The Indian Ocean: The Last Lap:25 - 30 Sept.

david and margaret ritchie
Sun 1 Oct 2006 05:46
After the fast smooth first half of this section, we were hoping for more of the same. But no, good times have always to be paid for, and we paid in full.
To begin with, the wind died a bit and the swell became more irregular and lumpy. Next, we had a couple of really bad nights with strong, wet squalls. After 90degrees east, we started heading north to round Sumatra, and things just got worse.We both had sleepless days and nights due to the weather and our speed dropped. As we approached the tip of Sumatra, a cyclonic system was building to the north in the Bay of Bengal, and this was giving us strong south westerly winds and building up big seas. As luck would have it, we had to round Sumatra at night, and decided to take the offshore route rather than try to negotiate the shallows and rocks on the inside route. What a mistake that was! We had two nights and a day of dreadful conditions, with 35 knot plus winds continuously and also very disturbed seas regularly breaking over us. The inner route would have given us a lee earlier and the terrible conditions would not have lasted so long. On our chosen route, we passed a steel trawler, about 60 feet long, just stopped in the water, with his stern and propeller rising clear of the water and his bow ploughing into the waves, unable to make any headway. As we passed, he changed course to try to make progress but could do nothing against the nature of the sea.
At last however, we rounded into the Andaman Sea, where the waves miraculously smoothed away and the sun came out. Our first evening was magical; we saw what appeared to be tide in the water but as we approached, we realised it was whales of all sizes spouting. Most of them were lazing about on the surface and there were so many they seemed to fill the entire sea. The largest were about 15 metres long, longer than our boat, and they looked very black and angular. We were not sure whether to be totally mesmerised by the experience or terrified in case of attack but we passed by without incident, and that first night was clear, warm and without squalls. The sky was lit up by lightning,and we could see for miles around. That however was the good bit and thereafter day and night we were constantly subjected to squalls, rain and lightning until we arrived at Langkawi.
Our arrival at Langkawi was another of those magical times. The sky cleared, we saw yachts sailing for the first time since leaving Turkey and the anchorage was big, with plenty room for us to drop our hook.The holding was excellent,and the surrounding hills and islands were out of a holiday brochure.
We could not believe we had arrived; only 2 months and 2 days since leaving Turkey; almost 6000 miles travelled; no problems with the yacht; we were still speaking to each other and we had sailed through conditions we had never imagined possible.