Ferdinand Magellan and me (15):Monsoon

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Portuguese ruins litter SE Asia

The north east monsoon provided some glorious sailing across the Andaman Sea. Day after day Wathara cruised along in the hands of our most important crew member: Fred – the wind vane self steering gear. While we humans lounged around the cockpit reading or snoozing or listening to music and Bucko kept watch sniffing the air, Fred tirelessly steered the boat towards our next destination – Galle. My role was to take star sights at dawn and dusk and sun sights at noon and forenoon, which I found almost spiritual. There is something mystical about peering through a sextant’s telescope, doing a bit of arithmetic and then marking a position on the chart. It represents your location in the cosmos at this point in history. No one has ever been at that timeplace before and never would be again. As a traveler in history I found this awesome.

In the age of sail back to pre-historic times the reversing monsoons had dictated the ebb and flow of commerce throughout the region. By the time the Portuguese arrived, sea trade routes were well established. The Chinese under Admiral Cheng Ho had penetrated as far as Africa long before Columbus found the New World. The inhabitants of South East Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in some respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong, Buddhism and Islam maintained orderly societies and trade was brisk. Then the Europeans arrived.

The Portuguese ruins in Galle are more extensive than those elsewhere, partly because the Dutch and English refrained from destroying them. The English used the Portuguese fortress as their administrative headquarters throughout their occupation of the island. Galle’s main attraction for us was the service offered by a man named Don Windsor, recommended by several cruising yachts. And upon arrival in Galle’s snug harbour we were reunited with some of them: Nangkita from Fremantle, Gresham from Auckland, Sophia from Rotterdam and Olivia from Buenos Aires – all part of the multinational cruising village.

Don Windsor was a flamboyant character given to wearing garish shirts and making dramatic announcements about the need to beware of government officials, who were all corrupt. That’s why we needed to entrust him, Don, with any official business. For a modest fee he could take the stress out of our encounters with bureaucracy. Having experienced the Indonesian bureaucracy we were happy to comply, leaving us free to explore this historic town.


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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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