the month of March 2002, I plan to embark on a four-month unique
“solo” three thousand-mile journey, on a 19-foot sailboat, through
parts of South-East Asia. The
objective is to promote an historic voyage down the Ayeyarwady River, and
surrounding areas of great national interest, to a selection of national
print publications and travel television stations in the USA and United
Kingdom, by means of a recorded travel experience through Myanmar.
Expedition Begins: March 2002 through to July 2002 (4 months)
Vessel Type: 19 foot Cape Cutter
Vessel Name: "BANDOOLA"
Timing: March - July 2002
Crew: Jo Sinfield, solo
TIMETABLE OF EVENTS
December 7th - Proposals sent to target media
December 14th - JS to fly to London
December 18th - Meeting with Burmese Ambassador to United Kingdom.
December 19th/20th - Meeting with Royal Geographical Society in London
December 21st - Return to New York
January 15th - JS to fly to London
January 17th - Meeting with Black Diamond Films
January 18th - Meeting with Burmese Ambassador to United Kingdom
January 20th - JS to fly to Cape Town
January 24th - Boat ready Cape Town
January 25th to February 19th - Testing boat Table Bay, Royal Cape Yacht Club, South Africa
February 20th - Boat loaded into 20ft container
February 22nd - Boat shipped to Yangon from Cape Town on P&O Nedlloyd 'Sao Paulo' 7906B
January 20th - March 6th - JS in Cape Town
March 7th - March 14th - JS in UK
March 15th - JS arrives Bangkok, Thailand
March 17th - JS arrives Yangon, Myanmar
March 20th - Boat arrives Yangon by P&O Nedlloyd Container Ship
March 27th - Boat arrives Bhamo/Myitkyina, Myanmar
March 29nd - Expedition departs Bhamo/ Myitkyina
April 27th - Boat arrives Yangon, Myanmar
May 27th - Boat arrives Phuket, Thailand
May 27st - June 3rd - R & R Krabi, Thailand
June 24th - Boat arrives Port Klang, Malaysia
July 15th - Boat arrives Singapore - expedition finishes
July 17th - JS returns to UK
July 18th - July 25th - Editing tapes
Final Update July
Arrival in Singapore- a big sigh, the end of an epic journey, amazing memories and how wonderful is the cold cold beer ... I guess it's back to reality now ! What a wonderful adventure - would I do it again ? Definitely !General Update 18 May - via email from Jo
Getting inspired to sit down and type an update in a hot and humid room has
taken four days in Phuket. I am sitting at the desk of an old neighbour from
the Cape who, along with his wife, has enabled me to drop back to solid earth softly and recharge the depleted batteries after the last leg. A
combination of a 60's party, booze cruise, a succession of entertaining meals and home relaxation has enabled me to break away from the daily chores
and concerns of the boat.
Phuket was always going to be a milestone and a place to recover and reflect on the previous trip, meet up with old friends and make some new ones. As it happens I have had little time to reflect on the wonderful Myanmar experience - a country that's peoples and culture are out of this world. I have never been to a country where the people have been as warm and hospitable. Sally Baughen summed it up perfectly as we sipped a Strand Sour at the bar when she said 'it changes you'. I might not have lived in the country as she has done to have that much impact, but it has left its indelible imprint after six weeks of enjoyment. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have explored parts of Myanmar and to see a side of the country you do not get to see from television reports. It is a place that I will return to, that is for certain.
After the completion of the river leg I had three days to prepare the boat, repair the cradle, say the thank you's, prepare for the next leg, relax and say goodbye's to the multitudes who had assisted me in Myanmar. Sally Baughen, at the Strand Hotel, put me up at the finest of hotels in Myanmar, steeped in history and colonial splendour. It was too rushed inevitably but we had managed to secure berth and passage on a Five Star Line cargo vessel, 'Taung Gyi' heading to the south which otherwise would have meant that I had to kick my heels in Yangon for 14 days waiting for the next vessel. A fitting end to the first leg was to attend the Queens birthday celebrations at the Ambassadors residence in Yangon on the last evening before departing. In the morning of departure I said my goodbyes to the Road to Mandalay crew who had been my right hand in many ways. I have a personal debt to repay to my companion for a month, Soe Tint, the bosun. He was fantastic company for the whole journey, and what made it more incredible was that neither of us spoke each other's language. The rest of the thank you's will come at a later date.
