Posted by: cherryoak | 30.September 2009



A few thoughts during a quiet night shift as we motor across the bottom of the Bay of Bengal towards the Nicobar Islands and the Malacca Strait.

Day 2. Making very good speed so far, unbelievably over 100 miles the first day, average 4.5 knots with good following wind and sea. Not comfortable however  and became  more lumpy as we went into deep water. Cherry is feeling good, which is a huge bonus, somewhere between 7/10 and 9/10, thanks to regular doses of Stugeron. This will be  our longest ocean crossing so far, 1400 miles, which could take up to 20 days and we have an extra 180 litres of diesel on board.


Our insurance company insisted that we buy and install the replacement radar unit before we left and it is working well, much better than the old one, which used lots of power as it was like a small TV screen, so we hardly ever switched it on. The new one is liquid crystal and waterproof, so we have put it in the cockpit and plan to use it all most of the time. We have set up a ‘guard zone’, so that it bleeps at us when a ship comes within 6 or 8  miles, which is ideal and gives us a lot of confidence with a busy shipping lane nearby, the first time we have been in this situation..


We are sailing just north of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with container ships and tankers making their way to the Far East, via the Malacca Straits and Singapore. We do not want to mess with them! Unlike most yachties, who stop en route at the northern end of Sumatra, we are not stopping there as it would mean crossing the shipping lane twice, which is not fun, particularly at night. So we are keeping slightly north, away from Sumatra and closer to the Nicobar Islands and so far it is working well, with all the ships we have seen on the radar 9-12 miles distant on the starboard side,many too far away to see with naked eye.


During the first day many very close encounters were had with the traditional small narrow wooden fishing vessels with a float out one side, sometimes too close for comfort. They seem to be piled high with smiling Sri Lankan fishermen –SEE PHOTO. One tried to sell us small mackerel fish, we don’t think they intended to give them away and all wanted cigarettes and beer, very persistently but not unfriendly. Eventually they gave up and with a final wave, were on their way back home as the sun went down. They were so close, we dare not put out our trolling lines, which was a pity, as the best chance of catching fish is while still over the continental shelf, so had to wait until the following day by which we were into the deep water of the Indian Ocean and virtually a fish desert, so nothing so far on this trip.

During that first night, there were fishing boat lights everywhere and we had to be very careful and took avoiding action a few times. Only a few steel larger ones showed up well on the radar. About 12 hours out from Galle, they were left behind as we went off the continental shelf into deep water. Then the night watching became less interesting, with the occasional but unseen ship showing up on the radar. Motoring can be rather boring, whereas when sailing there are always sails to trim and it is critical to look out for approaching squalls and to reduce sail before they arrive.


Sri Lanka, the teardrop shaped island has been a real highlight of our cruising life so far. For us, of course, finding my father’s two tea estates way up in the Hill Country made it that much more special.

It is beautiful up there, the little village of Ella being extra special and must not be missed. It is situated at the head of a big valley, known as Ella Gap and with the imposing Ella Rock perched high up and its steep sides hanging over the valley. We did not climb it but might try if we ever return.

The tea estates amazingly cover the whole landscape, up the very steep slopes and have changed the whole look of the countryside.

Then we took the famous train trip up to Haputale, perched amazingly on the top of a steep sided ridge. It is a village of character and charm. Very friendly but like all these villages, a bit dirty.  They don’t seem to notice litter at all and it is just left lying until the rain washes the streets.

WE visited the Dambatenne tea factory which still supplies Lipton’s with the bulk of their teas and from  where we took the long beautiful walk to Lipton’s Seat.

Nuwara Eliya town itself was a little disappointing, the streets very unkempt, apart from the beautifully kept golf course and the old British Club, both of which must have been the centre of my father’s sporting and social life.

The Grand Hotel next door is also beautifully maintained and where we had a very special meal together.

Hakkgala Gardens nearby were a highlight, with so many local people also enjoying the spectacular flowers of a very English country garden.

Tamil Tiger insurgency is at end after 28 years, with the Tigers defeated militarily and huge sighs of relief from all round, including most of the Tamil people themselves it would appear. One does wonder for how long, for this kind of ethnic/religious trouble is rarely defeated by suppressing the minority people and grievances tend to fester and rise again later, as Northern Island has shown. Eventually some sort of power sharing arrangement may be the only way to permanent peace, but that is not on the agenda at present, as the President basks in the glory of bringing peace to his country.

