02 Feb - 12 Feb 2008 Bombay

Indian Ocean
Arabian Sea
Republic of Incredible India, the world's biggest democrazy
Mumbai aka Bombay
Apollo Bunder
SY "Kamu II" at anchor, off the Gateway of India, just three cables southwest of the 236m-long aircraft carrier INS “Viraat” (ex-HMS “Hermes”, the Royal Navy Task Force flagship during the Falklands crisis), at 5 m depth on mud, good holding.

Click below for an interactive satellite view of our dirty but very protected anchorage:

Sailing rather uneventfully from the Arabian Peninsula to the Indian subcontinent, running repeatedly out of wind and being becalmed for days in the very looong swell between the Iranian Makran coast and the Omani Al Batinah coast, patiently slacking it out and enduring plenty of painful rolling, sail flapping and boom banging.

Crawling over the infamous Murray Ridge, an ocean-mountain range which rises up to 300 m below sea level from the 3000 m deep floor of the Arabian Sea, where the sea gets heaped up with a very distinctive and quite impressive swell, and ticking off a series of extra-tropical depressions which pulled ahead without giving sufficient wind to fill our slack sails - despite all the whistling and swearing.

Crossing the 36,768km-long Tropic of Cancer from north to south at the meridian of exactly E 060° 11.34’ and killing time with counting the number of countries the Tropic of Cancer passes through: India, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Bahamas, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Catching a more than 1m-long and 30kg-heavy yellowfin tuna with a tip-to-tip "wingspan" of 26 cm at the caudal fin, and preparing (i) many oh-so lekker fried tuna steaks, (ii) plenty of oh-so yummie pickled tuna bites, until we were running out of Tupperware containers (prepared à la ouma from South Africa, à la Henry from Israel, à la Petra from Germany), and (iii) several running meters of salted and threaded tuna slices, tied to the shrouds, which turned after a few days of curing in the dry air into the most delectable fish biltong aka fishtong.

Slipping through armadas of Bombay fishing boats in serried ranks which attack the marine life off Bombay in battle formation, sometimes more than 30 boats next to each other in one front, and enjoying Salman Rushdie's remarkable Midnight's Children: "The fishermen were here first: before Mountbatten's ticktock, before monsters and public announcements; when underworld marriages were still unimagined and spittoons were unknown; earlier than Mercurochrome; longer ago than lady wrestlers who held up perforated sheets; and back and back, beyond Dalhousie and Elphinstone, before the East India Company built its Fort, before the first William Methwold; at the dawn of time, when Bombay was a dumb-bell-shaped island tapering, at the centre, to a narrow shining strand beyond which could be seen the finest and largest natural harbour in Asia, when Mazagaon and Worli, Matunga and Mahirn, Salsette and Colaba were islands, too - in short, before reclamation, before tetrapods and sunken piles turned the Seven Isles into a long peninsula like an outstretched, grasping hand, reaching westwards into the Arabian Sea; in this primeval world before clocktowers, the fishermen - who were called Kolis - sailed in Arab dhows, spreading red sails against the setting sun ..." - nothing has changed.

Approaching the muddy waters of Mumbai Harbour aka Front Bay, logging the sailed distance of c. 1,050 nm between Fujairah/UAE and Bombay/India in 14 days (an average daily run of only 75 nm), dropping our anchor right opposite the famous Gateway to India which was built to commemorate the visit of King George V in 1911 CE and looks like a cross between the Parisian Arc de Triomphe, a Moorish mansion and a piece of 16th-century CE Gujarati architecture and spotting V.S. Naipaul’s “...white-clad crowd around the Gateway of India, the polluted Arabian Sea slapping against the stone steps, the rats below the Gateway not furtive, mingling easily with the crowd, and at nightfall as playful as baby rabbits...” - India, here we go!

Declining the over-eager West Coast Marine (super-)yacht agent’s "special offer" for clearing customs and immigration of INR 19,900.- or US$ 525.-, plus his unspecified personal expenses, doing the paperwork without third party assistance, merely with a little help from the hospitable Royal Bombay Yacht Club (many thanks, Rajan, for your useful semiofficial Letter of Introduction) and the friendly and relaxed officers of the Mumbai harbour authorities which got us clearance in a jiffy and free of any charge (thank you, Venkat from Mumbai customs; thank you, Cyrus from Mumbai immigration), and paying altogether only INR 20.- or US$ 0.50 for the short merry-go round taxi ride with one of those Mumbai bumblebees (the ubiquitous and often quite battered black-and-yellow 1960 CE Fiat cars where one has to twirl the meter to the on-position through the passenger window at the start of each trip) from our dinghy landing to the Old Customs House, the earliest headquarters of the East India Company, on to the dilapidated Yellow Gate Police Station Building north of the Ballard Estate, named after General J.H.Ballard, the first chairman of the Bombay Port Trust, and back to our ship.

"Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmmh I get high with a little help from my friends,
Oh I'm going to try with a little help from my friends..."

Time-travelling back into the good old times of the 19th century CE, entering the conservative Royal Bombay Yacht Club (est. in 1846 CE when the club's clocks seemed to have stopped), becoming Honorary Club Members (Matt: Honorary Member No. 11; Konni: just crew) and enjoying tremendously both the clubs generous and friendly hospitality and the club's well-kept facilities: (i) the club's shop for sundries, (ii) the subsidised pub grub (payable with “coupons”, the club’s own currency in denominations from INR 1.- to INR 25.- from a special tear-off booklet with the printed warning: “Coupons from this book are to be detached by Member only. In no case may the staff be asked to do this.”), (iii) the unsubsidised drinks in the club's bar (cash only, no chits here), (iv) the clean hot showers, (v) the gymnasium, (vi) the free internet access and (vii) the club's library with a classic reading room similar to the one at the British Library; most splendid indeed.

