Galle, Sri Lanka

As we concluded our last update we mentioned we were hoping to make it all the way to Maldives unless a fuel shortage forced us into Sri Lanka. As it turned out fuel wasn’t a major issue, but a communications failure was. We lost our satellite communication system and our SSB radio at the same time, the combined loss of which prevented us from getting any weather forecasts or communicating with anyone on shore for five days (our longest blackout ever). Without working comms, we had no way of communicating with Maldives authorities, no way of seeing if a storm was in our path, and no way to know if continued calms or headwinds would cause a fuel shortage. So here we are tied to the pontoon in Galle, Sri Lanka, for better or for worse.

And although we wouldn’t put Galle on the “must see before you die” list, we’re finding our stop here to be unusually interesting for various non-touristic reasons. Galle happens to occupy a strategic location being just outside the piracy affected area (“High Risk Area”) that begins at the Red Sea and ends at the Maldives, and is on an almost direct route for boats heading east from Suez to Singapore… one of the most heavily trafficked commercial shipping routes in the world. Sri Lankan officials were clever enough to realize they could make lots of money managing the loading and unloading of weapons and security teams from passing merchant ships. With a converted cargo ship serving as a large weapons depot just 100 meters from us, we find ourselves in the middle of one of the largest security hubs on this side of the HRA.

Another group that’s attracted to Galle is the megayacht crowd, which is now fleeing the European winter and migrating towards the warmer waters of Asia. The four megayachts in the harbor with us, with a combined value of around a billion dollars, look peculiar inside this small third world fishing harbor, where many local fishermen row their boats beyond the breakwater for lack of any motorized propulsion. The 71 meter Flying Fox megayacht, on the other hand, is shadowed by its 67 meter “support vessel” called the Sea Axe, which houses a full dive center, submarine, helicopter, jet skis, wakeboard boat, various sized launches, decompression chamber, and 30 support staff. Apparrently for the world’s uber-wealthy, a single megayacht simply isn’t enough to impress these days… we wonder how long it will be before some oligarch or prince adds a private warship to his personal fleet. With extreme poverty and extreme wealth placed in such close proximity here in Galle, a heavy dose of Kalishnakov-carrying security guards surrounds the harbor to ensure order is maintained. It’s a bizarre world indeed.

With forecast now in hand, fuel and water topped off, fridge and freezer full of Indian and Sri Lankan treats, it’s time for us to get back underway for Maldives.