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Galle, Sri Lanka update March 2006

By doina — last modified Mar 20, 2006 02:39 PM

Published: 2006-03-20 14:39:43
Countries: Sri Lanka

Galle, Sri Lanka, one year after the tsunami

My wife Ali and I recently visited Sri Lanka and had one of the most memorable visits of our entire trip. The country is incredibly beautiful and the people there were the best we've encountered anywhere else in the world. We met a lot of other cruisers there that didn't share our sentiments about the place, but we encourage everyone to go and form their own opinion. If you confine yourself to Galle Harbour and only associate with shipping agents and their pre-packaged tours it could be very easy not to like the place, but get outside of that and you will find a lot of great places and friendly people. Here is a quick recap of our three week stay.

Galle Harbour is up and running. Upon arrival you will be met by a small Navy runabout if you try to enter the harbour without first contacting an agent. We used the Don Windsor Agency who can be reached on channel 69. I believe another agent stands by on 70. Contact them when you get close and they will get in touch with the necessary people and will have the Navy send two men out to board your boat. They will have a quick peak inside the boat and then instruct you on where to dock.

There is one floating dock at the moment, capable of handling about a dozen boats Med moored with plenty of depth even close to the breakwall. The dock does not have any facilities. If there are too many boats they will tie up boats to a pier which is closer to the main road, but busier, and boats will have to raft up.

Your agent will meet you at the dock, and once tied up will take you to his office which is at the entrance to the harbour area about a half a mile walk away. The agents fee is $50, port dues are $100, and customs fee is $20, all payable to the agent in US dollars only. Only one set of papers will be needed and after filling out some paperwork and taking your passports to Immigration for an entry stamp you will go to Customs. A quick form there and then back to the boat to wait for the Customs officers to board your boat. This is a thinly veiled bribery attempt. They will carry an empty briefcase onboard and ask to see your liquor cabinet, but nothing else. It's up to you if you give them anything or not. Either way they are pretty harmless. Now you're cleared in.

Clearing out is even easier. Tell your agent a day ahead of time and he will have your passports stamped and obtain your clearance papers for you. He will also arrange for the Navy to come to your boat the day you are leaving to officially clear you out. They will want a crew list and that's all.

The floating dock is a long hot walk from the main gates to the harbour and there are no tuk tuks allowed in. A couple of agents are allowed to drive in and they are the ones who you will use to fill diesel and deliver water or groceries. The harbour is a military area and there are armed lookouts stationed all over the place, which makes it a very safe area to leave the boat for inland touring. We had one minor problem with 3 Navy guys walking around the dock and stealing anything they could reach off of boats. We reported them to the Navy Lieutenant who quickly took action and there was no problem after that with anybody being near the dock who wasn't supposed to be.

Because of the political situation in Sri Lanka and the failure of the cease fire, they are once again conducting underwater explosions at night to thwart any attempts by the Tamil Tigers to scuba dive their way in, I guess. We never felt threatened in this area, but the explosions will make you jump every time as there is no warning and the sound through a fiberglass hull is pretty loud.

As for travel inland, we chose to take the trains everywhere and absolutely loved it. We met great people everywhere we went and a second-class ticket halfway across the country only cost about $2 US. A lot of cruisers chose to, or were pressured by their agents into, hiring a guide and driver. In our opinion it is completely unnecessary and really isolates you from the culture here. I won't go in to detail about our three weeks of traveling and enjoying the country, but if you'd like to read about it you can visit our website at and check out our Jan. and Feb. 2006 logs.

We hope everybody will feel free to visit Sri Lanka and will enjoy their time there as much as we did.

Pat and Ali Schulte