As an exception to the rule I was allowed to travel with the boat and was put up in the very sweaty Assistant Radio Operators cabin for the 6-day journey from Yangon to Kaw Thaung, on the southern border between Myanmar and Thailand. I was introduced to the Captain and the crew a day before departure and I confirmed that I would not require any western privileges or extras and I would eat in the Officers Mess with the crew. Meal times were very amusing. We loaded the boat, a case of beer, and my belongings and strapped Bandoola to the deck and departed Yangon on the morning of 24 April. I settled into my cabin and prepared myself for the slow journey south and took the first of many tours of the boat and the bridge, and was given full access to the chart room to assist in the planning of he next leg. The boat crew was, true to my previous experience in the country, as welcoming and hospitable as ever and I felt part of the furniture from the beginning to the end.
We reached Myeik, a port on the northern end of the Myeik Archipelago, the following morning and settled in for three nights, whilst the boat was relieved of its cargo. I joined in the crew's excursions to temples, pagodas and restaurants of the area, and reflected on the last month of adventure. I was disappointed not to be able to explore the large archipelago on Bandoola, as this is one of the last undiscovered, unspoilt areas in South East Asia. But I was assured from the authorities in Yangon that there is always a 'next time'. Good enough reason to return!The route southwards confirmed the reports of the beauty and the remoteness of these jungle-clad islands that rise from the clear sea with sheer cliffs and empty white sandy beaches. I sat for hours salivating as the islands passed by. However disappointed I was I still had one of the most beautiful
compact cruising areas to explore in Thailand, and I had more than enough to occupy my mind during those six days.
We reached Kaw Thaung and I decided to restock the stores before unloading the boat the following morning. I was ably assisted by Customs and Immigration and another representative from Myanmar Tours and Travels and was now fully prepared for the next leg to Phuket. I met up with a documentary crew from National Geographic television who were making a documentary film on the Sea Gypsies of Lampi Island and the natural wonders of the Archipelago. We had dinner together before I had the first accident of the trip. I took a motorbike taxi back to the ferry after dinner and came off the bike as we went through a large puddle of water on a dirt track. Luckily for me I landed on the taxi driver who was half my weight and I came
away with some minor abrasions. He was rather worse off but I was not amused and walked the last kilometre on foot, covered in mud. My first, and hopefully last, of what is known locally as a Thai tattoo.
Kaw Thaung to Phuket solo
I set off with the very strong ebb tide which took me quickly out amongst the islands into Thai waters. I then noticed a very large bruise approaching from the mountains on the coast. This was my first encounter with a squall, which brings increased rain, sometimes torrential, and wind for usually periods up to an hour. Visibility is reduced significantly so it was my first real test of coping with the elements. I strapped myself in and prepared to sit it out but I managed to skirt the borders and escaped with a drenching. After that it cleared up and I sailed happily along to my first nights anchorage. It was great to be alone at last and everything was
functioning well on the boat.
The islands along the coast were sparsely populated and a few bungalow
resorts started appearing as I headed progressively southwards. My autopilot
seems to be my best investment, which allows free hands to prepare food and
drink, navigate and jot down the odd idea or thought, attend to the sails and generally keep the boat in order. I reckoned on doing 30 nautical miles
a day (60km) which would bring me to Phuket in four days, so I planned my
night stops accordingly. My second night anchorage was bliss as I dropped anchor in a calm channel between two islands with a cliff rising sharply to the north covered in thick jungle. It was dead quiet apart from the noise of the hornbills and other birds and the occasional monkey communicating to its brethren. I relaxed to enjoy the evening and took a dip in the clear water and thought of everyone beavering away at work in different parts of the
world. Ha ha!
I had three visitors the next morning as an Austrian chap pulled up on a speedboat for a chat. He told me of a bay nearby with a few huts that would be a good nightspot and a place to get a hot meal. Done deal, I didn't need a second invitation. The second and third visitors were some Thai fishermen who took an interest in the boat and happily clambered on board for a chat. I did not speak much Thai and their knowledge of English was nil. That didn't really matter as they gave me a mango and I reciprocated with a cake and some sesame snaps. They departed happily into the blue and I made my way to the bay 3 miles to the south. I had an entertaining lunch with a Dane, German and Italian from Singapore before swimming back to the boat for the afternoon. In the evening I got stuck with Mr and Mrs Boring, an English couple that did nothing but complain about being in Thailand - people you emigrate to avoid!
