A relaxed holiday ended roughly as it began: with the chaos of a ferry. A queue of people moved slowly up a gangplank to the ferry, where the harbour master and a ship’s officer checked tickets. Before that there were two people loading luggage. We presented them ours, and it seemed to be passed into a hold. Later we found that it was piled up in the main cabin.
An interesting thing about sea-going vessels is that everything is labelled. When you think about it you realize that on board an airplane also everything is labelled, but much of the labelling is in the area and equipment handled by crew. The largest space in a plane is passenger seating, and the labelling there is discreet. On the ferry we did not sit in the cabin, but preferred to go up to the deck. It took me a second to figure out what the "Sea Wage Air Vent" is (see photo above).
We looked at Neil Island as we pulled away. The jetty and buoy which marked the scuba diving point fell away. We had our last view of Lakshmanpur beach (above), and then the whole island could be encompassed in one view (featured photo). The sea was wonderfully clear, and our wake had lovely blue tones in it. Someone excitedly pointed out a dolphin. We looked for one, and talked lazily about dugongs and sea turtles which we had missed. An hour later we were in Port Blair, and on our way to the airport. The year and the holiday were about to end.
The beaches of Neil and Havelock islands are fringed with coral reefs. They damp wave action close to beaches, and moderate rip tides. Swimming is fairly safe. Elsewhere, such as in Wandoor beach, I saw nets to mark out areas which are safe for swimming. Wandoor also had a couple of lifeguards watching the swimmers.
The main swimming beach in Neil Island is Bharatpur beach: a long and shallow beach which opens out into coral reefs. This is a busy beach, with swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving and boating. I saw a few lifeguards walking up and down the beach. It was low tide, and people were walking really far out in the shallow beach. It did not seem like lifeguards would be able to keep watch on such a scattered crowd. When I asked a snorkelling instructor about this, he said that all the instructors also keep a watch.
At other beaches the number of people was very small. The beautiful Sitapur beach is rocky, and there seemed to be only one natural pool where you can swim. There was a lifeguard’s shack, with a tyre tube hanging on a pole. As you can see from the photo, it is possible to keep an eye on the whole beach from there.
I did not look for a lifeguard on Lakshmanpur beach. This fills up at sunset with visitors out to take photos of the setting sun. I could see lots of families with children in the shallows, standing in ankle deep water with cameras. There were no swimmers. One child splashed out up to his neck, and was hauled back by his grandfather. Family groups are good for safety.
We had a harrowing morning trying to get tickets on the ferry to Neil Island, but we’re here at last. I had breakfast at our hotel and went to sleep. After lunch I went to the beach. Its a couple of kilometres of white sand, glowing in the sun. The tide was out, and I could see little pools in the rocks where birds were feeding. I wish I hadn’t put that long slash on my calf. I’m supposed to stay out of the water for a week, and I’ll be back in Mumbai by then. The weather is perfect, and I plan to walk right around the island, if that is possible. You would have loved it here.
We’d a great ferry ride from Port Blair to the island just after sunrise. Nice and cool. I stood up on the deck and spotted dolphins. Grumpy Old Man went to sleep after breakfast. I walked over to the beach. The water is crystal clear. Blue turns to green when the water comes in over the sand. White collared kingfishers and Pacific reef egrets were fishing in deep pools between corals. I waded out to one and got wet. The water’s warm and comfortable. It gets quite hot in the afternoon. Grumpy Old Man’s gone for a walk in the heat. I’m sitting under the trees, enjoying the cool breeze. You would have loved it here.