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After 7 days at sea from Thailand to Sri Lanka, we arrived into Trincomalee (Trinco) which would be our home base for our 25-day stay.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is not really a “cruising” destination. Despite its beautiful beaches and pretty waters, the Sri Lankan government severely restricts the movement of foreign boats. Boats are only allowed to come to three places: Trincomalee, Galle, and Colombo. To visit more than one of these places, you have to pay additional fees on top of an already-hefty bill for clearing in.
Colombo is a large, commercial port with lots of traffic. I can not find any reports of cruisers stopping in Colombo.
Galle is the most popular stop. It is busy too, and space is tight, with boats either mooring stern-to or rafting together. The water is dirty and the air is dusty. As Noonsite says, it’s “not a port you would want to spend much time in”.
Sri Lanka had a civil war from 1983 – 2009 where much of the fighting took place in the north. As a result, Trincomalee was closed to foreign boats due to security concerns. It has only recently opened up.
Trincomalee’s anchorage was extremely quiet. We had up to seven cruising boats at a time, plus a few small local boats coming and going. Town Bay is huge – there’s plenty of room for the boats and local fishing devices. We were very well protected here, as flat as on land most of the time. The water is shallow at 10 feet, and while is not very clear, there were some mornings where conditions were right and we could see the bottom. We did have a lot of birds dropping presents on our deck, but other than that it was lovely.
Trincomalee is located on a peninsula. The northeast side is open to the Indian Ocean and the Inner Harbour on the southeast side is well protected and shallow waters. The Inner Harbour is home to quite a bit of military activity, with a Naval Academy and Dockyard and an Air Force Academy. The military presence is big here, which is why cruising boats are so restricted; we must let Port Control know every time we move the boat.
It is required to hire an agent to call into Sri Lanka. Sandeep with GAC Shipping is very active on the Indian Ocean Crossing facebook group, and when I reached out to him he was quick and responsive.
Arrival at night is not allowed and we just could not get fast enough to get in before sunset on our last day at sea, so we set Starry Horizons up to heave-to and drifted overnight.
When the sun rose, we motored into Trincomalee. We were stopped by a military boat, asking the name of our boat and how many people aboard. They waved us through and we motored into Town Bay, where we tied up to the ferry terminal (which, by the way, I never saw a ferry at). Some of the officials were already waiting for us, but they didn’t come onboard until Sandeep arrived.
It took less than a half hour to get the paperwork filled out, and Sandeep guided us and the officials along. Then David had to go to the customs office before we were officially done.
All in all, we paid GAC $230 USD to come to Sri Lanka.
While in Trincomalee, we didn’t get off the boat much. We focused on boat projects and online work for a majority of the time, so we missed out on some pretty cool things in Trincomalee.
Trincomalee is home to Girihadu Seya, Sri Lanka’s oldest Buddhist temple, which is a pretty big deal! There is also Fort Frederick, where you can get up close and personal with spotted deer. Whale watching is extremely popular here due to the number of blue whales just offshore. Lastly, we did not go to dive or snorkel Pigeon Island, which would have been nice.
While we didn’t get out in Trincomalee much, we did spend ten days traveling around the country. We hired a driver, Raj (+94 77 766 7256) to drive us and S/V Slow Flight around the Cultural Triangle for three days. Raj dropped us off in Kandy, where we took the train to Ella and back over the course of three days. We stopped in Nuwara Eliya to check out the tea plantations. Once back in Kandy, Raj organized a driver to get us out to Wilpattu for a three-day safari and then a driver to get back to Trincomalee. The only thing we feel like we missed was spending a couple of days in Galle.
While we were gone, one of the GAC staff, off company time, came to start up our generator regularly. He didn’t charge, but we tipped him.
There is a very useful map of shore services on Noonsite.
A small shop called Mallika Stores on Power House Road was my first stop for groceries. Immediately inside the store is a small rack that has some imported stuff like peanut butter, barbeque sauce, olive oil, etc. Nuts such as groundnuts (peanuts), almonds, and cashews are available in small bags. Dried golden raisins and dates are widely available, as well as dried beans like lentils and chickpeas. I also picked up some soy sauce and sesame oil.
Across the street is a Fruit & Vegetable stand that is well-stocked.
Medicals Pharmacy and Minimart on Kachcherry Road is next. They have a slightly bigger selection of foodstuff and a pharmacy.
Finally, the big stop is Food City. There I was able to find meats (mostly chicken, some pork and beef), dairy (cheddar, sliced mozzarella, feta, heavy cream, butter) and a wide variety of dry goods. It was 500 LKR to hire a tuk-tuk from the pier to the Food City and back.
We chose Dialog for our cell phone service and used a shop called Rasmy Traders to buy my SIM card. We paid about $8 USD for a 30 GB package with time restrictions.
We dined out at two restaurants in Trincomalee. One night four boats all went to the Green Park Hotel, where I ordered my favorite Sri Lankan dish (kottu!). The second was the Dutch Bank Cafe. This was a popular place with cruisers because of the pizza, which was very good. One time I did order the kottu, which was also very good!
Through Sandeep we arranged for a diesel truck to come to the dock and fill our tanks. We had to order the amount in advance, and we paid 143 LKR per liter. Additionally, we paid a $30 USD fee to GAC; $15 for the truck and $15 for the dock.
We messaged Sandeep that we would like to clear out and leave as early as possible on March 22nd. We expected that we would have to clear out that morning and then leave immediately (another boat cleared out midday and was told they had to leave within an hour). However, Sandeep arranged for us to clear out the night of the 21st. We a GAC staff member and the officials at the dock – Starry Horizons did not have to come back to the dock – at 8 pm. They cleared us out and we were told not to come ashore again, and be gone by 8 am. No problem!
Upon leaving Trincomalee, we embarked on a five-day passage to one of the most hotly debated cruising grounds in the world; the Maldives.