. They asked for one more coke. The man mimed what seemed like a lot of sleeping and pointed to the Eastern sky and seemed to indicate they would come back.    He could have meant: You go to sleep and we'll come back in the morning. or I'm going to pick up a whole lot of others who are sleeping and we'll be back to see you. Or Haven't you heard there's a terrible storm forecast to come from the East and you'll be toast by morning! The mind was going wild with possibilities!!! The boy kept jumping up and down on our deck with excited cries of FISH! FISH! which served to calm the mind a bit: You're going night fishing while everyone sleeps? They looked at us blankly. We asked if we could take their photo and the young boy smoothed his hair down and organized himself in a serious pose, standing to attention!

I watched them paddle back into the dusk and climb into their bigger 'mother' boat at anchor close in to the long white beach, backed by a forest of trees all bent double by the south west gales that lash this coastline in the hot and rainy seasons! The sand on the beach is steep and gnawed by the sea into curious vertical sand cliffs.
It's hard to imagine.. in the South West Monsoon, they say there are gigantic power-packed waves in this place.

We turned to rescue the lobsters, but ascertained they were too far gone to survive a release at sea. So regrettably I had to boil some water and do the unbearable deed.

Next morning we upped anchor at 5 am as the light broke in the eastern sky, and had already raised the mainsail when I spotted the paddling boat coming towards us. It was the return of the boy and the old man with two younger men this time. They had one tiger prawn and a bunch of fish - we chose a fish. In return, they wanted 4 cokes and something to eat, they mimed. We gave them a fruitcake from the freezer. They left and I started to bleed and gut the fish, leaning over the side as we sailed along, standing on the stern section as the sea got rougher and rougher. Then I realized it also needed scaling, and as I started to scrape, scales were flying everywhere! (I stupidly didn't think to do it under water in a bucket!) So I wedged myself in a new position and held the fish out over the side to scrape it some more. As I wrestled with a fin I must have squeezed extra hard and the slimy fish slithered out of my hand into the churning wake! I couldn't believe it! So that was that!

We stopped at Chiriyatapu for a couple of days on the way back.    On the first day we had a lot of fun watching a group of schoolchildren disgorge on to the beach, the boys immediately picking up a cricket bat and setting up a game on the shore.    A horde of girls rushed squealing into the sea, fully clothed in saris or salwaar kameez and dupatta (tunic and loose trousers and headscarf). They sat down in the water, tantalizingly out of reach of their teachers on the shore and sang songs and shouted and had fun listening to their echoes. Their teachers, severe in saris, gesticulated frantically and shouted from the shallows, impotent to get them out! One tried with a stick without success! It was a riot that went on for many hours...

At the weekend, what was left of the beach filled up with day-trippers.     We kayaked ashore and spoke to a young schoolboy who was picnicking with his family. His mother was sitting with his grandmother both fully dressed in saris further up the beach and they smiled at us from time to time. His father and two older brothers were out on the rocks fishing with handlines. He told us that this beach had always been a favourite picnic spot for people in Port Blair as there was a tarmac road all the way down here, and that previously it had had a huge expanse of white sand, but, now the island had sunk a metre, there was hardly any beach left which was heart-breaking for the locals. We talked to this young lad for a long time finding out about his way of life. He told us they learnt all their lessons in school in the English medium, speaking only English, and then they study Hindi as a subject lesson. So all the younger generation are growing up speaking English - an advantage over China in the business world, I would guess. His family were Bengali from Kolkata and his father was a prison jailer who had come to work in the Andamans for an extended period. He told us most of the crimes in the Andamans were civil, not criminal:  theft, embezzlement, fraud, bribery After talking to this interesting young lad, we wandered on along the shore and met a man in his forties dressed in a bright golden yellow T-shirt. He was a ferryboat contractor working on the major ferries that operated between the islands and ports up and down the East Andaman coastline and this was his day off. He was from mainland India and had been posted out here for a spell.

