Ocean Rowing Training Session from Galle, Sri Lanka to Malé. Maldives.
Sat Feb 12th 2022 17:00 – Mon Feb 21st 2022 2:00
8 days 9 hours
431 nautical miles, 800 kms
First of all, I want to thank once again Kārlis Bardelis (Bored of Borders) for having asked me to join him on board his 7.1 meters wooden ocean rowing vessel named "Linda". An experienced lady that, over the years, have already accomplished 6 rows across an ocean, including two, so far, under Kārlis' leadership.
So, did I start to get some sea legs over the last 8 days, while covering 800 kms?
Am I now an expert ocean rower?
Definitely, definitely not. But I am learning and that's the reason why I join this row in the equatorial sweltering heat of the Indian Ocean.
It has been by all means, a very enriching and intense experience.
So, we left Galle on Saturday Feb 12th at 5pm, under the pouring rain, saying our goodbye to our Sri Lankan friend Suresh Dayanath DeMel who, (in addition to another good ol' Sri Lankan friend Prasanna Samarawickrama) has tremendously made our stay in Sri Lanka, a very smooth ride.
Thank you both very much again for all of your support.
I also said goodbye to my dear Gulnara not knowing whatsoever how long we were going to be apart from each other this time: just a few days/weeks if we were going to be lucky enough to hit the Maldives on our row or X amount of months, if we needed to wait to reconvene until the shores of Tanzania or elsewhere on the eastern shores of Africa...
On our 8 days crossing, we did not come across many humans: on our first night, a few Sri Lankan fishing vessels operating with bright lights, as well as a few shipping vessels including one fairly large one with whom we had to come in contact via VHF Radio, to ask him to kindly change his route in order to avoid a potential collision with our humble vessel.
On our 2d day, we came across in the distance a few larger vessels and tankers on their long journey to potentially the Strait of Hormuz or the Suez canal.
And then nada, until 10 miles prior the shores of Malé, Maldives when we came across a tug boat pulling a barge.
Did not come across any fishing vessels in Maldivian territorial waters, partly because from what I am learning, fishing is highly regulated in these waters: No foreign commercial fishing vessels or net fishing are allowed but local commercial line fishing is.
A refreshing change after what I saw while kayaking last year through the three great African lakes where I really doubt the net fishing situation there is sustainable.
Thankfully, we came across some wildlife:
- Three obviously curious solo migrating turtles on three separate occasions, hundreds of miles from any shore, following us. Two of them actually went as far as knocking/bumping hard our hull. This definitely caught our attention.
- A few birds came at night to rest on our vessel, standing immobile for hours. I could only imagine myself metamorphosed in a potential future life as a tired migrating bird thankful to come across such a bizarre moving small vessel in the middle of the seas, and being able to take a break. Time will tell if this will actually happen to me or not…
- A few charming playing dolphins upon approaching the Maldives.
- The fin of a shark roaming around our boat above the water line which I spotted while rowing. Did not think much of it then, and was actually very pleased to see it, until the next day, when I went for a swim around our boat in calmer waters in order to cool off from the heat and remove some of the algae from the hull. Thankfully shark spotter Kārlis was on watch.
I had the chance in the past to dive with white tip sharks, thresher sharks and hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea and in French Polynesia but there I was always in company of other divers and it felt then as I was in a somewhat more “controlled” environment. But definitely not this time.
Here, swimming alone in the middle of the open seas, I started wondering if a curious or, better yet, opportunistic roaming shark could be wondering what the flesh of this random Frenchman could taste like. You know… Just to try.
On the 2d day, my smart phone fell on the boat in a small puddle of water, and as a result stopped working immediately. This was enough to say goodbye to almost all of my distracting audio entertainment: no more audiobooks, podcasts and barely any music, except the few songs I had stored on an old mp3. Kārlis kindly loaned me then his headphones to listen to an audiobook on his smart phone, relating the life of billionaire extraordinaire Elon Musk. I was first intrigued but quickly got tired of listening every single intricate details of this eccentric’s life. At least then, while rowing in the middle of the seas.
I was able to communicate succinctly with Gulnara via SMS on my Ybtracker and through Kārlis satellite phone. When she informed a French cousin of mine that my smart phone had stopped cooperating, this cousin rightfully responded: “Dimitri without his phone is like a monkey without a banana!”