The whole country is now opened up for tourists, even Jaffna and Trincomalee, so now is the time to visit and these are the places we would also want to visit if we returned, which is possible.


Our visit to Malaysia will be very different. I lived there for two and a half years, 1997 to 2000 and have very happy memories of the country and the people and feel that I know the country fairly well. But it is the first time for Cherry, apart from one day we spent on our way to NZ. We will be meeting some old friends in Kuala Lumpur and many sailing friends when we go north to the island of Langkawi. In KL we hope to get Cherry’s troublesome left leg seen to, first by meeting up with Professor David Choon, who kindly fused my right ankle after the first attempt had failed to knit together (by another orthopaedic surgeon).Then there is the mast and rigging to take delivery of in Port Klang, where we can get it erected and make our beloved ‘Rainbow Gypsy’ whole again.


Now that our insurance claim has been settled, this is a good time to take stock, looking at the whole incident and how it all happened. We have discovered that the mast was wrongly rigged at the time the boat was built 17 years ago, so it was bound to collapse at some stage and was therefore an accident waiting to happen.

We were so lucky that it happened when it did, in only 30 knots of wind and not 50knots, then we would have been in much more trouble. Our marine surveyor when we bought the boat failed to spot it and even the rigging company who re-rigged it for us two years ago. They should have and they have been very helpful in helping us quickly put our claim together and getting it settled before we left Sri Lanka.

So unbeknown to us, we have been sailing with an unsafe rig and as is the nature of sailing worldwide and particularly in South Africa with its wild and unfriendly seas and few if any day sail destinations, our boat has probably done more sailing in the last 15 months than in the previous 16 years. Our mast was spliced, so gradually the joint would have weakened to a point that it was ready to collapse. After the genoa forestay failed, obviously because of too much movement in the whole rig, we naturally made it considerably tighter than before and this undoubtedly put extra strain onto an already weak joint and so accelerated the weakening process.

At Chagos we knew we had a problem. Other yachties had noticed that our mast bent forward at the middle and Bryce from Silver Fern, who is a very experienced  sailorand NZ champion professional, had a look at it for us. He told us it was wrongly rigged, with no cap shroud and no back stays to resist the forward pull of the staysail ‘baby’ stay, as it usually called. He recommended swapping the two stays around and this was exactly right, as we now know, having been sent a copy of the correct rigging layout.

He shook the baby stay and we were horrified to see the mast violently flex in the middle at the spliced joint, such that it looked very unstable, as it later proved to be. Even if we had fixed it correctly, which we were going to do as soon as we were in a place where it could be done, it would still have been potentially very weak at the spliced joint, so for it to collapse and force us to have a new mast, was arguably the best thing that could have happened.

The new rig will be very strong and should not fail, whatever the conditions. The 12 metre mast will be in one length to an upgraded specification and the wire size increased from 7mm to 8mm, at our suggestion. With anchors and chain, one tends to go to one size larger than theoretically necessary and we have adopted the same principal with the rigging. And we shall have brand new sails, so all in all, there are many pluses.

It has swallowed all of our ‘slush’ fund, which we kept for such disasters but this is what it was for, so no problem using it, as long as we have no more disasters for about the next three years, by which time our ‘boat budget’ and ‘slush fund’ just might be replenished. We will have to postpone a few big wish list items until a later date but we shall not allow it to affect any of the land trips we have planned, which are one of the main reasons we so much enjoy our cruising life.


2100 HRS.

AY on watch and having to avoid a cluster of half lit wooden fishing vessels seemingly coming towards us from all angles. One was heading straight for  us with both green and red lights showing, so we turned to starboard and he passed safely behind but with no sign that he had taken any avoiding action at all.

On CY’s watch, we suddenly were in a very strong counter current and lost headway and steerage.  Before we realised, there was a very large ship bearing down on us.  CY did everything right and could not understand why the yacht did not respond to the helm.  Anyway, by dint of flashing our searchlight, and gunning both motors, we managed to avoid a collision by a very narrow margin and much adrenaline pumping.  Scary!!

