Cochin, India.

Southern india.

After Karen’s arrival from Melbourne, she and Michelle left by train the following day to Varkala, 4 hours south of Cochin, to go surfing. Three days later they took the train to Alappuzha, in the “Backwater” area to spend two days exploring these waterways. Annie and I in the meantime, took the bus from Cochin for a 5-hour trip into the mountains to Munnar. The young driver of the bus, has aspirations to join the formula one circuit and managed to turn our already grey hair, white. Traffic on these narrow roads is chaotic and we had many near misses with trucks, cars, cattle and pedestrians. He had three rules: overtake on blind bends in the road; avoid eye contact with any other road users and blow the horn for 50 minutes of every hour. I think horns and hooters on vehicles here are replaced once a month, when they are worn out.

“CH–ST” ….  The bus nearly ran me over!

After a recovery nap in our B&B room, we set of to find a calming beer, white or red wine. We spent two hours and walked about 5 km’s before we found a government hotel, where we could order a beer and dinner. Evidently, alcohol is government controlled. After a Tuk-Tuk ride back to the B&B we had an early night. The temperature difference between Cochin and the mountains was substantial, so we had to buy sweaters to add to the jumpers, we had brought along.

Mr Blossom Dinesh Munnar

At 9 am the following morning Mr Blossom Dinesh Munnar our guide and us, set off on a 12 km hike up the mountains. The route took us through beautiful tea plantations, up to forested areas, before cresting in grasslands at the summit of the mountain we were climbing. Far below, we could see the town we set out from, before taking a different route to descend, back to town. Opposite us, we could see the highest mountain in southern India. We also took a Tuk-Tuk out of town to visit an herb and spice producing farm. We had a most informative tour of the farm with the owner, before buying some of their spices.

Starting fresh at the foot of the mountains.

Climbing higher through the tea plantations.

And higher – taking a breather.

At the top.

The view down to Munnar town, below right. Anamudi mountain, above left.

Winding our way down to Munnar.

Tuk-Tuk trip to the spice and herb farm.

Arriving at Green Valley farm.

Our guide and Annie.

I can’t believe these are figs!

Crucifix flowers.

The trip back to Cochin by bus, was again white knuckle stuff, which required two stiff shots of calming whisky when we got back to the boat the following evening. The next day we took delivery of 200 litres of fresh water for the front tank, as the town water on the marina jetty is only good for washing and showering. The rear tank is used for the town water, but we cannot use our water maker as the water we are in, is a Petri dish of contaminants. I also updated our GPS charts for the Red Sea, whilst we had good internet reception at the Bolgatty Palace Marina.

The girls returned from their travels the following day, very happy with the trains and their experience, despite the lack of good waves to surf down south. I did a run with Mr Nazar to the government liquor store to purchase beer. This store was specifically for tourists, even though it resembled a prison, with limited stocks of beer, wine and spirits. At this store, tourists can buy unlimited quantities of booze, unlike the stores for Indians with queues outside, where they can only buy 6 x 500ml cans of beer a day. I walked out with 4 cases of beer – 96 x 500ml cans at 100 rupees/can, which equates to less than AU$2/can.


Little surf.

Three of the yachts in the marina had left for the Red Sea run and in their place arrived “Soul” a NZ cat and our old friends the Rigney’s from California on “Kandu”. We have established a large sailing group with satphone and SSB comms, to exchange daily reports on our progress. We are leaving in batches of yachts with similar speed potential and 44ft Esprit will team up with a Beneteau 44 “Elas” from Switzerland and a Jeanneau 45 “Balickil” from Turkey. We will give them a 36-hour head start to rendezvous about 1,000 nm from Cochin, before entering the shipping corridor south of Yemen.

We are all registered with UKMTO (United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations) and MSCHOA (The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa). Travelling through the HRA (High Risk Area) in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia (potential pirates) and Yemen (war), through to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait before entering the Red Sea. These organisations co-ordinate the coalition naval vessels patrolling the HRA. Wish us luck!

Passage to Bab-el-Mandeb, into the Red Sea.

Michelle and a friend from Sydney set off on Friday to Munnar, to climb Anamudi, southern India’s highest mountain, over the weekend. I did final maintenance on the boat and spent the warmest parts of the day at the hotel pool, while Annie and Karen visited the markets for fresh produce and finally the “Lulu” shopping mall for provisions.

