Saturday, April 04, 2009

March 30, 2009 - Rutland Island, Andamans, India

We've seen a lot of beaches around the world, but this one takes the cake. South Rutland Bay is a perfect, deep turquoise half moon bay, spilling onto a crescent of golden powder, backed by a forest sculpted by the stiff breezes of the southwest monsoon. While trekking along the shore, we have come across orchids growing out of fallen tree trunks, 16 nautilus shells, turtle tracks and nests complete with shells from hatched turtles, deer tracks, montior lizard tracks, and tracks that looked as though they might have been made by jungle cats. The combination of spectacular natural beauty, a comfortable anchorage, clean clear water for swimming, and interesting snorkeling and walks ashore is rarer than one would think. But South Rutland Bay is the whole package.

This afternoon, while I was occupied along the water's edge beachcombing and swimming, Sten took a hike up a hill to get a different perspective on the area. A few minutes later I heard a whoop of joy from above me. Now, Sten is a pretty reserved guy, not taken to public displays of . . . well, of anything. Only among the rest of the faithful at Fenway have I ever seen him get rowdy. He claims that he used to participate in primal screams to blow off steam during exams, but I'm not buying it. However, the sheer gloriousness of this place moved him to shout for joy.

And the amazing thing is that there is nobody here. We haven't seen another yacht in two weeks. Currently, based on the twice daily radio check-in with Port Blair, we believe that we are the only sailboat in the Andamans. Imagine showing up in the Bahamas or Fiji and having it all to yourself. Just a few hundred miles to the east of us there are approximately a thousand yachts who have spent multiple seasons in Thailand and Malaysia, but very few of those yachts make it out here. We estimate that a hundred more boats passed right by this chain of islands this season enroute to the Red Sea or South Africa, but only a handful of those yachts stopped in the Andamans. This place is paradise, but it is empty.

The combination of expensive visas, unnecessary 15 day special endorsements, high fees for national park anchorages, inconsistent application of regulations (due to a revolving door of officials stationed in the Andamans on two year hardship postings), twice daily radio check-ins, and the cruiser rumor mill (which is so phenomenally good at disseminating and exaggerating negative information), seems to be keeping the crowds away. Which is a shame. I'd encourage cruisers to put the Andamans on their list of places to visit - not only for the opportunity to explore an unspoiled and uncrowded paradise of pristine natural beauty, but also for the potential of hearing someone they love so overcome by their surroundings that they have to shout for joy. And that, well, that is worth slipping those docklines for.

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