But was this incident a blessing in disguise? Maybe… it surely allowed me to lose myself in deep thoughts from time to time, while staring at the waves, the horizon and the moon.
And of course, not being aware of what Putin was up to this week can be truly refreshing, in a somewhat selfish kind of way.
When we were both simultaneously awake, Kārlis and I also had the opportunity from time to time to have some good conversation on a wide array of topics which has been quite invigorating.
It always feel good to do so with a kindred spirit.
On our crossing, we benefitted from quite a good amount of current, pushing us east which in combination with our rowing allowed us to make good progress, 800 kms in 8 days, reaching a maximum speed of 3.8 knots.
We also had on our first few days quite a bit of wind, but no rain besides the few drenching hours at the start.
We enjoyed the company of a great full moon which guided us over the last few days.
Did these mere 8 days of rowing hurt?
- Well, so so….
Having said that, I need to share that I have to deal over the last few days with a concerning sciatica pain in the right leg probably caused by first my obvious inexperience and a rudder difficult to maneuver, (the look of the wooden and metal plate which I needed to operate with my right foot at some point made me think of some kind of torturing tool used during the Spanish Inquisition...), and considering as well the fact that Kārlis boat does not have an autopilot.
Can this sciatica health issue be solved while in Malé and be fixed for the rest of this potential Indian Ocean crossing? Not quite sure. Time will tell again.
Above all, I have truly realize that I need to find a long term solution for this problem, if I ever want to fulfill my goal of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean on my circumnavigation route.
Besides this sciatica pain, I have had a few blisters on my hands, probably caused by gloves that were too small, and some on my feet, because of inappropriate straps. I believe this can easily be fixed.
I had a few rashes on my posterior which seems to be quite ordinary for ocean rowers. Is it irritable (no pun intended…)? Yes, but hopefully this can be fixed with a good antibiotic ointment, trying to avoid humidity as much as possible (not always easy on a row boat in the sweltering heat) and a good diet.
We have a working water desalinator and plenty of food on board: fresh fruits lasting the first few days, nuts, dehydrated meals, powder shakes, oats, etc… But I have had a hard time eating a sufficient amount of food, partly because of the heat.
This is usually not a problem for me, by any means, but this time it is, especially considering that I need to maintain enough strength and energy to paddle 12 hours a day, while staying focused on the compass and GPS route to follow.
Easier said than done, especially for a novice rower like me, progressing through potential side waves.
At some point, while experiencing stronger winds, while rowing, I definitely started thinking that I was sitting on top of a mighty rodeo bull trying to last more than 8 seconds.
Did not suffer at all of seasickness. I usually don’t, but Kārlis had warned me that on a rocking ocean row boat it was entirely a different ball game and recommended me to start using 24 hours prior to our start a Scopoderm hyoscine patch. It definitely worked for me.
We arrived in Malé on Monday February 21st at 2am and decided to moor on a buoy before fully entering the atoll. We both slept a few hours and then started paddling together (as we did upon leaving Galle) towards Malé’s incredible beehive. What a sight!
A tiny well-run machine, a very condensed Hong Kong in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Will write more about this fascinating capital and country later but for the time being, I can only say that the contrast of arriving in this crowded modern city was truly stunning after having being through 8 days of nothingness, while rowing through the waves.
Upon landing, our clearance with the local police, immigration, port authorities and health officers took around 12 hours and was at first quite hectic until we were asked to specifically go through a proper boat agent who definitely smoothed the process for us. Some might wonder why we did not get in touch with a Maldivian agent ahead of time to specify that we will land in the Maldives and so that he/she could help us plan our arrival ahead of time.
Simply, because, considering that we are crossing the Indian Ocean on a row boat, we are mostly at the mercy of the trading winds and currents, (besides of course our paddling power) and unlike a sailboat, we cannot ever be sure if we are ever going to be able to hit an island such as the Maldives or the Seychelles on our route to Africa or not.
So here we are, enjoying for the time being, a slice of Maldivian life after having landed here thanks in part to our own rowing power, Gulnara has been also able to join me here from Sri Lanka by plane and all of this is very satisfying.