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Passage of Dolphins: Sailing from Sri Lanka to Maldives

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After clearing out of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, the night before, we got up early on March 22nd to weigh anchor and make our way out of Town Bay and into the Indian Ocean.  We chose this window because we only had five days left on our Sri Lankan visa, and if we waited any longer, the winds were forecasted to start coming from the west, which is pretty typical for this time of year.

The plan was to sail as much as possible, but it was going to be light – very light – for the majority of the trip.  The forecast was showing that there would be some wind on our last half of the passage.  Our diesel tank and jerry cans were all full, so if necessary we could motor a lot.  We were also expecting a pretty strong current against us.  Our plan was to stick fairly close to shore, rounding the south side of the island and then taking a straight shot WNW for Uligamu.

We motored for about 5 hours before the wind started to fill in a bit and we got the mainsail and genoa out and motor sailed.  We tried to use the screecher, but the winds were just too far forward.  When David was furling it, one of the blocks on our continuous furling line exploded.  Of course, we had a spare!

During this time, we were still fairly close to shore.  There were two levels of fishing boats out that we had to avoid; small speedboats and bigger ships.  The bigger ships were more offshore, so we stayed in closer to the small boats.

Smaller boats.
Bigger boats.
Sunset our first night.

Through the first night and second day, we sailed a little bit, using our screecher as much as possible.  However, occasionally there were squalls on land that sucked the air out and becalmed us.

As evening rolled in on the 23rd, we found ourselves with two massive storms around us, just off of Galle.  We barely got any rain, but the lightning all around us was the worst we’ve ever seen.  David and I reviewed our lightning procedures and put our electronics in the oven (it’s a Faraday cage).  Shortly after my night watch started, the storms simply disappeared!

The next morning we had separated from the coast – finally lost internet signal – and passed through the shipping channel.  From the southern tip of Sri Lanka, the big container ships head into the Arabian Sea, either towards the Suze Canal or the Gulf of Oman.

Big neighbor.

As we moved away from the coast we dropped absolutely all of our wind.  It was the calmest we have ever seen the ocean.  We motored along, aided by a favorable current (1 – 1.5 knots) all day and watching the flying fish skim the mirror-flat surface.

Sunset was stunning, but we were even more entertained by the pod of dolphins that joined us with their acrobatics.  They lept completely out of the water over and over.  With the sea state so calm, when they played under our bow it was like we were looking at them through glass.

I even got an encore performance.  At about 10 pm, I was sitting up at the helm reading when I heard the telltale puffs of dolphins breaking the surface and breathing.  I strapped in and walked up to the bow pulpits to sit and watch the show.  The moon wasn’t up, so the dolphins were pitch black; I could not see them at all.  But I could see the bioluminescence they were playing in.  The pinpricks of light lit up at the head of the dolphin and flowed back to the tail and beyond.  Each dolphin had a streamer of bioluminescence trailing behind it.  It was amazing!

David got his own dolphin show too, but it was after the moon rose, so he couldn’t see the bioluminescence.

When I woke up the next morning, the screecher was up and we were sailing along (albeit slowly).  Thanks to all the motoring, we’d been going faster than anticipated, so sailing slowly was a-ok with us.

During the day we tried to get the spinnaker up.  It took us three tries to get it up properly with the adjustable tack line, and when we finally did set it, the wind died to almost zero, so all that effort was for not.

Once again, at sunset we had dolphins playing in our bow, and I got a nighttime show.

Our last full day out at sea, the wind died HARD.  We got another dolphin show at sunset and night but motored all through the night.

All in all, we sailed about 30 hours on this five-day passage.  Not breaking any records here, but we are super excited to enjoy the Maldives!

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