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A visit to the Andaman Islands March 2014: Very special and worth the trouble

By Colleen Wilson of S/V Mokisha — last modified Nov 10, 2015 02:47 PM

Published: 2014-04-13 23:00:00
Countries: India

A visit to the Andaman Islands March 2014: Very special and worth the trouble

North Cinque Island: © SY Mokisha

We left Ko Phayam, Thailand on Feb. 24, 2014 & headed Northwest to the Andaman Islands.  We are Tom & Colleen on a 38 ft. Catalina, Mokisha, based in Big Sur, Ca.

The intent is to update cruisers on any current changes in the Andaman’s and any impressions that might help others. We won’t go into specifics as the guides listed below have already done the footwork for what you need to prepare for.

Cruiser's Guides to the Andaman Islands

Tui Tai (2008) and Ocelot (2011) have both written excellent guides and are very accurate. Thank you both!  They are extremely helpful and you shouldn’t leave for the Andaman’s before reading them.  You can download your copies  @

- www.thestonhams.com (Tui Tai)

- http://svocelot.com/Cruise_Info/Indian/Andamans_Cruising.htm (Ocelot)

Ocelot’s guide is more current.  Their guide is also more specific on the amount of copies you need for each document. The number of copies doesn’t seem to have changed much, although we were ready in case the number had increased and were glad we did, as more copies were needed than suggestesd for.

Arrival in Port Blair

We had a glorious North, Northeast winds @ 10 to 15 knots the entire way & arrived in Port Blair around 2:30 pm after a 55-hour passage. We had made good time, even with a .2 to .8 current against us the first half of the passage.  We motored the first 20 miles until the winds became consistent.  We also saw a fair amount of shipping traffic headed for the Malacca Straits but after about 170 miles we never saw another vessel.

We called Port Blair radio at 7:30 am (on 8.294 MHz) and advised them of our arrival around 2 pm.  They asked the usual questions - but have your phonetic crib sheet available if you aren’t fluent on your alphabet for your name, home port, etc.  The radio controller advised us to call on Channel 16 once we were outside the harbor, which we did as we approached.   They then told us to anchor west of Chatham Island & report our coordinates once we anchored.

Checking In - Navy & Immigration

We anchored about 2:30 pm.  Around 4 pm we were convinced that we wouldn’t get checked in until the following day. A call from port control surprised us as they said the Navy was on its way.  A 30 ft. Navy boat pulled up along side of us with about 8-10 guys on board. 4 of them disembarked and the paper process began!  Thanks to the previous guides, we were 100% prepared.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to have plenty of copies on hand and have all your paperwork ready – it makes everything easy.

Our idea of having a ‘’Smorgasbord” on Mokisha turned out an excellent idea.  We laid copies out on our bench seat so that they were easily visible and the authorities loved it!  They picked up the required documents as needed.

One side note – we had made copies of our departure papers, just in case.  The Navy actually requested copies of our Thailand departure papers so make copies of your departure papers as well!

The process went smoothly & the guys were very professional and courteous.   There was a cameraman who actually took about 25 pictures of our equipment and the boat. They are still extremely interested if you have a depth sounder (we told them fish finder), or any type of bathymetric recording devices. They also quizzed us if we had a dive compressor and what diving equipment we did have.  The EPRIB was another hot topic, but in the end they wanted the serial number off the EPRIB so you might want to add that information to your inventory list.  Even though all our equipment was listed on the inventory list, they still wrote the equipment down on the inventory list by hand!  All in all they were onboard about 45 min.

Tom then took one guy back to the pier & picked up two immigration people.  Again, they loved the ‘’Smorgasboard” of paperwork.  As Ocelot suggested, have a boat stamp & have everything stamped.  In addition we have an embosser & gold foil stickers.  We put these on our crew list…..I think we became golden after immigration saw those!  They absolutely loved the gold embossed stickers & talked animatedly about them!  Once formalities were completed (about ½ hr) Tom took them back to the pier.

By then it was 6pm so Port Blair Radio said Customs would be by first thing the morning.  Time for happy hour!

Checking In Day Two - Customs

The next day the real drama began to unfold.  Customs FINALLY arrived at 11:30 am!

Immediately, one of the guys had a bit of an attitude and chewed us out because Port Control had sent out Immigration before Customs.  Of course Immigration stamped us in & told us we could go ashore for dinner if we wanted to.  He was not a happy camper about that.  We both looked at each other with wide eyes and apologized profusely. Then they began looking at our paperwork.  The mega SNAFU began to unfold.  When we left Phuket, we really didn’t look at our paperwork but the officials there were quite sloppy in filling out the paperwork and Andaman Customs weren’t at all accepting with that.

We had an “Outward Clearance” and a “General Declaration”, both stated prior port of call and next port of call, even though the outward clearance hadn’t been completely filled out.  They then told us we needed a “Port Clearance” as well.  We didn’t have it.  They were quite upset.  We kept telling them that this is what Phuket Customs gave us.  We also had our receipts for port fees and of course our passports stamped. Both clearance documents were dated & stamped.