From there south I came across the occasional fishing boat and fair weather before I hit the northern tip of Phuket. I had been given the name of the marina manager of the Yachthaven, from a friend of my fathers in Phuket, on the north end of the island, Andy Stevens, an ebullient Aussie, who I made contact with on the VHF radio. We agreed that I would attempt to cut off three days of sailing around the south of the island by taking the shallow channel to the marina on the north, which is impossible for most yachts. This presented two obstacles 1) passing through the shallow channel mouth and 2) dropping the mast to pass underneath the low bridge.
The mast dropping did not produce much problem but the channel passage was going to be interesting. At this stage Andy had not arrived by speedboat and I spent ten minutes looking at which angle I should approach entry into the channel. There were waves surfing into the channel, the swell was hitting the sand bars and causing some confusion, and the tide was going out, against the swell. Adrenalin I believe is what it is called. I watched a number of much faster longtail boats surfing through and decided I would take the southern approach, as it looked less hazardous. I checked my top
speed with the engine and thought I reckoned I was slightly slower than the waves approaching the channel. The time between each wave I estimated at being seven seconds and I would need to pass over the first wave just before it broke which would give me some seven seconds to clear the area where the waves were breaking, about 20 metres, before surf hit me. I also knew that with the waves moving faster than I was travelling, that my tiller would not give me much control on direction, so I lined myself up as much as I could
do with the direction of the waves. There was risk involved! I managed to achieve hitting the first wave just before it broke, which was the point of no return. I was standing on the seat of the cockpit strapped in securely when the boat surfed for 10 metres at about an angle of 30 degrees until the wave passed under me and I was left in boiling surf with no power. The boat, with the swell, turned to port and I was hit broadside by a low wave and then turned 180 degrees by a wave that came from 90 degrees to the rest. A bobbing cork in the bubbles! Luckily the next wave came from astern and propelled me in the direction of the safe zone. It felt like ages but was only probably fifteen second of terror! I looked behind me to see the crashing waves and with relief I saw that the waves had lost
their danger and I motored into safety beyond the channel entrance. Knees were a little wobbly and I had escaped the most dangerous period to date. Andy picked me up ten minutes later and from there on in it was plain sailing so to speak.I hadn't really realised how tired I was until I had hooked up a line to the speedboat and was towed the remaining mile to the marina. I sat silently and reflected on the experiences of the last few days of solitude.
Solitude was well and truly over when I reached the marina and the social activity started as soon as we arrived. I had lunch at the marina with Andy and Gordon, a Allan and thrown into the social mire of Phuket life. It was a 60's party, in aid of the RSPCA, at a local hotel and I dived into the food and beer in a very entertaining evening when Claire, Allan's wife was invited on stage to sing, whilst we threw back wine and local cocktails. I bid for a very ugly porcelain frog which I donated to one of the party, much to her disgust.
The next day we took off on a boat to a couple of islands for lunch and beer. Great day in the sun and a welcome wind down. We had much to catch up on after twenty years, but the memories came flooding back which included almost splitting a friends head with an axe whist digging out a tree root, taking out someone's front teeth with a golf club, setting alight to his parents field and almost setting the thatch roof on fire, and hiding a stash of cigarettes in a jar up a gum tree!
I checked the boat in through Customs and Immigration yesterday with the help of SEAL, South East Asia Liveaboards, who offered their services in exchange for some information on the Ayerawady trip, Graham and Adam Frost's company were the first company to pioneer dive and sailing trips into the Myeik Archipelago and are specialists in the area. Highly professional and respected they also manage all the passages of the superyachts that pass through the Phuket area each year. They introduced me to a lone Aussie who
runs one of the few pearl farming operations in Myanmar and lives a solitary existence for most of the year. It seems that when he comes to town most people feel the effect of the tropical storm that blows through. It made for a very good evening last night. Subsequently I have had my first job offer of the trip to accompany their 50-foot trimaran up the Ayerawady next year!
Well my hosts have departed for Cape Town and left me in charge of the house, and three dogs, for a few days while I prepare for the next voyage.