Meeting up with our friend and fellow sailor Robin Knox-Johnston in the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, listening to both (i) his yarn about the first single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the planet on SY "Suhaili", a Bombay-built 32-ft wooden ketch, and (ii) his daring retirement dreams of cruising the Indian Ocean in a fully crewed 60-ft fibreglass sloop with heating and air-conditioning, and sneering at the shrink who compared Robin's state of mind before and after his win of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race around the world in 1968 CE as "distressingly normal".

Getting repeatedly lost among hundreds of incense wavers, mattress fluffers, dope dealers, ear cleaners, scalp massagers, rat catchers, balloon sellers, chai carriers, dabbawallahs (their mantra: "...the customer is god, work is worship, time is money and unity is power..."), laundry-men, water suppliers, gas-bottle fillers, sugar-cane juice pressers, fortune-tellers, temple acolytes, fire eaters, snake charmers, bear handlers, crippled beggars, self-flagellators and international travellers on Colaba Causeway aka Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, searching among Leopold's clamorous patrons for Shantaram's Karla, Lin, Didier, Vikram and Linda and provisioning at Colaba Market for our upcoming sea passage to the Maldives and on to Chagos.

Exploring the southern part of absolutely chaotic Bombay by chauffeur-driven car and stopping at places as diverse as (i) the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat (a mega laundry site where scores of laundry-men use rows of open-air troughs to beat the dirt out of the soiled clothes brought from all over the city each day), (ii) the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangragalaya (one of the most important Gandhi Memorial Museums in India, containing his signature spinning wheel aka charkha which became in its symbolised form the central part of the Indian flag), (iii) the gaudy 1904 CE Shri Adhishewarji Jain Temple at Walkeshwar Malabar Hill (sign at the entrance: “Ladies in Monthly Period are not Allowed”), dedicated to Adinath, the first Jain teacher aka tirthankar, (iv) the Zoroastrian Parsi Towers of Silence (where the Parsi laid out their corpses to be picked clean by vultures, since the Parsi hold fire, earth and water sacred and did not cremate or bury their dead nor threw them over the side of their ships), and, last but not least, (v) the ornate Victoria Terminus which looks more like a lavishly decorated cathedral than anything as mundane as a railway station (carvings of peacocks, gargoyles, monkeys and British lions are mixed up among the buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained-glass windows).

Learning a lesson about the ongoing paradigm shift in the global economy from the foraging gangs of dirty Bombay street urchins who don't waste their valuable time any more with us ignored, poor Westerners but make a beeline for the more lucrative, dishdasha/keffiyeh-clad targets from the Arabian Peninsula, and reading later about beggars in V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization: “The very idea of beggary, precious to Hindus as religious theater, a demonstration of the workings of karma, a reminder of one’s duty to oneself and one’s future lives, has been devalued. And the Bombay beggar, displaying his unusual mutilations (inflicted in childhood by the beggar-master who had acquired him, as proof of the young beggar’s sins in a previous life), now finds, unfairly, that he provokes annoyance rather than awe. The beggars themselves, forgetting their Hindu function, also pester tourists; and the tourists misinterpret the whole business, seeing in the beggary of the few the beggary of all. The beggars have become a nuisance and a disgrace. By becoming too numerous they have lost their place in the Hindu system and have no claim to anyone.” 

Taking the economy-class, one-hour ferry (INR 100.- or US$ 2.60 per person, return) across Bombay Harbour to Elephanta Island, the "City of Caves", and spending a full day at this UNESCO World Heritage Site of rock-cut temples and caves with its large sculptured panels, all relating to triple-headed Shiva, the agent of death and destruction.

Trying bhelpuri, a tasty Indian snack of crisp vermicelli, puffed rice, spiced vegetables, chutney and chillies on Chowpatty Beach ("...a dirty strip of sand aswarm with pickpockets, and strollers, and vendors of hot-channa-channa-hot, of kulfi and bhelpuri and chuttermutter...", according to Salman Rushdie), and popping packages of paan (carefully sliced areca nuts, wrapped in a green betel leaf together with a clove and some other secret substances) into our mouths and chewing them until our saliva turned red...

Servicing the four injectors of our ship's aging Perkins 4.236M power plant in the clean and well-equipped Robert Bosch workshop of the Suchde Brothers +912266624921 for the incredible Indian price of just INR 40.- or US$ 1.- per injector.

Refuelling with 250 litres of diesel fuel for INR 34.94 or US$ 0.90 per litre from the Gateway Auto Services petrol station next to the Royal Bombay Yacht Club and applying (i) five borrowed, reasonably clean 50-litre plastic drums, (ii) a small Bombay taxi and (iii) a large hired rigid-inflatable.

Laundering our dirty and salty linnen for INR 230.- or US$ 5.80 per 6-kg load (washed, dried, pressed and folded over sheets of old newspaper, still readable, but mostly in Hindi).

Weighing anchor at the crack of dawn and leaving the foggy Mumbai Harbour towards Goa in stealth mode without clearing out.

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