Monday, March 23, 2009

March 21, 2009 - North Button Island, Andamans, India

We departed Inglis early this morning, before the radio check-in with Port Blair. We only intended to go five miles and spend the day and night at Outram Island, snorkeling and maybe surfing. But once we were in the water at Outram, we realized how silty it was, possibly from the mangroves at either end of the reef. We spotted a turtle but the combination of impaired visibility and little stingers made snorkeling less fun. Sten watched the break for a few minutes, but the waves were too small to ride. With limited snorkeling and surfing potential, we couldn't see much reason to stick around, so we hoisted the dinghy and the anchor and headed west towards the southernmost of the Button Islands.

We arrived at South Button, which is known to divers as Swiftlet Rock, by mid-morning. From a distance we could see half a dozen daytrip boats out of Havelock dotted around the island. South Button is a small island, which rises straight up out of the deep. Even fairly close to it we had to anchor in 110 feet of water as we didn't dare put our heavy boat on the moorings to which the little dayboats were tied.

We wasted no time dropping the dinghy and having a look. The coral along the east coast of the island was absolutely gorgeous. Sten spotted two Napoleon Wrasse and a big banded sea snake. Although rationally we know they are harmless, we kept our distance anyway. There were also lots of little reef fish to check out, including several saddleback anemonefish, which is a dark red version of Nemo with a black circle on its back and a variety that we hadn't seen before as they are found primarily in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

We were both doing some fairly deep freediving, exploiting the increased range provided by our new weight belts. While checking out a small cave along the southern wall, Sten spotted a gigantic grouper. I dove down to check it out too. As I surfaced, I noticed some divers coming towards us from the western wall. I dove down again to see what they might be coming to look at. After I surfaced, Sten went down and hung out with them a while. He was down there so long that one of the divers offered him a hit of oxygen off of his spare regulator. Showoff. All that deep diving is exhausting, so Sten hung out in the dinghy while I cruised the northern wall, following a Napoleon Wrasse around for a while.

South Button offers no protection at all, so we decided to haul up the dinghy and anchor and head 3 miles north to Middle Button. While Sten drove, I made lunch. We drifted around for a few minutes to eat our omelets before dropping anchor. It was only 1:00 so we set off to snorkel the reefs radiating from either point of the long thin island.

The reefs off of Middle Button were teaming with small reef fish. We also spotted a stingray. When we got back to the boat around 3, we were both so tired from all that exercise that we were tempted to stay the night at Middle Button, but it wasn't on our approved itinerary, so we weighed anchor for the fourth time today (love that electric windlass!) and pointed the boat towards North Button. While underway, I showered and made us each a mango lassi from the last of the local yogurt.

Anchoring at North Button half an hour before sunset was tricky, as it was hard to distinguish the coral from the sand, even in such clear water. Sten dove in to find a good spot for the anchor while I ran back and forth between the windlass at the bow and the steering wheel and throttle in the cockpit. We eventually got the pick set in a sandy patch between the bommies. By sundown, we were both beat. It would be an easy dinner of cheese and crackers and an early night for us.

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