Onwards and southwards
I am well ahead of my schedule and have afforded myself some time off in Phuket and put together the next route. ETD Phuket is Saturday 11 MayI am planning toexplore Phang Nga Bay whose sea mountains that rise vertically from the bay form some of Thailand's most spectacular scenery, onwards to Krabi, to the east of Ko Lanta and then onto Langkawi, where I will stop for a few days, and meet up with Simon Craig who is now living and working in Hanoi. Jules, the Bangkok shrimp farmer, will join for somewhere in between.
There is far too much material to put down but that gives a brief summary of the trip south from Yangon. The rest will have to wait, but I am now back in contact on email and look forward to a few rude messages coming through.Thanks for all the text messages that came through. It was always amusing for Soe Tint to be awoken by the message alert in the middle of the night. It served as a good way of cutting the chainsaw of his snoring at times.
Hope all is well with you all. There were plenty of times I thought of you all in your daily monotony of commuting and beavering away. Those times are behind me!
All the best
---Contact address whilst travelling---
c/o Julia Sinfield (email@example.com)
West Brow, Belmont Road
Combe Down, Bath, BA2 5JR, Avon, U.K.
Tel/Fax: ++ 44 1225 834 954
General Update ( via email ) 3 May
GPS position 09d 47'N 098d 27'E 0930 Thai time 30/4/2
Skipper and boat sailing well in Thai waters heading south. Conclusion of 1st and 2nd legs. Despite intensive lobbying, Jo was finally, and sadly, unable to get permission from the Burmese government to sail himself and Bandoola from Yangon, down the west coast to the Thai border. This was apparently due to some insurgency activity in connection with a proposed pipeline somewhere along the coast.So he put the boat on a local ferry and sailed for 6 days from Yangon (Rangoon), comfortably (apart from the absence of a fan in sweaty conditions !) installed in the radio operator's cabin. They stopped en route at the port of Mergui for two days to load and off-load cargo before continuing south through the magnificent Mergui Archipelago, a collection of unspoilt islands, and mostly unexplored by foreigners, covered in jungle and set in a sparklingly blue sea.
The port of disembarkation was Kawthuang, the west coast port of exit on the border with Thailand. The vessel arrived at the weekend to complete Leg 1 of the Oddessey. Jo managed to de-ferry the boat without mishap and half-rigged her, but then had to move her because of all the wash from the long-tailed bumboats tearing up and down the harbour. He was able to move Bandoola to the police berth, which was a little quieter (!) and he could complete his preparations in relative peace.
The only incident he had to report was that he fell off the back of a motorbike last night (at very slow speed) when hitching a lift back to the boat from a local. Not hurt and he has now been warned!
Huge thanks here to John Hinchliffe and Orient Express as the Thai charts and copy of 'Cruise Thailand' pilot arrived safely in Kawthuang yesterday.
He set sail just after noon today and left Burmese waters a month to the day after he set off from Bhamo at the navigable head of the great Irrawaddy on 30 March.
He rang briefly on the Iridium Inmarsat link at 0830 BST today, only for him to say - 'Hang on Dad, there's a large cloud coming up and it looks like a bit of a squall - I'll call you back!'. An hour later he was back on line having successfully navigated through it, during his first solo venture offshore on the expedition. He was making good headway at about 6 knots under engine against a head wind of 5-10 knots, but with the benefit of an ebb tide - sensibly opting not to beat through the channel on his first passage. His destination tonight was the island of Ko Phyam, which he already had in sight.
His revised ETA Phuket is Thu/Fri 2/3 May. However, the Phuket Yacht Haven is on the eastern end of the channel at the northern end of Phuket between the island and the isthmus; and Jo will approach from the west. Half-way through the channel is the Sarasin Bridge which has a clearance of only 5 metres at low tide, so to get through he may have to drop the rig to get underneath. The alternative is for him to sail down the west coast of Phuket for 40nm - and back up the east coast, another 40 nm. We await developments with interest!!