Another contention was that we took 2 weeks from Thailand to the Andaman’s.  We explained that we checked out of Phuket because that was the only place to check out of and we came up the coast of Thailand so that we could have a good sailing angle to the Andaman’s.  We showed them that it took us three weeks when we left Langkowi, Malaysia to Phuket and it was common practice in Thailand. They weren’t happy about that either.

They then told us to come to their office in two hours with a written statement that we did not receive a Port Clearance from Phuket.

Two hours later we showed up at their office and we spent the next 3 hours with Customs. In an effort not to make this saga a book, here’s the condensed version.  There were many animated conversations in Indian, some shouting, head wagging and a lot of interrogation questions. They told us it was possible we would have to leave and return to Thailand.  They finally granted us our paperwork after Tom wrote a lengthy letter stating what type of work he used to do, how many kids & grandkids he had, how long we had been sailing, why we took two weeks to arrive in the Anadaman’s, what happened in Phuket and that we weren’t terrorists but honest, hard working people who would never be dishonest with authorities……..think our heads weren’t doing the Indian wobble yet?  Forget the other statement we arrived with, that wasn’t even close to what they had in mind.  They faxed the letter to Calcutta.  In the end, Calcutta told them, we were tourists and to go ahead and grant us our stay.  Bureaucracy at it’s best!

**So lesson number one – look at your paperwork before seeing Customs and have lots and lots of patience.  I don’t think we’ll ever leave another Custom’s office without questioning our paperwork ever again!

Checking In - Port Captain

We still had an hour left before the Port Captain’s office closed so we took our precious papers and beat if over to the Port Captain.  Thankfully, he was happy with our itinerary & only made one change to it.  Ross Island is no longer allowed.  Still we were there about an hour. Whew, what a day but we were now checked in and ready to start cruising the Andaman’s.

Would we do it all over again??

In a heartbeat!  The Andaman Islands are very special & worth the trouble. They are beautiful, incredible deserted beaches, fantastic diving and wonderful sailing…….just keep you humor in your back pocket and remember, patience, patience, patience!

Other highlights, Updates and Comments

-         You still need to call in twice a day as requested by the port captain.  Although propagation was typically awful in the afternoon, we rarely made the afternoon call. It seems this is mainly a safety issue. They aren’t picking on cruisers, all vessels within Andaman waters has to call in.  We checked in about 50-60% of the time. It was never an issue when we checked out.

-         When checking out, you no longer need to go back to the Port Captain’s office after Immigration. You just let Port Blair Radio know you are leaving.

-         When checking out, the 3 offices have gotten together and it no longer takes several hours to get your approval to leave from Port Control. When leaving, give them your number on your port clearance. They got back to us 5 minutes later & we were granted permission to leave. If leaving 1st thing in the morning, Immigration will come to the jetty around 5-6pm & stamp you out.

-         Visa Info – Emotion Travel in the heart of Phuket Town can do your visas.  The cost is based on country of residence. You have to submit your passports and it takes 10 days as passports are sent to Bangkok.  They were really great and professional

Emotion Travel (Thailand) Co.

104 Rassada Road

Muang, Phuket 83000 Thailand

Tel: 66 (076)222320

Person I dealt with: Bunyalak Mora – Cell: 089-7243162

Email: emotiontravel@hotmail.com

Port Blair Information & Updates

-         Biggest, newest market is Mubarak Hyper market – tonic water, diet coke, beer, and groceries. A decent selection of food.

-         Chatham Mill - worth a visit to the museum & mill.  An easy walk from the dingy dock – turn left, walk over the bridge to the end of the street before it turns left.  There’s a big fence/gate & a ticket counter.  I’ve never been in a mill before, so watching trees being milled was pretty cool! - 10 R

-         Cellular Jail & Anthropological Museum – both a couple of hours worth of insightful history on British rule & Andaman history. 10 or 20 R

-         ANIIDCO Wine & Liquor Store, all tax free. There’s a limit at how much you can buy at one time. Apparently you can buy every day or even a few hours apart. (4) bottles of  wine & (2) bottles of alcohol per person.  Wine is cheap about $3-5 U.S. a bottle. It’s from India and it’s not bad. They even had Champagne. All regular brands of liquor.  2 locations that we know of. The newer one is opposite Unumod Bakery, the other near the veggie market. All tuk-tuk drivers know where they are.

-         Ravi isn’t around anymore but there are always a couple of taxis around. $200 R an hour.  They are good at knowing where everything is. Tuk-tuk is about 50 to 100 R to downtown

-         Best place we ate at in town was the Sun Sea Resort directly across from Customs on Haddoc Hill.  Great food, AC, bar (Purple Bar) and cold beer! The New Lighthouse Restaurant was ok & they too have beer & wine. Gangan Restaurant downtown is good and cheap. No beer or wine. It’s on the main drag.

-         Diesel is about 80 cents (U.S.) a liter. Prices are regulated. We found fuel at Port Blair, Havelock & Neil islands.