Going up.

And up.



On the Sunday before we departed, Mr Nazar insisted that we join his family at home for lunch, so we took the ferry across to Fort Cochin where his family lives.

Waiting for the ferry at Fort Vypin.

The ferries are packed on a Sunday.

Lunch with Mr Nazar’s house – Grandma at the back.

Mr Nazar’s pride – his, and his son’s Tuk-Tuks. A far cry from Sydney’s BMW’s and Merc’s.

After lunch, we explored the Fort Cochin area where Vasco da Gama landed in the late 1400’s. The state of Kerala has the highest percentage of Christians, with churches everywhere. Followed by the Hindu religion and then the Muslims – all living in harmony.

Santa Cruz cathedral – first church built in 1505. Named cathedral 1558. This cathedral blessed in 1905.

A more modern Catholic church.

The Fort Cochin area was first settled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British. It has some grand homes dating back to the colonial times.

Councilor Shiny Mathew’s abode really shines.

Around the corner, the overhead cables hang low and is an obstruction for pedestrians – “No worries”

After the long walk, we needed a drink. This little cafe poured us cold Kingfisher beers in coffee mugs, because they were not licensed to sell alcohol. They also had a resident eagle.

Karen and feathered friend.

We were walking past the big fishing nets on the beach. I was intrigued with how they worked, so the chief fisherman showed us the process and enlisted our muscle power to lift the huge nets out of the water – aided by big rocks tied to the boom.

Fishing net contraption.

Father and daughter helping to pull the nets out of the water.

Finally, for you bike lovers, the second world war Royal Enfield motorbikes (Single cylinder, Twinspark) are still built in India, as are Jeeps by Mahindra. These range from the stock standard to the customized versions on the streets. See below:

The standard Classic 350cc version.

The Classic 500 cc version.

A customised 1969, 350cc Bullet version. (Harley-Davidson 1400cc ghetto blasters take note – these machines purr).

Mahindra Jeeps – still produced by the hundreds.

Stop Press: We have updated the “Follow Esprit” page with charts taken from our Open CPN navigation programme, to graphically show our progress. These will be updated with every post, to make it easier to follow the places mentioned in the text.

Cheers for now.



Phuket to India.

As reported in our previous post, we departed Langkawi in a hurry, as there were a number of deadlines ahead of us – much as we don’t like to rush! The shipwrights and service providers in Langkawi are mostly Australians and South Africans who have settled there and are very relaxed. They appear to think “you are retired, so you have a lot of time to waste”. Add to that the duty free aspect – gin, vodka and brandy at AUD7.50 per litre! Most locals and hard-core yachties are chilling in an alcoholic haze. The result was that we sailed back to Phuket ten days later than we had planned – cutting out a later visit to Sri Lanka enroute, to be in time to meet Karen in India, when she flies in from Australia.

Annie at a Langkawi shopping centre.

We did an overnight dash to Phuket to arrive at the Yacht Haven Marina in the north west of Phuket, just in time for Michelle’s arrival from Sydney. She arrived loaded with equipment for the yacht, a spare code zero sail, Aldi coffee capsules and meds for us. We managed to vittle the boat at Tesco and Makro, fill up with diesel (with additional containers on deck) and connected the additional 200A/h LifePo4 battery. The 2 x 265W Canadian solar panels and the 2 x 200A/h LifePo4 batteries are working a treat – I can monitor charging progress through an app on my iPhone. It shows the charging, absorption and float cycles.

Another 100 litres of diesel on deck. Total diesel load 500 litres.

iPhone screenshot.

Phuket: back in superyacht territory.

…and floating Chinese restaurant!

Yacht Haven marina’s most gross cat, behind a Leopard 39 cat.

Yacht Haven – view from the bar.

Father and daughter enjoying a drink.

Yacht Haven marina and Sevenstar laid on a fantastic party with free drinks and food for 150 yachties, the night before we left. We checked out with the harbour master, customs and immigration in Au Chalon, and set off in a fresh breeze from Phuket to India at midday on Saturday the 3rd of February 2018. The Predictwind ten-day forecast was for north easterlies of around 13-15 knots. It turned out to be easterlies, which meant we had to pole out the jib and run zig-zagging downwind. Esprit with her new clean bottom was like a young filly – we did 24 hour runs of 160 to 170nm, averaging 6.5 to 7 knots/h. Early on day 2 we passed Indira Point lighthouse on the southern tip of Great Nicobar island and Annie celebrated by catching a blue fin tuna.