To check the local press for reports of his dockside arrival in Yangon log on to: www.mararnews.com
Update ( via email ) April 23
Departed: Bhamo, 30 March (1331 kms from Yangon)
Mandalay 5 April ( 903 km)
Bagan 9 April (715 km)
Pyi (390 km)
Arrived: Yangon 21 April
Total distance: 1331 kms
Time taken: 23 days
Ave km/day: 58
Ave temperature during day: 38 degrees C
-Surnrise from Mingun pagoda
-River dolphins around boat
-Warm and hospitable people
-Bandoola's final resting place
-Rich cultural history all the way along river
-Arriving in Yangon to welcome boat and bubbly
-mohinga fish curry breakfasts
-diversity of tribes, their cultures, modesty and humour
-mud volcanoes of Minbu
-Fish releasing ceremony on Myanmar New Year
-Blessed by a monk
-Tonbo cliff paintings
-Water Festival in PYI
-Draft beer at the Strand Hotel
-Dinner on the Road to Mandalay
-Lack of wildlife
-Little favourable wind
-Huge spider in sleeping bag
-No fish caught!
22 April, reception at Strand Hotel, Yangon, for supporters, and slide
24 April, leave on ferry, with Bandoola, to Kaw Thaung in South. in Radio
30 April, Arrive Kaw Thaung
7 May arrive Phuket
General Update ( via satellite phone ) April 11
Location: 20.17.00N, 94.53.00E. Due to spend the night tonight at Mindu (place of the mud volcanoes) Best breeze of the trip so far today - doing around 7knots (track 206 degrees) Had done 94kms in the day so keeping ahead of schedule. If they keep up this sort of pace they could be in Yangon on 26 April, 6 days ahead of schedule. Sailed through sandstorm this morning, which briefly made navigation amusing. Wind from behind occasionally gusty so getting plenty of opportunity to hone gybing skills.....
Position is 10 kms north of Mandalay - travelled 400kms in the first 7 days, catching up a day yesterday by travelling 103kms. On schedule despite setting off from Bhamo a day late. Can see Mandalay Hill in the distance, smoke rising from the town - will be there tomorrow for a good meal and a swim if he can find a decent pool. He plans to meet up with the "Road to Mandalay" boat in 2-3 days time, south of Mandalay.
Boat sailing well and everything in good condition. Oil brought for engine from South Africa spoilt on journey to Yangon so he's using 2 stroke motorbike oil instead. Not a problem.
Weather is hot - not much wind. Today he drifted mostly. There is about 4 knots of breeze from upriver so with the current taking them at 3 knots there is only an extra knot of breeze to help him along. News is that the monsoon will come earlier than expected. Unlikely to affect him on the river though. He's swimming in the river once a day at lunchtime to cool off but seems to have acclimatised ok. He's also rigged up the awning to keep the sun off.
He now has 3 support vessels with about 20 local people involved. Everyone has been extremely helpful and it sounds as if he is getting the royal treatment. Each support boat stays with him for 2 days or so before returning to their base upriver. Another couple of boats replace them for the next leg and so it goes on. This means that the crew on the boats change regularly. Ko So Tint, Jo's pilot is still with him but it may be that he goes back to work once they hit Mandalay and another pilot will take over for the journey south to Yangon.
The further south they get the more traffic there is on the river. It has been very quiet up to now but Jo expects there to be more activity, including tourism, south of Mandalay. He said the people are incredibly friendly and unobtrusive. There is always a crowd in the evenings and they're so polite its a pleasure to have them around. None of them have seen a boat like this on the river, so many just sit and examine. Jo's companions find food and drinks each day so he's not having to raid his stocks. He's been struck by the hospitality and says the sign language is developing well.
Surroundings sound great. Geography on the river changes from defiles (200metre gorges with steep banks), to open plains with sand banks, to rolling hills with rain trees towering over the river edge. Villages nestle amongst the palm trees. He's been to a couple of monasteries along the way and met with the local monks. Said he had some good footage of local pot makers making huge pots on a foot-worked potters wheel. 1hr 30 minutes each!
Daily ritual seems to be up at 5.30am for breakfast etc. On the river by 7.00am. This morning at 7.45am saw a school of river dolphins. Sail or drift during the day. Pull into village for lunch and then in the evening for supper and BBC World Service. Sleep by 8.30pm.
General Update - Part 3, March 21, Yangon, Myanmar
-P&O Nedlloyd vessel 'Bago' docked in Yangon 19 March
-Customs clearance in progress, release expected Friday 22 March
18 March dinner with U Moe Myint, Secretary General of Myanmar Yachting Federation, Major-General Kyaw Win and Brigadier-General Khin Aung. Meeting to confirm support from Ministry of Defence.