Havelock Island Information & Updates

-         There’s now 2 ATM machines, right next to each other in village #3

-         Next to the ATM machines is the only liquor/wine store on the island – same as Port Blair, limit to how much you can buy.

-         B3 Barefoot Bar & Basserie in right on the waterfront. Great food – especially the pizza.  Even though a restaurant has “Bar” in it’s name, that doesn’t mean they actually sell alcohol.  In this case, Barefoot does not.

-         Restaurants that do have a bars are Symphony Palms, Wild Orchid and Island Vinnie’s.  There’s also a local bar about 200 mtrs past Barefoot on the waterfront.

-         Take your paperwork in with you the first time – we were asked for ours & they added our information to a book at the main gate for the ferry terminal.

Diving, Snorkeling and Fishing

-         We were quite disappointed in the snorkeling. The coral is still bleached & many anchorages or snorkeling areas lacked fish life. Clarity is good though.  Other places had lots of fish life.

-         Our two best snorkeling places were – Sir Hugh Rose Island and the south side of North Cinque Island.

-         Diving on the other hand was spectacular! We went with Barefoot Divers. They are professional and a great bunch of people.  $5,000 R for two dives, then a sliding scale discount for additional dives. 10% discount if you have your own equipment. We did a total of 5 days with them.  Dixon’s Pinnacles was our favorite although there were many more sites we didn’t dive. The coral was fantastic, visibility 100 ft+ and incredible amounts of fish life. We dove only the deeper sites around Havelock but apparently the shallower dives have the fish life but not the coral. Barefoot is also the only dive shop that goes to Barren Island.  We met them there & did 3 dives with them.  The diving there is a must – giant Mantas, black volcanic background and a kaleidoscope of vivid colors, both coral & fish life. Visibility 100 ft +++.   Barren Island is in our top best 5 dive spots in the world. Don’t miss Barren if you go!

-         I figure I’m a pretty good fisherman but I only caught one Wahoo the entire time we were there. I kept changing lures every day and I have about 15 lures.  The one that finally worked was a blue & orange squid looking lure & I added a shiny foil tail to it.  I hope you have better luck than I!

Coordinates for other Anchorages

-         We found other anchorages besides what’s already been published and wanted to share them.

-         11 56.2 N, 92 59.4 E  - West side of Havelock, Golug Bay – much better than SW Havelock anchorage. A big sandy bay ringed with reef along the shore. We anchored in 20 ft. of sand.  Protected from the N to SE. There’s an estuary that feeds into bay. We took the dingy around the reef & started up it, but the tide was on the low side so we decided not to go any further.

-         12 07.0 N, 93 00.9 E - West side of Henry Lawrence Island.  18 ft. in sand. Very protected from all directions. We took the depth sounder & checked the area between the reefs & it’s possible to go thru the reefs into the bay.  We also took the dingy up the estuary and some of it’s tributary’s.  It goes up the river for about a mile.  Pretty and scenic – a nice dingy ride!

-          12 16.1 N, 93 50.9 E - Barren Island – 20 ft in black sand and lava rock. Not the greatest anchorage but it was settled conditions & we were there only one night.  Barefoot Divers say the east side is a much better anchorage.

-         11 46.6 N, 93 04.5 E - Sir Hugh Rose Island.  18 ft in sand. The water is so clear you can see the reef easily.  This anchorage is not protected but we were there in settled conditions. A gentle south swell came in but it was comfortable. We also sounded the north side with the handheld depth sounder. The south swell disappears on this side. The depth sounder showed about 30 ft. in sand.  Just north & a little west of the light house looked like a good spot.  We snorkeled the west side and some of the north side.  Visibility 100ft+. Lots of stratus ledges, canyons and fish life. One of the best spots we’ve found.

-         11 50.5 N 93 02.2 E - North side of Neil Island.  20 ft in sand & protected. Clear water & easy to see the reef.  We were surprised to find that 7,000 people live on Neil. We got petrol there for the outboard. There are stores and a veggie market. A few restaurants and resorts. 2 dive centers but we didn’t dive.  India Divers are just getting started & weren’t quite equipped yet. Scuba Explorers were getting an inspection & were closed. Take your paperwork in! The police were very serious and scrutinized all our paperwork & passports. They even called Port Blair to check us out.  They also made us go get copies of our “Restricted Area Permit”.  They also wanted copies of our passports and visas.  The tourist trade is certainly growing on Neil Island. The locals are friendly and helpful.  The tuk-tuk driver told us they should be getting an ATM within a year.

-         We sailed to Sister’s & Passage and found neither of those anchorages acceptable. Sister’s had a lot of bombies & sand patches but the swell was coming into the anchorage. A Cat could get into the west side but it was two shallow for us.  Passage Island, the depth was around 90 ft and no beaches so we skipped Passage as well.

We hope the additional information helps – enjoy the Andaman Islands!

I’ve posted this on our blog along with pictures.

http://www.sailblogs.com/member/mokisha

I also added Barefoot Diver’s brochure as they have maps for Port Blair & Havelock which are helpful.

Colleen Wilson
S/V Mokisha

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