Nearer to southern Thailand than India, the Andaman and neighbouring Nicobar Islands are Superyacht Cruising Gold.
Sunset at Chidiya Tapu, Port Blair.
THOSE WHO VENTURE TO CRUISE the clear waters of the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal that straddle either side of the Andaman Islands will find an enchanting archipelago that is home to striking great expanses of seclusion. The islands and waters around them offer drift diving over bright coral gardens, and soft-sand beaches fringed with pure blue waters with an offshore temperature averaging 28 degrees Celcius, good sailing winds and cool nights.
A plethora of anchorage options await for spectacular cruising – and a fairly adventurous journey that taps into an almost secret world of lesser-visited tropical jungles, lush and unique rainforests and serene, scattered pristine coastlines.
When voyaging to the Andamans, skippers generally find Thailand’s Phuket an excellent departure point from which to cruise the 400 nautical miles to Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal, India (located at 11°40.3’North, 92°44.2’ East). Sailing down from Langkawi, Malaysia is also popular – a distance of 536 nautical miles.
Radhanagar Beach on Havelock Island.
Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands and adjacent southern Nicobar Islands, a union territory, is well connected to mainland India with Kolkata in the country’s east and Chennai in its south serving as primary gateways. Surrounded by tropical forest and rugged coastline, the Andamans’ lively provincial capital, Port Blair, is a vibrant mix of Indian Ocean inhabitants, comprising Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Nicobarese and Myanmarese. The town’s intriguing history warrants exploration, to see the turn-of-the-20th-century Cellular Jail compound built in the British colonial era. Visitors will not want to miss enticing day trips from here, such as to the 15 islands of mangrove creeks and great snorkelling at Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, and to Chidiya Tapu beach – known for its bird-watching and sunsets.
A tradional Andaman welcoming ritual.
A major challenge when visiting a new wilderness destination is knowing where to anchor, where to go, and what to see – along with trying to figure out the time-consuming checking in and checking out procedures. Rathnam Rathnasamy, Managing Director of the leading professional yacht handling and facilitation agency, Asia Pacific Superyachts (APS) Andamans, with his expert team can assist and provide guidance necessary prior to and during a journey. They can also help create an itinerary for both sailing and sightseeing and activities, specifically designed to a boat owners’ or skipper’s interests.
The occasionally active volcano in Barren Island.
Expert assistance is needed through a vessel’s arrival and departure as clearance procedures at Port Blair can be a lengthy experience requiring lots of paperwork. Customs, immigration, coast guard, harbour master and the Forestry Department all require written requests before providing formal written approvals. Arrival and departure procedures for these needs and for visas, health and security for those arriving by boat are most efficiently handled with the help of an experienced agent. And while the numerous formalities are completed with the appointed agent, visitors can enjoy some of those sights and activities in and around Port Blair.
It can take up to a couple of days to clear formalities on arrival, including arranging with the harbour master to take water onboard at the commercial dock, ensuring all paperwork is completed and loading up on ample provisions has been done. Agents such as APS can bring provisions right to a yacht from their well-stocked facilities.
The occasionally active volcano in Barren Island.
Pre-arrival and favourable visa change
Prior to arrival, agents advise on berthing and anchoring as they help plan visitor programmes. Detailed itineraries require twice-daily radio check-ins to ensure the authorities know where the vessel is at all times. While guidebooks provide suggestions for a journey, they invariably omit some of the best spots. An agent will tailor a tour drawing on their extensive local knowledge, which includes advice on navigational hazards, as well as recommendations on mooring, anchoring and options for quality accommodation, special island visits, vehicle hire, and possible air travel and helicopter transport.
Some recent good news for visitors is that in the past non-nationals were only allowed a 30-day visa, but that’s been upgraded, says Rathnam. “There’s been a big change in the Andaman Islands of India for visiting yachts,” he explains. “They are no longer restricted by the 30-days stay regulation; foreigners may now stay as long as desired, per the valid visa. And the previous restricted-area permit is now completely removed.
Cellular Jail in Port Blair, a relic of British colonial days in the Andaman Islands.
“Before, yachts interested in a long stay had to leave the country and then return and the crew had to have multiple-entry visas if they wanted to spend more than 30 days in the Andamans. Now crew and guests may visit with a single-entry visa and stay as long as they want, as per the validity of their visas.”
In a major move to boost tourism in the Andaman Islands, in August 2018 the Indian government removed the restricted area permit from 29 islands in the Andamans for foreigners. So for yachts planning a trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, note that the recent 30-day restriction is currently lifted until December 31, 2022.
Overseas visitors may also visit the 11 uninhabited islands here (although this is only permitted for day-trips). Separate approvals from the authorities are still required for visiting preserved forests, wildlife sanctuaries and tribal reserves, as in the past. “Some of the islands may require permission from a tribal department or the Forestry Department,” says Rathnam. “Previously, most tribal reserves and forest reserve areas were totally banned for tourists. Now they are open as long as permission is obtained from the concerned authorities.”
Dolphins are frequently spotted offshore.
What to see
The pleasure of sharing the natural beauty of the islands and the waters that surround them is at the heart of a visit to the Andaman Islands Archipelago. Situated more than 1,000 kilometres off the east coast of the middle of the Bay of Bengal, the scattering of some 500 islands are often thickly covered by deep green tropical forest that supports a profusion of wildlife, including some extremely rare species of birds. However, the principal attraction for many lies on and around the beaches, exploring, diving and snorkelling in the pristine reefs that ring most islands.
An Andaman Islands itinerary might consist of a visit to any of the following scenic spots: Long Island, Inglis Island, Rutland Island, Ross Island, Tarmugli Island, Cinque Island, North Sentinel Island, Neil Island, Kyd Island, Havelock Island, John Lawrence Island, Henry Lawrence Island, Outram Island, North Passage Island and Barren Island.
Barren Island’s volcano, the only confirmed active volcano in South Asia (last eruption: 2017) may be at least 1.8 million years old, according to a group of scientists at Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
Sunset at Neil Island sea beach.
Best time to visit
The Andamans climate and weather can be described as normal for tropical islands at a similar latitude. It’s always warm but tempered by pleasant sea breezes and can be very hot when the sun is northing. The rainfall is irregular but it’s usually dry during the northeast monsoon, and very wet during the southwest monsoon.
The peak time to visit is between December and March, once the annual Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti – dedicated to the deity Surya, and during which kites are traditionally flown – ends around January 15, the weather turns warm. With no rain-bearing clouds and little wind to stir up the sea, clear blue skies and serene cool seas can be enjoyed while cruising and anchoring.
Looking at a broader time range, October till mid-June is the best season for visitors to visit Andaman Islands in general. The heavy southwest monsoon showers are over by September. “The entire area looks decked up in fresh greenery after the rain,” Rathnam says, “and each of the islands looks pretty, and ready to welcome the festival season.” The weather remains temperate thanks to the intermittent rains. Happy with rain-assured bountiful crops, the local people get ready to celebrate the festival season and welcome visitors.
And with the monsoon season over, and with waters turning calm, clear and flat, the scuba diving season starts. Underwater coral reefs and marine life put on a great show offering a memorable visit for both scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, says Rathnam. “Yachts can head north or south from the capital, viewing stunning islands along the way with the best anchorages easily reachable,” he adds. The islands with the unlikely names mentioned above are really only accessible by boat. They provide exciting and adventuresome cruising for superyachts and impress both above and beneath the waterline.
Sundown at Havelock Island.
Due to the northwest monsoon throughout November, December and January, the moisture-laden breeze and intermittent rains keep the temperature pleasantly cool while boasting mild sunshine during the day, with evenings a little cooler.
February and March are the best months to explore the exhilarating marine life, Rathnam recommends. “If you are a scuba enthusiast, choose a time to visit between February and March to head north to visit Havelock Islands,” he suggests. “You can be assured of excellent, exciting views of undersea life – thanks to the flat and smooth sea with no wind and near-perfect visibility.” Havelock is the most popular tourist island with Radhanagar Beach the busiest. Most superyachts head on to more isolated islands that offer stunning ocean scenery and experiences.
Generally there are fewer tourists visiting Andaman Islands during June, July and August. The APS agent notes, “As a matter of fact, this is one of the best times to enjoy the effects of bountiful showers from the monsoon. The rain-drenched abundant greenery of the islands and their pristine refreshed beaches will surely captivate you. They are monsoons’ best gifts to Andaman Islands.”
A memorable journey awaits those wanting to experience a different world and to learn more about superyacht cruising in the Andamans.
PHOTOS: DAVORLOVINCIC; EPHOTOCORP; ROOP_DEY / ISTOCKPHOTO