20 March - Logistic Planning meeting held at Government Resthouse in Yangon with U Moe Myint, Major-General Kyaw Win, Brigadier-General Khin Aung, U Hla Oo from Road to Mandalay, Director-General of Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, U Khin Maung Latt, Lt CDR Maung Maung Lwin from the Ministry of Transport and from The Directorate of Water Resources, U Zaw Aung.
The following was confirmed at the meeting:
-Road to Mandalay Bosun to be on-board Bandoola from Bhamo to Mandalay
-Inland Water Transport pilot to be on-board Bandoola from Mandalay to Yangon
-Separate escort boat to be provided by Ministry of Defence between Bhamo and Yangon (1332 kilometers)
-Liaison officer from Ministry of Hotels and Tourism to meet boat at four designated points on river at Bhamo, Mandalay, Pagan, and Pyi.
-I will trans-ship Bandoola from Yangon to Kaw Thung in southern Myanmar,after completing the river leg (leg 2 has not been permitted). I aim to be on board the ship.
I wore a Kenyan Khokoi as an African substitute for their Myanmar Longhi. It went down well although they commented it looked like a tablecloth.
Email to Jo's Hotmail account
I am unable to access Hotmail until I reach Thailand, but I can receive short emails to my sat phone.
Messages to Satellite Phone
I am receiving messages sent to the Satellite Phone loud and clear. Thanks for all the messages of encouragement - keep them coming! Please leave your name at the end of the message so I know who sent it.
Sailing distance down river is 1332 kilometers, from Bhamo to Yangon. I am planning to take 31 days. A detailed itinerary with nightly stops is being completed this week.
Thanks to Road to Mandalay and u Moe Myint
Captain John Hinchliffe has made it possible to stay at the Inye Lake Hotel whilst I am in Yangon and has been very supportive of my quest from the very beginning. U Hla Oo and his team have pulled out all stops to assist with logistics. U Moe Myint has ensured access to the highest possible levels in order to receive in-country support from the Myanmar Authorities, a critical factor in organising.
General Update Part Two – 4 March 2002
Sea trials completed
Modifications for expedition completed
Bandoola loaded 19 Feb on P&O Nedlloyd vessel, Sao Paulo - departed - 22 Feb.
Sailing from Bhamo commences 29 March.
Freight Forwarder: Kenco, Cape Town
Shipping Line: P&O Nedloyd
Vessel: Sao Paulo
Loading Date: 19-21 February, 2002
Departure date: 22 February, 2002
ETA: 20 March, 2002
Transit time: +/- 27 days via Singapore
The Ambassador of Myanmar to the United Kingdom has approved the Ayerawady trip and has confirmed support from the relevant authorities in Myanmar. This has cleared the shipment of the boat from Cape Town to Yangon.
The Road to Mandalay, owned by the Orient-Express Group of Companies, is sponsoring the expedition.
Customs Clearance Yangon Media
For clearing of the container and other formalities, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism will issue a formal permit in due course.
The following details have been cleared by the Head of the Inland Water Transport in Mandalay, and John Hinchcliffe of Road to Mandalay:
1. Vessel by road to Inland Water Transport station Mandalay.
2. Off-loaded with a crane or by sheer manpower
3. Loading days are Saturdays and Tuesdays for ferry departures north on Sundays and Wednesdays. I will be onboard [The road north from Mandalay to Bhamo is unsuitable for the vessel] The transit time to Bhamo from Mandalay is 3 nights.
4. Road to Mandalay are providing their Bosun to go with me aboard the IWT ferry and sail down to at least Mandalay. He is a 'river man' and holds a River Certificate, this is required.
Should leg 2 not be possible to complete I may ship Bandoola from Yangon to Kaw Thaung, in the Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar, on board a government owned shipping line, Star Line Shipping. This is work in progress at the moment and by no means certain.
Black Diamond Films have provided camera equipment, for the expedition, to record the voyage. The journey will be recording travel experiences en-route as well as forward preparations, with strategic interviews with key persons. The objective will be to provide stimulating footage, which will be edited into a short documentary film and pitched to targeted adventure travel television stations including:
Channel 4 Productions