After a three day, three night trip from Phuket in Thailand we were thrilled to have finally anchored in Mangrove Bay in Port Blair on the Andaman Islands.
Having heard that it can take up to three days to clear, we were prepared for a long wait for Customs, Immigration and the Coastguard to come on board and process us. In the event the Coastguard arrived before we had finished cleaning up all the mess created while we had been at sea.
Fortunately we had been warned by our fellow yachties (who had checked in a couple of weeks earlier) that the tyres the Coastguards had down the side of their vessel to fend off left big black marks all down the side of your boat. As we are AWB (another white boat!) the marks would be particularly obvious so we put our own fenders out before they arrived.
Three coastguards arrived, one extremely tall handsome man in a white uniform, his young assistant who had a great sense of humour and another guy who spent a lot of time taking photos of the interior of our boat while we completed the many forms.
Even though we had filled them out on the computer previously it all had to be gone through and signed and stamped with our boat stamp – all in triplicate of course.
It was all very jovial and good natured and they were very welcoming and interested to hear about our visit to India earlier in the year.
After just over an hour they were ready to leave and we were then asked to go and collect the Customs guys from the jetty but before we could say Bali Hai, the skipper from Quintessa and the skipper of Beach House had organised the pick up.
The two Customs guys and our agent Rathnam came aboard and again, we had an interesting conversation while answering questions and completing more piles of paperwork. It took about an hour to finish up but that was partly our fault for asking lots of questions!
Rathnam turned out to be a really capable agent and a great ambassador for the Andaman Islands. He couldn’t do enough for us and had a lot of clout too. When he received a call from the Immigration people that they wouldn’t be coming to our boat until after lunch he quickly persuaded them to come and see us before knocking off.
We loaded the two Customs chaps into our dinghy but the harbour was a bit choppy that morning and we were concerned they would get their uniforms wet. But The skipper of Beach House was there in a flash and there was a mid-harbour exchange into Beach House’s much larger and higher sided tender.
Finally, we saw three Immigration officers who again, required a lot of paperwork but were very pleasant. Unfortunately Smart Choice had to wait until after lunch to complete this final part of the clearing in process.
However, by 2pm Yantara and Bali Hai were ready to go ashore, the whole process having taken just over three hours – much better than the three days that it has been known to take! We were throughly relieved and extremely glad that we had employed Rathnam who made the process seamless.
Soon after, we took our dinghy into the nearby jetty where we found the now famous dinghy attendant, Ooma, who looks after every craft with the greatest respect.
After helping us climb out into the jetty steps he sent our dinghies out from the jetty on a pulley line. When we came back he clambered over a couple of boats and other dinghies and retrieved our tender, remembering which one belonged to which people! Well worth the 200 rupees (just under Aus$4) a day that he charges, especially when you realise that there would be many days even at the height of the season, when there are no yachts in the Harbour and he would have no customers .
Rathnam had organised a car and driver to pick us up – and what a car it was!! An old Ambassador of around 1940/1950s vintage- similar to the government cars you see buzzing around in New Delhi.
Our driver Vijay took us to the ATM – but after queuing up for about ten minutes the money ran out just before it was our turn! We learnt later that bank employees from all the banks had been on strike that day which explained the dearth of bank notes.
Rathnam recommended a great little vegetarian restaurant called Annapurna. We ordered thali – a complete lunch served on a stainless steel plate with small bowls of different curries- one a dhal, a couple of different vegetable curries, bread, rice, curd and mine even had a sort of lemon curd dessert.
After going into Rathnam’s office to collect our phone SIM cards and send messages to family to say we had arrived safely, (using Rathnam’s wifi) we went back to Bali Hai to rest until the evening when all the boats in the harbour (Shakti, Quintessa, Beach House, Paseafique, Smart Choice, Yantara, Liberte and Bali Hai) were meeting for dinner. All these boats except for Liberte we first met in the Sail2Indonesia rally!
We met on the jetty thinking we might catch taxis or a fleet of tuk tuks but in the event a bus stopped just as we had walked the few metres to the road so eight or ten of us piled in – much to the bemusement of the locals. Some of the young men courteously gave up their seats, others wanted to know where we were from. Some of the ladies giggled because I sat on the man’s side!
It was a noisy, but fun ride into town and we enjoyed the colour and buzz in the bus and out on the streets we drove through.
Having had little sleep over the passed three nights the meal was a bit of a blur but it was really great to catch up with everyone again.
What I do remember well was the tuk tuk drive back to the jetty when each of the drivers decided they would be the first back. The result being a hair raising and hilarious ride through the back doubles of Port Blair!
Want to know what the bureaucracy was like in the Andamans? Go to:
Read from the start of our four week adventure in India’s beautiful and fascinating Andaman Islands: