The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Sat 28 Jan 2017 02:25



11:41N   092:42E


24 January 2017 Nai Harn Bay to Port Blair, Andaman Islands (Day 4)

At dawn, we were five miles from the Port Blair entrance, so I contacted Port Control on VHF 16 and they gave us permission to enter.  By 07:00, we were anchored at 11°41.08N 092°42.58E in 12 metres depth.  We made good time, sailing 417 miles in 65 hours, which is an average of 6.4 knots - helped by a ½ - 1 knot current all the way.  I’m also pleased that we only used the engine for one hour, which is a welcome change.


I reported our anchorage position to Port Control and then the waiting to clear in started.  In anticipation, I laid out all my multiple copies of paperwork on the saloon table and connected our printer in case more documents were required.  I also disconnected our satellite phone and stowed it away in a plastic box with a snap-on lid.  The Indians are very sensitive about satellite phones because a couple of years ago they had a terrorist attack (involving a sailing yacht) which was coordinated by satellite phones.


I gave Port Control another call at 0930 - apparently the Coast Guard will be coming.  A couple of hours later, I called again and they said that Immigration would be coming first.  Just before lunch, we heard that Immigration were arranging a boat to come out to us, but the first to arrive (a couple of hours later) were the Coast Guard, accompanied by a guy from the Harbour Master (I think).  They brought their 40 foot launch alongside and five guys in big shiny boots stepped aboard.  The officer in charge was very courteous and spoke excellent English. 


We all started in the cockpit with the officer asking various questions and filling in a form.  I popped down below to get copies of some documents for him and that seemed to be the signal for everyone to pile down into the saloon.  It then degenerated into chaos with two guys opening cupboards and photographing things, with Glenys trying to control them.


The other three then started to fire questions off at me “What was our MMSI number?”; “What’s under the floor boards?” and “What’s a Solar Booster?”  The last one threw me until I realised that the guy had found our solar panel charging unit in one of the lockers.


They were interested in our navigation and communications equipment.  They’re very sensitive about sonar and echo sounders, but I managed to fob them off by saying we have a depth gauge.  The satellite phone caused a little bit of stress, but they accepted that I’d disconnected it and stowed it away.  I promised not to use it.


One of the guys quizzed me about our fuel tanks and how much fuel we had.  I told him that we had 440 litres capacity and 400 litres of fuel.  He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that we’d only used 40 litres of diesel coming all the way from Thailand.  The officer explained that we were a sailing vessel, which didn’t use the engine much.  He didn’t seem very convinced, but let it pass.


After a fun hour, they’d acquired enough information and copies of paperwork, so they had us pose for a group photo and left.  We printed out some more copies of paperwork and waited for Customs and Immigration.


By this time, it was three o’clock in the afternoon and we didn’t have much hope of getting anyone else out to the boat.  However, I’m not one to give up, so I informed Port Control that we were finished with the Coast Guard and were now waiting for Immigration and Customs.  Port Control said that they would contact them and find out when they were coming out. 


I’d heard nothing back after fifteen minutes, so I called them back and was told that customs would be coming out today.  Twenty minutes later, Port Control called me and told me that Customs were waiting on the dock - you could have knocked me over with a feather...  I zipped over in the dinghy and found two Immigration Officers on the dock.  Mildly confused, I took them back to Alba and we started to fill in their various forms. 


Half way through the process, one of the Immigration officers received a phone call saying that Customs were waiting for me on the dock, so I left Glenys filling in the forms and headed back to pick them up.  We then had four guys on board.  We finished with Immigration and Glenys took them over to another boat, while I handled the customs guys.


I was very nervous, having read about major hassles with one of the customs officers, but they were really nice and there was no hint of bribes.  They went through my inventory and my little ruse of writing down 12 bxs of wine rather than 40 litres seemed to work so, with a little additional distraction, they were soon stamping our inventory.


We had a little hiccup with the satellite phone, but they liked that I’d already disconnected it and put it in a separate box.  They used a piece of printer paper and sellotape to seal the satellite box and the job was done.  All cleared in within one day and no fees - it’s a miracle.


After dropping Customs and Immigration back on the dock, we collapsed with a cold beer and, needing to catch up on sleep, we retired early.