Then we later faced with  another fishing vessel  whose lights made no sense at all and could not work out which way to turn. So woke Cherry for another pair of eyes and we realised he had a red light on the starboard side and no green light at all. So completely disorientating. His spot light came on, so he had seen us  and eventually we turned a complete circle to get out of his way!

0400 HRS

AY watch again. Fishing boat had no lights and nearly hit it!! Saw very faint and irregular bleep about half a mile away and looked and looked but saw nothing, as no moon. Suddenly his lights came on, spot lights and all, right in front and maybe only 50 metres away. I pulled to boat to starboard instinctively, as rules of the road are that boats pass port to port. In fact to starboard might have been better in retrospect and he also had to take avoiding action and we missed by not much. Quite a fright!! Wooden fishing boats generally do not show up on the radar unless they are very close and even then it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them and general clutter.

That was the worst night, no others were nearly as bad.


All worked out more or less as planned. We would have been struggling without the radar, which made avoiding the big fast moving tanker and container ships much more certain and we were able to take early avoiding action, sometimes before we could even see them, so generally we passed without drama. Only two came much closer than intended and the most difficult one are those that come from behind. In fact because of this, we shall not mount the new radar on the mast but on the solar panel supports, where we shall have an all round view.

The other notable event, or lack of, was that for the first time Cherry was not seasick at all, despite some very lumpy seas.

We made very good time to half way in 8 days with good following current and consistent winds from the SW monsoon. But then as we approached the straits between the north end of Sumatra and Nicobar Island we hit very lumpy and turbulent seas and for a time lost the following current, so slowed down to just over 60 miles a day for three days. The seas increased every night, starting as we had our regular sundowner and just before Cherry went inside to make supper! At times it felt as if the boat was being pounded to pieces by the seas and huge overfalls, caused by the  current hitting the outgoing tide , or something like that!  We had a number of extremely uncomfortable nights until one night when it became almost unbearable, we decided to go off course to try and get a smoother ride and found that by altering course about 10 or 20 degrees we could change the angle the seas were hitting us and reduce the noise and rolling slightly.

0060. Into the northern end of the Malacca Straights we speeded up for a couple of days, as the seas calmed and the current went with us and we made plans to arrive on Sunday, when the club would be busy. However it was not to be as as the straits narrowed, so we lost the current and were affected by the tides. For the last three days we crawled at only 2 kts, 50 miles a day, using 50% more fuel as well and ate into our contingency fuel. So dared not speed up by using both engines, so arrived early Monday, 18 days, so over all a very good crossing but hope we never have to motor like this ever again!!  Sailing is much more fun.

PORT KLANG: We are now at the Royal Selangor Yacht Club, very posh!!, lovely freindly members, but NOT geared to cruisers.  No Laundromat, very expensive restaurant and a long walk into town to find facilities.  The good news is that we can get the mast delivered here and all repairs can be effected.  It looks as if we will be here for about 6 weeks in all, so will use this as a base for some land travel, as the train station is close to the club.


  1. Have just arrived back from Capetown with Alice and Nathan, celebrating A’s 16th birthday, and saw Mel and Ron who were very interested in your news. Saw Tish as well, staying with Mel while she undergoes Chemo. What adventures you are having…hope all end as well as these seem to. Lots of rain and cold over the last few days, but hoping for a warm weekend to go to beach with the family. Today is Tony’s b’day and we join them for a prawn braai tonight. All is well with us and we look forward to the next news. Much love.

  2. You give me the heebs, thinking of you and the tankers!! We are well. The specialist is happy with Roy’s healing. We now just have to wait for his muscles to realise that they still have to work as he won’t be wearing a corset all the time. Tomorrow we leave on our travels. We are going to C.T. via Kruger and back home via Golden Gate!! That’s some round trip, but we will be taking 6 weeks to do it, staying with friends or in time share. I probably won’t be able to log on to your blog until we get to Kerry’s but look forward to catching up there.
    Watch out for the typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis. Will keep praying for your safety, and lots of love

  3. Hi Cherry and Alec, good heavens, what adventures you two are having! I so love reading your updates! You give me inspiration! Lots of love Ellen xxxx

  4. Alec, Tried to Email you on your hotmail address but it came back. How can I contact you??
    Regards Jim

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