After a walk through the jungle, we paddled back to Sundancer and enjoyed listening to the sounds and sights of the evening drawing in. I'll never forget the image I carry in my mind of the beach in the gathering dusk and the women in their saris - either shocking pink, or iridescent green, peacock blue or burnished orange, appearing singly out of the gloom, hovering amongst the trees like brilliant tropical birds, luminous, eye-catching in their dark surrounds Radiant apparitions that faded out as the forest finally engulfed them.

Early the next morning, we weighed anchor and headed back to Port Blair. Coming up the coast we saw a cavalcade of fishing boats going south towards Rutland Island, loaded to the gunwales with provisions. Rutland has no roads, just a couple of jetties on the northwest and northeast shores. This was a familiar sight in these waters - to see a 'mother' boat, which is no more than an open wooden longboat with an outboard, towing a string of smaller boats. There were occasions when we would see a 'mother boat' at anchor, acting as a base for these smaller narrow boats, who go off to fish with two people rowing with rowlocks, one forward on one side and the other aft and this aft person also uses the oar to steer, like a Venetian gondoleer. They row and fish, trailing lines, mostly, and small nets. Sometimes we would see them laying a net in a circle and then rowing around inside the floats, beating the surface with a paddle to scare the fish into the net, before pulling it out.

Back at Ranger Flats, we found that pottering around the anchorage in Port Blair was a good place to pick up information about what to do and where to go in the Andaman Islands. We heard about a young Aussie couple on their third trip to the Andamans who swam with manta rays off Twin Islands on the western side. We met them briefly, but they were busy at that moment hauling diesel containers aboard from their dinghy with a halyard and an electric winch! Hmmm. That looked painless! Glenn introduced us to a very interesting taxi driver called Ravi, whose family are Tamil from mainland India, although Ravi himself was born in Port Blair. He spoke good English and showed us his vast collection of cards from all the yachties he has driven around Port Blair! He took us everywhere we needed to go to re-provision, was a mine of information and a true Mr Fix-it. He even drove us to fill up our diesel containers and, what is more, drives refreshingly slowly in his beautifully looked-after, old-fashioned taxi. After each trip, we would say, How much do we owe you? And he would say: You decide! Which was an interesting way of doing business! We had a lot of conversations with him on our various visits into Port Blair and on the day we finally left the Andamans, he called us to the jetty to pick up a package which turned out to be a piping hot traditional Indian breakfast prepared by his wife. That was a scrumptious unforgettable gesture!

Meanwhile Carolanne miraculously arrived on time, on the appointed day, escorted by Najraf (our agent) and armed with wine and the most exotic chocolate - cardomom flavour and chillie and much more besides! We left immediately for Havelock No 7 beach, which is in a northeasterly direction from Port Blair. So far Oliver and I have only explored the southeast.    Havelock No 7 is an amazing stretch of sand backed by handsome pristine forest. In the early morning I was up early enough to catch a young mahout escorting his elephant along the great expanse of sand to disappear into the forest at the far end. We went ashore to eat and met some other yachties.    The snorkelling wasn't up to much. We went to Havelock No 2 but only stayed overnight and on the way back Carolanne and I had a quick snorkel off Havelock No 4 while Oliver stayed on board - there was too much coral to put the anchor down. We had been hoping to go further north and cut through the Homfray Straits between Middle Andaman and North Andaman, to the western shores of the islands and explore where the Jawawa people live, despite the fact that the Harbour Master and Navy had been discouraging about this element of our itinerary on grounds of depth and danger.

But we were beginning to get disturbing Sat phone calls from the movie producers who were now offering Oliver a contract, but insisting he start AT ONCE!     We discussed whether Carolanne and I could sail Sundancer back to Thailand, but I pointed out that if anything went wrong technically I wouldn't be able to fix it and, because it was such a high tech boat, the odds of something going wrong were stacked against me - Oliver is constantly fixing things.

