Passage to Andaman Islands, March 1-3

None of the five of us had ever sailed a multiday (and multi-night!) open-ocean passage before. We were certainly filled with anticipation when we pulled anchor in the late afternoon on February 29, set a GPS waypoint for Port Blair, the capital of India's Andaman Islands 343 miles away, and followed the GPS's arrow into the blue yonder.

GPS was only one of several navigation methods. We also used the paper charts we'd acquired in the nick of time before leaving home; in Phuket we bought electronic charts and loaded them onto a laptop; and of course there's navigating by the stars. Each method -- perhaps excepting the stars -- has its uses in different situations, but since there were no obstacles for the first 300 miles
(non-moving ones, anyway), we relied primarily on the GPS.

Our biggest problem on the passage, by far, was light winds. One might assume that light winds are preferable to fighting a gale, but after hours of bobbing in the middle of the ocean, barely moving, one does tend to develop a strange craving for howling winds and a heaving boat. Of course the ideal weather is somewhere in between these extremes, and we weren't entirely deprived. Picture us relaxing on the large deck in the front of the boat as the dual hulls slice through the water, enjoying a pleasant breeze, endless ocean and blue sky in all directions, and periodic visits from bow-riding dolphins (photo 2). It's not a fairy tale -- it really was just like that sometimes. Night watches (photo 3) had their charms as well, especially under a bright moon and steady winds. But for some fraction of the time we did fret about how slowly we were moving, and we used the engines occasionally although we were constrained by the size of the fuel tanks.

Our original hope was to make it to Port Blair (the obligatory yacht entry point for the Andaman Islands) in about 60 hours, arriving the morning of March 3. The first spell of light winds struck soon after we set off, and it didn't take long for us to realize there was little hope of sticking with our schedule. One night we traveled a grand total of seven miles! (Strong winds came up in the morning and we doubled our distance in less than an hour.) In the end it took us 84 hours, arriving very early morning on March 4. To be fair, that time includes a stop of a few hours at Invisible Bank, a submerged reef about 45 miles before Port Blair, where we enjoyed some snorkeling, a scuba dive, and the novelty of being anchored for a short while.

It wasn't as difficult to entertain ourselves as one might imagine. First, there were the idyllic periods just enjoying the wind and sea, alternately reading a book and dozing (photo 4), keeping half an eye on the horizon for other boats. (We saw a grand total of four other boats during the passage, all within the first day and a half, plus one airplane close to Port Blair.) Then there were the tempting progress calculations based on boat speed and distance-to-go; Alex specialized in these.

We also adjusted the sails ("wing-and-wing" in photo 1, for you sailors out there), changed course slightly now and again, and caught three fish, all of which got away. We watched a couple of movies, played games, did schoolwork (photo 5), took photos (photo 6), cooked meals and had snacks (photo 7), cleaned up (photo 8), did small boat repairs (photo 9), talked, made podcasts, made birthday presents (two birthdays are coming right up), and wrote travelogs. Jean-Claude taught the rest of us quite a bit about napping, and about simply relaxing and doing nothing -- not something our family is especially good at, but very appropriate on a long passage. (At some point we had a revelation that, as a serious mountaineer, Jean-Claude is actually much more experienced than the rest of us with adventures that require patience measured in days.)

We didn't keep specific watches during the day, but we had a schedule every night. The kids put in some time in the evening and early morning, while the adults handled the rest: We'd spend some of the time on watch alone, and some with another adult, permitting each of the three of us to sleep somewhat more than we were awake. Combined with the aforementioned naps during the day, it worked well.

Weather and seasickness are always concerns on a boat, and particularly so on an open-ocean passage. We're pleased to report that we had no vomiting. Some of us felt a little queasy in the first couple of days during periods when the seas were at their biggest, but the seas were never that big, and by the third day every one of us felt great. Weather varied from sunny to cloudy, with one significant rainstorm (photo 10), but no weather was of serious concern.

When we rented a camper in South America, we wrote about the three main considerations: size, layout, and systems. One can say pretty much the same thing about a boat, with systems also including sails & rigging, or more specifically, how well the boat sails. ("Well" is measured roughly in how fast a boat moves for a given wind speed, and how closely it can sail into the wind. Boats vary in these measures considerably.)

Cyrene is billed as a "performance cruising" catamaran, meaning she sails well but is still comfortable for living. We concur -- she's a terrific boat. It turned out to be surprisingly easy to completely store away (and retrieve) our massive provisions, and even with five people there's plenty of room for sleeping (3½ cabins), cooking (full galley), hanging out (large salon, spacious cockpit, and huge deck area), and dealing with necessities (two bathrooms and two showers, when everything is working). There's no comparison with a camper really -- the boat is many times larger and a much, much more comfortable vessel in which to spend time. On the other hand, in a camper one can stop and get out, not always a quick operation on a boat even when not on a long passage.

Emily is creating an extensive podcast about the boat; stay tuned.

Next: Assuming immigration procedures go smoothly, we'll spend around 12 days sailing among the many islands of the Andamans, enjoying remote beaches, pristine rainforest, and reputedly excellent scuba diving.

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