Boating has been important in Sri Lanka going back many centuries to its fishing industry. The culture of this remote country, separated from India by a few nautical miles along the narrow Palk Straits, is integral with boating and remains a useful stop for yachts en route to the Red Sea. Sri Lanka is also a good point of departure for the Maldives, Chagos and Seychelles.
The country is composed of 1,300 kilometres of coastline, eight Unesco World Heritage Sites and 15 national parks, which are often compared to those of Africa. Sri Lanka is known as the ‘Teardrop of India’ due to its distinctive shape and many beautiful sites and cultural practices like those found in Southern India.
Sri Lanka is a stunning destination for visiting yachts from around the world though entry now is subject to quarantine and PCR tests determined by the Health Authorities. However, it’s not too soon to plan a future trip as the world hopefully heads toward the Pandemic backend.
This amazing destination for sail and motor yacht & superyacht cruising is heavily restricted now. However, yachts from around the globe continue to plan future visits, supported by yacht services specialists in Sri Lanka.
Captains can check on new quarantine measures for overseas arrivals to Sri Lanka, issued by the government of Sri Lanka, explained by Asia Pacific Superyachts (APS) Sri Lanka director, Priyantha Perera instrumental in assisting arriving boats, “An agent is required to clear into and out of Sri Lanka and basically organizes everything. Entry requirements could change at short notice as government websites are not always up to date.”
Your agent is key in providing information on when and how a visit can be arranged as well as providing a custom itinerary and cruising/ anchorage guidance. “In consideration now is a focus on opening up to cruising tourism. We have written to the authorities requesting them to open up for cruising and hoping to see a positive response”, he noted, adding: “The many regulations concerning tender boat operations and lack of anchorages suitable for superyachts has held back significant superyacht cruising, which it turns out – actually adds to the country’s attraction as an amazing adventure cruising destination, once the borders are open to arriving yachts”.
Galle is the preferred port and has made some improvements for visiting yachts. Galle Port is where most yachts clear-in, refuel, provision and is straight forward. Mr Perera advises, “Yachts are currently only permitted to enter Port to receive required supplies such as Fuel, Provisions, etc. The crew are not permitted to go ashore and crew arrival & departures on commercial flights through the main airport, Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA), is not permitted. All crew arrivals / departures have to be through chartered flights either from Doha or Maldives or Manila and operated by a government appointed service provider via the Mattala Airport located in the Southern District of the Country. Crew must stay for two days in isolation before been transferred on board a vessel or to the airport.”
“There are important procedures in place for Captains: for example, when the country lifts restrictions guidelines will still be in effect that no boat can cruise around the country without obtaining Defense Ministry & Sri Lanka Customs Approval. Although the Defense Ministry has relaxed its stance with regard to cruising around, Captains or their agent must provide an itinerary of the cruise with full details of guests on board to the Sri Lanka Navy and the Coast Guard and is not permitted to change the route without prior approval from the Defense Ministry.”
The history of Sri Lanka, known as ‘the Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, is intertwined with the history of the broader Indian subcontinent and the surrounding regions of South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The earliest human remains found on Sri Lanka date to about 38,000 years ago (Balangoda Man). The historical period begins roughly in the 3rd century, based on Pali chronicles like the Mahavansa, Deepavansa, and the Choolavansa.
Galle’s trading history extends back to the times of the ancient Greeks. International commerce had a large part to play in the history and culture of this island, dating back to prehistoric times. The Valahassa Jataka relates that the Yakkhini inhabitants of Sirisavatthu lured and captured shipwrecked merchants, sometimes marrying them.
Archaeological evidence of foreign trade goods from Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Ibbankattuwa suggests a thriving Iron Age agriculture-based civilisation, of which only hints come down through ancient documents. The products and markets of this culture would have attracted merchants, many of whom settled down – a story repeated by later generations of traders, such as Moors, who settled and married local women.
Here you will find a fascinating culture, some of which is recognised from the stories of Sindbad the Sailor in ‘1001 Nights’, taking place in the seas around Sri Lanka. The name Sindbad suggests a person originating in Sindh, indicating that Sindhis may have been involved in trade with the island from early times.
Galle offers many attractions and is home to one of Sri Lanka’s eight Unesco World Heritage Sites, the Galle Fortress. The city is part of Sri Lanka’s colonial past, founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese and later refurbished by the Dutch in the 18th century. Here you are transported back in time when viewing the villas, structures and lanes existing since ancient times within the fortress.
In current times, a not-to-be missed experience is the Sri Lankan interior, with amazing wildlife including elephants and at times, even leopards starting from a small village by the seaside, Kirinda. Here is the home to Yala National Park, a nature reserve of nearly 1,300 square kilometres. The Park is recognised as having the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles.
Also not-to-be-missed is ‘Hill Country’ – the lush, rolling hills of the tea plantations, famous for exporting Ceylon black tea. The best way to travel Hill Country is with a 4-wheel drive vehicle into the well-maintained national parks where you can also capture images of amazing wildlife.