During the prolonged, immensely complicated, difficult decision-making process Carolanne proved to be amazingly good-humoured and philosophical about her holiday plans going completely up the spout! She was quite remarkable and kept saying in her soft lilting Irish accent: I feel really CURIOUS as to how this will turn out! Not only that - she was up for whatever transpired: I'm FASCINATED to know what the eventual decision will be! She seemed more interested in the vicissitudes and mechanisms of our decision-making process than in the Andaman Islands and what they might have to offer! It was the convoluted, tortuous twists and turns of our deliberations that provided Carolanne with the necessary holiday interest, it turned out. It must be the lawyer in her? We decided to abort our Andaman trip without visiting the West Coast, and sail back to Phuket via the inevitable Port Blair (for the check-out procedure). The famous Najraf, our agent, was enlisted to perform the impossible and get permission for Carolanne to leave on the yacht with us! Evidently that sent the bureaucracy in Kolkata into a meltdown. But after several days we were ready to go. We managed to see Immigration, Customs and the Harbour Master all on one day and got back to the boat in time to leave in daylight. We called Control and asked permission to leave. He insisted we waited until he gave us clearance. It got dark and finally at 10 pm Control radioed with permission to leave. By that time we'd decided to wait till next morning at dawn. Sailing Vessel Sundancer, YOU WILL UP YOUR ANCHOR AND LEAVE NOW! Customs clearance expires at midnight. If you don't leave before midnight EVERYTHING BECOMES NULL AND VOID AND YOU WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE ENTIRE PROCEDURE ALL OVER AGAIN TOMORROW! We couldn't bear the thought of that, so cursing and swearing, we struggled out of the inner harbour in the pitch dark. As we reached Ross Island and the final opening to the ocean a huge vessel was passing in front of our bow. We heard the captain call Control on the VHF and ask him incredulously Is it possible that a sailing vessel is in the channel at this time of night?!! He clearly thought this most irregular. We called him up on the radio to tell him our intentions and finally we were away!

We had a glorious sail back to Phuket, made much easier by having three on the watches, which meant we each got more sleep. We ran out of gas on the first day! I couldn't believe it. So no cooking. No tea and coffee! Somehow we managed by making lots of delicious pommelo salad, which has nuts and seeds and other goodies, interspersed with lashings of the fabulous chocolate.

We had fair winds.The last watch of the night, just before dawn, always fell to me, and I was delighted to steer the boat southwards by the beloved Southern Cross of my childhood in South Africa. On the last day of the passage the wind dropped, and we had to motor, and during the last night we had a huge cargo boat bear down behind us. The unnerving thing was we kept seeing first a red light, then a green. The boat was slewing from side to side approaching rapidly. We couldn't work out what his course was or more importantly which way we should turn to avoid him! Finally Oliver tumbled that he must be caught in the weird whirlpool currents that abound in this sea. We radioed and asked him his course and he confirmed that he was in the currents. This enabled us to adjust our course to avoid a collision. He was very friendly, chatted for a while and we bid each other farewell.

We finally made it to Nai Harn, immigrated and sailed up to Koh Rang off the Boat Lagoon where Carolanne hitched a ride on a motorboat, so she could catch her plane. Oliver and I pickled the watermaker and went in on the high tide next morning. Oliver was flying out that evening. We managed to get the boat hoisted out of the water on the travel lift and placed on the hard. I would decommission the boat in the stifling heat of the Boat Lagoon, pack everything away and leave two days later. What a frantic rush that was, to get everything done in the time - my legs were shaking with exhaustion when I finally leapt into my taxi for the airport. Apart from my full moon meditation on the plane, my arrival in the UK was the less dramatic of the two.

Oliver arrived in London at the end of a winter with a sting in its tail! He had arranged for someone to come out to Heathrow with his wet weather gear and he flew straight on to Scotland for the recce with the film director and the production designer and a couple of others - people who had no inkling about the world Oliver had vacated just hours before! He said it was too bizarre being catapulted out of the timeless vastness of the lonely ocean and plunged into the multi-million dollar decision-making circus of an American movie - an overnight shift from survival mode, into excess. He arrived with that 'eyes-focussed-on-the-far-horizon vacant troppo look' and had to switch to instant super-business-like, on-the-ball, in-command with full-grasp-of-script/ crew/equipment-and-budget persona, about to direct an attentive crew of hundreds instead of an intractable crew of one!