Traditional music before the party.

Leaving Thailand behind.

New crew member Michelle.

Passing the lighthouse south of Great Nicobar island.

During the night of day 4, the long expected 15-18 knot north easterly kicked in and we could sail a rhumb line route, broad reaching to the southern tip of Sri Lanka where we passed the lighthouse at Galle on day 7. There was a 6-hour low wind period in the lee of the island, which we used to run the water maker to refill our aft tank – our 550l water supply had run out two hours earlier. Despite numerous reports to expect strong head winds on the leg from Sri Lanka to the south of the Indian peninsula, we caught the prevailing fresh north easterly again, about 25 miles offshore. This allowed us a romping tight reach across the Gulf of Mannar, between Sri Lanka and India – dodging numerous fishing boats enroute.

Sundowners sailing up the west coast of India.

No sooner had we made our Indian landfall at Cape Comorin at 5am on day 9, when we were intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard. The friendly commander asked for our boat and crew details on VHF channel 16 and welcomed us, checking if we had enough diesel, food and water to reach Cochin, before wishing us fair winds. We were expecting to motor the last 100 miles up the coast, but the wind fortunately turned north west to allow us a pleasant port reach up the west coast of the Indian peninsula to Cochin. At this point I should add that having Michelle on board for this crossing has made the experience really enjoyable. With Karen joining us later this week, the crossing of the Indian ocean to the Red Sea and beyond to Suez, should be a lot easier for us old codgers.

The new crew member even served us dinner.

Esprit at anchor off the Taj hotel.

We slowed down our speed approaching Cochin at midnight on day 9, to arrive at sunrise at the Cochin port entry, as there were numerous ships showing up at the entry area on our AIS. As we approached the leading marks at about 6:45 am, Cochin port control who had picked us up on AIS, called us on channel 16 to ask if we were entering port. Confirming this, we were told to enter and anchor off the Taj hotel, where a boat would meet us to start the entry paperwork. At 7:30 am the port manager and a guy from Immigration boarded Esprit with the necessary documentation. We were told to come ashore to their offices.

First Immigration – still fresh and all smiles.

… then Customs.

The British has left a legacy of official paperwork in India, that has no equal in the world. Six hours later, after visiting numerous buildings in the area, our entry was finalised by Customs, Immigration and the Port captain. We then proceeded to the Cochin “International” marina, where the berths are undersized and very shallow. The other yachties who we met over drinks later, told us we were very lucky to have finished checking in in 6 hours – most of them took 6 hours on the first day, with another 9 hours the next day! Possibly, we were lucky that our check in was on a public holiday, with only a skeleton staff at each department, thereby reducing the number of officials who wanted to shuffle the documents around.

Then breakfast at the Taj Hotel, while Customs shuffled our paperwork.

Finally, the Port Captain – what? we have to pay port dues?

Cochin is a revelation – chaotic traffic, unbelievable air and water pollution, with piles of rubbish around. Another source of pollution is the ear piercing Bollywood music emanating from the passing sight-seeing boats next to the marina. On the positive side, the Indian people are extremely friendly and willing to help. Confusing at first though, is their habit of shaking their heads from side to side, to confirm or agree with your conversation. We would of course nod our head up and down to confirm or agree.

Mr P.M. Nazar taking us to the Vodafone shop for our mobile SIM cards.

Downtown Cochin.

Ferry terminal in the city.

Ferry across the harbour to the marina.

Esprit on the right at our compact marina berth – almost touching the yacht behind us.

Interesting ferry – passengers are allowed to fly on the wing.

Our anchor and chain was again showing serious rusting, so we took the opportunity to have these re-galvanized at reasonable prices, while we are here for a fortnight. We will also stock up with provisions and replenish the diesel before we set off for the Red Sea crossing at the end of February. Karen will arrive on Saturday – she and Michelle plan to head south to do some surfing, while Annie and I will travel inland to do some sight-seeing. We will keep you posted on further developments. Cheers for now.