Ferdinand Magellan and me (16) Galle

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Ferdinand Magellan would have visited Sri Lanka as a member of a fleet under Sequira on its way to Malacca. He spent several years in this region and took part in many battles as the Portuguese expanded their empire. The inhabitants of southern Asia were not naked savages but had a civilisation that, in several respects, was more advanced than the European. Chinese influence was strong throughout the region, Buddhism and Islam maintained more or less orderly societies and trade flourished among the various nations, much of it by sea.

Well before Christopher Columbus, the Chinese admiral Cheng Ho made a voyage nearly twice as long as his but the Celestial Empire was not interested in conquest, burglary or proselytising. Their benign attitude was their downfall and even China later fell victim to European cannons powered by a Chinese invention – gunpowder. The Chinese used gunpowder for fire crackers but Europeans turned it into a weapon of war. The cannon is what made the Europeans invincible. European ships carried cannons to the doorstep of major cities like Malacca, Galle and Colombo, Cochin and Goa. The British occupation was quite brutal.

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Sailing is not all smooth seas and balmy weather. Chores have to be done, like periodically anti-fouling the boat’s bottom. It fell due in Galle and Don Windsor, the yachties’ agent, was only too happy to advise. No doubt he took a good commission from the boatyard where we hauled Wathara out of the water but who was to complain? First mate Robin proved a dab hand with a paint roller and especially with the fancy bits like touching up the name on the stern.

Windsor also introduced us to a particularly fiery brand of curry. I suspect he took secret glee from the startled expressions on our faces as we took the first mouthful and groped for the water decanter. By the end of our fortnight-long stay, however, it had become our favourite dish.

The first mate in action: not just a pretty face.

Haulout-first mate Robin gets to work

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leonidas

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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