A unique experience is a visit to the non-profit Koggala-Habaraduwa Sea Turtle Farm and Hatchery, an organization maintained for the survival of sea turtles for the next generation. The “Turtle Farm” is situated in Habaraduwa near a beautiful beach, 5m from the Galle – Matara main road. The center started in 1986 and has amazingly released more than 500,000 sea turtles to the ocean.
Beginning a voyage cruising Sri Lanka’s coastline are beautiful scenic views and a high biodiversity of ocean mammals and rich marine wildlife. A well-known destination for whale and dolphin watching, the coastline is a vital habitat for sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales, porpoises and dugongs and has numerous healthy coral reefs, home to a total of 28 Marine Mammal Species in Sri Lankan and adjacent waters.
The East Coast journey is more rough and unspoiled, whilst the Southern Coast is known to visiting vessels as generally the best all-round destination, where there’s a mixture of white beaches, Buddhist temples, stilt fishermen and long ago colonial towns, remaining the same as in centuries past.
South Coast cruising starts from the colourful and picturesque harbour on the southwest coast, Mirissa. From here boats can easily voyage on to Taprobane Island and Weligama Bay. Along the way are the main attractions of pristine uninhabited beaches and wonderful coastlines. Between Weligama and Unawatuna you will come across the inimitable ‘Stilt Fishermen’.
Stilt Fishing is a method unique to Sri Lanka. The fishermen sit on a cross bar, a ‘petta’, tied to a vertical pole driven into the sand a few meters offshore. From this high and precarious position the fishermen then use a rod (or net), requiring much skill and balance, to bring in a good catch from the comparative shallows of the sea. The crossbar allows the fishermen to be seated a couple of meters above the water causing minimal shadows on the water and hence little to no disturbance amongst the sea life.
Sri Lanka’s West Coast, the country’s most developed coast (yet still only sparsely developed), is a favoured surfing destination with a medley of beautiful beaches and lagoons, bustling cities, national parks and welcoming inhabitants. It’s on this western coast that you’ll find Colombo, the flourishing capital city of Sri Lanka. A kaleidoscope of cultural activities, bazaars and culinary offerings, the city hums with a lively cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Continuing travelling up to the North West corner of the island, you’ll find Wilpattu National Park, a great safari location and quieter than Yala National park – home to Leopards, bears, deer, crocodiles, elephants and a large variety of birdlife.
In regards to weather conditions, Priyantha advises, “The best time to visit is from October to April – when the bay is blue and the sea is calm with light winds and blue sky. It is hoped the Pandemic will be heading towards the backend as during these six months all the conditions are spot on to enjoy some wonderful cruising experiences”.
The two monsoon winds providing rain to the two corners of the country at various periods to all of the island also make Sri Lanka a year round destination. The north east winds make the south western coast sunny and the sea calm from November to March. The South West winds quiet East Coast waters and the days are filled with constant sunshine.
Priyantha Perera vast experience covers several decades of providing agency services to ships calling in the Ports of Sri Lanka, including Superyachts M.Y. Vava, M.Y. Queen Miri, M.Y. Talisman, M.Y. Intrepid, M.Y. Talisman C, M.Y. Laurel L (calling in to Colombo for dry dock repairs) M.Y. Cloud 9, and S.Y. Hemisphere, the world’s largest luxury catamaran. Captain Glen of 47.30 metre custom-built Vava mega motor yacht departing Sri Lanka wrote to Mr Perera:
“Many thanks, Priyantha, for your kind assistance and for your help with all our inquires as it helped us to complete the simple tasks we needed to take on and also allowed us to understand a little about Sri Lankan ways. I am happy that we came to Sri Lanka as it gave the crew a great opportunity to have some very interesting time ashore in a country most of us have never visited. They all fully enjoyed the experience and I can certainly expect that some of them will likely return for visits in the future.”
When the luxury charter motor yacht Cloudbreak was cruising in late May in Southeast Asia and needed to refuel and provision before continuing on route to the Mediterranean, APS branches in Phuket and Sri Lanka supported the Captain throughout the process. Although Covid-19 restrictions created delays in provisioning and obstacles for engine repairs, both situations were resolved swiftly and to the satisfaction of Captain Jerry and the crew of Cloudbreak, with remote assistance allowing the engineers on the ground and the crew to adapt to the situation.
A rise in a number of luxury yacht building facilities in Sri Lanka, previously being developed, is expected to continue at the Pandemic backend, which is expected to lead to a boom in yachting. A few companies are in full operation designing and building yachts, masts, sails, yards, cordage, electrical components, mini marines and moorings.
Also needed and hopefully fully underway in the future and previously in play, is a technical school down south. The school trains youth from fishing villages to build yachts and offers training in electrical engineering, engine repairs and maintenance. Another academy trains students in sailing skills and ocean conservation.
Sri Lanka is looking toward to fully operating these schools and to welcoming more yachts and providing wonderful boating experiences, with new and enhanced harbours and a premiering boat show.
Contact: Priyantha Perera